Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998: Motion.
Michael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
It was brought about by the political emergency following the Omagh bombing but it is part of our law, subject to the rule that it be renewed annually.
Certain comments have been made about my Department. My Department takes its job very seriously. Officials involved in security take their job very seriously but they are not the securocrats they are portrayed as. They are very reasonable people who live in the real world, rather than a shadow world of spooks. There is a very good exchange of information between the Garda Síochána and the Government. Under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Secretary General, who is non-political, has the right to demand documents, records and information from the Garda Síochána as is necessary. This means that for the first time, the Government has a clear right which is not simply operated by threatening to sack a Garda Commissioner. The Secretary General has a clear right to obtain such information as is necessary for the Government to discharge its functions.
In an ideal world, perhaps we would not need this kind of legislation. We must bear in mind how the scales are balanced between those who are minded to break the law and those whose job it is to prevent them from doing so and prosecute them when they do so. If someone is being interrogated about membership of an unlawful organisation for 24 or 48 hours and continually tells lies, an inference should be drawn. It cannot serve as proof by itself but it should be capable of being drawn in these circumstances. It is not an unfair rule. The extension from 48 to 72 hours is circumscribed by fairly heavy judicial protections and compares very well with what takes place internationally.
Certain Members have spoken here about infringements or destruction of human rights. Compared to virtually every other state in Europe, the Irish system must be one of the liberal systems. I do not think detaining someone for 72 hours would be regarded as strange across Europe, even in respect of very different types of offences. Before we argue that this law is somehow draconian, we should realise that it is not draconian compared with the norm across Europe in respect of these types of offences. I do not believe Europe is a draconian part of the world.
Certain individuals constantly argue that human rights considerations are one side of the equation, while this kind of law is the other. I strongly believe that defending people's human rights and preventing another atrocity such as that in Omagh, which is a defence of human rights, requires that we have this law. If the deluded fanatics of the so-called republican movement who are still intent on detonating bombs eventually acknowledge that this chapter of their history was shameful and state that they will use different methods to achieve their political goals, we can examine some of these issues in a different light. However, we should not be naive and should always remember that the jihadist threat has emerged since 1998 in a form which requires the existence of robust laws in this part of the world. Not only do we have a duty to Irish people not to allow some jihadist atrocity to take place here, we also have an obligation to our fellow members of the EU not to allow Ireland to be used as a place from which such an atrocity will be planned or perpetrated in the future.