The Deputy was talking about it being an explosion in employment in the public service. We need to examine this area without looking at it from a blinkered ideological viewpoint.
The relationship between crime and social and economic conditions was the subject of an interesting study recently by Sergeant Eamon Lynch of the Crime Task Force in Cork which was reported by Mr. Padraig Yeates in The Irish Times of 28 June last. Sergeant Lynch makes a number of very interesting points, the principal one that the rise and drop in crime is directly correlated to the levels of consumption and economic growth. He makes the point, for example, that between 1985 and 1989 crime was fairly static while consumption rose by an average of 3.9 per cent. In 1990, however, consumption rose by only 0.4 per cent and the crime rate jumped by 7 per cent. He makes a similar point in relation to the 1980s. He states that in 1982 spending power dropped by 7.1 per cent, the largest drop in recent Irish economic history, and that the number of crimes shot up by 8,000. He went on to state that five of the six highest crime increases have been associated with minus or zero growth rates. He related that to the whole area of economic conditions and stated that while there was no direct correlation between unemployment and overall crime figures there is a strong correlation between income distribution and crime. He said:
I would argue that the extent of crime is crucially dependent on the extent of relative poverty in the community, the size of the gap between the have-a-lots and the have-a-lot-lesses and the interplay of expectations, frustrations, perceptions and misconceptions that offenders have of that gap, and particularly whether they consider that it is narrowing, widening or remaining constant.
One could take that latter point made by Sergeant Lynch who has 28 years' experience in the Garda Síochána and ask what conclusion could be drawn from the business of the Oireachtas this week where in this House we are dealing with the problem of crime in society, correctly addressing many areas of crime, updating the law, increasing penalties and so on and in the other Chamber the famous tax amnesty is being introduced, where people who have broken the law in another way, albeit in perhaps a higher class white collar way are being indemnified and given immunity and protection by way of confidentiality. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say we are serious about tackling crime while arguing that a different form of crime can have amnesties attached to it.
Unemployment and poverty may explain some crime but it can never excuse it. The vast majority of people who are poor or unemployed will never be involved in crime and they—or their communities—are often the first to suffer from it. In an area in my constituency which I will not identify, for obvious reasons, where there is 80 per cent unemployment I regularly get reports from people living in the area about being kept awake at night by parties and the trading of drug dealers. I get reports of people who cannot allow their children out to play because of the fear of being beaten up or intimidated. I get reports that when people hang out their clothes on the line they are stolen or in some cases burnt and excreta daubed on the doors. These people are often terrified to do anything about it, to even report it to the gardaí because they fear recriminations. It is no wonder that crime is now a major issue among the public. It must be tackled in a number of ways, first by updating the law.
I welcome the fact that we are making a start to update the outdated 19th century laws with which we have saddled the Garda Síochána for far too long in tackling the crime problem. It must also be tackled by consistent, fair and effective enforcement by the Garda Síochána and the rehabilition of offenders. The question of non-custodial sentencing and restitution must be addressed and the principle of restitution incorporated in our criminal code so that those who offend will be required to make restitution and be seen to do so.
We must also make an assault on the social and economic circumstances, such as unemployment and housing, in which crime breeds. We must support the development of community activity, in particular voluntary organisations, which do so much work to prevent crime. Money spent, from the national lottery for example, in funding voluntary organisations, such as sports and youth clubs, is well spent. This will save the State money because people will be kept away from a life of crime in the first instance.
We must also address the question of values. During the past decade and a half the dominant ideology in society has been one that promoted the concept of individualism, but this has undermined the understanding in society that people have a responsibility to look after each other. I am not denying that there is an element of individual responsibility; indeed I strongly believe in it, it must be encouraged so that people are taught from an early age that there is a difference between right and wrong. Therefore, we must be tough in tackling crime and its causes.
Street violence, vandalism and petty crime are among the most ugly features of modern society; they are making life a misery for an increasing number of innocent people. I am sure every public representative will confirm there is a demand from the public for action to deal with the problem.
The relatively small number of attacks on tourists in Dublin has received widespread publicity and, apart from the suffering and loss to the victims, the potential damage to our tourism industry is enormous but the ordinary citizens are bearing the brunt of the problem; 55.5 per cent of all reported crime occurs in Dublin, where one third of the population lives. The crime rate in Dublin is six times the level in some rural Garda divisions. What is of more concern is the low detection rate in Dublin. In the Dublin South Central Division it is 26.3 per cent while in the Dublin Eastern Division it is 26.9 per cent. This compares with a level of over 50 per cent in some rural divisions. It means that if one lives in Dublin one is more likely to be a victim of crime and that the criminal is less likely to be brought to justice. To a large extent this is due to under-policing in Dublin.
Recently the Minister indicated that there is one garda for every 260 members of the population in the Dublin Metropolitan Area as against one per 320 nationally. This may appear to be a small gap but one must take into account the range of special duties which the Garda Síochána undertake in the Dublin area. For example, in my constituency these special duties include protecting VIPs and members of the Judiciary. In addition, if there is a match in Croke Park or a concert at the Point Depot members of the Garda Síochána must be in attendance. It is quite clear that the Dublin area is under-policed.
While I appreciate that there are geographical considerations which must be taken into account only 56 Garda stations out of a total of over 700 are located in the Dublin Metropolitan Area. This represents a figure of less than 7 per cent in an area where one third of the population lives, where over half of all reported crime occurs and where the detection rate is less than 30 per cent. The conclusions are obvious.
The reality is that the quality of life is diminishing significantly. Once people could stroll at their ease through the main streets of our city but now, especially at night, they hurry by for fear of attack. Entire communities have become virtual prisoners in their own homes. The key in the door, the door on the latch and the open door, once common sights in working class Dublin, have largely disappeared as people have been forced to retreat behind locks, grilles and burglar alarms. Some of the new provisions in this Bill will help to deal with these problems but it is by no means a complete response or solution. Indeed, many of the new provisions will be of limited value unless the authorities withdraw the recent circular instructing gardaí that charges should not be preferred until an investigation is completed, that suspected offenders are to be released without bail or charged and summonsed instead to appear in court at a later date.
This matter to which Deputy Harney referred needs to be addressed urgently. Even when an offender is caught redhanded by the Garda Síochána it can still take some time to complete the investigation as witnesses may have to be interviewed, fingerprints taken or forensic tests carried out. Offenders caught in the act are now being released without charge pending the completion of this lengthy process.
Democratic Left believes in the principle that persons charged with offences should have reasonable access to bail, particularly as it can take so long for the matter to come to trial. At least when bail is set a person has to put up their own bail in minor cases or more usually find somebody who will put up independent bail. The bail set can be substantial and, therefore, there is a financial incentive for the offender to turn up. What will happen now? Do we really expect an offender caught in the act but released without bail or being charged who knows he is guilty and faces conviction to await the completion of the file and the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions? The offender is more likely to move to a new address or out of the country altogether. The new procedure sends the wrong message to the criminals and victims, a message that crime is not regarded seriously by society.
There are many problems with the bail system but it does provide some restraint and discouragement. For instance, under the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, failure to surrender to bail is in itself an offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 or a prison sentence of up to 12 months or both. Certain offences committed while on bail can qualify for consecutive sentences. If the Minister is serious about combating crime I appeal to her to reconsider this matter, to withdraw the circular and revert to the old procedure whereby suspects were charged and brought to court as soon as possible. If she does this some of the provisions in this Bill will be of help.
The introduction of the provision under section 18 to deal with racketeering is a welcome and long overdue reform. The maximum sentence of 14 years rightly indicates the seriousness of the offences of blackmail, extortion and demanding money with menaces.
Most of the new sections dealing with the issues of crowd control are in line with the recommendations of the Committee on Public Safety and Crowd Control. The closure of the gap in the law should help to ensure the safety of those attending such events. We are aware of the appalling dangers when large numbers of people congregate, especially if there is disorder. Those who watched the television coverage of the Heysel Stadium disaster for example would not doubt the need for proper crowd control powers. I hope, however, that these powers will be used by the Garda Síochána with a degree of sensitivity and common sense.
I am concerned about a number of provisions in the Bill. A delicate balance has to be struck between the need to protect society from violent or thuggish behaviour, on the one hand, and the need to respect the democratic rights and civil liberties of individuals on the other. Some of the sections will require careful consideration on Committee Stage to ensure that the correct balance is struck.
I am particularly concerned about sections 6 to 8 which could be used to suppress legitimate, if unpopular, social and political views. For instance, section 7 states that it will be an offence to distribute or display any writing, sign or visible representation which is threatening, abusive, insulting or obscene whereby a breach of the peace may be occasioned. The problem is that one person's expression of an opinion can be regarded by another person as threatening, abusive or insulting.
A placard outside a coursing meeting stating that coursing is cruel and brutal may be regarded as abusive and insulting by coursing enthusiasts, but it is an expression of a legitimate view. Will this now be an offence punishable by up to six months in jail? "Abortion is murder" is not a view I hold but I have no doubt that a placard carried along O'Connell Street stating this would be regarded as abusive and insulting by many onlookers. Will this now be regarded as an offence punishable by up to six months in jail? Will it be an offence for a striking worker to carry a placard referring to a strike breaker as a scab? Such a placard is insulting and is probably intended to be insulting. Under this section a person does not even have to intend to cause a breach of the peace to be guilty of an offence.
There are similar problems in regard to section 8 which makes it an offence to act in a disorderly manner at a public meeting for the purposes of preventing the transaction of the business of the meeting or inciting another person to so act. I suppose we should be glad that sittings of the Dáil do not come within the definition of such a meeting. The Minister explained the intent of this section to some extent. However, it needs to be looked at much more closely. Questions arise as to whether it will outlaw heckling at a public meeting. If, for example, during the next election the Minister decides to hold a meeting outside the church in Oughterard or at a comharcumann in Cornamona——