I move amendment No. 1:
In page 2, between lines 26 and 27 to insert a new subparagraph as follows:
"( ) murder done by the administration of poison or other noxious substance or thing,".
My views on these matters have been already fully explained on Second Reading. The first amendment in the names of Senator L'Estrange and myself deals with a matter about which I feel very keenly. Indeed, the Minister himself, speaking on the Protection of Animals Bill, referred to strychnine being classed as the "Irish poison". In my amendment I am not confining myself to the administration of strychnine only. I am talking about the administration of poison or other noxious substance or thing by which a person's death can be brought about.
It is obvious to everybody that poisoning is the most insidious method of bringing about the death of an enemy or the removal of somebody whose presence on earth is an irritation to the person who contemplates the death. The administration of poison for the purposes I have mentioned is very easy. Admittedly, our poison laws are strict; but poison can be bought legitimately for the purpose of laying it on lands or for any other purpose for which the poison laws provide. That poison can be kept in anybody's house. Its whereabouts can be known to other people or members of the household, who can remove it from its place of hiding or safety, as the case may be, or it can then fall into other hands. In such circumstances, the administration of poison is a simple matter.
On the other hand, it is also an extremely simple matter to plead a mistake afterwards. It is extremely difficult to convict the person accused of committing a murder by the administration of poison. I know of only two cases in comparatively recent times, in one of which there was a conviction and in the other, an acquittal. I am not attempting in any way to adjudicate on either of those cases. I am talking about the general situation whereby it is made easy for somebody to cause the death of another secretly and without warning.
If an intending murderer points a gun at another or threatens to waylay him at night or writes threatening letters to him, or if an argument crops up in which blows are likely to result or guns or knives likely to be drawn, the person about to be attacked has a warning and has some way of defending himself either by fighting back successfully or, by the exercise of discretion, running away and getting out of the danger. But the poisoner can sit opposite his victim at the same table, talk trivia and calmly wait for the end of the person into whose food the poison has been put.
That is a situation which demands inclusion in the category of capital murder. I see no reason why the person destroyed in that way should not have the same protection as a policeman or any of the other classes of persons included in this section. This is not a matter on which one can say an awful lot. The very thought of it should be sufficient to make people realise the enormity of an offence committed in this way. I do not propose to weary the House by going into examples of poisoning or deal with the criminal law concerning it in this or any other country. It is sufficient that we should realise it is a very serious offence and that, if it is to be murder at all it should be murder of the highest degree, that is, in accordance with the wording of this section, capital murder.
I am well aware what the Minister's difficulty is in matters of this kind in either accepting amendments or rejecting them. I know the difficulties that lie in the way of the Parties and groups supporting the Minister in this House. These matters are already discussed in other places before they come here. If people have not raised these matters at their own Party meetings, it is difficult then for the Minister to relax the view finally fixed when these matters were discussed at Government level and later at Party level. However, in these circumstances if the Minister were disposed to grant a free vote of the House, I have no doubt that the whole of this House—certainly a majority of those in favour of capital punishment to the extent the Minister proposes to have it enshrined in this Bill—would be in favour of including murder by poisoning as capital murder.
The next amendment deals with murder in the course of an illegal operation to bring about an abortion where death results. That is also a very serious matter. In accordance with the law as it now stands, it is murder. I see no reason why the person or persons upon whom these operations might be performed from time to time —usually, indeed almost invariably, in the interest of others—should not be protected in the same full manner as a policeman in the course of his duty. All of us are aware of the circumstances in which these operations are carried out. It is bad enough that a girl or woman should find herself in a situation of that kind, having been influenced to that extent initially by the wrongdoer, but it is worse when, in circumstances of embarrassment, she is further influenced with a view to getting her to agree to submit to such an operation. Some, I know, are successful; others are not. A wrongdoer who follows up his initial wrong by using his influence to get a person to submit herself to an operation of this kind should not be in a better position—in fact, should be in a worse position—than a person who, in the heat of the moment, shoots a garda or a prison warden, or any of the other classes included in the Bill. I do not intend to elaborate on that subject, but every member of the House must be aware of the enormity of an offence of this kind.
I urge the Minister with great sincerity to accept these two amendments. If he cannot see his way to accepting them outright, I urge him to allow the House to vote freely upon them. On the last occasion when replying to my Second Reading speech on the question of poisoning, the Minister talked about mercy killing. I think I might describe him as having had his tongue in both cheeks on that occasion. I do not know whether he was referring to the incident on the Continent in relation to the thalidomide baby or something of that kind. We do not subscribe to those views in this country. In any event the Minister did not deal with my point. I was not referring to euthanasia or mercy killing, but to the deliberate removal of a human being from this earth because of jealousy or hatred or some other cause. In all the circumstances, I see no reason whatsoever why these two types of killing should not be included in the categories which will be known in future as capital murders.