Written Answers. - Crime Levels.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

179 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform whether he has satisfied himself that there is a reduction in crime levels in view of the application of zero tolerance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15562/98]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

186 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform whether he has evaluated the impact to date of the application of zero tolerance in relation to crime levels in general and public attitudes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15569/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 179 and 186 together.

The lasting effects of any Government's crime policies have to be assessed over the long term rather than the short term. In the short term, however, the signs are promising, as evidenced by the trend emerging from the Garda Síochána crime statistics which show that indictable offences in 1997 were down by approximately 10 per cent when compared to 1996.

I have outlined before in the House what is involved in the concept of zero tolerance. There are three essential components to the Government's zero tolerance approach to crime, clear and determined focus on tackling those who are engaged in crime, a determination that the law enforcement agencies will be properly equipped and resourced to deal with crime, and a commitment to address, and where possible to ameliorate, the causes of crime.

As regards the targeting of particular criminal activity, the Deputy will be aware of the Criminal Justice Bill, 1997 which is before the House. This is clear, practical evidence of the Government's policy of zero tolerance towards crime — particularly, but not exclusively, towards drug trafficking. The Bill contains a series of very strong measures which are, regrettably, all too necessary as a response to those who inflict such harm on our community.

An aggressive policy is being pursued by the Garda Síochána in obtaining evidence to bring drug traffickers before the courts. This has led to significant seizures of illegal drugs, the disruption of organised networks and the charging of major players.

I am also conscious that any long-term anticrime policy must engage local communities in co-operation with the Garda Síochána. To elicit the views of the public, I established a National Crime Forum which held public sessions in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Sligo. This has given a unique opportunity to the general public to contribute openly to the debate on the wide range of issues which impact on crime and I look forward to receiving the report of the forum in due course Later in the year I intend to establish a permanent community-based crime council to continue this open approach to crime policy development and I will also publish a White Paper to address the priority issues.

The Deputy will be aware that the Courts Services Act, 1998 was signed into law on 16 April 1998, thus establishing an independent Courts Service. I am pursuing a similar course, in the case of prisons, and a fundamental review of the Probation and Welfare Service is also under way. The process of implementing the recommendations of an SMI review of the Garda Síochána has also started.

This year has also seen the introduction of a witness security programme in the area of serious organised crime, most notably in the drugs and money laundering areas. The programme ensures that the criminal justice system can take prosecutions in cases which, by their very nature, attract the most serious and hardened of criminals.
The Deputy will be aware also that the most extensive prisons building programme ever undertaken in the history of the State is under way and that there is also a firm commitment to raise the strength of the Garda to 12,000 within the lifetime of this Government.
The approach being taken, therefore, is a wide ranging and cohesive one which seeks to tackle various categories of criminals and to address the underlying causes of crime.