Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann resolves that sections 2 to 4, 6 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 30 June 2010.

This resolution seeks the Dáil's approval to continue in operation for a further 12 months a number of sections of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. The sections in question, whose purpose I will outline in the course of my speech, will cease to operate after 30 June next. An identical resolution was debated in the Upper House today.

Deputies will recall that the 1998 Act was passed in the wake of the Omagh bombing in August of that year. That atrocity was condemned by all right-thinking people. The memory of the innocent lives lost on that summer's day is still vivid 12 years on. Of course, the impact on the families of those killed and injured in Omagh will never fade. We must always be mindful of the loss suffered by so many families at the hands of hate-filled fanatics.

The bombing in Omagh was a clear and calculated attempt by these people to undermine the progress which had been made in the Northern Ireland peace process. Members of the House will be aware that the peace process was the result of long and difficult negotiations. It was still, in 1998, very much in its infancy and required careful nurturing and continuing commitment on all sides to ensure its survival. Those who carried out the bombing sought not only to stymie the peace process but to destroy it. They sought a return to the bleak sterility of the violence which had characterised so much of the previous quarter-century. However, their greatest weakness was to underestimate the determination of those who wanted to move on and build a better, peaceful society. They also underestimated the determination of the Government to counter their activities.

The response to the bombing showed the resilience of communities of all traditions throughout the island. It showed that their determination for peace, better co-operation and the rule of law would always triumph over hate and destruction. It must be remembered also that the Government of the day and the Oireachtas showed that they were equal to the challenge and would not allow the wreckers to achieve their aims. A strong signal was necessary, and part of that signal was the enactment of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act, whose main provisions included changes in the rules of evidence for the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation and the creation of new substantive offences. These provisions gave the Garda the tools necessary to defeat the bombers of Omagh and those who would follow them.

The threat these people still pose leaves me convinced that these provisions are still necessary today. It is a matter of regret that no-one has been convicted for the Omagh bombing. However, the investigation into this atrocity remains open, and Deputies will share my hope that those responsible may yet be convicted in a criminal court.

The 1998 Act was passed under clearly exceptional circumstances. It was natural, therefore, that the Oireachtas should want to reconsider certain provisions periodically and decide whether they are still necessary.

This mechanism affords Deputies an opportunity to consider whether the prevailing circumstances justify the continued need for those provisions.

Before setting out the reasons I am convinced of the need to retain these sections, I refer Deputies to the report on their use during the past year. The Act requires me to lay before the Oireachtas a report on the operation of the relevant provisions prior to moving the resolutions for renewal. The current report covers the period from 1 June 2009, the end date of the previous report, to 31 May this year. The report was laid before the House on 10 June 2010.

My assessment, as set out in the report, is that the relevant sections of the 1998 Act should remain in force for a further 12 months. I have come to this view after taking into account the current security situation, both domestic and international, the advice of the Garda Commissioner and the information contained in the report. I have also had regard to the reports of the International Monitoring Commission, which clearly articulate the continued threat posed by dissident groups.

The principal threat to the security of the State continues to be posed by individuals and groups associated with so-called dissident republicanism. As many in the House have commented, it is a strange kind of republicanism that pursues its aims through the murder of fellow Irish men and women. For some perverted reason, revealed only to themselves, these groups are determined to destroy the peace that so many have worked so hard to achieve. They wish to drag all of us back into sterile conflict. We know what that entails because of our experience over so many years. The Government is determined they will not succeed. I have no doubt all Members of the House share that determination.

We must be realistic about matters and recognise, despite our determination, that the threat posed is severe. The Independent Monitoring Commission has reported on the increase in activity by these groups, especially the Real IRA, over the past year or so. No one needs reminding of the horrific attacks in Antrim and Craigavon last year when two soldiers and one PSNI officer were killed.

The most recent IMC report made a particular point of praising the efforts of the two police forces to counter dissident activities. This is well-deserved praise that I am certain we all echo. Their actions have, without question, saved lives and we are grateful to them for that. Some very significant interventions have been made, such as the recent successful Garda operation in respect of a facility in Dundalk used to manufacture explosive devices.

North-South co-operation in the area of security is vital and I can give the House the reassurance that it has never been better. Shortly after his appointment I met the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, MP, to discuss the security situation. I have kept in close contact with him and with the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, David Ford, MLA, who I will meet again in the next few weeks. I know the Garda Commissioner maintains close and frequent contact with Chief Constable Baggott. This is mirrored by contacts between the two forces at every level.

The Commissioner has made it clear that as far as the Garda Síochána is concerned, an attack on the PSNI is an attack on both forces. We have never let up on our efforts to counteract the threat from dissidents. In particular, the resources of the Garda Síochána have always been maintained to deal with that threat and that will be the case as long as that threat exists.

It is time these thugs stopped opposing the democratic will of the Irish people and gave up their guns. They have little or no support in their communities. In fact they are reviled by the vast majority of the people on both sides of the Border. They need to get that message and cease their hate-filled ideology. I can assure them that until they do, we will never let up in our pursuit of them, in our efforts to prevent their murderous attacks and in our determination to see them apprehended and put in prison.

While countering the threat posed by dissident groups is very important, it is necessary not to lose sight of the threat from international terrorism. The 1998 Act grew out of domestic troubles. However, its provisions form an essential element of the State's response to the threat of terrorism from any source. We cannot ignore the growth in recent years of the international terrorist threat. Deputies will be aware of the arrests earlier this year in Cork and Waterford in connection with an alleged international terrorist plot. In co-operation with our EU partners, we must continue to counteract any threat from such sources. The 1998 Act forms part of the response to that threat also. It is the firm view of the Garda Síochána that the Act continues to be a most important tool in its ongoing efforts in the fight against terrorism. The Garda authorities have stated that the provisions of the Act are used regularly. Furthermore, given the considerable threat posed by some dissident groups it is essential the Act's provisions should continue in force to support the ongoing investigation and disruption of terrorist activity. The perpetrators of the Omagh bombing and other dissident groups continue to pose a substantial threat. They still aspire to commit serious acts of terrorism, including murder, and to pursue other criminal aims.

I refer to the provisions of the 1998 Act that are the subject of the resolution. I have laid before the House a report on the operation of the relevant sections between the relevant dates. The report demonstrates the value of the relevant sections to the Garda Síochána and the necessity for their continued availability in tackling the terrorist threat.

Section 2 allows a court, in proceedings for membership of an unlawful organization, to draw appropriate inferences where an accused person fails to answer or gives false or misleading answers to questions. However, a person cannot be convicted of the offence solely on the basis of such an inference. There must be some other evidence that points towards a person's guilt. The section was used on 23 occasions in the period covered by the report.

Section 3 requires an accused, in proceedings for membership of an unlawful organisation, to give notification of an intention to call a person to give evidence on his behalf. This section was used on four occasions. Section 4 provides that evidence of membership of an unlawful organization can be inferred from certain conduct, including matters such as "movements, actions, activities, or associations on the part of the accused". This section was not used in the period covered by the report.

Section 6 creates the offence of directing the activities of an organisation in respect of which a suppression order has been made under the Offences against the State Act 1939. This section was not used in the period covered by the report. Section 7 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. It was used on 30 occasions. Section 8 makes it an offence to collect, record or possess information likely to be useful to members of an unlawful organisation in the commission of serious offences. It was not used in the period covered by the report.

Section 9 makes it an offence to withhold certain information that might be of material assistance in preventing the commission of a serious offence or securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of a person for such an offence. It was used on 117 occasions. Section 10 extends the maximum period of detention permitted under section 30 of the Offences against the State Act from 48 hours to 72 hours but only on the express authorisation of a judge of the District Court following an application by a garda of at least superintendent rank. Furthermore, the person being detained is entitled to be present in court during the application and to make, or to have made, submissions on his behalf. The section was used on 25 occasions and an extension was granted in 25 cases. Section 11 allows a judge of the District Court 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 Act but released without charge. This further period must not exceed 24 hours and can only be authorised 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. It was used on 16 occasions.

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. It was not used in the period covered by the report. Section 14 is, in effect, a procedural section that makes the offences created under sections 6 to 9 and section 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 may be arrested under Section 30 of the 1939 Act.

Section 17 builds on the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 1994 providing for the forfeiture of property. Where a person is convicted of offences relating to the possession of firearms or explosives, and where there is property liable to forfeiture under the 1994 Act the court is required to order the forfeiture of such property unless it is satisfied that there would be a serious risk of injustice if it made such an order. The section was not used in the period covered by the report.

We have made tremendous progress and significant advances in the peace process on this island since the Good Friday Agreement. It is a matter of genuine regret that provisions such as those contained in the 1998 Act are still required. So-called dissident groups remain a threat to that progress. They are opposed to the benefits that have flowed from the peace process and are determined to undermine it. Let there be no mistake about the Government's equal determination to prevent them achieving their objectives. The State must retain in its laws the capacity to defeat them. Effective police action, supported by strong legislation, is essential to counter those aims. In this regard, I commend the work of the Garda, in co-operation with the PSNI, in facing up to these criminal groups.

On that basis, on the information set out in the report and the advice of the Garda authorities, I consider the relevant provisions of the 1998 Act should remain in operation for a further 12 months. I commend the resolution to the House.

We are here once again to place the Parliament's annual rubber stamp on the Offences against the State legislation. We in Fine Gael support the legislation and believe it is a crucial element in the State's ongoing struggle against terrorism on this island. However, as I may have said before, this annual renewal offers Members, in the Dáil and earlier in the Seanad, a forum to have a serious debate on terrorism, about the degree to which the threat exists and the broad steps being taken to combat new and ongoing threats.

There is a formulaic aspect to the renewal of these provisions which detracts in many respects from their importance. It is wrong to treat this annual renewal of provisions as "business as usual". We should be having a more detailed debate on security in which the Minister for Justice and Law Reform would brief a full House on the situation the State now faces. The various legislative sections we are renewing today are controversial and I would like the Minister to inform us in his reply as to how often these provisions have been used in the past while and whether he believes they still prove effective. Does he receive from his security briefings any information to suggest there may be deficiencies and, if so, is there any manner by which these deficiencies might be addressed? For example, the Minister refuses to reveal how many gardaí are dedicated in the area of combating terrorism. We are told this is for operational reasons. I can understand why identifying which gardaí deal with terrorism would be dangerous but refusing to reveal how many are dedicated to this area suggests that as a State we might be less than confident about the numbers dedicated and whether there are sufficient resources to meet that dedication.

The cutting of Garda overtime by €30 million must be having an impact. The enormous brain drain in the senior echelons of the Garda Síochána, which last year saw the loss of 12 chief superintendents, 26 superintendents, 31 inspectors, 166 sergeants and 466 rank and file gardaí, must also be having an impact. I acknowledge the Minister has authorised and made provision for some appointments but the unprecedented deluge of retirements was created, in part, by the Government's economic policies and, in part, by the failure of the Minister to engage with the gardaí in order that their concerns might be addressed. The security of the State is not something that can be put at risk by penny pinching. Reports suggest that the present situation is critical. The most recent report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, its 23rd to date, warns that the Real IRA is what is described as "uninhibited" in its use of violence and that it is determined to boost its terrorist capability. The commission documents murder and attempted murders carried out by the Real IRA during the six month period in which the commission reviewed the situation. As well as developing improvised weapons, the Real IRA is held responsible for a planned mortar attack on the PSNI station in Keady, County Armagh, and the recent discovery of bomb factory near the Minister, Deputy Ahern's home town of Dundalk is indicative of just how active dissident republicans are in this Republic. They are thought to be most active in the constituency of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform.

The independent monitoring commission notes that the Real IRA lacks the resources, personnel, money, organisation and cohesion of the Provisional IRA but this does not in any way mean we should be otherwise than gravely concerned. The Provisional IRA built up personnel, money, organisation and cohesion over many years and unless dissident groups such as the Real and Continuity IRA are stamped out by the State they still have the capacity to grow. It is already clear their activities extend far beyond what in the past we might have accepted under the umbrella or definition of terrorism. Like their forebears in the Provisional IRA they remain staunch capitalists, irrespective of whatever left-wing credentials they pretend to have. The drug trade is obviously a favourite among terrorists, with regular reports that dissident republicans are the main importers and distributors of drugs in the State. We know how much the State and our capital city in particular have been plagued by the drug activities of the INLA.

When I made reference to the constituency of the Minister, of course I refer also to the esteemed constituency of the Ceann Comhairle.

Deputy Flanagan forgot about his own constituency.

I shall talk about that too. Dealing with the link between drugs and terrorists, while the State continues to be half-hearted in its efforts to stem the tide of drugs in this jurisdiction, we are, in effect, playing into the hands of terrorists. This allows them to thrive, make money, build organisations, gain influence and acolytes. Our current customs regime is woefully inadequate in the context of the battle against drug smuggling the State currently has on its hands. We have only two X-Ray container scanners at our ports. The absence of a scanner at every major sea port means the two existing scanners are moved from port to port. It is not difficult for criminals to ascertain where the scanner will be and use the information as a basis for choosing their preferred and favoured smuggling route.

At our airports it is open season for smugglers all year round, a situation to which I have referred before. The Government's own figures reveal that customs checks at airports for 2009 plummeted compared to the previous year despite an open sore of drug and gangland problems continuing to fester. Comparing 2009 to previous years, the figures show that customs checks at airports fell by 73% at Waterford Airport, 50% at Weston Airport, 40% at Shannon Airport, 33% at Kerry Airport, 27% at Galway Airport, 21% at Cork Airport, 15% at Donegal Airport——

That is because there are fewer aeroplanes flying.

——and 11% at the major airport, not half an hour's run from where we stand. As the Minister will concede, customs checks fell by 500,000 at Dublin Airport compared to the previous year and by a whopping 68,100 at Cork Airport. The fact is that checks at Weston Airport fell by 50% in the same year that Mr. Justice Anthony Hunt warned about the dangers of private airports being used to smuggle drugs. The judge spoke on this as he sentenced John Kinsella for conspiring to import heroin worth €7 million and cocaine through Weston Airport in 2007. It is clear that many smaller and-or private airports received no customs checks whatever. The Government's belief is that this is too cost inefficient. This shows a very narrow-minded approach to calculating cost. What is the cost to the State of the death and destruction wrought on communities by drugs? What is the cost of facilitating the permanence of terrorists who peddle drugs across this State, whose principal role and function is to undermine the democratic institutions of this State?

The narrow view of the Government is reflected in the customs presence around our coastline. The Minister knows that at present we have only two patrol boats to patrol 4,300 km of coastline. Accordingly, the Navy plays a key role in supplementing an under-resourced customs service. Therefore, the recent decision of the Government to slash naval patrols by 200 days is another boost to the drug smugglers.

The bottom line is that defeating terrorists in this State is not solely about finding bomb factories. It also involves examining how terrorist activity is funded and ensuring that terrorist organisations are not given a free run in importing drugs and empire-building.

I was very surprised this morning to hear Deputy Ó Caoláin demand that the Offences Against the State Acts be removed from the Statute Book. I wonder if the Deputy has read the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission and its conclusion that "the range and nature of RIRA's activities in the six months were, by any yardstick, a very serious matter", that "its threat was dangerously lethal" and that the Continuity IRA remained "a major threat". Of course, Deputy Ó Caoláin's party also wants the Independent Monitoring Commission to be wound down. How is this justifiable, given the amount of terrorist activity in recent months? In an ideal world, we would not have need for strong anti-terrorist legislation, but we do not live in an ideal world. We cannot turn a blind eye while bomb factories in the Republic are set up to murder citizens in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin's stance on the Offences Against the State Acts and the continuance of the Independent Monitoring Commission may be put in context by recent reports that the defunct IRA, along with members of Sinn Féin, were responsible for an enormous counterfeiting operation recently uncovered in my home county of Laois. Europol described the operation as one of the biggest and most sophisticated counterfeiting operations ever uncovered in Europe. When gardaí raided a bunker a couple of weeks ago in a quiet and peaceful part of rural Laois, they found enough ink and specialist paper to produce €200 million worth of €50 and €100 notes. It is thought that the counterfeiting factory produced tens of millions of euro for the republican movement before the Garda raid, and the notes have spread right across Europe. Reports suggest the counterfeiting operation was established to counteract the IRA's losses when Lehman Brothers collapsed. The grotesque greed and unbridled capitalist appetite of many in the republican movement makes a farce of the pious posturing of Sinn Féin. I congratulate the Garda Síochána and Europol for their successes in bringing the counterfeiting operation to an end.

We cannot preserve the fragile peace for which we have long campaigned if the Government is complacent. Eternal vigilance in this House is the price of peace on this island.

If the Minister for Justice and Law Reform of the day solemnly tells Dáil Éireann that it is necessary for the House to continue in force the relevant sections of the 1998 Act for a further period of 12 months, then the Labour Party is not minded to dispute that assessment. I say that with a somewhat heavy heart because in a peace-time democracy there are issues of human rights and of compliance with our international commitments that arise. However, if the intelligence available to the Minister concludes that there is an ongoing significant threat posed by so-called dissident groups, then I accept that it is our duty to take all necessary steps to protect human life and the security of the State.

We are provided only with the flimsiest of justification for this and only then at the last minute. I do not know if it is necessary for the Minister to interpret the legislation so that we do not get this report until the day of the debate itself. I tried to get it last night and I was told that it had not been laid before the House.

It has been in the Oireachtas Library since last Thursday.

I stand corrected, but I was told by staff in the library that notice of it was laid before the House, but not the report itself. I do not want to make a big issue of it.

The figures show that 880 people were arrested under section 30 and 192 persons were detained for offences contrary to the provisions of the 1998 Act. There were 35 convictions and a further 127 people are awaiting trial. These are serious things to be concerned about, and it is my job to take the words of the Minister to the House on matters like this as seriously as they are intended, and as a justification for having to continue the term. I join with the Minister and Deputy Flanagan in the words of congratulations to the Garda Síochána for its vigilance.

Having put a criminal justice Bill through the House that allows for gangs and gang leaders to be arraigned before the Special Criminal Court, I wonder whether we have not reached a stage all these years after the Good Friday Agreement where the gangs to which the Minister refers ought to be treated in the same fashion, and that the political label ought no longer to apply. Deputy Flanagan sought to extend that argument. He did not make that point, but he linked the so-called dissident groups to the criminal fraternity and the use of some of the activities that are going on to generate the wherewithal for them to function in this jurisdiction and the neighbouring jurisdiction. I wonder whether we have reached that stage all these years after Omagh and the Good Friday Agreement.

There are serious questions that should by now have been addressed about the annual renewal since the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. Instead of going through this lacklustre and pro forma exercise every June, the Government should by now have decided which, if any, of the sections we are asked to renew every year should become part of the permanent law of the State. I want to take just one example. Section 9 of the Act makes it an offence to withhold information concerning serious offences. Specifically, section 9 states that a person is guilty of an offence if he or she has information which he or she knows or believes might be of material assistance in preventing the commission by any other person of a serious offence, or in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any other person for a serious offence, and fails without reasonable excuse to disclose that information as soon as practicable to a member of the Garda Síochána.

This is an important section. In particular, it is important to stress that it has application far wider than offences against the State or the sort of offences we might expect to see tried in the Special Criminal Court. The section makes it a crime to withhold information about the commission of any offence punishable by five years or more in prison that involves the actual or serious risk of loss of human life, serious personal injury, false imprisonment or serious loss of or damage to property. In the context of the ongoing revelations of systematic child abuse in religious institutions and dioceses, and the systematic cover-up by the authorities of abuse they were aware of, an offence along these lines clearly could have important potential application.

The least we should expect, by way of lessons learned from the Ryan and Murphy reports, is that our statute book is now up to date and is equipped to take action against and to criminalise a policy — a conspiracy — of non-disclosure of physical and sexual abuse that continued in place for decades. However, section 9 has one serious defect. Presumably because it is part of a package passed in September 1998 as a reaction to the dreadful atrocity at Omagh, the section states that it applies to all forms of serious personal injury except "injury that constitutes an offence of a sexual nature".

Probably the most serious, corrosive, systematic and sustained system of omerta to have undermined the integrity of an otherwise law-abiding institution in this State is outside the reach of the law because — and only because — it involved withholding information about the commission of sexual offences.

My colleague, Deputy Burton, asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 25 March whether he had any plans for new legislation of general application to deal with withholding information about crime. The Minister outlined several existing provisions, including section 9 of this Act, one of the sections we are being asked to renew today. There are existing offences of active interference in a way that impedes the prosecution of crime; accepting money or other consideration in return for concealing a crime; administering an oath requiring a person not to give information; and section 9 of the 1998 Act, which I have just outlined.

Section 176 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 deals with a more specific situation. It creates an offence of reckless endangerment of a child. The offence arises where a person is in a position of authority in respect of a child or in respect of an "abuser", and where that person knows that a child is at risk of harm or abuse but fails to take reasonable steps to protect the child from that risk.

My problem is that none of these five provisions deals adequately with the phenomenon of failure by a superior to disclose information about child abuse. None of them deals adequately with a decision to say nothing and simply to move the abuser elsewhere. A religious superior who made such a decision could not be accused of taking active steps to impede a prosecution; accepting consideration in return for concealing an offence; so far as we know administering an oath requiring a person not to give information; child endangerment, unless a particular child is exposed to particular risk by the superior's decision; or withholding information under section 9 of the 1998 Act because the offence being concealed is a sexual offence and so that section does not apply.

However, the Minister told my colleague, "Having regard to the statutory provisions already in place, I have no immediate plans for legislation in this area". There seems to me, on the contrary, to be a compelling argument for extending section 9 to include sexual offences and to extract the section from the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and make it part of the permanent law of the land.

Ar dtús ba mhaith liom freagra a thabhairt ar an méid a bhí le rá ag an Teachta Charles Flanagan tamall ó shin. I will not allow the accusation of pious posturing by a blueshirt muckraker to go unchallenged in the House. Since my election, I have stood here and defended human rights time and again. I wish to state categorically that Deputy Charles Flanagan's assertion of Sinn Féin links to a counterfeit operation in his constituency is complete rubbish and falls into the same category of much of the rubbish from his favoured source for the justification of renewing these provision we are discussing today. It is the IMC — three spooks and a lord — and includes hearsay, gossip and untruths.

The Minister is seeking the renewal of the Offences Against the State Act and we need to deal with facts. My party believes, and when signing the Good Friday agreement the Government and the British Government also believed, that the Offences Against the State Act should be repealed in its entirety. The powers and provisions that exist in the criminal law are more than sufficient to deal with the crimes and activities of organisations the length and breadth of the State. Once again I implore all Deputies to consider the highly detrimental effects of this legislation on human rights, democratic life and the safety and well-being of citizens in this State before the vote on the motion.

Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Fine Gael and the Labour Party all need to start respecting international law. The UN fundamental human rights instruments to which this State has signed up make it very clear that fundamental rights protections may be derogated from only in times of emergency. I will repeat what I stated when this motion was debated year in and year out since 2002, namely that I do not believe that an emergency exists in this State that warrants these draconian measures. While Sinn Féin has been alone in the House in recent years in rightly opposing the Act, this was not always the case. We had been joined by others in our opposition. We had been joined by the Green Party until it threw in its lot and all of its principles to prop-up the Government. We were also joined in our opposition to the Act by the late Tony Gregory, who truly valued the concepts of democracy and human rights.

Whether we stand alone here today or not we are not alone internationally because the UN Human Rights Committee agrees with us and has called year in year out for an end to the jurisdiction of the Special Criminal Court. It is not only our international commitments that necessitate opposition to the motion before us today but also the Government's obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement places an onus on the Government to deliver security normalisation. Hence, the scrapping of the Offences Against the State Acts is a pressing goalpost for all in this House. The provisions up for renewal, and the Offences Against the State Acts in their entirety, have no place in the present or future of the island.

I will state again, as I have in the past, that the illegal activities of groups in the State which are opposed to the Good Friday agreement must be stamped out. The most effective way to do so is to live up the commitments of the Good Friday Agreement and ensure progress towards the reunification of Ireland, and proving that democracy can and does work.

This year again, the report was laid before the House at a very late stage and Deputy Rabbitte mentioned this. To my knowledge, it was done late last week. I do not understand why the report is not circulated to all Deputies when it is laid before the House. The Minister intends us to suspend normal rights and each year reintroduce draconian measures. At a minimum every Deputy and Senator should have a copy of the report sent to him or her so he or she has some understanding of what they are being asked to vote on. Year in year out it is the same Deputies who contribute to the debate and most of the backbenchers in all the parties, bar my own, would not have a clue what was contained in the report, and have probably never accessed it.

Simply listing in the report the number of occasions on which the various provisions have been used does not allow us an opportunity for informed democratic scrutiny of its operation. I have stated time and again that the report is grossly insufficient for the purposes of scrutiny. There is not time available to me to discuss all the various sections and others have mentioned what are their intentions and how they fundamentally breach human rights.

Sparse as the report is, taken together with each preceding report since the enactment of the provisions in 1999, it demonstrates that sections 4 and 6 were not used in the past year, section 6 has only been used a total of three times since the provisions were brought in, section 12 has not been used since 2001 and section 17 has never been used. This again brings into question any argument around necessity.

During the period of 1 June 2009 to 31 May 2010 the number of persons arrested under the Act was 880. Yet the total number of convictions secured under the Act for the same period was just 35. There is a huge discrepancy between the annual arrest rates and the annual conviction rates which strongly suggests the possibility that the provisions are being used for trawling purposes or are being abused by gardaí engaged in harassment in circumstances similar to those uncovered in Donegal by the Morris tribunal.

If the Government really wanted to promote and protect the safety of the public then it would financially and practically resource the Garda, build the forensic laboratory, and resource the DPP and the courts to enforce ordinary criminal justice legislation in a timely fashion. Instead, the Minister is proposing the lazy and unsafe continuation of emergency legislation today to deal with a problem which can be dealt with through normal procedures. In fact the Government is actively doing the opposite of what is needed. The recruitment moratorium has resulted in the reversal of the Garda civilianisation programme which is needed to free up fully trained gardaí from desk duties. It has also resulted in a significant reduction in the number of probation officers.

I and my party have consistently called on the Minister to introduce a robust package of realistic and effective measures to tackle serious crime. Instead the Government has imposed restrictions on Garda overtime and a ban on recruitment and promotions. The force is to remain dependent on outdated and inadequate equipment. Instead of addressing the real reasons that gangland criminals seem to enjoy impunity for their crimes and introducing and resourcing practical and sustainable measures to protect individuals, families and whole communities from intimidation, this Government lazily slashes fundamental justice rights like those suspended by the Offences against the State Act.

I and my party last year produced a document, policing with the community, which set out a number of measures which are urgently required to tackle serious crime. I will mention a few. They include an expedited and far-reaching process of civilianisation, which is on hold; the increased funding of Garda drugs units with enhanced community input and the independent oversight of informer handling practices to prevent situations developing where individuals with a relationship with gardaí are allowed to amass a criminal empire.

We also need to ensure there is a properly resourced witness protection programme which can help the Garda and the DPP in trying to deliver convictions. We need enhanced Garda visibility and activity in areas experiencing chronic drug problems and more sniffer dogs. I heard the reference to X-ray machines. I have called for a number of them at ports around the country. We also fully recognise that the vast majority of serious crime is drug-related, therefore we have also compiled and submitted to the Government detailed proposals aimed at maximising both demand reduction and supply reduction.

I again urge the house to vote against the renewal motion and demand the Government properly resource the agencies involved in the fight against serious crime because it can be done without this type of emergency legislation.

On the procedural issue, the Garda authorities provided a report which brings the issue up to 31 May 2010. The report was received from the Garda authorities on 10 June and was laid before the House on that day.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said the Irish and British Governments are of the view that this type of legislation should not be required. It is the case that we thought when the Good Friday Agreement was accepted in a vote by the people that paramilitary activity on this island would cease forthwith but unfortunately that has not happened and it has continued. I accept that some of the information made available in the report is perhaps not as specific as we would like, given the nature of the types of operations that must be kept from the public view but we would like to provide more information.

I accept that the Deputies who support the motion take on face value to a certain extent what the Minister says on behalf of the Garda Síochána and the various authorities. I am aware that Deputy Ó Snodaigh and his party have a problem with the IMC but equally, the IMC has produced report after report which clearly indicates that activity has emanated from dissident republicans in order to fill their coffers to allow them continue in operation.

The issue of resources was raised by Deputy Flanagan. He used the term "penny-pinching" by the Government. We have recently debated what went wrong during the Celtic tiger years. Deputy Flanagen again calls for more resources when his party tried to suggest it was on the road to fiscal rectitude. To say the Government is penny-pinching is nonsense because the amount of money that goes to the Garda Vote is €1.5 billion, a substantial sum.

What about the question of private airports?

The reality is that there has been a huge reduction in the number of flights in and out of this country and I would hazard a guess that is part, if not all, of the reason that there has been a reduction in activity in this area. The Department of Justice and Law Reform is not directly responsible for this but the Garda work very closely with the Revenue Commissioners and Customs and Excise to make sure that even the small airports and ports are reasonably well monitored. As I said many times, we are working with our European Union and international counterparts which has been very fruitful.

In a perfect world, we would not have this type of legislation on our Statute Book but unfortunately we do not operate in a perfect world and we have the remnants of very severe paramilitarism in this country. We thought we would have rooted them out after the Good Friday Agreement but unfortunately they continue to operate and pose a serious threat to this State.

I thank the Deputies who supported the renewal of these provisions every year. I understand we dropped section 5 two years ago on the basis that it was not being used. We will review that situation over the coming months. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put: "That the motion be agreed to."



Will the Deputies claiming a division please rise?

Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Arthur Morgan and Martin Ferris rose.

As fewer than ten Members have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 70 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.

Question declared carried.