Thursday, 11 July 2019
Parole Bill 2016: Committee and Remaining Stages
I wish to reiterate the support of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and that of the Government for this Private Members' Parole Bill, which seeks to establish an independent parole board on a statutory footing and sets out the process to be followed by the board in making its decision. The Government decided in April 2017 to support the Bill and has worked extensively with Deputy O'Callaghan and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to develop amendments to the Bill. I was very pleased to see such broad support in the Houses and would like to acknowledge this spirit of co-operation and genuine understanding here in this House on these issues, which we all agree has lent itself to a very positive and engaging debate today. It is true to say that the principal ideas and values underlying the original Bill introduced by Deputy O'Callaghan on 24 May 2016 have remained intact. I congratulate the Deputy on what is very important and comprehensive legislation.
As Members are aware, the Minister for Justice and Equality currently makes the final decision on parole, which in legal terms at present is a form of renewable temporary release, taking account of recommendations from the non-statutory parole board. Under this Bill the final decision on release will be a matter for the statutory parole board and the release will be on parole proper, a form of conditional release rather than temporary release. The criteria used in making the decision will be clear and open and the factors to be taken into account will be set out in statute. The Bill also raises the eligibility criteria for being considered for the first time for parole to those who served 12 years of a life sentence rather than the current seven years, which the Minister believes is a necessary and proportionate measure to balance rights of these long-sentence prisoners with the need to ensure that the issue of early release is not raised to trouble further the hearts and minds of victims and their families at a point where there is no real prospect of release.
The sentence management facility from which prisoners currently benefit, whereby they are advised and encouraged to take measures themselves to rehabilitate and prepare for the day when they may finally be able to move outside the prison and serve the remainder of their sentence in the community, provided they are of good conduct and do not breach any conditions, will, for prisoners not eligible for parole under the new system, continue to be managed by the Irish Prison Service, which is expert in this area and well placed to put these measures in place in ways that are tailored to the individual circumstances of each sentenced person.
In summary, this is a good Bill. I support its intentions and together with my colleagues here today, I would like to see it enacted as soon as possible. I again thank colleagues in the Seanad for the excellent debate here today, with very interesting questions raised and points made, some robustly and strongly, and that is to be expected when people feel something passionately. I look forward to the Bill's enactment.