By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Three men who refused to account for their movements when questioned by gardai after terrorist incidents, and who were jailed for six months as a result, have been awarded damages by the European Court of Human Rights.
The seven-judge Court found there had been a violation of their rights by section 52 of the 1939 Offenses Against the State Act that allows gardai to demand a full account of a person’s movements. If a person fails to do so, he faces a sentence of up to six months.
When the three were arrested, they were advised of their right to remain silent. The court, however, found the "degree of compulsion" to provide information in fact "destroyed the very essence of their privilege against self-incrimination and the right to remain silent."
It said all men had suffered "inconvenience, anxiety and distress" as a result of their conviction and imprisonment.
The government argued that section 52 was a "proportionate response" to a security threat to public order. It said all the applicants were suspected of membership of the IRA and were being questioned following serious terrorist offenses.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
A government committee is currently undertaking a wide-ranging review of the OASA with a view to reforming it as part of the Good Friday agreement and dispensing with parts that are no longer be required.
Anthony Heaney, 45, who gave his address as Portlaoise Prison and William McGuinness, 44, of County Derry, lodged their case on Jan. 19, 1997. They were awarded £4,000 damages and £9,377 in expenses.
Paul Quinn, 27, of Patrickswell, Co. Limerick, lodged his case in March 1997 and was awarded £4,000 and £11,341 damages.
Heaney and McGuinness were arrested in October 1990 following an explosion at a Derry checkpoint being operated by the British Army and the RUC. Five soldiers and a civilian were killed and a number of other soldiers were injured.
Gardai in Donegal raided a house four miles from the blast a day later. They found seven men inside, including the owner and the applicants. They also found gloves, balaclavas and other clothing.
Both men refused to answer questions and in 1991 were sentenced to six months for failing to account for their movements. They were acquitted of charges of being members of an illegal organization.
They challenged the constitutionality of Section 52 of the OASA as far as the Irish Supreme Court. It ruled it was a "proportionate response to the state’s entitlement to protect itself."
Quinn was one of 63 people arrested in June 1996 after Det. Garda Jerry McCabe was shot dead by an IRA gang while on escort duty with a PO cash van in Adare, Co. Limerick.
When questioned, Quinn denied any connection with the events in Adare and said he was in London when he heard the news of the murder. He refused to account for his movements and received six months’ imprisonment.