Criminal Law Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

This Bill is two-pronged. It will simplify the procedures in regard to search warrants and arrests and repeal some of the outdated laws on the Statute Book. At a time when drug importers, dealers, pushers and couriers are operating with impunity I welcome the Minister's decision to simplify these procedures. I hope, however that the increased powers being given to the Garda Síochána will be used responsibly. It is important that regular reviews are carried out to ensure that these measures will not necessarily militate against the civil liberties of individuals.

Despite the recent drop in the crime figures nationwide crime continues to increase in inner city areas of Dublin at a phenomenal and frightening rate and there is increasing evidence that communities outside Dublin are being targeted by criminals based in the capital. This is an indication that the problem is not being defeated.

At the time of increasing public concern about crime levels there is a clear need to strike a balance between the rights of the individual and society as a whole. As everybody is aware, Dublin is facing a drugs crisis unprecedented since the mid-1980s. My constituency of Dublin South Central has been particularly hard hit by this scourge as have large areas of the north inner city.

Last week in the south inner city I attended the funeral masses of two victims of the drugs plague, one was an addict and a former drug dealer who was hunted down and murdered by a mob and the other was a young man who had succumbed to a drugs overdose, a common occurence in the south inner city. They were the latest in the roll call of people killed by drugs while the political establishment watched and went about its daily business.

Last week I also attended the interde-nominational religious service of remembrance at St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was attended by President Robinson, at which the names of hundreds of AIDS victims were called. The deaths of Josie Dwyer and Patrick Collins who was, as we are all aware, the son of a former Labour Lord Mayor of Dublin, have helped to place the drugs crisis where it belongs, at the top of the political agenda. I intend to see that it stays there.

The stark reality of life in urban areas, the south inner city of Dublin in particular, is that not alone are people dying of AIDS, but that there is an alarming increase in the number of drug addicts who have tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of heroin. One need only inquire of the medical staff at the accident and emergency department of the largest general hospital in the area, St. Jame's, to discover the number and the extent of the demand placed on expensive and costly services provided through the hospital network to try to keep them alive.

I applaud the Government on introducing welcome new measures to deal with drug dealers which will be augmented by the measures dealing with the powers of search and arrest in this Bill. As regards some of the nonsense spoken by Opposition Deputies, particularly those in Fianna Fáil, I remind them that they presided over the growing drugs crisis in the 1980s and did little. We must now confront a more virulent problem than that which existed in the mid-1980s because previous Governments sat back and did nothing. I remind Opposition Deputies who attack this Government that it is serious about tackling crime, criminals and the causes of crime.

The Criminal Law Bill, 1996, is the latest in a determined effort to ensure gardaí are not hamstrung by outdated procedures in the battle against lawlessness. Procedural reform will achieve little unless it is accompanied by policing reforms. The drugs crisis and the resulting crime levels will not be solved by gardaí sitting in Garda stations, held up in squad cars or pursuing mad cows on the Border. Everybody agrees, particularly those most affected by the epidemic in inner city Dublin, gardaí should be back on the streets and into flat complexes and housing estates whose residents are under seige from the drug barons, the peddlers and the pushers.

Democratic Left will not tolerate people taking the law into their own hands and acting as judge, jury and executioner, as happened this week. It will not tolerate a situation where drug importers, dealers and pushers rule unhindered over local communities. If anybody wants to see the effect on a community, they should visit parts of my constituency where the social fabric has disintegrated. We see scenes reminiscent of those we used to see on television programmes like "Hill Street Bluses". Raids are made by teams of gardaí on shooting galleries where people publicly inject and deal drugs and extract concealed drugs from their internal parts. Nobody has fully come to terms with what is happening, particularly in the south inner city of Dublin.

I thank the Minister for Justice for responding to our political demands in relation to a notorious part of the south inner city. I will not name this area because the more one does so, the more a bad name sticks. Nobody wants to stick a bad name on a community with thousands of respectable, hardworking and law abiding citizens. It is a pleasure to see huge numbers of fully equipped uniformed and plain clothes gardaí in this part of the south inner which I represent to ensure the peddlers in death, the dealers, pushers and addicts, are taken off the streets.

An interdepartmental approach to the problem is urgently needed which would examine and implement options such as community policing squads, expanded community drugs teams, fast track treatment facilities and accessible drugs education programmes. However, it should not stop there. We urgently need extra resources for the forensic science laboratory to ensure that evidence collected in respect of drug charges can be processed without delay. Suspects should not be released for up to six months pending examination of the evidence.

There is nothing as frustrating and alienating for those living in crime and drug infested communities, particularly after hard work and co-operation between tenant organisations and the Garda Síochána, to see people caught in possession of illicit drugs released the next day. The reason is that the illicit drug must be proven to be such. The forensic science laboratories are overworked and insufficiently manned. It takes as long as six months before the material found in dealers in death is analysed. The Garda cannot bring these people to court with a charge which will stick until the analysis is complete.

We must establish devolved policing structures which focus policing resources on the most vulnerable areas. Unfortunately, a centralised policing system is in operation, which need not be the case. There are examples in continental Europe and in Britain where power has been developed to local structures. I appeal to the Minister to look at models which exist elsewhere with a view to devolving the policing structures downwards.

We should examine, on a pilot basis, the possibility of establishing community policing councils in vulnerable flat complexes and estates to facilitate increased co-operation between local residents and the police. There is a need in large public housing complexes, like St. Theresa's Gardens, Dolphin House and Fatima Mansions in my constituency, for a community policing council which would work with the community. At present the community feels so threatened that it is obliged to have its own street patrols in the complexes.

If we do not devolve some of the policing structures we will continue to have a dangerous vacuum between the public and the police which will be filled, as it has been, by dangerous people living in our community who have an agenda which is not that which they present to the people. They present themselves as protectors of the community, but they have another agenda. Unless such measures are put in place without delay and unless the drugs crisis remains at the top of the political agenda, I fear we may see more people taking the law into their own hands. If that happens, we will be substituting one brand of lawlessness for another. Modern problems cannot be addressed with antiquated remedies.

When the Criminal Law Bill, 1996, was published, it was pointed out that it abolished the outdated distinction between a felony and a misdemeanour, a change which is welcome and long overdue. Sadly, our system of justice is still dominated by United Kingdom legislation enacted during the 18th and 19th centuries. Introducing a new concept of "diminished responsibility" in respect of the criminally insane could require amendments to as many as five Acts published between 1800 and 1883. It is absurd that we had to wait until 1966 and the publication of this Bill to finally repeal the Sunday Observance Act, 1695, the Riot Act, 1787, and the South Australia Act, 1842. Despite the repeals made by the Criminal Law Bill, some outdated legislation such as the Vagrancy Act, 1824, remain largely unaltered on the Statute Book.

We live in a world which is changing at a rate unimagined by our grandparents, a world where criminals communicate by mobile phone and use the latest computerised stock-taking programmes to log their deals. It is a world which cannot be regulated with laws designed for the age of the horse and the buggy.

Together with the UK we are the only European Union jurisdiction which operates according to a common law which has grown over the centuries. Our legislation is a hotchpotch of old and new statutes. Outdated legislation is only repealed or amended when new, relevant legislation is enacted. I would argue strongly that rather than wait for relevant legislation such as the Criminal Law Bill, 1996, there should be a thorough review of all pre-1992 legislation with a view to repealing or appropriately amending those Acts which no longer serve a useful purpose. There needs to be a thorough legislative spring cleaning with a view to ensuring that the legislation on the Statute Book reflects the needs of the 20th century rather than the 19th century.

The Criminal Law Bill formally abolishes penal servitude, hard labour and divisions in prisons. It also abolishes corporal punishment in a court or prison context. In practice, hard labour and corporal punishment for offenders was abolished long ago. I am delighted the Dickensian concept of penal servitude is finally being abolished, but I wish it was as easy to abolish the Dickensian conditions which, sadly, still exist in some of our prisons. The recent leaked report of the Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee is extremely disturbing, particularly as the committee has identified the same shortcomings year in and year out for the past decade. When we impose a custodial sentence we are expressing society's abhorrence of certain actions by depriving the offender or his or her liberty. Very often individuals are sentenced to serve their terms in overcrowded, antiquated facilities established at a time when penal servitude and hard labour were the order of the day and when prisoners could expect to be whipped for the most minor infringement.

Some things have undoubtedly changed for the better. In 1996, however, an offender sent to Mountjoy may be still denied access to the most basic medical, psychiatric, educational and rehabilitative services. It appears the only thing to which prisoners in Mountjoy have ample access is drugs. It is little wonder prisoners often leave Mountjoy as drug addicts, ready once again to prey on society in search of a quick deal.

Everyone wants to see an end to crime which affects our cities in particular but has spread throughout the country. We welcome this legislation even though there are faults in it. Our spokesperson outlined some of the difficulties, particularly relating to sections 4 and 6, but they can be teased out and the Bill substantially improved on Committee Stage. That is one of the values of the committee system.

As various speakers have said, the Bill provides for a number of useful improvements such as abolishing the distinction between felony and misdemeanour — that has been sought for a number of years — clarifying and tidying up a number of issues and tackling the issue of arrest without warrant. Anyone who deals regularly with the Garda will be aware that it is particularly important that the Garda has the necessary powers to deal with crime as it occurs at the coalface. It must have the support and backing it needs. Sometimes a garda on the beat may see a person for whom there is a warrant in the station, but by the time he returns to the station for the warrant he has little chance of apprehending the person in question. This Bill enables the gardaí to apprehend such people and present the warrant at the station subsequently. The Bill provides for entry and search of premises to effect and arrest and for arrest without a warrant.

Earlier this year the Minister stated that the reforms set out in the criminal justice plan announced on 30 January last form part of the law and order response to today's crime. She said there has been a good deal of comment in the media and elsewhere about the worrying development of gangland style murders or professional killings by so-called hit men. She went on to state that the authorities are often depicted as powerless to respond to these sinister gangland murders and that they must be dealt with in accordance with the rule of law. She said comments which characterise the authorities as powerless ignore the seriousness with which crime is regarded. In those words the Minister highlighted one of the most serious problems facing us, the issue of gangland murders. She admits there is a gangland culture, that there are warlords, people who organise crime, and that they must be dealt with. That is one of our principal tasks, and this Bill contains measures to deal with these matters.

I said at the beginning of the year the Garda must have the finance and equipment to mount and sustain intensive surveillance and intelligence gathering by experienced detectives in specialised units. If we are to tackle the organisers of crime, about whom Deputy Byrne spoke, we must match them with experienced and well supported Garda units that are in a position to take them on. I also said at that time there is an urgent need to reform the law and give the Garda powers to deal with crime. I said the Garda do not have the power to enter premises to search for evidence in cases involving murder, attempted murder, rape or malicious wounding and that without such search warrants their hands are tied behind their backs.

The recovery of weapons in murder and wounding cases is vital to the success of an investigation. Similarly, the recovery of clothing in rape, sexual assaults, murder and wounding cases is vital to the success of investigations. These issues should also be considered in the context of the Bill. Section 6 provides for entry and search of premises but only to affect an arrest. On Committee Stage I hope to explore further the provision of the powers needed by the gardaí to search premises to obtain the evidence they need in the cases to which I referred.

The third point I made at the time concerned the need for co-operation and greater liaison between the various agencies, including the Revenue Commissioners, financial institutions, specialised Garda units, the Department of Social Welfare and any other agencies or arms of the State who can contribute to tackling the drug barons and the warlords of crime. I also talked about the urgent need to stop the laundering of stolen moneys and the need to reassess the bail laws in relation to habitual criminals.

At the beginning of the year the Minister said she wanted a programme to tackle crime. We pointed out the issues that needed to be tackled but in her contribution the Minister highlighted the major problems still facing us. I will make a suggestion in regard to one of those but, before doing so, I want to refer to comments in the media on the suggested decrease in crime.

It was reported inThe Irish Times yesterday that a figure for part of the year suggests that the national crime level has fallen by approximately 3 per cent since May of last year and that the decrease is continuing. It was also reported that crime has moved from certain city centre areas to what is known as the Dublin rim area. There is nothing new about that; the problems of crime and drug abuse have moved from the centre of the city and that is reflected on the ground.

It is dangerous to become embroiled in these figures; it is more valuable to study what is happening. Is life any better for ordinary people? Is the fear of mugging, petty larceny and the fear experienced by elderly people decreasing? I do not believe that is the case. In fact, fears are increasing and that is possibly due to the recent spate of gangland-style murders by so-called hit men. There is also great fear of the major criminals who seem to be able to come and go as they please.

In relation to the statistics released yesterday, the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, who is present, should remember Dublin West. It is not so long since Deputies canvassed in that constituency and heard about the problems there. Many of us met people crying out for help from the State and the politicians to help them break the cycle of crime and drug abuse. That is the reality, not only in Dublin West but in Dublin Central, on the north side of Dublin and in many other parts of our city.

The reality is that crime exists and major criminals are free to do their work. In regard to the north side of Dublin, I must protest at the recent move to take gardaí out of stations in that area because I know they are achieving success in controlling crime and the activities of criminals. They have also helped to slow down the activities of drug pushers which is possible when gardaí are deployed in sufficient numbers and at the right times. That is also greatly appreciated by the community.

Those gardaí are being transferred to Border duties as a result of the BSE problems and that is understandable. A problem exists in that regard and it must be dealt with but where are all the Customs and Excise agents? Where are the phytosanitary control officers of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry? Phytosanitary control is the control of diseases which can spread across borders. Those officers need backup but surely Customs and Excise officers and the Department's officers who deal with this area can provide that; the Army could be used for this purpose if necessary.

Gardaí should not be taken away from critical areas. Chief superintendents and superintendents are not in a position to protest about such transfers. How can they protest openly and say that they cannot approve such transfers because it will result in an increase in crime and people will be put at risk?

I wish to protest also at the rise in vigilantism. Vigilantes are to be abhorred. People should not take the law into their own hands. On many occasions we have had to explain to people in our constituencies that they have the right to be angry and to complain bitterly but that they must work in conjunction with the gardaí. People should be encouraged to give information and support to the gardaí but nobody should be allowed to take the law into their own hands.

As I said earlier I want to make a suggestion. Through a committee of the House we have examined the whole issue of drug abuse and the need to control the problem. The Government has set up a task force under the Garda Síochána which will carry out work in the background, but the Revenue Commissioners should have a major part to play on this task force.

There are no more than 40 major drug barons and criminals. They are all well known to the gardaí and their names have been listed in the newspapers. They have been portrayed as characters in our society but we must not forget that people are afraid of them. The more we highlight the activities of these criminals and the professional killings referred to by the Minister, the more we are moving from the normal operation of law and order. That cannot be allowed.

We must take on these criminals and to do that we need a special action force, not necessarily within the Garda Síochána. A special action force under the control of the Attorney General might be more appropriate and would include representatives of the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise, the Department of Social Welfare and any other agency needed to tackle this problem. The task force should be given the power to examine accounts, for example, and its representatives should be paid NTMA rates if necessary. That agency is paid special rates for looking after our debt and it does an important job. We need people to take on these drug barons. Whoever they are, they need our backing and support and to be well paid. I do not know how they will be recruited. It may be done on a voluntary basis; some people may be prepared to do it voluntarily and they should be provided with all the background information.

I am increasingly convinced the reason we are not tackling the accounts, the laundering of money and the obvious wealth of these people is fear. We cannot allow that to continue. None of these gangland people or professional hitmen to whom the Minister referred should be allowed to operate in our society. This is a small island with a relatively tiny population. We can identify the people involved — the Garda know them all — but we need a means of putting them away and we need people who are prepared to do it. It is a high risk business.

It is likely these people could be put in jail by examining their accounts, but which accountant will do it? Why has it not happened? I am becoming increasingly convinced it is because of fear. If that is the case, we need to set up a special action force under the Department of the Taoiseach and the Attorney General, give it all the powers and protection it needs and let it do its job. The situation is serious and must be tackled in that way.

I have attended a lot of committee meetings and listened to many Ministers over the years. We have all talked about giving more powers to the Revenue, Customs etc., but nothing is happening. The reason is fear. If there is a better solution, it should be put out on the table and we will find a way to deal with it. Everyone in this House will support measures of that kind. Nobody wants to see the law, the Oireachtas and the Government flouted by these wellknown people who hire hitmen to shoot whomever they want. If that is not stopped now, there will be no end to it and they will continue killing. That is why I am calling for action of this kind in support of the measures in this legislation.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate of the Criminal Law Bill, 1996. Because of my legal training, I am inclined to address the Bill as drafted, detail various faults I perceive to be in it and suggest improvements where appropriate. I welcome the fact that this long awaited Bill has come before the House to allow us to participate in a constructive discussion.

The principal stated purpose of the Bill is to abolish the distinction between felonies and misdemeanours. Historically, felonies were the more serious offences and misdemeanours the less serious. However, as Deputy O'Dea will agree, this distinction has become blurred with the passage of time and has given rise to a number of complex absurdities.

The most commonly quoted example of such an absurdity is that the fraudulent conversion of £1 million is a misdemeanour by virtue of section 20 of the Larceny Act, 1916, as amended, while the simple larceny of a bar of chocolate is a felony by virtue of section 2 of the same Act. When I was studying law, it gave me headaches trying to figure out these classifications. It may be constructive to look briefly at the way in which crimes, particularly felonies, were classified historically.

Indictable offences were grouped into three classes — treasons, felonies and misdemeanours. In misdemeanours, all persons who are concerned in any way are regarded as principals in the offence. The punishment of persons who commit or are accessories to treason was provided for in the Treason Act, 1939. There were four ways of committing a felony — principal in the first degree, principal in the second degree, accessory before the fact and accessory after the fact. It was a complex area for a student to figure out. The classification I used was that where a felony had been committed by anyone, who on reasonable grounds suspected any person of being the felon was permitted to arrest him or her forthwith. Common law never permitted a misdemeanant to be arrested without a warrant; some statutes now do so. Practitioners, the Garda Síochána, students, people involved in the legal system and society in general will welcome the fact that this will now become a more simplified process, as opposed to the more complex and absurd one now in operation.

That this area of the law is in need of reform has been long recognised. A Bill to abolish the distinction between felonies and misdemeanours was first introduced in the late 1960s, but was withdrawn as a result of political controversy over separate sections of the Bill which dealt with forcible entry. In Britain, the Criminal Law Act, 1967, introduced the concept of arrestable offences in terms identical to those set out in this Bill and that jurisdiction subsequently introduced changes by means of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984.

Sections 1 and 2 of the Bill are unremarkable except for the definition of "arrestable offence" contained in section 2. By defining an arrestable offence as an offence for which a person of full capacity and not previously convicted may, under or by virtue of any enactment, be punished by imprisonment for a term of five years or by a more severe penalty, the Bill introduces a potential area of confusion.

Full capacity is not defined in the Bill. In general, it is understood to mean two things in criminal law — that the person is over 14 years of age and is legally sane. The wording of the definition of "arrestable offence" may have the unintentional effect of rendering the criminally insane immune from prosecution other than by a warrant issued by a court. It may be desirable to include a definition of full capacity on Committee Stage.

Section 3 already abolishes all distinctions between felony and misdemeanour. Section 4 seeks to enact new statutory powers of arrest to replace the common law powers which attach to felonies. Section 4 (2) is a cause of some concern as it gives any person a power of arrest if an arrestable offence has been committed and with reasonable cause to suspect a person of having committed the offence. This power of arrest is too wide. Under the provisions of section 4 (2) it is not necessary for the person to see the offence being committed; as long as they have a suspicion, based on reasonable cause, they are entitled to arrest. It is difficult to envisage the practical situations where this power could be used for the benefit of society.

Section 5 is a sensible provision. It permits the arrest of a person in respect of whom a warrant has been issued by any member of the Garda Síochána. Section 6 is probably the most controversial as it purports to permit the Garda to enter a dwelling house for the purpose of arresting for an arrestable offence. Doubts have been raised about the constitutionality of the section. The Constitution deals with the inviolability of the dwelling house in specific terms. Article 40.5 states: "The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law."

The courts have interpreted that article of the Constitution in a specific manner. Mr. Justice Walsh in The Peoplev. O'Brien 1965 IR, at page 170, stated: “In article 40 of the Constitution, the State has undertaken to defend and vindicate the inviolability of the dwelling of every citizen. The defence, in vindication of the constitutional rights of the citizen, is a duty superior to that of trying such citizen for a criminal offence”. Inviolability of a dwelling house thus affords the status of a superior constitutional right. From what Mr. Justice Walsh said, it would take precedence over the State's interest in bringing a person to trial for a criminal offence yet, the power of entry which the Bill seeks to give to the Garda for the purpose of bringing persons to trial on arrestable offences effectively repeals the constitutional guarantee of the inviolability of the dwelling house.

In 1987 in the case of Ryanv. O'Callaghan, Mr. Justice Barr upheld the constitutionality of the power of search granted by section 42 of the Larceny Act, 1916, because: “It contained important elements for the protection of the public. The investigation officer must swear on information that he has reasonable cause for suspecting that stolen property is to be found in the premises to be searched and he must satisfy a peace commissioner who is an independent person unconnected with criminal investigation per se that it is right and proper to issue a warrant”. The problem I see is that section 6 does not make any reference to an independent person. If this section is challenged it is possible that that safeguard may be found missing by the Supreme Court.

In my humble view the phrase "in accordance with law" as stated in article 40.5 of the Constitution has been interpreted by the courts as meaning more than authorised by Statute; it means in accordance with constitutional intention. Since 1765 the courts have prevented the Executive from claiming a general warrant to look through private premises. Because of the farreaching consequences of this Bill it may lead to the Bill being challenged.

The remaining sections are unremarkable in so far as they seek to establish rules for the trial and punishment of offenders in the post felony era. In general I welcome the Bill as it gives us an opportunity to modernise the law and bring it into the new millennium. I look forward to the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which will contain provisions for more effective and efficient use of Garda time and resources and other proposals for the reform of the procedure in criminal cases which will come before the House in the not too distant future. A substantial amount of work on the proposals for fundamental legislative reform is in train in a number of other areas and I encourage the Government to bring them forward as quickly as possible.

I have serious reservations about two or three sections of the Bill but as far as the rest is concerned I have no fundamental objection to it. The kindest thing I can say is that it is relatively harmless. What part is this Bill designed to play, or what part does the Government think it will play, in reducing the crime wave which is engulfing this country? What contribution is the Bill intended to make towards making people feel safe and secure in their homes, on the streets, in their place of business or wherever? Any legislation which is introduced must be looked at in context. The context in which this Bill is being introduced is a rising deluge of crime which is like a cancer eating into the core of society. In the past day or two we have seen selective use of partial statistics in an attempt to create a mirage of a relatively crime free paradise on the western rim of Europe. The reality is that the public has only to tune into the media to fully appreciate the diet of horror and brutality to which people are being subjected virtually on a daily basis. Murder, rape, wounding, robbery with violence and every conceivable form of savagery have now become commonplace. The Government's response to this cascade of crime can be summed up in two words: in decision and paralysis. The Government's indecision seems final. All its final decisions in this area are taken in a state of mind which does not last. It is extraordinary to reflect that despite the depths of depravity to which the country has descended, the only anti-crime legislation introduced by this Government, apart from this relatively harmless measure, is the Drug Trafficking Act, which is nothing more, by common consent, not just from the Opposition side of the House, but of commentators outside the House than a pale, anaemic imitation of a much more robust measure proposed by Fianna Fáil.

Legal experts agree that the Government's minimalist legislation has already passed its sell by date, even though the ink on the presidential signature is hardly dry. This minimalist legislation was the culmination of a titanic struggle in Cabinet between the left, the right and those who have not yet made up their minds and it was often fought out on the front pages of daily newspapers. Apparently the elephantine struggle has produced a gnat. The Government has apparently decided on a strategy of producing a drip feed of harmless, incoherent measures to create the illusion of activity. The reality is that nobody is deluded, nor should they be.

Recent reports from the GRA conference have illustrated graphically the fact that the Garda is under strength in the context of modern day serious crime levels. Statistics have been produced to show that among the ranks of the ordinary gardaí the figures have fallen by 1,000 in the past ten years. That is the Government's response to the crime wave. Replacements for those who retire are not sufficient to compensate for the numbers retiring. There is no difficulty in filling vacancies at officer level but the soldier ranks are being depleted.

The changes in rural policing have proved an unmitigated disaster — I say that even though I was on the Government side of the House when some of them were introduced. At the recent GRA conference the rural community police service was colourfully described as not being fit to measure up to a pizza delivery service. If this trend continues the future for the Garda will be as blue as its uniforms. The Government does not have an appetite to tackle those fundamental problems and restore confidence in the Garda and, by extension, in the public. Apparently it deems it more important to devote scarce parliamentary time and resources to amending such monumentarily important measures as the Forcible Entry Act, 1786 and the Riot Act, 1787. The grossly inadequate, confused and even dangerous state of our insanity laws was graphically illustrated by recent events and in that regard the names O'Donnell. Ellis and Gallagher readily spring to mind. It almost defies belief that our law in this vital area is still mainly based on the McNaughten Rules laid down by the British courts in the middle of the last century. A century and a half of development in psychiatric medicine has passed by our insanity law. The right of a person adjudged guilty but insane to be readmitted into society is uncertain and that uncertainty continues to cause widespread public angst and alarm. Despite this, the Government does not appear to believe there is a urgency about the matter. The dates for the introduction of promised amending legislation disappear further over the horizon each time a question on the matter is asked in this House. In its wisdom the Government has decided to postpone indefinitely and prevaricate on amending our insanity laws and instead devote parliamentary time to the apparently much more important matter of amending the Slave Trade Act, 1824.

While an ever increasing proportion of violent crime is committed by people on bail, our bail laws are arguably the most liberal in the civilised world. The O'Callaghan decision of 1966 still prevents our courts from denying bail to a person who is virtually certain to reoffend — to rob, rape or even murder — while at large. The Government's only response appears to be obfuscation, prevarication and indecision, all born out of ideological deadlock. Yet we are here today devoting scarce departmental and parliamentary time and resources to dismantling the Whipping Act, 1820 and the Rescue Act, 1821.

Directly related to the state of our bail laws is the question of the long delays in bringing to trial people charged with serious crimes. In a disturbing number of recent cases such people have become targets for revenge at the hands of those acting for their alleged victims. The combination of liberal bail laws and inordinate delays in bringing people to trial constitute a lethal cocktail for even more violence and it is not as if there has been an absence of proposals from outside and inside the House. Proposals to fast track criminal trials were rejected out of hand by the Government. The DPP, most unusually, went public and called for a unified prosecution service to make the system more efficient and cheaper but the Government greeted his call with a deafening silence. Proposals have been advanced for fundamental reform of our laws of evidence. All those proposals were made in response to public demand as the public believe the system has broken down. The Government responded with all the energy and decisiveness of a latter day Pontius Pilate. Apparently it is far more important to devote time and effort to amending such monumental infamies as the Sunday Observance Act, 1695, and the Garrotters Act, 1863.

In the past fortnight a person who had beaten an old person from my constituency almost to death received a sentence of 18 months. A heroin importer — we all know the damage he or she can do — was sentenced to four years while a person who robbed £31 worth of food, without violence, to feed his family received a five year sentence. It has been evident for some time that statutory sentencing guidelines, judicial education on sentencing policy and judicial access to information about sentencing has become vital but, obviously, the Government does not believe that to be the case. There has not been a murmur about whether it intends to do anything in this regard. Of course, it is too busy devoting time to amending section 2 of the Habeas Corpus Act, 1781 and section 4 of the Vagrancy Act, 1824.

The revolving door scandal continues unabated. The recent Mountjoy visiting committee report demonstrates, if further demonstration were needed, that our prison system has become a sick joke.

That was said when the Deputy was in Government but he ignored the reports.

It is not a deterrent for criminals and much less of an attempt to rehabilitate them.

Our prison system has degenerated into a gigantic human warehouse which has converted many, who never even inhaled, into junkies and continues to churn people back into society who are more adept and skilled in the ways of crime than when they were sent to prison. Recidivism is rampant. Our prisons have become universities of crime. Even the most partisan Government supporter could hardly claim that such measures as amending the Hard Labour (Ireland) Act, 1826, the Civil Rights of Convicts Act, 1826 and the Whipping Act, 1820 constitutes even the beginning of an adequate response.

Section 4 which deals with the question of arrest without warrant has been well ventilated. The Minister appears to have taken a piece of common law which had degenerated into an indecipherable mess and repeated that mess in statutory form, leaving even more loopholes, technicalities for criminals to slip through. I am sure this will be debated at some length on Committee Stage. Section 6 appears to put the Government on a collision course with the Constitution because the Minister and her advisers must know that the words "in accordance with law" in the Constitution do not merely mean in accordance with any legislation or statute the Government wishes to introduce.

I fail to understand the meaning of section 8. Deputy Currie and I were involved in a radio discussion some time ago about mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. He correctly made the point that there is a law which makes it an offence for people to fail to report a crime if they have knowledge of it. I have news for the Deputy. That will no longer be the case because section 8 will abolish that. People will no longer be under a legal obligation to report a crime, irrespective of their knowledge of it, and they will not be penalised for not doing so. The common law offence of misprision of felony for failing to report a crime will be abolished and if the Minister does not believe me she should peruse the Explanatory Memorandum.

The Deputy is wrong.

Page 5 of the memorandum states that the abolition of felony will mean that, "The offence of misprison of felony and the offence of compounding a felony will disappear". Perhaps my understanding of English is deficient, but the Minister's adviser has obviously advised her that this is what will happen

The provisions of section 8 are incoherent. While it will no longer be illegal for a victim to fail to report a crime, the section compounds this by saying that reasonable compensation will also be a perfect defence for failing to report a crime. As the term "reasonable" is a moveable feast, this provision will move from victim to victim and from case to case. It constitutes a positive incentive for a victim not to report a crime in return for a payoff from the criminal and will encourage victims to collude with criminals escaping justice. This is an indirect recognition of the pittance victims are allowed claim. The victim will now be encouraged by Government legislation to top up that pittance by getting a few pounds from the criminal in return for not reporting a crime. That is a rather strange contribution towards the notion that criminals should be brought to justice and punished for their crimes.

I expected better from the Deputy. He is a barrister.

Nobody could be surprised that confidence in our criminal justice system has evaporated. Lawabiding citizens have become cynical about constant bland and empty assurances from the Government that crime is at the top of its agenda.

Debate adjourned.