Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998: Motion.
Ciarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
Some time ago the Minister promised to be radical or redundant, but today he is both repetitive and repugnant. I do not believe it correct to rubber-stamp this legislation for yet another year. There is a real danger of our becoming dependent on emergency legislation. In this instance, the harsh cases that he cites make for bad law, and developments in the peace process over the last 12 months as well as in recent years mean we should not keep such legislation on the Statute Book. I am concerned at the systematic erosion of civil liberties on the island, and renewing this legislation does nothing to protect them.
It is also important to discuss the police force. In the South, I have seen both great and lousy gardaí in operation. They have kept their cool in the most difficult of situations, while others have lost their rag over the most minor of issues. Gardaí threatened me with the loss of an American visa in the bad old days of the 1980s. Gardaí also removed film from a camera when they did not like the pictures I was taking. More recently, I have learnt of widespread concern at the conduct of members of the force regarding the unexplained death of Terence Wheelock after his detention in Store Street Garda station. I have seen a more worrying can of worms exposed regarding the conduct of certain gardaí in the Donegal district. Giving the gardaí incredible emergency powers on a rolling annual basis does not make sense when those concerns are still current.
I stress that the vast majority of gardaí are fantastic testimony to this State's foundation and can hold their heads high regarding how they conduct their business. However, there are rumblings of discontent, both from members of the public and from individuals who feel that they have been wronged by particular gardaí. We should be very wary of continuing to give this legislation a rubber stamp, especially when gardaí have been granted unprecedented powers of discovery under legislation passed by the Minister over the last few years. They also have unprecedented access to electronic information, drawing on data retained over several years. That gives them incredible ability to find out what people are up to. Given that they have been granted such further powers in that area, it simply makes no sense to continue, year on year, giving them powers afforded initially for a 12-month period under this legislation.
The Minister and others have said on the record of the House today that "they have not gone away", in what I assume was a reference to subversive forces in the State. However, at some stage there must be respect and trust. It is incumbent on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to signal to all on the island that we are moving on. I am not convinced that the legislation we are passing today will achieve that. I worry about powers such as 24-hour detention periods, which are being used for purposes not originally intended in the legislation. If we are using legislation for a purpose not originally intended, there must be doubts over it.
When we receive the good news from some of the darker forces in Irish society that the war is over, we should reciprocate and send out a clear signal that we too are moving on.