Offences against the State Act 1998 and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009: Motions

I move:

That Seanad 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.

I thank the House for taking these two motions today. The two motions seek this House's approval to continue in force certain provisions in both the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 which are aimed at tackling terrorism and in the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 in respect of organised crime. Given the nature of these provisions, the Houses of the Oireachtas has decided they should be routinely reconsidered. As Minister for Justice, I am required to lay reports before the Oireachtas on the use of the relevant provisions in the two Acts. Reports covering the 12 months up to 31 May 2021 were placed in the Oireachtas Library on 18 June.

The House will be aware the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 contains a series of amendments to the Offences against the State Acts to respond to the threat from certain groups. It will be recalled that this robust legislation was enacted by the Oireachtas in the wake of the horrific murder by the Real IRA of 29 innocent people in the bombing at Omagh in August 1998. That atrocity demanded a resolute response from the State, and the legislation enacted then was a necessary and proportionate measure to defend the desire of the vast majority of law-abiding people to live in peace on this island.

The report laid before this House on 18 June includes information provided by the Garda Commissioner on the use of the provisions in question over the past 12 months and a table setting out reported usage figures for each of the years since the Act came into operation. The report also provides a brief assessment of the security situation. Regrettably, despite the enormous progress made towards a lasting peace on this island, there remains to this day a real and persistent threat from those same paramilitary groups that have set their faces against peace. We know these groups are vehemently opposed to peace and seek to attack the institutions of Northern Ireland. Their callous targeting of PSNI officers underlines the morally vacant path which these dissident groups seek to follow. There was a recent incident where the child of a PSNI officer was put at risk by a device, which, thankfully, was disarmed.

As Minister for Justice, I pay tribute to the members of An Garda Síochána and their colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland who work tirelessly and co-operate closely on an ongoing basis to counter the threat from paramilitary organisations. Sadly, this ongoing work is all too necessary. The benefits of that co-operation are obvious from successful joint operations between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI, such as Operation Arbacia, and the recent joint cross-Border investigation targeting organised crime.

The report also notes the clear view of the Garda Commissioner that the Act continues to be an important tool in ongoing efforts in the fight against terrorism. 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 response to that threat.

The House will be aware an independent expert review group, under the chairmanship of former Court of Appeal judge Michael Peart, has been established to review the Offences against the State Acts. This is an important and timely process as it is nearly 20 years 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 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 already 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 ongoing efforts in the fight against terrorism. In these circumstances, my conclusion is 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 a 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 5 of Offences against the State Act 1939, which means 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. Trial by jury should be preserved to the greatest extent possible. However, we cannot ignore the fact that organised crime groups have shown a particular viciousness in their activities, including attacks on witnesses and the intimidation of jurors.

The report on this section that has been laid before the House 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. No one can be under any illusion as to the threat our communities and the entire criminal justice system face from organised crime groups who will stop at nothing in pursuit of their criminal activities. The Garda authorities are working intensively to bring immense pressure on these criminal groups, to disrupt their activities and to seize their drugs and cash. The Garda deserves praise for the considerable successes it has had against these groups, which have been remarkable in the past year. With the Government's support and with the support of this House, that work will continue. The views of An Garda Síochána are set out clearly in the report. Its view is that the continued operation of this provision is required. It is my view, therefore, that section 8 should continue in operation for a further 12 months.

As set out in the two reports I have laid before the House, it is the clear view of An Garda Síochána that the provisions of the 1998 Act and the 2009 Act 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 the advice of the Garda authorities, I propose that the House approves the continued operation of the relevant provisions of the 1998 Act and the 2009 Act for a further 12 months commencing on 30 June.

I thank the Minister for the proposition of the two motions. As her constituency colleague, I formally welcome her to the House and congratulate her on her additional responsibilities.

I support the motion. The Minister has set out a very clear basis for continuing the Special Criminal Court. At the same time, I do not want to suggest that I think the Special Criminal Court is a good thing. It is a blunt instrument that tramples on the right to trial by jury. I was delighted to hear the Minister say she supports the notion that we should have jury trials to the greatest extent possible. However, the reality is that the Special Criminal Court is a necessary evil. It is something that must be there because of the existence of certain types of criminals in the system and certain types of trials that must take place.

There are those who oppose the Special Criminal Court - a non-jury court - and seek to have it abolished. Many of the groups that oppose it do so legitimately on human rights grounds and I accept their bona fides. There are other groups that challenge it on political grounds and out of self-interest. These groups are associated on one level or another with people who are coming before the court and want it removed for that reason. I do not accept their bona fides. This is a real problem when it comes to the debate on this court. While we can acknowledge that there are problems, we must acknowledge the necessity of this court and the necessary fact that it is there to deal with particular types of criminal, particularly in the areas mentioned by the Minister such as terrorism and organised crime, because we know certain groups that come before the courts have the capacity to interfere with the justice system, juries etc. The Special Criminal Court is the State's response to that kind of criminal, accused person and crime.

As I said, I am not 100% comfortable with the Special Criminal Court. It is a blunt instrument. Nearly a year ago, I suggested in this House that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, should not be the body deciding who gets prosecuted in the Special Criminal Court when we are not involved in one of the prescribed offences under Act. I listened to what the Minister had to say on this. The DPP is part of the prosecution and, therefore, is not a disinterested party in any criminal trial. I look forward to the report of the Peart commission and what Mr. Justice Peart and his commission will have to say about this issue and the Special Criminal Court as a whole because they can deal substantially with the issues raised by people opposed to the court, both those who do so legitimately and those who do so out of self-interest.

As for the motion, it is very important that we look at the report laid before the House by the Minister, the basis for her suggestion that this continue and why this motion should be supported. The Special Criminal Court exists for a reason. It is not something that is done on a whim. It is not something the State has put in place for fun. It is there for a very clear and distinct reason. It is necessary to tackle exactly the kinds of crimes and criminals outlined by the Minister. The reality is that people are still committing these crimes at a very high level, are intimidating juries and have done so in the past. Consequently, it is entirely appropriate that until the Minister, An Garda Síochána or another arm of the State can show us that this is not happening and that there is no longer a threat of jury intimidation or of attempts to otherwise pervert the course of justice from people who come before the courts, the continuation of the Special Criminal Court will remain a necessity whether we like it or not.

There are groups like the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, with which I have discussed this issue, that raise legitimate issues about this court. They raise questions that I hope will be answered by the Peart commission. However, we should never approach this motion without an eye on those who do it for self interest - those parties that are really doing it because of the people with whom they are associated who are coming before the court and not for legitimate human rights or constitutional reasons and issues relating to the rule of law but quite the opposite. They seek to pervert the course of justice. The very people who are coming before this court come before it because there is a demonstrable concern that they are going to interfere with and pervert the course of a legitimate criminal trial. That is the eye through which we must regard this motion. In considering how to vote on this motion, we must consider whether the court and its continuation are necessary. On the basis of what the Minister has said, the report that has been laid before the Oireachtas, including the views of An Garda Síochána and the DPP, it is clear to me and to the Fine Gael party that its continuation is necessary until such time as we can say otherwise.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I take her observations and those of An Garda Síochána on the need to continue the Special Criminal Court in its current form very seriously. This court is there to protect Ireland and its citizens from organised terrorism from criminal gangs and dissident republicans. Unfortunately, until such time as these issues are dealt with and these groups are no longer a threat, the Special Criminal Court will be necessary. This is my eleventh year standing up supporting this legislation. There can be no room for political equivocation when it comes to supporting the Special Criminal Court. It is there for a reason. It is there because it must be there. Nobody likes the fact that it is there but we have a duty and a responsibility to protect the citizens of this country. Dissident republicans have not gone away. We all know that. Organised crime gangs in this city have not gone away. We know that. Domestic terrorism has not gone away and there is an increased risk from international terrorism. We need the Special Criminal Court to ensure people serving on juries are not intimidated. Unfortunately, that is the reality. I am calling on all parties in this House to nail their colours to the mast and support the Special Criminal Court, which is an important institution in this country's legal system.

The Minister is very welcome. I support the motion before us today as I have done on each previous occasion on which it has been before us. On the whole, the Special Criminal Court has been an effective tool against subversive elements and in recent years, organised criminal gangs and for this reason, it is worth retaining.

However, the case for its retention is far from unanswerable. I am broadly in agreement with much of what Senator Ward has just said. We need to be clear that the ultimate aim of the Oireachtas is for there to be a time when the shutters can be brought down on that court. To believe it should exist permanently would be to admit that jury courts are incapable of operating effectively and that would be wholly wrong.

There is a lot of hypocrisy and posturing around this issue. I noticed that Senators Ward and Conway were very reluctant to name names but I am not so reluctant. I do not for a moment accept the position of the Sinn Féin Party on the existence of the Special Criminal Court, even if it appears to have moderated that position in recent years. Sinn Féin's opposition to it has morphed from resentment over the fact that the court is so successful in convicting many fellow members of its movement to a faux concern for human rights and the philosophical values of trial by jury. I do not think anybody buys into that metamorphosis for a second. Equally, I do not buy into the absolutist position of many. I think Senator Ward would acknowledge that there are many in his own party who have a more absolutist position in favour of the Special Criminal Court and seem to view its existence as some kind of sine qua non for a society that values law and order as if the court was a thin blue line standing between ourselves and Babylonian chaos and disorder. In their eyes, any criticism of the court's existence is seen as being somehow soft on crime, criminal gangs and subversive organisations, which is simply not the case. There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of the existence of the Special Criminal Court.

The right to trial by jury of one's peers has existed since Greek and Roman antiquity and it should not lightly be cast aside without acknowledging just how serious a step that always is.

We should not pretend that the Special Criminal Court is somehow an ideal forum which produces the right results every time and is free from external influence or interference. We recently marked the 25th anniversary of the capital murder of the late Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. As we know, reduced charges of manslaughter were brought by the State in that case because it was feared that murder convictions might not be secured because of the intimidation of key prosecution witnesses by persons connected to Sinn Féin and the IRA. While the Special Criminal Court by its nature prevents the intimidation of juries, it has clearly not prevented the intimidation of witnesses. It is an imperfect solution to a very serious problem.

It has also been documented that in the days following the killing of Detective Garda McCabe, his murderers were put up in a safe house in the Border area where they were met by the late Martin McGuinness, a man spoken of in this House, on RTÉ and elsewhere in recent years as if he were Mahatma Gandhi. When those murderers were released from prison, they were met by a Sinn Féin TD, then Deputy Martin Ferris, which all goes to show the layers of hypocrisy involved here. It is important that we do not forget the origins of Sinn Féin's opposition to this court. It is important that we are honest at all times, even while we welcome new developments, attitudes and processes.

On the question of civil liberties, we should always be vigilant about them and the rights of accused persons. I say this in light of the proposed Garda Síochána powers Bill 2021, which seems to propose a massive and radical increase in the powers of the Garda and could expose entirely innocent individuals to prosecutions and heavy penalties for doing nothing other than defending their constitutional right to privacy, the right to silence and the presumption of innocence. I have grave concerns about the kites that have been flown in relation to this proposed Bill. These have been criticised very well in print by my colleague, Senator McDowell, Dr. T.J. McIntyre of UCD and others.

The power to seek passwords for phones and so on for all persons and all suspects, and connected persons, regardless of circumstances would be huge in its scope and has not to date even been sought by the Garda. Why is this being floated? To be clear, there are circumstances - a narrow set of crimes - where there is that power to demand passwords, etc., but the proposal that gardaí, when carrying out search warrants, could demand of people their passwords or personal identification number, PIN, numbers, to require them to biometrically unlock their phone or tablet using their fingerprint or face if they are a suspect, a relative of a suspect or a person living with a suspect, and that that requirement could be made on the spot without a person having access to a solicitor, seems draconian. It is worrying that this is being proposed. It reminds us that the freedoms we take for granted are not always safe, even in societies that view themselves as democratic. It is a reminder to us that we need careful scrutiny of what government proposes from time to time. It is a reminder to political parties that, even though they might have the majority in government and might be in a position to vote everything their Government wishes through and to limit opposition through mechanisms such as the guillotining of legislation, they really should not do so as there is an awful lot at stake.

On this particular issue, we must not forget that, in a free and open democracy with a written constitution, and which values the rule of law, the idea should always be that we must restrict people's rights and liberties only in the most minimal way possible and in ways which are aimed only to bring about the safety and security of everybody in society. As matters stand, the existence of the Special Criminal Court is a legitimate abrogation of the right to jury trial but the proposals that I am reading about in these days in the proposed Garda Síochána powers Bill go way beyond what could ever be acceptable in a democracy.

I join you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, in welcoming the Minister to the Chamber. I congratulate her on her new-found responsibility in the Department of Justice. I wish her well in that Department.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak in this important debate. The Fianna Fáil Party totally supports the motions, which provide for the continuation of certain provisions under the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and also the continuance in operation of section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009.

We fully agree with the continuation in operation of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998, which is a central provision in the battle against dissident republican groups engaged in terrorism. This Act was introduced in 1998 by Fianna Fáil in response to the Omagh bombing. The State must remain vigilant at all times in the face of a continuing threat from dissident republican terrorist groups which refuse to recognise the legality or existence of the State.

Section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 is a vital tool in the battle against organised crime. The Act was first introduced by Fianna Fáil. Section 8 allows for the prosecution of individuals before the Special Criminal Court without a jury for directing a criminal organisation, participating in or contributing to the activity of a criminal organisation for the purposes of committing or facilitating the commission of serious offences, and-or the committing of an offence for a criminal organisation. This was a necessary legislative provision to rebalance the justice system's approach in favour of the Garda in the fight against organised crime.

I look forward to the day when there will be no need for a Minister to come to the House to renew this legislation. Senator Conway stated this is the ninth or tenth year that he has had to stand up and support this legislation, and rightly so, but we look forward to the day that there will be no need to do that.

The relevant provisions of the Act will be in force until 30 June this year. If they are to remain in force, they will need to be renewed before that date. Renewal of the provisions requires the passing of resolutions in both Houses of the Oireachtas and we are here in the Seanad to do that today.

The Minister outlined clearly the need that for this legislation to remain intact. Unfortunately, dissident republican organisations and organised crime gangs are running rife in the State. That is a depressing thought but in order to protect our citizens, we have no choice but to continue with this legislation.

I compliment the Garda on its ongoing work to deal with all areas of criminality in the State. I acknowledge the major successes it has achieved in this regard and wish it continued success in the future.

Unfortunately, this legislation will have to remain in place for the next 12 months but it is only right that it is being reviewed. Last year, the Minister indicated there would be a review of this legislation and I very much welcomed that. It is important that we shine a strong light on the laws of the land so that citizens can be protected in the best way possible. The Minister stated the review would be published shortly. I look forward to having an opportunity to examine the recommendations included in that report.

Fianna Fáil is delighted to support this legislation. As I said, I look forward to the day when there will be no need for any of us to come into this Chamber to discuss this topic.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to the House.

I am pleased to speak for the Labour Party on the annual renewal motions. Like other colleagues, I have spoken for a number of years now on these motions as they come before us. I also have a particular interest in this, having practised for several years in the Special Criminal Court in different trials as a defence practitioner.

While I am not opposing the renewal, I am, and have been, very critical of various aspects of the framework of the offences against the State legislation and these motions. I have always made the case for strong and rigorous Oireachtas scrutiny of these renewal motions. I welcome the expert review chaired by Mr. Justice Michael Peart and I am glad to hear the Minister confirm that the interim report is due shortly and that by next year we are likely to have the benefit of the full report of the expert group. That will be very important, particularly as the last such comprehensive review, chaired by Mr. Justice Hederman, was published in 2002. The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was very strong in recommending that a similar comprehensive review was urgently needed. That is why we have the current review, which is very useful.

It will also be of great value to the ongoing review that since the 2002 review there have been a number of scholarly books published and a great deal more academic research carried out on the practice of the Special Criminal Court and the operation of the Offences against the State Acts. There have been books by Ms Alice Harrison, Mr. Fergal Davis and most recently a book edited by Mr. Mark Coen of University College Dublin, UCD, The Offences Against the State Act 1939 at 80: A Model Counter-Terrorism Act? Without going on too much about it, I have a chapter in that book. There is a number of different chapters and the book offers a series of different critical perspectives on the legislation, which I hope will be of use to the review.

I also remind colleagues that, last year, we debated the renewal motions in an extraordinary context, just four hours away from the deadline at which the sunset clauses would have lapsed. That was due to the long drawn out Government formation negotiations and the context in which a number of sitting Senators had taken an action in the High Court over the constitutional status of the Seanad. On this occasion, we have more time to consider the motions and we are doing so in a somewhat less urgent setting in that the sunset clauses are not due to lapse until 29 June. However, last year's context shows some of the difficulties with this framework, that it was so close to a deadline for expiry within which we were having the debate.

The expert review and we, as legislators, must take notice in a more measured and considered way of a number of crucial issues with the renewal motions. First, as others have said, we must be mindful that the offences against the State legislation has now become so entrenched in our criminal justice system that it has assumed a type of de facto permanency. We have to be careful that we do not become so used to this that we become, as Ms Justice Iseult O'Malley has said, over habituated to the abnormal. We must remember that the framework encroaches on fundamental due process rights, notably the right to trial by jury, and that it has been condemned nationally and internationally by human rights and civil liberties bodies over many years for its encroachment on these due process rights. Ms Justice O'Malley pointed out that the risk of becoming over habituated to the abnormal is best countered by constant insistence on constitutional due process. As legislators, we must remind ourselves of the need to have constant insistence on due process. Indeed, the courts have ruled in a range of cases on aspects of the provisions in the legislation and have brought that constitutional scrutiny to bear.

When we are scrutinising the annual renewal motions under both the 1998 and 2009 Acts, there are two particular areas we must examine. First, we must look at patterns of usage and non-usage of separate distinct provisions, as outlined in the reports with which we are provided. In previous years I have made the point that there are some sections, for example, in the 1998 Act, that never seem to be used. This year, sections 3, 4, 6 and 17 have not been used in the last 12 months. As regards sections 6 and 17, I have noted a long pattern of non-usage. Where we see such patterns we have to ask, and the review will be asking, whether those provisions should simply be repealed if they are not used. I believe all will agree with that. Similarly, if there is a consistent pattern of usage and if provisions have clearly become an important part of the package of measures available to the Garda, what is the purpose of the sunset clauses if we are simply almost routinely renewing them because we see they are being used routinely? These are questions that must be answered, and I hope the review will take them very seriously.

My final point refers to an amendment that the Labour Party tabled in the Dáil in 2019 dealing with a real concern we have about these renewal motions. In each year we are asked, in accordance with Article 38.3.1° of the Constitution, to make a determination as to the inadequacy of the ordinary jury courts to try certain offences in accordance with law. This standard, we argue, therefore requires that we would have evidence before us that the ordinary courts are not appropriate or not adequate to try certain offences. Our concern is that we have never had sufficient evidence to make this determination in a sufficiently rigorous fashion. I contrast the lack of information before us with the information supplied to legislators when we are making considerations under the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation. We are being asked to exercise a determination in what might be considered an evidential void.

We are not being given sufficient information to determine, for example, whether there are intermediate measures to protect jurors where there is an issue with intimidation of juries and where that is the basis on which the Government says ordinary courts are inadequate. Are there intermediate measures, such as screening, anonymising or locating the jury in a different place? Such evidence would be very valuable to legislators when we come to make these determinations annually because, as we must remind ourselves, we are making determinations that effectively interfere with one of the most basic rights we all have as citizens when we come before the courts, which is the right to be judged in open court by a jury of our peers. This is a crucial consideration for the expert review group, and it is something we must always be mindful of as legislators when we bring our parliamentary scrutiny to bear on these motions. I ask the Minister to convey those considerations and concerns to the expert group.

We have a very strong presence from Cavan and Monaghan here today and, in that context, it is my pleasure to call Senator Martin.

It is a pleasure to welcome the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. I have been happily ensconced for many years in County Kildare with my wife and family, but I have fond memories of the Minister being a fellow county councillor with myself and the then councillor, Senator Gallagher. We had great times. The two of them were always very unequivocal when it came to being heard when speaking out against violence.

I wish to put that on the record, in view of what I am about to say. I have a difficulty with this motion and I am most reluctant to support it, but I will because the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is obviously relying on intelligence in her Department. Senator Bacik said that she was a practitioner in the Special Criminal Court for many years. I have been there as well as a practising barrister. Symbolically, it was in Green Street, which was isolated from the rest of what was then the Four Courts. A former Member of this House, Ms Mary Robinson, commented that this was unfortunate. The voluminous nature of the published law reporting from that court in the early days, because it was verbal, did not help. A very small number of senior counsel were involved, the then Senator Robinson said. There were Mr. Paddy McEntee and Mr. Seamus Sorohan, two wonderful senior counsel. Mr. Sorohan is since deceased. There was the level of security in Green Street and the fact that retired judges could serve on the Special Criminal Court, as could ex-military in the old days. All lent itself to a court that was clearly not rooted in common law.

At its heart was an admission that the ordinary courts were inadequate. However, the ordinary courts and jury trials are a cornerstone of our justice system. The UN Human Rights Committee has said one should only dispense with a jury trial in very exceptional circumstances. They are extraordinary courts for an extraordinary time. The question is, as Senator Bacik said, whether the evidence is there to continue. I am concerned about the rubber-stamping nature of this every year, without exceptional scrutiny to ensure they do not gain a de facto permanency.

The minority view of the committee to review the Offences against the State Act came from the late Mr. Justice Anthony Hederman, Professor Dermot Walsh and Professor William Binchy. They expressed the view, with which I concur, that trial by jury is a cornerstone of the criminal law system as it ensures that the innocence or guilt of a person charged with an offence is determined by 12 randomly chosen members of the community, each of whom brings to the process the benefit of his or her life experience and individual perspective. Lord Devlin, in typically colourful language, said that trial by jury is the lamp that shows that freedom lives.

It is only in the most exceptional circumstances that I would support dispensing with the constitutional right to trial by jury. The Constitution contains many rights which would point to only getting rid of jury trials in the most exceptional circumstances. Therefore, I find the implied narrative contained in some contributions today to be slightly troubling and unfair. It has been suggested that those who express reservations about continuing with the practice of holding non-jury trials and with discontinuing such a basic fundamental right are somehow soft on crime or have sympathies or affiliations with a political party that may have friends or colleagues who found themselves in the position of being an accused before that court. I would take a leaf out of Senator Bacik's book here and point out that our Constitution guarantees equality before the law, including the right to equal protection of the law. We have a situation where two citizens of Ireland are tried for the same serious offence in two different formats; one is entitled to a jury trial while the other is not. The one who does not have a jury trial also faces weaker evidence tests, albeit closely scrutinised, where opinion evidence and a different interpretation of the right to silence are tolerated. These would not be tolerated in a jury trial.

There is a guarantee in our laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen. We have a duty to uphold the rights of citizens and must do so and this includes the right to a fair trial and a jury trial. The test is whether there is an alternative in this day and age, especially with the advent of Covid-19. Can we screen juries? Can we have remote hearings? Can we keep the names of jurors out of the public domain? Can jurors remain anonymous? Hopefully, with the help of God, we will all be back here next year and I will bring this issue up again. I will be seeking succinct and cogent evidence that those tests have been met before I support another renewal. I appreciate, as the Minister said, that the report by recently retired Mr. Justice Michael Peart to be published imminently might be a signpost.

Human rights organisations, not just in Ireland but throughout the world, would say that only in the most exceptional circumstances should non-jury trials be conducted. The Minister is in the Chamber today to guide us as legislators. She has said that her intelligence is that this is absolutely and 100% necessary and in that circumstance I must, very reluctantly, support the recommendation. Her bona fides are not in doubt. She is acting in the best interests of the security of our country but I hope we will remain open-minded for the next renewal. We should never go down the road of the rubber stamp because we are depriving our citizens of such a fundamental right with this legislation.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire fásta. This is my first opportunity to engage with Deputy Humphreys in her role as Minister for Justice. I welcome her to the House. Today's debate provides us with an opportunity to assess the current state of the capacity of the Oireachtas, the judicial system and the policing system to deliver on the most fundamental objective of all three institutions, that is, the protection of the public in their homes, communities, places of work and businesses. The State has many responsibilities to the public that it serves but its principal, if not primary, objective is to be a guardian of the public's welfare and well-being.

On this primary objective of protecting the public, Sinn Féin is crystal clear that it must be protected with the full resources of the Oireachtas, An Garda Síochána and the Judiciary. These three agencies are interdependent, one on the other, in their responses to the challenges they face by organised criminals. Last year, Sinn Féin proposed an amendment which drew support from Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Social Democrats and some Independents in the Dáil, calling for a review of the emergency powers contained in the Offences against the State Act, in keeping with the Government's Good Friday Agreement commitments. The Government agreed to do so and established a review panel earlier this year, as mentioned by a range of colleagues. Submissions to that panel must be made by 9 July and it is expected that the panel's findings will be brought forward later this year. This is an important advancement on the annual discretion that took place heretofore. Today's motion will pass through the Seanad unopposed by Sinn Féin because the party has an eye to the findings of the review panel due later this year.

All parties in the Seanad should turn their minds to the future and to bringing forward sensible proposals to ensure that society is fortified with a framework of effective laws passed by the Oireachtas and implemented by the police and the courts. I do not see how laws crafted in the 1940s can be fit for purpose today. The shocking cyberattack on the HSE last month is a very good example of the level of sophistication that today's criminal class is employing. We should all be seeking 21st century laws to tackle 21st century criminality. We want An Garda Síochána and the Judiciary to have the power to bring peace, security and certainty to the people. We want to see those involved with criminal gangs at all levels removed from the streets and put behind bars.

Sinn Féin's proposals provide peace, security and certainty for the State's institutions and the public at large. They will make it easier to use our law, police service and courts effectively to arrest and imprison criminals, provide more police on the beat and protect jurors and those giving evidence against wrongdoers. In the battle to overwhelm, isolate and imprison lawbreakers, as legislators we must ensure our legislation is stronger and our courts are more effective. Our courts system must be amended to protect jurors and witnesses and gardaí must be given the tools they need to do their job to the best of their ability.

Let us end, as others have said, the annual debate about the Offences against the State Act and replace it with a seamless and impenetrable system that has the citizen at its centre, surrounded and protected by the Oireachtas, the courts and the police.

I thank Senators for their consideration of these important motions and for their contributions to the debate. I thank, in particular, those who are supporting the motions. As I said earlier, terrorist groups remain a threat to the people on this island. They are opposed to the benefits that have flowed from the peace process and are determined to undermine it. The State must retain in its laws the capacity to defeat them and we have a duty as legislators to ensure that is so. 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. We are all well aware of the appalling damage caused by organised crime, particularly by the drugs trade, to individuals, families and communities.

By renewing these important provisions, this House is sending a loud and clear message 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 note the concerns of Senators and I am satisfied these will be taken into account as part of the review by the independent expert group. To reiterate, there is an opportunity to make submissions to the review group. A notice has been published in national newspapers and on its website seeking submissions no later than 9 July. Senators should make their views known to the group. This is an important piece of legislation and I consider its renewal as being essential to the protection of the citizens of this island. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senators for their support in this matter.

Question put.

Senators Kyne and Gallagher have been appointed tellers for the Tá side. As no tellers have been appointed by the Níl side, I declare the question carried.

Question declared carried.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann resolves that section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 (No. 32 of 2009) shall continue in operation for the period beginning on 30th June, 2021 and ending on 29th June, 2022.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 12.54 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Friday, 25 June 2021.