Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009: Motions
There is a certain element of repetition to this. This is the third time I have spoken on these motions since my election to the House and appointment as justice spokesperson. On each of the two previous occasions, I and Fianna Fáil have supported the motions. Without any question, we will support them again today. We support them because, regrettably, we believe they are necessary. We also believe they are a proportionate response to very serious criminal issues that this country faces. We need to address those criminal issues rather than hide from them.
I have had the opportunity to read the reports the Minister has placed before both Houses of the Oireachtas. I found them helpful and informative. The first motion relates to the extension of the 12 sections of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. Throughout the paper laid before the House, reference is made to the current security situation. It should be pointed out that the greatest domestic threat to our security in this country at present is, as the Minister stated, the threat that comes from republican paramilitary groups, so-called dissident groups. Sometimes people forget that there was a period in this island's past when we were plagued by violence. That was prior to the Good Friday Agreement. One of the great political achievements of the 20th century in Europe was the Good Friday Agreement. Many of us, when we were growing up, thought that the violence in Northern Ireland was intractable, that it was not capable of resolution. Fortunately, we have now set the pace for the world in showing that conflicts can be resolved and that no issue is too intractable to be protected from political resolution. Every political problem can be resolved. However, it is important to point out that there remains a domestic threat on this island from dissident groups. Because of this, the legislation we are discussing under the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 is, unfortunately, necessary.
It is also important to point out that the reports refer to the international threat. If one were to ask anyone outside of Ireland what the biggest threat is in respect of international terrorism, he or she would say it is religious extremism. We need to recognise that the report placed before the Oireachtas this evening is not alarming. All it says is that there are a small number of people here whose activities in support of extremism give cause for concern and that the authorities monitor their activities very closely. If we were solely dealing with the international threat, perhaps there would be a strong argument against renewing the legislation. However, in the context of the domestic threat, there can be no such uncertainty.
I wish to emphasise something else that is stated in the report. Sometimes there is a concentration on associating religious extremism with the Islamic communities. It is important to note that the following is emphasised in the report that has been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas:
the extremism underlying this threat is not characteristic of Ireland’s peace-loving Muslim community. Terrorism is not the product of one faith or belief system. The only people responsible for terrorist attacks are the evil people who carry them out.
I endorse these comments.
We know from the report in respect of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act that 23 convictions were secured in the courts in the period we are talking about and that a further 84 persons are awaiting trial. These are not academic pieces of statutory provision that are not used in our criminal justice system. They are used, and people are convicted as a result of the existence of this legislation.
It is also important to point out - not, though, that it is in any way determinative - the views of the Garda authorities. We note that the Garda Commissioner has made clear to the Minister his view that the key provisions of the Offences Against the State Act are regularly used and that the Garda Commissioner considers it essential that the relevant provisions of the Act be extended for a further period of 12 months. Therefore, having read the report, I think any objective assessment of it would lead a person to believe it is necessary for the 12 sections of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 to be renewed, and I and Fianna Fáil will support their renewal.
The other motion before the House relates to the operation of section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. Again, we have a relatively detailed report from the Minister on this matter. One would want to be living in a parallel universe or on a different planet not to be aware that significant gangland issues face not just this city, but indeed the whole country. Unfortunately, the value of human life in this country has been reduced considerably by the extent to which people are prepared to kill other people as part of criminal feuds. Sometimes we seem to refer to this as being a feud involving two distinct groups. Unfortunately, I have no doubt but that these assassinations, as they should be called, will spread. Unfortunately, human life has become very cheap. If one looks at any case before the Special Criminal Court at present dealing with gangland feuds, one will note that there is a potential threat that people who are up on charges or subsequently convicted of charges will interfere with juries. We have seen in the past that witnesses have been intimidated in cases, that organised criminals have murdered journalists in this country and that lawyers are threatened in respect of cases they bring.
One cannot hide from the fact that, regrettably, the Special Criminal Court is necessary in this country. If we did not have a Special Criminal Court, there would be miscarriages of justice. Too often miscarriage of justice is taken to mean only those who are wrongfully convicted of criminal offences. However, it also applies when someone who is guilty of a criminal offence is wrongfully acquitted. We need to ensure that does not happen.
I was pleased that Deputy Brophy was present for the debate. I wondered whether it was a sign of his elevation to ministerial office. That is not yet the case, but I am sure it will happen.