Norris questions judge's ruling in Shell to Sea case

Fri, Mar 13, 2009, 00:00

SEANAD REPORT:DAVID NORRIS (Ind) said he wondered if the decision of a judge to refer a Shell to Sea activist for psychiatric examination indicated a return to a time when attempts were made in eastern Europe to use psychiatry to control political expression.

“I think this is terribly, terribly, dangerous.”

Calling for a debate on the Corrib gasfield controversy, Mr Norris said he was greatly concerned at the jailing of Maura Harrington and the process that had led to it.

A minister of the day had given this field away for nothing to Shell, which was one of the worst polluters and one of the most avid multinationals. He would be very sorry if, the Garda having been enlisted on behalf of a multinational, the court system should then begin to play a role in this matter.

Mr Norris said he was concerned when judges felt free to comment widely on the personality traits of someone they were sentencing. In this case, the judge had made it clear she did not believe in the idealism of Ms Harrington because of her “enjoyment” of the public limelight.

He wondered about the qualifications of an individual to pronounce on a non-judicial matter. The judge had referred Ms Harrington for psychiatric examination, having jailed her for 28 days.

Mr Norris said Ms Harrington had slapped a garda in the face. “I had my face slapped and the person did not go to jail for 28 days,” he said.

Maurice Cummins (FG) said it was important to recognise that gardaí put their lives on the line daily on behalf of the public. Many of them had suffered horrific injuries while performing their duties.

A strong message should go out from the House that no assault on a garda would be condoned. There should be mandatory custodial sentences for assaults on gardaí or emergency service personnel.

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A significant Government alteration to a Bill underlined the important role of the Seanad in scrutinising legislation, Joe O’Toole (Ind) said. The Harbours (Amendment) Bill had been changed in a way that could not have happened in the Dáil. The protracted Seanad debate had facilitated this.

Mr O’Toole said the Government had now undertaken that there would have to be consultations with local interests in relation to the future administrative status of the Bantry Bay and Tralee and Fenit harbour authorities.