Dáil Éireann - Volume 552 - 23 April, 2002

Private Members' Business. - Road Traffic (Joyriding) Bill, 2002: Second Stage.

  Mr. Broughan: I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

  I wish to share my time with Deputy Rabbitte.

  The Bill before us is the Road Traffic (Joyriding) Bill, 2002. It is entitled: “An Act to provide for the offences of supplying or offering to supply a vehicle to an under-age driver and of organising, directing or participation in the unlawful taking of a mechanically propelled vehicle for the purposes of dangerous driving in a public place, for that purpose to extend the Road Traffic Acts, 1961 to 2002, and to provide for related matters.”

  My great predecessor in this House, former Deputy and Minister Conor Cruise O'Brien, who represented Dublin North East, was an outstanding historian and distinguished political philosopher. A common thread which runs through his books is that of political responsibility. O'Brien believes, as enunciated in his life's writings, that at the end of the day people who exercise Executive power must take responsibility for their words, actions and inaction. That central concept is a very valuable political ideal. When applied to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, it shows the Minister is clearly found wanting. The Labour Party introduced this Bill two and a quarter years ago on a February or March night. We requested the [875] Minister to consider urgently the issues with which the Bill was concerned, including possible remedies and, if necessary, to consider, in whatever way he saw fit, amending the Bill. I raised these issues on a number of occasions with the Minister face to face and by way of letters and Adjournment debates. It seemed he would take responsibility for the incredible grief, carnage and suffering caused by car-related crime and that he would seek to take a major initiative to cope with it. Our Bill, which he may have amended, would have formed the first plank of that initiative. However, the Minister is now leaving office and he has not taken this responsibility. He has failed in a key element of his duty as a political leader.

  This is the 31st occasion in this Chamber on which I have raised the issue of car theft and joyriding crime. I raised it on many occasions on the Order of Business when the Taoiseach either mumbled replies or simply refused to answer. I raised it during many Adjournment debates, including on 11 November 1999 when I pointed out the urgent need to provide substantial resources for youth education, sport and leisure and to support the anti-joyriding task force in Dublin North East, etc. I received a couple of replies from the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. I wrote to the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Byrne, dating back two and a half or three years ago. As Labour Party spokesperson on social, community and family affairs, I beseeched him to work with the Minister on perhaps bringing forward a programme. I am aware that he and many senior gardaí have been very supportive of the Labour Party's efforts in this regard over the years.

  I wrote to the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, on 3 February 2000, as follows:

      Dear John,

      You will remember that on about a dozen occasions in this present Dáil I have raised the persistent and very dangerous crime of so-called joyriding with An Taoiseach and yourself in Dáil Éireann. Following these interventions and brief discussions with you, an Anti-Joyriding Task Force was established on the northside of Dublin. The Task Force, ably assisted by Inspector Seamus Kane of Coolock Gardaí and local residents, have suggested a programme of urgently needed actions to end the joyriding menace once and for all.

The letter stated that in the west and south sides of Dublin, north Cork city and Limerick city there was also this modern urban plague. I outlined a number of measures, including a programme of education, particularly the attempt to retain in school for as long as possible young people in the most disadvantaged areas. I outlined the consideration of a specific car mechanic and driving educational course, of which there were one or two examples in Dublin city and elsewhere, the urgent provision of a comprehensive youth service, particularly in the most disadvan[876] tages parishes, and the urgent provision of local sports facilities. I instanced a number of football clubs and Gaelic clubs which up to then had not received substantial funding.

  I outlined the urgently needed support for existing community and social centres, which do such a brilliant job but are very under-resourced, and additional resources for gardaí in the areas of joyriding crime. I referred specifically to an anti-joyriding specialist Garda task force to deal with the measure along the lines of other serious activities such as drug-related crime and fraud. I mentioned the urgent necessity to pass legislation to cover gaps in the law. I suggested to the Minister where the Labour Party and its advisers felt there were significant gaps which made the work of the Garda more difficult and created more problems and suffering for people living in these communities. I suggested this would be the beginning of a comprehensive attack on the problem. Since this urban plague, as the Labour Party Leader, Deputy Quinn, referred to it, emerged in the late 1970s it has not been a simple problem. It is not a problem which needs knee-jerk solutions but one which must be worked at in a very comprehensive manner such as drug-related crime. We hope to use the legislation to spark a debate and to get the Minister to launch a programme of action which would, perhaps, have avoided the dreadful tragedy which we recently witnessed.

  It is ironic that the northside anti-joyriding task force received funding for its first co-ordinator, Ms Breda Collins, the day after the slaughter of two gardaí. Why did it take two and a half years for this simple measure, long requested by northside communities, to take shape? The Labour Party's attempt, which has been ongoing for a long time, to find an answer to this crime culminated in a seminar held at the City Arts Centre on 14 February 2000, the prospectus for which was entitled Joyriding – Can we find a solution. That seminar was addressed by community leaders from around the country and by my party leader.

  Many communities at that time looked to the Labour Party to provide the spurring into action of the Government. Unfortunately, those efforts have been largely ignored by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, over the past two and a half years. In April 2000, at the culmination of our campaign, I tabled the original version of the Road Traffic (Joyriding) Bill. The Bill proposed the creation of two new offences and would have created a new offence of organising, directing or participating in the taking of a vehicle for the purposes of that vehicle being driven in a public place in a manner which is dangerous to the public. In other words, it made joyriding a specific offence. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has said many times – he may say it again tomorrow night, if there is a tomorrow for the 28th Dáil – that a provision in the 1961 Act dealing with “unauthorised takings”, as the [877] Garda refers to them, covers the area of joyriding. This activity, which has been written about extensively for the past week and a half since the tragic deaths of Garda Tighe and Garda Padden, should be identified as a specific crime and we must deal with it in a very serious manner.

  The Bill also aimed to deal with the problem of company cars, a major feature of the joyriding problem in many disadvantaged areas. This problem relates to youths who drive illegally. They purchase old cars for little or nothing, perhaps €30 or €40, and use them for joyriding. The Bill would have made it an offence to supply a vehicle to an under age person in such circumstances as to give rise to reasonable apprehension that the vehicle would be used by an under age driver in a public place. That Bill and the current Bill provides for new penalties of up to seven years in prison and for periods of disqualification from driving of up to five years.

  I thought on the first night of the debate on this issue two and a half years ago the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and their colleagues would adopt the Bill and make whatever changes they felt necessary in consultation with the Garda Síochána and the Attorney General. I was completely gobsmacked when it became clear on the Wednesday that they were going to oppose it. Is it not astonishing that the second most senior garda in this country has said in the past couple of days that there is no legal provision to deal with company cars. The Labour Party Bill which contained such a provision would have been a valuable addition to the Minister's legal armoury. The criminals who give, transfer or sell cars to children should be severely dealt with. They have a grave responsibility, yet the Minister has been seen, by his behaviour, to treat this problem as though insignificant.

  Joyriding is a complex problem. Glancing over my contribution on the previous Bill, I note I mentioned my party's reservations about calling this a joyriding Bill. I remember having a long discussion on this issue at Dublin City Council where many members from disadvantaged areas suggested we should call it death-riding or grief-riding given the carnage and despair it causes in communities. As joyriding is the name by which this activity has been known over the past couple of decades, we felt it should be identified in the title of the Bill.

  I am aware there are many aspects to finding a solution to this problem. I am disappointed the Children Bill has taken five years of development from the point at which the rainbow Government left it. We created the central ideas of the Children Bill, with care for the victim, restitution and the engagement of parental responsibility, with the creation of much needed places for children in serious trouble. Five years have passed, yet very little action has taken place. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy [878] O'Donoghue, has, in the dying days of this Dáil, succeeded in having that Bill passed and is now trying to implement it. Last week, I contrasted the generosity of the rainbow Government to that of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, regarding legislation in that on important legislation, such as this Bill, he defiantly refused to take action.

  One of the problems in early 2000 and before has been that many sections of the media do not seem to take this issue seriously. The reason is simple, it depends on where one lives. If one lives in a leafy southside retreat or in a rural idyllic location, the problems of joyriding, drug-related crime, harassment, downright mayhem and incipient civil insurrection do not bother one too much but if one lives in or near clearly disadvantaged areas the problems of youth crime are endemic, appalling and very frustrating for community leaders who, perhaps, have worked hard for 20 years or more trying to make their communities a better place in which to live.

  At 11 p.m. on the Thursday night before the assassination of Garda Tighe and Garda Padden while talking to my chief poster man – the kind of valuable comrades we all have at times like this – a car was driven by in an appalling and dangerous manner. It was a busy evening on a busy urban street. The No. 27 bus was travelling in both directions carrying children home from various activities. What was happening was appalling and people were scattering for their lives. This issue, until recently, has not been taken as seriously as it should have been by some sections of the media. In early 2000 a certain individual, an idiot, who wrote in The Irish Times berated me because I dared to ask the Labour Party to spend three hours of parliamentary time discussing this problem, as if an issue that affects urban communities and some rural areas on the edge of the city should not be addressed in this House. That attitude has made it very difficult for us to come to grips with the problem.

  The Dublin Labour Party, since the class of 1991, as I call them, on Dublin City Council and the three county councils have long had a very strong approach to the issue of crime and urban deprivation. Indeed, before the “Blairites” came up with the term, it is fair to say that my distinguished and late colleague, Pat Upton, Deputy Shortall, former Deputy Costello, Deputies Ryan, Rabbitte and Gilmore and former Deputy Byrne, who will, I hope, be back in this House shortly, and my friend and colleague, Alderman Conaghan developed a very strong programme of measures to try to move resources to our most deprived communities and address some of the residual issues. We focused on matters such as early school leaving, intensive support for youth, including sports facilities, and more localised policing. We tried to obtain that through the anti-crime committee on Dublin City Council. At the end of the day we wanted the identification, punishment and detention of people who continue to terrorise neighbourhoods whether through drugs, harassment or the misuse of vehicles.

[879]   The events of the past week and a half have obviously horrified the nation. The appalling sadness of the families of Garda Tighe and Garda Padden brought home to us the heartache this problem has caused. A couple of years ago I recalled the sorrowful list of deaths and injuries caused by car theft and car related crime. In the mid 1990s I arrived on a scene in north Coolock where two children had been mowed down. There were the frightful deaths in early 1999 of the hackney driver, Derek Hall, from Tallaght and a young DJ, Mark Bryan, a popular man from Dun Laoghaire. Many of those involved in local community development and in the Labour Party were devastated by the deaths of Richie and Christine Green in early 1999. We understand the sorrow experienced by the close relatives and friends of the two valiant gardaí in Mayo and south Dublin. One of my chief mentors when I commenced in politics and community development who encouraged me and others at every turn was Richie Green. There was mention by Fianna Fáil politicians in Dublin North Central of erecting a memorial to Richie Green. The best memorial to Richie would be to devise a multifaceted approach to deal seriously with this problem once and for all. That is the memorial Richie, whom I knew well and who was a mentor to Deputy McDowell and me, would have wanted.

  Under the stewardship of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, car crime has escalated. This is obvious when we consider that the figure of almost 12,000 unauthorised takings when the rainbow Government left office has now risen to almost 16,000. The Minister is refusing to publish the 2001 figures which show a serious deterioration. As I said last week, the Garda report has split crimes into two categories, serious crimes and less serious crimes. All the crimes in those lists were very serious. As I mentioned on the last occasion on which I spoke on this matter, every week our colleagues on Dublin City Council and in the three county councils have to remove dozens of cars from particular areas. In a rural lane adjacent to my constituency – I represent a tiny part of rural Dublin – a small community on the northern fringe of the city has been horrendously terrorised in recent weeks. Unfortunately we have not come to grips with it. The Minister has a special responsibility in this area and I hold him equally responsible in the terms in which my predecessor, Conor Cruise O'Brien, would have identified political responsibility.

  In 1996 Deputy Howlin put through the House the Waste Management Act. That clearly indicates that producers are ultimately responsible for the disposal of their products. One of the key problems in recent years has been that of scrappage and what to do with cars at the end of their life. I tried to deal with that under the company car provisions of this Bill. Along with Deputy Gilmore, my colleagues and I have been pressing [880] the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, for several years to introduce regulations for the safe disposal of vehicles to prevent them being used by joyriders to kill or maim. The motor industry should have a major share of the responsibility for the disposal of vehicles. Prior to every budget we are harassed by the Society of the Irish Motor Industry to grant it this and that in relation to tax breaks. SIMI has not dealt with its key responsibility nor have all the famous car companies. The Minister indicated in November that under an EU directive if they did not come forward with a scrappage system he would do something about it by April 2002. Under EU directives, Ireland is required to make these regulations. The Minster, Deputy Dempsey, told me early last year he was in discussions with the SIMI and his objective was to have an acceptable vehicle recovery scheme in place not later than autumn of that year but nothing happened. We continue to pursue the issue and hopefully there will be some significant action.

  I have here the picture of an appallingly damaged vehicle from Cork city's north ring road. The senior garda has indicated that Garda Brian Shanahan miraculously escaped death and was flung 30 feet into the air while trying to do his duty when one of these famous company cars came speeding towards him. We almost had a third tragedy in the space of a week. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, have evaded their political responsibility.

  It is no coincidence that car related crime is a major problem for the most disadvantaged areas. It has often been compared to drug related crime. It is a malign influence and is a symptom of extreme youth alienation and despair, often among kids who dropped out of the education system. In my area I noticed in recent weeks that alleged names of current miscreants are similar to the seven and eight year old tear-aways whom I remember in primary school. It was very difficult to keep them in school and the school valiantly tried to get a sin-bin with intensive teaching to hold these kids. Unfortunately, the successive Governments did not provide the resources. Journalists such as Paul Williams have made the point that some of the most serious criminals who disgraced the country in terms of drug related crime and all kinds of mayhem from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s started as joyriding thieves. That is an important point.

  The other day Jim Walsh of the Combat Poverty Agency clearly showed in a brilliant analysis that the five budgets of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, were geared to the needs of the rich. The poorest 20% received under 5% of the last five budgets whereas the richest 10% got 25%. The conclusion he came to is that Ireland is among the most unequal countries in the EU with one of the highest rates of relative income poverty. That is the background condition of which [881] we need to be aware. That is the reason it is crucial that major resources are put into those areas.

  One problem behind this serious criminal activity is early school leaving. We had a discussion a few hours ago in the House on the huge cohort of children dropping out not only of secondary school but of primary school. On the same day the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, my constituency colleague, said all children would have to remain in school until they are 16 years of age. Each year there has been a continuing and massive fall-away, a growing gap in skills and growing alienation and despair.

  The Government has paid lip service to putting resources into disadvantaged and deprived areas. I could mention many of them, but one is the RAPID programme which was set up by the Government. It did not go through Dublin City Council, county councils or the partnership boards. It set up a whole new edifice of jobs for various people but not for people on the ground. Now senior officials in national and local government say that RAPID will not and has not been implemented because no funding was provided by the Minister, Deputy McCreevy. It is against this background that we have ended up with serious crime, with car related crime being allowed to flourish. That is why the Labour Party has produced the Road Traffic (Joyriding) Bill, 2002. The Bill is the first step in a multifaceted programme. It makes joyriding a specific crime and sets out to ban the supply of company cars to under-age drivers and imposes strict penalties in terms of fines of up to €32,000. As the Minister will recall from the letter from which I quoted extensively, we intended the Bill introduced in 2000 to be one of nine major initiatives that would be taken to tackle this problem.

  I hope, on this the last or penultimate day of this Dáil, that the two Ministers to whom I referred and the Taoiseach will at long last decide to establish a multi-agency task force to tackle this problem and that they will be prepared to accept this Labour Party legislation. I commend the Bill to the House. I appeal to the Minister present and to his colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, to accept this legislation and to act on it by adopting a multi-agency approach to tackling this problem.

  My colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, did a magnificent job in the rainbow Government in putting together a raft of measures and actions to tackle drug related crime by establishing the local drugs task forces. Over the past five years we gained immensely in that area from the initiatives taken by Deputy Rabbitte when Minister of State. We need a similar initiative to address problems in areas of deprivation in particular. A start could be made in that direction tonight by the Minister accepting this Bill.

  Mr. Rabbitte: I pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy Broughan, for reintroducing this Bill tonight and I acknowledge the single-minded campaign he has run on this issue on behalf of [882] the Labour Party. This is a worsening violent phenomenon in our society. It is an irony, on the eve of the dissolution of the Dáil, that once again Private Members' business is given over to the phenomenon of anti-social behaviour in our society and the dreadful implications of so-called joyriding.

  When Deputy Broughan remarked that he was derided in some sections of the media for devoting so much Dáil time to this issue, I was very much reminded of a similar phenomenon in relation to wandering horses in the lifetime of the last Government. Some colleagues in the House, sections of the media and sections of the Civil Service thought the notion was hilarious. As Deputy Broughan said, this depends on where one lives. We failed in Government to persuade the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take that issue on board. I yield to nobody in the House in my respect for the Civil Service, but there are sections of it where if they are not the progenitor of an idea, it is automatically deemed to have no merit.

  We failed in Government to cause the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to bring forward legislation to deal with the scourge of wandering horses that had taken life, maimed children and caused various problems in my part of Dublin and elsewhere. Many colleagues came back from the Dublin West by-election, as a result of which Deputy Brian Lenihan was elected to the House, with a different view. It is to the eternal credit of Deputy Deenihan that he took on board the issue in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. I recall collaborating with him and the problem of wandering horses was solved.

  Similarly, this phenomenon could be solved if only we could persuade the people in authority of the menace it is in communities, certainly on the west side of Dublin and, from what Deputy Broughan has been saying for years, on the north side of Dublin. I meant no disrespect to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when I said last week that I genuinely believed he does not appreciate the circumstances in which communities in constituencies like mine are obliged to live with this phenomenon. People lock themselves in and are afraid to come out in the evening. They are woken in the middle of night as these young thugs drive cars at high speed through estates.

  If nothing else comes from the terrible tragedy of the two gardaí, who made the ultimate sacrifice in seeking to protect the public, but they forced the next Government to act to curb this violent anti-social phenomenon, their sacrifice will not have been entirely in vain. It is a miracle there have not been more fatalities. Deputy Broughan adverted to some of the terrible tragedies chalked up by these young hooligans out of control. It is only surprising that more have not happened. The occurrence of this phenomenon depends on where one lives and is symptomatic of a breakdown in our society. Some of the conditions [883] described by householders are almost beyond imagining. People who do not live in these areas cannot imagine how much these communities are tortured by this phenomenon.

  There is a period of peace and then suddenly one ring leader is released from St. Patrick's or wherever and he gets a gang of four or five around him. There is no more peace in that community for the ensuing four to six months until he is put away again. We can have a discussion at a more leisurely time on the parallel diversionary and interventionist measures needed to address the social side of this problem, but in the interim steps must be taken to take the ringleaders of these young marauders out of communities. There is no other solution. It is not fair that people should be beset in their homes and besieged in their communities in that fashion.

  As Deputy Broughan said, early school dropout is a major contributory factor, but we have not had a school attendance regime in my part of the county for as far back as anybody can remember. That task was not appropriate to the gardaí and they did not do it. We have only recently passed legislation which has not yet been put in place to deal with that phenomenon. Many diversionary schemes have been piloted elsewhere that could be usefully implemented, but that is not being done. There are not the necessary facilities or amenities where the Minister and others live that would contribute and help to tackle this problem.

  Deputy Broughan referred to my decision in Government to establish the local drugs task forces and to set up the young person's facilities fund which was designed to do precisely that. I pay tribute to my successor, Deputy Flood, who continued those policies to some good effect. So little has happened over such a long period. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government is in the House. He visited my constituency last week to make some announcements that are welcome, but I suppose they were eroded by the fact that they were made on the eve of the general election. In one case, he announced some €630,000 towards an exclusive facility which prompted a large-scale deputation to me from the same area before he got back to his home in County Meath, stating youths in the area would not be able to access the facility. I am sure he will look at this. I commend the work of my successor, Deputy Flood. In the area in which the Minister made his announcement live 25,000 to 30,000 people.

  Finally, after 20 years, they got the promise of a grant for a neighbourhood swimming pool. These 25,000 to 30,000 people have no Garda station, no facilities and nowhere to buy a newspaper or a pint of milk. There are no facilities in this densely populated area which is entirely dependent on corner shops which, in some cases, are under siege from young vandals who are out of control.

  That is the picture in large tracts of Dublin. I cannot speak for elsewhere. It is regrettable that [884] Deputy Broughan has had to come back to the House again on the eve of the general election because the Government failed to come back to him on the Bill when he introduced it before. It is not a big matter; there is no complex criminal law involved. If the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform had been persuaded, it would have prodded the Minister, but apparently it was not so persuaded. While repeating my admiration for its officials, none of them lives in an area tormented by this phenomenon. I plead with them that while the rest of us are out trying to hold our jobs and they are happily secure in theirs, they might devote some time to this issue. If the deaths of the two gardaí do nothing else, they might examine what some of us have been declaring as the truth for a long time: one cannot expect decent citizens housed in the areas concerned to put up with this kind of punishment and misery in their homes because of the activities of small gangs of marauding youths.

  One habitually cannot get a bus to large parts of my constituency because young vandals will not allow bus drivers to access these areas without risk to their personal safety. This situation is out of control in some areas and must be addressed. If nothing else happens as a result of Deputy Broughan's Bill, I hope a considered Bill will come before the House before the summer is out.

  Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): I propose to share my time with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

  Acting Chairman (Mr. Browne, Carlow-Kilkenny): Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Mr. Dempsey: The consequences of what is termed joyriding or car crime, as it has been described tonight, have been brought home to all in the most terrible fashion with the tragic deaths of two members of the Garda. Given that Garda investigations are under way, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on that incident save to pass on my sincere condolences to the families of Anthony Tighe and Michael Padden.

  In the wake of a tragedy, there is always the temptation to rush off to take steps – a temptation to be seen to be doing something, anything, even if it is not the right thing. In bringing this Bill before the House again the Labour Party has fallen into this seriously flawed thinking. The Bill was flawed two years ago when it came off the word processor and is even more flawed now because of changes in the law since. Tonight represents the third occasion on which the House has debated the provisions of the Bill. It was originally presented in April 2000—

  Mr. Broughan: Not true.

  Mr. Dempsey: —and its various components, with some relatively minor changes, were also [885] proposed as additions to the recently passed Road Traffic Act, 2002. On both previous occasions the proposals were not agreed to and the Labour Party is well aware of the reasons.

  The Bill does not offer a practical advancement on the current law. Its provisions are based on presumptions that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate and even if its enforcement was possible, it could not be used to address the major issue of the use of stolen vehicles in joyriding incidents. As has been stated before in the House, the measures contained in the Bill would not advance the fight against joyriding. Simply put, it would not provide the Garda with any additional enforceable measures to tackle the problem.

  The Bill is essentially the same as that proposed in 2000 and contains three substantive measures. It would provide for the introduction of a prohibition on the supply of vehicles to persons under 16 years in circumstances where there would be a reasonable belief that the vehicle would be used by that person or another in a public place. Second, it would provide that it would be an offence to organise, direct or participate in the taking of a vehicle in a public place in a manner which is dangerous to the public. Finally, it would provide for the application of a range of penalties.

  As has been said in the past in response to these proposals, there is no lack or deficiency in the legal powers available to address joyriding. The Garda has not sought the introduction of any new powers and the various offences that constitute joyriding are already adequately addressed under existing legislation. Charges of manslaughter, larceny, dangerous driving, unauthorised taking of or being carried in a vehicle, uninsured or drink driving may each be appropriate according to the circumstances. In addition, the Garda has power to detain vehicles driven by under age drivers.

  While the Labour Party proposals have essentially remained static since 2000, there has been a significant change in traffic law. The Road Traffic Act, 2002, heralds the introduction of a new approach to traffic law enforcement. While the debate in relation to that legislation has concentrated on the headline provision of the penalty points system, the Act contains a number of significant initiatives to enhance the enforcement capacity of the Garda and will apply a greater range of more focused deterrents; there is more change to come.

  The reasonable assumption is that the great majority of vehicles used for joyriding are stolen or taken without authority. It has been claimed, however, that the supply and availability of what are termed “end of life vehicles” to young people also contribute to the phenomenon of joyriding, especially in urban areas. In this regard, as Deputy Broughan stated, my Department has been actively engaged with relevant interests with a view to developing a voluntary industry led producer responsibility initiative to comply with the [886] requirements of the EU directive on end-of-life vehicles.

  Mr. Broughan: Why voluntary?

  Mr. Dempsey: While the directive is mainly concerned with the safe and environmentally sound disposal of end-of-life vehicles, it will introduce additional controls on final disposal of these cars while easing the burden on the owner.

  The directive provides for certificates of destruction for end-of-life vehicles. More importantly, it will ensure all end-of-life vehicles are collected, dismantled and recovered by industry at no cost to the final holder of the vehicle. This will provide an effective means of addressing the problem of the supply of such vehicles in the short to medium term. However, as indicated, I remain of the view that the question of end-of-life vehicles is but one component – a relatively small one – of the problem of car crime.

  Regarding the legal provisions relevant to joyriding, the taking of a mechanically propelled vehicle without the owner's consent is already an offence under section 112 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, and carries substantial penalties of fines and imprisonment at the discretion of the court. An offence under the section also leads to the application of a consequential disqualifcation order. The maximum fines will be revised as a result of the Road Traffic Act, 2002, to €2,500 and €10,000 respectively in relation to summary and indictable convictions.

  The offence of dangerous driving is provided for under section 53 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, as amended. A member of the Garda Síochána who suspects someone of dangerous driving can arrest that person without warrant. A person convicted of dangerous driving causing death or serious bodily harm can be liable for penal servitude of up to ten years or, at the discretion of the court, a fine of up to €15,000, or both. In any other case a fine of up €2,500 can be imposed or, at the discretion of the court, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. A person convicted under this section is also disqualified from driving. It is also open to the Garda Síochána to detain and impound a vehicle. The circumstances where that power can be applied include where the vehicle is being driven by an under age driver and-or where a driver has no motor insurance cover.

  Young people who participate in joyriding are often in the under 16 age group and are consequently prohibited from holding a driving licence under section 31 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961. Driving without a licence is an offence under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, and conviction carries the penalty of a fine at the discretion of the court, imprisonment of up to six months, or both. The new Road Traffic Act, 2002, will see this fine increase to €2,500.

  A person who has taken a vehicle without the owner's consent or has purchased a very old [887] vehicle for a very small sum is unlikely to have the required motor insurance. Under section 56 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, it is an offence to drive a vehicle in a public place without motor insurance. Conviction carries a fine or, at the discretion of the court, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. Again, the Act of 2002 increases the fine to €2,500.

  All these offences impact directly on elements of what constitute joyriding. The Garda, which is responsible for enforcement, has not requested further powers in this area, but if it does, there will be no avoidable delay in considering such a request. The Road Traffic Act, 2002, will provide additional powers to the Garda for the enforcement of road traffic laws generally and it will further enhance the precautionary effect of Garda efforts. It is not just through the very substantial enforcement provisions that I have outlined or indeed the proposals put forward tonight for the third time by the Labour Party that the problem of joyriding can be solved.

  There is a need to tackle the culture that underlies this deadly practice and the social exclusion and disadvantage that seems to fuel it. The Government's record in relation to promoting social inclusion is second to none. It has reduced poverty to historically low levels and has focused programmes in place, such as RAPID, to make the further progress we all desire. Our educational system is laying the groundwork for improved self-esteem among our young people, which is a key to tackling anti-social behaviour.

  We are also specifically tackling education and there are promotion measures in the Government's road safety strategy. The headlines might point to a reduction of road deaths last year of 13% on the 1997 level and a reduction in serious injuries well in excess of the 20% target. They might also point to enormous increases in the detection and prosecution of road traffic offences. Valuable, forward looking work is being done on improving attitudes among all of us, especially our young people, on safe, responsible behaviour on our roads. In particular, special educational programmes have been launched for both primary and secondary schools, and major publicity campaigns targeting drink driving, seat belt wearing and, critically, speeding have been produced. As was pointed out in this House as long ago as April 2000, the approach this Bill promotes does not offer a feasible advancement to the current laws.

  Measures directed at the sale, hire or loan of vehicles to under age drivers would address only a limited number of cases and present formidable difficulties in terms of proving the supply of the vehicles and their intended use. In addition, they do not fit easily into a code of law which is focused mainly on the use of vehicles in public places. The Bill is not capable of being amended to produce workable and meaningful legislation. I therefore oppose it.

[888]   Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): At the outset, I emphasise that so-called joyriding is a complex issue which, while requiring significant inputs from the criminal justice system, can only be tackled to meaningful and lasting effect through a multifaceted and multi-agency response involving the community and relevant statutory bodies. I fully accept my responsibilities within my remit as Minister to respond to the problem from a criminal justice perspective, but this is only one piece of a much larger jigsaw. In this regard, although road traffic legislation is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, I would like to say a few words on the Private Members' Bill before the House as it clearly has criminal justice dimensions.

  In terms of the proposal to make organising, directing or participating in the unlawful taking of a mechanically propelled vehicle for the purposes of dangerous driving in a public place a specific offence, the Garda authorities have clearly indicated that the road traffic legislation currently in place is adequate to deal with the current situation. Whatever about the Opposition, I have no intention of questioning the expertise of those with responsibility for policing on a day-to-day basis. Within the existing statutory structure, the Garda authorities, at both national and local levels, take a very proactive approach in implementing operational strategies in geographical areas that have been identified as potential hotspots for joyriding. In particular, special patrols are concentrated in such areas to deal with public order and unauthorised taking incidents.

  The stinger device continues to be an effective aide in this regard when used by trained personnel in appropriate circumstances. Despite some public suggestions to the contrary, these devices are carried at all times by divisional crime task force mobile patrols and by other selected district mobile units. The Garda air support unit also operates in selected areas and has played a significant role in the detection and apprehension of offenders. Nevertheless, recent tragic events have highlighted once more the terrible risks posed to innocent lives by joyriders.

  In many cases, those responsible are young – often under 16 years of age – and there is clearly a perception that they are outside the law. There is an issue in relation to a shortage of remand accommodation for these young offenders and this has a bearing on the way in which the young offenders view the risk of losing their liberty. Last week I obtained Government approval for the provision of additional accommodation under the control of the Prisons Service – St. Patrick's Institution – for the reception of offenders under 16 years of age. This, of course, is an interim measure while the Department of Education and Science advances its plans in its area. By so doing, the courts can be guaranteed that a small number of serious young offenders, whose presence in the [889] community constitutes a serious threat to the rights and safety of law-abiding citizens, can, if necessary, be detained.

  I also indicated last week that I intend to consider submissions which may be made in relation to whether the statutory power given to the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply for a review of a sentence imposed on a conviction on indictment and which he regards as unduly lenient should be extended to sentences imposed on summary conviction. Both measures underline my commitment to meaningful and responsive criminal justice policy to the joyriding issue as and when required. Considering the proposal to provide for the offence of supplying or offering to supply a vehicle to an under age driver for the purpose of dangerous driving in a public place, I understand that this not only could impinge upon the constitutional property rights of citizens but would also make assumptions as to the proposed use of the vehicle.

  In other words, such an offence would be based on the assumptions that the person will drive the vehicle, that the person selling the vehicle is aware that the buyer is under age and that the seller is aware that the buyer is purchasing the vehicle with the intent of driving. These assumptions are such as to render extremely difficult practical enforcement by the Garda Síochána, and, as we all know, unenforceable law is bad law.

  Mr. Broughan: It is better than no law.

  Mr. O'Donoghue: The Minister for the Environment and Local Government is of the view that the issue of so-called “company cars” is best dealt with in the context of agreement with the Society for the Irish Motor Industry and other interested agencies on an acceptable vehicle recovery scheme. Such a voluntary, industry-led producer responsibility is not only in keeping with our requirements under the relevant European directive on end-of-life vehicles but appears to provide the most effective means of addressing the problem of the supply of such vehicles in the short to medium term. This approach also highlights, as I mentioned at the outset of my intervention, the need for an inter-agency and multi-disciplinary approach to joyriding.

  Again, speaking from a criminal justice perspective, I know that members of the Garda Síochána maintain close liaison with local authorities, which, of course, have a critical input into the problem in terms of estate design. Speed ramps and other control measures, such as the permanent or temporary barricading of roads, have been introduced with the agreement of local residents in affected areas.

  These kinds of local level partnerships have proven particularly effective in, for example, the South Dublin County Council administrative area, where my Department and the Garda Síochána were involved in an inter-agency initiative on joyriding and anti-social behaviour. In Deputy [890] Broughan's constituency, I personally launched a research report prepared on behalf of the Priorswood task force on joyriding that sets out a proposed anti-joyriding strategy. I have made funding of €127,000 available to that task force for a two-year pilot implementation of the strategy and consideration will be given to the wider applicability of the lessons learned from this pilot programme.

  In a similar vein, the Probation and Welfare Service funds the auto crime diversion project in Cork city, which was established in 1995 against the background of unacceptably high numbers of cars being taken without the owners' consent and invariably being found within 24 hours in an abandoned, crashed or written-off condition. The 26-week course on offer is not a soft option for joyriders but demands a stern commitment and imposes a definite structure on those involved. Broader diversionary schemes also operate in the form of a network of 64 Garda youth diversion projects for young offenders and those “at risk” of offending in the ten to 18 years age range. Since coming into office in 1997, I approved 52 of the 64 projects and the combined annual budget now amounts to approximately €6 million.

  More fundamentally, the entire juvenile justice system is set to undergo profound enhancement with the introduction of the Children Act, 2001. Among many other provisions, the Act will establish the Garda juvenile diversion programme on a statutory basis as a means of dealing with the young offender who accepts responsibility for his or her criminal behaviour. The programme allows the offender to be cautioned in lieu of formal criminal justice procedures and provides for the informal supervision of the offender in the community. A conference of all relevant participants may also be convened, including the victim of the crime, to examine the young person's problems, the reasons for offending and the family support and community involvement required to divert the young offender from further criminal activity.

  Moreover, where police discretion in the use of cautioning is inappropriate or has failed and the matter proceeds to the children's court, provision is made for an adjournment of proceedings and the convening of a family conference in cases where the young offender accepts responsibility for his or her criminal behaviour. The family conference, organised by the Probation and Welfare Service, aims to formulate an action plan for the person, which may include an apology or reparation to the victim, participation in appropriate sporting or recreational activities, attendance at school or work or participation in other training or educational courses that do not interfere with school or work. The court remains in ultimate control of this process and if the terms of the action plan are not adhered to, charges against the young offender may be reinstated.

  In those cases where prosecution and conviction become unavoidable, in keeping with best international practice, the guiding principle is that detention should be an option of last resort. To [891] effect this, provision is made for a number of forms of community sanction, many of which are entirely new within Irish law. These non-custodial sanctions include a reprimand; a conditional release; an order that the parent or guardian exercise proper care and adequate control over the child; the payment by the child of compensation; supervision of the child's parents where wilful failure to care for or control the child is evidenced; an order that the parent or guardian pay compensation, again where wilful failure to care for or control the child is apparent; probation type community sanctions; supervision in a day centre; an order assigning the child to the care of a suitable adult or mentor, who need not necessarily be a relation; and a restriction on movement order. This new youth justice legislation, together with the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000, should result in an enhanced State response to youth offending.

  It is important to say something about the background to this Bill. I am disheartened, to say the least, that Opposition parties who refused to support, both when in the rainbow Government and in Opposition, the practical measures which are necessary to deal with crime have not learned from their mistakes. In saying this, I want to make it clear that I fully accept that, despite the Government's successes in dealing with many aspects of serious crime – such as the drug godfathers who felt during the reign of the rainbow Government that they were above the law, armed robberies, burglaries and so on – there is understandable public concern about street violence, particularly involving young people.

  Mr. Broughan: Street violence has escalated under the Minister's administration.

  Mr. O'Donoghue: All our resources are being brought to bear on dealing with this latest manifestation of crime. However, it is important, as we face into the next election, that the electorate is reminded of the record of the previous Government.

  Mr. Broughan: The Minister should give us his own record. He has been in power for 13 out of 15 years. He is the longest serving Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the history of the State and probably the most incompetent.

  Mr. O'Donoghue: I find it strange that the people in Government who cancelled the prison building programme, permitted Garda numbers to dwindle and starved the Garda of much-needed resources, who opposed legislation to deal with the problem of serious offences committed on bail, who voted against legislation that would allow persons convicted of serious offences to be subject to curfew and who voted against ten year minimum sentences for substantial drug dealers are now putting themselves forward as the parties who can deal with the crime situation. [892] This culminated in Deputy Noonan's assertion that he supported the philosophy of “tough on crime – tough on the causes of crime”.

  Deputy Noonan said this without any apparent recognition that the policies pursued by the rainbow coalition Government, of which he was a leading member, not only were not tough on the causes of crime, but clearly contributed to the causes of crime. The most obvious example of this was the decision of that Government to cancel the prison building programme and to allow the prisons' “revolving doors” to spin out of control to the extent that close to 20% of convicted prisoners were let out long before their sentences were finished and continued their lives of crime.

  Over the weekend, Deputy Noonan took the lead role on behalf of his party in raising concerns about crime.

  Mr. Coveney: Rightly so.

  Mr. O'Donoghue: It may well be that he felt that he should take the lead role to attempt to disown the criticisms made by his party spokesman, Deputy Shatter, of the Garda Síochána. In any event, what were his solutions to the crime problem? Deputy Noonan said there should be more gardaí on the streets late at night. The Government will have increased the number of gardaí to 12,000 this year, the highest number ever in the history of the State. Fianna Fáil, in a new Government, will increase it by a further 2,000. What is Fine Gael's policy in relation to Garda recruitment? Judging by its previous record in Government, there will not be one extra garda. All we have heard so far is the deputy leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Jim Mitchell, discussing the downsizing of the public sector.

  Deputy Noonan referred to the use of CCTV. Garda CCTV systems are now in place in Dublin, Cork and Tralee. The Government is arranging for similar such systems to be installed in 17 towns the length and breadth of this country including Bray, Dundalk, Dun Laoghaire, Finglas, Galway, Limerick, Athlone, Clondalkin, Waterford, Tallaght, Ballyfermot, Carlow, Castlebar, Clonmel, Ennis, Kilkenny and Sligo. In addition, there will be a grant scheme for other communities who would like to press ahead on their own with a local CCTV system.

  Deputy Noonan said there is a cohort of violent young people who need to be put in custody. Why was this not recognised when the rainbow Government was in office? The reality is that, while a problem remains in relation to under-17 year olds, which the Government is addressing in both the short and medium term, Deputy Noonan's party in Opposition continued to challenge the unprecedented prison building programme that we have undertaken. Is anyone seriously expected to believe that a party which has proved so reckless about the provision of accommodation for criminals who are aged 17 years and over is to be taken seriously when it expresses concerns about secure accommodation [893] for under-17 year olds? It should be manifestly clear that the ideas to tackle crime which are now being put forward by Deputy Noonan as his party's policies are those being successfully pursued by this Government.

  In Government and in Opposition, Deputy Noonan and his party failed to support these same ideas. Deputy Noonan even came up with an idea which he tried to suggest is not being actively pursued by the Government. He is proposing the creation of night courts. An examination is taking place in relation not just to night courts, but also to weekend courts. However, Deputy Noonan did not see fit to mention a number of things. First, in the context of Operation Encounter, the Garda Commissioner has issued a direction to the effect that, to the greatest extent possible, people charged with serious public order offences should be detained and brought before the next sitting of the District Court. This is in contrast with a previous practice of releasing persons and dealing with them by way of summons.

  Extraordinarily, Deputy Noonan particularly failed to mention that up to a number of years ago, courts were held at night and that his colleague in Government, Deputy Owen, when Minister for Justice, introduced legislation to facilitate their abolition in the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997. The then Fine Gael Minister of State at the Department of Justice, in advocating this move in the Seanad, referred to the effect of such night courts on policing levels in the community, especially at night. It is extraordinary that Deputy Noonan failed to mention that his party in Government facilitated the abolition of night courts. Neither does he seem to have considered the point that diverting gardaí to deal with night courts would significantly reduce the number of gardaí available to patrol the streets.

  It is clear that any fair-minded person would find it hard to avoid the conclusion that a party which singularly failed to pursue opportunities in Government to tackle crime is instead simply pursuing opportunism in Opposition. I will be glad to invite the electorate to compare the utterances of the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party to the utterances and actions of members of the Government on the issue of crime. I will be glad to invite the electorate to submit the new found toughness of Fine Gael and Labour to the simple test of whether their actions over the past eight years have matched their words over the past four days. The electorate will have a clear choice between the political parties who cancelled the prison building programme and the parties who have already built 1,200 additional prison places, thereby increasing the number of prison places by more than 50%, with another 700 spaces on the way.

  They will have a clear choice between the political parties who permitted serious crime to soar above the 100,000 per annum level in 1995 and 1996 and the parties who have since reduced serious crime by more than 27%. They will have [894] a clear choice between political parties who starved the Garda of personnel and resources and parties who brought the membership of the force and its funding to an historic high. They will have a clear choice between parties who said there is nothing to be done and who did nothing and parties who said there is much to be done and did much. The electorate will have a clear choice between parties who stand for policies of ambivalent appeasement and parties who stand for, and have a proven record in, resolute action leading to crime reduction. Much has been achieved in the fight against crime. More remains to be done. I will be glad to invite the electorate to compare the record of the strong, consistent approach by the Government to tackling crime to the record of underachievement, failure and appeasement of the Fine Gael and Labour Parties, both in Government and in Opposition.

  Although the Private Members' Bill is well-intentioned in aspiration, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, has made it clear why the Bill is flawed in terms of road traffic legislation. I have outlined why it is redundant in terms of policing and criminal justice measures. If we believed that it would help in tackling the scourge of so-called joyriding, we would support the measure. Regrettably, it will not and it would be a deception on our part to pretend otherwise. However, this does not mean that I do not welcome the fact that the legislation is before the House. I regret Deputy Broughan's misrepresentation of my position. I was particularly amused to hear recently that Deputy Rabbitte is of the view that I come from an area where I could not understand what goes on in another part of this small country. I am reminded of my warnings regarding rising crime levels in 1996, the year of the criminal.

  Mr. Broughan: The years of the criminal were 2001 and 2002.

  Mr. O'Donoghue: Deputy Rabbitte, then a Minister of State, said I was imagining things on my journeys from County Kerry, that I was seeing criminals under every bush not knowing what I was seeing.

  Mr. Broughan: The Minister was driving too fast.

  Mr. O'Donoghue: It is strange that Deputy Rabbitte underwent a Pauline conversion during the 1997 general election when he realised that I was saying what his constituents were saying. I was not out of touch then and I am not out of touch now.

  Mr. Broughan: The newspapers think the Minister is out of touch.

  Mr. O'Donoghue: My record on tackling crime bears comparison with that of any Minister who has had the honour of serving in this position. I will accept constructive criticism in the spirit in [895] which I am sure it is intended. However, it is difficult for me or any objective critic to come to any other conclusion but that the Opposition parties are being cynical regarding this matter which they ignored in opposition and government.

  Mr. Broughan: We raised this matter 31 times, but the Minister said “No” on each occasion.

  Mr. Coveney: I wish to share my time with Deputy Stanton. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. We are again debating the issue of juvenile crime and it is unfortunate that the Minister spent half his time going over the records of previous Governments rather than focusing on the future which is surely his job as Minister.

  The fact that the Labour Party has chosen to debate this small but important Bill in the last Private Members' time of this Dáil is an indication of the importance of the purpose and principle behind it. I welcome the Bill and congratulate Deputy Broughan on his stamina and determination in getting it recognised and passed by the House.

  Joyriding is a serious problem which sometimes has tragic and frightening consequences. The families and friends of two gardaí in Dublin have had their lives shattered by their needless deaths after being rammed by a stolen vehicle last week. A few days ago in Cork Garda Brian Shanahan was thrown 30 yards into the air after being hit by a stolen vehicle. He is still in Cork University Hospital with broken bones and severe injuries, but lucky to be alive.

  Legislators must respond more effectively to issues such as anti-social behaviour and joyriding. Members of the public must be protected on their estates, in their homes and on the streets. Gardaí need better protection to do their job and young people involved in this kind of activity need to be protected from themselves.

  Joyriding is only one symptom of the breakdown, or non-existence in many areas, of social, community or family support which, unfortunately, continues and with which successive Governments have failed to deal in a comprehensive manner. It is no coincidence that the last two motions on Private Members' time have raised the issues of juvenile crime, public disorder and social breakdown. Much of the legislation rushed through by the Government over the past fortnight has also dealt with these issues. This is primarily because of the tragic events surrounding six deaths in Dublin in the past ten days and vicious assaults in other towns and cities.

  Unfortunately, the Criminal Justice (Enforcement of Public Order) Bill has still not come before the House. This may suggest that the matter has not been prioritised, despite the Minister's tough talk and the politically petty content of the second half of his contribution to this debate.

  The British Labour Party's slogan of the last election – Tough on Crime, Tough on the [896] Causes of Crime – was quoted by Deputy Noonan over the weekend as a phrase which made some sense. In other words, we need a combined approach which is multifaceted. I agree with the Minister's comments in this regard.

  There is a need for adequate punishment for crimes and anti-social behaviour. We need consistency in sentencing and speed in terms of convictions. In the past year I have been contacted by a number of victims of assaults or those who witnessed assaults who spoke of their frustration at the length of time it takes to convict someone of an incident, even though the culprit's identify may be well known. Regardless of the Minister's comments, it is time that we introduced night or weekend courts in order that anti-social behaviour which occurs at weekends can be dealt with quickly and consistently on the following Monday morning.

  We need to take juveniles and non-juveniles who are a danger to the public off the streets. It is unacceptable that only 31 remand places are available for juveniles after five years of a Government which had plenty of resources. I am glad that we are trying to sort this problem out in the short-term by providing places in St. Patrick's Institution, but it is a disgrace that this kind of crisis measure is necessary at the end of a Government's term of office.

  Last week I cited an article which described a young offender who had 76 convictions, but who had not served a sentence. This offender was still at large and is back in court for biting a garda while being apprehended after stealing almost £40,000 from a Securicor van. This kind of situation should not be arising.

  We need to give gardaí the powers, equipment and protection they need to do their job properly. I have called on the Minister to meet their representatives to discuss whether gardaí are happy with their equipment to deal with incidents, particularly street violence at night, and whether there is a need for specific units which would be provided with equipment such as stab-proof vests or extendible batons. I am not an expert in equipping a police force, but there are plenty of people who are. We should, perhaps, examine this issue.

  We should also increase the number of gardaí on the beat. There is a misconception regarding this issue and every time it arises the Minister pounds the table and states he has provided an additional 1,200 gardaí. This may be so, but the perception is that not enough gardaí are visible on the beat at night. Fine Gael has done surveys across the country on this issue and 98% of respondents said they wanted to see more gardaí on the beat on the streets at night. Public representatives need to respond to that demand. People do not feel safe.

  We need to reassess the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform's balancing act between community policing and tough enforcement. I welcome the increase in Garda diversion programmes to 64, a trend which must continue. Juvenile liaison officers are under severe pressure [897] because of the numbers of young people with whom they have to deal and we should bring down the ratio so they have less juveniles per officer. They cannot possibly do effective work where they are dealing with too many. When we talk about equipping the Garda to deal effectively with violent incidents at night we should not use the excuse that if we get tough on juveniles community policing and the development of a positive relationship between a community and the Garda will break down. That is not a valid argument.

  Regarding rehabilitation for juvenile offenders, it costs approximately €120,000 a year to keep a juvenile in custody. We should look at how that money is being spent and try to put more effective programmes in place to rehabilitate young people. There are other options and many of them are dealt with in the Children's Act. Unfortunately, while the Children's Act is excellent in principle it may not be possible to implement it in practice. At midnight last Sunday a social worker I know rang me out of frustration following an interview she heard with the Minister of State with responsibility for this area who said it was hoped to have all the principles of the Children's Act implemented by the end of May. That is an impossibility and if the Minister thinks it is possible she is out of touch with reality. The fact that 3,000 children are on a waiting list to get treatment from social workers sums up the problems we face in this area.

  We have failed to make a serious impact on early school leaving and 17% to 18% of pupils now leave school early. Unfortunately that makes life more difficult for them as regards finding suitable and satisfactory jobs. I wish to give an example from north Cork of the unacceptable way in which the education system is failing young children. At the moment no school will accept a nine year old boy who wants to go to school and his parents have to take action in the courts to try to get education for him. He is difficult to handle, cannot read and has functional problems. What future does that boy have if we cannot get him back to school? We need to answer this question. Otherwise the State will be to blame when that boy is behind the wheel of a stolen car in ten or 15 years time.

  We need to put serious work into supporting families and parents with their job of raising juveniles. Whether some parents realise it, having a child and raising a family brings responsibilities. That may be an unpopular line for a Government to take but it needs to be taken if we are to make progress from a family support point of view.

  Mr. Stanton: While I agree with some things both Ministers have said I disagree with others. This is a small Bill and is limited in scope. It says that those who supply, or offer to supply, a vehicle to an under age driver for use in a public place should be guilty of an offence. A car is a lethal weapon. Given the damage it can do it is hard to think of anything more lethal in the hands [898] of the wrong person. This Bill suggests that it would be an offence for somebody to make a car available to a child, whether they sell it, lend it, hire it or turn a blind eye to them taking it away.

  We look for evidence of age when we sell alcohol and cigarettes but according to the Minister it is not possible to look for evidence of age when dealing with cars. Therefore the Minister is saying it is all right if someone wants to sell an old car, which is still a lethal weapon, to a child. He is saying we cannot do anything about it and we will not even try to say it is an offence. There is a rule of supply and demand. This Bill is trying, in a limited way, to address the problem. If it could stop one death on our streets would it not be worth it? If the provisions of the Bill frightened somebody who might be thinking of making a few bob by selling a car to a child would it not be worth it?

  Why are the Minister and his colleagues afraid to accept this Bill? They are afraid because it might give the Opposition some credit. They are not big enough to take it on board. This Bill is a matter of life and death. It might make a small difference but the Minister is not big enough to accept it. In the half of his speech that made sense – the second half was only the political mumbo jumbo that he goes on with most of the time – the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, maintained that there is a clear perception that people under 16 are outside the law. Of course they are outside the law. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, came in and quoted ten or 15 points of law that he will use to stop these under 16 years from stealing cars and killing people. These young people do not give a fig about the law, the Minister or the Garda. They do not care and there is no point in quoting the law to them. They are gone beyond the law but neither the Minister nor the Government understands that, which is scary.

  The sole boast of the Minister is to build more prison places to lock up more people. The problem is that these people have to be let out again. When let out they are more dangerous. Of course we should take people who are dangerous to society out of circulation but we must also find out how children reach this stage. What has gone wrong with our society that ten, 12, 15 and 16 year olds go out and steal cars and kill themselves and other citizens? This Government has failed miserably to address that issue.

  The Ministers' speeches are full of aspirations about what the Government is going to do. Deputy O'Donoghue went back five years and was shabby and shoddy in his attack on how a Government that was in office for two and a half years tackled a serious crime problem which had been neglected by Fianna Fáil for decades. This issue is too serious to be playing politics with it. The Minister should be ashamed to come in and spend half his speech attacking the Opposition [899] which is raising a serious issue about which our citizens are concerned.

  Debate adjourned.