Nenagh Community Reparation Project: Presentation.

The committee will hear a presentation from the Nenagh Community Reparation Project. The presentation will take approximately ten minutes and will be followed by a question and answer session.

I urge that there be a broad range debate on the topic of crime. This is an important project in that it is a different response to crime.

I am aware that Deputy McGrath wishes to make a contribution and the committee will facilitate him.

I welcome the representatives of the Nenagh Community Reparation Project. I ask MsBrislane to introduce her colleagues.

Ms Alice Brislane

I am chairperson of Nenagh Community Reparation Project. Mr. DonalHurley is co-ordinator of the project and is a probation and welfare officer. Mr. Vincent Byrne is a senior probation and welfare officer. Mr. Jim Hughes is treasurer of the project.

Mr. Hurley will make the presentation to the committee.

In the context of the examination of crime and crime prevention, the joint committee has decided to examine the issue of restorative justice and community reparation and the manner in which, at a local community level, various official and voluntary community agencies, including the Garda Síochána, the courts system and the community probation and welfare service, can work together to provide community reparation and minimise repeat offending. Members have been circulated with copies of the baseline study of the project published in 2002. It provides useful information on the work done by the project in establishing and fine-tuning a process which could, with sufficient goodwill and funding, be extended to operate at a national level.

While members of the committee enjoy privilege, that same privilege does not extend to witnesses.

Mr. Donal Hurley

On behalf of the members of Nenagh Community Reparation Project who are present, and on behalf of the project as a whole, I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it. It is my intention to make some initial general comments on restorative justice and to then speak specifically about Nenagh Community Reparation Project.

In order to illustrate the work of the project, I wish to give the committee an example of a case which was dealt with by Nenagh Community Reparation Project. Mary is 21 years old. She assaulted an acquaintance and appeared in court as a result. She pleaded guilty and was referred to the project. Mary and her victim were contacted independently. The project was explained to both parties and they were invited to attend a meeting with me, a member of the Garda Síochána and two people from our community panel. At that point, before the reparation meeting, Mary was asked to consider her behaviour, to think about the harm she had done and to consider what she might do to make up for her actions. The victim was also asked to think about what had happened to her and to consider what she might like to see put in place by way of restoration.

The situation at this point was fraught as friends and family members on both sides had got involved. Social evenings out became quite tense as parties on both sides eyed each other across the public houses and nightclubs in Nenagh. Neither the victim nor the offender was involved in that behaviour. We had the reparation meeting, which the victim chose not to attend, though asked to be kept informed, and a contract of reparation was agreed.

Mary agreed to apologise to her victim through the project, to speak to family and friends about their behaviour, to reduce her alcohol intake and to undertake an anger management course. This information was conveyed to the victim who also spoke to family and friends about their behaviour. Mary successfully completed her contract. Further, I believe as a direct result of this, Mary and her victim met one evening and Mary apologised directly to her victim. This brought closure to the incident both for the victim and the offender.

The debate is between the two paradigms, restorative and retributive justice. Our current form of justice may be described as a retributive form. It may be characterised in the following ways: crime is a violation of the laws of the land; the aim of justice is to establish blame and administer punishment or pain; the process is adversarial, one side wins, the other loses; there is a reliance on experts, to represent individuals and explain outcomes. In short this form of justice may be reduced to three questions: what law was broken; who did it and what do they deserve? In this form of justice victims often feel neglected. They are not part of the definition at all. Their role in the system is reduced to that of witness to the fact that a law was broken.

With a restorative model of justice, however, things are significantly different. This form of justice may be characterised in the following ways: crime is a violation or harm to people and relationships; the aim of justice is to identify obligations, to meet needs and to promote healing. The process involves victims, offenders and the community in an effort to identify obligations and solutions. The four key questions in restorative justice are: who has been hurt by the crime; what are his or her needs; what are the obligations created by the crime and whose obligations are they? Within this form of justice there are gains for the victim, the offender and for the community.

With these brief comments on the two paradigms of restorative and retributive justice I will turn to the Nenagh Community Reparation Project. John is an example of the work we do. He is 25 years old. He is working, but his passion in life is shooting. He and his family are effectively the gun club in his area. One Sunday John went shooting. Afterwards they went to a local pub for a drink and the prize giving ceremony. Things dragged on and John drank more than he should. He wandered out to his brother's car and went to sleep. Some time later he woke up, took his shotgun and for no good reason fired one shot up into the air.

He was charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm. The case was presented in court. If John was convicted he would never hold a gun licence again. The case was referred to our project. We held a reparation meeting and a contract was agreed. John undertook to do an alcohol education programme. He also undertook not to apply for his gun licence for two years. This case for me is a perfect illustration of restorative justice in action. John took responsibility for his offence and accepted that there were things he needed to do to both to make up for this and to ensure that the possibility of it occurring again was reduced. He paid a price that was fair and equitable.

Turning to the development of the project, in 1998, as part of an expert group established to examine the probation and welfare service, Judge Michael Reilly, a judge of the District Court, travelled to New Zealand to examine probation practices in that part of the world. While there, in a place called Timaru, he came across a restorative justice project in operation. He spoke to several people connected with the project, and was very impressed by what he saw in terms of the effectiveness of the project in reducing the crime rates and the rate of recidivism. He returned to Ireland with some local research findings and met with the local probation and welfare service in Limerick with a view to establishing a pilot restorative justice project in the Nenagh area.

Following these discussions, a meeting organised by the probation and welfare service was held in Nenagh in February 1999. The attendance on that occasion included members of the community, including some ex-offenders and their families, representatives of the Garda and the courts service. Judge Reilly addressed the meeting and outlined to the audience his experience of restorative justice. He then invited them to consider the possibility of establishing a similar project in the Nenagh area. The audience considered that such an idea was worth pursuing and as a result of that meeting and a follow-up meeting, a committee was formed and officers elected. An application for funding to the probation and welfare service was successful and the first referrals were taken by the project in June 1999.

In outlining the aims of Nenagh Community Reparation Project, it is important to note that the project is new and in a state of evolution. Four aims have been identified to date. The first one is to confront the offender with his or her offences and help him or her to accept responsibility for his or her actions. The key word in that aim is "responsibility". Our project operates on a finding or a plea of guilt so that is not an issue. For us, "responsibility" is the next step in that process which will hopefully end with an apology to the victim and some form of reparation. It is also important to note that the acceptance of responsibility in our current system is usually conveyed through an intermediary such as a solicitor and the impact of that act of accepting responsibility is somewhat diluted.

The second aim we have identified is to minimise repeat offending by confronting the offender with the impact of his or her crimes on others. By "others" we obviously mean the victim in a particular case. However, we also recognise that offending affects the community in general and indeed often the victim is the community, in cases such as public order or drug offences.

The third aim is to give victims a say in how matters involving them are dealt with. As discussed earlier, in our current criminal justice system, the position of the victim is as a witness for the State. Nenagh Community Reparation project recognises the need, however, to give victims an input into how matters involving them are dealt with, should they so wish. The final aim of the project is to give the community a say in how some offenders are dealt with. As is evident throughout this presentation our project is based in the community and relies on community involvement for its very existence.

The structure of the project is that we have a board of directors comprising 15 people. These include members of the community, representatives of the Garda, the probation service, the courts service and representatives of local statutory and voluntary agencies. The role of the board of directors is the overall management of the project and the formulation of policy. The management sub-committee is drawn from the board of directors and comprises the officers of the project and other directors. At the moment, there are eight members and they are responsible for the day-to-day running of the project.

We have a panel of community representatives and this is part of the uniqueness of our project. There is a group of people, some of whom are already involved in the project at other levels, some whom are not, and they have expressed a willingness to sit down with victim and offender at what have become known as "panel meetings" to try to arrange reparation. Their role at the meeting is that of community representative and at any one time, two people from our panel meet victim and offender. There are 13 people on this panel. They have received supervision and training and further training is planned.

The final piece of the jigsaw is that of project co-ordinator which is my role. This position entails a number of very different functions which have the effect of pulling the project together. In the first place, I attend Court and take referrals. From this I chair the panel meetings, where contracts of reparation are agreed and report back to court on the result of that meeting. I then supervise offenders while reparation is carried out and in the final instance I again report back to court on the completion of the contracts. The co-ordinator is also a board member and reports to the management sub-committee.

In detailing the operation of the project, there are six basic steps. The first step is the initial referral which is at the discretion of the presiding judge. Once a referral is made, matters are adjourned for a time, usually to the next court sitting, to see if a contract of reparation can be agreed. The second step is a pre-panel meeting stage. At this point, while the meeting date is being finalised, I meet with the victim and the offender separately. This allows me to explain in detail the workings of the project and to assess where the parties are in the process, how ready both parties are to engage, the expectations of both parties and possible areas of conflict or agreement. The third step is the panel meeting which in reality, is the core activity of the process. At this meeting the offender is invited to meet with a panel of four people, two representing the community, a member of the Garda Síochána and me. If there is a victim, then he or she is also invited to attend, with any support people he or she might wish to have with them.

The aims of the meeting are to allow the victim a voice in telling his or her story, the offender an opportunity to take responsibility, to express his or her remorse and to then try to agree a contract of reparation. The meeting follows a set procedure. If a victim is present he or she is invited to tell his or her story. Then the offender is asked to outline his offending behaviour and to express his remorse. At this point in the process, the offence and the circumstances surrounding the offence are clarified so that a full picture becomes clear. There follows a general discussion in which issues are teased out in greater detail.

The final part of the meeting focuses on agreeing a contract of reparation to be undertaken by the offender. A contract is drawn up only when all parties present are satisfied with the content of the contract. The contract must be realistic, achievable and relevant to the circumstances of the offence. The fourth step is the presentation of the contract. Once a contract of reparation is agreed, the matter is brought before the court for formal approval. Once this has been obtained the matter is further adjourned for a specified period for the contract to be completed. This period is different in every case but is agreed in advance with the offender and the victim.

The fifth step is the supervision of the contract so that while the offender undertakes the completion of the contract, he or she is under my supervision and will be aware that if there is a failure of co-operation the matter can be re-entered before any court in the court area. This time is different in every case but is agreed in advance with the offender and victim.

The final stage is the completion of contract and return to court. The matter returns to court for the last time on the expiry of the adjourned period and the success, or otherwise, of the contract is outlined to the judge. To date matters have proceeded in one of two ways. If the contract has been successfully completed, matters are either struck out or dismissed under the Probation of Offenders Act and no conviction is recorded. Alternatively, if the contract has not been completed, matters proceed as they would have done initially.

In outlining the functioning of the project, it is important to bear in mind the fact that the project is at an early stage of its development. In establishing it we planned for a referral rate of two per month. In our first year of operation, 1999, we did not reach our quota of referrals. Similarly, in 2000 we did not reach our quota. However, the other side of that coin is that we then had time available to put in place our administration, to develop our management system and to undertake some victim-offender training.

In 2001, our first full year of operation we had 20 referrals. A researcher was engaged and the project evaluated at that time. The committee will have a copy of this evaluation. In the year 2002 we had 12 referrals and to date this year we have had ten referrals. The project, as I have said, is constantly evolving. Just last month our chairperson, one other member and I completed a victim-offender mediation course and that has prompted us to look at the whole area of victims more closely, especially in the area of effectively engaging them. We have begun to develop links with Victim Support and have co-opted one member of Victim Support on to our board. We are currently in discussions with the local authority about broadening the reach of our project.

I again thank the committee on behalf of Nenagh Community Reparation for the invitation to make the presentation today. If the members of the committee have any questions we will gladly try to answer them.

Thank you very much, Mr. Hurley. That was a comprehensive overview of what the Nenagh Community Reparation Project does. It inspires great confidence in the fusion of the community, the probation service and the Garda. On the completion of the contract, the matter is proceeded in one of two ways, either the successful completion of the contract or it is unsuccessful. Have the majority of them being successful or otherwise?

Mr. Hurley

The majority have been successful and there have very few unsuccessful cases. There is one that comes to mind.

Of the 20 cases in 2000, what are the figures?

Mr. Hurley

Of the 20 cases in 2000, 19 proceeded to contract and all 19 completed them.

Very good.

Mr. Hurley

In the other case, there was an actual contract agreed, but the person re-offended before the case came back before the court. The contract was not fulfilled.

I am going to have to ask you to bank questions as there are many members who wish to ask questions. Why does the project see itself as one from which other communities can learn? Has the Nenagh project been asked by other communities to help them in establishing similar projects? What are the benefits of the project and should it be replicated around the State?

I, too, welcome the Nenagh Community Reparation Project and thank the representatives for their presentation. On the cases referred to them from the courts, are they discussed in advance with the judge? Are the judges aware of the programme and do they then decide what cases are suitable for referral? What happens during this stage? Are the press present in the court? Is there a scenario where, say, Jimmy Murphy is charged assault, has his case referred to the community reparation project and is not reported in the press? Some may argue that if an offence is committed, then justice has not only to be done but seen to be done. Is there a press blackout on this?

Can we have more details on contracts not fulfilled? When they are not fulfilled, is there a huge void in the victim's life, feeling that he or she was further let down? Do they feel worse than they did in the first place?

Can we have a sample of the kind of offences that are referred and are suitable for referral to the project? Are these assault, theft and larceny or drug offences? I am interested to hear more on this if there are drug offences involved. Is it users or pushers and what type of work is done in those cases?

There seem to be a small number of referrals based on the numbers given by the project. I am not being critical as I know it is a new scheme. However, based on the number of referrals, how cost-effective is the project? As a probation officer, is Mr. Hurley full-time on this project? Would the number of referrals here represent a full caseload for a probation officer in normal activity? How does Mr. Hurley's work here compare with working as a probation officer or is this project an extra job?

I am delighted to welcome all of the representatives of the project to the committee. I was impressed by the presentation and pleased to have the documentation in advance. The idea that we look at justice in terms of relationships is an interesting and extraordinary concept which is undeveloped in this State. It is a personal situation as distinct from an adversarial one in that the damage caused on a personal basis is distinguished from the law of the land being infringed and punishment being meted out. An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth response is the norm we have currently.

We have an increasing crime rate in the State and a rising prison population. Up to 80% of the prison population have been detained for relatively minor offences which are dealt with through the District Court. We know there is an escalating cost of imprisonment, yet we still have a 70% recidivist rate. To what extent does the Nenagh group see its programme being extended to other areas, particularly large urban areas? The group is operating within the small, close-knit community of Nenagh. Everyone nearly knows each other and if not, they know somebody who knows somebody else. When that is looked at in the context of Dublin, Limerick or Cork, does the group see it as being feasible to extend the programme to those places? Are certain cases specifically excluded or is the project prepared to accept all cases that come before the courts? I notice that the number of referrals has been decreasing every year since the establishment of the Nenagh Community Reparation Project. Does that mean that the crime rate is decreasing or that the project is getting fewer cases with which to deal? The number reduced from 20 in the first year to ten this year; if that continues for another five or six years perhaps there will be nobody left to be referred, so the project can expand into the surrounding community.

The figures only refer to the first six months of this year, Deputy.

The number of people involved looks a bit unwieldly. There are 15 directors as well as a large community panel, which is a new initiative. How many people are dealing with the referrals? Is there a larger number on the board of directors, as distinct from those who deal with the cases? Will just one or two people make the decisions? If the community panel deals with the victim or the offender, are we talking about a large panel, or one or two people? How does that work out in a close knit community where people know each other? We are talking about fairly private matters and somebody is expected to show some form of remorse, so the level of embarrassment involved could cause problems from time to time.

I welcome the representatives of the Nenagh Community Reparation Project and I commend their work. The project is a creative and progressive one, which provides society with another option for dealing with crime. The project's representatives have strong connections with Deputy Máire Hoctor who is a colleague of mine on this committee. I thank Mr. Donal Hurley for his excellent submission.

Mr. Hurley said the ethos of the project was to get the offender to accept responsibility for his or her offence and to make reparation. That is a progressive, community-based response. Most important, it is also a human response. Members of the public regularly tell me that this element is lacking in the judicial system, so this is an important dimension for any anti-crime measures. How many such projects exist nationally and what effect are they having on local communities?

If someone smashed my car window, I would it appreciate if the culprit was prepared to make some payment towards the cost of the damage. It may only be a small anti-social problem but if reparations were made it would have a major impact on crime as well as increasing public confidence in the justice system. That is the key to success in this regard. These are the kind of issues that will win public confidence.

Mr. Hurley said the project's aims are to provide community reparations for adult offenders by use of alternative means to the present justice system, and to minimise repeat offending. He said the project's focus was more on reparation than on mediation. Will he expand on this point? He also spoke about restorative justice and I agree with this philosophy, which "seeks to redefine crime, interpreting it not so much as breaking the law or offending against the State but as an injury or wrong done to another person or persons". The personal side is the issue that arises regularly. Victims of crime have told me that nobody seems to care or identify with their hurt and they feel lost in the whole system. We should stick to this definition of restorative justice because the public relates to it. Many people will not report petty crimes but they are major crimes to the victims involved.

In section 271, on page 15, Mr. Hurley said that 20 offenders completed the project, which is good. I was surprised to see, however, that seven of the 20 had their leaving certificates and three were involved in third level education. This is a new angle on the educational disadvantage debate. Some 75% of those dealt with by the Nenagh Community Reparation Project were employed, which raises some questions. I hope this is not a project just for dysfunctional or disruptive, anti-social, middle-class children. I would worry that we might be leaving out poor, disadvantaged families. Does the project exclude extremely disadvantaged families?

On page 19, section 27.10, Mr. Hurley said that 15 had completed the project, which is very good, four are ongoing and only one person re-offended. That is value for money by any yardstick because the bottom line is that only one person reoffended.

On the wider debate on the causes of crime, most of us who have dealt with this issue - I worked in the inner city for 20 years - found that the young kids who ended up in Mountjoy came from dysfunctional families suffering from alcohol and drug abuse. This was the common thread through primary school, where the young people had low IQ and low self-esteem. These were the sort of children who would end up in Mountjoy, drifting through the system and receiving no support. Does Mr. Hurley agree that is the main reason such young people end up in jail? The report seems to give a different spin on the matter, however. Is the project dealing with petty crime or with the big issues also?

If only one person in 20 reoffended, that would be a classic example of good quality public services making maximum effective use of public money. What are the project's financial resources? Is it in receipt of major funding? Is Mr. Hurley happy with the funding the project receives from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and State agencies?

I compliment the project organisers and especially Mr. Hurley. Deputy Hoctor told me about this project some time ago. I understand that Judge Reilly is working in the Ballinasloe area where some meetings have been held. I pledge every possible help to the scheme. Anything that can be done to keep people out of jail is good because prisoners can lose their self respect. Once that is lost, they may not care whether they are re-imprisoned and that is why so many people reoffend. The project, however, is trying to maintain the offender's self respect while helping them to reintegrate into society.

Do the victims involved in this project feel at risk themselves? Is there huge embarrassment when victims meet the offenders? Perhaps such embarrassment is necessary. Is much of the crime with which the project is dealing alcohol-related and, if so, is alcohol treatment being provided for the offenders?

I compliment the representatives of the Nenagh Community Reparation Project. Anyone who is trying to keep offenders out of jail and reintegrate them into the community, while ensuring they do not reoffend, deserves to be complimented.

I welcome the delegation. I know from our convenor, Deputy Hoctor, of the work done in this area. I commend the delegation for what is a good, innovative project. I like the concept of the involvement of the victim in arriving at a solution. That is important, as is the community aspect. Peer pressure can often act as a regulator.

Two case studies were outlined, both of which are alcohol related. To what extent are referrals derived from abuse problems, be they associated with alcohol or drugs? What category of offender does the project cater for? The question of reoffending is important. Mention was made of the 20 referrals in 2001; 19 proceeded to contract and were closed, while one reoffended prior to completion. How many of those 20 would have reoffended subsequently and were brought before the courts? After closure of the issues, what kind of follow-up is there in terms of monitoring? Is there a juvenile liaison officer to keep in contact with the families and individuals concerned who would play a part in keeping them away from unsavoury influences and out of temptation?

What kind of dynamics underpin the reparation project? Is it the community issue, peer pressure or such like? What is the overall cost of the project and what are the sources of funding?

Is the system entirely dependent on the District Court judge embracing the concept? In how many other locations is this type of project in operation? The justice system, including the Department, is conservative in its approach and does not embrace change, perhaps for good reason. Under the programme, the District Court judge gives an opportunity to the individual to become involved in, and benefit from, the programme and presumably is thereby dealt with more leniently. What is the age profile of the referrals?

I commend the members of the project who are in attendance. I am familiar with the project as it operates on the same street on which my office is located. It is engaged in excellent and innovative work. I agree with the views expressed by members of the committee, especially with regard to the involvement of the victim and the means whereby offenders are effectively forced to confront the consequences of their actions and take responsibility. It is an important part of the project. Based on experience of what is a pilot project, do the representatives consider it could be replicated elsewhere and would it be worth doing so, possibly in more urban and inner city communities?

Is professional advice available on referral? In the second instance it was cited the person concerned agreed to partake in a programme. Is professional advice available in alcohol and drugs programmes and, if not, is it necessary that it should be?

I will ask Deputy Hoctor to respond at the end of the meeting. In the meantime I call on the delegation to respond to the points raised.

Ms Brislane

We are grateful for the questions. Mr. Hurley is best equipped to answer them.

Mr. Hurley

The project is community based and Nenagh is a small community area. The key to our project is that it takes place in a definable area. Judge Reilly, who also sits in Ballinasloe, is interested in a similar concept for that area and we have held discussions with my colleagues in the probation service in Ballinasloe about the possibility of establishing a similar project there.

The difficulty with the urban areas, such as Limerick and Dublin, is their physical size. In Limerick especially, there are well established and defined communities, something that would need to be taken on board. The project would need to be established on a more local basis within a larger urban area.

Referral is at the total discretion of the judge. The initial referral would take place in courtand there would be two subsequent courtappearances. The media would be present at all times and cases are regularly reported in the press.

At the outset, I would meet with the victim and offender separately and would try to tease out what would happen in the case of failure to fulfil contracts and whether the possibility of reparation is possible. Following these meetings I would quickly get a sense of remorse or responsibility. I would not proceed with a case if I considered that those elements at least were not present.

In many drugs cases there is no specific victim; the community is the victim and, sometimes, the person involved. We deal with all cases that come before the District Court, including any case referred by Judge Reilly in Nenagh District Court. A number of them would be drugs offences but the vast majority would be for simple possession only. In those cases the question of reparation and restorative justice is very much concerned with the offender to ensure he or she does not end up in that position again. It could range from counselling to a more formal in-patient treatment programme or a further education programme.

As a probation officer, the cases I deal with in the project are part of my ongoing caseload and in that regard, I do not undertaken extra work. Extra work would arise at conferences or meetings of this kind where presentations must be made. We have a good administrator who organises meetings, writes letters and so on. The project does not generate a huge amount of extra work for me.

With regard to the numbers of cases, there have been ten referrals this year and we would expect more before the end of the year. We are dependent on the District Court judge making referrals. Unfortunately, Judge Reilly has other commitments in courts in other districts. He does not always sit in Nenagh, with the result that we do not always get referrals. To date, none of the other judges sitting in Nenagh have made referrals.

There was a question about the numbers dealing with referrals, and whether it was a large and unwieldy system. There are 15 members on our board of directors which is a very formal role. Our management committee consists of the officers and a few other members. The panel of community representatives consists of 13 in total, but at any one time at a meeting with a victim and an offender there would be two people from that panel. Such a meeting would be attended by me, a garda, and two people from our panel of community representatives - that is, four people - plus the victim and the offender, or in some cases, where there is a drugs offence, the four plus the offender only.

We have recently completed a victim-offender mediation training course and we would be hopeful of looking at our own processes within that context, effectively engaging the victim and keeping that situation tighter, conscious of the place of the victim in the project and of not re-victimising somebody or exposing him or her to a big group of people. That would be ongoing in our own development.

We were asked how many such projects there were. There is one other such project, the Tallaght victim-offender mediation service. It operates on a somewhat similar basis to ours, although it is different. That is the only other such project in the Republic. There would be a number of such projects in the North, some of which are within the formal judicial system and others of which are without. Such projects are well developed in places like New Zealand, America, Australia and parts of Europe.

There was a question about reparation and mediation. We were very conscious at the start to cut our cloth to suit our measure. We realised we were not mediators or counsellors, and we were very careful not to go down that road. There is a huge danger with a victim that you re-victimise him or her in trying to help and therefore we focus very much on the reparation. We have completed a victim training course and we would be hopeful of looking at our processes again to go down the road of mediation, which is more of a therapeutic track.

I would make a number of points on the question on figures, on whether it is a middle-class and on excluding people. In the first place we are very much at the mercy of the judge for referrals. We take referrals as we get them. Certainly there would be huge issues among some of the people with whom we have dealt in terms of education, of training and of disadvantage created because of a lack of training or education. We would be very conscious of that and that sometimes part of the reparation would be about accessing education, further training and so forth. I am particularly thinking of drugs cases where you might not necessarily have a victim and the defendant might be helped to understand that part of the problem is the lack of training and education.

On the numbers on the study concerned, we had 20 referrals in 2000. Of them, 19 successfully completed their contracts. To answer the question asked, I do not know how many have re-offended. I would be proposing that we might carry out a re-conviction study, perhaps at the end of this year, on that cohort of 20 from 2000. I would have an idea, anecdotally, of what the numbers would be like, but I would have no facts and figures on it and could only guess.

Would some have re-offended?

Mr. Hurley

Recently, yes, I would say. Certainly some have re-appeared before the court. Whether they have been convicted or not is another issue, but they have been before the court.

There was a question about the community being at risk and embarrassed at meetings. Perhaps someone from the community might answer it.

Ms Brislane

I certainly never felt at risk. We have a panel of 13. While I do not know how the other panel members operate, I would always ask the administrator the names of the people who are coming up. I work with the town council and if they were people with whom I worked closely or if I knew them well, I would ask the administrator to get another panel member for that panel meeting. But I never felt at risk at all.

Mr. Hurley

It is important to say that the final part of the reparation meetings, where we try to arrange the contract, is very much about putting it back to the offender, asking: "What do you need to do to make up for what you have done?", and trying to ensure that the possibility of it happening again is reduced so that the contract comes from the offender. At the end of the day nobody is imposing a sentence on anybody. Certainly, we may need to refine what comes out but it comes from the offender. While the contract is being completed, I am supervising the person and I would take much of the flak if there was some to be taken. It is explained at the outset that the people from the community are there as community representatives. The people from the community have no further involvement with that person once the contract was agreed and, therefore, there would be no reason to have any further involvement.

Ms Brislane

The contract must be do-able.

Mr. Hurley

Yes, the contracts are achievable and do-able so that we are not asking anybody to try to achieve things which obviously are not possible.

Mr. Jim Hughes

A number of the panel members are members of the board of directors and a number of members of the management committee are also panel members. It is not a case that there are 15 in one group, eight in another, etc. These people are all members of the same group.

Someone asked about the cost and issues like that. The cost is in the region of €28,000 a year.

Does that figure include salaries?

Mr. Hughes

The only salary relates to the administrator who is employed on a part-time basis.

What is the source of the funding?

Mr. Hughes

It is Government funding from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the probation and welfare service.

Is part of Mr. Hurley's salary included in that figure or is that figure for the administrator and for office overheads?

Mr. Hurley

I am not paid anything extra. I am the probation officer for the north Tipperary area.

Does that figure include any portion of Mr. Hurley's salary?

Mr. Hurley

No.

Mr. Hughes

It goes towards the training of panel members and the like, and the running of the office.

It sounds like very good value for money. Deputy Hoctor, would you like to respond to the presentation and the debate generally?

Thank you, Chairman. I am pleased to welcome my colleagues from the Nenagh Community Reparation Project. There has been great interest from members of the committee in the project. It would never have started but for the great foresight, vision, willingness and courage of Judge Michael Reilly in the district and he would not have got the assistance but for the openness of the people in the probation and welfare service who were willing to also take on this new concept he put to them. The probation and welfare service and the judge returned together to the Nenagh community and the judge presented the case. He said that there is another way and it is called restorative justice, that there is the possibility that this community can help in the situation and reduce the numbers returning to the courtroom month after month, and also that it would give people a sense of responsibility. He also said that the community in which the offence is committed would also have a say.

We are talking about people who are willing to change and have courage to change, from the judge to the probation and welfare officers in Limerick. The project would never have happened but for the willingness of these officers to take on the proposals of Judge Michael Reilly at that time, and, of course, the willingness of the members of the community.

Judge Reilly, through the Crime Council report, has been very vocal about this particular project because he feels it is moving in a positive direction, that the figures are good even though the project is in its infancy. He has appealed to his colleagues to consider this as an alternative. It is very much still a pilot project, but it has received support, not only in financing but also from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform whose Ministers have visited the project and lent their support. There is great willingness and openness in respect of this project, but the Judiciary must make a move on it as well if it is to become widespread. Committee members inquired if it could be extended. It would obviously have to be with the co-operation of the Judiciary if it were to become a reality in other places. We welcome the fact that Ballinasloe, with the co-operation of the probation and welfare service and Judge Michael Reilly, will adopt the initiative.

Regarding the baseline study, which was based on 20 offenders, we know from what Mr. Hurley has told us that 19 out of that group of 20 completed the contracts. An interesting point is that eight of the 20 who had offended, gone through the system, admitted guilt, been referred and successfully completed the project, expressed a willingness, when asked, to become involved as volunteers in the project to help others who may find themselves before the courts. Ultimately we hope to see reintegration into the community.

An interesting question was whether those who volunteered would fear for themselves in future as volunteers when confronted with offenders. It was one of our fears in the beginning but it has never been an issue for us. This is because, when meeting in a conference setting, offenders soon see it is a supportive setting and environment in which it is obvious that their offence matters very much to the community in which they live. At the same time, it is by no means a "softly softly" approach. They know that, if they do not complete their contract, they will be back before a judge again. We act as intermediaries and facilitators to let people know that their actions matter to us and have an effect on the overall community. It was an interesting revelation from the baseline study that eight were willing to become involved and saw the merits of the project.

It has been a fruitful exercise for committee members and others who are not members of the committee to have been exposed to the fruits of such a project. It can only be good that the message is communicated that there is an alternative to the judicial system, that people are valued within the community and at the same time are made accountable for their actions with the hope that they will not commit them again. I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to address the group and am appreciative of the interesting questions that came forward.

On behalf of the committee, I express our appreciation to the Deputy for organising the meeting of Nenagh Community Reparation Project with the committee. It was very fruitful and will give us all cause to think further on how we look on the questions of reparation and justice. I thank Ms Alice Brislane, the cathaoirleach; Mr. Donal Hurley, the project co-ordinator; Mr. Vincent Byrne and Mr. Jim Hughes for attending and giving us a clear and full background on the project.

The joint committee went into private session at 3.34 p.m. and adjourned at 3.51 p.m.