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Dáil Diary no 40 – 30 May 2015

New Terrorism Bill will do more for Arms Industry, than Peace…

On Tuesday of this week, we debated the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill in the Dáil – A Bill that ignores the causes of Terrorism and one that will do nothing to promote peace. It was disappointing that only Clare Daly and myself debated the issue with the Minister present – clearly, it is perceived that there are no votes to be got from discussing this subject. Here’s a shortened version of my Dáil contribution. –

“I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, but, once again, the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has blanked us. She must not like us.

I am supposed to attend an under-18 match in Wexford tonight. My team is playing a Leinster championship quarter final match against St. Kevin's. It is only the second under-18 knockout game that I will have missed in 25 years because it is my job to challenge legislation and I am disappointed that the Minister is not present to participate in the debate.

I fear that the Bill and the principal Act may be used, as similar legislation has been used elsewhere, to restrict and clamp down on civil rights, freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of movement, while simultaneously embedding institutionalised racism in the criminal justice system. My amendments all have to do with section 4 on public provocation to commit terrorist offences, in particular the use of the word "encourage" in the section. In this context, it is extremely broad in its scope and ramifications. It even deviates from the European Union approved wording as laid out in the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism which is to be found in Schedule 2 to the Bill. The new section 4A on public provocation to commit a terrorist offence states that it means "the intentional distribution, or otherwise making available, by whatever means of communication by a person of a message to the public, with the intent of encouraging, directly or indirectly, the commission by a person of a terrorist activity". The Council of Europe uses the word "incite" as opposed to "encourage". This word is much tighter, less open to interpretation and reasonably narrows the scope of what is already very broad-ranging and wide-ranging legislation.

To quote the work of Dr. Cian Murphy of King's College, we are moving towards a criminal justice system that enforces pre-emption rather than prevention, which is a sure-fire formula for repression. Dr. Murphy argues that pre-emption involves taking intrusive action against potential threats based on at best mere suspicion. It is evident in policy documents such as the action plan for combating terrorism, the preambles to various legislative Acts and the operative texts of these Acts. EU counter terrorism measures seek to eradicate any space in which violent politics could develop. Key enactments put in place the common European crime of terrorism and systems of targeted sanctions and financial, travel and telecommunications surveillance. Although the targets of EU counter terrorism measures are those who incite, finance, support and carry out acts of terrorism, the entire population is affected by the law. The European Union did not adapt the rhetoric of a war on terror, yet many of the dangers posed by US counter terrorism measures in that state can also be seen in the European Union. In particular, EU counter terrorism measures have seen the centralisation of power and the adoption of legal Acts to the detriment of the rule of law and fundamental rights.

At the centre of this debate should be the issue of a balanced relationship between security actions and fundamental human rights. Instead, the Government is blindly implementing laws crafted in Europe by a legislative process that primarily comprises the puppets that are the European Heads of State and their neoliberal advisers, without a discussion of what the reality of their implementation would be on the ground. Do we really need more counter terrorism laws in Ireland? Are they proportionate to the threat? That there is a particularly low level of threat in Ireland has been admitted and even emphasised by Ministers and the Garda. We are clamping down on a threat that is barely there and, in the process, passing laws that affect everybody. Ironically, it is comparable to the United States bombing the living daylights out of citizens in Baghdad in its 2003 shock and awe offensive in order to take out Saddam Hussein whom we knew had no weapons of mass destruction, an action some clear-sighted thinkers argue was central to the long, unnecessary and bloody road that has created the unstable situation that has us discussing this legislation in the Dáil today. That same provocation and what I regard as terrorist activity on behalf of the United States and the so-called coalition of the willing is fundamental to so many of the problems we are seeing in the Middle East today. The Middle East is a failed part of the world and the seriousness of the problem is unimaginable. We could not have dreamed ten years ago that it would get this bad. Aside from what we saw happen in Palestine last summer, what has continued in Iraq and Syria, the development of ISIS and the conflict in south Yemen are atrocious.

Most rational people have to admit that the invasion of Iraq was at the core of the destabilisation of the Middle East. I do not believe fair-minded people will deny this. The militarisation of so much of the world has been detrimental to millions of people. Over 60 million people have been forced to move from their homelands, of whom 33 million are people who have suffered as a result of acts of war. We are dealing with different crises such as, for example, the refugees in the Mediterranean, but when will we admit that dropping bombs creates serious problems? We allow Shannon Airport to be used to facilitate the dropping of bombs in the Middle East by the Americans and their fighter planes. We allow 2.5 million troops to move through the airport and the result has been devastating. I have to remind the Minister of State that in opposition the Labour Party was adamant that military aeroplanes should be searched because they were not supposed to be carrying arms. The number that pass through the airport in one week is phenomenal and now nobody wants to search them. That does not stack up.

The progress of counter terrorism legislative measures since the 11 September 2001 attacks has led us to a situation where there is overly broad use of criminal provisions that could be seen as breaching the principle of legality and the presumption of innocence under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The sad truth is that, even in the absence of a direct threat to Ireland, we will be faced with even more intrusive laws down the line. The Commission is discussing further moves, including stiffer border controls, better intelligence sharing, access to flight passenger registers and even the establishment of an EU security agency.

The sharing of air travel records has been a highly contentious issue for EU law makers who have blocked it since 2013. If enacted, it would mean that millions of EU travellers would have their personal data kept on file for years.

 The fact that France has some of the stiffest anti-terrorism decrees in Europe did not thwart the Paris attacks. US and British security agencies are carrying out surveillance of their own citizens on a scale that was, until recently, something we associated only with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. He was not exaggerating, but he was behind the curve. To make matters worse, in July 2013 John C. Inglis, deputy director of the US National Security Agency, admitted in testimony that, at most, one plot might have been disrupted by the mass collection of telephone records of millions of Americans. Not even when one collects everything from everybody all the time does this anti-terrorism legislation work.

 There are ways to discourage people from engaging in terrorism, other than the criminalisation of the direct or indirect encouragement of terrorism or terrorist publications. We need positive instances of cross-cultural dialogue on terrorism. Prosecutions that target speech would be a divisive strategy that could confirm fears that anti-terrorism efforts were based on hostility to Islam as opposed to condemnation of violence. Recently in America there was a gun attack in Dallas, Texas at a contest to draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Priyamvada Gopal, writing in The Guardian last week, drew parallels between this attack and the shootings in January at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. She noted that, at the same time the shootings in Dallas occurred, the French magazine was due to pick up a Freedom of Expression Courage honour awarded by the literary group PEN and wrote:

 

    When six writers pulled out of the ceremony in protest, Salman Rushdie accused them of cowardice and condoning terrorism. The six argue that the award validates “selectively offensive” racist and anti-Islamic material.

The last person to be fired from Charlie Hebdo was a person who had created an anti-Jewish cartoon, while nobody has been fired for creating anti-Islamic cartoons there. Ms Gopal posed a vitally important question surrounding the situation, namely, "what sorts of speech make the defence of freedom of expression truly worthwhile?" She wrote:

    Free speech is most precious when it genuinely questions power, when dissent challenges and undermines an unacceptable status quo. Meaningful dissent makes the invisible visible. While the openly tyrannical are obvious targets, in formally democratic contexts free speech is truly only a weapon when it sets its sights upon insidious norms and received ideas rather than sanctioned enemies.

What makes the Bill a particularly bitter pill to swallow is the fact that the organisation that will have primary responsibility to carry out the provisions contained in the Bill, An Garda Síochána, is organised in such a manner that when somebody exercises that most precious form of free speech and questions the structures of power within the force, the person concerned is treated with contempt. Human rights have yet to be enshrined in the Garda code of conduct. I raised some of these issues with the Minister today at Question Time. We find the way the two Garda whistleblowers, Mr. Keith Harrison and Mr. Nick Keogh, have been treated as bordering on unbelievable. We have to sit back and think about it for a while, question it and check it over and over and ask ourselves whether it could possibly be true. The way they have been treated is horrendous. People think we like to come into the House and just give out about the Garda. I would so much like to think the energy we have put into challenging how it operates is reaping fruit and that things will be different from now on. It would be a great acknowledgement of the energy we had put into it. However, sadly, I cannot say that yet.

 When the Government defends the actions of the US military or our trade partner, Saudi Arabia, does this not encourage the commission by a person of terrorist activity? Aside from US bombs being instruments of terror, what more powerful encouragement is there to become a terrorist than the completely unwarranted destruction of one's village by a faceless and unaccountable aggressor? This reasoning is too unacceptable a truth to entertain. We are the ones who protect freedom, justice and democracy. We are so fond of these values that we are not prepared to invade other countries and help these values take root by the use of billions of dollars worth of tanks, guns and bombs. The law will be used only to undermine the free speech of those whom it is politically expedient to criminalise by holding a monopoly of the definition of the word in order that terrorism is something in which only others engage, not us. The Bill is built on a false, unjust and hypocritical premise. We ask why they treat us like this, why they do not like our democracy. While they do not dislike our democracy, they do not like bombs landing on them in the middle of the night, killing their women and children. They do not like this very much, but they have no problem with our democracy. The fact that every sane person accepts that terrorism is bad and the fact that the wording of the Bill is opaque makes the Bill difficult to oppose in any systematic manner. 

 That anti-terrorism legislation has been used to clamp down on human rights and very little else is uncontested by civil rights groups the world over. My amendment is an attempt to stem this abuse in a small way and, within the scope of the legislation, tighten the wording surrounding who can be accused of being a terrorist and seems to be one of the few routes by which we can do this. The real problems with the Bill are not restricted to its wording but rather what surround it. The context of the drive towards counter terrorism and mass surveillance is a toxic development. I abhor all forms of violence by everybody and do not take sides with any of them. Peace is wonderful and we should do our maximum to encourage it and refuse to facilitate anyone who wants to settle any dispute or argument using military means. One small step towards this would be stopping arms, munitions and troops passing through Shannon Airport."

Mick Wallace.

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