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Sinn Féin stops short of opposing renewal of anti-terror law for the first time

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Martin Kenny

Martin Kenny

Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

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Martin Kenny

SINN Féin TDs have abstained from the Dáil vote on the renewal of the Offences Against the State Act.

It's the first time that the party hasn’t voted against the law which provides for the non-jury Special Criminal Court which is used for some terrorism and gang crime trials.

It came after a Dáil debate where Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan committed to an independent review of the Offences Against the State Act.

Mr Flanagan argued that the law is still needed.

He said: "the stark reality is there remains some threat from terrorist activity, in particular from dissident Republican paramilitary groups."

Mr Flanagan insisted the provisions of the law have "are making a big difference as the State responds to terror and gangland activity".

He said: "The renewal of these provisions sends loud and clear message that the state will not yield to those who oppose democracy to those who continuously oppose the rule of law and that we remain firm in our resolve."

Mr Flanagan said there will be a comprehensive, independent review of the law but the detail of this will be a matter for the next government. He said the arrangements for the review are currently being "scoped".

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny said he would withdraw an amendment to the legislation on the basis of the commitment to the review.

He said he was disappointed at the lack of a timeline for the review being carried out.

Mr Kenny said it needs to happen before the legislation comes up for renewal again next year.

Sinn Féin's TDs later abstained from the vote on renewing the legislation.

During the debate Mr Kenny said the last review was around 18 years ago around the same time as the 9/11 attacks when circumstances were "entirely different" to today.

He said there should be "sound legislation" that doesn't require a review every year and Gardaí should be better resourced to fight gang crime as well.

Mr Kenny said the law should not be a "political football" and "we need to bring it into the 21st century".

Labour TD Ged Nash supported a review but also said his party would support the continuation of "these very important measures in the fight against the scourge of organised crime".

He said his one criticism is that the legislation is not used enough "to bring known gangsters before the courts and bring them to justice."

The Louth TD referred to the ongoing gang war in Drogheda which he said has "destroyed countless lives" and saw the horrific murder of teenager Keane Mulready Woods earlier this year.

Mr Nash said there are other victims in the community who have suffered arson attacks on homes and drug-debt intimidation.

He said parents and grandparents have been intimidated.

Mr Nash said there has been intimidation of "defenceless and vulnerable young girls sickeningly abused and actually sexually exploited by lowlifes to settle drug debts

"That's the reality of this heinous trade."

The Green Party also said they would support renewing the legislation despite opposing it on occasion in the past due to civil liberties concerns.

Its justice spokesman Roderic O'Gorman supported the review of the law but also made arguments for why it's still needed.

He cited a recent incident where a Garda's home was set on fire while his pregnant wife and young family were there.

Mr O'Gorman said: "We've also seen the ongoing campaign of intimidation harassment against members of Quinn Industrial Holdings - arson attacks, assaults, criminal damage, culminating in the brutal kidnapping and torture of Kevin Lunney.

"The four men arrested in relation to that particular case, have now been referred to the Special Criminal Court for trial."

He added: "Two weeks ago, we saw a named individual being thanked for his role in arranging a major boxing match."

Though he didn't name individuals in the Dáil, this is a reference to boxer Tyson Fury thanking crime figure Daniel Kinahan for his involvement in setting up a proposed fight.

Mr Fury has reportedly now stopped using Kinahan as an adviser.

Mr O'Gorman said a report provided to the Dáil by the minister in support of renewing the law offered details on the fight against gangland crime in Ireland.

But he said some gangs are international and asked what has been done to "ensure there are no safe havens for people leading criminal gangs which operate in this State."

Mr O'Gorman said research has shown instances where there have been attempts to intimidate juries.

He said there are "real civil liberties concerns" about the Special Criminal Court and it should only be used in "exceptional circumstances".

But he added his party was supporting the renewal of the law due to "the ongoing capacity of organised crime gangs to interfere with criminal trials via intimidation".

Online Editors