Range of proposals on criminal justice outlined to Fianna Fáil party

Tougher sentences for violent crime and sexual offences among proposals set out

Fianna Fáil has drawn up a wide range of tougher criminal justice measures designed to target violence against women in the wake of the killing of Ashling Murphy.

Jim O’Callaghan, the Dublin Bay South TD, drew up the policy document in consultation with female parliamentary party colleagues. He briefed the parliamentary party on it this evening and has circulated it to his colleagues.

"It is open to the Oireachtas to introduce tougher laws in order that we can have a stronger criminal justice response. We believe that part of the solution to this problem is the strengthening of our laws so that violence is met with a tougher response," the document states.

It adds that there is a need to target “young men when they start displaying behaviour that is threatening and which may lead to more serious violence unless checked at an early stage,” arguing that increasing penalties for serious assault or unlawful killing will have “limited effect”.

“The damage has been done by the time those offences occur and the opportunity to divert a young man from violence has been lost. Tougher laws need to target people who engage in all levels of criminal violence against others, particularly women.”

It argues that tougher legislation on stalking, introduced by Fianna Fáil senators Lisa Chambers, Mary Fitzpatrick and Erin McGreehan, should be enacted. It also calls for new legislation to prohibit sexual harassment in public places.

“We believe that a person should be guilty of an offence if in or within view of any public place he or she engages in any form of unwanted conduct of a sexual nature towards another person which is either intended to cause that other person harassment, alarm or distress, or is reckless whether the conduct has that effect.”

‘Laws need to be strengthened’

Bail laws should also be strengthened, according to the document. “We also know that this also applies in the area of rape and sexual assaults. In 2016 individuals on bail were charged with 24 rapes and sexual assaults. We believe that our bail laws need to be strengthened in order that those accused of rape or sexual assault or serious assault who have previous convictions for rape or sexual assault or serious assault should be refused bail unless there are exceptional circumstances.”

The document also calls for increased sentences for sexual assault and violent offences, and contends that existing maximum sentences for sexual assault, assault causing harm, threats to kill or cause serious harm and harassment are “too light”.

“We also believe that our law should specify a threshold of imprisonment that should apply if a person is convicted of any of these offences and has a previous conviction for one of these offences,” the document argues.

In addition, knife crime laws should be strengthened, according to the document, while greater Garda visibility is also needed. “It is pointless having large numbers of gardaí doing administrative work in stations. That work should be carried out by civilian members of the force, enabling more gardaí to be out in the community.”

It states that: “Unfortunately, there are many public places throughout the country – whether it be in parks or other city streets - where criminal activity takes place openly and without any apparent Garda response.”

The document also calls for policies to educate children in respect for each other and equality of the sexes, as well as legislation to ensure that internet providers and social media companies are liable for ensuring that violent pornography that presents women in a submissive or dominated role is not available to children.

The meeting also heard concerns raised by Éamon Ó Cuív and Barry Cowen about the need for refuges in every county.

The Taoiseach also briefed his colleagues on the new retrofitting scheme, and Government investments in housing, and plans for two upcoming citizen’s assemblies.

On the Defence Forces commission report, which was published on Wednesday, Mr Martin said he is yet to examine it in detail but "it is key to the future of the defence forces" and that Government will reply in the coming months".

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times