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.