The widespread concern regarding the continuing detention in prison of a 79 year old women who is suffering from a debilitating illness and the need for the Minister of Justice to act immediately in this case on humanitarian grounds - Éamon Ó Cuív

To discuss the imprisonment of peace activist Margaretta D'arcy - Clare Daly

To discuss the arrest of 79 year old peace activist Margaretta D'arcy - Mick Wallace

The imprisonment of artist and anti-war activist Margaretta D'Arcy - Richard Boyd Barrett


Response by Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence

I would like to thank Deputies O’Cuiv, Daly, Wallace and Boyd Barrett for raising this issue, in relation to which there has been considerable public interest and discussion in recent days.

The House will appreciate that the courts are, subject to the Constitution and the law, independent in their functions. What I can say is that the person referred to was convicted at Ennis District Court last month of endangering lives by entering on the runway at Shannon airport in late 2012. She was sentenced to three months imprisonment which was suspended for two years on condition that she enter into a good behaviour bond and "stay away from entering any part of Shannon Airport which is not authorised to the public".

Having failed to enter the bond, the sentence was activated by the Court and the person was committed to Limerick Prison to serve that sentence. As I have already stated it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the decision of the court whose function is to apply the law and to arrive at a decision having heard all the evidence in a case.

I would add, however, that it is a matter of regret that the person in question did not avail of the opportunity afforded by the judge to enter into a bond and thus avoid the necessity to serve the sentence which the Court felt it appropriate to impose.

While, as I said, I am not going to comment on the specifics of this case, I have to say that encroaching on an airport runway is a very serious and very dangerous act. It potentially places the lives of those who encroach at risk. It also puts the lives of the Gardaí, airport workers and airplane passengers in danger. It is a highly irresponsible act and cannot be justified by adherence to any cause.

I respect the right of individuals to protest. But I expect those people to respect the rights of others. There has been on-going protest action around Shannon airport for a number of years now. These protests have resulted in the expenditure of significant additional expenditure by An Garda Síochána in policing the protest around the airport.

From 2004 to the end of 2013, additional Garda costs, amounting to over €17.3 million, have been incurred in connection with the security operation at Shannon airport. This is money which could have more usefully been used for normal policing work and for the provision of additional Garda equipment. But because of the actions of a very small minority in this country, these valuable resources have to be expended on maintaining law and order, ensuring the effective operation of the airport and the safety of passengers, pilots and other airline staff.

And let me remind the House that Shannon airport is a designated emergency landing airport and there are regular emergency diversions to Shannon.

As regards her imprisonment, I have been informed by the Irish Prison Service that the individual concerned is currently detained in the female section of Limerick Prison and has access to the full range of services there. It has been reported in the media that she suffers from a number of medical conditions. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on this but I can assure the House that she has full access to the range of medical services available in Limerick Prison. She was medically assessed on committal to prison and seen by the prison doctor the next day. She has access to a 24 hour nursing service in prison and access to a doctor daily if requested or on referral by the nursing staff. In addition, any hospital appointment she may have scheduled will be facilitated by prison management.

I have been informed by the Irish Prison Service that the duty Governor explained the mechanism of temporary release to the individual concerned on her committal to prison. I understand that she has not applied for temporary release, and it would not be right for me to make any further comment on that. I should also say, however, that it is my understanding that she remains unwilling to enter into a good behaviour bond.

I am sure the House will agree with me in saying that the rule of law must prevail even where it creates difficult circumstances. No one is above the rule of law no matter what their age. To those who call for the individual’s immediate release I ask should this individual by future action on her own or accompanied by others again be permitted to again encroach on a runway? Is she to be ignored and allowed to do so repetitively? If such further encroachment takes place with a resultant loss of life, would you take responsibility for such actions? Are you prepared to give a free pass to those who so behave and, by so doing, place lives at risk and the law in disrepute?

I do not believe that the individual concerned should be presented in heroic guise or that it is in the public interest that she be so depicted. A court decision has been delivered. I am advised it was not appealed. The signing of the bond to keep the peace would result in the individual’s immediate release. I am sure that the House will appreciate that, in the circumstances of this particular case, the resolution of the matter rests entirely with the individual concerned. It is something that I expect a majority of people outside this House would readily understand.

21 January 2014