Seanad Éireann - Volume 172 - 15 May, 2003
Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2002: Second Stage.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. M. McDowell): I am pleased to present the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2002. This is much awaited draft legislation. The phrase “much awaited” rankles slightly because it has been a long time going through the system to this point. It is badly needed legislation and I hope its passage through the House will be more expeditious than its passage through the Lower House.
The Bill deals with an area which is of major public concern, particularly to those living in urban areas, as well as those who frequent and socialise in certain parts of our capital city and other cities and towns. The Bill passed all Stages in the Dáil on 16 April 2003, having received detailed attention on Committee and Report Stages. It has been amended in some important respects and I will outline the position in this regard for the information of the House later in my contribution.
The Bill is designed to increase Garda powers and thus afford a greater degree of safety and protection to people who may wish to go about their business late at night – particularly at weekends – and not become the victims of unprovoked attacks by drunken and disorderly louts who are out to cause trouble. I do not have to tell the House about the drink culture that has developed here, particularly in the past decade. All reasonable, law-abiding people acknowledge that the increase of public disorder and alcohol fuelled violence is reprehensible and unacceptable.
There is greater awareness now of the extent of alcohol-related disturbance and nuisances in our society. As the report on public order offences – commissioned by the National Crime Council and published last Friday – notes, the number of offences proceeded with under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 increased by 160% in the period 1996 to 2001, with the most frequently invoked sections relating to intoxication in a public place and using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour. That confirms what we already know from the evidence of our own eyes and from the daily media reports that incidents of public disorder are strongly linked with the irresponsible use of alcohol, particularly among young people. Furthermore, that report is not concerned with the depredations inextricably linked to drunken thuggery which leaves a trail of broken bodies and lives.
As Minister with responsibility for criminal law and liquor licensing law, I have major concerns about the implications of a drink culture for public order and civil society. I echo many of the things the President said recently in that regard. The statistics have shown, beyond contradiction, that alcohol abuse is the single most important element in public order offences. In recent years, one of the most disturbing developments on our streets is the mindless and vicious attacks carried out at random on innocent and inoffensive strangers. The majority of those attacks take place late at night outside certain venues, such as nightclubs, licensed premises and fast food outlets, at which large numbers of people congregate and where there is potential for disorder. The culture which has emerged in the past ten years – probably due to greed in certain service sections of society, to affluence, to changing lifestyles and to the availability of more disposable income – has allowed excessive drinking to occur which, unfortunately, is leading to a reduction in the quality of our lives.
The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen substantially the law and the the Garda Síochána to enable the latter to deal more effectively with the growing problem of late night street violence and disruption in so far as it may have its origins in alcohol abuse and its manifestations outside licensed premises of all types or fast food outlets. The Bill applies to pubs, off-licences, discos, nightclubs, dance venues of all types, amusement arcades, chip shops, take aways and mobile food vehicles. We know these types of premises act as a focus for aggravated drunkenness and the use of threatening, insulting or abusive behaviour by alcohol fuelled males and females who are looking for trouble at the slightest provocation and, it also seems, sometimes without it. The Garda has strong powers in respect of public order matters in general under the 1994 Act. However, it must be accepted there is now a need to add to these powers.
The first key provision in the Bill is to strengthen existing Garda powers in so far as it will allow gardaí to apply to the District Court for a closure order which will have the effect of limiting the hours of opening of particular premises. Under a closure order, the premises in question may be restricted from opening for business for certain times and periods as the court may determine for the purposes of avoiding disorder either on or in the vicinity of the premises and involving persons who were on the premises. This will only arise where the proprietor of an establishment has failed to act on a prior formal Garda warning to take steps within his or her control to eliminate the problem.
The second key provision in the Bill applies to persons who may be convicted of a public order street related offence under certain provisions of the 1994 Act. The Bill will allow the District Court to impose the additional sanction of an exclusion order. This order will prohibit the person from entering or being in the vicinity of specified premises outside which the incident giving rise to the original incident occurred for a period of up to 12 months. A breach of this order will be a serious offence punishable by a substantial fine or a term of imprisonment. If a person has to serve a term of imprisonment for the particular offence under the 1994 Act, the term of the exclusion order will apply immediately from the date of release.
The Government is determined to tackle the serious problem of drunken street violence across a number of fronts. The National Crime Council, to which I pay tribute, has endorsed the findings in the report of the strategic task force on alcohol of May 2002. I have already announced my intention to introduce legislative proposals to bring forward shortly a new intoxicating liquor Bill which will respond to certain of that report's recommendations as well as those contained in the reports of the Liquor Licensing Commission.
The Bill to which I refer, which will come before the Lower House during the current session, will include stronger penalties in respect of the sale and supply of liquor to drunken persons and drunkenness on licensed premises. There will be stronger provisions with regard to the maintenance of order and prohibition of riotous behaviour and disorderly conduct on licensed premises. There will be a prohibition on promotional practices which lead to excessive consumption of alcohol on licensed premises and an extension of enforcement powers under the existing law to non-uniformed gardaí.
Provision will be made for the wider use of temporary closure orders, closing time on Thursday nights will be brought back to 11.30 p.m. and there will be a new provision to allow local authorities to pass a motion in relation to an application for an exemption which will have to be taken into account by the court in deciding applications for special exemption orders. This will allow local elected representatives to play a key role in guiding the hands of local judiciary in deciding on policy matters relating to the opening hours of licensed premises and where they should operate. They cannot dictate to a judge on what he or she can or cannot do. Such a provision, if it gave blanket power, might be used excessively or discriminate between one premises and another. The Bill will produce a new system whereby it will be open to any town council, county council or city council to lay down a policy framework to which the local judiciary will be required to have regard or follow to the letter.
The provision of entertainment during a period of drinking up time will be prohibited. I recently met gardaí in Cork who told me that they had to persuade night club owners to tone down or eliminate music for the last half hour in order that people did not go out onto the street fuelled with alcohol and music pulsing in their ears. It is credit worthy that they have taken this step without a legislative basis. The Garda in Cork has taken a partnership approach – I am very impressed by it – involving all the stakeholders in the entertainment industry, backed by the Judiciary, to ensure disorder is tackled. I congratulate Cork gardaí for their work in that regard.
Licensees will be permitted to exclude children under 15 years of age from their premises and also have discretion to exclude young persons aged 15, 16 and 17 years at any or all times. Persons under the age of 24 years will be required to carry and produce proof of age if they wish to be served in a licensed premises.
I will now deal in some detail with the sections of the Bill. Section 1 is a standard provision which sets out the short title and provides for the collective citations of the Bill and Acts whose provisions are affected by it. The Bill will come into operation one month after the date of its passing. I reiterate again that the sooner it is passed the better. It is not a complex Bill. It was criticised in another place for its brevity and lack of content. There is no reason it should be delayed any further. Technical amendments were made to section 1 in the other House.
Section 2 contains standard provisions providing for necessary interpretation and defines certain terms used in the Bill. Its provisions apply to “catering premises” which are defined as any premises licensed under the Licensing Acts 1883 to 2000, the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2000, the Public Dance Halls Acts 1935 and 1997, the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 1986, and any food outlet used for the sale of food, including take-aways, fixed or mobile. Thus, the Bill will apply to pubs, off-licences, night clubs, dance venues of all types, amusement arcades, chip shops, take-aways and mobile food vans. The terms “licensed premises” and “licensee” have particular meanings for the purposes of the Bill and are somewhat wider in scope than when normally used in the context of the liquor licensing code. Some technical changes were also made to this section on Committee Stage in the Dáil.
Section 3 enables the District Court to make an exclusion order as an additional penalty where a person is convicted of certain public order offences under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. The relevant offences are intoxication in a public place, section 4; disorderly conduct in a public place, section 5; threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, section 6; distribution or display of offensive material, section 7; failure to comply with a Garda direction, section 8, and, wilful obstruction, section 9.
An exclusion order prohibits a person from entering or being in the vicinity of specified premises for a period of up to 12 months. If a term of imprisonment has been imposed for the offence for which he or she is convicted, the order will take effect immediately after he or she is released from prison. The governor or person in charge of a place of detention shall notify the Garda Commissioner when such a person is to be released in order that the order can be applied from that date.
The section was amended by the addition of subsection (5) to make it clear that an exclusion may be appealed to the Circuit Court. Breach of an exclusion order will be an offence. An order may only be imposed for offences committed after the commencement of the Bill. In other words, the new sanction cannot be imposed retrospectively.
Under section 4, a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of inspector may apply to the District Court for a closure order to restrict the opening hours of a premises covered by the Bill. Before an application for a closure order can be made, there must either have been disorder on the premises or in its vicinity or excessive noise emanating from the premises or its vicinity, and such disorder or noise must be likely to recur. The disorder or noise must involve persons who were on the premises. The noise criterion has been drafted to ensure it exceeds what would normally be regarded as acceptable or reasonable in the circumstances. The term “in the vicinity” is defined as not exceeding a distance of 100 metres from the premises involved. In addition, before making an application for a closure order, the garda involved must have informed the licensee of the premises that disorder or excessive noise has occurred and requested that he or she take such action within his or her control to prevent a recurrence. A notice of an application for a closure order must be either served personally by the Garda Siochána or by registered post. This aspect was the subject of much debate in the Dáil where I introduced an amendment on Report Stage to clarify the position. A maximum of seven days is allowed for the licensee to rectify the problem. The owner or operator of the premises shall be given notice of the intention to apply for a closure order.
Section 5 deals with the grounds on which closure orders may be made, their application and related provisions. The court must be satisfied that disorder or noise has occurred and that the making of the closure order is necessary to prevent a recurrence. An order could require a premises to close earlier than would otherwise be permitted on a particular day or days, or for a certain period, or require the premises to be closed completely for a period not exceeding seven days. In the case of a subsequent order having to be made, the premises could be closed for a period not exceeding 30 days.
When making a closure order, the court may specify that the licensee within a specified period will have to fulfil certain requirements, for example, the installation of a CCTV system, or restrictions on the type of substances to be sold, or limits placed on the numbers of persons which may be admitted to the premises in question. If a licensee fails to comply with an order of the court, a fine of €650 and-or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months will be incurred. In considering whether to make a closure order, the court can take into account the conduct of the licensee, manager or employees in relation to the operation of the premises. An order may apply to the whole or part of the premises and shall specify the ground or grounds on which it was made. It shall come into effect when written notice has been served on the licensee or manager of the premises.
A notice specifying the closure times and the grounds for the closure order must be affixed to the premises in a prominent position. It shall be an offence not to display such a notice with a fine for a first offence of €300 and up to €600 for a second or subsequent offence. Employees of the premises will not be disadvantaged in their employment during the period of closure. This section was also the subject of amendment on Report Stage in the Dáil.
Section 6 provides for the right of appeal to the Circuit Court against the making of a closure order. To ensure the overall effectiveness of an order, the lodgement of an appeal will not affect the coming into operation of the order unless the Circuit Court decides accordingly within seven days from the date the order was made. This will suspend the order pending the hearing of the appeal.
Section 7 provides for the extension of a closure order. The court may extend the order with any such variation as it sees fit.
Under section 8, a person who permits his or her premises to be open in breach of a closure order will incur a fine of €3,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both. It will be an offence for a person to be found on a catering premises in breach of a closure order unless he or she can show that the requisite notice was not affixed to the exterior of the premises. It shall also be an offence to fail to leave a catering premises when requested to do so by a member of the Garda Síochána.
Section 9 is a technical provision relating to the liability of bodies corporate. Section 10 is a standard technical provision which provides for the jurisdiction of the District Court and Circuit Court in relation to the Bill which I commend to the House. I shall listen with interest to the contributions of Senators from all sides.
The passage of the legislation through the Lower House was so slow that, in the interim, some thoughts occurred to me about how related amendments to the law in this area could be brought forward. One of these, about which I spoke publicly in recent days, in light of the National Crime Council report, is the possibility that, where the Probation of Offenders Act is correctly applied by District Court judges who are unwilling to record convictions, the person against whom the facts have been proven, but who has not been convicted, should be liable to pay a substantial sum by way of defrayment of the costs of the entire procedure. It will, therefore, not be merely a polite slap on the wrist. Some of the costs to the society of such behaviour should be borne by these people, even though they will not be convicted under the Probation Act.
My second proposal is not addressed in the Bill because if I was to introduce amendments, I would be obliged to return to the Lower House and it might be next year before I returned with it to the Seanad. I propose to consider whether, in the case of minor disorder offences, as an alternative to going before the courts, a written caution document might not be issued to people who have been arrested in incidents of minor disorder, indicating that if they pay a fixed penalty of, for example, €300, a prosecution against them under the Act will not follow. This is a variant of what British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, spoke about at one stage, namely, the notion of on-the-spot fines. His project was over-ambitious, under which police constables in London could bring misbehaving louts to ATM machines and force them to pay up on the spot. With the greatest respect to Mr. Blair, if that was applied in this country it could lead to great misunderstandings, as gardaí escorted people to cash machines to extract money. However, the principle is correct.
In view of the delays in the District Court system, we do not want to clog it up further by requiring gardaí to return three or four months after offences have been committed to take part in a hearing on what, in effect, are incidents of extreme bad manners or loutishness. This is particularly true when the same result could be achieved by issuing a formal caution and extracting from the person a payment in lieu of prosecution. It would be an on-the-spot fine which would not quite be imposed on the spot but would arrive on their doorstep at a later date. This would be particularly good in the case of young people because they would be obliged to explain their actions at home. Such fines might have just as cautionary an effect as actual court proceedings. I may be able to deal with that in the forthcoming intoxicating liquor Bill or some other legislation to be published in the coming weeks.
One of the problems with the slow pace of legislation is that, as matters progress, one begins to feel that one has missed opportunities. The Bill took 11 months to go through one House of the Oireachtas. The idea of returning there with it makes the heart wilt, if I may say that about the House of which I am a Member. It is a modest Bill and there is no “rocket science” involved in it. It is designed to make it clear to the people who run these kind of premises, that they have a responsibility. The precedent set in Cork city – where the Garda, the Judiciary and the stakeholders in the entertainment industry, all understand that they are partners in maintaining public order and where customers know that such a partnership approach exists – is the best model. Such a partnership is unlikely to be of value in every case unless powers similar to those contained in the Bill are employed.
With regard to people who are careless, negligent or oblivious to the implications of what occurs on their premises, under the Bill the Garda will have the power to regulate their activities and force them to adopt reasonable standards for the maintenance of public order. Whether it is through the work of security staff, closed circuit television or other arrangements concerning the substances sold or the volume of music, it seems that this legislation will immeasurably strengthen the Garda Síochána in dealing with what, I hope, will be a minority of participants in the entertainment industry who might feel tempted to ignore reasonable request from gardaí as to how their premises should be run.
I hope that the time will come when the Garda will make much better use of hand-held videos in order to prevent arguments in the District Court about the scenes individual gardaí describe. Members of the force should able to show footage of what they witnessed in a particular nightclub either to a District Court judge or, alternatively, to the owner of the premises in question and inform them that the footage will be shown in court if matters go that far. This may prevent the case going before the court and ensure that reasonable steps are taken to ensure that public disorder does not recur.
My focal scaradh is this: in the event that people are of the view – particularly in the light of the National Crime Council report – that we are engaged in a hopeless battle against public disorder, I assure them that this is not the case. Senators will be aware that I recently published headline crime figures – they now become available in a very timely fashion – for the first quarter of this year. Since then, I had a conversation with the Garda Commissioner who informed me public order offences are decreasing. That is a hopeful sign and it may be due to different attitudes, publicity, public debate on the issue – I thank Members of both House for their contributions in that regard – or television programmes such as “Prime Time”. There is a downward trend in public disorder at the moment. As one swallow does not make a summer, so the figures for one quarter should not necessarily be leapt upon as evidence that our problems are over. In the event that Senators are of the view that our task is hopeless and that we are going nowhere, I assure them that this is not the case. There is cause for optimism.
I attended an interesting party political seminar in my constituency last night, at which a leading economist provided some interesting figures. It may worry Senator Bohan slightly, but there has been a decline of 7% in the buoyancy of pub receipts during the past year. I was informed after the meeting that, by contrast, off-licences are doing better. It may be that there has been a change in behaviour. I do not say with any sense of gloating about what is happening to vintners, but there are changes afoot. I wanted to inform Senators about these trends, rather than having the debate proceed on the basis that nothing can be done and that the situation is hopelessly out of control.
Ms Terry Ms Terry
Ms Terry: I welcome the Minister. I do not intend to delay the passage of the Bill because I want to see its provisions implemented so that we can bring to order to licensees who are not managing their pubs properly and people who misbehave in pubs or on the streets. Anything that helps to improve the situation must be welcomed and, in that context, I welcome the Bill.
The Minister has a huge responsibility in terms of the safety of citizens, particularly those on the streets. In recent years, that safety has been in question. Far too many young people and those who are not so young have been the victims of mindless crimes. Most of these crimes are committed by people under the influence of drink. The level of serious crime is new to this country, particularly the phenomenon of young people, usually males, attacking an individual on the street – someone going about his or her business, perhaps on his or her way home from work – and kicking him or her, sometimes to death, as we have seen. I cannot understand what is behind this, how our society has sunk to such a low level, with people showing so little regard for life or the safety of others.
Many things must be done in order to curb this level of violence on our streets. While the Bill is very short, as the Minister has remarked, it is important. Many of the other aspects with which we have to deal, involving issues of even greater concern to people, will be incorporated in the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. It is issue of changing attitudes, although the crime figures have decreased in recent months. Perhaps the issue involves the Minister being seen to do something about it and public representatives refusing to accept the situation and demanding changes. I would like to hear more high profile individuals in our society, particularly sports personalities, publicly saying this behaviour on our streets is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
There is no point in the Minister putting in place measures which will not be enforced. We must again ask if the Garda Síochána has the resources to implement the measures suggested. The Minister knows very well that it is currently over-stretched and must be given the necessary resources. He expressed an aspiration, or a commitment—
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Mr. M. McDowell: A commitment.
Ms Terry Ms Terry
Ms Terry: The Minister made a commitment that an additional 2,000 gardaí would be provided. When will we see them, taking into account how few gardaí can be trained in Templemore at any one time? I want to see those additional 2,000 gardaí on our streets at the earliest opportunity. I want them today, if possible.
I would like the Minister to speak to the House about his suggestion in regard to a reserve Garda force. I wonder what he has in mind for it and what role its members might play. He said they would operate on the streets but I would like to know the areas in which they would operate. We need to see more plain clothes gardaí in our pubs where anti-social behaviour can occur. I know this measure is not included in the Bill under consideration but will be in the next one.
These are the kinds of measures we need. I agree with the Minister that we need a mandatory ID card scheme which would certainly be a help to publicans and off-licence owners in their efforts to ascertain a person's age. However, it would not take account of the 16 year old who asks his or her 25 year old friend or older brother to get drink for him or her at the off-licence. I do not know how the Minister would deal with this issue. All of these measures have to be taken on board.
There is a lack of community policing in our residential areas. Community gardaí are being diverted to other areas. In my constituency, Dublin West, it is a major concern that we do not have enough community gardaí, and that those we have cannot carry out their work because of pressure on Garda resources.
I also ask the Minister to discuss the provision in another Act regarding the labelling of drink in cans and bottles. This was provided but not regulated for. Is it a realistic prospect? When, for example, we see under age children walking to the nearest shrubbery to drink their cans, it is very hard to trace the drink back to the off-licences where it was bought. It would be helpful if the bags in which the drink is carried the name of the seller on them. I would greatly welcome powers being given to the local authorities, to local elected representatives, because they know what is going on in their areas and know which pubs are abusing the law.
Greater onus is being placed in the Bill on the management of pubs but perhaps the Minister should have made certain regulations, for example, obliging pubs to install CCTV. Should we be saying each pub should have a bouncer, or a number of bouncers? There are issues for which we should be regulating when we ask the manager or owner of a pub to run it properly and we should be more specific in demanding certain things which we know will contribute to the good management of the premises.
In The Irish Times yesterday reference was made to the possible closure of a number of Garda stations in Dublin. I do not know the Minister's thinking in this respect but surely such closures would result in a reduction of service to the community. Perhaps the Minister will respond.
The issue is all about tackling the level of drinking. It is a very broad area and parents, teachers, community workers and elected representatives should be getting together to address the problems. If one asks young people the reason they drink, they blame boredom. Twenty or 30 years ago young people would also have said they were bored but they did not drink to the excessive levels seen today. One of the big problems, particularly in the built-up areas of Dublin where there are very large numbers of young people, is that we do not have recreational facilities for them. This is something the Government should address because if people become involved in sport at a young age, it helps to keep many of them away from the over-drinking we see on our streets today.
Another issue involves vans which sell drink.
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Mr. M. McDowell: Just food.
Ms Terry Ms Terry
Ms Terry: There are vans which also sell drink in communities.
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Mr. M. McDowell: There should not be.
Ms Terry Ms Terry
Ms Terry: That is what I was going to say. Of course, there should not be. I presume the Bill will address this issue.
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Mr. M. McDowell: It will be addressed in the Intoxicating Liquor Bill.
Ms Terry Ms Terry
Ms Terry: There is a great cross-over between the two Bills but certainly the vans in question should be put off the road and those involved in the business prosecuted.
I welcome and support the Bill which I wish to see implemented as quickly as possible. I also want to see the other Bills, particularly the intoxicating Liquor Bill, brought before us as soon as possible in order that we can deal with the outstanding areas.
It is not only young people under 20 years of age who are causing problems in regard to excessive drinking. Those in their late twenties are also causing problems. Parents have a huge responsibility in this regard. The Minister suggested that fines could be imposed, with which I would agree. Would it be possible to make parents more responsible for their children's actions, particularly where offenders are under age? Children are not afraid of their parents and can get away with things about which their parents might never know. Education, enforcement and responsible behaviour start in the home.
Mr. J. Walsh Mr. J. Walsh
Mr. J. Walsh: I welcome the Minister and the introduction of the Bill. It is fair to say the Minister has been particularly busy in generating legislation. Although this measure predates his appointment, it is, nonetheless, welcome. It will be an addition in curtailing this problem which is a blight on urban society. As the Minister said, it is important that the Houses of the Oireachtas facilitate the introduction of such legislation which is urgently needed in the most expeditious way possible.
The Bill is designed to strengthen the law, particularly in regard to late night drinking. While it is a public order Bill, our concern is public disorder which is mostly alcohol related and driven. It will allow the Garda to apply to the District Court for a closure order which may limit the opening hours of premises and also close premises for periods.
I welcome the definition of the term “premises” in the Bill which I had to read twice as at first I thought it was only dealing with catering premises. It deals with public houses, arcades under the Gaming and Lotteries Acts, and night clubs, giving it a broad remit of places where there is a congregation of individuals and where public order incidences occur.
A closure order can also be applied for in instances where there has been an unacceptable level of noise, both from the premises and in the vicinity, if caused by persons who have been on the premises. The sanctions are severe, as they should be. Premises can be closed for specific periods, either on a daily basis or specified dates. They can also be closed for up to seven days and a recurrence of the offence can lead to closure for up to 30 days which would be a particularly heavy sanction. This will provide great motivation for the owners of premises to ensure they comply with the conditions of the legislation. In other legislation, the owners of premises have responsibility for their patrons and this is extending that principle to society in general.
Penalties will not be incurred without the owners of premises first having been notified by the Garda to take action where occurrences have happened that are within the control of the owner of the premises in question. Will the Minister clarify if the notification will specify the precise action to be taken or will it be a general requirement to meet the thrust of the legislation? I foresee a need for it to be specific in certain instances. In order to comply, a management policy has to be instituted in conjunction with the Garda to meet the requirements of the Bill.
I fully empathise with the Minister's comments in regard to Cork. It seems to be a good model which could be rolled out in other urban areas. It builds on the concept of partnership which includes all stakeholders – the owners of premises and other interested parties. I suggest that the local authorities be involved in some formalised way. As Senator Terry rightly said, those who put themselves forward for public office are made aware, often in trenchant terms, of the problems encountered in particular areas. They are often expected to deal with issues by their electorate that do not fall within their control or remit. It is important that this is recognised at national level and that formalised arrangements are put in place to reflect this as it would be most beneficial to the operation of the system. The Minister recognised the positive role that could be played by local government in previous comments he made to the House. While I welcome the provisions in the Bill which give a say to local government in regard to the seeking of exemptions, I would perhaps go further and allow it to be the determining authority. The Minister has not yet gone that far but I hope we will go down that road in future. In general, there is a role for local authority in these areas.
If Government has one challenge, it is the quality of management across the public service which is currently patchy. There are some excellent individuals involved in it who are tremendous managers with great expertise but, equally, there are many square pegs in round holes who find themselves in such positions. In that regard, a mistake was made in terms of benchmarking. While it is acceptable that those working in the public service should be paid commensurate with workers in the private sector, nobody in the private sector has a guarantee of a job for life or an index-linked pension. Making the system operate on a fairer playing field should have resulted in equality across the issues. One of the biggest difficulties lies in the switching of personnel when they achieve certain grades, many of whom often prove unable to perform their duties. This applies equally to the Garda and the public service generally. I will not deny that it is also a factor in the private sector but it can be addressed there.
The power of closure only comes into operation where prior warning has been given and the advice ignored. The court has a range of remedies for how to deal with this issue. The Bill outlines serious consequences for owners of premises not in compliance with the legislation. The ultimate sanction is for a judge to close premises should he or she feel it necessary in order to avoid a recurrence. It is difficult to define how much is within the control of the owner of the premises. Once people leave it can be difficult for an owner to exercise control. In many cases disorder occurs when individuals congregate in another area adjacent to the premises. The Garda has a role to play in ensuring there are mechanisms in place. The Cork experience has given rise to codes of best practice and good initiatives which could be extended to other areas. What happens in a case where an owner proves unable to avoid a disturbance despite his or her best efforts?
There are similar powers in legislation regarding the sale of drugs and under age drinking. I have seen public houses closed where it has been found that under age drinkers have been served. This is a good sanction because it is a significant loss to the owners of the premises and will motivate them to avoid this happening in future. I welcome the provisions for a renewal of licence where additional requirements can be made. The Minister referred to the stipulation that CCTV would have to be installed, either inside or outside premises. There is also the sanction of a €300 fine or up to six months imprisonment where a proprietor breaches an exclusion order. These provisions are necessary to ensure compliance with court orders.
The thrust of the Bill is towards the owners of premises, but the sanctions for culprits appear to be somewhat light. An offender can be banned from a premises and, indeed, from the vicinity for a period of up to 12 months. Senator Terry outlined some of the effects of loutish behaviour on people's lives and highlighted the fact that it can lead to loss of life. There have been cases of serious injury.
As the Minister stated, there has been considerable cost to the health services. Anybody who watched the report on RTE's “Prime Time” programme could not but have been appalled. In my view, that was public broadcasting at its best. The reaction to it may well lead to behavioural changes for the better in society and that would be very welcome. The Minister has also alluded to the cost to the Garda.
We owe it to law-abiding citizens to ensure that the law is tough on offenders. People have an entitlement to walk the streets of our cities and towns at night without being exposed to the kind of risks that exist at present. Every effort by the Minister in that regard deserves the support of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The individual responsibility of offenders is an aspect which I believe should be highlighted to a greater degree. The sanctions in that regard should be quite severe.
There is an issue which may have arisen from the debate in the Lower House and may be worthy of consideration by the Minister when he is updating the relevant legislation later in the year. I refer to the suggestion that offenders might be held in cells overnight. That could have a sobering effect, if Members will pardon the pun. It could also result in a significant jolt to the individual concerned as to the seriousness of the offence. I have seen evidence of this in terms of a positive response from people in such situations. We need to look more closely at that idea. Our society has moved, perhaps rightly, from an era of greater compliance towards a more civil liberties-oriented approach. The pendulum may need to swing back somewhat. Responsible people have recently told me they would be happy to pay some price, in terms of a reduction in civil liberties, in order to have greater security for themselves, their families and society in general in the context of tackling loutish behaviour.
The Minister referred to the recoupment of Garda costs. For example, if an offender causes a riot in a town, resulting in local Garda resources having to be reinforced from other areas to deal with the problem, there is no reason that the cost incurred should not be borne by the offender.
Alcohol is far from cheap. Our affluence has led to an increase in disposable incomes. Perhaps the observation that we did not have this problem to the same extent in the past arises from the fact that young people did not have as much money to buy drink as they do today. It seems eminently sensible, therefore, to suggest that those who cause substantial cost to the State should have to make recompense.
In last night's debate on road safety, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Séamus Brennan, stated that the introduction of the penalty points system had made people focus on their own situations, since the system is specific to the individual. Previously, one might manage to pawn off payment of the fine to one's company or to somebody else, so that it did not have any significant personal impact. Now, however, the accumulation of penalty points and ultimate loss of one's licence certainly has a personal impact. Perhaps a similar system should apply in respect of the type of behaviour we are discussing in this debate. For example, on conviction, an offender could receive two penalty points for the initial offence and a further point for any subsequent breach of an exclusion order. On reaching five points, a mandatory prison sentence of six months could apply, with up to two years for any recurrence. That would make people focus on the effect of their own actions. While the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Minister and the Garda all have roles to play, the ultimate responsibility rests with individuals to take control of their actions and to pay the penalty for transgressions.
I wish to comment briefly on some other issues. I compliment the Minister on his proposal for the introduction of an ID card system. CCTV systems should be more widely installed in conjunction with local authorities, with which there is scope for greater partnership in this context. Perhaps some system of linking the Garda, in terms of accountability, with local public representatives would be a move in the right direction. Drinks advertising is an issue which deserves attention and could be a factor in reducing problems in this regard. A review of the licensing laws would also be appropriate.
The provision in the Bill whereby the lodgement of an appeal will not affect a closure order struck me as rather unusual. While I realise that people may use an appeal as a delaying tactic, I believe, in principle, that if one has a right of appeal, it should be exhausted before the actual penalty applies. I do not see how one can roll back a penalty in this instance. On the point that no employee should be disadvantaged by reason of a closure, how can this be given effect if a premises is closed for 30 days? In addition, what is the position if an employee has been culpable of providing too much drink to an individual, without the knowledge of the owner or manager of the premises?
The role of the Garda must not be diminished. It is important that it plays its part as the leading partner in this regard and that the onus is not, in some way, transferred to the owners of premises. I refer here to situations where a female garda may be sent alone to deal with a public disorder issue. The latter would clearly place the individual in an impossible position. The empowerment and proper equipment of the Garda is essential.
In conclusion, may I say, in the words of my political party before the last election, “A lot done, more to do”.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: I wish to share time with Senator Norris.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: The Minister will be pleased to hear that I had prepared a marvellous speech for this debate. It was intended to use some really tough phrases such as “too little, too late” and “all talk and no do”. I will not use those words, having heard the Minister's contribution. I was impressed by the reasons he put forward for the delay and, even more so, by what he intends to do in the future. I also note the reasons he has not accepted amendments with the same degree of enthusiasm he has, perhaps, done in the past. He believes that would simply delay the passage of the Bill. I compliment the Minister in that regard.
As already stated, I will discard my prepared speech. I will, however, use one sentence from it. While we must take at face value assurances that the two main provisions of the Bill are important and essential, it beggars belief that anybody would consider them an adequate and comprehensive response to the serious problems that have emerged in society during the past five years or so. I agree that the Minister has given an adequate explanation for the delay during the past year and I accept his reasons for not doing some of the things I might wish him to do because that would involve further delay.
Senator Terry spoke of responsibility, a matter to which I also referred in the recent debate on public order and crime. We mentioned community and parental responsibility but, as I pointed out, nobody speaks about personal responsibility. What do we have to do in that regard?
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Mr. M. McDowell: I appear to have stolen some of the Senator's lines and used them in my contribution.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: I was delighted to note that the Minister did so. We must focus our attention, in a serious way, on lawlessness, especially the particular type of lawlessness with which we are concerned in the context of this Bill. This issue demands urgent attention. When a certain behaviour becomes almost enmeshed in our way of living and we begin to accept it, it grows increasingly difficult to solve.
Visitors from the United States have expressed astonishment at the quantity of alcohol being consumed by young people in the centre of Dublin and elsewhere. I recall visiting New York 20 or 30 years ago, when one could not walk the streets without fear. On my recent visit to New York, there did not appear to be any problem whatsoever. Whatever change of culture has occurred in that regard was not brought about by the law alone; it was supported by an effort to secure acceptance by the entire community.
I wish to express a view in which I believe and to which the Minister referred when he spoke about Tony Blair and ATM cash machines. When I examined the 1994 Act and then looked at the report of 2001, I saw that over 42,000 public order offences had been committed. I was astounded by that statistic but then began to think about traffic offences, parking offences in particular. If I park incorrectly, I will not have to go to court and clog up the time of the courts and the Garda Síochána. I will be told that I can go to court if I choose but, otherwise, will be expected to pay a fine within so many days or weeks. It is a long time since I have been a parking ticket – perhaps that is one of the advantages of being a Member of this House. As something like that does not require a constitutional amendment, why can we not do something similar in this case? The vast majority who misbehave and know they have done so – just as in the case of parking offences – will say, “Yes, I got drunk and shouldn't have misbehaved like that but I did.” Now, however, we are saying such a person will have to go to court but we could impose a €300 fine for a first offence instead, as the Minister mentioned. Surely we would not need more legislation to do this but if so, it would be accepted immediately by this House.
The vast majority who have committed public order offences would opt to pay a fine rather than go to court, if given the choice. A second offence could incur a higher fine such as occurs with traffic offences, including parking infringements. If the Minister is proposing something like this, he is on the right track. I urge him not to delay but instead introduce the required legislation as soon as possible. I take his point that the matter is unlikely to come within the ambit of the Bill because it is more important that we pass the legislation after waiting 11 months.
I congratulate the Minister whose heart is in the right place. Let us make sure the requisite action is taken also.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I am grateful to my friend and colleague, Senator Quinn, for allowing me to share some of his time. I doubt if I will even take up the full amount because I agree with him that the Minister is going very far in the direction we support. I have raised this issue repeatedly in the House. In the beginning I was laughed at when I spoke about public order offences, including urination and defecation in public. People thought it was a howl but it is much more serious than they believed. I warned that people would be killed outside night clubs because of the policy of pushing fights out into the street when they occurred, instead of summoning the Garda Síochána and containing such behaviour inside the club. Unfortunately, everybody becomes involved in the melee and people are killed. The level of violence, particularly in our city centres, has escalated to an unconscionable degree and there is no doubt that it is fuelled by alcohol.
As regards recent alleged cases of date rape, the medical evidence currently available indicates that some such cases do not involve the use of the so-called date rape drug, Rohypnol; the young women involved got themselves so drunk that they exceeded the levels of toxicity that would normally kill an adult. They have been poisoned by alcohol. I am not saying there are no cases of date rape but it does demonstrate the level to which this situation has deteriorated.
We need to examine alcohol supply because our drinking habits are different from those in most other European states. In Monkstown, for example, some fellow had the bright idea of charging a small admission fee and allowing people to drink as much as they possibly could at weekends. That is absolutely outrageous and I hope it can be stopped because it is a clear incitement to drink as much as one can and become totally insensible. Young people – I was young once, although it is a distant memory—
Ms Feeney Ms Feeney
Ms Feeney: The Senator is still young.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: This is the way I could have been incited, some 40 years ago, to behave in exactly that manner.
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Mr. M. McDowell: The Senator was once disorderly.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I am afraid I was.
Mr. J. Walsh Mr. J. Walsh
Mr. J. Walsh: He still is.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I still can be, occasionally, as the House knows. In my day – I am definitely beginning to sound old now – the Dublin pub was noted for its conversation. Nowadays, however, I would be hard pushed to find a public house in which one could hear oneself, let alone anybody else. There is a deliberate policy of noise pollution which should be investigated. Licensed premises used to have to obtain a licence for singing but now they can have deafening karaoke sessions which cause a nuisance to neighbours. If one is in a pub – I heard this referred to recently on the radio – the publican will start off with a reasonable level of noise when there are only one or two customers but will gradually increase the volume until towards the end of the evening it is absolutely deafening. There is a deliberate intention – a sort of psychological warfare – to make conversation impossible in order that the only thing one can do is slosh back the drink. This needs to be examined.
I am glad that gaming clubs, casinos and arcades are also included within the terms of the Bill because they are a curse. Looking around the O'Connell Street area of Dublin one can see lap-dancing clubs and the development of super pubs. First, supermarkets were permitted to sell wine but now they can sell beer also. It may well be that the courts are required under the legislation to extend licences and their hands may be tied in this respect but we should examine the matter. I am not blaming the judges in this instance but as policymakers, we ought to examine the matter and ask whether it is advisable to fuel the conflagration by making alcohol available through such outlets in O'Connell Street to those wandering the streets. I do not believe it is. We should examine the reason this has happened; is it a defect in the legislative provisions?
There must be more community involvement in tackling these problems. In my area the local authorities and the Garda Síochána have objected annually to a particular premises, yet it gets licensed. It may be that the hands of the courts are tied in some way but if we want to change this, we will have to get the local community involved. Public concerns will have to be taken into account, especially if the Garda Síochána and the local authority object to the continuation of a licence, whether it be for a pub or lap-dancing club. I do not think such clubs should be licensed because they are an appalling blot on the country. They introduce women, mainly from eastern Europe, who are placed in situations of near slavery in some instances.
Ms White Ms White
Ms White: They must like it.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I doubt it.
Ms White Ms White
Ms White: The Senator does not know that.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Norris, without interruption, please.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I am prepared to give Senator White a private audience, just in the interests of science. I very much doubt it, however, because I regard it as degrading. The evidence is quite clear that the women concerned are almost universally exploited. Sometimes their passports are held, they are not paid the wages they were promised and, very often, it leads to the introduction of criminal elements.
I welcome the Bill. I am glad it has been introduced because serious injury and death have occurred as a result of the kind of circumstances we have seen. I hope the Minister will continue to monitor the situation and that he will introduce amendments subsequently, if necessary.
Without wishing to make remarks critical of any particular judges, the whole licensing system needs to be examined. How is it that we all know totally unsatisfactory pubs all over the city get licences? It may very well not be the fault of the judges but there is a flaw in the system. We need to monitor the whole question of licensing.
Mr. Kett Mr. Kett
Mr. Kett: I wish to share my time with Senator Maurice Hayes.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Kett Mr. Kett
Mr. Kett: I welcome this important legislation which will be an additional tool in the fight against public disorder. The Bill aims to deal with matters of great public concern. For example, pedestrians are increasingly worried that they will be set upon and beaten senseless, for whatever reason, by drunken louts. Such offenders, however, will find themselves in court as a result of this Bill.
The dreadful thing about the new era of crime is that it seems to know no social barriers. I remember a time when if a young fellow created a problem, one would hear people saying “he knows no better, his father before him was no good”. It seems that individuals perpetrating crime nowadays are well-educated in many instances. Two well-educated young men who are pursuing careers in professional tennis were allegedly involved in a recent mugging in Grafton Street, when an unfortunate individual happened to walk in their direction. This worrying trend is taking on a life of its own. Some Senators have mentioned CCTV cameras and we should be grateful that such systems, it appears, played a major part in detecting the perpetrators of the Grafton Street crime to which I referred. I am aware that CCTV is a relatively new element in crime detection, but it seems to be paying dividends.
Young people should listen to doctors and consultants, who can tell them about the serious consequences of their actions and the effects on their bodies in later life if they continue to behave in such a manner. Senator Walsh stated that many years ago we were unable to do many of the things that young people do now, because we did not have enough money in our pockets. However, a lack of money does not seem to be a problem for young people. In the “Prime Time” documentary about this issue that was broadcast some months ago, a young girl suggested that she drinks 15 vodkas on an average night. I am told that drink is not cheap in Temple Bar, where the girl was interviewed, so 15 vodkas would cost her the best part of €75. If one takes into account her taxi fares into the city centre and home again, as well as the admission charge into a disco, one is looking at the best part of €100 for a night out. I wonder if the people who are spending such money are also those who stand outside the gates worrying about college fees, but that an argument for another day.
I have heard the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform speak about his concerns in respect of this issue on many occasions. I am not concerned about his commitment to making progress in this regard. All Senators expect that there will be significant improvements.
The behaviour of young men, which is an obvious symptom of a real decline in public order, is the most disturbing element of this matter. It is undermining people's sense of security and freedom. It inhabits most of the thoughts of older people, who are unable to sit in the comfort of their homes without the constant fear of somebody coming in, beating the daylights out of them and robbing them. This is particularly true in rural areas. We have seen the most horrible consequences, when older people lost their lives in such circumstances.
It appears that many of these assaults involve the use of the boot. I recall a time when one was considered to be a low-life for using the boot. We all grew up with the old-fashioned way of fighting, which was to tear and punch, but one would never in one's wildest dreams consider using the boot.
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Mr. M. McDowell: Everything changed when kung fu came along.
Mr. Kett Mr. Kett
Mr. Kett: I have stated previously that I consider the use of the boot on a person's head to be no different to plunging a knife into that person. In most instances, the consequences of such an action can be the same as the use of a knife. Those who engage in such behaviour should be dealt with as harshly as possible under the rule of law.
I used to believe that education was the answer to these problems, but I have changed my mind. Alcohol seems to over-ride the thoughts and actions of even the brightest and best. Young and not so young people who go out at night seem to be able to change character – like Jekyll and Hyde – and to turn into little monsters.
Several Senators said that parents, teachers, the Garda, the Judiciary and politicians have roles to play. A thought struck me in relation to the Garda and I am sure the Minister will tell me if it is off the wall. The crimes we have been discussing are perpetrated in certain hotspots in this city, but gardaí may be looking around for someone to catch in other parts of the city, for example, on the outskirts. I wonder if gardaí can be redistributed at certain times, perhaps between midnight and 4 a.m., particularly at weekends. Some of the people to whom we have referred might be discouraged if gardaí were seen in greater numbers on the streets.
I am delighted that the Bill, which is designed to augment existing legislation, will give greater sanctions to the Garda. I listened with interest to the story of the €300 that found its way to the house of a young person who was in trouble, but I wondered if it might cause the violence to be transferred from the streets to the home, as I know it would in my case.
I am confident that the Bill will ensure a greater response to our requirement to fight crime. It will send a clear message to the perpetrators of crime that they will be dealt with much more speedily, effectively and, it is hoped, harshly. We owe it to decent folk who are earning a living and making a contribution to the State to ensure that they can walk the streets of their village or town without fear of being robbed.
I will conclude by mentioning another scourge that exists. Joyriders, or “deathriders” as we call them, need to be dealt with because they are taking these problems from the inner cities to the suburbs. Old folk cannot go out to evening mass or to purchase a bottle of milk at night without the fear of being run down. All the matters I have raised are part of the Bill, in any event, and I wish it well.
Dr. M. Hayes Dr. M. Hayes
Dr. M. Hayes: I am grateful to Senator Kett for allowing me to share some of his time. I congratulate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on bringing forward the Bill and on tackling this social evil with such vigour. This is a timely Bill. There are ways in which we can go further and I will back the Minster with regard to identity cards when the time comes.
When I walked along South Anne Street on the last sitting day before Easter, I saw that the kerb on both sides was lined with kids with pints in their hands. Some of them looked to be about 13 years of age, although that may be a reflection on my age – the Lolita factor. A legal provision in Northern Ireland is worthy of consideration. District councils can designate areas in their towns in which it is not permissible to drink in public. I favour the café society and boulevards, but they seem to lose some of their pristine innocence when translated to an Irish setting.
I would like to ask a couple of questions about the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2002, the first of which relates to exclusion orders. Does the reference in the Bill to exclusions from specified premises relate to individually specified premises or to a class of premises? In other words, can people be banned from all chip shops or just from a particular chip shop? It is probably theoretical, but I wonder if section 4, which refers to “persons who were on, the premises”, will create a difficulty if people were not on the premises, if it is difficult to prove that they were on the premises, or if they had drink carried out to them. I suppose it does not matter too much as it is the decibel count that is important.
Like Senators Norris and Kett, I am interested in the question of closures. I wonder if one could regard a closure order as being like a yellow card and if somebody gets two of them, they will be given an automatic red card. It is something that should be taken into account when such people next appear before a licensing court.
I commend the Minister for bringing forward the Bill and I wish him well. I am sure the Seanad will give it a speedy passage.
Ms Tuffy Ms Tuffy
Ms Tuffy: I wish to share my time with Senator White, by agreement.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Ms Tuffy Ms Tuffy
Ms Tuffy: I thank the Minister for his presentation and I welcome the Bill, although it is late for it to reach this stage. It is important legislation, particularly in light of the statistics indicating the rise in public order offences, especially those relating to alcohol consumption. The two new powers given to the courts are welcome. I also welcome the amendment adopted by the Minister on appeals to the Circuit Court with regard to exclusion orders, which was proposed by Deputy Costello of the Labour Party.
With regard to closure orders, it is welcome that there is an opportunity for the owner of the premises concerned to rectify the position, and that there is an appeals provision, because the consequences of the orders are quite severe with regard to an owner's business. While the provision in section 5(8) that closure will not disadvantage employees of the business in any way is welcome, I wonder how it will work in practice.
It is important in terms of how we deal with the issue of alcohol consumption and public order that the responsibility for ensuring problems do not arise is shared. However, responsibility lies in the first instance with those who sell alcohol and have a licence to do so. It is very important that they exercise that licence responsibly. This Bill is a part of legislative efforts to ensure that the onus is put on, for example, publicans to act responsibly and not to serve alcohol to those who are already intoxicated and who might go on to commit a public order offence.
It is good that the responsibility for the proper running of a business is placed on the owner of the business. Nevertheless, there may be cases where the issue might be outside an owner's control and it is right that there are opportunities for appeal. This is not a mandatory but a discretionary power and it would be exercised only in extreme cases regarding take-aways etc.
The important point has been made that there is already much good legislation in place in regard to liquor licensing and public order offences. It is most important for this legislation to be enforced. I have mentioned responsibility with regard to publicans but there is also the responsibility of individuals who are dealt with in the context of exclusion orders. In addition, the Minister is responsible for ensuring that the laws are enforced by the Garda and that they have the necessary back-up to do that. The figures do not suggest that current laws are properly enforced. There are discrepancies throughout the country. For example, there have been more closures of pubs in County Mayo than elsewhere for alcohol related offences and under age drinking. That level of enforcement needs to be countrywide and this is the most important issue.
An issue I would raise, and one on which the Progressive Democrats would distinguish its policy, is that of public transport. A report last week noted how important a proper public transport system is in preventing public order offences. I live in the suburbs of Dublin where there is not the level of public disorder seen in the city centre. This is because people can leave a suburban pub and go home, whereas that is not necessarily the case in the city centre. I am aware that Dublin Bus wants to extend certain of its services and that it has been turned down by the Minister for Transport. If it is intended to do something about public transport with a view to protecting public order, it is necessary to invest in Dublin Bus and to let it extend its services.
The Minister referred to other initiatives regarding liquor licensing. Many of those will be very welcome and I hope the Minister introduces them promptly. I do not agree that there should be a mandatory identity card for those aged up to 23. It is not a good idea and it would be preferable to have a voluntary system properly policed. The most important thing is to enforce existing legislation in addition to the new legislation, and to give the Garda the necessary back-up to do so.
Ms White Ms White
Ms White: I compliment the Minister on his address to the House. I felt somewhat guilty that I had been a little strident in what I said on the last occasion I spoke on this matter, but I meant to get the point across that people had high expectations of the Minister.
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Mr. M. McDowell: No offence was taken.
Ms White Ms White
Ms White: I thank the Minister. I said that he should walk the walk and that people had high expectations. This legislation is the beginning of delivery to the public of a change in the culture of our society in regard to its attitude to drink. With regard to the Minister's proposal to introduce a new intoxicating liquor Bill in this session in the other House, I compliment him on proposing fines for those who serve or supply drink on licensed premises to those already drunk, which is still socially accepted at present.
Last night, I discussed the proposed closure of licensed premises at 11.30 p.m. on Thursdays with some of my Fianna Fáil lady colleagues in Dublin. We spent a whole dinner talking about the matter. While some said that it only related to one night of the week, I say that the Minister should bring the hours back to 11.30 p.m. more robustly than just in regard to Thursday nights. The PULSE report stated that 70% of all public order offences occur between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. In addition, people are tired for work and school in the morning. The public would be very sympathetic to strong action to bring the hours back to where they were. There is a perception that the new hours were brought in to please the publicans and to enable them to earn more money. I suggest that the Minister should bring the hours fully back to where they were, not just on Thursday nights, and I wish him success in that.
Senator Terry mentioned peer pressure and anti-social behaviour. I smoked for about 20 years and gave it up about 18 years ago when it became socially unacceptable to smoke in company. With regard to bringing about a drop in public order offences, many young people feel that they do not want to be part of a drinking culture. Peer pressure will begin to work in the opposite direction. When we look at young people, we often wonder whether they are out drinking. Those who are not drinking will put pressure on others not to tar all young people with the same brush, which is totally wrong. Wine consumption has also increased due to the drinking of parents.
The culture with regard to drinking will be similar to that concerning cigarettes, which became totally socially unacceptable. I gave up because others did not like me smoking. Over-consumption of drink and getting drunk will also become unacceptable for young Irish people. Some Members believe that parents have a strong hold on young people but peer pressure has a far stronger influence. They want to be like everybody else and think their parents are out of date.
Ms Feeney Ms Feeney
Ms Feeney: Like other speakers, I welcome the Minister back to the House. I also welcome the Bill which is urgently needed. I was surprised to hear the Minister say its passage through the other House took 11 months because of all issues we deal with, this is one on which we all sing from the one hymn sheet. I am glad the Bill is before us today and hope it will pass speedily through this House.
While preparing my contribution for today's debate, I looked through the Public Order Offences in Ireland document published by the National Crime Council, of which Padraic White is chairman, and, to say the least, there are some frightening aspects to it. I was glad to hear the clear message from the Minister that the battle against crime was not hopeless and that there was cause for optimism.
It is important that we recognise and acknowledge that society in general welcomes, supports and encourages young people to enjoy positive aspects of fun. None of us is looking to dampen this. As a society, we have a long established tradition of song and dance and a great sense of humour and fun about us. We all like to socialise and be part of the drink culture but the difference between us and the young today is that, as well as not having the money, we had a healthy respect for society as well as the homes from which we came.
When an aunt of mine died last week, I met a cousin who had four beautiful teenagers whom I admired. She told me she gave them one message when they went out every weekend – that they had to come back into the home as they left it. She said this as the daughter of an alcoholic mother. I thought it was a nice message to give to her children and her children did return home the way they had left it.
Recently the culture and ethos of that era appear to have changed in that we now see congregations of young people on our streets post-disco hours every weekend and are all aware of the tragic consequences of the behaviour in which they engage and the fatalities that have occurred in some cases. The 1994 legislation, in so far as it goes, needed additional support to assist the concerns of citizens. I am glad the Minister is giving us that extra support today in the Bill.
I commend and pay tribute to the Garda Síochána for the sterling and difficult work in which its members engage. I will go so far as to say that in some cases they play the roles of parents to those young intoxicated people late at night, and get no thanks for it. In some cases, parents are aggressive to gardaí when they come to tell them about their children. I know members of the Garda who have told me that on occasions when they encourage children to desist and go home quietly – they are children because they are all young teenagers – the only thing they want to do is fight and tell them where to go.
Senator Terry talked about the lack of gardaí on our streets. While I cannot speak for Dublin – perhaps the Senator is right when it comes to it – I would not concur. I come from Sligo and while I am not out at weekends, if I drive through the town, I am always surprised at the number of gardaí on the street, rightly so because there are many young people on the street also.
Two weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to hear Commissioner Pat Byrne and two of his colleagues make presentations. I was interested to hear Commissioner Byrne say he loved to hear the public, in particular politicians, talk about the 4,000 gardaí who were sitting behind desks in Garda stations pushing pens rather than being out on the streets. He said that was a myth. In some ways the whole notion of gardaí not being on the streets is a little exaggerated.
I suppose there are no real answers to this problem but the Bill goes a long way to trying to solve it. The Minister will now be able to close down premises which are responsible for having young people gather outside them late at night. This is to be welcomed.
I feel a little dated when I ask this question but are the young people who drink in these premises until the early hours of the morning, whether they are late opening bars or night clubs, getting a proper and substantial meal, which I thought was the obligation of the licensee? I think the Minister is of my vintage and would remember that when we went out, we got a pink or blue ticket, even what they now call a bus ticket, which entitled us to a basket of chicken and chips and on a Sunday night, if we frequented a slightly more upper class place, we got a nice plate with some beef, mashed potato with gravy and peas. I have never heard my teenage, 20 and 21 year old children talk about getting anything like that. My 20 year old told me two weeks ago that they had been given three chicken nuggets somewhere with which he was thrilled. That is the reason I raise this issue with the Minister. My son thought they were wonderful people to give him that food. Perhaps we could look into this area because those involved in the health sector tell us that if we eat when drinking, the alcohol will not get into the system as quickly.
Other speakers have spoken about this, in particular Senator Norris, but it is easy for us to forget that many food premises are located adjacent to private houses in residential areas. I welcome the fact – Senator Walsh alluded to it – that the Minister has made provision in the Bill for dealing with the problem of noise which means that those people, and their children, living beside these premises can go to bed knowing they will get a good night's sleep. The Government is not a spoilsport, neither is the Minister. He has genuine concerns for the safety of our young population. At the same time, through the Bill, he is balancing the rights of all citizens, the young, the middle aged and the elderly.
Will the Minister examine the arrangement between some fast food outlets and mini-bus companies who take youths out of towns and cities but drop them off outside fast food outlets in smaller towns, a problem recently brought to my attention? This problem may have been eliminated from some of the larger towns but is now being experienced in smaller towns when the young people concerned are dropped off to go home. I will not mince my words about this matter. There appears to be an agreement between mini-bus operators and fast food outlet owners.
I was delighted to see all the areas covered by the closure provisions but what about areas like private housing estates, schools and school grounds where youths gather to drink? Nobody has a right to do anything about them because some of them live in the estates in question.
The Minister talked about being criticised for the brevity and lack of content in the Bill. While it is short, it is to be welcomed. I was glad to hear the Minister say that with the passing of time he had other important measures to implement but in respect of the brevity and lack of content, I hope he reminded those speakers that good goods came in small parcels and that this legislation would be one of them.
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
Ms Ormonde: I will reinforce a number of points that have been made. I congratulate the Minister on doing a superb job in curbing the scourges of excess drinking in open spaces and public disorder. The Government is doing its best to tackle the problem, but the question remains as to how community spirit can be generated on this issue. For example, I walked through Herbert Park ten days ago at 4.30 p.m. and six boys from the local secondary school who could not have been aged more than 16 were in an open space with their schoolbags and packs of cans. The Minister's Department should liaise with the Department of the Environment and Local Government to implement the by-laws that govern this area.
This is where the trouble starts. I contacted the local Garda station because I have significant interest in this issue. I represent a vast area that contains large residential middle class estates. Many of the people living in them have told me that youngsters come into the area from disadvantaged areas to drink and cause public disorder and that their own children are not involved. The group I saw comprised middle class boys. I telephoned the Garda barracks and asked what was the position. I was told that the group would leave the area quickly. I did not follow up on my query but I hope that because these boys were drinking in a public space, on-the-spot fines would be sent to their homes.
The Government is engaged in a marketing campaign to inform parents that this is what is happening and many parents want us to follow up on this matter. I am an educationalist as well as a politician and I regularly speak to education groups. Good parents are anxious that those in society who behave in this manner should be weeded out.
The number of designer drinks such as Red Bull on shop shelves in increasing. Can anything be done to prevent this? Perhaps the Licensed Vintners Association could become involved. How do we get the message across to teachers and career guidance counsellors to inform parents that their children are behaving in this manner and to tell their children that they cannot do this?
The Minister is doing his job beautifully, but the Ministers for Education and Science and Environment and Local Government also need to become involved. I would come down heavily on parents because the problem begins with them. There is a breakdown along the way but the Minister must pinpoint the source of the problem and make it difficult for the parents. When they realise that it will cost them a great deal of money, the message will strike home.
I am not a killjoy. I love life and I love people to have a good time. I love rounded people who have a holistic approach. However, we are falling down in this regard. We have a beautiful country and we should try to resolve this problem. I congratulate the Minister and we should monitor what he is doing. The responsibility for this problem should be passed back to the parents. Gardaí do a superb job, but they cannot do it alone. I speak to community gardaí regularly and they explain that they receive no co-operation from communities or parents. The Minister has done well and I look forward to the next stage in the process.
Mr. M. McDowell Mr. M. McDowell
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. M. McDowell): I thank all Members for their thoughtful contributions. The departmental officials who have accompanied me have noted them in great detail and nothing that has been said will fall on stony ground if it has merit. Sometimes one does well with the media and sometimes one does badly. Having experienced a honeymoon period, I suddenly read that I was talking about doing many things but that I was not doing anything. I was falling from grace as the man who did a lot of talking but who did not walk the walk.
The Department is working on an ambitious programme, which is being conducted at a pace that must be kept under review. Within the Department, I continually emphasise what I hear outside, which is that the pace is not fast enough. If one says that one will produce a Bill within six weeks, it has to be done in that period and it cannot turn into six months. We are running the country and we are not in a gentleman's club. As Minister, one is appointed to a position that is a great honour to hold; but it is not an honorary position. One is required to produce the goods on time. The message I hear echoed in this debate is that I should get on with my job and not keep talking about it. I get the message and I do not resent it in the slightest. I have a thick skin.
I wish to refer to the alcohol issue. I attended a school in Portarlington earlier this week and I forgot that a television camera was running, which I thought was a school camera, as I gave my views on life to the students. They were a wonderful, likeable group of students who were bright and on the ball in terms of the questions they put to Deputy Parlon and me. I took one point from the contribution Senator Quinn made on the previous occasion that we debated crime in the House, namely, that there are four levels of responsibility – State, community, family and individual. I made the point to the students, on which some of us should reflect and pass on to others, that the old Christian truth – love others as one loves oneself, do unto others as one would do unto oneself and love one's neighbours as one loves oneself – requires altruism and self-respect because one must love and respect oneself to love one's neighbour and to believe in the message.
People in authority and elected representatives, in particular, should bring home the point that the cornerstone of our morality requires self-respect and individual responsibility. It requires that one does not abuse one's body or the society in which one lives. The cornerstone of our morality is based on individual responsibility. We live in a world in which a host of NGOs and activists continually talk about rights. Where is the talk about duties because no right exists with a co-relative duty? What responsibility is there on individuals? Who talks about individual responsibility in public? It does not make sense to speak, interminably and shallowly, in public about everybody's rights if the flip-side of that coin is not equally emphasised.
There should be a duty to correspond to every right that exists because we do not live in a society which is all talk and no give. Fundamentally, when it comes to the cornerstone of our morality, individual responsibility is the flip-side of individual rights. We have the rule of law and people are provided with criminal, legal aid, the presumption of innocence and formal jury trials because we value the individual but the individual must also value himself or herself. Anybody who takes his or her eye off that fundamental truth is selling a shallow political message.
I do not diminish the social aspects of everything we do. However, I resent the modern rhetoric which just talks about rights and what one can get. It never speaks of what it can give, or the duties owed to other people.
In regard to alcohol, there is no doubt there are things the State can do. There are things that can be done on a community level. I echo here what many Members have said about local authorities. I intend to give them a formal role in assisting the State. This will be not just in regard to alcohol. I intend, in the forthcoming Garda Bill, to have a formalised relationship between the Garda Síochána and local authorities.
It is already law that every local authority has a broad brush in regard to by-laws on alcohol. It is fine to stand up at a council meeting and say what one wants to do or that someone in Dublin or the local gardaí should do something, but do local authorities take their duties seriously in regard to by-laws? I hope when we have a formal engagement, in statutory form, between the Garda and local authorities that it will concentrate attention on such issues, including estate design and the provision of recreational facilities. The gardaí will ask those who make speeches on public order to deliver on their side of the equation. There should be a fruitful partnership rather than an exchange of rhetorical messages every so often.
I am grateful to Senator Quinn for his generosity in shredding the speech he was about to make and for taking on board the points I am making. I genuinely appreciate that.
Senator Terry spoke about the sale onwards of drink from adults to younger people. I intend to strengthen the law in that regard. That will be an offence to which there will be no defence. It is wrong for any adult to supply any child with alcohol unless that adult is the parent, guardian or somebody acting bona fide in loco parentis to that child. For an elder brother to buy a case of cider and give it to a younger sister, or vice versa, will be an offence unless the parents agreed to it. I want a responsible attitude where people can drink at a party in their own home or under the supervision of or with the consent of parents. I want parents to be able to bring their 16 year olds out and give them a glass of wine with a meal. I do not want to be a killjoy but it will be an offence for anybody to supply alcohol to anybody under age unless they do so with the consent of the parent, guardian, or somebody acting bona fide in loco parentis. I intend to revisit the issue regarding stamping and identifying drink. At the moment it is pointless for the guards to know what off-licence sold the drink if they cannot do anything about the fact that a 19 year old bought it and gave it to a 17 year old. Unfortunately that is the law at the moment. It is an offence to give alcohol to a youngster other than in the youngster's home. As long as the drink is handed over in the home there is no offence. The parents do not have to be there. The law at the moment is slightly unsatisfactory.
Many people spoke about enforcement. I take that point. I am for the gardaí. I said at the GRA conference the other day that when we suggest change it is not from a hostile viewpoint. Everybody in society must change, including the Garda Síochána. In regard to under age drinking it is noteworthy that there are different rates of enforcement in different parts of the country. Rather than chastise anybody I have taken the approach of praising those who do the job well. I praise the Mayo and Cork gardaí. I try to encourage people to raise their act rather than come the heavy and point the finger at people not doing as well as others.
In the context of alcohol and violence, the use of cocaine is widespread in Dublin city and throughout Ireland. Cocaine is a behaviour and mind altering substance. It has the residual effect that as the initial rush disappears it leads to psychotic behaviour. It leads to increased aggression and irresponsibility. I believe that some of the violence we see is a side-effect of cocaine abuse. People in good jobs who suddenly turn to mindless violence are not all drink driven. Some of the violence is cocaine driven.
I emphasise what Senator Kett said concerning the use of the boot. It was the case when we were growing up – I was born in 1951 – that to kick was out of the question. Even in a schoolyard fight, a fair fight as we called it, it was out of the question to kick anybody. Although I have mentioned it jocosely, I believe that when kung fu fighting, Thai boxing and karate came into vogue, fighting with the boot suddenly became acceptable. I want public representatives to emphasise, wherever they can, that to use the shoe or the boot on somebody lying on the ground, especially to the head, is almost murderous behaviour in nearly every circumstance. It can easily kill. We should put across that message whenever we can.
We should also give the general message that – I used this phrase in Portarlington the other day – “It is not cool to drool.” It is not cool to be drunk, swaying or incapable of controlling one's body, mind and mouth. There is nothing cool about it. Let us be honest, among the generation who thought it was bad manners to kick, there was a culture that encouraged this behaviour through expressions such as, “He's a great man to hold his drink,” or “I had 12 pints last night and was still standing.” We were all part of that shabby mindset. It is shallow and superficial that somebody's social standing should be measured by his or her capacity to lower drink without showing its effects. It is the most futile indicator of social standing one can imagine and cannot be admired.
This Bill will do its bit. The intoxicating liquor Bill which is to be published shortly will also do its bit. More legislation is due. The quest to legislate in the area is never ending. The Garda Bill will help also. It has to refocus the Garda Síochána completely towards the conditions of the 21st century rather than the conditions of postindependence Ireland of the 1920s.
I have a lot of work to do. I ask this House, and the Oireachtas generally, to do one thing to help. A great way to get at the Government and Ministers is to demand the whereabouts of this or that Bill through the Order of Business. I ask that when the Bill comes to the House Members do something to get it through and on to the Statute Book. I gave up counting but in the Government programme for legislation there are innumerable justice legislative vehicles parked, at one stage or another, in the process. They are parked at drafting stage, Second Stage, Committee Stage, in the Dáil, Seanad or wherever. Now is the time to give them fair debate. While I do not believe in not giving matters consideration, having given them fair debate we should get on with it.
I would like to see a new spirit of co-operation between the Government and Opposition to get the legislative load through the Houses of the Oireachtas. While there is some adversarial advantage in slowing down the process on occasion and being in a position to state a certain Minister has or has not accomplished A or B in the first 12 months of his or her tenure, in the last analysis the people whom we serve look to us to legislate. This is a legislature, not a talking shop. Incidentally, I do not point the finger at this House in this respect as I have always received a fair hearing here and Senators' attitude to legislation has always been co-operative. We have to get on with our business, as legislators. The fact that this modest Bill will be enacted more than one year after it was first published by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, before the last election and one year after I presented it in Dáil Éireann does not reflect well on me or the system.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 20 May 2003.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 3.45 p.m.
Seanad Éireann 172 Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2002: Second Stage.