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Sinn Fein in historic move over Dublin's Special Criminal Court

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Stance: Mary Lou McDonald

Stance: Mary Lou McDonald

Stance: Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein has not opposed the renewal of Irish legislation that empowers the Special Criminal Court for the first time in its history.

The legislation has been used in trials of dissident republicans and gangland criminals in a three-judge criminal court that has no jury in order to avoid any potential intimidation of members.

The party have long been opponents of the non-jury court - similar to the Diplock-style courts in Northern Ireland - and have previously voted against the legislation.

Sinn Fein said the decision is conditional on an independent review of the laws within a year.

It comes as Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan announced an independent review of the Offences Against the State Act which upholds the court.

The Dail voted yesterday to approve the extension of the Offences Against the State and the Criminal Justice Acts. This will renew the mandate of the Special Criminal Court for another 12 months. Earlier, Mr Flanagan told the Dail there remains a real and persistent threat from "republican paramilitary organisations" on the island of Ireland.

He said: "I know that some members of the house are concerned about the role of the Special Criminal Court in the justice process.

"However, none of us can be blind to the threat posed to the criminal process by individuals, terrorists and organised criminal groups who seek to subvert the system through intimidation of citizens.

"I want to make clear that I am not averse to a review of this legislation. Indeed, far from it, as will become clear in the months ahead. Deputies will be aware of the intensive work taking place to implement the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland."

Mr Flanagan said 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."

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

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 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."

Belfast Telegraph