Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, 1998: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This House meets, as the Dáil did yesterday, in the shadow of the Omagh atrocity. People throughout this island are only now beginning the long process of coming to terms with the tragedy which Omagh represented. That tragedy will live for the rest of their lives with the families of those who died, the surviving victims and the communities from which they came in Ireland, North and South, and in Spain. Omagh has left no one on this island untouched. I hope the revulsion which we all feel in its aftermath will not be allowed to dim and that it will mean an end to such violence for good.

The people who perpetrated the Omagh atrocity are a tiny and unrepresentative minority who attracted minimal support for their political position on the British-Irish Agreement in the referendums, North and South, in May. They have therefore sought to destroy the British-Irish Agreement through terror both in the attack they launched in Omagh and in earlier attacks. We, as public representatives, must not only remain faithful to the mandate we received in those referendums but renew our commitment to the Agreement. Our response to Omagh must be implementation of the Agreement in full because it is implementation of the Agreement which offers the prospect of the very thing they seek to destroy — the possibility of a new beginning and a peaceful future based on the principles of partnership, equality and mutual respect.

Both Governments remain committed to that objective and have made that a central part of our response to the Omagh tragedy. We will continue to give it the highest priority and I welcome the progress that has been made in recent days in that respect. It is important now more than ever that the momentum produced by the signing of the Agreement, and its endorsement in the referendums in May, is maintained.

The events in Omagh demand a response at other levels as well. This Bill is part of that wider response and is measured, balanced and proportionate to the threat posed by the activities of groups, such as the so-called Real IRA, opposed to the Agreement. The measures it contains are ones which have been identified as offering potential in usefully supplementing the existing provisions of the Offences Against the State Acts. The Government is satisfied by the advice available to it that these measures will provide a focused response which will have particular relevance in the context of the activities of groups such as the so-called Real IRA. The passage of this legislation will therefore be an important step in strengthening the powers available to the Garda for the purpose of countering such groups and those who provide them with support.

Those measures are directed to four essential purposes. First, the Bill makes changes to the rules of evidence which currently apply in relation to both the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation and more generally for the purpose of other offences under the Offences Against the State Acts and scheduled offences under those Acts. Second, the Bill will create certain new substantive offences of particular relevance to the activities of unlawful organisations and those who provide support for them. Third, the Bill will strengthen the hands of the courts in respect of those who provide support to such groups or engage in offences on their behalf. Fourth, the Bill will extend the maximum period of detention permitted under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act.

A number of changes to the Bill were made yesterday arising from the debate in the Dáil. At this stage I draw the attention of the House to the following matters. Section 2, which deals with inferences that may be drawn in certain circumstances in relation to a charge of membership of an unlawful organisation, has been amended to limit the application of the section to the failure to answer questions or to furnishing false or misleading answers to any question material to an investigation of an offence during questioning in relation to that offence before charge. The definition of the expression "serious offence" which has particular application to section 9, the offence of withholding information, has been amended to exclude from its scope offences of a sexual nature for reasons which I will explain to the House shortly. Section 10, which provides for an extended period of detention under section 30, has been amended to provide that, when an application is being made to a District Court judge to permit the further detention of a person not exceeding 24 hours, the person who is the subject of that application will be produced before the judge concerned and the judge shall hear any submissions made and consider any evidence adduced by or on behalf of that person. Section 14 has been amended to make it clear on the face of the Bill that that provision does not and is not intended to affect or limit any functions or powers of Government or the Director of Public Prosecutions under the 1939 Act in relation to scheduled offences. Section 18 has been amended in three important respects: to bring forward the date on which certain sections of the Bill will lapse to 30 June 2000 unless continued in force by a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas; to provide that any resolution which may be made continuing such sections in force will specify the period for which the section is being continued in operation and, finally, requiring the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to prepare a report on the operation of any section which it is intended to continue and lay it before both Houses in advance of moving any such resolution.

The Bill proposes three changes in regard to evidentiary matters and the principal changes in this regard are contained in sections 2 to 5. Section 2 has specific reference to the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation and is one of the key provisions of the Bill. Its effect will be to provide that where, in any proceedings against a person in relation to that charge, evidence is given that the accused failed to answer or gave false or misleading answers to any question material to the investigation of the offence while being questioned in relation to that offence, the court may draw such inferences from that failure or from the furnishing of a false or misleading reply as appear proper.

The section goes on to provide that references to any question material to the investigation of the offence includes any references to any question requesting the accused to give a full account of his or her movements, actions, activities or associations during any specified period. The section also provides that any such inference may be treated as or as capable of amounting to corroboration of any other evidence relating to the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation.

The section contains two important safeguards. It provides that the section itself will not have effect unless the accused was told in ordinary language what the effect of a failure or of a false or misleading answer might be and provides that a person shall not be convicted solely on an inference drawn from a failure to answer a question or from the furnishing of a false or misleading reply. The section will also only have effect in relation to the failure to answer a question or the furnishing of a false or misleading response in reply to a question after the coming into effect of the Act and only in relation to questioning in advance of charge as a result of an amendment I moved to the Bill in the Dáil yesterday.

Two related changes to the Offences Against the State Acts are being made by sections 4 and 13. Section 4 will amend section 3 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1972, to align the definition of conduct with the expression used in section 2, that is, conduct is being defined to include movements, actions, activities or associations in addition to the failure to deny such a report. A further related change is being made by section 13 which provides that section 52 of the 1939 Act which provides for an offence of failing to give specified information to the Garda will not have effect unless immediately before a demand for information is made of a person under that section, the person is informed in ordinary language of the fact the demand is being made under that section and what the consequences are of failing to give an answer or furnishing information which is false or misleading.

Section 3 of the Bill which makes the second important change in the area of evidence also has specific reference to the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation. It provides that in proceedings for such an offence the accused shall not, without leave of the court, call any other person to give evidence on his or her behalf unless notice has been given of his or her intention to do so. The procedures to be followed in this regard are set out in subsections (2) to (7) of the section which are closely modelled on the existing provisions of our criminal law in relation to the requirements to give notice of an alibi an accused intends to rely on for the purpose of his or her trial. The section also provides that the requirement in relation to the giving of notice will not apply to a witness whose evidence is solely in relation to the matter of sentence.

The third change in the area of evidence is being made by section 5. This section is not restricted to the offence of membership but will, provided that the offence carries a penalty of five years imprisonment or more, have application to any offence under the Offences against the State Acts, scheduled offences for the purpose of the 1939 Act and offences arising out of the same set of facts as an offence under the Acts or a scheduled offence. The effect of this section, which is closely based on a similar provision in the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996, will be to allow a court to draw inferences where the accused relies on a fact in his or her defence that he or she could reasonably have been expected to mention during questioning or on being charged but did not do so.

It is important to point out that there is not and could not be in the changes which we are proposing any interference with the court's responsibility under our criminal law to convict an accused only where it is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused's guilt of the offence charged.

The Bill also creates certain new substantive offences. 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. That offence will attract a penalty of up to life imprisonment.

Section 7 will make it an offence to possess articles in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that the article is in his or her possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of specified firearms or explosives offences. The section also provides that it will be a defence to prove that the materials were not in the person's possession for such purposes. This offence will attract a penalty of a fine or imprisonment for up to ten years or both.

Section 8 will make 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. The section also provides that it will be a defence to prove that the information in question was not being collected, etc. for the purpose of being used in the commission of a serious offence. The offence of unlawful collection of information will attract a penalty of a fine or imprisonment for up to ten years or both. A serious offence is defined for the purpose of the section as an offence punishable by imprisonment for a term of five years or more involving loss of human life, serious personal injury, false imprisonment or serious loss or damage to property or a serious risk of any such loss, injury, imprisonment or damage and includes an act or omission done or made outside the State which would be such an offence if done within the State. An amendment to the definition of serious offence which I moved yesterday arose in the context of this provision and was in response to concerns which had been expressed that it could, in the context of the following section dealing with the withholding of information, inadvertently lead to the inclusion of mandatory reporting in sex abuse cases. The amendment therefore excluded from its scope sexual offences. It would not be appropriate to deal with the complex issue of mandatory reporting in an Offences Against the State Bill.

Section 9 will make it an offence to withhold information which a person knows or believes might be of material assistance in preventing the commission by any other person of a serious offence or securing the apprehension, prosecution, or conviction of any other person for such an offence and who fails without reasonable cause to disclose such information to a member of the Garda Síochána. A serious offence is defined for this purpose in the same terms as for section 8. The penalty which will attach to the offence of withholding information is a fine or imprisonment for up to five years or both.

Section 12 will make 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. This offence will attract a penalty of a fine or imprisonment for up to ten years or both.

These are offences of a type which are in the main likely to be committed by members of unlawful organisations arising from the activities of such groups. They are, therefore, targeted at specific activities. The effect of section 14 will be to make these new offences scheduled offences for the purposes of Part V of the 1939 Act. That means that persons suspected of committing such offences will be liable to arrest under section 30 of the 1939 Act and may be charged before the Special Criminal Court in respect of such offences on the direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The effect of the amendment to the Schedule to the Bail Act, 1997, made by section 16 will be to enable these offences to be regarded as serious offences for the purposes of that Act when bail applications are considered.

The Bill is also intended to strengthen the powers of the courts in respect of those who provide support to the activities of unlawful organisations or engage in offences on their behalf. It contains two measures to this end. First is the provision in section 15 which specifies that the court may impose unlimited fines in relation to the four principal offences dealing with possession of firearms and explosives. Second is the provision in section 17 to amend section 61 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, which deals with the forfeiture of property used for the purpose of committing or facilitating the commission of an offence, or intended to be used for that purpose, in circumstances where a person has been convicted of an offence. The effect of the change being made by section 17 is to provide that, in the case of persons convicted of specified offences relating to the possession of firearms or explosives, a court will be 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 fourth essential purpose of the Bill is to extend the maximum period of detention permitted under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act — 48 hours at present — in two separate circumstances. First, section 10 will allow a District Court judge to authorise the detention of a person for a further period not exceeding 24 hours on the application of an officer of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of superintendent, provided that the district judge is satisfied that the further detention is necessary for the proper investigation of the offence concerned and that the investigation is being conducted diligently and expeditiously. This section was amended in the Dáil yesterday to provide that, when an application is made to a District Court judge to permit further detention of a person, the person who is the subject of that application will be produced before the judge concerned and that the judge will hear any submissions made and consider any evidence adduced by or on behalf of that person.

Section 11 allows a District Court judge to permit the rearrest and detention of a person in respect of an offence for which he or she was previously detained but released without charge for a further period, which again is not to exceed 24 hours, in circumstances where the district 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 about that person's suspected participation in the offence and about which they wish to question the suspect.

The Bill contains a review mechanism. Section 18 provides that the provisions of the Bill, other than sections 1, 13, 15, 16, 18 and 19, will cease to be in operation on 30 June 2000 unless continued in force by a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas, and that any resolution made continuing such sections in force will specify the period for which the section is being continued in operation. It also requires the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to prepare a report on the operation of any section which it is intended to continue and to lay it before both Houses in advance of moving any such resolution. In this regard, the British-Irish Agreement includes a commitment on the part of the Government, which it will be honouring, to carry out a wide ranging review of the Offences Against the State Acts generally. I will be establishing such a review mechanism shortly by the establishment of a special committee under independent chairmanship and with the participation of both Governments and outside experts.

The remaining sections of the Bill are in standard form and contain the necessary definitions in section 1 and provision for the Bill's Short Title, construction and collective citation in section 19. It would be wrong to pretend that any legislation or security measure can provide a cast iron guarantee that terrorist activity will cease or that terrorist attempts will not succeed. There are no simple solutions to the problem of terrorism — if there were they would have been tried and would have succeeded many years ago. Therefore, we will continue to depend heavily on the professionalism of the Garda Síochána which has had considerable success in countering the activities of the Real IRA and preventing attacks in Northern Ireland and Britain.

Nevertheless, the passage of this Bill will strengthen our laws for the purpose of tackling groups, such as the Real IRA, who have yet to declare a complete ending of their campaigns of violence. The Bill is only one element of a package of measures on the security and legislative fronts designed to counter the activities of those who engage in violence and the combined effect of the enactment of this Bill and other measures will significantly enhance the capacity of the State to tackle such groups.

In the aftermath of the Omagh atrocity the decision by the Real IRA to suspend armed operations while it engages in internal consultations is of little comfort to its victims. A suspension of such actions is not enough. Now is the time for those groups which have yet to declare a definitive ceasefire to renounce such violence and to prove in word and deed that they mean what they say. The Government has made clear that it will not allow any group to destabilise the British-Irish Agreement or subvert the will of the Irish people. The Government will closely monitor the efficacy of these measures and will not hesitate to take further action should these prove necessary to curb their activities.

Much depends on the decisions taken by those groups which have not yet renounced violence. Ultimately, only they can create the conditions whereby it will be possible to dispense with many of the powers which this Bill and the Offences Against the State Acts more generally provide.

I wish to share my time with Senator Coghlan.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister and I am delighted that the Taoiseach came into the House to contribute to the short debate and the minute's silence on the awful tragedy in Omagh. This was probably the most heinous of all the shocking and awful outrages which have taken place in Northern Ireland in the past 32 years. It was a brutally calculated act of mass murder which had one objective — to wreck the peace process. The vicious, twisted, warped mentality of those who carried out this bombing is supported by no one but the handful of psychopaths who planned and executed the awful deed. The Minister stated in the Dáil yesterday and reiterated in the House today that all they have done has been counter-productive. I reiterate that point on behalf of Fine Gael in this House. Their dreadful deed has united people of every political and religious persuasion in a manner rarely seen before in showing revulsion and condemnation for these unrepresentative, abominable people and their crimes.

All democrats who hold the preservation of human rights and civil liberties as their central belief detest having to introduce legislation such as this. Draconian laws are unpleasant. They smack of sickness and abnormality in the system. In every country where draconian laws have been introduced, often for good reason and without ill-intent, they have led to allegations of abuse, conflict with the courts and, on occasion, proven abuse.

Most Members of both Houses hate having to introduce measures such as these. That was evident from the contributions in the Dáil. Many Members gave vent to their frustration at having to react to the tragedy and awfulness of Omagh in this way. No doubt that frustration and dislike for what must be done will be stated from all sides of this House during the debate on this Bill. If this legislation is what is needed to arrest and convict the perpetrators of this crime, not only those who made and transported the bomb and planted it but those who planned it and motivated those people to plan it, it will be well worth it. One hopes that with similar powers on the Statue Book in Northern Ireland and in Britain there will be no safe haven, in the physical or legal sense, for these killers. We hope those people, who are well known to the Garda and the RUC and identified in everything but name by some sections of the media, will be arrested, given a fair trial with the rest of their accomplices and, if found guilty, put away for a long time — if not for the rest of their natural lives — if they show no repentance. In the light of the almost unimaginable heartbreak and devastation of the relatives of those murdered and the pain and suffering of those maimed and injured, one could get carried away by the need to punish these people for what they have done but we must be restrained.

I am glad that in neither jurisdiction is the death penalty an option. However heinous the crime involving the taking of a life or lives, we do not have the right to judicially take the life of the perpetrator or perpetrators, however tempting that might be at times. We hope these evil perpetrators will be judged and sentenced under law in our courts or in the courts of Northern Ireland. Let them remember that one day they will face another judgment. One is reminded, without further comment, of what was said by a cleric some time in the 19th century about hell not being half hot enough or eternity not being half long enough for them to atone for their crimes.

The Bill is not without its flaws. Because of its potential to infringe on civil liberties and human rights it is most regrettable that the Bill is not accompanied by a human rights monitoring group or body. By this I mean an independent group or body established under law to oversee the protection of human rights as a first principle in the operation of legislation but especially in this kind of draconian legislation. In Northern Ireland there is the standing advisory committee on human rights monitoring group. This has been established there for a long time. Surely now is the time to introduce it here.

There is an air of changing the criminal law by stealth. A major provision of this Bill is the curtailment of the right to silence for people arrested under the Offences Against the State Act. I absolutely support that because of the circumstances and the way in which this right has been abused by the evil members of illegal organisations. I understand the Minister is setting up a working group to examine the right to silence in all criminal cases. The name of Mr. Eamon Leahy, who will not be unknown to the Minister, has been mentioned as the chairman of such a working group. When replying perhaps the Minister will comment on what else he has in mind regarding the attenuation of the right to silence in other cases.

Section 10 deals with extending the periods of detention under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, 1939. This is a difficult area. I agree there may be cases where periods of detention as long as seven days could be justified but there needs to be greater definition of what a fair period of detention is, the frequency of required judicial interventions in periods of detention, etc. The provisions of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996, allow for the detention of up to seven days, in certain cases, of people arrested or being investigated for serious crimes. I have no difficulty in principle about it being applied here. I am glad the Minister stated on one of the amendments he is introducing that not alone must the investigating garda go to the district justice to show good reason detention should be extended but the accused person will also be brought before the judge. This means the accused, or somebody acting on their behalf, will have the right to make submissions before the judge in their defence. This safeguard was badly needed and I am glad the Minister has included it.

Extended detentions are necessary in certain difficult investigations. However, the issues of civil liberties and human rights, which are relevant in this context, have not been properly addressed. I urge the Minister to be very careful in introducing further periods of detention in dealing with crimes of this kind, heinous as they are, and in other cases.

In the context of such investigations I also urge the Minister to set a deadline for the installation of video and audio recording equipment in investigation centres. Such facilities exist in very few Garda stations. I have no doubt a number of Garda stations will be identified as suitable for carrying out investigations, questioning, etc. It is essential that video and audio recording equipment is installed in all such places and that all investigations are carried out with the use of video and audio recording.

Section 17 deals with the forfeiture of property which, on the face of it, is very desirable and is just desserts for those who use their home, farm or warehouse to store arms or explosives or to provide facilities for training, etc. I note the Minister was put on the defensive when discussing this issue in an interview on "Morning Ireland" last Monday. It is a very vague area. Section 17 states: "the court shall, subject to subsection (5) of this section, make the forfeiture order, unless, having regard to the matters mentioned in subsection (2) of this section and to the nature and degree of seriousness of the offence of which the person has been convicted, it is satisfied that there would be a serious risk of injustice if it made the order". One cannot escape the fact that the right to own and possess property is inviolable under the Constitution. The right is well enshrined in the Constitution and is an extension of provisions in English common law which are based on the idea that a man's house is his castle.

I see all kinds of problems relating to the constitutional right to property when these cases reach the courts. This is particularly so in the context of family involvement in property — we know what the Constitution says about the position of the family. My conclusion is that there will be very few confiscations. Applications by the State to confiscate property because of clear evidence that it was used in the storage of arms or explosives or to facilitate illegal and subversive activity will open a very rich area for clever lawyers. The section needs to be rewritten or more closely examined. I appreciate the difficulties involved, which were clearly evident when the hard questions were put to the Minister in the radio interview and he went on the defensive. The Minister must examine the provision more clearly.

I welcome President Clinton to this country. He comes to further the peace process. No American President in this century has involved himself so much in the politics of Ireland and we express our gratitude for what he has done. He provided a momentum for the peace process, he appointed Senator George Mitchell to facilitate that process, he is back here in the light of the progress which has been made since the signing of the British-Irish Agreement and he will visit Omagh today.

I also welcome the recent statement by Mr. Gerry Adams. It is not adequate but, nevertheless, it was very welcome in relation to the fact that the IRA's war may be over. I welcome the nomination of Mr. Martin McGuinness to the International Body on the Decommissioning of Weapons. That is most important. I welcome the fact that Mr. David Trimble will meet with Mr. Adams next week when he meets the leaders of all political parties in Northern Ireland. These are positive steps forward in the peace process and we hope these steps will lead to a situation where we will never again see an event such as that which occurred in Omagh.

I welcome the Minister to the House, although I regret the reason for his appearance before us today. I accept, however, the necessity of this legislation.

We extend our heartfelt sympathy to those bereaved as a result of the outrageous atrocity committed in Omagh and to their relatives and friends. It was truly the slaughter of the innocents, an evil mindless act of the most extraordinary brutality committed by terrorists with no moral standards who are capable of anything.

That attempt to subvert the democratic will of the people throughout Ireland must be firmly resisted and crushed. I agree with the strong words of the Taoiseach which he reiterated in this House today. These fascist murderers who call themselves the Real IRA are real in one sense only — they are the real enemies of the people and nothing else. They represent no one but themselves and must not be allowed to deny the people the peaceful future they desire and for which they so overwhelmingly voted in referenda North and South in a free and fair democratic fashion.

We are here to address ourselves to this legislation in the wake of that atrocity. I welcome the Bill because I believe that we have a duty to act decisively in defence of our democracy and no citizens have the right to hold weapons of destruction. There can be only one Garda Síochána, only one Army and the Oireachtas must be the sole source of legitimate authority in this State. These terrorists have arrogantly sought to subvert the democratic process by supplanting it with the bomb and the bullet. They do not recognise the sovereignty of the people.

People everywhere have rightly expressed their revulsion at the terror tactics and they have equally expressed their support for peace and constitutional politics. Accordingly there must be no hiding place for anyone who continues to espouse violence. As a society we must be vigilant in defence of our democracy because the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing have possibly only tactically chosen to remain inactive at present and could strike again if the forces of democracy permitted themselves to be distracted and to drop their guard. Surely there has never been less support for terrorism, never a stronger desire among so many for it all to end and never a stronger view in favour of proper and determined action in pursuit of a firmly established peace.

Sinn Féin and the Unionists hold keys to further needed improvements. I believe Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin's declaration in favour of democratic process. I believe they are sincere in declaring, as our colleague Senator Maurice Hayes wrote yesterday, that the war is, in effect, over.

We have a duty to encourage them in every way possible further along the democratic path we are so glad they have chosen. There must not be veiled threats of a return to violence and so-called punishment beatings must cease. Sinn Féin, as a signatory to the British-Irish Agreement and all it entails, has a duty to assist in the creation of peace its members proclaimed so loudly and to help break and isolate the dissident terrorists responsible for Omagh who remain at large. We repeatedly hear that this is a tiny group of recalcitrant, misguided renegades. Sinn Féin has condemned the Omagh bombing and those responsible for it and must now assist in cutting off their oxygen supply. This legislation will also play a part in that and we fully support it.

Omagh was surely intended to drive Unionists and Nationalists apart and destroy the prospects for the Northern assembly. I salute the obvious success of the intensive ongoing diplomacy and negotiations between the British and Irish Governments and the US Administration which presumably facilitated Gerry Adams's statement and Martin McGuinness's acceptance of a position on the International Body on Decommissioning. In spite of his domestic difficulties, we must state our gratitude to President Clinton for his interest and support, the action taken by his Administration and, in particular, the services of Senator George Mitchell without whose dogged determination and enduring patience the British-Irish Agreement would not have been reached. We must now resolve to hold a steady nerve and continually remind ourselves of John Hume's oft expressed view that the island of Ireland must be viewed in terms of its people rather than its territory. That must become the reality.

I welcome the measures provided for in the Bill, such as the fact that inferences can be drawn from an accused's failure to mention particular facts which would be revealed by any honest and decent citizen without fear, for the direction of any unlawful organisation and the forfeiture of property where someone knowingly conceals weapons of destruction and/or semtex and where the courts feel justified in making such an order. I wish the Minister well with this legislation. I wish both Governments and the security forces on both sides of the Border every success in their ongoing efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the appalling savagery in Omagh.

I welcome this Bill. It would be remiss of me not to express my revulsion at the Omagh bombing. Any decent citizen would be of the same view. The people of 1916 and 1798 would certainly abhor what this renegade group, the Real IRA, has done in a deliberate effort to shatter the peace process. I compliment the Taoiseach, the Government and others who, in the face of devastation, held their heads high, acted with dignity and worked ceaselessly in negotiations with the First Minister, Mr. Trimble, the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and others to ensure the situation did not explode. Had that not happened, bombings could have occurred in the Republic. That would have created a total nightmare and could have blown the process completely out of the water.

The British-Irish Agreement and its endorsement in the referenda brought new hope to Ireland, North and South. It created an atmosphere of change which can be seen in the approach and attitude of the British Government to Ireland and in the Irish Government itself. For 30 years, violence, bombing, bloodshed and bullets did not achieve anything and peace is now being given a chance.

I would like to quote some poetry published in Tom McCaughren's book. The author is a 13 year old boy from Schull and he won an award for it last year. The name of the poem is "At the beginning" and it reads: "At the beginning there were no bombs, no guns, no drugs, let's begin again". It is a very simple poem and it reminded me that there is hope of a new beginning for all of us, the Government and all constitutional politicians, North and South, including the reformed Sinn Féin. I welcome the statement made by Gerry Adams and the appointment of Martin McGuinness to the decommissioning body.

The Omagh bombing and the devastation it caused has resulted in uniting all the people on this island. Never before has there been such a sincere and deep rooted feeling that we want to get rid of the bomb and the bullet and look at constitutional hopes and probabilities for the future of this island. Yesterday, I was confused by the statements made in the Dáil by Ministers and Deputies, particularly those from the Labour Party and Green Party. On the one hand they voted against parts of this Bill because they wanted to protect civil liberties. On the other hand they were trenchant in their demands for the wiping out of the renegade wing of the IRA. Those Members are trying to have it both ways. They should realise this legislation was not introduced willy nilly by this Government. At least 99 per cent of the people on this island wanted something to be done before terrorism got out of control.

In the past the Garda Síochána has intercepted six bombs and I compliment them on that. A bomb intercepted at Dún Laoghaire port could have caused huge devastation had it reached England or wherever it was to be detonated. The Government was faced with a dilemma. The feeling in west Cork and elsewhere is that they had to do something draconian or else introduce internment. I am glad internment is not an option at this stage.

This Bill proposes very draconian measures but if we had a Utopian society we would not need them. It is on the basis of great research, thought and soul searching that the Government decided to confront the men of violence, who number about 100. They are a renegade element who have no respect for this or any other Government, no respect for Protestant or Catholic views or for any political or constitutional institution. As mentioned in the statements by the Taoiseach and the Minister, a clear message must be sent to these people that they cannot continue with this approach. They cannot defy the will of the people who voted last May and they cannot defy the will of the British and Irish Governments who are working in tandem towards a peaceful solution.

Since the Omagh bombing the Government has been working day and night in an effort to put the peace process back on track. After much consultation and advice it has introduced legislation to amend the Offences Against the State Acts. In 1972, the then Minister, Deputy O'Malley, introduced a clause whereby on the evidence of a Chief Superintendent, the Special Criminal Court could convict a person of being a member of the IRA. However, in a subsequent test case this proved inoperable and the Supreme Court decided corroborative evidence was necessary.

There is one important and necessary change in the Bill. The courts can now draw an inference if a suspect gives misleading information or refuses to speak. This could tilt the balance in favour of getting a conviction where the courts and authorities are satisfied the inference is proper and correct.

Normally, in relation to any serious criminal offence, when the book of evidence is presented, the judge advises the defendant to make it known to the court and the Garda if he or she has an alibi. This legislation goes further. If, after three days questioning, a suspect remains silent, does not provide necessary information, or gives misleading information, he may not rely on an alibi at any subsequent trial. This is an important change.

This legislation also provides that the names of witnesses should be made known. If a suspect is relying on the testimony of witnesses, he should give their names when questioned. The legislation is also tightened where any person who is likely to commit another offence while charged will not be released on bail. The court has discretion in such circumstances.

There is also an increase in the maximum detention period from 48 to 72 hours. Existing legislation provides for a maximum detention period of 48 hours while the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act provides for a maximum detention period of seven days. The Criminal Justice Act provides for a maximum detention period of 20 hours. In this legislation because of the serious nature of the offences and the criminal element we are dealing with, an extension of 24 hours is welcome, to allow the authorities to continue questioning a suspect. If that suspect is released after 72 hours, he may be re-arrested. This is an important and appropriate amendment given the nature of the crimes we are trying to stamp out.

The Bill proposes to create five new offences. The first relates to directing an unlawful organisation. A quartermaster or senior official of a renegade unlawful organisation can be sentenced to life imprisonment on conviction. The provision creates a clear distinction between the ordinary members of such organisations and those in authority who might direct operations from places such as Galway, Dublin, Belfast or London. The latter call the shots and have the power to direct that a bomb be placed in a certain town. Under this Bill they face life imprisonment on conviction. The previous maximum sentence was five years which is clearly inadequate in current circumstances.

Any person who collects parts or components for making and detonating bombs and is caught in possession of such items faces a maximum of ten years imprisonment on conviction. The Bill also provides that somebody who trains or instructs recruits to republican groups on the use of firearms and explosives will face a maximum prison term of ten years. Another offence dealt with in the Bill relates to those who collate information, for example, on RUC officers, senior gardaí and so forth. If they are caught in possession of such information or in the process of collecting it, they face a penalty of five years imprisonment. The Bill also provides for the offence of withholding information. Where it is obvious that a person has information and refuses to come forward with it or knowingly withholds it, he or she can be sentenced to five years imprisonment.

It was argued at length during yesterday's Dáil debate on the Bill that the burden of proof is being changed. However, that is not my interpretation. The rules of evidence are being changed to confer a greater degree of flexibility on the courts. That is reasonable in this context. I would prefer not to have to discuss this type of legislation, however, the attitude of a small group of men and women who have shown by their actions that they have no respect for the institutions of this State and those of our nearest neighbour — indeed, they have shown disrespect for the American President who is currently in this country — means that stringent and tough measures must be taken.

It has been pointed out that only two organisations are proscribed here, "Óglaigh na hÉireann" as they call themselves and the INLA. Worries were expressed as to whether that description would apply to the Real IRA and other renegade groups. It will apply to all such groups, regardless of what adjective they use with the letters IRA to describe themselves.

I welcome this Bill with a degree of reticence. It is a necessary measure. The Government had no choice but to act swiftly. A number of people have asked why this legislation was not passed three or four months ago, which might have prevented what happened in Omagh. Would that have been an appropriate welcome to the British-Irish Agreement? To have introduced draconian legislation immediately after the referendums when we were embarking on a peace process would have sent out all the wrong messages. The British-Irish Agreement has the support of almost all the loyalist groups, Sinn Féin and most of the republican groups. Gerry Adams has made a welcome statement. There was a massive yes vote in the referendums and we cannot allow a small group of people to ignore the wishes of the Government and people of Ireland.

Certain aspects of the Bill have been criticised but I am confident that, in the bitter shame of the aftermath of the Omagh bombing, 95 per cent of the people would give their broad support to it. The only alternative available to the Government was the introduction of internment and I am glad that option was not taken. When internment was last introduced on this island heroes were created and a new era of IRA activity followed. The death of one or two prisoners on hunger strike could lead to a similar renewal.

I welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage through the House. The Government has been forced to introduce this measure by the atrocity carried out by the Real IRA in Omagh. The decision to introduce this Bill was not taken lightly but it is the only way.

With the permission of the House I will share my time with Senator Ryan. I welcome the Minister, I congratulate the Government and I reflect on the fact that we rarely see unanimity among Senators and Deputies. It is symptomatic of the seriousness with which this matter is taken that we do not score points off each other when we differ on various parts of this Bill and on the action being taken by the Government. There has been lack of acrimony and political unity about the need to respond to this awful tragedy. We may disagree on the detail and on the measures which need to be taken but we all move in the same direction.

I pay tribute to those who oppose this Bill on grounds of civil liberties. It is not easy in the atmosphere of the aftermath of this bomb to take the unpopular but considered and long-term view that this Bill will be bad for civil liberties in the long run and that it is a knee-jerk reaction to an appalling tragedy which makes bad law. I do not share that view but those who hold it do so courageously in the face of some public unpopularity.

I prefer to look without emotion at the civil liberties of those who are dead or bereaved. There is no prevention because the tragedy has occurred but we can move to try and prevent it from happening in future. Civil liberties are important; they are the bedrock on which democracy is founded, but there are times when civil liberties must be infringed. Nobody has an absolute right to them. There is no doubt that this Bill dramatically and drastically infringes civil liberties. When the Government says the Bill is draconian it is correct. These measures are draconian but one has to pay a price if a small group is prepared to murder other citizens in pursuit of a goal or methods which nobody else shares.

Whereas I welcome the thrust of this Bill, it would have been more honest, appropriate and certainly more effective if the Government had introduced internment. In terms of the civil libertarian ethos which some are championing, I do not see a great deal of difference between infringing civil liberties in the form we have here and in interning people. However, it could have been a great deal more effective if we had interned people or if we were to do so.

Senator O'Donovan is entitled to his perfectly legitimate point of view that internment would not work, but he drew a parallel with the last occasion on which it was introduced. In this case there is no parallel with the last time. The conditions were never more ideal here for internment than they are now because there is a small group of pathological killers prepared to do anything to impose their will. They are not only pathological killers, they are also to a great extent identifiable people. From the magnificent work done by the Garda Síochána in preventing so many of these tragedies from happening before, we know that their intelligence within the group known as the Real IRA was superb. I cannot remember the numbers but the Minister will know. I think that nine, ten or maybe more bomb attacks were prevented. It is absolutely certain that the Garda, with the help of the RUC, the British authorities and others, could have rounded up a large number of these people already, on the Minister's signature. It is fair enough to ask whether this would have prevented the Omagh bombing, but I do not know.

I heard a Minister say — I will not name him because I do not wish to create political embarrassment — in an interview that such an occasion as the Omagh bombing was inevitable, and he was right. However, it is legitimate to ask whether atrocities would have been prevented had internment been introduced earlier, after the British-Irish Agreement. I do not know the answer to that question but I suspect that fewer atrocities would have been attempted and that a large number of the people behind such atrocities would have been locked up. That is the reality.

There are deep set political as well as practical objections to internment. In its foolishness, the British Government took internment off the Statute Book, which made it very difficult to introduce here when people would presumably have been fleeing from this side of the Border to the other, rather than the other way round as happened in the past. The conditions for introducing internment were never better. There is no public support for these people and there would have been no reaction in terms of a flood of public support for them. The Real IRA are now pariahs within Irish society who could have been and should have been picked up and locked up on an earlier occasion.

I have minor reservations about some of the clauses in this Bill, but I also have doubts about the practical effect of it. This Bill must be signed by midnight tonight. The difference between this Bill being signed by midnight and the introduction of internment is that every member of every paramilitary organisation knows that he or she is in danger of being picked up in the morning. We have given the most amazing warning to them and none of them will be sleeping in or anywhere near their homes tonight because they will know that this Bill comes into law then. That is a practical difficulty which internment would have resolved and which might have saved lives.

However, I congratulate the Government on the specific offences which it has created. I congratulate it on its evident determination to fight this group and the complete lack of ambivalence in regard to it.

Finally, I want to say a few words about the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin. The words of Deputy John Bruton in the past few days have been particularly courageous. They have not been words which would be considered helpful or which would have gained the unanimous support of people in this House, but it is appropriate that the Provisional IRA should be required to make unambivalent statements in these circumstances. There are difficulties and there is a strategy to suck them along which may or may not work. However, as Deputy John Bruton said, words are very important and it is not acceptable that people should sit on the Executive or in Government if there is a private army at their beck and call, and that will be the reality. Whereas words have been used by their representatives or people close to them — I am thinking particularly of Mr. Adams — the Provisional IRA-Sinn Féin have given themselves an escape clause and we need more from them than we have got. We cannot go forward in the hope that some people who are sitting on the Executive will not call in the threat of that private army during the new government of Northern Ireland. That will always exist unless there is an unambivalent statement from the Provisional IRA and from its associates in Sinn Féin which can reassure us that they are unambiguously committed democrats forever.

In the meantime I congratulate the Minister on his intent, energy and determination to counter terrorism. It is a pity that internment was not introduced because it would have been more effective. It might have prevented the Omagh bombing and it might have the effect of preventing atrocities to come.

Mr. Ryan

This is a particularly difficult issue for me which could well cost me considerable political support so I will choose my words carefully. There is no doubt that a firm and unambiguous response to the Omagh atrocity by the people and their political leadership was needed. There was also a firm and unambiguous determination by all not to exchange blame for the offence at political level.

I pay tribute to the First Minister of Northern Ireland for the generous gesture of visiting Buncrana, the symbolism of which was appreciated by all. Many other fine gestures were made but that one deserves particular recognition.

That this legislation has produced clarification of the law is very welcome. I am astonished that until now it was not an offence in this State to give direction to an illegal organisation. It seems to be a huge gap in the ordinary criminal law not to have such an offence. Though such activity has been an offence for the last ten years in Northern Ireland, the law, as far as I am aware, has been used only once. Similarly, a properly drafted section of the criminal law which made it a serious offence to train people in the use of weapons or explosives is not what I would classify as repressive legislation. It is a necessary and appropriate part of criminal law, not just emergency legislation. It should be an offence to train people in the use of weapons and explosives for illegal purposes, providing that is what the section means. Unfortunately, apart from many other things that are wrong with this Bill, the sections are incredibly sloppily drafted and ambiguous and notwithstanding successive Government denials, in at least two sections it is the responsibility of the defendant to prove his or her innocence.

I find objectionable the notion that, once this legislation is enacted, I could legitimately be arrested by a member of the Garda on suspicion of membership of an illegal organisation because of my associations. It is bad enough that under the 1972 legislation my conduct could have been used to infer guilt. The phrasing now used is that "conduct" is described as "movements, actions, activities or associations on the part of the accused person". I have had associations with people whom the Garda are convinced were members of illegal organisations. I have spoken at public meetings about what I believed to be miscarriages of justice and inappropriate application of the law against members of illegal organisations or people who were convicted of such membership. I am, therefore, quite clearly guilty by association, as are a considerable number of other Members of this House.

In the past the Garda and the Department of Justice have had to pay compensation to people improperly arrested under suspicion of membership of the IRA and against whom no charge could be brought. This sloppy, vague wording means they will never have to do that again and that is obviously the first priority on the wish list of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is a great pity that under the cloud of Omagh a vague and sloppy wording has been inserted into our legislation.

Perhaps the most offensive part of this Bill is section 8 which deals with information. I am astonished that the media have not noticed it. It states:

"(1) It shall be an offence for a person to collect, record or possess information which is of such a nature that it is likely to be useful in the commission by members of an unlawful organisation of serious offences generally. . .

Not that this must be proven. Will the Minister indicate what sort of information I might have in my possession which would not be likely to be of assistance to an unlawful organisation? If I possessed an ordnance survey map of the Border region, carried out a study on which Border roads were usable or unusable due to bomb damage or had in my possession, for legitimate reasons, a textbook on electronics, the information these could provide would be likely to be of assistance to an unlawful organisation. That is the nature of the offence.

Section 8(2) generously states:

It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that at the time of the alleged offence the information in question was not being collected or recorded by him or her. .

A defendant must, therefore, prove that such information was not collected for the purposes defined in section 8(1). Leaving aside Government assurances to the contrary, a person accused of such an offence will be deemed guilty until they prove their innocence. The same situation applies to section 7. To my mind these sections are offensive, particularly in light of the fact that they could have been drafted differently. I invite the Minister to inform the House how he proposes to make the provisions in sections 7 and 8 reasonable under the law as we understand it. These sections state that any information or articles a person might have in their possession could allow them to be detained and imprisoned until the authorities decided to drop the charges against them. People will be obliged to prove that information in their possession is innocently held, the authorities will not be obliged to prove otherwise.

It is a pity that the offence of training people to use firearms includes training people in the use of crossbows or air guns. To include this in the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill is at least sloppy, if not downright sinister. The extension of the Bail Act to cover all offences under the Offences Against the State Act means that offences under the former Act which only carry a maximum penalty of three months in prison can now cause people to be detained indefinitely and refused bail if the State gets its way.

I intend to ask the Minister a number of detailed questions on Committee Stage. However, will he inform me how it is proposed to ensure that this legislation is applied solely to the Real IRA? It will only take one malicious or incompetent senior member of the Garda Síochána to start arresting members of the Provisional IRA and this will cause the peace process to unravel. Does the Government intend to give a political directive to the Garda to arrest only certain people, which would be a sinister development, or are we to trust the good judgment of gardaí not to arrest members of the Provisional IRA? Are we in danger of innocently undermining the peace process by driving Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA back into the corner out of which they are slowly emerging?

I thank the Cathaoirleach and Members for permitting me to contribute so early in the debate. As a representative from the northern part of the country, I join in the expressions of sympathy by the Taoiseach and the party leaders. As a Member of the House I was proud to note the sincerity, concern and sensitivity with which that sympathy was expressed. I support the tribute paid by the Leader of the House to the medical services, social services, police, fire service, ambulance service, voluntary organisations and the ordinary people of Omagh who coped with tragedy and disaster in a way few others could have managed and in a way which bonded both communities together. That should give everyone hope.

The important thing to remember about the tragedy at Omagh is that we should not lose our sense of shock. When the media circus has moved on and politicians have stopped visiting the town, we must remember the survivors and never allow our sense of shock to be overcome. The Omagh bombing showed there was no room for ambiguity or for what John Healy called "the sneaking regarders". There is no halfway house between a democratic society and violence. Violence has not been and is not ever justified as a means of securing a political objective. We owe that to the victims and survivors of the Omagh bombing.

Stewart Parker in his play "Pentecost" called victims of the Northern troubles "predators" in the sense that life and potential had been snatched away from them and the rest of society owed them something, to ensure that the survivors could live out their lives for them and could create the type of society in which this could not happen again. That is the message of Omagh.

The action taken by the Governments, particularly by the Taoiseach, which I commend, was extremely important in the immediate aftermath of the bomb. It was particularly important that people underlined the importance of the political process to assure people there was a rule of law which would be upheld and the perpetrators would be pursued and brought to justice. That did a great deal to prevent a backlash or untoward reaction to the events in Omagh.

I welcome this legislation and congratulate the Government on it. There are parts of it with which I find some difficulties and I will ask the Minister to consider them. It was improved during its passage through the Dáil and I hope it might be possible for it to be further fine tuned. It is important that it strikes at the godfathers, directors and perpetrators, those who make the bombs. These people have been untouched while unfortunate, very often idealistic, young men and women have been sent out in cars to blow themselves up or get caught and serve many years in jail. Anything that helps society deal with those people is to be commended.

The threat to democratic values is no less than that posed to society by drugs and, therefore, it is reasonable that many of the legal instruments that have been found to be useful in dealing with drug barons should be applied in these cases. I welcome the idea of the confiscation of property in cases where, for instance, arms have been found on property. The important factor which will emerge from this is that laws will not defeat the terrorists but rather the attitude of people. That is what I meant when I said that the Omagh bombing should not be forgotten. The shock should not wear off because these people were seen stealing cars, driving them and assembling the bombs. Until we can pierce that wall of silence and encourage those who saw them that it is their civic duty to help the rest of us to deal with the problem, law on its own will not work.

However, I support these laws to the extent that they attack the problem. Governments must weigh up the security of the State on one hand with the rights of individuals on the other. I have no worries regarding human rights in the sense that all human rights conventions generally allow exception for the security of the State or the maintenance of public order. Even if there were difficulties that would be enough to protect this legislation. That is not to say we should not try to make it as damage proof as possible. This legislation should be focused, proportionate to the threat, time limited and monitored. I have a great deal of sympathy for the proposal to have a human rights commission to deal with such cases. I was a member of a standing advisory commission on human rights in Northern Ireland for four years which monitored such cases and I found it extremely helpful in validating the law. There is no point talking about the right to silence when dealing with people who are trained to be silent. They are prepared to stare at a point on a wall without saying a word for 72 hours no matter what happens to them.

On the collection of information, one must be prepared to accept the courts have some common sense. It is one thing when a person is picked up with an ordnance survey map but it is a different matter if the map contains a ring around the address of every policeman within ten miles of a certain area. These are important measures and I commend the Minister on the legislation.

We should try to ensure that the monitoring of the application of the acts is as continuous and rigorous as possible. When legislation is passed in a hurry, unexpected or unaccounted for events may arise. It would be sensible — this would not have to be laid down in legislation — to confine questioning to those Garda stations equipped with video and sound recordings. That would prevent potential trouble afterwards. It would save having trials within trials when people are brought forward. There should be monitoring of the way in which the Garda use legislation — this was referred to by Senator Ryan.

It has been my experience in the past that the police force often use the biggest instrument at its disposal rather than the smallest one. I have seen cases in the past where the Offences Against the State Act has been used for crimes of an ordinary nature. In Great Britain at present CS gas, which is used for the control of riots, is being used to control or arrest mental patients. Will the Minister put in train a review mechanism to ensure the legislation is proportionate, time limited and focused? I commend the Minister and the Taoiseach on the steps taken by the Government which will considerably advance the peace process.

I wish to share my time with Senator Mary Jackman.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I commend Senator Maurice Hayes on his contribution. It was not only a very moving contribution but also extremely sane and measured and all of us should read it.

This is a particularly sombre day in the life of this Parliament. On very few occasions have we been asked to give extraordinary powers to the Government of the day. It is almost 59 years to the day in September 1939 when, for the first time under the present Constitution, the Government came to the House asking for extraordinary powers which remained in existence throughout the emergency. Successive Taoisigh at different times going back to W. T. Cosgrave, de Valera, Jack Lynch, Liam Cosgrave and Garret FitzGerald have on occasions had to resort to the use of these powers because in the view of their Government and the best security advice there was a danger to the State. The State is not some vague, anonymous, amorphous entity. The State is all of us. It is our laws, our Constitution, the practice of democracy, the supremacy of democracy, the doctrine of one Army and one police force in the State. When these were in danger of being subverted, political leaders of all parties have had to come to these Houses seeking extraordinary powers which invariably they have been granted. With a few exceptions the use of those powers over the lifetime of the State has been careful and as was intended. Those exceptions, which I will address in a moment, are much less likely to happen today. Over the years the courts, for the most part, have upheld the legislation. Any wrong practices, and there were wrong practices at different times, were identified and addressed in the full light of publicity.

The problem today is not the Omagh bombing, terrible as it was, but the mindset of the people behind it. Like Senator Hayes, I am glad this legislation is trying to get to the godfathers, the people responsible not just for the suffering inflicted on innocent people but also for the perversion of idealism. People will spend many years in jail for the terrible deeds they did as a result of being influenced by these people. It is a symptom of a mindset which will do again what it did in Omagh if, for its own perverted ideology, it believes it is in its own interests. We are dealing with people who do not respect my rights or the view that I and all other politicians have that life is about compromise, that I cannot always get my own way, that might is not right. That is the reason exceptional laws are needed.

We are told today by our Government, on the best security advice available to it, that these powers are needed. I accept its view with reluctance. I am suspicious and I am always concerned that, as Senators Hayes and Ryan pointed out, the police can and do use powers that were not intended in other circumstances. These are the matters about which we must be vigilant.

Those of us on this side of the House, and Members on the other side, will subject this legislation to detailed scrutiny on Committee Stage. We have suggestions to make, some of which have been accepted already by the Minister in the other House. That is our job and we will continue to do it.

One major difference today from when this type of legislation was first initiated in the 1930s is that there is now a range of informal safeguards to ensure these powers will not be excessively used. Those safeguards did not exist to the same extent in the past. For example, there is a new attitude in these Houses where Members tend to be more vigilant, aggressive and searching than they were in the past. I say this as somebody who has studied many of the Dáil debates since the foundation of the State. There is a different type of attitude on the part of Members. There are more means of asking questions and of ensuring that Governments behave whether it is the committee system, the presence of television cameras or whatever.

The courts today are very different from the courts of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. They have a much stronger human rights awareness and they are quick to act upon excessive use of these powers or any alleged breaches of human rights brought to their attention.

The media today is very different from the somnolent media of earlier years. The media now has a strong investigative role. Members of the media see it as their job to monitor what is happening and public opinion will be made aware quickly if there are excesses. That will in turn feed into these Houses and into the courts. There is a new cultural climate which is the strongest safeguard we have against excessive use of these powers for any sustained period.

Public opinion has changed greatly in recent years. It is finally moving away from what Senator Hayes dubbed as the sneaking regarder, the syndrome of always playing it both ways. I hope public opinion will not tolerate these type of activities. While none of us likes this sort of legislation, Governments have in the past sought to use such legislation in the way intended by Parliament when passing it. In addition, the informal safeguards in place today, in the form of the media, these Houses, the courts and public opinion ensure that any temptation to exceed the authority being given will be brought to a quick end.

This morning we revisited Omagh. I was out of the country at the time of the Omagh bombing and for me it was a tremendous atrocity. I was in America at the time, and the reaction of ordinary people was overwhelming when they heard an Irish voice, people we would feel probably have more day-to-day experience of violence than we in the Twenty-six Counties would have. Their reaction was one of revulsion and complete disbelief. Despite important national and international news at the time, the Omagh bombing dominated the local newspapers in the area where I was, South Alabama, for four consecutive days. That shows the horror with which this atrocity was viewed by people who live in another democracy.

Senator Hayes brought home to us how ambivalent we tend to be on the Northern question in relation to violence. It is not very long since we stood to express our horror at the Ennis-killen bombing. While we have to balance the rights of ordinary people to civil liberties, there is no question but that the legislation before us has to be supported, with the reservations expressed by the Senators which will be discussed on Committee Stage.

Monitoring is an important aspect of the legislation. The way legislation is implemented is always of tremendous importance. This includes the sophistication of equipment in Garda stations, lack of ambivalence in questioning witnesses, videotaping of interviews and scrutiny not just by people who operate the equipment but also a constant awareness on the part of democratically elected representatives to ensure that this legislation is operated in the way it should be.

We are one nation with one army. We cannot accept the so-called Real IRA who are hell-bent on destroying the peace process, on going against the democratic wishes of the people of Ireland, on going against the British-Irish Agreement in an effort to derail it. The most important human rights are those of the young children who will not enjoy a life of fulfilment, of maimed teenagers who have to look forward to a struggle with life. We as an Irish nation should be supportive of this legislation because it is ambivalence that gives those people the feeling that they can be supported. We should not forget Omagh or Enni-skillen, but we should be mindful that legislation must protect civil liberties. It must be scrutinised on a regular basis and include everything that is needed to ensure that there is no violation of human rights. Once and for all we must stand up to the small group of people who are not just fighting for some ideology for which there is no excuse but against the democratic rights of all of us — Senators, Deputies and people of Ireland. Let us not forget.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I thank him for all his efforts in the peace process and for putting this legislation together. None of us wants to be here today expressing grief, sorrow, dismay and abhorrence of the appalling tragedy in Omagh. None of us expected to be here today to pass legislation which is variously described as tough or draconian. It probably is draconian legislation. However, none of the people in Omagh on 15 August expected to be blasted away. This is the week that many of our children return to school or go to college. It is a happy time and many people on that Saturday were making preparations for it. However, children and their futures were blasted away. This is the grim reality and the legislation must be placed in that context.

The bombing in Omagh on 15 August was an act of evil. It inflicted pain and suffering on a community which was slowly but surely adjusting to the happier circumstances of life in a more peaceful Northern Ireland. The people of Omagh and the visitors, like their counterparts in all towns in Northern Ireland, were daring to hope for a new normality which would allow them to lead their lives without the backdrop of violence for the first time in generations. An act of savagery by fascists, the murder of 28 people and the injuring and maiming of dozens of others, provided them and us with a rude awakening.

A few weeks have passed since the tragedy in Omagh and the time has come to convert the universal sense of revulsion at what happened into a tangible response to the perpetrators of this unspeakable act. All the words of sympathy and outrage uttered in the wake of Omagh will ring hollow to the relatives and friends of the victims unless the most powerful force of the law is unleashed against the so-called godfathers, perpetrators, sympathisers and fellow travellers of the self-styled murderous Real IRA and their ilk.

What has been done cannot be undone. Those who oppose the introduction of the new measures in the Bill have suggested that they represent a serious erosion of civil liberties. It is not something any of us relish; none of us wants to be in the House to deal with the Bill. However, the most important right is the right to life. The Government has a duty first and foremost to protect its citizens from the onslaught of terrorism and from death and destruction. It is reasonable that the State should seek to strengthen its hand against those who spend their days trying to subvert it. These people are setting out to destroy not only the peace process but also our State and nation.

We must be mindful that this amending legislation does not lead us directly or indirectly down the road of miscarried justice. The Minister has been reasonable in this regard. He has made amendments to alleviate some of the fears which have been expressed. Section 10 provides for an extended period of detention but a person who is the subject of an application will be produced before a judge. This is a good and reasonable measure.

In section 18, the date on which certain elements of the Bill will lapse unless they continue in operation under a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas, has been brought forward to June 2000. This is also a good amendment. The Minister has sought to alleviate some of the concerns and this has been acknowledged. Some of the amendments emphasise the supremacy of the Oireachtas in the State. This is the correct path to follow; there is no other way. It is indicative of the fact that the Minister, in common with all Members, would prefer not to have this type of legislation.

Genuine concerns have been expressed. That is to be expected and we cannot dismiss them. Points have been well made about the need to monitor the various facets of the Bill. There is a logistical problem in making audiovisual equipment available in every Garda station but given the small numbers involved it should be possible to bring suspects to those stations where equipment is available.

Straightforward questions should be asked. Why should it be lawful for someone to direct an unlawful organisation? Why should it be lawful for the owner of a farm on which an illegal organisation makes bombs to withhold such information from the Garda Síochána? The provisions of the Bill will make it more difficult for a tiny violent minority to dictate the future of the island. They cannot have their way.

In April the British-Irish Agreement was signed in Castle Buildings. In May it received the support of the overwhelming majority on the island. People made it clear in no uncertain terms that they wanted peace. Those responsible for the bomb in Omagh flew in the face of public sentiment. This country stands to lose so much if the men of violence, however small in number, are allowed to return centre stage. The edifice which has been built with great care and attention could come tumbling down if we are not resolute in the face of renewed violence. We cannot allow another atrocity.

This is an important day on this island. President Clinton is seeking once again to bring his influence to bear on the peace process. He has been a good friend to Ireland. In giving the process priority he has been instrumental in leading us down the road towards lasting peace. Deserved tribute has been paid to Senator Mitchell and all the political leaders on this island and in Britain for the role they have played.

There have been some positive developments this week. In a significant statement the president of Sinn Féin, Mr. Gerry Adams, committed the organisation to pursuing its political goals through exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Sinn Féin has also appointed Mr. Martin McGuinness to liaise with the independent decommissioning body chaired by General John de Chastelain. As the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and First Minister, Mr. David Trimble, said, words must be followed by action. Decommissioning, like prisoner releases, is a central part of the British-Irish Agreement. The process is and will always be about constructing trust and confidence.

The fledgling Northern Ireland Assembly will meet in 11 days. There is every reason to believe the painstaking progress made on the political front since the Omagh bombing will bear fruit when all the parties meet at Stormont. We await the establishment of the North-South implementation bodies and the putting in place of the other structures envisaged under the Agreement. These represent the future, not bombs and bullets. The more progress made on the political front the more difficult it will be for the warped and perverted few to sell their message of violence. Special circumstances require special measures. It would be remiss of the Government not to deal to the best of its ability with the prospect of another atrocity.

The overriding concern in the introduction of this Bill is to protect human life, North and South. The Offences Against the State Act has saved countless lives by apprehending hundreds of people bent on the pursuit of evil and destruction. Its existence on the Statute Book has probably prevented some of the worst excesses of paramilitary violence, notwithstanding the acts of violence which have occurred. I note that civil rights associations have described the changes as over the top, but I disagree. The logic these associations bring to the argument is false. The majority of countries in the civilised world have not had to frame their laws to counter constant terrorist threat. Thankfully, events such as Omagh are few and far between, but the threat of such events places an onerous responsibility on the Government of the day to act decisively, which it has done.

I commend the Minister and his officials for the manner in which the new legislation has been put together. Of course we all hope Omagh was the last atrocity, but we have seen too much over the years to become too hopeful that it will be the last. We cannot lose hope, but Omagh should remind us that as the fragile flower that is the British-Irish Agreement seeks to take root and blossom, there are those who want to pull it from the ground and throw it away. They must not be allowed to succeed.

I wish to share my time with Senator Quinn.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Omagh, as we know, was an attempt to destroy the democratic process in Ireland that was as outrageous as it was callous. For the people who planted the bomb to claim they acted on behalf of the Irish people, when the results of the recent referenda showed they obviously did not, is one of the greatest insults that we have had to endure in addition to the pain, distress and death suffered by the people of Omagh.

However, we must be very careful that we do not damage democracy ourselves because of our justifiable outrage. It is very easy to pass legislation which, due to our rage, we consider necessary but which we would not consider in normal times. I admit that these are not normal circumstances, and I would like to agree with Senator Keogh that this is an isolated incident, but tragically this type of campaign against a civilian population is becoming the norm internationally.

If the Government feels this legislation will help apprehend those who defied the overwhelming wishes of the population of Ireland, North and South, then we will have to accept it, though with reluctance. Deputy Hanafin said last night that this legislation is not desirable but that it is essential, and that is probably how many of us feel. Many Deputies and Senators have expressed their concerns about the extent of the legislation, and I have expressed my concerns about the lack of video recording of interviews. This is of great concern when the lack of a response to questions in these interviews will be taken seriously as evidence. I understand civil liberties groups describing this as a huge infringement on a person's right to remain silent, but if the whole interview is videotaped there is a definite justification for using the tape in court. Failure to give information is another situation where I would like to see video evidence being used. This could be a genuine mistake and it will be difficult to add this to a person's guilt if one has not seen how the whole interview has been carried out.

We should all be conversant with our civic duty in reporting suspicious activities. There must be many who will remember the murder of Tom Oliver. His reward for doing his proper civic duty in reporting specific activities to the police was his murder by the IRA. While I understand this will be made a more serious crime, we must remember an enormous amount of courage will be required by such people.

Senator Ross spoke about the possibility that internment might have been a better solution. He was right to point out that unfortunately we are comparing internment now with that of the early 1970s in the North of Ireland where ridiculously out of date information was used and people who had nothing to do with illegal activity were interned. There was an appalling backlash in the community which resulted in probably one of the best recruiting drives the IRA ever had. He had a point because at least we would have admitted our failure in that the legislation in place is not sufficient to apprehend people we suspect of being involved in terrorist crime. I am concerned about whether the legislation will be enough to apprehend such people and bring them to justice.

I would like those convicted of bombing offences and who are now serving prison sentences to do more about the bombers involved in the Real IRA. I have written to them on this subject and believe I can say something about it. I campaigned for years for the ratification of the transfer of prisoners convention and for the transfer of these prisoners. I received a letter from Lord Williams of Mostyn yesterday telling me why one such prisoner could not be transferred. While I am glad those involved in bombings who are now in prison and who have served long sentences are unbowed and unbroken — nobody wants to see peoples' spirits broken — some members of the IRA have pointed out how futile their activities were.

It would be worthwhile if more saw how counterproductive the destruction of the lives of children is. The babies who lost their lives in Omagh were not the first to lose their lives as babies. Even younger died in bombing attempts, including a six month old baby in Germany, babies in England and in previous campaigns in Northern Ireland. Women, including pregnant women, old people and many others died before the Omagh bomb.

I would like if those imprisoned for these offences — we are constantly being told prisoners have made a great contribution towards the peace process — would publicly point out that people should desist because the sentences they have served show the campaign does not in any way increase the likelihood of a united Ireland. Our experience over the past 25 years must show how futile the effort has been.

Will the Presidential Commission refer the legislation to the Supreme Court? I am concerned by the number of constitutional lawyers who believe it will be referred. Naturally, I have great confidence in the Attorney General and the Minister but it is worrying that the legislation might be struck down almost immediately by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, that has happened in the past with special powers legislation. I wonder what comments the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights, Mary Robinson, would make on the legislation if she was here. Would they be similar to those she made here in the 1970s? At that time people were regularly imprisoned for membership of the IRA on the word of a Garda superintendent. I heard a report of one case where a superintendent was questioned as to whether he knew the accused, had met him before or could recognise him, and the superintendent had to admit that he had never met the man before, would not have recognised him and this was the first time he had come across him, but in that case the man was convicted. This is a subject about which we all feel strongly. I hope the Minister will accept that while I have reservations about what he is trying to do I understand why he is doing it.

I tabled an amendment to a section of the Bill which requires a person to deny any published report that he or she is a member of an illegal organisation. It is difficult enough for the Minister to have mistakes made about him rectified in a newspaper. With due respect, it seems onlyThe Irish Times takes clarifications and corrections seriously. It publishes them the next day, but there must be many Members of the Oireachtas who have written repeatedly to the editors of other newspapers asking them to correct a report. It is almost impossible to have an incorrect report corrected on the radio media. How long will a person be allowed to ensure a correction is made?

One Member of the Oireachtas has been trying for two years to get a radio station to correct an erroneous report about him. He has gone to great lengths to do that and the only thing he can do now is to take a case against the station concerned, but that would cost him a good deal of money. People accused of membership of the Real IRA may not be in a position financially to take cases against newspapers or radio stations which state that they are members of the IRA and which will not publish a disclaimer. Removal of that provision from the Bill would be welcome because it appears foolish to me.

I understand the good intentions behind the Bill, but I wonder how useful it will be against those whom we are trying to convict. It reminds me of the legislation on dog muzzling. We were horrified by the actions of uncontrolled guard dogs who attacked children and, in some cases, killed them. Legislation was introduced to the effect that such dogs should be muzzled immediately, but I have not seen any increase in the number of muzzles on dogs, and children are still attacked by them. I hope this legislation will do what the Minister intends it will do.

Fáiltím roimh an mBille tábhachtach seo agus roimh an Aire; déanaim comghairdeas leis as ucht an Bille a thabhairt os comhair na Dála agus an tSeanaid. Tá sé práinneach cé nach mbaineann sé ach le slua an-bheag atá lasmuigh den gcóras polaitíochta agus atá gan mandate.

I welcome the Minister for Justice to the House. I also welcome the Bill which is part of an ongoing process following the British-Irish Agreement, but sadly it was accelerated and given a different focus and shape because of the horrendous tragedy of the Omagh bombing two weeks ago. That horrendously tragic holocaust has been variously described in the media. One or two of the most significant and profound descriptions that tended to capture the attention referred to the bomb as being addressed to humanity and not to politics, enemy military organisations, foreign alien governments or extremists on the other side. That headline captured my attention.

Séamus Heaney described the immediate aftermath of the bomb as people not cursing the political motivation of the bombers, but their callousness and the enormity of their indifference to human life. Those words go some way towards capturing the deep sense of the tragedy and holocaust that happened. Senator Maurice Hayes wrote voluminously about it and what struck him was how potent a symbol it was in terms its potential to be the Pentecost in Northern Ireland in the Stewart Parker sense. This was because ordinary people going about ordinary tasks were obliterated with total, absolute and abject indifference by those who carried out this callous and heinous deed. It deeply shocked all people on this island. The point was forcefully made by a previous speaker that this was an effort by a tiny but callous group to bomb the island and all its peoples and traditions into a united Ireland. What it has achieved is a unity of determination, purpose and vision about the kind of Ireland we need, want and are determined to ensure is brought about. There is a significant irony in that.

I support the Bill. Some people, including the Minister, said it contained harsh, tough measures. There is no doubt about that and some would say with some justification that they are draconian. I cannot recall in my 16 years in the Houses of the Oireachtas participating in a debate on a Bill whose measures were so harsh. I cannot recall legislation with measures which go so far in some respects being introduced to the Statute Book. While the measures may be draconian, tough, harsh and regrettable, most people who wish to advance the British-Irish Agreement towards permanent peace in Northern Ireland would accept unequivocally and unambiguously that they are necessary.

It was disappointing to learn that, in the Dáil yesterday, the Labour Party and Green Party voted three times against some of the measures in the Bill. Deputies Ó Caoláin, Joe Higgins and Gregory also voted against the measures a number of times. We live in a democracy and I do not wish to diminish the rights of the Deputies and their parties to take a certain line. It would be contrary to what I am speaking about because it would be akin to what this ruthless, mindless minority is trying to achieve. However, it comes across as speaking out of both sides of one's mouth, of having the best of both worlds. It satisfies their civil libertarian friends on the one hand — we are all civil libertarians — while at the same time addressing the element which poses a threat to the British-Irish Agreement. This latter issue is being dealt with forcefully, determinedly and constitutionally in the Bill with all due regard to our international human rights obligations.

The Minister admitted that the Bill is a small but vital element in the package needed to facilitate the growth of a new understanding in the totality of new relationships on this island. It is the birth and growth of these new relationships which is helping the island to quickly overcome and move forward from, while not forgetting, the horrendous holocaust of a few weeks ago. The tragic event in Omagh sent a potent and frightening signal to all on this island of the threat to the British-Irish Agreement posed by tiny groups of individuals who are ready to use violence to wreck the Agreement. Their motivation is not republicanism but their opposition to the Agreement. Even though they have lost support in most parts of Ireland, they are still determined in the same psychopathic way to use the maximum force, brutality and violence to wreck the greatest potential for the advancement of permanent peace in the history of Anglo-Irish relations in recent times.

However, they are going even further — they are attacking our civilisation. In a unique way, the people endorsed the British-Irish Agreement in two referenda. These groups are attempting to subvert the will of the people to further their sick, irresponsible agenda. Reasoned argument will not reach them. In the aftermath of the British-Irish Agreement these small, breakaway, extremist groups are throwing down the gauntlet to the Government and the people, North and South. The referenda offered an unprecedented and unique opportunity. They also issue a mandate and a directive to the Government to take these groups out of circulation in accordance with due process and to remove any undemocratic, terrorist obstacles to fulfilling the terms of the British-Irish Agreement. The overwhelming majority of people Catholic, Protestant or dissenter, Nationalist, republican or Unionist is behind the Government and the Minister. In concurrent referenda they showed that the mandate is clear — there is no longer any place for the bomber or the gunman in Irish society. They have to be removed and peace has to be promoted on the island.

Against this background, the Government has a duty to act. It could have decided to play for time to see if people's sense of outrage would be sufficient to bring these people to heel. However, that would have been a cowardly opt-out. The Minister would have abrogated his responsibilities. The people have exercised their responsibilities and transferred power to the Minister and the Government. They want them to act now to promote peace.

I welcome Tuesday's statement by Mr. Gerry Adams that violence must be a thing of the past, over and done with, for everyone. This declaration is being interpreted as a signal that the war is over. It puts the peace process back on course as it significantly enhances the prospects of Sinn Féin and the Unionists sitting together in a Northern Government. That is a significant and vital element in the progression towards what is aspired to and signed up to in the British-Irish Agreement.

I welcome this Bill and the safeguards which accompany it. I also welcome the decision to include a review mechanism. Measures such as these should not be left on the Statute Book any longer than necessary. They are a response to an emergency. They are vital, necessary and regrettable but I hope they will be successful.

I am glad that both Houses on the two islands have been recalled and that the two Governments are acting in unison. A mandate was given by the British-Irish Agreement and the referenda whereby no small, unrepresentative group can attempt to return to the days when the bomb and the bullet were the norm. It is appropriate that joint action is taken.

It is almost three weeks since the Omagh bombing and this gives us an opportunity to reflect on and tease out the implications of legislation. We are not reacting overnight in a panic.

I wish to correct Senator Fitzgerald who likes to have a go at the Opposition. The Opposition parties and certainly the Labour Party did not vote against the Bill three times; they voted for amendments which were intended to improve the Bill. It is the function of the Opposition to introduce amendments to safeguard the right of citizens and to ensure that this legislation or any other legislation does not interfere with any constitutional right.

The carnage perpetrated by the Real IRA at Omagh has shaken the people to the core. The grief, anguish and pain inflicted on that day has sickened every right-minded person in Ireland. The bombing has strengthened the determination of ordinary people throughout the island that the British-Irish Agreement be made to work and that a just and lasting settlement emerges in Northern Ireland.

The result of the Omagh bombing has also been to remind us all of the threat that exists to democracy from fringe terror groups, intent on subverting the will of the people, as expressed in the recent referenda on both sides of the Border. The threat posed to democracy and the peace process by the Real IRA is a substantial one. The people in that organisation are deluded fanatics, immune to the wishes and hopes of the people of this island. They have demonstrated their commitment to perpetrate the most appalling crimes in an attempt to undermine democracy and it is the duty of the State to respond to their violence with all the legal means at its disposal.

The Government's response comes in the form of the Bill before the House. Before turning to the Bill I wish to comment broadly on the tasks facing both Governments and all democrats in this island at this critical time.

The Government's response to the Omagh bombing has chiefly been a security response. While this is undoubtedly necessary, it is only part of the whole package needed to concentrate totally and exclusively on the suppression of a small fringe terror group, no matter how desperate, ruthless and evil its actions, and is not sufficient.

The horror of the Omagh atrocity necessitates a comprehensive response including this legislation but it must go far beyond the Bill or the Garda's ongoing actions against the Real IRA. At this crucial time it is vital that the Real IRA and its cowardly acts do not dominate the political agenda or distract attention from the political structures emerging in Northern Ireland.

The political response to this bombing that supports the dynamic for progress and which exists within the Northern Ireland Assembly is absolutely vital. Both Governments must act in unison to ensure in the coming weeks and months the Assembly and the shadow executive work and are seen to work. This is an onerous task but is all the more important in the wake of the Omagh atrocity.

In recent days the republican movement has indicated it rejects the use of violence for political purposes. I was pleased to see the disavowal by Gerry Adams yesterday of violence as a means to an end and that Martin McGuinness has been appointed to the commission on decommissioning. Both are significant steps forward and, in the view of the Labour Party, are leading to the working of the new Assembly. These developments are welcome and can provide a significant impetus in the coming weeks. I urge both Governments to redouble their efforts in this regard.

Beyond the realm of established politics there is a large amount of work to be done regarding a community response to the Omagh bombing. The public outcry in the wake of the Omagh tragedy demonstrated the emotional attachment the Irish people on both side of the Border have for the British-Irish Agreement. In the days following the bombing the airwaves and letters pages of the newspapers were evidence of the deep sense of revulsion felt by the ordinary people on this island. Not only was the sense of revulsion evident but the commitment of the people to realising the potential of the British-Irish Agreement ran like a common thread through the response of people everywhere. This is a most important development and must be recognised by both Governments.

While new legislation and a renewed commitment to making the assembly work is important, ensuring the people have ownership of the peace process is critical, particularly in the wake of the Omagh bombing. How can this goal be achieved? I believe the Government should undertake a complete review of its funding of cross-Border and cross-community organisations. In this respect I was surprised to hear a backbench Fianna Fáil Deputy say that funding to one such organisation had been cutback in the recent past, leading to a severe cutback in the places available on its various programmes. This penny pinching attitude cannot be allowed continue. Voluntary and community organisations which work tirelessly to promote understanding on the island must receive the full backing of both Governments and the EU in their efforts. I hope the Minister will communicate my views to the Government on this matter and I look forward to swift and effective action being taken to properly resource these organisations.

Another suggestion in terms of British-Irish co-operation in the context of the Agreement, and encompassing all the bodies on the islands, including those in Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and the North and South of Ireland, is the Council of the Isles. It is an excellent proposal in the context of trying to weld the various peoples and cultures together with a common purpose. This can help create a sense of cohesion and partnership in moving forward and I would like to see this concept explored to a greater degree.

The Labour Party accepts the need for legislation of this nature given the threat to democracy and the peace process posed by small ruthless terror groups. As a social democrat I take no particular pleasure in supporting in principle a Bill of this nature. However, I am deeply committed to protecting our democracy against attacks by fascists intent on destroying all we hold dear. It is against this background that I and my party have given broad support to the Bill. However, there are a number of aspects of the Bill to which I object and the Labour Party will be tabling appropriate amendments in an effort to seek improvements and the inclusion of safeguards.

My experience in dealing with human rights and civil liberties over the years, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, has left me with a keen awareness of how easily temporary emergency legislation can become permanent and how its application can be extended way beyond the original purpose intended by those who framed it. I have seen how such legislation can be subject to abuses in its operation. Abuse comes about in particular when there is strong political pressure to get results. The host of miscarriages of justice both here and in Britain have tarnished the rule of law, discredited sections of the police force, reduced the morale of the police force and raised question marks over the operation of the criminal justice system. Ironically, such abuse has impeded the pursuit of those who have lived by the bomb and the bullet and who have committed atrocities on both islands. Therefore, we must be extremely careful in ensuring we do not return to a situation where allegations can be made, such as those made in the 1970s concerning a heavy gang operating to get results following the passing of emergency and exceptional legislation which has since been repealed. At that time the Barra O Briain and Judge Martin committees were established.

A similar situation arose in relation to a host of cases in Britain following the sudden and hasty introduction of the prevention of terrorism legislation in 1974 subsequent to the Birmingham bombings. We are all aware of the consequences of this legislation in Britain. We have particular concerns about three areas. The absence of a nationwide system of electronic recording of interviews in Garda stations is worrying. This was prescribed in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, and 15 years later only exists in the form of an extremely limited pilot scheme. With the extra powers included here — the curtailment of the right to silence and inference of corroboration in relation to prosecution of offences and convictions — it is absolutely essential that any station where a person is detained under this legislation and interviewed for up to three days has adequate audio and audio-visual recording equipment.

The Minister does not need to do as the Judge Martin report recommended — install such facilities in every Garda station in the State immediately — but he must ensure that stations to which people arrested under this legislation are brought for interview have these safeguards, both for the gardaí and the detainee. That is essential. Senator Maurice Hayes, who has considerable experience of this area in Northern Ireland, stated there should be monitoring of all cases dealt with under this legislation by human rights groups.

This legislation is an amendment to the Offences Against the State Act introduced in 1939 to combat subversion at a critical time in the history of this island and of Europe. We have remained in a state of emergency since with an Offences Against the State Act which includes offences in the scheduled and non-scheduled categories. Over the years we have seen the courts bypassed by the operation of this legislation, legislation which was originally intended purely for the purpose of countering subversion. Now we have gone a step further and created new serious offences which carry a penalty of five or more years. There will be a greater catch-all of offences than would be the norm in any jurisdiction. The danger which exists is potent and it is important the legislation is used for the stated intention — offences against the State — and not as catch-all legislation.

The Minster took steps in the Dáil to alleviate our concerns about a terminal date for the legislation. That date should be coterminous with the provisions and proposals of the British-Irish Agreement, which intends to see in operation the rule of law with strict safeguards enhanced and protected by human rights commissions, both North and South, with strong powers of monitoring. This legislation should not extend beyond that period of time. We would like this legislation to selfdestruct at that point rather than being subject to review. The Minster of the day should have to reintroduce the legislation and subject it to the full rigorous procedures of both Houses of the Oireachtas. A Bill such as this should be placed on the Statute Book with extreme caution. There is a precedent for emergency legislation to become something of a permanent feature of our legal code and a danger that legal principles established in emergency legislation can subsequently become part of the normal legal landscape. That constitutes an erosion of democracy and it is our duty as legislators to ensure that does not happen. While it is essential that we provide the Garda with the necessary legal powers to pursue those who wish to subvert democracy, it is also critical that we do not undermine that very democracy in our efforts to pursue those responsible for the Omagh carnage. I hope the Minister will look favourably on the reasonable amendments which have been tabled by the Labour Party and other Members of the Opposition as they would enhance the Bill and ensure the constitutional rights of citizens would be upheld.

I welcome the Minister to the House and the introduction of this necessary legislation. Some people would say it is a pity a special sitting such as this had to be convened to enact legislation which might appear to some to go against the grain of civil liberties in that it might be seen to enhance the State's control over its citizens. State involvement in people's lives has increased over the years and some would suggest that George Orwell's day has now come.

This is necessary legislation; the Government did not wish to introduce it but was forced by events to do so. Successive Governments have introduced numerous Bills which protect citizens against extremes. The extremes in question are caused by those who do not wish us to live in a democracy and who would like to take away our democratic principles and government. As Senator Costello pointed out, some of the legislation introduced in the past has remained on the Statute Book. It was necessary for it to remain there as long as people perpetrated crimes against Irish people, North and South and, indeed, against people in Great Britain. A concerted effort has been made over the years to eliminate true democracy from this country and therefore certain powers conferred on the Government by the Oireachtas have had to be enacted.

The Omagh tragedy has impacted more than many others on people throughout Ireland. It also impacted on people in Spain and, indeed, throughout the world. In this era of instant communications, SKY, ABC, NBC and CNN were broadcasting pictures of the atrocity before many of us were even aware of what had happened.

The implications of the Omagh bombing are horrendous for the victims, their families and communities and legislation such as this will not be able to overcome the problems which will arise in the future for those injured, maimed and mentally tortured by the bombing. In some cases, it could be said the people who died might have been luckier than those who must live with the effects of the atrocity. We have to be cognisant that the Garda Síochána, the RUC and the British and Irish Governments have been working extremely hard to rid this country of terrorists. They have been trying to ensure that people can live in a peaceful environment where there is hope for the future. Too many people have no future because of the actions of the past.

This Bill has been called draconian and contains draconian elements but they are necessary if we are to capture the terrorists behind the murders that have taken place. We must seek out the people who commit murder supposedly in the name of the republican movement. They are as far removed from the real meaning of republicanism as they could be. They have no conscience, do not have the public interest at heart and serve only themselves. The Bill, although draconian, has an appropriate time limitation on it and it will be reviewed by both Houses on 30 June 1999.

We are dealing with a small group of dedicated terrorists who do not care who they hurt. They will not listen to anybody and will continue to do what they want. Their actions are not in the best interest of the public, republicanism or people who want to live their lives and cope with all the trauma that life brings. At present, everyday life is extremely difficult for many people without adding the extra trauma of death and the loss of limbs, etc.

It has been stated that when emergency legislation was introduced in the 1970s it resulted in the Garda going overboard in the way they operated the legislation. That was possibly true in the past. Now the Garda employ a very open and transparent mechanism under which the Minister and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform can be notified immediately. I have no doubt that if something untoward happened now in any Garda or RUC station the media would know about it immediately. The general public would then be informed of the incident and I am sure there would be an immediate outcry. This is different to what happened in the 1970s. We are a millennium away from the 1970s in terms of the attitude of the public towards law and order and its transparency.

I would like to see an electronic recording system used in all cases, not only in cases where people are arrested under this Bill. There is a need for a system to record interviews being conducted in the confines of a Garda barracks or anywhere people are charged or interviewed. This will be provided for and it is not specific to this Bill.

It seems that this Bill was introduced to deal with groups such as the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. Unfortunately, others who might be immune from prosecution may decide that since this legislation is directed at the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA they are free to build up their own organisations. I am glad the Minister has stated that if the IRA or INLA decide to carry out any act of violence they will be dealt with under current legislation.

I ask the innocent people involved through the ownership of land where bombs were made or equipment held to go to the Garda under the rules of decommissioning and admit to having had armaments on their land in the past. Under the British-Irish Agreement and the decommissioning agreements, this legislation should not apply to them.

I hate to see the introduction of this Bill as there will be civil liberty problems. However, it will only impact on a small number of murderous people. As long it is so confined, I am glad it is being introduced and that it is of limited duration. I hope that on 30 June 1999 there will be no need for an extension of the legislation. However, I doubt that.

I ask those involved in the Troubles from the start, before the Omagh bombing, to stop and think of their families, the families of those around them and the damage they have done. This will not be forgotten and cannot be remedied.

I welcome the Minister to the House in this important period in our history. The response of the Dáil yesterday was clear and unambiguous and echoed the unanimous voice of the people, for whom we speak. There is absolute outrage in the community, North and South, at the extent and horror of the slaughter of the innocents in Omagh.

The people who planted that bomb had one aim — to totally destroy the new and historic British-Irish Agreement. This Agreement represents a fundamental change in our history. For the first time, Catholics, Protestants and dissenters are agreeing on the way in which Northern Ireland should be governed and on where the future of the young people of our country lies. The Agreement is dear to the hearts of the people and they voted for it in massive numbers. The Omagh bombing, against the background of that consensus, North and South, is all the more horrendous and unacceptable.

It also went against the fantastic work Mo Mowlam, the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, President Clinton, Irish Americans and people all over the world put into making the Agreement possible. It happened because of the influence of Irish people all over the world and the coming together of their minds and hearts. Wolfe Tone, the founder of Irish republicanism, said the aim of the United Irishmen was to unite Catholics, Protestants and dissenters in the common aim of Irishmen. This is what the Agreement is about and is what the Omagh bomb set about destroying.

This legislation, difficult and controversial as some of its provisions are, is absolutely essential. This State is saying to these people that they will go no further with their activities and that we will use every possible legislative arm to ensure they are put away and they cease their activities. There is no place in our country for what they do. This legislation is tough and severe. It shows we mean business and that we will ensure these people will no longer be free to continue their activities.

The aim of the legislation is clear. Its application is not intended to create new martyrs for the cause of the so-called Real IRA. There must be no such martyrs; no ground should be given to these people. The powers conferred by the Bill must be used wisely, in a disciplined and surgical manner. There are not many people involved in this organisation and the Garda know who they are. The State should move against them immediately but carefully. As Senator Costello pointed out, care should be taken with regard to how these people are interviewed in Garda stations. The Minister should introduce video and recording facilities in all Garda stations as soon as possible to ensure there are no doubts or equivocation when these matters come before the courts. What happened in the Garda stations should be quite clear to the court. There should be absolute clarity about what the Garda Superintendent says and why he or she says it.

I have great faith in the Garda Síochána and believe its members will use this legislation wisely and well. I also welcome the commitment given by the Taoiseach today when he said: "The measures being brought forward are targeted solely at those who engage in continued violence. They are time limited and will lapse when we are sure they are no longer necessary. We will monitor closely their implementation. .". Will the Minister outline how his Department will monitor their implementation? It is most important that such monitoring takes place and that the public is fully aware of what is happening.

Deputy John Bruton made an important speech in the Dáil yesterday which attracted criticism from some members of the Government. The importance of that speech is borne out by an article in today's edition ofThe Irish Times which reports that visits have been made by members of the IRA to homes in Louth, Armagh and other counties. During those visits statements are read out to members of the Continuity IRA or the Real IRA in which the IRA threatens to shoot them unless they cease their activities immediately.

Who is running this country? This behaviour cannot be allowed to continue. The IRA must, through Sinn Féin or other channels, make a clear and unequivocal commitment that there will be no more violence. Will the Minister support Deputy Bruton's call on the IRA to cease these activities? With regard to the newspaper report to which I referred, what does the Minister intend to do to make it clear that there is only one Government and police force in this country? The Garda Síochána is being armed with this legislation to carry out the wishes of the people and anybody who interferes with that must be dealt with immediately.

This issue is of critical importance. As we speak, President Clinton and the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, are meeting in Belfast. I welcome the progress that has been made between Mr. Trimble and Mr. Adams and the moves that have been made, publicly and privately, to bring all parties to the conflict in the North together. However, part of that process must be an absolute commitment to an end to violence. I call on Mr. Adams to condemn the activities of those people who have been active recently in my native county and in other counties. Their activities must stop immediately.

Chile had a dreadful regime for many years. One of the television images from that period which I found most affecting was that of the families of people who had been taken away in the dead of night and murdered. I welcome the decision of the IRA at least to identify and return their dead to these families. This is an important step forward and shows that within Sinn Féin there is a move towards putting this conflict behind us forever.

To the Unionist population I say that the liberal and enlightened Protestant tradition which was so alive 200 years ago is still important to us. We want to see a proper meeting of minds between Unionists and Nationalists, North and South, so that we can go forward together into the new millennium, respecting and understanding each others traditions, working together and putting behind us forever the terror, the violence, the bomb and the bullet. This legislation will do that and I hope it is put into effect soon.

With the permission of the House I will share my time with Senator Ormonde.

When I heard of the Omagh bomb and of the scale of the carnage resulting from it I was immediately reminded of the Dublin bombs of 1973. I was reminded because I was close to one of those bombs and missed it only by a minute or two. The memory of that still lives with me. How long will the memory of this outrage live with the people of Omagh? A long, long time.

My second thought was of the sheer illogicality of the act. These people who call themselves the Real IRA would probably claim they are following in the footsteps of the men of 1916. There is no comparison between these thugs and the men of 1916. At that time Ireland was oppressed but now we are a free and sovereign nation in the Republic and in the Six Counties there is no longer oppression. The only motivation of the people who set that bomb can have been to upset the peace process. In doing so they opposed the greatest democratic decision ever reached here when people North and South voted for peace. They not only opposed the wishes of the people, they opposed the Irish, British and American Governments and even the paramilitary groups to which they had sometimes belonged.

I regret the necessity to introduce legislation of this nature. Mindless acts of terrorism generally force Governments into producing very oppressive legislation but I am glad to see the Government has limited the life of this legislation to two years and I hope it will not need to be renewed. I hope that at long last we will have excised this cancer from our society. We know that in Britain the Prevention of Terrorism Act is renewed year after year. That was perhaps necessary before the beginning of the peace process. Some questions must be asked concerning this legislation but I agreed with the Minister when he said we cannot avoid introducing this legislation unless we are prepared to give these people a free rein to wreak havoc and terror on the people.

As well as remembering those killed by the bomb, including two unborn children, we must remember those who were physically injured or who suffered psychological trauma and who must try to put their lives together again. Even as we send messages of sympathy we realise that words cannot express how we feel. I go to Omagh frequently and know the people well there. It is a small town where people get on well together.

Another bomb was intercepted while, apparently, being driven to the Grand National at Aintree. What would have happened if that 2,000 lb. bomb had exploded accidentally on a ferry? The people who plant these bombs are mindless. They care nothing for God or man and I can see no way of stopping them except through this legislation which though repressive, is necessary. I am delighted it will only apply for two years. Hopefully, we have eventually reached the end of the violence. Most of the paramilitary groups are on side and all the people are at one in seeking peace. The international community, including the American Government, is behind us. Only a handful of people now want to wreck the peace process. They have no excuse and no mandate from us or from any part of the nation to continue making bombs and destroying lives by blowing people to smithereens. It must stop; this is the time. That is why I will be supporting the Bill.

I congratulate the Government for its speedy response to the awful atrocity in Omagh. We have reassembled to make our feelings about that tragedy known and to convey our sympathy and solidarity with the maimed victims and the families of those who died. Many of the injured are still in hospital and they will have to live with the after effects of the bombing for the rest of their lives.

This was a reckless attack on the community. Catholics and Protestants, going about their daily shopping on a Saturday afternoon, suddenly found themselves confronted with the work of these awful thugs who parked their car bomb in the middle of a busy street and walked away. They have yet to come forward and say they are guilty of this atrocity. They are cowards, not men. They call themselves Irishmen; they are blackguards of the first order.

Words are not enough to describe the atrocity. I find it hard to express how I felt on Saturday, 15 August, when I saw the tragedy on television that evening. It spoiled that lovely holiday evening for everyone in Ireland. Some of us who were ready to go out and enjoy ourselves did not do so after hearing the news. We were not in a fit state to understand what had happened. It took at least three or four days for the extent of this enormous tragedy to penetrate people's minds. There must be no more Omaghs, no more violence. The British-Irish Agreement clearly indicated that North and South, Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists, people of all creeds gave a mandate for peace. That is what we must work on.

The British-Irish Agreement is here to stay. The strength of public opinion has brought us here to introduce this very harsh legislation. However, we did not bring it about; it was the bombers who did so. Because of what happened in Omagh people said we had better work for them and we have a mandate to reflect public opinion.

Many people told me they were delighted the House was being recalled today and asked me to speak out for them. People do not have any difficulty with this legislation. They will, of course, be concerned that it may be harsh in some respects, but I have great trust in the Government's ability to implement it. As the Minister said, the legislation will be monitored, especially where there may be weaknesses. The decision to review the legislation in two years time is evidence that the Minister is aware of the public apprehension and concern about civil liberties.

The focus of the legislation is not on everyone, but on those who set out to maim and kill people in Omagh on 15 August. It is up to everyone in Ireland to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. We all have a responsibility to help the Government and the Garda to bring justice to every part of this country.

The British-Irish Agreement is here to stay. This is evident in the co-ordinated approach of the British and Irish Governments. President Clinton is in Ireland at present for no other purpose than to strengthen the Agreement.

There is no way forward with violence. There is no shortcut to this approach other than to state that the bombing is over, the legislation is enacted, and there is dialogue, trust and commitment. That is the way forward to peace.

The memories of the Omagh tragedy will live with us for the rest of our lives. Many young people were affected. On television recently I saw a young boy whose arms were heavily bandaged due to the burns he received in that awful tragedy. That picture stays with me. The boy will be marked for life.

Therefore, I am delighted to support this legislation. I want peace in Ireland and to reflect the wishes of our forebearers. I want to be sure that democracy will continue to play an important role.

There has been no shortcut in our approach to this legislation. We must implement it. The public is crying out for it. It is the power of the people which is working here today.

As I watched the funerals in Omagh I was reminded of another funeral, that of my brother-in-law, which I attended in Portadown some years ago. As we talked with his then fatherless children, I remember saying that surely this is the end, that nothing could be worse than this, because those who believed that violence is the answer had committed that crime. Yet those violent acts continued. Therefore, I welcome the Minister's words. I support the goals of the Government and the objectives and aims of the Minister. I hope that what we are attempting to achieve in this legislation is that we will never again see the expression of hopelessness which we saw in the eyes of mothers who lost their children, wives who lost their husbands, fathers who lost their children and children who lost their parents. I hope we will never have to look into the eyes of those we saw at the funerals in Omagh just a couple of weeks ago. Today the Minister is sending a message about our abhorrence of violence and about our aspiration in this legislation to crush those who promote that violence.

However, I struggle with my concerns about this Bill. The headline inThe Irish Times today stated that this Bill will pass all Stages and will be signed into law tonight. That was clear. The article did not state, “it is hoped to” or that this is the objective but that this will happen. It did not state that without concern and recognition that it will happen. I know it will happen but, let us be careful that we do not send another message that we care little for some of the values which underpin the institutions of this State. Over the past five years I have spoken in this House of my worries about “quickie” legislation, of my concern about the Seanad being a rubber stamp. I stated that I have great difficulty with legislation which is steamrolled through in one day because that means no amendments will be accepted and that we will not have time to scrutinise the Bill. In this case, it means that it will not just be steamrolled through the Seanad, but that it is being done for understandable reasons.

I understand the Minister's objectives but I am concerned that in pushing this Bill through with such haste it is not receiving the attention it deserves. Is it not an irony that the legislation which receives the least scrutiny is the very legislation that most needs it as it deals with basic human freedom? Is it not also an irony that we, as parliamentarians, who routinely wring our hands with concern about the lack of respect that others hold for the political process are prepared to undermine the institutions of parliament by rubber-stamping hastily prepared legislation? I urge the Minister to listen carefully to the debate and to give serious concern on Committee Stage to what is being said. Sixty amendments tabled for discussion on Committee Stage in the Dáil did not receive proper discussion.

I understand what we are trying to do but we must be very careful that in attempting to achieve the very worthy objectives of peace and stability we do not create bigger difficulties. The introduction of "quickie" legislation in Britain resulted in bad decision-making by courts such as arose in cases in Birmingham, Guilford and many others. The onus is on us to scrutinise this Bill and pay it all the attention we can. We must ensure that what comes into being will be legislation that does what we wish it to do.

Senator Henry has tabled an amendment for Committee Stage in relation to the committing of an offence if, "there is an omission by the accused to deny a statement of his involvement in an illegal organisation". In her Second Stage speech, Senator Henry spoke about how we have all had something written about us on occasions. Sometimes it is advisable not to deny it; sometimes it is impossible to get a denial. I understand what the Minister is trying to do but I am concerned that we are not affording this legislation, with most worthy objectives, the time and scrutiny it deserves by rushing it through this and the other House. We do not welcome the introduction of that type of legislation. The Minister told us it is essential and we accept that. I have not heard anyone suggest we should not put this legislation in place.

We all believe that the British-Irish Agreement will work; we have to believe that. We must not allow anyone to block it or bomb us out of it.

At a meeting with the Food Marketing Institute in Chicago some months ago I was asked to briefly explain the British-Irish Agreement — they actually asked me to explain the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland in about ten minutes. I used the opportunity to tell the Americans how much we appreciated the great work done by Senator George Mitchell and President Clinton whom I welcome to Ireland. We know we have a much better chance of ensuring the British-Irish Agreement will bring peace and stability to our country as a result of the help we are receiving from these people.

I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the arguments being put forward. I welcome that this legislation will cease to exist in two years unless we decide to renew it. I am convinced that if we are very careful about how we handle this legislation and if it is not abused there will be no need for it in two years.

No one is pleased by the introduction of legislation of this type but everyone is satisfied that its aims and objectives will be achieved. Let us not leave this House this evening and state that the Oireachtas has completed its work. The legislation will not provide the panacea to solve our problems, it is merely the first step. The next step will be to see how the courts interpret the legislation. If we do not give the Bill the detailed consideration and attention it requires, there is a danger it will be overturned by the courts. In the past legislation passed by both Houses which had not been given adequate attention proved to be unenforceable.

In the coming years we will be obliged to rely on the forces of law and order to use the legislation as we intend it to be used. Everyone appreciates the wonderful work carried out by the Garda Síochána in the past 12 months in intercepting explosive devices, particularly the bomb discovered at Dún Laoghaire which was destined for the Aintree Grand National. However, such work will not continue unless it has the support of all citizens. The responsibility for this rests not only on us, as legislators, or on the enforcers of law and order, the Garda Síochána, but on us as citizens. We must support the forces of law and order to ensure there will be no need for this legislation in the future.

The Minister is correct to state that the legislation will not be needed in two years. He will be proven right if we continue to take steps such as those taken in Dundalk in recent weeks where people who seemed to support or were unwilling to condemn the Omagh bombing found themselves being isolated by citizens who stated they did not wish to have any truck with them. The citizens said they did not wish those people to have a voice which will destroy our democracy and were not going to allow the use of the bomb and the bullet to continue. The people said they were not going to allow themselves to be bombed out of peace and that the people of this island, particularly those in Northern Ireland, deserved peace.

I welcome the Minister's objectives and I congratulate him on the effort he has put into drafting the legislation. However, I urge him to be cautious and to give the legislation serious consideration so that it will have its intended effect, namely, to ensure that peace is brought to this island.

I wish to share time with Senator Leonard.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill. Saturday, 15 August 1998, will be recorded as one of the worst and most horrific days in Irish history when 28 innocent men, women and children were killed in Omagh, an event which has outraged people throughout the world. No words could express our condemnation of this act, which was carried out at the peak of Saturday afternoon shopping in Omagh.

I join with the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Members in expressing sincere and heartfelt sympathy to the bereaved relatives and friends of the victims of this terrible act. I wish those detained in hospital recovering from injuries received as a result of the bombing an early return to full health. Some received serious injuries which will result in permanent disability. We assure these unfortunate victims of our prayers and good wishes.

The British and Irish Governments have reaffirmed their commitment to the British-Irish Agreement and are actively engaged in moving forward its implementation in all its aspects. They are determined to approve this response to the Omagh tragedy. In my home area of Monaghan and Cavan many people have been touched by this tragedy through death or serious injury caused to a relative or loved one and I offer my sympathy and support to them especially.

When the House adjourned for the summer recess all of us hoped that violence and bombings were left to history books with the new era of peace and harmony dawning on this island. The massive endorsement by the people, North and South, of the Agreement on 22 May showed an overwhelming demand for peace and a rejection of violence and armed conflict.

However, the Omagh bombers cannot and will not be allowed to damage the future envisaged in the Agreement. I compliment the Taoiseach, Prime Minister Blair, David Trimble, his deputy, Seamus Mallon, the Unionist leaders, John Hume, Gerry Adams and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on their leadership at a very difficult time for our people. They have throughout the building of the peace process shown outstanding political leadership through their reactions and they continue to work to move the process forward to ensure the tragedy of Omagh is never repeated.

All of us must send a clear message to those who want to destroy the Agreement that they cannot and will not be allowed to destroy the will of the people. Every measure must be used to break any group which does not represent the way forward and offers only despair to all communities. The Bill will assist in bringing about the peace and stability to which all of us look forward. I wish the Bill a speedy passage through the House.

I regret we must welcome the Minister to the House, but I compliment him on his speedy response to the Omagh bombing by bringing the Bill before the House. The measures in it have been described as draconian, but the individuals who carried out such a barbaric, cowardly act as a result of which innocent people, mainly children and young adolescents, were murdered in cold blood, deserve nothing more than the most severe punishment that we, as legislators, can impart to them. One funeral that stands out in my mind was that of Avril Monaghan and her baby daughter Maura. The depth of feeling on that occasion between people North and South, Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and Nationalist was clearly palpable. No measure introduced here could alleviate the pain and suffering of these people. It is our responsibility, however, to ensure that what happened in Omagh is never repeated.

I would have had serious reservations if the word of a superintendent or an RUC constable were enough to convict an individual, but we know that the right to silence has meant that a number of individuals have escaped justice in recent years. I welcome the fact that the inference from their failure to answer questions or give a full account of their actions in relation to a particular offence may be treated as a corroboration of evidence. These individuals are extremely intelligent, manipulative and conniving and rule the roost from a distance, far from their intended targets. They sit on their laurels, issuing orders whereas some gullible creature will, for a few pounds, drive the car with the bomb. It is my sincere hope that this Bill will ensure the top dogs who direct unlawful organisations, be they Quartermaster General, General Master, or Director will be brought into the net. I hope this Bill will manage to bring these people to task because to date many of them have been able to avoid the law as a result of information being withheld.

Those who oppose the Bill say it infringes on civil liberties. Have they thought anything of the civil liberties of those who have lost their lives in Omagh? For example, did they think of the civil liberties of the unborn Monaghan twins in Augher? Those who oppose the Bill have not mentioned them. The Irish people want peace and it is our duty to try to bring it about. If it takes draconian measures to bring this about, that must be accepted and endorsed by all straight thinking people.

On a point of order, may I make an important point at this stage? When this Bill was going through the other House, a very specific commitment was given by the Minister that there would be an annual review and this was conveyed to the Opposition Deputies. This was not dealt with specifically last evening because the amendments were all guillotined together but commitments were given and reported in the Dáil debates. However, the amendment as it appears today is very different from what we were told. There will not be the annual review that we had been promised. Either this is a major breach of faith on the part of the Minister and his Department or is the result of a major cock-up. One way or the other it is not acceptable.

This party supported the Bill under pressure yesterday on the clear understanding that this provision would be part of the Bill. I want the Minister to know that my party will be dictated to in its vote by whether this commitment is met. A very clear commitment was made by the Minister in the Dáil yesterday. We acted in good faith having been assured that the drafting would reflect the annual review. It does not. The Minister's officials are aware of what has happened and I will have to receive a full explanation from the Minister. We want the original points we made addressed.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I am sure the Minister will address these points at the conclusion of Second Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. It is unfortunate that this House has to meet to consider such legislation. The death of 28 innocent people in Omagh in such tragic circumstances brought shame to this country and inflicted terrible suffering and grief on the families concerned. It was an evil act that everybody castigates. It is important that people both inside and outside this House ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Almost three weeks have passed since that terrible atrocity and I wonder why it has taken that long for legislation to be introduced in these Houses. The Taoiseach stated that there are only 100 people involved in the RIRA, 50 of whom are in the North and 50 in the South. It is extraordinary that in the past two-and-a-half weeks we have not heard reports of these people being arrested or questioned.

I understand that under the 1976 Act the Minister could introduce a special set of emergency measures under which these people could be arrested and questioned. Instead we have this legislation, 50 per cent of which is commendable but one must seriously question the other 50 per cent.

The response to this tragedy has been slow. We have had a great deal of lip-service in recent weeks but little action. That is unfortunate. One could argue that the legislation before us will enable the necessary action to be taken but that action could have been taken under existing legislation and resulted in a swift response.

Certain elements of the Bill are welcome but others are unnecessary. In a time of crisis it is important to keep a level head and cautiously assess the situation. It is important also that the response is not an emotional one to match public anger. In any state where there is a proper system of law and order it is fundamental that the rule of law applies and that the rights of individuals are protected. As Senator Leonard said, the murderers who committed this atrocity did not have any consideration for the right to life of the 28 people killed.

It is appalling that a group of people can form a semi-political organisation, give themselves a name like RIRA and deem themselves worthy of special consideration. They are murderers and to put an umbrella other than that of murder over their heads is despicable. It is vitally important that the provisions we are introducing do not give recognition to the people who classify themselves in this way. They want to be put into a special type of political category but they are simply murderers and should be treated accordingly. They should be arrested and brought before the courts. I am disappointed that has not happened in recent weeks.

On the specifics of the Bill, fundamental amendments were tabled yesterday in the Dáil on Committee and Report Stages. We are familiar with the procedure of grouping amendments together and voting on them as a group, but the Minister gave a clear commitment yesterday evening in the Dáil to accept a Fine Gael amendment proposing an annual review. The Bill published this morning does not include that, nor do any of the amendments which were accepted and included in the Bill refer in any way to an annual review. I hope the Minister can have that matter rectified before this House rises this evening. This is a fundamental issue of principle in relation to the very ethos of this Bill, in relation to the rule of law, to civil liberties and the rights of citizens. It is important that it be accepted. The Minister accepted our proposition yesterday but for some reason it is not in the Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann yesterday. It is important that it be accepted because of the content of the Bill and particularly because of the nature of some of its sections. Some of these sections were accepted by Fine Gael because it was felt that on balance there was a need to pass them and also because it was agreed to include the amendment I mentioned. I hope the Minister can respond positively.

Section 2 deals specifically with associations. Subsection (4) refers to any question material to the investigation, including references to any questions requesting the accused to give a full account of his or her movements, actions, activities or associations during any specific period. No definition has been given in regard to associations. This is an important issue. What type of association are we talking about? Are we talking about an association with a person? Are we talking about being involved in an organisation? Will it be the case that if a person meets somebody who is involved in some type of illegal activity or some illegal organisation and is seen in discussion with him or her on the corner of a street for half an hour, that person has associated with that person? If a person attends the funeral of such a person, does that mean that under this section he or she is considered to be associated with an illegal organisation? Those important questions were not clearly answered in the debate in the Dáil yesterday, nor have any clear answers been given since. The fact that the decision rests with one Garda superintendent places a huge onus on that officer and also puts people at grave risk. All it would take would be for one Garda superintendent to make a misjudgment for there to be a serious miscarriage of justice. That is why it is important that the legislation be reviewed.

Section 4(1) refers to activities or associations on the part of the accused person. Many aspects of the Bill, such as section 12 and the training of persons in the use of firearms, will be dealt with in detail on Committee Stage. Many issues need to be addressed and I alert the Minister to the fundamental error in the Bill published today in relation to the general understanding in the other House yesterday. I ask the Minister, and his officials, to consider this matter and ensure that the annual review provision is included in the Bill passed by this House.

I wish to share my time with Senator Ó Murchú or Senator Walsh.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo agus comhbhrón a dhéanamh le gaolta na ndaoine a maraíodh nuair a phléasc an buama san Ómaigh ar an 15 Lúnasa.

I have not witnessed such scenes since the troubles started in the North of Ireland on 5 October 1968 following a banned civil rights march and all that ensued. That event brought into focus the difficulties which obtained in the six north-eastern counties. I congratulate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, for the alacrity with which he responded to the outrageous events in Omagh.

Many people may describe the Bill as draconian, but drastic measures are needed to deal with drastic situations. The people responsible for the introduction of the legislation are those who perpetrated the outrage in Omagh on 15 August. In light of that grotesque attack, the Government had to respond in a firm manner to ensure that the police authorities have the appropriate powers to confront and defeat the violent opponents of the peace process. The legislation is a measured and balanced response. It is proportionate to the threat posed by the activities of the group which carried out the atrocity in Omagh.

It is difficult for all right thinking people, and those with a command of language, to find words to describe the atrocity that was committed in the name of republicanism. The people involved do not know the meaning of the word. I stood before the electorate as a republican and was democratically mandated by them. I am proud to be a republican, but it is regrettable that those people described themselves as republicans. They are involved in the slaughter of innocent people, of three generations and unborn children. They are everything that is wrong, evil, heinous and vile. Unfortunately, my limitation in the use of English precludes me from adequately saying what I wish to say about these sub-humans. I will not describe them an animals because animals would not behave in that manner.

New offences are created by the Bill, including the direction of unlawful organisations, the possession of articles for purposes connected with certain offences, the unlawful collecting of information, the withholding of information and the training of persons in the making or use of firearms. These are important steps. The people who carried out the outrage in Omagh were well versed in the making and use of explosives. No form of animal would herd people into a place of slaughter. It might have happened in the 1940s but not with the same cold and callous planning.

The Bill will be reviewed in June 2000. I am confident, given the momentum generated by the peace process, that its provisions will not be required thereafter.

The British-Irish Agreement was overwhelmingly supported by the people, North and South, and by democratic politicians on both sides of the divide. The Real IRA which perpetrated the atrocity in Omagh does not have a democratic mandate and is blind to the wishes of the people. It must be defeated by whatever manner possible.

I welcome the visit of President Clinton who helped to underpin the British-Irish Agreement as it will ensure the structures envisaged are put in place. The Government must be congratulated on taking the initiative in guaranteeing the Real IRA will be defeated. The Taoiseach must be congratulated on maintaining close contact, especially in the past week, with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair.

Those who profess to be the defenders of civil liberties are concerned about these measures. The Government aims to defend life.

Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an bhfáilte roimh an Aire um thráthnóna; molaim é as ucht an iarracht atá á dhéanamh aige síochán a leathadh ar fud na tíre seo.

The Omagh bombing has left an indelible scar on the landscape of our history. There can be no equivocation. The senseless slaughter of young and old has united all the people of the island in sadness and revulsion. The State must respond to this appalling atrocity in which many were injured and maimed by taking strong and effective action to prevent a recurrence. I compliment the Minister on not over-reacting by introducing internment.

This legislation, though undesirable, is necessary. Its implementation must be closely monitored as any miscarriages of justice would provide recruiting fodder for the paramilitaries, as happened previously. Similar legislation has been passed in the House of Commons. The Government will have to be vigilant to prevent excesses, as happened previously in Britain perhaps born out of prejudice on the part of certain elements of the establishment against Irish people. This would allow the paramilitaries to flourish by attracting young people to join and to engage in propaganda.

It is my desire that the British will leave this island and that there will be a united Ireland with its people living in peace, harmony and friendship. The British-Irish Agreement provides a framework to pursue this goal. We must first reconcile the differing traditions to move ahead with confidence and assurance. The Omagh bombing, and similar acts, serve only to undermine this effort. I call on those still engaged in paramilitary activity to desist. They harm the cause they pretend to espouse. We hope the perpetrators of the slaughter of the innocents at Omagh will be brought to justice, just as we regret the failure to bring to justice those responsible for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings which were similar atrocities in the 1970s. The Taoiseach today recalled the vision of the United Irishmen in bringing together Protestant, Catholic and dissenter. Irishmen everywhere should be determined to fulfil this vision now that that opportunity has been given to us.

Like many others, I do not like this Bill. I had a record for many years before becoming a Senator of opposing such legislation. My only previous visit to the House prior to my election in 1987 was in 1984 when a member of the Cathaoirleach's party voted against the party whip on a criminal justice Bill. That person was recently elevated to the Bench and is now deploying justice in a different way.

This is desperately uncompromising legislation. I recognise the difficulties my fellow countyman, the Minister, has in dealing with this situation and there is no right way to deal with it. Having a philosophical frame of reference regarding this Bill, I feel that any reasonable democrat reading it would say that any democratic system of government has the right to defend itself and to use force to do so. I have never been a pacifist, though I have strong views on neutrality and sovereignty. Our Constitution gives us the right to declare war, and though I would never want to do so, it is important to see the constitutional and philosophical base for our legal system. Our laws also allow for martial law to be implemented when democracy seeks to defend itself.

There are people who claim they are involved in a war in the North and are applying their own rules. That is the only justification and basis for draconian legislation. I compliment the Taoiseach for describing it as draconian before it was published, though his spin doctors were probably telling him to get his reaction in first. However, it is more than that. It is a clear indication from the Government of what they need to do. I do not like aspects of this legislation, and I will deal with those on Committee Stage. I have great sympathy for the Government and I do not intend to vote against the Bill.

However, it is crucially important with legislation like this to have a constraint that limits its power. Democrats, voters and commentators must be reassured that we have not gone a bridge too far. An element of consensus has emerged and in that regard I ask the Minister to reconsider section 18. The Dáil debates indicate clearly that both he and the Opposition accepted there should be an annual review built into the Bill. That is a wise precaution and it is a measure of the Minister's confidence in dealing with issues that he accepted the substance of the amendment, which creates a restriction. It is also positive, as it looks to a time beyond our current problems when we will no longer need this type of legislation and when we can hope for peace and the normal process of law and order.

There is likely to be a fairly substantial row this evening about what the Minister did and did not say last night. The Minister did what he did in good faith and his actions were accepted in good faith. I have no doubt the Minister, and others, intended section 18 to contain a provision for an annual review. I have no doubt my colleagues in Fine Gael will push this very strongly when we are debating that section and that Members will find themselves in the usual wrangle. I understand a commitment was given in good faith by the Minister and he expected it to be included. That was accepted by the other side. However, it was not included.

Two things can be done. The Minister can face this down and ignore the fact commitments were given or accept an amendment. In terms of practical politics, accepting an amendment would mean the recall of the Dáil and the Seanad and the deferment of the signing of the Bill. Whether we like it or not, that would create great difficulties.

Last night the Minister said: "Amendment No. 45a seeks to ensure that if sections of the Bill are renewed they should be subject to an annual review by the Oireachtas. I propose to meet Deputy Flanagan's point." That is the commitment he gave last night. I wish to put forward a proposal to deal with this situation. In his reply to Second Stage, will the Minister give a commitment to table an amendment to this Bill on the first sitting day in October? An error has been made and it is not the Minister's fault. He gave a fair and honourable commitment and he is in an impossible situation in terms of meeting it. The way to deal with it would be to give a commitment, which I would accept, to table a further amendment on the first sitting day in October to what would then be the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998. Effectively, that would allow the Minister to meet his commitment and ensure the consensus in the Lower House is met. It is important that we can trust each other when dealing with these issues.

There are other aspects of the Bill with which I have problems. Section 8 states: "It shall be an offence for a person to collect, record or possess information which is of such a nature that it is likely to be useful in the commission by members of any unlawful organisation of serious offences". That provision is too wide. I do not know what it means and it could apply to anything. The word "useful" is the wrong word and the words "crucial" or "essential" should be used or else the word "useful" should be removed. The section should read: ". which is of such a nature that it is likely to be used in the commission of an offence". A piece of paper, a book or a piece of metal could be useful. That is a serious flaw in the section.

My colleague, Senator Ryan, has spoken about the definition of firearms which applies to objects it was never intended to apply, such as pellet guns and so on. When we debate the Bill in detail on Committee Stage other issues will arise. An error has been made in not honouring a commitment given last night to include a provision for an annual review. I appeal to the Minister to table an amendment on the first sitting day in October. I accept it is not the Minister's fault the commitment has not been honoured. He cannot be expected to check every word altered, but he must take responsibility for this legislation. He will be asked tonight to accept an amendment, but he will find it impossible to do so. This Bill will be signed by the Presidential Commission tonight and, rather than stand in the way of that, the concerns on both sides of the House could be addressed if the Minister gave his word that he would table a simple amendment to one section of the Bill on the first sitting day of the next session. That would enhance his reputation as a man of his word.

I wish to add my words to those uttered in this House today by the Taoiseach, the Minister, and Members condemning in forthright terms what happened in Omagh. Many words have been spoken on that subject and I do not intend to add to them.

I am in agreement with much of what Senator O'Toole said about this legislation which is not welcome. The reason we are debating it is because of the recent deaths of so many and the outrage we experienced barely two weeks ago. The fact that happened at a time when we had hoped we were finally building, albeit in its early fragile stages, a lasting peace on this island and making progress made the atrocity all the more difficult to take and all the more tragic.

This legislation is not welcome because we are taking a major risk in guessing it might work. The atmosphere in which it is being discussed is not a good one in which to pass such legislation. A proper balance must be struck. Despite that, and having regard to the background against which this legislation is being discussed, we find we have no option but to support it due to our sense of outrage and because we want to send a strong signal to those responsible for this atrocity. That is our gut instinct and reflects our emotions. We are speaking from our hearts rather than our heads when we say we have no option but to support this legislation. We want to send a strong message to those who are responsible for this outrage that they have no place in our democracy, that they do not speak for us, for those who died, for the injured, for those who have worked so hard for peace and those who support the cause of peace and they never will have that support. This legislation is our way of saying that, although it should not be the only way to express our shock, grief and outrage.

Despite this atmosphere we must ask ourselves as legislators and as leaders how best we can honour the memories of those who died not only in this atrocity, but in others. The Taoiseach referred to the Quinn children and other Members referred to other atrocities on this island. How best can we honour the memories of all those who have died in this awful way in the past 30 years? How can we best advance the cause of peace? We know in our hearts and souls that this legislation on its own is only a small part of the solution.

I was out of the country when this atrocity was committed in my name and in the names of others. I did not become aware of it until 48 hours after it had happened and I found it hard to take it in. I still find it hard to take it in because I did not share in the outpouring of grief. I did not see the television pictures or hear the radio interviews. I have heard about them since and of the great emotion expressed in them. People close to me whose judgment I greatly respect told me of their reaction — that these people must be found and incarcerated — and of the great anger and outrage which arose amidst the shared national grief. In many senses I missed that, although it does not mean I am less angry than anyone else that this was supposedly carried out in my name.

Having read British newspapers while I was abroad, it was clear that almost immediately some good came from the atrocity. First, the families of those who died or who were severely injured and their communities stated their desire that the peace process would continue and that peace would flourish. Second, the outrage was strongly condemned by Sinn Féin. The result of both factors and the shared national grief and outrage was the utter, complete and total isolation of those responsible for the bombing. I do not believe that will change. The strength of public opinion and outrage has been the most significant factor in the immediate aftermath of the outrage. Legislation such as this is probably much less powerful than the strength of shared public opinion and the huge desire that peace would grow and that what happened should be consigned to the past.

In that regard, it must be seen that this is a small response to the outrage of Omagh and that our greatest energies must be put into developing the cause of peace and ensuring political dialogue continues. There are hopeful signs that, in the coming days, we will see a sea change in the politics of Northern Ireland and that, while there are difficulties to be overcome, we may see in the future the development of what we have dreamed of, desired and hoped for, the reality of peace and democracy in Northern Ireland.

Regarding the details of the legislation, other Senators on this side of the House expressed their concern about certain elements of it. I support some measures, such as the creation in section 6 of a new offence of directing an unlawful organisation. I am sure it is directed at "General"-type people who never dirty their hands with Semtex but who are happy, in a cynical and evil fashion, to direct operations and to send their footsoldiers to do their dirty work. The legislation is well framed and clear and uses good language in this regard. It is a section with which I find myself very much in agreement.

Senator O'Toole referred to the section on information and I share his concerns in that regard. It is drafted in too wide a fashion and is not welcome. We will table an amendment regarding the videotaping of evidence which we consider extremely important in terms of the balance of the Bill to ensure that those who are innocent are not abused.

I find it hard at the same time as this is happening to understand the atmosphere which has been generated around the case of Elaine Moore which is very much on our minds. An innocent Irish person has found herself in difficult circumstances simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In effect, she is a suspect because of her nationality. In that context I agree with Senator Walsh that we must be careful when responding to an outrage. I hope the Government will be vigilant on behalf of Irish citizens, particularly those in Britain, in an atmosphere created by those who never have or will speak or act on behalf of the Irish people.

Is mian liom tacú leis an méid a dúirt gach cainteoir eile anseo, gur chuir an t-uafás san Ómaigh náire orainn uilig. Is trua go raibh orainn teacht ar ais anseo chomh tapa sin tar éis an dul chun cinn a bhí déanta sa Tuaisceart. Déanaimid comhbhrón le gach uile dhuine a raibh baint acu leis an méid a tharla san Ómaigh agus tá súil agam nach dtarlóidh a leithéid arís.

Many have expressed an appreciation of the difficulty faced by the Minister and the manner in which he has handled that difficulty. Many have also expressed reservations and concerns about emergency legislation such as this. However, the 30 people who died in Omagh were denied the most fundamental civil liberty, the right to life. Many of those maimed will never again have the equal opportunity enjoyed by the rest of us. The relatives of those killed or injured have had their dreams and hopes shattered for all time. All of this is the legacy of the Omagh bomb and the reason this legislation is before the House.

Any true democrat will state that emergency legislation may serve democracy but seldom enhances it. The brutality of the Omagh outrage was in stark contrast to the hope and vision engendered by the British-Irish Agreement. It was a reminder of the dark pit of depression and inhumanity from which we had emerged. The Agreement was negotiated by the tireless and patriotic efforts of all the partners and was ratified by the people. It was also a foretaste of the seemingly impossible being achieved. In extending sympathy to those who have suffered, honouring the memory of those who died and offering some glimmer of hope to those traumatised by this terrible event, it behoves all people of goodwill to redouble their efforts to bring the British-Irish Agreement to fruition.

It has been said many times that there must never be another Omagh. There must also never be another act of aggression by one human being against another on this island. Above all, under no circumstances must we allow ourselves to drift back to the hell from which we have emerged.

It was always expected that the peace process would face many challenges. However, no one envisaged that the challenge would be so devastating and inflict so much pain and suffering as to reduce a normal and friendly people to a traumatised, frightened and helpless community. However, from that naked grief grew a spirit of support, consolation and, hopefully, renewed hope.

Those who have not joined the peace process, have missed the significance of the British-Irish Agreement and ignored the expressed will of the people, but they could not in all humanity ignore the cries of those who suffered in Omagh, cries which tore at all our hearts. The war is, indeed, over for all time. It is a time for positive action, reconciliation, healing of wounds and the building of friendship and co-operation. It is a time for unity of purpose, working together for the common good, celebrating our common heritage while respecting our differences and enhancing our lives through diversity. This will require courage, dedication and commitment and, in God's name, let us not waste time or opportunity to this end.

It is the hope of each and every person, expressed in the Dáil and the Seanad and by ordinary men, women and children, that it will still be possible to maintain the momentum of the British-Irish Agreement. Many of the statements we have heard in recent days — statements which have been welcomed by the different leaders — give us the hope that it is still possible to create a further momentum because that is the only real answer we can give to the people in Omagh who have suffered, and all the people of Ireland whether at home or abroad. Every opportunity should be availed of in the coming months to promote the type of policies to which I have referred, which are positive in thrust and have the common goal of working for all the people on this island.

I thank sincerely all 22 contributors to the debate — Senators Connor, O'Donovan, Ross, Ryan, Hayes, Manning, Jackman, Keogh, Henry, Liam Fitzgerald, Costello, Lanigan, O'Dowd, Lydon, Ormonde, Quinn, O'Brien, Leonard, Walsh, O'Toole, O'Meara and Ó Murchú. This is indicative of the importance the House attaches to this legislation. It is a tribute to the House and it is appropriate the legislation should receive that level of debate from Members.

A number of issues have been raised, some of which are of fundamental importance, not least the whole issue of the burden of proof. This issue was raised specifically in relation to section 7, which deals with the possession of articles for purposes connected with certain offences, section 8, which deals with the whole question of the unlawful collection of information, and section 12, which deals with training persons in the making or use of firearms, etc.

In the context of section 7 it will be a defence for a person charged to prove that at the time of the alleged offence the article in question was not in his or her possession or under his or her control for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of a specified explosives or firearms offence. Likewise in the context of section 8, which deals with the unlawful collection of information, it will be a defence for a person to prove that the information in question was not being collected or in his or her possession for the purpose of its being used for the commission of any such offence. A similar issue arises in the context of section 12 by virtue of the provision that it would be a defence for a person to prove that the giving or receiving of instructions or training in the use of firearms or explosives was done without lawful authority or reasonable cause.

The effect of the changes proposed in relation to inferences do not represent an interference with the courts responsibility under our criminal law to convict an accused person only where it is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused's guilt of the offence charged. The comment applies equally to the offence created by these sections. The standard of proof in a criminal trial remains, i.e. the court must be of the view that the individual is guilty of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt.

I wish to set aside some further misconceptions which arise in this respect. Clearly in the case of any prosecution it will be a matter in the first instance for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the ingredients of the relevant offence by reference to the terms of the offences themselves. This will mean, for example, in the context of section 7 that the prosecution will have to prove not only possession of the article in question but possession in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that the person had the article in their possession or under their control for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an offence under the firearms or explosive substances Acts. It will therefore have to show that the circumstances in which the person was in possession of the articles were such that they created such a reasonable suspicion. Similarly, for the purposes of section 8 it will be a matter for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the collection, recording or possession of information was likely to be useful in the commission of particular kinds of serious offences by members of an unlawful organisation. Finally, for the purposes of section 12 similar proof will be necessary concerning the giving or receiving of training in the use of firearms or explosives.

It is only when such issues as set out are proved that the onus or burden of proof shifts to the defendant. The effect of an analogous provision under section 27A of the Firearms Act, 1964, was outlined in the case People (DPP)v. Foley of 1995 as follows:

An accused is entitled in the first instance to call on the prosecution to prove its case.Prima facie, his situation is that he does not have to give an explanation or give evidence. But if proof of guilt is forthcoming — if circumstances are laid before the court of trial that point to the guilt of the accused — then an accused must attempt to rebut the prosecution case by evidence or else suffer the consequences.

This must stand as reasonable in everyone's eyes. Nobody will argue that an individual should not try to answer a case where the weight of evidence exists and they have a case to answer. If the individual does not answer the case the court is entitled to accept the evidence of the prosecution in the absence of rebuttal evidence. I do not think anybody should have a problem with this.

It is only in the circumstances I have outlined that the burden passes to the accused and that he or she would be expected to show that, for example, possession was not intended for a purpose specified in the relevant section. Provisions of this kind are in no way extraordinary or unusual, although some Senators sought to establish that they were. Relevant examples of similar provisions include section 4 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1883, under which it is an offence for a person to make or possess an explosive substance under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that it is not being made or possessed for a lawful reason. It equally provides that it will be a defence to show that it was made by or was in the possession of the person for a lawful object. There is a similar provision in section 12 of the Offences Against the State Act concerning the offence of possession of an incriminating document.

Section 27A of the Firearms Act, 1964, provides that a person who has firearms or ammunition in their possession or control in such circumstances as give rise to a reasonable inference that such possession or control is not for a lawful purpose will be guilty of an offence. Section 9 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990, provides that a person in a public place with a knife or other article which has a blade or is sharply pointed shall be guilty of an offence and that it will be a defence for that person to prove that he has good reason or lawful authority for having the article.

More generally, some of the concerns which have been expressed in regard to these offences largely ignore the important protections which the criminal justice system incorporates, including the fact that decisions to prosecute offences of this kind would be a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions. For example section 7(1) of the Act states:

A person shall be guilty of an offence if he or she has any article in his or her possession or under his or her control in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that the article is in his or her possession or under his or her control for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an offence under the Explosive Substances Act, 1883, or the Firearms Acts, 1925 to 1990, which is for the time being a scheduled offence for the purposes of Part V of the Act of 1939.

Clearly the prosecution would have to establish that was the position and it would be a defence for the person, as stated in subsection (2), to say that at the time of the alleged offence the article was not in the individual's possession or under the individual's control for any purpose specified in subsection (1).

In the same way, when the Director of Public Prosecutions is considering whether a case should be brought he must take into account whether he has a reasonable chance of proving his case beyond a reasonable doubt before a court. If it should be the case that the Director of Public Prosecutions is of the view that he does not have that opportunity then he will not bother to bring the case. It is absolutely farcical for people to argue that the whole burden of proof is being thrown out the window by this legislation. That is not the position. It could not be the case.

There were other arguments in relation to electronic recording. I favour electronic recording in principle and any opposition which I have expressed to it has only been from a pragmatic point of view. I am anxious to make progress with the practice of such recording. It would be wrong to attempt to establish a link between either the operation of the Offences Against the State Acts generally, or provisions of this Bill, to a requirement to record all such interviews at this stage. The principle reason for that is it would be impractical in terms of the stage which preparations for such recordings have reached. It would not be possible to have a workable scheme in place with sufficient coverage for some time and the measures contained in the Bill are clearly required now. I should add that the experience of the pilot scheme to date shows that the issues raised by such recordings, and in particular the taking up by detained persons of the right to have interviews recorded, are far more complex than they would appear on the surface.

The suggestion has been made that the continued operation of this Bill should be linked to the establishment of the human rights commission to which the Government is committed by virtue of the British-Irish Agreement. The Government is determined to fulfil all of the obligations placed on it under the British-Irish Agreement. In this respect work is already underway on the preparation of the necessary legislation to enable effect to be given to this commitment in the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform and it is being given priority. Whilst I hope to be able to process that legislation within the time scale envisaged, I am not prepared to make the continued operation of the provisions of this Bill, which are necessary in their own right, dependent on the enactment of that legislation.

Concerns were expressed about the measures in the Bill relating to the right to silence. I do not accept the proposition that allowing inferences to be drawn from silence in certain specified circumstances represents an unwarranted attack on the rights of an accused person. Section 5 of the Drug Trafficking Act, 1996, allows such an inference and the provision here mirrors that. I have also received a report from the expert group which I established to examine changes in criminal law proposed in the report of the Garda SMI steering group. That group has recommended that such an inference provision be extended to all offences which carry a penalty of five years or more. That is wider than the proposal in section 5 of the Bill. A very specific inference provision is included in section 2 in regard to membership but I believe that to be warranted in the very particular circumstances of the offence and it strikes the correct balance between the rights of the accused and of society to protect itself from the activities of unlawful organisations.

With regard to the entire question of forfeiture, it was suggested there might be constitutional difficulties with this proposal because of the guarantees given by the 1937 Constitution provision on the protection of private property. I am satisfied the Bill, as drafted, will withstand constitutional challenge. The Attorney General has approved the terms of the Bill and it will be for the courts to ultimately decide on its constitutionality as no individual can be definitive about that.

Some concern has been expressed about the scope of the offences. I have already explained the thinking behind individual provisions and their relationship to activities and groups such as the Real IRA and its supporters. The offences in question are as narrowly drawn as possible in the context of our legislation.

Senator Ross expressed the view that internment without trial was a better option than what he described as the infringement of civil liberties. The Government was faced with a very stark choice between amendment of the Offences Against the State Acts and internment without trial. It must be remembered that legislation is amenable to the courts of the land; the courts of this country will, in the final analysis, decide upon the guilt or innocence of an accused person. Internment without trial is a different matter. I have tremendous respect for the courts of this country which have served us very well. Few Supreme Courts throughout the world have so jealously guarded the rights of citizens in the way the Irish Supreme Court has and its decisions in this area are the envy of many countries in the free world. I have every confidence the courts will uphold the 1937 Constitution which is the ultimate guarantor of human rights and civil liberties.

The hypothetical argument has been made that if internment without trial had been in operation here over the years, atrocities such as Omagh might not have occurred. Nobody can answer that. However, nobody could have expected the Government to have responded to the Agreement arrived at on Good Friday with draconian legislation. The Real IRA and its activities have been carefully monitored by the Garda over the past year and they have had some very significant successes.

It has been suggested that this legislation somehow contains the prospect of an individual being found guilty by his or her association with other individuals. That is not correct. An inference may or not be drawn by a court in specific instances; a court will be allowed to consider the fact that an individual did not choose to reply to a question material to the charge. A court could draw an inference in that respect if, for example, an individual did not take the opportunity of explaining his or her actions, activities, movements or associations.

None of these inferences of themselves could serve to convict an individual. Each and all of these could only act by way of corroboration of other evidence, be it physical or the opinion of a chief superintendent of the Garda Síochána. Again, the court would have to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused person.

The issue of monitoring the legislation has been raised in the context of the Human Rights Commission. There is a commitment to the Human Rights Commission in the British-Irish Agreement and the Government is proceeding with all possible alacrity to ensure that the human rights commission is established. However, it is not necessary to have a human rights commission established in tandem with this Bill to oversee its operation. All of the Bill's provisions are amenable to the courts of the land.

I agree with some Members that the mindset that lay behind the Omagh bombing has not gone away. Unfortunately, the people responsible for this atrocity may strike again and that is why this Bill is so necessary and urgent.

I have dealt with most of the concerns raised by Members during this debate and I will deal with more specific issues on Committee Stage.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time", put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

At 6 p.m.

Committee Stage ordered for 6 p.m.
The Seanad adjourned at 5.25 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.