Wallace would rather go to jail if he could nto pay fines than for sheriff to ’empty my home’
Dail told of ’terrible stories of bullying tactics where sheriffs bring ’thugs’ as reinforcement
Mick Wallace: he introduced an amendment to put more emphasis on community service rather than recovery orders Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Independent TD Mick Wallace has told the Dáil that if he could not pay a fine he would rather go to prison than have the sheriff “come and empty my house”.
The Wexford TD was calling for greater prominence to be given to community service for people who could not afford to pay fines.
He was speaking during a report stage debate on the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill, which aims to cut the numbers of people being imprisoned for non-payment of fines.
Mr Wallace introduced an amendment to put more emphasis on community service rather than recovery orders.
He said there was a two-tier justice system where “the rich are rewarded for their ability to pay and the poor are punished for their inability to do so”.
He had heard “terrible stories of bullying tactics by sheriffs, who sometimes bring a few thugs along with them as reinforcements”.
He warned that recovery orders should not be included in the Bill, and said it was not clear why recovery orders were proposed as the first alternative to imprisonment for non-payment of fines.
“That is a destructive way of operating. More often than not the people who cannot pay their fines are the ones who cannot afford to pay them.”
Mr Wallace said “going to their houses and removing belongings from them is counter-productive” and would make them poorer.
He said: “If I cannot pay a fine because I do not have enough money I would rather go to prison than have the sheriff come and empty my house. That is a choice I would take if I had it.”
Minister of State Paschal Donohoe said “we owe it to the vast majority of people who pay their bills or fines when asked or required to do so to ensure that those who have the ability to pay debts or fines do so”.
He believed Mr Wallace’s amendment would have the opposite effect to what was intended. The legislation aimed to put a system in place that would make more options available to the legal system and courts.