Criminal Justice Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I will share my time with Deputy Joe Higgins. I thank the Chair for the opportunity to speak on this legislation. I would have preferred that the legislation should not have come before us at this time so that we could have a better opportunity to debate the issues in detail. Only now in the dying days of the 29th Dáil has the Minister decided to tackle crime and rebalance the administration of justice in favour of the State authorities. He told us in the Dáil yesterday that the family of Anthony Campbell would expect no less.

This is the same Minister who informed us week in week and out over the past five years that he had crime well under control and serious crime was on the decrease. Almost three years ago he said a certain gangland killing was the last sting of the dying wasp. He told us Operation Anvil was, and still is, a phenomenal success and had the criminals on their last legs. He also informed us his gun amnesty had rid the country of dangerous gangland weapons. He claimed his magnum opus, the 2006 Criminal Justice Act, had closed the loopholes that had been exploited by the criminals and had swung the balance back in favour of the Garda.

Ironically, the Criminal Justice Bill 2007 amends the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which was passed only a few months ago. Inexplicably, despite the Minister's heroics in the legislative domain and his star performances in the media, 20 gangland killings were recorded in 2005 and 26 in 2006, by far the highest in the history of the State. The year 2007 is no different. Yesterday, another callous drugs murder took place in Drogheda. In the period of the Minister's stewardship the availability of hard drugs has increased dramatically, with cannabis, heroin and cocaine distribution networks extending all over the country. The Criminal Assets Bureau and the national drugs units are unable to cope with the illegal drug market, estimated conservatively at €1 billion per annum.

This is the legacy of the criminal justice system the Minister has presided over for the past five years. He never sees a problem coming, denies its existence when it arrives and panics when he can no longer deny what is obvious to all. He then lurches for his legislation as a drowning man would lurch for a lifebuoy or a desperado in a wild west film would lurch for his six shooter and spray the saloon with bullets without a hope of hitting the target.

Once again we are in a situation of déjà vu. Having comprehensively sorted out the criminals on umpteen occasions over the past five years, the Minister has now discovered the final solution that will sort them out. The Tánaiste is a serial legislator and a serial amender of his own legislation. It does not matter that all previous efforts have failed, that many of them have been seriously flawed; that there is not enough time to debate and tease out this new Bill before the Dáil is dissolved in a matter of weeks; that the Oireachtas has a duty to process legislation in a deliberate, structured, comprehensive manner. He will bulldoze ahead. He will, no doubt, produce a raft of amendments at short notice to add to his already substantial Bill, while guillotining the debate on the Bill by the Opposition at every stage. The debate on the Bill, published on 15 March, started yesterday, 22 March and will finish before the Easter recess on 5 April, a period of three weeks. That is totally unacceptable.

Only a weak Taoiseach would allow this Bill to be introduced at this short notice by the Tánaiste when so much other pressing legislation has been waiting in the pipeline for months, for example on the trafficking of people and the exploitation of men, women and children. We have now become almost a hub for that activity in western Europe. This is the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery and this is modern slavery. Could the Tánaiste not get around to dealing with that, given that he has been talking about it for the past five years? Not a chance.

The Taoiseach spent Wednesday morning defending the indefensible, the exorbitant double price paid by the Tánaiste for Thornton Hall, the site for his new prison. Instead of defending the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach should be putting him and his negligible, percentage of error party in their place.

The Tánaiste has failed to await the outcome of the deliberations of the review group that he set up to consider the right to silence, under Gerard Hogan SC, and see what it might recommend. Likewise, he has failed to await the outcome of the deliberations of the human rights watchdog, the Irish Human Rights Commission whose report will not be available until after the debate in the Oireachtas is complete and this Bill is enacted. Is he doing this deliberately? He has a statutory responsibility to take into account the concerns expressed by that watchdog body which monitors the fundamental rights of the citizen that should be respected in all legislation. That is a serious matter.

The Oireachtas cannot debate this Bill in a coherent and comprehensive manner without all the relevant information at the disposal of its Members in the limited time that is available. The Tánaiste should postpone the legislation until time is made available for a proper democratic debate on the merits of its provisions.

Matters of concern in my constituency include community policing. I have always strongly advocated this initiative and when I was party spokesperson on justice drew up the report on community policing for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which was eventually transposed into the Criminal Justice Bill at the time. Very little action, however, has been taken on that initiative. I attended a meeting a couple of nights ago in Cabra where, with the best will in the world and using every effort, and having met the Garda Commissioner, we secured six community police for the area. That is equivalent to the number minding the President in Áras an Uachtaráin, who are also based in Cabra. That is not good enough. The citizens want visibility, to see the gardaí on foot or on their mountain bikes in an area that needs good policing.

I am the only Deputy, despite the impression that some might give, who is a member of the north inner city drugs task force and I am chairman of its supply control committee. We are mapping out the area covered by the committee, plotting drug seizures and where the barons and distribution networks operate, in conjunction with the prison and probation services, the Garda Síochána, and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is hard to make progress. We cannot persuade a judge to come and discuss any of these matters, as is perhaps to be expected. We have been trying to get a local criminal assets bureau in place that would link with the local drugs task force which is crying out for this bureau. The generalised central bureau deals with the big operators but the middle and lower operators are often missed out, like the man in Cabra who was executed by some of his own people. He ran a drug empire for years under the eye of the Garda and had progressed from virtually nothing to being the biggest player in the country. These kinds of people could be identified, nabbed and put out of business much earlier if the resources and structures were put in place earlier. Let us act on these matters. Legislation and powers exist already and if we get them right we can achieve a great deal.

The lack of closed circuit television, CCTV, is one of the great scandals of our time. The Garda has had full control for donkey's years over the phasing in of CCTV throughout the country but has not introduced a CCTV camera anywhere besides O'Connell Street in Dublin. The Tánaiste then decided to pass the responsibility to Pobal, the slush fund the Government has established with dormant accounts and so on. It puts in such restrictions, however, as to make it impossible for any disadvantaged community, unless in a RAPID area, to get funding for a camera. This is the case for many good proposals such as one to deal with prostitution in my community. We have been stymied because Pobal will not make any contribution and will not allow funding to come from local authorities. The community must raise €17,000 or €18,000 from business sources before Pobal will put in a penny. Then it will contribute over €100,000, but the first sum is a stumbling block that cannot be overcome, making for a crazy situation.

Many issues in this Bill, especially regarding bail and the right to silence, need to be teased out and I would love to have the opportunity to do that properly. None of us can do that until all the information is available to us. I ask the Tánaiste to postpone the legislation until time is available for us to prepare.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Costello as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom. It beggars belief that a Government which has been in place for ten years comes forward in the dying days of this Dáil with a Criminal Justice Bill that has massive repercussions for citizens' rights, many of which repercussions are not properly and fully understood because there is no time to have a proper debate and consideration of the proposals. For the Government to ram this through the Dáil after a few hours' debate is quite shameful. It is ramming it through because a general election is only weeks away.

The motivation for this Bill is for the Tánaiste and the Government to be seen to have some clothes with regard to tackling serious crime in this State and changing a situation of gangland crime about which many citizens are rightly concerned. The Government's motivation is extremely cynical. The Tánaiste, Deputy McDowell, has been like the pendulum of a grandfather clock in assessing gangland crime over recent years because he has oscillated quite wildly. A year or so ago gangland killing was the sting of a dying wasp. Now, some time later, he is swinging widely to the opposite extreme, warning that this is a very serious threat to society. He has introduced a cynical, opportunistic measure that could seriously affect innocent citizens rather than the gangsters against whom it is targeted. We must ask whether we have learned from the experience of our citizens in other jurisdictions, particularly Britain, in the Parliaments of which jurisdictions wide-ranging legislation was rushed through. Have we forgotten the cases of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, which resulted from wide-ranging, catch-all legislation?

Gangsterism, intimidation, killing and shackling young people to heroin addiction are heinous crimes that should be rooted out, and the perpetrators should be punished absolutely. We have a Government that for ten years has not had the moral force to create and lead a society free from these heinous crimes. The Government of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats has built its regime on a philosophy of private greed and facilitating the speculators and profiteers in the housing industry, whom it has enabled to assemble vast profits on the backs of ordinary working people trying to put a roof over their heads. Human needs, the need for shelter, a home and health care, have been made subjects of profiteering and privatisation by the Government, albeit quite legally.

This phenomenon is mirrored in the ruthlessness, greed and immorality of a subset in society who also have no scruples about walking over communities and innocent people to amass great wealth, but of course their methods include murder, extortion and intimidation. In their ruthlessness to garner wealth, their greed matches those whom this Government has facilitated and enabled to amass fortunes on foot of the suffering of ordinary people, although the methods of the latter are somewhat different.

The Government runs into the House with legislation that attacks traditional rights, such as the right to silence, and norms that were included in legislation for good reason over many decades. This points to a complete failure to deal with the fundamental issue of crime; to create a society based on justice and equality; to empower communities to root out anti-social and disruptive elements; and to resource community gardaí to work with communities, under the democratic direction of the latter, in regard to some of the problems I have outlined. The Bill reflects a complete failure on the part of the Government and it should not be lauded for it. Dá bhrí sin, críochnóidh mé ar an mBille. Tá sé náireach gur tháinig an Rialtas isteach anseo, cúpla seachtain roimh an olltoghchán agus deireadh na Dála seo, le Bille den tsaghas seo, atá chomh radacach maidir le cearta bunúsacha do shaoránaigh——

Tá seans ann go bhfuilimid cúpla mí roimh an olltoghchán.

Feicimid. Tá an reachtaíocht seo náireach amach is amach. Muna dtarraingíonn an Rialtas an mBille seo siar, ba cheart dúinn uilig vótáil ina aghaidh.

Acting Chairman

I call the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan.

Ar pointe ordú, is léir dom nach bhfuil córam sa Teach.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members not being present,

As no quorum is present, the House stands adjourned until 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday, without question put.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 27 March 2007.