Magdalen Laundries

Questions (161)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

161. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the action he will take to address the failure by the restorative justice unit to provide a provisional offer for redress to 14 survivors of the High Park Magdalen laundry which was in operation into the 1980s. [12554/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Government is committed to complying with all of the recommendations of the Ombudsman in relation to the operation of the Magdalen Restorative Justice Ex Gratia Scheme and officials in my Department are in regular contact with the Ombudsman's Office.

In relation to the application of the Scheme under the terms of the Addendum, there are currently 97 applications consisting of 52 persons refused under the original scheme and who may now be eligible and 45 new applicants. 7 awards have been made and 4 offers are under consideration.

I assume that the Deputy is referring in her question to applications from women who were resident in An Grianán Teenage Unit. Of the 52 persons refused under the original scheme, 19 were resident in An Grianán and applications from a further 11 have also been received. To date 6 of the applicants resident in An Grianán have received an award and 2 offers are under consideration. In the case of those women who were originally refused, the Department already has their previous application forms and has not sought information that it already has. The applicants have been requested to provide any information they may have in relation to their work in the laundry of a Magdalen Institution. Applications for those who have completed relevant forms are being processed, and in some cases queries have been raised with religious congregations, other bodies or with applicants themselves. In addition, 11 of these applicants were invited for interview, and 4 have availed of this opportunity to date.

Where it is necessary to interview an applicant the process is solely for her benefit. Its primary purpose is to facilitate a fair assessment of her claim where there is insufficient or conflicting documentation available. I am assured that in these interviews, officials are compassionate and seek to help applicants as much as possible. Each application is assessed individually and the process involved in making a provisional assessment is based on the records of the institutions concerned (where these are available) and any other relevant records or statements which may include the applicant's testimony and sometimes testimony from others. This process enables a decision to be made as to whether on the balance of probabilities an applicant comes within the scope of the scheme.

I can assure the Deputy that all applications will be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Commencement of Legislation

Questions (162)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

162. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to commence Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12562/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

On 12 February 2019, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection received Government approval to publish the Civil Registration Bill 2019. The Civil Registration Bill 2019 makes technical amendments to sections in Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 that provide for registration, and re-registration, of births of donor-conceived children. This legislation is being progressed through the Oireachtas as a matter of priority. Committee Stage was taken in Dáil Éireann on 28 February 2019 and an early date for Report Stage has been requested. It is the only non-Brexit Bill to be introduced by the Government in the current legislative session.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, who has policy responsibility in this area, has stated her intention that Part 9 will be commenced immediately following enactment of the Bill. I will work with my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, to ensure that commencement is brought about as soon as possible following enactment of the Bill.

The operation of these sections in Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 is dependent on commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act, which includes provisions for determination of parentage on which registrations, and re-registrations, will be based. This is the responsibility of the Minister for Health, who is working to ensure that commencement of these provisions is brought as soon as possible.

These are complex issues that require the involvement of more than just one Department. Officials from my Department, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Health and the General Register Office are working together to ensure that the appropriate legislative, regulatory, and operational mechanisms are in place to allow for the earliest possible commencement of all of the relevant legislation that will allow for birth registrations of donor-conceived children.

Irish Prison Service

Question No. 164 answered with Question No. 156.

Questions (163)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

163. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to instances in which a serving prison officer recorded and-or made hand notes of engagements between prisoners and their legal representatives which were then sent to a chief officer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12573/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Irish Prison Service seeks to fully respect the privileged and confidential relationship between a prisoner and his or her legal adviser. The Director General of the Irish Prison Service informs me that she is not aware of the instances described in the question. It is not clear if the Deputy is referring to the investigation into recent allegations of surveillance and other wrongdoing in prisons which I asked the Inspector of Prisons to carry out. That investigation took place under section 31 of the Prisons Act 2007 with the Inspector of Prisons having full access to relevant documentation and personnel in Prison Service Headquarters or elsewhere in the Prison Service.

I have now been furnished with a copy that investigative report of the Inspector of Prisons. I will consider the report in consultation with the Attorney General and in accordance with the provisions of section 31.

Question No. 164 answered with Question No. 156.

Family Law Cases

Questions (165)

Clare Daly

Question:

165. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the need to establish a family court reporting project akin to the childcare law reporting project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12595/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

It is my intention to publish proposals in 2019 for a new approach to handling family law cases in Ireland at District, Circuit and High Court levels. This will be done by legislation to create a new dedicated Family Court within the existing court structures. These courts will have new procedures aimed at less adversarial resolution of disputes and will have appropriate facilities and case management arrangements.

My Department is currently working on the General Scheme of a Family Court Bill, which will aim to streamline family law court processes, clarify jurisdictional issues and provide for a set of guiding principles to help ensure that the Family Court will operate in a user-friendly and efficient manner.

In the context of the proposals I mention, it is my intention to examine the feasibility of having a workable model of reporting on family court processes and outcome, in consultation with the relevant agencies, including the Courts Service and having regard to existing legislative provisions. This examination will have to consider that there is potentially a very extensive range of highly sensitive family law related business and matters before the courts that could be the subject of reporting, whether it is in such areas as divorce proceedings, judicial separation, guardianship matters, custody, access, maintenance, domestic violence and so on.

Family Law Cases

Questions (166)

Clare Daly

Question:

166. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of his plans for the establishment of a dedicated family court; and the reason for the delay in the project. [12596/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

It is my intention to publish proposals in 2019 for a new approach to handling family law cases in Ireland at District, Circuit and High Court levels. This will be done by legislation to create a new dedicated Family Court within the existing court structures. These courts will have new procedures aimed at less adversarial resolution of disputes and will have appropriate facilities and case management arrangements.

My Department is currently working on the General Scheme of a Family Court Bill, which will aim to streamline family law court processes, clarify jurisdictional issues and provide for a set of guiding principles to help ensure that the Family Court will operate in a user-friendly and efficient manner. Once the General Scheme has been approved by Government, it will be referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting and to the relevant Oireachtas Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny.

A working group was established in 2017, comprising officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Courts Service and the Legal Aid Board, to examine the operational aspects relating to the Family Court and develop an overall architecture for the new family court structure. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla also participated in the working group. Key issues that arose in consultations included family court venues and facilities, resources and capital investment in family courts and integration of relevant family and child services to provide the best possible family law outcomes.

In 2018, a task force comprising senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Legal Aid Board and the Courts Service was formed to seek agreement on core questions of policy and costs. The work of this group is at an advanced stage. Issues being examined include court areas and locations, use of courthouses, provision of facilities and services, arrangements for management of resources, and oversight arrangements.

The Government is committed to building a new Family Law Centre and Children’s Court in Dublin 7. The Government’s Infrastructure and Capital Investment Plan 2016-2021 provides for a development at the Hammond Lane site including the development of a Family Law and Children’s Court. The project is to be delivered as a Public Private Partnership.

As the Deputy is aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998 management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions.

Discussions are ongoing with the Courts Service in regard to a number of issues including aspects of the funding proposal. In due course, the project would also require sanction from Department of Public Expenditure and Reform before it can proceed.

Restorative Justice

Questions (167)

Clare Daly

Question:

167. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if consideration will be given to the establishment of a pilot project of restorative justice in certain cases of sexual violence; and if not, the reason therefor. [12600/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Probation Service plays a key role in the delivery of restorative justice practice as part of its overall mission of reducing reoffending and further victimisation in our communities.

In the latter half of 2015, at the request of the then Minister for Justice and Equality, a small two year pilot programme was established by the Probation Service, to respond to any requests for victim offender mediation from victims of sexual crime. This discrete service was managed under the auspices of the Victim Services Team in the Probation Service. A number of staff, located across all regions, have received specific training in victim offender mediation and sexual trauma.

Between January 2016 and January 2018, four requests were received and all were followed up in a timely and sensitive manner and in accordance with the protocols in place. The pilot demonstrated that some victims of sexual crime wish to consider the option of a restorative intervention.

The Probation Service established a dedicated Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit with a national remit in September 2018. This Unit continues to respond to all requests from victims for restorative justice, including those involving sexual offences. During 2018, two further requests from victims of sexual crime were facilitated.

Citizenship Applications

Questions (168)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

168. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of an application for citizenship by a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12657/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that the processing of the application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to by the Deputy is currently at an advanced stage and on completion of the necessary processing the application will be submitted to me for decision as expeditiously as possible. There is no further documentation requested at this time. Additional information may, if required, be requested in due course.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and an honour which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.

It is recognised that all applicants for citizenship would wish to have a decision on their application without delay. While most straightforward cases are now processed within six months, the nature of the naturalisation process is such that, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process. In some instances, completing the necessary checks can take a considerable period of time.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the INIS of my Department by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from the INIS is, in the Deputy’s view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Garda Transport Data

Questions (169)

Willie Penrose

Question:

169. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of Garda public order vans attached to the Westmeath division as of 1 March 2018 and 1 March 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12693/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Deputy will be aware that there has been an unprecedented level of investment in Garda resources across the State in recent years.

A total of €46 million has been provided by the Government for investment in the Garda fleet between 2016 and 2021, in addition to the investment of almost €30 million in the period 2013 to 2015. This continuing investment is intended to ensure that An Garda Síochána has a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose fleet and that Gardaí can be mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community to prevent and tackle crime.

As the Deputy will appreciate, in accordance with Section 26 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 as amended, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling the administration and business of An Garda Síochána. Furthermore, the allocation of Garda resources is a matter for the Commissioner, in light of the availability of resources and identified operational demands. This includes responsibility for the allocation of Garda vehicles among the various Garda divisions. As Minister, I have no direct role in that matter. I understand, however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure their optimum use.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are currently no vans assigned to public order duty in the Westmeath Division.

However, for the Deputy's information and in terms of the overall fleet in Westmeath Division, I am informed by the Garda authorities that on 1 March 2018 there were 4 marked Garda vans allocated to the Westmeath Division, 2 of which were assigned to Athlone District and 2 to Mullingar District. I am further informed by the Garda authorities that as at 1 March 2019, there were 5 marked Garda vans allocated to the Westmeath Division, 2 of which were assigned to Athlone District and 3 to Mullingar District.

Finally, the Deputy may also wish to be aware that among the vehicles being purchased with the capital allocation of €10 million available for the Garda fleet in 2019, I am informed that 15 large vans have been purchased by An Garda Síochána and are currently being fitted out as public order vehicles. The allocation of these vehicles will be made by the Garda authorities on the basis of identified operational demands.

Brexit Preparations

Questions (170)

Lisa Chambers

Question:

170. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if additional financial resources have been made available to An Garda Síochána to assist it in the event of a no-deal Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12704/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

In common with all Government Departments and State Agencies, An Garda Síochána has been preparing for Brexit and there is ongoing engagement between senior Garda management and my Department in this regard. Preparation has had a wide-ranging focus on operational requirements, including personnel, infrastructure and technology. I know the Commissioner is committed to ensuring the organisation can deal with any policing challenges arising from Brexit though clearly the circumstances which may arise are dependant on the political settlement.

As the Deputy is aware, the Government's policy is that there will be no hard border on the island and there are no plans for such. However, as she is also aware, policing in the Border region has always presented particular challenges and this can be expected to increase in the context of Brexit. It is also the case that violent dissident republic groups continue to seek to frustrate counter-terrorism efforts and organised criminals seek to exploit the two jurisdictions in order to try to evade detection.

The 2018 Cross-Border Threat Assessment prepared jointly by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI estimated that some 43 per cent of organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland have a cross-Border dimension. Likewise, mobile organised crime groups, responsible for multiple instances of domestic burglary, operate on an all-island basis. There are increasing instances of borderless crimes such as cyber fraud and international terrorism.

The success of cross-Border policing actions is grounded in the recognition that the best means of combating the threat to our communities is to maintain and enhance the excellent levels of co-operation between law enforcement agencies north and south of the Border. The Gardaí and PSNI, along with other agencies, have worked together closely for many years and enjoy an excellent working relationship and co-operation at all levels.

The Fresh Start Agreement recognised this and led to the establishment of Joint Agency Investigation Teams which have had considerable success in combating this type of crime. I understand this is also the context for the Commissioner’s operational decision to establish an additional Armed Support Unit in Cavan.

Garda ASUs provide a rapid armed response capacity and capability on a Regional basis. Members of the ASUs are highly trained and equipped with a variety of non-lethal and lethal weapons and perform high visibility armed checkpoints and patrols throughout their respective Regions. In the Northern Region ASUs are currently based in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal and Dundalk, Co. Louth.

Garda deployments in all areas of the country including those along the Border have benefited from increased recruitment in recent years. I am advised by the Commissioner that the strength of the Northern Region as on 31 January, the latest date for which figures are currently available, was 1,406 Gardaí. There are 59 Garda Reserves and 144 Garda civilian staff attached to the Northern Region. An additional 49 Gardaí were assigned to the region with effect from last Friday.

The increased resources coming on stream have also provided the capacity to expand the specialist bureaus including the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, all of which are particularly active in the Northern Region in addition to the Armed Support Units.

The ongoing recruitment will provide the Commissioner with the resources needed to deploy increasing numbers of Gardaí to deliver a visible, effective and responsive policing service. These requirements will be kept under ongoing review by Garda management with a view to addressing any policing requirements for the Border region which may arise depending upon the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. In the event that a “no deal” Brexit gives rise to additional requirements in Border areas, further resources can and will be provided through redeployment.

More generally, the Deputy will be aware that the resources provided by Government to An Garda Síochána have reached unprecedented levels this year, with an allocation of €1.76 billion. Significant capital investment is also being made in An Garda Síochána, including investment of €342 million in Garda ICT infrastructure between 2016 and 2021; allocation of €46 million to the Garda Fleet over the same period; as well as considerable capital investment in addressing the deficiencies in the Garda estate. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the allocation of Garda resources is subject to constant review in light of operational need, to ensure their optimum use.

Finally I want to assure the Deputy that An Garda Síochána has the full support of the Government in dealing with the implications of Brexit and will provide the necessary resources to keep our people and our communities safe.