Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, 1998: Report and Final Stages.

Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Mr. Ryan

It is sad the legislation contains many provisions we are prepared to accept even though we may not be satisfied with their inclusion. A number of sections, which could have been amenable to amendment if a reasonable timescale had existed, were not amended. A proper and calm parliamentary debate would have resulted in considerable amendments to the section governing the possession of information. A number of sections would be better, more useful and more just if we had adequate time to debate and amend them.

I oppose the idea of emergency legislation. I am not persuaded that such legislation has anything to do with the urgency of arresting people because unless they are incredibly stupid those people will have already received the signals and will no longer be available to be placed under arrest. Unfortunately, having heard the Minister's explanation for them, I cannot find sections of the Bill acceptable. I do not, therefore, support the passing of the Bill.

Obviously we support the legislation but we have concerns about certain safeguards in it. I want the Minister to accept the need for electronic recording of all interviews in Garda stations relating to this legislation. That safeguard is most conspicuous by its absence. I wish the legislation was more focused so that it would be directed simply at subversive activities as is intended, and that it was clear when it would be terminated.

This was difficult legislation for the Minister and he presented it well. I thank him for the courtesy he showed and compliment him on his endurance throughout the day. It has not been easy and he handled himself extremely well. He responded to our questions and comments with courtesy and in great detail.

Very few people regard this Bill as desirable but that is not the issue. It is undoubtedly necessary however undesirable. It is also necessary that it be passed expeditiously because the more time given to the type of people who perpetrated the outrage in Omagh, the greater possibility there is for them to escape justice.

I stated earlier that whatever infringements in terms of civil liberties might be attached to this legislation, they are greatly subordinate to the greater right, which is the right to life and the pursuit of one's happiness and freedom. That is why, however uncomfortable we might be with certain aspects of the Bill, the aftermath of Omagh dictates that this Bill passes and that is why we on this side of the House support it. I thank the Minister for the way in which he dealt in great detail with all the amendments tabled and the manner in which he attended throughout the day to deal with this important legislation. All of us hope the purpose for which it was brought forward will be realised; that there will be no more atrocities such as that at Omagh and we will proceed to build on the peace process and consolidate the Agreement signed in Stormont on Good Friday.

I thank the Minister and his officials after a long, hard day. This legislation is necessary and while it would be lovely to say it could have been avoided, it could not. The events of two weeks ago propelled and accelerated the necessity for this Bill. There are aspects of it with which other Senators were not happy, but it is balanced approach to a difficult situation. The Minister, the Government and the Taoiseach must be complimented in pushing this forward because it must be put on the Statute Book. I hope events will transpire in 18 months or two years when it will be subject to review so that it will not be needed again.

Mr. Ryan

On a point of order, it would appear very churlish if I did not echo the remarks of other Members. I thank the Minister for his attention and time. I compliment the Leader for the fact that there was no attempt to guillotine the debate. I regret the Bill was not debated in the other House as it was here. The debate finished on time and I thank the Minister for his presence at all times and for being forthcoming. It was remiss of me not to say it when I spoke earlier. I thank the Minister for his patience.

I extend my deepest thanks to the Members for the courtesy afforded me today. We had a very thorough discussion on this very important legislation. It was inevitable there would be differences of opinion. It is never a pleasure for a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come before the Oireachtas with legislation in circumstances such as this, no more than it is a pleasure for a Minister to have to introduce measures such as are contained in this Bill. Nonetheless the measures will stand the test of constitutionality, should that arise. I believe also the measures are within the parameters of the European Convention on Human Rights. I thank all Senators for their considered contributions.

I extend my deepest appreciation to the very senior officials in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform who have been working assiduously on this legislation since the terrible atrocity in Omagh, County Tyrone. They have been working day and night on this extremely complex and difficult legislation, amending as it does the Offences Against the State Acts, 1939 to 1985, which themselves are extremely complex and difficult. Sometimes the amount of expertise required of officials drafting legislation such as this is not realised. We are very privileged to have officials of the calibre of those in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and in the security and law reform division areas. The Government set them a task and they complied with the Government's wishes to the letter. No more could have been asked of them and I know they would produce no less.

I extend my thanks to all the staff of the House for the manner in which they have dealt with this matter. I thank all Senators irrespective of the views they hold. It is extremely important in a democracy that everybody should be allowed to express his or her view and that is something we should always treasure.

Question put and agreed to.