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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 23 May 1972

Vol. 261 No. 1

Prisons Bill, 1972: First Stage.

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend and extend the Prisons Acts, 1826 to 1970.

I do not know whether one may speak on the First Reading of a Bill, although a precedent exists for this in the recent conduct of the Minister for Transport and Power——

Is the Deputy opposing the Bill?

I am opposing the reading of the Bill.

In that case, I ask the Minister to make a statement and Deputy Thornley will be allowed to make his own statement.

This is a short Bill which has been brought into the House because of the events in Mountjoy Prison on last Thursday night and Friday morning. It proposes to give power to transfer prisoners to military custody in certain circumstances and subject to a good deal of safeguards.

I oppose this Bill. I know it is not customary to speak at this stage, and I do not intend to delay the House very long. I wish to utter about three sentences. The Minister for Transport and Power opposed the printing of a much more important and valuable Bill recently. I oppose this Bill. Its contents are theoretically not known. They are, in fact, known to everybody in this House and every press correspondent here. I regard this Bill as disgraceful and irrelevant, and as an excuse to use the Mountjoy Jail disorders in order to transfer Irish citizens who, whatever their faults, are awaiting trial, from the control of the Garda Síochána to the control of the Army. All these powers exist in section 6 of the Offences Against the State Act. The Minister has not the courage to come into this House and apply that section, making it quite clear what he is doing which is introducing internment by backdoor methods in this country. This is disgraceful and irrelevant, and I do not think that the Order Paper of this House should be disfigured by having this Bill on it.

Question put and agreed to.

I would ask the House to take the next Stage now.

The Bill will be circulated immediately. Several copies were given this morning to each of the Opposition parties.

I would appeal to the Taoiseach more than to the Minister for Justice not to have this Bill taken immediately. It is not true that several copies of this Bill were given to the Members of the Opposition parties. The Minister for Justice—if he does not mind me saying so—told me last night on the telephone that the Bill would be available to me at 12 o'clock this morning. I told him that, if I were not here, he should give it to the Whip. After three or four phone calls between midday and 12.20 p.m. I got two copies of the Bill—actually, the Whip got them. We requested more copies but were told it was not possible to give them. Needless to remark, our party want time to consider this Bill. I admit that we had a short discussion on the Bill, but I do not think it is fair or democratic or in accordance with the practice of this House to introduce a Bill such as this. It is not a short Bill. It is true that it is short in its contents, if one counts words and sentences and paragraphs. There may be many implications in this Bill which need the consideration not alone of the Members of the Labour Party but also of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Parties as well.

The Minister implies that there is urgency about the Bill. If there were grave urgency about it, all he had to do was to call the Dáil by telegram yesterday. I submit honestly that the Second Reading of this Bill, which normally would be taken in a week's time, be deferred until tomorrow. We have had no time to study the Bill. We have not had time to study its implications. This "fire-brigade" method of dealing with the situation, to which the Minister has referred, does not appeal to Members of my party. I ask the Taoiseach since we have foregone one, two or three days since the events in Mountjoy, that we could at least take another 24 hours so that the Deputies of the various parties and the Independents would have the time to consider the Bill. They would then be able to make up their minds as to what they should do.

The House is aware that an almost unprecedented situation arose in Mountjoy Prison last Thursday evening and Friday morning. As a result of that, the prison system is now in serious jeopardy.

Like the country for the last two years.

Unless the prison authorities are given the power that we seek to give them in this Bill, the system is in danger. There are occasions in the history of any democracy when it is necessary to ask the representatives of the public to implement legislation quickly in the interests of public order and in the interests of the preservation of democracy and of maintaining our system. This is one such occasion. This morning the Government considered at some length the provisions of this Bill. Immediately, the Government came to a conclusion about its contents. Although it was already printed we made three copies each available to the Opposition Parties.

Two copies.

I am sorry. That is a matter of detail. I do not like to be facetious. However, if two copies were not enough for the Labour Party I am surprised.

I am not surprised.

If we had not been without action for two years, we would not have this situation now.


There is a precedent for this, of course. There have been occasions when copies of Bills were made available to the Opposition in advance of the First Reading in the House. This is such an occasion. On such an occasion the Government are entitled to ask the Opposition for their co-operation in circumstances, almost unpredecented, as we have now. It is necessary for the proper administration of the law and of our prison system to have this Bill passed today. If it would help the Labour Party I should be prepared to postpone the commencement of the Second Reading for a couple of hours on condition that we would get the completed Bill some time today.

As far as the Fine Gael Party are concerned, we apprepon ciate that an emergency has been created. We will have some comments to make on that, but we appreciate the existence of an emergency and that, as a result of it, there is a lack of legal power in relation to the detention not merely of persons in custody or on remand but actually serving sentences passed by the courts. At the same time I appreciate Deputy Corish's point of view. The sense of this Bill may be clear to somebody accustomed to reading legislation. At the same time it is a Bill which very properly should receive the consideration of the different parties. The Minister spoke to me on the telephone yesterday and on my own behalf I assured him that we would not prevent the quick passage of this Bill through the House. I would suggest to the Taoiseach that we might take this Bill at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. this evening.

I still ask that the Taoiseach postpone the Second Reading of this Bill until tomorrow. If it is to be postponed for a few hours, that will not help at all. This means, according to the Taoiseach, and I think it was indicated by the Minister for Justice to me yesterday, that all stages are required. The Taoiseach regards it as an urgent matter that we should get this Bill through. I appreciate his view on that but it is equally important (1) that parties and individuals have time to study the Bill and to come to decisions and (2) that they must have time for the drafting of amendments.

May I follow this by saying that a great deal will depend, in my personal view, on the attitude of the Minister for Justice and his replies to certain questions? There will have to be an interval during which Deputies, including members of my party, would have an opportunity of drafting amendments. I do not suggest for one moment, nor would I condone, a filibuster on this but if it is the intention to get the Bill through today it means, of necessity, a tacit agreement about the finishing of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Stages. I do not think there should be that limitation on the members of my party who may want to speak. So, in all the circumstances, I would ask the Taoiseach to defer the taking of the Second Stage of this Bill until tomorrow.

I am prepared to accept fully the recommendation made by the Deputy Leader of the main Opposition Party to postpone the commencement of the Second Reading for some hours, say to 6 or 7 o'clock, but I am advised that it is absolutely essential that we get this Bill through today and I am genuinely asking for the co-operation of the Opposition Parties, in the interests of law and order.

You did nothing about it for the last few years. If you had done something, you would not now be in the plight that you are in.

I am asking them, in the interests of security and in the interest of the maintenance of the prison system, to give us that co-operation.

Rip Van Winkle, waking up two years too late, sitting idly by for two years and would not act.

All I am asking is that the Members of this House would not be muzzled. If you are going to get this Bill through today, may I ask Deputy O'Higgins is it intended that we have some sort of timetable to have it finished by 10.30?

What I suggest, if I may, is that, if necessary, the House take it up at 7 o'clock and sit until it is finished, giving an appropriate time. Perhaps amendments could be moved tomorrow. But we could sit to finish this legislation.

If it is finished today how could amendments be taken tomorrow?

I accept fully the suggestion made by Deputy O'Higgins.

How can you have amendments tomorrow?

Sit through the night and we can have a look at the situation at 10.30 or 11 p.m., but order a late sitting.

Let me make this point again: a great deal will depend on what the Minister for Justice says in his reply. Surely it is not suggested that, as soon as he has finished his speech concluding the Second Reading, we should scribble out amendments and hand them into the office to be printed?

I suggest that we sit at 7, continue until about 8 or 9 or 10 on the Second Reading; adjourn— not necessarily adjourn the House; other business can be taken—but suspend the Bill for a couple of hours and resume on the Second Stage then and sit through the night.

Complete the Committee Stage.

Committee Stage, yes.

Committee Stage tomorrow?

No. I think that is perfectly reasonable.

I honestly do not think it is reasonable.

The Deputy does not. If he wants to make an issue of it, let us have it.

I do not want to have a row about it if that is what the Taoiseach means.

There is a simple way of deciding an issue in the House here.

We are entitled to have our point of view the same as the Taoiseach is. Every individual here is.

Subversive elements have had their way for the last few years.

We sat through the night some years ago and the Taoiseach did not give us much heed and that was the time to do it.

I just want to give notice that my party are objecting to and challenging the taking of the Second Reading of this Bill here today and I suggest that it be postponed until the same time tomorrow.

I say to the Taoiseach that the tragedy is that we are all going to stew in his juice.

Do not be smart now.

May I make this suggestion to Deputy Corish : that we take the Minister's opening speech on the Second Reading now and then adjourn the debate on the Second Reading until a named hour—7 p.m.— agreeing to sit late, if necessary, to conclude the Second Reading and take up the Committee Stage tomorrow?

I am sorry, I could not accept that.

I thought that was the Deputy's proposal.

No. Tomorrow.

Second Stage tomorrow?

Committee Stage tomorrow.

Surely it does not matter? If it could wait for three or four days——

As I understand the position, leave aside people awaiting trial or on remand, there are a number of people who have been properly convicted and sentenced who could be of great concern to society and surely we cannot have a situation in which people like that could be let loose on a habeas corpus application within 22 hours.

They could for the last five days and nobody has done anything about it.

They can be transferred to the civil process.

They cannot. There is no power to do it.

Deputy O'Higgins has been more outspoken than I was and he is quite right. People broke up a prison, obviously with this purpose in view, to get their release. People have been properly convicted of heinous offences. It is about time that Deputy Thornley had a bit of sense instead of coming in——

It is time you governed. It is a pity you did not do it for the last two years. It was your responsibility to govern.

I expect the Opposition to be reasonably co-operative in this and I am asking the Opposition to co-operate to this extent. Deputy O'Higgins has made another suggestion which I accept readily, that the Minister make his Second Reading speech now, that we adjourn then for a short time and resume the Second Reading with a time limit; adjourn then for another short time and introduce the Committee Stage and then finish at any time during the night or morning. We are advised that it is better to have this Bill in this present day's sitting.

We do not want to drag in what occurred in Mountjoy or to take sides or anything like that or to make a political issue of it. The Taoiseach asks that we be reasonable. As I said, the ordinary thing is that there would be a respectable interval between the introduction of a Bill and the taking of the Second Stage. I am only asking the Taoiseach to be reasonable, to give people time to consider the Bill.

All right, Deputy O'Higgins put his finger on it. If some of these people who have been transferred to the Curragh apply for habeas corpus, we believe they are not likely to get it but, if they do get it, if people who have been convicted criminals, are released as a result of habeas corpus, is this House prepared to take the responsibility of having these people loose on the public? Certainly I am not and the Government are not.

That is scare talk.

You did nothing about them in the last few years. They fired over graves. What did you do?

Who does the Taoiseach think he is fooling?

Why did you not do something to govern for the last two years?

We all know what this is leading to.

I should like to appeal to the Taoiseach to reconsider the appeal made to him by the Leader of this party for a 24-hour delay on this. I agree with the Taoiseach that an emergency exists, a grave condition exists. I also think it is important that, if steps are to be taken, the country as a whole would be carried along with them, and every section of opinion in the country, as far as possible. If the Taoiseach could be rightly accused of stampeding a decision on this, it would be nationally damaging at this time. So, I would appeal to him to grant the delay which the Leader of this party has reasonably asked for. I think nothing would be lost thereby.

Surely the 24-hour situation need not necessarily exist? The Dáil could commence its business at 10 a.m. tomorrow. There is no reason why it should commence at 3 p.m.

Take it at 10 a.m.

May I make the suggestion that we take the Second Reading now, to conclude today, and resume early tomorrow morning to finish the Bill?

To conclude today with a late sitting if necessary.

Take the Committee Stage tomorrow morning.

I would agree to the taking of the Second Reading at 6.30 p.m. or 7 p.m. tonight, it being concluded tonight, and then time given for amendments tomorrow.

Yes, and resume tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock.

At 10.30 a.m. or 10 o'clock.

At 10 o'clock.

With a late sitting tonight to conclude the Second Stage?

The remaining Stages would have to be concluded before the Seanad sits at 3 p.m. so that I could go to the Seanad at 3 o'clock with the Bill.

No, you will wait for the Seanad and you will take your time.

The Seanad might sit late tomorrow.

You will listen to the people for once in your life.

What if the reporters could not operate in the Seanad?

That is reasonable if we sit at 10 o'clock. Might I suggest, as Deputy Corish suggests, that we take the Second Reading at 6.30 p.m. to conclude tonight and take the Committee and remaining Stages tomorrow at 10 o'clock to be completed by 3 o'clock so that the Bill can go to the Seanad?

If the Dáil is prepared to sit until the Second Reading is finished tonight, the Senators should make a little sacrifice for once and sit until three or four the morning after.

The Deputy ought to know from what has been said that time is of the essence here.

It was for five days and nobody did anything.

They postponed making a statement.

What about the time when the reporters would not work in the Seanad because they were not properly paid?

Does the Taoiseach mean to conclude tonight or to conclude in the early hours of tomorrow morning, because tonight is not obviously tomorrow morning? This is not very clear. I am not being funny, but does the Taoiseach wish it to conclude at 12 o'clock tonight or to go on into the early hours of the morning until it is concluded? I would like, and I am sure the House would like, clarification on this point.

The plain fact is that at any minute of any hour from now until the passing of this legislation every single person serving sentence can be out on habeas corpus. Are we going to permit that sort of situation to develop? Society could not function.

We are not.

We are not. Very well, let us get on and pass this legislation or consider it at least.

The Second Stage to be taken at 6.30 p.m. to conclude tonight.

Before tomorrow morning.

The Committee Stage to be taken at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning and the Bill concluded before 3 o'clock.