Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009: Motions
I am happy to speak briefly on the motion this evening. As the Minister is aware, the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 was enacted following the Omagh bombing in August 1998. It amended earlier offences against the State legislation and contains provisions on the rules of evidence regarding the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation.
As the report on the operation of the Act makes clear, the Government of the day moved to ensure that An Garda Síochána and the legal system had the necessary powers to deal effectively with those responsible for these murders and to make clear to all like-minded persons that the State would take appropriate measures to prevent further such atrocities. The Omagh bombing was a truly horrific atrocity as a result of which 29 people, including a pregnant woman, lost their lives.
The primary legislation also makes clear that the security threat in Ireland remains primarily from republican paramilitary groups, the so-called dissident groups, which have their origins in the Provisional IRA and the INLA. They rejected and continue to reject the settlement put in place under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and subsequent agreements, a settlement aimed squarely at securing peace here in the South and in Northern Ireland. We badly need that peace, which is fragile. The concern now about a hard border is fuel for their engines to get them started on a lucrative smuggling trade and other illicit activities along the Border.
I want to highlight also the long and painful struggle that the Omagh victim support group has experienced in trying to establish a cross-Border inquiry into the very atrocity and slaughter that gave rise to the 1998 Act we are discussing here this evening. I have visited Mr. Michael Gallagher and his colleagues in the North many times. I brought him here for Leaders' Questions when the Minister's former leader, Deputy Enda Kenny, was Taoiseach. When in opposition, Deputy Enda Kenny brought him to a Fine Gael Ard-Fheis in 2006 where he pointed him out in the crowd, waved at him and told him that he would not get justice under Fianna Fáil but that he would get it under Fine Gael. However, when he came into power, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, abandoned him. I had to bring Mr. Gallagher here so that he could meet him and shake his hand on the corridor but the Taoiseach ran away from him. All Mr. Gallagher wanted to know was whether he was the same person he had met when he was in opposition.
The cover up and the shenanigans that went on around the Omagh bombing are truly pitiful. I have met the families involved. I have met Detective Sergeant White and his family. I know a fair bit about that atrocity, which should never have happened. It could have been prevented but it was not. I support Mr. Gallagher. I asked the current Taoiseach, on the day he was elected Taoiseach, if he would try to get justice and meet the Omagh bombing victims and families but to no avail. The shutters came down. It is very unusual that on the one had we have done so much to address the terrorism problem on this island yet on the other, we still have not adequately responded to some of the families directly affected by the violence. We forget about them. We had the debate on the Shane O'Farrell case here last night. Where is the justice in that case? At the time of the Taoiseach's appointment, I asked him to demonstrate more effective political support for the victims and families of the Omagh bombing massacre than his predecessor, Deputy Enda Kenny, promised but did not do. He literally used them to get votes to get into government, which is despicable.
Moving on from that specific issue, I want to finally acknowledge the views of the Garda authorities and the Garda Commissioner, who, as the report on the operation of the Act makes clear, is of the view that the key provisions of this Act are regularly used in the ongoing investigation of terrorist activity. I welcome that. The Commissioner is also of the view that this legislation continues to be one of the most important tools available to An Garda Síochána in the ongoing fight against terrorism. The Garda Commissioner considers it essential that the relevant provisions of the Act should be extended for a further 12 months. However, it is not enough to just have an Act on the Statute Book to help the Garda. It cannot do this unless it has the numbers, the tools of the trade and the basic equipment it needs. In terms of numbers, there has been a 40% reduction in community policing. There was a ban on overtime last December, and the Minister knew about it, but figures were used to say it was next year's money. That was at a time when we are dealing with the most obnoxious, deadly, violent terrorists in this city on a daily basis. A number of gardaí have told us that lives have been spared over this but they are haemorrhaging members. The Minister told me he is going to Templemore tomorrow, which I welcome, but they are all young gardaí who need experience. We are losing the best and the brightest who have the experience. They were ran out of the job because of cuts, restrictions, lack of support from this House in terms of getting adequate funding, vehicles and other equipment.
What happened at the Garda Representative Association, GRA, conference recently was pathetic. We had an officer from the United State of America here. It is pathetic. Members of the Garda cannot get simple tools of the trade to protect themselves when they are in the line of duty on our behalf and that of the public. Marauding gangs are spreading to towns and cities. I have them in my town of Clonmel, although I am thankful for some action taken today. The drugs trade is being run by a mob. Mobs have threatened me because I have asked about legislation here to curtail sulky racing. That is what we are dealing with. They are acting above and outside the law. The gardaí round them up and bring them before the courts but with the revolving door system and free legal aid, they are soon out. I refer to the debate here last night on the Shane O'Farrell case. That person had 52 previous convictions. In a recent case the person had 101 previous convictions but he got free legal aid and bail. We need to wake up the justice system. We need to wake up some members of the Judiciary, so to speak, to ensure they are able to deal with this problem.
What is reprehensible is that every day of the week, and there is a silent protest tonight outside Mountjoy, many members of the Garda are accompanying receivers to evict people from their homes. We are getting it all wrong. We are persecuting people instead of putting the rogues and vagabonds and terrorists off the road. Gardaí and members of the regional support unit, RSU, assisted a third force, former British army people, who came down here to evict a family in Balbriggan, and the gardaí stood idly by. It happened, and the Minister knows it. There is no point in him shaking his head. It happened under the Minister's watch. The gardaí were present. The car they had was parked in the Garda station. Those thugs were members of a third force who have no place in this country, no more than the terrorists. Some of them are former terrorists and former militia and they are terrorising people here who are trying to pay their mortgages. That happened. There is no point in the Minister shaking his head. He knows that.