From Socialist Voice, May 2005

A truly criminal Justice Bill

Michael McDowell is leading the FF-PD government in a crusade against democracy and against the most vulnerable in our society. The latest manifestation of this is the new Criminal Justice Bill. This bill is an attack on our hard-won rights and liberties, and it further concentrates power in the hands of the elites of the state.
    What with the Morris Tribunal, the Barr Tribunal, the obvious abuse of power on May Day some years ago, and countless other examples of corruption and abuse by the Gardaí, one would expect that a new bill would decentralise power and focus on community policing. This is not the case. These scandals are nothing more than embarrassments for the state: they will not alter its goal of securing its class interests. That is what this bill is really about. More democracy in the state is a threat; it is also clearly a demand of the people. This bill is a reaction to the demand and need for democracy within the police force—an anti-democratic reaction.
    Who will police the police?—an often-asked question. One can point to the judiciary: surely this is their job. However, this bill takes power away from the courts and gives it to the police, in the form of increased power of warrants. A superintendent (or higher officer) will be able to issue search warrants, once the responsibility of the courts.
    Detention times are also increased, from twelve to twenty-four hours, if one is suspected by the Gardaí of having committed an arrestable offence. The DNA categorisation of samples will also change: hair follicles and saliva will be reclassified as “non-intimate samples,” meaning that any person arrested may have these taken without their consent, and with “reasonable force” allowed to achieve this.
    “I am not at present providing for the establishment of a DNA data bank,” McDowell told Dáil Éireann on 15 February. “It is my intention, however, to draw up proposals for that purpose which would . . . permit as extensive a data bank as possible.”
    The direction that policing in Ireland is taking is clear. It is not on the side of democracy and the people—in fact it is quite the opposite. Ireland needs reforms like those proposed in the Patten Report. Community policing needs to be the focus. Independent, objective policing of the Gardaí is needed. The Garda Complaints Board is unsatisfactory, as it is the police investigating themselves.
    A truly independent body representing the people of Ireland must be commissioned to monitor the Gardaí, both at national and at local level.

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