I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I will, yes. What brings this Bill before us today is minimum sentencing in regard to the Firearms Act 1964, specifically in regard to minimum sentencing legislation and the Ellis v. Minister for Justice and Equality case. Without rehashing the details of the case, with which I am sure Members are all familiar, this amendment would ensure that should any judge deem it fitting to suspend a sentence due to the details presented before him or her, he or she would be allowed to do so. Currently the threshold set in the Firearms Act 1964 for when a judge may ignore the presumptive minimum sentence is only in exceptional cases.
In effect, we are asking members of our Judiciary to judge whether or not a case meets an abstract exceptional standard before they can use knowledge of the circumstances of the case to hand down an appropriate sentence. I have much experience in regard to drugs offences. I spent a lot of time in and out of the courts over the years, acting as an advocate and support to many people who have ended up in front of the Judiciary for drugs offences. How well people do or do not do in terms of deeming themselves an exceptional circumstance can rely heavily on many things, such as the type of supports within their family, the types of supports within their community, whether they have been engaged with sports clubs, what type of references they can build up and what type of psychosocial analysis they can have someone provide for the court case. Some people have the ability to show, or have a legal team that can show, why something is an exceptional case. However, somebody may be in a similar case or a worse case but may not have the means, wherewithal or know-how to lean on all those supports, or the legal team to be able to make that case to the courts.
Our amendments would remove this arbitrary exceptional standard and allow judges to tailor sentences to the circumstances of each individual case, rather than being bound to legislation. This is in order to have the best possible chance of creating a system which promotes the ideals of rehabilitation, not only in cases deemed exceptional, but in every case.
Amendment No. 6, which relates to section 6, seeks the removal of presumptive minimum sentences, but this time in regard to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Convictions under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 are, by their nature, highly circumstantial. In order to hand down a sentence which respects these circumstances, a judge must be free from the binding of the presumptive minimum sentencing legislation laid out in sections 27(3C) and 27(3D). As I set out on previous stages, it is also because these convictions are so circumstantial that the Law Reform Commission recommended, in its 2013 mandatory sentences report, that subsections (3C) and (3D) be removed because they bind judges to restrictive minimum sentencing legislation. The report stressed that these require nuance and understanding in order to deliver a fair and correct sentence. They are cases which cannot be simply brushed aside as being convictions of "bad guys", as I said earlier. They often involve individuals whose involvement in the drugs trade comes about through circumstance and often from the same circumstance that creates situations of addiction. Poverty is often a driving force for many and, to be honest, I believe poverty should never be a crime. If people are forced into particular situations because of poverty, by extension, they are being criminalised through marginalisation because their circumstances have created a set of conditions in which they then break the law.
Amendment No. 7 would amend section 7 by removing subsections (9), (9A), (10) and (11) of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990, which is the legislation under which Mr. Ellis was prosecuted. This amendment has the same purpose as the previous amendment and would remove the presumptive minimum sentence with regard to the 1990 Act. The amendment is made on the recommendation of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Law Reform Commission, both of which stressed that to accept the amendment would be a step towards a fairer justice system.
The final amendment is amendment No. 8. Of all of the amendments, this is the one I would really like to stress. The amendment seeks to amend section 8 by removing section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007. The amendment is proposed with the aim of allowing those convicted under both the misuse of drugs and the firearms legislation access to the possibility of temporary release. There does not seem to be any reason, rationale or sense behind removing the ability for people to be able to access temporary release, not only in regard to individuals' ability to reintegrate and to prepare themselves for release and get to know their community again, but also in regard to the protection and well-being of their family. We are talking about a family member who has spent a considerable amount of time in the prison system just landing back at their door, sometimes with children in the house who, in many cases, have not had their father stay overnight with them in years. They are just planted back into the family and into the community, which does not serve the individual or the family, but it also does not serve public safety. We need to build the capacity of people to reintegrate safely, ensure they are connected with their services and ensure they have had an opportunity to engage in employment on a temporary release scheme, because this is what brings about long-term public safety.
I think we can all agree on this. Although I advocate very heavily for the individual who has committed crime, the ultimate goal of any of us is to ensure that people are safe, communities are safe and families are safe. It is in that vein that I implore the Minister of State to consider accepting amendment No. 8 to allow temporary release, to ensure people have the best opportunity possible, to ensure we protect the well-being of the family, where people are welcome in the individual home, and that we also protect the community because we have safely reintegrated individuals before their release.