Prisons Bill, 1974: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I should like to apologise to the House for my absence when the matter was first called; it came unexpectedly.

This short Bill proposes to extend, for three years, section 2 of the Prisons Act, 1972, which makes provision for the transfer of prisoners from the civil prisons to military custody and for related matters.

The 1972 Act was passed immediately after the riot which occurred in Mountjoy prison in May, 1972. The destruction caused in the riot so reduced prison accommodation that it was essential to transfer some prisoners and the only place they could be transferred to was military custody. Those transferred were persons requiring a high degree of security.

Since then however factors have existed in the overall situation which make it essential to continue the present arrangements. If we are to have a prison system geared to rehabilitation then there must be peace in our prisons; an absence of agitation and tension. This, in my opinion, can only be achieved by the careful segregation of prisoners into suitable categories or groups. It might be helpful to Senators if I were to give some details of prison accommodation available for male offenders and how the accommodation is being used.

The largest prison is Mountjoy, which can house about 450 male prisoners. It is the principle committal prison in the State and at the moment takes all what I might describe as ordinary long-term prisoners, together with all other prisoners from outside the areas served by Limerick and Cork prisons. It is an old building which requires radical adaptation and restructuring to make it well-serviced, with an increased emphasis on rehabilitation, and at the same time, secure. Although this long-term work has started, it will soon be necessary to reduce the population in Mountjoy considerably to enable the major part of the work to commence. This will be possible as soon as the new accommodation for the training of selected prisoners now nearing completion beside Mountjoy, and the renovated Arbour Hill prison are brought into operation. The new training unit will be able to accommodate 96 prisoners but, of course, it will be essential to build up its population very gradually so that a satisfactory regime may be established by stages to enable full value to be obtained from the very advanced educational and training facilities being provided in it. The renovated Arbour Hill prison will accommodate about 100 prisoners and will cater mainly for a category of prisoners who are likely to respond to the particular training in industrial skills which the prison will be specially equipped to provide. It will not be a high security prison and the prisoners sent there will not be of a kind that need high security.

Also in Dublin there is St. Patrick's Institution, which is a place of detention for young male adult offenders. I should say that St. Patrick's has at the moment a near capacity population.

Outside Dublin we have Limerick, Cork and Portlaoise prisons and three "open" institutions: Shanganagh Castle, Loughan House and Shelton Abbey. Limerick prison can accommodate about 100 male prisoners and is a committal prison for the South West. It works constantly to full capacity. It cannot be described as a highly secure prison and adequate educational and work facilities have yet to be provided in it.

Cork prison, which is the former military detention barracks, is being extensively renovated and added to. In effect it serves the counties of Cork and Waterford. The conditions there for its present population of about 65 are barely adequate. It may shortly be necessary to vacate the prison altogether to allow the reconstruction work to be completed. When completed early next year Cork will be a modern well-serviced prison for about 100 prisoners but it will not be a high security prison.

Portlaoise Prison is the only place where reasonable, but not ideal, conditions of security obtain and since last November it is being used to house offenders who are a homogeneous group of subversive criminals and have to be accommodated in a secure prison.

There are 32 prisoners in the Military Detention Barracks at the Curragh. I do not wish, for obvious reasons, to comment in any detail on the individual prisoners there. Suffice it to say that they are considered to represent a threat to the security and good order of the prisons. The difficulty with them is that when mixed with ordinary-type prisoners they can foment such disorder as to make the prison unworkable and make normal rehabilitative work impossible. They require a high degree of security.

Straightaway therefore Mountjoy, Limerick, Cork and Arbour Hill prisons, the "open" centres and the new accommodation near Mountjoy can be ruled out as suitable places for them. Portlaoise prison might be suitable but it is not possible to place them in Portlaoise in the company of the other group of high-risk prisoners without endangernig security there. Military custody is the only alternative.

I have decided in fact that the best long-term solution is to build a special unit to house prisoners of this type. This unit will be one of maximum security capable of housing up to 30 high risk prisoners and it will be located in the Portlaoise prison complex. Preliminary work has started on it but it may take up to three years to complete it. It may not be readily understood why a maximum security unit should take so long to complete. The fact is that a structure of this sort is completely different in nearly every possible way from structures of any other kind. Careful consideration has to be given to even the minutest details of lay-out and equipment and to the materials which are used. As well as that the new unit must be integrated into an ongoing prison complex, the security of which has to be maintained throughout and this in its own way does not make it any easier to get work done expeditiously. While it may be possible to dispense with military custody for civilians before then I am afraid that it is essential to provide for the possibility of military custody for that three years.

An alternative to military custody might seem to be the transfer of the Curragh Military Detention Barracks to civilian control to be operated as a civilian prison. I am satisfied that this is not possible. Apart from the basic objection to having a civilian controlled enclave in the heart of a military complex, there are not adequate staff resources in the prison service to run the Curragh Military Detention Barracks and at the same time meet current and prospective commitments in the civil prisons. The task of operating military custody must be an unwelcome burden to the Defence Forces at the present time and I regret that it should be necessary to prolong it. I shall do all I can to relieve them of it as quickly as possible. In the meantime I know the Defence Forces are doing everything possible to provide as good a regime as possible for prisoners in military custody. For example, in liaison with my Department educational classes are being provided in the Curragh Military Detention Barracks by two teachers made available by the County Kildare Vocational Educational Committee. Recreation facilities to the maximum feasible extent have been provided. The possibility of extending and augmenting these facilities is being kept under review.

I regret the necessity for this Bill. I also wish to apologise for the fact that the Bill has been introduced at this late stage. I was in fact considering whether the prisoners in question could be accommodated otherwise than in military custody and, as I have said, it is with reluctance that I have come to the conclusion that they cannot.

I will conclude by saying that I am fully satisfied that the security of our prison system makes the continuation of military custody essential, and I commend the Bill to the House.

I should like to make a preliminary point which we have made on other legislation that has come before this House in recent weeks. It relates to the incompetence of the Government in rushing legislation through both Houses of the Oireachtas. We have had it from the Minister for Local Government in regard to two measures, the Electoral Bill and the Local Government Bill. We now have it here from the Minister for Justice in regard to the Prisons Bill. This Bill is, quite simply, a continuation of the existing Prisons Act of 1972, a simple two-section Bill continuing that Act in operation. It was rushed into the Dáil last week and is now brought before the Seanad today with a special motion for early signing by the President in order to secure its enactment, which must be secured if the Bill is to be effective before 31st May, 1974.

Here again, as in the case of the Minister for Local Government, is an example of legislation being hustled through the Oireachtas. It is bad for parliamentary institutions—and I want to repeat this point again—that business should be conducted in this way. I regard it as fundamental for a Government in a democratic society, if they have any respect for the institutions of democratic society, to organise their business through the Houses so as to enable responsible debate to take place. It certainly is not helping matters to hustle a Bill into the Dáil last week, to hustle it into the Seanad this week and to have a motion for early signature allied to it, all on the basis of having it enacted before the 31st of this month, which will be in a few days' time. Surely it was quite obvious to the Minister for the past nine months, in view of the mounting seriousness of the security situation in the island as a whole, that the extension of the Prisons Act of 1972 was basic to the security of the State. I do not see what sort of waffling, or second thoughts or other thoughts, a responsible Government or a responsible Minister for Justice could have had in regard to this matter for the past nine months. It must have been quite obvious to him, to his officials and to the Government that this Bill would have to be accepted for three years.

The Act was introduced in 1972 and was severely criticised. I do not intend to follow up what I would regard as the rather sterile debate of 1972. I do not believe in debates of that kind. I shall not quote from the extensive criticism that was offered in the Dáil and Seanad in regard to the Prisons Bill, 1972, when it was going through the Oireachtas. At that time we had a serious security situation which was nothing like the situation we have now, in which the whole problem of the security of this island has escalated into one of very serious proportions. It is quite obvious that it is necessary to continue an important measure of this kind. It is essential that provision be made for the transfer of prisoners from civil prisons to military custody, particularly in the case of high security risk prisoners. That is basic. Unfortunately, in the context of the current problems with which we live, this situation will continue.

Why should it be necessary to come here at the very last minute and in a very apologetic way suggest a measure that quite obviously must be introduced? We support the measure fully, for the reasons I have mentioned, on the basis that we are a responsible Opposition. When, in far less dangerous situations we had the time, the perspicacity and the wisdom to see the necessity for this measure, it was violently opposed on the basis that it was unnecessary, illiberal and that we were being arrogant.

Legislation of this kind is essential in the present context. The Minister himself has set out very clearly why it is necessary. To put it bluntly, it is essential to have in military custody people who foment riot or who have the mentality for fomenting riot, trouble and terrorism in prisons. Unfortunately, in the situation in which we now find ourselves, we are likely to have more men of violence of that kind from every side. That is a fact of life and there is no point in running away from it in view of the two extremes that exist in this island. We had an example of this violence, unfortunately, in Monaghan and Dublin recently.

Therefore the need for this Bill is unquestionable, but I question the seriousness of a Government in doing their business when it was quite obvious for the past 12 months that this Bill needed to be introduced. It is essential—I agree with the Minister on this—that people of this kind should be separated from the ordinary run-of-the-mill lawbreaker, who can, perhaps, be induced to change his habits by training methods, by psychological help, or by advice. Many excellent reforms have been introduced into our prison system and are applicable to the ordinary type of lawbreaker who happens to make mistakes and who should be properly treated. Training facilities, as stated by the Minister, are available in our civil prisons for that category. I do not see why there should be any consideration or any question in the Government's mind, short of not having guts, in facing up to the fact that the other type of security prisoner is best suited to military custody.

The Minister stated that he was considering if the prisoners in question could be accommodated otherwise than in military custody. It was with reluctance he said that he came to the conclusion that they cannot. Of course, they cannot. There is no need for reluctance or consideration about it. It is a fact that military custody is the appropriate custody for this particular type of prisoner. The whole argument presented by the Minister in his introductory speech leads one inescapably to that conclusion that you do not mix the two types of prisoner. If you are going to have prisoners who are concerned about overthrowing the institutions of the State, be they of the extreme Orange or the extreme Green kind, it is quite obvious that they should not be accommodated with the normal civil prisoners.

I cannot see why this Bill is being introduced at such a late stage, after much doubt and with apologies to the House. As far as the Minister is concerned, there is no need to apologise to this side of the House. We support him fully in the implementation of this measure. What we do not support is the prevarication of the Government in regard to it, the lack of consistency and the attitude of mind that appears to be unable to face up to responsibilities. Any attempt to deal responsibly with problems that affect the basic security of the State will have the full approval of this side of the House. We shall agree completely with any Government measure in that regard, but the Government will meet severe criticism of any inability to face up to their responsibilities or of any attitude that suggests—as their handling of this measure does—a dilatory attitude, an attitude of prevarication or apology in regard to people of this kind. This matter can only be dealt with as was proposed in the Prisons Bill, 1972, now the Prisons Act, 1972.

This extension is necessary also to deal with the problem which, unfortunately, may escalate. We suggest to the Minister and the Government that there is no need to have massive reservations in matters of this kind. We, as a Government, took immediate action at all stages when the essential security of the State was threatened. We did so in regard to the passing of this legislation; we did so in regard to the Offences Against the State Act in December, 1972. On each occasions we were opposed, as we were in regard to other legislation of this kind. We now find that legislation adopted in toto by the Government and continued, as in the case of the present legislation.

We welcome the conversion of the two parties comprising the present Government to our sane and responsible attitude. The criticism I have is that after 18 months in Government they should realise that there is no need to be pussyfooting about this Bill. There is no need to come here at a very late stage, with apologies, with a Bill that is essentially necessary.

I should like to compliment the Minister on the spirit in which he has introduced the Bill into the House. Unlike Senator Lenihan, I think the Minister's attitude is a very proper one. We would all agree, no matter how determined we are in relation to violence and to matters of security, that if it were at all possible to do so the proper way to treat criminals in our jurisdiction is under the civil jurisdiction, in the custody of the civil authorities.

It was only with reluctance and because of a particular situation which had arisen in Mountjoy in May, 1972, causing a certain amount of destruction and devastation of the premises which left accommodation short, that the then Fianna Fáil Government felt they had no alternative in the circumstances but to introduce the Prisons Bill, which it is now proposed should be extended. It was only in exceptional circumstances that the Fianna Fáil Government—and I hope I am not doing them any injustices when I say this—a civilian Government of a democratic country, felt it was proper that civilian prisoners should be allowed to be transferred to military custody. The Minister's attitude is precisely the same. However, the Minister had the good grace to tell the House that he was considering if there was any way out or if he would be forced to continue an Act which must be regarded in any democratic country as an exceptional Act. After that consideration, in the interests of security and having regard to the lack of accommodation at the moment, he felt reluctantly compelled to propose to both Houses of the Oireachtas a continuation of the provisions of this Act. I regard that as a very proper, democratic and open attitude on his part. I am disappointed at the attitude adopted by Senator Lenihan, as indicated in his speech.

There is another danger about transferring prisoners of a particular category to military custody. The transfer of these prisoners to military custody may elevate their position in the eyes of subversives. They might claim they are not, and should not, be treated as criminals and that this is recognised by the Government. This is a risk which the Minister and Government undertake by continuing this measure. This risk existed from the time the Act was first introduced as a Bill by the Fianna Fáil Government.

My recollection of the discussion on that Bill was that it was very detailed and searching and not obstructive. The necessity and the exceptional circumstances, as outlined by the Minister at the time, were accepted. Examination was given to the Bill as it stood, because in our particular democratic process the Bill was unusual and exceptional. People in both Houses were concerned to ensure that the powers being given to the Minister would be used only in the particular circumstances for which they were required by the then Government and now by this Government.

The Bill has been in operation for over two years. Any fears which anyone had, under either Government, that there might have been an abuse of the powers provided in the Act, have been completely dispelled, both by the present Minister and his predecessor. But it is right that the Minister should adopt an attitude of reluctance to the continuance of this Bill. It is my hope, and the Minister's also, that the necessary structural alterations in the physical buildings of our prisons will be undertaken and completed as speedily as possible. Then we can depart from this measure and return to the ordinary process of having these prisoners in civilian custody.

The Minister mentioned that because of the particular programme of work to be undertaken, the minute attention to detail required in connection with the high security block of the Portlaoise prison complex, the building work will be slow moving and will take time. Three years is the projected timetable for the work. On that account the Minister finds it necessary to get an extension of three years. However if the time is less, the retransfer of such prisoners to civilian custody will take place.

As Senator Lenihan has already said, we support the provisions of this Bill. In spite of what the Leader of the House suggested, we welcome the fact that the Minister, and the Coalition parties, have considerably changed the attitude they held at the time the original Bill was put through by the former Government. It is worth referring to the fact that at the time the Prisons Bill was put through there was an emergency situation because Mountjoy Prison had been to a considerable extent destroyed by a riot. The fact that there was an obvious and continuing emergency in the Prison Service did not preserve the then Fianna Fáil Government from very considerable criticism from the Opposition and from suggestions that this was another example of the generally dictatorial attitude allegedly adopted by Fianna Fáil Ministers. However times, circumstances and Governments change. Now the Minister comes in not merely with the continuing Bill, but a Bill which extends for three years, in totally different circumstances, the provisions of the original Prisons Act. The emergency is now over but nonetheless the Minister has decided to continue the provisions of the Act. We accept his reasons and are prepared to support them.

The Minister apologised in the second last paragraph of his opening statement for being so late in bringing in the Bill. We accept the apology, but we are entitled to query if it was necessary to spend well over a year in taking this decision. I accept that it is with reluctance that the Minister came to the conclusion that these provisions must be continued. We understand, in view of his former attitude, that it was a difficult decision for him to take. However, the Minister had a year in which to make the decision.

The Minister and his fellow-Ministers must understand that one of the difficulties about being in Government is that decisions must be made, and in particular difficult decisions. The fact that they are difficult does not mean that they will by themselves go away. Problems remain and have to be decided. To leave a problem of this kind until the very last moment, to introduce a Bill in the Dáil precisely ten days before it must become law, with only ten days for all Stages to go through the Dáil and Seanad, is simply incompetent administration. We can be in no doubt about that. One could forgive an individual instance of this kind, where for some reason or other a Minister had refrained from taking a decision in time. But the Minister is one of a long line of Ministers who are behaving like this.

We had the ludicrous situation a few weeks ago where the House was called to deal with a Bill which the Dáil was supposed to pass the night before for the Minister for Local Government. The Dáil did not pass the Bill, so we had no business. The following week the same Minister brought in a Bill relating to the local elections. It, too, had a time limit. He had had over a year to consider that Bill and again it had been left to the last minute. He told us that we had three hours to pass it through all Stages. Now this Minister tells us this Bill must be in force by Friday next. Therefore, we must take all Stages and again, as last time, support a motion for earlier signature by the President. Again we were told today by the Leader of the House that a very big, important and complex Bill, the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Bill, which has not even yet been passed by the Dáil, is supposed to be taken by this House tomorrow.

This is another example of utterly incompetent and dilatory administration. Have the members of this Government any interest in the democratic process? Have they any conception of what the parliamentary process means? Legislation is brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas and debated through the various Stages in order to give interested parties an opportunity of making their feelings known. Have the members of this Government any conception of what all this means? Do they look upon the parliamentary process as a nuisance? The Bills are drafted in their Departments. The Ministers say: "This is grand. Let us get it through Parliament as quickly as possible." I have been a Senator for a long time. I have never seen anything like the succession of Ministers coming in here over the last few weeks looking for all Stages of their Bills within hours and suggesting we meet on particular days in the hope that the Dáil would perhaps have passed the Bill the night before. This is a ludicrous way of doing business and suggests that the members of this Government have not an adequate grasp of their own business and certainly have no adequate respect for democratic traditions.

I propose to oppose this Bill. Perhaps I shall be the only Senator to go so far as to oppose it. I do so in full awareness of the very grave and serious circumstances in this island at this point in time. The fact that the situation is grave and that there are serious threats to democracy, is reason for being all the more concerned to protect and reinforce the institutions of the State and the democratic process. I oppose this Bill, because I believe it constitutes an abuse of the parliamentary process.

I join with Senators Lenihan and Yeats in their criticism of the short time within which this Bill was introduced, but I propose to return to that later. I differ from them in my criticism of the actual abuse of the parliamentary process which it constitutes. The Prisons Bill, 1972, was brought into the House as an urgent measure to meet a particular circumstance. It had a very difficult passage through both Houses of the Oireachtas. It was criticised because, as was conceded at the time, it went against the basic principles of penology in allowing civilians to be transferred to military custody. It was argued and justified on the grounds of the emergency circumstances which existed at that time. There had been riots in Mountjoy Jail in May, 1972, and it could no longer accommodate prisoners. There was no other available accommodation and it was necessary, as an urgent measure, to secure a place for them. Military custody was secured for them in the Curragh. It is now proposed to change the whole structure of this emergency Act by an amending Bill two years later and by extending the time limit for a completely new reason. This, in my view, should not be conceded. I am sorry the Opposition party have conceded that principle so lightly.

If it is proposed to build a high security prison to hold particular persons that should be planned for and discussed in the normal way. The Minister for Justice has an opportunity, when the Estimates for the Department of Justice are being discussed, to make known plans and proposals to that effect. If it is proposed to bring in legislation in relation to our prisons, then this should be done in a comprehensive and planned way, with sufficient time for discussion. To use the Prisons Act, 1972, which was brought in for a particular emergency and to which a time limit had been introduced, to meet an entirely new situation and to extend it for a further three years in the light of that situation, is not, in my view, the proper use of the parliamentary process. I take strong exception to that and I will elaborate on my reasons for that. It is the most basic reason for my opposition to this present Bill.

This Bill was introduced in the Dáil on 21st May, 1974. It passed through all Stages on that day. It has now been brought into the Seanad and, it would appear, will pass all Stages here today. There is also a motion for earlier signature by the President. Therefore this will be law within a fortnight of being introduced into the Houses of the Oireachtas. I join with Senators Lenihan and Yeats in querying the reason for this sudden emergency. Why could the Houses not have had an indication of the likelihood that this step might have had to be taken? This indication could have been given either in a debate on the Estimates for the Department of Justice or in the course of some other measure when the Minister for Justice was before either House. No such indication was given and one is led to believe, rather cynically, that it may have been much less planned than was stated.

This Bill purports to continue what I regard as a most unwelcome departure from the normal principles of penology, the basic principles which ought to underline our prison system, the safeguards which a society can take to protect itself, and the maintenance of proper standards and protection for the individuals concerned in our prison system. It is not therefore a small or an irrelevant matter. It is a very fundamental principle for our society that we surround any prison system with the most careful safeguards, with the most scrupulous monitoring, and that we do not, as is happening in this case, introduce or extend military custody by a back door, by a last minute extension of an emergency Bill which was brought in for a totally different situation.

The disadvantage of a Bill of this sort, which consists effectively of one section extending the time of operation of the Prison Act, 1972, is that it applies a particularly narrow focus to our prison system. This is doubly regrettable at this point in time because of the very gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves. It is difficult to have a comprehensive discussion about our prison system on the focus of a Bill such as this. This is distorting the original purpose of the Act and extending the time limit to cover another eventuality.

The basic principle remains the same, which is that we should be very slow and hesitant to introduce into our system of prisons the principle that civilians can be transferred from civil to military custody on the order of the Minister for Justice. We all must agree that military custody is a much less suitable manner of retaining civilians than any other form of custody that the State could devise. As we understand from the Minister's speech in the other House and his Second Reading speech in this House, the particular emergency which is the foundation of the Prisons Act, 1972, has been met and Mountjoy has been rebuilt. These very critical circumstances do not exist for this distortion of the original intention of the Prisons Act by extending it for a further three years. They do not exist in the critical form which would be necessary if the House were to consent to the extension of the Bill in this form. If this Prisons Bill was not passed and if the three-year time limit was not introduced, nothing of sufficient urgency would happen as a result. The 32 prisoners mentioned by the Minister could be accommodated in Portlaoise or elsewhere without the extension of military custody. Even if this were not so, the Minister had adequate time to take other measures to provide other accommodation for the particular individuals involved. We have conceded an important principle in a one-section Bill amending an earlier Act which had nothing to do with this particular question. We must be aware of what we are doing in this Bill and must not be deceived by the manner in which it comes before us.

Another extraordinary feature of this question is that the last few years have been a time of discontent and to some extent of disruption in the prisons. But there also has been a questioning of our whole system of custodial care, and of our prisons. It is an undermining of the real meaning of democracy that the way in which we discuss this extremely important subject is by the narrow and distorted focus of a Bill such as this. There has been as much serious questioning of the prison system in this country as there has been serious questioning in other western European countries, in particular the Scandinavian countries, and in the United States and other so-called civilised countries about custodial care, about confining persons to prison who are not regarded as dangerous either to themselves or to other citizens of their country.

We are here consenting in a backdoor manner to extending military custody for a further three years. In other countries they have given serious thought and consideration to extending all possible forms of non-custodial care so that people are not confined to prisons. We should examine our consciences in this respect. It is my firm view that we will look back on the 1970s and the decades up to this as barbaric, to the extent that we have locked away human beings for a number of years, the justification on the part of society being to prevent them from being at large. They are prohibited from exercising the normal relationships of a human being and this is justified as a deterrent to their physically carrying out further activities. This can hardly be called rehabilitating those persons since the process of rehabilitation has been so little a feature of the prison system in this country. Let us be clear that we are seriously out of line with advanced thinking in other countries if this is our approach to prisons in 1974 and if this is the way in which we intend to debate the questions of our prison population, of the new prisons being built and of the way in which citizens are distributed as between prisons.

In his Second Reading speech the Minister has given an account of the male adult prisons in this country and a very limited idea of the policy of the Department of Justice in this sphere. That is to be regretted. The Minister conceded that the idea of transferring civilians to military custody is contrary to every concept of penology. Towards the end of his speech in this House the Minister made reference to the fact that some attempt is being made to provide educational facilities.

I quote from the Minister's speech:

For example, in liaison with my Department, educational classes are being provided in the Curragh Military Detention Barracks by two teachers made available by the County Kildare Vocational Educational Committee. Recreation facilities to the maximum feasible extent have been provided. The possibility of extending and augmenting these facilities is being kept under review

The whole context in which this is being done is unreal. In military custody there cannot be any genuine attempt at rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is preparing a person to adapt to a normal and civilised life. Therefore, although one may introduce some relaxation in the strictest application of military custody, it would be wrong to concede that this was a genuine attempt at rehabilitation. The underlying assumption of the Minister's speech is that there is not any other serious problem in regard to prisons other than the critical points mentioned in regard to the need for a high security prison.

This Bill is introduced in a year when discontent has been so widespread and dissatisfaction with the prison system has been so great that the Minister took the unusual step of bringing journalists on a public relations visit of the prisons. I am in favour of constant visiting, not just by the established visiting committee, but by Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and by journalists so that as a society we can monitor the way in which we get rid of certain individuals because we say they have committed crimes against our society and that therefore they must be locked up for a period.

This is a dangerous principle to concede in its simple form. If we examine the concept of society wishing to protect itself against certain actions, of how that can best be done, then first, the whole prison system would be the last resort, and secondly, our prison population would diminish considerably. As a result the Minister would have ample space in which to cater for high-security prisoners within the existing prisons. It is a retrograde step, like building very large cathedrals, to want to start building large prisons and conceding that we want to augment our prison population; whereas the whole bias should be strongly in favour of trying to examine the ways in which we can devise a system of non-custodial care, and a system of retribution to society for acts done which society regards as anti-social but a system which does not involve the locking-away of a human being. We should exercise all our ingenuity and all our powers in order to reduce the prison population to its absolute minimum. Within that minimum we should devise the security necessary from time to time particularly in a troubled time in a country.

It is part of the argument for a high-risk security prison that one must examine the whole basis for the prison system in the country and do so in the terms of enlightened modern attitudes towards penology and not in the way in which the Minister approached it in his Second Reading speech where he has merely counted the existing prisons for adults and their populations. Therefore the Minister must extend an Act which was brought in for another emergency to meet this now recognised emergency. There is no other option open to him.

It is necessary in talking about this Prisons Bill in the terms in which the Minister justifies it to look even briefly at the process by which civilians, who are high-risk prisoners, may be sent to military custody. It would appear that the most likely route for persons to military custody would be by way of trial before the Special Criminal Court. It is relevant in a debate of this sort to note the structure and to assess in some measure the operation of the Special Criminal Court. In another capacity, as a professor in Trinity College, I did a recent study of the operation of the Special Criminal Court over the last two years. In this appraisal I was greatly helped——

I am afraid the Senator is now going wide of the Bill. This Bill is a continuance Bill. The Senator is certainly in order in discussing alternative ways of achieving what the Minister hopes to achieve by this particular amending Bill, but in my opinion the discussion of the operation of the Special Criminal Court would be outside the scope of such a measure.

I accept that. A long discussion on the operation of the court was not my intention. My intention, if I may explain—and I will accept the ruling of the Chair on this—is to make——

As long as it is brief.

Yes, I will make it brief. The contention which I made as a result of this study is that there are persons being tried and convicted before the Special Criminal Court who have not been linked with any subversive organisation, who have not been either charged with such activities nor has it been alleged that they have furthered the activities of any unlawful organisation. Yet they have then been committed to prisons. It is possible that these persons could under the present law, be transferred to military custody. The purpose of that argument is to show the extent to which we in this part of Ireland at the moment are eroding what we would all regard as the fundamental principles of justice and of the rule of law. We are eroding the concept of trial by jury for criminal offences subject to the exception in Article 38 of the Constitution. Here, today, we are eroding the concept of civilian custody in our prisons. We are eroding it by allowing an extension for another three years of the concept of military custody. This Bill, in the straitjacket of the time-limit in which we are committed to debate it, will justify this extension of military custody. We need to be very well aware of this because sometimes we get quite self-congratulatory and sanctimonious about the degree to which we protect democracy and democratic institutions in this part of the island. I would maintain that there are very serious inroads on the very democratic institutions and the process of democracy which we proclaim from time to time. As well as this aspect of how the persons may get ultimately to military custody under the prolongation of this provision——

I must again intervene to say that we are concerned here with the administrative actions of the Minister for Justice in transferring people to military custody. Anything prior to that does not come within the scope of the original Bill and does not come within the scope of the continuance Bill which we are now discussing.

The Cathaoirleach has confirmed me in my view that this is a very narrow focus indeed to discuss what I regard as a very important social issue.

This is a very narrow Bill, Senator.

I appreciate that.

You are bound by that.

The social issue concerning our prison system and modern concepts of penology cannot, as is evident from the degree to which I am being hauled up by the Chair, be discussed on this Bill, whose purpose is the extension of the concept of military custody for civilians who have been sentenced by our Special Criminal Court. It is my contention, in summary, that prison itself should be the last resort and the last option of society in judging the punishment for anti-social acts. We need a great deal more study and assessment of other alternatives of non-custodial care. My serious objection to this Bill, and my reason for opposing it, is that military custody being contrary to all the fundamental ideas of penology should not be conceded by the Houses of the Oireachtas in an extension of an Act which was enforced for a limited period of two years and which had nothing whatsoever to do with the present subject matter. Therefore we are extending an Act whose very purpose is now distorted. The purpose was not debated at the time when the Bill itself was enacted with difficulty through the Houses of the Oireachtas in May, 1972.

Finally I should like to ask the Minister whether there is or is intended to be a proper assessment of the prison facilities in this country. Is there to be a proper examination of custodial care and the other options open to society? Is this particular notion of transferring from civilian to military custody one on which the Minister will undertake to make full disclosure to the House? Will he tell the House of the times when this becomes necessary and and allow the Houses of the Oireachtas to monitor the operation of the exercise of power which will be given to him, if the Prison Act, 1972, is continued for another three years until May, 1977?

Those of us on this side of the House exercise a sort of self-imposed silence for reasons that Members of the Opposition will understand. There comes a time when one has even got to try the patience of colleagues by adding to the time that they have to remain in this House and when one must say what one has to say. In particular in view of the attitude that has been taken on this Bill by major Opposition spokesmen, I feel impelled to make two simple points. First of all, the parties on this side of the House support the Bill because the key consideration at the moment, particularly on this very grave day, is the suppression of terror and the control of terrorists. The people of this country will not forgive the Government for failing in their duty in that regard nor will they forgive this Parliament for preventing them from carrying out their duty, based upon some naive appreciation of human nature. The security issue is the key and important issue of today. It is my regret that we do not have a high-security prison which would be capable of maintaining within civil custody those who are convicted of subversive acts or of belonging to illegal organisations. That defect goes back for quite some considerable time. The blame for it can be apportioned right across the floor of the House.

However human history has interludes of peace and calm and also periods of grave and deep distress when men do to each other things that in normal times would appear to be unimaginable. Regrettably, we live in such times; and I am wondering whether or not the Minister is too sanguine in his analysis and whether a high-security unit, which will be added to Portlaoise prison, will be sufficient when it will house 30 prisoners only. I understand, for the reasons he has advanced by implication at the end of the second paragraph, that there are other matters which the Minister, for security reasons, does not wish to go into and which any responsible public representative understands without the necessity for the Minister to have it spelled out in black and white in large type.

I welcome the Government's commitment to return the prison system in its entirety to civilian control as soon as possible. I believe that those who have been convicted by the Special Criminal Court should be housed under civilian control; I believe this to be a fundamental principle of the rule of law. If there is to be military custody then those who are put into military custody must come there by a different avenue. I support the point made by the Leader of the Government here. That point was made by the then Minister for Justice in 1972. I was shocked by Senator Lenihan's apparent disagreement with that principle and by his departure from it here when he appeared to advance the principle of military custody as a valid principle in itself.

In the situation——

Not in the present situation.

I hope so.

I accept the Minister's analysis of the present prison accommodation as outlined in his speech. I accept too his conclusion that high-risk security prisoners cannot be housed for the moment in ordinary prison custody and must be conveyed for a temporary period to military custody. I regret the fact that this has to be so. I do accept, as I hope all of us do who accept the necessity for maintaining democracy, the consequences that flow from the Minister's analysis, and I do so too without any apology. Any person who values democracy in this country on this particular day at this particular time and who willingly accepts the necessity for defending it, however difficult that might be, will also accept the principles of this Bill.

I intend to be extremely brief in my comments. I agree very much with what Senator Halligan has said in that we are all concerned with the suppression of terror. Indeed more than that we are positively concerned with the elimination of terror. Senator Halligan's rebuke for Senator Lenihan is quite well taken. Senator Lenihan apparently accepted—at least as I understood his speech—the principle of military detention when he made his intervention during Senator Halligan's speech.

We are talking about the House. I am not bringing in the Bill. The Minister is bringing in the Bill, and I agree with him.

Fine, but I think in discussing this Bill that it is an insufficient reaction to simply say: "We were right some time ago. Now you have realised such necessity and, therefore you can be right today". This, to my mind, is an insufficient and careless reaction to a Bill of this kind. It is in contrast with the contribution Senator Robinson made and the comments she made on the prison system as referred to in the Minister's speech. I should like to refer specifically to the third paragraph of the Minister's introductory speech on the Second Stage:

If we are to have a prison system geared to rehabilitation then there must be peace in our prisons; an absence of agitation and tension.

At the present time, it is true to say that there has been a serious revaluation at a professional level of the extent and constitution of crime in our society. There has also been a revaluation of the effects of punishment itself. It is welcome that Senator Robinson has asked these questions of the Minister at the conclusion of her speech. She asked that he would at an early date indicate his intentions for the reform of the penal code. In the second page of his speech the Minister has listed the structural changes that are taking place at different institutions. This can hardly be regarded as in any way sufficient. In fact I would regard it as almost a dangerous commitment to a narrow and dated view of criminology in view of the changes that have taken place in terms of politics, philosophy and research in crime. I refer here particularly to an article in the current issue of The Economic and Social Review by Professor Eyenon on this subject.

In conclusion I should simply like to say that I join with Senator Halligan in saying that those of us on this side agree that the suppression of terror and the elimination of fear in our society are of primary importance at the present time. In these circumstances, which can hardly be pleasant circumstances for any member of our society, reaction, if it goes beyond that simple statement, should be directed towards the more general question of the adequacy of our prison system. This arises on the Prisons Bill, 1974, on the Second Reading, in so far as the removal of people to military custody from civilian control inevitably raises the question of the circumstances of those who are in civilian control at the present time.

If in future the Opposition wish to comment on a Bill of this kind I should like if they would not suggest that we are abandoning fundamental principles of law for principles of expediency. To suggest that a situation has repeated itself and therefore, prevention is necessary is, to my mind, not only an inadequate response, but is a dangerous response in so far as it does not seek to elicit any positive policy directions for the future. I wholeheartedly support the necessity of Senator Robinson pressing for some kind of indication by the Minister as to future policy in the area she has highlighted. Obviously, these are difficult times for the Minister.

I am obliged to Senators for their welcome for this Bill and to Members of the Opposition for their agreement to its being passed. Again I regret the time limit that was imposed on its introduction. I cannot blame Senator Lenihan and Senator Yeats for taking advantage of this to have something to say by way of chastisement. As I did attempt to indicate, it was with some reluctance that I introduced this Bill at all. There was a considerable examination in depth to see if the necessity for it could be avoided. Reluctantly I could not find any way in which to avoid it because the feelings which I have about it, and which I expressed when the parent Bill was being debated originally in the other House, I still retain. I think those feelings are echoed by most people in this House: that military custody per se is undesirable, that we should strive at all times to have civilian prisoners detained in civil prisons and subject to the normal regime which would operate in those prisons.

Senator Robinson made the point that we are now seeking this extension for different reasons than those advanced by my predecessor when the original Bill was introduced in 1972. To some extent this is correct. The immediate reason for the Bill in 1972 was the fact that Mountjoy Prison was well-nigh uninhabitable following a large-scale riot and accommodation had to be found for some of the prisoners. The prisoners picked were those who were regarded as being dangerous to the security of the prison. Mountjoy Prison has been largely restored but there still remains the problem that there are a certain number of prisoners whose presence in any of our prisons tends to give rise to agitation and disturbance and tends to defeat the work of the prison officers in introducing and implementing rehabilitative measures.

Senator Robinson made the point that the prison system has been a focus for discontent and unrest. If she examines our prisons and casts her mind over the last six months she might notice that the position happily has improved drastically when compared with that of the previous six months. I am glad to say that we have had a comparatively peaceful time within our prisons. The reason for this is that we have been able to have a careful segregation of prisoners into homogenous groups between our prisons. It was our experience that a wrong mix produced agitation and unrest and worse. This is what has to be avoided. In order to have full segregation it is necessary to continue to use the facilities in the Curragh.

I do not agree that military custody —Senator Lenihan mentioned this but possibly he did not mean it in the particular context here—is the appropriate type of custody for the prisoners who are in the Curragh at the moment. They are prisoners who are suitable for civilian custody, provided we are able to segregate them from other prisoners within our civil prisons. It is not possible to do that at present. That is the only reason they are in military custody.

Senator Robinson seemed to feel that prisoners could be accommodated elsewhere. I want to show the House that if this were so they would be accommodated elsewhere. There is no other venue within our prison system where these prisoners can be detained without running a grave risk of the disruption and the riots which marked the prison system of this country until about six months ago. The Senator made the point that if there was no other place for them I should have provided one. One cannot build prisons very quickly. The type of unit that is necessary is a high-security unit. I thought I had made the point in my opening speech that the provision of a high-security unit is a long-term process. Even the briefing of architects is a slow and detailed business because the architect has to be briefed in the most minute detail. If you are building a hotel or any other type of structure the architect can be given a general outline of his brief, but for a high-security prison the briefing has to get down to even indicating to him the type of catch that would not be acceptable on the window in a cell. Literally, the briefing of an architect is very long. The planning is equally long and careful. The building must be extremely carefully done and must be to an extremely high quality. The position is further complicated by the fact that the site chosen for the high-security unit is within the Portlaoise complex. Security has to be maintained in Portlaoise while this is going on. This will necessarily slow up the building operations.

It is for these reasons that I am asking the House to agree to an extension up to 1977, hoping of course that we will be able to terminate military custody at an earlier date, but to be realistic we had to take an end date of 1977. Things are not as simple as Senator Robinson seems to think—that if we have not got the accommodation we could have provided it. I am in the position, as I indicated in the other House, that no plans for this type of accommodation had been made. I came to the conclusion that this type of accommodation would have to be provided. Until such time as we would have it it would be impossible to have effective segregation as between prisoners. Without effective segregation as between prisoners we could not have peace within our prisons, and without peace within our prisons we cannot have effective rehabilitation. I know this from a visit I made to Portlaoise shortly after I was appointed during the course of which I met many prisoners. At that time Portlaoise had a history of agitation and unrest. Many of the prisoners I spoke to resented the efforts of a group within that prison to form an association or a union as they called it. This led to aggravation between the prisoners and confrontation situations. There was a continuing tension which the prisoners found unpleasant and which considerably impeded any efforts on the part of the staff to rehabilitate prisoners.

The first essential to a rehabilitative process is peace and the first essential to that is proper segregation. This is why we need the facilities in the Curragh for some time to come. I hope I have made that point clear. I am making that point in the context of saying that I regret that it is necessary that we have been left with the situation in which we had not got the facilities to avoid it. I do not like the idea of military custody for civil prisoners. I am not defending the principle, but it is purely a matter of expediency that we have to accept it for the moment.

For that reason I am grateful to the Opposition for their agreement to this Bill. Our prison system could be in serious jeopardy if we did not have these facilities. If our prison system is in serious jeopardy our very democracy is in serious jeopardy because the security of the State and the security of the community demands that some people have to be kept in custody. The community would not tolerate a large number of people who are now in custody roaming the streets at large. Unfortunately the only place in which they can be kept in custody is in prison.

I sympathise with Senator Robinson's ambition to see all our prisons well-nigh empty. This would be everybody's ambition but it is closing one's eyes to reality to hope that this is an achievable target, because the community would not tolerate at large those who had terrorised them or of whom they were frightened. That is not to say the prisons themselves could not be improved and that the aim within the prisons should not be to rehabilitate such persons. This is the aim.

I would refer Senator Robinson and Senator Higgins to the Estimate speech which I made in the Dáil some months ago in which I indicated in some detail the work that has been taking place in reforming our prisons. I indicated my views on what was still needed in our prisons. I indicated the fact that I have initiated studies in order to look at alternatives to jail. I also indicated the large extent to which the parole system is being used. If Senators had taken the trouble of reading what has been said in this area we might not have the implications in speeches here today that there had been no movement whatever in this area. I reject that suggestion: there has been considerable movement in improving our prison service to provide a rehabilitative regime.

I want to put on record our gratitude to the military authorities for the way they have shouldered a burden which is not properly theirs and the patience with which they have continued to deal with it. It is heartening that without any cavil whatever they are prepared to continue with that burden until such time as they can be relieved of it. It is important that the officers and NCOs who are running this military prison in the Curragh should know that their efforts are appreciated and are crucial to the well-being of the State in these difficult times and I want to thank them.

I wish to make the point that this is a temporary measure and is not to be taken as any indication that the Government and myself are in favour of military custody for civilian prisoners irrespective of what court they have been sentenced by.

In the parent Act, section 2 (6) provides that the Oireachtas shall be informed of any directions given for the transfer of persons to military custody. That answers another point raised by Senator Robinson: that the Oireachtas should know of these things. Provision is made in the Act for giving this information to the Oireachtas.

Senator Yeats made the point that he welcomed the change of attitude by the parties that were in Opposition when the 1972 Act was passed. I made it clear that essentially there is no change of attitude by the then Opposition, and no change of attitude on our part in Government. I do not like the idea of military custody for civilian prisoners. It is forced on us because of the inadequacies of the prison buildings which I inherited. Steps have been taken to improve these, but it will take three years to carry out the improvements.

I am grateful to the House for giving us this time.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.