I welcome the Minister of State. I thought that I would be delighted to have the Parole Bill here but I am not delighted at all. I do not agree with Part 3 of the Bill. It addresses eligibility for parole, which has been radically altered. Section 24 is gone or is certainly unrecognisable. Certain sections of this Bill as I read it a week ago have been erased and a very serious aspect of it, judicial discretion when imposing sentence, is completely omitted. The Bill which I was referring to last week stated: "When imposing sentence upon a person, a sentencing judge may impose a specified period during which that person shall not be eligible for parole." Little did I know that beneath me, in the Lower House, this provision was being eradicated. I was not informed that it was being magicked away.
I was led to believe that my Criminal Justice (Judicial Discretion) (Amendment) Bill 2019 would be dealt with to some degree in this Parole Bill. I did not make that up but somewhere I was led up the garden path. When I read the Parole Bill in its original form last week, it stated: "When imposing sentence upon a person, a sentencing judge may impose a specified period during which that person shall not be eligible for parole." That would lead one to believe that it went some way towards implementing my Bill. Who informed me of the change? It was the Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, which submitted a lobbying document from which Senator Clifford-Lee quoted a few minutes ago. The document outlined what the IPRT agreed with in the Bill from the Lower House and what it disagreed with. It lobbied me about its amendments and informed me that my section of the Bill had been removed and that it was delighted.
The IPRT believes that we must make communities safer and use prisons sparingly. It believes in an early prison release system and that all aspects of parole should be transparent, fair and coherent. I do not disagree with that. It campaigned for the implementation of a statutory parole system, fully independent of political control, and it got its way. It should be here, in the position of the Minister of State, because it is now taking his role. It will be responsible. We know what happens when an executive becomes responsible. The Parole Board is now responsible for everything related to release. The buck will stop with it. We all know what happens to committees and executives when they are in charge. There is no baseline accountability. I fundamentally disagree with that. The IPRT informed me that it knew what was going on. It acted like the Minister of State. It had a number of recommendations related to Deputy O'Callaghan's Bill. The Fianna Fáil Senators should note that Deputy O'Callaghan's Bill, which I thought was excellent, was radically overhauled by this Government, to my detriment. It is not the same Bill that Deputy O'Callaghan introduced. The Irish Penal Reform Trust is against mandatory sentencing and has made recommendations on it. It even recommended that people serving a mandatory life sentence be eligible for parole before the 12 years provided for in the Bill. What is this legislation achieving in reality? The Parole Board is now a Government; it is ministerial.
Last week, 35 family members of murder victims accompanied me to the Seanad. All of these victims submitted impact statements about their lives and feelings and the intellectual and internal damage the death of a son, daughter, brother, sister or parent had caused. Everybody is worried about the victims. We are falling around with worry and compassion about the victims, yet all legislation, sociology, criminology and law is about the offender. It is rarely about the victims. The Irish Penal Reform Trust is concerned about the potential impact of victim input on parole outcomes. It states: "Where submissions by victims are permitted, the legislation should provide for what can be included." These are the people who I should be listening to, who thought it was a good idea to get rid of my section and are delighted it has been eradicated, and who believe it is right to ignore the victims of murder.
This Bill in its current form states that our judicial system is one purely based on reform and certainly not any kind of punishment. I was dealing with first degree murder. That is wilful, purposeful, violent murder, nothing else. No judge is now allowed to even make suggestions for the gravest crime, that is, wilful, violent murder. I have said before that I believe in rehabilitation and change. I also believe in equality before the law. The Irish Penal Reform Trust refers throughout its summary and its subsequent lobbying, as did everybody else who read its document and thought they were on its side, to clarity, transparency and fairness. Its whole document was like a memorare prayer. Every second sentence refers to clarity, transparency and fairness. I was offering that with certainty for the families, the parents, brothers, sisters and children of people who have been violently murdered. I offered that the judge would have the facility to impose, along with mandatory sentencing. One cannot have clarity, transparency or fairness without certainty. I disagree with section 24 on which I will call for a vote. It is outrageous.