Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)


Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

3:05 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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The ultimate aim for a legislation in this area is to reduce the risk of new offences. This is the lens through which we have to look at every measure in this Bill. It is about how we make our communities safer. I must say that I am honestly not sure about electronic monitoring of sex offenders. I am absolutely in favour of keeping people safe and monitoring. The idea of electronic tagging for sex offenders has been floated for a long time. It was considered back in 2009 by the Department of Justice and again by Frances Fitzgerald when she was Minister. It is easy to see why it is a popular idea. The concept of tracking sex offenders electronically aims to provide a level of comfort or reassurance to victims and the community at large while also making it easier for the Garda to monitor offenders effectively. At present, some 1,708 people are subject to a reporting requirement under the 2001 Act. A total of 319 of these are supervised by the Probation Service and 192 are under post-release supervision in the community. The remainder notify their whereabouts to their local Garda station.

Electronic monitoring is already provided for under the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which states if an offender is facing a sentence of more than three months, a judge can restrict his or her movement instead of imposing a prison sentence and an electronic tag can be used to ensure the offender maintains a strict curfew and stays away from certain areas. When electronic tagging was trialed back in 2010, prisoners on temporary release had to keep the devices in their pockets as the straps kept breaking. There were also faulty transmissions of signals resulting in periods were prisoners were not monitored. Granted, that was a trial and the whole point of trials is to make sure something works. There have been improvements to GPS technology, which has come a long way in the past 11 years, but regardless, this goes to show that electronic monitoring may not be infallible. If such monitoring is going to be used more, there will have to be some degree of testing and monitoring of devices. There would also need to be significant monitoring of the individuals with these devices to ensure nothing is amiss.

No monitoring currently takes place, aside from instances where prisoners are given temporary release under limited circumstances. We need to take a closer look at why that is the case. To date, there has been a marked reluctance to use electronic tagging despite it being legislated for, but there is no sense in legislating for the broader use of a technology that is not being used. I may be wrong and it may not be permitted to use such technology in these circumstances. I look forward to hear what the Minister of State has to say in that regard.

The main reasons for the hesitancy in using electronic tagging seem to be its cost, the resources required and its effectiveness in reducing crime. Electronic monitoring requires a large support staff to monitor people's movements, as well as enough gardaí on hand to react if an offender breaches the terms of their directions. With 1,708 people currently subject to a reporting requirement, how many people could gardaí feasibly monitor? Has there been any kind of study into the capacity that is available? There was some suggestion a number of years ago that legal advice had been given to the effect that people could only be monitored for a maximum of 12 hours a day. There does not seem to be any mention of this in the Bill. Will the Minister of State elaborate on the legal advice the Department has received on the length and degree of monitoring permitted via these devices? Will that be clarified in this legislation?

Electronic monitoring cannot replace traditional measures of supervision and it will not make any impact on the rehabilitation of offenders. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has described evidence about the benefits of electronic tagging as "fairly unconvincing". It argues that what is really needed is investment in resources for the Probation Service and An Garda Síochána, but that needs to happen anyway. Ultimately, there seems to be a lack of empirical evidence that electronic monitoring works. While Garda knowledge of the whereabouts of a sex offender is often a comfort, particularly to the public, it is not all that effective in crime prevention.

I recall discussing the issue of anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs, in this House many years ago. Several members of an Oireachtas committee went to the UK to an area in which ASBOs were being used extensively. The real takeaway from that visit was that the ASBO was fine in principle but the monitoring required and the resources needed for rehabilitation were significant and way more than we had anticipated. For some people, ASBOs were a badge of honour and something of which to be proud, which was deplorable.

We are all familiar with the fact that most sex offenders are known to their victims. The annual report from the sexual violence centre in Cork, for example, found that almost nine out of ten victims of rape or sexual assault knew the perpetrator, while 13.2% were raped or sexually assaulted by a stranger. Despite knowing this fact for many years, it does not seem to sink into the narrative around sex offenders. Realistically, this is probably because it is a hard fact for any of us to come to terms with that anyone close to us would be capable of such a horrific crime. There are sex offenders out there who present a significant risk to others and who need to be monitored consistently, not simply electronically, for the protection of the community and indeed, sometimes for their own protection. I came across a scenario where a sex offender was living very close to a playground and was known. One can see what could arise in that kind of situation. While the narrative is often focused primarily on convicted offenders, we also need to pay close attention to other aspects of prevention. We need comprehensive consent education in our schools from an early age and we must also educate children and adults on boundaries, how to identify when someone has crossed them and when one is at risk of crossing someone else's boundaries.

As set out in this Bill, the maximum period for electronic monitoring is six months. Tagging cannot be used as a long-term solution. If we extend that maximum period any further, we could be stretching our human rights compliance. If properly resourced and compliant with an individual's rights, electronic tagging may be useful in certain circumstances, for example, where there is a certain level of risk or where it might address immediate issues relating to offenders following conviction or upon their release. There is a benefit in somebody being tagged if they are out of prison for a specific duration. Ultimately, however, it does not provide the means for addressing the problem of sexual offending behaviour in either the short or long term.

For the period in which someone is monitored, he or she would need to be accompanied by all the relevant supports necessary to aid rehabilitation and reintegration. There is a lot more to changing people’s behaviour than just taking away control and freedom. People have to be given the education, tools and motivation to change. In some cases, they do not want to engage with the kinds of initiatives that could change behaviour. Punishment and accountability are vital as a deserved consequence for seriously harmful crimes. They also provides security and some measure of justice to victims. Having an offender held appropriately accountable for their crime is necessary for victims to have faith in the system and to encourage others to come forward and report abuse. However, the penal system cannot be about punishment alone. We need to be careful that we do not isolate offenders from society even further because all the evidence shows that this only makes the rate of recidivism rise and makes communities less safe. The object of the exercise for all of us is to use legislation as a means of changing a culture.

3:15 pm

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to discuss this profoundly important legislation. I congratulate the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, in particular for working so swiftly to bring this Bill before the House. This legislation is primarily concerned with strengthening the monitoring of sex offenders within our communities but, more importantly, it is focused on protecting and supporting survivors of sexual offences. This gives them the reassurance that the person who perpetrated such an awful crime against them will not have the opportunity to do so again.

Our criminal justice system is centred on the perpetrator of the crime. Where possible, we should be focused on a victim-centred approach. Reforming the criminal justice system to be more victim-centred is an ambition of the Minister and it is one that I fully support.

Returning convicted sex offenders into society after a prison sentence is complex. It can often come with a lot of anxiety for survivors, their friends and family. That is because, much of the time, close ties can exist between many sex offenders and their victims. We have a robust system in place to manage those with a conviction for a sexual offence, but this legislation will further strengthen that system, and put a number of important actions on a statutory footing.

I welcome the extension of the notification requirements for sex offenders and the shorter three-day notice period for a change of address. Ireland must not be found lagging in this area of criminal justice and the provision brings us in line with other jurisdictions, including the UK. This legislation will also provide for electronic tagging and prohibit convicted sex offenders from engaging in certain work, in particular working with children and vulnerable people, which is a highly important provision. In terms of working with vulnerable people, the prohibition on sex offenders will be limited by sentencing and I have some concerns about that. The Bill will be an important part of the existing range of protections in place to support survivors of sexual offences.

I wish to give voice to some of the points raised by the Rape Crisis Network Ireland on the Bill. Who better to consult with than with those exceptional advocates, the victims of sexual offences. The network broadly welcomes the move to update the previously outdated language in the definition of a "vulnerable person". However, I agree that there is scope to go further with this definition beyond those with a disability or mental illness.

The O'Malley Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences set out that there is nowadays a widespread view that witnesses in criminal trials, especially for a sexual offence, may be vulnerable by virtue of the circumstances, even if they do not have a physical or mental disability. Rape Crisis Network Ireland asks that we consider inclusion of circumstances where a person is the previous victim of the released offender's crimes, or is at particular risk for another determined reason, within the definition of vulnerable person. The network makes a good point about enhanced Garda notification and identification. These provisions are welcome, but it is important that the Garda have the necessary IT infrastructure to ensure that there is a capacity to co-ordinate information throughout the country. This is not the case currently because information is retained locally. Adequate Garda resources will be essential, especially when it comes to the electronic monitoring of sex offenders for it to be workable. It is important that we ensure those resources are in place.

Sadly, we know that sexual offences are predominantly committed against women. Some 29% of women in Ireland have been affected by domestic abuse. A total of 12 % of Irish women and girls over the age of 15 have experienced stalking. One in four women in Ireland has experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. The statistics are horrific. Strength and support are needed to overcome the lasting impacts of sexual abuse of any kind. These are scary and scarring experiences, especially for women. I welcome the work that the Minister and the Government are doing to prevent and reduce instances of sexual offences, violence and abuse against both men and women.

I also take this opportunity to commend the work that organisations such as Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Women's Aid and Safe Ireland do. In particular, I want to mention Saoirse Women's Refuge in Rathcoole in my local area, which does amazing work in supporting women and children who are affected by domestic violence. Victims of sexual offences can be brought some comfort in knowing that their offender has been brought to justice and is being closely monitored and managed by the Garda. This Bill gives them that comfort. Groups like Saoirse Women's Refuge provide much needed around-the-clock support for survivors.

I welcome this legislation, as it will strengthen our approach to dealing with sexual offenders when they return to the community, but, most importantly, it will give survivors the support and protection they need and deserve. It will bring us another step closer to achieving a victim-centred criminal justice system, for which we all must continue to strive.

3:25 pm

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I welcome the long-awaited changes encompassed in it that were campaigned for. The Bill will allow the Sex Offenders Act 2001 to be updated in 2021 to ensure convicted sex offenders are effectively managed and monitored. SORAM will be placed on a statutory footing. There is a recognition of the need when assessing and managing risk to draw on expertise not just from An Garda Síochána and the Probation Service but to include expertise available in the HSE, Tusla, the Prison Service, and school and housing authorities to name but a few. There is a crucial need for adequate resourcing to underpin this legislation. Up-to-date IT systems will be vital, as will a clear funding stream to ensure that happens and that the systems are maintained.

Electronic monitoring has been used in the UK since the late 1990s and was extended recently to include monitoring those convicted of domestic violence. There can be benefits to electronic monitoring for sex offenders in terms of compliance with a post-supervision order, monitoring curfews and to verify an individual's location at any given time. Again, adequate training and resources are vital to ensure success and that the desired outcome is achieved.

Another area of the Bill, which is most welcome, but disgracefully late in arriving, is the proposal to explicitly provide for the court to prohibit sex offenders from working with children and vulnerable adults and engaging in certain activities that would bring them into contact with those individuals. The fact that the term of prohibition will be limited by sentencing means this is not the cure-all for children and vulnerable adults that it could be. The previous language relating to vulnerable persons was so outdated it could be described as archaic, but it is a missed opportunity. The O'Malley review observed witnesses in such trials are vulnerable by virtue of the circumstances in which they find themselves. The circumstances are not of their making, and only exist because of the choices of others. There must to be a scaffolding of supports for victims of sexual offences before, during and after the trial, including anonymity, court representation and other support services, primarily provided by the rape crisis centres network.

I agree with the point made by other speakers that the cause of rape is the rapist and the choices they make. There is a categoric need to ensure that the survivors of sexual assaults are not inadvertently subjected to further trauma by the judicial system, be that through delays or postponements, which undermine emotional resilience, often built back after significant time, therapy and support.

I am struck by the fact that we are discussing the Bill on a day when there are headlines about another suspended sentence for somebody convicted of a sexual assault. In the case in question in County Donegal, the person was given a six-year suspended sentence for burglary and four years for sexual assault. That is simply not good enough, because justice delayed is often justice denied. The victim of the sexual assault in that case has certainly had justice denied.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Barry. I am not sure if we will use the entire 20 minutes. We will see how we go.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Is that ten minutes each?

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Yes, ten and ten. I do not think I will use the whole ten minutes.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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This is very profound and complex legislation. Sexual crimes are a very important subject. Sexual violence of any kind is utterly hideous. Gender-based violence and toxic misogyny are reprehensible in any form but they exist and manifest and, unfortunately, they are on the rise in society. The profound effect on the victim is incalculable. For people who have been sexually abused or had sexual violence committed against them, that effect stays with them for the rest of their lives.

It will also have a profound effect later on, when they have children, and so on.

I want to look at a different aspect in regard to the societal issues around sexual violence and the sexualised nature of our society. It would not be radical to say there are elements of popular culture that are insidious in the way the sexualisation of women is portrayed. It is horrible how some parts of popular culture can be that insidious. An element of that is at the root of sexual crimes and gender-based violence.

Even with regard to domestic violence, we have seen in the past 19 months, because of the pandemic, the profound effect of the environment where a woman is subjected to a horrible level of bullying, intimidation and harassment, and, obviously, that has a terrible effect on the children of that person. It is a horrible situation.

I have serious concerns about the provisions in the Bill that deals with electronic tagging. There is probably no evidence that it deters the individual from doing other things.

As to investment in domestic violence supports, where women present themselves, there is definitely an argument that there needs to be more provision in that regard. It has to be invested in where women present in that situation.

Rehabilitation is very important. Some of the people who have been incarcerated have committed the most dreadful crimes. However, how did that arise? Was it nurture or nature? Was it societal? Was that person born to do that? I do not think so. There is definitely an opening for rehabilitation and an opening to prevent a person ever getting to that stage. That is very important.

There is also training around consent. We have seen this with the #MeToo movement, which is a very important movement where women have come out saying they have been subjected to quite subtle but forceful violence and sexual approaches in the workplace. We have seen through the Women of Honour movement in the Defence Forces the women who came out and said they were subjected to horrible and toxic behaviour. As I said, this has a terrible effect on those who are subjected to it.

I understand this is the most serious of issues but I have serious concerns around certain parts of the Bill.

3:35 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I and every Member of this House received email correspondence regarding this Bill from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Many points were made in that email but there are two points to which they asked us to pay particular attention. The first is that a victim support-advocacy voice should be specifically named in the legislation, and we support that. Second, they emphasised the view that the arrangements will not work unless adequately resourced, which is a key point. We have domestic violence centres in this State where Trojan work is done but they are nowhere near adequately resourced. Rape crisis centres are nowhere near adequately resourced. It is the same with mental health counselling facilities. Anti-sexual violence education programmes, including programmes for sex offenders, are inadequately resourced. In the budget that the Government brought forward last month, €20 million was set aside for domestic violence support services and €5 million for sexual violence prevention and protection, a total of €25 million, and the same budget provided €17 million for the greyhound industry. It is unreal.

The Bill proposes to give new powers to the police. In discussing those proposals, it cannot go without comment that we are talking about resources for a Garda force that ignored thousands of 999 calls, which ignored claims of image-based sexual abuse and which, at the last count that I am aware of, since 2018 has had at least a dozen officers with barring orders against them. This shows that, when it comes to discussing proposed new powers, we need to couple that with a discussion about democratic control over the police force in this country. We also need to discuss it in the context that the priority for extra resources is the underfunded services I have mentioned, all of which have a proven track record of helping survivors with both support and healing.

The final point I want to make concerns of the role of active social movements in challenging misogyny, challenging rape culture and challenging the culture that facilitates sexual offences and gender-based violence in this country. Active social movements played a key role in the recent gains in LGBTQ rights, and active social movements played a key role in winning the changes for the repeal of the archaic anti-abortion laws and for abortion rights in this country. It can and, I think, will be the same on this issue as well.

Active social movements challenging gender-based violence and femicide are hugely important. Next week, on Thursday, 25 November, is the UN day set aside and designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and gender-based violence. I am sure there will be many activities and campaigning events around the country, and I am going to draw attention to just a few of them. ROSA, the socialist feminist organisation, is organising what it is describing as a Walk With Women. It is asking people to show solidarity and to walk with women in Dublin city centre, Dublin west and Cork. I think this is a very valuable initiative and I would appeal to people to support these and other initiatives and to participate in these initiatives. They are important events.

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
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Sexual offences in Ireland are unique, when we look at the criminal code, because they are targeted nearly exclusively against one group in society, and that is women. I know there have been and there are sexual offences that are perpetrated against men but, predominantly, these are offences that are perpetrated against women. We need to recognise that when they are being perpetrated, they are offences that are combined with physical violence, as well as sexual violence, against that victim.

Gardaí are getting much better with regard to how they investigate sexual offences. I think that it is recognised, when one talks to people who have been victims of sexual offences, in many instances they are now saying the gardaí performed particularly well in the investigation of those offences. We need to figure out in this House what we can do to facilitate and to protect women who, as I say, are predominantly offended against when it comes to these offences.

I am pleased to say some of the legislation that has been introduced in recent years provides greater protections to women who are victims of sexual offences. More broadly, in 2017 we introduced legislation that recognised for the first time the importance and role of victims of crime in our criminal justice system. For too long the criminal justice system has been focused on the issue of the guilt or innocence of the accused. It is important we recognise that victims have an important part to play in the criminal justice process. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, on the work he has done on this Bill and for bringing it before the House and I commend the Minister, Deputy McEntee, as well. It is a very important Bill. Members have spoken about the provisions within it and I do not intend to repeat what has been said so eloquently by other Members, but there is universal support here for this Bill and that is indicative of how there is recognition in this House that more needs to be done to protect victims of sexual offences.

I refer the Minister and the Minister of State to an article that was published about ten days ago in The Irish Judicial Studies Journal. It is entitled "Towards a Presumption of Victimhood - Possibilities for Re-Balancing the Criminal Process". This article was written by Mr. Justice Peter Charleton and Orlaith Cross. In the article they set out how they believe the criminal trial and justice process needs to be rebalanced in favour of the victim. They are not suggesting the rights of the accused should be diminished in any material way or that the presumption of innocence should not apply when it comes to somebody who is charged with serious offences. However, the article puts forward a number of proposals on rebalancing the trial process.

One thing all of us in this House are aware of is that when you speak to women – and it is predominantly women – who have been through the process of a criminal trial where an accused is being prosecuted for a sexual offence against them, they find the criminal trial process intimidating and demanding. We have an obligation in this House to try to change that so it is not as demanding or intimidating. A number of suggestions were put forward by the authors in the article as to how that could be done. One of the suggestions they put forward is that providing information to somebody who is a victim of an offence, regardless of whether it is a sexual offence, is not enough in itself. We have introduced measures in this House in recent times that will give more information to a complainant in any trial and to a victim in a sexual offence trial.

The second point the article makes is that on numerous occasions we have spoken in this House and recommendations have been put forward that the victim in the criminal trial process should have separate legal representation. That can happen under existing legislation in circumstances where the victim is being cross-examined and where it is believed the prosecuting counsel is not providing sufficient protection. What is suggested in the article is that there should be a closer relationship between the victim and the prosecuting counsel. We know that in a criminal trial the prosecuting counsel is prosecuting on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. He or she is representing the interests of the State. It is true the prosecuting counsel is not employed or hired on behalf of the victim but the reality is the prosecuting counsel and the DPP are representing the interests of the victim who has made a complaint that the DPP believes is sufficient to launch a prosecution. There needs to be closer contact between prosecution counsel and the victim in a criminal trial process.

A third point mentioned in the article is that it might be necessary for counsel and solicitors to engage in training by professional bodies and that perhaps State parties should engage counsel and solicitors. That is something we have spoken about before but we have not really done that much about it and it is notable a service exists in England and Wales, the Advocate’s Gateway, which provides a toolkit on questioning vulnerable witnesses and up-to-date resources. That is something we should also look at.

Another point that is sometimes made by people who have gone through the trial process is that they find the cross-examination process intimidating, demanding and challenging. Cross-examination plays an important role in trying to establish the truth and nobody is suggesting the right to cross-examine should be taken away from any accused person. However, it must be the case that the right to cross-examine can be curtailed or limited in time. We already see that happening in civil trials and it has not resulted in miscarriages of justice or inaccurate results. Similarly, we need to look at criminal trials again to ensure cross-examination is not permitted to go on endlessly for the sake of trying to undermine and exhaust a witness.

Another point that is made is that an accused usually does not give evidence. I am not suggesting an accused should be required to give evidence but the article refers to how the self-serving statements, made at Garda stations, of accused persons who do not give evidence are read out at trials. We need to look at that as well.

3:45 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome that this Bill has been brought forward and I add my voice to that of others in that regard. I have spoken to Rape Crisis Network Ireland and to other experts in the field, of which there are many given the subject nature we are dealing with. We all accept the reality that we need to put this on a better footing to ensure all necessary community organisations are aware of the issues around people who pose a danger to children and society. We are talking about people who have been convicted of some of the most heinous crimes. I agree with an awful lot of what has been said earlier, that we need to deal with the victim, across all crimes, in a better and more coherent way. Often when you talk to people they tell you about being retraumatised and about being unaware of events, particularly in the judicial system. That can lead to real problems. That is even true in situations where the prosecution's case works properly and the person who has committed the crime is found guilty.

I mention the framework for protecting people who have suffered brutal attacks, whether we are talking about child sex abuse or rape. We know in a lot of cases the protective framework people avail of is the NGO sector, including a rape crisis centre or the likes of Womens Aid in Dundalk. Since I have mentioned it I point out that Womens Aid in Dundalk is carrying out a fundraiser of 16 days of action and a 5 km walk. It is taking place between 25 November and 10 December so I will have to get myself a bit fitter if I decide to do a bit more than walking on those days. It is a vital organisation doing vital work. I am always worried when such an organisation has to go to this level of fundraising. These organisations exist because they fill necessary gaps the State does not deal with.

I welcome this Bill. Parts of it will need to be looked at. We can talk about monitoring all we want but we must have the ICT systems and training for gardaí in place. I welcome the changes that have happened. The protective services unit that has been set up in Castlebellingham in recent years has been successful in dealing with domestic violence but we still have a long way to go.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I welcome the publication of this legislation and the fact we are debating it here at long last. It is 13 years since the then Government committed to bringing in this Bill.

The Minister's predecessor, Mr. Dermot Ahern, told me in reply to a parliamentary question on 22 April 2009 that unless we reformed the notification process here in this country in tandem with what had been done in the UK, our jurisdiction would become a safe haven for convicted sex offenders. Sadly, I believe, over the past 13 years, that has happened.

The Bill will close off quite a number of dangerous loopholes that are currently within the existing legislation, particularly in terms of the management and monitoring of high-risk sex offenders. The current law left that system completely open to abuse and people who wanted to avoid detection could easily do so. This legislation will ensure for the first time in this country we have an effective sex offenders register, and that is a very positive development.

I also believe the provisions in the legislation to create a legislative basis for the assessment and management of risk posed by sex offenders, the disclosure of information by An Garda Síochána regarding someone who is on the sex offenders register, and the Garda being able to apply for the discharge or variation of a sex offender's order are welcome and I would hope these new powers will ensure many of those who are convicted of serious sexual offences will avail of the treatment and support services within the Irish Prison Service. Many sex offenders today are rejecting treatment despite the fact that treatment services have been expanded. Only one in eight sex offenders avails of treatment in prison even though, as I say, there has been an expansion of the capacity of the treatment services being offered to sex offenders, both in Arbour Hill and in the Midlands Prison in Laois. According to research by the psychology unit within the Irish Prison Service, availing of those courses reduces the risk of reoffending by three and a half times.

In 2009, when the Department of Justice carried out the review of the current legislation on the sentencing, treatment and monitoring of sex offenders, it recommended making early release of sex offenders conditional on their engagement with the treatment programmes. This needs to be reflected in this legislation. Such a system is in place in Vermont in the United State, which is one of the benchmark states globally in terms of the management of sex offenders, where sex offenders are not eligible for parole unless they have availed of treatment in prison.

There is a key inadequacy in the new law before us. While I welcome that it provides the right to information, limited though it is, and we will deal with this in more detail on Committee Stage, the big weakness in this legislation is that it fails to address both analogue and digital rights to be forgotten by convicted sex offenders. This is a fundamental weakness in the legislation. For the sake of the victims who have to live with the consequences of those perpetrators' actions and any potential future victims, those convicted of sexual offences should lose the right to be forgotten permanently.

There are two aspects to this. The first relates to the right to be forgotten online. We have seen recent press coverage of activities of criminals who were behind multimillion euro vice rings being forgotten by Google following requests under the EU privacy law. Google has also delisted news articles relating to convictions for sexual offences, including court reports on men convicted of possessing child sexual abuse material. It is completely unacceptable that court reports are being wiped away online. The idea behind our court system is that this takes place in public and that information is available to the public, yet here we have these guilty parties now applying for requests and exploiting the privacy laws. That must not be tolerated. On the operation of the right to be forgotten, the European Court of Justice decision in 2014 established the right to request that Internet search engines delist links containing information about them that is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive. I do not believe that information regarding sexual offenders falls under any of those four thresholds. It should not be tolerated. There is not an absolute right to be forgotten and it must be balanced against public interest factors. It is in the public interest that that information remains available to the public because it is vital information. We cannot airbrush away the stories of these victims. It is wrong. It is a further abuse of these victims. We must ensure that will not happen.

Google has defended its handling of the request to delist these articles about criminal convictions for sexual offences and organising prostitution. It has stated it is only in compliance with the guidelines set down by the European Commission and it is doing so based on the amount of time that has passed since the article was first published. That is not an acceptable threshold to be used to consider this. There is relevant vital information that must remain in the public domain, not only to protect future potential victims but also to protect the rights, the narrative and the story of victims of these convicted sex offenders.

The other right to be forgotten is in terms of sex offenders changing their names through deed poll. There have been quite extensive reports in the United Kingdom where the use of deed polls has been abused by registered sex offenders to change their names, about which they do not inform the police authorities there or An Garda Síochána here, and they go under the radar again. While registered sex offenders are required to notify the Garda - within seven days at present and three days after this law is enacted - of a change in name, the onus is on the sex offender to report that change in information. That, as we know, does not work today. Sex offenders are supposed to inform An Garda Síochána of their address within seven days and of any subsequent change to that within seven days, and as we know, we have breach after breach, week after week, of that basic condition that is left out there at present. As a result, people are literally disappearing off the radar by changing their names by deed poll and not informing An Garda Síochána.

In the UK, sex offenders have in many instances changed their names without informing officials. It is quite common for this to happen and I suspect the same is the case here in Ireland. Sky News, in a report, found numerous cases in the British courts where names have been changed but the individuals were the same as the ones who had carried out similar offences previously. The report goes on to talk about the case of Terry Price, who conducted a string of sexual offences over three decades and had changed his name five times in an effort to cover up his recurring pattern of behaviour. Price was even allowed to change his name while he was in prison.

We need to ensure that this law is amended to protect the victims and to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes do not have the right to be forgotten, to change their name or to try and circumvent the sex offender register, as they have consistently done up to now.

I will return to the issue of disclosure. It is great to see the change of mind on the principle of disclosure. It is very significant that it is being put onto the Statute Book and into legislation for the first time. I am concerned that it does not go far enough. As the Minister will know, I published a Bill in 2012 which was accepted on Second Stage in 2013. It provided for far more extensive disclosure that balanced the rights of parents and those protecting children and, at the same time, the rights of the convicted offender. I hope that on Committee Stage, the Minister will revisit the wording I proposed in 2012.

There has been a right to disclose to the public in the UK for a considerable time. Disclosures about registered child sex offenders were made in just 7% of cases directly impacting on 60 children. More interesting is that it also led to other actions, including referrals to the children's social care services, in 27% of cases. The British Home Office research suggested that the police and other criminal justice agencies had seen benefits in the formalisation of the process, which led to the provision of increased intelligence and the provision of a better route for the public to make inquiries about their concerns. In this country, we need to change the attitude in relation to reporting suspicious activity. As a population, we are slow to report our concerns to An Garda Síochána and we tend to leave it to somebody else. Sometimes that decision has devastating consequences for victims. Sadly, in many instances, we are talking about children here.

I will give three examples of what I am talking about. I put this on the record previously but I will revisit it today. There were three incidents in counties Louth and Dublin involving strangers approaching children on streets and at playgrounds. This highlights the need for us to look again at what type of disclosure we are prepared to introduce. In the first case in Dunleer in County Louth, a stranger pulled alongside a playground and called out a boy's name as he played with friends. In another incident in Monasterboice, again in County Louth, a man in a van called out to children on a Sunday afternoon. The previous month, Gardaí investigated a third case, at Lansdowne Road in Dublin, where boys of ten and 11 years of age were approached by a stranger driving a black car. That was only reported to the Gardaí some time later. This exposes the lack of reporting of suspicious activity. In the Dunleer incident, the individual in question had to have done some preparatory work in obtaining details about the particular child. Did these inquiries not raise a suspicion at an earlier stage and why were they not acted upon? It took ten days for the Dublin incident to be reported to An Garda Síochána. We need to send out a clear message to the public that they should report all suspicious activity. The best way to do that is by encouraging parents to report suspicious activity on the basis of giving the gardaí the right under certain limited circumstances to disclose relevant information to parents. I believe it is important that we look at the wording of this legislation regarding disclosure.

The work I have put into having this Bill published and hopefully enacted is down to the efforts of one individual, now-retired Sergeant John Hynes, who was based in Castlerea, County Roscommon but is from County Mayo. I want to publicly acknowledge his work in trying to progress this particular legislation. John, who was responsible within An Garda Síochána for enforcing and monitoring sex offenders, was so frustrated about the lack of progress in dealing with the anomalies within the current legislation that he spoke out about it and pointed out the weaknesses within the legislation. There is no doubt that in my part of the country and many other parts of the west, there are individuals, some of whom are in prison today, who would never have been put in prison or convicted were it not for the Trojan efforts of the now-retired Sergeant John Hynes. I refer not only to his day-to-day work and that of his Garda colleagues throughout the region, but also to the support he gave me when he helped me to progress my primary legislation in 2012. I have continued to make efforts since then to try to bring about this legislation to reform the laws in this area. I look forward to working with the Minister over the coming weeks. It would be a great Christmas present to see this legislation enacted before the end of the year.

4:05 pm

Photo of Cormac DevlinCormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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As this is the European Day for the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, it is appropriate that we are discussing the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2021 today. I thank the Minister and his officials for bringing this important legislation to the House. I will be supporting this Bill which includes a number of important amendments to the sex offenders register notification requirements. It also introduces provides for electronic tagging and for a prohibition on convicted sex offenders engaging in certain types of employment. While such bans on working with children or vulnerable people have been made by the courts in the past, the Bill will now provide for an explicit power with regard to prohibition.

This Bill will address the concerns of communities around the country about the ongoing management of convicted sex offenders in the community. It introduces stricter notification requirements on offenders, will allow for electronic monitoring in certain circumstances and will explicitly prohibit convicted sex offenders from working with children or vulnerable people. The Bill fulfils commitments in Justice Plan 2021 and in the programme for Government to update the Sex Offenders Act 2001 to ensure convicted sex offenders are effectively managed and monitored. The publication of the Bill is an action in the second national strategy for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The key features in this Bill include a change to require sex offenders moving location to notify authorities within three days rather than seven days. It explicitly provides for the court to prohibit a sex offender from working with children and vulnerable adults. It provides powers to the Garda Síochána to take fingerprints, palm prints and photographs to confirm the identity of the person. It creates a legislative basis for the assessment and management of risk posed by sex offenders across teams involving probation officers, gardaí and Tusla. It allows the Garda Síochána to disclose information relating to persons on the sex offender register, in extenuating circumstances, for example where there is a serious threat to public safety. It allows the Garda Síochána to apply for the discharge or variation of a sex offender order.

It also allows, as mentioned, for electronic monitoring of sex offenders to assist in ensuring an offender’s compliance with a sex offender order or post-release supervision order.

The latest numbers from An Garda Síochána show there are 1,708 persons currently subject to the reporting requirements of Part 2 of the Sex Offenders Act 2001. Included in that figure is a total of 319 sex offenders being supervised by the Probation Service currently living in the community. There are 192 such offenders on post-release supervision in the community by the Probation Service. The remainder are notifying at Garda stations. In addition to those currently subject to the reporting requirements, there are 433 people in custody having been convicted of a sex offence since 2001 who will be subject to reporting restrictions on release.

The Bill places the current sex offenders risk and assessment and management, SORAM, monitoring process for high-risk offenders on a statutory footing. This is particularly welcome. SORAM involves the joint management of sex offenders by An Garda Síochána and the Probation Service with the involvement of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, where there are child protection concerns and with other agencies where necessary. I hope SORAM can address some of the issues Deputy Naughten just spoke about, especially those relating to the identity and the onus on the sex offender to notify gardaí. Hopefully that is something the Minister of State can take up on Committee Stage when the time comes. SORAM currently operates on a non-statutory basis. The Bill also provides a power to gardaí to disclose information about a sex offender’s previous convictions to a member or members of the public where the offender poses a risk of causing further harm. The purpose of proposals relating to SORAM and the proposals on the disclosure of information relating to sex offenders is specifically to provide a legislative underpinning to the current administrative processes.

Many of the provisions in this Bill are welcome. They will update legislation in this area and help to protect women, children and vulnerable people in our community. However, I believe this Bill could go further. I would like to see restrictions on travel abroad, for example. Currently, where there is good co-operation between police forces and there are high child protection standards, such as in Northern Ireland, the UK and across much of Europe, the safeguarding policies work well. Sadly though, this is not the case in many countries such as Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines, to name a few. They are struggling to deal with the issues of sex tourism, trafficking and exploitation, despite the best efforts of many local agencies, campaigners and elected representatives in those jurisdictions. The Minister of State will be aware that last month I reintroduced the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2018 which seeks to give courts the option of issuing restrictions on travel when passing sentence. I ask the Minister of State to consider amendments on Committee Stage which might strengthen this Bill and provide for travel restrictions on sex offenders. I believe it is linked to the intention of this Bill and ask the Minister of State and the officials to take that on board and examine the request.

I appreciate all the work the Minister of State and the officials have done to progress this legislation. I hope Deputies from right across the House will support this positive legislation which will help to safeguard women, children and vulnerable people in our communities.

4:15 pm

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister for bringing forward the Bill. Sinn Féin will be supporting it. It is not before time that we see the 2001 Act being updated. To go 20 years without updating it is far too long. It must be noted that these amendments were originally introduced in 2018. Pre-legislative scrutiny was completed in January 2019. It has been a very slow process. I hope that will not be repeated when it comes to ensuring the measures we are talking about are properly resourced and initiated for the sake of everyone in our communities. I welcome long-awaited reforms that would help our children and more vulnerable people to feel safer. The Bill also addresses some real omissions inherent in the original Act.

This Bill contains a provision to empower the courts to prohibit an offender from working with vulnerable people and children. To be honest, I find it difficult to accept this is only being attended to 20 years on, but it is a much-needed change to a key failure of the original Act and is again long overdue. As matters stand, the offender is only required to disclose their conviction and sex offender order to an employer. The responsibility was on the Judiciary to include restrictions on access to children or vulnerable people at sentencing. While I understand the courts have ruled on cases like this in the past, I am glad to see we are now talking about an amendment that would give certainty to the powers of the courts in this regard.

The amendments also introduce a reduction from seven days to three days for those subject to a sex offender order to register a change of address with the Garda. Given the possibility these offenders could be relocating to an area in the vicinity of a location which is profoundly unsuitable, being allowed seven days to let the Garda know of a change of address was far too long. While I welcome reducing this to three days, I believe it has been said here before that gardaí should be informed immediately of even the intention to move residence.

When it comes to the monitoring of sex offenders, it is my hope, which I must indeed demand, that the resources our gardaí need to implement the much-needed changes in this Bill are provided without any need for pressure from the organisations working out there on a daily basis, or indeed from the Opposition benches in this House. This applies to the provision of electronic monitoring or tagging. This amendment is to ensure post-release compliance by offenders who are subject to a sex offender order. Again, this will only work if the ICT system in An Garda Síochána is adequately resourced. This call for resources has been made by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, which says an increase in spending on Garda ICT is needed to support the full roll-out of the amendments. It is important this sits against the backdrop of the meagre funding for Garda ICT units since they were first introduced in the late 1990s. I appreciate some of the funding has been made available in budget 2022 but any clarity on where that funding will be spent would be greatly appreciated.

To conclude, there is no excuse for sexual assault. Sometimes we see reports that imply some fault on the part of a victim of sexual violence or rape because of his or her consumption of alcohol or some other substance. This is rubbish. References of this kind, whether explicit or implied, must be rejected no matter who utters such rubbish. Nobody asks to be sexually assaulted or raped. This crime is committed by the perpetrator. The victim is not at fault. As Deputy Ward said earlier this week, the only person at fault in these circumstances is the rapist. The more this is understood, and the alternative myths done away with, the better.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Like everybody else who has spoken I regard sexual offences as heinous crimes which are exceptionally damaging to society, which is why we punish them as crimes, and to individuals. These offences leave a long-lasting mark on the victims. I can understand some of the calls in the Chamber for far greater punishment of perpetrators in that regard. Nevertheless, I have a couple of questions about the Bill. It might not be very fashionable at the moment but I still think it necessary to tease out legislation and do what we intend to do and not do that which we do not intend to do.

The first question I have is where the impetus for this Bill is coming from. All Ministers and especially, I suppose, Ministers for Justice want to punish evil and promote good, particularly in these times. I am yet to meet a politician who did not say up with good and down with evil, but where is the impetus coming from? Is it coming from An Garda Síochána? Has the Garda said it needs additional powers to deal with this matter? Has the Probation Service called for these additional powers? If not, where are these provisions coming from? It is important to determine where they are coming from so we can figure out how well they are going to be implemented or what the likelihood of their successful implementation is. I ask that this question be addressed.

I have looked at another provision of the Bill - section 5, which provides that the principal Act is amended by the insertion of a new section 3A after section 3.

It states that the amendments made by the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Act 2001 shall apply "whether the person is so convicted before or after the coming into operation of the amendment". The question I have is on whether the measures included in this Bill, such as electronic tagging and notification of information to persons in certain circumstances where An Garda Síochána think it appropriate, are a punishment or not. It is a thin line. Are these measures to protect merely incidental to a punishment, and there to protect society, or are they actually a punishment? The imprisonment of offenders is obviously a measure that protects society, but it is clearly a punishment too. If these measures are a punishment, I question whether the prohibition on retrospective punishment comes into play.

As the Minister of State will be well aware, Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that there will no punishment without law and:

No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed.

This is not creating new offences. That is a given, but the issue is whether there is an additional, or greater, punishment than was in place at the time of the commission of the offence and these measures could be found to amount to a punishment. If they are, their retroactivity could be problematic and could lead to a declaration of incompatibility with the European convention. I assume this is a matter the Minister of State or, at least, the parliamentary draughtsman, has considered in the Bill to get it this far. I would like to hear the Minister of State's views on that.

I did not mean to be flippant in saying that sexual offences are heinous offences that, for a very long time, were not taken sufficiently seriously by the Legislature and, perhaps, by society as a whole. We can only assume they were not given what comes out of inquiries, including the testimony of women and children and what they went through. While I agree with much of what Deputy O'Callaghan said, I am not sure I fully agree these offences are perpetrated primarily against women. Unfortunately, in Irish society, sexual offences were perpetrated to a very large extent against children as well as women. We need to bear that in mind.

We need to consider what we mean by sexual offences. They are obviously very serious but like public order offences, or any offences, there is a spectrum. Some offences are inevitably more serious than others. I am not saying that even the most minor sexual offences do not have a profound impact on their victims, but it is self-evident that some offences are more serious than others. When we talk about sexual offences, we are talking about what is defined in the Schedule to the principal Act. Sexual assault is one of the offences that is a sexual offence. That will hardly come as a surprise, but sexual assault is defined in section 2(1) of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990 as "The offence of indecent assault upon any male person and the offence of indecent assault upon any female person [and that it] shall be known as sexual assault." It was previously called indecent assault.

The Irish textbook, Criminal Law, by Charleton, McDermott and Bolger, is widely considered to be the seminal Irish legal textbook on the matter, all of whose authors, interestingly, have been elevated to the Bench since they wrote it. They state that sexual assault is the old crime of indecent assault relabelled into words more appropriate to the contemporary use of language, that sexual assault is defined as the assault accompanied by circumstances, which are objectively indecent, that the objective mental element requires an intentional act on the part of the accused, that the elements of the offence, thus, are that the accused intentionally assaulted the victim, or the assault and the circumstances accompanying it are proved to be indecent according to the contemporary standards of right-minded people and that the accused intended to commit such an assault as is referred to above. They go on to state that it does not appear that any element of hostility or regression is required and that in Faulkner v. Talbot, Lord Lane stated that an assault is an intentional touching of another person without the consent of that person and without lawful excuse and that it need not necessarily be hostile, rude or aggressive, as some cases seem to indicate.

In that book, the learned authors state that it is a question of fact for a jury to determine whether the circumstances proved by the prosecution amount to indecent behaviour as judged by contemporary standards, so it is suggested that to merely snatch a kiss from a girl may merely be assault, while the same act accompanied by lewd suggestions by the assailant crosses the boundary that makes the assault sexual, albeit a mild one, by contemporary standards and that while cultural norms differ as between continents, it is suggested that the deliberate fondling of the genital area in males or females constitutes, according to Irish contemporary norms, a sexual assault and that, regrettably, in the majority of cases that come before the courts, there is no question of a defence of lack of sexual circumstances to the assault being open.

A fondling of the genital area would constitute an assault, but section 14 of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1935 provides that "It shall not be a defence to a charge of indecent assault upon a person under the age of fifteen years to prove that such person consented to the act alleged to constitute such indecent assault." If there is, therefore, an act as described by the learned authors of Criminal Lawas a fondling of the genital area upon a 14-year-old by a 15-year-old, then that is a sexual assault and the perpetrator will be convicted if a complaint is made. He or she will not be able to avail of the defence of consent because the victim was too young to consent. Do we mean to include such persons, in such cases, in this Act? I ask the Minister of State and this House whether they think it is good to include them in the Act?

There is also an act of defilement of a minor. Any offence under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 is contained in the Schedule. I am open to correction on that, but I checked it before I came to the House. I apologise for perhaps not being better prepared, but sometimes it is difficult to prepare in a relatively short period. In any event, there are two different offences: the defilement of a child under 15 years of age; and the defilement of a child under 17 years of age. The defilement of a child is obviously a very serious offence and at the most serious end of sexual offences. It is defined in sections 3(1) and 4(1) of the 1990 Act as "aggravated sexual assault" and "rape", which are obviously very serious offences. These sections also include, however, sexual intercourse or buggery between persons who are not married to each other.

The act of buggery or sexual intercourse with a child under 15 or under 17 years is a serious offence, as is attempting to engage in such an act which is prosecutable as attempted defilement of a child. The difficulty arises where the perpetrator is of a similar age to the victim. Section 7(3) states: "it shall not be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that the child against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed consented to the sexual act of which the offence consisted." If two 15-year-olds, or indeed a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, engage in sexual intercourse or attempt to engage in sexual intercourse, that is an act of defilement or attempted defilement of a child, they are captured as sexual offences and, therefore, this legislation becomes operable. If an offence involves two minors of approximately the same age engaging in an act where they would consent but for the fact that they cannot because of statute, so it is not consensual, is this legislation intended to capture these acts and the perpetrators of these acts? Is it intended that it would follow them around for the entirety of their youth and thereafter? There is a five-year period. The wheels of criminal justice do not move terribly quickly, especially with restrictions on criminal trials due to Covid-19, so it will follow them around through college, etc. I am not saying that it is not a good thing that sexual offences cannot be forgotten and that the Garda is able to keep a watch on people whom it needs to keep a watch on, and that people who need to be informed about perpetrators of offences are able to be informed.

I am not against the legislation. I am talking about specific circumstances, namely, sexual activity between minors. Am I right in saying it is captured by the legislation? If so, is it intended to be captured in circumstances where there is no lack of consent as a layman might understand consent, as opposed to legal consent which, of course, cannot be given? I am not condoning it or saying it is right. I am led to believe that it is not uncommon for there to be sexual relations between minors. One has to be careful in what one says because sometimes people want to mischaracterise what one says and take it out of context. I am not suggesting that sexual activity between a minor and an adult is acceptable or that it should not be punished or fall within the remit of the legislation. I have a more specific caution.

I do not have a question about the general intent of the legislation but I question where the impetus for it came from and, in particular, how it will apply to consensual sexual activity between minors. Is that something that will be regarded as a sexual offence under the remit of the legislation that will follow somebody around for a period thereafter? If that is the case, is that a good thing? I thank the Chair for the time.

4:35 pm

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputies for their contributions on this important Bill over the last number of days. As Minister of State at the Department of Justice, I am determined to see our communities made safer. We make our communities safer by ensuring that the most vulnerable, women and children in particular, are protected. The Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2021, which I am recommending here today, helps to achieve that. It does so by reinforcing the law on sex offenders. It strengthens the powers of An Garda Síochána to monitor convicted sex offenders and restrict their movements where it is necessary to protect their communities. It tightens notification requirements regarding sex offenders. It allows for electronic tagging of sex offenders and it enables An Garda Síochána to release information on sex offenders where it is necessary.

Victims of sex offenders must be supported and protected from further trauma. This Bill is just one part of a large suite of measures that the Government is implementing to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence. We have legislated for preliminary trial hearings to ensure that trials are kept to a minimal length. We have introduced Supporting a Victim's Journey to support and protect vulnerable witnesses during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. We have increased funding for non-governmental organisations that provide support for victims. In budget 2022, we significantly increased the allocation of funding to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, under Supporting a Victim's Journey.

After my appointment, I was glad to visit the Wexford-Wicklow divisional protective services unit. I commend the work being carried out by the staff there and the ongoing work of Chief Superintendent Anthony Pettit and Superintendent James Doyle. These units are tasked with investigations into areas involving vulnerable adults, sexual crimes, online child exploitation, domestic abuse and trafficking and with liaising with victims, among other issues. The work that has been carried out since the introduction of those units across the country deserves to be commended. I also acknowledge the work of victim support organisations throughout Ireland, especially in my home county, with the Wexford Women's Refuge and the Wexford Rape Crisis centre.

I will respond to a number of issues raised by Deputies over the last two days. A number asked why the court is not already in a position to prohibit an offender from working with children. I assure Deputies that the courts can and do prohibit offenders from working or volunteering with children. This Bill will require the court to consider it in every case.

Regarding fingerprints, in almost all cases, the Garda will already have taken the fingerprints of an offender under other powers. The provision proposed in this Bill allows the Garda Síochána to take fingerprints in order to confirm the identity of a sex offender when making a notification.

I understand the concerns raised by Deputies about electronic monitoring. The operational details of how the electronic monitoring will work will have to be carefully developed together with An Garda Síochána and the Probation Service. I assure Deputy Kenny that this will be developed in line with Council of Europe guidelines. The Bill provides that electronic monitoring can be provided by a third party on a contractual basis. This is to ensure that the ICT aspects do not need to be provided by the Garda. However, all follow-up, response and intervention will be provided by the Garda or the Probation Service. Technology for electronic monitoring has advanced over the years but not all of its limitations have been overcome. I accept that we need to be careful with how it is used. Piloting a scheme may be viable in this context. Having the legislation available will allow us to develop such a scheme.

Deputy Howlin raised the point that the management of sex offenders should be consistent. The sex offender risk assessment and management, SORAM, model is designed to operate at both a national level, under a national SORAM steering group, and a local level, through local SORAM teams. This ensures a consistent approach to the management of sex offenders across the country. The steering group has responsibility for providing guidance and support to local SORAM teams and has overall oversight of the SORAM model. The national SORAM office provides support to the local SORAM teams on a day-to-day basis, while working closely with the national SORAM steering group on the operational development of the SORAM model on a nationwide basis. The SORAM teams prepare comprehensive risk assessment and management plans for each offender. These are regularly reviewed by the gardaí and the probation officer. The plans identify current relevant risks and identify actions and interventions to be carried out by specified persons to address and manage these risks.

Deputies raised a number of important points on the topic of disclosure. It is a difficult area to navigate and I recognise the risks associated with wide disclosure of information.

A delicate balance needs to be struck. This issue needs to be carefully teased out. I look forward to working with my colleagues on Committee Stage in regard to this matter.

Deputy Patricia Ryan asked about the level of training for the divisional protective service units, DPSUs. Personnel assigned to the DPSUs are provided with bespoke training consisting of a number of modules that address issues such as investigating sexual crime, child protection, investigating domestic abuse, online child exploitation and sex offender management. While training of gardaí is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner, I have been advised that the Garda National Protective Services Bureau reports that the second phase of the DPSU review is focused on training, with an intent to redevelop the DPSU training. This is to ensure that the outcome is a customised fit-for-purpose victim-centric training course delivered to all DPSU members. The final DPSU training proposal is near completion. It is anticipated that the liaison with the Garda College will occur shortly in order to ensure delivery.

I welcome Deputy Jim O'Callaghan's comments in pointing the more recent judicial studies in regard to this area and the importance of developing a clear relationship between the prosecutive council and victims. I will certainly take those comments into account.

I listened to the comments of Deputy Denis Naughten, who has been very strong on this issue for a very long time and has pursued it with determination. Again, the Deputy's comments will be taken into account in regard to Committee Stage.

Deputy Devlin also made some very important contributions. Deputy McNamara raised a number of particular and pointed issues. I will endeavour to have my officials respond to him on the more technical points.

The subject matter dealt with by the Bill is only one strand of a much broader body of work that my Department is undertaking to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and to keep our communities safe. The provisions in the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2021 are designed to strengthen and improve the system of managing and monitoring of sex offenders in the community. I believe that the Bill as presented achieves that aim. I thank the Deputies for their support for the Bill and I look forward to working with them in more detail in regard to the Bill on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.