Large numbers of people are still being committed to jail for the non-payment of fines in spite of the new legislation aimed at dramatically reducing the numbers.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed that, in the first three months of this year, 2,325 people have been committed to jail for the non-payment of fines.
The rate of people being committed to prison for the non-payment of fines this year is only marginally slower than 2015, when 9,883 people were jailed across the 12 month period.
The numbers jailed in 2015 represented a 10% increase on the 8,979 in 2014. That was, in turn, an increase on the 8,121 jailed in 2013.
However, the vast majority of those committed to prison for the non-payment of fines were only being brought to a prison for a few hours or less before being released.
This was highlighted by Independent TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, who were brought by gardaí to Limerick prison last December for a few hours for the non-payment of fines totalling €4,000 for breaching the perimeter at Shannon airport before being released again.
The cost of transporting the two to jail and processing them at the prison was put at an estimated €8,000, excluding the cost of investigating the offences and prosecuting the case over two days at Ennis District Court.
Recently, Judge Patrick Duran, who imposed the fine on the two, expressed his frustration with the system when dealing with a woman convicted of two public order offences after being found drunk by gardaí.
“All I can do is impose a fine,” he said.
At Kilrush District Court last month, Judge Durcan said: “If she doesn’t pay the fine? What happens is this: She is conveyed to Limerick Prison by State car — as many others are — and she goes and has afternoon tea with the governor, as other people have done in the past. She will then be released and sent home.”
In her written Dáil reply to Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien, Ms Fitzgerald said: “The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 was commenced on January 11, 2016.
“The new approach to the payment of fines means that various provisions including payment by instalment and attachment of earnings will take effect in stages during 2016.
“The sequencing of the different payment options indicates that it will be a full year before a clear picture emerges as to the operation and effect of the new system, the impact it has on the volume of court business, as well as on the roles of other agencies including the Probation Service.
“While the Courts Service is compiling statistics, there is limited data available at this early stage; the figures do however indicate that the take up of the option to pay a fine by instalments is working well and continues to rise.
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