“Thankfully, through the efforts of the democratic people north and south of this island, and the ongoing watchfulness of An Garda Síochána and their colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, there has not been another tragedy of the scale of Omagh.
“It nonetheless remains crucial that those who display utter contempt and disregard for the people of Ireland, and who continue with their efforts at death and destruction are given a clear statement that this behaviour will not be tolerated,” he said.
Not averse to review
Speaking on amendments put about the role of the Special Criminal Court in the justice process, the minister said he was not averse to a review of the legislation.
The minister said there was intensive work taking place to implement the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, including a comprehensive review of security legislation.
“Work is ongoing in my Department to bring forward that review and the Offences Against the State legislation will, of course, be part of it, including the provisions before us today,” he said.
He asked that the amendments be withdrawn and said he had laid a report before the House in relation to the operation of the relevant provisions to be renewed.
“The report also sets out a brief assessment of the security situation. The Garda assessment is that there remains a real and persistent threat from republican paramilitary groups on this island. We all know these dissidents are opposed to democracy and the rule of law,” he said.
The most serious cases are being brought before the Special Criminal Court with convictions for directing terrorism under these provisions in 2003, with the most recent in 2017.
“These are very significant cases, involving those 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,” the minister said.
“The report before the Houses provides data that these provisions have been utilised in excess of 70 times in the period under review.
“In this period, the total number of people arrested under the provisions of the Offences Against the State Act 1939 is 146, of which 40 people were detained for offences contrary to the provisions of the 1998 Act.
“There have been seven convictions secured in the Courts in the reporting period and a further 34 persons are currently awaiting trial.”
The minister said it was the State’s duty to give security forces the appropriate measures to meet the threat of terrorism.
“The powers available under the 1998 Act are considered by An Garda Síochána as essential to maintaining preventative action against the terror groups. As such, I am advised by the Garda Commissioner that there is a clear need for the continuance of these provisions,” he said.
The threat from international terrorism must not be lost sight of either, the minister said, because, as an open democracy Ireland cannot be considered immune from such a threat.
Section Eight of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, was also the subject of a motion before the House.
The minister said that in view of the very real threat posed by organised crime, section eight of the 2009 Act provides for a limited number of specific “organised crime” offences to be prosecuted in the Special Criminal Court, subject to the prerogative of the Director of Public Prosecutions to direct that the offences be tried in the ordinary courts.
The ability to use the Special Criminal Court for a limited number of organised crime offences removes the possibility of jury tampering or intimidation of jurors, he said.
The willingness of crime organisations to engage in murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, drug smuggling, counterfeiting and other serious offences means that if criminals are prepared to take human life, then they are prepared to subvert the system of justice, the minister said.
Some security risks that in the past were mainly associated with subversive paramilitaries are now also associated with criminal groups, he continued.
Therefore, there is a necessity for legislation that anticipates this possibility to be in place.
He said he was satisfied that section eight of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 should continue in operation for a further 12 months.