MORE than 50 people were jailed last year for not paying their television licence, figures show.
The situation was described as “crazy” by Fine Gael last night, who pointed out it costs e2,000 a week to keep a person in prison.
Figures released to Fine Gael TD Jim O’Keeffe in a parliamentary question show:
*54 people went to jail in 2008 for not paying their TV licence.
*This compared to 32 people in 2007, a rise of almost 70%.
*220 people have been imprisoned for the offence over the past five years.
“This is crazy, from every point of view, from the individual’s point of view and the Exchequer’s,” said Mr O’Keeffe.
“It’s wrong, from my point of view, to put people in prison because they are poor.
“It’s crazy for the exchequer. The TV licence is e160. It costs e2,000 a week to put them in jail.”
Supplying Mr O’Keeffe with the information, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said: “I can advise the deputy that the number of such persons held in custody are held for very short periods of time and comprise a tiny fraction of the overall prisoner population.
“To illustrate this point, figures relating to 16 February 2009 indicate that there was only one person in custody for non-payment of fines in relation to not having a television licence.”
Mr O’Keeffe said: “Dermot Ahern said there is a very small number involved, but 54 is 54 too many.”
The deputy said figures Mr Ahern gave him the previous week showed that more than 8,000 people were sent to jail for not paying fines or debts over the last five years.
Almost 1,100 were jailed for not paying debts, including 276 in 2008 — by far the highest over the five years.
More than 7,300 were jailed for not paying fines, including an estimated 1,500 people in 2008.
Mr O’Keeffe said the current legislation did not allow the courts to order the payment of fines by instalment.
“This would be say e5 a week deducted at source from social welfare or wages until the fine is paid,” he said.
He said the Government had refused to accept his private members bill proposing such a change to the law.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved