Justice Minister Helen McEntee. PA
Special Criminal Court

Seanad votes to continue serious organised crime trials to be heard without a jury for another year

New Justice Minister Helen McEntee addressed senators today on why the legislation should be extended.

THE SEANAD HAS voted to extend legislation in relation to those being charged with serious organised offences being tried by no-jury for another year – one of the key pieces of legislation that needed to be debated and voted on by the newly elected members of the Seanad.

The legislation had been due to lapse within hours, which would have thrown gangland and paramilitary trials at the no-jury Special Criminal Court into chaos. 

The Seanad, whose 60 members includes 11 appointments of the new Taoiseach Micheál Martin, voted in favour of extending the legislation for 12 months, which deems that four serious organised offences are to go to trial without a jury at the Special Criminal Court.

The decision to hold non-jury trials is also subject to the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), it should be noted.

This piece of legislation needs to be brought before both the Dáil and the Seanad to be extended, due to Section 18 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998.

As per this section, the Act requires that a report on the operation of the relevant provisions is laid before the Oireachtas – which was done by the previous Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan earlier this month.  

Although a vote by the Dáil passed the legislation, the Seanad couldn’t vote on the legislation extension until a Taoiseach was appointed – in order to appoint 11 senators to the new Seanad. This was done over the weekend, paving a way for the vote today.

Arguing in favour of extending the legislation, the new Justice Minister Helen McEntee told Senators: “It is clear that if these people are prepared to take human life in pursuit of their aims, they will have no hesitation in subverting the system of justice.

“Accordingly, the State requires legislation that can combat those who would seek to subvert the system through the intimidation of citizens.

The ongoing gang-related feuds in Dublin and Drogheda have brought into focus the depravity with which they operate. These feuds have resulted in appalling and barbaric murders that have shocked the country. 
Substantial Garda resources have been deployed to these areas and has resulted in significant convictions and ongoing seizures of drugs, firearms and ammunition.

“Of real concern is the evidence that there are links between organised crime and those engaged in paramilitary activity,” she added.

The continuing attempts to murder and maim, such as the attempt earlier this year to smuggle a bomb on a Belfast passenger ferry to coincide with Brexit, demonstrate a scant regard for human life.

Sinn Féin abstained from the Dáil vote on the legislation last week having previously opposed it. 

The total number of people arrested under the provisions of the Offences Against the State Act 1939 is 146.

A total of 40 people were detained for offences contrary to the provisions of the 1998 Act, which was enacted following the Real IRA’s Omagh bombing.

There have been seven successful convictions in the courts in the reporting period and a further 34 are awaiting trial, the minister said.

The law also covers organised criminality which has been responsible for recent high-profile gangland violence.

These serious organised crime offences will now continue to be heard, as per Section 8, in the Special Criminal Court for another 12 months, beginning tomorrow 30 June.

- with reporting from the Press Association

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