Supplementary Estimates, 1988. - Vote 20: Office of the Minister for Justice.

Tuesday, 15 November 1988

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 384 No. 2

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Minister for Justice (Mr. Collins): Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I move:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £4,300,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1988, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Justice, and of certain other services administered by that Office, and for payment of a grant-in-aid.

There are a number of items covered in the net £4.3 million being sought in this Supplementary Estimate. By far the most significant element is an additional sum of £4 million for the payment of awards by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal under the scheme of compensation for personal injuries criminally inflicted. I am glad to be seeking this extra funding because, if granted, it will clear the huge backlog of awards accepted during the past year and which are awaiting payment.

The original provision for 1988 under subhead G.I. for the payment of claims under the scheme was £1.975 million and, [398] as I have said, the additional amount required is £4 million.

At present there is a delay of approximately one year between the date on which an applicant agrees to accept an award and the date on which he receives payment. This delay period will get much longer if the extra amount I am seeking is not granted by the House.

The reason for the current delay in making payments after the applicant has agreed the amount of the award, is that in recent years the provision for awards made in the Estimates has not been sufficient to enable payment to be made of all awards.

I think it would be useful if I gave some background information on the scheme of compensation for personal injuries criminally inflicted. The scheme, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal who administer it, was established in 1974. It is a non-statutory scheme. Copies of the scheme were laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas in February 1974.

Under the scheme the tribunal pay ex gratia compensation in respect of personal injury where the injury is directly attributable to a crime of violence or to circumstances arising from the action of the victim in assisting or attempting to assist the prevention of crime or the saving of human life.

Due to its escalating cost to the Exchequer, the previous Government revised the scheme with effect from 1 April 1986. Prior to the amendment of the scheme, the number of applications had been steadily increasing year by year and gradually the cumulative amount of the awards being made by the tribunal outstripped the annual provision in the Estimates. As a result a time lag developed between the date of acceptance of an award by an applicant and the date by which he received payment. As I have said already, this delay has now stretched to approximately one year.

At the beginning of this month the tribunal had on hands 771 awards, totalling £3,812,000, which have been accepted and are awaiting payment. If [399] the House agrees to the passing of this Supplementary Estimate, payment can be made in respect of all these awards thereby eliminating the present accumulation of arrears by the end of the year.

In the longer term, the situation will be eased following on from the effects of the amended scheme. Under the revised scheme, compensation may not be paid in respect of pain and suffering attributable to injuries sustained on or after 1 April 1986.

The effects of the revised scheme can already be seen in the reduction of the numbers of claims submitted to the tribunal during the past two years. In 1985, a total of 1,975 claims was submitted to the tribunal while provisional figures indicate that the figure for 1987 was 243. This reduction in the number of claims will reduce the cost of the scheme as it operated up to 1 April 1986, a cost which prompted the then Government to introduce the amended scheme.

I turn now to subhead F.1. of the Vote of the Office of the Minister for Justice. The original division under subhead F.1. for criminal legal aid was £2.2 million and the additional amount now estimated to be required is £400,000.

My Department have no effective control over the two main determinants of expenditure on criminal legal aid which are, first, the decision by the courts to grant such aid and, secondly, the cost arising from the grant of it in any particular case. The courts alone have discretion to grant criminal legal aid and it would simply not be feasible to limit the discretion without changing the statutory — perhaps even the constitutional — position. Deputies will probably be aware that there is a Supreme Court ruling to the effect that accused persons have a constitutional right to legal aid in certain circumstances.

A number of factors has contributed to the high rate of expenditure this year. These include increased recourse generally to legal aid by the courts in disposing of criminal businesss coming before them in recent years and, overall, the speedier processing of claims submitted [400] by solicitors and counsel under the scheme.

The estimate of £2.2 million for criminal legal aid for this year was prepared in mid 1987, before it was clear that expenditure for 1987 would reach £2.4 million, which was considerably higher than any previous year. The high expenditure in 1987 was due to increased recourse to the scheme generally and this increase has been sustained in 1988. Therefore, expenditure for this year is up £200,000 only on expenditure in 1987.

I might also add that the revised allocation of £2.6 million for 1988 includes the value added tax on legal fees, which is ultimately recouped to the Exchequer, and the retention tax which is deducted from fees due, and paid directly to the Revenue Commissioners.

The final item of increased expenditure provided for in the Supplementary Estimate is the office of the Data Protection Commissioner. The Data Protection Act, 1988, which was passed by this House earlier this year, represents a very positive initiative in dealing with the implications of computer technology for personal privacy. The Act aims at protecting the privacy of individuals about whom automated data are kept by imposing certain obligations on the persons who keep or process such data and it also confers various rights on individuals, such as the right of access to automated data relating to them.

The Act will be brought into force when the registration machinery which it provides for is in full operation and data controllers and data processors have had time to adjust their data processing procedures to the requirements of the legislation. The operative date is expected to be not later than next April. Responsibility for implementing and enforcing the Act is in the hands of the Data Protection Commissioner appointed by the Government. The provision of a figure of £50,000 in the Supplementary Estimates relates to the expenditure on the commissioner's office for this year.

In line with Government policy the staff of the commissioner's office, some of whom have already been appointed, [401] are being provided from existing resources by redeployment while the amount of fees generated by registration will contribute significantly to defraying the other expenses of the office.

The Supplementary Estimate also takes account of a shortfall in income this year. Under subhead J. of the Vote a provision was made for Appropriations-in-aid of £620,000. The amount expected to be realised under this subhead is now estimated at £100,000 less than that figure.

Three different types of receipts are included in the Appropriations-in-aid. They are: film censorship fees; recoupment of salaries, etc. of officers on secondment, and miscellaneous.

The main variation compared with the original Estimate will arise under film censorship fees. There was a provision for £250,000 here whereas the amount that will actually be realised this year is £100,000. The provision under film censorship fees was in itself made up of two elements — first, fees in respect of cinema films and, second, fees in respect of video films. It was estimated that £100,000 would be received in respect of cinema films and £150,000 in respect of video films.

The estimated £100,000 from cinema films will be realised. In this context I should mention that fees in respect of cinema films submitted to the official censor of films were increased by 100 per cent with effect from 1 January of this year. An increase of this magnitude was necessary because the income from the fees in operation up to then was not sufficient to meet the running expenses of the Film Censor's office. There is a requirement in section 11 of the Censorship of Films Act, 1923, that fees to be charged should be arranged so as to produce as nearly as may be an annual sum sufficient to discharge the salaries and other expenses incidental to the working of the 1923 Act. The fees in operation since the beginning of this year will meet the expenses of the Film Censor's office and they also contain an element to offset previous losses in that office.

[402] There was also a provision for £150,000 to be obtained from fees in relation to video films. These fees are being provided for under the Video Recordings Bill, 1987. However, as Deputies are aware, this Bill has not been passed yet and, accordingly, no fees from this source have accrued this year and it is now clear that no fees will accrue even if the Act is passed before the end of the year. Accordingly, these fees will not arise until 1989. Incidentally, I should mention that the video fees will come from three sources and that, as in the case of the Censorship of Films Act, 1923, the fees will be set at a level sufficient to meet all of the expenses of the expanded Film Censor's office. The three sources from which the fees will be obtained are as follows: fees in respect of licences for retail and wholesale video film outlets; fees in respect of the examination of video films by the Film Censor, and fees in respect of labels which will have to be attached to each cassette containing a video work in respect of which the censor has issued a certificate authorising its supply.

Finally, in relation to subhead J., I should mention that the shortfall of £150,000 in respect of film censorship fees is offset to the tune of £50,000 additional income which will be realised from the recoupment of salaries, etc., of officers of my Department on secondment.

While the total extra sum required on the items I have mentioned amounts to £4.55 million, savings of £250,000 are expected on pay due to staff wastage being greater than anticipated. These savings serve to reduce the amount of the Supplementary Estimate to £4,300,000.

I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies on the Supplementary Estimate. I will take note of any points they raise and, in so far as it is possible, reply to them later this evening.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  In dealing with this Supplementary Estimate I would like if the Minister, when replying, could avail of the opportunity of giving us some information in relation to the bomb [403] hoaxes in the city centre today. The information that is coming through is very misleading. I have heard various reports that the Garda Síochána took it upon themselves to decide that there was no danger involved and that the objects that were planted around the premises in question did not need the attention of the Garda or of the Army bomb disposal unit. It is important that this matter be cleared up today because there will probably be newspaper reports of all descriptions.

The Minister should assure the House that there are in place procedures to be followed in the event of somebody discovering an object or an item that could be suspected of being some sort of bomb. I would like to hear the Minister assure this House that there is in place a procedure which presumably involves the Army bomb disposal unit and also the fire brigade and other authorities necessary to clear the streets because the question of criminal compensation will arise.

My information today is that people were left standing at bus stops when there were supposed to be four suspected items around the city. I want the Minister to clarify this matter. As he said, he does not deal in the area of gossip, but I want him to put on the record of this House what exactly took place, what procedures are there in the event of this happening again — which I hope it does not — and an assurance that there is a plan of action that is followed in all cases in the event of persons finding suspicious objects on their premises, particularly when information comes from the North of Ireland that these bombs possibly are somewhere throughout our city. It is always better to be wise before the event than after it, therefore I want to avail of this opportunity of raising this matter because I think it is extremely serious. I do so in all sincerity without wishing to create any scare or to try to play politics with this. It is important for the commerce of this city, for people's lives and safety, so that they can go to shop and feel secure, that if there is any possibility of these bombs [404] being placed in premises the area is cleared immediately and we know there is a plan in place. Will the Minister kindly state on the record of this House what procedures are followed when such events happen and that a plan of action is in place that is applied in all cases.

I will not be opposing this Supplementary Estimate before us. In fact, I welcome the additional resources being made available here to deal with the backlog of cases and awards made under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. However, the one question I ask is why we had to await until the month of November for a Supplementary Estimate. Surely we were aware that these cases were there — I am sure there are far more cases that should be dealt with — and that a sum of money was not provided originally when the Estimates were published early in 1988. Perhaps the Minister can explain to us why he was able to get £4 million at the end of the year and not before it. I have my suspicions, but we will leave it to him to tell us. I will not speculate. I am sure he has good reason. Anyhow it is nice to get it.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  When I can get it the Deputy gives out to me.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  I am always there backing the Minister up in trying to get extra resources to keep some sanity on these islands. Also I cannot understand why we have not been dragged into a court over this whole scheme and why somebody has not taken us to the European Court. I know the Minister is going to tell me that I was a member of a Government who abolished the main part of this scheme, namely, pain and suffering, but as he always said when he was in Opposition, he should not always be harking back to when we were in Government. He is now in Government so I am going to say precisely the same thing to him. I recall very vividly that when the last Government decided to abolish the pain and suffering aspect of this scheme there were howls of protest from Deputy Michael Woods on this side of the House [405] complaing bitterly about what this horrible Coalition Government were doing at the time, wrecking this scheme. My understanding also was that during the election campaign Fianna Fáil stated that if returned to Government they would reintroduce the pain and suffering aspect of this scheme. What has happened in the Fianna Fáil Party rooms since that happened? We have no proposals here to revert to the original scheme and to include pain and suffering. Maybe the Minister can tell us if he has something up his sleeve that maybe he is keeping for another day to announce the good news, or has he forgotten about the commitment given to the electorate during the last election campaign and prior to that back in April 1986 when this scheme was amended?

I have a couple of suggestions to make. Having examined this scheme and recognising that, unfortunately, there is a shortage of available finance for all aspects of the public service at present, I think we should seriously have another look at this scheme. I feel somewhat concerned that, in particular, persons going to the aid and assistance of a member of the Garda Síochána who is trying to perform his or her duty and becoming injured as a result of it, seriously injured in some cases, will have no compensation payable from the State to them. In that I include prison officers and other important people in our community who are there to serve and protect us. I am afraid people will stand back and say, “That is none of my business; that garda can look after himself because if I go in there and then am seriously injured I have a wife and two kids at home and nobody is going to look after me”. In any democracy if that starts creeping in it is dangerous. We need support for our police force at all times. We need to encourage people to report incidents to the Garda Síochána where they have suspicions, to come to the aid of members of the Garda Síochána who are trying to protect us as a society, and if something goes wrong in the process we should be generous enough to compensate somebody who would be seriously injured perhaps in [406] coming to the aid of the Garda Síochána. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reconsider the scheme. I know you have to cut your cloth and I realise there are over 2,000 applications per annum for compensation, that the bills we were facing were mounting, resources are scarce and we can do only so much, but there are certain things we have to do. One is that we protect victims who perhaps take it upon themselves to perform their civic duty and go to the aid of the Garda Síochána.

I understand that many of the cases that came before the tribunal were the result of rows — or whatever you call them — in public houses and hotels arising from drink. One fellow decides to smash a glass and stick it into somebody else's face and the person who is injured appeals to the tribunal for compensation. I have a suggestion to make to the Minister here. If somebody is prepared to serve alcohol to someone who is clearly under the influence and as a result that person causes an injury to another person, the person who serves the alcohol should be held somewhat responsible, and instead of the State and the taxpayer having to fork our some money, perhaps there should be an onus on the owner of the premises in question to see to it that people on their premises to whom they are serving alcohol should behave themselves and should not be sold more alcohold than is good for them. Therefore, in reintroducing a more comprehensive scheme we could look at that aspect and make people more responsible for those they allow on to and keep on their premises and to whom they serve alcohol.

I understand that that scheme is in operation in the US and that, in fact, it has gone beyond that. People are now claiming compensation if somebody gets into a car after being served drink on a premises and injuries a third party. The person injured can refer back to the publican who sold the drink to the person who injured him or her in the motor vehicle. I do not think we should go that far, but if a row develops on a premises and somebody is responsible for sticking a glass into somebody else's face and is [407] clearly under the influence of alcohol, somebody who sold that person an oversupply of alcohol should be responsible for that person's actions, and the taxpayer should not be the one to put his hand in his pocket to pay out compensation. Equally, the victim of such a horrible incident should receive some compensation. At the moment he or she will not because it is very difficult to prove liability against the owner of the premises. Therefore, we should have a look at that in reviewing this scheme.

The third suggestion I would like to make is that the Minister might consider imposing fixed limits on the amounts payable in certain instances such as will happen, I am sure, under insurance claims where a maximum amount is payable for the loss of an arm or an eye or under a personal accident policy in private insurance schemes at present. We should impose fixed limits and reduce the costs.

The fourth suggestion I would make is that somebody who performs an act and damages or causes injury to another person may not have the resources to meet the damages thereby incurred, but before the State is asked to step in, every possible step should be taken to see that the person who caused the injury pays up. If they have not got the resources at the time there should be powers of attachment to future earnings or income — if, perhaps, they won £400,000 in the lottery, they should have to pay the State any moneys that were paid out as a result of, maybe, a violent act against a person. We should look at the possibility of making certain that before somebody comes to the tribunal looking for compensation they have exhausted every possible avenue of recovering damages from the person who caused the injury in the first place. Even if, after exhausting every avenue, it is found that the only people who can pay out is the State there should be an attachment of earnings of the individual responsible for the damage or of their estate should they accumulate resources in the future.

These are some of the ways whereby [408] we could introduce a somewhat more comprehensive scheme than we have at present. I take the point that there are long delays not because the members of the tribunal are not dealing with the cases before them but because, since the introduction of this scheme every Minister for Justice has had considerable difficulty in getting sufficient funds under this subhead to meet outstanding claims. Every Minister for Justice would like to get £10 million to clear off every possible claim. That is the reality since this scheme was introduced. Therefore one cannot oppose this Supplementary Estimate. One has to welcome it because it goes some of the way, but there are still many cases outstanding where awards have not been made yet. I have details here before me that a colleague of mine on the back benches sent me about a situation in Cork where somebody sent him a copy of a letter from the tribunal saying that although they had told the person concerned that his case would be dealt with approximately at the end of April 1988, unfortunately it would now be another 12 months before it would be dealt with. That letter was dated 1 November 1988; the case is now nearly two years old so it is going to be three years before somebody receives the small amount of money they are entitled to get if the tribunal so decides. We just do not have the resources available at present to deal with the very limited scheme we have. There is no point in fooling ourselves. If I am asking the Minister to reintroduce the old scheme, I know what answer I am going to get: despite all the politics that were played by his party when the scheme was being introduced the last time and when the election campaign was in progress. That would not be the only promise broken by the Government since 1987.

What I am saying is that we could have a more comprehensive scheme if the Minister were to take on board some of the suggestions I have made. If there is anything wrong with any of the things I have suggested I would be delighted to hear from the Minister. We could be seen then to deal with each case more quickly and avoid a situation where some day [409] somebody is going to drag us into court, perhaps the European Court, and we will have egg all over our faces, again being forced to do things for which we have not the resources.

In relation to other aspects of this Supplementary Estimate I want to ask the Minister about the loss of revenue resulting from the non-passing of the Video Recordings Bill. The Minister says he anticipated £150,000 in fees if that Bill had gone through but that there is a subsequent saving of £50,000 on salaries. I was shocked to hear that because I understood that this Video Recordings Bill was going to be self-financing. According to those figures it would cost the taxpayer £100,000. Is that right? Or is it the other way around? The Minister is saying that we will lose £150,000 but there is a subsequent saving of £50,000.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  It is going to be self-financing.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  I see; it is the other way around. It will be self-financing.

That is all I have to say. I do not want to delay the House much longer. I would ask the Minister to comment on the few points I have made in relation to a more comprehensive scheme. I would urge him also to use this opportunity to put our minds at rest in regard to the incidents that occurred in the centre city earlier today, particularly as we are coming up to the Christmas period.

I sincerely hope we can do something to bring along a number of the outstanding cases that are with the tribunal in which no awards have been made at this stage, because three years is far too long to leave people waiting.

Miss Colley: Information on Anne Marie Colley  Zoom on Anne Marie Colley  First, this party will not be opposing the allocation of these sums to the Department of Justice. I and my party feel that some movement on the criminal injuries compensation fund is long overdue. On the Supplementary Estimate that was introduced here last week from the Department of Finance relating to the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney [410] General I made the point very strongly that I believed it was absolutely wrong that persons who had been injured in the course of the commission of crimes should have to wait a number of years to be compensated. There is a great backlog that has built up. It is simply not fair to those who have been victims, through their innocent involvement in crimes, to have to take this delay.

In relation to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, the Minister mentions that there are delays of approximately a year. Deputy Barrett referred to that. My experience is that the delays are of far more than a year. In fact in a reply the Minister gave us before this debate at Question Time he indicated that there is a number of cases going back as far as 1983. That itself points to the inherent delays in the system. I know that the provisions of the scheme changed in 1986, but it is simply appalling that there are hundreds of people who have had to wait so long for the settlement of their cases.

This points one more time to the issue of where stands the victim of crime in our society. Last week I quoted the Director of Public Prosecutions when he made his case and I agree with him totally. The victim of crime has become lost in the system. We have to remember that the victim is the most important person in the process of redressing what has been an act against society, because without that victim coming forward and acting as witness and pressing charges we will not have an effective criminal justice system, and I believe that the structures within that criminal justice system, whether it be in the prosecution of cases, the type of penalties that are handed out or compensation for being injured in the course of crimes being committed, should reflect the fact that society feels very strongly that crimes are to be outlawed by that society.

Let me also take the chance to mention, while the Minister for Justice is here, that the point that was particularly made by the Director of Public Prosecutions was that without much alteration to the structures it would be [411] possible to involve the victim or the witness in the procedures leading up to the trial, to take part in the process, even in cases that are not in fact continued with so that he can understand why that happens, thereby allowing him to see that justice is being done. When deciding important issues we should not ignore the central role that the victim has played, and can play. It is a mark of a good society, one which cares for its people, if it is seen to protect such a victim in its structures.

I note that the Minister has said that the level of claims has dropped drastically since the new scheme was introduced. That may be so but, unfortunately, it does not reflect a drop in the number of offences committed, particularly offences against the person. The latest report on crime showed a sharp increase in the number of offences against the person. It would be foolish to take heart from the fact that the number of claims against the fund is reducing. In my view that indicates that the victim is lost in the criminal justice scheme because, effectively, it rules out claims from the vast majority of those who could quite reasonably be regarded as victims of crime. I do not think that is warranted and it should be addressed and changed without delay.

I also note that the Supplementary Estimate relates to the criminal injury compensation fund of £4 million but in next year's Estimate there is a provision of £2 million for the fund. The estimate for this year was £1.9 million while for 1987 it was £3.2 million. We are building in further delays to the scheme by allocating a figure of £2 million to the fund for 1989. What is the reason for that when we are being asked to agree to a Supplementary Estimate today for £4 million which will be added to the estimate of £1.9 million? The Minister has said that all claims on which decisions have been reached will be paid after the Supplementary Estimate is passed but there are many cases on appeal, awaiting further documentation or at other levels of investigation. There are so many cases involved that the allocation of £2 million [412] for next year will be seriously short of the target. Therefore, we will be asked once more to pass a Supplementary Estimate during the year.

In January 1986 the present leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Dukes, when he was Minister for Finance removed general damages from the scheme thereby reducing the number of claims and the amount of money which could be claimed. I was not a Member of the House at the time but I understand that Fianna Fáil vigorously opposed those changes. For that reason I find it difficult to understand why the Minister is not introducing an amendment to the scheme, in conjunction with the Supplementary Estimate, reinstating general damages. I urge the Minister to do so as soon as possible. It is difficult to understand how Deputy Barrett can somehow try to pretend that he is looking for changes in the scheme when he is not redressing what Deputy Dukes did in 1986. He is not going back on what Fine Gael did in Government but he has told us that there should be changes.

Neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael have said they believe that a caring society should compensate its victims of crime. There should be a proper system of compensation and it should not be allowed to run riot with finance. I am suggesting that the scheme should recognise those who are genuinely affected by crimes. I do not see any reason that the rules of the scheme should have been changed or why they should not be altered now. I differ from Deputy Barrett's comments about people being reluctant to go to the aid of gardaí because there is no compensation for injuries. To be fair to the public at large the issue of compensation is not one that enters their minds if they see a garda in difficulties. If they are going to help they will do so without giving any thought to the issue of compensation. I do not think an offer of compensation will induce people to help gardaí.

In general the vast majority of people have a good attitude towards the Garda and that should be fostered. However, we should acknowledge that the role of the citizen is such that if he or she is [413] injured in the course of preventing a crime or aiding a garda proper compensation should be paid. There should be a similar provision in regard to prison officers. Some time ago the Prisons Officers' Association suggested that either the scheme be amended in relation to them or a new scheme, along the lines of that which applied to the gardaí, introduced. I do not understand why the scheme has not been changed because they are involved, like the Garda, in the administration of justice. I do not see why prison officers should get the rough end of the compensation stick.

It is worth noting that the reasons for the increase in criminal legal aid include, to a large extent, the high levels of unemployment. If we did not have such high levels of unemployment we would not have so many people qualifying for crimminal legal aid.

Mr. Taylor: Information on Mervyn Taylor  Zoom on Mervyn Taylor  We would not have so much crime either.

Miss Colley: Information on Anne Marie Colley  Zoom on Anne Marie Colley  This is another indication that the Government have failed abysmally to address the problem of unemployment. The real economy which needs jobs and economic activity has not felt the winds of change that the Government are proclaiming are being felt by the financial sector. We should bear that in mind. When allocating funds for next year we should acknowledge that many of our unemployed will be eligible for criminal legal aid.

The Minister told the House that there was a 100 per cent increase in fees for submission of films to the Film Censor and that the fee now contains an element to offset previous losses in that office. While I agree with the Minister that one should make the office self-sufficient — I think that is a very fair basis on which to operate — the film distributors are getting a service which albeit is required by the legislation but they should still pay for it, but I would query slightly whether it is covered by the Censorship of Films Act, 1923, that the annual sum can in fact cover a sum over and above that which is sufficient to cover the running costs for [414] a year? The Minister seems to indicate that that is now the case because of the extra element which is to offset the previous losses. It may be a technical point but I think it is worth examining.

Finally, we agree with the Supplementary Estimate. It is about time that something was done on the criminal injuries scheme, and I urge the Minister to continue this effort and to address his mind to it when considering next year's Estimates.

Mr. Taylor: Information on Mervyn Taylor  Zoom on Mervyn Taylor  The Labour Party also will be supporting the Supplementary Estimate which is put forward here today by the Minister for Justice. On the question of compensation for criminal injuries, we have allowed a situation to develop by which awards which were made a year ago or more by the tribunal have still not been paid. The purpose of the Supplementary Estimate in part at least is to remedy that situation. In general, it is entirely wrong and unacceptable that when a tribunal eventually gets around to making an award that anything should happen other than that the amount of the award should be immediately paid. It is incredible that we have tolerated a situation until now where a duly appointed board examine a situation and give an order directing that £X be paid to that person, and that, notwithstanding that, the person still has to wait for a year or two or three years in some cases for the award. In no area of Government should that be allowed to happen. Whatever schemes operate and at whatever level they operate, once in place they should be funded so that an award is made, the person gets his money when the decree is given. The members of the public are entitled to that.

Much comment has been made this afternoon on the history of the criminal injuries compensation scheme and how the previous Government dissipated it, which regrettably they did in 1986 to the howls of anguish and so on from Fianna Fáil. It was not just howls of anguish that emanated from Fianna Fáil, but as can be seen from the record of this House, the present Minister for Social Welfare, [415] Deputy Michael Woods gave a commitment, that if Fianna Fáil was returned to office the scheme would be reinstated. I have raised questions about that since but it is obviously quite clear that there is no intention of doing that. Of course, I have to concede that I was part of that Government but nonetheless I think the scheme was good but costly. However, we have gone to the other extreme and it is possibly a misnomer to say that the scheme has been scaled down. For practical purposes the scheme is gone and we are merely dealing with the arrears. The number of cases dealt with as the scheme stands in its emasculated state is virtually negligible, and the awards to be given under it are negligible. Most people who might conceivably have small claims under the scheme are unlikely to bring them because the legal costs are not paid in addition to the amount of the award. The scheme is virtually at a dead letter because we have gone to the other extreme. I wonder if either solution is correct — either the position at present where the whole scheme is virtually gone or having the full scheme as was the position in 1986? I posit the proposition for the Minister's consideration next year that perhaps the correct thing to do would be to have an arrangement somewhere between the two. There should be some scheme, not as miserable and virtually non-existent as we have at present and perhaps not as generous as that which existed at considerable expense up until 1986. In between those two positions there are a multitude of options that could be examined. There are some very hard cases resulting from the dissipation of the scheme. In certain cases people lose their livelihood or parents may be injured to such an extent that they cannot look after their children or perform their work and they are left virtually high and dry.

It ought to be possible for us in this House to organise the finances, and I am sure all parties would support the view that within broad discretionary limits the criminal injuries compensation board should have a discretion in cases of [416] serious injury where loss of limb or loss of earning capacity would be concerned. We at least should make some provision to ensure that families who are left in that position through no fault of their own would have at least some kind of life left for themselves and for their families. Broad justice requires that. There is a responsibility on the Government, particularly having regard to the big fuss they made in 1986 and the major opposition they mounted to consider at least reinstating the scheme, even in a reduced form, to deal with the hard cases that are undoubtedly emanating now. They should not just sit back and let the present situation roll on as it is now. I do not seek to exonerate myself completely from responsibility for the present position.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  The Deputy cannot exonerate himself at all.

Mr. Taylor: Information on Mervyn Taylor  Zoom on Mervyn Taylor  I do not seek to do that but by the same token neither may the Minister sit back as relaxed as I am happy to see him appear to be now — it is nice to see some of the Ministers in good health anyway — and accept the status quo which was brought about by the previous Government. I suppose it is a bit analogous to the position of victims of hit-and-run accidents under the Motor Insurers' Bureau scheme. We have had the scandalous situation over the years under which hit-and-run victims had no real recourse, except in very exceptional circumstances. I understand that is to be changed very shortly, coming up to the New Year. This change is long overdue and I am very glad to see it. But by the same token upstanding citizens and innocent people who may find themselves very brutally attacked and seriously injured should have proper redress.

We must have responsibility to help out and to assist our fellow men and women who, through no fault of their own but as a result of our own failure as a society in some cases, find themselves in that position. Very many of these attacks on citizens result from our own failures in society in providing employment and social conditions for young [417] people, many of whom commit these attacks. I do not say that all of them are due to that but certainly some of them are and in providing an adequate and sufficient Garda force to protect the people which we do not provide and which the Government do not provide, we have a responsibility to look after those of our citizens who are unfortunate enough to find themselves maimed and injured in criminal attacks.

I want to say a few words about the estimate for criminal legal aid. It is essential that people who cannot afford to be criminally represented should have legal aid provided for them and I am sure all of us support that proposition. At the same time the way the criminal legal aid scheme was operated raises at least some questions for examination by the House. I wonder whether the scheme could be re-examined or if a different scheme could be devised that would meet the situation equally well. I do not know whether any examination or any consideration at any time ever on the criminal legal aid side was given to deal with the situation by means of law centres. Perhaps, that was looked at and discarded at some stage, I do not know, but whether it was or not I want to at least throw out the suggestion that legal aid on the criminal side could be provided by setting up full-time State employed lawyers, both solicitors and barristers, who would operate through law centres and be available to give legal defence services to those who would be entitled to them under the scheme.

I do not know whether a study was ever carried out along those lines. That kind of arrangement would have a lot of merit. The lawyers would be full-time State employees and would have an expertise in all branches of the law. I do not know what the relative costings of operating a scheme in that way would be vis-à-vis the present scheme which is operated in — for want of a better word — a private enterprise type situation and under which many solicitors and barristers seem to earn very substantial sums. I suggest to the Minister that perhaps some study could be carried out of [418] the possibility of organising law centres throughout the country under which full-time employees, solicitors and barristers could operate the scheme. A better service might be made available to members of the public by that method also.

Much of the cost involved in administering the scheme results from the failure to carry out any major improvements or modernisation in the whole of the criminal law administration system. In many respects it is antiquated and no major overhaul has taken place for a very long time. If it was overhauled and updated, and some of the old systems dispensed with, there would be improvements in the costings both of prosecution and of defence at no loss of the rights of any person who would find themselves charged before the criminal courts. The deposition system is still there for the serious crime. It is not as delayed as it used to be when I started practising and when these things had to be taken down in manuscript. Nonetheless, I wonder if the whole preliminary inquiry deposition system is really necessary. Again, it goes to the question of treating the question of prosecution as a judicial matter. I believe it should more appropriately be an administrative decision on whether prosecutions should be brought or not.

We tie ourselves up in knots in the legal systems here. The Senezio case and all that flowed from that cost the State, in one form or another, enormous sums of money, and the issue is not yet finished. I happened to be down in the District Court this morning when District Justice Ruane was merrily striking out prosecution after prosecution by the Minister for Social Welfare involving cases of social welfare fraud amounting to a couple of hundred thousand pounds. He struck out the entire list because of a fall-out still in existence from the prosecution procedures. I do not know why we find it so difficult to devise more simplified prosecution procedures.

Those are the few points I wanted to make. I do not now whether it would be helpful to look at the question of increasing the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court at this stage. I suggest that [419] that be looked at and if it is possible to do that that is should be done. I know there are constraints there under the Constitution under which the District Court is restricted to hearing cases of what are described as a minor nature. That definition may have some fluidity in it. District justices by and large are skilled in the administration of criminal justice and if there is scope for increasing the jurisdiction of the District Court on the criminal side I suggest that that be seriously examined.

Mr. McCartan: Information on Patrick McCartan  Zoom on Patrick McCartan  On behalf of The Workers' Party I would like to make a number of comments on the general area covered by the proposed amended Estimates presented by the Minister today. As indicated by the previous speakers, we would, in principle, be supporting the Estimates but, nonetheless have some points to make with regard to the various issues raised.

The increase in the Estimate for criminal injuries compensation is welcome. In the debate on the Estimates in this House on 17 June last I took the opportunity in addressing the House to draw attention to the appalling situation regarding the delays then occurring in the payment of the awards made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. I then instanced a case that had come to my attention that very morning of an application arising out of a case involving an assault, on 25 September 1985 where in July 1987 the tribunal having been approached indicated that a decision might be made in or about October of that year but subsequently indicated that the decision would be delayed further. Because adequate money was not made available to the tribunal they were not sitting to reach decisions on applications because there was no point. In the Official Report, Volume 382, column 889, I said that money must be made available to enable that tribunal discharge all outstanding claims without delay. Clearly I am happy with what is happening here today regarding the allocation of £4 million and the assurance which I understand [420] the Minister has given that by the end of this year the awards that have been decided in those 770-odd cases will be paid. It is a welcome gesture for the time of year and no doubt the Minister will make as much hay of it as he can, and I suppose he is welcome to do so.

However, that does not leave the matter well resolved. There are as many issues now arising in this whole area as were ever there and will be after those 770 have been dealt with, the first is the remaining cases that are on the list. The Minister must ensure that the tribunal begins to sit again at a good pace and at a pace for which they were highly regarded in the early years of this tribunal. In my early years as a practitioner I remember speaking with the secretary of the tribunal and he asked me to remind practitioners in the field that they existed and that there was recourse to compensation. It was a tribunal which was originally set up to compensate the unfortunate victims of the Dublin bombings in the early seventies and then went on to help all other victims of crime who suffered personal injury.

This is a point of principle that has to be underscored. The existence of the tribunal underlies and recognises the fact that the victims of crime are a product of our society, that we as a community are in some way, if not to a great extent, responsible for creating the conditions that produce crime and in turn we must recognise that and seek to help those that fall innocently victim of crimes perpetrated. The fact that the previous Government virtually wiped out the workings of the tribunal was something that was condemned on the day. Even on the basis that Fianna Fáil then were so vociferous the Minister has a responsibility to redefine the terms of reference of that tribunal or, alternatively, take some action with regard to compensation for the victims of crime. There have been a number of suggestions put to him in the House today. In a later debate I hope he will be afforded an opportunity to respond to some of those suggestions.

Nobody has advocated, nor do I, that [421] the scheme should be reinstated in its entirety. But some fund must be established, on a statutory or discretionary basis, to ensure that the innocent victims of crime, placed at a monetary disadvantage, are assisted. Whether it be a fund established within the Department or one operated by the tribunal, some fund must be established. There are many hardship cases, people who have been disabled, who have been put out of work either temporarily or permanently, people gravely disadvanteged by injuries inflicted on them. I would beseech the Minister not to ignore them, not to pass on from this debate in any sense of gratification at the backlog having been eliminated but rather to look to future needs in this respect. In the context of what was suggested as a good package for the insurance industry an argument must be advanced for the introduction of some scheme similar to that operated by the Motor Insurers' Bureau, whereby insurance companies would contribute, along with Government, to a fund to compensate the innocent victims of crime.

I raised in the House earlier today the plight of those victims of what is considered to be one of the most heinous crimes perpetrated today, that is the crime of rape and of serious sexual assault. Bearing in mind that the Rape Crisis Centre is facing imminent closure, would the Minister not consider allocating, say, £200,000 out of the £400 million available to him within this Estimate to the Rape Crisis Centre as a gesture to the victims of one of the most heinous crimes committed within our society? Would it not be more meaningful to render the functions of that centre viable throughout the country for the foreseeable future and, within the Minister's Estimates for the ensuing year, make up the shortfall of the tribunal to enable them deal with their ongoing costs? The Minister has kept some of these people waiting so long — as I cited, in a case in June last — sometimes upwards of five years, a couple of months extra will not make a great deal of difference to the few, if any, who would be affected. It [422] should be remembered that the awards have been made in respect of the 770 cases which will be paid and it will take the tribunal a couple of months to be fully operational and deal with the remainder.

The Irish Association of Victim Support is another body who cannot go unmentioned here today. I was amazed that no previous contributor to the debate took up their cause. They are a nationwide support group for the victims of crime. They counsel, assist, befriend and help victims in every way possible and have been able to survive with an allocation of as little as £10,000 per annum from the Government. I understand that they do not now know from where any future financial help will emanate. That is a scandalous state of affairs vis-à-vis an organisation who enjoy the patronage of the Presidency. Surely they deserve better than to be completely ignored or spurned by Government?

Because so little has been said by previous contributors and because I spent the substantial portion of my days in practice working as a criminal defence lawyer I should like to say something more with regard to criminal legal aid. Despite the dramatic headlines carried in the media about individual legal earnings I must reiterate that the criminal legal aid scheme is an excellent one in terms of the service it provides and is extremely cheap for Government. The fact that the State is required to pay £2.4 million only is remarkable when one examines the cost of providing a nationwide scheme ensuring that criminal defence is available for the thousands of cases assigned to its provisions in all courts — from the Special to the Central, to the Circuit and District courts — deploying solicitors and barristers. When one examines the real cost the picture is even more astounding. After the deduction of VAT, automatically retained at 25 per cent, and a retention charge of 35 per cent, my estimation is that the scheme costs the State approximately £1.2 million per annum. When one compares that amount with the position obtaining on the civil side — in the terms of law centres — one begins to appreciate the good value [423] provided by the solicitors and barristers who operate the criminal legal aid scheme. Indeed I pay tribute to the very many young qualified, idealistically-driven people, who go into the district court to defend people at a very small rate of pay. It is often forgotten that the majority of solicitors and barristers who operate the provisions of that scheme do so at a very low rate of remuneration. That must be put on the record here today.

I want to take up an issue raised by Deputy Taylor, that is the fact that a public defender scheme of any type has not been introduced, though fully examined by Tormey in his report in 1976, simply because the current scheme is much more cost-effective and more capable of being controlled by the Department than any other. That affords me an opportunity to refer to the Tormey Report of 1976 which has been ignored by every Government since its publication. Neither has any of its recommendations been addressed or dealt with. I want to deal with one, that is the issue of extradition, today. We had the spectacle in our courts in Portlaoise recently when lawyers who had been requested to deal with a case that would have lasted several days, involving considerable complexity, were expected to sit in court and deal with its implications for the princely sum of £75. That is a joke. There is no question that the extension of the criminal legal aid scheme — suggested by Tormey — to cover extradition will put money in the way of the Provisionals or anybody else like that. Happily we lock away the Provisionals, the INLA or any other para-militaries who find their way to the Special Criminal Court, effectively using the provisions of the criminal legal aid scheme, and without grudge. Equally if we are to extend its provisions and deal seriously with the question of extraditing these people to face trial in Northern Ireland or Britain, we should do so on a proper basis, that is that criminal legal aid be made available to fund their defence if such is to be raised. The haphazard approach to the payment of lawyers' fees [424] in the District Court or elsewhere — requiring such to be raised case by case, on occasion involving the walk-out of lawyers in an endeavour to make the point — does not constitute a desirable way of dealing with the matter. That question must be resolved once and for all.

Allied to all of this and the operations of the criminal legal aid scheme is the overall dignity of the courts, particularly at district level. The criminal legal aid scheme does not operate well in the District Court, nor does the payment to lawyers. One matter the Minister must examine is the delay in payment of fees to lawyers, who can sometimes wait six months and longer in respect of individual cases. I wonder why the computer section within the Department is not deployed for the payment of legal aid. It is used in maintaining records within the Department but it is not used as a medium by which the courts can relate back to the Department the amount in fees to be paid out. A large amount of paper work needs to be done by lawyers which in turn has to be certified by clerks, the DPP's office, the Chief State Solicitor's Office and the Department of Justice. If an error is found along the way it is sent back down along the line. Surely, this process can be tidied up by making better use of the computer section.

When we speak of the proper working of the legal system, particularly in the criminal area, we must mention the conditions under which people have to work in the district courts. This matter has been raised on a number of occasions in this House and central to this question is the need to ensure that the courts carry out their work effectively and earn the respect of the community as a result of carrying out their duties in proper surroundings. Anyone who walks into Kilmainham district court any day and sees the conditions which exist there would feel ashamed. It is a disgrace that the law of this land is being administered in places like Kilmainham district court, Dún Laoghaire district court and the Bridewell courts in Chancery Street — they are out of another era. They are scruffy, [425] dirty and do not benefit the administration of justice as laid down in the Constitution of this land. It is under these conditions that people who are paid a pittance under the criminal legal aid scheme have to carry out their duties. At the end of the day this will bring the administration of justice into disrepute and will only add and lend to a continuing disregard for the law and for those who seek to administer justice in our courts. These are matters which are clearly linked to the Supplementary Estimates and I hope the Minister will take some of them on board.

I would like to refer to the allocation of £50,000 for the office of the Data Protection Commissioner. I welcome the Minister's offer of a firm start up date for this very important legislation. I hope he will ensure that this legislation will be in place by April of next year. I would like to say to the Minister, as the officer who directed and steered this important legislation through the Dáil, that there does not appear to be any awareness among the public or industry of the existence of this legislation or its implications and the fact that it will be in operation by next April. I have taken every opportunity to ask people in industry if they are aware of this legislation and appreciate its implications but they do not seem to be aware of its existence and I ask the Minister to use some of the funds being allocated in promulgating the legislation so that people will be aware of their rights under this new legislation.

The final point I wish to make is in relation to the Film Censor's office. I welcome the putting on release the controversial film, as it was believed, the “Last Temptation of Christ”, and I pay tribute to the cinema-going public who have behaved so well and sensibly. When one considers the attitude of the Israeli public and government and given the fact that in France only two cinemas are showing the film because of the threat of bombings one has to pay tribute to the Irish public for the way in which they have responded so maturely and sensibly. I must say that it was a pleasure to note [426] that the loony rights movement stayed at home on this occasion.

Miss Colley: Information on Anne Marie Colley  Zoom on Anne Marie Colley  Everybody else did, too.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  It has collapsed.

Mr. McCartan: Information on Patrick McCartan  Zoom on Patrick McCartan  It is an excellent film.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Has the Deputy seen it?

Mr. McCartan: Information on Patrick McCartan  Zoom on Patrick McCartan  I have.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I hope the Deputy watched it from the beginning. He is at that impressionable age.

Mr. McCartan: Information on Patrick McCartan  Zoom on Patrick McCartan  Right until the very end.

Mrs. Barnes: Information on Monica Barnes  Zoom on Monica Barnes  Before making the points I wish to make on the Supplementary Estimate, like Deputy McCartan I would like also to pay tribute to the Irish Film Censor, for trusting the Irish public to make their own decisions and to act in a responsible way. This is a sign that as a society we are growing up.

I will not delay the House for too long as many of the points I wish to make have already been made but I would like to endorse what has been said in regard to the allocation under subhead G.1. — compensation for personal injuries criminally inflicted. I welcome this allocation which will enable the arrears to be met. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to what has been put forward in that perhaps the original scheme was very costly and that there may have been some abuses but the total denial of this scheme will lead to the victimisation of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Perhaps another model might be considered which would mark an improvement on what has happened up until now and which will enable those who have been victimised to receive some sort of compensation, particularly in cases where people's livelihoods have been affected.

I agree with those who said that we must remember that the law is not just about technicalities, that is also about [427] catering for those who have been victimised and who have to have recourse to it. I would ask the Minister to give serious consideration to providing moneys, perhaps under this Estimate or from elsewhere, to the Victim Support Group. While of course financial support is of tremendous importance psychological support is also important. The work which the Victim Support Group do is invaluable. I know of people who have learned to live again without fear through the support of that group. The cost of running this service pales into insignificance when compared with the tremendous support this group provide to those who may have locked themselves away and live in a state of terror and fear until they received that support. I ask the Minister to seriously consider providing moneys for them.

I am aware that this Supplementary Estimate deals only with criminal legal aid. Deputy McCartan made the point that this was a very cost effective scheme but I am not so sure, as some of the figures quoted in respect of some of the practitioners would seem to indicate, that this scheme is incredibly profitable for some practitioners. I would ask the Minister to consider what Deputy Taylor suggested, that we might look at the cost effectiveness of having law centres where a mixture of free criminal legal aid and free civil aid would be provided. I would like once again to draw attention to the urgent need to provide free civil legal aid in law centres which would provide both. In the process waste on administration might be cut. We have admitted in recent debates that it is a scandal and amounts to a denial of justice that we do not have a free civil legal aid scheme operating in this country in the way we would like it to operate. I do not know whether any exploration in this area has been done by the Department of Justice but as professional skills become more and more costly to the Exchequer perhaps we should look at more effective and administratively efficient ways of running the free legal aid system.

[428] I welcome the fact that the Supplementary Estimate has taken into consideration the funding of implementation of the Data Protection Act. I think Deputy McCartan was right that people outside and particularly victims — and sometimes it is the ordinary public who can be the victims here — do not realise the extent to which data can be stored and used against people. They seem to be powerless to get corrections made to the data and this can damage their lives to an incredible extent. A recent programme on British television which expressed concern about this fact reckoned that 40 million people in Britain are already recorded on computers and data banks and that most of those people are unaware of the degree of information on them the extent of the personal invasion of their privacy. I welcome the funding of the full implementation of the Data Protection Act. It is very important that people know their rights in this area. Under the Act there will be a right of access to this automated data which relates to people. It is a very welcome piece of legislation and it needs all the financial support it can get to make it effective.

I know some savings on pay are expected due to staff wastage and the secondment of other staff. The Minister in his speech mentioned savings of £250,000. While I am sure some of the auditors and accountants in the Department would immediately tell that one cannot shift money around, I would like to think that some of the savings could be used to support the victims who were already alluded to by Deputy McCartan — the victims who are given counsel and helped back to leading a normal life through the work of the Rape Crisis Centre. I know the Minister is well aware of the critical position of this centre and its fight for survival. When we talk about compensation to victims, both psychological and financial, in all justice and fairness we have to take into consideration the network of support which the Rape Crisis Centre gives to people. This cannot be removed from the very people who need it.

[429] There may be a saving with regard to some of the staff within the Department of Justice but I suggest to the Minister that one area where there is a need for an increase in staff within the Department is in the section dealing with the drafting of legislation. There is a delay at present in the drafting of, say, the Bill dealing with property in a marriage. This is urgently needed to legislate for the judgment already made by Justice Barr in relation to the sharing of property in a marriage and the judgment on mortages which, as I know the Minister is well aware, is a cause of injustice and vulnerability to women in the home and to families. Therefore, I should like to put forward two suggestions to the Minister. With regard to the savings there would seem to be in some areas in the Department of Justice, these savings should go towards contracting draftspeople into the Department in an effort to ensure that that legislation is brought in before the end of the year.

Legislation on the reform of rape laws is urgently required but we have been told that a lack of draftspeople is causing an undue delay. If staff are seconded or brought in on contract into the Department this would be an effective way of ensuring that the legislation is brought in and would not interfere with any embargoes on staffing. With regard to the secondment of draftspeople to help in drafting reforming legislation which has been urgently needed for so long, perhaps consideration should be given to contracting women who would know and be aware of the experiences of women who desperately need this kind of legislation.

The legislation with regard to DNA fingerprinting to help in coping with crime and its detection is very welcome. I should like the Minister to ensure that when the legislation is being implemented — and I hope this will be in the near future — he will have adequate funding and resources so that it can be implemented in full.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Collins): Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil [430] leis na Teachtaí a chuir fáilte roimh an Meastachán Forlíontach um thráthnóna agus a bhí páirteach san díospóireacht.

I am thankful to the Deputies for the general welcome which they have given to this Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Justice. A number of points were raised which I will try to deal with as best I can.

First, I should like to refer to the point raised by Deputy Seán Barrett who had difficulty in understanding why we had not been dragged into court with regard to the delay in paying out some of the moneys due. In fact, as far as the delay in paying awards is concerned I understand the tribunal has been dragged into court and the High Court decided that a person who has accepted an award is not entitled to be paid in advance of moneys being provided by the Oireachtas. Deputy Barrett suggested that the scheme should be revised and one suggested revision is that the scheme as it operated up to 31 March 1986 should be restored. This would mean that payment could again be made in respect of pain and suffering. Another suggestion is that the pain and suffering element should be restored in certain cases. A strong argument can be made, for instance, that pain and suffering should be an element in the case of victims of rape. Similarly, a strong case can be made for a person who goes to the assistance of the Garda.

Suggestions that the scheme should be revised must be viewed in the context of the history of the scheme. As I have said already, the scheme was introduced in 1974 and in the early years of the scheme the number of claims was at a fairly modest level. However, in the early eighties the volume of claims began to escalate and, as a result of this, the then Government decided to review the scheme as it had got extremely expensive. When the scheme was being reviewed calculations were made as to what the real cost of the scheme would be in 1986 if it were not revised. The estimate was that the real cost of the scheme would be £11.5 million in 1986. In other words, the first cost of the claims that would be lodged in 1986 would cost £11.5 million. [431] Similarly, at the time of the review the real cost of claims lodged in 1985 was estimated at £9.2 million. I think it is clear from these figures that the scheme was escalating at an alarming rate in the mid-eighties. It was against that background that the Government decided to review the scheme and to significantly reduce its cost by eliminating compensation in respect of pain and suffering.

There is another factor which has to be taken into account in considering whether or not the scheme should have been revised now. If the House agrees with the Supplementary Estimate payment of the additional £4 million, the payment of that money will, of course, be made this year. The £4 million, plus the amount in the original Estimate, means that the award to be paid will in actual fact be £6 million. The number of claims covered by the total amount will be approximately 1,000. There will remain, however, a backlog of claims totalling approximately 3,000. Deputies will readily appreciate, therefore, that there is a significant debt still to be met arising from the scheme. By far the greater proportion of these claims relate to the scheme as it obtained up to 31 March 1986. I would regard these claims as a first charge on any moneys available and a charge that would have to be met before consideration could realistically be given to revising the scheme in a manner that would cost more.

The net point is that the revised scheme was introduced by the previous Government in the light of the escalating cost of the scheme to the Exchequer at that time. As I have said in the House on previous occasions, in the light of available resources I see no real prospect of returning to a more favourable basis for compensation under the scheme.

In the context of the idea of fixed limits of compensation raised by Deputy Barrett, I think it would be interesting to look at the position that obtains in other European countries in the context of revising the scheme. Schemes of compensation operating in the United Kingdom and Denmark are basically on [432] the lines of the scheme that operated here up to 31 March 1986, that is to say, payment can be made in respect of pain and suffering and there is no limit on the amount of any individual award. In the Netherlands there are limits on maximum payments under the scheme. A maximum of £7,000 applies to awards for material damages and there is a maximum of £3,000 in respect of “immaterial damage”.

In France a maximum of £26,000 approximately applies to any individual award. To qualify for compensation however the injury must be so serious as to keep the victim from work for at least one month or must result in some permanent disablement. Luxembourg has a scheme in which compensation is limited to physical injury and in which a maximum of £15,000 applies. Italy has a scheme which is restricted to public servants who are killed or incapacitated in the course of their duties. The scheme also covers citizens who, when legally requested, assist the police and those who are killed or injured as a result of terrorist activites. To qualify under the scheme, which provides for awards up to a maximum of £50,000, the injury must have resulted in death or at least 80 per cent incapacitation.

As will be seen from the example I have given, schemes vary from State to State and most of these schemes I have referred to were not as generous as the scheme which obtained here up to 1986. Under that scheme there was no limit on the amount of an individual award. Indeed, there were several awards down through the years that ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Perhaps I should make a final point on this question of comparing schemes with those in operation in other countries by saying that there is a Council of Europe resolution which relates to the compensation of victims of crime. This resolution recommended that the member states provide for State compensation of victims, or dependants of victims, of international violence where compensation could not be ensured by any other means. As a result of the resolution [433] the Council drew up a Convention. One of the articles of the Convention reads as follows:

Compensation should cover, according to the case under consideration, at least the following items: loss of earnings, medical and hospitalisation expenses and funeral expenses, and, as regards dependants, loss of maintenance.

The minimum criteria set out in the convention are met by the existing scheme.

Deputy Barrett made a number of suggestions about ways in which victims should be compensated. I will give careful consideration to these suggestions and, accordingly, I will not reply to them in detail this evening. I will make one point of clarification, that is, that victims who claim under the scheme are expected to get compensation from the person who injured them where that is possible. Indeed, paragraph 16 of the scheme provides that any compensation so obtained must be deducted from any award made by the tribunal

Deputy Barrett raised the case of an individual applicant under the scheme. I think I ought to make it clear that I cannot comment on individual claims. That is a matter solely for the tribunal and indeed there is a provision in the scheme which says: “The Tribunal will be entirely responsible for deciding in any particular case...”

Deputy Colley questioned my statement that the delay in making payment after an award is one year. That statement was correct and is perfectly in line with the statement I made earlier today. That is the position. Of course, the time taken in making payment after receipt of a claim is a different matter. I have already indicated that a number of matters may inhibit early payment, some of them completely apart from financial availability.

Deputy Colley raised a legal point about section 11 of the Censorship of Films Act, 1923. She wondered if it was correct legally when setting the fees to allow for losses in the Film Censor's office in earlier years. I think that a reasonable [434] reading of the section is that it does allow for this. Obviously a fee set in advance of any year will not meet exactly the expenditure in that year. Therefore, this should be taken into account in deciding the level of the fees subsequently.

Miss Colley: Information on Anne Marie Colley  Zoom on Anne Marie Colley  On that point, may I——

Acting Chairman (Mr. M. Barrett): Information on Michael Barrett  Zoom on Michael Barrett  You are not allowed to interrupt, Deputy.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Deputy Taylor referred to the “meanness” of the scheme. I have stated publicly on a number of occasions that any question of reintroducing a more generous scheme must await an improvement in the financial situation. I have no doubt that when that time comes, we can give consideration to the many suggestions made for improvements. However, I must emphasise that it is the stark reality of the situation that underlies my stance, not any sense of being protected by the fact that the scheme was cut down, as it were, by the previous Government.

Deputy Colley raised a number of points, apparently arising from recent views expressed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, which had to do with criminal law procedure. It is clear in the context of the present Supplementary Estimate that I could not appropriately comment on such suggestions. I would say, however, that there is a time and a place when such matters can be considered and if the Deputy, the Director of Public Prosecutions, or anybody who might wish to see improvements in the substantive criminal law or the law of evidence, let me have their suggestions and I will be glad to have them considered.

A number of Deputies, including Deputy McCartan, have suggested that the present scheme is of such limited scope as to be practically useless. That is not correct. The deletion from it in 1986 of `pain and suffering' may have had a drastic effect in relation to minor injuries which were not disabling and which did not cause less of earnings. However, in [435] the case of very serious injuries the present scheme is extremely valuable.

Deputy McCartan and Deputy Barnes spoke about the Irish Association for Victim Support. I want to repeat what I have said on very many occasions, that this association are a very valuable organisation who do excellent work in helping victims of crime. The members of the association do their work on a totally voluntary basis, and indeed, as I mentioned already, at some out of pocket expense to themselves. The association need extra funding to develop. The State has been willing, and is willing, to help with grants each year. In 1986 total grants from the State came to £12,000 and in 1987 to £11,000. By comparison, the net receipts from fund raising and subscriptions were £5,884 in 1986 and £4,326 in 1987.

As I said, the work of the association is very valuable in the community and accordingly I appeal to the private sector to come forward and make additional funds available to the association. My office will make additional information about the association available to any company who wish to provide sponsorship, and I have no doubt that the association themselves would supply any information requested if they were contacted at their office at 2 Belvedere Place, Dublin 1, telephone 364388. I can assure any company willing to help the association that they would be helping a most deserving organisation.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Are they not losing those premises? I wrote to the Minister about that.

Mr. McCartan: Information on Patrick McCartan  Zoom on Patrick McCartan  The Minister will have to do better.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I wish to return to a matter raised by Deputy Barrett earlier, namely, the series of hoax devices planted around Dublin today. The position is that an anonymous caller telephoned Downtown Radio and claimed to represent a Loyalist paramilitary organisation called The Ulster Corps. The caller announced that [436] four bombs had been planted in Dublin and that they would go off at 1 o'clock. The radio station contacted the RUC and the RUC in turn contacted the Garda Síochána. The locations given were, first, the junction at Parnell Street and Parnell Square West, second, the public toilets in O'Connell Street; third, the grounds of the Mansion House and fourth, the Talbot Memorial Bridge. Devices were found in all four locations but they were hoaxes. The Army carried out two controlled explosions in the grounds of the Mansion House and the other devices were cleared by the gardaí. This particular episode was over by lunchtime. However, a further spate of hoax calls followed, some of which originated locally, I suppose one would call them copy cat calls. In addition, a further device was found at the Royal Irish Automobile Club, Dawson Street, and, up to a short time ago, was being dealt with by the Garda and the Army. Needless to remark, these hoaxes, even though they were dealt with promptly by the Garda and the Army, caused a certain degree of disruption of normal business and routine; in particular city traffic was disrupted.

I regard these hoax calls as totally reprehensible and I urge those responsible not to waste valuable Garda resources on such matters, resources which could otherwise be used to improve the quality of life of all of us. I want to kill the notion that the Garda have no set plan to deal with hoaxes of this kind. Specific plans have been drawn up to deal with incidents such as those which occurred today and also with explosive devices. These plans are kept under constant review and are updated from time to time as necessary.

I appeal to the public to co-operate with the Garda and the Army in the performance of their duty in relation to these hoaxes. I know that it is not pleasant to have Dawson Street blocked off twice in the one day but, when devices are found, steps must be taken to deal with them on the basis that they might be the real thing. That it later transpired they were hoax devices is neither here nor there. Until they can be sure of what [437] they have on their hands, the Garda and the Army have to take all necessary precautions to ensure public safety. I hope the citizens of Dublin will co-operate with them in their task.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  In relation to the three devices, how could the Garda and the Army decide that they were hoaxes?

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  That is a matter for the professional judgment of the Garda.

Vote put and agreed to.


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