Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 July 2024

Courts, Civil Law, Criminal Law and Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024: Second Stage


5:10 pm

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to introduce the Bill. I take the opportunity to thank Senators for their contributions on this Bill last week during Second and subsequent Stages. No amendments were made to the published Bill on Committee Stage in the Seanad.

The Bill introduces a number of important reforms in the law across a broad range of areas. These amendments reach across many aspects of people’s lives and have the potential to make a significant difference. They include: increasing the number of judges on the Court of Appeal; increasing carrier liability fines as part of our ongoing reforms to strengthen the immigration system; amendments to the Judicial Council Act 2019 to address issues relating to personal injuries guidelines that were highlighted by the Supreme Court in the recent Delaney case; and provisions to increase the maximum penalty for a number of knife-crime offences. Finally, the Bill amends a number of Acts on the Statute Book relating to superannuation provisions for public servants with the aim of increasing the mandatory retirement age for uniformed public servants.

I hope to bring a number of amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage relating to: the status of officials of the Judicial Council and Judicial Appointments Commission; amendments to the Broadcasting Act 2009 relating to the powers of Coimisiún na Meán and the terrorist content online regulation; amendments to the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 to correct procedural issues identified in the Damache judgment, thereby re-enabling the revocation of certificates of naturalisation in serious cases; and amendments to the International Protection Act 2015 to address procedural issues with the process for designating safe third countries and inadmissibility procedures identified in a recent High Court judgment. The House will have the opportunity to examine these amendments on Committee Stage, which is scheduled to take place next week.

The Bill comprises 12 sections laid across seven Parts. I will now highlight the main provisions of each Part. Section 2 provides for the amendment of section 1A(2) of the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act 1961 for the purpose of increasing the maximum number of ordinary judges of the Court of Appeal by one to 18. The increase in the number of judges on the Court of Appeal is to maintain the number of judges available to sit on the court while Ms Justice Power acts as sole member of a tribunal of inquiry examining matters relating to the Defence Forces.

Section 3 amends sections 2 and 3 of the Immigration Act 2003. The amendment to section 2 has the effect of increasing the fine payable where an airline or ferry company is found guilty on summary conviction of allowing a person to board an aircraft or vessel destined for the State without the proper documentation.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I hate to interrupt the Minister. We are waiting on a copy of the speech for Members. I understand it is on the way, but it is very helpful to have it to read.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I apologise. It should have been here.

One example of where a prosecution might be sought in this regard is where an airline allows someone who requires a visa for Ireland to board a flight to Ireland without the required visa. This Bill amends the maximum fine increasing it from €3,000 to a Class A fine which has a maximum of €5,000. This more closely aligns the fines payable in Ireland for this offence with fines in other European countries.

Section 3 of the Act provides that a person accused of committing such an offence may make a payment within 28 days to avoid prosecution for that offence. The amount payable under the section to avoid prosecution currently stands at €1,500 and this Bill will increase that amount to €2,500. This maintains the current ratio of the amount payable being equivalent to half of the maximum penalty on summary conviction. There was a period of stakeholder engagement in advance of this proposed change being introduced to this Bill and my officials will communicate this increase in fines in good time with stakeholders before commencing this provision of the Bill.

Section 4 in Part 4 of this Bill introduces a number of changes to the Judicial Council Act 2019. The changes being introduced are necessitated by the findings of the Supreme Court in the Delaney case. In the case, the personal injury guidelines which came into force in April 2021 were challenged. As Deputies will be aware, the Supreme Court upheld the guidelines. This is good news as we believe the personal injury guidelines are key to keeping the cost of insurance down. However, the Supreme Court identified a particular deficiency in the underpinning legislation, the Judicial Council Act 2019. Part 4 of this Bill rectifies this matter. The changes now being made in this Bill reflect advice I obtained from the Attorney General.

Section 4 introduces new procedures in respect of future amendments to the guidelines. Any future amendments to the guidelines will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and may only be adopted by the Judicial Council after a positive resolution has been passed by both Houses. The additional level of scrutiny attached to the new procedures for amendment to the guidelines reflects the important role of the guidelines in seeking to standardise possible awards in personal injury actions. The section also introduces a provision that puts beyond doubt the legal efficacy of the existing guidelines adopted by the council. The provision clarifies that the guidelines remain legally robust until amended in accordance with the new procedures introduced in this Bill. The changes made by this Bill ensure that the guidelines achieve their objective of ensuring the delivery of fair and consistent personal injury awards.

Section 5 amends the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 to increase the maximum sentences for the more serious knife-related offences under the Act. A number of extremely serious, and in some cases fatal, knife attacks in recent years have caused a valid increase in public concern about the criminal possession and use of knives. Official figures also show that over the same period there have been small but gradual increases in knife seizures, prosecutions for knife crime offences, and the treatment of knife-attack injuries in our hospitals. In response, the multi-stakeholder antisocial behaviour forum, chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, established an expert subgroup on knife crime. This subgroup, comprising various criminal justice bodies and civil society groups, recommended raising several of the maximum penalties under the Act. I take the opportunity to thank the members of the subgroup for their valuable consideration of this issue. I fully agree with their recommendations and these amendments will give effect to them.

Under the 1990 Act, the maximum sanction for simple possession of a knife in a public place is five years’ imprisonment. The subgroup did not recommend increasing this penalty, and I do not believe it needs to be increased. However, five years is also the maximum penalty for several more serious knife crime offences under the Act, namely, possession with intent to cause injury or intimidate, trespassing with a knife and producing an article capable of inflicting serious injury. This is an anomaly in the law. Unlike simple possession, these offences involve a clear and significant degree of criminal intent. They represent a significant threat to community safety in their own right because they can be precursors to serious and sometimes fatal assaults. As recommended by the subgroup, I therefore propose that the maximum penalty for these more serious offences be increased to seven years. I also propose to increase from seven years to ten years the maximum penalty for manufacturing, importing, selling, or hiring offensive weapons, which is an even more grave offence.

I believe these amendments represent a necessary rebalancing and strengthening of the penalties for knife crime under the 1990 Act. They reflect the true gravity of the offence in question and will ensure that, in the most serious cases, the courts can impose a sanction that fully matches the crime. I am aware that Deputy Jim O’Callaghan previously introduced a Private Members' Bill relating to this issue, which recently underwent scrutiny by the justice committee. I am grateful to both the Deputy and the committee for their work in this regard. It is clear we share a common goal in responding to this serious issue.

Section 6 corrects a typographical error identified in section 23(5) of the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003, as amended by section 16(a) of the European Arrest Warrant (Amendment) Act 2024. The words "of a person" in section 23(5)(b) are extraneous and unnecessary. While the typographical error is minor in nature and does not materially affect the operation of the Act, this amendment is prudent to ensure that the wording of the implementation measure correctly aligns with the European arrest warrant framework decision. It is a technical amendment.

There is a typographical error in section 38(1)(h), where it states “not less than” rather than “less than 6 months”. There is accordingly currently no power for our courts to refuse to recognise a sentence on the basis that the period of imprisonment of the overall sentence or the period of the sentence remaining to be served is less than six months. While there is a requirement on the High Court to interpret the 2023 Act, in so far as possible, in the light of the wording and purpose of the framework decision, this amendment will again correct this typographical error to ensure there is no ambiguity, and that the 2023 Act properly implements the discretionary grounds of refusal set out at Article 9(1)(h) of the framework decision.

Part 7 makes the necessary amendments to facilitate an increased mandatory retirement age for members of An Garda Síochána, the Permanent Defence Force, prison officers and firefighters. These provisions enhance the options available to members and allow them to remain in service for longer if they choose to do so. Following analysis undertaken by the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform to examine the issue of mandatory retirement age increases and fast accrual pension terms in these sectors, a policy framework was established. Under this framework, fast accrual pension terms will be facilitated until the age of 60. If an individual remains in employment beyond that age, their pension accrual reverts to a standard basis from that point until their retirement. This policy provides an equitable and sustainable basis on which to increase the mandatory retirement age in these sectors. It strikes the right balance between competing demands. It satisfies equity and cost concerns, and it gives uniformed public servants greater choice as to how long they wish to work. It will, furthermore, assist in retaining valuable expertise. In the context of this policy, an increased mandatory retirement age of 62 for members of these uniformed cohorts was approved by the Government. In conjunction with sectoral secondary legislative provisions, which are advancing in parallel, the provisions of Part 7 will facilitate this increase.

As is the nature of a miscellaneous provisions Bill, this Bill covers disparate matters but each of them is important. The Bill will strengthen our response to knife crime, maintain the ability to set personal injury guidelines and keep insurance costs down, strengthen immigration controls, and allow for experienced and knowledgeable unformed public servants to continue their work of keeping the public safe for longer. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to hearing fellow Deputies contribute to the debate.

5:20 pm

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for her comments and her indication of some of the new amendments that will be included in this Bill relating to judicial counsel, certificates of naturalisation and safe third countries. It is important, in the context of recent debate, that if there are safe third countries, it had been indicated we would be looking at what our nearest neighbours are doing. However, it is also important to take into account what the UN and Human Rights Watch are saying about those countries, rather than only looking at other EU member states, which vary greatly, and our nearest neighbour, the UK. We should not only take into account what they are saying with regard to safe countries.

The Bill covers a number of issues, some of which are more urgent than others. While we have certain observations and criticisms of parts of it, we are willing to allow it pass to Committee Stage for further scrutiny.

I will first speak about the expansion of the Court of Appeal and the amendment to the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act 1961 that effects this change. It is relatively straightforward. The Court of Appeal replaced the Court of Criminal Appeal. Given the current backlog in the courts, it is important the number of judges be expanded. The Government has, over the past 18 months, implemented an increase in the number of judges across the courts system, which is something we called for. From engaging with the Courts Service, the appointment of a judge carries a requirement to appoint further support staff, and I am hopeful the Minister will assure the House that some provision for extra support staff will also be included. It is like when consultants go into a hospital. They need support staff to do their job properly.

Delays remain within the court system. We received a hard copy letter earlier this year outlining some of the current waiting times in the courts. Some of the more notable delays relate to family law cases in the Circuit Court, where there is a wait of 36 weeks for contested cases. That is an awful long time for families who are seeking to move on with their lives and get a decision as quickly as possible. Things are not much better in the Circuit Court for other civil matters or criminal cases where there is a 45-week wait for civil trials and 76 weeks for criminal trials. In the District Court. some waiting times are alarming. There is a 20-week wait in Bray, County Wicklow, for family and domestic violence cases and similar delays in counties Carlow and Sligo. In Ennis, County Clare, civil cases can take up to 25 weeks and in County Wexford the figure is 20 weeks. I note that in my county of Kerry, Judge Waters, or whoever the judge is there, seems to be making a good fist of it. The wait is down to less than one month in some cases. However, the statistics make clear that emergency barring orders can be made at any time, and I acknowledge that.

I move on to penalties for knife crime. The Bill amends the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990, which, as the Minister said, increases the penalty on indictment for knife possession from five to seven years. There is no doubt knife offences can be serious. We had a good discussion about this when the Bill was before the justice committee. I am somewhat sceptical about increasing sentences. There was a limit of 12 months for offences under section 9(1) of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act. In fact, the new bail Act did not even apply to these offences as they were not defined as serious offences, in the sense that they did not carry a penalty of up to five years. That was amended in 2008 or thereabouts when the penalty was increased from 12 months to five years. However, that increase did not have any deterrent effect as the number of people carrying knives or being charged and convicted did not decrease. I know Deputy Jim O'Callaghan did not provide any clear data to the justice committee to show this provision is needed due to increased enforcement or because there are more people carrying knives. Given the decline in the number of gardaí in urban areas especially, the latter may well be the case.

With regard to sections 9(5), 10 and 11, I agree it is important that the necessary penalties are in place. However, I am sceptical that increased sentences will deter. The number of knives seized increased from 1,342 in 2013 to 2,186 in 2023 after the increase in the maximum sentence, which is now to be increased again. There do not seem to be any statistics - certainly none have been made available to - showing how many of those cases get to the Circuit Court where they are dealt with on indictment. My experience was always that possession of knife charges, in particular, were dealt with in the District Court. The increase in the penalty by two years, from five to seven years, will not be relevant in most cases where the section 9(1) charge is brought.

We also received correspondence from the Courts Service indicating that detections and prosecutions seem to be increasing despite increased penalties. Available Garda numbers are almost exactly the same now as they were in 2011 when Fine Gael took office, despite the massive population increase during that time. We need more solutions. I see the increase in knife crime but what about increased investment in communities, working with youth justice and investing in the areas where people tend to get arrested, which are usually working class areas? We need more solutions for young people in those urban areas. Increased penalties alone will not make a difference.

We need a more nuanced model of deterrence and diversion, as I am sure the Minister will agree.

I have sponsored a Bill that will come before the House on Thursday of next week relating to restorative justice, although the issue seems to have been knocked off the current agenda. I do not mind whether it is done through my Bill or a Government Bill, but I hope something will be done in the area of restorative justice before the end of the Government's term in order that people who are charged with these offences can be dealt with some way other than by prosecution at all times.

In respect of the increase to the mandatory retirement age for the emergency services to 62 years, we are broadly supportive of an optional extension to the retirement age given the crisis in recruitment and retention throughout the public services, as are some of the unions involved, but the Bill contains specific means of introducing these changes that are worrying some of the representative organisations. Sections 9 to 11, inclusive, grant sweeping and wholesale powers to various Ministers to change the pension age at their discretion, which could affect new entrants and could effectively end the principle of fast pension accrual that makes these tough jobs attractive to so many. At a time when there is a crisis in retention and recruitment, this may not improve matters. Does the Minister have any plans regarding these new powers and does she accept this will give the Minister of the day unilateral power to change the retirement age with no legal obligation to consult the unions? A Sinn Féin Government would prioritise a recruitment and retention task force for the Garda to report back within a few months of the appointment of a new justice Minister. The retention of Garda members is increasingly important, and while older members are less likely to be on front-line duties, they can still perform important functions. If they are willing to continue to serve, they should be allowed to do so. We need to understand where projected resignations stand this year, given last year was a record year for resignations.

On the changes relating to immigration, the immigration system has been creaking for a long time. The housing crisis has been exploited by certain people to undermine civic discourse and undercut progressive campaigns for better housing, healthcare and education. The underlying reasons for the migration crisis also need to be tackled. We need a migration system that is efficient but also enforced, and underneath that, it has to be fair and due process has to be given to anybody who is applying. The measures in the Bill meet the requirements, but the question is why they have taken so long to be brought forward. We support the increase in fines and the announcement on immigration administrative duties being taken away from the Garda, but again, additional staff will be needed. There need to be updates, with other non-core duties removed. What about the Garda Reserve? Will it have a function?

The increase in carrier fines is important but there do not seem to be any guidelines under section 2(8) of the Immigration Act. There will be a threat of fines, but will there also be guidance from the Government about it? Of course, the airports are no longer the main means by which international protection applicants enter the country, and the carrier fines have worked to reduce the number of people trying to enter without documentation but have done little to stem the overall numbers.

We will support the Bill in moving to Committee Stage and, for now, we will not oppose it.

5:30 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

As in the case of most miscellaneous provisions Bills, nearly all human life is here, and while there are an awful lot of different topics and agendas, a great deal of them are very important. I will pick up where Deputy Daly left off. The issue of fines for carriers is important. We have been flagging it for some time and are glad the Minister has moved on it. It is not acceptable that these issues arise so often. We acknowledge there are occasions where there may be extenuating circumstances for why somebody may not have documentation but in the vast majority of cases, that is not the case. It is important the airlines carry out their responsibilities diligently and comprehensively in that regard, and for that reason, it is important the fines be increased. We have been advocating for that and are glad the Government has agreed to act on it.

The Minister recently made a statement about chartering flights. While that may have utility and we do not disagree with it, the primary issue here relates, as it does in the case of many issues in this area, to where the rules are applied and whether they are then enforced and followed up on. We believe in a system, as Deputy Daly outlined, that is fair, decent and efficient but also enforced. Too often, unfortunately, the Government seems to take the view it is not worth the trouble of following up and ensuring people have, in fact, complied with orders they have been given. In 2022, 5,711 applications for asylum were refused, withdrawn or deemed inadmissible, but only 10% of those applicants were issued with deportation orders, of which only 52% were enforced by the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB. A total of 317 of those 948 were confirmed to have left but the figures for the others are uncertain. In 2024, of 586 deportation orders, there were 220 returns confirmed by the Department of Justice. It seems, therefore, that there continues to be an issue with the Government following up on applications, with whether it is aware where people are or whether they have left, and with whether there is enough oversight or verification. Obviously, if someone is willing to leave voluntarily, that is better for everyone, including the person who applied and the system, given it works better, but where that is not the case, and there will be instances where it is not the case, the rules need to be enforced. Most Irish people are decent and believe in a system that is decent and respects people’s human rights whereby, whether or not applicants are successful, they need to be treated with dignity, but they also believe that the rules need to be applied. It is often the case, insofar as it seems to me, that the rules are not followed up on.

On the same matter, will the Minister outline whether she proposes to address the issues that were raised in the Damache case and when those amendments will be published, if they have not already been? We will pay attention to her closing contribution in that regard.

The rest of the legislation, including the expansion of the criteria for members of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, IPAT, is welcome and will allow the system to operate better. Moreover, as Deputy Daly outlined, it will ensure everyone has the opportunity to have their case heard and appealed, to ensure their rights and entitlements are safeguarded but also to allow the system to progress.

The incidence of knife crime is massively increasing in Irish society, not least in our urban centres, certainly in Dublin but also Cork and the other cities. It is a huge cause for concern to me. I find it very difficult to understand the mentality of people who carry knives, whether they intend to use them immediately or otherwise, and the introduction of knives to fights and disputes. whether they are premeditated or whatever. It causes so much harm and distress to families and, obviously, in many instances, it can be fatal. It is a very worrying trend in our cities and it needs to be tackled firmly. The legislation addresses the issue of sentencing, and while tougher sentencing can be part of the model of deterrence, Garda resources are crucial as well. That is a serious issue on which I have raised my concern many times in the context of Garda resources in Cork.

The Judicial Council is an area I worked on and discussed a great deal with the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Flanagan, with a view to securing amendments on sentencing guidelines, which was a priority for me in the previous Dáil. I would like it to progress more quickly. I welcome the fact the Judicial Council is now working on guidelines for the Circuit Court and the District Court relating to domestic violence, and I hope that can be completed as soon as possible because it is important that, right across the different areas of criminal law, there be adequate sentencing guidelines that provide transparency and consistency.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It goes without saying that, as Deputy Ó Laoghaire noted, we need to have adequate sentencing guidelines. We have all seen issues in the public domain in recent times that have raised questions. I understand the idea of the separation of powers and so on and the fact that, at times, there needs to be flexibility for judges. We could make very specific rules but then the world might throw a curveball, so we need to make sure there are laws and guidelines for judges that will hold up and allow them to deal with the issues that fall across their desk in what is a very important role. Deputy Daly outlined that we will support the legislation in passing Second Stage and spoke about the Court of Appeal and the technicalities in that regard, but if we are talking about our need for more judges, judges who are appointed will not have the required impact without support staff, who are absolutely necessary.

We know about the delays people experience across the board, whether in front of District Courts or Circuit Courts. We know about the issues with regard to family law. We need to get a grip on this because in different sets of circumstances people are going through huge trouble.

We all know the issues. Everyone has brought them up, even the Minister with regard to the fact that we do not always have a fabulous line of communication with victims of crime. Sometimes the whole court process is far from satisfactory with regard to keeping people updated about when things are happening, ensuring all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed from the State's point of view and doing our part in ensuring justice can be administered fairly.

The Minister spoke about knife crime and differentiated between criminal intent and absolute necessity. Like Deputy Ó Laoghaire, all of us have seen issues with criminal activities. More people are engaging in knife crime and we are dealing with a huge amount of it in our major towns. There is not a place in Ireland that does not have some element of a drug problem. I have often said in this House that we need a set of rules to deal not only with organised crime but also disorganised crime. Chaotic families create serious issues. We need to provide early supports for families and children but we also need to have the nuclear option. I spoke to the Taoiseach about this earlier. We need cross-departmental action to provide early family supports because a large number of chaotic families are impacting on the communities around them. They do not necessarily engage in serious crime but crime that is disastrous from a nuisance point of view and that impacts on the families who live around them. Whether it is An Garda Síochána, Tusla, the support agencies, Louth County Council or others, they do not have the necessary powers. Sometimes we have to revert to the backlogged system in the courts to deal with this. We need a proper strategy to deal with that.

When we consider the level of organised crime and the numbers of young people who have become involved in it, while we have all seen good projects such as the Greentown Project and supports such as The House in Cox's Demesne, the teen project, Craobh Rua, and others in every organisation in County Louth and across the State, none of it is sufficient to deal with the crime we have across the board.

Deputy Ó Laoghaire spoke about the parts of the Bill related to immigration. We need a system that is fair. People who come to this country do huge work. We need to look at work permits. We know there is an issue with processing and that a huge amount of money is being spent on accommodation in the private sector, which is annoying. We need to make sure there is a system and rules that are enforced but are fair.

5:40 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will share my time with Deputy Nash. This miscellaneous provisions Bill touches briefly on a broad range of unrelated issues that have only one thing in common, namely, they are all under the purview of the Department of Justice. The Bill does not deal in any detailed or systematic way with any of these important issues. There is nothing wrong, in principle, with that approach where the resources of the Department and the Oireachtas demand it, but it is a piecemeal approach. I know from experience that things are thrown in when there is a vehicle to do so because people ask what is on the table that can be added. Some things get through without proper and detailed scrutiny.

I will address two of the issues in the Bill, while my colleague, Deputy Nash, will speak on the pensions issue. First, the Court of Appeal is currently composed of a president and 17 ordinary judges. This Bill will increase the maximum number of ordinary judges to 18. The increase follows the establishment of the tribunal of inquiry relating to the Defence Forces to which Ms Justice Ann Power of the Court of Appeal has been appointed. This tribunal will do vitally important work but will inevitably take a number of years to complete it. I wish Ms Justice Power and her tribunal well in that important task.

A judicial planning working group was established by the Department of Justice in 2021. The current Taoiseach and then Minister for Justice brought its report to the Government in January of last year. This was on foot of a programme for Government commitment to establish a working group to consider the number and type of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years. That really important report contained more than 50 recommendations. Chiefly, it recommended the appointment of a significant number of additional judges before the end of this year, 2024. Most significantly, the working group recognised that while the Court of Appeal and High Court had secured additional judges in recent years, there had been no increase in the number of judges in the District and Circuit Courts for almost ten years, the decade which mirrored the highest growth in population in the history of the State.

According to a recent Council of Europe report, Ireland has the lowest number of judges in Europe, at 3.27 per 100,000 of population. The European average is 17.6 judges per 100,000 of population. That report showed Ireland's spending per inhabitant on courts was €31.10. The European median was €45.53. There can be no doubt that Ireland's Judiciary is undersized in relation to international standards and the demographics of modern Ireland. It is worth quoting the working group's chief recommendation in full:

A significant number of additional judges will be needed over the next five years if access to justice is to be provided in a timely manner and existing backlogs and excessive waiting times addressed. The Working Group recommends that a phased approach be taken to addressing judicial resourcing. It recommends that 44 additional judges be appointed between now and end-2024 in two phases, Phase 1 as soon as practicable and Phase 2, subject to satisfactory review, before the end of 2024. Additional numbers in further phases should be determined by a review in 2025 of judicial needs ...

We were to start last year with 44 additional judges, to be appointed in two phases before the end of this year. In fairness, phase 1 seems to have been achieved but there was an increase to the number of judges appointed last year, amounting to the first 24 of the 44 judges promised. We legislated in May but only for the phase 1 increases in numbers. The Minister for Justice will have to return to the Oireachtas for a second act if she is to implement phase 2 and to remain on course she will have to do that this year.

The working group had recommended that before additional judges in phase 2 were appointed, there should be some form of impact assessment with appropriate metrics. In April, the Minister for Justice informed the Dáil that at that stage work was under way to conduct the assessment. Is the Minister confident she can complete her impact assessment and bring it to the Government, together with bringing draft legislation for the phase two appointments, in time and before the end of this year?

I hope the increase in numbers at the Court of Appeal does not turn out to be a once-off measure and that there will be time to implement the recommendations of the judicial planning report in its entirety. It is important to note the Court of Appeal should be getting, in total, four additional members and the High Court should get 12. The District and Circuit Courts should be getting 14 additional judges. So far, I understand they have received something like half that number.

It has been stated many times that litigation in Ireland nowadays can only be resorted to by paupers or millionaires. I think a retired High Court judge said it was actually billionaires at this stage.

That is true of litigation in our superior courts, which must deal with the complexities of constitutional and administrative law, judicial reviews, planning, immigration and so on. Meanwhile, the lower courts do the normal, everyday work that touches on the lives of most citizens. They are still overworked and understaffed. If judicial numbers are to be increased again before the year's end, then the District and Circuit Courts cannot be left out. They should be prioritised.

As regards the amendment to the Judicial Council Act, the Minister referred to last April's Supreme Court decision in the Delaney case. The judgment in that case upheld the validity of personal injuries guidelines issued by the Judicial Council but only because the guidelines had been endorsed by subsequent legislation passed by the Oireachtas. It seems that had that endorsement by us not come about, those guideline would have been found invalid on the grounds that a body such as the Judicial Council is not authorised to make law, and it purported to do so. The guidelines are part of the law insofar as our courts are concerned. They are bound to have regard for them and can only depart from them for stated reasons. This Bill will deal with amendments to the guidelines which I understand are pending. It provides that any amended version of the personal injuries guidelines adopted by the Judicial Council must be approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

While future personal injuries guidelines can now be safely made, or will be when this legislation is enacted, the Bill says nothing about sentencing guidelines, the other major reform that has been undertaken by the Judicial Council. As the Minister knows, the Judicial Council has two committees, one to produce guidelines on personal injuries, the other on sentencing. It may say something about our priorities, or maybe even the effectiveness of the insurance lobby, that the Judicial Council was given a statutory deadline to produce the personal injuries guidelines. The deadline was met, the guidelines were published and have been challenged on constitutional grounds. The work of the sentencing committee is harder because of the dearth of information. We need to collate information on sentencing, a complex undertaking that must be supported. I ask that the Department of Justice or the Courts Service undertake that work in conjunction with the sentencing committee of the Judicial Council. If the criminal courts are obliged to have regard to the sentencing guidelines, as section 92 of the Act provides, then the guidelines need to be approved by this Legislature. Otherwise the Judicial Council will stand accused of making law without the approval of the Oireachtas. Really important changes are going to be made to ensure uniformity as far as is practicable. Of course, every case is stand-alone and judges have freedom to act. However, there must be a commonality in terms of sentencing and people must understand that they cannot go fishing for different court decisions. That is one of the ideas behind the Judicial Council. I ask the Minister when she intends to bring legislation to us to give the same underpinning to the sentencing guidelines that will be adopted as she has done with the personal injuries guidelines that have been adopted. These things need more teasing out than simply to be put into a miscellaneous provisions Bill with a broad range of issues, each of which deserves individual scrutiny.

5:50 pm

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will focus on Part 7 of the Bill, which contains provisions on the retirement age of our uniformed services. The Bill will potentially set a concerning precedent, where the retirement age of our uniformed servicemen and women is left to the whim of the relevant Minister of the day without any explicit obligation to consult the workers it impacts or their representative bodies. Consultation is key. I thank colleagues in SIPTU for facilitating us in the Labour Party in recent days with a greater understanding of the potential impact of a certain provision of this legislation for uniformed services members across the spectrum. While some uniformed services initially gave a guarded welcome to pronouncements from various Ministers that the age of retirement would be raised to 62, voluntarily and without the loss of fast accrual, this is not what is proposed in the legislation. The primary legislation makes no explicit mention of a specific upper age limit and simply leaves the power to set the upper age limit of retirement at whatever the appropriate Minister feels it should be. It is not in any way clear that any Minister will be bound to consult those affected if and when future changes are made to mandatory retirement ages. In my view, this is a sleight of hand on the part of the Government, which is attempting to railroad through the legislation in the dying days of this Dáil session and hoping that nobody would notice. We have noticed and we are deeply concerned, as are various uniformed services representatives. I am signalling our intention to propose a variety of amendments on Committee Stage and potentially subsequently on Report Stage, to protect the interests into the future of our servicemen and women and insist they would at least be consulted and engaged with in a meaningful way when such fundamental changes to their terms and conditions of employment are likely to be made. I was flabbergasted that a change such as that proposed in this legislation could be contemplated without any formal engagement whatsoever. It really is appalling in terms of industrial relations practice. It is something that we believe should be finessed and reviewed. Although not an area for which the Minister for Justice is responsible, we note in respect of the Defence Forces a pattern of behaviour on the part of this Government where it makes unilateral decisions about how our Defence Forces are managed and planned, which is extremely concerning.

The debate on this Bill in the Seanad last week seems to have been short, I think by design. It was incredible. There was little opportunity for Senators to be properly briefed on the import of this. I think Government was hoping these changes would simply be waved through without any fuss. The ICTU-affiliated bodies representing members in the uniformed services are very concerned at the content of the Bill and the manner in which it is being introduced. While many of the affiliates in general welcome an optional extension of the retirement age, the open-ended nature of the Bill and the discretion granted to individual Ministers potentially leaves the door open to further increases in the retirement age for newer entrants and an effective end to the principle of fast accrual that underpins these services. This is a very real fear and in our view it is not without foundation.

The fast accrual benefit was introduced to ensure that front-line services and operations are protected. It was also a recognition that the job of work that uniformed services members do is very different. They are unique in the public service. That is reflected in the fast accrual system. There is a strong and specific fear that the Bill as worded will provide line Ministers for these services with powers to alter and erode the terms and conditions of our men and women in uniform, specifically their retirement ages. I draw the Minister's attention to Part 7, section 9(b), which proposes to insert into section 8 of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 a new subsection(1A) providing that:

The Minister for Justice [in this case, the Minister herself, when it relates to services under her management] may, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform, make regulations relating to the retirement of officers to whom the Act of 1919 applies, including specifying a retirement age of such officers, being an age that is higher than 60 years and not exceeding the normal retirement age (within the meaning of section 13(1) of the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2012).

Sections 10 and 11(b) make similar provisions. In our view, these sections would need to be deleted or amended in such a way as to clearly set out a maximum retirement age or otherwise curtail the power the Bill proposes to bestow on the Minister to determine the retirement age. Alternatively, a provision could be inserted in the legislation that would oblige future Ministers to consult and engage meaningfully with the relevant representative bodies and agree a framework within which arrangements would be made in respect of the revision of retirement age into the future. That is a proposition that the Minister should fully consider in advance of Committee Stage. We are open to engagement with the Minister on that. There is also a general concern that the Government is pushing through changes in the pension arrangements for a cohort of public services in this manner without giving the staff representative bodies time to fully consider the impact of these changes, let alone to consult on them.

The implications of all of this for the future of the fast accrual pension scheme are potentially grave. That, and the complexities surrounding pension arrangements, should require a reasonable period for consultation. As it stands, under the Bill once people stay after the age of 60, fast accrual goes and they are then subject to the normal standard accrual position up to the age of 62. A significant problem facing new entrants to the fast accrual services is that they have no access to State pension benefits if they retire at their contractual retirement age. An extension of the retirement age is an issue of which we are all aware. There are implications in terms of State pension benefits, something that needs to be considered in the future.

For many in these services, working past the current retirement age will simply not be an option given the toll these jobs often take. There is a reason that retirement ages are lower in these services and those reasons have not gone away. If Ministers think this is some kind of radical fix for the recruitment and retention crisis in the uniformed services, they are wrong. This is not the point at which to start.

The Minister, along with her colleagues, needs to review this, listen respectfully to the views and concerns of representative associations and trade unions and change course. There is now a degree of discord with uniformed services members. That is regrettable and could have been avoided. Very serious concerns have been expressed to us and others in the House and these issues ought not to have arisen. That they have arisen is proof positive, if proof was in fact needed, that there are industrial relations and engagement issues with uniformed services members that need to be addressed by the Government.

As I said earlier, there is a pattern of behaviour that is being repeated in terms of the way in which this particular issue has been handled. The Minister should change course with her Government colleagues. Work needs to be done on the employer side to improve the industrial relations environment with our crucial uniformed services members who are serving this State every single day.

6:00 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Like previous speakers, I would like to welcome the increase in the number of judges in the Court of Appeal, which is important. The most important element of the Bill is that the amendments reach across many aspects of people's lives and have the potential to make significant changes.

The Minister spoke about night crime, which is worrying. We have to make sure that we have enough gardaí and support. In my area, Carlow-Kilkenny, one of the biggest issues being raised in my clinics on a daily basis is drugs. We need to be part of a solution to that. It is something that needs to be addressed, in terms of supports for those who are taking drugs, as well as their families. I see this daily, and it concerns me.

Like previous speakers, I want to speak about pensions for prison officers aged over 59, which are integrated with the contributory State pension. The pensions of members recruited on or after April 1995 comprise two elements, a partial pension paid by the employer and the balance made up by the contributory State pension, which people cannot access until the age of 66. This matter is further complicated by the fact that prison officers are required to retire at 60 years of age and are in receipt of an escalated pension benefit ,meaning they receive full pension entitlements after 30 years.

I welcome the Government giving consideration to allowing prison officers who were due to retire at the age of 62 to continue to work before the law changes to increase the retirement age to 62. This is the Bill to do that. I have seen the benefits of this extension. I have spoken regularly to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, about firefighters in the fire service in Carlow. They had to retire at the age of 60 and are now allowed, if they are fit and pass medicals or whatever, to stay on until the age of 62 if they wish. That has made a significant difference to the firefighters in Carlow. These people do an excellent job. The change has been really beneficial. We need to do the same in the Bill for our gardaí and prison officers. The Government has committed to increasing the mandatory retirement age for gardaí and firefighters to 62, and we need to do that.

People with extensive training and experience are being let go while the prison population is growing. We read daily about undercapacity in many prisons. We need prison officers who are trained, qualified and want to stay on for an extra two years. This change needs to be made straight away. We are lucky in Ireland that people are living longer and are fitter and healthier. We are trying to help people to live longer. If they want to work longer, we should give them that option.

There are 12 sections in the Bill, to which the Minister referred in her opening statement. I am concerned about drugs and what we can do to get more gardaí, judges in our courts, staff and supports. I have never seen as many people and families come into my clinics about other issues. I ask the Minister to increase the retirement age for prison officers and gardaí to 62. Firefighters have that, which is good news. We need to do the same for others.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am speaking on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy, at short notice. We can appreciate that Deputy Murphy has some other matters to attend to this evening and we wish her well.

We know we are near a recess period when we are presented with very broad legislation with the infamous tag "miscellaneous" attached to it. I want to provide some context for the words I will speak. There has been a renewed Government interest in law and order since Simon Harris was elected Taoiseach in April. The Minister for Justice brought a memorandum to Cabinet at that time regarding tougher sentences for knife crime. I remember the big talk at the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis was of it being the party of law and order. Despite having held the justice ministry for 14 years, I have seen no evidence of that fact as I walk home on the streets of Dublin every night but in April, Fine Gael spoke once again about being the party of law and order.

That coincided by chance, or perhaps not, with a question from Deputy Murphy to the Minister regarding knife crime. Figures supplied in a response to that parliamentary question gave rise to serious concerns, which were raised in the media and this Chamber. According to the Department of Justice, more than 18,000 knives have been seized nationally over the past decade. The annual figures show a strong upward trend, with figures increasing from 1,344 in 2014 to 2,260 in 2020. It is clear from the evidence in the reply to the question, as well as anecdotally, that streets not just in Dublin but in cities and towns throughout Ireland are becoming more dangerous. Last year, the total number of seizures was 2,186, the second highest annual total in the past decade. The numbers over a ten-year period start to jump off the page.

It is important to remember that the number of knives seized are just a fraction of what is being carried. While it is important that people feel safe, a multilayered response is needed to deal with knife crime, including significant intervention in youth work and investment in sport, infrastructure and early intervention measures to tackle inherited trauma, with counselling and psychological support built into that. The measures before us in the Bill do not address this issue with a more rounded strategy or approach. It is viewed, quite simply, from a justice perspective. It is silo thinking.

I would argue strongly, as would be backed by the evidence, that we cannot simply imprison our way out of a crisis of this magnitude. There are global examples we can think of when we speak about tougher crime and zero tolerance. We have seen that film. The example stands out in my mind is Bill Clinton's "Three strikes and you're out" policy. All that meant was that prisons in America became full while the streets became increasingly violent.

That is the type of thinking I see in this legislation. What are the Minister and her officials proposing to do in that regard? Are they linking in with other agencies? Unfortunately, there will always be people who carry objects such as knives in public settings. We can mitigate such behaviour through greater enforcement, greater Garda presence, better awareness and engagement by youth workers with people liable to engage in the behaviour. We need education and intervention.

The next issue I raise I also raised last September and again last week. The Minister initiated the local community safety partnership for the north inner city. There were some 52 recommendations contained in the associated report. As she said to me last week, that report was constructed with engagement from the community. I do not discount that for a second. However, she mistakenly said I had not engaged with it when, in fact, I simply was not asked to do so. The report did not include any type of description of how the 52 measures would be funded. In the ten months that have passed since its publication, we have seen the streets becoming more violent. Notwithstanding the chaos of the horrendous Dublin riots, we have not seen any greater Garda presence in the north inner city. The willingness people have shown to engage collectively on an issue that is multilayered falls down when the State does not resource the required actions.

I would really like to understand the officials' thinking in including the provision in the Bill to increase the sentence for violent knife crime from five years to seven. Should we all be clapping ourselves on the back for being tough on crime? Do people actually believe tougher sentences are the panacea for this crisis? I am reminded of a line in Frankensteinwhen I think of the type of person who picks up a knife and puts it in a backpack or satchel with the intention that if any sort of trouble arises, he or she will use it to pierce the body of another person. When I think about that person's mentality, the line from Frankensteinthat comes to mind is, all good being lost, "evil henceforth became my good". We can imprison that person, like tens of thousands of others have been imprisoned throughout the history of the State. Next weekend, there will be another person of similar mindset on the streets engaging in the same behaviour. In five years, or seven years as it will be now, another person will be back on the streets to engage again in violence.

We have never addressed the structural malaise that leads to such behaviour. We have never sought to address the trauma that happens in people's lives before they became complicit in evil acts. We have not worked to stop the conveyor belt of violent young men going out onto the streets. That is my real frustration with this Bill. I do not doubt the desire among people in Dublin and other cities that the violence on our streets be addressed. However, this legislation does not get to the crux of the issue. There should be engagement by youth workers with young people who present in hospitals with stab injuries. We need their analysis and evidence if we are to find out the types of practices and interventions that could make a difference.

I do not understand what the Minister is trying to achieve by increasing the sentence from five years to seven. The prisons in Ireland are already full. We have talked about that issue consistently. It is reported on all the time in the newspapers. Giving longer sentences will lead to fuller prisons, not better outcomes. Part of the problem is that we have not defined what prisons should be. Are they places of rehabilitation or simply places of crude incarceration? When I, along with other politicians, have the opportunity to play football in Mountjoy Prison, as part of our community work, I do not see the people imprisoned there being given intensive rehabilitation to come back out on the streets and be different from what they were before they went into Mountjoy. We have never really got to the crux of that aspect.

Will the increase in prison sentences from five years to seven years be accompanied by any sort of multi-agency approach? When people are incarcerated, will there be an effort to deal with the trauma they have faced in life? Inevitably, there is trauma. There are always addictions. There is always neurodiversity. That is backed up by evidence. There are failings in schools and inability to access opportunity. Will any of those issues be addressed during the seven years people are imprisoned or are we simply applying a sticking plaster? If those considerations are not factored into the approach, we are not just failing the people who are incarcerated. We will also be failing our society and the people who are demanding better outcomes. Nobody is arguing that sanctions should not be placed on persons prosecuted for carrying or a knife or other offensive implement in public in the circumstances outlined in the Bill. That is not in any way the argument I am presenting. I agree that people who carry a knife with the intent of doing harm to the body of another person should face the full consequences of the law. However, as legislators, we can do better to break the cycle of offending. That is all I am proposing.

Deputy Catherine Murphy has called in the past for a knife amnesty. I support that proposal. When one sees it set out on paper, it raises an eyebrow. However, an amnesty has been very successfully implemented in Scotland. Consideration could be given to doing the same in Ireland. Using such a model to remove knives from circulation is a good starting point for de-escalation. I refer again to the 18,000 knives seized by the Garda in the past decade. How many knives are not found? How many are under beds waiting to be used? An amnesty could take some of those weapons off the street. It would give people an opportunity to remove any connection they have with such implements. I am happy to advocate for an amnesty. When people place themselves before the State, we should be able to offer them the types of therapeutic interventions we have discussed. I hope the Minister will consider this call and give her views on such a measure. Sanctions on their own will not work. There are already significant deterrents in place to discourage knife crime, even before the threat of increased prison sentences. Those deterrents do not seem to have addressed the worrying trend we have seen over the past decade.

In the briefing note on the Bill, there is an indication that the penalty for manufacturing, selling or leasing offensive weapons may be specified by the Minister by order. Will this extend to online retail spaces and traditional shopfronts displaying what are described as ornamental pieces, which often are samurai swords and the like? Such implements can be and often are misused. I hope the Minister will consider that point and come back to us for further discussion on it.

While we are talking about increasing sentences, I fully accept that the Minister's intention is to make our streets safer. However, it is incumbent on me to talk again about the reality of the situation in Dublin city. I assure the Ceann Comhairle that I will try to confine myself to the legislation. As he knows, I have tabled a number of Topical Issues relating to public safety in Dublin 1, 3 and 7. Knife crime goes hand in hand with the open sale of drugs that is being facilitated in parts of the city. There are areas in my constituency where residents will open their door to find a group of people outside who are very obviously either engaging or preparing to engage in violent and threatening behaviour. There do not seem to be any consequences for such behaviour.

I was really saddened to hear that the tourist who was attacked on O'Connell Street last week has lost his life. I will not name him today because he deserves to have his name read into the record of the Dáil at an appropriate time. We cannot step away from the reality that our capital city is not safe. If we are to address that reality, we need multi-agency approaches. That is not factored into the provisions of the Bill. We need zero tolerance of open drug dealing. I do not say that with any sort of bravado. The sale of drugs is being facilitated down laneways and in the open in residential areas. If that is stopped, a lot of the associated violent behaviour could not continue. We need an increased Garda presence. We need a different style of metropolitan policing that means gardaí are not taken away from the city centre environment, as happened over the weekend, to police concerts, sporting events or events in the Phoenix Park. All of that drags overtime away from city centre policing. If we had a metropolitan style of policing that was specifically focused on central urban environments, we could address a lot of these issues. We must cut off the flow to the drug dealers. The best way of doing that is through intensive detoxification and recovery opportunities. That is why legislation like this should be multifaceted. We do not have enough means by which those who are complicit in the sale of drugs, whether opiates, cocaine or whatever else, have any capacity to remove themselves from that trade and the behaviour associated with it. Not enough of that is happening.

As part of the big talk we heard in April, the Taoiseach spoke about setting up a task force for Dublin city centre.

I welcome the task force, of course, but hope that when it releases its report in late August – I am going to give the benefit of the doubt because I believe everyone comes at this with the best of intentions – it will be followed up very quickly with resources, including Garda manpower, supports for programmes and initiatives that help to remove people from the scourge of drugs, and opportunities for young people to have access to therapy, counselling and recreational activities that result in positive mentorship. In Dublin 1 and Dublin 3, and in the south inner city, there are still no 11-a-side football pitches. The scourge of this problem will not be broken without giving young people outlets. That is why I hope that, through the Minister’s office, legislation such as this, which could present an opportunity, and task forces of the Taoiseach, we will get to the meat of these issues. We are missing great opportunities. The city I represent could benefit but the Republic, in and of itself, could benefit also.

During the course of Deputy Catherine Murphy’s work with the Committee of Public Accounts recently, there was some engagement with officials from the Department of Justice on the proposed immigration legislation, specifically the carrier liability aspect. As we know, carrier liability applies to passengers who arrive in the State without the necessary travel documentation. I am referring to their having no documents, false documents or no visas, and to imposters using genuine documents. Carrier liability cannot be applied to any arrival from within the common travel area and in certain other circumstances – for example, where the carrier cannot be identified or where a person has travelled on fraudulently obtained genuine documents.

I understand from Deputy Catherine Murphy’s engagement with officials at the Committee of Public Accounts that there was a broader review of the current process, but we are addressing only one issue here, namely that of fines. Can the Minister give us some insight into the new fines structure? Are we really to believe the new fines are simply just factoring in inflation, that nobody in the Department thought about factoring in inflation in 21 years, or that fines we were imposing were among the lowest in Europe?

The review was to consider other aspects related to carrier liability. In the Minister’s wrap-up, could she address the legislative amendments she plans to introduce that will place enhanced responsibility on airlines to conduct appropriate checks on passenger boarding and make it an offence for them not to do so? Does the Minister plan to introduce a dedicated gate-check programme involving carriers entering agreements where some or all carrier liability fines are waived in return for an audited, high standard of document-checking and security procedures at port or on embarkation? I ask these questions because officials told members of the Committee of Public Accounts that these matters were to be part of the review. I would like to gain an understanding of this from the Minister’s response.

6:20 pm

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to start by saying a few words in support of miscellaneous provisions legislation. Sometimes it gets treated very harshly in the House. Criticisms are made about it that centre on the claim that it entails a scattergun approach to legislating and that we need a much more holistic approach to individual issues. I disagree. The great benefit of miscellaneous provisions legislation is that it gets important areas of the law changed in a very prompt fashion. Sometimes if there is a discussion about making changes to the law, such as the firearms legislation or the immigration legislation, someone in a Department suggests we should have a review of the legislation in its totality. In effect, that means proposed changes are delayed for at least a couple of years when, in fact, what is generally and specifically required is amending legislation to change concise and specific aspects of the law. That is why I welcome the legislation being introduced today. I also support it because approximately three of its provisions proposed by the Minister were previously advanced by Fianna Fáil. I very much welcome their adoption and, I hope, their enactment by the Oireachtas in due course.

The first provision on which I want to speak concerns Part 5 of the Bill, which concerns amending the firearms and offensive weapons legislation of 1990. As the Ceann Comhairle may be aware, I, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, introduced a Bill in this House in March 2021 seeking to amend the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act to provide for greater sentences for persons convicted of possession of a knife with intent to cause harm. The reason that legislation was introduced in March 2021 was that there had been some tragic and horrific examples at that time of young men – regrettably, it is generally young men – who had been involved in and were the victims of serious knife attacks in the city of Dublin and indeed Cork. The purpose of the legislation was to seek to increase the penalty for possession of a knife from five years to ten. I therefore very much welcome what the Minister is proposing to do here. She indicated in her speech earlier that I have legislation that has now reached Committee Stage in the justice committee. I would be happy to see the Minister’s legislation take its place if it can be enacted faster.

I accept and acknowledge some of the points made by colleagues today on the legislation. I am not suggesting, and I do not believe anyone in the House believes, that by simply increasing the penalty for knife crime, the problem of knife crime will be solved. That requires a much broader approach; it requires educating, teaching and telling young men and boys that it is unacceptable for them to bring out knives at night, even though they may believe they would only ever use them to defend themselves. As evident from Garda statistics on seizures, there has been a greater number of seizures of knives. One mechanism of sending a message to people that carrying a knife is unacceptable behaviour is increasing the penalty available to the courts when persons are convicted of possession of knives under the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act. There is a benefit to doing that. If we were to decide, with respect to all legislation, that not prosecuting or increasing the penalty because the incidence of a crime is increasing or remains high, it would be a self-defeating objective. Therefore, I welcome the proposed legislation.

I also welcome what is proposed in Part 3 of the legislation, which seeks to amend the Immigration Act. This proposal was also put forward by Fianna Fáil. I welcome the fact that the Minister is taking on the suggestion that we need to increase the sentences for carriers that find themselves in circumstances in which individuals who have been allowed to get onto an aeroplane or ferry with the necessary passport or documentation do not have it when getting off. There is an obligation on carriers to ensure people getting onto their aircraft or ferries have appropriate passports and documentation. If they do not comply with the statutory obligation, there should be a meaningful fine.

I ask the Minister to consider again the proposed amendments. They are quite limited. It is proposed to increase the fines from €3,000 to just €5,000 and from €1,500 to just €2,500. More meaningful fines would be appropriate and should be considered by the Minister on Committee Stage.

I note that part of the legislation concerns the proposed change to the retirement age for members of An Garda Síochána and other emergency services. Deputy Nash spoke about the change to the Garda retirement age. My recollection is that Garda retirement is generally governed by statutory instrument. If so, I would welcome hearing from the Minister on when it is likely that we will see a change to the statutory instrument governing Garda retirement so the retirement age will change from 60 years to 62 years.

I also noted that the Minister said that when the Bill gets to Committee Stage or Report Stage, she intends to have submitted further amendments to enact provisions necessary as a result of the decision of the High Court last March on a challenge to section 72A of the International Protection 2015. As the Ceann Comhairle will be aware, that section deals with the designation of safe third countries. That is a procedure different from the one the Minister announced today in respect of safe countries under section 72. The only country we have to date designated as a safe third country is, in my recollection, the United Kingdom. Clearly, that is appropriate and should obtain. Unfortunately, however, because of inadequacies in section 72A, as enacted, the High Court has determined that we need to introduce amending legislation. I ask that the Minister do so. I am pleased to hear she proposes to do so through her amendments. It also could be very fortunate timing if, as appears to be the case, there is to be a change of Government in the UK. If the Rwanda policy is to be abandoned, as has been indicated by the Labour Party in the UK, it will certainly remove any question mark over the suitability of the UK as a safe third country.

6:30 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Nolan, is sharing time with her Rural Independent Group colleagues, is next.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this important and long-overdue Bill. Its increase in the mandatory retirement age for uniformed public servants, including members of An Garda Síochána, the Prison Service and the Defence Forces, from 60 to 62 is welcome. However, we need to address the root causes behind so many of our gardaí leaving. We know that morale is at rock bottom and the Commissioner does not have a favourable reputation among the rank and file. This is a profoundly serious matter.

Part 3 will amend the Immigration Act 2003 to increase carrier liability fines to €5,000 where a carrier allows someone to board an aeroplane entering the State without proper documentation. What can I say other than that this is welcome, but why has this commonsensical measure taken so long? It should have been in place long ago, as it was entirely foreseeable that there would be issues. We did not need the EU asylum pact for this particular step.

As the Minister knows, I have been at the forefront in pushing for measures of this kind. Indeed, I have been tabling parliamentary questions and making interventions on these issues for a couple of years. Recently, she informed me in a reply that there had been 3,040 doorstep operations by the Border management unit and the Garda National Immigration Bureau at Dublin Airport up to the end of May, with nearly 800 last month alone. This is welcome, but why did there need to be a crisis of unsustainable numbers entering the country, including illegal immigrants, before action could be taken? There must be a permanent and significant ramping up of immigration controls. We simply have to send the signal out loud and clear that the days of our cherished country being taken for an international soft touch are over. We also need to ramp up the State’s limited capacity to detain people who have been refused leave to land at Dublin Airport. This is a matter I have been raising in parliamentary questions since last August. At that point, the Minister informed me that there was a facility at the airport that had been operational since March 2022, but as I understand it, gardaí only have the capacity to house up to four passengers there. I would like clarity on this issue. If true, more work needs to be done to increase capacity.

The measures being introduced in this Bill are better late than never, but they remain the tip of the iceberg of what needs to happen in terms of vigorous and robust measures to deter illegal immigration.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome anything that will help tackle knife crime and other forms of armed crime. I welcome the appointment of more judges. I also welcome that gardaí, prison officers and members of the Defence Forces can stay on for an extra two years to 62 years of age. However, if we cannot keep them until they are 60 anyway, it begs the question of what is wrong. Some 98% of rank-and-file gardaí voted no confidence in the Commissioner. To me, that was also a vote of no confidence in the Minister, given that she took the Commissioner’s side.

I want people to join the Garda, the Defence Forces, the Prison Service and the fire service, but we need to invest in them, in equipment for them and in extra personnel to keep them safe. We have gardaí responding to certain crimes on their own, putting themselves in danger. That is not right. We have more gardaí leaving the service than we have entering. The numbers suggest otherwise, but that is not correct. Many of the people who are leaving after being trained by the Garda have emigrated to other countries because they cannot put up with the type of system the Garda offers them.

I welcome anything that will help these services, but there has been a failure by this and previous Governments to invest in the Garda. I attended a show recently where we spoke to people in the fire service. They do not have gloves to remove the main batteries from electric cars that go on fire even though they were promised them. As we run away from fires, members of the fire service run in, but they have not been given proper equipment to do that. The same obtains in respect of the Garda. The population is increasing, as are crime levels, yet the supports for the people we want to protect us are depleting.

The Government has made a start with this Bill, but it does not go far enough. I want to see more investment in the Garda and more people being brought into the various services so that they are around to protect us in future.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome much of this Bill, but like everything, we do not want anything to be too rushed. I welcome the immigration controls in the Bill, as we had the ridiculous situation of people’s passports and documentation finishing up down the toilet, according to Mr. Michael O’Leary. I do not doubt him for one minute that this was what was happening. We all knew it was happening, but nothing was being done about it.

Regarding uniformed officers, I fondly remember a family that the Ceann Comhairle will remember, that of the late Timothy "Chub" O'Connor, who was a TD representing Kerry South for many years. He had a son, Teddy “Chub” O’Connor. A long time ago before he passed away, Teddy “Chub” O’Connor came to me saying it was ridiculous that firefighters had to retire and he wanted them to have their time extended. I would like to think that I played my part in campaigning, lobbying and doing everything I could. I am glad that the situation changed for them, but it should also change for gardaí and prison officers because we need more of both. We should be doing more to keep the ones we have, never mind just keeping them beyond 60 years of age.

This may raise eyebrows, but I come from a county where we have to carry knives. We do it when we are on farms cutting bales of silage open and so on, though. There is no good reason in God’s earthly world for people in urban areas to want or need to possess knives. Many of us would be lost without a knife inside our pockets, but that is for completely different work-related reasons. There should of course be a strengthening of the penalties and impositions placed on people if they are found breaking that rule.

Regarding more judges, we should have speedy justice.

Overall, these amendments could lead to significant changes in the legal landscape affecting both the process and the outcome of certain types of legal proceeding. The exact impact will depend on how these amendments are implemented and interpreted in practice. It is also important to note that any changes to legislation can have unintended consequences that might only become apparent over time. Therefore, ongoing review and adjustment may be necessary to ensure that the legislation is working as intended. This is important because we have to be careful. Much of this Bill seems to have been rushed because of the time of year and I do not want us to make mistakes. Broadly speaking, I welcome many of the measures, but ongoing review and monitoring of their implementation is important.

When we go away from danger, the people working in the Garda, fire services and prisons have to head into it, so we should be providing every assistance and doing everything we can to make their jobs better places to be so that we improve their work practices and make them more user friendly. That is why I was so upset when the Minister and the Commissioner wanted to interfere with the roster. Every garda in the country wanted a certain roster and the only people who did not were the Minister and Commissioner, which was against the wishes of all the good people who were putting on uniforms every morning for all of us.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate.

Clearly, I agree with some of the points that are being discussed relating to the firearms and offensive weapons and increasing of the maximum penalties for carrying knives. This situation has to be addressed because every second day when we listen to the news, someone has been stabbed or knifed again in Dublin and indeed in different parts of the country. It is sad that there are no checks. Checks should be carried out. Knives are made of steel too and the gardaí could have devices that could pick up steel in people's pockets, or whatever, without much effort. That should be checked to ensure that we do something to increase the penalties because this is very serious where many people have lost their lives.

On the notion that the Government is to increase the fine payable by carriers where they have allowed a person to board a flight or ferry destined for the State without the proper documentation; I cannot really understand this because in the first place on the few times I went to America to visit my extended family, I got a severe checking in Shannon Airport by the US immigration officials. Certainly, I would not have been let on board any flight there. In fact, I was held up on one occasion because I had a new passport and I nearly missed the plane. I cannot understand that and the question I am asking the Minister is: do we have immigration and customs officials in all of the airports where people are coming directly to Ireland? I cannot see that we will get much satisfaction out of carriers, such as Michael O'Leary, for instance. What satisfaction will the Government get from him because a lot of these people are coming without any documentation?

6:40 pm

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

You are not getting away with that.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is right and I ask her not to shake her head. We know that it is right and I cannot understand how these people are let onto the plane in the first place. That is where the Government needs to have people and officials, immigration and custom officials, to ensure that these people do not get onto the plane. I do not really think it is the responsibility of the carriers too much at all because it should be our officials who are monitoring these people getting onto the planes and if they do not have the proper documentation as to where they are getting on and where they are heading for Ireland, this should be stopped forthwith. This is what I am asking the Minister to do. It is a bit of nonsense to think we are going to get satisfaction out of the air carriers when people land here with no documents to look at at all. We then blame the carriers, fine them and increase the penalties. That is absolute rubbish. The Government cannot sell that to me and I do not think it can sell that to the public at large out there. Like I said, I was held up at Shannon Airport and these people should be held up at whatever airport they travelling from to come here if their flights are directly to here. I wonder what officials or capacity the Government has to monitor these people and to stop them getting on the planes in the first place.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Bill proposes to amend a number of Acts to facilitate some of the following changes: increase the fine payable by carriers where they allow a person to board a flight or ferry destined for the State without the proper documentation and amend the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 to increase the maximum penalties applicable on conviction on indictment for four knife-related offences in the Act. These amendments aim to increase the maximum penalties upon the conviction on indictment for four knife-related offences. These offences include possession in a public place of an article intended to cause injury, trespass with a knife or another weapon, production of an article capable of inflicting serious injury, and the manufacture, sale, hire or loan of offensive weapons. These offences can be dealt with either summarily or on indictment, depending on the seriousness of the offence. The proposed amendments only increase the penalties on the indictment, thus targeting more serious forms of knife crime. This move is seen as a crucial step in addressing the growing concern over knife-related crimes and could have a deterrent effect, potentially, in reducing the prevalence of such crimes for those charged with these offences. The stakes would be higher, particularly for more serious offences that are dealt with on indictment. This could lead to longer sentences for those convicted, reflecting the seriousness of the crime.

While we are talking about justice and crime, I must raise an issue. We have recently seen the Stardust families suffer for so many years without getting justice and without the crimes which were carried out being admitted. I must raise again the issue of Whiddy Island. I will continue to raise this on behalf of the people who perished that night way back on 8 January 1979. Let us not forget that over 45 years ago, the lives of more than 50 people were lost that night with only 27 bodies being recovered. This has been described as the "Fire In The Sky" by an RTÉ documentary. I have spoken to many family members and people who were only six years' old on that terrible night. The six-year-old I spoke to, who is now in her 50s, remembers well looking out onto Whiddy Island that night and thinking that the world was ending. For some people, the world did end that night but they have had no justice. We talk about justice in this Dáil and about rights and we gave the Stardust families justice but how many years did they beg for that justice before they got it? The Whiddy Island families are asking for the same justice and respect and the State is leading into a cover-up situation where it continuously refuses that. For 45 years the families are looking for that justice for the Whiddy Island victims. I have to praise Michael Kingston who is a staunch advocate for all of those family members. I asked the Minister, and I have asked the Taoiseach and the previous Taoiseach to look at this issue, to come forward, to admit that mistakes were made and to try to work towards a solution.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I too wish to comment on this legislation, which amends of a number of Acts to facilitate an increase in the mandatory retirement age for uniformed public servants to 62 years, and for gardaí especially. So much more of this legislation is varnish and veneer. I too have cases that I have highlighted here dozens of times about Pat Esmonde and John O'Brien who lost their lives off Helvick Head, and Michael Kingston is helping out there too. No proper investigation was carried out.

There is much veneer with this legislation with amendments and typographical errors and amendments of other Acts. Where is the reform in the justice system? With indulgence of the Ceann Comhairle, who may allow me or may not, I am going to raise the eviction of the McCann family in Roscommon. I have documents in my possession, well verified, that KBC Bank received no court order. It had no proper legal court order. The same gang from the North that went into Balbriggan Garda station carried out an eviction on behalf of KBC Bank acted outside the law. They had a forged document. The former Master of the High Court has done extensive work on this with our group on the Land Registry and documents not being proper for repossessions. When are we going to tidy up that Act and insist that the former Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and former Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, have misled the people about what happened to that family.

There are three men in jail now with seven huge sentences and they have been done a grievous wrong. We spent years here trying to correct the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four sentences, and God knows whatever else in other jurisdictions and we saw what happened there, but this is a grievous wrong. If the court order was not a valid document and if it was a forged document, which is what I am led to believe; that is not good enough. Deputies Healy-Rae, Collins and Nolan went into KBC Bank one time in defence of people and the arrest of families who had no one to support them. There has to be legal documents and the Courts Service must be reformed to ensure that every letter, comma and syllable in those documents is proofread and effective when other security agents are being used with no registration. We have met at the offices in Thurles and Tipperary town with the people in charge of this and it is not being addressed. This is an appalling injustice that has happened where three men are serving a 15-year sentence, which according to the paperwork I have here, is grossly and completely wrong and false. That must be rectified by our courts system. Where will be get legislation to address the hundreds of families out there who have lost businesses, the many lives that have been lost and the many people who have suffered and are still suffering, and the paperwork is not right? The Land Registry has completely and utterly failed us here. The system is not up to date and documents are being used where they are not correct in the Land Registry. In this case a document was used, which was a forged High Court summons.

That is a very serious matter.

6:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Before I call the next speaker, I will say that while Deputies may criticise the Minister, who is well able to handle any criticism directed at her, or any other Minister or politician, I am a bit uncomfortable with persistent criticism of a public servant outside of the Houses, as we have heard of the Garda Commissioner. The Garda Commissioner is also well able to protect himself but-----

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

By God, he is.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----he is not here to do it. I am not entirely satisfied that it is good practice. I ask Deputies to think about that.

We will move to the Independent Group. Deputy Catherine Connolly is sharing time with Deputy Pringle.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will start and Deputy Connolly will continue after me. I have already expressed my disapproval of this Bill being rushed through during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice on this legislation two weeks ago. I would not call it pre-legislative scrutiny because that is not what it was. Members of the committee were given a short note by the Department regarding its contents, after which a Department official came in to give a very brief explanation of the legislation. There was certainly no scrutiny or proper analysis of this Bill or any engagement whatsoever with stakeholders. I predicted it would be rushed through the Houses within weeks and I was right. It was rushed through the Seanad last week and here it is being rushed through the Dáil this week. I and many NGOs, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, have raised concerns time and again regarding how this Government handles legislation. Not only does it put significant stress on Oireachtas services, such as the Bills Office and the Library and Research Service, it does not allow adequate time for proper scrutiny by Members of the Oireachtas. It is completely disrespectful to our role as parliamentarians and the democratic process. Members are supposed to scrutinise legislation and make sure it is fit for purpose. Rushing this Bill is an affront to that.

The Minister stated she intends bringing forward a number of amendments on Committee Stage, which will be taken next week in the Dáil. These include amendments relating to the status of officials of the Judicial Council and Judicial Appointments Commission; amendments to the Broadcasting Act 2009 relating to the powers of Coimisiún na Meán and the terrorist content online regulation; amendments to the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956; and amendments to the International Protection Act 2015 to address procedural issues with the process for designating safe third countries and inadmissibility procedures identified in a recent High Court judgment. This is all going to be rushed through next week on Committee Stage. It will, supposedly, be scrutinised here in the Dáil, which we know will not happen, and the Minister will then run the Bill through. That is the process we will go through.

This legislation addresses many unrelated issues that seem to have been thrown together at the last minute with an attitude of getting these through as quickly as possible. Certainly, what happens in July is that legislation is rushed through. While I accept that some aspects of the Bill relate to a judgment delivered six or eight weeks ago by the courts, there have been weeks recently when no legislation was debated in the Dáil. Motions and discussions were ordered because there was nothing coming through the House. It is a bit too much of a coincidence that it is always in July and December that urgent legislation has to be rushed through to make sure they are processed.

This is incredibly concerning. I have to wonder why the Government seems so hesitant to allow for proper scrutiny. Surely, if the Government was confident in the legislation it is introducing, allowing time for scrutiny and engagement would not be an issue. We were not given adequate time to discuss the guidelines relating to the Judicial Council Act 2019, which also have to be approved. They, too, have just been thrown in to the Bill. This Bill was intended to be a superannuation Bill regarding pensions, etc., but it seems everything has been thrown in to get it through. It reads like a Bill the Department created at the last minute, with many different issues fired in to ensure all angles are covered. This is not how legislation should be written - without proper regard or engagement.

The Bill includes approval of increasing by one the number of judges in the Court of Appeal. On the face of it, this seems sensible but will this always be the case or will the extra judge be taken out in other, subsequent legislation? It was explained to us during pre-legislative scrutiny that we needed this extra judge because a judge had been assigned to other duties and another judge was needed in the Court of Appeal. Why not have 28 judges in the Court of Appeal rather than 18 judges? There would be room to manoeuvre then to work something out rather than having the whole system grind to a halt because legislation needs to be rushed through to deal with it. It does not make sense.

This legislation does not appear to be part of the two-phase plan announced by the Government in 2023 to increase the number of sitting judges. There is a serious need for increased investment in judicial resources and the appointment of additional judges. It is ridiculous we have to wait for new legislation to come through to get another judge in place. Research from the European Commission has shown that Ireland has the lowest figure of judges per 100,000 people, at just 3.27. This is well below the medium figure of 17.6. It is ridiculous we have not introduced the necessary legislation to address this following the Courts Act 2023. While the 2023 Act was a step forward when it was introduced, we were informed future legislation would tackle this issue. The reason can certainly not be that we do not have time to debate these issues in the House as we hardly debate legislation other than in July and December.

At the justice committee, I also raised concerns with Part 5, which proposes to increase the maximum penalties upon conviction on indictment for knife-related offences. This should have been debated separately as the committee has spent a lot of time debating increasing penalties in recent years. The Minister for Justice has said the current maximum sentence for serious offences, namely, possession of a knife with intent to unlawfully cause injury, trespassing with a knife and producing a knife to unlawfully intimidate another person, do not appear to be proportionate when compared with simple possession of a knife, yet they carry the same maximum sentence of five years. Just as easily, the sentence for possession of a knife could be reduced, while still having all those other penalties in place. Instead, it is proposed to increase the maximum sentence to seven years. This is bizarre. I asked at the committee why the sentence is being increased, and perhaps the Minister will explain the reason. Is it just to be seen to be doing something in this House? Why not ensure maximum sentences are used? If people are convicted of crime for which the maximum sentence is five years, why are they not sentenced to four or four and a half years?

This does not make any sense. Rather than rushing through legislation to have the maximum sentence increased to seven and a half years in this case, why not just make it life for everything? In that case, there would be loads of scope to manoeuvre. It is bizarre. I do not know why the solution is to just to increase the sentence. What is the merit in increasing the sentence, one way or another? The justice committee discussed knife offences at a meeting recently and it was agreed there was a need for further scrutiny and engagement to fully understand knife-related crime as the complex social issue that it is. There has been a complete lack of input from stakeholders regarding the impact of this Bill. I strongly oppose its introduction.

We do not have statistics on knife crime. An Garda Síochána has statistics on some areas related to knife crime but it has no statistics to show this measure is actually necessary. It may be necessary but there is nothing to show it is. We just have to take the Minister's word that it has to happen.

The International Protection Act 2015 is also being amended. The Minister outlined that the amendment of section 2 of the Act of 2003 has the effect of increasing the fine payable. The Bill amends the maximum fine, increasing it from €3,000 to a class A fine of a maximum of €5,000. How many prosecutions have there been under that offence? How much has the fine been? Does the fine need to be increased? I would safely say there have been very few prosecutions. I imagine they would have been covered in the media if there had been prosecutions. Why are we doing this? Is it just to be seen to be doing something? In much of this legislation, that is what we often see.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I appreciate the time to speak on this Bill. It is a short Bill of 14 pages, with seven Parts and 12 sections. While relatively short, it covers a huge area with amendments to different Acts, including the Immigration Act, the Judicial Council Act 2019 and the Firearms and Offences Act 1990. There are also miscellaneous amendments with which I have no difficulty as they correct typographical errors. The Bill also makes serious amendments to the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 and the Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Custodial Sentences) Act 2003. There is, therefore, a lot of legislation being amended. There is also a superannuation section extending the mandatory retirement age to 62, which I welcome.

I agree with my colleague, Deputy Pringle, however, in relation to the manner in which this has been done. This Courts Civil Law Criminal Law and Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024 has been rushed through. The Minister is shaking her head but the Bill has been rushed through. The pre-legislative scrutiny was abridged and there was a briefing from the Department of Justice. I understand Deputy Pringle raised concerns, as did some organisations, but no other Member did so. That is perhaps why the Government thinks the Bill has not been rushed through, but it has.

I thank the researchers in the Library and Research Service for their wonderful documents. Their note of 24 June states it will not address the provisions of the Bill in detail due to the limited time between the Bill's publication and the Second Stage debate. I do not sit on the justice committee, so I am utterly reliant on what the team in the Library and Research Service does, along with my own reading. The services tells us it did not have enough time to go through the legislation. It produced a note on the designation of the UK as a "safe country", which I will come to back to.

It is more than ironic that we are rushing through this Bill and we also have no idea of the detail of the amendments to come because we rushed other legislation through. We had a High Court case and a Supreme Court case, one of which found fault with the level of quantum in the new guidelines that were brought in. I will come to that but we are trying to rectify it in this Bill. The other case relates to the judgment on designating the United Kingdom as a safe country. When the Minister shakes her head, it is difficult for me to continue. She can disagree with me at the end and pick up on the points I make, rather than using the body language she is using because it makes it difficult for me.

I will quote from the judgments, rather than expressing my own opinion on this. It also feeds into a narrative, which I am most unhappy about, that we will increase fines for carriers bringing "bold" people here, not people who are fleeing war and persecution. We are feeding into the narrative, which is very wrong. We are all dealing with it on the ground and it is shocking that the Government is feeding into it. I do not agree with that.

The Government is to come forward with amendments. In the heads of Bill, there was a proposal that barristers would be able to deal with appeal cases after two years. I do not agree with that. I do not know if the Minister is progressing with that proposal. I do not see it mentioned here but I see a whole list of measures she is going to bring forward. It is very difficult to do this type of reading, which is my duty as a parliamentarian, without knowing what amendments are coming through, particularly in relation to safe countries. We have been utterly castigated by the court regarding our failure to empower a Minister to carry out the duty property and examine case by case before we return anyone to a safe country. We have utterly failed to do that and we are now going to do it in July, as my colleague said, by way of amendment. That is not acceptable.

I welcome the proposal to increase the number of judges in the Court of Appeal from 17 to 18. I thank the Library and Research Service again for this information. We are aware that there was a phase 1 and there was supposed to be a phase 2. The Government was supposed to carry out a review of phase 1 in relation to the number of judges. The plan was laid out but there is no context here. We are told the number of judges will increase to 18 because Ms Justice Ann Power has been moved to the Defence Forces inquiry. I wish her all the best but we have no idea about phase 2, which was announced by the Government, of the increase in the number of sitting judges. We have huge delays. Later tonight, Deputy Daly and I and another Deputy will raise the action being taken, most reluctantly, by barristers. I can say that as someone who does not have a conflict of interest because I left the profession, if one can ever leave it, in 2016. Barristers are being forced tonight to take action they do not want to take because they are underpaid. We rely on barristers and solicitors and we do not have enough judges. Yet, we are putting an emphasis on the "bold" people fleeing war and putting the blame on them. I am very wary of narratives coming from Governments to suit their own purposes.

I will not go into the details of the numbers required as they have already been outlined by Deputy Howlin and others.

Part 4 proposes to make amendments to reflect the Supreme Court judgment in the Delaney case. What did that judgment tell us? The court upheld the constitutionality of the guidelines, which the Minister and I welcomed. However, the majority went on to say that section 7(2)(g) of the Judicial Council Act 2019, which empowers the Judicial Council to adopt personal injury guidelines, was an unconstitutional interference with the independence of the Judiciary. This is very serious, is it not? If I was in the Minister's place, I would welcome the fact that Supreme Court upheld part of the Act but interfering with the independence of the Judiciary is a serious statement. Surely it is our role in this House to reflect on what is happening. We cannot do so in this rushed way, although it does not seem very rushed now with an empty Dáil. In the process, the library staff told us they did not have enough time. We are now going to rectify that for all future amendments. I am not quite sure how that happened, although I heard Deputy Howlin refer earlier to the Dáil having at some stage approved the guidelines, saying this gave the authority and that, from now on, the Dáil will have to approve any changes to the guidelines. One would imagine that would be a notice of caution for us, to reflect, use the pre-legislative scrutiny and examine the matter. I cannot imagine why this is not being done.

I welcome the initiative on firearms and defensive weapons, but there is a great absence of statistics. The library has given statistics on the number of knives confiscated. There is a difference between holding a knife, possession of a knife and possession of a knife with intent to use it. To a certain extent I welcome that we are putting a very serious emphasis on those types of crimes and increasing the penalties. However, none of this can never be looked at in isolation, without looking at what Deputy Daly mentioned about restorative justice. All the time we seem to be talking in a vacuum and feeding into a narrative that people have to be punished. I would be the first person to want somebody to be punished for using a knife. I am not making that point. I am making the point that it must be discussed in a greater context. Our prisons are overwhelmed. We are constantly being told that our prisons are overcrowded and overwhelmed. We are not putting the same emphasis on this as we are on increasing penalties, without the statistics to tell us whether this is effective or not. There is no emphasis on restorative justice or taking other ways. For example, tomorrow I will come back to that horrible phrase "domestic violence". I am not using it anymore - violence is violence. We have never looked at the reason the perpetrators continue to perpetrate this type of violence, notwithstanding that in 1997, the interdepartmental task force advised that we needed to look at the perpetrators.

On the designation of the UK as a safe third country, this has never been done before. It is the first time we have designated a country as a safe third country, as distinct from a safe country of origin, which is a different concept. We have designated the UK. What have we been told by the A and B case, as it is known? We have been told that the designation was unlawful and ultra vires. They go into great detail, as does the library and the judgment, as to why that was unlawful and ultra vires. It tells us a lot about England and Rwanda and what started off as partnership and then became some sort of a treaty. It tells us a lot about England. Hopefully, if the electorate votes in a different party, we might get rid of that pact. I live in hope.

As regards what this country has done, we have allowed successive Ministers to function without empowering them, through legislation, to analyse each case on a case-by-case basis. While the judge pointed out that we are under an obligation, full stop, to disallow any national legislation that is not in keeping with our European and international obligations, she went on to say that we need to enable the Government to carry out the onerous obligations on it under international and European law and the European convention, that we have to analyse, case by case, before we return a human being and that we have to ensure that protective guidelines and criteria are set down. We are now going to do this by amendment. We have no sight of that amendment. We are going to rush this through next week. The Minister can see our frustration. I want to work with her.

I want to empower the Minister to look at each case to make sure, on a case-by-case and also on a continuum basis, that the country designated as a safe place continues to be a safe place. There are ongoing obligations. That is what the court has told us. We have a Supreme Court case and a High Court case in two separate areas that tell us we have utterly failed but instead of reflecting on that and bringing forward miscellaneous amendments in the true and correct sense of that word, namely, the correction of errors and so on, the Government will bring in important amendments next week following the case and what was outlined by the judges. We have tried to address one of those cases in this Bill and the other will be addressed next week. I read about other amendments for the first time in the Minister's statement. There is half a paragraph on the amendments she is going to introduce. That is not a way to do business. While I appreciate the Minister might be under pressure, I see no pressure in relation to this. Bringing forward the main substance of a Bill in amendments is simply unacceptable.

7:10 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Before I call the Minister, I again feel obliged to say something. I am agnostic on this legislation, as I am on all legislation, but it is now 6.21 p.m. The note in front of me states that this Bill should continue to be debated until 7.29 p.m., after which it is due to be adjourned. I am about to call the Minister. Why? It is because there is nobody else here to participate in the debate. I do not know what happened in the Seanad, and it does not much interest me what happened there, and I do not know what will happen next week. I do agree that when the Government rushes legislation it takes a big risk. I do not like the use of the guillotine, as I have said frequently. I think it is a bad move when legislation is guillotined but, for God’s sake, I do not think we can blame the Minister or anyone else if an hour before we are due to end a debate which was scheduled to adjourn, there is nobody here to participate.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are not responsible for backbenchers who do not come into the House.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source


Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

My point was in relation to pre-legislative scrutiny-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source


Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----on the committee. We have fulfilled our obligations as parliamentarians.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes, and the Deputy’s point is very well made about the comments made by the Library and Research Service when it got the legislation - I take all that - but where are the Members? This is not the first time we have arrived at a point where debate on legislation is to be concluded early because there are not people here to discuss it. If there is one big problem with this Dáil, although there are probably many, it is that we are not seeing sufficient intensive debate on legislation.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Maybe the reason for that-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

No, I will call the Minister.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----is that people know there is going to be no discussion.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will call the Minister. I am not hearing from anyone else.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

If the Ceann Comhairle is making comments, we are entitled to make a response.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Well, yes. The Deputy has made her comments and I will bear them in mind. I am making comments because my job is to be the referee. My job is the process and I am explaining the process as it is operating here. I call the Minister.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I do appreciate the Deputies who are here and have raised points. I will always take them on board and engage where issues have been raised. To clarify, I was shaking my head in relation to the comment on the Seanad because I attended the Seanad and there were no Opposition Senators there to discuss or debate any elements of this Bill.

In terms of this being a miscellaneous provisions Bill, Deputy Howlin and I spoke about this when we discussed the last such Bill, of which this may be the fourth I have introduced in the past four years. The reason we have miscellaneous provisions Bills is that there are cases where changes are required. They may be minimal, amendments or responses to courts that do not naturally fit into other legislation passing through the Houses. If we were to wait for other legislation, some would never be done. They tend to happen towards the end of a term because these issues have arisen during the term and this is the only mechanism to enact them. While I appreciate the timing is not always perfect, at the same time, these are important changes that are needed, particularly those where we have judgments in the courts. I appreciate everyone’s support and engagement on this and the timeframe in which we have been trying to enact it.

I will try to touch on some of the points raised. On sentencing for knife crime, I think we all agree that increasing sentencing alone will not prevent people from going out with a knife or with an intention of carrying out a crime with a knife. It is, however, one of a number of things we need to do to reduce the number of incidents. They have been slowly increasing. To take some of the figures around convictions, for the section 95 offence, possession of a knife in a public place with intent to cause injury, the number of convictions increased by ten between 2020 and 2023. That is a small number but it is still an increase. However, if we take the offence of production, while committing an offence or in the course of a dispute, of an article capable of inflicting serious injury, convictions have increased from 90 to 152. We must acknowledge that these types of crimes are increasing and there is an increase in convictions.

The reason for setting a higher maximum penalty is to provide more flexibility for the judge. If a judge opts for the highest end of the maximum sentence and there are mitigating factors, such as a guilty plea, taken into account, the sentence is suddenly much lower. Any time the maximum sentence is increased, it is to give greater flexibility where there are mitigating factors. However, this has to be done with other things, such as youth diversion programmes which are very important for younger people. Funding for these programmes has increased by 10%. I have been working on this with the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, for the past three years. The budget is now €33 million, which means we can now start to focus on and be more targeted in certain areas, working with younger people.

We also have certain programmes being rolled out across the country. Only recently, I visited Moyross Youth Academy, a wonderful youth diversion programme that works hand in hand with education. The community safety innovation fund, which was established by this Government to take proceeds of crime and put it directly back into communities, has developed a new programme called Céim ar Chéim. It is about non-violent conflict resolution, in particular with younger people, specifically looking at knife crime. That money has come directly from that fund. It is all these things. We are investing in all these types of programmes, working with youth diversion programmes. Sentencing as a tool when someone has been convicted is also really important. It is about making sure we invest in every part of the justice system, not just increasing sentencing. This work was done by the anti-social behaviour forum. It is a recommendation I am happy to accept and it is important we put it in place.

Speaking more broadly, Deputies, especially Deputy Gannon, have mentioned the community safety partnership and spoken about breaking the cycle. It is not just about breaking the cycle between a family or generations but the cycle of how we do things. The whole point of the partnerships is to move away from the idea that community safety is just a matter for the Garda or for gardaí to be able to respond. It has to be a whole-of-community response. It is not that there is a big pot of money that will be put aside, separate from all the Departments. It is getting the Departments, agencies and the people delivering services around the table to look at how to connect everything that is being done and do so more efficiently, with a particular focus and emphasis on community safety. That money is already in the health service, youth diversion programmes and education. It is already in government. It is about how it is spent and how we better co-ordinate thinking about community safety. I am not sure if that message has got across but it is about breaking the cycle of how we have always looked at community safety and doing it in a different way.

On the increase in retirement age, I am speaking from a justice perspective and engaging with prison officers, as I did at their conference in Sligo this year, and gardaí. There are members who do not want to retire at 60 years and they do not have a choice. Increasing retirement age will not force everybody to work until the age of 62. People can still retire before that but it gives an option and acknowledges that people want to work and are able to work for longer. We have to consider that when it comes to the fast accrual, and Deputies have raised this, is that it is there for a reason. It has always acknowledged that in certain types of work, people have to retire earlier because they may not be able to do work for longer. Therefore, there is 20 years of normal accrual and ten years of fast accrual. If people suddenly start working longer, obviously the reason for fast accrual starts to weaken. If a member joins at 20 and works for 30 years, he or she will still have their full accrual pension and can retire at 50 and do something else. That does not change here. Someone who joins later, as people can now do at the age of 35 or 36, he or she will still get some of that fast accrual and will still get a normal accrual at between 60 and 62. Obviously, if people work longer, the rationale for that begins to diminish. It will not impact those who are already there and can retire at that age. This has been sought and it is important that we maintain the expertise and knowledge, not only within An Garda Síochána and the Prison Service but also within the Defence Forces. If that age were to increase even further, it would have to be done in consultation with the organisations. I would not suggest otherwise for a second.

The Damache judgment has been raised a number of times in the last week or two. This power already exists. It is one the Minister already has in certain instances where someone has already obtained citizenship through fraudulent means or now poses a threat or risk to the State.

It is a power the Minister already has in certain instances where somebody has obtained citizenship through fraudulent means or he or she now poses a threat or risk to the State. There was a judgment which suggested that there needed to be a change in how that was applied and that is simply what is happening here.

Very briefly, regarding judges, I have introduced 24 new judges into our system, which is the largest increase ever. That is on top of the six High Court judges and those in the Court of Appeal before that. There will be a second tranche of 20 judges. The work of the review is under way at the moment. I very much intend to stick to that deadline but we have just not got to the point where that has been published yet. Separately then, obviously the Family Courts Bill will move to take so much of the delays mentioned by Deputy Daly into a separate family court structure giving them their own structure separate to what exists now. That will obviously require resources and additional supports as well but I hope to be able to progress that Bill as soon as possible. Regarding the sentencing guidelines, the Judicial Council is working to provide them as soon as possible and I hope to have an update soon.

Finally, in terms of the fines review, we have looked at what types of fines were applied across the EU. Therefore, we are bringing this very much in line with our counterparts in the EU but there has to be a level of engagement as well. It is not just about the stick, if I can put it that way. We have worked really closely with airlines over the past number of years and what that has resulted in is the staff themselves having a greater understanding of what to look for and how they can spot and identify if documents are false or incorrect. Along with fines which are already being applied, that work alone has resulted in about a 40% reduction of people coming with the wrong or false documents. Yes, we need to have an incentive to make sure they are doing it properly but we have to work with them as well and that is what we have always tried to do, as well as the work of the BMU's border management teams and all the work the Garda is doing as well. In general, I welcome the comments by colleagues and I am obviously happy to engage with them between now and next week. The amendments will be published on Thursday so we will have further time to discuss.

Question put and agreed to.