[Sinn Fein]

23ú Samhain 2001

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin rejects Political Extradition

Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin today urged fellow deputies to reject the Extradition Bill. The full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin's address follows:

Extradition (European Union Conventions) Bill 2001

``Agreements between states for the extradition of persons for criminal offences are normal and necessary. Such agreements and their implementation in law need to be based on respect for human rights. No State should lightly send its own citizens or foreign citizens for trial in another state. The legal system of the requesting state must bear scrutiny and the requested state must ensure that the rights of the extraditee can be vindicated in the requesting state.

We in Sinn Fein have never been opposed and are not opposed to extradition in such circumstances. We do not oppose extradition for criminal offences provided that all the legal safeguards are in place. However we do oppose extradition for political offences.

Extradition in this country is not and never has been a purely legal issue. It has been the subject of much political controversy during the past 30 years of conflict in our country. It always was and still is a highly political issue.

From 1969 onwards there was political and armed conflict in the Six Counties. During that time thousands of people were forced to move from the North-East into the 26 Counties. Many of them became welcome and valued members of communities in the Border Counties which I represent and elsewhere throughout this State.

Many of those who sought refuge in this jurisdiction were being pursued by the British authorities in the Six Counties before, during and after the period of internment without trial. While extradition requests from the British authorities to this State for political refugees were infrequent they were generally refused by the courts on the grounds that the offences were political. One of the lasting legacies of the ill-conceived and ill-fated Sunningdale Agreement was the 1976 Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act which allowed for people to be tried in this State for offences committed in the Six Counties. This too was used relatively infrequently.

It was not until the early 1980s that the political offences exception began to be eroded in the courts. Judgements in high profile cases were seen to effect a change in the interpretation of the political exception rule.

The Hillsborough Agreement was signed in 1985. Like Sunningdale this Agreement was based on the exclusion and censorship of republicans. The former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald admits quite openly that one of his principal aims in signing the Hillsborough Agreement with Thatcher was to stem the growth of Sinn Fein and bolster the SDLP. Like Sunningdale the Hillsborough legacy was mainly repressive. What became known as the Hillsborough Wall of British forts and spyposts was built along the border. This is of course a wall which has yet to be dismantled in key areas like South Armagh.

The other principal legacy of Hillsborough was the Extradition Act which was introduced in the Dáil in 1986 by the then Minister for Justice Deputy Dukes. In his opening remarks on the Second Stage the Minister was quite explicit about the political origins of the Bill. He said:

``On the occasion of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement at Hillsborough in November last year, the Taoiseach indicated the Government's intention to accede to the convention against the background of the commitment entered into by the Irish and British Governments to work together to achieve early progress in relation to certain matters of mutual concern in Northern Ireland. The first step towards accession was taken when I signed the convention on behalf of the Government in February last.''

The Minister went on to explain that he believed progress had been made in the Six Counties which allowed the government to bring in the Bill:

``As I have said, certain changes in the administration of justice and in relations between the security forces and the minority community in Northern Ireland, as well as measures to enhance security co-operation between the two Governments are under way or in the offing; others are still being discussed. They represent progress.''

The reality of course was quite the opposite. This was a period of intense repression in the North. The interrogation centres and the Diplock courts were in full swing. RUC and British Army collusion with loyalist paramilitaries was reaching new heights. The sectarian Ulster Defence Regiment of the British Army was still on the rampage. The Stalker affair had yet to be revealed. There were hundreds of political prisoners in the jails. In England the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and Judith Ward were still in prison with no prospect of release. This was the system into which Minister Dukes and his successors wanted to send political extraditees.

There was sharp political controversy about the 1987 Extradition Act. I recall one Fianna Fáil deputy, now Minister of State, Willie O'Dea, stating at the time that he would not extradite a cat to England. Others of his colleagues made similar statements. However when Fianna Fáil returned to government they implemented the Extradition Act and extradited political prisoners to the Six Counties and to Britain. I know that many ordinary rank and file members and supporters of Fianna Fáil were so disgusted with the turnaround that they abandoned their allegiance to that party.

The 1996 Convention which it is proposed to ratify by this Bill goes further than the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism which was the basis for the 1987 Extradition Act. As incorporated in Section 12 of this Bill the 1996 Convention states that no offence may be regarded by the requested state as a political offence, as an offence connected with a political offence or an offence inspired by political motives. While it allows states to confine this requirement to offences defined in the Suppression of Terrorism Convention, it does represent a further significant weakening of what is left of the political exception in extradition law.

The 1987 Act meant that political prisoners who escaped from British custody in the North were extradited back to the Six Counties. The offence of the founder of Fianna Fáil, Eamon de Valera, in escaping from Lincoln Prison was defined as terrorist. Those who escaped from the H-Blocks of Long Kesh in 1983 were subject to extradition. Clearly politically motivated actions such as armed attacks on British military forces or the use of a weapon in a prison escape were defined not as political but as terrorist.

This Bill reinforces that position. This is despite the fact that fundamental to the peace process and to the Good Friday Agreement is the recognition in politics if not in law that such actions were political. While neither in this jurisdiction nor under British jurisdiction were political prisoners explicitly recognised as such in law, in political reality they were so recognised and hence the release of political prisoners as part of the peace process.

During the course of the peace process former political prisoners such as Angelo Fusco and Tony Kelly were pursued under British extradition warrants in this State. They won their appeals but three others in this State are still sought on extradition warrants by the British government - Nessan Quinlivan, Tony Duncan and Pearse McAuley. Both the British and Irish authorities should drop those cases. All outstanding extradition warrants for political offences by organisations whose prisoners have been released under the Agreement should be immediately quashed by the British government.

I urge that this unfinished business be completed by the British and Irish governments without delay. But even when this is done the reality under existing legislation, reinforced by this Bill, is that the British authorities can legally pursue people for political offences committed at any stage during the conflict and the Irish government has legally committed itself to hand them over. This a very serious matter.

We have been promised a whole raft of further legislation, including the European arrest warrant which the Minister mentioned in his speech. This further legislation would have very serious implications for human rights. It would go well beyond the provisions of existing extradition law and this Bill. This signalled legislation arises out of the current so-called war against terror. But on whose definition of terrorism will it be based? Is it the definition which regards the September 11th attacks in the United States as terrorist but which does not regard as terrorist the carpet-bombing of an impoverished country with thousands of tons of bombs, or the dropping of cluster bombs with food parcels or the slaughter of the defeated? I do not accept that definition and any legislation based on such an approach is an attack on all our rights.

My principal concern about this Bill is the political offences aspect. For that reason I will not support it. I have no fundamental objection to the Section dealing with the 1995 Convention which is principally concerned with giving effect to ``consent to surrender'' by a person sought for extradition. However there needs to be safeguards. The legislation should include a guarantee of access to legal advice throughout the process which is complex. It is essential that the person sought for extradition knows and understands all his or her legal rights and the full implications of a consent to surrender.

In conclusion, because of my opposition to extradition for political offences I will not be supporting this Bill and I oppose its Second Reading.''

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