Irish government urges a "yes" vote on death penalty ban.
May 30, 2001 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Irish government urges a "yes" vote on death penalty ban.
So, finally, the referendum here in Ireland for the complete removal of the death penalty, and references to it, from the constituation will take place June 7th. I think I know how I will vote on this one - it's going to be a "no". I think it's too vague to simply remove all references to it, and also to never allow it to be reinstated under any circumstances. I'm not a huge advocate of capital punishment, except in the cases of serious terrorist offences and genocide, I just dislike that we can erase any law like that and not allow it to be brought back - ever. I think it sets a dangerous precedent for other laws and other constitutional elements to be removed. Anyway, I'd like to get some views on it - I've not fully made up my mind. More info can be found here.
posted by tomcosgrave (25 comments total)
You're not strictly correct on this, as a government, wishing to reintroduce capital punishment could do so by proposing another amendment by referendum.
This is a very important control on our laws as the majority of voterswould have a say as to whether we should have it (or not).

So it requires a government who wishes to execute its citizens to ask those citizens if they want this to come to pass. I feel that is only fair considering Ireland has removed capital punishment by statute (in 1990) and has not carried out an execution since the 50's- it is no longer, practically a part of our judicial/legal society, so the question as to whether it forms part of our constitution is a valid one to put to the people.

The Irish Constitution is a remarkably fluid document and the Supreme Court's active interpretation of it has led to profound (and important) change in our society. I personally feel that the death penalty is outmoded to Irish society as the *special place* for the Catholic Church which was removed by similar amendment in 1972.

Furthermore, our hypocritical constitutional situation regarding abortion and the quasi-legislative manner in which we introduced divorce are better arguments for straight *yes/no* style referenda than any I've seen.

Our constitution is the blueprint on which we base our society. Our society is one which has changed since its inception in 1937. The government are asking if we wish to amend aspects of that constitution that many constitutional lawyers (and Irish people)feel have no place in our constitution and they are entitled to do so.

I feel that Irish people have no desire to execute people, I feel that the predominant mood in Ireland is that crime is something that has been combatted effectively through the establishment of institutions like the Criminal Assets Bureau and can be improved upon investment in prisons & rehabilitation. Not through the retention of a cruel & unusual punishment which we left behind nearly 50 years ago.
posted by shakabu at 6:27 AM on May 30, 2001

Well, mostly I would agree with that - I think that all the cases we've seen convictions for - murder, for example, no one in Ireland wishes to see the perpetrator executed (which is also how I feel).

I don't agree with what you say about having another amendment proposed - the chances of that happening are minimal, I would think.

I really wish to see the death penalty defined in very clear terms in the consitution, as opposed to what it is. I would particularly, as I said in the top post, like to see it kept on the statue books for the crimes of genocide, and serious cases of terrorism - lets say that homosexuals, Jews, Muslims or African refugees, or some other minority, were murdered in large groups simply because of what they are, or in the case of terorism, lets say a paramilitary group detonated a bomb in Dublin city centre that killed many people and did severe damage to property (that has actually happened before, btw) - all unlikely to happen at this moment in time, but I could not wish to see the death penalty totaly removed now, in the hope or belief that such crimes will never happen.

Am I making any sense here?
posted by tomcosgrave at 6:40 AM on May 30, 2001

> Our constitution is the blueprint on which we base our
> society.

Part of society. Extra-constitutional organizations like the IRA (which has no problem with capital punishment) are part of society also
posted by jfuller at 6:41 AM on May 30, 2001

I understand what you are saying, I just don't agree that it should be kept on the books *just in case* we find a crime bad enough to merit its reenactment.

We managed to tolerate ethnic based murder in our society (in the North and in Dublin & Monaghan) without resorting to capital punishment, so I don't see why we should do it in other hypothetical cases.

On a related note, the Christian Solidarity Party has just announced that a vote for the International Criminal Court is equivalent to Jews voting for the Third Reich. Details here ... How they ever got their 0.47% I'll never know.
posted by shakabu at 6:52 AM on May 30, 2001

I think the death penalty is one of those rare instances where you can make a logical decision about an emotional issue.
Either you value human life, or you don't. It's not like abortion, where there's some wiggle room as to where consciousness begins, or if there's an eternal soul or not.
Murder is either okay, or it's not. it a yes-no thing. I could never make the logical leap to understand how killing someone is appropriate if they've killed first. We're not talking self-defense.
It's simple revenge, one of those concepts a supposedly modern society is trying to get away from, yeah?
posted by dong_resin at 10:41 AM on May 31, 2001

What's wrong with simple revenge? It's natural, it's logical, it's viscerally satisfying, and it solves the problem.

I think you are misdefining what "murder" is. When you plan and carry out the killing of an innocent, then it's murder. Capital punishment is not murder, since it is killing sanctioned by the government, like one would do in wartime.

You can blahblahblah about how civilized countries act, or that it doesn't deter criminals, or that we're trying to get away from this sort of thing in Modern Society, but it truth it's the simplest, most effective method of stopping one person from committing further crimes against innocent people. If anything, the list of capital crimes should be expanded, to include such things as rape, child murder, and other equally horrendous crimes.
posted by UncleFes at 11:09 AM on May 31, 2001

Locking him up would do the same thing, with the moral character of the jailing society left in tact.

Tisking someone for killing by killing them is just a little silly, don't `cha think?
posted by dong_resin at 11:25 AM on May 31, 2001

If it's not silly, then I wish they'd punish going to a hooker in a similar fashion.
posted by dong_resin at 11:26 AM on May 31, 2001

Locking them up would NOT do the same thing:

*they are alive, while they're victims are dead. Barring mythological considerations, those two states are inherently unequal.

*even in prison, one can make a life of sorts, even enjoy some levels of comfort.

*while there is yet life, there is always the possibility of escape.

*the criminal has opportunities to victimize other prisoners.

Personally, I do not think that the punishment for murder should be a "tsk." It should be the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime. And as for the moral character of society, does not society have a debt to those that comprise it? Society is, after all, simply a compact between the individuals of that region, allowing each other certain rights in exchange for certain responsibilities to the collective. A society's moral character is necessarily, then, comprised simply of the aggregate moral character of its members. And do not those members, who are tasked with the responsibility of protecting the greater from the predation of the few, have a moral responsibility to prevent a murderer from ever murdering again?

Can your "moral society" tolerate murder and forgo its responsibility to protect itself? If so, then it is no society at all, moral or otherwise. A moral society, rather than shirk its responsibilities to its comprising individuals, will perform the ugly job of execution, because it recognizes that to take the easier path and simply imprison murderers is to circumvent justice and allow the opportunity for the criminal to continue to victimize.

As for hookers, I'm with Geo. Carlin: "selling is ok; f**king is ok; selling f**king is not ok?"
posted by UncleFes at 12:07 PM on May 31, 2001

(For the record, I'm also with George Carlin.)

You're just sort of ignoring the whole basis of my argument, Fes, which is that to willfully end a human life (society as a whole, or the individual) is either wrong or it's right.
It's one or the other, because death is a total absolute. You can't un-kill a guy.
It can't be okay to sometimes kill under the right circumstances,
because you're dealing with a flat unchanging concept. If it's wrong to kill, then it's wrong for YOU to kill, no matter what name you wish to give the act to make it more pleasant for you.

Hypocrisy is hypocrisy .

if you try to make that a conditional state, then you can always make an excuse for doing it.
posted by dong_resin at 4:30 PM on May 31, 2001

So if it is wrong for me to imprision someone, it is also wrong for the state to imprision me?
posted by thirteen at 4:49 PM on May 31, 2001

You're just sort of ignoring the whole basis of my argument, Fes, which is that to willfully end a human life (society as a whole, or the individual) is either wrong or it's right. ... It can't be okay to sometimes kill under the right circumstances, ...

Well, of course if you think that, there's no possible way to support capital punishment, because if you do that, you must logically allow killing for any or no reason, and this is obviously completely unacceptable.

If it is always wrong to kill, though, then surely it is always wrong to throw people in jail -- or, really, to punish them in any irreversible way for their actions. If you oppose capital punishment on the grounds that the the punishment is irreversible, then you must also oppose imprisonment, unless you know of some way to give wrongly-imprisoned individuals years of their lives back.

Because, as you say, hypocrisy is hypocrisy....
posted by kindall at 4:54 PM on May 31, 2001

There's an interesting analogy with linguistics: constitutions are Saussurean langue, formalised grammars of state behaviour; on top of that you have the parole of praxis, of the way the government and citizens express themselves within that grammar. Except that grammars are themselves mutable, and ought to be periodically revised to reflect the language as she is spoken.

Point being that for nigh on 50 years, the death penalty has played no part in the Irish state. It's the constitutional equivalent of "thee" and "thou", and retaining any reference to it is like hoarding junk in a cupboard in the futile hope that it may one day be useful.

(The UK doesn't have this problem, lacking a formal constitution; when Jack Straw signed protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights on 26 January 1999, it ended the anomalies that could have brought hanging for high treason, piracy on the open seas, or arson in the Queen's dockyards.)
posted by holgate at 4:56 PM on May 31, 2001

Death is an absolute. That's the distinction. That's why it's so unacceptable for one to impose it on another.
If you imprison someone, they still live, and reparations can latter be made.

But that's an abstract. What I'm saying is, If you deem killing unacceptable, how can killing be an acceptable punishment? Killing is an absolute, with no shades or degrees. It's an on-off situation. You must either accept it, or reject it wholesale, or you contradict your own motives.
posted by dong_resin at 7:40 PM on May 31, 2001

resin:I think you are confusing your own morality with a binary notion of right and wrong. I consider it immoral to fail to properly punish the most serious crime I can think of. I don't think we owe each other very much, but this little thing we can do. The law does not have to be a deterrent, it only needs to be obeyed if it is just. It is not too much to demand we not murder each other, and it is not an obscure fact that if you do, you will pay for it with your own life. Murders choose death for themselves. I know my own life is worth far more to me, than some guy spending the rest of his life in a box after splitting my skull with an axe. Life in prison is a penny on the dollar.
posted by thirteen at 11:23 PM on May 31, 2001

If you imprison someone, they still live, and reparations can latter be made.

"They still live" is a mere technicality, and true reparations are an obvious impossibility. How much money is a year of freedom worth? Imprisonment takes years of life away from the imprisoned as surely as execution does. There is precious little practical difference between imprisoning a man for twenty years and executing him twenty years before his natural death would have occurred, although the former can obviously be calculated more precisely.

If you deem killing unacceptable, how can killing be an acceptable punishment?

An act cannot be separated from its motivations. Murder is not the same as self-defense which is not the same as warfare which is not the same as capital punishment which is not the same as euthanasia which is not the same as assassination which is not the same as suicide. We have different words for various types of killing because they are different -- in motivation, and therefore in morality. If motivation were irrelevant, no one would have need for any word but "killing."

You might persuasively argue that the state's motivation in capital punishment is insufficient, but I find it hard to accept any argument that begins essentially by declaring that motivation is irrelevant, as it doesn't strike me as reasonable.
posted by kindall at 12:08 AM on June 1, 2001

I was hoping not to get into the whole aspect of "murder" as such.

What about genocide - is it justifiable for that?

If convicted, should Radovan Karadic and Radko Mladic receive the death penalty?

Was the execution of Nazi war criminals justified?

If a car bomb kills 30 innocent people in a small town, is the conviction and sentencing to death of the perpetrators justified?

Murder is too vague to debate - there are different types of murder - I want to talk about specific crimes.
posted by tomcosgrave at 3:14 AM on June 1, 2001

I don't think the butchers of Srebrenice deserve to be killed, just as I do not beleive the Nazi war criminals should be put to death. It is more instructive to a society to keep people of this nature alive as the remainder of their lives will help society as,

i) they will most likely be jailed for the rest of their lives
ii) their successful prosecution will be longer, more involved and possibly open to new issues (in that Milosevic could be charged on other crimes relating to his conduct as a government official while serving time for his orchestration of the destruction of ethnic cohesion in the Balkans).

I think people have missed my point a little whereby I feel that the consultation of the public on constitutional matters is something we take for granted in Ireland, the manner in which the constitution is drafted means that our government requires our express consent to amend or delete sections of our constitution.

The argument relating to whether the death penalty works/doesn't work also misses the point as Ireland has not operated it since the 50's. We have moved on, and are ensuring (if the amendment is successful) that this change can be reflected in the foundations of the state.
posted by shakabu at 3:26 AM on June 1, 2001

Perhaps I haven't made my point of view clear. In my first post I stated that "I think the death penalty is one of those rare instances where you can make a logical decision about an emotional issue."

I say this because right and wrong isn't a binary notion, neither is motive, but the act of ending a human life is. It's a yes/no kind of thing that has no degrees, and is therefore a sperate argument from states of behavior that does have degrees, like motivation, or intent, or retribution.

The binary nature of death makes it a separate issue from what people's actions merit them.

If you decide to put a man to death, it doesn't matter if you call it war, or punishment, or murder, the act is removed from motive and description because the end result is the same.

The death penalty is meant to be a punishment, and a deterrent, issued by the governing state that says "We do not tolerate this behavior."
If they then enact that very behavior to make that point, they become hypocrites.

They cure death, then I'll shut up.
posted by dong_resin at 3:55 AM on June 1, 2001

I guess we differ on this one.

I believe rather strongly that those who commit acts of genocide are highly dangerous individuals, who have no place amongst the living.

One fear I have of leaving them alive is that they might indoctrinate others into following their ideals and philosphies - look at Germany - while elements of facism may have been evident in pre-Nazi society, I don't think Germany as a nation was facist until the Nazis came to power.

If you look at the former Yugoslavia, while that conflict has been going on for centuries, genocide was not happening during the communist regime - people lived together side by side with little difficulty, until the country fell, and people were agitiated into their ethnic war again.

On a less complex level and a more personal level as well - these people murdered millions on the basis of ethnic differentiation - because of the Nazis, the Jewish culture in Europe was almost wiped out. I just don't feel that life in jail is enough for people who do this sort of thing.
posted by tomcosgrave at 7:49 AM on June 1, 2001

It's easy for me to have detached view of the death penalty. If I had any experience with a tyrant, my emotions would in all likelihood inform my opinion, and I would agree with tomcosgrave.
posted by dong_resin at 8:39 AM on June 1, 2001

If you decide to put a man to death, it doesn't matter if you call it war, or punishment, or murder, the act is removed from motive and description because the end result is the same.

You're essentially arguing that the end un-justifies the means, which is quite possibly the weirdest moral stance I have seen recently.
posted by kindall at 10:31 AM on June 1, 2001

No, Kindall, I am not saying that the end un-justifies the means,
but that's a pretty interesting interpretation.

What I'm saying in that particular statement is that the
total finality of death makes it a separate issue from merit.

If I shoot you, from your perspective, why I shot you, or what I call it as I shoot you, doesn't matter. You're dead.

Your interpretation is subjecting the act to a higher form of judgment, which I am not.
I am speaking of the act itself. I am not arguing merit.

Anyway, all of this is completely aside from the only thought that I was attempting to express to begin with, which is the logical contradiction inherent in a state sponsored death penalty.
posted by dong_resin at 12:28 PM on June 1, 2001

I think we're forgetting here that the man we (as society) are putting to death has already done the same to someone else. As they have decided to enact the death penalty on someone, and nearly always unjustly so, it is subsequently our duty to make sure that they never - NEVER - do so again. The only certain way to do this is to kill the murderer. How is the state sponsored protection of society evil, where the individual killing of innocents is protected behavior?

Governments have a duty to its citizenry to protect them. If they cannot or, in this case, will not, then they are not worthy of the citizenry's support. Even discounting genocide, there are some crimes that are so heinous, so foul, that the only just punishment is for the committer to forfeit their life.
posted by UncleFes at 12:58 PM on June 1, 2001

"As they have decided to enact the death penalty on someone, and nearly always unjustly so, it is subsequently our duty to make sure that they never - NEVER - do so again. The only certain way to do this is to kill the murderer. "

By your logic, then, Fes, if the government accidentally kills an innocent man, it is guilty of murder, and must be destroyed.

"For every 7 executions–486 since 1976–1 other prisoner on death row has been found innocent".

I wish to restate that my problem with the death penalty is not one of wrong or right, as each of us will have a different opinion on that based on our life experiences. The death penalty, for the simple hypocrisy of killing as a punishment for killing, is illogical.

In my opinion, an illogical mandate is one I do not wish to live under, as it amounts to the government just doing whatever it wants, Particularly in the instance of death, which is irreversible.
posted by dong_resin at 3:21 PM on June 1, 2001

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