Priority Questions

Recidivism Rate

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

1 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice; Equality and Law Reform the number of suspects who have re-offended while on bail in 2009 and to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19716/10]

For some time I have been concerned at the number of offences being committed by persons on bail. Therefore, I requested and obtained Government approval late last year to commence work on a new bail Bill. The options that will be considered for inclusion in the new bail Bill include the following — providing that the courts must have regard to the nature and seriousness of any danger to any person or the public posed by the release of the accused person on bail; the creation of presumptions that bail should be refused for people charged with certain types of serious crime — in view of European Convention on Human Rights restrictions, such presumptions would act as a form of guidance to the courts in identifying those who present unacceptable risks of committing serious offences if granted bail; and extending the powers of the courts to refuse bail where necessary to prevent the commission of further offences to include more minor offences below the current level of seriousness required by the Bail Act 1997.

Other issues that will be considered for inclusion are provisions relating to the following — no automatic bail on appeal from a District Court conviction; inclusion of public safety-public order criteria; power of arrest for gardaí for breach of bail conditions; provision of guidance to the courts against granting bail in certain serious cases; reasons to be given when a prosecution objection to bail is overruled in certain cases; and proving foreign convictions.

This proposed legislation is complex and requires close consultation with relevant offices, including the Office of the Attorney General. I hope to be in a position to bring proposals to Government before the end of the year.

The Criminal Justice Act 2007 strengthened the law with the aim of facilitating a stronger challenge by the prosecution to applications for bail by persons charged with serious offences and of further improving decision making by the courts. In addition, the law provides for adverse consequences for a person who commits an offence while on bail.

Statistics compiled by the Central Statistics Office indicate that in 2009 there were 27,228 offences recorded where the suspected offender was on bail. It should be noted that these figures refer to the number of offences committed, not the number of suspected offenders on bail. In 2010, up to 31 March, there were 5,398 such crimes recorded. As the number of such crimes recorded in 2008 was 29,568, the 2009 figure represents a reduction of 8% on the previous year.

The decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the court, which is, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of its judicial functions. There is a constitutional presumption in favour of bail, since, in the eyes of the law, a person is innocent until proven guilty.

The Minister tried for as long as he could to avoid the question, which is quite specific in its import, asking the Minister the number of suspects who have re-offended. Of course, hidden in his spin was the true figure, where he revealed that almost 30,000 crimes per annum are committed by persons who have been suspected and charged with serious crime. The Minister refuses to give the full story.

Would the Minister agree that the chief suspects in 15 murders committed in the past 20 months were out on bail and he has been particularly tardy in dealing with this issue? I suggest the real reason for his tardiness or inability to deal with this issue is prison overcrowding and the longer he delays in dealing with reform of the bail laws, the more law abiding citizens are refused by this Government a basic level of protection on our streets.

No. The figures speak for themselves. As I stated, 27,000 offences amount to a reduction of 8% on the previous year. One offender could have committed ten offences. That is how they are compiled and it does not represent the overall figure for number of offenders.

Of course, we all are worried about people who are out on bail. As I stated earlier, as Deputy Flanagan knows well, the Judiciary is independent in the way in which it operates and under the Constitution everyone is entitled to his or her freedom, subject to conditions, until proven guilty. Those are the parameters within which we must operate.

When I came into office there had been changes made in 2007 to restrict bail even more, but the strong advice to me is that we cannot go too much further or else we will contravene, not just under the Constitution but under the European Convention on Human Rights, the personal freedom of persons.

As I stated earlier, we are trying to tighten up a number of issues, bring in new conditions and lower the bar in relation to seriousness of offences where there would be a more strict criteria on the granting of bail. That work is ongoing and I want to bring it forward as soon as possible.

It is regrettable that the Minister does not have the good grace to accept that this is a scandal under his watch. It is too much to expect that he would.

All accept the independence of the Judiciary and there is no question of anybody here engaging in anything that might compromise that independence.

I have two questions. Has the Minister examined the feasibility of asking the courts to consider the safety of a member of the community or of the general public in the context of a bail application being made, and whether that might be an issue that could be considered? That, to my mind, would in no way interfere with the independence of the Judiciary.

Has the matter of delay, between the time of arrest, charge and caution and the ultimate trial taking place, been looked at? Has he met with the executives of the Courts Service to deal with the matter of delay because this is an issue too? Not only are we dealing with the circumstances under which bail can be granted and the criteria that might be adjudged by the court, but the issue of lengthy delays in criminal trials between the time a suspect is arrested, charged and cautioned and the ultimate trial is an issue that in no way interferes with any European Convention or law or the independence of the Judiciary, and is, in effect, a real issue.

As I stated earlier, one of the issues I am asking my officials to look at in the context of this new bail Bill is providing that the courts must have regard to the nature and seriousness of any danger to any person or the public posed by the release of the accused person on bail. We are asking that such be one of the criteria, subject to confirmation by the Attorney General that we can do that. As I stated, my clear instructions to my officials, and, indeed, to the Attorney General's office, is that we want to push the boat out as far as we can.

I thought the Minister asked the Attorney General last year.

It does not matter whether it is me, Deputy Flanagan or anyone else who is on this side of the House, we must take cognisance of the constitutional requirements on personal freedom and, indeed, all the various international agreements to which we are party.

Was the Attorney General not asked a year ago?

The issue of the time between arrest, charge and caution and bringing forward a trial, is a matter not only for the Courts Service, but for the Garda Síochána which is putting together files which must go to the DPP, etc. Of course, there is always an insistence when the Department would meet with the Courts Service and with the Garda, etc., that as little time as possible would be involved. However, one cannot hurry justice in that a mistake could be made, given that, ultimately, one is talking about putting persons into prison. In ensuring that every "t" is crossed and every "i" is dotted in the proving of an offence, it is important that people take their time and not rush it in order to ensure that the case sticks.

Meanwhile people are being killed on the streets.

Commissions of Investigation

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

2 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice; Equality and Law Reform his views on extending the remit of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin to cover other dioceses in the country; the position in respect of the Garda investigation into matters arising from the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19696/10]

As the Deputy will be aware, the commission's report on the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin was published in November last. The commission is at present examining the Diocese of Cloyne, and the Government extended the commission's term to 30 June to allow this work to be completed.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the investigations of the assistant commissioner appointed by the Garda Commissioner to examine the findings of the Dublin Archdiocese report relating to the handling of complaints and investigations by both Church and State authorities are ongoing. He will complete his investigations expeditiously with a view to reporting to the Commissioner as early as possible. When he reports to the Commissioner with his recommendations, the Commissioner will consult with the DPP as to what issues arise in the context of criminal liability.

I am informed by my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, that the HSE is currently in the process of completing its audit of Catholic dioceses to ensure that it, as the statutorily responsible body, is fully aware of all cases of clerical child sex abuse known to the church. It is hoped that the HSE will submit its report to the Minister of State in the near future.

Consideration of the results of all these investigations will include consideration of what further action require to be taken, including a possible extension of the Commission's remit.

Bringing the perpetrators to justice, whenever and wherever the abuse occurred, must be the absolute priority. I repeat my call for any person, including members of the clergy, who has knowledge of such abuse to contact the Garda Síochána immediately.

The Minister's response is very disappointing in the sense that he has drawn down what was on the word processor from the last time this question was asked. It is exactly the same answer as given in March, except that in March, the Minister told the House that the HSE report would be with the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs by the end of April. He has now changed the answer of March to read, "in the near future". Is it not disappointing, given the gravity of this issue, that such apparent tardy progress, if progress there is at all, is being made?

I ask the Minister specifically to address the question of the investigation of child abuse in the dioceses outside Dublin and Cloyne. Has the Minister read the very courageous remarks of the archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin? He has an admirable track record in this regard. Is it not right that more weight ought to be attached to his words when he says it is his view there are powerful forces within the church still covering up the evil of child sexual abuse in this country? Is it not desirable that the Minister would direct there should be sampling, at a minimum, in other dioceses and that this should be tested by the commission of investigation methodology to deal with the problem, as he said he would deal with it when he took the report on Dublin?

The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is the line Minister with direct responsibility. The HSE has received details of complaints from all dioceses subject to the audit, the persons against whom the complaints have been made, the information on reporting. The HSE is in the process of cross-referencing this information with the Garda records. The Garda Síochána is fully committed to facilitating this process. It has set up a dedicated team to work on the audit and has the services of an independent consultant. It is also undertaking an audit of 140 religious orders. Like everybody else, I took on board the sentiments expressed by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. I agree we have to take his words very seriously when he referred to these dark forces. If it is the case there are people within the church authorities who are still railing against the type of new structures put in place by the church authorities, then this is an issue, primarily, for the church authorities to deal with.

The Dublin archdiocese report was a mere sampling of the entire Dublin archdiocese area and yet it took four years to complete. The Cloyne report is now added to that. There is a total of 21 other dioceses. The original idea of taking a sample of cases from Dublin was as an illustration of how the church and the State authorities dealt with these complaints historically. We have learned from Judge Murphy's excellent report and the commission report, that these cases were not well dealt with, in particular by the church. The State authorities, in all fairness, followed up very quickly when these cases were first brought to its attention in the mid-1990s but the church was slow and lethargic in confronting this issue. No decisions are being made with regard to the extension but when the final results of the Cloyne investigation are available, decisions may be made at that stage whether to extend it to the other 21 dioceses. It is best to wait. The Cloyne investigation includes all the cases whereas a sampling was undertaken in Dublin because of the size of the archdiocese.

Will the Minister agree it is deeply troubling that the archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Martin, felt it necessary to go public with the trenchant remarks about dark forces still covering up this evil in our society? What more could one have expected from the archbishop other than going to the top of Croagh Patrick and crying out to the heavens for help? He is saying in black and white that these crimes are still being covered up. Is this not an argument for the Minister to act, to pick a diocese like Raphoe, which is reported to have been rotten with this problem? Some of the cases have been ventilated in public. For example, why does the Minister not take his courage in his hands and direct that the particular diocese would be investigated, to support the plea that I take Dr. Martin to be making to the civil authorities?

Any extension of the investigation would involve costs to the Exchequer. The cost to date of the commission on the Dublin archdiocese is in the region of €4.4 million. This does not include third party costs which will follow. The Cloyne investigation costs are in the region of €1 million to date. The question of extending it to 21 other dioceses or even the diocese of Raphoe would incur additional expense. I will not make a decision here on the floor of the House in that regard; it is a matter for Government to decide. As Minister I have ultimate responsibility for policy on justice matters. On the publication of the Murphy report I indicated to the Garda Síochána in a general way that the Government was very worried — I think I spoke for everyone in this country — about the way in which the church in particular had dealt with cases historically. For that reason the Garda Commissioner appointed an Assistant Commissioner with responsibility for reviewing all the cases across the country and not just a sample from Dublin or anywhere else. I note Dr. Martin's comments about the dark forces. It is the responsibility of this House and of the Minister to ensure that those people who are responsible are brought to justice as soon as possible and without delay. The focus of these examinations is not to find people guilty but rather to find out how the church and State authorities responded. We already know that the church in particular and the State authorities to a lesser extent did not respond in those sample cases in Dublin. We should now move on to prosecuting those people. The responsibility in that respect rests with the church authorities who know these people and where they are. Dr. Martin and anyone else with information should come forward with that information to the State authorities so that those people can be prosecuted.

Temporary Release of Prisoners

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

3 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice; Equality and Law Reform the number of prisoners granted temporary release from custodial institutions in April 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19717/10]

It is not possible to provide figures to the Deputy for all forms of temporary release as this would require the manual examination of records. Such an examination would require a disproportionate and inordinate amount of staff time and effort. It could not be justified in current circumstances when there are other significant demands on resources.

However, I am advised by the director general of the Prison Service that figures for granted weekly reviewable temporary release in April 2010 represents an average of 36 prisoners granted temporary release per day, 0.86% of the average number in custody in April. The average daily number of persons on temporary release for the month of April was 836 persons, approximately 16.3%.

The Criminal Justice Act 1960, as amended by the Criminal Justice (Temporary Release of Prisoners) Act 2003, provides that the Minister may approve the temporary release of a sentenced prisoner. The Prison Service utilises temporary release as part of its programme of sentence management. Temporary release arrangements operate similarly to a system of parole, which is a feature of prison systems worldwide. It is an important vehicle for reintegrating an offender into the community in a planned way.

Each case is examined on its merits and the safety of the public is paramount when decisions are made. In addition, all releases are subject to conditions, which in the majority of cases, include a requirement of the offender to report regularly to his or her Garda station. One of the main issues taken into consideration when deciding whether a prisoner is suitable for temporary release is public safety. Any offender who breaches his or her conditions may be arrested and returned to prison immediately by the Garda.

The Minister's reply is yet another letdown for the House. He claims it would involve too much effort for his officials and himself to provide the House with the important information on how many prisoners were on temporary release in April. It is also an important question when one considers the current prison crisis. That the Minister does not know or even bother to find out how many prisoners are on temporary release is a further indication of the serious crisis in the prison system.

There were just under 1,000 prisoners on temporary release in April, representing 16% of the prison population. Recently, Judge Thomas E. O'Donnell of the District Court who, after the careful consideration of a case in Limerick, handed down a person a 15 month-prison sentence in Mountjoy Prison. How does the Minister explain to the judge and the people why this prisoner was released after two days of serving his sentence?

There is a prison crisis evolving around the Minister but he is the only person in the State who does not recognise it as such. Fr. Peter McVerry, an eminent worker in the prison system, claims this is the worst crisis he has seen in more than 35 years. So too has the Minister's own appointment for inspector of prisons. What plans has the Minister to deal with a crisis which sees prison governors and former Government supporters appointed to prison committees resigning?

The Deputy should conclude as I want to call the Minister.

The Minister is the last person to see the prison system crumbling all around him.

I do not deny there are problems in some of our prisons. I have said this many times in the House and that we are endeavouring to deal with them. I am not going to take political criticism, however, from Deputy Charles Flanagan. The last time his party was in government, it did not build one prison cell in its four years in office. It actually cancelled the building of the Dóchas and Castlerea prisons.

Yes, it did because Deputy Quinn was the Minister for Finance at the time and I recall he cancelled those projects.

That was in the last century.

One cannot build a prison overnight. In my tenure as Minister, 1,750 prison spaces have been built. Deputy Charles Flanagan always claims I closed the Spike Island facility.

Yes, and the Curragh facility.

The Spike Island and Curragh facilities would have not lasted a day if they were tested for the infringement of human rights. These were not only uneconomic to run but their conditions would have infringed upon people's human rights.

The moneys realised when the Shanganagh facility was sold have been used to buy the Thornton Hall site. It is ironic the Deputy is criticising the Government's prison plans when at every twist and turn he has opposed the building of Thornton Hall, which is ultimately the long-term solution.

The Minister will conclude because I want to give Deputy Charles Flanagan a supplementary question.

The Minister wasted €40 million of taxpayers' money for the Thornton Hall site.

Our prisons are dominated by gang bosses who continue to operate from behind prison bars. Mobile telephones and drugs are rampant in the prisons in spite of the Minister's repeated assurances that they would be tackled. The Minister cannot inform the House how many prisoners are on temporary release at any one time. I would have imagined there was some level of computerisation of prisoner records but obviously it cannot be done.

Will the Minister carry out an analysis over the summer of 2010 as to what persons are in prison due to immigration detention, mental health problems, non-payment of dog licences, television licences, civil debt and fines? Will he do this before he embarks on any further work on the prison building programme?

I call the Minister for his final reply on this question.

The Minister has already wasted €40 million of taxpayers' money on Thornton Hall which is now no more than a white elephant. He promised a slimmed-down and phased-in programme for Thornton Hall.

I have called the Minister. It would be appreciated if the Deputy could facilitate the Chair.

There is a crisis in our prison system yet the Minister, regrettably, has no plan to resolve it.

Please Deputy, allow the Minister.

The Deputy asked the number of prisoners on temporary release in April 2010. I gave him the figure, 836 persons.

Why did he not say that at the beginning of his reply?

Considering there are approximately 4,100 persons in prison, this averages out at 0.86%.

No, that is not the average. The Minister is massaging the figures.

Please allow the Minister without interruption.

The figure is actually 16%.

No. Up to 36 prisoners are granted temporary release per day which is 0.86% of the average number in custody in April. It is a bit ironic for Deputy Charles Flanagan to criticise these figures considering the figures when his party was last in office.

It has been suggested Ireland's prison statistics are out of line with other countries. In 2008, the prison population was well below the average of any other western European country. I accept the figure may have gone up in the meantime but it is still below the EU average.

Temporary release is used in certain circumstances to allow people to reintegrate into society.

The Minister has abused this facility.

Please allow the Minister to reply to the question.

Deputy Charles Flanagan is the very person who recently suggested that instead of cutting back on remission by 25%, more avenues should be given to encourage people to behave in prison. He is speaking with a forked tongue on this matter.

I am not. There is a crisis in the prison system yet the Minister has no understanding of it.

Please allow the Minister to conclude.

As Minister I have endeavoured to work with the temporary release system, provided the Garda and the Prison Service are satisfied the general public's safety is not at risk, to reintegrate people into society.

We must move on to Question No. 4.

I make no apologies for that.

The Minister does not even engage with the probation and welfare service.

Tribunals of Inquiry

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

4 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice; Equality and Law Reform the number of times the Smithwick Tribunal has met in public session to date; and the cost of the tribunal to date [19718/10]

The Smithwick tribunal was established in 2005 by resolutions passed in both Houses of the Oireachtas to investigate suggestions that members of the Garda Síochána, or other employees of the State, colluded in the fatal shootings of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Robert Buchanan on 20 March 1989. The resolution establishing the tribunal requires that it reports to the Clerk of the Dáil and makes such findings and recommendations as it sees fit on those matters. It is required to report on an interim basis not later than three months from the date of its establishment and within ten days of the commencement of oral hearings regarding the granting of representation before the tribunal, progress to date, likely duration and any other matters which it considers appropriate.

There is also a requirement for the tribunal to be completed in as economical a manner as possible and at the earliest possible date, consistent with a fair examination of the matters referred to it. The total cost of the tribunal to end February 2010, the latest date for which figures are available, is €6.3 million. The sole member of the tribunal is Mr. Justice Peter Smithwick. The tribunal is still in its investigative phase at present and has not, save for a sitting in which the chairman set out the terms of reference of the tribunal, held any public hearings to date. I understand public hearings are expected to take place later this year. The House will appreciate it is not open to me, as Minister, to seek to interfere in any way with the work of the tribunal. Nevertheless, I am confident the tribunal is cognisant of my desire, and that of the House, to fulfil its mandate as expeditiously as possible. In this context, it is to be hoped that the extensive investigative work undertaken by the tribunal will obviate the need for protracted public hearings.

I am conscious that the Minister has no wish to interfere with the workings of the tribunal and I accept that wholeheartedly. However, does he consider that the tribunal represents value for the taxpayer? In his reply, the Minister states some €6.3 million of taxpayers money has already been expended, but the tribunal has not sat for one day in public session. Does the Minister consider that five years of a tribunal without one public hearing and with expenditure of €6.3 million represents an expeditious route towards dealing with the investigation? How has it spent five years without one public hearing?

As the Deputy is aware, the Minister is not answerable for the tribunal.

Does the Minister consider it is good value for money? When does he expect this matter to be reported? Five years have already elapsed.

As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle stated, I am not responsible for this or to the House in respect of this matter.

The Minister is responsible for the payment of taxpayers' money.

It is safe to say that officials in my Department have been in contact with Mr. Justice Smithwick in respect of the ongoing development of his investigation. It is also fair to say that he is endeavouring to carry out much of the work outside of public session to obviate the necessity for long public hearings. He does not have the full say in respect of how long the hearings will take place because if people are implicated in it, they must have the opportunity to query anything that goes on.

In respect of value for money, the fees paid to the inquiry's legal team were originally capped by virtue of the Government decision in 2004 to limit the level of fees payable to lawyers in such cases. These fees have been further reduced as a result of the Government's actions in 2009 to reduce public expenditure. Ultimately, we will not know whether the tribunal is value for money until it reports to the House. However, given the fact that the House gave Mr. Justice Smithwick his job, we can safely say he will report to the House on an interim basis after the ten days of public hearing to indicate how far he has progressed and at that stage we will know more. The Deputy was among those who set up the tribunal, it was not the Government. Mr. Justice Smithwick would have to be cognisant of the views expressed in the Oireachtas.

I refer to two points which arise. What steps does the Minister intend to take to determine a timeframe for this issue? Was it envisaged in 2005, when the terms of reference were agreed, that after five years not one public hearing would have taken place? What timeframe is the Minister considering? Does the Minister agree with me that the slow pace of the tribunal has implications for persons whose character has been impugned, about whom allegations of a very serious nature have been made, about whom accusations and allegations of collusion have been made, and who are unable, because of the slow pace of the tribunal or because no one knows where this tribunal is going, to vindicate their good name? There is a denial of persons' constitutional rights as long as this tribunal continues at such a slow rate or pace and at such a high level of cost to the taxpayer.

I am somewhat conscious of trampling on the work of the tribunal.

That is the point but the question has been put and I must answer it as best I can, in the knowledge that the Government did not set up the tribunal. The tribunal is answerable to the House and if the House wishes to express anything about five years, it is a matter for the House if Members have a problem with it.

I understand from my officials, who have been in discussion with the tribunal team and the judge, that Mr. Justice Smithwick is very conscious of the costs and the time required. However, this is a painstaking operation involving co-operation with authorities across the Border and, possibly, across the water. Knowing Mr. Justice Smithwick, I have no doubt that he is operating in as expeditious a manner as possible and he must bear in mind the sentiments expressed by the Deputy.

It seems the Minister is not aware of any problem. There is no problem.

Judicial Appointments

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

5 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice; Equality and Law Reform when he envisages a Judicial Council will be established; the role such a body will fulfil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19719/10]

As the House is aware, necessary consultations with the Judiciary on the details of my proposals for a judicial council Bill have been ongoing for some time. I am pleased to report there has been renewed progress in these consultations in recent weeks. Following a plenary meeting of the Judiciary on 8 May 2010, the Chief Justice has indicated the welcome and support of the Judiciary for the latest draft of the scheme of the Bill. At the meeting they were informed by the registrar of the Ontario Judicial Council in respect of how the judicial complaints model has worked in that jurisdiction. I appreciate the positive engagement of the Chief Justice and his colleagues in giving renewed momentum to this important phase of the consultative process in respect of the proposed judicial council Bill.

My proposals for a Bill will, I believe, achieve a reasonable balance between the Government's commitment to legislation on judicial conduct with lay participation and the need to ensure respect for the independence of the Judiciary. Thanks to the efforts of all concerned, we have now reached an important point where few issues remain and it should be possible for me in the near future to seek the approval of the Government for my proposals and for their publication. The publication of my proposals will be an important step in realising the commitment given in the agreed programme for Government to legislate to provide effective remedies for complaints about judicial misbehaviour, including lay participation in the investigation of complaints.

Under the Bill, members of the public will be provided with a framework through which they can pursue allegations of judicial misconduct. This will be centred on a definition of a breach of judicial conduct. A judicial council is to be established with responsibility for ensuring high standards of conduct among judges. The judicial council will also be broadly supportive of excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions.

The work of the judicial council will be supported by a structure which will include a committee with specific responsibility for judicial conduct. This will be tasked, among other things, with the consideration and investigation of complaints. I welcome in particular the fact that the committee dealing with conduct matters is also to have lay participation. This was a key commitment of the programme for Government that will enhance public confidence in the transparency of the accountability framework offered under this Bill.

I welcome the progress announced by the Minister in this regard. I assume from his statement that the Minister expects to bring legislation before the House before the end of this year. In this regard, the Minister referred to a forum in cases of alleged judicial misbehaviour or misconduct. Does the Minister envisage that the legislation would cover such matters as inconsistency of sentencing, about which there has been considerable public debate?

No. Primarily it will relate to judicial misconduct, not the issue of sentencing. As the Deputy is aware, a programme is being put in place by the Courts Service, funded by the Exchequer in respect of a system whereby a database of judgments will be available to the Judiciary to enable it to examine and research comparative sentencing models throughout the country. I welcome this because to ensure public confidence in sentencing by the Judiciary there must be consistency throughout the country and I am aware this is something the Judiciary rather values as well. It is very supportive of the ISIS, Irish sentencing information system, programme.

Has the Minister turned his mind towards the budgetary consequences of the setting up of such a council? For example, if an allegation is made against a member of the Judiciary then to defend the good name of himself or herself or the conduct of proceedings it would be necessary to call evidence. I assume that would involve either a transcript or an audio recording of what took place in court. We are far from that in terms of our court infrastructure. Does the Minister envisage that prior to the proper functioning of the council, every courthouse in the country, including District Courts, would be equipped with appropriate technological devices such as audio digital recording equipment, and has he costed for such?

Yes, and that money is available to the Courts Service. Digital audio recording technology has been installed across a substantial element of the courts system, including all Central Criminal Courts, the High Courts, Family Law Courts, Special Criminal Courts and Circuit Courts, both criminal and civil. Installation of digital audio recording for the Four Courts complex, which includes the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal, has been completed. Digital audio recording capability has also been provided for all 22 courts in the new Criminal Courts complex. The phased roll-out of digital audio recording is now focused on the District Court network and on some outstanding Circuit Court facilities. At the same time, portable digital audio recording equipment is being made available as a flexible alternative for use where appropriate. By the time this legislation is enacted, digital audio recording will not be an issue. The requirement for a transcript in the context of any subsequent investigation was one of the main issues raised by the Judiciary.

The time for Priority Questions has expired.