Private Members' Business. - Victim Support Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I support the Bill and congratulate Deputy O'Dea on giving the Government an opportunity to address this issue. The preparation of a Bill of this nature involves much work and effort and I salute and pay tribute to Deputy O'Dea for bringing it forward.

The Bill addresses the issues of support, counselling, legal advice and compensation for victims of crime. Deputy O'Dea indicated in an honest and upright manner that as the only person drafting the Bill he did not have the back-up and support necessary to have it correct. I accept there are a number of technical flaws in the Bill but I wholeheartedly support its principle and spirit which I hope the Government will be big enough to take on board.

We have taken on board the spirit and principle of the Bill but not the letter.

I gather that is not what the Government is taking on board. There is urgent need to address the area of victim support. The Irish Victim Support Group do excellent work on a voluntary basis. Initially it received ad hoc funding but that has been strengthened in recent years. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn was the first Minister for Justice to give it the level of funding required. Such groups are badly needed to offer support to victims of crime.

I tabled questions recently to the Minister for Justice. We all recognise that violent crime is escalating at an alarming rate but the Minister is not prepared to grasp that nettle. On 3 October 1995 I drew the Minister's attention to the fact that Dublin city is experiencing more extreme levels of violence in terms of weapons used in committing crime, for example, knives, hammers, guns and so on. I asked the number of offences committed daily over the last six months and was told that the information is not readily available. On 9 November 1995 I asked the number of people charged with offences who availed of bail, on a monthly basis, from January 1995 to date. The Minister replied that court statistics are not maintained in that way. As regards the level of crime, in 1965 it was 9,000; in 1975, it was 26,000; in 1985 it was 52,000 and in 1993 it was 55,000. Over 100,000 crimes were reported in 1994. That is over 300 a day. In most cases the perpetrators walk from court as the prosecution cannot prove its case. In every one of those cases there is at least one victim, that is 100,000 victims who pay in one way or another.

Under our criminal justice system the State acts on behalf of the victim to vindicate his or her rights and the victim expects it to do so, professionally, efficiently and sympathetically. If the State fails the victim is disillusioned. Victims are expected to act as witnesses for the prosecution when it suits their purpose. For the prosecution it is run of the mill but for the victim it is of the utmost importance and a new experience of how the system works.

I ask the Minister not to play politics on this issue and to accept the principle and spirit of the Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Browne and Lynch.

Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill and the debate. It is an important issue to which we will return as soon as the Government concludes its studies on the matter. I disagree with Deputy Callely that there is an element of politics in it. The Minister of State, Deputy Currie, said it was important and helpful legislation and that Deputy O'Dea has much to contribute in the area of criminal law reform and victim support. Bills on these areas are welcome.

I wish to concentrate on one aspect of victim support which is lacking in the Bill, the position of children in the court system. In comprehensive legislation on victim support, I thought there would be a reference to children. We all agree that children are often the most vulnerable sector of society and most in need of legal protection—victims in the real sense.

The 1991 Child Care Act reformed matters somewhat to include representation on behalf of children in care proceedings but, unfortunately, it is unclear as to the extent of the powers and functions of the representor and how best the position and views of the child might be expressed. The question as to how the views and wishes of children can be represented to courts is a difficult, complex and problematic matter which I hope we can debate with a view to Government and the Legislature formulating a resolution. It is essential where a child is unable because of its age to provide adequate instruction that a device is available to provide for the child's interest. In some recent cases judges have made orders allowing for separate representation for children but unfortunately it is unplanned and haphazard because it depends on the circumstances of each case and on the absolute discretion of the sitting member of the Judiciary. In the area of child representation I regret that we appear to be in breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular Article 12 which states that a child shall be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly or through a representative or appropriate body in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of the national law. Ireland is a signatory to this convention and we are obliged to comply with it, yet we ignore it. That is something we should redress.

Many of our statutes specifically refer to the rights and wishes of the child, for example, guardianship of infants, adoption, child abduction and child care and so on. Yet too often children are unable to become directly involved in proceedings which have huge consequences for their welfare and well-being.

In cases where courts have appointed representatives, the legal profession must address the sad reality that it is not used to this concept, has little training in this area and needs guidance. The best interest of the child must be contrasted with the best wishes of the child. This is complex and difficult at the best of times but it is something which we as legislators have not addressed in the legislation passed in recent years.

Many recent reports have addressed the matter of child representation. Perhaps the most noteworthy was the large report of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. An interesting report was presented by Mr. Cormac Corrigan and Ms Catherine Forde of the Coolock Law Centre and another by the Law Reform Commission on consultation, reports, child sex abuse and rape. The Law Reform Commission considered the concept of the guaridan ad litem but decided against its introduction in criminal proceedings on behalf of a complainant as “it would tilt the constitutional balance in favour of the prosecution”. While not crossing swords with the Law Reform Commission. I would like to see more research and debate before agreeing with it on that point.

The guardian or child advocate would protect the child from improper cross examination, ease the stress and trauma of courtroom proceedings and ensure greater co-ordination between the civil and criminal arms of our judicial system. The commission acknowledged that the role and function of the guardian are still very much at an infant stage in the United States and in other jurisdictions. It is an area to which I believe we should give greater and ongong consideration.

The child in care proceedings is always a victim and requires victim support as a top priority. The courts under our constitution are the ultimate protector of civil rights and must be given the power to ensure the rights of the citizen are at all times adequately met. In recent years we have heard much about constitutional protection for the unborn. We have seen legal representation for the unborn in the many SPUC cases which have gone through the courts, yet I regret we are unclear as to the role, function and application of legal representation for persons already born, namely our children.

The concept of a child services agency in legal matters, as proposed by the Coolock Community Law Centre in a recent report and by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, is worthy of support. There are huge difficulties in a child instructing its legal representative — the basic lack of understanding being the major stumbling block. Despite the Child Care Act's application to children and a number of care cases where children have been represented by being made party to the proceedings, there are no firm guidelines or satisfactory procedures in place. A child does not have an automatic guaranteed constitutional right to legal representation so any application depends on the discretion of the presiding judge. Some have been granted. It is not proper that such fundamental decisions affecting the welfare and wishes of the child should be determined on a case by case or a piecemeal basis. Amending legislation to establish a proper procedure for child representation, in essence child victim support, is necessary in the overall response to this Bill. I would like to hear the Minister for Health or the Minister for Justice comment on this point.

While a huge body of our statute law specifically refers to the rights and interests of children being paramount and receiving primary consideration, there is no proper vehicle to ensure their views and wishes are adequately presented to a court before a decision affecting their future is taken. Time will not permit me to look at the situation in other jurisdictions, but many western countries have established a system where the child is separately represented in court proceedings affecting its welfare.

There is a need for a professional child care agency to be given the task of taking overall responsibility for the provision of independent and separate legal representation for all children. This body would provide a panel of guardians ad litem for the courts. The Government should develop a relationship with an appropriate body, perhaps the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, to establish proper practice guidelines. That body would also engage in the preparation of court officers and clerks in this new departure in our judicial procedure.

At present, under the Child Care Act, we appear to have the worst of both worlds with provision for representation in our statute but no guidelines or practice, accepted or otherwise. A child care agency would ensure that all involved have a high level of skills and are properly trained, whether they are guardians or legal advocates on behalf of the child.

The agency would supply the guardians for the duration of the legal proceedings. The role of the guardian would not be the same as the State social worker — the difference being that the guardian would appear and act for the child only, whereas the State social worker, as Members will be aware, deals with the extended family. The guardian would represent the child only and would be independent and accessible. To gain the confidence of the public, the agency could be a service attached to the Department of Justice with its own budget and managerial functions. I would see the guardian as someone whose expertise is in the child care area rather than in the legal area and where the interest and welfare of the child would be first and foremost at all times. The guardian would be obliged to inform the court of the child's wishes irrespective of the fact that they might differ from what the best interests of the child may be.

Children are always the victims in care proceedings where decisions are made regarding their future, often without any form of consultation. A child care agency concerned solely with protection and representation of children is essential if adequate and proper protection is to be afforded and if the risk to which children in care disputes are exposed is to be minimised.

I welcome Deputy O'Dea's Bill as an important step in focusing our minds on the area of victim support. I accept what the Minister said last night about waiting and perhaps incorporating points made by Deputy O'Dea into more comprehensive legislation. By focusing on children, I have given the Minister of State, the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan and the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, an opportunity to come to the House to respond to the points I made.

The speakers I heard welcomed the Bill because it focuses our attention on an area that is usually forgotten when it comes to crime, particularly high profile crimes which are only a small element of those committed each day. High profile crime seldom affects the victims Deputy O'Dea has in mind in this Bill. This is an opportunity to provide for the forgotten victims of crime. I was always taught there are three parties affected by crime: the Judiciary, including the Garda, the person accused and society. It is only in recent years we have accepted that a fourth party affected is the victim. Victims were seldom considered and in that respect I welcome the Bill, but Deputy O'Dea will agree it does not go far enough.

Victims have been largely ignored in the current debate on increasing crime levels. There is no doubt that measures are needed to redress the imbalance between victims and perpetrators. I hope the Bill will focus attention on the issue. There are two aspects to the treatment of victims following crime: court procedures, which they are forced to endure, and the issue of compensation not only for physical injuries but also, ideally, for pain and suffering inflicted by the crime.

Essentially this Bill provides for a charter of rights for victims of crime something to which the Government, in its programme, is committed. I look forward to publication of such a charter. While I welcome the intentions behind the Bill, it has not been properly thought out. Although the Bill is deficient, this does not mean the issue of victim support should be put on the long finger, and from listening to contributions to this debate I am sure that will not happen. In his speech last night the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, addressed some of the improvements and support services for victims. While I welcome them, they do not go far enough and Deputy Flanagan has just outlined an entire area that deserves special attention in any future legislation.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal in particular has proven to be a blunt and unresourced instrument with which to address victims' needs. Waiting times are excessive and compensation, when it is finally paid, is often paltry. As matters stand, victims are put through a lengthy and bureaucratic process before receiving compensation under the scheme and, even then, they can expect to receive only out-of-pocket expenses. With removal of the pain and suffering clause a few years ago, a shattering blow was dealt to victims' rights to proper compensation. At the time there was much protest in that regard. I hope that matter will be dealt with in the forthcoming legislation.

Today there is a two-tier system of compensation. While members of the Garda Síochána, whose claims are dealt with under a separate scheme, may receive substantial pay-outs not only for injuries but also for trauma suffered, such compensation is denied to civilian victims. Since the Garda scheme was established its members have received more than £10 million in awards. In one case it is reported that a garda received £1 million. Nobody disputes the right of the gardaí to appropriate compensation. They are in the front line, protecting us from the mob, and are increasingly the targets of unscrupulous armed thugs. However, innocent members of the public are also caught in the criminal firing line. The time has come to introduce a comprehensive and unbureaucratic system of compensation which ensures that all victims of crime, whether civilian or members of the Garda, receive compensation not only by way of out-of-pocket expenses but for the considerable trauma they may have suffered.

My home was burgled on one or two occasions, but it is little comfort to have sufficient insurance to replace the items taken. What is needed in those circumstances — burglary in ones absence is one of the lesser crimes — is recognition of the violation. Victims need understanding and someone to listen to them, but they seldom find that in their immediate family because they too are victims. I hope the current review addresses these discrepancies and makes recommendations on how they can be remedied. I am confident the Government will address these matters and I will continue to raise them, as I am sure will other Deputies, until they are addressed.

This Bill, although extremely well intentioned, addresses many of the issues only superficially. However, I understand the reasons for that. I have not had the experience of being in Opposition but people who have been have referred to the difficulties in drafting Bills because of a lack of the necessary back-up services. I am sure that matter will be considered at some stage.

Many of the issues covered in the Bill have already been dealt with in legislation. The rights and needs of victims of sexual offence have been comprehensively addressed and will continue to be addressed. I made representations about that and much has been done in that area by this and previous Governments.

In the past, victims of crime were considered as peripheral to the prosecution case. They were merely witnesses, and distress caused to them by court proceedings was often dismissed. In many cases of burglary or mugging the charges are dropped without informing the victim. Sometimes victims are informed of it by the person accused of the crime.

Many deficiencies have been remedied in recent years and Deputy O'Dea's proposals, if implemented, would simply overlap existing law. However, I am concerned about the wider implications of the Bill. Under section 2 (a) victims of crime have a right to be consulted about pre-trial procedures. They would also have full access to the investigating member of the Garda on making a written request. This goes too far in one area and not far enough in another. Under the Bill there is no right of access without a written request and with a written request there is unlimited access which would place extra strain on an already overstretched Garda Síochána.

I am also concerned about the provision that victims must be informed when the perpetrator has completed the sentence. While that would be understandable if threats were made by the perpetrator to the victim at the time of sentencing. I would be worried about it in all cases. I appreciate the intention behind the proposal but it would have unforeseen consequences for both victim and offender. I hope that any similar proposal in future will be thoroughly examined before being implemented and that appropriate safeguards will be introduced.

At present the State prosecutes suspected perpetrators on behalf of society. It is the State's duty to ensure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent acquitted while protecting the individual citizen and vindicating the rights of victims. The concept of the State as prosecutor is central to our criminal justice system. If the proposals in this Bill were accepted the victim would, to an extent, become the prosecuting agent. This shift in emphasis would, unless carefully handled, prejudice the right of alleged offenders to a fair trial. I use the term "alleged" advisedly since we retain the concept of innocent until proven guilty.

Deputy O'Dea's Bill has triggered debate in this house and I hope it will trigger a wider debate. Few people have been unaffected by the rise in crime rates and there is an understandable feeling of anger at the plight of victims who feel marginalised. This Bill is not the best way to address the victim's needs. Those needs, however, must be addressed and I hope the Government will lose no time in introducing appropriate legislation.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Tréaslaím leis an bhFreasúra as ucht an Bille seo a thabhairt os ar gcomhair. Tuigim go bhfuil sé deacair nuair atá tú i do Theachta Dála ar an dtaobh eile Bille a thabhairt isteach nuair nach bhfuil na comhairleoirí agus na dlíodoiri agat atá le fáil ag na hAirí.

Tuigeann An Teachta O'Dea é sin mar bhí sé ina Aire Stáit bliain ó shin nó mar sin. Tá an-mholadh tuillte ag an Teachta O'Dea atá ag obair go dian dítheallach anois fé mar a bhí sé nuair a bhí sé ina Aire Stáit. Tá brón orm nach bhfuil glactha leis an mBille ach táim cinnte go mbeidh Bille níos fearr againn amach anseo.

It has become part and parcel of life to worry about the victims of crime. Are the criminals getting away with minimum sentences? Are they getting away lighter than their victims? It is frightening for old people — they must lock their doors at night because they fear being attacked. My heart goes out to people in their 70s and 80s who are beaten by thugs. In their heyday some of those people might have been the strongest and toughest men in the country. They might have been able to take on these thugs singlehandedly and beat them black and blue. However, in their late seventies and eighties they are victims. One sees photographs of such people dreadfully beaten by thieves for the sake of stealing a few pounds. It is a shocking way for old people to end their lives; indeed, the shock of what they have to endure often does end their lives.

At the other end of the scale, young people going home at night can be set upon by equally young thugs. Recently, such an incident occurred in Carlow and a number of people ended up in hospital, one with serious head injuries. These people will settle down afterwards and continue to enjoy themselves as young people should. However, the memory of being attacked that night by young thugs must always remain with them. Rape victims, too, have to endure the memory of an ordeal.

Even people who come up to Dublin to shop and have their handbags snatched endure quite a shock. The other night I was talking to a person whose car had been stolen while she was visiting friends. The shock of coming out and finding the car stolen — the property inside the car was not insured — was not helped by the thought that young hooligans were driving it around fields on the outskirts of Dublin. That is no consolation for somebody who has suffered the loss of a car.

The victims of crime suffer such trauma that we must take more positive action. We should support the Garda with all available resources and the gardaí should be more visible. It is strange that people can come to towns such as Carlow which is 50 miles from Dublin, do what they like there and get back safely to Dublin. They all appear to arrive at the same location on the Carlow side of Dublin. It is amazing that there is no system whereby the gardaí can be there before them, anticipating what is happening, when there is a telephone system. The Garda should have more power and more cars to follow up reports of stolen cars, break-ins and so forth when they have a fair idea of where people are heading.

The cost of counselling is high but on the other hand, psychological counselling for victims of crime is very important. We have to be able to talk to them. The Irish Association of Victim Support has done much to help such people on a voluntary basis. Although their grant has been increased from £18,000 to £130,000 it is marvellous value for money and they should receive more.

The Bill has been faulted by the Minister. I always feel sorry for Opposition Deputies who introduce Bills because it is not easy to get everything perfect. However, there are difficulties about the wording and its meaning. The fact that the Government is introducing a charter for victims of crime might be consolation for Deputy O'Dea in view of the work he has done. The foundation he has laid will be incorporated in the Government's planned charter. I congratulate Deputy O'Dea on introducing the Bill. It is marvellous that he is prepared to give time to this type of work. He need not feel discouraged by the fact that it has not been accepted by the Minister and he can take consolation from the fact that it will be the foundation for a good Bill in the future.

I congratulate Deputy O'Dea on introducing this Bill. It is unfortunate that the Government will not support it. While, on the Deputy's admission, there are omissions in the Bill, the effort he made in drafting it and bringing it before the House is to be commended. Having listened to Government speakers it is fair to say that there is a consensus that the spirit and general content of the Bill are readily acceptable. It is unfortunate that the Bill cannot be accepted and amendments introduced at a later Stage.

Crime is rampant; it is a growth area not just confined to particular urban areas which, heretofore, we have always associated with violence, crime and unemployment. It has become widespread and middle class areas which until now did not suffer from crime are finding out that in the late 1990s nowhere is safe. They are not simply crimes of burglary, car theft and robbery; they are violent crimes, one need only look at the newspapers to read about them.

Parts of the city are not safe to drive through at night because of organised crime. Criminals who control their patches lie in wait for unsuspecting motorists. Even with central locking on many cars criminals will steal a coat or bag from the back seat. Locking one's car at junctions does not prevent attack. Bars and hammers are used to break the back windows of cars. Old women, in particular, are put at serious risk by such crime, which is organised by criminals who work in packs. The danger of such attacks causes some motorists travelling home late at night merely to slow down at red traffic lights and, if there is no approaching traffic, to drive through them. That poses a risk to unsuspecting motorists approaching that junction who believe they may drive through it when the lights are green. Crime has a number of knock-on effects that must be addressed by way of legislation.

This Bill goes some way towards helping the victims of crime. For too long legislators liked to be seen to be protecting the rights of the accused. Perhaps we have gone too far in that direction. When legislating on crime we are always looking over our shoulder for fear of infringing somebody's civil liberties, but that can be taken too far. The Garda need more support and successive Governments have not introduced the requred legislation.

Shoplifting has become a serious problem in Kilkenny in recent times and this has been attributed to individuals travelling to the city on the Dublin train. Shopkeepers send individuals to the railway station to check if suspected shoplifters are arriving and, if so, they notify the major stores that they should beware and have their properties and stock well protected.

This Bill introduced by Fianna Fáil proposes to enshrine in legislation some protection for the victims of crime. The right to be consulted by the prosecution about any pre-trial procedures is a fair provision. How often have we seen individuals who may have witnessed a particularly nasty assault brought into court, which they consider hostile surroundings particularly if they have not been in court before. Such witnesses see a number of gardaí, members of the legal profession, consultations taking place and find the atmosphere intimidating. Seeing the justice wearing a wig and gown does nothing to allay the fears of witnesses who may be coming forward to give evidence because they believe that is their civic duty.

This Bill provides that each victim of crime should be given the right to free legal advice in respect of any trial at which the victim shall be a witness for an indictable offence involving violence or the threat of violence as a result of which the victim suffers physical or mental injury. While we all have seen at firsthand injuries inflicted as a result of assault, the mental injury involved is difficult to quantify. We have neglected to help the victims of crime in that regard.

The Bill also provides that each victim of crime shall be entitled to counselling for the psychological effects of a crime involving violence or the threat of violence as a result of which the victim suffers physical or mental injury. Such a service will be provided by the State without charge. Too often victims who may have held down a job may be unable to work as a result of crime. They may not have a medical card and may have to pay their medical expenses. The State has an obligation to provide for such services. If the State had sufficient resources and legislation in place to help the victims of crime, perhaps the problem would be alleviated somewhat.

The Bill also provides that where an accused is being tried for an offence which has resulted in mental or physical injury to a victim or a number of victims, an impact report on each victim who has so suffered shall be furnished to the trial judge who, when deciding the appropriate penalty, shall take into account the effects of the crime on the victim. It is important that we are aware of what type of evidence the prosecution intends to bring forward. There should be an obligation on the defence and the State's counsel to make as much evidence as possible available to the victims of crime prior to going to court. The defence will have its team and witnesses well tutored but, unfortunately, that does ot apply to victims of crime. When the State brings a case against an individual, the victim appears to be left on the outside.

Crime has been an ongoing problem. As legislators, all we can do is improve the legislation and assist the authorities by giving them more resources, not necessarily in the form of throwing money at the Garda. We need to address the overall problem and deal with it in an educational and social context.

When in Opposition politicians invariably focus on the problem of crime and use it as a stick with which to beat the Government to drum up public support. For several years all parties have agreed that something must be done to tackle the serious problem of crime. When in power the Government, particularly the Fine Gael Party, is inclined to find excuses for not putting in place what it promised when its members sat on the Opposition benches.

That is not peculiar to Fine Gael.

Where is the transparency?

I could write a book on it.

If the Minister of State wants evidence of it, all he has to do is look at what was done with the Castlerea prison project. What did his party do when they got into Government? They spent £1 million building a wall and then shelved the project.

Has the Minister of State gone down there to pray?

I could write a book on it.

Deputy Nolan please, without interruption.

The Deputy should write a book. It would be a best seller.

That was an unfortunate remark, a slip of the tongue on the Deputy's part.

It was not unfortunate. What did the Deputy's party do about Castlerea prison? It built a wall and then cancelled the project. We need more prison places, but what is his party doing about it?

Does the Deputy want me to chart the course for him?

It is doing nothing about it. We have a revolving door syndrome.

It is known as Deputy Sean Doherty's wailing wall.

There is a bigger turnover of prisoners in our prisons than customers in Quinnsworth at present. There is no doubt about that.

If the Deputy were to reflect on what his party proposed to do in the justice area during the past five years, he would be disappointed.

Let us have no further interruptions.

While the Minister for Justice stood her ground in a small way on the recent proposed cuts. Garda manpower levels and the whole revolving door syndrome in regard to prisoners are a disgrace.

Is the Deputy suggesting that is a new phenomenon?

What happens when a prisoner goes to Mountjoy Jail for a serious crime? Two days later a constituent of mine walking down the road saw the prisoner out again because there are no prison spaces.

When did that start?

I am talking about two weeks ago.

I am talking about five years ago.

The Minister is in power and he can do something about it but he is doing nothing. Robberies and shoplifting are on the increase. The Garda are under more pressure than ever and the Government is doing nothing about it. When we introduce legislation which would help to support the victims the Government decides to vote against it. Where is the Government's Bill?

Window dressing.

Where are all the Bills the Government was going to introduce?

What was the Deputy's party doing in Government for the last five years?

Minister Durkan, please desist. Let us hear the Member in possession, please.

A number of voluntary organisations is doing good work for victims of crime but the statutory authorities, the Government, are not supporting them in the way they should. We have made a start, our spokesman on justice introduced a Bill but the Government will not support it which means it will die. The Government will be out of office before it brings any legislation forward.

The Deputy's party was in Government long enough and did nothing about it.

Effectively we are doing our part for victims of crime. The Garda authorities reported recently that less than one in three crimes are detected. Last year over 100,000 indictable crimes were reported. It is generally accepted that all crimes are not being reported. Out of 125,000-130,000 crimes the detection rate is one in four. That is a disgrace and more resources will have to be put into these areas. Assistance must be given to the victims of crime because if only one in four is detected a huge number of people are getting away scot free.

The programme, A Government of Renewal, promised a review of the victims of crime and a charter for victims of crime but I do not think such a charter would serve any useful purpose for those who have already suffered as a result of criminal activity. I compliment Deputy O'Dea on bringing this legislation forward but I am disappointed the Government will not support it.

It is laughable that the Minister for Justice made a statement earlier in the year that a referendum, which would allow a change in the bail laws, would take place on the same day as the divorce referendum. She was quickly disowned by her partners in Government — Labour and Democratic Left — who said they had not been consulted and that, perhaps, the Minister was premature in mentioning this issue. They complained in great detail as to why they could not agree to it. The referendum on divorce is on Friday next and there are no proposals to deal with the bail laws.

Some months ago Deputy John O'Donoghue outlined the problems and the figures relating to crime. He said that crime figures show that the number of offences committed by people on bail has been on the increase since 1990 and that had been about 2,500 such crimes. This figure had almost doubled, to 4,500 last year. This, in itself, shows the urgent need for changes in the bail law. The Criminal Justice Act, 1984, which provided that an individual who committed a crime while on bail would be given a consecutive sentence did not have any effect and since 1990 the trend has been increasing. Is the 1984 Act being enforced by the courts?

Under the terms of the Constitution, as defined by the O'Callaghan case in 1966 and the Ryan case in 1989, bail can only be refused by a court if it can be shown there is a probability that the accused will abscond or will interfere with witnesses. It will have to be changed so that a judge can take into account the probability that an accused person will commit another crime if granted bail.

Deputy O'Donoghue has published the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, to change Article 40.1 of the Constitution. I accept there are civil liberty concerns but we can overplay this card. A change in the bail laws would have to be made in conjunction with new court procedures. The operation of the courts will have to be examined sooner rather than later.

If the Government is serious about tackling crime, it will have to bring forward legislation soon. The public is fed up with politicians making wild allegations about putting more money into the Department of Justice, providing more resources to the Garda and the prisons and yet the crime rate continues to escalate.

Rural Ireland is awash with drugs, thus increasing the problem of violence associated with the drugs problem. In the past the drugs problem was only in Dublin, perhaps in Limerick, to a lesser extent, and Cork. There is no small town which has not been affected by the scourge and abuse of drugs. There is a knock-on effect where drug abusers have to feed their habit by acts of crime in order to get money. The major party in Opposition brought forward legislation which would assist the victims of crime but the Government, because it did not consider it timely — in fact it was embarrassed — will not support it.

After seven years.

The Government's commitment to the law and order problem associated with crime can only be changed by the introduction of the necessary measures. I am disappointed the Government is not supporting the Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy O'Keeffe.

Crime is pervading our society; irrespective of whether it is a small town or one of our largest cities. It has a demoralising effect not only on the people who have the task of enforcing the law but on society in general and even more so on the victims of crime.

Let us look at an area of Cork city in recent times. Every night we read of three and four cars speeding on the roads racing each other and the crashing and burning of those cars at the end of the day. The people in that part of the city cannot do anything about it. They put their hands to the high heavens and ask what is becoming of our city. Where is the law and order? Where is the enforcement? How can we control these people who are running rife in our city and giving our area a bad name? Old people travelling on buses to our towns and cities have their handbags snatched and are being attacked in their own homes. As a result, they live in fear. They constantly demand public lighting on their streets and do not see any point in having a neighbourhood watch system in operation when criminals can still break into their homes.

Our young people are the prey of the drug barons, pushers and others who are the scum of society and little is being done about the problems. Such people continue to act against the law and yet seem to be above the law.

How do the members of the Garda Síochána feel about this crisis? Any garda will say that morale in the force was never lower. A contributory factor is the staff cutbacks. Of the latest batch of recruits from Templemore, only one was assigned to Cork city. Complaints were made recently that despite the two barracks in Cork city, only one patrol car was available with one garda to operate it. In two areas of the city, the patrol car was unable to be used because only one garda was available. When a call came into the station that a crime had been committed, the garda on duty had to say he could not send out a patrol car because, due to staff cutbacks, nobody was available to man it. Gardaí cannot attend to the duties for which they are being paid and that is unacceptable. There is a crisis of confidence in the law and in the administration of justice. That leads to a lack of respect for the gardaí and our law institutions.

In the Circuit Court in Cork, there is an automatic right of transfer. It is a well known fact that people before the courts in Cork who are well known to the gardaí and the judges will be given more severe penalties. The solution to that problem is for the accused to exercise his automatic right of transfer and the case is listed for hearing in Dublin. He subsequently travels to Dublin on the train with his legal representative and witnesses for both sides and the State is expected to pay for everything. The case is mentioned in court and put back for perhaps 18 months during which time he may commit further crimes.

I compliment Deputy Nolan for outlining some of the disasters currently befalling this State. This Government is great at building walls. It built the mighty wall in Luggala which cost £2 million; it will cost £1 million to dismantle it. We also have the wailing wall in Roscrea. County Roscommon which does not even have a door on it — it is wide open. Does the Government expect people to kneel down and pray when they go there or wail at the wall and say they are sorry? The action the Government is taking amounts to nothing.

There will not be any need for a wall for the Deputy to wail.

The great wall of Roscommon — it is like the Great Wall of China.

We are fortunate, therefore, that Deputy O'Dea took it upon himself to do something about the victims of crime and the difficulties they are facing. I congratulate him for introducing the Bill. He has shown commendable enterprise and sincerity in his role as Fianna Fáil on law reform.

In his opening contribution, Deputy O'Dea admitted there are drafting difficulties with the Bill but he wanted the Government to agree to the basic principles in it. He expected a little bit of foresight and commitment from the Government and hoped it would acknowledge what he has done and agree with the principle of the legislation and amend it on Committee Stage. Unfortunately, all he got was a pat on the head from the Minister——

A year in Opposition is better than seven years in Government.

Mr. O'Keeffe

——and an explanation that major changes to the Bill are required. Deputy Browne said he looked forward to a Government Bill but given the dearth of Bills coming before this House, he will have a long wait.

Thirty Bills in the current year.

Only charters.

We are all forgetting how traumatic a court appearance can be for a young inexperienced person. Victims are often traumatised when they see the person who has committed a crime against them walk freely from the court.

The Government does not care. It is laughing at victims.

Yet this Government does not see fit to take on board a worthwhile Bill in the interest of law and order. We must address the difficulties faced by the victims of crime and adopt the measures in the Bill.

Very commendable. The Deputy's party should have done better after seven years in power.

What will the Minister of State, Deputy Durkan do? He is laughing at the victims of crime. It is not very funny.

I am not laughing at them.

I am calling Deputy Costello.

The clown prince of the Government.

It ill behoves Fianna Fáil to criticise this Government after one year in office on a matter such as this when it was in power longer than any other combination of parties in the history of the State.

And the Labour Party with us.

That being said, I commend Deputy O'Dea for bringing this Bill before the House. He has done good work in presenting us with the opportunity of debating this measure. Judging by the contributions I have listend to, there is universal concern about the manner in which victims are treated in our society. Every Member of this House would sympathise with victims and we are all anxious to ensure that the maximum legal, financial and moral support is given to all those who have been victims of crime.

Unfortunately, until recently, there was not any organisation which concerned itself with addressing the problems experienced by victims of crime. We are often portrayed as a society more concerned with penalising offenders, with prison conditions, as I was, and so on. We should remember the words of Christ to his disciples when he admonished them for having fallen asleep during his agony in the garden. There was a degree of imbalance in the way our society responded to its needs and that must be redressed.

I wish to pay a sincere, heartfelt tribute to the good work undertaken by Victim Support in recent years. Its founder, former Garda Sergeant Derek Nally, was General Secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors in the 1970s and 1980s. He and I met regularly at debates and seminars and discussed the position of offenders, their victims and prisoners generally.

What side of the argument did Deputy Costello support?

I rememeber him saying when he retired from the Garda Síochána that his main objective was to establish an organisation to support the victims of crime. While I was fully supportive of his ambition I was moving out of that sphere and would have liked to have been involved to a much greater extent than proved possible.

It is extremely important that there be that type of voluntary organisation and personnel who provide advice, listen to people's problems, inform victims of relevant court procedures, of their legal entitlements and so on. This group, representing the victims of crime, has been recognised by the State and was given a contribution last year of £130,000 for its operations. That represented a considerable improvement since the organisation had received no State subvention for the first two years following its establishment.

I should have said I wish to share my time with Deputies Crawford and Ring.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed. Agreed.

There is great need to stress the provisions of section 3 which deal with information to be provided by the Garda Síochána. Too often a victim is not informed of what is happening to his or her case, does not know which member of the Garda is in charge of it, whether the accused has been charged, is on bail or in custody and whether he or she will have to appear as a witness. Neither do they know when their case will be taken, or whether it will be deferred. That causes them tremendous anxiety and stress and sometimes leads to real terror. While recognising that there is a rather generalised code of practice in existence for the Garda it is time we underpinned it statutorily.

Not for the first time has Deputy O'Dea entered this arena, having been very involved in the Criminal Justice Act, 1993, the provisions of which dealt with many of the issues before us. For example, it empowered the courts to award compensation whenever a victim has suffered personal injuries or loss and allowed for the payment of compensation in the case of a victim, with dependants, who died. That Act permits a court to make a compensation order in lieu of a penalty or fine, taking into account the effects of a violent attack on a victim or where such was threatened. That fact must be taken into account when imposing a fine. In fairness to Deputy O'Dea, he is seeking to extend those provisions.

I support many of the provisions of this Bill and hope the Minister will bear them in mind when compiling a package to aid the victims of crime. However, I have problems with the very wide definition of the term "victim of crime" in section 1 which states:

...."victim of crime" means any person or persons who have suffered harm of any kind including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their capacity to function within the community, through acts or omissions which are in breach of the criminal laws of the State and includes, where appropriate, the immediate family or dependants of such persons.

That is an idealistic, all-embracing definition which, for that very reason, renders it unrealistic legislatively and will have to be considerably tightened up.

I have a problem also with section 2 (a) which specifies that a victim shall have the right to be consulted by the prosecution in regard to any pre-trial procedures. I suggest that a better word would be "informed" by the prosecution.

In the policy document, A Government of Renewal, the Government, as part of its agreed policy, promised a charter of rights for victims of crime and the Minister is committed to this. We should develop all our services for the victims of crime, voluntary or those already provided for in legislation and produce a code of practice, including one for the Garda Síochána, which will statutorily underpin victims' rights in law. I await such developments which will ensure a substantial package of statutory proposals to protect victims, give them something more than mere lip service or sympathy which is not sufficient.

I welcome this Bill and commend Deputy O'Dea on its introduction. It is worthy of an airing and, I hope, will bring closer the time when we shall have the promised Government proposals.

I welcome this Bill and compliment Deputy O'Dea on its preparation. I am disappointed that such a Bill was not introduced earlier when Deputy O'Dea, serving as Minister of State at the Department of Justice, was afforded such an opportunity. However, better late than never. Victims of crime do not have rights, everything is weighted in favour of the criminal or perpetrator of such crimes. When I was in Westport courthouse recently endeavouring to contact a solicitor, a young man of approximately 18 was brought in, handcuffed to two prison officers. The judge pointed to a jacket and asked him "is this yours?" to which he replied, "it is". The judge was about to return the jacket to him when he discovered it contained £300. The sergeant suggested that the money was part of the proceeds of a crime the person in custody committed in Westport. That person had been brought from Mountjoy Prison in a van, accompanied by two prison officers and a driver, to the Castlecourt Hotel and given a fine meal at taxpayers' expense.

I cannot understand why the court could not have held it was his jacket, removed the money, returned it to the owner and sent the young person to prison. I collected a message for the victim from an old person in Dublin and went to his home at 10 o'clock at night. The doors were bolted and I could hear a dog inside barking. I was told to go away. The owner was terrified because in the past criminals travelled to Westport in high-powered cars, committed crimes and departed in the middle of the night. What happens to criminals who are caught? They are brought to Mountjoy, then to Westport to have dinner in the Castlecourt Hotel. That is not justice. What happens to the poor victim who was attacked? A few weeks ago I parked my car at Lower Mount Street: my side window was broken and my car phone stolen. I was shocked to discover that this had happened. I was not hurt but I can imagine how bitter a person who is assaulted and left injured on the street must feel. There are too many do-gooders in this country, and I am sick and tired of them. I want to see legislation to put criminals behind bars, not just for a few hours from Friday evening to Monday when they can come out well fed, washed and shaved. I want to see justice done.

I would like to compliment the victim support group in County Mayo and take this opportunity to thank them for the wonderful work they have done. Any new legislation should require a Garda Síochána to notify local victim support groups when a person is injured in a violent crime. The group could then write to the victim informing him that the service is available. Victims could decide for themselves whether or not they want help. The Government has increased the allocation of funding for victim support groups from £18,000 to £130,000, but £.5 million would not be too much to expect and it would be money well spent. It is a very small amount of money compared with what it costs to keep people in Loughan House or Mountjoy Prison or to bring a criminal from Westport to Dublin, from Dublin to Westport, to dine and wine him and bring him back to collect his jacket. That is not law and order and we are crying out for these criminals to be dealt with. People have to feel that they can walk down the street without being assaulted or becoming a victim of crime.

I am glad we are now thinking about the victims. It is time we provided support for them. If something happens to a decent citizen he will have somewhere to go for advice on his legal and medical rights and get whatever support he needs. For far too long the law has been on the side of the criminal and that must stop.

I thank Deputy O'Dea for bringing this Bill before the House. One would think that crime only began when this Government came into power.

No one said that.

Deputy O'Dea, when Minister of State, had many opportunities to improve the legislation. I am satisfied that the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, will bring in a charter of rights for victims that will stand up in court. Victims are an extremely important group who are often forgotten. Old people are afraid to stay in their homes. This was a problem in Cork 12 months ago when we were canvassing for the by-election. It has not arisen as suggested earlier.

Recently in my county two aged people, a brother and sister, had to leave their home following a second robbery and move into a town which was alien to them because of their background. Now they have to get a cab or a good neighbour to bring them out to their farm at least twice a day. We as a nation cannot allow this kind of thing to continue.

It is not just the old who suffer. Shopkeepers and people who own cars are robbed. A shopkeeper I know in Monaghan town who was removing valuable property from his shop before locking up, discovered that while he was locking the doors his goods were stolen from the boot of his car and the hooligans responsible got away in a high-powered car. At the weekend a pub was robbed and people were lucky not to be injured by the weapons the robbers had.

The main issue relates to personal crime and those who suffer from being beaten up, from sexual attacks etc. Imagine the trauma a young girl or woman goes through if she is the victim of a sexual crime. That woman is a victim and the trauma can stay with her for years. We have heard more and more revelations of such crimes in the last few years. The victims worry about how their cases are being dealt with, when they will be dealt with and if the Director of Public Prosecutions will actually allow a case to be taken. This lack of information and anxiety about how the Garda Síochána and the DPP will deal with such victims has to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The work of the Irish Association for Victim Support has already been commended. I want to support the comments made by my colleague, Deputy Ring. In 1993 this group got only £18,000. This year they got £130,000. In the context of the overall budget this funding must be increased dramatically. The voluntary efforts of this group are absolutely vital. I know from comments I have heard from victims that their help has been invaluable, much more beneficial than that of the Garda Síochána and others, not because the Garda do not want to be helpful but because their uniforms sometimes put people off.

The issue of prisoners must also be dealt with. I welcome the recent announcement by the Minister for Justice regarding the provision of extra prison spaces for juveniles. The release of many long-term prisoners as a result of the peace process must leave much more space available. It is easy for the Opposition to talk about Castlerea, but this is not the only way of solving the prison issue. The Government is right to look long and hard at the type of prison it provides there or elsewhere. We must make sure that prisoners are not victims for life but are rehabilitated at the earliest possible date. This can be of help to victims as well because the victim does not necessarily want to see a person in prison for life. If the person gets a reasonable punishment for the crime, the victim is happy to see him rehabilitated. We must try to improve the situation in regard to what is called the revolving door syndrome which has been in existence for many years and did not just start in December last year or January this year. In this way victims and the public generally can be sure that where crimes are committed justice is seen to be done.

There is a need for proper vigilance in so far as older people and those living in rurual areas are concerned but there is a danger of creating a perception that gardaí should be mainly deployed in areas of high population. It is important to ensure that rural areas are also properly policed.

Debate adjourned.