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Harsh words Taoiseach brands Sinn Féin ‘slow learners’ as they drop opposition to Special Criminal Court

It came after Sinn Féin’s ard fheis voted in favour of a motion stating that non-jury trials operated by the Special Criminal Court could continue to be used should the party take power.

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Micheál Martin

Micheál Martin

Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has branded Sinn Féin “slow learners” after the party dropped its long-held opposition to non-jury courts for cases involving terrorists and criminal gangs.

Speaking at an event commemoration Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown, Co Kildare, Mr Martin said he was reminded of former SDLP leader Seamus Mallon’s quote about “slow learners” when he heard Sinn Féin planned to end their opposition to non-jury courts.

“I mean how long does it take to realise that you need non-jury courts to deal with terrorists and armed criminal gangs who really have the capacity to intimidate juries? We know that and these armed gangs are very, very dangerous to the fabric of our society,” Mr Martin said.

It came after Sinn Féin’s ard fheis voted in favour of a motion stating that non-jury trials operated by the Special Criminal Court could continue to be used should the party take power. However, they said the courts should only be used in “exceptional circumstances."

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Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Martin Kenny said the legislation underpinning the Special Criminal Court was “used in the past for political convenience in times of conflict against republicans”.

The courts were used to convict members of the Provisional IRA responsible for some the worst atrocities of the Troubles.

Meanwhile, at the Wolfe Tone commemoration, the Taoiseach said “illegitimate campaigns of destruction” have “abused the name of republicanism”, in reference to the Provisional IRA.

Mr Martin said there is “no greater disrespect which you can pay to Irish republicans of the past than to fail to recognise the opportunities which they created to move beyond their own strategies.”

“Fianna Fáil has come to this place to honour the memory of Wolfe Tone and to reflect on the republican tradition which he did so much to shape,” he said.

“Unlike the type of backward-looking and inflexible nationalism so often seen elsewhere, true Irish republicanism has always been defined by a focus on the future. It rejects the idea of one fixed answer to everything, or an unchanging programme,” he added

The Fianna Fáil leader said the republicans of the War of Independence “sought and maintained democratic legitimacy, while implementing legal, administrative political as well as armed strategies”.

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“They dramatically altered the opportunities for our country, providing the foundation for the democratic republicanism which has thrived since then, even in the face of illegitimate campaigns of destruction which abused the name of republicanism,” he said.

Mr Martin also warned that “radical national sovereignty” led to the rise of Nazi Germany as he insisted EU counties must abide by the laws of the Union. His comments follow a recent row between Brussels and Poland over EU law and comes as the debate over Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol continue.

“In light of major debates at the moment, it’s important for us to remember that the rule of law isn’t some abstract phrase,” the Taoiseach said

“When applied to countries it means that we have to accept that we can’t always just do what we want – we can’t pick and choose which agreements we will respect,” he added.

“The idea of a radical national sovereignty where every state can do whatever it wants and can ignore commitments without any penalty is exactly what led to the worst catastrophes of the last century.

“The need for countries to agree strong rules and the enforcement of those rules arose from a determination to never again repeat the errors of the 1930s – and it was a the founding principle of the European Union.

“And time and again the European Union has proven that we all gain in influence, in security and in prosperity when we participate in a strong, rules-based community of nations,” he said.

“The Union cannot and must not allow these principles to be undermined. It would lose its entire purpose and effectiveness if it were to accept the idea that countries were free to pick and choose the rules and values to be respected.”

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