Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann resolves that sections 2 to 12, 14 and 17 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 (No. 39 of 1998) shall continue in operation for the period of 12 months beginning on 30 June 2003.

We extended the previous debate by ten minutes and we are now extending this one by the same amount, so that it finishes at 5.40 p.m.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The resolution before the House today seeks approval for the continuance in force of those sections of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 which would otherwise cease to be in operation on 30 June 2003.

The recent Garda operation in County Louth and the PSNI discovery of a large van bomb in Derry are clear indications of the continuing need for perseverance in the fight against terrorism. Members of this House will need no reminding of the circumstances in which these provisions were enacted in 1998, namely the Omagh bomb in August of that year. There was a determination that those responsible for this mass murder would not succeed in subverting the democratically expressed will of the people on this island and that the conflict should be resolved only by peaceful means and on the basis of consent. To date, one person has been convicted in this jurisdiction on a charge related to the Omagh bomb, and the investigation is continuing with excellent co-operation between the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It is worth reiterating that the Garda Síochána will never give up the search for those responsible.

Senators will recall that in recognition of the circumstances surrounding the enactment of the provisions of the 1998 Act, there was general agreement that the Act should be regularly revisited by the Oireachtas to see whether the circumstances then prevailing justified the continuance in force of its provisions or there had been a change in circumstances sufficient to convince the Oireachtas that they were no longer needed. Under section 18 of the Act, therefore, as amended by section 37 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999, and by virtue of resolutions passed by each House of the Oireachtas on 20 June 2000, 26 June 2001 and 18 April 2002, sections 2 to 12, 14 and 17 will cease to operate on 30 June 2003 unless a further resolution is passed by each House authorising the sections to continue to operate for a period not exceeding 12 months, as may be specified in the resolution.

Also included in the Act was a requirement for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to lay a report on the operation of the Act before each House of the Oireachtas prior to any consideration by the Houses of the renewal of its provisions. Such a report was laid before this House on 18 June. The conclusion of that report was that the renewal of the provisions for a further year was necessary. The sad reality is that those responsible for the Omagh bomb continue to pursue and plan a campaign of violence and there is no change of substance to the circumstances which led to the enactment of the 1998 Act.

The report of the committee to review the Offences Against the State Acts 1939 to 1998 was published last August. This extensive report deals with complex issues of law and policy and involves important considerations concerning the balance to be struck between national and international security and civil liberties and individual rights. Those recommendations in the report of direct relevance to the purpose and scope of the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill 2002 were considered in the context of the preparation of that legislation and the Bill, accordingly, will give effect to a limited number of recommendations. A fuller consideration of the recommendations of the committee will be finalised once this Bill has been enacted and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will then bring further proposals to the Government.

I will turn now to the individual sections of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 which this House is being asked to continue in force for a further 12 months, outline their purpose and indicate how they have been used in the past year.

Sections 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 17 have not been used since 23 March 2002. Section 3 provides that in proceedings related to the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation, the accused must give notification of his or her intention to call a person to give evidence on his or her behalf, unless the court permits otherwise.

Section 4 amends section 3 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1972. The effect of the 1972 provision is that any statement or conduct by a person accused of membership of an unlawful organisation implying or leading to a reasonable inference that he was at a material time a member of such an organisation should be evidence that he or she was then such a member. It originally defined the expression "conduct" as including an omission by an accused person to deny published reports that he was a member of an unlawful organisation. The change made by section 4 of the 1998 Act was to expand the definition of "conduct" to include movements, actions, activities or associations. This simply aligns the definition of the word in the 1972 Act with the reference to movements, actions, activities or associations used in section 2 of the 1998 Act.

Section 6 established 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. While this section was not used during the period under report, one person remains before the courts after being charged with such an offence prior to that period.

Section 8 made 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. Section 12 made 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.

Section 17 builds on the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 relating to the forfeiture of property. Essentially, the 1994 provision empowers a court, whenever any person is convicted of an offence, to order at its discretion the forfeiture of any property in his or her possession which was used or intended to be used to facilitate the commission of the offence. The effect of section 17, in the case of a person convicted of specified offences relating to the possession of firearms or explosives and where there is property liable to forfeiture under the 1994 Act, is to require the court 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 rest of the sections with which we are dealing have been used in the reporting period. Section 2 provides that in any proceedings against a person for membership of an unlawful organisation, where evidence is given that the accused, when questioned, failed to answer or gave false or misleading answers to any question material to the investigation of the offence, the court may draw such inferences from that failure or from the furnishing of a false or misleading reply as appears proper. This provision has been used on many occasions in questioning persons arrested on suspicion of being members of an unlawful organisation. Charges do not result in every case in which the provision is used but since 23 March 2002 the section has been used on 43 occasions. In cases in which this section was used, six persons were convicted during the period under report after being charged prior to that period.

Section 5 provides for the drawing of adverse inferences in the prosecution of a person for any offence under the Offences Against the State Acts, any offence scheduled under the Acts or any offence arising out of the same set of facts as such an offence, provided the offence carries a penalty of five years of imprisonment or more. The effect of this section is 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. This section was utilised on one occasion in the reporting period.

Section 7 made it an offence to possess articles in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that the article is in his or her possession for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of specified firearms or explosives offences. This section was utilised on 18 occasions.

Section 9 made 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 excuse to disclose such information to a member of the Garda Síochána. This section was utilised on 17 occasions.

Section 10 extends the maximum period of detention permitted under section 30 of the Offences against the State Act – which otherwise is 48 hours – to 72 hours on the authorisation of a District Court judge. The judge must be satisfied, on the application of an officer of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of superintendent, that the further detention is necessary for the proper investigation of the offence concerned and that the investigation is being conducted diligently and expeditiously. The person being detained is entitled to be present in court during the application and to make, or to have made, submissions on his or her behalf. In the reporting period, 32 persons have had their periods of detention extended under this provision, and nine of these were subsequently charged with offences.

Section 11 allows a District Court judge to permit the re-arrest and detention of a person in respect of an offence for which he or she was previously detained under section 30 of the Offences against the State Act but released without charge. This further period must not exceed 24 hours and can only be authorised in circumstances where the District Court judge is satisfied, on information supplied on oath by a member of the Garda Síochána, that further information has come to the knowledge of the Garda Síochána about that person's suspected participation in the offence and about which they wish to question the suspect. This section was utilised on two occasions.

The effect of section 14 is to make these new offences scheduled offences for the purposes of Part V of the 1939 Act. This means that persons suspected of committing such offences are liable to arrest under section 30 of the 1939 Act. This section was utilised on 83 occasions.

The foregoing information on the use made of the provisions of the 1998 Act in the reporting period is based on information received from the Garda authorities and is contained in the report on the Act laid before this House. This report, together with the previous reports, shows that the key provisions of the Act are taking effect. We have seen the results of this legislation since its inception. Of course, the most significant result in the Garda Síochána's fight against subversive activity was the conviction of a person on a charge of conspiracy to cause an explosion in relation to the Omagh atrocity. The provisions of the 1998 Act were used appropriately by the Garda Síochána in this case and will continue to be used in their efforts to bring to justice all of those responsible for that horrific act.

At the same time, it should be noted that the number of persons held under extended detention under section 10 over the past 14 months was 32 as against 39 in the previous nine-month period. This is a relatively modest number, and one which, taken together with all of the other information I have outlined, goes to support the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's view that the provisions of the Act are reasoned and proportionate, and are being implemented by the Garda Síochána in a measured and restrained manner.

There are, of course, some provisions which did not take effect in the context of court proceedings during the period under report, but even here the Garda authorities have informed me that the provisions in question have been utilised where appropriate by the Garda during the investigation of offences. Members of this House will appreciate, of course, that many of the investigations at issue are, of their nature, ongoing.

The Garda Síochána has had considerable success in the reporting period in combating those who would subvert through the use of violence the democratic wishes of the people on this island. I am sure the House will join me in congratulating the force on its achievements, but the threat to life and to our democratic values, which led to the enactment of the 1998 Act, remains. So too, I am sure, does the determination of this House never to give in to such a threat, but to provide the Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system with all legitimate means of combating it. The 1998 Act is an important part of those means and it is proving its worth.

Much has been achieved in the implementation of the peace process, and much remains to be done, but there are still those who would threaten to subvert that process through violence. The 1998 Act is part of the democratic response to that threat, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform asks the House to continue in force the relevant provisions of that Act for a further 12 months. I commend the resolution to the House.

I formally second the resolution. It is important that the House debates this matter. When the resolution was proposed in 1998, the Opposition sought assurances from the Government that these understandably draconian provisions would be debated on a yearly basis in the House. That agreement has been honoured every year since the Act was passed, by both Houses of the Oireachtas. It is important that we use this space to reflect on the progress to date. I note the fact that the report was laid before the Oirechtas early in June, outlining some of the information that the Minister has given the House. It is important that the House returns on a yearly basis to this issue because of the exceptional circumstances that led to the introduction of this Act in 1998.

For those outside this House who hold the view that there is no longer a threat from armed groups, illegal, unlawful organisations in this State, I say they are sorely wrong. The threat continues from dissident, allegedly republican organisations and we must counter that threat. The first responsibility of a democratically elected Government is to secure for its citizens the jurisdiction in which they live. That is why it is absolutely essential that the provisions contained in this Act continue until such a time as we have wiped out forever this fundamentalist, anti-democratic, neo-fascist group of people who still refuse to accept the wishes of our people, North and South.

The Minister is right to point out the example in County Louth. People should be on their guard. We saw in Merrion Square on 8 May last a small incendiary device which could have caused mayhem to members of the public, members of the Garda, Members of the House. We saw on the 6 May an attempted bomb attack in Armagh city, where two police officers escaped injury. As the Minister said, in County Louth a bomb was discovered following good investigative work by the Garda Síochána and, I presume, the local community. A 1000 lb bomb was found which was ready to be primed and used presumably over the Border.

People who think that these people have gone away and are not planning to attack our democracy again would need to have some sense and realise that the threat they pose is real. This side of the House gives full support to the Government and the law enforcement branches of the State in countering this threat and defeating it. They remain a small group of people who are totally against the new consensus that we have established on this island both North and South. We must counter and defeat them.

I am concerned by reports I receive about the new recruiting ground that the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA have in some universities. We know of the case that appeared before the courts in London last April, where a group of young people were convicted on terrorist charges. It seems that there has been infiltration of some of our colleges by these fundamentalist organisations, that they are intent on derailing the peace process and that they have at their disposal a small dedicated new young corps of terrorists who are prepared to bring mayhem and destruction to this country and the neighbouring island. We also have to counter that.

One of the reasons many elements of the Unionist community and the security establishment in Northern Ireland state it should not fully demilitarise is the threat posed by these illegal groups. If they are genuinely serious about bringing about demilitarisation, which entails the removal of British Army installations along Border flashpoints and elsewhere in Northern Ireland, they would simply go away. It is their continued threat which allows the argument to be made that such installations have merit and justification.

Sinn Féin has never publicly asked people, North and South, to co-operate either with the Garda Síochána or the Police Service of Northern Ireland with the investigations that followed the Omagh bombing. I call on it to embrace the cross-party support in this House, the Lower House and throughout the country for people to come forward with information that could lead to the conviction of persons who were responsible for the Omagh atrocity and other atrocities. We have had one conviction in the Omagh case and I will not refer to another case which is currently before the courts. I ask Sinn Féin to make that call because now is the time to get off the fence.

The Minister of State is from Limerick city, which has been troubled in recent months by feuding gangs. Recently, a newspaper alleged that arms from the Continuity IRA were sold directly to some of these groups. If there is any truth in that – and I have no reason to doubt it – does it not demonstrate once again the necessity for decommissioning in this State and a complete clamp-down to end such activities? Decommissioning is not just an important issue for Unionists, it is also important for people in this State because we cannot have unlawful groups – be they ten or 100 – attempting to act as mafiosi in their own communities, directing terror or, in the case to which I referred in Limerick, directly selling illegal weapons to what might be described as ordinary decent criminals as opposed to politically motivated criminals. Decommissioning is not just important for those groups on ceasefire, it is also important in light of the continued threat posed by the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA or any other IRA group that may take their place in future.

In recent years, much good work has been done by the Criminal Assets Bureau in getting to the root of ill-gotten gains and those who amass huge sums of money through criminal activity, including illegal drug dealing. The CAB needs to direct more of its attention, however, to the paramilitary fronts that exist in the State. I refer not only to dissident groups but also to the continued presence of the IRA. I have been informed – there is no reason for doubting it – that the IRA has simply moved its operations and, instead of murdering people here and in Britain, is now attempting to front legitimate businesses. Have we seen the kind of concentrated effort by the CAB and other law enforcement agencies to ensure that these paramilitary fronts are exposed and that their profits are confiscated? The Minister of State should take that point seriously because we cannot have such groups – even those that are on ceasefire – attempting to diversify their illegal activities.

I appeal to the communities that know who these people are to do their patriotic duty by informing the Garda Síochána of their activities and whereabouts. The case in County Louth clearly came about as a result of good intelligence. When people witness this type of activity, it is their duty to inform the Garda Síochána about it; nothing could be more patriotic than doing so. I appeal to those in the communities that are harbouring these people to ensure that information is passed on, either to the Garda Síochána or the Police Service of Northern Ireland, so that, once and for all, those responsible for illegal acts can be rooted out of our society.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach inniú.

As the Minister of State pointed out, the recent developments in counties Louth and Derry serve as chilling reminders that there are people who remain bent on reversing all that has been achieved in recent years. The fact that, thankfully, there has not been any atrocity on the scale of that which occurred in Omagh almost five years ago, is cause for relief but not complacency. Since the Omagh bombing, there have been several foiled plots by dissidents to cause carnage on a similar or even greater scale. These plots have been foiled thanks to the unstinting dedication and tenacity of the Garda Síochána and others.

It is also important to note the repeated success of the Garda Síochána in securing prosecutions against members of dissident republican organisations, with the result that many of their most senior figures are currently serving prison sentences. This has undoubtedly been a major factor in preventing the commissioning and execution of further outrages.

It is our corpus of anti-terrorist legislation, including the Act now under discussion, that makes these prosecutions possible. The fact that dissident organisations have been so continuously thwarted in this way is an obvious argument against the unwarranted weakening of any such legislation. The Minister of State has illustrated that the bulk of these provisions were utilised during the period under review. The statistics on the utilisation of the sections in question show that the Garda Síochána is careful and conscientious about employing the Act's provisions.

Given that we live in a society where terrorist groups ignore the democratic will of the people, it is essential that the State equips itself with sufficiently strong powers to fight these groups. As long as there remains a challenge to the security of the State from terrorism – and there clearly is such a threat at this time – the full weight of the law must continue to be applied. Constant vigilance is required, together with unyielding pressure on the would-be saboteurs of the relative peace this island has enjoyed in recent years.

The provisions of the Act are strongly weighted against these groups. The Minister of State has clearly illustrated that inference can be taken from an accused person's failure to answer material questions. In addition, they do not have the right to call witnesses without the permission of the court, unless prior notice has been given. Any statement or conduct by them can be taken as reasonable inference. Failure to mention certain facts which an accused later relies on, can also be the subject of such inference. Possession of an article giving rise to reasonable suspicion is an offence. It is also an offence to collect, record or possess information useful to unlawful organisations, as it is to withhold information to prevent offences.

We have had many debates in this House about the activities of paramilitary organisations other than the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, which have moved from specific republican activities to organised crime. The involvement of elements of the Provisional IRA, the INLA, the UDA and the UVF in this regard should be tackled by extending either some or all of these provisions in the fight against crime. Many of us would wish that there was no necessity to operate the provisions of this Act, but there is a compelling case to be made for their use against terrorism and organised crime. Who could deny that the effects of illegal drugs on society are not as serious or as grave as the consequences of terrorism? Other crimes have a similar adverse effect. It needs to be ensured the full rigour of the law and resources of the State will be mobilised in the fight against crime.

While I omitted the Official IRA, I presume many of its members are rehabilitating within the ranks of the Labour Party and perhaps there is no need to extend the legislation to cover them.

That is a bit cheap.

I regret it is necessary to continue to enforce the provisions of the Act. I also regret the need for anti-terrorist legislation. However, we all sincerely hope the day will come when such legislation will no longer be required. I wonder whether that day might be hastened by the establishment of a truth and reconciliation forum or commission through which many of the activities of the past 20 or 30 years that have manifested themselves in serious crimes could be arrested by addressing them in a way that would give rise to people making genuine expressions of regret for these activities and everybody could come together as part of a healing process in order that the negative effects of the period could be harnessed into a positive approach for the future on this island, which is absolutely necessary.

Our record on tackling terrorism in this part of the island has been good throughout the 30 years. It should be ensured similar high standards prevail within the United Kingdom. People are worried about the all too frequent reports of collusion between the security forces in Northern Ireland and paramilitaries during that period. I sincerely hope such collusion has not continued up to the present day.

I join previous speakers in endorsing the extension of the Act for a further 12 months. It is appropriate that it should be reviewed annually. However, it may be beneficial if similar provisions in the Act were applied to other serious threats to the State from the criminal world.

I compliment the Minister of State on his presentation. The Labour Party accepts and supports the need for the legislation following the atrocity of the Omagh bombing. We also accept there is still a threat to our democracy from the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, in particular. While I agree it is important that this emergency legislation should be monitored and revisited annually, at the same time, we must get to the stage where such legislation is no longer required. There are concerns regarding the length of time that has passed since the legislation was introduced as an emergency measure and the conviction of only one person under it.

There is a need for a more comprehensive review of the principal Act and the implementation of the report on it, mentioned by the Minister of State. While I reiterate our support for the continuation of this legislation, it is important that we should revert to legislation that reflects a stable and peaceful society, which largely is the case in Ireland except among minorities which do not want peace.

I welcome the Minister of State. While it is necessary to review the legislation, it is a pity that we, as a nation, found it necessary to place such legislation on the Statute Book in the first place. However, that is the reality and we have a responsibility, as legislators, to face up to this. There is evidence that proves the legislation was both justified and necessary. I welcome the Minister of State's outline of how the 1998 amendments were used over the past 12 months. It is important that the Act should be reviewed because it proves it was necessary in the first place.

There is no place for those who undermine our democracy and the will of the people. We live in an era in which terrorism affects those who engage in such actions or atrocities and in which people can be terrorised in their own homes through images of terrorist acts on television,. It is important that at all times the necessary legislation should be in place to confront this threat to the society in which we aspire to live.

"Republicanism" is one of the most abused words in the English language. So-called republicans hijack and abuse it to carry out criminal acts. A stage has been reached in the peace process where a distinction must be made regarding criminal activity which cannot be tolerated. Lip service cannot be paid to the support of extortion and protection rackets, kneecapping, punishment beatings and smuggling to raise funds. These are criminal activities for which there is no place in society. We, as legislators, must face up to this. Certain groups in society and certain Members of these Houses pay lip service to such activity. The people I represent and I do not aspire to such a society.

Tributes must be paid to the Garda and the Defence Forces which provide us with the protection we need. People question the cost involved in supporting the Defence Forces but democracy, like other aspects of our lives, requires an insurance policy. Our Defence Forces provide such an insurance policy. If they uphold democracy for only one day in the history of the State, they will have earned their keep. They must be in place and must be supported to ensure they are capable of meeting the threat they encounter on a day-to-day basis.

I join previous speakers in appealing to all parties in the Oireachtas to support the enforcement of the legislation and its spirit. It is time we grew up as a society and moved forward in the real world to face up to what is acceptable. I congratulate the Minister of State on his contribution which was informative and necessary. We must maintain vigilance against the threat to our democracy. There is not only an internal threat, as we live in a world where external threats are increasing day after day. Similar legislation may be needed to address the external threats facing western democracies that we support. Everybody must be vigilant. My final appeal is to all democratically elected parties to embrace democracy, separate it from criminal activity and move forward in order that we can continue to grow the State for the benefit of all who live in it.

I welcome the Minister of State and the ongoing provisions of the Act which was passed in 1998. We are all conscious of the background when they were first made. After the tragic events in Omagh when so many men, women and young children died in the most barbaric circumstances, the proposed legislative measures were tough and draconian and may have been too far reaching. However, the Government had a decision to make and matters were taken out of its hands by the events in Omagh. It had to do something and in enacting this legislation took the the right decision. The legislation was reasonable and balanced.

In the aftermath of the British-Irish Agreement, which was endorsed by the people of the North of Ireland, and in the light of the slaughter that took place in Omagh the Government was faced with two questions. Was it necessary to protect the institutions of the State and its citizens with some form of legislation and was the proposed legislation, which continues today, reasonable and balanced? The answer to both questions is yes. It was of paramount importance then, as it is now, that we did not allow groups of people to destroy what had been achieved by the Good Friday Agreement. We must do whatever is necessary in law to prevent them from succeeding in that regard. As public representatives and as a Government, we have a mandate from the people, North and South, to continue to implement the Agreement in all its aspects at all times.

For this reason I was delighted to see Mr. David Trimble dealing successfully last week with the wranglings in his own party. Whether one likes him, he is a brave individual who sees the Good Friday Agreement as the only chance for the people he represents. It suprises me that intelligent people such as Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson cannot see that this is the only opportunity they will have. We have heard from Mr. Blair on numerous occasions that this is the only opportunity they will have to wrest themselves away from what they had in the past, something to which, I am sure, none of them wants to go back.

It would be wrong to say this legislation is a cast iron guarantee that no atrocities will be perpetrated. That is the reason we must continue to look to the Garda, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the intelligence services in Britain which have done a wonderful job in putting a halt to many atrocities which might have taken place. We might have had several other Omaghs but for their vigilance. We need only look at the discovery of a 1,200 lb bomb in the North last week or the individuals recently stopped on the Border carrying bomb-making equipment to realise how effective and successful they have been. Had that bomb been planted and gone off it would have been three times more destructive than the Omagh bomb.

When this legislation was introduced, there were concerns that it would affect civil liberties. The passage of time has put those concerns to bed and people are now satisfied that legislation such as this can survive in a democracy. There is no reason the criminal law should ignore those who direct or train individuals in unlawful organisations or grant immunity to those who possess items that could be construed as being able to commission subversive offences. There is no reason the collection of information, as set out in section 8 of the Act, should not warrant criminal sanction. Section 9 states the offence of withholding information is far reaching but not without precedence in legislation. Many Acts, for example, road traffic Acts, demand that people give additional information at certain times or face criminal sanction. There is no circumstance where a person should be allowed the luxury of silence where that silence could cause an atrocity to be perpetrated.

I realise that this legislation was initially enacted for a short period but the ongoing activities of subversive organisations create a need for it to continue. The people of the North have too much to lose. We remember the economic dynamic released when the first ceasefire took place. People from the South began to travel to the North, some for the first time in their lives. Direct investment, supported by the USA through multinational companies, has brought about a terrific improvement in the economic lives of the people in the North of Ireland. Tourism has improved dramatically. As a consequence of this, employment opportunities are far greater than before. There is too much to be lost by not keeping our eye on the ball and making sure we do what we can to ensure the survival of the Agreement.

I welcome the Minister of State and the unanimity of the House. I deeply regret the necessity of renewing this legislation. One would have hoped the causes which made it necessary would have disappeared. The Minister of State has made clear the successful use of the legislation by the Garda. It is one of its outstanding achievements in the past five years to have managed, since Omagh, to keep dissident terrorist activity, which has resulted in loss of life, to an absolute minimum. Our praise for the force cannot be too high.

This legislation was drawn up after the Omagh bomb. The first concern of the Government at the time, apart from pursuing the perpetrators and showing solidarity with the victims and their families, was to ensure there would be no repetition of the bombing, in so far as it lay within our power, and persuade the Real IRA to stop. The safety of the State and its people and the people of the island was at stake. A great deal depended on the firm reaction of the Government and the Oireachtas to that event. The Good Friday Agreement was in its infancy.

The legislation was drawn up with the specific purpose of deterring any decision by the Real IRA to continue its campaign. This was in the face of certain efforts, which I deeply resented, from across the Atlantic to encourage it to continue. A ceasefire was declared but after an interval of about one year, notwithstanding the fact that the ceasefire was, as far as I know, never publicly withdrawn, the campaign resumed. I saw a justification made by a spokesman that it had been forced to stop and that therefore its promise to stop had not been valid.

Since the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the people, and overwhelmingly by Nationalists, North and South, any possible basis for continued armed struggle was removed. In August 1998, the INLA – it had been prepared to move before the Omagh bomb – recognised the futility of continuing and declared a firm ceasefire, which, in my opinion, it has kept ever since, whatever about the unlawful activities of a certain number of its members.The Sunday Business Post suggested, on 13 October 2002, that most of the original Real IRA leaders in Portlaoise prison believe that the organisation no longer has any future. According to the report, they were interested in the possibility of early prison releases arising from a permanent ceasefire by the entire organisation. However, it has since emerged that the organisation, inside and outside the prison, was split.

The Continuity IRA is the only implacable group rooted in a threadbare legitimist fiction, spun by a sad old sea-green incorruptible from County Roscommon. While it is true that the Éire Nua document of 1969 put forward one model that could, in the right circumstances, be discussed and appeared to make allowances for different traditions, the bombs that went off subsequently drowned out – and continue to drown out – that message. One cannot attach credibility to attempts at conciliation if all the time one is using, deploying and threatening force.

It should be obvious that any continued campaign, on the part of whatever group, is morally wrong, democratically unjustifiable, politically deeply counter-productive and militarily absurd. The political and democratic path, however thorny – we see in current circumstances how thorny it is – is the only way forward. It is a complete illusion – unfortunately, it is a rather hard-bitten illusion – to believe that even a successful or financially damaging attack will have any more effect than in the past in persuading a country that has just fought, to use its own language, "a war on terrorism", to succumb to anything that a minuscule splinter organisation might have to throw at it.

For the moment, this is the Republic and we must build out from it. The attempts – perhaps rather belated – at understanding and rapprochement are to be commended if the republican ideal of uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter is to mean anything today. It was rather telling when Paul Bew, a fine historian and adviser to David Trimble, made the point that the conflict over the last 30 years was the first time that attempts to establish a republic in different generations dating back to the United Irishmen did not have a significant input from the Protestant tradition.

If republicanism means anything, it means bringing together traditions. Yes, putting the case for independence is good, but we must let go for good – regardless of what the Unionist community may or may not do – the notion that we can force, coerce or out-vote by way of one community overtaking another. We can only do it by dialogue and co-operation. We have something to build on. In some respects, we have made more progress today than we have made in 200 years. We must build on this and let go of the ways of the past.

Hear, hear.

I thank everyone who spoke on the motion, particularly Senators Jim Walsh, Minihan, Kett, Mansergh, Tuffy and Brian Hayes for their support. I thank Senator Brian Hayes for seconding the motion.

I have taken note of various points made during the course of the debate which I will discuss with the Minister and the Garda Síochána. These include: the question of dissident terrorists trying to recruit people in universities and other third level institutions: the fact that the Criminal Assets Bureau should pay more attention to paramilitary organisations that have moved into different areas of crime; the feasibility of a truth and reconciliation commission; the use of the Act against other types of crime; and the use of similar legislation against external threats.

I join Senator Mansergh in congratulating the Garda on its wonderful success in combating dissident terrorist activity since the Omagh tragedy. Senator Brian Hayes referred to the situation in my area, about which he is correct. The information available to me from the Garda is that the Continuity IRA is supplying awesome weaponry to a gang on a particular side of that feud. It is only as a result of the vigilance and good intelligence available to the Garda in Limerick, supported by the emergency response unit, that a number of appalling tragedies have been averted. I congratulate the members of the Garda Síochána who are doing a magnificent job in very difficult circumstances.

I thank the House for its unanimous support in allowing the Government to continue these provisions as and from 30 June. Like Senator Tuffy, I look forward to the day when we will no longer have to use such legislation, but, unfortunately, that day has not yet arrived.

Question put and agreed to.