The Irish Times
Jailing of TDs ‘ridiculous waste’ of Garda time
for non-payment of fines is common practice TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace were this week arrested and taken to Limerick Prison over their refusal to pay ¤2,000 court fines imposed for entering a restricted area at Shannon Airport with a view to inspecting US military aircraft.
They spent about two hours in the jail before being released and having their fines expunged. They were granted temporary release, which essentially means early release as they will not be rearrested unless they offend again. The practice is widespread.
An Irish Prison Service source said it was “no secret” that people committed for non-payment of fines were often released “within hours”.
In 2014, 8,965 people were sent to jail for the non-payment of fines, and most were immediately released. Apart from a minor aberration in 2013, this figure has been rising steadily – 8,121 people were committed in 2013; 8,304 in 2012; 7,514 in 2011; 6,683 in 2010; 4,806 in 2009, and 2,520 in 2008.
These cases require their fair share of Garda resources, with at least two officers escorting the prisoner to jail. In many instances long journeys are involved – in the cases of the TDs, they were driven from Dublin to Limerick.
A spokesman for the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) said the jailing of offenders for non-payment of fines was a “ridiculous waste of Garda time”.
“A single garda can’t take an individual so we’re talking about a number of gardaí here,” he said. “It’s taking people away from frontline service delivery.”
He said Agsi believed “an attachment order on people’s incomes would be a better way of recovering the money” than bringing them to jail.
A Garda Inspectorate report published this week criticises Garda resource management and recommends up to 1,000 officers be freed up from desk duties for core policing work.
In some cases, gardaí have been known to escort prisoners in taxis, but the spokesman said he did not believe this practice was still widespread.
“It could be even worse than that,” he said. “It could be a patrol car. So the patrol car that is available for policing services is on its way to Dublin from Athlone or Galway.”
He said the practice also damaged relations between local people and community gardaí. “The gardaí are seen as the worst in the world again but we’re duty bound because it’s a court order.”
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil in February that the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 had been signed into law and was designed “to effectively eliminate, in so far as is possible, the need for judges to commit anyone to prison for the non-payment of a fine”.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the legislation would come into effect in January and would make it possible for fines to be paid in instalments at post offices. “It will be open to the courts to impose an attachment of earnings order to an individual’s income in the event of default once the legislation has been commenced in January,” he said.