By Andrew Lynch
Thursday July 09 2009
This newspaper has had some harsh things to say in the past about Dermot Ahern's record as Minister for Justice.
So credit where credit is due -- his new criminal justice bill is a welcome development and could prove to be a real turning point in the fight against organised crime.
The big question now is whether he can get it passed through the Dail by the end of the week -- and assert his authority once and for all.
The battle lines have already been drawn. In one corner we have the families of the victims of gangland crime, many of whom have voiced their support for the bill and said that it can't be introduced a day too soon.
In the other is an unholy alliance of lawyers, lobbyists and left-wing TDs, whose opposition to the bill suggests they have little idea of the kind of people the State is up against.
Much of the debate has revolved around the question of whether juries are being regularly intimidated by criminal gangs. There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence to suggest this is the case.
The human rights brigade want to see cast-iron proof, not realising that the only way this might materialise is in the form of a murderous thug walking free or a jury member winding up with a bullet in the head.
In an ideal world, of course, we would not need legislation as draconian as this. But desperate times call for desperate measures -- and when children as young as eight are being recruited by gangland leaders, it should be obvious that the time for pussyfooting around is over.
We are now in era of gang members de-sensitised to social mores and operating completely outside the law,.
The bill gives gardai the tools they need to successfully prosecute the gangsters who have literally been getting away with murder for years.
The argument that this is a rush job simply does not stand up for scrutiny. In fact its main provisions have been signalled long in advance, with the Taoiseach making a detailed statement on it last May. The crucial clause that allows gardai to give evidence on the membership of gangs is actually something that the force has been demanding for years.
Dermot Ahern has shown some backbone. For all those whose lives have been made a misery by organised crime, he cannot afford to falter now.
- Andrew Lynch