Seanad Éireann - Volume 132 - 14 April, 1992
Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism: Motion (Resumed).
The following motion was moved by Senator Neville on Wednesday, 8 April, 1992:
“In view of the alarming increase of 8 per cent in the crime rate for last year, Seanad Éireann condemns the abject failure of the Government to halt the continued increase in crime, lawlessness and vandalism; and, in view of—
(a) the extreme concerns of the citizens of Dublin and other cities with the level of urban crime,
(b) the increase in rural crime by up to 60 per cent in certain areas,
calls on the Government to immediately allocate adequate resources and manpower to An Garda Síochána and to embark on a programme of law reform to modernise the judicial and custodial agencies.”
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “In” and substitute the following—
“noting public concern about prevailing crime levels in Ireland and accepting that Irish crime levels are extremely low by international comparisons, Seanad Éireann fully supports the Minister for Justice and the criminal justice agencies in their continuing efforts in this area.”
Mr. O'Toole Mr. O'Toole
Mr. O'Toole: In debating this last week we touched on many areas. I want to move past the point raised last week to a  new area. The announcement last night by the Minister for Justice was pertinent to the matter we discussed here last week. It worries me when I hear that the answer to crime is the establishment of some conference for the law enforcement agencies. On too many occasions we have lost the opportunity to look at crime prevention. I have always taken the view that there is something wrong in a society where we can predict so easily where our prison population might come from.
Last week I criticised the approach of those who would measure the effectiveness of the prison system by the number of inmates detained in it at any one time. Society can be tested in many different ways. We can walk into the nursery of any maternity hospital in this city and look at all the children there. They all look exactly alike, covered by the same colour blanket in the same kind of carry cot, one indefinable and no different from the next except to a mature and discriminatory eye. The sad thing is that a casual look at the home addresses of those children will allow us to predict broadly how those young children will spend their lives, how they will grow up and whether they are likely to be involved in crime.
I often use this argument in talking to those people who would consider themselves to be very much in favour of life and qualify of life, pro-life and other aspects to it. Why is it that if I see the address to be Darndale or deep in the inner city that I know that child has a very strong likelihood of finishing up in prison? Look at it the other way. Why is it if I go to any prison in the country and take the addresses of the inmates that the majority of them would come from certain types of neighbourhoods, certain areas? Is it that these children are born with some sort of innate predetermination towards crime? I do not believe that to be the case. Something happens between the time they leave that nursery and the time they arrive in prison and it is very simple to follow through the train of thought.
Some of those children will leave hospital and they will go to homes that  are warm and clean and spacious. Others will go to homes which are overcrowded, cold, dirty, badly equipped, and immediately the difference begins. Over the course of the next two or three years some of those children will learn to play with sand in the utility room or they will go on holidays or Sunday drives, trips abroad; they will have a wealth of experience which any child should have. Others may not be allowed out to the balcony in case they fall down from the fourth storey. They never get out, they never get to see beyond their own neighbourhood. Their parents cannot offer them the luxuries or the alternatives of pre-school or the local Montessori school, and they eventually arrive at their primary school.
Some of those children will arrive at a primary school which is well heated, well lit, well equipped, painted regularly, in a neighbourhood where they are safe. Others will go to a primary school in a deprived neighbourhood, where the board of management do not have enough money to keep the school in operation, where the teachers are at their wits' end trying to hold the school together, and these children are already at a disadvantage compared to those who have come from a better off background because we have never helped them in between. Their readiness to learn is impaired; their readiness to participate in the system is impaired. They will go through the system. They will go right through the primary school and every year the lack of privilege, the disadvantage, will be reinforced, consolidated by further deprivation, further cutbacks. I am not pointing the finger at any particular Government or any particular system in dealing with this point, but the reality is that is what happens. They go through the primary system and by the time they come to change to the post primary school there will be a yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots in society.
They will learn indiscipline through the world around them. Schools, even at the best of times, can barely compensate. The only time we really put money into these people is when they arrive at the  courts and when they arrive at prison. We have the whole thing cockeyed. I ask the Minister of State to bring this back to the Minister.
Last week I was careful to say some positive things about this debate but the reality is that I am meeting a delegation of teachers tomorrow morning from a part of the north Clondalkin area of this city where they just cannot cope. Would it surprise you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, to know that on two occasions in the past month principals of primary schools rang up my office with an unusual query: to ask me what they do in a situation when they have fifth and sixth class children driving to school in their own cars. I know of another school in the same area where yesterday week they took three burntout cars from the school playground. These are primary schools, where the average age of the children is in the low teens. Can anyone imagine what that area will be like in five or six or seven years time when these youngsters really find their feet? A huge number of those kids will finish up in prison. In years to come we will be debating the subject of crime and the figures in those areas will be high.
I said last week that I am sick and tired of craw-thumping pieties every time there is a prison suicide. Do we now look forward to a situation where we will sack the principal if there is a school suicide or blame the parents if there is a suicide at home? The motion before us is far too facile. It is an insult to the intelligence. It is the role of the Opposition to take the Government to task and they are right to do so. The Government have to take responsibility because they are in control and have to carry the can, but they cannot be held wholly to blame. We should see a balance of proposals. Enough is not being done by the Government but the answer is not to build more prisons or to fill existing prisons. The answer is to prevent crime before it begins through serious investment in the elimination of under privilege in an attempt to wipe out disadvantage and to compensate for the difference between the privileged and the under privileged  by investing in education, particularly primary education. This is the only area where not only can we compensate for under privilege but we can also break the vicious cycle of under privilege which leads to crime and imprisonment. We should be talking about prevention, not enforcement.
Mr. Mullooly Mr. Mullooly
Mr. Mullooly: I join in the good wishes extended to the Minister of State. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him every success.
Last week the Minister for Justice addressed the House on this motion and he gave a balanced account of the crime situation and of the Government's response to it. He did not seek to understate the seriousness of the problem or to deny the fact that the crime rate is increasing. He pointed out that while the official figures for 1991 are not yet available the indications are that they will show an increase of between 7 per cent and 8 per cent on the 1990 figures. Any increase in the crime rate must be regarded as a serious matter. It is also important, however, that a totally exaggerated picture is not presented. We must be conscious of the effect which any overstatement of the problem is likely to have. Many people, particularly the elderly and those living alone, are living in constant fear. They see themselves as vulnerable to crime and in many cases they have been the victims of crime. Any exaggeration of the seriousness of the problem will only make life more difficult for these people by increasing the fear and apprehension they feel.
In order to put the matter in perspective it is important to bear in mind that the crime rate here is very low compared with other European countries. We have approximately 25 crimes recorded per 1,000 of the population compared with 74 per 1,000 population in England and Wales and 71 per 1,000 in Germany. It is also important to remember that the crime figures here fell from 99,727 in 1984 to 87,658 in 1990. Even allowing for an 8 per cent increase in the 1991 figure which would bring it  up to between 94,000 and 95,000, the total would still be 5,000 below the 1984 figure. The objective, however, must be to continue to endeavour to halt the upward trend which has been evident in the past couple of years and to reverse that trend by stamping out criminal activity to the greatest extent possible.
One certain way of stamping out criminal activity is to prove to the criminal that crime does not pay. Unfortunately that would not appear to be the case at present. According to the 1990 crime report the total value of property stolen in that year was in excess of £36 million, of which only slightly over £3 million worth was recovered. I do not know whether any attempt has ever been made to quantify the value of the illegal drug trade. It is reasonable to assume that very substantial profits accrue to those criminals who engage in the sale and supply of drugs. Crime in this country pays very handsomely. This must be changed. I was pleased to hear the Minsiter state that he proposes to introduce legislation in the near future which will provide for the confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking and of other serious crimes. Criminals must no longer be allowed to enjoy their ill-gotten profits. I am confident that when this legislation is enacted and enforced against drug traffickers in particular we will see a significant reduction in the availability of drugs, with a consequent reduction in drug abuse. This will lead in turn to a reduction in the level of drug-related crimes such as house breaking and theft, the purpose of which is to get money to buy drugs. That is why it is so important to win the war against the drug traffickers. I join with the Minister in congratulating the Garda on their success in dealing with this problem. It is very encouraging to note that in 1990 there was an increase of over 50 per cent in the number of persons charged with drug offences and an increase of almost 50 per cent in the number of drug seizures. I hope the 1991 figures will show further successes in this area.
A question which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency is that of  bail. Any criminal, irrespective of the seriousness of the crime with which he is charged, is almost certain to be granted bail. I understand the only grounds on which bail is likely to be refused are the likelihood that the criminal will leave the jurisdiction or the probability that witnesses will be interfered with. Once granted bail, there is every incentive to commit further crimes while awaiting trial. If there is a strong case against him he will have a fair idea of the length of the prison sentence the court is likely to hand down. He will know from experience that any further sentences that may be imposed will be ordered to run concurrently. Therefore he has nothing to lose in engaging in a further series of robberies while on bail. The worst that can happen is that he will be caught, but it is unlikely that the length of his sentence will be affected. If he is lucky, he will not be caught and he will have the full benefit of the proceeds of these further crimes when released. This situation must be changed and I would strongly urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the matter.
Sentencing policy also needs to be looked at. I understand this question is being considered by the Law Reform Commission and I do not intend to go into any great detail, except to say that the general public are not convinced that the courts are consistent in relation to sentencing or that the sentences imposed for serious crimes are sufficiently severe to act as a deterrent. The defence is entitled to plead for leniency for a defendant and to seek to convince the court that a lengthy sentence should not be imposed. The prosecution does not have a similar right to demand a stiffer sentence or to appeal to a higher court to have a more severe sentence imposed. I hope these matters will be addressed by the Law Reform Commission and that their recommendations will be implemented in legislation.
Another criticism frequently made of the courts is that at times there seems to be more emphasis on technicalities than on establishing innocence or guilt. It is very important to the victims of crime  that the courts be seen to be on their side rather than on the side of the criminals. This is something which came across very clearly on the recent “Late Late Show” which dealt with the crime problem in the country. For those viewers who are fortunate enough not to have experienced the trauma of crime, this show was an eye opener. First, the extent of the shock and distress suffered by the victims of crime came across very clearly in that programme. The second point which surprised many people was the revelation that in a number of the incidents which were discussed it was not adults or teenagers who were involved but very young children.
Up to recently crime was seen mainly as an urban problem. Rural areas generally were relatively free from serious crime. However, that position has changed very drastically. I live in the Garda division of Roscommon-Galway east. Traditionally this division had one of the lowest crime rates in the country. I do not know what the 1991 figure will show but certainly from reading the local papers and listening to local radio it appears that the number of robberies, break-ins and thefts in that part of the country is increasing rapidly. It is generally believed that many of these crimes are committed by well-organised, ruthless gangs from Dublin who make their way down the country. Indeed, the cases which the Garda have been successful in bringing to courts and the criminals they have succeeded in apprehending seem to bear this out. Many of those who have apeared before the courts have Dublin addresses and, indeed, many of them have long criminal records.
It also appears that a number of factors have influenced these individuals to move their operations out of Dublin. Many of these criminals are well known to the city gardaí and, therefore, the risk of being caught is much greater. Second, business people, property owners and householders in the larger urban areas are more security conscious than are people living in rural areas and, therefore, it is much easier for the criminal to operate in rural areas. This is part of the problem. I would  like to see people in rural areas becoming much more security conscious.
It is in everybody's interest to make things as difficult as possible for criminals and schemes such as Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch have a major role to play in this regard. If we are to be successful in defeating criminals, the community and the Garda must work hand in hand. It appears there is a ready market for goods which are stolen. Unless these goods are marked, which is very seldom the case, even if the Garda have their suspicions as to the receivers it is impossible to identify the stolen property and, therefore, it is impossible to bring the thieves or the receivers of the stolen property to justice. I understand there are many ways in which goods which are liable to be stolen can be invisibly marked. If this were done it would increase the likelihood of detection and conviction. I would like to see the Garda undertake a publicity campaign to urge people to consider the advisability of marking items.
Another point made to me in recent times during discussions on the crime problem is that there should be much more regular night-time patrolling of rural areas and also that there should be more Garda check-points at strategic locations, such as the bridges on the Shannon. There is no greater deterrent to the would-be criminal than an obvious Garda presence. Among those who have suffered most in recent years at the hands of the criminals have been tourists, visitors to our country. Apart from anything else, the publicity resulting from this type of crime has been very damaging to the country's image. There have been many cases where tourists have been beaten or mugged, their property has been stolen and their cars have been broken into and in some cases badly damaged or stolen. There was also the tragic case last year of the young German tourist who was brutally beaten to death. I am very pleased that the problem of crimes against tourists is being addressed in the Criminal Evidence Bill, 1922. This legislation, when it is passed, will make it  easier to bring to justice those who commit these despicable crimes.
The Minister, in his speech, referred to the problem of thuggery and intimidation on our streets. This is a very serious problem, especially late at night, in certain areas where groups of drunken or half drunken young blackguards congregate and, by their behaviour, succeed in terrorising law-abiding citizens going about their business. The Minister has stated that he proposes to bring in a Bill to deal with this problem, and I welcome that announcement. I am glad the Garda will be given powers in that legislation to deal with thugs who terrorise people late at night on our streets. I certainly hope the penalties proposed will be sufficiently severe to act as a real deterrent and that the effects of the legislation will be to rid our streets of that type of problem.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this very important debate. Crime is a matter of concern to every citizen. One of the most important duties of any Government is to ensure that as far as possible people are safe in their houses or on the streets and that their property is protected from damage and theft.
Mr. Cosgrave Mr. Cosgrave
Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is the first time he has been here since his recent promotion and I wish him every success in his Department.
As the previous speaker said, the present debate is one of the most pertinent and most serious that has come before this House. It is relevant to us all. The motion in the name of our spokesman, and supported by members of this group, in relation to both urban and rural crime is relevant and important. It is a matter that needs to be addressed by us all.
None of us could fail to have been moved by the recent “Late Late Show” on crime and the people who appeared on that programme. There is no doubt that in the past victims of crime unfortunately have been the neglected persons, the forgotten persons. For far too long we have concentrated on the rights  of the criminal, improving their facilities and looking for excuses why they have committed various crimes, without any thought as to what can be done for victims of crime. I hope the Minister can assure these people that they are going to be considered.
Obviously there are many factors as to why crimes are committed. It is at times far too easy to regard problems of social inequality and deprivation as justification for community crime. That is one reason I would partly disagree with the comments made by Senator O'Toole about the need to examine the causes and the events leading to crime. Basically, that seems an attempt to excuse the criminal. Senator O'Toole talked about criminals coming from under-privileged areas, but many people from those areas do not commit crimes. Many of the youth from those areas have parents who see to it that their charges are well behaved and do not commit crimes. We must also remember that many of the criminals from those areas are not under-privileged but are doing reasonably well. It is facile to try to explain away the incidence of crime by wheeling out various oft-heard excuses and to say that it all boils down to social deprivation.
It is important that we agree with the Minister that it is the responsibility of all of us. We have to support the Garda. We must not turn a blind eye to crime, if it is not oneself or a friend who is a victim of crime today, it could be oneself or a friend who is the victim tomorrow. It is obvious that parenting plays a certain role in crime, particularly in relation to a child's early years.
It is important that we all support the Garda in their efforts to prevent and combat crime. I recall that when the Dáil was debating criminal justice legislation a couple of years ago Members were given a hundred reasons that we should not tamper in any way with the rights of the criminal, yet once again it was forgotten that it is the victim who suffers. We are all aware of the vast amounts spent on the prison system, on rehabilitation and crime prevention. Tonight I say to the  Minister that something has to be done in relation to criminal injuries compensation. The fund in that respect was abolished but it should be reintroduced to assist the victims of crime, for far too long the victims have been the forgotten people. It is important, too, that victims of crime receive follow-up contact from members of the Garda and from social workers. All of the time and the concern should not be concentrated on the welfare of the criminal. There are once-off criminals who have to be looked after, rehabilitated and brought back into society but we should not forget the victims.
We must examine the way in which the court system works. At the District Court level particularly, gardaí are often compelled to attend a court sitting for a couple of hours merely to consent to a remand sentence. In this regard procedures should be changed to enable gardaí to be out on the streets, where they are needed most, and communicate with the people. In the case of an application for a remand sentence there should be a consent facility such as the facility used at times in civil matters.
A welcome provision is the proposed change for “Garda Patrol”, which is aimed at modernising the procedure and gaining more public involvement. Most of us to have watched the English “Crimewatch” television programme. First a programme is screened earlier in the evening, seeking responses and appeals for help, and later there is a programme providing feedback to the public. Resources should be put into the production of a similar programme in Ireland. RTE have a role to play in that regard. Any change that wins more public involvement in the area of crime — whether in relation to petty robberies, more serious crimes, crimes involving attacks on individuals or whatever — has to be welcomed.
The question of sentencing policy and variations in that regard have to be considered. Special regard has to be had to crimes against the person. On occasions we have witnessed inadequate sentences being imposed on those who may have  committed horrific crimes such as, the rape of an 80 year old woman or of an old man or old woman being attacked and beaten up in their own homes.
A matter that I hope to raise on the Adjournment debate, or which I shall certainly raise on a future date, concerns a case we heard about only last week in which a couple of individuals were convicted for the rape of an under aged girl. Basically, they were let off by way of a couple of years' suspended sentence and the payment of £1,000 by way of compensation. I say to the Minister that such a sentence is not good enough; it is just not right. The United Kingdom has a facility that provides for appeal when sentences are considered inadequate. If an excessive sentence is imposed, a criminal here may appeal to the Minister or to higher courts to reduce the sentence. There should be something done to ensure that inadequate sentences can be reviewed, particularly in the case of crimes against the person. A criminal may get out of jail after perhaps six months or a year, perhaps with a fine or a suspended sentence, but the poor victim is left carrying the legacy of a few minutes' attack, assault or crime, probably for the rest of his or her life. More has to be done to protect our old people whether they be in the urban or the rural areas. The Minister's constituency straddles both ends of the divide, I think, so I am sure that he is aware of the problem.
All of those areas have to be examined. It is time for some of the pussy-footing to end. It is time we had a concerted policy, particularly in relation to those who attack the elderly. I am thinking specifically of a recent horrific case in which a man in his thirties was convicted of the rape of an 80 year old woman. Such crimes must make all of us in the House cop on to what we are about. In the light of today's announcements, reforms and welcome innovations, it is about time that we in the Oireachtas sent out a message, along with a message to the Judiciary, that what has gone on for far too long has got to stop now. In  relation to the message to go to the Judiciary, I must add that I do know there are many justices who are very much up to date and who will not take lightly attacks on individuals, particularly on older people and women.
Another matter that has to be considered is that of bail. It is nearly too easy to get bail and then be out on the streets committing further crimes. While consecutive sentencing, as distinct from concurrent sentencing, may apply in some instances, the chances are that someone convicted of committing more than one crime will not have those crimes dealt with on a pro rata basis. As was said, if a person on bail knows he will be convicted, he will make enough to support himself and his family when he is serving time.
Obviously another question which must be looked at is Garda training and retraining. Every Member supports the Garda Síochána in their various and difficult tasks and we must ensure that the people trained to be gardaí are doing what they were trained to do, not pen pushing, filling out forms for a dog licence or some other basic job that could be carried out by someone else needing a job but not trained as a garda. Retraining and upgraded trading must obviously be part of the job. There should also be a review and update of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme to see how it is now working, where it had been working reasonably well or where there was initially a very active committee. However, enthusiasm may have waned and the Minister should examine the Neighbourhood Watch scheme to see if it can be improved.
Obviously a lot of our crime is drug related and every effort should be made to convict all the drug barons, to go after their ill-gotten gains and, where possible, to put them away for a very long time. I support the motion on crime put down by our spokesperson, Senator Neville, in relation to crime, urban or rural, petty or serious — involving murder, assault and rape. The whole question must be examined. I hope the Minister will take on board some of the matters I mentioned  here tonight. We should discuss crime every few months to ensure that the people who voted for us are satisfied that we are aware of the problem, which is apolitical and must be tackled by all. We must support the Garda Síochána because the problem affects everyone and we cannot ignore it.
Mr. Bohan Mr. Bohan
Mr. Bohan: I would like to share my time with Senator Finneran as I will be brief.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Bohan Mr. Bohan
Mr. Bohan: I listened to Senator Neville last week describing O'Connell Street. Possibly in a couple of years' time it will be a no-go area. I assume he was referring to O'Connell Street, Dublin, and not in Limerick. I assure him that O'Connell Street is not as bad in relation to crime as he thinks. I have been in business in that area for almost 30 years and during that time I have had no major problems. I have had small problems, like everybody in business, but no real problems. I cannot see it changing; it has been like that for 30 years, maybe longer. It has not got any worse and I cannot see it getting worse in the future. There is no question of it being a no-go area as far as I am concerned. There is no doubt there is a problem with crime in the city, indeed in every city, Cork, Limerick and Galway. The same applies to cities abroad and I do not think there is any easy solution.
People demand the appointment of more gardaí but that raises a budgetary problem. I am sure the Minister for Justice would love to put more gardaí on the street if he had the money to do so. However, when he cannot get it, his hands are tied to some extent. Perhaps a solution might be to release many of the gardaí doing office work in the Depot, Harcourt Square, and other places which could be done by civilians. This would release gardaí to patrol the streets where they might be of more benefit to the public.
The same people seem to cause most  of the problem in relation to crime because, as has been said by other speakers, they are let out on bail of £50. They are then back on the street creating the same problems and committing the same crimes for which they were imprisoned. That system will have to be tightened up very quickly. The other problem is that even when they are sentenced to 12 months they may be out one week later although they are hardened criminals. I accept they are released due to overcrowding, but this is a major problem and we need more places of detention. Unfortunately, that also costs money and I do not know how we will solve that problem.
The Garda Síochána are doing a fantastic job in the city centre. I have been closely connected with Store Street division down the years and they are doing trojan work there with the present manpower. I would be very happy to accompany Senator Neville on a tour of the area, and he will find there is no major problem there.
When people are sentenced they should stay in jail until they finish their sentence, which might have some effect on them. At the moment they are tumbing their noses at the police a week after they have been sentenced. Dublin city centre is not as bad as Senator Neville suggests. It will always have small problems but I have no problem trading there and to the best of my knowledge, very few of my friends have either. The Minister should look at a system of trying to release more office staff on the streets.
As Senator Cosgrave said, everybody supports the Garda Síochána. I was at a Neighbourhood Watch function recently and prizes were given to the different areas that won. It was a great pleasure to see how crime had been reduced in the areas in which the show was operating. It is up to us all to help the Garda Síochána as much as possible; it is the best way we can reduce the problem.
Mr. Finneran Mr. Finneran
Mr. Finneran: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy O'Dea, to the House and wish him well in his new portfolio. I will not  go back over all the points that have been made; some very valid points were made in the debate here last week. Everybody spoke with sincerity and the Minister made an excellent address to this House. In some ways it was heartening. He pointed out that our crime rate compared very favourably with the crime rate in Europe and that we are in a better position than most other countries. While that is heartening, it does not mean we can be complacent, because people are genuinely living in fear in certain parts of the country. The day of the “door on the latch” has disappeared in rural Ireland. That is sad because there was a tradition in this country where a neighbour, friend or anybody who called could put their hand on the latch and walk straight into the kitchen, and there was no big deal about it. That day has long since gone.
I intend to concentrate on the policing of rural areas but prior to this may I agree with Senator Bohan's point on the number of gardaí who are engaged on administrative duties. It is quite unnecessary that we should have so many trained, uniformed gardaí carrying out clerical duties in the administration of the Garda Síochána. Surely these duties could be carried out by capable and qualified clerical officers, male or female, and the people who are trained to detect and prevent crime could be out doing the job they were trained to do.
Another aspect that is very hard to understand is the numbers of gardaí whose time is taken up in attending at court. It is an absolute disgrace to find dozens of gardaí waiting, for days in some cases, to be called to give five minutes evidence. I ask the Minister to see if a way can be found to alleviate this position. It may be necessary to enact a new Bill whereby Garda evidence could be given by sworn affidavit, and the garda could be brought back to the court if complications arose. The Garda Síochána should not be asked to sit in the corridors of the courts day in day out when they could be out on the streets. If you multiply the numbers to be found in one court by courts in the land one will have an idea  of the numbers of gardaí who are in court on any day of the week the courts are sitting. That is a total waste of resources.
Will the Minister consider this seriously and, if necessary, enact legislation to cover situations where gardaí could give evidence on tape. In recent legislation we made provision for children under 17 years and the mentally handicapped to give evidence in this way in cases of sexual abuse. Surely something similar could be provided for the Garda Síochána and should complications or doubts arise the garda could be called to give evidence directly. Any procedure would be far better than what we have at present.
I believe it was a backward step to reduce the number of gardaí in rural areas. I am not talking about recent decisions but about what has happened over a period of perhaps ten years or more, where the number of gardaí in rural stations decreased. I can identify several stations in the Roscommon-east Galway divisional area, which is quite close to me, which had a sergeant and two gardaí some years ago, but now has only a visiting garda. That is a pity. It has opened up the rural area to the extent that the criminal has pretty well a free hand, because houses and even shops are isolated. There may be three or four miles between two different retail outlets and the opportunity for crime in that situation has increased dramatically due to the fact that we have no gardaí on the ground.
In the past the local garda toured around, and was involved in local organisations; perhaps he played with the local GAA team, or was involved in the local sports club or community centre, the local credit union or whatever. He was involved in some activity in the locality and was always in a position to know exactly what was happening because people took him as one of their own. They thought it was in their interest to protect him and the one way to protect him was to ensure that outsiders or people who intended to break the law or were in any way going to bring destruction or despair on the community were  made known to the member of the Garda.
Today the local people do not know their garda, they may know his name but they do not know him personally. The day when the local Garda attended Mass in the parish or attended the match on Sunday or was present at whatever was going on during the week is gone. That is a dreadful mistake. This has caused fear to take a grip on the rural communities, particularly among the elderly. The elderly in rural areas have more to fear than in the city. They are isolated; there is no public lighting system; they do not have neighbours close by, the nearest neighbour may be a mile away and some do not have a phone. It is frightening for people in rural areas. I have got numerous representations from people in my area, South Roscommon, requesting the presence of a resident Garda. In fact, in the past few weeks a whole community got together in Taughmaconnell, which is a sprawling parish a few miles from me, and signed a petition to have a resident Garda. I remember when there was a sergeant and two gardaí in that station. I also remember there was no crime there at that time because if anything went wrong, the culprit was brought to justice in due course. Today sheep are being stolen when people have gone to their relative's funerals, and cattle have been taken at night. Practically every shop has been raided. It is a mistake not to have a Garda presence in a rural area.
Having gardaí travelling from the nearest town in a squad car, spending two or three hours in the local station for the signing of dole sheets or whatever and touring at night to see if the pubs have closed on time, is not the proper way to police an area. It allows criminals who have been identified in the cities to move in for easy pickings in those rural areas. I say to the Minister there should be a review of this. There are five Garda stations with houses attached which would be ideal for a member of the force, his wife and family. The children would have an opportunity to attend local schools and live with a nice established  community, I urge the Minister of State to re-examine the question of rural policing. I request that we replace members of the Garda Síochána in the local stations, thus cutting off an outlet for crime and giving peace of mind to many people in rural areas.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: Sometimes I wonder whether I am living in the real world. I had not read the Minister's speech, which he made last week, until this evening and I must say I am surprised at the tone of it and at the lack of constructive suggestion in it. It seems to me that when a motion of this sort comes before the Seanad the Minister comes forward with a fairly trite and facile reply which does not address the motion. Above all I resent, and we are entitled to resent, the totally self-congratulatory tone of what the Minister had to say in his speech last week. It is absolutely absurd for the Minister to come before this House and say: “we are doing very well, crime is only increasing by 8 per cent”. If crime is increasing by 8 per cent something is fundamentally wrong.
It is ridiculous for a Minister to say, we are not doing as badly as other countries. It is very easy to make selective comparisons with other countries and then say we are not doing as badly; we could do this in regard to every sphere of Government and every Department if we wanted. If we look far enough internationally there are people doing worse than us in terms of statistics in every Department of State, but by the Minister's own admission, the statistics which show an 8 per cent increase in crime are, if anything, conservative. The fact is that our crime rate is increasing by at least that percentage.
I am sorry the Minister in his speech was so bankrupt of ideas concerning what to do about crime. I am sorry also to note that when he decided to ask some unfortunate official what the Government had done in the past four or five years about law and order and about crime, he could only come up with five minor Acts. It is indicative of the bankruptcy and the emptiness of Fianna Fáil  thought about crime that they have only introduced minor Bills in a response to urgent matters. They could have included an enlightened Act abolishing the death penalty but presumably that is one, of which they were not particularly proud, because it was not done at a Fianna Fáil initiative but at the behest of the Progressive Democrats. They mentioned four or five Bills they introduced which are paltry and pitiful.
We need a balanced argument on this issue and, obviously, there are two very distinct sides to the crime issue — as there have been since Adam and Eve — one is the very liberal attitude to it and one is the law and order attitude in which case law and order wins and there is a sort of kneejerk reaction. I belong to the liberal side but I sympathise enormously with the speech of Senator Cosgrave earlier when he talked about the victims of crime. I would like to raise a specific case. A short time ago I was talking on the telephone to Mr. Eamon Gavin of the “Tallaght Two” case. I am not going to say anything which will offend the sub judice rule. I was talking to him about the great public sympathy for the “Tallaght Two” and the lack of public sympathy which attaches to him, the victim of crime. I am on the side of those who believe that the verdict in the “Tallaght Two” case was unsafe.
The tragedy of that case is that Mr. Gavin, the victim of that crime, is now portrayed by most of the media as the villain of the piece. We have to be very careful that we do not fall into that trap particularly if we are taking the liberal road on crime and crime prevention. Senator Cosgrave was right in saying that the victims of crime are frequently forgotten.
It is very wrong to take a kneejerk reaction to the increase in crime here or in other countries. It is of course tempting for many of us to say the answer is more custodial and longer prison sentences; lock them up, throw away the key and they will not bother us again. I do not believe that ever was the solution, I do not think it is the solution but I do not  think the Government have any ideas or that any fundamental or radical thought has gone into this. I find fault with almost every aspect of the Minister's speech because he took all the criticism loaded against him and did not answer it properly. What we need is that radical thought be put into it. Crime will not be cured by introducing kneejerk Bills which simply reply to the immediate situation and are purely pragmatic.
I live in the town of Bray which has a very high incidence of crime. That is directly related to high unemployment and that is where we should start. We should ask: why is there so much crime in areas where there is so much unemployment? We should ask also: why are the unemployed committing so many crimes? It is no good putting the cart before the horse and saying we have got to lock them up so that they will not commit crimes again. We have to tackle the reasons the unemployed commit so many crimes: it is quite simple. One of the reasons is that there is so much recidivism among the unemployed because people who have been in prison for one crime are not looked after when they come out of prison.
At my clinic yesterday a man who had just come out of prison came to me and his situation was appalling. He was homeless and unemployed. He is on parole and has to sign at the Garda station every week but nobody is taking any interest in him at this stage. He is tempted, like so many other prisoners, to commit another crime because, as he said, he has got a good chance of getting away with it and he might become a millionaire overnight Nobody is taking any interest in finding him a house or a job and he is sleeping rough from friend to friend, from night to night. That person will sooner or later, unless he is very lucky, go back to crime. It is a miracle he has not done so already and the Government's suggestions as to how we should deal with him are zero. There is nothing in the Minister's speech about catering for prisoners when they come out of prison because he does not care or has not given it any thought.
In his speech he produced a recipe for  those who come out of prison to return to crime. The Bills he suggests will simply be a response to specific problems; we may lock them up for longer, be more effective in gaining evidence against them but we certainly will not stop them committing crimes again. The attitude of the Minister and the Government is at fault. It is most important that we do not adopt it and congratulate ourselves on minor measures. The reasons for these crimes must be examined and then the problem tackled root and branch.
The Minister congratulated both himself and the Government for providing more places at Wheatfield Prison. That is the wrong attitude to adopt because the Minister can open another prison tomorrow in Dublin, Limerick, Cork or whatever he likes and it will not solve the crime problem. All that will happen is that a few more people, who are likely to commit some more crimes when they come out, will be locked up. There is not a line about that problem in the Minister's speech. On the other hand, there is a great deal of self-congratulatory verbiage about the new institution which accommodates 320 people. That is no good.
I would have thought that the only people who should be sent to prison are those who are a danger, in a physical, violent sense, to other people outside prison. I see no reason we should lock up people for non-violent theft and where they are not a danger to the public. Our attitudes are antediluvian, archaic and simplistic and will not lead to a solution. Fianna Fáil have always reacted in this extraordinarily shortsighted and pragmatic way to the problems posed by prisons and prisoners; no radical thought has ever been put into it.
The Minister could have enlightened us on the Government's thoughts — if the Government think at all about this issue — on, for instance, the question of whether it is right that nobody in this country has ever been sent to prison for fraud. I happen to think it is right but I would like to hear the Minister's views on that matter. I do not think people should be sent to prison for fraud. As  they are not a physical danger to someone walking the streets, they should be fined an enormous amount of money, perhaps bankrupted, by the State. While I do not believe they should be locked up perhaps the Minister does. It is therefore important that we hear the Government's views on this matter as well as on community service orders.
The remedy for a large number of the crimes for which people are wrongly sent to prison, is to get them to pay their debt to society — to use that clichéd phrase — by doing some productive work. The worst thing we can do is put them in prison where they will rot, where immeasurable harm will be done in terms of their morale, where they will be nonproductive and where they will plot their next crime. If we do we will then have to build more prisons for their friends and children. It seems that the Government have not even broached this subject; they seem to think they are attacking the problem in an immediate sense and congratulate themselves on it. The Fine Gael motion is therefore highly appropriate and I do not believe that it is critical enough. Indeed it should be far more critical not only about the fact that there are not enough resources available for the Garda but about the fact that the Government are doing nothing about the crime problem, do not care about it, have not given any thought to it, and that the problem will continue——
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: That is not true.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: ——until the Government tackle the problems which are deeply embedded in society, including unemployment.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: I wish the new Minister and Minister of State the best of luck. I am sure they will be successful. The Minister in particular had an excellent track record in the Department of the Environment during the years and I look forward to him being equally successful in this very challenging and demanding portfolio. The Minister of State has been a colleague of mine for a long time — we  are in the same age group — and has a lot of talent. I look forward to both the Minister and the Minister of State producing worthwhile legislation in the future.
I agree with that part of the motion which calls for adequate funding for the Garda Síochána and with many of the proposals which have been made tonight but in relation to the thrust of the entire motion I should say that this is a difficult problem.
Previous speakers raised the question of rural policing. Rural policing schemes — the Leas-Chathaoirleach will appreciate this — have been put into operation in one or two areas to bring people together in rural areas and have been extremely successful. However, the major problem that exists in the north inner city of Dublin is due in the main to unemployment; people are not given a chance to start a career. I am totally opposed to the provision of flats and inadequate housing for these people. I hope I will have an opportunity to make a much longer contribution on this matter at an opportune time, as it is a subject that one could talk about for a long time.
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: First, I wish to congratulate my colleague from Limerick, Deputy O'Dea, on his appointment to the post of Minister of State at the Department of Justice. While the constituency of Limerick East fared well in relation to the changes that have been made, it is an understatement to say that my constituency of Limerick West did not. However, I wish the Minister of State good luck.
I am impressed that all sides of the House are in agreement on most of the issues that I raised last week. It is unfortunate, therefore that an amendment has been tabled, for political reasons, by the Government side because, from their speeches, one would deduct that they accept the proposals I made last week. I am extremely disappointed that, in his contribution to the debate, the Minister for Justice, Deputy Flynn, ignored two key proposals. These proposals, if implemented, could contribute immediately  to the more effective control of crime. These were that the laws on bail should be reformed — this view was eloquently expressed by Senator Bohan — and that changes should be made in relation to the right to silence when a person is under Garda interrogation.
I called on the Minister for Justice to reform our bail laws and to hold the necessary constitutional referendum along with the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty in June. This is an excellent opportunity for the Minister to introduce constitutional changes to allow our bail laws to be reformed. Murderers, rapists and robbers are being freed by our courts and our bail laws facilitate this outrageous situation. The amendment I propose is required to stop people charged with crimes being freed and compounding the situation by committing further serious offences because they know they will be punished in any event. The law needs to be amended urgently so that the courts do not have to free people likely to commit further serious crimes. Our bail laws are the most lax in the world.
The problem is that bail cannot be refused by the courts on the grounds that there is a likelihood that further offences will be committed by the accused. The constitutional amendment is necessary to restore discretion to the courts. The Government must, as a matter of urgency, arrange the necessary referendum to allow the laws be changed. The Minister must address this. I am disappointed he did not take the opportunity of this debate to announce his decision to do so last week.
Over the years, notorious organised criminals have had little difficulty in getting bail and, in turn, abusing it. For the most serious offences, such as rape and bank robbery, there is little ground in Irish law for objecting to bail, even if prosecutors know that the accused is likely to commit these crimes again. In some cases of rape and murder it is a crime in itself to release the offenders back into society on bail where they may commit further offences.
We have seen shocking scenes of  organised criminals out on bail who engaged in gun battles with gardaí, putting the lives of all at risk. These people had been caught by the gardaí for serious crimes, such as bank robbery, and granted bail, only to be caught in the act once more. I am glad Senator Bohan highlighted this and agreed with what I said last week.
The provision for consecutive sentences in the 1984 Criminal Justice Act has had a deterrent effect on petty crime, but it has little or no impact on organised serious crime. Organised criminals who know they are going to jail on one serious offence have no compunction about committing other crimes because they are aware that they will serve only a fixed period in the overcrowded prisons.
It is obvious that our bail laws are too liberal and must be tightened up. Alternatives have to be found to just releasing well known criminals back into the community on bail.
I again urge the Minister and the Government to take the opportunity of the forthcoming Maastricht referendum to ask the people if the Constitution should be changed so that criminals who insist on committing crime can be remanded in custody if the likelihood is that they will commit crimes again while on bail.
I am disappointed that the Minister did not take the opportunity to give his views on my proposal that a new approach to Garda interrogation should be considered. The right to silence, when suspects are being questioned, is a relic of the last century when individuals had no access to free legal aid and when punishments were much harsher. Moreover, as it stands, the right is currently a major obstacle to the Garda in their investigations into organised crime. A suspect can refuse to answer questions or give any explanation whatsoever about matters that are put to him in the course of an interrogation. Experienced criminals do this as a matter of course and subversives are particularly adept at it. While the abolition of the right would greatly help Garda investigations, it would also protect suspects in cases where over-zealous  police officers might try to extract confessions.
The abolition of the right to silence would diminish the importance of obtaining a self-incriminatory confession in many investigations. The right to silence was introduced at a time when an accused was rarely represented in court and could not give evidence, but today the rules are only helping an increasing number of professional criminals to avoid conviction. The system which I propose would simply mean that it would not be an offence to refuse to answer questions or give explanations, but an adverse inference could be drawn from silence on particular issues. The Minister for Justice should, as a matter of urgency, examine the situation and introduce the necessary reforming legislation.
This legislation would not be unique in the Irish context. The present right to silence does not protect self-incrimination in a variety of statutory offences especially under the Road Traffic Act, such as drunken driving, where suspects are required to provide blood or urine samples on which they may be later convicted of an offence. Likewise, the new genetic fingerprinting legislation passed by the Oireachtas last year, obliges the subject to provide DNA samples and if he does not, the court will be allowed to draw any inference from that. As I already stated in my contribution last week, in revenue cases a person being investigated cannot use the right to silence to mask giving potentially incriminating answers to tax inspectors.
Criminal interviews should also be video recorded to protect the Garda from false allegations and ensure the rights of the individual are protected during detention. This would also provide the courts with a true picture of the realities and difficulties facing the Garda in such circumstances. It is disappointing that the Minister did not address these issues when given the opportunity and when I raised the matter last week.
I welcome the Minister's commitment recently to having the recommendations on the Martin inquiry into criminal procedures legislated for in the near future.  However, I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the extreme concern of the Garda with one aspect of this report — that it will impede police work and hamper investigations into every kind of crime. I refer to the recommendation that the Garda should wait for a suspect's solicitor to arrive before questioning him or taking a statement.
The Garda point out that in the first instance it would slow down investigations considerably. If the Garda must wait for the arrival of a solicitor there would be inevitable delays and officers would lose the edge in interviewing a suspect. Moreover, if a crime is to be investigated effectively it is vital that a Garda have the right to question a suspect as soon as possible after that crime has been committed. The Garda also point out that having a solicitor permanently present would interfere with the confidentiality felt between the police officer and suspect and any transfer of information between both sides will end and some of the informality of interview will also go.
As things stand, officers are already obliged to pass on any information communicated by an interviewee to a solicitor when he arrives. The Garda see this as a fair method. Indeed, the Martin report itself states that the Garda regularly call solicitors on behalf of suspects.
I request the Minister in enacting the Martin report to take note of the concerns of the Garda on this question of immunity for suspects from questioning until the arrival of his or her solicitor. There is no doubt, as I stated last week, that the criminal justice system has clearly swung around to favour society's deviants rather than protect law abiding citizens. Rather than tipping the balance back in favour of the citizens, this provision would make it even easier for the guilty to escape conviction in the courts.
I would like to ask the Minister of State to initiate a programme of crime reduction in the mid-west and southern regions. Last year the highest increase in crime came from the Cork West Garda divisional area with an increase of 60 per  cent. Limerick was ahead of the national average at 9 per cent, as was Tipperary at 15 per cent; Clare and Kerry also showed increases of 2 per cent. These figures show a serious upward trend in the region which we all feared. We have a duty as a State to protect our citizens and allow them feel safe in their homes. Resources must be given to the Garda to deal with criminals who rob, assault, rape or even murder people in their homes or on the streets. Too many lives have been destroyed by such attacks.
The discussion on “The Late Late Show” of Friday, 27 March 1992, highlighted the extreme trauma that people who have been attacked go through. It also highlighted that the vast majority of them felt let down by the responses of the criminal justice system. These people had the reasonable desire to have justice done. It was depressing for many victims to understand that little appeared to be happening to prevent the criminals from engaging in crimes again.
In the most recent addition of Garda News the publication of the Garda sergeants and inspectors, the editorial states:
Absolutely nothing effective is being done in this country to root out the causes of crime. Nothing is being done to study why crime appears to be endemic in some areas and some families and nothing is being done to break the vicious circle of criminal children of criminal parents. In the face of crime figures which are once more on the increase it is now more urgent than ever that we carry out a thorough examination of our criminal justice system and ascertain if it serves the law-abiding people of this country well. We need to study the social services and their interaction with the gardaí, the courts and the prison and detention systems, systems which we have inherited largely unchanged from previous regimes, to see if their combined efforts are really the best that can be achieved for the massive investment involved.
Urgent action is needed to reform our  criminal law system. Many of our laws date back to the last century and are totally inadequate to deal with the situation facing us today. Fine Gael believe that we should immediately establish a criminal law reform commission to help us update and codify our criminal law. We should give our courts greater powers of forfeiture to confiscate assets derived from the proceeds of crime. We should also provide by legislation for the review by the Court of Criminal Appeal of over-lenient sentencing.
With the alarming increase in the numbers in our prisons, at a very high cost to  the taxpayer, it is time we re-examined the whole system. Prisons should be for persons who are convicted of serious crimes, either against a person or property.
There should be more alternatives to prison for minor offences and for nonpayment of fines. The Minister should introduce a system where those convicted of serious offences would serve their full prison sentence, allowing only for normal remission for good behaviour. A totally different approach should be adopted to those who commit less serious offences.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 11.
Tellers: Tá, Senators E. Ryan and Haughey; Níl, Senators Cosgrave and Neville.
Amendment declared carried.
Question: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to” put and declared carried.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
Seanad Éireann 132 Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism: Motion (Resumed).