Questions Nos. 1 to 11, inclusive, answered orally.

State Visits

Ceisteanna (12)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

12. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the area of the budget of An Garda Síochána from which the estimated €15 to €18 million cost of the visits of the President and Vice-President of the United States of America will come from; the details of the expenditure in view of the high cost and the fact that the visits were of a short duration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47533/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Deputy will appreciate that high level visits to Ireland are of significant importance in the development and maintenance of our relations with other States.  Such visits are to be welcomed and offer important opportunities to us, as a small outward-looking State, for positive engagement with partners. 

In terms of the cost associated with the visit to Ireland of President Trump and Vice President Pence, the Deputy will appreciate that there is an obligation on the State to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of every visiting dignitary, in line with risk assessment.  Similar measures and courtesies are as a matter of course also extended to Ireland, when members of Government travel on official visits to other States.

The Garda authorities have informed me that the costs compiled to date in respect of President Trump’s visit total approximately €11.5 million.  I understand that the cost of Vice President Pence’s visit stands at approximately €3 million.  Such costs arise across a number of subheads, generally including salary including overtime, travel and subsistence, communications costs, equipment costs, station services and so on.

As I have previously indicated, additional funding will be provided to the Garda Vote before the end of this year to meet the costs to An Garda Síochána associated with the visits.  I am grateful to my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for taking this into account. 

Direct Provision System

Ceisteanna (13)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

13. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to address the number of persons living in direct provision centres; his further plans to cease using hotels as emergency centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47798/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the State has a legal obligation to offer accommodation, food and a range of other services (including utilities and healthcare etc.) to any person who claims a right to international protection in Ireland while their legal claim is being examined. These services are demand led and generally it is difficult to predict demand far in advance.

I am advised that as of 10 November 2019, there were 6,052 persons being provided with accommodation by my Department in the 39 accommodation centres located nationwide.

Due to an unexpected rise in applications (up 60% to date this year), these centres are at full capacity, therefore a further 1,523 persons are residing in 37 emergency accommodation locations in hotels and guest houses. Every effort is being made to re-accommodate applicants in emergency locations to a dedicated accommodation centre as quickly as possible.

To meet the associated increase in demand for accommodation, my Department has initiated two processes to source additional accommodation.

Firstly, we have sought expressions of interest from parties who would be interested in providing accommodation and related services to people in the international protection process. Premises assessed as suitable under this process may be offered a short-term contract (usually one year).

Secondly, we have run procurement competitions through the Government's procurement portal, Etenders, on a regional basis throughout the country to procure accommodation. These contracts will be longer term with a minimum contract duration of 2 years on offer and a maximum contract duration of 4 years. 

My Department is committed to reducing the length of time applicants spend in the international protection process, and has introduced a number of measures aimed at achieving this.

The International Protection Act, 2015, introduced the single procedure process for the determination of protection applications. The aim of the single procedure process is to help reduce waiting times significantly by considering all elements of a person's protection claim together, rather than sequentially.

In addition, a number of other measures have and are being taken including increases in staffing levels at the International Protection Office (IPO) and a new streamlined system for processing Safe Country of Origin (SCO) cases.

An applicant who applies for international protection today can expect to receive a first instance recommendation/decision within approximately 15 months, provided no complications arise. Prioritised cases are being processed in just under 9 months. Prioritised applications include those from countries such as Syria and Eritrea and from especially vulnerable groups of applicants, such as unaccompanied minors. My Department is working hard to try to achieve target of 9 month in the vast majority of cases.

I can also say that my Department has, in conjunction with a number of charities and NGOs who were awarded funding for projects, assisted a total of 675 people to transit from state provided accommodation to permanent homes in the community. This figure relates to the period from the beginning of the year to the end of October.

My Department also secured an additional €1m in Budget 2020 for  Immigration Service Delivery which includes provision for additional staffing to fast-track applications thus reducing pressure on Direct Provision.

Court Accommodation Provision

Ceisteanna (14)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

14. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the OPW has carried out a recent assessment of Carndonagh courthouse, Carndonagh, County Donegal; if issues have been identified; his plans to remedy same; the timeframe involved; if the OPW will work with the Courts Service to ensure a temporary venue is made available in Carndonagh and that court sittings continue to be held in Carndonagh; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47796/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and been advised by the Courts Service that immediate health and safety issues were identified by the Office of Public Works following an inspection of Carndonagh Courthouse. Unfortunately, court hearings could not continue at the courthouse in the short term.

The Courts Service is undertaking condition surveys of approximately 65 courthouses nationwide. In view of the circumstances in Carndonagh, priority has been given to this courthouse and I understand that the survey was carried out on the 30th October 2019. However, the Courts Service await the structural report from this review before any decision can be made on works to Carndonagh Courthouse.

I understand the sitting of Carndonagh District Court which sits once per month has been transferred to the nearest Courthouse, Buncrana Courthouse, just under 20 kilometres distance from Carndonagh. Carndonagh District Court will continue to sit in Buncrana Courthouse until the review is complete.

Cyberbullying Issues

Ceisteanna (15)

James Browne

Ceist:

15. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to revise harassment laws here taking into consideration the impact of cyberbullying on the mental health of a person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47527/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I appreciate the deeply harmful effects which cyberbullying can have on persons who experience that or other harmful online behaviours.  These experiences can be devastating for those concerned.

In that context, I welcome the successful conviction last week in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of a man for a sustained campaign of harassment conducted against a number of female journalists and writers.  It is important to see successful use of the criminal law in such cases, as I am conscious of the potential for a chilling effect in relation to these matters, including in particular for women and female candidates for election.

A whole-of-government response is appropriate to addressing these complex issues.  As the Deputy may be aware, the Government’s Action Plan for Online Safety 2018 - 2019 identifies a range of positive actions to address online safety issues, including cyber-bullying.  There is a general consensus that the appropriate response to addressing such online issues is one that encompasses educational and awareness raising campaigns, as well as effective actions and policies on the part of internet companies.

In relation to harassment laws specifically, the Deputy may be aware that the Law Reform Commission published a report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety in 2016 which recommended a number of legislative changes in order to deal more effectively with the negative aspects of increased use of online communications.

Many of the recommendations outlined in this report were provided for in a Private Members Bill sponsored by Deputy Brendan Howlin - the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017. To ensure that legislation in this area can be enacted as swiftly as possible, I and Government as a whole agreed to adopt and amend that Bill. 

Government in May of this year approved the approach to be taken in that regard, and my Department is now engaging closely with the Office of the Parliamentary Council to draft amendments to the Bill, to ensure consistency in its provisions and that the law in this area is robust and effective.

These amendments will result in a Bill which will modernise the laws in relation to sending threatening or abuse messages, introduce a distinct offence of stalking and provide for two offences to deal with non-consensual recording and distribution of intimate images.  The amendments will also remove some of the civil provisions in the Bill that may be more appropriately dealt with through proposals to establish the Office of the Digital Safety Commissioner, currently being examined by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

It is my intention that these amendments will be completed and introduced at Committee Stage in the Dáil at the earliest possible opportunity.

Finally and as the Deputy will be aware, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality has been examining these issues, having invited written submissions from stakeholders and subsequently held public hearings throughout October on the issues of online harassment, harmful communications and related offences.  I look forward to receiving the Committee’s report on this matter and will examine it closely as we continue to progress our legislative proposals in this field.

Departmental Reviews

Question No. 18 answered with Question No. 11.

Ceisteanna (16, 17)

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

16. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the report by a person (details supplied) into the conduct of rape and sexual assault trials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47827/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

17. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when the review of the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences due in December 2018 will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47763/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 17 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, Tom O’ Malley, Senior Lecturer in Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway and member of the Law Reform Commission, is chairing the working group carrying out this review. He is joined by representatives of the Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Probation Service, the Courts Service and my own Department.

The review is examining the adequacy of measures available to protect vulnerable witnesses during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences, to help ensure the best quality evidence is available to the jury in making their decision, while respecting the dignity of the victim and their right not to be re-victimised by the investigation or trial process itself.

It will examine the entire legal process around sexual offences, from the initial reporting of an offence through to the end of any court proceedings. The review is particularly concerned with the treatment of complainants and vulnerable witnesses throughout this process.  This Government remains committed to tackling the scourge of sexual violence, in all its forms and to supporting victims. Examining the experiences of victims is vital to that aim.

The terms of reference encompass a broad range of issues and I understand that the working group has received a large number of submissions.  It is important that these complex and sensitive issues are considered carefully and I understand that the review is at an advanced stage and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

While the outcome cannot be pre-empted, I look forward to its recommendations.  Any such recommendations will be given careful consideration alongside the recent work of the Law Reform Commission on knowledge and belief concerning consent in rape law which I have welcomed.  My overall goal in this exercise will be to provide for implementation of any recommendations which may be of assistance in supporting victims and vulnerable witnesses, while of course respecting the necessary fairness and balance inherent in our criminal justice system.

Question No. 18 answered with Question No. 11.

Law Reform Commission Reports

Ceisteanna (19)

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

19. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will respond to the call from the Law Reform Commission for a change in the way consent is considered in rape trials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47613/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I very much welcome the publication of the Law Reform Commission’s Report on knowledge and belief concerning consent in rape law.   As the Deputy may recall, the report was prepared by the Commission in response to a reference from the then Attorney General, on behalf of the Government.

The report is a thorough and expert examination of this complex issue and I can assure the Deputy that my Department is closely examining its recommendations with a view to bringing forward amending legislation.

It is important to understand the context of the report.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 has been widely recognised as a landmark piece of legislation dealing with consent and exploitation in sexual activity. For the first time, it set out in statute what consent actually means - a free and voluntary agreement between people to engage in sexual activity.

The 2017 Act also set out a non-exhaustive list of circumstances where consent is impossible, such as when a person is asleep or unconscious; if they are being held captive; if they cannot communicate their agreement due to physical inability or disability; if they are mistaken or misled about who the other person is, or what the activity is; or for example if they are so drunk or intoxicated that they are in no position to consider the activity and make up their mind.  

In order for a jury to find a person guilty of rape, three things are necessary.

1. Sexual intercourse must have taken place;

2. the person must not have consented; and

3. the accused person must either have known that person didn’t consent, or been reckless as to whether they consented or not.

During the Oireachtas debate on the Bill, the issue of whether a person’s belief in consent must be reasonably held was discussed in some detail. As the law stands, the mental element of the offence of rape is not present if the accused honestly believed consent was given, so long as that belief was genuine, no matter how unreasonable or irrational. As a result, a person who held a genuine but completely unreasonable belief that the other person consented would not be found guilty of rape.  

It was on foot of those debates that the Attorney General and my predecessor as Minister discussed the matter and agreed to refer it to the Law Reform Commission, for detailed consideration.

As the Deputy is aware, the Commission's recently published Report recommends a change in the law to state that the belief of the accused person in consent must be reasonably held. It also touches on some of the surrounding matters which are being examined elsewhere, such as rape myths and stereotypes, obstacles to prosecution in rape cases, the treatment of victims in rape cases and other related matters.

The timing of the Commission's report is particularly welcome, given that the review of protections for vulnerable witness in the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences, chaired by an expert barrister Tom O’Malley, is due to be completed by the end of this year. 

 I intend to consider these two sets of recommendations in tandem and I therefore have asked my officials to examine the Law Reform Commission's Report in detail with a view to bringing forward proposals to implement its recommendations.  Any recommendations which may arise out from the O’Malley review group and which may be of assistance in supporting victims and vulnerable witnesses will feed into this process, while of course maintaining the necessary fairness and balance inherent in our criminal justice system.

Succession Act

Ceisteanna (20)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

20. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent of proposed changes in the law to protect the integrity of wills and prevent unscrupulous third parties from inveigling themselves into the confidence of vulnerable persons for their own benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47783/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The position is that Part VII of the Succession Act 1965 sets out a number of legal requirements for the making of a valid will:

- It must be in writing;

- The testator must be over 18 years of age (the testator may be under 18 if he or she is or has been married);

- The testator must be of sound mind;

- The testator must sign or mark the will in the presence of two witnesses;

- The two witnesses must sign the will in the testator's presence;

- The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will;

- The witnesses must see the testator sign the will;

- The signature of the testator must be at the end of the will.

These statutory provisions, as interpreted by the superior courts in relevant case law, provide robust safeguards in relation to the validity of wills.

It is, of course, possible for a person to commence legal proceedings challenging a will on the grounds of either the diminished capacity of the testator to make a valid will, or the testator's ability to make decisions freely in disposing of their property by will.

When determining whether or not a testator had the capacity to make a will, courts will generally consider whether they understood the nature of the act of making the will and its effect, and whether the testator understood the extent of the property of which they were disposing.

Where undue influence is alleged, the law places the burden of proving such undue influence on the person alleging it. In order to succeed, the court must be satisfied that:

(a) The person alleged to exert the influence had the power or opportunity to do so;

(b) Undue influence was in fact exerted; and

(c) The will was the product of that influence.

While I have no current plans to amend legislation in this area, the operation of the relevant legislation is kept under review by my Department. 

Garda Data

Ceisteanna (21)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

21. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of gardaí in each of the Cork divisions; the number of retirements over the past year; the number of new trainees assigned to each Cork division in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47802/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

It is important to be clear that under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 as amended, the Garda Commissioner has responsibility for management of An Garda Síochána and for the allocation and efficient use of Garda resources. This includes responsibility for personnel matters and the distribution of personnel across the various Garda Divisions.  As Minister I have no direct role in these matters.  I understand however that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure their optimum use.

The information requested by the Deputy in respect of the number of Gardaí and Probationers allocated to each of the Cork divisions is available on my Department’s website and is updated every month with the latest data provided by An Garda Síochána. I have reviewed the details of the Cork workforce and I would point out that the number of Garda members and staff in all of the Cork Divisions has increased over recent years.

This Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. We currently have approximately 14,200 Gardaí nationwide, supported by over 2,900 Garda staff. And as part of the Government’s plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, there is ongoing and increased recruitment both of new Gardaí as well as Garda staff.  

Since the reopening of the Garda College in 2014, approximately 2,800 probationers have attested and been assigned to frontline policing duties nationwide. Another 200 Gardaí are due to attest at the end of this month. Of these probationers, 138 have been assigned to the Cork Divisions. 

As of 31 October 2019, which is the most recent data available, there are 700 members in Cork city Division, 335 in Cork North and 304 in Cork West.  Taking account of retirements and departures, there are now 114 additional Gardaí across the Cork Divisions since the end of 2015, representing an overall 9% increase in Garda members across all the Cork Divisions since the end of 2015.

These Garda members are supported by 160 Garda Staff, which represents a 50% increase in the Cork area since 2015. This increase in Garda staff levels supports the redeployment of Gardaí from administrative to operational policing duties, where their training and expertise can be used to best effect.  

 With regard to retirements, I am advised by the Commissioner that projected departures are kept under continuous review and that the level of recruitment is adjusted as necessary in order to maintain the desired strength.  

As the Deputy may be aware, the retirement of members of An Garda Síochána is governed by law, which sets the mandatory retirement age for all members at 60 years of age.  Members of An Garda Síochána who joined prior to 1 April 2004 may retire on full pension at 50 years of age once they have served at least 30 years and those who joined on or after 1 April 2004 may retire on full pension at 55 years of age with 30 years service. Gardaí have the option of continuing to serve until they reach 60, subject to the Garda Commissioner being satisfied that they are fully competent and available to undertake their duties.   

I am informed that there have been a total of 39 retirements in the Cork Divisions during 2018 and 2019.  The following table sets out the number of members who retired on a Voluntary, Compulsory or a Cost Neutral Early Retirement basis in each Cork Division in 2018 and 2019, as provided to me by the Garda authorities.

Year 

 Cork City

 Cork  North

 Cork West

 Total

 2018

 12

 6

 3

 21

 2019 (as of 15 November

 10

 3

 5

 18

 Total

 22

 9

 8

 39

Direct Provision System

Ceisteanna (22)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

22. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the tender process for a direct provision centre in the western region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47765/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the State has a legal obligation to offer accommodation, food and a range of other services (including utilities, healthcare etc.) and allowances to any person who claims a right to international protection in Ireland while their legal claim is being examined.

The number of applications has been steadily increasing (up 60% since the start of the year). To meet the associated increase in demand for accommodation, my Department has initiated two processes to source additional accommodation.

Firstly, we have sought expressions of interest from parties who would be interested in providing accommodation and related services to people in the international protection process. Premises assessed as suitable under this process may be offered a short-term contract (usually one year) which will help to meet demand while the regional tender process is rolled out nationally.

Secondly, we have run procurement competitions through the Government's procurement portal, Etenders, on a regional basis throughout the country to procure accommodation. These contracts will be longer term with a minimum contract duration of 2 years on offer and a maximum contract duration of 4 years. 

It is open to accommodation providers to offer premises both through the expressions of interest process or the tender process.

An evaluation of offers received is now underway. It is anticipated that the evaluation process for the Western region will now conclude by mid December 2019.  For the purposes of the tender, the Western region covers Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. Until the evaluation is complete, the Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment on the possible location of any new centres.  When the evaluation and commercially sensitive aspects of the process are completed, my Department will begin engagement with local communities and their political representatives.

My Department currently has a network of 39 accommodation centres across 18 counties and there is positive engagement between residents and local communities in all cases including through the Friends of the Centre Groups. These Groups promote integration across the communities and are a valuable support to residents and to centre managers and staff.

Garda Resources

Ceisteanna (23)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

23. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the specific investment his Department has made in the Garda fleet and personnel in the Cavan-Monaghan Garda district in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47586/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The resources provided by Government to An Garda Síochána have reached record levels, with an allocation for 2019 of €1.76 billion. I am also pleased to have secured an overall increase of €122 million to increase An Garda Síochána's budget for 2020 to an unprecedented €1.882 billion for 2020. 

Very significant capital investment is also being made in An Garda Síochána, including a total of €46 million for investment in the Garda fleet between 2016 and 2021.  A total of €10 million capital funding was made for the purchase and fit-out of Garda vehicles in 2019 and I understand from the Garda authorities that this is being used for purchase and fit-out of over 300 new vehicles this year.  €9 million capital funding has been allocated for the Garda fleet for 2020. This continuing investment is intended to ensure that An Garda Síochána has a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose fleet and that Gardaí can be mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community to prevent and tackle crime.

In accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005 as amended, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing the administration and business of An Garda Síochána.  The Commissioner is also responsible for the efficient use of Garda resources, in light of identified operational demands. This includes responsibility for the allocation of Garda vehicles and Garda personnel among the various Garda divisions.  As Minister, I have no role in these matters. I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure their optimum use.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that as at 31 October 2019, there are 59 vehicles in the Cavan-Monaghan Garda Division. It is important to note however that the Garda fleet is made up of vehicles in a range of different categories. 

I very much welcome the Garda Commissioner's recent decision to establish a new Armed Support Unit based in Cavan.  As at 31 October 2019, there are 372 Garda members assigned to the Cavan-Monaghan Division.  These members are supported in their role by 48 Garda staff and 8 Garda reserves. This is an increase from 346 Garda members at the end of 2018 and from 38 Garda staff at the end of 2018. These figures are available at my Department's website. 

Immigrant Investor Programme Data

Ceisteanna (24)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

24. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 145 of 8 October 2019, the number of applications received, granted and refused, respectively, for labour market access permission; the number in employment; of those; the number residing in direct provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47762/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018 came into effect from 30 June 2018. The Regulations included access to the labour market for eligible international protection applicants. The Regulations provide access to both employment and to self-employment.   

I can inform the Deputy that as of the 14 November 2019, a total of 5,027 applications for access to the labour market were received by my Department. 1,452 applications were refused, while 3,438 applications for a labour market access permission have been granted.

I can inform the Deputy that, based on the returned declaration forms received to date, a total of 1,708 applicants have indicated they have commenced employment or self-employment, of which 1,208 are living in accommodation provided by the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS). 

As the employer or applicant has 21 days from the time they take up employment or self-employment to return the declaration form, there is likely to be a time lag between the actual date of commencement of employment and my Department being notified of same.