Seanad debates

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

6:20 pm

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann:acknowledges the Government's commitment to further develop and expand the restorative justice process throughout the State;
reiterates the rights of victims of crime to receive appropriate information, support and protection and to participate in criminal proceedings, where appropriate;
acknowledges and affirms the work of the National Commission on Restorative Justice;
notes that the Probation Service, in partnership with community based organisations, is engaged in the promotion, development and delivery of restorative justice initiatives and that the extension of restorative justice programmes is a strategic priority for the Probation Service;
recognises the experience and positive outcomes associated with the application of restorative justice in Northern Ireland;
recognises the work of the Nenagh Community Reparation Project, the Restorative Justice Service and Le Chéile Restorative Justice Project in the provision of restorative justice pilot programmes in their respective areas;and calls on the Government:to support the Minister for Justice in the development and extension of restorative justice to the greatest possible extent, as a nationwide non-custodial option available to the criminal justice system; and
to commit to the implementation of EU Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and Council of 25th October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, supports and protection of victims of crime.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, for the debate on this important motion. When I was first elected to Seanad Éireann, I was appointed to the Oireachtas committee on justice. As part of my work on this committee, I was a member of the penal reform sub-committee which was researching and reporting on better ways of dealing with penal reform. Part of that process involved visits to Mountjoy Prison and Cork Prison, as well as St. Patrick's Institution. I was struck by the number of people who should really not have been in prison. Being there was going to do nothing for them or society. Unfortunately, prison life does not augur well in preparing people for life after incarceration. Despite the best efforts of prison governors and staff, prison life is harsh and can make inmates angry.

Do the victims of crime want this? Do they understand prison life does nothing to rehabilitate the offender, the person who committed a crime against them? We are leaders in our own right and here to improve society, to make it a better place. I do not understand how society benefits from having young men, in many cases possibly for their second or third offence, in prison. I have been trying to identify a better way to deal with this. Going through my work programme for the year with my parliamentary assistant, I was explaining my frustration following these prison visits. My assistant asked me if I had ever heard of the restorative justice process, which I had not. After tabling this motion, I have found that many of my colleagues have not heard of it either. This debate is, accordingly, timely.

The National Commission on Restorative Justice produced a valuable report in 2009 which outlined the benefits of such a system. For those who are not aware of it, it is a means by which the victim and the offender are brought together through a restorative conference process. The victim has a central role in ensuring the perpetrator of the crime against him or her understands the impact the crime has had on him or her. It appeals to the good nature of the majority, even criminals. The process does not have any legal status for adults, but it does for children. The 2001 Children Act provides the juvenile courts process with a restorative justice framework and speaking to those who have used it, they regard it as successful.

The Probation Service and An Garda Síochána have done their best to embrace the principles of restorative justice through several successful pilot projects in south County Dublin and north Tipperary. The latter was extended from covering Nenagh specifically to include the whole of north Tipperary. There is also programme in place in parts of Limerick city. I welcome Ms Nadette Foley from Facing Forward and some of her colleagues to the Visitors Gallery who are gently pushing the principles and philosophy of restorative justice. The reality is that the Irish Prison Service is not working. Incarceration costs ¤65,000 per year per prisoner, while the cost of the restorative justice process is ¤3,500. The victims of crime in society deserve a better deal, as do offenders. Restorative justice clearly offers a better deal for the victim, the offender, the public interest and society. It is a process for which the country can set best practice internationally, as we have done through our peacekeepers and missionaries.

We have set best practice in areas such as the smoking ban and in myriad areas throughout the short period of our democracy. Our neighbours in Northern Ireland have set best practice in restorative justice but I believe this country has the wherewithal to create a new thinking, a new way of dealing with crime, a new way of ensuring that the victims of crime and their needs become centre stage and that the communities in this society which have been the victims of crime, of which there are many, take centre stage.

The figures speak for themselves. The pilot programmes have shown that 78% of offenders who engaged in the restorative justice process have not re-offended. Can we say that 78% of prisoners who have served their sentences and gone back out have not re-offended? Absolutely not. This is a win, win, win situation. It is a case of "Yes", "Yes", "Yes". The reality is that this approach is cheap, cost-effective, it treats people as human beings, it respects the dignity of all people, it respects the dignity not only of the victim but also of the offender and it respects the dignity of their families.

In the course of being introduced to this process I attended some very worthwhile lectures which took place throughout the city. I heard from genuine volunteers who are working under the radar trying to deliver a message of difference and hope, a message that we can do things differently, that we can do things more cost effectively and that we can do things while respecting the human dignity of everyone. We have a great society. This will not cost money; in fact it will save money. This is something that must happen; there is no alternative. The Irish Prison Service is bursting at the seams and it is not working. This is clear if one goes to any of the prisons. I have been there as have members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. It is proven beyond doubt that they are overcrowded, primarily with people who should not be there in the first place.

The pilot programmes in existence in south Dublin, north Tipperary, Limerick and within the youth services should be extended nationally. The Government should make the resources available to run a properly-funded national restorative justice programme. We have the expertise in terms of the restorative justice community, who are doing great work. We have the expertise within the Probation Service, which is a partner in this process. We have the expertise within An Garda Síochána, which is embracing this in the various areas. I have attended lectures at which members of the Garda have spoken about their pride in the programmes of restorative justice. We need to take this and run with it.

I am pleased that no counter motion has been tabled. I hope this motion will receive the unanimous support of Seanad Éireann. It is probably the first time that a restorative justice motion has been put forward in the House and received unanimous support and that is useful. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, through my work, has agreed to a module on restorative justice. I hope we will invite in some of the participants to give evidence and then produce a report for Government on how a national programme could be run effectively. The results speak for themselves. I commend the motion to the House.

6:25 pm

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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Before I call on Senator Burke to second the motion I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House. I neglected to do so at the start of the debate. You are always a welcome face here.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank my colleague, Senator Conway, for bringing forward this motion. I fully support and second the motion. This issue is something we need to address in this country. That is something we have not done in real terms. There has been little if any major reform of the criminal justice system and little has been done to see if there is a better way of dealing with the criminal and assisting the victim. This is something we need to do. It was Gandhi who said that an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind. While victims seek to ensure that perpetrators are identified and brought to account for their actions, the vast majority are keen to ensure that the person who has perpetrated a crime does not repeat it.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system we currently have is like a revolving door. One need only go to any of the courts to find that the people before the courts were there six months ago, 12 months ago, 18 months ago or two years before that. In other words, this is not their first time in the courts.

The motion refers to a directive from the European Parliament dated 2012. The purpose of the directive is to establish minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. The articles refer to the need for the victim to understand and be understood, receive information, be heard, have access to victim support services, enjoy safeguards in the context of restorative justice services, be protected and enjoy privacy and be individually assessed to identify specific protection needs. The directive states that practitioners likely to come into contact with victims should be trained and that member states should provide data and statistics to the European Commission. The directive is focused on the issue of victims because until recently victims were excluded from the process. This motion includes victims in a way such that we can have the person involved in the crime and the victim working together with the local community with regard to looking at a better way forward, rather than what we have done in the past.

It is interesting to consider the report of the National Commission on Restorative Justice. It presents restorative justice as a forward-looking, problem-solving approach to crime which involves the parties and the community generally in an active relationship with various agencies. It argues that restorative justice brings victims and offenders into contact with each other and gives victims an opportunity to get answers to questions that are of direct concern to them. It also gives victims a chance to explain to offenders the real impact and consequences of their wrongdoing. Accordingly, it can be a significant experience which may provide the victim with a degree of closure, a point singularly important following any crime; it is crucial to ensure that the victim feels that there is closure at some stage in the process. Far too often victims see no closure.

Earlier I referred to reform in the criminal justice system. The Minister of State will probably be aware of a project dating from 1996 in Cork. The project was led by Colm O'Herlihy who works in the Irish Prison Service. It was an important project. We have a revolving door prison system but we are not proactive enough in trying to steer people in a different direction. The project was done in Cork Prison. He got approximately 20 people who were in prison to go on an education programme. At the same time he got their partners, who were not in prison but who were giving support to the prisoners, to go on an education programme as well. When they came out of prison approximately 12 of the 20 went back to full-time education. This goes to show what real reform is about. That was one project which was very successful and it is a pity that we have not done more like it. While we have done some work, we need to do a good deal more. This process of restorative justice must be developed, encouraged and put in place far more extensively, rather than then simply relying on two pilot projects.

Compared to the 1996 project, it was a success, but unfortunately we have not done enough of a follow-up to ensure that success will benefit others. I welcome this motion and fully support it. It is a case of all of us working together to try to bring about the change required.

6:35 pm

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I support this important motion and thank Senator Conway for making the effort and going to the trouble of putting the motion before the Seanad. I compliment him on the diligent and effective work he does as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. As a member of that committee, I am acutely aware of the tremendous interest and effort he has put into it.

It was the Fianna Fáil Party which introduced the pilot projects on restorative justice and initiated the National Commission on Restorative Justice in 2007 to set out the potential for restorative justice in Ireland. It is imperative that victims are placed at the heart of the justice system and that offenders face the full rigour of the law, with a view to curbing recidivism and making amends for the wrongdoing that has been done. We have inherited the British common law system of penal justice, which is outdated and in need of reform. We recognise that the principal stakeholders in the restorative justice system are the victims, the offenders, the community and the State and it is important we consider all these aspects of our system. I am convinced of the Hegelian notion propagated by Trotsky or someone like him that we have a thesis, antithesis and synthesis, but unfortunately our society has never gone the full hog to a state where we have no crime. I wish that was the case.

The report of the National Commission on Restorative Justice describes restorative justice as an "invaluable cost effective option" for the criminal justice system. The report states that the cost of running such a programme or pilot project is approximately ¤3,250 per adult, compared to the ¤97,700 required annually for a prisoner in detention. The report also suggests and estimates that annual savings of up to ¤8.3 million can be made by replacing prison placement with the use of restorative justice and suggests expansion nationwide of the two trial projects currently in place in Tallaght in Dublin and Nenagh in County Tipperary. It should also be noted that court referred conferences are mandated under the Children Act 2001, to explore ways in which young persons can take responsibility for their behaviour and its consequences and, where possible, make amends to victims. It is important we tackle crime by young offenders as closely as possible in this manner because once people become habitual criminals, it is more difficult to get through to them, particularly if they have passed the age of 18 or 21.

I made the point here previously that the relationship between our system and society is somewhat like that between Pontius Pilate and Our Lord and their society. The demand of society is to "crucify" the criminal. As a solicitor and politician, I have often come across the attitude that we should just lock up these young criminals and throw away the key. While that might be a short-term solution, it is not right. We should always seek a better solution. I have visited Cork, Mountjoy and Portlaoise prisons and in those prisons I have come across many prisoners who have mental illness problems. These could be the result of the abuse of drink or drugs and some people may have been abused growing up. Professional counsellors and psychotherapists should be available to prisoners.

When I visited Cork Prison many years ago, I found that while there were approximately 350 prisoners, they only had one psychotherapist available to them and he visited only one day a week. I met the man involved and he told me he could do with visiting every day and could do with two or three assistants, because of the number of prisoners there who needed help. If a person is given a six or 12-month sentence and is then released without having received any assistance of this nature, the easiest thing for that person to do is to fall back into the same trap, thereby creating the revolving justice system mentioned by Senator Burke and others. Whether we like it or not, that is what we have.

Fianna Fáil believes that the justice process should be as inclusive as possible and that the outcome should be lead and shaped by local people. Local solutions for local issues should be the shared goal for both the community and the criminal justice system. We understand that the system needs to deal with serious crime, but in the case of low-level crime, it is vital we involve the community in so far as we can. We need to be responsive to the needs of victims and we need to use the criminal justice resources effectively to provide protection, redress and rehabilitation. Ultimately, whatever route we travel, we must ensure that those who offend face the full rigours of the law and that victims remain at the forefront of the justice system.

The experience elsewhere and from the two pilot projects indicates that restorative justice serves as a real alternative to locking up offenders, reduces re-offending and gives victims a sense that they are at the centre of the justice system. I wait anxiously to hear the Minister of State's response and I thank Senator Conway for raising this issue. I am not always so decent to the Government side, but I thank all of them for exploring this important initiative across the political boundary because it is above and beyond politics.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House and look forward to hearing her response to this debate. I commend Senator Martin Conway on his initiative in putting this important motion to the House. I also welcome the groups represented in the Visitors Gallery, who agree it is very important we debate this issue, particularly in the wake of the report of the National Commission on Restorative Justice.

I have a strong interest in this area. Along with Senators Conway and O'Donovan, I have shared in the work being done by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in the area of penal reform. Next Wednesday, we will publish a report on the issue which will complement this debate because it focuses on the back door strategies or end of sentence strategies and on issues such as remission and the community return programme. The committee has been looking at addressing overcrowding and appalling conditions in prisons and at addressing the high rates of recidivism or re-offending through dealing with end of sentence and sentence management within prisons. Therefore, it is useful that tonight we are debating issues around the pre-sentence and how we can divert offenders away from custody in the first place.

Restorative justice has a long history in Ireland. In our indigenous legal system, the Brehon law system which predated the introduction of the common law system, there was a very well-established restorative justice model, whereby the families of a victim were paid an honour price by the offender by way of reparation for the wrong done to the victim's family. This is a traditional model we share with other indigenous systems. However, this system has been overwhelmingly replaced in our modern criminal justice system by retributive principles, whereby people are given a sentence proportionate to the seriousness of the crime they have committed, on a sort of "just desserts" or proportionate basis. While this is a standard model of criminal justice, there are many problems and flaws within it, as mentioned by Senators Conway, Burke and O'Donovan. We have rejected other models such as deterrents and incapacitation. I believe we should emphasise rehabilitation as a model more in our sentencing system, but I also believe restitutive or restorative justice has a very important role to play and I would fully endorse the recommendations of the commission in terms of implementing these on a national basis.

We have some existing models in statute. We have a provision in our criminal law whereby judges can order compensation be paid by an offender to a victim. Although this is not used as extensively as it could be, it could be built into a more structured restorative justice system on a national basis. Under the Children Act 2001, we also have a provision, at the juvenile stage, for victim offender mediation. It is worth noting that the interest in restorative justice has taken off in modern Ireland since the second have of the 1990s. Therefore, this is all fairly new.

The pilot projects mentioned by Senator Conway began in 1999, when approval was received for the payment of grants through the probation service. Those projects in Nenagh and Tallaght were analysed at some length when the National Commission on Restorative Justice, which was established in 2007, issued its final report in 2009. Importantly, this work was predated by the Oireachtas oral hearings on the benefits of restorative justice methods in Ireland, which took place at the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights in 2006. The committee's report, which was launched in January 2007, contained ten recommendations proposing that restorative justice be developed as a more regular feature of the Irish criminal justice system. A good deal of work has been done. Later in 2007, following the publication of the joint committee's report, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform launched the National Commission on Restorative Justice. Our distinguished predecessor in this House, Dr. Mary Henry, who has a long-standing interest in restorative justice, was among the members of the commission, which was chaired by Judge Mary Martin.

The report of the National Commission on Restorative Justice contained some exciting and clear recommendations relating to the potential of restorative justice with regard to diversion from prison. It suggested that "between 290 and 579 persons due to be sanctioned before the courts could be diverted from being given a custodial sentence" and that this could bring about "a reduction of between 42 and 85 prison spaces per annum". That would be an important part of an overall programme of penal reform or decarceration. In any of these models, there is always a danger of "net widening", as it is called in criminology, whereby people who might not otherwise have been sent to prison are brought into the net. In other words, we need to be mindful that judges tend to impose restorative justice orders on people they might not otherwise have sent to prison. The commission has recommended that the restorative justice model should be confined to people who would otherwise be serving sentences of up to three years.

As I have said, the commission's recommendations are very important. Most notably, it recommended that the models of restorative justice should be rolled out with nationwide application by 2015 at the very latest, that restorative justice should be grounded in legislation and that the probation service should continue to take the lead as part of a multi-agency approach. All of us would endorse those important recommendations and would concur with what Senator Conway said when he welcomed the somewhat limited extension of the pilot projects. We all want the 2009 report to be followed up. We want a national strategy, building on the great work that is still being done in Nenagh and Tallaght, to be developed. Senator Conway mentioned the work that is being done in this regard by Le Chéile in Limerick. There is a need for further monitoring and for an up-to-date review of the way restorative justice programmes are operating. There is no doubt that these programmes will be of huge benefit to our criminal justice system when they are rolled out nationally. I commend Senator Conway for taking this initiative.

6:45 pm

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I wish to mention at the outset that the previous Government put in place the first project of this kind. We need to acknowledge that Máire Hoctor, who served as a Minister of State in one of the areas for which I am now responsible, was instrumental in putting the project in place.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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When the victims of crime and their families are interviewed on their way out of court - this generally happens in cases of far more serious crimes - one seldom hears them expressing satisfaction with the end process. Regardless of how well-intentioned the court process is, in most cases neither the perpetrator nor the victim is terribly satisfied with how justice is administered. I join others in congratulating Senator Conway for tabling this interesting motion, which I am addressing on behalf of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Shatter. He cannot be here this evening, unfortunately, because he is in Brussels this week in his capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality. He sends his best regards. He has a deep interest in this area.

Restorative justice is a system of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. It uses processes that bring those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, into communication with one another. It enables everyone who is affected by an incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward. In welcoming the opportunity to discuss the motion and listen to the contributions being made, I particularly thank the Senator who tabled this motion for his support of important victim-sensitive measures within the criminal justice system. There have been differing interpretations of the evolving concept of restorative justice. We do not always find perfect consensus with regard to it. We should base our development of this form of criminal justice on the definition arrived at by the National Commission on Restorative Justice, which operated between 2007 and 2009. The definition provides that "restorative justice is a victim-sensitive response to criminal offending, which, through engagement with those affected by crime, aims to make amends for the harm that has been caused to victims and communities and which facilitates offender rehabilitation and integration into society".

The Minister intends to develop and extend restorative justice practices to the greatest extent possible and offer them as a nationwide non-custodial option in the criminal justice system. The provision of restorative justice practices is a priority for the Probation Service. The restorative principles of admitting and repairing the harm done to the victim and to society by offending behaviour are central to the concept of community service, with which we are already familiar and which the Probation Service delivers so well. They also form a key part of the community return initiative, which was established more recently. Both schemes operate primarily from a reparative model. They require offenders to address the indirect harm to the community caused by their offences by performing unpaid supervised work benefiting that community. Under the community return initiative, prisoners who have already served a custodial sentence are given the structure and the opportunity to engage in restorative practices and avail of the rehabilitative effect of repairing some of the harm they have done and reintegrating into society.

The Probation Service is drafting an integrated restorative justice strategy which will set out a series of actions to be driven by the service in collaboration with its partners. The aim of the strategy is to bring about greater availability and integration of restorative practices at various stages of the criminal justice process in respect of adult offenders. The strategy is intended to include actions that will facilitate the expanding and strengthening of capacity to ensure high-quality restorative justice projects and services are provided. It will also provide for the greater use of restorative practices in the overall assessment and supervision of offenders referred to the Probation Service and partner agencies. If restorative justice practices are to be more widely used, the Probation Service will build awareness and confidence among criminal justice professionals and the general public, helping them to understand that a restorative justice intervention is a viable sanction which can provide benefits for all stakeholders. It is also the intention of the Probation Service to ensure the quality of service provided by restorative justice interventions is consistently high and is in line with agreed restorative practice standards.

In all of its interventions, the Probation Service intends to provide for more inclusive victim-sensitive services, thereby extending the reach of restorative methods. Community members and volunteers will need to have an increased role if this is to happen. The Probation Service works with and within communities to provide services to offenders. Despite our difficult economic circumstances and the ever-increasing pressures on limited resources, the Minister continues to ensure a large proportion of the Probation Service's overall budget is available to fund community-based organisations that are dedicated to the delivery of these services and help them in achieving their strategic objectives. In working with adult offenders, restorative justice has the potential to break the destructive pattern of behaviour of those who offend by challenging them to confront the full extent of the emotional and physical harm they have caused to their victims. As a way of responding to offending behaviour, it balances the needs of the victim, the offender and the community by providing a real and meaningful opportunity to engage in a process where the victims' perspective is considered and represented.

Restorative justice also offers a process whereby offenders take responsibility for their actions and the harm caused by their behaviour to the victim and to society, and commit to making some reparation. This allows the circumstances and factors leading to the offending to be addressed and, very important, allows the community an opportunity to bring its constituent members together for purposeful, solution-focused intervention.

The probation and welfare service, in partnership with community-based organisations and some of its statutory partners, currently delivers a number of restorative justice programmes and interventions. This includes restorative justice projects available to a number of the District Courts in Dublin and the midlands, as well as dedicated restorative justice responses to youth offending through delivery of family conferencing, under the Children Act 2001, and the recently established restorative justice pilot project in Limerick.

Restorative justice practices are in place for juvenile offenders through the provisions of the Children Act 2001, and the Minister is committed to extending such practices to work with adults. It is also worth recalling that restorative justice practices in Northern Ireland are well established, having been formally developed between 1995 and 2004. Flexibility of practice is perceived by Northern Ireland practitioners as the best manner by which to achieve the aims of restorative justice, which are as follows: "to reflect best practice", "[ensure] that victimisation does not occur" and "[ensure]that all parties (victim, offender and community) come away as satisfied as possible with the outcome". In that regard, both the probation and welfare service and the Irish Prison Service are involved with the Restorative Justice Forum of Northern Ireland in planning an all-island event on restorative practices to coincide with international restorative justice week in November 2013. This is yet another welcome example of North-South co-operation, where learning, expertise and experience is shared by key practitioners.

Turning to the directive of the European Parliament and European Council establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, Ireland took a positive approach to the draft directive in the negotiations in the Council working party, at the JHA Council and during the trilogues with the European Parliament. For his part, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, ensured that the enactment of legislation giving rights to victims was a key commitment in the programme for Government.

The victims directive includes a range of provisions for victims to protect them from secondary victimisation and intimidation in the event that restorative justice services are offered. These protections include the requirement that any victim involvement in restorative processes is subject to free and informed consent, which may be withdrawn at any time. The victim should also be provided with full information about the process, possible outcomes and the methods used to supervise the implementation of any agreement reached. In addition, the victims directive requires that any agreement which involves the victim is concluded on a voluntary basis. The directive ensures that the legitimate concerns of the victim are taken into account, where the victim is included in the restorative process. These victim concerns must be addressed, while acknowledging the equally legitimate efforts to rehabilitate offenders.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has long held a deep interest in the needs of victims in the Irish criminal justice system. In 2002 and again in 2008, he tabled a Victims' Rights Bill while in opposition. As further evidence of his commitment to protecting those who find themselves to be the victim of a crime, the Minister has ensured the budget for 2013 for the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime was maintained. The Minister has already instructed officials to begin preparatory work with a view to transposing the directive into Irish law. The final date for transposition of the directive is 16 November 2015.

The House can be assured that the Government is resolute in its commitment to further develop and expand the restorative justice process throughout the State. We must and will continue to do everything we can to ensure its potential as a non-custodial option available to the criminal justice system is explored to the fullest extent possible. Similarly, the Government is committed to ensuring that provision is made for victims to receive appropriate information, supports and protection, where they are called on to engage in restorative processes.

I commend the motion to the House and thank the Senators for putting it forward. It is an example of the freedom that is available in this setting, which is not available in others.

6:55 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is cosúil nach bhfuair sí mórán deis ar an Guinness glas ag an deireadh seachtaine. Tá míle fáilte roimpi agus í linn arís. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Seanadóir Conway a chur an rún seo síos. Cuireann sé croí agus anam i ngach rud a dhéanann sé sa Teach seo. Is maith an aghaidh air an obair atá déanta ar an rún seo aige.

I am happy to take this opportunity to speak in the debate and I commend the Fine Gael motion and Senator Conway on putting it forward. I and the Sinn Féin Party are happy to support the motion. Sinn Féin has long been an advocate of the restorative justice approach. It is my view that the benefits of this approach, as it has been applied in the North, remain clear for all to see. I am very pleased this is an idea which is gaining more and more political support throughout the island.

I understand that last October saw a presentation given by the two main umbrella groups that are responsible for restorative justice in the North - Community Restorative Justice Ireland and Northern Ireland Alternatives - to the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and that they gave an insightful and evidence-based account of the effects of such an approach. These are organisations which are heavily embedded in their communities and also partner with housing, health and social affairs authorities in their work.

The key point of the approach and the philosophy is that the focus is on rehabilitation of offenders and ensuring justice is done while, at the same time, not being punitive and ensuring that the offender can be in a position to add to their community and repay their debt to the same community. According to Community Restorative Justice Ireland, the practice is based on eight key principles which underpin its whole philosophy and approach, namely, participation, interconnectedness, honesty, humility, respect, accountability, hope and empowerment. Where such an approach can be used, we should seek to make use of such a humane approach.

I noticed with interest the Minister, Deputy Shatter's response to a question tabled by my colleague, Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, on 24 October last. Indicating his support for the scheme, he made an interesting point regarding the place of victims within such a system. He said: is interesting that restorative justice essentially requires offenders to speak for themselves from start to finish whereas if one brings them into a court system, apart from saying "guilty" or "got guilty", the offender may say nothing at all in court, and certainly is not emotionally engaged necessarily in an exchange where he perceives the person against whom the offence was committed as truly a victim of that offence. No doubt offenders find the restorative justice process emotionally demanding and tough and it gives them an opportunity to see the victim as a person and to say "Sorry" to him. There is really no chance of doing that in a court process. It happens only occasionally.
This is an important point and I agree there is a clear philosophy there which encourages seeking forgiveness and so on.

As for its efficacy, the facts speak for themselves. The recidivism rates with programme participants were 8% to 9% within a year of completion of the programme compared to 50% to 60% for those offenders incarcerated in mainstream prisons. In many ways, this is not surprising as putting people in prisons, particularly where they are overcrowded and the conditions are poor, can be damaging and can even add to the possibility of recidivism. This is particularly the case among younger people.

This is an also an approach which makes economic sense. As we all know, incarceration is extremely expensive, so there are obvious savings which will accrue if the scheme is successful. Simply put, if we can invest in prevention rather than cure, we would save a great deal of money for the taxpayer over the medium to long term. Of course, there are also positive stories for the South and, as the motion notes, the work of the Nenagh Community Reparation Project, the Restorative Justice Services and Le Chéile Restorative Justice Project deserve great commendation.

I might further make the point that schemes such as these should form part of a wider, more community-focused reorientation of justice. Clearly, a scheme such as community restorative justice can only work in partnership with the local community. However, I believe that idea of partnership should be applied right across the board. Local authorities and local gardaí, in conjunction with tenants committees, residents associations and other community stakeholders, are all responsible. Issues concerning justice and safety in a community should be responded to with public meetings on an estate by estate, development by development or even street by street basis. We also believe there would be a value in the drawing up of a collective "good community" agreement.

The Minister will know we have long called for the full roll-out of the joint policing committees, JPCs, across the State and for greater resourcing of designated community gardaí, who are among the most effective tools available to the force in tackling antisocial behaviour, particularly locally. This was brought home to me last Friday at a meeting in Galway about the issue of the increase in burglaries, about which people are very concerned. The main issue coming from the people in the audience was that they want to see gardaí on the streets.

It is a very small thing. It is community policing. Great praise was given to the community police on the streets in Galway city.

Such an approach would fit well with the approach we are discussing with restorative justice. The philosophy inherent in that approach is that not only are there rights that accrue to victims and communities but consequently there are obligations on the victim and community. The offender has an obligation, as the CRJI puts it, to make things right as much as possible and to be an active participant in addressing their own needs and their obligations to victims as restitution takes priority over other sanctions and obligations to the community. Likewise, the community has a responsibility to support and help victims of crime and antisocial behaviour to meet their needs. It has a responsibility for the welfare of its members and the social conditions and relationships which promote crime and antisocial behaviour and community peace and other obligations in a similar vein such as reintegration. Clearly, this philosophy applies to a wider context and we should consider how this can be rolled out across the board and include statutory authorities and the gardaí.

Something like this is not just an issue for the Department of Justice and Equality but is an issue for all Government Departments. Something that would have come forward again on Friday was that the general economic climate is encouraging crime in a number of areas. We have also seen societal disadvantage in areas that would have been measured under the Trutz Haase deprivation index. The areas were still deprived relatively speaking even though money was put into them over the years. Equality of access to services and education was an issue there. It is important for all Departments to put the community first and keep the levels of funding available to community projects, drugs task forces, family resource centres and drug rehabilitation as high as possible.

Even though the Minister for Justice and Equality did much work in opposition on these issues, the date of November 2015 seems a long way off - two and a half years. Could that date be brought forward because this is the type of Bill we would all welcome sooner rather than later?

7:05 pm

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister and Senator Conway in his absence for putting down this motion and for giving me the opportunity to engage in the debate and to learn more about the issue. Restorative justice has a role to play in the justice system. Very strong arguments have been made by previous speakers. The Prison Service is very important but the cost is ¤65,000 for an individual prisoner for one year, while the cost of restorative justice is ¤3,500. That is an important element but it is not the "be all and end all". Senator Conway stated that 78% of those who engaged in the restorative justice process did not re-offend, which is extremely important. Up to 50% or more of prisoners do re-offend.

Obviously, this has a very important role to play in the justice system. I welcome the comments of the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, equality and mental health when she said that the Minister is engaging and ensuring that the directive will be put into place. I do not know whether that can be brought forward or not but the Minister's previous comments demonstrate his commitment to victims' rights and to ensuring their voice is heard. The directive, which was published in November 2012 and has been put in train, focuses on victims' rights. It states in this summary that restorative justice services should only be used if they are in the victim's interests. It is important that the victim be supported in every way. Information should be made available to them, for example, about how they can make complaints, as well as legal advice, information about compensation and contact details for communication about their cases and supports should be provided to them. It is important for the victim, it an individual or community, to be put at the centre. The directive is very supportive of victims, which is what one would expect.

Reading about restorative justice systems, which are available in many countries, I am struck by the type of issues that can be addressed from minor antisocial behaviour to serious crimes like assault and robbery. I am aware of a graffiti programme in Cork where Cork City Council and Cork County Council engage with the Probation Service. Dealing with graffiti under the Litter Pollution Act was very difficult for a long time. Local authorities did not have the resources but the Probation Service now works with local authorities in Cork very productively. It gives offenders an opportunity to make amends to their victims, among which in many cases is the community.

I have huge admiration for the Probation Service. The way it engages with prisoners and ensures they can be supported in re-establishing themselves in society is very important. Rehabilitation services within our prisons have also been mentioned. I had occasion to visit Cork Prison, which is a very bleak place. I am not questioning the fact that individuals are incarcerated in prison but the prison is bleak. It is an old grey building. One does not see any daylight, one cannot find one blade of grass or plant and a huge net covers the yard. It is not a very encouraging place to be and is not the best place in terms of rehabilitation. We need to do more in that area.

I compliment the gardaí on the work they do, particularly the community gardaí. I know previous speakers referred to them. We have a very successful programme in Cork involving the JPCs and from them have come community fora in different locations whereby gardaí are present and the community, public representatives and a range of officials from the local authority get together. It has been extremely successful. I attend three of them on a regular basis. The issues that have been dealt with by the local community, the gardaí and the local authority are wide-ranging. It has been very effective and has the support and confidence of the community. My opening point was that there is much that can be done in the area. One size does not fit all. I again commend Senator Conway and commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs to the House.

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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I welcome the opportunity to agree with this motion and to thank Senator Conway for bringing it to the House. It was not my intention to speak but when others were speaking about restorative justice, I was minded about two visits I made to two young offenders' institutions in the UK when I was working as a journalist. I always remember the lingering sadness of those places where people were locked away and almost forgotten about. Whenever they came out, people were working with them but already the managers were very clear in saying to me and others that this does not work. It is very difficult for the managers of a prison to be working with young offenders in the knowledge that they know it is not working and to try to bring something real to that situation so that those young people might have some hope as they leave. That stuck with me because I had not expected to find it. While we were sitting here talking about restorative justice, it occurred to me that here is a system that allows those young people in particular to take responsibility in a very different way.

Under this system, young people are confronted with what they have done and are given the opportunity to accept responsibility for it. They are obliged to face those whom they have offended and for whom they have caused difficulties. They are also encouraged to look at what they have done in a different way.

We have developed a system through the courts which involves the use of paid interlocutors. I intend no offence to the many legal people present in the Chamber but it must be recognised that we pay other individuals to do the talking and to remove all of the responsibility from those who commit crimes. One of the great aspects of restorative justice is that it restores that responsibility to offenders. It also offers victims the opportunity to have the wrongs done to them acknowledged in a way that is very personal and completely different from that which obtains in the courts.

I welcome those in the Gallery who work in this area and I commend those various communities in Tallaght, Limerick and Nenagh that are involved in restorative justice. I welcome the commitment given by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the effect that the restorative justice system will be not only maintained but expanded. The latter is really important because it provides a signal to those who work in the area that what they do is valued and recognised in the context of the good it has achieved. It is also an acknowledgement that we are on the right path.

The challenge that arises in the context of the restorative justice system lies in ensuring that the dignity of victims is upheld. I am aware that people are concerned by the fact that at present everything seems to revolve around the rights of the offender. It is the rights of victims which should always be taken into account. I am sure this is a very familiar theme and good restorative justice systems obviously take account of it. It must be remembered that offenders also have their dignity and their rights. I am of the view that moving to a system such as this, where their dignity is recognised, is important. Once people are thrown into an adversarial system such as the courts system, from the outset they will be treated as individuals for whom there is less consideration. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that people reoffend. Those who are convicted go straight from the courts to one of our many overcrowded prisons - Senator Clune mentioned visiting the prison in Cork and I have been to Mountjoy - and these are not great places to be. It is no surprise, therefore, that when people are released after serving prison terms, they reoffend. This is because they have been offered very little to assist them in restoring their dignity or availing of opportunities into the future.

Part of the problem with society is that it very much recognises the system that has been put in place. How many films have dealt with what happens in courtrooms, the great drama of somebody being found guilty and being sent to jail and the loud clang as the door to the latter closes? These are very resonant themes that we recognise. Restorative justice is a very brave approach because it attempts, not least, to turn this on its head and state that there is another way of proceeding. It is quite difficult to swim against the tide in terms of the ways of punishing people which we acknowledge and which are rooted in our system. As Senator O'Donovan noted, our need to punish people is very strong. To begin to discuss something which is different from that and to acknowledge that we do not need to punish people in what has become the accepted way is a step forward.

I suggest that not only must we expand the system of restorative justice but we must also begin educating children in school about the way in which responsibility must be taken by offenders and those who engage in wrongdoing. We must also educate them to believe that victims have a right to engage in the process. When many of those present in the Chamber went to school, they may have undergone the public humiliation of being told to stand in the corner if they had done something wrong. The position in schools has, of course, changed but I am of the view that we should begin to educate young people about this matter in order that we might start to overturn the very deep-rooted idea of punishment to which I refer.

The motion calls on the Government to commit to the implementation of EU Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and Council. I am of the opinion that implementing the directive would be of assistance in respect of this matter. I do not know if there are lessons to be learned from those who are involved in early intervention programmes with parents and young children. We are aware that there is very much to be done in terms of trying to get through to such parents and young children by giving them good advice and assistance at an early stage. There must be lessons that can be learned from the programmes to which I refer and perhaps what is learned can be applied to restorative justice programmes. This is an area which may be worthy of consideration.

The findings of the National Commission on Restorative Justice indicates that young men are very much involved in crime and that alcohol is a major problem. In the context of the joined-up thinking I continually advocate, it is clear that action in respect of the consumption and cost of alcohol and the way in which young men, in particular, consume it must be part of any solution at which we arrive with regard to restorative justice. We cannot afford to ignore this problem. The report of the commission also indicates that in Finland and Norway, trained volunteers and lay mediators are very much part of the restorative justice process. Given that we live in a country in which there are many volunteers, perhaps the Government might consider establishing a training programme for lay volunteers in order that they might become involved in the area of restorative justice.

7:15 pm

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley. I compliment Senator Conway on his tabling of this most important motion. I am one of those Members to which the Senator Conway referred, namely, those who previously knew very little about the restorative justice process. This debate has given us the opportunity to learn a great deal about the matter. I was encouraged by the very positive contribution made by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

Earlier this afternoon, I searched for a definition of restorative justice. I wish to read into the record one of the definitions I found, which I like. It states:

Restorative justice is a process where all the stakeholders affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done to repair the harm. With crime, restorative justice is about the idea that because crime hurts, justice should heal. It follows that conversations with those who have been hurt and with those who have afflicted the harm must be central to the process.
If someone can discuss with the perpetrator of a crime the hurt that has been caused and if the latter is given the opportunity to express regret, it would certainly be a move in the right direction.

The victims of crime must be at the centre of our justice system. We all know people whose lives have been damaged and changed for ever as a result of their being the victims of crime. I refer to those whose homes were burgled, who were assaulted or who were the victims of anti-social behaviour of any kind. We must ensure, in the first instance, that the Garda Síochána is properly resourced in order that it might prevent the commission of crime. When a crime occurs, however, in the aftermath the victim must be in a position to be satisfied that justice has been done and has been seen to be done. As the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, acknowledged, this is not always the case. Victims often do not have the opportunity to have their say in court. Likewise, perpetrators are not given the opportunity to apologise to victims in court.

With the exception of serious crimes, I am firmly of the view that - particularly in the case of young offenders - alternatives to prison should be considered. The prison system is completely unsuitable for vulnerable young people. There is a real chance that bad influences within that system may result in such individuals becoming repeat offenders and, in many instances, living a life of crime. It was stated that the cost of keeping someone in prison is ¤65,000 per year. That money is being spent on keeping a system which does not work in operation. A restorative justice system could cost as little as ¤3,500 per offender and could possibly give rise to much more satisfactory outcomes.

In the context of the debate in which we are currently engaging, we must ask why young people find themselves acting outside the law on so many occasions. Is it because they did not engage with the education system, or do factors such as family circumstances, social deprivation and a lack of employment opportunities come into play? I am of the view that the lack of employment opportunities is a real issue.

The key to reducing crime among young people is the provision of opportunities to work and to do something meaningful with their lives. I welcome the youth guarantee scheme initiative which will ensure that when finishing secondary school young people will have an opportunity for further education, training or work experience. Over the years when I worked in industry I had the opportunity to give employment - long-term employment in some cases - or work experience to young people who found themselves outside the law and who had committed crimes. When they engaged with people in a work environment and where people looked out for them and cared for them, their lives were turned around. This is the outcome we want from a restorative justice system.

The Ballinasloe Training Workshop, or Canal House, as it is also known, is in my home town of Ballinasloe. It is operated by the Probation Service in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality, FÁS, County Galway VEC, the local community and the Courts Service. Its aim is to enable offenders to re-integrate into society through the provision of training and employment opportunities, to reduce re-offending through the provision of alcohol and substance misuse awareness programmes, supplemented by appropriate workshops and one-to-one sessions, and to develop restorative community projects with organisations such as the Tidy Towns committee and sporting organisations. The programme is working. It is not as extensively used as we would like but I am reliably informed that as much as two thirds of the people who engage with the process at Ballinasloe Training Workshop do not re-offend.

The restorative justice process presents real opportunities to consider alternatives to prison. As a previous speaker said, it needs to be established in legislation. I welcome the Minister's commitment to further this process. We need a national debate on the issue in order to have engagement from the public. Like ourselves, the majority of people do not know what is involved. We need to take the victims' concerns on board because they must be central to the process. Restorative justice offers significant opportunities at a much reduced cost.

I commend Senator Conway for introducing this motion. I hope it will be the first of many discussions in this House on the matter. I urge the Minister to expedite legislation that will provide real alternatives to the prison system and to a penal system that has failed.

7:25 pm

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I congratulate Senator Conway and Senator Burke for proposing and seconding this motion and other speakers whose contributions I found very interesting. I have long been a believer in the importance of advancing restorative justice processes in our prison system and as an alternative to prison. I urge all present to give consideration to restorative justice as a serious and effective alternative to imprisonment in many cases. Currently the justice system is failing to deliver. It continues to lock up the poor and the vulnerable but it does not prevent crime or deter offenders. It does not address the root causes of crime and it does not manage to rehabilitate offenders very much either. Evidence of this can be found in the high rate of recidivism. The truth is that nobody benefits from crime, neither victims nor the community and under the current justice system the offender does not benefit especially if he or she continues to re-offend.

We have been talking about this for a long time but so much more needs to be done. Back in 2004 the annual report of the prison chaplains contained the combined reflections and experiences of those chaplains. They questioned the current system where people are imprisoned and a method of rehabilitation is attempted. However, it is questioned whether this can have a positive effect when people are removed from their family and society, when all responsibility is removed from them, such as the responsibility to earn a living, to care for their families and to become contributing members of society. I am not denying, of course, that there are situations where the custodial dimension is essential. However, we need to be realistic about what occurs under the current system where prisoners are confined to their cells for more than 17 hours a day with nothing to occupy them only television and computer games. As many who enter prison are not even able to read, that luxury is denied them. How can this be called rehabilitation when perhaps only four or five hours a day are devoted to education and work experience and only two hours a day devoted to recreation? The practical needs such as food and shelter are provided for but other basic human needs are denied to them. For example, young people of 16 and 17 are removed and isolated from their families and mothers and fathers are removed from their children. This will surely have a negative effect on future generations. Wives and children become social welfare recipients while at the same time husbands and fathers walk prison yards or lie in beds. The chaplains' report queried how productive from an economic point of view is the minimal training available in workshops when the same walls are constructed, painted over, knocked down and then the whole process repeated constantly. Prisoners often become institutionalised and marginalised. They lack social skills and they certainly do not develop the normal skills for everyday living.

Society needs to question whether imprisonment reforms, deters or discourages offenders. The high rates of recidivism must mean that the answer is clear; imprisonment does not reform or deter and it does not discourage crime. When offenders are sent to prison they are cut off from the consequences of their crimes and their responsibility to victims, families and society at large.

Restorative justice tries to set up a situation where offenders are confronted, among other things, with the consequences of their actions and the effects of their actions on others. It would involve, in my view, a brand new approach to the treatment of sex offenders. This is a very difficult and sensitive area but many such offences are perpetrated within the family so, therefore, where possible, the solution and healing might best, in some cases, be found within a family setting. Community-based programmes can offer an alternative to prison. The particular needs of some young sex offenders might best be met within community while undergoing treatment. Certainly, locking them away in an all-male prison, where minimal if any help is available to them, cannot sensibly be seen as a solution. Older men, especially those who have not offended in years, could benefit more from treatment in some cases than from imprisonment. Of course I am not saying that there must not be a prosecutorial and sometimes a custodial dimension. That will, of course, always depend on the seriousness of the crime and the other surrounding circumstances. However, it is about society thinking smarter instead of working harder. Society can become a safer place, for example, when sex offenders receive proper treatment. Child protection is enhanced and there is less disruption to the lives of many families. There is an important balance to be struck.

The process of restorative justice can also better serve the needs of those suffering from addiction. Prison becomes a fertile ground for drugs of all kinds as a consequence of the lack of any meaningful employment. Drug use arises when existence becomes sheer boredom and a lack of meaningful contact with family and friends makes the situation worse. The underlying problems that originally led to drug use are rarely dealt with. The absence of counsellors, apart from those who provide the service on a voluntary basis, means that for the most part, prison is a complete waste of time and of taxpayers' money. Addictions such as alcohol call for treatment first.

I will conclude by making a few brief points. Examples of where restorative justice has been put into use successfully can be found in Germany, New Zealand and Japan. Atlantic Philanthropies has done good work in Northern Ireland in promoting initiatives across the community which are designed to support reconciliation, to address the problems of the past and to assist communities in moving away from violence.

I believe that if a system of restorative justice, building on the initiatives referred to by other speakers, were to be seriously embraced, it would reduce recidivism and as a result, there would be a decrease in the total prison population. I am certain that everyone in society would support it.

I refer to an article published in the Irish Probation Journal in 2011 by Shane McCarthy. A limited survey among defence solicitors, designed to measure their knowledge and understanding of the principles of restorative justice, found that in many cases there were limitations and gaps in the understanding even among legal personnel about the potential of restorative justice. Much work remains to be done. It is a major challenge because of long-established practice and embedded systems that have to be questioned all over again. We need to raise the profile of restorative justice among the key people in criminal justice. We need an education strategy to inform people and to assure them that it works, that there can be benefits. The implementation of the key recommendations of the national commission should be prioritised and expanded as part of mainstream practice.

There is a need for ongoing evaluation of its efficacy and effectiveness as an alternative sanction. The implementation of any alternative sanction should be monitored. This is not just some idealistic left-wing fantasy, rather it is something that has been seen to work and can work for us as a society. I again express my thanks and congratulations to my colleagues.

7:35 pm

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome my good friend, the Minister of State, Deputy Dinny McGinley. The debate has been inspiring and interesting. I inform Senator Denis O'Donovan that it was remiss of me in my earlier remarks not to commend the previous Government for taking the brave initiative to establish the restorative justice commission, the establishment of which led to the pilot projects. It was also remiss of me not to mention the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The next stage for the committee is to recommend the legislation required to make restorative justice part of the mainstream.

Everyone has said the prison system is not working. Let us think of the image of a rotten apple in a barrel of apples, but what if the barrel is also rotten? That the prison system does not work is not fault of the many good personnel who work within it. The reality is that too many are in prison who should not be there. The only interest in victims is shown through the victim impact statement, a measure which many believe does not work either. The victim needs to play a far more central role in the process. Restorative justice is a very nice way to ensure a victim's voice is heard in a true and meaningful manner. It makes a difference to society, serves the public interest and improves society. It can help young people who have fallen or are about to into a life of crime to identify a better and more successful path in life.

The contributions made across the House prove that restorative justice is a political issue. Thankfully, it is not a party political issue or football. I have great hope that we will see in future years a very well defined mainstream national restorative justice programme that will achieve great results. I have been given hope by the fact that the initiative has received unanimous support. Effectively, a restorative justice programme is in train; it will not stop and will transcend future Administrations and generations.

The debate has been informative and the speech by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, was very inspiring and encouraging. A clear commitment was given that it would be a national initiative, including pilot projects. That development is very encouraging, but I would like to hear a proposed timeframe. I am surprised that the IMF has not made a restorative justice programme a priority, given that such a programme has been proved to save costs. I am sure the troika will be happy with the Minister of State's speech in which she gave a commitment to make it part of the mainstream.

We have had a good debate. It may be just a drop in an overall context, but drops in the ocean, if penetrated properly, can produce a significant ripple effect. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will hold hearings later in the term and I hope we will return to the topic during Primate Members' time to report progress. I would love to see suitable legislation being brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas in the not too distant future, I hope during the term of office of the Government. I want the right legislation. I want proper research to be carried out, even if it means launching a national pilot project initially, to allow us to take baby steps that will lead to a more defined programme. I would like a national programme to be initiated in the very near future which would lead to proper structures being put in place through legislation. Unfortunately, the victims of crime have not been legislated for, while offenders have not been given the opportunities they deserve.

I have been convinced about the benefits of a restorative justice programme by the examples given by practitioners, the people working on the ground, when they spoke at lectures and seminars I have attended in recent months. They passionately believe restorative justice is the right way to proceed and can attest to the success stories. They have witnessed the futures of some people being enhanced, while opportunities have been given to others who perhaps would not have had opportunities in life but for this process. All of the evidence has convinced me that there is no alternative.

I thank all of the Senators who contributed for their informative and enlightened contributions. Let us hope we will see a bright future for the victims of crime and offenders.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.