By Ken Foxe and John Lee
Irish Assembly plans ‘own police force’ with investigators who can raid homes and businesses
The Irish Assembly is planning to create their own private force of investigators with the power to search homes and businesses, seize documents, computers and material – and have you arrested if you try to resist.
Under draft legislation, the investigators will be entitled to read your emails and letters – and can even order you to supply your passwords or unlock your filing cabinets.
The investigators will be appointed by Dáil committees – and they in turn can appoint other investigators with the same powers, rather like a sheriff appointing deputies.
The plans are contained in the draft Bill that will be enacted if the country votes ‘yes’ to the 30th Amendment in Thursday’s referendum. And a high-profile Labour member has warned that the investigators could be used as theprivate police forces of powerful political figures.
Labour election candidate Oisín Quinn, a nephew of Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and a campaigner against the planned change, warned: ‘You could have an Oireachtas committee pursuing a line of inquiry that suited the government of the day – and these investigators would be reporting to a political person.
‘They could go into the office of a newspaper and take laptops and what could be done about it? They don’t need a warrant, your permission or the permission of the person at the front desk.
‘We have had in the past a government that deliberately tapped the phones of journalists. We have had TDs who have gone to prison for corruption.
‘It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that in the future there would be a configuration of government whereby an inquiry would be used to try to damage an opponent. The great fear is that these would be used as a political weapon.’
The new powers are contained in the General Scheme Of The Houses Of The Oireachtas (Powers Of Inquiry) Bill 2011, which has been put together in draft form ahead of the referendum this Thursday.
Under the proposed legislation, Oireachtas inquiries would be able to appoint the own private detectives to carry out investigations into whatever they wanted.
On arrival at a business premises, the investigators would simply be obliged to supply their personal Oireachtas warrant, which would grant extensive search powers.
They would require no evidence: merely ‘reasonable grounds to believe there are any documents, or there is information in any form, relating to any matter within the terms of reference for the inquiry’.
The draft Bill states that the investigators could then ‘inspect any documents, or information in any form, on the premises’. These could be made ‘secure’ to ensure they could be examined at a later date.
The investigators could also order ‘any person on the premises’ to ‘produce any documents or information in any form kept on the premises’.
The investigators would be able to copy any information they deemed relevant and even remove some documents if they considered it ‘reasonable’.
They could compel employees to turn over anything that they decided was needed – which would almost certainly include passwords and keys or anything locked or protected.
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said that while the current Government might not abuse the new powers, that was no guarantee of what might happen in the future.
He said: ‘The people are free to elect governments that are corrupt, populist or extremist – the Constitution and the courts are there to protect us against their excesses.