Sinn Féin will abstain in a Dáil vote today to extend the role of the Special Criminal Court for a year.
The non-jury court is a controversial institution in republican circles as it was used to convict a number of IRA members during the Troubles.
Sinn Féin formally dropped its outright opposition to the court last year at the party’s Ard Fheis but their justice spokesman, Martin Kenny, said they still believe the court needs fundamental reform:
“The last number of years, two years now, we’ve had a position where we haven’t opposed the legislation,” Deputy Kenny told Newstalk.
“Because we’ve had an agreement with Government that there would be a full review of it with the intention of reforming it and disposing of parts of it that would not be necessary in the present climate.”
The review is currently underway and Deputy Kenny said he was hopefully it would recommend the changes the party hopes for:
“In the context of the review that is ongoing into the Offences Against The State Act, we will not be opposing the legislation on this occasion,” he continued.
“And we expect that the review will be reporting very shortly and that progress will be made in having better and more strengthened legislation to deal with criminal gangs.”
'Realpolitik kicking in'
Nowadays the court is used mainly to deal with gangland crime when there are concerns that jury members could be intimidated and Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said this was why the party had changed its policy:
“We are now today saying that we recognise the need in exceptional circumstances for the option of a non-jury court,” she said at her party’s Ard Fheis.
“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.”
Crime journalist Paul Williams said at the time it was a significant shift for the party:
“This is a major ideological u-turn for Sinn Féin,” he explained.
“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.”
Main image: Sinn Féin TDs. Picture by: Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie