Header Item Written Answers Nos. 205-213
 Header Item Coroners Service
 Header Item Garda Civilian Staff Recruitment
 Header Item Proposed Legislation
 Header Item Naturalisation Applications
 Header Item Peace Commissioners
 Header Item National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan Issues
 Header Item Asylum Support Services
 Header Item Court Accommodation Refurbishment
 Header Item Anti-Racism Measures

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 812 No. 1
Unrevised

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Written Answers Nos. 205-213

Coroners Service

 205. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if the results of a post mortem of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35581/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I can inform the Deputy that the post mortem results have been finalised and are available from the Kerry North Coroner's Office.

Garda Civilian Staff Recruitment

 206. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter when he expects to move forward with hiring civilians to undertake administrative work within An Garda Síochána to free up gardaí to detect and prevent crime; if the hiring of civilians will commence or has already commenced in any specific districts or divisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [35703/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The number of civilian staff in the Garda Síochána has increased in recent years to just over 2,000 whole time equivalent staff. Recruitment is carried out through the Public Appointments Service and the Commissioner is responsible for the detailed allocation of resources throughout the organisation.

These staff continue to provide vital services in a wide range of areas, such as human resources, training & development, IT and telecommunications, finance and procurement, internal audit, research and analysis, accommodation and fleet management, scene-of-crime support and medical services. In doing so, they release highly trained Gardaí from administrative tasks to operational policing.

Civilian staff have also been appointed to the senior management positions of Executive Director of Finance, Executive Director of IT and Head of Legal Affairs. The new Chief Administration Officer has also recently been appointed and a new Director of Communications is expected to take up that position in the near future. I have also received sanction form the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for the recruitment of two forensic Accountants in the Garda Síochána.

We will continue to maximise the number of civilian support staff in An Garda Síochána consistent with overall policy on numbers in the public service and taking into account the scope for the appropriate redeployment of staff from elsewhere in the public service as part of the reform process under the Haddington Road Agreement.

Proposed Legislation

 207. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he has prepared comprehensive legislation to tackle the issue of white-collar criminality; if he will share these proposals with Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [35704/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enact a new consolidated and reformed anti-corruption law to punish white collar crime and end the impunity from consequences for corporate behaviour that threatens the economy and a commitment that rogue bankers and all those that misappropriate or embezzle funds are properly pursued for their crimes and that the full rigours of the law will apply to them.

These commitments are being addressed in a multifaceted approach through various legislative measures.

The Criminal Justice Act 2011 is an important step in delivering on the Government’s commitment to tackle white collar crime. Its main purpose is to facilitate the more effective investigation of white collar crime and to reduce associated delays. The Act provides for new procedures to facilitate Garda access to essential information and documentation to assist in current and future investigations of white collar crime. The Act is targeted at specified serious and complex offences (“relevant offences”) attracting a penalty of at least 5 years imprisonment, including offences in the areas of banking and finance, company law, money laundering, fraud and corruption. The Act will provide vital assistance to the Gardaí in the completion of current investigations as well as providing assistance to them in investigations undertaken in the future.

The General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill was published in 2012 and referred to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for its consideration. The Bill is currently being drafted by Parliamentary Counsel. The Bill will replace the seven enactments making up the Prevention of Corruption Acts of 1889 to 2010. The Bill will replace and update existing offences relating to giving or receiving bribes. It will also introduce new offences in relation to corrupt influence peddling.

The recommendations of the Mahon Tribunal have been taken into account in provisions to be contained in the Bill such as a new offence of making payments knowingly or recklessly to a third party who intends to use them as bribes.

Stiff penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and unlimited fines are envisaged for persons convicted on indictment. In addition the Courts are to be given new powers to remove public officials from office and to exclude them from holding office for up to 10 years.

In addition, the current Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is scheduled to be enacted before the summer recess, provides a number of measures to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial process. The Criminal Procedure Bill which is currently being developed aims to improve the efficiency of the criminal trial process. The establishment of a new Court of Appeal will, if approved by referendum in the autumn, further enhance the efficiency of the criminal justice system. While these latter measures are not aimed any one area of the criminal law, they will enhance the efficient operation of the courts overall and will have consequential benefits for the prosecution of criminal offences, including while collar crime offences.

Naturalisation Applications

 208. Deputy Tom Fleming Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will examine a naturalisation application in respect of a person (details supplied); if he will expedite his application; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [35653/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The person referred to by the Deputy has not made an application for naturalisation.

  The immigration status of the person concerned remains essentially the same as set out in my reply to the Deputy's question of Tuesday 11th June 2013 (PQ No. 731 of 11th June, 2013).

  In February, 2013, the person concerned made an application for permission to remain in the State on the basis of his marriage to an Irish national. Such applications are dealt with in chronological order and I am advised that INIS are currently processing applications received in January 2013.

  Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up-to-date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process.The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from the INIS is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Peace Commissioners

 209. Deputy Andrew Doyle Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he is considering the reform of the role of peace commissioners here in view of the fact that the current legislation governing their role is old, namely, the Courts of Justice Act 1924; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that although peace commissioners continue to have powers to issue warrants under a small number of statutes, several decisions by the courts regarding the issuing of summonses and warrants were subject to a number of legal challenges in the late 1980s and early 1990s and decisions of the superior courts raised serious doubts about the constitutional competence of peace commissioners to exercise such powers, thus limiting the role of peace commissioner and transferring their more onerous tasks to the courts; his views on completely overhauling the handbook and guidance manual explaining their role and duties to ensure information is updated in line with current legislation, in view of the fact that the current handbook given to new peace commissioners is out of line with current documents that require the signature of a peace commissioner; the contents of the review that was initiated in early 2008 on the status and functions of peace commissioners; if any recommendations within this review were ever acted upon; the discussions that have been held within his Department on the future of this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [35688/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Office of Peace Commissioner is an honorary appointment under section 88 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1924 for which there is no remuneration or compensation by way of fees or expenses for services. An application for appointment may be submitted by a person who is interested in obtaining an appointment, or a third party may submit a nomination in respect of a person considered suitable for appointment. Nominations are generally received from public representatives. A local Garda Superintendent can also request an appointment in a particular area in the public interest.

Peace Commissioners, on appointment, are issued with a guidance manual explaining their role and duties. While I believe more work needs to be done, this manual is updated from time to time to take account of changes in legislation.

As regards the review referred to by the Deputy, I am informed that this was an internal paper by an intern staff member in the Department but that no firm proposals subsequently emerged. While I have no immediate plans to amend the legislation relating to Peace Commissioners, I do intend keeping the matter under review.

National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan Issues

 210. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the position regarding the publication of an implementation plan for the national disability strategy in view of the national disability strategy implementation group's most recent meeting on 20 June 2013.  [35753/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter As the Deputy will be aware my Department has been engaged in a wide ranging consultation process with Government Departments and with the Disability Stakeholders Group in the preparation of the National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan.

Following significant consultation and consideration the Plan was agreed by the National Disability Strategy Implementation Group at their meeting of 20 June 2013. It is my intention to bring the Plan to Government imminently. The Plan will then be published to the websites of all relevant Government Departments including my own and that of the National Disability Authority. Accessible versions of the Implementation Plan and hard copies of the document will be made available on request.

Asylum Support Services

 211. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his views on a statement made by the outgoing Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, that Ireland’s treatment of asylum seekers may well be in breach of not just our own Constitution but also international human rights conventions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35754/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I assume the question refers to a recently published article by the Ombudsman on asylum seekers.

The Ombudsman says in her article that her examination of a specific case, involving the HSE and the Department of Social Protection around the issue of a social welfare entitlement to a family which had been in Direct Provision, led her to comment on the asylum accommodation system more generally. It should be noted that the Ombudsman Act, 1980 does not provide for the investigation by the Ombudsman of any action taken by or on behalf of a person in the administration of the law relating to, inter alia, asylum. Notwithstanding that, I should add that the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department has administrative arrangements in place with the Office of the Ombudsman to assist and provide information and help resolve any matters brought to its attention.

The Ombudsman is, of course, perfectly entitled to the personal opinions expressed in the article but I do not share many of them. In particular, I do not accept the attempted correlation between the residents of direct provision accommodation centres and past residents of industrial schools or Magdalene laundries. It is to be expected that asylum seekers, if given a choice in the jurisdiction or elsewhere, would prefer to have independent accommodation, a right to welfare and work and so on, instead of being restricted to the system of direct provision to meet their needs. For the avoidance of any misunderstanding, it should be noted that all EU Member States operate systems for dealing with asylum seekers which in one form or another greatly restrict their access to welfare, work or independent housing. In reality, the system in this State is at least on a par and often significantly better than that in operation in many other Member States. In the circumstances, it is grossly misleading to characterise our treatment of asylum seekers as being akin to that meted out to subjects of abuse who had no protection of the law or relevant State bodies.

I have recounted in responses to many Dáil Questions how the rights of residents of accommodation centres are protected both within the Direct Provision system and, of course, by the laws of our country. The Ombudsman's article, rightly, places great emphasis on the rights of children in the Direct Provision system. Again, I have explained before how children are protected in a number of ways - primarily through the Reception and Integration Agency's (RIA) Child Protection policy; its House Rules; its requirement that all centre staff are Garda vetted; and through the coordination role of a dedicated Child and Family Services unit in RIA. Children in Direct Provision centres, of course, enjoy the same educational and health entitlements as Irish citizen children.

Sight must not be lost of the fact that applicants for refugee status, who otherwise would have no permission to be in the State, have their protection claims dealt with in accordance with a prescribed legal framework and exclusively on their merits having regard to their subjective and objective elements. They have full recourse to the judicial review process in the courts and to the general protection of the State.

I accept that the direct provision system is not ideal and many residents spend too long there. But it is a system which facilitates the State providing a roof over the heads of those seeking protection or the right to remain in the State on humanitarian grounds or other reasons. It allows the State to do it in a manner that facilitates resources being used economically in circumstances where the State is in financial difficulty. It is acknowledged that the Direct Provision system provides value for money. A key finding in the 2010 Value for Money Report on the Direct Provision system was that if we were operating a system which facilitated asylum seekers in living independent lives in individual housing with social welfare support and payments, aside from the asylum 'pull factor' it would likely create, the cost to the exchequer would be double what is currently paid under the direct provision system.

In her article, the Ombudsman does not say that the direct provision system is in breach of international conventions. Rather, she references a number of reports critical of the direct provision system which argue that it is. She acknowledges that, ultimately, such judgements are matters for a court. Over the years, the direct provision system has been open to scrutiny by many international bodies. Centres have been visited by various UN bodies, including the UNHCR, and by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner. I appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva in connection with its scrutiny of Ireland under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process In October, 2011. No recommendation was made in relation to the Direct Provision system in the Committee's subsequent UPR report on Ireland.

There is no question but that the asylum system is slow, fragmented and is in need of reform and I am determined to see this reform through. For me, the length of time spent in the Direct Provision system, rather than the quality of provision within the system itself, is the real issue and I am committed to remedying that. 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 to the Bill are anticipated, the majority of a technical nature. 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 text. Such an approach can incorporate the many anticipated amendments while addressing key outstanding issues, several of which have been of concern to Members. This proposition was broadly welcomed by the Joint Committee and work on the Bill continues, therefore, on that basis while also taking account of any intervening matters of relevance such as decisions by the Courts.

It remains my objective under this new approach, and subject to having to deal with the competing legislative demands of our EU/IMF/ECB Programme commitments, to be in a position to bring a revised Bill to Government for approval and publication before the end of the year.

Pending the enactment and commencement of the new legislation and with a view to improving processing in the area of international protection, I am proposing to introduce new arrangements for the processing of subsidiary protection applications in light of recent judgments in the Superior Courts. My Department, in consultation with the Attorney General's Office, is developing a new legislative and administrative framework for the processing of current and future subsidiary protection applications. This work is being given high priority and applicants will be advised of the new arrangements as soon as possible.

Court Accommodation Refurbishment

 212. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his plans to upgrade the family law court at Dolphin House which is in dire condition and not fit for purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35755/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I wish to inform the Deputy that, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions, which include the provision of accommodation for court sittings.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and have been informed by the Courts Service that the District Family Law Office in Dolphin House is the busiest family law office in the country, accounting for a very significant percentage of barring and safety orders issued nationally. The opening of the Criminal Courts of Justice provided an opportunity to re-organise the work of the District, Civil and Family Law courts and free up additional accommodation in Dolphin House for family law and child care business and court users.

The Service has stated that the courthouse was refurbished at a cost of €3.74 million and re-opened on the 14 February 2008. The refurbishment provided for extended accommodation and improved facilities comprising five enlarged courtrooms with adjoining Judges' Chambers, additional consultation rooms, separate areas for family law applications/enquiries and payments, a legal practitioners' room, an Office for the Legal Aid Board and the Family Mediation Service which has a permanent presence on site, a new waiting area, universal access, three interview rooms, upgraded ventilation system, baby changing room, and a light refreshment machine.

Anti-Racism Measures

 213. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his views on the figures released by the Immigrant Council of Ireland stating that 50 serious incidents have been reported to them in ten weeks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35756/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I am aware of the information released by the Immigrant Council of Ireland on 1 July 2013 regarding the total number of racist incidents reported to it over a ten week period in response to its recent awareness raising campaign on social media and public transport. I understand that these were preliminary figures only and that a more detailed analysis of the figures will be produced.

I would urge victims of racism to report it to the relevant statutory body where appropriate. For example, our equality legislation outlaws discrimination on the basis of race in employment and non-employment areas. The Equality Tribunal is responsible for dealing with complaints under this legislation. Similarly, anyone who is the victim of racist crime should report it to An Garda Síochána. The Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office places great emphasis on the importance of reporting any suspected racist crime to the local Gardaí. It works with a network of Ethnic Liaison Officers at local level and gives advice on the services available to victims of hate crime. My Department’s Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration also undertakes important work to promote positive attitudes in our society and positive integration, as well as providing information.

I have previously indicated that I think we should start a reflection - a national dialogue - in Ireland about what we need to do to ensure the evils of racism, prejudice and intolerance do not spread and detrimentally affect the lives of those who live here and I am actively considering next steps in this regard.


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