The Minister, in moving this motion, seemed to me to exude an air of confidence which practically amounted to complacency, complacency which was certainly not justified by the contents of his statement and, in particular, the crime figures which he read out.
It is rather startling to discover from the Minister's statement today that the figures for indictable crime have increased from 14,800 odd in 1961 to 16,203 in the year 1963. Housebreaking offences have increased from 3,186 in the year 1961 to over 4,000 in the year 1963 and assaults and other offences against the person have increased from 701 in the year 1961 to 1,047 in the year 1963.
Those are rather startling figures. They show that within the last couple of years there has been a very considerable increase in indictable crime and a substantial increase in the housebreaking figures and in offences against the person.
It may be that the Minister simply has an inborn air of confidence when he is talking about his Department. I feel sure that the Minister, in fact, is not complacent when faced with a situation like that because it is not a situation in which any Minister for Justice or the Department over which he presides can afford to be complacent.
It seems to me that, whether we like it or not, it does call for an increase in the strength of the Garda Force and it seems to me that it is necessary for this House and for the people of the country to make up their minds to that and, if such an increase is called for, obviously, it will have to be paid for. In face of those figures, in face of that increase—and it is a gradual but a substantial increase over the last three years—it does seem to me that some expansion of the personnel in the Garda Force is necessary.
The picture so far as numbers in the Garda are concerned is one of a rather slight decrease over the last ten years or so, as will be seen from the figures which the Minister gave in reply to a Question which I asked him today. There is no very great variation over the last ten years but, taking 1st January, 1964, as compared with 1st January, 1954, there is a reduction of about 400 in the total membership of the Garda. There was a slight reduction in 1955, a slight increase in 1956, a drop in 1957, a further drop in 1958, an increase of about 18 in 1959 as against 1958 and then up to 1961 there was a gradual increase and it seems to have dropped off then again from the figure of 6,609 in 1961 to 6,364 on 1st January of this year.
As I say, there is nothing startling by way of a fluctuation there but what is startling is that with the same Garda Force—the same as regards numbers, obviously not as regards personnel— with virtually the same strength in the Garda over the last ten years there has been in these few years from 1961 to 1963 a very considerable increase in crime. That seems to me to spell out the lesson that the Garda Force is not sufficient in strength to deal with the situation and that the answer is to increase the Force.
This matter was the subject of an editorial in the Garda Journal. I have not got the editorial here but I have a report of it which appeared in the Evening Herald of 21st March of this year. That report reads:
Commenting on the marked increase of indictable crime in the last quarter of 1963 an editorial in the journal in Irish, An Gharda, says it discloses a position of seriousness that must be faced up to without delay if the crime problem in this country is to be kept in hand.
The increases in offences against the person and offences against property with violence are of a disturbing nature, it continues.
The editorial asks:
How is this challenge to law and order to be met and what is the answer to this steep increase in the incidence of crime?
In the ultimate there is, in our opinion, but one answer. The strength of the Garda Síochána must be increased and, in addition, the public must be made aware to a far greater degree than seems evident at present of their obligations and responsibilities in this respect.
The quotation finishes:
The strength of the Garda Síochána, however, has not kept pace with this population and area increase.
——It was referring to the Dublin Metropolitan area——
We have in mind particularly an increase in strength sufficient to restore in full that vital police unit —the guard on the beat.
It is an unfortunate fact that the pattern for some years now in this country, and, possibly, it is the same in other countries—I do not know— but certainly the pattern in this country has been to get away from the garda on the beat. There is the gradual closing down of garda stations throughout the country. That was referred to in the Minister's speech this evening. There is the increased use of the squad car in rural areas and the gradual discontinuance of the garda on the beat. It seems to me that not only in rural areas but in large urban areas and in the city of Dublin and other large urban centres the garda on the beat fulfilled a function that cannot be replaced by means of a squad car, particularly in rural areas. The old time garda whom all of us know of, or if we do not know of, have heard of, became practically an institution. He was friendly and certainly acquainted with everyone in his area. He had never any trouble about getting any information which he wanted. He knew the people in the area for which he was responsible. The type of friendship and respect of the garda which was there lent itself to keeping down crime figures. It is a great pity to see that pattern changing. I do not believe it can ever be replaced by squad cars or any mechanical device.
The garda, doing his duty in a squad car, simply goes into the area and goes through it. He does not get to know the people in that area and they do not get to know him. He does not get their confidence. This is not as effective as the old time system of the garda on the beat, whether he was walking his area or doing it on a pedal cycle. It would be well, as a matter of policy, for the Minister and his advisers to consider that aspect of it and to consider the value of the small rural garda stations from that point of view.
The Minister, generally in relation to the question of crime, referred to the Preventive Unit which was formed in Dublin. I consider that this Preventive Unit is certainly a step in the right direction. I should like to say this to the Minister. I was called upon, in my business premises, by the area security officer for the area in which it is situated. I was extremely impressed by his approach to his work, his obvious enthusiasm for the job he had to do and for the fact that he quite clearly knew what he was talking about and had made a study of the situation. It is a compliment, not only to him but to those who selected him, that he was the type of man who was able to explain what he had in mind and do it in a way the ordinary layman could understand.
He is the only one of these area security officers, or whatever they are called, I have met. If the other officers functioning in the city and other areas have the attributes which this man obviously had, then I would say there is a good job being done in the selection of these men. This is something which was well worth trying.
The Minister referred to the fact that this Estimate was discussed a comparatively short while ago. I do not want to go back very much over the ground that was covered in that discussion. The Minister referred to the transfer of the Garda Depot to Templemore as one of the outstanding matters during the year. I do not want in any way to go on record as being against decentralisation of Government services. I think, on the contrary, that there are many aspects of Government services that could be decentralised with benefit to all concerned. I should like to see the Minister for Agriculture in a setting of sylvan beauty along the Wicklow coast. I should like to see some of the other Ministers, with their Departments, outside the city of Dublin.
I wonder was it wise to choose, as a first step on the road to decentralisation, the Garda Depot? I wonder whose idea it was? Did the suggestion come from the Force or was the suggestion imposed on the Force by the Minister for his advisers? The wisdom of this step certainly is not apparent to me. It seems abundantly clear, from the crime figures, for example, which the Minister quoted, and from the population figures in the city of Dublin, that the recruits coming into the Garda will be required, to a very large extent, for duty in the city of Dublin. They will have to serve for some period there. It would have seemed to me, at any rate, from that point of view, there was a particular value in retaining the Garda Depot in Dublin where the recruits, during their period of training in Dublin, would get to know the city and its environs. They would get the city atmosphere and then, when they were put on duty in Dublin, would not feel like fish out of water and would not act like fish out of water.
I am not at all sure that this idea of taking the training centre from Dublin to Templemore—I am not saying this as against Templemore but to anywhere outside Dublin—was a wise move at all. Perhaps ultimately I will see the wisdom of it but I do not consider it was a wise move.
I want to refer very briefly here to a matter which has been brought to the Minister's attention, unsuccessfully, unfortunately, that is, the question of the siting of the new garda station at Rathdrum, County Wicklow. The Minister will be aware from representations made to him both by the public representatives for the constituency and from the Rathdrum Development Association that the townsfolk in Rathdrum are perturbed by the Minister's decision to site the new Garda station approximately half a mile from the town. I do not think it necessary to cite the disadvantages associated with this move. I know from the Minister's point of view the position was that a particular site was in existence. I think it was owned by the Board of Works and was available for the Garda station. I know, equally well, that there were other sites available in the town and that officials called to inspect these sites.
It is fair to the Minister to say, when representations were made to him in the matter, he went to the trouble of sending officials along to inspect the alternative sites proposed. I do not suggest this was so much bogus activity. I do not accuse the Minister of that but it seems to have been regarded as a fait accompli, that the officials went along and inspected the other sites, when really all the time the decision had been made that the Garda station was to be erected on the site outside the town, about half a mile from it and that that was to be done partly on grounds of expense and partly because it was suggested it would give a greater opportunity for observing traffic.
I do not think there is any real basis for either of those arguments. The question of expense, if it is involved at all, comes to possibly £120 or £200, which would certainly be saved in the connecting up of water and drainage facilities to the site in the town as against the site outside the town. I must say I am not impressed at all by the argument with regard to traffic control. I suppose it is too late now to ask the Minister to have another look at the question. I can assure him that the people of the town who have been in touch with me about it feel rather strongly on the point. They feel from the general point of view of the town and the usefulness and the part to be played by the Garda in the community, that all these things point to having the station situated in the town rather than outside it. If it would be possible, I would ask the Minister, even at this late stage, to think again with regard to the siting of this Garda station.
The last matter to which I wish to refer is a question I raised with the Minister during the past couple of weeks. It is in regard to road traffic accidents where civil proceedings are instituted and concerns allowing independent Gardaí witnesses to give their statements freely and, if necessary, to attend consultations with the legal advisers of either party. The present situation is most frustrating from the point of view of the litigant. It is true that, if the garda has made a formal statement and if the plaintiff or defendant in proceeding gets in touch with the superintendent concerned, he will get a copy of the garda's statement with the police abstract and copies of any other statements taken. But very often the formal statements even of members of the Garda require clarification which may be vital from the point of view of the person embarking, or thinking of embarking, on legal proceedings.
If a person is advised by his legal advisers that the evidence of a Garda witness is essential, he should be entitled to have available to him in full the evidence that the garda is in a position to give. That should apply equally to both sides. I cannot see it would in any way prejudice the administration of justice if that kind of open disclosure were to be made, whenever required. I know it is possible by means of a rather circuitous route in cross-examining the superintendent to get him to get the information from the garda and pass it on second-hand or third-hand to the litigant. I do not regard that as at all satisfactory. This is a question the Minister should have another look at. I might as well confess that I am talking principally about the situation as it exists in Dublin. I think it may be different in rural Ireland. Gardaí may have greater freedom there as to whether or not they will attend consultations with the legal advisers of litigants, but they do not seem to have in Dublin the freedom I think they should have.
The Minister referred, towards the closing part of his statement, to the Registry of Deeds and the Land Registry. The Minister should realise that as far as the Land Registry is concerned, the position is that most of the building sites inside the city boundaries have already been developed over the years and, consequently, what building work there is is moving gradually outwards to land which is already registered land. Where a building estate starts, there may be 300 or 400 sites on it. Instead of just one transaction—the sale of the land to the developing company—you have on top of that 300 or 400 transactions when the leases are being granted. That must create a difficult situation in the Land Registry. It must create a kind of bottleneck wherever you have these building estates.
Obviously, that work must be done. These people are buying their houses— many of them with loans—and are entitled to get their leases registered with as much expedition as possible. While that work is being done, unless there is a substantial increase in staff, some other work must suffer. I do not in any way fault the officials of the Land Registry. They certainly do their best to facilitate everyone and do it as quickly as they can. They have a difficult task by reason of the fact that building is extending to land already registered. Whatever the Minister can do by means of increasing the staff or increasing the buildings or otherwise to assist in having that situation dealt with quickly, the better.