25th June 2003
O Snodaigh - Time to Confront creeping complacency on repressive legislation
Speaking in the course of tonight's debate on the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act Sinn Fein spokesperson on Justice Aengus Ó Snodaigh said there was ``no evidence'' that the emergency laws contained within the Act were effective. He said the Minister had also failed to prove the necessity of reactivating the draconian measures and that there were no assurances given that the provisions in the Act were not being abused to trawl for intelligence or to intimidate political activists. Urging members to vote against the Government motion Deputy O Snodaigh appealed to TDs to confront the ``creeping complacency'' that exists about repressive legislation in the state and to support the repeal of the Offences Against the State Acts in total.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: ``Sinn Fein opposed the Offences Against the State Act 1998 when it was originally introduced - just as we have historically opposed repressive legislation in all its forms and the violations of human rights and civil liberties - as well as the numerous miscarriages of justice - that have resulted. When speaking against this law five years ago, my colleague Deputy Ó Caoláin observed that ``Repressive legislation has always helped to fuel the cycle of repression and resistance?(and) the political blunders and legal injustices of the past are (now) being repeated.'' That statement is just as true today.
``In every case since 1939, emergency legislation has been introduced and passed rapidly in the wake of tragedy, and facilitated by the promise that the provisions were both temporary and NOT designed for widespread use. Yet we know that the Offences Against the State Acts have operated almost exclusively outside of actual emergency situations, and have also been widely abused. The powers they give the Garda Special Branch have turned it into a political police force which has systematically harassed citizens engaged in open, legal and democratic political activity, and also citizens with no political involvement of any kind.
``If this House votes in favour of this motion today, we will be rubber-stamping the continuation of extended detention without charge for interrogation purposes under section 10, the removal of the right to silence at sections 2 and 5, and guilt by association at section 4, to name but a few. If such a law was on the books of another country - particularly one in the southern hemisphere - it would be condemned as anti-democratic and a violation of civil liberties and human rights. And most members of this House would rightly speak out with indignation against it.
``Section 18 of the Act requires the Minister to report on its operation, and this report is supposed to provide the House with information on which to base a decision to renew the law. I want to know how many Deputies in this House actually READ this report? If you do read it, you will see that it is totally deficient, provides no evidence that the emergency provisions are necessary, or that the ordinary law would have proved insufficient for sound convictions. It also provides NO evidence that the emergency measures in question have been effective by any reasonable measure. It doesn't even state clearly in each case the ratio of use of the provisions to charges laid, and charges laid to convictions obtained. There is nothing in the Minister's report that assures the House that these provisions have not been abused to trawl for intelligence, or to intimidate political activists engaged in lawful activity. Quite the opposite. It indicates that of 32 occasions in the last year where extended detention was ordered, only 9 people - or about 1 in 3 - were even CHARGED with an offence. The rate of conviction is not stated. Furthermore - and without giving ANY reasons - the Minister wants to reactivate sections 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 17 - even though these provisions were NEVER USED in the period since the last renewal. Thus the Minister has manifestly FAILED to prove the necessity of the reactivation of these draconian measures. And so I call on members of this House to at the very least reject the Minister's report as inadequate for the purpose of deciding to continue to suspend ordinary rights and freedoms.
``But I also appeal to Members to confront what I can only call a creeping complacency about repressive legislation in this state. I call on members to vote against the Government motion, and also to back Sinn Fein's call for repeal of the Offences Against the State Acts 1939-1998 in total. I call on you to do this NOT on the basis that you support Sinn Fein or the republican position, but on the basis that you support the Good Friday Agreement that was endorsed by 94% of people in this state, knowing that the repeal of repressive laws is a rightful expectation of those who support the Agreement's full implementation.
``But most importantly, I urge you to oppose the continuation of the emergency laws because by doing so you can send a message to those opponents of the Good Friday Agreement in this state who insist that the Agreement has changed nothing. Because if you fail to do this, and instead vote to reinstate emergency powers and draconian laws five years on, the message you send them actually reinforces their belief that politics won't work to change things. That the Good Friday Agreement will not in fact deliver the restoration of full human and civil rights. And that is not a message that this House should send.''
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