Gangland bosses now face life sentences in tough crackdown
By Tom Brady Security Editor
Tuesday May 12 2009
CRIME bosses face life imprisonment if they are found guilty of directing the activities of an organised gang.
And their associates will be put behind bars for up to 15 years for participating in a recognised crime gang.
The tough measures are part of a package to be placed before the Cabinet today in an unprecedented legislative crackdown by the State on serious crime.
The measures mean the thugs will find it more difficult to secure bail after they have been charged, face longer jail sentences after they have been convicted, and face curbs on their movements after they have been released.
The package contains the toughest response from the State since the draconian legislation introduced to combat dissident republician terrorists in the wake of the Omagh bomb atrocity 11 years ago.
And it signals that the Government views the threat posed by the organised gangs, particularly in Limerick and Dublin, to be the gravest to the security of the country since the subversives were tackled.
Some of the legislation being proposed by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern to his Government colleagues today is based on the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998.
This was introduced after the Omagh bomb blast, which killed 29 people, in August 1998 and it allows the Special Criminal Court to sentence anyone found guilty of directing a terrorist organisation to life imprisonment.
The leader of the Real IRA, Michael McKevitt, was subsequently sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.
The crimes covered in the new Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill will become scheduled offences, which means the High Court can then impose tighter restrictions on the right to bail.
All charges under the proposed legislation will be dealt with by the Special Criminal Court, unless the DPP directs otherwise. Mr Ahern and Attorney General Paul Gallagher believe that they have surmounted the legal obstacles, which prevented Governments in the past from introducing a charge of membership of a criminal gang.
It is now proposed to introduce a new offence of involvement in criminal activity in association with known members of a recognised criminal gang.
A garda chief superintendent will be able to express his opinion in the Special Criminal Court that an accused is a member of a specific gang but this must be corroborated by other evidence.
It is intended that much of the corroborative evidence will be gathered through surveillance measures, which can be used in court if the Bill is passed.
At present, the gardai can carry out covert and overt surveillance but they are unable to produce the results in court.
The jail sentence for intimidating witnesses or jurors is also expected to be increased from the existing 10 years as a result of garda evidence indicating a big rise in the number of cases of intimidation.
It is already accepted that the witness security programme is of limited use as many witnesses are reluctant to relocate and it is very difficult to maintain their anonymity in a small country.
The measures have been under review since the murder of rugby player Shane Geoghegan in Limerick in November and were signalled by Mr Ahern last month after the fatal shooting of another innocent Limerick citizen, Roy Collins.
Thousands took to the streets of Limerick at the weekend in a show of support for the families of the innocent victims and to back up calls for tougher action from the Government.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has described the proposed measures as an appropriate response to the activities of the organised crime gangs.
However, legal opinion is expected to be divided along the lines adopted in the wake of the Omagh legislation.
- Tom Brady Security Editor