Thursday, 23 June 2005
Garda Síochána Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.
Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
I strongly support amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 22. They are positive and constructive, particularly amendments Nos. 19 and 20. Amendment No. 19 refers to "protecting and promoting human rights". This is a topical and important issue. Internationally, standards appear to be dropping. It is also happening in this country. We must be on our guard with regard to respect for a human rights culture. That is important in the context of the debate on these amendments.
Issues such as Guantanamo Bay and the case of the Miami five show where there have been major abuses. That is unacceptable, internationally or nationally. We must be vigilant on this issue. Recent events in this country have shown that the human rights of the McBrearty family were attacked and destroyed. This also affected Mark McConnell and Richie Barron, his family and friends. The human rights of the victims must also be accorded the same importance. If these amendments are not included in the legislation, there will be potential for other miscarriages of justice in the future. We have seen what happened to the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and other cases, including the McBrearty family.
Amendment No. 19 is a reminder that we must be vigilant. Human rights apply to everybody. When talking about the human rights of prisoners, we must ensure that in defending those human rights we also defend the human rights of other citizens. People who are genuinely interested in human rights issues are often perceived or presented as anti-Garda. This is unacceptable for people who support human rights. It is not an option. If one supports human rights, it does not necessarily mean one is anti-Garda. One is pro-Garda and pro-quality policing. When one discusses this with gardaí, they are the first to accept that.
Amendment No. 20 is a strong amendment. It deals with protecting the security of and providing positive leadership in our communities. It is important that the security of communities is protected. Special attention should be paid to disadvantaged communities where the people's human rights are not being protected every day of the week. Families are living in flat complexes and huge estates dominated by drug barons and gang leaders. They intimidate people. After 9 p.m., it becomes a nightmare to live in many of these places. We should reflect on and support the human rights of the people to whom I refer.
It is not acceptable that the door to the flat of a disabled woman is kicked in every night while drug pushers are on the stairway outside. If she complains, she is intimidated. It is not acceptable that when elderly women telephone for help they receive an inadequate response when there are known drug dealers within 50 m of their front doors. These are the community issues surrounding amendment No. 20 which is concerned with respecting people's human rights, particularly those of communities.
In part of my constituency some years ago, the drug squad confiscated approximately €20 million worth of drugs. I commend it on that. Many people in the area, however, said it was only a small portion of what was happening. The Minister said today that there have been nine gangland murders this year. That may sound like a small number but those nine people should not have been murdered. Their deaths are connected with gangland activity and the widespread intimidation and fear it involves.
When I refer to human rights, I refer to the broad concept. Amendment No. 20 deals with the security of communities and the need to provide positive leadership. This is an issue for us, as legislators, and, in particular, for the Minister and other members of the Cabinet. We need to provide positive leadership in respect of it.
If legislation incorporates human rights, it prevents future cases of human rights abuses. This is an excellent proposal, not only in human terms but also in terms of cost in regard to State funding using taxpayers' money. For example, taxpayers will have to pay a couple of million euro for the McBrearty family's court and tribunal costs. The McBreartys deserve that payment. Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 22 are progressive because, as well as being positive in nature, they will prevent future human rights abuses.
We must also accept that the views of the Irish public towards the accountability of the Garda Síochána reflect international trends and attitudes to police forces. According to Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer 2004, respondents viewed the Irish police force as the fourth most corrupt sector, with political parties perceived as the most corrupt. It is interesting that political parties are viewed as more corrupt than the police force. The Irish police force scored 3.1 on a scale from not corrupt, 1, to extremely corrupt, 5. Political parties scored 3.9 and the media — none of whose members are here — scored 2.8. The military came out of the survey very well at 2.1. This is quality research on these issues.
These human rights issues are linked to accountability and professionalism in the police force. Amendment No. 20 is connected to communities. People who try to prevent crime in their communities should not be persecuted. I recall many cases of communities taking action against drug pushers only to be ridiculed and attacked in this House and in the media. I attended many of their meetings and marches and saw what was going on. They were trying to win back their communities yet they got only grief from many people in the so-called political establishment in this House. It is important, when talking about protecting the security of our communities, to also provide positive leadership.
Deputy Jim O'Keeffe's amendment No. 22 deals with respecting the human rights of each individual. That applies equally to prisoners and gardaí, to women living in flats complexes and to families living on large estates who are victimised and terrorised every night. It is not acceptable to allow that type of society to continue. We need proactive policies to deal with it and a quality drug squad that is prepared to target the resources. It should be intelligence-driven to deal with gangland leaders and drug barons so that the innocent are not caught up in criminal activity and are not bullied or intimidated.
Many innocent people, such as Mr. Fitzgerald, the bouncer at a Limerick nightclub, have paid the price for community action. I have met many people from Limerick who admired him. I understand that an individual is being charged with that crime. Many families have told me of Mr. Fitzgerald's efforts to prevent the spread of drug abuse and intimidation and occasionally to save teenagers in Limerick.
It is only fair to pay tribute to someone of that integrity and calibre. Mr. Fitzgerald was just one of many such people. I know many individuals in my constituency who have put their lives at risk to defend their communities but who have been intimidated and bullied. They continue nevertheless to do this work, often on their own. It is up to us, as Members of the Oireachtas, to ensure that their human rights are protected, especially those of the communities in the poorest areas.
People in most affluent communities are generally able to hire the proper back-up and advice. There are many people who have neither the ability nor the resources to protect themselves. These amendments add a human and a professional dimension to the legislation. I hope they will be accepted and lead to a radical change in the Garda Síochána, in society generally and in terms of how all people are treated.