Gangland criminals who conspire to carry out murders should not be saved from a possible life sentence simply because the gardaí catch them before they commit their intended murder, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.
In the first piece of criminal justice legislation she has brought forward since being appointed to the portfolio, Ms McEntee has secured Cabinet approval to increase the maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder to life imprisonment, rather than the maximum 10 years at present.
The change, contained in the new Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020, has the potential to significantly damage some of the biggest crime gangs in the Republic as gardaí have had increasing success in foiling gangland murders.
Advancements over the past decade in electronic surveillance and the strengthening of Garda units that tackle organised crime have resulted in more planned murders being prevented and more criminals being convicted of conspiracy to murder.
In April, Liam Brannigan, Bride Street, Dublin 8, was jailed for eight years for conspiring to murder Dublin man Gary Hanley as part of the Kinahan-Hutch feud in 2017. Brannigan (37) was the fifth conspirator to be jailed for the planned murder foiled by the Garda.
Also as part of the Kinahan-Hutch feud, nine men have been jailed for different roles in a number of plans to kill Patsy Hutch, brother of veteran Dublin criminal Gerry Hutch.
Garda officers have long believed those who conspired to murder others but who are caught, often as a killing was just about to occur, should face the possibility of a life sentence.
The maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder has been set at 10 years since 1860 but Ms McEntee said the change to increase the maximum possible sentence to life was part of her plan to “be tough on gangland crime at all levels”.
“The fact that the gardaí are doing their job effectively and arresting criminals who are determined to murder should not make conspiracy to murder a lesser offence. The seriousness of the crime must be reflected in the sentence our judges can impose,” she said.
As well as increasing the maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder, Ms McEntee has also secured Cabinet approval for the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020. It will add three offences to the legal definition of “terrorist-related activity” under existing legislation.
Three new specific terrorist-related crimes are created by the changes, including: receiving training for terrorism; travelling for the purpose of terrorism; organising or facilitating travelling for the purpose of terrorism.
These offences could be applied to a variety of cases including to those who travel for the purposes of joining or supporting international terror groups, such as Islamic State, or those who organise for others to travel or to train for terrorist purposes.