I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 40 together.
The agreement reached in the multi-party negotiations in Belfast on 10 April 1998 included a commitment on the part of the Government to initiate a wide-ranging review of the Offences Against the State Acts with a view to both reform and dispensing with those elements no longer required as circumstances permit. Arising out of that commitment, I obtained Government authorisation to establish a committee to carry out such a review under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court Judge, Mr. Anthony Hederman. The committee also includes a number of independent legal experts as well as representatives from interested Departments, offices and agencies.
The terms of reference of the committee provide that it will examine all aspects of the Offences Against the State Acts, 1939 to 1998, taking into account the view of the participants to the multi-party negotiations that the development of a peaceful environment on the basis of the Agreement can and should mean a normalisation of security arrangements and practices; the threat posed by international terrorism and organised crime; and Ireland's obligations under international law. The committee is to report to me as soon as practicable with recommendations for reform.
The work of the committee is still ongoing. Deputies will appreciate that the terms of reference are very broad, requiring the committee to examine all legislation related to offences against the State over a period of 60 years and to consider how legislation might best respond to current threats from various sources while also bearing in mind our obligations under international law. Covering such an important issue is a heavy workload for the committee and it would be both unfair and unwise to impose any deadline on it for completion of its report. Suffice to say that the terms of reference ask it to report as soon as practicable. I am, therefore, unable to give a precise date for completion of its report.
On the matter of the Special Criminal Court, any decision to establish a second or additional number of such courts is a matter for the Government and I could not say in response to a parliamentary question what action the Government might decide to take on a particular matter. The workload of the court is under continuous review in my Department.
Deputy Ó Caoláin asks about public consultations undertaken as part of the review. While this is a matter for the committee to decide, I understand that newspaper advertisements were placed in the newspapers, North and South, on 23 July inviting written submissions from interested individuals or groups before 30 September. For obvious reasons, I am unable to say at this stage, in advance of receiving the committee's report, what the response was to this invitation.