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Sinn Féin set to abandon total opposition to Special Criminal Court

Delegates at party’s árd fheis in Dublin asked to pass a motion allowing use of non-jury trials in exceptional cases


Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald addressing a rally at Liberty Hall PIC Steve Humphreys

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald addressing a rally at Liberty Hall PIC Steve Humphreys

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald addressing a rally at Liberty Hall PIC Steve Humphreys

Sinn Féin is set to end its total opposition to the non-jury Special Criminal Court – abandoning a core party value held since that court’s foundation in 1972.

The 700 delegates to the party’s árd fheis in Dublin tomorrow are being asked to pass a motion allowing the use of non-jury trials in exceptional cases.

The change is a response to pressure from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and other parties, who accuse Sinn Féin of being “soft on gangland crime.”

The Special Criminal Court (SCC), which sits with three judges, is increasingly used in these cases of organised crime and trials of gangland crime figures.

Previously it was extensively used in trials of IRA terrorists and those from breakaway republican groups. 

The change is in line with a Sinn Féin shifting of position on the issue for some time.

Earlier this year they abstained in a vote on renewing the SCC’s extraordinary powers – consistently since they first entered the Dáil they had voted against it on principle.

This change also suggests an effort to become more “coalition friendly” as, even though opinion polls show them as likely to be the biggest party after the next election, they are still going to need government partners.

The motion for change is endorsed by Sinn Féin’s árd comhairle, or ruling executive committee, which means it will be passed.

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The SCC, or a similar form of court was provided in legislation since the early days of the Irish State in the 1920s. It was used sporadically over the decades in cases brought against IRA activists or people in various violent republican splinter-groups.

The court was re-established by the then-justice minister, Des O’Malley, in 1972 and has largely continued in this format since then.

O’Malley acted in the wake of IRA violence and fears for juries’ and witnesses’ safety.

It is currently undergoing an independent review with a report due next spring.

The Sinn Féin motion is line with the party’s submission to this review group, which suggests “exceptional use,” while also looking at other ways of protecting jury members and witnesses in difficult trials.

Meanwhile, Simon Coveney has said Sinn Féin’s current opinion poll lead cannot lead to an automatic assumption that they will head the next government.

In a wide-ranging interview, given to an online session of the MacGill School which was hosted by former RTÉ presenter and editor Seán O’Rourke, the Fine Gael Foreign Minister described Sinn Féin as “a very important part of our politics and the lead party of opposition”.

But he rejected Mr O’Rourke’s assertion that there is widespread acceptance, even among business leaders, that Sinn Féin will lead the next government. Mr Coveney said Sinn Féin were also “divisive and aggressive” and his own approach to politics was to work in government with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party to get things done.

The Fine Gael Cork South Central TD said he and his colleagues intended to work delivering housing, climate change, and post-Covid 19 economic recovery, among other policies. He insisted this work can succeed in winning voters’ support at the next election.

Mr Coveney did not totally rule out the prospect of coalition with Sinn Féin after the next election. “I don’t think so. But who knows what the future will bring in terms of changes of approach,” he said.

But the Foreign Affairs Minister also said he personally believed Fine Gael and Sinn Féin could not share government. “I want my party and this Government to be a ‘catch-all’ Government,” Mr Coveney said.

He concluded that after 23 years in politics, he still had hunger and ambition to achieve things.

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