Written Answers. - Survey Findings.

Máirín Quill

Question:

29 Miss Quill asked the Minister for Justice if his attention has been drawn to the finding of a recent survey which indicates that only 9 per cent of those surveyed have confidence in the courts to combat crime; and if he will outline the steps which ought to be taken to urgently redress this situation.

Máirín Quill

Question:

35 Miss Quill asked the Minister for Justice if he will outline in the light of the recent survey which indicates that 49 per cent of the householders of this country live in fear of having their homes burgled and their possessions stolen, the special steps which in his opinion should now be taken to confront this situation; and if he will be recommending any particular strategy that would lead to a satisfactory rate of recovery and return of stolen goods to their rightful owners.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 35 together.

These two questions take their inspiration from the findings of a survey commissioned by a Sunday newspaper.

All scientifically conducted surveys obviously have a value. It is always necessary, however, in looking at survey findings to keep things in perspective and to avoid any overstatement either of their content or significance; those who specialise in taking surveys are themselves the first to acknowledge this.

It is necessary also to look quite carefully at the actual survey findings. The Deputy in this case appears to have read the findings to mean that only 9 per cent of those surveyed had confidence in the courts. The more complete picture is that a total of 38 per cent expressed themselves as being either very confident or what is described as fairly confident.

A relevant consideration in relation to the courts is that very often public opinion tends to be influenced to an extent by media reportage of a relatively small number of decisions which are considered somewhat unusual. I do not suggest, of course, that the media are to be faulted for this — the fact is that the thousands of cases which go through the courts without controversy of any basis for controversy do not make news. It is necessary always to bear in mind that the task of the court is to dispense justice having sifted all of the evidence presented in the court itself. Nobody in this House needs reminding of the importance of giving full weight to defence as well as prosecuting evidence and the importance of excluding extraneous material. Deputies may be aware that the topic of sentencing policy is one of a number of issues in the criminal law area that has been referred to the Law Reform Commission. It will be valuable to have the Commission's observations in this regard in due course.

As to the findings in the same survey in relation to burglaries, the general observations I have already made concerning surveys again apply. I can assure the Deputy that the gardaí are very well aware of the distress caused by these crimes. I am informed by the Garda authorities that they are taking all possible action to reduce the incidence of residential burglaries. All residential areas receive regular attention from Garda foot and mobile patrols as well as from neighbourhood gardaí and specialist units where appropriate. In addition crime prevention advice is given by the community relations section of the Garda Síochána and by local crime prevention officers on measures which should be taken to help to prevent burglaries occurring.
The role to be played by the community is, of course, vital also. In this respect the Garda authorities have informed me that they are continuing to promote the Neighbourhood Watch programme which encourages the community to be vigilant to the danger of crime, to work closely with the gardaí and to take appropriate measures to protect their homes and their property.
Finally, I would refer the Deputy to the Larceny Act, 1990, which updates the law in relation to receiving stolen goods. The Act makes criminal activity more difficult for those who receive and deal in stolen property by replacing the former offence of receiving with a more broadly based offence of handling stolen property.