Today, we have witnessed a disgraceful yet utterly predictable display of moral cowardice on the part of the large majority of Dáil Deputies. All but 16 TDs failed to oppose the annual extension of the Offences Against the State Act, which allows the conviction of "membership of an illegal organisation" based solely upon the word of a garda. Given recent events, this would have to strike any objective observer as completely insane. Of course us non-objective observers know it's a lot more sinister than that.

Credit where it's due: Joe Higgins, Tony Gregory, Jerry Cowley, Catherine Murphy and all six of the Greens joined the five Sinn Féin TDs in voting Níl, while Finian McGrath spoke against the motion during the debate although he was unable to be present for the vote. That is a 100% increase over last year, when we could only muster eight in opposition. Maybe next year Labour will find the courage to put their (supposed) support for justice and human rights ahead of their hatred for republicans. But I won't hold my breath.

I've copied the Sinn Féin TDs' contributions to the debate below, because I really can't say it any better myself.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Every year Deputies have the opportunity to vote on whether to continue to use repressive legislation in this State. That opportunity presents again despite the past decade of the peace process, the IRA ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement. Every year the Minister publishes a slim report at the last minute, which no one has a chance to read, as has been stated here. Despite this, every year this House rubber-stamps the continuing operation of these laws, which suspend not only the ordinary rules of evidence but fundamental rights, including the right to silence.

Every year my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh or I argue the Government's obligations regarding progressive security normalisation under the Good Friday Agreement. Every year we ask what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is planning to do with the Hederman recommendations on which he has been sitting since 2002. Every year only a few join the Sinn Féin Deputies in speaking out against this coercion of democracy and human rights, and I commend all those who do.

Those in what I view as the political establishment are still locked in denial about the fact that more than 60 years of emergency law has only helped perpetuate the conflict on and between these islands. It is a contributory factor. Equally, seven years of the 1998 amendment Act powers have not stopped dissident republicans. The only thing that can have this effect - I ask the Minister of State to note it - is to make democracy really and truly work. This means making the peace process work, demonstrating that the Good Friday Agreement is not dead, as the DUP leader claims, and proving that profound political and social change can be achieved by other means. That is the commitment we have made and the challenge Sinn Féin has embraced.

Every year when this law is renewed, those Deputies who support it take it on faith that the Garda will not abuse the powers it confers. They take it on faith that no garda will fabricate the evidence used to convict in the Special Criminal Court. I put it to Deputies that the findings of the Morris tribunal to date must force them to re-examine that blind faith on this occasion. This Government is asking Deputies, even in the wake of the Morris tribunal reports, to renew legislation that will continue to allow people to be convicted on the word of a garda. As supporters of this motion, they must ask themselves, what if they are complicit in perpetuating miscarriages of justice by the suspension of the ordinary rules of evidence in order to secure convictions, especially when there continues to be no effective oversight of the Garda and knowing this situation will continue even after the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's fundamentally flawed Garda legislation passes. I put it to Deputies and the Minister of State that the renewal of this Offences Against the State Act is not at all in the interests of democracy and justice.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: History will judge this House harshly for failing to assert that the key to security is human rights and not human rights abuses. Year in, year out Deputies vote for the renewal of this legislation which is the envy of repressive regimes around the world. Only a few people in this House have the moral courage to speak out against it and fewer still have the guts to back that up when there is a vote. Surely the Morris tribunal report, which will be briefly discussed tomorrow, and particularly the revelations in the first report, the McGlinchey module, must give them pause for thought that people can be convicted in the Special Criminal Court under special laws on the word of the Garda special branch man.

History will judge harshly all those Deputies with their heads in the sand about the abuses perpetrated by the State against citizens on their watch. They are so consumed and blinded by anti-republicanism, they are failing in their duty to protect the public interest. It is incumbent on them to consider their responsibility carefully and to consider what we now know. We know the gardaí fabricated evidence of arms finds in Donegal, that the Murphy conviction in the Omagh case was overturned because of Garda fabrication, that the gardaí planted a gun on James Sheehan in north Kerry and that the father of four, Niall Binead, had no presumption of innocence as he was tried by the media and convicted of membership of an illegal organisation on the basis of exercising his right to silence. Despite media misrepresentation, he was not convicted of spying allegations. He was not convicted of unlawful collection of information under section 8. In fact, according to the Minister, no one has been charged under section 8. Does this not raise questions for Deputies about the conviction? Earlier this week, five Limerick men face up to five years in prison on the word of a senior garda. Most of the evidence against them seems to be that they laid a wreath.

Can Deputies be confident that the powers they are about to reconfirm have not been abused in nearly 700 arrests in the past year alone? Are they absolutely certain about the soundness of each of the 60 plus convictions? Do they firmly believe all the 102 awaiting trial will receive a fair one? If not, I ask them to vote against this motion.

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