Sex Offenders Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Sex Offenders Bill, 2000, which I am introducing today, is most important legislation and deals with an area which is of the greatest public concern to an overwhelming majority of the community. The Bill is also a cornerstone of the Government's unyielding response to those who perpetrate sexual offences and those sexual pred ators in our community. Its provisions are tough and uncompromising but I make no apology to anyone for that. This House must send out the strongest possible message to those in our community who prey on the vulnerable, those unable to defend themselves and, of course, our children. The message, which is at the heart of this Bill, is that the criminal justice system will not tolerate their behaviour, will deal with them swiftly and severely and the public will be protected from their vile activities.

I take no particular pleasure in having to introduce in this House strong measures such as those contained in this Bill. We owe it, however, to the people we serve to take the steps, introduce the measures and amend the law to ensure that their safety, the safety of their families and, in particular, the safety of their children remains a paramount priority for the Government.

The Government programme, An Action Programme for the Millennium, contains a commitment to introduce a register of sex offenders and that commitment was reiterated in the mid-term review of the programme. In May 1998, I published a discussion paper on the law on sexual offences in order to canvass opinions on a range of issues, including a registration requirement for convicted sex offenders. There was strong support for the concept of registration and the Bill has been drafted in the light of the detailed comments that we received on how a registration requirement should work in practice.

The protection of the vulnerable in society is a top priority for the Government. Sex offenders prey on other people, particularly those unable to defend themselves, and their actions can leave their victims scarred for life. Recent tragic cases have brought home to all of us the risk posed to children by paedophiles. There is a clear need for additional measures to strengthen the arrangements already in place to protect the public from sex offenders. The provisions of this Bill, along with recent legislative and other measures, should provide reassurance to the public that whatever can be done to tackle the problems posed by paedophiles and others who pose a risk to vulnerable people will be done.

I mentioned other legislative measures. To appreciate fully the importance of this Bill, it must be viewed as a further stage in the strategy of using the criminal law, in so far as it is possible, to protect persons against sex abuse and attack. There is no need for me to detail here all the relevant reforming legislation of the 1990s but two Acts in particular require mention to place this Bill in its proper context. The Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act, 1996, the outcome of a Private Members' Bill I published in 1995, ensured that persons resident in Ireland could be prosecuted for sexual offences committed against children while abroad. The trafficking measures in the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998, protected children from being trafficked into, out of or through Ireland for the purposes of their sexual exploitation. That Bill also crimi nalised the creation, distribution and possession of child pornography. The Bill we are now discussing takes the next logical step of protecting vulnerable persons from abuse, attack or the threat of harm from persons who have already been convicted of a sexual offence and who might re-offend.

One thing all three legislative measures recognise is that international borders offer no protection to offenders or would be abusers. Taken together, the legislation more than meets our international obligations in this area and I would urge other countries to bring in similar measures so that the typically devious and manipulative child sex offender will know no hiding place.

The central purpose of the Bill is to impose a requirement on certain sex offenders to notify the Garda Síochána of their names and addresses and any changes to that information to ensure that the Garda Síochána records in that respect are kept fully up to date. The Bill also proposes other important protections. It provides for a new civil court order against sex offenders whose behaviour in the community gives the Garda Síochána reasonable cause for concern that the order is necessary to protect the public from serious harm. It creates a new offence for sex offenders who seek or accept work involving unsupervised contact with children without informing the employer of their conviction. It provides for the post-release supervision of sex offenders by the probation and welfare service and it introduces separate legal representation for complainants in rape and other serious sexual assault cases during applications to adduce evidence or cross-examine on the complainant's past sexual experience.

I will now turn to the main provisions of the Bill in more detail. Part II of the Bill sets out how the new tracking or notification system for convicted sex offenders will work. The system I propose will ensure that the Garda Síochána will have up to date information at all times on the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders. This, in itself, should act as a deterrent to re-offending and so contribute to their rehabilitation. In addition, the availability of up to date data will be of particular benefit to the Garda in the prevention and investigation of sexual crimes. The system will be similar in some respects to those already in operation in Britain and the USA and is generally referred to as a tracking or notification system. The benefits to the Garda and the public in such a system greatly outweigh the relatively minor inconvenience the notification obligation would impose on convicted sex offenders.

The notification obligation would cover all those who, on or after commencement, are convicted or found guilty but insane of a sexual offence specified in the Schedules of the Bill, and those who are, on commencement, still in contact with the criminal justice system, whether awaiting sentence, in prison, subject to supervision, serving a community service order or detained in the Central Mental Hospital. The duration of the notification requirement will depend on the length of sentence as follows – a minimum five year period for those convicte and sentenced to a non-custodial sentence, including a fully suspended sentence, a seven year period for those sentenced to a custodial sentence of six months or less, a ten year period for those sentenced to a custodial sentence of between six months and two years and an indefinite period or lifetime notification requirement for those sentenced to more than two years.

The finite periods are halved in the case of offenders who are under 18 years of age at the time of sentencing.

Notification periods start from the date of conviction. The following system will operate. The Garda will be notified by court certificate on conviction that an offender is subject to the notification requirement. This will allow for rapid updating of the Garda Síochána records. The minimum five year period will be taken as applying until sentence is passed, at which stage the Garda Síochána will be notified by the issue of a further certificate by the court of the sentence passed, which will dictate the duration of the notification requirement. The details which an offender must notify to the Garda Síochána are his or her name, any other name used and his or her address. Should these details change, for example, in the case of the offender moving address, he or she must notify the Garda Síochána of the new details. The offender must also notify the Garda Síochána of any address where he or she stays for a period of ten days or more, or two or more periods amounting to ten days in the aggregate, in any period of 12 months. Notification can be made in person at a district or divisional Garda station or in writing to such a station.

The notification requirement also applies to persons when they go abroad for ten days or more. This will allow the Garda to know whether the person has gone abroad or gone underground in this country, a potentially serious situation. The notification requirement will also apply to qualifying offences committed abroad. Persons who commit offences abroad pose the same risk to vulnerable persons in this country or a greater risk if they are fleeing an obligation to notify in another country. Failure to notify or false notification is a summary offence punishable by a fine not exceeding £1,500 or imprisonment for up to 12 months or both.

Persons who will be subject to a lifetime notification requirement are being given the option of applying to the court, not less than ten years following their release from prison, to be relieved of their obligation to notify the Garda of changes to their name or address. The court can so relieve them if it is satisfied that the common good is no longer served by their continuing obligation to notify.

The offences that will trigger the notification requirement are all those sexual offences committed against children. However, the list is widely drawn, including certain offences such as rape, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault that know no age limits. Section 3 sets out certain exclusions from the notification requirements of the Act. These exclusions include consensual sexual intercourse with persons aged between 15 and 17 where the guilty party is aged not more than three years older than the other party. Even though such activity is criminal behaviour and will continue to be so, it may have occurred as part of a relationship and the offender will not usually pose a future risk.

Part III provides for a new civil order, which will be known as a sex offender order. This order may be granted, on application to the court by the Garda Síochána, against any convicted sex offender whose behaviour in the community, though not strictly criminal, gives the Garda cause for concern that an order is necessary to protect the public from serious harm from him or her. "Serious harm", which is defined in section 15, means protecting the public or a member of the public from death or serious personal injury, whether physical or psychological. Orders can be sought against anyone with a previous conviction for an offence which is included in the Schedule or the equivalent offences overseas. The order is prohibitory in nature and will last for a minimum of five years or such longer period as the court may provide for in the order. The prohibitions contained in the order will be limited to those which are necessary for the purpose of protecting the public from serious harm by the offender.

The court will not be able to compel a person to do anything, only not to do certain things, for example, loitering in the vicinity of a school playground or other place where children congregate. The particular activity may not be remarkable were it not for the offender's past history of offending. While there is a delicate balance to be struck between the rights of the defendant and the need to protect the community, the need for such an order is dictated by the importance of protecting the public, in particular its most vulnerable members. While the orders are preventative only, once granted they carry the notification requirements of Part II while they are in effect, where such requirements do not already exist. In this way, potentially dangerous sex offenders whose offending is in the past and who are not otherwise covered by the notification requirement, will be made subject to that requirement for the duration of the sex offender order, that is, for a minimum period of at least five years. Breach of an order without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence triable either way with a maximum penalty on indictment of five years in prison.

Part IV introduces another innovative feature under which it will be an offence for convicted child sex offenders to seek or apply for employment, voluntary or paid, involving unsupervised access to children without informing the prospective employer of the fact of the conviction. The new offence is designed to provide a deterrent to unsuitable people seeking access to children through the workplace, where relationships based on trust or fear can develop. At present, there is nothing to deter paedophiles from seeking or accepting such employment. The worst that can happen is that he or she would be refused employment or whatever voluntary position is being sought. Under the proposed provision, the fact of the conviction in itself will not render the person unsuitable to work. It will be a matter for the prospective employer or, in the case of the self-employed, the child's parent or guardian, on being informed of the conviction, to decide if the conviction is relevant to the work or position concerned. Where a person applies for work and does not know or could not reasonably have known that the work involved unsupervised access to children, he or she will be obliged to inform the other party to the employment contract of the fact of the conviction as soon as he or she becomes aware of having such access to children. A person guilty of an offence under this Part will, on summary conviction, be liable to imprisonment of up to 12 months or a fine of £1,500 or both and on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding £10,000 or five years in prison or both.

Part V provides, for the first time, for the post release supervision of convicted sex offenders by the probation and welfare service for whom the sentencing court considers the appropriate sentence is one of deprivation of liberty. Persons sentenced to life imprisonment are excluded because on release from prison they are always placed under lifelong Probation and Welfare Service supervision in the community as a condition of temporary release.

The supervision of sex offenders in the community after their release from prison has two aims. First, to help the offender maintain self-control over his or her offending behaviour and, second, to provide external monitoring of his or her post release behaviour and activities. The provision will be particularly helpful for those offenders who have undergone sex offender treatment programmes while in prison and who would benefit from a continuation of appropriate programmes following release from prison.

The system of post release supervision being introduced will enable the courts, at the time of conviction, to sentence a sex offender to a determinate sentence with the latter part of it being served in the community under Probation and Welfare Service supervision. The combined custodial and non-custodial periods will not exceed the maximum custodial sentence available for the crime committed.

In considering whether to impose a sentence involving post release supervision, the court will have regard to the need, first, for a period of supervision after the offender has been released; second, the need to protect the public from serious harm from the offender; third, the need to prevent the commission of further sexual offences by the offender; and fourth, the need for further rehabilitation of the offender. In order to assist it in deciding whether to impose a sentence involving post release supervision, the court may hear evidence or receive submissions from any concerned person, for example, a probation and welfare officer, the prosecution or the convicted person. The supervision period commences on the date the offender is released from prison, taking account of any remission earned.

The court, in addition to the supervision requirement, may impose additional requirements, including the requirement to attend psychological counselling or other treatment programmes run by the Probation and Welfare Service or other bodies or a requirement prohibiting a sex offender from doing things which the court considers necessary for the purpose of protecting the public from serious harm from the offender. Thus, the supervision period will be tailored on a case by case basis according to the needs of the individual offender and the community.

Another innovation in the Bill is the introduction in Part VI of separate legal representation for complainants in rape and other serious sexual assault cases where application is made to adduce evidence or to cross-examine the complainant about his or her past sexual experience. The Law Reform Commission in its report on rape expressed doubts as to the constitutional propriety of separate legal representation for complainants in rape and other serious sexual assault cases in so far as it might alter the balance of the criminal process and deprive the accused of a trial in due course of law. The sexual history of a victim of a sexual assault offence, including rape, is only permitted to be introduced into a trial with the leave of the judge. The application to introduce such evidence must prove that the evidence is relevant. Since such applications are made in the absence of the jury, I am advised that the proposed provision, which is limited to the particular application under the Criminal Law (Rape) Act, 1981, does not pose any constitutional difficulties as the jury will be unaware of the apparent inequality of representation. This would appear to be as far as the Constitution would allow such a provision to go.

Overall, the provisions of the Bill are tough and I make no apology for that. I decided on them after considerable thought and extensive consultations inside and outside the jurisdiction. They will place certain sex offenders under an obligation to notify changes to their names and addresses for the rest of their lives but that will be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence of which they have been convicted by reference to the sentence imposed. The Bill is also innovative in that, for the first time, it introduces into our law statutory provisions for post release supervisions of convicted sex offenders. A further innovation is the provision aimed at preventing those convicted of sexual offences of seeking employment which would give them unsupervised access to children while keeping their past history in the dark.

The Bill also delivers on the undertaking in the programme for Government to provide separate legal representation for complainants in rape cases in so far as it has been possible to do so. The Bill's provisions are comprehensive and consistent and have the overall aim, through measures of deterrence and rehabilitation, of preventing further offending by convicted sex offenders. It is a genuine and important contribution to our efforts to deal with the scourge of sex offending and I am confident it will have a real impact on the protection, in particular, of our most vulnerable citizens.

The Bill is part of a series of measures I am taking against sex offenders and complements protections already in place. The next phase in the process will be to examine all outstanding issues relevant to the criminal law governing sexual offences. These are all addressed in the Discussion Paper on the Law on Sexual Offences. If that examination identifies any further changes that need to be made in the law, I will seek Government approval for such changes. However, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that there will ever be a complete defence against the determined sexual predator. At the same time, the Government must, and will, do all it can to make sure our children and other vulnerable persons will be protected as far as possible.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Sex Offenders Bill, 2000. It is an important Bill which will play a significant role in the protection of children. It will make similar provisions in respect of the commission of certain sexual acts against children outside the Republic of Ireland and for other serious sexual offences. I introduced a similar Bill in the Dáil on 6 May 1998. It is unfortunate it has taken the Minister two years to respond, even though on that occasion he informed me that he would introduce a Bill as quickly as possible. I do not understand why the Government procrastinates on important legislation or promises early publication of legislation and then reneges on it.

Many crimes are vicious and unpleasant but the crime of sexually abusing a young child and robbing that child of its innocence is so repugnant that we are entitled to consider special ways of dealing with the issue and making clear society's abhorrence of such activities. I agree with the Minister that we owe it to the people we serve to take steps to introduce measures and to amend the law to ensure that their safety, the safety of their families, particularly their children, remains a paramount priority.

According to studies carried out in Britain of hardened paedophiles, repeat offences run at an estimated rate of 95%. Suffice to say this makes the curative approach quite unrealistic. Containment and control is the appropriate policy in these circumstances. This needs to be combined with a more effective and co-operative arrangement among the agencies concerned and a long-term preventative effort directed at child abuse. The rate of recidivism among other sex offenders is less pronounced but disturbingly common nevertheless.

The Bill when enacted will establish a register of those convicted of sexual offences against children and other serious sexual assaults. Under the proposed legislation, judges will have discretion regarding who goes on the register. The register will extend also to people convicted of similar offences outside the jurisdiction. It is ironic that the eminent Mr. Justice Budd released from Arbour Hill Prison a former Irish soldier on condition that he agreed to be registered in Britain as a sex offender. He was serving a six year sentence imposed in 1995 for sexually abusing his stepsister and assaulting another victim aged ten years. He agreed to reside with relatives in the UK. This is a firm indication of the view of the Judiciary with regard to the availability to them of a register of sex offenders to ensure there is some control over their movements.

The Bill is an important step in the fight against child sex abuse and other serious sexual offences against adults. Society must give the rights of children priority over those of their abusers. The Bill is not a panacea to prevent all serious sexual offences either against children or adults. No measure can control all paedophiles but the Bill is a significant step which will help the Garda to trace those who might offend. If the Garda were armed with information provided under the Bill, this would not just help them identify suspects following the commission of a crime, it would act as a deterrent to some would-be re-offenders. The notification requirements of the offender are stringent, and rightly so. The offender must, either by personal attendance at a Garda station or by written notice, notify his or her name and home address to the Garda Síochána within ten days of becoming subject to the requirements. Thereafter, he or she must again within ten days of the event notify the Garda Síochána of any subsequent changes of his or her name or address and any other addresses at which he or she resides for a period of ten days, or two or more periods, which taken together amount to ten days in any 12 months. Persons who leave the State for an intended continuous period of ten days or more at a time must inform the Garda in advance of their leaving. If the person when leaving did not intend to remain outside the State for a continuous period of ten days but does, he or she must inform the Garda within a further ten days. The notification requirements will not apply during any period the person concerned is either in custody, in prison or in the Central Mental Hospital or temporarily released. Access to information on the register will be restricted to the Garda.

In my opinion the Bill fails to deal with the disclosure of such information other than for employment purposes. While the Garda can see the sex offenders register, the Bill does not cater for people to whom the information may be of importance, such as those involved in voluntary organisations, sporting organisations and other such bodies. Perhaps the Minister will outline how the information will be disseminated to those to whom the information is relevant. The Bill does not say whether this will be at the discretion of the Garda and, if so, whether the release of information will vary between different Garda stations or units. It does not pin down what will be done with the information on the register, other than that the information will be with the Garda who can be vigilant. I accept the Garda should be in possession of the information. However, it appears all the onus will be on the Garda to ensure sex offenders do not enter places where they could come into contact with children. If this is so, is there too much onus on the Garda to be vigilant in all situations?

As proposed in the Fine Gael Bill of 1998, there should be certain access to the register. That Bill proposed that access to the register, "shall be confined to the Garda Síochána, information contained in the register shall not be disclosed to any other person, save with the permission of a designated High Court judge on the application of a member of the Garda not below the rank of inspector. Such an application which must be heard in camera shall not be granted unless, in the opinion of the judge, it is in the interests of public safety to do so. The judge who grants an application shall specify in his or her order the extent to which disclosure is to be permitted”. In other words, we proposed the senior garda would go to a High Court judge and obtain permission to disclose information. For example, if a person unknown to a GAA club was coming to coach an under age team, how can the club check to ensure the coach is not on the register?

Section 5 enables the senior Garda officer to apply to the Circuit Court for a sex offender order against any sex offender whose behaviour in the community gives the Garda Síochána cause for concern. What happens if a significant person in the community has a concern about the behaviour of someone in the community? I appreciate he can report it to the Garda Síochána but can he not obtain this information? It is necessary to protect the public from serious harm. Two criteria must be satisfied before the order can be applied for and made. First, the offender must have been convicted and found guilty but insane, with regard to a sexual offence defined in the Bill before or after the commencement of the sex offender order. Where the offender was convicted abroad the court shall also need to satisfy itself that the offence corresponds with a sexual offence as defined in the Bill. Second, the respondent must have acted in such a way as to give the court reasonable grounds for believing that the order is necessary to protect the public from serious harm. The order must be limited to those which are necessary for the purpose of protecting the public from serious harm from the respondent. The court will not be able to compel a person to do anything, only not to do certain things. However, the Bill places an onus on convicted sex offenders to inform prospective employers of the nature of their conviction when applying for a position involving unsupervised access to children.

The period in which a person remains on the register varies. There is a minimum five year period for those convicted and sentenced to a non-custodial sentence or a fully suspended sentence, a seven year period for those sentenced to a custodial sentence of six months or less, a ten year period for those sentenced to a custodial sentence of between six months and two years and a lifetime notification obligation for those sentenced to more than two years. The periods that would otherwise be applicable, five, seven or ten years, are halved for offenders under 18 years of age. The Bill is not a panacea for the problem of sex offending.

In a report by the eminent journalist Phelim McAleer in 1997 he outlined that four Derry paedophiles had moved to Cork to avoid the sex offenders register, which tracks and monitors their movements within the UK. He stated that the revelation would increase concern that sex abusers are now using the Republic as a safe haven to continue their activities. It is important that the Bill be enacted as quickly as possible to ensure the Republic is no longer regarded by paedophiles as a safe haven.

He reported that according to a legal source in Derry who deals with ex-prisoners, the four paedophiles who moved to Cork met when serving their sentences at Magilligan prison outside the city. One of the men is a persistent offender who has served two separate jail terms. The legal source said that from the questions the men asked before they left, it was clear they were going to Cork to avoid the register. They asked if they could be tracked there and what were their obligations. Cork is a logical choice, it has no register and it is the furthest possible place in Ireland from Derry.

The source said, "If you go to Dublin for the weekend and walk up Grafton Street, it is even money you will meeting somebody from Derry. Go to Limerick and it would be highly unlikely, go to Cork and it would be even less likely. Cork is also a city. In a city you can be more anonymous."

There is some evidence that groups of paedophiles are arriving in the Republic from Britain. The situation is a very dangerous one. Being in each others company provides paedophiles with self justification, each validating the other's illegal behaviour as acceptable. In those circumstances, they pose a high degree of risk to children.

Mr. McAleer reports that Breedge Gadd, Head of the Northern Ireland probation board, said that the failure to set up a register in the Republic means it will attract paedophiles, particularly persistent offenders, who intend to continue abusing. She saw it as an inevitability that people involved in paedophile rings would see the South as a safe haven. She said it was clear that abusers would take advantage of the loophole.

She is quoted as saying, "A paedophile with evil intent will almost naturally go to one or other parts of these islands which does not have a register and where his movements are not being monitored as closely." Miss Gadd said that those in statutory agencies who work with sex offenders were increasingly finding that their clients had moved to the Republic. She said, "I hear from other professionals that there are people who have gone to the South. There is word around Northern Ireland that it is happening."

In Ireland it is estimated that about 5% of boys and 7% of girls are sexually abused before the age of 16. The estimate for physical abuse is put in a range of somewhere between 8% to 12% of children. The characteristics of a person who sexually abuses children vary depending on the relationship. If strangers are abusing a child they are generally loners, single men who usually have no history of being in a marital relationship. They attack children in a violent way in a once off situation. They sexually assault a child and move on to other victims. They accumulate a number of victims and have been known to claim as many as 200-300 victims.

A different type of sexual offender is a parent or blood relative who abuses a child. Such offenders do not have many victims and are not usually violent. They persuade the child to accept the abuse over a long period. They convince the child that such abuse is an education or a game. They persuade them that it will do no harm. In most cases they are living with the child. Between the above two spectrums, the once off violent case and the close family relationship, there is a person who is known to the child but does not necessarily live in the house with the child. They can have a number of victims at any time or sequentially.

All sex offenders tend to have low self esteem, low sense of self worth and little understanding of their victim's position. They do not understand how the victim feels. They are of the view that they do not do the child any harm or minimise the harm caused. In many situations they can blame the child for the abuse. They blame the child for what happens, saying the child was too friendly or too dependent. They do not accept any blame for the abuse. If they accept any blame they usually point to an external source such as drunkenness and make excuses for their actions.

Such offenders are usually socially isolated. The main difference between physical and sexual abuse is that the latter can never be accidental. Sexual abuse is planned and if it takes place in the home that planning is over a long period, whereas physical abuse can occur on the spur of the moment.

Deep regret usually follows physical abuse because the person lost his or her temper and did not intend to harm the child. Studies reveal that child sex offenders are approximately 85% male and 15% female. For physical abuse the figure is 50-50.

Most sexually abused children suffer long-term traumatic stress disorders and usually a range of mental health problems. They often inflict self-harm, either directly through deliberate self injury and self mutilitation or indirectly through eating disorders and drug abuse. Once children have become victims of abuse they tend to suffer further abuse in their later life at the hands of the same person or another perpetrator.

Children who are abused in a family situation are often more vulnerable to the advances of paedophiles when they reach school age and adolescence. This is due to their low self esteem and low self-confidence. The paedophile identifies these people and targets them by offering them some form of comfort and attention. One cannot argue about controlling the movement of paedophiles when one examines the effects of their vile activities. Children who suffer sexual abuse are likely to suffer deep and extremely traumatic effects as teenagers and as an adults. They suffer from multiple personalities; bouts of alcohol consumption to the point of feeling suicidal; depression and elation; nervous breakdown; an inability to see the difference between reality and fantasy and long periods spent alone in self-imposed isolation from other human beings due to their mistrust and disbelief in humanity and discarding friendships as a spoiled child discards a sweet paper. They live most of their lives in a state of fear. The argument that people who inflict this suffering should not be controlled is akin to condemning many children to a life of no self esteem or self worth, of helplessness, isolation and difficulty with relationships.

The argument is often advanced that a register will leave those who are on it open to attack. The Bill is unclear as to how the Garda will use the information on the names on the register. It is known that paedophiles operate in this country. The gardaí have uncovered a major paedophile ring which has been operating in the west for several years. Middle aged and elderly men have been targeting boys in their early teens and using them for sex. The Garda believe at least a dozen men have been involved since the late 1980s and that members of the ring sought to win the boys' affections and eventually propositioned them. In many cases the approaches were made in or near public toilets in Galway City centre. Other boys were targeted near the promenade in Salthill. A boy who agreed to go with a man was usually invited into his car. The Irish Independent reported that the men then drove to a remote area outside the city and sexual activity took place in the back of the vehicle. The boys were sometimes rewarded with money while information on their names and whereabouts was later passed among the ring. A number of boys were subsequently followed by other men and propositioned after the adults indicated that they had a mutual acquaintance. In many cases the boys were from poor backgrounds and came from families where the home circumstances were far from ideal. They were easy targets.

While such a paedophile ring is dreadful and disgusting in itself, it prompts a still more dreadful question. Is it the only one of its kind in the country? We cannot afford not to answer this question because there is a strong possibility that more paedophile rings exist than the one whose vile activities were disclosed.

It has long been known that paedophiles are well organised. A number operate throughout Europe and most recently on the Internet. This is a particularly disturbing phenomenon as innocent people can access information by mistake. It is very easy for a paedophile ring to create a home page titled under an agreed name. The ring can decide to include child pornography under a pre-determined though innocent generic heading. Tracking this takes law enforcement agencies significant time and resources. When the processing has eventually been done the paedophile ring has moved to its next home page.

Many paedophiles do not use hard core pornography to sexually excite themselves. What would be considered innocent photographs of children playing on a beach or having a bath can be intensely erotic to a paedophile.

Having such a register of child sex offenders is a new approach for the Irish justice system and is absolutely necessary. Everybody accepts that among criminals, paedophiles are a special category. We can distinguish their activity from that of violent criminals. Research shows that paedophiles are highly manipulative and clever. Their offending behaviour often intensifies as they get older. They are in a particularly dangerous category and there is a need for a register to tackle the particular problem.

One of the difficulties in dealing with hardened paedophiles is that they do not consider their activities to be wrong. Hardened paedophiles believe that the rest of us set unfair parameters to their sexual activity. They do not believe that having sex with children is wrong. Many of them believe it is the right thing to do and that we are wrong for trying to restrain their activity. That is what makes them especially dangerous and why some are so clever and manipulative.

The great awareness of child sexual offending, the huge emphasis placed on the problem and the social revulsion at such abuse do not confer a licence on people to take the law into their own hands. Repugnance at child sexual abuse cannot justify mob rule. There can be few more reviled figures in Ireland today than the person who sexually abuses and offends children. In the past paedophiles were often tolerated and classified as dirty old men whom it was better to avoid. They were rarely prosecuted. The new awareness of the damage done to children by such people has totally changed society's attitude to them.

Offenders are released from prison without any real co-ordination between the various statutory agencies. The Bill recognises that nothing could be more hateful than sexual offences against the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society. It contains important provisions to tackle the problem which is the cause of widespread concern. Its enactment will mean that the Garda Síochána will have up to date information on the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders and others and will be able to use this information for the investigation and prevention of crime. The registration requirements will be a powerful deterrent to offenders who will be aware that from the moment they register a change of address the Garda will be aware of their presence and will have them in their sights. Those who attempt not to register will be aware that they are committing a further offence. It is argued that those named on the register will be open to attack and I presume the Minister will take steps to deal with that.

The Bill is not a panacea for all sex offences. The Children at Risk in Ireland Foundation gave the Bill a qualified welcome. The foundation cautioned against any perception of the introduction of a sex offenders register as a panacea for the problem of child sexual abuse. Mary Flaherty, the foundation's national director said:

National and international statistics clearly indicate that the majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to both the child and his or her family and the notion of "stranger danger", the dirty old men in raincoats, is largely a myth.

Some estimates suggest that up to 70% of abusers are family members and we clearly cannot rely on the register to help us detect or pre-empt the bulk of these cases. Though the introduction of the measure is welcome and long overdue, it is important not to overstate its effectiveness in combating the problem of child sexual abuse.

I welcome the section which introduces separate legal representation for complainants in rape and other serious sexual assault cases during applications to adduce evidence or cross-examination on the complainant's past sexual experience. This issue has long been debated and I congratulate the Minister on introducing this measure for which there is an obvious need. Many witnesses in such cases feel extremely intimidated during cross-examination and exposure without protection in very strange circumstances in a court of justice. They will now have available to them advice and assistance from a legal expert while giving evidence. This is a welcome development and will assist in securing more convictions. Many of those who are raped or suffer other serious sexual offences allow the crime to go unpunished because they fear being intimidated in court. While it will not eliminate all their concerns, the presence of legal representation should be of assistance.

At any one time ten sex offenders receive treatment in custody. It is a disgrace that more ser vices are not available to ensure sex offenders obtain assistance. I have research information from the United States which shows the effect of such treatment. Will the Minister outline the up-to-date position on the treatment of sex offenders?

The Bill is both necessary and timely. Unfortunately we live in a world where such legislation is needed and of necessity it needs to be accompanied by effective treatment for sex offenders before being rereleased into the community, an issue raised on a number of occasions at Question Time. I was informed in reply to a parliamentary question on 7 March that of the 80 sex offenders released during 1999 only five had completed the dedicated Arbour Hill programme. This represents a decrease on the figures for 1998 during which 103 sex offenders were released, of which 11 had completed the programme. In percentage terms this represents a reduction from 10.7% to 6.25%. These figures are alarming and represent a step backwards rather than forwards, which is to be regretted. The Minister has promised to introduce a new programme in the Curragh. When is this likely to be introduced?

Why do so few participate in the programme? The Minister said that offenders cannot be compelled to participate, that some are not suitable and that there are other options, but this is a tailor-made dedicated programme specifically designed for sex offenders and there is no logical explanation as to why only five of the 80 offenders released last year had completed the programme.

Debate adjourned.