Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998: Motion.
That Dáil Éireann resolves that sections 2 to 12, 14 and 17 of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 (No. 39 of 1998), shall continue in operation for the period of 12 months beginning on 30 June 2006.
This motion seeks approval for the continuance in force of those sections of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 which would otherwise cease to be in operation on 30 June. The 1998 Act was enacted in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing of August 1998, which claimed the lives of 29 innocent people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injured more than 200 others. That appalling act, a few months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and designed to derail the peace process, was perpetrated by fanatics for whom human life holds no value.
There is an upcoming criminal action against a person in Northern Ireland for these murders. The retrial of another person is also pending in this jurisdiction. The investigation into the atrocity continues on both sides of the Border and there continues to be excellent co-operation between the Garda authorities and the PSNI in this regard.
In recognition of the exceptional circumstances surrounding the enactment of the 1998 Act, there was general agreement it should be regularly revisited by the Oireachtas. The purpose of this recurring Oireachtas scrutiny is to ascertain if the circumstances prevailing in 1998 justify the continuance in force of its provisions. Accordingly, by virtue of resolutions passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas on 16 June 2005, sections 2 to 12, inclusive, 14 and 17 will cease to operate on and from 30 June next. That is, of course, unless a further resolution is passed by each House authorising the sections to continue to operate for a period not exceeding 12 months. In addition, there is a requirement in the Act to lay a report on its operation before each House of the Oireachtas prior to consideration by the Houses of the renewal of the provisions. I laid a report before the House on Monday.
The conclusion of the report is that the relevant sections should remain in force for a further 12 months. This is the firm view of the Garda Síochána, which considers the Act to be vital in the continuing fight against terrorism and it to be of paramount importance that the legislative provisions remain in operation. The reality is that those responsible for the Omagh bomb, and others like them, continue in their fanatical way to pursue, plan and promote campaigns of violence. There have been several near misses involving the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA since the Omagh atrocity. It is only through dint of excellent police work by the Garda and the PSNI that further tragedy on a massive scale has been averted.
As recently as January and February of this year viable explosive devices were placed outside police stations in Armagh and Belfast. Last August a bomb, comparable in size to that detonated at Omagh, was made safe in Lurgan. I ask the House to consider the effects of the detonation of such a device, the human lives that would be lost and the damage that would be wrought to the chances of peace on this island. This is not an abstract notion. It is a real and present danger and one the security forces on this island work day and night to prevent.
Advances in the quest for peace are to be welcomed. However, let no Member be fooled that a significant threat does not remain from dissident so-called republican groups. As recent reports of the Independent Monitoring Commission make clear, organisations such as the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA continue to aspire to serious acts of terrorism. They continue to be involved in intelligence gathering, extortion, recruitment and training. To quote the commission's most recent assessment, the Continuity IRA "remains an active threat" while the Real IRA's "aspirations and readiness to use extreme violence are undiminished".
The State must be prepared to meet the threat posed by these people, particularly at this sensitive time when all our hopes are on restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. There is also evidence that dissident so-called republicans are now willing to peddle their expertise to organised criminal gangs. The Garda intercepted a bomb at the West Link toll bridge in December 2005 which, it is assessed, was to be used as part of a feud between drugs gangs. This is a chilling development and one which must be countered. It is a serious matter when so-called republicans provide material of this kind to thugs who are killing ordinary teenagers by supplying them with drugs and killing each other to maintain their positions of strength. The Garda Síochána will continue to actively investigate links between terrorist groups and organised crime, including through the use of these legislative provisions.
In addition to home-grown terrorist groups, no Member can be ignorant of the newer and more sinister forms of international terrorism, in particular jihadist terrorism, which have manifested themselves in recent years. With the Madrid bombings of March 2004 and the London bombings of last July, which together involved the murder of more than 250 innocent commuters, two of our closest European friends and neighbours have had to face the full horror of this phenomenon. It would be naive to imagine that Ireland is completely immune from such threats. The Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 was enacted to deal with this international terrorist threat by enabling the application of the Offences against the State Acts against international terrorist groups and individuals. Chipping away at these Acts would be neither wise nor warranted.
Since the end of the last reporting period from 1 June 2005 to 31 May 2006, section 2 was used on 14 occasions. It provides that where, in any proceedings for membership of an unlawful organisation, the accused failed to answer or gave false or misleading answers to any question, the court may draw such inferences from that failure or from the furnishing of a false or misleading reply as appear proper. However, a person cannot be convicted of the offence solely on an inference drawn from such a failure.
Section 3 was used on nine occasions. This section provides that, in proceedings for membership of an unlawful organisation, the accused must give notification of an intention to call a person to give evidence on his behalf, unless the court permits otherwise. One cannot ambush the prosecution.
Section 4 was used on two occasions. This section amends section 3 of the Offences against the State Act 1972 in such a way as to expand the definition of "conduct" that can be considered as evidence of membership of an unlawful organisation. Specifically, "conduct" can now include matters such as "movements, actions, activities, or associations on the part of the accused". This change simply aligns the definition of conduct in the 1972 Act with the reference to movements, actions, activities or associations used in section 2 of the 1998 Act.
Section 5 was used on 34 occasions. This section provides for the drawing of adverse inferences in the prosecution of a person for any offence under the Offences against the State Acts, any offence scheduled under the Acts and any offence arising out of the same set of facts as such an offence, provided that the offence carries a penalty of five years' imprisonment or more. The effect of this section is to allow a court to draw inferences where the accused relies on a fact in his defence that he could reasonably have been expected to mention during questioning or on being charged but did not do so. As with section 2, however, a person cannot be convicted of the offence solely on an inference drawn from such a failure.
Section 7 was used on two occasions. This section makes it an offence to possess articles in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that the article is in possession for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of specified firearms or explosives offences.
Section 9 was used on 110 occasions. This section makes it an offence to withhold information which a person believes might be of material assistance in preventing the commission by another person of a serious offence or securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of another person for such an offence. Some people wonder about that offence, but Article 9 of the Constitution states that loyalty to the State is a fundamental duty of every citizen and there cannot be a right to withhold information in regard to such terrorist offences.
Section 10 was used on 15 occasions. This section extends the maximum period of detention permitted under section 30 of the Offences against the State Act from 48 hours to 72 hours, but only on the express authorisation of a judge of the District Court. In this regard, the judge must be satisfied, on the application of a Garda officer not below the rank of superintendent, that the further detention is necessary for the proper investigation of the offence concerned and that the investigation is being conducted diligently and expeditiously. The person being detained is entitled to be present in court during the application and to make, or to have made, submissions on his behalf.
In the reporting period in question, an extension was applied for in 15 cases. A total of 14 of these applications were granted while charges resulted in two of these cases.
Section 11 was used on seven occasions. This section allows a judge of the District Court to permit the re-arrest and detention of a person in respect of an offence for which he was previously detained under section 30 of the Offences against the State Act but released without charge. This further period must not exceed 24 hours and can only be authorised in circumstances where the judge is satisfied, on information supplied on oath by a member of the Garda Síochána, that further information has come to the knowledge of the Garda Síochána about that person's suspected participation in the offence.
Section 14 was used on 54 occasions. The effect of this section is to make the offences created under sections 6 to 9 and 12 of the 1998 Act scheduled offences for the purposes of Part V of the 1939 Act. This means that persons suspected of committing these offences are liable to arrest under section 30 of the 1939 Act.
I would now like to turn to those sections of the 1998 Act that were not used in the period under report, namely, sections 6, 8, 12 and 17. Section 6 establishes the offence of directing, at any level of the organisation's structure, the activities of an organisation in respect of which a suppression order has been made under the Offences against the State Act 1939.
Section 8 makes it an offence to collect, record or possess information which is likely to be useful to members of an unlawful organisation in the commission of serious offences. Section 12 makes it an offence for a person to instruct or train another person in the making or use of firearms or explosives or to receive such training without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.
Section 17 builds on the provision in the Criminal Justice Act 1994 providing for the forfeiture of property. Essentially, the 1994 provision empowers a court, in its discretion, whenever any person is convicted of an offence, to order the forfeiture of any property in the possession of that person which was used, or intended to be used, to facilitate the commission of the offence. The effect of section 17 is, in the case of a person convicted of specified offences relating to the possession of firearms or explosives, and where there is property liable to forfeiture under the 1994 Act, to require the court to order the forfeiture of such property unless it is satisfied that there would be a serious risk of injustice if it made such an order.
I appreciate that some Deputies will look at the advances that have been made in the search for peace since 1998 and say that we no longer require this legislation, but I disagree. The full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement remains an ongoing challenge and one which the Government continues to pursue with the utmost commitment. The Taoiseach, together with Prime Minister Blair, will meet the parties later this month to try to move us closer to the full re-establishment of the institutions.
The enemies of peace have not gone away. Dissident so-called republican groups remain active, ruthless and determined to strike if given the opportunity. They remain resolutely opposed to the will of the people of Ireland, as expressed in the Good Friday Agreement, and to the peace it has engendered. They remain determined to destroy that Agreement by any means at their disposal and they have shown they are prepared to kill indiscriminately in their fanatical opposition to democracy and peace on this island. As long as there are organisations, such as those treasonable organisations prescribed under the 1939 Act, dedicated to frustrating the will of the people through violence and mayhem, robust counter-measures must be available to the State.
The success of the two police forces in thwarting various attempts to take life, some of which I have mentioned, should not be perversely held up as reason to set aside this legislation. The fact that the Garda is successful depends on this legislation; it is not a reason for getting rid of it, rather it is proof that it is still required. Neither should the fact that some sections of the Act were not used in the period be held out as a reason for jettisoning provisions such as directing terrorism and the like because people are involved in this endeavour and the Garda is constantly in pursuit of them. Both the so-called Continuity IRA and the so-called Real IRA would gladly kill and maim any number of innocent persons in the pursuit of their fanatical and misguided view of what republicanism amounts to on this island.
The Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 is one element of the State's ongoing response to the terrorist threat. I urge the House not to countenance weakening any of the tools the State has at its disposal in the fight against terrorism. I commend the resolution to the House.
Fine Gael supports the renewal of the provisions of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act. I support the motion because I believe that in the absence of a permanent and peaceful resolution to the conflict on this island, we cannot compromise the capacity of the State to act decisively to deal with terrorism and dissident activity. In analysing the need for the renewal of the legislation, I have identified four areas on which we need to focus.
First, we should bear in mind that these provisions followed the horror of Omagh. We should also bear in mind that those responsible for that dreadful outrage and other like-minded individuals continue to plan similar types of activities on this island. They have not gone away, and as long as that is the case we need the instruments to ensure that as far as possible they will be brought to justice and, if they are arrested, that we have the processes and procedures to bring them to justice and make them answerable for these terrible crimes.
The second reason that motivates me is that of the unholy alliance that now appears to have emerged between some of these pseudo-republicans and their allies in the area of what has been referred to as "ordinary crime". This alliance between these pseudo-republicans and patriots and criminal gangs is a very sinister one. There is no doubt that many of these pseudo-patriots acquired a certain amount of expertise in firearms and munitions. It is horrific from the point of view of the safety and security of the lives and property of the people in this country that they are, apparently, now prepared to make that expertise available to criminal gangs. This is an issue we must investigate in greater depth because more information is needed if we are to assess the full extent of that threat. It is a chilling development and we must consider every reasonable means to counteract it.
The third reason for the continuation of these provisions relates to developments internationally, including the murderous threats from terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda. I have considerable insight into this because I have a family connection in Darfur. Given the difficult and threatening situation there, one can imagine the turmoil that may develop in that unfortunate country. The problem is that the world has become such a small place that terrorists can easily establish international connections. There is occasional evidence, whether in regard to ETA in Spain or other such organisations, of these connections being used to seriously negative effect. We cannot ignore these developments in regard to international terrorism.
The fourth and most compelling reason for the renewal of these provisions is that some of the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe remain at large. These provisions and any others that are necessary should be used to bring these people to justice and to secure their convictions. If these provisions can be of any assistance in this regard, they are justified on that count alone. There is a duty on any citizen of this State with information on this matter to make it available to the Garda Síochána.
I was absolutely outraged to learn recently of statements by a Member of this House indicating he would not be prepared to make such information available to the Garda Síochána. That Member has a case to answer if he is presenting himself to the public as a democrat, a person who has converted entirely to the democratic system. We all have a duty and responsibility to ensure those killers who remain at large are brought to justice.
For the reasons I outlined, it is clearly necessary to continue the provisions of this Act for at least a further year. The Minister has detailed the report on the operation of the Act and provided details which add further corroboration to the case for the renewal of the provisions. Nevertheless, we can all look forward hopefully and envisage that the day will dawn when this type of legislation is no longer necessary. That is an aspiration of mine. I would like to see a time when the compelling factors I detailed for the renewal and maintenance of emergency legislation of this type no longer apply. The concept of emergency legislation is far from desirable. Ideally, we should aim for a situation where all legislation is reasonable and responsible enough to stand the test of time and retain its relevance. On the other hand, however, we must accept that we have not yet attained an ideal world and that we must in the meantime retain this emergency legislation.
A related issue that the Minister might deal with in his response relates to an announcement he made last year of the need to establish a second division of the Special Criminal Court because of the delays in cases being heard in that court. Have those delays been rectified and what is the situation in regard to the establishment of a second criminal court? We should ideally work towards the gradual phasing out of such courts rather than their extension. In the context of the peace process and what appeared to be some reduction in criminal terrorist activity from some of the organisations involved, I was somewhat surprised that there was apparently a need for an extension of the court processes for dealing with the perpetrators of such crimes.
I very much support the renewal of the provisions of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 for one more year from 30 June. We will continue to stand by these provisions as long as they are necessary, while looking forward to the day when that is no longer the case. We will do what we can in the meantime to provide the institutions of the State, particularly the Garda Síochána, with the necessary resources and instruments to enable them to maintain peace in this State and to co-operate in so doing with other authorities on this island. These provisions have a role to play in that regard and Fine Gael fully supports their renewal.
Like me, I am sure this annual renewal brings other Members starkly back to that awful day in August 1998 when a bomb was detonated in Omagh. At the time, all of us were imbued with the notion that there was light at the end of the tunnel and that we were moving away from the awful decades of terrible violence, carnage and mayhem. A peaceful resolution of the differences that long existed on this island had been brokered and although obliged to work through the tortuous layers of implementation involved in securing that resolution, it seemed we were embarked irreversibly on a path of peace where any act of violence would be totally abhorrent and unacceptable. We were rattled to the core, however, by the awful bombing of Omagh, which indicated that there were some who could not be convinced that the only future for this country involved a peaceful path. These were people who would resort to a level of carnage and mayhem that had no regard whatever for life. Everybody, including pregnant women and young children, was vulnerable to their slaughter.
Unfortunately, those people whose murderous deed brought us into emergency session and motivated us to introduce the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 still exist on this island. Some have moved some way down the path towards an acceptance of peaceful means as the only mechanism for advancing causes. Unfortunately, however, there is a coterie of persons with irredentist views who can never be convinced of this. It is clear the State must be robust not only in its determination to bring these persons to justice but in arming the protectors of the State to ensure citizens of this and adjoining states can go about their business without fear of being murdered and brutalised. As long as dissident groups, whether republican or Unionist, exist with murderous intent, we must have robust laws. I believe that the Provisional IRA exists still, unfortunately, but at least it is largely, if not totally, disarmed at this stage and is committed to the path of co-operating with the political solution on this island, as brokered by all parties and endorsed by the overwhelming majority of people, North and South, of this island.
I wish to refer to the legislation and the processes involved therein. The legislation, although enacted on an emergency basis, has a review mechanism within it and we are called to this House to review it annually. Unfortunately, sunset clause legislation has a habit on occasion, especially in the security area, of becoming a fixed entity. Laws enacted in the early 1970s are now permanent, although notionally temporary, features of our legal system and criminal code.
We must be clear about what we are engaged in here. If there are sections of this Act which should properly form part of the permanent law, we should have that debate and make the necessary arrangements. The annual notion that we are reviewing this legislation with a realistic intent to remove it should be addressed in a robust way.
The provisions of the 1998 Act are unusual in that they require a report to be laid before the House within a period of not more than 21 days from its production. There is no requirement in the legislation for the report to be laid before the House, as is the norm with other reports of a similar nature, 21 days before the debate takes place. The report was only laid before the House last Monday, and it is a flimsy document. It basically contains a recitation of the number of occasions on which the various sections of the 1998 Act were used, a general view from the Garda Síochána and from the Minister, none of which is particularly informative. It is certainly not nearly as informative as the Minister's speech to the House, which was much more expansive with regard to the matters at hand.
We must have a more robust interaction between the Executive and the Legislature on these matters. I have never had the privilege of serving in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, but there is a generally held view, which the Minister may share, that at the core of that Department, for a very long time, was a security view that almost deemed it an unnecessary liberty to share information with members of the Government. It was also deemed an extraordinary liberty to share information with, or ask the opinion of, Members of the Oireachtas outside of Government.
I had occasion to deputise for the then Tánaiste, the former Deputy, Dick Spring, at a Cabinet security committee. I had the sense that the then Secretary of the Department felt that he had to be very careful when sharing information with people who happened to be holders of Cabinet office temporarily. Whether they could be trusted with the security of the State was a question on which the jury was still out.
That mentality, quite understandably, built up in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform over a period because the security of the State was threatened and fundamentally assaulted over decades by people who wanted to bring down the Constitution, the constitutional authority and the institutions created by the people under the Constitution. Thankfully, we have moved beyond that now and that mindset, if it still exists, must be abandoned.
We must have a better debate, and I am addressing this point to a Minister who normally listens to points made, about the future of the security arrangements in place on this island in the changed circumstances. We also need an open and reasonable debate on some of the matters put forward by my colleague, the Fine Gael justice spokesperson, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, including the future of the Special Criminal Court.
The Minister referred to international terrorism and we are all aware of the terrible experiences endured by the United Kingdom and Spain in recent times. We have enacted the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 as regular law. Do we need to supplement that with special law? If so, why? If we need more robust, permanent law, why not have the debate and enact such law?
In most developed democracies there is a security committee of the Legislature. We have the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights but it seldom, if ever, deals with matters in an open and robust way, with a realistic assessment from the Garda authorities, the Special Branch and those monitoring dissident groups of how real the threat is and what laws are required. Is there a need for the existence or, as was suggested last year, the expansion of the Special Criminal Court? All these matters could be usefully debated in an open forum that takes away the secrecy surrounding security issues that has overshadowed debates in the past. This would also reassure the public that their security is safeguarded, the most robust, but fairest, laws are being enacted and that the Oireachtas is not going too far in attempting to strike a balance between securing the liberty of the individual citizen and ensuring that terrorism is confronted robustly.
The Minister referred to a new issue that has arisen, that is, the dissident republicans, or others, who find themselves with no career path for the future and are embarking on criminal activity or using munitions and explosives expertise or arms, originally ear marked for the so-called cause, for nefarious, murderous, gangster purposes. We must be robust in confronting that overlap between criminal gangsterism and dying dissident republicanism to ensure a new monster is not created.
There is a certain pro forma or charade involved in producing a report that simply recites the number of occasions on which various sections of the legislation were used in the previous 12 months, accompanied by a few sentences to the effect that the Garda authorities believe the legislation remains a necessary arm for them and the Minister acquiescing with that opinion. That does not meet the requirements of robust, democratic scrutiny of the rights and protection of the citizen which must be balanced by legislators.
I hope that, in replying to this debate, the Minister will indicate his thinking on the future regime for security arrangements in the State, the future attitude to the special courts, how the Oireachtas, to the best of its ability, might best engage so that there will always be public confidence that it will protect the rights of the citizen, not only to life and liberty, but to freedom of movement, discourse and all other entitlements, without the intrusion of the State. In the aftermath of 11 September, there was an imbalance in the United States as it rushed to enact the Patriot Act. We have endured over a much longer period a more sustained assault on our democratic institutions. By and large, with a few mistakes, we have been reasonable in the legislative measures we have put in place and we have continued to function as a constitutional democracy mindful of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and our international obligations under UN conventions. That is how we should advance and where we can set aside emergency or special provisions. We should always take the opportunity to do so, consistent with the well-being and protection of our people.
Tá mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama leis na Teachtaí Finian McGrath agus Cuffe.
Once again I implore all Deputies to consider the highly corrosive effect of this legislation on human rights, civil liberties and democratic life in this State before voting today. I urge all Deputies to reject the Government motion because no emergency exists that could possibly justify the continuation of the draconian measures contained in the sections that are up for renewal or indeed the rest of the Offences against the State Acts. Several of the sections have never been used and their continued operation in this non-emergency situation is a violation of Ireland's requirements under the derogation regimes of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The legislation is also contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, which requires steps towards security normalisation, including the progressive elimination of the Acts' provisions as circumstances permit. Circumstances now permit.
The Offences against the State Acts fuel a cycle of repression and resistance which ultimately jeopardises human security by unnecessarily breaching fundamental human rights. Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights permits a state to derogate from certain human rights obligations, but only in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed and only to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. Each derogation shall be directed to an actual clear, present or imminent danger and may not be imposed merely because of an apprehension of a potential danger. Likewise the European Convention on Human Rights also permits temporary derogations from certain human rights obligations and it imposes similar conditions to those of the international covenant.
Last July the IRA called an end to the military campaign and in September completed its final act of placing all its arms and weaponry permanently and verifiably beyond use. This was confirmed by the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning and others. While armed loyalist groups have operated in this jurisdiction in the past, with the aid of British intelligence, in recent years they have not operated within the State.
No shootings or bomb attacks have been claimed by loyalist groups. There has never been an international terrorist attack in the State and dissident republicans are isolated and few. Therefore, the July and September developments seem a reliable indicator of a definitive end to any conditions that could have been used to try to justify a state of emergency. At this stage, surely it can no longer be denied that the continued use of these draconian provisions is untenable.
The Minister sees imaginary threats to the security of the State where it suits his own agenda to do so — for example, to destroy the Centre for Public Inquiry and the good name of its director, Frank Connolly. This explains his desire to hang on to this legislation regardless of the reality on the ground. He cannot, however, deny that parts of the Offences against the State Acts violate international law by becoming a de facto permanent part of the criminal justice framework and by suspending ordinary rights on the pretence of a public emergency threatening the life of the State when no such emergency exists.
The apathy of most of the Opposition on this issue, and the ill-advised, misplaced enthusiasm of others for these measures have negative implications for Irish society. The unreformed Garda Special Branch maintains the power to act as a political police force, systematically harassing citizens engaged in open, legal and democratic political activity.
There are other far-reaching implications. The seepage of this legislation into the permanent legal infrastructure of the State contributes to the momentum of the post-11 September erosion of fundamental rights protection globally. Regimes of permanent emergency violate international laws and must be challenged whenever they appear.
For the sake of the peoples of Ireland and in solidarity with those living in repressive regimes everywhere, every Deputy in this House who values democracy must first vote against the Government motion and then campaign for the repeal of the Offences against the State Acts in their entirety.
I welcome the debate on the renewal of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. This is an opportunity to reflect on this issue and it is important that we debate this legislation coolly and calmly. Of course we all agree that the Omagh bombing and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings targeted innocent people and were utterly wrong. Every Member of the House agrees with that.
There is no contradiction, however, between talking about protecting civil liberties and human rights and opposing sectarian violence and expressing opposition to the Offences against the State Acts. People who raise awkward questions about this legislation should not have their motives questioned. Sadly, however, elements in society regularly do so, both in the House and outside it.
The vast majority of people on this island oppose violence and support peaceful and democratic means. A small number still believes the way forward is through violence, but they are very much the minority. Since the peace process began, there have been major changes and we have made great progress. If we do not take that on board in this debate, we are simply being close-minded.
When discussing this legislation, the peace process and the wider question of republicanism, it is my belief that true republicans should have nothing to do with criminal elements in society. That is not up for debate. We should also reflect on the meaning of republicanism in the Ireland of 2006 and come up with sensible ways of broadening that vision for the creation of an inclusive, progressive republic. In fairness to the republican movement, it has shown leadership and we should support it in this issue, particularly following its dumping of arms last year. There is an onus on us as Members of the Oireachtas to show leadership in the peace process and to be prepared to support those who are taking the major risks.
It is now up to the DUP to wake up and get involved in the talks process. It is no longer acceptable for it to drag its heels. I strongly disagree politically with the Ulster Unionist Party but I commend its leader for his efforts in recent weeks. I do not criticise Reg Empey for trying to bring in the PUP, for facing up to the reality of loyalist violence and for trying to end it once and for all. I challenge those in the Ulster Unionist Party who are jumping ship because of Reg Empey's actions to think again. He is thinking of the bigger picture and broader society. It is not simply a numbers game to gain seats in the Executive. In his recent response, he has taken a brave and difficult decision. Whether one is an Independent Deputy or a member of the Government, the Opposition, the DUP, the PUP, or any other political organisation in this country, there is an onus upon one to get out there and deal with sectarianism and violence on the island. The attack on Nuala O'Loan's son in recent days was an absolute disgrace. That woman and her family have made a major contribution to debate regarding policing on the island, and that boosted the peace process. I express my absolute abhorrence of the attack on her son and challenge those involved.
While the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in the Chamber, I would like to say how important it is that Ministers acknowledge their duty to act responsibly and respect human rights and civil liberties. At this crossroads in political life and the peace process generally, why are we still considering repressive legislation? I ask that fundamental question because we do not need it. The time is right for change, and I strongly oppose this legislation and urge all Deputies present to consider my views.
Some time ago the Minister promised to be radical or redundant, but today he is both repetitive and repugnant. I do not believe it correct to rubber-stamp this legislation for yet another year. There is a real danger of our becoming dependent on emergency legislation. In this instance, the harsh cases that he cites make for bad law, and developments in the peace process over the last 12 months as well as in recent years mean we should not keep such legislation on the Statute Book. I am concerned at the systematic erosion of civil liberties on the island, and renewing this legislation does nothing to protect them.
It is also important to discuss the police force. In the South, I have seen both great and lousy gardaí in operation. They have kept their cool in the most difficult of situations, while others have lost their rag over the most minor of issues. Gardaí threatened me with the loss of an American visa in the bad old days of the 1980s. Gardaí also removed film from a camera when they did not like the pictures I was taking. More recently, I have learnt of widespread concern at the conduct of members of the force regarding the unexplained death of Terence Wheelock after his detention in Store Street Garda station. I have seen a more worrying can of worms exposed regarding the conduct of certain gardaí in the Donegal district. Giving the gardaí incredible emergency powers on a rolling annual basis does not make sense when those concerns are still current.
I stress that the vast majority of gardaí are fantastic testimony to this State's foundation and can hold their heads high regarding how they conduct their business. However, there are rumblings of discontent, both from members of the public and from individuals who feel that they have been wronged by particular gardaí. We should be very wary of continuing to give this legislation a rubber stamp, especially when gardaí have been granted unprecedented powers of discovery under legislation passed by the Minister over the last few years. They also have unprecedented access to electronic information, drawing on data retained over several years. That gives them incredible ability to find out what people are up to. Given that they have been granted such further powers in that area, it simply makes no sense to continue, year on year, giving them powers afforded initially for a 12-month period under this legislation.
The Minister and others have said on the record of the House today that "they have not gone away", in what I assume was a reference to subversive forces in the State. However, at some stage there must be respect and trust. It is incumbent on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to signal to all on the island that we are moving on. I am not convinced that the legislation we are passing today will achieve that. I worry about powers such as 24-hour detention periods, which are being used for purposes not originally intended in the legislation. If we are using legislation for a purpose not originally intended, there must be doubts over it.
When we receive the good news from some of the darker forces in Irish society that the war is over, we should reciprocate and send out a clear signal that we too are moving on.
I thank Deputies for their contributions.
Regarding Deputy Cuffe's last few remarks, he was not here when I stated that so-called dissident republicans, who are not and never have been true republicans, have in recent months been found trying to assemble bombs on the same scale as that which exploded in Omagh. I hope that it will never happen, but when one such bomb is detonated, I would like to hear what the Deputy has to say regarding my dismantling the capacity of the police force on this side of the Border to deal with such people and stop them using this State's territory to plant devices.
The Deputy would be dumbstruck if another attack such as that on Omagh took place and his words today were recalled. If they get away with what they are trying to do and, to use the phrase the Provos once used, get lucky, the Deputy will be embarrassed to hear his words spoken back to him in this House. He will realise that he is in breach of a legislator's duty to protect ordinary people's rights——
——and stand up for the State against those trying to damage it.
I entirely agree with Deputy Jim O'Keeffe's comment on recent remarks by Deputy Ferris. It is totally inappropriate for any person to say regarding an offence subject to investigation by the Garda Síochána that people should withhold information. Deputies Ferris and Ó Snodaigh are no exceptions to the rule that one sits in this House only as a citizen of the State. No one not a citizen is so entitled. Under Article 9 of the Constitution, all citizens owe this State a fundamental duty of loyalty. If one does not like that, one should not be in this House. If one believes in the duty of loyalty to the State, one must assist its forces in investigating serious crime.
The real reason that Deputy Ferris made those remarks is that he still clings to the idiotic ideology of the Provisional movement that somehow their acts were not crimes because they were carried out at the behest of the army council, in whom, the idiots all believe, the Irish people's powers of government are somehow vested. It is the sad delusion of fanatics, and the sooner they abandon that reasoning and stop making stupid statements based on it, the better. They must realise that they are citizens of the State, sit in this House as such, and owe that State and no other their loyalty under Article 9 of the Constitution. I also agree with what Deputies Howlin and Jim O'Keeffe said about the emerging evidence that certain such people have decided to sell their munitions and explosives expertise to drug warlords. That is a sad fact. It is not the first time that this has taken place because the Provisional movement tried to sell its expertise to drug warlords in Colombia for far more money but was foiled in the attempt.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh persistently raises the question of my actions in respect of Frank Connolly. The rules of this House provide that anyone who thinks he or she has been maligned can go to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and have his or her side of the story put on the record, but this never happened in the case of Frank Connolly. No effort has been made in public or on the floor or on the record of this House to rebut one word I said. This silence is extremely eloquent. Anyone who believes his or her good name has been adversely affected by anything said in this House is entitled under its rules to have his or her side of the story put on the record, but this has never happened in the case of Frank Connolly for very good reasons.
The Government decided to establish a second chamber of the Special Criminal Court but has not appointed judges to it because the situation in respect of delays in the court has improved dramatically. The reason for the Government's decision at that time was that the Supreme Court had ruled that bail legislation which provided that people could be denied bail on the basis that they would commit a further serious offence was overridden if the State could not provide a reasonably proximate trial. I faced a situation where people were arrested at training camps in the south east and other places. There was every reason to deny them bail because the activities they were engaged in suggested an intent to commit further criminal offences. The Bail Act 1997 should have been available to deny them bail but the fact that there would have been a delay in holding their trials would, under the Supreme Court's reasoning, amount to a reason for their release. Given that I faced a threat of this kind, it was prudent to provide for a second chamber of the Special Criminal Court. Happily, it has not proved necessary to proceed with it.
This legislation has been described as emergency legislation. It is not emergency legislation, it is legislation which is put in place with the one requirement that its provisions be annually renewed.
It was brought about by the political emergency following the Omagh bombing but it is part of our law, subject to the rule that it be renewed annually.
Certain comments have been made about my Department. My Department takes its job very seriously. Officials involved in security take their job very seriously but they are not the securocrats they are portrayed as. They are very reasonable people who live in the real world, rather than a shadow world of spooks. There is a very good exchange of information between the Garda Síochána and the Government. Under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Secretary General, who is non-political, has the right to demand documents, records and information from the Garda Síochána as is necessary. This means that for the first time, the Government has a clear right which is not simply operated by threatening to sack a Garda Commissioner. The Secretary General has a clear right to obtain such information as is necessary for the Government to discharge its functions.
In an ideal world, perhaps we would not need this kind of legislation. We must bear in mind how the scales are balanced between those who are minded to break the law and those whose job it is to prevent them from doing so and prosecute them when they do so. If someone is being interrogated about membership of an unlawful organisation for 24 or 48 hours and continually tells lies, an inference should be drawn. It cannot serve as proof by itself but it should be capable of being drawn in these circumstances. It is not an unfair rule. The extension from 48 to 72 hours is circumscribed by fairly heavy judicial protections and compares very well with what takes place internationally.
Certain Members have spoken here about infringements or destruction of human rights. Compared to virtually every other state in Europe, the Irish system must be one of the liberal systems. I do not think detaining someone for 72 hours would be regarded as strange across Europe, even in respect of very different types of offences. Before we argue that this law is somehow draconian, we should realise that it is not draconian compared with the norm across Europe in respect of these types of offences. I do not believe Europe is a draconian part of the world.
Certain individuals constantly argue that human rights considerations are one side of the equation, while this kind of law is the other. I strongly believe that defending people's human rights and preventing another atrocity such as that in Omagh, which is a defence of human rights, requires that we have this law. If the deluded fanatics of the so-called republican movement who are still intent on detonating bombs eventually acknowledge that this chapter of their history was shameful and state that they will use different methods to achieve their political goals, we can examine some of these issues in a different light. However, we should not be naive and should always remember that the jihadist threat has emerged since 1998 in a form which requires the existence of robust laws in this part of the world. Not only do we have a duty to Irish people not to allow some jihadist atrocity to take place here, we also have an obligation to our fellow members of the EU not to allow Ireland to be used as a place from which such an atrocity will be planned or perpetrated in the future.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 95 (Noel Ahern, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, James Breen, Pat Breen, Séamus Brennan, Tommy Broughan, John Browne, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Joe Callanan, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Michael J Collins, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Beverley Flynn, Joe Costello, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, John Curran, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Jimmy Deenihan, Noel Dempsey, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Noel Grealish, Mary Harney, Tom Hayes, Jackie Healy-Rae, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Joe Jacob, Paul Kehoe, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Pádraic McCormack, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, Dinny McGinley, Paul McGrath, John McGuinness, Paddy McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, Gerard Murphy, Dan Neville, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Charlie O'Connor, Denis O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Jim O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Brian O'Shea, Tom Parlon, John Perry, Seán Power, Ruairi Quinn, Dick Roche, Seán Ryan, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Noel Treacy, Mary Upton, Jack Wall, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 14 (Dan Boyle, Seán Crowe, Martin Ferris, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Séamus Healy, Joe Higgins, Finian McGrath, Arthur Morgan, Catherine Murphy, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Eamon Ryan)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Finian McGrath.
Question declared carried.