The country’s official human rights body has said there should be “no limitation” on the number of convictions a person has to be eligible to have their records set aside.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has also said that more serious offences should be considered, on an individual basis, and not just relatively minor ones.
The IHREC is also recommending that equality legislation be changed to include discrimination on the ground of criminal conviction.
Separately, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has called for young offenders, people who are sentenced to prison for less than four years and people with convictions who have demonstrated law abiding behaviour should all be given the opportunity to restart their lives.
And the Cork Alliance Centre, which works with former prisoners, said many of them had multiple convictions and that the current spent convictions legislation was “so far removed from their lives that it is ineffective for them”.
The calls are being made in submissions to a Government reform of the spent convictions system, with the aim of expanding its provisions.
Various groups have today published their submissions as part of the review of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosure) Act 2016.
The IHREC recommended that reform of the act should include amendments to the equality legislation to include a “broad prohibition” on discrimination on the ground of criminal conviction.
The commission further recommends that a “more inclusive” convictions system, taking in longer sentences, would “significantly aid the rehabilitation and reintegration” of a broader range of offenders.
It said that expungement of more serious offences, captured within an extended sentencing regime, should be considered on an individual basis of risk by an independent board or court.
The rights body also recommends that “no limitation” is placed on the number of convictions per person.
Tony Geoghegan, Commission Member of the IHREC said: “The prospect of rehabilitation is linked to human dignity, promoting equality and benefits all of society.
“I have personally worked with many men and women with histories battling drug addiction, homelessness or living with severe mental health difficulties, without adequate supports, who fell into the criminal justice system.”
The IPRT said legislation which was being considered prior to the calling of the general election at the start of the year should be re-instated as amended so that people who have turned their lives around can get jobs, enter education, volunteer and participate fully in the community.
The submission also calls for equality legislation to be broadened to ensure that offences which are long passed are not “dragged up” and used as unfair barriers against those who have moved away from offending.
Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Executive Director of the IPRT said: “Offending behaviour often occurs when someone is going through a very difficult period of their lives. Poverty, trauma, loss of a job, homelessness and addiction are just some of the pressure points which can lead to offending and a criminal conviction.
“Having a criminal record in Ireland, even for a less serious offence, can amount to a disproportionate lifelong punishment. By offering the opportunity to make a fresh start by not having to disclose minor old convictions, we can help people turn their lives around and enhance public safety. This is particularly important for young people.”
Cork Alliance Centre chief executive Sheila Connolly said: “Inclusion and cohesion are not built on negative labelling, on holding people who have been accountable for their behaviours to continue to pay the price for events that happened years ago as if they happened today. Without hope the journey from crime is an arduous task, we erode the hope and belief in a better life by not allowing people to shake off the shackles of past convictions.”