Death penalty ban proposal resisted

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

State files detail the Cabinet’s opposition to the proposed abolition of capital punishment in the early 1980s.

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.

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”.

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 Government memo states the Troubles in Northern Ireland at the time was a “national emergency”.

The death penalty was ended in 1990 and prohibited by the Constitution in 2002.

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