Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad
 Header Item Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
 Header Item Bus Services
 Header Item Road Projects Status
 Header Item Primary Care Centres Provision
 Header Item Insurance Costs
 Header Item An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
 Header Item Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage
 Header Item Death of Shane O'Farrell: Motion
 Header Item Loneliness Task Force Report: Statements
 Header Item Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018: Second Stage

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 263 No. 12

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Chuaigh an Leas-Chathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.


Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I have received notice from Senator Maria Byrne that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, she proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to consider implementing a BusConnects plan for public transport in Limerick city.

I have also received notice from Senator Maura Hopkins of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to provide an update on the N5 - Ballaghaderreen to Scramogue - project.

I have also received notice from Senator Rose Conway-Walsh of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to provide an update on the proposed primary care centre in Bangor Erris, County Mayo.

I have also received notice from Senator Robbie Gallagher of the following matter:   

The need for the Minister for Finance to make a statement on the measures being taken to address insurance costs in the motor and business sectors.

I have also received notice from Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Finance to undertake a review of the criteria surrounding eligibility for a primary medical certificate.

I have also received notice from Senator Neale Richmond of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to provide an update on the planned baby box scheme.

I have also received notice from Senator Michelle Mulherin of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to make a statement on the efforts of IDA Ireland to deliver foreign direct investment and jobs to north and east Mayo, including the construction of an advance technology building in Ballina.

The matters raised by the Senators are suitable for discussion. I have selected the matters raised by Senators Byrne, Hopkins, Conway-Walsh and Gallagher and they will be taken now. The other Senators may give notice on another day of the matters they wish to raise.

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Bus Services

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I raise the issue of bus services in Limerick which have been an ongoing problem for quite a while. The main issue is with the very busy 304 and 304A bus routes which start in Raheen-Dooradoyle on one side of the city and extend through it as far as the University of Limerick. For the past six months or more buses have been running between ten and 25 minutes late each morning. I have spoken to people who use services on the routes and two weeks ago took the option to travel on a bus with one of them. It was quite an experience. The bus arrived 27 minutes late. It was a single-decker, although normally it is a double-decker, and not suitable, given the number of passengers who use it. At one of the stops in the city there were around 70 people waiting to get on but only half of them were able to do so. One woman said she would be 20 minutes late for work. The bus does not travel as far out as Mungret which is on the outskirts of the city and expanding. When we eventually reached the University of Limerick, the final stop on the route, the journey had taken one hour. A number of the passengers were late for college or work. There are several high technology companies in the area and many people who live on one side of the city and work on the other are constantly late for work. I spoke to two students at the bus stop who were afraid that they would not be allowed on the bus. When people complain, they are given a form to fill in, but I do not know where the forms go as no solutions seem to emerge. People have complained and demanded that something be done but to no avail. I am calling on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to roll something out similar to the BusConnects scheme in Dublin. Limerick is the third largest city in the country but bus services cannot arrive on time. A private bus service which I will not name can bring people from Ennis and Bunratty to the University of Limerick faster than the bus service can bring people from Raheen and Dooradoyle to the university. That is not acceptable. It is frustrating for the commuters who use the service and get no replies to their complaints. I call on the council, Bus Éireann and the National Transport Authority to work together to resolve the issue. Smaller buses and better routes have been mentioned, but that will not happen for a couple of years. I am concerned with what is happening now. People's examinations are coming up.

  In addition to the problems I have outlined, the real time app does not always give the correct arrival times of bus services. At the bus stop where I got on, on Barrington Street, there was not even a sign. Tourists do not know it is where the bus stops because there is only a mark on the road to indicate it.  I would love the Minister to intervene to resolve this ongoing issue. A couple of hundred people use the service daily. The other morning about 30 people were left behind at one of the stops. Two buses were working the route but one stopped, presumably to allow the driver to take his or her break as he or she is entitled to do. Unfortunately, however, the second bus could not facilitate the number of people waiting at the bus stop. I have given an overview of some of the issues.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Shane Ross): Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I thank the Senator for raising these issues, which I know are very important in the Limerick area. I should point out that she called on the council and the National Transport Authority to remedy this matter in whatever way they can. She will appreciate that I cannot micromanage the routes about which she spoke because I am in charge of policy. However, I would be delighted to relay what she said to both those bodies if she thinks it would be useful and effective.

  As the Senator is aware, my priority and that of the Government, over the next few years, is to rapidly increase investment in public and sustainable transport infrastructure and services across the country, including the Limerick metropolitan area to which the Senator referred. We will do this in an integrated and planned manner. That integration is clearly visible as we look across the key policy frameworks and their ambition for Limerick.

  The national planning framework states that the provision of a city-wide public transport network, with enhanced accessibility from the city centre to the National Technology Park, the University of Limerick and Shannon Airport is a key growth enabler. It also states that the development of a strategic cycling network is another key growth enabler for the city. That recognition follows through to the commitments found in national strategic outcome No. 5, sustainable mobility, which commit towards expanding public transport generally and developing cycling networks in our major cities.

  As the Senator knows, the commitments made in the national planning framework are backed by the indicative allocations provided in the national development plan, which is a ten-year strategy for Exchequer investment. I am delighted to say that the indicative allocations in the national development plan include €8.6 billion to realise national strategic outcome No. 5, sustainable mobility. In realising that national strategic outcome, the Senator can be assured that investment will be provided towards projects and programmes in the Limerick metropolitan area. That investment will be provided under the regional and metropolitan strategies, which are under development.

  First, we have the regional spatial and economic strategy, which has been subject to public consultation in recent weeks. Within that strategy there is a requirement to develop a Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy. Work on that strategy is now under way with a public consultation to take place this year. The Senator will welcome, as I do, that the NTA is working in partnership with the local authorities in developing that strategy, a model that has worked well in Galway and Cork already. The strategy will evaluate the potential for a BusConnects-type investment programme for Limerick, which the Senator called for, and it will provide the backdrop to where the increased levels of investment available will be directed. In the meantime, the increased levels of funding being made available to support our public service obligation, PSO, bus and rail services and increased investment in cycling and walking infrastructure will continue to be felt in Limerick. The numbers using the PSO services in the city have increased in recent years. Between 2013 and 2017, for example, they increased by 15%. I do not have the finalised figures for 2018 yet but I expect the increases of recent years will have continued, and that is very welcome.

  The increased funding available means the NTA can work with the operators in providing additional and expanding services. Improvements in the allocations towards the NTA's bus purchase programme mean a constant renewal of the bus fleet and a better experience for the passenger. The NTA is also funding a wide range of cycling and walking improvements across the city this year, including the Castletroy greenway, which will be a welcome addition to the city's expanding cycling network.

  I share the Senator's ambition for Limerick and look forward to ever increasing numbers of Shannonsiders making the switch to public and sustainable transport.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Does Senator Byrne wish to ask a brief supplementary?

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I welcome that consideration is being given to a BusConnects plan and to the development of the Limerick-Shannon area. However, I raised a current problem. While the plan is great and very welcome and everybody will be in favour of it, it does not resolve current problems. It is soul destroying for those who use the university and staff of companies in the area that they are constantly late for work. The round trip of 6 km that I made took one and a hour hours instead of less than one hour, as scheduled. The position is unsatisfactory and the commuters who use the route are very frustrated because they are constantly late travelling to and from work. I know someone who left the University of Limerick at 4.30 p.m. recently to give a lecture in the city centre at 6 p.m. and arrived 15 minutes late. While I acknowledge that traffic can be heavy sometimes, it is not an issue early in the mornings. It would be a start if commuters were informed and kept in the loop or even replied to properly.

  The current position is very frustrating. A survey of bus users in 2018 found that satisfaction with bus services in Limerick, at 72%, was the lowest in the country. While it is welcome news that investment will be made in future, this issue needs to be dealt with now.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross The Senator has made a very useful contribution on behalf of people in Limerick, particularly commuters. I urge her to use the complaints procedure if there are timetabling or other problems, which are internal matters for the bus companies. In the meantime, I will convey her comments to the NTA to ensure they reach the right quarters.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I thank the Minister.

Road Projects Status

Senator Maura Hopkins: Information on Maura Hopkins Zoom on Maura Hopkins I thank the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport for coming to the House this morning. As he will be aware, I have raised on several occasions the N5 project between Ballaghaderreen and Scramoge. We have had a positive announcement in terms of the project being approved by An Bord Pleanála. That is a very good step in the right direction in terms of delivering this project. However, it is crucial that capital funding is provided to deliver this project as quickly as possible.

  As we all know, it is our collective responsibility to try to reduce risk. The section of road between Scramoge and Ballaghaderreen is an accident blackspot on which there have been numerous incidents and accidents. Urgent action is needed to address the issue.

  This much needed project involves the construction of approximately 35 km of new road and the realignment of approximately 15 km. I use the road regularly and it is evident that there are exceptionally high volumes of traffic on it. There are major concerns about excessive speeds being used on the road, particularly in Frenchpark, Ballinagar, Tulsk and Strokestown. While An Bord Pleanála has given a green light to the project, it is now very important that capital funding is allocated to deliver it as quickly as possible. The delivery of the project will have a positive impact on road safety. It will also be important for the economic development of the north Roscommon and western region. I very much look forward to the Minister's response on the current position of the project now that we have a decision from An Bord Pleanála.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I thank the Senator for raising this topic again. I recognise that she has been to the forefront in championing this particular project and the budget allocation and construction timeframe for the N5.

  As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in terms of the national roads programme.  Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and operation of individual roads is a matter for the relevant road authority regarding local and regional roads, or for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, regarding national roads. It is always necessary for me to preface my remarks by pointing that out because where responsibility lies on this issue is obviously a matter of great importance.

  The proposed N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge project is included among a number of major national road schemes that were identified for development during the first ten years covered by the national development plan. More than €11 billion will be invested in the road network and the N5 upgrade is part of this investment.

  The project comprises a proposed road development of 33.4 km in length which consists of an offline type one single carriageway road that runs south east from the southern end of the existing Ballaghaderreen bypass to tie back in with the existing N5 east of Strokestown at Scramoge. There are an additional 13 km of side roads and existing road improvements, 17 at grade T-junctions and five roundabouts to be provided as part of the scheme. The proposed route will bypass the towns or villages of Frenchpark, Bellanagare, Tulsk and Strokestown.

  The scheme was approved by An Bord Pleanála in January 2019 and subject to the conclusion of the period for judicial review, the scheme may proceed to the next phase, phase 5 - enabling and procurement. Roscommon County Council in preparation has commenced the procurement of technical advisers to prepare the design and build tender documentation for the main construction contract and to manage any advance works contracts that are required prior to construction commencing. TII's project archaeologist is currently preparing tender documents for an archaeological services contract to be undertaken during 2019.

  As Minister, I am, of course, keen to see the projects included in the national development plan, within the overall framework of Project Ireland 2040, progressed as quickly as possible. I am also mindful that schemes such as the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge project require necessary project approvals. In this context, the approval process includes compliance with the requirements of the public spending code and my Department’s capital appraisal framework. For a project of the scale and cost of the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge scheme, compliance with these codes and guidelines is mandatory and must be undertaken at various stages of a project, including at tender award. Since this proposed project will cost in excess of €100 million, Government approval will be required to allow Roscommon County Council to enter into a contract to construct the scheme.

  The cost of the scheme is approximately €182 million. It is currently anticipated that the main construction contract will be awarded in 2020 and will take approximately three years to complete.

Senator Maura Hopkins: Information on Maura Hopkins Zoom on Maura Hopkins The Minister mentioned this project is part of the national development plan within the framework of Project Ireland 2040. We are mindful of the fact that the project needs to go through necessary approvals and that there are definite stages that need to be progressed for us to physically see work progress on the project. The Minister has clearly outlined that work is under way to secure those necessary approvals, which we all know need to progress in a certain way. I would like to be kept updated on that work that is being done in the background. The Minister mentioned that the national roads regional office in Roscommon County Council is commencing the procurement of technical advisers to prepare the design and build tender documentation along with an archeologist in terms of the Rathcroghan area. That is positive but we need to know that there will be no delay in all these necessary works being put in place to ensure that the project can be delivered as quickly as possible for all of the reasons I outlined. I thank the Minister for the update.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross It is my intention it will go through as soon as possible but it has to go through the necessary processes. I will certainly keep the Senator informed about that as I know she has been interested in pursuing this project for a long time.

Primary Care Centres Provision

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Minister of State is welcome to the House.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House. The reason I asked him to come here today was to give us an update on the proposed primary care centre for Bangor Erris. I am not sure if he has ever been to Bangor Erris, County Mayo. How would I describe it?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It is on the way to Belmullet.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh It is on the way into Belmullet and it is quite famous. It is also famous for the wonderful doctor we have there, namely, Dr. Miklos Penzes. He and his team provide a wonderful service to the community of Bangor. Since 2000 to 2001 we have been promised a fully equipped proper primary care centre in Erris, to be situated in Bangor. Recently there was some discussion about having it as part of the new tranche of primary care centres that were built, some of which are in Mayo in Castlebar, Westport and Claremorris. I want to know when that centre will be delivered. It is particularly pertinent now because the community is fearful of losing the existing general practitioner, GP, service, which covers a vast area of Erris and a major population. We are left in limbo as to whether the doctor, who has wonderful skills and a wonderful relationship with the community, will be serviced with a primary care centre. It would be helpful if the Minister of State could give us a date today as to when that project will be commenced. The cost overrun on the national children's hospital has escalated fears about the delivery of the proposed centre. I need the HSE and the Minister to understand the urgency of having the primary care centre there. It is not right for elderly people not to have access to a proper GP service in their community. We are all dependent on having a proper GP service. That would go some way to allaying fears about the possibility of the doctor moving on. Other opportunities will be provided that will become available to doctors such as the GP in Bangor and we do not want that to happen, and for us then to try to close the door after the horse has bolted is not good enough. I look forward to the Minister of State's response and to him providing some reassurance around when the primary care centre in Bangor Erris will be up and running.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I thank Senator Conway-Walsh for raising this issue. The HSE has confirmed that a needs assessment has been undertaken to determine what infrastructure is required within Bangor Erris to most effectively deliver primary care services to the local community. I am happy to advise the Senator that this exercise has found that Bangor Erris is a suitable location for the development of a primary care facility in the future. In that context, a business case is currently being prepared for consideration by the HSE's estates division, which is responsible for ensuring that appropriate infrastructure is in place when and where required and that the value of HSE's properties and facilities is maximised.

  As the Senator may be aware, Bangor Erris, Belmullet and Glenamoy are all part of the Bangor Erris primary care team, which utilises local health centres to support service delivery. In this regard, there is a health centre on the grounds of the district hospital in Belmullet, while there is also a health centre in Glenamoy that has recently been refurbished.   The expansion of community and primary care is at the heart of the Sláintecare vision. As Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and older people, I share the Minister for Health's commitment to ensure that people get the care they need as close to home as possible and have access to a greater range of health and social care services within the community.

  In this respect, I am sure the Senator would welcome the investment in primary care in County Mayo. There are now seven operational primary care centres in the county, three of which have opened in the past 12 months. The centres are located in Achill, Ballina, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Charlestown, Claremorris and Westport. In addition, construction is due to begin this year on another primary care centre in Ballyhaunis. This significant investment in Mayo is representative of this Government's steadfast support for the development of the primary care sector. There are now 126 primary care centres in operation across the country, 18 of which became operational in 2018. In addition, there are approximately 80 other locations where primary care infrastructure is either being developed or at advanced or early planning stages. Of these, 12 centres are expected to become operational in 2019.

  We must, and will, continue to invest in the development of primary care centres across the country, in both urban and rural areas. In this way we will enhance and expand capacity in the primary care sector to deliver high-quality, integrated care to people in their own communities.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I am glad that the needs assessment has taken place but it actually took place 20 years ago. I really plead with the Minister of State to prioritise this primary care centre and to understand its urgency. If the GP in Bangor Erris leaves, it is no good to us. It is a real urgency. I ask the Minister of State to go back and speak to the HSE about this. The HSE fully understands the intricacies surrounding the matter and that we need the services in the health centre in Bangor Erris. However, the HSE needs to see a proper timeline. The vagueness of the Minister of State's response will not reassure people, so I ask him to go back to the HSE again.

  As for the investment in primary care, I agree that wonderful buildings have been completed but the Minister of State knows there is only one extra receptionist employed in each. The buildings need to be fully staffed and need the full technology in order to be utilised in full.

  I will be asking the Minister for State for continual updates on the Bangor Erris primary care centre because we need more reassurance on it. The fact that a business case is being prepared disappoints me in a sense. I am conscious that business cases are often left on people's desks for months on end, and we do not have months. There is a real urgency to the Bangor Erris primary care centre.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I inform the House that good progress continues to be made on the development and roll-out of primary care centres, contrary to what the Senator might try to point to, with 126 now fully operational, up from 43 at the end of 2010. There has been an incremental increase over the years, with eight coming on stream in 2016, nine in 2017 and 18 last year, representing a doubling in 2018. These centres are playing a key role in delivering the vision for reform for the more effective health service underlined in Sláintecare. A further 12 primary care centres are expected to open in 2019, with at least another five to follow in 2020. Beyond that, 12 additional primary care centres are at the advanced planning stage, with operational dates to be confirmed. Mayo has benefited from significant investment, with seven centres operational and work on Ballyhaunis due to commence in the second quarter of this year. I am happy to state that Bangor Erris has been identified as a suitable location for the development of a primary care facility in the future and that there will be due consideration of the business case developed.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Is the Minister of State saying it will not be 2019 or 2020 but after 2020 before Bangor will be concluded?

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I cannot give a date for the progress to the Senator.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh That would be worrying. We need to get it brought forward.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I cannot allow the debate to continue.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I know. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Minister of State.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Members can have their own chat.

Insurance Costs

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is very welcome to the House, and I thank him for taking time out to come. The reason I have him here concerns insurance costs. Unfortunately, this is still a serious issue for a great many people. I know some work has been done about it but clearly more needs to be done. As I am sure the Minister of State will be aware, insurance costs bring serious financial pressures to bear on people, be it the cost of insuring one's motor vehicle or costs incurred by those who are in business, such as public liability or employers' liability, or indeed charitable organisations, community groups, football clubs or whatever else. Unfortunately, all are negatively affected by the ever-increasing, spiralling cost of insurance premiums.

  Looking first at the motor insurance industry, I note that between 2015 and 2017 premiums shot up by over 70%. I acknowledge that things have got a little better in this regard, but clearly more needs to be done for anyone trying to insure motor vehicles. One of the reasons we could point to as to why these premiums are so high is that the payouts for personal injuries here are sky-high compared with those of other countries. Our payouts are on average almost 4.5 times higher than equivalent claim payouts in the UK. Unfortunately, I read recently that we now have a reputation as being the whiplash capital of Europe. Whiplash accounts for almost 80% of all motor insurance claims here, compared with France, for example, where the figure is just 3%. The average whiplash award in Ireland is €15,000. This is five times the awards in Italy and Spain and three times the awards in the UK. Clearly, this is an area that needs to be tackled in order that motor premiums are reduced.

  The other issue concerns business and the ever-rising costs of premiums, be it public liability or employers' liability. I spoke this morning with a small business owner in County Monaghan who has 12 employees. He told me that his employers' liability and public liability premiums in 2017 amounted to €9,800. As of last year, this has now increased to €11,600. Nothing has really changed in the interim, there have been no claims, and his broker advised him this week that the premiums will more than likely increase again. This puts added pressure on businesses that are getting it tight at present, and more needs to be done.

  I read recently in one of the national newspapers that a business owner who runs a play centre for children, which is quite common throughout the country, has seen the premium go from €2,500 up to €16,000 over the past five years. Clearly, this is crippling and has a serious impact on the viability of the business and, by extension, the jobs that depend on it. No doubt the Minister of State will mention the fact that a group was set up to look at this entire area and it has done some work on this and made many recommendations as to what it feels should happen. Unfortunately, it is my understanding that very few of those recommendations have been acted upon to date, which is disappointing.

  One of the recommendations was an anti-fraud unit. There is nothing more frustrating for people than to see people setting out purposefully with a fraudulent claim, the result of which will be that people will pay more for their insurance premiums. We need a dedicated insurance fraud unit headed by the Garda to investigate people involved in such activities.

  Yes, some work has been done but a lot more needs to be done. I would like to see Government tackle this issue with more vigour and enthusiasm because we have a serious problem with the ever-increasing costs of premiums. When one adds Brexit to the mix, the issue clearly needs to be tackled with more urgency.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I thank Senator Gallagher for raising this very important matter and for the work he has put into this and the research he has carried out.  I encourage him to carry on with this particular work and interest because it is hugely important, as he said.

  The Senator has provided me with an opportunity to update the House on the progress being made on the recommendations contained in the cost of insurance working group's reports on the cost of motor insurance and of employer and public liability insurance. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who has responsibility for this matter sends his apologies. He is very aware of the financial strain the cost of insurance is placing on consumers and businesses, and on some sectors in particular, as the Senator has outlined.

  Members of the Seanad are aware that the report on the cost of motor insurance was published in January 2017 and made 33 recommendations. The report on the cost of employer and public liability insurance was subsequently published in January 2018 and made 15 recommendations. Both sets of recommendations are detailed in action plans with agreed timelines for implementation. The working group prepares progress updates detailing implementation progress on a quarterly basis. The seventh such update was published last November and shows that of the total number of 78 separate relevant deadlines in the action plans for the two reports to the end of the third quarter of 2018, 63 relate to actions that have been completed. It is envisaged that the next update will be completed by the end of this month and will concentrate, in particular, on outlining the definitive position on all 33 recommendations of the motor insurance report, as the last of the deadlines in its action plan passed at the end of 2018.

  In respect of the employer and public liability report, the vast majority of the total of 26 action points, which were due for completion during 2018, have been done. The Minister of State is confident that any outstanding action point will be completed in the coming months, along with the three remaining action points with deadlines set for various quarters of 2019.

  The upcoming progress update will include an additional section providing the up-to-date status of relevant recommendations from the two reports issued by the Personal Injuries Commission.

  In terms of the recommendations it is hoped will be implemented over the next six months, the key actions include the passage through both Houses of the Oireachtas of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018; the Law Reform Commission to commence formally its examination of the possibility of capping levels of damages for personal injury actions, an action to which the Senator alluded; the national claims information database to be fully functioning following the recent commencement of the relevant Act; progress on the proposal to establish an improved insurance fraud investigative capacity in the Garda national economic crime bureau and further fruitful co-operation between the insurance industry and gardaí - the Senator was spot on to highlight this issue; publication of a key information report on employer and public liability insurance claims; and progress on delivering interim guidelines relating to appropriate general damages award levels for the prioritised soft tissue and whiplash injury category, to which the Senator also made reference.

  The Minister of State assures the Senator that he and the working group will continue to focus on implementing all proposed measures in order to improve the insurance market for businesses and consumers alike. The Minister of State will continue to work with his ministerial colleagues to ensure the various recommendations are implemented. He is hopeful that the cumulative effects of the completion of the recommendations of the two reports will include increased stability in the pricing of insurance for consumers and businesses and provide for a more competitive insurance market.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. As I acknowledged, some good work is being done in this very important area. My main motivation in raising this matter is to acknowledge the work that has been done and to impress upon the Minister of State and the Government the urgency attached to this issue. We need to expedite all actions to ensure a consumer, be it a young person insuring a motor vehicle or a business owner or football club paying an insurance premium, will see progress by way of a reduced premium. It is only then that we will be able to say the work that has been done, including the work that remains to be done, has been successful.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I thank Senator Gallagher for raising this matter and for the opportunity he has given me to update the House on same. I support the Senator in his work in continuing to highlight this matter because it is important. I agree with him on this. Tackling the cost of insurance requires a co-ordinated effort throughout the Government, State bodies, business and industry. The Departments of Finance, Justice and Equality, Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Transport, Tourism and Sport all have major roles to play, as do the Central Bank and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. In addition, industry's input to the process is pivotal, particularly with regard to the provision of data and improving customer experience. Ultimately, one of the key indicators of the success of the recommendations in the reports on motor insurance and on employer and public liability insurance will be a greater level of consistency in award levels. This should, in turn, result in an increase in the number of Personal Injury Assessment Board cases being accepted by claimants as the need to litigate diminishes. I am sure the Senator will agree with the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, that getting to this destination is highly desirable.

  I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for this time. The House can rest assured the Government is doing everything in its power to push the issue of the cost of insurance along very quickly. The support of the Seanad in this matter is really appreciated.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Before I suspend the sitting, I welcome Mrs. Ó Fearghaíl and her family.

  Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes each; No. 82, non-Government motion No. 11 the re establishment of a public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude at 4 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes each and all other Senators not to exceed three minutes each, the Minister to be given not less than six minutes and Senator David Norris to be given three minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, statements on A Connected Island, An Ireland Free from Loneliness, report of the loneliness task force, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and conclude at 5.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 – Second Stage, to be taken at 5.45 p.m., with time allocated for the debate not to exceed two minutes.

  With the Cathaoirleach's indulgence, I welcome all of the transition year students who are working with Members this week. I welcome the students in the Visitors Gallery who include Cliona O'Rourke and Miss O'Connor. I hope their week will be a good one and their visit enjoyable.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan We all join in the welcome to the students.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I refer to the cervical smear scandal and the continuing fallout. We were all rocked last April when it emerged that Vicky Phelan had refused to sign the gagging order and lifted the lid on the scandal of the year. It is ongoing. With many others, I was shocked to hear that the interim director general of the HSE, Ms Anne O'Connor, had said she was concerned about the length of time it had taken to process cervical smear tests. There are 78,000 cervical smear tests outstanding, while there is a 27-week waiting time for the results to be received, which is completely unacceptable. There was an increase of 90,000 in the number of smears last year because of the scandal. It is good that women are having repeat smear tests which the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, offered without putting any thought into how they would be processed and the increased demands they would put on the service. We are concerned about this.

  The issue of women's health has been pushed to the side for too long. This is concerning. Therefore, I would like the Minister for Health to come into the House to talk about the cervical smear scandal which is ongoing and from which many think we have moved on, but we have not. The women of Ireland are still very upset. Ms O'Connor mentioned that the HSE was developing a laboratory to check the results at the Coombe hospital. There is an initial €5 million capital allocation for the development of the laboratory. Will the Minister give a commitment that the €5 million for the project will not be taken and used to plug the gap in the health budget caused by the massive overruns on the national children's hospital project? It is important that the project go ahead.

  We learned yesterday in the High Court that there were not enough judges to process all of the cases being taken by the women affected by the scandal. That is outrageous as time is of the essence for the women concerned, many of whom have terminal cancer. They are all seriously ill. It is outrageous, therefore, that the Government and its buddies in Sinn Féin are even entertaining the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and his Judicial Appointments Commission Bill when there is a shortage of High Court judges.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Hear, hear.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Hear, hear.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee This issue should be the focus of the Department of Justice and Equality, not that ridiculous Bill that is taking up so much time when we have women who are very ill and dying and cannot access justice in a timely manner. Justice delayed is justice denied. We cannot stand over justice being denied to the women affected by this outrageous scandal.

Senator Ian Marshall: Information on Ian Marshall Zoom on Ian Marshall I take the opportunity to bring to the attention of the House the information received from the British Chambers of Commerce this morning. It represents 75,000 firms which employ over 6 million people. It is telling us that there has been a holding back of investment in business in the United Kingdom and a stockpiling of commodities and food. People are moving offices and relocating in fear of a no-deal Brexit. The chamber of commerce has asked 20 questions, to which it would like answers. It has asked about the implications for trade, borders, people, regulation and the digital economy of a no-deal crash-out.  In terms of tariffs, it has asked the following. What tariffs will be applied? Will they be applied to the importation of goods from the UK and from Ireland?

What rules of origin will traders have to comply with? Will people still be able to fly people, produce and goods between the UK and the EU and vice versa?

In terms of borders and customs, do businesses need to register? How simple will the registration process be? Are there more requirements that they do not already know about? On the continuity of the EU free trade agreements, FTAs, will any of the trade agreements be rolled over? Will there be confirmation that they will be able to continue importing tariff-free goods from developing and least developed countries? On inspections, will there be new safety requirements and safety inspections? Where will these be held? Who will conduct them? In terms of declarations, what system will be used? What will it look like?

There was a specific reference to Ireland. What procedures will companies face when trading between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? Will this be different from operating on any other UK border? Will business travel be subject to further administration, costs or visas? Will staff be able to move freely and work across the UK, Ireland and the EU? In terms of regulatory agencies, who will be the regulator and what will it look like? What form of dispute resolution and means of redress will be available to businesses after 29 March? We must also consider the digital implications and things like mobile roaming and customer data. As the Leader will agree, businesses across the UK have great concerns. I have no doubt that these questions are the same ones being asked by Irish businesses and firms. I am greatly concerned this morning that Northern Ireland businesses especially are not adequately prepared for this.

Interestingly, in terms of all of these rules and regulations that people and Brexiteers, primarily, keep citing as reasons that the UK should leave the EU, I wish to draw the attention of Senators to a piece of work commissioned by the House of Commons Library on how many UK laws were influenced by EU laws. The interesting statistic is that the library discovered that 4,514 laws out of 34,105 laws were influenced by EU laws in the UK. Of the EU laws that influenced UK law only 72 out of 34,105 were forced on the UK against its will. Certainly, this would dispel the notion that the UK was bound by or held back by European laws or bureaucracy.

In conclusion, I wish to refer to the current ongoing work that we are seeing on the island of Ireland with regard to Brexit and the potential of a no-deal crash-out. It should be recognised that all of the work done by governments, civil services, businesses, industries and by these two Houses is not lost. I have no doubt that whatever the outcome in the next few weeks, Irish businesses will be stronger, fitter and more focused as a consequence of this good work.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I wonder whether all of that information was put before the people before they voted on the referendum.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I was shocked but not surprised to read at the weekend that the partners and spouses of people who receive the State contributory pension are now being forensically audited and means tested by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. In some cases, after means-testing, payments have been reduced or stopped altogether. The process in itself is really frightening for people. If any of us here was demanded to lay bare all of our financial transactions how would we feel? Are these people not entitled to a level of privacy to live out their lives? Such auditing is totally wrong. Many of these people will have an income that is well below the means test but they still have to go through the whole process and produce bank statements and everything else. There is something fundamentally wrong about that. Some people in receipt of pensions have been asked to keep receipts for up to four years in case an audit is carried out in the future. Also, there are people who are followed beyond the grave because when people die, Revenue and the State bodies come looking to see if people made a mistake and assess whether they counted everything. One must remember that some people do not enjoy good health. They may have dementia or other illnesses that do not allow them to read and communicate in the way that these Departments might want them to do so.

  It has been mentioned that a saving of €15.7 million has already been made. It is also planned that 6,500 assessments will be carried out in the future. There are elderly people across this State who are really worried whether they will be part of the 6,500 assessments. We also have to remember that many of these people will be elderly women. They will be women whose spouses already get a contributory pension but then they are not entitled to any means themselves. This means that the relevant Departments have a figure in mind and know how much they want to recoup this year. It amazes me how Revenue and other State bodies can plan and execute with such accuracy the moneys they want to recoup from elderly people who have contributed so much throughout their lives, whether that be through childcare, care of the elderly, working outside or within the home or as community volunteers. The State bodies are forensic in how they go about assessments and inspections. Let us contrast that situation with the vast sums of taxpayers' money we have seen, say, in the overrun for the national children's hospital where figures have increased by millions. Let us also contrast that to the situation for thousands of people who have chronic and lifelong illnesses. Such people are subject to regular assessment and constant examination. I wonder where these Departments are coming from. Who instructs them to really antagonise these people? I am not saying that people should get something that they are not entitled to. Really, the fear around all of this is not right. The State proves itself well able to account for every cent and, indeed, it is willing to take back moneys in the case of these vulnerable individuals. If only a semblance of the same vigilance was present in the Department of Health and the Department of Finance then we might not be looking at a situation where so many projects are delayed or scrapped to cover the overruns and the other things while millions of euro is wasted. I ask the Government to consider this matter. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate that specifically deals with pensions. We must consider the contrast between how the millionaires and billionaires are treated in this country and then how ordinary citizens and elderly people are treated in terms of entitlements and taxation.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I welcome the fact that at least we are having a debate this afternoon at 3 o'clock. I welcome that the Leader has arranged this debate and there will be a Minister present. I was told previously that we could not have a Minister present because the Government had not made a decision but here we are and we now have a Minister. There is a lot of toing and froing going on.

  I would like to refer to the Order of Business yesterday, a Chathaoirligh, because it seems to be quite a serious matter. I want to clarify this for the record. I started off by saying, "I propose an amendment, that item No. 11 of non-Government motions, regarding Shane O'Farrell, be taken at the end of..." and I was continuing to say "the Order of Business" but I was interrupted as somebody asked - and this is not on the "blacks" but it is on the film - "what is this about?" and I said that it was about the illegal death of Shane O'Farrell. The Cathaoirleach then came in and said "After item No. 2". This took me aback. I thought "item No. 2" is probably some Government motion to be taken without debate. That is the only circumstance in which I have seen this kind of thing happen before. I continued: "Yes, after item No. 2." Subsequently, and this is crucial, a page or two later on, Senator Buttimer, the Leader, says "Can I ask a question before it goes to a vote? When does Senator Norris propose to have the motion put tonight?" and I very clearly said "Immediately after the Order of Business." So the whole question of item No. 2 came from the Chair. It did not come from me and it was not my intention and I clarified it, subsequently, that I wanted the motion taken immediately after the Order of Business. That is a fact. That is actually what happened yesterday. I did not-----

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Yes.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Sure Senator Leyden was not here and cannot tell what Senator Norris did.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I did not-----

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Excuse me, I was here.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Please.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden The Leader can withdraw that now because I was here and I can prove I was here.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Do.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden And it is on the record I was here-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Can both of the Senators-----

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden I am well aware of Senator Norris's comments. Senator Norris is the most accomplished and the most experienced Member of this House.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Please, Senators.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I just want to say that I am not trying to attach blame to anybody in this circumstance.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer You were like a jackass fly yesterday. If you just behaved yourself.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It was, I think, a genuine error and I do not know where it came out of. In everything I said I made it clear I wanted the motion to be taken "immediately after the Order of Business", and it is on the record where I said that before the vote was taken. I had not, ever, said I wanted it after No. 2. I simply parroted what the Chair said and it is inexplicable where that came from. I have never known it to happen before. When one proposes a change to the Order of Business it is to take something immediately after the Order of Business. I shall leave it at that.  I think it was unfortunate. I am not blaming anybody. I think it was just a question of confusion. I regret very much that it happened. I look forward to this evening's debate, which will be attended by Mrs. Lucia O'Farrell. It behoves all of us to be here to show respect to this family and to take part in the proceedings.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer On a point of clarification-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I think you will-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer -----I might have made a mistake when I read out the Order of Business. I have just got a message from-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I will allow the Leader to clarify the matter.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Okay. That is fine.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Last Thursday, 7 February, when the Leas-Chathaoirleach was in the Chair, I spoke about the control of independent local radio. I said at the time that "Limerick FM and Clare FM have been bought by Kerry FM". In fact, Tipperary FM and Clare FM have been bought by Kerry FM. The matter was clarified later in the debate. I have looked at the blacks as well. Limerick FM is owned by the Wireless Group. The point I made to the Leader of the House last week was that it would be worthwhile to have a debate on the control of so-called local radio. When I had the concept of bringing forward an independent local radio Bill in the 1980s, I did not envisage that it would become a commodity and that Communicorp Media, which is owned by Denis O'Brien, if I can mention his name, would control 14.7% of the market through 98FM, Newstalk, Today FM, Spin 1038 and Spin South West. I hope he is not listening in because I do not intend to be sued. We have full privilege in this House, thanks be to God. The Wireless Group controls 17.6% of the market through Dublin's Q102, FM104, Cork's 96FM, C103, Limerick's Live 95FM and LMFM. The current maximum permitted ownership level is 25%.

  The point I am making is that between Kerry FM and all the other organisations, we must ask whether independent local radio is independent any more. Is it becoming a commodity that is sold, resold and registered? I think the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has questions to answer in this regard. I suggest that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, should come to the House for a debate. I would like to hear the views of Members of this House who have a great deal of experience in broadcasting, local radio and the benefits of local radio. I want to say categorically that our local radio station, Shannonside Northern Sound, which is owned by the Kerry group, is very fair and impartial. If it did not exist, most ordinary Deputies, Senators and councillors in the area would never get on the airwaves. We would not want to be relying on RTÉ. I see the same small clique every night on different RTÉ programmes and again on Saturday and Sunday. The people in this group are controlled by media PR people who get them on those programmes. It seems to me that the ordinary Deputy, Senator or councillor is excluded. As far as I am concerned, RTÉ does not represent the ordinary people. It represents an elite who have control of the airwaves. I hear Senator Craughwell on the airwaves regularly. He used to be on when he was going for President.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Is the Senator saying I am part of the elite?

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden The Senator was certainly very popular when he was going for President. When he dropped his candidacy, he was not on very much thereafter. Local radio is important for democracy in this country. I want to see it maintained, controlled and supported by the licence fee.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Before I bring in Senator Boyhan, maybe the Leader can clarify the matter to which he referred earlier.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Members may have misheard what I said about the Private Members' business. The debate is not to exceed two hours, rather than two minutes. Some people thought I said "two minutes". There are two hours for Private Members' business, which is the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I thank the Leader for the clarification.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden We all make mistakes, even the Leader.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Even Homer nods.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan It was a mistake. I call Senator Boyhan.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Leader for organising the debate on the exceptionally sad case of Shane O'Farrell. The more one reads into it, the more one realises that there has been a terrible miscarriage of justice. I received correspondence from Mrs. O'Farrell this morning. She will be here with a number of other people. I hope as many people as possible can come to the House. I think it will be an interesting debate. A number of other parties will also be in the Chamber. I think it will be an important opportunity to stand in solidarity with a family that deserves justice. I thank the Leader for facilitating it. I thank the Minister for making himself available to come to the House for this important debate.

  I do not intend to rehearse what other people have said about the children's hospital. As a matter of fact, I have said nothing about it in the Seanad. Perhaps at some time in the near future, we could have some sort of debate or statements on the National Development Finance Agency. A number of issues relating to the agency have come to my attention. I think we need a greater understanding of the agency's role and function in overseeing major Government contracts. I understand that a number of questions on this agency's involvement or lack of involvement in this project will be put to the Minister. It may have been prevented from being involved. I would welcome some sort of debate on that.

  I would also welcome a debate on the €99 million in cuts that are now required. I hope the cutbacks that are being announced, which are temporary by nature, will not have any impact on the second phase of the National Rehabilitation Hospital project in Dún Laoghaire.

  I ask as many Members as possible to come to the House for the debate on the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 if they are free to do so. This important legislation is before the House today. I know there has been a slight change in the order and timing of that debate.

Senator Ray Butler: Information on Ray Butler Zoom on Ray Butler Now that Britain is leaving Europe, we have an opportunity to address a major issue that has been around for recent years. I refer to public tenders for major projects like schools, roads, hospitals and nursing homes being given to companies outside the Twenty-six Counties. When politicians and people in local areas ask why tenders are being given to companies in the North or in Britain, we are told that under European legislation, the tenders have to be given in a way that satisfies European law. When the companies that are given these tenders come down, they do not leave anything in the local community. They do not give any local jobs. When €1 million was provided to do up St. Joseph's nursing home in Trim, which is in my constituency, a company from Northern Ireland came down to do the work. When I went up to speak to a few people who were working on the site, they had no problem telling me they were on social welfare in Northern Ireland and came down here to work for between £15 and £20 sterling - cash in hand - a day. How can that be fair to an Irish company that is looking to put in a tender for these projects? Such underhandedness is going on and we cannot check on it. As we move forward, Britain will leave Europe. I would like to see Departments giving more tenders to Irish companies, rather than British or foreign companies. We should look after our own first. I would like the Minister to come in so that we can discuss this issue as we move forward.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I draw the attention of colleagues to a great protest by primary students from a number of Educate Together schools, which will take place outside Leinster House today. While this is entirely their own initiative, they are inspired by a Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg. They are being supported by their teachers and by members of the INTO as they call for action on climate change under the slogan "we can't wait". It is really great to see students and young children engaging in activism on such a pressing issue.

  I join Senators Norris and Boyhan in thanking the Leader for organising today's debate on the case of Shane O'Farrell and specifically on a motion on that case. I look forward to contributing to the debate. It is important that we renew the debate on this matter, having debated it in June of last year.

  I would like to get clarification on a matter that was raised in the Dáil yesterday by my party leader, Deputy Howlin. Now that we know something, at least, about the cost overruns, has the Attorney General considered whether the revised tender price for the children's hospital is compliant with EU procurement directives, particularly 2014/24/EU, which requires that a new tendering process be conducted if certain modifications to original plans are carried out, and specifically if the renewed price is to be increased by more than 50% of the value of the original contract?  We know that has been exceeded so there is a real concern about the legality of the process now we know so much more about it. I ask the Leader to seek clarification on this. It has been raised in the Dáil but it is a very important matter.

  I join others in supporting Senator Ruane's Bill on rehabilitation periods, which will be taken this evening. It is very important and it builds on the Government's framework from 2016, which was very welcome. For the first time we saw rehabilitation of offenders introduced in principle and a measure on expunging convictions from the record. Senator Ruane's Bill builds on that and makes the process much fairer, implementing a proportionality that is currently lacking from the process. I hope we can see support from all sides, especially the Government side, for the Bill.

Senator Keith Swanick: Information on Keith Swanick Zoom on Keith Swanick I raise today the matter of medical requirements of our homeless population. We are all aware homelessness has reached unprecedented levels in this country, with more than 10,000 people homeless in Dublin alone. Homeless people, especially rough sleepers, suffer higher levels of infection and are at risk of developing severe medical conditions, including dental problems. I can give an example. A homeless man who recently began giving tours of the area in which he grew up has become a minor celebrity in his own right but he suffers from medical problems because of years of living on the streets. His new-found profession requires him to interact with the public and he does so quite eloquently. However, his medical card does not cover the dental issues he suffers. We need to see greater effort not only to solve the housing supply problem but to help human beings who suffer because of homelessness. Will the Leader schedule a debate on the special health requirements of the homeless population, whether they relate to physical or mental health?

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I rise today to draw attention to Apprenticeship Ireland's website and app, which provide an opportunity for young people to engage with industry leaders in technology. Young people can undertake a two-year apprenticeship programme in conjunction with many of the leading companies while being educated. There are many opportunities for inhouse education and training, as well as on-site and off-site workshops, with leaders in technology. We have always said here that there are not enough apprenticeships but this initiative is new and inviting. There were 250 participants in 2018 and it is planned to increase that figure to more than 1,000 by 2020. It is something we must draw attention to and encourage people to consider. Sometimes third level education is not for everyone but this is a new way of looking at education and skills.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Yesterday, my colleague, Senator McFadden, raised the campaign for homeless veterans of the Defence Forces. She never misses an opportunity to bring forward Defence Forces matters, which is very much appreciated by all veterans' associations. There are some buildings belonging to the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces around Dublin. The Irish Defence Forces Veterans Association, of which I am a member, would be willing to take over and refurbish a building. The expertise is available at no cost to the State to make it a permanent home for veterans, both those who are homeless and those who are in need of medical care. All that is required is the goodwill of the Department of Defence, the Minister of State with responsibility for defence and the Government. I am sure Senator McFadden would work with me on that, although today is the first she has heard of it.

  On a separate matter, the Leader, the Cathaoirleach and I visited Iran last year. It strikes me that as we come to a no-deal Brexit and the possibility of the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union, we should explore new opportunities. I think I am safe in saying we were highly impressed with what we saw when we were in Iran. We saw a population of 80 million and a gateway to approximately 400 million people in that part of the world. As Ireland moves forward, opening new embassies to create new markets and new alliances, is it not time for us to rekindle what was a great relationship between Ireland and Iran and reopen the embassy? Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the Seanad to debate that issue? I am sure other Members could suggest other countries they would like to see included in such a debate. Ireland cannot now afford to miss out on any opportunity for expansion of our markets as we enter into the world of Brexit. I know the Leader is favourably disposed to the idea, unless I am mistaken. The Iranians are wonderful people. Will the Leader try to organise that debate?

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden There was a fine embassy in Iran when Fianna Fáil was in power.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I raise the matter of industrial action by hundreds of community employment supervisors that will take place next Monday. This relates to a pension claim that has been ongoing for well over a decade. I worked on it during my time as a SIPTU official. There is a Labour Court recommendation that clearly calls for a pension to be established for these hundreds of community employment workers. There will be protests and industrial action outside the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection next Monday, as well as outside Intreo offices in Letterkenny, Galway, Athlone, Cork and Waterford.

  I hope the Leader agrees with my next point as a very sinister letter has been sent from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to the community employment management across the country. It has asked for the names of employees taking part in industrial action and states that "funding of schemes will be reviewed having regard to the industrial action taken". What we have is a threat from the Department to punish those who will stand out for legitimate industrial action across those locations next Monday. That is outrageous, especially as the same Department always denies it has any responsibilities because it is not an employer. On one hand it is argued the Department is not the employer but on the other hand the Department is demanding the names of the people taking industrial action and threatening them and the schemes.

  The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, contacted SIPTU and Fórsa and promised them a further meeting last September. The tragedy is that those unions have heard nothing since, almost six months on. I am calling for a debate on the matter and for the Minister to come to the Chamber. I am also clearly calling for support on the matter, as it is not acceptable for Ministers to renege on promises to meet our legitimate grievances. There is a Labour Court recommendation that has been outstanding for 11 years and it is certainly not acceptable for these workers to be threatened by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I would like to hear a loud and clear condemnation of that threat from the Leader in his response today.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I welcome Deputy Grealish, who is accompanying his guests in the Gallery. It is always nice to see people from the Lower House looking up at us.

Senator Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin We all know well that beef is a vital part of the export sector of this country. Of the 1.7 million cattle presented for slaughter to factories, we only consume 10% and 90% is for export. The problem is that beef farmers are getting very poor prices at factories for their cattle, and the price is actually below the cost of production. This puts the beef industry and suckler farmers in a state of crisis, which has been ongoing for a number of months. Any reprieve that we normally see in the run-up to Christmas has not materialised so prices remain very depressed and on the floor.

  A clearly identified solution is an increase in live exports. I commend the Minister and Bord Bia on the work they do in this regard. Between 2017 and 2018, live exports increased by 30% to 246,000 animals.  Quite frankly, we need more. With the abolition of the milk quota system we have seen many more people getting into dairy and, consequently, we have many more dairy calves. There are approximately 40,000 additional calves to be dealt with. We need new markets and we need live exports. At the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine yesterday it was set out very starkly that there is a major obstacle in this regard. It is not about ships or export markets. There are customers for these animals but there is a major problem in respect of lairage, places to hold animals, in Cherbourg, to which these animals are shipped. According to regulations animals, and young animals and calves in particular, have to be rested after a significant journey. The capacity is not there. At the same time, we are trying to move animals out and give farmers a fairer price. It has to be noted that there have been significant increases in the Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Belgian and French markets. All of these are European markets which are highly regulated. We cannot meet the demand despite having the cattle. If farmers cannot ship their cattle they have to continue to feed them and welfare issues arise.

  I call for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Minister, the farming organisations, and the exporters to get together and make some arrangements for the provision of additional lairage in or around Cherbourg so that the animals we are shipping can be cared for properly and capacity increased. There is no point in us having ambition to grow exports, which is our ambition, if there is not capacity within the system. I ask that this matter be brought to the Minister's attention, as a matter of urgency. I appeal to the different stakeholders to find a solution. It is beyond critical. I will meet the IFA shortly to discuss the whole crisis in the beef sector and I will take this issue up with the association directly.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank the 13 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senator Clifford-Lee raised the very important and sensitive issue of the CervicalCheck backlog. We are all concerned at this backlog. The most pertinent point the Senator made was that we welcome the fact that so many women have come forward for rechecks. I noted the remarks of the acting director general of the HSE at the Joint Committee on Health this morning. She said that the HSE is working to grow and develop laboratory capacity. It is important that anything the Government does is motivated by those women who are, in some cases, very seriously ill. It is also important to acknowledge in our commentary that the Minister for Health sought a capacity plan to address the backlog from the HSE last year. That has not yet been received. The HSE and the Minister are engaged in decreasing the turnover time. It is a worry and a concern. We all know people who are waiting. I hope that this matter will be dealt with expeditiously by the HSE. It is also important to note that the HSE has limited ability. That is why we have to outsource and go to outside agencies and laboratories. The HSE has also agreed to undertake additional recruitment, over time, to decrease the turnover time.

  The Senator also indirectly referenced the remarks of Mr. Justice Kevin Cross regarding the number of judges. This Government has approved more than 40 judges since 2016. Senator Clifford-Lee, her colleagues and other colleagues in the House - to be fair to her, it is not so much Senator Clifford-Lee - by their obstructionist behaviour around the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017-----

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee There has been no obstruction from Fianna Fáil.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Did the Senator hear what I said? I said it was not so much her. If the Senator wants to heckle me she should heckle me properly.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I am not heckling.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Some of the obstructionist behaviour on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill in this House is appalling, as was some of the carry-on yesterday with regard to the issue to which Senator Norris referred. Members did not choose to reflect and listen and were going from A to B to C to D. I will not get into that debate today.

  Senator Marshall raised the very important issue of Brexit. Professor Philip Lane gave a very good presentation in Dublin Castle today. A no-deal Brexit will disproportionately affect this country. There is no such thing as a good outcome to Brexit. That is why Government is trying to mitigate the potential impact on the Border and the north west of our country. It will, of course, affect small businesses and farms. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to give an update on Brexit. Today is a very important day in Westminster. I hope common sense prevails.

  Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of social protection and means testing. Means testing has always taken place. The issues the Senator raised in that regard are best addressed through the submission of a Commencement matter. I do not have an answer for her on them.

  Senator Leyden again made a contribution on the importance of local radio and its independence. I believe we all agree that, since its inception, local radio has brought about a terrific sense of community. It has brought people closer together, informed people and has made a vital contribution to our public and civic life and to people's lives, whether in the north, south, east or west. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, is the overarching body which oversees and grants licences. It has made its decision, which is to be welcomed, but we will have that debate in due course.

  To respond to Senator Boyhan, the O'Farrell case will be dealt with later on today and I will be happy to have a debate on the National Development Finance Agency.

  Senator Butler raised the issue of tendering with regard to Brexit. That is a matter for the Minister of State with special responsibility for public procurement. I would be happy to have him come to the House.

  I join with Senator Bacik in congratulating the young students who are today, rather than protesting, highlighting the need for action around climate change. To all climate change deniers I would say that it is time to get real. They should look at the temperatures around the world, the snowstorms in parts of the world, the heat that has just been encountered in Australia, the wet weather and other indices which prove and show that climate change exists and is having a profound impact. We have another debate on climate change tomorrow. On the issue of the national children's hospital, I do not have the information regarding the Attorney General and cannot give it to the Senator.

  Senator Swanick raised the issue of medical equipment for rough sleepers. I will be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Murphy, come to the House. I commend Senator Swanick on his initiative with regard to the report we will be debating later today.

  Senator Byrne raised the issue of apprenticeships and the importance of highlighting the need for people to take them up. I will be happy to have the Minister return to the House on that issue.

  Senator Craughwell spoke on the Defence Forces. As he rightly said, Senator McFadden has championed that issue. There are lots of issues around the Defence Forces. We need to commend all involved in highlighting the issues around our veterans. I do not have the answer Senator Craughwell is looking for regarding the use of Defence Forces barracks and buildings, but I am sure he can table a Commencement matter for the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. All of us must recognise the importance of the Army and the Defence Forces and the work those men and women do. They are probably the lowest paid in the public service. We all agree that needs to be addressed.

  On Iran, I would be very happy to have a debate in the House in that regard. It is important that we build relationships, expand our markets and reach out to other countries. We had the benefit of visiting Tehran last year. It was a very informative and educational visit. We learned a great deal about the relationship the workers have with the West, as opposed to that of officialdom, and about the ways in which we can all learn from each other and build synergies and new alliances. We should not tip our cap towards Washington the whole time either, but that is a personal view.

  Senator Gavan raised the very important issue of the community employment, CE, supervisors. I have made this point in the House before, but we all agree that community employment schemes are very important in our communities. We all want to see them enhanced and the men and women who participate in them move on to further employment. It is a wonderful scheme that has benefited our communities. There is a group of CE scheme workers who do tremendous work in my own GAA club in Bishopstown. Equally, the supervisors provide a tremendous service through their work. Senator Gavan also spoke mischievously about a sinister letter.  I do not believe it is a sinister letter, to be fair, in what it is trying to do. From my understanding it is not about threatening people, as Senator Gavan alluded to. Rather it is about ensuring several things. First, from what I understand, it seeks to find out the number of people who will not be at work on Monday so that we can provide a certain level of service. Second, it is about ensuring that the effects of a legitimate demonstration or protest, like that of the nurses, are minimised with regard to the delivery of the services for the sake of the people who avail of the service. Third, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has said on the public record that she has no intention of reducing any funding to schemes as a result of the action. Again, it is important that we have proper debate and commentary around what has been asked of people in a letter.

  I will address the other point mentioned by Senator Gavan. We would all love to give people a pension. However, I am told the cost is €188 million per annum. My question to Senator Gavan is where he believes that money will come from.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan It is nothing like that.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer That is what we have been told. Senator Gavan has his figures and I would be happy to have that debate.

  Senator Mulherin raised the issue of beef and the challenges being faced by the beef industry in terms of the price and the depression in the market. The points she made around the issue of the ports and trying to enhance, support and develop our beef sector merit further discussion. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has done a great deal of work in his Department on this matter. This is about ensuring that we can support and work with those in our beef sector. As Senator Mulherin is no doubt aware, the Minister cannot get involved in the setting of prices. However, we can put in place other supports, as referenced by Senator Mulherin in her contribution.

  Order of Business agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 12.20 p.m. and resumed at 12.50 p.m.

Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage

: Information on Kevin Boxer Moran Zoom on Kevin Boxer Moran  Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran): Information on Kevin Boxer Moran Zoom on Kevin Boxer Moran I am presenting this Bill on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Bill deals with sentencing for sexual offences and I look forward to hearing the contributions of Senators on same.

  I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this legislation to the House because it deals, in part, with legislative proposals I brought forward as a Private Member to introduce mandatory sentences for repeat sex offenders. The proposals were initiated after listening to the experiences of victims of sexual violence who had told me of the trauma they had suffered. I thank them again for sharing their experiences with me.

  The Bill is part of a wider range of measures in the area of sexual offences that have been introduced recently. Members will recall the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2017, which updated existing laws to combat child pornography and introduced new measures to combat the sexual grooming of children. The Act also contains important provisions surrounding criminal evidence in sexual offence trials.

  In addition to the Bill being introduced, further legislation in this area is being prepared. The Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill, which is being drafted, will enhance the monitoring of convicted sex offenders. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018 represents a further branch of the programme of reform. I believe it is a vital and necessary enhancement of current legislation.

  It is important that sentencing provisions for sexual offences be appropriate to the offences in question. The role of legislators in sentencing is to set out the maximum sentence that can be imposed. It is then a matter for the court to decide the appropriate sentence in a particular case, taking into account all circumstances. There are a few instances in which mandatory or minimum sentences are specified in legislation. There is a mandatory sentence for murder of life imprisonment. Minimum sentences are also in place for a number of serious offences such as crimes involving drugs and firearms. The use of minimum sentences is intended to reflect the impact of such crimes on society.

  The Criminal Justice Act 2007 provides for presumptive minimum sentences for repeat offenders. This applies to certain serious offences but not to sexual offences, which arguably is an anomaly. The Bill sets out presumptive minimum sentences for repeat sex offenders. The provisions will apply to those who have been convicted of a serious sexual offence and received a sentence of at least five years. If the offenders go on to commit a further offence within ten years, a presumptive minimum sentence will apply. It should be acknowledged that many convicted sex offenders are managed effectively on their release from prison through the Probation Service and An Garda Síochána and do not go on to commit further offences. The measures in place for the management of sex offenders, which are to be enhanced in the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill, play an important role in preventing reoffending. However, a small number go on to offend again. In putting in place these provisions the Government is recognising the impact of sexual offences both on individual victims and society as a whole and ensuring appropriate measures will be available to the Judiciary in sentencing to ensure these crimes can be dealt with effectively and appropriately.

  The Bill proposes to equalise the penalties for incest by both male and female offenders. Currently, the sentence for incest by a male is life imprisonment, while for a female, it is a maximum of seven years. It is proposed to equalise the penalties by lowering the sentence for incest by a male to ten years and increasing the sentence for a female to the same level.

  Turning to the Bill, I draw the attention of the House to the main proposals contained within. Sections 2 and 3 equalise the maximum penalty for incest by a male and a female at ten years' imprisonment by way of an amendment to the Punishment of Incest Act 1908. Under the Act, incest by a male carries a sentence of up to life imprisonment, whereas incest by a female carries a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment. The Department of Justice and Equality has been advised by the Office of the Attorney General that the difference in penalty between a man and a woman could give rise to a constitutional challenge. The proposed legislation equalises the maximum penalties for the separate offences of incest by a male and a female at ten years' imprisonment. The new provision brings the provisions up to date and into line with section 1 of the 1908 Act. At present, a female aged over 17 years who is convicted of an incest offence is liable to imprisonment for up to seven years.

  I note that Part 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 contains a number of other provisions regarding the penalty for incest. These provisions have not yet been commenced, pending the equalisation of the penalties for incest in this legislation. The provisions in sections 4 and 5 of the Bill have been developed based on the proposals brought forward by me in the Criminal Justice (Commission of Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill.

  Section 4 provides for the insertion of a new section 58 into the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017. The new section provides that, where an offender is convicted of a sexual offence listed in Schedule 1 of the 2017 Act and sentenced to imprisonment for a period of at least five years and is convicted of a further offence listed in Schedule 1 within ten years, the court shall, when imposing sentence for that offence, specify the minimum term of imprisonment to be served by the person. According to the provisions, the minimum period of imprisonment shall be three quarters of the maximum term of imprisonment prescribed by law in respect of such an offence and, where the maximum term is life imprisonment, the minimum shall be specified as a term of not less than ten years. However, the court will have discretion in the application of the sentence if it is satisfied that this would be disproportionate in all the circumstances of the case.

  Section 5 inserts a Schedule into the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017. The Schedule lists the offences to which the provisions of the new section 58 of the 2017 Act will apply. All of the scheduled offences are offences of a serious nature where the maximum penalty on conviction on indictment is five years' imprisonment or above.

  I think the House will agree that any measure which seeks to strengthen legislation governing sexual offences is of the utmost importance. I hope such measures will be given due consideration. I look forward to a constructive and fruitful debate.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I thank the Minister of State for his overview of this very important Bill which Fianna Fáil will support. Increased sentences for these crimes are very important, but the Government has failed to establish a sentencing commission, meaning that when this legislation is in place, there will continue to be huge inconsistencies in sentencing. In April 2018 a judge, in sentencing a man who had been convicted for the repeated rape of his granddaughter, described the lack of rape sentencing guidelines as somewhat bizarre. She specifically pointed to the fact that while there had been a lot on general principles in sentencing, there had been very little in the way of guidelines to guide judges in making their decisions. In 2013, Fianna Fáil published a Bill which called for the establishment of a judicial sentencing commission to prepare sentencing guidelines for the Judiciary. It formed part of our manifesto for the 2016 general election. Similar Bills followed from other parties but, despite paying lip service to the need for consistency in sentencing, the Government has failed repeatedly to prioritise legislation of this nature. As judges, victim groups and Opposition parties have been calling for such legislation for a long time, I would like the Government to address the issue. While I welcome the Bill, it is only a first step. Perhaps the Minister of State might bring that message back to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I welcome the Minister of State. As I remember when this legislation was flagged, it is great to see it being progressed. I congratulate the Minister of State.

  It was bizarre that there were different sentences for males and females who perpetrated crime. It does not embody the equality we all want to see. It was inappropriate, not in keeping with best international practice and did not meet the standard we wanted to set. Therefore, I welcome the new provision.   On the maximum sentence of ten years replacing a life sentence for a man and seven years for a female convicted of this heinous crime, I think the life sentence for both should be left as it is. That would give the judges a bit of discretion. In fairness, the Minister and his officials and advisers probably have a reason. Perhaps that is the international best practice or the international standard. There is logic to a sentencing commission but that is a much bigger discussion and is not for this Bill. An operation like the Citizens' Assembly or the Law Reform Commission, if it has not considered it already, could look at it. Judges do not always get it right. They differ. Some people go to jail and others do not. It is a bit like "doctors differ and patients die". There is logic in a certain standardisation but it is a much bigger discussion.

  I suspect and hope that there is unanimous support for the Bill in the House. The father of the House, Senator Norris, will concur with me when I say that there is one message that Seanad Éireann does deliver. When it comes to issues that are of national importance like this, Seanad Éireann has a custom of being very united. This Bill is important. We should sometimes look at the glass as being half full. Too often we see it as half empty. This is progress. It follows the domestic violence legislation that was signed into law just after Christmas by President Higgins.

  I have just come from a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality where we had the new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, in for three hours of intensive scrutiny by people from across the political spectrum. He performed very well. I believe he has the confidence of the public and that the public is very much still with him. He is very accessible. He told us in the committee room today that any individual who wanted could ask to see him and discuss their case with him, whether they are a victim of crime or someone involved in a road traffic collision. He is endeavouring to meet those who have felt they were not properly listened to or taken seriously by An Garda Síochána. If a member of the public writes to the Garda Commissioner looking for a meeting, it is a very positive step that the Commissioner would meet him or her. We are a country of 4 million people and if someone writes to or rings the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, or any of us, we are prepared to meet them. It is certainly very positive.

  Of course, when it comes to sexual violence there is a lot that needs to be done. We need to put resources into supporting the victims of sexual violence. The whole issue of how victims are treated is an area where we have not covered ourselves in glory over the years. There is now resolve and determination and an understanding that victims need to get support, particularly victims of sexual crime. During the court process, there is a lot to be said for supports for victims of crime while the trial is taking place. That is something we can always do better on. Ireland being the country it is, many prosecuting gardaí give enormous support to victims above and beyond the call of duty. The Garda force has often been kicked around, as it were, certainly in recent years. We have to recognise the good work gardaí do as well.

  I do not think the Minister of State is going to have any opposition to this important legislation in this House.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I welcome the Minister of State to the House, although I am a little bit puzzled. I know he is talented but he is described as the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and flood relief. I am not sure what connection that has with sexual offences.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway The whole of Government is responsible.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Exactly. I am not challenging the Minister of State's credibility. I just think it is an unusual situation.

  Senator Conway spoke about equality across the board. I completely agree with this. I have just one question for the Minister of State and his advisers. Some years ago, legislation was introduced which effectively said that a sexually inexperienced 14 year old boy who was seduced by a 17 year old sexually experienced girl was automatically guilty of rape. In other words, the person who was seduced was held to be guilty of rape. I protested against this and I was just wondering if it is still in force. It certainly flies against the face of equality. It is absolute madness. I said it at the time and got into a lot of trouble over it.

  I welcome some aspects of the Bill. However, I am a little concerned about section 3, which reads:

The Act of 1908 is amended by the substitution of the following section for section 2:
“2. Any female person of or above the age of 17 years, who with consent permits her grandfather, father, brother or son to have carnal knowledge of her (knowing him to be her grandfather, father, brother or son, as the case may be), shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.”.

This calls into question the whole idea of consent. To what degree can a girl of 17 or over be held to have consent in the normal circumstance, where it is placed into the context of the family? I think there are very few young females who voluntarily engage in sexual activity with the grandfather, father or brother. It is usually after an intensive process of grooming. I do not know of any cases in which the female in the family could be held to be guilty of sexual aggression against the grandfather or of initiating sexual contact. If that happens, it is very rare. I wonder about convicting and sentencing somebody to up to ten years' imprisonment in a situation where they have been carefully groomed by the father, grandfather or brother and then engage in these sexual acts. I am a little bit concerned about that.

  I was also a little bit surprised that there was no mention of section 5, which is very important and very welcome. It deals among other things with pornography, the exploitation of children for the purposes of child trafficking or child pornography, participation of children in pornographic performances and so on. This is a very important aspect of the Bill and is certainly welcome.

  I am, of course, very much in favour of protecting victims of sexual violence. I just wonder about the aspect of grooming in terms of section 3. I am also curious to know the situation in respect of a sexually inexperienced 14 year old boy being seduced by a sexually experienced 17 year old girl and still automatically being convicted of rape. If that provision is still in place, it is something the Government needs to look at. Senator Conway talked about equality across the board. That is certainly not equality. It is a violation of common sense.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I agree, in principle.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris When I raised this, I was accused of all kinds of things, of being soft on paedophilia and all the usual rubbish, but I think I was right. I welcome the Minister of State. I just have some reservations.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as a bheith linn. Sinn Féin broadly supports the Bill. It appears to contain changes in the law that we believe to be sensible and necessary, especially in respect of equalisation of proposed sentencing between genders, as has been touched on.  I believe much more could be done in terms of the sentencing guidelines. The Bill has two primary purposes, which are to amend the Punishment of Incest Act 1908 to address gender anomalies, and to amend the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 to provide minimum sentences for repeat sex offenders. We support both purposes. Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil raised the issue of sentencing harmonisation during the debate on the 2017 Act. The Minister listened to the points put during the debate and responded in this Bill, with a sentence of up to ten years to apply to men and women.

Anomalies remain in the law on incest which require further consideration. The wording still implies that a woman cannot initiate incest, as it is worded, "Any woman who permits". Likewise, it is limited to carnal knowledge, and therefore excludes acts of abuse and incest that fall short of intercourse. It also excludes certain sexual relationships. These elements require amendment and I ask the Minister of State to consider this as an opportunity to address them.

The significant amendment to the Act of 2017 is detailed and welcome. It covers circumstances where an offender is convicted of a sexual offence listed in the Schedule to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and is sentenced to imprisonment for a period of at least five years, and is subsequently, within a period of ten years, convicted of a further offence listed in the Schedule. The court shall, when imposing sentence for that offence, specify the minimum term of imprisonment to be served by the person. The minimum period of imprisonment shall be three quarters of the maximum term of imprisonment prescribed by law. In respect of such an offence and where the maximum term is life, the minimum shall be specified as a term not less than ten years. The court will have discretion in the application of the sentence if it is satisfied that this would be disproportionate in all the circumstances of the case. In circumstances where an offender has committed a second sexual offence while being sentenced for the first one, the length of the sentence handed down for the second offence will be a minimum of three quarters of the first sentence. Discretion on sentencing is built into the Act, hence a presumptive minimum, as opposed to a mandatory minimum, will be in place. This was described by Mr. Thomas O'Malley in Sentencing Law and Practice as a, "significant safety valve".

Repeat offenders are clearly very dangerous to the public and have not engaged in or benefitted from any rehabilitation services provided to them. Sexual assault or any crime of a sexual nature is a very serious crime and should carry one of the highest penalties. While not perfect, the law dealing with sexual offences is ever changing. We can still do much more to protect the victims of sexual offences, be that their treatment by the courts or increasing funding to services dealing with victims of such crimes.

Generally speaking, there is a lack of public confidence in the State's institutions with a direct responsibility for keeping the public safe, namely, the police and the Judiciary. There is an urgent need for An Garda Síochána to modernise its IT systems to ensure its capacity to record data is accurate, fit for purpose and helps to arrest and convict criminals. This matter was touched on by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The Minister of State must address this as a matter of priority going forward. A better and more comprehensive approach to reform of sentencing where it relates to sexual offences is required. The Minister for Justice and Equality has agreed with my colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, and said that he supports this approach and that it must be progressed.

There are wide disparities in sentencing, including sentencing for sexual offences. There are undoubtedly issues relating to inconsistency, leniency and late sentences. Time and again sentences are handed down which are, quite frankly, inadequate. As a result the public does not trust the justice system to deliver sentences which fit the crime. As legislators we have a duty to address what is a considerable issue regarding sentencing. It is my party's belief that collating, publishing and ensuring judges have these parameters is the best way to ensure consistency in sentencing. The Minister for Justice and Equality needs to respond to the assurances he has already given regarding minimum sentencing guidelines as we move ahead and, I hope, in his absence, that the Minister of State may be able to touch on some of that.

Sinn Féin will be supporting the Bill. Sexual offences, we all know and agree, are especially heinous, intrusive and inherently violent and cause long-lasting damage to their victims. It is important that we have strong enough legislation to enable us to tackle it, and to ensure that the sentences fit the crime.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran): Information on Kevin Boxer Moran Zoom on Kevin Boxer Moran The Judicial Council Bill is due to introduce a sentencing committee. The Minister is proposing that it is given the power to draw up sentencing guidelines.

  On penalties for incest, brought up by my good friend, Senator Conway, the issue arose during Report Stage of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, which intended to increase the penalties for incest committed by females up to a maximum of life imprisonment. However, Deputies voted against that proposed increase and a maximum sentence for females.

  I take on board the comments made by Senator Norris. Grooming is a separate offence and the investigating authorities would have recognised that. If a woman has not consented then no offence has been committed by her. The Senator asked why I am here, and he is quite right to wonder what flooding has to do with this, but it is my legislation. Before I came into the House I met so many people from all areas of the country, but one person in particular from the Mullingar area, who had brought this matter to a number of Members of the House and sought their support. I took the time to meet her and we formulated this legislation.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I congratulate the Minister of State.

Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran: Information on Kevin Boxer Moran Zoom on Kevin Boxer Moran I am delighted, as a new Minister of State, to be bringing forward this legislation on Second Stage. It is on the final leg of its journey towards becoming legislation and I appreciate the Senator's comments. Indeed, I appreciate the comments and support of all the Senators who have contributed today. I also thank my own Department and the Department of Justice and Equality, the officials from which are with me today and who have supported and helped me to get through this over the last number of weeks in the Dáil and at committee. I also thank the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, for his support, as well as Deputy Fitzgerald, who supported this at the very earliest stages. The man who wrote the legislation was my adviser, Mr. Eugene Deering. As a new Minister of State, it is great to get this legislation through. I have a land and conveyancing Bill coming through which seeks to keep people in their homes. I hope to get that through the House in the near future.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Is that Bill about mortgages? Well done.

Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran: Information on Kevin Boxer Moran Zoom on Kevin Boxer Moran I thank the Senators for their kind words and look forward to taking their amendments.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Does the Minister of State have any information on the issue of a sexually inexperienced youth being automatically convicted of-----

Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran: Information on Kevin Boxer Moran Zoom on Kevin Boxer Moran I will get back to the Senator on that.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris If I am correct and that provision still exists-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator will have to wait until Committee Stage.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris If I am right and that is correct, can the Minister of State bring that to the attention of the Government? It really needs to be reformed.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I cannot allow questions to the Minister of State at this juncture.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Throughout history there cannot have been too many people who have succeeded in getting legislation through either of these Houses by way of Private Members' Bills. The Minister of State deserves a commendation for that.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I thank the Minister and congratulate him.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Next Tuesday.

  Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 19 February 2019.

  Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.

  3 o’clock

Death of Shane O'Farrell: Motion

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The motion on the death of Shane O'Farrell is to be brought to a conclusion after one hour. Spokespersons have six minutes and other Senators have three minutes. The Minister will have six minutes and the Senator moving the motion will have three minutes and a reply.

  I invite Senator Norris from the Technical Group to move the motion.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

notes that:
- on 2nd August, 2011, Shane O'Farrell was killed while cycling home when he was struck by a car driven by Zigimantas Gradzuiska;

- previously, on 11th January, 2011, in Monaghan Circuit Court, Mr. Zigimantas Gradzuiska was convicted of theft, and his sentence was adjourned for one year, with the judge stating that if he was convicted of other theft or fraud offences he was to be brought back before the court and that he would be put in jail;

- on 9th May, 2011, in Ardee District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of theft, yet was not then brought back before Monaghan Circuit Court where a prison sentence would have been activated;

- on 11th May, 2011, in Dundalk District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of speeding;

- on 8th June, 2011, in Carrickmacross District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of possession of heroin;

- on 14th July, 2011, in Newry, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of theft;

- on 25th July, 2011, in Monaghan District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of having no tax disc;

- all of these offences constituted a breach by Mr. Gradzuiska of his bail bond, yet no steps were taken to revoke the bail granted to him;

- consequently, at the time of the collision, Mr. Gradzuiska was on bail in respect of a number of offences and had breached his bail bond, and was serving a number of suspended sentences which should have been activated had the courts been informed of the relevant previous convictions;

- approximately one hour prior to the collision, the car in which Mr. Gradzuiska was travelling was stopped by Gardaí and was noted to be unroadworthy and without a National Car Test certificate; and

- in January 2012, a complaint was made to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) regarding the conduct and role of An Garda Síochána in the above matters, and a report into part of the complaints was published in April 2018;
recognises that:
- there is an obligation on An Garda Síochána to bring persons convicted of criminal offences, while serving suspended sentences, before the court and to inform the sentencing court that the person has been convicted of subsequent offences;

- where a member of An Garda Síochána becomes aware that a person has breached, or is in breach of a condition of bail, there is an obligation on such member to bring that breach to the attention of the court;

- there is an obligation on GSOC to properly investigate all complaints it receives and to determine all admissible complaints in a timely and expeditious fashion;

- the GSOC report was delivered in a timeframe that was not acceptable, and was ultimately deficient;

- this case involved multiple failures on the part of several justice agencies of the State, resulting in Mr. Gradzuiska being at liberty on the date of the death of Shane O’Farrell; and

- that it is now necessary to have the actions of An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, GSOC, and the Courts Service examined in order to establish the truth as to how such failures took place, including the information sharing systems as between those agencies;
and calls on the Government to:
- immediately establish a Public Inquiry into the death of Shane O’Farrell; and

- ensure that adequate information systems exist within the Courts Service, so that courts can immediately access information in respect of sentences imposed or orders made on persons previously convicted of offences.”

I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House. This is a tragic case in which I have been involved over many years. The file is so big it was too big to bring into the Seanad. I have had so much correspondence over nearly seven years.

  I first want to pay tribute to Shane's family. His mother and his sister are in the Public Gallery today. Without Lucia O'Farrell we would not be at this stage. She has persistently pursued this case on behalf of her son. I never had the pleasure of meeting Shane O'Farrell but Lucia sent me a photograph of him, which I got today. Shane was an extraordinarily vital young man who was full of life. That life was snatched away by a Lithuanian drug addict. It is quite extraordinary to think that a young man who was so alive was destroyed in this way.

  A motion was put forward in the Dáil by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan that summarised some of Zigimantas Gridziuska's convictions. It stated:

— previously, on 11th January, 2011, in Monaghan Circuit Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of theft, and his sentence was adjourned for one year, with the judge stating that if he was convicted of other theft or fraud offences he was to be brought back before the court and that he would be put in jail;

— on 9th May, 2011, in Ardee District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of theft yet was not then brought back before Monaghan Circuit Court where a prison sentence would have been activated;

If Zigimantas Gridziuska had been in prison he could not have killed Shane. Deputy O'Callaghan's motion continued:

— on 11th May, 2011, in Dundalk District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of speeding;

— on 8th June, 2011, in Carrickmacross District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of possession of heroin;

— on 14th July, 2011, in Newry, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of theft;

— on 25th July, 2011, in Monaghan District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of having no tax disc;

— all of these offences constituted a breach by Mr. Gradzuiska of his bail bond, yet no steps were taken to revoke the bail granted to him;

— consequently, at the time of the collision, Mr. Gradzuiska was on bail in respect of a number of offences and had breached his bail bond, and was serving a number of suspended sentences which should have been activated had the courts been informed of the relevant previous convictions;

— approximately one hour prior to the collision, the car in which Mr. Gradzuiska was travelling was stopped by Gardaí and was noted to be unroadworthy and without a National Car Test certificate;

Zigimantas Gridziuska was allowed to continue, and after all of this when he eventually went to trial, he was let off. There was no penalty whatever imposed on him: he was just sent back to Lithuania.

  This has been going on for seven and a half years. There have been a number of different inquiries. With regard to our motion today, I was told by the Leader that the Minister would not be available. The Minister then stood up in the House and said he was anxious to be here and that he would be here. The next thing that happened was the Government said he could not because it had not made a decision - or at least this is what I have been informed of by the Leader. However, here the Minister is today-----

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan Does the Senator object to my being here?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I am very grateful.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I thought he might be.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I am very grateful that the Minister is here.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Could we please just have one speaker at a time? All comments are to come through me. Thank you Senator Norris.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I have addressed the Acting Chairman.

  Shane O'Farrell's family are not satisfied with the present situation. I have been in touch with the family and they have said the Minister has not complied with the vote in the Dáil that was taken eight months ago. Instead, the Minister had put something else in place that he should not have. This is the family's view. The Minister has not complied with what that House had already decided. Since that vote eight months ago the family has discovered that two statements given by Zigimantas Gridziuska were altered by the Garda for the inquest into Shane's horrific death. This is most extraordinary. Left out was reference to his heroin problem. Those statements were not redacted: they were completely removed and the sentences joined up. These incomplete statements would only have been noticed if compared with the original statements. It is very much in the public interest that there would be a public inquiry in line with what the other House has already decided. The ongoing delay is disrespectful to Shane and his family and to the many Deputies who voted for a public inquiry. The Minister must respect the vote.

  There has been an awful lot of shilly-shallying, even on yesterday's Order of Business. I had the numbers to push this through yesterday and win the vote. I sincerely hope I do it today. Yesterday I suggested an amendment to the Order of Business that this motion be taken immediately after the Order of Business, but I was interrupted. In the confusion the Cathaoirleach said it was after No. 2. That was not what I had said. Later in the debate I said very clearly that I wanted the motion taken immediately after the Order of Business. That was frustrated. I sincerely hope that we will get to vote today and that we will win the vote today. I would have won it yesterday. If we do not win it today I will certainly not stop pursuing this matter and pursing justice for the O'Farrell family whose courage has been quite extraordinary. They have stood up to Government obfuscation, to delays in the courts, to misinformation before the courts and to alteration of documents by the Garda. It would be an heroic struggle.   I am extremely grateful to my colleagues for being here to support this motion and I very much hope we win the vote later this afternoon.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I second the motion. I welcome the Minister to the House and especially welcome Ms O'Farrell and her daughter here today for what must be another painful experience in respect of the loss of her son.

  In 2011, Shane O'Farrell, aged 23 and the only son of the O'Farrell family was killed in a horrific hit and run by Mr. Gridziuska who had multiple breaches of bail and should have been in State custody. Shane was studying law while others were breaking it. He had just completed his law degree in UCD and his masters of law at Trinity College Dublin. Eight months ago the Dáil voted in favour of a public inquiry and, to date, no public inquiry has been commenced. That is the kernel of the concerns of the O'Farrell family here today.

  It is alleged that there has been Garda interference in this case. I will never use my privilege in this House to make allegations that I cannot personally substantiate but I can say it is alleged that there has been Garda interference and surely that must be investigated. The criminal justice system has let the O'Farrell family down in this case. It is clear there are serious failures in the system and too many questions remain unanswered in this case.

  It is paramount that the public has and retains confidence in the working and operations of An Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system and that it is upheld at all costs. There is an obligation on the Garda Síochána to bring persons convicted of criminal offences while serving suspended sentences before the courts, and to inform the sentencing court that the person has been convicted of subsequent offences. Where a member of An Garda Síochána becomes aware that a person has breached or is in breach of a condition of bail there is an obligation on that member to bring that breach to the attention of the court. There is an obligation on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, to properly investigate all complaints it receives and to determine all admissible complaints in a timely and expeditious fashion.

  Senator Norris and I are calling on the Government to immediately establish a commission of investigation into the death of Shane O'Farrell. I am aware of the Minister's scoping report, or the mechanism he has put in place to have a scoping inquiry but that is not good enough. This has gone on for too long. The family wants justice. We want confidence to be upheld in the working of An Garda Síochána and in all organs of the State. Therefore, the criminal justice system needs to be examined again in respect of these matters. Lessons have to be learned. There should be nothing less than a full public inquiry; it is what the family wants and it is what Dáil Éireann decided. If Members here today stand together and come into this House and work together we can ensure this happens. It is what the family wants and the family deserves nothing less.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I welcome Mrs. O'Farrell and her daughter and commend their steadfast determination to get justice. I am glad to say that the Government will not be opposing this motion today. I have no doubt that the Minister will outline his reasoning for that. We would not want to do so anyway because we always want to do what is right and support people in their pursuit of justice. We are in government and there are certain processes and procedures that have to be followed that the Minister will outline. It would not be right for this Chamber to divide on something so important and sensitive. Bearing in mind what has already been said about Shane O'Farrell, I am a graduate of UCD. Somebody who had so much to offer, and as quite eloquently put by Senator Boyhan, who was studying the law lost his life because of others who were not abiding by it. I reiterate what has been said about the O'Farrell family's bravery and determination.

  It is very telling that Senator Norris talked about people whose lives are fulfilled today as a result of Shane O'Farrell's interventions. That is the type of character we are speaking about and whose memory we are honouring and respecting. I have nothing further to add because the Minister will give a comprehensive response in due course.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and acknowledge his taking time out at short notice to be here. I acknowledge Lucia O'Farrell and her daughter who are here today to discuss this important matter. For any mother to lose her son is unnatural and against the grain of life but I can only imagine the heartbreak that goes with losing a son under such circumstances, and that applies to all the O'Farrell family. What compounds that grief is the sense of injustice they feel about the circumstances and the systems failure that resulted in Shane's tragic and unnecessary death on 2 August 2011. Their journey to this point is to be commended. In many ways the family probably has not had an opportunity to grieve Shane's loss properly because they feel an injustice has been done and that they have to right that. They have been on that journey for almost eight years and continue to stay on it. I admire that quality.

  I take no pleasure from saying that in many ways the Government has turned its back not just on the O'Farrell family but on Dáil Éireann because our party's justice spokesperson, Deputy O'Callaghan, tabled a proposal which was supported by the majority of Teachtaí Dála, calling for a commission of investigation, a public inquiry, into the circumstances surrounding Shane's tragic death. For the Government to ignore that vote and to ignore the wishes of the O'Farrell family is, to put it mildly, very disappointing. The inquiry to be led by Judge Haughton is to report in eight weeks' time. Being charitable one could say it is progress of a kind but it is not what the family is looking for. I fail to see why the Minister did not proceed with the wishes of the family and of the majority of Teachtaí Dála to go ahead with the commission of investigation into Shane's death. In many ways it compounds the sense of loss and injustice that the O'Farrell family is experiencing.

  No words that I or any Member can say here will bring Shane back. All that the O'Farrell family is looking for is someone to shine a light on that systems failure that results in them being here today. This is not a witch-hunt for anybody, it is just the family looking for the truth of what happened so that no family in the future will be sitting in the Visitors Gallery like Mrs. O'Farrell and her daughter for the same reason.  It is in the interest not just of the O'Farrell family but of every citizen of this country to have systems in place to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again. That should be the wish and ambition of every Member of this House and I fail to see how anybody would have difficulty with it.

  On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I plead with the Minister to proceed with the public inquiry that the family yearns for. They deserve to know what happened and to have closure, time and space to mourn the loss of their son properly. The only way they can do that is with a public inquiry. I do not speak for the O'Farrell family but they will not rest until they get that. I ask the Minister to keep those thoughts in mind and I look forward to his contribution.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I thank him for taking the time to be with us today. I also thank Senator Norris for his doggedness in ensuring this motion was heard today. As I reflected on the sentiments expressed by previous speakers, the facts of this case and the presence in the Chamber of members of Shane O'Farrell's family, it struck me that Senator Norris should not have had to do that. I do not say this to be combative or confrontational. Given the courage and dignity shown by Shane O'Farrell's family, we feel compelled each time we talk about this case to commend the stance of the family. However, we should not have to do that either. The family does not want to be here and they do not want to be involved in this awful situation. They have had the great trauma, hurt and pain of Shane's loss inflicted on them and they have to face the added indignity and injustice of the failure to adequately deal with the circumstances relating to Shane's death.

  I reassert and reaffirm my party's support for a public inquiry. I plead with the Minister who I have no doubt engages with the issue in good faith. I am also conscious that we are dealing with a family and every time they have to re-engage with this issue and lobby and campaign for their basic right and entitlement to have the criminal manner in which they lost their son properly investigated, they are traumatised again. There is a part of me that is ashamed that we have to add to that trauma every time we speak on this issue, although I wholeheartedly accept that none of us intends that. That is the reality, however, when we fail to bring about the proper mechanisms and the full public inquiry sought by the family and the majority of Members of these Houses. As has been noted, the Dáil voted for and demands a full public inquiry and, critically, the family are entitled to it. I hope it is initiated without further delay and additional trauma and pain for the family because nothing will take away the pain the family have felt. I hope the truth and full circumstances relating to Shane's untimely death are brought to the fore.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I acknowledge the presence of Lucia O'Farrell and her daughter. I am also mindful of James O'Farrell and the other daughters who are not here today. I thank Senators Norris and Boyhan for giving us the opportunity to bring the Minister into the House to discuss this matter. Seven and a half years is far too long. We need a public statutory inquiry now and I hope the Minister will give us a timescale for that. What is being covered up and why? What stands out most are the layers of injustice - the injustice of Shane's death and the injustice of not getting the truth. The two most powerful things here today are the love of a mother for her son and the tenacity the family has shown to get the truth for Shane O'Farrell. I hope the Minister will give us the answers that we need.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister, Mrs. Lucia O'Farrell and her family. I offer again my condolences on the tragic death of their son and brother, Shane, on 2 August 2011. Shane and the family have a long connection with the law school in Trinity College. As a Trinity Senator, I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Norris, who has campaigned so hard and doggedly to ensure justice for them as a family and have this motion heard today. He persisted against the odds on that. I commend him on that and offer my support and that of my Labour Party colleagues for the motion. I am glad Senator Conway said he Government will not oppose the motion.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Hear, hear.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Those are very welcome words and I commend the Minister on accepting the motion, as I understand he will. We all await his comments.

  We need clarification about the timeframe for the implementation of the motion and precisely how it is proposed to go about the establishment of the public inquiry called for. The details of the case are well known. We had a debate on the issue eight months ago in this House. I spoke at length, as did others, and set out the details which are also set out in the motion. It is worth noting the litany of failings following the tragic death in August 2011. There were failings of communication within and between the different courts and justice agencies in this jurisdiction, as well as failings on a cross-Border basis between the courts and judicial authorities in the North and the South of the island. Those failings of communication need to be investigated to ensure that we do not see any other families being failed by the system in the way the O'Farrell family have been.

  The motion that so many of us support not only calls for the immediate establishment of a public inquiry into Shane O'Farrell's death, but also calls on the Government to make sure that adequate information systems exist within the Courts Service to enable courts to immediately access information on sentences imposed or orders made on persons previously convicted of offences. That is an important point to highlight. We all want to ensure that no other family will suffer in this way and that mechanisms are put in place to ensure there is a sufficient exchange of information between courts and policing agencies, both in this jurisdiction and between this jurisdiction and the North, to ensure courts are fully seized of all circumstances when a case comes before them, whereas in this case, they should have been aware of much more information that they were not aware of.

  I welcome the Minister's commitment to the motion. When he spoke in response to our previous debate eight months ago, he said he would reflect on what we said and the fact that the Dáil voted on 14 June 2018 in support of a public inquiry. An inquiry is long overdue. My party leader, Deputy Howlin, called some years ago for the initiation of a scoping inquiry into Shane O'Farrell's death. I know that was recently announced, under District Court judge Gerard Haughton, but if a scoping inquiry had been established years ago, we would have seen a public inquiry set up in a much more timely fashion. I am taken by an article by Michael Clifford published on 7 February in which he clearly set out the grounds for bypassing the scoping exercise and ensuring the holding of a commission of investigation into this issue. He also set out the compelling body of evidence which points towards repeated and serious failures in the criminal justice system, leading to a young man's tragic death. I urge colleagues to support the motion.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I welcome Mrs. O'Farrell and her daughter to the Gallery and thank them for being here. It is important to recognise that the Minister intimated quite early on, on behalf of Government, that he would not oppose the motion.  Senator Norris needs to reflect upon his contribution regarding the logistics of yesterday. It is quite disappointing to hear the picture painted by the Senator. When he asked me on the Order of Business yesterday about the motion, I was amenable to having it taken today. I could not give a commitment yesterday because the Government had not made a decision regarding the motion. I cannot speak on behalf of the Government in terms of a decision by it on a motion. The Senator needs to reflect upon his contribution and what he said this afternoon and yesterday on that because-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I intend to stay by it.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Senator is incorrect and he is doing the House a disservice by that.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Leader has clarified the position.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is important that we get the record correct, a Chathaoirligh. Yesterday, I did not oppose and was amenable to having the motion taken. The Minister was not available, to be fair, at a particular time yesterday

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Leader has-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am entitled, with respect, as Leader of the House to put the record straight.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Which you have done.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am doing that as Leader of the House, notwithstanding the grave injustices to the O'Farrell family, which is what this motion is about, and the tragedy and the anguish they have gone through and are still going through. I commend them on their bravery, perseverance and integrity. That is what we must at all times keep at the forefront of what we are about today and in the future.

  I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality for coming into the House today, for making himself available to us, and for changing his schedule. I appreciate that, in sincerity, because it is easy to table motions on the Order Paper and expect Ministers to change their schedules quickly.

  In saying that, I lend my support to the need to have justice given to Shane O'Farrell and his family. I think all of us, in reading about this case and reading about his tragic loss of life, recognise that notwithstanding the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, inquiry, we have a scoping exercise, and I wish Judge Haughton well in that. Everything that we do must be about justice, truth and accountability.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I thank the Senator. I call the Minister to respond.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Is there nobody else?

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone No, that is it.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris All right.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Senator Norris will have an opportunity to respond after the Minister.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan Let me start by saying that the Government is not opposing the motion before us. However, I will have a number of things to say about it in the matter of the terms of the motion itself because these terms do raise issues that have potential constitutional and statutory consequences of which I hope Seanadóirí are mindful. I will come back to that shortly.

  I want to recall, as Senator Bacik has said, that I spoke in this House last summer about the tragic death of a young man at a point where his life looked so promising. Shane O'Farrell was obviously a much loved son and brother. His death has clearly been devastating for his family to whom, once again, I extend my condolences. My statement in this House at the time followed the completion by GSOC of its criminal investigation into complaints made by the family of Shane O'Farrell. Indeed, GSOC had also included in its investigation a number of matters referred to it by a previous Minister for Justice and Equality. Members will appreciate that the criminal investigation took some time and I recognise that this was a cause of great frustration. However, it is important to acknowledge the very serious nature of a criminal investigation and the requirement that any such investigation be carried out with great diligence and care.

  GSOC completed its first report last year and found there were no grounds for criminal proceedings against any member of the Garda Síochána. However, the report identified conduct that might lead to disciplinary proceedings and GSOC therefore commenced a disciplinary investigation into that conduct. I will return to the outcome of that investigation momentarily.

  During my statement in this House last June I also stated that there were a number of failings in the period leading up to the road traffic incident in which Shane O'Farrell lost his young life. These were clearly set out in the GSOC report following the conclusion of its criminal investigation. A man who had numerous previous convictions and who was on bail at the time of the incident had also been arrested for other offences while on bail. Indeed, tragically, the actions of the gardaí fell short of what should have happened where a person is on bail or remand and is subsequently arrested for other offences, and that is what GSOC has been investigating over the period since then.

  A few short weeks ago, at the end of January, I was informed by GSOC that its disciplinary investigation is now complete. A report has been sent to the Garda Commissioner which recommended certain actions. I have not been furnished with a copy of the report but I have been informed that GSOC has recommended that disciplinary action be taken against three members of An Garda Síochána. I understand the Garda Commissioner is examining that report in detail, and I would note that under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, this is a matter entirely for the Garda Commissioner alone to decide on the matter.

  As Minister for Justice and Equality, I am particularly mindful of the independence of GSOC. My responsibility is not to do anything in any manner or means that may be interpreted as undermining its work. Accordingly, when the Dáil passed its motion last June, I began examining how I could give effect to the intention of that House without undermining the work of GSOC. My officials began to explore options with the Attorney General. I was notified at the end of January that GSOC had completed both of its investigations into this case and this allowed me to proceed with steps to resolve the outstanding issues in the case.

  At the very earliest opportunity, I appointed a respected and very experienced former judge of the District Court, Judge Gerard Haughton, to carry out a scoping exercise into a number of matters surrounding the circumstances leading to the death of Shane O'Farrell. As the House will be well aware, scoping exercises have been carried out in the past prior to the establishment of major inquiries or tribunals of inquiry. It is good governance to allow a scoping exercise by a legal expert to determine the net issues that require examination.

  In this case, Judge Gerard Haughton has been asked by me to review the investigations that have taken place into the circumstances of the death of Shane O'Farrell, including the criminal prosecution arising from the road traffic incident, the independent review mechanism examination of the case, and the investigations by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. His scoping exercise will also review changes that have been made to the law and practice relating to the administration of bail and bench warrants, and the extent to which they have or have not addressed gaps in those systems since the death of Shane O'Farrell.

  Following his review, Judge Haughton will advise me on any remaining unanswered questions which should be the subject of further inquiry or investigation and the most appropriate manner in which they should be investigated. I ask Senators to appreciate that I must have regard to the constitutional independence of the courts and the statutory independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

  I met Mr. and Mrs. O'Farrell and three of their daughters last week to outline my proposals to them. I acknowledge that they objected to the process of a scoping exercise. They did agree, however, to consider the proposed terms of reference and to engage with Judge Haughton on the terms of reference. I very much thank them for that. I have since written to Judge Haughton and asked him to contact the family early to commence that very important engagement.

  I am very much aware of the extensive research carried out by the O'Farrell family into issues surrounding the case and I have asked them to make that research available to Judge Haughton. I hope this House will appreciate why I do not wish to say anything further about the process to allow Judge Haughton and the family as much latitude as possible on these issues.

  Turning briefly to the terms of reference for the motion itself, I note that the motion is identical to one passed by the Dáil last June. While I have said that the Government is not opposing the motion, it is important that I point out a number of difficulties that may arise in trying to give effect to it. The motion calls for the public inquiry to examine the actions of An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, GSOC and the Courts Service. I am sure that members of this House are very much aware of the constitutional and statutory provisions governing the functioning of these very important organs of the State.

  The investigation of a suspected criminal offence is, with some exceptions, a matter for An Garda Síochána. Where there are alleged failings in this regard, one course of action available, under the Garda Síochána Act of 2005, is for GSOC to investigate. In this case GSOC has carried out two investigations - a criminal investigation and a disciplinary investigation.  In respect of the former, it was deemed that there was no criminality. In respect of the latter, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has recommended that disciplinary action be taken against three members of An Garda Síochána. The motion proposes that the actions of the gardaí which have been examined by GSOC be examined again in another forum. This is being proposed without sight of the most recent and final report of GSOC on the case. I am sure Senators will agree that this is an unusual course of action.

  Legal difficulties arise with the proposals made in the motion in respect of the courts which are independent under the Constitution, as well as the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and GSOC, both of which are independent under the law. I submit that the House must have regard to the separation of powers under the Constitution where the courts are concerned. Where the Director of Public Prosecutions is concerned, the law has specifically been designed to prevent inappropriate interference with the office where prosecutorial decisions are concerned. On the face of it, the motion is in conflict with the law governing the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Likewise, I need not advise Members that GSOC is statutorily independent. There is provision in section 109 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 for a senior judge to be appointed to inquire into the actions of a GSOC-designated officer. However, to my knowledge, there is no suggestion that any designated officer involved in the investigation of complaints made by the family of Shane O'Farrell has behaved in a manner that justifies invoking that section.

  I am coming towards the conclusion of my remarks, but I am keen to have unanswered questions arising from the case examined and reported on. To that end, I have commenced a scoping exercise to assist me in that regard. When I receive the report of Judge Haughton, I will be in a position to make a further decision on whether to take the matter forward. I ask Senators to be supportive of Judge Haughton as he goes about his sensitive and important work. I reiterate that the Government is not opposing the motion because we, too, wish to see questions answered to the satisfaction of the O'Farrell family. I thank Senators for giving me the opportunity to set out how I propose to proceed in this tragic case.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I am glad that the Government is not opposing the motion. That means that both Houses of the Oireachtas will have passed a motion calling for the establishment of an inquiry. It is time such an inquiry was set in motion. I do not think we need to wait for Judge Haughton to report. The Minister said: "I appointed a respected and very experienced former judge of the District Court, Judge Gerard Haughton, to carry out a scoping exercise into a number of matters surrounding the circumstances..." He also said: "As the House will be well aware, scoping exercises have been carried out in the past prior to the establishment of major inquiries or tribunals." They have, but I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that such scoping inquiries have been bypassed on a significant number of occasions. Michael Clifford points to several in his article. In June last year the Government set up a commission of investigation into the crimes of Bill Kenneally, the former sports coach who had been convicted of a number of child sex abuse offences. There is major concern that he appeared to be in a position to act with impunity for years. This is another criminal matter where, without a scoping inquiry, the Government established a commission; obviously, therefore, there is no problem with it. There could not possibly be because the Government has already done it. That is the answer.

  There is the question of the independence of the courts and the statutory independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions, An Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I do not believe for one second that the independence of these bodies would be undermined by the establishment of a public inquiry. Far from it, I believe it would be strengthened. The motion calls for the commission of public inquiry to examine the actions of An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, GSOC and the Courts Service. The Minister said he imagined that Members were well aware of the constitutional and statutory provisions governing the functions of these important organs of State. We are, but we do not see any conflict in that regard.

  The Minister says the investigation of suspected criminal offences is, with some exceptions, a matter for An Garda Síochána. Of course, these are matters for it, but this case has been looked at and facts have been established. There is no question whatever about Gridziuska's guilt. He is guilty not only of the unlawful killing of Shane O'Farrell but also of drug, motoring, drink and theft offences. There is a vast catalogue of offences. He is as guilty as hell and there is no question of a Garda inquiry into his behaviour being undermined.

  I call for the motion to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, in other words, the full Parliament of Ireland, to have a public inquiry established. We are looking for this to happen without delay and that is what the O'Farrell family have come to the House today to see. They seek justice for their son and want to see an end to this in order that they can go on with their lives. With the full support of both Houses of the Oireachtas, the time has come to have a full public inquiry.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 3.45 p.m. and resumed at 4.35 p.m.

Loneliness Task Force Report: Statements

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I have pleasure in calling the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to address the House.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly Fáiltím roimh an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo sa Teach inniu. I am pleased to be here for this debate on the report from the loneliness task force. I welcome the work of the group and congratulate Senator Swanick and Seán Moynihan of ALONE for their group's useful contribution to the debate in highlighting important issues around loneliness in society.

  Loneliness affects people across all walks of life, young and old, rural and urban dwellers, those living alone or with others. It can affect us at any stage of life, and it has been shown to have a negative effect on mental and physical health. There are times in everyone's life when he or she feels lonely or isolated. It is normal to feel lonely if one is having difficulties at school, college or work, dealing with bereavement, living away from home, if one is socially or geographically isolated, or for many other reasons.

  There are different ways of dealing with loneliness and isolation, depending on what is causing these feelings. Getting involved in volunteering, taking up a hobby, actively setting out to meet new people or talking to a loved one or trusted friend about feelings are all things to consider.

  When a person is feeling lonely or isolated, he or she can be more vulnerable. At a time when people have never been more connected online, it can be hard to recognise that what people choose to publish about themselves online may be a carefully curated version of themselves and does not paint a full picture of the highs, lows and, at times, the mundane that makes up all our lives. That said, online communities can be a great social outlet and source of peer support when balanced with face-to-face contact. This technology also presents interesting treatment opportunities, particularly in the area of e-mental health, which I will come to later.

  Older people's groups, mental health groups and community development groups are continually working to promote a positive community response to loneliness. Ireland is justifiably proud of its strong tradition of vibrant, sustainable and inclusive communities, calling in to check on neighbours, volunteering in sporting groups, getting involved in Tidy Towns committees, involvement in neighbourhood watch or supporting families in times of crisis.

  This report rightly notes that work to combat loneliness is not limited to one specific Minister or Department. The allocation of responsibility and funding to combat loneliness are matters for the Cabinet as a whole. I will talk about some of the work that is going on in my own Department, often in collaboration with my colleagues across Government.

  Healthy Ireland is the national framework for action to improve the health and well-being of the country. It seeks to tackle the major lifestyle issues which lead to negative health outcomes. It also seeks to address the wider social and environmental factors that impact on health and well-being, for example, housing, education, transport, and the physical environment. One of the themes of the current Healthy Ireland campaign is mental well-being, encapsulating some of the points mentioned in the task force report, for example, volunteering, social connection, and participation in physical activity - things that have many benefits for mental and emotional health and social connection. The campaign aims to increase public awareness and understanding, including signposting to partners such as Volunteer Ireland, Men's Sheds and GAA Healthy Clubs. While most of these have a broader focus than mental well-being, they can be considered as tackling loneliness and social isolation through social connection, joining in activities and initiatives in the community, and volunteering.

  Having mentioned the important role that volunteering can play, I note that my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development, Deputy Canney, is developing a national volunteering strategy. I congratulate him on this initiative and encourage stakeholders to input to this process.

  The task force's report references the work of the healthy and positive ageing initiative and the TILDA longitudinal study on ageing. My Department has invested significant resources in these programmes to identify and collect key data on the ageing experience in Ireland. These data assist all Departments and service providers in informing development of policy and service delivery.

  The 2016 Health and Positive Ageing Initiative national indicators report identified that 7.1% of people aged 50 plus often feel lonely and that women have a higher loneliness score than men at all ages. However, more than nine out of ten, that is, 93% of people aged 50 plus, have at least one supportive relative or friend, five in seven, that is, 85% of people aged 50 plus, engage in at least one social leisure activity weekly, more than one in four, that is, 26% of people aged 50 plus, volunteered in the past 12 months, and eight out of ten, that is, 82% of people aged 50 plus, report high life satisfaction. A second indicators report will be published later this year.

  The national positive ageing strategy outlines Ireland's vision for ageing and older people and the national goals and objective required to promote positive ageing. It is an overarching cross-departmental policy that will be the blueprint for age related policy and service delivery across Government in the years ahead. One goal focuses on the need to remove barriers to participation and provide opportunities for continued involvement of people as they age in cultural, economic and social life in the communities according to their needs, preferences and capacities.  People with a disability can be particularly vulnerable to experiencing social isolation. Transforming Lives is a programme to move care and service delivery for people with disabilities to community-based, person-centred models. This is also a priority in A Programme for a Partnership Government. Securing employment can play a fundamental part in helping with the difficulties of social isolation experienced by many people with a disability. My colleagues, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, recently launched an extensive consultation process on how the Government can support people with disabilities to obtain and retain employment.

It would be remiss of me not to highlight the immense work done in this country by carers and the risk of loneliness and isolation that they face. Self-care is especially important for this group of largely unsung heroes. There are many community and voluntary support groups for family, friends and carers that provide the opportunity to meet others who also care for loved ones and to share experiences and ideas. The cross-departmental national carers' strategy contains actions to implement four national goals, including a need to support carers to manage their own health and well-being, and the empowering of carers to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life.

I will move on to discuss mental health initiatives. I want to be very clear that loneliness itself is not a mental illness. It is an unfortunate fact, however, that loneliness can have a negative effect on mental health. The task force report recommends a targeted campaign on loneliness. One of the recommendations in the recently published strategy for tackling loneliness in England is to develop easy to understand messages and information through a campaign about the importance of maintaining good social well-being. We in Ireland are lucky enough to have such a campaign already well-established. Little Things is the title of the mental health and well-being campaign by the HSE and more than 35 partner organisations, including BeLonG To, Exchange House Ireland, the Football Association of Ireland, the Irish College of General Practitioners, the National Youth Council of Ireland and Nurture. The campaign answers two key questions to help us look after our own and others' mental health. The first is what can I do. The campaign showcases little things proven to aid good mental health. They are simple, specific messages like keeping active, doing things with others, talking about problems, connecting with others going through difficult times, and eating and sleeping well. The second question the campaign answers is where can I go. A dedicated online resource, yourmentalhealth.ie, is now the most comprehensive online directory of support services and information on mental health in Ireland.

I mentioned digital mental health. Work is progressing on a new telephone contact line and the delivery date is scheduled for later this year. The service will operate on a 24-7 basis providing signposting and, where possible, the direct transfer of callers to the most appropriate services. I also expect a new active listening service comprising live chat, instant messaging and short message system, SMS, elements to commence later this year. Furthermore, the HSE is undertaking two six-month national pilot projects exploring the potential to develop the use of online counselling.

Work on the refresh of A Vision for Change, the national policy on mental health, is well advanced. The need to provide additional mental health supports for older people was a common theme that emerged during the national consultation process. It is expected that there will be a recommendation to develop mental health training and supports for health professionals, home help teams and carers who provide services for older people. This training will ensure that primary care services have the capacity to identify mental health difficulties and provide awareness and prevention programmes for older people for the management of mental health and bereavement.

As loneliness is a challenge that many of us face in our lives, the work by Senator Swanick and Mr. Seán Moynihan to address this matter proactively through the formation of the loneliness task force is a bold step in the right direction. The report highlights the wide reach of loneliness in society. I welcome the work of the loneliness task force and encourage those who can make a difference in this area to continue their valuable work.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I thank the Minister of State. I call the author of the report, Senator Swanick, and he has eight minutes.

Senator Keith Swanick: Information on Keith Swanick Zoom on Keith Swanick As the chairperson of the loneliness task force, I am pleased to discuss the report entitled A Connected Island: An Ireland Free From Loneliness. I express my sincere appreciation to the organisations and individuals who helped prepare the report and made submissions to same. Their input was vital in informing the task force's work and ensuring we all had a thorough understanding of the challenges throughout our country and in the wider world.

  I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his presence here today. We need to ask ourselves why loneliness is such a big issue. Let me explain why. Loneliness is by far the most unrecognised health crisis of our generation. Loneliness does not discriminate between young or old, rich or poor, and urban or rural. Loneliness has reached epidemic levels and we all need to play our own part in this battle, including the Government.

  As a physician, I do not throw around a word like "epidemic" lightly. There are many reasons loneliness is by far the most unrecognised health crisis of this generation. The first is that loneliness is a major public health risk for individuals, with significant international research linking loneliness to physical and psychological health issues. Loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The second issue is the fact that loneliness is a major social problem and, incorrectly, is often assumed to impact only on the elderly. The impact of loneliness cuts right across society, age, gender, ethnicity, and economic or social strata. The third issue is that loneliness is a major economic problem. Research from the London School of Economics suggests that loneliness costs UK employers £2.5 billion per year.

  I, Seán Moynihan, the CEO of ALONE, and others came together and said we need to fight this. Loneliness is a scourge on our society, so what can we do? We need students like those from Mercy College, Coolock, who have taken a proactive stance and are raising awareness about elderly isolation in their local community.

  We believe that the report is only the start of the process. The task force will meet next week. There is a group in the Seanad today from Mount Mercy College in Bishopstown, County Cork. I welcome them here today as they are seated in the Visitors Gallery. They are doing a great job of raising awareness about loneliness and for ALONE. We need to create awareness about the issue of loneliness and its devastating impact. Related to this is how we can engage with people who may be lonely or at risk of being lonely to encourage them to engage themselves and get active if they can. We can change the conversation in Ireland about loneliness. We can beat loneliness one conversation at a time. I particularly salute the work done, as part of an initiative called Never Home Alone, by a group of students and their teacher, Mr. Stephen McKee, from Eureka College in Kells.

  One does not need to be a doctor to intervene and tackle loneliness. Anyone can help another person to feel less lonely, and the work these groups are doing shows that. In Ireland we are blessed with an incredible volunteer spirit and network of organisations that provide outlets that help alleviate loneliness.

  We need to catalyse change from the top down starting with Government, State agencies and public bodies. Such change cannot be left solely to the community and voluntary sector. By every international standard, Ireland is a healthy, wealthy and well-educated country. We have more opportunities to connect through technology than ever before. Despite this, in the most interconnected period in history, using a range of communication methods available on mobiles phones, laptops and tablets, how is it that people are lonelier than ever? The importance of personal contact and human interaction with others cannot be superseded just by technology. We know from psychologists that many young people who are incredibly connected online may experience immense loneliness, in part because of the absence of meaningful personal and human contact. That is why an awareness campaign is needed for the public sector and State agencies, and for us as citizens. For example, loneliness was notably absent from the Healthy Ireland plan, which proves the lack of awareness around this topic.

  Fr. Brian D'Arcy has described loneliness as the last taboo in Ireland and he is completely right. Why is it that I meet patients in my practice who are quite ready to say they are depressed, but when I have spoken to them it is clear that they feel isolated? They are lonely, not depressed. Loneliness is a taboo subject that needs to be banished. An awareness campaign would go a long way to helping people admit that they are lonely and to seek support while at the same time encouraging volunteerism with great organisations such as ALONE or Age Action.

  I am very grateful that task force members have jumped on board in terms of this initiative. They come from very reflective sectors and represent community and voluntary organisations such as nursing, sport, business, medicine, youth work, psychiatry and non-governmental organisations. When these people were asked to join the task force, there was no hesitation. Everyone was happy to play their part and that demonstrated to me that there is a big appetite to tackle this issue. We do not believe we need a dedicated Ministry. We would like, however, one Minister to take responsibility and ensure short-term measures are implemented immediately and a long-term strategy is put in place.  A total of 310 separate submissions were received by the loneliness task force. We really appreciate the interest and passion for addressing the scourge of loneliness. This is an extract from just one of those submissions. It is from a student:

I’m in college in Queens Belfast and I’m finding it very hard. Not from an academic point of view, but just meeting people and that. It’s Monday afternoon and I realise I’ve spoken to nobody since last Thursday and I interact with the world via twitter and Instagram. I train every day and I run 4 times a week. I’m lonely, there you go, I’ve finally said it.

The number of submissions we received was far greater than we had anticipated or imagined. Some contributions set out very practical proposals and others told of their experiences with loneliness and social isolation. I want to acknowledge the many people who got in touch with offers of assistance. It was truly heart-warming to read the messages from people saying they would be happy to help in any way they could, that they would volunteer in a befriending service or that they would take the first step and reach out to somebody.

  Loneliness is the public health crisis of our generation but addressing it would present one of the greatest opportunities to build a kinder and less divisive society. The presence of a supportive person in one’s life cannot be underestimated and this need for friendship, support and meaningful relationships does not fizzle out with age. Whether we are 24 or 84, we all need connections that matter. To paraphrase W.B. Yeats, there should be no such thing as strangers in Ireland, only friends we have not yet met.

  I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to attend on behalf of the Government and for listening to our case. I ask all Senators to support the findings of the report. I especially ask the Minister of State to consider the request for funding from the task force to promote Ireland-based research. Much of the research we depend on now is UK-based. The task force asked for €3 million in funding and I do not believe it is an exorbitant amount.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I welcome the Minister of State. I heard what he had to say from the monitor in my office. I also acknowledge Senator Swanick and Seán Moynihan from ALONE. This report is a very interesting document: A Connected Ireland - An Ireland Free from Loneliness. The Senator was right to highlight this issue. Early in his work the Senator engaged with all of the 31 local authorities and their members in a comprehensive questionnaire and survey. They are a particular group of people who are well placed, as were the others, in the engagement and the stakeholders. The local authority members were an important group because they represent a very diverse set of circumstances and communities right across this island. In many ways they are the social worker and parish priest, as well as public representatives.

  Councillors have a great feel for what is going on. I will mention a particular Independent councillor in Midleton, Noel Collins, who is a trained social worker. He spoke to me recently about some of the really sad and personal cases he had come across in the context of loneliness and isolation. Recently I spoke with members of the Irish Farmers Association about the real issues of rural isolation in the farming community and the people who are left "minding the place", which is a great country expression. These people are the last of a family and they do not want to let go. They want to keep the place ticking over because it is in their blood. It is their inheritance and they want to keep it going. Many times this is done against real difficulties and real odds. Sometimes, perhaps because of their own isolation, they have not particularly cared for their mental health or had anybody interacting with them to a great extent.

  The report is an important piece of work. It is going to require money. The report has identified five key areas, which I will repeat here. The task force has offered five key recommendations to address loneliness in Ireland: annual funding of €3 million towards combatting loneliness; the allocation of responsibility to combat loneliness to a specific Minister and Department; a public campaign; support for initiatives and organisations which alleviate loneliness as their primary function and an action plan for volunteering; and Ireland-specific research on loneliness. I agree with all of those recommendations.

  Senator Swanick has made the point that we need more qualitative research, especially on the situation in Ireland. We all know many of the issues about it but the report's findings discuss funding, which is key, and a public campaign which is also important. The report also recommends supporting initiatives and Ireland-specific quantitative and qualitative research to help plan the most effective solutions to define loneliness and to develop a greater understanding and a strategy on the issue. The research can also look at how it links to mental health, which is a serious issue, and how we can put interventions in place.

  It is a very good working document. It is not the be-all and end-all. The fact that we are having this debate is a beginning. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to further engage with the ICA and RuralLink. We also have loneliness in Dublin. On RTÉ radio recently a woman from Bray - if I recall correctly it was on Joe Duffy's "Liveline" - said she gets up at 7 a.m. and until 11 p.m. she goes from Bray to Howth and back to stay warm, to make contact with people and to shorten her day. That is a very sad state of affairs. A Dublin man, again in an interview on the radio, said that he goes to the public library in the Ilac Centre. If he is not thrown out he may move on to a shop and then back. That is terribly sad but it is the reality for a lot of people. The days are gone of walking in and sitting up against a fire in an old café. A person is usually met at the door and asked how many people are coming, if a reservation has been made, if one wants to sit down and so on.

  I will cite the local authorities again because I believe they have a critical role in the services they may provide. I am lucky to live in Dún Laoghaire where we have the dlr LexIcon library, which is open six days per week. It has reading rooms, book clubs, public papers, magazines and music rooms. It has activities going on all day. I know people who make a conscious effort to go to this resource that is more than a library: it is a community centre where people can have coffee or tea - which they are happy to pay for. They can interact with people and are encouraged to get involved in book clubs and so on. These are practical measures because it is about day making and time. It is about interacting with people in the community, which is important.

  I do not suggest it is all about money. It is more about strategy and working out how we can develop community responses and further develop our community care programmes. In olden days of community nurses, district nurses or jubilee nurses of the past, they interacted with the community. They were the eyes and ears. They picked up messages and fed them back. We all have a responsibility, as citizens in our community, be it politicians or ordinary people living in the areas. I believe we can tap in imaginatively. Perhaps the local authorities can play a potentially very important role in the provision of services for interacting. People want to feel they belong and they want to feel loved and recognised. Many of the people who speak of being lonely say it is the sense that time has moved on and people have moved on and they have lost contact with people. In many cases they feel on their own. They become further isolated because their confidence breaks down and there are issues around that.

  I welcome Senator Swanick's work that continues to drive this. It is important that we all work together on it. It is not all about money: it is about bold and imaginative community initiatives. That can go a long way to addressing the issue. I agree, however, that we need the further qualitative research on it. I thank the Senator for raising it and for continuing to make it an important issue.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I welcome my colleague and friend, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly. I commend the very real engagement he has with his brief and with this whole area. I am aware that he is very serious about dealing with the whole mental health area.

  I also commend and genuinely congratulate my colleague, Senator Swanick, on taking this initiative, setting up the task force and producing this wonderful report. I have scanned it and I have read the Minister of State's speech.  I commend Senator Swanick on this report. He has done a great job and it would be churlish not to acknowledge and embrace this valuable work. It is not important where it originated but it is important that we act on it.

  Let me declare my interest in this issue. I was the founder of Bailieborough Mental Health Association in County Cavan, a vibrant and large organisation which is still in existence. I attended a round table quiz it held the other night. It has been wonderful on a number of fronts, but one of the interesting aspects of this, one which links to some of the points made earlier, is that joining this organisation as a volunteer overcomes people's loneliness. Being involved in volunteerism has secondary benefits.

  I am very proud that my eldest son is doing postgraduate study on rural isolation and the difficulties that arise in the mental health area. He has done longitudinal population studies as part of his studies in the geography department of Maynooth University. This is another reason I am interested in this report.

  A third reason I am interested is that someone close to me was a victim of cyberbullying recently. Cyberbullying is very common among young people and is a pernicious and common experience. It is often outside our understanding as adults and therefore difficult to identify or to know how to address it. The person in question had been seriously victimised. For those three reasons, I am delighted I was asked by my colleague, Senator Feighan, to speak on his behalf.

  We have to look at the area of cyberbullying. People who use smartphones and appear to be in communication with others can be very lonely because it is not real communication or human interaction. Senator Swanick made the point that communicating by phone is no substitute for people talking, meeting and working together.

  Rural isolation is a very difficult issue and was a source of discussion during the Christmas period because of the necessary drink driving laws. Let there be no misconceptions in this regard. I have yet to meet anyone who advocates driving while under the influence of alcohol. The necessary laws on drink driving have created a major issue in rural areas, particularly for people who live alone and myriad others for whom the local pub was their main outlet. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has made proposals in this regard and over Christmas I proposed an expansion of the Local Link service to extend the area it covers and the times at which it operates. I also proposed making more taxis available and incentivising publicans to collect people and drop them home from the pub. An absence of a social life for people living in disparate rural areas is a major issue.

  Previous speakers made the point that loneliness is by no means specific to older people - far from it - but it is prevalent among older persons whose family may have gone away or whose partner may have died. I am a great believer in the concept of having a village for older people. There is a wonderful example in Virginia, County Cavan, where the Masonic lodges have built a beautiful voluntary housing scheme around a nursing home. Houses have been built in a circle where people live independently in a community where the services are located. This should serve as a model of development, where people will have their personal independence but will have the support of a community in a village setting. I commend this idea for due consideration not only to the Government but to my colleagues on all sides of the House.

  The men's sheds are a great initiative. I do not want to be parochial but I will cite the great examples of men's sheds in County Cavan, which we have been able to support in practical ways. Previously, men did not have outlets to be together and do things. While one cannot generalise or be simplistic about these things, it is not as easy for men to express their emotions and men's sheds provide a context for them to do so.

  Carers in the home should be viewed as a national asset, celebrated and valued and given every practical support in terms of finance and ancillary benefits such as a medical card, free transport and a myriad of other benefits. Carers are gold dust in our communities. Carers who are living with a person with dementia or cognitive disabilities can be very lonely because they are isolated and have lonely days. They need great support and help to be brought into the community and to meet other people to whom they can talk. I understand the Minister of State referred to carers and the report also deals with the issue.

  I make no apologies for supporting the task force and the entire awareness campaign. Particular groups are vulnerable to loneliness but anyone of us in any circumstance or environment can become lonely. It is by no means gender, age or social class specific but there are areas of vulnerability. There is evidence that members of the LGBT community can suffer loneliness, despite welcome changes in recent years. That should be addressed. Ethnic minorities can also suffer particularly. I have been canvassing in housing estates recently where I often meet non-nationals. While they are not in a position to vote for me, it is fascinating to engaging with them. They are lonely in many instances. They are not in tune with us culturally and they need major support.

  I would like to have discussed risk of substance abuse because I see considerable evidence of it arising from loneliness.

  This report has given rise to a wonderful and welcome debate. I am delighted that Senator Feighan provided me with this opportunity because I feel passionately about the issue. Senator Swanick is pushing an open door if he wants Members to work with him on this.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. Students from the Mercy School in Cork who were present in the Visitors Gallery have left. They were promoting intergenerational communication which prevents loneliness. Intergenerational friendship is where people try to reach out to different people and become friends.

  Ireland today is very different from the Ireland of years gone by when the front door was open at all times. In the cities the doors are all shut now. I do not know if that is the case in the county.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly People have electric gates now.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine We now have gated communities in which people live in locked environments. The social fabric of the country has changed beyond recognition.  We have had rapid advances in technology, in particular over the past 20 or 25 years, which have made us more detached as humans. As for friends on Facebook, my God, I have 5,000. I am very happy with that but I do not know one of them. Eye contact, seeing somebody smile, and having a hug or a touch are very important aspects of friendship. Perhaps we could all count our real friends on our hands. They are the people who keep us going. They are our family. They are the real close friends we count on. One of the major bulwarks against loneliness is being able to share happiness, sadness and the ins and out and ups and downs of life in real time and not virtually.

  We have urban sprawl, rural depopulation, emigration, funding cuts and family fragmentation for whatever reason. People lose their children to other parts of the world, or to other parts of the country where housing is available or more affordable. Fragmentation also happens in communities. We need to manage this and acknowledge it as part of life at present. When we talk about loneliness we might be thinking more about the elderly population, but it does not just affect them. It is more general. Social isolation and loneliness affect people of every age.

  I thank Senator Swanick for writing the report and the others who contributed. It is very welcome. It raises the issue of loneliness. I feel I could go further and hope its publication is just the beginning of a process to discuss it continually and deal with this societal issue. There is a stigma around the issue but I hope it will begin to be blown out of the water and that people will acknowledge loneliness. It is certainly not the case that when people are lonely they are odd in some way or that they are pariahs. It is just the way that life sometimes works out for people.

  As Senator Swanick said, it is not a mental illness, although that is part of his brief. It is about well-being and the promotion of well-being. Loneliness undermines our well-being and sense of self. I remember nursing a retired surgeon who wanted to kill himself. When I asked him why, he said he had nobody left and that he did not want to spend all day going to the post office. As we talked through how loneliness was affecting him, I learned he had no family left. He could not see that what he needed to do was reach out. He got stuck at home dreading having to take the whole day to post a letter. This is what he felt his life had become.

  We always think of suicide as affecting young or middle-aged people, but with regard to older people it appears that it is easier for a coroner to say it is an accidental death. Research suggests a larger proportion of older people commit suicide due to depression, which can be onset by loneliness and our society's inability to rectify it. We need to be positive. There are community groups, volunteer groups and advocacy services. Examples are Tidy Towns and the general spring clean that happens every year on various streets and roads. These involve society pulling together to address issues and provide a listening ear. It is about friends as it is not a professional service. It is ordinary members of the community and about people feeling they belong.

  In Dublin we do not have rural isolation as we have a little more busyness. Life is a bit more frenetic perhaps and there is much more activity. Perhaps we are less inclined to loneliness but I am not sure. Senator Swanick might know more about that than I do. We are living longer so, unfortunately, we lose more people, in that we are around to see more of our loved ones lost. Average life expectancy is 82 and I am sure we lose people as we go along. At the funeral of an older person, one wonders how many friends that person has left and how difficult it must be to lose friends and loved ones. We have not really spoken about this and it is important. Senator Swanick has begun this conversation.

  I always say, and I believe it is true for most things in life, that the cure for people is other people. The cure for well-being is being with other positive people and allowing ourselves to thrive and become involved and have a say in our society, whether it be urban or rural, through our hobbies. One of the big successes has been the men's sheds. Traditionally men were less able to talk, open up and have a chat. I visited several that have opened in south central Dublin. Last year, I visited one in Rialto in Dublin 8. They were carving, painting and doing construction and men's stuff requested by the community and in support of each other. Many of them were unemployed following the recession and were finding it very difficult to click back into life and find usefulness. They are using the crafts and skills that all of us have in various areas. There is also awareness of green issues coming through the men's sheds and this is spreading through the communities.

  I now come to that dreaded word Brexit, which is not far away. I imagine it will have a major negative influence on entrenching our country's isolation. We need to think about this in psychological terms, particularly regarding what will happen in the Border. Green cards are being spoken about as a requirement for people to cross the Border. At present, we have free travel arrangements on the island but it is all up in the air and God knows what will happen if we have a no-deal Brexit. Certainly, Border isolation will be increased.

  Societal development has not been kind to older people. Isolation has become more prevalent. I have named many of the factors that contribute to this. We need to reach out. Friendship and communication must be intergenerational because this way we will be able to understand each other. We will begin to understand the cranky old man or narky old woman and troublesome teenager by speaking to each other. The economy is in recovery and I hope it will bounce on. We all have ideas and suggestions and Senator Swanick has put them down on paper. We need to progress them. We also need community infrastructure and streetscapes for access for older people who get more disabled. I congratulate Senator Swanick for naming loneliness, getting it out there, raising awareness and, I hope, reconnecting Ireland, North and South.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I commend Senator Swanick on the report. I found it incredibly interesting reading. In his introduction to the report, Senator Swanick paid tribute to Jo Cox, the MP who was notable for speaking about the fact that we have more in common than what divides us. She was one of the first to consider the idea of a commission on loneliness and I commend the Senator on taking it up. Sadly, she was lost to violence. Pawel Adamowicz, who was the mayor of Gdansk, had also been praised for innovative forms of civic participation. He was also one of the people trying to drive connections between people. It is important that despite their tragic loss, we maintain the spirit of connection they were championing.   Loneliness takes many different forms. People have spoken rightly about the issues of physical and rural isolation. Another thing that comes across is that loneliness and isolation can take different forms. One group I have written reports on and I feel strongly about are those parenting alone as well as those who are caring. People can be lonely when they are not in a situation where they can talk to another adult from day to day. Others may not be in such a position if they are caring for someone. There are, of course, many wonderful relationships between carers and those they care for. However, if a person is in a situation where she cannot express herself to someone she cares for and she cannot reach out, then that is also a form of loneliness. It becomes not only a feeling of alienation but a feeling of alienation from oneself. We see that, for example, with those who are elderly and who are recognised in the community. It can be difficult to believe that a person can express herself even if that person is in a situation where she is unable to be truly there herself. It can feel lonely despite connections. This is something those in residential care talk about. Sometimes, unfortunately, residential care settings do not always recognise the individuality of the people and the personality of the people. That can be lonely despite living with many people.

  I commend this report on getting some of the nuances of the different experiences. It also speaks to the experiences of new migrants to the country. If a person does not have inherited family networks and other networks, it can be difficult to forge casual day-to-day contacts.

  I want to talk to one big-picture aspect that may need to be given more thought. I will then refer to some specific groups. We need to ensure we follow up and are honest about engaging with the issue of loneliness and isolation, but we need to look at the flip side too, which is community building. This involves the work of building our social and community fabric. There is an unfortunate reality. I do not say this to score points but so that we can move forward. During the recession, more than 180 community development projects were either amalgamated or closed. We had a strong focus on other things. At the time I worked in the sector and I saw this within community development projects. The focus became emphatically on training and employment such that the work of building social fabric fell somewhat by the wayside. There was not as much space for youth groups, for example, or for anti-racism work, multicultural work or work with older people. I am referring to work that was not necessarily about getting each individual back on track and into employment but rather about building connections between people. As I understand it, the second social inclusion and community activation programme is trying to redress that balance somewhat. I am keen to encourage the Minister of State to engage on how community development can work to deliver connections and engagement with people. It needs resources but it also needs the provision of flexibility. I support the call for a budget in respect of loneliness initiatives, but there may need to be a funding line outside the frame of service delivery for community development as well. Such a framework can do something that community development used to do well and can, at its best, deliver. This involves giving people the space to come up with their own ideas and to set the agenda. The idea is that it flips from individual recipients of services to an empowering thing whereby people are almost creating the agenda and creating the ideas.

  In that spirit I am keen to endorse the recommendation for adequate community meeting spaces. That is vital, but in many areas it is missing. People often ask where they can meet. If there is an open space, people will fill it with their ideas. Not every idea will succeed and some ideas might be tried for a few weeks but do not catch on. This is the idea of a space where people can, with a low outlay and low bureaucracy, come, bring ideas and try out a new group or new idea. That is important. Building on the sense of public and community meeting spaces is important too. Libraries have been spoken about as well. Inclusive outdoor public spaces are very important as well. One thing other countries in Europe have done better than Ireland is to create a space where people can turn up and be in the life of a town, watch families of different ages and be in a natural way with others. There are many other countries from which we can learn a great deal, including ideas of how we create public chess boards or whatever things give people the necessary sense. Green space is important as well.

  I was sorry to see the public allotments at Weaver Square in Dublin 8 close recently. There is an imperative for social housing. I would have preferred to see development of the Player Wills factory, as would many others, rather than the closing of an allotment. It was a wonderful thing for people to be able to go there and be beside each other in a creative way. I urge people to consider the idea of allotments and green spaces as something that we nurture. Child-friendly spaces are important too. We spoke about lone parents and those parenting alone. We need spaces where people can bring children and places where people with a disability can go themselves or with carers and where it is okay to be different in many ways. Sometimes we do not have enough child-adult neutral friendly spaces.

  There is one group I am keen to focus on. I am a member of the dementia working group in the Oireachtas. My colleague, Senator Kelleher, has pointed out - it is recognised in the report - that those with dementia who are living alone and who do not have people with whom they can share their concerns can face a particular and deep sense of loneliness and loss. We know from the research highlighted by Senator Swanick that loneliness can lead to depression and heart disease and can be affected by smoking and alcohol.

  I used to work with the Older and Bolder alliance. I worked with age organisations across Ireland. We need to deliver the national positive ageing strategy. It is a brilliant template but it needs to be rolled out much faster. I would like the Minister of State to see it through to its full expression. I commend Alone, Active Retirement Ireland, Age Action and all the groups doing this work. They need support. I highlight the work of one in particular. Age and Opportunity has a brilliant scheme called cultural companions whereby people who want to go to arts or creative events can sign up and go with strangers and others. It is about cultural companions. It is a wonderful thing and it means a person need not have a family member or friend who is interested in attending a cultural event. There is a wonderful initiative in other countries whereby doctors can prescribe cultural activities and books. In some countries they have tried out the idea of a voucher to attend a cultural event. A person gets prescribed that. That is something people need sometimes.

  This is an area which I hope we continue to discuss. I have a great interest in it. Arts space, respite care and space for carers are vital so that they can build up resources and connections, but they are woefully low at the moment. Everyone realises that and it is something we can fix right now.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I commend Senator Swanick on his work. I commend him not only on the report he has complied but on his comprehensive undertaking in terms of the preparation of the report, the stories gathered, the recommendations attached and reaching out.

  I congratulate the students from Mount Mercy College, who had to leave to get the train to Cork. I had the pleasure of meeting them. I know those in the school are proactive in social engagement. I thank Ellen Carroll, Neasa Goulding, Mary Garvan, Leah Ryan, and their teacher, Geraldine Barrett. They have done tremendous work in reaching out to address the issue of loneliness as part of their transition year project. They are responding to the challenge of loneliness in Ireland. They work with groups in Bishopstown and with Alone, the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, the COPE Foundation, and Meals on Wheels. I commend them. We need to continue that intergenerational work. Phil Goodman organises the Young at Heart club in Douglas. There is an intergenerational table quiz and Ms Goodman works with the group.

  There are many things I like about the Minister of State. One is his practicality. At the end of his speech, he asked what we can do and what I can do to complement the campaigns already in place in government. The other thing I like about the Minister of State is that he is hands-on.  We saw that in west Cork yesterday in his work on mental health with young people and the elderly.

  Senator Higgins made a point about respite care, which is not necessarily linked specifically to today's debate on this report but which is something about which we need to have a fundamental collective conversation. I fully agree with her on that. I thank the Minister of State for the work he is doing in that regard.

  Senator Swanick brings great insight not only as a general practitioner, but also as a primary care physician who is in the community reaching out and caring for people. The key point is that this about connectivity. It is about having a joined-up approach and removing the silo mentality that may exist in parts of officialdom. I hope that we can build on today's report.

  I am going to sound a bit nerdish, and I do not mean to, but did anyone watch the recent episode of "First Dates Ireland" which featured a young man called Tadgh, a member of the LGBT community? Apart from being struck by his personality, we should listen to the story he told as a young man in a modern, evolving Ireland. He had never had a relationship and felt lonely. One gets to a point of loneliness and one feels like "Oh my God." It gets to a person. This was a young man with the world at his feet. What struck me about him was his personality and the way in which he grabbed the nation's attention. Similarly, older people in the LGBT community feel alone and feel a sense of isolation.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I do not.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Norris is unique in everything. I would not categorise him as a specimen of universality. The LGBTIreland survey revealed an interesting statistic. Some 40% of older LGBT people were not out to their primary care physicians or healthcare providers. Some 14% of calls to the LGBT helpline were from older people and 77% were from rural areas. Those figures paint a picture. A great deal of work is being done. Men's sheds were mentioned and we think of different community activities and groups. Senator Boyhan spoke about the availability of public libraries. In my area in Cork we have tremendous community facilities available and we have groups for older men and women. For example, the Cork Gay Project runs coffee mornings for those aged 55 and older. I am almost in that category myself. That is a wonderful and innovative idea to bring people together.

  We must build on what Senator Swanick has recommended with regard to actions across Government Departments and organisations and putting in place initiatives and supports. We have to address fundamental challenges for the future, including the issue of housing. Every week, I meet older people who want to downsize but cannot do so, as I am sure the Minister of State does as he travels the country. He will see it particularly in west Cork, as will his colleague, Senator Lombard. Whether they live in public housing or private housing, the option to downsize is not available to these people. We need to address that issue in our discourse on public policy.

  The Minister of State has done an awful lot in the short time he has been in his post. I am not being patronising. He has done tremendous service. Senator Swanick has done likewise in his role. We can build on this report. Let it be the foundation on which we build the house, and we can then attach the roof. I thank the Minister of State for being here and Senator Swanick for the great work he is doing. This conversation is important. The young people in Mount Mercy College can talk to the Minister of State about their experience with meals on wheels, the Cope Foundation, and ALONE in what is, if I may say so, a relatively affluent area of the city of Cork. It is not about money or wealth. It transcends demographics and age groups. I hope we can continue with this. It is the beginning of an important journey.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard We are very much caught for time. We have four minutes. Did Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell want to speak on this?

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Yes.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard The Senator has four minutes. The Minister of State has to begin by 5.39 p.m.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Does the Acting Chairman want me to speak right now?

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard Yes. We have four minutes to share between the Senator and Senator Reilly.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Is Senator Reilly to speak before me?

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard No.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I will only take two minutes.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard The Senators will have two minutes each in that case.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I came to the Chamber to support Senator Swanick whose report I have read. When I came in here as a Senator in 2011 the Independent Members developed the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. The first person who came before that committee was from the Irish LongituDinal Study on Ageing, TILDA. We were shocked when he said that one of the biggest problems for elders on our island was melancholia and depression arising out of loneliness. We all thought the main problem would be something physical. We did not really believe it as we do not expect older people to be melancholic or depressed. We expect that of a different cohort.

  I noted some of the points Senator Swanick made about the physical manifestations of loneliness, starting with smoking and ending with depression, isolation and lack of conversation. I also noted the point he made about the lack of human voice. One of the people who wrote to the task force spoke about the lack of human voice and the empathy that comes with it. We are so modern now but we have completely forgotten about the empathy of the human voice.

  The Government needs to be consistently aware of, and be a bulwark against, the dissipation of communities. If we do not have communities, we have nothing. I was at the national heritage awards last week and I thought at the time that it was more important than politics and that it had more impact. Involvement in communities has so much to offer, even when it is in the area of heritage rather than the areas of helping people cope, providing meals on wheels or offering conversation. I have seen this with the post offices. It starts with the post office and the big supermarket at the end of town. Life becomes dissipated for all ages, including the young and elders with youthful hearts.

  What Senator Swanick has said in the report is wonderful. I would like to see more Irish research than American and English research because we are not America or England. We need money for that. We are a unique island and I am very proud of that. We need to find our own faults, our own ways forward and our own reasons rather than assuming they run parallel to those found in other research. I congratulate the Senator. This is a most pertinent and timely report. We in the Seanad always have to be a bulwark against the conglomerates and the fast-forward economic graph, which is really not that fast at all. I thank Senator Swanick very much. I will be delighted to give him any help I can.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard Senator Reilly has two minutes.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I was preparing a long speech so I suppose it is just as well. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank my good colleague, Senator Swanick, for bringing this report before us. I am always struck by this issue. One of the most telling and poignant advertisements I have ever seen on a billboard was one pointing out that old age is not a problem, but that loneliness is. The point must be made that it is not only older people who feel lonely. People in a block of apartments full of students can feel every bit as lonely and isolated. The submission from a student which Senator Swanick read into the record is very relevant.

  The Minister of State mentioned the Irish Men's Sheds Association, which is a fantastic organisation. Men seem to have more difficulty in getting out and about and meeting with people when they retire. The organisation has found that if two men are put at a bench to work on something, they start to open up and talk. We have great men's sheds in Rush, Lusk, Balbriggan, Skerries, Donabate and Ballyboughal. This is very much to be welcomed.

  The Minister of State also mentioned Healthy Ireland. As the person who launched the framework, I know that its many aspects and elements make up a cross-Government initiative. Everything in it feeds into the other parts. As Senator Swanick said, many people will present with depression, the cause of which is isolation and loneliness. They feel down because they have no one to talk to. The old adage that a problem shared is a problem halved is very true.  When I was Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I was struck by the considerable level of voluntarism in the youth sector, from which everyone gains, through younger people helping older people, school initiatives and the sense that they find it rewarding because it is as rewarding to give as it is to receive. It is also enriching because older people have such a wealth of knowledge and, when encouraged to talk, can teach us so much.

  I realise I am on borrowed time, but I only wished to allude to the Leader's point last week about the motion in providing for specific types of housing to allow people who would like to move out of their larger houses with three, four or five bedrooms and downsize to a two-bedroom house. Perhaps they might be built using co-operative models because there are many people who wish to live together. As I said, in Skerries, 50 people met and gathered by themselves. The Government should help people to help themselves. If they could be offered the same terms and conditions and benefits under the co-operative model as the approved housing bodies, they would build the houses themselves. When they are all together, there can be passive observation, that is, if Johnny has not been seen outside for two days or Mary has not had a visitor for a week, a visit can be arranged.

  I commend the report. As others said, it is only the beginning, but tús maith, leath na hoibre.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard Before I call the Minister of State, I acknowledge our distinguished guests from the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the Visitors Gallery. I welcome them and hope they will enjoy their visit to Ireland.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly Gabhaim buíochas le gach duine for his or her contribution anseo tráthnóna inniu. It has been an interesting debate and I commend Senator Swanick on officially kick-starting it in the Houses in a formal and structured way. We may not realise its significance today, but someday it will be recognised that it was the beginning of an important and exciting journey.

  I thank Senators across the House for their sincere contributions and genuine openness on the issue. On the suggestion that there be a Minister for loneliness, I acknowledge that Senator Swanick meant that responsibility could be given to an existing Minister. I had reservations about the Minister of State with responsibility for younger people being automatically tagged with responsibility for loneliness because I thought it might not be the right place for it but we can have that debate later and where the responsibility lands is merely a technicality. I agree with the Senator that it will very much be a whole-of-government approach.

  Senator Higgins described the issue of loneliness well. We must consider it as a symptom, but there is also a cause, which is what we must focus on. We must seek more proactive, positive contributions to the debate. I do not think there should be a ministry for loneliness as there is in Britain because it is quite a negative approach to take; rather, there could be a Minister with responsibility for civic connectedness, for example, who might encourage people to join communities. It should be a Minister with responsibility to do something positive. We should not ask people to put up their hands and say they are lonely. He or she could encourage people to be more connected and become a larger part of their community. We must seriously consider how technology can assist us in the matter and I do not mean on Facebook, Twitter or that kind of a basis.

  There are many communities but our opportunities to engage and mix are so limited. The creamery and the pub counter have gone, while funerals have changed. I come from a rural background and know that those from an urban background will have had a different experience, but many of the places where we traditionally congregated and met, whether outside the church after mass on a Sunday or wherever else, have changed significantly. In any town or village it is amazing how many people would love to be involved in organisations to get to know people, but they do not know how to start. Every organisation is crying out for volunteers, which is why I say we should ditch the platforms, websites and apps and get involved in the local community. One can find a list of community activities that are available. Such simple steps can go a long way towards progressing the matter, but we must approach it from that side, that is, positively and proactively with civic engagement. Perhaps a Minister with responsibility for civic engagement, connectedness and involvement would be more appropriate language, but that is just a thought I had as I listened to the debate.

  As many Senators stated, the debate has been an important beginning. I have noted the comments made and the desire to receive €3 million in funding to give teeth to the recommendations of the task force which have been universally accepted in the House. I thank my officials for their work on the matter.

Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018: Second Stage

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

  I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, for his presence. I am extraordinarily proud to be able to introduce the Bill which will expand and make fairer access to spent convictions. I thank my colleagues in the Civil Engagement group for facilitating the debate; the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser and Ms Sinead Dullaghan for their assistance in the drafting of the Bill; Fiona, Deirdre and everyone involved in the Irish Penal Reform Trust for their Trojan work in forming the policy perspective and all their support in the run-up to the debate, including at the briefing on the Bill in Leinster House yesterday; and Seb McAteer in my office who I can safely say is now an expert on spent convictions for stepping into the breach this week. As I am quite unwell, he had a week of briefings and lobbying to do on my behalf. I thank the Minister and his officials in the Department of Justice and Equality for engaging constructively with us on the Bill and the indication that the Government will not oppose it on Second Stage, for which I am deeply grateful.

  At its core, the Bill is a reflection of my personal belief that people have the capacity to change, that in most cases they deserve a second chance and that in almost all cases a person is not as bad as the worst thing he or she has done. A person may find himself or herself on the wrong side of the law for many reasons such as exercising bad judgment, suffering from addiction, recovering from a traumatic event or because the key interventions required to keep him or her out of criminality were never available. Therefore, a person who ends up committing and being convicted of a minor crime should always be afforded the chance to leave the offending behaviour in the past and be offered some path to rehabilitation.  The State has a responsibility and duty to provide that path. It is a way for the individual to be supported and incentivised to change his or her behaviour and vindicate his or her right to a second chance in life, while also protecting the public interest and public safety. This pathway can be provided through fair access to spent convictions. A spent conviction, sometimes referred to as an expungement, is a conviction for a minor offence that, when certain criteria are met and after the passage of a set period of time - known as the rehabilitative period - becomes spent and does not have to be disclosed when returning to education, applying for a job or being Garda vetted. The need for a spent conviction regime is rooted in the principles of rehabilitative justice and the generally accepted principle that individuals deserve a second chance and the opportunity to move on without the inevitable negative effect involved in disclosing a criminal conviction. This is especially true for young people, on whose life prospects a criminal conviction can have a disproportionate impact. It is commonly accepted that society benefits greatly from the reintegration and rehabilitation of those with a conviction, while reducing recidivism. A spent convictions regime should have these principles at its core.

  I have made no secret of the fact that I am an ex-offender. Some of that offending led me to the Children's Court and the District Court. I am an ex-offender, but I am much more than my criminal record. I am lucky that, before I turned 18, I had an opportunity to exit criminality and build a new life based on education and progression. I will never forget the feeling of filling out Garda vetting forms for some of my first jobs in the addiction sector. I always dreaded hearing that an employer wanted to offer me a job pending Garda vetting. I wondered whether I should have put my record down on an application form or taken the chance that my convictions would no longer be on my record. I wondered whether to go to my potential employer and bare all. I am an ex-offender. However, I was also a hard-working drugs worker, with a passion and drive for the job I was doing, which I felt was borne from the experiences I had, the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned, including the convictions I received. I know I was good at my job, and that I am luckier than most because my employers were understanding and gave me the job regardless of and despite my convictions. I am an ex-offender, but I am now also a legislator. I might very easily not be standing here to put this legislation forward if my criminal record had stood in the way.

  In my experience as a drugs worker, and from working with people with convictions, I have seen at first hand how criminal records for minor offences have had a major impact on people's lives. How many nurses, teachers, social workers, counsellors and more have we lost as a society by continuing to punish people long after they were convicted of a crime? Since launching this Bill, I have been inundated with emails and letters, detailing story after story of people who, unlike me, have had careers, education and their lives curtailed by the limited application of spent convictions legislation in Ireland. Two young men, now in their late 20s, did not make it into the Army because of minor offences committed in their teens. Several young women have had their education effectively brought to an end by not being able to enter social work placements. One man who contacted me spent 14 years in recovery from drug addiction and has reached a PhD level of education, but cannot get employment due to the inflexibility regarding the number of convictions that can currently be spent. There are hundreds and hundreds of cases of people who no longer offend but who cannot get on with their lives due to a restrictive spent convictions regime. Behind every single one of those convictions is a lifetime's worth of pain, trauma and unfulfilled potential caused by not being able to leave an indiscretion in the past. By not offering people a fair chance and opportunity to have convictions spent, we are not only encouraging recidivism and re-offending, but losing out on some of our best assets in many fields. There are so many professions that benefit hugely from the experience of people who have had a different route through life, be it someone who experienced social disadvantage, addiction, youth crime or poverty. Whatever the reason that led a person to a conviction, people have much to offer society and we are depriving ourselves of the wealth of their experience in areas in which that experience would be most useful.

  If someone is convicted of a crime, goes to prison, gets out and continues to be discriminated against as he or she tries to re-enter the workforce or access education, has his or her punishment really ended? When can we say his or her punishment will end? Will it ever end? Spent convictions offer a chance to leave behind the stigma inherent in a conviction and offer people hope that, even after a conviction and time in prison, if they stay on the straight and narrow for a set period of time they will be rewarded by being legally empowered to leave the stigma in their past. We are ultimately talking about making it a little fairer and easier to access that second chance.

  How do we propose to do that? Ireland has had a form of spent convictions since the passage of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016, but it is limited, both in practice and in comparison with other European countries. We all accept the need to get the balance right between protecting the public interest and affording the individual in question a real second chance. Our current law, however, does not get this balance right. It is not fair or proportionate, and it is not working.

  We have proposed four substantive changes to the 2016 Act to broaden access to spent convictions so that more people can avail of its provisions. The changes also seek to make access to them fairer and more responsive to the circumstances of the individual. In the current Act, the maximum length of a custodial sentence that can become spent is 12 months or less, and for non-custodial sentences the upper limit is 24 months or less. This compares very poorly with other European and common law countries. In Northern Ireland the upper limit is a 30 month custodial sentence, and in England and Wales it is 48 months. We are proposing that the limit here be increased to 24 months for a custodial sentence and to 48 months for non-custodial sentences.

  The 2016 Act also sets the rehabilitative period after which a conviction becomes spent at a blanket seven years, without distinction to the nature of the sentence and with no proportionality between the length of the sentence and the subsequent rehabilitative period. Through the two rehabilitative period tables in the Schedule to the Bill, the rehabilitative period before the conviction becomes spent would be made proportional to the length of the sentence.

  The current Act has a single conviction limit, so only one conviction can ever become spent. If one has two convictions, neither can become spent. We suggest removing the single conviction limit by increasing the number of eligible convictions from one to two.

  The Act also contains no recognition of the disproportionate impact of a conviction on the prospects of a young person, and his or her resulting rehabilitative needs. We are therefore proposing to give young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 an additional opportunity to have convictions spent and for proportionally shorter rehabilitative periods.

  Those are the provisions of the Bill. They are more restrictive than I would like, but they are a start. I ask colleagues to support the Bill. The mechanisms the State puts in place to support former offenders to re-enter the workforce, education and society are important markers of our social values and attitudes towards people who have made mistakes in the past. This Bill would move us closer towards respecting the innate capacity for change people have through rehabilitative policies and is worthy of our support. I commend it to the House.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Well done.

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black I second the Bill.

 I welcome the Minister to the Chamber for this important debate. This is excellent, progressive and badly needed legislation, which could change lives for the better. I strongly commend Senator Ruane, along with Seb and her team, on bringing it before the House. I was delighted to co-sign the Bill and proud to second it today. I urge everyone in the House to give it their full support.

  As Senator Ruane has outlined, this is a very modest Bill. The proposals are not radical, but offer a small but meaningful step forward on how we deal with convictions. I would love to see a consensus in this Chamber that we could go further, and I know that Senator Ruane would too, but at a minimum we should be able to support the sensible, humane, proportional system for spent convictions outlined in the Bill. It is a small extension of current practice, but it could really change people's lives.  The whole basis of the system is rooted in the idea that after a certain period of time, people deserve a second chance and the opportunity to turn their lives around. We are dealing with the most basic principles of rehabilitative justice. If we believe in rehabilitation, we need to think seriously about how that works in practice. The current system is a blunt, unjust instrument which has a massively negative impact on individuals, their families and, importantly, their wider community and society. This broader social impact is very important. Ultimately, everyone benefits from a proper system of spent convictions and ensuring that people have a pathway to turn their lives around. If we keep a decades old conviction hanging over someone and if we cut off their capacity to work or access education, it is obviously more likely they will return to crime or offending behaviour. It is important we give people a chance. The capacity to spend certain convictions after a period is vital in reducing recidivism and benefits both the individual and wider society.

We also need to be clear about the class aspect to all of this. Under the current system, for example, there is no limit on the number of minor motoring offences that can become spent but this does not apply to other types of offences which are limited to one. This system can benefit someone with multiple speeding convictions, which can put lives at risk, but not someone who has two shoplifting convictions. This means that a mother who twice stole food for her children can be made to carry those convictions for the rest of her life but a motorist has the chance to move on. The injustice of this should be obvious, particularly when we consider the impact of addiction and poverty, to which Senator Ruane referred. I have worked in the areas of addiction and poverty and I have spoken in this House many times, particularly about the charitable organisation I founded, the RISE Foundation.

All of this is interlinked. If one reads the testimony gathered by the Irish Penal Reform Trust and other organisations, again and again one sees people who have made mistakes earlier in life struggling with poverty, addiction and homelessness. They are never able to get out from under it and it follows them forever. Who benefits from a system like this? As one man put it, people can change their lives around if given the opportunity without a 15 year old conviction that keeps rearing its head every time they try to better themselves. It is not just about the barriers to, for example, employment and education. It also matters because, as that man also said, people carry the shame and guilt around with them for life. Shame and guilt can be very crippling. I remember when, as a therapist with the RISE Foundation, I worked with a group of young women in the women's prison. My experience of listening to those women was life changing. Many of them spoke about how they were abused as children, whether sexually, physically or emotionally, and how they went on then to act out, whether through addiction or shoplifting. All those women were amazing and they deserve a chance of a new life.

I spoke very openly in the media about my own recovery from addiction. I have no shame in that thankfully but there was a time in my life when I was crippled with shame. It is the worst feeling in the world and it stops one from moving forward. If we have a system that continues to put that shame on us, it is impossible to move forward.

Change is urgently needed. Not too long ago, one man wrote to me describing his experiences. He had a gambling addiction, stole money, lost it and tried to chase those losses. He ended up turning himself in, being convicted and then completely turning his life around. He attended counselling, did further education, got a job outside the country and is now married with young children. He wants to return home and for his children, as they grow up, to see their grandparents but, unfortunately, he cannot do so because his convictions from decades ago prevent him from getting work or insurance in Ireland. This is a man who made a mistake, atoned for it, turned his life around and now wants to make a place for himself in society and contribute but just cannot get out from underneath these convictions. As he said, his addiction took so much away from him and is now doing the same to his wife and children. It is really heartbreaking and it is totally wrong.

There is a clear need for reform. The current Act was passed in 2016. During the debates on that legislation, Deputies and Senators criticised it for not going far enough. At the time, they were told we needed to tread carefully because this was the first time a spent conviction system had been introduced in Ireland. Three years on, it is definitely time for us to consider whether the Act is achieving its aims. Experience would show us that it most definitely is not.

This Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, of which I am a member, considered this issue at length last year. We published a wide-ranging review of penal reform and sentencing laws. I will refer directly to our conclusions on this issue. On a cross-party basis, we agreed that:

The issue of spent convictions must be examined urgently. Offenders should be afforded a second chance, and should not have to carry the stigma and negative consequences of a criminal record for the rest of their lives if they have moved away from offending behaviour.

The report describes the current Act as "extremely limited in its application" and notes that the "current position does not take into account in any way the circumstances that may have contributed to a person's offending behaviour at the time, which could have been youth, addiction, poverty or any range of other circumstances." It notes the "generous provision for offences committed by people when they are aged 18 or younger" and recommends that these provisions "be extended up to the age of 24 at a minimum." I sincerely thank Senator Ruane for taking the initiative and responding to the calls from the committee, in particular its recommendations on a specific system to deal with young people. Such a system is provided for in the Bill and I believe it is one of its strongest aspects. Youth organisations and services for young people have been arguing for years that we must be able to account for the fact that a minor criminal conviction earned as a teenager can radically hinder a young person's chances at building a life.

  Ireland's current system has an identical rule and the weight of legal evidence is such that should the Oireachtas fail to act on this, I am sure the current system will be successfully challenged in the courts. On that basis, the proposals in this Bill are not only desirable but necessary. We should not wait for a lengthy, expensive court case to change this unjust system. We should act now and this Bill is the perfect chance to do that.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Like Senator Black, I very much commend Senator Ruane on bringing forward this critical legislation to allow people to get on with their lives and make the contributions to society that Senator Ruane has personally demonstrated can happen when people get a second chance in life. I am pleased the Government is not opposing the passage of this Bill on Second Stage and that it will be given due, meaningful and proper consideration by all sides of the political divide. That is as it should be. I am also pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is taking this Bill on behalf of the Government.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard It is the Minister, Deputy Flanagan.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I apologise for the confusion. We had the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, in the House an hour ago. I am delighted the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, is in the House to take this legislation on behalf of the Government. I have spoken to the Minister about restorative justice, community courts and the principle of spent and expunged convictions. I have taken account of the work that has taken place and I note what has been said about the first spent convictions legislation that was passed three years ago. I am on record as stating at the time that it did not go far enough. I genuinely believed that at the time. As an extension of that, I believe this legislation is timely. Other people took a different view from me on the previous legislation and a period of time was needed for it to bed down and to see how it would work. I was convinced that my view at that stage was correct and during the intervening period of more than 36 months, that view has been confirmed.

  I brought forward a Private Members' Bill on restorative justice during the previous term. I had seen what good work had been done in terms of restorative justice in Tallaght, south Dublin and north Tipperary under a former judge, the late Michael Reilly.  People who engaged with restorative justice programmes were 65% to 70% less likely to re-offend. This proves that when the system engages with people, and treats them with respect and dignity, it cascades back in a very significant way. There are, unfortunately, always those cases where that does not happen and perhaps those situations require an even more intensive intervention to see if it can happen.

  I also brought forward a Private Members' motion on community courts based on what had happened in New York. Community courts there, especially in the Times Square area, have proven to be extremely successful. It shows what can happen when all the State agencies are brought together in a spirit of assistance as opposed to a spirit of legality. The success of the community courts system in other parts of the world demonstrates that it could work in Dublin. In the Minister's own good time, perhaps at a later date, he might let us know how the proposed pilot project of a community court for the centre of Dublin city is progressing. I have spoken to the Minister about this and I am aware that he has a keen interest in it. This legislation would be in that vein, giving people a second chance with the whole restorative community embracing spirit. This legislation is an incremental step in the right direction.

  I put it to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, that if the Government has particular concerns they can be discussed on Committee Stage. I have no doubt that there is a lot of support within the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party for what this Bill is trying to achieve, and for seeing the Bill passed into law, which is what we in the Seanad ultimately want to do. We would hope that our colleagues in Dáil Éireann would then bring it forward from there. At this initial stage of the Bill I commend Senator Ruane and I assure her of my personal support in what she hopes to achieve. Where I can influence or articulate a viewpoint with regard to a narrative I would be very happy to do so.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I commend Senator Ruane and her team for bringing before the House this excellent proposed legislation. Senator Ruane outlined in very clear and concise terms why this legislation is absolutely needed. It is a human rights issue and a compassionate piece of legislation. Irish people are known to be a compassionate people. We all have had second chances in our lives in one form or another. It is only right and proper that people who have committed crimes in certain circumstances are given that second chance and can move on with their life. Nobody chooses a life of crime but some people are forced into a life of crime due to addiction - as Senator Black outlined - or through poverty, abuse and certain circumstances. People need to be allowed to move on from that. It not only benefits the person, it also benefits the person's family, community and wider society. Fianna Fáil supports the Bill. We tabled a number of amendments to the 2016 Act that are similar to what is contained in this Bill. At the time the Government did not take those amendments. I was very happy to hear Senator Conway's contribution tonight and hopefully he can bring the party along to accept, more or less, what has been presented to us by Senator Ruane.

  I thank the Senator for bringing this excellent Bill to the House and for putting such time and effort into it. She has outlined why such legislation is ultimately needed by society. It will be excellent legislation and I give her Fianna Fáil's support.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard Senator Boyhan is next but would the Minister like to come back in? Then Senator Warfield.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I am sure there is a process-----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway The Minister can come back in at any stage.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard We can give the floor to Senator Boyhan if the Minister can wait.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan Yes.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Minister for that and I welcome him back to the House. I thank Senator Ruane and her team for the Bill. I listened to that moving and personal story. I pay tribute to the Senator because time again she brings her personal story and experience to the House. I genuinely believe that we all have our own personal stories but perhaps some of us do not speak of them with such ease as others do. Senator Ruane, however, has used her personal life experiences in her parliamentary work. This is what makes it more moving, real and engaging. This is why she has been such a success here. I want to acknowledge that and pay tribute to the Senator for that.

  The Senator spoke of being an offender, in her own words, but now she is a legislator. She has travelled the road and has experienced at first-hand how a second chance and a new beginning allows a person new opportunities in his or her life. Senator Ruane is a living example of that. What better words to convince me and other Senators in the House that this is the right track to go.

  The Government is not opposing the Bill at this stage. I believe the Bill needs to be scrutinised in some detail, which is good, and it is our job and function to do that in the Seanad. I pay special tribute to the Irish Penal Reform Trust for its work on this issue. As Senator Ruane has said, a spent conviction gives people a second chance and who are we to take that second chance away?

  I sat on the visiting committee of St. Patrick's juvenile centre and I spent years in and out of the centre, week in and week out. I met people who were incarcerated in a prison system that had its vocational school closed down and its woodwork room and its gym rooms all broken and abandoned. What a place for young people. I am glad to say that centre is now closed. The Irish Penal Reform Trust has probably constantly argued how to deal with the prison service and make prisons better places. People have talked previously about restorative justice, which is very important, but I really believe there is great potential in this Bill.

  I draw Members' attention to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality report on penal reform and sentencing of May 2018. It is a good document and one that we should look at. It addresses a number of issues. I am particularly reminded of its final paragraphs where it refers to homelessness. I have met people who were released from prison on short periods - even for Christmas - into emergency accommodation, but we are all aware of the crisis in housing. When we give people a second chance we must always be conscious of where they are going. The reality is that many families, for whatever reason, do not want these people back. We must have safe accommodation for them. Especially around Christmas and holiday release we know that within days some people come back to prisons, knock on the door and ask to be taken back in because they have not been welcomed at home or found a safe space or safe place to go to. If we are to reintegrate people into our community we have to have those safe spaces and places for people so they can play their role.

  So many people were condemned for small offences. Yes we have to have safe communities and we have to protect our citizens. However, we must start looking at how we can empty out our prison system and how we can rehabilitate, support and assist people within the prison service and ultimately transition people back into the community. That is a bigger issue in penal reform. The Minister knows well the situation and he knows better than anybody the demands on the prison service.

  The report also looked at the parole situation. The committee called for the creation of a new statutory parole board, fully independent of political control and governance. There are issues all around that. I am always conscious of the other side of the debate which is the victims of crime. I have already said that communities have to be safe, and I am always mindful of that, but in essence this is a really good Bill. It may need to be tweaked a bit.  Let us not block people from having a new beginning, a new chance a new opportunity to turn around their lives and play a meaningful role. Let us be understanding. Why are many of the people in question in prison? What opportunities, including educational opportunities, did they have? Did they have an equal start at an early age? Were they supported in trying to achieve their potential? "No" is the answer for most of them. We are not all made the same and do not all have the same supports. We do not all have the same confidence, love and affection that make us meaningful citizens in our communities. It is a multifaceted approach to why in the first place people were involved in such crimes and incarcerated. I commend the Bill to the House and will support it all the way, but I will also be open to a reasonable, common-sense approach to amendments to it.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I thank the Civil Engagement group for bringing forward the Bill which amends the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 to provide for broader and fairer access to spent convictions. A spent conviction, also known as an expungement, is one that does not have to be disclosed after a certain period of time, for example, in job or housing applications or accessing education, to name but a few. Whether we care to admit it as a society, the legislation passed in 2016 was the bare minimum the State could have done. It missed an opportunity to introduce progressive legislation that put the focus on the rehabilitation of offenders. The 2016 Act is extremely limited in whom it serves and it was quite thought-provoking to hear it referred to as middle-class legislation. It is antiquated in places, despite having been drafted only three years ago.

  The Bill before us seeks to increase the number of convictions which may be spent by adults, defined in the Bill as persons over the age of 24 years, from one to two and for young people, between the ages of 18 and 24, from one to three. Both measures are welcome and progressive; however, it may be worth making the number of convictions which may be spent three across the board, rather than staggering it. That is probably something that could be addressed on Committee Stage. No doubt, thought has been given to these measures by the Civil Engagement group and Senator Ruane.

  The Bill extends custodial sentences eligible to be spent from 12 months to 24 and for non-custodial sentences from 24 months to 48. This is welcome and a progressive and sensible proposal. The concept of spent convictions emanated from a restorative justice perspective, which is viewed as giving people a second chance in not having the burden of a conviction appearing and potentially prejudicing them in the future. On that point, the age-old debate on nature versus nurture comes into play, a debate that will probably never conclude. Opposition to the Bill will come from those who lean towards the belief the commission of crimes is innate and a predestined reality. I hope the vast majority of representatives who have worked in and represented communities for decades will consider it from the nurture perspective, which acknowledges that the environment in which we exist can at times lead to individuals making poor decisions. Being human, it is only natural that we all make mistakes at different times in our lives, some of which will be small, while others will lead to legal consequences. A sentence that results from any such mistake can, under the current legislation, result in a penalty that will long outdate the sentence imposed in court.

  I could not attend the briefing in the audiovisual room yesterday, but I am told that it was informative and crystallised what is being put forward, its intentions and some of the further concerns of stakeholders about spent convictions that cannot be addressed in the Bill. I am told that Niall Walsh from the Pathways Centre was particularly impressive. He has spoken about how a conviction which may be decades old does not fall under the current legislation and inhibits the person concerned in his or her day-to-day life. He is an example of someone who 20 years on had moved on and almost forgotten about his conviction, only for it to once again come to the fore when he had a family. People may go on to have kids only to discover that despite a conviction being 20 years old, they are unable to volunteer or help out with a young person's soccer team or take children on holidays. They are being punished for a mistake, despite having served their sentence, literally or figuratively.

  Sinn Féin believes effective post-release reintegration of offenders with their families and communities, once a custodial sentence has been served, is essential for the prevention of reoffending and, therefore, ensuring community safety, which is in everyone's best interests. Therefore, the Bill is more than welcome. Since it is our view that the primary objective of justice policy is to prevent crime, part of the emphasis must be on incentivising crime-free lifestyles by ensuring gainful employment is available to ex-prisoners. This should not be out of the reach of the majority of prisoners. To that end, unwarranted barriers of discrimination in law or policy must be removed proactively. A range of barriers serve to inhibit the reintegration of all those with past convictions, especially ex-prisoners.

  Sinn Féin and the Irish Human Rights Commission have also proposed that equality legislation be extended to include criminal convictions as one of the grounds on which discrimination in employment, except where objectively incompatible with job responsibilities and the provision of services, be prohibited. This protection is crucial to ensure effective post-release reintegration, in particular, through the provision of adequate and appropriate housing. This may not be included in the Bill, but it should absolutely be considered further. It is my view that the Bill is quite moderate in the changes it seeks to make to the 2016 Act and will particularly be beneficial to younger people who may make mistakes earlier in life. I understand also the choices we must make, as legislators, when drafting legislation and know that there will be productive conversations on further Stages of the Bill. The Bill is also in line with the concept we are exploring, as is the Minister, of extending Garda youth diversion projects to capture young people between the ages of 18 and 24 years.

  I am happy to again state Sinn Féin's support for the Bill and hope it will progress through the relevant Stages quickly. I commend Senator Ruane and the Civil Engagement group on their work.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank Senator Ruane for giving us the opportunity to speak to the Bill and congratulate her and the Civil Engagement group on bringing it before us. It is important to recognise that we have a very progressive and reforming Minister for Justice and Equality, which is why he deserves accolades from us for the work he is doing.

  Having listened to Senator Ruane's contribution and from my own experience as a schoolteacher and a director of adult education and having been involved as a politician in my community, I recognise that what we do as politicians must and should be about people-----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Correct.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer -----irrespective of where they are from or who they are. We must ensure that what we try to do at all times is for the common good in giving people an opportunity to flourish and develop and reach the potential that in many cases they are so eager to reach. When we discover there are members of the school community, neighbourhood or friends who have not had the opportunity to flourish and have matured in life and discovered that some of their early choices and decisions were less than what they should have been, they, too, deserve an opportunity to flourish, develop and grow. I know that is what the Minister does and it is what I try to do. Given this opportunity, we must reflect on the people who are speaking through us tonight in this Chamber and going back over decades of wrong decisions and incidents that happened in their lives. We all know of people, friends and neighbours who committed an offence, paid a price that has left an impression on their lives and, in many cases, helped to shape their lives for good or bad. There are people who have benefited from the 2016 Act, despite what some have said. It was a stepping stone because it did create a different pathway. We must offer a second chance and allow people to remove barriers and obstacles.  We must be allowing people to remove barriers and obstacles. I always tried as an educator, whether I was teaching the leaving certificate applied or the leaving certificate, or was in adult education, to create a pathway. It was about creating a platform from which people could move on to the next level. Senator Ruane is trying to achieve access to education, employment and opportunities. Alcoholics and gamblers in society today are offered a second opportunity. Many of them take it. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Tabor Lodge in Cork, I am struck by the number of men and women who have come through addiction issues into counselling and step-down facilities. Senator Boyhan made reference to Christmas time. People are being reintegrated into society, which is an awful phrase in my opinion, and being reintegrated back into their families. We use the word "rehabilitation", which is a wonderful word, but what does it actually mean when we boil it down? It means we all embrace each other and allow each other to live life as best we can. That is why I think it is about rewarding the person who has worked, tried to rebuild, earnestly engaged in a pathway and given of themselves in that journey to become a different, newer person.

  I was at the cinema in Dundrum. In a perverse way, Dick Cheney comes into this debate. I do not want to spoil the film for those who have not seen it but it begins with a scene of a drink-driving episode in Wyoming and the book-end is that he becomes the Vice President of the United States. If that person was to be judged on the first act of the movie, which was real life, he would never have been Vice President of the United States.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That would have been a damn good thing.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am just making the point in general about people.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris He should not have been let out.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We all make decisions. I refer to the children's Act. I was very proud of the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, because we changed some of the legislation around the offences caused by young people whereby convictions were expunged. As Senator Boyhan said, I hope we can take this Bill and, if we need to, amend it to make it better. I do not mean that to be offensive, as the Senator knows. We have started a good journey. I congratulate the Senator.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I compliment Senator Ruane, who has shown considerable commitment to this House, coming in here when she is suffering from flu. Well done to her. I would also like to compliment her eminence grise, Sebastian, who I see in the Gallery. They are a very remarkable team.

  Just a couple of weeks ago, a survey was done by the Irish Penal Reform Trust among people with convictions. The greatest concern was with employment; 81% found that having a conviction had a negative impact on getting a job. Another issue negatively impacted by having a conviction was emigration, at 56%. One cannot go to the United States if one has a criminal conviction, for example. Volunteering was at 53%. It is extraordinary that people who have recovered from their criminal past are not allowed to volunteer. Surely that would be a good thing. It is plain common sense that people in a job are less likely to offend. It should be a good idea to help them get a job.

  I did not realise insurance would be affected and that they have to pay a higher premium; 39% of them said that. Looking at who these people were, the most serious punishment received by 25% of respondents was a fine. For 8% it was disposal under the Probation Act. More than one third of the people in this situation did not have a custodial sentence at all. It is a very harsh penalty to put on people when they just have this minor conviction. The impact is amazing.

  People think that when one is released from jail, it is all over but it is not. They all said it was just beginning once they were released because they could not get a job. A client with the Merchant's Quay Project said:

It's the fear because I know that if I go for a job they are going to check me out and that's it, they're not going to hire me, so in my head, what's the point if they're not going to? They say, "Look at these convictions, we don't want a thief around us," so I don't bother.

Here is another one:

You do the crime, you go in and you do your time, that's fair enough. But then to be tarred with it for the rest of your life and for it to affect someone who is willingly trying to change and turn their life around, it kind of defeats the purpose.

It most certainly does.

  The disclosure of convictions was contemplated by the European Court of Human Rights in 2012. It decided that there was a privacy element about the revelation of convictions because it inhibited the ability to develop life. It considered that as the past conviction recedes, it becomes part of the person's private life and is covered by privacy legislation. The single conviction rule that only one conviction is enough to trigger this situation was determined by the United Kingdom Supreme Court to be so disproportionate as to be nonsensical and to facilitate employer discrimination. We have a parallel situation with regard to the Internet. Google has had to accept the right to be forgotten. This is a legal equivalent for the right to be forgotten. I was at the briefing and found it very impressive. The gentleman from the Pathways Centre told of a number of situations. He is an obvious person to be in the Penal Reform Trust and so on but he had to get an order from the High Court to allow him to sit on this charity. If he wanted to go on a school-organised holiday with his children, he had to be vetted by the police and he did not want his children at that stage to know the situation.

  I strongly support the Bill. It is excellent. I will end with an email I received from somebody who works in the community. She says she is currently working as a community addiction worker and feels that extending the legislation will allow more people with lived experience and therefore a wealth of knowledge that cannot be taught to access work in her particular field or any community support programme. In addition, and arguably more importantly, it allows for second chances. We too often stand in judgment of others, which can create even more tiers within our society. This is a progressive move by Senator Ruane and the Civil Engagement group. I compliment them on it and take my hat off to Senator Ruane for coming in with her flu. I would recommend that immediately after this she goes straight to bed, only stopping in the kitchen to get a hot whiskey.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I commend my colleague, Senator Ruane, those who have worked with her in civil society, and her assistant, Seb McAteer. I know this Bill comes very deeply from many years of experience working with and supporting people to chart pathways forward for themselves. That is really reflected in the way the Bill looks at the different aspects of the experiences and addresses some of the many different obstacles. It is a really thoughtful piece of work that will make an enormous difference in people's lives. I am very proud that we are able to support it as the Civil Engagement group and am proud to be a co-sponsor of it.

  So much has been said but I will pick up on a couple of things.  I welcome the support from across the House and acknowledge that others started some of these conversations in the past. Though the 2016 legislation was restrictive, I commend those from different parties who tried to bring this issue to the table in the past. We are building on that and bringing it forward.

  There are significant problems with the legislation as it stands. In many cases, there is a seven-year requirement before a conviction can become spent. That is a huge section of anybody's life. How can a period when a person has this constraint be manageable for that person when planning his or her career and life? Another key idea is that of the single conviction. We all know that if a person makes a mistake, he or she often makes another mistake. We have situations where people go through difficult periods in their lives, such as addiction or other chaotic periods, and they make mistakes which come in a group. This is definitely a step forward in recognising the issue of two convictions, or three in the case of those who are younger.

  I planned to list all the interesting information from the Irish Penal Reform Trust about the impact on different aspects of life, whether employment, home insurance or travel, but Senator Norris has already done so. They are stark figures. I will pick out two. It is striking that 53% of people experienced obstacles, even in volunteering. That is partially addressed by this Bill but, as others have said, there are issues of discrimination which need to be identified and addressed. It should not be the case that somebody who is seeking to reach out to society and to turn his or her life around is automatically and always blocked, especially when a previous offence may in no way impact or be relevant to the kinds of volunteering work they wish to do.

  With regard to employment, I sit on the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection and we have great debates there about how we ensure that people are given a full set of options and that we do better casework. We have debated it, because in many cases our system does not send people in the right direction. If a person comes to an overloaded caseworker, the options presented to that person may be constrained. We heard very clear stories from people relating to the issues involved. If a person wants to pursue a career that requires placement, having to declare a previous offence can stop that person from getting a placement and a rung of the ladder is effectively missing since that person cannot move on and get a placement. In many other areas, Garda vetting will make another candidate more appealing.

  There are constraints on what people can do. That does not just mean that individuals lose out. It also means that families lose out, which is a very striking fact which was reflected in the research from the Irish Penal Reform Trust. It talks about how a person's family is still being punished for his or her crime. Children who may not have been born at the time of the crime feel the impact of it through their parents. Similarly, there is the very real testimony given by Niall Walsh from the Pathways Centre about the impact it had on his children. It impacts on the individual, on the common good and on society because we lose out on people who have extraordinary experience. Somebody who might be the right person to work in community development, make an intervention and support young people in vulnerable situations to move to a better path might be blocked from doing so. Those who should be on boards and making decisions can face that obstacle of a requirement to go to the High Court to do so.

  Figures from SpunOut indicate that young people are 10% of the population but comprise 20% of the prison population. They are especially vulnerable. In my experience of working with young, unemployed people in the south east, I saw how easy it was for young people to go through a difficult period and then find a year or two later, perhaps after a difficult experience or family crisis, that they wanted to put their lives back on track, in many cases because they may have become parents themselves at 22 or 23 and wanted to turn their lives around. It is very important that the period would be reduced to three years for most of those young people in this legislation. That is much more manageable and allows them to plan their lives. Since the risk of reoffending is higher for young people, it allows for rehabilitative supports within prisons to talk to young people about how they can have a better life. It is not a situation of despair or all being lost but that there are pathways for them. Rehabilitative work within prison to make sure that people plan for their lives afterwards has been mentioned by a number of people.

  We have spoken for many hours in the past about data protection. The Minister and I both have debated it and there are concerns about the legislation, not simply relating to the European Court of Human Rights and its rulings and concerns on private life and what belongs in it, but also relating to the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and other areas. There are questions of proportionality and necessity. Many experts in this area feel that it cannot be considered proportionate or necessary in many cases to require people to disclose a previous offence from many years past if that offence is in no way relevant to the current context or employment. For example, if somebody has paid a fine in one area and it does not relate to work in a completely different area, is it proportionate or necessary to make that person disclose it? Senator Ruane has done a service by producing the appendix to begin to tease out what the principle of proportionality might look like. That takes us a big step forward as a State, and I am sure that is one reason the Minister recognises the value of this Bill.

  The most important thing is public interest. That is the test for the proportionality and necessity for what we do. Is it not in the public interest that we send a message to people that we do not simply see them as former offenders but as citizens and contributors, and that the identity that we, as a society, place on them is not defined by one offence or action? It sends a message of value and encouragement to people that will even have an impact on those in prison now.

  I thank everybody for their support for this Bill. I look forward to its passage. I am sure others will look to strengthen it in time.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I thank Senator Ruane for introducing this important legislation to the House in December. I thank Senators Black and Higgins for strongly supporting its presentation to the House. It is an important issue, not only for those who have convictions but for society as a whole. I support the Bill, in principle, which sets out to assist those with convictions who have moved away from offending and want to get on with their lives. This is important and valuable for individuals, for their families, for communities and for society as a whole. My officials met Senator Ruane this week to discuss these proposals and, at that time, they flagged that as the proposals represent a considerable extension of recently enacted legislation, they will require careful analysis and consideration. I am open to analysis and the necessary consideration, however, some of which we have heard already this evening.

  The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act came into force just under three years ago. The Act, which had been championed by my predecessor, then Minister Alan Shatter, during his time as Minister for Justice and Equality and was introduced to the Statute Book by the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, underwent considerable and extensive consultation and scrutiny, both within the Oireachtas and throughout society, with particular reference to the contribution of the many stakeholders involved.  In fact, the Bill, as it was then, was amended several times as it progressed through the Houses of the Oireachtas. I have no doubt that if this Bill is ultimately enacted, it will experience the same detailed consideration, which is as it should be. Having said that, I am conscious of the views of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the application and scope of the provisions set out in the 2016 Act. The presentation of Senator Ruane's Bill is a most welcome development in that regard. It will assist me and my Department in carefully considering the effectiveness and balance of the provisions of the 2016 Act in order that the fairest possible outcome can be achieved for all citizens. It is important that the Act be kept under review in order that it will continue to benefit citizens in a measured, equitable and fair way and effective in the achievement of its goals.

  The Bill proposes significant amendments to the 2016 Act. It proposes that the existing spent convictions legislation be extended to include non-custodial sentences of up to 48 months and custodial sentences of up to 24 months. It also proposes to increase the number of convictions which could become spent at some future time. It also seeks to introduce the principle of proportionality when it comes to determining when a conviction is spent. I acknowledge what Senator Higgins said in that regard. She is right. The principle contained in the legislation would introduce a sliding scale of periods before which a conviction could be considered to be spent. This sliding scale is based on the type of conviction that might be involved. In that context, it should be noted that the Bill treats young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 years more favourably than others. As part of the sliding scale, the Bill reduces further the periods before the convictions of such persons are spent. Importantly, the amendments create consequential amendments to the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.

  I am conscious of the arguments in favour of liberalising the spent convictions regime. In particular, it is argued that such an approach reduces the extent to which individuals have their life opportunities, including their access to education, work and volunteering, restricted by convictions. It is suggested legislation of this nature would better enable such persons to move on with their lives. I am aware that Senator Ruane works closely with many individuals who are engaged in attempts to transform their lives. I sincerely commend her on her important and valuable work. I acknowledge what Senator Boyhan said about the influence of Senator Ruane's contribution. I agree with him. I know that Senator Ruane has been working with the Irish Penal Reform Trust in developing this legislation. The trust has published a survey of the impact of past convictions on people who are moving on with their lives. The findings of the survey of 148 people represent a useful contribution to the debate.

  The changes being proposed in the Bill reflect the issues that are debated when people consider the purpose, effectiveness and impact of spent convictions legislation. The changes raise questions which require careful consideration. I am very pleased that Senators have indicated that there are issues which require detailed consideration and analysis. It would be fair to define some of these questions at this juncture.

  Is the current spent convictions legislation proportionate? How are people with custodial sentences being treated in comparison with others who are given non-custodial sentences? Should young adults be treated differently from others with convictions? What impact would this have, given that a significant proportion of offences are committed by people in the 18 to 24 age bracket? Would treating these young adults differently have knock-on effects on other legislation enacted? Do two convictions represent a pattern of offending? When is reoffending a risk to the public? In expanding the scope of this legislation what offences would be included? Would any of these offences be considered to be serious in a legal context? How would the victims of such offences view these changes and proposals?

  Comparisons have been made with other common law states, specifically England and Wales. I note that in recent studies of this matter reference has been made to the impact of data protection law, the effect of the Internet and the individual's right to privacy. I understand there have been a number of judgments in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe on these issues. In particular, I note the Supreme Court judgment in England last month on spent conviction legislation. The court rejected an appeal by the UK Home Office against the disclosure of convictions in four cases. I wish to highlight the fact that it is not the case that we have an absolute single conviction rule in our legislation. The 2016 Act provides that certain categories of offence, including a range of motoring and public order offences, may be regarded as spent, even if there are multiple such convictions on the record of an individual.

  I look forward to an examination of the relevant proposals made in the legislation in order that I may consider whether the 2016 Act may be strengthened and, if so, in what manner. I stress that a balance needs to be struck between protecting the public and rehabilitating the offender. It is through this prism that the Department will evaluate and analyse the proposals contained in Senator Ruane's Bill. We will consider any appropriate judgment in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, with the questions I have posed. I refer to these matters in order to highlight that the Bill and its proposed changes raise complex questions and issues that need to be considered carefully. I acknowledge the admission of Senators representing all parties and none in that regard.

  As I said, the Government does not oppose the legislation in principle. However, it is important and reasonable that careful consideration be given not only to the impact of changes of this nature on the individual with the convictions but also to unanticipated or unintended implications that may arise down the road. Therefore, the Bill, as proposed, requires careful consideration. Such consideration has not been possible in the short time since its publication. However, I acknowledge the spirit in which the legislation has been proposed and debated. It is important to have a clear understanding of all of the effects the changes would have. Particularly important work needs to be done to examine the types of offence which could at some future date become spent. There will have to be an opportunity to consider whether such offence might not be considered to be minor. If we were to extend the threshold for custodial sentences to two years of imprisonment, it could bring relatively serious offences within the scope of the legislation. The possible implications of the changes on vetting will have to be considered. The impact of recent judgments will also need to be examined carefully. Following this work, consideration can be given to the case for amendments to deal with concerns, if any, that might arise.

  I thank Senator Ruane for agreeing to share her research and analysis with my Department in order to assist me and my officials in our work. As Minister, I assure all Senators but Senator Ruane, in particular, that I will undertake to work with them to make progress with this legislation. I will ensure it is balanced, fair and effective in its approach, from the perspectives of protecting the public and rehabilitating the offenders involved.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank everybody across the House who has shown his or her support for the Bill. It means a lot to me to hear such encouraging words from every party and none in the House. It means more to me because legislation such as this has impacted on my life and the lives of those with whom I have worked and in my community for a very long time. During the week I was in the gym where a woman, a youth worker in Ballyfermot, said to me she had been talking to a young lad who was in my class. I teach in Maynooth on Mondays. She said he was going to drop out of the course but had decided to stay because he had met someone there who was like him. He was talking about me. That got me thinking about what other professions would be like if individuals were able to sit in front of others and where a person could look at another and say he or she would stay engaged because that person was like him or her.

  I then thought about the value people with convictions would bring to such places as the Probation Service, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality. Imagine having that expertise in the room, a person who has lived such a life and what he or she could bring to the table. As someone who was on probation and sat in front of a probation officer in my teens, sometimes the people in question are not given a chance. They could be very good at the job. The first thing they think is that the other person does not understand them. They have never experienced what they have experienced. They do not get it. Therefore, they shut them off and do not really give them a chance to engage, even though they could be their way out. Sometimes, however, someone is not prepared to listen if he or she does not sound or look like us as he or she may not have had the same experiences. Legislation such as this which will allow us to widen participation in the workforce can only ever be good for society. What has been mentioned a few times is protecting the public, but we can only ever really protect it by allowing rehabilitation and reintegration. Being fair to the individual is intertwined and interlinked with protecting the public. They cannot be seen as separate. In supporting the individual, one builds stronger democracies and communities and a more trustworthy public.

  The Bill is not about letting people off easily but about reducing criminality. It is about people who are not reoffending. To avail of it, one must not be offending. If one is continuing to offend, one will have three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine or ten offences, in other words, countless convictions on one's record. Therefore, the Bill is about people who are trying to reintegrate.

  When I was listening to the piece about volunteering, it occurred to me that years ago on summer projects in communities with one's child someone did not have to be Garda vetted. Now someone has to be. Someone does not have responsibility for other children on a summer project, but, obviously, there are new policies in place such that if someone is going on a trip, even if it is only a day trip, all of the adults have to be Garda vetted. Right now someone can be excluded, even though he or she has no responsibility for other children. One is not there as a helper or a volunteer but with one's own child. However, one cannot have that right to family life with one's children because of an old conviction.

  This legislation is crucial. It is life-changing, not only for individuals but also for society. I look forward to working with the Minister and his Department and everybody within the House to develop the Bill develop in a way that it will be accessible for individuals and also reasonable for everybody in this House. The Bill was drafted based on everything that had been said in each item of legislation on spent convictions. Every conversation that had taken place in the Chamber was carefully analysed by my office to see what people had seen as wrong with the original legislation, not just the 2016 Act but also the two items of legislation tabled before it. There is not much in the Bill that has not been spoken about in the past ten years within the Houses. I did not pull anything out of the air in terms of its policy intentions.

  I thank everyone for his or her support and allowing us to proceed beyond Second Stage in order that we can engage in critical analysis of the legislation. To that end, I look forward to working with the Minister and his Department.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Next Tuesday.

  Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 19 February 2019.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 February 2019.


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