Adjournment Debate. - Joyriding Incidents.

I thank the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, for coming in to address this problem. This is the third time I have had to raise this matter on the Adjournment in the past six months. On the Order of Business, including yesterday, I raised it at least five times with the Taoiseach. It is becoming extremely exasperating for my northside constituents that this horrendous problem continues to plague our streets.

The Christmas and new year period in Dublin North-East and in many parts of Dublin North-Central were marked by a continuing upsurge in the menace of joyriding. Virtually every day, sometimes in the middle of the day, a number of these criminals caused terror and threatened the lives of residents in Coolock, Ayrfield, Donaghmede, Raheny and Kilbarrack. Whether through a lack of Garda resources or support from the Director of Public Prosecutions and the judicial system, or simply a lack of will on behalf of the Minister, the problem continues to exasperate and endanger the lives of my constituents.

In one six-day period, from Christmas Eve to New Year's Eve, four of my acquaintances on organisations with which I am involved had their cars wrecked, stolen or burned out. I speak from experience given that I was the victim of an attempted car theft on New Year's Eve. It is critical that the Minister acts before another of my constituents is seriously injured or killed by the thugs responsible for joyriding.

A number of tragic fatalities have been caused by these criminals in Dublin's northside in recent years. In 1998 three deaths were caused by similar criminals in Cork city. Since early last year I have asked the Taoiseach on at least five occasions on the Order of Business to take action. I appeal to the Minister and the Taoiseach to implement the Road Traffic Act, 1994, which I understand empowers the Garda to stop any car where it considers the driver is uninsured or under age. If that Act is not sufficiently effective, the Minister should amend it or introduce a new Bill to outlaw joyriding and associated car theft by imposing severe custodial sentences on the perpetrators. I am willing to draft the legislation if necessary and to ask for the Minister's support to put it through.

This type of crime and associated civil disorder would not be tolerated for one instant in the leafy middle class suburbs of Dublin's southside or of Cork's southside or many rural areas. My constituents and I want to know why it is, seemingly, tolerated in more deprived areas, particularly in my constituency. Why do the J and R districts of the Garda Síochána not seal off the areas affected? In the case of north Coolock it would simply mean sealing the Priorswood Road at both ends to prevent joyriding cars getting into these areas. I ask the Minister not to allow no-go areas to spring up again, as happened under some of his predecessors.

I accept that the gardaí in Dublin North-East, under superintendents Flynn and Long, are working hard at the problem but they are seriously under-resourced. There are fewer than 200 gardaí to police well over 90,000 people, which is extraordinary when compared with similar areas such as Limerick city. It is the Minister's responsibility to provide Garda resources. I urgently request him to transfer at least 60 extra gardaí to the Coolock, Raheny and Howth stations.

The Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government have huge responsibilities in regard to the underprovision of resources to combat the social problems which produce joyriding and major crimes. As a member of Dublin City Council I called for the implementation of major changes in traffic calming at Glin Road, St. Donagh's Road, Newbrook Road, Swan's Nest Road and the other main thoroughfares which these criminals use to terrorise my constituents at night. Public representatives such as myself and the Minister's colleague, Deputy Woods, the Dublin City Manager and Commissioner McHugh, who once looked after the area, should be called to a meeting with a view to supporting communities to root out this problem. I realise there are underlying social problems and that the Government has made some efforts such as support for the village centre at Darndale, Belcamp parish. Sometimes we get exasperated, for example, at the announcement for youth and sports grants when communities are required to come up with 5, 10, 20 or 30 per cent of the available moneys. We are talking about poorly resourced communities.

On behalf of Dublin northside, will the Minister take the necessary measures to stop this crime once and for all, provide extra Garda resources and bring together the social partners, under the commissioner, to look at radical ways to solve this problem? The commissioner will have confirmed that my constituency is the worst area in the country for this problem. Perhaps it was endemic in the area many years ago and that some of the people associated with it came out of prison. We do not want any more deaths on our streets. We want the problem solved once and for all.

I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to set out the Garda response to the anti-social criminal activity known as joy-riding. The problem of joy-riding is an example of the disorderly and unruly activities of a small minority of young people, most of whom come from backgrounds which may have disadvantages of various kinds. This is not to say that disadvantage excuses this anti-social behaviour, but it does highlight the need for an inter-agency approach to the problem.

In so far as the Garda is concerned, I assure the House that it has the power and resources to deal with the problem. I have been informed by the Garda authorities that the following measures have been taken by them. Higher visibility special patrols in several areas of Dublin's north side have been undertaken and they have prepared suitable plans to deal with incidents of joy-riding.

The vehicle stopping device known as the stinger is in use. This device is not automatically used in every case of joy-riding. The safety of the general public is the primary concern. An assessment must be made in each instance by a senior ranking Garda as to whether it is safe to use the stinger in a given circumstance. With regard to the area referred to by the Deputy, a number of gardaí have received instruction in the use and operation of stinger and this equipment has been used on suitable occasions. Use is being made of section 41 of the Road Traffic Act, 1994, which allows the Garda to stop and seize vehicles it believes to be driven by drivers who by reason of their age are ineligible to hold a driving licence.

Gardaí have met with Dublin Corporation and as a result additional vehicle restriction measures have been introduced in the Darndale area. Gardaí have also met with residents' groups and Dublin Corporation with a view to extending traffic calming measures to the Glin area. The Garda air support unit has been used successfully in a number of cases involving unauthorised taking of vehicles. In its ongoing campaign against joy-riding, the Garda is deeply conscious of the need to secure the support of the public in the worst affected areas. This is why, as well as apprehending offenders, the Garda will continue to meet with community groups who are concerned about the activities of unruly groups.

I support and fund programmes, generally referred to as youth diversion schemes, which are community based and which are designed to draw young people away from crime, including joy-riding. The schemes operate in the following areas in Dublin's north side: Darndale, north inner city, Hardwicke Street, Phoenix Park area and Ballymun. Through the combined efforts of local agencies, these projects aim at identifying the young people at risk and assessing intervention programmes to service their needs; promoting productive and creative use of the target groups leisure time with a view to enabling their integration into mainstream youth activity groups; and liaising closely with parents, schools, other agencies and the community in general. The programmes are aimed predominantly at young people and involve various activities, sporting, counselling, informal group work, education, group/family and after care programmes, anti-vandalism and pro-environment programmes and other activities deemed appropriate. As I stated earlier, these projects are designed to prevent crime, to deter young people from becoming involved in criminal or anti-social behaviour and to improve the quality of life for young people.

I assure the House that the Garda will not let up in its continuing campaign against joy-riding and will continue to work with the local community, local authorities and State services so that all possible steps are taken to deter such behaviour.

It goes without saying that the unlawful taking of a motor vehicle is a serious criminal offence. With regard to the possibility of Assistant Commissioner McHugh meeting a number of local Deputies to discuss this problem, which Deputy Broughan stated was on the increase again, that is something to which I personally would be amenable. I will certainly ask the Assistant Commissioner if he will be prepared to facilitate such a meeting in order that the issue may be discussed.

I assure the Deputy that the Taoiseach, to whom he referred, has discussed this particular problem with me on a number of occasions and that he, too, is concerned about it.

The number of gardaí in the force when I became Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was in the region of 10,700. It has now risen to over 11,200. The Government is determined during its period of office to increase the number in the force to the maximum allowed by regulation, which is 12,000. That obviously would allow for some flexibility in relation to the placement of gardaí, in this instance in Dublin's north side.

The Deputy will be aware that there is a most ambitious prison building programme under way and there should be an additional 1,000 places in the system by the end of this year. The Government is committed to practically doubling the number of prison spaces during its term of office. That should have an effect on crime levels and the crime of joy-riding.

However, in the final analysis I do not think the Deputy would pretend – I certainly will not – that the be all and end all of everything is the criminal justice system. The need for an inter-agency approach to this problem in disadvantaged areas is one which has been expounded on numerous occasions. I assure the Deputy that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will do its utmost to try to resolve the difficulty in so far as it is in a position to do so. The co-operation of all agencies should be forthcoming.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.46 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 4 February 1999.