Estimates for Public Services, 2002.

Vote 19 - Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Revised).

Acting Chairman

I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, and his officials. Today we will consider the Revised Estimates, 2002, for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform group. A briefing note has been circulated to members together with the strategy statement of the Department for 2001-04. In order to finalise the Estimates within two hours or less after conclusion of the opening remarks, it is proposed to adopt the provisional timetable circulated to members. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I would remind members that they may not suggest increases or decreases and the debate should be confined to the specific subheads being discussed at any particular time.

As there are 27 pages in my speech I will try to summarise it as best I can.

In 1997 the Vote for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was £705 million. It is now £1,246 million, an increase of 76%, which is indicative of the Government's commitment.

Is the Minister referring to 1997?

Yes, because that was the year the Deputy was in Government.

Is it true the world was only formed in 1997?

Is the Minister adding both?

Yes, I have added both. This year's allocation is €1,583 million. A number of new agencies have been established, including the Human Rights Commission, the Parole Board and the National Crime Council, as well as bodies in the equality area and the refugee area. There has been a significant amount of law reform. Some 42 Bills have been enacted. During 2001, a significant amount of legislation was enacted, including the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act, the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, the Children Act and the Sex Offenders Act. The Government has approved the drafting of a new Criminal Justice Bill. Following the events of 11 September, we brought forward further legislation, and other legislation is being drafted to ratify certain UN conventions. I have obtained Government approval for a new criminal justice (public order) Bill and there will also be legislation concerning a Garda inspectorate. There is a general scheme of the International Criminal Court Bill and there is a Criminal Justice (Temporary Release of Prisoners) Bill to amend the 1960 Act. There has been a considerable amount of progress on human rights issues. There is the Human Rights Act, 2000, and the European Convention on Human Rights Bill, 2001, is awaiting Committee Stage.

The Government's policies have worked extremely well on the important issue of crime. There has been an overall reduction of 27% in crime since 1996, which proves the world did not begin in 1997. Furthermore, the overall crime detection rate of 42% was maintained during 2000.

Does that include Waterford?

I am sure it does. The difficulty in regard to Waterford runs into 2001 and does not relate to 2000.

The Minister did not bother to look back.

I always try to look forward. The overall crime detection rate is 42%. The difficulty in regard to problems on the street can be addressed in the criminal justice (public order) Bill. However, it would be wrong to say this is the sole panacea. Operation Encounter came into force on 23 February 2002 and is working extremely well.

Underage drinking has been dealt with in a very tough way in the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000. This Bill is now beginning to bite with many premises being closed down throughout the country. I do not believe many people are more drunk these days but the legislation is biting on pubs, with which I am satisfied.

The Government published the national strategy on road safety and "Operation Lifesaver" is working extremely well. This can be illustrated by the number of detected offences on the roads which has increased considerably. On drugs and organised crime, the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, is working well and we are all aware of the success of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

The cost of the criminal legal aid scheme in 2001 was €25.19 million. The Government has provided €29.978 million for these schemes in 2002. It also increased the budget for victim support. Some €3.605 million has been provided for the criminal injuries compensation tribunal. The Garda inspectorate will replace the Garda Síochána Complaints Board and this legislation is now being prepared. Some €885,000 has been allocated to violence against women.

The Government is continuing to meet the refugee protection obligations. There has been a reduction of almost 6% in the number of asylum applications in 2001 compared to 2000. The main source of asylum claims still remain Nigeria and Romania. The main asylum and immigration services, which are the responsibility of my Department, will cost in the region of €40 million this year. The allocation to the refugee legal service has been increased by 5%.

The Immigration Bill, 2002, will make it an offence for carriers to bring improperly documented non-nationals into the State. That Bill has been published and I am confident it will be enacted in the near future. The Reception and Integration Agency, which I established, replaces the director for asylum support services and the refugee agency is operating on a non-statutory basis and doing quite well. We have increased the provision for civil legal aid by €7 million, or 65%, since 1997 and, of course, the Civil Legal Aid Act, 1995, is being extended by the Sex Offenders Act, 2001.

Members will be aware that we have enacted the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act and we have provided substantial funding for these. The national plan for women is being prepared at present and we have provided €380,000 for the monitoring and consultative committees. We have provided €8.769 million to support the national development plan equality unit and the equality for women measure. We have also established a dedicated gender equality unit. We are providing €8.169 million in respect of the equality for women measure.

The Government has embarked on an anti-racism public awareness programme and we have allocated €2.59 million for its development and implementation. The programme promises to be quite successful. We have allocated €436 million over the period of the national development plan for the equal opportunities child care programme. I remain hopeful that by the end of the programme we will have a good infrastructure for child care.

We established the National Disability Authority in 2000 and it acts as an independent statutory agency under the 1999 Act. The Disability Bill was published last December and the Government provides funding to support the operation of People with Disabilities in Ireland Limited.

The provision for the Garda Síochána Vote for this year is €919 million, 4% up on last year. This represents an increase of more than 58% since the world began, as Deputy Shatter said, in 1997. When I became Minister the size of the force was 10,800. It is now 11,724 and, as promised, it will reach 12,000 at the end of this year. A further competition to recruit an additional 300 Garda trainees was advertised in the national press on 24 February last. I have already mentioned Operation Encounter, which concentrates on targeted areas.

I have taken a major initiative in respect of CCTV. More than €15 million has been allocated towards its installation nationwide by 2004. The contracts for Limerick, Bray, Dundalk, Dún Laoghaire, Finglas and Galway will be awarded next week. Later this year we will have tender competitions for Athlone, Clondalkin, Waterford and Tallaght. I also aim to ensure that we continue to give the gardaí the most up-to-date IT systems and 14 PULSE systems have been developed and are being made available in 181 Garda stations throughout the country. Under this level of coverage, 85% of all incidents are directly captured and more than 75% of Garda personnel have direct access to PULSE systems in their own stations. Training for the system is taking place and €9 million has been allocated to Garda telecommunications in the 2002 Estimates.

The Government has also agreed to replace the existing Garda radio network with a new integrated digital network. A pilot project is in place to deal with that. Work is well advanced on the provision of audiovisual recording facilities at Garda stations. The total number of stations involved is approximately 150. Arrangements have been made for the relevant equipment to be installed and it is expected that the entire operation will be completed shortly. We have allocated €3 million for the development of Ireland's part in the Schengen information system. We are developing a computer system to support fixed penalty points processing as part of the Government's road safety strategy. We are continuing to address the standard of Garda accommodation. However there are stations which are sub-standard and that matter must be addressed. We have increased the provision substantially. This year it is €7.138 million.

Crime prevention is a major priority and that is why we have the Garda youth diversion projects. They are working well. We will increase the number of those projects. Government approval has been obtained for the expenditure of €20.3 million, under the national development plan. There were 12 Garda youth diversion projects when I came into office and we have increased this to 64 projects, at a combined annual cost of €6 million. This represents a funding increase of 1,180%.

Great attention has been paid to the Prisons Service. We have committed an unprecedented level of investment to our prison infrastructure amounting to €194 million. This has brought about more than 1,300 new prisoner places in Limerick, Castlerea, the Dóchas Centre, Cloverhill remand prison and the new midlands prison in Portlaoise. This represents an increase of more than 50% in prison places. Figures show a reduction in numbers of daily temporary releases from 500, or 17% of those serving sentences when I came to office in 1997, to 247 today, which is only 7.6% of those serving sentences. Almost all of these are on structured programmes aimed at their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The revolving door has been closed.

As of 31 December we have 3,155 serving officers in the Prisons Service. More interviews will be held in April and 120 prison officers and 30 nursing officers will be recruited to the Prisons Service during 2002. Mountjoy Prison will be given a major overhaul. This is a particular priority for me. This year refurbishment will commence in Portlaoise.

We continue to look at the whole drug treatment strategy. A steering group on prison based drug treatment services has been established and has made helpful recommendations. We have increased the number of nurses and the numbers involved in psychiatry. We have also ensured there will be additional physicians, drugs counsellors and probation officers. We have made real progress in tackling this scourge of Irish life in the prison setting. More than 400 offenders have completed Mountjoy's drug treatment programme.

Sex offenders now total one in eight of the prisoner population, about 370 in March 2002. We have operated a sex offender rehabilitation programme in Arbour Hill since 1994 and I am pleased to say a programme has been operational in the Curragh since 2000. We plan to develop a new multi-disciplinary sex offender rehabilitation programme as well.

We have established the Prisons Service as an independent executive agency. The cost of staff overtime is still high. The underlying reasons for this level of additional attendance, which is necessary for the day-to-day operation of the prisons and to carry out essential escorts of prisoners, do not lend themselves to short-term solutions. Prison officer overtime for 2001 was €55.31 million. These matters are being discussed and have been reported on by the Prisons Service cost review group, which was published in 1997. The next phase of the project is a strategic effectiveness programme which began in March 2000. The director general of the Prisons Service, on behalf of the prisons interim board, is doing everything he can to address this matter.

Positive sentence management and the CONNECT project have proved very successful. The CONNECT project has been in operation in Mountjoy and the training unit since 1998. It creates pathways for prisoners to follow from custody to employment. The Parole Board became operational in the autumn of last year and has reviewed a number of cases. I promised the establishment of a prisons inspectorate and I have done that on a non-statutory basis and I have designated Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlan to the position with effect from the date of his retirement from the High Court in April next. The probation and welfare service plays a vital role. The number of staff in the service has been increased by 46 to 316 and its budget has been increased by 116% since I came to office.

The Government has radically changed the courts system. The statutory framework of the Courts Service establishes clear lines of accountability, responsibility and transparency. We have increased the allocation to the courts Vote from €38.6 million in 1997 to €84.9 million this year, a 119% increase. We also increased the staff level considerably. The building programme is receiving detailed attention and the financial provision for court buildings has increased from €11.3 million to €30.6 million since I came to office, an increase of 170%.

In family law, I sought to provide the best facilities, information and services to litigants. The pilot drug programme will be examined to decide if it will continue beyond the pilot stage. We have always tried to ensure that people have access to justice in a reasonable timescale and I propose to increase the civil jurisdiction of circuit courts from £30,000 to €100,000 and of district courts from £5,000 to €20,000. We are providing €31.1 million in 2002 for the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds, a 9% increase on the 2001 estimate and the staff numbers there have also increased. We are moving towards the creation of a semi-State body to deal with these registries.

We have provided new infrastructure across the range of justice, equality and law reform areas, established new authorities, provided new frameworks where required, additional staff where required, and increased resources. No area in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has not been improved substantially over the past five years to the benefit of our citizens.

On the basis of my experience in recent years, I find that going into huge detail in meetings such as this is an exercise in self flagellation and futility. I will briefly raise some issues that must be raised in the context of the Minister's speech as delivered and circulated. The Minister's record of reform in various areas of criminal law is good on specific issues, but he failed in the objective that he set himself in 1997 to tackle fully crime right across the board, particularly street violence and assaults. During this Government's lifetime, there has been an horrendous increase in the level of street violence offences, assaults and in the number of victims, which the Minister failed to address adequately.

This is evidenced by the fact that in the dying days of the Dáil he talks about introducing new public order legislation, which has not yet seen the light of day but I presume that for election purposes, he hopes to dragoon through the House next week. I warn the Minister about his intentions. There are worthwhile reforms that could be introduced into the criminal law in this area, which should have been recognised by him long ago and introduced in a measured way allowing Members a genuine opportunity to discuss them and consider their implications. If he publishes legislation next week which allows limited opportunity for discussion, he should be careful that it addresses issues that genuinely need to be addressed. He ought not to produce proposals that would unacceptably undermine constitutional rights and which may ultimately fall foul of the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds.

The Garda 2000 report said there was a 133% increase in crimes of violence and assault, which it described as serious offences. We know it is not accurate because of the manner in which statistics are collated in some Garda stations. The Minister avoided a proper investigation into that issue and instead confined the investigation to the Waterford station's draft figures for 2001. There is a serious credibility problem with the 2000 report, which is full of inaccuracies that I highlighted previously. Despite that, it records an increase in crime in this area. The Minister knows the provisional outturn for 2001 also records an increase in street violence and public order offences. The Minister has lost credibility and some of his good work in other areas is seriously overshadowed because of his failure to tackle street crime and the fact that the majority of people no longer feel safe at night on the streets of their own neighbourhoods. Surveys show that in Dublin, Cork and Limerick the vast majority do not feel safe in the city centre at night, which is an indication of the extent of the Minister's failure.

This failure is also highlighted by the extraordinary announcements that he repeated on a public relations basis during the past three weeks concerning the so-called Operation Encounter. For more than two years, in a succession of speeches to this committee, answers to parliamentary questions and in the Dáil, he lauded the innovative Operation Oíche, which was to be the solution to all our problems but during which, probably more people were beaten up on the streets of our cities and towns than during the term of any other Minister.

We can say "goodnight" to that.

Operation Oíche was abandoned two days after the Minister lauded its contribution to peace and order in reply to a Dáil question on his last question time. A quick step was taken under the Minister's aegis when the operation, in keeping with its name, was abandoned overnight. The Minister, who, along with the Garda commissioner, is an addict of "Star Trek" produced the interestingly named Operation Encounter.

Going where nobody had dared go before.

Going where the Minister and the Garda had not dared to go for almost all the five years of this Administration. This operation is trying to detect the aliens on our streets and prevent violence on a regular basis. In the Administration's dying days, as we trundle along the road into a general election, we have a new insight and a brand new Garda operation, like new Persil or Daz, which is the same old project relaunched with some icing and decoration and a public relations' fanfare. According to the Minister, Operation Oíche was fantastic and really tackled the problem of violence, but this brand new product will be even more fantastic and even better.

However, it has no credibility in the eyes of the general public, which I say more in regret than anything else as I believe, whether one is on the Opposition side or the Government side of the House, it is in the public interest that our streets are safe and that people can walk them day or night without feeling threatened. We do not want, as we have seen in recent times, a procession of young men, in their late teens and early twenties, battered and bludgeoned on our streets ending up on hospital life support systems for weeks. That is an indictment of the Minister's failure. On occasions in these committees, we exchange political charges which may not always have the credibility we try to attach to them, but in this area the Government has utterly failed. It is a tragedy that it has done so as many people have suffered injury and distress as a consequence, and that must be better addressed.

The Minister has contributed to this. Reforms introduced under the intoxicating liquor legislation were not well thought out and now in our cities, on Friday and Saturday nights, we see too many young people under the influence of drink or drugs, with no insight into the effect their behaviour is having on those around them and the threat they pose to others. As a consequence people have died on our streets. That should not have happened. It seems relatively simple to organise that 200 gardaí stand outside Lansdowne Road after every rugby match to watch supporters leave but it seems impossible to have a regular visible presence of gardaí on our streets, particularly at night when people are at risk. There is something seriously wrong with priorities in this area. I did not want to speak at length but the issue is serious. The problem is an indication of an area in which the Minister has failed.

The Minister deals with a broad range of issues in his speech. I refer to the Garda Complaints Board. For years it has been saying that its legislation is inadequate to allow gardaí address complaints within reasonable time, it is under resourced to deal with the problems confronting it and there is an enormous backlog of complaints which it is incapable of addressing. We have had a court case involving two gardaí concerning allegations of criminal behaviour, which was thrown out due to the length of time it took the Garda Complaints Board to investigate aspects of their conduct. The Garda Complaints Board system has lost public confidence and credibility. The Minister should have provided better resources, provided for an independent inspectorate and recognised that the board should be replaced by a Garda ombudsman. The Minister has resisted recognising the need for a new structure and for two years has promised an independent inspectorate but done nothing about it.

The Minister has recruited a large number of additional people to process asylum applications. He acknowledged the needs in that area too late. Some of the approaches taken by this Government in relation to asylum seekers have fuelled racism. The Department, unable to process asylum applications within a reasonable period tells asylum seekers, many of whom have valuable skills, that a decision on their applications will not be made for up to three years yet they will not be allowed to work while awaiting that decision but must live on minimal funds in accommodation provided by the State. It is not tenable to have that situation and not fuel difficulties within communities and at the same time try to address issues of racism. The Minister has forced asylum seekers to remain dependent on the State but has colleagues in his party willing to accuse asylum seekers of being spongers and wasters and of milking the system. It is Government policy not to allow them engage in remunerative employment and use their skills in work of benefit to the community. Overall, the policies being implemented in the asylum area cannot be reconciled with the Government's campaign against racism. We need a different approach.

One issue in this area will give rise to problems and difficulties. A great deal has been said about the issue of asylum seekers having children here and thereby gaining the right to remain. The length of time young asylum seekers have to remain here before their applications are determined renders it inevitable that children will be born to them. The Minister is now processing court proceedings to seek a declaration from the courts that in circumstances where children are born in this State, he should be allowed to deport their parents, although those children are Irish citizens. That is a dangerous policy. Under the Minister's administration should he continue in office, are we to see children who are Irish citizens having their parents taken from them and deported? If the children wish to remain or if there is a decision that it is in the interest of their welfare that they remain, will we separate them from their parents? What policy approach is the Minister taking in this area? Is there an overall policy or is it a knee jerk reaction to appease the likes of his colleague, Deputy O'Flynn, in an effort to make it appear the Government is taking tough action? This area requires greater insight and sensitivity.

The issue of civil legal aid is not being adequately addressed and there are growing waiting lists in all centres across the country. We are now reverting to a position where waiting lists that had been tackled during the term of office of the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform are rising again. In fairness, during the term of office of the current Minister growing waiting lists were genuinely addressed at one stage but there is need for additional resources. One of the free legal advice centres now wants to run a voluntary centre in the Ballyfermot area to meet the outstanding needs existing there. It needs funding for that. Does the Minister have anything specific to say on that issue?

I find it impossible to take seriously the Minister's comments about CCTV. He tells us that more than £15 million will have been allocated towards the installation of Garda closed circuit television systems nationwide by 2004. The last time we saw the £15 million figure, the implication was that it would be spent during 2002. What was announced, with the election in mind, as an expenditure for 2002 is now an expenditure over three years. How much was spent on CCTV during 2001? I recall that it was less than £50,000. He should indicate to us how much of the £15 million he expects will be spent this year. Towns all over the country are calling out for CCTV and city areas require it in different locations. It would act as a deterrent to crime and would assist in the detection of offenders. Adequate priority has not been given to its installation.

I have concerns about the PULSE system. It was to make information more readily available about the level of crime in different parts of the country, the types of crime being committed and detection rates. This information should be on-line and available. For the first full year that the PULSE system operated we had the Garda report for 2000 published in December 2001. It was full of errors and omissions and it appears the Minister is unwilling to rely on the PULSE system figures for the crime statistics for 2001. I am puzzled that having spent millions on the system we are not getting information sooner and the information obtained is questionable.

The Minister did not mention the recent report on the prison system which details in stark terms the inadequacy of the services available to deal with convicted sex offenders to ensure they go through treatment programmes which might create the possibility they will not re-offend on release from prison. We know that, no matter what programmes are put in place, there can be no guarantee that a convicted sex offender will not re-offend. The report, and other reports from outside the country, have made it clear that where there are proper programmes available they reduce the likelihood of people re-offending.

The Minister said there are 370 offenders in our prisons. Some will be released this year. There are some sex offenders who have been released during the past couple of years and a number will be released without going through programmes of any description and some of these will reoffend. Women and children will be victims of that reoffending. In this area the Minister has a disgraceful record. He has failed to give it the priority it should have been given and has failed to put in place within our prisons the type of services that the report, recently made available, indicates are required. The Minister should provide an explanation for that. It is an issue that I and other Deputies, some of whom are on the Minister's side of the House, raised on numerous occasions during the lifetime of the Government.

The parole board the Minister has put in place has no statutory basis despite the promise of legislation. At what stage is that legislation? It is wrong that the victims of crime have no opportunity to make an input into the decisions of the parole board. That is not to say the parole board should determine all outcomes based on what a victim says but victims should have a statutory right of input into decisions made.

In his speech the Minister said nothing about the current industrial dispute involving the probation and welfare service. What is the current position? Are talks taking place? Is the probation and welfare service refusing to prepare reports for the courts because of the industrial dispute? There was no mention either of the forensic science laboratory which is also in dispute. What is the current position in that regard?

I have already mentioned the Garda Complaints Board. The Minister has sat back and watched a series of major issues arise in relation to the Garda where serious allegations of Garda misconduct have been made and have not been adequately addressed. On Friday next, in the dying days of the Government, the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill, 2002, will come before the House. I do not want to pre-empt what will be said in the Dáil on that issue. As this is the last Estimate of this Dáil in this committee it would be wrong not to say that the Minister failed utterly during his tern of office to take account of the true seriousness and implications of the allegations of Garda misconduct made in a number of areas and, in particular, in Donegal. The Minister has done a huge disservice to the Garda Síochána. The issues that the Minister reluctantly acknowledged only a few weeks ago must be addressed, and should have been addressed three years ago, in the interests of the Garda Síochána to preserve its credibility and standing in the eyes of the general public and in the interests of the 95% of the Garda who go about their work in a decent and honest manner, who frequently put their lives at risk and who resent the fact that some are under a cloud because of the alleged misconduct of a few. The Minister has come too late to acknowledge the need to deal with the issues that arise in this area. It appears unlikely that these issues will be dealt with before the Government is dissolved. It is regrettable those issues, and reforming legislation concerning the Garda Síochána and its structures to provide a modern legal framework and not one that goes back to 1923, have not been addressed. These issues should have been given priority by the Government.

I deliberately said that in some areas of criminal law the Minister has introduced very worthwhile reforms. The Opposition never acknowledges any good done by the Minister. He has introduced major and important reforms in some areas and it is right to acknowledge that. The praise earlier was qualified in the context of his failing to deal with the whole issue of street violence and the problems that arise there. There was one other failure by the Government. I am not sure it is a failure of which the Minister should be accused, perhaps it goes to the door of the Taoiseach as much as the Minister. It is clear that when the Government was formed it was a major mistake to combine the Departments of Justice and Law Reform. Because of the huge pressures on the Department to bring forward major law reform in the criminal law area, the civil areas of law reform that need to be addressed have been put on the back burner. Some areas have been dealt with but there are major areas of public importance that will never get priority in a Department, due to understandable pressures resulting from our membership of the European Union to bring forward legislation in the criminal law area which always has a huge immediacy and priority. Structurally there should be two separate Departments. Law reform in the criminal law area should remain within the bailiwick of the Department of Justice. By and large it deals well with that area despite the fact that we all complain from time to time that some issues should be given greater priority.

The civil law area is always the distant cousin. That is evidenced by the fact that the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, published in 1998, is only completing Report Stage next week. There is a need for such areas to be dealt with in a separate department of law reform. There is a plethora of reports from the Law Reform Commission which have been ignored. I hope that whoever is in Government after the next election will recognise that the Department should be split into two Departments dealing with very different areas so that priority can be given to civil law reform as it is given to criminal law reform.

I should make a general comment about the structure of the debate. It is envisaged that we speak for 15 minutes and then deal with the individual subhead. I do not know whether we are obliged to do that.

It may go beyond that——

I presume that if we have a broad debate now we can invite the Minister to respond in a general way. If that is what is happening I will range across the broad number of issues. Like Deputy Shatter I am conscious that we are debating Estimates that we are not in a position to alter. We can highlight some of the issues that are important to us. While this debate is not receiving much external attention it is important to put a few things on the record. Some the issues I am about to deal with have been dealt with by Deputy Shatter.

This is certainly the last Estimate with which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will deal. Regardless of the outcome of the election, unless someone nails him to his desk the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, will not be resident in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He has had one of the most difficult jobs in Government. In many ways it is a thankless job. To say one built another prison will not exactly get a great cheer nor will the fact that he did something that might have impacted on the level of crime. In many ways it is not a Department which generally delivers good news. I disagree fundamentally with many things the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has done but I recognise he is a sincere hardworking Minister who came with an agenda to his Department. That is very important.

My time in politics has indicated to me that there are two types of Ministers: those who drive and those who are driven, and I do not mean in State cars. The Department will run itself if there is a Minister who allows it. There are those who go with an agenda of work to do. Engaging Ministers who try to get things done should be recognised. Before I get carried away with words of praise, I want to outline some of the failures of the Minister's term in office. There was huge potential to make great changes and a number of fundamental mistakes were made at the outset.

The first mistake was the abolition of the Department of Equality and Law Reform. I know the Minister will say it has not been abolished, but it has been subsumed as a junior relation in the much larger Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I have dealt with that Department for a long time and on one occasion I substituted for the former Tánaiste on the Cabinet sub-committee. I know the security focus of the Department and issues like law reform - particularly on the civil side, equality and disability take a secondary place. This is particularly true when there is such a demand for legislation. From working on this committee, we know it is the Department that has generated most legislation.

I will not be excessively wordy in dealing with some of the specific issues. I know that is a tall order for either Deputy Shatter or me, but I want to save my best lines for the weekend and I do not want to fire my best ammunition just yet, as the Minister might appreciate. The Minister sought to make most capital of the issue of prisons in his five years on office. He has brought in 1,300 additional prison places. What is the consequence of that? He says the revolving door has stopped. I do not know about that. I notice one prisoner escaped for the third time last week. That poor man is in permanent revolution. He seems to be walking in and out of prison custody at a great rate. We now have one of the highest rates of imprisonment in Europe. Is that something to be lauded?

We also have one of the highest re-offending rates in Europe. For many people, prison is a university of crime. Bad thieves and rogues improve their trade in the university of a prison. It is not conducive to great rehabilitation, despite the best efforts of extremely good people. When I see some of the regimes in other jurisdictions, we are very fortunate with the calibre of people running our prison system. It is invidious to mention anyone, but someone like the governor of Mountjoy, Mr. Lonergan, is an example and inspiration to many people. His words on the numbers of people we imprison bear careful analysis.

I do not want to embark on this matter too philosophically as I do not agree it is good to lock up a greater proportion of our people or to have more prison places. We should keep imprisonment for those who violently offend. People should not be locked up for the non-payment of fines. We should have proper wages and benefits legislation to ensure fines are extracted from those who are recalcitrant in paying fines. The notion of locking people up for minor offences is unconscionable.

In my clinic in the past ten days I met a woman of very poor means who had been called upon by two gardaí and told that if she did not pay a litter fine, she would be carted off to prison. The litter fine arose because the woman could not and did not pay a wheelie bin charge in Wexford Corporation and put out a bag of rubbish beside a neighbour's wheelie bin. She had gone through a very difficult time. She did not reach out to people early enough, but there was a court case and a fine of €200, which was extremely burdensome for her. The notion of contemplating imprisonment for that calibre of individual is unconscionable.

That is the consequence of talking about having done great things in providing these prison places. There are many people in prison who should not be there. People who have offended in a violent way and are a danger to society should be in prison. There is a worrying trend for more people to be imprisoned with alacrity. There is a greater rate of imprisonment here than in the UK and that is not good. That is an issue to which I will return. The previous Fine Gael spokesperson did much work on restorative justice and produced a very good paper for this committee. That is something in which we should engage with a future Minister who is more open to it and does not have an agenda believing that prison is good in all circumstances.

The Garda complaints issue is of fundamental importance. This has not just been abandoned, but has also been talked town by the Minister. For a long time he has fought tooth and nail against the notion of having a proper inquiry into serious allegations of malpractice by an Garda Síochána. As Deputy Shatter said, he has belatedly come to believe that a tribunal of inquiry into what is characterised as the McBrearty affair is warranted, having voted and trenchantly argued against such an inquiry only a few months ago. In the dying days of this Administration, the Minister has concluded that questions will be asked of him by a new Administration, by whomever succeeds him or by whatever tribunal is finally established. Why did he allow this to fester for so long and not act? That kind of question will be put to him and he will have to answer it.

We currently have no proper complaints mechanism although we have the promise of one. A long time ago, I proposed having a Garda ombudsman, modelled on the ombudsman service in Northern Ireland. The Minister flatly refused and claimed everything was rosy in the current system. He has gradually moved from that position to proposing the notion of an inspectorate. There is no legislation, only the promise. Five years represents one of the longest unbroken terms for one Minister for Justice in a very long time. It is striking that there are so many promises for the future, rather than being able to point to an agenda completed after a full term.

The lack of a Garda complaints inspectorate is one of the most glaring omissions. We do not have legislation published showing even the shape, much less the substance, of a system that will restore confidence in a very fine force that really needs reform. That reform needs to be structural and needs to go beyond the Garda ombudsman, as detailed in my proposals for a Garda authority. I hope the next Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will address this, because policing is the key to crime and the structure of the police force and its relationship to the public, particularly communities, will be pivotal. That requires a longer debate at another time.

The Minister has done something, albeit very little, about victim support and establishing rights in law for victims. We hear of people's frustration about this all the time. I said that the Minister has a tough job. Being Opposition spokesperson on justice is an even tougher job, as the Minister is aware. I know my colleague from Fine Gael is better equipped. Just like a court of appeal, every day I get volumes of files from people who feel hard done by by the legal system. I received two today. What am I going to do about them? I am neither a lawyer nor do I have any staff. I have a secretarial assistant, but I am expected to deal with these issues. The more high profile one is in commenting about miscarriages of justice, the more one attracts these submissions. We ought to have some mechanism for dealing with these matters and a Garda ombudsman would be an appropriate vehicle for dealing with allegations against an Garda Síochána. We hear much about victims who feel excluded from the process. We have made some progress in that but we need to go much further.

I could say so much about the whole issue of asylum seekers. I have had battles with the Minister on this and there is no need to re-stage those battles. This has applied to all Bills and all the grafted legislation the Minister has introduced in this area during his time in office.

I wish to raise a specific issue, which is a cause of shame and annoyance to me, in relation to the Devereaux Hotel in Rosslare Harbour. This hotel was acquired for more than £2 million by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to be used as a reception centre for asylum seekers arriving in the port of Rosslare Harbour - Europort Rosslare. Due to some local opposition, that did not come to pass and it is a shame nothing was done with that facility. The Minister backed down because of pressure from his junior ministerial colleague in Wexford. That was uncharacteristic of the Minister who, whatever else one might say, is a courageous individual who faces down opposition. The building has remained idle for almost two years, costing a considerable amount just to maintain security on it. It is the first building seen by people coming off the ferry and it is now a monument to our attitude against providing a reception centre for asylum seekers. Instead, we have a portakabin down in the harbour, despite the substantial expenditure incurred. What was the total cost of the Devereaux Hotel and the security arrangements and why has it not been used for any purpose, despite all the pledges and promises made by the Minister, both privately to me and publicly to the Dáil? I rest on that issue because there are so many other issues.

The Minister also referred to free legal aid, for which the most recent figures available to me are for 31 December 2001. The waiting period for access to a solicitor at each free legal aid centre is listed in the table provided by the Minister. It is nine and a half months in Blanchardstown, seven and three quarter months in Gardiner Street, six months in Wexford, four and a half months in Finglas, five and a quarter months in Brunswick Street, Dublin, three and a half months in Tallaght and Ormond Quay and two and three quarter months in Sligo. A person who has to wait up to nine months to see a solicitor is not being provided with a proper service. In a time of plenty, access to the law is important. That is a glaring example of things yet to be done. We have yet to see the establishment of the parole board. Although it has been the subject of discussions and questions, there is still no legislation or allocation of money for it.

On the public order Bill, now promised, I will not go over the ground which Deputy Shatter has covered, in deference to time constraints, but I agree substantially with his comments. It is just not good enough for the Minister to speak of a significant decrease in crime when that is not the perception people have and when young people, in particular, are vulnerable on our streets. This is not a myth - the increase of 130% in the figures for serious assault between 1999 and 2000 is factual. The Minister has the provisional outturn figures for 2001, as he admitted to me on the RTE radio programme, "Morning Ireland". If the Minister has not got the figures - he is shaking his head - why in God's name has he not got them? The PULSE system is working.

The Minister has spoken of proof-reading the figures - how long does that take? I believe he knows there has been a very substantial increase last year over the 130% increase in 2000 and he wants that figure buried until after the general election. Action is needed on these matters. Unlike Deputy Shatter, I do not believe we will see the Minister's proposals enacted but he wants to have something to say to the electorate in relation to that most serious and glaring failure.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has talked about the awful carnage that is happening on our roads and he has suggested dedicated traffic courts. There is no mention of that in the Minister's proposals. The issue of "joined-up government" is important. Does the Minister intend to propose a distinct and separate traffic corps of the Garda Síochána, with its own fleet, equipment, and facilities? Where stands the Minister in that regard and where is the provision in the Estimates? How will it be funded if the proposal by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is anything more than the sky-full of kites which that Minister has flown in recent years? If vehicles are to be provided for the new traffic corps, it is noteworthy that the Estimates provision for maintenance and running expenses is down by almost €1 million. Perhaps the proposed interdiction of traffic offences will all be done by a bicycle corps. Yet, the carnage on our roads is a real and substantial issue, not just for the Minister of State with responsibility for road safety in the Department of the Environment and Local Government but also for the Garda Síochána and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I could say much more but, in view of time constraints, I will move on to other issues.

Wearing his equality and law reform hat, the Minister has responsibility for a variety of support services for the disadvantaged and disabled. The Disabilities Bill was produced by this Minister, after a lot of discussion, although it was presented by the Minister of State. During my time in the Dáil, I cannot recall any Bill being met with such absolute annoyance, frustration and downright anger as the Disability Bill. People who thought they were being listened to were, in fact, completely ignored. Their palpable anger at the Minister's proposals, which ran counter to everything they wanted in rights-based legislation, characterised, better than anything else, a Government that just was not listening. I know a volte face has taken place, but we need more than that. The Minister needs to make it absolutely clear whether a rights-based and meaningful Disability Bill is to be a reality, on the basis the relevant lobby groups were led to believe or has the Government abandoned that whole concept?

I wish to refer to legislation to be dealt with this week. For a very long time, the Minister set his face against investigating the McBrearty affair but, five weeks ago - for the reasons I have indicated I believed he would do that - he and the Taoiseach gave me a commitment that there would be consultation on the terms of reference of the inquiry and of any amending legislation. Obviously, if one intends to ground terms of reference on legislation, it is pointless to have the legislation enacted without consultation and then simply consult on the terms of reference. I regret the Minister has not availed of that five weeks to engage with any Opposition Deputies. I received a telephone message yesterday to the effect that the Bill would be published today and that I could have a briefing on it. When I asked whether it was consultation I was told it was not, and that our views were of no consequence since the Government had signed off. For good measure,it was to be guillotined through all Stages inthree hours although Members of the Dáil willnot have general sight of the Bill until today.That has not happened before on an amending Bill for the terms of reference of a tribunal of inquiry.

The tribunals of inquiry have always been creatures of the House, not of Government. Although the instrument is signed by a Minister it has always been so, and I have been involved in the construction of terms of reference for various inquiries in the past. I have often drafted parts of the terms of reference and even parts of the amending legislation. Therefore, I regard this as a breach of faith by the Minster and I regret that.

The same official came back to my adviser yesterday to say that there would be discussion on the terms of reference separately but that he did not know when this would be. I presume the terms of reference are to go through next week, so I do not know what consultation can take place if the legislation is to be drafted and enacted next week. The Chief Whip tells us that he wants the decks cleared so that the Taoiseach's pleasure can be determined without obstruction after next Thursday. It was a breach of faith that the Minister did not have that consultation.

Those are my observations at this stage. The huge potential of a capable Minister has been unrealised and that is also a proper summing up of this Government. Huge potential in a time of plenty has not been realised. There are huge issues still to be addressed by whoever comes to take charge of this Department. I hope it will be split into two constituent Departments when the next Government takes office.

On the provisional outturn figures for 2001 for the Prisons Service in Vote 21 - subhead A1, salaries for prison officers are listed as €95 million while overtime payments are listed as €55 million. I thought the Minister was to address this issue - he certainly talked a great deal about it. In the Estimate figures for 2002, he proposes to reduce overtime to €28 million. How does he propose to do that or is it just a fanciful wish? Will the person who brings these figures to the Dáil next year be in the interesting situation where the overtime bill is more than half the basic salary bill?

I thank Deputies Howlin and Shatter for their contributions. On street crime, which Deputies have referred to, an increase is recorded in the Garda report for the year 2000 in relation to assaults occasioning actual bodily harm. The increase is 131% from 700-odd such offences to somewhere in the region of 1,700. This is something that must be tackled. However, it is not true that street violence has increased, when by "street violence" I mean all kinds of violent attacks. For example, the incidence of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery is down. There is an issue in relation to assaults on the streets which I wanted to address in the context of a public order Act, which is a difficult Act to draw up.

Deputy Shatter, and Deputy Howlin to a lesser extent, seem to be of the view that Operation Encounter is no different from Operation Oíche. I assure Deputies that resources had to be found for Operation Encounter so that it would be more effective than Operation Oíche. Operation Oíche succeeded in many respects but Operation Encounter is more targeted and more intensive. I have ensured that Operation Encounter is not just something that will happen this year in the run-up to an election. I have ensured that, whoever is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, there will sufficient resources to keep this programme going until the end of the year. The Garda Síochána would not have it any other way.

There was an increase in street violence in terms of these assaults. However, there is no point in denying that we have seen a reduction in serious crime of 27% since 1997. I do not compile or have anything to do with the Garda report, but that report for 2000 states that over the period concerned——

The Minister should quote from it.

——we saw the greatest decrease in crime in the modern world over a five year period. Not only that, but it states that we have the lowest level of serious crime in more than 20 years. That is not my statement but the statement in the annual report of the Garda Commissioner.

The Minister should look at the murder rate.

Acting Chairman

The Minister without interruption, please.

We cannot be selective.

Murder and manslaughter are serious crimes.

We cannot make the argument that the Garda report is correct when it deals with assaults occasioning actual bodily harm but that it is suddenly incorrect when it deals with other offences. That is selectivity——

What is the Minister being, if not selective?

That is the kind of selectivity that Deputies Howlin and Shatter have been associated with.

To what in the Garda report is the Minister referring?

I am referring to the Garda annual report for 2000 published by the Garda Commissioner which showed that the level of serious crime had again decreased dramatically——

It has been reclassified.

——over the life of the Government.

That is untrue.

There has been a substantial decrease in the level of serious crime. The Deputy is saying the report is correct when it deals with serious offences of assault while it is not correct in terms of other offences——

The Minister knows that serious crime is on the increase. He is taking out a range of offences and he admitted that on the radio.

——because the figures do not suit the Deputy. That is an extraordinary situation.

The figures have changed. The compilation method has changed. The Minister will have to face the truth one day.

The Deputy must accept that if the figures are right in one respect he cannot say they are wrong in another.

With regard to the Intoxicating Liquor Act, Deputy Shatter said that it was not properly thought out. The Intoxicating Liquor Act was effectively passed by an all-party Oireachtas committee because it agreed on the terms of the legislation. It was fine-tuned after that but there was no party in the Dáil which said that it was opposed to the legislation and would vote against it. The opposite is the case. Many Deputies from the Opposition benches told me in the Dáil that the legislation was not liberal enough.

There is a commission on licensing looking at the question of intoxicating liquor regulation. In Britain, there is to be 24-hour opening which is not something I believe people would favour here. There is a problem in relation to young people having a greater degree of access to money and in relation to the behaviour of certain young people on the streets after drinking in public houses and discos. However, we should be under no illusions that this came about the night that the Intoxicating Liquor Act came into force in July 2000. It was there before that.

It is convenient to blame the 2000 Act, but was it the most draconian Act in terms of tackling under age drinking in the history of the State or any other European democracy? The serious problem we face in relation to the abuse of alcohol is not confined to vulnerable young people in disadvantaged areas, but is evident throughout society. It cannot be addressed solely by criminal law and those who think otherwise are fooling themselves. I do not suggest that members of the committee have expressed such ideas, as they are aware that many people have to face their responsibilities when a societal problem develops.

It was clear from the outset that the funding of £15 million for CCTV was under a three year programme. Tenders were invited and received for six places in 2001. I accept that there were delays in evaluating the tenders and very little money was spent in 2001 for that reason. Six CCTV contracts will be announced next week.

It has nothing to do with the election.

No, it has nothing to do with the election. It may seem strange to the Deputy, but I assure him that it is a pure coincidence. We have been working on the CCTV project for a long time. Six contracts will be announced next week——

In key constituencies.

A further tender competition will be announced later this year, which I hope shows the Deputy that the process is unrelated to the general election. It is intended that €4 million or €5 million will be spent on CCTV this year.

Could I interrupt the Minister to ask him, out of sheer curiosity, if the announcements next week will be made by local Fianna Fáil Deputies?

Acting Chairman


The Chair has expressed her optimism, but the six areas have already been announced.

They have been mentioned, but the project has not yet been formally launched.

They have been announced.

Will a bottle of champagne be thrown at a wall?

Acting Chairman

There will be a television camera somewhere.

They have been announced.

Will RTE be invited to celebrate CCTV?

Acting Chairman

We will run out of time if the Minister is not allowed to return to his reply.

I accept that the deportation of the parents of Irish born children is a sensitive matter. I am conscious of Deputy Howlin's attitude to placing of asylum seekers in Wexford. It would be churlish of me not to accept that Deputies Howlin and Dukes were particularly helpful when the diversification programme commenced. I cannot comment on the cases before the courts at present involving deportations. Individual applications are examined on their own merits and one has to have regard to a range of issues, as set out in the Immigration Act, 1999, when deciding whether to issue a deportation order. It is important that I make clear that the fact that a person is the parent of a child born in Ireland does not mean he or she cannot be subject to a deportation. The cases are before the courts and I would rather leave them there. We await a decision.

When considering Ireland's response to the asylum process, it should be understood that Ireland did not experience much immigration until recent times. When I became Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, about 20 officials were trying to deal with more than 3,000 cases, so it was necessary to recruit and train additional staff. The asylum system is operated by almost 700 people at present and by next June, civil servants will be processing cases from 2002 only. In other words, the backlog will have been dealt with.

There will be a waiting time of six months.

Yes, approximately, which represents a good performance by international standards. It is quite difficult to process applications more speedily than that.

Six months was this country's objective for a long time and I agree it would be a great advance to have made such a reduction by June.

I think it will be achieved, which pleases me. Those who have to wait in the system for a long period have legitimate grounds for complaint. I am confident we are about to complete the process of reducing the waiting time. I have spoken on numerous occasions about the right of asylum seekers to work and it would not be fair to the committee if I were to speak ad nauseam about the matter again this evening. It is sufficient to say that Deputy Howlin and I differ on the issue. As regards waiting lists on legal aid boards——

Does the Minister intend to deal with both of our observations together? I am specifically interested in the Devereux Hotel.

I will come to that.

Deputy Shatter mentioned waiting lists at law centres. Waiting times for appointments with solicitors have been considerably reduced in recent years, in Cavan, to 1.75 months from four months in December 1999 and at Pope's Quay in Cork to about two months from six months in December 1999. I agree there are problems in areas like Gardiner Street, where people must wait 6.5 months, but the relevant time frame in December 1999 was 13 months.

What about Blanchardstown?

The law centre in Blanchardstown is one of the few where the period of time has increased, which I understand is as a result of an increase in business. In general terms, there has been a reduction in waiting times since December 1999.

The most recent figures supplied by the Minister indicate that the waiting time in Wexford is now six months. There used to be two solicitors there but now there is only one.

The waiting time in Wexford is now seven months, which is a decrease from 10.5 months in December 1999. The lowest level reached in Wexford was 5.5 months in October 2000, but that has increased. If solicitors are lost——

One appoints a second solicitor.

——one runs into difficulties. I will certainly look at the situation in Wexford.

There was a temporary whole-time solicitor.

We will look at that. The industrial dispute at the Forensic Science Laboratory has been deferred while staff consider proposals made by the Department on the implementation of recommendations made in the consultants' report. I understand Deputy Shatter has put down a parliamentary question on the matter for tomorrow.

As Deputies are aware, the Garda Complaints Board comprises four lawyers from outside the force. I accept that the mechanisms in place are insufficient and need change, which is why I said an inspectorate will be established if the Government is returned to office. It will be established, not only to deal with complaints, but to measure the performance of the Garda Síochána and to make suggestions for change.

There are four forms of rehabilitation programmes for sex offenders at present: individual counselling from the Department's psychology and probation and welfare services; a multi-disciplinary thinking skills group work programme in Cork, Arbour Hill and the Curragh; an intensive focus group work programme which has been in operation in Arbour Hill since 1994 and in the Curragh since earlier this year; and the psychiatric service which provides extensive services to prisoners in this category. The prisons service plans to develop further multi-disciplinary sex offender programmes in the near future.

I do not accept the argument that responsibility for equality and law reform should be separate from justice matters. All three areas were dealt with in the same Department until 1992 and I contend that since 1997 more legislation has emanated from the equality and law reform sections of my Department than ever before. The former Deputy, Mervyn Taylor, for whom I have a great deal of respect, worked very hard as Minister for Equality and Law Reform. Legislation relating to equality and law reform has been produced in my Department by extremely hard-working officials. We have managed to remarry the two Departments that existed in the mid-1990s.

Deputies Shatter and Howlin referred to problems in the Garda Síochána in County Donegal. While I do not dispute that there were difficulties in Donegal, I have explained on numerous occasions that there are major problems with an investigation of this kind. It is not possible to have a public inquiry if criminal prosecutions are pending. The difficulty was in getting around that problem. I am the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and I have to take my advice from the Attorney General. I was strongly advised that I could not proceed on that basis and we had to devise a mechanism whereby we could hold the inquiry. I asked Mr. Shane Murphy SC to look at all the files relating to this matter and I have no difficulty with my functions as a Minister or on a personal level regarding the handling of the Donegal matter - of that I can assure the committee.

There were legal problems and there is no point in pretending that there were not. To be fair, nobody put a suggestion to me as to how to get around these legal problems until I brought forward a Bill in the Dáil. That Bill will be dealt with in the House on Friday. It is the function of the Opposition to oppose and criticise, but nobody came to me to tell me how to get around the legal difficulty. I had to come forward with the positive proposal in the end. I did not set my face against an inquiry into the events which took place in Donegal. In fact, I was very careful on numerous occasions and during various Question Times to say that I did not oppose an inquiry, but that I had a problem of a legal nature.

I hope we can put the parole board on a statutory footing if this Government is returned. Unfortunately, all of the legislative matters one would like to deal with cannot be addressed in the time available. We have a solid record of 42 Bills, with perhaps two or three more to go before the House rises, which compares more than favourably with that of any of our predecessors.

Deputy Howlin asked about fundamental mistakes, potential unrealised and dreams unfulfilled, but in life it is not possible to fulfil all that one might wish to.

The Minister should not get all philosophical on us.

We have made a good showing.

Can we move from the dreams to the nightmares?

We will deal with the prisons so. They are not as nightmarish as they used to be and we have some beautiful, brand new prisons where people are being rehabilitated, educated and trained. Sometimes when people talk about the prisons building programme, in particular certain very respected academics outside the House, they seem to be of the view that we can have glorious institutions and at the same time, not build them. One cannot do that. There was a concomitant decrease in serious crime as the prison places came on stream and there is no denying that.

I do not accept that there are people in prison who should not be there. I accept that there is a need for an attachment of earnings Bill, which would deal with the matter of people going to prison for non-payment of fines by attaching earnings or welfare. At any time, only 1% of the prison population is composed of people who are there for failure to pay debts or fines. That is about 30 people across the whole prison system.

That is fine, is it?

That is the way it is.


I am here to impart the information the Deputy has sought. I am not here to deliver a commentary or a critique on it.

The Devereux Hotel, Rosslare Harbour, was purchased by the Office of Public Works for use by the then directorate for asylum support services as a reception centre for asylum seekers entering the port. During 2000, 1,466 asylum seekers claimed asylum at Rosslare, but in the first eight months of 2001, that figure fell to 39. Consequently, the need for accommodation for asylum seekers at that port was no longer critical. As the Reception and Integration Agency no longer requires accommodation at the port, it has advised the Office of Public Works that it would raise no objection to the disposal of the hotel, not because we would not use it, but because we do not have a use for it now.

What will the Minister do with it?

The Office of Public Works could dispose of the building if it does not have an alternative use for it.

The Office of Public Works is responsible for the costs associated with the hotel, not my Department.

That is a nice off-load. It is what Deputy Spring would call a hospital pass.

I hope not. I hope it is an hotel pass and that whoever purchases the building will use it as an hotel.

It could be used by the outgoing Government for holiday purposes after the election.

I do not think so.

To clarify, is the Minister saying he has instructed the Office of Public Works to dispose of the building? The Office of Public Works is hardly going to run an hotel, so unless it wants to decentralise——

The State has a number of very fine hotels, I will have the Deputy know.

The Office of Public Works does not run them though.

No, it does not.

The State runs an hotel next door to the reception centre.

It runs the Great Southern Hotels for a start.

That is what I am saying. The Great Southern Hotel is right next door. It would be interesting if the State were to run it as an hotel and I would welcome that, or if it wanted to decentralise a Department, I would welcome that too.

The main board could be relocated there.

That would take another century.

I think not. Can the Minister indicate what is intended?

The Office of Public Works has been told that if——

What has been the expenditure on the whole fiasco?

I will try to find out what the expenditure was. Looking at the drop in the number of asylum seekers in the period concerned, one can see that there was a need for the centre once and that there is not now. That is plain enough.

Deputy Howlin stated that no funding had been provided for the Parole Board. In fact, we provided funding of €254,000.

How much has been expended?

I do not know how much has been expended, but that is the provision for 2002.

Nothing has been spent to date, it does not exist.

I do not know what has been spent to date. I am just telling the Deputy that the provision is €254,000, which is all I can say.

That is for 2002?

That is very little. Presumably, it is not provided for until December.

It is a Parole Board, whose function is to make decisions about releases of long-term prisoners. It is not running a travel agency.

What is the number of the subhead for the programme?

I do not have it. It is incidental. We are to have a review of the strategic direction of the victim support organisation shortly.

My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary Wallace, has been dealing with the Disability Bill, 2001. Last month, the Government agreed to undertake a further consultation on the Bill, which was published in December of last year, in response to concerns raised by disabilities groups regarding some of its key provisions, including those dealing with enforcement and the new arrangements for the assessment of need. Arrangements for the consultation process are being put in place and disabilities groups have been written to and invited to participate. The views of all interested parties are being sought, in the form of written submissions to the consultation team. The team is being established under the chairmanship of my Department. Arrangements for the consultation team are being finalised and it is expected to comprise of five members, including the Assistant Secretary, Ms Langford, a person with a disability and three others with legal, social and economic expertise. The consultation team is being asked to examine the key proposals of the disabilities groups in relation to disability legislation, in particular the 2001 Bill.

Additionally, the National Disability Authority will facilitate a process of dialogue through the establishment of a representative group of people with disabilities, their families, carers and service providers. The representative group will report its findings to the consultation team. This approach will facilitate a broad-based, comprehensive consultation being carried out within the shortest possible timeframe.

Acting Chairman

I do not want to cut short proceedings, but it is now 9 o'clock.

With regard to matters generally, we did more than most of our critics.