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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Establishment of the Special Criminal Court (SCC)

The Special Criminal Court (SCC), a juryless criminal court in Ireland which tries terrorism and serious organised crime cases, is established on May 26, 1972.

Article 38 of the Constitution of Ireland empowers Dáil Éireann to establish “special courts” with wide-ranging powers when the “ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice.” The Offences against the State Act 1939 leads to the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for the trial of certain offences. The scope of a “scheduled offence” is set out in the Offences Against the State (Scheduled Offences) Order 1972.

On May 26, 1972, the Government of Ireland exercises its power to make a proclamation pursuant to Section 35(2) of the Offences against the State Act 1939 which leads to the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for the trial of certain offences. The current court is first established by the Dáil under the Offences against the State Act 1939 to prevent the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from subverting Ireland’s neutrality during World War II and the Emergency. The current incarnation of the Special Criminal Court dates from 1972, just after the Troubles in Northern Ireland began.

Although the court is initially set up to handle terrorism-related crime, its remit has been extended and it has been handling more organised crime cases after the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire in the 1990s. For instance, members of the drugs gang which murdered journalist Veronica Guerin were tried in the Special Criminal Court.

Section 35(4) and (5) of the Offences against the State Act 1939 provide that if at any time the Government or the Parliament is satisfied that the ordinary courts are again adequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order, a rescinding proclamation or resolution, respectively, shall be made terminating the Special Criminal Court regime. To date, no such rescinding proclamation or resolution has been promulgated. Following the introduction of a regular Government review and assessment procedure on January 14, 1997, reviews taking into account the views of the relevant State agencies are carried out on February 11, 1997, March 24, 1998, and April 14, 1999, and conclude that the continuance of the Court is necessary, not only in view of the continuing threat to State security posed by instances of violence, but also of the particular threat to the administration of justice, including jury intimidation, from the rise of organised and ruthless criminal gangs, principally involved in drug-related and violent crime.

The Special Criminal Court has been criticised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for its procedures and for being a special court, which ordinarily should not be used against civilians. Among the criticisms are the lack of a jury and the increasing use of the court to try organised “ordinary” crimes rather than the terrorist cases it was originally set up to handle. Critics also argue that the court is now obsolete since there is no longer a serious terrorist threat to the State, although others disagree and cite the continuing violence from dissident republican terrorism, international terrorism and serious gangland crime.

Under the law, the court is authorised to accept the opinion of a Garda Síochána chief-superintendent as evidence that a suspect is a member of an illegal organisation. However, the court has been reluctant to convict on the word of a garda alone, without any corroborating evidence.

The Sinn Féin political party in the past has stated that it is their intention to abolish the Special Criminal Court as they believed it was used to convict political prisoners in a juryless court, however Sinn Féin are no longer in favour of its abolition. Some prominent Sinn Féin members, including Martin Ferris and Martin McGuinness, have been convicted of offences by it. In 1973 McGuinness was tried at the SCC, which he refused to recognise, after being arrested near a car containing 250 pounds (110 kg) of explosives and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition. He was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

(Pictured: The Criminal Courts of Justice complex in Dublin where Special Criminal Court (SCC) sittings are usually held)


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The Irish Republican Army S-Plan

s-plan-coventry-attackThe S-Plan or Sabotage Campaign or England Campaign, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) campaign of bombing and sabotage against the civil, economic, and military infrastructure of the United Kingdom, begins on January 16, 1939 and lasts until March 1940. The campaign is conceived by Seamus O’Donovan in 1938 at the request of then IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. It is believed that Russell and Joseph McGarrity devised the strategy in 1936.

The S-Plan contains many precise instructions for acts of destruction which have as their object the paralysis of all official activity in England and the greatest possible destruction of British defence installations. It divides the IRA campaign into two main lines: propaganda and offensive (military) action.

Operations are strictly concentrated on the island of Britain, in and around centres of population where IRA volunteers can operate freely without drawing attention. No attacks on targets in Northern Ireland or other areas under British control are planned as part of the S-Plan.

Sources of funding for the campaign are not known, but once the campaign is operational, the weekly expenses for operations in the field amount to approximately £700. Operational units are expected to raise any money needed themselves, and the men who act within IRA teams are unpaid and expected to support themselves while on missions.

On January 12, 1939, the IRA Army Council sends an ultimatum, signed by Patrick Fleming, to British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. The communiqué duly informs the British government of “The Government of the Irish Republic’s” intention to go to “war.”

On Sunday, January 15, with no reply from the British Government, a proclamation is posted in public places throughout Ireland announcing the IRA’s declaration of war on Britain. This proclamation is written by Joseph McGarrity, leader of Clan na Gael in the United States, and is signed by six members of the Army Council – Stephen Hayes, Patrick Fleming, Peadar O’Flaherty, George Oliver Plunkett, Larry Grogan and Seán Russell.

The five deaths during the Coventry bombing on August 25, 1939 effectively ends the campaign. By late 1940 the introduction of the Treason Act 1939 and the Offences Against the State Act 1939 in Ireland, and the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act in Britain lead to many IRA members interned in Ireland, arrested in Britain, or deported from Britain. The granting of extra powers to the Irish Justice Minister under the Emergency Powers Act in January 1940 leads to 600 IRA volunteers being imprisoned and 500 interned during the course of World War II alone.

The final figures resulting from the S-Plan are cited as 300 explosions, ten deaths and 96 injuries.

(Pictured: The aftermath of an IRA bike bomb in Coventry on August 25, 1939)