Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Parole Bill 2016: Committee and Remaining Stages


10:30 am

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent) | Oireachtas source

-----it is reasonable for us to seek to intervene at this point in the matter.

Senator Bacik did a slight injustice to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell in not acknowledging what she herself said, namely, that she accepts the principle of the Bill in general. This is an important point. What I hear coming from Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is that she accepts the principle of the Bill but seeks to tweak it in a way that is appropriate given the law we have at present and given the law we will have after the enactment of the legislation.

Although I am very cognisant this is a very serious topic, nonetheless I am grateful to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell for adverting to the Memorare. I am sure it was only a matter of time before she or Senator Bacik did so. I was going to make passing reference to the Catholic Church's evolving teaching on capital punishment, which is interesting. We are not, thankfully, in a capital punishment regime here. To recap on what I said last week in that debate, when section 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990 abolished the death penalty for any offence in Ireland it formally removed the concept of an eye for an eye from our criminal justice code. No human being should ever be deprived of his or her life for any reason whatsoever, no matter how heinous the crime. It is interesting to see how the Catholic Church's teaching has evolved in this area. Certainly under Pope John Paul II the position was very much that it could be acceptable in theory, and this is in the current catechism. One could imagine a country where there was no law and order and where it was not possible to safely incarcerate people, but the position was that it is hard to imagine circumstances in which it could ever be justified. Pope Francis has moved to put the lid on that and state capital punishment can never be justified. This is a position with which we are all comfortable. Respect for life at all stages is what we should aspire to in our law, from its very beginnings to its very end, without exceptions.The abolition of the harsh penalty of death involves a quid pro quo, that is, if the ultimate penalty is not to be available in law, surely it must be expected that the tariff for the most serious crime, murder, should reflect its sheer gravity. That would bring some closure to victims’ families, to the extent that it could ever be possible in those awful circumstances. We cannot and should not take a "lock them up and throw away the key" approach to sentencing, as they seem to do in the United States or at least some parts of it. We must try to ensure the perpetrators of crime are not viewed as a lost cause, incapable of redemption. In an ideal world we would always hope convicted criminals were capable of redemption and reintegration into society. It is worth our while reflecting on the purpose of sentencing, which I accept is to punish. That part is included. There is a penalty due for the wrong one does and it is due to society for the wrong one does to its individual members. There is a lot we could say about the necessary investment of time and resources in systems of restorative justice where justice can also be rendered in some way to the direct victim of the crime which obviously is not possible in the case of murder, but punishment is included as is prevention, while the person is incarcerated, and deterrence, in that others will I hope be prevented by the successful operation of investigation, prosecution, conviction and sentencing. Rehabilitation must always be central to our purposes. There is a balancing that is needed in the system, but before we can win widespread support for the work of rehabilitation, redemption and reintegration into society, it seems that the public must rest assured that an adequate punishment has been imposed and a proper sentence is being served. That is part of the quid pro quoin seeking public confidence in and support for a humane criminal justice system.

It is almost barstool chatter in Ireland. When one hears that somebody was sentenced to life imprisonment, the automatic reaction is to think to oneself that life means X number of years and that the person will be out in seven. There is a need for clarity from the beginning for the integrity of the system, at least to a certain degree, because behaviour in prison and the evolution of a person in it can and should have an impact on matters thereafter. That is part of the work of the Parole Board. Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell and AdVIC noted that what was being proposed mirrored the practice in other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom. That is the reason I support her amendment, although I would perhaps like to see it changed from being the imposition of a specified period to giving the ability to judges to recommend the specified period. I agree with Senator Bacik that what is really needed is structured discretion in sentencing-----


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