Thursday, 24 June 2010
Seanad Éireann Debate
Deputy Dermot Ahern: This amendment proposes to increase the penalty for the offence of the obstruction of gardaí and Customs officers in the exercise of powers under their functions under this legislation. We are prepared to accept the increase of the penalty from €3,000 to €5,000.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I move amendment No. 7:
This is the amendment I proposed to withdraw.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: We will discuss with the Parliamentary Counsel whether this proposed amendment is necessary and I will table an amendment in Dáil if it is considered that this matter needs to be dealt with.
I wish to make a further point concerning amendment No. 5 which proposes to increase the term of imprisonment from six to 12 months. I wanted to use the example of this amendment earlier today at a committee meeting at which we were discussing overcrowding in prisons but I could not locate it among my papers. Deputies Rabbitte and Flanagan had raised the issue and I made the point that time and again the Oireachtas keeps increasing sentences, but that has an effect, namely, that people will be in prison for longer. We are sending a signal in all legislation to this effect.
This list of amendments was in my bundle of papers, but I did not come across it until now. It would have reinforced the point I was making to Deputy Rabbitte. Even as of today the Labour Party has asked that we increase the sentence possible from six months to 12 months. I do not disagree with this and I have accepted the amendment. I was making a point on prison overcrowding. None of us wants to have people in prison if we can help it, but the reality is that if the Oireachtas keeps raising the bar in regard to sentencing, we are sending a signal to the Judiciary and it will give close to the maximum sentences, which means people we be in prison for longer. That will mean that we will have to build more prison places.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I take the Minister’s point. It is not a good idea generally to increase sentences. In this Bill perhaps there is some argument for doing so because it is in line with the public order legislation. However, in general the Minister is right about this, that we should not send that signal. I would argue for legislation along the lines of that recommended elsewhere, perhaps by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, that there would be some sort of guidance given to judges that imprisonment should always be a last resort.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 18 agreed to.
Sections 19 to 20, inclusive, agreed to.
Government amendment No. 8:
Amendment agreed to.
Section 21, as amended, agreed to.
Section 22 agreed to.
Government amendment No. 9:
Deputy Dermot Ahern: The principal offences under the Bill will attract an unlimited fine and up to five years imprisonment or both on conviction on indictment. This penalty level puts the offences into the category of arrestable offences which are automatically then subject to various powers under general criminal justice legislation.
I mentioned on Second Stage yesterday my opinion that these offences should also be treated as serious offences for the purpose of the Bail Act 1997, section 2 of which permits a court to refuse bail to a person charged with a serious offence if such refusal is reasonably considered necessary to prevent commission of a serious offence by that person. A serious offence means an offence listed in the schedule to the Bail Act which is punishable by five years' imprisonment or more. Accordingly, this new section will add the principal offences under the Bill to the Schedule to the Bail Act 1997.
Amendment agreed to.
Sections 23 to 25, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments, received for final consideration and passed.
Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I thank Senators for the expeditious way in which we passed the Bill. It is important that it is placed on the Statute Book as soon as possible. It will now be brought before the Dáil which I hope it will pass through before the House rises on 8 July.
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Senator Donie Cassidy: At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 29 June 2010.
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