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8 June 2006 Edition

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Rape law controversy: Inquiry needed

Call for full debate on flawed new law

Legislation introduced by 26-County Justice Minister Michael McDowell in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling, making the charge of statutory rape unconstitutional, is deeply flawed. A subsequent ruling by the Supreme Court returning the rapist known as 'Mr A' to jail may not be applicable to all of the other cases and we may still witness the spectacle of convicted rapists walking free. Despite this, the Government is attempting to portray recent developments as the problem solved.

A major problem with the Sexual Offences Bill 2006 is that it treats sexual activity between consenting teenagers just as seriously as it does the actions of predatory rapists. While Sinn Féin backed the legislation as a stop gap measure it was made clear that there were serious anomolies which had to be dealt with. Speaking in the Dáil 2 June Sinn Féin Justice, Equality and Human Rights spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said: "We accept that it is not possible, in what is essentially an emergency Bill, to deal with the wider issues. However, we are very concerned that if this matter is not also dealt with, we will compound the current situation whereby, for example, a 16-year-old boy who has consensual sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old girl is guilty of a crime. That position is untenable and we are seeking to have this and related issues addressed in law as soon as possible. To that end we have pressed for the debate on these issues and the necessary wider public consultation to commence in the coming week. We should use the extra sitting next week for this purpose"

In the meantime there is still no satisfatory explanation as to how the whole sorry situation came about. McDowell's claims that he was unaware of the impending case do not add up. As far back as 1990 doubts about the constitutionality of the statutory rape charge were expressed by the Law Reform Commission. The question remains as to why successive Governments ignored this ticking timebomb. The public deserve clear and unequivical answers. The only way this can be achieved is to hold a full public inquiry.

It is a matter of urgency that the victims and their families have a liasion from the Department of justice especially in the cases where the rapist might actually walk free.

Sinn Féin has raised these issues in the Dáil. Speaking before he moved a motion to have this week's business devoted entirely to the issues that have arisen and to the broader issue of children's rights, Sinn Féin Dáil Group Leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said on Wednesday: "Throughout the course of last week, people the length and breadth of Ireland were horrified at the release of a self-confessed sex offender as a result of government incompetence. And while there was relief on Friday at this individual's re-arrest, this does not take away from the need to deal with the many issues which arose as a result of this case"

"The Dáil needs to deal with a number of issues urgently and the focus has to be on the protection of children. Today Sinn Féin will be seeking a full debate on the issue of child protection."

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