Sinn Féin is poised to end its opposition to non-jury trials, which currently take place in the Special Criminal Court.

The party's leadership has proposed a motion, to be debated at its Ard Fheis tomorrow, which according to a spokesman, would mean a Sinn Féin government would commit to the option of non-jury courts in "exceptional" circumstances.

If passed by delegates, it would mark a significant change in policy for the party.

For many years, Sinn Féin has opposed the existence of the Special Criminal Court, which tries terrorism and serious organised crime cases without a jury.

The court was previously used to prosecute and jail members of the Provisional IRA. Due to the scale of its powers, the legislation underpinning it must be renewed annually by the Oireachtas.

While Sinn Féin has consistently opposed its renewal, the party's TDs abstained for the first time last year.

In June, Sinn Féin TDs left the Dáil chamber ahead of a vote on renewing the legislation.

The motion proposed by the party's Ard Chomhairle says the Special Criminal Court "as it is currently constituted has no place in a modern criminal justice system".

However, it says all courts should be integrated into one system, which would allow for jury trials, anonymous jury trial, the use of video link for juries or granting special protection for juries where needed.

In relation to non-jury courts, it notes the UN Human Rights Committee has stated that "the trying of civilians by such courts should be very exceptional".

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The motion will be voted on by delegates tomorrow and, if passed, will commit Sinn Féin, if in Government, to the option for non-jury courts where required in exceptional circumstances, where a normal jury process could not proceed due to fears of intimidation or interference.

It reflects a detailed submission made by the party to an independent review of the powers and operations by the Special Criminal Court, which is being chaired by the former Court of Appeal judge, Michael Peart, and is due to be published next spring.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said the motion makes clear "the sort of robust criminal justice system we believe is required to tackle the scourge of criminal gangs, and which Sinn Féin in Government would seek to put in place".

The Ard Fheis will take place at the Helix in Dublin, with the numbers attending restricted because of the Covid pandemic.

The party said the overall theme will be 'Time for Change' and motions to be discussed include housing, health, Brexit and climate change.

Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill will give the opening address tomorrow morning, with party leader Mary Lou McDonald addressing delegates at 5pm.