Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 4 is in my name. With the permission of the House, I will move that question further down the list and ask it when I leave the Chair. We will move to Question No. 9 as the Deputies who submitted Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, are not present. Their questions may be taken later.

Legislative Programme

Paul McAuliffe

Ceist:

9. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Justice her plans to criminalise adults who groom children to commit crimes, as outlined in the programme for Government. [31241/20]

There is undoubtedly sufficient social distance between the Ministers and me. Sitting back here gives a whole new meaning to the term "backbencher".

I ask for an outline of the Government's plans to criminalise adults who groom children to commit crimes, as outlined in the programme for Government.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. Diverting young people from getting involved in criminal activity is a key priority for the Government. The exploitation of young people and children is a particular concern. As the Deputy will be aware, while an adult may be prosecuted for a crime which has been committed by a child who has been incited to do so by the adult, there is currently no mechanism in law for explicitly recognising the damage done to the child.

The programme for Government commits to developing a law which would take account of this and penalise adults for the exploitation and harm done to the child in such cases. This has sometimes been referred to as "Fagin's law". Officials in the Department are already working to develop legislation in this regard and it is intended to bring proposals to Government in the form of a general scheme by the end of this year or early next year. It should be noted that this is a complex area, as in many cases the adult in question is known to the child and may in some cases even be a family member, causing potential issues with regard to witness testimony.

In addition, the Deputy may be aware of the Greentown report published in December 2016, which was produced at the school of law in the University of Limerick, UL, and examined the influence of criminal networks on children in Ireland. The report outlines how the influence of criminal networks increases the level of offending by a small number of children and entraps them in offending situations. As part of the wider Greentown project, targeted interventions are to be piloted to further protect children in Ireland from becoming involved in criminal networks.

With regard to broader issues of youth justice, the Deputy may also wish to note that the Department is finalising a new youth justice strategy and it is intended to bring a final strategy to Government before the end of the year. 

I thank the Minister of State. He spoke of the damage being done to children. I acknowledge the work done by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, in this area before her appointment. She visited Ballymun and Finglas in my constituency several years ago to talk to us about "Fagin's law", her Bill on the recruitment of children to engage in criminal activity. While she had been inspired by a father inducing a child to steal from a changing room at a local match, the application of the concept in my constituency was important. We have seen young people being induced into crime. They are given small incentives first, such as a curry tray or something else from the chipper, then a pair of runners and then a track suit. These children are being brought into the drugs industry, which is a lucrative one and difficult to compete with as a PAYE worker. Young people see this disparity and look at the options. We need, therefore, to make interventions and criminalise adults who induce these children to commit crimes. I ask the Minister of State to go further. What other measures does he intend to put in place?

I thank Deputy McAuliffe for raising this issue, which is an extremely important one. The Deputy has been leading the charge in this area for some time, as has the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. She has done a great deal of work on this issue.

A twin-track approach is required. One concerns criminalising those people who groom young children. We must also have the correct interventions in place to support those young children, divert them from criminal activity and ensure they have the supports required. A number of processes are under way in that regard. The Greentown report on the influence of criminal networks on children in Ireland was produced by the research evidence into policy, programmes and practice project team in the school of law at UL. Some €4.2 million has been allocated to this area over three years for investment to support that programme and other pilot projects. Work is also ongoing on the youth justice strategy, which I expect will be published before Christmas. That is concerned with extending programmes, such as the Garda youth diversion programme, and bringing in other Departments and services to ensure that young children who are being groomed for a crime are diverted and have the supports they need to take alternative routes for their own protection.

I look forward to working with that review. I once chaired a youth justice project, not in my local area but in Kilmore. Many of the services put in place by the State, whether youth justice or issues such as those I was talking to the Minister about last night, including the national childcare scheme, after-school programmes and similar matters, are working to ensure that children do not fall between the cracks. The problem is that those initiatives are competing with people who are willing to break the law and induce young people into a life of crime. The Ballymun drugs task force and Dublin City Council will soon publish a report on the impact of open drug dealing in the Ballymun community. I hope to forward a copy to the Minister and the Minister of State and look forward to a whole-of-government response.

I hear the concerns of the Deputy about this important issue of children being groomed by serious criminals. There is temptation if young people are promised easy money in the absence of alternative supports being in place. We must ensure there is a whole-of-government approach and not simply a theoretical approach. Appropriate interventions must be put in place on the ground to ensure that children are diverted from criminal activity and the required supports are put in place. That is partly what the youth justice strategy aims to do. It is not intended to deal simply with stand-alone interventions, but to ensure that everything is working together to provide those supports and direct people away from crime.

However, we must also tackle poverty. That is part of what gives rise to the temptation that attracts young people to crime. They are living in poverty and that is a major issue and part of the attraction of crime. Several interventions are needed, all working together, to tackle the issues the Deputy raised.

Legislative Measures

Mick Barry

Ceist:

6. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Justice the date on which the transfer of functions will take place from her Department of matters relating to discrimination in accessing third level education, public services and employment by minors and young persons who were born here or are long-term residents here but who are not Irish, EEA, UK or Swiss citizens; the steps that will be taken following the transfer of functions to ensure access to these services for these persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30629/20]

Mick Barry

Ceist:

7. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Justice if she supports legislative change to ensure that persons born here and-or have been resident here long-term as minors but who are not Irish, EEA, UK or Swiss nationals will be able to access work, third level education and other public services on the same basis as persons with one of those nationalities; if she will review the situation facing these persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32028/20]

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to ask my questions now. Question No. 6 is to ask the Minister for Justice the date on which the transfer of functions will take place from her Department of matters relating to discrimination in accessing third level education, public services and employment by minors and young persons who were born here or are long-term residents here but are not Irish, EEA, UK or Swiss citizens and the steps that will be taken following the transfer of functions to ensure access to these services for these persons.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 7 together.

On 14 October 2020, the Government approved the transfer of functions which has moved responsibility for international protection accommodation, integration and equality to my colleague, the Minister with responsibility for children, equality, disability, integration and youth, with effect from that date. The transfer of functions, therefore, has already taken place. I should clarify, however, that issues such as access to education, public services and employment were not the direct responsibility of my Department before the transfer of functions and they are not the responsibility of my Department following the transfer of functions.

Issues relating to access can be taken up with the Department or agency which has responsibility for providing the service. Of course, a whole-of-government approach is warranted to address the needs of diverse groups and to ensure their equal participation in Irish society. As the Deputy will also be aware, there is a migrant integration strategy in place. Responsibility for this has transferred to the new Department and its implementation will continue to be an absolute priority for my colleague, the Minister with responsibility for children, equality, disability, integration and youth, Deputy O'Gorman, in his new remit in that Department.

Access to these services on the same basis as EEA nationals can be achieved through acquiring Irish citizenship. A minor or young person who has been in the State for five years and who otherwise satisfies the criteria of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 can apply for citizenship through the naturalisation process.

The Government is committed to creating new pathways for long-term undocumented people and their dependants who meet specified criteria to regularise their status within 18 months of the formation of the Government, bearing in mind European Union and common travel area commitments. This commitment was made in the programme for Government and I intend to follow through on it as Minister. The Government is acutely aware that a number of Irish people face similar challenges abroad and we all know people who are living in the same circumstances in America or other countries and have not been able to go home to see family or friends. This is something we are actively trying to progress outside Ireland as well. I am sympathetic to the circumstances of people who, through no fault of their own, can find themselves in an undocumented position here in Ireland. I am glad to inform the Deputy that the necessary work on this process, in line with the Government commitment, is under way in my Department. This will include an assessment of international best practice and previous regularisation schemes, such as the 2018 student scheme and earlier such schemes, will also be considered in any future policy decisions. I am open to exploring all legal solutions to the issue of children and young people who have grown up here in circumstances where they or their family are undocumented.

My Department has ongoing engagement on this matter with the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, MRCI, and other NGOs. I welcome the publication last week of the Live Here, Work Here, Belong Here survey by the MRCI of over 1,000 people who are undocumented. What is most striking in the survey is that these people want the same things, including the same access to the same rights, the same ability to educate themselves and their families, to be able to work and to have a sense of security in the country in which many of them have been living for many years. Through this piece of work, their insights will help provide valuable input into my Department’s policy formulation. I look forward to continued engagement with the MRCI and other organisations over the coming months as my officials and I work to deliver the programme for Government commitment.

I want to focus on a particular issue. Since 2005, following the passage of the racist 2004 citizenship referendum, people born in this State have not been entitled to Irish citizenship unless their parents belong to one of the categories we mentioned earlier and are not from outside the EU or whatever. Those born in 2005 or 2006 are now 14 or 15 years old and are knocking on the door of school-leaving age and the world of employment. The Tánaiste wrote to me to clarify that these people would have to apply for a work permit in the country in which they were born and have grown up. I ask the Minister to address the issue of people who were born in this country having to apply for work permits in the next few years, unless the situation is resolved. What is intended to be done about that?

As the Deputy has rightly outlined, this issue was addressed following a referendum of the Irish people. Every person who was suitable and of age to vote was entitled to vote in this referendum. The twenty-seventh amendment to the Constitution changed the position regarding entitlement to Irish citizenship and as a result, section 6 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 was amended by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 2004. These changes came into effect on 1 January 2005 and as of that date, a person born on the island of Ireland is not entitled to be an Irish citizen unless that person's parents have been resident in the island of Ireland for a total of three years during the four years preceding that person's birth.

The Deputy may be aware of this but it is important to point out that no EU member state grants automatic and unconditional citizenship to children who are born in the country or its territories to foreign citizens. This is not something on which we are an outlier. It is very much the case in all member states. There have been previous proposals to change legislation but any changes in that regard would have to be carefully considered and there would have to be significant consultation across a number of Departments. It is open to individuals to apply for citizenship after that five-year period, so if somebody has been here for ten or 12 years, that option is open to them and I encourage anyone in that position to do so.

It is estimated that there are between 15,000 and 17,000 undocumented persons living in this State. I want their voices to be heard in the Chamber. I will read a few quotes from a report by the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland. A chap whose name was "Billy" - that is not his real name - said:

To get my papers ... would be a dream come true. I won’t have to worry every time there is a knock at the door. I’ll finally feel safe in my home.

A woman called Dottymore said:

Sometimes when I am at the bus stop a group have directed racial insults towards me and thrown things at me whilst laughing. If I got my status I would be able to report this safely.

Zeinab stated:

Sometimes I am not paid the full amount, other times I am not paid at all. If I had my status I could stand up to this.

The position of the Department is to deal with applications on a case-by-case basis. There is a shortage of staffing in the Department and there are huge delays. We are talking about the lives of 15,000 to 17,000 people who are living and contributing in this society. Will the Minister consider changing her mind on this issue and granting papers en masse for those people?

I genuinely understand this issue and have met many of the people who are undocumented in this country. I met the MRCI recently and spoke to one such individual who has not seen his family in many years. I understand how difficult this is. I personally know people who are living outside Ireland and are in a similar situation. That is why we have committed in the programme for Government to setting out a scheme for undocumented people within 18 months of the formation of the Government. By the end of this year, which is only just over two months away, I will have a report on this matter, having engaged with various groups and organisations and having looked at various schemes that previously existed, some of which I mentioned in my initial answer. Based on that, hopefully by the end of next year we will have set out a scheme and pathway for those undocumented people. This is something to which I and this Government are absolutely committed and I reassure those who are in that position that we want them to feel as if this is their home, although they should already feel that way because they have been here for many years. Most important, they should be able to continue going about their daily lives without the fear that they may be deported at any stage and be able to see their families, which many of them have not been able to do in a long time. This is a priority for me and I will absolutely commit to try to address it within the timelines I have just set out.

Does Deputy McNamara want to ask his question now?

I have already asked my question but I want to come in on this particular question. I stress to the Minister that it is not just about those who are undocumented. A huge amount of administration goes on in dealing with people who have been here for such a long time that they are almost inevitably going to be able to stay. It is not just for their benefit but for the benefit of the Department and the broader administration that they be dealt with. It is also important to get papers back to people who are applying for citizenship when they have sent away their passports.

I appreciate that administration is difficult in these times but it is important that people's passports are given back to them. They have applied for an Irish passport because they do not have one, so they need the passport that they have to be able to travel.

I agree with the Deputy. If somebody needs to travel, he or she needs documentation. In my Department, specifically the section dealing with immigration, visas and those type of requests, there is a paper-based system. It is very much behind compared with other Departments, such as my previous Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs, which has an award-winning online system for passport applications. That is where we want to be. We want to move away from the paper-based system to an online system and we have allocated significant funding to try to get to that stage in the budget this year in the budget this year. That will be a significant help, even just with regard to the time that it takes to process all these applications. When there is a lot of paperwork, documents are sometimes unintentionally mislaid. This will, hopefully, take away some of those concerns. I reassure the Deputy and others that this is a priority for me and something my Department is actively working on.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

4. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice the criteria for groups and or organisations to access funding made available by her Department to community and voluntary groups to support their response to Covid-19; the way in which decisions to allocate funding to such groups were made; the reason an organisation (details supplied) was denied such funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32009/20]

My question is brief. It is about the welcome funding that the Minister's Department has provided to voluntary and community groups, which has been refused to a specific group. It seems to me that it was done on the basis of morality. I hope not. I am trying to determine what the policies and criteria were, and if they are publicly available.

I thank the Deputy for raising the question.

My Department provides funding to a range of organisations, allocated subject to a number of conditions appropriate for public funds. This is applicable to most Departments when they give out funding. These conditions include confirmation of charitable status, tax clearance, audited accounts and so on. In 2020, my Department committed almost €1.9 million to support services for victims of crime, including sexual and gender-based violence. These services provide important information and support to victims of crime, including emotional support, court accompaniment and accompaniment to Garda interviews and sexual assault treatment units. They also provide counselling and referral to other services. I am pleased that I am in a position to increase this funding to €2 million in budget 2021.

Following the outbreak of Covid-19 earlier this year, my Department provided an additional €327,590 to organisations working in the sector to support, adapt and increase their services during the pandemic. While this funding is not necessarily specific to the delivery of their services, it allows them to highlight the services that they provide, to make sure that people know they are there and that this support is available to them. As this was unprecedented and the need was urgent, my Department made funding available to organisations supporting victims, as an exceptional emergency measure. The vast majority, if not all, of the organisations that received additional funding are organisations that had received funding through the Department. They were known to the Department and had gone through the necessary channels already. I am pleased that I have secured an additional €400,000 in budget 2021 to allow for this Covid-specific support to be continued next year.

Organisations working in areas within the remit of my Department are always free to apply for funding and I understand that my officials have offered to meet the specific organisation the Deputy referred to. While each application is considered on its own merits, it should be noted that funding will only be available for projects that support Ireland's values and objectives and are aligned with wider Government policies in that regard.

With regard to prostitution, which the group the Deputy referred to addresses, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 criminalised the purchasing of sex. This position was taken on the basis that prostitution is inherently exploitative of vulnerable persons, mainly women and girls. My Department's approach to prostitution in Ireland is also informed by advice from An Garda Síochána, which is that it is inextricably linked with human trafficking. My Department and I have offered to meet this group. I understand that the offer has not been taken up. The decision is on the basis that, with the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, we have criminalised the purchasing of sex. This is contrary to the views of those who are in the group that the Deputy has mentioned in her question.

I take hope from the Minister's reply and also despair a little. I welcome that there is a report regarding the 2017 Act. Will the Minister give a date for when it will be completed? I am a little confused. I welcome all the funding she has outlined, which is very positive. This particular organisation has written to the Department and the Department has written back, asking it for a declaration of what it supports and values. What are the values and criteria? Where are they available? This is not about trafficking. I am a woman who deplores trafficking and I made strong statements in the Dáil when this legislation was being passed. I did not agree with it for many reasons. The main reasons were that I listened to what people told us. They said that the people working in the trade, the women, would be made more vulnerable and that their lives would be endangered. That is the group that is writing to the Minister for help during Covid.

I thank the Deputy. The Department has offered to meet the group and that has not been taken up, but I am happy to meet the group. The legislation that was passed criminalises the buying of sex, the buying of sex from persons who are trafficked and also criminalises those who manage, organise or own brothels. I accept what the Deputy is saying, that this group might have a different view, but from engaging with various representative groups that support these women, many people are trafficked, though I accept it is not all, and that is why this legislation was passed. There is an inherent contradiction in this particular group's view, compared with the legislation that has been passed and the position that the Government has taken regarding prostitution. I am happy to meet this group. There is no issue with that.

Regarding the review, we have tasked Maura Butler with reviewing the legislation after three years. There has been a slight delay with Covid, the formation of the Government and the fact that Ms Butler is undertaking another review on familicide. That review is continuing. I spoke to her this week. I will meet her again in the next few weeks to see if she will need any additional support or measures. In that review, she is undertaking to determine whether this legislation has caused any harm to these vulnerable women. As the Deputy outlined, there are some suggestions that this makes women more vulnerable. With this legislation, we are trying to protect them, not cause them more harm. This review will examine whether it has created any challenges for women in this situation. If this group wishes to meet me, I have no problem doing so.

I thank the Minister. I welcome that she is prepared to meet with them. That is positive. This is a group of women represented by the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland who have come forward to point out the vulnerability of women who find themselves in this position during the Covid pandemic. They are asking for assistance in helping vulnerable women. It has nothing to do with child trafficking or the elements that the Minister mentioned and it has nothing to do with my morality. We have not criminalised the women; we have criminalised the purchase of sex. We are going to review that to see if it achieved the objectives that it set out to achieve. I welcome that, but the Minister has not given a date for the publication of that report. Will it be public? Going back to the matter in question, we are talking about a small sum and bringing transparency to the Department's policy regarding how money is allocated, the criteria for it and where it can be accessed.

The challenge here is that we have legislation that criminalises the buying of sex and those who run brothels. I have spoken with officials at great length and inquired myself. This particular organisation does not agree with the idea that it should be criminalised and that this is something that potentially exploits women and girls. A significant number of women who find themselves in this position are trafficked. We have to acknowledge that. There would be a contradiction if the Department gave funding to an organisation that does not believe in the approach that we are taking and the legislation that has been passed.

That is what I mean when I say it is not in line with the ethics or values of the Department, which clearly were agreed by the House when it passed the legislation. Of course, we want to support any person who is in a vulnerable position. We have seen over the past few months that when it comes to domestic violence and sexual violence persons who are in vulnerable positions have become more vulnerable. We are trying to reach out to those through the many organisations that have been funded. However, there is an inherent contradiction here in that this group does not believe it should be criminalised, and that is where the challenge lies. Again, I can give a commitment that I am happy to meet and talk to the group.

Legislative Reviews

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

5. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Justice if she will commission a review of the effects of changes in the law regarding the offence of prostitution and specifically the effects of this change on vulnerable women; the number of women who have been charged with the offence of brothel keeping since the change to the legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32021/20]

My question is on a related subject. It is about the review of the effects of the changes in the law regarding the offence of prostitution, specifically, the effects of this change on vulnerable women, and the number of women who have been charged with the offence of brothel keeping since the change to the legislation.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important question.

The principal aim of the changes made by Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, was to provide additional protection to those involved in prostitution, especially for those that are particularly vulnerable and are victims of human trafficking. Among the changes made was to remove those who offer their services as a prostitute from the existing offences of soliciting. This allows people working in prostitution to provide information to the Garda on, for example, violence towards them by clients, without risking prosecution for selling sexual services. The Act also introduced two new offences - paying for sexual activity with a prostitute and paying for sexual activity with a trafficked person - and it increased the existing penalty for brothel keeping.

Regarding a review of the effects of the 2017 legislation, the Act provides for a review three years after its commencement. In July, I commissioned an independent expert, Ms Maura Butler, to undertake the review. Deputy Connolly asked for a timeline. I do not have a timeline, but Ms Butler is working on it and will have it concluded as soon as possible. The review will examine whether the changes made are, in practice, operating as intended and are offering additional protection to those that are most vulnerable. It will assess the impact of Part 4 on the safety and well-being of persons engaged in sexual activity for payment and it will consider if further measures are needed to strengthen these protections. In addition, it will quantify the number of arrests and convictions in respect of offences under Part 4. The review is well under way and an online public consultation was open up to mid-September, which is very welcome. I understand that contributions were received from a broad range of organisations with different perspectives.

Regarding the second part of the Deputy’s question, I am informed by An Garda Síochána that since the commencement of the relevant legislative provisions on 27 March 2017 there have been 60 reported incidents of brothel keeping up to 15 October 2020. Of the 37 suspects associated with these incidents, 31 were female and six were male. To date, 20 have been charged or summoned in respect of these offences, 17 of whom are female and three are male. The work of my Department in this area will continue to be guided by our primary aim of protecting the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable women here.

As usual, the questions are not answered. Like Deputy Connolly, I believe not giving a date for the completion of the review is unsatisfactory. If the law states that it must be conducted within three years, we should have a date for it. I was recently involved in a students' union debate in University College Dublin, UCD, which included people who support the opposite position and who pushed for this legislation. They do not support the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, which organises to undermine them in many ways and is opposed to this review being completed. That prompted my question. Why do we not have a date for the review being completed? Are there outside pressures on the Minister? Are groups pushing for the review to not be conducted, which is their wish?

I am also alarmed that 20 people have been charged with brothel keeping. I tabled a parliamentary question some months ago asking how many purchasers of sex had been charged. The reply said there were several files with the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, but there were no charges against the purchasers of sex at that time. Perhaps the Minister has figures on that.

Can the Deputy conclude?

What this reveals is that perhaps this amendment to the legislation is not working in favour of those whom it is meant to protect.

The review was to start three years after the legislation was passed. It was to start in March, but with the election, the formation of the Government and Covid-19, there was a slight delay. There is also the fact that Maura Butler, who is conducting the review, is also undertaking a review of familicide. Two pieces of work are taking place concurrently. I spoke to Ms Butler this week and, while I do not have an exact timeline, I will meet her again in the next two or three weeks to go into more detail and to see if she and her team require any additional support. While it was a little late starting, and I hope the Deputy can understand the reason due to Covid-19, the formation of the Government and the other review she has undertaken, she is committed to this work. When I have a timeline, I will make it available. On Deputy Connolly's question about whether it would be made public, it will.

As to whether anybody has been asking us not to do it, that is not the case. Nobody has requested that this review not happen or be delayed. I do not have the figures the Deputy sought, but I will try to get further information for her on that.

In the review we are trying to understand whether the legislation is working and whether there are increased instances of women coming forward when they have experienced violence against them or where they feel unsafe and, most important, where they have been trafficked that they know it is safe to come forward. I hope that is what the review will highlight.

I am sure the Minister is aware that being charged with keeping a brothel may mean that there are two women or people in the same space. The personal evidence of many sex workers is that they stay in twos in the same space for their safety, particularly during Covid. There is evidence that their safety was far more compromised during the pandemic. I am alarmed that there have been 20 charges of brothel keeping. It would be good to get a breakdown of that. Was it two women, five or 20, or, indeed, was it somebody pimping them and in charge of their work? The Minister will find, by and large, that it is two people working in the same space for their safety. There are many questions to be asked. It is important that we get the information on when the review will be complete and when we will have it, and on that cohort of very vulnerable people who are being charged for protecting and keeping themselves safe. The other question I asked was whether we could get the number of those who have been charged with the purchase of sex, so we can look at the figures and see what is happening.

I undertake to get those figures for the Deputy. As I said, of the 20 people who have been charged, 17 are female and three are male. I must admit, I asked the same question as to why out of the 60 incidents, 31 of the 37 were female. Is there a situation where many of these women are doing so under coercion or pressure and do not necessarily wish to be there? Of the 60, only 17 have been charged. The Garda will in every instance try to engage with people, including somebody who is suspected of keeping a brothel, to try to understand their situation and whether this is something they are happy to do or if they have been put under pressure. At every stage there is an opportunity for the Garda to engage with these women to try to ascertain whether they are there of their own volition.

Regarding those who work together, this question arose when the legislation was being passed. There are concerns that if one decriminalises brothel keeping, it could create a loophole and, further, allow abuse by criminal gangs and others who wish to profit from prostitution. This is being reviewed in the legislation. Ms Butler is carrying out that work and we will have the review as soon as possible.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Inquiries

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

10. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Justice her views on the demand for a public inquiry into the death of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32020/20]

The question speaks for itself. I am very concerned about what has happened in response to the demand for a public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell. This was brought before the previous Dáil many times.

I would like to see what progress is being made on it.

At the outset, I offer my condolences to the family of the late Shane O'Farrell. I understand that he was an exceptional young man and his death nine years ago, at the age of 23, was a terrible tragedy.

I note that the Deputy has raised this case a number of times and that she raised it previously with me in the Chamber. As she will be aware, a retired judge, Gerard Haughton, is currently conducting a scoping exercise into the tragic circumstances surrounding Shane's death. The judge furnished an interim report to my predecessor, Deputy Flanagan, last November and, following consultation between the judge with Shane's family and the Attorney General, the interim report was published on 17 December 2019. In his interim report, the judge stated that he would not limit Shane's family in their submissions to him or the nature and extent of the documentation that they wished to furnish to him in the scoping exercise.

My Department maintains regular contact with the judge and he has assured us that he will ask for any assistance that is required to complete the final report and we will of course make it available to him. However, given the Covid-19 restrictions, the judge recently informed my Department that it is likely to be mid-December before he will be in a position to conclude the scoping exercise. I assure the Deputy that it is of course open to the judge to make any recommendations that he sees fit in his final report and this includes the establishment of any form of statutory or non-statutory inquiry. He is not precluded in any way from proposing that. I hope Deputy Bríd Smith will appreciate that it is only appropriate that I would await the recommendations of the final report of the scoping exercise before making any decision on further inquiries into this matter. I also hope that we will have the report before the end of the year.

It would be wonderful if we could have the report before the end of the year. I remind the Minister - not that she needs reminding but for the record - that Shane O'Farrell was killed on 2 August 2011, so we are coming into the tenth year of the anniversary of his death. The Minister and the House are aware of the efforts his family have gone through to get an inquiry and to get justice. There are significant questions regarding what happened with the killer, his criminal record and the fact that he was at large when he probably should have been incarcerated. There were many prison sentences attached to the list of breaches of legislation, in the North and in the South, of which he was found guilty. For nine years, Lucia O'Farrell in particular and the rest of her family have been campaigning extremely hard.

On 14 June 2018, this House passed a motion, tabled by a current member of a Government party, Deputy O'Callaghan, to demand an open public inquiry into the events leading up to Shane O'Farrell's death. On 13 February, 2019 the Seanad did likewise. The two Houses of the Oireachtas have called for this and we are still waiting. We cannot keep hiding behind Covid. A lot of work can be done online and we need to progress these matters. If the Minister is giving a commitment that something will be produced by the judge by the end of the year, then we should all hold her to that. By that I mean the family and the Oireachtas, because both Houses have voted for this to happen and we are still waiting.

I am informed that it is likely that it will be mid-December, so I do hope we will receive the report then. That is the timeline that I will set and that I will ask the judge to stick to. The most important point is that the family get answers to their questions. The reason we have set out this scoping exercise first is to see whether a public inquiry would bring about those answers for the family. I understand there have been many motions in the Houses, but until we have the answers to the current scoping exercise it is hard for me to say whether the judge will recommend an inquiry. As a Minister in this Government, I wish to be clear that we do not object to an inquiry if that is what is recommended in the report, but it is important that we see the report first. The most important point is that I hope we can get the answers this family want and that they can feel somewhat at peace because this has been a very challenging time, almost ten years as the Deputy pointed out. I can only imagine that it must be extremely difficult to lose a loved one in those circumstances. I will do everything I can to ensure that they do get the answers that they want.

Like everybody else, I sincerely care about the family and that they get closure and find out what happened to Shane and why, but there is also a matter of public interest here because the wheels of justice turn in many strange ways and when one knows even a little bit about this case, one can see that there are so many questions to be asked. It is a matter of public interest and not just personal interest to the family that we have an inquiry to find out exactly what happened because nine years ago it was Shane O'Farrell and it could be anybody else tomorrow. There is a question regarding how this criminal was dealt with, why he was not incarcerated and what led to the events on that day, which took a young man's life and which took his family's basic existence away. When we get the answers – the sooner we get them the better – they will probably lead to more questions about how the justice system works as opposed to answering those that have already been asked. That is why it is important for everybody to see how the wheels of justice turn, rather than it just being confined to the O'Farrell family. However, the family are, of course, are of the utmost concern here. The case provokes many more questions about what happens within the system.

It is difficult for me to pre-empt what may or may not be in this report but I have every confidence that Judge Haughton will carry out his work, will take all of the information and the evidence that is available to him and will come to a decision and include that in the report by the end of the year. I again offer my condolences to the family of Shane O'Farrell and I will work with them, irrespective of what comes out of this report, and we will follow through as soon as possible.

Gangland Crime

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

11. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice if she will outline progress in the fight against organised crime and the activities and membership of organised criminal gangs; her views on the adequacy of existing legislation to deal with any challenges arising; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32018/20]

This question relates to the activities of criminal gangs and the degree to which success has been achieved in dealing with them. It is an issue that has been raised many times in the House. I have raised it myself on many occasions and I look forward to the reply.

I know this is an issue in which the Deputy has taken a great interest. I am determined that organised crime must not take hold in our communities. The Government and An Garda Síochána are united in our resolve to relentlessly target organised crime at all levels and to send a clear message to criminals that we will take all necessary actions to stop them, to bring them to justice and to prevent them from leading our youth into a life of crime and violence.

I am also determined to strengthen the laws relating to gangland crime where needed and that is why the very first piece of criminal justice legislation that I am bringing forward as Minister is the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. This will increase the maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder from ten years to life. The Garda has done excellent work in intercepting and preventing murders. However, the fact that they are doing their job effectively and arresting criminals before they can carry out their plans to murder people should not make conspiracy to murder any less an offence than actual murder. The new legislation will ensure that the seriousness of the crime will be reflected in the sentence judges can impose.

I am pleased to say that sustained action by An Garda Síochána has continued unabated throughout the pandemic, bringing significant convictions and ongoing seizures of drugs, firearms and ammunition. In the first six months of 2020, Garda operations to counter organised crime resulted in the seizure of €13.6 million worth of illicit drugs, 13 firearms and 2,000 rounds of ammunition. Just this week, the Garda conducted a search operation of a single heavily fortified compound in the Crumlin area of south Dublin. The search was conducted by CAB in conjunction with Crumlin district personnel and support from the emergency response unit, the air support unit, the armed support unit and the customs dog unit. During the operation, two men were arrested and detained for money laundering offences and a significant amount of cash and property were seized. Also this week, a man was arrested and €800,000 worth of cannabis and €80,000 in cash were seized in the Clondalkin area.

An Garda Síochána has an excellent relationship with its international partners, including Interpol and Europol. Ongoing liaison between the Garda and law enforcement agencies throughout Europe and beyond has led to a number of successful joint operations targeting attempted importation of drugs and firearms and has resulted in significant arrests both here and in other jurisdictions.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. May I further inquire as to whether, in the proposed legislation, it is intended to further amend the bail laws? In the past, those laws were seen as being capable of being circumvented by criminal gangs. In addition, recidivism was an issue.

Is it intended in the course of the proposed legislation to look again at this particular area of the law?

This is an area that we continually review. I cannot confirm at this stage whether it will be included in this particular legislation. It is important, however, that we ensure our legislation is strong enough, as well as providing additional supports such as financial resources and ensuring the Garda has the equipment and the technology it needs. It is also important that this type of legislation is updated and reviewed which we do continually.

On the actual support that we are providing, An Garda Síochána has a record budget this year. Additional funding has been provided to update its equipment and ICT. This is not just to bring it in line with its European counterparts to allow it to continue to engage with them, as many criminal gangs operate outside of this jurisdiction. It is also to make sure that in its operations at home, it has the best equipment and technology available to ensure these criminal gangs and individuals do not evade the law.

The matter of the Deputy's question is kept under review. Any required changes and further improvements will be done.

Has there been any noticeable change in the trend of re-offending since the revision of the bail laws took place? Has it been brought to the Minister's attention as to whether further changes of the nature suggested are required?

I do not have the data to hand. Over the past few months, however, we have seen a downward trajectory in crime levels. We have also had successful investigations targeting serious and organised crime. On 13 October, 8 kg of cannabis, with an estimated street value of €160,000, was seized. On 10 October, as part of an investigation, €22,000 worth of cannabis was seized along with €15,000 in cash, a bullet-proof vest and a BMW car. On 9 October, Revenue and An Garda Síochána, seized 70 kg of herbal cannabis with a street value of €1.412 million.

The Garda has been successful over the past few months. While we have been in a state of lockdown, the Garda has been alerted to significant movement and activity which should not be happening. Overall, the trends in burglaries and in more localised related crime in rural areas have also decreased. This shows that the Garda, through support from my Department, is tackling these issues and helping to make our country safer.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Pa Daly

Ceist:

12. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Justice the physical renovations being made to existing courthouses and Garda stations to prevent the spread of Covid-19; and if Tralee courthouse will be one of those allocated funds to do so. [30963/20]

Cén obair atá á dhéanamh ag an nGarda Síochána agus ag an tSeirbhís Chúirteanna chun Covid-19 a ísliú?

Will Tralee courthouse, which has barely had a lick of a paint since a half-hearted renovation in the early 1980s, be included in that?

A record €3 billion was secured for the justice sector in last week’s budget 2021. This will fund key changes across the entire Justice sector including dealing with Covid. It will build on the July stimulus package for these purposes. The Minister is also in advanced discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to secure additional funding for the remainder of 2020, including on further Covid related expenditure.

The €3 billion includes €27 million for Covid-related measures, including €13 million for PPE for An Garda Síochána. An additional €5.7 million has been made available in 2021 for the Courts Service including for additional premises in Dublin and regional locations to enable court sittings to take place in a socially distanced and safe environment. Some €8 million was also secured for year 1 of the Courts Service modernisation programme which will support increased use of technology and remote hearings. This funding will be allocated based on priority needs assessed by the Courts Service.

I am informed the Courts Service established a Covid response management team to ensure implementation of the Covid return to work safely protocols issued in May 2020. A Courts Service Covid-19 safety management programme was also developed. Actions which are included in that programme include template risk assessment processes, training, standard signage operating guidelines and other supporting protocols. Safety measures to be considered as part of risk assessment of venues include review of access, egress and requirements for screens. No substantial building works have been required to date in any courthouse, including Tralee, apart from the implementation of screens for courtrooms and public counters.

The Courts Service has examined the facilities in Tralee and has found that under the current 2 m social distancing requirements, the jury courtroom in Tralee cannot accommodate the required numbers of persons to run a Circuit Criminal Court trial. Venues where Circuit Criminal Court trials cannot be run, such as Tralee, will nonetheless be used to transact civil and family law business as well as criminal business for the District Court in the interim.

Several options for the provision of improved courthouse accommodation for Tralee remain under consideration to enable the Courts Service to meet its obligations to deliver a full range of court services in state-of-the-art facilities, for the benefit of the people of Kerry.

In response to the previous question, the Minister informed us of a downward trajectory in criminal cases which does not suit some people. Notwithstanding the downward trajectory, there have been delays in the hearing of cases and there is a backlog.

The programme for Government has a commitment to town centres. Most of the old courthouses are in town centres. The centralisation of court hearings to larger cities and towns will result in the loss of income to small provincial towns. Due to Covid, there has been a further move towards centralisation to larger cities. That means a loss of gardaí to a county and witnesses having to travel.

If one takes Tralee courthouse, the members of the Bar and the solicitors there are prepared to be flexible if they can keep cases there. There is not even a video link, however, in Tralee courthouse. If there is a sexual abuse or assault case involving a minor, all witnesses and gardaí involved have to travel to Cork and Limerick to ensure the case can be heard. Surely a small step like that can be taken.

These matters are kept under review. I acknowledge a backlog was built up during the initial Covid period. Maintaining access to justice and the courts system has been a key priority in my Department's response to the ongoing Covid pandemic. There has been a substantial level of engagement between my officials and senior officials of the Courts Service. This engagement with the Courts Service has included fortnightly multi-agency telephone conference meetings between senior officials, the continued development and implementation of contingency and business continuity plans, as well as regular engagement, not just on Covid-19 measures, but on current operational issues and strategic issues such as the modernisation of the court system. There is daily contact with officials by email and telephone regarding any issues or queries arising. There has been the establishment of working groups in the Department to ensure maintenance of access to justice.

Access to justice is important and must continue during Covid. Both the Department and the Courts Service are doing everything they can to ensure that access continues.

In his discussions with the Courts Service, will the Minister of State ask it to be flexible in arrangements for provincial courthouses? There has been a difficulty, which the service has said over the years, in that some courthouses need separate entrances for judges, victims of crime etc. Wheelchair accessibility has been an obvious issue for the past 30 years but nothing has been done on that.

Tralee courthouse goes back to the days of Daniel O'Connell. It was designed by a 16-year-old apprentice architect and has been part of the fabric of the town for years. Arrangements could be made, such as hiring out a conference centre or a hall in the local institute of technology, in order that juries can be sworn in and taken to a trial where the number of witnesses can be limited by agreement.

Will the Minister of State keep in mind that it is more than just the operation of justice and that it affects the whole of the town and town centres?

The Deputy has raised important issues.

Ten or 12 years ago, my home town of Enniscorthy lost its courthouse and this had a serious impact on the town. I encourage the Courts Service to keep town centre courthouses open as this facilitates access.

On the access aspect, I participated in the National Disability Authority's conference on access to justice only yesterday and I echoed the support from the Minister, Deputy McEntee, as well as me and the rest of the Department for ensuring access by people with disabilities to justice. I pointed out that my sister has a disability and uses a wheelchair, although I am thankful she has never had the need to access the courts. I am very aware of the access issues for anybody with a disability, and it is something very much to the fore of my mind. It is something I will keep to the fore in the Department of Justice and Equality as well.

Crime Prevention

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Ceist:

13. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice the position regarding tackling violent crimes involving knives; the new initiatives under way to address the issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31787/20]

I welcome the recent announcement in the budget for additional gardaí and administration staff. I expect it will go a long way to tackling the matter I wish to raise. What is the Government's position on tackling knife crime? What new initiatives will the Government undertake to address the matter?

I thank the Deputy for bringing this very important issue of knife crime to the Dáil today. I share the concerns of Deputies across the House relating to knife crime. We are all familiar with the problems that have emerged in neighbouring jurisdictions in this regard and the Government is determined to ensure similar problems do not develop here in Ireland. Although the problem is not of a similar scale here, any stabbing incident can cause irreparable physical harm and have potentially tragic consequences. That is why a comprehensive and robust legal framework is in place with respect to knife crime, including heavy penalties for breaches of the laws concerned.

Under the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, the maximum penalty for a conviction for possessing a knife in a public place without good reason or lawful authority was increased from one to five years. An Garda Síochána also has an extended power of search without warrant for knives and offensive weapons. I am advised a substantial number of convictions have been secured in the courts over the past number of years for possession of a knife or other similar article.

As one might expect, statistics on seizures of knives by gardaí from 2005 to 2019 indicate this is an issue primarily among younger people, with 44% of seizures relating to individuals from the ages of 12 to 23 and 65% to individuals under the age of 30. An Garda Síochána is currently operating a reduction strategy for 2019 to 2021, which is targeted at tackling all types of assaults in public, including use of knives. This strategy is informed by a pro-arrest, early investigation and proactive high-visibility approach. It places particular emphasis on prevention, education and awareness. The strategy promotes early prosecution of offenders where feasible and operationally appropriate. An Garda Síochána also addresses knife crime through education and engagement with community initiatives. At an operational level, gardaí proactively target public disorder and antisocial behaviour, including knife-related crime, through the strategic deployment of Garda resources, and areas identified as public order hotspots by local Garda management are the subject of additional foot and mobile patrols.

Last year, there were more than 140 seizures of knives, shivs and other such weapons in Cork, up from 130 the previous year. I understand incidence may be down this year but nonetheless the trend in serious incidents of knife crime is obvious. Does the Minister of State have access to figures for this year for the number of crimes committed using a knife and the number of incidents where a knife has been seized, both in Cork and nationally? Will the Minister of State also clarify the Government's position on minimum mandatory sentencing or if the Government intends to increase the maximum sentence for crimes perpetrated with knives?

So far this year reports of assault have decreased against the same period last year, due in part to the increased restrictions of movements due to Covid-19. There has been a reduction in reported crimes against persons in the first two quarters of this year versus last year and according to the Central Statistics Office, in the first quarter the "assault causing harm" category fell 23.9% and in the second quarter it fell 16.9% when compared with the same periods in the previous year.

Of all knife crime, 16% is perpetrated by people between the ages of 12 and 17, whereas 28% is perpetrated by people between the ages of 18 and 23 and 21% is perpetrated by people between the ages of 24 and 29. This is very much an issue arising with younger people and it will be addressed with the new justice strategy to be published before the end of the year. I do not have the specific statistics for Cork to hand but I will endeavour to get them for the Deputy.

The matter of sentencing is always kept under review by the Department. If the view is taken that the process needs to be changed, that will be done.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. As I am sure he and others are aware, there have been a number of incidents in Cork city and county over the past 12 months in which particularly heinous crimes were committed with knives. Many of these incidents involved physical and sexual assault, as well as serious harm caused to victims. Will the Minister of State clarify if there is any intention to bring forward a knife amnesty for certain types of blades or other implements that could be taken off the streets, akin to the "bin the blade" campaign run by the Government in the 1990s? In the UK recently, over 20,000 knives were taken off the streets in a similar amnesty so is there a Government intention to bring forward a similar plan?

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important matter. I know he has genuine concerns, particularly relating to his own area of Cork. The Garda has a proactive approach to these kinds of concerns when hotspots develop so gardaí can intervene very early to address the matter at an early stage. The youth justice strategy that will be published towards the end of this year will also be important in providing full wrap-around interventions where these concerns arise. We will also be establishing an antisocial behaviour forum so we can have a full suite of interventions for these issues.

The Deputy mentioned the possibility of an amnesty to tackle knife crime. I completely sympathise with the objective of conducting an amnesty in order to do something constructive in the face of every tragic incident involving the use of knives or similar items. However, the consistent expert advice from An Garda Síochána is that such an amnesty is unlike to lead to any significant benefit. It is well understood that in many cases, ordinary household kitchen knives are used for such crimes. It has not been the experience that knives of this type are handed in during an amnesty. However, I am assured by Garda authorities that tackling knife crime remains a top priority for the organisation. Gardaí tackle this by way of a rigorous enforcement policy, education and an awareness-raising programme, and they have an extended power of search without warrant relating to knives and offensive weapons. I thank the Deputy again for raising this important matter.

Domestic Violence Services

Martin Browne

Ceist:

14. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Justice her views on whether an additional €400,000 in additional funding will be sufficient for organisations and groups responding to increased service demands from persons impacted by domestic abuse Covid-19 restrictions; if consideration is being given to tailoring the methods used to prevent and to deal with instances of domestic crime now that additional funding has been allocated to her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32027/20]

Is the additional €400,000 in funding significant for organisations and groups responding to increased violence and demands from persons affected by domestic abuse during Covid-19 restrictions? Will consideration be given to tailoring the methods used to prevent or deal with incidents of domestic violence crime now that additional funding for this has been allocated to the Minister's Department?

I thank the Deputy for raising an important current matter. We have seen how incidents of domestic violence have, unfortunately, been increasing in any event but have increased further since the onset of Covid-19. I am very conscious of that and it is the reason we allocated the additional funding this year.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and I very much share his concerns for those who have been affected by domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic. In March, my predecessor as Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, ensured additional resources, support, enforcement and services were made available to key organisations in this area. This support was maintained and increased in last week's budget allocations and is of primary consideration in the context of the move to level 5 in the national framework for living with Covid-19.

My Department also initiated and continues to run the "Still Here" public awareness campaign, which we updated and refreshed this year. We do this in partnership with public sector organisations and the non-governmental organisation sector. The "Still Here" campaign is about getting the message out that services continue to be available to victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence no matter what.

I reassure the Deputy, and more important, anyone who is a victim or at risk of domestic or sexual abuse, that help continues to be available. An Garda Síochána, the courts and other services, including the vital supports provided by our highly skilled and committed community and voluntary services, are still here for them regardless of the restrictions we are facing in the coming weeks. Throughout the first lockdown phase, the Garda Síochána was particularly active through Operation Faoiseamh and the courts, which were mainly closed, remained open to help those who were vulnerable, particularly those who were victims of domestic violence.

The time for questions has expired but I will allow Deputy Martin Browne to complete this round.

We have broached the incredibly important subject of domestic violence previously. I raised the matter with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, during the week. It seems to me that €400,000 is a relatively small increase in funding for the incredibly important work of various organisations to tackle domestic abuse and care for those affected. Does this figure include accommodation? The Minister told me during the week that there had been difficulties in securing such accommodation earlier this year, and that hotels and similar types of accommodation had to be used. Is this still an issue or has it been addressed to some extent?

Some €2 million has been provided for victims of crime. That includes victims of domestic and sexual violence. On top of that, an additional €327,000 has been assigned to enabling those organisations to promote their services so that people know they are there. That funding is not intended to enable them to carry out the services. As the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs outlined, he has secured an additional €61 million for Tusla, which funds many of the services that provide the support. Much of the funding from my Department is devoted to making people aware of the services. A significant amount comes from Deputy O'Gorman's Department.

Moreover, this is not just about funding. The fact that the courts have remained open throughout the pandemic is extremely important. I refer to a very important element of progress. The Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020, which I passed in the summer, allows people to partake in a court proceedings online. For the first time ever, an online court order has been issued to a woman who is self-isolating through the Ennis district. This is very welcome progress, particularly for those in vulnerable positions.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.