Minister for Justice Michael McDowell was forced into releasing a statement denying that the new agreement would mean Irish citizens could now be interrogated by CIA officials.
This followed reports that the arrangement may see CIA agents traveling to Ireland in order to carry out secret investigations.
The Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance was signed by McDowell and U.S. Ambassador James Kenny and gives both countries extensive powers to discover documents, conduct searches and search bank accounts in each other’s jurisdiction.
The new deal is designed to help each country deal with the threat of international terrorism and the Irish Department of Justice has said it was signed in order to bring Ireland into line with already existing US-EU arrangements.
However, the Irish Human Rights Commission has said it will be examining the new agreement on foot of claims that it will have a detrimental impact on human rights.
“When we establish the facts, we will be looking to see if there are any implications for breaches of human rights,” said IHRC president Dr. Maurice Manning.
However McDowell reacted speedily to what he called “fabrications” about the possible implications of the agreement.
“Joint investigations teams has nothing to do with CIA people secretly interrogating Irish people, rubbish about the CIA getting secret access is equally untrue,” said the justice minister.
Details of the arrangement published on the Irish Justice Department’s website prompted some concern that CIA agents could interview terrorist suspects at will in Ireland.
The agreement states: “In accordance with its laws and practice, the Requested Party [Ireland] shall permit the presence of such persons as specified in the request during the execution of the request, and shall allow such persons to ask questions directly of the person whose testimony or evidence is being taken or indirectly through a legal representative qualified to appear before the courts of the Requested Party.”
However, McDowell said that people had misinterpreted section 8.3 of the agreement to mean CIA agents could interrogate Irish citizens. Instead, he said, it referred to the power of lawyers in court to directly question suspects. “It’s nothing to do with the CIA bringing people into darkened rooms and interrogating them,” said McDowell.
McDowell’s department moved quickly to say the agreement was fully consistent with Irish constitutional protections.
“Negotiations were conducted on the understanding that there should be full protection of fundamental rights and respect for constitutional principles,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the presence of a top U.S. military officer in Ireland last week led to criticism of defense minister Willie O’Dea.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Ireland to meet with high ranking Irish army officers.
Myers was expecting to pay a courtesy call on O’Dea. However, the minister was variously reported as being sick and delayed during a tour of Irish army facilities in the midlands.
The Sunday Tribune reported that senior Irish army officers were “fuming” at what they felt was an “appalling discourtesy” on O’Dea’s part.
The flap was enough to prompt a mild rebuke from the U.S. Embassy in Dublin.
“We did express our regret to the Department of Foreign Affairs as far as it went,” an embassy spokesman told the Echo.
Ironically, O’Dea has been a staunch defender of Shannon airport being available to U.S. forces flying to and from the Middle East and the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Myers was in Ireland to brief Irish army chiefs on intelligence reports following the recent London bombings and al-Qaeda activities in general.