Dáil Éireann - Volume 405 - 19 February, 1991

Private Notice Questions. - Ellis Case.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have had five Private Notice Questions submitted to me regarding the case of Dessie Ellis. I will call the Deputies in the order in which they submitted their questions to my office, first, Deputy Michael Bell to put his question.

Mr. Bell asked the Minister for Justice if, in view of the most recent extradition difficulties and the serious implications for all arising therefrom, he will outline the urgent steps he proposes to take either by way of legislative changes or changes in administrative procedures to ensure that this type of situation can be avoided in future and if he will make a statement on the matter.

[560] Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice if, in view of recent developments, he will outline the Government's position regarding the case of Dessie Ellis; specifically state if it is now the Government's view that Mr. Ellis should be released, the action the Government are taking to bring about Mr. Ellis's release; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. McCartan asked the Minister for Justice what representations the Government have made to the British authorities regarding the decision of a London magistrate's court to change the charges against a person recently extradited from this country, what response has been received from the British authorities, if he intends to take any further action on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice if he will give details of the discussions which have taken place with the United Kingdom authorities on the latest developments in the case of Desmond Ellis; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Miss Flaherty asked the Minister for Justice if he will make a statement on the recent developments in the case of Desmond Ellis.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Burke): I propose to take all the Private Notice questions together.

Desmond Ellis was extradited to Britain on foot of orders of the District Court which were upheld on appeal by the High Court and by the Supreme Court. It was established to the satisfaction of the courts, in the course of those proceedings, that the request for extradition had been properly made, that the requirements of Irish law had been fully met and that the English courts had jurisdiction to try Desmond Ellis for the two offences specified in the warrants.

Following the decision of the magistrates in London last Thursday, the Irish authorities have informed the British authorities that no additional charges can [561] be proceeded with against Desmond Ellis without their consent. They expect the British prosecuting authorities, in order to adhere to the existing agreement between the two Governments, based on the “rule of specialty” and to the considerations relating to that rule which have been enunciated in the Supreme Court, to challenge the decision of the magistrate in a higher court. I understand they intend to do this. The Irish authorities will await the outcome of those proceedings and in view of this I do not propose to comment any further on the magistrate's decision.

As has been indicated to the House previously, there is an administrative agreement between the British and Irish Governments whereby, following a person's extradition to the United Kingdom, only the charges on foot of which he has been extradited may be proceeded with, save with the consent of the Irish authorities. That arrangement has operated satisfactorily until these recent events.

There is also provision in section 3 of the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1987, whereby an order may be made applying those provisions in Part II of the Extradition Act, 1965, which relate the Rule of Specialty to the arrangements we operate under Part III of that Act with Britain and Northern Ireland. Were such an order to be made now in the absence of reciprocal provisions in United Kingdom law, it would mean that extradition could not take place to that jurisdiction for any offence. I am sure Deputies would agree that this would be undesirable. Clearly I will be keeping the question of making such an order under review in the light of developments in this case.

Mr. Bell: Arising from the Minister's reply, will he indicate the steps he proposes to take in relation to this matter? In view of the number of mistakes made in regard to extradition cases, all of which have been on the British side, does he agree that this matter needs to be reviewed urgently?

Mr. Burke: In relation to Part III of [562] the Act, this matter has been examined on a number of occasions at Anglo-Irish meetings. In fact, the relevant working group of the Anglo-Irish Conference who are looking at the whole question of extradition, referred specifically to the issue of specialty in their report of September last. This matter has received considerable attention. I share the Deputy's concern that all the mistakes have been made in the past have been on the British side. However, we live in civilised societies and we must ensure as far as possible that the arrangements are worked properly.

Mr. Gregory: Does the Minister accept that the development in this case vindicates the concern expressed by many people in this country at the operation of the extradition Act between Ireland and Great Britain? In view of the fact that a British court has now accepted that there was never any evidence that Mr. Ellis was in Britain and, consequently, the British do not have jurisdiction to proceed with the two charges for which Mr. Ellis was extradited, will the Minister state why the Government are still not prepared to speak out openly and call for Mr. Ellis's release?

Mr. Burke: As I have already said, this case is to be appealed on the basis of the two charges on which Mr. Ellis was extradited. That matter is before the court at present and it would be improper for me to comment on it. The extradition of Mr. Ellis and the details of the case were considered by the District Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court of the land. The Government acted on the basis of the decision of our Supreme Court, which is right and proper.

Mr. McCartan: Will the Minister clarify, for the benefit of the House, the basis on which he or the Government communicated with the British authorities to tell them that they could not proceed on fresh charges against Desmond Ellis without the consent of the Government in the absence of any specialty requirement in our extradition [563] procedures? Is the Supreme Court now the legislative authority in regard to the rules which should apply to extradition? The Minister made some passing reference to the Supreme Court as the basis upon which the specialty agreement, whatever it is, exists.

Secondly, does the Minister recognise that he needs to take speedy action to reestablish on a firm and proper basis the extradition procedures which exist between Ireland and Britain so that we can continue to rely upon extradition in our fight against terrorism? Does the Minister agree that his statement that all the mistakes exist on one side does not help the process in terms of co-operation and development? Finally, would the Minister accept——

An Ceann Comhairle: This question is overlong.

Mr. McCartan: ——that if we had a requirement in our law for a prima facie case to be established that the mess which now exists in regard to the Ellis case would never have occurred?

Mr. Burke: With regard to the arrangements under which contact was made between our authorities and the British authorities, there is an agreement between the Irish and British Governments which has, until this case, worked well. It was on the basis of that agreement that the contact was made.

With regard to the question of speedy action, I do not see what speedy action is required on my part in relation to this issue. The appeal has to be made by the British authorities and not the Irish authorities against the decision of the magistrate there. The magistrate brought forward two new charges without the agreement of the Irish Government, which can only have breached under the arrangement we have with the British authorities. With regard to the need to establish a prima facie case, this issue has been debated at great length in this House in the past.

[564] Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I want to ask the Minister two questions. Will he discuss with the UK authorities the establishment of a working party of UK and Irish officials and legal experts to iron out the administrative, technical and legal obstacles which are blocking effective extradition arrangements at present? Secondly, if he is prepared to accept that proposal, does the Minister agree it is all the more relevant and important in the context of the open borders which will exist post-1992 that we have such effective extradition procedures between our two jurisdictions?

Mr. Burke: So far as a review of extradition arrangements is concerned, I believe these arrangements have been working satisfactorily. We cannot have slot machine type extradition arrangements. The extradition of a citizen of one country to a foreign country involves serious issues of legal and constitutional rights which must be dealt with in accordance with the due process of law. This is the way we have approached the issue. There has been no blockage. There are a number of cases before the courts and they will decide on these cases in due course.

So far as a review is concerned this matter has been considered at the Anglo-Irish Conference on a number of occasions. If the British authorities were to bring in a specialty requirement under their legislation this would enable me to sign an order under section (3) of the 1987 Act which would put the specialty arrangements on a statutory footing.

Miss Flaherty: As one of those who supports extradition and regards it as a vital part in combating international terrorism, may I ask the Minister if he would accept that what has happened in the past week has put a great strain on the process and that it is vital that this difficulty be resolved speedily? Secondly, would he accept that to some degree this puts a substantial question mark over whether this gentlemen's agreement — as it was referred to in one paper — or [565] administrative procedure — as the Minister described it — is proving strong enough to deal with the current problem?

Mr. Burke: I answered the last part of the Deputy's question when I said it would be preferable if there was a specialty provision in the UK legislation so that we could bring it in here. If we bring in such a requirement on our own it will mean there will be no further extradition from this country in regard to a whole range of criminal activities. I do not think anyone would want that.

With regard to the strain put on extradition arrangements and the need for a speedy resolution of the problem, the speedy resolution is in the hands of the British authorities and not in my hands in regard to any appeal they must bring forward against the decision of their magistrate to add two further charges without our agreement.

An Ceann Comhairle: That disposes of questions for today.

Proinsias De Rossa: May I ask a supplementary question?

An Ceann Comhairle: Sorry, Deputy.

Proinsias De Rossa: I just wish to ask one question.

An Ceann Comhairle: It will have to be very brief. The Chair has allowed five Deputies to raise questions here and he is not going much further.

Proinsias De Rossa: May I ask the Minister, in view of the series of blunders that have taken place in relation to extradition, if he will undertake at an early date to meet his counterpart in Britain to review precisely what these blunders are and if there are obstacles that need to be ironed out so that extradition can work effectively and can be seen to work fairly?

Mr. Burke: As regards the operation of extradition from this jurisdiction, I do not accept that there have been blunders. The extradition laws have been operated [566] effectively and efficiently by the Irish authorities, by the District Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court. The operation has been excellent. As regards implementation of decisions of those courts in extraditing any individual who is ordered to be extradited, the Garda and officials of this Administration have worked very effectively and efficiently. As regards the removal of any administrative problems that have arisen, everybody has to examine themselves in relation to that.

Mr. Garland: As one of the three Dáil Deputies who opposed the extradition of Ellis, would the Minister agree that this is a clear case of shutting the door after the horse has bolted?

An Ceann Comhairle: I thought the Deputy had a relevant question.

Mr. Garland: It is too late now to be talking about the extradition of Dessie Ellis.

An Ceann Comhairle: That disposes of questions for today.