[Sinn Fein]

21 November 1996

Sinn Fein call for NO vote in Bail Referendum

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, this morning called for a NO vote in the upcoming Bail Referendum.

Mr. Adams said:

``Over the last twelve months we have continuously expressed our grave concerns about introducing a referendum on the issue of bail, believing that it will do little to achieve its stated objective, the reduction of crime, but will instead remove another basic right and put pressure on an already overstretched prison system.

``There has been a continuing erosion of civil liberties in this state for many years now. In the past this was seen with the introduction of the Special Criminal Court, when people lost their right to trial by jury, and with the Offences Against the State Act. More recently we have had attacks on the right to silence and the introduction of seven day detention.

``The cornerstone of any system of justice must be that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, if this referendum is passed, innocent people will be imprisoned for crimes that members of the judiciary or the Gardaí believe they might commit, a situation similar to the introduction of internment in the Six Counties in August 1971 when over a period of four years thousands of people were interned without trial.

``Government parties are saying that this will only be used against those arrested for serious crimes. However it is clear that it can and will be used against those arrested for extremely minor offences such as petty theft . It will also put additional pressure on those who are refused bail. ``Over the last twenty five years many people in this state have, quite rightly, been critical of the lack of justice for Irish people in British courts, something highlighted by miscarriage of justice cases such as the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and Maguire Seven. This clearly highlights what can happen when innocent people are wrongly detained.

``There are many other areas in this debate which need to be addressed. Firstly, nobody knows how many crimes are committed by people who are out on bail but even Garda estimates put the figure at between 4 and 5%. Secondly, there is a serious problem as to where all of these extra people will be held given the severe shortage of prison spaces in this state. Putting people not guilty of any crime into a prison such as Mountjoy would be a crime in itself. Already in Mountjoy prison the suicide rate is 16 times that of the general population, with those on remand particularly vulnerable in this regard. Up to 70% of prisoners are said to be regular drug users with no proper de-tox programme available in the prison. Furthermore, the innocent will be jailed while the guilty are released.

``It is clear that a large percentage of crime is drug related, particularly in the major cities and this referendum is being put forward by government as a means of tackling such crime. However Operation Dochas, which was recently introduced as a means of tackling the drugs crisis in Dublin, instead of targeting the drug barons is now being used against the very communities who are to the forefront in fighting the drugs epidemic in this city. The drug dealers are being left on the streets while those fighting them are put in jail.

``There is a serious crime problem in this state but the way to tackle it, in the short or long term, is not through a cosmetic, ill thought out response. Realistically, this bail referendum cannot possibly hope to reduce crime, we need to look at areas such as reducing the length of time people await trial which at present is at least one year and also the issue of consecutive sentencing.

``However at the end of the day no amount of legislation or jails will help in substantially reducing crime unless the government takes up its responsibility and begins to tackle the causes of crime. They must begin to tackle drug addition, social exclusion , unemployment and poverty. It is only when this is done that we will start to genuinely reduce crime.

``Sinn Fein are calling on people to vote NO on November 28th''

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