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At the Hands of the State

REPORT of the AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL MISSION to the Republic of Ireland, June 1977.   


There is evidence that the type of interrogation methods described were undertaken in order to induce arrested persons to make incriminating statements or confessions. In most cases maltreatment is reported to have occurred only after repeated refusals on the part of arrested persons to make incriminating statements; in all the cases studied by Amnesty International the maltreatment reportedly stopped after the alleged victim signed incriminating statements. The Amnesty International delegates found that in cases where several persons were arrested together those who refused to sign statements were all allegedly maltreated for longer than those who did sign statements.

The police have wide powers under Section 52 to the Offences Against the State Act to demand that persons arrested under Section 30 of the Act (relating to the commission of scheduled offences) give statements accounting fully for their movements and actions during any specified period. These powers removed arrested persons’ right in common law to remain silent. This is a serious reduction of protection of suspects in view of the fact that in effect persons have been deprived of access to legal advice in the making of statements (see below).


Moreover, the evidence from cases examined by Amnesty International suggests that the power to demand statements has been abused in the following way. In most cases examined the detained persons reported that there was an initial period, varying from a few to as long as 40 hours, in which no brutality occurred but during which they were subjected to intensive interrogations and repeatedly urged to make statements. In many cases examined persons arrested under Section 30 stated that they made detailed statements during this period but that when they refused to make self- incriminating statements they were subsequently maltreated.

Amnesty on Torture

Several persons arrested in connection with one offence alleged that they were interrogated by detectives for between 18 and 40 hours, during which period all made detailed statements which were rejected by the police, in at least two cases without their statements and alibis being checked by the police; after subsequent beatings two of them signed self-incriminating statements with regard to a specific incident but allege that all self-incriminating details were suggested to them by the police during the initial period of interrogation.


(Medical reports examined by Amnesty International note extensive bruising on several of these persons after their release from police custody and that one of those charged required treatment for an eye injury for several weeks after the alleged maltreatment occurred). In other cases arrested persons who alleged maltreatment also stated that one reason for their eventually signing incriminating statements, was their awareness that they were under a legal obligation to give a statement.


Although Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act (and hence the powers under Section 52) has been suspended during operation of the Emergency Powers Act the police retain the more limited powers under Section 2 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act to demand statements relating to the recent movements of a person arrested “at or near a place at the time of the commission “ a scheduled offence “or soon afterwards” (Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1972 Section 2(b). However, persons arrested under the Emergency Powers Act have testified to being told that they were under an obligation to make statements with regard to the incidents or periods of time going beyond the provisions of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act; several have also reported that after arrest under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers Act they were questioned intensively with regard to a range of different issue for several hours without being told of or knowing the reason for their arrest..

Article 5 UN Declaration on Human Rights


In seven of the 14 cases of arrest under the Emergency Powers Act examined by Amnesty International incriminating statements were signed; these were all signed within the first three days of detention and usually within 48 hours. However, threats by police that maltreatment would continue for seven days feature in almost all allegations studied by Amnesty International after the introduction of the Emergency Powers Act and appear to have contributed to the signing of statements in several cases.

In a number of cases examined of person arrested under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act detention was prolonged beyond the 48 hour limit, usually by means of re-arrest. Amnesty International believes that in at least one case examined re-arrest was due to the refusal of the detained person to sign  incriminating statements. The case in question concerns a number of person arrested for questioning in connection with the same offence. Several persons persistently refused to sign incriminating statements and, despite having fulfilled the requirement under Section 52 of the Offences Against the State Act to make statements relating to their movements and actions on the date in question, were re-arrested on expiration of 48 hours and subjected to further interrogation, during which they allege they were beaten. They were released only after one of the arrested persons was granted habeas corpus by the High Court. One person who refused throughout to sign an incriminating statement reports in an affidavit having been beaten intermittently until one hour before his release without charge after a total of 60 hours in police custody.


The evidence suggests that in at least three of the cases referred to in the above paragraphs the prolongation of detention was to conceal from the courts evidence of injuries obtained while in police custody. Two person who signed incriminating statements within the 48 hour period were also among those re-arrested and detained for a further period without charge. In both cases they allege that they were severely beaten during the 48 hour period and medical reports taken after their release and read by Amnesty International delegates in both cases record extensive bruising and other injuries. An application for habeas corpus was brought by the solicitor for one of the men on the day of his re-arrest. A medical examination ordered by the court resulted in his removal to hospital for observation on the recommendation of the doctor who diagnosed concussion. (These findings refer specifically to Osgur Breatnach.)

The second person who had been charged at 6.30 p.m. on the day of his arrest, after approximately 36 hours of detention. He was not brought before a court until 9.30 p.m. a day later, having been detained for 60 hours. He was not maltreated in any way during the final period of his detention. A third person, also charged, alleges in an affidavit that he was beaten until approximately 2 a.m. on the second day of his arrest. He was subsequently allowed to sleep throughout the following day and was not brought to court until the evening, 12 hours after expiration of the 48 hour period.


The risk that injuries or other effects of maltreatments (disorientation, deprivation of sleep, dehydration etc) may be concealed at least to the extent that subsequent medical examination may not be conclusive becomes much greater with detention under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers Act. In a number of cases examined persons detained under the Emergency Powers Act made statements implicating themselves in a crime after a relatively short period in police custody but were not brought before a court until several days later. Cases examined include two persons interviewed by Amnesty International’s delegates who allege maltreatment and subsequently signed statements within 48 hours of their arrest. They were both detained for a total of seven days before being brought to court. Regarding the five days they spent in police custody after signing statements they stated that they were not maltreated in any way and questioned only sporadically by the police during this period. In one recent case examined by the mission it was alleged in court that three accused persons had been maltreated soon after their arrival at the police station and had signed incriminating statements within the first 12 hours of detention. They had not been brought before a Court for five days. The Special Criminal Court ruled that this was not in violation of the requirements in Irish law to bring accused persons before the courts at the first reasonable opportunity.

The Judges Rules, which were drawn up by the British bench of judges in 1904 and circulated to all police stations by the British Home Office in 1912, apply in Ireland. These rules establish norms of investigation of persons held in police custody in order to ensure maximum legal safeguards where persons are questioned in connection with suspected criminal offences. These rules stipulate that a person should be allowed access to a solicitor at every stage in a police investigation provided that this does not impede the administration of justice or the due process of investigation.


In the majority of cases examined- covering the period both before and after the introductions of the Emergency Powers Act- arrested persons were not allowed a solicitor until after they had signed incriminating statements, and after alleged maltreatment had taken place. A number of persons arrested under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act whose cases were studied by the Amnesty International mission were denied a solicitor throughout the period of their detention (this includes some of the cases of re-arrest and prolonged detention under Section 30 referred to above), and some of those charged did not see a solicitor until their appearance in court. Although no case has been reported to Amnesty International of total denial of a solicitor to persons detained for an extended period under the Emergency Powers Act, in the majority of cases examined the arrested persons did not see a solicitor for at least 24 hours and often longer; it is not clear to Amnesty International in every case whether this was due to their being specifically refused a solicitor of request during this period, but in at least five of the cases examined the arrested persons alleges specifically that early requests for a solicitor were refused or ignored by the police. In one case a person interviewed by the delegates who was detained for four days under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers Act and alleges that he was maltreated on the second day, stated that he did not see a solicitor until the third day on his detention despite repeated requests for one. Three person in the case quoted above who were detained  for five days and who signed self- incriminating statements within 12 hours did not see a solicitor for at least 24 hours after.

Many of the lawyers with whom the delegates spoke reported that a number of solicitors known to act regularly for persons arrested on suspicion of involvement in politically motivated offences have at some time during the past 18 months been impeded in visiting clients both in police stations and in prisons. Cases have been recorded by the delegates of Amnesty International where solicitors, and sometimes barristers, have had difficulties in establishing the whereabouts of an arrested person (exasperated by a common practice of moving an arrested person to several different police stations in the course of one day or night); have been unable to gain access to clients promptly; have had their confidential papers read by a police or prison officers, have been unable to speak with a client out of the hearing of a police officer. 


The Supreme Court has stipulated that certain rights, constitutional or otherwise, may not be denied under the current State of Emergency, among these the right of access of a detainee/arrested person to his legal adviser. Following this stipulation the High Court has since the introduction of the Emergency Powers Act laid down general principles relating to access to a detained persons to his solicitor (in a case brought before the court in November 1976). However, although access to solicitors was reported to the mission to have improved in recent months these guidelines have been ignored in some cases (eg. In that at least three persons arrested since November 1976 allege they were refused prompt access to solicitors). A person wishing to protest violation of his rights of access to legal counsel must take his case to court, as in any case of alleged violation of a person’s constitutional rights, and this process can be time-consuming and costly and often too tardy to redress the specific violation. The High Court’s ruling in itself was the result of an application of habeas corpus brought by a solicitor who has been obstructed in gaining access to his client detained under the Emergency Powers Act. That there are very few solicitors who are prepared to act for persons arrested on suspicion of involvement in politically motivated offences may be due at least in part to problems outlined above; this too contributes to the risk that some arrested persons may be deprived of or restricted in their right to legal advice.

Lawyers have also reported having difficulty in finding independent doctors willing to come to  police stations to examine persons alleging maltreatment, partly due to problems outlined above and often because doctors are unwilling to become involved in any subsequent court action and do not wish to be thought to be in any way supporting criminals or subversives, particularly if the person is question faces serious criminal charges.

Three person invited to be interviewed by Amnesty International all reported to have medical evidence of maltreatments and including one of those who was alleged to have been hospitalised for one week after release from police custody- refused. They had all been released without charge. In all three cases other persons provided information about their cases to the Amnesty International delegates. Solicitors told the delegates of other cases where clients declined to take legal action against the Gardaí for fear of personal danger as a consequence of naming officer involved.

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