Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Questions (172, 173)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

239 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures being taken to ensure effective post release supervision of sex offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6421/07]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice)

The Sex Offenders Act, 2001 which commenced on 27 September 2001 sets out the notification obligations on persons convicted of a range of sexual offences against both children and adults. A convicted sex offender must notify his/her name(s), date of birth and current home address to the Garda Síochána within seven days of the conviction for the sexual offence concerned or, where the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, from the date of full release from prison.

Thereafter, the offender must notify the Gardaí of any change of name or address within seven days of that change. Notification of any address where the offender spends either as much as seven days or two or more periods amounting to seven days in any twelve month period must also be given to the Gardaí.

The provisions of the Act extend to any sex offenders entering this jurisdiction from abroad who have an obligation to register in their own countries or who have been convicted abroad of an offence comparable to one covered by the Act.

Additional measures contained in the Sex Offenders Act, 2001 makes it mandatory for a convicted sex offender to inform their employer or future employer of their conviction if their job entails having unsupervised access to children. The Act also allows for a Chief Superintendent of An Garda Síochána to request the Court to make a Sex Offender Order, whereby a sex offender can be prohibited from behaving in a particular way, where such behaviour is perceived by the Court as having a potential danger to the welfare of children. It should be noted that Garda clearance is now required for potential employees in a number of occupations which entail access to, or authority over children.

If the court imposed an order for post-release supervision, Part 5 of the 2001 Act obliges the convicted person to undergo supervision by the Probation Service for a specified period and to comply with such conditions that are specified therein. Offenders who are subject to a post release supervision Order are managed on a one-to-one basis by a Probation Officer. Should a sex offender fail to comply with obligations as outlined in the Act, the offender is guilty of an offence and subject to a fine and/or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months.

I can advise the Deputy that my Department through the Probation Service provides funding to a community based sex offender programme specifically for convicted sex offenders who abuse children. I can further advise that the Probation Service has two officers directly involved in the delivery of adolescent sex offender programmes in both North and South Dublin. In addition, the Service is involved in the management and organisation of a community based adolescent sex offender programme based in the west of Ireland.

I also wish to advise the Deputy that in advance of release, there are three forms of direct therapeutic intervention available to prisoners serving sentences for sexual offences which assist in their personal rehabilitation and relapse prevention. These are:

individual counselling from the Irish Prison Service's Psychology Service and from the Probation Service

the Sex Offender Programme which has been in operation since 1994; and

one-to-one interventions by visiting psychiatrists who provide support to prisoners.

Before an offender is released from prison, the Prison Service must inform him/her that they are subject to the notification requirement of the Act. Ten days before the date of release, the Prison Service must inform the Garda Síochána that s/he is being released.

There is a system in place whereby Child Care Managers in the Health Service Executive are informed, by the Senior Probation Officer, of the impending release of sex offenders from prisons irrespective of whether the offence is against a child or adult. The Child Care Manager is provided with the date of release, details of the offence committed and address of the offender following release.

A ‘Protocol for the sharing of information on the management of sex offenders between the Probation Service and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI)' was signed by the Heads of both Organisations in March, 2006. That protocol established mutual arrangements for the management of sex offenders, subject to supervision by the respective Services. This protocol facilitates best practice and effective case management of sex offenders between jurisdictions by enabling exchange of relevant information on a structured and agreed basis.

In additional, I also wish to advise the Deputy that on 27 November, 2006 I signed a Memorandum of Understanding on information sharing arrangements between Ireland and the UK relating to sex offenders.

The MOU was negotiated between my Department and the Home Office, with input from the Northern Ireland Office. It relates to information about persons travelling between Ireland and the UK and who are subject to sex offender notification requirements in their own jurisdiction. This covers sex offenders travelling between any of the legal jurisdictions in these islands. The rationale for the Memorandum is that such information will be shared between police forces for the purposes of protecting the public from the risks presented by sex offenders — whether paedophile or otherwise — and investigating serious sexual offences. The transmission of any information necessary to achieve these purposes is covered.

As a result of the MOU, the exchange of such information between the Garda Síochána and British police forces, which of course has already been taking place for some time, is now being put on a formal footing. The information will now be shared as a matter of course.

This Memorandum of Understanding is another example of the close relationship between Ireland and the UK and in particular between the two parts of this island. It is also the most recent example of the benefits which accrue to both sides through cooperation and coordination in the areas of criminal justice and law enforcement.

As the MOU provides, its use and effectiveness will be kept under review, and I am confident that full use will be made of its potential by the police forces of all our jurisdictions.

A Registered Sex Offender Advisory Group has been established consisting of representatives of An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Northern Ireland Office. As part of its work, this Group evaluates the potential for sharing information, examining the registration criteria in both jurisdictions for sex offenders and identifying areas for further co-operation.

The provisions of the Sex Offenders Act 2001 are kept under constant review by my Department with a view to ensuring the Act is operating in an efficient and effective manner.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

240 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will confirm that local Garda stations are fully and promptly informed of all convicted sex offenders moving into their area; if he is satisfied that Garda monitoring of convicted sex offenders post release is as effective as it should be; and the additional measures, that will or should be considered. [6422/07]

View answer

The Sex Offenders Act which commenced on 27 September 2001 sets out the obligations on persons convicted of a range of sexual offences against both children and adults. A convicted sex offender must notify his/her name(s), date of birth and current home address to the Garda Síochána within seven days of the conviction for the sexual offence concerned or, where the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, from the date of full release from prison.

Thereafter, the offender must notify the Gardaí of any change of name or address within seven days of that change. Notification of any address where the offender spends either as much as seven days or two or more periods amounting to seven days in any twelve month period must also be given to the Gardaí.

If the offender intends to leave the State for a period of seven days or more s/he must inform the Gardaí of this fact and the address at which s/he intends to stay and also notify the Gardaí of his/her return. If s/he did not intend to stay away for more than seven days but did, s/he must inform the Gardaí within a further seven days.

The provisions of the Act extend to any sex offenders entering this jurisdiction from abroad who have an obligation to register in their own countries or who have been convicted abroad of an offence comparable to one covered by the Act.

Part 4 of the Sex Offenders Act 2001 provides that it is an offence for convicted sex offenders to apply for, or to accept, work or to offer services, a necessary and regular part of which consists mainly of unsupervised access to, or contact with, children or mentally impaired persons, without informing the employer or organisation of his/her conviction for a qualifying sexual offence.

It is an offence to fail to comply with the notification requirements. The penalty is imprisonment for up to 12 months or a fine of €1,900 or both.

The courts can also sentence an offender who has been found guilty of an offence under the schedule of offences in the Act to a period of statutory supervision under the Probation and Welfare Service on their release from prison.

Before an offender is released from prison, the Prison Service must inform him/her that they are subject to the notification requirement of the Act. Ten days before the date of release, the Prison Service must inform the Garda Síochána that s/he is being released.

The Garda Síochána has in place a system for the monitoring of persons subject to these requirements. The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit monitor and manage the notification provisions. The information on persons who are subject to the requirements of the Sex Offenders Act, 2001 is maintained at a central location.

There are nominated Garda Inspectors in each Garda Division who are notified by the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit when a sex offender, who is subject to the requirements of the Act, is resident in their Division. These inspectors are responsible for the monitoring of such offenders.

On 27 November, 2006 I signed a Memorandum of Understanding on information sharing arrangements between Ireland and the UK relating to sex offenders.

The MOU was negotiated between my Department and the Home Office, with input from the Northern Ireland Office. It relates to information about persons travelling between Ireland and the UK and who are subject to sex offender notification requirements in their own jurisdiction. This covers sex offenders travelling between any of the legal jurisdictions in these islands. The rationale for the Memorandum is that such information will be shared between police forces for the purposes of protecting the public from the risks presented by sex offenders — whether paedophile or otherwise — and investigating serious sexual offences. The transmission of any information necessary to achieve these purposes is covered.

As a result of the MOU, the exchange of such information between the Garda Síochána and British police forces, which of course has already been taking place for some time, is now being put on a formal footing.

As the MOU provides, its use and effectiveness will be kept under review, and I am confident that full use will be made of its potential by the police forces of all our jurisdictions.

A Registered Sex Offender Advisory Group has been established consisting of representatives of An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Northern Ireland Office. As part of its work, this Group evaluates the potential for sharing information, examining the registration criteria in both jurisdictions for sex offenders and identifying areas for further co-operation.

The provisions of the Sex Offenders Act 2001 are kept under constant review by my Department with a view to ensuring the Act is operating in an efficient and effective manner.