Special Criminal Court to be renewed after Seanad backs Justice Acts

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the legislation was necessary for gardaí to fight crime.

The Seanad has approved the renewal of the Offences Against the State and Criminal Justice Acts, paving the way for the non-jury Special Criminal Court to be renewed for another year.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee told the Seanad she believed the legislation was necessary for gardaí and the State to fight crime.

Ms McEntee said it was her view "that the State must retain in its laws the capacity to supress terrorist groups, and we have a duty as legislators to ensure that is so". 

She said it was important to pass the law to ensure the Special Criminal Court could remain in operation.

"[It is] the most serious cases being brought before the Special Criminal Court. Cases of the gravest nature such as directing an unlawful organisation, and murder, with significant convictions for directing terrorism as recently as 2017," said Ms McEntee. 

These are very significant cases, involving those involved at the most senior level in these organisations. In addition, in recent years, there have been important convictions for membership of an unlawful organisation, where the court has been able to draw inferences using these provisions.

Independent senator Alice Mary Higgins, however, raised questions about the use of the court and gave "very clear notice that the renewal of this Act in 12 months is not certain". 

Senator Michael McDowell said he "strongly believed in jury trial, no matter how inconvenient they may be to some", but said the review of the legislation shouldn't "put obstacles in the way of prosecution which would throw the baby out with the bathwater".

Labour senator Ivana Bacik said she welcomed the commitment to a review of the Act and said that the court was "an exception to the due process guarantee".

Earlier in the sitting, Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly was elected as cathaoirleach of the chamber.

The Kerryman succeeds his constituency neighbour, Bantry man Denis O'Donovan, in the chair of the Upper House, having won an internal vote of senators in the party. He beat Mr O'Donovan and Diarmuid Wilson.

Under the coalition agreement, senator Regina Doherty, nominated by Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Saturday, will lead the Seanad, with Fianna Fáil taking the €114,000-a-year chair.

Mr Daly said that he was honoured to take the chair, beginning with a tribute to both frontline workers and the outgoing government.

"We all bear a huge responsibility being in Seanad Eireann and representing the people of Ireland.

"And that awesome responsibility is part of the idea of opening up the Senate to new ideas, new possibilities new opportunities."



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