Dáil Éireann - Volume 362 - 17 December, 1985
Private Members' Business. - Crime Situation.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Barrett, Dún Laoghaire) Nuala Fennell
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Barrett, Dún Laoghaire): By agreement and notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders. Members shall be called in Private Members' time this evening as follows: 7 p.m. to 7.25 p.m., Fianna Fáil speaker; 7.25 p.m. to 7.50 p.m., Government speaker; 7.50 p.m. to 8.08 p.m., Fianna Fáil speaker; 8.08 p.m. to 8.15 p.m., Government speaker and 8.15 p.m. to 8.30 p.m., Fianna Fáil speaker.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Noonan, Limerick West) Acting Chairman (Mr. Noonan, Limerick West)
Acting Chairman (Mr. Noonan, Limerick West): Is that agreed? Agreed.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I move:
That Dáil Éireann deeply concerned about the continuing deterioration of law and order, the rising tide of violence, crime and murder, and the breakdown of the prison system; condemns the failure of the Government to take any effective action to deal with this menacing situation, calls on the Government to undertake a comprehensive programme of positive action, to give priority in the allocation of personnel and resources to the protection of the general public and calls on local communities to give full support to the Gardaí in their efforts to combat crime.
Violence and crime are becoming widespread in the community especially in city areas. Fear stalks our streets even in broad daylight. Housewives and the elderly live in fear of bag snatching, mugging and personal assault. Housewives  and old folk are prisoners in their own homes and increasingly fear rape and assault. This is a reality in the communities in which I live in Dublin today and I know the same is happening in other parts of the country. Shopkeepers, small businesses, post offices and banks staff know a new kind of fear and violence, that of being suddenly confronted by thugs with guns or iron bars. Pharmacists are well accustomed to being attacked. Dublin jewellers have had to lock their doors. Even some florists and boutiques keep their doors locked and check customers before admitting them.
That is the sad reality of life especially in Dublin today. I have been very much aware of the position with regard to jewellers, of the great fears of shopkeepers and the number of them being attacked. In fact several were attacked in my community over the past weekend, again with iron bars. But when one discovers that even florists and boutiques have to keep their doors locked and check customers before admitting them, that is a frightening, new development. Apparently a balaclava and an iron bar are sufficient with which to set out on an attack. From figures the Minister gave us recently it is clear that the average takings are of the order of £500, perhaps a little less, but the savagery of the attacks is something that is frightening and is a new development.
Burglaries in private homes have doubled. House insurance premiums have increased 100 per cent this year alone due to the increase in the number of breakins. Many centre city businesses cannot get any insurance cover against burglary and are trading under impossible conditions. Dublin has become a city of shutters; everywhere must be shuttered, barred and locked. That is the reality of Dublin today. Even with these bars and locks—because roofs are more accessible—many of these businesses are unable to get insurance cover at all. There is another aspect, that is that there is a general acceptance of crime and lawlessness as a new and frightening reality.
 Since 1982 the number of people in the community charged with driving uninsured cars has risen from 62,000 to 107,000, that is from 1982 to 1984, and those without driving licences increased from 54,000 to 100,000. This illustrates a general breakdown in respect for the law. People seem to know that the law is not working. Certainly they are working outside the law in increasing numbers. That is frightening in terms of a general community response. Even more worrying has been the doubling over the same period of the incidence of aggravated burglary and burglary with firearms. This clearly demonstrates how violent crime has become. The indications are that it will be even higher in 1985 because the signs are that this kind of aggravated burglary, burglary with weapons and violence, is one of the increasing features of present-day crime.
There is need now for a comprehensive programme to reduce crime. The Government have failed to take positive action in the allocation of personnel and resources to defeat crime. Admittedly the Minister for Justice has done his best in certain areas. But when one looks at the overall situation, the overall impact of crime and at the allocation of resources, one finds that the Government have not allocated sufficient resources to this area. We all know that one of the most valuable methods of providing peace and security to homes, streets and businesses is through an effective Garda Síochána force. The Garda Sióchána are highly respected and have been very effective in ensuring that law and order prevailed down through the years. The reality is that this Government reduced the new strength of 12,000 Garda, introduced by Fianna Fáil in 1982, to 11,400. From the very beginning they contended they did not need as many gardaí as their predecessors felt were necessary.
That was the first step this Government took. Whether the Minister acquiesced in that decision or welcomed it is another question—I do not know what way he approached it—but I do know that the Government considered that the Garda strength provided for by their prececessors  was not necessary. Consequently there are today 600 fewer gardaí on the streets than we had considered essential for adequate policing from 1982 onwards. In addition, the availability of Garda members and their flexibility in operation have been restricted by massive cutbacks in overtime. In the Dublin Metropolitan areas overtime was cut back by a massive 38 per cent from 1982 to 1984. In the country as a whole the cutback was 36 per cent over the same period. This year the restriction would appear to have been even greater and there was no Supplementary Estimate for the Garda last week. I was quite surprised at that because the Minister had said that special provision was being made for the autumn period, which special provision I thought might have resulted in a Supplementary Estimate. Perhaps the Minister found money somewhere else, but it looks as if the situation will be even worse in 1986.
My colleague, Deputy Briscoe, put down Questions Nos. 176 and 177 on today's Order Paper and the reply to them was that the hours of overtime for the Dublin metropolitan area for the first nine months of this year are of an order that would bring them to not more than last year's. If some members have been moved to Border areas the allocation of overtime to the Border areas may reduce it further. Certainly we have had a massive reduction in overtime since 1982. Now the Minister tells us that more gardaí have been sent to the Border areas to honour the Government's commitments under the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Will the streets of our main cities be denuded of gardaí as a result of the Government's decision to send more men to police the Border? If this is the case there must be an immediate allocation to offset this loss of personnel, especially in high crime areas. The Minister talked about some arrangement. We have seen nothing of it. It did not turn up in the Supplementary Estimates, but if more men are to go to the Border there must be an immediate allocation to offset their loss.
While the Government continue to delude themselves into thinking that  things are improving, the situation on the ground is disastrous. People are crying out for gardaí on the beat and around urban shopping centres. Last week, following a bank robbery and an attack with an iron bar on a constituent of mine as he was lodging money in a bank on the south side, both incidents occurring in broad daylight, I called on one of my local Garda stations, Coolock, to see why a promised patrol in that area had not appeared. I had contacted them earlier and asked why, coming up to Christmas with the high rate of bag snatching and so on, it did not seem to be taking place this year when it had been done last year on request. I found that for 70,000 people 17 gardaí and three sergeants were on duty and out of this total only one was available for beat duty for that day, and he had been called away to man broken traffic lights at a busy junction on the Malahide Road. Therefore, nobody was available in the whole area for beat duty. The other members were on station duty. Two men were on drug surveillance, a new aspect of the work. We can understand the need for this surveillance, but that took two more men out. There were mobile units, and of course, some gardaí were at the courts. One was on sick leave at the time. The net effect was that nobody was there to do beat duty.
They were snowed under with time consuming tasks of preparing files and statements either in handwriting or by one-finger typing on outdated machines. They were bogged down under reams of paper and had no secretarial or administrative assistance. Four units, each with 20 men — 80 gardaí — had not a single typist or clerical assistant. That brings the reality home to the ordinary man's mind. Go to AnCO or anywhere you like, to any business or any Government Department, you will not find 80 men all trained to do specialist work without a single clerical or typing assistant. This was mind boggling. A fundamental change is needed in this organisation. We have talked here about the need for change in the management of the Garda, for new approaches to the management in total, but go to the other end and look at the  workings on the ground. That one I found quite astounding. Police should be doing police work and not wasting valuable time as very poor typists. They will tell you that that is the case, that they are not trained in typing and are working either by one or two finger typing or by handwriting, but the files must be right. Here we must realise the crucial nature of the files that these men and women have to prepare. They must give attention to them. This is paramount in their police work. If a file goes forward with errors or mistakes in it much difficulty and trouble can result afterwards. Therefore, these members must sit in for hours on this slow typing process and that is time taken away from crime prevention and from work on the beat.
The Government have more than enough surveys and reports on administration, yet they do nothing in this area. The Garda cannot give a proper service to the public on this basis. In London there are 27,000 police members backed by 14,000 civilians. That is roughly one civilian to each two police members. Here we have 11,400 gardaí and 597 civilians, or one to 19. Even at that, 36 of these posts were embargoed earlier this year and gardaí were taken off the beat to fill in. Therefore, in effect probably we have a ratio of 1:20 rather than 1:19. These 80 men need a minimum of three support staff for typing and administration. This whole area needs urgent attention and resource allocation, and priority must be given to protecting the public, to getting out to do the job that is needed on the streets. When we examine how the system is working and what is happening within it we find that the gardaí are hampered in these ways. They are taking criticism from the public when that criticism should be levelled at the Government because the Government are not providing the resources. Indeed, I call on the public to give their full support to the Garda and we will give our full support to the Minister in demanding from the Government the resources he needs to mobilise these Garda members and put them out on to the streets and  let them get on with the work they are trained for. He will have our full support in pressing that at the Cabinet table. I bring it up here so forcefully tonight because I believe that if this approach is taken to the administration of the Garda Síochána then tremendous energies can be released out on to the streets to tackle crime and give a new feeling of confidence and security to people in their homes, offices and businesses. We supported the introduction of the neighbourhood watch scheme and Members on all sides encouraged the general public to support it but it is not sufficient. We must have more gardaí on the beat if people are to have a sense of security on our streets, in their homes and at work.
The Minister should take a fresh look at this problem and introduce a programme with a new commitment of resources to tackle crime. Many other matters need to be considered such as business watch and home beats for gardaí but whatever about those suggestions more gardaí must be put on the streets to give confidence to house wives and the elderly. I should like to call on the public to give their support to the Garda to encourage them in the work they are involved in on our behalf. They should be assisted in every way in tackling crime.
It is clear that the Government are falling short in their allocation of resources to the Garda. No amount of juggling with figures, covering up with figures for overtime and so on, will get away from the fact that fewer gardaí are patrolling our streets. I accept that more gardaí were appointed—our programme was to appoint even more to the Force —but the whole point in taking on more recruits was to have more men on the beat and not, through massive cuts in overtime, to reduce the effect of the extra Gardaí. In practice the additional appointments were not noticed on our streets and the Government must stand condemned for that.
I am sure that if the Minister were to tell the truth he would say that he would be happy to have extra personnel and permission to allow more overtime so as to ensure that leading up to Christmas  the areas where crime is prevalent can be policed properly. Last year we found that by providing extra police in some areas in the period leading up to Christmas there was little need for them after the holidays. The pre-Christmas period was a peak time for crime. I do not know the reason why the need for the additional police diminished but the system we operated last year worked out fairly well.
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East) Mr. Noonan (Limerick East)
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): When the Deputy says, “we”, to whom is he referring?
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I am referring to our local community.
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East) Mr. Noonan (Limerick East)
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Is the Deputy arranging policing in that area?
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: We make representations. When several people have been knifed, handbags are snatched and others are beaten at night we make representations to the Garda authorities. I do not wish to mention the place but if the Minister wishes I will mention the areas that are causing concern in Limerick.
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East) Mr. Noonan (Limerick East)
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): When the Deputy said, “we”, in regard to arrangements made last year I was wondering if we had a new commissioner.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: The Minister, through the commissioner, is encouraging people living in problem areas, to put forward, proposals to the Garda. If neighbourhood watch means anything it means letting the Garda and the Commissioner know where the problems are. I am referring to an areas where there is a very serious crime problem. The Minister must bear in mind that the branch of a bank closed in my constituency because it was being attacked and vandalised.
Extra gardaí on the beat would make a big difference. However, when gardaí are bogged down with extra duties as at present it is difficult to expect results. The Minister should provide secretarial assistance in the area I referred to because the crime level is very high.  Resources are not adequate to get more gardaí on the beat. If it is important that officials in AnCO and Government Departments should have secretarial support, then it is more important that such assistance is provided for gardaí. The Minister should pursue his Cabinet colleagues to get the necessary resources to give us the security we need on our streets.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East) Michael Noonan
Minister for Justice (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East): I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and before “and call on local communities to give full support to the Gardaí in their efforts to combat crime” and substitute therefor:
“Dáil Éireann commends the efforts of the Government, the Minister for Justice, the Garda Síochána and the prison service in the fight against crime and in coping with the unprecedented growth in the numbers in custody”.
The motion will now read:
That Dáil Éireann commends the efforts of the Government, the Minister for Justice, the Garda Síochána and the prison service in the fight against crime and in coping with the unprecedent growth in the numbers in custody and calls on local communities to give full support to the Gardaí in their efforts to combat crime.
The motion, which has been tabled by Deputies Woods and Hyland paints a completely false picture of present trends. I am sorry to have to say it but it seems to me that their primary concern must be, not to make any constructive contribution to the crime debate, but simply to try to denigrate the considerable effort which the Government have put into tackling crime. The record, however, speaks for itself. The overall crime level is not increasing at the present time. Deputies opposite must be well aware that the Garda Commissioner reported a reduction of 2.6 per cent in the level of indictable crime last year. While this  reduction is not one which should give rise to complacency it was, nonetheless, very significant because it was the first time the crime rate had actually fallen in some seven years. So far this year provisional figures available to the Garda indicate that this decreasing trend in the overall indictable crime level is being sustained.
It might be interesting to examine in a little more detail what has happened in relation to crime trends in recent years. Between 1977 and 1981 indictable crime rose by some 42 per cent. This was a period during which the Justice portfolio was held by colleagues of the movers of the motion now under debate. In the period which has elapsed since I assumed office as Minister for Justice, indictable crime has, in contrast, risen by a little over 2 per cent. While I would not claim this as a major achievement — accepting, as I do, that much more needs to be done — I do claim that the Government have done far more to address the problem than did the preceding Government of my friends opposite and the figures amply prove this.
Crime here has increased very rapidly over the last 20 years or so and has now reached the stage where it has become one of the most serious public issues. There is no doubting that there is a widespread concern about crime and that crime and fear of crime is affecting the well-being of our society. The general public reaction has been to turn to the Minister for Justice, the Garda Síochána, the courts and the prisons and to demand a solution. This reaction, while it is quite understandable, is to some extent unrealistic in its expectations. It must be obvious to all that Irish society has changed radically over the last 20 to 30 years and that this change has been accompanied by new patterns of crime and anti-social behaviour. It is unrealistic to expect the criminal justice system to provide an antidote for this developing poison in our society; to expect it to enforce the standards and mores of the thirties and forties when society at large no longer accepts or applies these standards. I, as Minister  for Justice, have no magic wand which I can wave to make crime disappear. But I can strengthen the criminal justice system and improve the criminal law to deal with particular manifestations of criminal behaviour. I can make manpower, equipment, and other resources available to the maximum extent possible within the limit of our national finances. I have done this and real progress is at last being made in getting to grips with crime despite what the Deputies opposite would like to suggest.
Concern has been expressed at the number of recent murders which sadly have taken place and it has been suggested that this is a symptom of a breakdown in law and order. Murder is, of course, among the worst of all crimes and there is no level at which it can be regarded as acceptable. There is, however, no evidence to support the suggestion that this crime is becoming more prevalent. During the last ten years the number of murders committed annually has ranged from 14 at the lowest to 26 at the highest. The number of murders recorded last year was 23, exactly the same number as was recorded in 1975. I make this point not to diminish in any way the awful tragedies which lie behind the figures, but to scotch the exaggerated notion propounded by some that we are now somehow on an accelerating slide to perdition.
Let me cite some examples of how crime is being successfully tackled — yes, successfully tackled. Last winter saw an outbreak of two particularly heinous activities — attacks on elderly people living in isolated areas and the reckless driving of stolen cars by young hooligans round the streets of our major cities. The Garda put considerable effort into tackling these crimes with very significant success. With the help of bodies like Muintir na Tíre and concerned local communities, they have reduced the incidence of attacks on elderly people in rural areas. Likewise, they have been successful in reducing the incidence of joyriding escapades.
Again, in relation to the area of drug abuse the position is that immediately on  taking office this Government set about tackling the problem by setting up the special Government task force to examine and make recommendations on what needed to be done. The recommendations which the task force produced and which were widely welcomed are now being implemented and there is evidence to suggest that the measures which have been and are being taken are achieving success in terms of stemming the growth of abuse. The Garda have, I am glad to say, successfully got to grips with this problem in the last couple of years, as evidenced by the quantities of illicit drugs which have been seized and in the numbers arrested and successfully prosecuted — some being the biggest pushers in the drug trade. I am informed by the Garda authorities that, as a result, they have reason to believe that since 1983 illegal trafficking in drugs has levelled off and that the situation is now improving. In 1984, despite an intensification in Garda activity there was a decrease in the level of drug seizures and in the number of persons charged with drug offences, which is further evidence of a drop in drug trafficking. However, there will be no complacency and new trends, particularly with regard to cocaine, are being carefully watched.
During the term of office of this Government, the Garda have been encouraged and supported in developing new strategies to deal with crime. Emphasis has been placed on community policing and in getting Garda and the community into a co-operative and supportive relationship to jointly tackle crime. I am personally convinced of the importance of developing a preventive approach to crime and it is because of that conviction that I have been very keen to have neighbourhood watch schemes adopted as widely as possible in the community. Earlier this year the Government provided funds for the promotion of the scheme and this has given a tremendous impetus to its expansion. I am sure that communities which adopt neighbourhood watch will benefit in terms of a reduction in crime and vandalism on their streets, or in their estates. They will also  have the satisfaction of knowing that they have done something positive, something constructive, to deal with crime rather than just sitting back and throwing brickbats at the Government and at the Garda.
To reverse the well established trend in increasing crime rates requires a great deal of effort and perseverence. This Government have been prepared to make the effort needed and, as I said at the outset of my speech, the trend is now being reversed. Any constructive suggestions which Deputies speaking to this motion and amendment tonight can give me which may lend impetus to a downward trend in crime will be welcomed by me.
Naturally, the availability of Garda manpower resources is a fundamental aspect of the fight against crime. As I have already informed the House, there has been a net increase of over 700 members in the strength of the Garda Síochána since 1 December 1982, bringing the current overall strength of the force to just under 11,400. The national plan provides that the strength of the Garda Síochána will be maintained at 11,400 over the period 1985 to 1987 and this means that despite restrictions on public service numbers generally, recruitment to the force will be continued. Over the past year, some 250 recruits have been appointed to the force and, while the precise number to be appointed during the next two years will depend on the level of vacancies arising from resignations, retirements and deaths, it is estimated that it will be in the order of 700.
It is a matter for the Garda authorities to deploy the available resources in the best possible way having regard to their assessment of needs and demands at any given time. It is true that in recent months, additional gardaí have been allocated to Border divisions by the redeployment of manpower from other divisions on a temporary basis. However, the Garda authorities are keeping the policing needs of other areas, particularly cities and areas where the incidence of crime is high, under constant review and appropriate measures have been taken to  ensure that the general level of policing is adequate. These measures include the provision of extra funds for overtime. Particular emphasis is being placed on Garda foot patrolling as an aid to crime prevention and it is the policy of the commissioner to have as many gardaí as possible on foot patrol duty, having regard to other commitments.
As far as recruitment is concerned, I have already announced publicly that new procedures will apply to future recruitment competitions. In this regard, I am at present in the process of reviewing the standards and requirements for admission to the force. I hope to be in a position soon to announce details of a new competition which is likely to be held in the spring of next year.
It has been the policy to appoint civilians to clerical posts in Garda offices to the maximum extent possible and at present approximately 430 are so employed. In addition, in the context of implementing the Government White Paper, “Serving the Country Better”, which provides that a new category of temporary clerical trainee would be established to gain experience of office work at clerical level, a total of 129 temporary clerical trainees have been sought for work in Garda offices. Recruitment of these trainees has recently commenced and initial assignments to Garda offices have begun. Steps have been and are being taken to ensure that the Garda have the benefit of the most modern equipment and up-to-date technology available.
Government commitment to the new Garda national communications network, which is currently being provided for the Garda, is being maintained. This network, when completed, will provide the Garda with one of the best communications systems in Europe. The system will mean much greater efficiency for the Garda in the transmission and exchange of information and in the utilisation of manpower. It will also mean an improved police service for the public — for example, in terms of a quick response by the Garda to calls for assistance. The new  system has been installed at all Garda stations outside the Dublin metropolitan area.
A new network is also being provided for the Garda in the Dublin area. I placed a £2 million contract in April of this year for this project and it is intended that it will come into operation in mid-1986. This contract covers equipment to be installed in the 43 Garda stations in the Dublin area and in a number of elevated sites in the vicinity of Dublin city. It also includes equipment for the most modern type of central control room which is being provided in the Garda Dublin metropolitan area headquarters in Harcourt Square, to replace the existing control room which is no longer adequate for Garda needs.
Computerisation is another area of technology which has been put at the disposal of the Garda. The Garda have their own computer since 1981 and they are at present operating systems on it which provide fast information when needed on stolen vehicles, firearms, crime and criminal records. These systems are being continually improved and refined to make Garda investigation more efficient. My Department placed a contract for over £300,000 last month for the purchase of a new computer for the Garda Síochána. This will replace the existing Garda computer which is no longer adequate to meet the needs of the force and will facilitate considerable expansion of the service being provided.
Approximately 60 visual display units and ancillary equipment were purchased towards the end of last year. This equipment has enabled all the 18 divisional headquarters and some other major stations outside the Dublin metropolitan area and nine of the busiest stations within the Dublin area to have a direct link to the Garda computer. It has also enabled an improved computer service to be provided from Garda headquarters in Phoenix Part and the Dublin area headquarters. This facility for immediate access to computer records — for example, to check out stolen or suspect vehicles — is of great practical assistance to the Garda.
 The greatest asset which a police force have are their own manpower and it is essential, therefore, to ensure that this resource is developed in every way possible by the provision of effective training. The Commissioner, with my approval, established a committee in January under the chairmanship of Dr. Thomas Walsh to undertake a thorough review of Garda training. The committee, who include people from the private sector and the academic field who are experienced in personnel training and development, have been asked to examine Garda training at all levels from recruit intake stage up to and including the courses provided for senior management in the Garda college and to make any recommendations considered necessary. I understand that a first report by the committee, which will cover basic training of recruit garda is expected to be ready within the next few weeks. It is my hope that it will be possible to implement some, at least, of their recommendations in time to benefit the next batch of recruits joining the force.
An important element in the Government's programme for tackling the crime problem has been the reform of our criminal law and procedure. The introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill within a year of the Government taking office honoured the commitment contained in the Programme for Government to strengthen the criminal law. In promoting the Criminal Justice Bill, the Government recognised that the hands of the Garda needed to be strengthened, not only by increasing the physical resources available to them but also by giving them the legal powers necessary to bring offenders to justice. Similarly, the Government recognised that changes were long overdue in relation to certain aspects of our court procedure — that the balance between the rights of the accused on the one hand and the community on the other had become distorted and leaned too heavily in favour of the accused.
The Criminal Justice Act, 1984 contains important reforms of our criminal law. It has been described as the most  important development in criminal law and procedure since the foundation of the State. Many provisions of the Act are already in force; others await the establishment of the new Garda Síochána Complaints Board and the making of regulations on the treatment of persons in custody.
The Bill to allow for the establishment of the Garda Síochána Complaints Board has already been introduced. I hope it will be possible for the Bill to receive its Second Stage reading here in the Dáil early in the new year. The preliminary work on the new regulations on the treatment of persons in custody has also recently been completed. I will be submitting these regulations to Government for approval in the near future and my intention then is to publish them as proposals, in order to allow all interested groups an opportunity to comment on them in advance of their being laid in draft form before the Dáil and Seanad.
The introduction of an independent complaints procedure and the new statutory regulations on the treatment of persons in custody will contribute significantly to maintaining and developing the confidence and trust between the force and the public which is essential in securing the co-operation which the Garda need if they are to combat crime effectively.
The effect of all these measures together will be to ensure that the Garda not only have adequate powers to investigate serious crime but also to provide firm guarantees that they will be fully accountable for the welfare of persons in their custody.
I now turn to the prisons. The motion before the House suggests that Dáil Éireann should express deep concern at what is called “the breakdown of the prison system”. In the amendment which I am putting forward I ask the House, instead, to commend, among others, the dedicated and effective efforts of management and staff of the prison service to cope with the unprecedented growth in the numbers in custody. The suggestion that our prison system has broken down is so out of touch with reality as to be  clearly absurd and I do not believe it either requires or deserves refutation, but I would remind the House that putting forward a suggestion of that kind can only serve to offer consolation to criminals and undermine the efforts of those involved in the operation and administration of our prisons. Theirs, particularly in recent years, has been a difficult task and I suggest that some Members of this House would do us all a service if, rather than cynically hyping difficulties which are inevitable given the demands placed upon the prison system, they adopted a sensible and supportive approach.
In asking for at least that level of responsibility I am not suggesting that the operation of our prison system should be exempt from critical examination or that there is not a need for continuous improvements. In fact the House will be aware that earlier this year we had the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Penal System, which I appointed. The committee's analysis and recommendations are far-reaching and are being examined in my Department. I cannot say that all of the recommendations made by the committee will prove acceptable, but I can assure the House that if any of them are to be rejected it will only be where a thorough analysis indicates that the balance of public interest lies elsewhere. I published the Whitaker report within days of having received it and called for a thorough and balanced public debate on the issues dealt with by the committee which, by the way, was the first of its kind for over a hundred years. I think it fair to say that, at the very least, ill-founded claims about a so-called breakdown of the prison system do not add to the quality of that debate.
I believe any objective assessment of the operation of the prison system made in the light of the extraordinary demands placed on it over the past three years would show a substantial record of achievement. Between the years 1972 and 1982 the average numbers in custody increased by 200 from about 1,000 to 1,200. In the three years since, the population has gone to near 2,000 — an  increase of almost 800. So the actual increase over the past three years has been four times greater than the increase which took place over all of the previous ten years. I have indicated to this House on many occasions that, while that level of increase over such a short period has caused inevitable difficulties, it reflects a conscious — and, I believe, correct — decision on the part of the Government that people convicted for serious offences should serve the sentences imposed on them by the courts. The public concern about crime has been so intense that it would be unthinkable that people sentenced to imprisonment for serious offences should not be required to serve their sentences for want of prison space. The Government have a duty to respond to that public concern and they will continue to do so. They will not be deflected by the efforts of those who seek to exploit the inevitable difficulties which arise.
That type of opportunism was perhaps most evident after the disturbance at Fort Mitchel on Spike Island. I hardly need recall for this House the attempts which were made at that time by people who should have known better to gain advantage through the destructive activities of a group of prisoners who abused the type of regime provided at the fort.
The decision to acquire Fort Mitchel was taken against a background where there was no new purpose-built prison accommodation available. The Wheatfield project, which I proceeded with as a matter of urgency, could not be completed quickly enough to bring immediate relief to the system. The alternative to attempting to use Fort Mitchel as custodial accommodation was to let out on the streets people sentenced to imprisonment for serious offences after they had served only a small part of their sentences. In those circumstances only one decision could be taken. The disturbance at Spike has to be seen in the context of the damage and misery for our community had the prison system not attempted to provide adequate space for offenders committed by the courts. At the end of the day the important facts are that the fort achieved its purpose and  during the course of the disturbance no one was seriously hurt and no one escaped. I think that at a time when the prison system is making strenuous efforts to cope with an increase in the number of offenders over the past three years of over 50 per cent it is only fair that, if it is to be criticised, it should be on the basis of what actually happens rather than versions of what might have been.
That applies equally to the recent attempted escape from Portlaoise Prison. While the amount of contraband material available to the prisoners there was most distrubing, the bottom line is that the escape attempt failed — and it failed specifically because of increased security measures taken there in early 1984.
Not only has the prison system had to cope with unprecedented growth in numbers, but it has had to do so at a time when an increasing number of offenders being committed have drug-related problems. At Question Time recently in the House I dealt at length with the difficulties which this poses for the prison system and I do not think that there should be any need for me to repeat now what I had to say then. I can assure the House, however, that there is no lack of will on the part of my Department to resolve these difficulties as effectively as possible. But, as I have said previously, there are conflicting demands which arise in the prisons and reconciling them fully is not always possible. For example, the type of regime which might prove necessary to come close to absolutely preventing illegal drugs being brought into prison could be so oppressive as to be impossible to defend. In fact, the Whitaker report recommends that a special review of all current restrictions should be carried out by the prison authorities with a view to relaxing or removing them for as many prisoners as possible.
I have been criticised from across the floor of this House for adopting a confrontational approach with the Prison Officers' Association. I have no desire for confrontation with any staff association legitimately and reasonably representing their members and I do not want to say  anything in this House which would jeopardise the numerous attempts I have made — and will continue to make — to achieve a satisfactory relationship with the Prison Officers' Association. It would be foolish to believe, however, that goodwill and responsibility on one side alone can achieve anything.
To put the perception of industrial relations in the prisons in perspective, I would refer Deputies to pages 307-310 of the Whitaker report. There they will find details of 44 instances of industrial action taken by the Prison Officers' Association in the years 1981-1983. An analysis of those disputes is a frightening reminder of the industrial anarchy which had been allowed to develop in the prisons. For example, the report cites one occasion where prison officers refused to work overtime at a particular institution when a certain assistant chief officer was on duty because that ACO had reported an officer for assaulting a prisoner and testified against the officer in the resultant court case.
Since the dispute at Mountjoy Prison in November 1983, there has not been a single instance of any hours lost in the prisons through industrial action and the increase of over 50 per cent in the number of offenders being accommodated has been achieved without any significant increase in the numbers of staff. I think those facts speak for themselves and I need do no more than record the fact that that situation was brought about, to put it at its mildest, without any help from those who seek now to characterise our prison system as broken down.
I believe that characterisation will be seen for what it is and that it will not be allowed to detract from the difficult work which staff and management of the prison service are carrying out on behalf of our society.
In conclusion, I hope that I have been able to convince the House that, far from there being any breakdown in law and order and in the prison system, the position is quite the contrary. There have been tangible improvements both in the areas of policing and custody of offenders. What is more important,  measures have been taken and will be taken to ensure that the best levels of protection for the public will be achieved.
Mr. Hyland Mr. Hyland
Mr. Hyland: I will be sharing my time with Deputy Ben Briscoe. I am pleased to have the opportunity of contributing to this debate. The Minister's scriptwriters have endeavoured as best they could to put an acceptable face on a very serious situation. I listened attentively to the Minister but I do not think that the public will draw much comfort from his speech.
Public concern and fear at the growing level of crime and violence is surpassed only by public anxiety at the growing and alarming increase in unemployment. When one recognises that there is a direct and positive link between the level of unemployment and all its associated problems, I am sure the House will agree that the situation which has developed, over the last three years in particular, is a serious indictment of Government performance in these two vital areas of national administration. Unless the view which I have expressed is written off by the Minister as a political comment, I do not need to remind him that on the debate for the Estimate of his Department last week the Minister was reminded by one of his backbenchers that we are losing the war against crime. That did more to reflect the continuing serious deterioration in law and order than anything that could be said on this side of the House. Of course the same Deputy went on to say — as one would expect — that the Minister is not responsible. I am the first to recognise that the Minister for Justice is naturally anxious to try to control the deterioration in law and order. He is a member of a Government who have been entrusted with the responsibility for overall economic management and he is responsible for maintaining law and order.
Within the confines of the debate I cannot deal at length with the Government's economic and social failures except to say that they are a major contributing factor to the serious decline in law and order. The fear of the people  and the threat to society generally by the lawbreakers is a symptom of the deeprooted failure of the Government in the area of social and economic reform. If the Minister has not succeeded in getting his colleagues in Government to recognise this fact then he must accept responsibility for protecting society from the ravages and the worst effects of the Government's failure.
When one examines the Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Justice which was introduced last week, one must be alarmed at the escalating costs of providing security. It is perhaps in this area of administration that we can reach a solution to the problem. The Government must react by providing additional finance to strengthen security but they should have invested in economic development which, of its nature, would result in a reduction in the level of crime.
Despite the Minister's good public relations and his efforts in dealing with crime, he and his Department have failed miserably and the failure is reflected daily in the growing level of serious crime, especially crime with violence resulting far too often in the taking of life, the robbing and mugging of old people in their homes, the increasing incidence of rape and the daily threat to the lives of those who have been entrusted with the task of protecting our citizens and maintaining law and order.
One of the most frightening aspects of the present state of crime is the complacency with which it is now accepted. This represents a depressing lack of confidence in this House and the Government in relation to their efforts to contain this dangerous and threatening situation. This need not be the case and I am extremely disappointed that the Minister failed to bring forward new and realistic proposals to restore law and order. Such proposals are urgently needed lest we become a nation where crime is accepted as the norm and whose people feel insecure and helpless.
Our spokesman on Justice. Deputy Woods, referred to the important role which the Garda play in relation to maintaining law and order. Since I became  deputy spokesperson in this important area I had the opportunity of meeting members of the Garda Síochána and representatives of the Prison Officers' Association. Despite what the Minister said, I have never seen the morale within the Garda Síochána and the Prison Officers' Association at a lower ebb and despite his assurances in relation to his availability for dialogue and discussion, particularly with prison officers, his contribution contained an element of confrontation. He holds a very important position and he should adopt a different attitude and role and endeavour, as soon as possible, to resume normal negotiations with the prison officers because they do an extremely difficult and dangerous job on our behalf.
The Garda Síochána are labouring under the shadow of the Garda Síochána (Complaints) Bill. For the last two months I have been asking the Minister when Second Stage will be taken which will enable us to remove the shadow hanging over them. This Bill needs to be clarified if morale in the Garda is to be restored.
In relation to prison accommodation, the Minister insinuated that any reference from this side of the House to the problem in some way undermined security and the situation in relation to the detention of offenders. It would be a poor day for the country and for this House if Members were to be restricted in publicly expressing their views on such important institutions as the prison system and the Garda Síochána. Regardless of what the Minister says about the way the prison system operates at present and despite the good presentation of the prison situation in his speech this evening, as far as Mountjoy is concerned, he is sitting on a time bomb in regard to overcrowding. It is an impossible situation for the people who administer the prison, the prison officers and, it is not often referred to in this House, for the prisoners themselves who are living in atrocious, overcrowded accommodation.
In the last month or so a tragic incident was reported in the media. Two young  offenders lost their lives in prison because of drug addiction. On a previous occasion I asked the Minister to establish a segregation unit, an isolation unit, in the prisons where prisoners with drug problems could be treated and isolated from the rest, but the Minister said he did not accept that that was the correct way to approach the problem. Yesterday we read in our newspapers the results of the inquest on one of those young offenders. The jury said the Minister should immediately set up a treatment unit in prisons for the purpose of isolating offenders who have a drug problem.
I am not an expert on prison management but it does not take a great deal of forethought to come to the conclusion that prisoners with serious drug problems should not be allowed mix with prisoners who do not have such a problem because not only are we putting the prisoners with the drug problems at risk but we are exposing the other prisoners to such a problem. The Minister should take note of the recommendations of the jury because there is a need for a special treatment unit in the prison system.
I want the Minister to do something to provide additional accommodation for prisoners. I hold the view that the decision of this Government to abandon the prison building programme which they inherited from Fianna Fáil was a very grave mistake, and will prove to be a very expensive mistake when one adds up the cost of developing Spike Island and refurbishing it after the burning of that prison, the provision of the new prison block in Cork, and so on. It is my considered view that this Government would have been far better off if they had proceeded with the advance prison building programme which they inherited from Fianna Fáil.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Noonan, Limerick West) Acting Chairman (Mr. Noonan, Limerick West)
Acting Chairman (Mr. Noonan, Limerick West): I do not like to interrupt, but the Deputy has only three minutes left.
Mr. Hyland Mr. Hyland
Mr. Hyland: I did not realise I had spoken for so long and I promised my colleague, Deputy Briscoe, a few minutes. Therefore, I will conclude.
Mr. Briscoe Mr. Briscoe
 Mr. Briscoe: I thank my colleague Deputy Hyland. I would like the Minister to believe me when I say that I am not trying to get at him. It may be the job of the Opposition to get at the Minister but——
Mr. Noonan, (Limerick East) Mr. Noonan, (Limerick East)
Mr. Noonan, (Limerick East): Do not tell me you love me——
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Deputy Briscoe without interruption, please.
Mr. Briscoe Mr. Briscoe
Mr. Briscoe: The recovery of stolen property is of deep concern not only to me but to many people. When somebody reports something has been stolen, there seems to be a lack of interest shown by the Garda. They seem to have a “you will never see that again” type of attitude and the public come away with the feeling that they will not hear any more about their stolen property, but if the Garda do hear something about their stolen property, people may hear something about it.
My car was parked in my driveway and somebody broke into it. They piled everything very neatly on the seat but took my pocket memo and dictaphone. I went to the local Garda station and gave them the numbers, but nobody came back at any stage to say that the Garda had any luck in recovering my property. We all have an idea who stole from my car because locally we know who does a lot of the thieving in the area, but the Garda should come back to the people whose cars or homes have been broken into even if it is only to say that no progress has been made but that they are keeping an eye out for the goods.
If respect for the Judiciary goes it will be a bad day for law and order. The kind of statement made by a District Justice in relation to a person who had been prosecuted for urinating in a public road, that this is acceptable by 1985 standards, is not good enough. Perhaps the Minister should have a word with the President of the District Court about this because I believe very strongly that that sort of  conduct, often done for publicity purposes, brings into bad repute the law courts of the land.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: I must ask the Deputy to refrain from criticising the Judiciary.
Mr. Briscoe Mr. Briscoe
Mr. Briscoe: I have made my point.
Mr. McGahon Mr. McGahon
Mr. McGahon: And rightly so.
Mr. Briscoe Mr. Briscoe
Mr. Briscoe: Perhaps the Minister would consider introducing a magistrate system as a pilot scheme in one or two areas, say one on the north side and one on the south side of Dublin. Maybe this will call for massive changes in the law, I do not know, but a great deal of petty crime could be dealt with at local level. It would be very interesting if the Minister would have somebody explore this idea to see how it would work.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: I must ask you to conclude.
Mr. Briscoe Mr. Briscoe
Mr. Briscoe: Deputy Ahern is giving me some of his time.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: I must call on a Government speaker next.
Mr. Briscoe Mr. Briscoe
Mr. Briscoe: There are many other points I would like to make. I do not want to just score political points, but these are very real fears in the minds of the public. I am in touch with them at all times and I know they are very worried.
Mr. McGahon Mr. McGahon
Mr. McGahon: I did not anticipate having the opportunity to speak but I would like to join the brethern across the way in suggesting that the greatest problem in the country today is the explosion of criminal behaviour. Dublin is a veritable cesspool of crime. The 1984 figures showed that goods valued at £35.5 million were stolen. This is a horrifying statistic in a country with a population of 3.5 million.
The traditional answer by all Governments has been to increase the Garda Síochána. Now we have the highest ratio  of police to population but the crime problem continues to escalate out of control. I was the Deputy to whom Deputy Hyland referred last week who said that we are losing the battle against the criminals despite the tremendous endeavours of the Minister for Justice, who is surely one of our rising political stars. However, he is powerless to prevent the crime that is manifesting itself in society and despite the best efforts of the Garda Síochána they, too, are being overwhelmed. The reality is that crime does pay.
There is no one simple answer. Certainly it is not merely to increase the personnel in the Garda Síochána or to provide them with more equipment. The equipment they have is the best available for a modern police force. The problem is a lack of deterrents, a lack of appropriate sentencing in the Circuit, District and High Courts. We are now paying the price for the liberal atmosphere that has permeated our society in the past ten or 20 years, so much so that, as Deputy Briscoe pointed out, a district justice dismissed a human animal who urinated in a public street. Recently I witnessed the same kind of animal behaviour in Grafton Street. It is symptomatic of the breakdown in law and order. There is no respect for anybody or anything.
One answer is to provide deterrents, particularly for hardened criminals who transgress against society and who are terrifying elderly people throughout the country. There are instances where elderly people living alone in Dublin lock themselves in their homes at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. on winter afternoons. Recently I met a man who was staying in the same hotel as I who sold his home to move to a hotel in order to have protection and companionship. That is happening in many cases.
The breakdown in law and order is the greatest problem confronting our society today. The prisons should be turned into penitentiaries where people will not be ill-treated but where the going will be so rough that they will make a mental resolve not to go back again. Statistics show that our jails are full of recidivists.  This proves that jail is no deterrent. As I have pointed out on many occasions, our prisons are equivalent to Grade 3 hotels.
I live in a town seven miles from the Border and I want to give the lie to the suggestion that gardaí have been taken from all over Ireland for Border duty. That has been done in a most haphazard and ineffective manner and the cost to the State is inestimable. Recently a sum of £1 million was made available for overtime duty on the Border. The gardaí man a checkpoint on the main national primary route between Dundalk and Newry, a most ineffective deployment of personnel. In the 17 long years of the Ulster troubles a seizure of arms has never been effected by that method. Instead of using the gardaí the Irish Army should be used, thus leaving the way free for the Garda Síochána to try to prevent crime in the cities.
Mr. B. Ahern Mr. B. Ahern
Mr. B. Ahern: The Minister and his scriptwriters appear to think that this motion is a personal attack on them. The Department of Justice deal with the administration of justice. They are there to protect the people. Therefore, the Minister of the day is given the task under our constitution of performing that duty. It should not be regarded as a “them” and “us” situation. The Minister appears to think that any mention of crime, whether it be robbery or murder, is to do with Michael Noonan, TD for Limerick City. That is regrettable because many of the good points put forward in this House are passed over by the Minister. He seems to think we are trying to get at him but while there might be some merit in that we are more concerned about the crime problem.
Much time is spent debating the matter. We are told there is no problem, that indictable crime is dropping, that robberies are under control, that drugs have levelled off, that assaults are a thing of the past and that muggings do not happen. We have been told that the prisons are quiet, that there are no kidnappings and that people are not terrorised  by what is happening on the streets. However, the reverse is the case. All of these things have happened. The insurance industry will not insure people in their businesses, traders are afraid going home, private security companies are making a fortune as a result of the terrorism people are suffering and the Garda are stretched to the limit and are almost helpless in many cases to assist the people. That is the reality.
The Minister is said to be a highly intelligent person and I agree with that. Yet, he just talks vaguely about matters that are being considered and implies we are an irresponsible bunch of people. That is not the case. Some time ago I walked through the streets of Limerick and found it is nearly as bad as Dublin. At midnight on a Saturday night——
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East) Mr. Noonan (Limerick East)
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): The Deputy did not act in a very tranquil way when he was in Limerick. He upset the town that weekend.
Mr. B. Ahern Mr. B. Ahern
Mr. B. Ahern: The people in Limerick are very nice but they also have a crime problem. Even during the day in Dublin businesses have shutters on their windows, they have alarm systems — even personal alarms — in operation, there are steel girders and cement on the roofs of their premises. They put in iron rods that they have taken out of old demolished buildings. They cannot get insurance in Dublin areas 1, 2, 3 and 7. Some of the bigger shops, some of the best known firms who had been trading for up to 130 years cannot get insurance. They have been robbed so many times that they do not even report these offences to the Garda. I know banks which are being robbed every day of the week. A bank was attacked in my constituency four times recently. Probably the gardaí going to the bank meet the people who have robbed it coming out and the gardaí are lucky they are not confronted with guns.
People are now being attacked going to morning Mass. At one time they were  attacked coming home at night from bingo or some other form of entertainment. In the entire north city area people are attacked at any time of the day, going to Mass in the morning, going to a post office. A neighbour of mine not in a very lucrative business was robbed recently and the three men in balaclavas ignored the alarm and took away television and video sets. Those people do not care two damns for alarms.
As a constructive Opposition we want the Minister to use the resources he has. He told us that the public were unrealistic in their expectations that the Minister, the Garda, the courts and the prisons could overcome this problem. They are the only resources we have who can resolve the crime problem and people must be able to have confidence in them. At present people do not have that confidence.
In some areas in Dublin the Garda might not have more than one car and they cannot get as quickly to the scene of a robbery as they should. In many cases when they arrive they ask for descriptions of the criminals and perhaps say: “We know him. He committed three robberies yesterday and he will probably do another four tomorrow, but we have nothing on him.” The people continue to be beleagured. That is going on in large areas of my constituency. On three or four occasions in a week recently shops were robbed but people did not bother to ring the Garda. Perhaps £20 or £30 would be taken and an old person left sprawled on the ground, but what can they do?
We are told that crime is decreasing in Dublin. I cannot speak from knowledge about any other parts of the country but I know that in Dublin people do not bother to report crime, though if they are insured they must report them. I am sure the Minister realises this. As far as drug related crimes are concerned, the godfathers have been put away in safety and it is accepted that heroin offences are not as prevalent in Dublin as they used to be.
The crime of joyriding is decreasing because justices began to impose lengthy  sentences on joyriders. If the Minister is responsible for pushing for longer sentences I congratulate him because that is the only way this type of crime can be dealt with successfully. This is the only way to deal with those little thugs, many of them from respectable families. It is the only way this form of crime can be controlled.
Of course, the liberals say that lengthy periods in prison are not the answer. To my mind they have been a deterrent and crime has been decreasing. Apparently there are now acceptable standards for those people. The liberals speak about people without work or money, people living in hardship. We had the same conditions in the fifties in Gardiner Street and elsewhere in the inner city, people living in squalor, people without social justice, but they did not have the liberals to hold their hands.
The Minister asked for constructive suggestions. One suggestion is to implement to the letter of the law the Criminal Justice Bill. In doing this the Minister should ignore the liberal element in his party who urge him to be kind and to treat with liberality the poor unemployed people who might commit crimes because of deprivation.
People say that the Garda need more manpower, more resources generally, that they should not be in offices sitting in front of typewriters. The Minister should outline his plans in respect of the Garda, his plans for recruitment to the Garda and for improvement in Garda methods.  One of the standard answers of the Garda is that they have not the necessary resources, that they have not got the equipment or the cars. Deputy Woods suggested the fact that Garda overtime has fallen is one of the reasons for the rising crime rate. Not too long ago much of the crime in Dublin was drug related. Now there is a hard core of criminals in Dublin who would not take jobs if they were offered them at £300 a week because they could make more in two or three hours. Teenagers may be involved in crime but the hard core of the criminal fraternity here are those who raid factories and shops. They can operate whether they are in prison or out of prison and we should not be treated in the condescending way the Minister adopted today.
There is no point in the Minister trying to imply that we have it all wrong or that we are the ones who are trying to hype up matters. My parents, who are as tough and hard as any who have lived in the inner city, are living in terror. At night the doors of their house are secured by bolts and chains. In my street 31 houses have been robbed since the beginning of this year. How, then, can the Minister say that crime is being controlled? The Government should regard what we are saying as support to take action to bring an end to crime in the city and not to run away from the problem.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 69; Níl, 59.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett (Dún Laoghaire) and Taylor; Níl, Deputies V. Brady and Barrett (Dublin North-West).
 Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
Dáil Éireann 362 Private Members' Business. Crime Situation.