Stormy debate expected as FG brings forward victims’ rights bill

THE political row over legislation to protect victims of crime, which flared up last week, is likely to re-ignite in the Dáil tonight when Fine Gael calls on the Government to back their proposals on the issue.

Fine Gael will bring forward their bill on victims’ rights, which will be debated by Dáil deputies tonight before going to a vote in the house tomorrow.

Last week, Fine Gael’s bill was described by the Department of Justice as “legislation by Google” because it was similar to laws already in place in New Zealand. Fine Gael published the bill in January and said yesterday it was a “culmination of a wide process of research into best international practice in the area and reflects best practice across a number of jurisdictions”.

Last Thursday — just days before the Fine Gael bill was to be brought before the Dáil — Justice Minister Dermot Ahern stole a march on the opposition by holding a press conference announcing he would bring forward his own victims’ rights bill next year.

Ahead of tonight’s debate, Fine Gael called on the Government to “put petty partisan politics aside” and support them on the issue. Under the bill to be debated, the families of murder and manslaughter victims will have a statutory right to give a victim impact statement in court. Victims would also be kept informed of progress made in the investigation of a crime reported by them. The State would be required to inform victims of crime of “the appropriate and necessary services available to them and of the legal remedies they can utilise”. Victims, for the first time, would be entitled to make representation on convicted offenders’ applications for parole and release.

Fine Gael’s spokesman on children Alan Shatter, who co-sponsored the bill with justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan, said the rights of crime victims should come before the rights of politicians to “play petty party politics”.

He said: “Regardless of Minister Dermot Ahern’s insecurity on this issue he should show a touch more confidence in himself and display some sense of balance and bipartisanship and have this bill enacted before the summer recess.” Mr Shatter said that under the Government’s own proposals on victims’ rights legislation, nothing would be done until at least 2010. He said the Fine Gael bill, if passed in the Dáil, is “ready to go”.


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