Saturday 20 July 2019

Minister defends law on sentencing for repeat sex offenders as 'a bloody good start'

Independent Alliance TD Kevin 'boxer' Moran with Debbie Cole. Photo: Tom Burke
Independent Alliance TD Kevin 'boxer' Moran with Debbie Cole. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

A GOVERNMENT minister has defended a new law setting out minimum sentencing for repeat sex offenders saying it “may not be perfect” but is a “bloody good start”.

Minister Regina Doherty made the remarks in the Dáil when Opposition TDs attacked the law originally put forward by Independent Alliance junior minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran.

The goal of the Bill is to ensure that a sex offender who has a previous conviction for a similar serious crime must serve at least three-quarters of the maximum sentence for the second offence.

Mr Moran began work on the Bill after meeting rape victim Debbie Cole.

She was raped at the age of 19 and her attacker was jailed for six years.

Her attacker went on to commit further sexual assaults against three other women in 1997. He was jailed again in 2015 for a period of eight years on charges of false imprisonment, assault and making threats to kill a woman.

Ms Cole was in the public gallery in Leinster House this evening.

Independent TD Mick Wallace claimed that the law was “flawed legislation”.

He argued a section of it appears to be based on two falsehoods – a perception that there is a high rate of recidivism among sex offenders and a belief that incarceration prevents re-offending.

Mr Wallace also said that the Bill gives the judiciary a “get out clause” so they would still have discretion on sentencing.

He said the government would be better placed making it mandatory for sex offenders in prison to enter therapy programmes as those that do are less likely to reoffend.

Fellow Independent TD Clare Daly claimed it was “one of the worst pieces of legislation” put before the Dáil and it “won’t in any way have any impact on reoffending”.

She said if the bill passes “the judiciary will have exactly the same sentencing powers that they do now and exactly the same discretion that they have. Absolutely nothing will change."

Ms Daly said: “of course I agree sexual crimes some of the very worst crimes in our society… I understand the desire to make sure that sanctions for such offences are as serious as they should be.

“But this doesn’t do that”.

They tabled amendments deal with the removal of presumptive minimum sentences for repeat sexual offences but they were not passed.

Ms Doherty said she was surprised by the comments because, while she respects the judiciary there is regularly "shock" and "disgust" at the leniency of some sentences in sex offence cases.

“This may not be perfect and may not address all of the issues that we have in this country with regard to sexual violence and the protection of our children and our women and our vulnerable men.

“But it certainly is a bloody good start.

“I’ll tell you what it does. The key thing is to send a message out to the victims of the heinous crimes… that we hear them and we’re going to start to do something about it.

She said she applauded Mr Moran for his “gumption” in addressing the issue.

Mr Moran said Ms Cole has been 20 years campaigning for such legislation.

He said that the presumptive minimum sentence is three quarters of the maximum sentence applied to the offence.

It will apply where a person has been convicted of a sexual offence and received a prison sentence of at least five years and goes on to commit another offence within ten years.

He said this would ensure it only applies to the most serious crimes.

Mr Moran also said: “The judiciary is of course independent in the matter of sentencing… However the Oireachtas is entitled to set out parameters for given offences to reflect what is considered to be the seriousness of that offence.

“We’re all aware of the devastating impact of serious sexual offences can have on victims and on society as a whole. That is why the government is proposing to put in place these measures.”

Mr Moran added: “Given the relative limited appliance of the bill to a small cohort of offenders… I would suggest that in in no way does it minimise the general principle of rehabilitation of offenders.”

He also hit back at the Independent TDs opposing the Bill saying they had a chance after the general election to sit where he is and put forward their own legislation.

He claimed they “forgot what it’s like to help people like Debbie Cole”

“While you sit there and say you have everything right this government is recognising the Debbie Coles of this country.”

The Bill was passed by the Dáil this evening.

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