Private Members' Business. - Sexual Offenders Registration Bill, 1998: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I congratulate Deputy Neville on bringing forward this Private Members' Bill. While I agree with much of its content, I question its timing and I will be opposing the Bill. This matter is the subject of deliberation by a commission and it is appropriate to await its outcome. We should not blindly follow British Government policy or practice as a matter of routine. In this instance we should copy the actions of that parliament in introducing a similar Bill, but we should first await the outcome of the commission.

Before introducing similar legislation in Britain, the Government there awaited the recommendations of the Home Office consultative paper which sought comments from the public on the issue of sex offenders. That was a sensible and wise practice. The Government did not attempt to pre-empt the outcome of the Home Office paper, and I ask Deputy Neville to adopt a similar policy. It is vitally important that we debate the scope of the proposed Bill, which is intended to register all those convicted of crimes against children and other sex offences. We must carefully examine all the options available within the terms of the Bill before the Government brings forward its Bill.

Much play is made of the prospect of repeat offences. Research carried out abroad does not support the figures quoted. According to the results of the research, certain sex offenders do not reoffend. The repeat pattern of the average non-sex offender is much higher. This issue and many more need to be debated in great depth. There should at least be an indication of the time limits for registration of offenders. This is dealt with clearly in the United Kingdom 1997 Act. Registration requirements should be set down in our Bill. It should not be left to the discretion of the courts. We are all aware of the variation of courts in the criteria used for determining sentences. We do not want any section of the Bill to be open to challenge.

The method of reporting to the authorities is not defined clearly enough. There is ambiguity as to whether an offender should physically report his or her presence to a local Garda station or whether it should be notified in writing only. This needs to be clarified. The penalties for non-notification need to be investigated. They appear to be penal in Deputy Neville's Bill. The inclusion of prison governors among those who are subject to those penalties is off the wall. The requirements for a Garda inspector to get High Court permission for the disclosure of information from the register would be unworkable, totally counter-productive and time consuming and would clog up the system.

Those with sex offence records in all countries with registration systems should come within the terms of this Bill. There are many aspects of the Sexual Offenders Registration Bill which would benefit from deeper analysis and subsequent amendment when the Minister brings forward his Bill. I hope the Minister considers this Bill and includes some of the fine proposals put forward by Deputy Neville. I see no benefit in rushing a Bill through this House which may prove unworkable or unconstitutional.

The object of the Bill should be to register all sex offenders. There is a basic need for this, and the introduction of a register would be a major step in preventing repeat sexual offences. Public knowledge of criminal sexual offence records and those who perpetrate such crime would be a major deterrent in committing sexual offences. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Some of the more tragic sex-related offences in the recent past could have been averted if there had been public knowledge of the character of the offender who committed a series of heinous crimes against young people in another European country. The man involved was a known sex offender who committed many crimes with seeming impunity. If the public had access to a register which showed his name as a recurring sex offender he would not have continued on his evil ways.

I abhor the existence of so-called tolerance which prevails in some countries. There is an acceptance of low standards and I hope we will not allow those standards to prevail here. It speaks volumes of the changes in society that such standards creep in unobserved. We must safeguard the lifestyle and values we have traditionally enjoyed. We must address issues such as this Bill in a serious and rational fashion. The Government will not shirk its responsibilities in presenting its Bill.

There are people whose sole interest in life is making films based on sexual intercourse in normal and perverse fashion. Many of them say that their films are artistic, but many who have seen them would describe them as dirty. The makers of this pornography must share the guilt of those who perform criminal sexual acts following the inspiration they receive from viewing those filthy films. In a related sphere, there is widespread misuse of computer technology to broadcast pornographic material. The computer provides easy access to those who wish to infiltrate the privacy of our homes. They cause offence to the nation at large by the uncensored display of explicit sexual material. This type of viewing must be doing untold damage to the minds of young people. These computer artists fall into the same category as the makers of porno movies and they carry a heavy burden of responsibility for the minds they influence and distort. They should be included in the ambit of the Bill to be introduced by the Minister.

In that context, it is critically important to address the problem of abusers. The resources needed for such a service must be made available. The actions and motivations of offenders must be professionally studied and analysed. We cannot successfully address the problem of sex offences unless we gain an in-depth knowledge of the minds of those who commit such offences. We must learn what drives them to commit these horrible acts and we must ascertain if it is possible to reverse their patterns of behaviour. The results of a serious study would be of enormous value in safeguarding the potential victims of sex attacks.

I received documentation from a group in the west which is involved in general professional counselling for individuals requiring help with psychological problems and those who have been sexually abused. The management board consists of people with educational, psychological, medical, legal and pastoral qualifications and its submission "Pro-Consult", which is modelled on a system used in Canada to treat sexual offenders, has been sent to the Minister.

The Minister will enjoy the full support of the House when he introduces his Bill. We will then have an opportunity to include the commission's input and discuss the relevant points which the Minister will bring forward and those already raised by Deputy Neville. I appeal to the Deputy to withdraw his Bill and wait for the results of the commission's report and the introduction of the new legislation, which, I am sure, will receive Members' full support.

I congratulate Deputy Neville on bringing forward this Bill. The Minister made it clear that he is not opposed to its import, but there appears to be a number of deficiencies in it. That is not of major importance and I suggest that Deputy Neville's Bill and its explanatory memorandum will form an important part of a submission on the discussion paper on the law on sexual offences to which the Minister referred yesterday. The Minister also referred to that paper in reply to a matter I raised on the Adjournment in respect of separate legal representation for victims of rape. The Bill, its explanatory memorandum and its intent will form an important basis for the discussion paper. I ask Deputy Neville to await the discussion paper and withdraw his Bill.

As the Minister stated, the Government is committed to putting in place a register of sexual offenders and there is support for this on all sides of the House. To deal with the issue of sexual abuse and not the specific aspects of the Bill — second to the death of a child the mere thought of one's children being sexually abused is one of the most horrific things normal and sane parents can contemplate. I say "normal and sane" because abuse of this nature often occurs in families. As a public representative, the first occasion on which I encountered sexual abuse against children was within a family situation. Dealing with that for the first time raised many issues which I had not previously contemplated.

I am not sure that I discussed sexual abuse with my children. If it does not enter into one's consciousness as a parent, in the context of people's sexuality or sexual orientation, that sexual abuse can happen, it is difficult to broach this matter with children whereas it is easy to discuss normal matters of sexuality. Sexual abuse probably falls outside the scope of parents who are trying to protect their children and provide them with a good grounding in relationships and sex education and it is difficult for them to deal with this area.

We must consider this issue from a number of aspects. I wish to deal with it specifically in terms of victims within the family home and those who are the subject of abuse from someone outside the home. I pay tribute to organisations such as the ISPCC, the Rape Crisis Centre and other voluntary groups which do a great deal of work in trying to assist victims and their families who have suffered the trauma of sexual abuse. I also pay tribute to health workers who attempt to pick up the pieces after instances of sexual abuse. Having said that, cases coming to our notice now involve children who were placed in care for specific reasons, including their own safety, and found themselves the victims of sexual abuse. That has had an effect on health care providers and those who provide care for young children.

To return to the issue of parents not raising the dangers of sexual abuse with their children, the stay safe programme and other programmes have a great deal to offer. I urge parents who are reluctant to have their children take part in these programmes to reconsider the matter. In my constituency, a group of nuns working in the community operate an after school homework club for young children. They provide a safe atmosphere and there is an adult available whom children feel they can talk with on a confidential basis. This is vital in terms of both intervention and ensuring that those responsible for sexual abuse are removed from society. Barnados are also involved in doing work of this kind. However, this service should be introduced to the school system not only to support the Stay Safe programme but also because children should be able to identify people with whom they can talk.

We have repeatedly heard of cases where sexual offenders informed their victims that they will not be believed and that they have done something wrong. In recent days, an abuser sent his victim to confession to inform the priest that he or she had sinned. This is contradictory and confusing for young children who experience sexual abuse. Everyone hopes that children can discuss such matters with their parents but that might not always be possible. Therefore, there is a need to appoint normal and responsible adults in our schools whom children can trust and approach.

The treatment of offenders has received much coverage and attention in the past 24 hours. On reading the headlines about a traveller who was accused and found guilty of raping a prisoner with whom he shared a cell, one's initial reaction was that this was horrific until one discovered the more horrific background with which that prisoner had to contend in his earlier life. This case highlights the lack of treatment places available for those who have committed sexual offences. We must consider this issue from both sides, particularly that of the victim, in terms of the need for counselling and support, which is a priority.

If we are to try to achieve the objective of Deputy Neville's Bill, which is to reduce the rate of repeat offences, ensure that those convicted do not reoffend and advise society that these people are at liberty in the community, there must be a major increase in the number of places available to cater for those who have committed crimes. I am first to admit that there are not enough places available. However, a large number of those who commit sexual offences do not want to avail of treatment programmes. One of my constituents asked me to visit her husband who was accused of raping an adult. He categorically stated that he was not guilty and had not perpetrated the offence. I was approached afterward by one of the prison staff who asked if I was aware of the situation. I informed him that the prisoner's wife had asked me to visit him. The member of staff then asked if the prisoner had indicated that he had not perpetrated the offence and I informed him that was the case. He asked me if I realised that was what I would be told by 80 per cent, if not more, of those found guilty of such an offence.

I know that in the treatment of sex offenders a major hurdle facing them is admitting they have committed an offence. In some of the recent high profile cases, it was obvious the perpetrators felt no remorse about their crimes.

When this register is introduced we will have to address a number of issues, one of which was recently highlighted in Britain when local people put a police station under siege because a released sex offender was staying there. This is not an easy area to address.

I commend Deputy Neville and ask him to use his Bill as part of a contribution to the discussion paper the Minister referred to yesterday evening.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Barnes, Jim Higgins and Shortall.

I congratulate Deputy Neville for introducing this Private Members' Bill. Last night, the Minister criticised, with some justification, parts of the Bill but it should be seen in the context of a shortcoming in this House that a dedicated Deputy like Deputy Neville, who is very concerned about this whole area, is not in a position to avail of the expert parliamentary draftsmanship required to deal with all the shortcomings the Minister outlined. This is a problem relating to all parties in Opposition and needs to be addressed.

I support the idea of a register. I accept there are many aspects to providing a register but, in itself, it is a relatively simple thing to do. People were concerned when four convicted paedophiles from Derry moved to the Republic deliberately to avoid the registration system in the North. Sometimes people are unnecessarily frightened when one considers that last year a notorious British paedophile arrived here for the same reason and had to leave extremely quickly because of the prompt action of the Garda.

This whole issue may be considered at some time in the future by the British-Irish Council. We will have areas of common agreement and concern and it may be possible to deal with it to better effect through the council.

The extent of child abuse is extremely serious. Thousands of cases are coming to the attention of the health boards every year. As other speakers have done, I want to raise the question of treatment and rehabilitation in the prisons. Yesterday's case clearly highlighted the fact that there is not sufficient treatment available for those who require it. Ten places are available in Arbour Hill but only to those serving the last year of their sentence. Clearly that number of places is not enough. I understand there are also prisoners in the Curragh and I would be grateful if the Minister will clarify the position in that regard because my understanding is that not all prisoners who are sex offenders can avail of such a service should they so choose. Nobody underestimates the difficulty in providing treatment for sex offenders but it is not impossible and it should be availed of.

Currently there is a landslide in relation to the number of cases coming forward. We should not overestimate the extent of the problem in the sense that there is a backlog. Many of the cases coming before the courts go back a long time but I am concerned about whether we even know the current trend, leaving aside the backlog. We must carefully assess the current extent of sexual abuse because last year's figures for crimes against women show an increase at a time when figures for all other crimes were decreasing. That should be a signal that something is happening which we need to understand.

The fact that no research of any adequate proportion has been carried out in the area of child abuse and sexual offenders means there is an onus on the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, now that it has obtained money for this purpose, to deal with this aspect and determine if the current trend is on the increase. If it is on the increase, is it because there is more reporting of these crimes or is there an underlying growth in the problem? If that is the case, what are the influences?

There has been a considerable debate, for example, on the film "Lolita". People thought there was a possibility that this film might encourage paedophilia. I do not believe in censorship per se but I do not underestimate the power of the modern media to influence people's habits and the way they comport themselves.

We must examine the influences affecting human behaviour and determine whether they are beneficial. Many of the worst offences have occurred within families and by people who were trusted by families. I endorse the establishment of the stay safe programme which is an important protection for children.

I ask the Minister to ensure that he lives up to his words. He made the point that this is a more extensive area than simply the provision of a register. That is true. There are many elements to it but resources are required to deal with accommodation and support issues for the victims of abuse and the Minister has not yet delivered on that. I will hold the Minister to the points he made last night to ensure he delivers on them.

Like Deputies on all sides of the House, I commend Deputy Neville for introducing the Bill which deals with one part of the dreadful problem of child sexual abuse. I commend him also for his interest and commitment in this area which gives all of us an opportunity to express what every decent human being, particularly parents and people in authority, feels about this issue. As legislators we must move urgently to put in place the structures and, more importantly, the resources to deal with an extraordinarily complex problem.

Part of our difficulty is that we are only coming to terms with the horror and extent of this problem. Deputy McManus is right to question whether child sexual abuse is increasing. More research must be done to determine if pornography on the Internet is facilitating the establishment of paedophile rings across boundaries, thereby increasing the problem, or if it is a hidden problem because of the countless numbers of victims who, for decades, did not have an opportunity to speak out.

I know that every Member, particularly Deputy Neville, understands that this Bill is only one aspect of the whole question of treating the perpetrators of these crimes as well as the victims. Support programmes must be put in place to warn children about the dangers of being exploited and abused in this way. When courageous people come forward years later, usually as very damaged adults, and give witness to what has happened to them, we all share a horror and sadness at the extraordinary manipulation of their minds and emotions by their abusers in persuading them that what was happening was normal or that if it was abnormal they carried a huge amount of the responsibility for it. We have to worry about the extent to which any child coming through such an experience can become a whole, sane and balanced person. Such things were allowed to happen through our not knowing, but if we do not now act on the knowledge and information we have, we will be held responsible.

We are talking about changes in the Constitution in the area of children's rights. We should look at the judicial systems in other countries, for example, France, and study how convicted sexual offenders are treated. In other countries people who are a danger to young people and to other people in society, and also to themselves in so far as they evidently cannot control their urges, are not given an arbitrary sentence that allows them, having served that sentence, to go back into the community to continue to commit this type of crime. We are very aware of the figures relating to this type of crime. One offender can affect the lives of as many as two or three hundred victims, so there is a ripple effect. However, even when it is known that a person is a risk to society, we are helpless to do anything other than allow them back into the community. In other jurisdictions, convicted abusers are constantly monitored by a panel of experts, because they are seen as a danger to the community. Having served a certain number of years, they are not automatically released from prison. If they fail to take up rehabilitation programmes or treatment that is offered to them, they will not be released. Given the very high number of convicted sex abusers we have, it is appalling that there are only ten places in Arbour Hill for rehabilitation and treatment and that abusers either do not wish to receive treatment or, if they do, that we have not got the resources to enable them to do so. Such resources are available in other jurisdictions, and if convicted sex abusers do not take up the offer of treatment, they are not allowed to be free. Having availed of treatment and rehabilitation within the prison system, monitoring and treatment continues in a supportive way once they are in the community.

If we set up a register of sex offenders with a view to monitoring them, and conceal from the communities they are living in that they have been guilty of such dreadful acts, if we do that in isolation, we will merely isolate them and make them more dangerous, and we will not contribute to solving the ongoing problem. Setting up of a register must be done in tandem with increased provision of treatment. I do not know how we can constitutionally ensure that convicted sex offenders cannot leave prison without undergoing treatment and rehabilitation and subsequently staying in touch with such resources when they are back in the community. However, unless we can do this, all we are doing is containing the problem, isolating it, but never reaching the stage of not having within our community people who do not have access to the treatment and psychological supports needed to render them safe without scapegoating them or having people in the community into which they have been released living in fear.

In this context it is above all necessary — and the Minister for Education and Science and the Government have the right — to ensure that in schools where the majority of parents wish their children to take part in stay safe programmes, the management or teachers cannot arbitrarily decide not to put the programme into practice. That would be an abdication of their responsibility and a denial of the rights of children to have a stay safe programme from a very young age. If we need reminding of how early we have to instil in our children some sense of awareness of the danger they may be in, we have only to think of the recent horrific rape of an eight year old girl in Cork. Work in this area must go hand in hand with work on the Sexual Offenders Registration Bill.

(Mayo): I join in the general compliments to Deputy Neville on this Bill. I know from observation the amount of dedicated work he put into crafting this legislation. He has done a tremendous public service by bringing it before the House.

It is a pity that, apart from the conciliatory comments yesterday evening, the Minister does not seem to fully appreciate what Deputy Neville is doing here. This Bill is no different from any other Bill in that it is open to amendment and can be amended. Government legislation often has to be amended by the Government. I recall vividly, as Minister of State at the Department of Finance, bringing forward up to 200 amendments to the Stock Exchange Bill in order to ensure that it would be as watertight and as perfect as possible. Unfortunately, magnanimity is not part of the nature of this Minister. The Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform has proved to be the Achilles heel of this Government. Time and time again issues which should have been routine for a well managed Department with a competent Minister in command of his brief have been mishandled. Last week the Garda pay issue, which was fertilised by him in Opposition but allowed to fester since he became Minister, grabbed the headlines almost all of last week when we should have been concentrating on the Amsterdam Treaty and Northern Ireland.

I was amazed at the Minister's refusal to embrace this Bill as a worthwhile measure for the protection of children. The Minister told this House on 28 January that there were 292 sex offenders in custody. On 12 May he told the House that the only dedicated sex offenders' programme was at Arbour Hill and that it caters for a mere ten sex offenders at a time. The result is that sex offenders are being released weekly, and only a tiny fraction of them have undergone therapy or treatment. It is acknowledged that sex offenders have the highest recidivism rate in the entire prison population. If they are being released untreated, a register is an absolute imperative. People and communities should be aware of the release of the paedophile into their midst. There should be advance notification, advance preparation, and a sensitive awareness. This is precisely the purpose of this Bill. It is clear, prescriptive and workable.

For the first time the Bill would establish a register of offenders, a notification procedure and a definite public safety process. I was appalled by the Minister's dismissal of the Bill as "somewhat minimalist". The Minister gave a clear commitment during his heady days in Opposition that a Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would establish a register of sex offenders. There were no "ifs", "buts" or "maybes". The Minister has been in office for nine months and we have seen a combination of crisis management and a basking in the glow of welcome Garda successes across a range of criminal justice areas based on the solid programme of legislation introduced by his predecessor, Deputy Owen. From his own wish list, zero tolerance has been debunked; there is still no sign of the promised missing persons unit; the attachment of earnings legislation has been consigned to the back burner; Mountjoy jail is overcrowded and in chaos; refugee legislation lies dormant and the Garda pay issue is in crisis.

The Minister said the setting up of the register of sex offenders was being "studied". He said: "for some time now, my Department has been carrying out a detailed study of issues which arise from a system of registration of offenders". Every week new offenders crowd into prisons and untreated paedophiles are released back into the community without any therapy or treatment. All that is happening is that the good people in the offices in 72-76 St. Stephen's Green are studying whether there are particular characteristics which make Irish paedophiles unique from their counterparts in other countries. The situation is nonsensical. There is a vast bulk of expert opinion in this area available from research in Britain, the United States, France and elsewhere. There are certain fundamentals common to the problem throughout the world.

It is clear that a register of offenders is an absolute necessity as a public safety measure. Yet, all that is being carried out is a study. What will happen when the study is completed? The Minister said a discussion paper will be produced. We will have discussion, debate, deliberations and delay while at the same time paedophiles are released untreated, unregistered and unknown back into the community. Does the Minister realise the hysteria, panic and fear caused by the sudden awareness of the presence of a released paedophile in a community? Does he realise that paedophiles are now as reviled as murderers? Is he aware that in my county, for example, there was a barbaric torching of a home of a released paedophile last Christmas?

By not registering paedophiles and not treating them the State could be leaving itself open to a spate of compensation claims from the victims of untreated released paedophile offenders. Treatment should no longer be optional but obligatory.

The Minister should accept the Bill. It is obvious from his nit-picking exercise yesterday, further indulged in by Deputy O'Flynn today, that there is no problem with the essence of the Bill. It is sound and all reservations could be catered for and dealt with on Committee Stage. If the Minister set aside his blinkered approach the Bill could be law within three weeks and for the first time a much needed and long overdue register of offenders could be in place within a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, this is not the nature of the Minister.

I welcome the opportunity presented by Deputy Neville's Bill of discussing the issue of sexual offences. Sexual abuse of men, women and children is unacceptable at any level in society. Over recent years we have seen an avalanche of cases coming before the courts. All of us have been deeply shocked by this experience. We hope the recent culture of openness will continue and encourage further victims of these cruel crimes to come forward and report them.

As a society, and especially as legislators, we must address the many questions surrounding sexual abuse, namely, why people engage in these crimes; how society can best be protected; how people can be prepared to combat these crimes; how detection rates can be improved and what to do with people who abuse. It is this final issue which I wish to speak about.

It seems the Minister's policy to date has simply been to lock up abusers and forget about them. In general terms, the "lock them up" approach seems to be the Minister's guiding principle in relation to all crime and hence his fixation with building more prison spaces. This is a self-fulfilling policy because if the Minister's only approach is to lock up prisoners, there will be an unending demand for prison places as crime will never be effectively tackled. The Minister has opted for simplistic solutions which can be described in catchy sound bites. Effectively tackling crime is, of course, a much more complex issue and requires examination of the root causes of crime, efficient policing and possible interventions by the State to break the vicious cycle of crime.

Time and time again sexual abuse cases have been shown to be part of a vicious cycle, the offender being abused and going on to abuse others in turn. Prison sentences alone make little difference to this pattern of behaviour. Prisons which allow sexual abuse to continue within their walls do nothing to change it. We know that in most cases offenders are likely to reoffend again and again unless action is taken to break that pattern.

One would imagine that if we were serious about protecting society and reducing recidivism we would make a serious attempt to rehabilitate prisoners convicted of sexual offences. Currently there are almost 300 sexual offenders in prison while there are a mere ten rehabilitation places available. This is a shameful situation and a gross indictment of a Minister who purports to be tackling crime. It seems the courts will have to instruct the Minister to do his job properly if progress is to be made. In this context I welcome the indication yesterday from one judge that he intends shortly to take this action against the Minister.

Last night we heard promises about what the Minister was going to do. I remind the House that on 13 August 1997 the media reported that the Minister was preparing a Green Paper on sexual offending. A spokesperson for the Minister said it would be ready in the autumn. However, autumn, winter and spring came and went. We are now at the start of summer and there is still no sign of the Green Paper. Clearly, the Minister is all talk and no action. People are quickly realising that he cannot be taken seriously.

The Minister has an equally pathetic record in relation to drug addicted prisoners, with little or no treatment facilities available to them. Our prisons continue to be full of drugs and brutal and abusive places which release prisoners back into society often in a more anti-social and dangerous state than when they first entered. For all the Minister's tough talk, he still seems incapable of grasping this fact.

The intentions behind the Bill are admirable. When sexual offenders leave prison, nobody knows where they go or what they do unless they again come to the attention of the authorities. There is an urgent need for ongoing monitoring of sexual offenders when they leave prison. However, I would prefer to see this as part of a properly structured post-release programme. There are potential problems with the register, such as the possibility of encouraging vigilantism, the illusion of safety that may be created in the community and the likelihood of driving offenders underground with the possibility of them becoming more dangerous. These issues must be properly addressed.

Some form of registration and monitoring is necessary. This is merely one aspect of a much wider strategy which is required if we are to do what we all believe is necessary, namely, to protect society by reducing recidivism. I call on the Minister to start treating this matter seriously. He has had time for talking, what we need is action.

I wish to share time with Deputies Briscoe and Ryan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I compliment Deputy Neville on bringing the Bill before the House; it has generated discussion on a very serious issue. However, the Bill is somewhat premature because, as the Deputy is aware, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has already initiated a detailed study of the issue of sexual offences and a discussion paper on the matter will be brought before the House in the near future. If we are to ensure the matter is dealt with properly, we must hear the views of the professionals and all interested parties. The Government is opposing the Bill while recognising that the underlying objective is desirable.

I am concerned about the management of the risk to children of sexual abuse. A sexual offender who committed crimes against a large number of people in my constituency did not receive treatment in prison but was allowed back to live in the community, causing great distress to the victims. We are opposing the Bill because it is badly thought out and does not address many of the serious issues. For example, whose names will be on the register? For how long will the names remain on it? How can people's names be removed from the register and who will have access to it?

The Deputy should read the Bill. Those questions are answered in it.

I have read it. The Government gave a commitment in its programme for Government and, by initiating a detailed study of this area, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has shown he intends to deal with the matter in a proper manner. That is why we believe the timing of Deputy Neville's Bill is premature.

The Deputy modelled the Bill on the UK Sex Offenders Act, 1997. That Act was preceded by a consultation paper inviting comments from members of the public. We intend to do likewise by introducing a proper discussion paper and inviting comments from all members of the public. There has not been an informed debate on the matter.

The scope of the Bill is confusing. Deputy Neville probably intended to limit it to persons convicted of sex crimes against children, or so-called paedophiles. The Bill as drafted would cover all sex offenders. The discussion paper the Minister will introduce shortly will deal with the scope of a register. I have spoken to members of committees who visited jails where sex offenders are held and I am concerned that there are no treatment programmes for sex offenders. It is pointless setting up a register without addressing the question of treatment in prison. I was particularly alarmed when members of the visiting committees informed me that while in prison sex offenders discuss how they can carry out similar offences again without being caught. The question of chemical castration must be given serious consideration. It is outrageous that a sexual offender can be released from prison without treatment and, as happened in my constituency, return to live among his victims. I am not prepared to allow this to continue. I know the Minister has strong feelings on this matter and that is why he intends to introduce a comprehensive Bill on sex offenders in due course.

Deputy Neville stated that section 3 would require the Minister to make regulations or secondary legislation setting out guidelines for a court to follow in determining how long a person would be subject to registration requirements. This could be an unlawful delegation of legislative power. It would be more transparent to include this in primary legislation and give an indication of the time limits and the criteria applicable. I do not know why Deputy Neville decided to dodge this issue when drafting his Bill, given that he copied the UK Act virtually word for word.

I am also concerned that the offence of carnal knowledge of under age girls is not included in the Bill. Many paedophiles are guilty of crimes against under age girls. Why was that issue not dealt with in the Bill? The Deputy mentioned incest by males, but made no reference to incest by females. Why was that not included? Under section 8 a penalty of up to three years imprisonment can be imposed for breach of the notification requirements. That is excessive. The Deputy is making prison governors subject to the same sanctions for failing to comply with the requirement to notify the Garda Commissioner. That is a drastic measure.

While the Deputy's motives are good and we all recognise the necessity for a register of sex offenders, we want it set up in a proper manner to deal with a problem that has given rise to a great deal of debate in recent times. I recently met a member of the FBI who in the past few days brought a case in the US in connection with pornography on the Internet. People were luring young children across the States to commit crimes of a sexual nature against them. The Garda Síochána and society in general must be aware of the way the Internet can be abused and the horrific content of some of its information. It is difficult in the US to bring a successful prosecution for such crimes and we must be conscious of this for the future.

We are opposing the Bill, not because we do not believe a register of sex offenders is a good idea, but because we do not believe Deputy Neville's Bill is comprehensive enough. I hope he will withdraw the Bill and allow an informed debate on the matter.

I compliment Deputy Neville on introducing the Bill. We share the same views on many aspects of life in general. However, I am as impatient as he for a change in the law regarding paedophiles. Sex offences against children are unforgivable. It takes away their innocence and destroys their lives. Sadly, many paedophiles have also been abused as children.

I would throw away the key on paedophiles. The number of them who do not reoffend is very small. I would have to be very sure a paedophile would not reoffend before allowing him back into the community. If they reoffend, there should be some type of sanction against the people who ordered their release in the belief that they would not reoffend. These people are very clever.

I recall speaking to an Eastern Health Board psychiatrist some years ago, one of whose patients had informed him he was a paedophile and was worried he might kill a child. Given the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship, the psychiatrist was placed in a very awkward position. However, he approached a senior judge with whom he was acquainted and asked him what he could do. The judge advised him to bring the matter to the attention of the Garda. The doctor visited the Garda superintendent and informed him of his fears that his patient might kill a child. However, he was told that nothing could be done until such time as the man committed an offence, in spite of the fact that he was a time bomb waiting to explode.

I do not wish to see people taking the law into their own hands in regard to these matters. We can observe what is happening in the UK with the release of a monster into the community. If people do not see justice being done, they will take matters into their own hands.

A day does not pass when some child sexual offence is not reported in the newspapers; it is one of the horrible aspects of life as we know it. When the Minister introduces his discussion paper on this issue, I would ask him to apply a maximum time limit of five or six months for receipt of submissions, after which time legislation will be introduced. I do not want to wait a further two or three years to see something being done about this crime which we all find deeply offensive.

Although I support the Bill, I am obliged to wait until the Government introduces its own Bill, which I hope will happen in the near future.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill introduced by Deputy Neville and I compliment him on it. When in Opposition, Deputy O'Donoghue and I introduced a number of Private Members' Bills and I am aware of the amount of work involved when one does not have the necessary resources and backup. One is forced to rely on one's colleagues and party supporters to give generously of their time to ensure Bills are properly drafted.

Deputy O'Donoghue and I introduced two Bills in this area, one of which was the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Bill which prevents people going abroad to commit these kinds of offences. People who do so can be charged in this jurisdiction for offences committed there.

There is a huge sex tourism market in many east Asian and African countries. Unfortunately, that very regrettable part of the tourism industry is a very lucrative one for many people. The industry preys on people in dire economic straits, abuses their economic position and children are frightfully abused as a result. I am sure we have all seen documentaries on the issue.

We also introduced a Child Pornography Bill, a simple Bill which I believed should have been supported. Although the Government of which Deputy Neville's party was a member supported the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Bill, it opposed the Child Pornography Bill.

I was surprised that Deputy Shortall used her time to attack the Minister and I remind her that some of the issues she raised could easily have been dealt with when her party was in Government less than a year ago. I do not wish to be political about this serious issue. The fact that people commit heinous crimes against children is the issue we should address rather than attempting to embarrass the Minister.

Since coming into office, the Minister has introduced a Bill on pornography which is far more extensive than the one we introduced when in Opposition. He did not have the back-up or resources then which he now has in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and which have allowed him to be very active on the legislative front.

I attended a very interesting conference on this matter in Sweden some years ago and learned a great deal about its extent. The lengths to which some offenders will go to gain access to children and pornographic material are quite extraordinary. Legislation is being introduced to deal with this issue in many countries and hopefully all Governments will come together to attempt to limit the amount of information available on the Internet which is a huge information source for offenders. It is not possible to merely type in 'child pornography'; people must know key words in order to allow them to follow trails. As Interpol was aware of the methods used to gain access to this information at the time the conference was held, paedophiles almost certainly have new words to access this information now. Child sex offenders reoffend at a very high rate.

I agree in many ways with the main thrust of the Bill introduced by Deputy Neville. We must all take an interest in this matter as it is essential that we protect our children. However, I have not seen much evidence that the measures proposed in the Bill have been effective in other jurisdictions. In some parts of America, the effectiveness of measures to identify sex offenders, such as a register of sex offenders or the placement of signs outside offenders' homes, is being questioned. I support the Minister's attitude to this matter which requires a great deal of thought and on which a discussion document must be produced. Such a document would serve to open up a great deal of debate.

I welcome the fact that a time limit will be imposed for the receipt of submissions and that the Government will be required to introduce legislation on the matter. I commend the Deputy for raising this issue and I welcome the fact that it is being debated in the House. This is a very difficult subject which, if not handled properly, could result in matters becoming worse than they currently are. I ask the Deputy to listen to the Minister. He is bringing forward a discussion paper. There is a time limit for receipt of views. Many people will submit their views to the Department. I ask the Deputy to withdraw his Bill and to await the discussion paper. I congratulate him on the work he has done but I suggest we all move together on it as opposed to rushing legislation through.

Ba mhaith liomsa fáiltiú roimh an Bille freisin. Tugann sé deis dúinn labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo agus ba chóir dúinn gach deis a ghlacadh mar beidh an fhadhb linn i gconaí de dheasca an dul chun cinn atá ar siúl sa teicneo-laíocht agus san Internet. Ba chóir dúinn tabhairt faoin bhfadhb mar atá sé faoi láthair. Muna ndéanaimid é sin anois is ar éigin go mbeimid in ann tabhairt faoi ins an todhchaí.

Deputy Neville's Bill gives us an opportunity to discuss an ongoing problem which is a threat to society. I note the words "sex offenders" in the Bill while the thrust of it deals with children. Sex offences are largely offences against women and children. A sexual offence is the most heinous of all crimes because it is power against weakness, strength against the vulnerable. It is a worldwide problem. We are dealing with many aspects — pornography, prostitution, trafficking and even slavery, which we thought had been removed a couple of hundred years ago. All this is happening extensively in Asia where prostitution, particularly child prostitution, is more lucrative than drug trafficking, which is a major international business.

Any form of pornography or prostitution is sex abuse and child abuse and needs to be tackled at a variety of levels but it can only be tackled at national and international levels.

Let us focus on women who are the victims of sex offenders, while not necessarily coming within the thrust of this Bill. We should always concentrate our efforts on removing domestic violence, harassment, violence against women on the streets and, as we saw last week, in night clubs. There should also be separate representation for rape victims, etc. During my term in this House we have already tackled the Child Pornography Bill and an international commission, of which the Government is a part, is working on the whole issue of pornography on the Internet.

Sex offenders are an ongoing danger to society. Society has a duty to protect itself. The least protection to which society is entitled is to monitor the whereabouts of known past sex offenders. I agree with the principle of this Bill on the need for a register of sex offenders. However, a number of questions need to be asked. What constitutes the sex offender? Who will go on this register? Will it be paedophiles, sex abusers, sex offenders against women, all of whom are different categories of offenders?

Last night the debate focused a great deal on the fear of strangers in our midst, strangers on the street, particularly in light of what happened in Cork and how parents are afraid to allow their children out on the streets. This is an awful situation that has developed in our society. Statistics show that children are most at risk within the four walls of their own homes. They are at risk from people whom they know and from family members. In a register such as this do we list people who have been ignored by their neighbours for a long time? The press, neighbours and society will talk about the stranger in our midst but for too long we have turned a blind eye to what happens next door and within the four walls of another family home because we say it is not our responsibility. For too long mothers have sought not to protect their children but to protect the family as a unit and have refused to give information against their husbands. They need to be encouraged. If that person is living among a family or his own family or with his own children they are the people who are most at risk.

Should offences be categorised? There are a number of sex offences and sex offenders. Should they be categorised on the register? What about those who have unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 15 or under the age of 17 which, even in the courts, merit two different types of sentence? Should rape, incest, pornography and prostitution be listed separately and categorised in the register? How long should a person remain on the list? Should it be for the whole of their lives, bearing in mind the distinction between child abusers and paedophiles? Child abusers will respond to counselling, education and behavioural reorientation. Paedophiles will never respond. They are more highly structured and have the extraordinary belief that a child consents to the activity. Very little treatment works with paedophiles and they are likely to reoffend. If a person who has been released from prison is undergoing treatment and is found, because he is an abuser as opposed to a paedophile, to respond to that treatment should that person remain on the register for the rest of their lives?

Who should have access to the register? I understand the Bill proposes that a garda at inspector level would have access to the register. Surely health boards, child care workers, the Department of Education and Science have an interest and anybody who will be employed in a position of authority dealing with children. People who will be employed in community employment schemes in schools need to have access to this information. While this matter is addressed in the Bill further debate is needed. For example, the Rape Crisis Centre has views on this matter.

How does the Freedom of Information Act affect this Bill? While welcoming the thrust of the Bill we need to protect our children and women. This must be done in co-operation with Europol, Interpol and all the international organisations. Following a discussion paper involving all the relevant organisations in Ireland it is a matter we will be dealing with at a national level here.

With your permission I wish to share my time.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I join others who have complimented Deputy Neville in bringing forward the Sexual Offenders Registration Bill. It is an important Bill and deserves the support of the House. I am confident Deputy Neville will be magnanimous and generous enough, in the event of the Bill receiving the approval of the House, to go forward to Committee Stage. I have no doubt Deputy Neville would be agreeable to co-operate in every respect with all parties to produce an Act which would have widespread support here and throughout the country. It is an important Bill and one to which in general I subscribe. I would like the opportunity to discuss this matter further on Committee and Report Stages. I wish to make a point which has not been addressed in the Bill or in the debate but it is essential that it be considered by the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health and Children. It is an area relevant to both Departments and it requires urgent attention. It relates not only to sexual offenders but to other offenders. The problem of psychiatric treatment for people of all age groups but particularly for young people must be addressed.

I and the Minister of State are aware of many young people who have no criminal records but who are in urgent need of psychiatric care for nervous disorders, psychiatric problems and problems with sexuality. At present such people have limited access to proper medical treatment. I can offer a simple example. A number of people voluntarily admit themselves to homes or hospitals throughout the country for psychiatric treatment. Usually they are put on tablets which are administered under supervision in the hospital. The patients, for as long as they are taking such medicines under supervision, usually become well again quite quickly and are allowed to return to their homes.

However, on returning home many such patients do not continue their treatment. At that stage their problems are reactivated. As they fail to continue their treatment their nervous disorder continues and, on occasion, deteriorates. Drink, drugs and the other problems involved in growing up intermingle and serve to aggravate the disorder. A situation which could have been curtailed at an early stage, therefore, continues to deteriorate.

These people are usually young males, aged between 17 and 35 years. When they fail to continue their treatment they become a danger to themselves and to society, particularly to young girls and young men. In essence they are good people but, because of their health problem, they become dangerous. If this problem was addressed at an early stage the need for legislation such as the Bill before the House might be reduced. I hope the Minister of State and the Government will examine this problem. I am available to meet the Minister of State and the Minister for Health and Children at any time to discuss it and I am glad I had the opportunity of raising it today.

I have visited most prisons in Ireland. I dread visiting Mountjoy Prison because it is an horrific experience. Yesterday's edition of The Irish Times carried a report on a prisoner, Anthony Cawley, who apologised in court to a man he raped in Mountjoy Prison. The report pointed out that this was the first case of prison rape to be successfully prosecuted in Irish courts. The Minister of State is aware, as am I, that it was not the first such offence. Regrettably, young men have been raped in Mountjoy Prison on previous occasions and a considerable number of sexual assaults have taken place there. I do not know how this behaviour is to be curtailed but it must be done.

People are committed to Mountjoy Prison for various crimes and I can give the Minister of State information on a number of instances where such assaults took place. The problem must be addressed. A prisoner might go into Mountjoy Prison having been a serious problem for society but he or she can come out a much more dangerous person.

I hope this Bill is passed and I congratulate Deputy Neville on introducing it.

I thank the Members who participated in this debate. The Bill endeavours to introduce a means of tracking fiends who sexually abuse children. We want the Garda Síochána to be aware of their presence in the community and to provide that a community can be made aware of the presence of such convicted people in their midst at the discretion of the Garda.

As a result of the greater awareness of and huge emphasis on child sexual offending and the social revulsion at such abuse, the Minister did not oppose the Bill outright. He said he accepted the desirability of establishing a sex offenders register. He was, therefore, reduced to nit-picking by outlining drafting weaknesses in the Bill in order to oppose it. He was reduced to employing his Department's officials to trawl through the Bill for drafting problems. This is the easy option when the Minister cannot oppose the principle or objectives of a Bill.

The issues highlighted by the Minister could be overcome by the introduction of amendments on Committee Stage. However, the Minister has decided not to take this option but to reject the Bill on Second Stage. He is aware of the limitations under which Members must work when drawing up a Private Members' Bill. They do not have the support of a team of legislative draftsmen. Even when there is such support, it is rare that a Bill is not in need of amendment. Amendments could have been made to this Bill but the Minister has chosen not to make them.

He prefers to have paedophiles who are released from prison free to move around the country and to inflict their vicious, vile acts on children, thereby robbing them of their innocence and condemning them to a childhood, adolescence and, in most cases, an adulthood of no self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness and isolation and difficulties with relationships. According to a report in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times a man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for raping his daughter who is now 26 years of age. The judge noted that the victim was on constant medication for depression, had attempted suicide several times and was classified a suicide risk. She was unable to form relationships and that condition was considered permanent. That is the effect of child sex abuse on one victim. The defendant in this case had been convicted in the early 1980s for indecently assaulting his oldest daughter and had received a six month suspended sentence. That man's name should have been included on a register.

By not supporting the Bill, the Minister will ensure that this State remains a safe haven for child sex abusers from Northern Ireland and the UK and facilitates their use of the State to continue their vile activities. The Minister's first criticism of the Bill is that the word "children" appears in the long title but is not mentioned in the short title. Time and again this has been referred to as a deficiency in the Bill. I accept that it is a problem but it could be addressed by amending the Title. The simple amendment could read: "In the short title, place "child" before "sexual". Yet the Minister and other Deputies consider this a key issue in their rejection of the Bill. There are other similar criticisms but all of them could be addressed in a similar fashion.

I accept there are drafting flaws but they could have been overcome on Committee Stage. However, the Minister will not take that option. Instead, he will continue to permit people who are released from prison to commit what I believe are the most vile acts against human nature by destroying the childhood and innocence of children. He will continue to permit them to reside in communities without their presence being made known to the Garda Síochána.

The Minister said a discussion paper on the law on sexual offences will be published within the next two weeks. That is the third time he made that announcement since last December. The Irish Independent of 2 January 1998 carried a report on statements made by Deputy Batt O'Keeffe who has made numerous statements on this issue and has called for a register of paedophiles. However, he is conspicuous by his absence from this debate.

The article states:

Minister for Justice John O'Donoghue is to introduce a register of paedophiles early in the New Year, according to Cork Fianna Fáil TD Batt O'Keeffe.

A discussion document on sex offenders will be published within the next two weeks but Minister O'Donoghue has already decided on a register of paedophiles, he said, adding: "The discussion paper will look at all sex offenders but Minister O'Donoghue confirmed to me this week that he has already decided in principle on a register of paedophiles". According to Deputy O'Keeffe, the Irish register will help ensure Ireland doesn't become a haven for British paedophiles. "The register will address a failing here and make for closer co-operation between the Gardaí and the police in the UK", he said.

The Minister has asked us to await the discussion document. He said:

I am keen to ensure that, in debating this Bill, we do not pre-empt the outcome of the debate that will undoubtedly ensue from the discussion paper and, in particular, that we do not deprive people of their opportunity to participate in the consultation process. With the publication of the discussion paper now imminent, this debate should help to stimulate an interest in aspects of the law on sexual offences, in particular a sex offenders' register. ..

An article in The Irish Times on 31 December 1997 states:

The Department of Justice confirmed that the Minister, Mr. O'Donoghue, has decided to establish a register of convicted paedophiles. . . The Minister had originally planned to seek submissions on whether a register should be established at all, but has now made the decision that it will be established, the spokesman said.

He had brought the decision forward because of concerns that paedophiles might come to the Republic from Northern Ireland and Britain following the introduction of a register there.

The move was welcomed by Ms Madeleine Clarke of Barnardos, who said paedophiles were notorious re-offenders.

By not accepting the Bill the Minister is refusing to tackle the problem of child sexual abuse, which is of widespread concern. He is depriving the Garda Síochána of up-to-date information on the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders and of valuable information in the investigation and prevention of the crime of child sexual assault. He is denying society of a powerful deterrent to offenders who would be aware from the moment they register an address or change of address that the Garda Síochána would know about their presence in the district and have them in their sights. He is sending a signal to those who are fleeing from the UK register that this State is a safe haven to continue their vile activities. Paedophiles are highly manipulative and clever and their behaviour intensifies as they grow older. They do not consider their activities to be wrong. There is an urgent need to track these people.

The Minister announced on several occasions that the discussion document would be published within two weeks. We will not hold our breath that it will be published within the next two weeks. The Garda Síochána need to know if a convicted sex offender is living in an area to ensure any danger to children is avoided and children are spared the trauma which, in most cases, affects them for the rest of their lives.

In 1990 I trawled through the details of a Bill in the Seanad to decriminalise suicide. The then Minister for Justice, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, promised to introduce her own Bill within two weeks. It took three years for it to come through. Exactly the same wording was used. We will await the discussion document and participate in the discussion but if something is not done about this problem by the autumn, I will seek permission to reintroduce this Bill given the importance of this issue and the need to protect our children.

The register would not be confined to the Garda Síochána. They would have the opportunity to inform the health boards, those who provide services for children and any person whom they believe should be informed of the whereabouts of paedophiles. They would have discretion to ensure people do not take the law into their own hands and persecute those who, having been rehabilitated, are behaving properly but still in need of attention.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 58; Níl, 66. Tá

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Stagg; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power.

    Níl

    • Ahern, Dermot.
    • Ahern, Michael.
    • Ahern, Noel.
    • Ardagh, Seán.
    • Aylward, Liam.
    • Blaney, Harry.
    • Brady, Johnny.
    • Brady, Martin.
    • Brennan, Séamus.
    • Briscoe, Ben.
    • Byrne, Hugh.
    • Callely, Ivor.
    • Carey, Pat.
    • Collins, Michael.
    • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
    • Cowen, Brian.
    • Cullen, Martin.
    • Daly, Brendan.
    • de Valera, Síle.
    • Dempsey, Noel.
    • Dennehy, John.
    • Doherty, Seán.
    • Fahey, Frank.
    • Fleming, Seán.
    • Foley, Denis.
    • Fox, Mildred.
    • Hanafin, Mary.
    • Haughey, Seán.
    • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
    • Jacob, Joe.
    • Keaveney, Cecilia.
    • Kelleher, Billy.
    • Kenneally, Brendan.
    • Killeen, Tony.
    • Kirk, Séamus.
    • Kitt, Tom.
    • Lawlor, Liam.
    • Lenihan, Brian.
    • Lenihan, Conor.
    • Martin, Micheál.
    • McCreevy, Charlie.
    • McDaid, James.
    • McGennis, Marian.
    • McGuinness, John.
    • Moffatt, Thomas.
    • Moloney, John.
    • Moynihan, Donal.
    • Moynihan, Michael.
    • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
    • O'Dea, Willie.
    • O'Donnell, Liz.
    • O'Flynn, Noel.
    • O'Keeffe, Batt.
    • O'Kennedy, Michael.
    • O'Rourke, Mary.
    • Power, Seán.
    • Roche, Dick.
    • Ryan, Eoin.
    • Smith, Michael.
    • Treacy, Noel.
    • Wade, Eddie.
    • Wallace, Dan.
    • Wallace, Mary.
    • Walsh, Joe.
    • Woods, Michael.
    • Wright, G.V.
    Question declared lost.

    Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.De Rossa, Proinsias.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Ferris, Michael.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances. Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shortall, Róisín.Spring, Dick.

    Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Jim.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard. Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.