The 1939 Act and all that went with it has been criticised and regarded as oppressive and so forth, and its amendment in 1972 was criticised even more roundly, and indeed that attack was lead by the present Minister. I have a concept in relation to the laws we are discussing and nothing that has been said on either side of the House has disturbed my belief that there is much more law than we need. The fact that some of the penalties that it is proposed to adjust here have never been invoked in 37 years is clear evidence that instead of adding to these things we should be deleting them. As I said, I agree with the ten times multiplication tables being applied where money fines are concerned, as between now and 1939.
Over the years in this and every other democracy, and reflected in the Governments of those democracies, there has been a tendency to reduce terms of imprisonment, to make jails and such places of detention much more comfortable and to use the time of people that are incarcerated in those places as a time for mending and correcting their ways. That is my concept, and it is generally accepted. Yet here, against the background of 1972 when the present Minister did his nut because of the extension of laws in this direction, in the amendment of the 1939 Act, and despite the repeated criticisms that I have heard over the years about the terms of the 1939 Act, we have a situation today—deriving from a phoney declared national emergency that does not exist in so far as the terms of the Constitution are concerned—where all of us on both sides of the House are trying to see which of us can outdo the other to show what law abiding people we are and how concerned we are about law and order.
This is not a competition to see who can go the furthest. In the last hour or so we seem to have lost sight of what we are here for. Ten times a 50 pence fine as against 1939 makes sense unfortunately, because that is the way money values have gone. Ten times two years, as against 1939, and transposing ourselves into 1976 is out-landish, ludicrous and ridiculous, and can only bring the law and those who make it into contempt. We can only look at what the Minister has already said in a statement on an earlier Stage of this Bill referring to this section. He said that the Government are satisfied that the maximum penalties in the 1939 Act are totally inadequate in present circumstances. What does the Minister mean by "present circumstances"? What are the dire circumstances that we are in now over and above what we were in in 1939 and any time since? How does the Minister qualify this matter of present circumstances, bringing about a situation where the maximum penalties provided for in 1939 are now totally inadequate? Are we moving into an era where we believe that more and greater sentences should be added and that all the lark about prison reform, improving the lot of the prisoners, trying to send them out better than when they came in being the obligation of society to those who err, can only be regarded as a lark? Is the answer now to multiply sentences by ten?
In the first four subsections of section 2 each sentence is multiplied by ten. Over the years the penalty of life for murder has worked out at about an average of seven years. Who are we kidding, and why are we talking about multiplication by ten? Deputy Collins has already pointed out three instances, referred to in this subsection, of offences provided for in 1939 in respect of which no case was ever taken in 37 years, with a two-year penalty where the penalty is multiplied by ten now. The charge about window-dressing surely must be near the mark. In another case either Deputy Collins or another speaker from the Fianna Fáil benches mentioned an offence that was provided for with a two-year penalty, and the law was invoked only once, and that penalty is also multiplied by ten. This of course is in keeping with our improving and enlightening ways, our social conscience about society's care for those who are jailed, so that we may reform them rather than punish them. There are other penalties that have been used very seldom. The Minister in his Second Reading contribution in an attempt to justify that situation, in reference to the total inadequacy of the 1939 Act penalties as related to present circumstances, said:
This applies not only to offences that are the subject of frequent prosecutions such as membership of an unlawful organisation——
If you did not have that one you would have nothing at all——
but also to offences such as the obstruction by any form of intimidation of the carrying on of the government of the State which are contrary to section 7 of the 1939 Act but some of which appear to be difficult in practice to prove so that prosecutions for them are infrequent.
Is that the reason for the use of the multiplication table? If we cannot take them because of difficulty in proving them is that why we decide to use the multiplication table and say the penalty will be 20 years instead of two years? That is the Minister's answer to the non-taking of prosecutions under section 7. If in difficulty, multiply by ten. The Government must be up to their ears in difficulties of all sorts because not only do they multiply sentences by ten but they also multiply fines by ten. They are apparently in severe difficulty.
The Minister went on to say:
Infrequent though prosecutions for them may be, these are very serious offences and the maximum penalty for them should reflect that fact.
Are they more serious now than they were at any time in the last 37 years? How much more serious? Why are they more serious than they were in 1972, for instance, when the Minister was doing his nut in opposing the Offences Against the State Act then being promoted by the Fianna Fáil Government? Why are they more serious than they were in 1939 when we were facing into the unknown, facing a world conflict? Are they more serious because the Government have abused the privileges and procedures of the Oireachtas to declare a national emergency? Conceivably that is the only thing that can be used by the Minister and the Government to justify this statement that things are more serious now as compared with any other time.
The Minister then goes on to say that the penalty imposed should reflect the seriousness of such offences and, for the purposes of reflection, he multiplies the penalty by ten. He says:
In providing for this, it is also desirable, as a matter of principle, to retain an appropriate internal relationship between the various offences specified in the 1939 Act.
I love the Minister's sense of relativity. It is not sufficient to trump up the situation in an attempt to justify the multiplication by ten of sentences and fines but we must also have regard, as a matter of principle, to retaining an appropriate internal relationship between the various offences specified in the 1939 Act. A nice, symmetrical pattern, I presume, far back in the recesses of the Minister's mind. This nice "internal relationship" tickles me as I have no doubt it will tickle those who will get ten or 20 years instead of two months or two years for some offence or other.
The Minister continues:
...Accordingly, if a maximum penalty of 20 years is provided, as the Bill proposes, for an offence against section 7 of the 1939 Act— an offence referred to in the sidenote to the section as "obstruction of government"—it would be inappropriate to have a lower maximum penalty for an offence under section 6—an offence described in the sidenote as "usurpation of functions of Government", even though there have been few if any prosecutions for offences against section 6. It would be inappropriate because an offence under section 6 could not in principle be regarded as of a lesser order of importance than an offence under section 7.
We are in this strange wonderland of this creation by the Minister of an internal relationship and a new principle to justify not having a lesser penalty applying to offences under section 7 as against those committed under section 6. We can expect, I suppose, as we move through the sections to find a further progression in regard to this internal relationship and this new principle, merely for the purpose presumably of keeping things tidy. The Minister comes in here with this kind of gobbledegook to justify what he is doing on the basis of present circumstances, circumstances which seem to be ten times worse than they were in 1939, and everything is multiplied by ten to convince us apparently that we are being cared for and looked after and that there is no danger to us and, if there should be danger, the Government will ensure by their multiplication tables and the symmetrical relativities that we will be safe.
The Minister goes on:
I have mentioned the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation,
I like the use of the singular noun there. That is highlighted by the clearly evident obsession not merely of the Minister but of the entire Government induced by their own propaganda or, perhaps, listening to their friends' propaganda from across the Border and the channel. I shall repeat that quotation:
I have mentioned the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation, the maximum penalty for which is two years, a maximum which the Bill proposes to raise to seven years...
It hurts me when I see two being raised only to seven in this case. I had been built up by the Minister for this as he called it "appropriate internal relationship". He has now departed from the ten times table and moved only from two to seven. Having expected the continuation of this new-found principle of the Minister, the two to seven strikes a jarring note. But then I find this is moving back a little towards sanity, even though it is draft to be talking about seven years as against two. If it was too good and more than enough in 1972 according to the then Deputy Cooney, now Minister for Justice, surely to God it is good enough today? If it was sufficient in 1939, why is it not sufficient now? Not an iota has the Minister produced to indicate why what was sufficient in 1939, again in 1972, and since then, is insufficient now to the point that two years must become seven.
The Minister continued:
I am aware that the point has been made more than once in recent times that such a proposal is irrelevant in view of the fact that the courts seldom if ever impose the present maximum.
Take good note of what follows, the most disturbing part of the whole operation of the Minister for Justice. It would indicate on the part of the Minister a state of mind very questionable as to its stability. I continue to quote him: "I mention this point because it is one that calls for an answer." One would be entitled to ask what calls for what answer. Why is the answer needed or who asked the question in the first place? The Minister continues:
I am satisfied that there is an answer and a good one and it is this...
Who asked the question? Who is concerned about the answer? At any rate, the Minister has a good one and he is going to let us have it.
The courts, when deciding on a penalty, have to take account of the fact that a particular maximum is prescribed by law and it is a fair assumption...
The first is a fact and the next an assumption, fair in the Minister's estimation and I continue to quote:
that they look on that maximum as something that ought to be reserved for the exceptional circumstances—what one might describe as the worst cases as shown by the evidence before them.
Is the Minister telling us, contrary to what I had always understood, that when we set down penalties on the Statute Book thereafter it is entirely a matter for the Judiciary at whatever level to make their own determination, not to be led in any way by the nose in so far as any asides that we, as Ministers or Members of this House, care to subscribe to the Bill or any qualification or condition they do not arise? That is what I believe to be the case.
I am not finished with this extraordinary performance of the Minister in that I wish to continue this quotation:
If, however, the Oireachtas decides to increase that maximum substantially, the courts are then discharging their functions in a new framework and they can, and I have no doubt will, take account not only of the wider discretion allowed by the new law but also of the clear intentions of the Oireachtas as to the inherent seriousness of the crime.
Here we come to the real nub. The Minister sets up the question. He proposes to answer it and goes on to answer it. All of this is preparatory to telling the Judiciary what they are to do, how they are to do it. And the reason they are to do it not because of their judgment, as judges, sitting in their judicial capacity but because of the clear intentions of the Oireachtas, by using the ten times multiplication table, increasing the sentences to be served from two years to 20, as provided for in the 1939 Act and continued in some parts of the 1972 Act.
The Minister and the Government must be near bereft of their senses. They must be very short of anything useful they could be doing about the job they properly have to do, which is to run the country other than into the ground, which they are successfully doing—if that can be called success—at a rate never before achieved even by their two previous Coalition efforts of 1954 and 1948.
I would commend that speech of the Minister as reading that should not be neglected by any Member of this House, any public person, organisation or body. Indeed, it should be made compulsory reading for the general public and would be better prescribed as reading for some of our school classes than some of the history books more recently prescribed by the Minister for Education who wants to get the Fine Gael version of our recent history through our schools by saying: "You must buy a new book this year". Anyhow that is the best piece of reading in the shortest possible space of time anybody could come across, being part of the Minister's introductory speech on Second Stage. Nothing I could say now or later could so condemn the whole proposal in section 2 or the idea behind the Bill. It is all exposed there. It is a mere lark on the part of the Government to divert attention from their inadequacies in other directions, giving a certain impression to the outside world—and their world ends at Westminster although they do travel much further on occasions—their real world, probably enviously looking at part of that crumbling empire that once was very great and of which we are no longer part. Here we have the effort of the Government, put down in three-staged movements—our declaration of emergency, our Emergency Powers Bill, followed by this gem before us. The secondary, if not the primary reason for this is to give our assurance to those who were once our masters and our occupiers that we are still their subjects and their servants, to give our assurance that we will do things that they are not doing themselves, and do them to our own people.
This is the sort of operation that this legislation will carry out. Not-withstanding anything that has been said, I am left with the ever-increasing conviction that we are trying to create something that does not exist, namely, a national emergency on the security front.
During the small hours of this morning I came through the Six Counties, into Monaghan and down to Dublin. I remember saying last week when I travelled the same way that I did not see a uniform once I left the British Army until I got to Dublin. This time I can say that I saw one garda in uniform from the time I left the British Army at Auchnacloy at 3 a.m. this morning until I came to Dublin and yet a state of national emergency has been declared.
All this gobbledegook hinges on the national emergency declared by both Houses of the Oireachtas to abuse the Article of the Constitution that has been invoked. The Government should do all they can to get our people to work themselves out of the economic dilemma we are in; they should stop trying to pull the wool over our eyes by this kind of diversionary tactic.