I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I wish to share my time with Deputy Kenneally.
Vol. 460 No. 6
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I wish to share my time with Deputy Kenneally.
I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.
The Nobel laureate, Samuel Beckett, in one of his best known works places the character of Vladimir centre stage where he spends his time and his entire theatrical lifetime "Waiting for Godot". Fortunately for the character it is a short play.
It does not give me great pleasure to say that the Minister for Justice has become the Vladimir of this Administration. She has spent the entire of her ministerial lifetime to date in the centre of the political stage waiting for legislation. Unfortunately for the Irish audience her play has been running too long. After 14 months of political hibernation, no doubt enforced by her colleagues in Democratic Left and the Labour Party, she still shows no sign of legislative life.
Legislation which was priority last summer remains unpublished on the eve of spring. For some reason the Minister appears to be forever awaiting a legislative postal order from the parlimentary draftsman's office. Her performance in office was succinctly encapsulated in the editorial ofThe Irish Times last Thursday which suggested that since taking office she has done little but stumble from one crisis to another giving the distinct sense of trying to make up answers as she goes along. The questions posed at the end of that editorial as to whether the Minister is up to it or if the Government cares are being asked by many in this House and elsewhere. They are being asked by people who care about crime who have watched the Minister and the Government stumble from the Brinks-Allied fiasco through the Castlerea crisis into this winter of unacceptable death. They are questions which need to be asked and answered because this Government has demonstrated time and again that it does not have a criminal justice policy.
The public have a right to expect leadership and direction from the Government in the battle against lawlessness. In the hierarchy of obligations a Government has to its sovereign people the protection of human life is a superior obligation and one which must be enforced by a Government in a democratic society.
Drug related crime has been identified correctly as being responsible for up to 80 per cent of all indictable offences. In the first six months of 1995 the Garda made 2,835 drug seizures. That represented a 9 per cent increase on the same period in 1994. Last July the Minister for Justice announced to a great fanfare a legislative and organisational initiative against drug traffickers. The proposed legislative changes were simple and common sense. We, on this side of the House, strongly supported the Minister for Justice at that time. Unfortunately, her colleagues in Democratic Left and the Labour Party were less enthusiastic. That may explain the inexorable delay we have witnessed since. The Minister's proposals were to give gardaí, under supervision by the courts, the power to detain suspected drug traffickers for up to seven days; to give Garda chief super-intendents the power to issue search warrants in urgent, drug related cases and to give Customs officials the power to question the persons they had arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking. The measures were announced in a media blitz no doubt orchestrated by the publicly funded army of advisers retained by the Minister and the Government to boost their woeful image. The message was intended to be clear, "look up, Minister Owen and the Government are actually doing something".
The Minister and the Government have broken their self-imposed embargo on crime prevention legislation and promised the Government will publish a Bill. That message was a carefully crafted fraud. The Minister and the Government were doing nothing. They were posing and preening for the press, basking in the blaze of publicity and all the while the dust on the desks of the Minister and members of Government remained undisturbed.
The legislative famine continued through the hot summer into the mellow autumn. Seasons changed but the Minister and the Government did not. Inac-tivity piled on indifference and this was compounded by indolence. Fresh autumn turned to frozen winter and the season of ministerial and governmental hibernation continued.
This script deserves ten out of ten. The Deputy's English teacher would be thrilled by it.
With spring a matter of hours away the Minister's sole remaining but increasingly reluctant political ally, the Taoiseach, announced to the House that the legislation would be published within weeks. Unfortunately, this is the measure of the Government's commitment to combat crime. The much hyped initiative has resulted in a six months silence. The measures which were deemed to be needed on extremely urgent matters last July were parked in a political lay-by once the arc lamps were turned off. The Government is concerned more with appearances than with action.
When "Morning Ireland" invited the Minister to account for the performance by her and the Government, the Minister for Justice was unavailable. So much for the promise of openness given by the rainbow Coalition. Whenever the opportunity of a soft photocall presents itself the Minister and her Government colleagues abandon their desks with enthusiasm and pose with their noses poised above the most recent cache of illicit drugs. If the Minister and the Government spent more time tackling crime and less seeking spurious publicity, they might have avoided the political fate which everyone in this House knows awaits them.
Regarding the fight against crime, the Minister and the rainbow Coalition have achieved their ultimate ambition — they have become transparent and the people of Ireland have seen through them. The advantage conferred on drug traffickers by the delay in introducing this legislation is lamentable. The attitude of the Government to the delay is despicable. This is the Government which promised accountability. To whom has Minister Owen been made accountable for her six months delay? Why does one standard exist for Ministers and another for public servants?
Last year the then legal assistant at the Office of the Attorney General was forced to resign because of the delay in dealing with work within his area of responsibility. Minister Owen and the Government are responsible for the prolonged legislative drought. The Government and the Minister are responsible for making promises which could have been kept, but which they chose to neglect. The Minister, in particular, is responsible for the failure to produce promised and necessary legislation over a protracted period. Will the Government which promised accountability deliver on the promise? The answer to that question is a simple no.
Those who seek to occupy the high moral ground would have themselves judged by different standards from ordinary mortals. The Minister for Justice and the Government have failed but the usual excuse is not available to them at this time; this time they cannot say they inherited the problem. The Minister for Justice herself identified the need; she announced the cure; she declared the urgency but she and the Government delivered nothing.
In July 1995 the Minister announced what she termed the most radical, farreaching and significant steps ever taken in the history of the State to deal with the drugs problem. She stated that her measures were the result of a painstaking and detailed analysis of the drugs problem. Critically, in a speech delivered to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Family and the Select Committee on Legislation and Security on 12 October last, having recited statistics in respect of drugs seizures, she stated that these were damning statistics calling for action, contending that that was precisely what she was doing. For once, the Minister correctly identified the urgency of the situation. She trumpeted that "time is of the essence" and announced that the necessary legislative change required to bring these provisions into law "are receiving priority attention in my Department".
I am afraid that the Minister for Justice and other Ministers in this rainbow Coalition are prone to wearing accountability as a halo. I want the Minister and her colleagues in Government to apply the requisite standards of accountability to herself and the Government. Since she contends that "time is of the essence" and priority attention is being given to simple legislation, is it acceptable that legislation announced in July last should be allowed to lie dormant for the months of August and September, only to be dusted off in October for a speech and then replaced on the shelf for the months of November, December and January? If that is the Minister's and Government's idea of priority attention, if that is the best they can muster when "time is of the essence" is it any wonder thatThe Irish Times asks: “Is the Minister up to it and does the Government care?”
Ministerial responsibility for this failure rests with the Minister for Justice but let it be clearly stated that collective responsibility rests with the Cabinet. One wonders why the Minister for Justice has not been treated to the sanctimonious finger-wagging of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is there any doubt but that, if a Fianna Fáil Minister was responsible for such an inordinate delay, at this very moment the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs would be filing the fangs of his personal political vampire, Mr. Fergus Finlay?
I would much prefer that persons outside the House were not referred to.
He is everywhere, more inside the House than out of it.
As Members know full well, the Chair merely seeks to implement a long standing convention of the House.
This Bill, comprised of three Parts, is neither revolutionary nor complex but is urgent and necessary. Part I gives legislative effect to the precise terms of the changes announced by the Minister in July last. Part II provides for the abolition of the cumbersome system of preliminary examination of indictable offences obtaining in the District Court, replacing it — so far as drug trafficking offences are concerned — with a fasttrack system guaranteeing a trial within 90 days of arrest. Part III provides for an updating of the unsatisfactory temporary release scheme.
In October last the Minister spelled out the exact details of the Bill agreed by the Cabinet in July 1995. Her precise words are of importance and I shall quote them:
The report on which my proposals are based also identified certain deficiencies in the law as it stands as regards the powers of the law enforcement agencies to take effective action against drug traffickers. To overcome these deficiencies, the following measures have been agreed:
(1) Certain increases in the powers of detention of gardaí and the courts in relation to persons suspected of drugs trafficking offences. There has been a great deal of comment about these powers so let me spell out quite clearly what is involved.
The Criminal Justice Act, 1984, will be amended so as to allow the Garda, on the certification of a Chief Superintendent, to detain a person suspected of drug trafficking for a period of 24 hours initially and, if necessary, for a further period of 24 hours. On request, a judge may permit the extension of the detention period up to a maximum of 72 hours if satisfied that this is necessary and, upon further request, may permit a final extension of the detention period for up to a maximum of a further 48 hours, if satisfied that this is necessary. Furthermore the legislation introducing these measures will be reviewed after 12 months in operation and the detention provisions will lapse after 12 months unless renewed by motion of both Houses of the Oireachtas
(2) Extension of responsibility for the issue of search warrants in drug related cases to a garda, not below the rank of Superintendent,
(3) An increase in the powers of Customs officers in relation to the questioning of persons detained on suspicion of importing illegal drugs.
(4) The designation of certain Naval officers as "enforcement officers" for the purpose of Part V of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, in connection with drug trafficking offences at sea.
Part I of this Bill gives legislative effect to the Minister's announced intentions and, I stress, represents both Fianna Fáil and the Minister's policy. Therefore, I make the Minister this offer: if she supports the passage into law of Part I of this Bill, my party will not press for the enactment of Parts II and II which, while excellent in themselves, represent exclusive Fianna Fáil policy.
In the past the Minister has been prepared to accept and support Fianna Fáil sponsored legislation. For example, before Christmas she supported the Fianna Fáil Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Bill, 1995, and Fianna Fáil amendments to the Criminal Law (Incest Proceedings) (No. 2) Bill, 1995, which had the effect of bringing the principal sections of the Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill into law. On that occasion the Minister declared it to be a good day for democracy that Members combined their efforts to produce effective legislation. I suggest that today too can be a good day for democracy and can result in the necessary powers being given to those who lead the fight against drugs. The Minister can give them that power or, alternatively, deny them it.
The Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, governs the administrative conduct of indictable criminal offences. As I have reiterated on many occasions, as we approach the millennium, the provisions of that Act become more and more outdated. One example above all others serves to highlight the absurdity of its provisions — the absolute right it gives an accused person to have depositions taken in every criminal case. This time consuming procedure has outlived any usefulness it might ever have had. An Act which requires that evidence be transcribed in longhand by a District Court clerk has no place in our criminal justice system. For example, an accused person, wishing to manipulate the system to his or her advantage, can delay a trial many months by requiring depositions to be taken. In addition, the plethora of expensive remand hearings, wasteful of taxpayers' money and Garda resources, serves no useful purpose and should be replaced by a system that sends accused persons to the court of trial as speedily as possible where the necessary documents can be served and a trial date fixed. Speed really ought to be of the essence.
The present position under which backlogs have resulted in unacceptable delays in having criminal cases heard must cease. I urge the Minister to proceed as expeditiously as possible with the appointment of new judges under the Court and Court Officers Act and make the necessary provision for new courts and officials to facilitate the conduct of trials.
Some crimes are so serious it is wholly inappropriate that those convicted of them should be released temporarily save in exceptional cases of humanitarian need. I contend that drug trafficking falls within that category. I do not believe any prisoner convicted of a drug trafficking offence should be temporarily released; the provisions of Part III of this Bill would so ensure.
If the Government wishes to be open and transparent in relation to this matter it should have no difficulty accepting the provision of this Bill requiring the Minister to publish inIris Oifigiúil the name of every prisoner released temporarily, together with details of the crime for which he or she was convicted and the length of sentence which has actually been served. It is a simple, straightforward provision which seeks merely to inform the public of the Minister's activities. Given the Minister's and her colleagues' fondness for photo opportunities I have no objection if she or any of her colleagues wishes to augment the notice in Iris Oifigiúil by having a photograph of them shaking hands with each of the thousands of prisoners they release each year, published with the notice.
Wish me luck as you wave me good-bye.
In dealing with this Bill the Government has two choices. It can support the Bill and give the Garda and Customs officials the necessary powers to combat drug traffickers or it can oppose the Bill. If it takes the latter course the question has to be asked, who would benefit from its opposition? The answer is clear: drug traffickers alone would benefit. If the Government oppose the Bill it must answer why. The only possible answer to that question would be that the Minister and the Government wish to be saved from political embarrassment. My understanding of the position is that the Minister is giving favourable consideration to the Bill. I invite the Minister in the House tonight to say she will accept the Bill. The truth is that if the Bill is not accepted the question posed inThe Irish Times editorial, does the Government care, will have been answered loudly and clearly.
With regard to the measures which the Minister for Justice announced today, in so far as they meet the sustained, prolonged and severe pressure brought to bear by the Fianna Fáil Party over a period of 14 months, they are welcome. There will be general disappointment that all the 278 prison places will not be in place for a period of 18 months.
If the Deputy's party was in office they would not be available either.
If the Minister for Finance had not cancelled the 160 places at Castlerea and the 50 places for women at Mountjoy when the Minister for Justice was not at the meeting, then the provision of very necessary prison places would be well advanced.
She was on temporary release.
Talk about rewriting history. Ask Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn if they would be available.
If the Minister was on temporary release at that time the question this House must ask is who authorised the release?
I did that myself.
My humble opinion is that when the kitchen cabinet meets the Minister for Justice is sent to buy the buns while the Minister for Finance pours the tea back at the ranch.
There has been considerable disquiet among members of Fine Gael, not only in this House but throughout the length and breadth of the country. They want to know whether Fine Gael is still the party of law and order. The resounding answer coming back to them day after day is that the Taoiseach has two left feet, that he is dependent on them to stand up, that nothing else counts and everything else falls.
It is not easy.
Nothing could illustrate this better than the failure of the Government to bring the promise of the Minister for Justice before the people. Last March on the public airwaves the Minister for Justice promised the people there would be a referendum on bail to provide that, if a judge was of the opinion on the balance of probability that an individual was likely to commit a crime while on bail, he could refuse bail for that reason alone. For our part, we brought forward the Criminal Law (Bail) Bill which would have imposed restrictions on those on bail and placed conditions normally attached by judges on a statutory footing. The Minister told us we were only tinkering with the problem. We then produced the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1995. The Minister for Justice and the Fine Gael Party, presumably against their will if one takes into account the previous pronouncements of the Minister for Justice, voted the Bill down and told the people they would not give them the opportunity of deciding on the matter. One can only take it that the Tánaiste and the Leader of Democratic Left decided they did not want to put this measure before the people. However, there was a second more pragmatic reason. It related to the decision by the Minister for Finance to cancel the proposed prison places which would have been at an advanced stage now.
In the context of the Misuse of Drugs Bill before the House, was the delay in introducing the seven day detention provision with judicial review the fault of the Minister for Justice alone or was her procrastination encouraged by the Tánaiste and the Leader of Democratic Left?
The people are clearly in a position to make up their minds about that. It is certain, irrespective of what so-called civil libertarian concerns some people may have in respect of hardened criminals, the position cannot be allowed to continue and everybody knows that. In the last week there has been a number of horrendous murders in communities that stretch right across the country; criminal activity, on a scale that was once unthinkable, has become a grim and frequent reality; cruelty and depravity of a nature, which in the past was unacceptable, have now become commonplace.
The Minister for Justice, at the urging of the Fianna Fáil Party in this House, has taken a step forward today. Public outrage about which I warned on numerous occasions on behalf of my party demanded that action be taken. I humbly suggest that, because the Misuse of Drugs Bill is not yet on the Statute Book, because the number of people committing offences while on bail has risen dramatically in recent years, because there are hardened criminals on temporary and early release and because of the inertia of the rainbow Coalition Government over a protracted period, the measures announced today, while welcome in so far as they address some of our concerns, will be seen by many as too little too late.
I thank my colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, for sharing his time with me and congratulate him on the excellent work he has done on the preparation of this Bill. I can think of no more important legislation to come before this House than this measure which is not only timely but is long overdue.
I have felt for some time that the greatest single threat to society today is that posed by the drugs menace. So serious is the problem and its potential for the society in which we live that I sometimes feel we are watching the disintegration of western civilisation as we know it. Misuse of drugs and their illicit sale and distribution is a creeping cancer in our society for which the only cure is surgery. The practice of drug taking and the ensuing profit making must be removed with clinical care and efficiency in clean and successful surgical strikes.
We must facilitate all the appropriate State agencies in carrying out this surgery efficiently so that the fabric of society can survive. The Bill not only facilitates the Garda to make the necessary incisions but also enables the Customs and Excise officials to make a contribution.
I realise that some of these points will be regarded as an exaggeration or hysterical appraisal of society today. However, anyone who looks at the state of society in the more developed economies and the social problems which invariably follow a major upswing in economic fortunes can be under no illusion that the menace presented to us by the misuse of drugs is one of the greatest we have ever faced. We only have to look at the extent to which drugs, particularly the new designer drugs, have invaded our towns and villages to realise that ordinary measures will not be enough to combat this scourge.
All the soundings in my constituency indicate that the public not only approve of but demand a realistic programme of action to combat the menace of drugs. Unfortunately such a programme has not been forthcoming from the Government and the Minister has once again proven herself incapable of reading the mood of the public, capitalising on the goodwill which exists for strong and decisive action and delivering to the public the kind of protection they not only need but deserve and crave.
At a time when the Garda are crying out for resources to tackle the unprecedented crime wave it has taken the Minister much too long to extend to the weakest and most vulnerable sections of the community the kind of protection they are entitled to expect. All the indications are that when the Garda finally get the go-ahead to mount operations they have been straining and struggling to put in place they achieve results; they have proven on many occasions that when given the resources they can produce the results. I congratulate them on the breakthrough they have made in dealing with the rural crime wave.
By its very nature the drugs trade is lucrative and any business which makes people rich the easy way will not be surrendered easily. This is not just an Irish problem, it does not originate within our jurisdiction and we do not have it within our power to single-handedly work against the threat. However, we are sovereign nation and when we find evidence of the drugs trade within our jurisdiction we should take all the necessary measures to eliminate it and make those involved amenable to the law.
In her statement on 19 July last — as usual this was heralded by a fanfare of self-congratulatory trumpets — the Minister promised to wage an all out war against the drugs scourge which she described as a threat to the very fabric of our society. This has been a phoney war, contested by a shadow boxing Minister where the criminals are winners on points all the way; it has been fought on deferred payments and we have yet to see the first shots fired. Obviously the Minister does not believe her press release because if she did she would surely have taken some positive action during the succeeding six months to curb this threat to the very fabric of our society rather than sitting back and hoping that someone will do something about it. She operates on the Mr. Micawber principle that something will surely turn up.
This is the most promising Minister for Justice for a long time — she promises this and that but delivers on nothing. In an effort to make up for some of the shortcomings of a Minister who seems to be gripped by political paralysis Fianna Fáil brought forward this measure which proposes to give the Garda the extra powers they need to deal with the godfathers of crime who are making fortunes out of the misery of the most vulnerable in society. I do not understand the Minister's lethargic attitude when the nation is crying out for positive action and a realistic campaign to fight the drugs menace. The Garda stand ready to do their part but are hampered by a lack of resources and the need for extra powers to speedily investigate suspected trafficking in and misuse of controlled substances, to enter premises which are suspected of being used for the illicit drugs trade and to detain and question suspects about drug related crime.
There is nothing sinister about this measure, it contains nothing to which the average citizen could or would object. Rather we are trying to level the playing pitch so that the criminal does not have all the advantages in our system of justice. We have built into the Bill the necessary safeguards to ensure that there is no abuse of the extra powers granted to the Garda. The Bill proposes to give the streets of our towns and cities back to the people, to take fear out of the rural byways and to give back to people their right to an undisturbed night's sleep. It is as basic as that. The stones on the road know what life is like for ordinary citizens but the Minister seems to have forgotten what it is like, if indeed she ever knew.
There comes a point in any society when people perceive that a problem has gone on for too long and is not being properly addressed. That point has been reached and passed in so far as the drugs problem is concerned and the public wants positive and decisive action to deal with it. This measure is designed to facilitate a hands on approach by the Garda in dealing with the problem — they say it is the only effective way to deal with it. The problem must be tackled on three levels: reducing the supply of drugs reaching the Irish market; reducing the demand for illegal drugs and dealing with the health problems associated with drug dependency. If we, as legislators, and the Ministers with responsibility for implementing anti-drugs policy do not approach the problem seriously and do not have the will to take effective action then we will condemn countless thousands of people in this and future generations to a life of misery and a living hell.
The Minister has a talent for identifying problems and promising solutions but she has an even better talent for doing nothing about them. The Bill is a positive step towards curbing the activities of the drug barons, dealers and victims of those traffickers in death, the users. It is necessary to condemn unreservedly those who advocate or try to condone the illegal use of drugs. When newspaper columnists and some chat show hosts give the impression, unwittingly or mistakenly, that it is in order to recommend half an ecstasy tablet instead of a full one they are being irresponsible in the extreme. People in positions of authority and those who are regarded as role models have a particular responsibility not only to do and recommend what is right but to be seen to do it also.
There is a body of opinion which suggests that we should legalise the use of cannabis on the grounds that it would take it from the underground market where it now exists. However, if they ever achieve this they will then proceed to legalise the underground arms trade or murder so that people can admit openly to it without the fear of legal sanction. That is utter nonsense. Invariably the people who advocate legalising drugs have little knowledge of its effects. They do not have to go out nightly and face the horrors of another death from drugs, with all the loneliness, hopelessness and misery which surrounds it. They do not have to break the news of the death of another young person to distraught parents who cannot understand where they went wrong or how society failed them. Those grieving parents have no difficulty outlining the measures which need to be taken. They believe action needs to be taken now, that a minute delayed is another potential tragedy.
It is indicative of the misinformation in circulation and the irresponsibility of some people's approach to drugs that we are told that the sale and use of cannabis is legal in Holland when this is not and never was the case. The police in Amsterdam did not enforce the drugs laws for a while which led to the free availability of cannabis in coffee shops. However, the Dutch authorities saw the folly of their ways and are now enforcing the anti-drugs legislation fully. Contrast the advice of the loony theorists who would have us believe that the so-called mild drugs cause neither medical or social damage with the experience of the Garda who fight the drugs menace at the front line. The Garda have no difficulty in condemning the use of illicit drugs not just because they are sworn to uphold the law but because they see on a daily basis the human misery caused by the misuse of drugs.
Those who traffic in drugs for profit should be shown no mercy and should incur the full rigours of the law. The dealers must know that what they are selling young people on the streets and in back alleys, pubs, dance halls etc., means possible death or, at best, a life or misery, dependence and insecurity. In any other context these people are outcasts in society.
The fine legislation will fill very obvious gaps in the armoury of the Garda in their fight against drugs. Quick action is of the essence if we are to overcome this form of crime. The Garda must have quick access to buildings, be able to speedily arrests suspects and immediately confiscate any substance, article or document before important evidence is destroyed. The drug trade must be eliminated wherever it exists. Fianna Fáil is committed to that principle and we are prepared to discharge our legislative duty to achieve that end. I ask the Minister to accept this reasonable and constuctive measure which will help to improve the social environment in which we live.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I propose to talk only about this Bill and not respond to the many fanciful assertions made by Deputy O'Donoghue. To quote a former leader of his party, I propose to offer the Deputy the charity of my silence.
Deputy O'Donoghue is, of course, to be commended for the work he has put into the measure before the House tonight; I have commended the Deputy before and no doubt will do so again.
The Government believes it is important for this House to show a united front in the fight against those who indulge in the deadly trade of drug trafficking. We should seek as broad a consensus as possible on the measures which need to be taken and avoid futile divisiveness. It is in that context, I am glad to say that the Government will not oppose the Second Stage of this Bill. I should make it clear that the Government intends to bring forward its own Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill within the next couple of weeks and that speedily progressing that measure through the House is likely to prove the best way to put effective laws on our Statute Book in this area as quickly as possible.
While not opposing Second Stage, it would be wrong of me to pretend that there are not serious concerns that the Bill before the House this evening would be likely to give rise to constitutional difficulties, fall foul of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and perhaps prove unworkable in practice.
One of the reasons which has been put forward for taking this Bill this evening is the alleged delay in the Government bringing forward its own legislative proposals in this area. I do not believe that the general public would thank us for indulging in some unseemly political squabble or egotistical games as to who should take credit for introducing particular legislation, especially in an area as important as this.
All I propose to say on this matter is that before a Government brings forward legislative proposals it must be satisfied they are comprehensive, effective and likely to withstand challenge in the courts. Particularly in an area such as the present one, which involves fundamental human rights of the individual, that process can take time. All of us can get frustrated because of that — I know I do — but it is time that has to be taken if we are to ensure as best we can that the law we put on the Statute Book achieves what we want it to achieve and cannot be used by those against whom it is aimed to thwart its purpose.
It is important to emphasise that the introduction of legislation was only one part of the wide ranging anti-drugs package which the Government announced. Substantial progress has been, and continues to be, made on the other elements of that package. I will mention just two examples; a Garda national drugs unit has been established and the memorandum of understanding between the Garda and Customs and Excise has been signed by agency heads and endorsed by Ministers recently.
There is little disagreement in the House on the desirability of the type of legislative proposals which the Government indicated it would bring forward as part of its anti-drugs package and to a large extent what is at issue in this debate is how best to give effect to them.
Before going on to discuss the detail of Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill, I think there is a general point that needs to be made about criminal law reform. Much is being made by some of a suggestion that since I became Minister for Justice, I have brought forward no measures to reform the criminal law. That suggestion is misleading. For example, the Courts and Courts Officers Act, 1995, contained a series of measures which will contribute significantly to improving the operation of our criminal justice system. The House will be familiar with what that legislation contained so I will only give one example of the improvements which it has brought about; it has ended the abuses that were possible through persons charged outside Dublin — Cork in particular — electing to be tried in Dublin.
That suggestion about the lack of criminal law reform overlooks too the Criminal Law (Incest Proceedings) Act which represented an effective and swift response to a particular difficulty which came to light with existing law which could have adversely affected the interests of victims. It would be a narrow and technical definition of criminal law reform which excludes measures designed to increase the efficiency of the operation of the criminal justice system and ameliorate the plight of victims.
One sometimes gets the impression in this House that, as far as some Deputies are concerned, the vast number of criminal law measures which have been enacted over the years somehow evaporate after a period of time and that the Garda no longer have them available to them. Ther reality, of course, is that there is already on our Statue Books a huge corpus of criminal law which is used day in day out successfully in the detection and prosecution of offences. For Deputies to pretend otherwise is to ignore reality and to do a great disservice to the legislative work of both present and former Members of this House, including a former Minister for Justice on the backbenches, particularly those who have served as Ministers for Justice including members of the Deputy's party.
The Government, of course, recognises that changing circumstances and developments in relation to the nature of crime means that our criminal law must be kept under constant review so as to identify measures that are necessary to ensure it is sufficient to cope with modern realities. That is way, since becoming Minister for Justice, I have had a major programme of criminal law reform under way in my Department.
A new Criminal Law Bill will abolish outmoded distinctions in our criminal law and provide the Garda with a modern statutory code dealing with powers of arrest and entry onto premises. A Non-Fatal Offence against the Person Bill will replace with modern provisions much of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. A Juvenile Justice Bill will represent the most comprehensive reform in this area since the foundation of the State. A Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will free up gardaí from spending a lot of time in the courts rather than on the prevention and detection of crime and a Fraud Offences Bill will tackle in a modern, effective and comprehensive way what is often referred to as "white-collar" crime.
I can assure the House that this is not some sort of "wish list". For example, the Government has already approved the detailed general schemes of the Juvenile Justice and Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Bills. All of the measures which I have mentioned are ones on which a substantial amount of work has been done, but as with the Drug Trafficking Bill we have had to ensure they will have been properly drafted, will be effective, take fully into account how they will operate in tandem with existing legislation and, of course, meet the necessary constitutional requirements. I am confident the very substantial amount of effort and time that have been devoted to these measures since I became Minister will bear fruit this year and our criminal justice code will be substantially improved as a result.
I wish now to return to the detail of the Bill before the House this evening. As I understand it, one of the primary functions of Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill is to give effect to a series of legislative proposals which the Government indicated last year it would bring forward in the context of a comprehensive package aimed at dealing with the scourge of drug abuse in the community. Those legislative measures include increases in the powers of detention by gardaí in relation to persons suspected of drug trafficking offences, the extension of responsibility for the issue of search warrants in drug related cases to a Garda not below the rank of superintendent and an increase in the powers of Customs officers in relation to the questioning of persons detained on suspicion of importing illegal drugs. In fairness to the Deputy, his Bill has a stab at all three proposals as well as including a couple of other proposals of his own.
Section 1 purports to provide increased powers of detention for gardaí in relation to offences specified in the First Schedule. Those specified are sections 15, 17, 19 and 20 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977. A strong case can be made that, while the Bill covers some of the main offences at issue, it is not sufficiently comprehensive. An obvious example is that it does not include a reference to section 21 (1) of the 1977 Act which deals with aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring a commission of an offence under the Act. It is hardly the intention that these should be excluded. In this context I remind the Deputy that the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, provides a definition of a "drug trafficking offence" which would include attempts of the kind I have mentioned and also covers offences of money laundering in relation to the proceeds of drug trafficking, but while it might be a relatively straightforward matter to change the definition to cover the type of serious offences for which the increased powers of detention should be available, there appears to be other fundamental problems with the section.
The advice available to me is that the courts here would be unlikely to hold as constitutionally sound a provision which purports to allow seven days detention unless appropriate safeguards are included. I would like the Deputy to explain to the House in his reply how this Bill would be likely to pass that test.
For example, while he applies some of the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, to detention under the Bill he excludes section 4 (5) requiring that a person be charged when there is enough evidence to do so unless that person is suspected of another offence and the member in charge has reasonable grounds for believing that the continuance of the detention is necessary for the proper investigation of the offence. He also omits applying the various provisions of section 5 of the 1984 Act which deals with access to a solicitor. I am not aware of any sound basis for excluding those provisions, but to do so would clearly increase the danger that the detention provisions would be unlikely to withstand constitutional challenge.
In that context perhaps the most serious potential flaw in the section is the provision that where applications are made to the court to permit a further period of detention — after the first 48 hours which would be authorised by a chief superintendent had elapsed — these would be madeex-parte, in other words, the suspect would not be brought before the court for the hearing. Leaving aside altogether what our courts may make of that in the light of constitutional requirements, the reality is that there is a large body of jurisprudence built up under the European Convention on Human Rights to the effect that failure to bring a person, the subject of a lengthy period of detention, before a judicial authority is contrary to provisions of the convention. The advice available to me based on that jurisprudence is that a provision for detention for the kind of periods envisaged in the Bill — and in the measure which the Government will bring forward — which did not involve the suspect being brought before the courts would fall foul of the convention.
There is yet another aspect to section 1 which troubles me and could cause its soundness to be further called into question. While section 1 applies to the offences set out in the First Schedule the court, in deciding whether to authorise a period of detention, is asked to do so only if the judge is satisfied that the offence under investigation is a "substantial and serious" offence. On what basis is the court to do this? What is this concept of a "substantial" offence? On what grounds is a court to decide that an offence involving, say, the possession of drugs with intent to supply is not a "serious" offence? If these questions are capable of being satisfactorily answered, I suggest the answer belongs in the legislation. As it stands, there is this concept introduced which is placed there without further explanation or guidance. Either the powers should apply to particular offences or they should not and, if the formula that is being proposed is intended as some sort of safeguard, it will represent nothing of the sort if the courts determine that it is incapable of interpretation.
The Bill, unlike the 1984 Act, is silent on the circumstances under which someone can be rearrested under it and on the face of it would allow rearrest for the same offence any number of times without, for example, fresh evidence becoming available or judicial involvement prior to rearrest.
Taking all these factors together, I believe the House will share my concern that it is likely that section 1 would give rise to constitutional difficulties and fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights.
There are other practical problems which could render the section unworkable. I mentioned earlier that some provisions of the 1984 Act are applied to detention under section 1 and others are not. I am not aware of whether these omissions were made as a matter of policy or through an oversight, but it is the case that there are other provisions of the 1984 Act which for clearly practical reasons should apply but for which the present Bill makes no allowance. For example, section 6 of the 1984 Act allows a garda, where a person is detained to demand his or her name or address, cause that person to be searched and so on and provides for an offence for refusing to give a name. It is inconceivable that powers of detention should be provided without including such a provision. Incidentally, the Bill does not make provision either for applying the powers contained in the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act, 1990, to take forensic samples from the detainee.
A final point which I should make about this section is that the Government Bill proposes to allow the designation of places of detention — for example, Garda stations where particular facilities are provided — to deal with the specific situation where a person is suspected of "stuffing or swallowing" a drug and this is not an issue which is addressed in the Deputy's Bill.
I have spent some considerable time dealing with section 1 because clearly that is at the very heart of the Bill and, if it fails, there are fundamental problems with the Bill.
Section 2 provides that section 1 shall cease to have effect unless renewed by motion by both Houses of the Oireachtas. This would face the Oireacthas with a choice of not renewing the section or renewing it forever. Rather than facing the Oireachtas with this stark choice, it might be more appropriate to provide for periodical renewals of the section.
Section 3 provides for the issue of a search warrant by a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of superintendent in particular circumstances. This is broadly in line with what the Government proposes, but it is by no means clear why the ancillary provisions of the search warrant power in section 26 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, are not being applied to such warrants. For example, the ancillary powers in section 26 allow the member of the Garda Síochána named in the warrant to arrest a person for the purposes of searching him or her and keep a person under arrest until such time as the search under the warrant has been carried out. I would be interested to hear if there is any particular reason it was not considered appropriate in the Bill before the House to provide for those powers.
Section 4 seeks to provide powers for Customs officers to question a person having first warned that person of certain matters. It provides for a procedure whereby any questions and answers shall be recorded in writing and read over to the person being questioned at the termination of the interview. I have to confess that this provision is a bit of a mystery to me. While it is the case that the Government indicated that it was the intention to provide an increase in the powers of Customs officers in relation to the questioning of persons detained on suspicion of importing illegal drugs, we did not envisage bringing about a situation where the role of the Garda in putting together evidence for use in a prosecution might be supplanted. What we had in mind was the sensible step of allowing Customs officers to be present at — and, where appropriate, participate in — the questioning of persons detained by the Garda. The Government's Bill will allow for this.
Part II of the Bill before the House essentially seeks to abolish preliminary hearings in the case of offences covered in the Second Schedule to the Bill — which, incidentially, are identical to the offences covered in the First Schedule mentioned earlier. There is repeated reference in the Bill to the Second Schedule which is exactly the same as the First Schedule. This reminds me of Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" of which Deputy O'Donoghue is so found and from which he has already quoted. A critic of that play said that it is a play where nothing happens twice. The same can be said about the Second Schedule. I think the Deputy realises it is a repeat of the First Schedule.
While there may be technical problems in the manner in which it is drafted, I propose only to deal with the general policy issue to which this gives rise. There is a view held strongly by some that preliminary hearings are an anachronism and in this day and age are open to abuse by persons who want to put every procedural obstacle in the way of being brought to justice. As against that there are those who would argue that there would have to be very strong grounds for doing away with a procedure which ensures that in the early stages of proceedings an opportunity is provided to have a court assess, in effect, whether there is a case which should be brought to trial.
I accept that we need to look at features of our criminal justice system which go back a long way and may have been designed to protect the legitimate interests of an accused in the circumstances then applying but which may no longer serve a useful purpose. For example, it can be argued that the wide-spread availability of criminal legal aid and the fact that we have an independent prosecution agency — in the form of the Director of Public Prosecutions — deciding on whether the evidence warrants bringing somebody to trial have greatly changed the situation.
This is a topic for debate in its own right and I will confine myself to making just two points. I do not believe it would be appropriate to look at the question of the abolition of preliminary hearings solely in the context of the offences covered in this Bill. The Deputy may well argue in response that his Criminal Procedure Bill proposes its abolition in all cases. This brings me to my second point which is that this is a matter which I am examining at present in the context of measures which would speed up the trial process and this, in turn, arises in the formulation of proposals in relation to bail. Incidentally, my examination of the Law Reform Commission report on bail is well advanced with a view to my putting proposals before Government. Before leaving this part of the Bill, I would very much welcome hearing any views which Deputies might have on the question of whether preliminary hearings should be abolished.
I now turn to section 9 which contains two provisions in relation to temporary release which, it is fair to say, are largely incidental to the main purpose of the legislation. The key concern in the area of sentence administration must be to ensure that people who should serve their full sentences do so. That cannot be achieved in reality by bringing forward legislative proposals in relation to temporary release. What is needed is extra accommodation and the Government has today approved a major programme designed to increase very substantially the amount of accommodation available in our prison system both immediately, which is very important, and in the medium and longer term.
The first part of section 9 seeks to prohibit the granting of temporary release to persons convicted of offences set out in the Second Schedule except for what are described as grave reasons of a humanitarian nature. While I appreciate the thinking behind the Deputy's proposal, I would have to reject it for the same reasons I rejected a similar proposal which he included in the Criminal Justice (Bail) Bill which we debated last year. Essentially what is being proposed would be too inflexible. The Deputy, for example, would not want to bring about a situtation where the Minister for Justice of the day could not respond effectively to the circumstances where an offender was nearing the end of a sentence for a relatively minor offence and the best advice available was that there was a real prospect that the offender would be able to cure his or her drug problem and stay out of trouble in the future if he or she was granted a period of strictly controlled temporary release to reside in a drug treatment centre in the community.
The second part of section 9 would require the publication inIris Oifigiúil of details of all temporary releases. I doubt if this is exactly what the Deputy intended. The marginal note refers to the “Application of section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1960, to offences specified in the Second Schedule” but subsection (2) of section 9 makes no reference to offences specified in the Second Schedule and so would appear to cover all offences. Incidentally, this approach would appear to be outside the scope of the long title of the Bill.
This provision is very similar to a proposal contained in the Criminal Justice Bill, 1994, presented to the House by the Progressive Democrats. That Bill envisaged the creation of a register of temporary releases. My predecessor, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, as Minister for Justice indicated that she had serious objections to that proposal and said that, even if there were no other objections to the proposal, she would hesitate to commit public finances to so pointless an exercise. In this regard it may be helpful to refer Deputy O'Donoghue to the Official Report, Vol. 443, Columns 1667 to 1669 of 14 June 1994.
Normally in dealing with Private Members' Bills I make the point that I have only had a short time to consider them and that in the circumstances my comments are preliminary in nature. While it is true that the present Bill only became available last Thursday, I did have the considerable advantage in assessing its provisions that work on the Government's proposals in this area were so very far advanced.
As I said at the outset, the Government's Drug Trafficking Bill will be introduced shortly and I can assure the House that it reflects detailed and careful consideration of the issues which have given rise to the difficulties with the Bill before the House this evening. That, of course, is not to say that when it is published I will regard its contents as being written in stone — though they will be very solidly based — or that I will ignore the provisions contained in Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill or what is said in the debate on it.
When all is said and done the public interest clearly lies in us bringing forward comprehensive and effective legislative proposals in this area. In the light of what I have said I am sure the House will recognise the good faith of the Government in this regard in agreeing not to oppose Second Stage and that when the Government's Drug Trafficking Bill is published in the near future we will be in a position very quickly to put strong and effective legislation on our Statute Book.
I commend Deputy O'Donoghue for the work he has done. Perhaps he will recognise that this is the second Bill I have not opposed. He might also recognise that, unlike the situation that pertained when we were on the Opposition benches, I and the Government are open to taking a more concerted and measured approach to the issues covered in this Bill. We are prepared to take on board the wisdom and good ideas of other people. Nobody in the area of crime fighting can say they have a monopoly on the answers; if they do, they are at best naive and at worst irresponsible. I am glad the Government is not opposing Second Stage of this Bill. I thank the Deputy for his input and I look forward to his reply to some of the points I have made which give rise to serious concern about the terms of his legislation.
I call Deputy Doherty.
I am sure Deputy Doherty is pleased about Castlerea. He should congratulate the Minister.
Twelve months late.
When the Deputy develops maturity I will consider responding to him.
There was not much maturity when the Deputy was Minister.
I congratulate my colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, on introducing this legislation. Inherent in his intention in bringing forward this Bill is a clear recognition of the crisis that exists. He also recognises that if the Government and the Minister are failing in their responsibility, he must take upon himself, on behalf of the people, the duty of taking action on the legislative formulae which will move forward in a meaningful way the process of dealing with criminals.
It was sad to hear judges say in recent weeks that they have no place to put prisoners and that they would give them longer sentences in certain circumstances. It has also been sad to hear gardaí say they do not have sufficient powers and to hear everybody, including the Minister, say we do not have sufficient prison places. Deputy O'Donoghue is suggesting an urgent response to criminal activity which has been at its worst in recent weeks. The gardaí, judges and customs officers must challenge the criminals, but the serious budget deficits prevent them from doing so effectively. This Bill recognises that the gardaí must be able to detain and question people. It also recognises the urgency of the matter and takes account of the rights of detainees.
How is it that the Minister's package coincides with the debate on Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill? Why did she wait until this evening to announce real and meaningful proposals? The crisis in crime did not come to the fore yesterday or last week.
Or last year.
Or the year prior to that.
Not even when the Deputy was in office.
The problem was not as great then because the drugs element was not as serious.
That is true.
There was a different culture then but, unfortunately, the problem has exacerbated significantly. I do not propose to say that Deputy Owen should be Minister and policeman and that she should be held responsible for every crime committed. However, she is responsible for ensuring that the State and Government confront the crisis in a manner that will reassure people, will protect life and property. People are not satisfied that is the case at present. The Minister, and everyone who has reached the use of reason, know that fear enveloped the public in recent weeks and, irrespective of whether the incidence of crime increased last week, last year or over a period of years, the crisis must be addressed. We need proper management and a response that will assure people that the Government is in control and that we have not lost the battle before commencing the war as will occur if crime continues to increase. Statistics prove that drug abuse forms a major part of the crime problem and the Bill outlines what should be done in response to the influence of such abuse on criminal activity.
The public constantly ask why gardaí continue to fill out dole forms in Garda stations. These highly trained, efficient and dedicated members of the force genuinely want to be in the front line doing the job they know best. Why are they consigned to the day rooms of Garda stations processing forms while criminals roam the country without even seeing a Garda? Why are they engaged in the collection of fines, repeatedly calling on persons who have failed to pay fines and, in some instances, taking them to prison? Why are 130 members of the Garda, including nine sergeants, four inspectors, a number of superintendants and a chief, doing mechanical work in the Garda depot when it is widely acknowledged that most of their work could be carried out in private garages? Why are so many Garda stations required to have a Garda presence when civilian receptionalists could carry out their duties, thus enabling the gardaí to respond to the needs of the public? Gardaí are still employed in offices as secretaries and typists. That is not a useful deployment of members of the force. The Garda is an expensive and important group of persons who must challenge criminals. If these matters were addressed the Gardaí would be properly deployed and could tackle crime.
Does the Government care? Does the Minister care? I have no doubt she does but has she the necessary clout or influence?
She showed it today.
Does she have the authority to face down the left wing politicians in Government who have denied her the financial resources to challenge criminals? The evidence is that she does not, because the country is awash in a sea of crime and lawlessness — killing, rape, beatings and abuses.
The Deputy should not over-dramatise.
What is happening is a horror. What we read in the papers every day is frightening, it is sickening, and it cannot be allowed continue. The failure to achieve what is necessary in this campaign is the Minister's failure.
There was a response in the west last week. There were check points and road blocks. On either side of a road block for a mile one could see a blue flashing light and members of the Garda Síochána in yellow jackets; if one had any intention of committing a crime I doubt if one would have driven up to the road block. The road block was a reaction instigated by the Minister to represent the Garda Síochána as responding on behalf of the Government in a major crackdown against the criminal by putting unarmed gardaí on roadways throughout parts of the west pretending there was a campaign being mounted against criminal activity and criminal mobility.
It is working.
It is a laugh and a disaster. The gardaí recognised that even while they were on the roadways. We heard a member of the official representative body of the Garda Síochána speaking about the Minister last week, and I have to take account of what was said. The gardaí are the people at the coal-face, and I have to respect their concerns, worries and frustrations. This exercise the other day was an overt exercise when the situation required a covert exercise, not a display for political purposes.
The Deputy was good at covert exercises.
What we were engaged in the other day was a pretence. That is what the Minister is engaged in and is what she has been engaged in for the past 14 months.
Does the Deputy want the checkpoint removed?
Did the Minister consult the Garda Commissioner and ask him to visit the homes of elderly people to reassure them and give them advice as to what they might or might not do? She did not. That would require too much thinking on the part of a Government and the Minister who have given little time or thought to the crisis that now afflicts the land.
Thank God the Minister is not in the Garda any more.
That is the reality under the party of law and order, the party founded on correctness.
Let us have no further interruptions. The same order should obtain as obtained for previous speakers.
A few weeks ago the Minister announced new technological developments in the area of finger-printing, a speedy process of bringing people before the courts with consequential convictions. Where will the Minister put the people who are convicted? Why has she given no thought to the possibility of attaching the earnings of persons who have been fined in the courts rather than using gardaí to go out repeatedly to collect fines? Why does a member of the Garda Síochána who arrests somebody and brings him to the Garda station have to first tell him he is not obliged to say anything unless he wishes to do so? The arrested person will just pick a spot on the wall and look at it. No real response has been given by the Government or the Minister.
Lest the Minister thought I would not come to it, today's package related to prison spaces is rightly welcomed, but where is the 150 place high security prison to be located? Twenty-five prison spaces surrounded by chicken net are to be provided in what is described as a secure area.
There were not going to be any until next year.
The people of Castlerea require the Minister to say if this will be like Loughan House where the inmates can take a ramble down the road——
The Deputy should read the brief.
The Minister has said a secure area will be provided. There is a difference between a high security prison and a secure area. There are degrees of security. The people of Castlerea believe they will now be the victims of crime because of the type of facility proposed.
The Deputy does not want it.
The area around Loughan House is a crisis area. Why did the Minister wait 12 months when in the next 18 months she could have had 400 prison places available had she taken the necessary action. She did not do that, but is spending £100,000 later this year to establish whether this prison comprising 150 cells can be built in a cost effective way. That is such stupidity. People want to know why the Minister has not faced down the criminal, why she could not convince the Minister for Finance and could not tell the Minister for Social Welfare there is no necessity to means-test the capital of old age pensioners having regard to what they would get from the financial institutions were they to lodge their money with them at a fraction of a per cent. Why has the Minister not advised the Minister for Social Welfare and encouraged him to take a sensible, meaningful and understanding attitude to the savings of the elderly? The reason is that she did not think.
I am worn out thinking.
The public are worn out, and are sick and tired of what is going on. They expected a response but today's package tells them "live horse and you will get grass".
The public are sick to death of the political games being played by the Opposition with the violent crimes in our country. They are not a bit impressed.
He should go back to his covert activities.