Seanad Éireann - Volume 80 - 10 April, 1975

Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Bill, 1975: First Stage.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: I move that leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to extend the criminal law of the State to certain acts done in Northern Ireland, to provide for the admission of evidence obtained by the examination of witnesses in Northern Ireland at trials for offences in respect of those acts, to enable evidence to be obtained by the examination of witnesses in the State for trials in Northern Ireland for corresponding offences under the law of Northern Ireland in respect of acts done in the State, to reform the criminal law in other respects and to provide for related matters.

This Bill is intended to deal with the fugitive offender. The terms of the Bill will be the same as the Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Bill, 1974, which was discharged from the Dáil yesterday. As the objects of the Bill are set out clearly in the Long Title which appears on the Order Paper, a lengthy explanation of the purposes of the Bill would seem to be unnecessary.

Briefly, the purpose is to extend the criminal law of the State as regards certain serious offences to things done in Northern Ireland. These include murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, false imprisonment, offences against the person under the provisions of sections 18 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person's Act, 1961, that is, wounding with intent to cause grevious bodily harm and actually causing grevious bodily harm. There are also other serious matters, such as aggravated robbery and unlawful seizure of an aircraft. If the act done in Northern Ireland is one which, if done here, would constitute one of the serious offences in question, then the provisions [196] of the Bill would make it an offence against our law, which would be triable and punishable here as if committed in this State.

The Bill would close a loophole which exists for the fugitive offender under the Extradition Act, 1965, section 11 (1) of which prohibits extradition for a political offence or an offence connected with a political offence.

The provisions of the Extradition Act are in accordance with The Hague Convention to which we are parties. It appears that there might be constitutional difficulties about trying to tackle the fugitive offender problem by trying to amend the extradition Act. We accepted The Hague Convention and constitutionally under Article 29, we accept generally recognised principles of international law as our rule of conduct in our relations with other states. This Bill would establish the principle of extra-territorial jurisdiction, that is, triable where arrested, and the act being deemed to be an offence against our law, even if committed in Northern Ireland.

In the Bill there is provision, subject to safeguards for taking evidence on commission if witnesses do not attend here, and reciprocal arrangements for the taking of evidence on commission here. The Government consider the measure to be one of extreme importance and want to get it under way. As the Minister for Justice explained in the Dáil yesterday, the possibility of getting it under way in the Dáil at present is virtually ruled out by reason of the financial business now occupying the Dáil. This is likely to continue until the end of the present month, if not for a longer period. It was, therefore, decided to proceed with this Bill in the Seanad. There is nothing in any way sinister or evasive about this procedure.

If the Bill is passed here, it will in any event have to go back to the Dáil and the Dáil will be free to give it the fullest consideration and debate. This proposal is a practical, common sense step, having regard to the volume of business in the Dáil and the desirability of proceeding with this measure. It also recognises, in a way [197] which should be appreciated and I hope will be appreciated, by Senators, the role of the Seanad as one of the legislative bodies in the State.

Mr. E. Ryan: We are opposing the First Reading of this Bill, and I do so with some reluctance. I have expressed the view in the past that the First Reading should, in almost all cases, be allowed to go through, so that the House can see exactly what they are dealing with; so they can see the contents of the Bill and know exactly what is being put before the House.

In this case it is quite clear what is coming before the House, because we have seen the Bill, as printed in the Dáil, and I assume the Bill to be printed for the Seanad will be the same. The situation here is, therefore, somewhat different. We know what is coming before us and we disapprove of it. Consequently, we think it should be opposed from the very beginning.

We have expressed some surprise and suspicion at the extraordinary haste with which this Bill has been discharged in the other House, and almost immediately introduced in the Seanad. One would have thought that the Government would have given an interval of at least a week, so that the Seanad could consider the views expressed in the Dáil, and have time to look at the Bill which was discharged there, and be in a better position to decide if it should be allowed a First Reading in this House. One of the many things of which we disapprove is the extraordinary haste with which it was discharged in the Dáil, with no notice, and introduced here today with little or no notice or time for the Seanad to consider the position.

The real question to which we on this side of the House would like to have the answer is whether the Government have any serious intention of pushing this Bill through the House. Is this merely a manoeuvre or device to get it off the Order Paper in the Dáil? Sweep it under the carpet, send it to the Seanad and let it take its place with the many motions which have been on the Order Paper for many months past. If that is the case, if it is merely something to try to [198] avoid embarrassment on the part of the Government, then we can treat that device with contempt and leave it at that.

Do the Government really intend to put this Bill through? It seems to me unbelievable that they are serious about putting this Bill through at the present time, before the Convention elections are held in the North, or before we have any idea of what kind of administration there will be in the North. It is quite clear that this Bill was introduced as part of the Sunningdale packet. In that context, when we expected to have a power-sharing Executive in operation in the North, when we expected to have a Council of Ireland, when we expected to have the position where the Executive in the North, and the Nationalist members of the Executive, would have some influence over the police and the legal structure there, then at least a case could have been made for this Bill.

I do not think that it would have been acceptable or workable, and I doubt very much if it would be constitutional. At least, I concede that it would be possible to make a case for it. In the present context, when the Executive has collapsed, where we have no idea of what kind of administration there will be in the North, and no satisfactory guarantee that the legal structure there will be acceptable to us in any way, then it is quite inconceivable that the Government should be serious in bringing this Bill in and putting it through, if that is their intention. I cannot believe that they are serious about it.

It must be realised that this Bill cannot be looked at in isolation. There is a similar Bill being put through the British Parliament so this means that if these two Bills go through, not only will our law officers and so on have to work in conjunction with the RUC, have to ask for facilities and help from the British Army in the North, facilities and help from the legal structure in the North, but, in turn, we will be asked to give the same facilities, the same help, the same co-operation to [199] the RUC, and to the legal apparatus in the North of Ireland. We will have to give facilities and ask for facilities and there will have to be very close co-operation and collaboration between the two legal structures.

In the present context, where there is no acceptable government in the North, it is unbelievable that the Government would be serious about this Bill. A situation can be envisaged where we would be asked to help to produce evidence for a trial in the North of Ireland, a trial over which we will have no control. Certainly some of the trials that have taken place in the North in recent months and particularly one that took place there within the last week or two, give no confidence whatever that a person being tried for a kind of crime that is envisaged in this Bill would get anything like a fair trial. But we are being asked to introduce a Bill which, together with the Bill in the British Parliament, would be producing evidence and help to put people on trial before that kind of court.

As I say, I do not think the Government can be serious in suggesting that this Bill should go through at the present time. It may be—and I am not going to commit myself in advance— that in time we will have some kind of a power-sharing executive in the North where a Bill of this kind might be acceptable. I doubt very much whether it would be constitutional to do it, but it is just barely possible that something of this kind might be considered in the future. However, it is inconceivable that it should be done at present.

There is another aspect of this Bill which is very important to the Government and also to the Opposition. The Government have on many occasions expressed their concern for and their interest in what they describe as a bi partisan approach on the question of Northern Ireland. It is quite plain that if the debate here and in the other House has done nothing else it makes it quite clear that this Bill is extremely divisive, that it will mean, if it goes through and even if it is debated, there [200] will be an end to co-operation between the Government and the Opposition on their approach to the Northern Ireland situation. It is quite clear that it will be divisive not merely between Fianna Fáil and the Government but, having regard to the vote that was held here today, it is quite clear that some of the Government supporters, that some members of at least one of the parties forming the Government, disagree very definitely with this Bill and will vote against it.

So there is going to be division, not merely between the Government and the Opposition but division within the ranks of the Government parties themselves. The Government have stressed in the past the importance of co-operation between the parties, of a united front between the parties towards the problems of the North. Apart from the other evils this Bill is going to perpetrate, it is going to put an end to that kind of co-operation and that in itself should be enough to persuade the Government to withdraw the Bill until possibly it might be appropriate at some time in the future.

If we really knew the answers to some of the questions that have been asked here today, we would be in a better position to vote and to know exactly where we stood in regard to this First Reading. If we knew what the intentions of the Government were it would be extremely helpful. If we knew the reason why the Government suddenly discharged it from the Dáil and hurried it into the Seanad it would be very helpful in deciding our position on this Bill. Not knowing the reason why that was done, not knowing the intention of the Government in the future and not knowing why this Bill is now before us, we have no alternative but to oppose a measure which from every point of view is going to be a bad one, is going to create trouble not only within the Parliament between the Government and the Opposition but even within the Government parties themselves.

In the circumstances, I have no alternative but to say that we are against the introduction of this Bill and we will be against it if the Government attempt to put it through this House.

Question put.

[201][202] The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 15.

Barrett, Jack.

Blennerhassett, John.

Burton, Philip.

Butler, Pierce.

Deasy, Austin.

Fitzgerald, Alexis.

Fitzgerald, Jack.

Halligan, Brendan.

Harte, John.

Kennedy, Fintan.

Kerrigan, Patrick.

Lyons, Michael Dalgan.

McAuliffe, Timothy.

McCartin, John Joseph.

Mannion, John M.

Markey, Bernard.

Moynihan, Michael.

O'Brien, Andy.

O'Brien, William.

O'Higgins, Michael J.

O'Toole, Patrick.

Owens, Evelyn.

Sanfey, James W.

Walsh, Mary.

Whyte, Liam.

Níl

Brennan, John J.

Browne, Noel C.

Browne, Patrick (Fad).

Cowen, Bernard.

Dolan, Seamus.

Eachthéirn, Cáit Uí.

Garrett, Jack.

Hanafin, Des.

Keegan, Seán.

Killilea, Mark.

McGlinchey, Bernard.

Mullen, Michael.

Ryan, Eoin.

Ryan, William.

Yeats, Michael B.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Sanfey andHalligan; Níl, Senators W. Ryan and Garrett.

Question declared carried.

Second Stage ordered for Thursday, 24th April, 1975.