Bill lets public use lethal force on intruders

THE new home defence bill has shifted the balance of rights back to the house owner “where it should always have been”, say gardaí.

The Association of Garda Sergeants (AGSI) and Inspectors also said it was ridiculous to suggest the bill provided a “have-a-go charter” to homeowners and said the current situation, which legally demands a house owner retreat from an intruder, was “intolerable”.

The association was responding to the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2010, which was published by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday. Under the bill:

* People will be allowed to use “reasonable” force against intruders to defend themselves, others or their property. This includes lethal force, depending on the circumstances.

* House owners will not be required to retreat from an intruder.

* Intruders injured as a result of reasonable force won’t be able to sue the house owner.

“The bill is welcomed because it aims to clarify the entitlements of a homeowner when faced with the situation where an uninvited intruder has entered the home,” said AGSI vice-president Dan Hanley.

“The bill aims to shift the balance of rights back to the homeowner where it should always have been. It is intolerable a homeowner should be compelled to retreat in front of an intruder who has entered the home and who may have malign intentions towards the homeowner, the family or the homeowner’s property.”

Mr Hanley added: “It is ridiculous to suggest the bill, which attempts to redress a serious legal imbalance, would provide a licence to kill or a ‘have-a-go’ charter for homeowners, the vast majority of whom will continue to act with good sense and in a peaceful way.”

Mr Ahern also dismissed the suggestion the bill was a “licence to kill”. He said it merely allowed for lethal force provided it was justifiable. Asked about the possibility of house owners using guns in self-defence, Mr Ahern indicated this could be seen as justifiable if the burglars were armed but said it would ultimately be a matter for the courts.

Rural Link, the national network of rural community groups, also welcomed the bill, saying it was “sensible legislation giving much needed clarity to homeowners on their rights when confronted by intruders”.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said it would closely study the bill to establish if its provisions “are human-rights compliant”.

Fine Gael welcomed the bill but criticised the time it has taken to come before the Dáil. The party also said the bill would not become law until at least autumn.

The entire issue has not been legally clarified since 2004 when Traveller John Ward was shot dead while on the property of Mayo farmer Pádraig Nally. Mr Nally was convicted of manslaughter, but his conviction was quashed on appeal in October 2006. He was found not guilty of manslaughter in a retrial.

The number of burglaries increased from 23,600 in 2007 to 26,800 in 2009. Aggravated (violent) burglaries rose from 255 to 363 in the same period.


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