The shooting of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe a few weeks ago was one of the most shocking crimes to have occurred in this jurisdiction for a considerable time. Although we have got used to killing, the nature of this crime — the murder of a garda by the IRA in the course of his duty — and the cold-blooded savagery of the manner in which it was carried out, made it uniquely awful. Little did we know what was in store for us. In the same way as the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe by the IRA caused the Government to revisit certain democratic certainties, such as the folly of backsliding on the threat posed to our State by paramilitary subversives mobilising within this jurisdiction and making bombs for use in England and elsewhere, the murder of Veronica Guerin jolted this lethargic and selfdeluded Government into agreeing the terms of this motion, which include reforms of the criminal justice system.
The murder of Veronica Guerin marked a new low in Irish criminality. She was not shot because an attempted crime went wrong or because she was hindering a getaway. She was shot because she dared to expose things somebody did not want exposed. Her assassination sent a message we ignore at our peril, namely, that some people will stop at nothing. They consider themselves above our laws. Those untouchables will claim the right to a fair trial while intimidating those who would testify against them. They rob banks and launder the proceeds of their crimes through the same institutions. The only time they pay tax is when they launder the proceeds of their crimes through tax amnesties. They use the newspapers to build up a reputation based on fear and then shoot the journalists. They use the proceeds of crime to buy respect in the same communities they have devasted with drugs. It is obvious that the criminal justice system has failed to stop these people and it is equally obvious that we must radically amend the system to stop them. We have tried before but failed. This time we must get it right.
This motion on crime was tabled by the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil following the murder of Veronica Guerin. It has forced the Government to concede at long last the measures contained in the Prosecution of Offences and the Punishment of Crimes Bill, 1996, introduced by the Progressive Democrats last Feburary but spectacularly voted down by this administration. The Government, on the run from the public who are rightly outraged at the level of inactivity and the inadaquacy of our laws to deal with serious crime, appears to have resolved the ideological difference which has paralysed it for the past two years. It accepted a Fianna Fáil Private Member's Bill on illicit assets and has promised a constitutional referendum on bail. It will spectacularly and with great media aplomb launch its proposals at Government Buildings later this evening. It will wrap around itself in glory the measures it so recently dismissed with contempt.
If the Opposition did not have the support of the public in pressing for reforms and forcing the Government to deal with this matter, nothing would have been done. The Government has been persistently contemptuous of the Opposition and voted down every constructive proposal it put forward which could have made a difference. It has not respected the Dáil. Government Members voted down measures which in their hearts they support.
Our February 1996 Bill aimed to restructure the creaking criminal justice prosecution service. It put forward proposals to change the bail law, confronted the issue of the right to silence in serious cases, called for the modernisation of our criminal courts and sought to speed up criminal prosecutions. It tried to tackle the revolving door chaos in our prisons. Those constructive proposals were dismissed with contempt by this administration, but the Minister has suddenly decided she can no longer ignore them.
I did not pretend that the present chaos in our prosecution system or in the courts and prisons was the personal responsibility of the Minister for Justice, but it has been her responsibility for the past two years. Our Bill provided for major change in the laws relating to the prosecution of offences, criminal procedures relating to accused persons, the extent of the right to silence, bail, control and management of the prison service, sentencing and the law on temporary release.
Much has been said about the revolving door syndrome in our prison system. I am sure you, Sir, consider that, from time to time, we have a revolving debate on certain issues relating to criminal justice reform. We have had a revolving, frustrating and repetitive debate on this matter and a disgraceful failure to bring about the changes everybody agrees are necessary. The Government voted down all our measures but now, almost casually, concedes to them in order to give a signal to the public that there is consensus on the need for reform.
When we introduced our Bill last February, the Minister for Justice said its provisions were "fundamentally unsound" and "glaringly unconstitutional". She said the Bill was novel but not new, "like the curate's egg, it may be good in parts". She claimed the charge that there was an ideological difference and conflict between the Government parties on the issue of bail was "fanciful nonsense" and promised a decision on the bail issue in a matter of weeks. That was on 27 February 1996. She stated that there were constitutional difficulties with the legislative bail proposals we put forward, but she now supports them. The Minister claimed that the questioning of suspects by judicial officers, which will be nodded through under this motion, was radical and redundant. When I spoke at length on the real need for reform of our prisons and their management and for planning for adequate prison spaces, she accused me of attacking civil servants. When Deputy John O'Donoghue legitimately questioned her as to the timing of the publication of the Law Reform Commission's report on bail, she called Deputy O'Donoghue an idiot.
I remind the House of comments by Deputy Dukes on the proposals in my Bill. He said that they were "nothing less than a fraud" and he accused me of "nauseating populism". He also made a most unparliamentary and sexist comment, which, had I been in the House when he made it, I would have asked him formally to withdraw. He accused the Progressive Democrats of charging into the Dáil on a white law and order charger and declared there was no good reason for doing the daft things proposed in our Bill. What does Deputy Dukes say now? I have said before, that much of Deputy Dukes's comments derive from an embittered heart.
This Government has acceded to our proposal for a unified prosecution service. This interesting proposal came from the DPP in an article in communiqué magazine. When I read the DPP's comments about the absurd duplications and delays in the current prosecution service, over which he has control, I asked the Taoiseach, who has direct responsibility for the Director of Public Prosecutions in the House, for his response. As usual, the Taoiseach transferred the question to the Minister for Justice.
When in due course it was replied to by the Minister for Justice, I was flabbergasted to hear that she had not discussed these publicly expressed comments with the Director, not did she intend to do so. She said she had met him socially but that the independence of his Office precluded her from discussing this matter with him. That is the sort of nonsense that has this Government in the mess it is in. The Minister for Justice felt she was precluded from discussing with a most senior independent office holder of 20 years standing, proposals he had made publicly on defects in the prosecution service and now it is being nodded through without a blush by this Administration.
If ever there was an issue which has been well debated in this House, it is bail. Not a week goes by, not a Justice Question Time is taken, and not an Order of Business is debated without a question on the law of bail and the need to reform it. People are now saying that to change the law of bail will infringe civil liberties and we should not hastily introduce such changes. There has been a need for constitutional reform of the law of bail since the early 1970s.
The Supreme Court's decision in the O'Callaghan case has been called a liberal bridgehead. It was a liberal bridgehead too far, however, in that it guarantees that any person arrested and accused of a serious offence will be set at liberty pending his trial unless there is evidence to suggest that he probably will either not turn up for trial or will interfere with the proper conduct of the trial by interfering with witnesses. Even if there is evidence that the accused will probably commit crimes while on bail, there is that guarantee. That is a ludicrous guarantee available in this jurisdiction and not in any other country.
Ireland is the only country in which the right to trial in due course and the constitutional right to liberty of the individual have been interpreted as giving an absolute guarantee to an accused person of his right to liberty unless, as a matter of probability, he will fail one of the two tests mentioned.
Deputy McDowell, contributing to a debate on bail in this House, said there was a neat logic to the O'Callaghan case but that type of logic is detached from present reality. The traditional notion of being innocent until proved guilty must be balanced against the fact that nowadays many criminals are persistent offenders.
I make no apology for saying I believe in preventative detention if there is evidence that the public will be at risk should the accused go free pending trial. We have consistently argued that to change the bail laws without providing adequate prison spaces would be a recipe for disaster, and I welcome the fact that the Minister has not got the support of Government to go ahead with a building programme to provide adequate jail spaces. To run a criminal justice system without adequate prison spaces is like trying to run a tourist industry without adequate hotel rooms. Neither the rehabilitation of the accused or public safety can be achieved if we do not have space in which to place people who have been convicted by the courts, or those who are awaiting trial before the courts, and who would be a threat to the public if released pending trial.
On the right to silence, I welcome the fact that the Government has committed itself in a Bill that has just been passed to accept one aspect of reform curtailing the absolute right to silence while in police custody, without a court being able to draw any adverse inferences from that silence. The curtailment of the absolute right to silence should also be applied to other serious crimes such as murder. I hope the Government will bring forward proposals to deal comprehensively with a reasoned curtailment of the absolute right to silence.
These rights date back to a period when the rights of the accused were much more limited. The accused had no right to speak at his trial or even to be legally represented. The right to silence in police custody arose from the need to avoid the risk of untrue confessions being made as a result of oppressive questioning. Because of this risk we accept that a person should not be forced to answer questions while in police custody.
In relation to drug trafficking and the restrictions on the right to silence, I have already argued that we should be in a position to provide for an audiovisual record of all interrogations of suspects while in police custody. It is in the interests of the accused as well as the authorities to provide for an independent record of all questioning of suspects while in custody, particularly if that detention is for long periods of time. We have to take account of the fact that technology can now provide us with an independent record of interrogation.
I hope the Minister will bring forward comprehensive reforms not only of the right to silence while in police custody, but also a curtailment of the right to remain silent while on trial without any adverse inference being drawn from that silence.
There have been many debates in this House on prison reform. Most recently the report of the Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee was, in part, unpublishable because it contained such damning criticism of the prison service including the medical service being provided in that institution. What proposals will the Minister bring forward on foot of that report which contained such criticism of our prison service?
When I raised all these issues I was accused by the Minister of attacking civil servants. The guts of the offensive and potentially libellous findings of the committee in relation to the medical service was that it provided no more that a sheep dip of a medical service to the prison. Some 40 prisoners were seen in one hour and there are other inadequacies. What is the Government's response to sorting out the problem relating to the medical service in Mountjoy?
This Government has made very few decisions. It has been marked out as an Administration which has failed to take decisions across a range of areas. The one decision it took, to cancel the prison building programme, was a bad one.
We have consistently moved to change the law on temporary release but, as yet, no proposals or recommendations have been forthcoming from the Government on it. We were accused of over reaction when we called for serious consideration of a state of emergency that exists here. The State is weak on subversives and turns a blind eye to private army using this country to prepare bombs for use in another jurisdiction. A state that is weak in terms of that type of crime leaves itself open to being perceived as weak in terms of organised crime. The Government is self-deluded and lethargic. It is only because of the deaths of Veronica Guerin and Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the massive public outrage following those deaths that the Government is conceding to the measures we have consistently proposed.