Sex Offenders Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace): The Sex Offenders Bill, 2000, is most important legislation. It deals with an area which is of the greatest concern to many persons. The Bill is a cornerstone of the Government's unyielding response to those who perpetrate sexual offences, in particular against children and other vulnerable persons, and to those sexual predators in our community. Its provisions are tough and uncompromising but I make no apology to anyone for that.
The Seanad must send out the strongest possible message to those in our community who prey on the vulnerable, those unable to defend themselves and, of course, our children. That message, which is at the heart of this Bill, is that the criminal justice system will not tolerate their behaviour, it will deal with them swiftly and severely and the public will be protected to the greatest extent possible from their vile activities. I take no particular pleasure in having to introduce strong measures such as those contained in this Bill but we owe it to the people we serve to take the steps, introduce the measures and amend the law to ensure that their safety, the safety of their families and, in particular, their children remain a paramount priority for the Government.
The Government's An Action Programme for the Millennium contains a commitment to introduce a register of sex offenders and that commitment was reiterated in the mid-term review of the programme. In May 1998, the discussion paper on the law on sexual offences was published to canvass opinions on a range of issues, including a registration requirement for convicted sex offenders. There was strong support for the concept of registration and the Bill has been drafted in the light of the detailed comments which were received on how a registration obligation should work in practice.
The protection of the vulnerable in our society is a top priority for the Government. Sex offenders prey on other people, particularly those unable to defend themselves, and their actions can leave their victims scarred for life. Tragic cases, of which we hear about all too often, have brought home to all of us the risk posed to children by paedophiles. There is a clear need for additional measures to strengthen the arrangements already in place to protect the public against sex offenders. The provisions of this Bill, with recent legislative and other measures, should provide reassurance to the public that whatever can be done to tackle the problems posed by paedophiles and others who pose a risk to vulnerable people will be done.
I mentioned other legislative measures. To fully appreciate the importance of this Bill, it must be viewed as a further stage in the strategy of using the criminal law, in so far as it is possible, to protect persons against sex abuse and attack. There is no need for me to detail here all the relevant reforming legislation of the 1990s, but two Acts in particular require mention to place this Bill in its proper context. First, the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act, 1996, the outcome of a Private Members' Bill which was published in 1995 by Deputy O'Donoghue, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, ensured that persons resident in Ireland could be prosecuted for sexual offences committed against children while abroad. Second, the trafficking measures in the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998, protected children from being trafficked into, out of, or through Ireland for the purposes of their sexual exploitation. That Bill also, of course, criminalised the production, distribution and possession of child pornography. The Bill we are now discussing takes the next logical step of protecting vulnerable persons against abuse or attack, or the threat of harm, from persons who have been convicted of a sexual offence and who might re-offend.
One other thing which all three pieces of legislation recognise is that international borders offer no protection to offenders or would-be abusers. Taken together, the legislation more than meets our international obligations in this area and I urge other countries to bring in similar measures so that the typically devious and manipulative child sex offender will know no hiding place.
The central purpose of the Bill is to impose an obligation on certain sex offenders to notify the Garda Síochána of their names and addresses and any changes to that information to ensure that the Garda Síochána records in that respect are kept fully up to date. The Bill also proposes other important protections: it provides for a new civil court order against sex offenders whose behaviour in the community gives the Garda Síochána reasonable cause for concern that the order is necessary to protect the public from serious harm; it creates a new offence for sex offenders who seek or accept work involving unsupervised contact with children without informing the employer of their conviction; it provides for the post-release supervision of sex offenders by the probation and welfare service; and it introduces separate legal representation for complainants in rape and other serious sexual assault cases during applications to adduce evidence or cross-examine on the complainant's past sexual experience.
To turn to the main provisions of the Bill in more detail, Part 2 of the Bill sets out how the new tracking or notification system for convicted sex offenders will work. The system being proposed will ensure that the Garda Síochána will at all times have up-to-date information on the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders. This, in itself, should act as a deterrent to re-offending and so, I hope, contribute towards their rehabilitation. In addition, the availability of up-to-date data will be of particular benefit to the gardaí in the prevention and investigation of sexual crimes. The system will be similar in some respects to what is already in operation in the UK and the USA and is generally referred to as a tracking or notification system. The benefits to the gardaí and the public of such a system greatly outweigh the relatively minor inconvenience the notification obligation will impose on convicted sex offenders.
The notification obligation will cover all those who, on or after commencement, are convicted or found guilty but insane of a sexual offence specified in the Schedule to the Bill and those who are, on commencement, still in contact with the criminal justice system, whether awaiting sentence, in prison, subject to supervision, serving a community service order or detained in the Central Mental Hospital. The duration of the notifi cation requirement will depend on the length of sentence as follows: a minimum five year period for those convicted and sentenced to a non-custodial sentence, including a fully suspended sentence; a seven year period for those sentenced to a custodial sentence of six months or less; a ten year period for those sentenced to a custodial sentence of between six months and two years; and an indefinite period or lifetime notification requirement for those sentenced to more than two years. The finite periods are halved in the case of offenders who are under 18 years of age at the time of sentencing.
In addition, persons with a notification requirement in another jurisdiction which predates this Bill will be obliged to register with the Garda Síochána, even if already in this country before this Bill becomes law. It will be irrelevant whether such persons actually complied with their notification requirement elsewhere. This will ensure that persons will not be able to use this country as a refuge from a foreign notification requirement.
Notification periods start from the date of conviction. The system will then operate as follows. The Garda will be notified by court certificate on conviction that an offender is subject to the notification requirement. This will allow for rapid updating of the Garda Síochána records. The minimum five year period will be taken as applying until sentence is passed, at which stage the Garda Síochána will be notified by the issue of a further certificate by the court of the sentence passed, which will dictate the duration of the notification requirement. The details which an offender must notify to the Garda Síochána are his or her date of birth, name, any other name used and his or her address. Should these details change, for example, by moving address, the offender must notify the Garda Síochána of the new details. The offender must also notify the Garda Síochána of any address where he or she stays for a period of seven days or more, or two or more periods amounting to seven days in the aggregate in any period of 12 months. Notification can be made in person at a district or divisional Garda station or in writing to such a station.
The notification requirement also applies to persons when they go abroad for seven days or more. This will allow the Garda know whether the person has gone abroad or has gone underground in this country, a potentially serious situation. The notification requirement will also apply to qualifying offences committed abroad. Persons who commit offences abroad pose the same risk to vulnerable persons in this country or, indeed, a greater risk if they are attempting to flee an obligation to notify in another country, although, as I said, any offender coming here for that purpose is in for a nasty surprise. Failure to notify or false notification is a summary offence punishable by a fine not exceeding £1,500 or imprisonment for up to 12 months or both.
Persons who will be subject to a lifetime notification requirement are being given the option of applying to the court, not less than ten years following their release from prison to be relieved of their obligation to notify the Garda of changes to their name or address. The court can so relieve them if it satisfied that the common good is no longer served by their continuing obligation to notify.
The offences which will trigger the notification requirement are all those sexual offences committed against children. However, the list is widely drawn, including certain offences such as rape, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault that knows no age limits. Section 3 of the Bill sets out certain exclusions from the notification requirements of the Act. These exclusions include consensual sexual intercourse with persons aged between 15 and 17 years where the guilty party is aged not more than three years older than the other party. Even though such activity is criminal behaviour and will continue to be so, it may have occurred as part of a relationship and the offender will not usually pose a future risk.
Part 3 of the Bill provides for a new civil order, which will be known as a sex offender order. This order may be granted, on application to the court by the Garda Síochána, against any convicted sex offender whose behaviour in the community, though not strictly criminal, gives the gardaí cause for concern that an order is necessary to protect the public from serious harm from him or her. "Serious harm", which is defined in section 16, means protecting the public or a member of the public from death or serious personal injury, whether physical or psychological.
Orders can be sought against anyone with a previous conviction for an offence which is included in the Schedule to the Bill or the equivalent offences overseas. The order is prohibitory in nature and will last for a minimum of five years or such longer period as the court may provide for in the order. The prohibitions contained in the order will be limited to those which are necessary for the purpose of protecting the public from serious harm from the offender. The court will not be able to compel a person to do anything, only not to do certain things, for example, loitering in the vicinity of a school playground or other place where children congregate. The particular activity may not be remarkable were it not for the offender's past history of offending.
While there is a delicate balance to be struck between the rights of the offender and the need to protect the community, the need for such orders is dictated by the importance of protecting the public, in particular its most vulnerable members. While the orders are preventative only, once granted, they carry with them the notification requirements of Part 2 of the Bill while they are in effect, where that requirement does not already exist. In this way, potentially dangerous sex offenders whose offending is in the past and who are not otherwise covered by the notification requirement, will be made subject to that requirement for the duration of the sex offender order, that is, for a minimum period of at least five years. Breach of an order without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty on indictment of five years in prison.
Part 4 of the Bill introduces another innovative feature under which it will be an offence for convicted sex offenders to seek or apply for employment, voluntary or paid, involving unsupervised access to children, without informing the prospective employer of the fact of the conviction. The new offence is designed to provide a deterrent to unsuitable people seeking access to children through the workplace, where relationships based on trust or fear can develop. At present there is nothing to deter paedophiles from seeking or accepting such employment. The worst that can happen from their point of view is that they would be refused employment or whatever voluntary position is being sought. Under the proposed provision, the fact of the conviction will not, in itself, render the person unsuitable to work. It will be a matter for the prospective employer, or in the case of the self-employed, the child's parent or guardian, on being informed of the conviction, to decide if the conviction is relevant to the work or position concerned. Where a person applies for work and does not know or could not reasonably have known that the work involved unsupervised access to children, he or she will be obliged to inform the other party to the employment contract of the fact of the conviction as soon as he or she becomes aware of having such access to children. A person guilty of an offence under this Part will, on summary conviction, be liable to imprisonment of up to 12 months or a fine of £1,500, or both, and on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding £10,000 or five years in prison or both.
Part 5 of the Bill provides, for the first time, for the post-release supervision of convicted sex offenders by the probation and welfare service for whom the sentencing court considers the appropriate sentence is one of deprivation of liberty. Persons sentenced to life imprisonment are excluded because on release from prison they are always placed under lifelong probation and welfare service supervision in the community as a condition of temporary release.
The supervision of sex offenders in the community after their release from prison has two aims, first, to help the offender maintain self control over his or her offending behaviour and, second, to provide external monitoring of his or her post-release behaviour and activities. The provision will be particularly helpful for those offenders who have undergone sex offender treatment programmes while in prison and who would benefit from a continuation of appropriate programmes following release from prison.
The system of post-release supervision being introduced will enable the courts, at the time of conviction, to sentence a sex offender to a determinate sentence with the latter part of it being served in the community under probation and welfare service supervision. The combined custodial and non-custodial periods will not exceed the maximum custodial sentence available for the crime committed.
In considering whether to impose a sentence involving post-release supervision, the court will have regard to the need, first, for a period, after the offender has been released, of supervision; second, the need to protect the public from serious harm from the offender; third, the need to prevent the commission of further sexual offences by the offender and, fourth, the need for further rehabilitation of the offender. In order to assist it in deciding whether to impose a sentence involving post-release supervision, the court may hear evidence or receive submissions from any concerned person, for example, a probation and welfare officer, the prosecution or the convicted person. The supervision period commences on the date the offender is released from prison taking account of any remission earned.
The court, in addition to the supervision requirement, may impose additional requirements, including the requirement to attend psychological counselling or other treatment programmes run by the probation and welfare service or other bodies or a requirement prohibiting a sex offender from doing things which the court considers necessary for the purpose of protecting the public from serious harm from the offender. Thus, the supervision period will be tailored on a case by case basis according to the individual offender's and the community's needs.
Another innovation in the Bill is the introduction in Part 6 of separate legal representation for complainants in rape and other serious sexual assault cases where application is made to adduce evidence or to cross-examine the complainant about his or her past sexual experience. The Law Reform Commission in its report on rape expressed doubts as to the constitutional propriety of separate legal representation for complainants in rape and other serious sexual assault cases in so far as it might alter the balance of the criminal process and deprive the accused of a trial in due course of law. The sexual history of a victim of a sexual assault offence including rape is only permitted to be introduced into a trial with the leave of the judge. The application to introduce such evidence must prove that the evidence is relevant. Since such applications are made in the absence of the jury, I am advised that the proposed provision, which is limited to the particular application under the Criminal Law (Rape) Act, 1981, does not pose any constitutional difficulties as the jury will be unaware of the apparent inequality of representation. This would appear to be as far as the Constitution would allow such a provision to go.
Overall, the provisions of the Bill are tough and I make no apology for that. They were decided after considerable thought and extensive consultations, both inside and outside the jurisdiction. They will place certain sex offenders under an obligation to notify changes to their names and addresses for the rest of their lives but that will be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence of which they have been convicted by reference to the sentence imposed.
The Bill is also innovative in that, for the first time, it introduces into our law statutory provision for post-release supervision of convicted sex offenders. A further innovation is the provision aimed at preventing those persons convicted of sexual offences of seeking employment which would give them unsupervised access to children while keeping their past history in the dark. The Bill also delivers on the undertaking in the programme for Government to provide separate legal representation for complainants in rape cases in so far as it has been possible to do so. The Bill's provisions are comprehensive and consistent and have the overall aim, through measures of deterrence and rehabilitation, of preventing further offending by convicted sex offenders. I consider that it is a genuine and important contribution to our efforts to deal with the scourge of sex offending and I am confident that it will have a real impact on the protection, in particular, of our most vulnerable citizens.
The Bill is part of a series of measures being taken against sex offenders and complements protections already in place. The next phase in the process will be to examine all outstanding issues relevant to the criminal law governing sexual offences. These are all addressed in the discussion paper on the law on sexual offences. If that examination identifies any further changes that need to be made in the law, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, will seek Government approval for such changes.
However, in advance of that examination, we have decided to propose an amendment to the Bill in this House which will substantially raise the penalty for sexual assault. At present the maximum penalty is five years' imprisonment. This would appear inadequate, in particular where the assaults may have continued over a considerable period of time. The penalties being proposed will be ten years' imprisonment for sexual assault against an adult and 14 years where the victim is a child. This can be discussed again on Committee Stage. However, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that there will ever be a complete defence against the determined sexual predator. At the same time, the Government must, and will, do all it can to make sure that our children and other vulnerable persons will be protected as far as that is possible. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, to the House. I welcome this Bill which is necessary and overdue. It is vital that Ireland is not used as a haven for paedophiles from other countries. In recent years there has been some evidence to suggest that people come in from outside the jurisdiction because of the lack of a register here.

Extensive discussions have taken place on the propriety of having a register. Many were of the view that it was not proper. As one who actively called for such a register a number of years ago I am pleased it is coming into law. Everything must be done by the laws of the land to protect the vulnerable in society. The most vulnerable are the elderly and the young. There is a serious problem in that the devious will prey on the innocence of youngsters. This is the most despicable behaviour and it deserves full condemnation.

While the Minister of State outlined the details of the Bill she must also be aware how difficult it is to deal with the problem of sex offenders. Most of what she said was about putting a register in place for the convicted. My concern rests with the huge number of people who have not been convicted. To get the conviction of these people is the challenge and the difficulty down the road. In every community throughout the country there are those who go undetected and are not convicted. They will never appear on the register. The Minister has specific responsibility for dealing with offenders, but that issue needs to be addressed.

In most cases people turn a blind eye and ignore much of what is going on. Those in the community may be suspicious but afraid to say anything. Those in particular areas of responsibility such as social workers, teachers, nurses, the medical profession have difficulties in regard to reporting. As public representatives it is true to say we would find ourselves in particular difficulties in regard to how to address the issue as we may have certain information from within the community and not sufficient evidence to back it up. It is a delicate situation and one that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, too often down the road scenarios emerge, social problems arise and people get into difficulties. It may take ten to 15 years for the problem one suspected to emerge fully. That is sad. There is a need to encourage more openness and for people to air their views to the appropriate persons if they consider there is a specific difficulty. From a legal point of view, people are afraid to speak out. They are worried about the legal protection they may have if they take that route. That issue also needs to be addressed.

Only last week in the courts there was the case of the little girl of 12 years of age who produced a baby as a result of rape by a 72 year old man. This was a most appalling case. Unfortunately, irreparable damage has been done to that little child for the rest of her life. The sentence could not be severe enough. That may be viewed as an extreme comment. Quite frankly, for adults to face adults is bad enough but an adult versus a child is despicable. For an adult to take that innocence from a child is the most despicable offence and should be condemned in the strongest possible way. I do not care how severe the punishment, it could not be severe enough.

The register introduces some controls and brings Ireland into line with a number of EU states in that sex offenders and paedophiles from outside the State cannot come into this jurisdiction and think they have a safe haven. That is welcome and is highly commendable. Sophisticated organised paedophiles operate in groups here. There is evidence of one such group but how many more groups are operating? Has the Minister of State any clue as to the number of paedophile rings operating here? Have the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health and Children any information on the position? They may surmise but may not have detailed information. Given that these people are so shrewd, cute, astute and cunning it is almost impossible to get around what they are at.

The professional rings operate in a vicious way. They are strangers and befriend youngsters usually from disadvantaged backgrounds or in vulnerable positions and eventually take advantage of them. Their despicable behaviour permanently damages the unfortunate youngsters.

Even more insidious is the person within the home who is in a position of trust – a person who is known to the child and in whom the child has complete confidence and trust. That such a person should take advantage of the innocence of that child and abuse it is just as bad. There is no such thing as one being less offensive than the other. They are equally offensive and should be dealt with in equal harshness by the law. There is also the person who commits the occasional offence and who is not quite as focused as some of the others. This offence should be condemned in equally harsh terms. The full rigours of the law should be applied to any assault of this nature on the innocence of a child.

The register, the details, the period in which the notification applies in regard to the type of offence are highly commendable. However, I am concerned about how all this is decided. We all know the type of consistency of sentences that applies and how judges hand down sentences. Their sentencing mechanism and the manner in which they hand down sentences can vary dramatically from judge to judge. There is a need for special training to be provided for judges so that there is a common sentencing policy. Depending on the judge, one paedophile could get a non-custodial sentence and another person in a similar case could get a custodial sentence. The notification process also varies dramatically and that needs to be seriously addressed. I am confident that the Minister will take this up. It is important that the law is seen to treat all these offenders equally. There should be no level of leniency or variation depending on the individual judge hearing the case.

All the research on paedophiles shows them to be extremely manipulative and clever. It also shows that they have a very low self-esteem and self worth. They have very little understanding of the difficulties of their victims. They justify their behaviour in the most extraordinary ways. Paedophiles support each other within paedophile rings and justify each other's actions. This is totally unacceptable.

The Minister is justified in introducing a new civil offence in cases where paedophiles fail to notify potential employers. That is extremely important. We are dealing with people who have offended and are convicted. My concern relates to those who are operational and who are not convicted. They may have secured access to children through local organisations, sporting clubs, youth clubs, scouts, etc. In the cases of people who have not committed an offence, there is a difficulty.

I appreciate that the Garda will have special powers to prevent a sex offender from accessing certain locations where there are children; this too is very welcome. However, the procedure may be cumbersome and this may lead to delays before people can be stopped. If, based on certain knowledge from local people, a garda believes there may be something suspect about a person's behaviour and yet has no concrete proof or evidence and there has been no conviction, I presume that this facility cannot be used. Because of the insidious nature of what is involved, this is a very difficult area. There is a need for greater openness. People with knowledge need to feel that they will be protected if they come forward with it. That is extremely important.

I welcome the post-release supervision of a sex offender by the probation and welfare service. Statistics show that the rehabilitation procedure here has not been very successful and there is a recurrence rate about 95%. The rehabilitation services in Mountjoy and the Curragh have not been taken up to the extent that they should have been. Has the Minister any views on that? Can the Minister legislate to empower the Department to force the individuals to undertake specific rehabilitation treatment?

It is essential that they try to understand to some degree the distress and damage caused to their victims. Most of these people in the Curragh and elsewhere are not stupid. Some of them are highly competent and well educated people who have taken advantage of a particular privileged position and in many cases would be seen as pillars of society. It is totally unacceptable that these people can be so haughty in their position in prison that they can dismiss the rehabilitation services provided by the State. These people should have no choice in the matter. They should be forced to avail of these services.

The Minister may say in response that this is a matter for the judge to specify when passing sentence. We should not have to depend on a judge to do this. If it is necessary to introduce legislation to force these people to take on board the type of rehabilitation treatment that is being provided, then the Minister will get the fullest of support from this side of the House. These people need rehabilitation.

Some of them are beyond rehabilitation and are so superior, condescending and sure of themselves that it is appalling. This shows the sense of unreality and lack of knowledge they have in relation to the crimes they have perpetrated. They seem to think they have a right to commit such offences.

I have spoken to people who have investigated these cases. The trauma suffered by children and the effects on their adult lives is so extraordinarily dramatic that it is frightening. I have heard of cases where people suffer depression most of their adult life and have failed to achieve in education and have such low self-esteem that they never reached their full potential. Some of them were fortunate enough to emigrate and receive counselling abroad. They came to terms with their experience and eventually managed to reach their potential. This is highly commendable. I am sure that the Minister is aware that in many of these cases the people came back and the perpetrators were convicted through their evidence.

Within the community, there is still a hidden problem and while many cases have come to light in recent years, there is much more to come. There is a real need for vigilance by all parties who have access to young people and understand what is going on to be more forthcoming with information. It is estimated that approximately 6% or 7% of boys and 8% or 9% of girls are sexually abused before the age of 16. That is an extremely high number of young people who have been damaged and experience difficulties in their professional, business and working lives. They can have difficulties with relationships and in regard to their psychological, emotional and physical health. There is such a vast fall-out from this type of behaviour that there should be no pussyfooting on the issue. Serious action needs to be taken in this regard and the Minister of State must be commended for what she has presented to the House today. I am disappointed the Bill did not come before this House much earlier because the register should have been in place long ago.

Will the Minister of State clarify whether paedophiles and sex offenders who have already been convicted will go on the register? As this is not a retrospective Bill, I presume they will not, that its provisions will only apply from the date it is passed and that there is no obligation to have those who are already convicted included on it. All sex offenders convicted to date, particularly paedophile sex offenders, should be put on the register which should be retrospective. The public are entitled to know if these people are out in society and the gardaí should know who they are.

On the question of who will have access to the register, some people were very concerned about the protection of sex offenders and the fact that they could be attacked by vigilante groups and so on. I assume the register will be protected in the Garda stations and that there will not be free access to it. The law must be seen to take its course and the State must be seen to do its job rather than having people take the law into their own hands. It is important that the register is pro tected. If information is required or notification given, it should be done in the most prudent and careful way possible. However, the primary objective must be the protection of children, young people and the vulnerable in society. I wish the Department and the Garda Síochána well in this regard. A huge onus is being put on the Garda Síochána and there is a need to train members of the force to specifically deal with this work. There is also a need for a member of the Garda in each station to be trained and know how to deal with these issues, regardless of how small these stations may be. While the legislation puts a greater onus and responsibility on the gardaí, there needs to be clarification on how they should carry out that role. If they are to be effective on the ground a proper operational programme must be put in place, otherwise people will not know how to proceed.

Perhaps the Minister of State will draft a set of guidelines to assist the gardaí in the various stations throughout the country on how to effectively monitor and operate their powers under the Bill. I hope she will also address the issue of even handed judgments across the board, which is fundamental. Some would say that the sanctions taken against these offenders are much too lenient given the level of stress and damage caused to people in the community. Given the numbers involved, I would concur with that point of view. Non-custodial and suspended sentences are a nonsense because they involve nothing being paid back to society. These offenders need to be dealt with very rigidly, determinedly and, to a degree, ruthlessly. Some people say there is a need for rehabilitation, which is correct. However, one is talking about adultsversus innocent little children. Adults have a responsibility to act and behave as adults. Some of the adults who perpetrated these crimes against youngsters should have known better but still proceeded.

I wish the Garda who have a big job to do every success and I hope the Minister of State will address some of the issues I have raised.

I, too, welcome the Bill and the Minister of State to the House. It is important to point out that the Bill is part of a tripartite attack on the incidence of sexual abuse. It should not be forgotten that the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act, 1996, introduced by the previous Government ensured that persons resident in Ireland could be prosecuted for offences committed abroad, which was an important step forward. This was as a result of a Private Members' Bill introduced by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, when in Opposition. Subsequent to that there was the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998, which was introduced in this House and provided protection for children from child trafficking in and out of Ireland for sexual exploitation purposes and so on. It is important to note that the Bill before us today is the third part of a tripod of legislation to ensure that in the new millen nium we are tackling the problems of child abuse, sexual abuse and so on.

This Bill was introduced more than a year ago on foot of huge public concern by the vast majority of citizens who were appalled at the notion of paedophiles or other sexual offenders, whether residents or potential residents of the country, using various parts of the country as a safe haven in which to hide. Consequently the Government took action and this is the cornerstone of the legislation to protect our children from sexual abuse. As the Minister of State and my colleague opposite pointed out, the legislation is very tough and uncompromising. I make no apology for the proposed legislation being as tough as it is. When it was first mooted some said we were going too far, which is not the case.

As Senator Taylor-Quinn said, the whole notion of sex abuse and child abuse is most despicable. The abuse of young people is the lowest type of vile crime that one could encounter. Senator Taylor-Quinn mentioned a figure of 6% or 7%, which is relatively high. The most deplorable feature is that, in some instances, peoplein loco parentis such as swimming and football coaches, who have been entrusted with a special responsibility and to whom the community looks to act in a particular manner, have been to the fore in the matter of sexual abuse. This problem has emerged over the last decade in particular, initially on a drip-drip basis but it is now coming out into the open.

Perhaps because I was brought up in a happy family environment, I would not have believed it if somebody had told me, at age 20, of such happenings in Ireland. In or about 1973 or 1974, my father dismissed as quite impossible some information given to him by an American medical journalist who had heard, from a counsellor in the State of Indiana, of certain things happening in Irish society. Unfortunately, many of these events have come to light in more recent years and consequently we are compelled to bring in legislation to protect those who are most at risk in this context. The safety of our children, whether in playgrounds, schools, swimming pools or football grounds, is paramount.

This Bill, among other things, creates a register of sex offenders. Apart from the United States of America and Great Britain, no other country is as far advanced as Ireland in this matter of establishing such a register. The impression that we are just tagging along behind other European countries in this regard should not go unanswered. In the context of EU enlargement, other countries may find it useful to look at the model which we are establishing. I suggest that the Minister of State might bring this to the attention of our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen.

Admittedly, we have drawn on the British system, but we have taken account of the pitfalls and weaknesses of that system and have made appropriate improvements. The register will enable the Garda to track and monitor sex offenders. It imposes an obligation that such offenders must be registered. Once a person is convicted of an offence in this category, the court registrar is obliged to notify the Garda and there is an obligation to issue a certificate. Even if there is a delay between the date of conviction and date of sentencing – and a delay of a few weeks is not unusual – when sentence is imposed, depending on the severity of the sentence, the court registrar is again obliged to pass on that information by way of certificate to the Garda authorities.

There may be an impression that a register of sex offenders is somewhat like the roll-book in a national school of older times. It is, of course, a much more sophisticated concept. It will be a computerised facility whereby the Garda throughout the country will have direct and ready access to the register. Ironically, this system will, in a sense, protect sex offenders from unnecessary public harassment and abuse in some instances. I am aware of an incident in west Cork, where a person was suspected of being a paedophile, there were public meetings and a stoning almost took place. The very sensitive information in this register should not be disseminated to the public at large but should be confined within the control and authority of the Garda.

There is also an obligation on sex offenders, when released from prison, to notify the Garda of their whereabouts, so that their movements from one part of the country to another are recorded. If they move abroad, that is also recorded. This tracking system is similar to that which applies in Britain. As I understand it, and I am subject to correction on this, a person convicted prior to this legislation of a sexual offence covered by this Bill will now be put on this register and will be monitored. In that sense, it is retrospective.

I wish to refer to a few other aspects of the Bill. The new civil courts system is an unique and innovative idea for which I commend the Minister and his Department officials. It relates to a possible situation where a former sex offender is suspected by the Garda of loitering in the vicinity of a playground or a swimming pool or frequenting under-age football games, but there is not enough proof of intent to indicate to the Garda authorities that a criminal prosecution would be successful. The new civil court system will enable the Garda to apply to the circuit court for an order to protect the public from serious harm by such persons. The onus will then rest on the past sex offender to prove that the order should not be made. That system provides another important mechanism to ensure that the actions and movements of such people are tracked and monitored. Appropriate sanctions and penalties are also provided for any breach of a civil court order.

Another new concept in this Bill is that it is an offence for any person convicted of a sexual offence under this legislation to seek or accept work involving unsupervised access to children. This is a most important provision. Within the last decade, or perhaps a little longer, there have been situations where coaches and other people supervising children have taken advantage of their role and children have suffered despicable abuse and distress.

Senator Taylor-Quinn has referred to the important issue of post-release supervision of offenders and the input of the probation and welfare services. It is no longer sufficient, especially in relation to child sexual abuse, that an offender gets six months, twelve months or three years in jail and is then released into society without any supervision. It is important that the probation and welfare service should monitor such people and check on them from time to time. Perhaps I am being critical of successive Governments, but I do not think there is adequate counselling, psychological assessment or follow-up reports while offenders are in prison or after they are released. There is little point in putting a person into prison for two or three years, especially where that person may have suffered psychologically as a child, and then releasing them without any counselling or psychological assessment. On a recent visit to Cork Prison, I was told that there is only one qualified counsellor dealing with the approximately 300 prisoners there. The Minister of State, with her senior colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, should examine the idea of rehabilitation. If only one in ten who received counselling did not re-offend when released into society, it would be a major step in the right direction.

This Bill is innovative and courageous in introducing separate legal representation for complainants in rape and other serious sexual assault cases because while it was demanded by many people, such as the Rape Crisis Centre, there was a fear that there might be constitutional difficulties. A complainant in such a case, a woman more often than not, is entitled to legal representation to ensure that her character is not torn apart and assassinated by barristers. This is important, as is the provision in the Bill that such a person is entitled to free legal aid. It is another aspect of the Bill that is a step in the right direction to eliminate or control sexual offences.

This legislation is not before time, as has been said, but, in fairness, it is only in recent years that the demand for it was highlighted. Once that was so, the Government acted promptly. We often hear criticisms of Ministers and Governments, but since this Government came to office, the legislation in the area of justice, equality and law reform introduced by the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, and the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is significant. I mentioned the three Bills in this tripod of legislation. A phenomenal amount of legislation, much of it initiated in the Seanad, has been passed. The record of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, as a reforming Minister, who took on board issues from the Law Reform Commission and others, is second to none.

Child sex abuse makes the blood boil. A small percentage of children are subjected to terrible abuse, which will never leave their minds, and we know of several horrific cases. The different aspects of this legislation send out the clear message from the Oireachtas that the Government and the authorities are serious about curbing and controlling sexual abuse of the young and vulnerable. We will never have a utopian world where there is no sex abuse. As the previous speaker stated, people involved in paedophile rings are furtive, secret and cunning and they use the Internet. An important aspect of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Bill, 1997, was the prohibition of use of the Internet for this purpose, making it a crime to have child pornography on it.

This is welcome legislation and not too late. We can never make it up to those who suffered but we can learn lessons and move on. If our legal system moves with us, creating offences, imposing penalties and setting up the register, with counselling and post-release monitoring by welfare officers, we will do a good day's work. I welcome this Bill and wish it a speedy passage through the House. I am sure it will get all-party support.

I welcome the Minister to the House. There was huge public pressure in regard to this Bill, particularly about setting up a sex offenders register. We must be careful in assessing the value of the register because such registers were set up elsewhere with limited value. In Great Britain, it was used to attack suspected paedophiles and some who were not even on the register were forced to move house. Megan's law in New Jersey, which attracted international attention, regrettably has not had the hoped for effect. We want to do all we can to protect children from paedophiles, but only 5% of children are abused by the predatory paedophiles addressed here. Most children are sexually abused by family members, friends, neighbours, teachers and coaches in sporting organisations. The register will be useful in tracking the type of paedophile who moves from a school when suspected of abuse to, for example, coaching in a sporting club and then to working in an institution.

Senators believe this legislation is tough, but it is not. For many years in England the various school boards maintained their own sex abuse registers on which they put the names of convicted people associated with education. A person had to have a psychiatric assessment before he or she could get off that register. Will the Minister consider that here? A forensic psychiatrist, who advised me on this Bill, stated that even people not convicted, but where the prosecutor believed there was a strong case, were included on that register. Other registers were tougher than the one proposed here. I am concerned about including non-convicted persons on a register, but it can be difficult to get a conviction.

The introduction of video link is a help, but the lapse of time in bringing a case to court is a problem. A year or two is a long time in a child's life and a child would find it more difficult to have a clear recollection in court than an adult. The Minister of State should do all in her power to speed up trials so as to avoid failure, as often happens, because of the lapse of time between the occasion of the abuse and the case appearing in court.

There is one other group of people whose names will be on the register about whom I have a certain concern, that is, those who are judged guilty but insane. Initially, I thought about whether it was fair to include them because they suffer from a mental illness but then I thought that these can be among the most dangerous people so it is essential that they are included. However, having read the Bill, I am rather worried that they will be able to get off the register more easily because they will be covered by section 8(3)(d). They will be on the register for five years if the sentence imposed on the person is one of imprisonment for any term, the operation of which is suspended, or if there is a sentence other than imprisonment. Do we need to address this again because those who are judged guilty but insane may be among the most dangerous of the predatory type of paedophiles, the ones about whom we are most concerned?

Access to the register is a concern. While it is under Garda control, I hope we do not have the sort of laxity that I was dismayed to see with the Abbeylara case where 12 of the 15 confidential files appear to have gone missing. This is not a very good advertisement for Garda confidentiality. It would be most unfair if what is supposed to be a totally private register accessible only to gardaí became accessible to other people. There is a huge onus on the Garda to protect this register.

Our main concern is the protection of children and adults of both sexes who have been raped, but it is important that we are particularly cautious about access to this register. I say this in view of the fact that there are different stipulations regarding those who are convicted when they are under 18 years and those who are adults, about which I am glad. At least one third, possibly more, of those involved in the sexual abuse of children are teenagers. We have to be extraordinarily careful that experimental sexual behaviour, which will get a conviction, does not leave a young person open to his or her name being easily accessed on a register. A general practitioner who contacted me told me of a teenager in his practice who was accused of sexually abusing children. The accusation was considered false but apparently the teenager's life was totally destroyed as a result of this accusation being made. The situation in regard to teenagers requires very careful monitoring.

Having a register is only of value if we use it properly. If it is used in a wrongful manner, it will fall into disrepute very rapidly. It is essential that it is an international register. While I was delighted the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, was congratulated when he brought forward a Bill when in Opposition, I would point out that I brought forward a Bill in this House before that, given that we needed to be in a position to prosecute those who offend internationally. The then Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, and the Government allowed a Second Reading of the Bill. I agreed to what they suggested, that is, that we incorporate it into their Bill, which was satisfactory to me. This House as well as myself can take a little credit for that.

I know the Reverend Father Shay Cullen in the Philippines. I visited the Philippines and was horrified to see tourists with children, both male and female, going into hotels of repute. It was terrible. We must remark on the courage of Father Cullen. He has frequently been accused of rape and child sexual assault, yet for nearly two decades, he has continued to pursue a crusade in the Philippines which has been instrumental in a great deal of child abuse being prevented there. They have now brought in legislation themselves. Muireann Ó Briain, one of our lawyers, runs ECPAT in Bangkok. I encourage them to continue their efforts. It is good that people from this country have taken the rights of children abroad so seriously.

The Internet has been mentioned and it is one of our most serious problems because paedophiles now have easy access to each other and can validate their behaviour. This is a really serious problem. Again, we have made efforts in this regard. The department of applied psychology in University College Cork was involved in setting up the Copine project to combat paedophile information networks in Europe. It has done some splendid work and the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, addressed its conference a couple of years ago.

There was a successful case in Helsinki some years ago where it was found that the identity of a person who spread pornography by an anonymous server had to be disclosed. This was extraordinarily important. It happened because of a case where the Church of Scientology sued because an anonymous server was distributing information of which it considered it had copyright. Once the Helsinki police got the conviction in that case, it used it to access anonymous servers and find out who was putting the material on the web. Material in the Helsinki case was being put on the web by a paedophile in Texas and was being distributed all over Europe. No place likes to be known as the centre of child pornography. It is dreadful to see the harmful use of such a good method of communication.

We have to be careful about warning children that they can be abused on the Internet because it is used to encourage children sometimes into acts of masturbation and then those who suggest this ask them to meet them. That has happened in this country. Parents should know that the Internet needs to be monitored. Fortunately, there are now more parents with some knowledge of the Internet, but naturally children have much greater knowledge than any of us. The chat rooms need to be watched. I was told of a case of a 14 year old who, fortunately, brought a friend with her when she went to meet who she thought was the 15 year old boy who was in contact with her on the Internet, only to find it was a man in his 50s. We would want to make sure that children and parents are warned about what can happen.

The promotion of the stay safe programme is extraordinarily important. Our young children need to know that they can say no to various forms of activity. I heard a teacher on a television programme say that it was all right for girls to be given that information but not for boys and that he used to send the boys out to play football, but boys can also be abused. It would be a good idea if they got some information as well. The promotion in second level schools of programmes about sex and having respect for other people and informing students that there are things that are wrong to do is important because if, as I said, one third of those involved in the sexual abuse of children are teenagers, this is an area at which we really have to look very carefully.

The protection of the child in society is important to all of us but the protection of the child within the family is very serious. When one looks at all the high profile cases we have had recently, one will see that they have all involved incest or abuse by a close family friend, a trusted swimming coach or otherwise. During the debate on the Kilkenny incest case in the House, I pointed to a case of which I knew 30 years before that which came to trial. A man had impregnated his 14 year old daughter. It was her refusal to have sex when she was 16 years which led to her murder that brought the problem before the public. That child's family, her three siblings and her mother, knew what was going on. We must be aware that there can be violence within families and that mothers do not always report it. We must do everything in our power to give support to vulnerable families.

The Minister of State, more than anyone, will know how difficult it is to recruit people in the child care sector. There is a great deal of talk, by judges and others, about the lack of qualified staff. We simply cannot recruit people in this area. It is a serious problem. The job is an extremely difficult one, people are subject to abuse from children, the press, the Judiciary, the public and politicians.

We must do everything in our power to support the family in an effort to stamp out incest. We used to assume that when incest took place it was a case of the child being groomed by the father, the grandfather or brother. We now know there can be far more than one child involved. Senators will have read articles in the newspapers regarding the abuse of three or four daughters within one family. It was later discovered that some of their children had also been abused by the father, now a grandfather. We have found that this type of abuser is not exclusive to the family.

I worry about the introduction of the register and people not pursuing cases because daddy or granddad's name will end up on it. We must protect the general public also. I commend the courage of those who took cases against members of their families and close friends. It must have taken monumental courage to do so. They did so remembering that they will be protecting other people in society. I am sorry this cannot be retrospective. Many people in this country, as Senator Taylor-Quinn quite rightly said, consider themselves pillars of society. I remember a case almost being called-off because of what it would do to a particular individual's business. Imagine what it did to all those he had abused.

Perhaps the Minister of State would give an indication during her closing statement on the position regarding mandatory reporting. A great deal of work was undertaken in this area some years ago. I have a copy of the 1995 regulations, Notification of Suspected Cases of Child Abuse between Health Boards and the Gardaí, which outline the various things people should do regarding sexual abuse. We know it is going on. St. Clare's unit and St. Louise's unit in Temple Street Hospital and Crumlin Hospital have waiting lists for their services.

I was involved with Dr. Monica McWeeney and Dr. George Henry in setting up the first sexual assault unit in the Rotunda Hospital. We were flooded with teachers and children during the first six weeks. The teachers were aware of what was going on but they did not know where to bring the children. We thought we would be dealing with adult rape and so on; we were wrong, children were being brought to us.

What is happening in the area of mandatory reporting? Designated officers within the health boards are supposed to inform the Garda of reported cases and vice versa but when I contacted a health board they had difficulty telling me who was the designated officer. We need clarification on this point. The situation for doctors is very difficult. We need a statement from the Government on mandatory reporting, which was recommended by the Kilkenny Incest Commission, chaired by Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness, and the Law Reform Commission. It is important that we receive clarification on this issue.

Legislation exists which states that anybody who reports in good faith cannot be prosecuted. That is very important. I will never forgive Mrs. Thatcher for her words, "There is no such thing as society." They were the ugliest words I ever heard. Of course, there is such a thing as society. We must support each other and our children. People who suspected something was going on and did not report it have been known to ask themselves why they did nothing about it years ago. I, too, remember cases in which, as a young doctor, I should have realised something was going on but, as Senator O'Donovan correctly stated, that there was no such thing as sexual abuse in Ireland in the 1970s.

We must increase people's awareness in this area. We also need to study the cause of paedophilia. Why do some men feel attracted to pre-pubescent and pubescent children? We need to undertake research in this area. We should not opt out of it. Such people can be heterosexual or homosexual. They seem to have a chronic course unless early treatment is given. The treatment can be cognitive and behavioural but there are suggestions that we should look at drug therapies. The Bill suggests that such people must take treatment from "a body". Will this include treatment by drugs if the court and the body say a person should have them?

Senator Bohan suggested, on another occasion, that people who commit rape should be surgically castrated. I think we can modify that to chemical castration. Lowering testosterone levels by injecting oestrogen or progesterone reduces libido and sexual drive, as do sedatives, tranquillisers and anti-despressants. Are we contemplating, in this Bill, taking such action? It is important we decide that issue. Neurobiological studies show that one can achieve results in this manner. We must be clear on how we are going to deal with such people.

I am delighted such people are to be supervised. I am, however, anxious to know where we will find the staff, never mind the money to do so. The probation service is short 40 staff and is unable to perform its own duties. Where will we get the people required to undertake this supervision?

Have there been any prosecutions for those involved in pornography? I do not think so. The Rape Crisis Centres have done great work in this area and I am delighted to see continued Government support for them. They provide urgent action in acute cases of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.

Dr. Marese Cheasty, Professor Anthony Clare and Dr. Claire Collins in St. Patrick's Hospital interviewed approximately 1,200 women and found that 37% of those suffering with depression had been severely sexually abused and only 23% of non-depressed women had been sexually abused. In cases of serious abuse, penetration or attempted penetration, feelings of lack of self-esteem were extremely important. The Bill deals with the incidence of rape. I wonder if violent rapists should ever get off. Everybody was alarmed by the case of the man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for raping a young girl whom he might have killed had the other two men not come along and saved her.

It is good to see rape victims receiving proper representation. The sexual history of a case is only raised if it relates to the defendant. I will table an amendment on the matter of people disclosing regarding work. It should not however relate only to work with children. It should also relate to those working with the mentally impaired. The Schedule includes legislation which comes under the Offences against Mentally Impaired Persons Act, 1993 and the Defilement of Mentally Impaired Females Act, 1995. I think we should include mentally impaired persons in this Bill also. The Minister of State should not think this is too draconian. This is a terrible situation. With regard to the school register they had in England, a psychiatric assessment was required to get off it. I hope the Minister of State will accept the amendment I will table on Committee Stage in regard to mentally impaired people.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo. She has brought forward, as she has in the past, practical legislation that is long overdue. I welcome the legislation being brought to this point and look forward to its speedy enactment and rigorous enforcement. Like all legalisation, its objectives will either be achieved or not achieved and it will stand or fall on the level of its enforcement. Without making proper provision at every level to ensure that without exception every element of the legislation will be enforced, the legislation on its own will not achieve the objective the Minister of State has in mind. In parallel with the enactment of this legislation, we must seek to put in place properly qualified and trained personnel in the agencies that will deal with the provisions of this Bill.

This is critical legislation. It is a pivotal part of the body of legislation introduced by the Department and must be seen as an integrated and comprehensive effort on the part of the Legislature to deal with this awful scourge, with what can only be defined as evil that is such an significant, if not predominant, part of our society. Senator O'Donovan said we were very much unaware that this was a problem and the extent of it until recent times. That confirms the insidious nature of the activity we seek to curb in law and the cunning and the manipulative skills of people who perpetrate the kinds of crimes we seek to combat in the context of this legislation. In that respect, I would like to compliment the media. We seldom take the opportunity in these Houses to commend them, but by their relentless pursuit of particularly bad cases they generated a heightened awareness among the general public of what was happening, how it was happening and the consequences of that. That is to their credit and we owe them appreciation for that.

It is difficult to even talk about this problem, but we can no longer brush it under the carpet. Not alone do we, as legislators, but everybody who has dealings with children has an additional obligation to alert young people to the risks involved and to do so in accordance with the developmental stages of young people. Parents and teachers also have a strong obligation to be mindful of areas where children are particularly at risk. We know enough about this practice to know there are certain situations where children can be vulnerable and particularly at risk and parents need to be alerted to the part they can usefully play to alert young people to these risk areas and to prevent them from being on their own in such areas. Without the constant and continuous proactive support of parents, teachers and gardaí, this Bill will not achieve its worthy objectives.

In conjunction with the enactment of this Bill, the Minister of State must go on a crusade in that we all need to have our consciences tweaked a little and to be alerted to the responsibility that any civilised society has to its children. It is a sad, sick and sorry society that does not put a major effort into protecting the innocence of its children. We are all aware of the long-term irreversible damage done to children assaulted in the manner as set out in this Bill and of the anguish and agony inflicted on them and, therefore, have a major obligation to seek to prevent it. I ask the Minister of State to go on that crusade. I would like strong emphasis to be placed on prevention. What happened in the past has done damage and we can only deal with it in terms of dealing with the perpetrators and, hopefully, offering counselling and therapies to the victims if we can reach out to them. More importantly, while we will not be able to fully prevent the committing of these crimes, we should seek to minimise them to the extent it is open to all civilised adults to prevent the continuation of these types of crimes among young children. It is a sad society that does not set out to proactively protect its children.

It is difficult for us to enter the mindset of a paedophile. There are other crimes, in our fantasising, we can easily imagine committing. I could easily imagine myself robbing a bank if I thought I could get away with it and I could easily imagine myself murdering people and I have mentally murdered a few in my day, but none of us, in our right minds, could ever imagine doing what paedophiles do to small children. We cannot enter the mindset of people like that and that presents us with a range of very complex challenges. The one thing we must do is to ensure, in law, that the perpetrators of such crimes are punished and that as far as possible the punishment will fit the crime. In that respect, I am glad that within the context of this Bill, there will be an extension of the time convicted paedophiles will have to serve.

There is a maximum sentence in law, but I often wonder if there should be a minimum sentence for perpetrators of certain crimes against the person. The Minister of State might pursue that through the Law Reform Commission. The disparity in sentencing for crimes that appear to us lay people of equal damage and equal impact is disturbing. That is depressing for those of us who enact laws and, to put it at an intellectual level, puzzling, but it is a feature of life. For this type of crime, there ought to be a minimum sentence and it should then be left to the discretion of the judge as to how the sentence will be handed down. Within sentencing policy there should be uniformity. If that means that in respect of this criminal activity there is a need among the Judiciary for the career development courses headed by psychologists and people who understand the damage that is done by the perpetrators of such crimes, such courses should be provided. None of us can be immune from taking on additional in-career development courses. Irrespective of our place in the hierarchy, our status, there are very few of us who are immune from these progressive elements in our society that were not a feature of our initial training. That should also apply to judges. Some judges do not encounter – except in very prescribed cir cumstances – in large numbers people who are damaged in this way. There is a need for some type of proper career development for judges. There is a need to put a specifically and specially trained dedicated corps of gardaí in charge of the register and in charge of every other element of dealing with this issue and this level of criminality.

I am glad the Minister of State is addressing the issue of civil order in the Bill. Many good points were made about the register. The register is a very important protection measure so that people who have offended in the past will be prevented from doing so in the future. How the register is used, who will have access to it and the conditions by which access can be gained will be clearly defined in law. That is a minimum requirement. I hope the register will be used in a proactive way by the Garda when tracking down a suspect. The ideal would be to identify suspects before crimes are committed.

I hope the register will be retrospective, as there are many past offenders. I know it is difficult to make law retrospective. There are some cases that are still fresh in people's memories and some people now out of jail who are capable of doing horrific things. Senator Henry gave us an insight into the mentality of these people who are not easily brought to book.

Senator Taylor-Quinn made a good point about the attitude of superiority of some paedophiles. I suspect that some of them are highly developed intellectually, but emotionally underdeveloped and without conscience. Very often they consider themselves to be entirely superior to prison officers or to ancillary staff of prisons. To deal with this problem, judges should make it a condition, when sentencing, that the convicted undergo treatment. If they refuse treatment, they should be considered to be in contempt of court. That is the only way to tackle the problem. If one gives them a choice, they will exercise their arrogance and refuse the kind of treatment that should be essential to their finishing their sentences and living like normal human beings again. The Minister of State should make this an objective of the Bill.

Many offences have gone undetected in the past. It seems to be an ugly part of our nature that we do not report sex crimes as we see it as interfering. That is what makes it so difficult to do anything when the abuse is carried out by a family member. It is very difficult to allow the authorities to investigate a family that publicly appears to be functioning very well. As Senator Taylor-Quinn said, frequently one of the parents of a family under suspicion is the pillar of the community, collecting money in the church on Sundays and training the youngsters for games on Mondays. In that kind of milieu, it is not easy for a concerned outsider to inform the authorities that they should investigate a suspect case. It will become less difficult only when we create a culture in which reporting is seen to be the decent thing to do. A civilisation that prioritises the protection of the child must be our aspiration in the context of this legislation. It was William Butler Yeats who once said "This is no country for old men." I often wonder when I hear the heart-rending stories of children who were abused, what kind of country it is for young men and women.

When prison sentences are being determined, the position the perpetrator occupied in the community should be taken into account. For example, there should be a particularly severe sentence for perpetrators to whom children are entrusted, whether they are sports coaches, teachers or whatever. In good faith, parents regard sex offenders as the custodians of their children, with the status that comes from that position. Sex offenders are particularly virulent and reptilian and they should be dealt with more severely.

If we are to make this law effective, we need to be able to trust those to whom we entrust our children. One has to be particularly fastidious regarding those who apply for jobs in critical and sensitive areas. If necessary, we need to alert employers in a position to allocate such jobs of the past records of offenders. We need to do it professionally, without becoming paranoid. The primacy of the child must be our starting point and we cannot go wrong if everything else devolves downwards from there.

Senator Henry spoke about the Internet, which has the potential to do enormous damage. We know that, but does everybody? People have to be told. The Minister of State is well positioned to warn parents of the potential and actual damage that can be done from unsupervised access to the Internet on the part of vulnerable young children. I commend the Minister of State for bringing the legislation before the House. I look forward to its enactment which, I hope, will be paralleled with proper provision at every level to ensure its objectives are met.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and am glad of the opportunity to contribute in a small way to the legislation. I was struck by the genuine and passionate contributions made by other speakers this afternoon. We are all in agreement regarding what must be done. We have to realise that legislation can only go so far. As has been said previously, its enactment is of paramount importance. The Sex Offenders Bill is important and of great public concern. It is a cornerstone of the Government's unyielding response to those who perpetrate sexual offences. Its provisions are tough and uncompromising, a fact that I welcome. This House must send out a strong message to those who prey on the vulnerable and on innocent children.

The Government's An Action Programme for the Millennium contains a commitment to introduce a register of sex offenders. That commitment was reiterated in the mid-term review of the programme. That indicates how sincere the Government is in introducing a register of sex offenders. When pre-election promises are not honoured, the Government is rightly criticised, but when they are, as in this case, the Government should be praised.

We must remember that sex offenders prey particularly on those unable to defend themselves and leave their victims scarred for life, and we have all seen many cases of this. I agree with everything that has been said and can add little to it because of the genuine and sincere nature of the debate so far. I think it is important to put my contribution on record because of the gravity of this issue.

Senator Taylor-Quinn said that people should speak out more when they have suspicions. Whatever the offence, be it sexual or otherwise, we have to maintain the principle of innocence until guilt is proven. I am not trying to minimise the seriousness of sexual offences or taking away from the fact that we have to be aware and vigilant, but we have to keep it in perspective. There have been attempts to blacken people's names with serious allegations of them being sex offenders that were proved to be unfounded. I urge caution in this regard, as people have to go through the rigours of the judicial process to be proven guilty.

I have been moved by the phrase, "the taking of a child's innocence", which has been mentioned by a number of speakers. It goes to the heart of each of us who has enjoyed the innocence of our own and other people's children. A child's innocence is wonderful to experience and enjoy and paedophiles or other sexual offenders take that from them. I am not suggesting that rape is acceptable; it is despicable, but it occurs between adults, whereas an adult interfering sexually with a child is more despicable, it is horrific and we have seen far too many cases of it.

Reference has been made this evening to the so-called pillars of our society and that has been the most devastating element for me. In recent years people have come out slowly and told their story, indicating that the pillars of society were carrying out sexual offences against children and others. On the other hand we have people coming from deprived backgrounds who have experienced extreme difficulty in their lives and in some cases have been the victims of sexual offences themselves. It is wrong on all counts, but especially so for the pillars of society who had been put in positions of trust in our churches, educational facilities, health services and many other walks of life. I do not think there is a profession which is above reproach in that respect. It is most regrettable that when we believed our children were with trustworthy professional people this was not the case.

I find it hard to understand how someone who is sane can carry out an act of sexual violence against another individual. What can motivate someone to carry out such offences? Regarding the severity of punishment, I agree with the comments of Senator Quill who argued correctly and forcibly that the punishment should fit the crime in all cases. We have seen varying levels of sexual offence and I agree that we should have a mandatory minimum sentence. In cases of incest and other such crimes, I believe that the punishment should be more severe and I welcome any moves towards doing that.

It is good to note that Ireland will no longer be a safe haven for sexual offenders or paedophiles who seek refuge from the heinous crimes they have committed in other jurisdictions. It is important to know that when this Bill is enacted into law a sex offender from a foreign jurisdiction will be obliged to notify a variety of authorities.

A number of Senators referred to access to the sex offenders register and I agree with everything that has been said. I can only presume that access will be on a need to know basis as the Minister has not yet answered this question. I also agree with the point made by certain speakers that the Garda require specific training and should deal exclusively with the register of sex offenders. The implementation of this law is more crucial than its enactment. It is easy to enact legislation and put it in the Statute Book, but the people who will implement it need to be given every possible resource, financial, manpower and otherwise, which I hope and am sure the Government will do. This legislation is a priority for the Government, the Opposition and every Member of the Oireachtas.

The central purpose of the Bill is to impose an obligation on certain sex offenders to notify the Garda Síochána of their names and addresses and any change to that information to ensure that the record is kept up to date. It provides for a new civil court order against sex offenders whose behaviour in the community gives the Garda reasonable cause for concern that the order is necessary to protect the public from serious harm. A new offence is created for sex offenders who seek or accept work involving unsupervised contact with children, without informing the employer of their conviction.

I support the important point made by Senator Henry that this measure should also include the mentally impaired as in some cases, without casting any aspersions on them, their level of intelligence can be comparable to that of an innocent child. I hope the Senator's amendment will be taken on board on Committee Stage.

The system proposed in Part 2 of the Bill will ensure that the Garda will have up to date information at all times on the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders. The availability of this data will be of particular benefit to them in the prevention and investigation of sexual crimes. The system, which is generally referred to as a tracking or notification system, will be similar in some respects to that which is already in operation in the EU, the UK and the USA. Hindsight is a marvellous thing and we have the benefit of looking back to see how successful or otherwise this particular legislation has been in other places, which will allow us to implement the best possible tracking system.

I asked myself why our EU neighbours are not prioritising this issue as much as we are. It is regrettable that they are not. I urge that it be prioritised at EU level and that there should be a tracking system in place that would leave no safe havens among our European neighbours. I welcome those measures. The point was made by the Leas-Chathaoirleach that people feel apologetic about introducing tough legislation. In this case, I believe the tougher the legislation, the better.

Notification periods start from the date of conviction. I welcome the fact that the Garda will be notified by court certificate, on conviction, that an offender is subject to the notification requirement. This will allow for rapid updating of the Garda Síochána records. The minimum five year period will be applicable until sentence is passed, at which stage the Garda Síochána will be notified, by the issue of a further certificate by the court, of the sentence. This will dictate the duration of the notification requirement.

It is also important to note that persons who commit offences abroad pose the same risk, indeed a greater risk if they are attempting to flee an obligation to notify in another country, to vulnerable persons in this country. Failure to notify or false notification is a summary offence punishable by a fine of £1,500 or imprisonment for up to 12 months or both. That measure is a very important part of the Bill.

Part 3 provides for a new civil law which will be known as a sex offender order. On application to the court by the Garda Síochána, this order may be granted against any convicted sex offender, whose behaviour in the community, though not strictly criminal, gives the Garda cause for concern that an order is necessary to protect the public from serious harm from him or her. Serious harm is defined in section 16. It means "protecting a member or members of the public from death or serious personal injury, whether physical or psychological. . . ." Orders can be sought against anyone with a previous conviction for an offence which is included in the Schedule of the Bill or the equivalent offences overseas. The order is prohibitive in nature and will last for a minimum of five years or such a period as the court order may provide.

I will comment briefly on one further issue. Retrospection is important but difficult to address if a person who has been convicted and served his or her sentence for sexual offences has left prison and no further records exist in the system, for instance, by the probation service. It will be difficult to find these people. My understanding is that retrospection will apply only to those people who are still in contact with the authorities, whether those are the courts, the prison service or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I welcome the level of retrospection built into this legislation, but if it is possible to go back further we should do so, though I accept that may not be easy. I commend the Bill to the House.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Ms Hanafin): Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leat agus leis na Seanadóirí eile a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo. The gen eral tone of the debate has been very constructive. Everyone will agree that words cannot adequately express the total abhorrence we feel about the misery and suffering inflicted on the countless victims of sex abuse. There is probably no greater fear among parents rearing children today than that their children will fall prey to sex abusers.

Understandably, there are different views on how best to address the issue but this Bill, combined with the two Acts referred to in the opening address of this debate, will make a significant contribution towards protecting our children from abuse by paedophiles. This Bill will put in place strong protective measures for the vulnerable children and adults who are preyed upon by sex offenders. It reflects well on this House that there is such support for this Bill. Each of its measures can be justified by reference to the threat which it is trying to address. The proposals are proportionate and balanced. However, I will comment on a number of valuable points made by Senators.

Senator Taylor-Quinn was very concerned about persons who have never been convicted of a sex offence even though there are suspicions against them. I agree that this may be a problem but I plead with anybody who has been abused to report it to the authorities, irrespective of their age. The rule of law must prevail and every person must be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

The Senator also mentioned that the Bill brings us into line with other European countries. In fact it places us ahead of them. It would be naive to believe that there are no paedophile rings in this country, especially on the Internet. The Garda have already recorded successes especially where child pornography is involved. There have been some cases recently. The Internet advisory group, which comes under my remit, is working extremely hard and is investigating how we can combat this problem on the Internet. It is also working on advice to give both to children and parents on how to become aware of such things on the Internet.

Another issue raised by Senators was the inconsistency in sentencing. Sentencing policy is addressed in the discussion paper and will be examined in the context of the analysis of all the views received on the paper.

The issue of retrospection was raised by a number of Senators. Full retrospection would be impractical as some persons may have been convicted many years ago. However, the register will include all convicted sex offenders who are still in contact with the criminal justice system when the Bill comes into operation. A sex offender who has served his or her sentence and is not liable for inclusion on the register can have a sex offender order applied for against him or her if he or she is in danger of causing serious harm. A sex offender order means an automatic obligation to register for at least five years and should cover people about whom there are serious concerns.

Prevention, which was raised by Senator Quinn, is an issue that we can all agree on. The obligation to register with the Garda is in itself a form of preventing re-offending because the person who registers will, hopefully, be less likely to re-offend. Obviously prevention in the wider sense needs to be tackled at all levels.

The Government recognises the constitutional separation of powers and the independence of the Judiciary. However, considerable funds are available through the Judicial Studies Institute for the Judiciary to arrange for further education and training in any relevant subject. I am sure this will be of particular interest.

The question of treatment for sex offenders in custody has been raised by Senators Taylor-Quinn, O'Donovan and Quinn. There has been much public discussion and commentary about this issue. There seems to be a view abroad that only one form of rehabilitation programme is in place in prisons and that it reaches a very limited number of offenders. That is incorrect. There are three different types of treatment available to sex offenders in prison, all of which are aimed at enabling them to gain some measure of control over their offending behaviour.

The first intervention method is individual counselling available in all the institutions and to every prisoner who wishes to avail of it. The number of offenders undergoing one-to-one counselling is difficult to quantify because of the varied nature of counselling available to sex offenders in prison, which can be a single session addressing a particular problem or intensive counselling over a long period. Counselling is provided primarily by the probation and welfare and psychology services of the Department. Extensive support on a one-to-one basis is also provided by the prison psychiatric service.

The second intervention is a multi-disciplinary, thinking skills, group work programme, which focuses on issues such as anger management, evasion of personal responsibility and relapse prevention. This programme has been available in Cork Prison and Arbour Hill Prison since 1998.

The third programme, the one that receives most media coverage, is an extremely intensive, offence focused, group work programme which is available in Arbour Hill Prison and the Curragh Prison. There are currently ten places available on this group treatment programme at each of those prisons. The possibility of extending the range of multi-disciplinary treatment options for sex offenders and other prisoners is under examination.

Senator Henry, who I understand has a particular interest in this matter having introduced a Private Members' Bill in 1996, raised a number of issues. She has concerns about how the probation service will be able to cope with its new functions under this and other legislation. An open recruitment competition for permanent probation and welfare officers was conducted last year by the Civil Service Commission. The panel was set up and interviews were held in November 2000. Since the end of February four persons have taken up positions. Five more will take up duty this month and a number of other candidates are expected to confirm their starting dates shortly. It is expected that further assignments will be received from the commission in the next few weeks. Two persons who deferred their start dates from the 1999 competition will take up duty either at the end of this month or early next month.

Department of Finance sanction was obtained earlier this year for the recruitment of up to 25 temporary unestablished probation and welfare officers to fill existing and anticipated vacancies. In the light of the very positive response to the competition we requested the Department of Finance to revise upwards to 50 contract staff. They responded positively and offers are currently being made to the next 25 persons on the panel. It is expected that many of these 50 will commence duty around 5 June 2001. While the temporary staff will be employed initially on a contract basis, arrangements are being made to hold a confined competition for permanent appointment at the end of the contract period. The first eight of the temporary officers took up duty on 14 May, five took up duty on 21 May, seven will take up duty on 5 June and further three on 11 June. Others will take up duty after that date. This shows that staffing will be at a level where they will be able to cope with the extra responsibilities placed on the service.

Senators Taylor-Quinn and Henry asked who would have access to the information on convicted sex offenders. Information will be disclosed only in the most exceptional circumstances, in order to prevent an immediate risk of crime or to alert members of the public to an apprehended danger, and then strictly on a need to know basis. Administrative arrangements will be put in place to this end that will protect the public, and in particular children, here or abroad. There are obviously a lot of strong feelings against paedophiles. It is difficult to believe that the diffusion of this knowledge would not result at best in unhelpful public hounding of convicted paedophiles from one location to another. At worst it might result in violence and disorder, thus discouraging notification to the point where the purpose was defeated. Dissemination of knowledge of convicted paedophiles' whereabouts should be strictly confined to those with a need to know, and even then only as a measure of absolute last resort where it may be the only remaining option to prevent abuse.

The limitations of the register were referred to by Senator Henry. No single piece of legislation can offer complete protection. Indeed the criminal law generally cannot offer full protection, so we should not be 100% dependent on it. The Senator also referred to registers in schools in England. As far as I am aware those were non-statutory registers operating on a voluntary administrative basis. Other groups also keep such records obtained from newspaper reports of convicted sex offenders.

The "guilty but insane" sex offender will not be treated more leniently than those in prison. The definition of imprisonment includes detention in the Central Mental Hospital, to which all "guilty but insane" persons are referred.

I have been working for the past year on the issue of mandatory reporting. The legal issues are being dealt with at present by the Attorney General's office and I am hopeful that they can be finalised shortly. With the implementation of the ‘children first' guidelines throughout the country, and the new training officers and additional resources which have been allocated, the protection and welfare of children is being dealt with on a more formal and recognised basis by those who come into contact with them. A number of people working at that level now say there is no need for mandatory reporting, but it is something which I am still working on.

The type of treatment involved in post-release supervision is – correctly – not detailed in the Bill. It will be based on the best advice given at the time by experts. There have been several convictions for the possession of child pornography but I do not have the specific details to hand.

Senators O'Donovan, Henry, Quill and John Cregan pointed out that many people were unaware of the abuse which took place in the past. That is true, although some people were aware. Nonetheless one cannot imagine this legislation being brought forward years ago. We should take all opportunities to advise people that wherever abuse is taking place they should report it. Yesterday I opened a conference on child sex abuse, dealing with professionals. If ever the voice of children needed to be heard it is in relation to abuse and sex abuse. Had we listened more to children in the past then perhaps we would not be faced with a number of the problems which we now have.

We all accept Senator O'Donovan's point that this country should not be used as a safe haven for sex offenders. That cannot and will not be the position. By extending the scope of the provisions which Senator Henry has recommended, it is something which can be tracked through the EU.

Senator John Cregan quite rightly has asked that this be implemented as a priority. I assure the House that it is a priority, the resources are being made available and the staffing will be there to ensure it can be implemented. None of us can understand sex offenders. We cannot understand their mentality or the actions which they carry out. Our motivation is to protect children and the public from such people and this Bill goes a long way in doing that.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 29 May 2001.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 May 2001.