THE Government has published legislation that willallow people to use “reasonable” force to defend themselves and their property.
Speaking yesterday afternoon Justice Minister Dermot Ahern recognised that the Bill will sometimes mean that an intruder might be killed by a person threatened in their home.
He also confirmed that a homeowner using justifiable force won’t be liable for damages if the attacker subsequently sues over injuries, loss or damage sustained because the homeowner defended theirperson, their family or their property effectively.
Though this legislation replaces the unrealistic situation where a homeowner might have been obliged to retreat in the face of an aggressive intruder it cannot be misconstrued as a licence to kill.
The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2010 may seem a concession but it is no more than offering law-abiding citizens the legal protection that they should always have had. It also redresses an immoral imbalance that for far too long worked in favour of criminals.
Though the Bill probably had its genesis in the publicity and deep social division surrounding the 2004 case involving the death of career criminal John “Frog” Ward at the hands of Mayo farmer Pádraig Nally it reflects the great outrage felt by the great majority of Irish people when another brutal attack on, usually, an elderly person or couple, is uncovered.
Some of these attacks have been especially savage – a man tied to a chair, tortured and left to die of a heart attack in one instance; another set on fire to convince him to hand over his life’s savings.
There is no point in pretending that there is not a considerable atmosphere of fear amongst some older people living in rural areas. These fears are exacerbated by the fact that the nearest garda station might be closed and the unsettling knowledge that the nearest patrol is many miles and possibly hours away.
These fears exist in urban areas too but – hopefully – an older person need not feel so isolated in a town or city because they can call on neighbours for help.
Criminals have been emboldened by garda cutbacks and the fact that our prisons are full and that sentences are rarely served in full. This legislation might cause some of them pause for thought and wonder if they are prepared to face the consequences of challenging a determined homeowner who might have the benefit of having a legally held firearm.
Of course it would be far better if we were not in this situation and if we could rely on garda patrols and an effective prison regime to deter criminals but we cannot. Sadly, our economic situation suggests that we cannot expect any improvement in this area for quite some time.
Mr Ahern says that the Bill is intended to give recognition to the unique circumstances which “prevail when an intruder is being confronted in the place we all have a right to feel is a place of safety, that is our own home”.
He could have added that no one who observes the law as it now stands has anything to fear from these proposals. The Bill is long overdue and is to be welcomed.
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