Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009: Motion

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 736 No. 1

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Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  I move:

The purpose of this resolution is to provide for the continuation in operation of section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 for a further period of a year from 1 July. One of the most important traits of a democratic society is a justice system that operates free from interference by anyone seeking to wrongfully influence outcomes. Our criminal justice system is made up not only of judges and lawyers but also by the participation of citizens, whether as witnesses or jurors. The latter role is central to our idea of trial by a jury of one’s peers. Nothing can be considered more insidious than the targeting of those citizens who are prepared to do their public duty by serving as jurors in order to influence the outcome of criminal proceedings, but that is the reality we must face and it is a matter we, as legislators, have to resolve. The House will share my view that trial by jury must be preserved to the greatest extent possible. However, none of us can be blind to the threat posed to the criminal process by individuals, terrorist groups and organised criminal groups which seek to intimidate jurors or potential jurors. Their aim is to subvert the criminal justice system. We cannot allow that to happen. Therefore, we have to take appropriate and proportionate measures to prevent this interference. To do so we have to make the hard decision that a proper trial by jury is simply not possible in certain limited circumstances.

The measures contained in the 2009 Act were put in place by the Oireachtas to take the necessary action to address the increasing levels of violence by gangs involved in organised crime. I emphasise the point that section 8 of the 2009 Act is aimed at particular types of cases and that the centrality of the jury trial to our system remains intact. The 2009 Act primarily provided for the trial of organised crime offences in the Special Criminal Court unless the Director of Public Prosecutions directed otherwise; the creation of a new offence of directing or controlling a criminal organisation; an increase in the maximum penalty for the offence of participation or involvement in organised crime; a court, with regard to all organised crime offences, to be able to draw inferences from a failure to answer questions or to account for movements, actions, activities or associations; and an increase in the penalty for the intimidation of a witness or a juror from ten to 15 years imprisonment.

The view of the Garda authorities is that these provisions are indispensable to them in tackling organised crime. A large number of arrests have been made under these provisions and charges are being pursued against a number of people, but I would be less than frank if I did not say to the House that, useful as the provisions are, there will be disappointment that they have not proved to be greater benefit in tackling the death and destruction caused by criminal gangs. That is why I have asked my Department to review them to see if there are any further measures we can take.

Section 8 of the 2009 Act is aimed at ensuring organised criminal gangs cannot interfere with the court process to influence the outcome of cases. For this purpose, the section declares that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order in relation to certain organised crime offences under Part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, as amended. I will detail these offences for Deputies presently. The offences are deemed to be scheduled offences for the purposes of Part V of the Offences against the State Act 1939, which means that they will be tried in the Special Criminal Court. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions may still exercise his power to direct that they should be tried in the ordinary courts.

[47]Section 8(4) provides that the section shall cease to be in operation unless a resolution has been passed by each House of the Oireachtas that it continue in operation for a further period. The Dáil and the Seanad passed such resolutions on 29 June 2010 to continue the provision in operation until 30 June 2011.

Section 8(6) provides that before a resolution to continue section 8 in operation is tabled, I must lay a report before both Houses on the operation of the Act in the period under report. I laid such a report before both Houses on 14 June. The particular offences to which the section refers are set out in Part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, as amended.

Section 71A is the offence of directing a criminal organisation. This offence was inserted by section 5 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. It is intended to target those who direct the activities of organised criminal gangs. However, it is aimed not just at those who are in a leadership position in the gangs but at all levels of the gangs. The offence carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment.

Section 72 is the offence of participating in or contributing to the activities of a criminal organisation in order to enhance a gang’s ability to commit a serious offence or to facilitate a gang in committing serious offences. This offence was inserted by section 6 of the 2009 Act and carries a penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment.

Section 73 is the offence of committing an offence for a criminal organisation. The maximum penalty for this offence was increased from ten to 15 years imprisonment by section 10 of the 2009 Act. Section 76 provides for liability for offences under Part 7 of the 2006 Act where they are committed by corporate bodies, their members, directors and managers.

Deputies will be well aware of the ongoing threat which organised crime presents to society. Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence of the involvement of criminal gangs in murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, drug smuggling, counterfeiting and other serious offences. There is also no doubt about their willingness to use the most serious violence to protect their own interests and ensure they can continue their activities.

I take the opportunity to praise the Garda Síochána for its ongoing work in tackling these criminal gangs. It continues to deploy considerable resources to tackling organised and serious crime. The Garda organised crime unit has the primary role of targeting organised criminal gangs, working in conjunction with other Garda national units such as the emergency response unit, the Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Criminal Assets Bureau. Working collaboratively, these units have had and continue to have success in disrupting these criminal gangs.

Deputies will also know that there have been a number of seizures of significant quantities of drugs and arrests so far this year as part of ongoing Garda operations being carried out with the co-operation of the Customs service. In one operation in Slane, County Meath in March drugs to the value of over €750,000 were seized and in another operation in April near Enfield, County Meath almost €1 million worth of heroin was seized. The Garda made arrests in these and many other operations and charges are being brought.

Given the nature of organised crime, the investigation and prosecution process can be lengthy and difficult, particularly given the power that these criminal gangs hold over the people involved with them. However, the Garda Commissioner has made it clear time and again that there will be no let up in the action being taken against these gangs. He has mine and the Government’s full support in that approach.

The report which I laid before the House is based on information provided for me by the Garda authorities. It shows that section 8, the subject of the resolution, has not been used in the period under report. While there have been many arrests under the relevant sections of the 2006 Act, no cases have yet come before the Special Criminal Court. This does not, [48]however, invalidate the reasoning for having such a provision available for use should the circumstances require it. The House would be rightly critical if measures to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system were not in place at any time when that system came under threat.

The relevant sections of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 have been used by the Garda on 72 occasions. These arrests have resulted in four persons being charged with offences contrary to section 71A which provides for directing a criminal organisation and section 72 which provides for participating in or contributing to the activities of a criminal organisation in the period under report. However, I emphasise that these arrests have also resulted in other charges being brought, relating to firearms offences, the sale and supply of controlled drugs, robbery, aggravated burglary and other serious offences.

As I stated, the Garda authorities are clear in their view that the provisions of the 2009 Act are indispensable to the fight against organised crime. The Garda authorities also consider that it is of paramount importance that the relevant provision of the Act be extended for a further period. In matters such as this, I must have the utmost regard for the views of the Garda authorities. It essential to ensure the Garda has at its disposal the best possible range of powers to deal with these dangerous criminal gangs.

In combating organised and serious crime, the House has in recent years brought through a comprehensive programme of criminal law reform. The legislation is making a significant contribution to tackling this type of crime, but I will keep under review the question of whether any improvements could be made to the overall legislative architecture in this area to render it more effective. As I have indicated to the House, I have asked for a specific review of the provisions of the 2009 Act.

Let us be clear: those who are deeply involved in organised crime are desperate people who will stop at nothing to avoid being brought to book. Extreme violence and brutal intimidation are simply a way of life for these thugs. They have no regard for society or the law and we have a duty to make sure the criminal justice system can hold sway over them. To that end, we must ensure that in the most serious of cases, in which jury intimidation is a real possibility, the law has the means available to bring these criminals to account. In the circumstances this is a justified and measured limitation of the right to trial by jury.

On balance, I consider that the period of time for which I propose to renew the section is proportionate. The 2009 Act provided for an initial period of one year for the provision to be in operation before its continuance would be reconsidered. The period now proposed, running from the current expiry date up to 29 June 2012, corresponds to this. Of course, if it is proposed to continue the provision in operation after that date, the Oireachtas will again have to consider the matter. I commend the resolution to the House.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary  Zoom on Dara Calleary  I welcome the Minister’s remarks. My party will support the extension of this legislation, which was introduced by the Minister’s predecessor, Mr. Dermot Ahern. I note the Minister’s remarks about the comprehensive programme of criminal law reform in recent years. I welcome the fact that he will review elements of it which are probably not performing in the way that had been envisaged. He will certainly have my support in strengthening any such proposals.

The participation of ordinary citizens in the criminal justice process is an essential component of the validity and integrity of that process. Participation through jury service and acting as witnesses is essential in ensuring that the judgment of one’s peers is as robust as possible. Jurors and witnesses make significant sacrifices in many cases. Unfortunately, in recent years, they have come under considerable pressure in fulfilling their civic duties. Without their participation, our criminal justice system would collapse along with many pillars of society.

[49]Unfortunately, the centrality of the system has made, and continues to make these people a target of people whom the system seeks to punish. It is absolutely certain that those who target the system, including witnesses and jurors, have no regard for the House, this democracy or the views of the vast majority. They have no regard for human life or the integrity of the justice system. Their concept of justice tends to stop at their bottom line. That lack of respect for human life means this provision is needed and so we must once again renew it.

Section 8 is essential to repel these forces. As a democratic parliament, we must send a strong message that we will not stand for that kind of attitude towards our criminal justice system. It is not just politicians that want to send that message. As the Minister said, the Garda Síochána is still seeking to maintain these provisions. It is important that when we look at the report the Minister has laid before the House, we note that the Garda uses only part of the provisions. It shows the Garda is not abusing this, but is treating it with the seriousness we have granted to it within the legislation.

It is noticeable that areas of the legislation are not functioning as strongly as had been envisaged. I acknowledge the election today of Deputy David Stanton as Chairman of the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, along with Deputy Joanna Tuffy as its Vice-Chairman. I wish them well. When the Minister attends the committee, we might reflect on those areas that are not as robust as they should be. We must try to get as much cross-party agreement as possible to tackle them.

The Minister referred to the ongoing level of organised crime and gangland activity generally. We must ensure that the legislation is as responsive and flexible as possible. Unfortunately, the resources available to these people often mean that they are better equipped than the security services and one step ahead of the law. We must therefore ensure that this legislation is robust. I welcome the fact that the Minister must lay a report before the House every year when seeking to renew the legislation.

The offence of directing a criminal organisation is not just aimed at gang leaders but at the foot-soldiers who perpetrate crimes on their behalf. Other offences include: participating in, or contributing to, the activities of a criminal organisation; committing an offence for a criminal organisation; and being liable for an offence committed by a corporate body on behalf of a criminal organisation. Few would argue that those are significant offences posing a threat to the State. Those committing such offences have no regard for jury trials or witnesses, which is why we must continue to support this provision.

The offence of directing a criminal organisation brings such matters into sharp focus. A number of documentaries, including one recently on RTE, reflected on times when these legislative provisions were not available. Because it was not possible to bring the perpetrators to justice, they continued with their campaigns of destruction in communities around Dublin and elsewhere, regardless of the consequences for the general public. The introduction of these powers and others has ensured that we are now supplying the Garda Síochána with a legal basis to protect citizens from damage to their daily lives through drugs, arms and various other criminal offences.

The section is particularly relevant at this time. This Sunday will mark the 15th anniversary of Veronica Guerin’s death. Those are the depths to which these people are willing to descend to protect their citadels and their interests. We should remember that Veronica Guerin was gunned down while doing her job as a journalist in exposing gangland activities. Criminals are still as liable to do that today as they were 15 years ago and unless we robustly support this legislation and ensure it is maintained and flexible, they will certainly do it again. That is why all of us in this House have a responsibility to be careful in commenting publicly on any body that seeks to assist us.

[50]We support the continuation of these provisions. When the Minister attends the committee I would like him to flesh out the reasons some elements of the overall Bill are not as robust as they could be. We will then see what changes can be made. I endorse everything the Minister has said about the role of the Garda Síochána in implementing this legislation. As legislators, we make the laws while the Garda implements and enforces them. We are not exposed to the dangers that members of the Garda Síochána face daily in dealing with criminals. We do not have to carry out surveillance operations or place ourselves in such danger. Members of the Garda Síochána have served, and continue to serve, this State incredibly well. In passing this legislation, we should always remember the sacrifices that members of the force have made in dealing with criminals and protecting citizens. We owe it to them to ensure the legislation we pass is as robust as possible to give the Garda the powers it requires.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien  Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien  I wish to share time with Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien  Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien  The sub-culture of gangland crime is thriving in our society. It knows no bounds and carries on regardless of whether we are in a Celtic tiger period or the current recession. It is often described in the media as the criminal underworld, but it is a very visible way of life for many in large urban areas. It is a plague which, whether we like it or not, some people find attractive. Given the potential riches involved and the apparent impunity with which many gangland figures operate, there is always a danger that impressionable youths with no money, little hope and no real future will see it as a viable way of life. They see it as a means of putting cash in their pockets and having self-esteem.

There is a darker, more sinister side to this plague upon which we all need to shine a spotlight. It is the side that involves drugs, firearms, robberies, extortion, torture, kidnapping and murder. Beyond that lies the misery that gangland crime inflicts on communities through drug addiction, intimidation, fear and a general breakdown of law and order.

When first introduced, this amended legislation was held up as a means of dealing with the rise in gangland crime — a sickness that has found its way into every corner of this State. At the time, we were told that by giving the Garda Síochána those extra powers, which were deemed critical to stem the rise of gangland crime, we would start winning the war and the tide would turn. While there was an understandable rush to stem that tide, I question if we reacted hastily in a knee-jerk fashion. The result was the amending legislation passed by this House previously, the powers within which are up for renewal again today. I wonder if the moral argument on the extra powers given under this amending legislation came into the conversation at that time. There is no legitimate argument for the continuing process of introducing emergency legislation which is not human rights based such as measures to hollow out the presumption of innocence or the removal of the right to a jury trial.

There has always been a wide array of criminal law on the Statute Book to counter serious crime. Sinn Féin has no difficulty in facilitating the introduction of good law to deal with any shortcomings that may exist but the powers that are the subject of this motion, as the Minister outlined, have rarely been used. Adequately resourcing the Garda and maintaining a consistent committed strategy to tackling gangland crime is what is needed. There is a whole new way of utilising the resources available to us and that must also be central to any solution. For instance, how can we justify cutting the budget for Operation Anvil while at the same time spending millions of euro policing the private interests of companies such as Shell in Rossport? There is a stark contradiction in that.

[51]We were told by the Minister’s predecessor that this measure was a necessary tool in the fight against serious crime but yet it has resulted in zero cases being sent to the Special Criminal Court. Last year it was utilised 72 times, resulting in four people facing charges but none of them was sent to the Special Criminal Court. Nobody would be happier than I if a mechanism existed whereby the right people were jailed and criminal enterprises were smashed, but that task has been made all the more difficult given the constraints we now face in terms of the EU-IMF bailout and the Minister’s recent announcement on Garda recruitment.

I agree with Deputy Calleary that the establishment of the justice committee gives us an opportunity to have a discussion on improving policing and starting to move towards a multi-agency approach to crime prevention and detection. We have consistently called for a wide range of realistic and potentially effective proposals for tackling serious crime in our communities. We would like to see the fast-tracking of the Garda civilianisation programme to free gardaí from administration duties to fight crime on the front line. We have called for increased funding for Garda drug units with enhanced community input. We require an independent oversight of informer handling practices. That is important to prevent a perception developing that there are individuals who may have a close relationship with members of the Garda and who are allowed amass criminal empires. As the Minister will be aware, the Ombudsman office is currently investigating one such allegation where a drugs haulier was allowed to operate with impunity in return for information on others. We hear such stories all too often in our local communities. There is a perception that if people dealing in drugs who are brought in give information to members of the Garda, they are not brought before the courts.

Garda visibility in activities in areas experiencing chronic drug problems is essential. The only way to defeat the drugs scourge and to deal gangland crime a fatal blow in this State is to remove the market for it. We need greater investments in our communities, in education and in better planning practices. These are all strands towards a holistic solution. We would be better off discussing these points rather than the motion on this amendment Act.

We will not be supporting the renewal of these powers. I ask Members to reflect on the growing consensus at home and abroad in regard to the Special Criminal Court and such unnecessary draconian legislation which should be removed. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the UN Human Rights Committee and ourselves have all expressed concern in the past about its continuing existence and that is the reason we will not be supporting this motion.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh, as deis a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an gceist seo. Ba mhaith liom ar dtús, mo chomhgairdeas a ghabháil leis An Garda Síochána agus le lucht an chustaim as an obair iontach a rinne siad i mbliana. Léiríonn sé sin go bhfuil gá le breis maoine agus áiseanna a thabhairt dóibh siúd.

The Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise should be congratulated on their drug seizures this year. That proves that they need additional resources. The number of gardaí should be maintained at the current level and Garda civilianisation should be increased at a proper rate.

This legislation is corrosive to the justice system and the continual renewing of it each year is definitely corrosive. When this legislation was proposed in 2009 I warned of the danger that it would be continuously rubber-stamped in this House.

Much more can be done to protect juries and witnesses. We argued in committees in previous Dáils for a range of measures that could be taken to ensure our justice system operates free from the interference of anyone seeking to influence outcomes wrongfully. I would never ask for leniency for any criminal, especially those gangs who have brought drugs and destruction to my area and other areas throughout the country. I have continuously asked for the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, to be refocused on those at a lower level in the chain. Young people in working class areas who have suffered greatly see drug barons and drug dealers with the trap[52]pings of wealth and that must stop. CAB needs to refocus on those on the lower level and in the next year or so such refocus would be seen to have an effect on tackling the scourge of drugs and the trappings of wealth around the drugs trade.

There is a need to ensure that juries and witnesses are protected. Some of the mechanisms of doing that is to have quicker trials, the screening of juries where they are under threat and using existing provisions within our justice system, of which there are quite a number, which have not been fully used prior to the introduction of this measure; they are well capable of protecting our society, juries and witnesses, which the implementation of this Act sought to do. The introduction of the Tetra system for the Garda Síochána needs to continue apace and new technologies need to be embraced . The forensic laboratory which should have been built many years ago should be up and running. Until those steps are taken we should not be invoking further corrosive changes to our legislation and in this case we should refuse to renew these powers at this time.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  I wish to share time with Deputies Clare Daly and Mattie McGrath.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Tom Hayes): Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  That is agreed.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  I want to focus on an aspect of the Act providing for special powers for the Special Criminal Court. While I fully recognise that organised crime is a major cause for concern and one that has potential to cause great harm to Irish society, is organised crime so big a threat as to justify restrictions of the constitutional right to trial by jury? The answer is, we do not know and in the absence of supporting data I have grave concerns about the blanket assumption regarding the actual or potential level of jury intimidation in Ireland.

When real threats are posed to jurors, questions must be asked about the operation of the jury system, but that should not automatically mean that in non-emergency situations we deny citizens of this State their rights. The right to trial by jury is an important safeguard against the abuse of power and this proposed extension of the remit of the Special Criminal Court is clearly in contravention of the UN Human Rights Committee. That committee has already criticised Ireland for continuing to use the Special Criminal Court.

The jury system provides for a rare check of excessive Government prosecutions. A jury trial also presents an opportunity for a defendant to be judged by a group of his or her peers. Individual prejudice and irrationality are checked by the group, leading to a fairer, more reasoned administration of justice. As well as the perception of fairness when defendants are tried by their peers, providing for trial by jury is a powerful symbol of public participation in the criminal justice system. It is important that people believe they have ownership of the system and a jury trial nurtures that feeling. It also reinforces our confidence that justice is seen to be done. Human rights lawyers working in countries undergoing democratic transition aspire to the western model of jury service.

I remain to be convinced that jury intimidation is at such a serious level that it warrants the extension of the powers of the Special Criminal Court in the way proposed in the amended 2009 Act. It is remarkable that policies are being made and applied on the basis of anecdote and supposition. In 2009 the Irish Human Rights Commission made clear a similar objection in its observations on the Act when it stated it considered the developed system of criminal justice was capable of confronting effectively the problem of organised crime without resorting to a parallel system that did not provide an accused with a right to trial by jury. The main problem arises in respect of witness intimidation which would not be solved by providing for trial by judge only. Witnesses in the Special Criminal Court still need to give evidence in open court. It is incumbent on the Government, therefore, to tackle this issue.

[53]Perhaps the real issue we need to consider is not that of the criminal justice system, Garda powers or special courts but how communities are served, protected and resourced in order to deal with a small criminal minority. However, we would then be dealing with a welfare issue and I suspect that in a recession it is deemed far less problematic to pass laws than to fund services. The famous Rock Tansey, QC, founder of the European Criminal Bar Association, stated, “There are serious circumstances where jury intimidation can happen but it is not beyond the wit of man to put measures in place to protect juries.” As an institution, the jury has much to commend it. Juries add legitimacy to the decisions of courts precisely because they involve people in the process. If they can function, they ought to do so. Before resorting to using the Special Criminal Court, we should consider other means by which we could strengthen the jury system. Above all, we must always guard our personal and civil liberties.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  We all agree that criminal gangs engaged in murder, smuggling, supplying drugs, kidnapping and so on need to be tackled. The Minister has told the House that this curtailment of civil liberties is necessary to achieve that aim, but the first question to be asked is whether that is the case. The legislation has been in place for a number of years, yet it has not impacted on the reality of organised crime positively. Deputies have referred to the serious erosion of civil liberties and rights. In our experience, this and other oppressive legislation introduced under the headline of dealing with subversion and so on has been misused to target ordinary people, protestors, students and Shell to Sea campaigners. I have been on the receiving end of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act a few times.

As Deputy Halligan stated, what is at issue is the trial of offences in non-jury courts allegedly to overcome jury intimidation. A departure from the jury system is never justified. It is serious that we allow a weaker standard of evidence to be accepted in cases where the outcome for someone could be 15 years or life in prison. Section 72 is particularly concerning. It contains a broad clause, whereby a Garda superintendent or a garda deemed to have an appropriate level of expertise swears that he or she believes someone is guilty of participating in or contributing to the activities of a criminal organisation which is enough to see that person receive a sentence of 15 years. In the light of the serious miscarriages of justice that have occurred in the State and elsewhere, this provision is a retrograde step.

If the issue really is one of jury intimidation, other measures could be put in place. For example, investment in communities cutting across the scourge of drugs is the way to deal with organised crime, not suppressing liberties.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath  Zoom on Mattie McGrath  I welcome the opportunity to give my opinion on the renewal of the powers to address the gangland crimes that have become all too prevalent throughout the country, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Investment in restorative justice programmes and other schemes such as those that tackle juvenile crime and addressing the reasons people become involved in crime are important. I give my full support to the continuation of the legislation in the interests of protecting the jury system and ridding the streets of people who commit these heinous crimes, in particular tiger kidnappings which strike terror into families and communities. Many people in local post offices have recently been the victims of these savage crimes. Where some of these offices have been threatened with closure, finding people to keep them open will be difficult. It is a public duty, but they would be threatened by criminals.

We cannot forget the good work of the Garda is undermined when intimidation prevents the prosecution of those involved in organised crime. I am neither afraid nor ashamed to say I have some experience of the jury system. I understand the vital public service provided by jurors on a daily basis up and down the country. I hope this legislation will strengthen the [54]Garda’s powers to detain and rearrest. Above all, I hope it will allow law-abiding citizens and their families to live our their lives in peace and harmony.

I do not agree with everything stated by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. In many respects, it has exaggerated its points. The recent visits of Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama showed the good work being done by the security forces. That a few people tried to wreck these visits in the name of the Irish people was wrong.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  I join Deputy Calleary in congratulating Deputies Stanton and Tuffy on being elected Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively, of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I look forward to working with them. Deputy Calleary and I will use the committee constructively to deal with legislative and policy matters.

I thank Deputy Calleary for supporting the extension of the operation of this legislation. I share his opinion of the importance of jury service and the jury system, and it is important that we preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system. This includes ensuring those who are engaged in gangland crime do not intimidate juries and can be brought to trial in circumstances where there is a genuine concern that juries may be intimidated.

To date, the legislation has not been invoked to require the usage of the Special Criminal Court in the circumstances envisaged. The operation of the legislation is being extended and we will see the extent to which it will be used this year. One wonders whether the legislation’s existence acts as a protection against jury intimidation in that those brought before the courts may be concerned that if there is any suggestion of intimidation, they will be brought before the Special Criminal Court.

  6 o’clock

I thank Deputy Calleary for his contribution. It is important that, like Deputy Mattie McGrath, we recognise the dangers to which the Garda Síochána is subjected in the work it does in this regard. I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for his positive and supportive contribution. It was notable that the other Deputies who contributed and opposed this provision commenced their contributions by expressing support for the Garda Síochána, their opposition to gangland crime and their concern to ensure people are brought to justice. Deputy O’Brien argued for additional resources for and recruitment to the Garda Síochána. All of those Deputies who expressed support for the Garda Síochána do so in circumstances in which they are opposing the resolution before the House and disagreeing with the advice of the Garda authorities. This resolution is before the House for one reason, namely, the Garda authorities have asked that it remain in place. They believe it to be important in the fight against gangland crime that it remain in place as it provides for the possibility of trials, in limited circumstances, before the Special Criminal Court in circumstances in which there is a real and present danger to juries. I find it difficult to understand why Deputies would preface their contributions by expressing support for the Garda Síochána and then oppose a resolution which the Garda authorities want passed. It is an inconsistent approach.

Those involved in gangland crime are engaged in a broad range of serious offences, including drug trafficking, drug selling, shooting people on the streets of Dublin and elsewhere, human trafficking and so-called tiger kidnappings. Unfortunately, we in this State are subject to this type of tyranny from those who have no respect for the law or human life, as can be seen from the activities in which they are engaged.

Much has been said about human rights. I believe the role of the Garda Síochána is to protect the human rights of the community, the rights of ordinary people to walk safely in the streets, the rights of people to go about their business without fear of kidnap and the rights of the State to raise revenue in circumstances that are legitimate without thwart by those engaged [55]in illegal importation of cigarettes into the country. There is a broad range of areas that relate to the human rights of the ordinary citizens of this country and of jurors. Any person asked to serve on a jury is entitled to know we will protect him or her as best we can.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh having congratulated the Garda Síochána and called for extra numbers for the force then provided two interesting solutions in regard to the protection of jurors from intimidation or the possibility of injury or fatality. His prognosis was that we should have quick trials and should screen jurors. I do not know if by quick trials he means that jurors should go into a room for ten minutes and run out again. Trials must take their normal course. If there is a possibility of jurors being intimidated during a trial those who are accused at a trial or those part of a gang who come to view a trial but are not being prosecuted may be able to identify jurors whether the trial is quick or slow. How screening jurors would provide them with protection, I do know.

This is an important measure. I acknowledge that the contributions made by Deputies Halligan and Daly were made in good faith. They both made reference to issues of human rights and trials by jury being a protection against abuse of power. Deputy Daly appears to be of the view that this particular legislation has given rise to a serious erosion of civil rights. The reality is that the Special Criminal Court has not yet been used under this legislation. It is simply a backdrop protection which the Garda authorities believe valuable and have asked that it be kept in place. In the circumstances, I believe we should do so. I commend the resolution to the House.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 112; Níl, 24.

Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  Bannon, James. Information on Tom Barry  Zoom on Tom Barry  Barry, Tom.
Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat. Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P.
Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Bruton, Richard. Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Burton, Joan.
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Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Lyons and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Joe Higgins.

Question declared carried.

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