Seanad Éireann - Volume 136 - 10 June, 1993

Adjournment Matters. - Attacks on Tourists.

Mr. Neville: I thank the Minister for Justice for attending the House to take this Adjournment matter and the Cathaoirleach for allowing this important matter of attacks on tourists to be raised. The matter warrants a full debate in the House but, unfortunately, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, you did not agree. However, I am pleased to have the matter on the Adjournment.

I am convinced that urgent attention must be paid by the Minister to this matter. Special arrangements must be introduced with the Garda to ensure that visitors to the country are not subjected to robberies, physical attacks, break-ins and other abuses.

Since the beginning of this year's tourist season there have been four serious attacks on tourists in Dublin and one reported rape of a tourist in Galway. This spate of violence must be nipped in the bud. Cowardly criminals of a very low kind have identified tourists as soft targets. [1322] The Minister must not be soft on these thugs. Action must be taken, our tourist industry must not be damaged by the growth of such attacks. We have time to ensure that this is done, we must not wait until there is an epidemic of violent crime against tourists before moves are taken to deal with such crime.

The Minister must ensure that the Garda have adequate resources to combat this new form of crime. Increased resources are needed throughout the country to combat crime in general as people are living in fear in their homes. However, we are dealing specifically with the issue of tourist crime. The Minister should consider the establishment of a small Garda task force to control tourist crime, the success of which would I hope render its work unnecessary after a short period. If the criminals who perpetrate such crimes against tourists are aware that there is a high probability of their being apprehended and the full rigours of the law applied to them these cowardly acts will cease. Crime prevention is the key to success in this area. There must be deterrents in regard to criminals who perpetrate crimes against tourists.

The Criminal Evidence Act, 1992, must be fully applied. During the debate in this House on 1 July 1992, I referred to assaults on visitors. I will quote briefly from what I said on that occasion:

The introduction of a system whereby visitors to this land of a thousand welcomes who are assaulted or robbed can give sworn evidence in the presence of a district justice before leaving the country and which is admissible in court, will assist to improve the conviction rate for such cowardly crimes....The fact that victims can now give evidence through a live television link-up — a sensible use of modern technology — and that witnesses will be cross-examined by way of a television link-up, is to be welcomed. I also welcome the introduction of this system which brings some semblance of justice to the area of tourist crime and endeavours to control [1323] this dastardly criminal activity against our visitors.

The law is in place but has not been applied. There may be problems with identification of criminals in court but the law should be fully tested to try to counteract this crime problem.

We should also make tourists aware of the dangers which exist at present. The “Take Care” leaflet issued by Dublin Tourism attempts to do this in a small way. I obtained this leaflet today from Dublin Tourism's office on O'Connell Street. This advice should be extended to include the danger of physical attacks; such advice should be made available to all tourists entering the country rather than collected by them at places like tourist shops. This advice should also, for a short period, highlight areas of the city which tourists should frequent least. We should not have any “no go” areas but visitors should be advised to be careful in areas of most danger. The Garda should be given the resources to eradicate crime in these areas and allow both tourists and local inhabitants to feel safe in them.

A recent change in police practice involves persons who are arrested for a range of crimes, including muggings, simply having their names and addresses taken and then being released and later summonsed. This change encourages petty criminals in all areas to commit more crimes. A recent article in The Irish Times pointed out that in some areas of Dublin people breaking into cars, muggers, pickpockets, handbag snatchers and shoplifters are taken two or three times a day to Garda stations to have their names and addresses entered on crime forms and are then released without charge. Detection on the spot is now no more than a temporary inconvenience for such criminals, involving a quick trip to a Garda station and detention for a matter of minutes before being released. This must stop. I ask the Minister to comment on this and to intervene to ensure that this practice is discontinued.

Our tourist industry is very important [1324] to the economy and must be protected from such crimes, there is still time to do this. In 1991, tourism was worth in excess of £1.7 billion, there were three million overseas visitors to the country and 87,000 jobs were directly supported by tourism. In that year the State gave grants in excess of £13 million and Bórd Fáilte invested £21 million in marketing from its budget of £52 million. An investment to ensure that our tourists are safe and that our tourism industry does not get a bad name would be money well spent. We must ensure that our good reputation as a welcoming nation is not damaged by thugs. Any resources provided to ensure this is an investment. I thank the Minister for being here.

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Geoghegan Quinn): Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Neville agus tá mé sásta deis a bheith agam freagra a thabhairt ar an gceist seo ar an athló. Tá m'aire féin agus aire an Gharda Síochána ag leibhéal ard bhainistíochta dírithe go speisialta ar an gceist seo faoi láthair. Tig leis a bheith cinnte nach bhfágfar aon chloch gan iompú lena chinntiú nach dtarlóidh rudaí den tsórt seo a thuilleadh.

I am, of course, very concerned and find it totally unacceptable that visitors to this country should be subjected to such criminal attacks as “muggings”, handbag snatches or larcenies from cars. I share the sense of outrage already expressed by Members of this House and the other House and which have recently been the subject of widespread media coverage. I reiterate that I would not, for one moment, wish to downplay this problem or in any way to imply that such attacks are acceptable; they are abhorrent to us all, but the fact is that in every country and city in the world there are people ready to take advantage of those who appear to be soft targets, and tourists carrying cash, travellers' cheques, cameras, etc, unfortunately come into that category. Ireland, regrettably is no exception.

We do not, of course, want these attacks to become a feature of our country and we do not want visitors to leave [1325] the country with a bad impression, or feelings of regret that they came to Ireland in the first place. This country has a reputation for friendliness and a tradition of hospitality which is world renowned. It is unacceptable that a tiny minority of people should undermine this reputation by committing such acts against visitors to our country who provide a great boost to a very important industry.

I fully support the Garda and the tourist bodies in their efforts to ensure that visitors to our shores are afforded as much protection as possible, and I am confident that the Garda authorities, in conjunction with Bord Fáilte and other tourist interests, are doing everything possible to prevent such attacks.

In recent years a very close system of liaison has been established between these groups which ensures that all aspects of the problem of attacks on tourists are examined and co-ordinated, and that a programme of measures is drawn up annually to deal with the problem. A meeting to discuss the 1993 tourist season has already taken place between the Garda authorities and Bord Fáilte.

As recently as last March I outlined to the Dáil the measures being implemented by the Garda to help stamp out these cowardly attacks and it is worthwhile to reiterate them today. These measures include the deployment of additional Garda patrols, both uniformed and plainclothes, during the summer months to areas frequented by tourists and the provision and distribution of an information leaflet which contains practical advice on how visitors can protect their property and personal belongings. In addition, all Garda patrols, particularly those in areas of high tourist interest, are encouraged to be alert to the problem, and the topic is also covered extensively in Garda inservice training programmes. Gardaí are encouraged to avail themselves of language training courses to enable them to be of assistance to visitors and foreign language training courses are provided at the Garda Training College, Templemore. Moreover, the Garda office in O'Connell Street serves as a centre for advising tourists to Dublin on preventative [1326] measures which they can take to safeguard themselves and their belongings.

I am aware that there have been calls from time to time for the speedier processing by the courts of cases involving tourists. This matter has been carefully considered and special provisions in this regard were included in the Criminal Evidence Act, 1992. These provisions allow a tourist who is the victim of a crime to make an immediate statement before a district judge. This statement may be used as evidence without the necessity for the victim to attend the subsequent trial. The Act also provides that the victim may give evidence from abroad by live television link.

We are all well aware of the importance of our tourist industry which has been built on hard work, heavy investment and our reputation, recognised world wide, for hospitality. It is of the greatest importance that we keep the industry strong by taking the measures necessary to ensure that the tiny minority in our midst who see any, apparently, soft target as fair game will not have their way. We all want tourists to be secure and safe while they are with us and to feel confident that they can come back here again. It is incumbent on us all to do everything we can to bring that about.

I assure the House that the situation raised here today is being continually monitored by the Garda and the measures taken to deal with the problem are the subject of constant review. I am confident that everything that can be done is being done to deal with this problem.

This matter has been carefully considered and special provisions in this regard were included in he Criminal Evidence Act, 1992. These provisions allow a tourist who is the victim of crime to make an immediate statement before a district judge. This statement may be used as evidence without the necessity for the victim to attend the subsequent trial. The Act also provides that the victim may give evidence from abroad by live television link.

We are aware of the importance of our [1327] tourist industry which has been built on hard work, heavy investment and our reputation for hospitality, which has been recognised worldwide. It is of the greatest importance that we keep the industry strong by taking the measures necessary to ensure that the small minority, who see any soft targets as fair game, will not have their way. We want tourists to be safe and secure while they are with us and to feel confident that they can return and it is incumbent on us all to do everything we can to bring that about.

I assure the House that the situation is being continuously monitored by the [1328] Garda Síochána. The measures taken to deal with the problem are constantly reviewed and I am confident that everything which can be done is being done.

Mr. Neville: I thank the Minister for her reply and I am glad the situation is being continuously monitored. It is also our responsibility as public representatives to monitor the situation. I look forward to a crime free tourist season.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 11 June 1993.