Republic of Ireland news

Republican paramilitaries are 'real and persistent threat' across Ireland

Dissident republicans remain a threat across Ireland, the justice minister has warned

Gardai believe there remains "a real and persistent threat from republican paramilitary groups on this island", the Republic's Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has told the Dail.

Speaking during a debate about the Republic's Special Criminal Court, Mr Flanagan said dissident republicans were "opposed to democracy and the rule of law".

"The ruthless and continuing attempts to murder and maim, such as the attempt earlier this year to smuggle a bomb on a Belfast passenger ferry to coincide with Brexit, demonstrate the scant regard for human life these people have," he said.

"The cowardly attempts to intimidate journalists and politicians demonstrates their contempt for an open and free democracy."

READ MORE: Man accused of trying to kill a PSNI officer with under-car bomb refused bail to attend grandfather's funeral

Mr Flanagan pointed to an increase in paramilitary shootings and attacks in Northern Ireland.

"There have also been attempts to murder and maim members of the PSNI. The continuing discovery of arms caches, including recent finds in this jurisdiction, such as that in Galway in April this year, are stark reminders of their intent."

Mr Flanagan has said he is not averse to a review of the legislation that empowers the Special Criminal Court, but says it is needed to deal with the threat of violent gangs and republican paramilitaries.

The three-judge criminal court, which deals with terrorist and organised crime cases, has no jury in order to avoid any potential intimidation of members.

Dublin's Special Criminal Court deals with paramilitary offences and organised crime

Mr Flanagan has announced an independent review of the Offences Against the State Act used in trials of dissident republicans and gangland criminals in the court.

The Dail today voted for an extension to the Offences Against the State and the Criminal Justice acts.

This will renew the mandate of the Special Criminal Court for another 12 months.

Sinn Fein TDs abstained on the vote - the first time they have not voted against it.

Mr Flanagan told the Dail today a review of the Offences Against the State Act will be independent.

He added: "There will be a review and I believe the fine details of the review can be worked out by the incoming government. It would indeed require a significant body of work.

"The review will be independent and comprehensive and the arrangements are currently being scoped."

Justice minister Charlie Flanagan. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association

Sinn Fein TD Martin Kenny said Mr Flanagan's support for a review of the legislation is "very welcome - that's something we want to see happen".

Sinn Fein has previously called for the court to be abolished but party leader Mary Lou McDonald said in February she does not want to see it axed entirely.

Mr Kenny told the Dail: "We need to be able to move forward from this and recognise there are many problems with this legislation. Many problems have been pointed out about it - from the highest EU field and internationally it has been condemned.

"We need to bring it into the 21st century and if we can do that, we are prepared to step back and let a review of the legislation take place - but we are not prepared to have this continuous farce where we come into the Dail every year where it becomes a political football."

Fianna Fail TD Jim O'Callaghan said he would prefer all crimes to be prosecuted in courts where juries could decide the outcome of serious criminal charges.

But he said members of the public who sit on trials in gangland cases face intimidation from those who are being prosecuted.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that we don't put ordinary citizens on the jury list where they would be exposed to a serious threat," he said.

"If people don't believe me on that, I would ask them to reflect what two prominent judges said about members of the public sitting on gangland trials and face the prospect of intimidation.

"I know there are well-intentioned people who say we can introduce mechanisms whereby the jury would not be identified by those being prosecuted, but that can be very difficult and can give rise to potential miscarriages of justice."

Mr O'Callaghan said he agrees with the Justice Minister that there are subversive organisations still operating in Ireland and strong legislation is required to deal with them.

"We need to recall that Lyra McKee was murdered not that long ago by dissident republicans," he added.

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