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McLaughlin - Concern at Hidden Agenda in Civil Contingencies Bill

12 August, 2003

For Immediate Release: 12th August 2003

Sinn Féin Chairperson, Mitchel McLaughlin has expressed concern at the potential of parts of the Civil Contingencies Bill to undermine basic and fundamental civil and human rights. This legislation 'updates and extends the provisions of existing emergency powers legislation (principally the Emergency Powers Act 1920 and the Emergency Powers Act (Northern Ireland) 1926)'.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"Part 2 of this draft bill, which would come into effect in the 6 Counties, has the potential for draconian consequences for fundamental civil and human rights. It gives a British Secretary of State almost limitless powers; including the power to issue orders 'of any kind that could be made by Act of Parliament', the power to destroy property, to prohibit movement and to prohibit the assembly of people.

"In terms of human rights this means that the provision of the 1998 Human Rights Act to use the courts to have emergency regulations suspended or struck down on human rights grounds is voided. A court can only declare the regulation incompatible with a claimants‚ Convention rights.

"The definition given to an emergency in the bill is extremely wide-ranging. Most worrying in terms of the 6 counties is the inclusion of situations that present a threat to political or administrative stability.

"While there is a requirement to consult with the First and Deputy First Ministers before emergency powers are used by a British Secretary of State, this can be over-ridden if the matter is deemed to be too urgent to waste time on consultation.

"As this would be reserved British legislation there is no requirement to subject it to equality impact assessment.

"This legislation is another example of the British Government‚s use of the hysteria that it has fuelled about an 'axis of evil' to push through repressive legislation which will affect us all. Given the history of abuse of emergency powers in the 6 counties over the last 80 years, Sinn Féin demands that this legislation does not come into effect in Ireland and that existing special powers legislation is revoked." ENDS

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