Priority Questions.

Crime Levels.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

81 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures he proposes to put in place to deal with the continual rising levels of crime. [36427/06]

The trend in the headline crime statistics for the three quarters to date in 2006 has been positive. The provisional headline crime statistics for the third quarter — the most recent — show a decrease of 1.6% for the quarter compared with the same quarter in 2005. These statistics are the first crime statistics to be published independently by the Central Statistics Office following my decision that new arrangements should be put in place for their publication.

With regard to longer-term crime trends, the level of headline crime in 2005 was lower than that in 2002 by 4.4%. Furthermore, in 1995, when we had a population of 3.6 million, there were 29 serious crimes per 1,000 of the population, while in 2005, with a population of more than 4.1 million, there were 24.6 crimes per 1,000 of the population — 15% fewer crimes per 1,000 of the population. By way of comparison, during 1995 and 1996 there were 29 and 28 crimes per 1,000 population in each of those years.

I am determined that any trends which emerge are addressed as they are identified and that as a result we continue to enjoy crime rates which are low by European standards. To this end I am active on two fronts, by providing the personnel and resources to the Garda Síochána which it requires and by updating the criminal law where that is necessary.

In October 2004, I announced that I was proceeding with the Government's proposal to recruit 2,000 additional gardaí over the life of the Government and an implementation plan to achieve that expansion was drawn up in consultation with the Garda Commissioner. The plan, published in November 2004, envisaged a recruiting strategy that would see the combined strength of the force reaching 14,044 gardaí, including trainees, by the end of 2006. The overall strength of the force, including recruits in training is now 14,137. We have delivered on our target well ahead of schedule because instead of recruiting 1,050 in each year, we increased the number to 1,100.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The expansion of the Garda Síochána is fully on target. Since the first quarter of 2005, approximately 275 recruits have been inducted to the Garda Training College each quarter. This has resulted in the personnel strength, all ranks, of the Garda Síochána increasing 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, 19%, in the personnel strength of the force during that period. The induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November 2006 has resulted in a combined strength, of both attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137.

Excellent progress has been made on the establishment of the Garda Reserve. More than 7,000 have applied to join the reserve. Reserve members will provide valuable support for their full-time colleagues and will enhance the capacity of the Garda Síochána to respond to emerging policing challenges and allow for more gardaí to be visibly deployed on the street. The first group of trainees are due to graduate in December.

The Garda budget now stands at €1.3 billion, which represents a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms. In addition to expenditure on operations, these resources are also being used to provide required facilities. Most recently, significant property has been purchased in Tipperary to provide a major tactical and practical training centre for the force. This will enable a broad range of training facilities to be developed.

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, in particular drug trafficking, and the gun culture associated with it, through the use of specialist units and targeted, intelligence-led operations. To achieve this, Operation Anvil commenced in the Garda Dublin Metropolitan Region in May 2005, and it was extended nationwide in 2006 at my request. 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 checkpoints by uniform, mobile and foot patrols, supported by armed plain-clothes patrols. The operation remains in place and is ongoing. Additional resources have been made available this year for the operation of €11 million, with an additional €10 million made available for further operations to tackle gang related crime. Operation Anvil will continue to be funded to the extent and as long as the Commissioner considers it is necessary to do so and it is fulfilling its objectives.

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.

With regard to legislative measures, the Deputy will be aware that the Criminal Justice Act 2006 provides a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures which will enhance the powers of the Garda 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.

It updates and strengthens the law on firearms. With effect from 1 November, mandatory minimum sentences, of between five and ten years, came into effect for certain firearms offences, including possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances, possession of a 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. There are also new offences concerning the modification of firearms such as "sawing-off" a shotgun.

The Act also contains provisions to deal with anti-social behaviour. It 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. Separate provision is being made for 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.

Work is under way in the Garda Síochána to make the necessary internal arrangements to ensure the smooth introduction of these new procedures. As soon as these arrangements are in place, and following consultations between my Department, the Office of the Minister for Children and the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, the relevant provisions of the Act will be commenced.

Work is also under way on putting the necessary arrangements in the Garda Síochána to introduce the provisions in the Act whereby a fixed charge notice can be issued for the public order offences of disorderly conduct in a public place and intoxication in a public place.

A criminal justice miscellaneous provisions Bill is being drafted. The Bill will introduce a number of changes and improvements in the operation of the criminal justice system, give legislative effect to a number of international instruments relating to criminal law and facilitate the operation in Ireland of the Schengen Information System. Work is also proceeding on a Bill to provide for the establishment on a statutory basis of a DNA database.

The people will not be reassured by the Tánaiste's response. He seems to be in denial that we have a huge problem with crime. Does he not accept that headline crime, serious crime generally, recognising the Garda statistics has increased my more than 40% since 2000? Does the Tánaiste not recognise that even the recent CSO statistics clearly show that by comparison with his first full year in office, 2003, violent crime in the past 12 months has seriously escalated and is now virtually out of control? Does he not accept that over the period to which I refer, murders have increased by 25%, rapes have increased by 33% and firearms offences have increased by 43%? Does he not agree that these figures are of concern and that unless they are accepted as being such there is no hope of confronting them? The Tánaiste's main problem is that he is in denial of the extent of the problem.

Does the Tánaiste know about a study recently carried out in Dublin, as reported in today'sIrish Independent, which indicates that three quarters of the people in Dublin live in fear of being assaulted? The study found that 88% of females are scared to walk in their own areas at night for fear of being attacked.

The Tánaiste has trotted out his figures for members of the Garda Síochána. Would he not accept that pompously parading like a peacock in Templemore, pretending that newly recruited student gardaí are out on the beat is not the answer to this problem? Would he not accept that four and a half years ago he stated in his party's manifesto — I presume it was drafted by him at the time — that his party would increase the strength of the Garda Síochána by 2,000 members? In the same election campaign, the Fianna Fáil manifesto stated that the planned strength for 2002 of 12,000 would be reached and if elected to serve in Government, Fianna Fáil would expand the Garda Síochána by a further 2,000. That was four and a half years ago and we have still not reached 13,000. We do not have even half the promised increase. The Tánaiste talking about what he said in 2004 is not the issue.

Does he not recognise that the people are paying the price for the absolute neglect of the Government? I do not blame the Minister alone. He told me in 2004 that he could not get the money to put the extra recruitment in place at the time. The then Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, was holding on to the purse strings. All the members of Government are in the one boat; they are all responsible. This was a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats commitment and it has not been delivered. Does the Minister accept that, in the meantime, the people have been paying the price? Nowhere is safe now. People walk the streets in fear. They do not feel safe in their own homes. A five-year-old child standing outside his grandmother's house is not safe from the depths of depravity to which the criminals in this country have sunk and which they are being let get away with by the Government.

The time for dealing with this question is almost exhausted.

I listened carefully to what the Deputy said. The first thing to bear in mind is that the number of crimes per thousand of the population has gone down significantly since 1995. With an increasingly urbanised population, the amount of criminality per 1,000 people has reduced significantly.

Counting differently.

The second point is that the Deputy will be aware, if he wants to deal with manifestos in the last election, that neither his party nor the Labour Party promised any increase in Garda resources.

The Minister is taking credit for promising an increase and not delivering.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I ask you to ask the Deputy to allow me answer the questions he put.

The third point is that it is no surprise they offered no increase in Garda strength because when last in office together they allowed the number of gardaí to fall, much to their perpetual disgrace.

Perpetual.

When they had responsibility for strengthening the Garda Síochána, they allowed the strength of the force to fall.

Regarding firearms, the Deputy is aware that we recently concluded the amnesty with regard to firearms. Over 500 firearms were handed in during the course of that amnesty. During the debate in this House, it was agreed that the firearms amnesty should not be an anonymous——

There is a question later on firearms.

I will answer the Deputy's question later; he should not worry. I am answering Deputy O'Keeffe now since he raised the question of firearms.

We have gone over time on this question. We must move on to the next question.

This is not a conversation. I am supposed to be answering questions. I am not engaging in conversation with the Deputy.

Regarding the firearms amnesty, it was agreed during the passage of the legislation through this House that it would be wrong to organise an amnesty in which weapons could be handed up anonymously because murder weapons could be handed up in those circumstances which would prevent any proper investigation. Deputy O'Keeffe sought in the meantime to renege on what was agreed in the House and to suggest that the firearms amnesty was a failure because it did not have the numbers that would follow from a completely anonymous amnesty. The Garda Síochána advised me, and the House accepted at the time, that the amnesty should be done on the basis that anyone handing in a firearm would do so in circumstances——

The Minister should answer the question.

——where they accounted for them.

We must move on to Question No. 82.

Am I permitted to respond?

We spent almost nine minutes on that question.

The Minister made an assault on the Deputy and he has no opportunity——

I did not make an assault on anybody.

Drug Seizures.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

82 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the increase in the number of drug offences recorded in the Central Statistics Office figures for the third quarter of 2006; the amount and value of heroin and cocaine seized since the beginning of 2006; the way this compares to the same period in 2005; if the gardaí have an estimate of the overall proportion of such drugs coming into the country these seizures represent; the steps he intends to take to deal with the ongoing problem of the drugs trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36429/06]

The Central Statistics Office's recent publication for the first time of the provisional headline crime statistics for the third quarter of 2006 is welcome in providing further expertise and independence in the compilation of such statistics and in acting as an important aid in informing policy formulation.

While being mindful of the need for caution in the interpretation of such statistics, especially when attempting to extrapolate any trends over short periods, the CSO report provides us with important data on drug offences statistics and trends. I stress to Deputy Howlin that unlike other serious crimes such as murder, armed robbery and rape, the drug figures in Garda records and in the CSO statistics reflect successful Garda activity in combating the drugs menace. If a murder takes place, that is a question of fact. If an armed robbery in a bank takes place, it is a question of fact, but if drugs offences are taking place in the community, the only real way they will end up in Garda figures is if there is a detection and an arrest or a seizure.

The gardaí do not record what is obviously unrecordable. There is no doubt that important arrests have been made and serious inroads made into the activities of drug gangs. Any estimate of the overall proportion of such drugs coming into the country, about which Deputy Howlin asks, would be highly speculative. I agree with the Deputy, however, that what the gardaí recover must be a minority of the drugs brought into the country, but it is impossible to say how much of a minority they represent. If the gardaí knew exactly how much was coming into the country or could estimate it, they would be in a position to intervene and seize the drugs in question.

Some of the key information which the report provides shows that there is a 8.6% increase in the total number of drugs offences recorded for the first three quarters of 2006 compared to 2005. There is a 23.8% increase in the total number of drugs offences recorded for the third quarter of 2006 in comparison with the equivalent third quarter for 2005. That shows increased Garda activity and increased successes. There was a sizeable increase of 153, or 25.8%, in the number of the possession of drugs for sale or supply offences recorded in the third quarter of 2006 compared to the third quarter period of 2005.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In terms of the amount and value of heroin and cocaine seized since the beginning of this year and how this compares to the same period for 2005, the Garda authorities have provided me with the following data.

For the first ten month period of 2005, the Garda Síochána seized 12 kgs of heroin, with an estimated street value of €2.4 million. There has been a significant increase in the comparative period for this year with 115.75 kgs of the drug, with an estimated street value of €23.15 million, having already being seized.

For the first ten month period of 2005, the Garda Síochána seized 212.6 kgs of cocaine with an estimated street value of €14.882 million, and over the comparative period for 2006 seized 109.5 kgs of the drug, with an estimated street value of €7.665 million.

The Government would view with concern any apparent rise in the level of any illegal drugs being trafficked into this country. However, the seizures could also be a reflection of the success of the gardaí in targeting this illicit and pernicious trade. The drugs situation is dictated by global developments. It is dynamic and ever-changing and our policies need to be flexible to meet those changes.

In terms of estimating the proportion of drug seizures made by our law enforcement authorities in relation to the overall volumes of drugs being trafficked, given the clandestine nature of this illegal activity this is extremely difficult to quantify with any degree of certainty. What can be said though is that the global illicit drug trade is, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, UNODC, reputed to exceed billions of US dollars annually. That UN office estimated in 2005 that global seizures for that year accounted for 44% of cocaine production, 28% of cannabis resin, 25% of opium production, 7% of amphetamines and 4.7% of ecstasy.

In response to all of this data, the first point I wish to make, and I am sure Deputy Howlin and all Members of the House would support me, is to commend the Garda Síochána for its ongoing operational success in tackling the problem of drug trafficking. The continuing high level of drug seizures being made by the gardaí, their continued success in bringing serious drug traffickers to book and their increasing detection of drug related offences as identified in the CSO report is to be warmly applauded.

Undoubtedly, drug misuse remains one of the most complex social ills faced globally. Our drug law enforcement response is a vital feature of our overall response in addressing the issue but we cannot just look at the issue from a supply reduction perspective only. Rather, we must examine the drugs problem in the wider context in which it takes place and take cognisance of the fact that the demand for and the use of illegal drugs is what fuels the drugs trade. The measures that we have put in place to address the problem must take account of that aspect.

The Government remains resolutely committed to tackling the problem through our National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008. The national strategy addresses the problem under pillar headings of education and prevention, supply reduction, treatment and rehabilitation and research and is firmly founded on the principle that drug misuse needs to be addressed in an integrated manner across these headings through a co-operative approach involving the statutory, community and voluntary treatment sectors.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, under the stewardship of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, is the lead Department in co-ordinating the implementation of the national drugs strategy. My Department's remit in this area, while not exclusively, is primarily in the area of drug supply reduction and drug law enforcement remains a key feature of the Government's drug policy framework.

The Garda Síochána invokes a number of broad strategic responses in addressing the issue. These include the following: identifying, targeting and dismantling national and international drug trafficking networks which supply and distribute illegal drugs within this State; conducting intelligence-driven operations focusing on all aspects of the illicit drugs trade, including commodity, logistics, distribution and financing; working with other national and international law enforcement agencies on joint actions designed to reduce the availability of drugs and the proceeds derived from the drugs trade; and working in partnership with statutory, community and voluntary groups to reduce both the supply and demand for drugs within society.

Tackling organised crime and drug trafficking is primarily achieved through the use of specialist units and targeted intelligence-led operations. The organised crime unit, established in November 2005, in conjunction with the Garda national drugs unit and local gardaí, continues to implement initiatives such as Operations Anvil and Oak, which target criminals involved in the trafficking of drugs.

Significant drug seizures, including the considerable increase in the amount of heroin already seized this year to date, to which I referred earlier, have been made as a result of these operations, which are ongoing. They continue to dismantle drug trafficking networks and have led to the arrest in recent times of major criminals based here and abroad who are involved in the drugs trade.

The record level of resources, both in financial and personnel terms, being made available to the Garda Síochána this year is proof of the Government's commitment and determination to ensure that the Garda authorities will continue to implement targeted, intelligence-led and high intensity operations against organised crime with a special focus on drugs crime.

Furthermore, we are ensuring that our law enforcement agencies have a strong legislative platform from which to operate in their work tackling those involved in such criminal activity. While our legislative package for tackling drug trafficking is already viewed as being one of the most stringent in Europe, the Criminal Justice Act 2006 provides for further measures which will enhance the powers of the gardaí in the investigation and prosecution of drug offences.

Nobody on the Government side is under any illusions on this issue. Tackling drug trafficking and those involved in this destructive trade remains an ongoing work in progress and challenge to be met head on, but I clearly signal again that the policy of targeting those involved in organised crime, including drug trafficking and the gun culture with which it is associated, remains the Government's top policing priority. It is a policy on which I assure the House we will continue to steadfastly and relentlessly pursue.

Does the Minister agree that the most worrying fact in the statistics issued by the Central Statistics Office, and I welcome the involvement of the CSO in crime figures analysis and presentation, was the increase of 25.8% — more than a quarter — in the number of possession of drugs for sale or supply offences? Obviously, interdicted drugs are all that manifest themselves, and I publicly welcome the vigilance of the gardaí in some of the biggest seizures of drugs in the history of the State in the past few months, but will the Minister indicate to the House the accepted norm, that is, the relationship between interdicted drugs and the volume of drugs available in society? I understand there is an internationally acceptable multiplier. If the Minister has that multiplier, will he give it to the House so that we might have some view of the scale of the drugs problem?

Does the Minister further accept that drugs are now the biggest single issue in regard to crime in this country? Will he accept that the crime gangs are the biggest threat to public order in this country now that we have moved beyond criminality in terms of violence dressed up in the national cause? Does the Minister share the nation's horror, and mine, that a five-year-old child would be shot in a housing estate in the third city of our nation recently? Does the Minister have specific ongoing measures to put in place to ensure that the violence being perpetrated by drug gangs in this State is faced down and eliminated?

I totally identify with the Deputy in regard to the incident in which a five-year-old child was shot. Nothing could be more depraved or more indicative of the total disregard a tiny minority of people in some of our cities have for human life. The people who earlier this year were shooting people on wasteland in Dublin or the people who are letting off weapons in pursuit of feuds in Limerick have no regard for human life and no respect for the law of our land. The gardaí in Limerick are putting in huge resources to counter that threat by a tiny minority of people who have unleashed violence upon each other and, inevitably, innocent third parties are the victims of such criminality. Great efforts are being made at community level to improve every aspect of life in that estate and similar estates in Limerick. We should not allow the actions of a tiny few who are behaving barbarously to drag down the reputation of a whole community or misrepresent the wonderful work being done in that community.

I am not aware of the percentage of drugs interdicted internationally as a norm but I believe the Garda has made very substantial inroads in that regard in this State. I join the Deputy in congratulating the Garda on its recent achievements in this area.

For the first ten months of 2005, An Garda Síochána seized 12 kg of heroin with an estimated value of €2,400,000. In the comparable period for this year, 115.75 kg of the drug, with an estimated street value of €23,150,000, have already been seized. This represents a significant increase. It shows the Garda is achieving successes but also that these drugs are available to be seized.

Garda Deployment.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

83 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the extent to which Garda call outs that do not result in an arrest are recorded; the numbers of such call outs that occurred throughout 2004 and 2005 in each Garda division; the person who is responsible for recording such incidents; if such statistics are used when determining the need for deployment of new personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36554/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the statistical information requested by Deputy Murphy on Garda call outs is not readily available and could only be obtained by the expenditure of a disproportionate amount of Garda time and resources on examining each individual incident recorded during 2004 and 2005 to identify whether it resulted in an arrest. The Deputy will appreciate that it is to be hoped the great majority of call outs by the Garda will not result in an arrest. Normal policing would not be a feature of society if an arrest were made in every case where a garda encountered a troublemaker.

I am further informed that the recording of an incident on PULSE is not dependent on an arrest being made. A wide variety of incidents is reported to An Garda Síochána, ranging from the extremely serious, such as murder, manslaughter and rape, to the comparatively minor. An incident does not necessarily involve the commission of a crime or offence in respect of which an arrest might be made. It could just be a verbal altercation between neighbours. The recording of an incident will, in the majority of cases, be done by the garda to whom the incident is reported. In October 2004, I announced that I was proceeding with the recruitment of additional gardaí and this is happening, as I indicated to Deputy Jim O'Keeffe.

It is impossible to compile statistics such that one could divide the total number of incidents by the total number of arrests to reach some notion as to the effectiveness of policing. If a member of An Garda Síochána is brought out on a call, it does not necessarily mean an arrestable offence has been committed or that an arrest would be appropriate in the circumstances. In many cases, the perpetrator will have left the scene and, in other cases, the issuing of a verbal warning to a troublemaker will be sufficient to deal with the matter.

My motivation for asking the question is that I could not find any statistics. I am not requesting that great effort be made in their compilation. I am being asked why the proportion of gardaí to the population in my area is so low compared to elsewhere in the country. Essentially the residents want to know how to influence this. They say they are satisfied when the gardaí respond to calls and they are not criticising gardaí of any rank.

The difficulty is that there are insufficient numbers of gardaí, particularly in rapidly developing areas. Residents in such areas have asked me whether they should report incidents to the local Garda station and whether this would affect the determination of the number of gardaí to be deployed in their area. Is this considered side by side with the increase in population, for example? When asked this by residents, I advised them to make complaints to the Garda so issues could be documented.

Weekend after weekend, I receive complaints that gardaí responding to calls cannot catch the perpetrators, in spite of doing the 100-yard dash after them into the woods or elsewhere. There is evidence of damage to bus shelters, telephone boxes and other public properties and there is a great sense of frustration. It is felt that the measurement of an area's needs is not determined by the critical mass of population but by how crimes are recorded or documented. Will the Minister enlighten me on how a complaint about a serious problem is recorded when a call out in respect thereof does not result in an arrest?

I understand the Deputy's point. She is saying that if a local population believes it is under-policed and that, by making complaints, it will compile on paper a case for further gardaí to be allocated to its area, it might be tempted to make such complaints. However, the Commissioner must obviously adopt an objective approach and not just a view based on the fact that a certain group of residents is advised by the Deputy to adopt a particular course of action in respect of crime in its area. The Commissioner is obliged when deploying gardaí across the country to make the maximum use of those members. Population growth in the Deputy's constituency has been considerable in recent times and therefore the Commissioner is paying particular attention to such areas. It is in such areas that the proportion of gardaí to residents has declined most.

If there had been no expansion in the force or extra recruitment since 1997 — there has been — many rural areas would now be in the process of being denuded of gardaí to move them to areas such as the Deputy's constituency. We are not in that position at present.

There are two ways to deal with Garda numbers, the first of which is to recruit more gardaí. This is happening despite all the argument and allegations of spin.

Some 14,000. Here we go again.

There is also a need to address the question of having gardaí engage in front-line policing activity rather than clerical duties and administrative tasks. Both of these approaches are being pursued relentlessly by the Commissioner and I. A reply, to be given later in this afternoon's proceedings, will show the pick-up in the rate of civilianisation. The Commissioner and I will announce further steps this afternoon with a view to improving governance by placing further emphasis on the civilianisation of An Garda Síochána.

Proposed Legislation.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

84 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he intends to proceed with the Privacy Bill 2006 or withdraw it. [36428/06]

The Privacy Bill implements a commitment contained in the agreed programme for Government of 2002 that the Government would, "in the context of a statutory Press Council and improved privacy laws, move to implement reforms of libel laws designed to bring them into line with those of other states". The recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Wainwright case is of interest in the context of a need for legislative provision on privacy. In that decision, which was handed down in September, the court found that in the circumstances in English law in which there was no general tort of invasion of privacy, the applicants did not have available to them a means of obtaining redress for the interference with their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. This is of interest in that the court made a direct finding that the absence of a tort of invasion of privacy did not amount to a proper vindication of people's privacy rights under the convention.

I also note that the Bill is now before the Seanad and is awaiting Second Stage debate there. Fine Gael has suggested that the Bill should be withdrawn, whereas the Labour Party has welcomed the introduction of legislation in this area, in principle.

The report of the working group on privacy, which led to the introduction of the Privacy Bill 2006, contained a number of key conclusions. It pointed out that the absence of any clearly defined and comprehensive cause of action in Ireland to provide for a definite remedy for violations of privacy interests was undesirable. It found that the arguments in favour of the introduction of such a clear statutory cause of action outweighed the arguments against it. The working group, which was chaired by Mr. Brian Murray SC, evaluated the arguments for and against a written privacy law.

I do not want to muzzle the media in any way. For example, if a television presenter has just given birth to a child and a newspaper sends a photographer disguised as a nurse into the room where she is nursing her child in the first few hours after the birth, I want to ensure that the woman in question has an effective remedy against the newspaper in question. That is not an imaginary case — many of us have knowledge of a case of that nature. We have to protect people's rights without unduly affecting the rights of the media to cover matters of public importance. It is difficult to achieve a balance between those two sets of rights. I look forward to achieving that balance in the best way possible in the course of the passage of the legislation in question through the Oireachtas.

It seems to me that doing nothing is no longer a sustainable option, under European convention law, in the aftermath of the Wainwright case. If that is not a sustainable option, we have to do something in this area. Rather than arguing about points of abstract principle, I would prefer to argue about the nitty-gritty of the exact content of our privacy law to ensure it protects people who need protection. We need to strip away the protection that the defamation law used to afford to people who abused it. Such people were able to engage in misbehaviour in the sure and certain knowledge that our defamation and privacy law was such that they were protected to the detriment of the common good.

My concern is that the Government's privacy legislation is dangerous. It will cripple investigative journalism and gag the media, while doing nothing to protect the public. I would like to discuss a couple of aspects of it with the Minister. Does he accept that privacy rights are already protected under the Constitution? Does he accept that there has been a recognition of the right to privacy not only by the Supreme Court, but also under this country's general jurisprudence since the cases of Geraldine Kennedy, Bruce Arnold and others? Does the Minister accept that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which has been incorporated into domestic law, represents a further reinforcement of the right to privacy? Does he accept that we have put in place legislative protections in specific areas, such as data protection? There are restrictions on reporting in a number of other areas, such as children's cases.

What caused the Minister's Pauline conversion? I understand that he made it clear in the Seanad earlier this year that he was not convinced of the need for the statutory development of a privacy tort at this stage. Does the Minister not accept that the proper approach would be to proceed with the changes in defamation law, which I think are necessary? I will support those changes, subject to detail. He should also proceed with the establishment of a press council and a press ombudsman with very strict guidelines. While we should have done that long ago, we should certainly do it now. We should not rush to make changes in an area in which there appears to be no urgent need for change, other than a certain anti-media approach on the part of some people. If such an approach cannot be associated with the Minister, perhaps it can be associated with many of his Fianna Fáil colleagues in the Cabinet.

I accept the general proposition that, as an academic principle, there is a right of privacy defended by the Constitution. I can advance an unfortunate proposition, however. In different circumstances, Deputy O'Keeffe and I might not be Members of this House — we might be sitting behind our desks dealing with legal issues. We might be contacted by a client who wants to know whether she can sue on a certain basis. She might ask us whether she has a right of privacy that gives her a right to sue. She might want to know whether she can sue in the Circuit Court or the High Court. She might ask us whether she can take out an injunction against a newspaper that had taken photographs of her sunbathing in her back garden. In such circumstances, we would have to tell her that we are not sure whether she can take a case.

No, the lawyers would say that she could take a case but they could not guarantee that she would be successful.

That is right. Deputy Howlin has interrupted in a disorderly manner to point out that many lawyers would tell such a client that while she could sue, they could not guarantee that she would win. Deputy O'Keeffe asked about the origin of the Pauline conversion on my part. The report of the group chaired by Mr. Brian Murray SC evaluated a view which I have expressed previously, which is that it might be better to have no statutory law and to allow judges to develop this law.

That was earlier this year.

The Murray group evaluated that proposition in the context of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Two things of importance have happened in the jurisprudence of Strasbourg. First, as a result of the Caroline von Hannover case, there is now a clear statement that any old set of privacy laws will not do.

That ruling was given in June of last year.

Exactly. In addition, following the Murray report's evaluation of the two issues, we now have the Wainwright decision. The point that has just been made by the Deputy — that the provisions of Article 8 of the convention are enough — seems to have been canvassed before the European Court of Human Rights by British lawyers acting for the British state in that case. They were told by the court that those provisions are not enough, as countries have to provide for an actionable right of invasion of privacy in their legal systems. It is not enough to say that a mish-mash of other rights, such as the right to confidentiality, will do. If the Wainwright decision has that implication——

I do not accept that.

——it moves the matter forward and makes some form of protection necessary.

The Princess Caroline case certainly has no such implications.

We need to move on to Question No. 85.

I would like to say, a Leas Cheann-Comhairle, that I am open to reasonable discussion with all relevant interests about the exact sequencing of the defamation and privacy legislation. I agree with the Deputy — there is a consensus to this effect in each of the Houses — that we should proceed with the day-to-day nitty-gritty of putting in place protections for ordinary people in their dealings with the press.

The press council may go a long way to achieving that end.

The sooner, the better.

Crime Prevention.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

85 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the contacts or discussions he has had with the banks or financial institutions to deal with situations whereby staff members or their families are taken hostage in order to facilitate robberies; if there are agreed procedures between the banks and the gardaí about the way such situations are dealt with; if his attention has been drawn to at least one case where a particular branch has ceased carrying out cash transactions due to a series of such raids; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36430/06]

The recent incidents in which bank workers, non-bank workers and their families have been held captive with a view to assisting robberies are clearly a cause of great concern. The phenomenon of tiger kidnappings has been translated from the paramilitary world into the ordinary criminal world. Determined criminals use any opportunity to further their illegal activities. The targeting of family members to put pressure on those with access to cash is another manifestation of their ruthless attitude.

In my meetings with representatives of the banking and security industries this year, I have made it clear that I expect the highest security standards to be adhered to by their members. As the Deputy would expect, there are regular contacts between the banks and other financial institutions and the Garda to discuss methods of forestalling attempts by criminal gangs to enrich themselves by preying on the vulnerability of individuals. There is a forum in which representatives of the various interest groups meet, in line with agreed operational standards and procedures.

Every bank, financial institution and company with large deposits of cash owes it to itself and its employees to put in place a system which deters tiger kidnappings. It has been disclosed to me on a preliminary basis that Garda investigations in a recent case strongly indicate that proper procedures were not in place in a certain bank to protect employees from crimes of this nature. With fear and ordinary human emotion, one can well imagine that decisions would be made to make cash available to victims of tiger kidnappings without alerting the Garda Síochána. Although one could see something like this happening through fear, to do so is to set up the next family for this kind of crime. The decision that any bank, bank manager or employee makes in respect of one incident will inevitably have consequences for another family. If this tactic is seen to succeed and people are seen to circumvent standardised procedures such as notifying the Garda Síochána, having time-locked safes or putting in place a system of warnings, they may take the pressure off themselves on a particular occasion, but those who perpetrate such crimes will inevitably target other innocent families and subject them to the same ordeal.

The Minister is surely not proposing that banks expose their staff to this.

I am suggesting the exact opposite. Any bank that does not take stern measures to deal with this threat is exposing its employees and the employees of other banks to this threat. There is no excusing corner-cutting by the banks on this issue.

The Minister is not a disinterested party in these matters. He is not an independent security consultant advising banks. Does the Minister not accept that he is the person to whom the public looks to protect them against attacks of this nature? Given that five so-called tiger robberies took place in an eight-month period this year, does he accept that this is a serious and real issue? Does he accept that it is rather brave of him to counsel others that they should not behave in such a way as to encourage other criminals by putting their own families at risk? Is that what the Minister is counselling when he suggests that it is somehow the fault of the individuals for whom the lives of their families or children have been threatened?

It is a dangerous suggestion.

Is the Minister suggesting that these people should stand up to this? If this type of terror robbery is to be faced down and dealt with, I ask that it be done as a co-ordinated response from not only the banks — at least one of the robberies concerned a supermarket manager. What co-ordination has taken place with the business community, including the banks, to ensure protocols are put in place, by statute if necessary, to make it impossible for individuals to have access to substantial hoards of cash in the dark hours of the night or the early hours of the morning? We must make it as difficult as is humanly practicable for this kind of terror raid to yield profit. Will the Minister give the details of the actions he has taken to prevent this new terror from continuing in this State?

As the Deputy will appreciate, the majority of these raids have happened to deposit-taking institutions and banks. I have established a forum comprising the Garda Síochána, cash-holders and cash in transit companies to discuss these matters.

I assure the Deputy that I do not blame the victims in tiger kidnappings. However, victims are made vulnerable if the systems are not in place to defend them. Large sums of cash in a bank are either held in time-locked safes or they are not. When the time lock allows the bank's safes to be opened, there are either systems in place to counteract tiger kidnapping or there are not. There are either protocols of behaviour in existence or there are not.

Has the Minister drawn up such protocols and made them mandatory?

Where somebody in authority in a bank knows that another employee is the subject of a tiger kidnapping, there must be a system for reporting this. The Deputy asked if I had made such protocols mandatory. The only method whereby I could make them mandatory is to make them a term of the licence of the banks licensed by IFSRA.

The Minister could introduce criminal justice legislation to achieve this too.

I have discussed this option with the banks regarding the cash in transit issue. I have indicated to them that whereas the Private Security Authority can regulate the cash in transit industry, I see the banks responsibilities as being equally serious. I have also indicated that if voluntary adherence to codes of conduct were not sufficient, I would ask the Minister of Finance to instruct IFSRA to generate a legislative framework putting in place mandatory procedural arrangements to protect bank employees.

However, supermarkets and pubs also hold large sums of money and mandatory regimes become unworkable at some point. One cannot instruct the proprietor of a pub chain to put in place time-lock systems on safes or protocols for bar managers should any of them be subject to tiger kidnapping. It is difficult to achieve this at the retail end of cash-holding enterprises.

I reiterate that I do not blame the victim. However, anyone who pays out without informing the Garda Síochána is teeing up another family for exactly the same experience.