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Offences Against State Act 'needed in face of real terrorism threat'

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Sinn Fein justice spokesman Martin Kenny

Sinn Fein justice spokesman Martin Kenny

Sinn Fein justice spokesman Martin Kenny

The scourge of gang crime and the shocking intimidation of its victims were highlighted as politicians argued in favour of renewing the Offences Against The State Act.

The Dail last night passed the legislation that provides for the non-jury Special Criminal Court, which is used for some terrorism and gang crime trials.

Sinn Fein TDs abstained from the Dail vote - the first time that the party has not actively opposed the annual renewal of the law.

That came after Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan committed to an independent review of legislation. The law must still be approved by the Seanad before the end of the month.

It remains to be seen if a government will be formed allowing a new Taoiseach to appoint 11 senators to the Upper House so it can sit on Monday to consider the matter.

The Dail debate on the Offences Against The State Act comes ahead of a Cabinet meeting today that is due to be briefed on successful Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) operations from 2019.

These include the freezing of almost €65m in assets, significantly up on 2018. This was boosted by the granting of a freezing order for cryptocurrency worth €53m.

There was also growth in the number of cases brought before the courts, with the majority relating to assets gained as a result of drug trafficking.

In the Dail, Mr Flanagan argued the act was still needed due to the "stark reality" of a threat of dissident republican terrorism.

He insisted the provisions of the law "are making a big difference as the State responds to terror and gangland activity".

Mr Flanagan said there would be a comprehensive, independent review of the law but this would be a matter for the next government.

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Sinn Fein justice spokesman Martin Kenny said he would withdraw an amendment to the legislation on the basis of the commitment to the review.

He said the review needed to happen before the legislation came up for renewal next year.

During the debate Mr Kenny said the law should not be a "political football" and "we need to bring it into the 21st century".

Sinn Fein's TDs later abstained from the vote on renewing the legislation.

Labour TD Ged Nash said his party supported renewal of the law as part of the "fight against the scourge of organised crime".

He said the legislation was not used enough "to bring known gangsters before the courts".

The Louth TD referred to the ongoing gang war in Drogheda which has "destroyed countless lives" and seen the murder of Keane Mulready-Woods.

Mr Nash said there were other victims in the community who had suffered arson attacks on homes and drug-debt intimidation of parents and grandparents.

He said there has been intimidation of "defenceless and vulnerable young girls sickeningly abused".

"That's the reality of this heinous trade," he added.

The Green Party said it would support renewing the legislation.

Justice spokesman Roderic O'Gorman made arguments for why it was needed, highlighting an incident where a garda's home was set on fire.