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Special Criminal Court law passed just hours before deadline



Legislation enabling the operation of the Special Criminal Court has been passed by the Seanad on Monday evening.

It had been due to lapse within hours and that would have thrown gangland and paramilitary non-jury trials into chaos.

New Justice Minister Helen McEntee proposed the renewal of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act’s provisions.

She said: “The Garda assessment is that there remains a real and persistent threat from republican paramilitary groups on this island.

“The threat level in Northern Ireland from these groups is currently regarded as severe.

“We know these groups oppose peace and democracy; and regrettably they remain committed to violence and criminality.”

Sinn Fein abstained from the Dail vote on the legislation last week having previously opposed it.

The party’s decision came after former minister for justice Charlie Flanagan promised that a proposed review of the legislation would be independent.

The new justice minister said in the past year there had been an increase in paramilitary shootings and attacks in Northern Ireland.

She added: “The continuing attempts to murder and maim, such as the attempt earlier this year to smuggle a bomb on a Belfast passenger ferry to coincide with Brexit, demonstrate a scant regard for human life.

“The cowardly attempts to intimidate journalists and politicians demonstrates a contempt for an open and free democracy.

“The state will continue to confront those who act in opposition to the democratic wishes of the people of this island.”

The total number of people arrested under the provisions of the Offences Against the State Act 1939 is 146.

A total of 40 people were detained for offences contrary to the provisions of the 1998 Act, which was enacted following the Real IRA’s Omagh bomb.

There have been seven successful convictions in the courts in the reporting period and a further 34 are awaiting trial, the minister said.

The law also covers organised criminality which has been responsible for recent high-profile gangland violence.

The minister said: “There is stark evidence of the willingness of organised groups to engage in murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, drug smuggling, counterfeiting and other serious offences.

“As public representatives, we have witnessed its devastating impact on our communities.

“It is clear that these groups have no respect for the laws of this land nor the safety of its citizens.

“By their behaviour, they demonstrate a callous disregard for everything that a stable and democratic society stands for.”



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