Prisons Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House. I take the point he made yesterday about the withdrawal of the Prisons Bill 2005, a limited Bill, and welcome the introduction of this new legislation.

I have visited Mountjoy Prison twice and I was struck by the poor conditions of the buildings. The purchase of a new site at Thornton Hall for a new prison to replace Mountjoy is a welcome development.

The Prisons Bill 2005 dealt with video conferencing and the closure of Mountjoy Prison but this Bill is more comprehensive. The overtime question, which it addresses, has always been of great importance to the prison service. The Minister has made arrangements to allow for greater flexibility and efficiency that will make the State's prisons easier to operate. The additional hours to replace overtime are welcome.

Many speakers referred to drugs in prisons. The Minister has published a strategy on drugs for the prison service, which is a welcome development.

The planning provisions for the construction of new prisons and extensions to existing prisons are also included in the Bill. This is relevant following the announcement in the news about the prisons in Cork. When it was proposed some years ago that a prison be built in the west, there was interest in the idea. Castlerea was chosen but many other towns were keen to be the site of the prison. It would generate employment and a prison would ensure people did not have concerns about security. The prison in Castlerea has proven its worth.

The Minister mentioned the possibility of prison escort services being contracted out. This is an area where progress has been made and I hope to see further developments. There were many problems, although some of the stories were exaggerated. It was said that prisoners from the west were often sent to Dublin but then sent home again and that people were left unattended at stops during the journey. I do not know how true those stories are but sometimes people who had committed minor offences went missing. I hope when the question of escort services is addressed, a robust and secure system will be in place.

The Office of Inspector of Prisons is an interesting idea. I am familiar with the inspection regime for psychiatric hospitals because there have been numerous reports published on the subject. We must bear in mind that some prisons, like Mountjoy, are out of date. When the Minister talks about a new prison, we are comparing it with very old institutions and inspectors do not often realise this. The same is true of hospitals, particularly psychiatric hospitals, and very old buildings are compared with very new buildings. I presume that will be taken into account with inspections, which I hope will be carried out in a very thorough manner.

Prison discipline is mentioned in the Bill, and I know prison visiting committees have been perhaps much maligned. I have spoken to people on such committees and they were able to keep in contact with prisoners and discuss issues which affected them. This may have prevented some of the disciplinary sanctions that might have been imposed. It is important that prisoners are given as much information as possible relating to prison rules or inquiries that have to be made, and if a sanction is put in place by the governor it should be thoroughly explained.

I have spoken to many governors through the years and I find them very humane. To give an example, prisoners serving a short sentence can be helped through the family occasions of a baby being christened or a first communion. I welcome this and I hope it always would be the case.

I have read through the Bill and have nothing but the height of praise for it. There is a reference to a live television link with regard to certain applications to court. Perhaps the Minister could explain this in more detail in his reply. I spoke earlier about video conferencing, which I have noticed is done fairly frequently in the health services. I noticed recently on a trip to the Aran Islands that if a doctor is not available, one can sometimes have a link from an island to the main hospital in Galway to discuss an ailment. How would that work in this case? It is an interesting technology which has been used by health services for some time.

I welcome the Bill and hope it receives a quick passage through the Houses. I hope there will be more definite action on prison buildings as we have fallen behind on prisons we know are in very bad condition. We aspire to have all buildings like our more modern prison facilities.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill and I welcome the Tánaiste to the House. This is a period of considerable opportunity for the prison system for a number of reasons, such as the welcome additional funding that can modernise the number of prisons within this jurisdiction. Another glaring reason I have come to this conclusion is that the very substantial subversive threat posed to this State since its inception is now dwindling, and although it has not been completely eliminated, it is virtually gone. Over the period of time since independence, a substantial number of the prison population incarcerated for all kinds of reasons was directly related to subversive organisations. As those organisations have now accepted the legality and legitimacy of the State, we now have more space for people who should be in prison.

In that context, it still irks me to see those responsible for very serious crimes in this State, most notably the manslaughter of Detective Jerry McCabe, operate their own regime, effectively an open prison. I am glad to say they remain in prison despite the Government's U-turn on the matter. However, they decide what they eat and when they want to eat it. The Government should not send such a signal through such people, that in effect they can decide what they want to do when they so wish. Our prison service should not be run like that and nobody should have a carte blanche approach to the operation of prisons, even if they are in a special category. The individuals to whom I am referring clearly think of themselves in that way, as do their political masters in the other House.

It is worth noting one of the great achievements of Éamon de Valera when he was Taoiseach. He did exactly what Margaret Thatcher did in 1981 in refusing to accept the political status of hunger-strike prisoners in the North, which led to three of them dying in the 1940s. The great statesman that he was, he recognised the importance of not undermining the State by allowing any group to decide its own rules and conditions in prisons. This is a very important principle which de Valera set out, which Thatcher followed and to which all Administrations in this country have adhered since the foundation of the State. I see it as an opportunity that those persons who had previously represented large proportions of our prison population are no longer there.

One of the most depressing experiences I have had to go through was an opportunity to visit Mountjoy Prison when I was asked to participate in an Open University course which some prisoners were taking. When I finished my contribution after an hour or two and left the training centre, 15 men were lined up to see me, all of whom came from my constituency. It was like a virtual prison clinic, and all the men were asking questions about their family at home or if I would make representations for a girlfriend, partner etc.

We need a very strong and independent voice within the prison system which is prepared to highlight awkward issues from time to time. The Minister's relationship with Mr. Justice Kinlan may not be the best because of his very blunt and independent comments on the prison system from time to time, but there is a need for such independence of mind and people within the system who are prepared to say awkward things to the Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in particular.

I welcome that the Minister is now putting the prisons inspectorate on a statutory footing and that reports to be given to the Government from the inspectorate are to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. There is a responsibility on the Government to publish such reports as soon as possible. From reading the legislation, I understand there is no time limit on when the Minister must publish a report coming from the prison inspectorate. That is wrong, and we should consider amending it on Committee Stage of this Bill.

Previously, Ministers with the Justice portfolio have been determined to publish reports at their own political choosing, and that is wrong. If we are putting this on a statutory footing, which I welcome, we should use the opportunity to lay down a guideline or strict rule as to when that report will be published. It is the possession of the Oireachtas rather than the Government of the day.

The Human Rights Commission recently put forward the view that with regard to people coming before it on the issue of leaving prison, the matter should be referred to an independent third party or judicial system. I do not accept that and I agree with the Minister. It is always proper for the Government to refuse to grant a release for an individual, for whatever reason. The power should remain squarely with the Government, as there are always reasons the good judgment of the Government would require persons to remain in prison, irrespective of what others might say. The Minister is correct in taking a different view from that of the Human Rights Commission and I am interested in his views on the matter.

Prisons are places where serious criminals need to go for a period of time and it must be ensured their prison sentence is upheld. There have been examples of persons committed to prison for non-payment of fines. This should be regarded as a last resort because prisons are places for serious criminals and not places for people who have not paid small fines. The prison system should be safely guarded and kept for those who require it.

I listened to the comments of the previous speaker about the prisoner escort system. I share his concerns that the Bill allows for the part-privatisation of the prisoner escort system. I presume significant sums of money will be saved if this option is adopted. The Bill provides that the Minister will be required to certify companies for this service. This is a sensitive and fundamental issue and we should tread warily and carefully before going down the road of allowing this part-privatisation to emerge. There are many examples in other jurisdictions where this system has failed, where there is no accountability and where ultimately the system has been the subject of ridicule because those private operators have neither the experience nor the expertise to introduce the service. There are some areas in which the State should be mindful of looking after services and the prisoner escort service is one of them.

On the question of prison construction, the Minister has made a recent announcement about Cork and I welcome that decision. There needs to be some role for some kind of independent view involved in the planning of a prison programme as this does not exist currently. The Fine Gael spokesperson on justice has put forward some strong opinions on this issue, particularly with regard to Part 4 which may need to be revisited on Committee Stage to decide whether the Bill provides the kind of due regard and observance of the views of others when dealing with the location of a prison in an area. I concede that these are very difficult decisions. However, I refer to the unique example of Castlerea, County Roscommon where Senator Leyden will agree the community was more than happy to take a prison. It is more difficult to reach an agreement in a larger urban setting.

The Bill deals with drugs-free regimes in prisons. Mountjoy Prison has one drugs-free wing. In my constituency I have seen extraordinary results from methadone programmes. They may not work for everyone but they are successful in some circumstances. I would be interested to hear of the experience of the Irish prison system with regard to this regime.

Many people in prisons lead chaotic and difficult lives. They are in prison because of the circumstances of their lives and their environment. We must ensure that when a person leaves prison, they have some social equipment to deal with the life ahead of them. People often remain in the cycle of crime. We have a responsibility to rehabilitate prisoners and to ensure they return to the community with some element of stability. Too often people who leave prisons are back within a short time because nothing is in place for them and their chaotic lives cannot be changed. We have a responsibility to use the regimes of drugs-free and methadone to replace what has failed in other areas and I urge the Government and the prison authorities to consider this option.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I commend him on bringing this Bill forward and for the amount of legislation for which he has been responsible since becoming Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

This is a comprehensive Bill and I welcome its provisions. The question of prison reform is worthy of debate, giving Senators an opportunity to put forward their views on this matter. I served on the visiting committee for the Curragh Prison for a period some years ago. It was an interesting experience as it gave me an opportunity of meeting the governor, officials, staff and prisoners. We were afforded open access as members of the visiting committee. There is no reference to the visiting committees in the Bill so I presume there will be no change in their role.

The visiting committee of a prison prepares an annual report on the general workings of the prison over the period of the inspections. I ask the Minister and his officials to review those reports. This will not be relevant in the case of the Curragh Prison because the Minister has decided to close it down. It was not the most suitable location for a prison as it did not have all the desired facilities which would be available in a new prison.

Including a boot camp.

It was referred to as the Vatican but I will say no more about that.

When I visited the Magilligan Prison in County Derry, I noticed a sign which said, "Don't serve time; let time serve you". This was a very good message to prisoners. The loss of freedom is the most serious deprivation and it is a most chilling experience to visit a prison. One is aware that one could walk out but the prisoners were locked up from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Oscar Wilde's famous "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" describes what it is like to be a prisoner, particularly a prisoner such as Oscar Wilde who was charged with a crime which has now been decriminalised. I hope there will be a pardon for Oscar Wilde because he was one of our greatest writers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

To refer to a topic of local interest in County Roscommon, the Castlerea Prison experience has been very successful. It came at a time of terrible economic difficulties in the constituencies of Longford-Roscommon and Galway East. The Government of the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, made a Cabinet decision to locate the prison in Castlerea on the site of the former psychiatric hospital at Harristown, Castlerea. The project was mothballed and threatened to be dropped by the rainbow coalition Government, when Nora Owen was Minister for Justice, and this led to widespread street protests in Dublin. A campaign was launched and led by the Bishop of Elphin, Dr. Christopher Jones. Two Americans were overheard to remark in Tully's Hotel in Castlerea, "Gee, honey, are they protesting against a jail in Castlerea? No, honey, they are protesting for a jail in Castlerea. Well, in America, honey, we would be protesting against a jail."

Castlerea wanted a prison because of its economic benefits and this is what it has proved to be. It has a total of approximately 180 prisoners and the 150 staff all live in rural areas around Roscommon, Castlerea and into east Galway and are a great boost to the economy. The town of Roscommon has benefited as has Castlerea and all the rural towns. These are high calibre staff who play an important role in their communities. The policy has worked out very well.

I wish to allay the fears of those who worry about living close to a prison. It is one of the safest places to live. I appeal to anyone in north Dublin or Cork that they have nothing to fear but fear itself. One person at the time told me they were appalled at the idea of living next to a prison. There may be potential difficulties but the Garda Síochána keeps a very good eye on the outside and the prison officers keep a good eye on the inside and in general it works very satisfactorily. I hope the Minister can take the time to open the courthouse at Harristown which adjoins the prison. Instead of prisoners being brought to court at Roscommon or elsewhere, they can be brought there. The building was never officially opened and that is rather unusual because most Governments are delighted to stage such events to indicate investment in the area. I hope the Minister can take the time out of his busy schedule to do this. He will get a good welcome in Castlerea.

There was a fairly serious industrial dispute in the prisons in April 1988. However, that month lost to a strike is now affecting the pension rights of staff. It would be a nice gesture if the Minister could give this matter consideration. I am not saying that he can solve it, but the prison officers are prepared to repay whatever contributions were involved. They will now have to work longer to make up for that lost month. Let the past be the past. It did not happen on the Minister's watch.

I am fascinated by the new rules and regulations regarding the building of prisons. I accept what the Minister has put forward to ensure proper consultation, but it is in the national interest to have prisons. I note that the Minister is proposing not to locate the Cork jail on Spike Island. I have visited the old jail on the island and it is a beautiful location. I know there are difficulties with landing the boats and the cost of the bridge is prohibitively expensive. If that site is not used for a jail, it has great potential for housing. It is a historic island and would also have great potential for a museum. People can continue to use the ferries out to the island from Cobh. Being an island, the location is very secure and it is difficult to get off it.

Cork Prison, which I have visited, certainly needs replacing. I have visited nearly all our prisons and it gives me the opportunity to speak about them. Governor McCarthy in Cork Prison was the most enlightened and progressive governor I have met.

It did not rub off on the Senator though.

As regards the inspectorate, the Minister might consider giving visiting committees some role in consultation with the officer appointed. Perhaps the chairman of the committee could meet with the officer annually to discuss any issues arising. A requirement could be made that he or she would consult and meet the visiting committees on an informal basis.

Christmas is a special time. While I know it causes tremendous hurt for the families of the victims of crime, humanitarian leave for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Stephen's Day should be given to prisoners where possible. As a family man, I know the Minister will look at this. This leave should be granted with rules attached specifying that prisoners cannot leave their home or socialise outside it as that can cause difficulties. I know there is a good regime in the Prison Service that grants leave where it can. Were something to happen while a prisoner was on leave, the Minister would be blamed. However, there is nothing better for the rehabilitation of prisoners than giving them experience of family life. There is nothing worse than being away from one's loved ones. For children's sake particularly, I appeal to the Minister to go as far as he can in granting compassionate leave. In individual cases I am prepared to contact governors. However, I am selective in the type of cases I become involved in. Every public representative must be careful in this regard.

Where prisoners seek day release, they should be allowed to pay for it where they have the money. Some prisoners are quite wealthy and I am happy to see this provision included in the Bill. I also want to see the skills of prisoners utilised in a productive way. Prisoners were engaged in hard labour or sewing bags in the past. When I visited Mountjoy Prison, some of the prisoners were making stands for the Special Olympics.

I must conclude now. I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to this Bill.

The inappropriate detention of children and young people is something on which I wish to focus. The Government is making much of its plans to have a referendum on the rights of children. However, it is a disgrace that children and young people are still inappropriately detained in prisons and institutions such as St. Patrick's. We must complete, as a matter of urgency, the building of appropriate detention centres for young people.

The Government must fully implement and resource the Children Act. Other Members have mentioned the alternatives to detention. The Minister himself has said that detention should be a matter of last resort and I support that. The Government should invest in long-term alternatives to detention. Senator Walsh mentioned restorative justice and juvenile justice schemes. If we put resources in place, it will save us money in the long term. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report compares the use of the probation and welfare service with detention. It shows that the former is much more cost effective. It may even be more effective overall, but that needs further analysis. The Minister will shortly implement legislation on anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs. When young people are served with ASBOs, it is important that the supports are in place to allow them comply with their undertakings and conditions.

The Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen, has been critical of St. Patrick's Institution, as has Father Peter McVerry. They both mentioned the need for hope around young people. If there is hope for anyone to be rehabilitated, there must be hope for young people. We must provide the resources and facilities for this to happen. In his speech, the Minister spoke of his desire to do more in providing for the rehabilitation, education and training for prisoners. He cannot simply talk the talk; he must also walk the walk. When interviewed in May, Mr. Justice Kinlen spoke about the 18 training and educational programmes for young offenders in St. Patrick's that had closed. These included workshops in photography, carpentry and domestic sciences. The judge spoke about a course where young people were taught to drive and repair cars from which some had gained useful employment. The trend in recent years has been to cut back education and training.

I visited Mountjoy Prison with the Minister a few years ago and we were shown the work carried out in workshops. Some prisoners had gone for the President's Award and had carried out different projects. We spoke to the people involved in education and training and even at that time things were at a marginal level and were being further cut back. The Minister must do much more.

I am not one of those who believes we should not put people in prison. I am for putting people in prison when appropriate. However, I see no point putting people in prison, particularly as so many are in prison for a relatively short period of time, if we do nothing to change their behaviour. We should provide them with education and training so that when they are released, they can work and make a living and a life for themselves without having to resort to crime.

As I said previously, it is very important something is done for prisoners when they are released from prison so they are rehabilitated back into society. Mr. Justice Kinlan was involved in a project in that regard but more needs to be done to ensure housing for them and that if they need drugs treatment, those facilities are there. I have dealt with people whose children have been in prison. They do not want their children back living with them when they are released from prison because they fear it will affect their tenancy if they are council tenants. Often when prisoners are released, they are basically homeless and it is not long before they again become involved with the wrong crowd, drugs and crime.

The Minister said he wants to ensure our prisons are humane. That is not the case at present. Slopping out and the conditions in which prisoners live are shocking. We must treat prisoners with dignity so they will treat other people with dignity too. As a society, we must show that we have certain standards in terms of human rights and the way we treat people. The Minister has been talking about ending the practice of slopping out for a few years. Why is it taking so long to do something about this issue?

With regard to the planning issue, a couple of years ago I wrote to the director of prisons on behalf of some residents living in the vicinity of Cloverhill and Wheatfield Prisons to see if the Prison Service would liaise with the local community on certain issues in regard to the prisons. However, I did not receive a reply to my letter. The residents had the same problem and the reason I wrote to the director of prisons in the first place was to try to set up that dialogue between the community, the prison service and those prisons.

In the context of the new planning regime introduced in this legislation, if prisons are to be built, it is important there is communication between the prisons and local communities so that if problems arise or there are any concerns, the local community can speak to the appropriate person in the Prison Service about them. That type of liaison could lead to positive outcomes in regard to projects which could be undertaken by the community and the Prison Service in terms of what happens prisoners when they leave the system. It might also lead to a more positive attitude among the local community to what is happening in the prison and perhaps to its involvement on prison visiting committees.

I, too, have concerns about privatisation. The Minister is right in that there is a need to take on the vested interests in the public service and that includes the Prison Service. However, there is much to be said for investing in public facilities and infrastructure. There are so many areas where the Government is investing in private schemes to deal with various public services. That money is going into a black hole because one has no assets or anything built up for the long-term despite the money pumped into privatisation schemes. I urge caution in that regard.

Much crime relates to drugs and people with drugs problems so it is important we provide drugs treatment to prisoners. There was a very harrowing story during the summer where a young woman basically refused to go back to prison. The judge agreed with her because she was not getting the necessary treatment there. It is all about trying to change people's behaviour and ensuring we get value for money in terms of what we invest in prisons. We must provide the education, training and drugs treatment.

I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and this legislation. His presence in the House during the passage of legislation is much appreciated. For someone who is occasionally accused of arrogance, he does a lot of listening here. In that respect, he resembles one of his predecessors as Minister for Justice, the late Charles J. Haughey, who also took a very personal interest in the passage of legislation through the House.

I do not know whether he would fancy that comparison.

Given the events of recent days where a Latvian woman was assassinated, a woman beaten within an inch of her life in the Wicklow Mountains, drug abuse and people being shot dead in apparent drugs-related feuds, I have not heard the suggestion from any Member that prisons are not necessary. Indeed, they are very necessary for certain people who are a danger to the community. The notion that crime can be directed from prison would be a very disturbing development.

No one disputes the need to have modern, effective and humane prisons. A prison like Kilmainham when it opened in 1795 was modern and progressive for the time but obviously standards have moved on a great deal. I am liberal in some respects but not in others. One of the advantages of a greenfield prison is that, hopefully, it will break the link with a type of rampant in-house prison drugs culture. Presumably that is one of the objectives the Minister is trying to achieve.

An issue at which we will need to look at some time in the future and progress — perhaps this is on the liberal side — is the question of conjugal visits which exist in some parts of the world and whether that would have a good effect on prisoner behaviour. The Minister is correct to keep the outsourcing facility. That dispute is over and has been resolved. However, having got that far down the road, there is no harm putting a safety net in place.

The question of video links for what one might call formal and brief court procedures has a capability of saving public money. There are adequate protections in terms of prisoners being able to appeal. Quite an elaborate system is set out in the Bill in regard to sanctions for misbehaviour.

The other reason I rose to speak is to refer to a small section of the prison population which one would have hoped might not be there given the developments in the peace process, that is the paramilitary prisoners. Apart from a few dissident paramilitaries in Castlereagh Prison, they are mainly in Portlaoise Prison. One must distinguish between different organisations and different types of dissidents. One cannot have a problem with dissidents in the sense of disagreements in political debate in a democratic society. The INLA, whatever about any extra-curricular activities, at least agreed a ceasefire in the broad political sense in 1998, and in the political sense of that term has, broadly speaking, observed it. Unfortunately that is not the case for the Real IRA, which declared a ceasefire after the catastrophe of the Omagh bombing but, foolishly from many points of view, broke it approximately a year later. There is also the Continuity IRA, which likes to present itself as the sea-green incorruptibles of republicanism. It is a curious sort of republicanism which does not recognise the existence of this republic, which is one of the principal achievements of republicanism in the 20th century.

This is mainly a security issue and after 1998 fortunately most, but not all, activities have been foiled. The political purpose of the bombing in the centre of the mainly nationalist city of Newry was difficult to fathom. In one of last week's Sunday papers somebody close to them suggested that if they shot a police officer the security authorities in both jurisdictions would come down on them like a ton of bricks. It is unsatisfactory that this continues. There is, as there was in the main peace process, a political, ideological dimension to it. Although most of the people involved regard themselves as left-wing progressive, if one believes the ideology the "government of the republic" is an anonymous military dictatorship which, unlike any democratic government feels it has the right to apply corporal and capital punishment in complete ignorance of human rights. Last weekend, despite the overwhelming will of the Irish people North and South, a conference asserted some historic right as if the people alive today had no right to decide how the legitimate ideal of a united Ireland might be pursued and achieved.

The relevance of this to prison legislation is that the Prison Service is one of the few points of contact between the Government and such organisations. As has been shown in more mainstream organisations, prisoners can influence those outside. This and the corresponding problem of loyalist paramilitarism constitute an incomplete part of the peace process, regardless of what happens with the St. Andrew's Agreement. While inevitably it must be conducted by security means, the political and ideological dimension is not to be neglected.

I welcome the Minister and I am pleased that another significant piece of legislation has been introduced first in the Seanad. This is good because the Seanad should be used to examine, generally in a non-partisan way, Government legislative proposals. From reading the explanatory memorandum and other material this Bill has two principal purposes. The first is to allow the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to contract out prisoner escort services. There has been a problem with this over the years. It has used many Garda resources that could have been more profitably engaged in other areas. It also brings up the way the banks use the services of the State to escort their money, which has been examined in the past couple of years and which is a less worthy use of Garda and Army resources. The second purpose of the Bill is to use pre-trial hearings in which people can be interviewed on video.

Both purposes of the Bill have certain aspects to recommend them. My only hesitation is that I do not like franchising out tasks too much. We have a regrettable tendency to follow America in many respects, both good and bad, often in an unthinking fashion. America has franchised out the entire prison service, which has led to a considerable degree of brutality and confusion, which I deplore. The principal motive for people engaging in this is not the service of the community or the welfare of the State but profit. While there may be a practical argument for moving in this direction one must be careful that the profit motive does not dominate.

I welcome the fact that section 3 requires the Minister or his representatives to provide certification that people employed in this are fit and proper persons so to do, that this can be reviewed and that such validation lasts for five years and can be revoked by the Minister. The principal difficulty with the pre-trial hearings that has been drawn to my attention is the matter of definition. I wonder if the Minister will re-examine this and provide a definition of a pre-trial hearing or explain to the House whether or how he feels it is satisfactorily defined in the legislation. If we are to have it, we must be clear on what constitutes a pre-trial hearing and what does not.

Also envisaged in this Bill are strict planning rules for new jails. I want to address the subject of Thornton Hall. I will not re-open the question of the purchase, which has been extensively ventilated in both Houses of the Oireachtas and the media, because it appears to be a done deal. However, the fact that the Central Mental Hospital is to be relocated to the grounds to Thornton Hall is a serious cause of concern for many people. I am sure the Minister has come under pressure from the relatives. He is shaking his head. That is very interesting. I have, and I wish to pass on some of the pressure to him. Relatives of inmates, representatives of groups such as Schizophrenia Ireland, doctors and constituents have expressed considerable concern about this. I welcome the fact that Deputy Tim O'Malley, party and Government colleague of the Minister, recognised early in his tenure the unsatisfactory nature of the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. He pledged to close it and I salute him for taking this honourable position. It is a good thing to close the Central Mental Hospital.

I remember it when it was called the Central Criminal Lunatic Asylum. An advertisement that made a joke of this had to be withdrawn from Irish television in the not too distant past as a result of complaints by relatives. If the Advertising Standards Authority is prepared to remove an advertisement on the basis that it creates an unfair stigma to refer to the original name, the Central Criminal Lunatic Hospital, we have to be careful about associating a prison and a mental hospital. Some of those incarcerated are there because of actions — perhaps violent actions — taken in pursuit of deluded notions. Schizophrenia, for example, can lead to delusions where sufferers believe they are being attacked and are the prey of sinister forces. To those outside the mental world, their behaviour seems extraordinarily dangerous and threatening, as indeed it is.

Some 35% of inmates of the Central Mental Hospital have never been charged with any crime. The remaining 65% of inmates may have committed acts under the influence of mental illness as a result of delusion. Dr. Paul O'Connell, a consultant at the Central Mental Hospital, has stated that the patients he works with are those who, by nature of having a severe mental illness, fall foul of the law, perhaps by committing a violent offence in response to a delusion, and that all Western societies recognise that when an offence of this kind occurs as a product of mental illness, hospital treatment rather than imprisonment is the civilised response.

I return to the determination of the Minister of State to close the Central Mental Hospital, which I have applauded. He is also on record as saying that locating the revamped Central Mental Hospital within the grounds of Thornton Hall is not an ideal situation. He said, "I accept that in an ideal world it would be better not to have it near a prison but we do not live in an ideal world." We do, however, live in a State with plenty of resources and it is not necessary to build the hospital there. It is convenient and saves a certain amount of money.

There is an extensive site in Dundrum. What are the plans for this site? Will it be sold to generate further capital for the Exchequer? Why is it not considered appropriate to redevelop the hospital on this site, where it has been and where the local community accepts it? The grounds are an attractive retreat for those who suffer from mental illness. The proposed move will create considerable disturbance to the residents and their relatives. Dundrum is reasonably accessible from all parts of Dublin by bus, train and Luas. Thornton Hall is not, despite the proposed system of shuttle buses. It is a pity that the decision appears to have been taken. A spokesperson for the relatives and carers group describes the decision to combine a mental hospital and a prison as "warehousing" patients. I hope this matter can be reconsidered.

The Senator's time is up.

I thought the Cathaoirleach was going to say I had a minute left.

I will give the Senator an additional minute.

The Cathaoirleach is exceptionally kind. That is the kind of civilisation we need. If we had this approach to Thornton Hall and the mental hospital, we would be in business.

Senator Mansergh suggested no one thinks prisons should not exist. I am a Utopian and, in an ideal world, they should not exist. In my opinion, they should be the last resort. The Minister has encouraged community service orders and so on.

I will now don my right-wing hat, which will delight the Minister. For the heinous crimes involving guns that occur throughout the city, such as the monstrous slaying of the young Latvian woman, prison is not just appropriate but essential in order to protect the community. There should not be a soft regime for these people. For them I would be quite happy to see the reintroduction of hard labour. Anyone who can approach a young woman, the mother of two defenceless children, and callously blow her off the face of the earth should not be allowed to relax in peace, comfort and security. That person should be daily reminded, by the conditions in which they are kept, of the awfulness of the crime and the seriousness with which society regards it.

I commend the Minister for the tenacity of his efforts to reform and modernise the prison system. Although he may not refer to it, I can imagine the vested interests he has to tackle, in the same way as those who are trying to reform the health system. The prison regime is an exceptional problem but he has researched it well and has a vision for it.

One is caught between a rock and a hard place in this debate. One cannot expect victims and their families to feel sympathy for what happens when a prisoner is sent to jail. This is particularly true in the context of the brutal nature of crime today. In our wildest nightmares we could not have envisaged some of the crime being committed on the streets. Victims and their families may feel criminals should be locked up and forgotten. We have seen this thinking in the prison regimes of other countries. The film "Midnight Express" depicted the prison regime in Turkey. We have seen what prison can be like at the other extreme.

One must also think of families whose sons or daughters found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. One speaks to these decent families and tries to empathise with them. I have been involved in a number of prisoner cases in Britain and Ireland. I have met these families and my heart goes out to them.

On the other hand, I am friends with a family whose father, in his 40s, was shot dead over the Christmas period. I can still remember the young son, 14 years old, running down to the graveyard and throwing himself across his father's grave. Within four years the killer was on the streets, making a second hell for that family. I wish to tease our certain issues because they are important, the first perhaps from a philosophical perspective. If one brutalises prisoners within a regime, one generally brutalises oneself and society because when these prisoners emerge from prison having had this experience, there will be no question of their being improved citizens who have learned from their mistakes. One suffers at the other end of the line.

Nobody is suggesting we have the type of regime that would make it attractive for people to be committed to prison but there is a certain element of attraction. I have watched television footage of young people coming out of the courts after being sentenced and giving the two-finger sign to the cameras and the public. There is no question of any remorse. I am slightly worried that they are being influenced by the image of the hard man and the way their mates or peers will perceive them once they have been sent to prison. A message must be sent, either through the media or community groups, that there is no question of a prison term doing anything for a person's standing in the community. It must be made quite clear that a person has isolated himself or herself from normal decent practice and has not afforded to other people the compassion or understanding which he or she at times claims and demands. This message must go out loud and clear.

In many ways, the prison regime is a reflection of society. If drugs are used, dealt and sold and people come from such an environment, they will bring this culture with them into the prison. One of the most disconcerting messages is the suggestion that drugs are freely available in prisons. There seems to be a certain element of truth in this. Every effort, including mandatory testing with which I fully agree, must be made to ensure that illegal drugs are not accessible in prisons. Irrespective of how they are carried out, these efforts must be made for two reasons. First, the availability of such drugs is to all intents and purposes making the prison regime unmanageable. Second, one is placing a temptation before young people who might have an opportunity of being made, in some way, accessible to society again. We should not bring them into a worse environment than that in which they lived outside prison.

I will extend this point. On one hand, one finds what people might term the habitual criminal, while on the other hand one finds the other type of prisoner who is just unfortunate enough to find himself or herself in that position. We must find some way of segregating in a practical fashion those two types of prisoner. I am aware that efforts to segregate these two groups are always being undertaken and that the open prison is part of this concept. One case with which I am dealing concerns a prisoner in Britain who will, hopefully, be repatriated to Ireland in the very near future. The one appeal the family made was that he should not be put into a regime which would give him no light at the end of the tunnel and which would make him a much worse prospect for any kind of rehabilitation for the future. The family has made heartfelt pleas to me. This is probably an individual case but we must keep it in mind as a general principle. We simply cannot have a situation where there is no hope for reform or rehabilitation.

I have always been very impressed and inspired by John Lonergan, the governor of Mountjoy Prison, and a fellow Tipperary man. I have heard him speak and have always been surprised by his courage in engaging in debate on radio and television programmes. The one thing that comes across is the great balance which exists for him. On one hand, there is the compassionate and human side, but on the other hand there is the question of having to bring about control within society. I am impressed by the manner in which he can harmonise those two concepts. The Minister is also faced by these concepts.

The unauthorised disclosure of information is a cancer in the system. There is nothing worse than reading a report in a tabloid newspaper about what someone in prison did or did not have for breakfast. It is wrong for two reasons to disclose this type of information. First, the information is not being transmitted without a price. The fact that a price is put on it stains the entire character of the prison system and all those good people within it. Second, because this information is reported in a sensationalist fashion, it does not bring home to the public the horror of prison life. If a person is deprived of his or her freedom, this is the ultimate punishment. It sends out the wrong message if one ignores the fact of the deprivation of freedom and depicts some type of luxurious situation within the prison system.

We must believe that good will always triumph over evil. If we do not believe this, we and society face difficulties. With this in mind, giving people the opportunity, even within the prison regime, to develop their full potential is absolutely vital, even if they do not succeed. They must feel that this is an extension of what would have been available to them outside prison. I do not see this as a luxury. I see it as a practical contribution in the context of humanity and, above all, in the context of rehabilitation. Hopefully, in the final analysis, if one listens to a prisoner who has emerged from prison speak about the experience after being rehabilitated, one will hear one of the most powerful messages that can be given.

I always find it very distressing when I hear of a death in prison. I believe that sometimes such deaths are due to the environment, particularly overcrowding of cells. Hearing about more than one death in a prison, given the brutal nature of such deaths and the silence which follows, makes it clear that some way must be found to deal with them. I am not saying it is central to the overall issue but it sends out the wrong message that a jungle exists within the prison, there is no control and people can do exactly what they please. Only a small number of deaths take place in prison, but when two or three deaths follow each other, it makes one feel particularly uneasy.

I also compliment the Minister on the manner in which he is moving forward the plans for new prisons. As in the case of schools and factories, there will always be someone who will object to any development that interferes in some way with his or her landscape. I am not taking from any legitimate arguments such people may have, but if we cannot progress with the building programme, how will we handle some of the problems in the archaic prisons we already have? How will we tackle the many issues we face? The Minister is deserving of our full support.

I am glad the two aims are reform and modernisation. Modernisation without reform or reform without modernisation would not be a particularly good policy. The Minister has encapsulated that particularly well in what he has put forward. There are no quick fixes and the Minister knows this. He also knows he did not create the society we have, which is part of a new development within the world. The Minister is trying to tackle that. He has, to some extent, tried to tackle it in the past and correct it for the future. I have no doubt that he has the will, tenacity and commitment to do this.

I thank the Senators for their contributions to this debate. Many thoughtful contributions have been made and it has been a pleasure, rather than a chore, to be here and listen to the views expressed. I will deal with a number of points in this brief reply to Second Stage.

I want to thank in particular Senator Ó Murchú for his kind words. When he was not speaking kindly of me he was speaking broadly on subjects related to prisons, and I did not disagree with one word he said. I was impressed by the terms and humanity in which he spoke.

In regard to Senator Cummins's question on the construction and extension of prisons, I want to make a few points clear because some Members of the other House, although not Senator Cummins, are a little confused about this. Under Part IX of planning Acts I am currently entitled to build a prison anywhere in Ireland without reference to the planning system in any shape or form. I am entitled to buy a piece of land anywhere in Ireland and build a prison, a police station or anything else on it. That is the existing position. In this respect, there is nothing about me being arrogant or giving myself new powers in Part 4 of this Bill. The position is quite the reverse. I am introducing a new element of accountability and transparency into the decision-making process for new prison projects.

What is proposed in this legislation is that this and the other House, for the first time, will have two roles in regard to any new prison project. This will include Thornton Hall and the Munster prison in case any Member is under any illusion about that. The two roles are as follows. If the Minister of the day proposes to develop a new prison or a significant extension of an old prison, he or she will have to give public notice of his or her intention to do so, carry out an environmental impact assessment and move resolutions in each House of the Oireachtas separately to approve his or her proposal. Having received the approval of the Houses and having laid all the documents, including the environmental impact assessment and the report of the rapporteur on the public reaction to the proposals, before the Houses, presumably the Minister will have a debate in each House on the proposal. If each House approves the proposal, the Minister then has to push through the Oireachtas a confirmatory Act.

That is a rare model only to be found in the old restrictive practices legislation, which predated the Competition Act. It provided that the examiner of restrictive practices would examine a profession or a trade and come forward with a report. The Minister responsible would then make an order to prohibit anti-competitive behaviour or whatever it might be and that would have the force of law only if a confirmatory Act of the Minister's order were made. That was the way the groceries order, to which we often refer, came into existence.

What we are doing in this legislation is vesting in the two Houses of the Oireachtas, first, an examining function for a proposal from the Minister based on all the documents being laid before both Houses, second, the right to veto the proposal and, third, a function in confirming and making it the law of the land that the proposal in question should proceed. I do not believe anybody could describe that as an arrogant political change, bearing in mind the current legal position is that I could, in theory, buy a few hundred acres, build a prison and say I do not propose to talk to anybody about it or discuss it and that it is nobody's business. What is proposed has been misinterpreted not in this House but elsewhere as some kind of effort to increase the power of the Minister. It is not, rather it is to give back to the Oireachtas and to each House of it the power to have a say in what any Minister in the future does.

I also wish to make the point in regard to Part 4 that it does not do what some people suggested it might do, which is to give the Minister the right of compulsory purchase. I was criticised by some people for not having a power of compulsory purchase to buy land at agricultural prices, build a prison wherever I wanted using Part IX powers and then confer on the State a huge benefit of being able to buy land at agricultural prices and develop it for a non-agricultural purpose. I was criticised for that, but I believe the right way to proceed in this respect is either to use land that is in the possession of the State or to buy land on the open market.

The Minister spent a lot of money on it.

When we did that we had two choices, we could buy it secretly and sent in people wearing mackintoshes to stand at the back of auctions to pick up a farm without ever telling anybody what we had in mind, or we could do what we did, which was to place advertisements in the newspapers and say we asked people to come forward with lands for a major prison site in the environs of Dublin. We chose the latter course.

As was pointed out by Secretary General and Accounting Officer of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform before the Committee of Public Accounts, as a result of taking that course we paid more than we would have had we sneaked into an auction room and bought on the quiet. That process was likely to produce an uplift in price but it was an honest and transparent one. What was not said in the media was that when the Comptroller and Auditor General queried this, the majority of the participants at that meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts said the Accounting Officer of my Department was right to recommend the open transparent way of doing it and reject the notion that we should have acted in a clandestine or secret way. It was interesting to note that when the parliamentarians received the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, they emphatically endorsed the open-handed approach of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The Minister did the taxpayer a disservice.

I was very grateful to them for that support because it was suggested in some sense that this was wasteful, but it was not.

I wish to make a further point while we are dealing with the issue of Thornton Hall because Part 4 of this legislation will apply to it. There is no tract of 150 acres 14 kms from O'Connell Street which was available for any lesser price. People can cod themselves and talk about agricultural prices and the price of farms in counties Meath or Louth or elsewhere, but nobody would sell such a large tract of land to the State that distance from O'Connell Street for less than €200,000 an acre. Nobody has ever pointed to a single transaction either around that time or since that time when a similar tract of land that close to the city centre was sold for a lesser price. I want to put that on the record.

I want above all to say that the view of the Accounting Officer and Secretary General of my Department, Mr. Seán Aylward, that this process should be done openly and fairly through public advertisement was strongly supported by the members of the Committee of Public Accounts of Dáil Éireann. I am glad that happened because it was vindication for high and decent standards in public accounting and public responsibility.

In regard to the broader philosophical questions that have arisen in this debate about whether prison is or is not of any use. I listened to Senators Norris, Ryan, Ó Murchú and others who have differing points of view on this issue. My view is that prison is a necessary adjunct of a democratic liberal society. In an ideal world none of us would want to see anybody go to prison. I have consistently enunciated the view that going to prison is usually a personal disaster for the person involved and it is usually, even in the minds of the most strict of judges, the course of last resort. However, there are crimes, as has been pointed out here, which must be punished. It is not fashionable to say any more, even though it is true, that if crime went unpunished, it would be the end of civilisation as we know it. The public need to see the wrongdoer punished, although not in some kind of vindictive or retributive way alone. An element of punishment must be included and, on this side of the Atlantic at any rate, an element of rehabilitation. We must have light at the end of the tunnel and a sense of redemption in almost every case possible.

We do not go for the notion of "three strikes and you are out". I recently heard on BBC Radio 4 that a 16 year old in Colorado could be sentenced to life without parole for murder. That is not the European perspective on criminality and punishment. I do not want to criticise the United States. However, the US political culture has a stronger emphasis on retribution than the European culture. In this regard, Ireland is closer to Berlin than Boston.

Consider the fact we have approximately 3,500 prisoners, which means less than one person in 1,000 is serving a custodial sentence. Compare that to states in the US where three or four people, mainly black and poor, in 100 are in prison. We have different emphases and outcomes. Whatever view we have on what to do about crime, let us remember we must always approach it exactly on the basis Senator ÓMurchú pointed out, which is how one treats criminals is an indication of the type of society in which one lives.

I invite every Member of both Houses who has not seen Mountjoy Prison to make arrangements to do so. One does not need to be soft-hearted to walk around the prison and come to the clear conclusion that one could not be proud of it and it must be finished. I do not claim moral superiority for championing the end of Mountjoy Prison. Anybody who walked around it, particularly someone with ministerial responsibility, and considered people deserved those conditions would have great difficulty looking at himself or herself in a mirror. My view is that Mountjoy Prison must be closed.

The same applies to St. Patrick's Institution. I agree with what Senator Tuffy stated. Even with the additional educational facilities and workshops opened recently, it is not the right place for young people. It is not a decent environment in which to deal with criminality.

Senator Norris spoke about the Central Mental Hospital and that the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, stated in an ideal world one would locate a forensic psychiatric institution distant from a prison. The great majority of customers of the Central Mental Hospital are involved with the criminal justice system in one way or another. The situation at present is not merely far from satisfactory, it is bordering on the indefensible. I had to deal with the United Nations and the Council of Europe on the approach of the Irish State to mental illness in prisons. It is a difficult pitch to defend in any way what happens here at present.

The Central Mental Hospital is not physically located or orientated towards its main customer base. We must remember a considerable number of people sent to prison for serious crimes either suffer from a psychiatric illness of one type or another short of criminal insanity or manifest such psychiatric conditions frequently. Anybody who went to Mountjoy Prison and saw as I did on my first trip a man in his thirties or forties crouched in a darkened padded cell resembling an oversized darkened phone box, lying on the floor in his underpants with a pot beside him, a little mattress and a slightly pink lamp above him could not rightly think the regime was anything other than grossly inhumane. As a result of that we accelerated the provision of observation cells and decent facilities for people undergoing psychiatric crises, even in prisons we intend to demolish.

A person in prison who is psychiatrically ill should be removed to a psychiatric hospital as quickly as possible and dealt with there. We cannot have the present situation whereby because of physical and intellectual distance between the Prison Service and the psychiatric facility designed to serve it people remain in inhumane circumstances and are not given the type of psychiatric care to which they are entitled.

These issues are real and not imaginary. I still await the report of Michael Mellett, a former deputy secretary of my Department, into the death of Gary Douch. The circumstances in which a prisoner was released into Mountjoy Prison having been committed to the Central Mental Hospital some days prior still await satisfactory explanation.

I do not want to speak for too long and trespass on the patience of the House. However, I want the House to know that Thornton Hall and the new Munster prison will allow a different approach to the question of drugs in our prisons. I do not agree with the proposition that because drugs are outside the walls of prisons we must accept they will be inside the walls of prisons, anymore than one could state because drugs are outside the walls of schools or discos they are inside the walls of schools or discos.

As a society we have an obligation to ensure our prisons are rehabilitative and not places where people amass further debts to drug lords and have their lives run by drugs, their personal safety ruled by drugs and die of self-administered overdoses. That is not acceptable in any circumstance. The fact drugs are outside prisons does not justify tolerating drugs inside prison.

How does the Minister propose to stop them?

Our strategy is to introduce sniffer dogs to the system and new visiting arrangements. I do not agree with the proposition it is more humane to have physical contact in a drug-ridden prison than to have a drug-free prison with substantial restrictions on physical contact with prisoners. If the price of physical contact is rampant drug infestation in a prison it is no mercy on any prisoner including drug-free prisoners who are surrounded by prisoners who are a danger to them.

This Bill provides for mandatory testing. It will be uncomfortable for prison governors to be in a position to admit that a certain proportion of prisoners show up positive for barbiturates, heroin or cannabis. We must deal with these issues. The strategy being rolled out is the correct way to progress. I have always welcomed the tough words used by Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen. Contrary to what has been suggested here, I get on very well with him personally and in every other away. We have a warm and long-lasting friendship which, despite the fact that we take lumps out of each other in public in respect of our various interests, has endured and continues to do so. I thank him for his forthrightness. I do not agree with everything he says and when I do not agree, I say so. Similarly, he does not agree with everything I say, in which case he says so also. That does not mean, however, that we are at loggerheads or personally ill-disposed to each other. I assure the House that is far from being the case.

If it can be done economically, it is more desirable for prison escort services to be provided by public servants. A privatised system is one of last resort. In effect, I have done a deal with the prison officers whereby if they provide the prison escort service in a form which is economically sustainable, Part 2 of this Bill will never come into operation. As far as I am concerned, that is a deal which I do not intend to renege on.

The dispute about overtime was one in which a minority of prison officers predominated over the interests of the great majority. The result was that huge sums of money were being cannibalised in overtime, which should have been spent on improving the prison service, including rehabilitative and psychotherapy programmes. I am confident, however, that the new system is now working. The big winners are the prison officers because instead of getting a decent wage by having to spend 100 hours a week in a prison, which is not the most uplifting way to spend one's working life, they now know that if they do their part of the bargain, the emphasis is on minimising the amount of time they must spend at work rather than maximising it. That is a big step forwards, so they have been the winners in that regard.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

De Máirt seo chugainn ar3.30 p.m.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday,28 November 2006.