Other Questions

Programmes for Government

Michael McGrath


6 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when the new property database which is intended to track and record market trends and house prices will be established. [7070/11]

The programme for a national Government, covering 2011 to 2016, contains a commitment to improve the quality of information available on the housing market by requiring that the selling price of all dwellings be recorded in a publicly available national housing price database. I intend to give effect to this commitment by assigning statutory responsibility for publishing details of residential property sales prices to the Property Services Regulatory Authority.

The Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009, which was published by the previous Government, provides for the establishment of this authority and is currently awaiting Dáil Committee Stage. I had the Bill re-entered in order that the House might progress it. I intend to table amendments to the Bill which will have the effect of expanding the authority's statutory functions to include the publication of residential property sales prices, as I had advocated from the Opposition side of the House. This information will be supplied to the authority on an ongoing basis by the Revenue Commissioners who are in receipt of the relevant information for stamp duty purposes.

As Deputies may know, the Bill has already passed through the Seanad. I look forward to the debate in the select committee and thereafter in the House, with a view to the early enactment of the legislation. For a number of years I have favoured the establishment of such a database and, particularly in the context of the current market difficulties, it will provide a valuable insight into the state of the property market.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I agree this will be a very valuable tool and a badly needed source of information given that the property market is stagnant at present.

The Minister stated he intended to re-enter the Bill. Can he provide a date for that?

I understand the Bill has been restored to the Dáil Order Paper although I am open to correction on this. Unfortunately, we cannot start Committee Stage until the committees are formed. As a select committee of the House will derive, ultimately, from a joint Oireachtas committee, we are somewhat stymied in establishing joint committees until we know the outcome of the Seanad elections. I hope the Bill will be taken in very early course when the committees have been formed.

Legal Profession

Denis Naughten


7 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the plans he has to reform the public complaints system for the legal profession; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7010/11]

The programme for Government 2011-2016 undertakes to "establish independent regulation of the legal profession to improve access and competition, make legal costs more transparent and ensure adequate procedures for addressing consumer complaints".

These undertakings complement those structural reforms in the EU-IMF programme of financial support for Ireland aimed at removing restrictions to trade and competition relating to the legal professions and legal costs, namely, to establish an independent regulator for the legal professions and implement the recommendations of the legal costs working group; and to implement the outstanding Competition Authority recommendations in order to reduce legal costs.

I intend to give effect to the various commitments I mentioned by way of the Legal Services Bill which is referred to in the Government legislation programme, announced by the Chief Whip on 5 April. The commitment of the Government is to a strategy that is comprehensive, provides more independent regulation of the legal professions, better regulates legal costs and ensures that the complaints procedures are as effective as possible. The strategy, when implemented, will improve the overall system of delivery of legal services in the State.

In the context of the Bill, I am giving consideration to the question of extending the functions of the legal services ombudsman whose functions at present include the review of the handling by the Law Society and the Bar Council of complaints about solicitors and barristers, respectively, as detailed in that legislation. Of course, although the Bill was enacted in 2009, a legal services ombudsman has not yet been appointed. The outgoing Government had not made that appointment.

Subject to necessary consultations, the consideration of the proposals by the Attorney General and Government approval being obtained, I expect to be in a position to announce details of the Bill's proposals in the not too distant future. It is my objective that the Bill will be before the House for discussion, if not shortly prior to the summer vacation certainly very early following the Dáil's subsequent reconvening.

Sentencing Policy

Willie O'Dea


8 Deputy Willie O’Dea asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his position on mandatory sentencing in general; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7069/11]

The traditional approach to sentencing is for the Oireachtas to lay down the maximum penalty and for a court, having considered all the circumstances of the case, to impose an appropriate penalty up to that maximum. There are a small number of situations, however, where statute has created exceptions to this approach. As mentioned, mandatory sentencing requirements apply in a limited number of cases, most notably in section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990 which states: "A person convicted of treason or murder shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life."

There are other provisions relating to drug trafficking and firearms offences where a presumptive mandatory minimum sentence applies. As mentioned, where the court is satisfied there are exceptional and specific circumstances which would make a particular minimum sentence unjust, a different sentence can be applied. The type of circumstances which a court may consider would include whether and when the accused pleaded guilty, and whether he or she assisted the investigation of the offence.

My Department has already commenced a public consultation process to develop a White Paper on crime which will present a policy framework for future strategies to combat and prevent crime. Part of the public consultation process focused on criminal sanctions, including the subject of mandatory sentences. As Deputies will be aware, the programme for Government committed the new Government to review the whole area of mandatory sentencing.

The Law Reform Commission has also been asked to examine and, if appropriate, recommend reforms in the law in regard to mandatory sentences. I understand the commission hopes to publish a consultation paper on this subject later this year. The work I described as being already under way will feed into the overall review of mandatory sentencing to which the Government is committed. When that work is complete any necessary legislative reforms can be brought before the House.

Garda Operations

Jonathan O'Brien


9 Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to make changes to the operation of joint policing committees including giving consideration to granting greater powers to such bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7048/11]

The functions and powers of joint policing committees, JPCs, are set out in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which provides for a committee in each local authority area. The committees provide the framework for a partnership process involving the Garda Síochána and elected members and officials of the local authority — the two organisations that make the most significant contribution to preventing crime in an area — with the participation of Members of the Oireachtas and of the community and voluntary sector. The Act provides that JPCs will operate under guidelines issued by the Minister for Justice and Equality after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Garda Síochána has established a Garda national JPC monitoring office as a focal point for its involvement in the work of the committees.

The guidelines under which the JPCs currently operate were issued by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in September 2008, following a two year pilot phase involving 29 committees. The new programme for Government makes a commitment to build on existing community policing partnerships and forums to enhance trust between local communities and the Garda. Accordingly, I believe it is appropriate to commence a review of the operation of the committees in conjunction with the Garda Síochána, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the local authorities. The review will take place in the context of the commitments in the programme for Government to reform local government. In that regard, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, stated he intends to publish at an early date a policy statement on local government, outlining government policy for an action programme to renew and develop the local government system. The joint policing committees will be relevant in that regard.

Is there a timescale for the review?

As I must continually remind Deputies, the Government has only been in place for four weeks. Rome was not built in a day, we cannot address every issue in the programme for Government immediately but the work on that is under way and work was done on the issue prior to the general election. As soon as he can, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will bring forward the review.

Is there a timeframe for the committees that have been established? We see such pilot schemes going on for years.

The Minister spoke about the local authority policing committees. There is also a substructure with pilot schemes in particular areas. Is there any flexibility? Who decides what areas are chosen? I am on two committees in south Dublin and one of them covers Fettercairn and Brookeview but not the adjoining estates. There does not seem to be any structure to the area covered and it is not clear how decisions are made to choose two or three estates. Who makes these decisions, the local authority, the policing board or the Garda authorities?

The pilot phase is essentially over. Once they were completed, general guidelines were introduced and each local authority can now operate a joint policing committee. The legislation prescribes a minimum number of meetings but no maximum for the committees. I was briefly a member of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown committee and I know it is up to the members of the policing committees to control the agendas, the numbers of meetings held and the issues to be discussed. There is no reason some part of the south Dublin committee area should be excluded from consideration.

Some local authorities are attaching more importance to the committees than others, with some seeing them as an important part of the local architecture while others see them as a nuisance and hold the minimum number of meetings. If the joint policing committee in any area is not operating satisfactorily, it is within the competence of the members of that committee to set an agenda and to determine the number of meetings to be held. The Garda authorities are more than happy to co-operate with them.

Richard Boyd Barrett


10 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a company (details supplied) has established check points and roadblocks in the Rossport area of north west County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7060/11]

I take it that the Deputy is referring in his question to public roads as it is generally open to companies to take whatever security measures are appropriate in relation to their own property.

The permission of the local authority is required before any person or company may lawfully set up a checkpoint or roadblock on a public road. As far as I have been able to ascertain, no such application was made to Mayo County Council and consequently no such permission was granted.

Furthermore, I am informed by the Garda authorities that they are not aware of any checkpoints or road blocks being performed by non-Garda personnel in the Rossport area. In addition, as the Deputy is no doubt aware the Garda regularly patrol the area and they have not observed any such checkpoints or roadblocks.

The Garda authorities also state that no complaints relating to any such activities have been reported to them. If anyone has information or evidence of checkpoints or roadblocks being established on public roads which have not been authorised, I urge them to report that to the Garda.

It may be helpful to reiterate that the aim of the Garda is to ensure that, on the one hand, Shell E&P and its contractors can go about their lawful business and, on the other, that the right to peaceful protest of those who may be opposed to the development can be facilitated while maintaining public peace and order. I support that aim against the background of the importance to the national gas network and to the economy more generally of having the pipeline completed.

The additional cost in overtime and allowances of the policing operation to date is €14.245 million. These figures do not include the basic salaries of the members who performed duty at the Corrib gas project. The majority of this cost is accounted for by overtime, allowance and travel and subsistence payments. It is disproportionate that it has proved necessary to incur such expenditure which is a consequence of the behaviour of some protestors. It would be preferable if such Garda resources could be utilised in the fight against drug gangs and in community policing initiatives. Given the numbers and the actions of the protesters, a significant number of gardaí have had to be deployed on the policing operation.

There is something very wrong with how the gardaí are behaving in the Rossport area and with how they are allowing private security companies that are working for Shell Oil to treat protestors. When I submitted this question it was on the basis of reports that IRMS, a private security company working for Shell, was putting up checkpoints on main roads and vetting traffic that was going past in the interests of Shell. Since then we have had the shocking episode where two young protestors were arrested and subjected to obscene language by two gardaí, who talked about the possibility of raping young women in their custody. This comes on top of years of similar reports to the Garda Ombudsman, most of which have been dismissed, of physical assaults of protestors and reports of attacks on those involved in the protests by masked men.

This is a serious situation. Human rights organisations from all over the world that have gone to Mayo have expressed extreme concern about the behaviour of gardaí and private security companies in the area. While we cannot judge from this point the exact rights and wrongs of the case, I ask the Minister to accede to the requests of people in the Erris and Rossport area for an international, independent inquiry to look at policing and the activities of private security companies employed by Shell in the area and how they are treating peaceful protestors campaigning against the attempt to force a pipeline through their land and the taking of gas resources off the west coast. Is it not time for an independent, international investigation?

I have no information about private security companies vetting traffic on main roads. On the matter raised by the Deputy about the allegations in respect of Garda conduct towards two young women, it is incorrect to say they were directly subjected, as the Deputy put it, to obscene language, but there are allegations of an event occurring in the context of gardaí travelling in a car in which those arrested were not present and which was recorded on a video device.

This matter was brought to the attention of the Garda Commissioner last Monday. A superintendent was appointed to conduct inquiries and the Commissioner sent me a report on the matter this morning, in accordance with his responsibilities under section 41(1)(b) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. A copy of that report has also been forwarded to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which is carrying out its own inquiry into the matter. It is the appropriate independent body to carry out such an inquiry.

Without prejudice to the investigation of the Ombudsman Commission, the Garda Commissioner has informed me that he has arranged for four of the five members of the Garda Síochána identified in the superintendent's report to be transferred from their current stations to Castlebar station and confined to indoor duties in the interests of the service. The fifth garda is being confined to indoor duties in Castlebar station, which is his current station.

As the Garda Síochána Ombudsman inquiry is continuing, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the detail of the specific incident as Minister for Justice and Equality. However, I acknowledge that the Garda Commissioner has acted swiftly in dealing with the issue. Remarks of the kind reported are completely unacceptable when made by any group of people, whether made publicly or privately, and, in particular, are not acceptable when made by a member of the Garda Síochána.

It is a matter of regret to me, but not surprise, that some people have used this most regrettable and unfortunate incident to bolster a campaign of vilification against the Garda Síochána in which they have engaged since the start of the Corrib protests. The strategy appears to be simple: to harass the Garda as much as possible to impair its capacity to do its job in the hope this will frustrate the building of the pipeline. While not minimising the nature of the incident involved, nor condoning it, it is in the public interest that I state clearly my belief that the vast majority of the members of the Garda Síochána have behaved in an exemplary manner in policing the protests in Corrib and they will continue to do so.

The members of the Garda are not there through choice. They are there in the public interest to uphold the law. Their presence is, unfortunately, necessary because of the nature of the protests taking place. They are in a difficult and confrontational setting which is not of their own making and, as I mentioned earlier, the Garda operation in this location has so far cost the taxpayers in excess of €14 million.

A brief question from Deputy Joan Collins.

I wish to ask a brief supplementary.

Are you happy to yield?

Yes. I yield to Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Very briefly, Deputy Boyd Barrett. We are short on time.

Given that the issues about the behaviour of the Garda are disputed and there are many complaints against the behaviour of the Garda, specifically in this area, is it not reasonable that some independent body would come in or that independent, international observers come in and make an objective judgment on this? Is that not a reasonable request given that the matter is now disputed and the allegations about the activities of those involved are so serious? Why will the Minister not accede to an independent, international inquiry?

This House enacted legislation to establish the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. That body is independent and is appointed to conduct independent investigation and to address issues of alleged Garda misconduct. That body is engaged in this investigation at the moment. I have confidence in the capacity of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to address the issue that has arisen. It is the appropriate body to so deal with that matter.

Ceist Uimhir 11 is in the name of Deputy Niall Collins.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle——

I am sorry we are moving on. Time has expired.

I have a right to come in.

I understood the Deputy was giving way. I am sorry, time has elapsed.

It is outrageous. How can the Minister say that it is deplorable and regrettable that a campaign on the ground——

Sorry Deputy. I have called——

These people have justifiably campaigned against Shell ruining their land.

The Chair is on his feet. I have called Question No. 11.

We want the Minister to call for an independent, international inquiry into this issue.

It is not good enough. Some 111 cases have already been made to the police in recent years and nothing has come from that. People do not trust the Garda.

Deputy, the Chair is on his feet. I am sorry. I understood you were yielding to Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Garda Investigations

Niall Collins


11 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding the progress of the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank and when he expects any decision from the Director of Public Prosecutions. [7064/11]

As Deputies across the Chamber may be aware, I have in the past expressed concern about the level of progress with regard to the investigations into Anglo Irish Bank. I am most anxious that the investigations are fully and properly completed and papers in so far as is appropriate furnished to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that investigations into matters in Anglo Irish Bank are at an advanced stage. Two substantial investigation files were submitted to the DPP by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation in December 2010 and directions from the DPP are awaited. The investigation is ongoing and the investigation team continues to conduct necessary follow up inquiries in respect of the two investigations, in addition to investigations into other complaints received in respect of Anglo Irish Bank. I am also informed that the Director of Corporate Enforcement has submitted two investigation files and a number of reports to the DPP and that there is close ongoing co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

I made clear long before my appointment as Minister that I share the intense frustration which people have expressed at the length of time these investigations have taken. In saying so, I am not criticising the persons carrying out the investigations, who, I have no doubt, are taking forward what are hugely complex investigations in a professional and committed fashion. I am also conscious that as we near the stage where the DPP — who is entirely independent — is in a position to make decisions on these matters, we must be very careful in what we say and as Minister for Justice and Equality I must be especially careful.

On our appointment as a Government we identified three priorities in this area. First, we sought assurances from the people involved in the investigations that they were satisfied that they had sufficient resources. We received those assurances. Second, we made it clear that if at any stage they believed additional resources were required, that would be responded to immediately. Third, we inquired whether there were changes in the law which we could bring forward to help them in their work. In the light of that consultation, we will bring forward a criminal justice Bill in the coming weeks to address delays in the prosecution and investigation of white collar crime. All being well, I expect that Bill will be published shortly.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I agree that we are all frustrated with the length of time it has taken but we must accept, whether we are on this side of the House or in the Minister's position, that frustration and outrage is no substitute for hard evidence and hard evidence is what we need in this case. Could the DPP provide an indicative timeframe in this matter? There is a sense that it is dragging on and on. Before the Minister responds, I excuse myself because I must step out of the Chamber when the Minister finishes but I will come back.

As the Deputy is aware, the DPP is entirely independent in his function. It would be completely inappropriate for me, as Minister, to communicate about these matters directly to him. I understand and appreciate that the investigation is extremely complex and a substantial amount of documentation has had to be accessed and considered.

It is unfortunate that we did not reform our laws in these areas some years ago to provide for better and more efficient procedures to facilitate the Garda in the investigation of white collar crime and, in particular, to facilitate the Garda in the investigation of complex financial matters which give rise to this level of documentation. I trust the Bill I intend to publish will provide assistance to future such investigations, but, as it will be essentially a Bill of a procedural nature, it may also, if this investigation has not concluded by the time of its enactment, further accelerate completion of the outstanding investigations into the banking issues.

Legislative Programme

Niall Collins


12 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when he will publish legislation to ban upward only rent reviews. [7065/11]

Dara Calleary


14 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when he intends to publish legislation banning upward only rent reviews. [5973/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 14 together.

The programme for Government indicates that legislation will be introduced to end upward-only rent reviews for existing leases. I am conscious of where it appears that unrealistically high rent levels are being maintained in the retail sector and that this has consequent negative effects on business viability and on employment. Given the difficult economic circumstances which continue to prevail, I am in the process of developing a legislative proposal which would ameliorate the burden being experienced by that sector as a result of such rent levels. I have already initiated consultations with the Attorney General such that this matter can be progressed as expeditiously as possible.

In addition to the legislation which has been specified in the programme for Government, I am also conscious that one of the difficulties with rent reviews is the absence of readily accessible and accurate information to determine the market rent payable in respect of any given set of commercial premises. The Deputy will be aware that I arranged for the restoration of the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 to the Order Paper, as I mentioned earlier. The Bill is now awaiting Committee Stage. I intend to bring forward amendments to the Bill to provide for the establishment of a public database containing relevant details of letting arrangements and rent reviews in the commercial property market. This will be a particular help in providing a level of transparency that does not exist in this area at present. The Property Services Regulatory Authority will have responsibility for the management of this database.

The recommendation regarding the database was contained in a working group report which was published in August of last year. That report also contained a recommendation for the adoption, by landlords and tenants alike, of a rent review arbitration code which was drawn up by the experts who participated in the group and which was appended to the report. A particular feature of the code is that it contains detailed provisions dealing with the production of comparative evidence in relation to property transactions and it also places a firm duty on all parties to disclose all relevant information in their possession. As matters stand, parties are free to specify that the code should apply in relation to rent review arbitrations. I welcome the endorsement of the code by a number of significant stakeholders in the sector.

We all hear anecdotal evidence about this problem. Has the Minister a sense of the extent of the problem? Is it known how many companies are affected by this issue? I note what the Minister said about the promised legislation on the matter but does he know the extent of this problem?

As the Deputy will be aware, there are substantial reports, particularly from the retail sector, of businesses being in substantial difficulty in circumstances in which they negotiated rents, particularly in the 2003 to 2007 period, which no longer reflect market reality and in circumstances in which in the context of the leases to which the businesses are tied there is provision for upward only rent reviews. Certainly it has been my experience that in a number of instances the owners of premises, or the landlords, have been willing on a voluntary basis to renegotiate rents with retailers in the context of them, I presume, realising they are better off having a tenant who can pay rent than having a vacant premises.

I appreciate the Deputy said the evidence on this issue is only anecdotal. I do not believe there has been any definitive statistic published on this but certainly a substantial number of retail outlets have been closed, some of them with substantial publicity, and these are businesses that would have remained viable if landlords, and often what I describe as the larger landlords, including pension funds, had been willing to be more realistic and renegotiate. Many of these had the potential to maintain a position as viable businesses, substantial employment has been lost and there is a public interest in addressing this issue. I do not want though to mislead the House in any way. I know there are certain constitutional difficulties in this issue being addressed and these I anticipate will form part of the consultation process that will result from my initial submission to the Attorney General's office.

Crime Levels

Timmy Dooley


13 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of arrests that have been made under the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. [7067/11]

The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 entered into force, in its entirety, on 23 July 2009. The primary purpose of the Act is to provide for additional measures with respect to the combating of organised crime, including measures in aid of the investigation of such crime.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that since the enactment of the legislation there have been 117 arrests recorded to 28 February 2011 for offences relating to organised crime. Those arrests have given rise to charges being proffered against eight persons for offences contrary to section 71A — directing a criminal organisation — and section 72 — participating in organised crime — of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, as inserted by the 2009 Act. These cases are currently before the courts.

As reflected in the Garda Policing Plan for 2011, and initiatives undertaken by the Garda Síochána, tackling serious and organised crime is a priority for the Garda Síochána and the force remains resolute in this commitment. Very significant efforts and resources continue to be directed on an ongoing basis to tackling organised crime. The State will be relentless in its approach in bringing those involved in such activities to justice.

The House has, in recent times, given consideration to a number of legislative measures that were brought forward in an effort to strengthen the criminal law in relation to serious and organised crime. In addition to the measures contained in the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, further measures, including those contained in the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 in relation to the admissibility of evidence obtained by covert surveillance and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 in relation to the use of weapons, were the subject of scrutiny in the House.

The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 and other legislation introduced in recent years have made a significant contribution in tackling this type of crime. However, I am keeping under review the question of whether improvements could be made to them which would render them more effective and in particular render them more effective in dealing with the issue of criminal gangs who are creating mayhem on our streets and who have been the cause of the death of a number of people in the county and city of Dublin and outside it.

There have been 117 arrests and eight people have charges outstanding against them. Eight people seems a very low number. I appreciate there are difficulties in trying to get evidence and bring charges against people involved in organised crime. Has the Minister any proposals to help alleviate this situation to make it easier for the Garda to investigate and radically tackle organised crime?

I share the Deputy's concern with regard to the small number of prosecutions that have been initiated in this area. Ultimately, when a file goes to the Director of Public Prosecutions it is for him to determine whether it is appropriate that a prosecution be taken. This was a area to which I had given particular attention on the Opposition side of the House and arising from my concern about this matter, shortly after my appointment as Minister I asked officials in my Department specifically to review the workings of this particular area of criminal law. Even though it was only very recently enacted in this House, I am concerned there may be some frailties in it that need to be addressed. That is under very active consideration at present and if need be I will bring amending legislation before the House.

Question No. 14 answered with Question No. 12.

We will move on to Question No. 15 in the name of Deputy O'Dea.

We seem to be taking on the role of the Opposition today.

The Chair cannot get involved in that.

I have no problem with that.

Sexual Offences

Willie O'Dea


15 Deputy Willie O’Dea asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the commitment in the Programme for Government to introduce a series of post-imprisonment restraint orders for violent and sexual offenders. [7068/11]

I welcome Deputy O'Dea's questions but it is unusual he did not regard them as sufficiently important to attend before the House but perhaps on the next occasion we have justice questions he might deem it appropriate to join us.

In the context of this question, the commitment to which the Deputy refers is the introduction of a series of post-imprisonment restraint orders for violent and sexual offenders to include electronic tagging and other restrictions, which may be imposed at the time of sentencing.

The Sex Offenders Act 2001 introduced the sex offenders' register, post-release supervision orders for sex offenders and civil orders restricting sex offenders in certain ways. Proposals aimed at amending the Act are at an advanced stage of development. Legislative proposals being considered include measures for the electronic monitoring of sex offenders in specific circumstances and changes with regard to civil sex offender orders to make it easier to apply to a court for such an order. During my time in Opposition I specifically pressed for the enactment of such legislation.

Apart from the post-release orders applicable to sex offenders, the law provides for a range of orders that may apply, post-release, to persons convicted of other offences. These include the registration requirement for drug trafficking offenders — Part 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, the monitoring and protection of persons orders under section 26 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 and post-release orders, in the case of serious offences, as provided for in section 14 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009.

When measures have been finalised for sex offenders, consideration will be given to what new measures may be appropriate to violent offenders. I am particularly anxious that we progress, at an early stage, the legislation with regard to the tagging of sex offenders so as to extend to the courts a facility, when dealing with sex offenders who are convicted, in addition to sentencing, to provide for tagging for a period following release from any term of imprisonment that may have been imposed.

There is great concern about the monitoring of such offenders, particularly in communities in the aftermath of a serious sexual attack in the area or the release of an offender, as we saw happen in the case of an individual recently who was no longer supposed to be in this country. There is concern about the monitoring of such offenders, the resources to provide for it and how it will be done. Will the Minister expand on that and on how we can secure support for this and possibly involve the community in this respect? Is there a way to build confidence in respect of this matter? There are major concerns with regard to a number of offenders who have been released. Some of these individuals are serial offenders. When they move out of a particular area, people become concerned with regard to whether adequate resources are in place and whether the Garda is monitoring their activities.

It is important that we should consider this issue in a comprehensive way. It is not just a question of what happens when an offender who has served a prison sentence is released. It also relates to how we approach these matters in the context of the Prison Service. There is a particular need to ensure those convicted of sexual offences participate in whatever sex offenders programmes might be available and that such programmes are of a sufficiently sophisticated and diverse nature to meet the different needs that exist.

One of the items of legislation I hope to bring forward in the future will involve re-examining the circumstances surrounding the granting of remission to sex offenders and certain other offenders to ensure that, on the question of good conduct and prior to release, they participate in appropriate programmes. International research has shown that participation in such programmes reduces the likelihood of reoffending. There can never be a guarantee that someone will not reoffend. It is in such circumstances that there are other methods which are of assistance in dealing with certain matters. I refer here to the Garda monitoring those who are on the sex offenders register. In addition, electronic tagging has an important role to play in the early period following the release of a sex offender.

We will have a greater opportunity to consider and debate these issues in the future. I may be suggesting that a general debate take place in order that Deputies might have the opportunity to express their views and to make a policy input into the legislation we are going to develop in this area.

Garda Deployment

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


16 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he will take to further resource and develop community policing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7049/11]

The Government's National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 calls for a higher priority to be attached to community policing. Such policing lies at the heart of policing in Ireland. This point has been emphasised by the Garda Commissioner and endorsed by the Garda Inspectorate. It has informed the development of the recent Garda national model of community policing. This model, which has now been rolled out to all Garda districts nationwide, aims at building upon and enhancing good community policing practice. There will be a community policing team in each district which will be headed up by a sergeant. Clear objectives will be set, such as high visibility in the community, ease of contact by members of the public, and enhanced support for crime prevention strategies such as neighbourhood watch, community alert and business watch. The model recognises the need for dedicated community police officers and, on the latest date for which figures are readily available, there were 1,145 such gardaí. It is also worth emphasising, as the model does, that all gardaí have a role to play in community policing.

This enhanced community policing service will be monitored closely by the Commissioner and his senior management team and will be reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure the best possible service is provided to the public. The Commissioner will have my full support in this development of community policing and I will take a keen interest in its progression. I have long been a believer in the efficacy of community policing, both in providing protection to local communities and in facilitating such communities to develop relationships with the members of the force in their areas.

One of the frustrations common among people in respect of community policing is that if a particular event is taking place — I refer to events such as those held at Marlay Park in the Minister's constituency — the first officers to be withdrawn are community gardaí. The position in this regard must be examined. If resources are scarce in a particular operation area, community gardaí are often deployed to guard former taoisigh, etc. I accept that this is a hot potato but when will the proposed changes in this regard be forthcoming? People want to see community gardaí being active in their areas. I accept that there is a need for policing when football matches are taking place at Tallaght Stadium in my constituency. However, there are also things happening in the community of which account must be taken. Local superintendents are obliged to take decisions on where to deploy officers.

If I could be parochial and refer to Dublin South, which is the constituency I represent, I am aware that community gardaí have attended events in Marlay Park, at the Dundrum festival and elsewhere over the years. These officers find it particularly valuable to be in attendance at such events because it gives them an opportunity to talk to many members of local communities who also attend them. The events to which I refer are not all of the type which would give rise to major security concerns. Gardaí may simply be present to ensure people will rest safe in the knowledge that nothing untoward will occur. It is rare for something untoward to occur. Having a Garda presence at such events is extremely valuable. I am aware that a community day was held at Dún Laoghaire Garda station on a particular Sunday and local people were invited visit the station. Such events are extremely valuable.

On the issue of gardaí and former taoisigh, from the date when the announcement was made by the Government — approximately one week following its formation — a period of three months was to elapse before the latter's Garda drivers and State cars were to be withdrawn. Thereafter, former taoisigh will be obliged to make their own arrangements. If I am correct, we are nine weeks or so away from this being implemented. I hope the Deputy will forgive me if my calculations are out by one week.

It will certainly be within the first 100 days in any event.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.