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Sinn Fein calls for repeal of Offences Against State Act
15/06/2004 17:49:19

Powerful legislation used to combat the IRA and other illegal organisations should be repealed, Sinn Fein said tonight.
By:Press Association

The party said the Offences Against the State Act, which allows for non-jury trials and limitations on the right to silence, was repressive and had eroded human and civil rights.

Dublin South Central TD Aengus O Snodaigh said the legislation was originally intended for emergencies but was now being renewed on an annual basis.

"It is not good for any democratic society to be depending on legislation in this way," he said.

Mr O Snodaigh is introducing a repeal bill into the Dail tomorrow, when the Offences Against the State Act comes up for renewal.

Sinn Fein`s justice spokesman said the act was no longer relevant since the Good Friday Agreement and the continuous seven year IRA ceasefire.

"I don`t think the situation in Ireland at this given time warrants this repressive legislation," he argued.

Mr O Snodaigh also said illegal groups which were not on ceasefire - such as the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA - could be dealt with using existing legislation.

The first Offences Against the State Act was introduced as emergency legislation in 1939 in response to a resumption of the IRA`s bombing campaign in England.

Further amendments were made in 1972, after a series of bomb blasts in Dublin, in 1986 and in 1998, in the wake of the Omagh bombing.

Under the legislation, suspects can be tried before the Special Criminal Court, which has three judges instead of a jury.

There are also powers to award life sentences for membership of an illegal organisation, the detention of suspects for 48 hours, with a possible 24-hour extension if approved by a judge, and further restrictions on the right to silence.

If an accused person does not answer questions about his suspected membership of an illegal organisation that may be used in court to imply guilt.

In the last 12 months, there were 14 convictions under the act for subversive activities and another 30 people charged with offences are awaiting trial.

According to a report prepared by the Republic`s Department for Justice, Gardai will support their minister Michael McDowell`s move to renew the emergency legislation tomorrow.

The report said: "The Garda Authorities have indicated that in view of the current security threat posed by dissident republican groups and international terrorist groups, it is considered imperative that the relevant sections of the Act remain in force."

The Irish government set up a review of the emergency legislation as part of its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

It was chaired by Judge Anthony Hederman, who personally recommended that the Special Criminal Court be abolished.

However, this was not the view adopted by the majority of his committee, who said the continued threat of paramililtarism justified its existence.

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