Can Bertie be arrested under terror law?

Interesting if somewhat mischievious argument from Tory spokesman Dominic Grieve during the debate on the Terrorism Bill:

In April, the Taoiseach will lead the Irish nation in the celebration and praise of the Easter rising, and I defy the Home Secretary to persuade me or anybody else that that is not glorification within the scope of the law—incidentally, I emphasise that the Taoiseach has good reason to lead such a celebration. That topic is controversial in Ireland: some people see the Easter rising as a historical event that is worthy of commemoration because it was part of a period of national self-assertion, while others see it as a continuing call to arms—although a ceasefire has been declared in Northern Ireland, some individuals do not respect it.

If the Taoiseach were to visit this country after that celebration, he would be in serious difficulty under the Bill as drafted—the Government want the Bill as it is drafted. He would have to accept that the celebration was not without controversy, because some people in Ireland say that it might encourage terrorism. Even under the subjective recklessness test, he would not be free of the possibility that his decision would be impugned. If the law were applied impartially, he would have to be jolly careful, because he is not subject to sovereign immunity when he visits this country, and I think that he would be liable to arrest and prosecution following that celebration.

It is a classic example of the crassness of the Government’s approach that they should end up with such a ludicrous state of affairs. The only protection that the Taoiseach or anybody else has is that the Government have smiled sweetly and said, "You need not worry, because the exercise of discretion in these matters will mean that no prosecution will actually be brought." That approach is simply ridiculous, when this House can craft legislation that makes sure that such nonsense does not happen and meets the Home Secretary’s needs. (

Although Charles Clarke tried to brush this off, nothing he said suggests Grieve has got the position wrong.

It’s ironic that the absurdity of this bill should be pointed out by a Tory given that only a few weeks ago, one of his Scottish colleagues was making the equally ridiculous suggestion that the Tyrone team should be banned from bringing the Sam Maguire cup to Parkhead, because Maguire’s role in the War of Independence made him a terrorist.

The danger of this bill is that such historical and political arguments could end up being decided by the criminal courts.

It is not as if those who enforce the law don”t already have sufficient powers to deal with incitement, as Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell pointed out:

The debate on this amendment centres on the following questions. Is it necessary? Do the Government’s proposals represent an appropriate alternative? Is the expression of those proposals appropriate, or could there be unforeseen consequences?

Many hon. Members have tried to consult as best they can on those questions. A group of us met Gareth Peirce, a lawyer who, as many will know, has been involved in terrorism cases for nearly 30 years. We first came across her when we asked her to engage in the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases. She should know whether enough statutes already exist to prosecute terrorists as she has already defended people accused of carrying out terrorist acts: some were innocent, others may well have been guilty.

Gareth Peirce’s response was very concise. Why are we bringing in this Bill? The common law offence of incitement has been a crime for more than two centuries. Incitement to murder, which has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), is contained in section 4 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which says that it is an offence to

"encourage . . . any person to murder any other person".

Again, incitement to violence is covered by section 4(1) of the Public Order Act 1986, which states that it is a criminal offence to use

"threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour . . . whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used."

Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it an offence to invite support for proscribed terrorist organisations. Moreover, it is not as though all that legislation has not led to prosecutions, the most recent being the Hamza case.

My worry is based on my experience with legislation that is worded so broadly that it is ineffective and can be used to entrap the innocent. There are unforeseen consequences when we in this House legislate poorly. We should learn the lessons of the original prevention of terrorism legislation, which was used first of all against Irish republicans and which allowed the police and other authorities to undertake widespread sweeps of that community. Those sweeps caught up the innocent who were then, in many instances, subject to miscarriages of justice. We make people vulnerable when we legislate unclearly and with such a breadth of impact as this legislation would have, and that is my worry. (






3 responses to “Can Bertie be arrested under terror law?”

  1. saint avatar

    It does seem a crazy bit of legislation.

  2. Declan avatar

    It may not just be Irish politicians who could be arrested, in theory the Irish national anthem could be seen as the glorification of terror. Songs in Northern Ireland may be banned so why not the Irish national anthem?
    “See in the east a silv’ry glow,
    Out yonder waits the Saxon foe,
    So chant a soldier’s song.”
    Then what happens to the next Irish sports team to visit England?
    I posted about it at
    Now shall we ask what happens next time George Bush visits?
    “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”

  3. Northern Sole avatar

    There’s just too much ambiguity surrounding the definition of “glorifying terrorism” for this legislation to work. If it is brought in , I wonder if the police will be at every Celtic/Rangers match waiting for any dodgy song or comment from the crowd.. But if recent rumours are to believed, maybe certain players from both teams are liable for arrest.

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