15 July 2009

Seanad passes Criminal Justice Bill

Ireland's new Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, which has been criticised by various opposition politicians and members of the legal profession, has passed all stages in the Seanad last night.

The Bill, which - among other elements - introduces new forms of non-jury trials for members of organised crime gangs and excludes lawyers from certain procedures, was debated in the Upper House of the Oireachtas for eight hours yesterday and finally passed at 11.30pm.

Despite objections from Fine Gael at the handling of the Bill from the outset, they supported its passage in the end, while the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and some Independent Senators opposed it.

Of the 58 Senators (two seats are currently vacant) only 42 voted on the Bill, and the result was 37:5 in favour.

In an unexpected and rather surprising move, the two Green Party Senators Dan Boyle and Déirdre de Búrca - who are part of the government and were appointed to the Seanad by Bertie Ahern as part of the coalition agreement - abstained during the final vote.
Earlier, they also voted against a government motion to proceed with the report stage last night.

Dan Boyle (left), who is also party president of the Greens, had previously expressed reservations about the Bill, but he told the Seanad that he "reluctantly" supported it.
Nevertheless Boyle and his colleague decided at the last minute to abstain.

In a statement issued this morning, Eamon Ryan - Minister for Communication, Energy & Natural Resources - has supported the abstention of his two party colleagues, without going into further details on the matter.

I wonder if last night's decision by the Senators not to support the government of which they are part is the first public sign of the end of the coalition.
As the Bill was supported by Fine Gael, the government was not in danger to lose the vote. So the abstention of the two Green Senators made really no difference to the result and could be seen as a rather cheap option for them.
However, there has been serious Green rumbling, especially from Dan Boyle, in recent months and the condition of the government coalition is anything but sound or healthy.

Speaking after the Seanad vote, the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern (right) said it was important that "the Bill the people support" was passed before both Houses of the Oireachtas go on holidays. He hopes the Bill will be signed into law "in the not too distant future".

If this is going to happen remains to be seen, as it has been suggested that President Mary McAleese might refer it to test its constitutionality.

There is also a strong possibility that a group of lawyers, who are unhappy with parts of the Bill, might challenge it in the Supreme Court on grounds of being unconstitutional.

While the people who suffer on a daily basis at the hands of organised crime gangs - especially in parts of Dublin and in Limerick - cannot wait to see the Bill becoming law, one should not ignore the concerns of legal experts and professionals, who have to deal with it in practice.
There is no doubt that we need to tackle the ever growing problem of organised crime in Ireland, but it has to be done properly, within the framework of the law and without turning to draconian and unconstitutional measures.

There has always been crime in Ireland, as everywhere else. And some of it has been organised in various ways.
But during the eleven years Bertie Ahern (left) was Taoiseach, the number of crime gangs in Ireland has risen massively and their activities have reached unseen and unacceptable dimensions.
Ahern's ignorance and his reluctance to even go near the problem is one of the reasons for the spreading and influence of organised crime in Ireland.
There are many people who regard Bertie Ahern as a crook and even a criminal, so one has to wonder if his own problems with legal matters of various kinds might have prevented him from being tough on organised crime...

I am not a lawyer, but fairly familiar with matters of the State. And I wonder why the already existing 'Offences against the State Act', which was introduced to face the threat from politically motivated terrorist groups, could not be extended and used against those who terrorise people and threaten the existence of the State through purely criminal acts, motivated by greed and selfishness.

The Emerald Islander

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