Seanad debates

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

3:55 pm

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Joe Costello.

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

That Seanad Éireann - recognises that a community court could effectively deal with low-level offences, focusing primarily on criminal anti-social behaviour by responding to the underlying problems of offenders;
- recognises that a community court may further develop a collaborative working approach among service providers and apply a problem solving approach in respect of each defendant in a timely fashion;
- commends the work of the National Crime Council and notes the publication in 2007 of its report on the case for community courts in Ireland;
- notes the experience and positive outcomes associated with the use of community courts internationally and requests that the potential of such courts in the Irish context be further examined; andcalls on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence to consider the issue of community courts in Ireland and to establish a community court in Dublin city centre as a pilot project to provide for a problem solving approach to addressing criminal anti-social behaviour and to offer further alternatives to imprisonment for such offenders.
It is a real privilege to move a motion on the issue of community courts. For many years Members have heard a debate, discourse and discussion on the prison system, its overcrowded state and the need to consider a new way to do business. For too long they have heard of custodial sentences being imposed on those who really should be engaging in a different form of punishment. In this context, even "punishment" is the wrong word and I would consider it to be better described as engagement with the State at a different level. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello. He represents a city constituency and while Members obviously would have wished for the presence in the House of the line Minister with responsibility in this area, namely, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, his views in this regard are known to all Members.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister is otherwise engaged.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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Similarly, all Members are aware that the Minister probably has immediately pressing matters with which he is dealing expeditiously and efficiently and, I am sure, to the satisfaction of most. That said, in his absence, the Minister of State is eminently appropriate because he is familiar with city life, as well as the challenges faced. Moreover, he is aware of how people can fall into the wrong company and that many first or second and third offences for which people are convicted can be as a result of falling into the wrong company.

The concept of community courts was born in 1993 in New York City, where people were dealing with a situation in which Times Square effectively was a no-go area. Similarly, large parts of the city, particularly in Manhattan, as well as parks, Grand Central Station and other locations with which all Members are familiar and which they tend to love when they visit New York were also no-go areas. A decision was made at the time that there was a need to consider doing business in a different way and investigate alternative methods of justice. To the best of my knowledge, the concept of community courts was born in that part of New York. It spread to other parts of the world and now operates successfully in Canada, numerous cities in the United States, New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. However, each jurisdiction is different and the results depend on the resources made available and the engagement and willingness to make it happen.

At the end of January I had the privilege of attending a function on St. Stephen's Green organised by the Dublin City Business Association, to which it had invited people who had been involved in the New York experience to share their experiences.

I was delighted that eminent persons such as the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Oisín Quinn, and hundreds of people from the legal and business professions had attended a half-day seminar on the concept of community courts. It was followed in the afternoon by a sitting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality which heard testimonials from the eminent people from New York who attended the function. Representatives of the Law Society of Ireland, Blackhall Place, also attended and gave their views on the concept. What was even more striking about that session was that the Minister for Justice and Equality sat in as an observer. That is the seriousness with which he is taking the need to do business in this area differently. The day ended with a very successful meal in Leinster House which was attended by stakeholders and people such as Judge Michael Reilly who had been promoting this concept for many years. To quote the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, there is now a fair wind behind the concept of community courts.

The community court I want to see established as a pilot project is what was recommended in a report produced in 2007 by the National Crime Council which had carried out extensive research on the concept. It made several recommendations, one of which was that a pilot community court be established in Dublin city centre adjacent to the Sheriff Street and Pearse Street Garda divisional districts. It is an exceptionally good idea. It would be a community court that would look at alternatives to sending people to prison. It would be co-located alongside professionals who deal with anger management problems, drug and alcohol addictions, community employment and welfare issues, family disputes, parenting courses and so on. Effectively, the community court would be part of an overall one-stop-shop to ensure people who found themselves before the courts would have immediate remedies. The notion behind community courts is that in the case of offences such as assault, petty crime, prostitution, shop-lifting and so on, we would examine an alternative concept and way of doing business.

In many cases, people fall into the wrong company as a result of being in the wrong environment. To a large extent, it is because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They deserve a second chance in our society. They deserve to have the vehicles of State that are willing to help engage with them at an early stage. All of us talk about early interventions, whether in medicine or education, but early interventions in the area of justice are equally as important. When somebody finds himelf or herself at the wrong end of the law, he or she should be brought into a court within his or her community that is a fabric of his or her community to come up with common-sense community responses in terms of remediation to get him or her back in action, so to speak. That is an essential element of what should be our future justice system, coupled with restorative justice, an issue we have debated in the House and on which we unanimously agreed a motion. Where restorative justice practices are in place on a pilot basis, there has been a dramatic fall in the numbers of second and follow-on offences. Community courts would have an equally successful outcome if the pilot programme were to go ahead.

The motion is timely because there is a fair wind behind this concept.

Will the Minister for Justice and Equality set up an implementation panel immediately as recommended in the 2007 report? In six or 12 months time when all of the stakeholders, including the Judiciary, the District Court, the Law Society and those involved in various addiction treatments, have been properly consulted, we should set up a community court on a pilot basis in Dublin city centre. This Minister and Government are committed to alternative and better ways of doing business. Community courts are a better way to do business. The whole notion of lock them up and throw away the key is not working. Our prisons are jammed and are simply not working. The Minister is deeply committed to this alternative.

What better way to acknowledge the third anniversary of the 2011 general election than for this motion to be unanimously supported by Seanad Éireann in the hope that before the end of the lifetime of this Government we see a community court in Dublin running successfully? Hopefully, we will then see them rolled out on a regional basis.

4:05 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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I second this motion and welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. In an associated way, I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality on his intention to deal with the court poor box issue. It was a practice with no statutory footing and opaque rules and it had no place in our system of criminal justice.

I fully support this proposal which seems to have two main advantages. If done correctly, there will be a reduction in crime rates and recidivism and a reduction in custodial sentences for low level crime. It is rather staggering that on one day in November 2012, not one incidence of violent crime was reported in New York city. Many put this down to the establishment of community courts.

On a practical level, a local court where all the local services and authorities have an input would be a fantastic development. I will give one concrete example. Imagine a local court where the local authority and its planners are involved in and aware of the local geographic or urbanisation issues contributing to crime in a given area. There was an issue in a local estate in Galway recently where the local authority, after much pressure from local representatives, closed off certain passageways in an estate at night to prevent those potentially participating in low level crime from gathering. If the local authorities were aware, from participation in local community courts, that these issues were arising from their planning decisions, then it would allow them to future proof building and planning in a way to mitigate against anti-social behaviour.

I caution on a direct comparison between a potential system here and one already operating in New York, for instance. With due respect, American justice at what we would call District Court level is harsher than in most of mainland European countries. Incarceration is not the be-all and end-all of the criminal justice system here. We deal comparatively leniently with low level crime. I would hope the idea here is not so much having a more lenient sentencing regime but that we would have joined up thinking across the public service and community involvement.

I would have one caveat only with the proposal. Senators should be aware that a long-standing pilot project in Liverpool was closed. The Government in the UK was not satisfied that the moneys invested were yielding results. It costs considerable sums to establish and fund such a system. Proponents of the system in the UK freely admit that it requires a large amount of funding.

We should, therefore, ensure that the potential cost is weighed in the balance before deciding on this issue. We should insist on fully costed proposals as we do not have funds to throw away. I hope that any project - presumably, a pilot project at the start - will be subject to a very careful cost benefit analysis.

I support the proposal but I do not wish to see money being poured into the service annually without proper supervision, auditing and stringent cost benefit analysis.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Costello. Sometimes I think his rightful place is in the Upper House. He is a bit lost where he is but I wish him well.

My party supports the concept of community courts. International experience, particularly in the US and the UK, has been drawn on and it is not unusual for us to look at situations abroad. In particular, we looked at juvenile liaison officers and trying to ensure young people do not end up in court. We looked at the Australian model in New South Wales and in New Zealand, and we acted, reacted and introduced legislation, which is helpful. It should be tried out on a pilot basis to test how it will work in our area. Some of what I read refers to neighbourhoods, which is an American, New York, Boston or Chicago phrase, and in Ireland I see it operating on a parish basis or in boroughs in the cities. In order to be dealt with in the community courts, a defendant must indicate a guilty plea. Defendants who comply with orders in the community courts avoid a criminal conviction. There is major scope for this kind of system.

Last Sunday night, I was visiting someone and I saw a documentary on an open prison system in Norway. I was gobsmacked to note that only 30% of those who had gone through the open prison system were re-offenders. If that is the case, we should consider that set-up.

Community courts mandate punishment or help for defendants or, in a minority of cases, a combination of both. The punishment imposed must include community work. It is a wonderful system for people involved in minor drug offences, public order offences where there is no serious injury, petty theft and vandalism where someone does minor damage to property. Community courts are guided by four basic principles, namely, restoring communities, bridging the gap between communities and courts, building partnerships and solving problems. If it does not solve the problem, it is of no use.

The National Crime Council has already been alluded to and it has studied the issue and produced a detailed report in 2007 recommending the establishment of community courts in Ireland. In supporting the motion, I concur with Senator Conway that a pilot scheme should be introduced by the Minister sooner rather than later. We should try it out for six months or 12 months. Within the right framework and in the right areas, this can only be successful.

It is wrong that people are thrown into prison for relatively minor crimes. I know someone from a remote part of County Kerry. His tractor or digger broke down and he had to drive to Navan, a four and a half hour drive, to get a part. He is a retired farmer and he does not travel up the country very often. When he got there he found a parking space but the parking meter was out of order. He got his part and he came back and it was still out of order. He was prepared to put in money and walked around and saw no one on duty on this Saturday morning. Lo and behold, he was issued with a €60 ticket. He refused to pay it and the matter ended up in court. He was not represented in court and he was fined €600. After 15 months, he was brought from a remote part of Ireland, accompanied by a garda. The Department hired a taxi to bring this guy some 400 km to Mountjoy Prison to serve a seven-day sentence. He was innocent because in his view he had committed no crime. Later that evening, he was let out and had to get the train back to Kerry. It cost the State €1,000 and because he spent three hours in Mountjoy Prison he purged his contempt of court and the fine will never be paid. It is the stupidity of the system. If the man was asked to do something small in his local community, in his village or in his GAA club, he would be glad to do it and it would have saved this shenanigans. His wife was very upset and rang me and asked me whether this was the right way to go and whether this constituted justice in Ireland. I could understand her position but the system had gone so far that I could not row it back, nor could the Minister in that case.

It is particularly important for there to be an ongoing and rigorous follow-up on the court's orders to ensure defendants adhere to remedial orders and are not taking advantage of them.

Research is also an important component in ensuring that courts adhere to best practice and test the effectiveness of sentencing and the overall role. This should be conducted by the Law Reform Commission or a section of the community court. A regular format to consult with the community and gauge the impact of the new court model is vital in securing public approval and support, as if the public does not buy into the process, the proposal will collapse, which would be a pity. The community should also have the opportunity to benefit from any community work completed by those who have appeared before the community court.

Where it is possible, the community court should aim to ensure that any community work imposed would be linked to the committed offence and completed in the area. This would provide restitution for the offence to the community and makes those who have appeared before the community court accountable for their offending behaviour in their own community. There is no point in bringing a fellow from west Cork to do community service in some part of Dublin; that would not make sense and would defeat the purpose of this idea. Experience from other jurisdictions suggests that community courts work has the most positive benefit for the defendant when he or she works along with voluntary community groups or other non-offenders. In Ireland this would equate to groups like the tidy towns or sporting bodies which may need an extra hand locally.

Without any reservation I support this motion, which is a wonderful idea. I wish it well and I hope a pilot scheme can be introduced. In five or ten years people can look back and see that a small step was taken to prevent even 5% of young offenders who are not serious criminals from going into the court system. That can be a revolving door process, with people coming out tarnished with a criminal record, so we should use the prisons as a last resort to incarcerate people.

4:15 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, to the House. I know the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, wanted to be here and as Senator Conway mentioned, he sat through the full hearing of the justice committee on 29 January when it discussed the topic. He is otherwise engaged today but I know the Minister of State has a particular interest in the area. I welcome him to the House. I commend Senator Conway and his colleagues on putting forward this motion, and it is exciting to think that we may see on foot of this motion and the Minister's commitment to the issue the establishment of a community court on a pilot basis in Dublin city centre. The hearing of the justice committee on 29 January indicated the strong support of this concept coming from a range of stakeholders and interest groups. Senator O'Donovan has expressed his support and we will have cross-party support for it in the Chamber.

The justice committee hearing built on the 2007 report of the National Crime Council to which Senator Conway has already referred. Those who gave a presentation at the committee included the Lord Mayor of Dublin, as mentioned by Senator Conway, but also the Irish Penal Reform Trust, the Dublin City Business Association, the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development, the CityWide drugs crisis campaign, the Probation Service and a range of other stakeholders. Many of the points raised by these groups have been touched on already by speakers today but I will try to make a few key arguments.

The idea of establishing a community and the general concept is very much in keeping with the strategy recommended by the justice committee to the Government last year in our report on penal reform, for which I was rapporteur. We reported in March 2013 that prison should be a sanction of last resort and we favoured the idea of penal moderation, where we should seek as far as possible to divert those persons convicted of minor non-violent offences away from prison. In its submission to the committee on 29 January, the Irish Penal Reform Trust made a very strong argument for the concept of penal moderation and that initiatives such as the community courts can help to address our current overuse of imprisonment for minor offences and shift response to minor offending towards the underlying social causes of the behaviour. That group is very supportive of the community court model. It is very much in keeping with the approach to penal strategy and policy, of which the Minister also approves.

What does a community court involve?

As the Dublin City Business Association says, it is a case of a problem-solving approach taken by a judge in a court. The advantages for Dublin would be immense if we look at the models from elsewhere, in particular the models that have been mentioned of the Midtown Community Court in New York city which was set up in 1993 but which built on the experience of drugs courts across the United States from the 1980s onwards. There is also a well known model in the Red Hook centre in Brooklyn. Others have referred to the north Liverpool model to which I will return. The advantage of such courts is that they provide a local neighbourhood-based court system to deal generally with minor offences. They are not trial courts, they are sentencing courts. The Midtown court is one such example; it is just a sentencing court and does not deal with trials. A court in Santa Monica in California deals only with first-time offenders. Some community courts are very limited in terms of the type of offence and the type of offender with which they will deal. In some cases the courts deal with the offender on the basis that no conviction is recorded once a guilty plea has been made. Offenders are then given a form of community service which is usually combined in a hybrid sense with a therapeutic or educational programme. One often has a means of addressing the underlying causes of behaviour. That is very much part of the community court model but there are many different examples.

Senator Naughton referred to the north Liverpool community court. As she pointed out, that is due to close in March this year. She mentioned the prohibitive cost of the centre but that was a particular model and rather different to the Midtown model. The north Liverpool court was a trial court as well. It dealt with a much broader range of offences than those dealt with in the New York model and it did not just deal with guilty pleas, it also dealt with trials. To be positive about it; the business of that court will transfer to a larger court complex that is nearby and there is a commitment that a number of the good practices that were developed in the north Liverpool model will be transferred to the larger court too. It is not as if the model failed or that the cost was prohibitive because it was a community court. It was a very particular type of community court and very different to that which we would see adopted in this country.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, to bring to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, that we have received excellent submissions in particular from the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development, ACJRD, and the Probation Service which set out the type of model that would be more likely to be successful in an Irish context. One of the points made was that we already have neighbourhood courts to a much greater degree than in the United States. Our District Courts are very much community based and they serve a much smaller jurisdiction than courts typically do in the United States, even courts dealing with minor offences. They also make the point - in particular the ACJRD - that the successful community courts in the United States, especially the Midtown court in New York, is only part of a package of measures. In 2002 in New York city an entire package of measures dealing with early intervention and crime prevention was adopted and the community court was just part of it. There would need to be a commitment to ensure the provision of a range of supports around the community court model.

The Probation Service says that costs could be minimised by using the existing District Court structures, adopting the procedures currently adopted in the District Court and by limiting the application of the new community court pilot base to, for example, those who have pleaded guilty to summary offences only. A single designated judge should be appointed. The design of the court room would be important, so that the setting is more informal than the typical District Court trial. Post-sentence there would need to be commitment to have both the application of some kind of community service under the supervision of the Probation Service but also access to therapeutic or educational sessions as in the New York model.

In Ireland we do have a number of successful models on which we could build. As Senator Conway mentioned, we have quite a number of restorative justice programmes, for example in west Dublin in Blanchardstown and also in Nenagh. The Le Chéile programme operates in Limerick. The Cornmarket project is in operation in Wexford. All of those involve multidisciplinary approaches to tackling offending and to try to reduce re-offending. We have the Childrens Court, the Drug Treatment Court and the juvenile diversion programme, which in a way is similar to what is proposed except that this would also apply to adults. It is a very exciting proposal. It is great to see the Minister agree to the establishment of a community court on a pilot basis in Dublin city centre. We will see immense benefit straight away from the establishment of such a court, particularly if it is established based on the successes of models elsewhere and if we learn from models such as the north Liverpool model, which was probably over ambitious in the scope of the offences and offenders it took on.

As the Dublin City Business Association, DCBA, has stated, in terms of tackling quality of life, antisocial behaviour and public order issues on the streets of our cities, a community court could have a real impact.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality is currently examining the issue of domestic violence and how we can improve our services and our legal response to domestic violence issues. Senator Zappone, Senator Conway and I will attend the committee tomorrow for a second set of hearings on the issue. One of the concerns of front-line service providers in the area of domestic violence is that there are problems with the District Court in terms of inconsistency of service. There are some pockets of good practice, where there is a joined-up approach to victims and survivors of domestic violence, but there are also problems and inconsistencies. The advantage of establishing an effective community court model would be where we see it move beyond a pilot programme. We have had too many pilot programmes in the criminal justice arena. What I would like to see is a modest but effective community court developed in Dublin city that could be rolled out across Ireland within a short space of time. That would make a real difference to our criminal justice system.

4:35 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Senator Barrett and I are sharing time.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House, particularly because of his commitment to the inner city. It is very exciting, and I hope it is true, that we have the prospect of a community court as a pilot scheme in the centre of Dublin. I note there is no amendment to the motion and it will, therefore, be passed unanimously. I hope that strengthens the hand of the Minister of State in the matter. I am aware of his commitment to the issue and of his involvement with former prisoners and his involvement in the north inner city. He always gets my No. 2 vote, after Deputy Maureen Sullivan, who as an Independent Deputy and a wonderful successor to Tony Gregory must get my No. 1 vote.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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That is what one would call a double-edged compliment.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I believe the situation in the country is improving a little. Some of the older Members will remember Nell McCafferty's newspaper articles, "In the Eyes of the Law", which described the appalling injustices that were done. Justice was handed down on a class basis. I do not need to rehearse the old cliché that 90% of the people in Mountjoy jail come from the same Dublin postal districts. Therefore, this is a question of poverty.

Each Government has resolutely set its face against channelling money back into this area. I remember discussing this issue with Tony Gregory and submitting an amendment on a Bill proposing that drugs money recovered by the CAB be spent in this way. The setting up of the CAB came about after first being mooted by Tony Gregory, although he got little credit for it. The Government would not use the drugs money as suggested and put it back into the communities. Instead, it wanted to ring-fence the money for other use.

Various governments have boasted about building prisons, but that is an idle boast. Building prisons is a farce and a waste of time. The Government should be closing prisons. The only people who should be in prison are those who are really dangerous and a threat to society or who have committed heinous crimes. I remember railing here about a mother in Limerick who was snatched up and put into Limerick jail for not paying her television licence. The current Minister for Justice and Equality has addressed this issue in the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill, but we need to look at better ways of dealing with this kind of situation. Mild offenders who are imprisoned for trivial offences are likely to come out much worse. Our prison system has virtually no remedial effect. What remedial effect exists depends on the character of the individual rather than the justice process.

Once or twice I visited Mountjoy gaol at the suggestion of my friend Brendan Kennelly, who was wonderful and used to teach there and introduce prisoners to literature. I met one of those prisoners afterwards, a heroin addict who had been in serious trouble, who had managed, with help from the people in Mountjoy, to get himself out of the situation he was in. He was managing a big catering event in Trinity College when I met him. It would be wonderful if we could get this sort of initiative going.

I want to pay tribute to the Prison Service, its prison officers, some of whom I have known in the past, and, particularly, enlightened governors such as John Lonergan. I am sure he would say we would be better off closing prisons and making the kind of arrangements proposed in the motion. I congratulate the movers of this motion and I hope the Minister will issue a pilot scheme for community courts.

4:45 pm

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I agree with Senator Conway’s description of the community courts system in New York. I was learning all through Senator Bacik’s account of the system with anger management as an alternative to prison, bringing in more social science expertise and restorative justice. All the ingredients are there to reform the system. Senator O’Donovan said that in Norway 70% of offenders dealt with by alternatives to prison do not re-offend. Alternatives to prison and a criminal record are very commendable. Great credit is due to Fine Gael Senators for putting this motion down which has support from all sides of the House.

The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, knows from his constituency the problems that arise with detaining low-level offenders in prison. Alternatives to this are worthwhile experiments and I hope we proceed with the recommendation from the National Crime Council to start up a community court system on a trial basis.

I had some experience of people getting into trouble in the university system. It is all small, except where it concerns examination offences which are serious. Even then we had procedures in place so that people did not acquire a criminal record. Immense assistance was given in setting this up by the former President, Mary Robinson, the judges Tom Finlay, Maureen Harding Clark, Henry Barron, Peter Charleton and Gerard Hogan, as well as the late Brian Lenihan. Finding non-judicial and non-court based systems to resolve disputes and putting people back to square one to get on with their lives is immensely valuable. I wish the Minister and his colleagues every success in that endeavour and thank Senator Conway and his colleagues for putting down this motion.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, a fine Deputy and Minister for his community, as Senator Norris so eloquently outlined.

I enthusiastically support and welcome this motion and congratulate Senator Conway and other Fine Gael Senators who have argued for it with such conviction and evidence. Senator Bacik pointed out this proposal can be part of a cohesive approach to the overall governmental and Oireachtas justice strategies. It is critical we see our policies and programmes in that more cohesive way.

Crimes are multifaceted and most of them are the result of a complex range of social, economic, health and educational disadvantages. We must address crime in a multifaceted way, accordingly. As many Senators pointed out, the justice committee had many submissions on this issue, several of which I wish to highlight. The Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, powerfully illustrated how the Judiciary has a limited set of options and how difficult it is when low-level repeat offenders come before the courts. He stated judges would welcome if other options were available to them than simply custodial sentences or the use of the Probation Act. I was particularly impacted by his example of how a person addicted to drugs or alcohol can be sent to prison where he or she will receive a certain amount of help.

However, the underlying problems are not at all addressed in a three-month sentence. It is insufficient for a person even to begin to come to grips with some of the issues or problems that bring that person to offend and to be placed in prison. Other options must be available to the judges to address the range in a holistic way which complements that cohesive and comprehensive approach we need in terms of policies across the board.

As Senator O'Donovan and others have identified, instead of sending people to prison, a typical community court punishment could comprise a combination of community restitution assignment and mandated social services. Reference was already made to evidence that was given to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, particularly from successful community courts such as the Red Hook Community Justice Centre, which reduced the use of jail sentences by 35% and issued alternative sanctions to 78% of offenders. This in turn reduced reoffending levels - and that is what it is all about - by 20% among young offenders and by 10% for adults. The evaluation of the project concluded that it saved more money than it cost to implement a community court, and Senator Naughton referred to this notion. As experts pointed out to the committee, good results do not automatically come. They emphasised that local consultation and collaboration, along with good planning and implementation, are key to the success of the system.

I am particularly committed to the concept of community courts because of my experience over the years in west Tallaght communities, especially in the context of the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative, of which I was privileged to be one of the founders and leaders. It is one of three prevention and early intervention programme sites, initially funded under the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and now moving into the Government's area-based childhood programmes in terms of anti-poverty strategies. Over the past number of years in that first phase of Government support in west Tallaght we were able to implement a community safety initiative supporting local resident interaction and promoting collaborative responses to addressing local safety initiatives. The initiative sought to improve people's perceptions of safety, improve neighbour relations and promote a safe and healthy environment for children and families. In particular, it sought to engage wide community involvement and co-operation with the local Garda.

That initiative incorporated a restorative practice programme, as Senator Conway referred to regarding some of the programmes that are being implemented throughout the country. The programme promoted dialogue between wrongdoers and harmed persons, bringing communities together. Again, it was a collaborative process bringing different agencies and generations and people of different backgrounds together and having a positive impact on inter-agency collaboration and on the approach to conflict management. I make this point because I want to suggest that, as Senator Conway said, a community court system could be a very effective complement to the work that is already going on in that initiative in west Tallaght and, no doubt, in other local authority contexts throughout Ireland. A community court system could also be a great complement to the area-based childhood programs being rolled out throughout the country as part of the Government's anti-poverty strategy.

It is important that we remind ourselves and are aware of the context that is being created by support for policies from within the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Tánaiste's office. Community courts could be a great fit within the seedbeds of local communities already engaged in anti-poverty strategies. I support the development of a pilot initiative. Dublin city centre is fine but Tallaght is another possibility. That is my last shot.

4:50 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá áthas orm a bheith in ann tacú leis an moladh seo go gcuirfidh cúirteanna pobal ar bun, cé go bhfuil sé íorónta go bhfuilimid ag iarraidh tuillidh cúirteanna a chur ar bun ag am go bhfuilimid ag dúnadh cúirteanna ar fud na gceantar tuaithe, ach sin scéal do lá eile.

I welcome the advent of community courts. This is a positive and progressive step that places the emphasis on retribution in a community context, as opposed to incarceration and the penal system. Dealing with less serious offences, the community courts model emphasises treatment, understanding and community service. Solicitors and prosecutors remain central throughout the process, although there are opportunities to avoid criminal records and prison in a way that should, in theory, benefit society by reducing repeat offending and educating offenders by making them engage with the community.

In 2007 the National Crime Council, NCC, recommended their introduction, starting with the Dublin pilot. The NCC believes that the community court model would bring a range of benefits to offenders and communities which are not currently available in Ireland. These benefits include: a pre-trial assessment in every case; a wider range of available sanctions; the targeting of underlying issues which may cause offending, such as substance abuse or homelessness, so as to reduce re-offending; an element of restitution to the community in appropriate cases; offenders who comply with the community court avoid a criminal conviction; renewed confidence in the criminal justice system; gains in public safety and perceptions of safety; and swift and visible justice for low level offences. The types of crimes covered could include general public order offences such as intoxication, disorderly conduct, threatening and abusive behaviour, minor assaults, drug use, theft and criminal damage. Services available as solutions would include addiction counselling, education courses, social services, parenting programmes and anger management courses.

Community courts are already in use in Britain, Australia and Canada, as outlined by my colleagues, as well as in the US, where they started over ten years ago. There are approximately 40 such courts in the US. In New York, which has courts in midtown Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem and a fifth one in the course of being established, the system has been credited with reducing the once infamous levels of crime, especially in Manhattan. The Yarra community court in Melbourne, Australia, found that between 2007 and 2009 rates of recidivism dropped by 7%. The system has also been adopted in South Africa and Canada. Community courts are, of course, less costly than traditional courts and they offer a quicker resolution to what is often a once-off offence.

Sinn Féin welcomes this motion. We consider it an important first step in the modernisation of what is a very outdated penal system. We also welcome the move away from the incarceration model. As has been repeatedly highlighted by the United Nations Human Rights Council, UNHRC, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and others, the Irish prison system is in urgent need of reform. Virtually all of our prisons, especially Limerick Prison, Mountjoy Prison and Cork Prison, are not fit for purpose. In such places, prisoners must still slop out, and overcrowding, violence and drug use are endemic. The Dóchas Centre, otherwise known as the women's prison, is also overcrowded, while most of the women there are serving sentences for petty crimes and have serious problems related to addiction, abuse and violence. In spite of this, the services we offer incarcerated men and women for education, health care, drug addiction and mental health are appalling.

I saw just how bad conditions are in our prisons when I recently visited my friend Margaretta D'Arcy in Limerick Prison. Such was the lack of educational resources at the prison that Margaretta, now in her 79th year, took it upon herself to make a public appeal for books for the prison library. Even more shocking is the fact that prisoners are locked up for up to 23 hours per day in a state of virtual isolation. I realise it is not the subject we are discussing today, but I would welcome if the Minister of State made a statement in support of Margaretta D'Arcy and if he would tell the House that he will call for her release. She should not be imprisoned for campaigning on human rights issues. If the community courts system had been in place, I wonder if she would be where she is at present. I trust and hope not. She should not be there anyway.

Educational, sensory and emotional deprivations are the chief characteristics of our penal system. This is not good enough by any standards. If we must lock people up, we must also recognise that such people are human beings with needs and rights. Our prison population is overwhelmingly composed of poor people, mostly young men under the age of 25 years from working class backgrounds. Any initiative that seeks to reduce the number of those in prison is most welcome and makes for a sensible penal policy that is fit for a modern democracy.

Finally, while I and my party support this motion, it is somewhat ironic that while the Minister for Justice and Equality is about to introduce community courts, his colleagues in the Government have slashed the budgets of community youth groups and dismantled the community support infrastructure across Ireland.

Keeping people, especially young people, out of prison and away from the criminal justice system requires a co-ordinated effort across the services. A properly resourced and well-funded community sector is central to that effort.

I cannot let the matter go without noting that the impact of austerity has seen an increase in petty crime. Anybody who goes to or reads the reports prepared by joint policing committees will see that there has been an increase in the number of thefts on the person, thefts from shops, etc. and the incidence of domestic violence. All of that has been linked to increased alcoholism, drinking, anti-social behaviour, etc. and the austerity policies that have been put in place so we cannot have one without the other.

Fáiltíonn Sinn Féin roimh agus tacaíonn muid leis an rún seo. Tá súil againn gur chun feabhais a bheidh an córas ag dul.

5:05 pm

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I support the motion. It is time that we looked at how we deal with minor offences. I am someone who has briefly practised in the District Court in that area and found that one does not need to send people to prison to educate them about crime. All one needs to do is attend the District Court on any morning where one will see people learning the ropes and how to go further down that road to crime. I have large numbers of young people congregate there making friends with people who are involved in crime. It would be much better to move young people away from that scenario.

A number of years ago I was involved in a project. I was chairman of a board of directors and was asked by a community group to help out in a centre that was attended by 50 young people who had dropped out of the education system. The vast majority of them had been referred to the place by the Garda who had gotten involved at a very early stage because they wanted to make sure that the young people did not go down the road of crime. It was interesting when I worked with the young people to discover their difficulties; the reason they had taken the wrong route was due to a lack of literacy and numeracy skills. The project cost €650,000 on average and we had full-time teachers plus support staff. We also made interesting discoveries when we carried out a survey on a group of young people who had left the centre five years earlier. We commenced the project to see what progress they had made after we helped them onto the first step of the ladder. We found that 70% of the people who had attended the centre five years earlier were in full-time employment which would not have been the case but for early intervention by community gardaí and their work with young people. Their intervention led to these young people discovering a better way of doing things.

Unfortunately we discovered that a large number of the young people had come from families where neither the father nor grandfather had ever worked. Those young people got involved and changed their work culture for themselves. Their success is attributable to the people who worked with them, the gardaí and the local community. The project had originally been established on a voluntary basis by local community people who felt a need to approach the problem from a different angle. Likewise with community courts we must work towards a solution and ensure that people do not go deeper into the criminal world. People working together is part of the solution. A local community can benefit from minor offences being dealt with appropriately and not in the abstract manner that the District Court tends to use to deal with the matter.

I welcome the decision by the Minister to establish a pilot project. Perhaps we might look at establishing a similar project in Cork city.

Senator Norris mentioned that poor areas have not benefited from Government funding over the past number of years but I think that they have.

We introduced a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio in the primary schools, from 27-28 students to one teacher to 15 students to one, and that had a benefit. Likewise, there are new projects now being put in place in a number of areas around the country where it is about working with parents and children together and ensuring that the parents get the benefit of the education system that the they did not get in their younger years. Those are the policies that can make a significant contribution to reducing the number getting involved in crime. There have been many projects over the past few years and we should not let them go unrecognised.

I welcome this proposal. The Minister is correct to set up the pilot project, but he should not confine it to Dublin. We should also look at setting up one or two projects in other parts of the country as well.

5:10 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus roimh an rún seo ó Phairtí Fhine Gael. Is ábhar an-tábhachtach é an t-ábhar seo agus is ceart dúinn é a phlé sa Seanad. Tá súil agam go rachaidh an tionscnamh píolótach seo amach ó Bhaile Atha Cliath ar fud na tíre.

Fianna Fáil is happy to welcome this motion of the Fine Gael Party. We support the concept of community courts. Where this approach to what one might call petty lawlessness which has an impact on the quality of life in a community has been deployed, it seems to have had good results, and that is the most important aspect. Interestingly, the successful British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, realised that voters saw anti-social behaviour as a really serious problem and it had to be dealt with effectively. Anything one can do to deal with such issues, petty theft, drugs, public order and vandalism in a community, will have an enormous impact on a the general quality of life in a neighbourhood and on the victims of those crimes. If the community courts can help that, then they are to be welcomed because the impact on people of these low-level crimes is enormous and disproportionate to the level of the crime. If someone is making noise, is drunk and disorderly, or is smoking, as opposed to dealing, soft drugs in a neighbourhood, those are really serious annoyances for people even though they may not seem so on an individual basis. If a crime occurred once, it would not have that much of an impact, but it does if it is happening all the time.

The concept of community courts is a welcome one and I am certainly happy that there is a pilot project in place. However, as I stated as Gaeilge, I would like to see the project roll-out across the country. We will see how the pilot works. Presumably, as the models are there, it will be successful and will work, and it will be rolled out throughout the country.

Another point I would make, from my experience of courts, is that courts are difficult places for non-professionals. They are, I suppose, formal places. They are intimidating. Whether one is the victim or the defendant, a different system could help. A less formal way, while still recognising that wrongs have been done and need to be righted, could help to address the overall crime rate in the country and the overall enjoyment of life in communities.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to support this proposal, which is sound educationally and socially. Its intention is positive and it could have a profound impact on society.

I am supporting this for a few reasons. First, young people can be vulnerable and if they get on the wrong side of the law early, it can start a dangerous pattern. I am encouraged by the model of a community because it may not turn young people off the law.

It could show them how the law can be on their side and understand them. The motion contains many positive points, one being the proposal to work in a cross-agency way with other service providers to perhaps use the misdemeanour in which the young person was engaged, be it petty theft or whatever else, to introduce him or her to other providers that could help him or her. Ultimately, if such persons go into prison, they will be a huge cost on the State and as Members are aware, there is a high level of reoffending, as they can come out in a much worse state. A number of years ago I produced an early school leaving study in the Oireachtas and this could easily have been one of that report's recommendations. I compliment Martin Senator Conway on it. In the course of the study we visited some of the prisons, including Mountjoy, and met some of the young people concerned. They truly had been let down by society. In many cases, they had been let down by their families, albeit not intentionally, as many of those families were well intentioned but did not know how to parent. They were not understood by their schools, had dropped out of school early and were lost. Thereafter, such persons definitely will show up, as they will be caught by the Garda and show up in the courts system. I do not believe a heavy duty court is the place for them. I agree completely with Senator Thomas Byrne's observation that much of the time they are petrified of courts. Consequently, a model is required that is softer, fairer and more understanding and I believe Senator Martin Conway may have put his finger on it in this regard. The point is to take it forward, which is not to say a person should not receive his or her medicine or be punished. It is a question of how it is done.

I also wish to support the motion for another reason that concerns a category of persons whom I found to be in need. Members may or may not believe it, but there is a little understood category of young person with impulsive behaviour, particularly those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. Quite a large proportion of such persons end up in prison. I suggest they are wild but not bad. However, they can be made very bad by having a record. Another category for whom this measure would be extremely helpful and which all Members are aware is at risk is those young people at risk in respect of mental health issues. Some young people, once they get into trouble for a minor offence, become fixated on it and cannot deal with anything else and in a reasonably caring society everyone is worried they might take their own lives. I can tell Members that throughout the country parents of teenagers and young people are extremely worried about mental health issues, which makes the job of parenting so much harder. I acknowledge that I am deviating slightly, but it is equally relevant because it can be traumatising to have a court date in front of one.

I wish Senator Martin Conway well and he has my complete support. I support his call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to initiate a pilot project for community courts in Ireland. While the Senator has sought to have the pilot project take place in Dublin, I believe any city would be appropriate. I believe limiting it to Dublin city would be unwise and there is no reason not to have one in four major cities as there is social disadvantage in each. However, such courts are not merely to deal with social disadvantage. Any kid can get into trouble and every kid deserves the chance to be saved. Everybody deserves one chance and this could be the vehicle to lift him or her out of that trouble and to show him or her a more positive way to behave.

I thank Senators and the Acting Chairman and will leave matters in the Minister of State's capable hands.

5:15 pm

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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In the first instance, I thank the ten Senators for their contributions. They were all excellent and I compliment Senator Martin Conway and his colleagues on tabling the motion which was presented to the Cabinet this morning by the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter. He asked members of the Cabinet for their approval, which they gave. Consequently, the motion has been accepted by the Cabinet and everything else will flow from there.

I am speaking today on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Shatter. He would like to thank the Senators for raising the matter today. It is an important topic which the Minister has been considering alongside the many other reforms of our courts system that are already under way. That reflects some of the remarks made by many Senators that it should not be taken in isolation and that other measures and supports should be considered.

Community courts are locally focused courts that attempt to harness the power of the justice system to address local problems. They can take many forms but all focus on creative partnerships and problem-solving. They strive to create new relationships both within the justice system and with external stakeholders such as residents and the business community. Such courts are innovative in their approach to public safety and to addressing problems in the communities.

As Senators will be aware, a number of jurisdictions have developed what are sometimes referred to as "problem solving" courts. Models include community courts, drug courts and restorative programmes. These courts can vary in character but generally incorporate a combination of sanction for the crime, assistance in rehabilitation and reparation to either the victim or the community in which the offence took place. They combine punishment with help such as drug treatment or mental health counselling.

The community court model in the United States works on the basis that courts should be problem-solving, and should not merely be administering justice. In general terms, there are five key elements to the problem-solving approach: a tailored approach to justice; creative partnerships; informed decision-making; accountability; and a focus on results.

Members are aware that in 2007, the National Crime Council published a report entitled Problem Solving Justice - The Case for Community Courts in Ireland to which many Senators referred. The report examined the position in the United States and in the United Kingdom to see how these courts work in practice and made recommendations for the establishment of a court on a pilot basis. To date, these recommendations have not been implemented; this may have been due, in part, to the fact that such courts are potentially resource intensive.

However, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, believes it is now time to fully explore whether community courts can be of benefit within the Irish criminal justice system. The Minister is not alone in this view. Members will be aware of the recent work of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which held a public consultation process on community courts on 29 January last to which many Senators referred. I would like to commend the committee's Chairman, Deputy David Stanton, for his excellent work in pursuing the idea of a having a community court in Ireland.

Earlier that same day, the Dublin City Business Association held a seminar on community courts. Invited international speakers with experience in the establishment and operation of community courts participated in both events, and their input proved to be very informative. The knowledge gained from those presentations and the surrounding debates will be further considered. It is very beneficial to draw on international experience which can help to broaden insights we might have on what works and what does not work.

The Dublin City Business Association must be commended for its proactive approach, and it is also good to know that the business community is open to a partnership approach in dealing with anti-social behaviour in the city centre. It is also important to state that, generally, Dublin city centre is safe and it is a small number of offenders, usually those with particular problems such as alcohol or drug abuse, that give rise to a significant portion of the anti-social behaviour. The community court approach will provide an integrated problem solving solution to dealing with such repeat offenders and will also provide a rapid response to dealing with the type of one-off offending that can occur in the city such as public order offending.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has already given this topic some thought. In December 2013, he sought the views of the President of the District Court on his proposal to establish a community court in Dublin city centre and she has indicated that the Judiciary is positively disposed towards such an initiative. She also welcomed the opportunity for further judicial engagement in developing an appropriate model in Dublin.

An initial project is envisaged in Dublin city centre operating on a pilot basis where stakeholders will engage in partnerships, in conjunction with the local business community, to progress the project. The project must operate in a fully integrated way. I am informed that the Minister, Deputy Shatter, is initially suggesting a pilot in the Dublin city centre because he wants to evaluate how the community court model will work in the Irish context.

Not all community courts have been a success. In the recent seminars, we heard that where such courts are not successful, it can be difficult to establish why that may be the case. The Minister is interested in hearing more about such experiences so that we can analyse the various reasons they were not successful and benefit from lessons learned.

The Minister believes appropriate planning is the key to getting an effective court in place. Therefore, before moving to establish the court, a considerable amount of preparatory work needs to be undertaken in collaboration with all stakeholders. In the current climate, each of the stakeholders involved is operating with fewer resources so the preparation and planning stages of the project are essential to ensure that the resources involved are used effectively. The Minister is conscious that scarce resources must be used wisely and effectively. In addition, following the establishment of a pilot project, it would be important to have proper monitoring and robust evaluation so that we can see if the community court is delivering the necessary results.

Part of the planning process will involve determining the type of offences and offenders suitable to be dealt with by a community court model. In its 2007 report, the National Crime Council considered the type of offences that might be dealt with, such as drunk in public, disorderly conduct, illegal street trading, certain assault cases, criminal damage, theft, drug use and handling stolen property cases. In line with the Minister's own thinking, the council also recommended, in the first instance, that a community court be established in the inner city of Dublin to deal with quality of life offences. It was recommended that the caseload be built up on an incremental basis. It was also considered essential that all services, such as drug and alcohol addiction counselling, be available on site. The co-operation of the stakeholders providing the necessary services, such as education, health and treatment services, will be essential and a full review of the necessary supports that need to be in place will have to be undertaken in consultation with stakeholders.

Members will be aware that we already have a Drug Treatment Court operating in Dublin. This court was designed as an alternative measure for dealing with less serious and non-violent drug offenders. The Drug Treatment Court shares some similar characteristics to the community court model but the community court would involve a more integrated response from State agencies to offending and it also places an emphasis on community restitution.

While a community court represents an innovative collaborative approach to dealing with offenders, it is a prerequisite that whatever model is decided on must conform to Ireland's constitutional requirements and must also respect the constitutional standards of due process.

I mentioned earlier the importance of the planning stage of this project and it will be essential to fully consider: what kind of court we want; what types of offences we want to be dealt with in this way; what type of offender can benefit from the community court and how should the selection process be managed to ensure effective operation of this resource intensive option; where should the court be located and can the necessary facilities be harnessed by co-ordination measures or do they need to be located in close proximity; how should the court be funded and should the Exchequer fund the traditional criminal justice aspects of the court's facilities and should the business community, which is advocating the establishment of these types of courts, contribute towards the provision of some necessary services, such as counselling or mediation; and if would it be desirable to have legislation to underpin the courts' operations.

I stress again the importance of proper planning and ensuring that the resources which will need to be dedicated to this project by the various stakeholders will used effectively. We also need to ensure that we get the right type of court to deal with the particular issues which need to be addressed in the Dublin city centre area. The Minister looks forward to working with interested stakeholders, including the Judiciary, relevant agencies as well as with the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence in developing this initiative. Further research will be necessary and the Minister intends to request officials in the Department of Justice and Equality and the Courts Service to look at other community court models, in particular those operating in similar environments to the Irish justice systems, so as to identify the key elements required to establish a successful court in this country. When the matter has been fully examined, the Minister intends to bring forward proposals on the development of a pilot community court in Dublin city centre.

This was an extremely interesting debate. I agree fully with the thrust of the motion and the decision of the Cabinet in regard to this matter.

As well as the other items mentioned, it is something we might look at in terms of community policing. In 2005, we introduced community policing on a legislative basis. We located it with local authorities through joint policing committees. We established community policing forums and involved the local communities in the structure. It is extraordinarily successful in the north inner city, where Senator Norris and I are based, and Store Street station, in particular, has championed it.. I see it as an organic development to move from community policing to community courts and from community policing to community sanction and other areas of administration and treatment. A connection can usefully be made so that it is truly a local initiative.

The Minister's reply refers to the business community. I am associated with the reply and I am now adding a few words of my own. We introduced the local authority into community policing as a mainstay and all the meetings that take place are held under the auspices of the local authority, the Garda Síochána and the local community. With new initiatives on local authority development after the next elections, perhaps this area can be usefully explored with real local authority participation in local issues so that there is a local initiative its own right.

I generally agree with Senator Norris but I disagree in respect of the Criminal Assets Bureau, which was not the creation of Tony Gregory but of myself and Deputy Róisín Shortall. We came up with the idea and we were about to hold a press conference on the afternoon that Veronica Guerin was killed. I was chairman of the policy committee of the Labour Party at the time. We passed on the material to Deputy Ruairí Quinn, who was then Minister for Finance, and Nora Owen. The Proceeds of Crime Act and the Criminal Assets Bureau were included in the next legislation that arose. It is a small matter. I thank Senators for their excellent contributions and I commend Senator Martin Conway on the work he has done in putting in place an exciting and innovative initiative.

5:40 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Does the Minister of State have any comment on Margaretta D'Arcy?

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I will leave that for another time.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for a comprehensive reply delivered in his usual style, in which he adds words to the prepared reply and it only enhances it. His experience on the ground in Dublin city centre is most beneficial. I agree with the contention of the Minister of State about involving the local authority as a central aspect of community courts. As late as yesterday evening, I attended a joint policing committee in County Clare. Over the past decade, we have seen more co-operation between the Garda Síochána, local communities and local authorities. It encapsulates local policing and community policing. That is good. The 2005 legislation providing for joint policing committees has been successful. It could be more successful and perhaps it is a matter for another day when we can increase and develop community policing and co-operation between various stakeholders. Some joint policing committees are working very well, while others could be doing much better. As a society, we could be doing much better and there is significant scope for the Garda Reserve to develop awareness training programmes, school programmes and programmes to assist old people with regard to their knowledge about protecting themselves.

I am pleased that the Cabinet has endorsed the motion. A pilot project in Dublin is extremely important. It will test the idea, but that will only happen if resources are made available. The implementation group needs to be established sooner rather than later; I am talking about weeks or months. Whatever stakeholder engagement needs to happen can happen as part of an implementation group. All stakeholders will be involved in the implementation group. I want to see the community court established in Dublin in the lifetime of this Government, which is a timeline of less than two years. I would like to see official timelines at this stage. I will use the facility of the Adjournment debate to request specific timelines in the coming weeks and months. There is momentum at Government level within the Oireachtas, and it is great that the motion has received unanimous support. I thank the members of the Opposition for constructive contributions. We have a role in bringing the public with us and getting it behind the concept of community courts.

At local authority level in this city, Councillor Oisín Quinn, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, is so dedicated to the concept and principle of community courts that there will be involvement of the local authority in the community court, to which the Minister of State referred at the end of his contribution. With regard to the business community, the fact that the Dublin City Business Association was prepared to fly over speakers from New York means the association is putting its money where its mouth is. We have significant buy-in from the community.

With regard to education and research, any pilot community court must have a dedicated research aspect. The research unit should be set within the complex housing the pilot programme. I am talking about the principle of a one-stop shop. We have spoken about local authorities being a one-stop shop for local services but we should let the community court, which will be piloted in this city, be a one-stop shop for bringing people who lose their way and end up on the wrong side of the law back to where they would like to be. Many renowned educational institutes have a significant role to play. Six Senators in the House represent educational institutions. There is a significant role for them to play but I believe the way to drive this forward is a one-stop shop under one roof or as part of a cluster. The community court can act as a hub and it can be part of the fabric of the community, owned by the community and in the bloodline of the community. It will work but it must be given a chance. As a country we have a unique culture and unique ways of doing business. Any community court must be reflective of the city and what is good and bad about the city. There is enormous potential but it will require tweaking, as we will not get it right on day one. As it evolves it will improve, which is why the research element is so critical.

This is a good day for the Seanad and has proven, in respect of the ten Senators who spoke and the Minister of State, that we are a Chamber that can tease out problems, develop motions and find solutions. I would like to see it happen more in a reformed Seanad. I am delighted the motion has received unanimous support. I thank Senators from across the Chamber who spoke and I look forward to hearing about the timelines and seeing the pilot programme up and running. It will bear enormous results for the citizens of this city and of Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

5:50 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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When is proposed to sit again?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.