Dáil Éireann - Volume 515 - 07 March, 2000

Other Questions. - Crime Levels.

7. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of people who have died in violent circumstances to date in 2000; the number of armed robberies to date in 2000; the comparative figures for the equivalent period in 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6789/00]

Mr. O'Donoghue: As the House is aware, indictable crime statistics can be found in the annual reports of the Garda Síochána, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library. The most recent annual report details the crime statistics for 1998. While Garda crime statistics for 1999 have not yet been formally published, I am informed by the Garda authorities that so far this year, from 1 January to 3 March, ten murders have been recorded, six of which have been detected. This compares with six murders during the same period of last year.

For the same period in 2000, two cases of manslaughter have been recorded, both of which were detected and during the corresponding period in 1999 two cases of manslaughter were also recorded. I would obviously be concerned about any increase in violent death but I am satisfied that the current arrangements for the investigation of cases of murder and manslaughter are satisfactory and I am informed by the Garda authorities that all such crimes are investigated to a conclusion.

With regard to armed robberies the available statistics indicate a significant decrease overall in armed crime in recent years, with the level for 1998 at approximately 40% of the 1995 level. The figure for armed robberies has gone up, however, in the early part of this year. I am informed that 57 armed robberies have been recorded to date this year as compared to 24 for the same period last year. These figures are provisional and liable [1341] to change. The statistics also show that the detection rate over these years has risen from 28% in 1995 to 40% in 1998. Naturally I am concerned about all forms of armed crime and have spoken to the Garda Commissioner about the matter.

The Garda Commissioner has informed me that he has put in place an investigation process whereby members of the national bureau of criminal investigation with local district units combined their efforts to tackle the problem of armed robbery. This has met with success in solving a number of such robberies with the result that a number of persons are before the courts with a further number serving lengthy sentences. I also understand that a number of files are with the law officers.

Never in the history of the State have more resources been allocated to combating crime, for purchasing modern technology and equipment for the Garda Síochána and to ensure the number of Garda personnel is increased. Never in the history of the State have we had such a major prison building programme which will ensure those guilty of serious offences will serve their sentences and enable me, as I announced last weekend, to put in place from 15 May all the provisions of the Bail Act.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Do the statistics as given by the Minister not show in the clearest possible terms that his zero tolerance policy is not working? The number of murders, up to 3 June, increased from six to ten while the number of armed robberies, where those involved were determined to use their weapons if thwarted by the Garda Síochána or the public, increased from 24 to 57. One can talk about resources until the cows come home. What is the reason for the dramatic increase in the number of murders and armed robberies and what will the Minister do about it?

Mr. O'Donoghue: The Deputy quoted incorrect statistics.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): They are the Minister's statistics.

Mr. O'Donoghue: The number of murders recorded in 1997 and 1998, the latest years for which Garda statistics are available—

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): The question relates to the figures for the years 1999 and 2000.

Mr. O'Donoghue: —was lower than that recorded in 1995 and 1996.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): That is history.

Mr. O'Donoghue: The number of armed robberies in the latest year for which statistics are available—

Mr. Howlin: Which year is the Minister talking about?

[1342]

Mr. O'Donoghue: The year 1998, The number was lower than that recorded in the mid-1990s. That is not to say I am satisfied with the present situation. The number of armed robberies recorded in 1999, for example, was 133, as compared to 179 in 1994, 171 in 1995 and 152 in 1996. It is too high and it is clearly our intention to do something to bring it down. In this context it is the intention of the Garda Commissioner to ensure the national bureau of criminal investigation becomes involved with local district units in combating armed robberies.

Mr. Howlin: Does the Minister accept the findings of the Central Statistics Office that 45% of all crimes are not reported and that 30% of respondents replied that the reason they did not report the crime was that they believed that the Garda Síochána could do nothing about it? In light of the huge rise in the number of serious crimes and the fact that 45% of all crimes are not reported, does the Minister still believe that crime levels are still at 1950s levels?

Mr. O'Donoghue: There has been no huge rise in serious crime. There has been a reduction of 21% since the Government took office.

Mr. Howlin: Murders this year.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Approximately 21,500 fewer crimes are being committed than when Deputies Howlin and Higgins were in government. They are the statistics and the facts. In terms of reportage, the public has the same options that it had when the Deputies were in government. The ground rules have not changed.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): The Minister should address the question.

Mr. Howlin: The Minister is responsible now, he is accountable to the House.

Mr. O'Donoghue: I am accountable and responsible and very proud of the record of the Garda Síochána which has seen a decrease of 21% in serious crime.

Mr. Howlin: The Minister is a bombast.

Mr. O'Donoghue: We are a long way from the days when Deputy Quinn and Deputy Howlin cancelled the prison at Castlerea.

Mr. Howlin: We did not have people escaping from prisons which had not been opened.

Mr. O'Donoghue: There will be an additional 1,300 places by May.

Mr. Howlin: Last week we had his officials in. Last year he opened a prison and it is still not in use.

Mr. O'Donoghue: People will serve the sen[1343] tences which they receive from the courts. There is a growing confidence in the criminal justice system. People thought that the previous Administration just did not care.

Mr. Flanagan: The Minister's reply might be taken as being funny, if it was not for the fact that we are dealing with murder.

Mr. Howlin: Hear, hear.

Mr. Flanagan: Does the Minister accept that in the year 2000 there is more than one murder per week? Does he recall a time when a murder in any part of the country was treated with certain alarm, sending shockwaves through communities?

An Ceann Comhairle: The time for this question is up. We must proceed to the next question.

Mr. Flanagan: What does the Minister intend doing about a situation where there is a murder at least every weekend and sometimes twice a week? Will he establish a homicide squad? Will he enforce the firearms and offensive weapons legislation?

An Ceann Comhairle: We have exceeded the time limit on this. We must proceed to question No. 8.

Mr. O'Donoghue: I am sorry I do not have the opportunity of replying to Deputy Flanagan.

Mr. Howlin: He had two and a half years to reply.

Mr. O'Donoghue: I have the chance to reply to question No. 8. Would that the Deputies had taken the chance to deal with the crime issue when they were in Government, they would not be bleating to me this afternoon.

Mr. Howlin: It is his responsibility now. When will he understand that?