Other Questions.

Prison Accommodation.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

79 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of prisoners placed in solitary confinement, that is, padded isolation cells in 2002, 2003 and 2004. [27082/04]

The isolation cells referred to in the question were used a total of 851 times during the year 2002, 970 times during 2003 and 792 times during 2004 to date. St. Patrick's Institution also reports the incidence of the use of isolation cells in these years as 268, 178 and 190, respectively. These include the use of other cells which are simply unfurnished as opposed to the type referred to by the Deputy.

As the Deputy is aware, shortly after my appointment as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform I visited a number of prisons and saw padded cells in use. What I saw was, in my view, not acceptable and I immediately made that known to the prison authorities. Padded cells of the classic kind are the size of enlarged telephone booths, the walls are grey and there is a pilot light in the ceiling. In one of the cells I saw a prisoner, a man in his 40s, lying in his underpants in a foetal position on the floor with a pot beside him. The cell in question was approximately the size of an outsized refrigerator. That was unacceptable.

Unlike other Members of the House, however, I took action in respect of this matter.

What did the Minister do?

I immediately told the Irish Prison Service to commission new cells of this kind. We established an implementation group and six cells, based on two different designs, have been completed in Cloverhill Prison. I inspected these in the course of construction and I will visit them in the near future. I intend to roll out such cells across the Irish Prison Service.

Improvements to the cells include larger windows, doors with full-face observation windows, cell lighting as close to natural daylight as possible, a communication system, including a cell call system, a television, where possible, in-cell sanitation and other technical improvements in the materials used to finish the walls and to improve the quality of the mattresses, blankets and beds. That is what I have achieved and, just in case Members get active on this subject, their parties were all in office and those cells were all there when they held office, and I do not recall any of them lifting a finger to change them.

Is that all the Minister has done in two years? God help us, he set up a committee.

I am not as emotive as the Minister about this issue. However, everybody agrees these cells should not be used. A survey by the Irish Penal Reform Trust highlighted that 78% of people in the cells had a psychiatric condition. Does the Minister agree the restrictions he outlined, even for the new cells, which do not provide for environmental stimulation and socialisation, will create further difficulties and cause permanent psychiatric disability in certain circumstances, as research has found in the United States? Does he also agree confinement can result in mentally ill prisoners becoming totally confused, resulting in random violence, self-harm and suicidal behaviour? According to Dr. Smith of the Central Mental Hospital, using a padded cell to address psychiatric disability is a grotesque way of holding a human being. Does the Minister concur that the provision of isolation cells is totally unsuitable for mentally ill prisoners? They should be in a medical environment with proper psychiatric services. I accept the Minister set up a committee when he took up office but, given that 78% of people using those cells have a psychiatric condition, why was a psychiatrist not on the committee?

That is a good question. I thank the Deputy for recognising that I am the first Minister for Justice to tackle this scandal. I fully accept that putting people who are psychiatrically ill into an isolation cell where they are separated from all means of self-harm is not the appropriate medium or long-term solution, even if it is only for a matter of days. That is why I have been anxious to ensure people who become acutely psychiatrically ill, in circumstances where such facilities are appropriate to prevent them from harming themselves, are speedily transferred to proper forensic psychiatric care units in the Central Mental Hospital.

I am glad the Deputy referred to Dr. Smith in this respect. One of the problems is ensuring these cases are addressed in a speedy manner so that people are not left in the circumstances I have described for two or three days while psychiatrists argue about whether they are suitable for treatment in the hospital or elsewhere. The Central Mental Hospital and the Irish Prison Service should have a close working relationship so that people in these circumstances are dealt with in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks. Doctors can differ about the status of a psychiatrically ill person but the notion that the Irish Prison Service should be left in the intolerable position of holding him in an isolation cell while a dispute takes places over whether he is suitable for treatment in the Central Mental Hospital is wholly unacceptable.

When will psychiatric patients in prisons be treated in the same way as a prisoner suffering from a general medical condition? That should be the approach. A psychiatric prisoner should be treated in a similar fashion to a prisoner who has broken his leg. Is it acceptable that one prisoner who was depressed and mutilated himself should spend 25 out of 30 days in isolation?

I accept there should be the same standards of psychiatric care as ordinary medical care. Sometimes isolation does not involve a padded cell. The Central Mental Hospital should be located in buildings that can accommodate at short notice people who experience acute psychiatric illness episodes.

I am talking to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children about this matter. I appreciate the Deputy's impatience but his party was in office for many years and it did nothing about this.

Deportation Orders.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

80 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his Department recorded contact details for the parents of Irish children who have remained here following the deportations of their non-Irish national parents. [27282/04]

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

124 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a protocol has been put in place between his Department and the Department of Health and Children to ensure that there is an effective and appropriate transfer of information. [27283/04]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

138 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if protocols or procedures have been put in place between his Department and the Department of Health and Children to ensure that in circumstances in which an Irish child must be taken into care under the Child Care Act 1991 due to the deportation of his or her parent or parents, the location of the child is established prior to the deportation of the child’s parent or parents. [27290/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 80, 124 and 138 together.

In a circumstance where a parent of an Irish-born child, who is properly subject to a deportation order, refuses to disclose the location of his or her child to the authority responsible for effecting the deportation, which is the Garda national immigration bureau, it is not possible to inform the relevant child welfare authorities of the child's whereabouts. If, after the deportation has been effected, the parent or his or her support groups or legal representatives in Ireland communicate this information to the authorities or where this information comes to light by other means, the relevant authorities will be informed immediately.

In general, it is a matter for parents of a child who is not liable to be deported to make a decision on the welfare of that child if they are deported. Ordinarily, parents have a moral and constitutional duty as well a duty as well as a right to provide properly for their children's upbringing and this duty is recognised by the Constitution. If parents acting in good faith, however, leave their children in the care and custody of another appropriate person, the State will not interfere with those arrangements as long as the decision does not amount to a failure in the duty towards their child which would justify State intervention.

How many of these cases have been reported to the Department over the past while? Section 37(1) of the Child Care Act 1991 provides that there must be reasonable access to the child by his or her parents. Is the Minister ensuring this provision should be met in these circumstances? These cases are harsh and extreme but the State has a legal duty to observe the provisions of the Child Care Act 1991. What action does the Minister intend to take?

The number of people with Irish-born children deported between February 2003 and October 2004 was 37. I am not in a position to give an accurate account of how many people have left the State and left Irish-born children behind them because they do not inform the authorities. Having regard to the total number of people with IBCs who have been deported, it can only involve a handful of cases.

A parent is entitled to leave his or her child in the custody of somebody else as long as he or she is not in breach of his or her legal duty towards his or her child. If parents choose to make that decision for their child in good faith, the State is not at liberty to interfere with the decision. However, just as in the US, parents of children who are citizens are required to leave when their status becomes illegal. If they make a choice in good faith to leave their child in the custody of a relative or friend who will look after the child, I cannot legally interfere with that arrangement. However, at the same time, I am not willing to accept a situation where people can resist deportation by saying they will consciously fail in their duty towards their child.

As long as people do not act in breach of their duty towards their children, I cannot interfere. Where gardaí become aware of a child who is at risk in these circumstances, it is their duty to notify the relevant welfare authorities so that the child's welfare can be guaranteed.

There are duties and obligations on the parents and on the State. Under that Act the State, through the Department of Health and Children, must facilitate access between the child and its parents. I am concerned that the State is not honouring that obligation.

The Deputy is obviously engaging in legal Jesuitry. He is effectively saying that the Child Care Act 1991 obliges the parents to have effective access in Ireland to their child if they leave the child in Ireland. That is not the law. The parents have a simple choice. It is a natural duty and a natural right antecedent to positive law to bring their child with them and the State facilitates them in every way possible. Where they make in good faith a decision to leave their child behind them, the State is not obliged on that account, under any Child Care Act, to readmit them to Ireland when and if they seek access to their children. Such an obligation would make a mockery of our law and no other State in the world would permit such an abuse of its child care laws to facilitate an effective trampling down of the ordinary law of deportation and residence.

I note that the Minister now confirms to the House that there have been 37 deportations of parents of Irish children. In the context of the citizenship debate in the House I ask the Minister to supply exact figures of the number of Irish children, post the Supreme Court case and the L & O case, who are under threat of deportation. As the Minister will be aware, I have suggested that since this is a finite number, if possible there should be an amnesty for the parents of those children at this stage. The Minister did not have an opportunity to reply to that Bill so he might reply to the point which is very serious. I do not believe we should deport or cause the deportation of Irish children or the parents of Irish children at this stage.

I am not in a position to say what age the children were in these 37 cases. The Deputy will appreciate that it cannot be the case that a person comes to Ireland and has a child here and on that account alone — the Supreme Court has so held — are absolutely guaranteed the right to remain in Ireland. The Deputy will also be aware that it has been reported that there are 11,000 people who parented a child in Ireland in these circumstances prior to the Supreme Court decision. I am not in a position to tell the House what proportion of those people are in Ireland today. There is no way I can tell the House because a very significant number, which I cannot quantify, simply had the child here and went home with the Irish passport without informing the Irish authorities one way or the other as to whether they intended to remain here or return home. I cannot make a quantification.

I say to the people who make the claim in regard to the 11,000 figure prior to the Supreme Court decision and maybe 4,000 or 5,000 post the Supreme Court decision, putting those two figures together, the number of occasions on which I have ordered the deportation of a parent with an Irish child is infinitesimal and gives the lie to the suggestion that I am busily deporting these people on a wholesale basis. The number of occasions where I have directed a parent to bring his or her child out of Ireland is infinitesimal as a percentage of those figures.

The Minister has chartered aircraft.

Yes. I remind the Deputy that not everybody on the chartered aircraft is the parent of an Irish-born child. I have given figures to the House recently on the level of deportations. Some 37 cases were instances where the deportees had an Irish child. That is an infinitesimal percentage of the number of people who have claimed to remain in the State by virtue of having a child born in Ireland.

Will the Minister give some indication of the factor which would cause him to proceed with a deportation of the parents of an Irish child, in particular, people who have been in the State for a long time and who have children born before the Supreme Court decision in early 2003? What factors would cause the Minister to come to the view that they should be deported?

I do not have some rule of thumb. Every case is examined individually. Deportation is only done when it is necessary in the view of the Minister, on advice received, to maintain the integrity of our immigration law and the State's capacity to regulate transit in and out of the State and to prevent the law from being completely usurped or undermined. The number of circumstances that would cause one to stay one's hand in respect of any child and its parents being deported is almost infinite. I do not discuss individual cases in the House and I will not go down that road. I assure the House that very strong reasons can be found that people who would otherwise be strictly liable for deportation should not be deported on a moral values basis. I assure the House that the 37 cases since February 2003 show that I am not engaging in wholesale deportations of this kind.

What is the Minister's common denominator?

It is based on humanitarian concerns, including, for instance, the length of stay in Ireland. If children have been here for a long time or if there are a number of children in the family and they are no longer toddlers in arms but have effectively only an Irish culture, in those circumstances I would hesitate significantly before deciding there was something special about the case that required the parents to be deported and to take their child with them.

What is the common denominator for the 37 cases?

I cannot give a common denominator for the 37 cases because these cases are dealt with on a case by case basis.

Garda Deployment.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

81 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí attached to Pettigo Garda station, County Donegal; and if there are plans to increase the number of gardaí attached to this station. [27084/04]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources including personnel, that the personnel strength of Pettigo Garda station as at 2 November 2004 is three, all ranks. Resources are augmented from within the district-division as required. Currently local Garda management has no plans to increase the number of personnel at Pettigo Garda station. Garda management will continue to appraise the policing and administrative strategy employed in Pettigo with a view to ensuring that an effective Garda service is maintained. The situation will be kept under review by Garda management and when additional personnel next becomes available the needs of Pettigo will be fully considered within the overall context of the needs of Garda stations throughout the country.

In this context, I am pleased to inform the House that the Government has approved my proposal to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members on a phased basis, in line with the commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government. This is a key commitment in the programme for Government and its implementation will significantly strengthen the operational capacity of the force. The commissioner will now draw up plans on how best to distribute and manage these resources. Clearly, however, the additional resources will be targeted at the areas of greatest need, as is envisaged in the programme for Government. The programme identifies, in particular, areas with a significant drugs problem and a large number of public order offences, but it will be possible to address other priorities as well, such as the need to significantly increase the number of gardaí allocated to traffic duties. I have promised that the additional gardaí will not be assigned to administrative duties. They will be put directly into front line, operational, high-visibility policing where they will have a real impact.

I do not know if the Minister's reply will be regarded as having much joy for the people of Pettigo. I wonder whether the Minister is familiar with Pettigo and its location and whether he has ever been there. Will he agree it is a unique village? It is situated on the Border, almost straddling the Border. One is in the South when one is on one side of the street in Pettigo and in the North when one is on the other side. This means the village is vulnerable and open to constant intrusions from across the Border.

Is the Minister aware there has been a spate of acts of criminality in Pettigo in recent months? Ten or 12 robberies have taken place in which houses were entered and goods stolen which were never recovered. The local credit union has been broken into twice. The safe was taken away on one occasion and the contents have never been recovered. Is the Minister aware that as recently as last July or August, the Garda patrol car was burned to a cinder outside the Garda station in Pettigo and, to my knowledge, no one has been apprehended for that crime? The Garda station was almost burned down and the guttering was burned to a cinder. These are all very serious incidents. Is the Minister happy with the level of Garda activity in Pettigo in view of the litany I have outlined? Is he aware that there is constant toing and froing between Pettigo and Northern Ireland? Kesh in Northern Ireland is four miles from Pettigo and the PSNI station there is open one hour a day. Will the Minister agree that something must be done to prevent these acts of vandalism, which resulted in a mass meeting in Pettigo about a fortnight ago? If we cannot have more gardaí in Pettigo, there should at least be more co-operation between them and the people on the other side to stop these continual acts of vandalism that will result in Pettigo becoming the El Paso of the north west.

I am grateful to the Deputy for bringing these incidents to my attention. If the Deputy had outlined them in the context of putting down his question I would have been in a position to respond to them. The Deputy can rest assured that I will bring everything he has said on the record of the House to the attention of the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána for his decision.

I thank the Minister for that. I regret he did not know about these activities before I brought them to his attention today. I cast no reflection on the three members stationed in Pettigo. They cannot be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That would be impossible. I listened to the Minister on the monitor in my office talk earlier about what happened in years gone by and what we did and did not do. When we were in power, there were many gardaí in Pettigo. The number is down to the bare minimum now. The Minister has promised 2,000 gardaí. I want to hear that Donegal and Pettigo will get their fair share of what becomes available, and the sooner the better.

Claims Against Gardaí.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

82 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount paid out either in respect of court awards or out of court settlements for claims taken against members of the Garda in respect of assault, unlawful arrest or other breach of a citizen’s right in respect of 2001, 2002, 2003 and to date; the number of cases in which awards were made by the courts and the number of cases settled out of court; the number of such cases pending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27237/04]

The information requested by Deputy Gilmore on court awards and out of court settlements in actions taken against members of the Garda Síochána in respect of assault, unlawful arrest or other breaches of citizens' rights is set out in the following table.

As of 31 December 2003, there were approximately 750 civil actions taken against members of the Garda Síochána on hand. A detailed breakdown of these actions in the form of the number of allegations of assault, unlawful arrest and other breaches of citizens' rights is not readily available. However, a database introduced in 2002 for the purposes of recording civil actions against members of the Garda Síochána indicates that in 2003, the first complete year for which a detailed breakdown is available, of the 142 actions initiated or received in that year by my Department there were 34 cases of alleged assault, 38 cases of alleged unlawful arrest and the remaining 70 cases included allegations of defamation and harassment. In the year to date, 111 actions have been initiated or received and they include 37 cases of alleged assault and 22 cases of alleged unlawful arrest.

The general public may take civil actions against members of the Garda Síochána for compensation for alleged wrongs and personal injuries inflicted on them by Garda members in the performance of their duties. The highest percentage of these types of civil actions against the Garda Síochána is in relation to assault and unlawful arrest. The majority of these cases have been settled for far less than €25,500. The settlement of cases takes place on the advice of the Chief State Solicitor's office, the Attorney General and State counsel.

The Garda Commissioner informed me, that incidents that result in successful claims against the State in respect of the actions of gardaí, are examined with a view to identifying and implementing operational strategies to eliminate or reduce similar claims in the future. The Garda Commissioner has also informed me that the Garda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations 1989 are invoked in appropriate cases where the actions of individual Garda members come into question. One of the principal aims of the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 is the establishment of a new mechanism for dealing with complaints against members of the Garda Síochána that will secure public confidence and address the acknowledged shortcomings in the existing law and procedures on complaints.

Year (Total Amount)

Assault

Unlawful Arrest

Other

2001 €1,619,746.83

Awards

1,904.61 (1)

20,950.68 (2)

22,220.42 (1)

Settlements

123,164.59 (5)

33,965.49 (3)

162,782.25 (9)

Costs

244,665.35

123,199.41

886,894.03

Total

369,734.55

178,115.58

1,071,896.70

2002 €1,240,388.40

Awards

1,270 (1)

3,809.21 (1)

56,500 (2)

Settlements

166,924.48 (6)

106,835.58(10)

185,078.82(11)

Costs

230,769.67

148,714.19

340,486.45

Total

398,964.15

259,358.98

582,065.27

2003 (Provisional) €1,276,127.55

Awards

11,000 (1)

10,000 (2)

4,870 (2)

Settlements

75,000 (4)

303,011 (5)

112,814.84 (4)

Costs

145,561.70

71,794.28

542,075.73

Total

231,561.70

384,805.28

659,760.57

2004 (Provisional) €559,044.25 As of 29/10/04

Awards

15,000 (1)

0

3,215.06 (1)

Settlements

10,000 (1)

219,007 (7)

27,500(1)

Costs

68,438.85

94,702.16

121,181.18

Total

93,438.85

313,709.16

151,896.24

The number of cases in which awards were made by the courts and the number of cases settled out of court are shown in brackets in each case.

Is that last point not the reason so many cases are being taken, that no new mechanisms have been put in place and the existing complaints mechanism is so inadequate it does not function?

Regarding the cases the Minister listed and the costs of those cases, is it not a fact that in respect of assault and unlawful arrest, which make up the majority of the cases, and the other cases also, the majority are settled at the door of the court and the largest proportion of costs are legal costs because they go to the door of the court? Who is responsible for deciding that a settlement will be made? Who is responsible for deciding that the majority of settlements that take place do so at the last moment? Can we get clarification on the reason the taxpayer faces such a huge bill every year in respect of compensation cases arising from Garda misconduct of one type or another?

What happens in these cases is that the Garda Commissioner and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform act on the advice of the Attorney General in regard to these claims. It is not always the case that they are brought to the door of the court. Frequently, that is not the case but I cannot inform the Deputy that it does not happen on occasions that they are settled at the door of the court. That is an endemic feature of Irish litigation practice. I agree with the Deputy that it is preferable that there should be a proper case management system and a proper estimation of the liability and quantum issues far earlier in these cases so that legal costs are minimised but in cases of "He did, he did not", which is frequently the kind of case we are dealing with, it is sometimes very difficult to know precisely the relative quality of one's own evidence until the matter comes into sharp focus and one is aware of the proposed evidence that is likely to come before a court. It is very easy to fall into the trap of not being able to estimate whether a case will be won or lost until a fairly late stage in the procedure, for obvious reasons. Where the facts are in dispute it is difficult to come to a conclusion as to which side is likely to win.

Has the Minister any proposals to provide such a case management structure?

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.