Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009: Motions


5:40 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent) | Oireachtas source

Over the years, we have made the usual arguments in here about how this legislation should be altered so the State would not be in violation of its human rights obligations under international law. Obviously, however, the main parties have a different idea. The refusal of succession of Ministers for Justice and Equality to pay any attention to this - despite all the statements from the various human rights groups - suggests that in order to hold the position of Minister, one has to fundamentally disagree with the principle of the universality of human rights.

During our debate last year, the Minister invoked the threat of international terrorism as a justification for continuing to have a no-jury court in Ireland. If the Government stopped allowing Shannon Airport to be used as a base from which to create untold destruction in the Middle East and North Africa, the threat of international terrorism to which the Minister refers would be far less significant. Why has the Government not considered this if it is serious about it and really worried about it?

That the Special Criminal Court is now being used to deal with the escalation in gangland crimes and murders is a load of nonsense. How do other countries deal with them? In America, they have juries for the same crimes. How do they do it?

Other Deputies have mentioned that one of the main reasons gangland crime is thriving is the drugs industry. Why do we not do something about it? What is the point in doing what we are doing? Why do we not consider progressive legislation in Portugal and Switzerland where they have tackled the drugs issue by regulating the industry and taking the gangs out of it? The Government is feeding the gangs with its draconian legislation on drugs and doing no one in this country who suffers at their hands any favours.

Human rights groups have been very critical of the expansion of the Special Criminal Court to hear cases relating to organised crime. There is no way on God's earth that we will agree to these motions. The human rights groups also criticised the fact that the court is being routinely used to charge people with the crime of membership of an organisation. This function of the court is particularly offensive as it is riding roughshod over international human rights law. Professor Dermot Walsh eloquently argued the following in the Hederman report in respect of the provisions in the Offences Against the State Act when he stated:

There is no requirement for the individual to have gone through a prior act of initiation into the organisation, nor is there any requirement for the individual to proclaim himself or herself a member or for the organisation to claim him or her as a member, nor is there any requirement for the individual to be in possession of property belonging to the organisation or to participate in the activities of the organisation. It is sufficient for an individual simply to bea member of the organisation, and that state of beingcan be established on the basis of the "opinion" evidence of a Chief Superintendent.

One could not make it up. It comes really close to using the criminal law to punish someone for a virtual offence. Given the apparent lack of concern with regard to having this kind of injustice baked into the structures of our legal system, it would seem this annual dance is doomed to continue for some time while the underlying causes of the rising crime rates, inequality, outdated drug enforcement legislation, homelessness and the disparity of opportunity in this country all remain thanks to the continuous failure of Government policy.

We came in here in 2011. The amount of policy we have seen implemented here since then that impacts so unfairly on so many sections of our society is remarkable, yet the Government is using this legislation in this manner. It is nonsense.


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