Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013: Report and Final Stages

We will now deal with Report Stage of the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes. Before we commence, I remind the House that a Senator may speak only once on an amendment on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on that amendment. On Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 4 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“ “property” specifically excludes any dwelling, mobile or fixed;”.

I welcome the Minister of State and know that he is in good humour and will accept every amendment that has been tabled. When he was a very enthusiastic Member of this House, I often heard him argue that the Government should accept far more amendments than it generally did.

Amendment No. 1 aims to protect the family home. I believe it should be retroactive to also include the Fines Act 2010, but I am not sure exactly how this is done so, to a large extent, I am reliant on the Minister of State. Does the 2010 Act have to be amended or can it be done through this Bill? Would it be possible to check this with the Bills Office?

Amendment No. 4 reads, "In page 14, line 6, to delete “land or”." The amendment aims to ensure property does not mean land in order to clear up any confusion. This should also apply to the Fines Act of 2010, but, again, I am not sure if this amendment will suffice. Does the 2010 Act need to be amended? Would it be possible to check this with the Bills Office? I am ashamed to say I do not have a seconder for my amendment, but hope-----

I second the amendment.

I thank the Senator.

I thank Senator Feargal Quinn for proposing amendment Nos. 1 and 4. Before I respond to the amendments, I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, who is unable to attend.

I thank Senator Feargal Quinn for raising this issue and for the very constructive way in which he has approached the matter. His amendments focus on his main concern, as I understand it, which is the possible seizure and disposal of real property on foot of a recovery order. Before I address these specific points, it is worth recalling the purpose of the Bill. Its primary aim, as Senators will be aware, is to provide alternatives to the imprisonment of people for non-payment of fines. It does this by requiring the court to take a person's financial circumstances into account when fixing the fine, by allowing the person to pay the fine by instalments over 12 months and by providing a number of alternatives to imprisonment where a person defaults.

It is also worth recalling the history of the recovery provisions, as these are not new. Section 16 of the Fines Act of 2010 provides that a court shall, in all cases in which it imposes a fine, make a recovery order. The recovery order provided for in the 2010 Act is exactly the same as the recovery order in this Bill. Part 3 of the 2010 Act, which contains section 16, is being repealed and those provisions will not appear in the Bill. It was never the intention to change these provisions except to the extent required by the introduction of attachment of earnings orders, which was a commitment given in the programme for Government. It is also worth saying the only impact of the changes being made in this Bill in so far as the recovery provisions in the 2010 Act are concerned is to make it less likely that recovery orders will actually be made. They will now only be made where the court decides against making an attachment order, where a fine is more than €500 or where the court decides in a particular case that it would be more appropriate to make a recovery order rather than a community service order.

Turning now to amendments Nos. 1 and 4, the result of which, were they accepted, would be to remove the possibility of real property, that is, land and buildings, being seized and disposed of by a receiver where a person fails to pay a fine. It is to be noted that recovery orders come at the end of a process that starts with the conviction of a person for an offence and the fixing of a fine. Section 5(1) which largely replicates section 14 of the Fines Act of 2010 sets out the purpose of the section as follows:

The purpose of this section is to ensure, in so far as is practicable, that, where a court imposes a fine on a person, the effect of the fine on that person or his or her dependants is not significantly abated or made more severe by reason of his or her financial circumstances.

Subsection (2) states:

Where a person of full age is convicted of an offence, the court shall, in determining the amount of the fine (if any) to impose in respect of the offence, take into account the person’s financial circumstances.

If the case is heard in the District Court, the maximum fine is €5,000. Senators may be interested to note that since section 14 of the Fines Act 2010 was commenced in January 2011, fines imposed have been generally small and far less than the value of almost any house.

For the three years since 2011, more than 99.9% of fines imposed were less than €5,000. In the first nine months of last year, only 41 fines out of a total of 63,000 were greater than €5,000 and the only one more than €20,000, which was the highest fine, was for €27,500. In 2012, of the 95,000 fines only 58 were more than €5,000; 12 were more than €10,000; and none was more than €20,000. Of course, a person who feels the fine is too harsh can appeal it.

I do not doubt that the information before me is correct. The reality is that these fines are for much smaller amounts than in cases where obtaining the amount through the disposal of a property would be considered. From the information the Department has been able to glean in the time available, large fines of €10,000 or more are almost exclusively imposed on companies and the State. A sample revealed no default other than in one case where the company had ceased to trade. Larger fines in respect of which the possibility of the seizure of real property might arise are not the ones being defaulted on.

The amendment to the provisions on recovery orders made in the Fines Act 2010 means that recovery can only apply to a small minority of fines. The 2010 Act provides for recovery orders to be made every time a fine is imposed. Under the Bill, recovery orders will only fall to be considered where the fine exceeds €500 and where the court has decided it would not be appropriate to make an attachment order. The court will then have a choice between making a recovery order and a community service order. As just 10% of fines are for more than €500, recovery orders will only even be considered in a small minority of cases - possibly no more than 3%.

I hope this will assure Senators that fines are not imposed at a level that would in the normal course give rise to the seizure or disposal of property. However, that is not an argument for excluding that possibility in the appropriate case. The recovery provisions are most likely to apply to the self-employed and to companies. If land were removed from the recovery provisions as proposed in the amendments, in extreme cases of serious white collar crime, including environmental, health and safety offences, we would be making the law dramatically more liberal than it is. If a large fine is imposed on an individual for environmental damage and the person fails to pay the fine, he or she can be imprisoned for a period at the discretion of the court. Whereas the maximum period of imprisonment for default for a summary offence is 90 days, there is no such limit for an indictable offence. Under the provisions of the Bill that person's assets, including land, could be seized and disposed of to meet the fine in question. However, if land was excluded, as the Senator proposes in the amendments and land comprises the only asset that could satisfy the fine, the only option open to the courts would be community service. Amendments Nos. 1 and 4 could inadvertently result in perpetrators of serious offences, in respect of which and having taken into account their financial circumstances the court had imposed a very large fine, serving between 40 and 240 hours of community service rather than having to pay the fine or face a jail term, as is the case today. Albeit this arises only in a very small number of cases, would that be fair? If a person in employment was in a similar position, his or her earnings could be attached and the fine collected, whereas this person could avoid paying the fine even though he or she has the assets to do so.

The Bill is not intended to make life easier for the asset-rich criminal, including those convicted of white collar crime or others who refuse to pay fines. While it is intended to keep people out of prisons, it must not encourage wealthy individuals on whom, and institutions on which, large fines are imposed to start defaulting on them. We can all agree that would be a perverse outcome.

Orders under the Bill will be made by the Judiciary. We trust judges to exercise their powers with constitutional fairness and proportionality. There is nothing to suggest they will deal with this law any differently than they have thus far in other provisions where they have been required to exercise their judicial discretion on these matters. Section 5 ensures fines take account of a person's financial circumstances. Fines in general are far smaller than would justify the seizure and sale of a person's house or property. There may be cases where the disposal of real property may be justified and it would be wrong, when we are establishing primary law in this area, to exclude that possibility. Judges apply the law fairly and proportionately. We should trust them to do so regarding the provisions of the Bill, as we do in countless other cases that come before the course.

I appreciate the Senator's remarks and his constructive approach. It is appropriate to air the issue. His raising the matter has afforded me the opportunity to outline the rationale for not accepting the amendment. That is ultimately important in terms of proceedings that might come before the courts because, in trying to understand what the Oireachtas had in mind when a Bill was passed, the courts can read the transcripts of the proceedings in this and the other House. However, for the reasons I have set out, we cannot accept either amendment.

I thank the Minister of State for the explanation. I want to make it clear that I was not making any effort to allow people to avoid paying their fines. I felt that the threat of jail or taking a person's home was over the top. I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 12, line 9, to delete "alone or accompanied by such and" and substitute "accompanied by".

Section 8(3) states: "The recovery order shall authorise the receiver (alone or accompanied by such and so many members of the Garda Síochána as he or she considers necessary) to". The amendment would ensure the receiver was accompanied by a member of the Garda if he or she entered a person's home to give some safeguards to citizens. We discussed the matter on Committee Stage and I believe it was understood we did not want a person's home invaded without a garda being involved.

Amendment No. 3 seeks to delete "(if necessary by the use of reasonable force)", which seems to be over the top when enforcing a fine. Section 8(3)(a) states "(a) enter (if necessary by the use of reasonable force) any premises, including a dwelling, at which he or she has reasonable grounds for believing property belonging to the fined person is located". I can understand why somebody would want to do this, but I am concerned about specifying "reasonable force". I want to bring some civility to the Bill and ensure a receiver, accompanied by a garda, would not use force to enter a person's home.

That is my objective and it is worthy of consideration. We debated the issue on Committee Stage and I urge the Minister to accept the amendment.

I second the amendment. I welcome the Minister of State. He may recall that Senator Michael D'Arcy was concerned that some pretty objectionable types had turned up to do the collecting in this case. Senator Feargal Quinn's amendment seeks to protect the citizen. I think Senator Michael D'Arcy was concerned about the arrival of a gang on farm properties. I think his version was that it would be difficult to say which side was criminal, those doing the collecting or those believed to be in default.

In regard to the second amendment, we do not want to see on our television screens people breaking into premises, particularly in a country with our traditions in land wars and so on. I appreciate all the work that is being done on attachment of earnings and so on. I recall and do not think I have got the incidents mixed up that Senator Michael D'Arcy was concerned about what was happening in the Wexford area when the issue was discussed previously.

I thank Senators Feargal Quinn and Sean D. Barrett for allowing us to look at this issue which was raised on Committee Stage. I understand my colleague, Senator Michael D'Arcy, raised the issue again. The debate on the amendments allows us to tease out the issue and to work through the best outcome. I propose to take amendments Nos. 2 and 3 together.

Section 8(3) provides that the recovery order shall authorise the receiver, alone or accompanied by such and as many members of An Garda Síochána as he or she considers necessary, and paragraph (a) of the said subsection allows the "use of reasonable force", where the receiver enters premises at which he or she has reasonable grounds for believing property belonging to the fined person is located. Amendment No. 2 in the name of Senator Feargal Quinn would mean that the receiver could not enter premises, even where the occupant did not resist his or her entry, unless accompanied by a member of An Garda Síochána. I am reliably informed that Garda resources are not such that they can be deployed where they are not required. Instead, the Bill provides that where the receiver anticipates or encounters hostility or difficulty, he or she can avail of the support of the Garda. Therefore, it is not an automatic requirement where a receiver comes on a land or a property that a member of An Garda Síochána is present. Where they believe there could be some hostilities and that they could be met by a difficult situation, they can request a member of An Garda Síochána to be present. That is the explicit difference. Where the receiver does not require such assistance, there is no need for the presence of the Garda. It would tie up the Garda were that to be done.

It is important to remember that receivers are Revenue sheriffs appointed by the Government and who act on behalf of the Government in their capacity as they enter such lands. Many believe they are reasonable people who carry out important work on behalf of the State. The Minister has every confidence in their capacity to exercise their powers in accordance with the law, with or without the presence of An Garda Síochána, as the case may be.

Amendment No. 3, also in the name of Deputy Feargal Quinn, excludes the use of reasonable force to gain entry to premises. Where one's preference is for the use of no force and for the quiet surrender of the property at issue - this will not always be the case as we know from our history - without recourse to reasonable force, as it were, the order of the court could be frustrated and the recovery provisions would quickly become unworkable. If the court makes an order authorising the seizure and disposal of property, it is difficult to see how such an order can be given effect if the use of reasonable force is excluded. One hopes fined defaulters would co-operate with the receiver and surrender property to him or her without the need for the use of force. Where this does not happen, however, the receiver and, as appropriate, An Garda Síochána must be able to use reasonable force. The term "reasonable force" is, I understand, widely used in the Statute Book and, in this case, would be the minimum amount of force required to gain access and to seize property as ordered by the court. It is difficult to see how these provisions could operate without the possibility of the use of reasonable force. For that reason I am unable to accept the amendment.

It is the firm intention of the Government, law officers and orders of the court that for orders of the court to be upheld, people should comply. It is worth pointing out that this all follows from a decision of the courts. In that small number of cases where reasonable force has had to be used, unfortunately it has had to be used. We would all like a situation where no force would be used, but to remove it, as is the intention of the amendment, would make the order of the court inoperable and, as such, unfortunately, we must retain it for that small number of cases where, for whatever reason, people are unable or unwilling to accept a decision of the court that has been granted. I stress that these are all decisions of the court that have been taken. There has to be some means where, in a tiny minority of cases, people refuse to accept the legitimacy or veracity of the court decision, this would apply. For that reason, we cannot accept the amendment.

I understand what the Minister of State has said. I did not anticipate that, where there was no hostility, the court should have a garda on duty, even if he or she is not required. I take the point in regard to that area. Certainly the State has confidence in a sheriff being able to do that work on that basis. It was not the intention that the court's rule could be frustrated on that basis and we should co-operate with it. I am concerned it is taking too strong a step to enforce these decisions of the court, but I can understand entirely the frustration. I am surprised at the figures the Minister of State provided in respect of the fines mentioned earlier. They are lower than I thought. I had assumed we were looking for fines which were much greater. It is certainly not my intention that the order of the court should be frustrated.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 12, line 11, to delete "(if necessary by the use of reasonable force)".

The same applies to amendment No. 3. There was the intention. What we were trying to achieve was understandable and what I hoped would be achieved, but it certainly does not make sense to enforce it if it is only going to frustrate the order of the court.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 18, after line 41, to insert the following:

"(9) The employer to whom the attachment order is directed shall be entitled to withhold 5 per cent of the sums so deducted on behalf of the court, whether in lump or for every contribution, in order to cover the employer's administration costs.".

I am frustrated by every piece of law we introduce in this area adding to the difficulties of traders. We are trying to encourage entrepreneurs and the establishment of new business, but we appear to be only burdening business with more paperwork and red tape.

The amendment seeks to address the costs of business, in particular small and medium businesses, in complying with the new provisions of the Bill. Deduction of fines from wages does not appear to be work that should be done by the employer. I agree that if an employee refuses to pay a fine we must have in place some mechanism to ensure it is paid. We should avoid asking the employer to do the work of the courts.

I second the amendment. Senator Feargal Quinn makes an important point. For example, the property tax can be paid through deductions from earnings. We are trying to create employment. The employment transaction is being continually burdened with things that are at a far remove from the important employment decision which we hope will be taken positively. We are delighted with the 61,000 additional jobs created in the past year. Why do labour markets get involved in these matters?

The Minister understands the point made by Senator Feargal Quinn and agrees with him that we should do nothing that would put at risk employment in this country. However, the question that arises is whether this provision would do this. In other words, does the deduction of a fine from an employee's earnings over 12 months put employment at risk by raising the costs of the employer and making the business unviable and would the possibility of having to attach an enforcement order put an employer off employing people?

It must be remembered that employers are routinely required to collect moneys on behalf of the State. Under family law, attachment orders, which are a common feature in circumstances where separation has occurred, have been a feature of the law for almost 40 years. Most recently, as referred to by Senator Sean D. Barrett, employers were required to commence deduction of the local property tax from employees' wages. There is nothing novel about this proposition. However, I accept Senator Feargal Quinn's point that it is an additional requirement. Much depends on the size of the business and the number of people in administration working through these issues.

As regards whether this provision would put employment at risk or dissuade an employer from taking on staff, having considered the matter carefully the Minister is satisfied that this measure has no consequences for business or employment. Senator Feargal Quinn's amendment bears this out. The average fine set out by the courts is approximately €300. Half of all fines are of less than €200. If the amendment were accepted, on average, employers would be able to deduct €15 from the fine to compensate them for administering the attachment process. The Minister does not accept that €15 is material in this case. Furthermore, given that for the majority of employers attachment orders will be a rarity, it is unlikely that the possibility of making an order such as this would have any influence on their decision to employ people.

While the Senator's amendment would make little material difference to employers it would be a significant departure in the basic law. It would create an expectation that where the State requires deductions to be made and paid over to it, either by employers or others, they should be compensated for doing this. That is not something that could be embarked upon lightly. It is for this reason, and the fact that the amendment would in the view of the Minister be of no material benefit to employers, that I am unable to accept it. However, I understand the argument made by the Senator.

This largely boils down to the size of the business with which one is dealing. Larger businesses with larger numbers of staff involved in their central administration who have set up these systems could probably deal adequately with it. The issue may be more difficult for smaller businesses. However, the problem that arises is that in imposing this, the knock-on effect for other areas within our basic law could be a difficulty. This issue requires to be teased out more widely than in the context of this Bill.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply.

Unfortunately, only Senator Feargal Quinn can speak a second time.

Unfortunately, from our perspective.

We have established in this nation an anti-business attitude. The response many times is to leave solutions to problems to business. In Britain and a number of other countries a one-in one-out system has been introduced. This means for each new piece of legislation introduced an old one must be withdrawn, particularly legislation related to small business. Britain is now proposing that for every piece of legislation introduced that places a burden on business, particularly an SME, two previous pieces of legislation must be withdrawn. The objective is to encourage business, entrepreneurs and job creation.

What is proposed in terms of the provision before us is just one more example of the State opting to burden business with collection of these fines. I am tempted to divide the House on this matter but will not do so because I understand the case made by the Minister of State. If the average fine is only €200 to €300, 5% of that would not go anyway towards solving the problem. I urge the State to ensure we do not introduce more legislation burdening small businesses and making them less likely to create jobs or survive into the future.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 27, lines 5 and 6, to delete all words from and including "Protection," in line 5 down to and including line 6 and substitute the following:

"Protection.".

This amendment seeks to ensure "such persons as may be prescribed" do not have access to personal information. It is not right that the Government can at some later date include additional people who can have access to personal data. The Minister of State should seriously consider accepting the amendment. The word "protection" would be sufficient. We should avoid inquiring into accessing a person's personal information. It is not right that the Government can at a future date include additional people who can have access to personal data. We need to find a way around this. In this regard, the amendment is worthy of consideration.

I second the amendment.

I thank Senator Feargal Quinn for raising this issue which relates to section 23 and the issue of data sharing and exchange. Section 23 deals with data sharing and exchange of information between the Courts Service and Revenue. This has to happen in a circumstance where attachments to earnings are made. The section also deals with the Department of Social Protection as a body and such other body as may be prescribed. If another body is prescribed the regulation must be laid before both Houses and can be annulled by either House within 21 days. The point being made by the Senator concerns whether legal change should be required in the first instance. The Senator knows that this is a standard feature of Bills of this type. Where there is a substantive change, the sponsoring Minister is required to lay information before the Oireachtas Library.

Then it effectively becomes law unless there is a resolution quashing it within a 21-day period by either or both Houses of the Oireachtas. Senator Feargal Quinn is concerned that the provision allowing for another body to be prescribed is at large. It is in place in order that if in future it is deemed that some other body has information which could be used in the collection of fines, then the Bill will not have to be amended to cover that possibility.

The point Senator Feargal Quinn makes is that it should be amended to cover the possibility and that if we are to include another body then we should come back to the Houses for the purposes of amending the Bill. The parliamentary oversight provided by the requirement to lay any regulation made under the Bill before both Houses, with the power of either House to annul such a regulation, is sufficient protection and proportionate to the issue at hand. The alternative which would require the Act to be amended to add another body should the need arise in future would be disproportionate and unwieldy. In these circumstances the Minister will not be accepting the amendment.

Were another body to be included, the amendment would require the Minister to lay that provision before the library of the House. Then both Houses would have the opportunity of using a 21 day window to annul the order. I know from my time in opposition and in government that these matters come up on the Order Paper on a daily basis. I presume the Minister of the day would issue a statement to the effect that he or she was including the other body or bodies for whatever reason. It is on this basis that the House would have an opportunity to debate the matter if the House so determined. It is standard in most similar legislation that this particular parliamentary oversight would be in place. For this reason the Minister's view is that the provision is standard and difficulties that may emerge in future in terms of an additional body or bodies being added for the purposes of data exchange should be dealt with in this way.

I understand the position. We debated this issue on Committee Stage also. The Minister of State says that if that is to happen, it will come back to the House but what if it slips through and does not get seen or noticed? I am somewhat concerned about this. I can understand why the Minister of State says it is disproportionate and unwieldy and that the Parliament has a degree of oversight when it comes back the next time. However, I believe this was a worthy amendment to include and I believe the legislation would have been helped by it. Although the Minister of State has said this is common and normal, the fact remains that it must come back to the House and it would probably not be noticed as it is passed through as No. 1 or No. 2 on the Order Paper and we would not even see it.

Presumably, the only way this would be given public attention would be as a result of a case. In a given circumstance the courts would require clarity about who should have the data exchange. It would be in the public domain in that sense. Furthermore, if the Minister was so minded to include a body or bodies then he would issue a statement to that effect.

By virtue of the normal parliamentary oversight and the 21 day rule, a standard provision, that would come before both Houses. It would be in a circumstance of a case emerging before the courts whereby the court would propose, I suspect, that a new body or bodies would have to be brought into the data exchange. I imagine there would be substantial public discussion and comment about it which would then lead to the House taking a view about whether the annulment should occur within the 21 days. This would not be brushed under the carpet. I imagine it would have to come out of court proceedings, which are all in public.

I accept the point made by the Minister of State to the effect that it would be disproportionate in respect of 21 days' notice and on that basis I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I congratulate the Minister of State on the Bill. The intention of the Bill is certainly worthy of support. Any efforts made on Second and Committee Stages were to improve the Bill in some form or other. I appreciate the work of the Minister of State and his team in explaining the points made. Second and Committee Stages were most worthy. Several Government amendments have been taken and therefore the Bill must go back to the other House. That is the basis on which I believe it could have been improved. The Minister of State has explained well why he did not accept the amendments put forward. That is appreciated.

I welcome the passing of the Bill. I believe I made a correct decision last Tuesday in my capacity as acting Leader to adjourn Report Stage until today because the Department and the Minister of State came back with significant clarification on the important issues raised by Senator Feargal Quinn, especially with regard to people's homes and the red tape associated with certain provisions. That is an important issue and it probably deserves debate on another day. It would have been a shame to hold up this important legislation on that basis. I thank the Senator for his co-operation and the Minister of State for his remarks.

I agree with Senator Martin Conway's remarks. He made a wise decision and he always adds to debates in the House. The object, as I understood it, was to reduce the incidence of imprisonment, which we all support. It is singularly expensive and it also introduces people to what is called the "university of crime".

The Minister of State referred to the attachment sections and any prospective burdens that would be placed on employers. Having examined section 14 I wonder whether this is a burden which we are placing on employers. I appreciate all the efforts made and we deeply appreciate the 61,000 extra jobs. However, we only place it on some people and not others. Section 14 relates to attachment provisions. Essentially, it applies if a person is employed under a contract of employment - this is what Senator Feargal Quinn was concerned about - or is in receipt of an occupational pension. We did not really discuss whether this was a burden on pension funds. Is there a case to suggest that the Department of Social Protection has successfully lobbied against performing this task, which we have now imposed upon those who employ people? Was that considered in any way? The Department seems to be exempt under section 14. Therefore, I am concerned it may be the case that we are imposing burdens on employers and pension funds, while the Department in Store Street successfully managed to exempt itself from participating. Are there files to that effect? Why has that source of attachment of earnings been forgotten?

In the discussions in the House it is said that child benefit is paid to extremely rich people and so on. Could that be attached? Occupational pensions can be attached but other pensions cannot. Was this considered? It seems that the possibility of an overlap between people who go to prison for non-payment of debts and social welfare might be worth examining. We all share the objective of reducing the incidence of imprisonment, but it seems an anomaly that we have omitted it from that part of the Bill.

There are two other speakers to contribute before the Minister of State replies.

I commend the Minister of State and his officials for bringing forward the Bill. As Senator Sean D. Barrett has noted and we all agree, the main purpose of the Bill is reduce substantially the number of people sent to prison for non-payment of fines. That number is still scandalously high, despite the well intentioned passage of the Fines Act 2010. Once the Bill is passed I envisage a broader range of alternatives available such that imprisonment no longer remains the default option for people who cannot pay fines. I welcome this. I also welcome the various measures in the Bill, especially the potential for the use of attachment of earnings and community service orders as alternatives to imprisonment. This is part of a progressive move towards reducing the use of imprisonment. I welcome the reduction in the numbers of committals to prison in that regard.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. We welcome the passing of the Bill.

Incarceration should also be the last resort in any penal system. The numbers of persons who have been sent to prison for non-payment of fines is outrageous and I welcome the steps being taken to tackle that issue. Nevertheless, consideration must also be given to the economic climate and the inability of some people to pay fines due to their economic circumstances. Some people do not have sufficient cash to meet their outgoings. These two issues cannot be disconnected. I am sure members of the Judiciary will show leniency in cases where people are clearly unable to pay. My party frequently argues for the inclusion in legislation of an inability to pay clause. Perhaps the Minister of State might relay that message to the Minister for Justice and Equality.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, I thank Senators for their serious contributions. Many of the Government amendments proposed on Committee Stage were drawn up on foot of contributions made on Second Stage. We are grateful to Senators for providing an opportunity to us to give a fuller explanation of the points that were raised on Second Stage.

As Senator Ivana Bacik noted, the absolute priority is to keep people out of prison and provide other options, of which community service orders are one. The payment of fines by instalment will also help people to discharge their debts in a humane and much more cost-efficient manner than is currently the case.

On the point raised by Senator Sean D. Barrett on social welfare, I understand the maximum weekly deduction that can be made under existing social welfare rules is €2. As a result, three years would be required to pay the average fine by means of social welfare deductions. Furthermore, the Minister was advised by the Department of Social Protection that significant work would be required on its information technology system if attachment of social welfare was to be undertaken. While it was decided not to introduce attachment of social welfare at this stage, that option may be considered again in the future.

The programme for Government included a commitment to introduce this legislation, which is a significant improvement on the 2010 Act. The contributions of Senators have improved the Bill and greatly assisted its passage through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.