Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Parole Boards

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

1. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice when she plans to implement the Parole Act 2019 and establish a parole board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32010/20]

What are the Minister's plans for implementing the Parole Act 2019 and when does she intend to establish the parole board on a statutory footing?

I thank Deputy Kenny for raising this issue.

I am fully committed to establishing the new parole board as soon as possible. This is an important programme for Government commitment and is something I have identified as a priority action for my Department. Government has supported this commitment with funding in our first budget to make sure this priority is delivered in 2021.

As the Deputy will be aware, the new statutory parole board will considerably improve the system as it currently operates. The Parole Act 2019 puts the parole board on an independent statutory footing and sets out clear and transparent criteria for how the board will reach its decisions, which will be independent of the Minister of the day. This includes what factors will be taken into account in making those decisions, who may make submissions, which includes the victim’s right to make a formal submission to the board, as well as a number of other details.

The Act also increases the length of the sentence which must be served by life sentenced prisoners before they are eligible to be considered for parole.

The move from the current model to the model set out in the 2019 Act is complex and a significant amount of planning is required to allow for its establishment. For example, substantial preparatory work is needed to analyse and document the new legal processes that will give effect to the provisions of the Act. The Deputy will appreciate this is essential to reduce the risk of successful judicial reviews by those who may be impacted.

There are also a number of practical steps required before it will be possible to commence the Act and establish the parole board. These include the selection of the board members, the appointment of a chief executive and of staff, and securing an appropriate premises for the new body. A project board has been established in my Department to drive forward and carry out this important work and ensure that all necessary arrangements are made as soon as possible.

Budget 2021 has provided a significantly increased funding allocation of €1.3 million to allow the project board to take forward its work and move us from planning to the implementation phase of the 2019 Act. To support this work further, additional staff have been assigned to implement this project on a priority basis, in addition to the seven existing Parole Board staff who will continue to support the existing board.

A critical path for delivery of this significant priority project is currently being developed with a view to ensuring full commencement of the Parole Act, which I believe will be achieved in 2021.

I appreciate that work is being done on this but it is quite ironic that the Minister's answer is almost identical to the answer her predecessor gave more than one year ago on the work that had to be done, that the board had to be set up, that a chief executive had to be put in place, there were technical issues to be dealt with, funding had to be put in place and so on. At the same time, people who are the victims of very serious crime are fearful that the perpetrators who caused huge damage and destroyed their lives are eligible for parole, in many cases after seven years, and they have big issues and concerns around all of that. Having passed the Act through the Houses with the issues recognised and with determination to change things, one would have expected it was a priority and the legislation would be put into place much faster. A sense of urgency around this really needs to be brought to bear. While the Minister has said 2021, it is another whole year away in the view of those people who are sitting and waiting. They are very anxious that the perpetrators of serious crime against them could apply for parole under the current system. We want to ensure that does not happen.

I thank the Deputy and I reassure him that this is an absolute priority for me. This is why I have included it in my own list of priorities as Minister for Justice. While I cannot account for what may have happened last year or what stage it was at last year, a number of new things have happened in recent months with the establishment of the project board, which is driving forward the implementation. The Deputy will accept there are a number of measures that need to be put in place for this to be enacted and that we cannot progress without those measures in place. With the significant additional funding the current budget for the parole board is in the region of €600,000 per annum. The additional funding next year of €1.3 million will bring a fully operational annual budget of almost €2 million per year, which is new also. I understand this is perhaps taking a little bit longer than people would think, but when I say 2021 I am not saying 31 December 2021. My objective is to get this done as early as we can. I have also reappointed some of the current sitting board members up to June of next year to ensure that when we cross over, and if there is any cross over, that there is continuity in the service provided.

I appreciate that. I expect it would be advanced as quickly as possible. As I said earlier, it is a very serious matter for many people. We really need to get this done and completed. I hope it will be in place before the spring or summer is out and that the anxiety and worry of the many people who have been victims of serious crime will be laid at ease.

I stress again that this is a priority. I have met with some of the victims' groups. I reassured them that this is a priority and that we want to enact this as quickly as possible. I hope that the additional funding we allocated this year, and the progress of the project board in progressing this, highlights and shows that it will be done as quickly as possible.

Citizenship Applications

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

2. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice her plans to amend the rules in relation to applying for Irish citizenship, primarily the cost for those persons that have been living and contributing to society here for more than ten years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32014/20]

With regard to people who apply for Irish citizenship, we are aware there are record numbers trying to do this at the moment. Brexit has had an impact on this and is probably the biggest single factor in more people wanting to apply for Irish citizenship. Many of these are people who moved to Ireland from England, Scotland or other parts of the UK and they are now seeking to get Irish citizenship. Many have lived and worked here for years but when they look to get citizenship there is an exorbitant cost involved.

They have paid taxes. I mentioned ten years in the question but some who have been here for even less time than that have paid an enormous amount of tax while working in this country, yet are faced with a great charge when applying for citizenship. Their commitment to Ireland and the work they have done in this country needs to be reflected. We need to look at this issue again.

I thank the Deputy for his question. The fees charged in respect of applications for a certificate of naturalisation are governed by the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Regulations 2011. The fee is charged in two parts. The current application fee is €175, payable when an application for naturalisation is lodged, in addition to which is a certification fee, payable when a certificate of naturalisation issues. The standard certification fee is set at €950, while a reduced fee of €200 applies in the case of an application made on behalf of a minor or in certain cases where the application is made by a widow, widower or surviving civil partner of an Irish citizen. In the case of recognised refugees and stateless persons, there is no certification fee.

There is no provision for the discretionary waiver or reduction of fees or for different fees to be applied. I am informed that the introduction of the application fee had an immediate positive effect on the quality and completeness of applications, which is ultimately to the benefit of applicants. All of the fees payable under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, are kept under ongoing review by the Department. There are, however, currently no plans to amend the fees.

The standard fees payable by an applicant are designed to reflect the effort and cost involved in processing applications for a certificate of naturalisation which, given the benefits involved, is quite a detailed process. The Deputy will be aware that formal citizenship ceremonies were introduced almost ten years ago. These have been universally well-received by participants as the ceremonies provide a sense of dignity and a celebratory occasion that serves to underscore the importance to both the State and the applicant of the grant of Irish citizenship. Covid-19 has, unfortunately, prevented the holding of our large-scale citizenship ceremonies, which is impacting the processing of applications. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, was, therefore, pleased to recently approve a solution to replace the ceremonies with a sworn affidavit on an interim basis. This will enable approximately 3,000 applicants to be granted citizenship in the very near future.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. I accept and recognise the costs involved in this regard. The initial fee of €175 is not onerous and is not too much to expect people to pay but most of us will accept that the €950 fee is quite a high charge to place on people, particularly people who have lived and worked in Ireland, in some cases for decades. Many of these people are married to Irish citizens and have been living here for a long time. When they seek citizenship, they expect the fee to be reasonable and affordable. The fee at its current level is a bit higher than we would like. I believe most people will recognise that.

I understood the process can be a little bit complex but, in many cases, it is not and the decision is clear, simple and easy. This should be reviewed. I ask the Minister of State to review these fees, particularly for those who have lived and worked in Ireland for a good number of years and who have contributed greatly to the Exchequer.

I again thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. All fees are kept under ongoing review. Citizenship fees have not increased in the past nine years, notwithstanding the significant investment that has taken place in facilities such as a new website and e-payment facility. More enhancements to the application process are also in development, including plans to introduce online application forms and e-vetting. These measures are aimed at speeding up and streamlining the process. Over the past decade, many EU member states have increased their citizenship fees while we have maintained ours at the rate set in 2011. I again assure the Deputy that these fees will be kept under constant review as the processes are updated.

I understand that they are being kept under constant review but I am asking for a particular emphasis to be put on people who have lived and worked here for a considerable time and for this to be reflected in the fee they must pay. That is basically what I am asking for. It is not too much to expect that people who have worked and paid taxes here for ten or 15 years or more would have this recognised in the fee charged in respect of citizenship. Most of them consider themselves Irish. Many of them have been here since they were children, have gone to school here and have spent their lives here, yet they find the same fee is applicable to them as is applicable to someone who arrived in the country quite recently. It is a little onerous. These people's contribution should be reflected in the fee structure. I again ask the Minister of State to look at the issue in that context.

I again thank the Deputy. As I have said, this is a very important issue. The fees will remain under review on an ongoing basis and as the process is streamlined and updated further. The Deputy's concerns will be considered.

Garda Misconduct Allegations

Michael McNamara

Ceist:

3. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Justice when she will publish the report of Mr. Justice Clyde pursuant to the section 42 inquiry into the death of Patrick Nugent; and her views on the inordinate and inexplicable delay in publishing the report. [32286/20]

When will the Minister publish the report pursuant to the section 42 inquiry into the death of Patrick Nugent at Bunratty? Will she share her views on the inordinate and unacceptable delay in publishing that report? I would also like to ask the Houses of the Oireachtas Service why Mr. Nugent's name was removed from the question. A public inquiry is under way. Why on earth was his name removed from the Dáil Éireann Question Paper? What is going on in this place? Why are questions routinely changed?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I will start by expressing my deepest sympathies to the family, friends and community of Patrick Nugent on their tragic loss.  Although this happened more than 36 years ago, I know the pain of losing Patrick will not have diminished in this time and I greatly appreciate deeply the family's desire to understand the circumstances which led to his death.   

As the Deputy will be aware, an inquiry under section 42 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 into the Garda Síochána investigation following Patrick's death in 1984 is being carried out by the former judge, Patrick Clyne.  On 16 June 2020, my predecessor as Minister, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, approved a five-month extension of the inquiry to 31 July 2020. This included a retrospective period following a previous extension that had been granted to 29 February 2020.  In early August, my Department was advised that while the judge had broadly completed the report, he was not yet in a position to submit it and it was anticipated that it would be the end of September before the completed report was submitted.

We are now in the middle of October. My officials were, therefore, again in contact with the judge this week and he has indicated that he expects to be in a position to send the final report to me in the coming two weeks. I expect to have it within those two weeks. Following receipt of the report, I will consult the Attorney General with a view to providing the report to the Nugent family and publishing a copy on my Department's website as soon as possible.

As to the Deputy's final question, my understanding is that the names of individuals, agencies and groups are often removed to protect their identities. I do not believe anything untoward was intended.

As the Minister pointed out, it has been 36 years since Patrick Nugent died in circumstances that have yet to be explained. It is 33 years since the jury in his inquest attached a rider to the verdict saying that it was "far from satisfied as to the circumstances under which Patrick Nugent sustained the injuries which caused his death" and asked the Minister for Justice to have the matter further investigated. It took 32 years for the Department to do so. The ongoing delays by the former District Court judge carrying out this inquiry can only have compounded the pain and suffering of the family. Justice delayed is justice denied. I accept that the Minister and her Department have contacted the former judge, which I greatly appreciate, but I would like her to tell the House today that no further delay will be accepted and that no further extension will be granted.

I thank the Deputy. All I can say is that I am sorry it has taken this long to get to where we are. I have read through the circumstances myself. This young man was working and, unfortunately, met his death in circumstances that are still unknown. It must be very difficult and challenging for the family. I am sorry it has taken this long to even get to where we are today. Having spoken to the judge, I am confident that, while there have been a number of delays this year for different reasons, we will receive this report in the next two weeks. When I was speaking to him this week, he told me very clearly that the vast majority of the work has been done. I am very confident that we will have the report in the next two weeks.

The investigation itself was established to investigate allegations of Garda misconduct and of inadequacies in the investigations with a view to determining the extent and manner of any further required action. I understand how important this is for the family. I will give an absolute commitment that we will have the report within two weeks.

I thank the Minister and greatly appreciate her assurances. I would also appreciate an assurance that the report will be published. While this is far more important for those who grieve Patrick Nugent, it is also important for the wider community that justice be done and be seen to be done, regardless of who the perpetrators are, the position they hold or the work they carry out in society. I appreciate as well that the Minister will not be able to publish the report immediately, but I would appreciate if it is published in a timely manner.

I confirm that will happen. Once we receive the report, it will be important that the Attorney General be consulted, as well as the family. After that is done, and the family are satisfied that they have received the report, it will then be published and made public.