Everyone is guilty of something – especially me

I’VE been trying to go over all the illegal things I’ve done in my life.

I must admit that I’ve driven a car while over the limit. I’ve used firearms without a licence. I’ve worked in the black economy and helped illegals find work.

I’ve taken pictures of places protected by the Official Secrets Act. I have, as a youth, sat in a car where the legal owner was unaware that the car was out on the road. I once flew on an airplane under a false name. (I was actually stopped by a Special Branch cop in Heathrow who questioned me for 10 minutes without actually asking me my name. The gobshite assumed it was the one on the ticket. People used to swap tickets all the time in those days. It wouldn’t be so trivial now.)

And then the list started to expand to arm’s length. Trespass. Smoking dope. Buying poteen. Fare evasion. Spending the whole of Good Friday in a pub. Been in the odd fight, so there’s a few felonies there. Dammit, I even bought contraceptives before they were legalised. Suddenly my life seems like one long criminal enterprise. I can hardly believe it.

(I’ve never actually killed anybody but I once almost shot my father. I was firing at a rabbit when I noticed dad standing just above the sight. I missed both of them – never have been much of a shot!)

I will, of course, deny all of this should anyone bother to ask. Journalistic licence, you see.

And then I began to think about my mates and the people I’ve met. Their lists would be pretty long as well. In fact, most Irish people seem to waltz both sides of the law. It’s a miracle how young people manage to make it into adulthood, never mind stay out of court.

What about you? I’ll bet there are a few skeletons in the cupboard. What do you reckon the fine would be for the top 10? Well, don’t just sit there – make a list and bring it round to the guards. Make sure you sign at the bottom.

No? Not your role?

And that’s how it should be. It’s up to the state to get the evidence, bring it to a court of law and let a jury consider it. There’s no chance for human liberty if individuals have to account for themselves to the state.

Now think about Liam Lawlor. The state thinks that they have something on Lawlor. But they want Lawlor to do the digging. When he won’t do it, they throw him in jail.

Now suppose Lawlor decides next week that he’s fed up and that he’s not going to co-operate with the Flood Tribunal at all. What then?

The logical thing, going on events up to now, would be to lock him up and never let him out. But you don’t have to be a constitutional lawyer to see that this poses huge problems for Irish democracy.

The situation would be that a man is locked up in jail for not wanting to possibly incriminate himself while the state refuses to charge him with any offence. We’re are into constitutional crisis territory here. We’re also into a huge assault on civil liberty and the presumption of innocence.

While the courts have already ruled that the tribunal is constitutional, the line is a fine one. If Liam Lawlor wants to push it the state will have to justify it in some way.

The courts have set aside other fundamental rights, such as the right to a jury in cases where juries might be intimidated. No such background exists in Liam Lawlor’s case.

The only benefit the Flood Tribunal can bring is to shine light on shady areas of Irish public life. Is this good enough reason to set aside an individual’s rights?

The thing is that it might be justifiable under certain circumstances. The other thing is that it mightn’t.

What frightens me is that very few people seem too worried about it. They would rather throw tantrums when they can’t photo Liam coming out of the ‘Joy or the airport.

  As well as that…

Perverting the course of justice

STEPHEN Dowling was recently released from jail in England after serving 27 years for something he didn’t do. He had been convicted of murder, for which people normally serve 12-15 years. He spent at least 12 extra years in jail for maintaining his innocence.

This is an absolute bloody nightmare. Absolutely unforgivable.

Yet our justice system operates under this regime all the time. How often do you read about a convict getting the last two years of his sentence suspended because he pleaded guilty? All the time.

Is this not a temptation for an innocent person to plead guilty? A bad lawyer might advise a client to plead guilty to avoid the chance of a heavier sentence later on. This is the equivalent of plea-bargaining, which reduces the justice system to the level of cattle trading.

This leaves people especially vulnerable where they have a previous conviction or where the police are prone to making up the evidence (becoming very common in these parts).

The outcome of justice should be based on the facts – not on a lottery.