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TheJournal.ie’s progress report for the Government: Justice and law reform

Alan Shatter has been one of the most pro-active ministers in the current government – but one year on, what has been achieved in the area of justice and law reform?

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

1) WHAT THEY SAID DURING THE 2011 ELECTION CAMPAIGN

  • Labour said it would address the issue of overcrowding in Ireland’s prisons. However, it also wanted to provide “harmonised and extended detention periods for all violent and serious crime to avoid anomalies that existed.
  • Labour also included a promise for a register of violent and sex offenders so that post-release supervision and notification requirements are imposed.
  • The party said it would introduce measures to halt white collar criminals transferring assets to spouses or others.
  • Fine Gael said that it would crack down on white collar crime and stop the gang and drug empires operating across the country. Specifically, the party said it would crack down on the use of drugs and mobile telephones in prisons.
  • FG also said it would revisit the proposal to build a new prison at Thornton Hall.
  • Both parties said they wanted to put a greater emphasis on community Gardaí.
  • Fine Gael promised to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow the Government reduce the pay of the judiciary as a whole in line with other public sector reductions.
  • FG also wanted increased penalties for tobacco smugglers.

2) WHAT THEY SAID IN THE PROGRAMME FOR GOVERNMENT

  • We will strengthen measures to ensure that convicted white collar criminals cannot transfer assets to spouses or other family members and we will empower the Criminal Assets Bureau to pursue such convicted white collar criminals for any legal aid costs awarded to them.
  • We will increase the penalty for tobacco smuggling for commercial purposes and provide robust detection measures to counteract such smuggling.
  • We will introduce x-ray scanners to all prisons to screen people and goods entering prisons to stop the flow of drugs and mobile telephones into prisons. Appropriate action will be taken to stop mobile phones being used in prisons.
  • We are committed to a sentencing system that provides a safer society at a lower cost to the taxpayer. We will ensure that violent offenders and other serious offenders serve appropriate prison sentences while at the same time switching away from prison sentences and towards less costly non-custodial options for non-violent and less serious offenders. This will result in a reduction in the prison population and alleviate overcrowding.
  • We will review the proposal to build a new prison at Thornton Hall and consider alternatives, if any, to avoid the costs yet to be incurred by the State in building such a new prison. We are conscious of the need to provide in-cell sanitation to all prisons and, in so far as resources permit, to upgrade prison facilities. We will end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick’s Institution.
  • We will introduce a constitutional amendment to allow Government to reduce the pay of the judiciary as a whole in line with other public sector reductions.

3) PROGRESS – OR LACK THEREOF – IN FIRST YEAR OF GOVERNMENT

  • NAMA expects to claw back about €500 million in assets that debtors put beyond its reach as developers transferred them to their wives.
  • The Finance Bill 2012 allows for additional powers to be granted to the Revenue Commissioners to investigate tax criminality, including oil laundering and cigarette smuggling.
  • During 2011 and 2010, more than 15,000 contraband items were seized by prison officers so it remains a huge challenge for prison services.
  • Thornton Hall will not be built but €24.1 million will be spent on a Prison Service Building Programme. IT and communications systems as well as  infrastructure will also be upgraded in the prisons service and the gardaí.
  • The referendum on judges’ pay passed with huge majority in October.

Read all sections here: HOW DID THE GOVERNMENT DO IN ITS FIRST YEAR? THIS IS HOW >

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