Written Answers. - Increase in Violent Crime.
158 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Justice the action he proposes to take in relation to the recent statement of a person (details supplied) that violent crime in Ireland is steadily increasing every year.
I assume the Deputy is referring to a paper read to the Conference of the European Forum of Victim Services on 22 May 1992. In this paper the person concerned, rather than suggesting, as the question implies, that crime in Ireland was steadily increasing, sought to counter an overstated view of the extent of crime in this country.
He pointed to the fact that offences against the person had decreased from 1981 to 1990 by 34 per cent. The Commissioner's recently published Annual Report on Crime in fact shows a further decrease in 1991 of 12 per cent in this category of crime by comparison with 1990.
He also examined Irish crime rates in an international context and concluded that Ireland had the lowest number of homicides of the 12 EC countries, that our burglary rate compares favourably, being less than half the rate experienced in Germany and Denmark and less than one third the rate in the Netherlands. He also pointed out that all EC countries with the exception of Spain and Germany have experienced an increase in crime over the five year period 1986 to 1990 but that the increase in Ireland in that period at 1 per cent was the lowest in a range of increases from 1 per cent to 38 per cent.
However, to explain why there should be a perception that crime in Ireland is spiralling when this is not supported by the evidence, he concludes that this perception may be caused by an increase in the use of what he terms "gratuitous violence" in the course of what would otherwise be petty stealing. He points out that the incidence of this type of violence is small, being only 3 per cent of all cases of stealing. He attributes this increase most significantly to increasing crude behaviour by some members of the public which eventually manifests itself in criminal activity as violent crime.
I agree with the major argument of the paper — that the crime problem can at times be overstated. Indeed I am concerned that such overstatement can serve only to unduly frighten vulnerable members of society. However, I also share the disquiet which was expressed at the increase in violence in what would otherwise be petty stealing.
This paper highlighted the advantages of community-based crime prevention programmes in encouraging the community to work with the police and to improve the quality and safety of their own lives. I believe that these programmes have a very important part to play in promoting and maintaining traditional values of decency and good behaviour as well as in helping to prevent crime including the type of violence referred to. I intend to continue to give such programmes my fullest support. I also believe that many other recent developments will make a vital contribution to the fight against crime and will serve to keep our country as free from crime as modern society allows.
These developments include the present Garda recruitment campaign which will bring the strength of the Garda Síochána at the end of this year to almost 11,000; the new rural policing arrangements introduced last year at 100 rural Garda stations; the new Crimeline programme representing a new approach in the Garda process of solving crime; the establishment of the interdepartmental group on urban crime which will shortly make its first report; important initiatives in relation to juvenile offenders —viz. revamping of the juvenile liaison scheme; special youth projects involving the Garda and Probation and Welfare Service; and new court rules designed to ensure the attendance of the parents or guardians of young offenders at juvenile court hearings; on the legislative side, I am urgently preparing proposals to update the law in relation to certain public order offences and I am also giving priority to a new Juvenile Justice Bill.
Other important legislative changes in the pipeline include legislation to allow for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime and the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill, 1992, which was circulated last week, to provide for appeals against unduly lenient sentences, to enable the courts to take account of the effect, and particularly any long term effect, of a violent crime on the victim when the sentence is being imposed and to empower the courts to require those convicted of offences involving violence to pay compensation to the victim for personal injury or loss resulting from the crime.