Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Nov 2010

Vol. 722 No. 2

Other Questions

Prison Committals

Jim O'Keeffe


42 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform the number of prisoners in each of our prisons and penal institutions, for which latest figures are available, and the approximate average annual cost per prisoner in each such institution [42830/10]

On 15 November 2010, there were 4,416 prisoners in custody as compared to a bed capacity of 4,430. This represents an occupancy level of 100%. A table detailing the numbers in custody in each prison is being provided to the Deputy.

It should be noted that the Irish Prison Service does not record or breakdown costs per individual prison, rather figures are based on three categories, namely, open prison, closed prison and high security prison. Loughan House and Shelton Abbey are open prisons. Portlaoise Prison is the only high security prison in the jurisdiction. The cost per available staffed prison space in open prisons in 2009 was €50,521, representing a 16% decrease on the cost in 2008, which was €60,150. The cost per available staffed prison space in closed prisons in 2009 was €79,308, representing a 13% decrease on the 2008 figure, which was €90,837. The cost per available staffed prison space in the high security prison was €75,892, representing a 51% decrease on the 2008 figure, which was €155,306. The average cost of an available staffed prison space during 2009 was €77,222, representing a decrease of 16.7% on the 2008 figure, which was €92,717.

The decrease in average cost is attributed to the following two factors, namely, a decrease in total costs of €17.7 million, of which €15.5 million relates to pay costs and an increase in bed capacity of 495, from 3,611 as at 31 December 2008 to 4,106 as at 31 December 2009. I am sure the Deputy will agree there has been a substantial increase in the number of beds in the system.

Consistent with calculations in previous years, costs which are not under the direct control of the Irish Prison Service have been excluded. Teachers' salary costs are, therefore, excluded from this exercise as these costs are not provided for under the prisons budget allocation. Similarly, capital expenditure, including building-equipment assets and small works, is excluded from the calculations in the interest of facilitating comparison between prison types.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Irish Prison Service has been engaged in an extensive programme of investment in prisons infrastructure involving the modernisation of the existing estate and the provision of extra prison spaces. Since 1997, in excess of 1,930 new prison spaces have come on stream in the prison system. These include the new prisons in Castlerea, the Midlands, Cloverhill, the Dóchas Centre and new accommodation in Limerick, Portlaoise, Castlerea, Mountjoy and most recently Wheatfield prisons and at the open centres in Shelton Abbey and Loughan House. In addition, the Irish Prison Service has completed the renovation of an unused landing in Limerick female prison which has provided an extra 14 cells with in-cell sanitation.

The Irish Prison Service plans to commence construction later this year on a new accommodation block in the Portlaoise-Midlands prisons complex, which will provide 300 prison spaces in 2012. Also in the short term, work is due to commence on converting an administrative building on the Dóchas site into a new accommodation block which will provide 70 spaces in the near future. The Government is fully committed to developing a new prison campus at Thornton Hall, County Dublin.

Numbers in custody on 15 November, 2010

Prison/Place of Detention

Number in Custody

Arbour Hill








Dóchas Centre




Limerick (female)


Loughan House








Shelton Abbey


St. Patrick’s Institution


Training Unit






On the number of people in our prisons, do I get the impression that there is an inexorable rise in the number of people going to prison, which impacts on lowering the average cost? Is it a cause of concern to the Minister that these figures appear to be increasing and what steps, if any, are being taken — I accept the Fines Act was introduced but I do not know how operational it is — from the point of ensuring that minor offenders are not sent to prison, in particular in respect of non-payment of minor fines such as having no television licence and so on?

Perhaps the Minister would update the House on other proposals in this area. Does the Government propose to progress the disastrous Thornton Hall project, in regard to which €30 million was wasted on the purchase of land worth approximately €5 million or €6 million at the time and which may now only be worth half that amount? Is that project on hold or is this to be more money down the drain?

Deputy O'Keeffe's second question has broadened the scope of the question tabled.

A response in regard to a later question deals with the issue of Thornton Hall. I have tried to deal with the issue of prison committals in the long, medium and short term, the long term response being Thornton Hall. A response to a later question in regard to Thornton Hall clearly indicates that the Government is moving on Thornton Hall. It is expected that, all things being equal, the first prison cells in Thornton Hall will be available in 2014. The access road is almost complete and a contract in regard to work on provision of the on-site facilities will shortly be put out to tender. Further information on this matter is provided in the response to a later question. Also, a contract for the perimeter wall will be put out to tender some time in the new year. We will then commence construction of the first of three phases, which will provide 400 cells which, as the cells are big, will provide accommodation for 700 people.

On the medium term response, significant progress has been made in regard to the extension of the Midlands Prison, which will provide 300 extra cells. It is hoped that construction will commence later this year on a new accommodation block at the Portlaoise Prison complex, which will provide 300 spaces. I recently opened a new wing at Wheatfield Prison, which is a credit to all concerned. It is the most modern prison facility in Europe. As far as I can recall, the wing provides more than 100 new spaces. The conversion of an administrative building on the Dóchas site into new prison accommodation will provide 70 extra spaces and renovation of an unused landing at Limerick female prison has provided an extra 14 cells with in-cell sanitation.

In the short term, we have changed the legislation to try to prevent people being sent to prison for non-payment of civil debt and fines under the Fines Act.

The Minister has not introduced garnishee orders.

Leaving aside Thornton Hall and whether the Minister or I will ever see it completed, is the Minister satisfied that it is the correct thrust of policy to seek to continue to provide more prison cells? Why are we not dealing with the situation of minor offenders not being incarcerated in prison? Why are we not dealing with the situation of more prisoners being incarcerated in open prisons, which are significantly cheaper per prisoner than is the closed prison regime of which the Minister has spoken?

It is the case that numbers have risen exponentially during the past number of years. This is as a result of there being more Garda and Garda activity on the streets. Garda numbers have increased from 11,500 to 14,600.

It is evidence of more crime.

Perhaps Deputy Rabbitte is dense. The fact that there are more Garda on the streets means there is more Garda, court and judicial activity. The increase in the number of cases before the District Court is as a result of increased activity and investment.

Do I take it then that the way to reduce crime is to reduce the number of judges and gardaí?

Given this, many more people are being convicted. It is the case that——

More people are banged up.

The people are being convicted because they have committed a crime.

Please allow the Minister to continue with interruption.

——as much as possible in regard to young people is being done. There are 100 juvenile diversion projects in place around the country to try to divert young people away from crime.

We are well over time on this question.

Ultimately, if a young person commits a crime he or she will be sent to prison. Plans are progressing on the provision of a new detention centre for those under 18 at Oberstown. How many prisoners who should currently feature in jail as part of the figures the Minister has given Deputy Jim O'Keeffe are absconding? There were 401 absconding prisoners as of September as far as I can recollect. Is that still the number?

Why was a new circular issued by him to the Prison Service indicating that when people were brought to prison and arrested for non-payment of finds, they should literally be taken in the front door, their names and addresses taken and then released without ever being placed in a cell in order that they would not feature on the list of those on temporary release? Does the Minister agree that such an approach says to any person in this State on whom a fine is imposed with the alternative of a prison sentence that whether he or she pays it in full, partly pays it or pays none of it, there will be no consequences and he or she has complete impunity? The Minister's actions in this area have brought the criminal justice system into disrepute, they are a waste of time for the Garda, the courts, court clerks and the Prison Service and they are a total and utter disgrace.

The Deputy's point is made. We are well over time again.

At any time, there are a number of people who have absconded for whatever reason. For example, people who are due to report to a Garda station are regarded as having breached the warrant issued if they fail to do so and every effort is made by the Garda to apprehend them. That has always been the case, no matter who has been in office.

How many have absconded? Is it more or less than 400?

That is not part of the question asked.

I do not have the figures. The Deputy did not ask that question.

The Minister does not care that people have absconded.

The Deputy should allow the Minister to conclude.

I would have thought that is a basic question the Minister would know the answer to.

The Deputy should allow the Minister to speak.

If I was Minister for Justice and Law Reform, I would want to know how many prisoners had walked out of prisoner——

The Deputy will not ignore the Chair. I call the Minister to conclude.

I have forgotten the other issue because of the interruptions.

The fines issue.

We have passed an innovative Fines Act which will commence——-

The Minister is not excluding people who are arrested——

There is no point in asking a question if the Deputy will not listen to the answer.

On a point of order, we know about the Minister's Fines Act. I have asked about a different issue. Garda time is being wasted as patrol cars drive people to Mountjoy Prison. They are then sent home again and they never have to pay their fine. It is a farce.

I have already said the Deputy will not ignore the Chair. On the next occasion, I will ask him to leave the House.

The Minister is engaging in fiction again.

The Deputy should get real.

It is the Minister's favourite pursuit.

I hope the Deputy has not arrived into the House to add to the disorder.

Missing Persons

Charles Flanagan


43 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform his views on the establishment of a missing children’s helpline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42828/10]

An Garda Síochána is responsible for the investigation of persons, including of course children, reported missing in circumstances which give rise to concern. The Garda emergency numbers, 112 and 999, are available for this purpose. In line with a commitment in the Programme for Government 2007, I asked the Garda Síochána Inspectorate to examine current Garda practice with regard to missing persons. The inspectorate found overall that Garda systems for handling missing persons cases are in line with international best practice. It made 18 recommendations on how these systems can be further enhanced, and their implementation is well advanced.

The recommendations did not include the establishment of a helpline of the kind referred to by the Deputy, although I do not suggest that the inspectorate would be opposed to such a development. A missing persons helpline is operated by Missing in Ireland Support Services, which can deal with cases of missing children. The Deputy may have in mind the telephone number 116000, which has been reserved by the European Commission as a common number for missing children hotlines in EU member states. Member states are obliged to reserve the number and promote it, encourage the provision of the service, ensure that citizens are adequately informed about it and make every effort to ensure that citizens have access to a service. They are not, however, obliged to ensure the service is provided.

In fulfilment of these obligations, the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, has advertised on a number of occasions, inviting prospective service providers — in effect voluntary organisations — that feel they are qualified to offer the service to apply for allocation of the number. They have not been in a position to allocate the number so far. I have asked my Department to keep in contact with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources about this matter.

In expressing disappointment at the Minister's reply, I remind him of his statement on 14 April 2009 when announcing——

The Deputy knows quoting is not allowed. He can refer to the statement.

He can summarise.

I remind the Minister of his statement wherein he announced he was giving the go-ahead to what was described as the amber alert system in respect of missing children. This has resulted in inaction on his part since the announcement. On the matter of emergency numbers, why did the Minister not refer to the setting up of the 116000 helpline, which is common in other EU jurisdictions? The aim of this would be to provide an emergency alarm number that would be known by the citizens not only of this jurisdiction but also of jurisdictions throughout the EU but the Minister has failed in that regard.

I welcome the inspectorate's recommendation on the amber alert and I gave the go-ahead for the establishment of an alert system.

What happened to the go-ahead?

The Garda is currently exploring options to achieve the most appropriate structure to give effect to the recommendation taking account of progress at international level in the development of alert systems for missing children that will explore cross-jurisdictional dimensions.

With regard to the issue of the European number, ComReg has allocated that number and it has invited——

There has been no take-up.

Perhaps it is safer to say that ComReg has not been able to allocate it and this matter will be kept under review by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and ComReg.

Will the Minister confirm there is a designated officer in each Garda division in which there is situated a residence in the form of a care home for children dealing with missing children? If not, why not?

How many children are currently missing in this jurisdiction?

That is an extension of the question, which is specific.

It is essential in the context of a reply.

I have been informed by the Garda that between 2001 and 1 November 2010, the number recorded of missing persons who are under 18 years was 352.

A number of them were found in the meantime.

With regard to the issue of missing children, there is a joint Garda-HSE protocol on the roles and responsibilities of both agencies in regard to children missing from care. It was agreed in April 2009 and it relates to the establishment of a Garda local liaison role with HSE placements and this is working extremely well. The role includes a mechanism to identify children in care who are reported missing frequently and raises the possibility of referring such cases to the appropriate level of authority in both organisations.

Is there a designated officer? That has not been confirmed.

Yes, there is a local liaison role, which is that of a designated officer. The HSE has commenced a process to change its model of care for separated minors such that they can avail of foster care and residential arrangements across a broader spectrum than previously available. A protocol which provides for a review of its implementation is currently ongoing between the Garda and the HSE.

Criminal Legal Aid

Leo Varadkar


44 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform the estimated annual cost to the State of the Legal Aid board administering the criminal legal aid scheme; if Heads of a Bill have yet been prepared to make provision for the Legal Aid Board administering the criminal legal aid scheme; when he expects to publish and circulate the required Bill before the House; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42835/10]

I am glad to be able to inform the Deputy that my proposals are to include in the criminal justice (legal aid) Bill, referred to in the Government legislation programme, provisions to enable the transfer from my Department to the Legal Aid Board of responsibility for the administration and management of criminal legal aid. Drafting of the Bill is in the course of being finalised with a view to publication in this session.

My aim in the Bill is to strengthen the system of granting legal aid. It will, among other matters, better regulate the taking of statements of means, increase the sanction for false declarations and allow the board to verify the means of applicants and to prosecute cases of abuse. The board will be in a position to explore the method by which legal services are delivered. I am in consultation with the Attorney General with a view to making as many changes as possible in the system of criminal legal aid, consistent with the requirements of the Constitution. The details of my final proposals will be announced by way of the publication of at least the heads of the Bill in the near future.

The transfer to the board of responsibility for criminal legal aid should not result in any additional cost to the Exchequer. Moreover, the overall effect of the Bill when fully implemented should result in savings. Having regard to its very significant cost to the Exchequer, I am determined to achieve a system of criminal legal aid that is subject to more stringent checks and balances.

Will the Minister advise us on what the calculated savings will be, as he said this will result in savings?

We will not know until the Bill is implemented but criminal legal aid has risen exponentially over the past number of years. It is a demand-led scheme and the Bill will put in place checks and balances relating to the granting of it under the Constitution. There is case law relating to it showing clearly that if a person coming before the courts does not have proper means, he or she will be entitled to representations. That was confirmed recently in the Carmody case. This will legislate for scenarios like the Carmody case and also put in place new systems, including one I proposed to my officials. I understood it was not the practice of the existing criminal legal aid system for a defendant to be asked to produce a PPS number but that will be a requirement under new legislation. That is one small changes but there are other major changes to bring it under the remit of the Legal Aid Board, which is willing to take on this work in order to have better administration of the overall scheme.

The Minister is aware that the current criminal legal aid scheme operates on the basis that application is made to the court, usually at District Court level. Legal aid would be granted and the District Court judge would make a decision. That does not involve a large bureaucracy in administering the system.

Will the Minister outline how many additional employees will be required in the Legal Aid Board to administer a criminal legal aid scheme? Has he calculated within the cost savings the likely adjournments that will take place of criminal trials while the Legal Aid Board processes criminal legal aid applications? Is he aware of the fact that in dealing with civil litigation, particularly in the family law area, within the existing law centres there are often substantial delays before legal aid applications are processed, which result in cases being delayed in coming to final hearing in the courts? Has the Minister factored in the cost impact of this with regard to Garda time and the delays in criminal proceedings being heard, with the possibility of individuals who are repeat offenders being on bail longer than is desirable, continuing to offend while awaiting determination of legal aid applications?

As Minister I am very conscious of the need to ensure that savings are made in this budget, which as I stated has increased exponentially despite the fact that the level of fees paid has reduced over the past two years by 8% and by a further 8%. The bill continues to rise. This comes back to the earlier point that there is more activity in the courts. Under the Constitution it is the case that somebody is entitled to representation if it is shown that the person does not have means for representation.

There is some disquiet in the general public for the way in which it is sometimes perceived that people are getting criminal legal aid but not entitled to it. I do not say this in any disparaging way with regard to administration by judges but I am trying to ensure that those who require criminal legal aid from the taxpayer are deserving of it. I suggest that the Deputy wait until the heads of the Bill are published and he will see that we are very conscious of the need to ensure it does not increase adjournments and the process will not dramatically change the system.

I wish to allow Deputy Rabbitte a brief supplementary question.

At least there will be better checks and balances in administration.

Deputy Rabbitte has been called.

A number of staff in my Department will be seconded to the Legal Aid Board.

I remind Members that under Standing Orders they are allowed a minute to put a question. I have been allowing three times that and we are still not making great progress.

It has been a pattern of the Minister's successive periods in Government that quangos and agencies have been established to do work previously done by the administrative government. If it is the case that additional staff prove necessary to fund this transfer of the criminal legal aid scheme, will the staff be transferred from existing State service?

I was trying to reply to Deputy Shatter. It is anticipated that a number of existing staff in my Department will be moved to the Legal Aid Board. The board may have additional requirements contracted in but I do not anticipate a significant increase in staff because of the way in which we intend to administer the scheme through the Legal Aid Board. We are somewhat constrained by the constitutional requirement to ensure that somebody who does not have means is represented in court.

Juvenile Offenders

Joe Carey


45 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform in light of the ten different community sanctions that have been imposed by the courts as part of the provisions of the Children Act 2001, if these community sanctions are available nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43041/10]

The Deputy may be aware that the ten community sanctions listed in section 115 of the Children Act 2001, as amended, include a range of measures which would normally involve a level of supervision of the young person by a probation officer. These may include, for example, involvement of the young person's parents or attendance by the young person at a specified training course, residential supervision or mentoring. They also include restriction on movement order, which is effectively a curfew overseen by An Garda Síochána.

Young persons probation, YPP, is a specialised division of the probation service with dedicated resources to work with children aged 12 to 18 who come before the courts. It was established to implement the sections of the Children Act 2001 relating to young persons probation in conjunction with the Irish Youth Justice Service. The young persons probation division of the probation service was extended in 2008 to provide a national service from bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Drogheda and Sligo. This has allowed for the community sanctions to be made available nationwide.

It is important to note that the imposition of any particular sanction is a matter for the courts. YPP assists the court through making recommendations which outline the most appropriate community disposal for consideration, based on a full evaluation and risk assessment. At a local level managers and officers liaise with the sitting Judiciary and Courts Service staff in regard to the provision of community sanctions.

Information on sanctions imposed by the courts on young offenders is published each year in the annual report of the Courts Service. These reports are available on the Courts Service website and in the Oireachtas Library. The most recent such report is in respect of the year 2009. Related information is also available in the probation service annual report, the most recent of which is also in respect of the year 2009. This report is available on the probation service website and also in the Oireachtas Library.

I thank the Minister for his reply and welcome that these services have been extended nationwide. The implementation of anti-social behaviour orders has been a complete failure, with three handed down to young people over three years. That is one per year. Does the Minister feel the legislation relating to such orders should be reviewed as it is a failure? Will he give a commitment to review that legislation?

Every piece of legislation is reviewed. If the Garda Síochána brings to my attention some unease with regard to any piece of legislation we will have a look at it with the Attorney General. In this regard, there are approximately ten community sanctions, including the community service order, day centre order, probation order, training or activity programme order, intensive supervision order, residential supervision order, a suitable person care and supervision order, a mentor family support order, a restriction of movement order — which is, in effect, a curfew — and a dual order.

With regard to ASBOs, there was a discussion in the House earlier and I beg to differ with anyone who suggests that because only three orders were granted, this is in some way an indication of a lack of success. Some 1,541 behaviour warnings have been issued by the Garda Síochána. The principle behind ASBOs is that of an incremental process in order to ensure as much as possible that children are not brought to court. The was to prevent them going to court under a criminal sanction and the graduated approach to ASBOs is to ensure they do not end up in court under another procedure.

I accept that. It is proper that young people would be dealt with in that way and that they would be given a chance. Three ASBOs have been handed down. Is it the same position with behaviour orders? Do the courts hand them down? How many community service orders, day care orders, day centre orders or training and activity orders have been handed down by the courts in this period? If so, what will happen? How will the Minister stop young people terrorising vulnerable old people in their homes? ASBOs are not having an effect and this activity is continuing.

To suggest that ASBO legislation is the only implement used by the Garda Síochána to prevent people being interfered with in their homes or in regard to anti-social behaviour is not correct as there are other means. The question put down by the Deputy in regard to the ten community sanctions clearly indicates that this is another modus operandi in regard to intervening with young people who commit crimes.

The Courts Service annual report of 2009 states that 30 juvenile defendants were given community service, 280 received probation orders and a further 560 received non-supervised sanctions, which included fines, peace bonds and disqualification. However, when considering the effectiveness of community sanctions, a key issue is the number of detention orders given. In 2009, 405 defendants received a detention order compared with 537 in 2007, which shows a significant reduction in the proportion of defendants receiving a detention order. Some 16% of juvenile defendants received a detention order in 2008 compared with 20% in 2007. The probation and welfare service annual report of 2009 shows that a further 418 young people were given orders for probation supervision during deferment of penalty.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.