Header Item Written Answers Nos. 42-49
 Header Item Proposed Legislation
 Header Item Crime Data
 Header Item Garda Investigations
 Header Item Prisoner Numbers
 Header Item International Agreements
 Header Item Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission Issues
 Header Item Location of Victims' Remains
 Header Item Undocumented Irish in the USA

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 773 No. 2

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Written Answers Nos. 42-49

Proposed Legislation

 42. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the date on which he will publish a new Bill regarding immigration. [39330/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Work on the details of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 is ongoing at my Department pursuant to current Government policy which is committed, under the Programme for National Recovery, to "introduce comprehensive reforms of the immigration, residency and asylum systems, which will include a statutory appeals system and set out rights and obligations in a transparent way". As I have outlined previously to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence, several hundred amendments are anticipated, the majority of a technical nature. At the Joint Committee I also expressed the considered view that instead of engaging in an extremely cumbersome process of tabling hundreds of amendments to the 2010 Bill it would be much more efficient to publish a new and enhanced one that would incorporate the anticipated amendments while addressing key outstanding issues several of which have been of previous concern to Members. This proposition was broadly welcomed by the Joint Committee which I very much appreciate given the protracted history of this piece of legislation. Work on the Bill will continue therefore, including in cooperation with the Offices of Parliamentary Counsel and of the Attorney General. It remains my objective under this new approach, and mindful of the competing legislative demands of our EU/IMF/ECB Programme commitments, to be in a position to bring the new Bill to Government for approval and publication later this year.

Crime Data

 43. Deputy Martin Ferris Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the number of homophobic crimes recorded by the Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office each year since it was established; the number of these crimes which resulted in prosecutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39342/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Garda Síochána Act 2005 makes provision for the compilation and publication of crime statistics by the Central Statistics Office, as the national statistical agency, and the CSO has established a dedicated unit for this purpose. I have requested the CSO to provide relevant statistics directly to the Deputy.

Garda Investigations

 44. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will have the case of the murder of Garda Richard Fallon on 3 April 1970 independently reviewed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39115/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter As the Deputy will be aware, this case is currently being examined by An Garda Síochána’s Serious Crime Review Team. In my last response to the Deputy on this matter in June of this year, I indicated that a preliminary assessment of the case by An Garda Síochána was expected to be finalised by September 2012. I am now informed by the Garda Commissioner that it is anticipated that the assessment will be completed in November. I am conscious that this is a matter of great concern to the Fallon family but I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it would be best to await the outcome of the Garda assessment.

Prisoner Numbers

 45. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the total number of prisoners held in the State on the 13 September for each of the past five years; the recommended capacity broken down by prison; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39340/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The number of prisoners in custody on the 13th September for each of the past five years is set out in the following table.

Date Number in custody
Thursday 13/09/2012 4,248
Tuesday 13/09/2011 4,260
Monday 13/09/2010 4,359
Monday 14/09/2009* 3,947
Friday 12/09/2008* 3,611
* These figures are the nearest available for the years in question as weekend numbers were not recorded at that time

As the Deputy will appreciate the Irish Prison Service must accept all prisoners committed by the Courts into its custody and does not have the option of refusing committals. It should be noted that this is the busiest time of the year for committals prior to the courts being in recess for the summer. The average number of prisoners in custody in Ireland has risen in the last 5 years, from 3,321 during 2007 to 4,389 during 2011, an increase of over 32%. Likewise the total number of committals to prison has also risen sharply during the same period, from 11,934 in 2007 to 17,318 in 2011 – an increase of over 45%.

Rising prisoner numbers have placed enormous strain on the prison system across the board from accommodation to the provision of services including work training/education, healthcare and drug treatment services. As a result of the increase in the prison population, a number of prisons are operating well in excess of their stated bed capacities. There does appear, however, to be a stabilising or levelling off in the increase in prisoner numbers being committed annually with 2011 recording only a 0.8% increase on the previous year. This compares to increases of 13.6%, 13.8% and 11.4% respectively year on year for 2008, 2009 and 2010.

As outlined in the recently published Irish Prison Service Three Year Strategic Plan, it is intended to align the capacity of our prisons with the guidelines laid down by the Inspector of Prisons by 2014, in so far as this is compatible with public safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system. In 2012 and in the first quarter of 2013, priority will be given to reducing the chronic overcrowding in Mountjoy, Cork, Limerick Prisons and the Dóchas Centre. The following table outlines the current bed capacity and the bed capacity as recommended by the Inspector of Prisons.
Institution Current Bed Capacity *Recommended Bed Capacity as per Inspector of Prisons Report of July 2010
Mountjoy (Male) 590 540
Mountjoy (Female) 105 85
St. Patrick's Institution 217 218
Cork 250 146
Limerick (Male) 260 185
Limerick (Female) 34 24
Castlerea 351 300
Cloverhill 431 446
Wheatfield 680 700
Portlaoise 311 359
Arbour Hill 148 131
Midlands 610 477
Training Unit 127 96
Loughan House 140 160
Shelton Abbey 113 110
* These figures are currently being reviewed by the Irish Prison Service and the Inspector of Prisons.

Significant investment has taken place in our prison estate in recent years with in excess of 900 new prison spaces having been constructed and brought into use since 2007. A new accommodation block at the Midlands prison, which will provide a potential 300 additional spaces as well as additional work training and education facilities, is due to become operational in late 2012.

Furthermore, in conjunction with the Probation Service, the Irish Prison Service has commenced the roll out of the Community Return Scheme, an incentivised scheme for earned temporary release under which offenders who are assessed as low risk are offered early temporary release, in return for supervised community service. By 13 September 2012, 259 prisoners had participated in the scheme, with 142 having completed their required periods of community service.

International Agreements

 46. Deputy Dessie Ellis Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his views on endorsing the Vienna declaration on drug policy, the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference - Aids 2010 - which was held in Vienna, Austria, from 18 to 23 July 2010. [39339/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter In 2010 the International AIDS Society convened the 18th International Aids Conference in Vienna. As stated in the official declaration of the Conference (also known as the 'Vienna Declaration') the aim of the declaration is to seek to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. The declaration calls on governments and international organisations to undertake a number of measures including a transparent review of the effectiveness of current drug policies, the implementation of a science-based public health approach to address individual and community harms stemming from illicit drug use, decriminalisation of drug users and the meaningful involvement of members of affected communities in developing services and policies etc.

The Government's approach to tackling the problem of drug misuse is through a co-ordinated and integrated approach under the National Drugs Strategy 2009 to 2016 which was developed over an 18 month period and involved wide public consultation under the oversight of the Steering Group established for this purpose. The Strategy tackles the issue of drug misuse under the pillar headings of drugs supply reduction, education and prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. The Strategy is being delivered, under the stewardship of my colleague and Minister of State at the Department of Health Roísin Shortall TD, by a number of Government Departments and agencies in partnership with the community and voluntary treatment sectors

The Programme for Government affirms the Government commitment to tackling the problem of drug misuse through the pillar based approach outlined in the Strategy and in partnership with relevant stakeholders. The policy approach outlined in the Strategy is current Government policy in this area and, in the circumstances, there are no plans to adopt or endorse other policy statements on the matter.

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission Issues

 47. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his views regarding dissident activity in areas of Dublin particularly since the reported activities following a recent funeral in north Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38809/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Countering the threat from terrorists has always been a priority for the Garda Síochána and nothing has changed in that regard. Let me be clear that these so-called 'dissident republicans' are no more than criminal terrorists using violence in pursuit of their own, often personal, ends. These groups maintain more than just a casual acquaintance with organised criminals in funding themselves and their activities. Indeed, they are deeply involved in criminality.

As the Deputy will now be aware, following the incidents at the funeral in North Dublin, the Garda Commissioner has set up a dedicated operation, “Operation Ambience”. As a result, numerous searches were conducted of various locations in Dublin and surrounding counties and a substantial number of arrests were also made. Three people have been charged with membership of an unlawful organisation under the Offences Against the State Act and Garda inquiries into the matter are ongoing.

I am strongly committed to ensuring that the Gardaí have the necessary resources they need, not just in terms of manpower and equipment, but also in terms of legislative provisions, to bear down on these so-called dissident groups. As recently as last June, I obtained the approval of the Oireachtas to renew certain provisions of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. These provisions include those of directing an unlawful organisation, unlawful collection of information and training in the use of firearms.

Location of Victims' Remains

 48. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he has met Mr Geoff Knupfer chief investigator of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39021/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains was established in 1999 by the Irish and British Governments as one of the actions taken in the context of the Peace Process to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation. The purpose of the Commission is to facilitate the location of the remains of the Disappeared, those who were killed and buried secretly by paramilitaries over the course of the conflict, in order that they may be returned to their families to afford them some measure of closure.

Together with the Northern Ireland Office Minister of State, I met with the two Commissioners, Mr. Frank Murray and Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, and the Commission’s investigators last year, in the context of a meeting with the families of the Disappeared. I assured them of the continuing, full support of both Governments for the Commisson's work. Officials in my Department and in the Northern Ireland Office maintain close and regular contact with the Commissioners and their investigation team.

The Commission has emphasised that its work is driven by information. All information provided to the Commission is treated as strictly confidential and everyone can be assured that such information can only be used to locate and identify the remains. It cannot be given to other agencies or used for prosecutions.

I know the House will join me in calling on anybody who has any information that could help to locate those still missing to give that information to the Commission without delay. The Commission has in place a confidential freephone number and PO box address through which information can be passed to it. More information about the Commission and its work, and how to contact it is available on the Commission’s website – www.iclvr.ie

I would emphasise to the House that the Commission’s task is a humanitarian one. Its aim is to return the remains of those killed to their families for a decent burial in order that they might have a place to grieve. The Government fully supports them that aim and I call on all others to assist in achieving it.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

 49. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore the progress, if any, made in relation to the undocumented Irish citizens in the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39559/12]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The welfare of the Irish abroad is a very important priority for the Government. There are particular concerns in the United States where addressing the position of the undocumented Irish and reforming our migration arrangements are priorities for the Government in its contacts with the US Administration and Congress. The Government’s keen interest in a resolution of the situation for undocumented Irish migrants is well recognised and accepted by our friends within US Administration and Congress. Their advice to us remains that comprehensive reform of the US immigration system and procedures is likely to be the only manner by which this can be achieved.

With a view to helping some positive momentum around immigration issues insofar as they relate to Ireland, enabling Irish people to apply for E-3 temporary U.S. work visas has been a particular focus of our efforts. If passed this would make 10,500 E-3 visas available to Irish citizens each year.

While I am heartened by the advances that have been made so far towards bi-partisan consensus in the US Senate towards enabling Irish people to apply for E-3 visas, I am conscious that passing any immigration-related legislation in an election year in the US presents very significant challenges. Through our Embassy in Washington, the Government will continue to work closely with all relevant actors, including our friends in Congress and with Irish-American community representatives with a view to ensuring that every opportunity is taken to put an E-3 visa scheme in place. Our friends on Capitol Hill have recently signalled however that further progress on immigration reform is unlikely before the US elections in November.

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