That, in connection with the supply granted for the years ended 31st March, 1971 and 31st March, 1972, the Dáil takes note of the activities of the Office of the Minister for Justice.
At the outset, I should like to refer to the general crime situation. I dealt with this topic in some detail in connection with the Garda Síochána Bill which was recently before the House and I then outlined the efforts that are being made to curb and, if possible, to reverse the upward trend in crime with which we, in common with most other countries, are faced. On this occasion, therefore, I shall not detain the House by going into the kind of detail that I might normally be expected to do on an occasion such as this.
In the last year for which final figures are available, that is, for the year ended 30th September, 1970, there was an increase of 18.4 per cent in the total number of indictable crimes known to the Garda. Two-thirds of these consisted of offences against property without violence, mainly larcenies. The bulk of the increase in larcenies was due to an increase in larcenies from parked cars and other unattended vehicles. These went up by over 1,800. Offences against the person have been almost constant over the past four years, but offences against property showed an increase of 19.7 per cent over the 1969 figure. Proceedings were instituted by the Garda in respect of 13,710 indictable offences known to them or 45 per cent of the total. The overall detection rate fell to 50 per cent as compared with 61 per cent in the previous year. In the Dublin Metropolitan Area the detection rate was 37 per cent while in the rest of the country it was 69 per cent. Although crime figures for the year ended 30th September, 1971, are not yet available, the indications are that there was a further substantial increase in the figures for that year.
In the year ended 30th September, 1970, the number of persons charged with summary offences was 169,581 as compared with 178,186 in 1969. Road traffic offences continue to constitute by far the greatest category—126,643 persons were prosecuted for road offences in 1970 as compared with some 134,000 in 1969. Over 200,000 "fine-on-the-spot" notices were issued for contraventions of the parking bye-laws and similar offences and in 53,188 of those cases there were prosecutions.
I now turn to the question of subversive organisations. Deputies will remember that I spoke at some length on this subject in the course of the Adjournment Debate in this House last December. I do not propose to detain the House now by repeating in any detail what I said on that occasion. Deputies will find the relevant passages in Volume 257 of the Official Report, at columns 2557 to 2572. I pointed out then that those critics, including some Deputies opposite, who say that nothing is being done about the activities of illegal organisations or that not enough is being done or that the Government's attitude towards these organisations is ambivalent are ignoring the true position. The fact of the matter is that, if the activities of these organisations are to be effectively curtailed we as a community may have to accept the need for substantial changes either in the criminal law —and in particular in the rules of evidence—or in the judicial machinery for the investigation and trial of certain offences, or perhaps even in both. It must be remembered that, in a system of unanimous verdicts by a jury in a criminal trial, each and every member of the jury is open to intimidation. And we all know what intimidation can mean in this country.
It is understandable that people not familiar with the rules of evidence who read in newspaper reports about persons who are openly described as being members of illegal organisations will ask why those persons are not prosecuted for membership of those organisations. Some have, in fact, been prosecuted and have been acquitted. I have already pointed out that, if fully effective legal action is to be taken in all such cases, a first requirement would be a change in the law in certain respects. Incidentally, one of the odd features of our times in this country is that whenever any person throws out a suggestion that we might consider looking at how other countries—countries in the Continent of Europe, for instance—deal with certain types of problem, he is immediately assailed by people who in one and the same breath hold themselves out as ultra-nationalistic—and reformist—but condemn as unthinkable any deviation from the concepts of law that were imposed on us from across the Irish Sea.
According to that extraordinary school of thought, the slogan of the seventies—the updating of Swift— seems to be that one must burn everything English but their law. It is as if — and, indeed, some say this in almost as many words—we are asked to believe that Continental Europe, the cradle of Western civilisation, has no respect for human liberty and that only by adhering strictly and even slavishly to what we inherited here can justice be done—and this even after our benefactors are themselves satisfied that their system of justice is no longer all that just or all that suitable for their own society. In this respect one of the most astonishing misconceptions to have gained currency, even in quarters from which one would expect more, is that an accused person in European countries is treated as guilty until he proves himself innocent. This, of course, is a myth. I think we ought to have sufficient self confidence, and to be sufficiently mature, to be able to cast our eyes a little further than we have been doing and to learn from what other civilised nations do.
I, for my part, make no apology whatsoever for inviting the attention of Deputies of this House to the real problems which our present laws pose for the Garda Síochána, for the Government and for all those with special responsibility for upholding the authority of the Oireachtas and the institutions of the State. The problems are real and I take this opportunity to say once again that sooner or later we as a community may be faced with the choice between making some significant changes in our legal system and allowing our basic institutions to be eroded and ultimately destroyed. I do not suggest that we have yet reached the stage when this choice must be made, but I think it well to invite Deputies to reflect on the very real possibility that the position may radically change, especially if we see any further attempt, such as has been made in recent days, to subvert the allegiance of the Garda Síochána.
Incidentally, I would ask Deputies to reflect on the perverse logic of those who will accept or reject, just as they feel inclined, the democratically established institutions of this country and the laws enacted by the freely elected and independent Parliament of our own people. There is from time to time considerable discussion on changes to be made in our Constitution if we are to ensure a united Ireland. This discussion could become very unreal if we had to face a grave challenge to the survival of constitutional government itself. Recently, when the Garda Síochána Bill was being debated both Houses of the Oireachtas had an opportunity to debate fully the present situation in relation to the Garda Síochána. On that occasion there was a welcome on all sides for the planned increase of 1,000 in the Force. I am glad to say that the response to the recruiting drive has been very heartening and that there is every indication that the required number of good quality recruits will be forthcoming.
Under the Garda Síochána Act, 1972, which came into force on 29th February, the Government recently made an order—the Garda Síochána (Ranks) Order, 1972—setting out the various ranks of the Force and the maximum number of members of each rank. The number of inspectors is being increased substantially in order to help to reduce the excessive hours now being worked by many inspectors and superintendents.
At this point I would like once again to pay tribute to the magnificent work done by the Garda Síochna in face of the very difficult situations that they have had to contend with, particularly in Border areas. I am sure that I speak for everybody in this House when I express the hope that the problems facing the gardaí in those areas will soon disappear.
In addition to the increase in strength, steps have been taken to make the best possible use of the available manpower. These steps include the employment of female clerical assistants to do the office work now being done by the gardaí and the employment of an increasing number of traffic wardens, which should release a substantial number of gardaí for more important police work. Extra funds have been made available for the purchase of Garda cars. Special temporary arrangements have been made to complete a radio communication service for all parts of the country within a matter of months. These new arrangements are already in effect in some areas and are proving both very useful and very satisfactory. However, the present arrangements are temporary and a permanent and even better system is being planned for the gardaí by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, with whom, of course, a constant and close liaison is being maintained.
As regards Garda building, I have approved the use of a standard system-built station to replace existing stations in need of replacement at some rural centres. Already contracts for ten such stations have been placed. Associated with them, contracts have also been placed for a system-built official house for gardaí at each of the ten centres. A new Divisional Headquarters is at present under construction at Waterford and the planning of new Divisional Headquarters for Limerick and Cork is in train. The provision of a new headquarters for the Dublin Metropolitan Area is also necessary and I have already initiated discussions with the Office of Public Works about this matter. In addition, the Office of Public Works recently invited tenders for a new communications centre at Dublin Castle and they hope to have work on the new building completed by the end of the year.
My Department, among its other activities, is engaged on an extensive programme of law reform. In the ten years since the programme was launched, substantial progress has been made as is evidenced by the law reform measures which have already reached the Statute Book. Of its nature, law reform is a long-term project involving the giving of priority to certain items. Various practical considerations affect the rate of progress—in particular, the limited number of skilled staff available for this work.
The House dealt last year with two Law Reform measures, namely, the Courts Act, 1971, and the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1971. The first of these provides for increases in the civil jurisdiction of the Circuit and District Courts and deals with a number of other important matters relating to the functions and operation of the courts. The other Act deals with a number of urgent matters in the field of landlord and tenant law including the grant of a new type of lease to sports organisations in certain circumstances. Incidentally, this latter Act is an interim measure which will be absorbed into a comprehensive Landlord and Tenant Bill now being prepared.
Among the law reform measures in various stages of preparation are a Charities Bill to make new provision for the incorporation of charity trustees, to make special provision in relation to charities that are governed by Private Acts of Parliament or by Charters and to amend the Charities Act, 1961, in certain respects; a Criminal Injuries Bill which will consolidate, amend and reform the law relating to malicious or criminal injuries to property or to the person; the comprehensive Landlord and Tenant Bill, which I have already referred to; a Courts and Court Officers Bill which will contain provisions to implement recommendations made in the sixteenth interim report of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure in relation to the jurisdiction of the Master of the High Court and will include a number of other important provisions relating to the Courts and Court Officers; and a Registry of Deeds Bill. Other legislative proposals which are being prepared include Bills to provide for the enforcement of foreign judgments and maintenance orders and a Bill to deal with the jury system, a subject on which recommendations have been received from the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure.
The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure have submitted 17 interim reports up to the present.
The first of these reports dealt with the procedure for the preliminary investigation of indictable offences and legislation based on the report has been enacted, namely, the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. Another of the reports dealt with the question of increased jurisdiction for the Circuit and District Courts and this, as I mentioned a moment ago, is a matter that has been provided for in the Courts Act, 1971.
The jury system forms the subject-matter of three interim reports of the committee and, arising out of the recommendations contained in these three reports, legislative proposals relating to the jury system are at present under consideration. One of the committee's reports deals with the criminal jurisdiction of the High Court and another with appeals from conviction on indictment. I am having the committee's recommendations in these reports examined and I hope to introduce amending legislation in due course.
Further reports of the committee deal with the service of court documents by post, the fees of professional witnesses, proof of previous convictions, the interest rate on judgment debts, the jurisdiction and practice of the Supreme Court, the organisation of the courts, the rights of audience of solicitors in the courts, the liability of barristers and solicitors for professional negligence and the extension of the "fine-on-the-spot" system to offences other than parking offences. Provision has been made in the Courts Act, 1971, for an extension of the registered post mode of service to documents of the superior courts and for a right of audience for solicitors in all our courts.
The Government authorised me to arrange for the implementation of the committee's recommendations in regard to the fees of professional witnesses, and new rules of court in this regard, in which I have concurred, were made by the Superior Courts Rules Committee. The remaining matters dealt with in the reports of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure are being examined.
The Landlord and Tenant Commission have so far presented two reports dealing with specific issues. Their first report deals with the renewal of occupational tenancies under the 1931 Landlord and Tenant Act. The second report deals with extensions of the rights of renewal and of outright purchase given by the Landlord and Tenant Acts from 1931 to 1967 and enjoyed by what may be called ground rent tenants. It covers, inter alia, the renewal of the tenancies of sports clubs in certain circumstances. I have already mentioned the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1971. This is the first instalment of legislation which arises from the recommendations of the commission. All the recommendations made by the commission have been accepted by the Government subject only to relatively minor amendments. This acceptance involves the promotion of legislation to make considerable changes in the Landlord and Tenant Acts of 1931, 1958 and 1967. These changes will be embodied in a comprehensive Bill which has already been introduced as the Landlord and Tenant Bill, 1970. This will be a complicated piece of legislation involving the amendment of the Acts of 1931, 1958 and 1967 and their consolidation with the Act of 1971. It will be recalled that owing to the complexity of the Bill, I decided that it was necessary to abstract from it the more urgently-needed provisions and to introduce them as a separate Bill. That separate Bill was since enacted as the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1971. The text of the comprehensive Bill is now being settled and it will be circulated as soon as possible—I hope before the summer recess. After presenting their first two reports, the commission commenced their main work, that is, a review of the whole law of landlord and tenant, apart from questions bearing on the scope and policy of rent control. This review involves an examination of the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1860, commonly known as Deasy's Act.
The rules committees of the various courts have done quite an amount of work during the past two years. The District Court Rules Committee continue their major task in connection with a general revision of the existing District Court Rules. The committee have made—and I have concurred in —the following rules: the District Court (Extradition Act, 1965) Amending Rules, 1971, which prescribe certain forms in substitution for forms prescribed in the District Court (Extradition Act, 1965) Rules, 1968, the District Court (Charge Sheet) Rules, 1970, which will extend to the whole country the system at present in operation in the Dublin Metropolitan District whereby the offence charged against an arrested person is entered on a charge sheet instead of in the Minute Book and the District Court (Courts Act, 1971) Rules, 1972 which deal with procedural matters arising from the Courts Act, 1971. The committee have submitted the District Court (Summonses and Warrants) Rules, which are designed to secure a more expeditious discharge of business in the District Court by making changes in the procedures relating to the preparation of records and warrants in the court. These rules are at present being considered in my Department.
The Circuit Court Rules Committee are making progress with their work of revising and consolidating the Circuit Court Rules. I have concurred in rules made by them entitled the Circuit Court Rules (No. 1) 1970, dealing with certain procedures under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, and the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) Act, 1967. In addition, the committee have for some time been examining draft rules, and suggested amendments to those rules, to deal with procedure under the Succession Act, 1965.
Five sets of rules, in which I have concurred, were made by the Superior Courts Rules Committee.
First, there were the Rules of the Superior Courts (No. 1), 1970 which prescribed the procedure for appeals, on a point of law, to the Supreme Court from decisions of the Circuit Court under the Electoral Act, 1963. These rules also deal with the lodgment of money in court with the defence and with orders for delivery of possession.
Secondly, there were the Rules of the Superior Courts (No. 2), 1970, which replace, by a new rule, the existing rules covering fees and expenses of witnesses. The new rule is in the main designed to implement the recommendations of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure in Part (2) of their eighth interim report. The principal change is that the fee for a professional witness allowable on taxation of party and party costs is no longer prescribed by the Rules of the Superior Courts but will be determined by the Taxing Masters after consultation from time to time with the professional associations. The third set of rules in which I have concurred are the Rules of the Superior Courts (No. 1), 1971, which provide for the recovery of certain court fees increased under the Supreme Court and High Court (Fees) Order, 1970.
Fourthly, there were the Rules of the Superior Courts (No. 2), 1971, which relate to bankruptcy forms, the grant of free transcripts to appellants in legal aid cases in the Court of Criminal Appeal, procedure under the Redundancy Payments Act, 1967 and the reckoning of certain execution costs by reference to Part III of Appendix W to the Rules of the Superior Courts, 1962.
The fifth and last set of rules made by the Superior Courts Committee were the Rules of the Superior Courts (No. 3), 1971, which provide for an increase in the costs in respect of shorthand writers and transcripts of evidence, as prescribed in the Rules of the Superior Courts, 1962.
The three Courts Rules Committees made new costs rules which came into operation on Decimal Day, the 15th February, 1971. The effect of the new rules was to substitute the new decimal currency equivalents for amounts of costs previously prescribed in pounds, shillings and pence.
A division has been established in my Department to continue the work of examining the implications for the Department of entry to the EEC and to take the necessary consequential action. The Department is considering in conjunction with the Attorney General's Legal Committee what legal provisions will be required, in so far as the Department is concerned, to implement the Treaties, Community secondary legislation and the Rules of the European Court of Justice. The provisions required are likely to include amendments to existing legislation, certain new legislative measures and new rules of court. The Department is also considering the EEC Convention on Jurisdiction and the Enforcement of Civil and Commercial Judgments, with a view to accession by Ireland to the Convention. The Convention has been ratified by three of the existing six member states and it will come into force when all the member states have ratified it. The Accession Treaty provides that the new member states shall enter into negotiations with the Six in order to make any necessary adjustments to it. These negotiations have already begun but they are still at an exploratory stage in the field of "technical adaptations". We have received and are examining a preliminary draft of an EEC Convention on Bankruptcy, Compositions and Related Proceedings. This draft is still being considered by the Six and I understand that negotiations on the terms of the convention will not take place with the applicant States until a new draft has been prepared in the light of the views of the existing members.
The Adoption Board made 1,305 orders in 1971, 109 less than in 1970. The proportion of children placed by Adoption Societies was 85 per cent as compared with 83 per cent in 1970. I should like to place on record my appreciation of the excellent work that is being done both by the board itself and by the Adoption Societies, of whom there are 21. Six hundred and fifty-six of the orders made in 1971 were in respect of boys and 649 were in respect of girls. The board continues to hold sittings outside Dublin so as to facilitate prospective adopters. Forty-eight of the total of 92 meetings held during the year were held in various centres outside Dublin.
There has been some increase in recent years in the number of aliens registered as being resident here for three months or more. The number so registered on 31st December, 1971 was 6,088 as against 5,126 on 31st December, 1970. The influx of visitors subject to immigration controls continues to increase at a rapid rate. Over 222,000 visitors came here in 1971 from places other than the North of Ireland and Great Britain as compared with 190,000 such visitors in 1970. Those figures do not include British subjects, who are exempt from control on a reciprocal basis. The increasing number of foreign visitors coming here creates various administrative problems for the immigration service, and the service has to be kept under constant review in consultation with the other Government Departments concerned.
In the year ended 31st December, 1971, 71 persons were naturalised as compared with 95 in the previous year. This brings to 2,928 the total number of all persons naturalised since 1935, when provision for naturalisation was made.
In 1970, the latest year for which figures are available, the Film Censor examined 789 films with a total footage of 3,034,288. The number of films examined by the Censor in 1969 was 843 and the footage examined in that year was 2,767,232. Of the total of 789 films which the Censor examined in 1970, 646 were passed without cuts, 70 were passed with cuts and 73 were rejected. The Censor issued 119 limited certificates. The Censorship of Films Appeal Board considered appeals in respect of 74 films. Sixteen of the appeals were rejected. Four films were allowed for general viewing without cuts, 13 for limited viewing without cuts and 41 for limited viewing with cuts.
The Censorship of Publications Board examined 367 books and 13 periodicals in 1971. Five books were examined as a result of formal complaints from members of the public and 362 books were referred to the board by Officers of Customs and Excise. The board made 291 prohibition orders in respect of books and five in respect of periodicals.
Appeals for revocation of prohibition orders were lodged with the Censorship of Publications Appeal Board in respect of five books; and five appeals were made for variation orders in respect of particular editions of books prohibited and a further five were brought forward from 1970. The Appeal Board made two variation orders.
Under section 2 of the Censorship of Publications Act, 1967, a prohibition order imposed on the ground that a book was indecent or obscene ceases to have effect after 12 years. By virtue of this provision, 279 prohibition orders in respect of books ceased to have effect on 31st December, 1971.
In the Public Record Office the amount of material being transferred continued to grow. The main intake of documents in the office consists of the transfer of records from the principal and district probate registries and from the courts. During the current year a large quantity of old family and estate papers were received from solicitors and others.
I now come to prisons. An outstanding feature of the period under review has been the steep rise in the numbers in custody, itself a consequence of the increased incidence of crime to which I referred earlier. At present there are 1,078 in custody. This figure is 153 above the daily average for 1971 and 329 above the daily average for 1970. The situation is greatly altered from that of ten years ago—when there were about 450 in custody—or even five years ago—when the figure was about 560—and when whole sections were empty in all the prisons.
In January of this year we reached the position of having to accommodate a small number of prisoners and detainees in overcrowded cells. Fortunately this situation did not persist, and there is not pressure to this degree on the available accommodation at the present time. By and large, however, it can be taken that the prisons and detention centres—Cork excepted — are almost full to capacity. There are now 506 in Mountjoy, 123 in Limerick, 177 in Portlaoise, 15 in Cork, 207 in St. Patrick's and 50 in Shanganagh. Here I may say that our prison buildings, in common with those of most European countries, are not modern. Mountjoy, St. Patrick's, Limerick and Cork were built more than a century ago and Portlaoise as a convict prison dates from the first decade of the present century. With the exception of Shanganagh, the principal part of which was built as a modern residential college in recent years, the other places I have mentioned are out of date in lay-out. Mountjoy, St. Patrick's and Limerick radiate in wings from a central area and Portlaoise and Cork are long rectangular blocks. In both types there is a great open space between roof and ground floor with stairways and passageways leading to tiers of cells on three or four unfloored levels.
The likelihood that the increasing crime rate would cause an accommodation problem in the prisons was already showing itself when I first became Minister. Possible solutions had been under consideration in my Department and I visited all the prisons to make myself familiar with the problems which had to be met. It was clear that additional accommodation would be needed before very long and it was also clear that the existing accommodation needed to be seen to. I set up, therefore, a group representative of my own Department and the Office of Public Works to get to work on a number of projects which I considered should be attended to immediately. A great deal of progress has been made and I have approved of several new developments.
I directed that priority be given to the provision of a new women's prison in Dublin. The existing prison consists of the ground floor of a wing which is structurally part of St. Patrick's Institution and has its own separate grounds. It is too small, it is not well serviced and neither it nor St. Patrick's benefits from being adjacent to one another. Several possible sites were inspected. I am glad to say that one of these is very suitable. I am anxious to acquire it and negotations are on point of completion. Even when the site is finally acquired, it will of course be at least another year before construction is likely to commence and a second year at least before the new prison is ready. However, it is good to be at the stage when one can definitely foresee that a modern purpose-built centre to accommodate and treat women prisoners will be available to replace the accommodation which we have at present. In the meantime my Department has sought advice from the United Nations Social Defence Research Institute. The information available to the institute on up-to-date standards of design and equipment for prisons is at our disposal. Deputies can rest assured that we are abreast of current ideas on these matters and that the preliminary briefing is being undertaken already.
There is also a major programme of redevelopment on hands for the men's prison in Mountjoy.
A new corrective training unit is being planned for 100 trainees in place of the ordinary prison wing used in Mountjoy at present for corrective training. The new unit will be located on the Mountjoy site but it will be completely separate from the main prison and will be an autonomous institution. Guidelines for the new unit have been discussed with the architect. The unit will provide first-class living accommodation and educational, training and recreational facilities and both finishes and equipment will be in harmony with its purpose. The experience gained in the present corrective training wing has underlined the basic soundness of what we have been trying to do and the new unit will afford an opportunity to develop several aspects of training. Staff and the overall training activity of the new unit will be carefully planned and I am confident that we will make worthwhile advances in this area. It is hoped the new unit will be complete within a year from now.
It is intended to build new quarters for unmarried prison officers adjacent to the prison but outside the perimeter wall. These living quarters will be for 50 officers and will be capable of future extension if that proves desirable. They have been designed to provide acceptable standards of living and recreational accommodation for staff, taking into consideration the trying circumstances in which officers perform their daily duties. The architect's plans, which have been discussed with the officers' staff association, are now being examined and construction is expected to commence in 1973.
As soon as the new staff quarters are ready to be occupied it is intended to adapt the present staff quarters in prison precincts as an infirmary. A thorough reconstruction is envisaged. It should enable up-to-date facilities to be provided not only for the general run of minor illnesses but also for mild psychiatric disturbance or for relief of drug dependency conditions. It is intended, however, to continue the policy of referring cases of serious illness, including mental illness, for treatment to the appropriate outside hospitals.
Might I interpolate here that considerable progress has been made in reaching agreement with the Eastern Health Board's Department of Forensic Medicine on the provision of a psychiatric consultancy and treatment service for the prisons and detention centres near Dublin on a weekly sessional basis. A similar arrangement will be sought from other regional health boards in respect of our other establishments. Such formal arrangements will greatly enhance the service which the psychiatric hospitals have extended for years past.
A new corrective training unit within the next year and a new infirmary by 1975 holds out the prospect of two of the present four wings in Mountjoy being vacated. At present the numbers in Mountjoy are running close to 500. This is too high. It is particularly undesirable because it greatly impairs the degree of segregation which is desirable. Apart from that, it reduces the quality of personal relationship between staff and prisoners and by straining the physical resources of the prison it makes it impossible to undertake many developments that are called for and that I would like to see in operation. The vacating of the corrective training wing next year should afford some early relief and the vacating of the hospital wing subsequently should effect a significant improvement.
Quite a good deal of renovation is being carried out in Mountjoy. The kitchen has been completely re-equipped. It took a long time to get the work done, because the kitchen itself had to be kept operative right through and it had to cope as well with a rising population. A fully equipped dental surgery has also been installed in which the full range of dental treatment can be carried out. At the present time a new central prison stores is nearing completion as is a new multi-purpose hall which can be used for talks, games and even for visits. Throughout the prison, much of what I will call the "plumbing" is old and unsatisfactory. A continuous effort is being made to improve the situation in this respect. A lot has already been achieved though, as vandalism is always with us, some of it has to be done and done again.
Limerick Prison is now also almost full to capacity. In many ways it is the prison in best state of repair. Good living-quarters for the staff of the women's prison have been built, entirely by prisoners under the guidance of the trades staff. The women's prison there is being renovated. Half the cells have been replastered and painted and a pleasant workroom constructed. The remainder of the cells are being done at present.
The numbers in Portlaoise have gone up also and resources are strained. Contracts will be placed shortly for the total reconstruction of a wing of the old county prison which has been disused for many years. It is intended to re-roof this wing, to floor every storey and to have every one of the three floors self-contained to a considerable degree. The new wing will provide three sectors for 16 men each and, in the special context of Portlaoise, as the prison where the longer prison sentences are served, this should enable particular categories of prisoners to be brought together in small groups as an aid to rehabilitation.
In the existing block, the kitchen has also been completely re-equipped. This year I hope to have the old laundry re-equipped as a modern laundrette. A five-shower unit has also been installed but the rest of the "plumbing" needs seeing to. The roof of the wing has been giving trouble. I saw just how much on the rainy day of my visit and I am glad to say that the job that needed to be done is now well under way. Deputies passing the prison on their way to Dublin may have noticed, as I did myself, the continual improvements in the staff-houses along the Dublin road—re-plastering, new garden walls, railings and so on. They may be interested to know that only a few of the many who were working were officers. The rest were prisoners and there have been no mishaps, so far, anyway. I regret that for security reasons, much of this worthwhile activity has had recently to be curtailed.
Early this year when the existing prisons became overcrowded the Minister for Defence made the military detention barracks in Cork available to me for use as a civil prison. The building was in excellent condition and the prison is already in operation. Up to the present, 24 local prisoners have been transferred there from the other prisons. The prison potentially has accommodation for 100 but for a year or thereabouts, until ancillary buildings are provided and services augmented generally, it will not be possible to house anything approaching that figure. It is valuable, however, to be able to use it to its present limited extent because it is its availability that has made it possible to alleviate the overcrowding, properly so called, of last January elsewhere.
A degree of adaptation and modernisation will be necessary in Cork Prison. Consideration is being given at present to flooring each storey and having half of each floor almost self-contained and so having a prison in which there will be six separate sectors available for more satisfactory and more relaxed treatment of various categories of offenders.
The renovation of Cork Prison along these lines will enable this rather attractive idea to be tested on a moderate scale. If it proves successful, it could be the basis of a long-term programme for modernising the main block in Portlaoise and—with some moderate adaptation—the radial wings of Mountjoy.
I pass on to St. Patrick's. It is an old prison building built to a radial pattern on a very restricted site. It is full to capacity with more than 200 boys between 16 and 21 years of age. I reject any suggestion that I am, or ever have been, complacent about it. I have always felt that structurally it was far from suitable and in any case that it attempted to house twice or maybe three times as many youngsters as it ought.
Things are changing for the better. I have acquired the residential college, formerly conducted by the White Fathers at Loughan, near Blacklion in County Cavan, as a detention centre partly to relieve the pressure on accommodation in St. Patrick's. Up to the present this new centre has been referred to as Blacklion. This is not quite correct, as Blacklion is some miles away. It is intended to call the centre simply Loughan, which is the name of the townland of which it comprises the greater part.
The college was built only 16 years ago and is entirely suitable to its new purpose. When provision has been made for staff, it will be possible to house about 35 offenders immediately. Within a year or so, by taking away easily removable party walls, it will be possible to accommodate 72 offenders in 18 rooms, four to each room. These rooms have washbasins and fitted wardrobes. There are chapels, classrooms, recreation rooms and a theatre.
Already the County Leitrim Vocational Education Committee, in whose catchment area the centre will be, have offered their assistance with daily classes in general and practical subjects. Their spontaneous offer was most heartening and ensures that there will be a proper educational emphasis in the running of the centre from the outset. The buildings are situated on about 50 acres in lovely countryside. It will not be an "open" centre like Shanganagh nor will the same high degree of selectivity apply and it is intended to erect adequate—yet discreet—perimeter fencing. Within the precincts, however, there will be considerable freedom of movement.
Many things are undecided as yet about the new centre. The idea is to be quite flexible initially and, indeed, it may be necessary to modify and adjust as experience is gained. I am not yet in a position to say what age group will be sent to Loughan. The House will recall that power was taken in the Prisons Act, 1970, to alter the ages for committal to St. Patrick's from 16 to 21 years to 16 to 19 years. This change has not been made because the growing prison population afforded no opportunity to implement it. I am now reviewing the matter and perhaps, as a preliminary exercise we may have one or other of the two age groups 16 to 18 and 19 to 21 in Loughan and see how matters work out. At any rate, the stage of reducing the population in St. Patrick's has been reached.
A great deal of much needed work has been done in St. Patrick's itself. With one exception, all the wings have been re-roofed and this greatly improves the day lighting. The remaining wing will be re-roofed this year. One wing is being thoroughly renovated. This involved hacking off all the old plaster, electrical rewiring, installation of new lights and complete replastering. The work is well advanced. When it has been completed and redecorated, and when the old granite floor has been replaced by linoleum tiles, the former aspect of the wing will be greatly improved, particularly as an amount of superfluous internal bars have been removed. As soon as this wing has been finished, work will commence on another.
When I visited St. Patrick's after being appointed Minister, I decided that matmaking should be brought to an end. This has made it possible to have the old matshop converted into a large recreation hall which, to an extent, can be used as a gymnasium, for boxing and as a concert-hall. It is really a fine job of conversion. Apart from this recreation hall, a great deal of gymnastic and sport equipment has been purchased and the playing field has been laid out as a multi-purpose all-weather pitch.
The kitchen in St. Patrick's has also been re-equipped. I take this opportunity to mention that here, as in all the prisons, the use of aluminium table utensils has been discontinued, and a range of patterned ware introduced. All prisoners now have patterned cup, saucer, plates and dishes. They also have an individual teapot, which is of stainless steel. I should also mention that, as the new kitchens are now in operation in all the institutions, improvements can be made in the present diet. The revised diet will be introduced shortly.
Nearly all the boys committed to St. Patrick's are educationally backward and I am glad to be able to tell the House that much has been done in the past year to come to grips with this situation. A new educational centre is now almost ready for use and it is furnished and equipped in the most modern way. It has three ordinary classrooms for basic subjects and another two which are more spacious and which can be used for singing, art, group discussions, evening activities and so forth. This facility is one which has been lacking in St. Patrick's and it will enable teaching in basic subjects to be effectively undertaken.
Since October, 1970, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny have been coming in to take the boys for reading, writing, arithmetic, arts and crafts and singing. Two sisters come in daily, morning and afternoon. One of the sisters, a qualified and experienced teacher, who has been on the academic staff of a teacher training college and who has also had extensive experience of social problems, sees every boy coming into St. Patrick's and finds out what his immediate educational needs are. This sister also takes some classes and the second sister, who has spent her life teaching, takes classes all day. Co-ordinating with them are a large group of students who take the boys, under the sisters' guidance, for individual tuition. These are students from St. Patrick's Training College, Drumcondra, Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, Dalgan Park and the Salesians. I should like to express here my appreciation of what they are doing.
Just for the present and until the new centre is finally available the sisters, as far as accommodation for classes is concerned, are making do as best they can. Despite the inadequate accommodation, the results of their work have exceeded expectations and they and their associates are now reaching almost 180 boys. As well as the two sisters who come in daily, a larger group come in on Saturdays and take the boys for singing, guitar playing, choir practise and so on. In addition to their teaching work, the sisters have brought into St. Patrick's a womanly presence which was heretofore lacking and their influence on the boys can only be for the best.
In one sector of the educational programme for St. Patrick's there was a setback. It proved difficult to recruit a psychologist. A competition was held by the Civil Service Commission in 1970 and candidates who qualified were offered the post but, in every case, individual reasons of one kind or another resulted in the person concerned not being able to accept appointment. I am still endeavouring to recruit a psychologist on a permanent basis and another open competitive examination will be held later on this year. In the meantime we have been fortunate in that we have recently been able to obtain the full-time services of a psychologist on a temporary basis. Incidentally, office and consultancy accommodation for a psychologist is included in the new school building to which I have referred.
As part of the modernisation of the existing buildings, loudspeakers are being installed in each cell and a central studio is being equipped to enable the transmission of talks, readings, music, indeed educational programmes of all kinds, in the widest sense of the word "educational", to the cells during the evening lock-up period and in this way to put to good use what has heretofore been a tedious time for the boys.
Under the guidance of the trades staff the boys in St. Patrick's have been helping with much of the reconstruction going on. This has been worthwhile training for them. The work has, however, caused its own quota of disruption and, unavoidably, a problem about grit and dust. Occasionally a boy has taken advantage of the disruption to cause trouble or to abscond. The great majority are making the best of the situation.
In Shanganagh Castle there have also been a number of developments. A community of sisters is now associated with the work of this centre. They are the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and a house has been acquired for them nearby. One sister who is a qualified nurse acts as matron and two others, both qualified and experienced teachers, take the boys for elementary subjects, geography, current affairs and handcrafts.
The sisters, who have just recently taken up duty, are now working out the programme which will be followed. Excellent classrooms are already available and equipment on modern lines, suitable for the special requirements of the boys, will be provided shortly. An art teacher is also provided by County Dublin Vocational Educational Committee for three hours on Saturdays and talks and discussions are conducted regularly on week nights by some voluntary workers who offered to give their time to the work for the boys. Once again I am grateful.
I think that I should mention here that both the housekeeper and the welfare officer in Shanganagh are also women and they, with the sisters, correct the staff imbalance that would exist in an all-male house.
Deputies may be interested to hear the results of a follow-up on over 100 of the boys who have been through Shanganagh to date. It was encouraging to find that almost 80 per cent have not been in trouble again and that the majority have continued in employment.
The new gymnasium and manual classrooms are now at the final stage of architectural planning and construction will commence later on this year. Work has already begun on hothouses for horticulture, which will cover a half acre. These will provide training for employment. The centre itself will be completely refurnished this year.
Last year a training course for prison officer recruits was inaugurated. The course consisted of explanatory talks, visits to welfare services, courts, hospitals, prisons, detention centres and also an introduction to the various kinds of duty these officers are called upon to perform. A series of lectures on human personality and on counselling has been given to the staff in Shanganagh Castle. The lectures were arranged in co-operation with the Department of Psychology of University College, Dublin. In addition, a number of prison staff have attended shorter training courses on one aspect or another of their official duties.
The members of the various visiting committees perform an indispensable service when they give their time to visiting the prisons and places of detention and looking into such things as complaints by individual prisoners, food, and so on. I welcome the latest addition to their number, the Visiting Committee to Shanganagh Castle. I have had a very full discussion with members of this committee and with the Committee of St. Patrick's. To all the others voluntarily engaged in welfare and educational activities in connection with the prisons and other institutions, I also wish to express my appreciation.
The expanded welfare service for offenders which I spoke about in the Prisons Bill, 1970, is now in existence. There are now 31 welfare officers as against eight two years ago. Thirteen of them are in Dublin. There are posts in Athlone, Cork, Dundalk, Kilkenny, Limerick, Sligo and Waterford. Officers may not be assigned yet to some posts but officers for them are in training. There are now eight welfare posts in all the prisons and detention centres as against two for all the institutions before the expansion.
Further appointments both in Dublin and the provinces are being considered. The welfare officers have undergone intensive four weeks' induction courses. These courses consist of talks from people experienced in various aspects of the work, group discussions, study visits to places and environments with which welfare officers are likely to be connected, and a wide sampling of the duties which they are likely to be asked to carry out. I wish to place on record my special appreciation of all the assistance which has been received from the Sheffield Probation and After-Care Service. Two years ago, when officials of my Department were examining the requirements for a better service, they were most helpfully received in Sheffield and were given a thorough insight into the fully organised welfare service which is operating there. Since then the Sheffield Service has continued to help and has offered to receive our recently appointed officers for study visits. Already two of the senior officers have been there and all the other officers will go in turn this year.
A new headquarters office has been opened in 39 Anne's Lane off South Anne Street not alone as a headquarters for the service but as a co-ordinating centre for the many voluntary bodies in the community at large who are co-operating with the service. I have explained at length on several occasions why I consider community effort so important in relation to a community problem like offenders.
This community interest is growing daily and I welcome it. But as well as being articulate it should, indeed must, be practical also, if it is to be valid at all. Perhaps the most remarkable recent development in this sector was the fine hostel for boys placed on probation by the courts, provided in Chapelizod by the Dublin Club of Lions International. They made an outstandingly good job of converting the former Garda station there, which I was glad to be able to make available for this purpose.
In the context of non-institutional treatment for offenders, I should also like to refer to an experimental project recently undertaken to compare the effect on offenders of being supervised in the community as distinct from being kept in detention. The Welfare Service conducted a survey in Saint Patrick's and identified a number of detainees who by reference to their histories, records and personal qualities might be considered as likely to benefit from such supervision. They were, in the main, offenders who might well, even at the outset, have been put under supervision by the courts if welfare officers had been available to them at the time of sentence. Thirty four were selected and I allowed them conditional release under close and intensive supervision of the Welfare Service. No more than two or three were allocated to any one officer and very precise norms of supervision applied.
The purpose was to see if these offenders could be kept out of trouble with supervisory support and guidance for the period during which they would have been in custody. In the eight weeks that the project has been in operation four of the boys have lapsed and are again in custody but 30 of the 34 are doing well. The group under supervision are matched to a group serving out their detention sentences and the behaviour-patterns of both groups on completion of their sentences will be compared later on as a follow-up. It could be that there will be evidence in favour of relying more than at present on non-institutional supervision and that some offenders may do as well under supervision as they do in detention, or possibly better.
I have listed a number of things that are being done—in the short term and long term—to improve our places of detention in various ways. No doubt there is a lot of leeway to be made up, though I am bound to say that we are less adept than we might be in boosting what we have done. Be that as it may, I do not think that any Deputy listening to me could fairly deny that we are doing a very great deal, especially when regard is had to the many demands on our resources by other citizens who in their own way are just as unfortunate as—perhaps more than—those who come into conflict with the law. One of the things that has struck me in meeting some of the people who are interested in a general benevolent way in penal reform is that they persist in telling me that nothing is being done about it in this State. When I stress the scope and variety of what is in fact being done or being planned I want to acknowledge in full the work done in this field during the period of office of my predecessor. What I feel justified in saying for my own part is that I have built on, and expanded, the work he had done, just as he did during his period of office.
I should not like to conclude this review of developments in regard to the treatment of offenders without referring to a matter which has been the subject of concern to the Tánaiste, as Minister for Health, and to myself for some time past, that is, the provision to be made for mentally disturbed offenders. In consultation with him, I have set up an informal interdepartmental committee, which includes specialists in the medical and legal fields, to examine this problem. The committee will be concerned with persons, including drug abusers, psychopaths and emotionally disturbed and maladjusted children and adolescents, who have come, or appear likely to come, in conflict with the law and who may be in need of psychiatric treatment. The idea is that the committee will make recommendations informally as they go along, so to speak, and it is not envisaged that there will be anything in the nature of a single formal report or that the reports will be published. This is a wide and complex undertaking and it would be unrealistic to expect recommendations from the committee for some time. Nevertheless a fresh appraisal of the problem is necessary and I am confident that the efforts of the committee will result in a genuine advance.
There is just one other observation which I would like to make before I go on from prisons and the welfare service. I do so to clarify for Deputies the institutions for which I am answerable to this House. I am not responsible for industrial schools, reformatory schools, St. Laurence's Centre for Delinquent Boys in Finglas, the remand home at Marlborough House in Glasnevin or the projected replacement for St. Conleth's School in Oberstown. I mention these places because Deputies may have been led to believe from references in the news media that they are controlled by my Department and unless, so to speak, I put the record right matters might be raised that are not my responsibility and are, therefore, not relevant. I am aware, of course, that it is being alleged that there is no liaison or coordination between my Department and the Department of Education in relation to the custody and treatment of young offenders. I want to say categorically that that is not true and that the people who make these charges are unaware of the facts.
The next area of my Department's responsibilities that I want to deal with is that relating to the courts.
Deputies may recall that an order made by my predecessor which came into operation on 1st April, 1969, provided for a general closedown of sittings of the District Court during the month of August and for short periods at Easter and Christmas and for the holding of special sittings as required to handle urgent business. In general, this system operated smoothly and successfully, met the convenience of the general public and contributed to the efficiency of the District Court. However, on the basis of practical experience of its working, I felt that a further improvement could be made by providing that, instead of special sittings as required, weekly vacation sittings would be held at a central venue in each District Court District during the month of August, with additional sittings in Cork and Dublin. The new arrangements came into operation with effect from 1st August, 1970.
A particular problem arises from delays that have been building up in the Dublin Circuit Court in the trial of offenders and in the hearing of criminal appeals. To meet this situation, the President, on the recommendation of the Government, appointed an additional Circuit Court judge for the Dublin circuit for a period of two years from 6th December, 1971. This means that there are now four Circuit judges assigned to Dublin. In addition, the spare time of the provincial judges continues to be utilised in the Dublin circuit. Since the appointment of the additional Circuit Court judge for Dublin, the delays in the hearing of cases have been reduced. At present, the average delay in the trial of an offence is six months as compared with eight months formerly. In the case of a criminal appeal, delay has been reduced from seven months to three months. I hope and expect that the position will continue to improve. It will be generally accepted that persons should be brought to trial or, as the case may be, have their appeals determined as speedily as possible.
The rapidly-increasing volume of court business in Dublin in recent years has imposed a growing strain on available accommodation for the courts, and court offices, particularly in the Four Courts complex. It is now clear that the existing accommodation is no longer adequate and that the time has come for a complete reassessment of the present and future accommodation requirements of all the courts in Dublin. I am, therefore, setting up a small committee, representative of the Departments immediately concerned to look into the matter. The President of the High Court has kindly consented to act as chairman of that committee which, I expect, will begin work immediately.
I am satisfied that the accommodation available to the Children's Court in Dublin leaves much to be desired. I have, accordingly, had this accommodation examined with a view to seeing whether it can be improved pending the outcome of the deliberations of the committee I have mentioned, which will, of course, concern itself with the long-term accommodation requirements of this court as well as of the other courts in Dublin. Certain proposals, designed to improve the existing accommodation in the short term, are at present under discussion between my Department and the Office of Public Works and I am hopeful that it will be possible to effect the necessary improvements at an early date.
In regard to the Children's Court, I want to take this opportunity of correcting recent erroneous references made and repeated in public to the number of children dealt with annually by this court. Wide publicity has been given to statements that 16,000 children pass through the court annually. The figure of 16,000 refers, in fact, to the number of charges listed and not the number of children involved. The number of children involved would be approximately one third of the number of charges.
The staffing requirements of the Circuit Court and the District Court are at present being re-assessed in the light of the increasing volume of work in these courts in recent years. The staffing situation will be reviewed in the light of experience of the increases in the jurisdictions of these courts under the Courts Act, 1971.
A review of the free legal aid scheme was completed in 1970. After discussions with the General Council of the Bar of Ireland and the Incorporated Law Society, I made an order on 7th October, 1970, increasing substantially the fees payable to solicitors and counsel under the scheme and providing for the payment of additional fees and expenses in certain circumstances.
Following a full and detailed examination of the fees chargeable in court offices, I made orders which came into effect on 19th October, 1970, increasing certain fees chargeable in the offices of the Supreme Court and the High Court and increasing generally the fees chargeable in the offices of the Circuit and District Courts.
The fees chargeable in the Office of the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy were substantially reduced and rationalised. Apart from some minor adjustments necessary because of the advent of decimalisation, no increases were made in the fees chargeable in the Probate Office and in the district probate registries. Moreover, the additional Revenue fee of 1/- hitherto charged on an official copy of a will was abolished by the Finance Act, 1970, so that the existing Probate fee of 25p for an official copy of a will is now the total fee payable.
In making the fees orders, I had specifically in mind the desirability of keeping as low as possible those fees with which the community in general is more frequently concerned, and also of encouraging members of the public and solicitors to avail themselves of the services provided for them in the various court offices. It is for this reason that I made no increases in Probate fees, confined increases in the fees for a civil process in the District Court and for a civil bill in the Circuit Court to a minimum, and substantially reduced the fees in the Office of the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy.
All court fees may now be paid either by impressed stamps or by adhesive stamps. Previously, impressed stamps were mandatory in certain cases. This caused inconvenience to solicitors, who had to keep stocks of those documents that required impressed stamps. Country solicitors, in particular, were inconvenienced as there were no facilities outside Dublin for impressing stamps on documents.
I should like to draw attention to the fact that, under the Courts Act, 1971, fees now payable by litigants generally will be substantially less by reason of the fact that a significant number of proceedings that have to be taken in either the High Court or the Circuit Court will, under the new legislation, fall within the jurisdiction of either the Circuit Court or the District Court, as the case may be.
With regard to the Land Registry, there has been a continuing upward trend in recent years in the intake of work. For example, the number of applications for changes in registration increased from 38,000 in 1970 to 46,200 in 1971 and, since the end of 1971, the rate of increase has accelerated sharply. On the basis of the current intake, it is estimated that the number of dealings lodged in the calendar year 1972 will be in the region of 58,000. This represents an increase of 53 per cent as compared with 1970, and creates serious difficulties as regards the provision of an efficient service to the public. I shall return to this aspect of the matter in a moment.
On 1st January, 1970, the compulsory registration provisions of the Registration of Title Act, 1964, were brought into operation in respect of the Counties Carlow, Laois and Meath. What this means, in effect, is that whenever unregistered property is sold in these counties the new ownership must be registered. The bulk of agricultural land in this country is already registered and, accordingly, the impact of the new provisions is mainly on urban properties. The question of extending the area of compulsory registration is one which I shall consider in due course, in the light of experience.
Deputies will be aware that for some years now there have been problems in the Land Registry in connection with arrears of work. These arrears have been due to a number of factors, including increases in the volume of work, shortage of accommodation, staffing and organisational difficulties. I am glad to say that the accommodation problems have been solved for the present. Reorganisation proposals which are in the process of being implemented will, I hope, solve the other problems. The reorganisation, which was recommended by a study group set up to review the organisation and procedures in the Land Registry, involves a change from the traditional structure of the Registry, which was based on a division of the work into various subfunctions, each of which was dealt with by a group of staff.
The system now being implemented calls for a division of the work by reference to geographical areas. Each area is given its own group of staff and an application to register a change of ownership made by a person in a particular area is processed from start to finish by the group dealing with that area. At the time of the debate on my Department's Estimates for 1969-70, two such groups had been set up on a pilot basis. We now have 11 groups operating. The possibility of increasing the number of groups is being examined having regard to the steep increase in the volume of work now being experienced. Already there are indications that the new procedures have in fact led to an improvement in efficiency.
However, I am still extremely concerned about the arrears in the Land Registry and, in particular, about arrears in the Mapping Branch. The introduction of an incentive bonus scheme helped to reduce the mapping arrears considerably during 1970, but a marked increase in the intake of work, combined with staffing difficulties, led to a worsening of the position during 1971. I am only too well aware that delays in the Mapping Branch can and do lead to considerable difficulties in effecting registration. The study group, to which I have already referred, have made recommendations for the reorganisation of the Mapping Branch and every effort is being made to have the necessary improvements effected at an early date so that an efficient service to the public will be provided.
Another matter which the study group examined is the system of paying for the services which the Land Registry renders. It is not always realised that even in money terms the Registry is quite a substantial business —one with an annual turnover of more than £400,000. The group have made recommendations for the introduction of a system of payment by cash rather than by Revenue stamps. This would obviously be more convenient for most solicitors. The recommendations are at present under examination and I hope to be able to have a detailed system worked out in the near future and brought into operation as soon as possible. The study group are continuing their work and I hope that we are now well on the way to designing and establishing an organisation that will not only be able to cater for the needs of the community in this important field but be fully capable of meeting future demands.
There has also been a general increase in the volume of work arising in the Registry of Deeds. The number of deeds registered has gone up from just over 34,000 in 1969 to almost 36,500 last year—a trend which shows every sign of continuing in the present year.
Finally I wish to refer briefly to the Office of Charitable Donations and Bequests. The last report which the commissioners made to me is in respect of the year 1970. Cash totalling £40,744 and stocks to the nominal value of £861 were transferred to the commissioners during that year and at the end of the year the nominal value of investments standing in their name was some £2,253,000. The Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests give their services voluntarily and their extremely valuable work is quite onerous. We should all be grateful to them.
This leads me to express to the other voluntary bodies and commissions which are associated with my Department, and which I have not already mentioned, my sincere thanks for their services during the past few years. It is one of the more encouraging things in public life that so many people are prepared to devote their valuable time and expertise as well as their leisure hours to work of national importance.