Adjournment Debate. - Crime Problem.

Deputy Andrews has been given permission to raise on the Adjournment the subject matter of the detention of family or families as reported on the 1.30 p.m. news today and the breakdown in law and order.

If I may take the last part of my effort to raise what is only part of an ongoing debate on the perceived breakdown of law and order, not only in the city and county of Dublin but throughout the land, this short period of time which has been allotted to me for which I am grateful, can be broken into two parts. I do not wish to introduce a feeling of panic or hysteria into the debate or in the community on the breakdown of law and order but there is a feeling of helplessness, frustration and general hoplessness with the continuing crime crisis.

Unfortunately I do not have a tape of the 1.30 p.m. RTE news bulletin and, in the nature of things, my hearing would have been peripheral so if I quote it inaccurately I apologise in advance. It appeared to indicate that a number of families were detained arising out of a very serious bank robbery in which an estimated £60,000 to £70,000 was stolen and in which lives were at stake. If one takes up the Evening Press this evening one will see the headline “£60,000 Family Kidnap Drama” and “Gardaí are `conned' at city bank.” Other headlines include “5 Hostages Held in Dalkey Home”; “Woman safe after fleeing kidnapper”; “Caravan woman was murdered”. That relates to an 80 year old woman who was found dead, apparently murdered, in her caravan. She lived alone. Not finishing at that, one sees the symptom of the problem —“Gardaí find part of £250,000 drink haul”.

On page 5 one sees a report headed "Publican injured in robbery". That article states:

An inner-city publican was taken to hospital after being assaulted during a robbery last night.

On the front of one of our prominent newspapers there are seven stories and five of them treat with robbery, assault, murder and recovery of a drink haul. That is a good enough reason for raising the matter this evening.

The families in question are representative of a recent trend in our society of people being kidnapped and families being held in detention while the places of employment of their husbands are robbed. Those are usually banks, post offices and pubs. The two families I am concerned about would be representatives of this illness or disease which is afflicting our society. It is no consolation to those families to know that I am raising this matter this evening and the brutality which was meted out to them but can we tell them and other families that this will not happen again or that it will not happen as a result of where their husbands are employed?

The stories are endless. Senior citizens living alone are attacked. Juniors are held in their home at gunpoint. Armed thugs presented themselves to a family in their bedroom early in the morning. Shopkeepers are beaten up regularly. There are car thefts. The same homes are burgled on a number of occasions. In one instance, a house was burgled six times. All that relates to the constituency I represent but the same can be said for the rest of the country, even isolated rural areas.

It is easy to come in here and whinge and cry about the problem but offer no solutions. It is too easy to engage in empty rhetoric but that does not help the problem. It only exacerbates the problem and it is far from my intention to do any of these things. One of the problems outlined to me by a number of professional people is the large number of gardaí on security duty. Much Garda time is taken up with the protection of payrolls, social welfare money and in other security areas, for example, the guarding of high risk diplomats and so on. Another perception, rightly or wrongly, in the public mind is the number of gardaí on Border duty. One of the tragic consequences of the Border is the number of gardaí apparently stationed there. It is not my place to criticise the deployment of gardaí on Border duty. I do not know the number of gardaí who are there. That is purely, and rightly so, a security matter for the Minister but I am reflecting a widely held point of view that a statement should be made in this matter to allay public fears without giving the game away.

The Minister has stated on a number of occasions that there are sufficient gardaí available. There is a perception that there are not sufficient gardaí, for example, on foot patrol and that this form of Garda presence is a thing of the past. The would-be thief or mugger appears to be aware of this. It seems as if they are always the first to know when some foot patrol is not in operation on a particular evening. That is not a reflection on the Garda but it is just that such people seem to have a sixth sense about these matters. Inevitably homes in those areas are robbed.

The Minister, who is an intelligent man, is presiding over a serious breakdown in law and order. It is my view, and one that is held by many people, that if the Government do not deal urgently with the problem the Dáil and our democracy will be under threat and "vigilantism", that awful word that has come into our language, will become rife if the Government do not act now.

In the short time available to him perhaps the Minister would address the Dáil briefly on the future of the neighbourhood watch scheme. As I understand it, this is a scheme under which the Garda Síochána and local communities come together in the interests of communities to guard their locality. The Garda Síochána have indicated support for this scheme and I think it should be set up and put into operation now. Will the Minister tell the House if the scheme has Government backing, how far has it advanced so far as the Garda are concerned, in which areas is it operating and in which areas is it hoped to operate the scheme in the future?

It is my view and one that is held by many in the community that most people want to support the Garda Síochána. They want to help them and to be aware of their presence in their locality. It is for this reason that I have raised this subject this evening. In my short contribution on the horrible happenings of the past few days to a number of families in my constituency I have related other instances in the constituency where people were subjected to the same kind of brutal treatment. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House if the thugs who carried out these actions will be brought into custody. Will he tell the House if he has any lead in relation to their possible incarceration? I know I cannot go too far on this line because if they are apprehended as we all wish the matter will be sub judice.

The community must support the Garda Síochána but they also need the active support of the Government. All reasonable people support that point of view. There is nothing as valuable as the friendly presence of the Garda Síochána and I wish to pay tribute to them. The gardaí who present themselves to the various households in the localities in which they operate are most welcome and people appreciate their presence.

I cannot say that if the gardaí were in the Dalkey area, in Booterstown or in O'Connell Street that the AIB branch would not have been held up but if there were a Garda presence in these localities it might have diminished the possibility of it happening. I do not want to criticise the Garda in Dún Laoghaire because they are as decent and as concerned a group of citizens as any in the country. They are ordinary citizens who are anxious to do what they can in the interests of the community. I have always been most supportive of them and will continue to be supportive.

As Deputies we have the opportunity of making the Dáil relevant by raising matters of this kind and I should not like it to be thought that I am critical of the Garda Síochána as a force. I have offered a number of solutions of the problem in the short time available to me. I have said that the Criminal Justice Act is no panacea. I have argued that the Garda should have more equipment, that there should be more intensive training for gardaí of all ranks and that more technology should be available to them. That is one part of the answer to the huge crime crisis afflicting our community. I understand there may be one other contributor to this short debate and I am anxious to allow him to make his contribution.

I wish to thank Deputy Andrews for allowing me a few minutes to make a brief contribution on a very important and critical matter to society today. Events last night and in the previous week as outlined by the previous speaker unfortunately have become common. We have heard about robberies, car thefts, muggings, assaults, murders and instances where people have narrowly escaped with their lives. Unfortunately such incidents have become all too frequent and, equally unfortunately, there is a general acceptance of them. There was a time when a murder or a robbery made big news and was news for weeks afterwards but such happenings are now forgotten very quickly. We are on a slippery slope and we have got to stop. The previous speaker outlined the many problems facing us, but this problem in particular will be solved only if all sections come together. Neither the Minister nor the Garda on their own will be able to solve the problem. It can only be done if all of us reject violence and condemn at all levels the people who commit violent acts.

I hope the Minister can tell us this evening what action is being taken. I have great respect for the police force who have served this country well. They may not be successful all the time but the people in the force are dedicated to upholding the institutions of State. They try to ensure that as far as possible people can go about their daily business. We must make sure that we do not hold double standards in relation to the problems we face. We have to consider the matter of policing our streets. We can be satisfied that there are now more policemen on the beat. Recently I was in Templemore and great play was made in relation to public dealings with the Garda. The problem is that a woman whose £1 has been taken must be treated in the same way as a bank which has lost £100,000. This is to get the back-up and support of the public.

I hope that we can restore some of the discipline which, unfortunately, seems to have gone from our society. We must consider the overall question of our legislation, our sentencing policy and other measures we can take to prevent further crimes against the person and the public.

The Deputy's time is up.

I thank the previous speaker for giving me the opportunity to speak. I hope that the Minister can give some response. I share the previous speaker's abhorrence of recent events.

, Limerick East): In common with everybody in our society I condemn in the strongest possible way the very serious crime which occurred today and which is the subject of this debate. It is particularly reprehensible in that it involved the detention and false imprisonment of a number of persons — some of them members of the same family — in their homes. I sympathise with them in the terrible ordeal which they had to endure. Fortunately, there has been no loss of life and that at least is something to be thankful for. At this moment I have only a very preliminary report from the Garda in the matter. The indications are that this was the work of a well-organised and ruthless gang and that it was planned with meticulous care. The facts as set out in evening papers seems to be broadly correct.

A number of armed and masked men entered a house in Dalkey on Sunday night at 11.30 p.m. and held the occupants — two persons — hostage there. At about 5.50 p.m. on Monday a number of the gang went to the home of the bank manager involved and held him and his wife prisoner there. Later that evening they took all the members of the bank manager's family to the house in Dalkey and held them there until the following morning, that is Tuesday morning. At about 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning some of the criminals conveyed the bank manager to his bank where they proceeded to steal a large sum of money. I am told the figure is about £40,000. All of the raiders — there were seven or eight involved — got away and the Garda are now searching for them.

Naturally I understand the concern of the Deputy which prompted him to raise this matter on the Adjournment but I am sorry to have to say that I cannot see how a debate on this matter at this very early stage after the event can serve any useful purpose. Garda investigations are at a very preliminary stage and the Garda have not been able to assess fully all the implications of the case. Naturally, this will be done as soon as possible.

I have been very concerned since I took office to take every reasonable step to improve the capacity of the Garda to combat crime and this concern is shared by the Commissioner and by senior Garda officers. One of the measures that I considered to be essential in the fight against crime was the Bill that became the Criminal Justice Act, 1984. As the House knows, the Bill was debated at length in both Houses and has only recently become law. I want to say about the Criminal Justice Act that it is only one part of a package of measures that are being introduced. Improvements in the equipment and training of the force are also important parts of it. We know that in the Government plan there is a commitment from the Government to provide Garda numbers up to 11,400. Quite recently the Commissioner announced the appointment of a committee to advise him on Garda training and the new recruits, who will be inducted into Templemore from summer on, will have a new training system.

Gardaí are deployed in a very efficient way now. It is incorrect of Deputy Andrews to say that there has been a change in policy in taking people off the beat. The change of policy has been in the opposite direction. Shortly after the coming into office of this Government the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána decided that he would take gardaí out of the squad cars and put them back on the beat. Anybody who has seen this city or any other of our towns has been gardaí on the beat over the last 18 months.

Let me return for a moment to the Criminal Justice Act which, when in operation, will provide for the detention for questioning of offenders such as those involved in the events we are referring to. Perhaps I need remind the house that if it happens that persons concerned are not subversives then section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act cannot be used and there would be no power to detain them for questioning if it were not for the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act. Some Deputies, including Deputy Andrews, opposed this provision in the Criminal Justice Act, and now they are claiming that there is a breakdown in law and order. Weapons were used in the holding of hostages. Money was stolen from a bank. Shotguns, hand guns and perhaps even a hand grenade were used. Provisions in the Criminal Justice Act require people to give information about where they got guns and explosives. Provisions in the Criminal Justice Act also require people to give explanations of how stolen goods, including money, came into their possession.

I was very impressed by Deputy Andrews'sincere speech this evening, but when the Bill was going through this House Deputy Andrews did not support those provision.

Is the Minister blaming me for what happened last evening?

(Limerick East): He supported them by walking through the lobby, but he came in here and said to this House that the only reason he was supporting the Criminal Justice Bill was that he was under a Whip and he argued long and loudly against these provisions.

The Minister cannot take the pressure.

(Limerick East): The Minister can take the pressure very well. It is the Deputy who is interrupting.

We do not have interruptions on the Adjournment debate.

(Limerick East): I did not interrupt the Deputy. If we will the end we must will the means, and when I put the means up Deputy Andrews was one of the people who would not accept the means. Now he comes in here with a passionate speech, which I am sure he means sincerely, but I remind him that there is much double-think in what he is saying.

On the general question, when I came into office I took many policy decisions on the criminal justice system and I am glad to say they are having an effect. For the first time in a number of years the crime figures, for 1984, are down and showing a significant reduction right around the country. They are showing a reasonable reduction in Dublin. That is an endorsement of the Commissioner's policy of putting gardaí on the beat. It is also an endorsement of other policies which I hope we will be in a position to extend during 1985. I come to the one constructive suggestion contained in Deputy Andrews's speech when he asked about neighbourhood watch. Neighbourhood watch has been in operation now in a number of areas such as Finglas, Templeogue and Tallaght and it is hoped during 1985 to extend this substantially, and I support its extension. I know that Deputy Woods supports it also. As chairman of the Select Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism he advocated this. We are ad idem on this. Preliminary results indicate that this has a significant effect on crime and I hope it will be entended in the future both on the legislative side, in the numbers of gardaí, in their development, training and recruitment, and in the special schemes which the Commissioner is introducing for community relations whether they are community gardaí or the neighbourhood watch, and the Commissioner will have my full support in what he is doing. It is already showing results and I hope we will have the support of all Deputies in this House in continuing the fight against crime.

Where is it showing results?

(Limerick East): Let us make 1985 the year in which——


(Limerick East): ——we combat crime. If we have the courage to get up and represent our constituents when a particularly vile crime occurs in our constituency, do not let us forget that three or four weeks afterwards when a Minister comes in here to legislate. Deputies should be consistent. If we will the end then will the means. Of all that has been said in the House this evening on this argument, what is most inappropriate came from Deputy Andrews.

The Minister does not intimidate me.

(Limerick East): I thank Deputy Cosgrave for his contribution. He is one of the most consistent Deputies in the House. He has been very consistent in his attitude to matters such as this, and I congratulate him on his contribution tonight.

Would the Minister consider bringing back the task force?

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 January 1985.