The last speaker was from the Government side, therefore the next speaker must be from the Opposition side.
Criminal Justice Bill, 1983: Second Stage (Resumed).
I welcome this opportunity to say a few words on this long overdue legislation which, unfortunately, is necessary in our society today. Over the past number of years all types of crime have increased — robberies, rapes, murders and assaults. The basic values of our society seem to be losing ground at an alarming rate and a general acceptance of the principle "it is all right if I am not caught" seems to be becoming more prevalent. The notion of the right of the individual before and above the common good at all costs seems to rule. I am not advocating that the common good should be the over-riding premise in judging individual cases but that the total emphasis on the right of the individual should be re-examined.
We are all aware that there have been many cases before the courts where individuals who committed serious crimes were acquitted due to their lawyers being able to use loopholes in the law to their advantage. To my way of thinking, this is wrong and no legal jargon or rationalisation will convince me that a wrong is right. No matter what the world says, the spirit of the law should rule, and a person who has committed a serious crime and gets off because of the legal wizardry of his lawyer is still guilty in my eyes and should be made account for his wrongdoing.
With regard to the provisions in the Bill, I was particularly delighted to see the provisions in sections 9 and 11 which relate to offences committed by the person out on bail. As we all know, people out on bail often take advantage of the situation. Many of them spend that time before they are brought back to court committing more crimes. Up to now they have known that their sentences will be concurrent and therefore they do not worry very much about what they are doing. I am glad to say this situation has been changed under this Bill.
Another serious crime which is happening every day in our cities and throughout the country is the stealing of motor vehicles. Not only is the stealing of a vehicle a serious crime — these vehicles are very expensive and most people have to go into debt to buy them and when they are found they are broken up or burned out — but the people who steal them joyride around the city, damage property and knock down people. Only yesterday a young lad stole a car and during his joyride knocked down and killed a citizen. This has got to stop. The provisions in this Bill to cover this crime are very badly needed and will be a real deterrent. The sooner they are brought into effect the better for society.
Robberies from building sites, shops and households are increasing at a dramatic rate. The main reason is that people who do not have money steal these goods and then sell them. To whom do they sell them? They sell them to the ordinary people, our neighbours. These people do not ask any questions. The provision in section 15 which requires individuals to account for property they buy which a member of the Garda has reasonable grounds for believing has been acquired due to a crime, is good because until the people who buy stolen goods are made responsible for their actions there is very little chance of cutting down on these kinds of robberies and thefts from building sites. This kind of legislation is very important in cracking down on this type of crime. In my view the people who receive stolen goods are as guilty as the people who perpetrate the crime. I am very glad therefore to see that section in the Bill.
The sections which seem to have given rise to most discussion are sections 3, 16, 17 and 18. These relate to the rights of the individual. No doubt there is need for a period of detention for the purpose of questioning. I cannot but accept that this must be but, side by side with that, there must be proper safeguards to ensure individual rights are not abused. This is important from the point of view of the individual and it is also important from the point of view of the Garda Síochána. Over many years they have built up a good name. They have built up goodwill and respect within the community. If there are not proper safeguards in the relevant sections this goodwill, this good name and this respect built up over many years may become tarnished. I would like to see the Minister bringing in certain safeguards to ensure that the rights of the individual are protected and the good name of the Garda is not tarnished.
Sections 16, 17 and 18 have come in for a great deal of adverse criticism, and rightly so. Under section 16 an obligation is placed on an individual to give information about a crime if he is interviewed in regard to it. As we all know, questioned before a group of people there are bound to be things a person questioned may omit. Hopefully, when we come to Committee Stage the Minister will bring in some safeguards in this regard.
It would take a lawyer to tease out all the implications of the fundamental changes these sections envisage. Deputy Molony in his contribution gave an indepth exposition of the changes and the results that may follow. I believe the great majority of the people feel these sections should not be passed as they stand since they could lead to even greater confusion and greater injustices than possibly exist at the moment.
In general, this Bill is an attempt to reduce the ever-increasing crime rate. I do not believe it will succeed because of the wrong direction our society as a whole seems to have taken. The underlying causes of the ills in our society are the ever-increasing rise in unemployment coupled with the breakdown in family life. Unemployment means many idle hands and, as we all know, the devil finds work for idle hands to do. There are more and more idle hands every day. Yesterday another 1,500 were added to the unemployment register. These people have nothing to do and they turn to crime. Until the Government do something positive about unemployment there will be a continuing increase in crime. The family has been the basis of our society and the breakdown of family life today is a contributory cause to the increasing crime rate. It is incumbent on parents to teach their children their rights and not only their rights but also their duties. With rights there are also duties. As far as I can see, people spend most of the time talking about their rights and forget about their duties. It is vitally important that duties should be taught as well as rights and there should be more education in regard to the duties of a citizen to his country.
In conclusion, though I welcome the Bill in general, unless unemployment is tackled seriously and greater support given to the family the effect of this Bill will be minimal. This may sound pessimistic but, as President De Gaulle once said: "History does not teach fatalism. There are moments when the will of a handful of freemen breaks through determinism and opens up new roads". I believe there are enough free men in the country and in this Parliament who, in time, will open up new roads throughout this country and make it a better place for all of us to live in.
Over the past few weeks a great deal has been said about this Bill. I would like now to express my opinion about many of the provisions in this Bill. Many Deputies have praised the Bill. Many have welcomed it. I have read every line and every clause and I describe the Bill as too little too late. This Bill is long overdue and I am very surprised at the many in public life and elsewhere who profess to speak on behalf of others and express reservations about certain provisions in the Bill. It must be borne in mind that we are not living in normal times and, if we are not living in normal times, we cannot expect normal legislation. Those who object to many of the provisions in the Bill must be made to realise that we are in an emergency situation. No matter how harsh the Bill may seem to be — it is designed to deal with a chaotic situation — there is nothing to prevent this House from repealing any objectionable sections as soon as we return to normal times and normal conditions — in other words, as soon as crime may be said to be under control.
I would have liked this Bill to have been introduced five to seven years ago. Had that been done many of the serious crimes that have taken place in that period would not have taken place. How long does it take Government to realise the seriousness of many of the problems that exist? It almost seems as if Government does not realise the seriousness until we are on the very brink of chaos. We are today on the verge of complete collapse. Society has broken down whether we like it or not. How many times have we been warned about society breaking down?
Even if the provisions of this Bill were put into effect at midnight tonight, I doubt very much that they would make much difference in a society where respect for other people's property, for the law, for authority and, above all, for each other has gone. Respect for truth, integrity, and honesty is gone. How can we restore that respect in the immediate future?
This State is in a serious stage of decay. Parliament itself is not functioning as we would like to see it functioning. Tens of thousands of people outside Parliament are losing respect for our parliamentary institutions, for what is said here, what is done here, for authority. They have no interest in parliamentary proceedings. That is very sad and serious. What will it be like in three years from now, or in six years from now? If we double the decay over the past five years I do not think many people will wish to participate in Irish society.
Irish society has broken down. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that we as parliamentarians must take our share of the blame for allowing Irish society to decline to the extent to which it has declined. This State is in danger. How often do we have to underline those words? When we address responsible Ministers of the Government, are we addressing people who let them in one ear and out the other and are firmly convinced that these things cannot happen? Any responsible Minister who does not believe we are on the threshold of a complete collapse has not got his feet on the ground and is not listening to the grassroots who know what is happening all around them.
I would not make this speech in this House 20 years ago because the grounds for this speech did not exist 20 years ago. They are now of frightening proportions. Members of the House who believe this are not true to themselves unless they speak up with courage and determination in this House while we have a House in which to speak. The State cannot function properly unless we have laws respected by all the people and enacted for the common good of the majority. We cannot have laws which will suit everyone 100 per cent. We have a duty to legislate for the common good of the majority of our people. This Criminal Justice Bill is for the common good of the majority of the people.
There will always be a minority who will try to drive a coach and four through every law and every regulation. Usually the one crowd is associated with every form of protest. Usually the one crowd and their connections, colleagues, confederates and friends object and find fault, and try to organise ways to destroy what is designed to help the majority and to be for the common good of the people, their security and the proper functioning of the State — in other words, the preservation of democracy as we knew it in the past.
The Criminal Justice Bill is necessary because democracy is breaking down, if it has not broken down already to a great extent. How often must Members of this House rise in their places to warn all and sundry of the chaotic seriousness, the deadly seriousness, of the whole Irish scene. We have organised crime in every shape and form. There was a time when crime was committed in the dead of nght. When we look back we see those crimes were petty. Now serious crimes are committed publicly in broad daylight. Crime has taken root. This is an attack on the citizens, and an attack on the proper and free functioning of society and of the State.
If we are to have freely functioning democratic institutions, we must have the goodwill of the community. We must have the support of the people, the admiration and respect of the people. In turn, we cannot close our eyes to the demands of the people, reasonable demands for their own safety and protection, for the security of their property, their right to live and to possess property, their right to hold on to what they earned honestly and justly. That is the kind of society I believe in. That is the kind of society which is dying a quick and painful death. What are we to do about it? In dealing with many problems in this House and outside it we have not got our priorities right. We should put first the security of our people. All citizens should be guaranteed a safe awakening in the morning, with their property intact. Whether they live in a humble council cottage or one of the great mansions, remnants of the past, they are entitled to security and privacy, without fear of invasion from apprentice or experienced criminals.
This is not a bad Bill because it will help the State to function properly, which it is not doing at present. Our Army and Garda force are there not just to enforce the laws of Parliament but to safeguard and advise the citizens. Any police force which is functioning properly is friendly towards the people, guaranteeing them their rights, their freedom and their security. One of the first signs of a breakdown in democracy is demonstrated by the Army and the police force being unable to cope with the situation. I say with all sincerity and for the record that our police force is as good as that of any democratic state in the world but they must have the support of the community and the backing of Parliament in giving them the necessary authority to safeguard life and property. Respect for life and property is at a very low ebb here at present.
Some of us, by meeting with and discussing our problems with members of Parliament from abroad and by reading, like to ascertain what is going on elsewhere. In our own lifetime we have seen democratic government breakdown in so many European countries. Democracy disappeared and then reappeared in Greece. The same happened in Spain and also in Portugal. We have seen a complete breakdown of law and order in Turkey. To remedy the situation of democratic collapse, drastic action has had to be taken, mainly based on the safeguarding of the lives and property of the citizens.
The wave of crime which we have been experiencing has been compounded, as the last speaker said, by our present economic conditions of close on a quarter of a million unemployed. Unemployment undoubtedly leads to all forms of crime. The year 1983 is a singular one in that so many well-educated people are now unemployed. They have time to think, to plan. They have nothing else to do and the future holds very little for them. With the best intentions in the world, many may be forced through economic necessity to embark, perhaps unintentionally, on crime, in order to provide food for their dependants. This is made evident by some court cases. You cannot have society functioning reasonably well on one side and not on the other. If this Bill helps to maintain law and order in the future, with it must come a complete change in our attitude to our economic conditions. We must change the economic circumstances which lead to crime, such as bad housing, broken homes, broken marriages, unemployment and lack of money. The gap between our poor and our rich is getting ever wider. This leads to people questioning why others have the world's goods and they have not and they blame society and Parliament. They are entitled to their share of the goods, with security.
The present economic circumstances are a source of disorder and discontent and lead to grave problems for our police force. This means that the police do not get the full backing of the entire society in their fight against crime. When the State was founded, our Army, Garda force and our courts were established. It was not an easy task establishing a police force and an army. It was an extremely difficult task establishing the courts. We are a young nation in comparison with many countries, but I am afraid we now appear to be approaching a very serious and dangerous crossroads in our history. Our Army are there to assist the Garda force in the event of a complete breakdown of law and order and our Garda force are there as the first line of civic defence to ensure the rights of citizens and the safeguarding of their life and property. The courts are there to administer the law. Since our Army and our police force were established they have acquitted themselves well. Our Judiciary are men of a very high standard of integrity.
The gardaí who will enforce the laws and regulations in this Bill can be described as men of integrity who are there to protect all citizens rights. For our very survival as citizens of a free country we depend very much on the integrity of the Garda force, the strength of our Army and the impartiality and integrity of the men who are sitting on the benches of our Courts in order to administer the law as they find it and as passed by the House. We speak of courts, but the vital supreme court in the land is this House. We make the laws here. Not alone should we be seen to make the laws but we should make the laws to meet the occasion, to meet the circumstances and to make those laws fit in with the times and conditions in which we live.
This Criminal Justice Bill is not out of place in the House today. It should have been passed a long time ago. When the Bill becomes law it will give additional powers to the Garda Síochána. There are many people who do not want the Garda Síochána to have those powers. If a person is law-abiding he need never fear those who will implement the terms of the laws passed in this House. This Bill will at least scratch the surface. However, I have a feeling that things are going out of hand so rapidly that all the provisions of this Bill may not be sufficient to restore us to where we were in happier times. No man can deny that, in order to cope with the extent of organised crime and educated criminals, we must have legislation to give somebody the authority to cope with the activities of those people in their undesirable acts against others.
Our jury trials left a lot to be desired and I am glad to see in this Bill there will be an improvement because of the majority decisions. I hope a new look will be taken at the whole administration of law in our courts. The long delay in disposing of court lists has caused great concern. While those charged with responsibility on the bench are doing what they can to clear the variety of cases before them, frequent conferences should be held either at the command of the President of the District Court or the Chief Justice to ensure that cases are not allowed to hang over for months and even for years. If a reorganisation is necessary for that purpose, let it take place. If there are not enough judges and justices to deal with this, let us appoint more. What is wrong with doing that? The work must go on. It is a very serious situation to have court cases hanging over for a very undesirable length of time. In recent times there has been great uneasiness felt by citizens who fear house-breaking and robbery. We are not free people if we cannot defend the helpless; and is there a meaner offence than entering the homes of aged people, beating them up and stealing their meagre savings?
People in rural areas are living in dread. House-breaking and robberies must be stopped. However, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that we played our part in encouraging the city criminal to go down the country because we closed a vast number of Garda stations in rural areas. When are they going to be reopened? Perhaps officials in the Department of Justice and the Garda Síochána think there is no need for Garda stations in rural areas. The very presence of a garda in an area is a deterrent to crime. A number of Garda stations in my own constituency have been closed down and, if they were open, the crime rate would not be so high.
Some time ago the Minister for Justice said he was having a complete review of the structures of the Garda Síochána. The existing structures have existed since 1923 and one cannot compare the type of crime then with what is facing us today. I have the greatest respect and admiration for the founder members of the Garda Síochána, who are now very thin in numbers because most of them are dead. However, they set a great example. They worked for very little and many were on duty for 24 hours a day. There were no squad cars then; they had to patrol the length and breadth of the country on foot. I salute them by saying they made a good job of it. We must ask ourselves whether the techniques of a modern police force have improved the situation. I do not think so. Because the crime rate is so bad the gardaí should be back on the streets in pairs or in groups and there must be no place described as a no go area for members of the Garda.
People should know members of the Garda and, more importantly, the gardaí should know them. How many of us would be able to name the gardaí in our own stations? There is a great gap between the police force and the community. The founder members of the force were everywhere. They knew everybody and participated in community activities. With the introduction of the Noxious Weeds Act and the School Attendance Act they were dealing with almost every member of the community. There were daily dealings in every shop and they were a part of our lives. What has caused the great separation between the Garda and the people, a separation which has contributed to robberies and beatings? Old people live in fear, cars are being stolen, burned and broken up.
Rape has become very common. It is not safe for young girls to be out alone at night. God be with the days when any girl could walk home from a dance at any hour unaccompanied. Those days are now only a memory. Long ago doors were not locked in rural areas; indeed, the key was often left in the door day and night. But people cannot do that today. This was characteristic of life in rural Ireland and it has changed to this extraordinary extent. There is a huge increase in the incidence of burglaries. In this respect I welcome the inclusion of a provision for a full investigation and examination in relation to stolen property found in the possession of a person other than the thief. Perhaps this kind of crime would not be so prevalent if there was not a market for the stolen goods, if people were not prepared to buy and sell at a profit goods they know to have been stolen. Undoubtedly, the root cause of this whole situation is the ignoring of the Seventh Commandment. It is as if there were no such commandment. The thieves will say that it is for others or that because the people from whom they steal have so much they will not miss what is stolen, but the Seventh Commandment is as relevant and as binding today as it was when it was given, with the other Commandments, to Moses.
People have lost their entire sense of values, public, social and moral. They have lost their sense of value not only in regard to themselves but in regard to society. I hold the large incidence of breakdown in family life to be responsible for a good deal of the crime that is committed. Why do we not hear more from men in public life, from both Church and State, about taking what belongs to others? What are we in public life doing to help restore the social and moral values that meant so much to our people in the past? But, if we cannot be successful in this respect, we must have laws which will enforce the protection of people's property, laws which will allow our people to live without the interference of the thief or of organised criminals. Therefore, I am glad that the Bill includes a section to deal with the car thief. Those who are the victims of this type of crime endure a great deal of distress and inconvenience. That is why we are justified in including in our legislation a provision to ensure that the car thief is dealt with as harshly as is the person convicted of drunken driving — in other words, that the car thief will not be dealt with merely by way of a fine or suspended sentence but by way of a long term of imprisonment. To steal a car belonging to a man who is dependent on that car for transport to and from his work is to attack that man's entire family. Anyone who goes to the expense of buying a car is entitled to have the use of it. We must do everything possible to ensure that car thieving is eliminated. If we fail in this regard we may expect the situation to become worse by the month.
To enable them to enforce the proposed changes in the law the Garda will need every help and co-operation. We need to have gardaí on foot patrol day and night. In addition, every Garda station in rural Ireland should remain open all through the night. In the past it was common in rural Ireland in the dead of night to see the gardaí walking for miles out into the country. There were patrols by gardaí on foot in every town and village. My advice to the Minister is to realise that mistakes have been made in closing some country Garda stations. These should be reopened. Also, the gardaí should be put on foot patrol in the towns, using the cars only in emergencies. Garda manpower should be organised in such a way as to provide for a Garda station being manned at all times. Very often we see notices at Garda stations in rural Ireland indicating that the stations are closed. This should not happen. If we are to bring about a situation in which respect for the law and respect for the property of others is to be restored and if we are to ensure the safeguarding of the lives of our citizens we must embark on new conditions and circumstances.
I am not saying the Garda force of today have not the standard of dedication of the Garda force of yesterday. Everything has changed. With the years there has been a decline in the presence of gardaí in many parts of rural Ireland. I have suggested previously what I suggest now to the Minister for Justice, that the Garda force be divided into two parts. City crime needs city methods and city organisation, while rural Ireland crime needs the organisation to cope with the circumstances and the conditions in rural Ireland. The Garda force should be divided into a metropolitan division for Dublin Cork, and Limerick with its own commissioner and specialised people to deal with city crime. That metropolitan force should be completely separate from the force dealing with rural Ireland. A Garda officer who is sent from the heart of Dublin or the city of Cork to rural Ireland finds himself in completely new surroundings where everything is different from what he has known, and this refers not only to the people but to customs and conditions and even the type of criminal with whom he has to deal. Many years ago we had a metropolitan police force and why they were ever disbanded I cannot say. Perhaps it was for economic reasons. We should have a metropolitan police force to deal with Dublin, Cork and Limerick cities and this force should have its own commissioner, chief superintendents and sergeants, and the Garda force dealing with the remainder of Ireland should also have its own commissioner, chief superintendents, superintendents and so on to deal with the rest of the country.
Serious steps should be taken by the Commissioner. Let me say in relation to the Commissioner of the Garda, a man of wide experience, one of the most outstanding police officers in Europe, who has had experience in the police force all the way up——
I am dealing with reorganisation of the Garda.
The Chair would point out that individuals in the public service must not be dealt with either complimentarily or otherwise because if compliments are paid it might open up the discussion.
I agree, but seldom do we hear compliments in this House. People who are serving this country well do not get sufficient recognition from the House.
The Deputy may refer to the force collectively but not individually.
There must be leadership and everybody cannot be a leader. If every member of the force were to be a commissioner where would we stand? I am referring to the present Commissioner as a man of great leadership.
The Chair would ask the Deputy to desist. For obvious reasons, a discussion on members of the public service by name or in a way by which they may be identified is not advisable and the Chair rules against it.
I accept the ruling of the Chair in this regard. I suppose what I should do then is refer to the Minister for Justice.
Yes, that is quite in order.
The Minister for Justice should consider, if we cannot ask the Commissioner to do so, the question of the division of the force into metropolitan and rural sections. In addition steps should be taken to ensure the restoration of foot duty to gardaí in rural Ireland, and also sub-districts should be smaller. As the Garda force are now organised the sub-districts are too great and wide and numbers of young gardaí do not know the people in their sub-districts. That was not the case with the founder members of the force. They knew everyone in their sub-districts. I have told the House how that was the case. Speak to any of the older gardaí about any farmer, big or small, that garda had dealings with him in connection with the noxious weeds Act. That garda knew every member of the large families in his area by name because he was dealing with school attendance. He knew everyone in the area who had a dog and whether that dog was licensed. These things cannot be said today. The gap between the individual garda and the community is too great. A few moments ago I asked how many Deputies could stand up and read out the names of the gardaí in their local stations. Very few could do so. The contact is lost and you can have that contact only by walking around the streets and going into the houses and shops. You can never make the contact by a salute from a car. If you are to solve the problem of crime you must have the full support of the community behind you in order to do so. Closer co-operation between the public and the Garda should be sponsored and fostered by the Minister for Justice, if not the Commissioner.
I hope that with the passage of this Bill steps will be taken to deal fully with other aspects in relation to criminals, crime, law and order. There are many problems with which the Garda cannot cope. Are we blaming them for too much? Are we blaming them for unsolved crime? We should not do so because they do not seem to be gaining the co-operation that they deserve from the people. Why do we not use the Army to a greater extent to help the Garda? We are told that in many areas the number of gardaí is insufficient. We see the Army help the Garda on the transfer of moneys from banks, and what is wrong in having the Army there? In many areas on traffic duty the military police, excellent men, well disciplined, well trained, show great courtesy to the public. Why do we not use the Army more frequently? If we want to deal with unemployment and the security of the State there is no reason why we do not take 10,000 more people into our Army and 5,000 into the FCA. The FCA should be used, in co-operation with local gardaí, in the detection of crime. In this connection, there seems to be a gap in the co-operation of the Army and the Garda Síochána. Both bodies are there basically for the same purpose, namely, to safeguard the State, to protect lives and property and to ensure that people can lead their lives without hindrance from thieves, thugs and organised criminals. The Army is there to help the Garda Síochána in any emergency and in Ireland we have an Army that is well geared to help in that way. The majority of the members of the force have a rural background and there is no reason why there should not be closer co-operation with the Garda Síochána than has been the practice in the past.
There should be some form of regulations setting out a genuine code of conduct for members of the Garda Síochána. In my opinion they should not have business interests of any kind and they should work full-time in the discharge of their duties. They are the upholders of the law and the protectors of the people. I am not happy with regard to the strength of the plain clothes police force and I am on record as saying that. In my opinion their number should be increased and they should always be armed.
The matter of special training is most important. In this connection, I was most impressed with the methods of training and techniques used in the Federal Republic of Germany. The people there are trained in the detection and prevention of crime. I have been in the police headquarters in the Federal Republic and I was impressed beyond words with what I saw and heard. Are we falling down on our training in the prevention and detection of crime? These matters are more important than convictions and the Minister for Justice would be well advised to address himself to this aspect. If we can prevent crimes from being committed the question of conviction will not arise. I am sure something can be done in this area. There is a vast difference between prevention and detection of crime in the cities and in the remote parts of rural Ireland. That is why I say this matter must be handled by smaller sub-districts and with more gardaí on the beat.
In the training of gardaí we must use up-to-date methods in the prevention and investigation of crime. We need to keep gardaí on the streets and I often wonder if their length of training is sufficient. Are the training establishments adequate to turn out fully-trained young gardaí who will be well trained in all aspects of investigation and the detection of crime? I should not like to live in this country if the Garda Síochána did not exist. None of us would be allowed to exist. We have a duty to ensure that they get the public respect to which they are entitled. They safeguard our lives and our property and they are entitled to support and co-operation. How many men in public life are silent on this point? Many stand up and complain about robberies, rape, about people being hit on the head with iron bars, about housebreaking and car stealing but we seldom speak of the necessity to turn out well-trained people to deal with such crimes and, more important, their prevention.
The Garda Drug Squad are doing an excellent job because the personnel in charge have been trained. They know their job and they have produced results. I am rather disappointed that the Dáil has not dealt with a short Bill giving customs officers the same powers as those given to the Garda Síochána in dealing with the awful problem of drugs. Bills can be passed quickly when it suits the House. There is a grave problem in relation to drug-trafficking and a short Bill should be introduced giving customs officers at ports the same authority as the Garda.
Proper machinery should be set up to deal with complaints against gardaí. We are all human and none of us is perfect. We try to do our best. Every flock has its black sheep and perhaps every family has a skeleton in the cupboard. Now that the Minister is carrying out a review, I hope that the matter of a complaints procedure will be properly dealt with. Many members of the public feel that we have not the right procedures to investigate these complaints. As a Dáil Deputy I have always been slow to entertain complaints against members of the Garda but we must let the citizen see that if he has a complaint it will be thoroughly investigated in an impartial manner. There must be no doubt in the public mind about receiving fair treatment.
A complaint by a citizen against a member of the Garda should not be investigated by the Garda Síochána themselves. Our district justices have been of the highest integrity and one of them should be assigned to deal with complaints of this kind. It must be clear to the person making the complaint that the investigating authority is independent and it is best not to have such complaints investigated by members of the force at any level. The services of a district justice would be far preferable.
The Garda must be a very disciplined force. Discipline is everything. I was surprised some time ago when listening to a radio programme to hear that when a Garda superintendent arrived on an official visit to a Garda station in the west he greeted the gardaí by saying "How'ya lads" and the reply was "You're very welcome. We're glad to see you, John". Older members of the force would not allow themselves to be addressed in that fashion. The day discipline goes from a disciplined force, the main purpose for which the force was set up goes. Long ago when a superintendent arrived at a barracks every man would be brought to attention and the superintendent would inspect the crime and offence book to see whether it was written up. I do not know if there is such a book kept in the barracks now — I presume there is. If the book was not written up to the previous day, serious disciplinary action would be taken. Is discipline breaking down in every aspect of Irish society today? I hope there was no truth in the expressions used in the radio programme because if that type of familiarity exists between ordinary gardaí and their superiors I do not know how complaints by members of the public could be investigated. If there is not discipline within a force the crime and offence book and the other records may not be well kept because of the personal relationship existing between the ordinary gardaí and those in authority. I hope that is not the case and that when a superintendent or chief superintendent goes into a station he receives the respect to which he is entitled.
I now refer to the matter of private security firms, something which the Minister may feel obliged to investigate during the passage of this Bill. The duty of the Garda is to protect life and property. There have been numerous bank robberies in recent years and some of these cases have been solved. There should be registration and licensing of private security firms in the interest both of the public and of the prevention of crime. Indeed a special section of the Department should be charged with such registration and licensing and the recruitment of the necessary personnel so that there would be some liaison with regard to supervision of private security firms. I would appeal to the Minister and his Department to consider seriously all aspects of this problem. I have always felt that, as far as possible, banks should be capable of providing and paying for their own security and I am sure the Minister has had lengthy discussions with the banking authorities in this respect from time to time. We must give them our support and co-operation but the ordinary citizen is entitled to have his or her home, furnishings — even items such as glass, chandeliers and the like — life savings and so on, protected. I trust these matters will be given full consideration in the not too distant future.
In the event of greater detection and, therefore, conviction of criminals I might ask the Minister where he intends placing such convicted criminals because certainly our prisons at present cannot possibly accommodate them. Many of them are out of date and in dire need of modernisation. Even if it were proposed to imprison such people what measures are being taken for their rehabilitation or education whilst in prison? Such matters are important also because it should be remembered that, to sentence somebody to imprisonment for a year or two, particularly somebody of a reasonably young age, may well tend to destroy his life for the next 30 or 40 years. Perhaps rather than a prison sentence we should compel a defendant, once found guilty — though I do not mean guilty of a major crime — to work for the community. In the case of the drunken driver sent to jail, that will be punishment enough in itself. Some steps should be taken to rehabilitate him. I have great sympathy with the wives and families of such people, who suffer a lot. For that reason I had been hoping that some time in the near future we might test the system of prisoners being permitted to perform certain work in a locality for which they would be paid so that their wives and children would not suffer as they do at present. That cannot be beyond the bounds of possibility.
There remain in this country quite a number of unsolved murders. I had been hoping also that steps would have been taken to ensure a greater degree of public co-operation in the resolution of such very serious crimes. If a person is sentenced to life imprisonment it should mean just that, because murder is a most serious crime. I do not think a person could be guilty of any greater crime than to take away human life, to deprive a family of a father, mother, son or daughter. I want to express appreciation of the number of district justices who make people work for petty crimes. In their case it would be advisable that they work under supervision and, if they did not perform or respond satisfactorily, then the same district justice could review their position at the next court sitting.
We notice that under the provisions of the Bill the Garda are being empowered to detain a person they have arrested, without warrant, on suspicion, with reasonable cause of having committed and offence punishable by a term of imprisonment of five years and that such detention will be for a period not exceeding six hours, that this may be extended for a further period not exceeding six hours on the authority of a chief superintendent who, if absent, will be replaced by a superintendent acting for him. This matter has been the subject of quite an amount of criticism. But it should be remembered that generally speaking the Garda are responsible people. Once a person is arrested on suspicion, and with reasonable cause, I do not think any Member of this House would have any serious objection — since the Garda are charged with solving crime — to their taking in suspects and questioning them. That provision presents me with no problems anyhow.
The Bill provides that a suspect may demand the presence of a solicitor during questioning. I cannot understand why so many people have fears in relation to this because I cannot think of anything fairer than to have a solicitor notified without delay who will be present during the course of any questioning of a suspect. Solicitors in Ireland are extremely conscientious, dedicated to the defence of the rights of their clients. Therefore, there is no danger that a suspect would have anything to fear from the Garda if he avails of the right to have his solicitor present. That is a real safeguard against an accused person being the victim of hardship at the hands of the Garda.
The Bill provides that detained persons may be searched, photographed and fingerprinted, and there is provision for the destruction of such photographs and fingerprints in the case of non-prosecution. What could be fairer? Indeed, in the effort to solve crimes it may be necessary to have photographs and fingerprints for identification purpose. Fingerprints may be found on an object and for that reason it is necessary to have the fingerprints of suspects because no two sets of fingerprints are identical. Searching of suspects should be a normal practice and it should be also usual to ask a suspect to account for his movements at a certain time.
The Minister is empowered to make regulations for the tape-recording of the questioning of persons in Garda custody. I urge on the Minister to restrict the use of tape-recorders as far as possible. I suggest that it would be preferable to have a shorthand record of what has been said, in the presence of a witness. I agree it may be necessary to have tape-recordings on certain occasions and to have these played back in court, but I suggest it should not be resorted to frequently.
I am glad to see strict provisions in the Bill in the case of offences committed while persons are on bail. There is no doubt that there should be strict penalties for people who apply for and get bail after sympathetic consideration by courts and then go out and commit other crimes. I am also pleased that the penalties for firearms offences are being increased. Such penalties have been next to nothing heretofore and this inclusion in the Bill meets with my complete approval. I am particularly pleased with the provision for majority jury verdicts in criminal trials. I have always thought it should be sufficient to obtain a simple majority verdict in such cases.
There is a provision for the Minister for Defence to apply for permission in relation to courts-martial. I will not dwell on this because we are not dealing with it now. However, I think it is time we dealt with all matters in relation to trials of Army personnel and military matters in general. When I was Minister for Defence it crossed my mind, but I was not long enough there to do anything about it. Had I been there longer I would have had a serious look at the entire question of military law. I felt very strongly about it at the time.
Some Deputies referred to sections 16, 17 and 18 which require a person found in possession of property believed to be stolen to give to gardaí on request an account of how he came by the property. I cannot understand the mentality of people who will find objection to that. It is not only right and proper that if a person has property which is known or believed to be stolen, he should give an account to the authorities of how he came to be in possession of that property.
As I said at the outset, many responsible people, legal and otherwise, lay and religious, have qualms of conscience about certain sections of this Bill. I have read it from start to finish and as far as I can see if a person has not done anything wrong he has nothing to fear; any person who does not wish to protect criminals does not have anything to worry about nor has any person who wishes to see crime stamped out. This Bill will help to stamp out crime. It should not be necessary to have the provisions of section 15 written into Irish legislation because if people know or believe property is stolen, they should not conceal from the authorities how that property came into their possession.
I have read very carefully the correspondence sent to all public representatives by the Conference of Major Religious Superiors and noted the contents, particularly the reference to the Garda force. I want to praise the paragraph in their letter of 19 November 1983 in which they say good community Garda relations play a vital role in the task of combating crime. The Irish Council of Civil Liberties in their letter of 27 October deal very effectively and in great detail with detention without charge, the right to silence and lack of protections. On page 3 of their letter they deal with the provision for electronic recording of questioning and say this paragraph is phrased in such a way that it does not necessarily require implementation. They say the provision for the notification of a solicitor goes no further than existing rules and is worded to allow broad discretion to the police as to how quickly or effectively it is carried out. They say this Bill does not guarantee access to a solicitor or immediate access to a parent in the case of a young person arrested. I do not know if that is so, because the Bill clearly deals with questioning and sending for a solicitor and having a solicitor present. I am sure on Committee Stage we can tease out these problems. These written representations from interested organisations have been a great help to all.
Everybody should realise, and we should place it on record, that the police not only in this country but in every country, play a vital role. They are frequently called on to tackle dangerous situations. Every member of a police force is a man of great courage. In recent years a number of them, regretfully, have lost their lives doing their duty. Their duty is made yet more difficult if their rules of conduct are not precisely defined. I hope the Minister and the Garda Commissioner will get together and let the public know what the rules of conduct are in relation to police activity. This can and should be done.
The system for the protection of human rights should be improved. Every Member of this House must ensure that the human rights of our citizens are recognised and that no citizen should be deprived of his liberty or of his rights. There are generally accepted rules concerning the professional ethics of the police which take into account the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Fundamental freedoms and human rights are very relevant to every free citizen. As a democracy we must protect the freedom of our citizens.
Police officers should have the active, moral and physical support of the community they are serving because unless they have this support they will be at a loss, and I hope that will not be so. Police officers should enjoy a proper status in the community. They should enjoy the same rights as every other citizen in the community. Police officers must fulfil the duties imposed on them, particularly the duty to protect citizens against violence. In the course of training the men should be inculcated with a sense of dignity, of impartiality and of integrity. At all times it should be impressed on them that they must act with dignity and courtesy in the discharge of their duties. I am sure a code of conduct exists. I am sure it is laid down that no police officer shall carry out any order he knows to be unlawful or contrary to the laws of the land. Police officers should be fully cognisant of the code in regard to international human rights, particularly the European code on human rights. Police officers are the custodians of law and order. They are the protectors of the rights of citizens. When one thinks of it one appreciates what an important function police officers have.
I would hope that guidelines for members of the Garda Síochána would be published so that we might familiarise ourselves with them. If a police officer is aware of a violation of the law he must take immediate remedial action to the best of his ability. A police officer must at all times resist acts which are not in accordance with a dignified approach. On the whole gardaí have behaved in a most dignified manner at all times and we all hope this will continue to be the pattern. One thing that is vitally essential is that the Garda be given the full co-operation of the public generally. We depend on our gardaí and, depending on them as we do, it is incumbent on each and every one of us to give the Garda our full support.
As I said, we are in a state of crisis. Lawlessness has got out of hand. If a disease is serious then the remedy in treating that disease must be equally serious. To my way of thinking, there is nothing in this Bill in any degree harmful to those prepared to keep the law. Our society is not alone breaking down, it has actually broken down and there is an obligation on all of us to restore it as quickly as possible. This Bill, when enacted, should contribute towards that ambition. I hope to be present for Committee Stage to discuss proposed amendments to tidy up the Bill, amendments designed to give the necessary powers to the authorities to stamp out violence. Violence breeds an end to democracy. It means an end to Parliament. We have a solemn duty to preserve our democracy.
I have read this Bill very carefully and to my way of thinking it does not go far enough. The disease of lawlessness is eating into our society. I trust the provisions of this Bill will act as some deterrent to those tempted to commit crime. There is need for some overhaul in the courts and the speeding up of decisions. There is a need to review our prisons. At the moment they leave something to be desired. Those who administer our prisons deserve great credit in my opinion. They are highly efficient. They are men of great integrity. They are devoted to their work. Above all, they are interested in those with whom they come in contact and are anxious to rehabilitate them so that they can return to society and take their proper places there. I know a large number of prison officers and I have a high regard for them. I trust this Bill will be just one of many Bills designed to rehabilitate the criminal and based not only on conviction but on prevention. To me, prevention and detection of crime are far more important than conviction for crime. Many criminals today are the sons and daughters of people who never thought they would have to face such difficulty.
Social and economic conditions and political rights have close connections with the question of violence, lawlessness and crime in general. I hope this is the first of a number of Bills which will put Irish society back on the rails and reconstruct and help Irish society. I am afraid this Bill is too little too late. While Parliament is here, let us do something to maintain our rights as the supreme authority. We must have the laws to protect, safeguard and defend our citizens against crime of any kind. All crime is serious. All crime leads to lawlessness. Lawlessness leads to disrespect for authority and eventually to disrespect for Parliament and the complete breakdown of democracy.
We will have other opportunities to deal with matters of this kind in this House. I welcome the Bill. I am glad it is getting such universal support in the House. To those outside the House I say there is nothing in the Bill to be afraid of if they abide by the law and avoid crime. If they shun violence there is nothing in this Bill to be afraid of. We have reached the stage where action must be taken. We must support the police authorities. We must support the Garda in their very difficult task of saving life and property. We must respect their dignity. We must enact the laws to enable them to carry out their duties with honour and with dignity, and full and due regard for the human rights of every citizen.
Some time ago I intended to intervene briefly on this Bill. As, obviously, it does not come within my area of responsibility as a Front Bench spokesman, I should like to make two introductory comments. I first listened to Deputy Flanagan for a very considerable time. He raised some fundamental issues on which I will touch. Secondly, I hope we will be able to clear the smog around the House which I hope has not been generated by anything said. If we can dissipate the physical smog conditions as soon as possible — and it is extraordinary to see this kind of atmosphere in the House — we will add to the comfort and health of Deputies.
Before this Bill was published there was a universal sense of concern on the part of the public at large that we needed to correct the balance between the law makers and the law breakers. There was concern that the weaker members of society, the old and people living alone, should be protected against criminals. Many of us were visibly shocked during the course of the Dublin Central by-election campaign when we were introduced to conditions with which perhaps we are not very familiar in our normal experience. We found that old people living alone did not wish to answer the door after 6 o'clock in the evening. They peeped out to inquire who was at the door. This was visible evidence of the fear which permeates our society. This has developed in recent years. Innocuous, innocent and inoffensive people are afraid in their own homes. No stable society can tolerate that.
It is our obligation as legislators to create conditions where that kind of fear will not be the order of the day, and where crime which gives rise to that kind of fear is eradicated. Those were the conditions in which this Bill was introduced and, for that reason, understandably and properly this party gave their support in principle to the Bill when introduced, and that remains the position.
Before dealing with some of the issues of principle in the Bill I should like to make some preliminary comments. Whatever we do or require the Garda or the courts to do, we are dealing after the event with the symptoms of a certain malaise in our society. We must recognise that we have seen a decline in standards over the past five to ten years in particular. Some of this may be due to the lack of a central thrust or direction in every aspect of Irish life for which we in this House, among others, must acknowledge our responsibility.
If there is a growth of unemployment in deprived areas there are two ways of looking at it. We can look at the reactions and the frustrations of young people in a deprived environment and say: "We will deal with the problem by way of penalties and punishment." On the other hand, until we create the conditions in which people will respect the norms of society, even extra powers, no matter how effectively applied will not restore the standards we have inherited. We should not get a disproportionate impression of what a Bill of this kind can do to bring about the kind of stability and respect about which Deputy Flanagan talked for a very considerable time. I do not want to go back over that ground.
The real wealth of our community life does not exist only in rural Ireland. It is a real characteristic of the inner parts of this city — the street culture, the place where a person was born and belongs, the things we talk about in song and story. This has been undermined. It is not enough for those of us who live in more comfortable middle-class circumstances to notice suddenly that we have a problem of urban vandalism — a problem we identify as urban vandalism when it breaks out of what we might have regarded as the ghettoes where it belongs.
Ten years ago did anybody talk about vandalism when perhaps it was happening constantly in deprived areas? We are talking about it now because it has broken out and is hitting comfortable suburbia to a considerable extent. Many of us — and particularly those working in the social areas — are conscious of the deprivation which exists inside those areas. We have to adjust our standards and recognise that our economic, social and educational policies must have a central thrust which everybody can acknowledge and respect. Everything we say and do here must have a central thrust which everybody can acknowledge and respect.
People may laugh at Eamon de Valera's notion years ago. Many people who might laugh at that notion would also like to think we could say that kind of thing with relevance today without being accused of being total hypocrites. It was a time when you could say those things and people respected the fact that they were said, even if the ideal was not achieved immediately. Whatever we ask the Garda to do, whatever powers we give them here only deal with the symptoms. As the old Irish proverb has it "Is i scath a chéile a mhaireann daoine"— we all live in each other's shadow. If some of us show little concern for those who are deprived, we will have to live with the consequences. That is why we cannot look at policies in any one area. I am not going to go into a Finance Bill type debate — I will deal with that in another time and place — in terms of strict fiscal policies and not have regard for the consequences on the social environment and for people who are unemployed at present or who will be unemployed in the future. If people, especially young people, think that we do not care they will not care either, and that is the problem to which we must address ourselves.
Problems obviously arise where communities have broken down and where people live in housing sprawls where there is no community spirit or purpose. It is often said that until the second or third generation is established you will not have a secure, stable community. We have seen evidence of this, I am glad to say, in Ballyfermot which is now very different from what it was 20 years ago, because we have the grannies, the first and second generations and a community cohesion which is an example to many of us who live in rural Ireland. Housing planners cannot uproot people from where they belong and put them into a cold, detached environment which does not reflect their upbringing. If we are not to get a reaction we must look at our housing programmes and plan for an environment in which people can feel at home and have good, normal contact with their neighbours. A home is not just a place where you cook, eat and sleep; it is where you relate to people who live near you and build a community together. Most of our problems arise from inadequate housing conditions.
The Garda Síochána are the guardians of the peace. It is a terrible reflection that there are people who have undermined the stability of the State parading themselves as the protectors of the people against drug pushers, etc. If the Garda are not able or equipped to go into an area to deal with the growing threat of drugs particularly, we could have a situation where others will take it on themselves to go in an administer their form of punishment and authority. In this instance the media have a great responsibility. If they glorify that sort of thing, even in a way which may presume to give the facts, the impact which that can have could be devastating. I am not in a position to know whether all the facts are disclosed in programmes. I saw only the end of a programme, so my judgment could be distorted, but others who saw it were very concerned that we seem to be dependent on people who have undermined our society to restore, on their terms, stability in parts of our city. If we have got to that stage we are treading a minefield. We must ensure that there are no double standards in relation to this and that no one is beholden to people like that. We must also ensure that our police have the confidence, authority and the kind of contact with the public to which Deputy Flanagan referred. It may mean a certain re-organisation of the training of the police force so that they will be accepted as the protectors of the public. It is a bad day when people offer themselves as political candidates in elections and that their main claim to fame is that they control a place. We should all be very concerned about their kind of control.
The Garda Síochána deserve our trust and respect, but to ensure that we must see that the conditions under which they operate and the powers given to them are subject to the scrutiny of the courts, whose role is as important as ours. That has been part of the order of society for as long as one wishes to remember. The three arms of our Constitution are the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. We are being tested today with regard to the property tax. I say "we", although I opposed it. That is the way the Judiciary should operate. We will be tested if we infringe certain powers. A citizen will be penalised if he does certain things and, equally, the arms of the law cannot operate in isolation or independently of the protection of the courts — in their interests as much as in the interests of the citizen.
I have some comments to offer in relation to some of the developments in this Bill on which the Minister and officials in the Department would do well to reflect. I am speaking as a member of the legal profession but also as a citizen. I am appalled that a Bill as important and far reaching as this was introduced without any consultation with the legal profession, representatives of the Benchers of the King's Inn or the Incorporated Law Society. Is it assumed that the professions who are in many ways looked on as officers of the courts have nothing relevant to say? Is it assumed that their accumulations of legal knowledge and experience is not to be listened to? Is it assumed that lawyers are always there simply to act against the establishment? If so, they are dangerous assumptions. As a consequence of not consulting lawyers, we have groups representing lawyers — and it must be a matter of concern to them — going public on radio and television and saying that they have reasons for concern. Suddenly the support there was for the legislation all along is not as universal as it was because people believe that there may be some grounds for apprehension.
I should like to point to one or two matters that should have been dealt with before the Bill was introduced. Would it not have been much better to have had a situation in which the professional representatives would be in a position to say that they had consultations on the measures, that while they may have some reservations about it, by and large they agree with the thrust of the Bill because there has been omitted from it some of the proposals about which they expressed reservation?
The Minister should not rely merely on the advice of the Garda or of his officials. I have represented the Garda in the past and I have a high respect for them, but the Minister should have sought advice on a wider basis. Because the Minister failed to do that there may now be an implication that will not be helpful to the Garda, that is, that much of the power being introduced is very questionable. It would be much better for the Garda if that were not the case and that individuals who over-step themselves would be seen to be subject to the scrutiny of the courts.
We are being told by way of this other explanatory memorandum that until a complaints procedure involving assessment by an independent tribunal has been established some of the provisions of the Bill will not come into effect. That kind of suggestion is a consequence of the lack of awareness in the Department of Justice of what is the function of the Judiciary. The very notion of bringing a complaints procedure into this implies that we expect complaints to arise. Perhaps they will, but if we wish to ensure the protection of the citizen why do we need an administrative procedure of this kind when under our Constitution we have the courts? Many of the rules under which the courts operate are being changed by this Bill. In some areas we are telling the courts to move aside. This will not help the Garda. Is this complaints tribunal to be another administrative growth without our having a proper definition of what its role is? Certainly the tribunal will not have a constitutional function. If we are to have checks and balances in relation to the introduction of this Bill, they should be the checks and balances that have been applied for many years by the courts and not an administrative tribunal, which, incidentally, may or may not be introduced by an administrative order. Does that mean that the tribunal may be established on the advice of officials or of the Garda? I have much respect for both groups, but they are not the only ones concerned in this matter. Are we not to have the opportunity of debating the question in the House?
One of my main reservations relates to section 3, which proposes to change much of the established rules of the criminal law procedure that we have been operating for a long time. We are introducing the concept of detention for the purpose of investigation or interrogation. That is a concept unknown in our law and one that has been firmly rejected by our courts. I could quote any of a variety of legal authorities to underline that but I shall quote only the Chief Justice, as reported in the 1980Irish Reports. He was quoting the precedent that had been followed down through the years and he said that it had been stated many times in our courts that there is no such procedure permitted by law as holding for questioning or detaining on any pretext except pursuant to a court order or for the purpose of charging and bringing the persons detained before a court. He said that any other purpose is unknown to the law and constitutes a flagrant and unwarranted interference with the liberty of the citizen.
If the legal professional representatives had been consulted I wonder whether that kind of power would be introduced here. It is a power that exists in the Offences Against the State Act and under the Emergency Powers legislation, but both of these measures are exceptional in that they allow for a period of detention and questioning of people suspected of involvement in subversive crime. We might as well know now that what we are doing here, without the checks of court intervention, is introducing the same kind of provisions. This is a very big change. I would have thought that before introducing a change of that kind into the ordinary law of the land we would have had much more detailed consultation. The guarantee that the court may protect the citizen is a protection for the Garda also; but if as a consequence of section 3 we are to deny the protection afforded the citizen under the present law whereby he must be charged on arrest and brought before an impartial court as soon as is reasonably practicable, we are doing a bad day's work. The basic requirement of the law of arrest is that it must be subject to speedy, judicial scrutiny. If that is to be weakened, no administrative complaints procedure will replace what we are taking away. I trust that the Minister and his advisers will give serious consideration to that aspect in the interest not only of the ordinary citizen but of the Garda so as to ensure that they will not leave themselves open to charges which in respect of perhaps up to 99 per cent of the force would not be fair or warranted.
Deputy Flanagan kept returning to the need to improve the rate of detection. The figures from the Commissioner will show that that is where the gap has been down through the years. The evidence has been that once people are brought before court, the rate of conviction is very much more satisfactory than is the rate of detection. Therefore, our aim must be to improve the effectiveness of the Garda in detecting crime. I support Deputy Flanagan in what he has to say on this matter.
It has been suggested that, for instance, one in nine of those detained under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act is charged subsequently with an offence. I am not saying that is right or wrong but if the proportion we are going to find under this Bill in respect of normal citizens is that one in nine of those detained for questioning will be charged with an offence, we will have something to answer for. The normal citizen brought into a police station is in a very alien environment. Such people have gone through the process of lengthy questioning which may be extended in this Bill. If many people suffer the traumatic experience of being detained for questioning where they never had any place at all and where there is no reason for them to be, we must have some query. I would like the Minister to reflect on this and perhaps deal with it later. If eight out of nine are brought in and not charged then it is a matter of concern. Some of them might be told that they can take a rest for a period, but in what circumstances? Many gardaí are working under conditions which are not what they should be. A person whose normal place is his own home — as distinct from the hardened criminal who will not care about this, he is used to it, it is easy and may be comfortable for him — without being in any way involved who is told he can rest for eight hours in a police station will not find very much rest there with doors banging, people being brought in during the night for questioning, drunks and so on. We ignore the impact that will have. The benefit of the advice that the Minister might have got had he consulted more widely would have been helpful to him in bringing in this Bill.
In this connection the O'Briain Committee said that questioning within the confines of a Garda station can be a traumatic experience for all but the hardened criminal. For people to appear in civil cases in court in the presence of such as us public representatives is a traumatic experience for them but questioning in a Garda station for a normal citizen must be traumatic no matter how reasonable, well-behaved or courteous the officer may be. The text that I have been talking about should be looked into very carefully because all of this generally has been subjected to judicial review. There is no point in saying — as Deputy Flanagan seems to be satisfied and I have no intention of undermining the Garda, I want to see them respected and strengthened as due officers of the law — that a person can get his solicitor. If it is night and the solicitor's office is closed, what do you tell the person then? He is entitled to call a friend. He does not know his legal rights.
The imbalance between the person questioned — we must always think of the innocent person — and the person questioning is there also. It may well be that the person being questioned will remain silent. In relation to the question of silence, I support the view that certainly it may be mentioned to the court, but we should be clear that the court would not be asked to put aside the Judges' Rules which have always been there to protect a person who has not made a statement. I would like to refer to them in some detail. If we are putting all these aside we are entering a very dangerous area. The Judges' Rules have been established for years. One of them states that under the present law a person questioned is under no obligation to answer and he cannot be charged with obstructing a police officer if he refuses to answer. Under the new regulation there is a writ that this will be abolished in so far as under section 16 an adverse inference may be drawn if the person questioned remains silent. The law is changed further by the provisions of section 14 and 15 in so far as failure or refusal to give information may expose the person questioned to the sanction of imprisonment. This is changing a fundamental rule which has been there for a long time. Another of the Judges' Rules provides that when a police officer has made up his mind to charge a person with a crime he should administer a caution before he questions him. That has been there for generations and the substance and form of this caution will not be continued under this Bill. The third rule says that a person in custody should not be questioned without a caution. It seems that under section 14 and the core of section 16 of the Bill the inference is from the failure of the accused to mention certain facts. This seems to run counter to the Judges' Rules. I would like the Minister's assurance on this.
I am anxious that we in this House before we pass certain things into law will know what we are changing and why. I would like the Minister in replying to this Bill to say if he is abolishing the Judges' Rules that have been there for generations and, if so, why he is doing so and why he thinks the Judges' Rules are not appropriate protection for the citizen or for the custodians of the law, namely the Garda Síochána in our case, to guarantee that they operate within a proper judicial framework.
A terrible anomaly in this is the immunity conferred and the consequences that can arise from this immunity. Section 15 (2) provides that:
If that person fails or refuses, without reasonable excuse, to give such account or gives information that he knows to be false or misleading, he shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £800 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both,
This is for failure to do these things. OK, we are creating an offence. At least it is clear, it is specific and it creates an offence. It is very new and we should not do it too easily. I would like to have it scrutinised having regard to what I have said in relation to the Judges' Rules.
I find it extraordinary that section 15 (4) provides:
Any information given by a person in compliance with a requirement under subsection (1) shall not be admissible in evidence against that person or his spouse in any proceedings, civil or criminal, other than proceedings for an offence under subsection (2).
It shall not be admissible against him in any other area. I think I know the intention here, but we must look at what can happen in practice. That means, in effect, that he is being granted in respect of that evidence an immunity against prosecution, except the prosecution for failure to talk. In respect of other matters in which he might have been involved he is granted immunity in respect of that evidence. This Bill states clearly that it cannot be introduced as evidence against him. Surely if we are trying to strengthen the powers of the Garda we must look at that. Introducing evidence as to fact or another person rather than remaining silent surely is an invitation or a risk of an invitation to an accomplice to involve somebody else who might be innocent.
If a person is hauled into a Garda station is the option given to him that if he stays silent he will be liable to an offence but if he tells the Garda about a fact or a person he will be given immunity? Is there not a risk that the hardened criminal who wants to escape the consequences of his own actions may decide to sing sweetly in regard to someone who has no opportunity at that point of correcting what has been said about him? As far as I know — I should like to have this checked — the Director of Public Prosecutions is the only person who may decide whether immunity is conferred. If, as a consequence of this Bill, a Garda officer in the course of questioning can confer immunity in respect of other offences, we must realise there are grave risks attached to this. We have all been concerned about the whole business of the supergrass and what has happened in the North of Ireland. We must take a close look at a provision like this because the end result may be quite opposite to what was intended. We are taking a grave risk if immunity will be conferred on people who decide to give evidence, people who may be accomplices in the matter of crime. There are many rules of procedure in criminal law that oblige a judge to remind people that there is a grave risk in considering conviction in the case of the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice. I know that is the last thing the officials who advise the Minister would want to happen, and the same applies to the Garda Síochána. If, because of lack of consultation with people who know about the checks and balances of the system, we introduce such a provision there is a grave risk that it will achieve the opposite effect we intended to achieve.
It may be said that judges live in a privileged section of society. I accept that there are individual judges who should be more consistent. A person may remain silent for a variety of reasons, and one such reason is fear. In the case of the person who does not know his legal situation, his natural reaction will be to say nothing and if that is sufficient to draw an inference we are on very delicate ground. To be questioned in a Garda station may also cause a reaction. If a person is confused, even though he may be entirely innocent his reaction may be to say nothing. Some people may make a rational decision to say nothing and others may decide to remain silent until they know what exactly is their situation. However, the hardened criminal will not be too concerned about this. We will have an opportunity on Committee Stage to discuss this aspect more thoroughly, but I take the opportunity to mention the matter now in the presence of the Minister of State. A person may wish to reserve his right to speak until he is in a position to put his defence before the court with full legal advice.
I support totally the role of the Judiciary and this has been clear in what I have said. However, they have a function to operate in a way that is not totally out of line with the rest of society, the legislators and the Government. Some examples recently have caused serious concern. There should be consistency in sentencing. Only the judge in court, aware of all the circumstances, can come to the appropriate conclusion. Those of us who read newspaper reports of cases are not in a position to decide what sentence should be imposed. However, there have been such discrepancies recently that it is a matter of obligation on the Judiciary to consult among themselves in order to ensure consistency in their sentencing policy. The Judiciary are independent of us but there is need for consultation among themselves. It is a point that must be stressed but, when said, it does not need to be repeated.
I have been involved in cases and have often introduced witnesses to give evidence of good character. Who is more guilty, the young man or woman from a deprived environment where he or she has been introduced to crime from the very beginning or the young person from a secure environment, with all the privileges of education, stability and security in their home? In the case of the person from the privileged environment, it will be said that he comes from a good background, that his family are respectable and that he has not been involved in crime before that point. This character evidence will be introduced in his favour. However, the poor orphan from the deprived environment does not have anybody to say he is respectable and deserves a second chance. It is our duty to say loud and clear that the really guilty person is the one with all the privileges. He has repudiated his obligation to society and has made a deliberate decision. The person who needs assistance is the one born deprived and disadvantaged and we have to help such a person in terms of bringing about the necessary social and economic changes.
We support the Bill. We want to be seen to support the custodians of the law, the Garda Síochána. There is no trouble in giving them extra powers but they should be subject to established judicial scrutiny because this will protect them as much as it will protect the citizens. I hope this will be provided for in the Bill so that the Garda Síochána will, in the end, come out stronger than they have been prior to the introduction of this Bill.