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Sinn Féin to debate ending total opposition to Special Criminal Court

A motion to be voted on at the party’s Ard Fheis on Saturday will continue to oppose the use of the court, apart from in “exceptional circumstances

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

SINN FÉIN IS to debate a motion that could end its total opposition to the Special Criminal Court at its Ard Fheis this weekend.

The three-judge criminal court has been used in trials of dissident republicans and gangland criminals, and has no jury in order to avoid any potential intimidation of members.

The party has long been opponents of the non-jury court.

A motion to be voted on at the party’s Ard Fheis on Saturday will continue to oppose the use of the court, apart from in “exceptional circumstances”.

The motion states that Sinn Féin “agrees with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and other human rights bodies that the Special Criminal Court as currently constituted has no place in a modern criminal justice system”.

It describes the Offences Against the State Act, which underpins the court, to be an “archaic and outdated legal framework that is incapable of tackling 21st-century serious organised crime”.

However, it states that “exceptional use” of non-jury courts could be permitted, with provisions in place to protect the rights of people appearing before the court.

Last year, Sinn Féin did not oppose the renewal of legislation that empowers the court for the first time in its history. The party abstained instead of voting against it.

When the legislation was up for renewal in June this year, Sinn Féin TDs staged a walkout of the Dail chamber, in a move that was criticised by other parties.

The motion has been criticised by Fine Gael, who highlighted the role of the court in tackling criminal gangs.

Junior Minister Peter Burke said: “Sinn Féin’s motion to its Ard Fheis, far from supporting the Special Criminal Court, actually reconfirms that the party wants the Court and the Offences Against the State Acts scrapped.

“These have been invaluable tools in our armoury in tackling paramilitaries, organised criminals and the drugs gangs which have challenged the authority of the State over decades.

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“Not only does the Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis motion say that the ‘Special Criminal Court as currently constituted has no place in a modern criminal justice system’ – it says the Offences Against the State Acts are ‘archaic…and incapable of tackling serious organised crime’.

“These comments from Sinn Féin are deeply troubling particularly in the context of the ongoing work to dismantle criminal gangs.

“The success of the State in tackling serious criminals show that the Special Criminal Court and the Offences Against the State Act are vital.”

The court has been criticised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International and the United Nations.

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