We are here dealing with a Bill giving additional powers to the Garda authorities and to the Army to deal with the situation the Government say exists. I feel I have a right to talk about that situation, as I see it. Otherwise we have no business what soever here discussing an Emergency Powers Bill.
The Taoiseach laid all the blame for the situation as it exists—which they hope to handle if this Emergency Powers Bill becomes law—at the door of the IRA. But it is fair to say that a number of these robberies, armed or otherwise, committed in the State since 1974 were surely committed by persons who were just plain criminals with no political connotations whatsoever or indeed possibly any connection with illegal organisations. That aside, the Taoiseach laid the blame for this catalogue of events and crimes at the door of the IRA and stated:
The challenge is from a body operating within the State but organised on a 32-county basis and with a substantial armed membership in Northern Ireland. In the Government's view, the situation requires that the Government should be able to take emergency powers to whatever extent may be necessary to crush the armed conspiracy against lives and democratic government which faces the nation.
After those dire words and threats of doom, and claims that the Government would take emergency powers to whatever extent may be necessary to crush the armed conspiracy against the Government and the nation, we find that in the totality of the legislation and the powers proposed be taken by the Government under the provisions of the Bill we are now discussing there is a provision that a member of the Garda Síochána, with the authority of a chief superintendent, may keep a person in custody for a period of seven days instead of the present two days. As was suggested yesterday by speakers on this side of the House, perhaps it is now nine days altogether rather than seven.
I do not know whether the Government think that the entire nation are fools. In how many cases in the Taoiseach's catalogue of crime committed since 1974, ranging from murder to hi-jacking, to robbery, to bombing, and on the basis of which this House and Seanad Éireann have now passed a state of emergency, would the murder, robbery, the hi-jacking, or bombing not have taken place if the Garda had had the extra five days to keep people in custody? I wonder in how many of those cases was the Taoiseach or the Minister for Justice able to suggest that the murder, the bombing, the hi-jacking or wounding would not have occurred had the Garda been able to solve the crimes by bringing their perpetrators to trail, to conviction and to punishment by a properly constituted court if, at the relevant time when the bombing, murder or robbery had taken place the Garda could have kept a suspect, or any other person, for that matter in custody for seven instead of two days.
It seems strange, and I believe it to be stretching the credulity of the nation beyond belief, that a state of national emergency had to be declared by the Oireachtas in special session purely for the purpose of extending from two to seven days the time during which the police can hold a suspect for questioning. If, as the Taoiseach would have us believe, either this horrific catalogue of crimes which has taken place since his Government came in to office would not have occurred or else, had they occurred, would have been solved by the simple expedient of giving the Garda seven instead of two days in which to question and hold persons in custody the first question that arises is why was this power not sought a long time ago?
Yesterday afternoon when the Leader of the Opposition spoke in this House he asked the Taoiseach directly whether he, or some Minister, would give an undertaking to the House that no other legislation was contemplated by the Government should the declaration of emergency be passed. As far as I am aware no such undertaking in this regard has been given from the Government side. Indeed, the Taoiseach's speech at the end of the discussion this afternoon certainly was one that could by no means be described as appropriate for a Taoiseach's speech, particularly on an important constitutional occasion. It consisted mainly of an attack on the Opposition party, raking over the coals of past dissensions, resurrecting old sores and battles long since assigned to oblivion. I believe it was a small and petty party political tirade on behalf of the Taoiseach; certainly unworthy of a Taoiseach on any occasion but particularly unsuitable for a serious occasion such as this.
The proposition put forward by the Taoiseach yesterday was that experience had shown that the 48-hour period during which people could be held in custody was often insufficient for the completion of Garda inquiries. I beg leave to doubt very much that proposition of the Taoiseach. It has happened in the past 12 to 18 months that where a person had been detained for 48 hours in a Garda station for questioning that when he was released the Garda thereupon immediately picked him up a few seconds later and held him for a renewed period of 48 hours. It is a practice that has been criticised by the courts but nonetheless has taken place. I do not accept— nor indeed do the Fianna Fáil Party— that the present 48-hour period is, or has been, insufficient for the Garda to conduct their inquiries or their interrogation of the person they are holding in custody. Nor do I accept or believe that the Garda themselves require an extension of this period from two to seven days. What must be kept continually in mind by Deputies and by the public at large is that the present period of two days which the Garda have has been allied to and used in conjuction with the powers which this party ensured they would have in their fight against unlawful organisations, given to them by section 3 of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act, 1972. The position is that, since the passing of that Act— passed in the teeth of calumny, half-truths, obstruction and deceit by members of the present Government—it has become possible for a chief superintendent of the Garda Síochána to give evidence in court proceedings stating that he, the chief superintendent, believes an accused person to have been at a material time a member of an unlawful organisation, whereupon such a statement shall be evidence that the accused was then such a member.
In passing might I say that the Taoiseach this evening, in full stride in his vicious attack on members of our party, in his claim that dissensions exist in our party should well cast his mind back to November/December of 1972 when he was completely thrown overboard by members of his own party during the course of the discussion of the amendment of the Offences against the State Act. If the Taoiseach wants to talk about a dissension within any political party, let him look at his own party, his Cabinet and see on how many of them he could depend for loyalty on the particular night that the bombs went off in the city of Dublin that drummed him through the "yes" or "no" lobbies here.
I do not propose to remind the Taoiseach of the problems he had in his party in 1972. I believe that the business before the House is far too serious to introduce into it the type of debate, or continue the type of debate brought into it this afternoon by the Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach has laid it unequivocally on the line that what is intended by the state of emergency being declared and the consequent emergency legislation is to give the security forces further and better ammunition in their fight against unlawful organisations. There is no room for doubt in what the Taoiseach said. It is unlawful organisations, principally the Provisional IRA and their members, who are the targets of this legislation. I cannot see that this legislation adds one whit to the powers necessary to give the Garda to conduct their fight against illegal organisations and their members because apart from the suspects whom the Garda have kept in custody for much longer than 48 hours by the expedient of having several periods of 48 hours in almost direct succession, there have been more cases where after a particular crime or offence had been committed the Garda took a considerable number into custody. Having questioned them for 48 hours they let them go with no charge whatever, not even membership of an illegal organisation, and where evidence to support such could be given on the verbal evidence of a chief superintendent it was never brought against any of those people held in custody.
Yesterday afternoon when speaking in the debate on the declaration of a state of emergency I said that the real weapon given to the Garda against the IRA was that given them by this party when we were in Government in 1972. I also stated when speaking on that motion the reservations I have in relation to the absence from the Long Title of this Bill of the phrase "time of war", that in order to attract the protection of Article 28.3.3º of the Constitution a Bill must be "expressed to be for the purposes of securing the public safety and the preservation of the State in time of war or armed rebellion." That was the way the Emergency Powers Act, 1939, was described in its Long Title and I believe this Bill should include in its Long Title a reference to the phrase "time of war" if it is to attract the constitutional protection envisaged by Article 28.
I believe that the failure of the Government to have the "time of war" mentioned in the Long Title was a political decision of the Government and one that was made deliberately. It was not as a result of an oversight or a decision on the part of the parliamentary draftsman. If that is correct it was a deliberate political decision of the Government to abstain from using that phrase in the Long Title. It copperfastens my belief that this entire exercise of emergency motions and Bills and of criminal law Bills is, as was described by so many speakers yesterday, nothing less than window-dressing.
I believe that the first person detained under this measure if it becomes law will challenge its constitutionality on those grounds. Even now it may be a reasonable test of the bona fides of the Government as to whether they will amend the Long Title. If the Government are serious about the state of emergency and the necessity for the provisions of this Bill the last matter they will wish to have left in any doubt is that the provisions of the Bill attract the constitutional protection I have mentioned.
I have already mentioned the request made by Deputy Lynch in the House yesterday afternoon as to whether any further legislation is contemplated. If this Bill is not merely a piece of window-dressing, the alternative may be that the Government at this moment are contemplating much more far-reaching and drastic legislation once the state of national emergency has been declared. The Oireachtas is entitled to pass any legislation it pleases provided such legislation is expressed to be for the purpose of securing the public safety and the preservation of the State in time of war. Not merely will the Act be immune from judicial scrutiny but also immune from judicial scrutiny will be all administrative acts done or purporting to be done in pursuance of the Act. This means that the powers of questioning proposed in this Bill are much more extensive than appear at first sight becuase if this Bill is passed any questioning can be done over a period of a full seven days. This questioning or interrogation will be carried out as acts purporting to be done in pursuance of the provisions of the Bill.
I am sure that at this late stage the Minister and the Government are well aware that there is a grave fear in the land that the powers proposed to be given to the Garda under this Bill are much too far-reaching. Expressed simply, these fears come down to this: if the Garda have a person in for interrogation for 48 hours as they can do at any moment and if at the end of the 48 hours they are still no wiser than when the suspect came into their custody what means will be employed that will ensure that a person who maintained a silence for two days? will speak at the end of seven days? The Garda are a body of persons accepted by and acceptable to the citizens of the State since the force was established. Nevertheless, this House must be careful that even a body of persons such as the Garda Síochána who enjoy the support and the confidence of the community are not given excessive powers.
We have only to look at this Government collectively, and at individual members in particular, to see the change that the accession to power can make in certain persons no matter how normal they may appear at first. If the newspaper reports of a week ago are correct, the European Commission on Human Rights have found the British security forces guilty of breaches of article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights in relation to the questioning of suspects. I do not for one moment equate what I have read to have happened in Northern Ireland with anything that is likely to happen in this jurisdiction if these powers are given to the Garda Síochána. Nevertheless the risk is there when it is proposed to give powers such as this Bill proposes to give to them.
I fully appreciate that any statement or suggestion I make about the mere possibility of the ill-treatment of any person while in the custody of the Garda Síochána for seven days for the purposes of interrogation will be misinterpreted by the Government, the Government parties and the publicity machine at their disposal under the personal supervision of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. Nevertheless, I believe it would be equally irresponsible for me, as the Fianna Fáil spokesman on Justice not to refer on this Stage of the Bill to the fact that in the past year or two there have been numerous allegations made that persons have been ill-treated while in Garda custody for interrogation. Those allegations have been made. I am not in any position to say if they are correct. I suppose an immediate answer is that if those allegations were correct civil actions would have been brought by various people against the Garda. Perhaps the Minister will say if any such actions have been taken and if so at what stage they are.
I anticipate the Minister will say that if a statement from a suspected person is wrongly and illegally taken it will not be admitted in evidence at the trial of that person. These are reservations about the allegations made about some members of the Garda which I do not repeat in the House. I merely draw attention to the fact that the allegations have been made. It is important for the House to bear this in mind when considering the powers proposed to be given to the Garda in this Bill and when the House comes to deal with the amendments I intend to propose to the Bill and our reason for putting those amendments to the House. It seems equally important to me, from the point of view of the administration of justice and from the point of view of the continuing good name of the Garda Síochána, that an opportunity is not given either to the Garda to do anything excessive or that an opportunity is not given to anyone who has been in custody, under the terms of this Bill, to make such allegations.
We intend at the appropriate time to place amendments before the House which will ensure that a person, under the provisions of this Bill, will have the right of access to his legal and medical advisers. We will also propose amendments to the effect that the next-of-kin and the legal and medical advisers of such a person in custody have the right to know the whereabouts of such person and where he is being held in custody.
I am entitled at this stage to express some apprehension about the use of the phrase "other convenient place" in section 2 (3) of the Bill. This provides that a suspect person may be kept in custody for a period of seven days in a Garda station, a prison or other convenient place. I do not know the purpose for leaving it nuclear where the person in custody should be kept.
I can appreciate the circumstances in which the Garda may wish to bring a person in for questioning and may not wish to use the local Garda station but I do not see any difficulty in removing such a person to another Garda station some distance away or to a prison or place where a person might be expected to be kept in custody. I am not happy with the phrase "other convenient place". I hope the Minister will explain to the House what he has in mind in regard to this particular phrase.
On Committee Stage we will propose, if compelled to do so, that if the period of detention is to be increased from 48 hours to seven days the Minister for Justice must make that decision. If the House is being asked to give those powers to the Garda Síochána it seems entirely proper to me, especially as any acts done in compliance with the Bill, if it is passed, will be immune from review by the courts. It seems proper then that the Minister must take the responsibility of deciding when that extended period of detention is to take place. The provisions of the Bill, if it is passed, may not be reviewed in any court. At least, the Minister for Justice is answerable in the House but a member of the Garda Síochána is not.
We are also concerned that the time limit for the operation of this Bill should be limited to 12 months unless Dáil Éireann by resolution provides for its extension for a further 12 months. I do not believe that the powers sought to be given to the Garda in this Bill have the slightest thing whatsoever to do with the solving of any crime or, indeed, the prevention of any crime any more than I believe the Taoiseach or the Government when they say that it is necessary to declare a state of emergency. Nothing that has been said so far on the Government side in relation to this Bill or during the debate yesterday and today on the declaration of a state of emergency leaves me with any choice but to believe other than that the whole performance is just an exercise in window dressing motivated by an unworthy Government for suspect political motives. I believe this House and the Seanad are being mislead and that there is in readiness, now that the state of emergency has been declared, far more drastic legislation which the Government are not prepared to disclose to the elected representatives.
It is immaterial what the motive is. The Government are prepared in every other regard to sacrifice any principle they ever held and sacrifice the well-being of the country at any stage for the sake of cheap political advantage. We will try to put into this Bill at the appropriate time appropriate safeguards. Unless the Minister is prepared to accept those—nothing he has said so far encourages us to believe that he will—this party will vote against the Bill.
I listened very carefully yesterday and today to the contributions by members of the Government parties on the motion before the House. It was obvious that a number of those who spoke did not understand what is at stake. That depressed me. A picture was painted that if the declaration of emergency was passed, if this Emergency Powers Bill, 1976, was passed those who assassinated the British Ambassador and Miss Cooke would be caught, brought before the courts and dealt with. We were told that the Green Street courthouse inciden would never have happened if the Government had those powers. There is on the Statute Book sufficient legislation to deal with those assassins, find them, get them wherever they are, bring them before the court and let the court decide what their fate is. A declaration of emergency is not needed for that. A declaration of emergency is not needed to find out who planted the bombs in Green Street courthouse. An emergency powers Bill is not necessary in order to bring these people before the courts so that there might be meted out to them the justice they deserve. Is this motion not mere window dressing? The main reason for our being back here this week in this recalled Dáil to discuss the Emergency Powers Bill is the over-reaction on the part of the Government at their failure to maintain law and order. Will this Bill, if it is passed do anything to bring before the courts those people who flew helicopters into our prison yards or who drove armoured trucks through the gates of our prisons?