Thomas Pringle TD

Thomas Pringle TD – Human Rights & Offences Against The State Act

This motion comes around every year, as we are well aware. I have probably spoken on it every year I have been a Member. In most years it is a formality, in that the Government puts it forward, we all get up and say our bit and the Government votes it through. That goes against the purpose of the motion being tabled here. It is supposedly so the Government can have a review of legislation and have it democratically accounted for and proper consideration given to what is required. This year is somewhat different, as we are in the throes of Government formation and it is coming down to the wire. It has focused many parties on what will happen. Some parties are looking at how acceptable they might be in government in future and we have seen amendments to the motion before us. The basic question before us is whether the legislation is correct and whether it should be passed. If it was the same last year, the year before and all the years before that, this year should be no different.

I have heard Members tell the House about terrible crimes that go on across the country and the organised crime which operates here. It is scary and it would be difficult for anyone living in the community who is affected by it but in reality, these crimes occur while this legislation is in place. The Special Criminal Court has been in place since 1972 and goes back to 1939 or 1940, as has been mentioned previously. The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act has been in place since 2009. We are told that all these powers are vital in our armoury to fight against terrorism and organised crime, but this is all still happening and they make no difference. The Minister has not presented anything to show that it is making a difference, and that is our problem. We need to look at something different because we are undermining the civil rights of all citizens by having this legislation in place. The Irish Human Rights Commission has stated the definition of terrorist activity is “impermissibly wide and runs the risk of categorising groups opposing dictatorial or oppressive regimes, anti-globalisation, anti-war or environmental protestors, or even militant trade unionists, as terrorists”. That is the reality. It went on to list its main areas of concern, including that the disparity between those arrested and those prosecuted under the legislation remains unexplained, which is true. I do not know how many times I have heard on the news of people being arrested under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act for ordinary crimes that should never be considered. Not a question is asked about it and no one bats an eyelid. The commission asked the State to consider narrowing the scope of the definition of “terrorist activities” and noted it was “concerned at the continuing existence of the Special Criminal Court, the routine nature of the annual parliamentary resolutions authorising the continuance of its operation and, in particular, the extension of the Court’s remit to include offences outside the scope of ‘terrorist activities'”. While the commission had outlined its concerns, it was completely ignored.

It is also important to put the comments of UN special rapporteur on the record. She has stated “the island of Ireland, more so than many parts of the world has experienced emergency law, emergency practice and the seepage of the exceptional into the ordinary in ways that has not served the rule of law nor the protection of human rights well”. She also stated there had been “consistent and trenchant concerns about the use of the Special Criminal Court and the Offences Against the State Act as a ‘work-around’ the ordinary protection of the law”. She went on to state “the poor governance that accompanies emergencies contributes to the conditions conducive to terrorism itself”. The point is that these provisions actually drive that on, which is probably true. We are doing nothing to deal with the causes of crime and the actions that take place by having these courts in place. We should look at how the law can be used to make communities safer and at wider community needs, rather than only the criminal justice element. Therefore we should oppose this.