I move amendment No. 19:
In page 6, before section 14, to insert the following new section:
"14.—(1) Where any person is found in possession of any article, documents, or recorded information, in circumstances giving rise to the reasonable inference that such possession was for the purpose of planning or executing any indictable offence, such person shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction or indictment to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or to a fine or both.
(2) In a prosecution under subsection (1) it shall not be necessary to establish an inference that such a possession was for the purpose of commiting a particular indictable offence where the evidence establishes an inference that such possession was for the purpose of planning or executing any one of a number of different indictable offences.
(3) Possession for the purposes of subsection (1) means having in one's possession power or control, either personally or by an agent, and includes having available the article, document or information at a distance or having it stored whether physically or electronically.
(4) Where a member of An Garda Síochána reasonably suspects that any person is committing an offence under this section, he may arrest any such person without a warrant.
(5) Where a member of An Garda Síochána may apply to any Judge of the District Court, or if no such Judge is reasonably available, to a Peace Commissioner for a warrant, and be granted same, to enter and search any home or premises or lands, in respect of which the member has tendered any information on oath that he has reasonable grounds to suspect that any article, document or information is located or stored in contravention of this section.".
The purpose of this amendment is to cover what I regard as a serious loophole in the existing legislation. What I have just proposed was included in the Bill I moved in this House in February or March. At the time the Minister said that a provision of this kind was not necessary because it was covered by the existing laws in relation to conspiracy but as I understand it you have to have more than one person for a conspiracy to occur, and second, you have to prove that a particular indictable offence was committed rather than that the intention was to commit an indictable offence. That is an important distinction.
For example, I became aware that recently the Garda came upon an individual who had a disguise and had certain material in relation to a well known individual's movements — the times the person left his own home, where he worked, times he went to work, the route he took to his work. The Garda properly took the view that the purpose of having this material and information was for the carrying out of a serious crime, an indictable offence, either to kidnap the person or to break into his property while he was out of his home and commit a serious offence. The Garda have often found people with disguises and the lay out of the bank close to banks, but unless they can prove that the purpose of the documentation was to burgle the bank as opposed to breaking into the bank to kidnap the bank manager or to interfere in some other way, a prosecution cannot be taken and certainly cannot be successful.
The purpose of my amendment therefore is to include in the Bill "having certain information and in certain circumstances having disguises on your person, or under your control or an agent acting on your behalf having them. In that way it would not be necessary for the Garda to prove that it was for the purpose of carrying out a particular offence like kidnapping or bank robbery or whatever, but could be only for the purpose of an indictable offence from a large range of offences and that that should be sufficient to get a successful conviction. I believe there is a serious loophole in the law at present. On the last occasion we referred to the fact that the courts will interpret his presence as unlawful purpose unless you prove what the particular offence is. We need not tie ourselves down with such technicalities, which effectively make it impossible to get successful convictions where it is well known that the intention is for unlawful purpose and in this case to commit a very serious offence. We have had a number of major bank robberies in this country as well as many high profile kidnappings. Well known individuals are followed; their movements are traced for many weeks and months in advance. We want to ensure that our laws are not so technical that it becomes impossible to take prosecutions when they find an individual or a group of individuals with material on somebody's movements and with the layout of their house. The Garda know it is for the purpose of serious crime, but because they cannot pin the exact reason for having this material they cannot take prosecutions. I discussed this matter with a senior garda recently and he felt that a provision with my intent is badly lacking in Irish law. Apparently on many occasions there might be just one individual involved and therefore the laws that relate to conspiracy do not apply in that case.
I compliment the Minister on her attitude to the last amendment. She is adopting a very reasonable approach and I am delighted that she agreed to increase the fine. It may be of interest to her to note that I was not actually going to move my amendment because I had decided that since I have made so many arguments about reducing prison sentences I should not now be proposing to increase them. She is adopting a very open attitude and certainly this Bill has been much improved since its initial publication. If we continue with that to the end, we will have a much better legislation. I think legislation that is brought in through consensus rather than confrontation is always the better for that. It also gives Opposition Members the opportunity to take legislation more seriously when the Minister will listen and where necessary take on board suggestions made and do so in a very open and fair fashion. The spirit in which the Minister approaches this Bill is a great example which I hope will be followed by many of her colleagues.