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Revealed: Labour voted against extending Special Criminal Court’s powers in 2009

Legislation to extend the powers of the non-jury court to deal with cases involving organised crime was opposed at final stages by Joan Burton and her party.

Joan Burton in 2009
Joan Burton in 2009
Image: RollingNews.ie

LABOUR TDS, INCLUDING Joan Burton, voted against legislation to enhance the powers of the Special Criminal Court seven years ago.

A record of the Dáil vote on Friday, 10 July 2009 shows that several current Labour TDs, including the Tánaiste, voted against the final stages of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 brought forward by then justice minister Dermot Ahern.

The legislation introduced additional measures specifically aimed at combating organised crime, including allowing the non-jury Special Criminal Court to hear cases involving specific organised crime offences, unless the DPP directed otherwise.

The measures were proposed by the then Fianna Fáil-led government in response to the murder of Limerick businessman Roy Collins in April 2009. Wayne Dundon and Nathan Killeen were later convicted of the murder in the Special Criminal Court.

Labour has been extremely critical of Sinn Féin’s opposition to the three-judge court in recent days following two shootings in north Dublin that have renewed concerns about gangland warfare in the capital.

Responding to the most recent shooting on Monday, Burton said: “Communities must be protected from these brutal criminals who have no interest in the rule of law, only their own selfish interests.”

We need to have adequate procedures in place to deal with gangland criminals, including the Special Criminal Court.

This morning, Burton called on Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams to apologise to the Irish people, victims of crime and their relatives for supporting abolition of the court.

Labour concern

8/1/2009 Michael Roly Cronin Gandland Shootings Joe Costello was among the TDs to voice concerns about the legislation in 2009 Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

Despite not opposing the court’s existence, Burton was among the Labour TDs to side with Sinn Féin by voting against the widening of the court’s focus from subversive activities to organised crime, in the final Dáil vote on legislation seven years ago.

Other deputies, who are standing for re-election this month, also voted against the legislation. These included Brendan Howlin, Kathleen Lynch, Jan O’Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Joanna Tuffy, Joe Costello, Ciarán Lynch, Seán Sherlock and Emmet Stagg.

Retiring TDs Eamon Gilmore, Pat Rabbitte, Jack Wall and Ruairí Quinn also opposed the legislation on the final vote.

During the Dáil debate, Costello was among the Labour TDs to call into question the use of non-jury courts. The Dublin Central deputy described jury trial as “a cornerstone of the criminal justice system”.

He said he represented a constituency, Dublin Central, where there was a significant amount of gangland crime, but that there had been no calls from either the local drugs task force or the community policing forum to abolish juries.

Labour’s then-justice spokesperson Pat Rabbitte expressed scepticism about claims that jury intimidation necessitated the use of the court for gang-related crime:

What is special about the Special Criminal Court is that it sits without a jury, and there is one justification only for a non-jury court, that is, where jury members are being intimidated. There is no evidence that jury members are being intimidated.

18/6/2009 Labour Bills for Abuse Survivors Pat Rabbitte in 2009

‘Broad thrust’

In response to queries from TheJournal.ie today, a Labour spokesperson insisted that the party did not oppose the principle of the use of the court.

“We firmly believe the Special Criminal Court is absolutely necessary in specific instances, such as the recent shootings,” they said.

The principal argument put forward by our then justice spokesperson, Pat Rabbitte, at the time was that cases should not go automatically to the Special Criminal Court, but could be referred by the DPP if he/she believed intimidation of jurors or witnesses was likely.

However, the party added that “in the intervening period” it has “become absolutely clear” that such a court is needed to deal with organised crime “because of the potential for intimidation of jurors, among other reasons”. They added:

Sinn Fein is blindly refusing to acknowledge this because the court has convicted one of its own, the so-called “good republican”, Thomas Slab Murphy.

Labour also pointed out that it had supported the Bill at second stage in the Dáil as the party had “no opposition to the broad thrust of it”.

The spokesperson said that Labour’s opposition to the final stages of the Bill was because of the ”significant frustration that such an important piece of legislation was being guillotined without extensive debate”.

Fine Gael had also raised frustration with the curtailing of the debate, but supported the passing of the legislation in the final Dáil vote.

FactCheck: Who wants to get rid of the Special Criminal Court?

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