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Trials Under The Shadow Of Irish Emergency Laws

Marianne Quoirin • 28 March 2004

Anti-terror laws which even the government classify as Draconian, a special court which reaches its judgements without a jury, and a highly-paid FBI agent whose statements – even according to the prosecution – are the only evidence: The trial of Michael McKevitt the alleged leader of the Real IRA, made evident the questionable methods which are also used in the Irish Republic for continuing the fight against terror. McKevitt was sentenced in Dublin in August for directing acts of terror (directing terrorism) and for membership of an illegal Organization to 20 years in prison. Irish and British politicians and commentators greeted the sentence with satisfaction, as it was intended to punish the man allegedly behind the bomb attack in Omagh, Northern Ireland on 15 August 1998. Twenty nine people were killed in the attack just five months after the peace accord was signed in Northern Ireland. The Real IRA, a splinter group of the IRA, accepted responsibility for the massacre, but the bombers have not been identified to the present day, let alone been put on trial. Only accessories have been put on trial todate. Of course Michael McKevitt could not be charged with being the mastermind for the attack in Omagh, as the new crime of “directing terrorism” only belonged to the package of laws which was passed by the Irish parliament just three weeks after the attack. But McKevitts activities were supposed to be brought to a stop with this very corpus delicti.

The Irish emergency legislation

In April 1998, the Irish government signed a multiparty agreement as a precondition for political discussions in Northern Ireland. The agreement also implied fundamental scrutiny of the Anti-Terror laws and the Special Criminal Court where three appointed judges preside without a jury, and which have been subject to continuous criticism by lawyers and human rights organisations. But in view of the fact of Police knowledge that the Omagh bombers operated from the Irish Republic, the liberalisation which was hoped for was not forthcoming.

The Offences Against the State Act 1998 (OASA) is based on the Free State emergency laws from 1939. They have been repeatedly amended, most commonly with the threat of higher penalties. This time new offences were added: Apart from directing an illegal Organization, they include punishments for possession and/or collecting information which is likely to be useful to members of illegal organisations. The recent amendments also make access to a lawyer more difficult. The period of time where a suspect can be held in police custody without charge has been increased from 48 to 72 hours. Furthermore, the right of the accused to silence has been restricted, so that the court may infer negative implications when the accused does not answer or refuses to answer questions during preliminary investigative proceedings. Refusal of the suspect to answer the questions can be used as supporting evidence: For example, a sworn statement made under oath by a high-ranking police officer (Chief Superintendent) before the court that he believes the accused to be a member of an illegal Organization. In some cases, this statement is enough to convict the accused, even if the statement of the Chief Superintendent is based on hearsay or other unsubstantiated sources such as secret service sources. In any other criminal case, “personal conviction” would be considered to be a bad joke, but not for the accused facing trial before the Special Criminal Court.

The problems the defence faces with the substance of such “convictions” became evident in a trial which dragged on for three months against seven members of the Republican Sinn Fein party, including the parties Vice President Desmond Long. In fact, on the 8th of May 2003, six of the seven defendants were acquitted of the charge of being members of an illegal Organization, but luck was only on their side because the Police had made a faux pas. The seventh man was convicted on the word of a high-ranking Police officer. “The laws were not reformed in 1998, they were put back hundreds of years” said defence lawyer John Devane. He does not hesitate to characterise the trial where he was a defence lawyer as a “Show trial”. His colleague Ross Maguire calls to mind an old saying when analysing the McKevitt case which states that difficult cases provoke bad laws: “Draconian measures which shake the foundation on which the principles of our legal system are based, could undermine the entire system and promote fatal developments, which were not intended at the outset”.

The chief (state) witness in the McKevitt case

The court described the American David Rupert, who was supposed to make contact with the Irish underground Organization through Irish-American groups, as a contracted and paid FBI Agent and protected witness. He had received about 1.7 million Euro before he took the stand as chief prosecution witness according to details presented by the court. According to findings available to the British “Sunday Times”, he was to be rewarded with a new identity and 70 000 Euro annually at the end of the trial. The British and Americans were to share the costs. Before he became an Agent, he had to file for bankruptcy on four occasions and his debts amounted to about 2.5 million Euro when he was recruited. Rupert had a lot to say before the court and he gave details about supposed Real IRA murder plots and contacts to Al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. A mass of contradictions, his credibility was virtually non-existent. Important documents were withheld from the defence before the trial commenced. The High Court dismissed the matter on the question of relevance. When the defence were finally given access to the documents, the chief prosecution witness could not be cross-examined. He was unavailable.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

28 March 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Trials Under the Shadow of Irish Emergency Laws
Marianne Quoirin


Sinn Fein A Dictatorship: Martin Cunningham Interviewed
Anthony McIntyre


How to Get to 2016
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Desert Pong

Eamonn McCann


Reading the Future from the Past
Mick Hall


Bush in Haiti: Operation Enduring Misery
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No Promise, No Hope?
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Deporting the Burly Bartender: Seán Ó Cealleagh
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For Being Irish in the Wrong Place and at the Wrong Time
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Lords' Ruling Timed to Stymie Collusion Inquiries

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Cannabis Ard Fheis Blow
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Why Growth and Power in Both Parts of A Divided Country Will Do Sinn Fein Just Fine
Anthony McIntyre


In Defence of the Crown
Eamon Sweeney


Game Playing by "Free Trade" Rules
Toni Solo


Social Inequality, Grinding Poverty, State Negligence
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