Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann resolves that sections 2 to 4, 6 to 12, 14 and 17 of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 (No. 39 of 1998) shall continue in operation for the period beginning on 30th June, 2021 and ending on 29th June, 2022.

The two motions before Deputies today seek the continuation in force of important provisions in law aimed at combatting terrorism and organised crime. As Minister for Justice, I am required to lay reports before the Oireachtas on the use of the relevant provisions of the two Acts covering the 12 months to 31 May 2021. Those reports were placed before the House on 18 June 2021.

The Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 was enacted in the aftermath of the atrocity at Omagh in August 1998, which saw the murder by the Real IRA of 29 innocent people. While there has been significant progress towards a lasting peace, regrettably there remains a real and persistent threat from paramilitary groups who remain wedded to violence and are contemptuous of the vast majority of the people on this island who wish to life their lives in peace. These robust provisions provide strong legislative powers to ensure the gardaí and the courts are in position to meet the challenge laid down by those opponents of peace.

The report provides a brief assessment of the security situation. The Garda assessment remains that the primary security threat in the State continues to be from republican paramilitary groups, the so-called dissident groups who have their origin in the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army, INLA. It is imperative our laws and authorities are properly equipped to deal with the threat. Let no one be under the illusion that these groups do not represent a threat to this State and to Northern Ireland. It is also clearly established that these groups operate hand in hand with organised criminals.

As Minister for Justice, I pay tribute to members of An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, who continue to work tirelessly and co-operate closely to preserve life and counter all threats from terrorism. Paramilitaries have consistently demonstrated that they are ruthless, reckless and cowardly. They continue their attempts to murder and main PSNI officers. The callous targeting of a part-time prison officer in April underlines their cold-blooded nature. North-South co-operation in this area is crucial and the benefits of same are obvious from successful joint operations and the recent cross-Border investigation targeting ongoing crime.

While the 1998 Act was a response to a domestic threat as an open democracy, it is important we do not lose sight of the threat from international terrorism. Ireland is not immune from this threat and many provisions of the Offences against the State Acts form part of the State's response to that threat. We continue to work closely with EU and international partners in remaining vigilant against that threat.

An independent expert review group under the chairmanship of former Court of Appeal judge, Mr. Justice Michael Peart, has been established to review the Offences against the State Acts. This comprehensive review will deliver on a commitment given during this debate last year. This is an important and timely process because nearly 20 years have passed since these powers were last subject to a detailed review. I am grateful to the expert members for giving their time to this important work. The chair of the group has confirmed to me that an interim report is being finalised by the group and I expect to receive that in the near future. That report will detail the work undertaken by the group along with its assessment of the time required to bring this substantial body of work to conclusion.

In the meantime, the report laid before this House notes the clear view of the Garda authorities that the Act continues to be one of the most important tools in the ongoing efforts in the fight against terrorism. As Minister for Justice, I must have regard to the views of the Garda Commissioner.

In the circumstances I must conclude that these provisions continue to be required and that they should remain in operation for a further 12 months. By that time, I expect to have the benefit of the group's final report.

Section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 is also the subject of the motion before the House. It refers to a small number of serious, organised crime offences that are set out in Part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006. Section 8 of the 2009 Act makes these scheduled offences for the purposes of Part V of the Offences against the State Act 1939, which means that trials for these offences are to be heard in the Special Criminal Court subject to the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions to direct that the offences be tried in the ordinary courts. The purpose of this provision is to guard against the possibility of interference with jury trial by ruthless criminal groups. The report on this section includes information provided by the Garda Commissioner on the use over the past 12 months of the provisions in question and details of the offences in question. The report outlines that in the past year five individuals have been convicted in the Special Criminal Court in respect of offences to which section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act applies. One of those individuals was convicted of directing a criminal organisation and received a lengthy sentence.

Every Member is in no doubt as to the length these criminal groups are prepared to go to thwart the justice system and to maintain a climate of fear and intimidation in communities. They have no regard for the damage their activities cause for families throughout the country. They have no regard for the rule of law, and they will stop at nothing in pursuit of their criminal gain.

As set out in the two reports that have been laid before the House, it is the clear view of An Garda Síochána that the provisions in the 1998 and 2009 Acts continue to be necessary and effective in ongoing efforts in the fight against terrorism and serious organised crime. On the basis of the information set out in the report, and on the advice of the Garda authorities, I commend the motion to the House.

I thank the Minister for her statement. Every year we come to the House to examine the Offences against the State Act. The clear difficulty we have in this country with organised crime gangs, in particular international drug gangs, is something for which we all share an abhorrence, given the toll they take on communities the length and breadth of the country, especially in inner city areas where drugs are a serious problem. The legislation has come under scrutiny for many years from international players who identify difficulties with it that need to be resolved. I am grateful that at last a review of the legislation is under way. It must be progressed as quickly as possible.

I am reassured by the Minister saying an interim report is expected soon. I hope that before we return here this time next year not only will we have the report but we will make changes to the legislation to ensure that it is robust and stable and does not attract any attention from international human rights observers in the way the present legislation does. We need robust legislation. We must be able to defeat the criminal elements that run amok the length and breadth of the country and internationally. We see the international element of it with the recent cyberattack on the HSE and what it has done in respect of it. We are all very conscious that we need good laws. We need firm laws and for the Garda Síochána to be properly resourced to deal with these situations.

Today, we received the quarterly report on crime figures for the first quarter of this year. We see that crime has reduced. If there is a lesson to be learned from that, it is that the presence of gardaí on the streets and visibly doing their work in the community has an impact, as they have been throughout the pandemic. That is one of the good news stories of the pandemic. Burglaries and assaults are down while the seizure of drugs and arms has increased. It is very clear from the report that we should all take solace from the fact that the work of An Garda Síochána on the streets is having an effect.

Tomorrow, the Commissioner is going before the Policing Authority to speak about the cancellation of 3,000 emergency 999 calls. It would be appropriate for the Minister to at least apologise in solidarity with the thousands of people who were let down by the Garda in respect of this serious issue. If she can, it would be appropriate for the Minister to address the issue in her closing remarks and to apologise to those people who have been let down. There may be many more who have been let down in a similar way.

To return to the legislation before us, a review is taking place and it should put us in a new place. I hope that is what will happen. For that reason, we will not oppose the legislation this year. I will hand over to Deputy Daly to make some concluding remarks.

It is heartening to see that in one of the reports that was laid before the House that the Minister accepts that some of these emergency provisions are a departure from normal practice. Many of the human rights leaders to whom we spoke recently accept that emergency provisions which are outside the norm tend to persist the longer they exist and if they are not used, they should cease. The annual renewal is not satisfactory, but rather than putting more appropriate legal architecture in place, successive Governments have sometimes used the renewal as a political football. It is 20 years since a review under the late, great Mr. Justice Hederman, and a review is welcome now.

The second issue is the lack of oversight. There is no doubt that there are cases going to the Special Criminal Court at the moment that should not go there. It is simply not right that, as was said recently, a civil servant should have the power to refer cases to the court without reason, challenge or explanation. We called for a review last year, as we believe the legislation is outdated and belongs to another era. The review group has been appointed and it has some excellent members. We will await its report. We will deliver our own submission and we hope voting on this motion will soon be redundant. In the meantime, we await the outcome of the review group and we will keep the matter under review.

I too welcome the review chaired by Mr. Justice Michael Peart. I also take note of the Minister's promise of an interim report shortly. In the meantime, we are asked to continue in force certain provisions of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. That is the motion before the House. The provisions to be renewed again fall into two categories. First, those enactments created new offences and, second, the provision of the ordinary courts are deemed as inadequate to try these offences and therefore they should be tried in the Special Criminal Court. On the first matter, if these offences are now a permanent feature of our law they should be made so, and not subject to annual review. We must have a proper debate upon that.

In terms of cases being brought to the Special Criminal Court, the background to that Article 38.3.1o of the Constitution allows for special non-jury courts to be established by law.

Special courts may be established by law for the trial of offences in cases where it may be determined in accordance with such law that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice, and the preservation of public peace and order.

The process involved is a two-stage one. The first is where special courts are established and the second is that the cases to be tried are those determined in accordance with the law as cases deemed inadequate for the ordinary courts. The Constitution does not state that the Oireachtas itself will decide and set out in the law those offences in respect of which the ordinary courts are inadequate. It states that such determination is made "in accordance with such law". The determination is quite clear when one reads the Irish text of the Constitution to be consequent on the passing of law to be made "de réir an dlí sin", in accordance with that law, rather than the law being included in the text of the Bill itself. That is not a semantic point. If it is made in accordance with laws, there has to be a process of determination that cases cannot be tried before the normal courts. Previously, that judgment or determination was made by Government order under the Offences against the State Act 1939. Having regard to the Minister for Justice's role in policing and the reporting relationship between An Garda Síochána and the Government, the Minister presumably had the information needed to make those decisions, but under these two Acts, the Oireachtas took that decision-making upon itself. That causes problems.

What we are asked to do is make a determination that, in certain cases, we, as Oireachtas Members, are determining that they have to go to a special court, and the normal constitutional provisions would be set aside. That is a very onerous thing. There is much case law that I cannot go into in the five minutes I have. However, I know the Abbeylara case very well because I was involved in it, and all the judges recognised that the Oireachtas was entitled to make inquiries in regard to legislation, but in all of that there had to be a transparent process so the Oireachtas was visibly enabled to make that decision.

When that particular point was made by Deputy Sean Sherlock in 2019, the then Minister for Justice said it was reasonable to assume that Members - that is, each Member of the House - will engage in their own research, consideration and knowledge, the sum total of which will form the views of Members, including the views of Members as to the operation of normal courts and their capacity to administer justice. In essence, what is expected of each Member of the House voting today is that we have done our own research and, on the basis of that evidence, come to the conclusion that the normal courts are inadequate to deal with this, and that the normal constitutional provision on the right of people to be heard in open court by a jury is to be set aside. My great fear is that that will be challenged - there have been challenges in the past - and that it will be very hard to apply. In the first instance, who in the Oireachtas is going to set out that that inquiry and reasonable investigation that the Minister for Justice says we should undertake is being done? While the review is absolutely required, we need to change this process. I hope Mr. Justice Peart, when he comes back in his interim report, will provide fundamental suggestions as to a change in the law so we will not be in this position next year.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

- resolves that sections 2 to 4, 6 to 12 and 17 of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 (No. 39 of 1998) shall continue in operation for the period beginning on 30th June, 2021 and ending on 29th June, 2022; and

- in the absence of any specific information being presented which points to the inadequacy of the ordinary courts in the administration of justice in Ireland with specific regard to offences listed under sections 6 to 9 and 12 of that Act, and acknowledging the views of multiple national and international human rights agencies that have raised serious concerns regarding the operation of the Special Criminal Court, resolves to proactively and progressively implement societal and justice reform measures which, within a specified period of time being no later than 2025, ensure that section 14 of that Act should not continue in operation after that date.

Every year, this legislation is put before us and, every year, the debate seems to be more and more perfunctory. A juryless court will once again continue with no regard to the constant and vocal opposition from international human rights organisations. Last year, the House was promised a review and, last month, we were promised an interim report on the said review. Yet, despite a hard legislative deadline, of which the Minister is well aware, we are once again asked to renew this legislation without any information as to why the ordinary courts are insufficient.

I want to highlight the second part of our amendment. The Special Criminal Court is an emergency measure which has now been in place for 49 years. It was needed 49 years ago, it has been needed and, I acknowledge, it is unfortunately still needed, particularly for issues like gangland crime, as the State has yet to enact alternative protections for juries. However, to accept the constant continuation of this measure is to accept that, as a society, we will always be in such a position and that there are things that are so bad, from a crime and justice perspective, that we cannot do away with this court, to accept that we are unique in our challenges with gangland crime and dissident groups and to accept the UN Commission on Human Rights does not understand. I find it difficult to accept that. We are better than that and we should strive to be better than that.

The Special Criminal Court has a range of special powers which would not be accepted in the normal courts, including belief evidence, negative inference from silence and evidence being withheld from the accused and their defences. It is one thing to make the argument that the Special Criminal Court is necessary on the basis of jury intimidation but on what possible basis is it legitimate to reduce the standard of evidence? The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission have all been critical of those procedures. All have stated that the Special Criminal Court denies individuals the right to a fair trial and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. The UN Human Rights Committee has repeatedly identified the Special Criminal Court as a violation of Ireland's legal obligations under the international human rights treaties, has expressed concern on the expansion of its remit and has called for its abolition. Currently, the DPP is not obliged to provide a reason for referring an individual to the court where their human rights are in question.

We have a major problem with gangland crime, which I completely acknowledge. It is corrosive in the communities where it is evident but it is not unique to Ireland. The challenge this Government should be undertaking is to equip our ordinary courts to administer transparent justice safely and securely to all involved. There are international examples to draw on to ensure juries are protected and free of intimidation, such as anonymous juries, yet there seems to be no desire to even consider these options. Our amendment seeks to put a timeframe in place to deal with this issue because, if we do not focus attention, we will be here in five years' time or possibly even ten years' time, talking about the same issues, voting on the same legislation and being challenged by the same human rights organisations, for which most of us have a great deal of respect.

I call Deputy Paul Murphy, who is sharing time with Deputy Mick Barry.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, has described this Act as "the single biggest denial of fair trial rights in our legal system". It is completely correct and that is why People Before Profit will be opposing this, as we have consistently done. I would urge other parties to join us in opposing this, particularly the Green Party and Sinn Féin, which previously also opposed the extension. The UN Human Rights Committee, Amnesty International and even former President Mary Robinson have all spoken out about these extraordinary powers. They allow people to be locked up without the right to a trial by jury and without any actual evidence presented against them, just on the opinion of a garda. We have seen again and again major scandals, corruption and abuses of power in the Garda. Just remember how they lied about Maurice McCabe.

As I mentioned, in the past, both Green Party and Sinn Féin Deputies spoke out and opposed it. Last year, the Green Party, now in government, did a U-turn and backed it while Sinn Féin, after being pinned on it in the general election, said there was a review going on, got stuck on the fence and abstained. Scandalously, again, they are going to repeat that this year. It is disappointing and it is, frankly, cowardly, under the pressure of a little bit of criticism from the establishment political parties, to not do the right thing and vote against juryless trial, and to not vote against this massive abuse of civil liberties which Sinn Féin had traditionally voted against every single year until the pressure of last year. In government, is Sinn Féin going to allow the continuation of this abuse of human rights?

The Minister for Justice recently talked about the need to use this juryless court against so-called subversives. Who are these subversives she is talking about? We saw during the water charges revolt how gardaí admitted to tapping the phones of campaign organisers. Were campaigners opposing austerity taxes considered to be subversives? We have seen how the anti-Covid laws were used in the last year to threaten Debenhams workers and to ban taxi drivers' protests. Are workers fighting for their rights to be considered subversives? It is a warning to us all. If we give this State extraordinary powers, it will continue them and use them against the will of the many.

The central justification for the undemocratic and anti-civil liberties Special Criminal Court is the issue of jury intimidation. That justification does not stand.

No proof has been offered that this is a significant problem in our criminal justice system. If it is, there are abundant alternative approaches which do not subvert the fundamentals of democracy and equality before the law. The ICCL has offered a few examples, including anonymous juries, screening juries from public view, special protection for juries during trials, and video links for juries at different locations. These are not new ideas in Irish law. The uncommenced and now repealed Juries (Protection) Act 1929 had some of these protections. On top of that, witnesses still have to give evidence during trials in the Special Criminal Court and are therefore a possible target of intimidation. The Special Criminal Court was never needed, it is not needed now and it will not be needed in the future. We cannot claim ignorance of the undemocratic and authoritarian nature of this legislation and cannot pretend that alternatives to it do not exist.

We will call a division on this motion and vote against it. It has been renewed every year since 1998. Recently, there is a new part of the equation because with the onset of the Covid crisis, we had the introduction of the most draconian powers seen in the history of the State. Those powers are still in place and the Minister is proposing to introduce this legislation alongside them. Not only is she doing that, but she is also proposing to bring it in at the same time as the new draconian police powers contained in the proposed Garda Síochána (powers) Bill, including sweeping changes to people's rights regarding search and arrest, access to private communications as part of a search by gardaí with non-disclosure of a phone's password leading to five years of imprisonment or a fine of potentially €30,000, an attack on the right to silence, and so on. It is proposed to renew these powers alongside that. These powers are an attack on the right to a fair trial, the right to a trial by jury and the right to a presumption of innocence. It is not just me and the radical left who say so. The United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International and the ICCL say so too. We will vote against this motion.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important debate. I support the extension of the relevant sections of both the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. I will outline why I support these extensions.

The Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 was enacted as a result of the terrible atrocity in Omagh, where 29 people were murdered by a group known as the Real IRA. This was a terrible act which my home town of Dundalk has unfortunately been linked with on many occasions since. The people of Dundalk were enraged by this heinous act and demonstrated at the time and many times since. There is no doubt that paramilitary organisations are still active on this island and we need every power possible to deal adequately with this threat. The bottom line is that paramilitary groups are totally opposed to democracy and the rule of law. They will stop at nothing in an attempt to break the law, including intimidating people. It is imperative that the authorities have enough power to deal adequately with these threats. The extension of the relevant sections of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 deals with this. There is no doubt that this legislation is not perfect. As has been said many times before, it needs to be updated and improved, but until it is done, we do not have any option but to continue to extend these sections of the current Act. I ask those who are opposed to this what a realistic and viable alternative is. The bottom line is that authorities need these powers to carry out their duties.

I support the extension of the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 for a further 12 months. The Act was put in place to combat organised crime. In the town of Drogheda in my constituency, over the last number of years there has been a turf war involving two drug groups. The devastation and destruction that this has caused in the town cannot be overstated. Families have been destroyed, lives have been ruined and lost, communities have been divided and young people have been scarred for life. These drug groups have no fear of anything or anyone. Life has no value for them. Their only aim is to get more drugs onto the streets and destroy lives. Without the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act, I believe that the crisis in Drogheda could have been much worse. There is no doubt that these groups have no problem with intimidating witnesses or juries. We have already seen that happen. It should be noted that over the past 12 months, the gardaí have made significant progress in combatting the activities of organised criminal gangs, especially in the north east. This has been welcomed by the local community. The continued use of visible patrols, checkpoints and other actions has no doubt been a significant factor in the reduction of gang-related violence in the north east.

The report for the last 12 months until the end of 31 May 2021 shows that six arrests have been made under section 71A, 74 arrests have been made under section 72 and 24 arrests have been made under section 73. The Garda Commissioner has reported that since the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, 530 arrests have been made. In 2020, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau seized in excess of €36 million worth of illegal drugs, 23 firearms, 2,131 rounds of ammunition and €8 million in cash, and made 228 arrests. In this debate, we must consider the views of the Garda Commissioner. He stated that this legislation continues to be important in the ongoing efforts to tackle criminal associations and serious organised crime. He stated that he would welcome and recommends that the relevant section of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 be extended for a further 12 months. As legislators, we must listen to those who are tasked with enforcing the law that we introduce. I fully support the extension of the relevant sections for a further 12 months.

It is important to listen to all sides of this debate but it is more important that we give people in relevant positions adequate powers to carry out their duties. There is no doubt that Deputies here today will oppose this extension. What can they offer as an alternative? As I stated, the legislation is not perfect. No legislation is. The Garda Síochána and our courts must have the necessary power to carry out their duties. Will those opposing an extension outline what they believe would happen if these powers were not put in place? I once more put on record my full support for the renewal of these provisions for a further 12 months and urge other Deputies to follow suit.

I do not necessarily have a problem with the fact that there is a Special Criminal Court. It is provided for in our Constitution so there is nothing that I could do if I had a problem with it. It is not unusual across the world to have a special criminal court or for certain offences to be tried by a non-jury court. What I have a problem with, as has been repeatedly criticised by various forums nationally and internationally, is the fact that a non-scheduled offence can be certified for trial in the Special Criminal Court and that effectively cannot be challenged. That has been criticised by many human rights bodies. The Human Rights Committee has criticised it. A review into it was commissioned by former Attorney General and former member of the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Hederman, hardly a dangerous revolutionary. They rarely hold such positions. He found that this particular provision was offensive and recommended that it be changed. It was not changed and we are here now for the annual rubber-stamping of the Special Criminal Court and the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act.

This time last year, we were told that another review would be commissioned. In Ireland, if people commission an independent review and do not like what it comes up with, they just commission another independent review. Six months after we were told by the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, that work on the review was ongoing, I asked a parliamentary question of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. The week I asked the question, it was announced who was going to be involved in this review. I am glad that they are working but I question the delay in putting this review together. I also question why we need a review. There was a review before and a clear report about it. International bodies criticised it. I have a problem with the idea that a non-scheduled offence can be certified for trial in the Special Criminal Court and that cannot be challenged before the courts.

I do not have a problem with certifying a trial. The Garda or the DPP might take the view that the trial of a certain person or the trial of somebody for a certain offence might not be capable of being dealt with by the ordinary courts because of the possibility that justice might be subverted. However, I have a problem with the fact that it cannot be challenged before the courts.

During this year, Lisa Smith, a former member of the Defence Forces was charged with membership of a terrorist organisation, a matter which will be determined by the courts in the ordinary course. However, it was certified for trial in the Special Criminal Court. The idea that ISIS could subvert a trial in the ordinary courts in Ireland is as absurd as the idea that the Monaghan caliphate will be declared at midnight tonight. It beggars belief. The fact that that cannot be challenged before the courts brings the whole process into disrepute. Even at this last minute I urge the Minister to not make a farce of the law in this way because these are serious offences, as Deputy Fitzpatrick said. We are not talking about shoplifting - I am not saying that shoplifting is not a serious matter - but we are talking about very serious offences involving the possibility of the loss of lives. That is all the more reason that justice should be done properly, transparently and openly, and that decisions that a certain type of case be tried before the Special Criminal Court should be reviewable by the courts in accordance with law, as almost every other administrative decision of administrative officers or indeed of Departments is reviewable by the courts. International bodies and, as Deputy Catherine Murphy mentioned, various domestic actors have also called for this to be done.

I hope the Minister will give an assurance that there will not be another year where we are called upon to just blithely rubber-stamp this. Even if she were to give that assurance, based on what her predecessor said last year, I would be slightly sceptical because I expect if this Dáil is in place this time next year, this Dáil will be back being asked to rubber-stamp the existence of the Special Criminal Court and the procedures in place which have been resoundingly criticised nationally and internationally.

I am standing here again this year to oppose the rubber-stamping of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 in our criminal code. This has become a moot point every year, but I think it should still be opposed because we cannot simply give a carte blanche to the Government on this. The right to silence and the inference included in that right being available to all citizens is and should continue to be a cornerstone of our justice system.

Putting forward these motions has assumed de facto permanency and the continuation of these powers is just a routine part of the criminal justice architecture in our State. It has been rightly condemned by human rights groups throughout the world because the undermining of civil liberties affects all our citizens irrespective of whether they will ever be before the courts. It is wrong to give the Government the impression that it can carry out these things whenever it deems fit.

There are reports laid in the Oireachtas Library on which these motions are supposed to be based, but I believe the reports are not fit for purpose. They give the bare minimum of information that the Department of Justice probably deems is required to get these motions through. It is a good job that the reports are not up to much because they only appeared in the Oireachtas Library on Monday and if they required proper or full study it would probably not be possible.

At the very least we need a report that gives a breakdown of why we need this law, what it contributes to our system and what are the possible alternative measures that could be carried out to preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system in a way that protects our citizens and preserves human rights. Previous speakers have outlined some of those already. It would do far more service to the country to consider those and put in place a system to ensure that those rights can be dealt with and people can be treated properly.

Over the years the Special Criminal Court has become somewhere the State can guarantee a conviction regardless of the soundness of the evidence presented. Solicitors will not bother to put forward a defence or challenge evidence because they know that the outcome will be a conviction anyway. One could argue that is not the fault of the court or the Government, but it is symptomatic of the way that the court is set up and required to run.

Maybe the intention is that no one will challenge the evidence or lack of evidence. This undermines our entire justice system and the presumption that justice can be achieved in the State as things stand. It means that the lawyers who are supposed to operate the criminal justice system do not bother because they know that regardless of whether they put forward a counterargument, the court will guarantee conviction because that is what it is meant to do. The State is quite happy with that and we, as legislators, are also supposed to be quite happy with that. We are supposed to rubber-stamp this every year to allow this to happen. That is wrong and it undermines everybody in the State. It also undermines this House that we allow this system to continue.

I do not believe that the people who are tried in the Special Criminal Court could not be convicted in the ordinary courts. I believe they could. It would be far better for our system and for our democracy to do that. It would be far better all round. Those people would still be in jail and would still be convicted. That is the reality of the situation. The difference is that it is a bit harder and that the State would need to work a bit better. What we are doing with this system is getting it over and making it easier for the State to do what it is doing.

I am opposed to the blanket endorsement of these provisions and believe that it contributes to the undermining of all our rights. That is what this House must stand up for.

I am grateful to the House for its consideration of these important motions and I thank the Deputies for their contributions, particularly those who spoke in support of the motion. As I said, there remains a real threat from terrorist activity, particularly from dissident republican paramilitary groups, which warrants the continuance in force of the provisions of the 1998 Act. The provisions we have discussed this evening are important in supporting An Garda Síochána in its efforts to investigate, disrupt and dismantle the activities of terrorists. Likewise, the renewal of section 8 of the 2009 Act is an important contribution to the overall framework of measures aimed at tackling organised crime.

Every Deputy in this House knows the appalling damage caused by organised crime, particularly the damage caused by the drugs trade to individuals, families and communities. Supporting the great work of An Garda Síochána in tackling organised crime remains a priority for me. I assure the House that the Government is fully committed to giving An Garda Síochána the necessary resources to continue the work of combatting those involved in organised crime. It is important that I acknowledge that work. An Garda Síochána continues to make significant seizures of drugs, firearms and cash. It continues to bring organised criminals to justice. Importantly, it continues to prevent further loss of life.

The view of An Garda Síochána, as set out clearly in the report, is that the continued operation of this provision is required. By renewing these important provisions this House is sending a message loud and clear that this State will not tolerate the activities of terrorists and organised crime groups and is committed in its resolve to see them defeated. I am satisfied that the concerns raised by the Deputies will be taken into account as part of the review by the independent expert group. The work of the review group is well under way and I look forward to receiving its interim report shortly. In the meantime, I am seeking approval for the motions to extend the provisions for 12 months.

Deputy Catherine Murphy moved an amendment to the first motion. Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.

A division has been demanded and it is postponed until the division time later this evening.