McDowell must provide assurances on legal assistance agreement with US

21 July 2005

Statement by Joe Costello TD
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for Trade and Development

Commenting on today's reports in the Irish Examiner concerning the instrument of agreement signed last week under the Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance between the US and the EU, Labour Spokesperson on Justice, Deputy Joe Costello, called on Minister Michael McDowell to clarify the details of the agreement to ensure no individual's human rights will be jeopardized.

Deputy Costello commented, "I have no difficulty with the concept of assistance between the law enforcement and prosecution services of democratic states in the investigation and prosecution of crime, particularly terrorist crime. In that light, I broadly welcome international agreements to improve the working of arrangements for extradition, the joint investigation of serious crime and mutual legal assistance.

"The ‘instrument of agreement' signed last week is one that was made under the Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance between the US and the European Union, signed in June, 2003. It is subject to the completion by both countries of their ‘respective applicable internal procedures for entry into force.'

"In Ireland's case, legislation is needed to give effect to the agreement but the Bill has not yet been published. We will examine the Bill carefully in order to ensure that it does not override important constitutional and procedural safeguards.

"Firstly, there is no basis for giving greater rights to the US Government under mutual assistance arrangements than are given by EU Governments amongst themselves.

"Secondly, the agreement allows each state to insist that it will apply only to offences known to the criminal law of both countries. I presume that Minister McDowell will avail of this option and that his Bill will not apply this agreement to offences unknown to Irish law. Otherwise we will oppose it.

"Thirdly, while the US has restricted civil liberties of its own citizens and of non-nationals, there can be no question of any similar ‘emergency powers' regime being brought in here or of anyone on Irish soil being deprived of their right of access to the ordinary courts.

"Fourthly, there cannot be any question of people being spirited out of this jurisdiction for the purposes solely of questioning or detention.

"Finally, any joint investigation teams operating in Ireland must continue to be led by the Garda Síochána and to be answerable to the ordinary rule of law. The police and security services of other states cannot be given free rein to operate in Ireland as if they were at home.

"Provided the Minister's Bill respects these and other basic safeguards, it should be welcomed."

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