Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009: Motions
I thank Members for their contributions. I wish to refer in particular to the Special Criminal Court, as it is relevant to both motions and it exercised some Members. It is my strong view that jury trial is to be preserved to the greatest extent possible but we simply cannot ignore the threat posed to the normal operation of the criminal process by terrorists and organised criminals who have nothing but contempt for the rule of law in the State.
The Special Criminal Court was established to respond to the threat to the State and its people from republican terrorism over the decades. It continues to be necessary to deal with the subversive threat from paramilitary groups. Indeed, the Government recently put the second Special Criminal Court into operation as a necessary response to the volume of cases that needed to be tried. Some have argued that the Special Criminal Court is no longer needed, that its use is unjustified or even that the Special Criminal Court has been partisan in some way. I reject the utterly baseless assertion made in this House that the Special Criminal Court has operated with bias. For the record, its judges have performed courageous public service in presiding without fear or favour over the prosecution of some of the most dangerous terrorists and ruthless criminals in the State. Are we seriously to accept that the threat from republican paramilitary groups and the brutality of ruthless criminal gangs do not need a particular response from our criminal justice system? Are we simply to ignore these realities and not retain at our disposal the best means to support the Garda Síochána and the justice system in tackling these threats? I cannot and will not accept that.
The 1998 Act remains an essential tool in tackling the activities of paramilitary groups across this island. It is complementary to the general criminal law. While the provisions may be out of the ordinary course of the criminal law they are not emergency laws, as some have presented them. Over the course of the State's history, especially during the Troubles on this island, these laws have served to protect and safeguard the State from determined efforts to undermine it and all its democratic institutions. It is surely beyond reasonable argument that a democratic state is entitled, and must make the measures it considers necessary, to protect itself and fundamental rights and freedoms, and allow civil society to flourish. I make no apology for defending our laws and the measures we have in place to combat serious crime and terrorism. The people require us to do what we reasonably can to protect them.
Many Deputies here will know from their experience as public representatives the devastation that organised crime in the drugs trade can wreak on individual lives and communities across the State. We must continue to confront this challenge by providing the necessary resources and legislative supports to combat those who seek to undermine the law and damage lives and communities in doing so. The renewal of this provision of the 2009 Act is a contribution to the overall framework of measures that seek to tackle the scourge of organised crime. While we have a comprehensive criminal law regime to tackle serious crime we must constantly see where it might be improved in the light of experience and changes in crime trends. Our laws in this regard remain under constant review to ensure they are proportionate and effective. Deputy Mattie McGrath referred to the Omagh group with which he is in contact. A reply is being prepared and will issue shortly.
I acknowledge the work of An Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána has the full support of the Government in tackling serious crime and terrorism. We will provide whatever resources are required to keep our people and communities safe. Some €1.65 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote for 2018, an increase on previous years. The Garda authorities work very closely with their international colleagues in their efforts to tackle terrorism and organised crime. It is vital that we continue to enhance the ability of law enforcement and security authorities to make better use of, for example, EU information-sharing databases and resources. Backed by an allocation of more than €200 million for Garda ICT under the capital plan, a significant programme of work is under way to improve connectivity with a number of the information-sharing databases in use throughout Europe.
In conclusion, I thank the Deputies who support the motions and the continuation of the use of these powers to ensure the protection of communities, the institutions of the State and our people. I commend the motions to the House.