Statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Mr. Alan Shatter T.D. on the Dáil motion regarding the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998

21 June, 2011

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D, today recommended to Dáil Éireann that a number of crucial sections of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 should be renewed and affirmed in legislation for a period of 12 months.

The relevant legislation was enacted and borne out of the 1998 Omagh bombing atrocity which claimed the lives of 29 innocent people and injured over 200 people. It facilitates prosecutions for membership of illegal organisations and renders it an offence for a person to withhold information which might be of material assistance in preventing the commission of a serious offence or securing the apprehension, prosecution, or conviction of another person for such an offence.  

The Omagh bombings were an attempt by paramilitaries to undermine the exceptional and ground breaking work that was taking place at that time in establishing the Peace Process. With the success of the Peace Process, it is now blatantly obvious that this futile attempt failed to destroy the existing fortitude of both communities on this island and only galvanised their desire for democracy and peace.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Minister Shatter said "It is a testament to the resolve of those parties who supported the peace process that not only did it survive this attack but it flourished and great advances have been made in normalising politics in Northern Ireland.  We must never forget, however, the suffering of so many people who were bereaved by the mindless criminality of the very few."

The purpose of today’s address was to allow the Oireachtas to decide whether the current circumstances justified the continued operation of the relevant sections of the Act.  Speaking in the house, Minister Shatter said,

"The clear message from the Report is that the relevant sections of the Act continue to be of significant value to the Gardaí in tackling the threat from terrorism. The Garda authorities consider that the Act continues to be one of the most important tools available to them in the ongoing fight against terrorism."

Unfortunately the ongoing threat from a variety of subversive paramilitary groups, both in this jurisdiction and in Northern Ireland demonstrates the acute need for the necessary continuance of these sections of the 1998 Act. The recent tragic murder of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr is a stark demonstration of their ongoing murderous intent and only proves to highlight the unfortunate necessity of these provisions.

Speaking on the matter, Minister Shatter said "A Cheann Comhairle, I would be delighted to be able to inform Members that these provisions are no longer considered necessary.  However, that would necessitate a very significant change of attitude on the part of these criminal, terrorist groups.  In the absence of such a change I could not as Minister for Justice and Equality recommend to the Dáil that valuable legislative provisions be allowed to lapse.

I consider that the relevant provisions of the 1998 Act should remain in operation for a further 12 months and I commend this resolution to the House."