Sunday 24 February 2019

Atomic bombers beware... you could now face wrath of the law

Senan Molony Deputy Political Editor

The original Bill to punish anyone who might decide to set off nuclear weapons in Ireland was not exactly overly harsh on offenders.

It provided a humble district court judge the power to impose a €5,000 fine and a 12-month jail term.

Critics said the proposed punishment structure would have made Ireland a laughing stock. But the authorities have moved to considerably strengthen the penalties on any person building or worse, detonating, a thermonuclear bomb in this country.

Now offenders -- including any would-be Dr Strangegloves -- would see their trial going forward to the Central Criminal Court, where sentences might better fit the crime.

Atempts to enact the Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006 were torpedoed by the calling of the last general election.

Now the issue is back on the order paper, decreeing that "a person who carries out, or causes the carrying out of, a nuclear explosion in the State shall be guilty of an offence".

The original Bill was widely mocked for its provision that in certain cases, the district court may try the person charged with that offence "summarily", which theoretically raised the prospect of the Probation Act being applied to first-time nuclear terrorists.

Amazingly the same enabling clause was kept in the draft legislation when it was revived for the current session.

Laughing

Only now has the Government conceded to opposition insistence that treating a nuclear explosion as a minor offence could make this country a laughing stock.

Labour TD Ciaran Lynch said he welcomed the removal of "ludicrous provisions" which would see someone guilty of detonating a nuclear bomb being jailed for only 12 months or fined just €5,000.

"It was crazy," he said. "Were the bill to proceed we would have had the barmy idea, as originally suggested by Environment Minister John Gormley, whereby this serious offence would be treated as minor."

When the Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006 originally began its course through the Dail, former environment minister Dick Roche said that while some aspects of the legislation might strike people as "a little odd", it would transpose a UN treaty into Irish law.

This would give this country a moral voice in calling on other nations to live up to their nuclear obligations, he said. While it would make it illegal for the first time to carry out a nuclear explostion within the State, "we hope it will never take place", he said.

The provisions also make it an offence here for an Irish citizen to carry out or to cause to be carried out, a nuclear explosion in Ireland, elsewhere on the planet, or in space.

The legislation allows inspectors to enter any premises and to make seizures as required. Building or detonating a device will be an indictable offence, punishable by terms including imprisonment for life.

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