The Fortification of an Emergency Regime

Article excerpt


Emergency powers have a long and tainted history in the United Kingdom, particularly in Northern Ireland, where their use and abuse have been especially troublesome. Emergency is no new phenomena to Northern Ireland; it predates the current period of political instability in the jurisdiction and finds its foundation in the very creation of the state.(1) The state's existence as a separate political entity stems from the partition of the island of Ireland in the early 1920s.(2) This partition was precipitated by Northern Ireland's Protestant majority, who were militarily and ideologically opposed to being subsumed into the new Irish Catholic state then emerging from a colonial war of independence with Britain.(3) From the time of the state's creation, the use of emergency powers became synonymous with the maintenance of security and the political status quo.

The primary emergency laws currently in force in the jurisdiction are the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991(4) (EPA), and its counterpart, the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989(5) (PTA). The EPA operates only in Northern Ireland, while the PTA operates throughout the entire United Kingdom, but both statutes "are designed to obtain convictions in cases involving those suspected of paramilitary activity, based on confessions obtained through prolonged detention and intense interrogation."(6)

The EPA evolved from legislation initially passed in 1973.(7) The 1973 legislation repealed the Special Powers Act,(8) an act perceived by the Catholic minority as symbolic of the dominance and undemocratic nature of the state, but it also paradoxically reenacted many of the same provisions that the Special Powers Act had contained.(9) A 1975 review of the EPA by the government-sponsored Gardiner Committee(10) saw some minor adjustments in the legislation, which by 1978 was consolidated with its 1973 parent act into one piece of legislation, the 1978 EPA.(11) In 1984, another government-sponsored review recommended significant adjustment and expansion of the emergency powers.(12) In 1987, the EPA was further expanded by the incorporation of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1987,(13) which operated in conjunction with the EPA of 1978.(14) The most recent version of the EPA, introduced in 1991, consolidated earlier legislation, created new offenses, and brought into the EPA's domain provisions of the PTA, which were applied only in Northern Ireland.(15) In June 1995, the United Kingdom renewed the EPA, despite the unequivocal movement of paramilitary organizations to non-violent for-me of political activism.(16) Then, in December 1995, the government brought forward the renewal date of the EPA by three months.(17) By bringing the legislation quietly before the House of Commons for its first reading in the week before Christmas vacation, the bill was ensured minimal publicity and debate (as many members of parliament had already departed for the holidays). No nongovernmental human rights organizations were informed of its impending early appearance on the legislative calendar in the month of January.(18) In January 1996, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that the EPA would be renewed for two more years, with the extension commencing in August 1996.(19) In addition, the legislation moved a significant number of wide-ranging provisions concerning racketeering into the ordinary criminal law.(20)

The PTA was enacted in 1974, following the killing of twenty-one people in bombings in Birmingham pubs during November 1974.(21) It was derived from two earlier pieces of legislation: the 1973 EPA legislation(22) and the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act 1939,(23) which had been enacted for use against an earlier campaign by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).(24) Although the PTA was originally intended to expire after only six months, it has endured to the present. …


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