I made some reference to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs on the last occasion. I do not want to be diverted from what I am saying now by making any further references.
Equally the civil courts are part of the overall court function. The police are there to ensure not merely that offenders will be punished but, as can be seen from the respect they enjoy in this part of Ireland, also that the rights of citizens will be protected. Surely this is the idea one must get across in suggesting legislation of this nature.
This Bill has no function, makes no attempt, no pretence whatsoever to imply that the jurisdiction which is being imposed on the courts, North and South, by way of this reciprocal arrangement will guarantee also that the citizen who will claim that his rights have been offended or breached —as he can do now in the south—can go through this type of procedure to make complaints here of, possibly infringement of his rights in the North or, equally, to make complaints in the North about infringement of his normal rights in the South. If one proposes on the one hand that people can be tried here for offences committed there and vice versa, then one must, in the whole nature of what the judicial and legal function means, equally guarantee that those rights will be seen to be implemented North and South in the same way as the offence is punished North and South.
The alternative is that this is a Bill only to punish. There are many occasions in the experience of man when punishment is necessary. Equally there are many occasions, and criminal lawyers particularly will recognise this, when it is even more important —this was demonstrated even within our own jurisdiction and administration recently—that all concerned groups in society, young people, all of them, look more at the causes of criminality rather than at the punishment of the delinquent. The whole cry within our society at present is to eradicate the causes. Where, if anywhere, in this legislation is there any attempt to eradicate the causes? I know we are told that by presenting this Bill we will win some support, some tolerance and some understanding from those who might not understand us as well as they should. That may be, but it does not get at the fact that the very people at whom this Bill is being directed certainly will be, unless human experience changes radically, if anything more determined as a result of this legislation.
They will not see it in any agency to ensure that their rights are not infringed. Their rights can be infringed on occasion. The rights of convicted criminals can be infringed and the rights of people charged with criminal offences before the court pending trial can and have been infringed. Before passing this legislation, we have an obligation to ensure that those who will be charged and those who will be convicted under legislation of this nature will have the same guarantee as they have under any other legislation. That is totally lacking in this Bill.
The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs may reject this but that is his personal opinion. While we share a common aim, I regret to say that this Bill will not succeed in doing what all of us on each side of the House want to see achieved, the apprehension of those engaged in crimes of violence and, more important, the creation of conditions in which those people will see the folly and the utter madness of what they are now engaged in.
We are a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. We are not a signatory just for idle reasons and for window dressing. We have proved this on more than one occasion. When the occasion arose for this State to be tested as to its right under the Offences Against the State legislation, we were one of the very first to come before the court on Human Rights to be tested on the famous Lawless affair, to be tested and to be vindicated. At no stage during the course of that famous affair did we suggest they had no right of jurisdiction over us. Far from it. We relied on the fact that the legislation under which we operated was in accordance with the terms of the convention which we recognised to be binding. The outcome was that it was so held. This was our attitude then as it must be now.
Is the United Kingdom bound by the Convention on Human Rights, and, if not, why not? Is not the United Kingdom a signatory to that convention? At the moment we have a complaint against Britain arising from internment, detention and treatment. What guarantee is there under this legislation that such will not continue? What guarantee is there that this legislation will be subject to the conditions of that convention? Have we accepted that this legislation will incorporate the rights of the individual citizen under the Convention on Human Rights? If not why not? Is there any guarantee for the individual citizen that this legislation will not infringe those rights North or South? If there is no such guarantee, why is there not?
It is rather anomalous that, while we still have a complaint pending at Strasbourg before the Court of Human Rights based on brutality, torture and inhuman treatment of prisoners—it is still there and has not yet been resolved—the Government have asked this Parliament to implement procedures under which we will co-operate fully with the very structures against which we are complaining, without any guarantee under this convention, or any commitment, that these complaints will not arise again. None of us can wash our hands and say how pure we are as against any other Administration. The important point is that this guarantee must be there.
I would go so far as to say that if we at this end were to incorporate the Convention on Human Rights into our law and have it binding on us internally and equally at the other end they were bound and involved in the same way, perhaps we could begin to make some progress. That is why I see our party's proposal as being very much more effective, more desirable and, in the final analysis, much more likely to bring about what all of us want to see, the termination of this terrible and continuing violence, and an awareness and a development of understanding among those who are engaged in it that their deeds are bringing nothing but death and destruction and shame on all and guaranteeing that they will continue indefinitely.
Our court proposal, in comparison with the Government's proposal, would envisage two things for the all-Ireland court. It would incorporate a guarantee of the rights of individual citizens under the Convention on Human Rights. It would be a new court and, as our own courts now are, it would be amenable to the Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg and, instead of just confining itself to the punishment of offences, it would also guarantee that the rights of individual citizens would be protected.
Let me say in passing in this connection that as late as last week I represented an individual who complained that he had been falsely imprisoned by the Garda. Because of the respect in which the Garda are held, the complaint assumed a more important dimension than it normally would. In fact, that individual was vindicated in his complaint. If that can happen as late as last week in our society, where we have such respect for the Garda, where we recognise what they have achieved for us, surely we must at least acknowledge that it can happen in a society where, to say the least of it, the police force are not as acceptable or as widely respected as they are here. Surely that is a very important consideration in legislation of this sort.
We are not just concerned with giving impressions of our willingness or conveying a notion of our concern. We must go beyond impressions and notions and ensure by our actions that they will be effective and consistent with our hopes. This Bill, in so far as it does not guarantee that, is a pale shadow of what otherwise could be achieved. It has been said that the all-Ireland court procedure is probably the more acceptable and better procedure but what is the point, in fact, because it is not on, to use the Minister's own expression. I should like to know from the Minister to what extent it is not on, and who precisely has indicated to the Minister that it is not on.
We go back to Sunningdale. Much has passed since Sunningdale. How much persuasion and negotiation have our Government engaged in with those who say it is not on? Have they tried to get through to them that together we can achieve this peace and harmony which is meant to be the ultimate intention behind this Bill, and the eradication of violence, only through the all Ireland court procedure? What response have they got, if they ever said that, from those who apparently acknowledge that this is what they wish to do. Have they said: "Oh, yes. We know it is the best way but we just will not have it because we do not wish to co-operate with you?" Have we evidence of that? Have we evidence that they said: "This is the best way but we will not have any structure which involves all Ireland co-operation." I doubt very much that they said it in that form. Have they said it?
We are not now talking in terms of a united Ireland or bringing pressure to bear on any section of the community. We are talking about the termination of this terrible chain of violence, particularly in the North, but also in the South as we witnessed vividly recently. If we are involved together in the causes and in the destruction, surely we cannot settle for less than the ideal because a section of the community say it is not on. It has not been on, apparently, for the past two years. There is no point in relying on the commission. The commission said quite clearly that they found this proposal very attractive. Equally, they said quite clearly that the only reason they were not proposing it was the delay involved and the delay would involve a referendum. We on both sides of the House could guarantee that the outcome of that referendum would be absolutely and positively so.
Let us look at the reality. Are we to allow ourselves to be the hostages of a group, whatever that group may be and whoever represent them, who say,"Right. That may be the ideal, what you are proposing"—and the Minister seems to accept it in his speech—"but even if it is the ideal to achieve even the short-term of apprehending and punishing offenders we will not have it because we do not like to have any formal and unified association with you"? If that is the case it is certainly not something we can accept and it is not something that we should not make our views known on. I do not believe in imposing views on others. We can all try to vindicate ourselves at the expense of others. But, if the view is that what we propose and what the Government apparently believe is the better proposal then surely we have an obligation to persuade that limited number of those concerned that this is the way to do it?