That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to revise the law relating to the main non-fatal offences against the person and to provide for connected matters.
The aim of this Bill is to help and protect older people from assaults and to toughen sentences on people convicted of assaulting an older person. A series of high-profile incidents over the past number of years underlines the need to have strong protections and to deter offenders. The Bill sets out a mandatory sentence of three years, which will send a clear message that certain crimes will not be tolerated and ensure clear, transparent and consistent sentencing for such heinous assaults.
In Ireland, assaults against older people are dealt with under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. In sentencing someone who has been found guilty of assault, a judge may consider the seriousness of the offence, a guilty plea and any mitigating factors. As in other countries, the age of the victim may be considered an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing.
This Bill strengthens penalties for such attacks and it sets out mandatory sentencing of a minimum of three years for anyone convicted of such an attack. This recognises the severe impact such incidents have on older people, both physically and psychologically, across the broader community. The psychological impact and fear of such attacks, while rare, mean that legislation is necessary to assure older people that we will fully defend them.
The Bill is short and deals with offences against persons aged over 65. The act applies to an assault causing harm to an older person, a threat to kill or cause serious harm to an older person and injury of an older person caused by the piercing of the skin of that elderly person with a syringe. If a person is convicted of such an offence, the court shall in passing sentence give a minimum period of imprisonment of not less than three years. This will not apply if the court is satisfied that there are exceptional or specific circumstances relating to the offence or the person related to that offence.
The Bill draws on precedent in the USA and is designed to send a clear message to thugs and criminals who terrify older people that this type of heinous behaviour will not be tolerated.
There is also evidence that older people are more prone to psychological trauma after experiencing crime. As noted in a 2014 publication by the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, when a crime is committed against a person aged over 60 research shows that he or she might be less well able to recover psychologically than if he or she was at an earlier point in his or her life. The fear of crime can also be damaging to the well-being of the older person because it can alter his or her state of mind and level of social interaction.
We have seen horrific incidences of older people being attacked in their own homes by marauding burglars. It is now a common occurrence in our country for older men and women to be attacked and held hostage while their homes are ransacked. Garda sources say that even those victims subjected to more minor assaults, or in some cases extreme verbal threats, find it difficult to feel safe in their homes again and in some instances they never go back to living alone again. These are terrible crimes that scar people and their families. It creates fear in communities that is hard to shake and get over. I look forward to working with other parties and the Government to advance this legislation and put in place the protections older people deserve.