Victims to be priority in new parole process, says chief executive

The new Parole Board, which for the first time is fully independent from the Minister for Justice, was launched last August.
Victims to be priority in new parole process, says chief executive

By Dominic McGrath, PA

The new boss of the Irish Parole Board has said that victims will be her priority in the months to come.

Chief executive Ciairin de Buis also told the PA news agency that within two years she hopes to end the lengthy prisoner backlogs that have for years plagued the Irish parole system.

Ms de Buis, who is originally from Co Kerry, took up the role in January after the Government announced a major reform of the parole system last year.

The new Parole Board, which for the first time is fully independent from the Minister for Justice, was launched last August.


Under the new system, the time a life-sentenced prisoner must now serve before being considered for parole has increased from seven to 12 years.

For the first time, victims will also have a formal right to make submissions to the Parole Board.

It is this change that Ms de Buis says is particularly important.

“In the past, victims wouldn’t have had the same rights that they do now have under the legislation so a lot of my concentration over the past couple of weeks has been getting things up and running, putting the process into place.

“Things as basic as where do we find contact details for victims.”

She said her initial focus will be on making the process work for victims of serious crimes.

Ms de Buis, who is a law graduate with a master’s degree in criminology and a former member of the old Parole Board, said it is vital the “nuts and bolts” of the process are in place so that victims, especially women, have “confidence” that they are being taken seriously.

“I’m very conscious that when we contact victims, it may well be the first time they’ve had any contact from the State about the incident, which was probably the worst day of their lives.

“And it’s important that we hear – and I mean really hear – what victims have experienced and are experiencing and their concerns.”

She said there will be no pressure for anyone to engage with the process if they do not want to.

“It’s entirely down to themselves as to what they do and that’s very much down to where they are in their own particular life and journey with that,” she said.

Ms de Buis, who will be in the role for at least an initial five-year term, admits that there are challenges.

The Parole Board, which is based in Dublin, has 14 staff members.

While that number should soon increase to just under 20, she admits that it is a “very small” team for the scale of the role.

“It’s a big increase in what was there before. It’s still a small team with enormous responsibility.”

Asked if she would like extra resources for the organisations, she said: “I don’t think there’s any chief executives in any organisation that wouldn’t want more resources.

“And I’m not being flippant in saying that, of course we would. But anywhere is stretched. And it’s particularly we’re stretched at the moment because it is also so new.”

One of those major challenges will be preventing delays and backlogs.

Between January and June last year, 94 parole cases were reviewed more than six months after the scheduled review date.

One case was delayed beyond 36 months.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) had previously called delays with reviews “endemic”.

Ms de Buis said that in a “very strict sense”, there is no longer a backlog.

“We’re a new board. So the previous backlog doesn’t transfer over in the same way.

“What we’ve done is we’ve developed a system where we’re looking both at the time since the parole applicant’s previous review date, so when they would have been expecting to have a review had the old system continued and also looking at the time somebody has spent in prison, and then prioritising people according to that,” she told.

This transition phase should last one to two years, she said.

“Everyone’s application will be heard over the course of this year and next year. And after which it will run much more smoothly because then we will be doing ongoing reviews.

She said: “There will be people whose reviews would happen two years beyond which they should have happened, so two years late. That’s not going to happen under the new system.”

The new chief executive also said she expects the Parole Board to take a “pragmatic” approach to applications from prisoners, many of whom have had access to supports and rehabilitative services severely constrained by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“That’s down to the board members in terms of their decision,” she said.

“Because I don’t want to pre-empt any board decisions on that.

“But the pandemic has affected all of us and how we can work and what we can do and I’d say the prison community more than most, because they didn’t have Zoom and the other facilities that somebody working from home could do.

“So there will be a pragmatic approach to that. And don’t forget that the previous recommendations were on a previous board as well.

“This is very much an independent new board, in terms of its decision making.”

Ms de Buis, who was hired with little experience of the civil service or public sector, is adamant she brings something different to the role.

“I know I do. You come from a different culture. So you do approach things differently. And I think that’s very valuable to have within a team, having people coming from different perspectives.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more