Caution amid support for sex offender laws

The Probation Service and Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) have backed draft sex offender laws regarding the disclosure of information, electronic tagging and restricting foreign travels.

Caution amid support for sex offender laws

The Probation Service and Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) have backed draft sex offender laws regarding the disclosure of information, electronic tagging and restricting foreign travels.

However, Vivian Geiran, head of the Probation Service, warned that there was “no silver bullet” in terms of legislative or technical measures that will stop sex offenders from carrying out more crimes.

He was addressing the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which is examining the Government’s General Scheme of the Sex Offenders Bill 2018 and a Private Member’s Bill, the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2018.

Senior officers from the PSNI, who attended the hearing, said legal powers in the North that prevent a convicted sex offender from travelling abroad were rarely used but an “essential part” of their armoury.

Law lecturer Margaret Fitzgerald O’Reilly expressed concerns over travel restrictions, tagging, and disclosure, and said such powers need to be both “necessary and proportionate”.

The Government’s bill allows for a garda to disclose information to the public or a person in the interests of their protection. The information could include name, address, and risk.

The bill will also allow for the electronic tagging of an offender as part of a sex offender order.

Separately, the Private Member’s Bill, tabled by Maureen O’Sullivan, Independent TD for Dublin Central, provides for a court to stop convicted sex offenders travelling abroad and engaging in child sex tourism.

Maureen O'Sullivan

Maureen O'Sullivan

Mr Geiran described both bills as providing “very significant” improvements.

The Probation Service Director said disclosure was the provision where “most caution” was needed. He said it had “huge potential for harm as well as good”.

He said uncontrolled disclosure of information could drive offenders underground, making supervision more difficult and increasing the risk of reoffending.

Probation deputy director Ita Burke said electronic tagging was most effective when part of a risk management strategy and had proved effective abroad.

Mr Geiran said he recognised Dr Fitzgerald O’Reilly’s concerns about the provision on restricting travel, but added that he agreed with the PSNI view that this power “would be quite useful”.

Caroline Counihan of the RCNI said the provisions in both bills were very welcome and represent “significant increases” in legal powers.

She shared concerns regarding unregulated disclosure, saying the potential of driving offenders underground was a “huge concern”. She also said the travel provision would need to be “framed properly” to isolate from legal challenges.

Dr Fitzgerald O’Reilly said research did not show that disclosure was effective and said it should only happen in exceptional circumstances. She said research indicated electronic tagging was not effective in preventing reoffending, but may have a role in registration.

In relation to travel, she said there was no evidence to show it was effective and said the wording left the provision “very exposed to be challenged”.

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