Last week I dealt with the contributions made by some of my colleagues on this subject. The way we conduct our debates disappoints me. Holding a debate on different days is detrimental, particularly when we are discussing important issues. I accept that under present procedures we cannot have continuity and that other matters must be dealt with, but issues like the Bill under discussion do not get the importance they deserve because they are postponed from one day to another and allocated a couple of hours here and there. It is not an appropriate way to discuss important legislation. No other subject has been debated more here or at public meetings than the law and order issue. Any attempt to crack down on the spate of violence in our streets will get the support of the public. Our people have been subjected to an enormous increase in crime in recent years.
A recent well-publicised survey indicated that people living in the Dublin area can expect to be the victim of some type of crime once in every three years. Such statistics make people like myself receptive and responsive to the needs and wishes of the community. Last year's rise in crime of 9.2 per cent cannot go unnoticed by legislators. However, I contend that the Bill, although I welcome some of its measures, will make little or no impact on our current rate of crime. I am not pessimistic but I believe the fight against the criminal and our anxiety to rid our streets of vandalism and crime must go further than simply giving extra powers to the Garda. I hope the Minister accepts my remarks as being sincere because I do not share the view of other Deputies that this is the right approach. I was happy to note that Deputies Molony, Shatter and Allen, expressed reservations about the Bill, as did some of my colleagues in Fianna Fáil. The sincerity of all Members in regard to doing something genuine to help our people cannot be questioned. We differ on the approach that should be adopted.
I was disappointed that some Members referred to those who make speeches like mine as liberals or do-gooders. That type of emotive reaction to the sincere remarks of Deputies is not the right approach. Without exception we all want to see criminals getting the appropriate medicine. The power we give the Garda, the authority we give our courts and the way we protect civil liberties here is what makes us a democratic and free society and different to a totalitarian regime. Our attitude to civil rights is important and we must go beyond all possible doubt to protect the civil liberties of our citizens. I do not want measures introduced that will affect innocent people and I believe the provisions of this Bill will.
I am disappointed that this debate is taking place in the absence of a White or Green Paper or an overall review of the cause, effect and our approach to crime in recent years. We are approaching the subject in a piecemeal way and that is not adequate. It is an appalling reflection on us all that every few years we pass legislation and leave it until other measures are required. That type of approach will not help to solve the problem. It is not a question of which Government is tough or soft on criminals. On occasions harsh measures lead to more serious problems. We must concern ourselves with the effectiveness of any measures that are introduced and whether they are well received by the public initially is not important. I am aware that when the Bill was first published it received wide support. It seemed to be the type of measure that we needed; but many prominent people, experienced lawyers and others, after closer examination drew attention to some loopholes in it. If the rise in crime continues at its present rate our people will not thank us in six years' time for this legislation.
In the course of his speech the Minister recognised that the most important thing in relation to crime was detection. Unfortunately, our ability to detect criminals has changed radically. In the sixties we had a 60 per cent detection rate and I understand that has dropped to about 30 per cent. The challenge facing politicians is to find a way to reduce the level of crime and ensure the detection rate is improved. We must not make any irresponsible promises or raise public expectations.
I have great respect for the present Minister for Justice; he is doing a fantastic job. But I was disappointed to hear him promise people, in the course of the recent by-election campaign, that he would make their homes safer. He could promise that he would endeavour to make their homes safer, that the Government would introduce any necessary measures, but it cannot be guaranteed that this Bill will go in any way towards making their homes safer. The Minister is as aware of that as I am.
The problems inherent in our society are far more fundamental and warrant more action than simply giving extra powers to the Garda. Behind the rhetoric, the good speeches, the television broadcasts, we must make every effort to go to the very root of the problem and sort out the many social problems existing in our community. No matter how many measures this House passes there will always be a number of people in our society, whether motivated by anger, greed, illness or whatever, who will always fail to live in harmony with their fellow citizen. That is the reality of life; we shall never have a situation in which there will be no crime much as we might like that to obtain.
The fact that this Bill is before the House is indicative of the fact that all of the measures introduced in the past have failed to come to grips with the problems now confronting us. I do not accept, as do many others, that it is a fact of modern society, of a materialistic world, that we should live in a situation in which many people are now the victims of crime. In a small island country like ours with a very low population there is no reason our crime rate should be as high as that obtaining in America or elsewhere. Yet the figures compare most unfavourably with those of most other countries. We must take an honest look at ourselves and ask: why is this the case? We must ensure that our public have confidence in their legislators to introduce the kind of measures and engender the type of approach that will render people happy and confident to live in their homes and walk our streets.
The survey to which I referred earlier indicated, I think, that 46 per cent of Dubliners were afraid to walk within a mile of their homes at night alone. It is appalling to think that in this capital city so many people would be afraid to walk within a mile of their homes at night without being accompanied by another person. These are the kinds of things we must examine in our serious effort to crack down on the criminal and make our streets as safe as they were in the past.
I am not the type of person who believes that social progress alone will lead to elimination of crime. But I believe it can have a great impact on our current wave of crime. Whether or not we like it the vast majority of people in our prisons come from deprived or disadvantaged backgrounds. Very few come from the more privileged sections of our community. In this context it would be good that we would all examine our definition of crime and ask ourselves: are we treating all criminals fairly? How many people who have evaded paying their proper share of taxes are in our jails? How many shopkeepers or traders who have overcharged are in prison? Yet I was horrified recently to hear of a juvenile offender sentenced to one of our institutions for having stolen a pair of gloves worth less than £2. How many developers who have left young couples paying £30,000 or £40,000 for their houses in appalling living conditions in many of our housing estates are in our prisons? The reality is that there is white collar crime in this country. We do not hear very much about that. We do not see many of them in the statistics placed before us all the time.
It is time we redefined our approach to crime and ascertained who exactly are the criminals in our society. Apart from having special enactments dealing with subversive crime, on three occasions only in this House have we introduced Bills dealing with this subject. They were the Courts of Justice Act, 1924, the Criminal Justice Act, 1951 and the Criminal Procedures Act, 1957. There have been major changes in both the structure of our population and the demographic balance within the country. For example, in 1926 25 per cent of our population lived in urban areas; in 1983 65 per cent of our population live in urban areas and it is estimated that, by the year 2000, 80 per cent of our people will live in urban areas. We know also that the change from a rural way of life to an urban one in itself has had a major impact on the escalation of crime. Equally, we are aware of the fact that 55 per cent of our population is under the age of 30 and constitutes a factor because unfortunately, most of the people involved in crime are those in the younger age groups. Yet we have never really fundamentally examined our penal system, our courts system, the method of recruiting of our Garda Síochána or their training or promotional prospects. All of these are fundamental to a proper approach to crime and vandalism and ensuring that justice and fairness are seen to be done to all citizens. There are many archaic pieces of legislation on our Statute Book — for example, the Vagrancy Act of 1824, the Larceny Act of 1916, the Forgery Act of 1913, the Offences Against the Person Act of 1891 and the Children Act of 1908, all of which seem to pre-date even the foundation of the State. Is that not an appalling reflection on all of us in Dáil and Seanad Éireann that we have never made any effort to try to tackle or update this fundamental legislation? But, no in a piecemeal way, every couple of years, we introduce measures, such as the Bill before the House at present hoping that by so doing the problem will go away.
I was happy to read recently a remark attributed to Derek Nally, the retiring General Secretary of the Garda Sergeants' and Inspectors' Association. Indeed, I believe he is retiring today and I should like to avail of this opportunity to pay tribute to the work he has done for that association. He is a man of the highest integrity who has given a very human face to the Garda Síochána. He said that, while strongly advocating effective changes in the criminal law to give the Garda a better chance of tackling crime, he had always believed that this should never be done either in isolation from other necessary organisational changes or to the detriment of the basic citizen's rights. I would maintain that this Bill very much contravenes the views there expressed by Derek Nally.
I wonder if the £250 million to which the Minister referred in his opening remarks — the figure it is costing the taxpayer to fight crime in the current year and protect our citizens, which, I believe, does not include other moneys spent in the form of education and within the Department of Health — is being effectively and appropriately spent? Are there not more efficient and effective ways of spending such an amount of money that would lead us into a safer situation than obtains at present?
The only way we will get answers to these kinds of questions is to carry out a proper investigation, as I said earlier, in the form of a White or Green Paper into the cause of crime, and the effect of our response to crime. Only by talking to all the relevant people, social workers, gardaí, lawyers, prison officers, will we achieve the kind of approach I believe to be relevant to the problem of today. We are still reacting year by year to crime and vandalism rather than devising some sort of preventive method deterring people from involving themselves in crime. For example, between the years 1972 and 1981 our overall crime rate rose by 127.8 per cent. Yet in the same period the detection rate dropped from 43.4 per cent in 1972 — I might add it was about 60 per cent in the sixties — to 36.6 per cent in 1981. In our laws is it not the case that property is held almost more sacred than is human life? How many people who have left so many of our young couples living in appalling conditions in various housing estates — some in my constituency and others elsewhere — have ever been put in jail? How many shopkeepers or traders who have overcharged have ever been put in jail? Likewise how many people who have not paid their adequate share of taxation have ever been put in jail? Yet I repeat that a juvenile, for stealing goods to the value of as little as £2 can often get a sentence in an institution.
Is it not strange also that in this year in this country it is still a crime to be homeless? There are no official figures available but those supplied by the Simon Community indicate that there are 3,000 people homeless in this year in this country. Of course, these people are not even entitled to bail. What have we, as Members of the Oireachtas, done about the plight of these people? Have we done anything to increase the age of criminal responsibility? Is it not strange that a seven-year old child can be deemed to be a criminal? Despite the Kennedy Report of 1970 and the Task Force Report of 1981 on the welfare of children in our society we still have not brought forward a Bill in respect of children's rights. Instead the rights of parents take precedence.
The Minister may say that measures to deal with these matters are necessary. We have an obligation as the people charged with running the country to bring in the social reforms that can make the lifestyle of many of our people much better, which may ensure that young children, as young as nine, ten and eleven, do not get involved in crime. The Minister said that the majority of people living in poverty are never involved in crime. That is true, but the majority of those involved in crime come from poor circumstances, from disadvantaged homes. They live in bad housing conditions; they have poor education. They come from homes in which either or both parents, or a brother or sister, have been in trouble with the law. It is no wonder that many of us canvassing in Dublin's inner city in recent weeks could see the desolation in which many people have to live their lives — the tenement blocks in which many young couples have to bring up their children. They are absolutely appalling conditions.
Is it any wonder that children from these backgrounds see no future, when there are no jobs, when there is only poor education, but to get involved in crime? Is it not strange in 1983 in Ireland that we see young children begging in the streets trying to get a few pence to bring home to their parents? Later I will deal with the responsibility of parents. The fact that 33.1 per cent of those involved in crime last year were juveniles is a sad reflection on parents. It is time we looked at the possibility of making parents responsible for the supervision of the activities of their young children. It horrifies me to see in my constituency and elsewhere very young children out very late at night without parental supervision. Many of these parents are often in pubs and could not care less about their children. It is time they were made responsible for them.
Lack of parental supervision has resulted in many of those young children being involved in joyriding, etc. They have taken the lives of some people and seriously injured others. Particularly in Tallaght and Clondalkin in my constituency, many young children are now able to steal cars and use them to destroy property and human lives. I am glad that the Bill introduces stricter penalties in cases such as this.
I am glad the Government have a task force to look into the drugs problem, and in this connection I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Labour who is a member of the committee. We have a major drug problem and there can be no doubt that the drug culture is part and parcel of our crime problem. I was saddened to see a recent BBC programme which estimated that 10 per cent of young children in inner city Dublin are heroin addicts. That is a frightening figure. We must tackle that problem in a serious way. Deputy Woods suggested that it should be made a specific offence to push or to distribute or to be involved in the distribution of drugs.
We cannot underestimate the impact the drug culture is having on the rising rate of crime. No Government Department have bothered to investigate the reasons why people involve themselves in crime. I will refer, however, to two surveys in 1979 by the Prisoners' Rights Organisation. One is a survey of 50 children living in inner city Dublin who had delinquent records; the other is a record of 200 adult offenders. In both it was indicated that those people were born in slums, came from large families in which the parents' income was very low. In many cases unemployment was the norm. The surveys indicate that in 20 per cent of the cases one or both parents had been involved in crime and one-third of those involved were illiterate. Is that not an appalling reflection on our educational system?
The surveys also indicated that the pattern of criminal behaviour began in childhood: 51 per cent of those ex-prisoners had first been convicted when they were between the ages of 11 and 15 years; 24 per cent were first convicted when they were between the ages of 16 and 21. It is frightening to realise that crime has its beginning almost in childhood. Crime is growing faster in deprived areas and a small number of people are involved in many crimes — as many as 40 or 50 people can be involved in a series of crimes. We will have to do something about that.
Yesterday I was very pleased to meet in Leinster House representatives from the National Youth Council of Ireland which comprises many youth organisations who do excellent voluntary work in youth activities. I pay a tribute to Deputy Birmingham who is charged with youth affairs for the work he is doing in this area. Those young people are working with 350,000 youngsters throughout the country. They came here yesterday to lobby politicians, to ask for a mere £2 million from the budget next year. It is a small amount for those volunteers who look after so many young people throughout the country. They and the many affiliated organisations, such as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides and others are helping to keep many young people from very bad homes out of crime. I hope the money requested yesterday will be granted.
In his speech the Minister dealt with detection. I agree with him that speedy detection is fundamental in the fight against crime. Subsequently, the Minister said it is important to have a deterrent. Though we appreciate that a deterrent is very important in the fight against crime, the official figures do not bear this out. For example, the Annual Report on Prisons for 1979 indicated that of the 2,025 committed on conviction in that year, 50 per cent had already served previous sentences. In the case of males, 58 per cent had served previous sentences and 41 per cent of females had done so. Twenty-five per cent of males and 18 per cent of females had served between one and five sentences, and 34 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women had served between five and 20 sentences already. Between nine and ten per cent of both sexes had served 20 sentences before. Does that indicate there is any deterrent in putting people into prison or institutions? I suggest it does not.
In the fight against crime detection is very important. It is important that they be detected young because many people start their criminal activities at a very early stage and then go on to serious crime. In a country where we are told that 40 per cent of all crimes are not even reported to the Garda, it is not any wonder that the detection rate is not high, because 40 per cent of crimes cannot be detected because they are not reported.
We must ask ourselves why people do not report crime. It may be suggested there is lack of confidence in the Garda. I say that we can be proud of the Garda. However, many of my constituents have told me they did not bother to report crime because when they would ring them up, because of the demands on their time the Garda very often might not be able to come for some time when they are told of a burglary or some other such crime. Many Deputies have reported such matters and they have been investigated. We hear from local residents' groups that they do not bother to report crimes. That is a pity and we must seriously examine it because if crimes are not reported the detection rate cannot be high.
I said earlier that 33 per cent of people involved in crime in Ireland last year were under the age of 17 years. That is an appalling reflection on parents, many of whom are totally irresponsible in regard to the rearing of their children. Parents have an obligation, and should have this obligation enforced by law, to look after and supervise the activities of their children. We cannot fail in our responsibility to help in fighting the crime rate. Parents, teachers, priests, politicians and Garda have a responsibility to fight the crime rate and, in so far as parents have a contribution to make, it is in the proper rearing and looking after of their children.
I was happy to read a speech recently which the Minister gave to the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors. In referring to crime in general, he said that it is the family who are best placed to set standards of behaviour and to exercise control. Unless parents accepted this responsibility and acted accordingly, the involvement of young people in crime would continue to increase and the best efforts of the Garda would be futile. I agree with the Minister, and I think the time has come when it should be a criminal offence for parents in certain circumstances to fail to supervise or look after their children. It is not good enough to have very young children wandering the streets at night, some of them begging for money to bring back to their parents. That is not good enough and the parents must be held responsible.
In relation to our drugs problem, I was very happy to see one of the People of the Year awards given to Denis Mullins, head of the Garda Drug Squad. He, among others, has spearheaded a campaign to try to rid the country of a problem which is slowly creeping up on us. There are no official figures available on how many drug-related crimes are committed — in other words, how many people commit crime in order to pay for drugs. When you hear that some people need £100 per day to supply them with drugs, you must be under no illusions as to where most of them get that money. They get it by committing serious offences in the form of robberies and so on and the time has come to set up a proper system for dealing with drug offenders. It is an appalling reflection that we have no proper residential facilities for young offenders.
We heard recently that prisons are now becoming major centres for drug pushing. Prison is not the place to deal with drug addicts. With the exception of the Coolmine centre, we have no proper residential institution to deal with young drug addicts and that is no longer good enough in a country that has a major drug crisis. I hope that the task force which the Government recently set up to examine our drug problem will come up with the kind of solutions that will provide young people who drift into drugs with some form of residential care where they can be helped with their problem and rehabilitated. It would be worth while, through our educational system and the showing of video cassettes and so on, to make children aware of the seriousness of drug addition. Recently I watched such a film — I think it was on "The Late Late Show"— and, although it was sensational and may have frightened many people, it is a very serious problem and it is as well to show it to our young people at a very early age before it is too late. Prevention is better than cure.
Last year, for example, 1,593 people were found in possession of drugs, an increase of 26.83 per cent on the previous year. There were 1,873 seizures, a remarkable increase, and I congratulate the Drug Squad on the increase of 55.56 per cent in seizures. However, there is a need for better equipment and facilities to be given to the Garda Drug Squad. From available statistics, 25 per cent of those involved in drugs here are women and yet there are only two ban-ghardaí in the Drug Squad. That is totally inadequate and I hope that the Government will soon give an increased allocation of ban-ghardaí to the Drug Squad. Deputy Woods referred to the need to introduce in the list of scheduled offences under the Offences Against the State Act an offence for the pushing and distribution of drugs and it is high time that was done.
Earlier, I referred to the fact that our courts, penal system and our method of recruiting, training and promoting members of the Garda Síochána had not changed much since the foundation of the State. In many cases our courts are in an appalling condition, especially many of our District Courts. There are no basic facilities, not even toilets, in some of our courtrooms. Clients have to see their legal advisers outside the door, in a car or in a local pub. It is an appalling reflection that we have not done something to improve our courtroom facilities and make them adequate for presentday demands. The length of time it takes in very many cases from the time somebody is prosecuted until the case is either brought before the court or finalised is far too long. In the case of the District Court, it is no longer appropriate that the Garda should bring their own prosecutions. They are there to detect crime and perhaps to act as witnesses. In very many cases the Garda fail to get convictions simply because they are not as well versed in the law as solicitors or barristers. As a result of Garda prosecutions, many people are getting off.
It is also no longer appropriate that gardaí should have to witness the signing of unemployment forms. This is taking them away from the real work of detecting crime and patrolling the streets. We are fortunate in having a Garda force of the highest integrity. They command the respect of the public and it is important we ensure that this continues. Bills such as this may well lead in the future to public confidence in the Garda being brought into question, because I believe the success of the Garda force relies to a very large extent on the kind of confidence and respect which the public have in them. In the 60 years or so since the Garda Síochána were formed there have been no changes in structure, recruitment or training. Is it appropriate that only 22 weeks of training is given? It is appalling that the training period is so short and that there is no practical training given on that course.
Our Garda force now numbers 11,000 and we must be one of the most policed countries in Western Europe. They must adapt to the changing circumstances and environment which now exists. The majority of people now live in urban areas. Problems related to urban development are very different from when the Garda force were formed early in the century. It is time we looked into the matter of selection of our Garda recruits. We must also look into their training and promotional prospects and ensure that that is done by an independent board. We must also ensure that they have the facilities and equipment that will allow them to fight the crime rate. There is no point in giving the Garda powers if they do not have adequate facilities.
There are about 60 gardaí assigned to the Tallaght Garda station. I have been endeavouring for some time to have at least one female garda allocated there. I was told it is not possible to assign a female garda to that station because the proper facilities do not exist there for her. This is appalling in an area where nearly 70,000 people live. The Tallaght Garda station is virtually the same now as it was in the early sixties when Tallaght had no more than a few hundred people. If we are sincere about fighting crime we must provide the Garda with the proper facilities, equipment and conditions in which to carry out their work.
It is time we turned our attention to the criteria for the selection of gardaí Without casting any reflection on the force, about 20 per cent of those serving now are under the age of 25. Are these young men and women, who have spent all their lives up to now in a rural environment and who have had only 22 weeks of training for the Garda, equipped properly to be put into an urban environment where there is rampant crime? I suggest that those young gardaí are neither trained nor equipped to be in control of the sort of situations with which they must deal in this city. They are faced with problems that are totally new to them. A 22-week training period is totally inadequate. In a recent edition of theGarda Review, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors recommended the introduction of a psychological assessment test for persons joining the force. Such a test would be ideal in terms of measuring the suitability of people for the job. It would measure their emotional reaction in certain situations and would give an indication of their level of integrity and so on. It is time that this sort of psychological test were introduced.
In regard to motivation within the force, it is fundamental that the Garda be allowed, without political interference, to have people of the highest integrity and people best suited to the job promoted to the important positions. Some years ago the Ryan Commission of Inquiry reported on conditions within the force in regard to promotions. That report indicated that a minimum of 15 years elapses before a garda is promoted to management level. Those posts above the rank of superintendent are still filled by the Government. That is not sufficient in this day and age. It is time to have a proper independent promotions board within the Garda.
Again, on the question of training, a garda who has been in the force for some time would need retraining programmes from time to time; but, with the exception of one course organised by the NIHE and which 14 gardaí are attending voluntarily, there is no other retraining course available for members of the force. In Britain, for example, the situation is totally different. There ought to be a different method employed, too, in relation to people entering the force. In other countries people with certain professional expertise, particularly in the area of detective work, may enter the police force even if they are not very young. There is a need, too, for us to recruit people who have expertise in specific areas, who have experience that they could not have had on joining the force at an early age.
If we as legislators are to introduce the kind of measures that will deal effectively with the crime rate we must ensure that we have the most efficient Garda force possible. It is for that reason that I stress the importance both of the training of gardaí and of the conditions in which they must work.
The retiring secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, Mr. Nally, outlined recently his wish for the introduction of a police declaration. He, together with others, was responsible for the agreement between various European countries of a declaration for police. This would allow a garda to have proper safeguards in relation to the carrying out of his duties. It would ensure that gardaí who do their work with integrity and in an impartial manner would be afforded every protection in resisting those who would have them act otherwise. Members of the Garda must be beyond all possible reproach. Unfortunately, as Derek Nally has said, Ireland, in common with other European countries, has been very reluctant to introduce this code of professional conduct. The Council of Ministers has failed so far to sign an agreement in this regard which was agreed four years ago by the Council of Europe. It is important that we outline this clearly, that we leave no ambivalence, in so far as the rights, the duties and the obligations of our Garda force are concerned. That is why a declaration for the Garda would go a long way to allaying public fear in respect of the measure that is going through the Dáil now.
Some time ago the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors recommended in a very fine document the introduction of community policing. Unfortunately, that document got very little attention in this House. This is the way in which the Garda force of the future must develop. There must be a two-tier structure whereby Garda will have very close contact with local communities and where somebody who would be responsible for a particular housing area would work with the various agencies working within that area — with police, teachers, doctors, social workers and so on. This would allow the Garda to have a more personal relationship with the people they are supposed to patrol. It would allow them to have first-hand experience of the kind of problems being experienced in any area. Our present system does not allow the Garda to patrol areas adequately because of the demands on their time. Many of them are involved in prosecutions in court while others must witness the signing of unemployment forms and so on. This involves a lot of time, particularly in the large centres of population.
Having praised the integrity of our Garda Síochána and the work they have done, I am disappointed in relation to this Bill that the Minister did not see fit to introduce either first or at the same time a proper and comprehensive complaints procedure. In his opening speech he said that a complaints procedure will be established. I am happy to hear that. The Minister has said that the complaints procedure may not involve legislation but he has given an assurance that at least there would be debate on the issue in both Houses prior to the establishment of that procedure.
Before we can discuss this Bill adequately it is important that we know who will be responsible for appointing the complaints board; how they will be appointed; if they will be appointed, as I think they should, by the courts or by the Chief Justice; to whom they will be answerable; and also what kind of people will serve on the board. We should know whether they will hear oral evidence and whether they will meet in public or in private. Also, we should be told what action they will take against any garda who breaks the law. These are all fundamental questions that must be answered before we can pass a Bill of this kind.
There have been cases in which gardaí have been charged with criminal offences. There are some such cases before the courts at the moment. In any group of 11,000 people there are bound to be a few who will engage in criminal activity. In a recent edition ofMagill magazine I read an article entitled “The Seeds of a Police State.” It was alleged in that article that Oscar Breathnach, Nicky Kelly and Brian McNally were ill-treated by members of the Garda and that no investigation of any kind was undertaken into the evidence that this had occurred. Articles of that kind do untold damage to our Garda force. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that we will have a complaints procedure in due course. It emerged in a recent case that was heard in the Special Criminal Court that a garda had invented a statement in which it was alleged that an arrested person had committed a certain crime but that that person had not made any such admission. There may be such allegations against only a very small number of gardaí but these do serious damage to the morale of what is a very respectable and honest force. Unless the complaints procedure is introduced forthwith, allegations of this kind will increase with a corresponding decrease in the confidence that the public have in the Garda.
No fight against crime will be successful if in the first place the people do not have confidence in and respect for the Garda. In October 1977 the then Government established the Ó Briain Committee for the purpose of recommending certain safeguards for persons in custody and for members of the Garda. The Ó Briain report came to the conclusion that the protection of a person in Garda custody and the protection of the Garda from false allegations are two sides of the same coin. It is as important to protect people in custody as it is to protect the good name and reputation of the Garda. Despite the fact that that report was made some years ago we have done virtually nothing about it and this Bill does nothing to introduce many of the reccommendations of the Ó Briain Commission.
Our legal system has one very good provision, that is, that a person is innocent until proven guilty. That is fundamental to our legal and judicial process. I am disappointed that in this Bill we see an erosion of this principle. We will be virtually switching, from the courtroom to the Garda station the trial of a suspected person who has been arrested and charged. I am disappointed about that.
I welcome measures in the Bill, particularly that in relation to the notice of an alibi, which is long overdue. Equally, I welcome the decision to introduce majority verdicts in criminal trials and the provisions in relation to bail and stiffer penalties for those involved in car stealing and so on. However, I am disappointed that the Bill contains no provision in relation to handbag snatching which has caused great distress to many female members of the population. Many women have suffered quite severe injuries at the hands of criminals involved in this type of activity. Picking pockets and similar crimes are not mentioned in the Bill.
Section 3 of the Bill gives the Garda powers to detain a person suspected of having committed an offence worthy of five years or more imprisonment and it gives them extraordinary powers to take that person in and question him for some time. Many may say that there is nothing really wrong with that, and maybe it is the price we must pay in order to make our streets safer or to fight the criminal. If it is the price we are all prepared to pay it, but as we are paying the price we are entitled to get value for our money. We are entitled at least to have access there and then to a legal adviser. This measure gives the Garda only the responsibility to inform the person of his right to consult a solicitor and, following that, to inform the solicitor as soon as is practicable. We do not know when "practicable" might be; it could be hours. That is not good enough. The duty must rest on the garda in question to inform the solicitor within, say, two hours and that may be too long in some cases. Some people will ask where you can get a solicitor at a particular time. We could have available a panel of solicitors who would serve on some kind of rota basis and would be available at all times to be consulted by persons in detention. Because of the serious changes being made in these measures in the Bill it is absolutely fundamental that a solicitor or legal adviser be there when the person is answering questions.
Equally, it is not good enough that the garda must inform either the next of kin or the named person as soon as practicable. If a person is arrested and taken in, being suspected of having committed a crime, the wife, husband, mother, father or whoever the person wants to be notified is entitled to be notified. I can envisage very many people staying up for many hours waiting for husband, wife or whoever to come home not knowing where the person is. It is not good enough to inflict that kind of punishment on people in custody who may well be innocent or on their families. This Bill should provide for an obligation on the Garda to inform the next of kin or named person within a specific time. Regarding juveniles, it is not right that any juvenile should be questioned and detained by the Garda in the absence of a parent. It is of paramount importance that the parent or guardian be informed forthwith of the juvenile's detention and the juvenile should have the right to have the parent or guardian there. It is equally important to have a solicitor present.
This section will militate particularly against the less well-educated. Most people, particularly ordinary Irish people, never come into contact with the law. If a person is suspected by a garda — who has to have only reasonable grounds for suspicion; he does not have to tell the person so and it appears there is nowhere to record what the reasonable grounds are — when that person is taken into a Garda station he will probably react in a very strange way as most people do because they are not accustomed to being in a Garda station. It is of paramount importance to the impartiality of what is being conducted and for the rights of the individual that he has present his legal adviser and his parent or next of kin. I am appalled that that provision is not included in the Bill. What are we afraid of? I can see many court cases leading to swearing matches as to who said what. The garda may say one thing, the citizen may say another, with no independent person there.
The punishment for committing a crime must be given only after a court has properly and fully decided that that person is guilty and if there is any doubt as to his guilt then no punishment should be inflicted. In this Bill punishment will be inflicted before we even know if the person has committed a crime. That is an appalling loophole in the legislation. In 1981, for example, 2,303 people were arrested in Ireland and only 323 of that number were subsequently charged. In 1982 the number arrested was 2,308 and only 256 were charged. In 1982, in other words, eight out of every nine people arrested were innocent. If these figures are to apply after this Bill is passed, are we to assume that eight out of every nine people who will suffer as a result of these measures will be innocent and will be held in a Garda station without a solicitor, parent or the next of kin, for many hours? We must look seriously at what we are passing here because it will create enormous problems for us and for our Garda force. I want to quote the remarks of Sergeant John O'Brien in relation to the first few sections of the Bill as published in theGarda Review. He said:
Criminal trials are an exercise in semantics with elaborate games being played with the rules of evidence and particularly the law on the admissability of evidence being the main target. I believe that the above-mentioned matters — sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill — are likely to make this situation worse.
I am worried about section 5 particularly since I am one of the few women Deputies in this Dáil. When I contradict an official statement issued by the Minister of State with responsibility for Women's Affairs I do not do so with any disrespect to her. I have great respect for Deputy Fennell. I saw fit at the weekend to outline my reservations about the powers being given to the Garda in relation to strip-searching. It is not good enough that a male garda under the direction of a superintendent can strip-search a female if he suspects her of having explosive weapons on her person or being in possession of drugs. A strip-search examination can be a very intimate internal examination. I made those remarks and they were reported in Monday'sIrish Press. In response to those remarks Deputy Fennell issued the following statement which I will read into the record of the House:
Deputy Mary Harney is reported in today'sIrish Press as having said that Section 5 of the Criminal Justice Bill, 1983, would allow male gardaí to strip-search female suspects in a most intimate way. That is not correct. There is no question of a person being strip-searched except by a member of the Garda of the same sex. The existing instructions issued to the gardaí make it clear that any search of a female person must be carried out by a female and, so far as the Minister is aware, there has never been any complaint that these instructions are not strictly adhered to.
The Minister of State continued:
What the Bill in fact does is to prohibit strip-searching except where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that drugs or explosives are concealed. Even then, it can be done only on the authority of a superintendent. At present there is no statutory prohibition on strip-searching so that in this respect the Bill provides an additional safeguard to detained persons.