St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Editor’s note: The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) is an independent civil liberties organisation formed in 1981 to work for the highest standards in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. The Committee is affiliated to the Federation Internationale des Droits de l’Homme and its membership is drawn from all sections of the community, including lawyers, students, community workers, unemployed people and academics. This talk was not recorded.
Martin O’Brien began by emphasising that the CAJ is opposed to the use of violence to achieve political goals in Northern Ireland. It takes no position on the constitutional question and does not get involved in party politics. Its main aim is to stimulate awareness of justice issues in Northern Ireland and encourage the adoption of safeguards. In the Committee’s view, not only are abuses of civil liberties wrong in themselves but, in the Northern Ireland context, they hinder the peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Outlining the work of the Committee, Martin O’Brien explained that in the early years its main focus was on the emergency legislation but gradually its range of interests extended to broader civil rights issues. It has recently published a handbook on Civil Liberties which deals not only with issues such as the powers of the police and the army, the questioning of suspects, and the impact of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, but also covers a wide range of social and economic issues. The CAJ has also campaigned for the introduction of a comprehensive Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland which it sees as a prerequisite to permanent peace and justice.
After the talk a lively discussion was held and questions were asked on a wide variety of issues including the question of human rights abuses by paramilitaries. The speaker explained that while the CAJ’s remit does not extend to this issue, it is now being addressed by Amnesty International and the F.A.I.T. group who recently came to Navan at the invitation of the Meath Peace Group.