Wednesday, 28 March 1962
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Dillon: Most of what I want to say in regard to this Bill I have already said but I want to add a word of complaint. When the Official Secrets Bill was laid before the House, it was accompanied by a White Paper. The White Paper indicated on its face that the Bill is to be regarded substantially as a codifying Bill. That fact, I think, should have placed a very special obligation on the White Paper to direct the attention of Deputies to those parts of the Bill which go beyond the actual operation of codification,  with special reference to subsection (3) of Section 2, which, I think, introduces an entirely new principle and which, as the Minister now sees, has attracted substantial criticism from all sides of the House. I direct his attention to the fact that the White Paper simply refers to that part of the Bill which contains that objectionable subsection in the following words:
I do not want to recapitulate what I said last night but I want to conclude my observations by saying I think it is a mistake to suggest in the discussion of this Bill that its effects are much wider than they, in fact, are because by so doing, one can obscure the important and relevant matters which require attention. I do not see in this Bill any elaborate plot to undermine the liberties of the people. I may say that it is substantially a codifying Bill. Last night I made some reservations in respect of Section 10 and in respect of the section which deals with persons and contractual relations with the Government. I urged on the Minister that subsection (3) of Section 2 should be dropped as I consider it to be peculiarly offensive and unnecessary.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Haughey): A number of points have been made in the course of the debate with which I do not propose to deal because they are essentially committee points and we can have a fuller and freer discussion on them when we come to the Committee Stage. I would hope, therefore, that Deputies will understand if I do not mention particular points they made. It does not mean I am ignoring those points but merely that, having regard to the fact that it is inevitable they will arise again on the Committee Stage, I am leaving them for discussion then. In the meantime I shall have them examined.
I should like to deal with Deputy  O'Higgins's query as to the necessity for the Bill. There is a clear case for introducing it. It is desirable that so far as possible our law should be contained in modern statutes passed by the Oireachtas and it should be our ultimate aim to get ourselves into a position where that would apply to all our statute law.
With regard to this measure, Deputies will realise that our law on this subject is contained in two Acts of the British Parliament, the 1911 and 1920 Acts. Apart from the undesirability of having our law contained in British statutes, there is the fact that the provisions of these Acts are not appropriate to our time and circumstances, though they were probably completely appropriate and suitable to the British Empire of 1911 and even to that Empire in 1920. As I indicated in my opening remarks, that was borne out here during the War when the Government of the time found that they had to invoke the Emergency Powers Act and make Emergency Powers Orders to cater for these very matters, simply because the existing statutory machinery was inadequate and inappropriate.
I must apologise to the House and to Deputy Dillon in particular for the fact that the explanatory memorandum did not refer specifically to subsection (3) of Section 2. One of the most endearing characteristics of this House is its unexpectedness. There is no reason why this particular provision should excite a great deal of argument or comment. It seemed to me in putting it into the Bill to be a perfectly normal piece of machinery which was necessary to facilitate the working of the Act.
The background is that in proceedings for the unauthorised disclosure of official information which did not happen to be expressed to be confidential, the prosecution might be placed in an extremely difficult position without having such a provision. The public interest would be prejudiced if the information were disclosed but, if the accused denied that the information was confidential, the prosecution would have to disclose it in court. That would be an impossible situation, especially where the safety of the State would be  involved, and this provision is in the Bill to meet such an eventuality. However, I must take note of the strong views expressed by the Leader of the Opposition and I shall look into the matter and see whether the objective could be achieved in some other way. I cannot at the moment see that it can but I shall take note of all that has been said here in regard to the provision. I again apologise to the House for the fact that the explanatory memorandum was drawn up on the basis of my approach to the Bill which at that time did not regard this provision as likely to lead to the amount of discussion it has led to.
I fully agree with the Leader of the Opposition on what he has said about Deputy Dr. Browne's contribution. I think the Deputy was tilting at windmills and that the Bill is a comparatively straightforward piece of legislation to meet this particular situation. There is nothing sinister in it. Deputy Dillon has dealt with the arguments put forward by Deputy Dr. Browne more cogently than I could.
Deputy McGilligan made a number of points in regard to the Bill but I feel that they are Committee Stage points and that we will come back to them on that Stage. He did mention the whole background of the Bill on the question of privilege. I want to remind the House in regard to subsection (3) of Section 2 of the nature of that background and of the fact that the courts have imposed on themselves a sort of voluntary discipline with regard to Government documents and Government information. The legal position still is that if a Minister of State indicates that a document is privileged and that it is not in the public interest to disclose it, the courts will accept such a statement from the Minister. We are not doing very much more than that in subsection (3) of Section 2.
There has been a fair amount of discussion on Section 10 and there seems to be some misapprehension about it. I want to make it clear that the provisions of Section 10 do not create an offence themselves but provide evidence that acts constituting offences under Section 9 were done in  a manner prejudicial to the safety or preservation of the State.
Deputy Sherwin raised the question of private detectives and I see by the Order Paper that he will be at me about this matter at Question Time to-morrow. I propose to leave it over until then except to say that I do not regard this Bill as being appropriate in any way to control or exercise any function in relation to this type of organisation.
Deputy Tully made a point with regard to Section 8 about a person being innocently in possession of a forged birth certificate. I feel that there may be something in that point and I will look at it between now and the Committee Stage.
Deputy O'Higgins and Deputy Tully mentioned Section 12 and the mandatory nature of a case being heard in camera. I want to point out in that regard that the provisions of Section 12 only apply to contraventions of Section 9. It is important to bear that in mind—that the safety or preservation of the State is involved.
It has been said that the Bill covers matters which are not really related and that it is absurd to include in a Bill dealing with matters concerning the security of the State the question of the leakage of examination papers. I am not sure that that is a valid criticism. We are dealing with the disclosure of official information whether it is of serious or of comparatively trivial importance and I think it is appropriate and desirable to include all matters dealing with the disclosure of official information in one Bill.
I do not think anything is lost by putting comparatively minor matters into a Bill which also deals with very serious matters—that happens all the time in our legislation—but we did, at least, divide the Bill into Parts, and matters of varying degrees of importance are dealt with in the separate Parts of the Bill. The safety and preservation of the State provisions are contained in Part III. The question of disclosures by printing contractors, leakage of confidential reports by civil servants—all that type of information—is dealt with in Part  II. Part IV deals with the various supplementary and legal provisions. I think it is perfectly justifiable and legitimate to include these matters in this Bill.
As I have already said, Deputies made a number of points and raised a number of queries, particularly with regard to Sections 4 and 5. I shall not deal with them now. I shall be returning to them when we come to the Committee Stage.
|Last Updated: 15/09/2010 20:43:21||Page of 66|