Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Restorative Justice

2:35 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to expand community restorative justice programmes throughout the State; and his views on the contribution these programmes can make to the overall justice system. [46414/12]

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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The Probation Service, in partnership with community based organisations, is engaged in the promotion, development and delivery of restorative justice initiatives. Extending the range of restorative justice schemes is a strategic priority for the Probation Service.

As regards adult offenders, the Probation Service has expanded the restorative justice service based in Tallaght to the Criminal Courts of Justice and the courts in south County Dublin, while the Nenagh Community Reparation Project has been extended to the courts in north Tipperary. Both services are operated through community-based organisations. This has been done following a 12 month pilot which the Probation Service commenced in June 2011 to test a range of restorative interventions based on the recommendations contained in the report of the National Commission on Restorative Justice. A restorative justice project focusing on young offenders has also been developed in partnership with the voluntary and community sector in Limerick.

For my part, my focus is to encourage the use, to the greatest extent possible, of the menu of non-custodial options available to the courts. I believe the restorative justice concept has a place in that range of available options and it is my intention to build on the progress being made. I very much welcome the progress that has been made to date to the extent that we have now gone beyond merely having pilot schemes in place.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister's positive assessment of the potential of community restorative justice. A short briefing note from Community Restorative Justice Ireland on the issue states that restorative practices are underpinned, informed and shaped by a value-base of eight key components. These are participation, interconnectedness, honesty, humility, respect, accountability, hope and empowerment. In terms of the ethos, CRJ Ireland is engaging in schools and trying to develop that sense of collective responsibility from the school up.

It has often been said that if we can invest in prevention rather than cure, we would save a great deal of money for the taxpayer over the medium to long term. As my party's spokesperson for justice, I look forward to working with the Minister to develop these projects in the future. I have had the privilege of visiting some of the projects. One hears stories about the difference that it makes to estates that were really under fierce pressure with one or two families but, with a common sense approach and a collective response, the difference it made was tremendous. Of course, it saves the taxpayer a fortune in having to put people in jail down the line.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I welcome what Deputy Mac Lochlainn said. From past exchanges on this issue, I am aware there is support from all sides of the House that we further develop and expand the restorative justice process.

It is interesting to note the differences between the traditional approach and restorative justice. Of coarse, restorative justice is not appropriate in every circumstance but there are offenders for whom it is appropriate and there are victims of crime who are willing to engage. When that occurs there are significant benefits, particularly when one is dealing with young people and one is trying to ensure that they move away from the possibility of further criminality.

In the context of making the comparison, it is interesting that restorative justice essentially requires offenders to speak for themselves from start to finish whereas if one brings them into a court system, apart from saying "guilty" or "got guilty", the offender may say nothing at all in court, and certainly is not emotionally engaged necessarily in an exchange where he perceives the person against whom the offence was committed as truly a victim of that offence. No doubt offenders find the restorative justice process emotionally demanding and tough and it gives them an opportunity to see the victim as a person and to say "Sorry" to him. There is really no chance of doing that in a court process. It happens only occasionally. The offenders do not see what they have done as an offence against a victim. The criminal justice system is designed to present it as an offence against the State as opposed to an offence against the victim. There is a considerable benefit in those who engaged in crime, in particular, where it is minor crime, understanding the impact of their conduct on the victim, coming face-to-face with the victim, and having a dialogue with someone who, in most cases, they never knew and in circumstances where they do not understand the impact or consequences of their actions.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn can take it that I am an enthusiast for extending the use of restorative justice just as I believe in the importance of our extension of the community service orders mechanism. The latter mechanism is working and more people are engaged in that area. These are two mechanisms, which facilitate dealing with criminality without people spending time in prison and which give them a greater insight as to contributions they may make to their own communities.