Ahern set to introduce self defence bill for householders

JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday signalled his intention to include elements of a new draft bill allowing the use of lethal force by householders against intruders into law.

The Minister for Justice made his comments ahead of the launch of areport carrying the recommendation, written by the Law Reform Commission. The report, and the attached Criminal Law (Defences) Bill 2009, was welcomed yesterday by Irish Rural Link, which claimed the recommendations, if made law, would help compensate for perceived deficiencies in the justice system. The recommended law changes were also welcomed by Padraig Nally, the Co Mayo farmer who shot dead 42-year-old John “Frog” Ward in 2004 and who claimed he had acted in self defence. His original conviction for manslaughter was conviction was overturned on a re-trial. “Your home is your castle and you should be allowed to defend it... people are fed up now with being raided and robbed and beat up in their own homes,” he told RTÉ’s News At One.

Irish Rural Link chief executive Seamus Boland said: “There is a perception that the deep-rooted psychological effects home robberies have on those affected are not considered by the justice system and this must also be addressed... Any such change would be welcomed by rural communities and would counter a growing sense of helplessness in rural areas. It would provide certainty on the rights of homeowners to defend their property.” One of those behind the new LRC report, Prof Finbarr McAuley of UCD, has denied that it gives people carte blanche to shoot anyone who trespasses onto private property, and stressed that three key criteria will have to be met: that the threat was imminent, and the use of force was necessary and proportionate. The bill also dispenses with the notion someone faced with an intruder should have to retreat.

Mr Ahern was keen to underline that view yesterday when he said the recommended law change applied to people who enter a house with criminal intent. “We do intend to pick out the issue of home defence out of the report based on... the recommendations that they [LRC] have made and build on this existing piece of legislation that we were drafting,” he said,referring to an earlier bill which was put on hold while the LRC examined the issue. “We intend to proceed with that legislation and hopefully publish it in early 2010.”

Every case is decided on its own facts,” he said. “Our legislation will copper-fasten the fact... these defences will be dealing with intruders who enter with criminal intent – in other words it won’t just be a charter for any householder just to murder somebody who comes into the home because you have to be very careful as perhaps somebody is coming onto property not with criminal intent – there may be a legitimate reason for it.” Later, he said: “Defences should not be seen as a means of avoiding genuine culpability.

“I can confirm here to day that there will be legislative change proposed in relation to this issue.” But the director of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) Mark Kelly said the recommendations “lacked credibility”.

“The Law Reform Commission is suggesting the Government should overturn the well-settled law that a person cannot kill a burglar simply for being a burglar,” he said.

“As our Supreme Court has made clear, given 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.”


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