There was some doubt during my absence on the Order of Business today about the time at which this Bill was received by me in my capacity as spokesman in Opposition for the Department of Justice. The Taoiseach stated that he understood a copy was sent last week to Deputy Andrews and that the Minister for Justice was in touch with him about this. The Taoiseach did not say, of course, what day last week I was contacted by the Minister's Department as distinct from the Minister. I received a copy of the Bill on Friday last with a complimentary slip from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach. I have the main heads of the Bill which I received on Friday which the Minister is now asking us to give a Second Stage reading to. On Monday I was contacted by the Minister's office. In fact, I did not have an opportunity to phone back to his office until about 4.40 p.m. that afternoon. The Minister was unavailable at that time, which is fair enough, as he cannot be in his office at all times. However, neither can I be waiting around on the good graces of the Minister.
I had to go to the funeral of one of the victims so savagely murdered last Friday and it was not possible for me to contact the Minister yesterday. I said I would contact the Minister's very courteous secretary or assistant secretary this morning but again, I did not have an opportunity to do so. My point is that the first sight the front bench of the Fianna Fáil Party had of the actual Bill itself, the headings of the Bill, was this morning. It was my intention then to clear the Bill with the front bench. However, again due to my absence from the front bench meeting, it was not possible for them to do so. The Fianna Fáil Party could not have decided, therefore, what attitude they would take to this Bill until this morning.
In addition to that, the Minister introduced the Bill at 4 o'clock this afternoon and three hours later he introduced the Second Stage. All Deputies in the House are entitled to a copy of the Bill. They are as much entitled to a copy of it as I am. I know it is a matter of courtesy to the front bench spokesman on any topic that he should get a fairly lengthy period in which to study a Bill before it is actually introduced. Nevertheless, the Government had an opportunity to introduce this Bill quite a considerable time before now. The Minister in his short introductory speech said that one of the main reasons for his extending the time of the Bill from 31st May, 1974 to the 31st May, 1977 is that it is now necessary to build a special unit to house prisoners of the type now in military custody. He stated that this will be a high security unit capable of housing up to 30 high risk prisoners and will be located in the Portlaoise prison complex. Shades of 1972 indeed. Shades of Tuesday and Wednesday the 23rd and 24th May, 1972 when the then Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Malley came into this House and sought the legislation, which is before us, and was met with a barrage of prevarication from the then Opposition.
The Minister for Justice, however, now has to come along here, two years later, and in the nature of things has to eat humble pie. What concerns us was properly articulated by our Leader today when he raised this matter on the Order of Business. He said:
I would like to protest. It was known that the necessity for this Bill was there. It was known that the existing legislation would run out in a day or two. This Bill should have been introduced sooner so that adequate time would have been made available for discussion.
While I had reasonable time, in view of the fact that this is a small Bill, if it had been a comprehensive Bill —undoubtedly it is an important and urgent Bill—I do not think Friday would have given me reasonable time, as Opposition spokesman on Justice. The Leader of our party, Deputy Lynch, was quite correct in pointing out the haste with which the Bill was introduced : it was introduced in haste. The Minister is now seeking an exten sion of three years from 31st May 1974 to 31st May, 1977, allowing himself nine days before the 1972 Act falls in. This is a matter of grave concern to the House. We believe it is another example of the Government's inability to introduce legislation in an ordinary way. As spokesman on Justice, I should like to add my protest to that made on the Order of Business today by Deputy Lynch.
The Minister has come here belatedly with this Bill and asked for the co-operation of the House. In 1972 when the Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Malley, introduced the 1972 Prisons Act he was met by a considerable amount of doubt and we had what might be called the litany of the then liberals who are now in Government and find themselves supporting legislation which they could not find it in their hearts to support then. It is my function and duty to point out what was said on that occasion by these people.
We understand the necessity for the introduction of the 1974 Prisons Bill in Opposition as we understood the necessity for the 1972 measure when we were in Government and I assure the Minister and the Government that there will be no prevarication on this occasion. We know where our duty lies and we have no hesitation in supporting the Government in urgent, responsible and reasonable legislation.
In introducing the 1972 Act the Minister, Deputy O'Malley, expressed a reservation about a civil prison within a military establishment when at column 78 of the Official Report of 23rd May, 1972, he said:
Moreover, there are serious objections to having a civil prison within a military establishment. Accordingly, it is necessary to make provisions for the transfer of prisoners to military custody.
Nevertheless, he saw clearly where his duty lay and, having regard to the times that were in it, it was his function as Minister for Justice to introduce the 1972 Act. At column 77 of the same debate he said:
I regret that a situation has arisen which compels me to come to the House and ask it to pass this Bill, the main provision of which is to authorise prisoners to be transferred to military custody in certain exceptional circumstances. This emergency——
and this was the reason for the introduction of that Bill then
——situation has resulted from the destruction carried out in Mountjoy on the night of 18th-19th May.——
that was in 1972
——The destruction was on such a scale that approximately 180 prisoners had to be transferred. Not all of them could be accommodated in the other prisons at Portlaoise, Cork, Limerick or in St. Patrick's Institution and I had to arrange, in consultation with the Minister for Defence, to take over the military detention barracks in the Curragh for use as a prison to accommodate some 40 prisoners. These have since been under the control of two senior prison officers, with the help and assistance of the military.
He then goes on at some length to justify the introduction of the Bill at that time. The present Minister for Justice, Deputy Cooney, who was then Opposition spokesman on Justice, is reported in the Official Report of 23rd May, 1972, at column 83, as saying:
...He comes to the House with a Bill at a time and in a climate which must make one suspicious of some of the terms and the phrases used in this Bill...
First, there is the haste with which it has been introduced.
The Minister must now understand that on that occasion the Minister for Justice had to introduce the Bill as a matter of urgency and yet Deputy Cooney queried it on the grounds of haste. We ask the present Minister for Justice who has now been in office considerably more than a year, why in that year he did not introduce this Bill now before us. Why even in the last month did he not introduce it? We are asked to accept an amendment extending the life of the 1972 Bill to 1977 effectively, nine days before the 1972 Bill goes out of existence. That is the extraordinary situation in which the Dáil finds itself. The Minister talked about haste in 1972.
There are some other important quotations from both the Minister and others to which, with the indulgence of the Chair, I hope to refer. It is not my intention to quote at length from any of the speeches made on that occasion, quite the contrary. At columns 83-84, Volume 261 of the Official Report of 23rd May, 1972, Deputy Cooney said:
I can see that there are technical reasons for hasty legislation but nevertheless this does not excuse a piece of legislation with so many question marks unexplained by the Minister in his opening statement. The whole point of having this institution of Parliament is to enable Members to tease out the various
implications of proposed legislation, to tease out and to examine the social, political and the technical legal implications in relation to each other and in relation to existing legislation. We have been deprived of that opportunity here.
The 1972 Act ceases to have any statutory validity from 31st May, nine days away. At column 88 of the Official Report of the same date Deputy Cooney stated:
This defective Government have now landed us in a legislative mess and they have come to this House for help.
In respect of the present Minister and the present Government one thing that distinguishes them from the previous Fianna Fáil Government is their lack of will in relation to the production of legislation in this House. This is an occasion when that is exemplified. The Dáil is being asked to enact a Bill into law nine days before the 1972 Act goes out of existence.
I wonder if the Minister, Deputy Cooney, and others were accusing the then Government of being defective on the basis that they did not introduce legislation because if one compares like with like the last Government and the present one cannot be compared. In relation to legislation the Fianna Fáil Government exceeded anything the present Government have done. If Deputy Cooney then meant that the Government were defective because their legislative programme was bad then this is a defective Government we have today.
Concluding his remarks on Second Stage Deputy Cooney said:
For the sake of the common good we in this party are prepared to give that help, but for a limited time only.
For the sake of the common good we are prepared to help and assist the Minister in view of his opening remarks about the need for the time to build a special unit to house prisoners of the type now in military custody. I understand that this special unit is to be built at Portlaoise, that preliminary work has begun on it and that it will take up to three years to complete it.
In addition to the other contributions that were made in the teeth of reality, the reality produced by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Malley, we had the present Tánaiste and Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Corish, at column 90 of the Official Report of 23rd May, 1972 on this matter. The prevarication throughout these quotations, the political balancing, the wanting-it-both-ways attitude, has to be heard to be believed. Having stated that he wished to vote for it he went on to give so many reasons that his reasons for doing so became invalid and unreal. This shows a total lack of political will. The present Tánaiste stated then:
If there is a specific situation because of a specific activity no one could take exception to the introduction here of specific measures to deal with that situation,
As I have already stated Mountjoy at the time had been wrecked and that was the situation the House was dealing with. Deputy Corish continued:
say in the form of a temporary provisions Bill. But this is not a temporary provisions Bill. It will now go on our Statute Book as a permanent Act and, much more dangerous, in the form of a generalised Bill which can be invoked at any time it is deemed necessary to invoke it by any Government now or in the future. This Bill can be invoked without any reference whatsoever to the rioting in Mountjoy and the destruction there on the night of 18th-19th May, 1972.
That was the attitude of the Tánaiste to the very reasonable request made by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Malley. Deputy Corish, at column 94 of the same date, stated:
The measure is too wide, too general, to deal with a specific problem and a temporary situation, but if this is not so I think we should be told.
Who is to say but that during the course of those two days Deputy O'Malley all but exhausted himself trying to explain to the then Opposition his real reasons before introducing that Bill?
The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Deputy Clinton, at column 101 of the Official Report of the same date stated:
This emergency legislation should not have been necessary. That has been made quite clear by our shadow Minister for Justice, Deputy Cooney.
I admit that Deputy Clinton on that occasion did give reasons why Deputy Cooney felt the emergency legislation was not necessary. Later during that debate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Cluskey, at column 106 of the Official Report of the same date stated:
Surely the Minister is not asking this assembly to pass a Bill which is a departure from normal democratic procedure and institutions on the basis that he cannot spare two senior prison officers? That is what it means. The Minister states that. The Minister said:
It was my hope, at the time of the transfer, to utilise the detention barracks as a civil prison but, owing to the severe demands on the existing prison staffs at the present time and the inevitable delay in recruiting...
What does that mean?
Deputy Cluskey then went on to justify his reasons for voting against the Second Stage of the Bill.
I should now like to give a rather choice snippet from that well known liberal, Deputy Cruise-O'Brien, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. At column 118 of the Official Report of the same date he stated:
It was introduced in a mood which is rather dear to this Government, a mood of very belated but frantic haste.
I am sure Deputy Cruise-O'Brien when he reflects on that statement will appreciate that the matter of haste and its indecency must, under all the circumstances, be levelled at the Government of which he is now a member. For the record I should like to remind Deputy Cruise-O'Brien of his quotation:
It was introduced in a mood which is rather dear to this Government, a mood of very belated but frantic haste.
He says in the same column:
Secondly, the case for the time limit is extremely strong. I hope the Minister will tell us he accepts the principle of the time limit, that he does not ask us to give him a kind of blank cheque for an indefinite period to keep in force regulations which most of us here would regard as regrettable and undesirable.
In addition to saying all that, Deputy Cruise-O'Brien absented himself from voting on the Second Stage of the Bill. I admit he was in favour of the Bill in principle, but it is extraordinary that he did not stay and vote for the Bill, a Bill of such concern to the community at the time. It is quite obvious it is of similar concern to the community now.
It is also well to point out that when the time came and the question was put: "That the Bill do now pass" Deputy Cruise-O'Brien was again absent. He was for the Bill in principle on paper but, when it came to actually voting for the Bill, he absented himself. He may have had a good enough reason to be absent. I do not know. Perhaps before this Bill passes we will have heard from Deputy Dr. Cruise-O'Brien, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, why, having spoken for the Bill, he did not have the courage to vote for it when he had an opportunity of doing so. The record speaks for itself.
On the Second Stage the Minister was extremely reasonable towards the then Opposition despite the abuse and the personal attacks levelled at him at a time when he should have been receiving the unqualified support of the Opposition. At column 187 of the Official Report of 23rd May, 1972, he said:
...I am prepared to approach this matter perfectly reasonably on the basis mentioned in my opening speech. Between now and tomorrow morning I am prepared to think up some amendment that would impose a time limit on it. The length of it I do not know: I would have to consult my advisers on that point.
Again, it is interesting to note, that a number of Labour Party Deputies— this is clearly shown in the Official Report—voted against the 1972 Bill on the Second Stage. Among them were Deputy Cluskey, Deputy Dr. John O'Connell, Deputy Dr. John O'Donovan, who unhappily is no longer a Dáil Deputy, Deputy Dr. Thornley and the present Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Treacy. Deputy Seán Sherwin also voted against the Bill on that occasion.
Here, now, you have a situation in which the then Opposition, who now find themselves in Government, come along to the present Opposition, who were then in Government and see it as their clear duty to introduce the 1972 Prisons Bill, seeking a three-year extension of the very things they then opposed so vehemently. We would ask the Minister to tell us, when he comes to reply to this debate, can he rely on the people who then voted against the 1972 Bill to support him on this occasion? Can he rely on the Labour Deputies who voted against the Bill to support him now? We query thebona fides of some of the people who expressed what I described as their prevaricating concern on that occasion.
We find Deputy Dr. Garret FitzGerald, who has a word for everything on every occasion, at column 209 of Volume 118 on 24th May, 1972, speaking as follows:
As it is, the amendment is unacceptable but we might get somewhere if we had assurances on a number of things.
The Minister had, of course, exhausted himself giving assurances on that occasion.
It is interesting to note that a spokesman for the Labour Party on that occasion at column 211 on 24th May, 1972, had this to say:
We believe that six months should be adequate to have the necessary repairs carried out especially in circumstances in which fundamental human rights are involved and the legal system as we know it, in that the prisoners—and there are not many; some 40 or 50—are not being transferred to another jail as such under the aegis of the Minister for Justice and the prison system as we know it, but are being transferred to military custody. They are being transferred to the Curragh Camp. They are being transferred to Tintown with all its sinister and repressive connotations. It is a serious matter that we are giving responsibility to the Minister for Defence and placing these prisoners under the charge of the military. Here is where the negation of justice and democracy enters into the matter.
The Deputy who made that statement was none other than Deputy Seán Treacy. I assume the same Deputy Treacy, who now holds a respected position in this House, will remain seated and will not press the matter to a Division on this occasion, as he did on the last occasion, and as, indeed, a number of his colleagues did also.