I support the call made last week by Senator Hildegarde Naughton who called for an inquiry into the recent worrying revelations of the deaths of some 800 infants between 1925 and 1961 in a mother and baby home in Tuam in County Galway. I know considerable momentum has gathered around this as local historians have uncovered appalling information about these deaths and the way in which they went unreported and were hidden. We need to know more about what has happened there.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I join you, a Chathaoirligh, and Senator MacSharry in paying tribute to the late Deputy Nicky McFadden and expressing, on behalf of the Labour Party group, our deep regret and sympathy to her family on her untimely death. Like many other colleagues, I served with the former Senator, Nicky McFadden, in the last Seanad and she was an extremely collegiate individual, a very warm person and an effective Senator. We will have time to pay tribute to her properly in the House and I look forward to that.
Speaking today, Senator Ivana Bacik expressed her sympathy for the family of the late Christine Buckley, whose death has just been announced, and paid tribute to the tireless campaigning work that Christine did in exposing the terrible abuses suffered by children institutionalised in residential care, in Goldenbridge in particular.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, to the House. As other speakers have done, I very much welcome the Bill, which fits well in a welcome general trend in criminal justice policy to try to reduce reliance on imprisonment and ensure people are not committed to prison for convictions for minor offences and cases where a fine has been imposed but not paid. Others have already mentioned the large numbers of people still being committed to prison, and there were 8,304 committals to prison for fine default in 2012, including 1,687 female committals. There is real concern because the Irish Penal Reform Trust has indicated that the large number of women committed to prison in 2012 for fine default represented a five-fold increase on the 2008 figure, when 339 women were imprisoned for fine default. As we know, there is serious overcrowding in the Dóchas Centre and we do not have an open prison for women; all convicted women are sent to the closed prisons of the Dóchas centre or the Limerick prison. It is a matter of grave concern that so many women are being committed to prison for non-payment of fines.
Others have pointed out how this builds on the Fines Act 2010, which was introduced by the previous Government. The real concern is that the 2010 legislation, which had the same admirable and welcome objective, never took effect, with significant numbers of people still being committed to prison every year for fine default. The reason for the non-implementation of the Fines Act is that the court ICT systems have not received the necessary upgrade to process payment of fines by instalment. The legislation is very welcome and the new Bill repeals Part 3 of the 2010 Act but replicates and improves it.