I thank Deputy Broughan for sharing time. The motion and the amendment are meaningless and this debate is tiresome. The issue of crime in the community is not well served by the Minister and the Opposition slugging it out in this Chamber or over the airwaves. There is an element of macho shadow boxing involved which does little to inspire public confidence in Members. It also does nothing to help us get at the root causes of crime and discover practical ways to tackle the problem.
It appears that the framers of the motion merely plucked aspects of the crime problem out of the sky. Why is the main Opposition party calling for the introduction of a comprehensive drug treatment and therapy programme for women prisoners? Why only women prisoners when there is a major and, in many ways, more serious problem with their male counterparts in this regard? The motion is very selective in respect of the areas to which it draws attention. I fault the motion in the same way I faulted the Minister's approach to tackling the crime problem because of its overemphasis on legislation. There seems to be a view that legislation alone can tackle the serious problem of crime in the community. The motion also fails to recognise the close relationship between drug abuse and high crime figures. Unless we get to the nub of the issue and put in place practical and well funded measures to tackle the supply of and demand for drugs, our discussions will only be so much hot air.
In the amendment, the Minister begins with his usual rant about zero tolerance. The root of this concept, which is in operation in New York and certain parts of Britain, is that an equally strong arm approach should be taken to minor and serious crimes. Having been in office a number of months, however, the Minister has decided that the issue is more complex than he stated during the election campaign. He has discovered that this approach is not possible in the Irish context. The Minister now states that people did not understand what he meant by "zero tolerance" and it should, in fact, be applied only to serious crimes. This makes a nonsense of his original proposal from which he gained huge mileage before and during the election campaign. Most people accept that the concept of zero tolerance — as it is understood in other jurisdictions — is dead as far as the Government is concerned.
The amendment to the motion also refers to the Minister's plans to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 12,000, which is hardly an ambitious proposal. The Dublin area is under-staffed in respect of Garda personnel. This issue is regularly raised at public meetings because people want gardaí back on the beat so that they will be familiar with the areas they patrol, have better relations with the community and be more vigilant. There has been much discussion about large scale crimes but the majority of people are more concerned about the frequency of burglaries, bag snatches, car thefts, etc. We should be able to deal with such problems at local level through the provision of more gardaí on the beat. However, increasing Garda strength to 12,000 is not particularly ambitious.
The amendment also supports the measures taken by the Minister to provide 1,000 prison spaces. It is difficult to sift through press releases and public statements but, as far as I can see, the Minister is only proposing the provision of an additional 200 spaces over and above those already provided by the previous Government. I am open to correction but it appears that is all the Minister has secured.
With regard to drug treatment in prisons, the amendment "notes that ongoing discussions are taking place with the Eastern Health Board". There are, in fact, few such discussions taking place. There is a major drug abuse problem in Mountjoy Prison and great difficulty in deciding how best to tackle it. I made this point on previous occasions and I believe drug treatment services in our prisons should be the equal of those available in the wider community. I am familiar with people who were involved in the drugs culture and who, following a long wait, managed to gain acceptance to community treatment programmes. However, they were then given prison sentences of two to three years for the larceny associated with their drug abuse. They entered Mountjoy Prison where a treatment programme is not available and returned to using heroin. That is an utter disgrace. I do not know how any Minister can preside over such a situation. This matter requires urgent attention and the Eastern Health Board is willing to become involved, on an agency basis, and provide a full range of drug treatment services to the 60 per cent plus prisoners in Mountjoy who are addicted to drugs. However, this will only happen if there is a change in the mindset in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
The amendment also refers to counselling for sex offenders. The programme available is pathetic as there are ten people on it at any one time. Apart from removing offenders from the community, the main function of prisons should be to rehabilitate. However, we are utterly failing to rehabilitate prisoners serving sentences for drug or sex offences, which is a disgrace.
The amendment to the motion welcomes the Government's publication of the Courts Service Bill, which was already in train before the change of Administration, and notes the Government's imminent decision on the Garda SMI report. The latter is overdue and I urge the Minister to get on with publishing the final report.
Included in the amendment is the Government's welcoming of its commitment to publish the Criminal Justice Bill, about which so much was reported in the media today. As I understand it, it is the policy of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to introduce on an annual basis a "tidying up" Bill which is precisely what the Criminal Justice Bill represents. To loud fanfares today, the Minister referred to mandatory sentences but I read the Bill and it is clear he has walked away from the issue of mandatory sentences. There were headlines today and talk from the Minister about the introduction of ten year mandatory sentences for drug offences, but there is an opt-out clause. We have been sold a pig in a poke. Today the Minister got away with it and it is to be hoped the media will pay attention to what is in the Bill and discover the Minister has reneged on his pre-election promise. I will not complain too much about that because I am glad he is now taking the advice of the Law Reform Commission and of his own Department on mandatory sentencing. However, the headlines and the fanfare only bring this House into further disrepute by making it seem out of touch with problems.
Although tidying up a few aspects of the law, this Bill does nothing to tackle the drug problem which is seriously affecting my constituency and many constituencies throughout the country.