Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Abolish The Special Criminal Court – it will die if an Irish Government is not formed on June 30 – but Sinn Féin and the Labour Party are riding to rescue it!

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A deadline of June 30 2020 approaches – if a government is not formed by then, the non-jury Special Criminal Court, will die.

Paul Murphy TD has a clear policy :

Abolish the Special Criminal Court

This no-jury court has been responsible for numerous false convictions, it has no place in a democratic society. It has allowed the state to abuse its power to frame innocent people for crimes they have not committed.

It is an affront to the right to a fair trial. It is an affront to the right to be tried by a jury of your peers. It is an affront to the idea of equality before the law. It is an affront to basic civil liberties. It is an affront to human rights as a whole. There are many ways to deal with potential jury intimidation which don’t require a subversion of our fundamental democratic rights.

But, hold on – cavalry are charging to the rescue!

An update from a Cedar Lounge Revolution correspondent : “A watershed moment in Irish politics today: Sinn Fein for the first time in its history did not vote against the Offences Against the State Act and the attendant emergency powers, including the non jury Special Criminal Court. It is hard to imagine them sending a stronger signal that their house training has been completed and the state does not have to fear their involvement in government.

“With the Greens also abandoning their traditional civil liberties opposition to the OASA, the only voices against were Solidarity – People Before Profit and the SocDems. Strong speeches as you would expect from Paul Murphy (Rise) and Brid Smith (PBP). Fair play to Catherine Murphy (Soc Dems) for being the only liberal speaker to show some backbone when it comes to civil liberties.”

Members of the Irish Senate are on manoeuvres to the right of Leo Varadkar’s lame duck Fine Gael government.

The linked article below clarifies that if the Michael McDowell led legal challenge succeeds, the grossly undemocratic non-jury Special Criminal Court will not die on June 30 next.

It makes sense that the right-wing McDowell, a former government minister belonging to the extinguished Progressive Democrat party, takes legal action to extend the life-span and powers of the lame duck Varadkar régime. McDowell is joined by legal colleague Ivana Bacik of the Labour Party and assorted gombeens from Seanad Éireann!

Is this part of the final political epitaph of the Irish Labour Party and Sinn Féin – we saved the Special Criminal Court with Michael McDowell?

During the 1978 Sallins Train Robbery Special Criminal Court Frame Up Trial of 4 IRSP Members one of the 3 Judges constantly fell asleep. Defence counsel protests were dismissed. Then the judge died. Justice still sleeps in the Special Criminal Court in 2020.

“While 49 members of the Seanad have already been elected, 11 must be nominated by an incoming Taoiseach. Without agreement on a new government, they cannot be appointed meaning the Upper House is incomplete.

Senator Bacik said the Taoiseach has not publicly stated whether or not it is the view of the Attorney General that the Seanad cannot sit.

“We are asking that the Taoiseach would clarify his understanding of the law. We are asking him in particular to confirm that he can advise the President to convene the Seanad without the need to appoint the 11 nominees. We want the Seanad to sit so that we can go about our business, to be back in the Seanad Chamber and able to legislate,” she told RTÉ News.

A crucial point for the House to sit is seen as 30 June. At that point, a motion will need to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas to ensure that the non-jury Special Criminal Court can continue to sit.

Those who signed the letter also include: Labour Senators Annie Hoey, Rebecca Moynihan, Marie Sherlock and Mark Wall and Independent Senators Victor Boyhan, Gerard Craughwell, Sharon Keogan and Rónán Mullen.”

The policy of Sinn Féin on this issue in the recent past was beyond doubt – but the party is sniffing at membership of a right-wing Dublin coalition government, and nothing can be taken for granted.

A Sinn Féin right-wing policy change, via the party leader talking to right wing journalists, was highlighted in January 2020.

“SINN Féin has watered-down its policy to abolish the Special Criminal Court and now says the non-jury court should instead be put under review.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said the court was “not unproblematic” but said it would put its existence under review, rather than outright abolish it, if in government.

This represents a shift from Sinn Féin’s policy during the 2016 general election when it committed to repeal the Offences Against the State Acts, which gives legislative underpinning to the court, in its manifesto.

The party has consistently voted against the renewal of the Act in the Dáil over recent years.

“We accept that we have to have mechanisms that work to keep the community safe. So Special Criminal Courts aren’t unproblematic, they are. I want us to see a review of that,” Ms McDonald said on a campaign stop in Bray, Co Wicklow on Friday.

“The principal issue here is about keeping people safe, and we have special criminal courts, and still these people are at large.

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Sinn Féin’s shift in policy comes in the wake of growing concerns about serious violent crime in this general election campaign. Ms McDonald accepted there needs to be “special provisions” for violent crimes and gangs. She said the review would have to involve the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and the Department of Justice.

Asked if Sinn Féin would retain the court if the review recommended this, she said: “We will accept, not alone abide by, we will champion any and every measure that has the ability to keep communities safe and put these thugs and gangsters behind bars. That’s our position. I am not going to play a game on this issue. It’s a very, very important issue.

“It’s not just about the Special Criminal course itself, although the judicial process is, of course, a matter of concern for people. The bigger concern is that these people are on the streets and lots of folks believe that there isn’t a real capacity to take them off the streets, and to keep our citizens safe.”

The reactionary drivel above should be contrasted with this powerful political case for abolition of the Special Criminal Court

The Irish Special Criminal Court Needs to be Abolished, this issue should be a campaigning focus for everyone on the left.

A sinister hard core of brutal police thugs was planted firmly in poisonous ground in the 1970’s, and the Special Criminal Court was their incubator.

Cormac Breatnach’s Letter zones in on a hideous political show trial from the 1970’s, the Sallins Mail Train Robbery Case. Cormac’s Brother Osgúr was one of the people tortured by the Police Heavy Gang.

“Sir, – In his letter on the Special Criminal Court (February 14th), the Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Liam Herrick’s called for a review of this court.

This is in line with Ireland’s international legal obligations. The continued use of this non-jury court has been the subject of national and international criticism, including Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Committee.

The Sallins mail train robbery case, conducted by the Special Criminal Court in 1978, has long been accepted as Ireland’s greatest miscarriage of justice of recent times. It remains “unresolved” and the injuries in Garda custody were never satisfactorily explained even by the Court of Criminal Appeal, which overturned the men’s convictions. How did it come to pass that three innocent men (including my brother Osgur Breatnach) admitted to a crime they did not commit, ending up with prison sentences totalling 33 years?

The case “involved serious ill-treatment, potentially amounting to torture, of those men while in custody” (ICCL/Amnesty International joint-statement of July 2019).

In 2007, nearly 30 years later, Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman delivered a paper to the Judicial Studies Institute Journal, entitled “Weasel Words and Doubtful Meanings”. (The JSI is a body established pursuant to section 19 of the Court and Court Officers Act, 1995 to organise training, seminars and study visits for the judiciary). In it, he criticised our justice system’s failure to learn from the lessons of the past: “Twenty years ago . . . Irish society was gripped by the fate of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven . . . the fact is that, during much the same time as these miscarriages of justice were unfolding, so too, in Ireland, was the Sallins mail train robbery case which led to massive settlements and grave damage to the reputation of our policing and criminal justice systems. But we have never, as a country or as a community, internalised the lessons of that event or of the other declared miscarriages of justice which have taken place since . . . wrongful convictions, of which we have had our fair share in modern times, inflict appalling damage on individuals and their families. They also debase the entire criminal justice system.

Patrick McCartan, now a retired judge, was the solicitor who defended the accused in the District and Special Criminal Courts. He described the trial in the non-jury court as “the most serious miscarriage of justice that has occurred in my lifetime” in RTÉ’s Documentary On One “The Whistleblower”, first broadcast in July 2019.

Both the ICCL and Amnesty International reiterated their calls in July 2019 for an independent public inquiry into the Sallins case and the State remains obligated under international human rights treaties it has ratified to guarantee the disclosure of truth, justice and reparations for victims of past human rights violations. Sadly, the Government refuses to act in this case and has ignored the victims’ and their families’ calls for an apology. Special courts and special powers do not enjoy any place in a democracy. If not abolished, at the very least we need a comprehensive review of the Special Criminal Court, and a commitment to hold an inquiry into the Sallins case.”

See also :

In a few days we will know if left wing Greens have successfully rejected the poisoned chalice of right wing coalition government with FFFG and Gombeens. Sinn Féin was left off the hook. Is that about to change?

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  1. […] After Bobby Storey’s death, his republican organisation sheds another republican principle – abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court in the 26 County State. Keeping up appearances, as the facade crumbles :… […]

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