Dáil Éireann - Volume 398 - 02 May, 1990
Adjournment Debate. - Dublin Inner City Crime.
Mr. Byrne Mr. Byrne
Mr. Byrne: The reason I have asked permission to raise this matter on the Adjournment is that I wish to outline to  the Minister the frightful situation prevailing on the streets of Dublin today. As a public representative in a constituency covering a large portion of inner city Dublin I am well placed and qualified to bring to the notice of the Minister the concerns of my constituents, my own views on what is happening, why it is happening and what steps need to be taken to rectify the matter.
First, just as the reasons people get involved in crime and vandalism are complex so also are the steps required to remedy this problem. I am not a politician who demands instant change or solutions, rather am I asking the Minister to direct the Garda Síochána along a certain policing path radically different from the policing policies of today. Two small reports, given a column inch of space, appeared in The Irish Times today and it is important that we take note of them. The first states that two people were injured in incidents in Dublin's inner city last night and that a garda was brought to hospital with a head wound when 40 youths stoned and destroyed a Garda car after a youth was arrested on a street I will not name. It went on to state that the gardaí escaped from the riot with their prisoner. It further stated that on another street a youth was stabbed but not seriously hurt after two young men had attempted to rob him.
The second report, under the heading “Youth detained”, stated that a 14-year old Dublin boy was given three years detention in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday for what Mr. Justice Roe called “a dreadful and unbelievable” attack on an elderly woman who was stabbed several times in the face after she remonstrated with a gang breaking into a parked car in another street in the north inner city.
It is a coincidence that these reports appeared on the day I have been given an opportunity to speak about crime and vandalism and policing methods in Dublin inner city but as a representative  of the south inner city I do not ever want to have to come to the House to ask the Minister for Justice why things have been allowed to get so out of hand that there are newspaper reports of events, similar to those occurring in the north inner city, on the south side. There is no doubt what took place in the north inner city last night was bad. I hope we will learn of the reasons why such events occurred in the north inner city so that we can prevent such events occurring on a regular basis in the south inner city.
Inner cities have been written about all over the world. The population of the inner city of Dublin is rapidly declining with people being rehoused in the outer suburbs in both public and private housing, the reason being very little private housing is being constructed in the inner city. We have also witnessed a massive decline in traditional industries within the inner city and the demise of Dublin Port resulting in large numbers of people becoming unemployed.
The social fabric of the south inner city is mainly comprised of two working class communities. The first of these live mainly in huge impersonal inner city flat complexes, built in the thirties and forties. The others live in private housing estates consisting of small two or three bedroomed houses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The crime being perpetrated is of a “petty” nature, such as house break-ins, handbag snatches, the stealing and subsequent burning of stolen cars and the sale of drugs. Unfortunately, there is severe vandalism of the private housing stock which is one of the issues I would like to highlight tonight. It is important to point out people do abandon their homes in an effort to escape an unfriendly environment and it is time someone recognised this fact and did something about it.
I invite the Minister to visit the following areas to see what I am talking about for himself, where almost every second house is for sale but for which there is no buyer, while the remainder  are either boarded up or abandoned with steel bars on all the windows. I am sure the Minister would be moved to do something. For example, the Minister might visit Ruben Street, Haroldville Avenue in Rialto, Eugene Street or Fingal Street, off Donore Avenue. He might witness the wrecked artisan dwellings of Rialto Street. That is just to give a flavour of some of the streets of traditional working class cottages and private homes in my constituency which are under tremendous pressure. Not only are there the visual signs of the houses that have been wrecked and vandalised and the living reality of the type of environment that exists down there, there are the residents who have to stay put, unable to sell their houses because they are in “low demand” areas who feel threatened and abandoned. Can the Minister imagine the frustration, anger and fear of a resident in Maryland, a former local authority housing scheme which is now virtually privatised, who has had her home broken into, the windows broken and metal bars and catapults used to cause extensive damage to her roof? This woman is facing the real prospect of having to give up work altogether because of her fear that the house will be totally wrecked. It is an end of terrace house which tends to be most vulnerable. She cannot get a buyer for the house because the area is known for its vandalism.
Drugs are being sold openly at a road reservation at Weaver Street in the Coombe despite the fact that it is regularly reported to the Garda. My constituents can see the drug dealing that is going on, and so can I if I have the time to go up on a Friday between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Nothing changes for these residents who are looking at this, and they are getting very frustrated. Many people report crime to the Garda and more and more of them are becoming frustrated with the apparent lack of response. Visitors, staff and patients — pregnant women — are regularly mugged or have their handbags snatched at the  Coombe Hospital in Cork Street. The residents see the unfortunate victims and wonder where are the Garda. Statistics will show that every Thursday and Friday night handbag snatches occur along the River Liffey at Usher's Quay. The victims are usually rural civil servants heading for the railway station and home and the young handbag snatchers escape through the flat complexes and streets in the area.
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: The ten minutes available to the Deputy are now almost exhausted.
Mr. Byrne Mr. Byrne
Mr. Byrne: The tourists at Christchurch are being set upon by organised gangs. I ask, as do my constituents, where are the gardaí? Is there a policy of abandonment of parts of Dublin south inner city? I ask, while there remains goodwill on the part of many residents towards the Garda, that that goodwill be tapped. Neighbourhood watch is a non-starter in the flat complexes. I am demanding a properly trained and staffed community police force who would be on permanent duty in both public and private housing schemes.
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: The time has come to call the Minister to reply.
Mr. Byrne Mr. Byrne
Mr. Byrne: Perhaps the Minister would let me have one more minute to make my final point. High speed, high tech policing is not the answer. Gardaí with proper training and social skills capable of providing socially disadvantaged communities with a sense of security are needed. In passing let me say that it is nearly impossible for a tenant of a local authority house or flat to get home or contents insurance so every loss they have from break-ins is a total loss. I am asking the Minister to concede that a special policing policy must be developed for inner city areas, that there must be more gardaí to respond to the emergency calls and general calls for information and  assistance, that community policing, although costly, must be allowed to develop, along the lines suggested by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and outlined by inspector Nally, and that there should be more visual presence of foot patrols.
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. N. Treacy) Noel Treacy
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. N. Treacy): My Government colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy Burke, regrets very much that he cannot be here personally to respond to this and the next debate, both relevant to his Department. The House is probably aware that the Minister is attending the Garda and Prison Officers Conferences this week. It is an indication of both his and the Government's respect and appreciation of the services constantly rendered both by the Garda and the prison officers that the Minister has given this week to these very important conferences. I need hardly say that one of the highest priorities of the Minister for Justice, is to ensure that the people of this country should be allowed to live their lives and go about their everyday business in peace and security. There is no doubt that the early part of this decade saw that peace and security seriously threatened by an upsurge in crime. Successive Ministers for Justice and successive Garda Commissioners, have striven to have that trend reversed. The policies pursued and the measures taken in the fight against crime have proved successful, in that the provisional figures for 1989 indicate that the level of recorded indictable crime has decreased in the Dublin Metropolitan Area by approximately 16 per cent in the period since 1983.
This Minister on taking office was very conscious that the fight to curb crime was a major priority. In conjunction with the Garda Commissioner, he identified the practical steps needed to increase visible Garda presence on the streets of our towns and cities and thereby reduce the  fear of crime. These steps were incorporated into the crime-fighting package, which was announced by the Minister, in November 1988. The package was based on a simple, but effective concept, i.e. that the way to keep the criminals off the streets, is to put more gardaí onto them. The following measures are being taken: two hundred and fifty civilian clerical staff will be appointed to release gardaí from office work so that they can perform outdoor crime prevention and detection duties. A number of these clerical staff have already been recruited. It has been agreed that there will be 200 additional promotions in the Garda Síochána to posts at sergeant, inspector, superintendent and chief superintendent level. An estimated 250 gardaí across the ranks of garda, sergeant and inspector, who would be due to retire on reaching 57 years of age before the end of 1991 are being enabled to serve until they reach 60 years of age. The pace of recruitment of 1,000 trainee gardaí is being accelerated; 348 trainees will be taken on during 1990, which is 50 more than originally planned and 260 young men and women will become fully attested members of the Force this year, commencing with the first group of about 86 next month. Most of these 86 young people will be allocated to the city centre areas. There will be more money in 1990 for Garda overtime, vehicles, technical police equipment, uniforms, radio communications and computers.
In addition to these measures, the policy of bringing the Garda Síochána and the community into closer, more effective and mutually beneficial contact, continues. In the Dublin area there has been a major expansion of the community policing scheme. This approach to policing is regarded as very effective by the public who can see the Garda on the beat and get to know them personally and, most importantly, can rest easy knowing there is somebody there to call on, if assistance is required. The scheme not only acts as a valuable link between  the Garda and the community, but also serves to allay the fears of the more vulnerable members of society. Earlier this year this scheme was extended to the north and south city centre areas. It is hoped that it will prove as successful there as it has proved in all other areas where it is in operation.
Another important development in making the Garda Síochána more accessible to the community was the recent opening of the new Garda office in O'Connell Street, Dublin. This office gives the Garda a high profile in the main street of our capital city and does, I think, in many ways symbolise the Garda attention which is now being focused on the inner city areas. The Minister is satisfied that the way forward in dealing with the inner city crime and indeed all crime, is through a combination of extra Garda activity and community involvement. The Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner propose to continue to tackle the problem in this way. Indeed, the most recent statistics indicate that there was a substantial reduction in crime in 1989 in the Garda divisions of Dublin north central and Dublin south central, by comparison with 1988. The provisional figures for 1989 indicate a decrease of over 24 per cent in the north central area and a decrease of over 7 per cent in the south central area. The preliminary indications for 1990 are that this reduction in the level of crime is being maintained.
I know the Minister for Justice is heartened by this development. However, he cannot be completely satisfied as long as any level of serious crime remains and as long as any member of our community is forced to endure either the fear or the reality of crime. The Minister is in constant contact with the Garda authorities in the matter, who are, of course, keeping the position under active review.
The approach I have outlined is only one aspect of the overall war that is being waged against the criminal, and many of the other measures taken against the  criminal will have a beneficial, if indirect effect, on inner city crime. I am referring to the increase in prison accommodation which is also provided for in the crime fighting package and is designed to ensure that those convicted of serious offences serve the full sentence imposed on them by the courts. I am also referring to a number of Bills, which are currently before the Oireachtas and which will help greatly in the fight against crime. These include the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Bill, 1989, which prepares the way for the introduction of the new technique of genetic fingerprinting; the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Bill, 1989, which will curb the availability of offensive weapons; and the Larceny Bill, which will help to tackle the problem of receiving stolen property.
In addition the Minister will continue to see to it that the Garda authorities have at their disposal, all the resources they require, including adequate finance for overtime and the most modern and comprehensive equipment to enable them to engage fully in the battle against the criminal. New strategies to deal with crime will be evolved as circumstances change.
Deputy Byrne has given very stark details of crime in this area. I appreciate this very much and I am confident that this information will be of assistance to the Garda Síochána in their constant efforts to combat crime and drug abuse. If Deputy Byrne or indeed anybody else in his area has firm information, on crime, they should, of course, bring it to the attention of the Garda, either to the local gardaí or gardaí in the city. For my part, I will bring the Deputy's points to the immediate attention of the Garda authorities.
The Minister for Justice is satisfied that everything practicable is being done to deal with crime. Our citizens can be sure of this and they can also be assured that the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner will continue to give the problem the required level of attention  and will not lose sight of the real concerns and fears of our citizens. I am confident that, with community co-operation and support for the Garda, together we will succeed.
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: A misunderstanding  has arisen concerning the subject matter of the second item which it was hoped to deal with on the Adjournment. I am unable to proceed with it now and I must apologise to all concerned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 3 May 1990.
Dáil Éireann 398 Adjournment Debate. Dublin Inner City Crime.