Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 June 2006

Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill 2005 [Seanad]: Second Stage.


2:00 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

Tá mé ag iarraidh mo chuid ama a roinnt leis na Teachtaí Catherine Murphy agus Cuffe.

Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom aontú leis an méid deireanach a bhí le rá ag an Teachta Howlin. Ba chóir go mbeadh an tAire ag deileáil leis an chuid seo den díospóireacht. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an tAire os ár gcomhair nuair a shroicheann an Bille Céim an Choiste.

Aithníonn Sinn Féin go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bunúsach go bhfuil comhoibriú idirnáisiúnta idir póilíni agus an córas dlí ar mhaithe le cearta na híobartaigh agus chun coireanna a stopadh. Is ceart bunúsach daonna í an ceart do phríobháideachas, áfach. Dá bharr sin, is gá go mbeadh aon foráil a chuireann an ceart sin ar athló réasúnta, go mbeadh gá leis agus go raibh gá leis, agus nach mbeadh sé thar fóir. Chomh maith leis sin, is ceart go bhfuil agus go mbeadh cosaintí ann mar chothramaíocht ar an cheart sin a bheith curtha ar athló. Ní creidim go bhfuil an Bille seo ag dul leis an méid sin. Dá réir sin, beimid ag cur ina choinne.

The measures included in this Bill further consolidate the fast-advancing, anti-democratic and subversive agenda of Big Brother fans such as the Minister for injustice. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will not tolerate invasions of his privacy — remember gardaí leaking a story about his son — but he has led the charge assaulting the right to privacy in Europe. Typically, there is one law for the Minister and another for everyone else.

This Bill will increase e-mail surveillance and phone tapping in the State, adding to the vast bank of information on private individuals available to so-called intelligence services and governments. In the absence of adequate safeguards, this will create further opportunities for people such as the Minister to subvert the judicial process, trample on the fundamental rights of citizens and engage in political policing to serve his own narrow agenda and self-interest. The Minister's actions in respect of Frank Connolly and the Centre for Public Inquiry — leaking confidential Garda information to a drinking buddy — demonstrates the threat the former poses to the democratic fabric of our society.

Law enforcement authorities are fallible. Last month in England, it emerged that 1,500 people were incorrectly listed on the criminal record bureau, affecting job and study opportunities. Intelligence may be fabricated and is frequently used and abused by those in power to justify their actions. The invasion of Iraq on false premises and the police shooting of a 27 year old Brazilian in the wake of the London bombings are just two examples.

Nearer home we can consider the revelations of the Morris tribunal, the Kerry babies saga and the Sallins set-up. Safeguards against, and remedies in the event of, such abuse are glaringly thin on the ground. Such protection should be prioritised. Debate at this stage is futile because the instruments to which this Bill gives effect were passed at EU level six years ago following cursory, insufficient debate. We are obliged to transpose them into domestic law. It is ludicrous that the formal stages of legislative debate are being conducted after any possibility of amending the Bill has passed.

I concur with the statement of the Irish Human Rights Commission that "any consideration of the human rights issues raised by this legislation at this point cannot compensate for inadequate consideration of these issues in the course of drafting the source EU legislation". One of the principal measures to which this Bill gives effect is the EU Convention on Mutual Assistance and Criminal Matters 2002. Regarding that convention Statewatch observes that concerns about serious crimes and the need for increased powers of police surveillance on the one hand must be balanced by the need to provide for scrutiny, accountability and safeguards for the rights of citizens on the other and suggests that it is difficult to see how this measure would pass that test.

Inadequate Oireachtas input has become the Government's modus operandi for introducing such measures. It was described as purposely defective in an article in The Irish Times recently, an assessment with which I agree. In one of the last acts of the previous Government in June 2002, the Cabinet secretly introduced data retention measures beyond those in any other country. Once this was disclosed, civil liberties groups criticised the Government and questioned the constitutionality of the action. Last year the Minister made an amendment confirming a mandatory three-year data retention to the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act. In light of guarantees that any measures on data protection would be part of a separate Bill, preceded by a focused Oireachtas debate, this was an unexpected move in the final hours when few Deputies were in the Chamber. This demonstrates premeditation on the part of the Minister, who is eager to develop a bank of information on citizens.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party seem content to allow the Minister to proceed in this manner. Two weeks ago, an EU measure on the obligatory exchange of information and intelligence between member states was scrutinised by the Oireachtas committee with responsibility for justice. After the wrong document was initially circulated, the correct document was received by members at 6.30 p.m. the day before the meeting at 9.30 a.m. The members were not concerned by this and refused an offer of more time to study the correct text. I conclude that they do not bother to scrutinise EU legislation before recommending its adoption.

I also have more specific concerns, the first of which deals with the designation of countries for the purpose of this Bill. The Minister has absolute power for this decision and the Bill fails to provide for criteria governing this decision. Section 4 does not provide that the country must respect fundamental human rights, including privacy and freedom from disproportionate interference from the State in the form of unnecessary surveillance or harassment. Criticisms similar to those levelled at the EU's contentious white list of safe countries may apply to the designation of countries for the purpose of this Bill. This Bill must be amended to include criteria that countries must meet to be included on the list and to provide for an independent mechanism by which a country will be evaluated and monitored. The Bill should be amended to provide for Oireachtas oversight of ministerial decisions.

I am concerned by the weakening of the dual criminality safeguard and the inadequate judicial oversight. The Bill should amend the 1993 Act, which governs the interception of communications by introducing a requirement of judicial authorisation of the Minister's decision to allow phone taps in advance of them being placed. In April the Data Protection Commissioner stated that hundreds of private telephone records are examined by the Garda Síochána every month. He argued that legislation should be amended to ensure that telephone records are made available only in the investigation of serious crime.

It is paradoxical to sign an agreement of this nature with the United States when it continues to refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It is paradoxical to sign and give effect to such an agreement with the United States when its law enforcement authorities and security agencies breach the human rights of thousands. This includes breaching the right to justice by carrying out extraordinary renditions, with which this State colludes according to the Council of Europe. Other breaches include torturing prisoners and holding them indefinitely without charge in camps such as Guantanamo Bay and Bagram, Afghanistan.

Mr. T. J. McIntyre, law lecturer at UCD and director of Digital Rights Ireland, argues that international law agencies are playing on global terrorism to bring about what they sought, an extreme regime of surveillance and data retention. We must safeguard democracy against the establishment of the big brother states, which has been sought. My party and I will, therefore, oppose this Bill on all stages unless, even at this late stage, safeguards are introduced.


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