Bail Bill, 1997: Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Our bail laws have been the subject of legitimate public concern for many years. Since I became Minister for Justice, I made it clear that I regarded changes in our bail laws as a priority and I am proud that it is this Government which is taking decisive action on the matter. This Bill is clearly one of the most important anti-crime measures introduced since the foundation of the State.

I have taken the opportunity in the Bill not just to give effect to the amendment to the Constitution passed last November but to strengthen our bail laws generally. This represents a fundamental rebalancing of our criminal justice system in favour of the victims of crime and the law abiding members of society generally. In line with the constitutional amendment, the legislation will allow a court to refuse bail to a person charged with a serious offence where it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. It also contains new provisions relating to amounts of cash or equivalent securities which must be lodged as part of bail; attaching conditions, including conditions relating to good behaviour, to bail and allowing forfeiture of bail where the conditions are breached; and tightening up the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984.

It is important that the Bill should be seen in the context of the unparalleled programme of criminal law reform which I have undertaken since I had the honour to be appointed Minister for Justice. It is appropriate to remind the House of what has been produced as part of that programme. An examination of any previous two and a half year period for any Minister for Justice will show that there have never been so many major changes to our criminal law and I have been heartened by the number of gardaí, lawyers and members of the public who have commented on the beneficial changes I and the Government have implemented.

They include the Criminal Law (Incest Proceedings) Act, 1995 and the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995. The Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996 applies to drug trafficking offences and includes provisions allowing for detention, for up to seven days, of suspected persons, the issue of search warrants by superintendents in circumstances of urgency and restrictions on the right to silence. The Sixteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1996 amended the Constitution in relation to bail and paved the way for this legislation.

The Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous) Act, 1997 will speed up aspects of court procedure in criminal matters. It makes general provision, for the first time, for the issue of search warrants in relation to the commission of serious offences such as murder or rape and extends the application of certain other Garda powers. It also allows for wider use by the Garda Síochána of stinger devices to stop stolen cars or cars that have been involved in crime. The Criminal Law Bill, which has passed all Stages, restates and clarifies the existing law relating to arrest without warrant in relation to serious crimes — arrestable offences — and to Garda powers to enter and search premises to effect an arrest.

The Children Bill provides protection for children against abuse and will include provisions to outlaw all forms of child pornography and trafficking in children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The Offences Against the Person Bill, discussed in the House earlier this week, will provide a range of new offences to combat the distressing and relatively recent problem of criminal conduct involving syringes and blood. The penalties provided range from five years to life imprisonment. The Bill also provides for a new offence of harassment aimed at stalking; a new offence of abduction out of the State of a child by a parent in a tug-of-love situation, and a new offence of endangerment to deal with conduct which creates a substantial risk of death or serious harm to another.

I brought into operation the anti-money laundering provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994 as well as making regulations under that Act dealing with the seizure of imports or exports of cash associated with drug trafficking. This Act, which was passed before I took up office, was essentially enabling and required the actions I took to make it an effective crime-fighting initiative.

I received approval from the Dáil for the terms of three important international conventions dealing with international co-operation on crime: the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and the additional Protocol to the convention; the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime. These conventions, which have now been ratified, are important measures enabling Ireland to co-operate extensively with other countries in the fight against drugs and other serious crime. There is evidence of the success of this co-operation.

In addition, the Criminal Assets Bureau Act, 1996, establishing the bureau, and the Disclosure of Certain Information for Taxation and Other Purposes Act, 1996, allowing the exchange of information between various agencies, were introduced by the Government. The Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, allowing for the freezing of the assets of criminals, and the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act, 1996, dealing with child sex tourism, were accepted, subject to extensive amendment, by the Government.

This morning I published the Licensing (Combating Drug Abuse) Bill. This legislation will deal with the problem of drug abuse in public houses, dance halls and other places of entertainment. It will also give additional powers to the Garda Síochána to prevent unlicensed dances such as raves where it is suspected there will be drug abuse.

I and my colleagues in Government look forward to continuing this major programme of criminal law reform. The measures being worked on include Bills on fraud offences, criminal insanity, indexation of fines, attachment of earnings and Europol. Any fair-minded observer would recognise that the Government's determination to take whatever measures are open to it to tackle the problem of crime is evidenced by that legislative track record. That is particularly the case with this legislation but legislation alone is only part of the answer. A host of other anti-crime measures have been taken and it is relevant to mention that this Bill has been brought forward against the background of an unprecedented prison building programme designed to provide an additional 800 prison places, including a remand centre for 400 at Wheatfield.

I now turn to the details of the Bill, the earlier parts of which largely follow the outline legislation published by the Government in the context of the referendum last November. Section 1 provides for certain necessary definitions, the most important of which is the definition of a "serious offence". The approach I have taken to the question of defining "serious" in this context is to schedule certain offences to which the new regime will apply and to set a minimum term of imprisonment above which offences are to be regarded as serious. For this purpose, a term of imprisonment of five years or greater is considered appropriate. To decide on the offences to be scheduled involved an examination of existing criminal law but, recognising that certain offences which carry a penalty of five years or more are either archaic or not ones where the question of reoffending is likely to be relevant, not all offences carrying such a penalty have been included.

The Schedule sets out the range of offences to which the definition of a "serious offence" applies, subject to the five years threshold mentioned. The offences covered include the common law offences of murder, manslaughter, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, kidnapping, false imprisonment and rape. A number of statutory offences are also included, for example, various offences against the person, sexual offences, offences concerning explosives and firearms, robbery and burglary, Road Traffic Act offences, offences concerning hijacking of vehicles, forgery offences, offences against the State, drug offences and public order offences.

An argument may be made that, in the case of some scheduled offences which carry a potential penalty of five years or more, the crimes involved in particular cases might be relatively minor. This issue would appear to be inherent in any approach taken to the question of defining a "serious offence". It would be difficult to attempt to determine this by, for example, setting a value in relation to goods stolen. The circumstances surrounding a robbery can vary greatly, for example, the theft of someone's old age pension may not involve a large amount of money but could have devastating consequences. The alternative approach, the one I have taken in the Bill, is to specify criteria, as set out in section 2, which will, in practice, allow the courts to take into account the fact that an offence may be a relatively minor one of its kind.

I have provided in section 2, in accordance with the authority granted by the Sixteenth Amendment of the Constitution, the new ground on which bail may be refused, namely, where it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by a person charged with a serious offence. The section specifies the criteria to which the courts are to have regard in making their decision. These are the nature and degree of seriousness of the offence in respect of which the accused person is charged and the sentence likely to be imposed on conviction; the nature and degree of seriousness of the offence and the sentence likely to be imposed on conviction; the nature and strength of the evidence in support of the current charge; any conviction of the accused person in respect of an offence committed while he or she was on bail on a previous occasion; any previous conviction of the accused person, including a conviction presently under appeal; any other offence in respect of which the accused person is charged and awaiting trial.

Having taken into account one or more of these matters, the court may then have regard to the fact that the accused is addicted to drugs. This would be relevant in some cases in assessing the probability of offending if released on bail. However, in doing this I am not trying to criminalise drug addiction. This fact can only be taken into account by the court where it is relevant to the question of whether a serious offence will be committed and after the court has taken into account one or more of the other matters. I wish to stress that there is no question of a person with a substance addiction, who does not represent a threat to the community, being refused bail on the grounds of substance addiction alone.

I should also point out that under section 2 the court does not have to be satisfied that any specific offence is likely to be committed by the accused. If it was otherwise, an unreasonable burden of proof would be placed on the prosecution and the impact of the proposed change would be considerably weakened.

As the Bill sets out a new ground on which the courts may refuse bail, and recognising the need to ensure the speedy processing of trials of those who are remanded in custody, I am providing in section 3 for the review of a refusal of a bail application if the trial has not commenced within four months of the initial refusal. This is an important provision. While it has always been the practice to give priority to trials of accused persons remanded in custody, this provision will highlight the necessity for all concerned in the prosecution of offences to treat these cases as priority cases and to avoid, as much as possible, a situation where an accused spends a long period in prison on remand. Therefore, if the trial for the offence has not commenced within four months of the refusal the accused may renew his or her application for bail citing delay by the prosecution in proceeding with the trial. The court may then, if it is satisfied that the interests of justice require it, release the person on bail. It should be noted, however, that this does not automatically entitle the accused to bail. Rather, the prosecution must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the court that the delay is not unreasonable but is due, for example, to the complexity of the particular case.

It will be evident that the provisions of section 2 clearly contemplate the hearing of evidence concerning an accused's previous criminal history in appropriate cases. This obviously gives rise to concerns about possible prejudice to a fair trial of the accused. To reduce the possibility of prejudice, section 4 provides that where a court is hearing an application for bail the previous criminal record of the accused cannot be referred to in a manner which may prejudice a fair trial subsequently. To prevent possible prejudice the court will have power to direct that the bail application be held in camera or to exclude members of the public other than officers of the court, persons directly concerned in the proceedings, bona fide representatives of the press or any other person whom the court permits to remain. The publication or broadcast of any information concerning the criminal record of the accused which was referred to during the bail application will be prohibited. Anyone found guilty of breaching this prohibition could face a potential fine of up to £10,000 or imprisonment for up to three years or both.

I move now to section 5. Under section 22 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, an accused may be released on bail on his or her entering into a recognisance, with or without sureties. There is no requirement in the Act that the accused person, or his or her sureties, must, prior to being released on bail, pay any money into court. In practice in the majority of cases no money is paid into court — the accused is released on the promise that the bail money will be paid in the event of the accused's failure to answer bail. Much criticism has been made of the apparently small amounts of bail money which are estreated where an accused has failed to turn up for trial. This is accounted for to some extent by the fact that the estreatment process is seen as too cumbersome and lengthy to justify the resources required to pursue those who have not turned up for trial.

I am concerned that this should be the case and I am determined to remedy it. To that end, section 5 will oblige an accused and any sureties to pay into court at least one-third of the amount fixed by the court before the accused is freed on bail. The requirement to pay some of the bail money into court will have a number of beneficial consequences. It will mean that at least some bail money is available for forfeiture or estreatment in all cases where there is default. Furthermore, it appears that where the court insists on prior payment into court this has proven to be a great incentive for the accused to appear in accordance with the recognisance so as to secure the return of the money.

One-third appears to represent a reasonable minimum proportion. The court will have the option to accept from an accused or a surety, as security in lieu of the payment into court of the specified amount in cash, any instrument, other than title deeds to land, which is evidence of title to property. Where it accepts as security a bank, building society, credit union or post office deposit book, it will make an order directing the relevant institution not to permit the balance in the account to be reduced below either an amount equal to that required to be paid into court or the current balance, whichever is the lesser.

Under section 23 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, a person's release on bail is conditional on his or her appearance before the court at the end of the period of remand. That Act is silent on the question of imposing other conditions on an accused before granting bail. However, the courts in practice attach conditions to the grant of bail in many cases. Such conditions frequently include a requirement to report to the Garda at stated intervals or to surrender a passport. Section 6 of the Bill will oblige the court to attach standard conditions requiring the accused to refrain from committing any offence and to be of good behaviour while on bail.

In addition the recognisance may also be subject to any other conditions which the court considers appropriate, including conditions requiring the accused to reside or remain in a particular district or place in the State, to report to a specified Garda station at specified intervals, to surrender his or her passport or other travel document in his or her possession, to refrain from attending any places which the court specifies and to refrain from having any contact with any per son or persons whom the court specifies. These optional conditions can be varied on the application of the accused in cases where the court considers it appropriate to do so.

Recognising the legitimate interest of any person who acts as surety in preventing the estreatment of the recognisance or the forfeiture of the amount paid into court, I am providing that the surety may be permitted to return to court for the issue of a warrant for the arrest of the accused where it is feared that he or she is about to contravene any of the bail conditions. Such an application may be aimed at preventing the estreatment or forfeiture which would arise if the accused breaches a condition. A member of the Garda will also be empowered to apply to court for a warrant of arrest where it is feared that the accused is about to contravene any of the conditions of his or her bail.

A person arrested on foot of such a warrant must, as soon as practicable, be brought before the court which made the order directing that the recognisance be entered into. The court may then either commit him or her to prison pending trial or until a fresh recognisance is entered into or further remand him or her.

It is important that a person who puts himself or herself forward as a surety is in a position to meet the financial commitment which that involves. It is also important that proposed sureties are suitable persons to act as surety. To this end it is provided, in section 7, that the court considering a bail application which requires independent sureties will be required to satisfy itself concerning the proposed surety's financial resources, character, any previous convictions and his or her relationship to the accused. This will also ensure, to the greatest possible extent, that the proposed surety is not only a reliable person but also one who can be expected to have sufficient influence with the accused such that the latter will be likely to comply with the conditions of his or her bail.

Section 8 will permit the Garda to continue, as at present, to release on bail persons who have been arrested on foot of a court warrant. It will substitute a new section for section 30 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. The new section takes account of the changes being made in procedures as a result of the provisions of section 5 concerning the payment of moneys into court and section 6 concerning the conditions to be attached to the granting of bail. Section 8 provides that in cases where a court issues a warrant for the arrest of a person, and the warrant contains an endorsement that he or she be permitted bail by the Garda, the recognisance will be conditional on the accused's appearance in court as specified and the payment of the specified amount by the accused and his or her sureties as well as the conditions with which he or she must comply. Only then will the person be released on bail.

The present procedure for the estreatment of recognisances is seen by many as cumbersome. There is also the point made in the Law Reform Commission Report on the Law of Bail that in a significant number of cases judges appear reluctant to order estreatment for a variety of reasons. When estreatment of the money promised by sureties has been pursued, sureties have apparently been very imaginative at explaining the absence of funds when called upon at estreatment hearings to fulfil their promise. Clearly, the system is open to abuse and liable to be treated in a cavalier fashion by those whose only interest is to frustrate the effective operation of the law. I am proposing in section 9 to simplify and streamline the estreatment procedure by providing, in cases where an accused breaches a condition of his or her recognisance and where the court issues a warrant for that person's arrest, that it will at the same time order the estreatment of the recognisance and forfeiture of the amount paid into court. This will allow the immediate estreatment of the moneys already paid into court and the liability to estreatment or forfeiture of the balance of the recognisances entered into will remain. The onus will then shift to the accused or the surety to demonstrate to the court that circumstances exist which require it to vary or discharge the order for estreatment and forfeiture. This seems to be a reasonable way of approaching the matter.

Section 9 will also permit the Garda to seek a warrant for the arrest of an accused in circumstances where they believe an accused has contravened a condition of his or her recognisance. At present, section 13 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, gives the Garda this power where an accused has failed to turn up for trial. Where a warrant is issued in such a case for contravening a condition of the recognisance, the accused and his or her sureties will remain bound by their recognisances and any money paid into court will not be released until proceedings in connection with the alleged breach are concluded.

The matter of consecutive sentences under the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, has been the subject of much discussion. The Law Reform Commission, in its report, stated that the view might be taken that section 11 of the Act, which deals with consecutive sentences for offences committed while on bail, has been deprived of some of its deterrent power because of the courts' interpretation of it to permit them to suspend sentences and their view that while each sentence must be proportionate to the offence, the overall sentence must be proportionate in its totality. We need to send a clear message to those who commit crimes while on bail that the fundamental breach of trust this represents will not be tolerated and that anyone found guilty of such a breach should know they will be liable to suffer additional penalties.

The purpose of section 10 is to strengthen the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, in relation to the imposition of consecutive sentences for offences committed by a person while on bail. It proposes to do this by amending the 1984 Act to provide generally that where a consecutive sentence is passed following conviction for an offence committed while on bail, the total sentence to be imposed should generally be greater than would otherwise be imposed and that the commission of an offence while on bail should be considered as an aggravating factor warranting the longer sentence.

Sections 11 and 12 deal, respectively, with the removal of references to peace commissioners from those sections of Part III of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, dealing with the granting of bail, and the repeal of sections 27, 30 and 33 of the 1967 Act consequent on the changes being made in this Bill. The removal of references to peace commissioners arises from court decisions which held that peace commissioners do not have power to grant bail.

Section 13 is a standard provision giving the Short Title of the Act and providing for bringing into operation the provisions of the Act by order made by the Minister for Justice. As I indicated earlier, this Bill has been introduced against the background of the major prison building programme designed to provide an additional 800 prison places.

Part of the Bill gives effect to the will of the people which was so clearly expressed in the referendum last November. I believe the other measures contained in the Bill will also received widespread public support.,

It is some 32 years since the judgement in the O'Callaghan case which restricted the grounds on which bail could be refused. There have been numerous calls and attempts to change our bail laws, including efforts by my party in Opposition and rejected by Fianna Fáil in Government. In fairness, I acknowledge that in Opposition Fianna Fáil then converted to the need for change. The timing of its demands, however, was ill-judged as other actions were required prior to changes, such as an effective prison building programme. I am satisfied the timing of the referendum and now this legislation was wisely implemented by the Government and I commend the Bill to the House.

I will begin where the Minister finished. She stated that the timing of Fianna Fáil's demands was ill-judged and that other actions were required prior to changes, such as an effective prison building programme. This is the same Minister who, in the spring of 1995, stated on television that she believed the time had come for a referendum to change the law on bail. The Minister's words ring hollow against that background and the fact that Fianna Fáil in Government referred this matter to the Law Reform Commission, recognising there was a need for a change in our bail laws.

Will the Deputy tell us why?

With apologies to William Wordsworth, two years have passed, two summers with the length of two long winters, since I first introduced in this House Fianna Fáil's Criminal Law (Bail) Bill on Wednesday, 3 May 1995. On that occasion I stated:

There is a widespread belief that our criminal justice system does more to protect the perpetrators of crime than to deter them. The flourishing body of jurisprudence on the rights of persons charged with criminal acts has all but eclipsed the sad plight of victims. To contemplate the continuation of a system of justice which imprisons the elderly and the vulnerable in terror in their own homes is unthinkable. A system of justice where wrongdoers appear to be licensed to roam the streets to plunder and pillage at will is equally unthinkable. The scales of justice need to be realigned to take cognisance of the reality of life and crime in modern Ireland.

Those words fell upon deaf ears. The attempt by the Minister for Justice to hold a referendum on bail was thwarted by the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, and the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa. They had their way and, recognising there would not be a referendum to change the law on bail, I again came before this House on Wednesday, 27 September 1995 on behalf of Fianna Fáil to introduce the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, better known as the bail Bill. It is important to repeat what I said on that occasion. I stated:

Over the past 30 years, the constitutional law of this State has developed in a manner that can hardly have been envisaged by its founders. This is no bad thing. A Constitution must, of necessity, be a living document — alive to changes in society and technology which affect the lives of ordinary citizens. There is, however, a danger that the vast volumes of jurisprudence which relate to the rights of accused persons will eclipse the equally important rights of their victims and potential victims.

The Constitution is a document which exists for the protection of citizens and society; it does not exist exclusively for the benefit of persons charged with criminal offences. The Constitution ought to exist as a sword for the advancement of righteousness and justice as well as a shield for the protection of the accused. It is the duty of this House to ensure that is so and to afford the people their right to wield that sword in the protection of their fellow citizens. This is a Bill designed to let the people do just that.

Another year passed before the truth dawned on the leaders of the rainbow coalition Government. Ultimately we had our wish and we had a bail referendum along the lines I proposed in this House in September 1995. When it was faced with the hard facts, when it was told the truth, when it was advised of the plight of victims in the street and at home, this Government buried its collective head in the sand and ignored the right of the people to be protected when serious crime was escalating. It refused to listen to the voice of reason again and again. It voted down every reasonable, responsible measure brought before this House during that time in the belief that the problem was not as serious as it was.

Deputy Rabbitte, the Marcel Marceau of the rainbow, stated during that time that I was imagining things, that I was seeing criminals coming out of every hedge, that I did not know what I was talking about. This is the same "Rip Van Rabbitte" who recently stated that there was a need for a new Garda division in Tallaght and that there was a need to tackle serious crime.

The Tánaiste, the whimpering Tánaiste, the man who stood idly by throughout the grim warnings that were issued across the floor of this House day in and day out, decided last week to make a tough speech on crime.

The Deputy is still smarting.

He is the man who talks tough and acts soft. It was an extraordinary turnabout, but nobody is fooled; everybody knows the truth. Everybody knows that Deputies De Rossa, Rabbitte and Spring are clamouring to get aboard what they cynically regard as a crime wagon in advance of the general election.

Ministers are entitled to their appropriate titles, Tánaiste, Minister etc.

They are all entitled to their appropriate titles, and they are all entitled to be described in the manner in which I have described them.

Let us move on to the Minister's speech today. In breathtaking tones the Minister for Justice claimed credit for the following Bills. She boasts of the Criminal Law (Incest Proceedings) Act, 1995 as if it were her own. The essential provisions of that Bill were lifted by the Minister for Justice in the Seanad from Fianna Fáil's Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Bill of the same year. The Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995 was completed by the outgoing Fianna Fáil administration and presented by the Government as a fait accompli following its taking office. The Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996 is a poorly watered down copy of Fianna Fáil's Misuse of Drugs Bill, 1996. The Sixteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1996 is virtually a photocopy of Fianna Fáil's Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1995. The Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997 contains little that is new. Neither does the Criminal Law Bill. The Children Bill lifts Fianna Fáil's Child Pornography Bill and also portions of other legislation presented by the party.

Two hundred and seventy sections?

The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Bill where it deals with the most important matter, that of syringe offences is, for the most part, directly copied from Fianna Fáil's Punishment of Aggravated Robbery Bill, 1997. The Minister made much play of the fact that she introduced anti-money laundering provisions in the Criminal Justice Act, 1994. She did, 100 days after the Brinks Allied raid which I described at the time as the greatest political procrastination since Nero watched Rome burn.

If the Deputy wants to know why, he should ask Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn what she did about it, but she does not appear here so we cannot ask her.

The Criminal Assets Bureau Bill, 1996 was consequential upon Fianna Fáil's Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, and the Government boasts of the provision providing for the freezing of criminal assets as if that were its own Bill. It was accepted by the Government in Government time. To that extent it made history. The Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act, 1996 is another Bill which was accepted by the rainbow coalition Government in a fit of embarrassment at public outrage.

That is the record, and it speaks for itself. Every substantial piece of criminal law legislation which has been brought before this House over the past two and a half years was brought before the House by Fianna Fáil. For the most part they were either accepted or copied by the Government. Bereft of any philosophy, ideology or new ideas of its own the Government has been obliged again and again to copy Fianna Fáil's legislation. I do not mind that the Government has done that. I welcome it. What is difficult to take is the political expediency and opportunism exhibited by Cabinet Ministers again and again in boasting and blowing hot air about legislation which they did not introduce in the first instance but which they know was copied.

The Bail Bill presented before the House today is a shallow attempt by a Minister bereft of original ideas who has cobbled together a facsimile of the Fianna Fáil Bail Bill which I published in May 1995. Let me illustrate that that is the truth, lest there be any doubt about it. Section 4 of the Fianna Fáil Bill states that "a serious offence is an offence by virtue of which a person of full capacity and not previously convicted may be punished by a term of imprisonment for a term of 5 years or by a more severe penalty". Section 1(1) of the Minister's Bill states:

"serious offence" means an offence specified in the Schedule for which a person of full capacity and not previously convicted may be punished by a term of imprisonment for a term of 5 years or by a more severe penalty.

What is the difference between what I published and what the Minister copied? Section 3(2)(a) of the Fianna Fáil Bill refers to "the nature and degree of seriousness of the offence in respect of which the accused person is charged and the potential penalty". Section 2(2)(a) of the Minister's Bill refers to "the nature and degree of seriousness of the offence with which the accused person is charged and the sentence likely to be imposed on conviction,". Can the Minister tell me the difference between the Bill which I published and her own Bill which she copied?

This is standard legal language. As a lawyer the Deputy should not be so stupid as to make such silly comparisons.

Section 3(2)(b) of the Fianna Fáil Bill refers to "the nature and degree of seriousness of the category of offence apprehended and the potential penalty,". Section 2(2) (b) of the Minister's Bill refers to "the nature and degree of seriousness of the offence apprehended and the sentence likely to be imposed on conviction,". Section 3(2)(f) of the Fianna Fáil Bill refers to "the nature and strength of the evidence in support of the charge,". Section 2(2)(c) of the Minister's Bill refers to "the nature and strength of the evidence in support of the charge,". Section 3(2)(c) of the Fianna Fáil Bill refers to "the conviction of the accused person in respect of an offence committed while on bail or on a previous occasion,". Section 2(2)(d) of the Minister's Bill refers to "any conviction of the accused person for an offence committed while he or she was on bail,".

Section 8(1)(b) of the Fianna Fáil Bill states that a court may "exclude the public or any particular portion of the public or any particular person or persons except bona fide members of the press during the whole or any part of the proceedings.". Section 4(2)(b) of the Minister's Bill states that a court may "exclude from the court during the hearing all persons except officers of the court, persons directly concerned in the proceedings, bona fide representatives of the press and such other persons if any as the court may permit to remain.".

Section 11(2)(a) of the Fianna Fáil Bill states that a court may "require the accused to attend at a designated Garda station between specified times on a daily or less frequent basis for the purpose of signing a book maintained at the station for the purpose of recording an accused person's attendance.". Section 6(1)(b)(ii) of the Minister's Bill states as a condition of bail "that the accused person reports to a specified Garda station at specified intervals,". Section 11(2)(i) of the Fianna Fáil Bill states that the court may "require the accused person to enter into a bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.". Section 6(I)(a)(i) and (ii) of the Minister's Bill states as a condition of bail "that the accused person shall not commit any offence," and "that the accused person shall otherwise be of good behaviour,". They are precisely the same.

Section 11(2)(c) of the Fianna Fáil Bill requires the accused person to surrender his passport to a member of the Garda Síochána. Section 6(1)(b)(iii) of this Bill states that the accused person must surrender any passport or travel documents in his or her possession. There is no difference between the two provisions. The Schedule to the Fianna Fáil Bill deals with common law offences, murder, manslaughter, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, kidnapping, false imprisonment and rape, the same wording as appears in the Schedule to this Bill. The Minister gets ten out of ten for plagiarism. The only question that requires to be asked is why it took her so long to come into the House to present Fianna Fáil legislation as her own.

It appears the Minister is so insecure in her position that, notwithstanding the support of an army of parliamentary draftsmen, private secretaries, civil servants and advisers, she could not generate a single innovative provision in the Bill. Such plagiarism would not be worthy of an unfortunate student unprepared for his or her exams, but it represents a genuine attempt to present a new slant on the work of the best student whom she has copied. The examining board, in the form of the electorate, will shortly give its judgment. It was the electorate who directed the Government to prepare comprehensive bail legislation. When the day of reckoning comes — the Minister of State, Deputy Burton, said it will be in five weeks' time — the Government will not get a great mark for what I can only describe as this feeble attempt.

Strangest of all is that the Labour Party, in particular, and Democratic Left to a lesser extent having strangled every effort by the Minister for Justice to hold a referendum on bail, still appear to lead the Government. They are still in charge. The Tánaiste said at the Labour Party conference that we have what he describes as a centre-left Government. He told the people that Fine Gael is a left-wing Government, and there is not a whimper from the poodles on the Fine Gael benches. Since when did the party of James Dillon, John Costello and Liam Cosgrave become a left-wing party? The answer is since the Fine Gael Minister for Justice and the Taoiseach were faced down by the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social Welfare who said that, in deference to their so-called civil libertarian wing, they would not allow a referendum on bail or allow Fine Gael to enact legislation for the protection of citizens. The Minister for Justice and the Taoiseach have abandoned any semblance of the tradition of Fine Gael. They have been subsumed by a Tánaiste and a Minister for Social Welfare who believe they can do what they like when they like, even to the extent that they can describe the Fine Gael Party in philosophical and political terms as something it never was.

Very few could have foreseen the appalling vista of Ireland today where there exists the spectacle of contract killing, violent intimidation of gardaí and journalists, kidnapping of families and murders from beatings, shootings and stabbings, underpinned by a flourishing drug sub-culture and a growing awareness of a long-hidden underworld of serious sexual crime. The arsenal of AIDS-infected syringes and automatic guns and rifles for hire and the genuine fear of families not only that the sanctuary of their homes may be threatened at any time by drug-craving thieves but that their streets are no longer safe for their spouses and children is a reality.

This Bail Bill, which is the Fianna Fáil Bill in all but name, is predicated on the refusal of bail where a person is charged with a serious offence and the court is satisfied that bail should be refused as it is necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by the accused. This fundamental development, long overdue in Irish law, will have a dramatic effect on our already burgeoning prison population. On the basis of the Department of Justice's annual report on prisons, about half the annual prison population is made up of remand prisoners. That Department has estimated that this change in the bail laws will create the need for about 600 more prison places, yet the Minister for Justice, at the behest of the Labour Minister for Finance, cancelled proposed prisons at Castlerea and Mountjoy. The Minister for Finance made that decision unilaterally, without even seeking the opinion of the Minister for Justice and, like a political poodle, she backed him and said that he was right. It was only when he said that perhaps he was not right after all that she said the decision was not right and we need the extra prison places.

The Minister does what she is told, as does the Taoiseach when the Tánaiste wags his long finger in his direction. Ultimately when the crunch came and the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance, the rottweilers of the rainbow coalition Government, decided it was time to tame the poodles lest they were put out of office, the Minister for Justice and the Taoiseach changed their minds and barked out of the same hymn sheet.

About 3,400 people are refused bail every year under existing legislation. The new bail law will result in a doubling of that number, yet there is no remand prison. I came into this House on numerous occasions and called for the building of a separate remand prison, but that call fell on deaf ears. The Minister for Finance could not provide the funds. The Minister for Finance said "jump" and the Minister for Justice danced. That is the sad truth of the matter.

That is untrue and the Deputy knows it. A remand prison is being built in Wheatfield. The Deputy should not leave untruths on the record.

Fianna Fáil in Government will ensure that a remand prison is built. It is deplorable that, on a weekly basis, judges of the District, Circuit and High Courts say current sentencing policy is a joke. There is no consistency in sentencing, just as there was no reaction from the rainbow coalition Government to an escalating crime problem when action was most required. Since there is an insufficiency of prison spaces, the revolving door clicks to the glee of young offenders who are secure in the knowledge that there is no penalty for their crime.

Whose fault is that? Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats did not provide a single prison place, and now Fianna Fáil wants the Progressive Democrats as partners again.

Some judges have refrained from imposing sentences for crimes——

It is difficult to listen to these fairy tales.

——in a desperate attempt to draw attention to this crisis. The criminal justice system is in chaos when the independent Judiciary must stop imposing sentences on serious criminals to draw the attention of the Government to the lack of prison places. The Government is not only insensitive to the needs of law abiding citizens, it is guilty of gross negligence in the discharge of its superior obligation, that of a sovereign Government to protect the lives and property of citizens. The electorate will make its judgement in the near future in the knowledge that the Government is in dereliction of its most important duty, protecting their lives and property. While few know why this is the case, a cursory glance at the Government's annual Estimates since taking up office gives a fair indication of the reason. The Labour Party and Democratic Left have other priorities. They have an insatiable greed and a parasitic attitude when dealing with finances that should be allocated to other Departments, particularly the Department of Justice. The Minister for Justice and the Taoiseach stand indicated in that regard. They merely did what they were told.

We can no longer allow rapacious, hardened criminals to rule our streets, secure in the knowledge that they will never face a real prison sentence when apprehended. I invite the Minister for Justice, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Social Welfare — the North Korean connection — and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte — who can see no problems from the back seat of his State Mercedes — to visit the Four Courts, Morgan Place or the Bridewell today where groups of young thugs will laugh their way through the courts system and for whom the prospect of jail means little more than a short recess with their friends. They turn up their noses at the judge and the gardaí while the victims of this Government cower at the back of the courts. They are the real prisoners in this society of fear. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Justice and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, should look the victims in the eyes and explain why the bail legislation took two years to photocopy. That is the sad reality and where the tragedy lies.

I welcome the Bill. The Progressive Democrats are on record as believing for many years that our bail laws, which are liberal and widely abused by persistent offenders, need to be amended. The change in the law on bail, as sanctioned by the people in a referendum last November, is the culmination of a long and tortuous political argument in favour of change. There has been no shortage of debate on the fundamental issues which arise when introducing such a change in our laws. At the heart of the argument against change was that it would interfere with the presumption of innocence, a basic tenet of constitutional law.

The Bill makes a reasonable change to the law. It contains important safeguards in the context of due process and the presumption of innocence. However, it would be dishonest if I did not say I am seriously concerned that the measures proposed have not been dovetailed with the provision of extra prison places, something which will be the subject of debate for many years. When the provisions of the legislation are implemented people may challenge the right of the State to deny them bail while not providing separate remand facilities to deal with the requirements of remand prisoners who, under our law, are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, the Government has not dovetailed the need to change our bail laws with the need to provide adequate spaces to meet the need that will flow from that change. This has resulted from a disagreement within Government on the need for more prison spaces.

In the face of massive public support and increasing evidence of escalating organised criminality, the Government ultimately agreed to change the law. However, it has not yet faced up to the urgent need to provide more prison spaces. The Minister referred to an extra 800 spaces, which are badly needed, but they consist of a jumble of figures pitched into the future. An accurate count of the number of spaces provided by the Minister since taking up office would show that no more than 200 have been provided. While taking credit for some of the anti-crime measures introduced, she must also take political responsibility for the fact that there are not enough prison spaces.

Our prison system is in chaos. This night last week overcrowding in Mountjoy reached its worst level ever. A total of 675 people were accommodated in the prison that night, a prison built to house 480 prisoners. Such a level of overcrowding renders our prison system practically unmanageable and dangerous for prisoners and prison staff. Apart from the ongoing scandal of early release being used as a mechanism to deal with overcrowding, there is inadequate provision of necessary rehabilitative and drug treatment facilities, given the profile of the offender housed in Mountjoy.

The average annual cost of keeping an offender in prison is £45,000 and that cost has not been reduced. It is almost double that figure to keep an offender in Portlaoise Prison. A strategic approach to developing a more accountable and efficient prison service has not been taken. After the Dominic Lynch debacle it was promised we would set up a prisons' services executive on a statutory basis. We have not seen sight of a Bill on that. It, like many other matters, has been pitched into the future. What is the reason for the delay in bringing forward that promised long overdue reform?

This Bill will allow a court to refuse bail to a person charged with a serious offence where it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. This has been debated at length and the fundamental reason for the delay in bringing the debate thus far is the argument about the presumption of innocence. It is a founding principle of due process that one is innocent until proven guilty. The entire corpus of our criminal law is based on that fundamental tenet. The rules of court, the training of lawyers, both solicitors and barristers, the procedural arrangements in the courts and in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in the preparation of prosecutions and in the investigation by the Garda is governed directly by that sacrosanct tenet. Conflict arose when it was evident the protection of the accused interfered the rights of law abiding citizens. Nowhere is that conflict more stark than in the law relating to bail.

The abuse of the bail laws was a major contributor to a loss of public confidence in our justice system. It was also demoralising for our gardaí. Gardaí spend much time and risk their safety in investigating and bringing criminals to court. It is demoralising for them to see prisoners whom they know have a propensity to reoffend, being released on bail pending trial. It has been accepted by the Government that the traditional notion of being innocent until proven guilty must be balanced against the fact that we have a criminal population, many of whom are persistent offenders who pose a risk to public safety if released on bail.

The number of crimes committed by persons on bail is startling and has been steadily increasing with 2,791 crimes committed in 1992, 3,191 in 1993, 4,416 in 1994 and 5,440 in 1995. There was an overriding and compelling logic and a political requirement that the Oireachtas should move to tackle this abuse of our bail laws. I know the Government has also taken on board many of the suggestions made by the Opposition at various times in recent years. They include tightening up our bail laws related to making a bailsman effectively a guarantor for the good behaviour of the accused while on bail and tightening up the treatment of the monetary aspects of bail. These are welcome measures, but we are now introducing a change to our bail law which was urgently needed in the light of a diminishing confidence among many of our citizens given the abuse of bail by persistent offenders.

It is appropriate to consider the reasons the House is dealing with all stages of this Bill today. There has been no shortage of debate on this subject and there have been many attempts since 1968 to remove the imperative in terms of the O'Callaghan judgement which provides the basis of our law on bail, which we are now changing. The Constitution does not mention the word "bail", but the constitutional dimension of the bail issue stems from the judicial interpretation of Article 44.4.1, which states, "No citizen shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law." By a process of judicial interpretation down through the years this article had come to be a guarantee that no person should be deprived of his or her liberty by stooping to methods which ignore the fundamental norms of the legal order postulated by the Constitution.

Prior to the O'Callaghan case in 1966, the right to bail pending trial was flexible. Factors in favour of granting bail included the overall policy against remanding an accused in custody pending trial where bail could be granted in safety. Those against granting bail included the courts considering the seriousness of the crime, the likely penalty, the strength of the case, the prospect of a speedy trial, the criminal propensity of the accused, the attitude of the prosecution and the capacity of the accused to abuse bail to interfere with the evidence of witnesses, etc. The granting of bail was largely discretionary depending very much on the attitude of the judge and the facts of each case, but the decision in the O'Callaghan case swept all that aside.

The Supreme Court judgement swept away the previous ad hoc judicial approach and excluded from consideration any suggestion that the accused might abuse his or her liberty to commit crimes. This notion of preventative justice was stated to be unknown to our system of criminal law and that case forms the basis of our difficulties until now. We have the permission of the people to make reasonable amendments to the law which will introduce a fairer balance between the rights of the accused and the legitimate rights of law abiding citizens to be protected from persistent offenders with a previous history of abusing bail. The Bill is well drafted and is mindful of the obligation of the State to protect the citizen and at the same time to protect the fundamental individual rights of suspects and offenders.

I welcome the provision in section 3 which allows for a renewal of a bail application. If the State has not got its act together in bringing a person to trial for the initial offence, the person who has been refused bail can bring the matter before the courts again and demand to be released. It would not be right for persons to languish in a punitive institution such as Mountjoy Prison while the State had not got its act together in terms of bringing people forward for trial. A person has a right to a speedy trial, but that right has been denied to many people because our courts have been very slow to process criminal trials. This has improved of late due to the appointment of more judges. Which I welcome. One could not stand over a position where per sons who are deemed innocent until proven guilty could languish in institutions, such as Mountjoy Prison, which, in so far as they are tailor made, are meant to accommodate convicted criminals.

It would be improper and in breach of our international obligations in this matter if we were to allow persons who are presumed innocent to languish in such institutions with the general body of convicted criminals. I have serious concerns about that matter. Will the Minister confirm the date she expects a separate remand facility to be up and running? If the provisions of this Bill are brought into effect without the provision of a separate remand facility, we will run into big trouble. We are already in breach of our international obligations.

It is patently wrong for persons denied bail to mix with the general body of the convicted criminal population when they are deemed to be innocent until proven guilty under our law. What action will the Government take? An accelerated prison building programme was announced last summer after the terrible murders of Veronica Guerin and Detective Garda Gerry McCabe as part of an overall response package from the Government to the white heat of public rage.

Bail reform was also agreed but the provision of an extra 150 or 160 cobbled together places is not an adequate response to the urgent need for a massive prison building programme to deal with the current level of overcrowding, let alone as a response to the exacerbated level which will result if a restrictive bail regime is introduced. Why has the Minister ruled out any involvement of the private sector in the financing, design and building of prisons?

The private sector is involved in building.

If this is an accelerated programme, there needs to be a new definition of "accelerated". We still do not have enough prison spaces and while the Minister takes credit for numerous anti-crime measures about which she gloats at every opportunity, she must likewise take responsibility for the pathetic fact that 50 people are released early from jail on any one day — this was admitted by her Department — not because they are finished their sentences but because room must be made for persons sentenced by the courts.

It is a pity the Deputy did not think of that when she was in Government.

I have never been in Government as the Minister should know.

It is an open door policy.

Both Deputies were abject failures when they were backbenchers in Government. They were as ineffective then as they are now as frontbenchers.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Member in possession, please, without interruption.

The Deputy is disowning her party.

I have obviously struck a chord with the Minister because it is an undeniable fact that the Government has presided over a situation whereby on any one day 50 convicted prisoners must be released from our jails. It has nothing to do with them finishing their sentences or rehabilitation or temporary release. It is an unconditional, unsupervised goodbye. That is a scandal for which the Government must take political responsibility.

I asked for figures for the number of offences committed by persons while on so-called temporary release. Of course, nobody takes account of such figures. They are not available to Deputies who seek them in the House because they would be an appalling vista. Since nobody monitors whether these people commit offences while on temporary release, there are no figures. This is useful for the Government because if it were to admit these persons reoffended while on temporary release, there would be an appalling vista of contingent liability on the State for responsibility for such crimes.

The Department of Justice has settled claims taken by members of the public who have been assaulted or otherwise injured by persons on temporary release. These deals have been done in secret by the Department with plaintiffs who have been injured by such people. Confidentiality clauses have been attached to those settlements. What aspect of the public interest does that serve? I imagine the Minister would argue it is not in the public interest for people to know about such attacks because the Government does not want to accept responsibility for the State which is ultimately liable for the offences of persons who should be in jail.

It is appalling that about 4,000 such people are constantly being released back into the community under temporary release orders. Since there is no record of what they get up to when they are released, — whether they are at home watching television or out assaulting innocent members of the community — the Minister does not seem to be worried or have any information. We have a revolving door that is not monitored and which represents a panorama of potential liability on the State with responsibility for the activities of these people who should be in jail.

It is an open door.

The issue of temporary release is a major headache for the Government. If a survey were carried out on the activities of those given temporary release, no Government could stand. This Government could not remain in office if the truth about what those people do when they are given temporary release were brought into the public domain. That is why, when I ask a question of the Minister, I get the reply that the information I seek is not available and would involve a disproportionate amount of work in her Department to find those figures. That is the type of crooked reply one gets when one seeks such statistical information which should be made public.

I am glad the Bill amends section 11 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, because it was a source of contention. The Act was meant to deal with the issue of persons who offended while on bail but the Law Reform Commission pointed out that the practice of the Judiciary on this meant that the courts interpreted section 11 to mean that the second sentence for reoffending on bail could be suspended and they tended to apply a test of overall proportionality to combined sentences. The aim of the section was to allow for consecutive sentences when a person abused bail and reoffended, but in practice this was not being effected by the Judiciary on a case by case basis. Section 10 of the Bill before us comes to grips with that and gives political direction in terms of the original objective of the 1984 Act.

Will the Minister give an indication of the likelihood of having a remand centre when the provisions before us are enacted? Will she state the Government's response to the charge that we are in breach of our international obligations by not providing a separate remand centre? How can we hold our heads up in terms of human rights obligations when we do not have such a facility? The Bill deals with the issue of drug addiction and, as the Minister correctly stated, it does not set out to criminalise drug addiction. It is only one of a range of issues which will be taken into account by the courts in determining whether there is a reasonable danger of a person committing an offence while on bail and, thus, triggering the mechanism before us to restrict bail.

If this is to be implemented for drug addicts the time spent on remand should be put to good use and facilities should exist for that category of offender. They should immediately receive proper drug rehabilitation and counselling while on remand. It would be wrong for offenders on remand to be thrown into the general body of the convicted population in Mountjoy without adequate and sympathetic treatment for their health problems. This category of remand prisoner has a particularly high risk of suicide. Statistics show remand prisoners as a whole are more likely to commit suicide, particularly if they are first time offenders or have drug and psychological problems.

This category of young offenders exists. If we are to deprive them of their liberty pending trial, in the interests of public safety, we owe them a duty to be sympathetic to their addiction and to use this time profitably to start detoxification, counselling and rehabilitation programmes. For that reason, a separate remand centre is vital. It would be wrong for such troubled young people to be thrown into the general chaos of Mountjoy. The prison already has a serious drug problem — it says something about the level of drug abuse there that one section has had to be designated drug-free. There is a high risk of drug addicted remand prisoners endangering themselves and becoming ill while on remand and the Government must make provision for that. While the measures before us do not solely deal with drug addicts, we must handle them sympathetically. On Committee Stage we will deal with various technical matters.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Bill as it was much demanded by the public. About three weeks ago when Deputy O'Donnell introduced her Prisons Bill I took the kind approach and remembered it was difficult for Opposition Deputies to draft legislation. Having heard her contribution today, however, I realise her problem was not the lack of drafting help but sheer incompetence. As I said at the time, her Bill made no reference to a separate remand centre.

There appears to be a further split between the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil. The Progressive Democrats contribution on this Bill takes the civil libertarian approach but if the canon from Cahirciveen were to get his hands on the Department of Justice, he would deliver hellfire and brimstone and lock people up forever. I do not understand the Progressive Democrats contribution — it veers between flogging prisoners and being kind to them. Deputy O'Donnell made no reference to a separate remand centre in her own Bill, yet it is the issue which most concerns her on this legislation. Is that selective amnesia or selective memory?

Deputy O'Donoghue's canine contribution was about as effective as a whippet raising its leg against the wind. Someone who heard him said the appropriate description of the Deputy's species was a cross between Daniel O'Connell and Mary Whitehouse. I suggest that in future he should "sit". I listened with interest to his contribution earlier this week on the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Bill, which consisted largely of a blustering rather than blistering attack on Democratic Left. After hearing this morning's attack, one realises that Deputy Rabbitte is even more effective in his contributions to the House than one imagined.

Deputy O'Donoghue criticised Democratic Left in particular and the left in general for being soft on crime. This Bill represents a considered balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of society. Unlike Deputy O'Donoghue, I do not believe that the crime problem will be solved by laws alone. Nor will it be solved by simply building more prison spaces, as suggested by the Progressive Democrats, or by tough sound bites. To return to the canine analogy, Deputy O'Donoghue's bark is far more worrying than his bite.

Democratic Left is not in the business of kidding the people. Reform of the bail laws alone will not magically wipe out the crime which is plaguing communities throughout the country. Increased levels of crime in recent years have not arisen in a vacuum. While each individual must bear responsibility for his or her actions, there can be little doubt that social factors such as poor educational opportunities, long-term unemployment and economic marginalisation all contribute to current crime levels. The neglect of those areas can be firmly blamed not just on recent Governments but on those in the distant past. It is disgraceful of Fianna Fáil to promote the "hang 'em and flog 'em" solution, after neglecting and isolating communities. Many people would call this an oversight but I say it was deliberate.

The slogan Democratic Left adopted during last year's referendum was "Protect your Community". Any serious assault on social disintegration and increased criminality must start in local communities with schools, youth services, improved social and environmental amenities and above all locally-based employment initiatives such as the local employment service, all of which were put in place by this Government.

The Bail Bill will allow judges, in certain circumstances, to refuse bail to those charged with serious offences. However, we need to prevent those offences being committed in the first place. Neither Fianna Fáil nor the Progressive Democrats has devised such solutions. They talk about the Government squandering our great resources but they never say where they would spend them. It frightens me that Deputy O'Donnell wants to save money on prison spaces. Does that mean a cutback on prisoners' diets? Will they no longer have televisions? Will we no longer educate them in order to rehabilitate them?

They will give them bread and water, with a little Low-Low on the bread.

The Progressive Democrats paint with a broad brush. They give no details but people suspect what they will be, and it terrifies them. Up to 80 per cent of crime in urban areas is drug related. This Government has introduced a number of initiatives designed to reduce the supply of drugs. My colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, the bane of Deputy O'Donoghue's life, last year published the report of the ministerial task force on drugs demand reduction. This twin-pronged approach to the drugs crisis will have a significant impact on the level of crime being experienced in many disadvantaged communities. My constituency, Cork North Central, got £1 million from that task force to prevent the spread of drugs, and that is where we should be putting money. Dublin is a different case.

The Children Bill contains a range of early intervention measures to ensure that youngsters embarking on a cycle of criminality are caught at the beginning, rather than at the end, of that cycle.

Before the referendum, a number of individuals and groups expressed concern that the proposed reform of the bail laws could infringe fundamental civil liberties. I understand and respect those concerns, and it is healthy and necessary for any constitutional change to be accompanied by an informed debate. However, the concerns expressed were not justified. The legislation has been painstakingly drafted to maintain hard-won civil liberties, while allowing courts the necessary discretion to refuse bail in certain very narrowly defined circumstances.

In this regard I welcome the fact that, when finalising the legislation, the Minister for Justice took on board some of the concerns expressed by civil liberties groups on foot of the draft legislation. I am delighted that drug addiction will no longer be a stand-alone criteria for the refusal of bail. Fianna Fáil asked for this. Under the revised Bill, the fact that a person is addicted to drugs can only be taken into account in conjunction with one or more of the other criteria.

I respect the stance adopted by those opposing this reform for civil liberties reasons, but I have less time for some of the contributions made by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats to the debate on bail in particular, and the justice system in general. Rather than adopting a cross-party, co-operative approach to criminal justice legislation, Deputies opposite have adopted an approach of "our Bill is better than yours." That was confirmed more than ever this morning. It is a disgraceful approach to take to something as fundamental as the justice system.

Recently, Fianna Fáil launched its criminal justice policy. I was less than impressed. It was a scanty document which consisted largely of recycled Government proposals and policies. The one "new" proposal was the so-called "zero tolerance" policy. Deputy O'Donoghue and his colleagues were very careful not to spell out exactly what zero tolerance means to them, as soundbites, after all, are best left unexplained. However, I can say what zero tolerance has meant in the United States where this policy originated.

It meant a massive increase in police spending. How will Fianna Fáil's Progressive Democrats colleagues feel about that? It meant a huge increase in complaints against the police by members of minority communities. Translated into an Irish context, that means an increase in complaints against the Garda by the unemployed, drug addicts, members of the travelling community and other minority groups. That is a recipe for social division not one for crime fighting.

In New York, zero tolerance means that every crime, no matter how minor, is not only followed up but prosecuted. Does Fianna Fáil really want our courts and prisons clogged up with parking offenders, jaywalkers and petty miscreants? Is it saying that the Garda should no longer be able to exercise discretion to caution offenders? Is it really saying that prison should be a first rather than a last resort? It has no other answer because it has been responsible for most of the circumstances in which people commit crime in this country.

I welcome this Bill. This Government has done more to reform the criminal justice system than any previous administration. We have done so with due regard for the rights of the individual as well as the rights of society. We have introduced legislation following careful analysis rather than a quick glance at the latest headlines, which seems to be the Progressive Democrats' mode of operation. That is just one of the many differences between this stable coalition Government, which works, and the right-wing partnership proposed by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. The people have rejected that even before being offered that option.

I thank all parties for allowing this important measure to pass all Stages today. As Deputy O'Donnell said, there has been a great deal of debate on this matter. One could almost say there has been 32 years of debate on this issue since the O'Callaghan decision dealt with bail here. Our bail laws have been abused for too long and this legislation will address this problem.

I thank Deputy Kathleen Lynch for her support for this legislation. This Bill and the other measures I have brought to the House are all the better for the fact that there are three parties in Government. There is cross-party discussion and all points of view on matters are heard. It is a measure of how often I am in the House with proposals that I have to listen to the same cant every time from Deputy O'Donoghue about the nasty man from Kerry, Deputy Spring, the nasty Taoiseach and the nasty Minister for Social Welfare. It is the same every time. I am glad we are in an election year because then Deputy O'Donoghue will have a chance to refresh his quotations and read more books over the summer and winter when he is back in Opposition.

I might write one.

Then he may have more quotations for us. Deputy O'Donnell should beware of going into Government with Fianna Fáil.

Is the Minister looking for a fifth partner?

One reason to be wary is the way in which Deputy O'Donoghue tries to pick holes in any legislation brought forward by saying the other parties in Government oppose it. It makes one realise that Deputy O'Donoghue and his party will not give two hoots what their Progressive Democrats partners think. They feel that a Fine Gael Minister should disregard what his or her Labour or Democratic Left colleagues feel about legislation.

Deputy O'Donnell should take that message to heart and be careful of lying down with the dog in this Chamber, to use the analogy of lying down with dogs and getting up with fleas. She might get up with more than she expects. Fianna Fáil has no respect for partnership. We have seen they were not good partners for either the Progressive Democrats or Labour. Deputy O'Donnell should not have a short memory.

The Minister is obviously worried.

The Deputy will not get a chance to make such a decision. I thank Deputy Lynch, Democratic Left, the Labour Party and my Fine Gael colleagues for helping to ensure that this legislation is as effective as we can make it. I also thank Deputy O'Donnell for supporting the Bill. I am not clear as to whether Deputy O'Donoghue supports the Bill.

It is my Bill. Why would I not support it?

He supports it but he did not have the grace to say so. Rather he picked holes in it, and endeavoured to highlight how many times the words used in it were the same as those used in his Bill. Does he not understand there are certain formulae of words that appear in every Bill——

The Minister will have to study Montagu.

In preparing his Bills over the past two and a half years, I can only assume the Deputy has had the help of barristers or solicitors who, if asked, would have told him there are certain ways of expressing legislative provisions. If the Deputy expects me, as a legislator, to decide I cannot use the words "forthwith", "thereof" or any other merely because they have been inserted in one of his Bills, all I can say is that I am not as petty as that. Nor do I believe the general public, quite properly concerned about crime, is that impressed by the petty party political point-scoring in which Deputy O'Donoghue and, to a lesser degree, Deputy O'Donnell have engaged in today. This Bill should be supported by all parties. We should not waste time picking holes in it merely to demonstrate, for example, that I will get ten out of ten for my efforts while somebody else may get only eight out of ten. That is not what we are about; we are dealing with serious legislation. I wish Deputy O'Donoghue would emerge from the mould in which he has become so entrenched to the extent that, no matter what I do, he will not support any of my Bills as good legislation while highlighting some deficiencies or provisions he might have included if he were Minister for Justice. He should grow up. There are times when he can be gracious or magnanimous and command respect but he does not command respect for the kind of petty political party point-scoring in which he has engaged this morning.

Given what the two Opposition speakers have said in the course of this debate and all the opportunities the Fianna Fáil Party has had, it is quite extraordinary they did nothing about this issue while in Government. I remember them holding a big party about five years ago to celebrate and boast about the fact that, for 50 of the 70 years since the foundation of this State they had been in Government. If we encounter problems, where does one point the finger of blame if not at the party which governed this country over those 50 years. That is the logical conclusion to be drawn from that party claiming it had been in charge over that period.

I welcome the fact that Deputy O'Donnell spoke this morning. I noticed that no member of her party intervened on Second Stage of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Bill. It is unusual in the case of a debate on a Bill as serious as that for an Opposition party not to have even one speaker intervene. I am glad to note Deputies O'Donnell and O'Donoghue have been converted. Both had an opportunity, the Progressive Democrats to a lesser extent, to resolve the difficulties on bail, yet they did nothing. Deputy O'Donoghue eulogises today on all of the Bills he presented but when Fine Gael, in Opposition, introduced a Bill, Fianna Fáil's response in Government was to send it to the Law Reform Commission for examination. The commission produced a fine report, having engaged in considerable research on the issue. Deputy O'Donoghue should not endeavour to persuade me that was not a buck-passing exercise simply because the then Government did not want to accept Deputy Gay Mitchell's Bill on bail.

When the Progressive Democrats were in Government with the Fianna Fáil Party for a few years, when their marriage was working reasonably, it made no endeavour to push its partners into doing something about bail. The Pauline conversion did not take place until they were in Opposition. It is very easy in Opposition to remark across the floor of the Chamber, that the Government is not doing anything. That party had its chance but did not avail of it so its Members should not come bleating and crying that it is disgraceful it has taken so long to introduce this Bill. Although I know Deputy O'Donoghue has not even reached the age of 50, his party has been in power for that number of years and had plenty of opportunity to do what this Government has done. It is an incontrovertible fact that this three-party Government — with all its attendant benefits, representing, as it does, many different sectors of the population — has grappled effectively with this problem within a very short time. All the huffing and puffing to the contrary, all the promises about what that party would do next time round, fall on deaf ears. Whenever possible, the Deputy should quietly applaud this Government outside the glare of publicity and the full Press Gallery often present to listen to his contributions, because all Members of the House recognise that this Bill, through a two-pronged approach, deals adequately with this issue.

It is not sufficient merely to give legislative effect to the result of the referendum on bail, so that judges can refuse bail whenever there is a suspicion that somebody will commit a serious offence while on bail. We have broadened the provisions of this Bill to include issues that did not warrant the holding of a referendum, which could have been dealt with during all those years of Fianna Fáil Government. All those cries about estreatment of bail and bail conditions could have been dealt with but were not. The record will show, 50 or 100 years hence, that this Government amended the bail laws.

In the course of the debate many issues about prison accommodation were raised. I wish I could will prisons into existence. Even in having a porch built on to one's house, inevitably there is a two months' delay in obtaining planning permission, perhaps another four months to have an appeal dealt with by An Bord Pleanála, further delay in engaging a builder, plumber or whoever. Even such a small project takes time. How much more time is required to build something as significant as a prison? This Government has committed approximately £135 million to an unprecedented prison building programme. The last prison built here was commenced between 1986 and 1987 when the then Fine Gael-Labour Government was in office. A new sod was not turned on another prison building. Writing a phoney line, committing approximately £4.5 million in a phoney budget — which everybody knew would never see the light of day — did not amount to building a prison. There had not been even one line of planning committed to paper, no quantity surveyor had inspected the site, not a single thing had been done other than build a wall.

This charade must cease. I visited Castlerea again the week before last. The buildings are being constructed as I speak, the diggers, workmen, electricians, plumbers are all on site building the larger part. Real, live, warm-bodied prisoners are housed in that prison as I speak.

Are they red-blooded?

——doing, what all prisoners do, serving their sentences there.

Will they serve their sentences? No.

Will they still be there tonight?

They are proof of its existence. I fully accept that, while that prison building programme is being completed, nobody has any choice but to accept the continued existence of the revolving door system. The revolving door was equally well oiled when I entered this Department on 16 December 1994. The reason I know is that I read the contributions by Deputy McDowell and others in the Progressive Democrats when Deputy O'Donoghue's party was in Government in 1993-94. A brief year after the Progressive Democrats had left Government, Deputy McDowell said: "this Government [meaning the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government] is indicted because of the revolving door system, so many prisoners are being released every week due to lack of space in prison". As the French would put it: plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose— the more things change, the more they stay the same. Deputy O'Donnell and Deputy O'Donoghue ought not give me any lectures about the revolving door.

The open door.

It was well oiled when I took over this office. Given our prison building programme it is this Government that will put the block on the revolving door. I recognise it is taking hardearned taxpayers' money to do this but the people will accept that £135 million is a reasonable amount to ensure people serve their sentences. It is not just a promise. The accelerated building prison programme has already produced almost 200 places in our system. In two and a half years that is a huge record of extra places in the system. By the end of this year I expect the wing of Limerick prison to be ready for occupation.

The contract for the women's prison is about to be signed. The contract for the remand centre in Wheatfield is almost ready for signing and Castlerea is being built. These are not wishy washy promises or a phoney line in a phoney budget in a Government that existed with one party without a majority. These are real facts and figures.

I invite Deputies O'Donnell and O'Donoghue to visit Limerick prison and see the building that is taking place. I invite them to go to Castlerea and dirty their feet in the muck and dirt on the building site and come back and tell me if the building programme is not being implemented.

In regard to the 400 place remand centre in Wheatfield, it is not today or yesterday that this country needed a separate remand prison. I do not wish to harp on it but why was it not built before now? It is being built now. I say to Deputy O'Donnell, as she dwelt on this matter at some length, our remand prisoners are kept in a separate wing, the B wing in Mountjoy, which is set aside for remand prisoners who have a more lenient regime than convicted prisoners. From time to time very recently sentenced prisoners are kept there until such time as a place in the other wings of Mountjoy become available. They are moved quickly out of the remand prison. Although we do not have a separate structure on a separate site the remand prisoners are separated as far as possible from convicted prisoners and that is as it should be.

When complete, there will be a small separate remand unit in Castlerea to allow for the movement of prisoners from the courts in the western counties into Castlerea. A prisoner brought to a court in, say, Castlebar, on a Monday, having committed a robbery is driven 150 miles to Mountjoy and remanded in custody and perhaps another prisoner is moved elsewhere to accommodate that remand prisoner. A week later the remand prisoner is driven the 150 miles back with all the time it takes a prison officer, the Garda or whoever is escorting to Castlebar or to the court to be remanded further. When the Castlerea remand centre and full prison is open, a prisoner will be driven the 30 or so miles to Castlerea and remanded there. As a result of other legislation passed he can be brought to the court nearest the place of detention where he is remanded. In this instance in Castlerea it will be to a court about five miles away in Roscommon town. The effect of building that prison with the remand unit and my dovetailing legislation to allow for a prisoner to be brought to a court nearest the place of detention will be evident to everybody. Antiquated law existed all the years during which Fianna Fáil was in Government and the years in which the Progressive Democrats Party was in Government, but neither party considered changing it. I am changing it with the backing of the Government to ensure we cut down on overtime costs, travel time, the risk of somebody trying to abscond and the time taken to bring people to court for sentence or release as the case may be.

I am satisfied with the provision for 400 remand places in Wheatfield. By the time this legislation is enacted and implemented there will be a small overlap of time because the remand prison will not be ready until early in 1998. I have no doubt there will be an overlap and I say that honestly because I cannot supply a magic prison for 400 places overnight. We involved private industry in the design and building of this prison. They submitted tenders and a private contractor is building it. The only area we did not move into — as is done in some other juridictions — is getting private industry to run the prison. That is a step we have not taken.

Is the private sector financing any of the projects?

No, this is a fallacy. I have the money from the Government to spend on these prisons. There is no less expensive way of raising money for our prisons than through the public coffers. Private industry says it has masses of money. In this instance I did not need its money because I have Government approval to spend the money. If in the future we need yet another prison and the resources are not available most certainly one could consider asking private industry to finance it and lease it back. It is not that much cheaper in the end because the State will ultimately pay back the money to private industry by way of large rents over the years — the same way in which the toll bridges are financed. I am not ruling that out at some time in the future but in this case I have a commitment to the £135 million and I do not need to go out to the private industry looking for the money.

I pay tribute to the companies who have been involved in our accelerated building programme. They have worked extremely hard with the officials of my Department and the Office of Public Works, under the chairmanship of the Minister of State, Deputy Hugh Coveney, to ensure any hiccups along the way are immediately rectified. If something unusual is found on a site which makes the building more awkward there is an immediate response from the companies to assist in finding solutions. The company in Castlerea which has received the contract is working hell for leather to fulfil its commitment. I had the pleasure of meeting those people recently and I am pleased to say they are local builders from the area. It is good to see a small local builder getting such a contract and they are all working extremely well.

I am satisfied the facilities will be in place in time to take up the results of this legislation, with perhaps a small overlap of a few months but no more. As with any new legislation its implementation will take time.

Deputy O'Donnell said that amounts of money I have announced for prison places is a jumble of figures. I will try to write them more simply for the Deputy and send them to her. They are not a jumble of figures, they are real figures. In the two and a half year period I will have been Minister for Justice a real record will be left behind. I defy any other Minister in this Department for two and a half years to match my record in my two and a half year period. Previous two and a half year periods will look paltry in terms of the paucity of ideas and actions. I have looked at the records prior to my taking office from the point of view of legislation and I find that no serious legislation of the type I have brought in was enacted during previous Governments. Deputy O'Donnell is correct in saying overcrowding in our prisons is a matter of great concern to me and the public. However, it can only be tackled by new prison places. The prisons must also provide a humane service.

Deputy Lynch was right to express confusion about the position taken by the Progressive Democrats. They do not want additional public spending yet Senator Honan recently told the Seanad that she wanted another prison in Portlaoise with 600 places. This would entail additional expenditure of approximately £100 million. Deputy O'Donnell also referred to the need for more prison places. These can only be provided with public money.

The Minister indicated there was so much public money available that it would be unnecessary to involve the private sector.

The Progressive Democrats cannot have it both ways. The Curragh prison will shortly have an additional 100 prisoners, Castlerea will have 40 prisoners — it has almost 40 at present — and I have managed to make additional spaces available through the health care units, etc. Despite these increases in numbers I have not hired more prison officers; they have been spread through the system.

I am glad to hear that.

The ratio of prison officers to prisoners is very high in this country compared to others. This reflects the violence in Northern Ireland over 25 years, which distorted the manner in which the prison staff grew because it was necessary to have a high ratio of staff to paramilitary prisoners. The prison officers who went to the Curragh prison when it was opened came from other institutions. This was the correct approach because, together with building new prisons we must incorporate modern technology and means of prison care. Such measures will reduce the ratio of staff to prisoners to a manageable level, contingent with safety for staff and prisoners.

Deputy O'Donnell inquired about the prison agency. I have recently published the report of the expert group, which was chaired by an eminent businessman. Work is continuing on the legislation to establish the agency. The entire prison structure must be modernised and incorporated under a new agency. Similar to the establishment of An Post and Telecom Éireann, there must be communication with the staff involved in the prison system to make the necessary changes. I will not promise, as perhaps my predecessors did, that this can be done immediately. The views of approximately 2,300 prison officers, the staff in my Department, governors, etc., must be addressed in ensuring that the legislation will provide a more effective prison service.

There was much innuendo in the remarks by Deputy O'Donnell and others that those managing our prisons have been responsible for mismanagement and overcrowding. Management is doing an excellent job. If there is overcrowding in the prisons it is as a result of a lack of Government action in the years 1986-94, when no prisons were built, despite the increase in the crime figures in the period 1989-94. It was obvious that a commensurate number of extra prison places needed to be provided. Inevitably, the bubble burst because there is only so much pressure the system can take.

The system is overcrowded. The courts are more efficient and are delivering people to the prisons at a much faster rate than was the case when I took up office because we revolutionised the courts system through the appointment of extra judges and staff and the changes in mechanisms which were introduced. All those involved in the courts system graciously acknowledge that they have never seen such revolutionary changes to the courts since I took up office. I thank them for their praise, which has appeared in a number of magazine articles.

However, we cannot wish away the overcrowding. It will not be completely tackled until the effect of the new prison building programme is felt in the system. Nevertheless, the Government has also introduced other changes, such as the provision of more probation and welfare service officers. This will create a better system and bring to an end unsupervised releases from prison.

Early releases are a feature of our prison system since 1960. Fianna Fáil was in Government then and introduced legislation to allow for early release, which is termed "parole" in some countries. It is a proper part of any humane prison system that, at a certain stage in a sentence, consideration can be given to releasing a prisoner to take up work, go into training, or, more prevalently nowadays, undertake drug treatment. However, it is important that such people are supervised. The system of releasing people in an unsupervised fashion must come to an end although I am the first to admit that there are insufficient probation and welfare officers to do this. However, it is a far less expensive way to deal with prisoners when they near the end of their sentences than to have them serve the full term with no control over what happens when they are released. It is sometimes good to see how prisoners will deal with their freedom, especially at the end of a long sentence. They should be allowed a number of weeks to become re-accustomed to society and to see how they can cope so that the necessary support systems they require can be put in place.

I thank Deputies for recognising that this legislation is long overdue. This Government is providing the legislation, not the promises given by those who were in Government and could have addressed the issue. I hope the courts will understand the reason the Oireachtas is bringing in this legislation and the reason it is considered desirable to introduce these powers. They are appropriate to today's Ireland. The legislation is an effective, anti-crime measure which will tip the balance in favour of law abiding citizens and victims of crime.

Question put and agreed to.