Seanad Éireann - Volume 187 - 17 October, 2007
Serious Crime: Motion.
Senator Eugene Regan Senator Eugene Regan
Senator Eugene Regan: I move:
That Seanad Eireann, noting:
the upsurge in the brutal killing of citizens across the country;
the dramatic increase in gun crime in our society;
the poor detection rate for gun crime; and
the inexorable growth in gangland drug-related crime
calls on the Government to admit that it, and the last Government, have failed to ensure that the streets of Ireland are safe from vicious thugs and to develop a comprehensive plan to tackle the crisis on our streets through a combination of adequate resources for our gardaí, effective criminal legislation and innovative policing methods.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I appreciate the attention he has given to the observations and issues being raised in this House.
Nobody can dispute the upsurge in brutal killings of citizens throughout the country nor the dramatic increase in gun crime in society, the poor detection rate for gun crime and the significant growth in gangland drug related crime. The Government amendment to the Fine Gael motion is significantly longer than the motion itself. The Government admits the explosion of crime under its watch when it condemns the callous disregard for human life shown by those involved in gun and gang crime and when it deplores the attacks on members of the Garda Síochána while on duty. A systemic problem exists which has not been effectively addressed by the Government.
The Fine Gael motion calls for a comprehensive plan to tackle this crisis through a combination of adequate resources for our gardaí, effective criminal legislation and innovative policing methods. That this is what is needed to tackle the upsurge in serious crime is acknowledged in the Government’s amendment when it states that, “the menace posed by gun and gang crime can be tackled effectively only through the properly resourced agencies of the criminal justice system, including An Garda Síochána, operating within the effective legal framework being provided”.
Therefore, on the Government’s own admission, the twin obstacles to tackling serious crime are resources and legislation. In ten years, why have the resources not been provided? Why has legislation taken so long? What priority was more important than the Government’s primary duty to protect its citizens? The Government has failed but it has five years to put the situation right.
The people of this country deserve an answer to one simple question. Does the Minister truly believe the measures he promises will substantially reduce serious crime? What are his targets for the implementation of these measures? Has he targets for the outcomes in terms of reported crime? Has he targets for convictions? How can we measure success? Without such targets, how can this House hold him to account? How can the people trust a Government? Without such targets and without a firm promise that the resources are adequate to tackle the problem, the Government’s announcements ring hollow.
In the debate on crime held last week in the other House, the Government gave comprehensive replies to a series of questions on gangland crime, Garda numbers and the prison system. There are figures, statistics and promises to suggest that everything is being done and everything will be all right on the night. There is no sense of urgency or of a need for a change of course on any policy area. Why has it taken NASA less time to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth then it has taken to implement the civilianisation of the Garda Síochána? The reason is there is no sense of urgency and there is an attitude of, “Sure, it will do.”
The Government amendment to this motion is replete with statistics and outlines all the good things that are being done or are about to be done. The amendment states, in effect, that this is as good as it gets. This demonstrates the disjoint between Government thinking and what is happening on our streets. All is not OK. There must be a renewed focus and sense of urgency to the issue of gun and gangland crime.
Gangland crime has not been a priority because there has been a view that if criminals are killing criminals it does not matter. Apart from the absurd and malign thinking behind such sentiments, there is serious collateral damage involved in gangland crime. This is evidenced by the recent killings of a number of innocent bystanders. It was only when someone as innocent as Anthony Campbell, a hard-working young man, was gunned down purely because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time that there was a full realisation of how bad the problem has become.
The shooting of unarmed Garda Sherlock has highlighted once again the urgency of the issue and the need for a review of the arming of the police. At the very least, it has raised the need for greater armed back-up support for the force in dealing with criminal gangs.
Despite the self-congratulation evident in the Government amendment, there has been a significant deterioration in the level of serious crime. The Central Statistics Office headline crime statistics for the second quarter of this year show a 43% increase in homicide offences in the second quarter of 2007 compared with 2006; a 19% increase in murder or manslaughter offences in the 12-month period ending in the second quarter of 2007; assaults causing harm up 7% in the same 12-month period; overall drugs offences were up 30% and possession of drugs for sale or supply up 29% in the 12 months to the end of the second quarter of 2007; and an increase of almost 16% in the number of firearms discharged in the second quarter of 2007 compared with the same period last year. Between 1998 and 2006 there was an almost 600% increase in gun murders, with detection rates falling from 75% to 37% in the same period. There is no mention of these figures in the Government amendment to the motion.
It is easy for opponents of the Government to stand up indignantly and demand that well-worn solution to all of society’s problems, the need for more resources. We accept that it is not possible to have a garda on every corner in the State. However, the Government has been in power for ten years and when it comes to resources, anyone selling electronic voting machines would know the purse strings have not been tight.
The self-congratulatory approach of the Government as set out in the preamble to its amendment is not acceptable. New thinking is needed but it invariably seems to fall on someone other than the Government to come up with new ideas. A Fine Gael Private Members’ Bill in the other House called for mandatory alcohol testing at the scene of road accidents. Before the Dáil met yesterday and to pre-empt the debate, the Government announced the implementation of the Fine Gael policy. We welcome the Government’s speedy adoption of sound policy, but when a Government is reduced to robbing the ideas of its opponents, it appears worryingly redundant.
It takes the Garda Representative Body to call for a debate on the arming of all garda. The editorial in the October edition of the Garda Review states, “We are fooling ourselves if we doubt that it might become a necessity in the not too distant future. We must have greater armed back up readily available in all areas of our cities and around the country.”
It would appear that no arrangements have been put in place for greater armed back-up for unarmed gardaí. The question must be asked whether this Government has ever carried out an assessment of the need for arming units of the Garda Síochána to deal with organised crime. What are the views of the Commissioner-designate on this matter? What resources does he believe the Garda Síochána needs? How will he tackle organised crime? These are the major issues facing policing in this country and I wonder whether the Minister asked him.
It is one of the more surreal aspects of the Government’s approach to this matter that as more Deputies draw ministerial salaries than ever before, fewer Ministers feel that the actions of Government have anything to do with them. I must admit I cannot name half of the new areas in which we have Ministers of State. I do know when it comes to crime, the Minister sets policy and the Garda Commissioner carries it out. If the Commissioner does not deliver the Minister can remove him. Considering this has not happened, one must assume the Minister is happy with the Garda Síochána’s performance. If, as the statistics suggest, one has only a 6% chance of being convicted for murdering someone with a knife and that appallingly low conviction rate is not the fault of the Garda Síochána, I ask the Minister who is the mysterious person in Government responsible for it?
For all the litany of successes listed in the Government amendment, what has the Government really delivered after being in power for the ten years of the Celtic tiger economy when it had the resources available to invest in crime prevention? We still have run-down Garda stations, a lack of modern Garda cars and practical support for the gardaí and, as highlighted recently, a lack of armed back-up.
The Government’s amendment speaks about state-of-the-art technology for the Garda Síochána. However, the latest Garda Inspectorate Report points out that:
. . . the current state of policy technology in Ireland falls well short of industry standard. For instance, mobile data devices, secure radio systems, GIS mapping, automated number plate recognition systems, investigative case management and human resources software programmes are among the many standard technology tools now well-established in many modern police services. The fact that less than 10% of Garda personnel have corporate e-mail addresses is a simple but stark example of the shortcomings and is clearly a great source of frustration to members, particularly those working on the ground.
In light of this damning indictment we can only conclude that the state-of-the-art technology referred to in the Government amendment is spin.
This Government was in power during the ten years in which sex offences came to the fore in Irish life. However, as the killer of Manuela Riedo is being hunted, gardaí waste precious hours leafing through paper files of sex offenders in their area because no national sex offenders database exists and no DNA database is available to progress it. This is not the fault of those gardaí.  If the culprit is a sex offender, even if he is caught and convicted, Government policy is to release him without rehabilitation.
Communities in estates across this country cry out for help. Their children are tempted by drugs and to feed their habit commit minor crimes and fall into the criminal justice system. In some estates in west and north Dublin and Limerick, a generation of youths has its prospects of a good life ruined. Some fall further and begin pushing drugs on their neighbours. They get involved in gangs and terrorise entire communities. However, no-one makes much money apart from a small cabal of drug-traffickers and gang leaders.
Will the Minister give us a commitment on the targets he hopes to achieve during the next five years? If he does so he will receive support from this House. I appreciate he is new to his office.
Senator Maurice Cummins Senator Maurice Cummins
Senator Maurice Cummins: I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well in his new position as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A final borderline was crossed when Garda Paul Sherlock was coldly gunned down on the streets of Dublin recently. It sent a shockwave through members of the Garda Síochána and every right-thinking person in the country. The uniform is no longer a symbolic protection which served Ireland well in the past. We have a new breed of criminal whose inhibiting brain-mechanisms are overridden by drugs and a ruthlessness and greed for the proceeds of a lucrative and ever-growing drugs trade. They do not respect the symbols, laws or institutions of the State.
As Senator Regan stated, no-one wants to see the day when we have a fully-armed police force. However, we are fooling ourselves if we doubt it might become a reality and even a necessity in the not-too-distant future unless we get to grips with the current crisis. The very least we must have is a greater armed back-up Garda unit readily available in our cities, towns and throughout the country, separate from detective officers already swamped with criminal investigations, court preparations and files.
The term “gang warlords” and other such terms romanticise these vicious thugs and criminals who see that big money can be made from drugs. They have no fear of the Garda Síochána nor qualms about murdering anyone who stands in their way. They are nasty, violent individuals who threaten the very fabric of our society. While the Garda Síochána has an armoury of laws and specialised units to help quell this increasing tide of violent crime, we must continue to be vigilant and ensure that it has the necessary resources at all times. If further legislation is needed to assist gardaí then let us have it. If laws dealing with evidence and curtailment of the rights of suspects need to be addressed, then let us address these laws. The end game is to get these murderous thugs off our streets.
I read with interest the third extensive report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, entitled Policing in Ireland — Looking Forward. I commend the inspectorate on an excellent report. It made many recommendations and I will refer to two of them, namely, that community policing be at the core of Irish policing policy permeating the entire police force from top to bottom and that greater visibility of our gardaí can be achieved in both rural and urban communities by reducing the time they spend on court service. The inspectorate has hit the nail on the head with these recommendations.
While the Government amendment notes the ongoing provision of state-of-the-art technology to gardaí to enable them to carry out their duties in a more efficient manner, the Garda Inspectorate report stresses the need for better technology to provide real time information to gardaí on the beat most likely to be in the form of hand-held computers or personal digital assistants, PDAs. The report also states that the technology systems in place could be much better integrated and that new technology systems will be required to bring the organisation to best practice.
Where does this sit with the Government’s amendment which refers to state-of-the-art technology available? The Government amendment has so many flaws and inaccuracies that it is not worth commenting on. However, referring in October 2007 to the commencement of the provisions of the Children Act 2001 shows the Government’s failure and its inability to tackle any issue. I formally second the motion so ably proposed by my colleague, Senator Regan.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I move amendment No 1:
To delete all words after “Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following:
condemns the callous disregard for human life shown by those involved in gun and gang crime;
deplores attacks on members of An Garda Síochána carrying out their duty to protect the community;
notes the unprecedented level of resources made available to An Garda Síochána by the Government, totalling €1.44 billion in 2007, compared to just over €0.9 billion five years ago;
notes the ongoing provision of state-of-the-art technology to An Garda Síochána to enable them to carry out their task in the most efficient manner;
acknowledges the commitment in the Programme for Government to a Garda strength of 15,000, with a target date of 2010, and increasing the strength of the Force further to 16,000 by 2012;
 welcomes the recruitment of additional civilian staff for An Garda Síochána, which will release additional Gardaí for front-line operational duties, as well as the continued recruitment to the Garda reserve;
welcomes the major reforms to An Garda Síochána introduced by the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and looks forward to the continuing programme of reform and modernisation;
commends the success of An Garda Síochána in increasing the detection rate in 2006 to 40% for all crime;
commends An Garda Síochána on the success of targeted operations such as Operation Anvil;
welcomes the ongoing success of the Criminal Assets Bureau in confiscating the proceeds of crime;
notes the far-reaching changes in criminal law introduced by the Government and enacted by the Oireachtas, directed in particular at gun and organised crime;
acknowledges the efforts of the Government to bring about a more effective youth justice system, particularly through full commencement of the Children Act 2001, which provides for detention as a last resort, and the establishment of the Irish Youth Justice Service;
notes the additional resources being provided to other agencies of the criminal justice system, including the Irish Prisons Service and, in particular, the additional security measures being taken within prisons;
notes the ongoing work of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in finalising policing priorities for 2008, as provided for in the Garda Síochána Act 2005;
welcomes the priority being given to establishing a Joint Policing Committee in each local authority area following the pilot phase;
calls on all parties to co-operate with and support efforts to tackle crime and make society safer;
recognises that the menace posed by gun and gang crime can be tackled effectively only through the properly resourced agencies of the criminal justice system, including An Garda Síochána, operating within the effective legal framework being provided; and
 supports the work of An Garda Síochána and other agencies of the criminal justice system in their steady determination to deal with those who threaten the fundamental rights of the community by their criminal activities.”
I will allow the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to speak and I reserve my right to speak later.
Deputy Brian Lenihan Deputy Brian Lenihan
Deputy Brian Lenihan: I welcome the opportunity afforded to me by the House to contribute to this debate on crime.
To take up on a point made by Senator Cummins, great credit is due to my predecessor for enacting the Garda Síochána legislation which provided for the office of the inspector. When that legislation was debated, it is fair to say that most of the focus of Members of both Houses was on the establishment of the new Garda Ombudsman Commission and the investigation of complaints against gardaí. The debate on that Bill did not focus very much on the establishment of this office. It is an important reformative innovation in the administration of the Garda Síochána that we now have a professional external audit of Garda performance. I assure Members that the recommendations of the inspector, some of which were referred to by Senators Regan and Cummins, are being implemented by the Government. I am determined to implement them because, so often in these debates on criminal matters, we all give our opinion about how crime can be investigated, detected, punished and dealt with. To have brought into Ireland a person of the eminence of the current inspector who formerly headed up the police force in Boston is very valuable and I pay tribute to her work. She reports on the reform of Garda headquarters and on operational matters which I think was the report to which Senator Cummins referred.
I would like to make one point about crime that every right-thinking person will immediately agree with and which is often forgotten in the heat of debate. Surprisingly, it was forgotten by those who drafted the motion before the House. Those who are responsible for the deaths, injuries and destroyed and broken lives which are the result of criminal activity are those who engage in criminal activity. Being a member of society carries with it an obligation to obey laws which enable all the members of society to enjoy their lives and property without fear or threat. It is to make this point that the first indent of the countermotion condemns the callous disregard for human life shown by those involved in gun and gang crime. At the same time, we must be aware that those who seek out and use illicit drugs provide the demand that sustains the drugs industry and the deadly violence associated with it.
The Government countermotion goes on to deplore attacks on members of the Garda Síochána carrying out their duty to protect the community. We had a reminder recently of the dangers which members of the force face when going about their duties. The reprehensible attack on Garda Paul Sherlock in the recent weeks made clear again that the members of criminal gangs will go to any lengths to protect and expand their illegal and harmful dealings. I know Members have shared in the condemnation of this attack on a member of the force. We are all relieved that Garda Sherlock is recovering from his injuries. The Garda is vigorously investigating the attack.
I hope this debate — dealing as it does with serious issues — can be constructive, so I do not propose to dwell at too much length on the terms of the Fine Gael motion which, in part, is tendentious. The last time that party was in Government, it cancelled the prison building programme, presided over the famous revolving door policy and failed to put even one extra Garda on the street. Time passes and I have to account for my stewardship of this office in this term of Government. I accept that.
It is easy to talk tough on crime but what is needed is to be tough on crime. That means providing the resources. There is one statement in the Fine Gael motion with which I agree. What is needed is a combination of adequate resources for the Garda, effective criminal legislation and innovative policing methods. I contend that this is precisely what the Government is providing and will continue to provide.
Senator Regan raised the question of targets which was a fair question. The Garda Síochána set out targets in its annual policing plan. That is an innovation and a new feature of the legislation my predecessor introduced regulating the Garda Síochána. Resources for the Garda are at an unprecedentedly high level. The Garda budget for this year stands at €1.44 billion compared with just under €900 million five years ago. Garda overtime this year will amount to approximately €140 million compared with €66 million five years ago. Since December 2006, approval has been given for the recruitment of 600 additional civilian staff and 300 have been assigned already, releasing gardaí for operational duties. The Garda fleet is undergoing extensive modernisation. Last year €24.7 million was used to purchase 1,378 vehicles for the force.
The size of the force has been expanding through a concentrated programme of recruitment and training. Senators are welcome to visit the training college in Templemore and see the volume of activity taking place there. The current programme for Government re-affirms the commitment to a Garda strength of 15,000, with a target date of 2010, and commits us to increasing the strength of the force further to 16,000 by 2012. Recruitment to the Garda reserve will also continue to be a priority. One of the vital issues with such a substantial deployment of personnel is the efficient management of the personnel and its deployment in as visible a way as possible to the public. I welcome the views of the Garda inspectorate in that regard.
I am determined that the Garda will have access to state-of-the-art technology in carrying out its duties. Senator Cummins raised the question of the provision of communications equipment and Senator Regan may have touched on it. In implementing the new national digital radio system during the next two years, more than 17,000 radios will be provided for members of the force in Garda cars and other locations.
Senator Maurice Cummins Senator Maurice Cummins
Senator Maurice Cummins: That was promised five years ago.
Deputy Brian Lenihan Deputy Brian Lenihan
Deputy Brian Lenihan: A major incident computer system will automate many of the functions currently being performed manually when a major incident occurs. We are proceeding with an automated number plate recognition system, an automated fingerprint identification system and an automated ballistic identification system. Closed circuit television systems will be put in place in all major county towns.
Senators are aware there have been major reforms to the Garda Síochána, including the appointment of the Garda inspectorate, led by former Boston police commissioner, Kathleen O’Toole, as well as the advisory group on Garda management and leadership development. As part of the programme of civilianisation, a new civilian head of administration at deputy commissioner level has been appointed. All these changes are designed to support and equip the Garda in dealing with the complex challenges its faces.
Other agencies involved in the criminal justice system are also receiving significant resources. We have been doing that through supporting a prison building programme to ensure when people are convicted, they serve their sentences. However, the growth of organised criminal gangs outside prison has had obvious consequences within the prison system. Despite the best efforts of the prison authorities, members of these gangs were able to obtain mobile phones trafficked into the prisons, thus allowing them to maintain their power bases and continue to plan their criminal activities from within the prisons. There has been a determined drive on this problem since my appointment. More than 1,600 mobile phones have been confiscated within prisons in recent months. Criminal bosses exercise influence within prison. As a result, prisoners who have affiliations to groups on the outside feel under threat from each other, and prisoners with no affiliations can be pressurised to join specific gangs. This is a serious position.
Recently the Government approved a package of measures to combat such organised criminal activities in the prisons. The number of prison officers is being increased to carry out dedicated security duties. A drug detection dog service and an operational support group specialised in searching for illicit materials are being established. Drug detection dogs have already been introduced on a pilot basis and operate in the Midlands-Portlaoise Prison, Wheatfield and Cloverhill prisons, the Mountjoy complex, and Cork and Limerick prisons. Security screening with X-ray or metal detectors for all staff and visitors entering prisons is being introduced, as are two segregation units for gang leaders in Cloverhill Prison. Some 160 staff are being fast-tracked through the recruit prison officer training programme to provide staff for these new security initiatives, and other steps are being taken to hire suitable staff quickly.
Electronic equipment to prevent the use of mobile phones has been installed in the Midlands Prison. Testing is under way and is expected to be completed very soon. The results so far are positive and, if confirmed, the equipment will be installed in all other closed prisons over an 18-month period. Mandatory drug testing across the prison system is being introduced now that the new prison rules have become operative. Additional resources are being introduced to allow prisoners access to addiction counselling and to improve the quality, co-ordination and availability of drug treatment in prisons.
I agree with the principal Opposition party when it says that gangland crime is a serious phenomenon. My first duty as Minister is to secure prisons against the writ of these gangs and then take the war onto the streets and confront them there. The Garda Síochána has introduced innovative policing methods and will continue to do so. Senators will be aware that Operation Anvil has been specifically directed against the activities of these gangs, especially in Dublin, but also in other parts of the country. Figures I received from the Garda Commissioner show that from its beginning in May 2005 to 9 September last, 768 firearms have been recovered, 37,437 searches for drugs have taken place and more than 70,000 checkpoints established. These figures make clear the unrelenting nature of the activity being undertaken by the Garda Síochána to deal with these problems.
Some debate is taking place at present on whether gardaí should be routinely armed and how the Garda Síochána should respond to the existence of armed criminals. It has been one of the great strengths of the force that its members do not carry guns as a matter of routine. I believe that is the way many members of the force want to keep it. At the same time, the force must be equipped to deal with the challenges it faces, which is why members assigned to particular duties carry firearms. Just under 3,500 gardaí are currently authorised to carry firearms and can be called on to do so as the need arises. This is a matter for operational decision by the Garda authorities, and these decisions are made taking into account the paramount importance of the safety of members of the force and the public. The balanced approach leaves the Garda authorities the operational discretion to use armed gardaí where they think fit, rather than going down the road of arming every member of the force.
The Garda Síochána Act gives me as Minister the power to determine priorities for the Garda Síochána. The Commissioner will continue to keep me informed of the measures being taken to meet priorities that are set. I am now in the course of determining those priorities for 2008 and have been consulting my colleagues about them. My intention is to prioritise areas such as gun crime, organised crime and drugs and public order. The priorities will emphasise the importance of profiling, intelligence gathering and threat assessments on the individuals and groups identified as involved in this type of crime. I intend to include in the priorities a specific reference to enhanced liaison arrangements between individual Garda divisions and the Criminal Assets Bureau in the pursuit of those engaged in drug dealing at all levels. As it is, profilers trained by the Criminal Assets Bureau are now present in every Garda division. The message should be clear: drug dealing by anybody on whatever scale is unacceptable and will be pursued. In addition I propose to set a priority relating to enhanced activities by the drugs units and the force in focusing on places throughout the country where the presence of drug dealing and the consumption of illicit drugs is likely.
It is clear that the Garda Síochána alone cannot tackle the problems of crime that we face as a society that has rapidly been becoming more complex and diverse. As a consequence, it is only through partnership between the different parts of our society that we can effectively tackle crime. As I want to foster that spirit, I attach great importance, as I am sure Senators do, to establishing a joint policing committee in each local authority area, as the Oireachtas prescribed in the Garda Síochána Act. These committees provide a forum where members of the local authority for an area and the senior Garda officers responsible for policing the area, together with Oireachtas Members and community and voluntary interests, can consult, discuss and make recommendations on matters affecting policing of their community. On the one hand, these committees should make policing more responsive to community needs. On the other hand, they should make the job of the Garda Síochána in tackling particular problems easier by providing a forum for co-operation with all the interests involved.
Some 29 committees are now operating on a pilot basis. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and I are examining what lessons can be learned from the operation of the pilot and we intend to have committees operational in all local authority areas as early as possible next year. One of the priorities I intend to establish for the Garda Síochána is full and effective participation in the work of these committees.
I propose to include a number of priorities for the Garda Síochána relating to the expansion of the juvenile liaison scheme and the number of Garda youth diversion projects; the monitoring of sex offenders; combating homophobic and race crimes; co-operating with the newly established domestic violence executive agency, COSC, in curbing the problem of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; targeting the use of knives in violent attacks; and taking measures to deal with the evils of human trafficking. The priority of dealing with terrorism, both domestic and international, will of course remain. Other priorities will cover areas such as road traffic law enforcement and immigration controls, which are not directly related to this debate. No significance should be read into the non-inclusion of particular types of crime in the priorities mentioned by me. Priorities cannot include all the functions of the Garda — setting too many priorities carries with it the danger in reality of setting none.
It is vital we ensure to the greatest degree possible that our young persons do not enter the criminal justice system as offenders or, if they do, that the system deals with them in a way that allows them to become full members of society again. The Children Act 2001, as amended, set out an effective youth justice system, one based on the principles of diversion from crime and anti-social behaviour, restorative justice, the expanded use by the courts of community-based sanctions and measures, and the use of detention in the case of young offenders as a last resort.
Recent measures have reformed our entire approach to youth justice through the establishment of the Irish youth justice service. Apart from the criminal law, we have a range of initiatives in place to get at the root causes of anti-social behaviour by youngsters. The Garda juvenile diversion programme has proven to be highly successful in diverting them away from crime by offering guidance and support to juveniles and their families.
Earlier this year, the Government approved a juvenile justice and child protection package. The number of judges of the District Court to be assigned specifically to these cases will increase by three. There will be 88 additional professional and administrative posts in the probation and welfare service. Young persons probation, a division of the probation and welfare service to deal with young people under 18, has been established.
I wish to make a point about the criminal law. There can be a tendency for no account to be taken of the fact that our basic criminal law, which has been on the Statute Book for years, continues to provide us with the fundamental armoury in the fight against crime. The obvious example is the law on homicide. Nevertheless, we have made extensive changes in the criminal law in order to adapt it to the modern realities with which we must contend. On the one hand we have people who say we have done too little and on the other hand there are those who claim we have had too much criminal law reform too quickly.
The Government and its predecessors have introduced a range of effective criminal legislation. Two substantive Criminal Justice Acts were enacted in 2006 and 2007. As well as addressing issues arising from organised crime, they updated procedural issues and addressed issues relating to lower level crime. The Prisons Act 2007 addresses serious issues relating to the conduct in prison by those sentenced for serious offences.
The 2006 Act criminalises, for the first time, participation in and assisting organised criminal gangs. It updates offences and penalties for firearms offences and introduces heavier sentences of between five and ten years for those offences. New drug trafficking offences are created covering the importation of drugs valued at more than €13,000 and the supply of controlled drugs to prisons. A new offence of possession of articles for use in connection with certain offences, including kidnapping, has been created. This offence has been extended in the 2007 Act to cover money as well as articles for use in connection with a range of serious offences.
I could say much more on the subject. I look forward to listening to Senators and to studying what they have to say.
Senator Feargal Quinn Senator Feargal Quinn
Senator Feargal Quinn: I wish to share my time with Senator Norris.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Feargal Quinn Senator Feargal Quinn
Senator Feargal Quinn: I appreciate that the Minister needed to cut short his speech. We have his paper and will get a chance to read all of it. The Minister referred to having an armed Garda. We have been so successful since the State was established in not having an armed Garda on a regular basis and I hope we will manage to maintain that.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.
Senator Feargal Quinn Senator Feargal Quinn
Senator Feargal Quinn: Just over 25 years ago I had the experience of being at the receiving end of a kidnap threat. Armed gardaí protected my family and me for some time. At that stage I fully appreciated that we had the ability to arm gardaí if we wanted to on occasions of concern. However, in the fight against crime we must all do out best to ensure we do not need to resort to that in the future.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend some time with the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. He explained why he wanted to opt out of a number of clauses in the reform treaty, which was that he wished Britain could combat crime in the manner it wished. That may not apply in the same way to the Irish position and we may not certainly agree but this is not the time to debate the opt-out clause. However, Ireland must protect itself regarding its ability to fight crime in various ways. Our criminal justice code is based on the common law system under which one is innocent until one is proven guilty whereas the Napoleonic code, which applies throughout the rest of Europe, has a different basis. I am a committed European but I can understand that certain aspects of the reform treaty need to be controlled by ourselves.
I spent time a number of years ago with Václav Klaus, the current President of the Czech Republic, who was prime minister at the time. When I mentioned my enthusiasm for the European Union, he said he was in favour of a united Europe but he had a big brother in Moscow for 40 years and he did not want to substitute a big brother in Brussels for him. His views are not necessarily politically correct in Europe nowadays but it should be ensured the subsidiarity that has always applied in Europe means legislation and regulations can be kept close to home rather than being passed up to Brussels. I make this case particularly in regard to crime.
We do not have the same position on crime as others. For example, the media’s sin is the way they present crime stories as if they were much more common than they are. They very rarely point out that, even with the dramatic increase in violent crime in the past few years, the level of such crime is relatively low in Ireland compared with international standards but to read the newspapers and to listen to or watch the broadcast media, one would be forgiven for making the inference that Ireland is the leading crime country in the world. I do not say we should turn a blind eye to that but let us make sure, in combating crime, we do not go over the top. Let us make sure crime is combatted in a manner that will protect our citizens without losing the dignity and perseverance of elements in our society, which we should make sure we do not lose.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: I thank my colleagues for allowing me the opportunity to contribute. I welcome the Minister. I refer to Senator Quinn’s comment on the question of arming the Garda. The Minister referred to Katherine O’Toole, a most distinguished woman. I listened to her on radio the other day and she came across as extremely clear and cool and as a very practical woman. She did not want the Garda to be armed in the way that was called for in the House last week and neither do I, as I agree with Senator Quinn. Almost since the foundation of the State, we have had an unarmed Garda force, which is admired all over the world.
However, the ongoing gangland battles are a problem and the people wish to be protected. It is appropriate that we have, and strengthen, a rapid response unit comprising marksmen who are professionally trained. I spoke to senior members of the Garda earlier — I, unfortunately, do not confer with prime ministers as regularly as my colleague — and they also indicated that they do not want guns but they would like the response force. This is the usual ding dong debate where we are presented with a Fine Gael motion and a Government amendment is attached to it, welcoming and commending such and such. However, the Fine Gael motion contains a specific concentration on the gun issue, which is lacking in the Government’s amendment, which praises all kinds of things. It is important to focus on the gun issue. I would be happy with increases in penalties to the most severe level for crimes such as the possession of firearms because we must get to them before they are used.
This relates to the drugs issue. Guns are brought into the State with large-scale drug imports. I do not want to rehash my contribution to the earlier debate but if the Minister is interested, it is on the record. It is time to debate the legalisation of drugs at national level. The Minister will not agree with this and this cannot be done by Ireland alone. Such legalisation would have to be introduced on a Europe-wide basis at least. That would remove the financial incentive, which is necessary. The then Government took up an idea a number of years ago that had been promoted by Deputy Gregory, which was the formation of a Criminal Assets Bureau. It strikes at the financial base of criminals. They have demonstrated they are not sensitive to human feeling and they must be hit in their wallets.
The criminalisation of drugs must be examined. In the short term, I would support the Government parties in whatever they can do to assist, at a critical juncture, people who are addicted to heroin and who have been placed at a considerable disadvantage by the withdrawal of methadone services by pharmacists. This is dangerous and irresponsible. These people are among the most vulnerable in our community and their addiction may be triggered again by this withdrawal of service. If that happens, that may lead to circumstances in which they commit further crime.
The motion targets gun crime, about which people are worried. Gun crime has increased considerably and that is the primary issue that needs to be examined while the drugs problem lies beneath it. They both must be examined together in a radical manner.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: The increase in gun crime is frightening and alarming, particularly in Dublin and other cities. Thankfully, it is not a major issue in my home city of Cork. Most murders involving guns are gangland-related and they stem from drug wars and the money that can be made from drugs. A number of drug traffickers are very wealthy and ruthless and their ambition is to make more money while protecting their turf. This involves the necessity of killing off opponents in many instances. Some people take the callous view, which I do not support, that if one lives by the sword, one deserves to die by the sword and people who engage in criminal activity, particularly involving drugs, and who are armed and hire professional hitmen to take out their opponents are only killing each other off. I recently read a newspaper report about professional, trained hitmen and mercenaries who are flown in from abroad to take out people before leaving again. That is a frightening prospect for our society to face.
The Minister and other speakers referred to the incident involving Garda Sherlock, which was deplorable. One crime commentator reported that the guys he stopped were on a mission. He was checking out a stolen car but these guys were “focused and psyched up” about what they were doing. They might have been drugged up but they were on a mission and they had no fear about taking out whoever came in their way, whether it was a garda or a civilian. The Government can be condemned about resources and legislation. The previous Minister and his predecessor were sometimes lambasted in the Dáil and in other fora for introducing reams of legislation and there is an abundance of legislation on the Statute Book. One can throw all the resources one wants at crime but more and more people are using drugs in our society. Twenty or 30 years ago, drugs were confined to deprived areas in parts of our cities and they were a scourge on the less well-off in society. The drugs culture is expanding, however, as increasing numbers of middle class people use cocaine and other drugs. As our society generates a greater demand for leisure drugs, more drugs enter the State and drug barons make more money and become more vicious in doing what is necessary to protect their patch. Citizens must face up to this frightening reality. In every area, there are people who know the identity of the drug barons and hit men. Unless this information is conveyed to gardaí, their task is increasingly difficult if not impossible.
In my area of west Cork, a substantial consignment of drugs was intercepted off the coast earlier this year. I made the point many years ago that west Cork is wide open to such activity because we face some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. In many instances, the drugs consignments that arrive on our shores also include shipments of guns. The sophistication of the weaponry being used by criminals on our streets is frightening, including automatic and semi-automatic guns. These are the weapons used by foreign armies. The last Government introduced legislation to impose greater penalties on persons in possession of unlicensed firearms. Significant progress has been achieved by the Garda under Operation Anvil but we must be more vigilant. The Garda must roll out other operations to ensure as many guns as possible are taken out of circulation.
The brazenness of some of these criminals and the lengths to which they will go to safeguard their activities are startling. In Limerick recently, for example, a person was shot within 50 m or 60 m of where two emergency response unit members were on patrol. Through follow-up searches in Limerick, gardaí have discovered that in many instances, these thugs use innocent people to hide guns. Fearful for their lives, ordinary people may agree to conceal weapons in their attics or sheds. The homes of the criminals, meanwhile, are clean.
In the context of the increase in the prevalence of particular crimes, such as homicides using guns, one wonders whether we should categorise the various types of murders. I accept that a murder is a murder, but there is a situation in some areas, especially in Dublin, where criminal gangs, sometimes through the deployment of hit men, take out other criminals in a tit-for-tat territorial turf war. Such murders have become frighteningly prominent in the past five years. On the other hand, we have cases such as that of the unfortunate young woman in south Tipperary who lost her life. This was a homicide that took place in different circumstances and where no guns were involved. It has been described as a frenzied knife attack. We can only hope that her brother, who is fighting for his life in hospital, will survive. In other instances, murders take place in the context of domestic violence.
Close to the quiet town of Dunmanway in my own constituency, a body was found recently in a slurry tank. People I have spoken to in my community in recent days are encouraged and reassured by the information that seven people have been questioned by the Garda in regard to this matter. Going further back, one of the most prominent unsolved crimes is the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork in 1996. While canvassing for the local elections in 1999, I encountered people in that locality who promised to vote for me if I could find her murderer. This was a shocking crime — an innocent holidaymaker bashed to death just days before Christmas — and it remains prominent in the minds of people in that community.
In supporting the amendment to this motion, I commend the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Government on the significant progress that has been made in the past ten years in introducing legislation to combat crime. In regard to drugs and gun crime, it seems that in many instances, the Judiciary has ignored the minimum mandatory penalties as laid down by the Oireachtas.
Senator Phil Prendergast Senator Phil Prendergast
Senator Phil Prendergast: I welcome the Minister to the House and am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I, too, wish Garda Sherlock well in his recovery. For a servant of the State to be shot down while carrying out his brief was a most horrendous event. Drugs and crime are irrevocably linked. Increasingly, it is juveniles who are involved in these crimes and we do not have suitable places of detention for them. Neither adult prisons nor psychiatric units are suitable.
How are decisions made regarding the numbers of gardaí assigned to a particular area? Tralee, for instance, although the same size as Clonmel, has twice as many gardaí. Much credit is due to the Garda and the work its members undertake throughout the State. I particularly appreciate the achievement of gardaí in Clonmel in respect of their juvenile liaison activities. Alcohol-free events, which provide a positive outlet for hundreds of young people, have been organised in the town. The student gardaí who attend these events foster a relationship with young people in the community.
More community gardaí must be assigned to communities. In addition, closed circuit television should be installed in all urban centres and we should make more effective use of it. The gardaí in Clonmel work hard but are operating out of a medieval building that is not suitable to the needs of a modern police force. They have neither the privacy nor the facilities to assist them in carrying out their functions, but they do so with great efficiency. It was one of the aims of the county development plan to identify a new site for a Garda station, but there has been no progress in this regard.
Some 3,500 mobile telephones have been seized in prisons. Given the existence of technology for identifying when mobile telephones are in use, it should not be difficult to identify whether a specific location, such as a prison centre, shows an abnormally high usage. However, I welcome the seizure of these devices, which will ensure criminals can no longer conduct activities from within the facilities to which they are confined to prevent them causing further hardship to citizens.
Will the Minister of State indicate when a new Garda station site will be identified for Clonmel, which is a very busy urban centre? When will there be an increase in Garda numbers and when will closed circuit television be provided for the town?
Senator Dan Boyle Senator Dan Boyle
Senator Dan Boyle: There is always a danger in debates about crime when politicians and even political parties put themselves forward as being the politician or political party most in favour of law and order. Nobody in public life is opposed to the law being properly applied and nobody in public life believes chaos and anarchy is preferable to order. The danger is if a person or party is put on a particular pedestal, there is an implication that people somehow accept the idea of serious crimes about the person, the existence of murders and the prevalence of weapons of personal destruction in society.
This is far from the case. Unfortunately, we have experienced an increase in the number of serious crimes in our society in recent years, but in international and European terms, the rates of such crimes are still very low. The problem is when debate and media reportage is conducted on these terms, we end up with something that is not a dialogue for trying to deal with the root causes or prevent the incidence of such crimes. Instead we have a glamourisation of serious crime, such as gangland murders.
There are incidents of gang activity and drug trade which sometimes result in killings. An analysis, however, demonstrates that most violent deaths in this country are caused by people known to the victim. Such analysis indicates many of these people are family members. In international terms, these crimes are of a relatively low incidence. To protect the ultimate victims, we should try to prevent the circumstances in which people commit these crimes.
Although we need to fight against people being killed by guns and knives, incidents of which we have seen in recent weeks, we must also face the fact that the most numerous of serious crimes against the person in this country are physical assaults. They can be seen on most weekend nights and many weekdays in towns, villages and cities. In my city it is not unusual to see accident and emergency wards dealing with the victims of such crimes.
People who die in gangland killings are painted in cartoon terms by news reporting which says they were known to the Garda. This leads to much reduced public sympathy for a life which seemed to be of less value than others. We seem to think the damage done in much of the fracas occurring every weeknight is a case of young men letting off steam. The reality is different. Many of these drunken fist fights and worse do not even fall under such neatly defined categories.
Young women gouge other young women. Some heroes of modern Ireland, fuelled with alcohol, believe it is fine to kick young women in the face and disfigure them. That is an example of the serious crime in this country. That is as much a responsibility of individuals and a failure of the society we have created than any lack of laws or resources being provided to law enforcement in this country.
If we want to identify why serious crime exists in this country and why the level of it is creeping upwards, we must ask why there is such a shortage of shame. Why is there a near-absence of remorse? These are the responsibilities we have as public representatives in dealing rationally with this subject. We could promote as many laws as we like but if those qualities are diminishing or lacking in society, we must fear for the type of society we are creating.
I would prefer a more apolitical and all-party approach. There is nothing to be gained by casting stones or name-calling on this issue. Those who are the victims of crime gain nothing from that and it does not stop the disfiguring, maiming or killing of people. We have a responsibility to try to bring out a different society in this country and I am not sure it is helped by motions of this nature. We must be more honest with each other as legislators and political activists. We have a shared responsibility for the type of society we have created. I would prefer if debates of this nature were conducted with this in mind.
I do not have any great confidence this will come about and I suspect we will return to this theme quite regularly. On the Order of Business each day there will be requests for more debates of this nature. Fingers will be pointed and accusations made and yet, as I have stated, it will change nothing in terms of damage done to individuals as a result of serious crime. Such crime does not exist because of the type of legislation or resources provided to the police. Its sole cause is the collective responsibility we have for the society we have created.
This problem will not be solved by accusations or finger pointing but rather by accepting this collective responsibility. I speak as someone whose own family has experienced this type of serious crime in recent weeks. If we engage in this type of pantomime politics, nothing will be added to the reality of people’s everyday lives. We have no right to speak about crime as if it is something we can gain political advantage from. People live with it every day and we have a responsibility to diminish the fear engaged by debates of this type and media reportage so that people can live their lives in society free from such fear. Debates of this type will not help in bringing that about.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames Senator Fidelma Healy Eames
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I am disappointed the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has left the House given the importance of today’s debate.
I congratulate Senator Regan on the timely nature and relevance of the motion tabled. I am an ordinary citizen, a mother and an educator and I am concerned about the growth in crime rates in our society. It should be our aim to leave no stone unturned in protecting our citizens and gardaí. In particular, we should enable and equip the Garda to tackle crime quickly and efficiently. Our gardaí are sitting ducks for anybody to take a pot shot at, which is not good enough for servants of our State.
Public confidence is fast disappearing in the fight against crime. I opened a national newspaper yesterday to find eight major headlines on crime, ranging from rape to murder to attacks on the person. Crime is becoming so commonplace now, my concern is we will get used to it and become immune to hearing about it. Such an attitude would lead to us all being at risk.
We live in a different time and this different environment requires different measures at both proactive and reactive levels. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has good intentions but they are not working adequately in practice. It appears we are fast losing the fight against serious crime.
The motion tabled by Senator Regan outlines the need for a comprehensive plan, of which I will discuss some main points. The first deals with community policing and another with the sources of crime, to which Senator Dan Boyle has alluded. That is an important issue, and to call this debate pantomime politics is insulting.
Another matter on which I wish to focus is the need to equip gardaí in order to ensure they are one step ahead of criminals. The latter have no place in society and it is outrageous that we are being outwitted and outsmarted by them. Ireland is becoming the place for criminals to be but this should not be the case.
The first issue I wish to consider in this regard relates to community policing. I am a member of the pilot policing committee that was established in Galway and I admit that it has been a great development. The committee works in conjunction with the local authority and some of its members are local community representatives. It gathers information and is able to resolve problems in Galway, regardless of the areas in which they occur. However, what good is such a committee if there is a lack of manpower to use the information it has compiled in order to curb the growth of crime? The answer is simple. I spoke to the Garda authorities in Galway this morning and I was informed that in order to implement the concept of community policing, all they need is five community gardaí. I am extremely impressed by the attitude of gardaí in Galway towards curbing the growth of crime.
One of the detective sergeants to whom I spoke earlier informed me that they had taken their eyes off the ball. He stated that in the past local community gardaí had been very good at being the friendly face of officialdom. As crime has become more serious and criminals more hardened, the Garda lost focus.
There are many levels at which crime must be fought. Gardaí must operate at community level. I live in Oranmore, which has a population of over 6,000 but no community garda. The officers to whom I spoke this morning stated that an average of one community garda per 5,000 is required. Perhaps the Minister of State present will pass on my comments on this matter to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and ask him to forward a response to them, indicating what are the plans for the future in this regard.
I fear for our society, particularly if we continue to ignore the 20% to 25% of children in secondary schools that are completely turned off by the education system. The justice and education systems must work in tandem to develop an overall system that is relevant to children in second level education. The ESRI report issued last week stated that by the time the children to whom I refer come to sit the junior certificate, they have already lost their interest in education. I know many of these children and I work with thousands of them each year throughout the country. The exam-driven system that exists at second level has no relevance to their real lives. They are not turned on by it; they are bored by it. There are major discipline problems in classrooms and we need to provide an education system which means something to these children and which will provide them with the skills that will ensure they feel they have a real purpose in life. For example, we could provide them with driver education. These children value driving because they are going out, ripping off cars and joyriding in them. If we teach them to drive, they might have more respect for the vehicles they use. There is a great deal to do in this regard.
Many of the children to whom I refer experience literacy problems. John Lonergan has referred on many occasions to this issue in the context of many of the inmates at Mountjoy Prison. I will, in another guise, be discussing this matter with the Minister for Education and Science. These children need a curriculum to which they can relate and we must provide them with meaningful skills.
It costs the State €100,000 per year each to keep children who become offenders in detention centres or prisons. I commend the youth diversion projects that are in place but these need to be broadened and become more widespread. At a cost of €80,000 per year, 20 young offenders in Galway who have been caught and cautioned on one occasion now have more favourable relations with the police. The success rate of these projects shows that 75% of these young people do not reoffend. What do gardaí do with these individuals? The bring them fishing, for example, in order to build up one-to-one relationships with and get to know them. These children have real personal problems. There needs to be much more of this sort of engagement.
My final point relates to the need for a comprehensive DNA database. We must introduce legislation similar to that which exists in most other countries in order to give gardaí the power to take DNA samples and store them on a comprehensive database. This will enable us to outsmart criminals. Proof of the power of DNA evidence was clearly shown in a case in Galway some years ago involving a rapist who was convicted on the basis of a DNA sample taken from the victim. A match was not found in Ireland because we do not have a DNA database. When the sample was sent to the British authorities, however, a match was found with a DNA sample taken in Wales in respect of a driving infringement. The perpetrator in this case was Irish.
Figures for last year show that there are 114 nationals from other EU countries and 130 non-EU nationals in our prisons. The Garda Síochána’s hands are tied and its time is being wasted——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator must conclude.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames Senator Fidelma Healy Eames
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: May I finish?
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator should conclude.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames Senator Fidelma Healy Eames
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Many of the people to whom I refer who have been taken into custody have false paperwork and the Garda cannot obtain background information on them. If the force had a comprehensive database similar to those in other countries, it could match up DNA samples.
I would like it if the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would take on board the three points I made in respect of community policing, co-operation with the education system and the immediate introduction of legislation relating to the provision of a comprehensive database to help in the fight against crime.
Senator Lisa McDonald Senator Lisa McDonald
Senator Lisa McDonald: There is a tendency on the part of Opposition parties to conjure up a crime crisis following a spate of individual murders, despite the fact that there is no statistical basis for so doing. The Fine Gael Party recently called for the Army to be drafted in to deal with crime. In reality, however, this year’s homicide rate is lower than that which obtained last year, with some deaths resulting from personal problems as opposed to gangland criminality.
To deal with crime, we must first consider its causes and show how Ireland reached this point. Statistics show that in comparison with the EU average, the homicide rate in Ireland was quite low until approximately ten years ago. The increase since then, which is to be deeply regretted, unfortunately represents Ireland coming into line with the international norm. The improving economy has led to an explosion in the demand for drugs. With financial incentives so high, it is little wonder that gangs are so willing to kill each other’s members in order to protect their lucrative empires.
When former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that his Government wanted to be tough on crime and the causes of crime, he was accused of uttering a soundite. However, his approach was essentially sound. In a way, the phrase he used hides more than it reveals. We know the nature of the law but we do not know what are the causes of crime because these are extremely complex.
How is it that the murder rate in Ireland is running at a multiple of what it was in the 1960s? In material terms we are better off. Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that young men in general and both men and women from certain socially deprived areas and groups are still over-represented in our prisons. This suggests a link between relative social disadvantage and crime. However, there is a difference between a link and a cause. How is it that some people brought up in almost identical circumstances and environments — even members of the same families — can go on to lead worthwhile lives while others become involved in lives of crime? There is a danger in over-emphasising social factors as if to absolve people of responsibility for their actions.
The unfortunate truth that in many cases victims suffer from disadvantages similar to those suffered by the perpetrators of crime. That said, the Government must be conscious that a range of decisions we make on social issues can have an effect, which is why I congratulate the Minister in his previous role as Minister for State for putting an approach to youth justice issues on a formal footing. With the implementation of the Children Act and, in particular, the establishment of the new youth justice service, the proper structures are at last in place to deal with young people. The programme for Government is committed to doubling the number of Garda youth diversion projects. The SAFE project in my home town of Wexford works very well and, in a low-key way, keeps young people out of trouble.
I also welcome the Minister’s decision to ensure the probation and welfare service is resourced and restructured in the context of the full implementation of the Children Act. Investment in this area will come back to benefit us. It will help prevent young people throwing their lives away and becoming involved in serious crime.
In respect of the wider criminal justice, I would encourage the Minister to look at the following issue. The new organised crime unit within the Garda Síochána has enjoyed significant success in the past two years but more resources and manpower must be put into targeting minor criminals and drug dealers. In 2005, which is the last year for which figures are available, out of over 80 criminals brought before the courts who were eligible for the ten-year term, just ten received the mandatory sentence for having been found with drugs worth over €13,000. If the full term had been handed down by the courts, it might have been used as the disincentive it was intended to be. I welcome the advancement of investment in our prison service because this will assist in tackling this serious problem.
It would be remiss of me not to deal with the recent call by Fine Gael to send in the Army. This is a classic panic reaction that does no justice to politics. First, the Army has no powers of arrest so even if soldiers witnessed a crime, they would have no power to stop it. Second, the Army has no training in policing. Lastly, such a measure would give the impression both home and abroad that the State has lost control.
I support the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in his commitment to develop partnerships with the communities as a mainstay to tackling crime. The new joint policing committees are providing a forum for local councillors, gardaí, Members of the Oireachtas and interest groups who can consult, discuss and make recommendations on a matter affecting policing in local areas. No doubt anti-social behaviour will feature considerably in these committees. These people, who make misery for their neighbours, must be tackled effectively. I note the Minister’s Department is looking at the question of community payback and restorative justice and I urge him to explore how we could make more direct connections between the offence and reparation to the community affected by the criminal.
Another way of underpinning partnership with the community is through the expansion of the Garda CCTV scheme. This can play an important role in supporting the work of gardaí and deterring criminal and anti-social behaviour. CCTV is not an alternative to gardaí on frontline duty but it can act as an effective aid. The community CCTV scheme has added benefit for local areas which have it so I urge the Minister to roll it out as soon as possible in all the major towns and villages in Ireland. Some say CCTV represents an intrusion of privacy but it is more in the mould of a benign and sensible Big Brother.
There can be no doubt that gangland activity poses a clear and present danger. Such activities are almost inextricably linked to the market in illegal drugs. As a society, we must address the demand for illicit drugs. There has been considerable debate on this so I will not go into it.
There is no point in underestimating the difficulties gardaí face in trying to bring killings to an end. They have launched and will continue to launch and undertake countless operations aimed at saving the lives of those involved. They get no help from the people they are trying to protect and when the killings take place, they can get no co-operation either.
To condemn these killings as, in some way, representing a failure on the part of the Garda or the Government flies in the face of the harsh realities involved. It is no consolation that these killings take place among members of the criminal fraternity. To take that view would be to share their disregard and lack of respect for human life. Tragically, their activities have also spilled out into the law-abiding community.
The fight against these gangs will be long and relentless. I am satisfied the Government is providing the Garda with the resources described by the Minister today and will continue to do so. I also understand that the Garda Commissioner has been assured by the Minister that there is no limit to the funding available under the witness protection programme.
Criminal law and its reform are living things and must take account of the constantly evolving nature of our society. That said, I am enthusiastic about the series of measures contained in the programme for Government and commend the Minister on his calm and reasoned handling of his brief since he came to office.
Senator Ivana Bacik Senator Ivana Bacik
Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the opportunity to engage in a debate on this issue, in which I have a strong personal interest, having worked for years as practitioner in the criminal justice system and teaching criminal law in Trinity College. It is important that we do not engage in pantomime politics. Rather than being a Punch and Judy show, I was going to start by making some constructive comments and welcoming some of the things the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has said and some things which have been implemented by the previous Government.
The Minister is right in that the Garda Ombudsman Commission has been a welcome development and the changes in the Garda Síochána Act have meant that important reforms have taken place in the Garda. That is not to say that there are not flaws in the system. At the time the Garda Ombudsman Commission was established I and others were very critical of the fact that it was to be a three-person commission rather than following the much stronger model of the one-person ombudsman, such as that held by Nuala O’Loan in Northern Ireland.
I also welcome the Minister’s comments about retaining a balanced approach to the arming of gardaí. The current Garda review, which I believe we have all received, calls for a debate on the need to arm the members of the Garda Síochána. Most of us here would agree that the present situation, where we have an unarmed force with the ability to have some specialist armed members, is a better approach to policing and has served us well.
Having said that, I take issue with some of the accepted wisdom adopted by the Minister in his speech. First, the idea that the criminal justice legislation of 2006 and 2007 in any way represents an effective approach to dealing with the serious problem of gangland crime is misleading. I do not believe the changes brought about by that legislation will have the effect the Minister wishes them to have.
I believe, and I believe it is widely accepted, that these changes were brought in with undue haste and without time for adequate debate and sufficient consideration of how they would impact on due process and procedures in criminal trials.  We have all seen in the past the serious problems that can occur when there is what may be termed a “conviction at all costs” culture within any policing system. In particular, we can think about the miscarriages of justice that occurred in Great Britain during the 1980s and those which occurred in recent years here. What is often overlooked is that when the innocent are wrongly convicted, the guilty go free, which is in nobody’s interests, least of all those of victims of crime. We must be very careful about encroaching unduly on the due process rights of the accused.
We must also be careful about things like mandatory minimum sentences. There is no evidence that these are effective in reducing crime. The Judiciary has been heavily criticised by politicians on the Government side for failing to apply ten-year minimum sentences. However, the Judiciary was rightly given a discretion that where exceptional circumstances existed, those minimum sentences would not be applied.
The reality is that the big drug bosses are not the people who are likely to get these sentences. It is the smaller people, often addicts themselves, so-called drug mules and foreign nationals, as someone already mentioned, who are liable to be convicted. These are the people who are liable to get the ten-year sentences. What purpose does that serve in terms of rehabilitating offenders, stopping gangland killings and helping victims of crime?
We must also be clear that what assists in successful prosecutions is the——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is the Senator sharing her time with Senator Doherty?
Senator Ivana Bacik Senator Ivana Bacik
Senator Ivana Bacik: I was not sure if Senator Doherty was going to be in the Chamber, otherwise I would have asked at the start. I will share my time with him. Could the Leas-Chathaoirleach tell me how much time I have left?
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator is almost halfway through her time of eight minutes.
Senator Ivana Bacik Senator Ivana Bacik
Senator Ivana Bacik: Perhaps the Leas-Chathaoirleach could tell me when I am five minutes through. With the permission of the House I will share the last three minutes with Senator Doherty.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Ivana Bacik Senator Ivana Bacik
Senator Ivana Bacik: It is important that we build trust in communities as successful prosecution requires evidence and witnesses must be encouraged to come forward through strengthening witness protection schemes and increasing the powers and numbers of community gardaí.
We have already had a debate on drugs and I echo the comments of my colleague, Senator Norris, that we need a radical review of our drugs policy. We are already rightly providing methadone to registered addicts. Increasing methadone provision is held by those who have analysed this to be largely responsible for the large decrease in property crime in the late 1990s. We must be clear about the need to increase funding for heroin addicts to ensure that they are given access to methadone treatment.
We also need to examine prison policy. In that regard, I would challenge those who suggested it is a positive development to have more prison places. Containment is not the answer. We need to examine the rehabilitation of those who are in our prisons to seriously take account of the critical comments of the committee for the prevention of torture on the dreadful conditions of our prisons, notably Mountjoy and St. Patrick’s. I ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform why the Connect project, an important one for the rehabilitation of prisoners within the system, has been discontinued.
If we are serious about tackling crime we need, as previous speakers said, to tackle the causes of it and to examine the rehabilitation of offenders. We need to examine serious measures to increase trust within communities and to build successful cases to ensure that the persons responsible for crime will be convicted but that in the process we do not trample unduly on the rights of accused persons.
Senator Pearse Doherty Senator Pearse Doherty
Senator Pearse Doherty: Gabhaim buíochas don Seanadóir Bacik as a cuid ama a roinnt liom agus deis a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo.
We do not need more criminal legislation, rather what we need is effective redeployment of the Garda. A robust process of civilianisation would allow for more effective and focused use of existing resources, including a doubling of resources allocated to the national and local drug units.
There can be no doubt that increased gun crime here is directly linked to the increased prevalence of drugs in our communities. A cache of guns and ammunition accompanies every major shipment of drugs entering the country. Therefore, to seriously tackle gun crime, we also need to focus on tackling the drugs crisis.
Sinn Féin put forward a set of proposals to tackle serious drug and gun crime, which it submitted to the Garda and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The implementation of these proposals would result in the freeing up of approximately 4,000 gardaí from administrative tasks who could be redeployed in the fight against serious drug and gun crime. It must be demoralising for gardaí who are fully trained to fight crime to be stuck behind a desk. How many of them could be fighting drug and gun crime on our streets? How many more people have to be gunned down before the Minister acts?
Sinn Féin’s recommendations on tackling serious drug and gun crime include the continued and increased pursuit of major drug traffickers and lower level dealers; a doubling of the resources allocated to the Garda drug units; the disbanding, retraining and deploying of the Garda special branch to focus on organised crime; and increasing garda patrols, on foot and bicycle, in areas experiencing chronic problems of public drug dealing. While areas throughout this State are plagued by drug dealing, violent attacks and anti-social behaviour, the Government has facilitated the regular deployment of up to 250 gardaí to police peaceful demonstrators in Ballinaboy, County Mayo. A staggering €8.1 million has been spent to date on Garda resources to police demonstrations against the unpopular Shell gas pipeline. These resources would be better deployed in the fight against serious drug and gun crime, which is claiming lives on our streets on an almost weekly basis. The Garda has become hired security for Shell with the taxpayer having to foot the bill while their own communities are being neglected. It is a great shame that this State does not protect its citizens like it protects the multinationals.
I reiterate Sinn Féin’s call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to review the deployment of gardaí in Ballinaboy and to deploy Garda resources where they need to be put. There is no point in having extra gardaí unless they are deployed in the right areas. I ask the Minister to take on board our submission to tackle serious drug and gun crime.
Senator Jim Walsh Senator Jim Walsh
Senator Jim Walsh: Molaim an Seanadóir Doherty as ucht na húsáide a bhaineann sé as an Ghaeilge. Tá Gaeilge Chúige Uladh iontach deacair do na daoine a bhí ar scoil i gCúige Mumhan nó i gCuige Laighean. B’fhéidir go mbeadh sé sásta Gaeilge níos simplí a úsáid anseo.
During the past ten years that I have been a Member of this House and for many years prior to that we have had debates on crime. As previous speakers said, it is customary for the Opposition to be critical of the Administration and for the Administration to defend itself. Over that period and from time immemorial, going back to the time of Adam and Eve, serious crime has been committed. That has not changed and crime will always be with us. Therefore, the question that should come under review is the manner in which we address crime in the interests of the vast majority of people who are law abiding and wish to go about their daily lives without fear, intimidation or worse from those who engage in criminal activity.
We do not have the recipe in terms of tackling this problem quite right. Recently and in previous debates I mentioned that a friend said to me many years ago in the context of comparing drug-related crime to prohibition in the United States in the 1930s that we should legalise them. I disagreed strongly with him; I did not believe it was the right thing to do. However, I have come to the conclusion that it is a proposition which needs to be carefully analysed and examined.
Many addicts are involved in petty crime to fund their addiction. The gang lords make millions of euro out of the racket. As we have seen in this city, throughout the country, across Europe and in the western world in particular — I am sure we will see this happen in other countries as they become more affluent — they take the law into their own hands and have a total disregard for the lives, property and rights of others. Any initiatives I have seen taken in other jurisdictions appear to only scratch at the surface. From time to time our newspapers highlight drug seizures to the value of many millions of euro but the drugs that are not being found are multiples of those quantities discovered by the gardaí and police in other jurisdictions. I am not necessarily advocating that we legalise it but we must take a different approach to the problem.
Last night some Members had a meeting with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the British Parliament which was examining prisons here. Its members were going to visit the Dóchas Centre and Wheatfield. It has always struck me as somewhat odd that if someone is sentenced to prison for eight years, providing he or she behaves himself or herself in prison, he or she will get a remission of up to 25% of the original sentence. In many instances, the crimes committed are serious. I was a member of the child protection committee that was set up last year in response to some of the controversies that arose. A sex offender can get remission without ever availing of any form of rehabilitative measures to correct his particular disposition in that regard. He is released back into society with a high probability of reoffending. That does not make sense to anybody. We need to return to the point of noting the issues on a blank sheet, namely, that we need to protect society, accept that some level of crime will be committed and consider that we must do to tackle it. Those are the issues.
Some people are sent to prison for minor crime. In many instances people are sent to prison for crimes that are not too serious but as a result of the contacts they make there they come out as serious criminals and become involved in a range of nefarious activities. We are all aware of that, yet no serious initiative is being taken to redirect people in that regard. I know a person who is in Castlerea Prison. He is there simply because he did not impress the judge when giving evidence. That type of thing should not be allowed in the judicial system.
For a long time I have been an advocate that the Judiciary should be accountable. Everybody in a republic should be accountable and measured in their performance. Nobody should be above or beyond the law. Certain crimes should be penalised by community service and the prison should be a place of last resort, only for serious criminals. The Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights discussed restorative justice and effective programmes were set up in Nenagh and Tallaght. In New Zealand the concept has been developed further.
Some people are jailed because they owe money and fail or refuse to pay it after a court order has been made. There is no reason we cannot have a system of attachments, so that the person’s wage or social welfare payment can be used to make good monetary recompense.
Serious crime, such as the various murders we have seen, displays a disregard for life. We addressed that with emergency legislation in 1998 with regard to terrorist offences. Most people in towns and cities can finger exactly those involved in serious crime. Human rights advocates may disagree but why can we not arrest such people for up to three years? By that date they should be brought to court and held to account for their crimes. It is ridiculous to see those involved in heinous crimes operate with impunity.
At a wedding I attended recently a priest spoke to me about a local village. He was told by a young man that he could be supplied with any drug within 15 minutes. This is the situation across every parish in many towns and cities in Europe. We must take a new approach at European level to tackle the scourge that gives rise to much of criminal activity.
Senator Dominic Hannigan Senator Dominic Hannigan
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I welcome the motion which gives us an opportunity to speak about an issue of importance to people across the country. The amendment proposed by the Government is more of the same. The last Government concentrated on increasing the number of prison spaces and imprisoning more people. I worry about that attitude.
Senator Walsh referred to people coming across drugs for the first time in prisons. I read a report that stated that 50% of intravenous users came across drugs for the first time while in prison. I am concerned about providing more prison places. We must examine the causes of crime rather than locking people up.
This is particularly true in light of the recent review of the Whitaker report. The original report was carried out by T.K. Whitaker, a former Member of this Chamber, in 1985 to consider the reforms needed in the prison system. He was asked to review it 20 years later and produced a report last month. Unfortunately, it shows that little has changed since 1985. Prison is not the answer and should be seen as a last resort.
In modern Ireland communities are plagued by organised crime as a result of drugs and gangland killings. Many people are getting caught in the war waged across our communities. The Garda Síochána is struggling to keep up with these hoodlums. It needs our support but sending in the Army is not the answer. Providing resources to the Garda Síochána is the answer. We could help the Garda Síochána by granting more powers to the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and widening its remit to confiscate the assets of middle ranking criminals. We could also introduce a witness protection programme so that people can testify in court safe in the knowledge that their lives or the lives of their families are not at risk.
Anti-social behaviour is a growing problem, especially for residents of new communities in peri-urban areas around Dublin. In villages such as Stamullen there is no Garda station for a population of 2,500 people. Residents rely on gardaí arriving from a neighbouring station, which can mean response times of more than one hour.
The opening hours of Garda stations in such communities is also an issue. While the opening hours might have served smaller villages and towns, increases in population of 50% within a few years mean we must examine how to redeploy gardaí. We could remove gardaí from the Border region, which now has less demand, to our growing towns and villages to address anti-social behaviour.
I also wish to see more community gardaí. This is essential to address juvenile crime in order that gardaí can get to know perpetrators at a local level. Organised crime and anti-social behaviour is growing every day. It is vital that the Government gets to grip with it.
Senator Joe O’Reilly Senator Joe O’Reilly
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I propose to share time with Senators Buttimer and McFadden.
There has been a horrendous catalogue of crime in recent weeks. There has been virtual anarchy on the streets of the capital, which is tragic and serious. A major response is needed.
The use of CAB is insufficient. The Government is not exploiting that asset to capture the assets of criminals. It is an initiative that came from Fine Gael, a fact of which I am proud, and I commend to the Minister its greater use. There is no better way to hurt a criminal than by hurting him in his pocket.
A pernicious and prevalent form of crime is low-level crime, which creates fear in our citizens as they walk the streets of our towns. It creates an awful atmosphere, particularly at night, and requires an organised response. The civilianisation of the Garda Síochána is vital and urgent. Gardaí should be designated to particular streets or wards on a permanent basis. They would become known in the area and would get to know the area.
Rostering of gardaí should coincide with peak times and times of high levels of incidents. The same number of gardaí should not be on duty on a Monday daytime shift as during a weekend shift. Greater incentives must be made available to gardaí to make it attractive for them to live in the communities they serve. Negotiations should be urgently entered into with the Garda representative bodies to deal with this matter.
I was heartened when the Minister informed the House that CCTV will be introduced to county capital towns. However, it must be introduced in every town and village. The savings made with this method of crime prevention are enormous. In dealing with the dramatic high-profile anarchy on the streets of Dublin and other cities, we must not lose sight of low-level crime. This is the type of crime that harasses the old when they collect their pensions, decent youngsters when they socialise at weekends and innocent people going about their normal lives. This low-level crime creates fear and is pernicious and pervasive. It must be dealt with by a Garda presence on the streets, civilianisation, CCTV cameras and community policing.
No matter how wealthy the country, it is not a good society when people live in fear. This is the most urgent issue facing our society that needs an immediate and urgent response.
Senator Nicky McFadden Senator Nicky McFadden
Senator Nicky McFadden: Senator Jim Walsh claims the Fine Gael Party is simply opposing for the sake of it. We are not and have a proud tradition of having the two best Ministers for Justice the State ever had, Paddy Cooney and Nora Owen.
Senator Jerry Buttimer Senator Jerry Buttimer
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Hear, hear.
Senator Nicky McFadden Senator Nicky McFadden
Senator Nicky McFadden: This country again needs a policy of zero tolerance. I welcome the Minister’s comments on rolling out CCTV in major towns. I will, however, remind him that the roll-out of CCTV in Athlone was first mooted in 1998. Last year, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, said Athlone would have it in several weeks. We are still waiting. Recently, there have been serious assaults on women in the Athlone area. The Garda would have been better resourced if it had the use of CCTV in these cases. It is not good enough to claim the Garda is properly resourced when it is not.
I take exception to the removal of gardaí based in rural areas. People in rural areas deserve to have a Garda presence just as much as those in urban areas. It is a matter of extra community gardaí being deployed on the streets and in rural areas.
Senator Jerry Buttimer Senator Jerry Buttimer
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, is a happy man given Carriagtwohill’s victory in the Cork county hurling final last weekend.
Tackling crime is a collective responsibility. It is the job of the Opposition to hold the Government to account. Senator Boyle spoke about pantomime politics, yet the crime figures between 2001 to 2006 tell a different story. In this period, 338 people were murdered. The second quarter of 2007 has seen a 43% increase in homicide offences, a 19% increase in murder and manslaughter offences and assaults up by 7%. These figures are no pantomime. Will the Members opposite ask the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy John O’Donoghue, where his zero tolerance policy has gone? The Government’s crime policy has changed to anything goes.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Ceann Comhairle should not be brought into a debate in this House.
Senator Jerry Buttimer Senator Jerry Buttimer
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Gabh mo leithscéal, I should have referred to him as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who called for zero tolerance.
Gardaí claim they work in poor conditions, that their hands are tied and there is a need for more community policing. The Garda must be provided with the resources it needs. Equal resources must also be given to youth work initiatives and early intervention programmes. Prevention is better than cure and critical areas of youth services and sport must be targeted. One programme that works well is the youth cafe programme in Ballinlough in the Cork South-Central constituency. Community-based projects such as this need to be supported and encouraged as they offer young people an opportunity to get involved, creating an alternative to anti-social behaviour and the drug culture. Such projects empower young people, giving them a sense of community participation.
The clear connection between drug abuse and criminality cannot be ignored. Earlier the House debated the national drugs strategy. If the drug culture and its associated criminality is targeted and tackled, crime of whatever hue will be diluted.
I commend the motion. It is opportune because it highlights the Government’s inadequacies in tackling crime. It is the Opposition’s job to highlight these inadequacies and hold the Government to account.
Senator Eugene Regan Senator Eugene Regan
Senator Eugene Regan: The Minister claims the Fine Gael Party’s motion was tendentious and opportunistic, despite his agreeing that gun and gangland crime is a major problem. He also agrees with the essential statement in the motion, that “adequate resources for our Garda, effective criminal legislation and innovative policing methods” are needed to tackle the crime problem. The Minister does not agree, however, with the claim in the motion that this and the last Government failed to tackle serious crime. Essentially, this is a tautology. The facts speak for themselves. Gangland killings, homicides, manslaughter offences and drug-related offences have all increased by 30%. The Government has failed. While I accept that phrasing a motion in these terms is provocative, it is a fair question. If it provokes the Minister to defend the Government’s position and ensures a good debate, then the motion is well phrased and well prepared.
The objective of the motion is to focus and instill a sense of urgency in tackling this issue. The Government’s amendment is defensive and displays an extreme sensitivity on the issue but misses the point. It is for this House to keep a focus on the issue. There are different facets to tackling the problem, but the most important is effective policing. The Minister claims there will be prioritisation and the establishment of targets and timescales. The reality is we are still waiting for the necessary facilities, such as the establishment of databases, to be provided to the Garda.
The establishment of timescales will provide a benchmark on which the House can measure progress when it next debates this issue. Wider issues have been raised such as prevention measures through education programmes, the prison system, rehabilitation, etc. These are fundamental but the essential issue is the rise in gun and gangland crime.
The Minister referred to establishing priorities for the Garda. I hope the House will have an opportunity to debate these and the Minister will report to the House on them.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 32; Níl, 22.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Senator Donie Cassidy Senator Donie Cassidy
Senator Donie Cassidy: At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
Seanad Éireann 187 Serious Crime: Motion.