Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Human Rights Abuses.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me time to speak on this issue. The issue of extraordinary rendition has been very contentious and controversial here in the past two to three years. The Irish Human Rights Commission, under the presidency of former Senator Maurice Manning, produced a very detailed report and representatives of the commission appeared before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs to discuss the issues at which time we had a very lively debate.
International air law has a codified framework in the Convention on International Civil Aviation, commonly known as the Chicago Convention, which was signed in December 1944. Article 1 states that each state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory — in other words the land area and the territorial waters. While recent reports seem to indicate that there has been a change in Government policy, on examination I cannot see how the policy has changed. Fine Gael, as I am aware is the Government, is totally opposed to the process of extraordinary rendition. We also want to see the facility at Guantanamo Bay closed, as I am aware the Government also does. These reports state the Government has established a Cabinet committee on aspects of human rights. I understand that this committee was set up a number of months ago and perhaps the Minister might clarify that for me. It was certainly announced some time ago, but may not be set up yet. The Minister's predecessor mentioned it in some debate.
The report suggests that the Cabinet committee will examine and strengthen legal provisions to ensure the Garda and airport authorities have adequate legal powers for search and inspection of aircraft. This may involve strengthening the provisions of the Air Navigation and Transport Acts. I want the Minister to outline the Government policy in this regard. What changes, if any, have taken place? If no changes have occurred, what changes does the Government propose to take in light of this article being published? My concern is that the article has no basis and this great heralded change of direction is inaccurate. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me. I will give him the benefit of the doubt until he does.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Given how often it has been raised in the House and Seanad Éireann, both I and my predecessors have set out the Government's policy unequivocally, that is, we have always been totally opposed to the practice of extraordinary rendition anywhere. The policy has not changed.
The House will be aware that, last week, the Government decided to establish a Cabinet committee on aspects of international human rights. Among the areas to be considered by the committee is the implementation of our policy on extraordinary rendition. Already, the committee has reviewed the programme for Government commitments in this regard.
I have agreed to make early contact with the new US Administration to seek a clear statement of intent to the effect that, inter alia, extraordinary rendition would cease and not resume during the new President's term of office. Commitments are also being sought in regard to the closure of Guantanamo Bay and to the prohibition of intensive interrogation techniques, such as water-boarding, that are considered internationally to constitute torture. These techniques are in clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.
The closure of Guantanamo Bay has been called for by the Government consistently and from an early point and is now the agreed position of the EU. The ambassador in Washington will follow up on these issues as a matter of urgency, in the first instance with the transition team of the new US Administration. There has also been contact at senior official level with the US Embassy here. In light of the stated positions of both presidential candidates, I am hopeful that we will receive an early and positive response.
The Government has received clear and specific assurances at the highest level from the US authorities that such prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission. We have no reason to doubt the existing assurances in respect of the use of Irish airports. The fact remains that none of the various investigations into allegations of extraordinary rendition has revealed any evidence or even resulted in a specific allegation that any person has been subjected to extraordinary rendition through Ireland. There is no new information or allegation linking Irish airports to extraordinary rendition. I stress that what we are looking for now is a clear overall policy statement that would commit the new Administration to ending the practice of extraordinary rendition wherever it may be occurring.
With a view to strengthening as necessary the legislative provisions, the Cabinet committee on aspects of international human rights is to review the statutory powers available to the civil and police authorities regarding the search and inspection of aircraft in the context of the obligations on the State under the Chicago convention. Relevant legislation includes the Air Navigation and Transport Act 1988, the amending Act of 1998 and sections 4 and 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1997. Garda powers of search can be deployed only where there are reasonable grounds for their use capable of withstanding scrutiny in a court of law. A number of investigations have taken place on foot of complaints, but have not produced any evidence of illegal activity.
On the wider question of the role of the Garda Síochána in the protection of human rights, I wish to highlight the centrality of human rights compliance to policing in Ireland. In accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005, there is a duty on the Garda to protect life and vindicate the human rights of the individual. To this end, there is a comprehensive programme for human rights training within An Garda Síochána. New members of the Garda make a declaration of the need to have regard for human rights in carrying out policing duties.
I assure the House that, on the basis of information supplied to me by my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the commitment in the programme for Government on training in the human rights area is being fully implemented. There is regular communication between the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the Garda Commissioner. The Commissioner has assured the Minister that sufficient resources are available to implement the commitment. In addition, the Garda remains ready to take whatever action is open to it under the law in respect of any allegations of extraordinary rendition.
I repeat the total opposition of the Government to the practice of extraordinary rendition wherever it occurs and our hope that the new US Administration will address it as a matter of utmost priority.