The recently published provisional headline crime statistics for the third quarter of 2006 show a decrease of 1.6% for the quarter compared with the same quarter in 2005. Looking at long term crime trends, the level of headline crime in 2005 was lower than that in 2003 by 1.6% and that in 2002 by 4.4%. Furthermore, in 1995, when we had a population of almost 3.6 million, there were 29 crimes per 1,000 of the population, while in 2005, with a population of over 4.1 million, there were 24.6 crimes per 1,000 of the population — 15% crimes less per 1,000 of the population.
I am determined that disturbing trends will be addressed as they are identified and, despite an increasing population, we should continue to enjoy relatively low crime rates. High on the Government's list of policing priorities for 2006, which have been incorporated into the Garda Síochána Policing Plan for the year, is the continued targeting of organised crime, including drug trafficking, and the gun culture associated with it through the use of specialist units and targeted, intelligence-led operations. Garda strategies are in place for dealing with drug offences which are designed to undermine the activities of organised criminal networks involved in the trafficking and distribution of illicit drugs. These strategies include gathering intelligence on individuals and organisations involved in the distribution of drugs, conducting targeted operations on criminal networks based on intelligence gathered and working in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies both within and outside the jurisdiction to address the national and international aspects of drug trafficking and distribution. These strategies continue to result in operational successes.
While it is the case that a number of the increases in headline crime statistics reflect increased enforcement activity on the part of An Garda Síochána, the overall picture indicates there is no room for complacency. The Government's decision to continue to devote unprecedented resources to the fight against crime shows that it is not complacent, as does my insistence that those resources be deployed at the front line of policing in the State.
I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 12,762 on Friday, 8 September, 2006, following the attestation of 249 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,060 (or 19%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.
I should add that the current recruitment drive to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members, in line with the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of this year. The first three groups of newly attested Gardaí under this accelerated recruitment programme came on stream in March, June and September of this year and the fourth such group will become fully attested members of the Force later this year. Further tranches of approximately 275 newly attested Gardaí will follow every 90 days thereafter until the programme is complete. The Garda Commissioner will now be drawing up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources.
Operation Anvil commenced in the Garda Dublin Metropolitan Region on 17 May, 2005. It is an intelligence led policing initiative, the focus of which is the targeting of active criminals and their associates involved in serious crime by preventing and disrupting this criminal activity through extensive additional overt patrolling and static check points by uniform, mobile and foot patrols, supported by armed plain clothes patrols. The Operation remains in place and is on-going in the Dublin Metropolitan Region. It was extended nationwide in 2006.
Outside the Dublin Metropolitan Region, a series of special operations, prepared by senior Garda managers and designed to focus on areas and incidents of high crime, has been initiated. These operations are focused with particular targets identified. A number of these operations have been completed, while further are ongoing.
Operation Anvil has proved to be very successful in disrupting the criminal activities of a number of key criminal gangs. It has resulted in a number of high-profile arrests and the acquisition of intelligence on the movements of criminals. Notable improvements have been achieved in recorded crime in the target crime areas under the operation. A budget of approximately €11 million has been allocated for Operation Anvil during 2006, and the Garda Commissioner has been advised that an additional €10 million has been made available for further operations to tackle gang related crime.
In addition to the introduction of Operation Anvil, the Commissioner in November 2005 augmented the Organised Crime Unit at the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation with an additional 55 Garda members to address the problem of criminal gang activity. Enforcement by the Unit has resulted in further firearms being seized and a number of persons arrested, thereby disrupting their criminal activities. Operation Anvil will continue to be funded to the extent and as long as the Commissioner considers that it is necessary to do so and it is fulfilling its objectives.
With regard to legislative measures, the Deputy will be aware that the recently enacted Criminal Justice Act 2006 provides a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures which will enhance the powers of the Gardaí in the investigation and prosecution of offences. In addition, the Act contains an essential updating of our criminal law to ensure that criminal offences can be investigated and prosecuted in a way which is efficient and fair and which meets the needs of modern society. The Act addresses a wide range of matters including the designation of a place as a crime scene, increased detention powers for certain offences, the admissibility of statements by witnesses who subsequently refuse to testify or who retract their original statements, the creation of new offences in relation to organised crime and the misuse of drugs, the strengthening of existing provisions in relation to sentencing for drug trafficking offences; provisions to update and strengthen the law in relation to firearms and fireworks and provisions to deal with anti-social behaviour.
With effect from today the following provisions come into effect:
mandatory minimum sentences, of between five and ten years, for certain firearms offences, including possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances, possession of firearm with criminal intent, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, possession of a firearm while hijacking a vehicle, and use or production of a firearm to resist arrest; and
new offences concerning the modification of firearms such as "sawing-off" a shotgun.
The Government gave approval on 27 July, 2006 for the drafting of a Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2006 which includes a number of provisions aimed at introducing certain changes and improvements in the operation of the Criminal Justice system. It is expected that drafting of the Bill in question will be completed early in 2007. The purpose of the Bill is twofold. Firstly, it will provide for miscellaneous, mainly technical, changes to the criminal law in relation to a number of statutes. These changes include the following:
provision for a presumption of continuity of evidence in relation to secure storage of Audio/video recordings;
provisions dealing with giving evidence in Court by Garda Technical Bureau staff;
consecutive sentences for offences committed on bail by amending Section 11 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984;
consideration of the definition of harassment as currently contained in Section 10 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997;
allowing for the separation of Juries during trials; and
amendments to the European Arrest Warrant Act, 2003 arising from experience of operation of the provisions of the Act.
Secondly, the Bill will also give legislative effect to a number of international instruments relating to criminal law, these include:
Article 15 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime which requires the signatories to establish jurisdiction over certain offences, including money laundering when the offence is committed in the territory of the State or outside it or on a vessel or aircraft registered to the State.
The Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, which is the first international treaty dealing with criminal offences by means of, or against, computer networks, in particular child pornography, computer related fraud, network security and infringement of copyright. The aim of the Convention is to pursue a common criminal approach aimed at the protection of society against cybercrime.
An OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. A number of recommendations made by an OECD Working Party following an evaluation in 2002 in relation to this provision, will be included in the Bill.
The Framework Decision on Combating Corruption in the Private Sector, which was adopted in July 2003. Ireland's anti-corruption legislation already has extensive measures which largely comply with the requirements of this Framework Decision. The Bill provides an opportunity to deal with any outstanding issues.
The Bill will also contain provisions which are largely procedural in nature, the aims of which are to facilitate the operation in Ireland of the Schengen Information System.
In addition to the drafting of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006, work has commenced on a General Scheme of a Criminal Justice (Money Laundering) Bill which will have the effect of transposing the European Communities 3rd Money Laundering Directive into Irish law.
Preparatory work on a General Scheme of a Bill, which will allow Ireland to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, is also underway and it is intended, subject to Government approval, to have this proposed legislation published and introduced in the Oireachtas without undue delay. The enactment of all of the provisions set out above is intended to improve the working of the criminal justice system and will also enable Ireland to play its part in developing a common approach at international level to combat crime.
Strong provisions are in place to combat anti-social behaviour and vandalism. The primary basis for the law regarding public order offences is the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, which modernised the law in this regard. Furthermore, because of my concerns about the abuse of alcohol and its contribution to public order offending and broader social problems, I brought forward tough provisions to deal with alcohol abuse and its effect on public order in the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003. One of the provisions of the Act is to broaden the application of the temporary closure order penalty, which was originally introduced to combat under-age drinking, to cover also convictions for a series of offences, such as a licensee supplying intoxicating liquor to drunken persons and permitting disorderly conduct on the licensed premises.
The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 has also been enacted, the main purpose of which is to provide the Garda Síochána with additional powers to deal with late night street violence and anti-social conduct attributable to excessive drinking. It does this by providing for the closure of premises such as pubs, off licenses, late night clubs and food premises where there is disorder or noise on or close to the premises, as well as the making of exclusion orders on individuals convicted of a range of public order offences, in addition to any penalty they might receive under the 1994 Public Order Act. The Criminal Justice Act, 2006 contains provisions to deal with anti-social behaviour. The Act empowers a senior member of the Garda Síochána to apply to the District Court by way of a civil procedure for an order which will prohibit an adult from behaving in an anti-social manner.
The relevant provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006 will be commenced following consultations between my Department, the Office of the Minister for Children and the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána. These consultations are currently ongoing. The purpose of this is to ensure that these provisions will commence as soon as the Commissioner has made the necessary internal arrangements to ensure the smooth introduction of these new procedures.
Separate provision is being made in relation to young people. The Act introduces provisions for behaviour orders for children aged 12 to 18 years into the Children Act, 2001 and the protections of that Act will apply. There will be a series of incremental stages, with parental involvement, preceding an application for a behaviour order. These include a warning, a good behaviour contract and referral to the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme. Only after these stages can a behaviour order be sought through the courts.
I am informed by the Garda authorities that An Garda Síochána has a pro-active approach to policing anti-social/public disorder issues by immediate intervention, arrest and prosecutions or advice, as appropriate. Local Garda management provide for this in policing plans and make every effort to provide a highly visible police presence on the streets of our towns and villages through the deployment of uniform Gardaí, detective units, divisional traffic corps, community policing units and mountain bike units as appropriate. Garda patrols pay particular attention to areas where the public tends to congregate such as licensed venues and fast food outlets while awaiting transport, so as to prevent and detect incidents of public disorder. I am further informed that Operation Encounter, which was introduced by Garda management in 2002, targets public disorder offences including assaults and drinking by underage persons.
Juvenile Liaison Officers regularly visit schools, youth clubs and social services to give presentations under the education programme and highlight alternative options for regular offenders. Community Gardaí and the Garda Schools Liaison Officers also visit schools and address young people on a variety of topics including anti social behaviour.
Members of An Garda Síochána are frequently in contact with other Government and non-government agencies, including the Health Service Executive and the local authorities in order to have a multi-agency approach to addressing criminal issues. This multi-agency liaison will continue.
Garda Youth Diversion Projects are community based, multi-agency crime prevention initiatives which seek to divert young people from becoming involved (or further involved) in anti-social and/or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development and promote civic responsibility. The Garda Youth Diversion Projects are funded by my Department and administered through Garda Community Relations Section of An Garda Síochána. The allocation of funding for the 74 Garda Youth Diversion Projects (along with 7 Local Drug Task Force Projects) in 2006 is just over €6.6 million, which is an increase of €1.2 million on 2005.
It is my intention to ensure that 100 schemes will be established nationwide before the end of 2007. As part of this expansion, ten new projects were established this year and they are located in Blanchardstown, Birr, Carlow, Castlebar, Cavan, Clondalkin, Limerick, Tallaght and Tralee (two projects).