Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Courts and Court Officers (Amendment) Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed)


9:00 pm

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)

I am starting to get worried that this Government has been in office for far too long. When a Government is in power for too long, strange things begin to happen. Journalists are arrested, Ministers assume extra powers and the Government starts finding out things before the public. The causes of crime become eclipsed by a focus on the crimes themselves and judicial reform is eclipsed by attempts to curtail the right to silence.

This morning a journalist, Mr. Michael McCaffrey, was arrested at his home in Dublin. Journalists have a duty to report the facts without fear or favour, as Mr. McCaffrey's editor noted, and I believe that should be respected. It is a dark day for press freedom when journalists are arrested for doing their job. It is ironic that in a speech at the 2004 Edward O'Donnell McDevitt Annual Symposium, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated:

The media are a vital component of our democracy. They are the means of democratic accountability. Questioning media are not merely legitimate — they are essential.

It is difficult to have a questioning media when journalists are being arrested.

The Prisons Bill 2006, which is currently before the Houses, will make the Minister the planning Czar for all new places of detention, which is a dangerous assumption of powers. During lunchtime today, he was apparently at the desk of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to get the news about the Ringsend incinerator in advance of everyone else, although given that he flip-flops so much, it is hard to know where he stands on the issue. At least President Bush said, "You may not agree with me, but you know where I stand".

It is important that the judicial system focuses on the need to address the causes of crime. In his 2004 speech, the Minister spoke about the rehabilitation of offenders. He cited a survey which indicated that a significant number of prisoners have virtually no literacy skills and pointed out the need to address high rates of illiteracy and to provide work skills, training and education within the prison system. However, not enough is being done in that regard. In his most recent report on Cloverhill Prison, the Inspector of Prisons found little work or other activities to engage prisoners while out of their cells and that they had no access to education. Although classrooms had been provided, they were taken over by the prison transport corps. He concluded that the present arrangement is deplorable. I wish the Minister would have focused on the need for rehabilitation and reform instead the retrograde steps he has taken over the past four years by cutting back on educational and work programmes.

In addressing the Bill before us, previous speakers have referred to the need to educate and inform the Judiciary. Every time this issue arises, the Minister mentions the Judicial Studies Institute. While I applaud that institute on the fine journal it publishes, it does not have the resources to prepare incoming members of the Judiciary for their jobs, let alone provide sufficient continuing professional development. The two full-time staff employed at the institute represents a drop in the ocean when it comes to providing the detailed programmes required for modern judicial training and professional development. Therefore, while I appreciate the need to speed up the judicial process, I remind the Minister of the need to go beyond the proposals made in the Bill.

I draw Members attention to the provision in the Bill which allows the Government to assign judges to particular districts. That provision concerns me because I am not sure whether the Government should have such a power.


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