Criminal Justice Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I thank all Deputies who contributed to the debate over the two days last week in the House. Many important and useful points were made and they have all been noted. I was encouraged to see a significant degree of support from all sides in the House for the measures in the Bill. I am not surprised by this as I know all Deputies share a common aim of defeating gangland crime. This Bill will make a significant contribution to that end.

Before I respond to some of the issues raised in the debate, I would like to set the Bill in a wider context. The general level of crime forms the backdrop to the debate on a Bill such as this. It is aimed at a particular type and level of crime, namely gangland crime. That is, without doubt, our greatest challenge at present.

However, in drawing attention to that fact we must not give the impression that crime generally is out of control as this is not the case. If we consider crime figures in the context of a changing and increasing population, we will see clearly that the level of crime has dropped in recent years. In 1995, with a population of 3.6 million, there were 28.5 crimes per 1,000 of the population and in 2006, with a population in excess of 4.2 million, the level had fallen to 24.5 crimes per 1,000 of the population.

I am aware that despite the improving overall position, the experience of a victim of any crime is still traumatic and deeply upsetting, and I do not wish in any way to minimise the personal pain and suffering that a crime can cause. However, we all have a responsibility to show a sense of perspective and proportion about crime levels and to tell people clearly what is the true picture, rather than attempt to seek short-term gain from a distortion of the figures. Deputy Dennehy reminded us rightly of the dangers of glamorising certain crime figures and their activities.

A number of Deputies asked about the publication of the final report of the review group on the balance in the criminal law. Most Deputies are by now aware that the report, which I received last Tuesday on my return from the United States of America, was published on Friday and is available on my Department's website.

I take this opportunity to express my thanks to the review group and its chairman, Dr. Gerard Hogan, for the work over recent months. The report provides much very useful and thoughtful points of analysis on major issues in the criminal law and we will all benefit from consideration over the coming weeks of its conclusions.

However, we should act in the short term on two recommendations. I therefore propose to introduce amendments on the taking of statements by electronic means. The first amendment will provide that where a statement was given to a Garda and the person had been informed it was being recorded electronically, it will not be necessary to commit it to a written form. That is implied by the warning in the Judges’ rules. Second, recordings of statements will not be provided except to persons who have been charged and in those cases, the court may establish conditions about the use of the record. The first one I mentioned is likely to arise on Report Stage.

These are important changes that will free up Garda time and will allow better use to be made of new technology.

Why on Report Stage?

The Attorney General is drafting the legislation regarding the taking of statements. He wanted to get the language regarding not being required to put the information in writing absolutely right. He was not convinced that I had given him enough time between the publication of the report on Tuesday and Friday to get it right.

None of us is happy to say we have been given enough time.

Does that not mean Committee Stage should be put back?

No, the matter will be dealt with on Report Stage.

That is a living disgrace.

Why is it good enough for the Attorney General but not good enough for the Opposition?

These are important changes that will free up Garda time and allow better use to be made of new technology without in any way interfering with anyone's rights.

The Tánaiste does not want to answer the question.

Increased reliance on video evidence will be seen as enhancing the protection of suspects and Garda questioners alike. These changes will also address what one hears about the use and abuse of recordings given to arrested persons when they are apparently used to convince the "boss" and accomplices that nothing incriminating was said in the interview.

Deputies Sexton and Fiona O'Malley spoke on the question of sentencing, with particular reference to a recent case. I am aware the case referred to by the two Deputies is before the courts so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. However, Members will recall that I set out my views on sentencing policies in my opening remarks in this debate. I emphasised the need for consistency, coherence and rationality, and I also set out my views on the respective roles of the Judiciary and the Oireachtas in developing sentencing policies. It is not necessary for me to add to those remarks at this juncture.

Several Deputies inquired about the plans to introduce electronic monitoring. In particular, Deputy Howlin had questions about the technical feasibility of it. Electronic monitoring can currently take two forms.

The first type, which has been in operation in a number of countries since the 1990s, is what is commonly called tagging. This is a tried and tested method where the offender wears an electronic bracelet, anklet or other electronic device in accordance with conditions set by the courts or on release from prison, such as compliance with a curfew condition. The tagged person's presence at or absence from a specified location, usually the person's home, is monitored by computer 24 hours a day using a base station and telephone line. Effectively the device is plugged into a wall and would telephone if——

That does not tell where a person is, merely if he or she is not in one location.

That is exactly right. That is the more classical system.

It works well.

The second type of monitoring, which the Deputy referred to, is by GPS tracking. This is the remote surveillance of a person's location as he or she moves from place to place. It uses locational technology more often associated with tracking ships and other vehicles. It is more sophisticated than tagging, but the expectations, technical challenges and costs are higher too, as the Deputy would know.

The offender carries a personal tracking device which receives satellite or other signals and calculates its own location. The tracking device contains GSM or GPRS technology that allows the immediate transmission of location data to a control centre. The end product is a detailed map showing the offender's movements while tracked.

Its most obvious application is to monitor detailed compliance with specific requirements, for example, to stay out of an exclusion zone, observe a curfew or attend specified programmes, locations or other activities. Deputies may be interested to know that a leaflet distribution company in Dublin could show them a GPS print-out of where its people were to prove they were on one road or another. This shows the point the technology has reached.

Pilot GPS projects in the UK have found GPS in its current state of development not to be sufficiently reliable where the offender is between tall buildings or on the underground or trains. Compared to standard monitoring, GPS tracking is more expensive. The proposals for electronic monitoring in the Bill provide for both curfew-type conditions and exclusion conditions.

What are the updated costs?

While their implementation in full would depend on the availability of reliable, economical GPS technology, the introduction of a system of tagging in the old-fashioned sense of a home-based unit would allow implementation in part. The Department will conduct a feasibility test prior to commencing the electronic monitoring provisions introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2006. The exercise will be of use in respect of the proposals in this Bill also.

We could not confine someone to his or her home as a condition of bail. That would not make sense.

One could say that a person must be inside during certain hours of the day.

It is how it is normally done.

It has proven successful and operable. For example, if one wanted to tell a paedophile that he or she could not go near a school, one would need the GPS system.

It would need to work.

A range of opinions were expressed about the Bill's proposals on the right to silence. Deputy Ó Snodaigh was critical while Deputy Jim O'Keeffe believed I was being too cautious. Perhaps I can take some consolation from being in the middle of this divergence of opinion and suggest that we may have achieved the right balance on this sensitive issue. As is clear to Deputies, the interim report of the balancing of the criminal law group did not go as far as I have, I have not gone as far as Deputy Jim O'Keeffe wants me to and Deputy Ó Snodaigh believes I have gone too far.

Deputy Howlin believed the proposals in section 24 for mandatory sentencing where the first and second offences were ones that appear on the Second Schedule to the Bill had merit. He also described the new crime prevention orders as extremely valuable. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe also believed they were worthwhile, an opinion with which I agree.

Several Deputies spoke about the importance of resourcing the Garda Síochána and were correct when they emphasised the importance of a well managed, well run Garda force with the resources necessary to do the job. I agree with the sentiment expressed that there is no substitute for good police work, but it does not just happen, it needs to be planned and paid for.

The Government has an exemplary record in supporting the Garda. It has initiated a far-reaching reform programme and has matched that with funding, increased personnel and increased and better equipment. The Garda budget for 2007 stands at €1.4 billion, an increase of 11% over last year's Estimate. Garda numbers are at their highest ever. As of 14 March, there were 13,178 fully qualified members compared with 10,702 on 30 June 1997 and more than 14,000 recruited members. The Government has given approval for the Garda force to reach 15,000 members, but we must go further.

These few facts speak for themselves. We are committed to the Garda and our task, to which I have given priority, is to ensure the resources are used to maximum advantage. Additional resources in and of themselves are not sufficient as new and better management and improved accountability are also required. The programme of change I have initiated will help bring that about.

Has the Tánaiste examined section 7 in the context of the constitutional point I raised, namely, taking the evidence of a senior garda as being proof positive?

I will examine the matter before Committee Stage and discuss it with the Deputy. I will mention some Committee Stage amendments that I will be proposing. I have already spoken on the proposals in respect of statements taken by electronic means. There will be amendments of a technical nature clarifying further some of the Bill's provisions on the destruction of fingerprints and similar records, bail and the operation of sections 24 and 25, including an amendment to ensure legal aid is available in cases where there will be a variation of a crime prevention order under section 25. There will also be a number of minor amendments of a typographical and textual nature.

There may be a small number of Report Stage amendments to clarify issues related to the operation of section 22 on appeals from the Court of Criminal Appeal to the Supreme Court and section 99, the power to suspend sentences, particularly where there are consecutive sentences and the first one is partly suspended, of the Criminal Justice Act 2006. While they are important points, they are primarily technical and operational.

I expect to table an amendment to clarify the position in respect of non-garda officers of the Criminal Assets Bureau who attend interviews with suspects in the course of criminal investigations. Some people have expressed doubts as to whether those officers are entitled to participate in the interrogation of suspects, but it would be foolish to exclude them from the process.

I thank the House for the constructive approach evident in the debate. It underlines our shared wish to deal effectively with organised criminal gangs, a goal to which the Bill will give effect. On Friday evening, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, was interrupted when he was about to deliver these remarks on my behalf.

On a point of order, I do not believe there is a quorum in the House.

That proves my point.

It also proves my point.

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

This is the second time the debate has been interrupted by someone who wants to prevent the debate being replied to during a closing speech or an attempt to make one.

Regarding the course of the debate, it was striking that when Deputy McHugh, an Independent, spoke, he pointed out that three parties had no Deputies present, namely, the Green Party, Labour and Fine Gael. It was also striking that, when I looked at my watch, it took an hour and five minutes for the Labour Party to show up——

There were no Progressive Democrats Deputies either.

——when the debate started on Friday. I do not engage in parliamentary tactics of that kind as they do not add to the dignity of the House.

What was the question about Friday? I was here for the entirety of the debate. There were people here throughout.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh's interruption of the proceedings of this House shows the shallowness of all the posturing on the debate. The Bill will be debated over three weeks. It will also be debated in the Seanad.

It will be debated over three days, not three weeks.

It will be debated over a three-week period.

It will be debated for bits of three days.

The scheme of this Bill was published in February.

What about the amendments the Tánaiste will introduce on Report Stage?

A noteworthy feature of this debate has been the consensus in this House, with the exception of Sinn Féin, about the principle of this legislation.

We want a decent Bill.

We are guaranteed that this Bill will not be a decent Bill.

I have noted——

This is not the way to bring legislation through the House.

——how much time has been wasted——

The Tánaiste is working hard to rupture consensus.

Hold on a second — this is disorderly behaviour.

We have another candidate for Ceann Comhairle.

The Tánaiste should be allowed to conclude without interruption.

Why does the Tánaiste work so hard to rupture consensus on these issues?

I am trying to build consensus in this House, so I find it strange that I am——

The Tánaiste insults people at random.

——interrupted constantly by silly tactics of this kind as I participate in the proceedings of this House.

Why is adequate time not being allowed to debate this Bill?

The House is dealing with a serious issue.

I think the Tánaiste's time is up, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

The people of Ireland are entitled to look to this House to ascertain whether its Members are serious about this matter. I am serious about it and I hope the House is also serious about it.

The Tánaiste works hard to annoy people.

Is Second Stage agreed?

It is not agreed.

While I am in favour of the principles of the Bill, I am not in favour of the way it is being dealt with.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 98; Níl, 11.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Breen, James.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Ellis, John.
  • English, Damien.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy, Séamus.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Perry, John.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Boyle.
Question declared carried.