I propose to take Questions Nos. 272 and 273 together.
As the Deputy will be aware, I have recently set out my views with respect to the number of outstanding warrants at a national level and the position with respect to outstanding warrants in Meath must also be seen in this context.
It is, of course, inevitable that at any given time there will be a significant number of warrants awaiting execution nationally. Unavoidably, even in the most straightforward cases there must be some lapse of time between the issue of a warrant by the court and its execution by An Garda Síochána. Apart from the huge volume of warrants which are issued nationally, there can be a multiplicity of reasons why warrants can take time to execute and, in some cases, they can prove ultimately unenforceable. It is the case that many individuals can be subject to multiple warrants and a number of the subjects of the warrants are taking every step open to them to try to avoid arrest through moving from address to address and so on.
While it is clearly important that An Garda Síochána take all possible action to ensure that warrants are executed as quickly as possible, it should be borne in mind that the vast majority of warrants do not relate to violent or the more serious categories of offence. In fact, most of the warrants which are recorded as unexecuted are penal warrants, which relate to the payment of fines with imprisonment arising as a consequence of failure to pay. 93% of penal warrants at a national level are associated with Road Traffic Acts, public order and theft offences.
Moreover, I have been assured by the Garda Commissioner that An Garda Síochána give priority to the execution of warrants in respect of serious crime and will continue to do so.
Subject to the caveats I mention below, and insofar as the Meath Garda Division is concerned, I am informed by the Garda authorities that, on 13 July, 2012 PULSE recorded a total of 4,102 executable warrants, comprising of 653 bench warrants, 83 committal warrants, and 3,366 penal warrants outstanding in that Division. I am also advised that It is not possible to provide information in relation to the number of warrants against the same defendant as this would require a disproportionate amount of Garda time and resources to compile.
In relation to the figures provided by An Garda Síochána, I should say that I have been advised that they are operational and liable to change.
Of its nature, the figure for outstanding warrants recorded by PULSE at any given time reflects an accumulation of old warrants which has arisen over the years. Warrants will continue to show on PULSE until such time as they are recorded as being finally disposed of and, given that some of the warrants in question are outstanding for many years, I am concerned that the total figure for outstanding warrants as shown on PULSE may not be a reliable indicator of the number of ‘live' warrants which are enforceable which are on hand.
In the circumstances, I have asked the Garda Commissioner to consider at a national level whether there may be a better way of maintaining statistics which gives a more realistic indication in relation to any backlog of warrants that arises. I have also asked him to report to me again in six months time on the situation in relation to unexecuted warrants and indicated that if he has any recommendations in relation to legislative or administrative action open to me as Minister which would assist in this area I will, of course, consider them.
While genuine difficulties can arise where it does not prove possible to enforce a warrant, it is obviously important that systems are in place to ensure that warrants are enforced as quickly as possible. I have been advised by the Garda Commissioner that at present there is an Inspector in each Garda District in the Dublin Metropolitan Region and each Division outside the DMR tasked with managing the execution of warrants, and other issues relating to them. In addition, specific members of the Force are tasked with their execution. An Garda Síochána continually liaises with other agencies, including Government Departments, to locate individuals sought on warrant. This has resulted in the provision of addresses, other than those provided on the warrants, for many persons sought. In particular, Garda warrants personnel regularly liaise with the Irish Prison Service and the Courts Service to ensure the timely exchange of relevant information regarding persons sought for the service of warrants.
I am also advised that there is a warrants working group in place which facilitates liaison between the various stakeholders, including the Court Service and the Prison Service and which works to identify, address and prevent difficulties in the warrants process. The work of the group is ongoing and relevant recommendations for the improvement of systems are being implemented on an ongoing basis.
The Garda Commissioner has assured me that both he and his senior management team are closely monitoring the situation with a view to ensuring that warrants are executed as expeditiously as possible.
There seems little doubt that the outstanding warrants figures for previous years reflected partly the situation which then obtained in relation to the use of imprisonment in cases of non-payment of fines, a practice which I think most people now regard as highly undesirable. Since the commencement of section 14 of the Fines Act 2010, a Court is now obliged to take into account the means of the person before imposing a fine. This measure combined with other provisions such as the use of community service, payment by instalment and use of attachment of earnings should, when fully operational, have very beneficial effects on the number of warrants which the Gardaí are called on to enforce.