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Wednesday, 28 Feb 2007

Prisons Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Committee Stage (Resumed).

I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his officials to the meeting, the purpose of which is to resume our consideration of Committee Stage of the Prisons Bill 2006. We adjourned yesterday having completed section 17. We will resume on section 18. It was agreed informally yesterday that we would try to conclude our deliberations by 10.30 a.m.


Question proposed: "That section 18 stand part of the Bill."

I wish to indicate that we intend to table amendments to Part 4 of the Bill, particularly this section, on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 19 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 36 to 38, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 18, subsection (1), between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

"(b) the Oireachtas,”.

This amendment is designed to give the Oireachtas a role in the process. It would be appropriate that the Minister should give notice of a development not only to members of the relevant planning authority and members of the public but also the Oireachtas. A system should be put in place for notifying the Oireachtas.

Subsection (2) was the outcome of our effort to achieve the result sought by the Deputy, namely, that a notice should be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. It is more or less the same idea.

That is acceptable.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 20 stand part of the Bill."

I wish to give notice that while I did not table an amendment on Committee Stage, I am seeking a way to put in place a more transparent system of planning. Therefore, I will be tabling an amendment to the appropriate section in Part 4 on Report Stage. I wish to inform the Minister that said amendment will seek to involve An Bord Pleanála or some other entity with planning expertise in the process. Will he indicate whether the rapporteur to be appointed will require specific qualifications or could an official, for example, of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform fill the position?

I do not know the answer to the Deputy's question. I have not arrived at a decision as to the qualifications that will be appropriate for the rapporteur.

If I table an amendment, perhaps we might tease the matter out on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 21 and 22 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 19, subsection (2), line 24, to delete "consider only" and substitute "take account only of".

Can the Minister give us an indication of the import of changing "consider only" to "take account only of"?

Amendment No. 37 is a Government amendment which requires the taking into account of submissions rather than simply considering them.

What does that mean in legal terms?

I do not know, to be honest.

It sounds stronger at any rate.

It sounds slightly stronger and the Parliamentary Counsel preferred it.

We will not take issue with the Parliamentary Counsel.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 23, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 24 and 25 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 21, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) The Minister may also, before moving the draft resolution, cause a document containing his or her observations on any of the documents mentioned in subsection (2) to be so laid.”.

The amendment requires the Minister, before moving the draft resolution, to cause a document containing his or her observations on any of the documents to be laid also. The Minister must come out, so to speak, on the issues raised in the documentation.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 26, as amended, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 27 stand part of the Bill."

Section 27 contains provisions similar to those found in planning legislation. It confines people to a judicial review procedure rather than allow them to begin plenary actions. It is designed to ensure a challenge is dealt with on the basis of judicial review proceedings. As such, the provisions are strategic. They are not designed to keep people out of the system, but to ensure there is one prescribed route for actions to invalidate planning permission, that is, to apply to the High Court for judicial review.

What will be the practical effects? Is it the case that judicial review is quicker and focuses on the essential points at issue more efficiently?

The amendment restricts the class or kind of individual who can seek judicial review. It leaves the matter to someone substantially affected by the development.

An applicant must have an interest and substantial grounds before challenging. One will not simply be able to issue a plenary summons.

Is that not a matter for the court to determine?

It is. Subsection (3) sets out that the court must be satisfied that there are substantial grounds for contesting the act done.

That is fine but the Minister has already qualified the provision by saying an application may be made only by persons substantially affected by the development. Any citizen who wants to argue a case in law before the High Court should be given his or her day in court. I would have thought the Tánaiste, uniquely, would have supported that view.

I do not. It is odd, currently, that anybody anywhere in Ireland can object to a project.

Third party applications are a separate issue under planning legislation. The position is not uniform throughout the rest of Europe.

They could be guests of the nation in the new establishment at some stage. Will the Minister indicate who will come within the ambit of the phrase "those substantially affected"? Would a person have to live in the neighbourhood where the development was taking place? What will be the qualifying barrier to be overcome?

I do not see why somebody in County Donegal should be able to object to the building of a prison in County Wexford, or vice versa.

I am sure no one would.

Why should such a person decide that while he or she had no locus standi especially, except generally as a citizen, he or she wished to quash judicially permission for a development?

What would give a person locus standi?

It will be a matter for the court to interpret what provides locus standi or constitutes a personal interest in a matter. If nobody with a personal interest or direct involvement in a matter chooses to object to a development, why should we allow someone from the other end of the country the right to object instead?

What about a person with an active record in prison reform? Would Valerie Bresnihan, a person with a significant interest in prison reform, qualify as a substantially affected person?

No. This is a planning and location issue rather than a matter concerning the philosophy of prisons and rehabilitation.

It could involve the design and layout of a prison.

It is not for the Judiciary to intervene to say it knows better on prison design than the Executive and the Oireachtas. It is a question of the separation of powers. If the Oireachtas has adopted a scheme, I do not see how it falls to the Judiciary to outline a preferred set of details.

The Minister should have a chat with some of his colleagues in the Judiciary. They have such notions.

The provisions are not unprecedented. Under section 50 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, it is provided that leave shall not be granted, unless the High Court is satisfied that there are substantial grounds for contending that a decision is invalid or ought to be quashed and that the applicant has a substantial interest in the matter which is the subject of the application. That is the law.

That is provided for in general planning law. I take it the Minister will not be building that many prisons.

We will not be building all that many more. I do not want to give broader latitude. I am trying to ensure we will not be sucked into litigation in instances where people wish to argue about cell design in general and to have a judge take a different view from the Oireachtas and Government of the day. There is judicial review to rectify failures in process, not to question fundamental policy.

I will still oppose the section.

Fair enough. The Deputy understands it.

Question put and declared carried.
Sections 28 and 29 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 23, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) Where immediately before the commencement of this section a person held office as Inspector of Prisons, he or she shall become and be the first Inspector of Prisons pursuant to this section upon such commencement.".

I am sure the Minister will have no difficulty accepting this amendment which seeks to include a new subsection as set out. Many Deputies have high regard for the current Inspector of Prisons, Mr. Justice Kinlen, and it would be appropriate to allow for continuity when the office is placed on a statutory footing.

I support the amendment. The current Inspector of Prisons took on a tough job. As with anyone who has to ruffle Establishment feathers periodically, Mr. Justice Kinlen may not be popular in every quarter but he has taken a very clear view of what needs to be said and done. Apart from paying tribute to him for the manner in which he has carried out a difficult job, there is a case for confirming our appreciation by causing his appointment as first statutory holder of the office to perform the work he has been doing on an ad hoc basis.

The amendment would add a new subsection to section 30 to ensure the person holding office as Inspector of Prisons immediately prior to the commencement of the section would become the first statutory inspector. The effect would be to have the current inspector appointed on the commencement date of this section. We are creating a new office and I wish to consider whether Mr. Justice Kinlen is the appropriate person to appoint.

Does the Minister have an open mind on the matter?

I am very well disposed towards Mr. Justice Kinlen.

Even though he called the Minister a fascist.

There are suggestions that some of the feathers ruffled by Mr. Justice Kinlen were ministerial ones.

Nobody understands that Mr. Justice Kinlen and I are very good personal friends who go back a long way. I have no personal animus against him. In fact, I am very fond of the judge.

Did the Minister agree with him when he said the Minister's attitude was frightening and fascist?

I told him I thought his language was a little over the top in that instance but he is entitled to his views. He is a person for whom I have great time.

One needs one's best friend to tell one such things.

Exactly. The best advice sometimes comes from one's closest friends. I do not think it would be appropriate to include such a clause. I am not excluding the appointment of Mr. Justice Kinlen as the first inspector under this section of the Bill.

There are some very interesting quotes in the report issued by the Inspector of Prisons. For example, he argues that it is "no wonder the 'Dubs' and 'Culchies' attack each other" in St. Patrick's Institution because "there is not much else to do in this home of boredom".

That is a very good point. I could give many other quotes from Mr. Justice Kinlen's reports if I wanted to balance the scales. His reports are always a riveting read.

If I said some of the things he has said, I would be the subject of major obloquy.

Is the Minister opposing amendment No. 39?

Does he have anything to say on the issue of continuity?

Section 30(3) states: "The term of office of a person appointed to be Inspector of Prisons shall be such term, not exceeding 5 years, as the Minister may determine at the time of the appointment". The exact amount of time for which Mr. Justice Kinlen would be appointed, if he were to be appointed, would be a matter for the Minister of the day to decide. If I were in office, I would have to examine the issue carefully. I do not know what Mr. Justice Kinlen's personal circumstances are. I do not know whether a five-year appointment would be appropriate in the circumstances. I do not want to get into all of that.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 30 stand part of the Bill."

Sinn Féin intends to propose a number of amendments to section 30 on Report Stage.

That is acceptable.

Question put and agreed to.

As amendments Nos. 41 to 43, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 45 to 47, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 40, and amendment No. 44 is an alternative to amendment No. 43, amendments Nos. 40 to 47, inclusive, may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 24, subsection (1)(c), line 15, to delete “inspection” and substitute “inspection,”.

I have tabled a number of technical amendments to section 31.

It seems the Deputy is trying to amend the drafting of the Bill.

I will defer to the advice of the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.

I will consider the amendments in advance of Report Stage. I do not intend to get involved in a debate about grammar.

I will not participate in grammatical gymnastics. My adviser has an interest in these matters. He will be happy if the Parliamentary Counsel has a look at the amendments,

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 41 to 43, inclusive, not moved

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 24, subsection (3), line 26, after "Oireachtas" to insert "and to be published".

This amendment restores to the Bill the words "and to be published" which were accidentally omitted during the amending process in the Seanad. I wish to make clear that I intend to publish all the reports.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 45 not moved.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 24, subsection (6), lines 39 to 41, to delete all words from and including "but" in line 39 down to and including "Act" in line 41 and substitute the following:

"but he or she may examine the circumstances relating to the complaint where necessary for performing his or her functions".

This amendment is necessary for the same reason as amendment No. 44.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 47 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 31, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Sinn Féin will table a number of amendments to this section on Report Stage.

That is agreed.

Question put and agreed to.

If amendment No. 48 is agreed, amendments Nos. 49 and 50 cannot be moved because they are alternatives to amendment No. 48. Therefore, amendments Nos. 48 to 50, inclusive, may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 25, lines 20 to 22, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:

"(3) The Minister shall, within 3 months of receiving a report under this section, cause a copy of it to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.".

This amendment relates to the timeframe in which the annual report of the Inspector of Prisons will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I suggest the Minister should cause such a report to be laid before the Oireachtas within three months of receiving it. The current Inspector of Prisons has indicated that there have been significant delays in publishing some of his reports. It has been suggested his reports are being sat on. They should be sent to the Oireachtas — it is simply a question of providing for a reasonable time limit of three months.

This strikes me as a reasonable proposition. The reports of the current Inspector of Prisons are often sat on in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for a very long time before being selectively leaked or commented on. There should be a clear statutory process for the receipt and publication of these important documents.

One report was delayed — every other report has been published promptly — after I was advised that it contained material which was defamatory of a third party. I asked the inspector whether he had to say these things in his report. He told me I could delete the parts of the report which I considered to be defamatory. I said to him that as it was his report, it was up to him to make a decision on the matter. We had a little head-to-head on the matter which was eventually referred to the Office of the Attorney General in order that counsel could consider whether the relevant part of the report was defamatory. When I was advised that it was, I got counsel to delete it. The inspector did not want to do so because he did not think the report was defamatory. As I was advised that it was, I asked an independent counsel to delete the relevant part, which took some time. That was the only time there was a delay.

We are proposing that a process be provided for. If such an impediment to publication were to arise again, the Minister could explain to the Dáil what was going on and seek leave to defer publication of the report until the difficulty had been overcome. People get suspicious when reports of this nature are not published without a clear explanation being given.

If anybody had asked me a parliamentary question about why the report was not being published, I would have given an explanation. Perhaps such a question was tabled. If such circumstances recur, I would be unable to comply with the provisions of this amendment. If I had published the report after I had edited it which would not have been appropriate, it would not have been the inspector's report. Publication of the report took longer than I had anticipated as a consequence of the circumstances on that occasion. I refer to the stand-off about who should make the amendments, if they were to be made. I have always been prompt in the publication of reports.

How does the Minister define "prompt"? How long do we normally have to wait for the publication of reports received by him? It is not satisfactory to have to table a Dáil question to elicit a response, given that Dáil questions are not dealt with, even for written reply, during a recess. Extracts from the Bermingham report on the case of Mr. Dean Lyons were published in the Evening Herald in the middle of last August. The final report had been fully completed and received by the Minister in the previous months. When it was referred to in the Evening Herald, its publication was a matter of logistics, to be undertaken at the Minister’s pleasure.

That is totally untrue. Mr. Bermingham contacted me at the end of July, after he had completed the report. He said he wanted to be in a position to talk to the family of Mr. Dean Lyons before publishing the report. I said I would have it printed. Mr. Bermingham said he was about to go on holidays but that he would be back in September for a particular reason. It would take between two to three weeks to print and check that the report was in order. Mr. Bermingham wanted to have an opportunity to speak to the family of Mr. Dean Lyons and was also leaving the country to go on holiday. For those reasons I held the report over.

The Minister is missing the basic point

This is not a debating point, this is the truth.

No, the basic point—

I held the report in order to facilitate Mr. Bermingham's discussion of it with the family of Mr. Dean Lyons.

The basic point is that the report was completed and at that stage in July 2006 it was no longer a draft report.

The Deputy is missing the point. His articles in the Evening Herald quoted from the draft report. There were differences in the text of the final report.

My point is that the report was completed in July 2006. As a consequence of Mr. Bermingham handing the report to the Minister, he was functus officio. The commission of investigation had ended and as provided for in the Act, he was functus officio. This occurred in July of last year, at which stage the final report was on the Minister’s desk. If a report was on the Minister’s desk, as it was in this case, the commission was no longer in operation. How long can a report lie on the Minister’s desk? The Minister is justifying the situation. However, should we not ensure that the process would not go on for ever and that there is an obligation to publish it expeditiously.


The Minister remarked that if a member of the Opposition wants to raise an issue, he or she can table a parliamentary question. However, that cannot be done when the Dáil is not in session. There is no other process for getting that information when the Dáil is in recess.

In late July the Dáil was in recess. Any suggestion that the report was delayed until the Dáil was in recess is not true.

The Minister is missing the point.

I am not missing the point. I do not want to muddy the waters or create mischief. In late July, Mr. George Bermingham came to my office and presented me with the final report in disk form and a number of copies for me and my officials. At that point I asked him when he would like it to be published. He told me that he wished to discuss the report with the—

Why did the Minister ask him "When would you like it to be published"?

I asked out of politeness when he would like it to be published. He said that one thing he wanted to do before it was published was to have the opportunity to discuss the report with the family of Dean Lyons to explain it to them and to confer with them. His reply when I asked him how long that would take was that he was going away on holidays but that he would be back towards the end of August or early September. I believe it had something to do with exam results.

As it would take approximately two weeks to have it printed, we fixed on a date in September for the report to be sent to the Government printers, having allowed Mr. Bermingham the opportunity to have a chat with the family of Dean Lyons. I did not delay the report and I had no reason to do so.

I want to make clear also that I had no hand, act or part in the decision to refer all these matters to the Garda Síochána. I was merely informed of it when I was on holidays in August.

Will the Minister answer two questions?

I will answer them but may I finish? The important point is that this was the first time the commissions of investigation legislation had been operated. Part of the architecture of the legislation is that people do not have the right to cross-examine each other and there is no adversarial practice in the procedure. If something is said that could affect the reputation of a person, that person must have the opportunity to see it in draft form before it is made public. The individual concerned has a right to go back to the inspector and ask him or her to correct it. If the inspector does not agree to amend it to do justice to the person, he or she has the right to go to court to save his or her reputation. That is part of the commissions of investigation legislation.

It was provided for that the draft be circulated confidentially so that everybody who was affected——

At that stage the report would have been the conclusion of that entire process.

Yes, but what was quoted in the Evening Herald was from the draft report and it was materially different.

Would the Minister accept---

May I finish? The reason the officials knew it was from the draft report was that they noticed it was the text that had been circulated that was appearing in the newspapers. There were quotes in the draft report that were not in the final report.

The seriousness of the situation is that if the new system is to work — and if people were to be denied what would ordinarily be the right to challenge witnesses face to face, cross-examination and so on — the keystone of the architecture of this new provision is that the parties would be given an opportunity in confidence to see what would be said about them and to ask for an amendment, and if necessary to go to the High Court to force an amendment on the inspector. This period of confidentially circulating the draft is central to the architecture of the law. It is the means by which we can sweep away all the adversarial procedure which creates problems. As I understand it, when it became clear to the Secretary General that the draft was being circulated, the first question was whether it had fallen off a lorry or whether the final report had leaked, in which case it would not be a matter of great significance.

It would not be a major criminal offence to publish the final report that fell off the printer's lorry. However, it would be a major criminal offence to circulate a draft because it subverts the whole idea that people have an opportunity to have the report corrected. That was the view taken by the Secretary General when it became clear to him that the draft was in circulation ——

Would the Minister accept---

We are straying beyond the Bill.

It is related to my amendment.

I will allow another brief question but we do not want a full debate on the matter.

Does the Minister accept that section 37 applies in a situation where a draft report is furnished by the commission to a person for his or her comments and that the offence is committed by that person if he or she breaches that confidentiality? Does he accept that no draft was furnished by the commission of investigation to the journalist in question? Therefore, the journalist did not get a draft from the commission and section 37 specifically states that the confidentiality is to be observed by the person who gets the draft from the commission.

Does the Minister not accept that the breach of the confidentiality aspect arose during the period when the commission had sent the drafts to one or more people and when the commission then completed its job? Does the Minister not accept that the commission had completed its job, had finalised the report and had submitted it to him?

In those circumstances how can the Minister suggest that there is a case when a journalist who did not get a draft report from the commission, or was not asked to comment on a draft report by the commission, came into possession of documents subsequent to the finalisation of the report? How could that be a matter for a major investigation by the Minister?

Does the Deputy want me to answer or does he want to keep talking? I will give a straight answer in order to finish this. The purpose in producing a draft is that people can have things which are damaging to their interests corrected. It is not simply that it has no status. It is a confidential document and it is a serious criminal offence for anybody who receives it to circulate it to a third party. That is the beginning, middle and end of it.

What section makes this a criminal offence?

Under section 37, it is a serious criminal offence——

For the person who receives the document?

Will the Deputy let me finish? I get his point. However, he seems to be ignoring the fact that if we were to allow everybody who had received a copy of a draft report to circulate it, whether the final report had been produced, it would undermine the principle of confidentiality. Confidentiality does not end. Let us suppose a draft contained something grossly unfair about one person and that person had written to George Bermingham asking that he correct it. The document is confidential. George Bermingham is entitled to correct it and put the corrected version in the public domain. Nobody is permitted to put in the public domain or publish the unfair draft. That is central to the whole matter.

We understand all that.

Will the Minister clarify that the restriction applies to the person who receives the document?

On the Deputy's second point, I am not in charge of the investigation but will make one point in regard to it. the Deputy has been long enough in Skibbereen District Court and other places to know that there is such a thing as aiding and abetting the commission of an offence.

If one is raising an issue with the State, that is fair enough. We are totally straight.

If I may, I should like to intervene. I have been patient.

The point could be dealt with if the Minister wanted to do so.

Clearly, the principal offence under section 37 is committed by the person who receives the draft in confidence.


It is the only area where, as far as I can see from the outside, there is a major offence.

I will allow Deputy Howlin to make a brief point.

I thank the Chair for rewarding my patience. I do not want to go into that area, as it would be dangerous to go into the specifics of it. The comments of the Minister are unhelpful in terms of the notion of aiding and abetting a crime. Let whatever arises take its course. I want to deal with the policy side of the matter.

The Minister has made a robust and credible defence for the architecture of a new form of inquiry, to which we all want to subscribe because it would be more efficient and cheaper. However, it must also have the elements of constitutional fairness. I am interested in the process. I will bring it back to the Bill, because we went off on a tangent on the basis of the publication of reports. On the alert given to the Minister, I am very surprised. Having been an officeholder, I do not recall any instance where, in order to protect a policy, the Secretary General of a Department took the initiative and informed the Minister without asking for the Minister's consent. It strikes me as most unusual that a Minister, particularly a Minister as clearly in charge as the Tánaiste, would be told of a course of action that the Secretary General regarded as essential to protect the Minister's policy.

It was not a question of protecting my policy. It was a question of him upholding the law as he saw it.

What role does he have in upholding the law?

He said it should not be a matter of a policy decision for the Minister as to whether a complaint should be made in a particular circumstance, that in his view it was——

Was it a policy matter for himself?

Yes. He said that as the senior permanent official in my Department, he should make this decision. I totally support him in that view. It would be very strange if he rang me and told me that he thought a serious offence had been committed and I told him to do nothing about it. How would that appear to the Oireachtas?

Is the Minister permitted a view or even to question whether it is wise or necessary?

If the Minister felt he could say "No", was he asked notionally for consent?

No, I was not. I have made that clear.

Was the Minister asked for an opinion?

I was informed that he was taking this step. He specifically stated he thought it appropriate that I should not be involved in his decision.

Will the Minister explain why not?

The Minister has made his point. We will return to the Bill because, even though the subject is topical, I do not want a debate to develop on it.

In a way it reinforces my point that there should be an obligation to set some time limit for publication of the report.

The Deputies have teased out this matter enough.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 25, subsection (3), line 21, after "shall" to insert ", subject to subsection (4),”.

This is a drafting amendment confirming the application of section 32(4) to the laying before the Houses of the Oireachtas and the publication of the annual report by the Inspector of Prisons.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 25, subsection (3), line 22, after "Oireachtas" to insert "and to be published".

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 32, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Is the section agreed?

It is, subject to agreement on moving amendments on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 26, subsection (4), line 27, after "ecutions" to insert the following:

", or any combination of the prisoner, his or her legal representative and the Director of Public Prosecutions".

I am trying to decipher the way the section is presented. We are talking about section 33 which deals with applications to the court to be heard using a videolink.

It is the last part of the word "prosecutions". The second part is on line 27. That is what is causing confusion.

The way it was framed——

Perhaps I could shorten this by saying I will not be accepting the amendment.

What we are talking about is a case where on such an application the judge, if he or she considers it desirable in the interests of justice to do so, may require notice of the application to be given to the prisoner or his or her legal representative or, as the case may be, the Director of Public Prosecutions, or any combination of these.

It is not necessary to specify any combination. If any of them can be given notice, all of them can.

I accept that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 33 agreed to.
Section 34 agreed to.

We now come to amendment No. 52 in the name of the Minister. Amendment No. 56 is cognate. Amendments Nos. 52 and 56 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 28, subsection (5), line 38, to delete "(Ireland)".

We referred to the Penal Servitude Act 1891 as the "Penal Servitude (Ireland) Act 1891" by mistake.

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 35, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Is the section agreed?

Subject to agreement that amendments may be moved on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 36 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 53 to 55, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 29, to delete lines 16 to 26 and substitute the following:

"37.--(1) The Minister may provide, by prison rules or otherwise, that prisoners shall, subject to subsection (2), pay (whether directly or by way of credit deduction) for specified goods or services requested by them that are not available without charge to prisoners generally, including--

(a) telephone calls,

(b) access to electronic devices,

(c) private medical treatment, or

(d) escorts provided outside the prison for matters not related to the imprisonment of those prisoners,

but the payments or deductions shall not exceed the full cost of providing the goods or services.

(2) It shall be at the absolute discretion of the governor of a prison or an officer of the prison acting on his or her behalf, to charge a prisoner for specified goods or services under subsection (1)”.

This amendment proposes an alternative layout as to how the payment by prisoners for requested services may be dealt with. Is the Minister inclined to consider it?

I will have the Parliamentary Counsel examine it between now and Report Stage to see whether the Deputy's drafting is better or worse than mine.

I will be happy to withdraw the amendment on that basis. I am advised this is a better layout.

While we are on that subject, I intend to table an amendment to the legislation on Report Stage to outlaw the importation into prisons of mobile phones and parts and chargers for such phones.

Does the Minister mean mobile phones for use by prisoners?

Prison officers are not supposed to have them either.

Are they not?

What communications system is available to a prison officer who may be in a remote part of a prison?

One can have internal radio systems for prison officers but one cannot allow prisoners to have parts of phones. One can exclude them under the rules but it is my strong view that it should be a serious criminal offence to have a mobile phone in prison. There is an abundance of evidence that serious crime is frequently directed by mobile phone.

Can signals not be blocked?

That is happening. A system of blocking is being introduced but it may not be completely effective.

On a greenfield site it would surely be much easier to operate such a system.

It should be, but some of our prisons are not built on such sites. Some are near hospitals, for example. We must be very careful how we go about these matters.

There will be considerable support for the Minister on this point. The stories of drugs barons running their empires from prison cells are shocking. We look forward to an amendment along those lines.

It would be generally welcomed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 37 stand part of the Bill."

Pro tem I will say "No".

Is the Deputy pressing the issue?

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 38 and 39 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 30, line 17, to delete "(Ireland)".

I wish to give the select committee notice of my intention to introduce an amendment on Report Stage. Section 31 contains a reference to the Prison Service. I propose to put the word "Irish" before it. I will introduce an amendment to that effect on Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 40, as amended, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 41 stand part of the Bill."

Sinn Féin will introduce amendments to this section on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 42 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.

I thank the Minister, his officials and Deputies for their co-operation.