Campaign to abolish the Special Criminal Court and Offences Against the State Act set up from Dublin meeting


Last Thursday 16th June a meeting was held by activists that are opposed to the use of the Special Criminal Court. Speakers included Maureen O' Sullivan, Nicky Kelly (who was wrongly convicted in the Special Criminal Court), John Lynns and Aengus O Snodaigh.The matter was discussed and debated throughout the meeting and the end result is to create a campaign for the abolishing of the Special Criminal Court and the Offences Against the State Act. Everyone at the discussion voiced their concerns at the human rights abuses carried out by the state using the court and the Act.

The Special Criminal Court was established by the Irish state in 1939 to deal with the threat of Irish Republicanism. The Irish state was worried the IRA’s campaign against Britain would damage its stance of neutrality in the war that had just erupted between the different imperialist powers (Britain, France, Germany,etc) in Europe. This was the beginning of the second world war.

So to combat the threat, the government created the Offences Against the State Act (which gives the Garda more rights in pursing people as they deem as causing offences), and the non-jury special criminal court. The state established because it is the best way to secure convictions which the normal criminal court (as the state doesn't have to disclose evidence or reveal information) would not be able to do against Republicans.

After the Republicans had ceased their bombing campaign in Britain and halted their attacks in the north of Ireland the Irish state stopped using the Special Criminal Court. In 1973 the state started to use the Special Criminal Court again, to deal with Republicans waging a national liberation struggle against Britain in the north of Ireland.

In 1998 the Good Friday agreement began to get established, as a part of the agreement both states (the British and Irish) were to start winding down the use of special laws and special courts that were being used by both states to combat the armed groups.

14 years later we can still see these special laws and courts are still in use. From 1998 till now the special Criminal Court and the Offences against the State Act have been in continuous use. 10s if not over 100 people have been before on the court. Not only is it still in use but the Irish state has also created new special laws. Instead of the court being wind down, the state has created a second Special Criminal Court, all this while Republicans being on front of the court has been at an all time low in the last 42 years.

The question needs to be asked why was there a second Special Criminal Court created? The state could say it's to help combat the the threat of gangland violence and crime. With the recent upsurge in murders due to the latest gangland feud that has hit Dublin's north inner city with 4 murders being carried out in the same area in the last few weeks, there isn't much people that would be opposed to creation of a second Special Criminal Court to try tackle and end the blood shed. The reality of the use of the Special Criminal Court is different than one might believe. So far (in the last number of years) the amount of gangland figures that have been before the court is 6.

People will agree that heroin dealers and other gangland figures should get harsh treatment. But realistically no amount of Special Criminal Courts and laws will prevent people particularly young people from getting involved in gangland.

The areas where these gangs are created are areas of social inequality, social exclusion, high unemployment, high rates of drug and alcohol abuse. In the last number of years the state has reduced funding into these areas, funding for community projects, youth services, addiction projects, etc. All this is a part of the recipe that helps towards creating what is known as gangland and the problems created from it.

If drug dealing, drug related crimes, gangland violence and addiction are to end, surely the first most logical step would be towards ending and tackling the social problems that are inflicted on working class communities, because no matter how many gangsters are jailed through using the Special Criminal Court it won't make one bit of difference because there is a ready made supply of disenfranchised youths that can take their places seeing drug dealing as a viable job opportunity..

Over the last few years I think it’s safe to say there is a hell of a lot more danger posed by gangsters and the blood shed and misery they create in order to create millions and billions of euros. All the while there has been 100s of people convicted in the Special Criminal Court in relation to Republican activity.

Not only has the Special Criminal Courts been used against Republicans and gangsters but it has also been used against political activists other than Republicans. In the 80s and 90s because of the rising drug problems created by the rising use of heroin in Dublin, communities in the the south and north inner city of Dublin created the Coalition of Communities Against Drugs (COCAD) to try deal with the problems created from the selling and use of heroin. As the 1990’s went on more and more people, residents, parents, community and political activists throughout working class areas of Dublin began to organise themselves to try combat drugs. 100s of people would march on drug dealers houses demanding that they move from their areas. After a while the state began to crack down on the anti-drug movement, with campaigners being brought before the Special Criminal Court. There were two separate cases before the court which resulted in convictions against anti-drug campaigners.

The use of the Special Criminal Court against Republican and anti-drug campaigners shows that the state is more willing to use the court against political opposition than against gangland figures. We have seen over the last year the state crackdown on anti-austerity campaigners in the water movement that have been struggling against the state's implementation of “ Irish Water”. We have seen dawn raids on campaigners homes, campaigners being dragged before the court,and even campaigners being imprisoned.

Most of these campaigners cases that go before the courts are being struck out because of lack of evidence. The state established the Special Criminal Court because it would make it far easier to convict and jail Republican activists. What is to say the state want do the same with anti-austerity activists if these campaigners continue to combat and hinder the state's implementation of austerity measures?