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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 19 Mar 1997

Vol. 476 No. 5

Adjournment Debate. - Cork Road Deaths.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Lynch.

I am sure that is agreed.

I represent a constituency where three teenagers were killed as a result of the criminal activity known as joyriding in the past month. It is with profound pity for the families of the victims that I raise this matter in the Dáil tonight.

I visited the home of one of the victims, Trevor O'Connell, yesterday and the anguish and despair of his distraught mother, his grief stricken father and his three brothers was one of the most harrowing experiences of my public life. Their young son left home on the eve of St. Patrick's Day with a friend, Stephen Kirby, to go to the local shop for bags of chips. On the way home, Trevor was mowed down by a stolen car and killed. Stephen Kirby died today.

This horrific tragedy has left the victims' families and an entire neighbourhood in the grip of despair. The question they repeatedly ask is what law is there to protect innocent young children. My questions are more specific. Why were the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act not in operation when this tragedy happened? This law, which permits gardaí to use stingers to intercept so-called joyriders, came into effect on 4 March last. How can the Minister explain the gap between the enactment of this urgent law and its implementation? Whose responsibility was it to communicate to the Garda Commissioner that this new Garda power was available? When was that fact communicated and by whom? What discussions did the Minister have today with the Garda Commissioner on this matter? When did the Garda Commissioner communicate the new powers to gardaí? How many Garda stations are now equipped with the devices known as stingers? How many gardaí have received training in their use?

The stinger is a key preventative weapon in the battle against joyriders, although I do not suggest it is the only answer to the scourge of joyriding. However, this new law had an immediate and urgent intention, which was to help to prevent deaths as a result of joyriding in stolen cars. Delay in the implementation of this law can only be viewed as criminal official neglect.

I thank Deputy Quill for sharing her time. I offer my condolences to the O'Connell and Kirby families. The constituency of Cork North-Central, which Deputy Quill and I represent, does not have an epidemic of joyriding. However, joyriding has claimed the lives of three young men, two of whom were innocent bystanders. They had their lives before them with the prospect of bright careers. They were going for a bag of chips on a spring evening and were taken as they turned the corner on their way home.

Our shock and dismay was compounded by the fact that it had not been conveyed to gardaí in the area that the legislation which enables them to use stingers, which they are trained to use, was available to them to stop stolen cars being used for joyriding. The gardaí did not know they could use the stingers. I do not know where the message was delayed but it was delayed somewhere. It was not relayed to the gardaí in Cork North-Central, whatever about the rest of the country. If the House does nothing else tonight, it should at least explain to the families of the young men, the most recent victims, why the message was not conveyed. We must ensure no more young people lose their lives in such circumstances in the future. Measures must be used to empower the Garda to stop people who drive round in lethal weapons.

I thank the Deputies for the opportunity to address the issues raised by them concerning the use by the Garda of the device for stopping vehicles known as the stinger. I extend my sincere sympathy to the families of Trevor and Stephen who lost their lives in this appalling incident. I also extend good wishes for a speedy recovery to the young garda in Limerick who sustained appalling injuries after he was driven over.

About ten years ago, a proposal to use spiked boards was considered but because of safety concerns, although they were tested, they were never put into operation. Last year the Garda authorities communicated the view to my Department that a new type, the stinger, a tyre deflating device in use in other EU countries, could prove an effective means of addressing the problem of unauthorised taking of vehicles, which has become known as joyriding.

Section 8 of the 1976 Act allowed a member of the Garda to use reasonable force to compel a person to comply with a requirement to stop a vehicle, including placing a barrier or other device in the path of a vehicle. That power related to a number of offences specified in section 8 of that Act. The power did not extend to the offence under section 112(2) of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, of unlawfully taking a vehicle.

I was advised by the Attorney General's office that the use of the stinger to counteract the problem of so-called joyriding would require an amendment to the 1976 Act. I immediately brought forward the necessary legislative proposals and on Report Stage of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, I introduced an amendment to that Act to extend the use of such devices to the offence of unlawfully taking a vehicle. The effect of the amendment is to allow the Garda to use this new device to stop vehicles unlawfully taken by so-called joyriders. The stinger will be used by trained gardaí under strict supervision under Garda guidelines.

However, the stinger will not automatically be used in every case of joyriding. The decision to use these devices will be based on the safety of people in an area. For example, it will not be possible to use them in a built up area if the lives of pedestrians or motorists might be put in danger. Following the introduction of the amendment to the legislation and the availability of stingers to the Garda, I do not want the impression to be given that gardaí will be in a position to use stingers every time they receive a report of a stolen car or unlawful driving of a car. I understand from the Garda Commissioner this will not be the case and an assessment must be made in each instance by a senior ranking garda as to whether it is safe to use the stinger in terms of people not involved in the joyriding. It is difficult to anticipate what will happen when somebody sees a stinger. They may take evasive action and cause danger.

The legislation to allow the Garda to use the device known as the stinger to stop vehicles was signed by the President on 4 March last. Normal procedures were then followed whereby the Government secretariat informed my Department on the evening of 6 March 1997 that the Bill had been signed. This information was transmitted to Garda headquarters on Monday, 10 March 1997. It is standard procedure that when a Bill, such as the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, is enacted, the Garda authorities issue a policy document to gardaí indicating how the legislative provisions contained in the Act are to be implemented. It is a matter for the Garda to notify the Garda divisions of such policy. The Garda is currently making the necessary arrangements to provide for the operational use of the stinger and circulating the relevant instructions to all divisions. I have been informed that stingers will be available in about one week, that is, within three weeks of the signing of the Act.

The issue of joyriding, particularly recently in the Cork area, is of great concern. The Garda Commissioner has informed me there had been significant success in cutting down on joyriding in the Cork area in recent weeks and I will urge the commissioner to take whatever action is appropriate to stamp out this type of activity, including, where appropriate, the use of the stinger.

The probation and welfare service of my Department is operating the Cork auto crime prevention scheme. This is designed to teach young offenders basic mechanical and driving skills while addressing their offending behaviour. The project is being run in conjunction with local business in the area and it is appropriate to consider extending this scheme to other areas to deal with some of the associated problems.