Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has been accused of making a “mockery” of the fines system after figures show almost €50m has not yet been paid, writes Juno McEnroe.
Thousands of warrants are also outstanding in connection to unpaid fines.
Figures from the Courts Service show a total 462,036 fines have been imposed since 2011. But 196,909 of these remain unpaid. The information was given to Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan.
However, figures registered with the Courts Service criminal case tracking system shows the level of evasion has increased sharply in the last five years.
A total of €48.5m remains unpaid. But the annual rate of evasion has doubled in the past five years, with €16.5m due at the end of last year compared to €7.5m in 2011.
The Fianna Fáil justice spokesman says Ms Fitzgerald needs to tackle the issue, as the evasion levels are getting out of control.
He told the Irish Examiner: “Serious questions need to be answered as to why fines, worth such a substantial amount of money, have still not been collected. Many of these date back years and total almost €50m.”
It was “worrying” that the level of unpaid fines had doubled, he warned.
The money owed to the State could be used for cash-starved services, suggested Mr O’Callaghan.
“What steps is the minister taking to ensure that these fines are being paid? €48m is a considerable amount of money which could be well invested in a number of areas. Minister Fitzgerald needs to get serious about tackling this issue.
“The current situation is making a mockery of the fines system as criminals can continue to refuse to pay them as they know they will not be followed up. This undermines our criminal justice system as, if fines are not paid, then offenders are faced with no real deterrent.”
Altogether, the €48m outstanding represents around a third of penalties applied over five years, the figures show.
The minister also told Mr O’Callaghan in the parliamentary written reply that in excess of 15,000 warrants with a total value of over €5m were outstanding.
Ms Fitzgerald’s department has said wide-scale notices to appear in court have been given to defaulters for the non-payment of fines, as part of new legislation.
The introduction of the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014, last year, has brought changes to the process of collecting fines, including allowing people pay them by instalment over a 12-month period.
The legislation, designed to both improve collection rates and stop people being put in prison for non- payment, also allows for attachment to earnings, community service and fines being referred to a receiver for enforcement.
Prison will only be considered as a last resort for individuals who refuse to pay. The Courts Service claims the process of collecting fines has improved in recent years.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.