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 combating 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 live 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.