Justice Minister defends non-jury court
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has launched a robust defence against Gerry Adams's attack on the Special Criminal Court, saying he should know "better than most" why it is needed.
Over the past week the Sinn Féin leader has sought to undermine the non-jury court as he championed former IRA godfather Thomas 'Slab' Murphy.
And in a letter to today's Irish Independent, he writes that there is "no place for special courts in a modern, democratic society".
However, in her most strident defence of the judicial system to date, Ms Fitzgerald said the court exists because of "the legacy, and Gerry Adams would know this better than most, of paramilitaries and terrorists in relation to organised crime and cross-border activities".
The minister said she could not comment on the Murphy case but said the Special Criminal Court was established "for very good reasons".
"We can't have a situation where people would be able to exploit the power they might have in relation to the situation previously," Ms Fitzgerald said.
And she added that despite the controversy over recent days, she intends to press ahead with plans to set up a second Special Criminal Court to deal with a backlog of cases. The next available date for the hearing before the existing court is mid-2017.
"The bottom line is the Dáil has debated this on a yearly basis. We've seen the cases that have gone before in relation to dissidents. In fact, given the necessity to hear the cases before it I've asked the Government to approve a second court.
"This will help very serious cases be heard in a more timely way," Ms Fitzgerald said.
Murphy, who is reputed to have been chief of staff in the IRA, is to be sentenced on February 12 after being found guilty of nine counts of tax evasion.
He was described during a previous court hearing in the 1990s as a man who had the power of deciding who lived and who died in the Louth/Armagh border region.
However, Sinn Féin continues to claim that he has been treated unfairly and his case should have been held in a normal jury court.
Senator David Cullinane went so far as to state that Murphy has been "demonised" by the media. He said: "All of the people involved in the republican struggle were ordinary people, the same could be said about Bobby Sands."
His word echoed those of Sinn Féin's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who earlier this week described Murphy as "a very typical rural man" and "very nice".
The Special Criminal Court sits with three judges but the rules of evidence that apply are the same as those used in the Central Criminal Court.
High-profile criminals to be tried in the Special Criminal Court in recent years include drugs boss John Gilligan and Limerick gangster John Dundon. In his letter to this newspaper, Mr Adams hit out at Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, claiming he doesn't understand the term 'Republican'.
"The right to a trial by one's peers has always been a cornerstone of Republican ideology. It was a core demand and outcome of the 1789 French Revolution and has been a hallmark of just legal systems for centuries," the Sinn Féin party leader said.
He adds that there is "an onus" on the Irish and British governments "to work towards the normalisation of policing and security matters".
However, Ms Fitzgerald said that is exactly what the governments are working towards but they need to end the intimidation of communities, particularly in border regions, first.
"Let's hope that we can arrive at the point where that review shows there is no longer intimidation of communities or witnesses feeling forced to change their stories," she said.