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.