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 It will simplify the procedures in regard to search warrants and arrests and repeal some of the outdated laws on the Statute Book.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.