Private Notice Question. - European Convention on Suppression of Terrorism.

Mr. J. Collins

asked the Taoiseach if, in view of his announcement at Westminster that Ireland will sign the European Convention on the Suppression of Terriorism next week, he will make a statement explaining: (a) what has happened to make the view of the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 29 January 1986, that Irish extradition laws had not "progressed sufficiently" for the country to sign the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism immediately no longer operative; (b) the radical reforms which have taken place in the Northern legal and judicial system which would prevent future abuse of the extradition procedure and ensure a fair trial for persons extradited; (c) the reason he has taken no account of the clear objections of the SDLP to extradition, expressed as recently as last November; and (d) if it is his view now that the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act of 1976 cannot continue to provide a more acceptable alternative so long as there is an absence of confidence in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland.

The joint communique issued after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on 15 November 1985 stated:

(The Conference) will concentrate at its initial meetings on:

—relations between the security forces and the minority community in Northern Ireland;

—ways of enhancing security co-operation between the two Governments; and

—seeking measures which would give substantial expression to the aim of underlining the importance of public confidence in the administration of justice.

In the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland the two sides are committed to work for early progress in these matters. Against this background, the Taoiseach said that it was the intention of his Government to accede as soon as possible to the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.

Since the Hillsborough meeting the Government have been examining the manner in which they should adhere to the European Convention in accordance with that commitment, the constitutional objections to which had been removed as a result of decisions of the Supreme Court. They concluded at their meeting earlier this week that they could appropriately initiate this process by signing the convention, then preparing and introducing legislation to modify existing extradition provisions in a manner to secure their conformity with the convention, and, finally, after the enactment of this legislation, ratifying the convention.

While this review was in progress the first three meetings of the conference were held, together with a meeting involving the Minister for Justice, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and the two Attorneys General. At these meetings early progress was made with matters referred to in the paragraph of the communique that I have cited, work on which will, of course, take some time to bring to fruition.

In the light of this early progress, and the conclusions reached by Government as to the method of adhering to the convention, I announced yesterday the Government's intention to sign the convention in Strasbourg next week. The Minister for Justice will introduce the necessary legislation in the autumn. The provisions of our present law under which the courts determine in each case the issue of whether a person should be extradited will, of course, be preserved in this new legislation.

The main feature of the convention is that Article 1 states that offences including hijacking, attacks against diplomats, kidnapping and the taking of hostages, offences involving the use of a bomb, grenade, rocket, automatic gun or a letter or parcel bomb if the use endangers persons will not be regarded as political for the purposes of extradition between the contracting states.

The convention has been signed by all member states of the Council of Europe except Malta and this country and has been ratified by 13 states. The legislation to be introduced to give effect to the convention will not, of course, exclude action under the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act, 1976 at the option of the party in whose jurisdiction the offence has been committed.

The Government are entirely satisfied that the vast majority of the people of Ireland do not wish to see people who resort to murder and violent crimes of the type covered by the convention escape justice, on the grounds that these crimes are political. These crimes are the very antithesis of the basic requirements of political activity.

Would the Taoiseach agree that the Hillsborough Agreement required early progress on measures which, and I quote, "would give substantial expression to the aim of underlying the importance of public confidence in the administration of justice" as a precondition for accession to the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism? Would he agree also that there has been no such progress and that a number of events occurred since the Hillsborough Agreement, for example, the conviction of 27 on the evidence of a supergrass, unaccompanied UDR patrols involved in shooting incidents, killings by an SAS unit who were in plain clothes and other such incidents which continue to undermine public confidence in the whole Northern security system?

What was said and what I cited textually in the communique was that after the reference, "committed to work for early progress in these matters", the Taoiseach said that it was the intention of his Government to accede as soon as possible to the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.

I have great difficulty in hearing the Taoiseach. Perhaps his microphone is not switched in.

Sorry. What I have done is to cite the full text of the relevant part of the communique in which reference is made to the commitment of the two sides to work for early progress in this matter and against this background I said it was the intention of my Government to accede as soon as possible to the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. There has been early progress with the matters in question. They have preoccupied two of the three meetings of the conference and also the meeting between the former Minister for Justice, the Northern Ireland Secretary and the two Attorneys General. As I indicated earlier in reply to questions about the work of the Conference, I will be confined necessarily to citing from the communiques. I am happy to do so in relation to these matters but the Deputy will appreciate that I cannot go beyond what is stated in the communiques. That is a limitation that I think the Opposition have accepted.

At the Conference meeting of 11 December it was stated that the Conference discussed the development of a programme of measures to improve relations between the security forces and the minority community in Northern Ireland. The Conference considered the steps which were being taken progressively applying the principle that the armed forces, including the UDR, operate only in support of the civil power with the particular objective of ensuring as rapidly as possible that, save in the most exceptional circumstances, there is a police presence in all operations which involve direct contact with the community. The Chief Constable of the RUC stated this objective as being in accordance with existing RUC policy. The Conference agreed also that the RUC and the armed forces must not only discharge their duties evenhandedly and with equal respect for the Unionist and Nationalist identities and traditions but must be seen by both communities to be doing so. The Chief Constable of the RUC advised the Conference that a number of other UK police forces were introducing codes of conduct and that in consultation with the Police Authority he had been preparing for some time and would introduce as soon as possible in 1986 a code which would include these matters.

The Conference agreed to establish a working group of officials to consider the machinery for the further discussion of legal matters including the administration of justice.

At the Third Conference on 10 January 1986, the communique in relation to that Conference stated that the Conference instructed officials to continue with discussions with a view to a meeting, before the next meeting of the Conference, of a subgroup of the Conference comprising, on the Irish side, the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General and, on the British side, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and the Attorney General. After that meeting which was arranged after the third meeting of the Conference, a communique was issued that British and Irish Ministers met in London within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference to discuss legal matters, including the administration of justice. It was stated also that Ministers authorised further work by officials on matters of mutual concern in accordance with the terms of Article 8 of the agreement; that these included measures relating to extradition, the possible harmonisation of areas of the criminal law and the search for measures to enhance public confidence in the administration of justice. The statement continued that the Ministers took note of practical steps being taken by the two Attorneys General to enhance co-operation in legal matters.

Surely the Taoiseach will agree that since the Hillsborough Agreement we have less public confidence in the whole Northern security system than was the case before. Would he not agree that since the agreement we have had such incidents as the conviction of 27 persons in the Kirkpatrick trial which took place on 17 December 1975, that two unarmed civilians were shot and injured by a six man UDR patrol with an RUC escort on 28 January this year, that a man was shot dead by an SAS group in civilian clothing at Toomebridge, County Tyrone, on 18 February this year? There has been no explanation for the latter event so far, though the Minister for Foreign Affairs is seeking one. In addition, since the agreement five UDR men are being tried this week for the murder in November 1983 of Adrian Carroll and Seamus Mallon has complained about increased harassment on the part of the UDR since the agreement. Also, there were RUC men out of uniform at the anti Hillsborough demonstrations and the Police Federation spokesman, Allen Wright, stated it was unfair to expect the RUC to impose the agreement. On Sunday last the GAA team from Crossmaglen were detained for more than an hour by an unaccompanied UDR patrol. Is the Taoiseach serious in expecting us to believe that the situation has improved?

I do not agree with the Deputy.

The Taoiseach must face facts.

I find it very curious that he should cite the fact that a number of UDR men are on trial as evidence that the course of law in Northern Ireland is not being pursued properly.

It is not being pursued as it should be pursued.

I have cited what was stated in the communiques in the matter of early progress in relation to these matters and, as I have indicated, work on these matters will take some time to bring to fruition but the progress is being made. I am satisfied that is the case. I have indicated also the circumstances in which we have decided to proceed in this matter. The Deputy will appreciate that, apart from the question he is raising, the Government have to examine also the question of the manner in which we should accede to the Convention. Having reached a conclusion in respect of that and being satisfied that early progress is being made, the Government decided to proceed next week and that is why I took the opportunity to make the announcement yesterday.

Will the Taoiseach agree that he has been pressured by the British who are trying to head off Unionist opposition and that it is obvious from the remarks of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Strasbourg on 29 January, less than three weeks ago, that he considered the time was not right as nothing so far had happened in relation to the Inter-Governmental Conference?

The Deputy will be aware that the Minister said nothing of the kind. That statement is completely incorrect. I take it the Deputy is referring to a press report in which the Minister is misquoted, and which in itself in its first sentence does not represent what is in the body of the report, where the Minister was alleged to have said that the Irish extradition laws had not progressed sufficiently for the country to sign the report.

I reject completely the Deputy's allegation that I was under pressure from the British. It is totally false to say there was any such pressure. The actions we have taken and the timing of them have been entirely on the basis of our own initiative.

Can the Taoiseach say why the Government Information Service did not contradict that article as it appeared in The Irish Press of 30 January 1986? If the Minister for Foreign Affairs did not say what he was reported to have said, would the Taoiseach on behalf of the Government ensure that we will be given a copy of what the Minister said?

The Deputy is being a little unreasonable in suggesting that the Government should contradict every incorrect headline or sub-editor's first sentence in relation to any story. We have enough to do to correct factual errors — ones that are of importance in text without going into the question of headlines.

The Taoiseach has enough to do to correct his own mistakes.

We are talking about a major policy issue.

We would be engaged full time if we were to embark on the correction of headlines.

Would the Taoiseach agree that once this Convention is signed it will be sufficient for a discredited supergrass acting as a mouthpiece for the RUC to point the finger at any individual living in this State who would then be extradited and put away for perhaps two or three years before even being brought to trial which as we know has been the experience of some of the people involved in the recent Kirkpatrick trial.

I would not agree.