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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 12 May 1999

Vol. 504 No. 5

Criminal Justice (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill, 1999: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, subsection (3), line 27, to delete "substance or thing" and substitute "human remains or other item".

This is extraordinary, unique and unpalatable legislation which, having regard to the circumstances, the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, we will not oppose. The amendment is somewhat curious. Why does the Minister of State believe it is necessary? He is removing the words "substance or thing" and inserting the words "human remains or other item". What is the difference between a thing and an item?

Subsection (3) refers to "any substance or thing". While the amendment does not change the legal effect of the section, the parliamentary draftsman is of the opinion that greater clarity as to the purpose and intent of the section would be achieved by referring to "any remains or other item". The new wording reflects the formulation used in the draft UK Bill.

What we are dealing with is semantics. If one underscores the word "or" , the words "substance" or "human remains" have no consequence. In removing the word "thing" and inserting the word "item" is it the Minister of State's intention to have the legislation word for word with the British legislation? Is that the agreement? That may not be a bad thing but why has the parliamentary draftsman chosen to split hairs?

I accept the Deputy's point but to achieve greater clarity it was decided to follow the wording used in the UK legislation.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 5, as amended, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

With whom will members of the commission discuss the information provided to them? Will the Minister of State confirm that the information will be communicated to the Garda Síochána and that no other parties will be involved?

I am informed that individuals will give the commission whatever information they possess. This, in turn, will be passed on to the Garda Síochána by the commission.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 7 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, subsection (1), line 36, to delete "to enter," and substitute ", to enter,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, subsection (1), line 39, after "warrant and" to insert ", for as long as may be necessary,".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 8, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 9 and 10 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, before section 11, to insert the following new section:

"11.–Notwithstanding the provisions of the Coroners Act, 1962, where the remains of a victim have been located resulting from the process, the Minister may, if he or she so thinks proper, direct that a coroner, other than the coroner in whose district the remains are lying, shall hold an inquest in relation to the death, and thereupon the coroner so directed shall hold the inquest in like manner as if the remains were lying within his or her district.".

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 11 stand part of the Bill."

This section provides for a dissolution of the commission which will take place as soon as it completes its necessary work. Why does the legislation not go further and provide for repeal at the end of a certain period? This is unique legislation which goes against the grain and everything democracy stands for. It provides immunity for those who have perpetrated the most atrocious and vile acts. Their failure to allow the families of the people they have murdered to locate the remains for a Christian burial is reprehensible given that great emphasis has been placed by republicans on graveside orations marking what they would describe as the death of a hero. The Bill ensures the perpetrators of these acts will not be brought to justice.

In the context of the Good Friday Agreement which, although fraught with difficulties at present, engendered great optimism among the people, North and South, consideration should be given to introducing a timeframe allowing the republican movement sufficient time to disclose the information to the victims' families. This is legislation that should not be on the Statute Book. It is not legislation any democracy could look on with pride. The Minister of State should go further, therefore, and provide for repeal, say, in 12 or 18 months time. The process should not be allowed to continue indefinitely, something which could happen under the legislation.

We all hope people who have information will come forward with it as quickly as possible and that this issue may be dealt with as a matter of urgency. The legislation applies to victims up to the Good Friday Agreement only. The reason we did not do as the Deputy suggested is that we cannot put a time scale on information which will come to light. For that reason, we did not provide for a closing of the commission. It is certainly the intention that information would come forward as quickly as possible and that the matter would be dealt with as expeditiously as possible, and I totally agree with what the Deputy said about proper Christian burials. Section 11 provides for the dissolution of the commission as quickly as possible but to put a time scale on it might have been the wrong thing to do and that is the reason we have not done so.

It is highly desirable that the information required to allow for the discovery of people where they are temporarily interred so that they may be buried properly with their families knowing where they are located, be brought forward as quickly as possible. I accept the point the Minister of State made about putting a six month time limit on that, although I hope all the information will have come to us within that time. There may be outstanding cases – although I hope there will not – for a variety of reasons given the situation about which we are talking. It is desirable to leave it open ended and for the Minister and Minister of State to deal with it.

I do not agree with my colleague, Deputy Flanagan, in that the legislation is not something of which we should be ashamed. It is a sign of the maturity of our democracy that we can look forward from the point at which we are now and deal, in a legislative sense, with the horrors of what went on. That is not confined to any particular section of the community as there were horrors on all sides. It is a sign of our maturity as a democracy that we can now legislate to put it behind us and move forward. I welcome the legislation in that regard.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 12 and 13 agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Title be the Title to the Bill."

In response to what my colleague said earlier, our criminal law is based on the foundation that criminals, particularly those who commit very serious crime, will be tracked down, brought before the courts and convicted. This legislation, although I will agree to it, runs counter to any normal understanding of the nature of justice.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank Deputies for their co-operation last week and today. It is good that this legislation has received all-party agreement. I also thank the officials in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for their work in ensuring the Bill will pass in this way. We will need continued co-operation on the various issues relating to the North. As Deputy Flanagan said, nobody takes pleasure in the enactment of such a measure but there is a recognition on all sides of the House that the legislation is needed to try to facilitate the location of the remains of victims, which will ease the anguish of their families, and to give them the right to a proper Christian burial which has long been denied to them.

The House can be content that it has done everything possible to facilitate this process. I am sure all Deputies will join with me in appealing to those who have information on where remains may be located to co-operate with the commission as soon as possible after it is established and to let the commission have the relevant information so that we may complete this process as quickly as possible.

I do not disagree with what the Minister of State said but it is with some reluctance, however, that we are agreeing to this legislation. In the context of the Good Friday Agreement and the approach being taken by the Opposition since the signing of that Agreement, we will co-operate with the Government in ensuring that every effort is made to bring about the realisation of the clauses in the Agreement from start to finish. I suppose if one looks at the grief suffered by the relatives of the disappeared, one must balance that against never receiving the information. It is with that reluctance that we agree with the approach being taken by the Mini ster of State as far as the general thrust of the Bill is concerned.

I thank the officials in the Department for the time they made available for an all-party briefing having regard to the fact the legislation was published and introduced in the Dáil fairly quickly. I am pleased we are reaching a conclusion on the same day as the legislation is being concluded in the House of Commons so that both Governments can be seen to be presenting a common approach on this very important issue.

No signal of any description should be sent from this House that this is a form of blanket amnesty, that this legislation was introduced lightly and that is something which will ever be contemplated again, because I hope it will not be. My final hope is that this legislation will have the desired result and that we will return to repeal it at an early opportunity.

Question put and agreed to.