By Cormac O’Keeffe, Noel Baker, and Diarmaid MacDermott
Irish Examiner
March 07, 2012

Investigations and prosecutions against dissident republicans have been thrown into disarray after a case was dropped following a landmark Supreme Court ruling scrapping a key piece of anti-terrorism legislation.

Last night, the Government said it was considering legislation to close the loophole, following what the Department of Justice called “urgent negotiations” with the gardaí and the Attorney General.

Garda sources said that up to 20 further cases could now be in jeopardy and that there might even be appeals in cases involving people recently convicted.

A high-level Garda assessment is being carried out on the impact of the ruling which is expected to be taken by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to Alan Shatter, the justice minister, in the coming weeks.

This will point to the urgent need for legislation in response to the ruling that section 29 of the Offences Against the State Act, allowing a senior garda to sign a search warrant, was “repugnant” to the Constitution.

The Supreme Court said such a garda was not independent in weighing up the conflicting interests of the State and the person whose home is to be searched.

Following this ruling, a man escaped prosecution yesterday for firearms and ammunition offences in the Special Criminal Court after the prosecution said the State was entering a “nolle prosequi” (not proceeding with) to the charges.

While no reason was given to the court, it is understood that the search warrant used in the case was issued under section 29.

Senior gardaí said the judgment had serious repercussions for anti-terrorism work. “There are upwards of 20 fairly serious dissident republicans who this ruling may have a bearing on, people either awaiting trial or awaiting sentence,” said one source.

He said even those recently convicted in cases involving a section 29 warrant may now appeal. “The net result is that people could walk out the door.”

Senior officers also fear for their current and future investigations.

“Nearly all our activity in anti-terrorism work involves section 29,” said a Garda source. “Without that there is a serious operational hindrance in nearly every single case.”

The Department of Justice said consideration was being given to the introduction of legislation in the light of the judgment but admitted that any legislation could not affect cases which have already taken place.

Terrorism officers will now have to go before a judge to get a warrant, but gardaí said there were concerns over the speed of this approach and the danger that confidential information given in a written statement to the judge could be recoverable by the defence in a trial, jeopardising the source of the information.