Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013: Second Stage
I also welcome the Minister of State to the House and the Bill to Seanad Éireann. It will bring about progress and I echo what previous speakers have stated about it decreasing the number of people imprisoned as a result of failure to pay fines. We know from the figures outlined by the Minister that approximately 8,000 people per year are currently imprisoned for non-payment of fines, and I hope this Bill will significantly reduce those numbers.
As outlined the Bill provides a number of options for people to pay fines and avoid serving prison time, which will reduce prison numbers. That is always welcome. It is important that the Bill allows us an appropriate alternative proportionate to the offence that has been committed. I particularly welcome the measure in section 5 which states that circumstances will be taken into account by the court before any fine is imposed; this ensures that no harsh or unfair measures will be introduced. I also welcome the provision for an option to undertake community service, as it can benefit society and individuals and is an alternative remedy to the position in which they find themselves. In difficult financial times, people are making tough choices and very often they are made on behalf of children and the family. It is not something people design, and we know that many instances of families breaking up arise from financial issues. We encourage people to pay fines but if that is impossible, we must find appropriate alternatives proportionate to the offence. The majority of people are imprisoned in Ireland because of minor offences, so we must find other ways to deal with matters in an appropriate justice system, especially when people simply cannot pay fines because of financial difficulties. The Bill provides alternatives, such as community services or garnishing of salaries.
We can also consider benefits to the State, including a reduction in prison numbers and the processes through which the State must go. I look at this Bill in how it can help families, as it provides a way out, which is why I wholeheartedly welcome the legislation. It is an appropriate way for us as a State to deal with the issue.