Seanad Éireann - Volume 187 - 31 October, 2007
Witness Protection Programme Bill 2007: Second Stage.
Senator Dominic Hannigan Senator Dominic Hannigan
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is a great pleasure to introduce this Bill. It is vital for tackling the growing problem of gangland crimes and serious crimes here. Although we have heard time and again about how serious crime is being tackled, the reality is that the problem appears to be getting worse. This Bill is required to put a witness protection scheme on a statutory footing. The need for the Bill is unquestionable. We will seek agreement on it and approval for it from all parties to ensure it is enacted.
While pick-pocketing might be on the decline, innocent men, women and children are being shot on our streets. While there might be a reduction in the incidence of petty vandalism, the hard fact is that drugs are still being imported and are available in every town and village. Gangland crime is rising, but the Government appears to have no ideas as to how to deal with it. Our Bill could significantly reduce the level of serious crime here. It would provide a way out for criminals who want to give evidence on some of their colleagues and it would help to collapse crime from the inside.
I wish to refer to how such schemes work elsewhere, how the current Garda arrangements fall short and why such a scheme is desperately needed here. I will outline some aspects of how the Bill will work in practice. Many Members will be familiar with the concept of a witness protection programme. When Robert Kennedy was US Attorney General, he worked with Gerald Shur who took evidence from Joe Valachi and, in the process, helped to expose organised crime in the United States. His work with those witnesses led to the setting up in America of the witness security programme established under the Organised Crime Control Act. Since that Act was introduced in 1970, 10,000 convictions have been obtained due to the operation of that programme. Without it, many witnesses would never have come forward as there would have been fearful of the risk to their lives.
This programme, and the one the Labour Party proposes, provides that when a witness gives evidence and prosecutions are made, witnesses simply disappear under the protection and supervision of the government — they appear to fall off the face of the earth — and in return hardened criminals are almost always convicted. We have established that in nine out of ten cases convictions are obtained under the US programme.
Some people might be concerned that some witnesses would reoffend. In the studies to date, the recidivism rate is 17% compared to a rate of 60% for people who have been released from prison. Similarly, some witnesses might be concerned that if they were found out, there lives would be put at risk or that they would be tortured. No one who has carried out the rules of the programmes has ever been exposed by any of their former colleagues.
In the US the programme has proven so effective that some of the larger states such as California and New York have set up their own state-based programmes for crimes that are not covered by the federal programme. Schemes are also in operation elsewhere in the world. Some 60 cases are currently going through under the programme in Poland involving 160 witnesses. Such programmes exist in Lithuania, Bosnia, Australia and Canada.
At a conference on this matter in the United States last year, 17 nations were represented. These countries need such a scheme, as do we. Despite assertions by the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that when it comes to gangland crime, we are seeing the last gasp of a dying wasp, the reality is that since he made that statements gun murders here have totalled 80.
People who carry out gun murders here simply get away with it. The conviction rate is only 16%. Five out of every six gun murderers get away with it. Detection rates must increase. The level of confiscation of guns must increase. Stopping the importation of guns must also increase and, most importantly, conviction rates must increase. One of the most difficult achievements is to secure a conviction and testimony. Such a programme would allow witnesses to give evidence safe in the knowledge that their lives and the lives of their families would not be threatened. Witnesses often back out of promises to give evidence because they are concerned that they will be exposed and that their lives will be put at risk.
This programme would prove to be fundamental in exposing the criminal gangs that blight our land. Former gang members and victims of gangs would be able to give evidence in safety. The programme also has the potential to see off the last stragglers of the terrorist organisations, such as the Continuity IRA, the so-called Real IRA and the INLA which continue in the proliferation of drugs and acts of brutality around the Border. All it takes is for one person to step forward to give evidence under this programme and the Garda would be able to start an investigation and prosecution.
The Garda programme was established ten years ago. It is five years since it received a major setback when Paul Ward won his appeal against his conviction for the murder of Veronica Guerin. In August 2003, the programme was strongly criticised by the Court of Criminal Appeal in the John Gilligan case. The court held that procedures followed by the Garda compromised the evidence of the two chief prosecution witnesses. The Supreme Court stated there was no reason in law the State could not establish its own witness protection programme. It insisted the terms of such a programme should be set out so participants knew what to expect when they entered it.
As the programme stands, there are no statutory limitations, making it possible for witnesses to come forward to ask for more resources from the State. It is not clearly laid down how far the State can go with the programme, raising the possibility that a defence lawyer could claim evidence was simply bought by the Garda. There is no legal basis for the Garda to provide someone with a new identity. The Bill proposes to establish a means where new identities can be provided to witnesses. If we had a programme as effective as those in the United States, in recent years we would have put 40 so-called Mr. Bigs behind bars with 80 witnesses involved. All Members know we are falling short of such success rates.
Recently on “Morning Ireland”, Fr. Peter McVerry, who has done much good work with disadvantaged young people, told of how weekly he puts someone on the ferry to England because they are trying to escape gang intimidation. Will the Government stand up for these people? This Bill can help crack these gangs and allow people to live their lives without fear.
The Bill allows for witnesses and their families to give evidence in safety without their lives being threatened. It provides them with new identities if required. It allows the Government to enter into arrangements with other jurisdictions where witnesses can re-locate and, in turn, other jurisdictions’ witnesses can re-locate to Ireland.
In the mid-1990s, the Government got serious about tackling organised crime, with the establishment, for example, of the Criminal Assets Bureau. These steps were successful and helped fight organised crime. It is now time to examine serious measures to fight the ever-growing menace of organised and serious crime. One effective tool in this would be a witness protection programme. It has been proved elsewhere that it works. Every day in the Chamber there are calls from both sides of the House for action on crime. This programme will allow for a witness protection scheme to be established which will help fight the scourge of organised crime. We need the support of all parties. If Senators on the Government side of the House are serious about tackling crime, I ask them to support the Bill.
Senator Alex White Senator Alex White
Senator Alex White: It is important to reinforce the Bill’s proposals. A witness protection programme exists in the State but the Bill proposes it be established on a statutory basis. It would allow the Houses of the Oireachtas and the community to participate in understanding what the programme should entail and putting it into law. It would also allow the programme’s operation to have the wider confidence of the community. It would also be more likely to withstand a court challenge.
On a Fine Gael Party’s Private Members’ motion on crime several weeks ago, I was in broad agreement with Senator Boyle, which may surprise him. He reflected on the wisdom of the approach to the problem in this House and elsewhere. He noted a cycle in which the Opposition attacks through condemnation and the Government responds, claiming there are no difficulties and that the Opposition is only stirring it up, looking for cheap political opportunities. I am not saying the Fine Gael Party’s motion was such.
Senator Jim Walsh Senator Jim Walsh
Senator Jim Walsh: The Senator is also not saying it was not.
Senator Michael McCarthy Senator Michael McCarthy
Senator Michael McCarthy: Senator Alex White without interruption.
Senator Alex White Senator Alex White
Senator Alex White: If Senator Walsh allows me to develop my point, it is possible he might agree with me. An important issue such as crime, where people’s lives are at stake, may be most amenable to parties on both sides of the House working together.
Senator Eoghan Harris Senator Eoghan Harris
Senator Eoghan Harris: Hear, hear.
Senator Alex White Senator Alex White
Senator Alex White: I note the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Seán Power, is smiling. It is an issue on which all parties could work together to ensure the cycle of violence in our community is addressed. This is the spirit in which the Bill has been proposed and the basis on which we ask the Government side of the House to support it.
I doubt the Bill, as drafted, is perfect. It has not had the benefit of the draftsmen sitting behind the Minister of State or the experts he can draw upon to scrutinise legislation in detail. It is, however, a carefully drafted Bill and merits examination by the Government side.
There was a bad example of the type of attack and counter attack on this issue in the mid-1990s. Then it was suggested any crime committed was the direct responsibility of the Minister for Justice, as the Ministry was then called. No Member believes that. We want a serious and proper debate on what can be achieved.
Neither is it a case of simply throwing up generalised demands for legislation. Sometimes legislation is not what is required. There is a danger that politicians propose and enact legislation just to re-assure the public rather than it having any merit. Much of the criminal justice legislation on the Statute Book has not even been used. We must be more honest with the public. This Bill is an exception which puts an existing witness protection scheme on a statutory footing. This is the basis on which I ask Government Members to consider supporting this Bill.
The Supreme Court stated the witness protection scheme needs to be put on a statutory footing. The Court of Criminal Appeal was deeply critical of the scheme’s operation in the Gilligan case. Why can we not use the basic template of this Bill and examine how it can be enhanced? This would allow us to make progress as a group of responsible politicians rather than simply hurling brickbats in the Government and Opposition pantomime that characterises debates of this nature.
Deputy Seán Power Deputy Seán Power
Deputy Seán Power: I welcome the opportunity to debate the matter of witness protection in the House. I commend the Labour Party’s efforts in drafting the Bill. I do not doubt the intent behind it or the spirit in which it is being offered. On many occasions I have said that far too often Governments are too quick in refusing proposals from the Opposition, either by way of amendments or legislation. I like to think that will change but, unfortunately, regardless of what Government has been in power, I do not believe the views of the Opposition have been exploited to the fullest degree. It is a certain sign of maturity, however, that we can listen to the views of people on the other side of the House and take on board the good points they make. Unfortunately, what is being presented today is not something the Government can accept and I shall explain why.
This Labour Party Bill draws very heavily on Canadian law in this area, although the efficacy of some aspects of Canada’s witness protection arrangements is a matter of public debate in that country at present. Apart from a number of specific provisions, which I shall come to later, some of the contents are little different from those which the Government would include in such a Bill if it thought it necessary to legislate for the witness security programme. For reasons which I will set out, however, the Government does not believe this Bill is necessary.
In particular, the Garda Commissioner’s advice is that not only is it unnecessary to place the existing witness security programme on a statutory basis, to do so could introduce an element of inflexibility which could hinder Garda efforts. The flexibility of the scheme is vital. The House will appreciate that I cannot go into detail about particular cases but the fact is that the witness security programme is being operated in a significant number of cases at present. Put simply, the advice available to the Government is that this Bill would not help and could hinder its operation.
I will put some context into this debate. As the Supreme Court stated, in an ideal world there would be no need for witnesses in such a programme. The development of the programme is a reflection of the society in which we live. It is a society where, regrettably, there are people who will stop at nothing, including killing, to protect their drugs or other criminal activity. In some cases where criminal prosecutions are taken, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to proceed without the evidence of accomplices. These are people who themselves have criminal backgrounds. Sometimes these backgrounds include the most serious criminal offences. If accomplices are to be persuaded to give evidence, their lives and those of their families may well be jeopardised. The answer to this dilemma is to offer protection. The benefit to society is that very dangerous criminals are removed from our streets.
Therefore, when we talk about witness protection in the context of the type of scheme envisaged, we are not usually referring to innocents unwittingly or accidentally caught up in gang crime, gun culture and drug dealing but about people with form of their own, so let us keep a sense of perspective. A witness security programme is only for witnesses of a very special hue — willing participants of the criminal underworld who, for whatever reasons, choose to turn on their erstwhile colleagues. I make this key point not for academic reasons but because of the inevitable and inescapable conclusions that follow.
People generally choose to enter witness protection programmes not because of the nature of those programmes but because there is something in it for themselves. The reality is that every possible protection necessary for a witness and his or her family can be, and is already, provided by the Garda Síochána, including financial support, a change of identity, relocation and so on. We do not need legislation for these types of protection measures. In fact, they are already in place under the existing witness security programme. The reason the Garda Síochána does not receive greater and more frequent co-operation from gangland members is not because they doubt the adequacy of protection measures in place within the witness security programme, and still less whether it operates on a statutory basis. Placing the programme on a statutory basis would be highly unlikely to have any effect on the willingness or otherwise of such persons to enter it. The reason co-operation is not forthcoming more often is simply because these people do not want to give it, even when they may already have been the target of murder threats or even murder attempts.
The cold, hard, unpalatable reality for us all is that gangland members live by a peculiar ethic, if I might describe it thus. Respect is measured solely by one’s willingness to mete out uncompromising lethal violence in defence of oneself, one’s turf and one’s criminal enterprises. The only language they speak is the language of violence, the only authority they recognise is the authority of the gun, and the only disgrace they fear is the disgrace of not being seen as the hardest of hard men. For them, life can be cheap. They seem to have a special contempt for the institutions of the State, in particular the Garda, the courts and the criminal justice system. This is not an attractive portrait, but Senators should not lose sight of the fact that it is the reality.
While the Bill is not altogether flawed in its contents, it is at best unnecessary and, for this reason, the Government is compelled to oppose it. Should anyone think I am being unduly dismissive of the Labour Party’s efforts, I will highlight briefly how redundant most of its provision are. The criteria for admission to the programme, the factors to be taken into account, the terms of protection, the termination of the protection agreement and change of identity are already part of the existing programme. Furthermore, the prohibition on the disclosure of information about the identity or location of a witness is enshrined in legislation by virtue of section 40 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999. That section even makes it an offence for a person to make inquiries or take steps to discover the identity or whereabouts of a relocated witness.
The Labour Party claims the Bill is needed in these areas because of criticism by the Court of Criminal Appeal. It seems to miss the fundamental point, however. The Court of Criminal Appeal upheld the validity of the operation of the programme and the evidence accruing from it, as did the Supreme Court. In other words, the witness security programme has not only demonstrably contributed to the successful conviction of major criminals but has withstood challenge in the courts.
Following comments in the superior courts, a review by the Garda Commissioner resulted in some enhancements to the programme. The witness security programme now operates according to international best practice in the balancing of the needs of law enforcement with the needs of the protected witness. This necessarily includes ensuring a separation between those responsible for the criminal investigation and those involved in the management of the programme, including admittance to it. In this regard, no member of the Garda crime investigation team has any involvement in the work of evaluating the appropriateness of admittance to the programme. This is to ensure there can be no hint of a possible inducement being offered to the witness and to preserve the independence and consistency of decision making with respect to the operation of the programme. I also have a concern that setting the operation of the programme in statutory stone would unduly interfere with the Garda Síochána capacity to respond quickly, flexibly and proportionately to the often very specific needs of witnesses.
I now return to the two specific features of the Bill which cause me particular concern, namely, the role given to the Director of Public Prosecutions in deciding who to admit to the programme and the type of protection to be provided, and provision for the disclosure of information about a protected person. In dealing with the first of these, section 5 attempts, quite inappropriately in my view, to assign to the DPP a pre-eminent position over and above that of the Garda Commissioner in deciding who to admit to the programme and even such clearly operational matters as the type of protection to be provided. I cannot accept that this is a role for anyone but the Garda Commissioner.
Furthermore, such a provision would inevitably conflict with the statutory role of the DPP as the independent prosecution authority in the State. It would undermine the separation of responsibilities of the Garda Síochána and the DPP in the investigation and prosecution of serious crime.  Such a development would be neither wise nor necessary. At present the DPP is consulted on the cases that arise under the present scheme. That is a far cry from making him the deciding authority on all matters relating to the scheme as proposed in the Bill.
The second serious flaw I detect in the Bill arises in sections 13 and 14 which set out circumstances and factors that would justify disclosure of information relating to a protected person, including information sufficient to identify and locate him or her. Let us be clear that these sections have the potential to set at nought the chances of encouraging individuals to enter the programme and give evidence against former comrades. This seems an extraordinary proposition, particularly as any person admitted to the programme is unlikely to be without criminal baggage himself.
The Bill is unnecessary in that most of its provisions already mirror existing non-statutory practices that have withstood legal challenge. The few novel features of the Bill could not only damage the independence of the DPP but could also be likely to act in diametrical opposition to the whole raison d’être of a witness security programme, namely, to encourage those with information to co-operate with the Garda Síochána. The Government is seriously concerned about gangland crime, particularly in the aftermath of recent, shocking murders. These events emphasise the continuing imperative to target responses where they will be most effective. This Bill does not contribute to that response. A functional and effective witness security programme is already in existence for those who wish to avail of it, but most choose not to, for reasons I need not repeat.
A targeted response comes in many forms. Operation Anvil is central to the strategy of the Garda Síochána in combating serious crime, particularly murder. The most recent figures received from the Garda Commissioner in this regard show that from the beginning of the operation in May 2005 to 14 October last, 784 firearms were recovered. Over the lifetime of this and the previous Government, we will have increased the strength of the Garda Síochána by 4,000. The current programme for Government re-affirms the commitment to a Garda strength of 15,000 by 2010. This compares well with the strength of any other police service throughout the world. The Garda budget for this year stands at €1.44 billion, compared to just over €0.9 billion five years ago. The organised crime unit, tasked with targeting organised criminals and disrupting criminal networks, has been strengthened.
A package of crime investigation initiatives was recently launched by senior Garda management and these include the establishment of a crime investigation training faculty at the Garda College to provide a professional, comprehensive training programme for those charged with the management of serious crime investigations. Crucially, as a result of the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act 2007, the Garda Síochána is in a much better position to ensure that those involved in gun crime will be made accountable for their actions. The Act intensifies further the fight against gangland activity on many fronts. These include a tougher bail regime in drugs, firearms and other serious cases; post-release monitoring orders; enhanced penalties for repeat offenders; and changes to the laws of evidence.
There is no point in pretending that the gangs involved in the drug trade, which show such callous disregard for human life, can be made go away overnight. It will require determined, steady and relentless action on the part of everyone involved, and that is exactly what we will continue to support. Unfortunately, however, the Bill before us adds nothing to this task and even risks jeopardising it.
I thank the Labour Party for its work in preparing and presenting this Bill. Everybody across the country would be happy to listen to this debate and would have views on the subject but, for the reasons I have outlined, the Government will not be supporting the Bill.
Senator Eugene Regan Senator Eugene Regan
Senator Eugene Regan: This Labour Party Bill is appropriate and opportune. During the debate on crime two weeks ago, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, outlined his ideas on how gun crime and gangland crime might be counteracted. There were no new ideas presented, only self-justification and congratulatory statements, and an amendment was tabled to the motion. The motion provoked debate and today’s Bill was presented in conciliatory terms, yet the result in each case has been exactly the same. What is proposed on this side of the House is rejected on the other, for whatever reason. There are always reasons.
On the question of putting the witness protection programme on a statutory basis, the Minister of State said we still use the existing programme. However, he did not outline how effectively it is being used such that we could make an assessment thereof. It is of fundamental importance to place witness protection on a statutory basis and in this regard I support the proposal of the Labour Party. The exact formulation of the Bill is another matter.
The European Convention on Human Rights obliges signatories to protect witnesses. Resolutions on the protection of witnesses were made by the Council of the European Union as long ago as 1995 and they encourage member states to adopt witness protection programmes. Europol has 100 experts on witness protection in five continents and there is therefore a co-operative framework within Europe to enhance witness protection. The extent of the statutory schemes that exist in other jurisdictions has been pointed out and these schemes conform with international best practice.
The Minister of State said the witness protection programme should not be put on a statutory basis because the Garda Commissioner does not believe it is a good idea. The Commissioner should not be the legislator because it is a matter for the Oireachtas to decide on appropriate legislation. His advice is helpful but the Minister of State did not outline the reasons he, the Commissioner, considers it inappropriate to place the scheme on a statutory basis. A statute of the Oireachtas, accompanied by clear operational guidelines, could set out the nature of the scheme and the Minister could delegate responsibility therefore. It is facile to say we do not need to place the scheme on a statutory footing because the Garda Commissioner said so.
The existing witness protection programme, established in 1997, was subject to serious criticism in the courts and it is not correct to say it did not result in the overturning of judgments pertaining to the most serious criminals in the country. It is because of the manner in which the programme was operated that this was the case. The establishment of the necessary framework and the detailed guidelines is fundamental.
Following the calling into question of the programme, an internal review was conducted by the Assistant Garda Commissioner. It was due to be published in 2005 but I have not seen it and do not know whether it is available. As the Minister of State correctly stated, changes made in the Criminal Justice Act 1999 addressed the giving of evidence by way of video link and established a new statutory offence of intimidation of witnesses. There is a need for a more comprehensive statutory framework for witness protection.
We know the most serious problem concerns securing detection, prosecution and conviction and that the dramatic fall in conviction rates results from the fear, intimidation and collective amnesia that apply in certain cases. The Taoiseach spoke last week about establishing special criminal courts to prosecute those involved in gangland crime. However, the problem lies not with the court system but with acquiring evidence in the first instance. Unless a scheme is put in place that is widely understood to have a statutory basis with the full endorsement of the State, there will not be sufficient participation. It should be funded and resourced properly.
Last March Fine Gael proposed that the witness protection programme be put on a statutory footing. It was one of the key features of its election manifesto. The party proposed the establishment of a special witness protection unit, a witness protection hotline and draft guidelines for the Garda Síochána on how to use the programme. If witnesses fail to give evidence because they fear for their safety, it is very clear that criminals will not be detected or convicted. This leads to a complete loss of public confidence in the police and the courts system. That loss of confidence in the areas which are most affected by gun and gangland crime is the most serious problem we must tackle. Those involved in policing have informed me they simply cannot get witnesses to testify because of fear and intimidation.
It is inappropriate for the Minister of State to say this Bill does nothing to advance matters. I welcome the Bill, which reflects Fine Gael policy, as outlined earlier this year. However, certain features of the Bill need further work to ensure it reflects international best practice and the tried and tested statutory provisions which apply in so many other jurisdictions. Emphasis must be also placed on the framework within Europe, through EU co-operation at judicial, prosecution and policing levels to advance the area of witness protection. It is disappointing this issue was not mentioned by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform two weeks ago during the debate on gun and gangland crime. The response from the Minister of State this evening is also disappointing in rejecting, out of hand, the proposal put forward by the Labour Party.
Senator Jim Walsh Senator Jim Walsh
Senator Jim Walsh: I commend the Labour Party on introducing this Private Members’ Bill. It is good that such Bills are coming before the House with more frequency than in the past. In an earlier debate, Senator Dan Boyle made the point that we should approach issues of national importance on a more constructive, all-party basis. He was met with a hail of derision from Senator Regan’s party, if I remember correctly, which was predictable.
Having read the Bill and the reasons put forward in the explanatory memorandum for its introduction, perhaps there is merit in underpinning the current system with legislation. I am not 100% convinced that there is no merit in doing so. As the Minister of State has pointed out, there is already in place a functioning witness protection scheme. For very good reasons, we do not have much information relating to its operation but one would hope it is used as comprehensively as possible. It can be a very effective tool in bringing to justice people involved in very serious criminal activity when the evidential barriers are set very high. In such cases, unless witnesses co-operate, convictions become very difficult, if not impossible.
In many instances, the witness protection programme does not simply apply to the individual witness but also his or her family. It involves a change of identity, relocation in the case of very serious crimes and, as a consequence, financial aid. Representatives of the courts in this and other jurisdictions have occasionally argued that such a financial inducement may compromise the witness and the prosecution. It is a complex area and for that reason it may be difficult to legislate in a way which makes a witness protection programme more effective than the current non-statutory operation.
There is no disagreement in the House about the utilisation of the witness protection programme. The question is whether it should be put on a statutory basis and I do not know the correct answer. However, the programme should be kept under review to ensure that if statutory support is required in the future, it will be forthcoming. The danger of potentially inhibiting the operation of the scheme by making it statutory is illustrated by the Minister of State’s comments on sections 13 and 14 of the Bill. Those sections propose to make information on participants available in certain controlled situations. However, under the current system even to make an inquiry about the identity or whereabouts of a person in the witness protection programme is an offence, not to mention actually disclosing such information. I am sure it is difficult to attract people into the programme and potential participants must be absolutely certain of confidentiality and have confidence in the protective measures that will be taken on behalf of themselves and their families.
We must take note of the view of the Garda Commissioner. While I accept the point that the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government have a responsibility to legislate, in an area as sensitive as this it would be imprudent to proceed against the clear advice of the Garda Commissioner. I have no doubt that the operation of the current system has been tested to ensure it is proceeding reasonably satisfactorily.
One aspect of this issue, which is referred to in the memorandum accompanying the Bill, surprised me. It relates back to the famous Gilligan case. The Court of Criminal Appeal heard a case in August 2003 and criticised aspects of the witness protection programme. The review that was then undertaken by the Garda Commissioner is only now coming to fruition. Perhaps there were good reasons for such a delay, but in the absence of information in that regard, it must be said that four years seems an inordinate amount of time to review an area which should be a pivotal plank in our fight against crime. The reasons for the delay must be examined. I am aware that there was an appeal to the Supreme Court in 2005, which may have been a contributory factor. Nevertheless, it behoves us to act promptly to buttress our systems in order that they address the reservations of the Judiciary and are as effective as possible.
The witness protection programme is only one aspect of the fight against crime. We also have the Special Criminal Courts and the Criminal Assets Bureau. The latter has proved a very effective tool. If the CAB was set up to allow us to inter the assets of criminals and we can already identify many of the serious crime lords, why can we not use the CAB principle to inter them as well as their assets? People who commit murder, rape and other very serious crime have impinged very seriously on the human rights of others. If they make a decision to act thus, the corollary is that they should automatically forfeit a considerable amount of their own human rights.
I refer to the infiltration of gangs by gardaí which is an effective tool for tackling serious crime in many jurisdictions. It is difficult and dangerous work and I ask that it be considered here. I am sure it is happening but I am unclear as to what extent. I hope provisions will be included in legislation in the not too distant future to grant immunity against prosecution to gardaí who, due to the fact they have infiltrated these gangs, find themselves involved in certain crimes. It works in other countries. In Canada, for example, there is legislation granting immunity to police unless they are involved in crimes of a sexual nature or murder. We should bring to Cabinet quickly any armour we can to tackle these crime lords.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: I wish to share my time with Senator Doherty.
Senator Geraldine Feeney Senator Geraldine Feeney
Senator Geraldine Feeney: How much time?
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: Three minutes.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: I commend the Labour Party on producing this Bill. This society faces a very serious situation which was unknown when I was younger, and I am only 63 years of age. It is very important the Labour Party has taken this on. It is also important that it has very clearly taken into account the recommendations and views of the Supreme Court.
The Minister of State was a little dismissive of the Labour Party.
Deputy Seán Power Deputy Seán Power
Deputy Seán Power: There is no nice way to say “no”.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: Why is the Minister of State saying “no”? Is it a partisan reason because this is what happens every bloody Wednesday in this House? Is it that the Government has really considered the substance of the Bill? I do not imagine it has really considered it.
I refer to some of the things the Minister of State said. He suggested that it was a tiny minority and that it was a very special few. That may very well be but they are there. Every week we see this. Only in the past few days a fellow in Limerick was sentenced for perjury. Having agreed to give evidence, he withdrew or changed it because he was terrified of his former associates. That man was sent to prison despite the sympathy of the judge. This happened in the past couple of weeks. Let us not hear this is some kind of academic thing. It is real and very much part of the current situation. We have a problem where witnesses are very clearly intimidated.
We also have a situation where people are killed. It is now becoming a feature of gangland warfare in Dublin at least that if there is one of these murders — I will not call them killings or executions because they are cold-blooded murders by hired assassins — and somebody happens to be present, that person is just dispatched as a witness. There has been a number of such cases. It is not just a question of intimidation. These people are ruthlessly prepared to cut down and exterminate civilians who are innocent of any involvement. The situation is very serious.
Witness protection programmes have existed in other countries and have been reasonably successful. There are great difficulties involved and I very much welcome that counselling and placements are considered in this Bill. Even if people go along with it, it is a hell of a wrench. People often return at great danger to themselves because they find it difficult to tear themselves away from their backgrounds. We have seen this in the North with both the republicans and loyalists.
It is important that the Labour Party has examined the question of plea bargaining because that could vitiate everything. If it was felt someone was being offered an inducement to give certain types of evidence, there is no doubt that would vitiate his or her evidence to an unacceptable degree.
I strongly support and commend the Labour Party in this regard. It is clear that the protection of witnesses should be undertaken in the public interest because they are being got at. It disturbs justice that people can be made retract or not give evidence at all. It is the rule of the jungle. What actions are the gardaí taking — I am not being critical of them but it is essential we get to the nub of the issue — to find those people who are perverting the course of justice by witness tampering? That used to be a very serious offence. I would like the law and Garda action strengthened in this regard.
Senator Pearse Doherty Senator Pearse Doherty
 Senator Pearse Doherty: Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Norris fá choinne chuid dá am a roinnt liom.
Sinn Féin has no real problem with this Bill as the current witness protection programme is fairly ad hoc. Given the potential for wrongly handled witness protection arrangements to corrupt criminal proceedings or result in miscarriages of justice, Sinn Féin agrees this matter should involve clear guidelines underpinned by primary legislation. However, we are not that naive to think a witness protection programme is the key to tackling serious crime. Anybody whose sole focus in terms of fighting crime is to promote a witness protection programme shows themselves to be devoid of real solutions.
The impact of this legislation will be near negligible in the fight against gangland criminals. Communities want to be protected from criminals through effective on-the-ground policing and not through being hidden away from family and friends with a false identity. If society is to seriously tackle drugs and gun crime, it is essential the gardaí work in genuine partnership with communities using the resources available in the most effective manner. This means the civilianisation of administrative Garda tasks to free up approximately 4,000 fully trained gardaí to be redeployed into the fight against crime. Illegal drugs chains must be disrupted with the proceeds of drugs-related crime being channelled back into the communities worst affected by the drugs crisis.
Community input should be sought through the joint policing committees and the community policing forums to the Garda drugs units with a view to rolling out campaigns such as the dial to stop drug dealing campaign.
Sinn Féin, as the Minister of State knows, has produced a comprehensive set of proposals to tackle serious drugs and gun crime which it has presented to the Garda Commissioner and the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan. Some of our proposals have been merged in the latest recommendations for the Garda Inspectorate. If implemented, we believe our proposals will have a major impact on the fight against crime.
I commend the legislation and reiterate that we support it. However, we need to go much further if we want to seriously tackle drugs crime.
Senator Dan Boyle Senator Dan Boyle
Senator Dan Boyle: I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I acknowledge the atmosphere in which it is being held and the earlier contribution of Senator Alex White. It is important when dealing with the issue of serious crime that we all acknowledge that we have genuine concerns individually and within our respective political parties about its existence and on the need to remedy it in order that it occurs as infrequently as possible. We should never resort to the glib as a political response to these issues.
There is a value in the Private Members’ Bill. It comes on the tenth anniversary of the existing programme which is managed by the Garda Síochána. It is in our interests to examine how that works and how, as public representatives, we could suggest how it could work in the most effective way.
The real question is not whether there should be a witness protection programme or whether it can be made more effective, the purpose of the Bill is whether it should be put on a statutory basis. The Labour Party’s case was well made. It pointed out the existence of similar legislation in other jurisdictions. The Minister of State responded and there are reasons there would be difficulties, not least because putting it on a statutory basis would be seen to perhaps unnecessarily interfere with operational matters in the Garda and how it tries to provide the most secure service as possible. Having said that, the opportunity afforded to us by this debate, even if we have limited time, should be used to examine wider issues. We should not confine ourselves to the existence of a witness protection programme. As Senator Doherty has suggested, we are admitting our failure as a society when we force people to leave their communities and assume new identities. We have to consider the wider issues of how the forces of law and order get information, act on it and use it to ensure there is as little crime as possible.
To be fair to the Labour Party, it has a commendable track record in this area. Its Deputies have produced Private Members’ legislation relating to whistleblowing, for example. Civil servants have advised that the best way to tackle whistleblowing is to deal with it on a case-by-case basis, rather than addressing it in a comprehensive Bill. That advice is being taken on board as various Bills come before both Houses.
I am concerned that a moral distinction is often blurred when people are offered protection by the Garda because they have information that is of value to the force. I refer to the Garda’s use of touts when gathering information. We often hear anecdotally about crimes committed by people who are of value to the Garda, some of which can be quite dangerous, being overlooked. The people to whom I refer may be involved in theft and other types of crime. I would have thought we should consider the wider picture as part of any debate on witness protection. People can find themselves in difficult circumstances, such as having to act as whistleblowers or participate in the witness protection programme. The greyest of these three areas — the extent to which the Garda relies on sourcing information from unreliable people who are part of the problem of crime in Irish society — is also the least likely to come up in public debate. If we do not address such issues in debates of this nature, we will let ourselves down as legislators and fail in our duties as representatives of the people.
Having said that, I welcome the opportunity presented by the Labour Party’s introduction of this Bill. As Senators Alex White and Hannigan said when commencing the debate on the Bill, one encounters many difficulties when one proposes Private Members’ legislation. One works in a kind of lacuna as one tries to produce an effective Bill. One does not have the benefit of the civil servants, such as the officials in the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and the Office of the Attorney General, who are available to Ministers when they initiate legislation. One has to deal with restrictive rules — for example, one is not allowed to include provisions which would impose a cost on the Exchequer. Any future legislation dealing with the witness protection programme will have to be well defined, in terms of how the programme can be funded on an ongoing basis and how its cost to individuals can be met.
This debate might reveal the need for the Oireachtas to examine the witness protection programme on a regular basis — perhaps even on an annual basis. Now that the committee system is up and running once more, a joint committee could be made responsible for asking valuable questions of the Garda Commissioner or his representative. The committee could ask about how much the programme is costing, how many people benefit from it and the extent to which it fulfils its remit of limiting crime in our society. We should constantly seek ways to improve the programme. Sadly, we have to accept that even though the programme is deemed to be necessary, its existence and the involvement in it of individuals who have committed crimes is an acknowledgement that society is being defeated in one respect. We should seek ways of ensuring it is used as little as possible and, when it is used, as effectively as possible.
Senator Phil Prendergast Senator Phil Prendergast
Senator Phil Prendergast: I would like to give the House a brief overview of the sections of the Witness Protection Programme Bill 2007, before I say a few words on it.
Sections 1 to 3, inclusive, outline the definitions of specific and key terms to be used in the Bill. They give the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the power to make regulations appropriate to the Bill. The sections also explain the purpose and meaning of this legislation.
Sections 4 and 5 provide for the establishment of the witness protection programme and set the levels of responsibility to be given to the Garda Commissioner and the director of the programme. Sections 6 and 7 specify the circumstances in which a witness can join the programme and explain the factors to be considered in admitting a person to the programme. Importantly, section 8 places an obligation on the protector and the protectee in the form of a protection agreement. Section 9 allows the director of a programme to terminate the protection in certain circumstances.
Section 10 sets out the procedures to be applied when it is decided to refuse admittance to the programme, or to terminate protection under the programme. If protection is to be terminated, notice of termination and reasons for termination must be given to the protectee in writing. Section 11 outlines the steps to be followed when changing the identity of a witness. This provision is vitally important because the Garda is not currently empowered to make such a change, even if it happens under the present programme. A new statute is critically required in this instance. Section 12 states clearly that public bodies must co-operate with the Garda Commissioner in running the witness protection programme.
Section 13 prohibits the disclosure of information on a witness in the programme, such as his or her location, identity, etc. It also provides that the director of the programme can disclose information about a protectee only with the permission and full consent of that person. Section 14 gives details of the specific circumstances in which a disclosure can be made in line with section 13.
The vital section 15 provides for agreements to be struck between the Minister in Ireland and his or her counterparts in other states, or international courts and tribunals, to admit witnesses from other countries. Section 16 provides that certain agreements of protection which have been reached before the day the Act comes into force will remain in force. Under section 17, the director of any programme of witness protection may be required to provide an annual report on the progress of the programme. Section 18 is self-explanatory.
This Bill is being introduced on the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the witness protection programme. It seeks to establish in statute the aims of the current Garda programme — to legally protect the victims of serious crime while exposing the criminals involved. Along with the victims of organised crime, the former accomplices of criminal gangs can also seek protection under this legislation. I refer to people who want to leave behind a dark life of fear and coercion and expose their former partners in crime by ensuring they are behind bars, which is where they belong. As my colleagues have said, the Supreme Court has insisted that a statutory basis is required for the witness protection programme. We are providing the Government parties with such a statute. After years of little or no action on organised crime, I hope the Senators opposite will take the initiative and support the Bill, which is supported by the Supreme Court.
Senator John Hanafin Senator John Hanafin
Senator John Hanafin: I would like to share my time with Senator Harris.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator John Hanafin Senator John Hanafin
Senator John Hanafin: The background to this Bill is clear. All Senators will agree there is a need for the witness protection programme. We need to consider whether the programme is best served by being placed in a legal format, as proposed in this legislation. The evidence available to me, which is anecdotal but quite reliable, suggests that substantial amounts of money are associated with the drugs trade in this country. The presence of such moneys leads to gang activities like turf wars, murders and intimidation. I have heard that wheelie bins full of money are being put away. I have been told that criminals have forgotten where they have put some of the bins in question. When I asked a garda about his role recently, he told me that a plastic sack with money in it had been delivered to the station where he works. When one of his fellow officers asked him to estimate how much money was in the sack, he guessed that there was €300,000 in it because it looked quite large. He was informed that it contained €2 million in cash.
Given that we are talking about circumstances which prevailed in America long before they were encountered here, we have a template from which to work. The life cycle of those who work for criminal gangs on our streets can be as short as two years — if they start at the age of 24, they might be out of existence by 26. Those who operate such gangs, who often live overseas, know how to use the legal system. A witness protection programme exists because it became necessary. There is no need for anybody to become too excited because this Government supports the witness protection programme; we all support the programme. The only question is the basis on which it goes forward. The witness protection programme, in its current form, has gone before the Supreme Court and has been found to be in order. It was tried and tested ten years ago and this gives me confidence in it. Operational flexibility is a requirement and this is another reason for my support of the Government. The Opposition has put forward this Bill and there is no doubt some group, such as a civil liberties group, will test it in conjunction with video evidence. This could throw into doubt the operation of the witness protection programme and this is a risk that cannot be taken. A group could produce a witness and say, “This witness felt intimidated.” This could cast doubt on the whole Bill and is another valid reason for not meddling with something that could be tested and could be found to be unconstitutional, in conjunction with some other aspect.
There is no basis for believing that putting the current Garda-operated witness protection programme on a statutory basis would have any effect on the willingness or otherwise of persons to enter the programme. The rationale for such a programme is the willingness of persons to enter it. The Garda Commissioner does not consider that legislation governing the operation of the programme is desirable at this stage. The present arrangements are an operational matter for the Garda Síochána which is best placed to assess whether a person should be admitted to the programme. If placed on a statutory basis, it may prove too inflexible to take account of the unique nature of individual cases. Removing that flexibility may result in individuals being unable to be accommodated in the programme.
For the reasons outlined, I cannot support the Bill.
Senator Eoghan Harris Senator Eoghan Harris
Senator Eoghan Harris: I am grateful to Senator Hanafin for sharing his time.
I will vote against the Bill but I do so reluctantly because it has one huge merit, the indication to involve the Director of Public Prosecutions in the programme. I say this as a matter of principle because I would like to see the DPP and the new prosecuting judges involved much more deeply in the prosecution of crime. However, I do not wish to become bogged down in that detail but rather look at the wider picture before returning to this very meritorious Bill.
I commend Senator Alex White’s call to make this a non-party issue. I thought the recent debate in the Dáil was very poor and it antagonised the public very deeply, whereas the debate in the Seanad has been far superior. The public simply cannot understand why, when what needs to be done is so clear, it is not done. At the detection level, the gardaí need to have a dedicated gang-bursting force; at the legislative level, they need to have new forms of legislation that accept we are living in new times. To talk about using old British common law procedures is like fighting the First World War and staring agog at a tank when the tank is proposed. The tank that was proposed a long time ago to the old rainbow coalition by Proinsias De Rossa was that we adopt the continental model of proactive prosecuting magistrates with significant powers to proactively go out and smash the gangs rather than waiting in the British common law tradition for them to commit crimes and then try to attack them. At the third level, we need Special Criminal Courts because courts can and have been intimidated in the past. The Special Criminal Court in the 1970s did not have flawless hands. The Director of Public Prosecutions needs to be involved and there is a need for a number of prosecuting judges and a new office of investigating magistrates with wide-ranging powers and a continental approach to these matters.
This is needed in particular because of a culture that has grown up in all parties. When I speak to members of the public they ask me why we cannot have police powers and why a police superintendent cannot swear a person is a member of a gang. They ask why there is so much objection to selective internment of gangland bosses. I do not have an answer for them but the answer lies in the culture of three parties. It lies first in the culture of the left, which sees the criminals as victims, forgetting George Bernard Shaw’s great aphorism that all Tories are criminals and all criminals are Tories. This romanticising of the criminal drags down the left-wing approach to crime and I am glad to see the Labour Party solidly parting company with this approach in recent times and taking a tough attitude to crime.
Second, there is a tradition within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael of carrying a kind of legalistic baggage, Law Library baggage, the baggage of lawyers. I know that within the rainbow coalition in the mid-1990s it was mooted that the CAB would be a gang-smashing unit but in fact it was parlayed down to mean merely a criminal assets bureau.
I reiterate that a three-part strategy is needed. Like the public I am tired of bitty things. I am all for this Bill in principle and I acknowledge the Minister’s reservations but there are merits in the Bill’s provisions for the DPP. However, I deplore the tone of defensiveness. Twice in my lifetime I have seen Ministers for Justice go on radio and television and tell the public that things are all right because the gangland crime level is not the same as it is in Philadelphia or elsewhere, or fall into the hands of criminologists who try to tell us that things were worse in Hamburg in 1982. This attitude makes the public very angry because the public knows we are in a new form of warfare. This is not the trench warfare of the First World War but instead it is the warfare of the Second World War and the world of the tank. We need different kinds of law, different kinds of detection and a different and tougher approach to the rights of criminals.
It is not the first time we have faced this threat. Gangland lords are much closer to the kind of subversives we faced in the 1970s and 1980s than to any kind of ordinary decent criminal. The experience of politics should be used against them and that means Special Criminal Courts and Garda superintendents swearing them to be members of gangs, the use of the full panoply of the law and standing hard down on them as a threat to the security of the State. This should be done as part of an all-party strategy.
Senator Jerry Buttimer Senator Jerry Buttimer
 Senator Jerry Buttimer: Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre. I congratulate and commend the Labour Party on this Bill which in many ways reflects the Fine Gael position adopted as part of our manifesto before the general election.
There has been a growth in gangland violence and Senator Harris in his eloquent remarks made reference to this growth. I come devoid of any Law Library baggage. As a humble public servant who lives and works in a community, I am aware of the growing need for all of us to face up to the fact that we must take on these crime lords and we must take them out, by whatever means. Senator Harris may be correct that we need to be creative in our approach to crime and in our tackling of the issue.
This Bill seeks to encourage witnesses or those involved in crime to come forward with critical information and to give evidence. Senator White in his remarks made this point very well.
We are living in an era of intimidation of epidemic proportions. I refer to some of the issues affecting the city of Limerick and the criminal trials which have taken place there. Are we saying we will condone perjury in the courts and that those who perjure themselves will get away with it? Are we sending out a message to young people in schools that it is all right to be involved in crime and to put one’s hand on the Bible in court and tell lies? This is what is happening. There is a need to have a fully resourced witness protection programme to protect innocent people and to encourage people to come forward with information and be willing to give it. We do not condone crime and illegal activities. We are not talking about law and order in a television programme or “The Godfather”, but about modern day Ireland. The Labour Party Bill before the House is a serious attempt to tackle the issue of crime. I am disappointed the Minister of State has rejected the Bill, and in saying that I am not being political by any stretch of the imagination.
The courts have told us the scheme should be on a statutory basis. Why does the Minister of State not recognise this? Why can it not be put on a statutory basis and have a strong witness protection scheme which is desirable for a functioning criminal justice system? We can have all the theories and hypotheses we like, but if one goes back to the fundamentals — Senator Harris spoke about detection levels — the Garda needs information as part of its ability to solve crime. Coming back to the most fundamental point of community policing, the neighbourhood watch scheme, why can we not take it a stage further? Why can we not encourage this to counteract the perception that we are doing little or nothing to stop the intimidation of witnesses? We need to encourage people to testify and to come forward.
I agree with Senator Harris on the need for a complete revolution regarding tackling crime. How best can that be achieved? If one lives in fear of devious people one will not come forward. One will go into court, put one’s hand on the Bible, tell lies and perjure oneself. We need to set up a system to encourage people to come forward.
We can quote all the figures we like for the past five months or five years, but serious criminal activity is increasing. I am not that old, but if a Garda was shot when I was growing up it was a huge story. It is still a huge story today but it has become more commonplace, which is unacceptable. Will we as legislators give in to fear and intimidation and allow drug barons and gangland bosses to control our streets? Is that what we want? If so, we may as well put up our hands, wave the white flag, surrender, go back into the trenches, put our heads in the sand and pretend everything is fine. Unfortunately, it is not. I agree with Senator Boyle that all of us as legislators have a responsibility to legislate and to put forward solutions. One way to do that is by means of the Bill before the House where we can offer protection on a statutory basis. It has worked in other countries, why can it not work here?
A fear has been expressed in some quarters that we are giving an amnesty to criminals. We are not doing that. We need partnership and co-operation. At a different level, the Bill offers an opportunity for people to come forward and give information and evidence. We desire to bring to an end the gangland crime and warfare that is taking place in many parts of society. If we want to continue a partnership in crime between the kingpins and their associates that is fine, but we have an obligation to bring forward legislation, which the Labour Party has done. I do not mean to be critical of the Garda but is it the job of the Garda Commissioner to be the legislator or is it ours? He says — if I am wrong I stand corrected — we should not have witness protection on a statutory footing yet the courts say we should. That is a question that needs to be answered because I think it is our job as legislators to put forward legislation and in tandem with that to resource and enhance the Garda at every level. Perhaps we are not doing that adequately. Irrespective of whether we like it, in many parts of the country — this is not politicisation — there is fear and intimidation. By the same token, as stated in the explanatory memorandum, it is a great stumbling block in tackling crime.
I commend the Bill to the House. No matter what its flaws it is a serious attempt to tackle this issue. We need to be honest in our approach and to stand up and be counted in regard to tackling gangland crime.
Senator Alex White Senator Alex White
 Senator Alex White: I thank the Minister of State and colleagues for their contributions, including those who said it was a meritorious Bill but could not find their way to vote for it. That is one of the curious experiences one has as a newly elected Member. It is a pity that when one sees merit in something, one cannot find it possible to vote for it. I do not make that as a personalised remark to anybody in the House but my party and I would support legislation brought forward by the Government in circumstances where the legislation made sense and addressed a fundamental problem. I hope the day will come when Members on the Government side will reach the same conclusion. Perhaps the thing to do is to support a proposal it fairly acknowledges has merit.
I listened carefully to the Minister of State’s contribution. He said there was no need to put the scheme on a statutory footing, notwithstanding the trenchant criticism in the Court of Criminal Appeal and the Supreme Court, but especially the Court of Criminal Appeal which said we do not really have a system but an ad hoc arrangement and it needs to be put on a statutory footing in order that everybody can understand it and see it being implemented. At one stage in his contribution the Minister of State said — I thought it quite amusing — the Bill is not altogether flawed in its contents. He said one thing that troubled me and I have had an opportunity to check it. It seems the issue of which he is most critical is not all that clear. As Senator Hanafin and everybody else has said, we should have a scheme, the only issue is whether it should be put on a statutory footing. The Minister of State said there is no need to put it on a statutory footing because the Garda Commissioner is not of the belief that should be done. Senator Regan is right about that. We all take seriously the advice and guidance of the Garda Commissioner, particularly in this area. The Garda Commissioner has a role to play but we also have a role to play as legislators. It is for the legislators to determine the contents of a scheme and not, with respect, the Garda Commissioner, valuable and important as is his advice.
I turn to what the Minister of State said about sections 13 and 14. This is an example of the criticism he has put forward, which is not real criticism. It masquerades as criticism but when one studies it, the Minister of State does not bring forward any criticism. He stated:
The second serious flaw I detect in the Bill arises in sections 13 and 14 which set out circumstances and factors that would justify disclosure of information relating to a protected person, including information sufficient to identify and locate him or her. Let us be clear that these sections have the potential to set at nought the chances of encouraging individuals to enter the programme and give evidence against former comrades.
The explanatory memorandum gives a fair summary of those sections. Section 13 prohibits the disclosure of information relating to the location or a change of identity of a protectee. However, it sets out some exceptions about which the Minister of State claims to be so concerned. The prohibition does not apply to a protectee or former protectee who discloses information about himself or herself, if the disclosure does not endanger the safety of another protectee or former protectee and does not compromise the integrity of the programme. It does not apply to a person who discloses information that was disclosed to the person by a protectee or former protectee, if the disclosure does not endanger the safety of the protectee or former protectee or another protectee or former protectee and does not compromise the integrity of the programme. These are major restrictions on the circumstances where disclosure is allowed. The Minister of State gives the impression that a laissez-faire attitude is being taken and for this reason, if for no other, the Bill should be rejected. The criticism he suggests to be valid adds up to nothing.
Senator Hanafin appeared to criticise the Bill on the basis that if it became law it could be open to challenge. With all due respect to Senator Hanafin, it is extraordinary for any legislator to suggest not introducing legislation because it might be tested in the courts. What state have we arrived at that we do not have the self-confidence as legislators to introduce legislation? By all means have it scrutinised — I am quite happy for this legislation to go through the wringer in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Let the Department take it apart, amend it, change the DPP provision, add a——
Senator John Hanafin Senator John Hanafin
Senator John Hanafin: On a point of order, the current situation has been already tested and proved to be in order.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: That is not a point of order, it is a point of clarification.
Senator Alex White Senator Alex White
Senator Alex White: Nor is that the point the Senator made, as he well knows. He can check it himself.
Senator John Hanafin Senator John Hanafin
Senator John Hanafin: The Senator should check the blacks.
Senator Alex White Senator Alex White
Senator Alex White: I do not agree with what Senator Harris said. While I understand all the slanging about the Law Library, every day prosecutions are secured in our courts. The protection of the principles of innocence until proven guilty, about which we all know, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution is not an obstacle to the fight against crime. Prosecutions will continue to be secured. The Minister of State has said the Bill adds nothing to the task of dealing with crime and even risks jeopardising it, which is an over-the-top criticism of this legislation. I ask the House to support the Bill and allow it to proceed to the next Stage.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 28.
Seanad Éireann 187 Witness Protection Programme Bill 2007: Second Stage.