Seanad debates

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013: Second Stage


1:50 pm

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

We need to address that issue. The Bill goes some way to addressing the issue. The Bill represents a major reform of the fine payment and recovery system. Once these measures are in force, every person on whom a fine is imposed will be able to opt to pay the fine by instalments over 12 months. Where a person fails to pay the fine in full, including by instalments, he or she will be required to return to the court, depending on his or her circumstances. The court will make either an attachment of earnings order, directing the person's employer to deduct the fine from the person's earnings, a recovery order appointing a receiver to recover assets to the value of the fine - I am aware Senator Feargal Quinn has reservations in that regard - or a community service order. The introduction of an attachment of earnings order for unpaid fines is a commitment in the programme for Government and is likely to be applied in most cases where a fine defaulter is in employment or in receipt of an occupational pension. What about people on social welfare who can afford it? Are such persons exempt? Perhaps the Minister would clarify that issue.

The Bill is designed to increase the level of fines for collection and to keep the numbers of people committed to prison for non-payment of fines to an absolute minimum. We should aim to have as few people as possible in prison for the non-payment of fines because it costs the State a huge amount. As Senator Colm Burke said, the numbers increased to 8,300 in 2012. Those people represent a considerable proportion of those committed to Irish prisons for short periods.

Legislation is already in place requiring judges to take a person's financial circumstances into account when settling a fine. When the Bill is enacted it will be easier for people to pay a fine and if they fail to do so there will be sufficient alternatives available to the courts to all but eliminate the need to commit any person to prison for non-payment of fines. The option, however, will remain.

The Bill also contains a number of administrative changes that will improve the court's capacity to ensure that fines are paid. When the legislation is enacted I hope we will be in a position to implement its provisions in early course. There is no point in enacting legislation if we do not have all the mechanisms in place to implement it. What measures are being considered? How soon can we expect the Bill and the administrative changes included therein to be implemented?


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