Wednesday 26 October 2016

We must find new ways to confront the men of violence in our society

Published 10/02/2016 | 02:30

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan

It feels like the nightmare of 1996 all over again. Twenty years ago our lawmakers were galvanised into action following the murders, mere weeks apart, of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and 'Sunday Independent' crime journalist Veronica Guerin, whose life was callously taken away as a result of her pursuit of Ireland's drugs and organised crime gangs.

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The public outcry following those atrocities was met by a cross-party political response that was both radical and remarkable.

In one day alone, six pieces of legislation - including the Criminal Assets Bureau Act and Proceeds of Crime Act - were introduced in the Dáil to help dismantle Ireland's drug barons.

These included the gang led by John Gilligan. He is still fighting the CAB, although largely a spent force now after his many years in jail for his drug-dealing conviction, having been acquitted in an earlier trial of Veronica Guerin's murder.

The early years of the CAB were an outstanding success; targeting the ill-gotten gains of organised criminals resulted in major financial gains for the State and drove many criminals overseas to avoid the CAB's reach.

Arguably the new threat that followed the likes of Gilligan and others was much worse.

But when the State was confronted by the scourge of the feuding gangs in Limerick, it responded once again with adequate resources and intelligent legal measures such as Section 16 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006.

This permits witness statements taken by gardaí to be used as evidence in a criminal trial where a witness refuses to give evidence, denies making the statement, or gives evidence at trial that is materially inconsistent with their earlier statement.

The 'silver bullet' law has its critics, but it put many a gangland and lesser criminals behind bars and proved critical in the recent conviction, for tax evasion, of leading republican Thomas 'Slab' Murphy who will be sentenced on Friday.

Now, 20 years later, and with much depleted resources, we are once again facing a major threat to the security of the State as the authorities struggle to deal with not one but two gangland-related deaths in the capital in almost as many days.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan were swift - perhaps too swift - off the mark to declare that there was no prior intelligence.

However, the State had been on notice since last September that Ireland's notorious drug bosses were entering a new and deadly phase in their perennial feuds.

This came when Gary Hutch, a nephew of career criminal Gerry Hutch, known as 'The Monk', was assassinated at an apartment complex in Spain. It was The Monk's brother, Eddie Hutch Snr, who was murdered at his home on Monday an apparent retaliation for the murder, days earlier, of criminal David Byrne at Dublin's Regency Hotel.

If journalists and photographers knew that the boxing 'weigh-in' at the Regency was a potentially significant gangland event, why did gardaí fail to take the same view?

Given the wealth of emergency powers already at the State's disposal, the Government is under huge pressure to produce a rational, workable response to this crisis.

It is a crisis which has upended the General Election and one that has thrown into sharp focus Sinn Féin's plans to abolish the Special Criminal Court and repeal long-standing laws governing membership of illegal organisations such as the IRA.

Given its past, Sinn Féin's stance is offensive to many.

But a country cannot be in a permanent state of emergency: we must find new ways to confront menaces old and new.

Irish Independent

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