Sinn Féin has dropped its opposition to juryless courts, after passing a motion at its Ard Fheis backing them in exceptional circumstances.
The party previously opposed the use of juryless trials in the Special Criminal Court - which was set up to deal with cases involving gangland feuds or terrorism where a jury might be intimidated.
However, Sinn Féin still opposes the Special Criminal Court in its current form but party president Mary Lou McDonald has conceded there is a place for non jury trials in the justice system:
“We are now today saying that we recognise the need in exceptional circumstances for the option of a non-jury court.
“What we don’t want is the current system wherein the DPP decides if there is a case to be prosecuted and where the case should be heard. In other words, whether it goes to the Special Criminal Court.”
After the motion was passed Deputy McDonald told Newstalk:
“Where there’s intimidation of juries or the risk of jury tampering… the review is underway, we look forward to that and we look forward to the kind of provisions that we need to ensure that we have an efficient, effective human rights compliant system - the type of change that was envisioned as far back as the Good Friday Agreement. We’re simply completing that journey.
Crime journalist Paul Williams said the change is policy was hugely significant coming from Sinn Féin:
“This is a major ideological u-turn for Sinn Féin because it shows that they realise there is realpolitik kicking in and they have to rehabilitate their image because this court is vital… in the years since it has been re-activiated.”
“Probably one of the worst and most frightening and terrifying gangland feuds we have ever seen with the Kinahan-Hutch feud and the people of the North Inner City will be able to testify to that and these are people who would traditionally vote for Sinn Féin.
“Now, the only court that can take those guys on and has proved to be a superb weapon and the only weapon to take on organised crime of that level has been the Special Criminal Court.”
Main image: A prisoner in handcuffs arriving at The Four Courts in Dublin. Picture by: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland