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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Jan 2002

Vol. 547 No. 1

Private Members' Business. - Crime Levels: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann, conscious of the promises made by the Government to cut crime down to zero-tolerance levels and mindful of the need for ordinary citizens to feel safe while going about their daily lives and the fact that many Irish people are living in fear of violent attack, borne out by the recently published Garda Annual Report which shows a dramatic increase in the incidents of violent crime and highlights the failure of the Government to implement its promised zero-tolerance approach, condemns:

–the attempts by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to portray Ireland as a place of falling crime rates by focusing on so-called "headline offence" figures which ignore the occurrence of assaults and woundings;

–the failure of this Government to address the problem of violent assault which resulted in over 10,400 reported assaults to an Garda Síochána in 2000, and which includes a 131% increase in assaults causing harm;

–the inaction of the Minister in combating the prevalence of rape, which now averages six per week, violent assaults causing harm that number 5 per day and serious drug offences, of which there are four every day of the year;

–the way in which the present administration has allowed a situation to develop whereby only one in four crimes are reported to the Gardaí, thereby damaging the reputation of the force and diminishing their status within the wider community;

–the refusal to publish preliminary figures for 2001 which would provide a more up-to-date picture of crime in this country but which are being withheld from public scrutiny for brazenly party political reasons;

–the contempt with which the Government holds the business community, half of whose enterprises were victims of crime in 2000 and who have witnessed a 19% increase in crime since the Government came to power;

–the lack of determination to address lawlessness which, in 2001, led to 5,000 people in Dublin needing overnight hospital care following violent attacks; and

–the Government for failing to make our streets safe, for the dramatic escalation in violence and for betraying the promises it made to the electorate prior to the general election on this critical issue.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Coveney, Howlin and Gormley.

During the Government's term of office there has been an unprecedented increase in street violence. The vast majority of people living in this State no longer believe they are safe if they walk alone in their neighbourhoods at night.

The report of the Garda Commissioner for 2000 records 10,933 instances of assault, excluding sexual assaults, and acknowledges that in 2000 there was a dramatic 133% increase in assaults causing harm or serious injury. In the same year the Garda recorded a 19% increase in murders and manslaughters combined and the reporting to them of 549 sexual assaults, more than ten sexual assaults every week. A total of 11,472 assaults, both physical and sexual, took place in 2000.

We know that crime in this State is substantially under-reported. The 2001 report published by the National Crime Council and prepared by the Institute of Criminology in UCD acknowledges that a substantial portion of crime committed in the State goes unreported. A crime survey conducted by Fine Gael in nine Dublin constituencies in 2001, to which 4,000 respondents replied, recorded that 25% of crimes committed went unreported. That is a conservative estimate because the Institute of Criminology stated it believes that only one out of every four crimes committed is actually reported. As a consequence the total number of actual assaults which occurred during 2000 is substantially underestimated in the Garda figures. This is confirmed by information obtainable from Dublin hospitals. In 2001, 5,000 people attended accident and emergency units in Dublin hospitals alone seeking treatment for injuries suffered as a result of an assault.

We are all entitled to lead our lives free of the fear that we or any member of our family, or any neighbour or friend would become the victim of gratuitous violence. We are all entitled to go about our daily business free of the fear that as a consequence of street violence we could suffer such serious injury as could destroy our lives. Those who visit this State are also entitled to know that if they spend time here, they are not at risk of the type of barbaric attack which left Guido Nasi, an Italian student, with permanent physical and intellectual disability and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Those who come here of different ethnic origin are entitled to an assurance that they will not be bludgeoned to death on our streets and suffer the appalling fate of the young Chinese student who died so tragically last Friday.

The Fine Gael Dublin crime survey records that 93% of Dubliners do not believe they are safe walking in the city centre at night and 71% do not believe they are even safe walking in their neighbourhoods at night. Some 90% of Dubliners worry that their son or daughter may be assaulted at night. It is the young people of this country who, in the past two years, have become targeted victims of gratuitous and mindless violence.

The mantra of zero tolerance used by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, as a clever sound bite during the 1997 election to attract support for the Fianna Fáil Party has been totally exposed and discredited as nothing more than self-serving, misleading and cynical election campaign rhetoric. Rather than stamping out street violence, the Minister has sat idly by watching it spread throughout the country. He has failed to ensure the regular presence of gardaí on the beat. He has delayed the installation of CCTV cameras in cities and towns throughout the country and ignored requests from local street traders and local communities that they be urgently installed. He has failed to establish night courts to enable the Garda immediately bring before the courts the perpetrators of assault. He has failed to take the action necessary to ensure victims of assault and other crimes are provided with the help, services and information they require. He is deliberately concealing the Garda crime figures for 2001, which show a further increase in assaults and street violence, and pretending they are not available to him, although under the PULSE system they were readily available to him very shortly after the start of this year.

The Minister has also stayed silent—

He is present.

—while backbenchers of Fianna Fáil have stirred the political pot and make irresponsible public statements, which are contributing not only to an increase in racism in the State but which can be regarded as lightning conductors to racist attacks.

The Deputy must be joking.

In the past 18 months there has been an upsurge in incidents of racism in this State and in racist inspired assaults. Following the Minister taking up office, there was a substantial increase in the number of persons coming to this State claiming political asylum and seeking refugee status. It was not until the Minister's fourth year in office that he finally put in place administrative procedures and mechanisms to enable asylum applications to be efficiently processed. As a consequence, thousands of people have been here for many years awaiting a final decision on their asylum applications. They are people who wanted to work at a time when we had substantial job vacancies, which many Irish citizens resident here were unwilling to fill, but who are compelled by Government to remain dependent on housing provided by the State, so-called direct provision, and minimum social welfare payments. The extent of the State's expenditure on asylum seekers, in accordance with our international obligations, has fuelled resentment and negative public reaction from some people.

As we head down the road to a general election, racism is being scandalously and disgracefully fuelled and contributed to by statements made by Fianna Fáil members of this House and by Fianna Fáil election candidates and councillors. It seems that Fianna Fáil has decided, as a political ploy, to play the racial card. I will give one example of this. Last weekend the Sunday Independent and other newspapers reported Deputy O'Flynn as saying, enough is enough, he has no problem with genuine refugee and asylum seekers being allowed start new lives here, but the overwhelming evidence is that the bulk of people arriving on our shores are economic migrants and nothing more. Deputy O'Flynn went on to claim that the country was being held hostage by spongers, wasters and con men. Obviously for local political reasons Deputy O'Flynn feels this type of language and statement will benefit his re-election campaign.

The Minister should distance himself from that.

Deputy Shatter should come down to Cork. Deputy Coveney, who is sitting beside him, should tell him what is happening.

I wonder what Deputy O'Flynn's reaction would have been if a member of the American Senate or Congress had referred to Irish people, so-called illegals, arriving in the United States in the 1980s, in similar terms.

The Deputy is obviously insulated from what is happening.

If Deputy O'Flynn has such a serious view on this issue, why in 1997 or 1998 did he not—

Does the Deputy want to see more crime on the streets?

The Deputy should not make what he said last weekend even worse than it is. It is bad enough and he should not add to it.

What Deputy O'Flynn said is worse than what Deputy Gildea said.

If Deputy O'Flynn has such a serious view on this issue, why in 1997 or 1998 did he not publicly propose new laws and mechanisms to officially process asylum applications and to provide for a proper visa system such as the American green card system, which would enable those who are not truly refugees but who wish to work here to legally come here to do so? Has Deputy O'Flynn given any thought to how many innocent citizens of this State, visitors to this State and those awaiting decision on asylum applications may be put at risk by his inflammatory and ill-considered remarks which encourage incidents or racist and mindless violence? Violence on our streets must end. Statements which incite violence should not be tolerated. There must be more emphasis on community policing, a more visible presence of gardaí on the beat and new structures created to enable local communities, in dialogue with the gardaí, influence local policing priorities to ensure the real crime problems affecting their areas are properly addressed.

The Minister has proved himself incapable of doing what is required. He is even incapable of acknowledging the true extent of the escalating problem of street violence which must be addressed. He is past his ministerial use by date. In order to reclaim our streets and make them safe, the implementation of new policies by a new Government under a different Minister is essential and it is in the national and public interest.

Mr. Coveney

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I thank Deputy Shatter for tabling this motion. This is not the first time I wish to challenge the Government and its record on street crime and violent public disorder. At the beginning of this week in Cork, we witnessed another vicious attack on a young man from Togher in my constituency. It happened in the early hours of the morning while he was walking home to catch a taxi. That young man is in hospital fighting for his life. Is this yet another extreme example of the results of the zero tolerance policy on crime of the Government, a policy on which it was elected?

Anyone affected by or any of the bodies involved with victims of street crime or public disorder will say that the problem has got steadily worse in recent years. Groups such as Victim Support will confirm this. Consultant doctors in accident and emergency departments will point to a significant increase in the numbers accessing A&E wards, particularly at the weekends, following violent incidents.

The fact that these assaults have become more and more vicious over the years is equally worrying. The official figures from the Garda report for 2000 show that serious assaults rose by an astonishing 131%, from 737 cases in the previous year to 1,703 cases in 2000. These are only the reported cases. Many people would claim that the increase in real terms is far more startling. As Deputy Shatter has pointed out, many incidents are unreported. Will the Minister explain this? I believe that the assault figures for the year 2001 will show an even more dramatic increase. I appeal to the Minister to publish these figures immediately. I understand that they are available.

The rise in street crime is a challenge facing policy makers. We are failing in that challenge because the policies are failing. We must be more effective in combating the underlying causes of thuggery, intimidation, racism and disorderly behaviour and we must police the streets to ensure the safety of our citizens. I spoke about this issue on local radio this morning and, to my astonishment, a 75-year-old lady from Bandon in County Cork telephoned to describe how she had been beaten up by a group of 13-year-old boys in the last week, in a quiet rural town. It is time to introduce and resource a significant increase in the number of gardaí, particularly at key times and in populated areas. We must also expose and attempt to tackle the known causes of violent behaviour. The public are becoming almost con ditioned to an acceptance of a more violent society and, with the resources available to the State, this is totally unacceptable.

More effective policing with better resources is far from the only solution but it is an important start. Other measures can be taken, such as greater use of close circuit television across the country. This is a proven asset to the Garda in reducing their response time to violent incidents. There should be more gardaí on the beat at night to defuse problems before they arise. How many times has this Opposition called for a significant increase in gardaí on the beat? We need to re-assess the equipment available to the Garda to better protect themselves and the public.

Alcohol and drug abuse or addiction among young people is often the main source of problems, particularly in Dublin. This Government has not introduced a policy which has had an impact on reducing the amount of alcohol consumed. Ireland, to our shame, continues to have the worst teenage alcohol problem in the EU. We need effective policies to support families and educate children into a change of mindset about binge-drinking and drinking to get drunk. We need to introduce a mandatory identity card scheme instead of the failed voluntary scheme introduced by this Government. I rest my case.

I am delighted to have the opportunity at the start of probably the last session of this Dáil to address this important issue of crime on our streets.

As virtually every Member of this House will be able to testify, there is probably no issue other than crime that so concerns local communities. Those of us who have been listening to communities, in our constituencies and elsewhere, have heard the demands of ordinary people that this issue be addressed. There is no aspect of crime that concerns the public more than the issue of violence. Thefts from cars are a major irritant, having your house burgled is distressing, but these pale into insignificance when compared to the impact that violent assault can leave on an individual and his family.

Despite all the lavish promises made by Deputy O'Donoghue when he was in Opposition, during his term as Minister the incidence of those most important crimes, violent crimes, murder, manslaughter, rape and assault has increased significantly. Last week there was another first that we hoped we would never see – the first apparently racially-motivated murder in this country. I have something else to say about this. I hope that the Minister has not volunteered to share his time in this debate with the Deputy who is sitting behind him.

In the early days of this Government, the newly appointed Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, spoke on a motion on crime. According to the Official Report of 18 November 1997 he stated:

Throughout the term of office of this Government, the same vigour, commitment and enlightenment which was a feature of Fianna Fail's role in Opposition will be brought to bear on the fight against crime from the Government benches . . . The final test of whether the strategy was or was not implemented will be this: whether the people, following the completion of the term of office of this Government, feel safer in their homes.

By the test the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform set for himself in November 1997 he has been a total failure. The sorry legacy of this Minister is that after his five years at the helm, most people feel less safe walking the streets and in their homes than they did when he came into office. Any objective analysis will show this. Despite the claims that he made about bringing crime back to 1950s levels, this is not the experience of life on the ground. People see themselves enduring an unending and unacceptable level of murder, gangland shootings, intimidation, drug dealing, joyriding and public disorder.

When the crime figures for the year 2000 were eventually released, almost 13 months late, in the middle of this month, there was no surprise that the figures indicated an increase of over 130% in the number of violent assaults. The only one surprised was the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Like most of his ministerial colleagues he has grown increasingly smug and complacent in office, more inclined to pay attention of the smooth blandishments of his own spin-doctors than to listen to the concerns of real people. Figures mask cruel realities.

I was a few minutes late for the debate because I received a call from someone who knew that the debate was taking place. The call was from the daughter of a woman who was murdered on 14 February 2000. The murder victim was Nancy Nolan. Her daughter asked me to raise this issue in the House tonight. The reality is that her mother was murdered by a man on day-release from Castlerea Prison, although the governor had said there was a danger that he would commit murder and local people had indicated their fear. How did this happen? There is still no explanation for victims, who seem to have no role in the scheme of things put forward by this Minister and his policy of zero tolerance.

All of the anecdotal evidence is that the situation has worsened significantly since the appalling figures for the year 2000. The Minister was able to admit, during a debate with me on "Morning Ireland" on the day after the figures were released, that he was currently in possession of the preliminary figures for last year. What he said is on the record. He conceded, under pressure, that the figures for violent assault for last year would show another increase on the appalling increase of the previous year. However, his claim that he could not say what the actual increase was, because he did not have the figures with him, beggars belief.

I believe that the figures for 2001 will, unfortunately for those concerned, show another substantial and worrying increase in the level of violent assault over and above the 130% increase revealed in the Garda report for 2000. The Minister is only too well aware of the extent of that increase. His general amnesia is due solely to his desire to keep those figures from the public until after the next general election.

The delay in producing Garda crime figures is unsatisfactory and difficult to justify, given the introduction of PULSE. It is not acceptable that there should be a 13 month delay in producing the report for 2000. If delays are tolerated, we can less effectively respond to the changes that are happening and affecting the community. People have a right to accurate and timely information. The failure of the Minister to alert the public to the fact that criminal damage offences had been transferred from the category of serious offences when those figures were published was, at best, an effort to withhold information and, at worst, a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. This sleight of hand enabled the Minister to boast of a decrease of 9.8% in the level of serious crime in 2000 whereas comparing like with like indicates that there was an increase of 2%.

The use of the term "headline offence" rather than the former term "serious indictable crime" was also an issue that arose in the debate on "Morning Ireland" between the Minister and myself. The Minister had the opportunity to clarify the situation, and the fact that he chose not to do so says much about his commitment to openness and accountability. Such manipulation of the figures would be unacceptable at any time but it is particularly outrageous in the run up to a general election in which crime will be a major issue. The situation is that there has been a 13 month delay in producing crime figures for 2000. Then it emerged that these figures had been doctored. We know the Minister, by his own admission, is in possession of preliminary figures for the first half of 2001 and he concedes that these will show a further increase in the level of violent assault, over the appalling increase between 1999 and 2000, but he refuses to release the figures.

We must treat all official figures for crime with some degree of caution as there is evidence that a considerable amount of crime goes unreported and that this, rather than an overall reduction in crime rates, might account for some apparent improvement in some of the crime figures. Statistics published by the Central Statistics Office suggest that crime is considerably higher than the official figures would indicate. Statistics produced by the office in November 1999, based on the findings of its national household survey, show that approximately 12% of households, or one in eight households, are affected by crime each year, One victim in 30 had been burgled. More than 5% of households with a motor vehicle either had the vehicle stolen or something stolen from it and 5% of households had suffered from vandalism in the previous 12 months.

Exposure to crime was highest in Dublin, where close to 20% of householders had been victims of one of the crimes surveyed. The survey found that approximately one in every 100 people aged 18 years or over had been victims of non-violent theft. Violent theft and assault, other than domestic violence or sexual assault, had each affected one in every 200 adults. Young adults were found to be at risk with over 3%, that is, three out of every 100, claiming that they had been victims of theft or assault. There is strong evidence in the survey to support the suggestion that crime is not reported – 95% of car thefts were reported but in the same survey less than 40% of cases of vandalism were reported to the Garda. We must deal with these issues, not the imaginary world of the 1950s that the Minister would have us believe we inhabit. Unless we are willing to understand and face the truth we will not be able to provide adequate solutions to the situation that most concerns our people.

The Labour Party believes that the only way to defeat crime and vandalism is through a proper partnership between the community and the Garda Síochána. The community cannot fight crime alone and the Garda Síochána cannot defeat crime without the full involvement of the community. That is why we have published comprehensive proposals which are based, as I have often acknowledged, on the analysis of policing in Northern Ireland by the Patton Commission. We are determined to forge a new relationship between the gardaí and the communities which they serve. Communities must be involved in deciding policing priorities in consultation with the gardaí and in being an extra arm for the Garda Síochána in working on the ground, in understanding the needs of communities and identifying those who are committing crime.

We believe that structural reform is required to restore the bond of trust that has broken down in some communities. That is the reason we published our document on the establishment of an independent Garda authority and published a Bill to establish a Garda ombudsman. Among the proposals in that comprehensive document is the establishment of county policing liaison committees that would mirror the work currently done, for example, by strategic policy committees in every other area of operation, by bringing community groups, elected representatives and the gardaí together in the fight against crime. This idea is not novel. It works and is effective everywhere. However, this Minister is so deaf to good proposals that emanate from this side of the House that he challenged me on radio to instance one proposal I had made, even though one such proposal is currently before the House in draft legislative form.

The litany of crime that unfolds daily in our newspapers can be seen by any independent objective observer. I have only looked at the newspapers from the beginning of this year but I have listed pages of appalling headlines. I do not have the time to list all of them but I will instance the following: "Three attempted abductions reported in Cork" and "Man dies after stabbing at New Year's Eve party" from The Irish Times, 2 January; “Barman kicked to death was easy prey” from The Irish Times, 5 January; “Limerick hotel employee murdered in robbery” from The Irish Times, 7 January; “Drug-assisted rapes double over one year” from the Irish Independent, 7 January; “Listowel family traumatised by masked vigilantes at their house” from The Irish Times, 10 January; “Teen claims man raped her in park” from the Irish Independent, 15 January; “Prisoner was stabbed to death ‘for snoring'” from the Irish Independent, 16 January; “Teen jailed for Garda attack” and “Youth charged with murder” from the Irish Independent, 17 January; “Man fatally stabbed in Dundalk” from The Irish Times, 21 January; “Gardaí appeal for witnesses after death of Chinese student” from The Irish Times, 26 January; “Garda investigate three Dublin bank robberies”, “Attack victim on life support machine”, “Three held after Limerick shooting” and “Appeal for witnesses to fatal stabbing in Finglas” from The Irish Times, 29 January. The latter article referred to the sixth violent death so far this year. According to the measure the Minister set himself in November 1997, he is an abysmal failure.

I thank the other Opposition parties for sharing time on this important issue. The Green Party strongly supports the motion, which quite properly puts the Government and, in particular, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the dock for their abysmal record in the area of crime prevention. The Minister for so-called zero tolerance has become the Minister for zero results. He has failed to deliver on any of his promises.

The record speaks for itself. The motion refers to the Garda annual report for the year 2000. Violent crimes have increased dramatically with a 131% rise in assaults causing harm; six rapes a week; four serious drug offences every day; and 5,000 people needing overnight hospital care following violent attacks. The latter statistic sticks in my mind because it is the one with which I am confronted daily as a public representative in Dublin. I receive many calls about attacks, particularly on young people, but this is only part of the picture. We do not have the crime figures for 2001, even though the Minister admitted on RTE that there are approximate figures, which he will not release. Perhaps he will confirm to the House what we already know – the crime figures are even worse for the past year.

Statistics are also available which indicate that only one in four crimes is ever reported. I became aware of this in a real and graphic way recently. I met a Chinese gentleman who works as a cleaner in Leinster House and commiserated with him on the violent attack on one of his countrymen that resulted in a tragic death. He said such attacks happen all the time and that he had been attacked the previous evening in a shop where he also works. A gentleman came into the shop and bought something. He then said to the Chinese man that he had given him ten euro, but had only received the change of five euro. The Chinese man said he would check the closed circuit television footage and was able to prove the customer was lying. As the Irish man left, he turned around and hit the Chinese man full in the face. I could see the bruise, but he did not report the attack to the Garda. Many racist attacks go unreported in Dublin, a city which is becoming very violent and resentful.

We do not need statistics to tell us what we can see with our own eyes, particularly in Dublin. There are growing levels of casual violence on the streets involving young people who are usually drunk out of their minds. The European Union issued a report in 2001 which pointed out that Ireland tops the European league for under age drinking. This not only poses tremendous health problems for Ireland, as evidenced by the Minister for Health and Children's statement that in 1999 alcohol related illness cost the State £1.7 billion, it also poses significant social and criminal problems.

Dr. Patricia Casey, professor of psychiatry at UCD recently stated this increase in alcohol consumption nationwide is one of the principal factors in increasing levels of crime. There has been a 35% increase in consumption since 1993 according to a Department of Health and Children study conducted in August 2001. The Garda annual report for the year 2000 referred to juvenile crime and stated:

Referrals in relation to drink-related offences increased by 332 when compared to 1999. There was an increase of 24.8% over 1999 in the number of referrals relating to intoxication in a public place. Referrals relating to the purchase, possession and consumption of alcohol increased by 121, an 18.3% increase. Referrals for serious assaults increased by 8% and there was one referral for murder during 2000.

We, in this House, have a responsibility to tackle the root causes of crime. We need to consider the phrase from the old Labour Party manifesto, "Tough on Crime. Tough on the Causes of Crime." Alcohol plays an important role in crime. Since drinking hours were extended the problem has worsened. We must face up to this. Super pubs are part of our culture, but people cannot be monitored in pubs because they are too full. The drinking culture is glorified. For example, when a visiting dignitary comes to Ireland the first thing we do is bring him or her to a pub, hand him or her a pint of Guinness, take a photograph, clap ourselves on the back and say, "Aren't we great fellows?" This drinking culture defines us a nation. The Tánaiste used a State aeroplane to travel to the opening of an off-licence. I do not know to which I object more – the use of State funds for such a trip or the glorification of the drink culture. It behoves the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to do something about this problem. Those responsible for giv ing drink to minors or to people who are already intoxicated must be met head on.

There is resentment among the public because there is a perception that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. People from deprived areas are the ones who end up in our jails. Tax fraud, the crime of the rich, is one of the most serious crimes not listed in the Garda annual report. The Garda states it is not listed because the Revenue Commissioners deal with this area, but tax fraud is an immense problem. There is no doubt the feeling that the rich are getting away with robbery feeds into the general growing lawlessness in the State.

The Comptroller and Auditor General published his annual report for the year 2000 in September 2001 in which he pointed out that there were 56 settlements between the Revenue and taxpayers of more than £100,000, but none of them was prosecuted. The report also referred to payments to the Revenue by 24 individuals who held 124 Ansbacher accounts, which totalled £4.64 million. The Tánaiste is still investigating these accounts. I hope the names of the account holders are published before the general election as they would make for very interesting reading. The average payment by the 24 individuals was £200,000 and none of them was prosecuted. Why not? The banks also engaged in massive tax fraud amounting to £200 million and, again, there were no prosecutions. Political parties have participated in pick-me-up schemes. The Comptroller and Auditor General reported settlements in 34 of the smaller pick-me-up cases at an average of £17,300.

The Minister promised a great deal. He came on the scene as the Minister for zero tolerance, the Rudy Giuliani of Caherciveen, who was going to do to criminals what George Bush promised to do to the Taliban. He was going to do everything, but has done very little. He could take one simple action to make Dublin a safer place. He should put more gardaí on the beat because people are reassured when they see gardaí. Dubliners who have visited New York feel safer walking the streets there or taking a subway than walking along O'Connell Street. That is down to the Minister who has failed in his duties. This will become an election issue. People will see what the Minister promised and that he has delivered very little.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"–welcomes the substantial decrease in serious crime since the Government took office and the ‘zero tolerance' measures taken by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in bringing this about;

–commends the unprecedented level of resources that has been made available to the Garda Síochána including the increase of IR£251 million, 318.7 million – 53% – in the Garda Síochána Vote, from IR£472 million, 599.3 million in 1997 to IR£723 million, 918 million in the current year;

–acknowledges that the strength of the Garda Síochána now exceeds 11,700, an all-time high, which represents an increase of approximately 900 gardaí since the Government took office, and is on target to reach the planned strength of 12,000 this year;

–notes the important steps that have been taken in relation to dealing effectively with crime and crime-related issues through the establishment of the State's first ever National Crime Council;

–endorses the measures that have been adopted on the basis of the additional funding in the sum of IR£87 million, 110.5 million allocated under the National Development Plan 2000-2006 for crime prevention directed towards young offenders;

–commends the Minister's legislative record since taking office in enacting an unprecedented 42 Bills and, particularly, his reform of the criminal law;

–notes the social crime prevention activities supported by this Government as an important intervention in the lives of ‘at risk' young persons, not least the significant numerical expansion in Garda youth diversion projects, from 12 in 1997 to 64 at present;

–welcomes the specific measures by this Government to deal with the problem of violence against women, including the establishment of a high-level, interdisciplinary, multi-agency steering committee chaired by a Minister of State;

–welcomes the measures taken at community level to deal with local crime problems, including the expansion of the Garda CCTV programme, for which 15 million has been allocated over the period 2001 to 2003;

–acknowledges the measures taken by the Garda Síochána to facilitate the reporting of crime, particularly among members of ethnic minorities, through its quality customer service initiative and the establishment of a Garda racial and intercultural office;

–notes that enhanced Garda enforcement of the law has brought about increased detection of offences;

–acknowledges the improvements in recent years in the service to victims of crime, including the provision of additional funding to service providers;

–recognises the long-term benefits which PULSE will contribute to the analysis of crime statistics;

–recognises the provision of substantial additional resources to other areas of the criminal justice system to underpin the work of the Garda Síochána, including increasing the number of prison places by 1,207 to date, with approximately 700 additional closed places on the way;

–acknowledges the significant structural reforms being made to the criminal justice system through, for example, the appointment of additional judges, the establishment of the Courts Service and the Prisons Service and the significant progress that is being made in reforming the administration of the Garda Síochána, particularly through the strategic management initiative;

–acknowledges the successful operations undertaken by the Criminal Assets Bureau and the excellent results it has secured;

–recognises the underpinning of the work of the Garda Síochána through the Government's unprecedented and comprehensive programme of criminal law reform;

–welcomes the high level of support among the community for the Garda Síochána; and

–approves the Government's continuing commitment to give priority to resourcing structural and legislative measures to build on the significant advances that have been made in the fight against crime and, in particular, to tackle effectively the problem of street violence."

I welcome the debate as it provides an opportunity to address misinformation about crime which has gained currency since the recent publication of the Garda annual report for 2000. It also provides me with an opportunity to outline what has been done to tackle crime since I took office in 1997. More importantly, it affords an opportunity to state once again in no uncertain terms that now, as always, certain forms of offending are a source of concern. It is essential the House should have the opportunity of debating the negatives as well as the positives, that it should know not just about the Government's record of achievement, but how it proposes to maintain that into the future.

It is also important that the Opposition should have the opportunity of sharing with us how, in the unlikely event that it gets the opportunity of doing so in Government, it would deal with the forms of offending that give cause for concern and what it would do that would differ from the inertia which it displayed on crime when in office. That was a period during which crime levels were far worse than they are now, no matter what way one looks at it.

The terms of the Opposition motion are disappointing. They contain not even the glimmer of one idea as to how to tackle crime. They record no appreciation of the efforts of those involved in the criminal justice system which have proved so effective in many ways in recent years. The motion does little more than replace the rainbow coalition's policy of complacency while in Government with one of complaint while in Opposition. That approach stands in stark contrast to the series of measures set out in my amendment to the motion and to this Government's determination to continue to ensure that adequate resources are made available to the criminal justice system.

We will continue our programme of increasing the number of gardaí to its highest level ever of 12,000. We will continue to ensure that the revolving prison door remains firmly shut. We will introduce tougher legislation to deal with crime, especially in the area of street violence. On past performance, it would be forlorn to hope that these policies will get much support from the Opposition parties, but I believe the vast majority of people recognise they are vitally necessary to combat crime.

I will deal with the facts about crime and especially the misinformation which has been put about concerning the most recent Garda annual report. Deputies will be aware that the Garda Síochána changed the system of crime presentation as part of the PULSE information technology project. This change was not the result of ministerial or departmental intervention. What happened and the reasons for it are as follows.

For many decades crime statistics were presented in two main tables titled "indictable offences" and "non-indictable offences". However, this classification system and its sub-categorisations became increasingly inadequate in describing the complex, modern criminal activities reported or known to the Garda Síochána in recent years.

For instance, the previous decade witnessed an unprecedented amount of change in criminal law, with new criminal offences being created by approximately 40 statutes in the 1990s. These legislative developments presented a significant challenge to the Garda Síochána in the presentation of its crime statistics. The computer system in use prior to the introduction of PULSE was capable of counting all these new and modified offences but lacked the flexibility required to show them as separate entities in the crime statistics. For example, a separate heading for stalking or harassment offences could not be shown in Garda annual reports prior to 2000. Rather, they had to be shown as other indictable offences.

The introduction of PULSE provided a considerable improvement in this respect, and the new classification of "headline offences" contains ten sub-divisions which offer a comprehensive description of modern criminal activity in a much more user-friendly and amenable style and form. Rather than viewing this development in negative terms, the opposite is the case. The introduction of the new classification of headline offences is progressive, not regressive, and is the first step on the road to greater transparency in the preparation and presentation of crime statistics.

It is important to underline that the long-standing crime counting rules have remained unchanged throughout the process of transition to the new PULSE platform. These rules are long established in Ireland and many European countries. When we speak of changes in the compilation of crime statistics in 2000, we refer primarily to the manner of presentation of data and not to willed changes in recording practice.

It is important that it be understood that exact and exacting comparisons between the crime figures as published in the annual report for 2000 and previous years are not possible. Although precise comparisons are not possible, it would be a further misrepresentation of the facts for me to pretend that broad comparisons are invalid. The 2000 report states that "crime categorised as headline crime . . . reflects to a major degree what, in the past, was defined as indictable crime". Despite the misinformation that has been put about, the report for 2000 shows a further significant reduction in serious crime.

That is not true. It is misleading and a falsehood.

In this respect, 73,276 headline offences were reported or known to the Garda Síochána in 2000, compared with 81,274 indictable offences in 1999.

The Minister should come into the real world.

On this basis, serious crime levels fell in 2000 by 9.8% on the previous year and by 27.3% since 1996.

We know that is not true.

There are examples which illustrate the need for caution in making comparisons.


Much has been made, for example, of the exclusion of criminal damage offences from the headline offence category. Such offences would have been included before this as indictable crime, but the conclusions that have been drawn about the fact that they are now in the non-headline category are very wide of the mark.

My advice from the Garda authorities is that, prior to the availability of the PULSE system, a significant percentage of criminal damage offences did not feature in the statistics. Had they been included, they would have been categorised as non-indictable. The argument, therefore, that 10,000 offences, a proportion of which would be criminal damage, have been moved from the headline to the non-headline offence category does not stand up to scrutiny.

Will the Minister take a question?

There are other examples which serve to underline the need for caution in comparing current statistics with pre-PULSE statistics. There are, for example, about 1,500 drug-related crimes included in the headline crime category for 2000 which, heretofore, would have been included in the non-indictable rather than indictable offence category.

Will the Minister yield?

The Deputy will have his chance tomorrow to sum up.

Carlow-Kilkenny): Does the Minister wish to yield?

I have no intention of wasting my time. I did not ask Deputy Howlin to produce one piece of evidence relating to his party's performance in Government.

The Minister misinformed the House.

I will not get involved with nonsensical questions.

The Minister can hide all he likes.

I note that the Opposition motion calls for publication of what are referred to as preliminary figures for 2001.

The Minister's officials had a hand in this.

This is spin.

No Minister for Justice, to my knowledge, has published what are referred to as preliminary figures provided by the Garda Síochána. The reason which has been given for this in the past is that such preliminary figures are almost invariably subject to adjustment. I said in a recent radio interview that the probability was that the number of headline offences for 2001 would be down but that the figure for assaults would probably be up.

The Minister has the figures. He is hiding them.

A murder a day.

That information was based on preliminary figures for the first six months of the year. I was cautious then and I am equally cautious now in drawing firm conclusions about statistical trends for the year as a whole.

The Minister should publish the figures.

The information, on the basis of contact with the Garda authorities in recent days, is that although they are not in a position to produce statistics for the year as a whole—

Why not?

—that someone is prepared to stand over, the likelihood is that there will be some positives as well as some negatives in them.

The Minister should produce the figures. We have had enough obfuscation.

I can understand why the gardaí too are cautious about these figures. The final statistics produced in the Garda annual report for 2000 – those are the figures which were recently published – showed significant departures from preliminary information that had been gathered during the year. Although I cannot make any unqualified statements about the likely crime figures for the year recently ended—

The Minister will not do so until after the election.

—what I will not do is try to suggest that simply because the crime situation has improved substantially by comparison with the situation that prevailed when the Government took office, it therefore follows that the crime story is a seamless good news story. I vehemently reject the suggestion that I arranged for the doctoring of figures or that I am involved in concealment.

A murder a day.

This slur from Deputy Howlin ill fits his character but I am afraid it is consistent with the contribution of the Labour Party in so many areas in the House over recent years as they grasp at straws.

The House is being insulted.

With regard to a category of offence which has been the subject of particular focus, that is, violent assault, it would be less than sensible for me to pretend that simply because it represents a very small proportion of total serious crime – about 2.3% – it is a matter of little concern. I am saying now, as I have acknowledged in the past, that the incidence of assault and general violence among young people, especially young men, at and about places of entertainment, at food outlets and so on late at night is a matter of concern to all of us as citizens and to those of us as parents whose children, like all young people, go out at night

This is happening outside pubs with licensing hours that were extended by the Minister.

Although not denying the crucial role which law enforcement has in dealing with this problem it cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be said that it is a problem which is capable of being addressed by law and order measures alone.

The Minister has made the problem worse.

The Minister is doing something about it.

Deputy O'Flynn should keep quiet. He is in enough trouble.

I am not in trouble.

It cannot be argued either that it is a problem which is associated with deprivation. The sad reality is that the young people becoming involved in this form of worrying anti-social behaviour come from all backgrounds and many become involved simply because they have too much money at their disposal rather than too little. In terms of what the Garda Síochána has been doing to tackle the issue, a national public order initiative, Operation Oíche, has been in operation since October 2000.


This operation focuses on public disorder, public intoxication, underage drinking, illicit drug use and underage alcohol sales.

Deputy O'Flynn should keep quiet. He is in trouble enough.

I am not in trouble. The people of Cork will look after me.

Acting Chairman

Deputy O'Flynn, it is bad enough to have the Opposition interrupting but you are interrupting the Minister in your own party. I ask you to stop.

I apologise.

Hotspots receive particular Garda attention, with an emphasis on high-visibility patrolling. Special resource units and unmarked crime task force units are also utilised to the full. Moreover, key urban locations have been selected for intensive patrolling involving the Garda mounted unit, Garda dog unit and Garda air support unit. The Garda authorities consider Operation Oíche to have been highly successful to date. Since its introduction, there has been a more visible Garda presence on the streets, particularly at closing times of licensed premises and night clubs.

A further significant measure against violent street crime is Garda CCTV. To date, CCTV systems have been installed in Dublin North Central, that is O'Connell Street and its surrounding areas; Dublin South Central, that is Grafton Street and its surrounding areas; and Tralee, County Kerry. A Garda CCTV system is currently nearing completion in Cork city and I understand that most of the cameras in the system are now fully operational. In late 2000, I announced that the number of Garda CCTV systems was to be further expanded, and I have allocated more than 15 million for expenditure in this area for the period 2001 to 2003. Garda town centre CCTV systems are planned for Bray, Dundalk, Dún Laoghaire, Finglas, Clondalkin, Tallaght, Galway, Limerick, Athlone and Waterford. Moreover, the installation of systems in at least a further six areas will be announced in due course.

I am, however, conscious that some applications for CCTV systems which have been received relate to relatively small schemes that, while of importance to the local community, cannot be regarded as a national Garda priority. I have given careful consideration to how assistance can be provided to such schemes. To this end, I plan to introduce a grant scheme shortly to cater for those communities which would like to press ahead on their own with a local CCTV system. There is no doubt – I am not saying that this constitutes anything like a total explanation for the increased incidence of assaults – that the increased presence of gardaí on the streets at night to deal with this form of offending, has resulted in cases being recorded which heretofore simply would not have appeared in any statistics.

This is mind boggling. There is no increase in crime. The Minister has merely found out about it.

The reason is that the youngsters on both sides of many of these disputes have an equal or almost equal responsibility for what takes place and an equal desire, therefore, to avoid involving the gardaí. I repeat I am not saying that this constitutes anything like a total explanation for the increase in the figures, but I am advised by the Garda authorities that it is a significant factor.

Does the Minister believe that?

Mr. Coveney

The figures from hospitals do not support that.

More law enforcement measures are needed in this area and I propose, within the next few weeks, to introduce further legislation aimed at tackling the problem. I am saying now, in no uncertain terms, that this legislation will be tough and that some may, indeed, find it unpalatable, but I believe that it is necessary and I hope the Deputies opposite will be able to see their way, when the time comes, to give it their full support. As a foretaste of what I will be bringing to this House, I have recently sought and received Government approval for the drafting, on a priority basis, of a new Criminal Justice (Public Order Enforcement) Bill.

A fig leaf.

This is a bit late in the day.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide the Garda Síochána with additional powers to tackle anti-social behaviour. It will target, in particular, drunk and unruly elements who congregate late at night outside or in the vicinity of licensed and other premises such as fast food outlets and who by their aggressive and intimidating behaviour threaten the peace and well-being of decent citizens and are a danger to others and themselves.

Rape and sexual assaults are matters of serious concern. Sexual assault is a form of offending on which interventions other than purely law and order-type interventions have a vital role to play. The role of educators, in particular, is obviously crucial. It is also a form of offending which, of its nature, is opportunistic and which usually occurs in places and in circumstances where it would be unrealistic to expect a law enforcement presence. The penalties for sexual offences are severe, but I will be interested to hear what Deputies have to say on this subject because if there are law enforcement measures which they wish to propose to address this very worrying phenomenon, I will certainly be glad to give them serious and urgent consideration.

Returning to the motion, it is unfortunate and very unwise that the Opposition has chosen to condemn the Government for its record on crime while in office. No matter what way one looks at it, the situation has improved out of all proportion to what we found when the Government came to office.

This is outrageous.

There has been a 120% increase in violent crime.

The reason for this improvement, very simply, is that instead of wringing our hands when faced with a very difficult crime problem, we did something about it.

Let me remind Deputies opposite of some facts which, to them, I know are unpalatable. Garda manpower and resources are at their highest level in the history of the State. The number of gardaí has increased from 10,800 in 1997 to more than 11,700 at present and it is on target to achieve a strength of 12,000 by the end of this year.

They are not in the communities. They are not on the beat.

They should be liberated from behind their desks.

Furthermore, I recently approved the holding of a further Garda recruitment competition early this year to recruit an additional 300 Garda trainees. As I have said, recruitment already under way will bring Garda strength up to an all-time record high of 12,000 in 2002 and the recruitment of these additional 300 trainees will ensure that Garda strength is maintained at that level, an increase of 1,200 gardaí over the time the rainbow coalition was in office.

A murder a day. The Minister is a shame.

Where is zero tolerance now?

The Garda Síochána Vote for the year 2002 is 918 million – £723 million – which represents an increase of more than 50% on 1997 levels. Continued investment is being made to equip the Garda organisation with the most up-to-date technologies, from major IT investments such as PULSE to a high-speed patrol boat and a second helicopter.

I have introduced more legislation than any of my predecessors. The 42 Bills which I have enacted cover such areas as juvenile justice, child protection, fraud, organised crime and human trafficking. I have also successfully tackled the so-called revolving door syndrome in the prison system, which did so much to bring the entire criminal justice system into disrepute. The prisons building programme has delivered 1,207 new prison places and the Government has approved another 700 additional places. As a result, the number of prisoners on temporary release fell from more than 500 in 1997 to 150 in October 2001.

I know that there are some of you who have expressed unease about, and even outright opposition to the increase in prison places, but whatever may be said about the harshness of this as an approach to tackling what was a very bad crime problem, there is no doubt that it has had a significant bearing on the drop in crime in recent years. To demonstrate this point, I draw the attention of the House to the incidence of burglary in this jurisdiction. In the year 2000 the Garda Síochána recorded a 6.3% decrease in burglaries, the sixth consecutive year of decreases, bringing the cumulative fall since 1994 to 34.1% and since 1996 to 27.4%.

How many are not reported?

It is a waste of time reporting crime.

By any standard, this is a remarkable achievement which did not occur by chance.

According to a research study commissioned by my Department to develop an econometric model of recorded levels of burglary, it was found that the incidence of this form of crime decreased according to criminal justice variables, namely, the Garda detection rate and the daily average number of people in prison. Specifically, every 1% increase in the Garda detection rate decreased burglary levels by 2.3%. Every 1% increase in the daily average number in prison decreased burglary levels by 0.4%. The findings of this research report are proof positive that my policies of increasing garda numbers to 12,000 and dramatically augmenting the number of prison places are having a demonstrable impact for the good on levels of burglary. It repudiates the complacent notion that crime just happens and puts the lie to the suggestion that the criminal justice system simply "locks the stable door after the horse has bolted." The system works provided it receives the necessary injection of resources, as has happened over the lifetime of the Government.

It would, however, make no sense to pretend that solutions to the crime problem in the future lie exclusively in the building of more and more prisons. We need to work on other approaches also, such as increased custody alternatives. There are currently approximately 4,800 individuals subject to the various types of community sanctions under the supervision of the probation and welfare service. Since 1998 I have approved funding for 25 additional projects under the guidance of the service. There are now 65 such projects in operation throughout the country, all of which are community based dealing with areas such as drugs aftercare, alcohol treatment for offenders before the courts, youth service projects, community reparation and victim-offender mediation. Further such projects will continue to be developed in co-operation with the probation and welfare service under the national development plan.

The budget for the probation and welfare service is 38 million in 2002, which is more than a 100% increase in funding during my term in office. Thanks, in part again, to the national development plan, I have also overseen a massive increase in the number of Garda youth diversion projects from 12 in 1997 to 64 at present, with a corresponding increase in the total financial allocation of more than 1,000%. These projects, which complement changes to the Garda juvenile liaison scheme arising from the Children Act, 2001, are a vital preventive strategy in helping young people at risk to avoid becoming involved, or further involved, in a criminal lifestyle. However, no matter what one does about custody alternatives, there is no doubt that there are certain forms of offending where, regrettably, it is essential to resort to tougher law and order measures. There is no better example of this than the way in which the problem of organised crime has been tackled during my term in office.

The Criminal Assets Bureau continues to be successful in targeting the proceeds of profits of crime.

It was established by the Minister's predecessor.

It has successfully conducted investigations resulting in the confiscation of illegally obtained assets and wealth held both inside and outside this jurisdiction. It pursues a multi-agency approach to achieve its objectives, which has enabled it to make effective use of information gathered from the different agencies. Since its statutory inception in 1996 and up to the end of 2000 it has obtained provisional and final freezing orders on property to the value of more than 10 million and 9 million, respectively. During the same period it has collected almost 13 million in taxes, with social welfare savings amounting to approximately 2 million.

We have come a long way in the past five years in tackling the problem of crime. Our record of achievement shows that we have the determination and imagination to continue this battle. Common sense suggests that this society, in common with all other western societies, will continue to face the problem of crime, that new varieties will emerge and that some of them, including the threat of internationally organised crime, will continue to pose a major challenge.

While on the subject of serious crime, it is a matter of particular satisfaction that during the term of office of the Government, in particular, the form of offending which gave rise for greatest concern to successive Governments over many years, that is, subversive crime, has at last been brought under much greater control. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 has provided the basis upon which lasting peace can be achieved on this island. One of its key objectives is the decommissioning by all paramilitary groups of their arms. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning has played a vital role in taking this process forward, as part of which we have recently seen an act of decommissioning by the IRA. Of course, there are those who reject the peace process and continue to seek to impose their will through violence. The House can be assured that the Garda Síochána will continue to do all in its power to make those concerned accountable before the law. The Garda authorities have achieved considerable success in this regard.

I have set out the facts about crime. However, it is hardly surprising the Opposition parties simply do not want to accept them. What instead do they have to offer the people? As their motion contains no ideas on how to deal with crime—

The Minister would not accept our Bills.

—all we can do is look at their record while in office. After all, we are talking about parties which presided over the greatest series of consecutive fiascos ever to afflict the criminal justice system—

None of our Deputies was put in jail.

—failed to introduce into law the money laundering provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, in the months immediately following the Brinks Allied robbery; cancelled the prison building programme at a time when more than 20% of sentenced prisoners were permanently released due to a shortage of prison spaces; pompously stated that the Private Members' Bill, which became the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, was unnecessary, unworkable and unconstitutional and repeatedly demonstrated that there was nothing they could do about crime.

Given this legacy, I can be forgiven for not being optimistic that the rainbow, even with the added benefit of another shade of green, would do much better in the unlikely event that they get the chance. The people who, when in government, presided over the greatest series of consecutive fiascos ever to affect the criminal justice system have not gone away because the "can't do anything, won't do anything" brigade are still here, as are the facts. In the past five years the "can't do anything, won't do anything" brigade have relentlessly opposed virtually every criminal justice measure introduced by the Government. Spurred on by inept leadership, they have run with every confused hare and hunted with every populist hound in the mistaken belief that the people have forgotten their monumental ineptitude.

Tonight I challenge the Opposition spokespersons and those behind them who have moved from the wings and are ready to stand in their shoes once the now inevitable leadership resignations are received later this year to point to any period in Irish history when a Minister from either of their parties could point to the record of achievement to which I, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, can point on behalf of the Government.

Is that an addendum?


There is no deep mystery why the motion tonight contains no proposals for tackling crime. It is an open secret that when in government the rainbow parties simply could not agree on how to tackle it and ended up doing nothing. I suppose a pantomime horse has its uses, but it would be a great help if the people inside it could agree on the direction they want to go.

Contrast this abysmal record with the record of the Government. We have overseen an historic decrease in serious crime, increased the Garda force to its highest level ever, put an end to the prison revolving door by providing the highest number of prison places in our history, introduced modern and effective laws to combat crime and undertaken a huge investment in the criminal justice system. Those are the objective facts to which the Opposition simply does not want to face up. Its Front Bench resembles a motley gathering of aspiring amnesiacs who have assembled to condemn the fact that what they said could not be done has, in fact, been done. I have no difficulty with the Opposition gloating at the inaccuracy of its own predictions. I have no difficulty with its anger at the achievement by the Government of the greatest ever drop in crime achieved by any Government, but spare the pretence that it has any alternative policy. For five years it has opposed us tooth and nail. It was destructive opposition, always knocking, never building.

The Minister was surely destructive.

He has only 90 days left.

Bereft of suggestions, the Opposition aimlessly opposed. It is time for facts to be faced. In so far as crime is concerned, the Opposition and its administration were part of the problem; they played no part in any solution. If the Government followed its advice, had done as it asked and did, we would still have more than 20% of sentenced prisoners permanently at liberty, courtesy of its open door policy. That was unacceptable. The public has a right to expect that sentenced prisoners will remain sentenced. It was politically unacceptable to us, but not the Opposition. It allowed those sentenced prisoners their liberty and refused to make the necessary investment in prison places. One simple fact is blindingly clear. If the Government did as the Opposition asked and did, the crime rate would not have fallen. The policies it has espoused are, in reality, policies for higher crime rates.

The Minister is a waffler.

They are irresponsible policies which pander to publicity. Although determined to do more, the Government is happy to be judged on its record. I doubt the same could be said for the Opposition. It should be very clear why I oppose the motion and commend my amendment to the House.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Moynihan-Cronin, Timmins, Finucane and Rabbitte.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I recognise and commend the work of the Garda Síochána on the northside of Dublin, especially in the J and R districts of the Dublin metropolitan region. Many dedicated gardaí are trying to keep crime levels at bay with insufficient support from the Minister. I launched an initiative whereby senior Garda superintendents in Santry, Coolock and Raheny were invited to meet the Dublin north central committee of Dublin City Council. They did so last week in Darndale village centre. This meeting marked the beginning of what, I hope, will be a series of bi-annual meetings along the lines on which English local authorities operate. My colleague, Deputy Howlin, has proposed that we should operate a similar system here from now on. In that way senior members of the Garda Síochána and local politicians would meet regularly to examine and discuss what is happening in particular areas. This initiative has to be linked to a local policing plan. The Minister asked for suggestions and this is one. He has literally a few days left in Government, yet there has been no legislation to introduce such an important and useful initiative.

The motion before the House rightly identifies the Minister's failure over the past five years. The Garda Síochána's 2000 report on crime statistics contains a sad litany with the key indicators of crime deteriorating further during the Minister's term of office. The report contains a farcical division between headline and non-headline crime. That is grotesque and deeply insulting to the victims of so-called non-headline crimes, many of which go unreported. The report cannot ignore the fact that in 2000 there was more than one homicide case per week, under the Minister's administration. The pattern continued in 2001 when there was one homicide every five days. In the first 29 days of 2002, we have seen seven appalling homicides, of which three were on the northside of Dublin, including one brutal, racist murder in the Beaumont area. These appalling homicide figures reflect an increasingly violent society. They are at the top end of a litany of street violence that continues under the Minister's administration. He has not given the Garda sufficient resources to deal with the problem.

On four occasions I have asked the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, to get the Central Statistics Office to oversee Garda statistics, as the CSO does for all other key indicators. I do not know why this was not done, however.

The Minister should write that down now.

One of my saddest memories of this Dáil was when the Taoiseach and the Minister voted down my Bill to deal with joyriding. I was amazed because, despite widespread support for the measure from terrorised communities across north and west Dublin and other urban areas, and from the Garda Síochána, the Minister refused to take action. Is it any wonder that one night over the Christmas period, gardaí on the northside had to cope with no less than 12 vehicle thefts in one Garda district?

The harassment and intimidation of householders and pedestrians by young gangs is a serious problem that is plaguing estates, yet it has grown worse under the Minister's administration. They hang around streets at all hours of the night, especially after the pubs and discos close. Very often their base of operation is beside the house of a vulnerable person, perhaps a senior citizen, a parent rearing a family on their own, a person with a disability or a person of a different ethnic origin. Such families are often tormented nightly until they have to move. The Garda and local authorities try their best but are hopelessly hindered on three fronts. First, Garda strength in urban areas is far too low. There are only 4,000 gardaí in the greater Dublin area – that is one third of the Garda Síochána dealing with nearly 70% of crime. Gardaí themselves have said that while the Minister has introduced more specialist bodies, there are not enough gardaí on the beat. They have all been moved away from daily work in the community. We need the specialist bodies but we also need extra gardaí on the beat, although the Minister has not delivered that. Last year, half the Garda strength in my constituency was sent northwards to deal with the foot and mouth crisis, so we had less gardaí on the ground.

Second, there has been a lack of legislation. The Minister talked about all his Bills. To be fair to him, when in Opposition Deputy O'Donoghue did introduce Bills, as I have tried to do. There is a glaring need for anti-intimidation and anti-harrassment legislation to make the streets safer, but the Minister has not even considered this. Under the 1994 legislation, gardaí can ask people to move on but they cannot take significant action against the perpetrators who are hanging around the streets.

Third, the Labour Party has always been tough on crime and the causes of crime. Everything the Minister has done, however, has been belated, slow and lethargic. I am referring particularly to the youth diversion scheme in relation to joyriding. After two long years of promises, just one social worker was appointed recently in my own district. I am disappointed with the Minister. Given his performance in Opposition in the previous DáiI, I expected him to be a dynamic Minister who would take a firm grip on crime if he meant what he said about zero tolerance. Five years later, however, I am sadly disappointed because the Minister has not delivered.

The current Government contested the last general election under a number of woolly slogans and promises. Among these was the slogan "people before politics". We all know now that this was a series of empty promises. One has only to think of people with disability, carers and those seeking a medical card.

Hear, hear.

One of the most infamous mantras that Fianna Fáil adopted in 1997 was that of "zero tolerance". Everybody on this side of the House is well aware that when the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, was in Opposition he preached and pontificated about it up to the election. After five years in office, however, the Minister's promise of zero tolerance of crime has been exposed as a lie, a sound bite, and another one of the empty promises that epitomises Fianna Fáil's attitude to the people.

The very definition of zero tolerance implies no acceptance of any crime. It starts with the elimination of the most minor crimes and thereby roots out the ethos of crime in society. The people in my home town are very concerned about the increase in public order offences over the past year. It saddens me to have to cite examples of this occurring in Killarney, the most beautiful town in the country. If any Member of the House was to walk around the streets of Kil larney between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday morning they would soon see that zero tolerance has not been implemented even in the Minister's own backyard of south Kerry. The scene is one of hundreds of people walking the streets intoxicated, loud and often violent.

In recent years there has been a notable increase in disorder, assaults and other public order offences in the town and other towns in the constituency. In my opinion, the reason for this is the extension of the pub opening hours. By extending the licensing hours, against the wishes of many licensed vintners, the Minister has increased late-night crime and public disorder. Licensing hours as they now stand will have to be reviewed. Many of those who lobbied for later opening hours did not envisage it would involve the later opening of nightclubs as well and therein lies the problem. It is one thing to have people spilling onto the streets from pubs at 1 o'clock in the morning, but these numbers swell considerably when the nightclubs empty between 2.30 a.m. and 4 a.m. Many of my constituents are suffering greatly due to late night noise and disorder in the streets. I suggest to the Minister, as my constituency colleague, to make a start on implementing the policy of zero tolerance by addressing the problems of violence and disorder in Killarney at weekends. The gardaí are doing their best, but they cannot do much with the resources they have. We cannot hide our heads in the sand any longer. It is difficult for anyone to admit there is serious public disorder in their home town, particularly if it depends on tourism. Unless the matter is tackled now, it will get worse. We have had enough filibuster, waffle and preaching. We want action. Otherwise, the Minister will not be known as the Minister for zero tolerance, but the Minister for zero action.

Everyone knows the crime figures started to decrease in 1995 before the Minister came into office. It is important to realise that Fianna Fáil has been in office for 11 of the past 13 years. The Central Statistics Office figures show that one in eight households is affected by crime. Does the Minister admit that if his policy of zero tolerance was working, there should be a huge increase in summary offences? His emphasis on zero tolerance during the last election campaign meant that crime became part of the modern consciousness. If people are not victims of crime, they are fearful of it because the Minister hyped it up at a time when it was decreasing.

If the Minister is to have any credibility, he must publish the 2001 figures within the next few weeks. The Minister mentioned the concept of adjustment. The Garda is using the PULSE system, so I do not know what adjustment needs to be done. I am trying to be reasonable about this issue. I like the Minister who is not a bad man, but having listened to him tonight I realise there is a place for him in the street theatre in Killarney between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. next summer when he gives up his job. He was under pressure tonight because he knows what he is saying is not 100% accurate.

The National Economic and Social Forum issued a report a couple of days ago. Its main findings are that the majority of prisoners are male, young and from the most deprived backgrounds and that they lack basic educational and employment skills. The weekly operational costs amount to 1,250 per prisoner, while a community or service supervision order costs between 50 and 75. Despite that, the consensus view of the experts that non-custodial options are more effective than prisons, and the decrease in crime in recent years, our imprisonment rate is increasing and is now treble that of England and Wales and quadruple that of the Scandinavian countries. Our prisoners have one of the highest re-offending rates in Europe. The Minister has made a virtue of increasing the number of prison spaces, but little research has been carried out on it. A man called Tarling in England did some research on it and the results showed that the 32% increase in prison population here between 1997 and 1999 only resulted in a reduction of approximately 1.2% in the crime rate. The Minister should have taken that report on board, but he failed miserably to do that.

One in seven male offenders are sexual offenders. They have the most basic educational and employment skills. The Minister has often said that the Opposition does not have any suggestions, but in the few years I have been here I have continuously emphasised to the Minister, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Education and Science the lack of basic education. Many such people suffer from dyslexia. I told the Minister about research which was carried out in England and the United States and I asked him to get his Department to consider it. Research carried out in a juvenile delinquency centre in Scotland showed that 50% of offenders suffered from dyslexia compared to 48% of the normal community. These people are hitting back at society.

The situation on sex offenders indicates to me that the Minister is not able to handle the job because he does not know how to approach it. There are sex offenders in the Curragh. What will happen to them when they are released? I know some of them have had one or two sessions on a particular programme before opting out. When they are released, they go back on the streets. We have done nothing for them. The Minister said in his speech that the role of educators is crucial. He also said if there are any law enforcement measures which Deputies wish to propose to address this worrying phenomenon, he would be glad to give them serious and urgent consideration. The public do not want jackboot tactics. They want integration and people to be given educational opportunities. They do not want a quick fix solution of zero tolerance. The Minister has over-emphasised law enforcement. I ask him to re-examine his approach to this issue.

During the time Deputy Owen was Minister for Justice both the Minister and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, castigated her on a daily basis on different issues. They did not take into account that they were in office for seven years prior to the two and a half years Fine Gael spent in office. The Minister should analyse the figures. I listened to chief superintendent Kelly who appeared before Limerick County Council last Monday and gave a factual analysis of crime in Ireland. He responded honestly to our questions. If the Minister reviews the PULSE figures for 2001, he will find an increase in the level of crime. There has been a 131% increase in the number of violent assaults, but that will probably increase further. Surely the statistics prove to criminals that crime pays. Some 78 million worth of property was stolen in 2000, but there was only a 5.5% recovery rate. It was lower than in 1999 when there was almost a 10% recovery rate.

My heart went out recently to the Chinese person who was murdered in Dublin in a racist attack. I am glad Deputy O'Flynn is in the House because I was appalled to read recently that he used phrases such as "we are against the spongers, the freeloaders and the people screwing the system". There is no justification for using such language when speaking about economic immigrants or asylum seekers. If Deputy O'Flynn has a problem in Cork North Central with the numbers of such people, he should articulate his concerns to the Minister and the officials in the Department. He should not use such language.

It is vote catching.

I was appalled to read it. Perhaps there is competition with another person who is seeking election on that issue but, as a Government Deputy, he should not respond in that manner.

The Deputy should check with his Deputies in the constituency.

I have a copy of what the Deputy said. The Deputy should read the letter to The Irish Times today. He will get an opportunity to express his views tomorrow and he may have a chance to correct the record, but he should not use such rhetoric. There is no justification for it.

I am concerned about the number of firearms which are stolen. I learned that a large number of firearms were stolen in County Limerick which made their way to the criminal gangs in Limerick city. I admit that an attempt was made here to introduce legislation for the use of wall safes, but the High Court found it was unconstitutional. I know that householders leave firearms lying around, but are we lax in issuing firearms licences? We have an acute problem in Limerick city. I compliment the Garda on their recent success in the Pyper case. I compliment the Garda in Newcastle West on finding two elderly people who could have lost their lives when they were locked up.

I am sure the Minister is knocking on doors, like the rest of us. He knows there was a great deal of waffle in that document. We did not get the second script, which was added later on. I do not know who is preparing that information for the Minister, but much of it is not relevant to what is happening now. The Minister should reveal the figures for 2001 instead of hiding them and he should give valid comparisons. He introduced a computer system to simplify the process. The reply was given that it took 12 months longer to issue the report because the PULSE system was being introduced. The PULSE system is in operation. The Minister should reveal the figures. Is he afraid that the Minister for zero tolerance will be known as the Minister for zero intolerance?

Debate adjourned.