Dáil Éireann - Volume 368 - 01 July, 1986

Private Members' Business. - Garda Síochána Overtime: Motion.

[1812] Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. F. O'Brien): By agreement and notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, Members shall be called in Private Members' time as follows: 7-7.25 p.m. a Fianna Fáil speaker; 7.25-7.40 p.m. a Fianna Fáil speaker; 7.40-8.10 p.m. a Government speaker; 8.10-8.30 p.m. a Fianna Fáil speaker.

Mr. Hyland: I move:

That Dáil Éireann, deeply concerned about the serious situation that exists in regard to crimes involving firearms, robbery with violence and physical assault, calls on the Government to make adequate finance available for the necessary levels of overtime in the Garda Síochána needed to deal with this situation.

It is a matter of great regret that we on this side of the House again find it necessary to bring to the notice of the Minister and the Government the serious and unacceptable level of crime and violence in our society. It is also a matter of concern that, despite the views expressed in this House on so many occasions during the past four years, the Government are now, by virtue of their allocation of funds, effectively abandoning our people and leaving them unprotected against the revages of an unacceptable crime rate. There were encouraging signs that the gardaí were beginning to come to grips with the serious problem of crime and vandalism. On previous occasions I welcomed in this House statistics, although sometimes dubious, which showed a levelling off and an improvement in the crime rate.

In any debate dealing with law and order and crime it is important to recognise and pay tribute to the efforts of the Garda Síochána. We were always generous in our acknowledgement of the work of the gardaí on our behalf. That is as it should be and I know that the gardaí [1813] accept that acknowledgement and recognition in the spirit in which they are meant when expressed by Members on all sides of the House. The Minister will no doubt agree, however, that goodwill and kind expressions to the gardaí are of very little use at this time. It is our duty as legislators to create for the Garda Síochána the economic, social and structural environment in which they can carry out their duty in a free and unrestricted way. Under any of those headings there has been a considerable amount of confusion, disappointment and frustration on the part of individual members of the force, particularly during the past couple of years.

It does not surprise me when I hear individual gardaí express their disappointment at the lack of support in real terms by way of legislation to enable them to carry out their duty in the difficult environment in which they operate. It is for that reason that we have tabled this motion. The success of the gardaí in coming to grips with serious crime is being negatived by the restriction on duty which will follow the cutback in overtime. The Minister in his contribution on the Estimate did not admit that the cut-back would have any real effect but by virtue of this decision we are recreating and strengthening the environment in which vandals can operate. We are, in fact, diminishing the return on our increased investment in law enforcement over the years. It would be nothing short of a national disaster if, having seen the gardaí beginning to come to grips with the unacceptable crime rate and bearing in mind the cost to this nation of bringing about this situation, a short term monetarist decision by the Minister and the Government were to undermine and undo that progress.

The Minister has given much thought to the reform of our finances and I give him credit for it. I am sure he would be the first to admit that if investment in a project leads to a certain amount of progress then it would be a false economy to undermine that development by cutting [1814] back on the level of support which is needed to keep up the momentum. This is exactly what the Minister and the Government are doing in cutting back on Garda overtime. As I said earlier, they are recreating the environment in which vandals can operate and diminishing the return on our investment in the control of crime and the maintenance of law and order. Apart from the social and political implications, there are serious questions to be asked relating to the financial wisdom of making that decision. The taxpayer will be asked at some stage in the future to pick up an increased bill in an effort to bring the situation under control.

During my speech last week on the Estimate, I said that the level of crime in society is a reflection of the success or failure of the Government in the areas of economic and social reform. There is a clearly defined link between the level of unemployment and the level of crime and vandalism in society. I have not come to that conclusion through my own research; it is an established fact throughout the world that the economic and social development of a nation is linked with the levels of crime and violence. The Government got their priorities wrong. If they had given job creation the priority it deserves and boosted the economy so that social conditions improved instead of having to provide more money for the protection of society against the ravages of crime and vandalism we would not be here expressing our views on the inadequacy of the allocation to enforce law and order.

It is a pity that the Government always appear to be reacting to events rather than planning ahead. Our motion is evidence of the Government's attitude. One of the tragedies of the present position is that the public now have the worst of both worlds. Their economic policies have failed and they have not provided the money necessary to protect society from the fall-out from their disastrous policies in the social and economic areas. The Government cannot have it both ways. If they have failed through their economic and social policies to create the [1815] environment where crime can be minimised they must take action to protect our citizens from the worst effects of those policy failures.

In dealing with the question of Garda overtime the Minister denies that a problem exists. He blames sensational newspaper reports, irresponsible statements by gardaí and Members of the House for the problem. The Minister would be better acknowledging the extent of the problem and being frank with the House, the public and the Garda. I do not think the Minister can continue to deny that there is a problem in the force in regard to inadequate funding for overtime between now and the end of the year. One cannot tailor law enforcement and crime control to any rigid pattern of budget management. The Minister is endeavouring in the Department of Justice to do what he did in the Department of Finance. I will not comment on his success or failure in the latter Department but I must point out that the increased allocation necessary for law enforcement is a by-product of the Government's failures in other areas.

I do not think it is right to restrict law enforcement to a rigid budget. If the allocation is not sufficient to provide the level of police protection needed by our citizens the Minister has a duty to be frank with the House and seek additional funds if they are required. The Minister should spell out the position in regard to Garda overtime for the remainder of this financial year, not so much in regard to the income of individual gardaí but from the point of view of its effects on the overall performance of the force. Irrespective of what the Minister says, a cut from £2 million per month — the expenditure incurred in the first four months of this year — to £500,000 per month for the remainder of the year represents a frightening reduction in the level of Garda duty. That is what we are concerned about tonight. The Garda Commissioner, or the Minister, cannot maintain the same level of Garda activity for the remainder of the year at the same momentum of the last four months with [1816] the funds being made available by the Government. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the House tonight that the performance of our police officers will not be unduly restricted for the remainder of the year.

I fully support the Minister in his efforts to get the best possible return from the money allocated to his Department. I give him credit for bringing about savings through efficiency in administration, but I cannot accept a restriction on the level of Garda activity. Our newspapers carry stories every day of a shortage of gardaí in urban areas to deal with the deterioration in law and order. I recall that in previous debates on law and order in the House reference was made to urban communities only; but, while the problem still exists in urban areas, it has spread to rural areas. In rural parts of my constituency of Laois-Offaly the level of Garda manpower has been reduced because of the existence of the top security prison in Portlaoise. Constituents from rural areas have expressed their disgust and disappointment to me at the failure of the Government to provide a proper level of Garda protection. Those people are entitled to that protection. The Minister should reassure those people, and the Garda who are frustrated with the present position.

Mr. Dukes: Constituents come in dozens to my clinics.

Mr. Hyland: God help them.

Mr. Dukes: Happy ones come to me.

Mr. Hyland: I hope the Minister's response in private is better than his public response.

Mr. Dukes: They are very happy.

Mr. Hyland: The Minister is not giving the people the protection they are entitled to expect from the Garda Síochána. The Garda, who have a commitment to local communities and local development projects, are disappointed at the reaction of the Government. Many gardaí in rural [1817] areas go beyond the call of duty to provide a proper service for local people. Gardaí in my constituency are torn between providing that dedication to local communities and being officially called on to provide an unreasonable degree of service at the prison in Portlaoise. Gardaí were never trained to do prison duty. They are qualified to act as police officers and to work in a community as law enforcers. The atmosphere in prison is alien to them. I do not intend to get involved in that security matter in this debate, but the Minister cannot have a Garda presence at the prison in Portlaoise at the expense of rural communities in Laois and Offaly. He should not shrug his shoulders and say that there is not a problem in Portlaoise or in Laois and Offaly. I hope the Minister will be man enough to admit the extent of the problem and tell us his plans to deal with it.

Last week, when replying to the debate on the Estimate for his Department, the Minister by implication said that the £2 million per month spent on overtime for the first four months of this year was wasteful and unnecessary. If that is his view it is a reflection on the Government and a former colleague of the Minister who found it necessary to provide the level of finance to pay for overtime. At the beginning of the year it was held that £2 million per month was necessary for essential Garda overtime but for the next eight months only £500,000 per month will be provided. Does the Minister really think that the vandals will decide not to commit crime just because the Government have not got the money to provide for a sufficient number of gardaí on the streets? The Minister knows the opposite is the case. He knows we are dealing with professional people who are perhaps even more capable of monitoring the situation than we are or than the Garda Commissioner is capable of doing. They know when gardaí will not be on duty because of the restrictions on overtime and they will select those times to engage in their criminal activities. The Minister is a practical man and he must know that what I am saying is true. There cannot be any [1818] answer other than to provide adequate money to keep gardaí on full-time duty.

I know that Border duty constitutes a great demand on Garda manpower and financial resources.

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy need not shout so much. I can hear him perfectly.

Mr. Hyland: The Minister has not heard me up to now. I have spoken here on many occasions in the past few months since he became Minister for Justice and now I think I have been talking to myself. I thought on this occasion if I raised the volume a little the Minister might take note of what I am saying and respond more effectively.

A great demand on Garda manpower and on our finances is imposed because of Border duty. The cost in human and financial terms is all part of the tragedy of the partition of our country and, sadly, the position is not improving. Earlier I made the point about the Government reacting to events. Part of our problem arises from the fact that the Government made no provision for the additional Garda security necessary in Border areas following the signing of the Hillsborough agreement. Surely the Government were aware that such provision would have to be made. In real terms they decided to strengthen Border security at the expense of the citizens by reducing overtime, which effectively means a 10 per cent reduction in Garda duty. That cut-back in real terms when applied to a restricted Garda working day constitutes the equivalent of 1,000 Garda man-days lost on duty. The Minister is shaking his head and does not agree with me on that point. However, I asked people more capable than I am to do research into that matter and I was told that was the effect of the 10 per cent cut-back.

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy should fire them immediately. They are leading him astray.

Mr. Hyland: I should like to have more time to deal with the very wide area that directly and indirectly will be affected as [1819] a result of the proposed cut-back. Already I have brought to the notice of the Minister the serious effect in rural towns and villages of the proposed cut-back. I have told him of the frustration of the Garda who do not know where they stand. How is it possible to prepare any effective long-term programme for policing when one is not sure that the level of finance necessary for its implementation will be available?

I have listened to lengthy and sometimes very constructive contributions from the Minister. I ask him to recognise that we have a problem here. He should inform the House how he will deal with it between now and the end of the financial year.

Mr. Briscoe: I shall speak more softly than my colleague. I think he is getting ready for the forthcoming election and is getting his voice into training for the parish pump meetings. I have always taken the attitude that whoever is Minister for Justice always deserves the support of the Opposition in the very onerous taks he has to perform. Generally speaking, people on this side of the House have been fair. Sometimes I think a Minister of Justice has to fight the Department of Finance and this Minister, having come from Finance, is probably sorry now he did not always realise more fully the real problems of the Minister for Justice.

On this side of the House we are deeply concerned about the high level of crime. I do not have to tell Members of the House that daily we meet people whose lives have been affected by what is going on around us. This afternoon I went to a meeting of the Arts Advisory Committee of Dublin Corporation which was held in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery. I met the members of the staff who, to put it mildly, were brutally treated by their captors for the short time they were in their clutches. These people were literally terrified out of their skins. All kinds of questions were addressed to them by the criminals, such as if they were married and the number of children they [1820] had. All of these intimidating tactics were designed to put a man in fear of his life and they were employed by vicious brutes who showed no mercy to their victims. The little cleaning lady, the darling of the staff, was knocked to the ground and, I think, was handcuffed. It was suggested that this elderly person should be taken to hospital because it was thought she might suffer other side effects as a result of her bad experience. She survived the ordeal, but even at this stage she is still not over what happened to her. The bleeding hearts say we are vindictive and so on when we state in this House what is happening to the victims of crime. I have nothing but the highest of praise for the Garda. They responded almost immediately to the alarm raised at the time of the attempted robbery. The alarm system was fully operational and it was attended to promptly by the Garda. Full marks must be given to them because they did their job well.

In recent times we have heard various Ministers for Justice talk about the reduction in the figures of recorded crime. I am sure the Minister is aware that much of the crime committed is not recorded. People have given up going to the Garda to complain about being mugged or robbed or about their houses being broken into. They feel that it is all so hopeless. The law abiding citizenry of this country are very reluctant to take the law into their own hands, but some of them are becoming very angry. I appeal to people not to attempt to take the law into their own hands, not to go after criminals. Defend yourself to the best of your ability, but do not give chase to criminals.

Many of these criminals have criminal records. In reply to parliamentary questions the Minister told me that for the first four months of this year there were 265 armed robberies, two a day including Sundays. These armed robberies are committed by people who are known to have criminal records. I know sentences have been increased to 14 years for armed robbery but obviously this is not acting as a deterrent. In the present climate we [1821] must impose sentences which are horrendous — 25 years to 30 years. I do not know why, but whenever I speak on this topic, more than on any other topic, I get a great public response by letters from all over the country. People tell me to keep pursuing this subject and to speak out on it. These people want protection. The Minister inherited a very serious situation. Any Minister for Justice will have to face this problem but he must be backed up by the courts.

As regards overtime, the Minister must look at the quality of service the people are getting for their money and see where he can make cut-backs but when it comes to protecting the people in their homes and on the streets, I do not believe he can cut back in this area. The State's first priority is to protect the people so that they are free to walk our streets. There has been a big decrease in the number of joy-riding incidents because these joyriders have been sent away. We have complimented the Minister and his predecessor on this improvement on many occasions, but we still have a very high crime rate.

Does the Minister know the number of armed robberies which have taken place in the past six months? Is it very much greater than the 265 armed robberies which took place in the first four months? If the Minister has those figures I would be interested to have them because that is the only barometer we have to see if crime is on the increase. I want to emphasise that we are talking about armed robbery and robbery with violence, not the ordinary crime or robbery or mugging, which is armed robbery because a person uses his fists which can be a lethal weapon.

The question we must ask ourselves is how the money provided for overtime is being spent and the quality of service the community are getting for their taxes. It is the Minister's job to say how we can maximise every £1 we spend in defence of the public. He will earn the thanks of the community if, before he leaves office, he introduces a Bill to change the system which compels our gardaí to spend so s. As the Minister [1822] knows, most gardaí appear in the courts on their day off. How much overtime is actually paid for gardaí appearing in court? Any journalist who does not cover the District Courts should go to that court any day and he will see how many gardaí are waiting there, often from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. I suggest that an inspector go to the court and put the charges for the gardaí. I think this system operates in Britain. The money spent on overtime keeping gardaí in the courts could be spent keeping gardaí on the streets. We will have to look at this system.

Recently we took the preventive measure which enabled a district justice to give consecutive sentences for crimes committed by a person while out on bail. It would be interesting to know if we are benefiting from this. Are fewer people on bail committing crimes now than heretofore? I do not have any statistics about this but perhaps I will put down a parliamentary question. Unfortunately, it is too late to do it this session——

Mr. Dukes: Write me a letter.

Mr. Briscoe: I will. Tonight we are to vote to abolish claims for malicious damages for victims of crimes, people who had their cars stolen or burned or people whose businesses were destroyed and find it very difficult to get insurance. This is being done at a very bad time because crime is at a very high level. We are talking about saving £120 million paid out in malicious damages, but the hardship imposed on a small section of the community will be horrendous.

This party will always support anything the Government do to reduce crime. If they were to come in next session asking for an additional Estimate for the Department of Justice, I believe this house would welcome such a move. The Government have to realise that morale is very low because of the apparent freedom with which young criminals wander through our streets.

Many people are very unhappy about the way District Courts operate. If one goes to these courts one will see how many cases are adjourned for a week, a [1823] fortnight or even longer. This may happen because a garda does not turn up or somebody else is away and the justice will postpone the case for two or three weeks. There is a great deal of time wasted. The job of district justice calls for a very special type of person. I would go crazy if I were in that job for six months, seeing the same type of people day after day. This is particularly true in the courts dealing with petty crime. The Minister should look at the magistrates system as it operates in Britain. Let us see whether we should have a couple of pilot areas in Dublin where we might operate a magistrate type system advised by a legal clerk with local people who know their own people, and let us see how it works.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Minister, you have 30 minutes to speak on amendment No.1.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Dukes): I move the amendment which appears in my name on the Second Supplementary Order Paper:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

“Dáil Éireann commends the Government on the level of manpower and other resources made available to the Garda Síochána, requests that these resources be used with maximum effectiveness and notes with satisfaction the reduction in recorded crime for the second successive year.”

I am more than a little amazed that we are having this discussion again this evening and tomorrow evening. The Opposition might have chosen a different subject for a three hour debate in the last week of this present Dáil session from one which has already been well discussed in this House over the last few weeks. As recently as last Friday I dealt at length with the matters raised by my friend, Deputy Hyland, when I moved the 1986 Estimates for my Department and the related votes, an Estimate which was [1824] accepted unopposed, let me add, by the Opposition. I also dealt with some of those matters in responding to a motion put down, again by the Opposition, I think by Deputy Hyland, on 13 May last.

In those debates I spelled out in some considerable detail the resources that have been made available to the Garda in recent years and which will continue to be provided. Honest to God, I am moved to the reflection that there is none so blind as he who will not see. Having this debate on this subject that has already been so well travelled in this House over the last couple of weeks is simply an indication that the Opposition were paying no more than lip service and taking the opportunity of very partial comment to make what they believe are telling political arguments, all of which can be shown to be without foundation.

As I have stated on a number of occasions recently and as the Deputies on the other side of the House must know very well by now, the level of indictable crime is decreasing. I intend to go into that in more detail. Nobody denies that the crime situation is serious and that we should be, as we are, concerned about it; but I wonder why some people seem unable to acknowledge and admit that the picture is a good deal brighter than it has been for many years past and that the Garda's efforts, with the full support of the Government, are finally paying off. Indeed, for the first time here tonight I heard Deputy Hyland admitting this, in a grudging way perhaps, but he was able to bring himself to admit it. I wish that Deputy Hyland would pay himself, the House and the Garda the compliment of recognising the truth a little more fully and generously——

Mr. Hyland: I have done that.

Mr. Dukes:——than he could bring himself to do tonight.

The Opposition motion calls for the provision of adequate finance for the necessary levels of overtime in the Garda Síochána. There is no need for the Opposition to make a call of that kind. The [1825] necessary finance has been and will be provided. It is hardly necessary for me to point out that more overtime is not the answer to the crime situation. As I have said, overtime represents only a small part of the total resources provided for the Garda Síochána, and it is totally misleading to suggest that more money allocated for overtime has some correlation with the problem posed by crimes of violence.

Mr. Hyland: Is the Minister saying that the £2 million is wasted money?

Mr. Dukes: I must raise my voice against my better judgment if the Deputy interrupts me. If I were to invite him to follow the logic of what he was saying about the social and economic roots of crime, had he gone down that road — I hoped that he might — he would logically come to the conclusion that he would propose that instead of giving more money for Garda overtime we should divert resources from Garda overtime and ordinary Garda pay and equipment and put them into job creation. If Deputy Hyland wants to make that proposal I will be very happy to discuss it with him. It might do him good to think about that from time to time. It would help him to get away from this perverse obsession that the Members on the benches opposite have with this question of overtime which is only one small part of the total picture.

I have already given the House in considerable detail information about the sources available to the Garda Síochána and of the various measures that the Government have taken to enable the Garda Síochána to deal with crime more effectively, but it appears that I must go over the ground again. I will do it with some relish because I am going to take up some of the more irresponsible allegations that have been taken up by some of the media and by the Fianna Fáil Party in the recent past.

There is no doubt whatever about the Government's commitment to underpinning [1826] the efforts of the Garda and supporting them in the job they are doing for our community. The most important resource of any police force is, of course, their manpower. Total Garda strength has increased by over 700 since this Government took office. Recruitment continues in order to maintain an overall strength of 11,400. In the last three and a half years we have recruited 1,400 members of the force in order to achieve the target figure of 11,400 in addition to filling the normal vacancies which arise. The Garda are exceptional in this regard in that, in spite of the fact that there is a general policy of restriction in the total numbers in the public service, we have exempted the Garda Síochána from that as a special measure in order to deal with crime and we have willingly provided the necessary finance to underpin that.

When we consider that the ordinary salaries bill for the Garda in the current year is almost £200 million it is very difficult to understand why so much prominence is given to this alleged inadequacy of an overtime provision of £12 million. When we are talking about a normal salaries bill of around £200 million, £1 million here or there in relation to overtime can be seen in its proper context. It is not a major issue nor is it a major influence in determining the level of Garda activity.

Mr. Hyland: That is trivialising the matter.

Mr. Dukes: It is not trivialising; it is fact.

Mr. Hyland: So is crime a fact.

Mr. Dukes: That is fact, although Deputy Hyland might not like to hear it, and the Opposition owe it to themselves and to the people to recognise the facts and not to dramatise the situation and play on people's fears by the kind of claptrap that we have heard from the Opposition benches about this matter. From reading some of the reports one would get the impression that normal Garda pay accounts for nothing and that everything must be done on overtime.

[1827] Obviously, there are times when overtime is necessary and is an efficient and cost-effective way of meeting the demands of particular circumstances; but it is entirely misleading to regard a high incidence of overtime working on its own as any kind of reliable or valid measure of the effectiveness of policing. The vast bulk of Garda services are provided by members working in the course of their normal duty hours. That is as it should be and will continue to be.

I think I should spell out the position on overtime with reference to publicity about the matter. The Government made an allocation of £12 million for Garda overtime for 1986. Because expenditure on Garda overtime in the first four months of the year was running at a very high level the Garda authorities undertook a detailed review of this expenditure to ensure that the best possible return is got from it. I am very glad that Deputy Briscoe showed clearly again tonight that we are not alone on this side of the House in recognising the need for that kind of examination. I hope that the contagion of Deputy Briscoe's good common sense will spread across the benches there on the other side of the House. They could do with much more of it.

I have no hesitation in admitting that that review was undertaken at my suggestion nor do I make any apology for saying that. As might be expected, that review together with a general reappraisal of Garda deployment, has led to some changes in the use of resources; but the situation is being menitored closely by the Garda authorities and by me in order to ensure that resources are being deployed in such a way as to maintain effective policing in all areas. To read some reports and to listen to some of the things that Deputy Hyland said one would nearly come to the conclusion that all Garda activity was coming to a stop. One recent newspaper article reported on about ten different incidents, accidents and crimes of various degrees of seriousness which it was alleged had been left unattended by the Garda because of [1828] the so-called overtime cut-backs. That paper may be the end of the week newspaper, but it is pretty weak on facts. I want to go into some of those allegations.

An allegation was made that no attention was paid in time to an outbreak of fire at Clancy Barracks, Islandbridge in Dublin. The military authorities sought the assistance of the Garda Technical Bureau on 12 May and it was provided the following day. I do not intend to go into details but I assure the House that there was no urgency regarding the matter and the Garda authorities do not think the involvement of the Technical Bureau was warranted.

There was a post mortem examination in the case of a man who died as a result of a stabbing incident in his home on the night of 10-11 May and a person has been charged with manslaughter. The post mortem held on 12 May was attended by a member of the photographic section of the Technical Bureau. It had been the practice — and this was picked up in the article — for a member from the ballistics section of the Technical Bureau to attend such post mortems also but on this occasion that was not considered necessary. However, the newspaper in question claimed that this was a deficiency due to an alleged cut-back in overtime. There was a hit-and-run incident in Finglas on the night of 11-12 May and a member of the local detective branch attended at the scene. Assistance from the Technical Bureau was not considered necessary but this newspaper seems to believe that it is in a better position to judge that than the Garda authorities. It is not.

There was an armed robbery at a public house in Cabra and the scene was examined by a member from the ballistics section of the Technical Bureau on 12 May following a request received on the same day. Again, this was presented by the newspaper as being a deficiency in the provision of overtime. Another post mortem examination was held on 12 May which was attended by a member from the photographic section of the Technical Bureau. It was decided at that stage that it was not necessary for a member from [1829] the ballistics section to attend but the newspaper again seemed to suggest that there was a difficulty in relation to overtime. The Garda are far better at deciding what is required in those circumstances than any Sunday newspaper and they always will be.

A request was received by the Technical Bureau on 12 May to have an examination carried out on a van suspected of being involved in a hit and run accident in Tullamore. It was refused on the grounds that that work was considered to be more appropriate for the local scense of crime officer who had attended the scene of the accident. I know that Deputy Hyland knows all about this and he should talk to some of the people in the Sunday newspapers to tell them that, contrary to what they seem to believe, we have local scenes of crimes officers in Garda divisions all round the country and it is not always necessary to have officers from the Technical Bureau to attend. I could go on and on in respect of every allegation made by that newspaper. However, every so-called deficiency was perfectly, properly and normally handled by the Garda authorities. One incident in particular received prominence, a hurling match between Limerick and Clare in Ennis on 1 June——

Mr. Hyland: Did the Minister not get to Aughrim?

Mr. Dukes: Six sergeants and 36 gardaí were on duty at that event, three of the sergeants and 32 of the gardaí were on overtime and there was an adequate Garda service available elsewhere in County Clare at the time. How that newspaper made the allegation it did, I do not know. If I were paying the salaries of some of the people who produced that kind of story, I would have them in for a very immediate examination, not just of overtime but also of their ordinary pay. However, I will not go into that.

It was also alleged that a major investigation was stopped for the weekend because there was nobody available from the Technical Bureau. That is not true. The local officers, who have primary [1830] responsibility for the investigation of the case, continued their investigations and members of the Technical Bureau were on standby in the event of any development. Those are a number of incidents which have not just been misrepresented by various section of the media and Deputies opposite, but which have been grossly distorted and presented in a way which is deliberately or culpably ignorant or intended deliberately to do damage.

We had another example of a partial representation of a number of matters concerning the Garda Síochána in a recent RTE programme. It seems to be my night for having a difference of opinion with the media but it is important for the House and the public that these things should be put on the record. A recent “Today Tonight” programme, which I am told took two months to make, was very badly prepared and was a shallow attempt to look critically at the very serious matter of the management of our police resources. The tone of the programme was set from the beginning with suggestions of shebeening and pool playing in Dublin Garda stations. Other Members of the House, apart from myself, have been in Garda stations and divisional headquarters where there is a recreation room and a pool table. Indeed, Deputy Hyland knows that you will find the same thing in prison officers' messes and it is right to provide recreational facilities for those who are waiting to go on duty or who have come off. I do not think any suggestion could be made that we should not provide such facilities. They are good for morale and relaxation.

Let us see what appears to have happened on that programme. It raised the allegations but did nothing to find out if there was any truth in them or if they were the result of an over-fertile imagination. “Shebeening” is a very attractive little word. I have been in touch with the Garda authorities about that matter and they inform me that the allegation was fully investigated by a chief superintendent when it first came to light some years ago and that no evidence was found to substantiate the allegation.

The allegations about pool playing in [1831] a named Garda station are being investigated by the Garda but at this stage they are only allegations and there was no attempt to examine their basis. It was also suggested during the course of the programme that thousands of so-called fraud cases were not recorded in crime statistics. What is a case? It could be that a case of a bounced cheque is reported to the Garda but the fact that a cheque bounces does not necessarily imply that a criminal act was committed. There has to be a clear intention to defraud and where there is no such intention and no criminal behaviour is detected, naturally a case of that kind is not recorded as a crime. That is as it should be and to present it in any other way is at least a partial representation of the situation.

There was also an allegation that certain crime forms were not available. I heard that trotted out in the House a few days ago. I have looked into that and the Garda authorities inform me that last year it came to their notice that in a small number of Garda cases they had run short of crime recording forms. Arrangements were immediately made to have the necessary from provided without delay and the garda authorities have assured me that there is no question of any crime not having been recorded. I am glad to have this opportunity to nail that allegation.

I wish to refer to the right of reply and I know I am being provocative to people outside the House as well as to those inside it. However, I will make the point. When RTE invite a party to send a spokesman for interview — Deputy Woods knows something about this — and the party decline, RTE, to their credit, are punctilious about mentioning that fact. Many viewers would take that to mean that the party concerned are not in a position to stand up and reply to the criticism. However, on this occasion, the shoe was on the other foot in that the Garda asked for a right of reply at the end of the programme to the points that were raised. That was not given; nor was it announced on the air that the Garda had asked for a right of reply and been [1832] refused. I do not know what RTE expected them to do. Perhaps they expected them to pay for an advertisement to announce that they had asked for a right of reply and been refused. I must say that that kind of reporting does not reflect a great deal of credit on the people who do it. That is not even what I am worried about. I am extremely worried by the way in which any kind of sensational allegation or one that appears to be potentially sensational is taken up and there is never a follow-through to find out was there a foundation for that allegation. If there is, we need to know; if there is not, it should be withdrawn. In these particular cases there was no foundation for any one of those allegations.

The £12 million allocated this year for Garda overtime was never reduced, nor was it ever under any threat of reduction. As I have said, none of the allegations, none of the alleged instances of failure to provide an adequate Garda response as a result of alleged cut-backs, stands up to investigation. I have given the House some of the details of some of the cases. I could go on for longer, but time is limited. But I find that there is no cause for concern or misgiving and there is certainly no cause for the kind of scaremongering publicity that has been indulged in in relation to this subject. That kind of publicity is certainly misguided and is arguably — I believe this firmly myself and I am saying arguably just to be polite — contrary to the public interest. It unnecessarily raises fears. In fact, it can have another effect in that if we are constantly being faced in our newspapers and on the medium of television with unfounded allegations that there is a cut-back in Garda services, that may indeed help to encourage people who might not otherwise get involved in criminal activity. I do not say that to make life any easier for me or for the Garda. Deputies know I am perfectly prepared to look after myself and the Garda can do the same thing. But I am very worried about the wider consequences of that kind of unfounded allegation being made. Nor [1833] do I think that anybody in this House has ever found me, either in my previous job or in my present job, at all reluctant to investigate fully any complaint that is made to me about any of the things that come under my jurisdiction. The House can be assured that that will also be my position from here on.

To conclude on the question of overtime, I would emphasise to the House that what is involved in this overtime expenditure review is to ensure that we get the best return from the £12 million involved. I cannot see how anybody could reasonably quarrel with that. As I have said, and I repeat the assurance, no essential Garda duty will be left undone for want of the necessary finances and I and the Government will see to that.

I referred previously to the fact that the Garda are being provided with up-to-date technological resources. Deputies on the other side of the House know I have a very thick skin, but I was a bit upset during the course of our Estimates debate last Friday to hear it suggested by the other side of the House that I was taking too much credit for providing the Garda with an up-to-date radio network that covers all of the country with the exception of the Dublin metropolitan area, that we are providing them with improved computer facilities which I detailed last Friday, that we will shortly have a new radio network in operation in the Dublin metropolitan area and that I hope in the very near future to be able to sign a contract for a new command and control system here.

All of that represents a very considerable investment and it would be seriously wrong for anybody in this House to even appear to try to dismiss that as being just so much gadgetry, because better communications, instant access to information, instant crime reporting, instant access to memory banks in relation to incidents, types of crime, types of criminal, suspect vehicles — all of that is of direct and immediate assistance to the ordinary garda or detective garda who is doing his job out on the streets or wherever [1834] he happens to be. All of it is necessary; and I am glad to be able to say that we have over the last few years — and I fully recognise that it did not start just at the end of 1982 — been able to provide our Garda with those facilities.

The computer system, for example, and the new facilities we have provided for the Garda, have not reached anything like their full potential yet. It became live last February and will be a very valuable tool to the ordinary garda on the beat or in a patrol car. It will help the Garda to respond more quickly to situations that arise. Just as importants as that, it will help the Garda in crime prevention. Those of us who talk to gardaí, as most of us do in a helpful way and in present circumstances, know that the ordinary garda on the beat or on patrol is very concerned with crime prevention. We know that a garda policing an area that he is familiar with will spot things that seem to be a bit out of kilter and if he can find an answer to a question that comes into his mind if he sees something out of the ordinary — and he can be helped to do so by the kind of communications and data processing system we have — that is going to help that garda in crime prevention. That has been provided and it is only right that we should record in the House that that is so.

I do not intend to go in detail into aspects of the Criminal Justice Act which would be of assistance to the Garda except perhaps to remind Deputy Briscoe that the Criminal Justice Act substantially increased the penalties for conviction of offences involving firearms. I can assure the House — and Deputy Briscoe knows this perfectly well — that I fully share his abhorrence of that particular type of crime and an concerned to ensure that all possible measures are taken to combat it and stamp it out.

We have made changes in trial procedures. For example, an accused person is now required to give advance notice of any alibi he intends to put forward in a jury trial. We have introduced provision for majority verdicts in criminal trials. The right to make an unsworn statement has been abolished. New procedures to [1835] allow proof by written statement and formal admissions in trials saves court time previously taken up in formally proving matters that are not really in dispute and also — and this is another important part of it — frees greater number of gardaí to deal with crime on the streets instead of requiring them to attend in court for unnecessarily long periods. We also have the new provision which provides that any sentence for an offence committed while on bail should be consecutive on any other sentence passed. I am not in a position yet to respond to Deputy Briscoe's question about how effective that provision is seen to be. I believe, and obviously the House believes, that that was an important measure and it will be monitored to see if we can identify any effect from it.

The level of serious crime in our society over the past decade has emerged as a major cause of public concern. There is no doubt about that. Between 1977 and 1981 the level of indictable crime rose by 42 per cent. That increase continued in 1982 and 1983 but at a lower rate — about 9 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively, in those years. In 1984, for the first time in six years, national serious crime figures actually decreased by 2.6 per cent. In 1985 that downward trend not only continued but accelerated, with a reduction of 8½ per cent and the indications so far this year, I am glad to say, are that that trend is being maintained.

Some of my friends on the other side of the House seem to have some difficulty in accepting those statistics. Of course, they had no difficulty whatsoever in accepting the figures when crime was rising. I ask them, in the name of their own role in our society as the Opposition — and long may they continue to be the Opposition — to recognise the facts. Let us not waste the time of this House in going over and over again all these old, spurious allegations about cut-backs in Garda overtime, Garda presence, crime statistics. If we are to spend time, as indeed we should, in speaking about [1836] these matters, let us have a real discussion on ways to make our whole machinery for law enforcement more efficient for doing the job. Let us not be afraid. If that requires us to be a little more discriminating about the way we spend money, I ask Deputies opposite to have the guts to realise that, if one is to be more efficient about something, one will divert money from one purpose to another. Let us not go around puking and mewling about a little change that has not been made in a little part of the total resources made available. Let us not waste our time with this kind of nonsense.

Mr. Briscoe: The Deputy makes these great statements.

Mr. O'Dea: I am delighted to discover from the Minister that all our problems in this important area are now at an end. I must be living in a different country from him, or perhaps it is that I am more in touch with my constituents, or that my constituency is a very different constituency from his. I can assure him that there are very serious problems in relation to the breakdown of law and order in my constituency. Those problems are increasing, in no small measure due to the cut-backs in the amount of money provided for Garda overtime.

Mr. Dukes: That is incorrect.

Mr. O'Dea: The Minister is interrupting again. I ask the Chair to control him. I regret the attitude adopted by the Minister here tonight. The Members on both sides of the House sat through two well balanced, informative and factual contributions from Deputy Hyland and Deputy Briscoe.

Mr. Briscoe: The Deputy is also telling the Government how bad the situation is.

Mr. O'Dea: I regret the debating society attitude adopted by the Minister. I sat in this House for the past three years listening to debates and the Minister's attitude has been the same. He seems to [1837] confuse scoring a few points in a debate in this House with solving a problem. For three years in the Department of Finance the Minister scored points from over there.

Mr. Dukes: I gave facts.

Mr. O'Dea: The problems have been magnified. The same applies in the Department of Justice. I shall quote facts and publications and let the Minister deny them if he wishes. The Irish Independent of 11 June 1986 published a report in which a spokesman for the Department of Justice is quoted as saying there is no cut in Garda overtime. All the evidence available at the time when that statement was made and the overwhelming amount of evidence that has since become available demonstrate that that statement is a blatant untruth and I am sorry to have to say that. I shall say it outside as well as inside the House. We have all been in touch with the Garda. We do not come in here irresponsibly and talk off the tops of our head. We do our research and talk to the people involved, who are the subject of these debates. Every single member of the Garda Síochána with whom I have consulted on this topic has told me that there is a substantial reduction in the amount of overtime being worked by the Garda since the early months of this year. If time permits, I shall quote some figures to demonstrate that. If it is true — and I am saying it is — it shows a peculiar sense of priorities on the part of this Government. They are prepared to spend in excess of £61 million on trying to introduce divorce into this country, to spend countless millions of pounds topping up some financial institutions and to make grandiose gestures in London and spend millions of pounds——

Mr. Dukes: The taxpayer has not paid any money, nor will he or she.

Mr. O'Dea:——on an Anglo/Irish Agreement which has now been shown as nothing but a failed fiasco.

[1838] (Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: There must be no interruptions.

Mr. O'Dea: It is another diversionary tactic to take people's attention off the Minister's failure in the Department of Finance and his Government's failure.

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy should be specific.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Is the Deputy against the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

Mr. O'Dea: Let Deputy Mitchell listen to me now.

Mr. Hyland: Deputy O'Dea is scoring, but the Minister cannot take it.

Mr. O'Dea: Deputy Mitchell does not like this.

Mr. Dukes: Be specific, Deputy.

Mr. O'Dea: The Minister continues to score own goals. Deputy Hyland and Deputy Briscoe said that law and order have broken down to the extent that people can no longer walk the streets in safety. That statement does not present the full picture. Law and order have broken down to the extent that people are no longer safe in their houses or even in their beds. That is the horrendous reality. If the Minister would listen to the people who are coming to the clinics he is talking about, perhaps he would come into this House with a different attitude.

Mr. Briscoe: We will invite him to our constituency some time.

Mr. O'Dea: I am sure he would see what I am talking about in that constituency and in mine too.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. O'Dea: This is the very area in which the Government have tried to save a paltry few million pounds.

[1839] Mr. Carey: We will invite the Deputy down to our constituencies.

Mr. O'Dea: They can find money for people with industrial muscle, but they bring in legislation to abolish the malicious damages code, to cut a few paltry million pounds of Garda overtime — cowardly legislation.

Mr. Dukes: No money has been cut in Garda overtime.

Mr. O'Dea: The Government hit and squeeze people who cannot hit back. That is their attitude. If anybody has power and muscle, they cave in. They present themselves as a Government of rectitude and righteousness. Yet they skimp and save at the expense of people who cannot hit back. That is the factual reality. The Minister told the Garda that it was not a question of cut-backs in Garda overtime but that they should stay within the limits set for them. Did the Minister stay within his own limits when he was in the Department of Finance? Did the Government stay within their limits of the expenditure imposed on themselves three years ago?

Mr. Sheehan: The Minister could not stay within them because he had to pay the debts incurred by Fianna Fáil.

Mr. Dukes: The Opposition resisted us every step of the way.

Mr. O'Dea: The Minister should do unto others as he does unto himself. Plenty of money can be found to impress Margaret Thatcher and to cave in to people who have sufficient industrial muscle.

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy should tell Deputy O'Rourke that.

Mr. O'Dea: This money, it would appear, is being found at the expense of the safety and wellbeing of our own people in the 26 counties. If that is the case — and it is — it is a sad day for [1840] Ireland. The Minister says there is no cut-back in Garda overtime. The facts are as follows: at the start of this year £12.4 million was allocated for Garda overtime. By the end of March £7.1 million of that money had been spent — in other words, 60 per cent in 25 per cent of the time.

Mr. Carey: That is not a cut-back.

Mr. O'Dea: We will come to that. Let the Deputy look after Scariff and I will look after cut-backs.

Mr. Carey: I look after Scariff and look after it well. Let Deputy O'Dea look after his constituency.

An Ceann Comhairle: Order.

Mr. O'Dea: I will be here after the next election, which is more than I can say for some Deputies.

Mr. Carey: Let the Deputy not threaten me.

Mr. O'Dea: The vast majority of that expenditure was incurred in duties arising directly out of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, by increased Border duty activities and increased Garda checkpoints in and around Dublin city. At the end of March and beginning of April, only a quarter way through the year, £5.3 million was left to be spent — in other words, 40 per cent of the money in 75 per cent of the year. Out of that £5.3 million, money has to be found for Garda overtime in relation to two State visits and to a referendum which proved to be a useless exercise, I am glad to say.

Mr. Carey: The opinion of the Deputy is not worth very much. His attitude was very negative. He said nothing.

Mr. O'Dea: I gave my opinion on television. I did not hear Deputy Carey saying anything in the Coalition.

Mr. Sheehan: Is Deputy O'Dea objecting to the State visit?

[1841] Mr. O'Dea: These undoubted cut-backs on Garda overtime over the past few months have led to several extraordinary consequences. First, they led to a severe restriction in late night Garda patrols in Dublin. That is a fact. On Wednesday, 11 June the Irish Independent — which the Minister agrees with when it suits him — reported that Dublin city was left without its crime task force for two nights in that week alone. Normally ten Garda patrol cars provide the vital back-up for the Garda stations and the gardaí on the beat in the greater Dublin area. That report of 11 June goes on to state that that was the first time in 15 years that had taken place. It was the first time gardaí who would be assigned to the task force were ordered to go on their normal rosters. Yet, according to the Minister there is no cut-back and no problem.

A senior member of the Garda has been quoted as stating that if the Government begin to attack this special task force then the link between the ordinary Garda patrols and their back-up is broken. I have also been informed by sources within the Garda that on Sundays the special task force normally has seven patrol cars allocated to it. For the past month or six weeks this has been reduced to one. I would like to hear the Minister's comments on that. According to the Minister there is no cutback and no problem. There are other areas in which this has begun to make itself very manifest — for instance, in the forensic areas of Garda activity. On 3 June there was a report in page 5 of the Irish Independent by a Mr. Michael Lavery. The Minister can doubt the veracity of Mr. Lavery's comments if he wishes.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. O'Dea: Mr. Lavery stated that about 90 Garda Technical Bureau staff went on duty on the bank holiday, the day before the report was written. Listen to it now, you will not be here much longer to hear debates here. Only nine of those 90 gardaí had been rostered for duty by the chief superintendent in [1842] charge of the area, Mr. John Moore. One member of the staff who turned up that day is quoted as saying that if they had not turned up — and I am quoting directly —“there would have been no one to go out to the convent fire and to the pub explosion.” He was referring, of course, to the tragedy at the Loreto Convent at St. Stephen's Green where six people lost their lives and to the pub explosion in Talbot Street. That garda went on to state: “We felt that it was in the interests of the public that we should turn up and work the normal holiday complement as we had for the past ten years”. For the first time in ten years this was cut out, and then we are told that there is no cut-back in Garda overtime and that there is no problem.

I have had numerous reports from members of the Garda of the effect of those cutbacks in the fingerprints area, criminal records, photography and radio workshop areas of the Garda Technical Bureau. There were problems relating to the delay and presentation of criminal proceedings and books of evidence. I have ample information from the Garda about those matters. I can get them to write to me if the Minister wishes. I can bring their statements into this House and read them here.

Mr. Carey: Fianna Fáil did away with the Garda band to save money.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Carey will have to stop interrupting.

Mr. O'Dea: This has also led to problems relating to the repair of vehicles in the Garda depot. If the Taoiseach did not have the money to implement the Anglo-Irish Agreement he should not have signed it.

Mr. Carey: Fianna Fáil would not even be able to make an agreement.

Mr. O'Dea: The Garda are not able to keep their vehicles in proper repair. It has now become clear that many gardaí, even those in the special task force and [1843] the special detective unit, are using vehicles with over 85,000 miles on the engine. Most of those are on the road 24 hours a day. Cut-backs in the Garda depot and in the time available to mechanics to keep those vehicles roadworthy are disastrous in the present environment. There is a report in The Garda Review of April 1986 by the editor which states that he went to the Garda depot and asked one of the mechanics to check out one of the cars. The mechanic's report stated that the back axle was falling out and the clutch and brakes were about to go. We are back to the era of the Keystone Cops. It would be funny if it was not so tragic.

Mr. Sheehan: The Deputy's party had the gardaí on pedal bicycles.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Sheehan will have to stop interrupting.

Mr. O'Dea: That was when Mr. Cosgrave was in power. In January of this year 15 Garda cars were taken off the road and 15 replacements were requisitioned. By May of this year those 15 replacements had not materialised. I ask the Minister for Justice or the Minister of State at that Department if those 15 cars have been produced yet? In addition to those quite foreseeable effects of those undoubted cut-backs in Garda overtime, there are a number of unforeseen effects. For example, the Association of Criminal Lawyers recently reported that the operation of some of the District Courts throughout the country is in chaos. I have some experience of this. It appears that prisoners' applications for bail are being delayed and apparently charge sheets have gone astray. The reason is that gardaí who normally work the courts cannot now work on Saturdays because of the overtime cut-back. Ordinary gardaí on the beat are rostered for Saturdays. The gardaí who are now coming in to take over some of the court work and the charge sheets have no experience whatsoever in this area. Consequently, prisoners' applications for bail and other incidental matters are being interfered [1844] with. This matter was brought to the attention of the Minister for Justice on three or four occasions by the Association of Criminal Lawyers and the Prisoners' Rights Association. I am now bringing it to his attention and I hope something can be done about it.

I was informed as late as today that the radio control unit of Dublin Castle have decided to cut their six weeks training programme to two weeks. Yet we are told that there is no cut-back and there is no problem. Garda cut-backs will also affect major sporting features. In some parts of the country there is conflict between the Commissioner and the local superintendent. I was in touch with two superintendents today who said that it is their belief that they have no right to bring gardaí in on overtime to cover major sporting features such as the all-Ireland, the Munster final or the Ulster final. The Commissioner has not said yea or nay. He is inclined to cloud the issue. I want the Minister to state if superintendents have the right from here on in to bring in gardaí on overtime for major sporting fixtures such as these.

Mr. Carey: Of course, they have.

Mr. O'Dea: I did not ask Deputy Carey. I am asking the Minister for Justice and I would like him to answer me.

Problems also arise in our prisons. Deputy Hyland has more knowledge of those problems than I have. However, information is available to me which suggests that on occasion the levels of gardaí patrolling the Portlaoise Prison vicinity have fallen dangerously. Many rural stations are in imminent danger of closing down. The radio communication centre at Portlaoise is not manned as well as heretofore.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: If Deputy Sheehan does not cease interrupting I will have to ask him to leave the House.

Mr. O'Dea: I will give the Deputy an example from his own constituency. I have information that the Fermoy Garda [1845] station has one garda in a patrol car responsible for 20 miles of the Limerick-Dublin road. Yet we hear there is no cut-back, no problem. The Minister for Justice should bear in mind that policing is the most important service this State could provide.

Debate adjourned.