Private Members' Business. - Measures Against Crime: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann condemns the horrific murders of the investigative journalist, Ms Veronica Guerin and of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and resolves that these events represent a defining moment in the battle against subversion and organised crime and calls on the Government to consider and take action as a matter of urgency on the following matters:

(a) reform of the bail laws;

(b) measures to curtail the absolute right to silence, with safeguards, in serious criminal matters;

(c) measures to expedite the law in relation to criminal procedure;

(d) minimum sentences for use of illegal firearms;

(e) measures to control the abuse of temporary release;

(f) the establishment of a statutory prison service with an obligation on the State to provide adequate prison spaces;

(g) the immediate filling of all judicial vacancies in the Circuit Court and High Court;

(h) to arrange with the Presidents of the Courts to have special sittings of the Central Criminal Court and Circuit Courts during the legal vacations to deal with the intolerable delays and backlog of criminal cases;

(i) the establishment of a unified prosecution service;

(j) measures to provide for formal questioning of suspects before judicial officers;

(k) measures to protect witnesses in criminal prosecutions;

(l) to ask the Garda Commissioner to review Garda deployment and resources in order to maximise the effectiveness of the force; and

that, in the light of existing circumstances, and the threat to the security of the State, posed by subversive and organised crime, consideration be given to the passage of laws and the publication of proposals to secure the public safety and further that Dáil Éireann shall set aside all non-urgent business this week and shall reassemble on 25 July to allow for the Organised Crime (Restraint and Disposal of Illicit Assets) Bill, 1996 and other legislation to be passed.

As this motion was tabled by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats I will be sharing time.

The sharing of time is satisfactory.

The shooting of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe a few weeks ago was one of the most shocking crimes to have occurred in this jurisdiction for a considerable time. Although we have got used to killing, the nature of this crime — the murder of a garda by the IRA in the course of his duty — and the cold-blooded savagery of the manner in which it was carried out, made it uniquely awful. Little did we know what was in store for us. In the same way as the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe by the IRA caused the Government to revisit certain democratic certainties, such as the folly of backsliding on the threat posed to our State by paramilitary subversives mobilising within this jurisdiction and making bombs for use in England and elsewhere, the murder of Veronica Guerin jolted this lethargic and selfdeluded Government into agreeing the terms of this motion, which include reforms of the criminal justice system.

The murder of Veronica Guerin marked a new low in Irish criminality. She was not shot because an attempted crime went wrong or because she was hindering a getaway. She was shot because she dared to expose things somebody did not want exposed. Her assassination sent a message we ignore at our peril, namely, that some people will stop at nothing. They consider themselves above our laws. Those untouchables will claim the right to a fair trial while intimidating those who would testify against them. They rob banks and launder the proceeds of their crimes through the same institutions. The only time they pay tax is when they launder the proceeds of their crimes through tax amnesties. They use the newspapers to build up a reputation based on fear and then shoot the journalists. They use the proceeds of crime to buy respect in the same communities they have devasted with drugs. It is obvious that the criminal justice system has failed to stop these people and it is equally obvious that we must radically amend the system to stop them. We have tried before but failed. This time we must get it right.

This motion on crime was tabled by the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil following the murder of Veronica Guerin. It has forced the Government to concede at long last the measures contained in the Prosecution of Offences and the Punishment of Crimes Bill, 1996, introduced by the Progressive Democrats last Feburary but spectacularly voted down by this administration. The Government, on the run from the public who are rightly outraged at the level of inactivity and the inadaquacy of our laws to deal with serious crime, appears to have resolved the ideological difference which has paralysed it for the past two years. It accepted a Fianna Fáil Private Member's Bill on illicit assets and has promised a constitutional referendum on bail. It will spectacularly and with great media aplomb launch its proposals at Government Buildings later this evening. It will wrap around itself in glory the measures it so recently dismissed with contempt.

If the Opposition did not have the support of the public in pressing for reforms and forcing the Government to deal with this matter, nothing would have been done. The Government has been persistently contemptuous of the Opposition and voted down every constructive proposal it put forward which could have made a difference. It has not respected the Dáil. Government Members voted down measures which in their hearts they support.

Our February 1996 Bill aimed to restructure the creaking criminal justice prosecution service. It put forward proposals to change the bail law, confronted the issue of the right to silence in serious cases, called for the modernisation of our criminal courts and sought to speed up criminal prosecutions. It tried to tackle the revolving door chaos in our prisons. Those constructive proposals were dismissed with contempt by this administration, but the Minister has suddenly decided she can no longer ignore them.

I did not pretend that the present chaos in our prosecution system or in the courts and prisons was the personal responsibility of the Minister for Justice, but it has been her responsibility for the past two years. Our Bill provided for major change in the laws relating to the prosecution of offences, criminal procedures relating to accused persons, the extent of the right to silence, bail, control and management of the prison service, sentencing and the law on temporary release.

Much has been said about the revolving door syndrome in our prison system. I am sure you, Sir, consider that, from time to time, we have a revolving debate on certain issues relating to criminal justice reform. We have had a revolving, frustrating and repetitive debate on this matter and a disgraceful failure to bring about the changes everybody agrees are necessary. The Government voted down all our measures but now, almost casually, concedes to them in order to give a signal to the public that there is consensus on the need for reform.

When we introduced our Bill last February, the Minister for Justice said its provisions were "fundamentally unsound" and "glaringly unconstitutional". She said the Bill was novel but not new, "like the curate's egg, it may be good in parts". She claimed the charge that there was an ideological difference and conflict between the Government parties on the issue of bail was "fanciful nonsense" and promised a decision on the bail issue in a matter of weeks. That was on 27 February 1996. She stated that there were constitutional difficulties with the legislative bail proposals we put forward, but she now supports them. The Minister claimed that the questioning of suspects by judicial officers, which will be nodded through under this motion, was radical and redundant. When I spoke at length on the real need for reform of our prisons and their management and for planning for adequate prison spaces, she accused me of attacking civil servants. When Deputy John O'Donoghue legitimately questioned her as to the timing of the publication of the Law Reform Commission's report on bail, she called Deputy O'Donoghue an idiot.

I remind the House of comments by Deputy Dukes on the proposals in my Bill. He said that they were "nothing less than a fraud" and he accused me of "nauseating populism". He also made a most unparliamentary and sexist comment, which, had I been in the House when he made it, I would have asked him formally to withdraw. He accused the Progressive Democrats of charging into the Dáil on a white law and order charger and declared there was no good reason for doing the daft things proposed in our Bill. What does Deputy Dukes say now? I have said before, that much of Deputy Dukes's comments derive from an embittered heart.

This Government has acceded to our proposal for a unified prosecution service. This interesting proposal came from the DPP in an article in communiqué magazine. When I read the DPP's comments about the absurd duplications and delays in the current prosecution service, over which he has control, I asked the Taoiseach, who has direct responsibility for the Director of Public Prosecutions in the House, for his response. As usual, the Taoiseach transferred the question to the Minister for Justice.

When in due course it was replied to by the Minister for Justice, I was flabbergasted to hear that she had not discussed these publicly expressed comments with the Director, not did she intend to do so. She said she had met him socially but that the independence of his Office precluded her from discussing this matter with him. That is the sort of nonsense that has this Government in the mess it is in. The Minister for Justice felt she was precluded from discussing with a most senior independent office holder of 20 years standing, proposals he had made publicly on defects in the prosecution service and now it is being nodded through without a blush by this Administration.

If ever there was an issue which has been well debated in this House, it is bail. Not a week goes by, not a Justice Question Time is taken, and not an Order of Business is debated without a question on the law of bail and the need to reform it. People are now saying that to change the law of bail will infringe civil liberties and we should not hastily introduce such changes. There has been a need for constitutional reform of the law of bail since the early 1970s.

The Supreme Court's decision in the O'Callaghan case has been called a liberal bridgehead. It was a liberal bridgehead too far, however, in that it guarantees that any person arrested and accused of a serious offence will be set at liberty pending his trial unless there is evidence to suggest that he probably will either not turn up for trial or will interfere with the proper conduct of the trial by interfering with witnesses. Even if there is evidence that the accused will probably commit crimes while on bail, there is that guarantee. That is a ludicrous guarantee available in this jurisdiction and not in any other country.

Ireland is the only country in which the right to trial in due course and the constitutional right to liberty of the individual have been interpreted as giving an absolute guarantee to an accused person of his right to liberty unless, as a matter of probability, he will fail one of the two tests mentioned.

Deputy McDowell, contributing to a debate on bail in this House, said there was a neat logic to the O'Callaghan case but that type of logic is detached from present reality. The traditional notion of being innocent until proved guilty must be balanced against the fact that nowadays many criminals are persistent offenders.

I make no apology for saying I believe in preventative detention if there is evidence that the public will be at risk should the accused go free pending trial. We have consistently argued that to change the bail laws without providing adequate prison spaces would be a recipe for disaster, and I welcome the fact that the Minister has not got the support of Government to go ahead with a building programme to provide adequate jail spaces. To run a criminal justice system without adequate prison spaces is like trying to run a tourist industry without adequate hotel rooms. Neither the rehabilitation of the accused or public safety can be achieved if we do not have space in which to place people who have been convicted by the courts, or those who are awaiting trial before the courts, and who would be a threat to the public if released pending trial.

On the right to silence, I welcome the fact that the Government has committed itself in a Bill that has just been passed to accept one aspect of reform curtailing the absolute right to silence while in police custody, without a court being able to draw any adverse inferences from that silence. The curtailment of the absolute right to silence should also be applied to other serious crimes such as murder. I hope the Government will bring forward proposals to deal comprehensively with a reasoned curtailment of the absolute right to silence.

These rights date back to a period when the rights of the accused were much more limited. The accused had no right to speak at his trial or even to be legally represented. The right to silence in police custody arose from the need to avoid the risk of untrue confessions being made as a result of oppressive questioning. Because of this risk we accept that a person should not be forced to answer questions while in police custody.

In relation to drug trafficking and the restrictions on the right to silence, I have already argued that we should be in a position to provide for an audiovisual record of all interrogations of suspects while in police custody. It is in the interests of the accused as well as the authorities to provide for an independent record of all questioning of suspects while in custody, particularly if that detention is for long periods of time. We have to take account of the fact that technology can now provide us with an independent record of interrogation.

I hope the Minister will bring forward comprehensive reforms not only of the right to silence while in police custody, but also a curtailment of the right to remain silent while on trial without any adverse inference being drawn from that silence.

There have been many debates in this House on prison reform. Most recently the report of the Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee was, in part, unpublishable because it contained such damning criticism of the prison service including the medical service being provided in that institution. What proposals will the Minister bring forward on foot of that report which contained such criticism of our prison service?

When I raised all these issues I was accused by the Minister of attacking civil servants. The guts of the offensive and potentially libellous findings of the committee in relation to the medical service was that it provided no more that a sheep dip of a medical service to the prison. Some 40 prisoners were seen in one hour and there are other inadequacies. What is the Government's response to sorting out the problem relating to the medical service in Mountjoy?

This Government has made very few decisions. It has been marked out as an Administration which has failed to take decisions across a range of areas. The one decision it took, to cancel the prison building programme, was a bad one.

We have consistently moved to change the law on temporary release but, as yet, no proposals or recommendations have been forthcoming from the Government on it. We were accused of over reaction when we called for serious consideration of a state of emergency that exists here. The State is weak on subversives and turns a blind eye to private army using this country to prepare bombs for use in another jurisdiction. A state that is weak in terms of that type of crime leaves itself open to being perceived as weak in terms of organised crime. The Government is self-deluded and lethargic. It is only because of the deaths of Veronica Guerin and Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the massive public outrage following those deaths that the Government is conceding to the measures we have consistently proposed.

Since I became Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party I have been deeply concerned at the threats posed to communities all over the country from organised crime, which is often drug related. Soon after my election as Leader of Fianna Fáil I requested an examination of the legislative provisions which other countries have introduced in the battle against organised crime. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to consult with a number of legal experts in the United States, including senior prosecutors in drug related cases, officials involved in the forfeiture of the proceeds of crime, officials responsible for drafting criminal law statutes, a professor of criminal law at a leading American university and judges and defence lawyers engaged in the day-to-day implementation of law designed to deal with organised crime in the United States.

Not all laws translate in the Irish situation without some, or perhaps even substantial amendments. This is a task which requires careful examination and has been undertaken by the chairperson of the committee dealing with crime and our spokesperson, Deputy O'Donoghue. The principal legislative tools which this small but senior group of judges, academics and practising lawyers regard as essential include the Bail Reform Act, 1984, the Rico anti-racketeering law and a law specifically designed to deal with continued criminal enterprises where controlled businesses make substantial profits from crime.

I little thought I would have to refer to this matter in the context of the murder of a person I knew well, but that is the sad reality. The murder of Veronica Guerin, following so soon after the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and a spate of other murders, has cast a shadow over the safety and freedom of our democracy. That shadow will remain as long as the killers and those who motivated them are at liberty. It will last as long as we continue to tolerate the unhindered existence in our society of criminals who have brazenly accumulated vast and unexplained wealth and regard themselves as untouchable regardless of the crimes they have committed or conspired to organise. As legislators it is our duty to banish that shadow and to ensure that the law enforcement agencies have the resources necessary to protect all members of society.

The most basic civil liberties issue is the right to life and bodily integrity, to one's personal possessions and one's personal freedom. The arguments for the unrestricted right to silence of an accused or the preservation of antiquated bail laws are academic by comparison. This House has the power and ability to push back the wave of crime. The question we must decide is whether we will exercise that power and that ability. The time for rhetoric, slick soundbites and empty promises has passed. Now is the time for action. Now is the time for us to set out in a reflective and calculated way what we propose to do about organised crime. The time for reviews, reports and surveys is over. This is the time for considered action. Veronica Guerin had some of the answers. She knew what motivated organised crime. Last Sunday her recorded voice was clear and unambiguous. She said that drug barons are motivated by one thing, that is greed, avarice. The simple truth of that sentence is a signpost in the direction we must travel. While we must react in a calm and considered way, we must ensure a well worked out agenda, which should have been put in place long before now.

Petty criminals have built up mini empires of crime, gaining great wealth and power along the way. For as long as we are prepared to tolerate criminals retaining the proceeds of their wrongdoing, it will be evident that crime pays. People with vast and unexplained wealth who consider themselves to be untouchable, to date have been untouchable. Our detection services have not been able to fully penetrate this web of criminal activity and nip it in the bud for a variety of reasons, but there is no reason in logic or in law that it should be allowed continue.

In 1985 this House moved swiftly to freeze the assets of illegal organisations. The Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill of that year was published on 18 February. On 19 February it was signed into law by the President and on 20 February the Minister for Justice used the powers conferred by that Act to freeze assets in a bank account in Navan, County Meath. That is the speed with which a democracy must act to protect itself and it is the speed with which we should now act. This House has the power to introduce legislation which would permit the freezing of the assets of those who are a threat to the fabric of democracy. We have used that power in the past and it has proven to be constitutionally sound. Mr. Justice Barrington described the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1985, as "a permissible delimitation of property rights, in the interests of the common good".

There is no reason drug barons should be treated more favourably than members of illegal organisations. There is no reason they should be permitted to enjoy their illicit assets without the most severe and stringent efforts of the State to deny them that enjoyment. The only potential impediment to the assets of drug barons and organised criminals being seized is political will. This House has the political will to turn these people out of their mansions. With that political will and our determination to eradicate this scourge we must freeze their assets and force them to explain from where they came.

I speak today not only for the Fianna Fáil Party but for thousands of citizens who are demanding urgent action. The Ceann Comhairle kindly allowed me, on the Order of Business, on 15 or 16 occasions in this calendar year to raise issues relating to serious criminal acts. At many public meetings on crime, attended by the Minister of State, suggestions were put forward, but on every occasion proposals were put to the Government, it rejected the case put forward by our spokesperson and by Deputy O'Donnell of the Progressive Democrats.

I do not often criticise Ministers or Ministers of State in going about their business, but I feel aggrieved that, having spent practically all weekend dealing with this issue, discussing it with Ministers and holding late night meetings with my colleagues, some of whom had to come back from the country, at the time I, as Leader of the biggest party in the country, was about to stand up to make my contribution, the Government went to a press conference. Does it really want our co-operation on crime or does it want to defeat us in a propaganda war on who gets the headline tomorrow? I am interested in doing something about crime and I am glad there is a considerable number of Deputies on the Opposition side——

Where is the Cabinet?

——but not one member of the Government has bothered to come to the Chamber to listen to our contributions. It is strange that it only takes six days for people to forget about what happened. Last week everybody was shocked, but six days later nobody seems to care. The Government is interested only in trying to upstage us at a press conference. That is a shame, and I tried to warn the Taoiseach of that today. So much for co-operation with the parties in Opposition.

So much for the dignity of the House.

Last week we published the Organised Crime (Restraint and Disposal of Illicit Assets) Bill, 1996. That Bill which had been in preparation for months by our spokesperson, Deputy O'Donoghue, as part of our anti-drugs initiative, was published last week because it was needed to send out the strongest possible message that we are serious about winning the battle and winning back the streets from the criminals. The organised crime Bill hits at the motivating factor behind the drugs barons. It is a direct attack on the produce of their greed and avarice. It must be enacted into law now. I welcome the decision of the Government to accept the Bill in principle. I ask it sincerely and earnestly to accelerate its passage through this House so that it becomes law before the end of the month. Acting to implement it should follow immediately thereafter.

The passage of legislation would part the mobsters from their ill-gotten assets and would represent a start, but by no means an end, to the war against organised crime. We need to remove the legal impediments that stand in the way of convicting criminals.

We must also consider whether we require a grand jury pre-trial investigative procedure, such as exists in the United States, to aid the Garda in the investigation of such crimes, which would be of a quasi-judicial nature. I am aware that even though the laws of the majority of our EU partners are not based on the common law system, they have a system of pre-trial investigation designed to supplement a police inquiry.

Other devices include the provision of a proper system of granting immunity from prosecution to witnesses prepared to give evidence against crime bosses, as well as a witness protection programme and the introduction of a properly structured system of plea bargaining to encourage criminals to give evidence against each other, ensuring more convictions in exchange for a lesser sentence.

I ask the Government today to announce the establishment of a witness protection programme modelled on the one in operation in the United States. We need to give a guarantee to potential witnesses so that they and their families are protected after giving evidence. Some of these provisions have been in operation in the United States for more than ten years without any erosion of civil liberties.

If protecting witnesses is vital and central to this whole issue, so too is providing speedy trials. The delays now between arrest and trial are wholly unacceptable. A delay of two years or more in the Central Criminal Court between the arrest of a person on a serious charge is unacceptable and a problem the Government can address. In four weeks' time, the Central Criminal Court will cease its sittings for a period of nine weeks when the backlog of cases awaiting trial has never been greater. There is no good reason the Central Criminal Court cannot sit in five separate divisions during the legal vacation to make a substantial inroad into its backlog. I ask the Minister to arrange for this to be done.

The position in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court is also unacceptable. Almost 1,000 serious criminal cases come before that court each year yet only three judges are permanently available to deal with the work. Cases now ready for trial before the court are having dates for trial fixed in February 1997, those cases have already spent months before the District Court and the continuing delay is unacceptable to victims and the public alike. Again, this is a problem the Government can address.

The appointment of judges does not achieve anything on its own and is not sufficient. They must have appropriate back-up. It is necessary also to appoint sufficient registrars, stenographers, and court officials to enable the criminal courts to function properly. The necessary people should be appointed now and emergency sittings in the Circuit Criminal Court should take place throughout August and September.

Improving the physical infrastructure and personnel levels of the courts will have some effect on the rate at which criminal justice is dispensed, but reform of the legal mechanisms of the courts is necessary for the efficient administration of justice. On 8 June 1995 Fianna Fáil published a Criminal Procedure Bill designed to guarantee trial on serious criminal offences within 90 days of arrest unless that time is extended by the High Court. The Bill identified the present system of preliminary examination in the District Court as being expensive, time consuming and unnecessary.

We sought to abolish right to a preliminary examination in drugs cases in the Misuse of Drugs Bill which we published earlier this year. That Bill was voted down and it remains the position that every person who goes before the Circuit or Central Criminal Court for trial has an absolute right to have every witness attend at the District Court to have their evidence written down in longhand by a court clerk. That has to change. We have published our proposals for change. Let the Minister publish her proposals, but change there must be.

I welcome the announcement last Friday that the Government will hold a referendum on bail on broadly similar terms to the Fianna Fáil Bill. That is an obvious and necessary change which is long overdue. Other changes are overdue also. The absence of an adequate number of prison spaces sends a strong message that we are not serious about crime. The fragmentation of approach by different State agencies sends out a similar message, and all that must change.

I welcome the belated acknowledgment that the prison at Castlerea and the new women's prison in Mountjoy are necessary and that accommodation will be provided in a new prison at Wheatfield, but much time has been lost.

Last year, with some fanfare, the Government announced the recruitment over time of 1,000 additional gardaí. That did not involve any net increase in Garda strength but was designed to give the public that misleading impression that it did. What effect will additional gardaí have on the permanent strength of the Garda Síochána as that is all that really counts?

In the past 18 months Fianna Fáil has published nine separate criminal justice Bills setting out our views on the direction in which our society must move. They cover suggested reform of the criminal law in a variety of different areas including bail, criminal procedure, the proceeds of crime, mental disorder, sexual offences and drug trafficking. The absolute priority we have given in Opposition to this issue in Private Members' time is a clear indication of the priority we intend to give it when we return to Government.

The Deputy should have done that in Government.

Deputy Broughan is squealing now.

As a community we have now embarked on a war to row back the level of crime. That war must be waged relentlessly and must be won. It must be directed at lifting the shadow which hangs over our democracy. It demands and deserves the support of all and the first battle will take place today in this House, on it will depend a vigorous and effective anti-crime campaign.

As a matter of urgent national interest we need to deal with our present bail law; freeze the assets of suspected criminals; grant immunity to witnesses; a much speedier court system; more judges and court personnel; pre-trial investigative procedures; more prison spaces and additional gardaí in real terms.

We must not allow any other agenda to deflect us from this vital first step in battling against the criminal forces who thought they could continue to act with impunity, who had a brazen disregard for our forces of law and order and who felt they could take the lives of a detective garda and a journalist. Let us make all the necessary changes soon in this House.

Today the Fianna Fáil Front Bench, with other parties I am sure, discussed how far we can go and how much we can do in regard to this issue. We had a balanced and detailed discussion of the civil liberties issue and how far we can go in that regard. We also spoke about what must be done to turn crime back on the drug barons. As a party we are conscious that we cannot go too far but it is our judgment, in the Bills we have produced, in this Private Members' motion and in the Bill we will debate later tonight, that we have a long way to go before we need concern ourselves in that regard.

One year ago Deputy O'Donoghue committed our party to a White Paper on the whole criminal issue in which we would examine all the issues including civil liberties, prison space, types of crime and how far other countries have gone in this regard. That announcement was made 12 months ago, not in the wake of the horrendous acts of recent days and weeks. We will continue our work in this area but in the meantime the series of measures I and my colleagues have mentioned today, and those that will be referred to in the coming hours, will be debated and carefully examined.

It is not just recently that members of the public became upset about crime; they have been upset for years. We cannot continue to allow people to be forced out of their homes simply because drug barons do not like them. We cannot continue to allow people to sell drugs on street corners simply because we are more interested in apprehending the godfathers. We cannot continue to allow people to be chased out of the country or to be shot dead because they had an argument with somebody. People are being threatened and abused. They are afraid to come forward as witnesses and that cannot be allowed to continue.

Fianna Fáil intends to publish a co-ordinated plan that will examine the educational aspects of crime and how it is linked to unemployment and poverty. It is a fact that many people who were driven into a life of drugs would not have been so vulnerable if they had a job in a bank, the Civil Service or the insurance industry. They are driven to the drug scene because their life is one of poverty and hard luck stories without any future. We must remember that and we must work to get people employment. We also have a duty to protect the citizens on the streets. As I said last week, if we cannot do that we are of no use to ourselves or to the people.

I am glad to join with our colleagues in the Progressive Democrats to try to show the way forward. If this Government has no ideas of its own and no leadership to give, it should at least have the grace to follow.

This is my first opportunity to speak in the House on justice issues since the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin. I express my condolences to both families.

I am glad Deputy Bertie Ahern made a balanced contribution because Deputy O'Donnell's intemperate and badly thought out contribution, which completely lacked a sense of balance in terms of what causes crime in our society, was a disservice to those people who suffer from crime and from those who inflict crime on their communities. Perhaps the view of crime is different in Dublin 4 and Dublin 6 from that in deprived areas.

That is contemptible.

We must not only address crime but its causes. We cannot have a situation where, on the one hand, the Progressive Democrats would introduce more legislation on crime, on which there is common agreement, and, on the other hand, would savage public expenditure on social welfare, health and education with their economic policies. People who are poor often have crime in their midst. Deputy O'Donnell must address the consequences in social terms of the Progressive Democrats economic policies. We must tackle crime, increase the number of prison places and change the laws, but we must do it in a balanced way. We must attack not just crime but the causes of crime. That will cost money. We must spend money on our education system.

Right and wrong.

It is called getting one's priorities right.

Let us have an orderly debate.

I could visit any school in my constituency — Deputy Bertie Ahern could do the same — and talk to teachers, school principals and lollipop ladies who will tell me the children who come from problem families and who are most likely to be jailed in the future. It is important to find alternatives to putting young men in prison and throwing away the key, to target the godfathers and to change the system so that there are alternatives to prisons.

Why does the Minister not do that? She is in Government now.

Deputy O'Donnell's contribution was seriously imbalanced. When we look at crime, we must look at its effect on victims and how to end it, but we must also look at its causes. The public expenditure cuts, which the Progressive Democrats have touted around this country, would tip the balance against poor communities and poor people.

Over the past three years laws have been introduced at a greater rate than ever before in the history of the Dáil.

Not in the Department of Justice.

It would be wrong to say to the public that law is the only answer in this case. While we will introduce more and better laws and change and improve the criminal justice system, that will not change the deep rooted nature of crime in our society.

Deputy Bertie Ahern spoke about consulting various people in the United States. The United States is a model and a warning. Many innovative developments there are worthy of copying or thinking about. California has provided so many prison places and such an extensive prison system that it will spend more on prisons and prison spaces in the next year or two than on higher education.

This Government will never be accused of that.

We are talking about balance.

Compare like with like.

We should seek at all times to achieve a balanced debate which reflects the appropriate and serious measures required.

And relevant comparisons.

In some states of the United States where the only serious response had been in the justice area and where poverty and the social effects have not been dealt with, the results have been less than impressive. They have not produced a reduction in crime, which people hoped for, and they have resulted in larger prison populations and escalating crime rates.

On a point of order, nobody will accuse the Minister of State of suggesting that increasing the prison population is the only solution.

That is not a point of order.

I ask the Deputy to allow the Minister to reply.

The money will be provided for the new Wheatfield prison in 1998. The new Government will be 18 months in office by then. Nobody will accuse the Minister of increasing the prison population.

That is not a point of order.

Acting Chairman

I ask Deputies to refrain from interrupting the Minister. There will be an opportunity to speak later.

Castlerea prison would be opening in October if the Minister had not stopped it.

Deputy Bertie Ahern talked about a balanced debate. A balanced debate must address crime and its causes. We should have no illusions — organised crime is a threat to the security of the State. If organised crime goes unchecked, it has the potential to subvert the institutions of the State and to make life impossible for decent lawabiding citizens. There are many examples throughout the world of the damage which organised crime can do to the fabric of society. I recently spoke to a congressman from New York city about the crime problem there. Organised crime is clever and international. The changes in technology in the past decades have facilitated organised crime in a way nobody conceived was possible. Organised crime is a cancer which eats away at civilised society and seeks to render it helpless.

The basic tenet of any democratic society is the primacy of the rule of law. Organised crime is nothing more than an all out assault on this principle. Criminals have shown contempt for the principles on which the State has been founded. For these criminals, freedom of the press, as represented by Veronica Guerin, is an inconvenience to be ruthlessly brushed aside and suppressed when necessary.

Her murder in broad daylight at a busy city traffic junction demonstrates the extent to which criminals believe they can operate without fear of the law. It is up to us in this House to show them that they are gravely mistaken in this assumption. We can do this by action and that is what this Government is doing — taking action to tackle, once and for all, the menace of organised crime.

Organised crime is clever and international and the changes in technology in the past decade have facilitated it in a way that nobody conceived would have been possible. It is a cancer that eats away at civilised society and seeks to render it helpless. The basic tenet of any democratic society is the primacy of the rule of law and organised crime is an all out assault on that principle. Criminals have shown contempt for the principles on which the State has been founded. For those criminals freedom of the press and the murder of Veronica Guerin is an inconvenience to be ruthlessly brushed aside and suppressed when necessary. The murder of Veronica in broad daylight at a busy city traffic lights junction demonstrates the extent to which criminals believe they can operate without fear of the law. It is up to us in this House to show them they are gravely mistaken in that assumption. We can do that by action. That is what the Government is doing; it is taking action to tackle once and for all the menace of organised crime.

In addressing the threat posed by organised crime and developing an effective response, we must subject it to a rigorous and dispassionate analysis. The emergence of organised crime occurred in parallel with the growth and development of the drugs problem. That is not to imply that the drugs trade is the only organised criminal activity. On the contrary criminal groupings are involved in a number of wide-ranging activities. However, it is the emergence of a lucrative drugs trade which, more than anything else, has shaped the nature and structure of organised crime. Drawing from the American experience, the extraordinary volumes of money that can be made in the organised drugs trade make it unparalleled in terms of the history of crime and make exceptional measures appropriate and necessary. For that reason the Minister for Justice and her colleagues, the Ministers for Health and Education, have been implementing a series of measures, agreed by Government last year, to deal with the drugs problem. Much has been achieved on a number of fronts: law enforcement, legislation, prevention, education and treatment. I say to members of the Progressive Democrats that a balanced programme, which addresses the cause and the criminal aspect, is essential.

What has it delivered?

It delivers quite a lot in those areas where it has begun to work. In 1983 when Dublin had a heroin epidemic a type of balanced approach between taking action against the criminals and investment including, as Deputy Ahern said, an attempt to create jobs, was needed. Those two aspects of crime must be dealt with if we are to beat the godfathers of crime.

As profits have been made from drug trafficking and dealing, they have been invested. Legitimate businesses can be bought and operate, to all practical purposes, within the law. We must focus on these assets. The key to our new approach is to intensify what we have been doing for some time already, targeting the proceeds and assets of criminal activities.

The Government decided this will require a new type of anti-crime unit, one that will involve the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Welfare, which I am particularly keen to see established. It requires a good deal of planning, but that type of agency, with special powers that can draw on the expertise and co-operation of the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Welfare, will produce results. Last month the Government instructed the various Departments and agencies involved to come up with improved arrangements and they were given a deadline of 18 July.

The murder of Veronica Guerin has given this task an even more urgent impetus. Last week the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Finance addressed high-ranking officials from all the Departments and agencies concerned and gave them the task of devising the structure of the new unit and the arrangements and procedures which will govern its operations as a matter of urgency. A report on those lines will be submitted shortly. The Minister for Justice will be in a position to deal with this in detail when the Dáil reconvenes on 25 July.

The Minister for Justice today announced further major resources, for which she has Government approval, to assist and enhance the Garda response to crime. They include an accelerated recruitment of an additional 400 gardaí over the next 12 months, in addition to 350 recruits already planned for in the current recruitment campaign. The intake of additional recruits will commence at the end of this month and will be completed in October next year. In answer to Deputy Ahern's earlier point, taking into account retirements etc., this additional recruitment campaign will bring the strength of the force to over 11,000 when the new recruits have completed the first three phases of their training, 62 weeks, and have been assimilated to the strength of the force. Another response is the immediate activation of the civilianisation programme in the Garda Síochána through the recruitment of 200 civilians to release a comparable number of gardaí to operational duties. There are already 150 posts occupied by gardaí identified and agreed with the Garda authorities as suitable for civilianisation and the Minister expects very early progress in identifying the remaining 50. It is expected that those proposals will be fully implemented between now and early next year.

The allocation of Garda personnel and resources is the responsibility of the Garda authorities and, in particular, senior Garda management. It is something which must be kept under continuous review and changes made as necessary. Change, flexibility, innovation, additions and adjustments are inherent in the area of the allocation of Garda personnel and resources within the State. The organisational issue is as important as the introduction of legislation. It is necessary to develop appropriate organisational responses to unprecedented threats and developments resulting from the activities of criminals.

In the past year the Minister for Justice has undertaken a number of initiatives to ensure that the Garda have the means necessary to tackle crime. These include a closed circuit television system established in the Temple Bar area of Dublin on a pilot basis; a Garda national drugs unit established in July 1995 under the control of a Deputy Commissioner and an increase in the number of youth diversion projects in operation in urban areas throughout the country from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. I have been involved in the development of those initiatives. Those involving youth workers working with local gardaí and other local agencies in deprived areas such as Cherry Orchard, parts of Tallaght and Blanchardstown are very effective in keeping youths at risk from falling into the criminal system.

Why does the Minister of State not bring forward the Juvenile Justice Bill?

This is a practical measure which gives young people who may be at risk an alternative. In the context of reducing the number of young men, in particular, who engage in criminal activity in the long-term, those types of projects are essential. If the Deputy is aware of those projects in the Cork area she will appreciate how well they work.

The Minister of State does not have to tell me anything about juveniles in crime.

The other initiatives include additional funding to enable the Garda transport fleet to be replaced in a five year cycle and a regional command structure created in January this year. It was the first major change to the organisational structure of the force since the foundation of the State. The reorganisation of the force on a regional basis will provide a much more co-ordinated and cohesive approach on tackling, on an operational basis, all facets of crime, particularly mobile criminals. Other measures include the expansion of the closed circuit television system to other areas and the expansion of the community based projects titled, youth diversion projects.

The Minister is confident that with the measures introduced last year and in today's package the efforts of the Garda Síochána in combating crime have been greatly enhanced. The Garda authorities continually review the deployment of the force and the criteria used for this deployment.

In view of the very significant resources now being provided it is obvious that this review should extend to ensuring that the maximum effectiveness is achieved in deploying these resources and those currently available to the force and accordingly, the Minister would have no difficulty with the sentiments expressed in the motion.

The challenges of crime detection in the 1990s necessitate the availability of the most advanced and efficient technologies and the Government is determined to ensure that the Garda is geared to meet them. The Minister is convinced of the major role information technology can play in assisting the Garda in its fight against crime. The Garda Síochána relies heavily on information or, to use the professional term, intelligence. The more it is enabled to access this information and correlate it in an appropriate manner, the greater will be its ability to prevent and detect crime.

The Minister is, therefore, fully committed to the Garda information technology plan in which in excess of £26 million is being invested. The plan is now at an advanced stage. Already, approximately £5 million has been spent on the planning phases and on the purchase of equipment and work on the design and building of the systems will start within the next month. The IT plan envisaged is a major and complex project encompassing approximately 17 administrative and operational Garda systems in an integrated structure in phase 1 of the plan. It is anticipated that the new systems derived from the plan will provide for significant administrative and operational improvements in the Garda Síochána. Not alone will it cut down the need for paperwork thus releasing members for operational duties, but it will provide the Garda with greatly enhanced capabilities in the investigation of major crime including drug trafficking and fraud.

The new computerised fingerprint identification system — AFIS — which was formally inaugurated earlier in January, is the first major service delivered from the plan. Preliminary results from the system shows a three-fold increase in fingerprint identifications since the new AFIS system was installed. The new technology will ensure a rapid and comprehensive service to the operational force. All scene of crime fingermarks submitted will be assessed for examination against the complete national fingerprint database, leading to the identification of a greater number of criminal suspects. In the old manual system such searches took up to 500 man hours to complete. The new AFIS system is capable of carrying out such searches in under ten minutes.

The results this computerised finger-printing system is producing is clear evidence of the major role modern computer technology can play in the policing context.

As well as providing the additional financial resources I have outlined, it is important that we provide a comprehensive and effective legislative frame-work geared to cope with the realities of crime.

Before speaking about specific proposals there are two general points I should make about criminal law reform. The first is that, while some changes are clearly desirable, there is already in place a huge range of criminal justice legislation which is used daily to bring perpetrators of crime to justice.

The second is that the Government accepts fully that this is no time to bring forward ill-considered proposals based on emotion rather than reason. It would be disastrous if our response to recent tragic events were ultimately to perpetrate injustice rather than protect the community. I can reassure the House on that score, because many of the proposals the Government is moving forward have already been subject to the type of searching analysis and painstaking assessment necessary to ensure that they are viable and appropriate responses.

This is particularly the case in relation to bail. There has been criticism in the House about the length of time it has taken to deal with this measure. It is precisely because of the time taken in analysis in the Department of Justice and discussions between the Minister for Justice and her colleagues in Government that we are now in a position to agree fundamental changes in our bail laws. The most important of these is the agreement to hold a referendum later this year to amend the Constitution to allow refusal of bail because of the danger of commission of serious offences. People who have examined this issue in depth have fundamental concerns about the rights of the individual. The Minister can assure the House that the arrangements accompanying the amendment to the Constitution will contain appropriate safeguards.

The changes proposed do not stop there. We will also introduce new bail laws designed to tighten up on bail generally. We will require cash or its equivalent to form part of bail. Persons going bail will have to act as guarantor for good behaviour and lose the bail money they put up if the accused offends while on bail. We will also take steps to strengthen the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 relating to consecutive sentences to ensure to the greatest extent possible that additional penalties are imposed when offences are committed by people while on bail.

Probably the strongest message of all to the criminal fraternity was the imposition of consecutive sentences in a number of recent court cases. By Irish judicial standards, extremely long sentences imposed in two recent cases will cause far more disturbance to professional criminals than anything else, including the recent debate in this House. When people who have committed offences while on bail, are sentenced to 20 years imprisonment it transmits a very powerful message. That legislation has been in place for some time but its application in recent cases will have greater effect on those contemplating committing offences while on bail.

The Minister has made clear to the House on a number of occasions that she has been reviewing the laws on the right to silence. In the context of that review she tabled an amendment today to restrict the right to silence in drug trafficking cases. As the House will be aware, the amendment will allow inferences to be drawn from the failure of an accused to disclose matters which could reasonably have been expected to have been mentioned during Garda questioning. The drug trafficking Bill provided the legislative vehicle to allow this change to be made. The Minister is continuing her review of the whole question to see whether further restrictions would be justified and effective.

Having mentioned the drug trafficking Bill, it is worth noting that this measure which among other things allows for periods of detention of up to seven days in drug trafficking cases, is one of the strongest criminal law Bills ever introduced in this House. It passes the key test which is that the measures it contains are proportional to the problem it addresses. The House will be asked this week to agree to orders under the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 to enable Ireland to play its role in the international fight against the drugs menace.

Work is well advanced in the Department of Justice on a wide range of new criminal justice measures. These include Bills dealing with juvenile justice, non-fatal offences against the person, fraud and criminal insanity. The proposals in the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill have already been approved by the Government. The Minister is pleased to be able to announce to the House that the Bill will be published shortly with a view to its introduction in time for our special sitting on 25 July dependent on clearance by the Attorney General's office. It will represent a very substantial legislative contribution to the fight against crime. It contains measures improving the efficiency of court procedures and reducing the amount of time spent by gardaí in courts. It will also provide for the issue of search warrants in connection with the investigation of serious crimes.

The existing procedures for giving evidence of arrest and other matters in our courts occupies a vast amount of Garda time — time that could be better spent preventing and detecting crime. These procedures also take up much court time. The Bill will provide for a new system of written Garda evidence of arrest, charge and caution to be provided in court by way of certificate. This should yield substantial savings in Garda time as it will avoid the need for gardaí to attend court in respect of many of these hearings and will also help to expedite criminal procedure in the courts.

The Bill will reduce the amount of Garda time taken up by escorting prisoners to and from court by providing that the court where the accused first appears can remand him or her in custody to a court nearer the prison where the accused is held. The Bill will also extend from eight days to a maximum of 15 days the existing statutory limit for remanding an accused person in custody on a second or subsequent appearance of the accused in court resulting in less frequent remand hearings. In addition, existing restrictions on station bail periods granted by the Garda mean that the scheduling of court attendance by the Garda cannot always be matched with Garda rosters. The Bill will provide for much more flexibility with regard to the appearance of an accused before the court where station bail has been granted again allowing for better more efficient use of Garda time.

At present, there is no general statutory provision for the issue of search warrants in relation to serious offences such as murder and rape. This can have serious implications for the detection by the Garda of the very worst types of crime. The Bill will contain a provision for the issue of search warrants by a judge of the District Court to enable the Garda to search and seize evidence in cases involving murder or rape or other serious offences. I hope the Bill will be available to Members on 25 July.

The Minister of State did not get to the £20 million in 1998.

Deputy Burke knows well that is more than was provided by Fianna Fáil, including four different Ministers, between 1987 and 1994.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate. I regard it as one of the most important debates we have had in the life of this Dáil and I want to join with Deputy Ahern in expressing my disappointment that there is no Member of the Cabinet present.

Apparently the Government is in the process of either organising or holding a press conference to announce its proposals. It is hard to believe that the person who promised so much by way of Dáil reform, the person who spoke about the supremacy of the Dáil and of parliamentary questions, the Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, should show such scant regard for the Dáil, particularly in relation to the matter before us. Last week it was not to his partners in Government that the Taoiseach looked to find solutions to the present crime crisis. I am not surprised that it was not to his partners that he looked. If evidence were needed that the Labour Party was soft on crime, it was very much in evidence this evening from the Minister of State.

She spoke about balance. She spoke about civil liberties. She spoke about the poor. The vast majority of poor people never commit crimes. The Minister wondered why we want to throw some people in jail and throw away the key. The godfathers of crime, and the godmothers too, if they exist, should be thrown in jail and the key thrown away.

Money should be spent on poor communities.

The first duty of any state is the protection of its citizens. This State is involved in a host of activities that it need not be involved in and which could be much better done by other groups. The State need not do such things as running ports, airports, restaurants or hotels. The one duty the State has is to protect its citizens, and the most basic civil liberty of all is the liberty of citizens to walk down their local street, through their local village, to live in their home without fear of being attacked. For too long many of our citizens have not had that right. Does the Minister of State know of many women who would walk down O'Connell Street late in the evening? They would have done it in the past, but they would not do it now because they are afraid.

Law making is not the whole answer because it does not guarantee that there will not be law breaking, but it is certain that if we do not have tough laws, strict enforcement of those laws and an efficient and professional——

And if we do not fight poverty.

Acting Chairman

Let us have no interruptions. The Minister of State had an opportunity to speak.

Fighting poverty is not exclusive of being tough on criminals. Have there been many Revenue audits of the godfathers of crime? Have there been many Revenue solicitor's letters sent to them? I wonder how the Revenue have dealt with them in recent times when ordinary decent business people are hounded. Why is it that the godfathers of crime have fast cars, horses, yachts, holiday homes, large houses and, in some cases, local authority houses? If the property is in the name of their spouses, has anybody asked how the spouse acquired the property just as ordinary law-abiding citizens would be asked to answer such questions?

There is evidence of ambivalence at the top. Let me document some of it. Six times since the Dáil resumed after Christmas I asked the Taoiseach when the Government would finalise its consideration of the bail issue. On 31 January he said that the Government's failure to act in the wake of the publication of the Law Reform Commission report on bail was regrettable and that the Government would make up its mind within about six weeks. I allowed six weeks to elapse and on 26 March I again asked the Taoiseach about the issue. He said he would be discussing options presented by the Minister in the reasonably near future but that the matter had not yet been finalised. On 14 May I asked the Taoiseach about the issue. He was, as always, evasive. He said that the Government had not completed its consideration of the matter, but he assured me that it was at an advanced stage of consideration. On 19 June last, just 13 days ago, there was still no sign of movement and I again raised the matter with the Taoiseach. On that occasion I told him that I was blue in the face asking him about bail. He repeated that the Government had not yet concluded its deliberations on the matter. A brave young journalist has been murdered and, without even a Cabinet meeting, the Government last Friday night announced that it would hold a referendum on bail. Is it any wonder the public are cynical about politics and politicians?

There was a time when Fine Gael had a reputation for being tough on law and order. The image of Fine Gael was that when they were in power there were tough laws and they were enforced.

Why did the Progressive Democrats not do anything when they were in power?

Having spent ten years in the political wilderness, Fine Gael were so pleased to get into power that they would not rock the Coalition in the interest of a tough law and order stand. When the Tánaiste barks the Taoiseach jumps. He has been afraid to stand up to the Labour Party on the issue of bail. That is why no decision was made.

Why did the Deputy not do it?

In March 1995 the Minister for Justice announced on television that the Government would hold a referendum on bail. It was not long, however, before a Labour Party Minister was busy anonymously telling reputable journalists that there would be no referendum on bail. Let me quote what was printed in the columns of the Sunday Independent on 25 February 1996 when the Law Reform Commission report was first used as an excuse by the Government:

He [a senior Labour Party Minister said: "...the Government is preparing the ground to drop the referendum idea... You can take it that any proposal, which will be adopted by the Cabinet, will be exclusively legislative. The exact nature of the legislation depends on the proposals brought forward by the Minister."

He added strongly that any other course of action would lead to strong opposition within his party and Democratic Left and a threat to Government cohesion.

In order that Government cohesion would not be threatened, Fine Gael, who knew better, were prepared to put up with this. Last Thursday morning we had the humiliating experience of a Taoiseach begging the Opposition for solutions, a Minister for Justice who seemed to have been by-passed by the whole process. In the frenzied search for solutions——

What did the Deputy do when she was in Government?

Deputy Fitzgerald's party has been in Government now for four years so he should stop blaming other people.

When the Progressive Democrats were in Government they did nothing but screw every poor unemployed person in the country, and they would do it again if they got half a chance.

This is a serious debate. The public want a political response.

I do not like hypocrites. This is hypocrisy.

Acting Chairman

I ask the Deputy to refrain from interrupting and allow the debate to continue.

I do not know what is wrong with Deputy Fitzgerald. The comments he is making are uncalled for.

I do not like hypocrites like the Deputy.

That should be withdrawn.

The Deputy should leave the House and allow the debate to take place. It is a serious debate.

We know Deputy McDowell's views on bail. They are on the record of this House.

In all my time in this House I have never referred to any Deputy as a hypocrite, and I regret very much that the Labour Party Chief Whip would speak in such terms.

The Deputy should withdraw that remark.

I will withdraw it. I would not like to call Deputy Harney a hypocrite, but she is speaking in a hypocritical way.

That is a begrudging withdrawal. The Deputy should be a gentleman and do it properly and not be mealy-mouthed about it.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy has withdrawn the remark. The Deputy in possession should proceed.

I am delighted that at least there is cohesion among the Opposition parties about what needs to be done about law and order. That is reassuring for the public.

Is there? I did not hear that.

The Minister of State hears what she likes to hear. The Labour Party always hears what it likes to hear and is blinkered on those things it does not like to hear.

The Minister referred to the fact that a remand prison would be built at Wheatfield. She said that the capital cost would be £40 million and that £20 million would be provided in 1998. That is two years from now. Of one thing I am certain — the rainbow coalition will not be in power in 1998. Deputy Shatter spoke in this House this evening, and it is worth quoting his remarks. It is not just the Opposition and the public who are concerned about the crime crisis. He said that what passes for justice in this House is Department of Justice scripts justifying the status quo. They are the words of Deputy Shatter, a backbench Government Deputy, and there are many other backbench Government Deputies who feel equally strongly.

I want to go through the record of this party since the Dáil reassembled in early 1993. On 2 March 1993 I introduced the Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill to deal with public order issues. I said at the time:

We believe it is time to effectively restore safety and security of home and property to every citizen. It is about time the Garda were given effective powers to tackle the criminal, the thug, the unruly gangs and individuals, and to enable them to effectively carry out the job they are charged with doing.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, currently a backbench Government Deputy, said: "This Bill is clearly an attempt to restore the confidence of the ordinary citizen of the State in justice".

On 14 June 1994, my colleague, Deputy McDowell, introduced a Criminal Justice Bill which addressed the need for changes in the law relating to insanity, bail, temporary releases and the remission of sentences. Deputy Gay Mitchell, then the Fine Gael spokesperson, said: "Fine Gael will be supporting this Bill." and also:

On the issue of bail, whereas I welcome the provisions put forward in this Bill...they do not go far enough. I do not see why the matter has again been referred to the Law Reform Commission because we know that what is required is an amendment of the Constitution.

He went on to say:

Fine Gael is greatly concerned that hardened criminals continue to enjoy excessive protection from the law while ordinary law abiding people, especially the most vulnerable members of the community, such as the elderly, are being imprisoned in their homes.

On 16 May 1995 my colleague Deputy O'Donnell introduced a Private Members' motion highlighting the drug emergency. She called for the introduction of legislation to strengthen the law and penalties for drug importers, distributors and suppliers of drugs and she called for the implementation of the existing legislation to seize the proceeds of those criminals involved in drug related activities. The Minister for Justice said on that occasion:

My proposals will be far-reaching and wide-ranging. They will be no mere tinkering with the problem, but a root and branch radicalisation of plans to tackle drug trafficking. I am determined to do whatever is required and I will have no hesitation in asking the Government for the necessary resources.

On 27 February 1996 Deputy O'Donnell introduced the Prosecution of Offences and Punishment of Crimes Bill, 1996 to deal with many of the outstanding issues relating to drug trafficking in our society as well as the need to change the bail laws, streamline our prosecution service, limit the right to silence and modernise and speed up criminal proceedings. Again we had similar words from the Minister for Justice who said:

It is neither realistic nor effective to suggest that fundamental issues such as bail, the right to silence and sentencing policy — to give just a few examples — can be dealt with effectively in a piecemeal or patchwork way...

She went on to say that she did not believe it was possible to address properly such a fundamental issue as the right to silence in a Bill such as that before the House.

On 18 June 1996 my colleague, Deputy O'Donnell, moved an amendment to the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill, 1996 and the Minister said in relation to limiting the right to silence:

I cannot accept amendments Nos. 35 and 36 because I do not favour dealing with this complex issue, the right to silence, in such a piecemeal way...

Later in June came the murder of a journalist and all seems to have changed. We are now expected to believe that the Government is serious with a record of that kind.

I would be prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt because I think the eye was off the law and order ball, but its members who are not present this evening and have shown scant regard for this House are to hold a press conference — a PR exercise — when they should be here listening to the debate given that the Taoiseach promised so much last week. He said he knew I was frustrated with the slow progress but that he was taking on board everything that was said. Are we to believe that when we see the spectacle before us tonight?

I wish to refer to the proposals published this evening by the Labour Party. It is hard to take seriously the suggestions by the Labour Party for a drug enforcement agency when the Minister for Justice shot down this idea in this House on a number of occasions. For a party that is almost four years in power the Labour Party seems to be behaving as if it was in Opposition.

The Taoiseach must assert his authority in the Cabinet. He must ensure that law and order is not just an issue today, tomorrow and for the next few days until the public memory of the awful murder of Veronica Guerin is gone. That was a needless murder, but let us hope it was not in vain. From what I see this evening I do not believe this Government will be tough on law and order and I do not believe that its eye is on the ball. The Government is simply interested in a PR exercise.

I see no reason the new prison project at Wheatfield cannot be given to the private sector. All recent prison projects have grossly overrun their budgets. If this prison is to be built speedily the option should be given to the private sector for its construction, and thereafter perhaps for its management.

I agree with that point.

It is necessary to refer again to the appalling situation we witnessed earlier. There was only one member of the Government and no Government backbenchers present when the leader of my party stood up to speak on this important issue about which there was so much talk and for which there was so much concern for the past week. It is an indictment of the Government parties that they are not present to pay attention to what is being said.

The past year has been an extremely depressing time here from the point of view of law and order. We have had a combination of horrific incidents resulting in the loss of many innocent lives. In certain instances it would be difficult to see what this House or our law enforcement agencies could have done to prevent the crime. Regrettably however in many other cases there at least exists a reasonable doubt that if certain preventive measures were in place the crime might not have occurred.

Particular concern has been repeatedly expressed in relation to two core issues, namely the perceived widespread abuse of our liberal bail provisions and the revolving door syndrome resulting from the grossly inadequate number of prison places to deal with convictions arising from the wave of serious crime. In my opinion it would be almost impossible to exaggerate the comprehensive damage which has been done to our law enforcement system by these major flaws.

The effect on the morale of our excellent Garda force must be enormous. It is only too easy to imagine their deep frustration and anger at the current situation. In many instances they have spent an enormous amount of time and effort to bring a criminal to justice only to be let down in one way or another. For example, they may see a determined criminal go free on bail with further opportunities to offend before finally facing a custodial sentence. Then they often see a number of convictions condensed through the imposition of concurrent rather than consecutive sentences. Too often gardaí are taken by surprise to see a criminal back on the streets having only served a small part of their sentence.

Is it any surprise that some gardaí wonder what they must do to successfully tackle the escalating crime problem? They feel let down when they are expected to pursue dangerous criminals, frequently at risk to life and limb, while other key components of the law enforcement system such as bail provisions and prison numbers are totally inadequate. As if that was not bad enough any slight mistake on their part in the pursuit of criminals is likely to be exaggerated out of all proportion. On occasion undue criticism may come from the Judiciary whose own performance in terms of consistency can sometimes leave much to be desired. I do not have to remind this House that some of the major controversies over recent years did not relate to decisions of the Garda or this House but rather decisions of the Judiciary. It is about time they got their house in order and that we got some consistency from them.

The motion refers to delays in the prosecution of criminals because of inadequate numbers of judges and other matters such as drastically reduced court hearings during certain months because of legal vacations. All of these issues are almost totally within the control of the Government. Consequently, there is no acceptable reason they should not be tackled successfully as a matter of grave national urgency. If one reviews the happenings of the past year or so one would get the impression that it is the law abiding citizens who are on the run and not the criminals. This is patently absurd and must be reversed by the early introduction of a number of the measures before us today.

Debate adjourned.