Mandatory sentences Bill rejected
The Government has rejected a Fianna Fáil Bill to impose mandatory prison sentences on people convicted of assault on emergency workers while on duty.
Minister of State Paul Kehoe said there was legislation in place “which is more appropriate and comprehensive in meeting such requirements”.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Dara Calleary said the legislation was about sending a clear message to the community that “we stand by our emergency workers”, whether in A&E departments, on patrol in the streets, at fires or at roadside crashes.
Introducing the Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill Mr Calleary said he was prompted by the deaths while on duty of two gardaí - one from Mayo - in Donegal.
The Mayo TD said “the fact that the men were serving members of An Garda Síochána was discounted in the court case”.
Under the law, jury members in the case were not allowed to take into account the fact that the men were garda, and the judge had to instruct the jury accordingly, he said.
Mr Calleary noted that the Garda Representative Association reported 800 assaults on gardaí last year, and he expressed concern about Hallowe’en at the end of this month, a time when fire and ambulance crews were subject to assaults.
Speaking on behalf of the Government Mr Kehoe also said there were legal difficulties with the definition in the Bill of emergency workers.
A final report on mandatory sentencing is under preparation by the Law Reform Commission and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has established a working group to conduct a strategic review of penal policy “which will also include an examination of sentencing policies”, Mr Kehoe said.
Sinn Féin’s Dessie Ellis highlighted the tactic of some people at Hallowe’en, often when they were on drugs, of acting to “entice emergency workers to bonfires to attack them”.
He said his party would support the legislation at the initial stage, but he believed “those engaged in such attacks do need to be punished but mandatory sentences are a crude measures. Applying mandatory sentences does not allow the court to take in the nuances of a particular offence”.
Independent TD Catherine Murphy said she broadly supported the legislation but said it was “not the entire solution”. The Kildare North TD said: “Too often we start thinking legislation on its own can solve the ills of the country”, but there were other considerations, including the “neglect of civic culture”.
She highlighted problems, such as the lack of sufficient gardaí, and criticised the level of gardaí per size of population in Kildare. If the same level of cover was in place across the State as in Kildare “there would be 4,800 fewer gardaí, and I don’t believe anyone would see that as an acceptable level of cover”.