Thursday, 4 August 2011

Death knell for the progressive DUP continues

Jeffrey's former NI Assembly picture
The first Northern Irish MP to support the restoration of the death penalty, even partially, is from that supposedly progressive new DUP we're heard so much about, yet in recent days appears to be notable in its absence.

It is Jeffrey Donaldson who is the first to raise his head over this particular parapet. He has said:

"We (the DUP) have stated consistently that in cases of terrorist murder, we believe that there should be the death penalty.

"One of the reasons why I think it should be debated is because I want to hear the contrary arguments.

"We haven't as parliamentarians debated this issue now for 30 years.

"A lot has happened in that time, terrorism has become much more sophisticated, much more deadly and I think it is time parliament debated this issue again." 

So if the MP for Lagan Valley is right the DUP will all not only want a debate but will be supporting a partial at least restoration of the death penalty.

The death penalty was abolished in 1969 in England, Wales and Scotland but not until 1973 in Northern Ireland. The last executions for murder in the UK occurred in 1964. Not surprisingly therefore the last person to see the judge don a black cap in a UK court was William Holden in 1973, he was removed from his death cell in May of that year before the abolition in Northern Ireland on 25 July.

On 20 May 1998 the UK Parliament voted to ratify the 6th Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which prohibiting capital punishment except "in time of war or imminent threat of war." On the 10 October 2003, effective from 1 February 2004 the UK acceded to the 13th Protocol, which prohibits the death penalty under all circumstances. Whilst the UK adheres to the ECHR it can no longer legislate for a death penalty. The Conservative Party were the only party to campaign on a withdrawal from the ECHR at the last election.

Strangely on the first of these there was vote in Parliament. However, Mr Donaldson (then with the UUP) and all of the other Unionist MPs, with the exception of Martyn Smyth (UUP), were absent from the chamber and unable to take part in the debate or cast a vote.

Of course the main point here is to look at the nations where the death penalty is still in force. China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria are all prime examples of where capital punishment still persists and quite regularly. Also people cite the USA as a country where capital punishment is still allowed in the 'western world', however in states which practice capital punishment incidents of homicide are higher than US states which do not. Also the cost of keeping in a death row and the legal costs of petitions against the sentence lead to higher cost of capital punishment compared to life imprisonment.

The death penalty isn't the easy or cost effective alternative to our current system. Indeed when you look at some of those who are campaigning for its reinstatement you can see them as opponents of the ECHR which has a lot of  good protectionist points to it. There are also a large number of people campaigning for the reinstatement who want us out of the European Union altogether.

I think it is time to look at the motivation behind the people who want the death penalty back. Are they stirring up emotions on the back of the Norway tragedy to get their own ulterior motives fulfilled?

As a Liberal Democrat I believe that no-one should be enslaved by poverty ignorance and conformity, nor for that matter should they be hung or otherwise killed for it. Even if Mr Donaldson only wants it returned for terrorism let us not forget that the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six where two high profile cases where terrorist murder sentences were later overturned.

Are Mr Donaldson and the DUP prepared to have the possibility of innocent blood on their hands by supporting such a motion? What now of the new progressive DUP?

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