Irish Penal Reform Trust

Party manifesto analysis: Fine Gael

The Fine Gael election manifesto, 'Let's Keep the Recovery Going', was launched on Sunday 14th February 2016. The manifesto can be accessed here. Below, IPRT analyses relevant proposals in '18. Justice, Crime and Law Reform', which starts at p. 83.

18. Justice, Crime and Law Reform

An Garda Síochána / Tackling Rural Crime / Securing the State

Similar to all parties, the Fine Gael manifesto makes a number of commitments towards increased Garda numbers and Garda resourcing, but in significant detail. The manifesto commits specifically to measures to protect frontline staff, including prison staff, from injury.

No level of violence in prison is acceptable. Measures to address violence in prison, whether against prison staff or prisoners, must be addressed through: eliminating overcrowding in all prisons; reducing demand for and supply of drugs in prison; and ensuring that people with serious mental health issues are not held in prison, through diversion and increased provision of forensic mental health spaces.

For IPRT's recommendations on mental health in the Irish penal system, see here.

An Accessible and Efficient Legal System

Fine Gael make a number of detailed commitments relating to reform of the legal system, including a reduction in court delays, stating: "These reforms will support equality of access to justice for all."

Prioritising Victims

IPRT fully endorses Fine Gael's commitments to strengthening victims' rights and enhancing victims' support services.

For IPRT's submission on the EU Victims Directive, see here.

An Effective Courts System

IPRT welcomes Fine Gael's commitment to reducing excessive delays in court proceedings. Classical deterrence theory holds that "the threat of a mild punishment imposed reliably and immediately has a much greater deterrent effect than the threat of a severe punishment that is delayed and uncertain." Addressing court delays should also reduce pressure on remand (pre-trial) prison spaces.

Lengthy court delays are particularly counter-productive for younger offenders. Along with measures to reduce court delays, the introduction of bail support schemes and expansion of successful Garda case management initiatives would have positive results.

For IPRT's position on the use of bail and remand, including pre-trial detention of children, see here.

Reforming the Coroner System

IPRT welcomes Fine Gael's commitment to enact legislation to update the coroner system, towards ensuring that mechanisms of investigation into deaths in prison custody are compliant with Ireland's international human rights obligations.

For IPRT research on the rules and laws that apply when a deaths occurs in prison custody, see here.

Standards in Justice

IPRT strongly welcomes Fine Gael's clear commitment to review Inspectorate and Ombudsman arrangements across the justice and detention systems, including the emphasis on the handling of complaints and compliance with national and international standards.

For more detail on IPRT's position on prison accountability and the evidence which informs it, see here.

IPRT held a conference on 'Securing Accountability: Building effective prison monitoring, inspection, and complaints systems' in November 2015. See here.

Sentencing and Repeat Offending

Tougher Sentences for Serious and Repeat Offenders

Fine Gael propose to widen the range of serious crime categories to which tougher sentencing will extend. IPRT believes that any such proposals must be grounded in robust crime data analysis and evidence of what actually works to reduce reoffending, and what what addresses the causes of crime. This should include analysis of post-release reoffending and robust evaluations of alternatives to prison. Additionally, assessments of the impact that any changes to criminal law and procedure will have on the number of people in prisons should be conducted in advance.

For IPRT's submission on Evidence-Informed Criminal Justice Policy-Making, see here.

For more information on how political decisions impact on the penal system, see here.

Targeting Repeat Young Offenders

IPRT welcomes Fine Gael's proposal for an inter-agency approach to prolific offending by young people for whom diversion has not worked. Diversion and inter-agency approaches should be extended to young people aged up to 24.

For more information about IPRT's research on more effective approaches to offending by young people aged 18-24, grounded in emerging evidence and best practice, see here.

Strengthening Bail Laws

Fine Gael proposes to enact new legislation to provide stricter bail terms for repeat serious offenders, strengthen Garda powers, and increase the use of curfews. In fact, the most effective way to improve compliance with bail conditions is in the provision of bail supports and services, including community-based bail hostels, particularly where the accused person has a chaotic life and complex personal challenges.

For more detail on IPRT's position on the use of bail and remand, and the evidence which informs it, see here.

Electronic Tagging

Fine Gael commits to the introduction of electronic tagging of those on bail, where requested by Gardaí. IPRT believes there may be merit in electronic tagging of accused persons as a genuine alternative to detention on remand, provided certain safeguards are in place.

For more detail on IPRT's position on electronic tagging as an alternative to remand, see here.

Ending Automatic Remission

IPRT is opposed to Fine Gael's headline proposal to end standard remission. However, IPRT does support proposals to increase enhanced remission for offenders who engage with rehabilitative services and treatment; steps should be taken to ensure that these services are accessible to all prisoners. Similarly, we welcome proposals to increase the use of the highly successful community return programme.

IPRT strongly supports Fine Gael's commitment to place the Parole Board on a statutory, independent footing.

For more detail on IPRT's position on remission, temporary release, and parole reform, see here.

Community Sanctions for Minor Offences

IPRT supports Fine Gael's proposals to increase the use of supervised community sanctions for non-violent and minor offences. Community sanctions are proven to be more cost-effective and less damaging responses to less serious offending.

For more detail on IPRT's position on community sanctions, and the evidence that informs it, see here.

IPRT will launch ground-breaking original research on the relative effectiveness of short prison sentences and community sanctions in Ireland in June 2016.

Supervising Prolific Offenders Post-Release

Fine Gael commits to strengthening the supervision of "prolific repeat offenders" in the community on release from prison. To succeed, this should form part of an inter-agency approach to managing prisoner release, involving prison, probation, housing, education, employment, health, and mental health services.

For more detail on IPRT's research in the area of reintegration of offenders, see here.

Restorative Justice and Community Intervention

IPRT welcomes Fine Gael's proposal of introducing a new community justice intervention scheme for persistent low-level adult offenders, which emphasises diversion from the Courts system, and addressing the causes of offending behaviour.

For more detail on IPRT's position on non-custodial alternatives to offending by women, and the evidence that informs it, see here.

Legislative Reform

IPRT's position is that the criminal justice system should treat all transgressors in an equitable manner. This means that the crimes of the rich as well as the poor should be investigated, prosecuted and punished with equal vigour. Imprisonment should be the last resort for all categories of offender and not just those who come from the more privileged sections of society.

Among Fine Gael's proposals is a commitment to enacting legislation to strengthen the post-release supervision of sex offenders, and allow disclosure by Gardaí of details on sex offenders where they believe public safety concerns exist. Community supervision and supports form an important role in rehabilitation, along with provision of stable accommodation. IPRT also emphasises the importance of robust safeguards around the disclosure of information in order to ensure public safety.

For IPRT research on Ireland's disproportionate punishment of the poor, see here.

For more detail on IPRT's research in the area of reintegration of offenders, see here.


See IPRT's 'Smart Justice, Safer Communities' Penal Policy Directions 2016-2021 here.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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