I move amendment No. 2:
In page 3, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:
"2. —The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform shall not exercise any power conferred on the Government or the Minister, as the case may be, by or under any enactment to provide for—
(a) the release (including temporary release) of prisoners from prisons or places of detention, or
(b) the remission or commutation of any punishment imposed by a court exercising criminal jurisdiction,
in respect of any person convicted of any offence or offences as referred to in section 5(1) of this Act on or after 22nd May, 1998.".
This amendment relates to offences under section 5 of the Act and inferences drawn from the failure of an accused person to mention particular facts in relation to offences in which he or she was suspected of involvement. This applies particularly to the prisoner issue, and Fine Gael is very supportive of the reference to the prisoners issue in the British-Irish Agreement. A fundamental part of advancing the peace process is the often delicate question of prisoners, and the manner of prisoner release is enshrined in legislation that the Minister was reluctant to bring forward.
It is important in the context of this legislation that we are clear on the sentences that will be imposed by courts in given circumstances and that these sentences should not come under the ambit of the British-Irish Agreement's provisions for the early release of prisoners. This amendment specifically states that the Minister shall not exercise any power of commutation or order the release of any prisoner, temporary or otherwise, from a prison or place of detention with particular reference to an offence committed after 22 May 1998.
It is important to send a strong message. I believe the Minister will agree that the import and, indeed, the objective of this legislation is to ensure that those who are still prepared to engage in acts of violence against this State will not be tolerated under any circumstances, that they will be brought to justice at the earliest opportunity, that they will be convicted by the courts and given due sanction by a court of law. If that sanction is a term of imprisonment, it should be served in its entirety without reference or ambiguity on the part of any Minister as to the length of sentence persons might from time to time serve.
It is important we specifically refer to the question of prison sentences in this harsh legislation, which is designed to be so and to ensure we send a strong message from this House that no form of appeasement will be tolerated. We already agreed in legislation that prisoners affiliated to organisations which have not established a ceasefire will not benefit from the arrangements under the Agreement. I understand that situation will be kept under review.
In circumstances where acts of terrorism were committed after 22 May, it is important that no benefit under the Agreement or otherwise is forthcoming to these persons. It is not overstating the fact that this should be enshrined in the legislation. I hope the Minister will accept the amendment and assure the public that there is no ambiguity and that persons sentenced by a court for offences under this legislation will serve their sentences as set out by the courts, which will not be subject to any variation on the Minister's part at any stage.