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Minister for Justice fails test on human rights

26 May, 2004

Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald has today said that the findings of an Amnesty International report shows that the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell has 'failed the litmus test on human rights'.

Ms McDonalds comments came as Amnesty criticised the current government for failing to deal with Irish prison conditions, for failing to deal with police misconduct and the absence of an effective garda complaints procedure, the neglect of the mentally ill, Irish involvement in the arms trade, and the lack of government leadership on racism.

Speaking today, Ms McDonald said:

"The Amnesty report section dealing with the 26 Counties presents a damning indictment of the present government, particularly the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell. The report covers the period from January - December 2003 falls under the brief of the Minister, and therefore he must be accountable for its findings.

"In regards to prison conditions in the 26 counties, which are a major human rights concern in this state that needs to be tackled urgently and systematically, the Minister has failed. Instead of the necessary root and branch reform, the Minister has given us half-baked plans involving the closure of some of the best-run units in the state, while doing nothing whatsoever about the persistently degrading conditions in Limerick Prison or Portlaoise.

"In regards to Garda ill-treatment, the Minister has failed. The Amnesty report argues that the number and consistency of complaints, backed up by medical evidence in some cases, gave the complaints credibility. Sinn Féin has consistently argued that there must be root and branch Garda reform to end impunity, and to establish democratic accountability and oversight. What we need is a fully independent Garda Ombudsman with adequate powers, and a separate independent Policing Board for civilian oversight.What the Minister will deliver in his Garda Siochana Bill falls far short of the mark.

"In regards to effectively challenging racism, the Minister has also failed. Nothing shows this more clearly than the reported rise in racist incidents in the wake of the announcement of the Government's citizenship referendum proposal. The rise in racist hate crime that has resulted in injuries and deaths on both sides of the border shows just how high the stakes can get if the Minister continues his abject record on this issue.

"Michael McDowell branded himself a reforming minister, yet the facts speak for themselves. On a number of crucial human rights issues, the Minister has failed the litmus test time and again. The Taoiseach would do well to consider this when he sits down to reshuffle his Cabinet in June." ENDS

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