Page 2

Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill, 1996: Committee Stage (Resumed).
NEW SECTIONS.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 38:
In page 9, before section 10, to insert the following new section:
"10.—(1) Any person who has in his possession, whether lawfully or not, a controlled drug for the purpose of selling or otherwise supplying it to another, in contravention of regulations made under section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Acts. 1977 and 1984, with intent to obtain substantial monetary benefit shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) For the purpose of this section ‘substantial monetary benefit' means a payment of £10,000 or more whether made in money or goods or otherwise.
(3) A Court or jury as the case may be shall be entitled to hear in evidence the opinion of any Garda or Customs Officer as to the street value of the controlled drug in question in any case notwithstanding any rule of law or evidence to the contrary.
(4) Section 15(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, shall apply to an offence under subsection (I) of this section.
(5) In any proceedings for an offence under subsection (I) of this section, where it is proved that a person was in possession of a controlled drug he shall be presumed, until the court is satisfied to the contrary, to be in possession of that controlled drug with intent to obtain substantial monetary benefit.
(6) A person found guilty of an offence under subsection (I) of this section shall be liable on conviction to a fine of such amount as the court considers appropriate and/or at the discretion of the court to imprisonment for life or to such lesser period, subject to the provisions of subsection (7) of this section, as the court shall determine.
(7) Where a person (other than a child or young person) is convicted of an offence under subsection (I) of this section, the court shall in passing sentence specify as the minimum period of imprisonment to be served by that person a period of not less than 10 years imprisonment.
(8) The power conferred by section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1951, to commute or remit a punishment shall not, in the case of a person serving a sentence on him on conviction of an offence under subsection (I) of this section, be exercisable before the expiration of the minimum period specified by the court under subsection (7) less any reduction of that period under subsection (9) of this section.
(9) The rules of practice whereby prisoners generally may earn remission of sentence by industry and good conduct shall apply in the case of a person serving a sentence passed on him on conviction of an offence under subsection (I) of this section and the minimum period specified by the court under subsection (6) shall be reduced by the amount of any remission which he has so earned.
(10) Any powers conferred by rules made under section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1960 (including that section as applied by section 4 of the Prisons Act, 1970), to release temporarily a person serving a sentence of imprisonment shall not, in the case of a person serving a sentence passed on him on conviction of an offence under subsection (I) of this section, be exercisable during the period for which the commutation or remission of his punishment is prohibited by subsection (8) of this section unless for grave reasons of a humanitarian nature, and any release so granted shall be only of such limited duration as is justified by those reasons.
(11) A prosecution for an offence under subsection (I) of this section shall not be commenced without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.".
—(Deputy O'Donoghue.)

I would like to welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Currie, who is standing in for the Minister who is away on official business and who sent an apology for her inability to attend. This is, perhaps, our final day to debate the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill, 1996. On the last occasion we did not make much progress because of a number of divisions in the House. We resume our discussion on amendment No. 38 in the name of Deputy O'Donoghue, which we debated almost to the point of exhaustion on the last occasion.

As the Chairman said, we had an exhaustive debate on this amendment. Rather than delay the matter further, I will press the amendment to a division.

I take it that the Minister of State has no instruction beyond that stated by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, on the last occasion.

Amendment put.
The Select Committee divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 11.

Fitzgerald, Liam.

O'Donoghue, John.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Smith, Michael.

O'Dea, Willie.

Woods, Michael.

O'Donnell, Liz.

Níl

Byrne, Eric.

McDowell, Derek.

Creed, Michael.

McGrath, Paul.

Crowley, Frank.

Mulvihill, John.

Currie, Austin.

O'Keeffe, Jim.

Fitzgerald, Brian.

Timmins, Godfrey.

Flanagan, Charles.

Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 40, 41, 42 and 44 with amendment No. 39 form a composite proposal so these amendments will be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 9, before section 10, to insert the following new section:

"PART II

10.—(1) Where an accused person is before the District Court charged with an offence which is an offence specified in the Schedule to this Act the Judge shall, not later than the second appearance by the accused person before the court in respect of that charge, conduct an examination into whether the case is one which will be tried on indictment or by summary hearing.

(2) If, on the conclusion of the examination, the Judge is satisfied that the case must be heard on indictment (by reason of the election of the accused or the prosecutor in accordance with law or by reason of a finding that the offence is not a minor offence fit to be tried summarily) he shall forthwith send the accused person forward to the appropriate court for trial.

(3) A case which has been sent forward to the appropriate court for trial pursuant to subsection (2) of this section shall be listed for mention before the court of trial not later than 14 days from the date of the District Court Order returning the accused person for trial.

(4) On the date upon which the case is first listed for mention before the court of trial, or on a subsequent date not later than 28 days from the date on which the case was first listed for mention before the court of trial, the prosecutor shall cause the documents specified in section 11 of this Act to be served on the accused.".

The purpose of these amendments is to modernise criminal procedure. At present the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, governs the administrative conduct of indictable criminal offences. The time has come, particularly in the context of the Courts and Court Officers Act, to change criminal procedure to reflect modern society.

The system of preliminary examination is now superfluous to the conduct of a good, expeditious and fair criminal trial. As we approach the millenium, the 1967 Act, which provides that there be a preliminary hearing prior to an individual being sent forward for trial, becomes more outdated. Nothing could illustrate this better than the fact that a person who is accused of a serious and indictable offence may insist, at the preliminary examination stage in the District Court, on all the evidence or depositions being taken down by the District Court clerk in long hand. That is extraordinary in this modern age and it should be changed. This is not a conditional but an absolute right. The accused person in every criminal case has the right to have depositions taken. Fair minded and reasonable people would agree that this time consuming procedure has outlived its usefulness.

Any Act which, in this day and age, insists that evidence be transcribed in long hand by a District Court clerk has no place in our criminal justice system. In this context, an individual or an accused person who wants to manipulate the system can delay a criminal trail by many months if he or she so chooses by requiring the depositions about which I have spoken to be taken.

There is a plethora of remand hearings at District Court level where the District Justice remands an accused person time and again and this is clearly a waste of taxpayers' money. It is also a waste of scarce resources, particularly Garda resources, because gardaí must attend these hearings. This outdated and outmoded procedure has no place in a modern criminal justice system.

This system should be abolished. This block of amendments seeks to abolish the concept of preliminary examination and further, to recognise that it be replaced by a system which would provide for sending accused persons to trial at the earliest possible date. This is not happening in our criminal justice system at present.

Desirable as the transferring of the charge of rape was from the Circuit Court to the Central Criminal Court, we have seen a build up of delays in murder and rape cases. There are currently up to 80 cases awaiting trail in the Central Criminal Court. If a person was charged with a serious criminal offence, such as murder or rape, today and pleaded not guilty, it is unlikely that this individual will stand trial within two years. That is unacceptable.

It is of crucial importance that the judges who were to be appointed under the Court and Court Officers Act are appointed. However, even if that is done, the system still needs to be changed and modernised. Unless the procedure is modernised and updated, the appointment of judges of itself will not resolve the problem with the delays presently extant in our system.

This block of amendments ensures fairness to the accused person by providing that certain documents will be served on him so that he will not be coming to trial at any disadvantage. We propose that the prosecutor will cause documents to be served on the accused and that these would include a statement of the charges against him, a copy of any sworn information in writing upon which the proceedings were initiated, a list of witnesses whom it is proposed to call at the trial, a statement of the evidence to be given by each of them and a list of exhibits. We also provide that the accused shall have the right to inspect all exhibits and that copies of all documents will also be furnished to the court. Furthermore, we provide that there will be an obligation to furnish these documents so that the accused will have the opportunity to put forward his defence.

In this context, the service of the documents would largely replace the present system of preliminary examination. If a person feels there is no prima facie case against him or her, there would be nothing to prevent them saying this at the court of trial and, if that is the case, the judge would have the opportunity of stating that no such case exists.

There is no sound, rational or valid argument for retaining the preliminary examination procedure in Irish criminal law. A cursory glance at the number of preliminary examinations where the application of the accused is successful will show that it is only in a tiny percentage of cases and that the function of deciding whether a prima facie case exists against an accused person can as easily, and far more speedily, be resolved by the trial judge.

Naturally, it is consequential that we provide for the amendment of section 20 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984. Amendment No. 42 also provides that a trial of any offence referred to in the Schedule of this Act — we referred to sections 15, 17, 19 and 20 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, or offences of drug dealing in the Schedule — because of the seriousness of these kind of offences, any trial will be tried by the court not later than 90 days from the date of the accused person's first appearance before the District Court unless a High Court Judge grants an extension of that period. We also provide that the judge will not grant such an extension unless he satisfied by evidence presented on affidavit or orally, if directed by the judge, that there is a good and substantial reason the extension should be granted. No extension granted will be for longer than a period of 30 days. Either the prosecutor or the accused can make this application.

This block of amendments provides for the abolition of the old and archaic preliminary examination procedure, the speedy hearing of drug related trials and a fast track court system which will ensure that people are brought to justice at the earliest opportunity. The present situation is untenable. We cannot proceed as we have been doing. The numbers of cases coming before the Central Criminal Court, while varying from day to day and week to week, are now substantial and the system is creaking under the weight of what could be described as procedures which are far more applicable and appropriate to a Victorian age than to the new millennium.

I support these amendments. The Progressive Democrats moved a Bill in Private Members' time which comprised similar amendments to our present procedures. It is well known and accepted that delays in criminal justice trials, and criminal trials in particular, undermine justice. With long delays before criminal trials are heard, witnesses become unable and evidence less credible and it causes a range of difficulties, particularly with the families of the victims of criminal trials. They are excluded from the beginning and throughout the criminal process from the entire procedure. They are not told about these procedural wrangles and are not kept informed of the various delays which dog the procedure from start to finish. As Deputy O'Donoghue said, it can take up to two years for a murder trial to be heard. There are enough delays in the system as it is, given the shortage of judges and the backlog of family matters which are clogging up the system. This will become worse with the introduction of a divorce jurisdiction.

The Progressive Democrats support the modernisation of criminal procedures so that delay can be minimised. I agree with Deputy O'Donoghue that the preliminary examination procedure is archaic and needs to be updated. Even the accused is entitled to a speedy trial. For the smooth conduct of justice, settling the matter for the victims and from the criminal's point of view, delay should be minimised. These amendments will do that. They are similar to provisions we put forward in Private Members' Bills and I have no hesitation supporting them.

The effect of these amendments would be to abolish preliminary hearings in drug trafficking cases. The question of preliminary hearings has been discussed at length on a number of occasions in the House recently and I do not propose to go over that ground again. During our debate on Deputy O'Donoghue's Criminal Procedure Bill, the Minister for Justice mentioned that, in the light of Deputy O'Donnell's Bill — to which she has just referred and which took a different approach — and her own review of the subjects, she was prepared to consider referring this matter to the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, which had previously recommended against the abolition of preliminary hearings. The committee, through its chairman Mr. Justice Blaney, has recently been asked to look at the matter. In particular, it has been asked to review and make recommendations as soon as possible on the preliminary examination procedure, including the extent, if any, of the delay occasioned by the procedure; the circumstances in which an accused or the prosecution should be entitled to request sworn depositions and the question of restricting the right to apply for sworn depositions in cases where that option is exercised; the necessity for the current practice with respect to the preparation of Books of Evidence and the delays occasioned thereby; whether the preliminary examination should be abolished, or abolished and replaced with a different system and any other aspects of the present practice and procedure governing the hearing of indictable offences in the Circuit Court which give rise to unnecessary delay. I am sure the Members of the committee will appreciate that, in advance of receiving the committee's expert view, the Minister could not accept a change of the kind proposed in the amendments.

It is unfortunate the Minister has decided to refer this matter to a committee. It appears that every positive proposal which comes from this side of the House is referred to a committee — subcommittees, interdepartmental committees, commissions or joint committees. That is not acceptable. On one memorable occasion the Minister for Justice stated in the Dáil that, not only was a criminal procedure Bill needed to amend the criminal justice system, but in all probability one was needed every year. The Minister did not produce a criminal procedure Bill in 1995, it does not appear as if, with this committee, she will have produced a criminal procedure Bill in 1996 and I doubt if she will produce one in 1997, if she is still Minister for Justice. This means she will never have the opportunity to produce a criminal procedure Bill.

These amendments were drafted and set out in clear terms to provide for a fast track trial system in drug dealing cases and the abolition of an archaic and arcane criminal procedure. I am left with little choice but to press the amendments. It would be unfair to the Members of the committee if I were to press the amendments separately. To register my party's protest, I propose to press amendment No. 39 to a vote. To accommodate and facilitate Members, we will not look for a vote on the remaining composite amendments.

On the basis that all amendments form a composite proposal, one decision will suffice in respect of all the amendments. They can all be pressed by one division.

If they can be pressed by one division, that is what I intend to do.

That is appropriate.

I support Deputy O'Donoghue's proposals. He is trying to deal with a situation which is faced by the community. The Minister suggests looking at the situation, thinking about it and waiting to hear what the committee has to say. This Bill is about the manufacture, trans-shipment and importation of drugs. These are serious crimes and serious allegations against an individual. It is natural that the community, as reflected in what Deputy O'Donoghue is saying, will want to see people brought to justice within a reasonable time. This is not the practice at the moment. People trading in drugs are free to go on trading while their cases meander through the courts. We deal with them as if they were cases of no particular significance. However, they are of great significance to the people living in blocks of flats and areas under pressure from people who supply drugs. The Minister suggests putting the problem off for another day, not tackling it now.

In amendment No. 42, Deputy O'Donoghue suggests the trial of the accused shall commence not later than 90 days, approximately three months, from the date of the accused's first appearance. That period can be extended, according to the amendment, by a further month, approximately another 30 days. This is a four month stay while all the preliminaries are attended to. That would seem to be more than adequate time to make all the preliminary preparations and to ensure a person is heard. We are dealing with people who will continue to manufacture, import and traffic drugs in the meantime; there is not even the suggestion that they might do it. We know from the recent case of Anthony Felloni that he continued to deal once he was at liberty in the community and that was not going to stop until he was finally sent down.

This is of great importance to people in the community but the Minister is backed by a majority who will vote against this Opposition proposal, moved by Deputy O'Donoghue of Fianna Fáil and supported by the Progressive Democrats, and that will put the matter back for another few years. If this is ultimately defeated, the Minister should not simply refer the matter to the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. Before that committee makes a decision, it should be asked to come to the centre city, areas in my constituency, or other parts of Dublin or Cork to see the devastation being created every day by these drug traffickers. The committee members should observe the problem and not make nice, remote decisions in a vacuum which do not relate to the damage these people are doing.

Deputy O'Donoghue has provided for reasonable periods for these preliminary stages — initially three months and a possible extension to four months. We must seriously examine the problem and the Minister should ask those who will be considering court practice and procedures to see what is happening, what they will be talking about, what the effect will be and why the Opposition has moved these amendments. If one asked members of the community what they would do, they would not allow the time Deputy O'Donoghue provides for here — they would want urgent attention applied.

I unequivocally support Deputy O'Donoghue's proposal. The old saying "justice delayed is justice denied" was never more applicable than to the circumstances outlined. When one considers the delays of up to two years because of the procedures laid down, which are almost totally irrelevant, urgent attention must be given to reforming this area.

Deputy O'Donoghue has put forward sensible amendments to the procedures which have been in operation for a number of years. Amendment No. 42 provides that a trial for any offence specified in the Schedule to the Bill shall commence not later than 90 days from the date of the accused's first appearance before the District Court. That is a reasonable period.

Until this area is reformed it must be repeated that great damage can be done by the accused during the period from the date of the first hearing until the final trial, whether the accused has been charged with murder or drug trafficking. It is not too emotive to say that there is potential for death. The most recent case featuring a major drugs operator points to that — in many cases, no sooner is the person let out on bail than he gets back into business to further feather his nest and stack up more ill-gotten gains. The necessity to urgently reform this area cannot be over-stressed given the damage being caused to our citizens by drug offences.

I am disappointed that the Minister's response to Deputy O'Donoghue's amendments is to refer them to another committee. I am sure she would admit she does not look back on the last year with great pride, in terms of committee reports, findings and commitments to act on findings which were not ultimately followed up. However, in her absence I will not dwell on that. I am not impressed with the decision, made by her and communicated by the Minister representing her, not to deal with this promptly. We must recognise that what is happening as a result of inordinate and unnecessary delays is not acceptable in this society and that action must be taken now. The action proposed in this amendment is reasonable, sensible and logical and I fully support it.

The recent case of Mr. Felloni, referred to by Deputy Woods, is a microcosm of all that is wrong with the criminal justice system. Two factors stand out. First, the bail laws are far too liberal but I will not go into that because it is not related to this amendment. Second, the period between an individual being charged and facing trial is far too long. If the Felloni case showed anything it was that these are facts of life in the Irish criminal justice system as we approach the next millennium.

This amendment tries in an honest, straightforward way and within the parameters of the Constitution to address the second problem I mentioned — the delays in criminal justice trials. It is difficult to believe that, as our drugs subculture is ever increasing, a dealer in hard drugs like heroin — a dealer in death — can walk the streets on bail for two years before justice is meted out to him. This is not just wrong in itself, it is morally wrong in so far as our young people are concerned because it opens up the possibility that people like Felloni can attract, woo and entice more of them into the death trap that is heroin addiction.

It is unfair to the gardaí, whose morale must surely be sapped by seeing a person who engages in the lowest form of trade walking the streets of this city despite their best efforts, all because our criminal procedure, bail laws and trial system allow that to happen. It is also unfair to the community at large, who funds the criminal justice system. It amounts to nothing less than a bizarre scandal. That is the truth, it cannot be denied and it is why I insist on pushing these amendments — I would be doing less than my duty if I did otherwise.

The Minister of State may respond by asking why something was not done about this before. It is true the procedures have not been adequate for some time but the drugs subculture is growing at an alarming rate. When the 1967 Act came into law we did not have a drugs subculture to any great extent. The criminal law of any country must reflect the mores of the time and the age in which they are framed. It is the duty of the Government to implement change — not change for change's sake but change before this problem engulfs the country.

The Deputy said he does not want change for change's sake and the Minister is determined on that point. Thus, the Minister has taken the decision which I have announced to refer this matter to the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure and to ask that committee to make recommendations as soon as possible. The Deputy knows this is not a simple matter and that the specialist opinion of that committee is required. We hope to have it as quickly as possible.

The obvious question to ask is why was something not done before. The Deputy suggests the drug culture has increased and changed very much in recent times. I am not aware it has changed so much in the 18 months since his party was last in Government. The difference is that we are seriously trying to grapple with these problems and we are making progress. Deputy O'Donoghue described the Felloni case as a microcosm of all that is wrong with our justice system. That Mr. Felloni received a 20 year sentence suggests that there is something right with the justice system.

Deputy Woods suggested that, before the committee takes a decision, it visits the inner city area to see the problem on the ground. It is up to the committee what it does in relation to the decisions or recommendations it makes. If it takes the Deputy's advice I doubt those areas will appear to be very much different to when his party was in Government.

When the Minister indicated that she was considering referring this matter to the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, she said she would send that committee copies of contributions in the Dáil so that it could take Deputies' views into account. She has already done that and I know Deputies' views will be taken into account. I will arrange for the views expressed today to be communicated to the committee.

Amendment put.
The Select Committee divided: Tá, 6; Níl, 12.

Fitzgerald, Liam.

O'Donnell, Liz.

Kenneally, Brendan.

O'Donoghue, John.

O'Dea, Willie.

Woods, Michael.

Níl

Byrne, Eric.

Kemmy, Jim.

Currie, Austin.

McDowell, Derek.

Finucane, Michael.

McGrath, Paul.

Fitzgerald, Brian.

Mulvihill, John.

Fitzgerald, Frances.

O'Keeffe, Jim.

Flanagan, Charles.

Timmins, Godfrey.

Amendment declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 40 to 42, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 9, before section 10, to insert the following new section:

"PART III

14.—(1) Any power conferred by rules made under section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1960 to release temporarily a person serving a sentence of imprisonment, penal servitude or detention shall not be exercised in respect of a prisoner serving a sentence for an offence specified in the Schedule to this Act unless for grave reasons of a humanitarian nature and any release so granted shall only be of such limited duration as is justified by those reasons.

(2) The name of any prisoner released by the Minister for Justice pursuant to powers conferred by section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1960 shall be published in Iris Oifigiúilnot later than 14 days after the date on which the Order was made together with a statement of the offence or offences in respect of which the sentence was being served, the length of time left to run in that sentence and the period for which the release has been granted.”.

This amendment provides that any power conferred by rules made under section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1960, to release temporarily a person serving a sentence of imprisonment, penal servitude or detention will not be exercised in respect of offences specified in the Schedule to this Bill. The offences in the Schedule refer to drug dealing.

It is clear that some crimes are so serious that it is inappropriate and downright wrong that those convicted of them should be released on temporary release, save in exceptional circumstances for humanitarian reasons. Everybody would agree that drug trafficking is an extremely serious offence. No person convicted of drug trafficking should be released on temporary release and this amendment ensures that any such person would not be given temporary release.

The scandal of temporary release, where the revolving door policy has become an open door policy, should not apply to drug traffickers. This amendment gives the Government and the Minister the opportunity to send clear signals to drug traffickers in Irish society and abroad that if they commit such an offence and are convicted in this country they will go to prison for a very long time. Not only will they go to prison but they will stay in prison until they have served their debt to society and are made an example of to others who might be of like mind.

In this respect it is regrettable that the earlier amendment was defeated. It sought to provide for a minimum ten year sentence for people convicted of offences involving a substantial monetary gain and which are drug related. The Minister of State outlined that Felloni received a 20 year sentence and that this showed there was something right with the system. However, as I have pointed out in the past, in 1993 there were 71 drug related cases in the courts and the average sentence was less than two years. In only one of those cases was there a sentence of more than ten years; that is the most recent year for which statistics are available.

While 20 years in the Felloni case was extremely well merited and was the correct decision, this is a rarity and an exception in Irish criminal law so far as drug related offences are concerned. It is certainly not the norm in Irish courts to see detention periods of 20 years imposed. This amendment would ensure that even if an individual is not given a sentence appropriate to the gravity of the offence, he or she would at the very least serve all of their sentence, other than normal remission.

In an era of openness and transparency, which was much heralded and trumpeted, it is appropriate that the Minister would in the future be obliged to name every prisoner released on temporary release in Iris Oifigiúil and that the length of the sentence served by every person released should also be published. One of the biggest problems we have here in so far as victims of crime are concerned is that there is no consultative process prior to the release of a prisoner who may have been guilty of a serious offence. This is wrong. At the very least there should be some publication of individuals’ names who are released back into society so that those who may have good reason to fear such people would know that they have obtained early release.

I have said it in the past, given the Minister's fondness for photo opportunities, that I would have no objection to the Minister being photographed next to the names which are published and that photograph of the Minister shaking hands with thousands of prisoners on their release can be published alongside the names of the individuals who are released. I do not mean to be facetious but, I suppose, it is a facetious proposal.

It is necessary for drug traffickers to understand that they are going to face the full rigours of the law in this country and that they will get the punishment which fits the crime. The best way of doing that is by inserting an amendment in the legislation which will provide that they will not in the future be the beneficiaries of the open door prison policy.

I support the amendment. The power of a Minister to grant temporary release to a prisoner has evolved since 1960. Unfortunately, it has evolved to such an extent that it is no longer temporary release. The releases which are ordered now are in the main unsupervised, unconditional and permanent. It was originally devised as a method to rehabilitate the offender and to give temporary release with conditions to allow the offender to be rehabilitated back into society. It has always been part of the criminal justice system to have temporary releases. It is well documented that we have a chaotic system of temporary release whereby temporary release is used as a vehicle to make space. It has long since lost any relationship with the notion of rehabilitation. It is a method of providing more jail space.

Temporary release should not be granted to any convicted offender who poses a risk to the public, such as a person who is violent or was convicted of a sexual offence. I agree with Deputy O'Donoghue that if a person who is convicted of drug trafficking finally gets a sentence — and we know how long it takes to prosecute a person on drug trafficking, to get a successful conviction and a sentence — it is important that the full sentence be served and that this person should not be allowed in the usual way back on the streets. That person poses a risk to the public and that should be taken into account.

We hear little about the criteria used by the executive to allow people to be temporarily released. I asked the Minister for Justice how many people were convicted of crimes while on temporary release and was told that information could not be made available because it would involve too much research and that the value of that work would not be commensurate with the work it would take to find those statistics. I believe it is in the State's interest not to reveal how many people commit crimes while on temporary release because there is no record. That suits the Government because it would be a scandal. We now know, apart from the risk to the public, the commission of crimes by persons on temporary release now poses a potential liability on the State and cases have been taken against the State by victims of people who were out on temporary release. It is not in the public interest that persons who are a risk to the public — for example, people who have been convicted of drug trafficking — should be granted temporary release because temporary release is no longer temporary release, and that practice undermines justice.

The Minister for Justice indicated that she was not happy with this but then she is not happy with a lot of things and is short on real reforms to meet this well known defect in our justice system. As I said this is no longer related to the original concept of temporary release, be it on humanitarian or other grounds. It is a method of freeing up jail space.

This amendment is taken from Deputy O'Donoghue's Misuse of Drugs Bill and it was explained in detail by Minister Owen in her contribution to the debate why it could not be accepted. The first part of the amendment seeks to prohibit the granting of temporary release to persons convicted of specified offences. While I appreciate the thinking behind this proposal, what is being proposed is too inflexible. I am sure, for example, that the Deputy would not want to bring about a situation where the Minister for Justice of the day could not respond effectively to the circumstances where an offender was nearing the end of a sentence for a relatively minor offence and the best advice available was that there was a real prospect that the offender would be able to cure their drug problem and stay out of trouble in the future if they were granted a period of strictly controlled temporary release to reside in a drug treatment centre in the community. The effect of the amendment would be to tie the Minister's hands in such cases.

We have dealt with the question of publication of details of temporary releases. It was also dealt with by a previous Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice in a Private Members' Bill which proposed the same as the Deputy. She indicated that she had serious objections to the proposal and, even if there were no other objections to it, she would hesitate to commit public finances for so pointless an exercise.

Other issues, such as privacy and interference with the rehabilitation programme, arise. Take the case of an offender who is committed to avoiding crime in future and as part of that wants to avoid his old circle of acquaintances. Is it in the public interest that the fact that he has been released should be put in the public domain? In all circumstances, I am not convinced that the balance of public interest lies with such an approach and, as the Minister indicated at an earlier stage, this amendment could not be supported.

I listened with interest to the photo opportunity or mug shot suggestion by the Deputy. He denied he was being facetious. He was exercising his sense of humour or perhaps considering the former Minister for Justice of his party to whom I referred, it is the Fianna Fáil tradition to have a frictional aptitude.

The Minister of State when commenting on subsection (2) of this amendment referred to the idea of publishing in Iris Oifigiúil the names of prisoners who will be released and specifying details about them. The justification the Minister gave for opposing that approach was that the same bad circle find it all too easy to follow, find and further entrap their victims, if the prisoner about to be released could be categorised as such. My information suggests the contrary.

Perhaps we believe we are serious about tackling this problem. If so, we must come up with new approaches. I have held the view since I came into politics that, unless you get the prisoner to publicly confront his or her offence, you will never make serious inroads into taking on the criminal.

Deputy O'Donoghue was proposing the publication of the identity and details of the person for the public's knowledge. That is an important and necessary measure which should be followed as part of an overall programme to tackle this issue. This is similar to the procedure we advocate when giving community service by way of a sentence to the perpetrator of a minor offence. Unless the community service is reasonably adjacent to the community where the offender lives, it is relatively ineffective. The only way you will get the offender to confront the offence is for him or her to be seen reasonably near his or her local community, where he or she is known and can be seen as an offender paying back society. There is a strong parallel between that example and what is proposed here. That is why there is a strong justification for supporting subsection (2).

With regard to subsection (1), given all that has been said about the nature of drug trafficking and the real threat to society from this evil trade, to which Deputy O'Donoghue referred as among the lowest of all trades, you must make exceptions. He is stating that this category of offence is so serious, frightening and threatening to society and is escalating so fast out of control, not over the last six to 12 months but over a number of years, that a measure such as a refusal to grant temporary release is one which not only deserves but warrants our support. I commend amendment No. 43 of those reasons.

The Minister said that the drugs problem has existed for a number of years and of course it has. However, it tends to ebb and flow, and there can be valley periods. There was an explosion in the drugs trade a few years ago, the reason for which was the dramatic drop in the price of heroin and Ecstasy, and the country was flooded with drugs as a result. A special problem arose about two years ago which was particularly significant at Christmas 1994. It just happened to be that way. It had nothing in particular to do with who was in Government. The Minister takes a line here which is offensive because I represent people living in the middle of the drugs problem and I do not see it as something funny or party political. I see this as an issue above party politics and I have said so on several occasions. If we must have a function here, it should be to find remedies which are workable, useful and helpful to the community, not to engage in the to and fro of party politics which is what we are doing. We are trying to examine today's issues not what happened five, ten or more years ago. If the Minister sat down and looked at the issues as they are and sought solutions today, it would be helpful.

Deputy O'Donoghue's amendment addresses temporary release for drug traffickers. The community does not want to see drug traffickers on temporary release, nor do we. Deputy O'Donoghue has provided in his amendment for special circumstances of a humanitarian nature. Apart from those rare exception, what Deputy O'Donoghue proposes and Deputy O'Donnell supports is the prevention of temporary release for drug traffickers.

The Minister referred to general temporary release. This is specifically related to the Schedule which deals with drug trafficking. I, too, support what Deputy O'Donoghue is trying to achieve. I ask the Minister to examine, between now and Report Stage, the elements of Deputy O'Donoghue's proposals which would be appropriate.

I do not recall this Minister accepting any amendments; that is serious when the level of crime is so bad because all the wisdom does not rest with the Department of Justice or the Minister. A great deal of the wisdom rests with the people in the community. If we listened more to them and designed our laws to meet their needs, we might be more effective in dealing with the drug traffickers and other serious offenders. I support the amendment.

We have not really seen any evidence in the course of the debate that drug traffickers or persons convicted of serious drug offences have been on temporary release. Will the Minister indicate of the type of prisoner who has been granted temporary release over the past number of years?

Deputy O'Donnell referred to sex offenders. My understanding is that sex offenders will not get temporary release, and that this is a strict policy in the Department of Justice. Perhaps the Minister will reaffirm my suspicion in that regard.

With regard to subsection (2), I would be a little concerned at the effectiveness of Iris Oifigiúil as a publication as I do not know the extent of its circulation and readership, particularly in disadvantaged or deprived areas which may have a high level of criminal activity. I see merit in notification if not publication.

In a domestic violence case which was brought to my attention at a clinic at the weekend an offending husband was released temporarily from prison and no notice was served on the Garda Síochána, much less the injured party. The Garda Síochána should be notified if or when somebody convicted of a serious domestic violence offence or a drug offence may be or has been released into the community. The shock, trauma, fear and anxiety felt by an individual when they learn that a person who was convicted of a serious offence was drinking pints in a local pub on the previous Friday or Saturday night is not in the best interests of the administration of justice. Perhaps the Minister could tell us the number of persons convicted of drug offences who are on temporary release or, if the figures are not available, he might circulate them to Members at a later stage. If the names are not published in Iris Oifigiúil, the local Garda Síochána should be notified so that the victim is informed if not consulted.

I do not have the statistics with me but I will try to make them available to the committee.

I am surprised by the emphasis placed on parts of this amendment. Is anyone seriously suggesting that the publication of names in Iris Oifigiúil would make a difference to the drugs problem? No Minister for Justice would lightly take a decision to release someone involved in drug trafficking. It is offensive to suggest that any Minister for Justice would do so while believing that someone would become involved in drug trafficking again. No Minister for Justice would put themselves in that position.

Deputy Woods told us this was an issue above party politics. We clearly stated on a number of occasions that the drugs problem is one of the most serious confronting this State. We require the united effort of a united community to combat the drugs crisis. The Government considers it to be an issue above party politics. I am not trying to make it a party political issue. Deputy Woods objected to references to the past. I remind him that it was his colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, who asked why something was not done before now. I resent any suggestion that the Minister for Justice and the Government are soft on drug traffickers.

The Minister does not have statistics for the number of drug traffickers on temporary release. During Question Time on 2 April 1996 the Minister said the number of full, unconditional temporary releases granted in one year was approximately 4,000. In addition, approximately 4,500 individuals are granted varying degrees of short-term release every year for funerals, medical attention and family visits to see children or ill parents. We are not talking about humanitarian reasons for temporary release. Nobody is suggesting that short-term releases for hospital treatment or to visit relatives who are dying or sick should be stopped. We are trying to stop the routine use of full temporary release, which is rampant at present.

Deputy Woods asked if the Minister is sending the right message to the community by releasing a person who has been sentenced for ten or 20 years without supervised conditions. I have asked questions about how the conditions, under which persons are released, are supervised. One such condition is that they must be of good behaviour. If the Minister is unable to say if a person on temporary release committed another criminal offence, then who is monitoring those conditions? They are not being monitored.

The Minister asked the reason for publishing names in Iris Oifigiúil. The reason is to introduce some vehicle of regulation into the system. At present, there is no regulation because names are not published. The reason Iris Oifigiúilwas suggested is that there was an amendment to the Act to allow certain released persons to be registered in it. This would introduce transparency to the system because at present there is none. I am concerned that 4,000 people are released by the Executive every year under the 1960 Act. However, their actions are not monitored when they get out.

Persons injured by people who commit offences while on temporary release are correctly suing the Department of Justice. These criminals should be in jail, yet they have been released by the Minister without proper precautions or supervision. The Minister does not have to tell Dáil Éireann who was released, why they were released or whether they can be rearrested if they breach the conditions. The system is totally unregulated and the Minister knows it.

The Minister seems to acknowledge that this and other amendments are desirable and necessary when he asks the rhetorical question why this was not done before. When I asked that question, I did so in the context of the amendments. Why then will he not accept the amendments? The reason is to maintain the criterion that an individual will be granted temporary release from prison on the basis that there is insufficient space to keep them there. That was never the intention of the Legislature or of the criminal justice policy. The Government and the Minister have a serious case to answer. This Government and the Minister for Justice cancelled the building of necessary prisons at Castlerea in County Roscommon and at Mountjoy, not the previous Government which provided for them. It is no surprise that the Rainbow Coalition Government has rejected every Opposition amendment.

It comes as no surprise to me that this is the case. However, it underlines the hypocrisy of the Government's position in the context of its Presidency of the European Union when it will preach to other countries on how the drugs crisis should be tackled. The Government which preaches to Europe about reforming laws in relation to drug trafficking has refused in this Bill to accept some of the most necessary legislation ever put before Dáil Éireann. It included attempts to prevent the temporary release of drug traffickers and to ensure they have speedy trials. It also included attempts to ensure ex partehearings in relation to detentions so that the proof the Garda has in relation to drug traffickers would not be known to the entire world.

The truth is that the Government, which would have us believe it is going to lead the fight against drugs in Europe, produced a poorly watered down version of Part I of Fianna Fáil's Misuse of Drugs Bill, 1996, and refused to commit the necessary resources to fight the terrible scourge of drug trafficking on its own doorstep. In that respect it is disappointing the Government acted as it did. There is little we in the Opposition can do about that other than to say it happened.

The Minister of State said, tongue in cheek, that no Minister would, in conscience, allow a drug trafficker out of prison easily. I accept that may be the position in relation to the state of mind of a given Minister. However, I am afraid the Felloni case established that a Government and a Minister for Justice who know that an individual has been arrested on a number of occasions for the sale of heroin and who make no move to amend the bail laws to ensure that individual is incarcerated, might find themselves in the dock regarding the early release, however unknowingly, of a drug trafficker.

It would be wrong of me not to press the amendment for all the reasons outlined by my colleagues, the Progressive Democrats spokesperson and me.

Amendment put.
The Select Committee divided: Tá, 9; Níl, 12.

Byrne, Hugh.

O'Donnell, Liz.

Fitzgerald, Liam.

O'Donoghue, John.

Haughey, Seán.

Power, Sean.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Woods, Michael.

O'Dea, Willie.

Níl

Byrne, Eric.

McDowell, Derek.

Crowley, Frank.

McGrath, Paul.

Currie, Austin.

Mulvihill, John.

Fitzgerald, Brian.

O'Keeffe, Jim.

Flanagan, Charles.

Ring, Michael.

Kemmy, Jim.

Timmins, Godfrey.

Amendment declared lost.
Section 10 agreed to.
Amendment No. 44 not moved.
Title agreed to.

The Green Party tabled amendments Nos. 36a, 36b, and 36c. Work went into these amendments and I am sure the Minister and her officials had to research them to examine their significance. However, strangely, the party did not consider it necessary to move them. Why has it acted in this way?

Report of Select Committee.

Perhaps the Green Party does not have a convenor of the type and quality that has served the main Opposition party. I propose the following draft report:

The Select Committee has considered the Bill and has made amendments thereto. The Bill, as amended, is report to the Dáil.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Report agreed to.

Ordered to report to the Dáil accordingly.

We did not make any amendments.

There were earlier amendments. This concludes the debate on the Committee Stage of the Bill. It was most interesting and I am sure from what has been said, especially by the Opposition spokesperson, that we will return to many of the amendments on Report Stage.

I thank you, Chairman, for the dedicated manner in which you have undertaken your duties and for your efficiency and courtesy throughout Committee Stage. I also thank the staff of your committee and the staff of the Department of Justice. Whatever our agreements or disagreements on the minutiae of the Bill, I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for listening to the amendments while I criticise them for not accepting what were sound, solid and fundamentally required amendments. Nevertheless, the legislation is a progressive step, although it does not go as far as I or may party would have wished.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, for attending the debate at short notice.

I was not here throughout the discussion. However, I know you well enough to know that references made to your impartiality and courtesy would be merited. I am sure the Minister for Justice would wish me to thank those from the Opposition who contributed to the discussions and moved and debated the amendments in a constructive manner. I also thank them.

I suggest we go into private session to hear a motion for the adoption of the minutes of our last private meeting on 11 June. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Select Committee adjourned at 4.20 p.m.