Saturday 24 September 2016

Naughten tells Tanaiste: introduce electronic tags for sex offenders now

Independent minister wrote to Frances Fitzgerald to fast-track new laws

Published 07/08/2016 | 02:30

DEMANDS: Independent minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke
DEMANDS: Independent minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke

Communications Minister Denis Naughten is on a collision course with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald over the introduction of electronic tagging for dangerous sex offenders.

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Mr Naughten recently wrote to Ms Fitzgerald demanding she fast-track legislation which will give legal backing to the use of electronic tags for rapists and child abusers after they have been released from prison.

The Independent minister is concerned that Ms Fitzgerald is dragging her heels on the issue, on which he campaigned while in opposition, and he is now insisting legislation is signed into law as a priority.

The Justice Minister is also understood to be anxious to introduce electronic tagging, and senior Fine Gael sources dismissed Mr Naughten's demands as the Roscommon minister tries to claim responsibility for the passing of the new legislation.

However, Mr Naughten told the Sunday Independent he has written to the Justice Minister "seeking assurances" that laws that will give gardai, for the first time, the power to monitor high-risk sex offenders, will be implemented within the next Dail term.

He also highlighted the need for laws to be enacted which will allow gardai alert parents to the presence of dangerous paedophiles and rapists living in their communities.

"The Prison Service currently has 10 electronic tags which are used for prisoners on temporary release," Mr Naughten said.

"It entered into a contract for a further 50 tags at a total annual cost of €102,000 and these should be put to use," he added.

The Roscommon minister said the last government accepted legislation he drafted which will "vastly improve" laws relating to the protection of children but it has yet to be enacted.

"Under such laws, the monitoring of sex offenders would be dramatically improved, and for the first time parents will have a right to access information regarding high-risk offenders who may have direct access to their son or daughter.

"I have asked the Tanaiste to outline the time frame for the enactment of the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill which will allow for electronic monitoring. I want to see it fast-tracked," he said.

The introduction of tagging of sex offenders has been mooted as far back as 2009 when Fianna Fail TD Dermot Ahern was the justice minister.

A study published last year by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed a shocking one in five sex offenders reoffend once they have been released from prison.

And figures given to Mr Naughten when he was in Opposition, showed half of sex offenders released from prison last year failed to undergo any form of treatment while imprisoned.

The Department of Justice said the Sex Offenders Bill is still being finalised but it is hoped the legislation will be published in the coming months.

The new laws are aimed at enhancing the management of sex offenders and reducing the risk of dangerous criminals reoffending.

The bill will include the introduction of new risk assessments of convicted criminals on the sex offenders register.

The legislation will also require gardai to alert communities to the presence of potentially dangerous sex offenders.

New strict bail laws, which are currently being drafted by the Department of Justice, will also see electronic monitoring introduced as part of bail conditions.

"The Bill will provide that electronic monitoring may be imposed as a bail condition if the prosecution applies to the court for this condition," a spokesman said.

"This will facilitate the focused use of electronic monitoring for persons on bail. The introduction of an electronic monitoring system for bail purposes will require a separate tendering process and involve the Garda Siochana," he added.

The internet, and specifically social media websites, have become breeding grounds for sex offenders targeting young victims.

During the last Dail term, the Coalition introduced new laws aimed at protecting children from grooming and online sexual predators who are using the internet to lure victims.

The legislation strengthens the laws around child pornography, and introduces tough sentences for criminals involved in procuring or creating sexually explicit material involving children.

Criminals prosecuted for child exploitation under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 face prison sentences of between 10 and 14 years.

Sunday Independent

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