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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Jun 2004

Vol. 587 No. 3

Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann resolves that sections 2 to 12, 14 and 17 of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 (No. 39 of 1998), shall continue in operation for the period of 12 months beginning on 30th June, 2004.

The resolution before the House seeks approval for the continuance in force of those sections of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 which would otherwise cease to be in operation on 30 June 2004.

In commencing the debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it is worth recalling the circumstances in which the 1998 Act was enacted. In August 1998, the Omagh bomb brutally snuffed out the lives of 29 innocent people and injured more than 200 others. That terrible atrocity has reverberated throughout the island of Ireland ever since, and rightly so.

There was a determination then, as now, that those responsible for that mass murder would not succeed in subverting the democratically expressed will of the people that the Northern conflict should be resolved only by peaceful means and on the basis of consent. To date, one person has been convicted in this jurisdiction on a charge related to the Omagh bomb and another person has recently been charged in Northern Ireland.

On both sides of the Border, the investigation is continuing with excellent co-operation between the Garda authorities and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It has been stated before but is worth reiterating that the Garda Síochána will never cease in the search for those responsible.

It will also be recalled that in recognition of the circumstances surrounding the enactment of the provisions of the 1998 Act, there was general agreement that it should be regularly revisited by the Oireachtas. The purpose of this recurring Oireachtas scrutiny is to determine if the circumstances prevailing in 1998 justify the continuance in force of the Act's provisions or whether there has been a change in circumstances sufficient to convince the Oireachtas that the provisions are no longer needed.

Accordingly, under section 18 of the Act as amended by section 37 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999 and by virtue of resolutions passed most recently by both Houses of the Oireachtas on 25 and 26 June 2003, sections 2 to 12, inclusive, and 14 and 17, will cease to operate on and from 30 June 2004 unless a further resolution is passed by each House authorising the sections to continue to operate for a period not exceeding 12 months.

In addition, there is a requirement in the 1998 Act for my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to lay a report on the operation of the Act before each House of the Oireachtas prior to any consideration by the Houses of the renewal of the provisions. Such a report was laid before this House yesterday.

The conclusion of that report, which is also the view of the Garda authorities, is that the renewal of the provisions for a further year is necessary. The regrettable reality is that those responsible for the Omagh bomb continue to pursue and plan a campaign of violence and there is no substantive change in the circumstances which led to the enactment of the 1998 Act. In this regard, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA continue their calculated repudiation of the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Ireland, North and South, for peace in the form of the Good Friday Agreement. These paramilitary groups arrogate to themselves the right to kill and maim in the name of a people and a nation who have repeatedly rejected their path of violence.

Let us not forget that these groups seek to plan and execute terrorist attacks, small and large. The House may recall that in June last year, two enormous improvised explosive devices were intercepted, one by the Garda Síochána in County Louth and the other by the PSNI in Derry. Both had the potential to be two more Omagh bombings and it was only by dint of excellent police work that further tragedy on a massive scale was averted.

Before turning to the individual sections of the Act, I will outline the current position on the report of the committee to review the Offences Against the State Acts 1939 to 1998, which was published in August 2002. The report is extensive and deals with complex issues of law and policy. It involves important considerations concerning the balance to be struck between national and international security on the one hand and civil liberties and individual rights on the other. Those recommendations in the report of direct relevance to the purpose and scope of the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill 2002 were considered in the context of the preparation of that legislation. The Bill, which awaits Committee Stage, will accordingly give effect to a limited number of recommendations to that end. A fuller consideration of the recommendations of the committee will be finalised once this Bill has been enacted, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will then bring further proposals to the Government.

I will deal with the sections of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 which the House is being asked to continue in force for a further 12 months. I will briefly outline their purpose and indicate to the House how they have been utilised in the past 12 months. Dealing with those sections of the 1998 Act that were utilised since the end of the last reporting period, from 1 June 2003 to 31 May 2004, the following is the case.

Section 2 was utilised on 29 occasions, with one person charged and convicted in the reporting period. In addition, six persons were convicted during the period under report, having been charged prior to that period in cases where this section was utilised. By way of explanation, section 2 provides that where, in any proceedings against a person for membership of an unlawful organisation, evidence is given that the accused failed to answer or gave false or misleading answers to any question material to the investigation, the court may draw such inferences from that failure or from the furnishing of a false or misleading reply as appear proper. However, a person cannot be convicted of the offence solely on an inference drawn from such a failure.

Section 5 was utilised on 16 occasions. By way of explanation, the section provides for the drawing of adverse inferences in the prosecution of a person for any offence under the Offences Against the State Acts, any offence scheduled under the Acts and any offence arising out of the same set of facts as such an offence, provided that the offence carries a penalty of five years' imprisonment or more. The effect of this section is to allow a court to draw inferences where the accused relies on a fact in his defence that he could reasonably have been expected to mention during questioning or on being charged but did not do so. As with section 2, however, a person carrot be convicted of the offence solely on an inference drawn from such a failure.

Section 7 was utilised on 12 occasions. This section makes it an offence to possess articles in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that the article is in possession for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of specified firearms or explosives offences.

Section 9 was utilised on 30 occasions. This section makes it an offence to withhold information which a person believes might be of material assistance in preventing the commission by another person of a serious offence or securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of another person for such an offence.

Section 10 was utilised on one occasion. This section extends the maximum period of detention permitted under section 30 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act from 48 hours to 72 hours, but only on the express authorisation of a judge of the District Court. In this regard, the judge must be satisfied, on the application of a Garda officer not below the rank of superintendent, that the further detention is necessary for the proper investigation of the offence concerned and that the investigation is being conducted diligently and expeditiously. The person being detained is entitled to be present in court during the application and to make or to have made submissions on his or her behalf. In the reporting period in question, while no charges resulted in the granting of the one extension order, a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Section 11 was utilised on four occasions. This section allows a judge of the District Count to permit the re-arrest and detention of a person in respect of an offence for which he was previously detained under section 30 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act but released without charge. This further period must not exceed 24 hours and can only be authorised in circumstances where the judge is satisfied, on information supplied on oath by a member of the Garda Síochána, that further information has come to the knowledge of the Garda Síochána about that person's suspected participation in the offence.

Section 14 was utilised on 76 occasions. The effect of this section was to make the new offences created under sections 6 to 9, inclusive, and 12 of the 1998 Act, scheduled offences for the purposes of Part V of the 1939 Act. This means that persons suspected of committing these offences are liable to arrest under section 30 of the 1939 Act.

I will now deal with those sections of the 1998 Act that were not utilised in the period under report, namely, sections 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, and 17. Section 3 of the Act provides that in proceedings for an offence of membership of an unlawful organisation the accused must give notification of an intention to call a person to give evidence on his behalf, unless the court permits otherwise. Section 4 amends section 3 of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1972. The effect of the 1972 provision is that any statement or conduct by a person accused of membership of an unlawful organisation implying or leading to a reasonable inference that he was a member of such an organisation shall be evidence that he was then such a member. It originally defined the expression 'conduct' as including an omission by an accused person to deny published reports that he was a member of an unlawful organisation. The change made by section 4 of the 1998 Act is to expand the definition of 'conduct' to include 'movements, actions, activities or associations'. This simply aligns the definition of conduct in the 1972 Act with the reference to movements, actions. activities or associations used in section 2 of the 1998 Act.

Section 6 establishes the offence of directing, at any level of the organisation's structure, the activities of an organisation in respect of which a suppression order has been made under the Offences against the State Act 1939. Although this section was not utilised in terns of criminal charging during the period under report, one senior member of a dissident republican group was found guilty of this offence last August and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment, to run concurrently with a sentence of six years' imprisonment for the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation. This constituted the first time any person was found guilty of the new offence of directing an unlawful organisation and represents a significant victory for the maintenance of the rule of law in this jurisdiction.

Section 8 makes it an offence to collect, record or possess information which is of such a nature that it is likely to be useful to members of an unlawful organisation in the commission of serious offences. Section 12 makes it an offence for a person to instruct or train another person in the making or use of firearms or explosives or to receive such training without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Although this section was not used in the reporting period, one person arrested for membership of an unlawful organisation was subsequently charged with receiving training in the use of firearms. Section 17 builds on the provision in the Criminal Justice Act 1994, providing for the forfeiture of property.

Much has been achieved in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and although the current pace of progress leaves much to be desired, it is, as is said, the only show in town. As I have already mentioned, however, there are those who would do everything in their power to subvert the peace process through violence. One need only examine the recently published first report of the Independent Monitoring Commission to see just how much of a threat these dissident republican groups pose.

In the IMC report the Real IRA is described as having access to a significant quantity of arms and equipment and as being potentially a very dangerous terrorist group. Since the Omagh bombing, attacks attributed to the Real IRA include the bombing of Shackleton barracks in February 2000, a sporadic but high profile campaign in Great Britain, including a rocket propelled grenade attack on the Security Intelligence Service headquarters. There have also been some recent attacks on the British military, as well as against people involved in the Policing Board and district policing partnerships.

The IMC report goes on to state that the primary focus of Real IRA attacks remains on security force bases and personnel in Northern Ireland and those involved in the new policing arrangements but that a wide range of targets cannot be ruled out, including targets in Britain.

The IMC characterises the Continuity IRA in a similar vein. Although it is described as a limited organisation with a relatively small membership, the IMC considers that it can, by operating through small units, mount effective, if sporadic, attacks.

The IMC's pen pictures of these two dissident republican groups paint a frightening portrait of individuals and organisations to whom violence is the be all and end all of matters. The Garda authorities view is that the current terrorist threat, in the form of both the Real IRA and Continuity IRA, demands that the relevant provisions of the 1998 Act be extended for a further 12 months. As I have described, the provisions of this Act are regularly used in the ongoing fight against crime. The 1998 Act is part of the legitimate democratic response to that very real threat and I ask the House to continue in force the relevant provisions of the Act for a further 12 months. I commend the resolution to the House.

The question to be addressed is whether there is need in the Ireland of today to continue the relevant sections of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. A number of issues must be examined in deciding that resolution. The first, as mentioned by the Minister of State, is the horrendous crime of the Omagh bombing. It is appropriate that we remember the 29 innocent people who died and more than 200 innocent people who were injured, some very seriously, in that attack. We must also remember the murderous people who perpetrated that dreadful crime and are, unfortunately, still around. With only one of them convicted, there are still those who await the scales of justice to be weighed against them. That is one reason we should continue with these provisions.

The second reason is that we must take into account the views of the Garda authorities who make clear that republican groups currently pose a security threat. They also refer to international terrorist groups, members of some of which are people in this country, in particular this city.

We must open our eyes to what is around us. There are armed, illegal groups, unlawful organisations, which are still prepared to take it on themselves to impose their perverted view of Ireland by killing and maiming people on this island. The fact that they wave and shelter under our flag makes this even worse. The difficulty is we are confronted by people who are anti-democratic, neo-fascist and not answerable to the normal processes of the law. In such circumstances, we must continue these measures under the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. For this reason, I fully endorse and support the resolution before the House.

In doing so, it does no harm to examine from where the threats come and whether all parties are dealing properly with them. Dissident republican groups are increasingly referred to nowadays, which tends to ignore the continuing activity of the Provisional IRA. They have not gone away. It is clear from the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission that the Provisional IRA continues to exist and to engage in paramilitary and criminal activity. It is important we realise this and that people are prepared to shed a tear for and have released from prison the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe. They were operating under the shelter of our flag, the tricolour, when they engaged in criminal activity, stealing money, in the course of which they brutally gunned down a member of the Garda Síochána.

The dissident groups, the Real IRA and Continuity IRA, must also be examined. They are still prepared to murder and maim for their own illegal purposes. They have access to weaponry and are prepared to consider making such weaponry available to other criminal gangs, having done so in Limerick city.

How criminal elements masquerading under names that were once looked up to in the State should be confronted is another matter. All of them must be utterly and completely isolated and condemned and all right-thinking people must be unequivocal on that issue. This also raises the link between the IRA and Sinn Féin. It is more important that this should be examined in light of the number of seats gained by Sinn Féin in the recent elections. The party gained seats on a number of local authorities and one seat in the European Parliament.

I refer to this State. I will refer to Northern Ireland separately. The continued link between the IRA and Sinn Féin is relevant. The democratic credentials of Sinn Féin must be put under the microscope to a greater extent because of the recent election results. The party must answer why it has adopted certain stances, especially in regard to the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, whether it is fully supportive of the State's institutions and the Good Friday Agreement, and, in particular, whether it supports the policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. Unless those answers are forthcoming, the party will not pass the democratic test. Those answers are necessary and they should be given now.

While we are debating a motion relating to the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998, there is a need for a much broader, more considered debate to assess fully where we stand on the terrorist threat in the State. The report provided by the Minister of State outlines bare statistics regarding the number of people who have been dealt with under various sections on the Act. For example, section 2 was utilised on 29 occasions, section 9, which deals with withholding information, was utilised on 30 occasions, while section 14 was utilised on 76 occasions. However, behind those statistics lie people who are still prepared to subvert the institutions of this State. That can range from the killing of Detective Garda McCabe to the provision of safe houses or support for murderous gangsters to political support. This issue needs to be addressed fully.

I encourage everybody with a patriotic drop of blood in them to ostracise those who are involved in such illegal, fascist activity on both sides of the Border. I encourage everybody who wants an end to such activity to utterly condemn it initially. They should then be prepared to withdraw all support for those engaged in such activity and who refuse to condemn it, and they should co-operate with the institutions of the State to ensure it is ended.

Liam O'Flaherty wrote a book entitled The Informer which made an impression on me when I was young. It dealt with a time when the circumstances of our county were much different. Ireland is a democratic state and the Good Friday Agreement relating to Northern Ireland has been endorsed by the people on both sides of the Border. This raises the question of the current status of an informer. The wheel has turned full circle. Those who are not prepared to divulge information in their possession are accomplices to the subversion of the State and to the acts committed by those who are still prepared to murder and maim. The word “informer” needs to be redefined. Those who accept the responsibility of citizenship, support the State and are genuinely democratic will accept it as part of their responsibility to provide information to the authorities on the island to ensure illegal activities are ended and those involved in such activities are put behind bars. I fully support the motion.

We are debating the renewal of various sections of the 1998 Act. Thankfully, a caveat was inserted when the legislation was going through the Oireachtas that an annual report should be made to the Houses before its provisions were renewed. This legislation was passed subsequent to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement when it was hoped that peace had been reached at last and violence had been brought to an end following the overwhelming response to its proposals. Then there was the disaster of the Omagh bombing, however, and amending legislation was passed. There was a concern that, unlike previous emergency legislation in this area, it would only be temporary.

Earlier today we discussed the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which did not result in immediate legislation though those were even greater atrocities at the time. We must seriously consider whether we should continue with draconian emergency legislation such as this. That was recognised in the Good Friday Agreement and for that purpose a review mechanism was put in place to ensure the offences against the State legislation would be examined to see if it was in accordance with fundamental civil liberties and individual rights, particularly in the context of political developments. The Hederman report was produced in 2002 but it has been sitting on the shelf since.

I want to put down a marker. The Labour Party will expect action to be taken on the recommendations of that review of the Offences Against the State Act before the next renewal date for the legislation. It is about time the Government addressed the review, because it deals with important issues of civil liberties and the entitlements of those in a democratic State. Those have not been teased out and we have not even had a debate on the review in the House. That should be a priority and I expect that action will be taken on that report or the next renewal will be very problematic.

The first question is whether renewal is justified, but the Minister made it very difficult for us to answer that question. He waited until yesterday to place in the Dáil Library the annual report he is bound to produce under section 18, without telling us it was there. We are expected to provide proper analysis and consideration of that report in this debate and that is not good enough. The Minister had the report for three to four weeks and it could have been available in the Dáil Library during that period. It should have been brought to the attention of the House but that was not done. We are conducting this debate in a vacuum without adequate information before us. In future the Minister should ensure there is an adequate period in which to present this material to us.

Civil liberty is a major issue in any democracy. During the peace process Britain repealed its prevention of terrorism legislation after 20 years and it did so without replacing it with more draconian legislation. The Human Rights Commission of Ireland operates on a statutory basis and is tasked with ensuring that human rights in Northern Ireland and the Republic are kept to an equivalent level and are promoted and protected. As I said, with the Good Friday Agreement there was movement towards dismantling the emergency legislation by establishing the review committee and we also have the International Monitoring Commission, which looks at the level of paramilitary activity on the island. We have reports from the Garda as well.

Under the legislation there has been one conviction in this jurisdiction of a person on a charge related to the Omagh bomb, while another person has been charged in Northern Ireland. That is not what one would regard as major or successful use of the legislation and it is a bare statistic which merits some analysis and commentary from the Garda and the Minister. Does legislation have much validity if it is not implemented successfully or is not working effectively?

Page 8 of this report states that key provisions of the Act are continuing to be used to good and proper effect, and one of the most significant results in the Garda fight against subversive activity was the conviction of a person on a charge of conspiracy to cause an explosion in relation to the Omagh bomb. The report goes on to state that the provisions were used appropriately by the Garda Síochána and will continue to be used in their efforts. The report also states that the relatively modest number of occasions on which the provisions of the Act have been used by the Garda demonstrates that those provisions have been applied in a reasonable and proportionate manner.

That is open to a totally different interpretation, that that relatively modest number means the legislation may not be justified at this point. However, we do not have sufficient information with which to carry out a proper, sober analysis of whether that is the case. Before this legislation comes before the House next year the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should attend a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and explain why legislation brought into being in 1998 is still in existence even though the Houses of the Oireachtas clearly intended it would be phased out as rapidly as possible. That was why the report and renewal mechanisms were included.

The commissioner and the Minister should make their arguments for the necessity of renewing the legislation rather than simply asserting that it should be renewed. They should be cross-examined by members of the committee on the issue. That is the responsible way to approach this. We should have an early report and give time to Members to study it, then we should bring in the commissioner and-or the Minister to look into the matter properly. We can then make a fair and reasoned decision on whether the legislation should be renewed.

The International Monitoring Committee referred extensively to loyalist paramilitary activity, suggesting that special legislation should be introduced to deal with it. One could argue that the British Government should consider doing so, given the extent of such activity in the North. The IMC report states that the primary focus of Real IRA attack remains on security force bases and personnel in Northern Ireland and on those involved in the new policing arrangements, but that a wide range of targets cannot be ruled out, including targets in Britain. There is no evidence of any of the activities referred to in the Republic and I would like to see reference to that.

The remit of this legislation only extends to the Republic. Perhaps future reports will expand on why reference to another jurisdiction is, in the same way, relevant to this one. That seems to be the connection being made.

The legislation changes the rules of evidence, creates new offences, particularly in regard to membership of illegal organisations, and extends periods of detention. The report refers to sections of the legislation which were used, including for possession, withholding information, re-arrest and training in the use of firearms. Nearly all these sections are covered by other legislation. The real intention of the legislation, which was to get convictions in regard to the Omagh bombing, has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Section 5, relating to inferences that may be drawn, was used 16 times. Section 7, relating to possession, was used 12 times and section 9, relating to withholding information, was used 30 times. Those sections are already covered by existing legislation, so this is not an argument to renew this legislation.

The only real argument for renewal of this legislation is how successful it has been in bringing the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing to justice because it is directed specifically at them, namely, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. It is not directed at the Provisional IRA which is covered in the Offences Against the State Act. There is no sense putting a plethora of legislation on the Statute Book unless it is effective and desirable.

My other concern is that we are getting caught up in this ad hoc response to terrorism because there is now an international dimension. Almost all our justice legislation is being coloured by this global fear of terrorism. Emergency provisions are constantly creeping into our legislation. It is high time we undertook an overview of the criminal legislation we are bringing in, including what is already in place such as the Offences Against the State Act, and of the provisions in regard to terrorism-type offences to see where we stand as a democracy and whether it would be better to have a wider framework in terms of our domestic needs without responding to fears and concerns internationally and adopting knee-jerk reactions in respect of having sufficient emergency legislation on the Statute Book in the event of the apocalypse because that is really what the Offences Against the State Act is all about.

I put down a marker that we expect something more substantial from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the next occasion and that there will be serious questions to answer if that is not forthcoming.

It is strange to discuss the renewal of emergency legislation. As in a recent debate on the citizenship referendum, the Minister or a Minister of State from the Department has not bothered to attend to argue why we should continue to remove civil liberties.

They are on EU business.

This could have been scheduled for tomorrow or for another day when the Minister would be available. It was scheduled for today even though the Ministers are missing. The Taoiseach could have taken the debate.

This is supposed to be legislation dealing with an emergency. There is no emergency and that can be seen from this ridiculous report which arrived yesterday at 4 p.m. It is word for word the same as the report produced last year other than the page numbers have changed and a few different figures have been thrown in. There has been no analysis of the effectiveness of this legislation. When this legislation was put through this House, the reason for the report mechanism was to see whether it was effective. One person has been charged under this legislation and different sections were used on 30 occasions and on 12 occasions respectively. That is a trawling exercise to arrest people. No charges have been brought against all the people listed which is exactly what it was not meant to do.

Emergency legislation is for an emergency and is of its nature a temporary measure. The Offences Against the State Act has never been a temporary measure and it has been continuously used and abused by the Garda. In fact, it has led to the special branch being what it is today, namely, a political police force. Section 18 of the 1998 Act requires the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to produce a report which would be the basis on which we would renew the legislation annually. Last year I, and others in this House, stated that there was a need for a proper debate and a proper report and for an analysis. As Deputy Costello said, there is a need for a committee to consider this not just as we approach the deadline, but on an ongoing basis in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. A provision of the Good Friday Agreement was that we would dispense with repressive emergency legislation as circumstances permitted. Circumstances permit for dispensing of sections 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 17 which have not been used. That alone is sufficient grounds for the Minister to dispense with those sections. We should continue to row back all this emergency legislation as the parties to the Good Friday Agreement accepted we should. I, as has my party, have continuously opposed emergency legislation because it does not lead to the required result. In fact, it perpetuates a cycle of repression and it has not shown that it can work.

It is high time the Government took seriously its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement in regard to repressive legislation in this State and started as circumstances allow, to dispense with these sections. This pathetic little report has shown that this legislation is not working, cannot work and is not even being used but rather is being abused because people are not being charged under it. All the questions Deputy Jim O'Keeffe asked earlier have been regularly answered. If he wishes to have a debate, we can have one on another occasion.

Does the Deputy condemn IRA violence? "Yes" or "No"?

That was not one of the questions. There is no IRA violence at the moment. We continue to oppose this legislation.

The Omagh bombing was a monstrous atrocity carried out by a tiny paramilitary organisation with no mandate from anybody. That is not to say that if it was a much larger paramilitary organisation, the atrocity would be in some way less despicable. The bombing campaign carried out by the Provisional IRA over some decades was also despicable and reactionary. Paramilitarism in Ireland, whether republican or loyalist, has always objectively played a reactionary role.

Socialists always pointed out that republican paramilitaries could never defeat British imperialism, that on the contrary their activities resulted in the division of working class communities to a level of polarisation that is still evident to this day, and that only the unity of the working class in Northern Ireland, and North and South, could lay the basis for the permanent resolution of the national question and the social and economic issues that bedevil significant sections of the working class in Northern Ireland with resonances in the South as well.

The response of this capitalist State has been to use paramilitary atrocities to enact repressive legislation of a wide-ranging character. This legislation goes way beyond any specific act of terror and provides the State with contingency legislation which it will use if it feels it needs it to protect the establishment. For example, section 18 of the Offences against the State Act 1939 states that any organisation that promotes, encourages or advocates the non-payment of moneys payable to the Central Fund or any other public fund or the non-payment of local taxation shall be an unlawful organisation within the meaning of the Act. The mass movement against the water charges in the 1990s or an equivalent movement, such as the anti-poll tax movement in Britain, could therefore be declared to be an unlawful movement in this State and could be repressed in exactly the same terms as the paramilitary organisations which were used as an excuse to introduce this type of legislation.

The provisions of the 1998 amendment to the Offences against the State Act are draconian in the extreme. It potentially criminalises a wide range of innocent activities, turns on its head the belief that one is innocent until proven guilty and attacks a range of basic civil rights. It expresses the monstrous hypocrisy of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government in enacting this repressive legislation in response to an atrocity that monstrously destroyed dozens of innocent lives while, over the past 12 months, helping on their way bombers from the United States Air Force which have slaughtered thousands of innocent people in Iraq.

Why should we trust the Government with wide-ranging repressive powers? Why should we trust the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in particular, with draconian powers? He was part of a Government which orchestrated a massive, repressive apparatus of policing around May Day to suppress legitimate and peaceful civil protest. He allowed senior gardaí to orchestrate a sham excuse for trying out their riot control techniques when clearly there was no riot, and allowed them to unjustifiably use water cannon for the first time in the history of this State. He orchestrated the clearing of a wing of Wheatfield Prison and the imprisonment there of young people for the most minor of alleged offences while taking no such action against sections of the establishment guilty of defrauding the taxation system of billions of euro. No such action was taken against senior bankers who organised fraudulent rackets of a most wide-ranging nature.

Repressive legislation brought in under one guise is a threat to peaceful civil movements, the ranks of the trade union movement and working class people seeking to organise themselves. For that reason, I oppose the motion.

I, too, regret that neither the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform nor a representative of his Department is present. I particularly wanted to hear the Minister respond to the effect of his role as election agent for political parties other than his own through his recent utterances and policy positions. I would have liked the opportunity to challenge him on that as it seems to have had the opposite effect to what he attempted to do publicly.

This is not a debate about legislation that takes off the Statute Book the proper illegality of being a member of a paramilitary organisation that undermines the institutions of the State. That already exists in law. Neither is it about taking off the Statute Book the illegality of using arms and explosives to kill and maim citizens of this State. That also already exists on the Statute Book. We are not debating the removal from the Statute Book the seditionary means such organisations and people involved in them use to undermine the institutions of this State. We are debating the opportunity presented, through the continuance of emergency legislation, for the prosecuting authorities to use means that would not be acceptable in normal principles of natural law and how evidence is acquired and presented in a court case.

There are times when the State is threatened. I would have thought that a report of this nature would have underlined the essence of that threat. How many people are involved? Is it 40 or 400? The fear is that because security, after patriotism, is the second last refuge of the scoundrel, there will never be a time when emergency legislation will not be promoted by the likes of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. We see how the security scare is being used on a regular basis in the United States with the concept of homeland security. If we live in a democracy, there must be a time when emergency legislation should not be on the Statute Book. That case has not been made here today.

The report shows that half the sections of the Act passed in 1998 were not used last year. Why are there no proposals to delete those sections of the Act that seem to have no further use? There were 169 uses of the other sections of the Act. We do not know the number of people to whom such uses apply nor the number of those charged or dealt with under various sections of the Act. We are informed that 14 convictions for terrorist activities and 30 pending prosecutions exist. We do not know to what extent the Offences against the State Act was primarily or even partially responsible for securing those convictions. The Government and those who authored this report have failed to state how that case can be made.

What is lacking from this report is that with regard to the 169 uses of the emergency legislation, we do not know the number of citizens who were affected by guilt by association, that is, people who did not commit any crime or did not have any intent to do so. Where emergency legislation exists, there are victims. As Members of this House, we should be informed of the number of such people and what the State intends to do to redress the victimisation they have suffered. People, including the Minister, might say that is a price worth paying. However, it is to be hoped we are entering a period of peace on this island. It does not exist yet and, at best, we are seeing the non-exercise of lethal violence, but non-lethal violence continues to permeate throughout our society. Even the explicit references that extra policing activities can be taken by those involved in parliamentary groups is unacceptable and there is a need for legislation to reflect that.

What the Government, the Minister and this report have failed to do is show the essence of the threat that exists, why there is a need for the continuation of this emergency legislation and the reason the Act passed in 1998 has failed to address the continuing needs of the victims and relatives of victims of the Omagh bombing to get justice for themselves and their families. Other than honouring some sort of feel-good attitude that the Minister wants to portray about being some type of judicial superman, the onus is on the Government to bring about results and not leave on the Statute Book legislation that is not working and is not in the interests of citizens.

I thank the Deputies for the thoughtful contributions they have made to this debate. I will bring the various issues raised to the attention of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I again refer to the fact that he is on EU business representing the EU as President of the Council of Ministers for Justice. He addressed this issue in the Seanad yesterday. It was simply not possible to order the Business of this House in line with his very busy schedule.

Of course it is.

I wish to respond briefly to some of the issues that have been raised. Deputy Costello referred to the report of the committee to review the Offences against the State Acts 1939 to 1998. As I stated in my speech, that report, which was published in August 2002, is an extensive one dealing with complex issues of policy and law. Certain recommendations in the report, which were of direct relevance to the purpose and scope of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism Offences) Bill 2002, were considered in the context of the preparation of that legislation. Accordingly, the Bill, as published, contains provisions designed to give effect to a limited number of recommendations to that end.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is currently examining the remainder of the report and a comprehensive response will issue in due course. It is not considered appropriate to pronounce separate judgments on any of the committee's other recommendations in the meantime.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe referred to the Provisional IRA in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. Deputies will be aware that the institutions remain in a state of suspension, which has been the case for some time now. Since spring, both Governments have been conducting a review of the agreement in close consultation with the political parties in Northern Ireland. It must be acknowledged that progress has been slower than expected. The recent European Parliament elections interrupted the review process itself. Nevertheless, both Governments are anxious to make headway on the review with the ultimate goal of promoting the full implementation of the agreement.

This legislation essentially deals with the results of the Omagh bombing and the continuing threat of the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. While I have much respect for many of the things for which Deputy Joe Higgins stands, it is not fair to relate the purpose of this Bill to the other activities to which he referred, particularly the reasonable efforts of the Garda Síochána to deal with what was a significant threat to public order in this city during the most recent May Day celebrations. We all stand for the right to protest peacefully, but it was clear to the Garda authorities that public order could be seriously disrupted on that occasion. The House must give the Garda Síochána the support to ensure that that kind of threat to public order does not develop into violence, as has occurred in other cities throughout Europe.

I listened to the contribution of the Sinn Féin representative but there can be no ambivalence about the need for a continuation of this legislation. We either support it or we do not. It is vitally important to keep the legislation in place. We must continue to try to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing. There is no middle ground.

Question put.



Will the Deputies claiming a division please rise?

Deputies Crowe, Gregory, Joe Higgins, Finian McGrath, Morgan, Ó Snodaigh, Ó Caoláin and Eamon Ryan rose.

As fewer than ten Members have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 68 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.

Question declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 1.35 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.