CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Tuesday, 20th June 2017
“That Dáil Éireann resolves that sections 2 to 4, 6 to 12, 14 and 17 of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 (No. 39 of 1998) shall continue in operation for the period beginning on the 30th June 2017 and ending on the 29th June 2018.”
“That Dáil Éireann resolves that section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 (No. 32 of 2009) shall continue in operation for the period beginning on 30th June 2017 and ending on 29th June 2018.”
Speech by Charles Flanagan T.D.
Minister for Justice and Equality
I move the Motions, a Cheann Comhairle.
The motions before Deputies this evening seek the continuation in force of important provisions in the law aimed at tackling terrorism and organised crime. Given the nature of these provisions, the Houses of the Oireachtas has decided that they should be routinely reconsidered.
The Minister for Justice and Equality is required to lay Reports before the Oireachtas on the use of the relevant provisions in the two Acts and Reports covering the last 12 months up to 31 May 2017 were placed before the House on the 9th of June.
I know there has been comment previously on the brief nature of the Reports that are placed before the Houses. They have been traditionally brief in order to focus clearly on what is required by the Acts – to report on the operation of the provisions in question. I am, of course, fully open to consider suggestions Members might have as to how the Reports might be enhanced.
I should caution, however, that there would be clear constraints on the detail of what might be included in the context of ensuring there could be no danger of prejudice to the investigation or prosecution of crime or to the security of the State.
The Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 was enacted in the aftermath of the atrocity at Omagh in August of that year. That bloody outrage was an affront to humanity and to democracy, and it lingers long in our memory.
A robust response to the paramilitary group who carried it out and to their like was essential and these Houses put in place the 1998 Act with that aim in mind.
The Act was focused on the Northern Ireland-related terrorist threat. Regrettably, there remains to this day a real and persistent security threat from those same paramilitary groups who have set their faces against peace on this island. We need only look to the attempts made to kill PSNI officers in Northern Ireland and to the Garda and PSNI successes in seizing firearms and explosives to see the reality of this threat.
We must continue to bear down on these groups to seek to put them out of business. That remains an absolute priority for the Government.
Of course, many provisions of the Offences Against the State Acts could have application to the international terrorist threat, one that we have seen recently in shocking attacks in London, Paris and Manchester. Sadly, the very nature of that threat means that all open democracies now face it.
In the time available to the House this evening I will not go through all of the relevant sections in detail. The Report laid before House does so and it also details the instances in which the various sections in question have been used in the reporting period.
I note that sections 6, 12 and 17 were not used during the period. It is the case that not every section is used every year and this does not undermine the rationale for the powers being available as part of the legal framework for combating terrorist groups.
The Report also notes the clear view of the Garda Commissioner that the Act continues to be an important tool in ongoing efforts in the fight against terrorism. The Garda Authorities have stated that the provisions of the Act are used regularly and this is evident from the Report laid before the House.
In the circumstances, I must conclude that these provisions continue to be required and that they should remain in operation for a further 12 months.
Section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 is also the subject of a Motion before the House. It refers to a small number of serious, organised crime offences that are set out in Part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006.
Section 8 of the 2009 Act makes these offences scheduled offences for the purposes of Part V of the Offences Against the State Act 1939 – that is to say, trials for these offences are to be heard in the Special Criminal Court subject to the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions to direct that the offences be tried in the ordinary courts.
The purpose of this provision was to guard against the possibility of interference with jury trial by ruthless criminal gangs. As the Report laid before the House shows, no trials in respect of the offences has taken place in the Special Criminal Court. This does not, to my mind, invalidate the reasoning for having this provision in place and available for use when appropriate.
Rather, in fact, this serves to highlight the very considered approach that has been taken by the DPP in exercising discretion to direct that cases be tried in the ordinary courts where this is possible. We greatly value trial by jury and we must protect it, but we cannot ignore the threat posed to the criminal process by criminal gangs.
The view of the Garda Commissioner is set out clearly in the Report and it is that this provision will be required for some time to come. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I must have full regard for the views of the Garda Authorities.
Nobody here could be in any doubt about the pernicious nature of the activities of serious organised criminals in this State. They have no regard for the damage they cause in communities. They have nothing but disdain for the rule of law. And they have no hesitation whatsoever in the use of extreme violence and murder in pursuit of their aims.
It is my view, therefore, that section 8 should continue in operation for a further 12 months.
A Cheann Comhairle, I commend these Motions to the House.