Dáil Éireann - Volume 390 - 24 May, 1989

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Death Penalty.

14. Miss Colley asked the Minister for Justice if he has any plans to remove the [1046] death penalty as a sanction from statute law; if not, the reason; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Dr. Woods: I have no such plans. The Deputy may be aware that section 57 of the Child Care Bill, 1988, provides for the abolition of capital punishment for offences committed by persons under 18 years. That Bill is currently awaiting Committee Stage in this House.

Miss Colley: Is the Minister satisfied that despite the enshrining of protection for human life in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights our Constitution and laws allow capital punishment for certain offences? While he has said that the Child Care Bill yet to be completed contains a provision for doing away with capital punishment for those under 18, does he consider that it is right, prudent and proper that all the offences listed as bearing the death penalty should be abolished? Does he agree that this is the humane thing to do?

Dr. Woods: I appreciate that there is support for the abolition of the death penalty and, in more normal times, I accept that there would be merit in a full and open debate on the pros and cons of such a move. However, times are not normal and there are armed subversive groups inimical to the institutions of the State. In such circumstances my primary concern — and that of the Minister for Justice — is to provide the maximum protection possible for those who defend our democratic institutions. I am concerned that a move to abolish the death penalty at present could give the wrong signal. It would remove the additional protection which the death penalty provides for members of the Garda Síochána and the Prison Service, who are especially at risk from violent criminals, some of whom have been murdered in the execution of their duty.

Miss Colley: What evidence have the Minister and the Department for saying that the death penalty is a deterrent in relation to certain offences? I share his [1047] concern and that of the Minister for Justice about the protection of life, particularly in regard to those who serve the State, the Garda Síochána or the Prison Service; nevertheless, can he produce evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent against committing those crimes?

Dr. Woods: The Minister is satisfied that he should not remove the death penalty entirely at this stage.

Mr. McCartan: Does the Minister accept the proposition that the death penalty offers no protection? In the event of a heinous crime being committed, is the Minister advocating in certain circumstances taking the life of the person who committed the crime as a solution and a punishment?

Dr. Woods: I can only repeat that the Minister is not prepared to enter into a debate on this matter at present. His duty requires him to maintain the status quo.

Miss Colley: There has been an emergency since 1939.

Mr. McCartan: Will the Minister agree that there is a feeling in the community that the death penalty should not be invoked? In those circumstances and given that on the last six occasions on which they were passed by the courts the Executive commuted those penalties, does the Minister agree it is now time to bring our law into line with the widely felt and strongly held view of the community?

Dr. Woods: The Minister for Justice is the person in closest contact with all the facts in this regard and I have given his view in relation to the question.