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Superficial gimmicks from hyperactive Minister won't address crime

29 March, 2006


Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD accused the Minister for Justice of "hyperactively" producing legislative reforms that are unnecessary saying they amounted to little more than "superficial gimmicks". Deputy Ó Snodaigh made his comments on the second day of the debate on the amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill put forward by Minister McDowell.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "According to the Minister, his latest amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 aim to bring criminal law up to date to make it "relevant to the needs of modern society". However, in my view the Minister is electioneering at the expense of democracy.

"McDowell is hyperactively producing legislative reforms that are in the main unnecessary. His proposals amount to little more than superficial gimmicks which he is selling, often via press statement, to the public as quick fix solutions in order to gain cheap votes. In reality, however, there are no quick fixes to today's complex problems of crime. What is needed is the reform, restructuring and resourcing of the Garda Siochana to ensure the enforcement of existing laws. And it is also vital that any new provisions are evidenced-based and human-rights compliant.

"My Sinn Fein colleagues, civil liberties and childrens rights groups have expressed serious concerns about the number and intent of the measures being proposed by the Minister. Amongst the issues causing most concern are: the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility; the introduction of ASBOs. And the motives behind, legality and potential effectiveness of new sections relating to gangland crimes, conspiracy, drugs, sentencing and electronic tagging.

"Of course the ability of ourselves, the NGO sector and the Human Rights Commission to absorb and analyse the Ministers proposals and thereby contribute to the development of sound legislation in this crucial area has been greatly inhibited by his typically anti-democratic actions. The Bill began in 2004 with 38 sections and he is now attempting to introduce over 200 amendments which we had sight of only last week. And there are substantive differences between these amendments and the Heads preceding them that he published at the end of the year. Yesterday he indicated his intention to introduce yet more new sections at report stage. The whole thing is gone beyond a joke.

Commenting on the sections dealing with gangland crime he said, "It appears that the Minister's desire to be seen to do something, anything, to address the country's growing gangland crime problem has led him to propose a series of rash new offences and proceedings that would have grave and dangerous consequences for the fundamental civil and political rights of people in this state. " ENDS

Full text of speech follows by Aengus Ó Snodaigh to Criminal Justice Bill 2004

According to the Minister, his latest amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 aim to bring criminal law up to date to make it "relevant to the needs of modern society". However in my view The Minister is electioneering at the expense of democracy. He is engaged in a war on fundamental rights and he has a coalition of eager allies in his Fianna Fail partners, much of the media and indeed in the so-called alternative coalition.

McDowell is hyperactively producing legislative reforms that are in the main unnecessary. His proposals amount to little more than superficial gimmicks which he is selling, often via press statement, to the public as quick fix solutions in order to gain cheap votes. In reality, however, there are no quick fixes to today's complex problems of crime. What is needed is the reform, restructuring and resourcing of the Garda Siochana to ensure the enforcement of existing laws. And it is also vital that any new provisions are evidenced-based and human-rights compliant.

My Sinn Fein colleagues, civil liberties and childrens rights groups have expressed serious concerns about the number and intent of the measures being proposed by the Minister. Amongst the issues causing most concern are: the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility; the introduction of ASBOs. And the motives behind, legality and potential effectiveness of new sections relating to gangland crimes, conspiracy, drugs, sentencing and electronic tagging.

Of course the ability of ourselves, the NGO sector and the Human Rights Commission to absorb and analyse the Ministers proposals and thereby contribute to the development of sound legislation in this crucial area has been greatly inhibited by his typically anti-democratic actions. The Bill began in 2004 with 38 sections and he is now attempting to introduce over 200 amendments which we had sight of only last week. And there are substantive differences between these amendments and the Heads preceding them that he published at the end of the year. Yesterday he indicated his intention to introduce yet more new sections at report stage. The whole thing is gone beyond a joke.

I will now focus on one issue of particular concern, that is the proposed new provisions in the area of organised crime. On my reading of the proposed amendments, that is a reading from a human rights-based perspective, a series of red line issues are thrown up. It appears that the Minister's desire to be seen to do something, anything, to address the country's growing gangland crime problem has led him to propose a series of rash new offences and proceedings that would have grave and dangerous consequences for the fundamental civil and political rights of people in this state.

The Human Rights Commission question whether the Minister's organised crime proposals are a proportionate or even necessary response to the problem of organised crime. They conclude that "the activity which is targeted here is already subject to appropriate criminal sanction, through existing common law and statute which prohibit conspiracy to commit an offence and prohibit the aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring of an offence". Likewise the Irish Council for Civil Liberties argued in their submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee yesterday that: existing laws are sufficient; the Minister's proposals lack certainty and clarity; and that efforts would be better spent improving the law enforcement end of the equation e.g. developing and resourcing proper Community Policing initiatives.

To add to these sound arguments against the Minister's proposals put forward by the HRC and ICCL, his provisions in the area of organised crime are based to a large extent and at times verbatim on the Canadian Criminal Code. The same section of the Canadian Criminal Code that the Minister is eager to introduce here was recently found by the Supreme Court of British Columbia to be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Minister's proposals are framed in such a way that you could almost be found guilty of an offence for babysitting a possible criminal's kids. And the prosecution would not have to prove that any criminal offence was committed or that you really knew anything about one if it was.

Instead of assaulting the fundamental rights underpinning this democracy the Minister should reform, restructure and resource the Gardai. As a priority he should arrange for the civilianisation of appropriate tasks such as a dedicated traffic corps and certain administrative office duties thereby freeing up Gardai to do what they are trained to do i.e. fight crime.

Sinn Fein will oppose all measures proposed by the Minister that fail to comply with international best practice and human rights standards. And that will ultimately fail to address the country's crime problems.

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