The recent survey by RGDATA, the retail grocers association, makes chilling and grim reading. It showed that one in three shops experienced violent crime in the past two years and that one in four shops experienced more than one violent crime. Some experienced more than five annually and over 40 retailers were constant victims of gangs which attacked almost on a weekly basis.
Violent attacks on newsagents and grocery shops cost the trade an estimated £11 million in the past two years. When this is added to the £60 million lost through other crime, namely, shoplifting and fraud, and the countless man hours lost by staff injured in raids it becomes all too apparent that the Minister for Justice and the Government should address the problem as a matter of urgency.
It was very interesting to read the statement issued by Deputy Eric Byrne of Democratic Left on the problem. He stated that it was "just one more indicator of a crime-wave which an under resourced and under staffed Garda Síochána are being asked to battle with one hand behind their backs". Has it ever occurred to Deputy Byrne that his party is in Government and has one full Minister and a hybrid Minister in the Cabinet? I suggest that he direct his comments at them and the Minister for Justice.
The only response from the Minister for Justice to this extremely serious problem for members of RGDATA appears to be "shop at Supershop". I submit that this is an entirely inadequate response to a problem which is quickly getting out of control.
Recognising the seriousness of the problem Fianna Fáil introduced a perfectly constitutional Bill to restrict bail for habitual offenders and to impose stringent conditions on these offenders when admitted to bail. The Bill was defeated by a Minister for Justice and a Government which shamefully failed to publish a Bill of its own.
Fianna Fáil strongly supports the RGDATA demand for an urgent reform of the bail system which prevents criminals from re-offending while awaiting trial. We acted and the Government prevaricated. That prevarication has recently been replaced by pious platitudes and promises of things to come.
RGDATA very correctly points out that there is a need for a review of the policy of concurrent sentencing. While there is a provision in Irish criminal law that consecutive sentences be imposed on people convicted of committing crime while on bail, it is doubtful if this is being rigorously applied in courts. I sought to ascertain the true position by way of Dáil question, but obfuscation won the day again.
It is a sad reflection on our ability to beat the crime menace, when a retailer says that he has every form of security, including alarm, cameras, shutters, safes and ram bars, yet his five shops have been subjected to seven armed raids, ten needle attacks, 17 knife attacks, two shootings, 15 iron bar attacks and 20 hammer attacks.
It must be abundantly clear to everybody but the Minister and this rainbow Coalition Government that our bail laws need reform, that concurrent sentencing has to be reviewed and that there must be an immediate clampdown on the illegal sale of cigarettes on the streets which represent the market for the proceeds of violent attacks on shops. In addition, I am now calling on the Minister to set up a special Garda task force to protect newsagents and shopkeepers from thugs and villains roaming the streets. It is abundantly clear that extreme violence will drive shopkeepers and newsagents out of business and while the Minister is giving "close consideration" to the RGDATA survey, robberies and assaults are happening on a daily and nightly basis. The sheer viciousness and cowardly nature of these assaults is illustrated by the weapons being used against vulnerable people. They include sharpened chisels, hurleys, golf clubs, planks-sticks, hammers, sprays-liquids, slash hooks, and of course verbal threats. This type of assault is not confined to large cities. Our outlying rural towns are now subjected to nightly and indeed daily visitations by criminal gangs. Criminals see rural towns and villages as "soft options" together with grocery shops.
I have no difficulty in standing up in this House and repeatedly putting forward positive proposals to the Minister for Justice, even if they are ignored. However, even if the Minister, for political reasons, wishes to continue to ignore me, I earnestly request tonight that she not ignore the plea of RGDATA who, like me, represents ordinary people trying to make a living in the midst of a crime wave. This is a Government on probation intent on reoffending the Irish public. It is a Government which commits the crime of inactivity, a Government of coalition parties which go surety for each other.