Offences Against the State Act – Motions

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Clare denounces the Government’s decision to renew, for yet another year, the draconian emergency powers in the Offences Against the State and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Acts, which have been widely criticised by any number of human rights bodies, and which have been totally ineffective in stopping organised crime. Transcript below.

Deputy Clare Daly: It is a bit distressing to be here again for our annual ritual debate about whether to retain for another year the emergency powers in the Offences Against the State Act and section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act. It is deeply ironic they are supposed to be emergencies but they have become a norm in this country. Every year the Minister tells us the threat is unchanged and is the same as it was the last time and that these are exceptional powers and must be retained. Given what we have witnessed over the past year, with the rise in organised crime, is this failure of the legislation to in any way deal with this situation not even evidence enough on its own of how futile it is, not to mind the appalling trampling wholesale on the human rights of individuals for it? Has the penny not dropped, given what has happened here while the Government has been utilising this legislation, that a different approach will have to be necessary?We have to start with the international human rights institutions, the United Nations and the Council of Europe, which have repeatedly raised serious questions about the proportionality of Irish emergency powers legislation in this regard, particularly the area of non-jury courts. Too often in Ireland, when we get international human rights reports, be they on crime, abortion or whatever, we feel we are an exception and they are things we can ignore. This is not good enough, because human rights are supposed to be universal and applied in all situations.

This year we are voting again on whether to renew these exceptional powers, on the heels of one of the most horrendous explosions of violence on the streets of Dublin. It has been a horrifying few months, but what is striking is how little effect the so-called emergency legislation has had in dealing with these issues. However, year upon year we are asked to retain this bad law. Put simply, law and order responses on their own do not work and us ratifying again these appalling human rights violations will not make a single person in Dublin, or in any other part of the country, safer in bed tonight.

As long as we are following a doomed war on drugs, which is essentially a licence for crime gangs to print money and facilitating the drugs trade on the one hand and perpetuating disadvantage in parts of our city on the other, then the problems of crime are inevitably going to be there. We only need to take a look at the north inner city, the area of the latest rounds of violence, where we see huge levels of male unemployment. In some areas it is at 70%. One third of the areas in question are disadvantaged and 10% are extremely disadvantaged. Rather than dealing with the issues, we cut funding to vital projects in these areas. If we really wanted to deal with crime and organised crime this is where we would start. Take the words of Johns Hopkins and the Lancet Commission, hardly a bunch of firebrand radicals, who had this to say in their report on public health in March this year:

Policies meant to prohibit or greatly suppress drugs … are portrayed and defended vigorously by many policy makers as necessary to preserve public health and safety, and yet the evidence suggests that they have contributed directly and indirectly to lethal violence, communicable-disease transmission, discrimination, forced displacement, unnecessary physical pain, and the undermining of people’s right to health.

It also states, “Drug policy that is dismissive of extensive evidence of its own negative impact and of approaches that could improve health outcomes is bad for all concerned”. It states a far more serious approach is decriminalising drugs as a gradual move towards regulated drugs markets.

That is where we should be if we want to talk about really dealing with crime, not flexing our muscles in terms of law and order and the provisions before us today that are non-compliant with human rights.

The Special Criminal Court is in part at the heart of some of these emergency powers. It has been repeatedly criticised by the UN Human Rights Committee for its lack of democracy. The UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur for human rights defenders has drawn particular attention to the court. He said that it needed to be carefully monitored and that the council was very concerned about the recent expansion of the Special Criminal Court to include organised crime. Bodies such as Amnesty International, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and so on have repeatedly criticised this human rights violation. There are a number of very worrying aspects to it. The fact that the Special Criminal Court has jurisdiction over both scheduled and non-scheduled offences is a particular problem. It might be a little dramatic, but what we are proposing here is a provision whereby somebody could be scooped up, arrested, charged with anything at all and have the DPP decide on whether to send them to a non-jury trial with no obligation to explain why and where they can be tried and convicted by judges who are essentially unaccountable. That might be a bit exaggerated but it is the reality in the case of some of these courts.

The justification of jury intimidation is laughable because we know there are ways of dealing with this without the jury being present: having it watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television, anonymising juries and so on. Even if the Government were not willing to do that, however, why is the problem of the blanket ban on juries not even considered as it is, say, in the UK, where the possibility of jury tampering and the risk have to be evaluated first, rather than having a blanket ban and a presumption of intimidation in that regard. In those cases there can be that violation of human rights only if other reasonable, preventative steps such as police protection and so on cannot be taken. We should consider these systems. If the Government were really worried about protecting juries, that is what it would consider.

We cannot ignore the reality that tonight, for example, a young person, Donal Ó Coisdealbha, is spending another night in Portlaoise Prison, having been there now for over a year. Mr. Ó Coisdealbha was arrested on 13 May and charged with membership of an illegal organisation along with other offences which have never been made clear to him. He had never been charged with anything or involved in violent behaviour or anything like that. Before he was arrested he was working full-time. He finished college the previous year. He had no convictions or anything like that. In view of the category under which he was charged, however, he will face trial in the Special Criminal Court. He cannot get bail and it is likely that he will spend two to three years in prison before he will even be brought to a non-jury trial. I do not want to live in a society that has that kind of repressive legislation because it does not work, apart from violating human rights.

I find it utterly reprehensible that not only is the Government doing this, but it does not need to do it, not only because it is ineffective, but because it has other alternatives. If the Minister is really serious about dealing with organised crime, I do not know why she has not, for example, dealt with and initiated the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigations Team) Act, which has been on the Statute Book since 2004. The Act gives the power to the Garda Commissioner to ask another EU country to establish a joint investigation team with another European jurisdiction, but the Government has never initiated it. Why is the Government not linking up with the Spanish authorities in this regard, given that crime is global, and initiating this joint investigations team, JIT, provision that is already published, rather than asking us to ignore human rights considerations and again nod through repressive legislation which violates human rights and, sickeningly, does not actually work. It is appalling that we are being asked to do this in the absence of other legislation on the Statute Book being invoked, but more particularly when we are discussing crime and the drugs industry being at the heart of that and we are failing to deal with issues surrounding the criminalisation of drugs, that whole market which is being left to people to profit from, which is one of the key motivators of crime and violence in this city.