Thursday, 11 July 2019
Parole Bill 2016: Committee and Remaining Stages
I express my strong support for the amendment.It is a very important one. It makes sense to ensure there is a mechanism for persons with certain convictions to seek High Court permission to serve on the parole board.
Support for the amendment is present in the current wording of section 12(4), which only disqualifies people in respect of certain convictions, for example, convictions on indictment, convictions involving fraud or dishonesty, or certain declarations or disqualifications under the Companies Act. Obviously, somebody who has a summary conviction which is not for an offence of fraud or dishonesty is eligible to be on the board. It makes no sense to me that certain convicted persons can apply and can be members but others cannot.
When we are thinking about the functions of the parole board, dealing in the first instance with persons sentenced to life and, potentially, with persons sentenced to lengthy sentences of eight years or more, patently, people who have been convicted on indictment of more serious offences should be the people who are serving on boards. If we are agreeing to the principle that persons convicted of certain offences are eligible, surely those convicted of offences for which a lengthier sentence is likely are going to be more important on the board.
I note that the Irish Penal Reform Trust has suggested this amendment. It states it believes the relevance, gravity or seriousness of length of time since an offence was committed must be considered in any assessment of conviction history. This sort of blanket ban on certain convictions, as Senator Ruane has said, is not proportionate and, indeed, lies counter to the stated functions and purpose of the parole board.
I stress my support for the legislation. However, this would be a beneficial amendment to make. If we cannot make it, given the unfortunate shortness of time we have to debate this, the fact we are taking all Stages today and the fact the Dáil is not sitting tomorrow, perhaps we can come back at a later date and amend the legislation. There are a number of ways it could be improved and this is clearly one of them.
Senator Ruane mentioned the issue of appeal. Of course, a difficulty with the Bill as currently drafted is that it no longer has provision for appeal against the decision not to grant parole, as Deputy Jim O'Callaghan’s Bill did in its original inception. That is another procedural issue that could perhaps be dealt with in a different way. All of us have acknowledged Deputy O’Callaghan’s immense contribution in putting his Bill forward, but Second Stage was taken in the Dáil in June 2016, which is more than three years ago. It is unfortunate we have been given such a tight timeframe within which to debate the amendments.