Transfer of Execution of Sentences Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to present to this House the Transfer of Execution of Sentences Bill 2003. The central purpose of the Bill is to deal with the transfer of the execution of sentences where the sentenced person has fled from the sentencing state to his or her state of nationality. The Bill gives effect to provisions in Article 2 of the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe's Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons as well as Articles 67- 69 of the Schengen Convention. Articles 67- 69 of the Schengen Convention have provisions that correspond to those in Article 2 of the additional protocol. Enactment of this Bill will enable Ireland to ratify the additional protocol and to operate the relevant Schengen provisions.

The additional protocol and the Schengen provisions supplement the 1983 Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. The 1983 Convention has been given effect in Irish law by the 1995 Act of the same name. Under that Act, a national of one state party detained in another state party can apply for transfer to his or her country of nationality to serve out his or her sentence there.

The present arrangements under the 1995 Act provide for the transfer of prisoners who are already in custody in the sentencing state. The Bill under discussion deals with a different situation. The new arrangements will, instead, provide for the transfer of the execution of the sentence. In other words, the sentence will follow a person who has fled from the sentencing state.

One essential feature of the existing system under the 1995 Act is that it is the prisoner who initiates the process by requesting the transfer. The circumstances arising under this Bill are materially different from those covered by the 1995 Act. As I have indicated, in cases arising under the 1995 Act, the person is already in custody in the sentencing state and consents to return to the state of nationality. However, in the circumstances covered by this Bill, the person has already fled from the sentencing state before serving the sentence and is now in his or her state of nationality. The issue that, therefore, arises is to ensure that the person serves or completes the sentence that was lawfully imposed in the sentencing state.

The consent of the prisoner under the 1995 Act relates not to whether a sentenced person should serve the sentence but to the State in which it is to be served. In circumstances where a person has deliberately fled from the sentencing state and returned to his or her state of nationality, the person has in effect exercised his or her consent in relation to his or her return to the state of nationality. It is then a matter of ensuring that the person serves a sentence that was imposed by the sentencing state.

Before turning to the detailed provisions in the Bill, I will set out the circumstances in which it will apply. The Bill will apply in two categories of cases. First, it can apply in the case of a person sentenced by an Irish court who has fled from this State to his or her state of nationality without either commencing or completing the sentence. In that case, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may request the authorities in the other state to enforce the Irish sentence.

In the second situation, a sentencing state may make a similar request to this State in the case of Irish nationals who have fled back to this State prior to the commencement or completion of a sentence. Under this Bill a request from the sentencing state must receive the consent of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform before an application can be made to the High Court for a warrant for the person's arrest. The Minister has to be satisfied as to certain matters before an application is made to the High Court. In any event, the Minister may, having regard to all the circumstances, decide not to make an application. Following arrest, the High Court may make orders for the carrying out of the foreign sentence in Ireland.

This Bill ensures that we have an effective alternative to extradition. Currently, where a person flees from the sentencing state to his or her home state, the sentencing state has just one option if it wishes to ensure the sentence is served. That option is to request the person's extradition or, as the case may be, surrender to another EU state under the European arrest warrant. Once this Bill is enacted, it will be possible for the sentencing state to rely on an additional option, that is, that the person should serve the sentence in the home state. That is a significant benefit to the sentenced person, while also ensuring that the sentence is served.

I emphasise that the arrangements covered by this Bill, as well as those covered by the 1995 Act, are intended to assist the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners who have been sentenced abroad, while also ensuring that the sentence is served. The person's rehabilitation and reintegration will be facilitated by allowing the person to serve the sentence in his or her home state, closer to family and without language and other difficulties. The Bill has 13 sections. I propose to outline the most significant of the provisions, starting with section 4.

Section 4 is an important section in the overall scheme being introduced by this Bill. It provides that the Minister for Foreign Affairs may by order designate countries that have accepted the relevant additional protocol or Schengen provisions. The order will identify the states with which Ireland will operate these arrangements. In other words being a party to the additional protocol or the Schengen Convention will, of itself, not be sufficient. Ireland must also be satisfied about the systems operated by the other state before it agrees to operate these arrangements with it. Ireland will not be operating these arrangements where it is not so satisfied.

Section 5 sets out the circumstances in which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may request a country that has been designated under section 4 to take over the enforcement of a sentence imposed in Ireland where the sentenced person has fled from Ireland to that other country.

Section 6 provides that the Minister may consent to a request from a country designated under section 4 for the execution in this State of a sentence imposed in the sentencing country on a person who has now fled to Ireland. Before giving consent the Minister has to be satisfied that the person concerned is regarded as an Irish citizen; the sentence concerned is final; the sentenced person has at least six months of the sentence left to serve; the offence concerned would constitute a criminal offence if committed in the State, that is, dual criminality applies; and having regard to all the circumstances, it would be in order for the Minister to give his or her consent.

Section 7 sets out the procedure by which a sentence imposed in another state may be executed in this State. It provides for a certificate to be presented to the High Court by or on behalf of the Minister, indicating that the Minister consents to taking over the enforcement of the sentence. It also provides for an application to be made to the High Court for the issue of a warrant authorising the arrest of the person concerned. The High Court, on production of the certificate, issues a warrant for the arrest of the person if satisfied there has been compliance withsection 6.

The ministerial certificate must contain certain information, for example, the name and address, where known, of the sentenced person and the sentence imposed on him or her.

Section 8 of the Bill sets out the procedures relating to the issue by the High Court of a provisional arrest warrant. This section gives effect to Article 68(2) of the Schengen Convention and Article 2(2) of the additional protocol. Those articles provide that a sentencing state may request the administering state, prior to the arrival of documents supporting the request and prior to the decision on the request, to take the sentenced person into police custody or to take other equivalent measures.

An application can be made to the High Court for a warrant authorising the provisional arrest of the person where a request has been made by a sentencing country. The application may be made to the High Court by a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of inspector but only with the consent of the Minister. The Bill sets out the details that are to be included in the request for the warrant.

A warrant endorsed under section 7 or 8 may be executed by any member of the Garda Síochána in any part of the State even if it is not in the possession of the member at the time. However, the warrant must be shown, and a copy given, to the person arrested at the time of arrest or within 24 hours thereafter. A person arrested under a warrant must be brought before the High Court as soon as possible.

The High Court must remand in custody a person arrested under a provisional arrest warrant pending the production of a ministerial certificate referred to earlier under section 7. That certificate will indicate that the Minister has received and is consenting to the request from the sentencing state. If a certificate is not produced within 18 days of the person's arrest the person will be released. The release of any person will not prejudice his or her rearrest if a request for the enforcement of the penalty or detention order is afterwards made.

Section 9 provides that the High Court may make an order committing the person to a prison or St. Patrick's Institution for the purposes of serving the sentence or remainder thereof. Before making the order, the High Court must be satisfied about the matters I have listed under section 6, that is, dual criminality etc. In addition, the High Court will not make an order if it considers that the safeguard provisions in the Extradition Act or, as appropriate, the European Arrest Warrant Act are not being respected. In other words, a person detained under this Bill will have the same protections available to him or her as if he or she was being sought under an extradition request or a European arrest warrant.

The effect of an order under section 9 is to authorise the continued enforcement by the State of the sentence imposed by the sentencing state and means, in practice, that the whole or the balance of the sentence will have to be served in Ireland. In other words, it will have the same effect as if it were a sentence imposed here. It will not be subject to appeal in this jurisdiction since that remains the prerogative of the sentencing state that imposed the sentence and since the Minister and High Court have satisfied themselves that the sentence to be served here is final under the law of the sentencing state. In all other respects, the sentence will be served in the same way as a sentence imposed here and subject to the same rules, including remission and temporary release. In addition, allowance will be made for any time served pending the making of the order or in respect of any part of the sentence already served in the sentencing state.

Section 9(3) provides that the Minister may apply to the court to adapt the duration of the sentence to conform with our law if the sentence imposed by the sentencing state is greater than the maximum term to which the person would be liable if he or she had committed the offence in the State.

Section 9(4) provides that any element of a sentence as imposed, excluding duration, which renders the sentence less favourable than one to which the person would be liable had he or she been convicted in the State for a similar offence will not apply if the High Court so directs. For example, Ireland will not impose penal servitude even if the original sentence provided for this. Enforcement of the sentence ceases where the State is notified by the sentencing country that the person would be entitled to be released under its law. The person will be released unless his or her continued detention in Ireland is required as a result of a sentence imposed here or the person has been remanded in custody in respect of an offence committed in Ireland.

Section 10 provides that the Criminal Procedure Act 1993 shall not apply to a person who is detained under this Bill. The 1993 Act provides for judicial review of certain convictions and sentences, presentation of petitions, the grant of pardon on the grounds of miscarriage of justice and payment of compensation by the State. Such proceedings would not be appropriate in the circumstances covered by this Bill, since the events, witnesses, evidence, etc. are outside the jurisdiction and are not amenable to the Irish courts. However, the Bill does not prevent the person pursuing such an action under the law of the sentencing state.

Section 11 provides that no proceedings under section 3 of the Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act 1976 will be taken against a person who is imprisoned here under this Bill. Section 3 of the 1976 Act provides that a person who escapes from any lawful custody in which he or she is held in Northern Ireland shall be guilty of an offence. Section 11 therefore avoids a situation where the person could be liable to serve not only a sentence imposed in Northern Ireland but, in addition, could be proceeded against under section 3 of the 1976 Act.

The Bill ensures fugitives serve their sentences. It also reduces the risk of Ireland being seen as a safe haven for fugitives. The provisions also have advantages for the prisoner in that they offer an alternative to extradition that may be more favourable to the sentenced person and they also facilitate the family and relatives of the sentenced person by easing visiting arrangements and other contacts.

The Bill contains effective safeguards. The consent of the Minister is required before a request can be processed and the Minister will have discretion to decline requests where he or she is not satisfied with or has concerns about the arrangements being proposed in any particular case. In any event, Ireland will operate these arrangements only with states in whose systems we have confidence. I would also stress that a person may be arrested and imprisoned here only with the consent of the High Court. The High Court is required to ensure the extensive safeguards available in extradition or European arrest warrant cases are also available to persons arrested under this Bill. In addition, a person can be imprisoned only if convicted of an offence that corresponds to an offence under Irish law. I commend the Bill to the House.

This Bill is a moderate measure but I give it my full support. In many ways, international co-operation is the very factor which has given rise to this legislation. It relates back to a protocol of the Council of Europe convention. As a member of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, I am glad to see that the work of the Council can still find practical expression in the parliaments of its member states.

Essentially, the Bill will ensure that persons who are brought to justice and then abscond will not be able to evade their punishment. A number of instruments are available to deal with that and this will be one further instrument. From that point of view, I am very supportive because crime and criminals know no boundaries. Our responses, therefore, must also know no boundaries. It is an aspect of globalisation that increasingly there is cross-border crime and people move from one country to another. Therefore, our responses must always be updated.

I do not anticipate that there will be much resort to this particular measure because the approach generally adopted at present is to seek extradition. There has been the transfer of sentenced persons. Perhaps in his summing up the Minister of State might give an outline as to what use has been made of the provisions of the 1995 Act with regard to the transfer of sentenced persons. The Parliament and the public would like to know to what extent that Act has been availed of, how many people have transferred from Ireland to other countries and to where, and how many people have come from other countries and have served or are serving their sentences in Irish prisons. It would be helpful to have a picture of what has emerged since the 1995 Act. It would also be helpful if the Minister of State, possibly with the advice of his officials, could give us an idea of the extent to which he believes this particular measure will have an operational life. I do not anticipate that much use will be made of it but it may possibly be a useful additional measure in the fight against crime, particularly in dealing with fugitives who abscond.

One of the reasons I feel it is unlikely to have much impact is that it seems only to apply after somebody has been sentenced. The Minister of State might also deal with this in his summing up. Normally when somebody is sentenced, they are in court and are delivered into immediate custody so the question of absconding should not normally arise. Is there a suggestion that this Bill, when it is enacted into law, may have an impact in a situation where sentences are imposed in absentia? What, in practical terms, does the Minister of State see as happening under the terms of the Bill?

The other issue that arises is the extent of the network. Have all the other member states of the Council of Europe adopted this provision? Has it been ratified in all these other states? What is the situation in a country that has adopted but not ratified it? What would be the situation of France, for example, dealing with Ireland now, before the Bill has gone through? To make the Bill effective with regard to any other country, is it necessary that it be adopted and ratified by both the sentencing country and the country of the nationality of the person sentenced? That information would be useful.

I would like to touch on another aspect not covered by the Bill, but which, if we found a mechanism of dealing with it, would allay much public concern. It relates to known criminals who have relocated elsewhere and about whom I frequently see stories in the newspapers. I think particularly of those who have relocated to countries such as Spain and who continue to be involved in flooding this country with drugs from their Spanish base. One has a sense of frustration and helplessness at the continuance of this situation, whether from Spain, Holland or any other country. We get the impression that these people are untouchable. I would like to see thought and consideration being given to how we can get at these people. We must continually update our ideas and approach, whether nationally or through international arrangements, in order to deal with developments on the criminal end of matters. This new development is a cause of grave concern. The fact that these criminals seem to be able to virtually publicly flaunt their situation, with their big houses and haciendas abroad, while openly engaging in international crime, particularly in the drugs area, is a cause of grave concern. I would like this Government, during the short time remaining to it, to come up with some ideas for dealing with this problem. In many ways, the type of activity about which I speak is more serious and of far greater concern to the public than the type of activity being dealt with in the Bill.

That is not to say that I have any problem with the Bill. As I already stated, it is a modest measure that will provide an additional instrument in our armoury for dealing with crime where a fugitive absconds before completing his or her sentence. While the notion of somebody absconding before completing a sentence gives rise to pictures of jail breaks and other incidents of that nature, we have fortunately not had many such incidents in recent times.

One other aspect of the Bill the Minister might clarify is the provision in section 4 which gives the Minister for Foreign Affairs power by order to designate a country that has adopted the protocol or the Schengen provisions. The idea is that the order will identify the states with which Ireland will operate these arrangements. Can the Minister of State make us aware of the thinking in that regard and which countries he expects to be part of that?

The Bill contains principles with which I concur. It has been carefully drafted by the Department and contains the relevant safeguards from the point of view of the State and individuals involved. I like the approach which involves providing the High Court with the necessary powers in that regard. Overall, I endorse and fully support the Bill.

I am delighted the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Browne, is here. We always seem to end up facing each other across the Chamber. Given his work over the past couple of years in his previous portfolio, I commiserate with him that my many suggestions that he be elevated to the Cabinet were not listened to by the Taoiseach. He will be much missed in the marine area.

I regret that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not present because I get few opportunities to discuss matters with him in the House. Like most Deputies, I correspond with him and inform him on important issues of security and policing that confront our constituents. However, I rarely get the chance to speak to him in the House on those matters and it is disappointing that I cannot do so today.

At the beginning of the session when we look at the legislative programme it is hard to see where the Department puts its priorities. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources have both got amazing lists of pending legislation on their different lists as well as legislation before the Houses. It is astonishing how the programmes have not been addressed. There is a change in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources now with its new Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey. There is no change in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, the gamut of legislation in the legislative programme before us on each Order of Business — Deputy Stanton took a number of opportunities to read into the record the long list of legislation pending from the Department — illustrates the unsatisfactory situation whereby, for example, in this Administration the Garda Bill has not been addressed and passed by now. Many of us on this side of the House have been calling for this Bill to be addressed year after year and feel we should have had a comprehensive Garda Bill within the past seven years.

I note that on the just published "A" list there are three Bills: the Criminal Justice (Co-operation) Bill; the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill which issued yesterday; and the Registration of Deeds and Titles Bill, which are all important. We also have Bills on the "B" list that have been cleared by Government and are with the draftsman: the criminal justice Bill; the protection of confidential information Bill, which replaces the Official Secrets Act; the defamation Bill, which is also important; and the prisons Bill, which apparently arranges for the privatisation of prison escorts.

The Minister also has approximately nine Bills before the House, including the Bill before us. An astonishing 20 Bills, the heads of which have not yet been approved by the Government, are also being worked on in the Department. In our previous discussion today we had an excellent effort by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe to modernise and rationalise crime legislation with the Enforcement of Court Orders Bill. We also had a famous ground rent Bill which Deputy Woods, in my constituency, promised would be brought into law within weeks of the establishment of the 1997 Government. However, we are still waiting, as Deputy Sherlock said this morning. I do not believe the Minister, Deputy McDowell, will do anything about ground rents.

We can be quite sure of that. Another Bill will be promised before the next election.

Other Bills on which the heads are not approved are the immigration and residents Bill, the intoxicating liquor Bill, the parental leave Bill, the Garda Bill and the prison service Bill. The latter two cover two of the most fundamental organisations in the country in the security area. I accept the argument that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is probably the most important Department because without security a community has nothing. Security is the absolute requisite for a civil life. However, we are still waiting for the Garda Bill and the prison service Bill which deal with the two most fundamental organisations in the Department.

The Bill before us is not earth shattering nor will it have major implications. It will affect fewer people than the Minister of State's Law of the Sea (Repression of Piracy) Bill 2001 which cleared in the Seanad in that year but which we still expect to debate in this House perhaps three years later. I already mentioned the prison service Bill. Who sets the priorities for the Department? Why is so much legislation promised? The Minister is famous for his soundbites. However, very often his comments relate to the affairs of other Departments, including Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Finance, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Foreign Affairs and Defence. He has a view on every Department. However, how does he set the priorities for this Department? It is his job to recruit the necessary staff. Staff work under extreme pressure because it is the most important Department with a difficult remit. My party is unhappy with the manner in which the legislation is introduced by the Department and with the lack of prioritisation of key Bills.

The Labour Party generally welcomes the Bill. It complements the Sentenced Persons Act 1995, which is based on the 1983 Council of Europe convention. People should have the opportunity to serve the balance of their sentences in their native states and it is correct that fugitives should serve their sentences. Many Members have experience in this area as a result of the debates on repatriation and following contact with Irish people in other states who sought repatriation.

There are concerns about the transfer of prisoners, particularly through this jurisdiction. Last May the Minister, in response to Senator Henry, stated Ireland would only facilitate the transfer of prisoners in accordance with the law. Has this commitment been met? The journalist, Fintan O'Toole, recently reported that prisoners from Iraq had been transferred through our jurisdiction on a Gulfstream jet.

Through Shannon Airport. It is disgraceful.

Legitimate questions can be raised about the manner in which prisoners have been treated in our jurisdiction and whether our legal system has been sullied by such outrageous treatment. The Department must address this.

When the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Callely, piloted the Bill through the Seanad, my party colleague, Senator Tuffy raised a number of important issues. Several were addressed through amendments but our justice spokesperson, Deputy Costello, may wish to return to one or two issues on Committee Stage. Senator Tuffy asked whether an occasional report to the Oireachtas could be provided under the Bill, similar to other legislation. Concerns were also raised about the issue of correspondence of offences under section 3, given that similar offences are treated differently under other legal systems. There can be different nuances in the interpretation of the law in other states.

Sentencing policy in different countries is an issue. The Minister of State said the issue had been addressed under section 3(3) and 3(4) so that prisoners who wish to return to their own countries can do so. Section 6(3) refers to a ministerial direction if less than six months have been served and uses the phrase "exceptional circumstances". It states: "The Minister may in relation to a person sentenced to less than six months in a sentencing country or who has less than six months remaining to serve give his or her consent under section 1 if he or she considers exceptional circumstances exist that warrant the person serving the sentence or the remainder of the sentence...". The Minister might elaborate on this in his reply. We will examine it again on Committee Stage.

The High Court must be satisfied that a request has been made on behalf of the sentencing country but, under section 8(7), that is presumed to be the case unless the opposite can be proved. Concerns have been expressed about this provision. The legislation also implies that, while there may be less favourable sentencing regimes or legal procedures in other countries, our courts cannot examine them. The Minister stated the Criminal Procedures Act 1993 does not apply in these cases.

The Bill is a modest proposal for international co-operation to permit fugitive prisoners to serve their sentences in their countries of origin. It will not necessitate major work or resources on the part of the Department, although, traditionally, a dilatory approach to the repatriation and transfer of prisoners has been adopted based on my experience representing citizens in my constituency. If that continues, most applicants under the legislation will have served their sentences before a decision is made.

The central purpose of the Bill is to deal with the transfer of the execution of sentences where the sentenced person has fled from the sentencing state to his or her state of nationality. In the circumstances covered by the legislation the person has already fled from the sentencing state before serving the sentence and is now in his or her state of nationality. The issue that arises, therefore, is to ensure the person serves or completes the sentence lawfully imposed in the sentencing state.

The Bill applies in two categories of cases. It can apply in the case of a person sentenced by an Irish court who has fled from this state to his or her state of nationality without commencing or completing the sentence. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may request the authorities in the other state to enforce the Irish sentence in such a case. With regard to the second category of cases, a sentencing state may make a similar request to this State in the case of Irish nationals who fled here prior to the commencement or completion of a sentence. This provides an alternative to the more cumbersome extradition procedure when dealing with an absconded prisoner. Currently, when a person flees from the sentencing state to his or her home state, the sentencing state only has the option of instituting extradition proceedings if it wishes to ensure an imposed sentence is served.

The net effect of the legislation is likely to be a minor increase in the number of prisoners in Irish jails. I broadly welcome the legislation, the enactment of which will enable Ireland to accede to the additional protocols to the 1983 Council of Europe convention. I hope the Minister will respond to the concerns raised.

I hope the Department will be more energetic and seek the necessary resources to bring forward the significant tranche of critical legislation that awaits our attention.

I noted yesterday that the Taoiseach in his review of the achievements of seven years of Government spoke at length of the significant fall in crime of the order of 17% or 18%. After the debate, I had a quick glance at the report on crime statistics for the first quarter of the year, with which Deputies are provided through the good offices of the Department. When one looks at the level of crime, one finds it is still shocking, appalling and horrific. The Minister of State who is from another urban constituency will agree with me. That there was a murder every seven days up to March 2003 and every eight days up to March 2004 signals to me that we continue to have an horrific level of crime in this jurisdiction.

While there were insignificant falls in other categories, the overall level of criminal events recorded on the PULSE system and brought to the attention of the Department is in excess of 100,000. I have asked the Minister to reform the Garda Commissioner's report and to ensure that we receive Central Statistics Office figures. In a recent speech at Templemore, the Minister said he intended to ask the CSO to compile crime statistics. If we rely on surveys as the Sunday Independent did some time ago, we find that crime is up to 80% worse than appears to be the case in the crime statistics. A Minister who has time for comments on every subject under the sun is presiding over dreadfully unsatisfactory circumstances and is failing to run his Department efficiently and effectively.

As I attended a constituency meeting during the past week, my car was broken into. Many of us have these experiences every day and every week and we want dramatic action from the Government. On balance, one must consider that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should have been moved in the Cabinet reshuffle to provide us with a more dynamic Minister. There are a great many issues arising from the crime statistics that I want to take up with the Minister when he is next in the House. We need a much more dynamic approach to the policing of our community.

Security is the most important aspect of any citizen's life and it must come through the community. For that reason, I am waiting for the Garda Bill in which we will at long last get joint committees and policing plans to allow locally elected representatives to work with superintendents in Garda districts to produce policing. Deputy Finian McGrath and I have some experience of this. Policing must come from the people and communities but I get no sense that the Minister understands that. If anything, he is very anti-community. I ask him to adopt a much more vigorous attitude towards outstanding legislation which it is vital to pass as soon as possible. The Minister must at last begin to deal with the horrific level of crime occurring in our community. Having said that, I commend the Bill which the Labour Party will support.

I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath, Cuffe and Ó Snodaigh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

On the first occasion on which I sit across from Deputy Batt O'Keeffe as Minister of State, I congratulate and compliment him on his appointment. The Bill before us is welcome and represents one of a raft of legislative measures in this area that have been implemented in recent years. Such measures have covered extradition and serving of sentences in a prisoner's home country. I look forward to having an input into this Bill on Committee Stage.

Now that we have cross-Border and inter-country co-operation we should introduce a procedure whereby the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Foreign Affairs could support Irish nationals who find themselves as victims of miscarriages of justice abroad. I raise the case of a constituent of mine who has been in this invidious position for quite some time. Christy McGrath from Carrick-on-Suir was convicted in Britain in July 2000 and is serving a life sentence. Christy represents a prime example of a case of miscarriage of justice. Many people believe, as he does, that he is innocent including his family and Members of this House yet he finds that apart from some support from the Irish embassy there is little real support for a prisoner who finds himself in circumstances of this nature.

Christy McGrath has repeatedly denied that he was responsible for the death of Gary Walton and he is asking for an immediate appeal to permit him to overturn his conviction. Mr. McGrath was a jockey in England and had a very promising career. Unfortunately, he was involved in an altercation in a County Durham village in 2000 and found himself attacked by another individual. He defended himself and went home only to find that Mr. Walton died later. Mr. McGrath was arrested, charged and convicted of Mr. Walton's murder though certain evidence never came to court. As a young Irishman in England, Mr. McGrath found himself confused and isolated. Pressure was put on him on the day of the trial to change his plea from not guilty to guilty on the basis that if he failed to do so, he would receive a 25 to 30 year sentence. Isolated as he was and in the absence of permission to consult with his family, he agreed to change his plea with the result that he finds himself in his current position. Many individuals who are prepared to testify on Mr. McGrath's behalf have not been heard and other evidence has not been provided. Many, some of whom sit in this Chamber, and include the new Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, and Deputies Lynch, Harkin, Costello, Collins, James Breen and myself as well as 49 MPs in the United Kingdom believe that Mr. McGrath is innocent and that his case represents a serious miscarriage of justice.

In implementing legislation such as the Bill before us we should put in place a mechanism through which cases like that of Mr. McGrath can be dealt with and prisoners and their families supported in seeking appeals. Mr. McGrath and his family want an opportunity to prove his innocence in court. All the evidence suggests that he is innocent. I ask the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the new Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, to use their good offices on this case.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. Before getting into the details of the Bill, on a personal level I congratulate Deputy Batt O'Keeffe on his promotion to Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I wish him well for the future. On a political level, I am disappointed by the number of senior Ministers representing the north side of Dublin, an area which needs a great deal of support and development.

It is important we set down a number of ground rules when dealing with matters related to prisoners, their sentences and the issue of justice for all. Our justice system should always be based on making amends to society and respect for human rights. Any country, state or society that ignores these markers loses the respect and support of its people. This was notable recently in relation to Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and the nightmare hostage issue. Violence, abuse and the slaughter of hostages and prisoners should never be an option in political conflicts throughout the world. That is a marker for us all. We should agree to fundamental rights and principles and never stray from them. We should also defend and protect lawyers, Deputies, Senators, councillors, human rights groups and others who take risks for human rights. We must ensure we have a humane and fair justice system. Great people like the late Pat Finucane immediately come to mind. He paid the ultimate price for his dedication and work for human rights. These are the issues which should be debated in the House today, particularly in the context of this legislation.

The Bill provides that in the case of a person sentenced by an Irish court who has fled from this State to his or her state of nationality without commencing or completing his or her sentence, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may request the authorities in that state to enforce the Irish sentence. In the case of Irish nationals who have fled to this State from a sentencing state prior to the commencement or completion of a sentence, the Minister must give his or her consent to a request from the sentencing state before an application can be made to the High Court for a warrant for that person's arrest. The Minister will be required to satisfy himself or herself as to certain matters before application is made to the High Court. The criteria include a discretionary provision whereby the Minister may, having regard to all the circumstances, decide not to make an application and, following arrest, the High Court may take orders for carrying out of the foreign sentences in Ireland.

In debating this legislation we must also show compassion and understanding for the victims of prisoners, an issue of which we should never lose sight. It should remain top of the political agenda. The Killester Resource Centre in my constituency was recently opened by the President. Some 37 prisoners from Mountjoy Prison were involved in work on that project. It is a magnificent centre located on the Howth Road, Killester. Two of the prisoners working on the project were released from prison before its completion and they returned on their own time to complete a wall they were involved in building. That is an example of prisoners repaying their debt to society under the supervision of people like Mr. John Lonergan and through creative and imaginative programmes to develop society.

When discussing the issue of prisoners we should remain conscious of our duty to prevent crime and deal with its causes. Many children from violent and dysfunctional homes are at risk of ending up in Mountjoy Prison. If we do not intervene to assist children from such families, no one will, an issue on which I have made submissions to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and have raised in my capacity as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. It is these types of issues we should discuss when considering this legislation. Children at risk should be our priority because they are the prisoners of tomorrow. We have all seen the damage prisoners have caused to many communities throughout the State. It is not an option to spend €250,000 per year on keeping a young child imprisoned when a little creative thinking and early intervention could do more. While there has been much discussion of the issue of educational disadvantage, we must deliver services to those who need them. It is no use intervening when children reach 12 or 13 years of age. The damage is already done and they are on their way to prison. We must intervene when they are between three and five years old. Pre-school and junior infant teachers are able to name those children at risk of ending up in Mountjoy Prison in future. We must face reality, be brave, take risks and provide the necessary resources to deal with the problem.

Spending €250,000 on keeping a child locked up and providing an inner city school with approximately €3,000 to €5,000 a year for projects is not realistic intervention, as I know from experience. I worked in a small school in the inner city for approximately 20 years. That school received a grant of between €3,000 and €5,000 a year to assist children at risk. The grant was used for after-school projects and art therapy to try to turn violent children away from crime. Such projects had a major impact on the community and the school. They are the types of issues we should discuss in the context of this legislation.

I welcome the Bill which contains many positive provisions. However, there is no point introducing legislation, speaking with prisoners and dealing with international situations if we do not deal with the real world on our own doorstep.

I congratulate Deputy Batt O'Keeffe on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I wish him and his colleagues elevated to high office well.

Many of the remarks on Fine Gael's Private Members' Bill earlier today could well be repeated verbatim in regard to the legislation now before us. I will deal with the details of the Bill later. I agree with Deputy Healy's comments about the case of Christy McGrath, the Irish jockey in custody in the UK. I hope the Minister of State will re-examine that case at the earliest opportunity.

The Bill, which is commendable and practical, provides that convicted persons can serve sentences in jurisdictions other than their own. It addresses and reflects in a down to earth way the increased mobility and travel patterns which characterise the world today, an issue which I would like to discuss briefly. In particular I would like to address the way Shannon Airport is being used for the transfer of prisoners from one jurisdiction through our national territory to a third jurisdiction. I refer in particular to a plane with the call sign N379P which it is known is under charter to the US military. It is known that this plane has abducted and transported al-Qaeda suspects on behalf of the US Government. It is also known that this private aircraft has landed at Shannon Airport several times. It is unclear, however, if the plane has contained al-Qaeda suspects when in Ireland. Has the Minister asked the US military if that is the case? It is not good enough for the Government to operate a do not ask, do not tell policy or for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to cover his ears and mouth about prisoners travelling from different jurisdictions landing on Irish soil. I want the Minister to ask such questions.

Three months ago, Senator Henry asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he could assure us that untried and unsentenced people are not being brought through Shannon Airport from goodness knows where to Guantanamo Bay. The Minister, Deputy McDowell, assured the Seanad that any person on Irish soil is entitled to the protection of the Constitution. The gardaí in Shannon, however, tell us that they do not inspect US aircraft; they are operating a do not ask, do not tell policy and that is not good enough. It is not good enough that prisoners who have not been charged and who may have been abducted are possibly landing on Irish soil without the Government paying a blind bit of attention.

It is not good enough for the Government to tug its forelock to the US Government or any other Government that is guilty of human rights violations. I single out the US Government because we know about its record in regard to an executive jet with the call sign N379P, which has landed at Shannon Airport. Will the Minister assure us that untried prisoners are not landing on Irish soil? It is a seminal human rights issue and while we are discussing sentences for prisoners in other countries, we should pause to think about those who may be landing on Irish soil.

I am concerned about four sections of the Bill. There is provision in section 5 that the Minister can make a request under exceptional circumstances for the sentence to be served if less than six months remain. Those exceptional circumstances should be defined and we would like the Minister to clarify them in his reply. Similarly, section 7 states that a person arrested must be brought before the High Court as soon as possible. The phrase "as soon as possible" is ambiguous. It should be clarified and a specific timeframe set.

In section 8 there is reference to a specific timeframe of 18 days regarding a person arrested under a warrant being brought before the High Court as soon as possible, and the High Court must remand the person in custody pending the production of the Minister's certificate. If this certificate is not produced within 18 days, the person must be released. That is too long a period in this instance. With today's technology, such as the fax machine and e-mail, it should be possible to reduce this period to seven days, a reasonable length of time.

Under section 9, the Minister may adapt the duration of the sentence to conform with our law if the sentence imposed by the sentencing state is greater than the maximum term of imprisonment to which the person would be liable if the same offence was committed here. Would this also be guaranteed in the case of other countries? That is not clear in the Bill.

This is a practical Bill but there must be clarification of those four sections. I hope the Minister will look beyond the detail of the Bill and consider the issues I raised about aircraft that may have suspects on board landing at Shannon Airport. We should not turn a blind eye to that.

I echo the calls for Christy McGrath to be released. He is another victim of a miscarriage of justice in Britain. While we are discussing the Transfer of Execution of Sentence Bill, we should think of the situation if the Birmingham Six or Guildford Four had managed to make their way to Ireland. If the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Des O'Malley, or someone as enthusiastic about locking up republicans or anyone associated with republicanism, had been in charge, their sentence would have been executed in an Irish prison. That is why we must be extremely careful in dealing with such a Bill that safeguards exist. If Ministers as enthusiastic as former Deputy Des O'Malley and others about locking up republicans or any other class of people are to have the powers granted under this Bill, there must be safeguards in place.

This Bill provides that in the case of a person sentenced by an Irish court who has fled from Ireland to his or her state of nationality without commencing or completing the sentence, the Minister may request the authorities in another state to enforce the Irish sentence as an alternative to extradition. Equally, in the case of Irish nationals who have fled back to Ireland prior to the commencement or completion of a sentence, the Minister may consent to a similar request on the sentence and the High Court may make orders for the carrying out of the foreign sentence in Ireland.

The Minister knows that the State has an obligation to ensure the protection of the human rights of Irish people in the case of a request for extradition from this jurisdiction for the serving of a sentence imposed by another state. The State also has an obligation under international law to protect and guarantee the human rights of persons who might be required to serve a sentence imposed by an Irish court in a foreign prison system. I note some of the safeguards in the Bill, for example, that the offences involved must be offences in Ireland — that is welcome — and that the Minister must specifically designate the states that can avail of the provisions, which means that others may be excluded. I have a problem in that the presumption is that all EU states would qualify because no abuses of human rights occur within the EU according to the states themselves. We must be careful not to create a category that excludes all states within the EU.

Will the safeguards in the Bill be sufficient to ensure the full protection of the human rights of sentenced persons or will its provisions be too weak and imperil the rights of those individuals? Does this Bill allow the State's security concerns to override our rights or does it strike the correct balance? We should tease this out on Committee Stage.

Republicans have our response to this Bill given the history of hardship endured, especially by loved ones, as a result of unjust imprisonment in British, other foreign and Irish jails over many decades of our struggle. Any legislation that will reduce the likelihood of people being forced to serve time in foreign prisons, and thus reduce the hardship faced by their families and facilitate their reintegration into their home communities on release, is welcome. However, I note that the Human Rights Commission has raised a number of concerns about this Bill which, if they have not been taken on board by the Minister before now, will be submitted by Sinn Féin in the form of amendments on Committee Stage. Since the Minister for injustice is so fond of guillotining debates, especially on Report Stage, before substantial amendments proposed by Sinn Féin are reached, thereby preventing the public from hearing our concerns about the legislation, I will take the opportunity to raise the matters now, particularly those we share with the Human Rights Commission.

Will the Minister of State address those concerns one by one in his closing remarks and state whether the concerns of the Human Rights Commission have been taken on board or how they will be dealt with? In its submission to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in June, the Human Rights Commission recommended that this Bill be amended to include a provision compelling the Minister not to issue a request for the execution of a sentence in another state where there are grounds for believing that the conditions of detention in the requesting state are seriously deficient and are likely to result in the sentenced person being exposed to conditions constituting torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Human Rights Commission believes that the Minister must also have special regard to the family status and the right to family life of a person subject to the relevant sentence. The commission also recommended an amendment providing that, in acceding to a request from another country to execute a sentence in Ireland, the Minister should direct in all cases that the term of sentence to be served in Ireland should not be longer than the maximum sentence under Irish law in respect of the corresponding offence and to remove the existing discretion of the Minister to request that a higher sentence imposed in another state be imposed here.

The Human Rights Commission has also called for the introduction of additional safeguards requiring evidence from a requesting state of the commission of the relevant offence by the person, subject to the request of transfer. It also recommended that the period of 18 days for the remand of a person before the production of a certificate is required should be reduced to seven days. In the age of telecommunications and the Internet there is no reason it should take 18 days to prepare such a certificate and transport it to the Minister in question.

The commission also proposes that an explicit reference be included in the Bill for rights to apply for bail as well as the right of access to professional legal advice. It believes the Bill should be clarified to provide that the High Court must ensure that the sentenced person has been afforded an effective right of appeal and-or a review of the sentence before an order can be made directing the execution of that sentence in Ireland. We will not oppose this Bill on Second Stage but will seek to amend it on Committee and Report Stages.

Will the Minister of State clarify whether the proposals of the Human Rights Commission have been taken on board by the Government, whether it intends to do so or, if not, why they have been rejected? The current system in respect of the repatriation of prisoners who have been sentenced abroad is very bureaucratic and this Bill should improve the position. If people sentenced in Ireland wish to be repatriated to a prison in Britain or Europe, we should make the process as easy as possible so that they can enjoy some semblance of family and connection with the community in which they will settle on release. We should expect the same from other jurisdictions.

I have been dealing with a case which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform initially rejected, although I hope he will examine it again. The case concerns an Irish citizen who, because he did not live in Ireland prior to his sentencing, has been refused repatriation despite the fact that his family and those to whom he is connected now reside in Ireland. We need to consider such personal experiences when dealing with this Bill rather than deal with it coldly.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, and his colleagues at senior and junior ministerial level who have been appointed in the past 24 hours and wish them well in the execution of their duties in their respective Departments. It is a great honour to be appointed a Minister of the Government at any level. It is an indication of the trust placed in the Member by the people and the chief executive. It is an historic landmark in the life of a Member of Parliament and it behoves us to recognise that fact. It is also important that, in doing so, we give due respect to the various offices even if we occasionally lower the guard in the heat of battle in the House. That does not mean we have any disrespect for the offices, nor should we. I extend my personal congratulations to the Minister of State opposite. If his late father-in-law were alive, he would be very proud of his appointment.

This Bill incorporates a number of changes and makes various references to the Schengen agreement. Will the Minister of State clarify whether countries which are not signatories to that agreement are covered by the transfers envisaged by this Bill? A number of countries, particularly our next door neighbour, the UK, are not signatories but I presume that, because Ireland is proceeding with the legislation, it must apply between Ireland and the UK and other countries which are not signatories to the Schengen agreement.

Having been involved in a number of cases of repatriation of prisoners and miscarriages of justice, particularly in the UK, I am certain the Bill has considerable merit and can improve the position. Other speakers have referred to the conditions prevailing in the country in which the sentence might be served and whether they conform to proper standards, which is as it should be. We need to provide that prisoners are treated humanely and in accordance with their sentences.

It is important that evidence be produced in the case of a miscarriage of justice or a particularly harsh sentence, for example, where particular circumstances were not taken into account at the time of the sentencing. There should be a procedure whereby this can be reviewed with a view to establishing on a statutory basis provisions whereby, once the transfer is sought, if the person was guilty, he or she would not have his or her sentence reduced just because he or she made an application for a transfer. However, if he or she was not guilty or there were extenuating circumstances, they could be examined in a different light. This is in the context of issues which have been raised many times in this House.

I do not want to revisit the cases such as those of Annie Maguire, the Guildford Four or the Birmingham Six which the House has discussed at length. There were extenuating circumstances in some of those cases, although not necessarily in all of them. We must keep those matters in mind.

The Minister of State stated the Bill would ensure we have an effective alternative to extradition and that a sentence will effectively follow a prisoner who flees. How will a prisoner manage to flee to another jurisdiction after sentence has been passed? I presume the Minister of State will elucidate. While I accept these circumstances will arise occasionally, I am curious to learn how such absconding will occur to any great extent.

The Minister of State said: "I would like to emphasise that the arrangements covered by this Bill, as well as those covered by the 1995 Act, are intended to assist the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners who have been sentenced abroad, while also ensuring that the sentence is served." The basic tenet of this approach is excellent. We do not sufficiently emphasise rehabilitation, which is important. Several speakers queried the benefit of prison on the basis that conditions and peer pressure result in prisoners obtaining PhDs in crime, which is not the purpose of the system. Insufficient time and effort is invested in rehabilitation, although I accept that efforts have been made in this regard.

Some of those sent to prison, particularly young criminals, have an ambition to develop and perfect their knowledge to enable them to indulge in a life a crime. It is a serious problem when young men openly state in radio interviews how important it was for them to have a string of offences as long as one's arm or that they had managed, from the age of 12 or 14 years to their early 20s, to get through the system with scarcely a conviction. They speak of being brought to court where they were given various benefits and discharged. As a result, these young men have acquired a long string of qualifications which have given them the wherewithal and qualifications to pursue a life of crime and avoid and challenge the law. Society must face this problem.

It is also true, as the governor of Mountjoy Prison has repeatedly stated, that certain deprived areas of our cities and towns keep our prisons full and provide the prisons and courts with employment. Deputy Finian McGrath and other speakers raised this issue which we should examine to ascertain if and how we can eliminate its causes and identify at an earlier stage what happens when a young person gets out of control. Every Deputy will have dealt with many of the countless cases of young people, particularly young boys, who have been deemed out of control. For some unknown reason, the Courts Service does not appear to be in a position to deal with them and they are shifted around from pillar to post until they become fully fledged adults, geared to carry out a life of crime. Although they often start off committing petty crime, they graduate to serious offences against the person and so forth.

A further exceptional area of rehabilitation is the treatment of sex offenders. It is important this is available in prisons, particularly in circumstances where offenders will be released. A prisoner who is repatriated may well be released without society becoming aware of the fact. For reasons beyond our control and, it appears, the control of the authorities in the United Kingdom, many prisoners convicted of serious sexual offences in Britain and released have subsequently committed further serious crimes. I do not need to remind the House of recent examples.

It is essential that rehabilitation programmes are available in the original sentencing state and the state to which a prisoner indicates a desire to transfer. In addition, prisoners must pursued a programme throughout the incarceration period. It is equally important that where prisoners are transferred to another prison to serve the remainder of their sentence, similar facilities are available and the rehabilitation programme is continued.

Given the changing circumstances in other European countries, it is important that information on a released prisoner's place of residence is made available to the authorities, although not necessarily to local people given what we know happens in such circumstances. If the whereabouts of a person is not known, he or she could re-offend and create serious problems. I emphasise this requirement because of a specific case in the United Kingdom in recent years in which failure to pass on information from one region to another resulted in a catastrophe. While I am aware an inquiry was held which apportioned blame, we must still learn to do this correctly because we may end up transferring a problem from one part of Europe to another.

I cannot refer to juvenile crime without raising the lack of juvenile detention places. Most of the petty crime we deal with is carried out by young boys who become notorious in their respective areas. A couple of years ago, a young boy of 14 or 15 years of age, referred to as "the young general", revelled in the notion that he was following in the footsteps of the great man. Folklore attaches to such people in their own areas where they can probably terrorise people, pull off strokes, cod the Garda and do all sorts of other things. When they go to court they greet the judge because they have been before the court previously. They can continue to go through the turnstiles without ever being detained because there are insufficient places for them.

I do not understand how what is allegedly one of the wealthiest countries in the world cannot provide a simple facility to incarcerate young hooligans for their own good and that of society. A rehabilitation programme should be established to help them and, in turn, the community. We have been discussing this matter since I entered the House, which was not yesterday, but have not yet made any worthwhile progress. We have got a few extra places in various locations. Every now and again Ministers mention this, and the current Minister has repeated it several times. This area is the responsibility of at least three Departments, namely the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and this is one of the reasons nobody accepts responsibility.

It is a fundamental flaw in our crime prevention system because it is in this system that young criminals start off, obtain their credentials and qualifications and learn to expect everyone to look up to them and say how tough they are.

I hope we can focus on these basic needs and requirements because if we do not we will be forced to do so at some time in the future and we will have to imprison offenders at a later stage for longer periods and for more serious offences. There is no excuse in the world for the fact that one can be brought before the courts for five or six years and always be able to go free because of circumstances outside the courts' control, such as a lack of custodial spaces. The main foci are custodial spaces, the rehabilitative programme and the need to ensure that the place to which a prisoner is being transferred treats prisoners properly and that the place whence they are transferred has treated him properly in respect of sentencing.

The Minister stated: "A warrant endorsed under sections 7 or 8 may be executed by any member of the Garda Síochána in any part of the State even if it is not in the possession of the member at the time." I remember having referred to this previously in respect of other legislation. The Minister continued: "However, the warrant must be shown to, and a copy given to, the person arrested at the time of arrest or within 24 hours thereafter." I can understand why this provision is included. For instance, it may be possible to identify the prisoner, escapee or fugitive, as they are called, at a precise moment, but it may not be possible to obtain the warrant within the same period. In order to ensure the prisoner does not escape forever and a day, it should be possible to issue the warrant as soon as possible. Furthermore, the Minister stated that a person arrested under a warrant must be brought before the High Court as soon as possible. Other speakers have also made reference to that. I presume it means that the person should be brought before the High Court as soon as possible after the 24 hour period has elapsed.

It is important that the warrant is shown to the person whether he or she is being extradited or not, in this State or elsewhere. It is important to recognise that in the event of a person being arrested, the warrant needs to be available and issued sooner than the 24 hours specified by the Minister. I hope some consideration might be given to this at a later stage.

In general, I do not have great difficulty with the legislation but I have used this opportunity to emphasise certain points. I believe they are fundamental to the preservation and recognition of our laws because there is, whether we like it or not, a serious threat to the public. The public has expressed the view that it does not feel safe walking the streets. This should not be the case and until such time as there is recognition by all, particularly by criminals and young potential criminals, that if they disobey the law and erode the rights of others in the course thereof, there is a price to be paid. We should never justify the actions of a criminal who bashes in a door and beats up an elderly person, for example. Once a person does something like this there should be a place to put him and a rehabilitative programme leading to his recognising that what he did was wrong and that there is a price to be paid for it.

I thank Deputy Durkan for his very kind and generous remarks on my appointment as Minister of State. I assure him that I look forward to working with all Members of this House in my new role.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who is away on Government business, I thank all the Deputies for their contributions to this debate. I have taken note, as have the officials, of the comments made in the debate. The Minister will give those very considerable remarks very careful consideration.

I remind the House of some of the essential features of the Bill and the arrangements it introduces. As the Minister said in his opening remarks, enactment of this Bill will enable Ireland to accede to the additional protocol to the 1983 Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. It will also enable Ireland to operate a certain part of the Schengen convention package into which it has already opted. The arrangements covered by this Bill are intended to assist the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners who have been sentenced abroad while also ensuring the sentence is served. The person's rehabilitation and reintegration will be facilitated by allowing the person to serve the sentence in his or her home state, closer to family and without linguistic and other difficulties.

The Bill will also ensure we have an alternative to extradition. Currently, where a person flees from the sentencing state to his or her home state, the sentencing state has just one option if it wishes to ensure the sentence is served, namely, to request the person's extradition. Once this Bill is enacted, it will be possible for the sentencing state to rely on an additional option, namely, that the person should serve the sentence in the home state. That is a significant benefit to the sentenced person while also ensuring that the sentence is served.

The Minster for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will consider the various issues raised. I know Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, in his contribution, questioned the numbers transferred under the 1995 Act, which followed on from the 1983 convention. The figures available to me, as of September 2004, indicate that 102 prisoners have been transferred into the State, 57 prisoners have been transferred out of the State, 266 applications for transfer have been received by the State and 182 applications have been made for transfer out of the State. It is very important to put those figures on the record of the House.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe asked why this legislation is being introduced. It is part of the commitment Ireland has accepted under the Schengen convention. The Deputy also asked if it would apply only where a person was convicted in his or her absence. Generally, it will apply to persons who have escaped or otherwise fled from the sentencing state. Deputy Durkan referred to this matter at length.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe also questioned section 4. Under this section, Ireland will apply the systems with states that are designated. Designation means that we must be satisfied with the criminal justice system in the sentencing state. A designated state must have ratified the protocol but that is not of itself enough.

Deputy Broughan gave a general welcome to the Bill and indicated he would be putting forward amendments for Committee Stage. These will be considered by the Minister.

Deputy Healy again raised the case of Irish nationals abroad where a miscarriage of justice may have arisen. In my capacity as co-chairman of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, I met the family and other persons concerned about the detention and sentencing of Mr. McGrath, a native of Tipperary, who is being sentenced in England. I know that Deputy Healy, along with some members of the House of Commons in Britain, has been very active in campaigning to discover if Mr. McGrath got justice or not. Having read up on that case, it is one that concerns me as a possible miscarriage of justice.

Deputy Finian McGrath gave a general welcome to the Bill and also mentioned the wider preventative aspects. Deputy Cuffe thought the Bill commendable and made some comments on transit through Shannon. Those points have been noted. There is a requirement of 18 days for receipt of requests after provisional arrest and that is too long according to Deputy Cuffe. The situation is that it is the same period as under the Extradition Act. Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to safeguards and human rights protections. I assure the Deputy and the House that the same safeguards are available as under the European arrest warrant, including respect for the European Convention on Human Rights. The Minister will put forward appropriate amendments on Committee Stage.

Deputy Durkan referred to the Schengen agreement. This agreement applies in all EU member states, Iceland and Norway, but not in Ireland and the UK. Both Ireland and the UK are in the process of joining part of Schengen, which includes the present proposals. The Bill is necessary to provide the proper legal basis for these arrangements. Deputy Durkan again stressed the importance of rehabilitation and this is the central aim of this particular legislation. Deputy Durkan also referred to the details of a production of a warrant. These provisions are the same as under the Extradition Act.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform drew attention to the safeguards of the Bill in his opening remarks. There are several of them and they are significant and substantial. I emphasise those provisions that ensure that we will operate the arrangements in this Bill only with states whose systems we trust, and that the safeguards available to someone who is the subject of an extradition request or a European arrest warrant also apply under this Bill. I reiterate that the Minister will be giving further consideration on Committee Stage to some of the issues raised in the thoughtful contributions of the Members. I am pleased to commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.