Wednesday, 22 November 2017
Minimum Custodial Periods Upon Conviction for Murder Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)
I will now conclude. We all agree that victims of crime and their families deserve to be supported and deserve justice. Senator Coffey used the word "desensitised". I say that we cannot make this normal. Notwithstanding rehabilitation and restorative justice, there must be intent in what we do and an understanding of the consequences. I hope we can find a mechanism to avoid the Bill getting lost, be that by referring it back to the committee, perhaps, or having it redrafted. I hope that we will not have to do that but I understand the Minister of State's position on this.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to the House and wish him well in his role. I have not had occasion to speak in the House when he was here in the past. I wish him continued success. I also join the Leader in welcoming the victims' families in the Gallery. Our hearts go out to them, they are very welcome here and we absolutely understand where they are coming from on this issue.
I congratulate Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell on bringing forward this legislation, which is greatly to her credit. Members bringing forward legislation like this is exactly what an active and successful Oireachtas Chamber should be about. I agree with the Leader that this Bill and its worthy content should not be lost; it should become part of the debate. I understand that both the Law Reform Commission and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality are carrying out ongoing work on this matter and this Bill should be part of that equation.
This Bill, if I have understood it correctly, would establish minimum custodial sentences from the very start, that is from the day of the judgment, of 40, 30 or 25 years in the most serious categories. We currently have a life sentence with the potential for parole which tends to be granted after 18 or 20 years. Having heard Senator Black's contribution on my way in, I feel that we must leave sufficient flexibility in the system and I say this with the greatest of respect to my good friend and colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. The current system dictates a minimum life sentence, amounting to life or virtually life in most cases, but there has to be flexibility in the system to allow for rehabilitation, restorative justice, and personal and psychiatric development programmes.
Murder is a horrific crime and nobody is suggesting otherwise. I do think, however, that we have to leave within the system the potential for rehabilitation and for the restoration of the person, though I understand that it must be very hard for the families in the Gallery to get their head around such a concept. Without getting overly sanctimonious or righteous, it is inherent in our Christian ethos that the potential for redemption should always be possible for every human being in every scenario. Believing in the redemptive potential for every human being is part of what we are.
The current system dictates a custodial life sentence for murder and then that the person serves 18 or 20 years. The potential is there for a rehabilitative and restorative programme. A certain flexibility has to be left in the system. Having said that, as Senator Buttimer said, there is potential to incorporate and to examine some of the concepts contained in the Bill. There may in some instances be anecdotal evidence to the contrary but I am not personally aware of many if any instances of what is popularly understood to be unfortunately early releases. I fully understand Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's concerns over this, but I am concerned that we not build too much rigidity into the system.
Let us take, for example, the first and very serious category, namely, the 40-year sentence.That effectively in most instances would mean the potential for release would never exist for that person. Senator O'Donnell's categories could be looked at with regard to further refinement, but the second category is a 30-year sentence and this is similar. The third category of 25 years is quite close to the current situation and it is not that different to what exists. There may be too many rigidities in the Bill. It may stave off the potential for rehabilitation.
I was interested in Senator Black's point. I am not sure of her evidence, and I am not aware of the evidence around it, but it was an interesting point. It is one I can relate to and see sense in. This is the point Senator Black made that there is no evidence that completely mandatory sentencing necessarily has any beneficial effect on crime figures. There is no evidence it has any benefit for the individual.
We have absolute empathy with the people in the Gallery. Our hearts go out to them. The crime of murder is a horror that is contrary to everything the best of the human condition stands for. I understand there must be very long custodial sentences, that there must be a statutory protection of such a thing and there never can be any degree of discretion that would allow premature release of people.
Having said that, within the system there must be the potential for redemption, restoration and rehabilitation. What we must achieve is a marriage of these three objectives. To some degree, it is my humble contention, the present process probably best marries the three but it could well be open to modification. In this debate, Senator O'Donnell's Bill is very helpful. Senator Buttimer got it right when he said we should not lose the objectives of the Bill in the debate. Perhaps it is a conservative instinct, but I do not yet have evidence, anecdotally, empirically or at any level, to suggest to me that the present system, with all its faults, is not working reasonably well.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Minister of State and the Senators who have spoken, even though some of them obviously have not read the Bill and some of them are only interested in their own Bills and they did not argue this Bill at all. In my time in the Seanad I do not think a Bill has ever come in on Second Stage that was flawless or did not need extensions, enlargement, précising, discussion or communication. I am presenting this to Senators and asking the House to allow it go to Committee Stage where all of these concerns can be dealt with, of which there are many and I am very aware of this.
The thrust of the Bill is that there would be minimum disapproval for the taking of a life and, exactly what Senator Coffey said, that it just does not become another kind of crime. It is the taking of a life, which can never be got back and a conviction for the taking of that life with purpose and not accidentally. That is what the thrust of the Bill is about, and the Judiciary, starting at, we will say, 25 years, could decide, depending on the case, whether that sentence was to be 26, 27, 30 or 40 years. That is the thrust of the Bill, and all the makey-up other stuff is not relevant. It is not relevant for Fianna Fáil to come in here and read out a speech - I am surprised at the Senator - about another Bill, which had nothing to do with mine-----
Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
There is no such thing as life for first-degree murder in Ireland, that is also the thrust of the Bill. It is 17 years or less. There are also technicalities with regard to looking for parole after seven years. Ask the families in the Gallery, about whom we are all so empathetic but we will not go past the glass panel. I am very passionate about it because I do not want to see it cut off at the pass.
Yesterday, I said that in this House there is a pathology of territory and not a pathology of ideas. That is what happens in here. People come with their territory, and out comes the territory as a force and we have to answer the territory and not the idea. I know there are a lot of flaws in the Bill and I am aware of that. I am very aware of it, but that is no reason it should not go to Committee Stage and all those flaws be aired and changed. It is not in competition with the Lower House and it is not in competition with any other Bill. It is of itself, a Bill independent of thought and mind, good or bad.
I do not feel that prison sentences are strong enough or of sufficient length to deter criminality. We are living in a very violent society and there is an acceptance it is all right behaviour.
I am not "hang 'em high". I understand if someone wants revenge he or she should dig two graves. We learned that in Northern Ireland for 40 years. I am not a "hang 'em high" merchant, but there has to be a minimum disapproval of the taking of a life purposely as first-degree murder. There are so many families, brothers, sisters, mothers and cousins living that appalling tragedy every day, and I want it discussed. That is all I want, to get the Bill to Committee Stage and not cut it off at the pass. It is not, Senator Lee, and I say this in my passion, it is not in competition with your Bill.
It is a Bill on its own. It is not in competition with the Lower House.
I also suggest that these flaws could be worked out. People should not read the Bill and make generalisations. All Bills are somewhat generalised until they are honed down. They should have more respect for it.
I thank my colleagues here. I am an Independent Senator and I do not truck with any particular political party, but I thank the Leader for allowing the Bill back to the House. I thank colleagues who spoke honestly, even though they may not vote for the Bill. I would like to see that perhaps today there would be change and people would vote and allow the Bill to go to Committee Stage. Then it can be looked at in a thousand different ways and added to, extended, enlarged or even thrown out, but it would be thrown out for a reason. At the moment it is not, it is just people being territorial.
Ivana Bacik, Colm Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Rose Conway Walsh, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Paul Gavan, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Terry Leyden, Tim Lombard, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Gabrielle McFadden, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Neale Richmond.