Capital punishment in Ireland
Capital punishment has been abolished in the Republic of Ireland. The last execution was in 1954. From then until 1990 while capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 remained on the statute book, a practice arose whereby every sentence of death was commuted by the Irish president
President of Ireland
The President of Ireland is the head of state of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the President does exercise certain limited powers with absolute...

. The death penalty was abolished in law in 1990, and has been specifically prohibited by the Constitution of Ireland
Constitution of Ireland
The Constitution of Ireland is the fundamental law of the Irish state. The constitution falls broadly within the liberal democratic tradition. It establishes an independent state based on a system of representative democracy and guarantees certain fundamental rights, along with a popularly elected...

 since 2002. The constitution provides that the penalty cannot be reintroduced even in war or a state of emergency
State of emergency
A state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend some normal functions of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, alert citizens to change their normal behaviours, or order government agencies to implement emergency preparedness plans. It can also be used as a rationale...

. Capital punishment is also forbidden by several human rights treaties to which the state is a party.

Early history

Early Irish law discouraged capital punishment. Murder was usually punished with two types of fine: a fixed éraic and a variable Log nEnech; killing the murderer was done only where he or his relatives could not pay the fine. The execution of the murderer of Saint Odran
Saint Odran
Odran was the charioteer of Saint Patrick and was the first Irish Christian Martyr. He lived about 430.There are two different versions given about Odran’s martyrdom...

, the charioteer of Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick was a Romano-Briton and Christian missionary, who is the most generally recognized patron saint of Ireland or the Apostle of Ireland, although Brigid of Kildare and Colmcille are also formally patron saints....

, has been interpreted as a failed attempt to replace pagan restorative justice
Restorative justice
Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims, offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender...

 with Christian retributive justice
Retributive justice
Retributive justice is a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society....

After the Norman conquest of Ireland, English law
English law
English law is the legal system of England and Wales, and is the basis of common law legal systems used in most Commonwealth countries and the United States except Louisiana...

 provided the model for Irish law. This originally mandated a death sentence for any felony
A felony is a serious crime in the common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors...

, a class of crimes established by common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 but extended by various Acts of Parliament
Act of Parliament
An Act of Parliament is a statute enacted as primary legislation by a national or sub-national parliament. In the Republic of Ireland the term Act of the Oireachtas is used, and in the United States the term Act of Congress is used.In Commonwealth countries, the term is used both in a narrow...

. Reforms passed from 1827 to 1861 allowed judges to sentence to transportation
Penal transportation
Transportation or penal transportation is the deporting of convicted criminals to a penal colony. Examples include transportation by France to Devil's Island and by the UK to its colonies in the Americas, from the 1610s through the American Revolution in the 1770s, and then to Australia between...

, and later penal servitude, for many hitherto capital crimes. The Capital Punishment (Ireland) Act 1842 brought the law in Ireland closer to that of England by reducing the penalty for numerous offences, and abolishing the capital crime of serving in the army or navy of France. The last public hanging in Ireland was in 1868; after the Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868
Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868
The Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868 received Royal Assent on 29 May 1868, putting an end to public executions in the United Kingdom. The Act required that all prisoners sentenced to death be executed within the walls of the prison in which they were being held,and that their bodies be...

 executions were confined to behind prison walls. Irish doctor Samuel Haughton
Samuel Haughton
Samuel Haughton was an Irish scientific writer.-Biography:He was born in Carlow, the son of James Haughton ....

 developed the humane "Standard Drop" method of hanging that came into use in 1866. The last peacetime execution under British rule was of William Scanlan in 1911 for murdering his wife.

Execution of Irish Republicans
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 created political martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

s, such as the "Manchester Martyrs
Manchester Martyrs
The Manchester Martyrs – William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O'Brien – were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an organisation dedicated to ending British rule in Ireland. They were executed for the murder of a police officer in Manchester, England, in 1867, during...

" of 1867. The Prevention of Crime (Ireland) Act, 1882, was enacted during the Land War
Land War
The Land War in Irish history was a period of agrarian agitation in rural Ireland in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. The agitation was led by the Irish National Land League and was dedicated to bettering the position of tenant farmers and ultimately to a redistribution of land to tenants from...

 and introduced on the day of the funeral of Lord Frederick Cavendish
Lord Frederick Cavendish
Lord Frederick Charles Cavendish was an English Liberal politician and protégé of the Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone...

, one of the Phoenix Park murder
Phoenix Park Murders
The Phoenix Park Murders were the fatal stabbings on 6 May 1882 in the Phoenix Park in Dublin of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke. Cavendish was the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, and Burke was the Permanent Undersecretary, the most senior Irish civil servant...

 victims. This empowered non-jury trials to impose death sentences, prompting Francis Alexander Fitzgerald to resign in protest as baron of the exchequer. In fact no death sentence was handed down under the act's provision. In 1916, the execution of the Easter Rising
Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in the First World War...

 leaders turned public sympathy in favour of the rebels. 24 rebels were executed during the 1919–21 War of Independence
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence , Anglo-Irish War, Black and Tan War, or Tan War was a guerrilla war mounted by the Irish Republican Army against the British government and its forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. Both sides agreed...

, starting with Kevin Barry
Kevin Barry
Kevin Gerard Barry was the first Irish republican to be executed by the British since the leaders of the Easter Rising. Barry was sentenced to death for his part in an IRA operation which resulted in the deaths of three British soldiers.Barry's death is considered a watershed moment in the Irish...

. In Munster
Munster is one of the Provinces of Ireland situated in the south of Ireland. In Ancient Ireland, it was one of the fifths ruled by a "king of over-kings" . Following the Norman invasion of Ireland, the ancient kingdoms were shired into a number of counties for administrative and judicial purposes...

, which was under martial law
Martial law
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis— only temporary—when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively , when there are extensive riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the law...

, 13 were shot in Cork and one in Limerick. "The Forgotten Ten
The Forgotten Ten
The Forgotten Ten is the term applied to ten members of the Irish Republican Army who were executed in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin by British forces following courts martial from 1920-1921 during the Irish War of Independence. Based upon military law at the time, they were buried within the prison...

" were hanged in Mountjoy Prison
Mountjoy Prison
Mountjoy Prison , founded as Mountjoy Gaol, nicknamed The Joy, is a medium security prison located in Phibsboro in the centre of Dublin, Ireland. It has the largest prison population in Ireland.The current prison governor is Mr...

, which helped turn opinion in less turbulent Dublin against the British. The last person executed by the British was William Mitchell, an RIC constable
Royal Irish Constabulary
The armed Royal Irish Constabulary was Ireland's major police force for most of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. A separate civic police force, the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police controlled the capital, and the cities of Derry and Belfast, originally with their own police...

 who had murdered a justice of the peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...


Although the self-proclaimed Irish Republic
Irish Republic
The Irish Republic was a revolutionary state that declared its independence from Great Britain in January 1919. It established a legislature , a government , a court system and a police force...

, which fought the 1919–21 War against the British, established its own Republican Courts
Dáil Courts
During the Irish War of Independence, the Dáil Courts were the judicial branch of government of the short-lived Irish Republic. They were formally established by a decree of the First Dáil Éireann on 29 June 1920, replacing more limited Arbitration Courts that had been authorised a year earlier...

, these were not empowered to impose death sentences. However, the Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army
The Irish Republican Army was an Irish republican revolutionary military organisation. It was descended from the Irish Volunteers, an organisation established on 25 November 1913 that staged the Easter Rising in April 1916...

 was empowered by the Republic's Dáil
First Dáil
The First Dáil was Dáil Éireann as it convened from 1919–1921. In 1919 candidates who had been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refused to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled as a unicameral, revolutionary parliament called "Dáil Éireann"...

 to court-martial
A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of...

 and execute pro-British civilians for such crimes as spying and collaboration
Collaborationism is cooperation with enemy forces against one's country. Legally, it may be considered as a form of treason. Collaborationism may be associated with criminal deeds in the service of the occupying power, which may include complicity with the occupying power in murder, persecutions,...

. The procedures at such trials depended on the local IRA leadership; many were kangaroo court
Kangaroo court
A kangaroo court is "a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted".The outcome of a trial by kangaroo court is essentially determined in advance, usually for the purpose of ensuring conviction, either by going through the motions of manipulated procedure or...

s imposing summary justice. Besides executions, IRA members also carried out combat operations, assassinations, extra-judicial killings, and personally-motivated murders, with varying levels of sanction from the Republican leadership; the dividing lines between these categories can be blurred and contentious; a case in point being the 1922 Dunmanway killings.

The draft version of the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State
Constitution of the Irish Free State
The Constitution of the Irish Free State was the first constitution of the independent Irish state. It was enacted with the adoption of the Constitution of the Irish Free State Act 1922, of which it formed a part...

 included a ban on capital punishment, but the Dáil did not adopt this, so the relevant British laws continued in force. This was done because of the outbreak of the 1922–3 Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

; further, a resolution of the Third Dáil
Third Dáil
The Third Dáil, also known as the Provisional Parliament or the Constituent Assembly, was:*the "provisional parliament" or "constituent assembly" of Southern Ireland from 9 August 1922 until 6 December 1922; and...

 on 26 September 1922 authorised military tribunals to impose death sentences on the anti-Treaty
Anglo-Irish Treaty
The Anglo-Irish Treaty , officially called the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, was a treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and representatives of the secessionist Irish Republic that concluded the Irish War of...

 forces. During the war the Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 government executed 81 captured anti-Treaty fighters by firing squad, as well as ordering extra-judicial killing
Extra-judicial killing
An extrajudicial killing is the killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process. Extrajudicial punishments are by their nature unlawful, since they bypass the due process of the legal jurisdiction in which they occur...


Later executions

Between November 1923 and April 1954, there were a total of 35 executions in the state. In the 1920s, execution was relatively common for murderers. As had happened before independence, the British executioner
A judicial executioner is a person who carries out a death sentence ordered by the state or other legal authority, which was known in feudal terminology as high justice.-Scope and job:...

 came to Mountjoy to perform hangings. An Irishman sent to Britain as apprentice to Albert Pierrepoint was deemed to lack "the character to be an executioner".

The only woman executed after independence was Annie Walsh in 1925. She and her nephew blamed each other for the murder of her elderly husband. The press expected only the nephew to be found guilty, but both were. She was hanged aged 31 in spite of the jury recommending clemency.

During the state of emergency in World War II, increased IRA activity led to six executions. Charlie Kerins
Charlie Kerins
Charlie Kerins was a prominent Irish Republican, who following his killing of policeman Dennis O'Brien, was named the Chief of Staff of the IRA...

 was hanged, while five were shot by firing squad after sentence by military tribunal
Military tribunal
A military tribunal is a kind of military court designed to try members of enemy forces during wartime, operating outside the scope of conventional criminal and civil proceedings. The judges are military officers and fulfill the role of jurors...

s under Emergency legislation. Of these, Maurice O' Neill and Richard Goss had shot but not killed Gardaí: the only people executed by the state for a non-murder crime.

Michael Manning
Michael Manning (carter)
Michael Manning was a 25-year-old carter from Limerick who on Tuesday 20 April 1954 , became the 24th and last person to be executed in the Republic of Ireland.He had been found guilty the previous February of the capital murder of Catherine Cooper, a...

 was the last person executed in the state. He was hanged
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

 by Albert Pierrepoint
Albert Pierrepoint
Albert Pierrepoint is the most famous member of the family which provided three of the United Kingdom's official hangmen in the first half of the 20th century...

 for murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

 on 20 April 1954.

Legal developments

In response to fears about renewed IRA violence, Cumann na nGaedheal governments passed the Public Safety Act, 1927 and later the Constitution (Amendment No. 17) Act, 1931. Each provided for a special military tribunal
Martial law
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis— only temporary—when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively , when there are extensive riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the law...

 during a state of emergency
State of emergency
A state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend some normal functions of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, alert citizens to change their normal behaviours, or order government agencies to implement emergency preparedness plans. It can also be used as a rationale...

. The 1927 Act required the tribunal to pass death sentences for treason and murder, and permitted it to do so for unlawful possession of firearms; no appeal
An appeal is a petition for review of a case that has been decided by a court of law. The petition is made to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision....

 would be permitted. The 1931 Act empowered the tribunal to try a variety of crimes and impose a greater sentence than usual, including death, if "in the opinion of the Tribunal such greater punishment is necessary or expedient". This provision was condemned by the Fianna Fáil opposition (which came to power in 1932
Irish general election, 1932
The Irish general election of 1932 was held on 16 February 1932, just over two weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on 29 January. The newly elected 153 members of the 7th Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 9 March 1932 when the new President of the Executive Council and Executive Council of...

) and was never invoked.

Fianna Fáil introduced a new Constitution in 1937, which contained several references to execution:
Article 13 section 6: The right of pardon and the power to commute or remit punishment imposed by any court exercising criminal jurisdiction are hereby vested in the President, but such power of commutation or remission may, except in capital cases, also be conferred by law on other authorities.
Article 40 section 4:
Subsection 5: Where an order is made under this section by the High Court or a judge thereof for the production of the body of a person who is under sentence of death, the High Court or such judge thereof shall further order that the execution of the said sentence of death shall be deferred until after the body of such person has been produced
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

 before the High Court and the lawfulness of his detention has been determined and if, after such deferment, the detention of such person is determined to be lawful, the High Court shall appoint a day for the execution of the said sentence of death and that sentence shall have effect with the substitution of the day so appointed for the day originally fixed for the execution thereof.
Subsection 6: Nothing in this section, however, shall be invoked to prohibit, control, or interfere with any act of the Defence Forces
Irish Defence Forces
The armed forces of Ireland, known as the Defence Forces encompass the Army, Naval Service, Air Corps and Reserve Defence Force.The current Supreme Commander of the Irish Defence forces is His Excellency Michael D Higgins in his role as President of Ireland...

 during the existence of a state of war or armed rebellion.

Infanticide or infant homicide is the killing of a human infant. Neonaticide, a killing within 24 hours of a baby's birth, is most commonly done by the mother.In many past societies, certain forms of infanticide were considered permissible...

 was made a separate crime from murder in 1949. For some years prior to this, death sentences for murder in such cases had always been commuted
Commutation of sentence
Commutation of sentence involves the reduction of legal penalties, especially in terms of imprisonment. Unlike a pardon, a commutation does not nullify the conviction and is often conditional. Clemency is a similar term, meaning the lessening of the penalty of the crime without forgiving the crime...

; the new act was intended "to eliminate all the terrible ritual of the black cap and the solemn words of the judge pronouncing sentence of death in those cases ... where it is clear to the Court and to everybody, except perhaps the unfortunate accused, that the sentence will never be carried out."

The Criminal Justice Act, 1951 explicitly excluded capital cases from those to which the Government was granted the power to commute sentences. Under Article 13.6 of the Constitution, the President
President of Ireland
The President of Ireland is the head of state of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the President does exercise certain limited powers with absolute...

's prerogative of mercy
Prerogative of Mercy
In the British tradition the Prerogative of Mercy is one of the historic Royal Prerogatives of the British monarch in which he or she can grant pardons to convicted persons...

 is not restricted.

Successive Ministers for Justice were asked in the Dáil about abolishing the death penalty: in 1936 by Frank MacDermot
Frank MacDermot
Frank C. J. MacDermot was an Irish barrister and politician.MacDermot was born in Dublin, the seventh and youngest son of Hugh Hyacinth O'Rorke MacDermot, Prince of Coolavin. He was educated at Downside School and the University of Oxford and qualified as a barrister...

; in 1939 by Jeremiah Hurley
Jeremiah Hurley
Jeremiah Hurley was an Irish Labour Party politician. He was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Labour Party Teachta Dála for the Cork South East constituency at the 1937 general election. He was re-elected at the 1938 general election. He died in 1943 during the term of the 10th Dáil but no...

; in 1948 by James Larkin, Jnr
James Larkin, Jnr
James Larkin, Jnr was an Irish Labour Party politician and trade union official. He first stood for election as an Irish Worker League candidate at the September 1927 general election in the Dublin County constituency but was unsuccessful. His father, James Larkin, was a successful candidate for...

 and Peadar Cowan
Peadar Cowan
Peadar Cowan was an Irish politician. A solicitor by profession, he first stood unsuccessfully for election at the 1937 general election as a Labour Party candidate for the Meath–Westmeath constituency...

; in 1956 by Thomas Finlay
Thomas Finlay (judge)
Thomas Aloysius Finlay is a former Irish Fine Gael politician and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He is the second son of Thomas Finlay, a politician and senior counsel whose career was cut short by his early death in 1932. He was educated at Clongowes Wood College, University College Dublin...

; in 1960 by Frank Sherwin
Frank Sherwin
Frank Sherwin was an Irish independent politician who sat for eight years as TD for Dublin North Central, from 1957–1965.-Early life:...

; in 1962 by Stephen Coughlan
Stephen Coughlan
Stephen "Stevie" Coughlan was an Irish Labour Party politician who served for eighteen years as Teachta Dála for the Limerick East constituency....

. In each case the relevant minister dismissed the suggestion. Seán MacBride
Seán MacBride
Seán MacBride was an Irish government minister and prominent international politician as well as a Chief of Staff of the IRA....

 expressed personal support for abolition even while a minister in a government that oversaw the 1948 execution of Michael Gambon.

When Seán Brady
Seán Brady (Irish politician)
John Ernest Brady was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician and businessman who served as a Teachta Dála for 38 years....

 asked in February 1963, minister Charles Haughey
Charles Haughey
Charles James "Charlie" Haughey was Taoiseach of Ireland, serving three terms in office . He was also the fourth leader of Fianna Fáil...

 announced "that the death penalty for murder generally will be abolished but it will be retained for certain specific types of murder." The Criminal Justice Act 1964 abolished the death penalty for piracy, some military crimes, and most murders. It continued to be available for:
  • treason —under Article 39 of the Constitution, "treason shall consist only in levying war against the State, or assisting any State or person or inciting or conspiring with any person to levy war against the State, or attempting by force of arms or other violent means to overthrow the organs of government established by the Constitution, or taking part or being concerned in or inciting or conspiring with any person to make or to take part or be concerned in any such attempt."
  • offences under military law
    Military law
    Military justice is the body of laws and procedures governing members of the armed forces. Many states have separate and distinct bodies of law that govern the conduct of members of their armed forces. Some states use special judicial and other arrangements to enforce those laws, while others use...

    , relating to
    • neglect of command
      Officer (armed forces)
      An officer is a member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position...

    • assisting the enemy
    • passivity as a prisoner of war
      Prisoner of war
      A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

    • mutiny
      Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

  • "capital murder", i.e.
    • of an on-duty Garda
      Garda Síochána
      , more commonly referred to as the Gardaí , is the police force of Ireland. The service is headed by the Commissioner who is appointed by the Irish Government. Its headquarters are located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.- Terminology :...

       or prison officer; or
    • for a political motive
      Political crime
      In criminology, a political crime is an offence involving overt acts or omissions , which prejudice the interests of the state, its government or the political system...

      , of a foreign head of state, diplomat, or government member; or
    • in the course or furtherance of certain offences under the Offences against the State Act 1939:
      • Usurpation of functions of government
      • Obstruction of government
      • Obstruction of the President
      • Interference with military or other employees of the State

The Extradition Act, 1965 prevented extradition
Extradition is the official process whereby one nation or state surrenders a suspected or convicted criminal to another nation or state. Between nation states, extradition is regulated by treaties...

 where the prisoner could be sentenced to death for a crime not punishable by death in Ireland.

Commuted death sentences

From 1923 to 1964, 40 death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment; three condemned were found insane, and three died awaiting execution. Mamie Cadden
Mamie Cadden
Mary Anne "Mamie" Cadden was an Irish midwife, backstreet abortionist and convicted murderer.-Background:...

 was sentenced to be hanged in 1957 for felony murder
Felony murder rule
The rule of felony murder is a legal doctrine in some common law jurisdictions that broadens the crime of murder in two ways. First, when an offender kills accidentally or without specific intent to kill in the course of an applicable felony, what might have been manslaughter is escalated to murder...

 after performing an illegal abortion on a woman who died; the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Death sentences were passed on 11 people after the 1964 Act, for 5 different incidents involving the capital murder of a total of 6 Gardaí (police). All were imposed by the Special Criminal Court
Special Criminal Court
The Special Criminal Court is a juryless criminal court in the Republic of Ireland which tries terrorist and organized crime cases. Article 38 of the Constitution of Ireland empowers the Dáil to establish "special courts" with wide-ranging powers when "the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure...

. The murders of several other gardaí, and of British ambassador Christopher Ewart-Biggs
Christopher Ewart-Biggs
Christopher Ewart-Biggs, CMG, OBE was the British Ambassador to Ireland and an author. He was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Sandyford, Dublin....

 in 1976, might also have constituted capital crimes had any prosecution been brought. Of the 11 sentenced to death, 2 had the conviction for capital murder quashed on appeal, and were convicted instead of ordinary murder. The death sentences of the other 9 were commuted by the President on the advice of the government, to 40 years' imprisonment without parole
Parole may have different meanings depending on the field and judiciary system. All of the meanings originated from the French parole . Following its use in late-resurrected Anglo-French chivalric practice, the term became associated with the release of prisoners based on prisoners giving their...

. One conviction was overturned in 1995. Four convicts were released in 1998 under the amnesty of political prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement. The remaining four protested that they were also eligible for the amnesty, but remained in prison as of 2009.

The 40-year sentences were controversial, both because they had no statutory basis, and because they were not handed down by a judge. The Court of Criminal Appeal
Court of Criminal Appeal
The Court of Criminal Appeal is the name of existing courts of Scotland and Ireland, and an historic court in England and Wales.- Ireland :See Court of Criminal Appeal ...

 has upheld the sentences as the extra-judicial procedure is in step with the Irish Constitution's provision for commuting sentences. An argument in favour of the exceptional sentences is that members of the Garda Síochána
Garda Síochána
, more commonly referred to as the Gardaí , is the police force of Ireland. The service is headed by the Commissioner who is appointed by the Irish Government. Its headquarters are located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.- Terminology :...

 (police) are usually unarmed when on duty, and so an exceptional deterrent is needed to protect them from being murdered.
Date of crime Convicted Victims Context Location Date sentence passed Date scheduled for execution Date sentence commuted Notes
1975-09-11 Marie and Noel Murray Michael J. Reynolds Shot after a robbery
Michael J. Reynolds
Michael J. Reynolds , Garda Síochána 17673G and recipient of the Scott Medal, 1945-1975.-Incident at St. Anne's Park:A native of Kilconnell, Ballinasloe, Reynolds was one of a number of Gardaí who responded to an armed robbery at the Bank of Ireland, Killester, Dublin, on the afternoon of 11...

 of the Bank of Ireland
Bank of Ireland
The Bank of Ireland is a commercial bank operation in Ireland, which is one of the 'Big Four' in both parts of the island.Historically the premier banking organisation in Ireland, the Bank occupies a unique position in Irish banking history...

 in Killester
Killester is a small, largely residential suburb of Dublin and lies on the Northside of the city.-Location and access:Killester is located between Clontarf, Donnycarney, Raheny and Artane, and it falls within the postal districts of Dublin 3 or 5. St. Anne's Park lies just beyond Killester on the...

St Anne's Park
St Anne's Park
St. Anne's Park is a public park and recreational facility, shared between Raheny and Clontarf, both suburbs on the northside of Dublin, Ireland....

, Dublin
1976-06-09 1976-12-09 Black Cross anarchists
Anarchism in Ireland
Irish anarchism has little historical tradition before the 1970s, and as a movement it only really developed from the late 1990s – although one organisation, the Workers Solidarity Movement has had a continuous existence since 1984...

. Conviction quashed as the Garda was off duty and not in uniform; life sentence imposed. Released after serving 15 years.
1980-07-07 Paddy McCann, Colm O'Shea (, Peter Pringle) Henry Byrne, John Morley Shot after a robbery
Deaths of Garda officers (1980)
Two officers of the Garda Síochána, the police force of the Ireland, were shot and killed on July 7 1980 by alleged members of the Irish National Liberation Army during a pursuit in the aftermath of a bank robbery. Occurring near Loughglynn, County Roscommon, the officers' deaths provoked a...

 of the Bank of Ireland in Ballaghaderreen
Ballaghaderreen is a town in County Roscommon. It is located on the N5 National primary road. The town has become a bottleneck on the N5 route in recent years and the opening of the Charlestown bypass down the road has exacerbated the problem...

Near Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon
County Roscommon
County Roscommon is a county in Ireland. It is located in the West Region and is also part of the province of Connacht. It is named after the town of Roscommon. Roscommon County Council is the local authority for the county...

1980-11-27 1980-12-19 1981-05-27 Pringle's conviction was overturned in 1995. McCann and O'Shea, members of Saor Éire, were still in jail in 2009.
1980-10-13 Peter Rogers Seamus Quaid Shot while inspecting a van containing explosives, after a robbery in Callan
-People:Callan is the birth place of some famous people, namely:* Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Irish Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers* Callan also has links with Asa Griggs Candler's family and the Coca-Cola company....

Ballyconnick, near Cleariestown
Cleariestown , or Cleristown, is a small village situated in the south of County Wexford, in Ireland.Cleariestown village contains a R.C. church .-See also:* List of towns and villages in Ireland-External links:...

, County Wexford
County Wexford
County Wexford is a county in Ireland. It is part of the South-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the town of Wexford. In pre-Norman times it was part of the Kingdom of Uí Cheinnselaig, whose capital was at Ferns. Wexford County Council is the local...

1981-03-11 1981-07-01 Provisional IRA
Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provisional Irish Republican Army is an Irish republican paramilitary organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion...

 member. Released in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement.
1984-08-10 Thomas Eccles, Patrick McPhillips and Brian McShane Frank Hand Shot at a post office raid Drumree
Drumree is a settled area in south County Meath, Ireland, south of Dunsany and approximately from Dublin city centre. The next nearest settlement was the hamlet at Dunsany Cross Roads....

, Co Meath
1985-03-28 1986-02-22 Provisional IRA members. Released in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement.
1985-06-27 Noel Callan and Michael McHugh Patrick Morrissey Robbery of Ardee
Ardee is a town and townland in County Louth, Ireland. It is located at the intersection of the N2, N52, and N33 roads. Ardee is on the banks of the River Dee and is approximately 20 km from Dundalk, Drogheda, Slane and Carrickmacross...

 labour exchange
Collon is a village and townland in the south west corner of County Louth, Ireland on the N2 national primary road. The village is home to the Cistercian Abbey of New Mellifont.-Facilities:...

, County Louth
1985-12-03 1985-12-20 (McHugh)

1986-05-29 (Callan)
Irish National Liberation Army
The Irish National Liberation Army or INLA is an Irish republican socialist paramilitary group that was formed on 8 December 1974. Its goal is to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and create a socialist united Ireland....

 members. Still in jail in 2011. Callan's sentence was not commuted till after the failure of an appeal against his conviction. In 2011, his claim to be eligible for remission was rejected by the High Court.


Noel Browne
Noel Browne
Noël Christopher Browne was an Irish politician and doctor. He holds the distinction of being one of only five Teachtaí Dála to be appointed Minister on their first day in the Dáil. His controversial Mother and Child Scheme in effect brought down the First Inter-Party Government of John A...

 introduced a private member's bill
Private Member's Bill
A member of parliament’s legislative motion, called a private member's bill or a member's bill in some parliaments, is a proposed law introduced by a member of a legislature. In most countries with a parliamentary system, most bills are proposed by the government, not by individual members of the...

 to abolish the death penalty in March 1981. The Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party , more commonly known as Fianna Fáil is a centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland, founded on 23 March 1926. Fianna Fáil's name is traditionally translated into English as Soldiers of Destiny, although a more accurate rendition would be Warriors of Fál...

 government voted it down on its first reading. Fine Gael
Fine Gael
Fine Gael is a centre-right to centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland. It is the single largest party in Ireland in the Oireachtas, in local government, and in terms of Members of the European Parliament. The party has a membership of over 35,000...

 had supported the first reading and would have allowed a free vote at the second reading; the Labour Party
Labour Party (Ireland)
The Labour Party is a social-democratic political party in the Republic of Ireland. The Labour Party was founded in 1912 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, by James Connolly, James Larkin and William X. O'Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress. Unlike the other main Irish...

 supported abolition. Minister for Justice Gerry Collins, in opposing the bill, referred to the four death sentences which were then pending appeal, and said "were we to abolish [the death penalty], and because of the violence of recent years
The Troubles
The Troubles was a period of ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland which spilled over at various times into England, the Republic of Ireland, and mainland Europe. The duration of the Troubles is conventionally dated from the late 1960s and considered by many to have ended with the Belfast...

, the pressure for arming the Garda would become extremely strong". After the general election in June 1981
Irish general election, 1981
The Irish general election of 1981 was held on 11 June 1981, three weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on 21 May. The newly elected 166 members of the 22nd Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 30 June when a new Taoiseach and government were appointed....

, the Fine Gael–Labour coalition introduced a similar bill in the Seanad
Seanad Éireann
Seanad Éireann is the upper house of the Oireachtas , which also comprises the President of Ireland and Dáil Éireann . It is commonly called the Seanad or Senate and its members Senators or Seanadóirí . Unlike Dáil Éireann, it is not directly elected but consists of a mixture of members chosen by...

, which passed there but had not reached the Dáil when the government fell in January 1982. Another private member's bill, introduced by Shane Ross
Shane Ross
Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross is an independent Irish politician and Business Editor of the Sunday Independent. He was the longest-serving member of Seanad Éireann , until he was elected to Dáil Éireann for the constituency of Dublin South at the 2011 general election.-Early life and career:Born in...

 in 1984, began its second reading in 1985, but was still on the order paper in 1990. In 1988, the Progressive Democrats
Progressive Democrats
The Progressive Democrats , commonly known as the PDs, was a pro-free market liberal political party in the Republic of Ireland.Launched on 21 December 1985 by Desmond O'Malley and other politicians who had split from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats took liberal positions on...

 (PDs) produced an aspirational "Constitution for a New Republic", which included a prohibition on capital punishment.

Ireland's 1989 ratification
Ratification is a principal's approval of an act of its agent where the agent lacked authority to legally bind the principal. The term applies to private contract law, international treaties, and constitutionals in federations such as the United States and Canada.- Private law :In contract law, the...

 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16, 1966, and in force from March 23, 1976...

 (ICCPR), effective 8 March 1990, made a reservation
Reservation (law)
A reservation in international law is a caveat to a state's acceptance of a treaty. By the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties , a reservation is defined as a...

 to Article 6(5). The Article reads "Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women." The declaration read "Pending the introduction of further legislation to give full effect to the provisions of paragraph 5 of Article 6, should a case arise which is not covered by the provisions of existing law, the Government of Ireland will have regard to its obligations under the Covenant in the exercise of its power to advise commutation of the sentence of death." The legislation referred to was the Child Care Bill 1988, which became law in 1991; a section was to have been included to raise from 17 to 18 the minimum age for the death penalty. In May 1989, Fianna Fáil minister Michael Woods stated:
I appreciate that there is support for the abolition of the death penalty and, in more normal times, I accept that there would be merit in a full and open debate on the pros and cons of such a move. However, times are not normal and there are armed subversive groups inimical to the institutions of the State. In such circumstances my primary concern — and that of the Minister for Justice — is to provide the maximum protection possible for those who defend our democratic institutions. I am concerned that a move to abolish the death penalty at present could give the wrong signal. It would remove the additional protection which the death penalty provides for members of the Garda Síochána and the Prison Service, who are especially at risk from violent criminals, some of whom have been murdered in the execution of their duty.

After the June 1989 general election
Irish general election, 1989
The Irish general election of 1989 was held on Thursday, 15 June 1989, three weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on 25 May. The newly elected 166 members of the 26th Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 29 June...

, Fianna Fáil formed a coalition
Government of the 26th Dáil
The 26th Dáil of Ireland was elected at the 1989 general election on 15 June 1989 and first met on 12 July when the 21st Government of Ireland was appointed...

 with the PDs; the agreed programme for government included abolishing the death penalty. It was abolished for all offences by the Criminal Justice Act 1990, which made the penalty for treason and first-degree murder life imprisonment, with parole
Parole may have different meanings depending on the field and judiciary system. All of the meanings originated from the French parole . Following its use in late-resurrected Anglo-French chivalric practice, the term became associated with the release of prisoners based on prisoners giving their...

 in not less than forty years. The Child Care Bill 1988 was still pending, so the section relating to the death penalty was removed as superfluous. In 1993, Tánaiste
The Tánaiste is the deputy prime minister of Ireland. The current Tánaiste is Eamon Gilmore, TD who was appointed on 9 March 2011.- Origins and etymology :...

 Dick Spring
Dick Spring
Richard "Dick" Spring is an Irish businessman and former politician. He was first elected as a Labour Party Teachta Dála in 1981 and retained his seat until 2002. He became leader of the Labour Party in 1982, and held this position until 1997...

 said in Vienna that the 1990 abolition should be made irreversible, which Taoiseach
The Taoiseach is the head of government or prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas , and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.The current Taoiseach is...

 Albert Reynolds
Albert Reynolds
Albert Reynolds , served as Taoiseach of Ireland, serving one term in office from 1992 until 1994. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize...

 later confirmed was government policy and would involve a Constitutional change. However, the government fell six months later.

One recommendation of the 1996 Constitutional Review Group was:
Prohibit the re-introduction of the death penalty. If this is not deemed desirable, Article 40.4.5° should be retained. If it is prohibited, Article 28.3.3° will require amendment so that the death penalty cannot be imposed in any circumstances.

Article 40.4.5° prescribed the treatment of those under sentence of death; Article 28.3.3° deals with the suspension of rights during a state of emergency
State of emergency
A state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend some normal functions of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, alert citizens to change their normal behaviours, or order government agencies to implement emergency preparedness plans. It can also be used as a rationale...

. On 7 June 2001, the Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland
Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland
The Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland introduced a constitutional ban on the death penalty and removed all references to capital punishment from the text...

 was one of three proposed amendments put to referendums. It added Article 15.5.2°, which prohibits the death penalty; deleted as redundant Article 40.4.5° and several other references to "capital crimes"; and amended Article 28.3.3° to prevent the death penalty being imposed during an emergency. The amendment was passed on a turnout
Voter turnout
Voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election . After increasing for many decades, there has been a trend of decreasing voter turnout in most established democracies since the 1960s...

 of 34.79%, with 610,455 in favour and 372,950 against. The 38% no-vote was higher than the 28% predicted by polls; there were suggestions that the wording of the ballot question was confusing and that some voters were expressing dissatisfaction with the government.

Ireland adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR in 1993, and the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights
European Convention on Human Rights
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is an international treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by the then newly formed Council of Europe, the convention entered into force on 3 September 1953...

 (ECHR) in 1994, both of which prohibit the death penalty in peacetime. The reservation to ICCPR Article 6(5) was withdrawn in 1994. Ireland ratified the Thirteenth Protocol to the ECHR, which prohibits the death penalty in wartime, at its opening in 2002.


The media occasionally reports calls to reconsider the ban on capital punishment. In November 2009, Richard Johnson
Richard Johnson (judge)
Richard Johnson was the President of the Irish High Court from November 2006 until October 2009. He was the second most senior Irish judge after the Chief Justice John L. Murray....

, recently retired as President of the High Court, said that he favoured reintroduction of the death penalty in limited circumstances, such as murder committed during armed robberies. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties
Irish Council for Civil Liberties
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is an Irish non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the civil liberties and human rights of people in Ireland.-History:...

 described his remarks as "deeply misguided and frivolous". At the January 2010 meeting of the Mid-West Regional Authority
Mid-West Regional Authority
The Mid-West Regional Authority is one eight statutory Regional Authorities in Ireland. The region comprises about 10% of the national land area and population of the country...

, two members of Clare County Council
Clare County Council
Clare County Council is the local authority which is responsible for County Clare in Ireland. The Council is responsible for Housing and Community, Roads and Transportation, Urban planning and Development, Amenity and Culture, and Environment....

 called for "a public debate" on the death penalty. In June 2010, Kevin Kiely
Kevin Kiely
Kevin Kiely is an Irish politician and former Mayor of Limerick from 2009–10. He was made a Peace Commissioner in 1983 by the then Fine Gael Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan. He is a member of Fine Gael. He was first elected to Limerick City Council in 1985. He was re-elected to the council in...

, then outgoing mayor of Limerick
Limerick is the third largest city in the Republic of Ireland, and the principal city of County Limerick and Ireland's Mid-West Region. It is the fifth most populous city in all of Ireland. When taking the extra-municipal suburbs into account, Limerick is the third largest conurbation in the...

, advocated the death penalty for "anyone involved in the planning and premeditation
Premeditated murder
Premeditated murder is the crime of wrongfully causing the death of another human being after rationally considering the timing or method of doing so, in order to either increase the likelihood of success, or to evade detection or apprehension.State laws in the United States vary as to definitions...

 of a murder" in the aftermath of several gang-related murders.

See also

Prisoners sentenced to death by Ireland, includes those executed

External links

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