In Committee on Finance. - Prisons Bill, 1933—Second Stage.

The Attorney-General

I move: "That the Bill be read a Second Time." This Bill had its origin in the necessity for legislation to validate an Order made in November, 1920, closing Tralee Prison. Subsequent to this Order having been made, the prison was utilised first as a police barrack and afterwards as a military barrack. After its evacuation by the military, it was retransferred, on 11th January, 1925, to the Kerry County Council as the successors of the former prison authority in accordance with the provisions of Section 31 of the Prisons (Ireland) Act, 1877. Ejectment proceedings were instituted by the Kerry County Council last year in relation to portion of these premises and it was then held by the Circuit Court that as the terms of the Closing Order of 1st November, 1920, were not in accordance with Section 30 of the Act of 1877, the transfer of the prison premises to the County Council had not been validly effected. In this Bill provision is made to validate retrospectively the Closing Order referred to.

The opportunity is also being availed of to amend the existing unsatisfactory statutory provisions governing the closing of local prisons and their subsequent disposal which are contained in Sections 30 and 31 of the Act of 1877. Great difficulty has always been experienced in the interpretation and application of these sections and as a result considerable doubt existed as to the legal position of some closed prisons—portions of which were retransferred to county councils and other portions utilised for public purposes, such as police barracks. These doubts were confirmed by a decision last year in the High Court in the Kilkenny case, where the interpretation of the section in its relation to the partial user of the closed prison, which had been acted on for many years, was rejected by the High Court. This Bill proposes to clarify the position for the future. Sections 30 and 31 of the Act of 1877 are being repealed and are being replaced by more explicit provisions. I may mention that Mountjoy Prisons, male and female, are excluded from the Bill, as there never was any reversionary interest therein vested in any local authority. They were built out of State funds and are exclusively State property.

I should like to ask the Attorney-General if it is the intention to close any further prisons, because when I first received this Bill and read it through, it appeared to me that provision was being made for the further closing of prisons. I should like to know if that is so or if there is in contemplation at the moment the closing of any prison which is now open in the Saorstát? I know that this is always a very difficult and complicated matter. On the one hand, you have prisons with practically no prison population and you are keeping warders there; but on the other hand, if you close those prisons, you have got to bring prisoners to other prisons at very considerable expense and, at the same time, you prevent untried prisoners from having intercourse with their relatives and legal advisers. If it is the intention under this statute to close any further prisons, I would ask that those considerations be very carefully borne in mind. I also ask the Attorney-General if it is the intention to close any further prisons and, if so, what prisons the Minister for Justice contemplates closing.

So far as the Bill itself is concerned, it is obvious that a Bill of this nature would have to be enacted because the law most undoubtedly is in an unsatisfactory condition at present. While I am not opposing the Second Reading, I should like to get specific information as to how it is contemplated that the Bill will be enforced and with reference to what prisons, if any, these provisions are going to be applied, that is, to prisons which have not yet already been closed in whole or in part.

I should like to know from the Attorney-General whether this is an urgent Bill or whether he would allow the Report Stage to stand over the Recess, because this Bill provides an opportunity for raising a question of very considerable importance—the general question of the accommodation of convicted prisoners, juvenile and adult. The present situation is that the places of detention reserved for juvenile prisoners are under the control of the Department of Education. I believe I am correct in saying that the Borstal institutes and prisons are under the control of the Department of Justice and that, therefore, the word "prison," as defined in the Prisons Acts, 1826 to 1907, would include Borstal institutions and prisons. This Bill gives the Minister for Justice power to close prisons and makes other provisions referred to by the Attorney-General in his speech in introducing the Second Reading. I am not entirely satisfied with the provisions made for juvenile offenders. I am not in possession of sufficient details to open the question at length on this occasion, but I should like an assurance from the Attorney-General that this Bill, if it be not an urgent Bill, might be postponed until after the Recess so that in the event of its being necessary to raise the general question of places of detention for juvenile offenders, an opportunity will be forthcoming to do so on the Report Stage of the Bill. Would it be possible for the Attorney-General to accede to that request?

The Attorney-General

I do not think the Bill is an urgent Bill. It has been a long time in preparation but I do not see how an opportunity would be afforded on this Bill of raising the matter which the Deputy has mentioned. I propose to ask that the Committee Stage be taken next week and perhaps I would be in a position then to answer the Deputy as to whether the Report Stage would be asked for in this Session or not. I do not see how the matters, which he suggests might be raised, arise on this Bill. If he looks at the long title he will see that it is a Bill merely to amend the law relating to the closing of prisons and to the use, control and disposal of prisons which have been closed. I explained in introducing the Bill that the necessity for the Bill arises owing to difficulties which have arisen in interpreting two sections of the Act of 1877. It is that, and that alone, which compelled the Department of Justice to bring forward this Bill. Owing to the defect which the Circuit Court Judge discovered in the Order made in 1920 by the Lord Lieutenant closing Tralee Prison, it was found that the county council were unable to recover portion of the prison which they thought was vested in them. In order to right that position and to give the county council title to the premises, it was necessary either to introduce a Bill specifically doing that or a general Bill making new provisions instead of Sections 31 and 32 of the Act of 1877.

Another case arose in the end of last year, in respect to Kilkenny Prison. There was an Order made by the county council reserving part of the premises as a house for the Chief Superintendent of the Guards. The matter came before the High Court and the High Court held that the whole of the prison should be made over to the local authority and that the attempt to reserve part of it was invalid. That particular decision is not being affected. It is left as the courts decided it. There is one other prison, Dundalk, in respect of which it is necessary to have provisions made. The provisions contained in the Bill, as Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney knows, are necessary to clear up the position in respect to these prisons. When we come to discuss the Committee Stage there may be some debate as to whether the particular provisions now substituted for the old ones are advisable or not or whether extended powers are being given or not. In answer to Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney's question as to whether there is any intention to close further prisons——

I gave way to the Attorney-General in order to get a reply to one particular point, but there are one or two other points which I wish to raise before he concludes. The reason I raise this question here is because the Bill does define the rights of the Minister to close a prison, and it might in certain circumstances be desirable to suggest to the Minister that instead of closing them they should be turned to other uses. In dealing with questions of this kind I feel sure that the Attorney-General will agree that it is highly undesirable that they should be approached from a Party point of view. I have no desire to say anything now which could possibly be construed as an allegation against the Ministers responsible either in the Department of Education or the Department of Justice. At the same time, before giving the Minister these powers, I should like to be in a position to make suggestions to him in the event of the Department of Education not being able to take certain steps that I think essential in regard to the provision that the Department at present makes for juvenile offenders. It is merely a question of expediency. I think it is quite possible the Department of Education will find itself able to take such steps as may be necessary. At the same time, if they do not, I should like an opportunity to make an appeal on this Bill that the Bill be used for purposes which the Department of Education does not feel itself prepared to undertake.

The Attorney-General

I have no desire to shut out any suggestion which may possibly be made by way of improving the Bill or extending its provisions in the way the Deputy suggests. Whether it is open to that or not, at the moment I am not in a position to say. In answer to Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney's question, I am in a position to assure him that it is not the intention to close any further prisons. This Bill is merely for the purposes which I have already outlined. It does not spring from any intention on the part of the Department to close any further prisons.

Might I ask another question? Some of the remarks which the Attorney-General made in the course of his reply suggest to me that Roscommon Prison must be in a rather curious position. It is being used entirely as a Gárda barracks. I do not see at the moment anything in the Bill about validating that.

The Attorney-General

That is one of the cases which this Bill is intended to cover.

Will it be covered? Listening to the Attorney-General, it would not appear to me that there was a provision in it which would definitely cover the case of Roscommon prison, or any other prison that is being used entirely as a Gárda barracks. However, it is a matter for the Committee Stage.

The Attorney-General

Sub-section (3) of Section 3 is intended to cover that, However, as the Deputy says, that is a matter for the Committee Stage. The Deputy is right in saying that there is a difficult position there.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 29th November, 1933.