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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 Feb 1994

Vol. 439 No. 2

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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share my time with Deputy Mulvihill.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The idea behind this Bill is worth while. The capacity to understand crime and, ultimately, to deal with it is heavily dependent on having an adequate statistical base from which to work. Without such a base one is working in the dark and progress will be difficult. In that context, the proposal of the Minister to establish a study group to examine in detail the present system of collecting data is commendable. Deputy Mitchell's Bill may have helped to concentrate the minds of officials in the Department of Justice on the need for such action. If that happens it will have fulfilled a useful function even though it may not make much progress in this House.

To make progress in dealing with problems such as crime we must have the appropriate information statistics to allow the problems and trends to be analysed so that a reasonable estimate of the underlying causes can be made. However, the crime problem here will not be solved simply by having a good statistical base. That will merely provide a means to the solution.

There is no doubt that it is very difficult to find a solution to the crime problem. Neither is there any doubt that there is a major crime problem here. Most people have been the victims of some form of crime and the problem is particularly acute in the city of Dublin. We do not need statistics to know that. Anybody who is out and about or has an interest in current affairs must be aware of the problem.

Some of the responses to crime here have been instant and populist in nature. There is a danger that a system of justice worked out over many years may be cast aside, downgraded or put in jeopardy arising from such populist instant responses. There is a tendency to have a politically correct response to the problems of crime designed to adequately fit the new concept of a sound bite. Many of those responses are short, shallow and populist. We need to think long and hard about where some of those responses might take us. Such responses are understandable in the short term but are not desirable in the long term.

Many of the problems which need to be addressed have been considered in the context of a system of justice developed and generated over many years. Having regard to some of our responses to crime recently, there is a danger that a number of those principles of justice and procedure may be cast aside. Indeed, as a country and as a Legislature we are to some extent schizophrenic in our responses. We bemoan at length the inadequacies of the British system of justice especially in respect of the celebrated cases of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Winchester Three and so on while at the same time we enact legislation which could give rise to considerable concern. Those concerns are detailed in a publication by Dr. Caroline Fennell of the Department of Law in University College Cork entitled, Crime and Crisis in Ireland, which is worth reading. She states that:

Recent events in Irish public and political life indicate a readiness to view criminal justice solely from a particular perspective, and a failure to question the implications of that stance. Discussion of the nature of the current system, the basis for change and the principles guiding adjustment are nonexistent. Assumptions abound as to the need for change, the effective resolution of crisis by legislation, and omnipresent is the conviction that the overall structure remains secure and cognisant of liberal values (individual rights).

Those words are worth considering in any instant response to the problem of crime. I understand the reasons for an instant response but that might not be desirable in the long term.

We have an enormous crime problem here and in my constituency considerable difficulties arise from the problem of drugs. It is widely accepted that many crimes committed in the city of Dublin are linked directly to drugs and the anxiety of drug addicts to satisfy their need for a fix. Would it be worth considering the responses to such problems in other countries? Is there a case to be made for at least considering in depth making drugs available on a controlled basis to addicts? I read with interest an account of a speech by Professor Tom Raftery of University College Cork, a former Member of the Seanad and the European Parliament, who advocated such a response. I am not saying that such a response is the best one but it is worthy of consideration.

The present system of dealing with the problem is inadequate and therefore it would be wrong of us not to consider in an open-minded manner all the alternatives. I do not have the expertise or experience to advocate one response as against another, but a comprehensive debate on such issues would be worthwhile.

In referring to drugs I incorrectly excluded alcohol. There is a serious problem in relation to the abuse of alcohol particularly by young people and the manifestations of such abuse is evident in public parks in the city of Dublin. Public representatives in Dublin receive representations from citizens, almost on a weekly basis, who are concerned about all night parties in public parks. It is not the noise and the nuisance created by the people holding such parties about which people are concerned, but rather the fear that such parties engender in them. They are concerned because people who go to such parties are liable to have a go at anything that moves. The matter is regularly discussed at local authority meetings and members of such authorities devote a great deal of time and energy to trying to devise a piecemeal solution to the problem. They have considered building walls around public parks, but such walls might be an attraction for young people to congregate for such parties. It is a difficult problem.

Attacks on tourists in Dublin is a serious problem. An attack on a tourist is no less acceptable and should not be considered differently from one on an Irish person. At a time when we are selling our tourist industry and creating an inviting and attractive image of Ireland it is dreadful that many tourists are mugged. In many ways they are sitting ducks waiting to be ripped off by criminals because they do not know the score. They are not as careful as people with experience of driving in Dublin and going about their business there. Such crime is unpleasant. However, a crime is a crime and unacceptable regardless of whether a tourist or an Irish person is the victim.

I agree with Deputy O'Donnell's point regarding the paucity and the gross inadequacy of research in criminology here. Such research would pay dividends. I would like initiatives taken to develop a centre for research in criminology here in which the reasons such crimes occur and appropriate responses could be analysed. We have a long way to go in terms of studying that problem in a systematic and scientific way and generating solutions based on careful analysis.

Some of the initiatives announced recently by the Minister for Justice in her plans to deal with the problem of crime are welcome. The increased recruitment of 407 gardaí in 1994 and 200 civilian staff to support the Garda is also welcome. Recruitment of the civilian staff will leave gardaí free to do police work instead of filling out forms, work which can be undertaken by civilian staff. It is regrettable that extra places are required in prisons, but that is the reality. They are necessary to enable us to deal with the problem of crime and I welcome their provision although I am concerned that there is a need for them.

I wish to refer to problem or delinquent children, or whatever the politically correct term is. An analysis of some children's social circumstances and background will enable one to predict with a reasonable degree of confidence that, regrettably, they will go on to become criminals and live a life of crime. From my experience the capacity of the justice system to deal speedily with difficult and problem children is inadequate. The system is sluggish and has been turgid in providing appropriate places for problem children of two constituents. Those children were running wild around the inner city for six months or longer and places were found for them after the problem was highlighted on "The Gay Byrne Show". That solution gives a perspective of the centres of power in our society. I raised the matter of their placement on the Adjournment and wrote to Ministers, but it was not dealt with. Shortly after this matter was raised on the airwaves a solution was found. I do not know whether that was a cause and effect or a cause and coincidence but if it was a cause and effect, it highlights the nature of power in Irish society and the stimuli to which the political system responds.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Upton, for sharing his time. I read with great interest the proposals contained in the Bill. They include the establishment of structures to carry out the following tasks, namely, to measure crime levels, prepare annual reports on those levels, compare and analyse trends and levels, issue interim reports on trends and examine annual reports published by prisons, courts and so on. The bureau will compile its statistics on crime by using sampling or other scientific methods and will be made up of representatives from all areas of the criminal justice system chaired by the director of the Central Statistics Office. However, it is not necessary to establish a new statutory body to achieve those aims.

The law and order package published by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, in December 1993 contained provisions which will be effective in dealing with crime. It allows for the recruitment of gardaí to be increased to 407 in 1994 and maintained at a level of 350 recruits per year for the period 1994-97 which will ensure the present strength of the force is maintained. Extra gardaí will be released for operational duties as 200 civilian clerical and administrative staff are recruited during the period 1994-97. A special information technology plan is to be put in place for the Garda and the internal communications network is to be upgraded. The package includes provision for the installation of closed circuit television to combat city crime and special community based measures are to be further developed in disadvantaged areas.

An additional 210 prison places and 50 additional probation and welfare officers will be provided during 1994-97. It is regrettable that there is a need to create additional prison places in our society. Recently, I noticed that many people hold the view it is best to lock up criminals and throw away the key but I do not agree. People have come to me to plead for members of their family aged 17 or 18 years who, when they got into trouble, were taken out of society and put into prison with adults. The Minister must consider this matter carefully. Three additional judges are to be appointed to clear the log jam of cases.

I wish to refer to the provisions in existing legislation regarding people released from custody on bail. Witnesses to crime and victims of crime are often subjected to intimidation by an accused person when released on bail. That position is unacceptable and poses a real threat to the efficiency of our legal system. A person is innocent of a crime until proven guilty. I am aware that everyone is entitled to a free trial but the authorities must carefully consider the bail arrangements in respect of those accused of serious crime. That is an issue in regard to which I have received many complaints from gardaí and people involved in the legal profession. When people are released on bail, in cases of serious crime, such as rape, the victims are often intimidated into not giving evidence at their trial. That matter must be considered by the Minister.

Drug abuse is a cause of much crime in our society. People steal to finance their habit. They break into houses, particularly those of the elderly, and terrorise people for hours. I have received a number of complaints in my constituency about this matter. I know a case of a 70 year old woman who was terrorised for several hours by two or three people. That type of crime is increasing in society. The Cork coastline has proved one of the most difficult in the European Union to police. We have heard of the amount of drugs recovered recently in the area but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Drug trafficking is a very serious problem and we will have to seek help from our partners in Europe to curtail it. I compliment the Minister for Finance on his efforts in seeking extra finance from the European Union to modernise our Naval Service and customs service, thereby helping them in their fight against drugs. I also compliment the Minister for Defence on initiating a recruitment campaign to increase the number of personnel in the Naval Service.

There is a major problem of vandalism in our towns and villages. In my town of Cobh the townspeople raised a large sum of money some years ago to build a swimming pool. This pool was of great service to the people of Cobh up to a year ago, when vandals broke in causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. To date the pool has not reopened and I doubt that it will reopen in the near future because we cannot get the finance to carry out the necessary repairs.

I would like to refer again to young people in prison. Parents of constituents have come to me on a number of occasions about this matter. One case which came to light was that of a 17 year old who was raped while in prison. It is an indictment of society that this should happen to young people who are put behind bars. The prison system is not suitable for 17, 18 and 19 year old people. Some other schooling method should be arranged for them. Many of the families of young people in prison are hard working, good living people who are disturbed about what is happening.

I would again like to refer to the drugs problem, particularly off the Cork coastline. As a former member of the Naval Service, I know that service is under great pressure and does not have sufficient equipment to curtail drug trafficking. The Naval Service polices our seas; the Customs and Excise service polices our borders; and the Garda police the land. The Minister will have to consider increasing resources in these areas if the drugs problem is to be solved.

I welcome the publication of this Bill by Deputy Gay Mitchell. It is generally accepted that in the limited period of time he has been spokesman on Justice, Deputy Mitchell has excelled, particularly in the area of crime. He has focused attention on the fact that while many current ills afflict Irish society, be they economic difficulties, redundancies, closures, unemployment, homelessness or deprivation, the single greatest problem facing the country is our inability to come to terms with crime. There is no doubt that all the available evidence, written, graphic and otherwise, points to a major epidemic in crime, and unfortunately the position is getting worse. At one time our daily newspapers devoted a corner of a page to criminal cases, but now on an almost daily basis these cases take up a page and a half or two pages — I am talking not simply about tabloids but about all newspapers.

This Bill is timely. I listened to Deputy Mulvihill praising the recent ministerial measures. He said that 450 additional gardaí have been recruited, and of course they are extremely welcome. The more gardaí there are on foot patrol the better. The Deputy commended the Minister for Finance for making available additional resources, which are always welcome. He lauded the Minister's announcement that there will be more internal communications, closed circuit television, technology and hi-tech paraphernalia that is part and parcel of modern crime prevention and detection. That is welcome, but one can never stray far from the adage that prevention is better than cure, and it is in the area of prevention that we have failed miserably.

Crime is rampant and is increasing. Irrespective of the measures that have been announced — a plethora of measures have been introduced, many of them with high profile press conferences — at the end of the day they simply do not work and crime is hurtling out of control. Every time a series of a certain type of crime is committed, you can wager your last dollar that a new initiative will be introduced. A number of years ago in the wake of the tragic deaths of two gardaí, Henry Byrne and John Morley in Loughglynn, County Roscommon, for which three people, Pringle, O'Shea and McCann, were sent to prison — one of these cases is a source of controversy at present — the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Collins, in a knee-jerk reaction, announced that aerial support would be provided for the Garda, but that did not happen.

It is all very well talking about combating crime and the heavy-handed approach to crime, but at times you have to be ruthless. Definite deterrents must be put in place. They will not always work. There is much merit in recent initiatives, such as community service and so on. I believe in rehabilitation programmes, but unfortunately they are far too few. The Irish approach to crime has been simply a muddled amalgam of misinterpreted evidence, with the occasional naive ministerial assertion about the nature of crime which sounds great but which at the end of the day amounts to nothing.

A promise was made last week, last night and tonight that a study group would be set up. I do not doubt the Minister's good intentions in this regard, but the reality is that we have had study after study, commission after commission, advisory group after advisory group, task force after task force and reports galore, but at the end of the day we are no nearer to the key question, the basic question that must be answered, which is: what drives such a huge number of our population to engage in crime?

People are born with a good disposition, not with a predisposition to evil. There are environmental and social reasons people commit crime, but it is not hereditary. An indepth study must be undertaken into the reasons for crime. None of the bodies, commissions, task forces or study groups that has been set up has grappled with that question. As Deputy Mitchell pointed out and as has been acknowledged in this House, these people work from a base of inadequate knowledge.

I agree with Deputy Upton that one can take too populist an approach to crime. People make shrill soundings when crimes are committed and mass hysteria is created. However, it is difficult to avoid hysteria when you look at the statistics, read the newspapers and hear the victims of crime, as we heard on the airwaves today, graphically describing the reality of being confronted with a criminal on the street, in your home or on your premises.

There has been a huge increase in the incidence of crime and there has been a change in the type of crimes committed. For example, 40 years ago even the most hardened criminal would not indulge in routinely beating up the elderly, as happens today. In the past those crimes, which very often were robberies, were accomplished with the minimum of violence.

It has been acknowledged that drugs are the root cause of crime, particularly in Dublin. In such a situation it is unaccpetable that the 1988 report on prisons was not published until July 1993, five and a half years later. By the time this report was published it was stale, five and a half years out of date. The report is an important source of statistical and other information and gives graphic statistics in regard to the penal system which are invaluable not only to the Department of Justice but also to the law makers, the law enforcers and the general public in terms of their understanding of crime. Nobody can arrive at any conclusion about the level of crime or make a planned, studied or accurate assessment of the problem, let alone plan for the future, if one does not have up to date, basic and accurate information. It is unacceptable that the 1988 statistics were not published until five and a half years later. In such a situation the Government is not grappling with the problem; rather it is dealing with stale statistics — the situation has changed — and is poking around in the dark.

The late publication of reports is not the only problem. For example, we have no statistics relating to the courts. Community service orders were introduced in 1984 and it is generally agreed that these orders seem to be working well. However, the operative word in this regard's is "seem". This system has been operating for ten years, yet it has never been evaluated — there has been no follow up, no post-analysis and no indepth examination to find out if the people who were subject to community service orders have been reformed, have mended their ways or have lapsed back into a life of crime. Neither has there been a proper analysis of cell accommodation in prisons. The last report on the probation and welfare service, which is supposed to be a fundamental plank, in our efforts to deal with crime, was published in 1989-90.

Without scientific data, up-to-date statistics and precise bookkeeping, one cannot even begin to come to grips with the problem. The solution to the present confusion and ignorance which exists in regard to crime and punishment is not a commitment to paraphernalia, hi-tech equipment, technology, closed circuit television or internal communications but rather a definite commitment — this is what Fine Gael is looking for — to increased investment and resources for scientific inquiries into crime, by which I mean the gathering of new information and the careful analysis and rational synthesis of all available data and evidence.

Our society is in a crisis because the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" is becoming greater all the time. A huge number of people, particularly in huge areas of this city, believe they have no stake whatsoever in modern society. I know this sounds boring, particularly to the "haves", but understanding this problem is vital. I know it is a dry, laborious and boring business — people would very often regard it as academic — but it is vitally important that this issue and all the relevant complexities are examined in detail. At a time of justifiable public alarm about the level of crime and growing crime statistics, it is vitally important that we analyse the problem in depth and get to the bottom of it once and for all. Throwing resources at hi-tech equipment will not solve the problem.

Our Government is almost unique among the governments of developed nations in that it allocates next to nothing for research into criminal justice. As Deputy Upton, and I think Deputy O'Donnell pointed out, we have no university department of criminology. Other countries not only have one university with a faculty of criminology but most countries have their own independent department of criminology which offers independent analyses, monitoring and indepth examination of the causes of crime and makes recommendations. In a country where crime is one of the biggest industries, it is ironic that none of our five universities has a department of criminology. To show just how ludicrous the situation is, the Department of Justice which, in theory, is trying to combat crime, has no research unit attached to it. This is a cause of major concern.

One of the reasons for this problem is that there does not seem to be any proper planning. The Government has no planned programme of reseach into crime, involving the funding of independent criminologists and social scientists. A small amount of research receives funding but unfortunately this research is carried out on an ad hoc basis and does not contribute in an ordered, cumulative way to a body of knowledge on the crime scene.

Apart altogether from what I can only perceive as a lack of willingness to provide the vital statistics, there is a culture of secrecy within the Department of Justice which is quite legendary. This culture of secrecy is both the cause and the consequence of the Department's distaste for independent research and compiling and publishing factual information. The tragedy of all this is that even though basic information exists — there are files — unfortunately the information is not collated, or if it is collated then it certainly is not made available to the relevent agencies. The Government has made openness and transparency one of its key principles of operation. Yet there is a glaring lack of openness and transparency when it comes to knowledge about crime.

I recently reread the Fianna Fáil-Labour Programme for Government which states in black capital letters that: "The time scale for the implementation of the Whitaker Report on Prisons will be decided". I should like to know what exactly this means. Does it mean that the Government intends to take the running of prisons out of the hands of the Department of Justice, or does it mean that it will reduce the number of prisoners to 1,500 by finding alternative sanctions for minor property offenders? As the Minister of State knows, these are two of the key recommendations of the Whitaker report. When will the Government spell out exactly what it means by its commitment to the Whitaker report?

There is also the problem that quite a number of crimes are not reported. This means that we are getting an inaccurate picture of the true level of crime in our society. If crimes are not reported then they are not officially recorded. It is acknowledged that many crimes involving sexual offences are not reported. This applies also to many other types of crime where people regard the trauma of going through the legal system as simply too much, not worth it, and decide not to report a crime.

It is well recognised that children of 12 years are already committing crimes of larceny, bag snatching, etc. The compulsory school leaving age is 15 years. Yet for the past seven years the Department of Education and Dublin Corporation have failed to appoint school attendance officers in large areas of the inner city. At present there are ten longstanding vacancies for school attendance officers in Dublin as well as one in Dún Laoghaire and one in Cork. Despite repeated pressure from me and other spokespersons in the House and from the School Attendance Officers' Association these posts have not been filled. Surely the merit of a school attendance officer, particularly in a city where there is rampant crime among juveniles, is very obvious and well justified both financially and in every other respect. There is no school attendance officer for the Dublin 8 area which is well known to contain two of the greatest drug complexes in this city. The result is that hundreds of young children who should be at school from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. are roaming the streets. Many crimes are committed during the hours that these ten, 11 and 12-year-olds should be in school. It is a scandal that 119 national schools in Dublin are without the service of a school attendance officer. The result is that 20 per cent — one in every five children — who are entitled to full-time, uninterrupted education are not only being denied this right but are mini-Fagans before they reach their teens.

I remain convinced that there is a strong linkage between the absence of education and the prevalence of crime. There are areas of this city, for example, where the participation rate in university is less than one per cent. There are large areas in this city, less than a mile and a half from here, where less than 20 per cent of the people enter secondary school. There are large areas of this city where the relevance of education as a form of social lever or advancement mechanism is simply not appreciated. The results of this are obvious because it has been estimated — again we are talking about estimates, but they are accurate — that between 60 and 70 per cent of criminals in our prisons cannot read or write.

I have asked many times in this House, during Question Time and on other occasions, the Minister for Justice to validate or contradict that figure to try to establish the causes of crime and the link between the deprivation of education. I have asked that a survey of prisons be carried out to establish whether this statistic is accurate. All that is required is for people to talk to the prisoners. Surely we can afford the personnel to talk to prisoners. When a person is admitted to prison and a file is being opened, and when all the personal details and other data are being incorporated in that file, it should be possible to establish the level of education of these people. One, two or three questions would be sufficient to elicit that information.

It should be possible to establish how many prisoners achieved a level of primary education or dropped out before they left primary school, the number who attended second level education or bothered to sit an Intermediate Certificate examination, the number who reached Leaving Certificate level and the number who achieved the elusive prize of a place in university.

I listened to the "Gay Byrne Show" this morning and heard Joe Duffy conduct an interview in Mountjoy Prison with the perpetrators and victims of crime. Both groups exchanged views and ideas; it was a marvellous exercise but if one listened intently one could detect that those who committed crimes felt that their greatest lack was access to education. Education as a social instrument is a key element in educating people away from a life of crime and that was echoed frequently on the programme.

One of the Mountjoy prisoners bemoaned the fact that of the 400 people — I am not sure whether he was referring to his section or the jail as a whole — only 80 were able to get access to education programmes.

According to a programme on dyslexia, it was discovered in a 1991 survey of the prisons in Great Britain that of the total number of prisoners in British prisons, 45 per cent were proven to be dyslexic. That was an example of people who had much talent and many skills but who, because they did not have the opportunity to express themselves in either the written or oral form, or because they did not have access to the bulk of knowledge and data for which they had a thirst, suffered much frustration which led to a life of crime. I do not wish in any way to associate the reading disorder of dyslexia with crime but there is a link between inadequate access to education and crime. The prevention of crime is better than the cure at a later stage.

On education, I frequently made the point here that while Youthreach programmes and other rescue initiatives have much merit in relation to helping people along the way, if the necessary resources were allocated at an early stage it would be more cost effective and beneficial. Early intervention is the key and in that regard education is one of the main factors.

There was reference tonight to the terrible spate of crimes against tourists and we will soon be discussing that seasonal problem. Last year there were 1,200 attacks on tourists. We talk about Discover Ireland, Ireland of the one hundred thousand welcomes and yet 1,200 people were attacked on our streets. Nothing has been done to tackle this problem. Of all the disastrous public relations exercises, none does more damage than tourists leaving this country without their credit cards or, worse, with a display of wounds after being attacked in the Phoenix Park or elsewhere.

We must have deterrents and I am in favour of adopting a strong line when dealing with criminals but there is little point putting these people behind bars if we have the type of situation referred to by one of the inmates in Mountjoy. If we do not have the facilities for rehabilitation there is little point putting these people in prison. Rehabilitation is vital because it has been proven that irrespective of how severe the custodial sentence, if we cannot show these people an alternative, a better way of making a living, they will leave prison and return to the same pattern of living that landed them in prison in the first place. Habitual crime is a recurring theme and I cannot understand, from a cost-effective point of view, why more is not being done to rehabilitate criminals.

For example, what form of policing is there of the thousands of video outlets? Very little indeed. The number of prosecutions for larceny of videos is derisory. I acknowledge this is not simply a matter of the enforcement of the law but what is being done about parental responsibility? Little is being done. I acknowledge that parental vigilance is essential but little is being done to promote that.

It is unfortunate that this once friendly city has now one of the worst reputations in Europe. It is extremely sad that the once friendly Henry Street and Grafton Street have become fortifications, where every shop must be shuttered and metal protection of every type and description provided. It is wrong that people should be warned that there are "no go" areas. Imagine, in a city such as Dublin there are areas where one simply cannot risk walking alone or even in twos or threes, not alone are there "no go" areas for the ordinary citizen but for the Garda as well. That is one of the problems.

While welcoming the advancement in terms of the mobilisation of the police force I really believe that the modern trend of moving away from foot patrols has been disastrous in small rural towns, in larger urban centres but particularly in the city of Dublin. I believe in high-tech equipment. I also believe that the presence of law officers on the streets, walking in foot patrols, in twos, is absolutely essential from the point of view of providing security for the person walking and a deterrent to the people who would have in mind committing a crime. We have got to show, through a combination of measures, that crime does not pay.

It is difficult for people to fully comprehend how one can draw a distinction between different types of crime. One the one hand, there are certain categories of white collar crime, for example a Revenue offence which is punishable by jail, yet how many people here have been put into jail for Revenue offences for defrauding the State, for not paying their taxes, for welshing on their responsibilities? Not alone have such people not been put into jail but we actually introduced legislation to give them a tax amnesty. In terms of the massive chasm between the haves and the have-nots it is easy to understand how people with no job can say that, if evading tax is legitimate and is even legislated for in terms of concessions, why should they not indulge in the black market economy in terms of making a living?

I believe that crime can be solved but there has to be a multi-faceted approach. We must revert to the genesis of this Bill which is, first, the compilation on up-to-date statistics on a regular basis; second, an examination of those statistics in detail; third, an examination of their implications and, fourth, probing the root causes of crime because, until we get to the root causes of crime, all we are doing is treating the symptoms while the causes of crime persist.

I should like to share my time with Deputy Gallagher.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

I am glad to be afforded an opportunity to contribute to this debate. I should like to congratulate Deputy Gay Mitchell on introducing this Bill, although I cannot agree with all of its provisions. For example, I agree we should review the manner in which our official statistics are compiled but, as the Minister pointed out last week, it is very difficult to separate the functions of recording and reporting of crime from its investigation. There is need for an integrated approach in tackling the very serious problems of crime in this country. As Deputy Jim Higgins said, its incidence is not confined to cities, it is very much a rural problem also.

I should like to say a few words about the position obtaining in rural areas. There were many attacks against the elderly in rural areas at a time when such people kept too much money in their homes and a big campaign was initiated to persuade the elderly in particular — if they had any money in their homes — to lodge it in saving accounts. Nowadays the type of crime we witness in rural areas is perpetrated against business premises. Public houses, small shops, supermarkets, hardware stores, or sports or clothes shops, all have suffered attempted attacks or break-ins in recent years. In fact even the humble post office, probably because they are authorised to sell national lottery tickets, has been the subject of many attempted robberies in recent months; there were break-ins in three post offices in my area last year.

We must concentrate our remarks this evening on the measures to be taken to prevent such attacks. It is only right to point out that usually such attacks take place between the hours of 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., in most cases instigated by groups from outside the locality. In East Galway recently groups from as far away as Dublin, Cork and Limerick were apprehended and arrested. Indeed, I would attribute the success of the Garda in their apprehension and arrest to the fact that the community policing scheme operating in parts of my constituency is working very well.

It is also important to have Garda stations open. Many of my colleagues have said this and the Garda themselves feel they should be on the streets tackling crime, not sitting in offices. Indeed the question of opening Garda stations in the evening might also be examined, during hours when people might need to call them having returned from work. I think a review of the community policing scheme was promised at six monthly intervals. As far as I am concerned the scheme is working well but it could be further improved by opening more Garda stations and providing additional patrol cars and vans in rural areas. This scheme is working well in the Ballinasloe and Loughrea district headquarters.

I should like to know what is the position concerning the Tuam district headquarters and whether there are proposals to introduce community policing there. One town falling within the remit of the Tuam station is Glenamaddy whose residents say they should be given extra Garda presence. There were some serious disturbances in that town before Christmas, reported in a very negative manner by the media. It was not pointed out that that town had received a national award presented by the President for their social services work, or that it can boast one of the most radical social services committees nationwide with a day centre and a community hospital, provisions unique in a small town. The townspeople feel there should be extra Garda presence there to prevent any recurrence of those earlier disturbances.

We are told that much of the crime committed is drug and alcohol related, a point which came across forcibly this morning on the "Gay Byrne Show" which was broadcast from Mountjoy Prison when prisoners and victims of crime told their stories. I should like to congratulate all involved in an excellent programme. It was interesting that prisoners spoke about having served so many months or years in prison whereas victims spoke about the devastation for life they faced because of attacks on themselves, their homes and property. For example, one person spoke about not having been able to sleep since having been subjected to such an attack. That illustrates the manner in which criminals prey on soft targets, for example, the elderly living alone or in rural areas.

Last evening in Tuam there was such concern about allegations of drugs pushers in the town. A major seminar was held on drugs and drink when the Garda and civil leaders launched a concerted effort to ensure that the drugs problem did not take root in Tuam and surrounding areas. The Garda were very much to the forefront in organising that seminar. They appealed to everyone to attend, particularly parents, teachers and secondary school students. There were rumours in the town that business people were subject to extortion demands and that the Temple Jarleth graveyard was used as a dumping ground by drink and drug dealers. I hope the message has gone out loud and clear to drug pushers that they will not succeed.

Dr. Mick Loftus, who has been campaigning for a long time against the abuse of alcohol, made a strong statement in the Tuam Herald and Western Advertiser. He said that alcohol is glamorised in advertising but very little mention is made of the damage it can cause. He suggested there was need for a health warning and made the point that in 1958 the Government granted 5,000 bar extensions while in 1993 the number was 60,000.

As a result of the seminar, the chamber of commerce and the Vintners Association stated they would fight these godfathers' proposals to promote drugs in the area. The Vintners Association will challenge the granting of a licence to any premises where the owners are aware such activity takes place.

I welcome the recruitment fo 407 gardaí in 1994 announced by the Minister. The annual intake of 350 recruits for the period 1995-97 will maintain the strength of the Force at its present level. I hope some of these gardaí will be assigned to rural areas. The Minister also mentioned the Statistics Act, 1993, and the study group which I hope will deal with the issues Deputy Mitchell raised in his Bill. The bureau must not duplicate the work of the Garda whose main activity must remain fighting crime.

The community alert scheme has been most successful. Communities who operate this scheme fight the godfathers of crime and have been successful in crime detection and the gardaí are happy with such groups.

I hope the measures announced by the Minister will be successful in combating crime. One professor in the teacher training college I attended echoed the words of Fr. Flanagan in Boys Town: there is no such thing as a bad boy. However, in today's world there are many bad influences and I hope the measures we take will enable us to fight the godfathers of crime who are intent on causing evil in our cities and counties.

(Laois-Offaly): I thank Deputy Kitt for sharing his time with me. I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to the debate and congratulate Deputy Mitchell for bringing this issue before the House.

One of the basic tenets of the argument he makes cannot be contested, that is, that the lack of adequate crime statistics is a barrier to the formulation, implementation and review of policy in relation to crime and punishment. He suggesed that one of the ways this could be remedied was to set up a bureau of crime statistics which would not constitute a charge on the Exchequer and would comprise the director of the CSO, the Comptroller and Auditor General, an officer from the Office of the DPP, an assistant Garda commissioner, a prisoner governor, a High Court judge and a representive of the probation and welfare service. I have no doubt that such people would do an admirable job but I cannot see how setting up such a group would not constitute a charge on the Exchequer. They would be absent from their normal work and, as a group, would need to be resourced.

It does not add anything to the argument to claim that extra public resources would not be needed. The formulation of crime and punishment statistics is something which could justifiably be charged to the Exchequer. The lack of such statistics impedes the formulation of a rational and objective system of punishment for crime. The need for such statistics is evident. We have evidence of this in the Whitaker report, from the Law Reform Commission and from various researchers in the criminological area who have all stated that it is difficult to come to conclusions and make recommendations regarding the system of crime and punishment because the statistics provided are inadequate; I am not referring specifically to Garda statistics. There was a great deal of argument about the fact that if a crime is not reported it is not regarded officially as having occurred. There is very little one can do about that. The fundamental way in which crime is recorded is by people reporting it. The Minister explained this in detail last week.

It is unrealistic to separate the functions of recording and reporting crime from the investigation of crime. I agree with the Minister that the Garda is the best qualified State agency for recording crime and reporting on crime levels. However, there are many other areas in relation to crime and punishment for which statisics need to be recorded, for example, the courts, the probation and welfare service, the prison service and the effectiveness of sentencing.

I welcome the setting up of the special study group to consider co-ordinating the data available to the Department of Justice following the recent meeting between that Department, the Garda authorities and the Central Statistics Office and the Minister's commitment to provide resources for this group. The group should address the area of sentencing and its effectiveness as well as reports on prisons, places of detention and the probation and welfare service.

I am glad there has been an effort to produce more recent reports on the probation and welfare service and on prisons and places of detention. The statistics contained in those reports are comprehensive and useful, but I am not saying that improvements cannot be made. In any debate or consideration of crime and punishment, statistics are helpful. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the good start which has been made in having these statistics produced quickly will be continued so that we can have, similar to the Garda Comissioner's report, statistics for a particular year available to us and to other members of the public early in the following year. It should be possible to do this in these days of computerisation.

I am not arguing for a consideration of statistics just for the sake of it. The point is that unless we have up to date information we cannot review existing policies, we cannot consider what policies need to be implemented for the future and we cannot therefore review those policies as they are put in place. I am confident that the good start the Minister has made in having these statistics produced more promptly will be continued. Something which has been clearly shown by separating the criminal law area under the Department of Justice from the civil law area under the Department of Equality and Law Reform is that both sides have become much more productive. That is welcome and is evidenced by the volume of legislation coming through the Houses of the Oireachtas from both Departments.

Like other speakers, I welcome the package of measures announced by the Minister to combat crime. I welcome the recruitment of extra gardaí this year, the decision to recruit 350 Garda trainees per annum from 1995 to 1997 to maintain manning levels and the recruitment of civilians to release gardaí for the job for which they were trained. I welcome in particular the increase in resources for community based measures in areas of disadvantage as well as the additional resources and staffing for the probation and welfare service. I should like to address these in more detail.

One of the most underrated and undervalued services is the preventative and low key work done by the Garda in the various Garda stations by those on the beat and through the juvenile liaison officer system. I can instance many cases of action by the gardaí at local level where young offenders were apprehended for particular crimes. They were dealt with in a way which not only warned the offender concerning the consequences of re-offending but also ensured that the victim got some measures of compensation, particularly in relation to damage to property. Many gardaí have been diligent in following up those cases at local level, warning the offender and giving restitution to the victim. That type of work should be encouraged in the Garda Síochána. There is a danger that by concentrating on the high tech side — communications, cars, helicopters, as mentioned earlier by Deputy Higgins, all of which are needed — the low key, person to person work carried out by the Garda Síochána at local level will be overlooked. This type of work is possibly more effective in many areas than many of the high tech solutions because it helps prevent people ending up in the net of court, prison and the probation service.

I would like to see the juvenile liaison officer system expanded. The training provided to gardaí entering this area of duty has improved in recent years, as have all other areas of Garda training. In my own area I have seen how this can work effectively. Young offenders are apprehended and warned. Contact is made with the family in an effort to ensure that parents discharge their responsibility in co-operation with the Garda Síochána so that the young person does not reoffend and end up in the net from which it is difficult to escape, as indicated by the available statistics.

I ask the Minister to direct the maximum amount of resources to the neighbourhood watch scheme, the community alert scheme and the new business watch scheme announced last week. Other Deputies have referred to the effectiveness of those schemes and I can attest to that in my own constituency. Where the Garda work with community alert groups and neighbourhood watch groups they can be effective in not only preventing crime but in building up community spirit, in organising socials and in attempting to provide alternative facilities for young people. It is not a high tech, computerised, glitzy area, but it is an effective area of work and I urge that the maximum amount of resources be devoted to it.

I welcome also the additional resources being provided for the probation and welfare service. I have had contact with this service through my previous work with young people before coming into this House. I have a very high regard for the commitment and training of the officers working in the probation and welfare service. Unfortunately, the areas they have to cover are often large. For that reason I welcome the fact that an additional 50 officers will be appointed in the 1994-97 period and that additional facilities and back-up will be provided. They have been innovative in getting involved in community-based initiatives with a view to preventing crime and dealing with it when it occurs, especially with first time offenders. Their work has been shown to be effective as well as cost effective, a matter I would like to stress in this debate. We heard from some Deputies last week the easy cry to lock them up. I realise that 210 places are being provided in the crime package, and they are necessary. When we compare the cost of imprisoning a person for a year with the cost of effective intervention at community level, we will see that community organisations such as neighbourhood watch, the local Garda, the juvenile liaison officer or the local probation and welfare officer are more successful in preventing people from re-offending.

Some Deputies referred to rural policing. This is an area where we could improve our reporting statistics. A review has been carried out of the rural policing initiative commenced by the Garda Síochána. At management level it is necessary to redeploy resources to maximum effect. In my own constituency we have experience of the rural policing initiative and there are mixed views on it. In a village not far from me people complain that there have never been as many members of the Garda Síochána present and that they have never been stopped to be checked for seat belts, insurance and drink driving as often as they have been since this initiative was introduced. In another village there is a perception that the crime level has increased due to the change in the staffing level of the local station and also because the gardaí do not live in the area and do not have the same level of contact and local intelligence as in the past. Perhaps we could examine how the community alert scheme can be improved and put on a better footing to increase the intelligence available to the Garda at local level.

I wish to address briefly the overall perception of the increase in crime. Deputy Higgins mentioned the need to approach this in a fairly rational manner and Deputy O'Donnell mentioned it last week also. While we take our responsibilities in this House seriously in relation to crime, it is important that we do not get carried away by media circuses which arise from time to time.

A very useful publication is Paul O'Mahony's book Crime and Punishment in Ireland, which was recently reviewed by Judge Keane. It is important to remind ourselves of the statistics in that book and in the review. It is important to stress that the exaggeration of crime figures is unhelpful in this debate. Available figures do not show a massive increase in crime, although certainly there has been an increase in crime from the 1950s to the 1990s as we have gone through the process of modernisation and urbanisation. An increase in crime is possibly an unavoidable side effect of modernisation and urbanisation, but who wants to go back to the 1950s? Judge Keane, in reviewing the book, said:

There is a widespread impression that our crime rate has grown dramatically in recent years, that crimes of violence have in particular significantly increased and that the figures have now reached record proportions. The statistics, according to Mr. O'Mahony, tell a different story. Over the period of his survey, from 1973 to 1991, there was undoubtedly a very large increase in indictable crime but a peak was reached in 1983.... Crimes of violence remain at roughly the same level as in 1975.

It is important to keep a perspective on this. The belief that the country is experiencing record levels of crime is questionable. The levels of crime here, despite the increase, are still lower than in other countries; and, while the growth of crime is not as significant as in other countries, it is important to remember that there has been a disproportionate increase in crime in rural areas.

It is within the competence of the Department of Justice with the resources already there to produce statistics more quickly. When statistics are produced it is a policy function of the Government and the House to use them to review trends and set out a policy for the future. In order to assist with that process I would like the Minister to consider set-Labou ting up the study group on a long term footing and to consider providing funding for liaison with a criminological institute or research facility in one of our third level institutions so that the area of crime and punishment is kept under constant review and the most effective and efficient policy is put in place to enable us to deal with the problem in an effective level headed manner.

I welcome the interest in this topic displayed by the main Opposition Party which has resulted in this Bill coming before the House. Everybody in this House should be concerned about the rise in crime and the introduction of new ways to tackle it. However, I would dispute the narrow view of crime and its causes as represented in this Bill. The fundamental causes of crime are economic and social and rising crime levels can often be associated with increased unemployment and greater levels of poverty.

Crime is a very complex problem which should be approached in a broad fashion, taking into account all the factors relating to crime. The Government adopted a two-pronged approach to tackling crime. On the one hand it increased spending on housing, education and health. A new emphasis on this kind of expenditure will give people a better standard of living and better life opportunities, creating a more socially just society. This is one way of tackling crime. On the other hand, the Government is spending £66 million this year in order to directly combat the rising levels of crime. That is a substantial contribution towards defeating the crime problem. We are providing more resources to the Garda, who are in the front line against crime, to employ new methods of tackling crime. This will lead to greater confidence in the fight.

In the recent budget the Government proved its total commitment to creating a socially just society by increasing spending in the areas of health, education and housing. Lack of housing puts pressure on people, affecting the way they behave in society. A sum of £12 million has been allocated for local authority housing to ensure a repeat of last year's 3,500 house starts. This year there will be over 7,000 houses under construction, creating approximately 14,000 jobs in the construction sector. Unskilled labour directs its attention towards the construction industry, so we can look forward with interest to the development of that employment programme, and I hope contractors will ensure that local employment is used.

A sum of £5 million has been provided for the secondary school building programme. This will enable us also to address unemployment and it will provide for investment in schools and colleges. A sum of £3 million has been given to the regional technical college in Tallaght and it will be of great benefit in developing that third level institution. It will provide employment and it will enable young people to acquire the skills that will help them to make a more positive contribution towards society. The school extension in the Greenhills area will be of great benefit to my local community and I hope it too will increase employment in the area.

The Government spending of £100 million to address the long-standing problems of the health boards is welcome and it will enable health boards to pay off their debts. Small business that have waited so long for benefits will be able to engage more people productively. These are concrete ways in which to deal with our crime problem.

The Government has put more resources into the fight against crime on the ground. Last December the Minister for Justice unveiled a comprehensive law and order package which includes acceleration of the recruitment of over 400 gardaí in 1994. That will be a major morale boost for the Garda Síochána. The Government has also given a commitment to ensure an annual intake of 350 Garda recruits during the period 1995 to 1997 in order to keep the strength of the force up to its present level and 200 civilian staff will be recruited to release that number of gardaí into operational duties.

The Government has provided 210 extra places to deal with over-crowding in prisons. There was a very interesting broadcast on the radio today from Mountjoy Prison which discussed the views of victims of crime and the people who perpetrated crimes. It was an interesting confrontation on radio. It is a lesson for us all to hear the attitudes of people who carried out dastardly deeds.

The package will also strengthen the hand of the Garda in the fight against crime. A comprehensive information technology plan will be implemented as a key part of the fight against crime. In addition, the Garda will upgrade its communications network and rely more on closed circuit television to combat crime.

Debate adjourned.