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 Header Item Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)
 Header Item Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019: Referral to Select Committee

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 987 No. 3

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Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I thank the Deputies who spoke for their constructive contributions and comments during the debate. As I stated in my opening remarks, this technical legislation will be of major assistance to the military police in their investigations. Deputies commented on how long the Bill has taken to be progressed. While its general scheme was approved in 2015, the Bill was technically complex to prepare and there was a requirement to seek legal advice on a number of issues, which I hope Deputies will accept. Careful consideration had to be given to the intersection of military and criminal law. People will understand we had to ensure we got it right. It is no use bringing a Bill into the House if it is not done right and that is discovered only later. I thank my officials for their preparation of this technical legislation.

Deputies may be aware the military police are responsible for carrying out investigations of alleged offences against military law. Such investigations can occur either within the State or outside it. Deputy Crowe asked whether if something happened overseas, whether with UNIFIL or wherever, the military police would have the powers to investigate the situation. The principal purpose of the Bill is to enable members of the military police to take and use DNA samples and other evidence for the purposes of their investigation. The Bill will provide the military police with a clear statutory basis for the taking of evidentiary samples from military personnel when they are on overseas service or on aeroplanes or ships. As such, it will enhance the capability of the military police to carry out their investigation of serious offences.

The military police who collect and collate such samples will be trained to the same standard that An Garda Síochána currently is. As I stated earlier, the Bill mirrors the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database) Act 2014, which provides for the taking of DNA samples by An Garda Síochána for the establishment of a DNA database with a view to assisting An Garda Síochána in its investigation of crime. Some may question why no provision was made in the 2014 Act for the Defence Forces, including the military police. Differentiating between the roles and responsibilities of the military police and An Garda Síochána would have resulted in cumbersome and more complex legislation.

The Bill is different from the 2014 Act in further specific areas. In overall terms, the Bill reflects the military police environment and the role of the military police in that regard. As Deputies will appreciate, An Garda Síochána deals with the entire population, whereas the military police deal only with members of the Defence Forces. In addition, the military police do not have the scope of responsibilities or authority that is exercised by members of An Garda Síochána in the public domain. The Bill does not include provisions in respect of minors. As Deputies will know and understand, a person cannot enlist in the Defence Forces below the age of 18. Under the 2014 Act, samples may be taken from people under the age of 18 but one must be at least 18 years old to be a member of the Defence Forces and as such, the military police will not engage with minors in the taking of DNA evidence.

Elements of the Bill that were not included in the 2014 Act include extraterritorial provisions whereby members of the military police can take DNA samples from Defence Forces personnel where they are serving overseas in postings or missions or while serving on State vessels or aircraft. Where a member of the Defence Forces is suspected of having committed an offence against military law while serving on an overseas mission, the Irish military police will take the lead role in investigating the offence, including by taking evidential samples should that be required. Subject to the direction of the Director of Military Prosecutions, any such offence would then be prosecuted under military law, rather than criminal law, before a court martial.

The referenced legislation for An Garda Síochána is different from that applicable to the Defence Forces. In this regard, the Bill includes amendments to the Defence Act 1954 and the Courts-Martial Appeals Act 1983 arising from provisions of the Bill. It also includes consequential amendments to the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014. Similar to that Act, the Bill strikes a careful balance between ensuring there is an effective statutory basis for the operation of DNA database systems along with the need to take account of the rights of individuals whose DNA samples or profiles are placed on the database. The military police will be responsible for the collection of evidence provided for in the Bill, including samples from the DNA profiles that may be generated. The relevant person performing the duties will have completed the same course of training as that undertaken by An Garda Síochána crime scene investigators, who perform similar duties.

As I stated earlier, any samples taken under the Bill may be taken only in connection with the investigation of a relevant offence. For the purpose of the Bill, this means an offence for which a person is subject to military law may be punished or imprisoned for a term of five years or more. This will cover offences such as serious assault, rape, murder etc. Accordingly, I envisage that the powers will be exercised by the military police infrequently.

I thank Deputies for their contributions to this important legislation. I remind them comprehensive defence legislation is in place for the operation of the Defence Forces. Legislation is introduced when legally required. Deputy Jack Chambers referred to the working time directive. That legislation is being prepared by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and not by my Department, which I thought the Deputy would have known. It concerns my Department and is a priority for it but it is a matter for An Garda Síochána and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. If the Deputy wishes to find out about the matter, I suggest he table a parliamentary question and I have no doubt-----

Deputy Jack Chambers: Information on Jack Chambers Zoom on Jack Chambers We have a responsibility to the troops to pass legislation on the matter.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe -----that the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, will be only delighted to help the Deputy in that regard. At a recent session of parliamentary questions in the House, I outlined to the Deputy the progress of the legislation and where it was being prepared. I clearly explained that it was not being prepared by my Department.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. Deputy Crowe carried out in-depth research on the Bill. I look forward to exchanges we will have on Committee Stage on this highly technical legislation. I thank my officials for the considerable work they have done on this Bill in tandem with the Office of the Attorney General.

  Question put and agreed to.

Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019: Referral to Select Committee

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I move:

That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence pursuant to Standing Orders 84A(3)(a) and 149(1) of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business.

  Question put and agreed to.

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