Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

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


7:35 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am grateful to the House for its consideration today and yesterday of the proposed renewal of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. I thank Deputies from all sides of the House for their contributions on both motions. I welcome in particular the speeches in support of the renewal of these provisions in the law. As I listened to those who spoke during the debate yesterday and again this evening, it struck me that there is a shared commitment to ensuring the Garda and the courts are able to deal appropriately with the most serious offences that may threaten the State and the operation of the criminal justice system.

Genuinely held concerns were expressed about the robust nature of these provisions. In particular, a number of Deputies expressed their opposition to the continued existence and use of the Special Criminal Court and these provisions. I have to respond to those Deputies by saying I respectfully disagree with them. Are we to accept that there is not a real and persistent threat on this island from republican paramilitary groups, the only agenda of which is murder and mayhem in complete defiance of democracy and human rights? Are we to accept in light of recent events in Dublin that we are not continuing to face a serious threat from gangs of ruthless criminals who have complete disregard for the law and absolutely no hesitation in using extreme violence? Are we simply to ignore these realities while choosing not to retain at our disposal the best means of supporting the gardaí and the courts in tackling these issues? This Government cannot and will not do that.

The provisions of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 form the main body of the State's laws to counter subversive activity and terrorism. They complement the general criminal law. While they are out of the ordinary course, they are not emergency laws in the way that many people have tried to depict them. Over the course of the history of the State, especially during the Troubles on this island, these laws and the Special Criminal Court served to protect and safeguard the State from determined efforts to undermine it and its democratic institutions. It is surely beyond reasonable argument that a democratic State is entitled to and must take the measures it considers necessary to protect itself and its people, to ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms and to allow civil society to flourish.

With regard to the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, many Deputies will be aware from their own experiences as public representatives of the devastation caused by organised crime activities. The drugs trade, in particular, can wreck individual lives and communities. We must continue to meet this challenge head-on by providing the necessary resources and legislative supports to the gardaí and the courts to combat those who seek to undermine the law and to damage lives and communities in the process. We must also ensure a cross-sectoral approach, taking in housing, education, welfare, employment and other services, is part of the solution to the problem of organised crime. In taking legislative measures, we have to strike a balance between what is necessary and what is reasonable. It is not always an easy balance to strike, but I believe these measures achieve that balance.

I emphasise that these provisions do not operate in isolation from the rest of the criminal law and the range of protections available in the criminal process for people who are charged with serious offences. Time and again, our independent and impartial Judiciary has proved itself as a guarantor of the fundamental rights of the citizen. The provisions of the Offences against the State Acts and the Special Criminal Court have faced many challenges in the Supreme Court and at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. They have largely withstood those challenges. We should not ignore the key role of the Director of Public Prosecutions in this process, a role that is carried out independently in full accordance with the law. Some concerns were expressed about the process for the renewal of these provisions. Regardless of the ideal way to do this - that could be the subject of a genuine discussion - the current arrangements place the legislators in control. Members here and in the Seanad have the final say. This is the democratic way and I believe it has much to recommend it.

These Acts give the gardaí particular powers in relation to very serious criminal conduct. It seems to make no sense to call for additional Garda resources, which are being provided by the way, while in the same breath demanding the withdrawal of basic powers to fight the most serious crimes. The Garda deploys considerable operational resources to tackle terrorism and organised crime. As legislators, we must give the Garda and the courts the necessary means to bring terrorists and serious criminals to justice. I have no hesitation in agreeing that if circumstances were otherwise, laws such as these would not be needed. However, the stark reality is that until conditions allow, these provisions are a necessary addition to the general criminal law. I commend the motions to the House.


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