Other Questions

Criminal Investigations

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

6 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding the status of the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank; his views on the recent remarks by the Director of Public Prosecutions on the case and in view of the slow pace of the investigation if he will establish an interagency unit to complete the investigation. [16790/11]

One of my top priorities is that allegations of white collar crime are fully investigated and the perpetrators of such crime are made amenable for their crimes. I am informed by the Garda authorities that, following the submission by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation of two substantial investigation files to the Director of Public Prosecutions last December, a supplementary investigation file was submitted last month. It has been agreed between the DPP, An Garda Síochána and the Director of Corporate Enforcement that additional evidence would continue to be forwarded in such modular form, rather than on completion of the entire investigation, so that consideration by the DPP could begin even as investigation continued, with a view to speeding up the final decision. The files submitted are under consideration by the DPP.

The investigation by An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, is making progress in respect of these two investigations and also of other complaints received of alleged malpractice at Anglo Irish Bank. There is extremely close co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the ODCE in this investigation. Ten members of An Garda Síochána are currently on secondment to the ODCE. In the circumstances, and given the advanced stage of the investigations, it would be fanciful to suggest, as the Deputy does, that the establishment of some new unit at this late stage would help matters.

I have expressed, both before and since my appointment as Minister, my unhappiness with the protracted nature of the investigations. I repeat that this is not a criticism of the persons carrying out the investigations. There is no doubt that the complexities of the matters being investigated create tough challenges for investigators and prosecutors.

It was in light of my concerns that, on taking office, I gave priority to the introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill 2011, which is currently before the House. It is my intention that the Bill's provisions will speed up investigations and prosecutions in this area — both future investigations and those currently under way — by improving a number of important procedural matters and strengthening Garda investigative powers. I have to say frankly it is a great pity that legislative action of this kind was not taken at a much earlier stage of the investigation.

I note that with reference to this issue, the DPP in his speech stated:

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the decision of the Minister for Justice and Equality to introduce a new Criminal Justice Bill in the Oireachtas. Until now it has been a surprising omission in Irish law that potential witnesses cannot be compelled to cooperate with an investigation, even where they themselves are not suspected of or accused of any wrongdoing. In this regard the power of an Irish criminal investigator is considerably weaker than that of a tribunal of enquiry. The new legislation will plug this gap.

I am aware of the recent remarks made by the DPP, who is, of course, independent in the performance of his duties. As the director said, we have to refrain from any comment which could prejudice any case which might be brought. I note that in the context of the current investigation, the director indicated in the statement I quoted above that the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill will be of substantial assistance. I thank Members of the Opposition for their co-operation in the manner in which they have dealt with the Bill so far.

The proposal in regard to the establishment of an inter-agency unit to progress the investigation is not mine, it is the Minister's own, from a speech he gave on a Private Members' motion in 2009. At that stage, he suggested this would be a way to proceed.

The sharing of files and the submission of files to the DPP has been under way for some time. My concern in tabling this question was that, while I understand the DPP is independent, the DPP said that some witnesses have yet to be interviewed.

The Minister's remarks on the paucity of legislation are fair enough. However, in making those remarks, he then praises his publication of the Criminal Justice Bill, which was prepared by the then Minister, Mr. Dermot Ahern, before Deputy Shatter came into office. While we will certainly facilitate its passage, I have certain questions. How much of that Bill will be retrospective? In asking the Minister to apply his legal mind to this, is there a danger that cases we may bring, or charges that may be brought under the provisions of the new Bill, will be ruled out of order by the authorities in the context of the investigation, thus further delaying it? The Minister said on 12 March, two days after coming into office, that he was seeking a report from various authorities in this regard. Has he made any judgment call, from considering that report, as to when we will be in a position to begin prosecutions?

It is interesting that I keep hearing the refrain that this is legislation that the former justice Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern had prepared. To be fair to him, he commenced the process as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but the Bill was by no means complete or in adequate form when I became Minister. Substantial work had to be undertaken both within the Department of Justice and Equality and by the Attorney General's office to bring the legislation to a point where it could be published and debated in this House.

In that context, I have no major interest in who is responsible for the Bill. Ultimately, the important issue is that the Bill be enacted, for the very reason to which the Deputy referred. Although, as Minister, I cannot have direct conversation with the DPP about this, I assume the reason some witnesses have not been interviewed is because they are witnesses, not people suspected of being engaged in offences. Our current law is such that unless people who are witnesses volunteer to give information to An Garda Síochána, there is no mechanism available to require them to discuss issues.

This legislation will do what the DPP says he requires it to do in the very public speech he delivered, from which I quoted an extract. It would provide for the first time a mechanism whereby people can be required to assist the Garda with inquiries in matters of serious white collar crime because they are witnesses who have something of value to provide by way of documentary or oral assistance, or by way of access to material maintained by way of a computer process. It is of crucial importance in this regard.

What I said in 2009 was extremely prescient. I was concerned that this area was not being given adequate attention by the Government. We are now two years further on and the investigation has not been able to be completed. We have taken the action necessary to put the required legislation in place.

I remind Deputies there is six minutes for each ordinary question — two minutes for the Minister to reply, four minutes for supplementary questions and a maximum of one minute for a further supplementary and a reply. We have run out of time for this question so I must move on to Question No. 7. I will stick to the time limits.

Garda Operations

Billy Kelleher

Question:

7 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide a cost for gardaí used during the visit of Queen Elizabeth II of England. [16780/11]

Billy Kelleher

Question:

17 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide a cost for gardaí used during the visit of President Obama. [16781/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 17 together.

The visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama required unprecedented security arrangements to be put in place by An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces to ensure the safety of our visitors and the maintenance of public order.

All Garda leave and rest days were cancelled for this period, and members on duty were required to work longer than normal shifts. Movement of several thousand Garda members over several days had to be arranged, involving hiring transport and the provision of accommodation. Catering had to be provided at the various venues. A range of security-related equipment also had to be purchased or hired.

The Garda Commissioner, who is the Accounting Officer for the Garda Vote, is currently finalising processing of payments of the costs incurred. This has taken time, as, for example, individual claims for overtime must be verified before being approved for payment. While I cannot give a final figure, I would estimate, on the basis of the information available, that the total Garda cost arising from the visits will exceed €20 million.

We all congratulate An Garda Síochána for the manner in which the gardaí policed both operations. I appreciate the Minister's difficulties. We are now five weeks down the road and the gardaí have been paid their overtime allowances with their regular salaries. I just wish to get the final costs and draw a line under the matter so that in future a plan is put in place for large security operations, for budgetary reasons, so we can have a figure available quicker than six weeks after the event. The cost is high and we would rather it was not necessary, but it was and the gardaí played an exemplary role, but it takes far too long to get the final figures for costs for operations of this nature.

I thank Deputy Calleary for his comments; we have made similar comments in the past so it is appropriate to again acknowledge the extraordinary job the gardaí did in circumstances of some difficulty, where a small minority who were intent on trouble had to be dealt with and that was done in a most efficient and appropriate manner, ensuring neither visit was disrupted or spoiled in the manner some intended.

Some of the final accounting issues will be resolved by the end of the month and we will have the full figures early in July. It is important that the Garda Commissioner, who is the Accounting Officer, has the time to collate all of the relevant information. It is regrettable that this amount had to be spent. The visits were successful and of great importance internationally. They have done the country a great deal of good; events relating to the Queen were projected around the world and secured huge media coverage in many places. I would prefer if the money had been available for other purposes and that the small group of people who sought to cause disruption and difficulty had not done so. If they had not done so, the funds would have been available for other purposes.

Given the amount involved, will it require an additional Estimate? The Minister said previously an amount had been budgeted for the visits but was this much envisaged? Is the €20 million specifically related to Garda activity?

That figure relates to Garda overtime and acquiring additional material necessary to facilitate the visit. The gardaí must have available to them the funding in the original Estimate in December to maintain operability and do the important work they do in a broad range of areas, including crime prevention and detection. This funding will be provided for in a manner that does not inhibit the capacity of An Garda Síochána to carry out fully its duties up to the end of the year.

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission

Brendan Smith

Question:

8 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons who have died whilst in Garda custody during 2010 and to date in 2011. [16785/11]

A death in Garda custody is defined as a death which takes place in the period after a person comes into the custody and control of a member of the Garda Síochána and before they leave Garda custody and control. It includes, for example, not only a death at the time of arrest, or in a Garda station, but the death of a person in hospital for treatment while still in Garda custody.

It is important to note that such deaths are the subject of an inquest. In addition, under section 102(1) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is required to refer to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission any matter that appears to indicate that the conduct of a member of the Garda Síochána may have resulted in the death of or serious harm to a person, and the ombudsman commission must immediately conduct its own independent investigation into the matter.

There were three deaths in Garda custody in 2010 and these occurred in Tallaght, Templemore and Dundalk Garda stations respectively. There have been three deaths in Garda Custody to date in 2011, and these occurred in Ballyconnell, Tuam, and Store Street Garda Stations. All six of these deaths are currently being investigated by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

I regret any deaths but, given that three of the deaths occurred in 2010, why has there been a delay in getting the report from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission?

The commission conducts its inquiries independently and I do not interfere with it. It is important that the commission takes the time it requires to investigate the deaths. I do not want to say anything about the particular events; those of us who are aware of the deaths that have occurred know something of the background and I assume the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission will publish the outcome of its investigations at the earliest available opportunity.

Garda Deployment

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

9 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which the necessary personnel, general resources, communications, mobile equipment, intelligence and forensic facilities are available to the Garda Síochána to tackle the ongoing activities of criminal gangs; the extent to which the activity of such gangs can be monitored at present with a view to taking steps to decommission them; if he has considered any further initiatives that he may take to deal with this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16745/11]

Tackling serious and organised crime, and bringing those involved to justice, is a key priority for the Government. Implementation of specific operational measures to deal with criminal gangs and their criminal activities is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. In this context, the Commissioner has stressed, on many occasions, that the necessary resources have been made available and will continue to be made available.

All the Members of this House will be under no illusions when it comes to the threat that organised crime poses to our society. The criminals involved have shown themselves to be completely ruthless and they have used serious violence and other tactics to protect their interests. Accordingly, the Garda Commissioner has put special measures in place to combat criminal gangs. These measures include the deployment of significant resources with a number of operational approaches to tackling serious organised crime, including a multi-agency approach and the use of intelligence-targeted operations. The lead role is being undertaken by the Garda organised crime unit which targets organised criminal gangs. The unit works in conjunction with other Garda national units such as the emergency response unit, the bureau of fraud investigation and the Criminal Assets Bureau. All of these units cooperate very closely and they have had many successes in combating organised gangs and depriving them of their financial resources.

It is also the case that there is a substantial international dimension to serious organised crime. This is an area where the Garda is also very active and it has built up extensive communications networks with police forces in other countries which enables it to exchange intelligence and to co-operate at operational level.

In the circumstances the Deputy will appreciate the extent of the measures that have been put in place to combat criminal gangs. As the Commissioner has indicated the pressure on these gangs will be maintained and they will continue to be a major focus of Garda operations.

The Minister says he is giving adequate resources but the resources are not evenly distributed. Last weekend there was a major drugs haul in Celbridge, with another the week before in Kill and there have been two tiger raids this year in Kildare. The gardaí in Kildare tell us they have the lowest resource level per head of population in the State. They say huge resources are needed to deal with these criminals in a reactive way after they have been caught and they have only caught a small number of them. Is the Minister satisfied the distribution of Garda manpower by the Garda Commissioner adequately deals with organised crime? It does not function in one part of the country.

In recent weeks the Garda has had substantial success in recovering drugs and arresting individuals engaged in drug related activities. It is a matter for the Garda Commissioner to determine issues of operation and how to best focus An Garda Síochána to tackle organised crime. I have had discussions with the Garda Commissioner on these areas and I have the utmost confidence in his judgment and capacity to determine how to best focus the Garda to tackle those engaged in organised crime. It remains a continuing concern to everyone that we have drugs gangs engaged in what could best be described as open urban warfare. In some parts of Dublin they fight over patches they wish to dominate for their illegal activities. This is a matter of concern to the Garda Commissioner. There are too many young men engaged in drug activities who have no respect for human life or human rights and show no concern for the communities on which they prey. The Garda take this issue with great seriousness and have engaged on occasions in very serious policing and detective work in very difficult circumstances. I have the greatest confidence in its ability.

I acknowledge the points made by the Minister and the success in recent years of Garda activities against organised criminals. Crime of this kind has been going on for a long time and it would appear that in the past ten years there has been an inexorable development in the power, strength and influence of criminal gangs. Does the Minister believe that sufficient modern and adequate resources are available to gardaí so that they can interrupt and intercept the activities of the people who are now so devoted to criminal activity, from which they make such considerable profit, as is recognised nationally and internationally? Have the authorities been frustrated by the power and influence of the criminal gangs in such a way as to make it easier for them to operate and more difficult for the authorities to combat their activity?

The Minister has 20 seconds to respond.

I have the greatest confidence in the Garda. It has available the resources it requires. I am taking an initiative at a European level with my European colleagues to try to put in place arrangements whereby we can ensure that ultimately there are equivalents of our Criminal Assets Bureau in every EU country, and a framework in place whereby those engaged in serious crime in this State who invest the proceeds of crime in other parts of Europe will know that whatever property or proceeds of crime they retain in other countries in Europe can ultimately be attacked and obtained by the Criminal Assets Bureau. This is a very important initiative at European level. It will take some time to develop this to fruition but it is an important additional weapon that should be in the armoury for tackling organised crime, which does not recognise boundaries and has an international dimension.

I imagine the Ceann Comhairle will tell me if I am out of time on the next question.

Have we an extra hour?

International Time Zones

Noel Harrington

Question:

10 Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he had any discussions with either his British counterpart or his European colleagues regarding the possibility of changing our time zone to European Time; his views on the benefits or disadvantages to Ireland if such a change was made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16623/11]

Noel Harrington

Question:

16 Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to conduct a cross Departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour all year round for Ireland; if his attention has been drawn to the passage of a Bill in the House of Commons undertaking a similar study; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16624/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 16 together.

I am aware of the Bill to which the Deputy refers. The Daylight Saving Bill 2010/11 passed its second reading in the House of Commons on 3 December, 2010. I understand that, if it became law, this Private Members' Bill would require the British Government to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year. I further understand that such analysis would include a breakdown, so far as possible, of the costs and benefits for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In light of this, I would expect that each of the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would ensure that their views and concerns would be fully reflected in any analysis that might be conducted.

Were this cost benefit analysis to be conducted, the Bill requires that an independent commission would be established to assess it. If that commission were to conclude that the advancing of time by one hour for all, or part of, the year would be beneficial to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland then an order bringing the commission's recommendations into effect for a three-year trial period would need to be made. Given that European Union Directive 2000/84/EC results in all EU member states starting and ending summer time simultaneously in order that time differences between member states remain constant throughout the year, this would impose a limitation on the discretion available in this area.

At present Ireland and the United Kingdom operate in the same time zone. Each year summer time begins at 1:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, GMT, on the last Sunday in March when clocks are put forward one hour, and ends at 1:00 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday in October when clocks are put back one hour. During summer time our clocks are set — I laugh because I expect the Ceann Comhairle to tell me I am out of time at any minute.

Two questions are being taken together.

During summer time our clocks are set at GMT plus one hour and at GMT during winter time. Were clocks to be put forward for an hour for all of the year, clocks would be set at GMT — this is becoming far too technical. I will simply conclude——

The Minister is all right because we still have a minute and because he is taking two questions together he has——

I am finding it difficult to keep a straight face for this length of time on this question, considering the details I have been given.

This is not an issue on which we will make an untimely response and it is important that it be given further consideration but at this time I have no plans to change the time zone arrangements or to conduct the type of cross-departmental, cost-benefit analysis for advancing the time by one hour all year round in Ireland, such as is proposed in the UK.

I realise the country is dealing with many more difficult and challenging prospects but this one seemed timely, for two reasons. We just passed the summer solstice and Irish people love to talk about time and weather. It is not an exact science.

What about Newgrange?

A person said to me recently that 21 June would be the longest day and, in the same breath, that Thursday would have the shortest night. The subject engages people. It can also be a serious issue in rural Ireland because it affects farming and other areas.

The Minister, rightly, stated the reasons it was appropriate to table the question were because of the study, and because the Bill in question has passed Second Stage in the House of Commons where it is being taken seriously. To keep the analogy going, we cannot afford to be out of time with our UK counterparts — we would be at a serious disadvantage. I do not expect this will be the case but expect that we would, as a nation, have some background work done. We should follow the legislative process in the UK in order not to be out of step.

Many studies have been carried out in the UK, by the Mayor of London and his office, the London Development Agency, transport agencies, the Policy Studies Institute of London, engineering and manufacturing departments at the University of Cambridge, the IPA——

Thank you, Deputy.

Numerous advantages have been highlighted. I need not elaborate them because they are on the record and the Minister is following the matter very carefully. One aspect to consider is work practices in an increasingly global economy. Lunch hours are different in this country than in Europe, as are opening and closing hours for work.

One can lose time and effort so, although this may not be as serious as other issues, I urge the Minister to consider it. We must give it more time and keep in time with our European counterparts.

I very much appreciate that this is a serious issue in the context of certain areas of business and of doing business with Europe and the United Kingdom. In advance of the second reading of the Bill, Mr. Edward Davey, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, sought a meeting with our ambassador in London to discuss issues concerning daylight hours. The meeting took place in November 2010.

In February 2011 officials from my Department and our London embassy met the Bill's sponsor, Ms Rebecca Harris, MP, in order to find out more about the background to her Bill as well as to register our interest in its passage and the potential implications for this country. Although there has been contact with the British authorities, no discussions have been held with our European colleagues on this matter as the matter is not at a sufficiently advanced stage.

In the context of our doing business with the United Kingdom and the relationship we have with that country, it is important to be on similar time zones. It would be a particularly unfortunate situation were we to find ourselves in a position where Northern Ireland was on one time zone and we were on a different one. This island is too small for that type of development. All I can say to the Deputy is that this is not an immediate priority — I do not want to pretend otherwise — in the context of the various major issues the Government must address. We will keep a watchful eye on developments in the United Kingdom. We are very conscious of the implications for the State of what is being suggested there. We will try to ensure we are not lost in a timewarp at the end of the process.

I can inform the Minister that an extra hour of daylight in the evening in winter would be of huge benefit to productivity in the construction industry. It is a real problem for us when it gets dark at 4.30 p.m. or 5 p.m. rather than 6 p.m. It has a huge impact on the construction industry. Given that it can take an hour and a half to set up for the day, it can be a real bummer when one has to stop working early. We are often told that one of the main reasons for putting the clocks back in October is to ensure kids do not have to go to school when it is still dark on winter mornings. Irish children tend to start school between 9 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. each day, which is later than in continental Europe. We should bear in mind that primary and secondary schools in Italy open at 8 a.m. each day. Children there deal with the darkness in winter without getting run over on their way to school.

I have been interested in this issue for some time. Is the Minister aware that the United States has extended summer time by a number of weeks into both the spring and autumn? Does he have any plans to raise this matter at EU level?

The Minister has said there are no plans to conduct a cross-departmental analysis. Is there any chance he might seek submissions from the public and relevant organisations to get the views of the nation on this matter?

I will give some thought to Deputy Harrington's interesting suggestion. It would be interesting to get the views of the general public on this issue. We might consider establishing a process within which that could be done. I assure Deputy Stanton that I am aware of the change effected in the United States. I understand people are very happy with it. I put it to Deputy Wallace, in the light of his remarks about the construction industry, that the State might have been better off in recent years if there had been more darkness. If we had reflected what happens in one or two other parts of the world, where there is very little light during the winter months, we might have contained the hyperactive nature of the construction industry and the disaster brought to this country.

Prison Accommodation

Brian Stanley

Question:

11 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the report by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly; his proposals on the back of its recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16733/11]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the 2010 annual report of the Inspector of Prisons which I published on 30 May 2011. In his report the inspector states the Irish Prison Service and local management should be aware of what he regards as best practice and that he expects all prisons will comply with this by 1 July. He also states he appreciates that prisons in certain areas will not be able to comply with this in the short term. I welcome the inspector's report and believe the work he does is valuable. The report mentions,inter alia, the use of special cells, prisoners’ complaints and the procedure to be followed following the deaths of people in custody. New procedures have been drawn up in respect of these issues. They will be supported by changes to the prison rules which I regard as being of particular benefit and importance. The appropriate amendments to the prison rules have been prepared in the Department of Justice and Equality and are being finalised in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General. The inspector’s report also refers to minimum standards for prison accommodation and the regimes and services that should be provided.

The Government is committed to the elimination of slopping out in prisons. The upgrading of more than 100 cells at Mountjoy Prison will be completed by the end of the summer. When taken with the completion of the construction projects mentioned previously, that will mean 80% of the prisons estate will have in-cell sanitation by mid-2012. Feasibility studies are taking place with regard to the further implementation of the programme of refurbishment. The number of people in prison does not allow all of the inspector's standards to be met in the short term.

The problem of prison overcrowding remains a challenging issue. On 22 June there were 4,433 prisoners in custody. The figure was 2,919 in 2000. Some 400 additional prisoner places will come on stream by mid-2012. The committee examining the Thornton Hall project is due to report by 1 July 2011 and I believe it will meet that timeframe.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I am pursuing alternatives to custody. The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill will require judges to consider imposing community service in any case where the appropriate sentence would otherwise be a custodial one of up to 12 months imprisonment. I have asked my officials to look at a scheme where suitable long-term prisoners might have the last period of their custodial sentence replaced by a form of community service.

It is welcome that the review of the Thornton Hall project will be completed by 1 July. The Minister mentioned some of the recommendations made in the report. Obviously, they cannot be implemented because of the overcrowded conditions. I appreciate that legislation has been introduced to provide for community service orders and similar measures that would reduce the number of prisoners in the system. Does the Minister agree that it is imperative that we have a safe environment in our prisons? In particular, we need to provide drug-free support units in all prisons. We must do everything we can to ensure prisoners have the resources they need to kick any drug habits they may have.

I agree with the Deputy. It is important that we provide a safe environment. I would like drug-free spaces to be allocated in every prison. I would like prisoners who are addicted to drugs to have every opportunity to come off them, rather than merely substituting methadone for them. A substantial portion of the prison population are on methadone. I am examining what reforms I can introduce in the prison system within the limited resources available to me. I look forward to the completion of the Thornton Hall project review and the recommendations that will be made. The terms of reference given to the group working on the review go beyond simply commenting on whether a prison should be built at that location. The report will inform how we proceed within the financial resources available. If it is published on time, as it should be, I expect and hope the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will have an opportunity to consider and debate it before the House begins its summer recess.

Proposed Legislation

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

12 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans regarding reform of the bankruptcy laws here; when these will be implemented; the number of persons who are bankrupt that it will affect; and the way it will impact on creditors. [14725/11]

In line with a commitment in the programme for Government, a personal insolvency Bill is being developed in the Department of Justice and Equality. The Bill will provide for a new framework for the settlement and enforcement of debt and personal insolvency. The commitment made in the EU-IMF programme of financial support for Ireland is that the Bill will be published in the first quarter of 2012. It is my objective to publish the measure ahead of the EU-IMF deadline, if possible. There is a reasonable possibility we will achieve this. In developing the Bill, account is being taken of the Law Reform Commission's recommendations in its recent report on personal debt management and debt enforcement. That report provided an in-depth review of the personal debt regime. The economic and financial effects of some of the new arrangements being contemplated are being carefully assessed to ensure all relevant issues are addressed and their impact is fully anticipated and understood.

I am glad to inform the Deputy that earlier this week the Government approved my proposals for interim reforms to the law on bankruptcy. The details will be announced when the civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2011 is published. The Bill will provide for a significant reduction in the application period to the court for discharge from bankruptcy and will permit the automatic discharge of bankruptcies on the 12th anniversary of the adjudication order. According to the results of my inquiries, the new accelerated period of automatic discharge will affect approximately 365 existing bankruptcies. The impact of the personal insolvency Bill on debtors and creditors will depend on the form the Bill will take. It is clear that a good number of people could be affected. The key will be to achieve a balance, in so far as is possible, between the interests of creditors and debtors. The objective will be to create a system that avoids as much as possible the need for expensive bankruptcy procedures and court involvement.

I welcome the positive notes in the Minister's reply. When is it expected that the civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2011 will be published? When will it be brought before the House? The Minister has said it will contain some interim measures which may help. Will it be published before the summer recess?

I hope the Bill will be published within the next 24 hours. It will address not just bankruptcy issues but other issues also. There is some realistic possibility that it will be enacted before the summer recess. As I am taking Dáil questions, that issue is being finalised. There is a possibility it will go to the Seanad before it comes to this House. I hope, with the help and co-operation of Opposition Deputies after they have had an opportunity to consider the content of the Bill, to bring about a position where we might enact it into law before we go on vacation for the summer.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has brought this Bill so quickly. In the current climate, it is essential. The Minister can be assured of my party's full support, whatever House it comes through, in terms of trying to get this through before the summer recess.

Court Procedures

David Stanton

Question:

13 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the sections of the Fines Act 2010 which remain to be implemented; the progress in relation to implementation of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16792/11]

Michael Colreavy

Question:

29 Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide an update on the progress made to update the court IT system to facilitate the payments of fines in instalments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16726/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 29 together.

All of the Fines Act 2010 has been implemented except for two sections.

Section 15 will, when introduced, provide an option for the payment of fines in excess of €100 by instalment. It will allow a person on whom such a fine has been imposed to make an application to the court to discharge the payment in this way. If the court is satisfied that a single sum payment by the due date would cause financial hardship, it can direct that the fine be paid over a period of 12 months or, in exceptional circumstances, over a two-year period.

Section 16 when commenced, will require a judge, consequent on determining that a fine is to be imposed, to make an order appointing "an approved person" to recover the fine in the event of it not being paid.

For these provisions to operate effectively it will be essential to accurately track which instalment payments have been made or which are in default. This requires significant enhancement to the courts' ICT systems as well as the appointment of approved persons as receivers. I intend to commence the provisions when this work can be completed. The Courts Service has completed a scoping project to identify the detail and cost of the necessary work and I expect to discuss the timescale for implementation with the chief executive in the near future.

It should be stressed that section 14 of the 2010 Act, which was commenced from 4 January last, places an obligation, for the first time, on the court to take account of the defendant's financial circumstances before a fine is imposed — this is something of which the courts were not required to take account in the past. With the commencement of this provision, no person can be sent to prison for default solely for the reason that he or she cannot afford to pay a fine.

I thank the Minister for that response. Can he give a more definitive timescale regarding the tender system in place? When does he expect to see the IT upgraded?

Can he tell us how many people were imprisoned in 2010 for not paying fines and how many have been in prison to date in 2010?

Can the Minister tell us the total value of fines for the past 12 months, how much of this was collected and how much is outstanding? I understand the Minister may not have those figures here but if he would give them to me at a later stage, I would appreciate it.

An unfortunate difficulty with this legislation, which, in fairness, was enacted by the previous Government and had support from the Opposition side of the House at the time, is that no arrangements were put in place in advance of the legislation's enactment to ensure that the software that the courts system required to operate the provisions on the payment of fines by instalments would be readily available, and we have had to start that work. I was surprised to discover that was the position. It is in the public interest that we have this instalment system. It is in the interests of ensuring the integrity of court orders is maintained.

I do not want to give an unrealistic timeframe because there are cost issues in putting in place the software system. I expect within a relatively short period, because I have had a number of conversations with officials within my Department on this issue, to have a clear view of the timeframe. I am disappointed it has not proved possible to start on the instalment issue much earlier.

I have the other information Deputy Staunton sought available and will provide it to him in writing so that I do not get into time trouble again.

We are coming to a close and I want to get to the question of Deputy Boyd Barrett, who has been sitting there.

I will not be 30 seconds.

As the Minister will be aware, I am new to this House and I do not know exactly the way this matter works. I would imagine that some sort of cost analysis would be done on any legislation which comes before the House. It is surprising that the Government enacted legislation which it knew would involve a cost——

A question, please.

——which was not included. Will the Minister ensure that a cost analysis is done with all legislation coming from the Department?

In the context of current Government procedures, we are supposed to do a cost analysis. My Department did not have available the information, when I last asked, as to what the costing of this will be. A scoping exercise has been done since I have been appointed as Minister and I expect within a short time to have the detail of the outcome of that from my officials as to its likely cost. It will give me an opportunity to assess whether the funding is available to me within the Department in this year's Estimates to meet that expenditure and if it is not, I will tell the House. If it is, I hope we can advance this with some speed because it is in the public interest that we do so.

There is only a minute and a half left.

Citizenship Applications

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

14 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the application for naturalisation in respect of a person (details supplied) was not granted in view of the fact that both their spouse and children have been granted a certificate of naturalisation and are residing here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16777/11]

All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually under the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. Section 15 of the Act provides that the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation provided certain statutory conditions are fulfilled. In particular, these conditions require that an applicant is of good character, has had a period of one year's continuous residency in the State immediately before the date of application and, during the eight years immediately preceding that period, has had a total residence in the State amounting to four years, intends in good faith to continue to reside in the State after naturalisation; and has made a declaration in the prescribed manner of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State.

I should also point out for the information of the Deputy that, in the context of naturalisation, certain periods of residence in the State are excluded. These include periods of residence in respect of which an applicant does not have permission to remain in the State, periods granted for the purposes of study and periods granted for the purposes of seeking recognition as a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Act 1996.

In respect of the person referred to by the Deputy, my position is as follows. An application for a certificate of naturalisation was received in the citizenship division of my Department in March 2005. My predecessor decided in his absolute discretion not to grant the application and a letter informing the applicant of that decision was issued in February 2007.

A new application from the person concerned was lodged in May 2007 and after evaluating the entirety of the information available to me, I decided not to grant the application. The person in question was informed of this decision in a letter issued to him on 23 May 2011.

As referred to by the Deputy in his question, certificates of naturalisation were granted to the spouse and children of the person concerned. A certificate of naturalisation issued to his spouse in April 2007, who then lodged applications for naturalisation on behalf of her children under section 16 of the 1956 Act, which provides for applications from naturalised Irish citizens on behalf of their minor children. These applications were granted and certificates of naturalisation issued in February 2009.

On the processing of the naturalisation applications in respect of each of these persons and the decisions made, I make it clear that all applications are considered individually and each application is assessed with reference to the statutory criteria laid down. It is only when these conditions are met that I, as Minister, in my absolute discretion, can grant an application. I do not propose to go into any further details on the specifics of this case.

I can additionally inform the Deputy that I am reforming the way in which my Department processes naturalisation applications to provide for speedier processing of applications bringing about a substantial reduction in the processing timescale.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The new arrangements include improved application forms that will be operational from tomorrow Friday, 24 June 2011. The forms are currently available online. In addition there is an online residence checker, streamlined and accelerated procedures for certain types of application and plans to recruit interns under the new internship programme in order to ensure more efficient processing of applications.

The aim of these measures is to eliminate the current backlog of cases and, save in exceptional circumstances, that persons applying for citizenship will be given a decision on their application within six months.

I am also introducing a formal citizenship ceremony to address the existing deficit in current arrangements which give no sense of occasion or proper recognition to the importance of a person being granted Irish citizenship. I can tell the House that the first ceremony will take place tomorrow in Dublin Castle where Bryan McMahon, retired judge of the High Court, has agreed to assume the role of presiding officer.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.