I propose to take Questions Nos. 1187 and 1188 together.
As the Deputy is aware, the Parole Board, as provided for under the Parole Act 2019, was established on the 31 July 2021. The Board is an independent statutory body entirely separate from its predecessor.
A significant amount of work has already been undertaken since the Parole Board was established.
The parole process provided for by the Act consists of a number of steps that must be complied with before a review of a given case can occur. Information on the process has been provided to applicants and is widely available throughout the prisons estate generally.
Under the Act, both victims and parole applicants may have access to legal representation. For the first time, victims of the crimes of a given parole applicant have a formal right to make submissions to the Parole Board in relation to an application for parole and victims can avail of legal representation to assist with this. This, I believe, represents an important step forward in recognising the rights of victims in the cases heard.
I am advised that in this regard the Parole Board has established a Legal Aid Scheme and formed a panel of suitably qualified solicitors and barristers to provide legal assistance where the relevant parties express a desire for this.
I am further advised that in addition to this, a considerable amount of preparatory work has been undertaken by the Board relating to the new processes, applications and corporate governance. I understand that the Board intend to begin making decisions on applications early this year.
While the new statutory Parole Board will considerably improve the system as it currently operates, the model set out in the Parole Act 2019 is complex, and requires a significant amount of planning. As the Deputy will be aware, at present the provisions of the Parole Act 2019 apply to a person serving a sentence of imprisonment for life. To date, no regulations have been made pursuant to s. 24(3) of the Parole Act 2019 to provide for the eligibility of those prisoners serving a sentence of eight years or more. These prisoners are currently being managed on an administrative basis by the Prison Service. I can inform the Deputy that I will consult with the Parole Board in due course about any proposed regulations to be made under Section 24(3).
Finally, the Deputy may wish to note that the Parole Board website is also now live and can be accessed using the address www.gov.ie/paroleboard.