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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 13 May 1999

Vol. 159 No. 9

Criminal Justice (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill, 1999: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

This is the most controversial section because it gives immunity. Let us assume that in the recovery of the remains of one of these unfortunate victims a bullet is found in the body, the bullet can be forensically established as relating to a certain weapon and that weapon can, in turn, be related to the person who held it. I take it that this type of evidence cannot be made known to the police. What is the procedure for keeping evidence of this type? If there is clear evidence of a bullet in a body – I mention a bullet because it is a physical item, and every bullet can be related to the weapon that fired it – what will happen to such an item if recovered as part of the investigation?

This section provides that evidence obtained resulting from the process, including inquest findings, and the result of any test or examination on any human remains or other item found resulting from the process will not be admissible on behalf of the prosecution in any criminal proceedings. Any evidence obtained directly or indirectly, whether inside or outside the State, shall not be admissible on behalf of the prosecution in any criminal proceedings. Neither will any evidence resulting from a test or examination carried out for the purpose of an inquest, establishing the identity of a victim or how, when and where he or she died, or any evidence resulting from a test or procedure, the purpose of which is to determine whether an item found can safely be moved or otherwise dealt with. Tests or forensic examinations on any human remains or other items found resulting from the process for any other purposes shall not be permitted. The important point to remember is that this is not an amnesty provision. Instead it excludes certain evidence which in reality would not become available if the process was not in place.

The evidence may become known to the Garda but any such evidence cannot be admissible. Testing will be limited to inquest purposes. Anything arising from the process, such as bullets, cannot be used in evidence.

If evidence is found which had nothing to do with that criminal proceeding but with other crime, in other words, if evidence is found on a bullet and it is clear this bullet came from a gun which was used for other crimes, is the Minister of State saying that this evidence may not be used, even though it is acknowledged as clear evidence as to who committed the other crime?

The Senator's interpretation is correct. It cannot be used as evidence either directly or indirectly in that particular crime or in other crimes.

Will these ballistic items be destroyed? Is it the plan to destroy these items given that they will not be used as evidence? Will they go to our equivalent of Scotland Yard's black museum or will they be destroyed?

It will be a matter for the Garda to dispose of such evidence as it sees fit.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Ryan

Is the Minister satisfied that the confidentiality clause will still be enforceable subsequent to the dissolution of the commission? There is a provision for the dissolution of the commission in section 12. What will happen to information in the possession of the commission after the commission ceases to exist? There seems to be the possibility of a hiatus with considerable information and no commission to take charge of it.

This issue is dealt with in section 12 which provides that the commission shall stand dissolved upon such day as the Minister may, after consultation with the Secretary of State, by order appoint and the Minister may include in the order such transitional or consequential provisions as appear to him or her to be expedient.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 7 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Ryan

How is it envisaged that the searches will be carried out?

The searches will be carried out under the supervision of the Garda.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 9 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister and my colleagues on the Opposition benches for their magnanimous approach to this essential, if not desirable, piece of the jigsaw of the Good Friday Agreement. It is important that this Bill has been passed. I thank the Minister of State for answering the questions raised. We, on the Government side, appreciate the contributions made by Opposition Members.

I am satisfied the Bill has been passed. I compliment the Minister of State for the courtesy he has shown the House and for his helpfulness in answering questions and clarifying the points raised by Senators.

I hope this is the end of this sorry saga for everyone involved. When one listens to people talk about the distress this has caused over the years, one can understand how splendid it will be if this Bill brings it to an end.

I thank Senators for their co-operation in taking this legislation today. While it does not give us any pleasure to enact such legislation, it is necessary. I am sure Senators will join with me in expressing the hope that once the commission is established people with information on the whereabouts of the remains of victims will make it available so that the families who have suffered will find comfort at last.

I thank the officials from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for their excellent work and their courtesy and assistance to me in dealing with this matter.

Question put and agreed to.