TACKLING CRIME: Cork based Sinn Féin Justice spokesman calls for comprehensive review of emergency legislation

21 June 2017, Tuesday
By Bryan Smyth
bryan@TheCork.ie

Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien TD, speaking on the renewal of certain provisions of the Offences Against the State Act in the Dáil this evening, has said, “a comprehensive review of the emergency legislation in advance of its renewal next year is required.”

Jonathan O’Brien

Teachta O’Brien said “the Gardaí and the criminal justice system need to be equipped to effectively and relentlessly target organised crime bosses, their operations and their assets.”

He said;

“The continuing spate of gang-related murders in Dublin and the fear within communities most directly affected by the activities of violent organised criminals requires a sustained and focussed response.

“In this regard, a comprehensive review of the emergency legislation in advance of its renewal next year is required, which should focus on how to modernise the criminal justice system to make it responsive to the needs of Ireland in 2017.

“Sinn Féin believes we need new legislation repealing the outdated emergency acts currently in place and replacing it with strengthened legislation providing for new courts to deal with these particular cases.
“While always supporting, defending and promoting the judicial norm of the right to a jury trial, only in very special circumstances should we deviate from this in order to protect the judicial process. Currently, hearings at the Family Court are held ‘in camera’ while the Drug Treatment Court is a specialised court operating within the legal system.

“The reality is that the Gardaí and the courts are facing 21st century challenges with 20th century legislation. The current outdated criminal justice system does not act as a deterrent to organised crime. It is in fact exploited by them.

“Sinn Féin recognises that there are certain criminal cases which are more difficult to prosecute given the nature of organised crime today. The opportunity for well organised and well-funded criminal enterprises to influence juries or tamper with evidence or intimidate witnesses is greater than in the vast majority of criminal cases.

“Therefore Sinn Féin does not oppose special courts to deal with the very specific circumstances of violent organised criminal gangs which present serious threats to the security of the state and communities when the ordinary courts are prevented from securing the effective administration of justice. The Constitution provides for this.

“Sinn Féin has also called for a proper examination of the option of juror anonymity and other special arrangements to protect those involved in court cases dealing with organised crime.”

Full text of Deputy O’Brien’s speech follows:

The continuing spate of gang-related murders in Dublin and the fear within communities most directly affected by the activities of violent organised criminals requires a sustained and focussed response.

Sinn Féin stands 100% with citizens, Gardaí and the courts against the unprecedented threat of organised crime.
To properly confront this threat and the wider, corrosive impact it is having on our society, the Gardaí and the criminal justice system require the tools to do their job effectively.

In this regard, a comprehensive review of the emergency legislation in advance of its renewal next year is required, which should focus on how to modernise the criminal justice system to make it responsive to the needs of Ireland in 2017.

Sinn Féin believes we need new legislation repealing the outdated emergency acts currently in place and replacing it with strengthened legislation providing for new courts to deal with these particular cases.
The Gardaí and the criminal justice system need to be equipped to effectively and relentlessly target organised crime bosses, their operations and their assets.

Sophisticated, organised, well-resourced and murderous threats to citizens require a focussed and rigorous response.

Any strategy to counter the threat posed by crime gangs with a huge international reach needs to be intelligent and multi-layered.

One of those layers must be at community level.

We need targeted and substantial investment in community development, education and employment, particularly in areas where organised crime gangs are recruiting members and where their malign influence is having a devastating effect on social cohesion.

A level of investment in local community policing, greater than anything we have witnessed so far, is required.

This must include an end to the reckless and irresponsible policy of closing local Garda stations.
Those at the upper echelons of the crime syndicates are well known to the authorities and are clearly deploying the huge resources at their disposal to avoiding prosecution.

This requires the state to prioritise and adequately resource intelligence gathering and intelligence-led operations against key organised crime organisations.

It also requires full cooperation between the Gardaí and police services abroad, especially in countries where crime syndicates directing organised crime in Ireland are based.

The Gardaí must have the ability to respond rapidly to violent incidents and threats, and to deploy highly trained armed units.

We also need the Courts to be resourced so they can effectively expedite criminal trials and demonstrate that justice can be delivered fairly and swiftly.

While always supporting, defending and promoting the judicial norm of the right to a jury trial, only in very special circumstances should we deviate from this in order to protect the judicial process.

Currently, hearings at the Family Court are held ‘in camera’ while the Drug Treatment Court is a specialised court operating within the legal system

Sinn Féin’s position on the use of special courts in dealing with organised crime has been seriously misrepresented by our political opponents and elements of the media.

The reality is that the Gardaí and the courts are facing 21st century challenges with 20th century legislation.

This needs to change.

The current outdated criminal justice system does not act as a deterrent to organised crime. It is in fact exploited by them.

The Special Criminal Court (SCC) was first established under the Offences against the State Act (OASA) during the Second World War to counter what the Government at the time claimed was a threat to the state’s neutrality from the IRA.

Its current incarnation dates from May 1972, following Bloody Sunday in Derry and the escalating political conflict in the North.

The reality is that the OASA and the SCC are ineffective relics of a conflict-era, which have failed to deal with the new threats posed by organised crime.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish and British Governments have a responsibility to work towards the normalisation of policing and security matters.

That means ending the state of emergency under which the OASA operates.

An academic debate about the merits or otherwise of the SCC during the political conflict will not make communities in 2017 any safer from the activities of organised crime.

This is what needs to be the focus now.

The current threat to the administration of justice, including jury intimidation, emanates from the rise of ruthless, organised criminal gangs, principally involved in drug-related and violent crime.

Sinn Féin recognises that there are certain criminal cases which are more difficult to prosecute given the nature of organised crime today.

The opportunity for well organised and well-funded criminal enterprises to influence juries or tamper with evidence or intimidate witnesses is greater than in the vast majority of criminal cases.

Therefore Sinn Féin does not oppose special courts to deal with the very specific circumstances of violent organised criminal gangs which present serious threats to the security of the state and communities when the ordinary courts are prevented from securing the effective administration of justice. The Constitution provides for this.

The objective is to minimise the capacity for those on trial to interfere with or influence the outcome of such cases by engaging in jury or witness intimidation.

Sinn Féin has also called for a proper examination of the option of juror anonymity and other special arrangements to protect those involved in court cases dealing with organised crime.

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