Written Answers. - Prison Committals.

Wednesday, 1 March 2000

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 515 No. 4

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[1159]

  156.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)  Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins   asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue   the number of persons imprisoned for the non-payment of fines in each of the years from 1994 to 1999; and the number of persons currently in prison in this regard. [6321/00]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  Committal statistics are not maintained in such a way as to enable the precise information sought by the Deputy to be readily available. At present the compilation and analysis of statistics must be done manually as there are no computerised systems in most prisons. This is an extremely time consuming and staff intensive process and it has not been possible to release staff for this work.

A new £6 million information technology programme, authorised by me, for the Prison Service is well advanced. As part of the programme a comprehensive prisoner records database will be deployed across the Prison Service later this year. This programme will address the lack of accessible information about prisoners, provide management with necessary information and enable the automation of many existing functions. Information will be more easily accessible once this new system is in operation.

In 1994, the latest year for which the information sought by the Deputy has been published, the total number of persons committed to prison for default of fines was 2,173. This represents 21% of the total number of offenders committed in 1994.

The following figures, as yet unpublished, give details for 1995 and 1996. The figures are not yet available for later years.

Year Total committed Committed in default of fines Fines % of total
1995 9,928 1,920 19%
1996 10,367 1,610 15.5%

It is very important to note that, at no time, are more than 1.5% of prison spaces taken up by persons committed for non-payment of fines. The courts are moreover required to take ability to pay into account when imposing fines on persons convicted of offences attracting monetary penalties. Many persons committed to prison for non- payment of fines, who are perfectly capable of paying these penalties, only pay up when actually in custody or on the point of being put in custody.

[1160]

  157.  Mr. G. Mitchell  Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell   asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue   if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 who has not been in trouble with the law for almost 30 years and who cannot get even a menial job due to security clearance will be treated humanely and not subjected to continuing blackballing for the rest of his life; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6397/00]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  On 23 June 1998 a request under section 4 of the Data Protection Act, 1988, for a copy of any data held concerning him was received from the individual in question by way of a third party request from his prospective employer. The individual had consented to the request. A reply outlining the convictions recorded against the individual was issued on 1 July 1998.

The processing of the request in question arose from a practice which had developed whereby employers of prospective employees were, with the written consent of these employees, requesting the Garda for copies of personal data, namely details from the criminal records data base relating to any convictions recorded against the individuals concerned under section 4 of the Data Protection Act, 1988. I was informed by the Garda authorities that they were advised by the Data Protection Commissioner that the said section 4 did not provide for the disclosure of personal data to third parties, irrespective of whether the individuals in question had consented to allow the Garda to respond to the prospective employer and the Garda authorities, on the advice of the Data Protection Commissioner, ceased to do so. The Attorney General subsequently advised that section 4 of the Data Protection Act, 1988, was not designed for, and is not appropriate for, use as a vehicle for police clearance.

The current position is that clearances are provided only in certain circumstances, for example, for persons seeking certain public service employment and for full-time prospective employees in the healthcare area who have substantial access to children or vulnerable individuals. The disclosure of any information in such cases is done strictly in accordance with legal advices received from Office of the Attorney General.


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