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Burglar law 'no help', says Nally

MAYO farmer Padraig Nally who shot John 'Frog' Ward dead after he trespassed on his farm said he didn't think a new home defence law would make much difference to vulnerable people.

The elderly farmer -- acquitted of the manslaughter of Mr Ward in December 2006 -- said he believed the proposed new laws allowing the use of lethal force to deal with violent intruders would not have much impact.

"I can't see much difference because the criminal has all the say. The criminal is more active now than ever in this country," he told RTE Radio's 'News at One'.

Mr Nally, who was originally convicted of Mr Ward's manslaughter but was later acquitted following a retrial, had claimed he believed his life was under threat by raiders when he fired two shots at Mr Ward and beat him with a stick as he was leaving his farm.

The Nally trial led to a review of the law by the Law Reform Commission (LRC) and in 2006 the Court of Criminal Appeal also issued an important clarification on the amount of retaliatory force a burglar could expect if he or she illegally enters someone's home.

And now the Government's legal watchdog has proposed a bill that would allow homeowners to use lethal force if they are faced with robbers.

The proposals would give homeowners the right to use force -- not just inside their homes -- but also in the immediate surrounding area. But this would be subject to strict conditions such as proportionality and imminence.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said a requirement not to retreat in your home from an attack would form a key part of a defence of life and property bill.

"I believe that the commission, in its recommendations has succeeded in striking a balance between the rights of an occupier who may be under threat from an attacker and the requirements of the proper rule of law with which we must all comply," said Mr Ahern at last night's launch of the LRC report.


But the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) described the home defence proposals as a "have-a-go" charter, which it said would rely on murder trials to tell householders they had been wrong to use lethal force.

"As our Supreme Court has made clear, given that the State itself does not impose capital punishment for burglary, it certainly cannot issue householders with a licence to carry out extra-judicial executions of burglars," said ICCL director Mark Kelly.

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But victim support and community advocates welcomed the proposed changes.

The rural community network Irish Rural Link said it supported the proposals which it believed "would counter a growing sense of helplessness in rural areas" -- but added that an increased garda presence and support for the elderly and isolated were also needed.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre also welcomed the proposals, with executive director Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop saying that while rapes and sexual assaults by strangers were rare, they did happen. The new law would help women feel safer in their homes, she said. "It gives them the right to protect themselves without the worry of being prosecuted," she added.

A support group for the families of homicide victims, AdVIC, also welcomed the proposals.

The charity's cofounder Joan Deane said the organisation supported any changes in the law that would act as a deterrent to violent crime and murder. "If this even makes them stop and think about it, it's a good thing," she said

Senior citizen representative organisation Age Action also said the proposals would do little to protect the elderly from savage attacks in their homes.

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