Written Answers. - Crime Prevention.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

77 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the instructions and resources he has given the Garda to tackle the seriously escalating crime rate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28287/03]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

315 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he proposes to take to tilt the balance in favour of the authorities in the fight against crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28410/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 315 together.

First, the Deputy will be aware that the investigation of criminal offences and the detailed allocation of Garda resources are operational matters for the Garda Commissioner, with whom I liaise on a regular basis. Second, I have already pointed out in this House that the most recent figures made available to me indicate that the overall crime rate is not escalating. Provisional Garda figures for the nine-month period to the end of September 2003 show a 3% decline over the same nine-month period in 2002.

In addition, the commissioner has informed me that the personnel strength of the Garda Síochána as of 19 November 2003 was 11,875. A further 164 probationer gardaí are due to be attested to the force on 27 November 2003 and allocated to their respective stations on 28 November 2003. Garda recruitment and training has been prioritised to bring the force up to its maximum authorised strength of 12,200 as soon as possible. Six hundred and ninety Garda trainees have been taken into the Garda college during this year. A new Garda recruitment competition is under way, and the commissioner has projected, based on the anticipated rate of retirement, that the maximum authorised force strength of 12,200 will be achieved during 2004. Those extra gardaí will be assigned to the areas of greatest need.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Síochána Bill 2003, which will be published within weeks, contains several measures on the organisation, management, performance and accountability of the Garda Síochána aimed at improving the efficient and effective use of Garda resources. The publication of the preliminary draft scheme allowed all directly interested, and the public at large, the opportunity to take part in the consultative process that is informing the drafting process of the Bill.

Responsibility for crime prevention and enforcement cannot rest solely on the gardaí and the wider criminal justice system. Local authorities also have a role to play. The Garda Síochána Bill therefore proposes a formalised consultation process in the form of local policing committees which will formulate and oversee the implementation of measures of co-operation between the local authority and the Garda aimed at reducing crime and disorder and combating the misuse of alcohol and drugs.

I have recently made an additional €2 million available to the Garda Síochána to cover the period up to the end of this year which will provide over 55,000 additional overtime hours to tackle crime and will also cover all additional travel and subsistence requirements. The bulk of those additional resources will be targeted at the southern and Dublin metropolitan regions and at support units, including the emergency response unit, where appropriate.

A €91 million increase has been received for the Garda Vote for 2004 over the 2003 Estimate of €954 million. That represents a 9.5% increase in the Garda Vote for 2004 and means that the Garda budget is over €1 billion for 2004. The co-ordinated deployment of specialist units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Garda national drug unit, has enabled the Garda Síochána to tackle organised crime more effectively, as well as other crime. Other smaller units, including the money laundering investigation unit and a unit dealing with the theft of computer components, have also had success in combating the activities of organised criminals.
As I have previously informed the House, I maintain close contact with the Garda Commissioner and his senior officers regarding violent incidents. The commissioner has assured me that he is satisfied that the necessary resources are being directed towards those areas of criminal activity. He has informed me that a proactive and integrated approach would continue to be taken by the gardaí in investigating cases where there is a suspicion that organised and gangland criminals are involved.
The commissioner has also informed me that non-headline crime, which includes public order incidents, has decreased by 9% in the twelve-month period from November 2002 to the end of October 2003. Since this is the first time that the PULSE computer system has been used for the compilation of statistics on non-headline crime, caution must be exercised in comparing those figures with those for previous periods. Nevertheless, they are a positive indication that the policy of targeted operations is being successful.
I am committed to ensuring that our body of criminal law is constantly reviewed and updated so that it is effective in dealing with contemporary manifestations of crime, including organised crime, public order offences and anti-social behaviour, and that it does so in a way that is balanced and fair. The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 gives the gardaí significant additional powers when dealing with anti-social behaviour. In addition, all sections of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 have been in operation since Monday, 29 September 2003. The latest provisions to come into effect change the closing time on Thursdays to 11.30 p.m., grant licensees discretion to exclude young persons from bars, and oblige persons aged 18 to 20 to carry an age document if they wish to purchase alcohol. I am confident that those reforms will improve compliance with, and enforcement of, the licensing laws. The many structural reforms to the licensing system recommended by the Commission on Liquor Licensing will be addressed in the codification of the licensing code. I expect that an outline of a codification Bill will be available by the middle of 2004.
I have also published the scheme of a revised Criminal Justice Bill in recent months. The aim of the Bill is to ensure that the Garda Síochána has at its disposal the necessary legislative framework to allow for the proper investigation and prosecution of serious crime. The measures that I propose include: increasing powers of detention in Garda custody for questioning from the current maximum of 12 hours to a maximum of 24 hours for arrestable offences; strengthening the power of the gardaí to operate legal searches by providing general powers to the District Court to issue a search warrant regarding an arrestable offence and, in exceptional circumstances, that a senior member of the gardaí will be empowered to issue a warrant which would expire after 24 hours; introducing statutory powers for the gardaí to preserve a crime scene to allow proper examination and investigation to take place and providing for a prosecution right of appeal on a point of law.
The House will be aware that, arising directly from recent events, I am considering the introduction of a statutory provision allowing for the admissibility of witness statements in circumstances where the witness subsequently recants at trial or refuses to co-operate with the court. I am at present examining Canadian law and jurisprudence in the matter, and if I consider it beneficial to do so, I will also bring forward proposals in that respect in the Criminal Justice Bill.
I welcome the decision of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to conduct a legislative and administrative review of the system, and, in particular, the issue of witness protection, and to invite submissions from interested organisations and individuals with constructive proposals.