Written Answers. - Government Programme.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

305 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the specific commitments, if any, set out in An Action Programme for the Millennium which have been implemented in full; the commitments, if any, implemented in part; the commitments, if any, initiated; the commitments, if any, yet to be initiated and implemented by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15052/98]

The position in relation to the progress by my Department in implementing the commitments outlined in the Government's An Action Programme for the Millennium for which my Department has responsibility or is involved, is as follows:

Adopt a zero tolerance policy towards crime, including white collar crime

The Criminal Justice Bill, 1997, which commenced Second Stage in the Dáil on 11 June 1998, contains a series of strong anti-crime measures. The Criminal Justice (Fraud Offences) Bill, currently being drafted by the Parliamentary Draftsman, will significantly strengthen the law on white collar crime. Other developments taking place will also contribute to this policy.

Increase Garda Strength by 1,200 to reach the full complement of 12,000

The target is to have 12,000 gardaí by 2002; the current strength of the force is now at approximately 11,000. Due to ongoing wastage, this will require the recruitment of an estimated 2,200 gardaí. A programme of accelerated recruitment is under way with the aim of meeting this target.

Establish independent Prisons Authority

The General Scheme for a Prisons Service Bill is under preparation, for introduction in 1999. Proposals are being developed on the role of an interim prisons board, which will be subject to Government approval. Other essential preparatory work, relating to the human resource function and IT and financial management systems development, is under way to ensure the successful vesting of this body within the organisation change programme of the Department.

Establish independent Parole and Remission Board

Provision for the establishment of an independent parole and remission board will be contained within the Prisons Service Bill currently under preparation, for introduction in 1999. Proposals for a non-statutory body are being developed, which will be subject to Government approval.

Establish Prisons Inspectorate
As with the parole and remission board, provision for the establishment of an independent prisons inspectorate will be contained within the Prisons Service Bill currently under preparation, for introduction in 1999. Proposals for a non-statutory inspectorate, which will be subject to Government approval are being developed.
Provide an extra 2,000 prison spaces (1,000 in first two years)
Phase 1: The commitment to provide 1,000 spaces in the first two years of the term of the Government is on course.
Limerick Prison (60 spaces). The new wing was brought into use in March 1998 and is fully operational.
Castlerea (152 spaces). The new prison became operational in May 1998, and the prisoner population is being built up to full capacity.
Remand Prison at Cloverhill (400 spaces). Construction of the prison is under way and is planned for completion in late 1998.
Women's Prison beside Mountjoy (80 spaces). Construction of the prison is under way and planned for completion at end 1998.
Portlaoise (400 spaces). Construction is planned for completion by August 1999.
On completion of the above building programme in August 1999, a total of 1,092 additional prison spaces will have been created.
Phase 2: Target — to provide a further 1,000 prison spaces by mid-2002.
It is proposed to undertake initial planning for the second-phase spaces in 1998-9.
Establish a custodial detention centre for convicted addicts and remand prisoners who are addicted, with all other prisons to be drug-free
Drug treatment issues are under discussion with the Department of Health and Children and the Eastern Health Board. The operation of the Mountjoy drug treatment facility and the drug free unit in the training unit is currently under review.
Establish independent Courts Service
The Courts Service Act, 1998, came into effect on 16 April 1998. The transitional board, whose functions include making the necessary arrangements to establish the service and to appoint a chief executive designate, held its first meeting on 26 May 1998. The Courts Service is expected to come into operation by December 1998.
Introduce fast track trials for certain serious offences
The Criminal Justice Bill, 1997, now before the Dáil, abolishes preliminary hearings.
Introduce asset enquiries for certain offences at sentence stage
The Criminal Justice Bill, 1997, now before the Dáil, provides for automatic asset inquiries where persons are convicted on indictment of drug trafficking offences.
Put in place a witness protection programme and plea-bargaining
The new witness security programme introduced in late 1997 is designed to operate in cases of serious or organised crime, where a threat to the safety of the witness, his family members or associates is perceived to exist because of evidence that would be given in court. Funding of £250,000 was provided in the 1998 Estimates for expenditure on the programme.
In relation to plea bargaining, the Criminal Justice Bill, 1997 underpins the system of plea bargaining.
Review right to silence
The right to silence is being reviewed by an expert group established to consider changes in the law recommended in the Garda SMI report. The report is due by the end June 1998. Proposals will be addressed in a new Criminal Justice Bill as early as possible in 1999.
Contribute to a Cabinet sub-committee co-ordinating a national drugs strategy
Considerable progress has been made in ensuring that all institutions of State are working together in implementing an integrated approach to the drugs problem. My Department contributes to the development of integrated policies to deal with the problem at national and local level by our representation on the structures which are in place, namely, the Cabinet Committee on Drugs and Social Inclusion, the National Drugs Strategy Policy Group of Assistant Secretaries, the National Drugs Strategy Team, and the local drugs task forces, gardaí and probation and welfare officers.
Service development plans which give details of the specific projects being implemented by local drugs task forces have been evaluated and approved and £10 million has been allocated to support the implementation of these plans.
Monitoring the success of the drugs strategy is ongoing. External evaluators will be engaged shortly to review the effectiveness of the structural arrangements in place and the success or otherwise of initiatives being undertaken, following which recommendations will be made to Government on the future of the drugs strategy.
Establishment of an advisory/research body to assist the Government in policy formulation is currently being considered. My Department and the Department of Health and Children have agreed, in principle, a draft policy document on the management of substance misuse within the prison system. An operational plan to give effect to the agreed policy is being developed.
With regard to the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund, £30 million for 1998-2000, an assessment committee under the auspices of the National Drugs Strategy Policy Group has been established to control the operation of the fund and evaluate proposed Integrated Plans. A sum of £20 million will be allocated to the 13 local drugs task force areas, and £10 million will be allocated to target young people at risk in other areas. The assessment committee has prepared guidelines to assist with the development of plans. Development groups are being established to prepare integrated plans.
Implement zero tolerance towards drug dealers/pushers and ensure that Operation Dóchas is continued and expanded
The Criminal Justice Bill, 1997, contains strong measures against drug trafficking, including mandatory minimum ten year sentences for possession of drugs to supply with a value of £10,000 or more. In addition the Bail Act, 1996, will be brought fully into force when the position in relation to prison accommodation allows.
Considerable success has been achieved in various Garda operations:
— Operation Dóchas street value of seizures from October-December 1997 being over £4.75 million.
— Operation Main Street (on-going) seizures to date of £260,000 approximately.
— Operation Clean Street commenced in December 1997 in four defined target areas, and 70 "on street" heroin dealers have been arrested and charged to date.
In addition, there have been major successes in the seizure of large quantities of illegal drugs from January-mid March 1998, and seizures of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines with a street value of about £12 million have been made.
The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, is also effectively targeting drug barons. Major successes have already been achieved by the CAB in freezing suspect assets.
Create Drug Court system to involve court supervised treatment programmes as an alternative to criminal prosecution
This issue has been examined by the working group on a courts commission. The report will be brought to Government shortly.
Provide regional Family Courts
The working group on a courts commission has been asked to examine the issue of Family Law Courts, and a report is expected later this year.
Introduce policies to address the effect of divorce
The Children Act, 1997, which was enacted on 9 December 1997, develops the law on guardianship, custody and access etc. The Courts are required to take the child's wishes and interests into account in guardianship proceedings. The Act provides emphasis on alternative dispute resolution procedures, mediation, counselling and legal agreements, to guardianship, custody and access proceedings and provides, in serious cases, for a system of guardianad litem and representation of the guardian ad litem in family law cases. Provisions in relation to mediation, counselling and guardian ad litem will be the subject of a commencement order as soon as the necessary arrangements which have financial and staffing implications are put in place. Exchequer funding in 1998 has increased for family mediation from £300,000 to £900,000 and for marriage and child counselling from £900,000 to £1,500,000.
Implement Second Report of the Commission on the Status of Women
The Gender Equality Monitoring Committee was established to oversee implementation of the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women and actions under the platform for action agreed at the Fourth World Conference on Women. The Committee will publish a third report on the implementation of the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women later this year. Individual Departments are responsible for the implementation of recommendations within their areas of responsibility. Some of the recommendations of the commission have been implemented and work is on-going in respect of others.
Provide separate legal representation for victims of rape and sexual abuse
This issue is being addressed in the context of the discussion paper on the law on sexual offences, which was published on 26 May, 1998. The closing date for receipt of submissions on the paper is 28 August 1998.
Provide treatment programmes for sexual offenders and expand therapeutic treatment programmes for juveniles
A treatment programme is well established in Arbour Hill. Plans for the introduction of a similar programme at the Curragh Place of Detention are being advanced. The Probation and Welfare Service has plans to establish a community based programme for convicted sex offenders, with input from other agencies.
Establish register of sexual offenders
This issue is being addressed in the context of the discussion paper on the law on sexual offences, which was published on 26 May 1998.
The closing date for receipt of submissions on the paper is 28 August 1998.
Enact juvenile justice legislation
The Children Bill, 1996, is awaiting Committee Stage before the Dáil.
Review Supreme Court decision on Employment Equality Bill as it affects people with disabilities
The Employment Equality Bill, 1997, completed its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas in June 1998. The work of the Interdepartmental Task Force on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, whichinter alia is examining the implications of the Supreme Court judgment, is nearing completion. It will be finalising its report soon for submission to Government shortly thereafter. The task force report will take the form of a plan of action on the rights of people with disabilities.
Implement Refugee Act, 1996
An order has been made commencing sections 1, 2, 5, 22 and 25 of the Act, which contain the main administrative process of determination of refugee status, with effect from 29 August 1997. A significant backlog has arisen due to the large numbers of applications being made, and it is considered that the Act needs to be reviewed in the context of the increased number of applications. A comparative study has been commissioned between Irish and EU member states' refugee legislation. This study should be completed by the end of 1998, and its conclusions will be an important component in the review of the Refugee Act, 1996.
A number of measures have been put in place to process applications.
— New interim procedures for processing asylum applications.
— Seventy-two extra staff have been assigned to asylum related work.
— Three appeals authorities are being appointed to expedite the hearing of appeals.
Since 5 May 1998, the interviewing of asylum applicants by fully trained staff began in earnest, and approximately 100 interviews are scheduled each week.
Other developments taking place:
— Tenders for the establishment of an independent Refugee Legal Service are currently being evaluated.
— Premises will be ready for occupancy in October to accommodate a "one-stop-shop" comprising the Asylum Division of the Department and other relevant agencies.
Review services to protect children: Court system
The Children Act, 1997, which was enacted on 9 December 1997, provides emphasis on alternative dispute resolution procedures — mediation, counselling and legal agreements — to guardianship, custody and access proceedings; updates the law on the giving of evidence in certain civil proceedings by a child; and provides, in serious cases, for a system of guardianad litem and representation of the guardian ad litem in family law cases. The aforementioned provisions will be the subject of a commencement order as soon as the necessary arrangements are put in place.
The Criminal Evidence Act, 1992, provides that, in cases involving sexual offences and offences involving violence or a threat of violence, witnesses under 17 years of age may give evidence and be cross-examined through a live television link. The system is currently in operation in the Dublin Metropolitan District Court, the Dublin Circuit Court and the Central Criminal Court. The question of the need to provide additional video-link facilities in Dublin and in provincial venues is being examined.
The Criminal Evidence Act, 1992, provides for the admittance in evidence of out of court video recordings of statements by an alleged victim under 14 years of age of a sexual or violent offence. Arrangements are being made to draw up guidelines for those who will be involved in video recording following which the relevant sections will commence in full.
An information booklet on wards of court will shortly be published and distributed through the wards of court office and the Department's website.
Raising of cap on lottery prize money generally
This commitment has yet to be initiated.
Implementation of comprehensive Charter for the Victims of Crime
Work has been initiated on this new charter which it is anticipated will be available towards the end of this year.
Implementation of the Report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities
An interdepartmental task force was established to draft a plan of action on the rights of people with disabilities, based on the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. The action plan is expected to be completed shortly and will be submitted to Government as soon as possible thereafter.
Ensuring that people with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate fully in all aspects of society
In November 1997, the Government announced its intention to establish a national disability authority. In November 1997, an establishment group was set up to work on detailed proposals for establishing this authority for submission to Government within six months. The group has also been planning parameters for a disability support service and the transfer of certain departmental responsibilities for the training and employment of people with disabilities from the Department of Health and Children to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The group is expected to have its proposals ready within the next month.
When the planned legislative, institutional and service provision improvements for people with disabilities are in place, it will be possible to consider the form which a Disabilities Bill might take and whether it will be necessary to bring forward proposals for a disability equality amendment to the Constitution in preparation for a Disabilities Bill.
Other measures which have been taken include:
— establishment of four pilot community services projects funded by my Department
— development of cross-departmental working mechanisms to facilitate the effective delivery of services. The Government announced last October a package of measures with a funding of £4,325,000 to be allocated in 1997
— funding by my Department to the Irish Council of People with Disabilities
— provisions in the Children Act, 1997, in relation to the giving of evidence by a person with a mental disability.
In addition, the Government's Employment Action Plan which was published in April 1998 specifically targets people with disabilities, and £3.1 million is being made available in 1998.
Creating a new deal for the Travelling Community
In March 1998, I decided to establish a monitoring committee on the implementation of the recommendations of the task force on the travelling community. The committee will work towards "creating a new deal for the traveller community". The first meeting of the monitoring committee took place on 19 June 1998. It is chaired by my Department and comprises representatives of relevant Government Departments, each of the four pillars of Partnership 2000, traveller organisations and ministerial representatives.
A progress report on the implementation of the task force report will be submitted to Government in 1999.
The promotion of the status of women at work, on business and at home
The Employment Equality Bill, 1997, completed its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas in June 1998. The Bill extends the grounds on which discrimination in employment is outlawed and provides for the establishment of the new equality authority and the office of director of equality investigations. When this infrastructure is in place, 1998 allocation of £2.1 million, the process of bringing the terms of the Bill into operation will commence.
Following the decision of the Supreme Court of June 1997 that certain sections of the Equal Status Bill, 1997, were repugnant to the Constitution, the advice of the Attorney General was sought as to how the Bill might be amended in such a way as to pass constitutional muster, while preserving its essential features. The revised legislation will prohibit non-workplace discrimination on the grounds of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the traveller community. It will apply to non-employment areas such as education, provision of goods and services, and accommodation. Services will be defined broadly to include facilities for refreshment and entertainment, credit facilities and transport. It is intended to publish a revised measure later this year.
On 3 June 1998, the Government approved the Parental Leave Bill, 1998. The text of the Bill was published on 8 June 1998. Consideration of the Bill by the Oireachtas commenced on 12 June 1998 and was passed by the Seanad on 16 June 1998. The Bill is now before the Dáil.
The equal opportunity childcare programme, which was agreed by Government in February 1998, will build on a pilot childcare initiative initiated in 1994 as an equal opportunity measure in order to assist women and men in disadvantaged areas to avail of work, training, and education opportunities. A sum of £2.6 million was provided in this year's budget for this purpose, which was a substantial increase on the £800,000 provided in previous years. This programme was included in the National Employment Action Plan which Ireland submitted to the EU in April. Following the Luxembourg Employment Summit, member states undertook to take steps to increase the level of good quality childcare in order to support women's and men's entry and continued participation in the labour market.
The expert working group on childcare, involving the relevant interests and chaired by my Department, was established in July 1997 to devise a national framework for the development of the childcare sector. The expert group expects to produce a final report by the end of December 1998. A first draft report will be developed for discussion by the group in June 1998.
Other initiatives:
— A review of the Maternity Protection Act, 1994, intended to ensure that maternity protection measures fit the purposes for which they were designed, will get under way within the next few weeks. It is intended to consult with Social Partners and other interest groups on the working of the legislation with a view to assessing its effectiveness.
— A survey of equal opportunities in the public sector has been carried out, and it is expected that a report based on this survey will be ready for publication by early 1999.
— My Department is developing a strategy to deal with the provision of EU Structural Funds for equal opportunities.
— Work on a follow-up study to the ESRI report on male and female wage differentials will commence this month.
Institutional Reform
My Department has actively pursued implementation of the SMI reforms. In particular it has: supported an unprecedented organisation change programme, spanning the entire Department, Justice system and equality agencies; published a statement of strategy for 1998-2000 and put in place supporting management processes; published a customer service plan setting out standards of service to be observed; and put in place a major development of IT based management systems.