The Minister for Justice was in the course of replying to the debate and she has seven minutes remaining.
Extradition (Amendment) Bill, 1994: Second Stage (Resumed).
Deputy Mitchell, Deputy Gilmore and Deputy O'Malley referred to section 6 of the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1987, which requires the Government, as soon as may be after 1 January in each year beginning in 1989, to make a report to each House of the Oireachtas on the operation in the preceding year of Part III of the Extradition Act, 1965, that is, the backing of warrants arrangements which we operate with Britain and the North. These reports are prepared by the Attorney General and submitted by the Minister for Justice to the Government to approve the text of the reports and authorise their presentation to both Houses of the Oireachtas. The report on the operation of Part III of the Extradition Act, 1965, in 1992 was received recently by my Department and it is now in the process of being submitted by me to Government with a view to its presentation to the Dáil and Seanad.
The Extradition Act, 1965, provides for two different systems of extradition. Part III of the 1965 Act applies to the United Kingdom and Part II of the 1965 Act, based on the European Convention on Extradition, applies to our extradition arrangements with other states. The backing of warrants system, applied between Ireland and the United Kingdom under Part III, is in fact more easy to operate as both jurisdictions have a similar legal system. The vast majority of extradition requests, both incoming and outgoing, dealt with in this jurisdiction relate to the United Kingdom. This reason alone justifies the maintaining of special procedures with the United Kingdom — a point raised by Deputy Liz O'Donnell — and I would not favour moving away from the existing system at this stage.
Deputy Gay Mitchell queried the difference between the two systems as regards the period of remand after arrest on a provisional warrant. The explanation is quite simple. Under the simplified system operated under Part III, section 49 of the Act, a person can be arrested here on a provisional warrant provided there is a warrant for his or her arrest in existence in the United Kingdom. The seven day period envisaged by section 13 of the Bill is to allow time for that warrant to be physically sent to this jurisdiction, examined by the Attorney General and endorsed by the Garda Commissioner. It should be possible to do that within a seven day period and I see no justification for locking up a possibly innocent person for any period longer than necessary.
The situation is more complicated under section 27 of the 1965 Act, which applies to countries other than the United Kingdom. The requesting country, which will have a different type of legal system, has to prepare a number of documents which are set out in section 25 of the 1965 Act. They then probably have to arrange for their translation and dispatch them through diplomatic channels to this jurisdiction. This process takes longer and for that reason 18 days is allowed. It is perfectly possible for the UK to meet the seven day requirement under Part III, but it is not possible for other countries to meet the more complicated requirements of Part II in a period as short as seven days.
We have a special extradition arrangement with the United Kingdom, but the House does not need reminding that there were genuine concerns about the extradition of Irish citizens to the United Kingdom. Deputy Mitchell asked if there was any need for the safeguards provided for in the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1987, to be maintained. Deputy O'Donnell seems to be advocating replacing those safeguards with a court based system. Deputy Gilmore also raised the role of the Attorney General.
The role of the Attorney General in the extradition process under the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1987 has been fully debated in this House on at least two occasions — once during the passage of the Bill through the Dáil and again when a resolution was passed in 1988 continuing the operation of the Act. I see no point in going over the same arguments again. The provisions of the Extradition (Amendment) Act have been in force now for six years and have given rise to no major problems. The existing system works well and I see no reason to change it.
Although the proposal to restrict bail to the High Court was welcomed, Deputy Mitchell expressed concern that the High Court would feel obliged to grant bail in extradition cases. The Supreme Court, in the case of the People (Attorney General v. Gilliland, 1986, ILRM 381, decided that the test for the granting of bail in extradition cases should not be different from that in ordinary criminal cases. I know there are concerns about the existing bail conditions in ordinary criminal cases. As I announced on 25 January 1994, the issue has been referred to the Law Reform Commission for its advice on options that may be open to bring about a change of the law on bail.
Deputy O'Donnell seemed surprised about certain functions and powers given to the Minister for Justice under the provisions of the 1965 Act. Those functions and powers have been a matter of public knowledge for practically 30 years and, as far as I am aware, have never given rise to serious concerns regarding the general principle behind them or the manner in which they have been exercised. In virtually every member state of the European Union, except Ireland, the counterpart of our Minister for Justice takes the final decision as to whether a particular individual will be extradited. There is nothing unusual about my powers in this area. Indeed, by European standards, my role is minimal.
The judicial arm of the State is involved in the extradition process to ensure that the rights of the person sought are protected. However, when that person's rights have been respected, the decision whether to extradite generally would be regarded as an exercise of power appropriate to the executive arm of the State.
Deputy O'Donnell raised the question of extradition and the death penalty. The practice in all member states of the European Union, including Ireland, is that extradition for an offence carrying the death penalty will not be permitted unless the requesting State gives an undertaking that the death penalty will not be carried out.
Extradition of Irish citizens to European countries was also raised by Deputy O'Donnell. As we know, we extradite Irish citizens to the United Kingdom. Indeed, because of our laws on citizenship, nearly every request from the United Kingdom relates to a person who can claim Irish citizenship. There is specific provision in our extradition treaties with the United States and Australia for the extradition of own nationals; they will extradite their nationals to us and we will extradite our nationals to them. The number of requests under these treaties is small and, with one or two notable exceptions, has not given rise to controversy. The legal position regarding extradition of our citizens to countries under the European Convention on Extradition is unclear. The European convention allows the extradition of own nationals but does not specifically require it. I do not wish to enter a debate on the subject other than to say that there are conflicting legal opinions. I am of the view that we should not extradite our nationals to a country if that country will not extradite its nationals to us. Extradition is based on mutual trust of our respective legal systems.
Deputies Dermot Ahern and Kemmy referred to irresponsible remarks about well known terrrorists walking about freely in this State. Such remarks are irresponsible and indeed inflammatory. I have taken the opportunity on a number of occasions to firmly reject assertions which surface from time to time that this State is not doing all it can to apprehend and convict those responsible for terrorist actions. I have referred to our substantial commitment of garda and other security resources, our recovery of large quantities of terrorist arms and explosives, our many successful prosecutions of terrorist suspects as clear indications of this commitment to combating terrorism. There is no ambivalance in our attitude to terrorism. There is not succour or support from this State for those who pursue political ends through violence and no question of the State seeking to harbour any person responsible for an act of terrorism. The authorities here and in Britain acknowledge that persons suspected of involvement in terrorism reside in both parts of Ireland and in Britain and in both jurisdictions they have the resources, powers and commitment to arrest and charge anyone suspected of such involvement. However, as Deputy Dermot Ahern and other rightly said, the essential element required is evidence; suspicion alone is not enough to obtain a conviction for a criminal offence here, Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom.
I was interested in Deputy Dermot Ahern's remarks about the "hand over" point and the disruption caused in Dundalk. What he said is a good illustration of why the Bill provides for a change on this point. I listened to a lengthy history lesson from Deputy Dukes. I do not intend to hazard a guess as to which parties might be paragons of virtue in this House. He asked what crime of violence can constitute a political offence in a parliamentary democracy. The answer is "none". This Bill will make it clear that offences involving violence cannot be political.
Talks are under way at European level between the 12 European Union member states on extradition. One of the aims of these talks is that acts of violence of the type covered by Articles 1 and 2 of the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism will never be regarded as political offences by those States.
Deputies Dukes and Jim O'Keeffe asked why mere possession of firearms has not been included in the Schedule to the Bill. The reason is straightforward — the offence is too far removed from the type of offence envisaged by the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. Article 1 of the Convention specifies that an offence involving use of an automatic firearm cannot be political if that use endangers life. Section 3 of the 1987 Act gives effect to that provision in our law.
In this Bill we go further by effectively removing any distinction that might be drawn between the use of automatic and non-automatic weapons. Furthermore, we provide that an offence involving possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, or with other criminal intent, cannot be regarded as a political offence. However, to include the offence of possession in suspicious circumstances, without the requirement to prove some form of criminal intent, would be going too far. For example, it would mean that a poacher caught with a shotgun, or a person in possession of an unlicensed handgun for his or her own self defence, would come within the scope of this Bill. I am concerned that to broaden the Schedule beyond what everybody can agree are serious offences associated with terrorism would undermine public confidence in the provisions of this Bill. I should emphasise that the non-inclusion of the offence of possession of firearms in suspicious circumstances does not mean that a person found in possession of an assault rifle or machine gun will escape extradition. In such circumstances the standard charge is possession with intent to endanger life, which is specifically included in the Schedule. I might remind the House that the charge in the Sloan case was possession of an M60 machine gun and ammunition with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, which would, of course, be covered by the provisions of this Bill.
Deputy Dukes asked whether persons to be extradited would be able to choose their method of transport. The answer is "no". Under the provisions of the Bill it will be a matter solely for the Garda Síochána to decide the necessary arrangements.
Deputy Kemmy suggested that there should be a common network of laws. Of course, this is how matters have developed as regards extradition over the past 40 years. In the 1950s we had the European Convention on Extradition, in the 1970s the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism and, currently, European Union countries are discussing how extradition can be made more effective. Things are moving in the direction desired by Deputy Kemmy and I am confident that further progress will be made on an international scale in the years ahead.
Deputy O'Donoghue mentioned the balance in our extradition laws, a very important point. The Bill deals with circumstances in which extradition would be granted——
On the very important point made from the benches behind the Minister.
In fairness, I think that is disingenuous of Deputy Gay Mitchell. I think I have gone very far.
It was said in jest.
Unfortunately, the record will not show whether the Deputy said it in jest.
Now it will.
As I said in my introductory remarks yesterday, there must also be protections for a person whose extradition is sought. These protections are already in place in the existing Act which remain unaffected by the provisions of this Bill. Also, as I said yesterday, specialty between us and the United Kingdom has been put on a statutory basis.
Deputy O'Malley referred to four defects in the Bill, three of which had already been referred to by other speakers. His fourth point was that membership of an illegal organisation should be included in the First Schedule to the Bill. Deputy O'Malley also said that his party would be tabling amendments on those four points on Committee Stage. In view of the time constraint it would be better if we discussed these points at greater length on Committee Stage.