Limerick East): The growth of crime is one of the most serious problems facing our community and since I became Minister for Justice it has been one of my priority tasks. As we know, however, the problem of growing crime is not unique to Ireland but is a feature of virtually every modern democratic society. I do not seek to minimise the seriousness of the problem, but it is worth putting on record the fact that other countries, with far more resources available to them, have much worse problems than ours.
It is worth looking at the most recent available statistics for 1981 where crime is compared in different countries. The statistics are presented in terms of numbers of crime per 100,000 of population. We find that in an extensive list of countries we are right down towards the end. In places like Canada there are over 12,000 crimes per 100,000, right down to Denmark, West Germany, the United States, England, Wales, The Netherlands, Australia, Northern Ireland and Greece. Ireland is away down that list. It is also revealing to look at the murder rates of various countries. In 1981 Ireland had 24 murders and the same in 1984, 23 of which were solved. We find that this is away down in terms of rate per 100,000 of population. The Netherlands have almost 11 per 100,000, the United States almost ten, Canada six, Denmark five, right down to less than one for Ireland. Only Norway had a lower rate than us. We have a rate of .70, Norway has .66. We should put that in context before we talk about a crime ridden society with crime rates in excess of equivalent European and American cities. That is not at all true.
In a place like Miami, with a population about equivalent to Ireland, there are about 250 murders and Dallas, Texas has about 400 murders. Any United States city you like to take as an example runs into 200, 300 and 400 murders. The same applies to continental Europe. In Amsterdam the murder rate is extraordinarily high. That is a good example to pick because it provides a bench mark for manslaughter, assaults, offences of all kinds against the person, in direct relationship to the murder statistics and the subsidiary crimes of a related nature which are also taken in context.
That is not to say that we should not be attacking the crime problem, and certainly we will. The Garda are in the forefront of the campaign in the fight against crime. I am absolutely committed to giving the Garda Síochána the resources which they need to enable them to do their job effectively. The main emphasis of our approach has been on increasing manpower and improving equipment; strengthening the criminal law and increasing prison accommodation to cater for the growing number of offenders being sentenced to imprisonment. Deputies should note that over £300 million has been allocated in the 1985 Estimates for the criminal justice programme, the bulk of this going to the Garda Síochána. We have maintained the strength of the force despite cutbacks in other areas of the public service. The general restriction on recruitment is not being applied to the Garda and the national plan provides for the maintenance of the strength of the force at 11,400. This represents a net additional increase of 700 over the past two and a half years.
I noted that Deputy Haughey this morning re-echoed a commitment to the programme for the local elections produced by Fianna Fáil. He promised that he would increase Garda numbers to 12,000. I think there are enough gardaí at the moment. The emphasis should be on how they are deployed, trained, recruited and managed. We can have a very effective policing system here with 11,400 gardaí. If extra gardaí are necessary, then we will provide them in future years but I do not think it is now necessary. My emphasis is on what we will do with the gardaí we have.
I have taken a number of important steps. A new scheme setting out new promotion procedures to be followed for promotion in the Garda Síochána has been set up, agreed between myself, the Garda Commissioner and the various staff associations. The aims of this scheme are to select for promotion to any position in the force the candidate who is best qualified and most suitable and to do this in a way that is fair and accepted as fair, I am confident that the new scheme which has been in operation for over two years now is contributing significantly to the management skills of the force.
As far as recruitment is concerned, it is my intention that new procedures should be introduced which would include the following elements — an educational qualification of leaving certificate standard, a psychological test and a searching competitive interview. The usual requirements in relation to good health and character will, quite obviously, apply. I intend that the new procedures should apply to the next intake of Garda recruits.
Even though I have been over two and a half years in office, I am still working from the recruiting programme which was initiated by the previous Government and I am working from the panel of candidates that arose from that recruitment campaign. In the next recruitment campaign — the first of this administration — the new regulations will apply and also the new recruitment procedures. I also intend that new training procedures should apply to the next recruit intake. As the House may be aware, the Garda Commissioner recently, with my approval, established a committee, which include people from the private sector and the academic field who have valuable experience in personnel training and development, whose mandate is to examine Garda training needs at all levels, from basic recruit training to courses provided for the senior management rank in the force. Having regard to the wide range of training that the committee have been asked to look at, it will, of necessity, take them a considerable time to complete their work. I have, therefore, asked the committee to give priority to basic recruit training and I expect to have their report on this aspect of Garda training later in the summer. There will be in the autumn a new training scheme under which all recruits will come in in the autumn.
I have also taken steps to improve the Garda organisational structure in areas where there was severe pressure on the existing management. Last month I approved the creation of two additional Garda districts — one in the Dublin metropolitan area and one in Cork city. The new Dublin district has its headquarters at Fitzgibbon Street and comprises the sub-districts of Fitzgibbon Street, which has been transferred from Store Street district, and Mountjoy, which has been transferred from the Bridewell district. The reorganisation is designed to relieve work pressures which were particularly heavy in the Store Street and Bridewell districts and to strengthen Garda resources in the city centre area. In addition to the new superintendent, the necessary inspectors and other support staff are being appointed to the new district.
The completion of three new Garda stations in Cork city provided the opportunity for a reorganisation of the Garda district structure there. The new district increases the number of city districts from four to five. It has relieved particularly heavy work pressures in the Union Quay city district and has enabled a reorganisation of a number of sub-districts including those which were in the former Cobh district, which was divided by the River Lee. The necessary support staff are being provided for the new district in addition to the extra superintendent.
What I am saying is that we have enough gardaí, but we should proceed to train them better, recruit them in a more modern and more efficient way and deploy them better. This is an ongoing process which I continued a month after I came into office and which I am continuing now. I think the Garda should also be properly equipped. I have taken steps that they will be equipped. I should like to deal with that aspect now. Every time a serious crime is reported, a cry goes up from one quarter or another regretting that the Garda have not modern equipment, otherwise these things would not happen. They have the most modern equipment. There is no stinting in Garda equipment. I should like to outline what has been done and is in the course of being done.
A modern sophisticated radio communications network is currently being provided for the force. The first phase of this network, which covers almost 700 Garda stations in the 18 Garda divisions outside of the Dublin metropolitan area, is now virtually completed. I understand it will be switched on for the whole country at the end of July. It will provide the Garda with their own independent radio communications system and it will mean that, at practically all times, gardaí and Garda cars on patrol duty will be contactable. I am confident that the new network will be of very significant benefit to the Garda.
The second stage of the national network is the system for the Dublin metropolitan area. I recently signed a £2 million contract for the radio equipment which will go into the 43 DMA stations and the new central DMA control centre. Tenders for a computerised command and control system to be installed in the control room are now being evaluated and I hope that it will be possible to place a contract for this element of the system in the near future and the money for that is provided in the Estimates. Similar systems have proved to be of very considerable benefit to police forces in cities abroad and I am confident that it will also be of immense value to the Garda in Dublin. They need to have the radio system and the new command and control headquarters computerised. That will be provided this year.
Computerisation in another area is also of considerable assistance to the Garda Síochána. The Garda computer service was considerably expanded towards the end of last year when about 60 visual display units and ancillary equipment were purchased. This has enabled the 18 Garda divisional headquarters, some major stations outside the Dublin metropolitan area and a number of the busiest stations within the Dublin area to be linked directly to the Garda computer. This facility for immediate access to records — for example, to check out stolen or suspect vehicles — is of great practical assistance to the Garda Síochána.
Another area where significant progress has been made is in the provision of up-to-date facilities in Garda accommodation. Over two years ago an accelerated Garda building programme was launched. Already 26 new Garda stations have been occupied by the Garda, including large new stations at Tralee, Santry, Ronanstown, Cahirciveen and Arklow as well as three large stations in Cork city. Work is well under way on a further 17 large projects, including new divisional headquarters at Galway and Monaghan, while contracts have recently been placed for major new stations at Roxborough in Limerick and at Swinford. Contracts will be placed this month for major projects at Tallaght, Westport and Sligo and tenders will be invited during the coming months for new stations at Tuam, Ennis, Lucan, Kells, Tipperary and Ashbourne. Planning is well advanced on new divisional headquarters stations for Union Quay, Cork, for Bandon, Letterkenny, Drogheda and Mullingar.
In a time of economic difficulties this level of building activity indicates a real level of commitment to the Garda building programme. In two and a half years a sum, of £8 million has been spent on a new building programme for the Garda Síochána and the Government have made an even greater financial allocation for the future. As I announced earlier this year, almost £15 million has been allocated to the Garda building programme in the next three years.
Apart from the Garda stations I have mentioned, a new headquarters has been provided at Harcourt Street in the DMA and this compares favourably with that of any police force anywhere. The Garda Depot has two major construction projects underway at the moment. The refurbishment of the central block has just commenced and tenders have recently been invited for a major extension to the Technical Bureau. All of this proves that the Government are committed to providing the Garda with the accommodation and equipment they need.
The Garda have also requested the facility of a firing range. Improved firing range facilities which will enable gardaí to have firearms training and to have it improved have also been provided. A new indoor firing range in the depot is now ready for use and it is one of the most modern facilities of its kind. It compares favourably with that of any police force in Europe or in North America. A suitable site has also been acquired for an outdoor firing range and this facility should be fitted out and ready for use towards the end of this year. Again, there is no problem with finance. The site is available and it is being fitted out. In the area of the indoor and the outdoor firing ranges, of the £23 million being spent on Garda accommodation, of the massive amount of money being spent on a radio network scheme throughout the country and in the area of computerisation, the Garda are getting the kind of equipment and accommodation they did not get previously but which they need in the fight against crime. In the future when some high-profile crime occurs, I hope that people will not rush into print arguing about any lack of equipment of the Garda Síochána.
The new garda complex at Santry — the former Talbot Motor premises — is in the process of being fitted out to accommodate a variety of Garda services such as the transport carriage office and the barrack master's stores. The overall progress I have outlined indicates the commitment of the Government.
It has also been my concern to ensure that the Garda, have available to them sufficient powers to deal effectively with crime. It is necessary to have a sufficient number of gardaí — we are committed to 11,400 — and then they should be equipped in the most modern way to enable them to act effectively. Management and deployment should be improved and then one makes sure they have the necessary legal powers to fight crime in a modern society. We have given them power they need in the Criminal Justice Act. It took a long time to get that measure through the Dáil. Only about half of the measures in it have been implemented but where they have been implemented they have been effective and we will be in a position to implement the remainder of the Act in the autumn.
As the House knows, some of the provisions of the Act are already in force. When the complaints board has been set up and the regulations dealing with the treatment of persons in Garda custody are implemented, the remainder of the measures will be implemented. The Act is one of the most important developments in criminal law and procedure since the foundation of the State and I believe it will go a long way towards restoring the balance between the rights of the community generally and those of accused persons. It was a controversial measure. It took a long time to get through the House where it was debated thoroughly and properly, but in retrospect I think people are happy it is on the Statute Book. Anyone who had doubts about it last year had little doubts about it in the spring of this year when crime took on a higher profile than was the case 12 months ago.
I am sure Deputies are familar with the details of the Act but it is no harm to remind a wider audience of what has happened. There are stiffer penalties for firearms offences and the compulsory finger-printing of convicted persons was brought into force on 1 March 1985. With regard to bail, the law now requires that any sentence for an offence committed on bail be consecutive on any other sentence passed or about to be passed on a person for a previous offence. To make this provision more effective so far as sentences passed in the District Court are concerned, the aggregate term which a District Justice can impose when passing two or more consecutive sentences has been increased from 12 months to two years. In addition, absconding on bail has been made an offence for the first time and carries a penalty of 12 months imprisonment. Moreover, any sentence imposed for this offence has to be consecutive on any sentence passed for a prior offence. Offenders who continue to engage in criminal activity while on bail can now expect much harsher punishments by the courts.
Important changes in trial procedures have also been introduced. An accused person is now required to give notice of any alibi he intends to put forward in a jury trial. Majority verdicts have been introduced in criminal trials. The right to make an unsworn statement has been abolished. New procedures to allow proof by written statement and formal admission in trials will not only save court time, which is taken up at present informally proving matters that are not really in dispute, but it will also free a greater number of gardaí to deal with crime instead of being tied up in court.
Some of the key provisions in the Act are not yet in force. They deal with detention after arrest, the offences of withholding information about stolen property or illegally held firearms and inferences which may be drawn by the court against an accused. These will be brought into force when the two other measures are introduced.
On the subject of complaints against gardaí, in introducing the new independent complaints procedure we will be giving effect to another undertaking in the joint Programme for Government — an undertaking that was also given here when we were dealing with the Criminal Justice Bill in this House. My aim will be to provide a system for dealing with complaints that will establish and maintain public confidence in its fairness and impartiality and, at the same time, protect the Garda Síochána from unfounded allegations.
I should like to refer to one aspect that has recently been the subject of comment by at least one of the Garda representative associations. This concerns the provisions in the Bill dealing with what has been referred to as the right to silence. It has been said that the Bill will take away a garda's right of silence, thereby depriving him of one of his fundamental civil rights. It has been alleged that measures that were considered too draconian for criminals are now being introduced for the Garda Síochána. While I do not wish to pre-empt in any way the debate on the Bill when it comes before this House in the next session, I must put the record straight on this matter because of the importance of the issue.
The complaints Bill will make no change in the traditionally recognised right of a garda to remain silent when suspected or accused of a criminal offence. That is the only right of silence recognised by the law and that is preserved in its entirety so far as members of the force are concerned. Like anyone else, a garda will have the right to silence in relation to the investigation of a criminal offence.
However, members of the force are employees of the State and in the discharge of their official duties they are subject to discipline and to the authority of their superior officers in the same way as any other State employee. Indeed, I suggest there is no employee of any kind who is not subject to authority in precisely the same way. What is at issue here is whether in certain specific and defined circumstances members of the Garda Síochána when asked by the Commissioner, or by a senior officer acting with the authority of the Commissioner, to account for some aspect of the performance by them of their duties and in a context where there is no question of criminal charges being contemplated in relation to them, should have the right to refuse to answer such questions. My answer to that question is an emphatic "no". The Bill provides that in circumstances such as I have broadly and briefly outlined a member of the force will be under an obligation to answer. It will be a disciplinary offence for him to refuse to do so. Of course he will be fully protected as regards his right not to be compelled to incriminate himself, because the Bill provides that any statement made pursuant to the request to answer will not be admissible against him or his spouse in any criminal or civil proceedings.
I am satisfied and the Government are satisfied that a provision along these lines is essential to enable the new complaints procedure to work properly. It is by no means unique to the Garda. Can anyone suggest that other employees are not required to answer questions put to them by their employers or that the consequences for an employee would not be very serious if he should refuse to answer questions put to him by his employer? I have dealt in general with that provision because it has become a matter of contention recently and the comments in regard to it are not accurate. The right to silence in criminal cases is not being removed from the Garda. What is in question is the obligation on an employee to answer reasonable questions from his employer regarding his conduct in the performance of his duties.
When the Criminal Justice Act comes into operation I hope it will have the effect of improving the crime situation but we should look at the overall pattern, too. In 1981 crime increased by about 23 per cent over the previous year. In 1982 the increase was 9 per cent, while in 1983 it was about 5 per cent but last year crime was down by 2.6 per cent in the State as a whole. In the Dublin metropolitan area 57,664 indictable offences were recorded, a decrease of 4.8 per cent on the figure for 1983.