The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, has moved Oireachtas resolutions for the renewal of important legislation aimed at combatting terrorism and serious organised crime.
The Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998, which was enacted in the aftermath of the Omagh bomb, makes amendments to the Offences against the State Acts 1939-1985, the State’s main body of counter-terrorist legislation, and created new substantive offences.
The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act, 2009 was enacted to put in place certain additional legislative measures to tackle organised crime. Among those measures was section 8 which provides that certain organised crime offences are scheduled offences and accordingly shall be tried in the Special Criminal Court unless the Director of Public Prosecutions otherwise directs.
Both Acts provide that that certain provisions shall cease to be in operation unless a Resolution had been passed by each House of the Oireachtas resolving that those provisions should continue in operation for a further 12 months.
The Dáil and Seanad agreed to renew for a further year the relevant provisions of both Acts until 29 June 2023.
In addition, there is an ongoing independent expert review of the Offences Against the State Acts, and a final report from the Group is expected in the autumn.
During the Oireachtas debates the Minister outlined that the threat from dissident paramilitaries remains, that as an open democracy Ireland is not immune from the threat from international terrorism and as such the continuation of the provisions was necessary. The Minister also thanked the members of the Independent Review Group for their ongoing work on reviewing the Offences Against the State Acts, and looked forward to engaging with any recommendations in their final report, expected in the autumn.
The Minister said:
“There remains a real and persistent threat from paramilitary groups … It is imperative that our laws and our authorities are properly equipped to deal with the threat.
These groups remain committed to violence and are contemptuous of the vast majority of the people on this island who wish to live their lives in peace.
It is my firm view that the provisions I am seeking renewal of today are important in supporting An Garda Síochána in their efforts to investigate, disrupt and dismantle the activities of terrorists.
Further in relation to organised crime and acknowledging the work of Gardaí, the Minister said:
“Organised criminal groups have no regard for the rule of law and supporting the great work of An Garda Síochána in tackling organised crime remains a priority for the Government.
“The Government is fully committed to giving An Garda Síochána the necessary resources to continue the work of combatting those involved in organised crime. As Minister for Justice, I want to acknowledge that work. An Garda Síochána continue to make significant seizures of drugs and firearms; they continue to bring organised criminals to justice and importantly they continue to prevent further loss of life.
“The clear view of the Garda Commissioner is that the continued operation of these provisions is required, and I fully support his view.”
Note for Editors
The Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 was enacted in the aftermath of the bombing at Omagh and contains a number of important anti-terrorism provisions including the offences of directing an unlawful organisation, training persons in the making and use of firearms and withholding of information. It provides for, amongst other things, inferences to be drawn from a failure to answer material questions and extensions of the period of detention in certain circumstances.
The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 came into force on 23 July 2009. The primary purpose of the Act was to introduce additional measures targeted at combating organised crime.
The Act provides, inter alia, for the trial of certain offences in the Special Criminal Court. Section 8 of the Act provides that certain serious, organised crime offences under Part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 are scheduled offences for the purposes of Part V of the Offences against the State Act 1939.
In effect, this allows the Special Criminal Court to hear trials for the offences in question without prejudice to the power of the DPP to direct that a person not be sent forward for trial by that court.
The offences in question are directing a criminal organisation; participating in or contributing to the activities of a criminal organisation; committing an offence for a criminal organisation and such offences when committed by bodies corporate.
The Independent Review Group, chaired by Mr Justice Michael Peart, former Judge of the Court of Appeal, was established in February 2021. The group is tasked with examining all aspects of the Offences against the State Acts, taking into account:
- the current threat posed by domestic/international terrorism and organised crime;
- the duty to deliver a fair and effective criminal justice system to ensure the protection of communities and the security of the State;
- Ireland’s obligations in relation to Constitutional and ECHR rights and international law.
The Review Group has consulted with the relevant stakeholders, statutory agencies and civil society organisations, and is expected to report in the autumn.
To read Minister McEntee’s opening remarks from yesterday’s Dáil debate, please click here here - https://justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/SP22000134