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 Header Item Penalty Point System (Continued)
 Header Item Prison Visiting Committees Expenditure

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter] From the interim report I received, I have noted that some of the cancellations of fixed-charge notices relate to ordinary individuals who are not VIPs or other such individuals. At least one person has been very unfairly named in this House. The individuals to whom I refer are those in circumstances in which a car identified as speeding is not the actual car owned by an individual who has received a ticket. There have been other instances, including one in which a young child was being taken to hospital in an emergency.

I take allegations of this nature with the utmost seriousness, as does the Garda Commissioner, who has appointed an assistant commissioner to conduct an investigation and report on the allegations. My Department received the allegations last September and they were referred to the Garda Commissioner in October after they had been considered. I have received an interim report from the Commissioner, but I will not be making any comment on any of the allegations until the final report is available. These allegations are being taken seriously and investigated thoroughly, but it would be premature and wrong to assume that all cancellations of fixed-charge notices were inappropriate. I would caution against any rush to judgment before we know all of the facts. As the Garda Commissioner has said, this would be unfair to both members of the Garda Síochána and the motorists concerned. I urge Deputies to await the outcome of the investigation that is under way. When the outcome of the investigation is known, I will bring it to the attention of Members.

In so far as there is any suggestion that the Garda is not doing its job properly in regard to speeding, fixed-charge notices and the road traffic legislation, Members should note the interesting statistics on total annual road fatalities between January and the end of November in each of a number of given years. At the end of November 2007 there had been 300 fatalities on the roads. At the end of November 2011 there had been 168, and at the end of November 2012 - this year - there had been 152. One hundred and fifty-two people too many lost their lives on our roads this year, but the decreasing number of fatalities indicates that the Garda takes very seriously the application of the road traffic regulations to individuals. The vast majority of individuals are aware of this, and the vast majority of those who receive a fixed-charge notice pay the fine. However, we must preserve a system in which there is a basis for cancelling notices where they are issued inappropriately or disproportionately or where a mistake is made whereby the wrong individual receives a notice.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Everybody agrees that there ought to be an arrangement for exceptional circumstances. I am asking whether the Minister is seriously suggesting there are just 300 questionable cases, not 50,000, that must be examined. Regardless of the percentage, 50,000 represents a high volume of cases, which needs to be considered. I would like to have heard from the Garda Commissioner prior to the process. There is a paper trail with 50,000 written appeals in line with the guidelines and criteria. The Minister's statement that he has every confidence that there are only a few questionable cases is not in accord with what we are hearing. This is a very serious matter. We need to end the arrangement whereby one can make a telephone call to have one's details removed from the computer. From now on, we need clear written criteria that will apply on a case-by-case basis and in which every citizen can have confidence.

The points system, including the option of paying an €80 fine, has saved considerable court time and prevented considerable expenditure. It has the confidence of the public. The problem that has arisen is serious and could undermine the system. The Minister must move swiftly to deal with the issue.

When will the report by the assistant commissioner be completed? When will the Minister bring it before the House and make the recommendations? When will the disciplinary measures be taken, if necessary?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The individual who has made complaints in this area has made a calculation of the alleged total number of fixed-charge notices cancelled. The calculation, as furnished in the allegation I saw, gave rise to an assumption that every single cancellation was inappropriate and due to some inside influence. Let me make it very clear that on my watch as Minister for Justice and Equality I will not accept the preferential treatment of any individual. I want every individual to be treated fairly under the law and to have his good name protected in circumstances in which there is no wrongdoing. As I said to the Deputy, there is an assumption that if a fixed-charge notice is cancelled, there has been wrongdoing. This is not the case. There are strict guidelines, to which I made reference in my reply. It is important that the guidelines be adhered to. In that context, it is important that the investigation that is under way be comprehensive and completed fully, and that the full story, rather than a story based on an assumption, become known. It should not be assumed once a fixed-charge notice is cancelled that there has been some wrongdoing, because that is not the case. If it turns out that there has been wrongdoing, so be it. There should be transparency in this regard and I have no difficulty with it; I am merely asking Deputies to be cautious in what they say until we see the outcome of the investigation. I expect to have the outcome early in the new year. We all have information with some individuals named therein. I ask Deputies to desist from naming individuals or attempting to name them in this House or outside it on the assumption that the individuals have been guilty of some wrongdoing. If one has truly been given names of individuals, one will know that some of the fixed charges that have been cancelled relate to individuals who are not celebrities or others known to the media. They are probably not known to the people who received the information. Some are individuals who wrote genuinely to the Garda authorities having received a fixed-charge ticket. They may have explained their circumstances or raised an objection which, having been examined by the Garda authorities, was regarded as valid.

There should be transparency. The public must be reassured that the fixed-charge notice system applies without fear or favour to everybody in the State, regardless of who he is, the position he holds, the job he does or whether he is known. Should it appear that there are procedural arrangements that need to be tightened up or that a different approach needs to be taken, I assure the House that I will communicate my view thereon to the Garda Commissioner. In the meantime, the Garda Commissioner must be allowed to facilitate the assistant commissioner who is investigating these matters to complete the investigation.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I asked whether the Minister will publish the report.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I believe the Minister dealt with that.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I said to the Deputy that I will publish the outcome of the investigation that is under way.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I understood that.

Prison Visiting Committees Expenditure

 53. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if his attention has been drawn to the disparities between the Inspector of Prisons' report on St. Patrick's Institution, Dublin and the Visiting Committee Report of 2010; the location at which it is planned to accommodate 18 to 21 year olds, who would currently be residing in St. Patrick's Institution (detail supplied), after 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54640/12]

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Deputy will know that for many years I expressed concerns about St. Patrick's Institution and believed it was an inappropriate facility for children. I was instrumental in ensuring that the programme for Government included a specific commitment to end the practice of sending children there. I visited St. Patrick's within two weeks of my appointment and I met the Inspector of Prisons at his request in early May last to discuss the matter with him.

I published the St. Patrick's visiting committee report for 2010 on 18 November 2011. As stated in its report for that year, the committee had met monthly and carried out some 48 random unannounced visits during the year. In that context, it reported on a number of issues and developments generally within the prison relating to accommodation, kitchen and gymnasium facilities, staffing, education, the library, workshops and facilities generally.

The inspector's report, which I published last October, raised serious issues and major concerns, including weak management, the behaviour of some prison staff, the culture in the prison, the inattention to human rights norms, prisoners on protection and the prevalence of drugs. The inspector concluded that there has been a culture in St Patrick's which resulted in the human rights of some prisoners - children and young adults - being either ignored or violated. The inspector also reported that the visiting committee appears to be carrying out its mandate under the relevant legislation and that its chairman had raised a number of issues with him.

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