Victims’ Rights Bill 2008: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I am glad to have the opportunity, on behalf of the Labour Party, to express our support for the Bill tabled by Deputy Shatter and Fine Gael. We would like a number of issues included on Committee Stage but the Labour Party has no reservation about supporting the thrust of the legislation. It is not just a perception that victims are the forgotten people of the criminal justice system. Having read Deputy Shatter's contribution last night and having examined the Bill, it is evident a great deal of work went into its preparation to tackle the deficit in which victims of crime find themselves. I am reminded of a case on my desk, unfortunately, involving a loss of life and I can testify to the difference it makes when investigating gardaí maintain contact and communication with the deceased's family.

Generally, in my experience, victims are not kept informed of progress while a crime is being investigated. Why should gardaí not be required to maintain adequate contact through identified liaison officers with victims of crime and to keep them up to date in so far as they can on the progress of the investigation? I would like a victims' compensation fund to be established where compensation could be awarded to victims of crime outside of the normal expenses against which individuals and businesses may be insured. The expenses of the fund could be met by the equivalent amount collected in fines imposed on offenders.

Only yesterday, I received an e-mail from the organisation, AdVIC, detailing its efforts to obtain a meeting with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It would like to discuss important issues, including victim impact statements, article 10 of the criminal injuries compensation tribunal, defence post mortem examination and non-statutory sentencing guidelines. The organisation has been unable to secure the ear of the Minister. I am reminded of our discovery last night during the debate on the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008. The same Minister was able to set aside last Friday in a Dublin hotel to hear the views of licensed vintners, retailers and other interest groups, arising from which he dropped sections of that Bill. If he can find a day to set aside to meet the publicans of Ireland — fine, upstanding men they all are — it is remarkable that he cannot find an hour in his diary to meet representatives of the victims of crime.

I welcome recent improvements in the responsiveness of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to victims of crime. Subject to obvious constraints, I would like that channel of communication to be enhanced. The DPP has opened a sensitive debate touching on some of these issues and, provided we make haste slowly, the outcome might provide comfort for victims of crime. It could be argued about the more central role being accorded victims in the legislation that most of the entitlements could be conferred administratively but, in our adversarial system of justice, crime victims are the forgotten people. The merit of the Bill is that the recognition of victims will have a basis in statute, a right to be heard and it should bring more openness to the process.

It is not possible in my experience to overemphasise the importance of information to persons who find themselves in the role of victims. It is right that the Bill imposes obligations on State agencies such as the Garda, Courts Service, HSE and others. Victims should be advised of what assistance is available to them and how that can be accessed. The courts process can be a mystery and it can be intimidating for victims, most of whom will not have seen the inside of a courtroom in their lives but they have suffered hurt, isolation and trauma. I know some of the outstanding persons who have given voluntarily of their time to advocate the cause of victims and their efforts in the past have frequently fallen on stony soil.

If Deputy Shatter's Bill achieves no more than embarrassing the Government into action, it will have been worthwhile. However, I fail to see the need to reinvent the wheel. Why not allow this Bill proceed to Committee Stage where the Government can amend it as it sees fit? That would not obviate the necessity for a victims of crime consultative forum, which could run parallel to the progress of this legislation.

I was amazed to discover the amount of the Minister's contribution to the debate taken up detailing the supposed defects of the Fine Gael Bill and explaining the merits of his own initiative when we do not have anything tangible to go on at all yet. It is a revelation into a very interesting mindset that so much of his script is taken up with an attitude of "Mine is bigger than yours". I have read the Bill. I have not spoken to Deputy Shatter about it and I do not know how he compiled it but I find the partisan controversy created by the Minister very odd. I would love to know the author of the sentence, "Bootlegged Bills do not work", in his script. I would not like to go through our Statute Book in too much detail if that is the case. Why does the Minister have to devote his time to allegations about whether Deputy Shatter googled the Bill? The Deputy can speak for himself but I am long enough in the House to know he was drafting Private Members' Bills before we ever heard of Google or the Internet.

I am puzzled — I shadow him — as to whether this Minister will continue as he has started. He has a difficult job and it will be more difficult if he seeks to kick the Opposition every time he passes. We have a Bill for all to read and study tabled by Deputy Shatter and a speech and a press conference from the Minister responsible and a promise that next spring the buds of a new Bill will emerge. Maybe they will and there are some good things in the script. For the life of me, I do not see why we should not assent to passing Deputy Shatter's Bill onto Committee Stage where the Government could make its input in the interests of victims of crime and we could tease out the issues. The Government has the resources and the victims have the need. The former should engage on Committee Stage so that the House can produce a better Bill in the interests of the latter.

I understand that Deputy Calleary wishes to share time with Deputies Gallagher, O'Connor, Michael McGrath, Connick and Kennedy. Is that agreed? Agreed. Deputy Calleary has five minutes.

I welcome this debate and the fact that victims will finally be given a chance in our adversarial justice system to have their say. I welcome the Minister's proposals, two of which I will focus on, namely, the reform of the law in respect of victim impact statements and the additional protection afforded victims at the pre-trial stage.

The role of victim impact statements has grasped the public's imagination in recent years. We all recall one instance, the effect of which was to place victim impact statements in the public's consciousness in a manner it had not been previously. The Minister proposes to address the difficulties and inconsistencies in respect of those statements by broadening their scope so that the impact on victims' families and friends and other issues can be considered. I welcome that the discretionary element will also be regulated so that victims need not depend on the good will of presiding judges.

With the exception of high-profile media cases, only when people hear victim impact statements do they realise what has occurred and what the impacts of crime, beyond traditional feelings in this respect, have been on victims' families, work lives, health and ability to live. For this reason, we should allow the statements to be used in a greater fashion and far greater weight to be given to them in terms of sentencing and the post-case process. I welcome the Minister's proposal to amend the law to permit those directly affected to give evidence at sentencing and to empower courts to prohibit the broadcasting of same, as the latter has affected the fairness of justice at times.

The fact that we must introduce legislation to protect victims at pre-trial stage is worrying. In recent years, this has become a significant issue. The intimidation of victims and their family members and witnesses generally at the pre-trial stage is causing them considerable fear and has the potential to discourage them from providing evidence. The protections outlined by the Minister in this respect are necessary and should be the subject of considerable discussion. For this reason, I welcome the Minister's plans for a debate in advance on his Bill.

I welcome the Minister's decision to base many of his proposals on the recommendations of the Balance in Criminal Law Review Group, which comprised experts on the criminal system and had the ability to consider this matter without political pressure being placed on it. Those people stood back to consider the system's difficulties, international best practice and how to enshrine victims' voices and rights further in our justice system.

Since the State's foundation, the focus of 99% of criminal legislation has been on prosecutors or defendants. I welcome the Minister's willingness to introduce a Bill next spring and to resource an office in his Department to address victims' concerns and to co-ordinate all of the good work that occurs in victims groups. In this way, the work to set matters on a statutory footing can get under way without a significant delay. For too long, Deputies have bemoaned the House's lack of powers and statutory agencies' lack of responsibility. By placing matters on this level, the Minister will be in control and answerable to the House in respect of his work on behalf of victims.

I hope that the forthcoming debate will be constructive and address all types of international practice. Deputy Shatter is more than entitled to go to New Zealand if he so wishes. That is the joy of a democracy and he should not be criticised. However, we need a legislative system that places victims on a par with everyone else in the system.

Tá áthas orm deis a fháil labhairt san díospóireacht fíor-thábhachtach seo. Léigh mé an méid a bhí ag an Aire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí, An Teachta Dermot Ahern, sa Teach aréir agus molaim go mór na moltaí atá aige maidir leis an cheist seo.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate. I welcome the Minister's confirmation of his introduction next spring of a substantial package of proposals. They will be of benefit to the victims of crime because they will reform the law relating to victim impact statements and introduce exceptional measures to allow cases to be re-opened, subject to appropriate safeguards. The package will introduce measures to restrict unjustified and vexatious imputations at trial against the character of the deceased or incapacitated victim or witness. They will facilitate additional protection for victims on pre-trial stage as referred to by my colleague, Deputy Calleary. I am pleased to note that the package will include the provision of any necessary statutory protection that will facilitate the DPP's intention to alter his practice of not giving reasons to victims for decisions not to prosecute.

Currently, victim impact statements set out how incidents affected the victims or their families. The victim is not legally represented at the trial. Rather, the Garda prosecutes the defendant on behalf of the victim. The only part played by the victim or his or her family is to make the statement and to give evidence to the prosecution or by way of direct evidence. The victim impact statement is read by the presiding judge, who may or may not take it into consideration.

I will refer to the Minister's planned legislative package for victims. His dual approach — legislation and administrative measures — is to be applauded, as it will improve a victim's experience of the criminal justice system. How many victims entering courts have knowledge of the system? The approach will assist them in holding the perpetrators of serious offences to account for their actions. This is not just of interest to victims, but to the wider community. The Minister's approach will achieve this without involving the criminal justice agencies in the bureaucratic nightmare that would result from the House's acceptance of Fine Gael's Bill, the New Zealand Victims' Rights Act 2002.

If we compare New Zealand's Victims' Rights Act 2002 with the Bill introduced by Deputy Shatter, who has had the distinction of having had some Bills agreed on Second Stage, we certainly cannot agree this Bill because most of the sections are similar, exactly the same or have a great deal in common——

The Deputy's colleague who spoke previously was much more intelligence than to repeat that stupid point that the Minister made yesterday.

There is an old Irish saying which the Deputy should understand, Tá an fhírinne searbh.

If the Deputy knew what he was talking about——

If the Deputy does not want to hear the truth——

——and was not simply reading the Minister's brief, he would make some contribution to the issue.

I am just making a point. It is not an opinion but a fact that, in school terms, the Deputy largely cogged this legislation and he was caught out. That is what is hard to take. That is why an fhírinne is searbh.

The Deputy is just as pathetic as the Minister.

Deputy Gallagher's time is exhausted. I call Deputy O'Connor.

I am pleased that at least I told the truth and if the truth upsets Deputy Shatter, then so be it.

The Deputy can ask the Ceann Comhairle about the legislation he introduced when he was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that derived from New Zealand.

I look forward to the Chair's protection should I need it.

I would like to make a victim impact statement after all that.

I welcome this opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. It is important to understand the complexities of this issue. Such complexities were emphasised in correspondence from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties which we all received today. The correspondence states that in a better deal the Irish Council for Civil Liberties offers constructive alternatives designed to genuinely enhance respect for the human rights of victims in the criminal justice system. I record that because it is important to acknowledge that is the type of representations we have received.

I listened to all the contributions and will continue to do so. I will not repeat some of the points that were made. It is important to emphasise our strong support for the victims of crime. Many people in all communities have been victims of crime; we have all encountered elements of crime. It is important the Minister understands the need to deal with these issues.

Some Members will know I am from Tallaght. A parent from Tallaght has campaigned for justice for the past 15 years. The Ceann Comhairle will be aware of this case because he was kind enough to look at this file when he was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This man's son, Kevin Reilly, died as a result of being stabbed and his father did not feel he got justice. This case emphasises the need for victims of crime to believe that the Government and its agencies support them. It is important to make that point.

Provision is made for a victim support unit in the court house in Tallaght, the provision of which is important. I have campaigned strongly in recent times for the redevelopment of the Garda station in Tallaght. I have been told that when it is redeveloped it will also include a new court house. I hope the Minister will convey to his senior Minister that I am strongly of the view that in all such facilities, and certainly in those in my constituency, proper provision should be made for a safe place where victims of crime can talk to counsellors. Many improvements have been made in recent times with gardaí reaching out to crime victims, corresponding with them are making an attempt to tell them what is going on. It is important that should happen in all communities.

I wish the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, well. It is important he knows that he has support across the House for the work he is doing. I am sure even those who give out about him sometimes will understand the great work he is doing. His dual approach of legislative and administrative measures will improve victims' experience of the criminal justice system and will assist in holding the perpetrators of serious offences to account for their actions, something that is of interest not only to victims but to the community in general. The Minister's approach will achieve this and will do so without involving the criminal justice agencies in the bureaucratic nightmare that would result if this House were to accept other proposals.

Reference has been made and no doubt will made later in the debate to the restorative justice initiative. I am proud that such a project has been based in Tallaght under the leadership of Mr. Peter Keeley, a local man who became involved in that initiative. The Ceann Comhairle took an particular interest in this initiative when he was Minister. Judge McDonald has also been very supportive. When I was a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, I made the point that this initiative should be rolled out to other areas; I am sure I would have the support of Deputy Shatter on that point. It is important we understand that when it was established in March 2007 it was an attempt to deal with victims of crime and those who committed crimes in a different way. I hope that as we continue to seek innovative ways to deal with crime, that the restorative justice initiative will receive the funding it requires and will rolled out to the rest of the country because it is important we do that.

I appreciate the short time the Chair has allowed me to make this contribution. I look forward to supporting the Minister. Having regard to the points made from the Opposition benches, we now have serious proposals for legislation. People are entitled to make their political points, with which I have no problem. I wish them well as they go about that business. It is important for communities and for victims of crime that this legislation, when it is properly introduced, will be passed. I look forward to supporting such legislation.

I very much welcome this opportunity to speak on this Bill proposed by Fine Gael during Private Members' time. I wish to make a number of main points which are relevant to the debate.

There is a need for a serious rebalancing of rights in the criminal justice system away from the criminal and in favour of the victim. That should be our starting point and the central point of the debate on some of the detailed proposals made by Fine Gael Members and by the Minister in his announcement last week.

The principal right that victims should have is for the perpetrator of a crime against them on conviction to be given a fair and just sentence appropriate to the crime he or she has committed. In my view and in the view of many victims too often that is not the case and sentences do not match the severity of the crime that has been perpetrated. When victims see criminals with multiple previous convictions for serious crimes receiving suspended or very short sentences, many of them lose faith in the criminal justice system. It is not the function of this House to determine sentencing policy except where legislation provides for minimum, maximum or mandatory sentences in certain cases. I feel compelled to make that point because many victims' dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system lies in the sentences being handed down by the Judiciary.

I welcome very much the Minister's justice for victims initiative, which he announced last week and which I genuinely believe is a more comprehensive, reforming and far-reaching response to the needs of the victims of crime than the Bill before us. No political party has a monopoly on concern for the rights of victims, whether it be Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or any other party. It is open to any party in our democracy to put forward proposals for victims' rights. Fine Gael has tabled this Bill, the Minister outlined his detailed proposals last week and the House will decide on the Bill tonight.

I support very much the Minister's proposal to introduce a substantial legislative reform package next spring based on the 2007 report of the balance in the criminal law group, also known as the Hogan report. Many of the initiatives that are required urgently to assist victims can be implemented without legislation and may proceed now. That is the route we should follow.

The administrative package the Minister is proposing, in line with the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime's framework document, will be implemented prior to legislation, including the new executive office in the Department to support crime victims, the reconstituted Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime and the victims of crime consultative forum.

The Minister's proposal to end double jeopardy makes eminent sense, particularly where evidence emerges of interference in the trial process or where new evidence can emerge a number of years subsequent to a trial, which changes the whole interpretation of the evidence that was put before a trial. We have seen the emergence of DNA technology and the improvement in the assessment of evidence and we should incorporate that into the trial process.

I welcome also the victim impact statement reform that the Minister will introduce and the right of a next-of-kin in homicide cases, for example, to issue a victim impact statement as part of the trial. Victims should be given more information before their case is even sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. As Deputy Rabbitte argued earlier, more information must be provided to victims while crimes are being investigated and before they reach court. People find it frustrating when they report a crime and cannot subsequently obtain any information on the processing of their complaint. This issue must be addressed. I agree with Deputy O'Connor's remarks on the National Commission on Restorative Justice, which will report next year. Restorative justice is an evolving area which we must examine closely. I look forward to a comprehensive debate on penal reform.

As legislators, we would be perpetrating an injustice towards victims if we approved an incomplete and inadequate response to their needs, as represented by this Bill.

I welcome the justice for victims initiative recently announced by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern. The Minister gave a comprehensive outline of his proposals to the House last night. These proposals mark a radical change in the way in which victims of crime interact with the criminal justice system. It is significant that the justice for victims initiative will comprise a mixture of legislative and administrative proposals. This approach of offering both legislative and administrative change is a pragmatic response to the needs of victims of crime and will avoid the bureaucratic difficulties that might arise if the legislative proposals placed before the House by Fine Gael were accepted.

In recent days, victim support agencies have lobbied Members on all sides of the House to express their concerns regarding proposed victims' rights legislation. Victims of crime and the support agencies which assist them through their trauma should be reassured that the justice for victims initiative will be based in large measure on the recommendations of the balance in the criminal law review group, chaired by Dr. Gerard Hogan. With representatives of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the legal academic community, this group also included a representative from the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime.

The report of the Hogan group, and the subsequent proposals adopted from it, are based exclusively on the needs of the victims of crime in an Irish legal context. Likewise, the justice for victims initiative is framed solely in the context of current deficiencies in the Irish legal system rather than being presented as a solution possibly based on another country's laws. The initiative is based on the experience of victims of crime in Ireland. I commend Dr. Hogan and the other members of his review group on their report. Their findings will have a lasting effect on victims of crime when they are implemented through the justice for victims initiative.

Unfortunately, many of us will be a victim of crime at some point. There is no doubt that crime has a lasting physical and psychological effect on the victim and his or her family and friends. The justice for victims initiative is not the first programme to be implemented by the Government in support of victims of crime. In the last year alone, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and his predecessor in the justice portfolio, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, established the anti-human trafficking unit to provide support for the victims of human trafficking, Cosc, to provide support to victims of domestic violence, and the National Commission on Restorative Justice, which is studying the possible introduction of a victim-focused restorative justice scheme. A former Fine Gael Minister for Justice, Ms Nora Owen, who is now a member of the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime, acknowledged this morning that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is making strong progress in accepting the recommendations of the commission and expressed support for his decision to establish an executive office in his Department to support victims of crime.

The House has two choices when it comes to implementing proposals to support victims of crime. We can adopt the Fine Gael proposals before us, the majority of which may have been drafted in response to the needs of victims of crime in other jurisdictions. These proposals will only serve to add to the levels of bureaucracy already faced by agencies and bodies working in the criminal justice system. Alternatively, we can wait some months until the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in a position to present the full details of his victims of crime initiative to the House.

That initiative is based on the best advice available regarding victims of crime in an Irish context. The findings of the Hogan report, on which the Minister's initiative is largely based, were fully informed by the needs of Irish victims of crime and identified the areas where support services must be improved. The Minister's proposal to introduce the victims of crime initiative through a combination of legislation and administrative change will avoid the additional layers of bureaucracy which the Fine Gael proposals might bring. The Minister will be in a position to place his legislative proposals before the House in early 2009. We should avoid adopting the hastily put together proposals currently before the House and instead afford the Minister the opportunity to present his legislation.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I echo my colleagues' comments on the sentiment behind this Fine Gael Bill. Whatever the difference of opinion on either side of the House as to the best way to approach the provision of victims' rights, we are all agreed that victims of crime deserve to be protected in the best way possible. We all seek to achieve the same end, which is to improve the position of victims of crime within our judicial system and in line with our Constitution.

Thankfully, so far as I am aware, few Members have been the victim of serious crime, but we can all appreciate the hurt, trauma and terror experienced by those who have. However, I share the Minister's view that while admirable in its intentions, the Fine Gael Bill is not sufficient to deal with this serious issue. Nor, in some cases, is it appropriate. When compared with the Government's legislative proposals as contained in the justice for victims initiative, this Bill pales in its failure to advance appropriately far-reaching and practical changes. This was illustrated in 2002 when the same Bill was struck out, only to be replaced by this minimally amended version.

I urge Members to await the legislation being drafted by the Government, which will be introduced next spring. The legislative proposals arising from the framework document prepared by the balance in the criminal law review group, including the proposal to create a victims of crime consultative forum, are far more comprehensive than those before us. The increased rights proposed in the Government's legislative proposals balance the needs of the victim without interfering with the fairness of the trial process to which the accused is entitled.

The report of the balance in the criminal law review group includes the following proposals: to reform the victim impact statement system and to extend it to families of victims of homicide and those affected by the offence; to empower the courts to prohibit the broadcasting or publication of statements deemed to be inappropriate; and to allow for the reopening of acquittal cases where the acquittal arises from mistakes made during trial by the judge. The report also proposes the provision of greater powers to protect victims at pre-trial stage, with judges being empowered to order the accused to refrain from contacting the victim and his or her family, thus preventing any possibility of intimidation or interference. We are all aware of recent high profile cases in which that type of intimidation occurred.

Further consideration is being given to extending the scope of victim impact statements. However, I agree it is safer to await the Law Reform Commission's deliberations in this regard. In addition to the newly reconstituted Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime, there is provision in the Government's upcoming Bill to establish two new organisations. A new executive office within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will administer and distribute funding to interest groups, as well as contributing to strategy in regard to crime victims. In addition, a victims of crime consultative forum will liaise with the commission and represent victims' interests.

The proposed Government Bill is far more wide-reaching and appropriate than the Bill before us. Moreover, the Fine Gael Bill is completely inappropriate in parts. I refer specifically to the provisions relating to the Director of Public Prosecutions, namely, the proposal that the DPP must inform the victim before accepting a lesser plea and explain the reasons for doing so, and the proposal that the DPP must consult with victims before granting bail. I do not have time to deal with all the main elements of the Fine Gael proposal. I reiterate that the Government proposals are far more wide-reaching and should be supported.

I understand Deputy Creighton wishes to share time with Deputies Enright, Deenihan, Clune and McHugh. Is that agreed? Agreed. The Deputies have six minutes each.

I am astounded by the comments I have heard from the Government benches in the past few minutes.

There is a strong perception, which is reflected in reality, that criminals have more rights under the current criminal justice system than victims. While that is incorrect, it is certainly the perception. What is great about the legislation before the House is that we are trying to address that issue and put forward constructive proposals and solutions.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Shatter, on the substantial amount of work he has done in putting together the comprehensive legislation before the House. We have no proposals from the Government. I am amused to listen to Deputies speak about proposed Government legislation which has not been written or published and which, clearly, they have not read. It is ludicrous. The legislation we are discussing, in case they need reminding, has been proposed and published by the Fine Gael Party. The Government has no proposals for victims' rights legislation, and there is no prospect of it in the immediate future. Let us get real about this debate.

The Fine Gael Party has put forward a comprehensive Bill, drafted by Deputy Shatter. It is a substantial Bill that merits serious consideration. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, seems to be opposed to the recognition of victims' rights or, if he is not, he is opposed to any substantial recognition of victims' rights. That is unfortunate. He is unnecessarily opposing the Bill. Our legislation would give victims substantial rights and restore dignity to them — which is extremely important — dignity that is not afforded to them by the criminal justice system.

The only commitment to date is that the Minister has promised that he will sometime, perhaps next year, introduce legislation which would confer a statutory right on bereaved family members of a homicide victim to make a victim impact statement. That is the only commitment and we do not know if or when it will become a reality. That proposal is identical to that contained in the Fine Gael Bill. It is unfortunate that appears to be the only aspect of our Bill the Minister has accepted. It would appear he has ruled out a whole raft of other concrete and positive suggestions put forward by the Fine Gael Party. If one looks at that proposal in isolation, it means that a tiny minority of victims would benefit from the legislation, but the vast majority of victims would not benefit from any additional protections, if the Minister has his way. That would be unfortunate.

It appears the Minister is opposed to the substantial reforms proposed by Fine Gael. For example, we propose an independent commission for victims of crime, an important step, and that victims be furnished with victim impact statements before sentencing for all offences, not just for a few. That is central to this debate and a point to which none of the Deputies on the other side has referred.

I will not go through all the proposals contained in the Bill. Some of them are particularly significant, for example, the obligation to keep victims informed at all stages of a criminal prosecution. I practised for a short time as a barrister. Victims of crime depend on what they are told by their barrister so it depends on the quality of the barrister. There is no legal obligation on the DPP or anybody else to keep victims informed as the case proceeds. This is alienating and leads to fear, isolation and a strong belief that victims are not catered for at the heart of the criminal justice system.

The reality is that if Fianna Fáil was serious about addressing victims' rights, it would support the Bill, instead of doing the political thing. As I said at the outset, this is not just a matter of rights for victims, but a fundamental matter of dignity for victims of crime.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and thank my colleagues, Deputies Alan Shatter and Charles Flanagan, for bringing it forward.

As the time available is short, I will concentrate on the impact of these proposals on the immediate victim of crime, the person against whom the crime is perpetrated, rather than on the families of the victims, which has been dealt with well by my colleagues.

Sadly, the reality is that many survivors or victims who engage with the criminal justice system suffer either repeat trauma or what is often described as a secondary trauma — in other words, how they are treated by the State and its agents retraumatises them or, as some victims have said, can be worse than the original offence.

The way in which our adversarial system works is that the victim is outside the process. While many gardaí make an attempt to keep victims updated on the progression of cases, this does not always happen. In my experience as a Deputy, I have often been approached by either a victim or their families to try to ascertain where a case against an alleged attacker is at in the criminal justice system. This should not be how the system works. Frequently, there have been long delays which have not always been adequately explained to the victim, or prosecutions have not been taken or proceeded without adequate explanation being given. There have been instances where victims, family members and witnesses are in court but the case is not heard and no explanation is offered. Effectively, the victim becomes just another witness when the case eventually reaches court and the trauma they suffer in the meantime is ignored.

It is possible to deliver a systematic rights-based response, which becomes part of the healing process rather than of the continuation of the trauma and harm, and the Bill attempts to offer a solution in this area. Many aspects of the Bill would have a very positive impact on victims and their basic rights, such as the right to clear and detailed information about the process, how the case is progressing, the hearing dates, the reason for delays, why cases are not being heard, when the case is expected to be heard, etc. Those involved in the criminal justice system on a daily basis are used to cancellations and cases on lists not being reached, but those with no experience of the system can find this particularly traumatic.

We should remember that the victim arrives in court, usually without legal representation, whereas the perpetrator will have his or her legal team, comprising a solicitor and a barrister. Frequently, the victim is alone. The right to be informed of the identify of the garda primarily responsible for investigating the offence and to have communication with that person is extremely important. There is also the right to be informed as to the appropriate health, social or other services. In this regard, I refer to the Government commitment given last year to develop a sexual assault treatment unit in the midlands. Women in the midlands, in addition to suffering the trauma of being sexually assaulted or raped, often have to travel as far as Dublin in soiled, dirty and torn clothes for investigation and to receive treatment at one of the units in Dublin because of the lack of availability of such a unit in the midlands, west and other parts of the country. This is not covered by the Bill but it highlights the need for courtesy and compassion and to ensure that the dignity and privacy of victims is respected and protected. The lack of progress in delivering such units shows the lack of urgency with which the Government views this issue.

I wish to outline a typical case study so that Deputies and the public view this from the perspective of the victim and are aware of the situation. In the absence of Deputy Shatter's Bill and in the absence of a far more wide-ranging and appropriate Bill that has yet to materialise, this is what a victim of sexual assault is likely to go through.

A victim will arrive at a Garda station and disclose what happened to him or her, often in a public area and to an officer who may not have previous experience of sexual violence and could be uncomfortable. A statement will be made in a room designed to interview criminals, if a room is even available. After that he or she may undergo a forensic examination, either in a non-specialised unit or have to travel to a location where a specialised unit is available. The victim will return home and wait for news. The victim may not know the name of the garda dealing with his or her case because there is no protocol for the garda to keep the victim informed of progress. No one will tell the victim he or she has a right to get a copy of the statement and no one will send it to him or her. Likewise, no one will inform him or her of what to expect from the legal process, nor of what services or supports are available. A victim may contact the Garda station, but the garda to whom he or she needs to speak may not be present and any number of calls may be required. A victim may not know that the accused has been picked up and interviewed, despite having told the Garda of his or her fears of a response from the accused once he or she knows that the case has been reported. He or she may then be harassed by the accused or his or her supporters. In response to a call to the station the Garda may send a marked car to the victim's house making the community aware that something is going on, and that could continue for months as the victim waits, while his or her anxiety builds. In some cases that can lead to depression. Some 50% of survivors of penetrative abuse or attempted penetrative abuse take anti-depressant medication and 17% become psychiatric hospital inpatients at some point. He or she may bump into an acquaintance of the accused up to two years after the statement — the average time between first arrest and return for trial is 118 weeks — and hear that the accused's legal team has informed him or her that the case has been dropped. On contacting the Garda, he or she may be told the DPP has advised that the case will not proceed but give no reason for that. We should remember that the DPP does not proceed with six out of every ten cases of sexual violence. That example has been provided to me by the Rape Crisis Network and it is something which I have heard from victims myself. Are Members of the House comfortable with the idea of waiting until the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has played politics with the issue in the past week, brings forward a proposal? People should be aware of what they are asking of victims while they wait.

With the exception of a few disparate provisions in criminal justice legislation and policy guidelines, the area of victims' rights remains largely uncharted territory in Irish law. If accepted, the Bill would form the legal basis for the rights and treatment of victims of criminal offences, and of their immediate families. Like other Members I recognise the work of Deputies Alan Shatter and Charlie Flanagan in drafting the Bill, and the extremes to which they went to produce comprehensive legislation.

Fine Gael's Victims' Rights Bill is designed to ensure the rights of victims of crime are taken into account in the prosecution of offences. It does not deny the accused a fair trial but aims to provide fair treatment for victims. If enacted, the Bill would provide the victims of crime with comprehensive statutory rights under Irish law. If implemented, the measures in the Bill would bring about an immediate improvement to the lot of the victim. I welcome the obligations the Bill would place on the Garda Síochána to ensure victims are treated properly and also to ensure victims and witnesses are not intimidated, as that practice has become more prevalent, especially in Dublin and Limerick. The Bill will at least put the onus on the Garda Síochána to ensure that would not happen. New obligations would also be placed on the Courts Services Board, the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Health Service Executive. The Bill contains a number of important features. I cannot understand how anyone could oppose the establishment on a statutory basis of the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime. The commission was established in March 2005 on a non-statutory basis.

Reference was made previously to anti-social behaviour in the context of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. The Bill provides for victims of anti-social behaviour. Many people around the country are victims of anti-social behaviour. We hear about such cases every day. People have to leave their homes because of anti-social behaviour. I met somebody recently who has to leave the house he bought in an estate because people on both sides of the house who live in rented accommodation cannot let him live in peace. It is difficult to fathom how one can dismiss the Bill when it addresses issues such as that, especially given that there is no guarantee a Government Bill will be put before the House in the next two years. That is totally irresponsible of the Government.

In fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on a number of occasions he recognised the contribution of Deputy Shatter to legislation in this House. It is a pity the senior Minister would not listen to him. It is a disgrace that some of his colleagues have come to the House and parroted the brief from the Fianna Fáil press office and had a go at Deputy Shatter. Fianna Fáil Members should give their views on the merits of the proposal. I deplore the deliberate effort to in some way insinuate that Deputy Shatter cogged the Bill from New Zealand legislation, as indicated by the former Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and his officials know that Departments examine legislation in other jurisdictions and persons in other countries examine our legislation. I was in that position myself when I was involved in drafting legislation in the then Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. That goes on all the time. The Bill may be modelled on New Zealand legislation but there is more to it than that. Surely the Minister and all the Fianna Fáil Members who lined up one after another could have accepted that.

The Bill makes provision for a range of issues that the Minister would deny victims. Fine Gael Members who speak after me might repeat the point. I asked a question today about a Bill concerning the Curragh of Kildare that was due to be introduced. The heads of the Bill were drafted in 2004 but there is no indication of a Bill being produced in the foreseeable future. In the case of victims' rights, the heads of a Bill are not even drafted. From experience, I am not hopeful of a Bill coming forward even in 2009 or 2010. If a Bill is introduced, it will contain many of the provisions contained in Deputy Shatter's Bill.

Whatever about that, we will all head there at the weekend anyway.

This is an important Bill and I am delighted we have an opportunity to focus on victims, who in many cases feel and are alienated from the justice system. The debacle that has gone on in the past week started with the Minister's hastily arranged press conference and that is an appalling indictment of him. I hope he will take on board some of the proposals contained in Deputy Shatter's Bill, the aim of which is to accord rights and recognition to victims. The programme for Government contained a commitment to have a victims' support agency up and running but there is still no sign of it. Nor is there any reference to a Bill relating to victims of crime in the legislative programme published in 2008. Last week the Minister indicated he would bring forward ground-breaking legislation, but while I welcome it, the only commitment he made is to take into account the victim impact statement of family members of victims of homicide. That is only one aspect of the matter. The Bill brought to the House by Deputy Shatter is far reaching. It could be 2009 or 2010 before we see the Bill promised by the Minister, as we do not know when it will be ready. Given the slow rate of progress of the Government, it could kick it even further into touch. Will the Government Bill create an independent statutory commission for victims of crime, as this Bill will? Will the courts be furnished with victim impact statements prior to sentencing as provided for in this Bill? Will providing information to victims concerning progress in investigation and prosecution of all alleged offences be included in the Minister's proposals? Will the Minister oblige the DPP to keep victims informed of all stages of criminal prosecution? Will he create an updated statutory victims' rights charter? Will the Government Bill establish a complaints system for victims whose rights are not respected? Will it impose statutory obligations on relevant State agencies to ensure victims are informed of services available to assist them? Will it impose statutory obligations to inform victims of an application made to the parole board by a convicted offender for early release? Will it require victims to be informed of the early release or escape of a convicted person? Will the Minister's proposals oblige the DPP to explain the reasons for not initiating prosecution? All these important proposals are included in this legislation. Based on what the Minister said last night and in his press statement, I do not believe he will address the concerns and needs of victims.

As many speakers have said tonight, victims find our justice system alien to them. They can be confused because they are not legal experts in their own right. There is no obligation to consult them on how the prosecution is proceeding and they often feel let down and feel that the law is not on their side or there to protect them. While this Bill is not necessarily a reaction to them, there have been many high-profile cases recently. The statement of the family of the late Siobhan Kearney was not delivered in court. They were forced to deliver it in the midst of a media scrum outside the court, which left many people feeling very uncomfortable. If the Government were to accept the Bill, something like that would not happen and that family would have been allowed to deliver their impact statement to the court. It could have been taken into account by the judge prior to sentencing.

We are dealing with real people who feel alienated by the system as it stands. Deputy Enright has spoken about rape victims who find it so difficult to come forward. Deputies on both sides of the House have received letters from the Rape Crisis Centre encouraging us to adopt this Bill to address the needs of victims by consulting them on how their cases are proceeding. That is not happening at the moment. Many people do not come forward because they feel they will not be given the necessary recognition or consultation and that their needs and concerns will not be addressed. Let us not play politics with this and let us address the real needs of victims. We have heard considerable negativity from the Government side regarding this Bill. It is about real people who are victims whose needs are not being addressed. I have no confidence that the Minister will introduce anything in the lifetime of this Dáil. I ask him to allow the Bill to go forward to Committee where we can thrash out the issues with which the Minister disagrees. Let us use it as a starting point. Let us ensure that victims are included and recognised in our justice system.

I welcome the opportunity to speak tonight. I congratulate Deputy Shatter on introducing the Bill. I concur with my colleagues. Too much politics has been played on this issue since the end of last week. Has a precedent been set that every Bill coming from the other side of the House must be legislation of original thought? I feel sorry for the civil servants who will not be able to explore best practice in other countries. They will not be able to look at good examples. In Wexford, Dublin, Clare and elsewhere the Minister, Deputy Martin, has been given credit for introducing the smoking ban. We all know that original idea did not come from the Minister, Deputy Martin. It came from a cross-party delegation that went to Florida to see how it worked there. I am not sure if the Ceann Comhairle was present, but I know Deputy Shatter was as was the Minister, Deputy Martin. We should get real about where legislation comes from. It is about carrying out extensive research into best practice in any part of the world.

I congratulate Deputy Shatter for the practical ideas in the Bill, including an independent statutory commission, which the Government has opposed. He has also proposed to provide the victims with reasonable information at an investigative stage and during the prosecution stage, which the Government has also opposed. He has also proposed a mechanism to provide the victims through some conduit with information the DPP has in so far as practicable at a given time, which is again opposed by the Government. The Government attitude in this debate has done a further disservice to the people who have been through an ordeal and become a victim. We need to be very categorical. Not many of us have been in the position of victimhood. The victims are in a very lonely place where they find it very difficult to obtain any information from the initial investigation and right through the trial, an issue that we as legislators have responsibility to address.

On 8 October 2005 Rochelle Peoples, Gavin Duffy, David Steele, Darren Quinn and Charlene O'Connor all died in a single car in a two vehicle accident. Those five young people had an average age of 22. Their families got no feedback from the DPP until 15 April 2008. That information was only extracted because the five families got together and held a press conference. It got national and local profile. That was how they expedited their case to get information from the DPP. It is a scandal in this day and age that they needed to wait for that period of time. In addition almost two and a half years later no inquest into that case has taken place. They have been in the dark. In Donegal terms they have been seeking a wee bit of justice. That is all they have sought. The Garda cannot give them information. The DPP will not give them information. That is all they seek. The Bill provides that such information would be given.

We have heard that there will be legislation from the Government side of the House in the spring. Which spring? The Government has also referred to the future. We may need to establish a new Department, the department for promises. If past performance is a predictor of future performance, I feel sorry for the people who are still going through this ordeal. We have a duty as legislators to do something about it. It is a shame the Government did not adopt a bipartisan approach rather than lying about the Bill it claims to have. Where is the Bill? It does not have one.

I remind Members that they must not make reference in debate or refer remarks to officials in the Gallery. It is not allowed.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I agree with the previous speaker that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas for victims. Very many people in this House, by the nature of the work they do, have a great insight into the impact of crime on victims in society. For the people on that side to suggest they have the only answer to this situation is farcical in the extreme. If they were serious about a bipartisan approach they would not take the measures they have taken tonight.

Yesterday evening Deputy Shatter asked what is so objectionable about a Bill that seeks to improve the position of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. While the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform agrees with the sentiments behind the Bill, his approach is to legislate where necessary and introduce administrative structures where they are more likely to deliver real results for the people. That is what he is doing in the justice for victims initiative. The previous speaker discussed establishing an independent statutory commission, yet his colleagues are all talking about the fact that the Government has set up far too many quangos. One cannot have it both ways and one must keep a balanced approach. The advantage of establishing a victims of crime office in the Department is that it can be done almost immediately and be up and running by September 2008 rather than having to wait for the legislative process to take its course. This way we get over the Deputy's concern as to when the spring might come. The reconstituted commission will also be established in this timeframe and arrangements for the inaugural meeting with the victims of crime consultative forum can then be made. The package of measures will begin to deliver results within a matter of months.

To remove any doubt on the legislation side, the Minister's commitment is to bring forward a Bill in the spring of 2009.

The department of promises.

The framework document on the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime, which the Minister published last week, identifies a wide number of issues that need to be addressed in the area of supporting victims of crime. Among these are the wide range of categories of victims requiring support and the uneven geographical spread of NGOs around the country with little or no presence in some parts of the country. While the support of victims can be met by the commitment of volunteers with a small amount of training, there is an increasing requirement for specialised training and specialist support. A significant number of applications for funding are for counselling services for victims of crime and I am aware, as Deputy McHugh would know coming from an isolated, rural community along the western seaboard, of the necessity of providing these services. The provision of information to victims and the operation of a court support or accompaniment service for victims of crime is also envisaged.

I particularly congratulate the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on bringing forward the justice for victims initiative, the most radical set of proposals for victims since the foundation of the State.

That is really stretching it.

Did the Minister write that?

It will reform the victim impact statement mechanism to grant victim status to next-of-kin in homicide cases. It will introduce new mechanisms to deal with an acquittal where compelling evidence of guilt emerges after the acquittal. It will enable cases to be reopened where an acquittal arises from an error in law by a judge. It will provide for new prosecutions where there is evidence that the original acquittal was tainted by interference with the trial process, including intimidation of witnesses. It will introduce measures to restrict unjustified and vexatious imputations at trial against the character of a deceased or incapacitated victim or witness. Those are very important measures. None of these necessary measures is included in the Fine Gael Bill, so why would we accept a second rate, second best effort, when Fianna Fáil in government is already bringing forward a far more radical approach?

In addition to these legislative proposals already noted, the justice for victims initiative also includes a series of administrative moves to increase support to victims. These include the establishment of a new executive office of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to support crime victims, focusing on the co-ordination of delivery of services. They also include a reconstituted Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime with a role to distribute funding to groups working with crime victims, as well as providing general oversight of services and promoting awareness. Also proposed is a victims of crime consultative forum, representing victims' interests, which will liaise with the commission. Again, this is more than Fine Gael promises in what some have referred to as this bootlegged Bill. Fine Gael has cut and pasted a piece of legislation from New Zealand and added a piece from the Fianna Fáil manifesto about a victims' agency.

We have made more progress that the Fianna Fáil manifesto is making.

Deputy Dooley is out of time, and out of rope. We have heard enough from him.

We should not have expected more from Fine Gael, which, when last in government, failed so miserably on crime. It stopped the prison building programme, put no extra gardaí on the streets and invented the revolving door mechanism. Before the last election Fine Gael was pledging such mad ideas as boot camps for problem children and gun bins in youth clubs. Could we have expected more? I suggest not.

Deputy Dooley's time is up. I call Deputy Joe Carey.

I am confident the House will accept there are genuine problems with the scope of the Bill. May I conclude?

The time has expired.

Deputy Dooley should sit down, sit down, sit down.

Deputy Dooley has made a fool of himself long enough. He should let other people speak.

Deputy Shatter knows all about that. He certainly made a fool of himself and his party when he could not show respect to other Members of this House. He is the victim of his own ignorance.

Deputy Dooley should sit down.

These are the jack boot tactics of Fine Gael.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Ring and Shatter. The Victims Charter and Guide to the Criminal Justice System 1999 committed this State to giving victims of crime a central place in the criminal justice system, yet after nine years we are still waiting for legislative reform to establish these principles. Last week outside this Chamber we had much trumpeting from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of a major new initiative for victims of crime. I note from his press release he talks about a new groundbreaking Bill to be drafted and presented to the Oireachtas by spring of next year. That is some ground breaking. After ten years we may have legislation on the books. This is the type of groundbreaking attitude of a Government so jaded, detached and arrogant that it favours the press conference and the creation of an impression of rolling up its sleeves and getting on with work. I also note from the Minister's release last week that he makes much of his Department's disbursement of funds. We are supposed to applaud the Minister and his Department because they have allocated €2.5 million to groups engaged in providing support to victims of crime.

It is better than that; it is €3.5 million.

The people to applaud are those who have established these services and operate them on a voluntary basis.

Is this paltry allocation supposed to keep quiet those who have requested this type of legislation over many years, those who feel it is not good enough to sail on with the occasional announcement of one of these "ground breaking initiatives"? This old style politics of throwing a few bob to people to keep them quiet and Government by press conference and perception is running down politics in this country and is placing the people we are supposed to represent at the bottom. Tonight's debate is a prime example of what is so wrong with the Government.

Last week the Minister made disparaging reference to Deputy Shatter's initiative as legislation by Google and a copy of the New Zealand system. There is no groundbreaking here, rather it is like groundhog day with the same old predictable stuff from a Minister who is so out of touch. It is quite interesting to note that in his own Department with its recent comprehensive review on youth justice, that the jurisdictions of Northern Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, Scotland and Denmark were examined in order to develop an Irish strategy from "a wide range of published material". Are we about to experience the most dynamic incumbent ever in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the man who will singlehandedly write all legislation? I suspect not.

I would prefer to have a piece of draft legislation before me in this Oireachtas that was properly researched using elements of international best practice than wait for ten years for one commission after another to come up with findings. The Minister with all his resources including executive officers in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime, the victims of crime consultative forum, the balance in the criminal law review group, the DPP and the Office of the Attorney General has merely indicated that it is his intention to have legislation published in the spring of 2009. This is the same Minister who only two months ago managed to turn much of his Government's acute hospital policy for the north east on its head by saying there was not a red cent in the coffers. This is truly inspiring stuff.

I congratulate Deputies Shatter and Charles Flanagan on their work on this Bill. For far too long the victims of crime have not had the support of both the law and the institutions of the State on their side. This Bill as proposed goes a long way towards redressing that balance and deals with all impacts that the committing of a crime has on the individual. The specific elements of the proposed legislation have been outlined during this debate. These are distinct measures that for the first time enshrine the rights of victims of crime in Irish law. Having the legislation on the Statute Book is one important conclusion in this process. Sending out the clear message in adopting this legislation that a victim of crime, as a citizen, can expect to be treated properly by the State, is of equal importance and will go some way towards altering the imbalances we now experience in our criminal justice system. I strongly support the Bill.

I compliment Deputies Shatter and Flanagan for bringing this Bill before the Dáil. The Government and the Minister have a cheek to question the credentials of Deputy Shatter, who has brought more than 20 Bills through this House. In the past, Governments had the courage to accept those Bills and put down the necessary amendments on Committee Stage.

The Minister should have accepted this Bill and put down the necessary amendments. He and his government talked about Bills like this for the past 20 years. He has been in government for 18 of the past 20 years and all he could come up with last week was a press conference. If he was serious about this Bill, it is in the House that he would have told us what he proposed. But no, like all Fianna Fáil Ministers, he runs out either to "Morning Ireland" or the other media because he is afraid to come here and face Members on the opposite side.

The Bill is a total cog.

What the Minister did was a disgrace.

It is a New Zealand Bill.

It was a letdown to this House. Well done to Deputy Shatter for bringing forward this necessary legislation. People are grateful to Deputy Shatter.

This is highbrow stuff.

Families have suffered over the years. When criminals commit murders and serious crime, the Government provides free legal aid and all kinds for medical aid for them. The victims were forgotten.

It is a total cog, word for word and line by line. He was found out.

Deputy Ring, without interruption.

The Minister never wrote a bit of legislation in his life because he had to depend on the officials——

Like the New Zealand officials who wrote it.

——just like the backbenchers who cannot come to the House and speak off the cuff. They have to get prepared speeches written by their programme managers. That is the best they can do.

This is not the classroom where he can cog his homework.

The Minister should do the honourable thing and accept the Bill. Deputy Shatter has brought forward much good legislation. The Minster is a small man with a small mind. He should accept the Bill.

I will not accept a New Zealand Bill.

The Minister is incapable of writing one himself.

I thank the Deputies on this side of the House who have expressed support for the Bill in all the different parties which have been represented. I also recognise the groups represented in the Public Gallery. Many of them are individuals who devote a huge amount of their time to assisting victims of crime. They came here yesterday and today with some hope that there might be a realistic approach to this issue by the Government but they have been sadly let down. The reality is that the victims of crime are now to be made victims of the political pettiness of an arrogant and incompetent Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

I likened the Minister's intellectual approach to the Bill yesterday to that of Homer Simpson. I want to revise my judgment in that regard because the Minister might be better described as "McDowell light." The Minister's victims initiative as announced last week could be a tribute to George Orwell in the language he used in1984 to describe how people deal with issues. It was not so much a justice for victims initiative but an initiative to block a Bill designed to bring justice for victims of crime.

We had the extraordinary spectacle today of the Deputies opposite welcoming a press conference and a promise, which is quite unique in a debate on legislation in this House, as far as I can recall. The reality is that there is no similarity between the rights Fine Gael wishes to provide for victims in our Victims' Rights Bill and the proposals announced last Thursday by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In his refusal to put party politics to one side and take a bipartisan approach to essential legislation, the Minister is unnecessarily delaying giving to victims of crime the rights to which they are entitled. Even if he delivers on his proposals, the Minister will not give victims the recognition they deserve or the rights expressly identified in the legislation before the House.

If one carefully analyses the script from the Minister's conference last Thursday and his speech delivered in the House yesterday, it is clear he and the Government are expressly opposed to the following provisions which are contained in the Fine Gael Bill. He does not want to create an independent statutory commission for victims of crime because he will no longer be able to control it.

No. Neither does Nora Owen and the commission. The Deputy knows this. It is another quango.

He is opposed to the courts being furnished with victim impact statements prior to sentencing in the context of the vast majority of offences. He essentially wants to confine victim impact statements to bereaved family members of homicide victims and to circumstances in which they can at present be made. In this legislation, we have express provision identical to that announced by the Minister last Thursday, published by Fine Gael last January, to facilitate the giving of victim impact statements by the families of homicide victims. Today, the Minister who promised it last Thursday is voting against that exact provision.

He is also opposed to the imposition of an obligation on the DPP to keep victims informed at all stages of the criminal prosecution process of progress being made and of court events, in so far as this can be done in a manner that does not prejudice a trial. There is no possibility of such legislation being enacted by this Minister.

He is opposed to the creation of an updated statutory charter of rights for victims of crime. The commission created by the Minister——

We have it since 1995 on a non-statutory basis.

There is no statutory charter which, if it is not complied with, gives victims the right to have the failure investigated and reported upon.

This is tokenism.

There is no guarantee of funding.

The current charter, published in 1999, was to be reviewed by the Minister's commission. It has been reviewing it since 2005 but there is no explanation why an updated charter has not yet been published either for discussion purposes or to be implemented.

The Minister is opposed to the provision of a complaints system. Where victims' rights are not properly addressed and dealt with, the Minister does not want any investigation or report produced, and he is opposed to the introduction of transparency within the criminal justice system in that way. Thereby, where gardaí, the prosecution authorities, the Courts Service or the HSE get it wrong in providing the type of service that Deputy Enright discussed this evening for rape victims, the Minister is opposed to ensuring that is investigated and a report produced so in future it is put right and the same mistakes are not repeated.

The Minister is opposed to the creation of a statutory obligation to inform all victims of an application made to the parole board by a convicted offender for early release and he is opposed to enabling and extending the right to all victims to make a submission to the parole board. He is opposed to the creation of a statutory obligation to inform victims when an offender escapes or is being released. He is also opposed to the imposition of a statutory obligation on the Director of Public Prosecutions to explain to victims of crime the reason for not initiating a prosecution in a case affecting them or the reason for accepting a guilty plea on a lesser charge than the one originally prosecuted.

These are rights that victims of crime have in the United Kingdom, where the Crown Prosecution Service has created a protocol and procedures and they are reflected in legislation that is enacted there. The Minister wants to deny to victims of crime in this State not just rights that victims of crime have in New Zealand but rights they have in many states in the United States, in many parts of Australia, in the United Kingdom and in many European Union countries.

The Minister has promised that next year he will introduce legislation to confer a statutory right on bereaved family members of a homicide victim. As I said earlier, he has promised to introduce legislation on that specific area which is directly replicated and contained in the Fine Gael Bill. I would not be so asinine or foolish——

The New Zealanders are already saying that legislation is out of date. It is out of date.

I would not be so asinine or foolish as to accuse the Minister of trying to copy our legislation. This is legislation needed for the benefit of victims of crime. However, I criticise the Minister for making an announcement on a Thursday of the need for legislation in that area and on the following Wednesday, voting against legislation that not only recognises the need, but remedies the defect and gives the victims the rights to which they are entitled.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

The Minister is guilty, not just of incompetence——

The Deputy's time has expired.

——but of cynicism——

The New Zealanders say their legislation is out of date. It is out of date and the Deputy knows that.

——and of debasing our political processes and of debasing this House——

Every section is replicated.

——by his infantile, party-political, foolish approach to this Bill.

Every section of the New Zealand legislation is replicated and I have a document to prove it.

The Minister is a disgrace.

The Minister is being petty.

The Deputy's time has expired.

I will make that document available to the House.

The Minister should sit down. He has already made a fool of himself. We will not tolerate the diversionary, camouflage tactics he has used to mask the fact that he and his Government are opposed to providing statutory rights to victims of crime——

I can make the document available to show everyone, now and in the future, that it is a cog. The Deputy was found out. He led everyone to believe that he was consulting when he actually cogged from New Zealand.

——and opposed to implementing the provisions of the European framework decision on the issue.

The Deputy copied the New Zealand legislation. He cannot get away from that. He cannot deny it.

The Minister is opposed to giving to victims of crime rights to which they are entitled and should have been given many years ago, under the United Nations Declaration of 1985.

It is lazy legislation.

It is better than no legislation.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

It is lazy and the Deputy is trying to cover up now.

For the information of Members and for future reference, Members should not, during debate, refer to visitors in the Public Gallery.

Question put.
The Dáil divided by electronic means.

We are giving the Government another chance to vote with the Opposition on this very important Bill.

A Deputy

To redeem themselves.

As a teller, under Standing Order 69 I propose that the vote be taken by other than electronic means.

As Deputy Kehoe is a Whip, under Standing Order 69 he is entitled to call a vote through the lobby.

Question again put: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 53; Níl, 70.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Sheehan, P. J.
  • Sherlock, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Behan, Joe.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Conlon, Margaret.
  • Connick, Seán.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Michael.
  • Flynn, Beverley.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kennedy, Michael.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Edward.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • O’Sullivan, Christy.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • White, Mary Alexandra.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared lost.