Haughey Government resisted call for ban on death penalty

Charles Haughey’s government resisted attempts to bring in an EU-wide ban on the death penalty over fears that the Troubles could spiral out of control.

State files, just released into the National Archives, detail the Cabinet’s opposition to the proposed abolition of capital punishment in the early 1980s - nearly 10 years before Ireland banned it.

In a Government memo, dated August 1982, then Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Collins said Ireland’s retention of the death penalty had “created difficulties for us” internationally.

He was coming under pressure at a Council of Ministers of Europe summit to sign up to a new protocol banning the practice, at least in so-called peace time.

Mr Collins sought the views of other relevant ministers in the Cabinet.

Then Justice Minister Sean Doherty said Ireland could not adopt the plans as envisaged because they would not allow the government to use the death penalty for “securing public safety and preservation of the State” during “a time of armed rebellion or of a national emergency”.

One of the main stumbling blocks for the government was the wording of the planned protocol, and how “peacetime” could be translated by European courts.

Attorney General John L Murray said it would preferable if the ban did not apply at a time of “armed conflict” or a “time of imminent threat of armed conflict”.

The wording would have to make it clear this was “including internal armed conflict”, as these terms would be appreciably more extensive, he argued.

The government memo states that the Troubles in the North at the time was a “national emergency” which affected the vital interests of the state.

It was almost a decade later when the death penalty was removed form the Irish Statute book in 1990.

It was prohibited by the Constitution only in 2002.

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