Thursday, 14 January 2016
Order of Business
I note the commencement of the Fines Act, which is a significant development in terms of penal reform that occurred in recent days. This means that we will finally see an end to the automatic practice of imprisoning people for non-payment of fines. This is an issue on which we are all united in this House. There has been a general consensus that we need to end the practice whereby every year thousands of people are sent to prison. It is usually for very short periods of time but, nonetheless, it is a huge burden on those individuals and on the prison system too. We will now finally see an end to that system, with a much more streamlined and fairer criminal justice system emerging as a result. People will be given alternatives of paying fines by instalments, attachment of earnings or community service, rather than having to go to prison for non-payment of fines.
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, made the announcement on foot of relevant IT systems being put in place by the Courts Service, as required to implement the Fines Act. I very much welcome that measure and I know that other colleagues will join me in doing so. If time permits, I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on penal reform. This Government's record on penal reform has been strong, although it may have been generally overlooked. We have seen important and humane initiatives such as the closure of St. Patrick's Institution for young offenders, which we all welcomed before the Christmas recess. In addition, the ending of the process of slopping out in Mountjoy Prison and elsewhere has been proceeding quietly across the prison system but with little public awareness of it. If time permits at some point during the lifetime of this Seanad, I would like us to have a debate on the progress made in penal reform, as well as on the other relevant steps that need to be taken. These include, in particular, the recommendations by the report of the justice committee on penal reform which was published some years ago.
I commend the child care initiative being taken by the Labour Party, including the announcement of a proposed policy to make child care more affordable for parents. It seeks to place a cap on the hourly rate which people pay for child care. Deputy Ciara Conway was on the radio this morning talking about this matter which is also reported in today's newspapers. Child care is a major cost for so many parents, particularly in Dublin where we see crèches and after-school facilities charging high amounts. Clearly this is a real burden for working parents, so I ask the Leader for a debate on that matter if time permits.
I also wish to note the publication this week of Standing up for Working People, Labour's plan for fairness and decency at work. One aspect of this plan covers the policy that those engaged in freelance work, such as freelance journalists or actors, should be entitled to engage in collective bargaining. I hope we will be able to address that matter in Private Members' time in the near future.