Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009: Motions
I have described this previously as a pantomime. It is a pantomime. That it is does a shocking disservice to the seriousness of the issues involved. We are being asked to renew absolutely extraordinary powers and provisions that apply to suspected organised crime and alleged terrorist offences. We are being asked to allow a special criminal court that admits hearsay evidence on the basis of very low thresholds of Garda evidence to continue in existence. We are being asked to agree to the continued exercise of emergency powers by the State and its agencies. I refer to powers that are supposed to apply only if the ordinary courts are not adequate in order to secure effective administration and the preservation of peace and order. We are being asked to do that without a single detail to support the request.
We have been treated to a six-page report without any of the threats being documented, be they domestic, terrorist, national or international. We are treated only to a summary of vague threats from dissident republicans and some absolute boilerplate stuff about international terrorism. That is all we get. Here we are, it seems, in a permanent state of emergency whereby detail does not seem to matter and human rights can be suspended on nothing more than a Government whim. This is despite the fact that I do not believe any reasonable person could today claim that there is a public emergency threatening the survival of the nation. Would the Government ever get over itself?
It should be pointed out that the evidence thresholds in the Special Criminal Court are lower than in the ordinary courts. The fact that the word of a senior garda could deprive somebody of his liberty for years or decades is absolutely frightening. There is evidence that the amount of evidence being required by the courts has been getting lower and lower in recent years. They used to look for three or four strands but two are now enough. Other organisations have pointed this out.
The United Nations and the Council of Europe have raised concerns about the proportionality of our emergency powers, including this legislation that we are supporting again today. The UN Human Rights Committee has criticised the continuing use of the Special Criminal Court and the arbitrary manner in which the right to a jury trial is denied to suspects in criminal trials, particularly where emergency legislation is applied to suspects in instances that are not related to terrorism. The fact that the DPP has unfettered discretion regarding who is sent before the court is absolutely appalling. We will be opposing these motions strenuously.