Private Members' Business. - Crime Levels: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann, noting:

– the dramatic increase in the rate of violent crime;

– that 86,621 headline offences were reported in 2001, a rise of 18% on the previous year;

– the growing incidence of street violence throughout the country evidenced by the reporting of 2,374 assaults causing harm in 2001, a rise of 39%;

– that the incidence of intoxication in public places among teenagers increased by 370% since 1996;

– that the number of sexual offences rose by 90% in 2001 to 1,048;

– that only one in four crimes is ever reported to the Garda;

– that, during the general election campaign, the Government promised to recruit 2,000 additional gardaí; and

– the alarming growth in the level of gang-related violence and murder;

condemns the Government's failure to address or tackle the rising level of violent crime and its refusal to provide any resources for the recruitment of extra gardaí; and deplores the Government's abject failure to counteract the alarming growth in the street violence resulting from the abuse of alcohol among young people.

I wish to share my time with a number of Deputies and I ask you, Sir, to indicate when I have spoken for five minutes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Approximately ten days ago the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated his intention to bring a proposal to Cabinet that would allow local authorities to determine pub closing hours in their areas. Many of us were shocked at this and those I have spoken to have expressed bewilderment at the Minister's intention. In the summer of 2000, pub closing times were extended, the result of which led to a marked increased in the levels of street violence in towns and cities. Groups such as Victim Support have indicated that there is a direct link between the increase in calls to their offices and the liberalisation of the drinking laws. The Minister proposes that every town, city and county council should determine pub closing times, a move that will effectively liberalise them. In some cases closing times will be extended to 2 a.m. It is a crazy, nonsensical and bizarre notion.

According to theIrish Examiner, the Minister has indicated that the measure will allow communities to help curb late night violence. He will have to explain to this side of the House and the country what he means because nobody appears to be able to make sense of it, especially in view of what is happening on the streets. Ordinary and senior members of the Garda Síochána, who are trying to deal with current levels of street violence, have indicated that they do not have the resources to address the problem. How will they manage if they must police every pub until 2 a.m.? It cannot be done.

I have not suggested that.

The Minister cut the Garda overtime budget from €69 million to €50 million. Given that, he will have to explain how members of the Garda Síochána will be able to deal with extended pub opening hours. If this is implemented it will mean that people will be able to drive from one local authority area to another to avail of longer opening hours. It will encourage drink driving and a nation-wide pub crawl.

Every year alcohol abuse costs the country €2.3 billion, yet the Minister is planning to give people greater opportunities to drink. An article in a newspaper today dealt with an interview on the "Marion Finucane Show" with a retired detective inspector, Gerry O'Carroll, who was a member of the Garda Síochána for 20 years. In it he expressed the view that if a teenager leaves home today there is no longer any guarantee he or she will return alive. He went on to say that the State has a duty to protect its citizens and he asked about the 2,000 extra gardaí promised by the Government.

Some Members on this side of the House agree with some of the actions taken, and legislative decisions made, by the Minister, but this proposal is not one of them. We will fight it as best we can. A couple of weeks ago in this House the Minister accused me of beating the drum on resources and manpower in the Garda Síochána. I considered it to be an unfair comment because the Government first started to beat it before the general election. I promise the Minister I will keep beating that drum until it rings in his ears and the ears of those who will vote in the next local elections. I will stop beating it when the Government starts to take crime and law and order seriously and makes it a priority, and when the Minister starts to deliver on his promise to provide the country with an extra 2,000 gardaí.

I am fortunate in living in the constituency of Laoighis-Offaly because according to the most recent crime statistics, it has the lowest rate of serious crime and the highest detection rate in Leinster. It is the safest place in the province. Despite this, the recent "Prime Time" programme on street violence focused on my constituency to illustrate the reality of life in provincial towns by day and night.

The statistics for 2001 for the Laois-Offaly Garda division show an increase of 21% in the incidence of crime. It is one of the biggest concerns in my constituencies, but the fact that the statistics show the lowest rate of increase for the province makes me wonder what life is like in other parts of Leinster and the country. I know what life is like on the streets at night. Perhaps, unlike the Minister, I still attend night clubs on odd occasions. The violence, both inside and outside the clubs, is mindless and it arises because of abuse of alcohol and, in many instances, drugs. Not enough effort has been made to tackle it.

Pubs are part of the problem, but much more is involved. Much is happening outside pub premises, especially in terms of under-age drinking. We will not achieve any improvement unless we start to tackle the problems beyond the pubs and as they manifest themselves in younger age groups.

I have spoken to many members of the Garda Síochána who are involved in this area and before I became a Member of this House I worked as a solicitor with many of them in the District Court. They tell the chambers of commerce and the local authorities that they do not have the resources or the manpower to deal with the current situation.

Matters have disimproved since the rural policing initiative. The Garda station where I live covers a wide area, including on occasion locations outside the county. The Garda cars at its disposal are also expected to police night clubs and pub closing in towns and villages. It cannot be done.

Last summer the Minister said the recent crime statistics were worrying. Headline offences have increased by 18%, drugs offences by 33%, sexual offences by 83% and assaults by 93%. Last July the Minister said that an increase in crime of this significance required urgent analysis of the underlying causes and priority action required to deal with them. He suggested a three-pronged approach. First, to tackle the causes of crime, second, to ensure that all aspects of criminal law are adequate to combat it and, third, to ensure that sufficient resources are available to the criminal justice system and that they are used to optimum effect.

The Minister has made some effort but he has not tackled the problem to any significant extent. Last summer he made a commitment to the appointment of an extra 2,000 gardaí and he reaffirmed the importance he attaches to his objectives. Despite this, there is no delivery of these promises. That is why the motion is before the House.

The Minister's proposal to allow local authorities to determine pub closing times is ludicrous. The town of Birr is under the control of Birr Town Council, yet less than a mile away there is a village under the control of Offaly County Council. If pubs in Birr close at 11.30 p.m. while those in the village close at 1 a.m., customers will travel to the village to get another drink without having to pay to attend a night club. The Minister must address the consequences of his proposal. If he pursues it he will not get the backing of his Government colleagues and he will eventually have to make a climbdown. He would be better advised to make it now rather than later.

As my colleagues have already said, we are living in a crime-ridden society. The crimes committed are getting uglier by the day, they are more brutal and, in some cases, are without motive. This is well known, but what should we do about it?

I also heard the retired detective garda on the "Marian Finucane Show" yesterday. He would actually chill one with the stories he had to tell. He was obviously a man who took his job very seriously. He was prepared to come on the national airwaves and had no chip on his shoulder. The Minister should get a tape of the show and listen to it. It is important for any Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take heed of what the man had to say.

Everybody listening to the programme will remember his thoughts on the unprovoked attacks on ordinary, innocent young people, men in particular, going about their legitimate business. I know the Minster has spoken about this, as have we on many occasions. Out of the blue, these young men are being almost murdered on the side of the street. We must determine the causes of crime because this trend is new, dangerous and very frightening. I blame a very hostile, cruel streak that is beginning to become embedded in society, although only a minority is involved. There is considerable anxiety on the part of parents and others regarding this trend.

As I have said to the Minister before, our country is almost submerged in alcohol. Alcohol consumption has increased by over 50% in the past five or six years. Should this trend continue unabated, as it shows signs of doing, there will be another 50% increase in the next five or ten years.

Binge drinking among children – because that is all they are – of 11, 12, 13 and 14 years of age must be tackled. It is time to blow the whistle on this issue and I appreciate fully that it is very difficult and that no single strategy will work. However, I guarantee that unless the parents, community leaders, Garda, social workers, youth workers and politicians stand up to be counted, this deadly scourge will get much worse.

The existing laws should be enforced by the Minister because this is not being done. That means that the 2,000 gardaí promised by the Government should be on the streets. The Minister must come up with new, practical, solid and sensible proposals. The Minister's allowing the local authorities the opportunity to regulate the opening hours of public houses must be a joke. That could not work in 100 years because people are so motorised nowadays that a distance of 40 or 50 miles is insignificant. If the Minister were ever to create a mobile circus in the middle of the night, this is how he would do so. He would have queues all over the place.

Access to drink will have to be curtailed. I am not a killjoy in this respect. I make no apologies for the fact that I am a pioneer, but I spend most of my time in pubs, as most politicians do. I voted, like most other people, for an extension of the opening hours under the licensing laws. I did so because I always believed, until recently, that everybody is entitled to be in control of their own future and destiny. However, I do not know what we will do if under age drinking continues unabated for the next five years.

The idea of giving local authorities control over opening hours is daft coming from a man whom I consider to be intelligent. It shows the Minister does not understand the lack of capacity local authorities have in making such decisions.

As a former Minister with responsibility for sport, I note there is too much emphasis on dealing with the problem rather than trying to prevent if from arising. The Taoiseach and Government have an obsession with professional and spectator sports. They are proposing huge investment in viewing facilities instead of investing in clubs at grassroots level and encouraging young people to join the healthy environments of such clubs. This policy is stupid, foolish and short-sighted. If one invests in sport as a preventative element in the fight against crime and drugs, one will reap massive benefits. This is not happening because the emphasis seems to be on professional sport, looking at Sky Sports and viewing sports in pubs. One knows what this leads to.

It is almost a year to the day since I raised the issue of an incident in Cork where a man was beaten up outside and inside a nightclub on 26 March 2001. I raised the matter on 27 February last year and did so because the event was caught on video. The file went to the DPP but the DPP took no action. Subsequently, through raising it here in the Dáil, the inquest was heard. The coroner ordered that the file be returned to the DPP and, just two weeks ago, there was no prosecution. I find it incomprehensible that a man could be kicked to death on the streets of Cork, an event that was caught of video, without action being taken. Where is the law and order? The DPP may be independent but surely he is accountable for such decisions. I ask the Minister to find out exactly why the investigation that took place was ineffective in getting the case into court.

Every weekend in my constituency I see under age drinkers with plastic bags of alcoholic drinks going to the alleyways and bushes. The Garda may intercept them from time to time and seize their drinks, but why is the next step not taken? Why are the young people not asked where the drink came from and why is no action taken against the off-licences that are selling young people alcoholic drinks and allowing them embark on a life of binge drinking and crime?

There seems to be no enforcement. We can make all the new laws we want, but unless we enforce those that exist we are on a loser. I do not see a determined effort to apprehend the people who are making massive profits by selling drink to young people.

I congratulate Deputy Deasy on raising this very important issue. I know from the Minister's comments that he too is very conscious of the issue of alcohol abuse and the lack of justice in this regard.

I am astounded that the Minister would even suggest that the decision on opening hours be left to local authorities. I question his knowledge of how local authorities work, how decisions are made by the people that serve on them and how the administrators and Garda could enforce a ruling in this respect. As has been said, when there is one law in County Monaghan and another in County Cavan, how can you stop people rushing from one place to the other to drink for an extra half hour? The changes to licensing laws which were brought about through the votes of all Members mean that people no longer hire vans or cars to travel to night clubs They can now drink until all hours in public houses, which is where they stay. The crowds disappear because they can get drink without having to travel. I beg the Minister to look again at the matter.

I encourage curtailment of late night drinking. Some of the new licensing provisions are logical such as changes to the holy hour which used to permit drinking in hotels on Sunday afternoons, but not in public houses. The late opening hours are crazy and statistics show they have encouraged our youth to indulge in serious drinking which has resulted in violence and major health care problems. Accident and emergency nursing staff are afraid of what will happen to them in the early hours of Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings. Street violence and violent crime are becoming the norm whereas we used to see occasional attacks on homes. Murders are being committed by people who are out of their minds, not on drugs, which we blamed in the past, but on drink. We must control this problem.

I was delighted to hear Sean McCague, President of the GAA and a fellow countyman, lead the way by suggesting that alcohol should no longer be advertised. He said that clubs should no longer accept sponsorship from drink companies. While making provisions in this area would take time, we must go in that direction. We must stop encouraging binge drinking and all that goes with it. I am not a teetotaller, I enjoy one or two drinks, but I recognise that there have to be controls.

The Minister took office with great ideas, but he now finds himself faced with cutbacks. Overtime has been curtailed and the 2,000 promised gardaí will not appear on our streets as we believed they would last May. The economic climate means we should not cod ourselves that the new recruits will be provided tomorrow. The Minister will face difficulties which is why he should consider the use of civilian staff to release more gardaí to provide a service on the beat. I question the closure of Garda stations.

Opening hours must be restricted and we should turn our backs on the idea that drink is our patron saint. It was wrong to use Guinness brewery during the visit of President Clinton. Those images were broadcast around the world as a demonstration of how Ireland lives. There is no need for the Taoiseach to open every public house.

I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words and I compliment Deputy Deasy for moving the motion. The Deputy has made a great impact as a spokesman which reflects our need for young people like him who are prepared to come up with new ideas and to speak out. He has much more bottle than Members on the Government side of the House.

We have no bottle?

The Minister let that register.

I will not repeat Deputy Costello's comments about the Minister, but I recognise that he is living up to his reputation. The Minister has given the impression in this House that he regards this issue as something of a joke. The amendment to the motion commends the Government with regard to its commitment to continue to tackle all aspects of crime, but nothing could be further from the truth. Law and order is out of control in every part of the State and people in all sectors of society are saying that the Minister has no handle on it. The Government amendment endorses its national drugs strategy which will operate for the next seven years. The Government may have put a strategy in place, but the use of drugs is escalating. Local and national papers recently reported that cocaine use has emerged in Kerry where it was never known to be popular before. People were caught with it just last week. Use of the drug is spreading and there seems to be no control over it. A car was stopped last week as it travelled from Castleisland to Tralee with 1,000 ecstasy tablets to supply the Saturday night market.

The first annual Garda report was published in 1947 and it portrayed a society which was largely free from crime. A dozen rapes and three murders were recorded that year. The crime figures for 2001, published last November, detail an average of one murder per week, the highest number ever recorded, while rape and sexual assault reached unprecedented levels. Over 23,000 burglaries took place and there were 1,400 cases of arson. The figures for 2002 illustrate that it was the bloodiest year since the first annual Garda report on crime appeared. There were 62 killings in 2002 compared to 27 in 1982 and 12 in 1962. When detailed comparative data become available for 2002, they are likely to reveal that Dublin has become a more deadly city than London and that the national crime rate has crept closer to the EU average. These are the statistics on which the Minister seeks to compliment himself and the Government.

I have seen articles printed in international media which show that Ireland is not perceived as a safe country for tourists to visit. It was recorded in the media that on 28 December in Cork a young Australian tourist was raped in the city following a casual meeting in a local pub. I compliment the Garda on the conviction of a man who detained two Australians against their will and brutalised them in every manner possible. It was a very gruesome story.

I wish to call Deputy Tom Hayes now.

Just to finish, I say to the Minister that crime is out of control. Crime is related to drugs and drink. It is time the Minister accepts that he is losing the battle.

I support the motion before the House and I hope it will go some way to bringing the Government to a realisation that there is a problem which concerns everybody in society. There has been a dramatic increase in the rate of violence, and it is frightening and deplorable that it is happening in this day and age. The story is the same in both urban and rural Ireland. Older people go to bed at night in fear of being robbed. Housing estates which were once trouble free are now being used and abused by joyriders. Street violence is a regular occurrence in most towns at weekends. Young people are terrified of going out for fear of being attacked. The assaults have become more vicious. There is no control over the drinks and drugs culture. There are well known places in all towns and villages where drug users can obtain supplies. Drugs are being sold to young people in a town near where I live and very little is being done about it. The problem is getting worse even though we talk about it night and day.

Last Friday night I was in a hostelry in my constituency and I saw a young man looking for a drink. I asked him his age and he told me that he was 16 and a half years old. He was well oiled, well jarred. He ordered two pints and two alcopops for his friends and staggered away. In Clonmel last weekend, people marched to highlight crime levels in the town. People are at a loss as to what to do about violence in our towns.

The Minister has a huge responsibility to do something. Rural Garda stations are being closed down in every rural constituency. The Government has failed to put more gardaí on the beat. All the Opposition can do is put pressure on the Government and make it realise the extent of the problem. I implore the Minister to do something. Many of us on this side of the House know the Minister's background and that he is genuinely interested in doing something, but the Government is failing in its duty to the citizens of Ireland to clean up our streets.

I thank Deputy Deasy for raising this important issue. I wish to speak on the subject of bail. I am sure law-abiding citizens are bemused at the enforcement of bail. Many people who flout the terms of their bail do so with impunity. They seem to treat bail money like a lotto bet – skip bail and you may or may not lose your money. This is a huge problem that threatens to undermine respect for the courts and the administration of justice. There is a problem with unexecuted bench warrants. In 2001, of the 10,121 bench warrants issued, there was a failure to pursue estreatment in 3,297 cases.

I am astonished that there is no communication between the Garda Síochána and the Courts Service on follow-up action and that people can pay the minimum amount of bail and skip bail. I ask if the Minister can stand over a system where warrants are not executed. In 2001, 5,044 forfeitures and estreatment notices were issued with a value of €638,000 but only €20,000 was paid. There is a lack of interface between the various bodies. The Garda states that there is no clear procedure for the conversion of estreats and warrants to penal warrants. Garda time is used in collecting small amounts of bail and in establishing the identity of persons who have been served with bench warrants.

The Minister spoke about issuing ID cards to young people under 25 but he cannot even arrange the collection of bench warrants. There is no system in the Department for the collection of money for unexecuted bench warrants. I want the Minister to assure the House that every bench warrant is executed, that every euro of bail is paid. Only €20,000 of a total of €600,000 was paid in 2001 – let the Minister say that is a sign of law and order. The foundation of this State is built on accountability. When people go before the courts and are fined they should pay the fine. They claim inability to pay and the warrant is not executed. The victims of crime are the real losers. I ask the Minister for clarification on the enforcement of bail.

I move amendment No. 1:

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

– commends the Government on its commitment to continue to tackle effectively all aspects of crime;

– acknowledges the Government's achievement in bringing the numbers in the Garda Síochána to an all time high of approximately 11,900, the huge increase in the level of resources available to the Garda Síochána from a low of €580 million in 1997 to €938 million in 2003 – an increase of 61% – and the commitment to prioritise recruitment in order to quickly bring the force to its authorised strength of 12,200;

– notes the success of the Garda Síochána's operation encounter which targets public order incidents by tackling the problem at source outside night-clubs, licensed premises and fast food outlets and recognises that the substantial additional provisions contained in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2002 will greatly enhance the powers of the Garda Síochána to deal with public order offences;

– recognises the provision of significant additional resources to other sectors of the criminal justice system, including increasing the number of prison places by over 1,200 and the appointment of additional judges;

– commends the Government's record in continuing to build on the strengthening of the criminal law over the past five years through unprecedented legislative reform;

– commends the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on his proposal to introduce a new Criminal Justice Bill before the end of the year to provide stronger powers to the Garda Síochána to investigate crime and to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system generally;

– endorses strongly the Government's national drugs strategy for the next seven years, as outlined in the publication Building on Experience which brings together all elements of drugs policy in a single comprehensive framework;

– welcomes the Government's allocation of over €60 million to date, to implement the plans of the local drugs task forces and the Government's increased budgetary allocation of 16% in 2003 for the funding of drugs services and programmes co-ordinated by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs;

– congratulates the Garda Síochána and the Customs Service on their continuing success in making large seizures of illicit drugs, particularly heroin and cocaine, thereby reducing access to those drugs that cause most harm;

– acknowledges the significant role played by the Criminal Assets Bureau in responding to serious and organised crime by targeting and seizing the profits of such crime, and by ensuring that the proceeds of serious criminal activity are subjected to the tax laws;

– welcomes the recommendations contained in the Interim Report of the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol which was established to provide advice to Government and public bodies on measures to prevent and reduce alcohol related harm; and

– approves the Government's commitment to supporting the Garda Síochána in every way possible in tackling crime, not only through increased Garda numbers, but also by facilitating and promoting a programme of legislative change and reform both within the force and the criminal justice system generally, in order to meet the challenges of present day crime.

When I came to address this motion I thought I was facing a serious effort by Fine Gael to express its views on the issue of criminal law. Instead, I have had a scatter gun approach of eight Deputies taking five minute soundbites to echo empty comments on the criminal law system.

That is a good start by the Minister.

The Minister is a master of soundbites himself.

I found it remarkable that I should come into the House and face such a phalanx of half thought out, negative and insubstantial criticism. It is sad that this is what I face this evening.

The Minister should then explain the Bill to us.

If this is the best the Opposition can do on a serious issue I am sorry for the people who voted for it.

Is that the best the Minister can do for street violence?

Deputy Deasy has been congratulated by some of the eight people who followed him on his choice of subject. I agree. I think his choice of subject is correct. Unfortunately, none of them put ten minutes work into his or her speech or came up with anything of substance in this debate. It is a disgrace and—

The Minister has been in power for seven months and has done nothing.

Acting Chairman

The Minister without interruption.

It is a sad spectacle when Opposition Members will not put five or ten minutes work into preparing a decent speech.

The Minister should look at the reflection in the mirror and get on with the job.

Acting Chairman

The Minister without interruption, please.

I have not heard one novel idea or original thought but I have heard a lot of gas, noise and shouting. The Opposition is ashamed that I am pointing out the truth this evening. It is a sad let down for the people that the largest Opposition party comes into the House unprepared and without ideas. It is sad that the Opposition comes in unprepared and that one Deputy after another stands and berates me in a puerile and ill thought out way.

How much thought did the Minister put into the Bill?

(Interruptions).

Acting Chairman

Order, please.

Deputy Deasy really gets the brass neck award. He stood up the other day and said he would prevent citizens of this State who reach the age of 18 from going for a drink. He wanted to make it illegal for them to drink until they were 20. It beggars belief that he should tell me I am out of touch with reality. He should cop himself on. People who have the right to vote have the right to go for a drink.

He is right. The Minister is out of touch.

Should we let the county councils extend opening hours until 2 a.m.?

Acting Chairman

Order, please.

We will come to that in a moment. I am dealing with what the Deputy proposed. Most people laughed up their sleeves when they heard that suggestion. If that is the best the Deputy can do it is a sad reflection on him.

What about a Minister sitting seven months and doing nothing?

Acting Chairman

Order, please.

Then we had an equally sad suggestion that alcohol should be dropped at Government and State dinners. Fine Gael may be fit for the Horlicks stakes but we intend to live an ordinary civilised way in society. Puerile, ill thought out proposals of that kind do Fine Gael no credit as a political party – Horlicks and Ryvita for everybody.

Let us hear the Minister's views. Let him get down to business.

I would appreciate it if the Deputies opposite ever read or listened to anything I said. What I said is that if we fix some maximum hour for the country by which all public houses have to close we should also allow communities, through their local representatives, to choose whether they want an earlier hour than that. I have been attacked for being out of touch in regard to these matters—

That is not what the Minister's Department is saying.

Yes it is. Deputy Deasy is again displaying his lack of knowledge of the situation. Under the Gaming and Lotteries Act, for instance, local authorities are given the right to decide whether or not they will permit gaming arcades in their area. This is something we can do in the Department if we wish. The total vacuity and lack of thought that characterises the Opposition's approach to this debate is represented by this suggestion.

Will the Minister inform us of his approach?

The obvious logic of what the Opposition is saying is that there must be one hour set for the whole State and there can be no departure from it, that what goes in Temple Bar must go in Templemore. That is the Opposition's approach to the issues that arise in regard to drinking hours. I remind the Deputies that when most of them were here two years ago they strongly supported the opening hours they now claim are a mistake.

That is a fact.

Deputy Connaughton, at least, has the honesty to admit it. Fine Gael did not have any doubts on the issue then.

Let the Minister tell us what he proposes.

Deputy Durkan will have time later to contribute to this debate.

Acting Chairman

Order, please. The Minister without interruption.

If the Deputies honestly believe that there should be one closing hour for the whole State I accept that point of view. However, if they do not believe that, they should have the moral courage to consider it possible that local authorities should be given some discretion as to whether they want their town to be a late night town or not. That is a reasonable proposal. At the moment we give the Judiciary, without local democratic input, the right to give special extensions to night clubs. The local communities' views are immaterial in that process. If one applies to the local district judge one can run a night club that will stay open until 2 a.m. Surely we are at the stage where local public representatives should have some input into that decision in their own community.

I was particularly struck by what one Deputy said. He said that if I knew anything about the way in which decisions are made in local authorities I would not make such a suggestion. I have faith in local representatives and I believe they should represent their communities and make important decisions for them.

The Minister is passing the buck.

I want to get to the meat of this debate even though the Opposition has not produced much meat for me to deal with. The essence of local democracy is that public representatives can make decisions which have an effect on their local community.

The Minister should reform the managers Act.

It is a sad state of affairs that Deputy Deasy can do no better than to come up with the puerile, facile suggestion that citizens aged 18 and 19 should not be allowed have a pint in a pub.

The Minister's speech is sounding like a smokescreen.

Acting Chairman

Order, please.

Deputy Deasy was complimented by his own backbenchers for tabling this motion.

The Minister should tell us something about the future.

I compliment Deputy Deasy on his choice of subject but I wish his backbenchers would go to his party leader and have him appointed to the justice committee. Let him be forgiven the crime of insulting Deputy Bruton and be allowed to function as a proper spokesperson on justice. Instead of coming in here and shouting at me the Deputies should go to Deputy Kenny and persuade him to allow the motion's star performer to be on the justice committee. He should be there to perform on that committee as is any other justice spokesperson. The Deputies would be doing themselves a favour if they did.

What proposals does the Minister have?

There are some in the Minister's party who think he should not be where he is either.

Acting Chairman

Order, please.

I acknowledge that the crime figures, which have been the subject of discussions here are ones about which no Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform could be complacent and which any Minister with responsibility for this area must take seriously. I make no apology for my stance, which has been to acknowledge the gravity of the crime figures that emerged last year. I have set out a solid programme of work for my period as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in order to counter some of the factors which are giving rise to increased criminality.

The Government has one over-riding and fundamental strategy in the area of criminal justice. The Garda will be given the resources to investigate crime, the courts the resources to deal effectively with criminal cases, and there will be sufficient prison places to ensure that those convicted of crime will serve the sentences imposed on them by the courts.

This is Rip van Winkle stuff.

There are sufficient prison places. Currently those who are sentenced to prison serve their sentences. I will not embarrass the Deputies opposite by contrasting this situation with that which existed when they last held office.

The revolving door was spinning so fast that the great majority of offenders did not serve their full sentence due to the absence of prison space.

There was never as much money as the previous Government had to do something about crime.

The Government has increased the number of prison places by over 1,000. In addition, it has spent a huge amount of money on updating and improving prison facilities. In the course of the next few months I intend to bring a Bill in regard to Garda powers before the House. One important aspect of my role as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is to keep the criminal law under constant review to ensure that the gardaí have the legislative support to allow them to effectively investigate crime and bring to justice its perpetrators. In this respect I intend to bring forward legislative proposals in the forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill in relation to new Garda powers of investigation. In the main, these proposals arise from the recommendations in the report of the expert group appointed to consider changes in the criminal law which were recommended in the report of the steering group on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda Síochána.

My proposals will provide for longer powers of detention in Garda custody, the strengthening of Garda powers in relation to the preservation of the scene of a crime, the introduction of new powers in relation to the issuing of search warrants in certain circumstances and the strengthening of the law in relation to DNA sampling. In the Criminal Justice Bill, I also propose to include a number of miscellaneous provisions which will improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in a number of specified areas.

I am strongly of the view that the time has come for the establishment of a national DNA data bank in this country and I am anxious therefore that as comprehensive a data bank as possible be established having regard to constitutional and human rights issues.

On a point of order, has the Minister's speech been circulated?

Acting Chairman

Yes.

Can a speech be circulated to all Deputies?

Acting Chairman

Yes.

The Minister came in prepared. He did not have sufficient copies of his speech.

I did not come prepared for the kind of nonsense I have heard here.

I am pleased to note that the Attorney General has recently written to the Law Reform Commission asking it to consider, as a matter of urgent public interest, the establishment of a DNA data bank having regard to the issues to which I referred. I look forward to examining the Law Reform Commission's findings when they become available.

I mentioned earlier that a fundamental part of our approach to crime – in stark contrast to that of our predecessors – is to ensure that there is sufficient custodial accommodation available. There is a related point which I should mention because of some misconceptions that may have arisen relating to persons serving life sentences. As things stand, all long-term prisoners, with the exception of those serving sentences for the murder of a member of the Garda Síochána, are eligible to have their cases reviewed by the Parole Board after serving seven years. This may have created the impression that in some way seven years was regarded, as it were, as the going rate for a life sentence. I want to dispel any such notion. Entitlement to review is not entitlement to release. Far from it. As Minister, I have the final decision in such cases. While I will continue to decide on such cases on their individual merits I do not accept as a general proposition that seven years, or anything like it, is anywhere near adequate in cases of murder. Those people who think there is an eight, ten or 12 year tariff should remember that from now on I intend that no single digit sentences will be had except in the most extraordinary circumstances, which I cannot even envisage. Anybody who deliberately takes another person's life – and I distinguish between cases of manslaughter and murder – anyone who with malice aforethought murders another citizen can now expect that they will serve a very substantial sentence.

Is that irrespective of how much they own or can buy out?

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.

When was this?

I do not know how they can do such U-turns.

The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, does not know about them. He negotiated with criminal gangs.

However, the strength of the Garda Síochána has never been higher. It is my intention to increase recruitment up to the level of 12,200 as soon as may be. As soon as resources are available I intend to review progress towards the 14,000 level. I reject the Opposition's argument that I am tardy about that. I am doing what I can within the resources available to me but I want the people to know that when this issue was put to them those parties said it was a bad idea and they are now saying it should be done.

We said nothing of the sort.

Yes the Deputy did and he should check the record.

That the Minister of State had to get down on his knees to negotiate with criminal gangs is proof of how ineffective the Minister's policies are.

The Garda Vote for the year 2003 is €937.9 million compared to €580 million when the parties opposite were last in office.

History again.

That is an increase of 61% in commitment of Exchequer resources to the Garda Síochána.

Crime is also increasing.

The Opposition's record in this regard speaks for itself. It speaks of neglect and underdevelopment. It is sad to see a group of par ties, which failed the Irish people and the Garda Síochána and which did nothing when the money was there to assist the Garda, championing a cause which they rejected when it was put to them.

The Government might have codded the Irish people once but they will not be codded again.

I dismiss Deputy Deasy's banal and foolish suggestion that we should prevent citizens between the ages of 18 and 20 having a drink. That is foolish. I reject his other banal and foolish suggestion that we should substitute Horlicks for wine at Government dinners.

Is that all the Minister can come up with?

I have set out a series of things which will be done in relation to the abuse of alcohol. First, we will introduce a mandatory ID card for use by young drinkers. Second, it will be an offence for publicans to allow people who are not in possession of evidence of age and identity to be in their pubs at night time. There will be a simple way of establishing who are the under-age drinkers. I was struck by Deputy Hayes's contribution that he witnessed a young person at the age of 16 and a half, who was already intoxicated, being served in a premises which he visited recently.

This happens every day. Why was the Minister struck by it?

I accept that that is the case and I intend bringing about a change in the law which will be workable.

What took the Minister so long?

I will tell Deputy Deasy what took me so long. I am doing this in the first year of my term of office. The Deputy's party was in government, when he was still abroad, and did nothing about any of this.

The Government has been in office for five years.

I am having a hard time being lectured. Young people of 15 are getting drunk every evening and the Minister is struck by this.

I expected Deputy Deasy, as a leading political light and an up-and-coming politician, would outline his view of where the Government was going wrong, would have a well prepared script and would not just mumble through a few half thought-out ideas and be succeeded by seven other speakers, none of whom had prepared a single word.

That is totally inaccurate.

They stuttered and stumbled their way through a series of childish criticisms of the Government.

What about the Minister's patronising attitude?

The record will show exactly what happened and I ask anyone who can bear to watch the video of the Fine Gael contributions tonight to reflect on what they see.

The Minister should read tomorrow morning's papers. He will see who is responsible for crime.

It is a sad spectacle of a bankrupt political party which has decided, in a moment of foolishness, to take me on in regard to this issue. If Deputy Deasy proposes to beat the drum and to take me on he will have to do an awful lot better than he did this evening.

I wish to share time with Deputies Upton and Coveney.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Having listened to the Minister for the past half hour, he really is a hoot. He is the Don Quixote of Dáil Éireann, he is forever tilting at windmills. The only difference between him and Don Quixote is that he is erecting the windmills as well as tilting at them. He is seeking to demolish arguments that do not exist and he makes great play of trying to demolish an argument that has not been put forward. This is the characteristic of the Minister all the time. This is why he looks so sharp and seems able to present such a strong argument. Let us look at the facts. It is timely that we have this debate. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy O'Donoghue, gave us zero tolerance. He saw crime rampant all the way from Cahirciveen to Dublin every day he travelled there and was going to deal with it. It did not matter how small it was, the Minister would wipe it out. The statistics from his reign in office are the worst we have ever seen.

We had the highest number of homicides, the greatest increase in violent assaults, 93%—

The greatest level of crime was when the party of which the Deputy is a member was in office.

What has the Minister presided over? Since he came to office he has presided over promises to deal with the crime problem. He has closed Shanganagh Castle effectively. He has reneged on his promise to recruit 2,000 gardaí and now he says the Opposition did not want to have more gardaí, that we were opposed to more gardaí—

Not extra prison spaces.

I would like to see the proof of that.

We all know the Labour Party is soft on crime.

This is what the Minister is doing. He is throwing out these assertions without one iota of proof and accusing the Opposition of not being in favour of dealing with the problem properly.

The record of this House is sufficient.

The Minister has announced cutbacks in the budget for Victim Support and Garda overtime. This great Government of which the Minister is a member has announced today that it will have a new Government jet at a cost in excess of €50 million. That is where the resources are being spent. This is the Government's approach to dealing with crime. The scarce resources are being spent on a new Beechcraft at a cost of further millions of euro to carry the Government and the Cabinet around the world. The Government has a perverse sense of priority. Given that it has no money for third level education it is introducing third level fees. There is no money for substandard primary and second level schools which are badly in need of repair.

Is this a debate on crime?

It is. These are the causes of crime. If we do not eliminate ghettoisation and deprivation and if we cannot ensure education is provided for young people who need it—

Will the Deputy acknowledge what was done?

—this is where the seeds of crime are sown as everybody in the House is aware. The RAPID programme, which involves the whole community, promised that areas of disadvantage, where crime and drugs were rampant, would get extra funding. Not a penny has been spent by the Government on the RAPID programme and yet the public has been conned that significant resources will be provided.

Spin and spoof.

Exactly, spin and spoof. In regard to the drugs task force, the projects are not get ting the money they need, yet the Minister says he is working wonders in relation to drugs.

Cutbacks.

Cutbacks again. Let us look at his leader, Deputy Harney, who has undermined the CE schemes which gave employment to people in deprived areas as the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, would be aware.

The Deputy opposed them.

Perhaps the Minister, Deputy McDowell, coming from Dublin 4 does not know the value of community employment schemes.

I know the Labour Party is opposed to them.

Perhaps we will have a short lecture from the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea. The health area, where there are long hospital waiting lists, is a priority area for the Government. Most of the cutbacks have taken place in the areas of deprivation and disadvantage where resources are needed to try to eliminate the causes of crime.

The Minister has criticised us for not giving him any ideas. He has not produced any ideas in this debate. We do not need to look at the old failed polices of law and order or zero tolerance but at a new approach. We want to see where the problems arise and how best to deal with them. I am referring to problems such as anti-social behaviour and violence on the streets. The best way to deal with these issues is to give a role to communities. Communities must have a forum whereby they can articulate their concerns and they must have a garda who would be accountable to them in regard to the way in which resources are spent, strategies adopted and action is taken. We have to look at matters from the ground up rather than from the top down. The Garda as it stands is a hierarchical force. We must look at those who are insecure in their communities where joyriding is taking place, where drugs are rampant, where intoxicating liquor is abused and where violence takes place. Unless there is community participation and unless the community sees that the gardaí who are policing it are responsive in a meaningful fashion, there will not be a solution. If we want to mean what we say that will require some change in structures. It will require the establishment of a policing forum.

I am going to do that.

I am glad to hear it but there was nothing about it in the Minister's speech. It will also require a fresh look at the structures in the Garda. We may well have to look at reform of the Garda in certain ways. I am not mad about the Minister's idea of an inspectorate for the Garda. I would much prefer a full blown ombuds man. While the Minister said it would have the powers he did not say it would have the resources. Without resources we can go nowhere. Our approach should be to look at crime and the causes of crime. An injection of resources is needed to deal with the causes of crime and a new dispensation in the manner in which we are going to tackle crime. Unless it is done from the ground up it will not be effective. Much of the approach in the past has been wrong. It has been ineffective, badly focused, badly directly and has not been that accountable.

A fresh approach is the only way forward. I hope the Minister will bring forward proposals other than those before us. I have every intention of making proposals in this direction to try to put flesh on how we might provide a greater level of community participation and accountability where the problems arising on the streets would be dealt with in a more holistic fashion. We are not talking about victims of crime after the crime is detected and what happens in the courts, but the victims of crime as it is being committed. We know that 25% of people do not bother reporting crime because they know it will not be dealt with.

This is a timely debate, but there needs to be a fuller debate and new thinking on the matter. Perhaps the justice committee will consider the issue.

I welcome the debate this evening. Many families in my constituency live in a constant state of fear because of the activities of a relatively small number of people who are totally out of control. That is beside the point, however, for the people who live beside them. These people live in a constant state of fear. They are afraid for their children and their elderly relatives. It ranges from what might be considered minor crime to much more serious crime, but whether it is minor or major is irrelevant if one happens to be the victim. Minor crimes range from muggings to stealing mobile phones. A 15 year old victim of such a crime is in the Visitor's Gallery this evening. He and his friend were minding their own business outside Trinity College in broad daylight when their mobile phones were stolen.

The other end of the violence and crime in my constituency includes unfortunate gangland murders. It appears the way to deal with having a spat with one's enemy is to shoot or stab the person to death. Unfortunately, there have been six of these events in as many months. Crimes range from what might be considered minor crimes, with very little comeback, to major crimes where people are murdered. It seems there has been very little effective action taken in either case.

The fear of a number of my constituents is added to as a result of joyriding exploits, not just in my area but in many other areas also. Unfortunately, young men of a certain age are very enthusiastic about this activity. They have caused havoc in many areas. The Labour Party tabled a Private Members' motion last year which was defeated by the Government. No one wanted to know about it, even though everyone agreed the content was excellent. Joyriding is still taking place. A number of positive proposals were put forward in that regard but no real action was taken.

I agree with my colleague, Deputy Costello, that what we are dealing with are the causes of crime, not just the outcome, which is where we must begin – it is far too obvious what the outcome is because we see it every day. We need to deal with the underlying causes, including the areas of disadvantage where people are dropping out of school. Let me give an example in my constituency. There was an excellent idea for an all-encompassing school-type project in Cherry Orchard. It was a disadvantaged part of the community where people were looking forward to everything from excellent pre-school to after school care, including homework clubs and so on. This was recently ignored and deferred in the schools list and there will be no action on the project until 2004. This is a community that cannot wait. It cannot afford to sit around. It needs action and support.

There are three policing forums in my area, which are very good. The community is involved and is very committed to them, but there are no resources. They are operating on a wing and a prayer. Until we have a committed resource for these forums, we do not expect any positive outcome from them.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the motion. It is probably the fourth or fifth time we have had a Private Members' motion on street violence or crime-related matters. For the Minister to suggest that we as a political party are void of ideas on the issue is total nonsense because a large number of Deputies have worked extremely hard on the issue. If he read our election manifesto he would have seen that the main plank of it was what is being introduced now, but was not introduced for the past four years, that is, the mandatory ID card scheme.

The Deputy's colleagues attacked me for that a few moments ago.

I will come to that issue in a moment and I will give it recognition if and when it is deserved. We live in a more dangerous society now than we did 12 months ago. When the Minister took over in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform there was some optimism among many neutral people because they felt he would take swift action, including tough and unpopular decisions, if necessary. Unfortunately, we have not seen that action.

Speaker after speaker gave the statistics and, therefore, I will not go over all of them again. To give just one, there were 52 killings last year alone. That is a much higher figure than previous years, going back over a five year period. The most important issue for people nowadays is their personal safety, whether at home, in work or walking down the street in the evening or during the day. Tragically, there was the rape of a young Australian girl in public in my city of Cork, the beating of young men fishing on the Loch in Cork early in the morning and a young man kicked to death while walking down a quiet alleyway to get a taxi home.

These types of incidents did not happen in the past to the same extent. They have instilled a fear in young people and their parents which has a significant effect on the mindset of many families. People do not think the Minister is taking this issue seriously. He should put forward policy initiatives to deal with the problems. First, we need to establish the main reason for the increase in violent behaviour. If one asks doctors in accident and emergency wards, Victims Support and gardaí on the beat, they will all point to alcohol as the main problem.

What has been done about alcohol abuse? There is the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. I agree with the Minister that almost everyone in the House accepted that licensing hours should be extended, which was a mistake. We are big enough to say at this stage that it was a mistake and my personal view is that it needs to be reversed. We also made a very strong case at the time, even though we did not vote against the Bill, that if licensing hours were to be extended, a mandatory ID card scheme should be introduced so that publicans could establish the age of young people coming into pubs. I do not know how many times I asked the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, whether he would introduce the scheme, but time and again he refused, putting his faith in the failed age card scheme, which fewer than the population of UCD took up over a two year period.

The Minister's contribution disappointed and annoyed me. His opening gambit was to tell Deputy Deasy to cop himself on. I thought it was a patronising, personalised, sniggering contribution that did no service to him, his Department or this House. The way he finished his speech, almost laughing at the topic, indicates the level of seriousness he attributes to the topic.

For fear of being accused of not offering ideas, I want to offer a few to the Minister this evening. These are not news ideas because they have been around from my party's point of view for some time. There needs to be increased use of CCTV. The system has been extended in cities like Cork, Limerick and Dublin, but it needs to be extended to rural towns also. Business communities will co-operate with the Minister if he works with them. There needs to be community policing committees. The Minister spoke about communities in parts of rural Ireland taking responsibility for unruly behaviour as a result of alcohol. That can happen by linking the Garda with members of the community, whether youth groups, residents' committees or local public representatives. It is a far more sensible suggestion than asking local authorities to regulate the times of closing hours.

With regard to mandatory ID cards, the Mini ster should push that proposal through as soon as possible. We have called for them for the last four years. I hope the Minister is serious about them and that they will be introduced.

With regard to non-policing issues about which we do not talk enough, we need to tackle parenting and start challenging parents on the level of responsibility they have towards their children.

Debate adjourned.