I see that bastion of common sense, The Sun, has started to hassle Tory MPs into supporting a restoration of the death penalty. I always find debates on the death penalty to be interesting, because whilst I’m opposed to it, it’s not really on moral grounds. After all, I had no problem when President Obama ordered the killing of one of the western world’s greatest enemies. No, I’m opposed to it because it’s irreversible and unnecessary. We don’t need the death penalty to keep murderers off the streets. But that’s not the argument that is used in its promotion.
The arguments used tend to be two-fold. The first is that we want to execute paedophiles, and therefore if you don’t support executing paedophiles then maybe, well, you know, you don’t care about little girls, or maybe you care about them too much, nudge nudge. That’s the tabloid argument, and I don’t mind that, because that’s how the tabloids approach every issue.
The “respectable” argument, on the other hand, is the deterrence one, and that makes my blood boil. The thinking is that if drug dealers knew they could be executed they’d stop being drug dealers. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Yes, except that at the moment working in the drug business already carries a high risk of being executed by other drug dealers, in a far more arbitrary way than any state sanctioned death penalty would. By the logic of the deterrence argument, we should have no drug trade.
The truth about the death penalty is that it is used predominantly against poor people, especially in the US. But, if we were to have it, I’d like to see certain safeguards added to it.
1. If a citizen is found to have been innocent after execution, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Minister for Justice in office at the time of the trial should also be executed. This would ensure that the state only puts the death penalty on the table when it is absolutely sure.
2. We should extend the death penalty to white collar crimes, where, I believe, it would be of real deterrent value, because white collar criminals have so much more to lose. Supposing we’d executed the boards of AIB, Anglo Irish, Irish Permanent and Bank of Ireland. And the last Financial Regulator. Do you think the new boards would pay attention to proper baking regulation?
And, let us not forget, the effect it would have on public confidence in the judicial system. Richard Boyd Barrett wouldn’t be able to say that the government only cares about bankers, as their lifeless cadavers hung from scaffolds on College Green. Even the Greeks would be looking on going “F**king hell, Stavros, the Irish don’t mess about, do they? Now, where’s that tax return I was filling in in full compliance with national laws and the IMF memorandum of understanding.”