Greens to oppose anti-terrorism legislation unless it is amended

 

The Green Party has said it will oppose new anti-terrorism legislation unless it is amended during its passage through the Dail today.

The party warned yesterday that "sweeping new powers" contained in the Offences against the State (Amendment) Bill would create an "oppressive security environment" that could hold real dangers for the peace process in Northern Ireland.

It has put forward 17 amendments to the Bill, including the retention of the presumption of innocence, mandatory video-taping of evidence and the right of a suspect to have a solicitor present.

"The overriding concern is that we secure proper convictions and don't repeat any of the mistakes of the past that led to miscarriages of justice. We must ensure that we don't perpetrate a double injustice by convicting the wrong person and allowing terrorists to remain at large," Mr Trevor Sargent TD, the party's spokesman on Northern Ireland, said.

Ms Patricia McKenna MEP, the spokeswoman on justice, said there was a tendency on the part of governments to appease public opinion in the wake of atrocities such as Omagh.

After this happened in Britain, the Birmingham Six spent 15 years in jail for crimes they did not commit.

Ms McKenna said she would prefer a different approach from the Government, which would provide more resources to fight terrorism. However, she recognised that the current political climate demanded legislation.

The Greens are also proposing that the legislation should lapse next May, the first anniversary of the Northern Ireland referendum, instead of at the end of 2000, as stated in the Bill. Mr Sargent said 2 1/2 years was far too long for the temporary legislation to remain in existence.

However, he welcomed some aspects of the Bill, such as the new offence of directing an unlawful organisation.

The absence of such a provision had allowed criminal "godfathers" to get away with crime while keeping their hands clean, he said.