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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Feb 1994

Vol. 438 No. 7

Private Members' Business. - National Bureau of Crime Statistics Bill, 1993: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be read a Second Time."

Having got some statistics right today, I will try to get the others right.

I am very touched by the brotherly love the two Deputies Mitchell have shown.

I have often noticed the same in the Lenihan family.

This Bill consists of ten sections and seeks to create a statutory body to be called the National Bureau of Crime Statistics whose members would be the director of the Central Statistics Office, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Accounting Officer of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, an assistant Garda commissioner, a prison governor, a judge of the High Court and a representative of the Probation and Welfare Service of the Department of Justice as nominated by the Minister for Justice. The bureau's terms of reference would be to measure accurately the levels of crime and report on these annually by 31 March and to compare increases or decreases from period to period with analyses as to the actual levels of crime together with any comments they feel are helpful in dealing with the crime problem.

The reason I published this Bill is that I do not believe the current crime statistics reflect the true levels of crime, rather that they reflect the true levels of reported crime, which is a different matter. Second, I am concerned that the prison statistics are regularly published many years in arrears. Following the publication of this Bill the prison statistics for two or three years were placed in the Dáil Library. Third, the Whitaker report on penal reform recommended that there should be such a body to present accurate prison statistics such as early releases, the length of sentence served, the type of sentence, the number of prisoners released, the circumstances in which they were released and matters of that kind. Finally, the Law Reform Commission in its report on sentencing recommended that statistics on sentencing should be available to which judges and legislators could refer when deciding on sentencing policy.

Week in, week out we pass legislation which includes the words "six months and/or £500" or "12 months and/or £1,000" etc. Judges have no way of knowing the length of sentence being served, whether full sentences are being served, and which are successful. For example, are community work orders more successful than some prison sentences? Some judges decide that the full sentence should not be applied; in other words, if they decide to impose a two year sentence they will say to a person that they will bring them back in one year and review the sentence. Some judges use this to good effect. Other judges decide to suspend half a sentence and depending on a person's behaviour they may decide to suspend the balance. If information, data and statistics were available which judges and legislators could draw on they would be able to see whether these are successful. The point I am trying to make is that there is no adequate scientific data available.

The Garda Commissioner does not like to hear me say this but it is my duty to say that the crime statistics published annually by the Garda Commissioner do not reflect the true levels of crime in this country, even though these statistics are alarming in themselves. It is impossible to draw up any meaningful plans to tackle crime in the absence of statistics which would indicate the extent of the crime problem.

The first thing that anyone would do in preparing any plan and starting any fight-back against crime or disease is to measure accurately the true levels under various categories. One would then make provision for a review — I suggest an annual review — to see if we were reducing the levels but that is not the case here. Since we do not start from this premise we do not have a proper plan in place to tackle crime; all we have are highly publicised reactionary methods which do not form part of a plan which begins with statistics and ends with reform of prisons.

The statistics available on criminal activities presented in the Garda Commissioner's annual reports do not accurately reflect the true levels of crime. Many people know that there is no point in reporting crime and do not bother to do so. While some little information is available on crime the position in relation to other aspects of the criminal justice system is almost farcical. As far back as 1985 the Whitaker report on the penal system concluded that complexities are the reality of the criminal justice system but that given the present state of criminal justice statistics their frequency cannot be measured. Whitaker states and I quote: "This lack of information is not merely a nuisance which hinders research, it is a feature of the criminal justice system that decisions are taken at one stage in ignorance of what is occurring elsewhere in the system".

The Law Reform Commission report on sentencing, eight or nine years later, indicated that the situation had not changed and stated that any recommendations ultimately made in its report on sentencing would be rendered comparatively ineffective by the absence of proper information. It stated that details of every sentence in every court and of every instance of election for trial venue by judge, prosecution or accused should be recorded and speedily retrievable. That is the central matter. While it may not be very interesting to read or write about a national bureau of crime statistics, unless we start from this point we are going nowhere. In this regard the Minister should note what I said about the Whitaker committee and the Law Reform Commission.

The statistics relating to the prison system must be regarded as a joke. If memory serves me correctly, in 1988 three prison reports for a number of previous years were published. Subsequent to that, in or about July of last year, the reports for 1988 and 1989 were published. Before Christmas last year the annual report for prisons and places of detention for 1991 was published. These reports were placed in the Library unannounced. This is totally unacceptable.

The most up-to-date report available for the Probation and Welfare Service is that for 1989-90, which was also published in December 1993. How can anyone have any view in relation to alternatives to imprisonment if the report of the agency which deals with these alternatives is so many years out-of-date? How can we know, for instance, how effective these rehabilitation programmes are — programmes such as community service orders, programmes involving the use of workshops or other supervisory programmes conducted by the Probation and Welfare Service — if we have no details of what has occurred in these areas since 1989?

As the main Opposition spokesman on Justice how can I hope to put together some sort of researched view to present the views of this party? How can the Minister put together Government policy without having up-to-date statistics? The only thing we do know is that at that stage the Probation and Welfare Service was grossly understaffed and that that has not changed in the meantime.

There are no statistics available in regard to the courts. Nobody seems to know the position in relation to the collection of fines, sentencing for various types of crime etc. I could go on, but all I could do would be to show that there are no statistics in relation to what is happening in regard to sentencing. Recently the Minister for Justice announced a £66 million plan to tackle crime. It is not significant that not one penny of that £66 million is earmarked for researching the penal system or the courts system? Eminent commentators have stated that given the relatively small size of the jurisdiction as a whole, even 0.5 of 1 per cent of this amount would provide sufficient funds for a substantial research programme. We cannot even begin to tackle crime until such time as we know the extent of the problem. Filling potholes here and there in the system will not solve the problem. The Law Reform Commission's report on sentencing recommended the setting up of an agency staffed by experts to conduct the necessary research and provide statistics. Fine Gael fully agrees with this recommendation. Accordingly, I ask for the support of the House for this Bill.

I would like to quote from an article in The Irish Times of 19 January 1994, written by Messrs. Tom O'Malley and Ian O'Donnell. Mr. Tom O'Malley is a lecturer in law at University College Galway and Mr. Ian O'Donnell is research officer, University of Oxford Centre for Criminological Research. In this article they are critical of what they say is a criminal justice policy imprisoned by a lack of imagination.

This article says much about the total lack of imagination and reactionary approach of the Department of Justice. There seems to be a view that plenty of legislation, with money thrown at it here and there, will look good in the House and in the newspapers and make it appear that the Department is doing something about the problem. The Minister might as well have called the £66 million package a £550 million package, because she is saying she will provide this money over a number of years. However, £66 million sounds the sort of figure one might get away with if one were trying to be taken seriously. How are we to really tackle the cowboys selling drugs openly on the streets, or the people who have have caused out old folk to retreat behind closed doors after daylight hours — and sometimes even during daylight hours — or the people who constantly steal cars and vandalise property to get their kicks and who have brought about the situation where, not just in urban areas, people are living behind shutters and alarms or living on roads with ramps, because even in rural areas people are afraid to come to the door to meet a stranger who may be looking for directions? If we are to even begin to fight back against these cowboys, these criminals, the first thing to do is to measure the level of the problem.

I stress that it is as much a rural problem now as an urban problem. Younger people, who might be expected to protect the older members of the community in rural areas, have emigrated. The older members are now more vulnerable. Somebody recently told me that some older members of his constituency are moving in from rural areas and closer to villages in order to feel safer. What are we doing to protect them? We are talking about legislation and about a £66 million plan. It is a cod. If we are serious about a plan, let us start at the beginning.

In this article it stated:

The Irish Criminal Justice Research Centre, of which both present writers are directors, was established a year ago with the aims of conducting empirical research on the criminal justice system including sentencing practice, providing a resource and documentation centre for others, including State officials, working in the area of criminology and penology, and organising regular seminars which would act as a forum for the exchange of ideas and the promulgation of research findings. So far, however, despite our best efforts, we have failed to attract any State financial support, and the package of measures now announced leaves us less than optimistic about the future.

That is what these eminent writers jointly had to say about the co-called £66 million package without research, research which they are trying to carry out themselves voluntarily because the State will not do it. Why will the State not do it? What has the State got to fear? Is the Minister afraid that we might all get to know the extent of the problem and see clearly that there is such a dreadful lack of resources to adequately tackle the problem and that she will be shown up for what she is — a Minister without a real crime policy, let alone a crime package?

I am also grateful to Dr. Paul O'Mahony, a psychologist formerly with the Department of Justice, for his book, Crime and Punishment published earlier this year. I would like to quote certain sections of it. He talks about the overall picture in a paragraph headed “The mysterious criminal justice process”. He says:

At this point a complete and fully elaborated understanding of the reality of crime and punishment in Ireland is at best a distant and elusive goal. There are a number of reasons for this. First, we lack much basic information about the criminal justice process in all its phases from the commission of crime to release from prison. Such information is a prerequisite of a full and proper understanding and appraisal of the Irish criminal justice process.

Second, much of the information we do have is inconsistent and even self-contradictory to a level which makes drawing confident conclusions impossible or, at any rate, unwise.

He also stated:

The area of official statistics is an obvious example of the lack of cohesion and co-operation between the three branches. The police and the prisons do not even use the same classification of offences. The court system barely keeps a statistical record at all. However, the lack of co-ordination spreads far beyond record-keeping into very significant areas which impact on the essential nature of the penal system.

The most serious and obvious example of conflict of aims and action between the branches of the criminal justice system is the widespread, effective reduction of sentence by the prison administration due to accommodation pressures in the prison system. A judge ponders long and hard, taking offence, offender, and all the surrounding, possibly mitigating or possibly aggravating, circumstances into account, before he or she decides on a suitable sentence. Sometime later, a fortunate offender may find himself out on the street again, having served a third, a quarter, or even less of that sentence. This is surely a travesty of the court and judicial system and everything it stands for, as well as an undoubted provocation to the victims and the police officers, who will have worked on the detection and prosecution of the case. It is certainly a clear example of how the constituent elements of the criminal justice system work at odds with each other.

Clearly, an essential step towards a comprehensive understanding of the operation of the Irish criminal justice system is the drawing up of a reliable, detailed map of the process, with which we can describe and trace how events unfold and what actually happens to people as they are processed through the various stages.

I deliberately read those quotations because they are an indictment of our lack of professionalism. We are operating the "quick fix" mentality in which we issue a statement and introduce harsh legislation, some of which is not aimed at criminals but at law abiding citizens. For example, that was the case in respect of some sections of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, but the Minister had the good sense to delete those provisions on the advice of Members before the legislation was passed. Some of our criminal justice legislation is aimed at ordinary law abiding citizens, it is a reactionary measure not based on any proper fundamental statistics. Those are not my words but the words of Dr. Paul O'Mahony a former psychologist in the Department of Justice, Tom O'Malley from UCC and Ian O'Donnell of the Centre for Criminological Research at Oxford University.

When I raised those points originally, a few people's noses were put out of joint. They did not like to hear those statements, but that is tough because I will do my job and they should do theirs. My job is to speak in the national interest. What I said is substantiated by the people I quoted here this evening. Dr. O'Mahony went on to state:

Information is the lifeblood of institutional policy and decision-making, and the lack of information is another important source of chaos in the Irish criminal justice system. In this study there have been many occasions on which it was necessary to regret a lack of basic information. In many areas official data collection and the compiling of statistics is completely missing, in others it is in an incomprehensible mess. This is not just a shame for the statisticians and other eccentrics who actually enjoy working with figures, it is a disaster for the system itself. Lack of information on the present scale condemns the system to endless blind stumbling in the darkness of incoherence and self-contradiction. Information alone will not solve the problems of the criminal justice system, but it is essential if these problems are ever to be solved.

Dr. O'Mahony, in quoting a civil servant from the New Zealand Ministry of Justice who sums up the situation nicely, stated:

You know you're really in a third world country, when you can no longer afford to record the progress of your own decline.

This is clearly an area which must be addressed urgently. Official statistics must be put on a sure footing and the administration should grasp the great opportunities for effective, routine data collection and analysis presented by modern computer technology.

The present sloppy approach to statistics and low priority placed on research and data collection are unacceptable in themselves. They also indicate that the system is currently subject to a highly questionable style of management and forward planning, which apparently feels that it can function without even attempting to obtain a full understanding of what goes on. In this context, the recent recommendation of the Law Reform Commission for an official research unit to collect data on and examine court sentencing practice is timely and can be unambiguously endorsed.

Is there any more to be said? Can any defence be made against that? I will re-read the quotation from the official of the New Zealand Ministry of Justice, but I wish it was a quotation from the Minister for Justice here. That civil servant stated, "You know you're really in a third world country, when you can no longer afford to record the progress of your own decline". Is there anybody in the academic world or other respected organisation whom we would take seriously if they came to us with a plan to deal with a problem and asked for money? This is the parliament of a country, the only authority who can take money from the people. If a person does not have statistics or research material we would not give him or her any money. Why then should we give the Minister for Justice money to use in whatever manner she likes when she does not give this House the true data and statistics in relation to the prison system, sentencing policy and the position in relation to crime on which we could evaluate the budgetary proposals put forward by her?

I did not grow up in a city where people had to have alarms on their houses, shops and cars, where ramps on roads were the order of the day to prevent people stealing cars and driving them at speed along residential streets and where shutters were placed on shop windows as a matter of routine. In the Dublin in which I grew up people window-shopped on a Sunday afternoon in O'Connell Street. As a young boy I was able to go on my own from my house in Inchicore to the Phoenix Park to see President Kennedy. My daughter is slightly older now than I was at the time President Kennedy visited this country, but I would not allow her to go down the road on her own; such is the extent of the crime problem. Yet, we refuse to start on a professional footing by providing scientific information to analyse the extent of the crime problem and the success in tackling it so that we can keep on top of it. If we refuse to start at that basic level, how can anyone take us seriously? I would like to share my time with Deputy Connaughton.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This Bill should not involve a charge on the Exchequer. The people whom I propose should form this bureau are people of stature who are already on the public payroll. They include the Director of the Central Statistics Office, the Comptroller and Auditor General, an Accounting Officer of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, an assistant Garda commissioner, a prison governor, a High Court judge and a representative of the Probation and Welfare Service of the Department of Justice to be nominated by the Minister for Justice. The establishment of the bureau would involve statutorily bringing those people together, giving them power and authority to enable them give Members basic information relating to crime to enable us take on the criminals. I hope the Minister will accept the Bill and set up the bureau.

I recommend Deputy Mitchell's Bill. I am looking forward to the response of the Minister of State — the official line — to the Bill. I am sure he will oppose it. I would like him to outline the grounds on which he will oppose it as it makes a good deal of sense to me. There are a few matters on this important subject in regard to which I wish to draw the Minister's attention. I understand the crime statistics for last year — which appear to have been leaked — indicate an overall increase in crime of 8 per cent. I would have thought that the figure would have been higher. There has been a fairly dramatic increase in crime in my area of Galway East-Roscommon, an area which for many years was the least crime-ridden. Last year people who live and work in that area had reason to believe that there had been an increase in crime there. Like many members of the public I believe the criminal is winning the war. If one were to analyse the position it would be hard to pinpoint why this appears to be the case. The majority of people, particularly the elderly, believe there is an impediment in the way of catching criminals before they commit a crime. That is a frightful commentary in the light of the very fine people who are involved in crime protection, detection and so on. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Garda Síochána for their work in this regard.

I hope the points I raise tonight will be helpful. I do not agree with the change in approach to policing in rural Ireland. During the years I have been consistent in my views on the policing of rural areas. I do not agree with the principle of grouping Garda Síochána in a nucleus in particular towns from which to police the surrounding countryside and small villages by a squad car. I believed, and this is borne out by police reviews worldwide, that the presence of the uniformed policeman on the beat is the best deterrent, particularly in respect of petty criminals. A new principle appears to have been adopted in relation to policing, although it has only being introduced on a pilot basis. One of the sub-headquarters of such policing activity is in the small town of Mount Bellew from which I come. The management of the force consider it possible to have a greater police presence in local areas from a squad car than from a garda on the beat, by gardaí communicating with each other through the use of technology, such as of telephones, two-way radios and so. There must be great pressure on the Garda Commissioner to devise a system whereby sufficient gardaí are deployed in the main areas of crime and at the same time an adequate number of gardaí are deployed to police other areas. I sound a word of warning to the Minister in regard to inadequate policing of rural areas. However, I support many of the positive measures introduced by the Department of Justice in recent times. The recruitment of additional gardaí is welcome.

I hope Deputy Mitchell is listening.

I hope the Minister listened to Deputy Mitchell.

I listen to him all the time.

Many people in areas of the west and in other rural areas believe the policing of those areas is far below what is adequate or recommended. The local policeman or police woman in a small rural community know everybody by name — they may know too much about them — and that is the basis of good police work. There are many no-go areas for the Garda in this and other cities. It is not possible to build up mutual trust between the Garda and members of a community in a no-go area. The crime situation in rural areas has not deteriorated to that level. We have the utmost respect for the Garda Síochána. They have earned that respect. However, I do not like what is happening in regard to policing in rural areas. If a Garda team are asked to carry out their duty from the position of looking through the windscreen of a patrol car — no matter how well motivated the team is — they will never form the bond of friendship and the relationship which is necessary to nip petty criminals in the bud. Many people would consider the crime rate in rural areas is low and that we have no need to be concerned. Those who saw the leaked crime statistics will be aware of the position in regard to crime in rural areas. We are very concerned that the new policing system — I am not sure if it will be more or less costly than the present system — is a step in the wrong direction.

The residents of the small town of Moylough can expect the Garda barracks to be open for two out of 24 hours a day. If one needs to transmit a message one must talk to a "green man" on the door of the Garda station. As a matter of principle, many people would not visit the station.

I am aware that the police force must be utilised to the best possible advantage and there are management modules in place. If the Minister takes this measure too far and withdraws the police presence from the small villages of Ireland some future Minister for Justice will have to pay far more in Exchequer funding to tackle the huge rise in crime that will result in these areas. I compliment the Garda and the local community on the success of the community alert schemes. I hope rural Ireland will get its fair share of the new recruits, when they are trained.

The central proposal in this short Bill is to create a National Bureau of Crime Statistics having certain statutory functions and powers. These include a responsibility to measure accurately the levels of crime, to report on those annually, to compare and analyse trends in the levels of crime, to issue interim reports on request to certain office holders, including the Minister for Justice, various members of the Judiciary and chairpersons of Oireachtas committees, to examine and report on the various annual reports published in the Justice area relating to crime, prisons, courts and the probation and welfare service, and on other statistics in relation to crime as they see fit and to ensure that the various annual reports referred to are published promptly and are based on modern and accurate information.

The Bill envisages that the bureau may compile its own statistics on crime by using sampling methods or other scientific methods. The bureau would be serviced by the Central Statistics Office, with membership of the bureau drawn from a wide spectrum, representative of all areas of the criminal justice system, and under the chairmanship of the director of the Central Statistics Office.

I share some of the concerns reflected in the proposals in the Bill. I am concerned about various aspects of the official statistics produced in relation to the criminal justice system, but the provisions in Deputy Mitchell's Bill do not come to grips with the fundamental problems in this area. There are better and more economic ways of achieving the undoubted improvements that are needed.

I will describe later on the steps already being taken to reform the present arrangements in this area. I believe that this can be achieved without establishing a new statutory body, as proposed in the Bill. I would have certain other reservations about the proposals in the Bill, and their ultimate effectiveness, including some legal and constitutional points. For these reasons I cannot support the proposals in this Bill, despite the sympathy I share with some of its objectives.

As I informed the House in my speech on the budget last week, recorded indictable crime increased by 1 per cent in 1992 and while final figures for 1993 are not yet available, I am aware that they will show a further increase on the 1992 figure. However, I am confident that the measures contained in the law and order package which I published last December, and which represents a significant initiative and investment by the Government, will prove effective in dealing with the very broad and complex issue of crime in our society today. I am sure that all Members are fully aware of the detailed measures contained in the package. I will, therefore, confine myself to breifly mentioning the main measures contained in the package which are as follows: an accelerated recruitment of 407 gardaí in 1994; an annual intake of 350 recruits for the period 1995 to 1997 to maintain the strength of the force at its present level; recruitment of 200 civilian clerical-administrative staff in the period 1994 to 1997 to release an equivalent number of gardaí for operational duties; implementation of an information technology plan for the gardaí; up-grading of Garda communications network; optimum replacement of Garda fleet; installation of closed circuit television to combat city crime; further development of community-based measures in areas of disadvantage; implementation of certain — non legal — proposals of the Government's Advisory Committee on Fraud; providing an additional 210 prison places; recruitment of an additional 50 probation and welfare officers and support staff in the period 1994 to 1997; the provision of additional probation and welfare facilities and the appointment of three additional judges and support staff.

I would now like to refer to section 4 of Deputy Mitchell's Bill which provides that the proposed National Bureau of Crime Statistics will be required to "measure accurately the levels of crime". Deputy Mitchell's proposal could imply that crime statistics are not measured accurately at present. I strongly refute any inference that the Garda suppress reports of crime to make the figures smaller or that I, as Minister for Justice, do not want accurate crime statistics to be published. I would, therefore, like to firstly explain how crime statistics are recorded.

As the House will be aware the compilation of crime statistics is primarily a matter for the Garda authorities. I am informed by them that the process of recording a crime commences when a person reports to the Garda Síochána that an offence has been committed or when the Garda witness the crime, or by their own action discover evidence of a crime in the course of a Garda investigation. In addition, a crime may come to light when an offender is being tried or cautioned and asks to have other crimes taken into consideration.

It is clear from this, first of all, that the recording of crime is much broader than just dealing with crimes which are reported directly to the Garda Síochána by the victim and secondly, that the Garda authorities are the appropriate authority to record crime and report on crime levels because the public must report crime to the Garda Síochána if they wish alleged offences to be investigated. It would, therefore, be unrealistic to separate the functions of recording and reporting of crime from the investigation of crime.

I would also like to point out that in certain instances a reclassification of crime occurs.

This is because the Garda Síochána initially makes a brief examination of the facts to determine if there is prima facie evidence of a crime before recording it. Later investigation and decisions of a superintendent of the Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, or decisions of the courts may result in a reclassification of indictable offences. Generally, the basis of the classification given is the legal definition of the crime and, in particular, the definition of the crime for which a person is, or would be, convicted.

These points reflect the fact that a specialist knowledge and ongoing information and involvement in the process of criminal investigation is required to classify crimes correctly. This reinforces the point which I have already made, that the Garda authorities are the most qualified State agency for recording crime and reporting on crime levels.

While I firmly believed that the Garda Síochána must remain as the primary body with responsibility for recording crime statistics, I would not like to give the impression that I am against any changes in the present system for compiling and presenting statistics on crime, or that I have an inflexible view on the matter.

I agree that it is always useful to review the way in which we compile the official statistics in this area, not only from the point of view of accuracy, but also to ensure that statistics on crime are processed and presented in such a way as to convey maximum information for the purpose of decision making, policy formation and research.

I believe that it is in the latter area that our statistics in the criminal justice area are open to most criticism. As far as accurate measurement of reported crime level is concerned, I do not believe that any independent bureau relying on sampling techniques can improve on the existing methods of data collection, which are based on total enumeration of the subject population in all areas of the criminal justice systems.

I do not believe statisticians would suggest that sampling may be more accurate than total enumeration. Sampling techniques inevitably involve error factors and can produce misleading results. They cannot hope to convey the total picture. We need to have an objective look at the way in which our statistics in the Justice area are generated, but from the inside rather than from the outside.

That is not to run the risk that such a review would be inward looking and untimately self-serving. As Minister for Justice I have a reliable guide to the statistical needs of the public and public representatives through the regular requests for information received in my Department, and through the continuous demands made by Members via the parliamentary question system.

Such a review can also come to grips with one of the most fundamental problems that needs to be addressed in this area, that is, the improvement in the quality of information that can be derived from a closer integration of the different components of the criminal justice system — the Garda, the prisons, the courts and the probation and welfare service — for the purpose of statistic generation. There is a need for greater consistency in recording data and the adoption of a common statistical framework that will produce information in a more meaningful way and so reflect the processing of crime and individuals through the various stages of an interrelated criminal justice system.

The problem of unrecorded and unreported crime is universal. I am aware that concern has been expressed in certain quarters that a high level of crime in Ireland is not reported. As I stated, all crimes reported to the Garda are recorded and crime is also recorded on the basis of other factors, for example, when a member of the Garda Síochána witnesses a criminal act or if the perpetrator subsequently admits to having committed a crime. However, it is generally accepted that virtually every country and jurisdiction has a certain percentage of unreported crime, and Ireland is no exception.

Against this background I would, therefore, consider it unfair if people were to suggest that Ireland has a major problem in this regard. I am sure that Ireland is no different to most countries in this respect. Considering the confidence that the general public has in the Garda Síochána it is probable that the percentage of unreported crime is much less here than in many other countries. The problem of unreported crime is a complex one that warrants special study. There are strong psychological and cultural influences involved here. It is not simply a question of the Garda being somehow negligent or indifferent to a large volume of crime that remains unreported.

I am sure that a statistical survey designed to measure the incidence of child sexual abuse in Ireland in 1980 would have revealed a very satisfactory situation at the time. We all know very differently now. The statistical techniques would not have changed in the meantime. What has changed dramatically is the reporting culture. The problem is not necessarily confined to minor crime such as petty larcenies. People who fail to report crime may have good reasons for doing so. They may be prepared to inform a third party or an anonymous purveyor of a crime perpetrated against them, while remaining opposed to reporting the crime to a member of the Garda Síochána due to the consequences for them or for others of initiating action under the criminal justice system.

I would now like to turn to a recent Bill passed by the House. The Statistics Act, 1993, which was passed in July 1993, deals in a very comprehensive way with the whole area of collecting, compiling and reporting of official statistics.

A key feature of the Act provides for the establishment of the Central Statistics Office as the independent body under the strategic direction of the National Statistics Board with authority not only to compile statistics but also to co-ordinate statistics compiled by other public authorities. The board will also assess the statistical potential of administrative records and make arrangements with other public authorities to collect, compile, extract or disseminate statistics. However, under section 30 (2) of the Act, the Central Statistics Office will not have a statutory right of access to records pertaining to a court, the Garda Síochána or the prisons administration. Such records are by their very nature sensitive and it would not be in the public interest to hand over custody of such records to an agency, other than those coming under th direct control of my Department.

I would like to emphasise that under the Statistics Act, 1993, there is a provision for Government Departments, including my own, to invite the Central Statistics Office to inspect and analyse official statistics along the lines envisaged under Deputy Mitchell's Bill and to put forward suggestions on how they might be improved. In fact, senior officials of my Department, with representatives of An Garda Síochána, recently met with the Director of the Central Statistics Office to consider how the statistical data coming within my Department's ambit can be more closely co-ordinated and inter-linked. The Central Statistics Office has particular expertise in this area, and I would be very anxious to avail of its undoubted skills and knowledge.

Following the recent meeting with the Director of the Central Statistics Office it was decided to set up a special study group to consider how best to co-ordinate the whole area of statistical data and information within my Department. For this reason I propose to await the findings of the study group to see what recommendations it comes up with. Indeed should the study group consider it necessary to engage the services of outside consultants to help in this regard I will be happy to consider any such proposals.

The existing mechanism for the collection and analysis of statistical data is basically very sound and we should be focusing on how to fine tune this. I am confident the first step in doing this is through the special study group to which I referred.

Deputy Mitchell's suggestion to establish a national bureau of crime statistics would, I consider, create a number of very fundamental problems. For example, on a practical level, how could such a bureau be sure of generating statistics and records similar in quality to those which are retained in local Garda stations? A national bureau of crime statistics would by its very independence have to be removed from Garda day-to-day operations. It would be wasteful if it were to operate in parallel to, and duplicate everything already done by, the Garda in this area. Leaving this aside, such a bureau would be heavily reliant on the Garda for help and for all basic information. This, in turn, could severely impinge on Garda operational matters and could interfere with the day-to-day work of the force, including publication of the Commissioner's annual crime report.

There is also a danger that if the bureau was empowered to examine and report on other statistics in relation to crime, as proposed in section 7 (1) (e) of the Bill, from other, presumably unofficial, sources, it would become the target of groups campaigning for legal and political change in relation to particular aspects of the criminal justice system.

I also have a doubt from a legal point of view about section 4 (b) of the Bill which provides for the issue of reports to certain members of the Judiciary. Apart from the need for consultation with the Judiciary about the need for, and appropriateness of, such provisions the powers and duties of the Judiciary must be regulated by law, having regard to the provisions of the Constitution. I do not believe the provisions in Deputy Mitchell's Bill are adequately drafted to meet the legal requirements in this area.

I have doubts about the usefulness of setting up an independent body to examine and report on the various annual reports published in the "Justice" area. Those reports receive wide publicity and analysis in the media at present and are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, where they are frequently debated. No one appears to be at a disadvantage in co-ordinating or analysing these reports at present, for lack of further independent analysis.

I am concerned as any bureau would be to ensure prompt publication of these annual reports. I am confident that developments already planned in information technology in the Garda Síochána and in other areas of the criminal justice system will go a long way to ensuring that delays are eliminated or greatly minimised in future.

The Garda Commissioner's annual crime report deals not only with statistics but also includes comment on a range of operational and policy matters. These are very important in framing the Government's response to crime issues, especially serious crime about which there is justifiable public concern.

What I particularly have in mind here, for example, is the level of drug abuse and serious offences against the person, including offences of a sexual nature. This is a task for the Garda Commissioner and could not be undertaken by a bureau, as suggested in Deputy Mitchell's Bill. It is important to bear in mind that crime statistics are only a snap-shot of the position of crime in the community: the Garda Commissioner's annual crime report looks at the issue from an organisational viewpoint and is best placed to consider changes to improve the operation as a whole.

While the primary source for crime statistics is the Garda Síochána, other areas of the criminal justice system, such as the courts and the prisons, would have input in this area. Both of these areas compile statistics primarily for their own specific management needs. In relation to the courts in particular, statistics are currently related to the operational needs of the courts system. A major computerisation of the courts system is at present being undertaken and when finalised will facilitate the production of a much more detailed breakdown of statistical information.

In relation to statistics on prisons and places of detention, an annual report on prisons and places of detention has to be produced by law for each year. As well as containing an outline of the main developments which occurred in the prisons during the year and the reports of the visiting committees to the prisons, an important part of the reports is the extensive statistical information they contain.

The statistical tables in the annual reports are broken down into three sections. The first section deals with statistics for the year in question; the second section covers trends over the previous five years and the last section examines in detail the population in prison on the first day of the year.

These statistics are compiled centrally in my Department from information gathered from local prison records. They are compiled manually, except in the case of Mountjoy Prison where a computerised prisoner records system is in operation. When I was appointed Minister for Justice, I was concerned that there was a lot of criticism of the fact that no annual report had been published since the 1988 report. This backlog was caused by staff pressure in the prisons division of the Department. However, I took immediate steps to correct this situation and I was glad to be able to present to Government last December the annual reports for 1989, 1990 and 1991. Work on the 1992 report is at an advanced stage and will be published shortly and I intend to produce the 1993 report as soon as possible after that.

I know that questions arise now and again about the adequacy and relevance of the statistics provided in the annual reports and about their value as an aid to policy making in the prison system. Nevertheless, they have proved a rich source of information for numerous independent sociological studies. The presentation of the statistics has also been criticised, especially the format which has not changed for a number of years. I am inclined to agree that improvements are desirable but can understand that the pressure to clear the backlog of annual reports has not allowed time for a critical reassessment of both the method of compilation and presentation. At the same time, there is the fact that the consistency of the format has its benefits for researchers in facilitating comparison and observation of trends.

There is scope for improvement and the proposed study group will give us the opportunity to examine the whole method of compilation and presentation of statistics in relation to all aspects of the criminal justice system. While it would be beneficial to keep much of the consistency which I mentioned, the group could consider what other information would be useful to include and what other improvements could be made. For instance, one area I feel would be worth exploring would be better co-ordination of the Garda Síochána crime reports with the prisons reports in order to establish the correlations, for example, in the numbers of convictions against committals to prison. This study group provides the ideal opportunity for detailed examination of deficiencies and how they might be corrected.

I regret that I was not in the House for Deputy Mitchell's contribution but circumstances beyond my control necessitated me to be elsewhere.

They were almost out of our control also but we delivered on time.

It would be unfortunate if the word went out that this Minister was refusing to accept this particular Bill simply because it was a Bill produced by the Fine Gael Party. The record is that I have accepted a Bill from somebody who I acknowledge may be on the other side of the Deputy's party and I hope to be in a position during my tenure of office as Minister for Justice to accept a number of other Bills. As Minister for Justice I would much prefer to have a members of the Garda out on our streets fighting crime, as Deputy Connaughton proposed, than in offices compiling statistics.

In relation to Deputy Connaughton's remarks concerning rural policing, it is important to place on record that the Garda Commissioner, his deputy and assistant commissioners and chief super-intendents in each division are ultimately responsible for the day to day operational matters within the Garda Síochána. From time to time it is necessary for them to constructively look at the way they deliver a service to the community and they have been doing that.

Deputy Browne and I would be well aware of areas in our own constitutencies where the policing methods have been changing over the past two years in particular and where a community policing programme has been put into place. It has been represented to me in the past 12 months or so that in certain areas, community policing has worked very well and people on the ground are pleased with it but in other areas has not been such a success. There will always be teething problems with these things. If something is working well people might say that it should be changed or refined in a particular way. People who have been used to doing business in a certain way will always say the new system is not working as well as the old.

I agree with Deputy Connaughton that the best deterrent for criminals is to see a man or woman in uniform walking the streets, whether it is in rural or urban Ireland. At the same time, it is fair to expect the Commissioner and his senior management to look at all areas of policing, both in rural and urban Ireland, and make suggestions for change, get the agreement of the unions to put this in place, see how it works and evaluate it continuously. That is a fair point and it is something we should be prepared to allow to continue. If it is not working they will then have to find another way of doing it but I would not like, as Minister for Justice, to dictate to the Commissioner or his senior management how operational matters should be carried out and in fairness to Deputy Mitchell, I do not think he would be asking that that should be done.

In certain areas of rural Ireland the public have an antipathy to talking to the "green man" as it is now commonly known. People in rural Ireland want a police presence in their areas. That is what the community policing system is attempting to put in place. It is necessary from time to time for the Garda Commissioner to consider the way business is carried out in urban Ireland because more and more in city areas — and I am sure Deputy Mitchell as Justice spokesman finds this also — communities where crime is increasing are constantly asking for a Garda station, a substation or a clinic, as some of them are called now, to be opened. The Garda Commissioner has felt that should be resisted — and I support him — because every time we open a Garda station, men and women are taken off the streets and put behind desks. The whole philosophy of all of us, Opposition and Government, over the past number of years has been to civilianise the Garda Síochána, to take people who have been trained at great expense to the taxpayers away from clerical and administrative duties and put them on our streets.

On a regular basis we try to find better ways of doing our business. Of course I can examine proposals Deputy Mitchell made this evening or that other members of his party may make over the next two weeks, but, at the end of the day, I would prefer to have gardaí on the streets fighting crime than behind desks compiling statistics. I am confident that the way I proposed is the way to proceed with reform in this area rather than along the lines proposed in Deputy Mitchell's Bill.

For that reason I invite Deputy Mitchell to withdraw his Bill. If he is unwilling to do so — and I suspect he may well be — on behalf of the Government I formally oppose the Bill.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Tá brón orm a chloisint go bhfuil an tAire i gcoinne an Bhille íontach seo. Tá figiúirí againn ón Central Statistics Office do gach gné beagnach den saol seo. Baineann cuid de na figiúirí seo le rudaí macánta, an daonra, mar shampla. Tugann siad eolas dúinn ar cad tá riachtanach don saol. Tá figiúirí ag an Aire Oideachais a thugann le fhios dó nó dí cad tá ag teastáil ó thaobh líon na múinteoirí de nó ó thaobh uimhir na seomraí atá ag teastáil. Sa tslí céanna bíonn a fhios ag an Aire Sláinte cé mhéid leapacha atá ag teastáil do na seandaoine. Beidh sé ullamh nuair a bheidh mise im' sheanduine le cúnamh Dé agus beidh go leor leapacha le fáil do na daoine sin ó na figiúirí go léir atá sa Central Statistics Office.

Tá na figiúirí atá ag na Garda ceart go leor ach tugann an Bille seo comhairle freisin. Tá daoine a bhfuil eolas acu seachas na Garda agus ba chóir go mbeadh an comhairle sin ar fáil don Aire agus go mbeadh sí mar chabhair dí.

The long Title of this Bill reads:

An Act to create a National Bureau of Crime Statistics whose terms of reference shall be to measure accurately the levels of crime and report on these annually by the 31st March and to compare increases or decreases from period to period with analyses as to the actual levels of crime, together with any comments they feel are helpful in dealing with the crime problem.

The final part of that title which says "together with any comments they feel are helpful in dealing with the crime problem" should be a major help to any Minister rather than merely being furnished with bare statistics by the Garda. Particularly when this National Bureau of Crime Statistics is to be comprised of the Director of the Central Statistics Office, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Accounting Officer of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, an assistant Garda commissioner, a prison governor, a judge of the High Court and a representative of the Probation and Welfare Service of the Department of Justice, nominated by the Minister for Justice, surely that group dealing with statistics compiled mainly by the Garda and others could offer the Minister much advice in dealing with the figures presented to them. For example, there could be compiled a list of crimes, giving the bare facts, demonstrating that some particular crime had been committed, say, 999 times whereas if an analysis is undertaken by experts used to breaking down these types of statistics, one can more readily decide on what action is necessary. That is why I say the establishment of this bureau would be of help.

The Minister said she has initiated a study group. Knowing her it would be fair to say that that is not just a cover up because she does tend to deal with problems in her Department. I am sure that study group will present her with figures and suggestions but I hope they will not cut across her reservations as to why the provisions of this Bill would not be operable or effective. I hope the Minister will not have to swallow what she had to say in the latter part of her contribution, with which I will deal later if time permits.

The Whitaker report, quoted so often in the past, concluded that the lack of information on crime was not merely a nuisance which hindered research but was a feature of the criminal justice system in that decisions are taken at one stage in ignorance of what is occurring elsewhere. The normal statistics provided by the Garda — and sometimes they are questioned as to whether they provide the full report of crime — do not convey the sort of story that would be conveyed by an analysis and/or comparison undertaken by people capable of doing so. In addition, the Law Reform Commission report said that any provisional recommendations in their paper or recommendations ultimately made in their report would be rendered comparatively ineffective by the absence of proper information.

I accept that the study group will probably make suggestions but, clearly, Deputy Mitchell was ahead of his time endeavouring to implement the suggestions contained in the Whitaker report and that of the Law Reform Commission, in devising a system under which crime statistics would be available and properly analysed.

Next, I believe that court sentences and the manner in which some judges behave warrant a comparative study also; this would be a help to judges themselves. I would not like to see a uniform system of sentencing prevail because very often some judges fine a poor, unemployed person the same amount as someone who is better off. That is not a case of the punishment fitting the crime in that a £10 fine on an unemployment person might be a very severe punishment whereas a £100 fine on reasonasbly well off person might not cause him or her any great hassle. Nonetheless there could be a study undertaken of sentences and fines, in addition to the order or request, whichever it be, for a convicted person to put so much money into the poor box. I have often wondered whether being asked to put money in the poor box was a fitting sentence for anybody. The imposition of a fine ensures that justice is seen to be done but a request to put, say, £100, £200 or £300 into a court poor box by the next election strikes me as being reminiscent of the type of indulgence one gained years ago when, if one recited certain prayers, one was relieved of a certain amount of punishment in the next world.

On the indulgence or the poor box?

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Perhaps the Minister of State will brief me on it later. It sounds as though paying a few pounds to charity — while, admittedly, I suppose it can be regarded as a fine — from a legal point of view does nothing for law and justice in that it appears that, by so doing one can be absolved of the relevant crime. A person is either guilty or not guilty and, if found guilty, should be subject to legal sentence. That is another matter with which this proposed bureau would be able to deal.

It is most important that comparative studies be undertaken, that justice be seen to be done, that one endeavours to analyse what has been done so that cothrom na féinne is afforded to everybody. This would mean that we avoid the whole concept of black and white when a judge has no leeway. Indeed, decisions on fines are difficult for judges in that they hear so much evidence, see so many people, and learn their circumstances it might be no harm if they, too, had help.

We must take a very serious look at what is happening about the overall drugs problem not alone in our courts but throughout society. There was a time when the drugs scene appeared to be concentrated in Dublin only. It has now become a major criminal activity in Dublin, with people making vast sums of money from their dealings in drugs. Unfortunately, our smaller towns are now discovering that there are budding criminals there endeavouring to make a soft living at the expense of young people. It is vital that we have a breakdown of the number of drug convictions. The lives of many young people are destroyed by drug dealers. I would not quibble with the severity of any sentence given to a drug dealer. No sentence is severe enough for those who destroy so many young lives in order to make money.

When one considers the value and number of drugs that were found in the sea off Cork one realises the kind of money involved. Drug dealers have no interest in the welfare of this country or the people they are destroying. We need to know how the drug scene is growing. Judges should be given the right to sentence drug dealers to life imprisonment. They amass wealth and live the easy life while other lives are wrecked. Parents need backup in the fight against drugs. They send their children to college at great personal expense. They cannot be with their children at all times and sometimes young people under pressure at college resort to drug taking as an easy way out.

The quality of life in Ireland is getting worse. There is no urban-rural divide when it comes to crime. Criminals often set out from Dublin to rural areas in stolen cars and frighten elderly people living alone. I compliment the gardaí for the way they have dealt with such criminals. It is awful that people who have served the country so well cannot live in peace and comfort in their homes. We cannot have enough squad cars to chase these criminals.

When canvassing we find that doors are locked very early in the evening. Old people are afraid to open the door. We must look at why this is happening. If we had a study and breakdown of crime statistics we might be able to prevent such crime.

Deputy Connaughton spoke about rural gardaí and squad cars. He said everything that should be said about that. The gardaí have a difficult job. If we report a crime to them we want the squad car to be with us within two minutes but in providing such a service we are left with insufficient gardaí on the streets. I, like the Minister and others, believe that the presence of a garda on the street lets us know that there is such a thing as proper behaviour. In the years I have been driving from Carlow to Dublin I have never seen a garda in any of the built up areas. Perhaps that is because I travel early in the morning and late at night; it may be just as well if I do not see them sometimes as I can forget I am driving in a 30 mile area.

In the past everybody knew the garda on the beat and the garda in turn knew everybody. Nowadays he does not have time to patrol the streets. What we need are more gardaí; I know they are being recruited. When gardaí are in squad cars they are not in touch with the people. It is very difficult to steal up on someone if you are in a squad car.

The Minister mentioned the green man. On one occasion the Browne man found a purse at the Rock of Dunamase, a lovely place — I invite the Minister to picnic there.

I know it well.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I went to the nearest Garda station. There was a notice there about the green man and the Browne man spoke, like a fool, to a gadget. That kind of policing where a Garda station is open for two hours a day is not working. The Minister said it works in some places but I believe we must have a Garda presence in the station to know what is going on. If the bureau were set up it could analyse all these issues.

The Garda Commissioner is an expert in his own field but sometimes when we are very involved in a specific area, we are blinded to what needs to be done. Perhaps the commissioner needs advice from somebody else. Is the gadget on the wall a suitable replacement for a Garda station with gardaí present?

Mention was made of the role of the community alert scheme. It is marvellous to see people with that kind of community spirit. In the past religion played a greater role in everyone's life than it does at present. Perhaps the liberal agenda is helping to do away with standards. In the past, the gardaí were treated with respect; today they have difficulty dealing with young people in our cities and towns. It is terrible to see shop windows barricaded. There was a time when people could window shop but now windows are covered with steel grids. Perhaps the special task force, which was disbanded for economic reasons, could rectify the situation.

I hope the Bill will receive the publicity it deserves and that the task force the Minister mentioned will be effective.

Debate adjourned.