I welcome the opportunity to raise the need to expedite the transfer of sentenced persons under the legislation passed last year. It is almost six months since the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Act, 1995, became operable but not a single transfer has been effected. There seems to be undue delay in the implementation of the legislation. Surely some prisoners should have been transferred by this time but none has been transferred to either jurisdiction.
I understand 89 prisoners, 20 of whom are republicans, have expressed interest in a transfer from Britain; that the Minister for Justice received 29 formal applications and consented to five. At what stage of the process are the other 24 applications? Has she agreed to them in principle, are they being processed or has she in fact refused some? Perhaps the Minister of State will respond to that in his reply.
A newspaper report last Sunday stated that one application had been agreed by all sides, that the Minister for Justice referred it to the Home Office which agreed to it. Will the Minister inform the House on this case? Is it with the office of the Chief State Solicitor or the Attorney General and will it go to the High Court shortly?
The Minister will be aware that the legislation was introduced on humanitarian grounds under the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons to facilitate families by having their relative serve the sentence in the jurisdiction of which they are a citizen. Obviously the legislation was introduced in the context of the peace process. The situation for republican prisoners in British prisons has deteriorated since the ceasefire began. The deterioration of conditions in British prisons would have been seen as another reason to speed up the transfer of prisoners but this does not seem to have happened.
Will the Minister comment on the precondition set by the Home Office that the Minister for Justice "respect the integrity of the sentence by our Government" and that any sentence would not be substantially reduced when a transfer arose. I consider that to be a red herring. The legislation outlines the conditions under which the transfer will take place and how it will operate in each jurisdiction. To put it mildly it is out of line that the constitutional powers of the Minister for Justice to commute the sentence or to allow somebody early release would be interfered with, especially when one considers our track record. In this country we have 25 per cent remission which is less than in Britain, which is a third, and of course which is only half the 50 per cent remission that exists in Northern Ireland. The Minister for Justice has been very careful in any instances where republican prisoners have been released from Portlaoise. They would have served much more of their sentence than they would have served in any other jurisdiction.
Mr. Patrick Kelly who is serving his sentence in Maghaberry prison has cancer and is seriously ill. He has applied for a transfer but, to date, has not been facilitated. His family are based in Portlaoise adjacent to the high security prison for republican prisoners. What is the reason for the delay in the transfer?
What is the situation in regard to transfers from prison in the jurisdiction to Britain? When does he expect a transfer?