Other Questions.

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Garda Síochána Inspectorate.

Liz McManus

Question:

10 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the proposed role and functions of the Garda inspectorate announced by him on 5 August 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32500/04]

The provisions relating to the establishment of the proposed Garda Síochána inspectorate have been published by way of official amendments to the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, Committee Stage of which commenced in the Seanad yesterday and continued today. The proposal to establish the inspectorate is being brought forward in light of the recently published report of the Morris tribunal and the questions arising from it relating to the need for measures to improve democratic accountability for the actions of the Garda Síochána.

The main functions of the inspectorate will be to ensure that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Reform of the day will have independent objective information available to him or her in regard to the operation and administration of the Garda Síochána. The inspectorate will look at thematic policy issues with standards, practice and performance benchmarked to comparable international policing experiences. The key objectives will be to ensure and promote efficiency and effectiveness in the Garda Síochána and to provide advice to the Minister.

The inspectorate will be able to conduct inspections and inquiries in two types of circumstances. The first will be as directed by the Minister, the second will be following consultations with the Minister. This latter provision is designed to allow the inspectorate on its own initiative to identify a particular area or areas which it feels should be examined and, following discussions on the point with the Minister, the Minister can agree that an inspection as recommended by the inspectorate should take place.

There should be no confusion between the role of the inspectorate as outlined and that of the ombudsman commission. The primary function of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission will be to investigate complaints by members of the public against members of the Garda Síochána and it will replace the existing Garda Síochána Complaints Board, established under the Garda Síochána Complaints Act 1986. The commission will have comprehensive powers of investigation to deal with complaints and it will have ultimate control and oversight of all complaints processed in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. It will also have the power to investigate of its own motion, without a complaint having to be made, any case involving the Garda Síochána where death or serious harm to a person has occurred, or where it is desirable in the public interest, any matter that appears to it to indicate that a member of the Garda Síochána may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings.

When I tabled the question no amendments had been published. I am pleased the Minister has got the legislation back in the Seanad given that it had been lying on the shelf for many months since its introduction in the Seanad. My concern is that the inspectorate is likely to be the eyes and ears of the Minister and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and, in many ways, will take away from the role of the ombudsman. The ombudsman is an independent body. Can we take it that the new inspectorate proposed by the Minister will be an independent body along the same lines as the ombudsman commission or will one set of reporting go directly to the Minister and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and another through the ombudsman's office and, if so, how will the two integrate?

I accept the Morris tribunal found a huge gap in reporting in regard to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I am concerned that the body will report only to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and will be a creature of the Minister and that Department and that we will not get full and proper reporting from it.

The matters are entirely distinct. As I outlined in my reply, there should be no confusion between the role of the inspectorate, as envisaged in the amendment, and the role of the proposed ombudsman commission, which will stand within the four corners relating to its establishment. The ombudsman's primary function will be to deal with public complaints. It will have comprehensive powers to deal with such complaints, thereby ensuring that public confidence in the Garda Síochána is fostered and maintained. The legislation envisages that the inspectorate will be an entirely different office. It is not being designed to operate as some class of rottweiler to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is being established because a tribunal of inquiry, which has examined the matter, has suggested that it should be established.

Will it be an independent body?

That depends on the legislation. It is clear that while the ombudsman will be independent, he or she will require ministerial sanction for certain actions.

I do not oppose the establishment of an inspectorate as a matter of principle, but I have some concerns which are based on reality and perception. I am worried that the establishment of the inspectorate, in the manner which is proposed, will increase the Minister's political control over the Garda. I know the amendment tabled by the Minister in the Seanad envisages a modest role for the Oireachtas, but I have suggested that the inspectorate should report to a security committee or a sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. I propose that the Oireachtas should have more control over the inspectorate, rather than it being directly controlled by the Minister. Does the Minister of State accept that the public is worried and public representatives are concerned about the present formulation of the proposal? My suggestion, that the Oireachtas should have a greater role, is one way of obviating such concerns.

Two issues arise from Deputy O'Keeffe's comments, the first of which relates to the legislation itself. It is clear that it would be more satisfactory to discuss these issues in the context of the legislation that will come before the House.

We will have an opportunity to do so.

The Minister will examine sympathetically any provisions or amendments which will ensure that he or a future Minister cannot engage in improper interference with the operation of the inspectorate. I share Deputy O'Keeffe's concerns in that regard. It is important that we ensure that the office is not the subject of any such doubt. The Deputy's second point was that the Oireachtas should be involved in the inspectorate in some way. The amendment tabled by the Minister in the Seanad contains an element that will ensure that the inspectorate will be accountable to the Oireachtas in some way.

A minor element.

There are limits to that accountability, however. The Minister is the political head of the Department. The set of checks and balances that has been carefully put in place must be observed. As a politician, the Minister will be publicly accountable to the House for the operations of the inspectorate. He will be able to ask it to investigate a particular matter. It is not clear to me that the involvement of the Houses would add to that.

I can think of a former Minister for Justice — he is now before a tribunal — whom one would not want to be in charge of the Garda Síochána in that fashion.

This House elects the Government.

The person to whom I refer represented the Minister of State's party in this House.

Crime Levels.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

11 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the findings of the recent Eircom PhoneWatch Burglary Report 2004, which found that burglaries cost householders a total of €58 million over a 12 month period, an increase of 11.5% over the previous year; his views on these figures; the steps being taken to combat the high level of burglaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32497/04]

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is aware of the report in question. It is important to point out that it is unclear whether the figures in the report were compiled according to the strict legal definition of the offence of burglary, as is the case with the Garda figures, whether other household crimes were included, whether the figures relate to the company's clients only or whether the report takes account of the increase in the company's client base. While the report states that there has been an increase of 11.5% in the cost of burglaries to residential households, it claims that burglaries have decreased by 17.8% compared to the same 12 month period last year. It is important to clarify that the figures in question are not directly comparable to the statistics which the Garda publishes.

The Garda supports and fosters a number of crime prevention measures which have direct value for householders. Like other community based schemes, the neighbourhood watch scheme which was established in 1985 by the Garda enlists the voluntary help of the community in co-operation with the Garda. Some 2,300 neighbourhood watch schemes, involving over 350,000 households, are in operation throughout the country. The scheme is organised by the community relations section of the Garda. The community alert programme, which is part funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in partnership with Muintir na Tíre, is an example of a similar partnership of relevance to rural communities. The programme, which consists of over 1,110 schemes and covers almost 250,000 homes, has particular reference to the security of older persons.

The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities that community gardaí are working in designated areas. Such gardaí meet representatives of local communities with a view to preventing and reducing the incidence of burglaries and anti-social behaviour. Policing plans in all areas are predicated on the prevention of crime, including crimes of violence against persons and property, and the maintenance of an environment that is conducive to improving the quality of life of residents. The strategy is and will continue to be central to the delivery of an effective policing service.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The House is aware that the National Crime Council has recommended the establishment of a national crime prevention model, including the recruitment of a dedicated crime prevention representative, and a sub-committee dedicated to tackling crime prevention, within city and county development boards. The council has also recommended that the implementation of the model should commence with a pilot scheme in three city and county development boards.

The Garda Síochána Bill 2004, which was published by the Minister on 17 February last, includes provision for the establishment of joint policing committees by local authorities and the Garda Commissioner. It allows for the issuing of guidelines by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with the consent of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, about the establishment and maintenance of the committees. The guidelines may include provision for the establishment of committees within the framework of city and county development boards and for their funding.

It is important that citizens should realise that the Garda Síochána is not and cannot be solely responsible for law enforcement in this jurisdiction. It relies on the ongoing and active support of the public to enable it to be at its most effective in its duties. Such support may involve the provision of information to the Garda by members of the public, or more general co-operation by members of the public with the Garda. All members of society have an active part to play in the fight against crime and a duty to do so.

The figures contained in the Eircom PhoneWatch report do not coincide with the figures published by the Garda Síochána. The Garda's reports contain the relevant figures for crimes which are reported to it. The figures published by Eircom PhoneWatch are more valuable and accurate because they are comparable to the figures contained in a household survey. The CSO's household survey, which was published earlier this year, showed that one in every 30 households has been burgled, that €58 million is taken every year, that Dublin is by far the most burgled area in Ireland and that goods and property worth approximately €3,600 are taken from homes during each burglary. Is there a case for asking the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to conduct a proper household survey on a regular basis so that we can acquire accurate figures for the number of burglaries which take place? Is it true that an inordinate proportion of the burglaries which are taking place at present is not reported? We do not get details of many of the goods which are stolen. Such crimes create a climate of fear among the residential population of the country.

I am satisfied that the current method of collating data is accurate. Burglaries have decreased by 17.8% this year, compared to the previous 12 months.

I do not refer only to burglaries which are reported, but to all burglaries. It is a completely different matter.

While I take the point that not all burglaries are reported, it should be emphasised that people are encouraged to report burglaries. The Garda and the Department have put in place a comprehensive set of initiatives to ensure that all cases are investigated properly. People do not have to report burglaries if they do not want to do so.

That is not a very clear explanation.

There is no need for a further type of——

Nothing is happening.

——data collection to complement what we already have.

I think there is.

The Minister is right to state that we do not need data collection, we need the true facts and figures. We have quoted figures which are reported and figures which are unreported. It is a simple fact that there are 10,000 additional crimes per year, or an extra 200 crimes per week, compared to 1997 or 1998, when the current Government took office for the first time. I do not think the Government has acknowledged that people are afraid in their homes. People used to leave the door open many years ago, but seven years ago they started to leave the key in the door. Now they bring the key to bed with them to ensure that it is not left anywhere near the door. We are not facing the fact that people are afraid that their houses will be burgled. New initiatives and schemes are needed to tackle these problems.

Extra gardaí are needed.

It is common in every town every week that three or four houses in a housing estate are burgled over the course of a single day. There are 200 additional crimes every week compared to seven years ago. What is the Government doing about it? We are not getting anywhere by comparing figures and referring to various reports. No action is being taken. Rather than hearing about new initiatives and ideas, we are being given quotes, percentages and figures.

I do not accept the figures cited by Deputy English.

I have given the facts.

There has been a reduction over the past 12 months in the number of burglaries throughout the country. That is a fact.

There are 10,000 additional crimes each year.

There is no point in——

We do not want to hear that old waffle.

There is no point in preaching what the Deputy is preaching given that crime levels have decreased considerably.

Decreased considerably since last year.

There are too many burglaries taking place because one is too many.

There are 200 more per week than there were when the Government took office.

Garda Equipment.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

12 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if it is intended to reduce the number of gardaí who carry arms; the number currently trained in the use of firearms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32496/04]

The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities that the number of personnel of all ranks currently trained in the use of firearms is 3,664. The number of gardaí who carry arms on duty at any particular time is an operational matter for the Commissioner.

The Minister has made it clear that he believes the traditional unarmed character of the Garda Síochána has always been one of its key strengths in maintaining its public reputation as an approachable force that polices by consent and not by fear. Any reasonable member of the public would want to see that tradition continued.

Instruction governing the use of firearms and practical and tactical training is provided for each firearm on issue to the Garda Síochána. Members of the force must achieve the required score in qualifying shots and display the necessary skills and standards to meet the aims and objectives for each firearms course. There is also an ongoing annual recertification programme, which includes refresher training.

The position on the use of firearms by members of the Garda Síochána is that members who successfully complete the relevant firearms training course are issued with a certificate of competency regarding the firearm in question. To carry a firearm on duty, a member's chief superintendent must issue him or her with a firearm authorisation card. Responsibility for the use of a firearm rests with the individual garda in accordance with the instructions.

Whenever a firearm is produced or used in the course of duty, the officer in question is obliged submit immediately thereafter a report detailing the circumstances involved to the station that covers the area where the incident occurred or, if that station is closed, the district headquarters, and to the member's own station on his return.

The Commissioner appointed a working group within the Garda Síochána, chaired by an assistant commissioner, to examine issues relating to the use of firearms in the force with particular reference to training. The Minister understands that some issues raised by this group are the subject of ongoing study. He will consider the outcome of this study in due course in consultation with the Commissioner.

Will the Minister of State confirm the statement of Assistant Commissioner Nacie Rice that there will be a reduction in the number of gardaí carrying firearms? Will so-called less-than-lethal weapons become part of the new equipment of the Garda? If so, has the emergency response unit already been furnished with such equipment? Have any of the water cannons that were introduced during the EU Presidency been purchased by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for use?

As I stated, the determination of the number of gardaí who carry arms while on duty at any given time is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner. The Minister and his Department do not comment on this.

The decision on whether to introduce less-than-lethal weapons was made on the basis of a general Garda review of these types of devices carried out by the Garda authorities. The review was conducted by a working group on less-than-lethal weapons under the chairmanship of the assistant commissioner at the crime and security branch. The terms of reference included the examination of current practices and procedures for all circumstances; examination of the procedures in place in other jurisdictions; the gathering of information available on non-lethal methods currently available and the evaluation of same with regard to use by the Garda Síochána; making recommendations on all the implications for the Garda Síochána of making such non-lethal methods available for use by members of the force; and consideration of legislative changes that may be necessary. The working group attended international conferences on the subject, visited various agencies in Europe and the US and attended a number of live firearm demonstrations. The information gleaned from these visits is to be combined with that gleaned from additional test material before a final decision is made on the recommendation.

I am very much in favour of having an unarmed Garda force. This policy has served us so well. However, I accept that some members of the force should be armed.

I am given to understand that the training facilities available for the use of firearms leave much to be desired. A by-product of the closure of many of military posts is that less space is available for firing ranges and other training facilities. Does the Minister of State agree that those gardaí who carry arms require regular access to training facilities? If not, it is not wise to allow them to carry arms.

The Commissioner appointed a group chaired by an assistant commissioner to examine matters relating to the use of firearms and training in the force. Those matters are still under consideration by the Commissioner. The Minister will consider the outcome of that report and any issues that arise regarding the adequacy of the training facilities. The Deputy will be aware that, on 12 October, the Government approved the Minister's proposal to increase the strength of the force. A key element of this project involves the enhancement of the facilities at Templemore. This process is being pursued actively within the established timescale by Garda management.

It is still on the drawing board.

Members of the Garda who complete the relevant training course successfully are issued with a certificate of competency pertaining to the firearm in question. Training is provided for each firearm on issue to the Garda. Instruction governing the use of firearms and practical and tactical training forms part of each course. There are very comprehensive training and procedural regulations governing the use of firearms by gardaí.

Are they adequate?

The Minister of State did not answer my question on the assistant commissioner, who stated there would be a reduction in the use of firearms. Is the emergency response unit now being provided with new less-than-lethal weapons because of the experience at Abbeylara? Will this be the normal mechanism that the Garda will operate in future? Whatlessons have been learned?

As the Deputy is aware, the tragic event at Abbeylara is the subject of an ongoing tribunal. As such, it would not be proper for me to comment on the matter. However, it is entirely a matter for the Commissioner and his assistant commissioners and one in which the Government should not get involved.

Disability Bill 2004.

David Stanton

Question:

13 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the views of the Equality Authority on the possible implications of the impact of the Disability Bill 2004 on current equality legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32555/04]

I received a submission from the Equality Authority on the Disability Bill 2004 on 4 November last. A reply has issued to the authority acknowledging receipt of the submission and indicating that the issues raised in it are under consideration.

As the Deputy will be aware, I introduced the Disability Bill in this House on 4 November and I hope that Second Stage will be scheduled for continuation next week. More recently, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights held hearings on the Disability Bill with over 30 interest groups including the Equality Authority. The views of the authority are being examined in the context of further consideration of the Bill for Committee and subsequent Stages before this House.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. Does he agree with the Equality Authority's statement that the provisions of the Equal Status Act are subordinate to the taking of an action required by another statute and that, as such, any action required by the Disability Bill could be used as a defence to any claim under the Equal Status Act? Is he willing to table an amendment to the Disability Bill that would state that nothing in the Bill would diminish legal obligations with respect to people with disabilities imposed under the equality legislation?

These are two different Bills with different objectives and therefore it is not possible to make direct comparisons and cast one against the other. That is not my intention. There are definitions in the Disability Bill that are much narrower than those in the equality legislation and which are for the specific purpose of protecting people with disabilities. Therefore, I do not accept that one should be compared with the other or one should try to emulate what has been achieved in the other.

Is the Minister of State aware that the Equal Status Act exempts the taking of any action required under the Disability Bill and the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill when enacted? Does he agree with the Equality Authority that section 5 of the Disability Bill could be taken to mean that public service providers could argue that they are obliged in certain circumstances not to allocate resources to services envisaged in the Bill and that equality measures could suffer greatly as a result? Will he consider this as a serious issue?

I do not accept that equality measures could suffer greatly or that section 5 or any other section of the Bill is rendered inadequate by the equality legislation.

It is the other way around.

Or the other way around, whichever way it is. Much effort was made to examine the legal consequences of the Disability Bill which provides in a fair and proper way for the interests and rights of people with disabilities. That is the intention and objective of the Bill.

Is the Minister of State saying he disagrees with the Equality Authority in this matter?

I am not saying any such thing. That is a view of the Equality Authority which I have taken on board and am prepared to consider.

Asylum Applications.

Seán Ryan

Question:

14 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of applications for asylum received during 2002, 2003 and to date in 2004; the number of applications upheld by the Refugee Appeals Commission; the number of appeals submitted to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the number of such appeals upheld; the number of applications for leave to remain and the number of such applications granted; the number of deportation orders made and the number of such deportations carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32515/04]

The information requested is contained in the following tables which will be circulated to Deputies:

Table 1: Number of asylum applications received and the number of recommendations by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner to grant refugee status at first instance in 2002, 2003 and 2004.**

2002

2003

2004*

No. of applications received

11,634

7,900

4,336

No. of recommendations to grant refugee status (at first instance)

893

345

388

*As at 30/11/04.

**It is assumed that the reference in the Deputy's question to "Refugee Appeals Commission" refers to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner.

Table 2: Number of appeals submitted to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the number upheld at appeal stage in 2002, 2003 and 2004.*

2002

2003

2004*

No. of appeals received**

5,159

5,014

4,146

No. of appeals upheld (granted refugee status)**

1,099

831

607

*As at 31/10/04.

**Substantive and accelerated cases.

Table 3: Number of deportation orders signed and number effected in 2002, 2003 and 2004.*

2002

2003

2004*

No. of deportation orders signed

2,442

2,415

2,445**

No. of deportation orders effected

521

590

456***

*As at 31/10/04.

**In addition to the 2,445 deportation orders signed, there have also been 185 Dublin II Regulation transfer orders signed.

***In addition to the 456 deportation orders effected, there have also been 33 Dublin II Regulation transfers effected.

Table 4: Number of applications for leave to remain received from current or former asylum applicants.

2002

2003

2004*

No. of applications received

6,887

1,272

236**

*As at 31/10/04.

**In the context of proposed deportation orders under the Immigration Act 1999, the issue of leave to remain on humanitarian grounds is considered, irrespective of whether an application is made. Thus, no statistics are kept as to the number of such applications made.

Table 5: Number of applications granted for leave to remain by category.

2002

2003

2004*

Parentage of Irish-born child

3,113

172

0

Marriage to an Irish national

86

132

112

Dependant of EEA national

138

77

98

Humanitarian grounds

159

83

54

Total

3,496

464

264

*As at 31/10/04

It is not often we have important sports people in the Visitors Gallery but the former Glasgow Celtic goalkeeper, Tommy Lally, from Galway is there and we welcome him and his colleagues from Galway.

We will excuse the Minister of State's intervention in light of his Galway background. We join the welcome to the visitors.

Mr. Lally is very welcome, wherever he is. The Minister of State has not yet given us the tables and we have not had a chance to look at them. Is the number of applications put through to the Refugee Appeals Commissioner and upheld less than the number submitted to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and upheld? Are the same inexplicable results emerging there whereby three times the number of applications submitted on appeal are successful compared with the initial applications?

I do not have the information the Deputy requires. I have the tables only but will ask the Department to respond to his inquiry.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.