Written Answers. - “Joy-Riding” Offences.

Máirín Quill

Question:

55 Miss Quill asked the Minister for Justice the plans, if any, she has to deal with the escalation of the offence known as joy-riding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9198/97]

Martin Cullen

Question:

60 Mr. Cullen asked the Minister for Justice the plans, if any, she has to help society to rid itself of so-called joy-riding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9145/97]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 and 60 together.

The offence commonly referred to as "joy-riding" is a criminal offence under section 112 of the Road Traffic Acts, 1961 to 1984, which prohibits the taking of a vehicle without the owner's consent. The term "joy-riding" does not feature in any legislation.

The use of cars and other vehicles robbed from their owners, and often used in the commission of crime, continues to be an ongoing problem. The vehicles are usually driven recklessly and contribute to road deaths, serious injury and extensive damage to vehicles and property. They are often stolen by very young people under the age of 16.
The problem is not new and in fact had diminished somewhat from the high figures in the mid-1980s. However, in recent months the problem has manifested itself very graphically through the deaths of four people who died as a result of being hit by stolen cars. I would like to convey my sympathy to the families of those who so tragically lost their lives.
The problem of "joy-riding" is one manifestation — clearly a seriously worrying manifestation — of the disorderly and criminal tendencies of a minority of young people, most of whom come from backgrounds where disadvantage of various kinds is a factor. Disadvantage clearly does not excuse criminal activity, but it does point to the need for a broadly based response to the problem.
In saying that there is a need for a broadly-based response, I am not trying to downplay the importance of the direct law-and-order response to joy-riding.
I have discussed this matter at some length with the Garda Commissioner and am in no doubt of his commitment and determination to tackle this problem head-on. It is not always easy to apprehend offenders because of the attendant risk to the general public, but no effort will be spared by the gardaí to stamp out this extremely dangerous, anti-social form of criminal activity.
There have been many arrests over the years and sentences both to prisons and to Department of Education detention centres of youths convicted of robbing cars and using them dangerously.
The Garda are deeply conscious of the need to secure the support and co-operation of the vast majority of law abiding citizens in the areas worst affected. This is why, side by side with a policy of acting firmly to thwart the young criminals involved, the Garda are and will continue to focus special attention on meeting local community groups who are understandably outraged by the activities of the small minority of unruly criminal elements in their midst.
Since I became Minister for Justice I have supported and funded programmes which are community based with the support of the Garda Síochána, and which are designed to divert young people from crime, including joy-riding. Eight such schemes are currently in existence in areas of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford and plans are advanced for the introduction of two further schemes in Dublin and Dundalk.
These programmes are aimed predominantly at young people and involve various activities, sporting and otherwise, counselling, informal group work, education, group family and after care support programmes, anti-vandalism and pro-environment programmes and other activities deemed appropriate in each of the specific catchment areas.
Also last year my Department's Probation and Welfare Service set up the Cork Auto Crime Prevention Scheme which is aimed at diverting young offenders from joy-riding. It 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.
The aims of these projects are to prevent crime, to divert young people from becoming involved in criminal or anti-social behaviour, to improve the quality of life of young people, to provide activities aimed at improving life and communicating skills and personal development, and to support and improve Garda-community relations.
Finally, I have been assured by the Garda authorities that they are taking all possible steps to deter so called joy-riding and will continue to work closely with local communities, local authorities and state services to do so.