I thank the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea for being here although I am disappointed that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform cannot be here. This is not the first time I have raised the issue of street violence with the Minister and I regret to say I do not think it will be the last time.
Street violence and safety on our streets, at night time in particular, is of major concern to young people and to their parents. It has recently become a real concern to the gardaí, whose job it is to police our streets. Last weekend again saw vicious attacks in Cork and Dublin, with people being stabbed, slashed with broken bottles, punched and kicked. This was just another normal weekend in Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Galway.
I find it frustrating, as a public representative and legislator, that there seems to has been no improvement in safety on our streets in the three years I have been in this House, despite the Minister's talk of getting tough on street violence and the introduction of encouraging plans such as Operation Oíche and others. Last May, at the conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, the Garda commissioner himself admitted that the present policing measures are not having an impact on the level of public disorder and street violence. The person who has responsibility for policing is himself expressing real concerns and frustrations. This concern was backed up by the GRA at its recent conference when a clear frustration was evident at the level of street violence and public disorder, and the safety concerns of the gardaí themselves was stressed.
The Minister must take tough action and start by meeting the Garda Commissioner to devise new and more effective ways of policing our streets at night time and at weekends. There has been an increase in Garda visibility on the beat but this needs to increase further. When gardaí are present in numbers trouble does not seem to occur. The recent Cork jazz festival in my own city was a good example of this. There was a significant increase in Garda presence for that weekend and it was more or less trouble free.
I would also like to see the Minister address the issue of equipping the gardaí for night time duty on the beat. It is totally unacceptable that any member of our police force, male or female, should face the risk of being beaten up while on duty at night time. We should be looking at police forces across Europe and at how they are equipped to deal with violence at night time. We should not go so far as arming our police with guns but we should consider equipment such as extendable batons, stun guns and stab-proof vests. All of these options should be discussed by the Department and the Garda Commissioner.
I would like the Minister to report on the effect of the introduction of CCTV cameras throughout the country and on whether it has led to a decrease in street crime in the 14 areas where they are in use. Has this helped surveillance and policing generally?
The total solution does not lie with improved policing. Measures to tackle under-age drinking, which in Ireland is the worst in Europe although the Government has done nothing about it, to improve the courts system to have person's causing public disorder before a judge quickly and to decrease the general level of alcohol and drug use would all be major contributing factors to reducing the level of street crime.
However, improved policing is a good place to start if we want immediate results. We must improve dramatically the numbers on the beat and increase the Garda presence in our towns and cities, we must improve Garda equipment, for their own safety and the safety of the public and we must put aids, such as CCTV, in place in trouble spots in towns and cities.
In a civilised, modern democracy like Ireland people should not be in fear of being attacked when they go out for an evening. I recently spent five days in Manhattan and I found one could walk anywhere in the centre of New York city without fear of being attacked or harrassed at night time. That is because of tough policies introduced by the Mayor of New York in the last five or six years. If they can do it in New York, surely we can do it in cities like Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.
The present situation of fear among young people on our streets and among their parents who wait for them to come home from pubs and night clubs is unacceptable. It is time our, so called, zero tolerance Minister did something about it.