I am talking about murder. Tackling crime effectively requires that the courts are equipped to provide speedy and efficient trials. Overall support for the courts has been greatly improved in recent years by the establishment of the independent Courts Service. The Courts Service has devoted a great deal of effort to streamlining the administrative supports for the courts including the introduction of modern IT systems. Deputy Perry might note this. A recent important initiative taken by the board of the Courts Service is the establishment of a working group to examine and report on the operation and organisation of the various jurisdictions of the courts system. That is being done under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Fennelly of the Supreme Court. The group is undertaking a root and branch review of the organisation of our courts and will involve examining any necessary changes to allow for the fair, expeditious and economic administration of justice. I look forward to receiving that report and on foot of it to substantially alter the structure of our system of criminal law trials on indictment with a view to speeding them up and getting rid of the current delays.
More recently I established a committee chaired by Mrs. Justice Denham of the Supreme Court to examine the potential of video-conferencing technology in regard to the conduct of criminal and civil trials, including pre-trial hearings involving prisoners, such as bail and remand hearing. New technology has great potential to improve and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the trial process. I expect the committee will address the full range of practical, technical and legal issues involved in the use of such technology. As soon as the interim report is presented to me I will begin to prepare action on foot of it.
I am committed to supporting the Garda Síochána in tackling crime, not only through increasing Garda numbers, but through facilitating and promoting change and reform, both within the force and in the criminal justice system in general, aimed at meeting the challenges of present day crime. Work is ongoing in the preparation of a general scheme of a Bill to provide for an independent Garda inspectorate. I intend bringing this to Government in the near future with a view to publication later this year. This will be the first major Garda reform since the 1925 Act to be passed by these Houses. The strategic management initiative report is also currently being implemented by the Garda.
The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2002 is currently awaiting Report Stage in this House. The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the law in order to deal more effectively with late night public disorder and disturbance which mainly has its origins in alcohol abuse. It does so in two main respects. First, in so far as a person who is facing a conviction for a public order offence under certain provisions of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 is concerned, the Bill provides for the making of an exclusion order as an additional penalty. Second, the Bill allows the Garda to apply to the District Court for a closure order which will have the effect of limiting the hours of opening of these premises. Under a closure order, the premises in question may be restricted from opening for business for certain times and periods as the court may determine, for the purposes of avoiding disorder either on the premises or in the vicinity of the premises.
Drugs misuse is one of the great social ills of our time. The Government's overall policy to tackle the drug problem is set out in the national drugs strategy. Our strategy is the result of the most comprehensive analysis and assessment of the problem ever carried out in this State. It brings together all elements of drugs policy into a single framework for the first time. It establishes the framework for the next six years to tackle the drugs problem in an integrated fashion, involving the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research.
Much work has been done in recent years, especially in the communities hardest hit by drugs. They have been the focus of major policy developments involving, for example, urban renewal schemes and cross-departmental programmes designed to speed up the processes whereby communities can more speedily draw down public resources. The national drugs strategy and the local drugs task force have, rightly, been the subject of favourable comment. They have facilitated the mobilisation of cross-agency forces.
The Government has committed, and continues to commit, significant resources towards the drugs initiative. Up to the end of last year, over €62 million had been allocated in implementing projects established via the local drugs task forces. In addition, the Government has committed €130 million over the lifetime of the national development plan to a separate fund. That is the young people's facilities and services fund, which targets areas of disadvantage with greater risk of drug misuse among young people. This fund was established in 1998 and approximately €68 million has been allocated to support over 350 facility and service projects within these targeted areas.
The Criminal Assets Bureau and other specialised Garda support units, such as the national drugs unit, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the bureau of fraud continue to have a major impact in disrupting the activities of such gangs. The successes achieved can be gauged by the significant drug seizures which have been made, the ongoing seizures of assets and the dismantling of a number of these gangs, resulting in the conviction of some of the most major criminal figures or, as is evident, their fleeing abroad.
The Garda national drugs unit maintains close contact with law enforcement agencies worldwide. A particularly important advance in EU law enforcement co-operation has been the development of EUROPOL as a support agency for member states. I intend to publish in the near future, a Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill which will give effect to an EU Council framework decision on joint investigation teams and will provide, by mutual agreement of the competent authorities of two or more member states, for the setting up of a joint investigation team for a specific purpose and limited period, to carry out criminal investigations in one or more of the member states setting up the team.
Deputies will be aware of Operation Encounter, which was established in February 2002. This operation is focused on all issues of public order occurring in the community, but particular attention is paid to night clubs, fast food outlets and other venues at which large numbers of people congregate and where there is potential for disorder. Additional Garda resources have been made available and plans drawn up by each of the regional commanders to prioritise the deployment of those resources.
I know some Deputies have a difficulty with the concept of gardaí paying attention to premises in this way but to a large extent the increase in recorded levels of street crime reflects this targeted Garda effort in terms of the levels of activity and enforcement. This is borne out by the excellent detection level of 75% in relation to reported assaults.
Much has been made of Garda recruitment in the course of this debate. The parties opposite opposed the Government's proposal to have 14,000 members of the Garda Síochána. It is fascinating to see how they now clamour for something they opposed when it came up for decision by the people. They now demand that I do what they said was wrong.