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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 Jun 1988

Vol. 382 No. 1

Patrick McVeigh Extradition Proceedings: Statements.

I wish to make a statement to the House about the extradition proceedings concerning Patrick McVeigh which took place in Portlaoise District Court yesterday. The finding of the court was that it had not been established to its satisfaction that the person before the court was the person named in the warrants.

I want to make it perfectly clear, lest there be any confusion about this, that this issue concerning identification did not arise from any provision of the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1987. These particular proceedings were in fact taken under the provisions of the Extradition Act, 1965, and the identity of the person before the court is an issue which could have been raised at any time since the enactment of the 1965 Act.

The British warrants before the court identified the person whose extradition was sought as being Patrick McVeigh of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, formerly of 18 Forest Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The British authorities had informed the Irish authorities that no police officer was in a position to make a personal identification of Patrick McVeigh as the person concerned in the alleged offence.

Evidence tendered before the court included evidence that the person before the court was the only Patrick McVeigh in Portlaoise Prison at the relevant time and that that person had previously given his name and address as Patrick McVeigh of 18 Forest Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland. These facts were not challenged.

The evidence tendered to the court to identify Patrick McVeigh as the person named in the warrant was in accordance with established norms. It was for this reason that the British prosecuting authorities were informed that further evidence of identification was not required.

Since yesterday's decision the Attorney General has been in touch with the British Attorney General. The British Attorney General expressed his deepest concern at the result of the application. He agreed that the decision not to call evidence of British police officers was in the circumstances of this case entirely as he would have expected, in the light of experience in previous extradition cases. Both the Attorney General and the British Attorney General have agreed to consult on the implications of the decision.

The District Court decision of yesterday, if upheld, would set a precedent as to the kind of evidence which would be required in future in such cases.

Extradition is a part of the normal machinery of legal co-operation between civilised States. As we have stated on numerous occasions, the Government are committed to having proper and effective extradition arrangements with other countries. We are determined to make every effort to ensure that the legislation and procedures in place are clearly workable.

The Government are very deeply concerned that the issue which has arisen as a result of yesterday's court proceedings should be resolved. I wish to inform the House that the most effective action open to the State is being taken immediately. An appeal by way of case stated will be taken to the High Court against the decision of the district justice.

I am sure that it is not necessary for me to remind the Dáil that our courts under the Constitution are totally independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and, subject only to the right of appeal, their decisions must be accepted.

Yesterday's events in Portlaoise District Court are another unfortunate chapter in the ongoing saga involving extradition arrangements between the UK and Ireland. The only winners from this unfortunate episode are the IRA and those in Britain who use every opportunity open to them to imply to the British public that the Dáil and our Judiciary adopt a milk-and-water approach to extraditing persons from this jurisdiction to any part of the United Kingdom.

It is vitally important for all of us who respect democracy and condemn violence as a means of achieving political aims to continually point out that the vast majority of Irish people have no time for terrorism or for those who carry out terrorist acts. If we believe in what we say, we must, therefore, have extradition arrangements with those countries who share our democratic beliefs and particularly with our nearest neighbour, Great Britain.

Of course we are entitled to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place in any such arrangements. That has been the case all along. Adequate safeguards should not, however, lead to a situation where persons who should be extradited walk from our courts on a technicality. When the Extradition (Amendment) Bill was introduced in December 1987 we in Fine Gael warned against the possibility of long delays in extraditing people and unnecessary difficulties arising as a result of putting into legislative form what was previously there by way of administrative arrangement and which was capable of working efficiently if given a chance by this Government.

I am very pleased that our amendment which allows for review of this Act after a 12-month period was accepted. Ever since the passing of that Act we have had long delays and endless hours of discussion between our Attorney General and his counterpart in Britain in trying to reach agreement on the working of this Act. The net result has been no extradition for six months.

It would be unfair of me to imply that yesterday's events are a result of the 1987 Act. Having received full details of yesterday's case, it is quite clear that the extraordinary decision of the district justice could have arisen whether the 1987 Act was in force or not. Yesterday's decision, however, requires answers from the Government on a few points: (1) Is it agreed that a member of the British police force should have been in court to identify Mr. Patrick McVeigh? (2) Is it agreed that in previous cases such a procedure was adopted? (3) How is it alleged that the procedure in this case differed from others in not requiring identification evidence? (4) What advices or requirements were given to the British authorities regarding the proofs to be adopted in this case? (5) By whom were these advices given? (6) Were these matters either discussed or transmitted to the British authorities by our Attorney General's office? (7) Is it proposed to appeal this decision? If so, how?

I note from the Minister's statement that it is proposed to appeal. What is most important now is to put in place agreed procedures so as to prevent, as far as possible, a recurrence of yesterday's events. I would like to make a couple of suggestions in that regard. One is that the two Attorneys General meet as quickly as possible to iron out any remaining differences which might prevent extradition resuming on a smooth basis. In saying that, I must ask why the last six months of inactivity were not used more productively to produce a watertight checklist for extradition applications. It is quite clear that extradition cases can have serious consequences for our relations with other countries and there is a question therefore as to whether these cases should continue to be heard by the District Court, bearing in mind that this is the lowest court on the judicial ladder. I would ask the Government therefore to consider amending the law so that future extradition cases can be heard in the Circuit Court.

I am surprised that the statement of the Minister for Justice has been as brief as it is. He has confined himself very much to simply the case itself without dealing with the broader issues. I thought for that reason, since he is not the prosecuting authority and has no responsibility for the prosecution and is not responsible for the broader Anglo-Irish context and the Anglo-Irish Agreement context of this, that perhaps another member of the Government might have dealt with the matter.

I am interested to see what the Minister says about the two British warrants which were before the court and which identify the person whose extradition was being sought as being Patrick McVeigh of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, formerly of 18 Forest Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland. There was evidence given in that court yesterday by the governor of the prison that the defendant in the proceedings was Patrick McVeigh of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois. There was evidence given that he was the only Patrick McVeigh that had been detained in that prison and the only person who could have been described by that name. There was evidence given by three gardaí that he was of Portlaoise Prison and was formerly of 18 Forest Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland. There is no conceivable way therefore in which the identity of that defendant could have been mistaken or could have been open to any doubt. For that reason the decision that was come to was, in my view, inexplicable. Some people might go so far as to say that it was perverse.

Unfortunately, its consequences in a broader context are enormous. They are not just consequences for the individual concerned but will inevitably have serious repercussions in the broader Anglo-Irish relationship. It does nothing to assist the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Anglo-Irish process or a fruitful review of the Anglo-Irish Agreement which might be expected to start now.

I agree with the suggestion made by Deputy Barrett now that it is time to question whether or not the District Court should be involved at all in these proceedings because under the 1965 Act, as amended, every defendant against whom an extradition order is made by the District Court has an absolute statutory right to go to the High Court and, if he wants to, on appeal to the Supreme Court afterwards. I have no doubt whatsoever that if the decision yesterday at Portlaoise had been otherwise Mr. McVeigh would have exercised that right, and at great length, as I forecast here in the debate last December on the Bill that was then going through the Dáil when I said that the first person against whom an order was made under the legislation would avail of every opportunity to challenge it at great length. We should remind ourselves therefore that even if the decision had been otherwise yesterday the likelihood is that Mr. McVeigh would not have been extradited for as long as six or nine months or perhaps even longer.

It is very unsatisfactory that in the relations between Britain and Ireland we should have this difficulty. It behoves the Government primarily, and all of us to some extent, to look at the possibilities of trying to avoid these problems and at the same time not create injustice. It is not easy to do that, particularly given the perception of some aspects of British justice as exhibited in the past year or two. What the Minister for Justice said should be carefully noted, that the British authorities informed the Irish authorities that no police officer was in a position to make a personal identification of Patrick McVeigh as the person concerned in the alleged offence. I would have thought that that was self-evident and therefore I do not think that if a British police officer had been called he would have been able to add anything to it. The evidence which was given was more than adequate and would have satisfied any court in normal circumstances.

There are some matters that arise. They are not matters which are the responsibility of the Minister for Justice but they arise in relation to the conduct of the case in the actual court, not in relation to the advice which was given beforehand which in my view was correct. First of all, if there was an indication of the case going wrong in this way, why was an application not made for an adjournment. This is not a case where somebody is going to be convicted or not convicted and has therefore a right to have the matter disposed of one way or the other, or might argue that he has. This is a procedure whereby a preliminary order only is going to be made for his extradition and where he has the right to go to two further courts to challenge it. Therefore no injustice would have been suffered by the particular defendant if the application had been made for an adjournment and it would have avoided a lot of the difficulties at a political level that have now arisen.

Second, when the justice indicated that he was deciding the case against the State's application, why did counsel for the State not then ask him to state a case to the High Court for a direction on the matter of law and retain the defendant in custody while that was being done? That would again have avoided the hiatus that we have now and the impression that unfortunately goes abroad that the Irish Government and the Irish authorities are not serious in their anxiety to extradite people who are wanted in other jurisdictions for terrorist offences. Great damage has been done to our reputation and the Government have suffered criticism and suspicion that is unfair because I do not believe that the Government are soft on these matters. I believe they are as anxious as any of us to see these things done and done properly. It is a great pity that these possibilities were not availed of in the court in Portlaoise yesterday and all the very serious consequences we have been hearing about overnight in terms of our international relations could have been avoided.

I see that a case is now being stated. Unfortunately the defendant is not in custody and the prospects of getting him back into custody in the foreseeable future are not very good. Unfortunately once again the unfortunate Garda have been held up to a certain amount of ridicule in this matter through no fault of their own. I understand that two gardaí actually re-arrested this man at one stage yesterday after his release but subsequently were ordered to let him go. It must be very difficult for them to know what to do. If they do not try to arrest him they are open to criticism; if they do they are equally open to criticism. I feel that in future in cases of this kind specific instructions should be given to the Garda as to what precisely they are to do, assuming a case ends in a particular way. In the normal way the stating of a case to the High Court can take up to nine months to resolve. Much of the delay is often caused by the delay in the justice actually stating the case. Special arrangements should be made in this case to ensure that the justice states the case fully within a matter of 48 or 72 hours from now and that arrangements are made in the High Court to have it heard and decided within the next few weeks at the outside. There is too much at stake to leave this matter outstanding for any length of time whatever.

It is curious that in the longer term another case which is being heard in the High Court today may have greater influence on these matters than the case that we are discussing here at the moment. That is the McGimpsey case. It may well have very long-term repercussions. The case we are at present discussing has extremely severe short-term repercussions, but the other case may in the long run be more important.

I rejoice that the famous sub judice rule seems to have been sufficiently set aside today to enable us to discuss these matters. That demonstrates the foolishness of the way in which that rule has been applied in many other cases in contrast to what has happened today. I am not clear whether the Minister will reply to this debate. If he does, he should seek to address the problems that have been created in terms of Anglo-Irish relations and to assure those who are very concerned about that aspect of the matter that the Government are determined and anxious to see these matters resolved once and for all.

Before calling Deputy Taylor, may I remind the House that under Standing Order 41 under which statements are made there is no provision for any reply from the Minister or anybody else.

On 10 May last a case took place in the High Court that has profound implications for the discussion which we are having here today. The case was that of The State-Anne Cawley against District Justice Clifford. Anne Cawley had been arrested on an extradition warrant from the British authorities with the intention that she would face a charge of murder in London. District Justice Clifford granted the extradition order and the order was quashed by Mr. Justice Gannon in the High Court. He ruled that there had been a failure to identify Anne Cawley in the District Court as the person named on the warrant and that that failure had deprived the district justice of jurisdiction to make the extradition order. In summary, the High Court quashed the extradition order because there had been no adequate evidence identifying Miss Cawley. This happened just over one month ago.

I must begin by contrasting this story with the following sentence taken from The Irish Times of today's date: “Government sources said his `— the district justice —' insistence that the British police officer, who sought the extradition order should be present in court, represented a new ruling in extradition cases.” That is a grossly misleading statement. It appears that in the wake of this total fiasco Government sources are busy trying to find someone else to blame. This is apparent also from the reports that the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions had consultations immediately after the result. Unless some major change in the allocation of functions has taken place — some change that this House has never been told about — this has nothing whatever to do with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Why the Attorney General and the DPP should be consulting is a mystery, unless we are supposed to believe that the DPP in some way carries responsibility in this case.

There have been many instances in the recent past where we stood up in this House and condemned the British authorities for their obvious shortcomings. This, on the face of it, is not such a case. In fact, unless some very cogent explanation is forthcoming as to the lapses in this case, I believe the Taoiseach has no choice but to ensure that whoever is responsible is called to account. There is no need to go into the history of extradition and all the recent controversy, but it must be placed on record that with the passage of the Extradition (Amendment) Bill certain responsibilities devolved fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Irish Attorney General. These basically boil down to the fact that no warrant for extradition would be endorsed for execution unless the Attorney General was satisfied that "There is a clear intention to prosecute or, as the case may be, to continue the prosecution of the person named or described in the warrant concerned for the offence specified therein" and also that "such intention is founded on the existence of sufficient evidence." So, the Minister is not correct when he says that the more recent Act does not affect the present position. It does have a bearing on it because of the obligation put on the Irish Attorney General to ensure that the intention is founded on the existence of sufficient evidence.

Since the passage of this law, there has been some controversy over the meaning of the phrase "sufficient evidence". Time and again the Taoiseach has told us that the Act is simple and straightforward. Notwithstanding that, there has been a series of meetings between, as we understand it, officials on both sides of the Irish Sea and between the two Attorneys General to iron out difficulties. Those difficulties and that controversy we are told, have been satisfactorily resolved. However, there was never any controversy about a number of points. First, decisions about the execution of extradition warrants are now a matter for the Attorney General unless he is absent or ill. These are the only circumstances under which he can delegate this function. Secondly, it has always been understood that there must be a clear intention to prosecute the person named or described in the warrant. For this reason, if this case has been badly handled, one person and one person only must bear responsibility and that person is the Attorney General and it is impossible to escape the conclusion that it has been badly handled.

The Minister stated that the British prosecuting authorities were informed that further evidence of identification was not required. Even under the 1965 position, it was always the case that the district justice had to be satisfied that the person who was arrested was, in fact, the person named or described in the warrant. That was made quite clear by Mr. Justice Walsh in the case of The State (Holmes) against Furlong, in 1967 Irish Reports, when he nominated two things on which the district justice had to be satisfied. The second one to be satisfied was that the person who had been arrested was, the person named or described in the warrant. The Minister is putting the matter entirely wrongly when he says in his statement that the British authorities had informed the Irish authorities that no police officer was in a position to make a personal identification of Patrick McVeigh as the person concerned in the alleged offence. It is not a matter of the person concerned in the alleged offence; it is a matter of confirming that this is the person who is named in the warrant. That is a very different matter.

We are told that the British prosecuting authorities were informed that further evidence of identification was not required. A second year law student would not have answered the question as glibly as that and if that second year law student had been made aware of the judgment by Mr. Justice Gannon, to which I earlier referred, there is no doubt whatever that he would have recommended that that prosecuting officer should be in court to identify the defendant, not as the person who committed the offence but as the person named in the warrant. District Justice Ruane, whether he was aware of the Gannon judgment or not, had no choice but to act as he did. If he had not recognised the flaw in the State's case, there is no doubt that the extradition order would have been quashed by the High Court on precisely the same grounds as in the Cawley case. Therefore, no one can seriously argue that the decision of District Justice Ruane was a bolt from the blue. The State were — or should have been — fully aware of the precedent and if they were not someone was guilty of gross dereliction of duty.

The only common factor in every single case of extradition to Britain is the office of the Attorney General. Different judges may be involved, different lawyers may be briefed for the prosecution or the defence but the Attorney General is the only common factor. The failure of the State in this case is bad enough but it has been compounded by the apparent attempt to pass the buck. It may be convenient to let it be known that the judge's ruling was inexplicable, that some other official might be responsible or that the question of blame is irrelevant, but that is a totally irresponsible approach.

In this House we reserve the right to criticise the actions of the British authorities. Later today we will be debating what many believe to be a series of miscarriages of justice when we deal with the Labour Party motion on the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four but we will lose the right to be listened to if we do not put our own house in order. When it comes to the question of extradition, our house is seriously out of order. During the debate on the Extradition Bill, I made the point that, under the arrangements being put in place, it was possible to foresee a situation where nobody could be extradited to Britain in connection with terrorist offences. Since the passage of the Bill nobody has been extradited. The House will be aware that there is a great deal of dark suspicion — even among some in Britain who are friendly to the cause of Ireland — that we are not serious when it comes to extraditing terrorists to face trial. Situations like that which occurred yesterday only give ammunition to our enemies and place our friends on the defensive.

It is not so long ago that the Minister for Justice accused the British Attorney General of being unfit to hold public office. However, yesterday's fiasco was the result of incompetence and conspiracy, and it cannot be denied that our Attorney General has a case to answer in the circumstances of the McVeigh matter.

In any debate on the unfortunate saga of the implementation and use of the extradition laws between this country and our nearest neighbour, it is important on occasions to take an opportunity like this to reaffirm some basic principles that should apply.

Extradition is a device and a means used by civil society to attempt to confront trans-national terrorism. Terrorism, in whatever form, is unacceptable in our society and every opportunity must be made to defeat the ends and means of the terrorist. Terrorists are the enemy of democracy and wreak havoc on the lives of ordinary people, mostly working people, and the security forces. Extradition is a standard and usual method of dealing with terrorism across national boundaries. It is a long-standing process and must be allowed to operate effectively and speedily. There can be no support for the very isolated position that is often canvassed in the context of this debate, that there should be no extradition on any grounds or terms from this country, whether that argument is made on the grounds of the nationality of the person being sought or the nature of the crime alleged to have been committed.

No extradition from this country means that we become a partner to and a haven for some of the most determined and sinister killers that Europe — if not the world — have produced this century. Can anyone suggest, if the alleged perpetrators of the Enniskillen bombings are located on the Southern side of the Border, that for some jingoistic or warped reasons there should be no trial to deal with them? Extradition — it must be emphasised — has always been a feature of our criminal process, as long as it has been known to the law internationally. We have always engaged in it as a process of dealing with criminals and persons suspected of crimes elsewhere. It is not something that has been newly introduced as a phenomenon to deal with increasing terrorism at home.

The law is not new; it has been developed and must continue to be developed as circumstances require it. For this reason, no democrat or socialist could or should object to the provisions in the first of the two amendment Bills of 1987 which sought to introduce the provision of the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism into our domestic law. This development in the law was designed specifically to deal with the ever-increasing internationalism of terrorism, a phenomenon and a feature that is, sadly, now attributable to the most active terrorist organisation in the country, the Provisional IRA.

Extradition between the United Kingdom and Ireland plays a significant role in the efforts of both countries to deal with the cancer of terrorism. For that reason, it plays a particularly sensitive role in Anglo-Irish affairs. A special effort must always be made, therefore, by the Administrations of both countries to ensure that when an application for extradition by one country or the other is made it is dealt with in the most efficient, professional and highly regarded way possible. It must be remembered that Mr. McVeigh's case was the first major test of recent additions to our extradition law as represented by the two amendments in 1987. For that reason, it is particularly regrettable that the application was not successful.

It must be underlined by anyone making a contribution that it is clearly seen that the reasons for it not being successful are not that the evidence was not there but that it was poorly presented in court during the hearing. The failure of the application requires serious questions to be asked of the level of professionalism or commitment being devoted to applications of this kind on both sides of the Irish Sea. Little will be achieved by accusations backwards and forwards between the two countries as to who is at fault. The history of extradition between our two countries has been marked by failures and mistakes on both sides. What is particularly worrying in the Minister's address to the House today is that nothing he said to the British Attorney General — in any exchanges that have taken place at Government or ambassadorial level since the decision — indicate that there is an appreciation of what went on during the proceedings, or a recognition that what was available was presented as well as possible and that what was said between those parties would be reflected in a response from the Prime Minister of the UK or any other leading politician who might seem to make remarks on the case and its implications for Anglo-Irish affairs.

Very strong comments have been made, North and South and in Britain, about the outcome and implications of the case for Anglo-Irish affairs. Our Government must take all necessary steps to ensure that those matters are put right without delay and that the record of the House is reflected, in some reciprocal way, in statements from the Prime Minister, if she so desires, on the matter.

There is clearly a deficiency at two levels in applications of this kind, a seriousness of intent in the preparation of the applications and ensuring that no mistakes are made. We all lose when these applications fail and the only person who wins is the terrorist and the organisation to which he or she belongs. In the aftermath of these decisions it is quite clear that there are people on both sides in the two countries who are prepared to build on and exploit failures or difficulties when they arise. There is a clear failure of understanding of the processes and a failure of understanding of the efforts being made to ensure that the terrorist finds no haven within our jurisdiction. There is a common belief abroad that there are hundreds of these people running around this country. That is not so and if they are being sought abroad it is for questioning only. We must emphasise that this jurisdiction or any other jurisdiction will not support the notion of extraditing people for questioning only.

The other major issue that arises is particular to the case and has to be commented on, that is, the quality of the presentation of evidence with regard to the identification of the person sought. I join Deputy Taylor in making what point I can on this, that it is and should be of no surprise to any official or law officer involved in the process of extradition to suggest that a requirement would be made in court of proper identification of the person involved. The question fundamental to a court — and it is one of the basic questions asked — is, is the person named and sought in the warrant the person standing in the dock of the court?

It has been clearly indicated that there was no member of the British police force available who could in any way suggest that that was the person sought and named in the warrant. It is not good enough simply to say that and leave it at that. In the first instance how was McVeigh suggested? Was a conclusion drawn in the British investigation to suggest that he was wanted and could be made answerable for the crimes involved? Somewhere in the corpus of evidence assembled by the British in the investigation of the crime there must have been something that would have suggested that Mr. McVeigh could be connected with that crime, by fingerprint, by civilian or other witness or by some other means. That must have formed part of the provisions of the Amendment Bill of 1987 and included in the memorandum furnished to the Attorney General. Consequently, there must have been available to the authorities, both in Britain and here, a means of introducing evidence in court here to establish clearly that McVeigh was the person needed and wanted on the warrant, who could be linked to the crime and identified as the person named.

For what it is worth it is my view that the district justice reached a correct decision, took a decision that could not in any way have taken anyone involved in the process of extradition by surprise. In my experience it is a central feature of all extradition applications. Similar cases in which I have been involved as a practitioner have involved police officers or other witnesses, including civilian witnesses, or experts on fingerprint identification, attending hearings in District Courts on a regular basis in Dublin or elsewhere to satisfy the justice sitting that the person in the dock was the person named in the warrant, the person connected with the whole process and investigation. That is what is central.

The Worker's Party have never been happy with the amendment introduced in the second Bill of 1987. We have always argued that there should be a full investigation by the District Court here in all extradition proceedings through the process known as the establishment of a prima facie case. This House has not seen fit to support that idea but nonetheless has given support overwhelmingly to the extradition laws as they now stand. It is the duty of all of us to ensure that those laws are implemented in full, without hitch, error or mistake. In any review of the law consequent on the McVeigh case it is necessary that comprehensive machinery be put in place in both jurisdictions to ensure that nothing similar will recur.

The final point that must be made is this, that the mess surrounding the McVeigh case — and it can only be described as that — simply did not begin or end in court yesterday. The method by which the man was released from prison, the ham-fisted attempts to try and detain him outside the prison, involving a collision of efforts on the part of the Army on the one hand and prison officers on the other leaves much to be desired. At this point a prison officer has been suspended because of his failure to obey an order to run across the fire of armed security on the roof of the prison firing after McVeigh. There was the fiasco on the streets of the town yesterday when Garda took it upon themselves to seek to apprehend McVeigh, again without any authority. That is something that cannot be allowed to go without examination or investigation.

This has been a sad saga in the whole of the operations of the extradition laws. On the part of a party and people concerned to ensure that extradition works and is effective, we urge the Minister to ensure that all steps are taken so that what has happened in the course of this sad affair will never be repeated in our courts or elsewhere.