The Government is to allow far greater numbers of convicts than previously planned to benefit from new laws that will clear their criminal records.
The move has been welcomed by penal reformers who have called on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to go even further.
The Spent Convictions Bill 2012 comes five years after the original proposed legislation was published.
Under the bill, criminals serving sentences of up to a year and people serving a range of non-custodial sentences will have their records wiped clean.
Those with a one-year sentence will have to be conviction-free for seven years beforehand, while those who received a small fine will have to wait three years. The one-year sentence threshold is twice longer than proposed in the 2007 legislation and originally planned by Mr Shatter.
The 2007 bill said the measure would apply to convictions of up to six months, which was based on recommendations in a Law Reform Commission report.
Explaining the expansion, a spokeswoman for Mr Shatter said: “In deciding on the range of sentences that should be covered by the Bill, the minister had to balance the legitimate objective of ensuring that the Bill was of benefit to those offenders who wanted to move on and leave their pasts behind, with the need to ensure that those convicted of serious offences, including sexual offences, could not benefit from the Bill. In drawing the line at 12 months, the minister believes that he has achieved that balance.”
Mr Shatter said the bill was a “significant milestone” in rehabilitating offenders. “This legislation brings Ireland into line with most other EU member states in providing that people convicted of offences can eventually leave their past behind them and get on with their lives,” he said.
“The Bill should be of particular benefit to ex-offenders, who often find their path to employment blocked,” he said.
Under the bill, sexual offences and offences tried by the Central Criminal Court are excluded. Anyone seeking to work with children or vulnerable adults will have to declare their convictions, as will anyone applying for certain licences, such as taxis.
Convicts are excluded from employment involving the security of the State, the administration of justice, and other sensitive positions.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the bill was a “very important step”.
Director Liam Herrick said it marked an improvement on previous proposals: “At the same time, we believe that the legislation could go further in terms of raising the maximum sentence covered by the bill, shortening the rehabilitative periods, and reconsidering the blanket exclusions of certain categories of employment, such as all persons working with children.”
He called on the sentence threshold to be increased to at least 30 months and for the rehabilitative periods of three years to seven years to be shortened to two to four years.
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