Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998: Motion (Resumed)


7:30 pm

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

I listened to the debate yesterday, as I have listened to the equivalent debate every year since I was first elected in 2002. Other than the Minister, I am probably the only one who has read the report which supposedly authorises us to renew the removal of rights from people who are accused. The Minister who spoke just before me said that we should not grant the same rights to those who are accused. They are but accused; they are innocent until found guilty in a court of law. So they all should have the same rights as those who are innocent, those who are victims.

We are discussing two motions, something the last Minister did not have a clue about. There are two measures, one to deal with the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and the other relates to the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. I have read the reports because I am concerned, as everybody in this House should be, over the continuing renewal of measures that are supposed to address an emergency situation. What we are seeing is normalisation because these measures have been in place since 1998 or 1999 in the case of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 changes, and later in terms of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009.

They are rubber-stamped every single year. The Minister, Deputy Ross, was also wrong when he said there is no guillotine on these measures. There is a guillotine, in fact, because they have to be passed by a certain date. They are introduced here at the last minute. The reports on the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, which extend to no more than four or five flimsy pages, are not circulated to Deputies. If a Deputy wants the reports, he or she has to go to the bother of contacting the Oireachtas Library, which will e-mail them to him or her, thankfully. In the past, Deputies had to find the reports for the current year and for each previous year. In recent years, the reports have outlined how these provisions have been used or abused. The vast majority of them are not used at all, which suggests that the Garda Síochána cannot use them, never mind all the existing laws it could apply to its work. I looked properly at this issue when I was my party's spokesperson on justice. I found that most of these provisions, if they were used at all, were used for trawling purposes only. In fact, no convictions led from most of these provisions. Section 5 has been repealed. Section 6 has not been used at all. Section 7 has been used twice. Section 8 has been used once. Section 12 should be repealed because it has never been used. I think section 17 has been used twice in the almost 17 years for which the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 has been in operation.

I come from and represent an area that has borne the brunt of major criminal activity in recent years. I am not saying the State should be weak on crime in any way. Like many others in the justice field, I do not believe we should suspend the right to a jury trial. We should not suspend one's right to have evidence produced to one or to one's defence team while one is in court, so that one can defend oneself. I believe juries can be protected. Many changes can be made to protect juries if there is evidence of intimidation. That does not happen, however, and it has not happened to any major extent in any of these cases. More needs to be done to protect witnesses. I have joined many victims' groups in calling for greater protection to be offered to victims of crime who are intimidated. Criminal gangs in my area have targeted victims. The job of the Garda Síochána is to protect such people. It cannot do that job unless it has the protections and resources to enable it to do so. We will not contribute to that by closing Garda stations and reducing Garda numbers. We do not need new laws for the Criminal Assets Bureau. If the existing laws, such as the proceeds of crime laws, were properly implemented, they would help crime fighters as they deal with the crimes we are discussing. The civilianisation of Garda stations would also be of assistance in this regard. We do not live in an emergency situation and we have not done so for many decades.


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