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Special Criminal Court extended for 12 months as Sinn Féin again abstains in Dáil vote

The Offences Against the State Act has been renewed for an additional 12 months.

Image: Oireachtas.ie

Updated Jun 30th 2022, 8:09 AM

THE MANDATE FOR the Special Criminal Court has been extended for a further 12 months after a Dáil vote last night. 

Sinn Féin abstained in the vote for the second year in a row, with Solidarity-People Before Profit and two independents voting against it. 

The vote on the Offences Against the State Act was passed comfortably with 90 TDs in favour of the motion, including those from the three Coalition parties.

A report reviewing the Act is s set to be completed later this year with the future of the non-jury court likely to be influenced by this review. 

The three-judge Special Criminal Court was established during the Troubles and is now primarily used for gangland and terrorism-related offences. 

There has been criticism of the continued existence of the Special Criminal Court from United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International. 

Sinn Féin last year dropped its opposition to non-jury courts in “exceptional circumstances” and has said it abstained in the vote pending the completion if the upcoming review. 

People Before Profit’s Paul Murphy TD, who opposed the renewal of the court, said last night that Sinn Féin’s abstention was “in preparation for being in government”.

With the Act extended, the mandate of the Special Criminal Court is renewed for an additional 12 months.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee, speaking in the Dáil yesterday, said that the she expects to receive the report examining the legislation later in the autumn.

“The chair of the review group has recently reported to me that the group has had significant engagement with relevant stakeholders, statutory agencies and civil society organisations. I expect to have the group’s final report in the autumn of this year,” said McEntee.

McEntee said that the Special Criminal Court continues to play a role in the criminal justice system, particularly on tackling organised crime. 

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“Every member of this House is aware of the lengths to which these criminal gangs are prepared to go to thwart the justice system and to maintain a climate of fear and intimidation in our communities.

“They have no regard for the damage their activities cause for families throughout the country.  They have no regard for the rule of law and will stop at nothing in pursuit of their own criminal gain.”

Sinn Féin’s Justice spokesperson Martin Kenny said that the review of the legislation was welcome, due to it being decades old and and an emergency provision.

Kenny told the Dáil: “This piece of legislation is decades old and is an emergency provision.  Emergency legislation by its very nature should only be enacted over a short period of time, yet this Act has been repeatedly passed by successive governments since the 1960s.  

Whatever argument may have existed in the last century to have such legislation as a consequence of the conflict in the North clearly no longer applies.  It is not appropriate that emergency laws to deal with organised crime would need to be renewed on an annual basis as emergency legislation.

Kenny said that he hoped that the recommendations from the review would lead to the development of a “21st-century criminal justice infrastructure to tackle 21st-century crime”.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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