Anti-Social Behaviour: Motion.

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann notes with grave concern,

the ongoing deterioration of law and order under successive Fianna Fáil led Governments, particularly:

the increase in incidents of anti-social behaviour;

the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse in communities;

the proliferation of knife crime, including the recent tragic death of two Polish men in Dublin; and

the consequent fear and anxiety that the Government's failure to tackle effectively such developments are causing within society; and

calls on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to:

complete, as a matter of urgency, a comprehensive review of the availability of knives and offensive weapons;

resource An Garda Síochána to mount a six month targeted operation to tackle the proliferation of knifes and similar offensive weapons throughout the country; and

bring forward measures and incentives to facilitate a significant increase in the number of community Gardaí."

I wish to share time with Deputies Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey and Michael D'Arcy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Last Saturday week at 6.30 p.m. one of the most gruesome murders in living memory took place when two innocent men were brutally murdered on the street in Drimnagh just yards from their home. These people were law-abiding, hard-working residents of Drimnagh who were minding their own business when they were brutally attacked. On behalf of Fine Gael, I offer my sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of Pawel Kalite and Mariusz Szwajkos. They remain in our thoughts at this tragic time.

Some may argue that the manner in which Pawel and Mariusz lost their lives constituted an isolated incident. However, I believe their deaths must be considered in the broader context of a sharp rise in knife crime and assaults in recent times. The figures speak for themselves. In 2007, stabbings accounted for almost one half of homicides. Moreover, between 1999 and 2006, the number of assaults causing harm increased more than five-fold from 737 to 3,971. Last year, serious crime rose again with significant increases in gun crime, drug offences, murder and threats of murder. There were 84 murders and manslaughters, including 26 stabbings and 28 gun murders — the highest number of murders in the State since the civil war.

We cannot bury our heads in the sand and hope that such an illogical and malicious attack will not happen again. As a Parliament, we must ensure that steps are taken to bring an end to the rising tide of stabbings, assaults, mindless violence and intimidation. Following last week's murders, many people reflected upon the inter-related and growing trends of anti-social behaviour and the abuse of drugs and alcohol that have crept into Irish society and become seemingly embedded therein. These three social ills have risen in tandem — the two former arguably spawning the latter — and are most prevalent among our young people. Crimes are being committed daily by yobs high on drugs and crazed with drink who have no respect for the law or for their fellow man.

It sounds like a cliché to say that every city, town and village in the country is affected but that is the sad truth.

We know that drug and alcohol abuse recognises no county borders and no distinction between urban and rural areas. We know that anti-social behaviour affects almost every community, varying from boy racers tearing up and down residential roads late at night to menacing groups of young people hanging around street corners intimidating passers-by and law-abiding citizens. It has been suggested that Pawel and Mariusz lost their lives after they refused to buy alcohol for a gang of teenagers. It seems that in the view of our teenagers, a reasonable punishment for refusing to break the law to facilitate underage drinking was to be stabbed fatally with a sharpened screwdriver. It is a source of great shame to us all that these two innocent men lost their lives so needlessly and so callously. That is why we in the Opposition cannot allow the Government to simply pay lip service to the root causes of such mindless violence.

Throwing money at the problem here and there without proper cross-departmental, inter-agency co-ordination is simply not working and will not work. Building super prisons while all that existing prisons seem to do is turn out repeat offenders with worsened drug problems is not going to stem the rising tide of violence in our society.

Fine Gael recognises both the seriousness of the threat posed by anti-social behaviour and the need for a more co-ordinated approach. We believe there is a need for ring-fenced funding and for a dedicated Minister of State with responsibility for co-ordinating and driving a campaign to tackle and root out anti-social behaviour. We want the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to tackle the root causes of anti-social behaviour by increasing the number of garda juvenile liaison officers, improving resources for the overstretched probation service which has seen its funding dwindle under successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments, commencing all sections of the Children's Act and setting up new sporting and leisure facilities, particularly for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds throughout the country.

However, we also recognise the need for the State to be tough on those who insist on intimidating their communities and impairing people's quality of life. To this end, we are demanding more robust measures including increased Garda powers to curb loitering and intimidation by groups, electronic tagging for repeat offenders, increased use of curfew orders, meaningful and real fines for illegal sale of alcohol, empowering gardaí to confiscate alcohol from those illegally drinking in public places and on-the-spot-fines for offences against public order.

This multifaceted yet co-ordinated approach is in marked contrast to the present Government's half-hearted and disjointed efforts. While the Criminal Justice Act 2006 explicitly recognised the prevalence of anti-social behaviour in this country by introducing anti-social behaviour orders not one single order was handed down by the courts in 2007. The previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was strong on rhetoric and prided himself on draconian legislative initiatives but the proof is in the pudding. These initiatives have failed. Up to 40% of the Criminal Justice Act 2007, which was heralded by the former Minister, Michael McDowell, and his Fianna Fáil colleagues before the election as the most draconian legislation since the Offences against the State Act, has still not been subjected to commencement orders. In contrast to his predecessor, the present Minister prefers the laid-back position.

There is a clear lack of coherence across Departments in their approach to anti-social behaviour. A fortnight ago the HSE suddenly withdrew funding for a homeless centre, the purpose of which was to help tackle the problem of anti-social behaviour, including illegal drinking, on the Liffey boardwalk. Similarly, given the scale of the problem, the dearth of youth cafés and juvenile liaison officers constitutes a less than wholehearted commitment by Government to stamping out anti-social behaviour. Closed circuit television is considered very effective in reducing incidents of anti-social behaviour. Last week, the Garda Commissioner informed me that it was a vital tool in the detection of crime yet we are still without an effective network of State-controlled CCTV cameras across our towns and cities in spite of repeated promises of a half-hearted nature.

The lack of coherence in respect of the Government's policies on drug and alcohol abuse is staggering. The gardaí are of the opinion that increased drug and alcohol abuse has fuelled violent crime and civic disorder. We know that, as does every citizen in this State. If availability fuels demand then the blame for increased availability of both drugs and alcohol must be laid at the door of the present Government. We know that alcohol and drugs fuel anti-social behaviour, particularly violent brawls and civic disorder outside pubs and nightclubs. Nonetheless, we have witnessed a virtual explosion in special exemption orders for late night drinking. Today's edition ofThe Irish Times reports that gardaí in Letterkenny have sought to limit the terms of special exemption orders, holding them partially responsible for a plethora of civic order offences. The newspaper reports that in 2007, there were over 1,000 public order incidents in the provincial town of Letterkenny, as well as 233 minor assaults. A District Court judge in Donegal recognised the direct link between special exemption orders, late night drinking and civic disorder and has limited the opening hours of some nightclubs in Letterkenny as a consequence. I wonder when the penny will drop for the Government on this issue.

In respect of off-licences and the availability of alcohol through these retail outlets, 637 new off-licences were permitted to open last year, in addition to the 547 opened in 2006. Yet only 96 prosecutions have been taken in a five-year period against off-licences, shops, pubs and restaurants for illegally supplying alcohol to under 18s and of these, only 14 were brought in 2007.

There is an obvious and urgent need to restrict the availability of alcohol and to tackle underage drinking in particular. We are now waiting for yet more recommendations from more reports from more consultative bodies while previous expert reports remain unimplemented at the hands of the present Government.

In respect of the availability of drugs in this country, the Government's record is nothing short of disgraceful. An excellent "Prime Time Investigates" documentary found traces of cocaine in over 90% of clubs, pubs and workplaces it surveyed throughout the country. While the gardaí and customs officers have worked exceptionally hard to intercept drugs before they make their way onto our streets, they are being seriously hampered in their work by the State's intransigent refusal to fund properly customs and excise operations. We have one lone patrol vessel to monitor 4,300 km of coastline. At our ports, we have the absolutely farcical situation where our sole X-ray scanner must move from port to port on a rotating basis to facilitate random checks. Gardaí believe that well-organised crime gangs simply monitor movement of the scanner to avoid detection of drug shipments. At our smaller airports, standards are shockingly lax, with the Government arguing it is simply not cost-efficient to put proper customs facilities in place there.

If the Customs and Excise Service could make 2,700 drugs seizures valued at €139 million in 2007 with the help of a few sniffer dogs, one X-ray machine and one boat, what could it achieve if it was properly resourced? The Minister for Finance has recently committed to one extra boat and one extra scanner to be introduced during the next four years. Why does the Government refuse to sanction adequate facilities? Why must it always be the half-hearted, half-measure rather than a decisive, appropriate, courageous solution? Two scanners cannot cover every port and two boats cannot patrol an entire coastline. If the Minister is serious about stemming the flow of drugs into this country, the Government needs to invest at the coalface, in our ports and airports, in a serious endeavour to cut supply.

Tonight I am calling for a number of specific measures to address the rise in the number of offensive weapons, especially knifes, and in anti-social behaviour. Fine Gael believes that the Government must complete, as a matter of urgency, a comprehensive review of the availability of knives and offensive weapons. While the Minister may argue that the legislation is robust, the reality is that it is still possible to walk into a shop, purchase a samurai sword over the counter for €50 and an array of other deadly weapons. This easy availability facilitated a brutal attack in Finglas in January when a man's hand was sliced off in a public house in full view of all the other customers. At that time Fine Gael, for the second time, requested a legislative amendment to ban the sale, possession or importation of such swords but the Minister did not want to know. We may have a long list of prohibited weapons in the 1991 legislation but is the Minister confident that this legislation is being robustly enforced? Can he honestly say that the Garda Síochána is sufficiently resourced to enforce existing legislative provisions?

Second, Fine Gael believes it is imperative that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, takes steps to bring about a significant increase in the number of community gardaí. The experts agree that community policing must be the cornerstone of Irish policing. More important, community policing is what the people want. All of us in this House are aware from listening to the views of our constituents that community policing not only makes neighbourhoods safer places, but serves an important psychological function of making neighbourhoods feel safer for their residents.

Fine Gael has produced a comprehensive policy on community policing and suggests a number of ways in which it can be made a reality. These include the introduction of a special grade of community garda to make community policing an attractive career option, unlike what the Minister said today, "Ah, well, all gardaí are community gardaí". This is not so. Fine Gael wants the provision of longer-term assignments for community gardaí to allow them to really get to know the community. This would allow them live in the community and mingle, work and network in the community. Fine Gael wants the introduction of incentives to encourage gardaí to live in the community they serve and the involvement of the community in policing through community councils and fora.

Community gardaí are absolutely essential to stemming the tide of anti-social behaviour. If we want safe communities and safer streets, we must embed gardaí within them. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Power, to use his influence with the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to embrace community policing and take concrete steps to make it a reality.

More urgently, however, Fine Gael is calling on the Government to mount a targeted six-month operation to take knives out of communities. Experience has shown that the most effective Garda operations have been well-resourced strategic programmes with specific goals.

As this House is aware, Operation Anvil was set up to target gangs in Dublin and selected areas around the State. In its first 18 months, Operation Anvil resulted in the seizure of 573 firearms, almost 5,000 arrests and the recovery of almost €15 million in property. The Minister now speaks of incorporating a dimension on knives into Operation Anvil while, at the same time, there are reports that funding for that project is to be cut. Meanwhile, the policing plan for 2008, which is welcomed by Fine Gael, includes provision for a publicity campaign directed against the carrying of knives. This is simply not enough. Information campaigns are not sufficient. Those targeted by Operation Anvil are, in my view, not the same target group as those who carry knives. They are not the same target group as those who murdered Pawel Kalite and Mariusz Szwajkos. As I stated earlier, 2007 witnessed the highest number of murders in the State since its foundation. It was a year in which the number of fatal stabbings and knife assaults rose exponentially, a year in which stabbings accounted for almost half of homicides. It is not good enough to react to these developments by simply tagging knife crime onto the end of Operation Anvil's terms of reference. We need a specific, targeted response, a separate special operation.

Fine Gael is proposing a six-month operation that would involve dedicated officers, concentration on areas with high incidents of assault and serious anti-social behaviour, use of legislative provisions to stop and search and arrest and charge suspects and the introduction of additional mobile units for the specific use of this new operation.

Across the water, the British Government has made a serious commitment to eradicating knife crime. Police in the UK have been told to prosecute anyone caught with a knife. Two years ago, a major campaign aimed at tackling knife crime was launched in the North. This campaign included an amnesty period; new legislation to raise the legal age for purchasing a knife from 16 to 18; an information campaign; and a targeted stop and search and arrest and charge policy.

Meanwhile, the best the Minister can come up with is an information campaign which has not even started and an addendum to Operation Anvil. This is simply not good enough. The primary function of any Government is to provide for the safety and security of its people. The right to feel safe in one's home and one's community is a fundamental right of the citizen in a democracy. These rights are not being vindicated by this Government. The Minister has a duty to protect the citizens of this State against those who seek to intimidate, maim and kill. It is time to get tough on weapons-wielding thugs. Fine Gael has proposed three ways forward tonight. I sincerely hope the Minister will abandon partisanship and take our recommendations on board. He owes it to the people of Ireland to take decisive and courageous action and to take it now.

I welcome this motion as it serves to highlight a very serious problem which is devastating our communities, namely, the increase in anti-social behaviour and the need to bring forward measures to prevent further violent attacks in our communities.

Law and order seems to be a thing of the past and we are seeing more and more incidences of young offenders taking the law into their own hands at the cost of innocent lives. Anti-social behaviour is visible everywhere and often escalates into more serious crime, such as the brutal murder of two young Polish men in Drimnagh last week.

Since the tragic events of last week, there has been an outpouring of solidarity with the families of the victims. I have witnessed at first hand the overwhelming response from the local community, who feel angry and disgusted at the savagery of this attack. This was not a racially motivated attack; it was a case of mindless violence and a total disregard for human life. Following this unprovoked act of violence which has left two families and a community searching for answers, it is vital that we engage in positive action to try to prevent such horrific attacks happening again.

It goes without saying that the youths who are responsible for this awful crime must be made accountable and brought to justice. People who are capable of committing these hateful crimes must learn a respect for the law and a respect for human life. What has become of our society that people young and old no longer feel safe as they walk down the street where they live? Why is it that so many people close the door to what is happening on the street outside? The answer is fear and anxiety.

On my travels around my constituency, I frequently see groups of young people hanging around on corners and behaving in an intimidating manner, instilling fear in passers-by. It is unacceptable that in a time of greater prosperity in this country, the basic values of respect, responsibility and caring for others, seem to count for so little. Of course, these youths represent a small minority but unfortunately theirs are the actions that all too often have a devastating effect across the community. Sadly, violence on our streets is becoming the norm. The use of dangerous weapons is increasing and resulting in even more serious and life-threatening attacks. It is high time the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform committed to tackling knife crime which is becoming so commonplace on our streets.

The misuse of alcohol and drugs is clearly a factor in the marked increase in violence on the street. Children as young as ten can now stop an adult on the street to get them to buy alcohol for them at the local off-licence. Teenagers are experimenting with a huge variety of drugs from cannabis to heroin and cocaine. Too often we see young people strung out on alcohol as they huddle together in groups in the evening. This is a recipe for disaster and we need to tackle this problem head on before more innocent people lose their lives.

Many of the young people who are considered at risk are born into family circumstances where their destiny has already been mapped out. It is a known fact that from the first visit of the public health nurse, young children at risk can be identified, but if there is no intervention at this early stage, they can embark on a cycle of dysfunctional behaviour. For many children intervention at pre-school and primary school can help to steer them in the right direction. Young people need to learn the risks involved in dabbling in drink and drugs, and also need to be educated about their social and community responsibilities, including respect for others and above all for human life. Individuals need to take responsibility for their actions but responsibility also lies with parents and family members. Many children coming from dysfunctional families come from a background of anti-social behaviour. However, I have five children ranging from 26 to 14 and frequently, no matter where they are going, I ask them where they are going and with whom, and what they are doing. This is my responsibility as a parent and I take it very seriously.

In recent years I have had the privilege of being part of a community policing forum. My personal experience of it has allowed me to be in touch with the community and get involved with the gardaí on the ground. It is great to see people knowing the community garda by his first name and the same is true for him. It is great to see them walking into the local youth club and participating in activities with some of the children. This is what is needed. We do not need gardaí standing on street corners. They need to be around and involved. This is the only way local crime can be tackled in a community with young people. However, the bottom line is that we do not have enough community gardaí and they are not visible. In Dublin South-Central, we have six in Sundrive Road, six in Crumlin, six in Ballyfermot and three in Inchicore to service a population of 122,000 people. In God's name how is that enough?

Community support is very important in making the streets safer. Members of the community must be the eyes and ears, like Neighbourhood Watch used to be and still is in many areas. For this to happen we need people to be committed to being involved in their community and recognise that they have a major role to play. Community supports and facilities are very important in tackling anti-social behaviour. We must consider what young people want and how they prefer to spend their time. We need to come away from what we have known in the past as the normal youth club setting, which some young people no longer wish to be part of. We need to identify with them that we live in 2008. We need to bring certain activities of their choice to them and to help them along. We have a very positive choice to make in the future for young people. Not every young child wants to be part of a football team, a GAA club or normal youth club activities. They want certain venues to go and sit or hang out, as they say. A venue such as the Base in Ballyfermot is an ideal place for young people to come together and support each other.

It is important that we support the call by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to hold a community summit where people from the community can address the problems of violence in our society. We need participation from the ground up. In order for this to work we also need support from the Government, and statutory bodies such as the HSE, as well as social workers, gardaí, our local GPs and the religious communities. I wish to echo the words of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at the vigil in Mourne Road last night when he said: "We cannot just leave community involvement to moments of tragedy alone." I urge the Government to support the Fine Gael motion. This is a time for action and not words.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and propose to approach it from a juvenile justice aspect. Getting tough on crime and creating the political illusion that a Government is on top of the issue involves much more than building new prison facilities and increasing our prison population. We have been treated in this House in recent years to a New York-style "zero tolerance" approach which was followed by the "Trust me because I know best" approach by Mr. McDowell and yet we still find ourselves debating the issue.

I acknowledge the enacting of parts of the Children Act 2001 and the establishment of the Irish Youth Justice Service as huge steps forward in terms of juvenile justice. I say to the Minister that it is time to break from the styles of the previous 11 years of Fianna Fáil-led Governments, characterised by commissioning reports, establishing taskforces, empty rhetoric and creating forums. This motion is presented in terms that allow the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to set out clearly both in timeframe and action how the Government plans to tackle the serious anti-social behaviour, which culminated in the tragic death of two young Polish men in a Dublin neighbourhood in ten days ago.

A majority of people in Ireland believe that offenders come out of prison worse than when they went in. Inmates with drug problems probably have a better selection of drugs from within the prison system. Young criminals learn from older counterparts and maintain the cycle of lawlessness on release. Up to 77% of offenders in Mountjoy have spent time in St. Patrick's Institution for juvenile offenders. It is commonplace for a juvenile offender to notch up 20 or 30 convictions. I am aware of a recently reported case where a juvenile clocked up 64 convictions and all of these offences are committed before they even reach 18 years of age. This is making a mockery of the juvenile justice system. I believe the issue of restorative justice, in which the victim, offender and a facilitator meet and agree on a resolution is one on which we could make progress. In order for it to work the rights of the victim need to be placed as close as possible to the fundamentals of restorative justice. This model to some extent humanises the crime committed and can be beneficial to the victim, offender, the wider community and the Exchequer.

We have a considerable amount of legislation on the Statute Book in the area of justice, equality and law reform and yet the whole area of the victims of crime has largely been ignored. The Fine Gael Victims Rights Bill, which was published recently, is a concerted effort to address this shortcoming. I look forward to debating the Victims Rights Bill in this House and urge all Deputies to support it. A restorative justice system will not deal with all offenders. The measures included in the Children Act 2001 such as community sanction and the diversion programme have an obvious potential and should continue to form part of the juvenile justice system and be expanded upon.

The Irish prison chaplains' annual report for 2006-07 states that 50% of inmates at St. Patrick's Institution are illiterate. This is a shocking statistic and reveals much about our justice system. There is an obvious link between juvenile offence and education. Given that St. Patrick's Institution is regarded in the prison chaplains' report as a preparatory school for the Mountjoys and Wheatfields is it not time for a different approach? The possibility of offering an incentive towards sentence reduction if inmates participate in furthering their education with a view to completing State examinations, is one which could prove to be of benefit.

The role of juvenile liaison officers in the Garda Síochána is key to the implementation of any successful juvenile justice system. I have met many of these officers since my election last summer and I would like to take this opportunity to commend them on their work. JLOs are at the coalface in dealing with juvenile crime. Unfortunately, however, their decision-making abilities and powers have been somewhat reduced and eroded by the amount of legislation with which they must contend. Some 14,500 annual referrals are made to the national juvenile office involving young offenders aged between 12 and 18. This process involves the investigating officer reporting to the sergeant, the sergeant reporting to the superintendent, the superintendent reporting to the national office, and the latter office reporting back to the juvenile liaison officer. This would appear to be a system that is heavy on bureaucracy and inefficient in operation. Surely a system with more decision-making abilities at the front end would be more productive and responsive.

The adoption of the UK system of anti-social behaviour orders, or ASBOs, was much heralded during the last Government's period in office. However, since such orders came into force for juveniles on 1 March 2007, no ASBOs have been issued. This underutilisation of a legislative mechanism to deal with public order is surprising and I wonder if the Minister has an opinion on it. There appears to have been a rush towards an apparent solution without putting in place the necessary supports and resources.

The issue of community policing has fallen somewhat off the political radar and is lower on our list of priorities. Since the introduction of the scheme in 1991, we have seen a reduction in the numbers of gardaí participating in the community policing programme and a reallocation of resources. Like the juvenile liaison officer system, community policing offers the most effective means of maintaining our civil society, yet only 4% of the force comprises community gardaí. The solution is quite simple: provide resources for those working at the coalface; put more gardaí on our streets instead of doing desk work; and minimise the bureaucratic hindrance of their duties. If this approach is taken results will follow.

The terms of this Fine Gael Private Members' motion are clear. The Government has a chance to make a real difference for every community and can display its intent to tackle anti-social behaviour and increased levels of knife crime. Historically when this House has acted with conviction we have achieved results. Sadly, there is an increase in the severity of actions by some in our society. We have seen a progression towards the shameful incident in Drimnagh involving the horrendous murder of two young Polish men with the use of a screwdriver as a weapon. We have seen a number of murders committed by youths over nothing more than mobile phones. What type of society is Ireland becoming?

We are at a crossroads, so I ask the Minister to accept this motion. He should put resources at the frontline for community development, community policing facilities and juvenile liaison officers. In that way we could begin to reverse the decline in law and order in a concrete fashion. I strongly support the motion.

The savage killing last week of two Polish men in Drimnagh caused widespread shock and revulsion. It signalled a new low in a society that is becoming increasingly steeped in violence. We have become used to hearing most weekends about people being attacked and suffering serious injury or even death. As for gangland crime, we seem quickly to have become used to the almost daily news that another gang member has been shot. It is shocking to think about the amount of violent crime that is now prevalent on our streets. This was a country that 20 years ago had little violent crime.

In extending his condolences to the Polish Prime Minister, Mr. Donald Tusk, on the deaths of the two Polish men last week, the Taoiseach said that the people of Ireland were shocked and saddened to hear of the violent attack. He also said it was a tragedy which had nothing to do with the fact that both men were Polish. He believed the attacks were random, and it could have been anyone who happened along that night. That is the sad reality this country is facing today. The Taoiseach said the attack was an isolated incident, but it was not. We may not like to face up to unpalatable facts, especially when offering condolences to the Prime Minister of another country because two of its citizens were murdered in cold blood on our streets. However, this was not an isolated incident.

For some time, we have had proof that teen violence is spiralling out of control. Young teenagers are arming themselves with knives, blades and other dangerous implements before going out on the streets. Six years ago a young man by the name of Brian Higgins was stabbed by a 15 year old who was trying to steal his mobile phone. We should also remember Brian Murphy, the young man kicked to death outside Annabel's nightclub in 2000. His family still mourn their loss. They are only two families concerned, however. A young librarian from Sligo, Barry Duggan, was kicked to death on Dublin's Grafton Street in 2003. How many families have to lose members before real action is taken?

The public copes with gangland crime by thinking that those involved are organised crime figures, set apart, little deserving of our sympathy as they go about slaughtering each other. Let us remember first of all that our gardaí must deal with these people as they try to enforce the laws of the land. We do not serve them well or properly by treating such people as untouchables. They must be treated the same as all others who are outside the law but more resources are needed to tackle organised crime. Fighting such crime will not be cheap. The Government will have to redeploy resources from other areas and that may be an unpopular move.

Last Monday, two men charged in connection with an arms haul in Cork last year were sentenced to prison terms. It followed a joint operation between the Garda Síochána and members of Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency. The two men, part of a criminal gang, had been shopping for weapons, including two rocket launchers, Kalashnikov assault rifles and Uzi submachine guns. This was not in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but in Cork.

It must be remembered also that at this time, a number of serious criminals are behind bars in this country thanks to the Garda Síochána's organised crime unit, the OCU. I commend the Minister for establishing this unit on a permanent basis. The OCU has been credited with the arrests of more than 100 gangland suspects, the seizure of millions of euro worth of drugs, and a reduction in the number of armed cash-in-transit robberies. It proves that it can be done but it requires a cohesive, sustained approach.

Those who think that gangland crime is a step removed from the rest of society would do well to remember Donna Cleary, the young woman who died after shots were fired indiscriminately at a house where she was attending a 40th birthday party. The house came under fire because those responsible had not been allowed in. They were vicious thugs as well as being cocaine and heroin addicts. Who would believe that could happen in Dublin in 2006? The then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said the event marked "a watershed point for all our thinking on these matters". The Taoiseach said that "We had hit a new low". We seem to keep hitting these new lows, as the Taoiseach will no doubt agree, after the events of last week. Donna Cleary's family probably did not get much comfort from being told that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another victim was Anthony Campbell, a young apprentice plumber, executed as he installed a washing machine. There will be more such cases as we witness criminals attacking each other with impunity in cars on city streets and motorways, and on public thoroughfares. Much of it starts with anti-social behaviour, including acts of vandalism and rowdy behaviour escalating into intimidation of local residents. Communities thus begin to live in fear. People who work hard are entitled to live in peaceful communities and not be subjected to harassment and torment.

The subject of ASBOs has been discussed by my colleagues. This time last year, the European crime and safety survey, the most comprehensive analysis of crime, security and safety ever conducted in the European Union, found that Ireland has the highest levels of common crime. The Gallup study found Ireland has the highest levels of assault with violence, sexual assaults and robberies in the EU, and that Irish people feel the most victimised by crime. The risk of theft from the person in Ireland was found to be double the European average and we have the third highest rate of burglaries in the EU. That was before last year's general election when promises were made to tackle crime, but instead we have had a head-in-the-sand approach.

I will finish by asking the Minister some direct questions. His record as Minister for Children was excellent. Will he show similar courage now? Where is the courage of Nora Owen as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Deputy Quinn as Minister for Finance when, along with the then Taoiseach, they set up the Criminal Assets Bureau and brought through legislation in a matter of weeks? They cut through all the red tape and bureaucracy. Will the Minister show courage on this occasion when it is so badly needed?

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

expresses its abhorrence of all unlawful killings and the callous disregard for human life shown by such killings and expresses its sympathy to the families of all who have had loved ones killed in this way;

in particular deplores the brutal killing of Pawel Kalite and Mariusz Szwajkos and expresses its condolences to their families and friends, the Polish community in Ireland and the people of Poland;

condemns anti-social behaviour no matter by whom perpetrated and its effects on communities and particularly on the most vulnerable;

welcomes the policing priorities determined by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for 2008, as provided for in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, and the Garda policing plan for 2008 which is based on these priorities;

welcomes in particular the initiatives to target the use of knives and similar offensive weapons for violent attacks;

notes that, while heavy penalties already exist for offences involving weapons, the Garda Commissioner is finalising a review of the law in this area;

welcomes the priority being given by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to examining key aspects of the law regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol and his determination to tackle the public order aspects of such sale and consumption, including, as necessary, through the introduction of legislative proposals;

notes that the Garda policing plan for 2008 includes actions to proactively target groups and individuals involved in anti-social behaviour and identify and target local public order and anti-social behaviour hot spots;

endorses continuing implementation of the national drugs strategy and notes that a new strategy is in the course of preparation;

welcomes the continuing success of targeted Garda operations, including Operation Anvil;

notes the unprecedented level of resources made available to An Garda Síochána by the Government, totalling €1.616 billion in 2008, compared to just over €0.9 billion five years ago;

acknowledges the commitment in the programme for Government to increases in Garda strength, including a strength of 15,000 with a target date of 2010;

notes the far-reaching changes in criminal law introduced by the Government and enacted by the Oireachtas, including the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007;

acknowledges the efforts of the Government to bring about a more effective youth justice system, particularly through full commencement of the Children Act 2001 and the establishment of the Irish youth justice service;

notes the additional resources being provided to other agencies of the criminal justice system, including the Irish Prison Service;

looks forward to the roll-out to all local authority areas of joint policing committees in the course of this year; and

supports the work of An Garda Síochána and other agencies of the criminal justice system in dealing with those who threaten the rights of the community by their criminal and anti-social activities.

I propose to share time with Deputy Chris Andrews.

The terms of the Fine Gael motion, containing unfounded criticism of the Government's record, make it inevitable that the House will divide on it. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity the debate provides to discuss several difficult issues which we as a society must address. The criminal justice system has a major role to play in tackling some of these issues and I will outline the substantial measures being taken in this regard. Some of the types of behaviours referred to in the motion and amendment require responses that go beyond what any criminal justice system can be expected to achieve and pose profound and complex questions for society generally.

This debate, as speakers have already mentioned, takes place in the shadow of the tragic deaths last week of Pawel Kalite and Mariusz Szwajkos. These were young men making their lives in Ireland. They were part of the growing Polish community which is most welcome here and is adding greatly to the life of our nation. I am not alone in appreciating the dignified, measured and generous response of the families of the two men, as well as representatives of the Polish community here, to the horror of what happened. They have recognised the regrettable reality that this type of incident can happen anywhere. Some members of the families have expressed the hope that these tragic deaths will lead to a debate on how to address the issue of violence, particularly by the young.

I am in the course of making a series of appointments to the National Crime Council, which advises on a wide range of issues in regard to dealing with crime. I had intended to include in the membership of the council a representative of our new communities. In the tragic circumstances of recent days, I hope the House will agree it is right that I should consult with the Polish ambassador about nominating a person from the Polish community to serve on the council as the first representative of those communities.

I intend to concentrate now on the positive, comprehensive and practical measures the Government is taking to address criminal behaviour. It is not terribly productive to bandy about a plethora of statistics, either favourable or unfavourable. The statistics cited by Deputy D'Arcy, for example, are at variance with the findings of the Central Statistics Office. As I have said before, statistics are a cold comfort to victims of crime and, in any case, every crime is a crime too many. It is important, however, that what we say is grounded in reality, which is that serious crime per head of population has decreased in the past ten years. I say this not to minimise the extent of our crime problem but because it would be wrong to understate the achievements of members of the Garda Síochána and other agencies of the criminal justice system which confront criminal behaviour on our behalf on a daily basis.

Every right-thinking person will agree that the number of deaths involving knives and similar weapons is a particular cause for concern. The number of murders involving stabbing doubled last year from 18 to 36. We already have strong penalties for offences involving knives. The Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 and the Offensive Weapons Order 1991, which contain the criminal law on knives and offensive weapons, lay down strict prohibitions on such weapons and severe penalties for breaking those prohibitions. It is an offence, for instance, to possess any knife or any similar article in a public place without good reason or lawful authority; to trespass with such weapons; and to produce any such weapon in a manner likely to intimidate another person in the course of committing an offence or in the course of a dispute or fight. Any person found guilty of such offences is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a term of up to five years or both. A person found guilty of murder through stabbing or otherwise is liable to the highest possible penalty of a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

Nevertheless, the legislative provisions dealing with offensive weapons, and any other measures which might be taken to counteract their availability and use, are kept under constant review by my Department. At my request, the Garda Síochána is conducting a review of the provisions of the legislation in the context of the increased use of offensive weapons in assaults and murders. The purpose of the review is to identify aspects of the legislation that may require strengthening from an enforcement perspective. I understand the Commissioner is finalising that review and will make a submission to me shortly.

In the discussion about offensive weapons, there is one aspect of the problem we must confront. Items used as offensive weapons are often items with legitimate, everyday, mundane uses. This makes it almost impossible to distinguish by legal definition between knives that have a legitimate use and those the sale of which might be undesirable. Any attempt to do so would prove futile in practice as ordinary kitchen knives or tools, the sale of which could not be prohibited, can be just as lethal in the wrong hands as anything that might be prohibited and are all too often the weapons used to cause death or serious injury. That is why the law must concentrate on the circumstances in which these items are in a person's possession.

We must get the message across that carrying knives is dangerous and wrong. One way of addressing this is to introduce a long-term education and awareness-raising programme aimed particularly at young people. As part of its policing plan for this year, the Garda has decided to launch a publicity campaign aimed at discouraging people from carrying knives. This will be in addition to taking rigorous action under the criminal law against those found carrying them. This approach follows from the policing priorities I determined for this year, which include targeting the use of knives for violent attacks.

I share the view that we have a problem with our patterns of drinking in this country. It is clear that this problem is adding to public disorder. This was the background to my establishment of the Government alcohol advisory group at the beginning of the year. I have asked the group to examine urgently key aspects of the law governing the sale and consumption of alcohol, including those directed towards combating excessive and under-age alcohol consumption. Issues of particular concern to me are the increase in the number of supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations with off-licences and how alcohol products are sold in such outlets, including below-cost selling and special promotions. I have asked the group to report to me by the end of this month. After Easter, I intend to bring forward urgent proposals for changes in the law which, with the support of both Houses, I hope will be enacted and implemented before the summer recess.

In parallel with this, work will continue on the drafting of a comprehensive sale of alcohol Bill, which is already included in the Government's legislation programme for 2008 and which will modernise and streamline the law in this area. On my appointment, I was not prepared to wait for the comprehensive consolidating Bill of 2008 for the purpose of introducing reforms. The problem is so urgent that it requires immediate legislation. We will not be able to tackle all the issues in the legislation that is to be enacted before the summer, but we need to make a start at it.

The policing priorities I have set for the Garda Síochána in 2008 reflect the Government's focus on addressing the important areas of policing and crime prevention and detection. They are supported by the continuing provision of substantial resources to the Garda. The priorities I have set include targeting the use of knives in violent attacks and combating public disorder, in co-operation with other agencies and the community in general. I have placed a particular emphasis on alcohol-related behaviour. The Garda will tackle the use of offensive weapons, including illegal firearms. The Garda Commissioner took into account the priorities I have set, which provide clear objectives for the Garda, when he drew up his policing plan for 2008. His plan maps out the key objectives and actions required for the effective policing of our towns, cities and neighbourhoods and the ongoing modernisation and development of the force.

As part of this work, the Commissioner has asked each assistant commissioner to prepare and implement a public order strategy for increasing enforcement and detection and reducing the recorded incidence of public disorder and anti-social behaviour. The strategies will include the preparation and monitoring of operational plans for identified public disorder hotspots, including licensed premises, dancing venues, late night food outlets, public transportation hubs, taxi ranks and accident and emergency units of city hospitals, particularly at times which have been identified as high risk for such incidents, especially Thursday to Sunday nights and bank holiday weekends. There will be additional high visibility uniform patrols by members of the Garda on beat, mobile and mountain bike duties.

There will be increased enforcement by the Garda Síochána of existing legislation, including the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 relating to behaviour warnings and civil and behaviour orders for adults and juveniles. The Garda will liaise with the licensees of off-licences, including convenience stores, with particular emphasis on the sale and supply of alcohol to people under the age of 18. It will use its power to apply for closure and exclusion orders against licensees when offences contrary to the Misuse of Drugs Acts are detected. The Garda is liaising with other relevant agencies and Departments to ensure a multi-agency approach to this cross-society problem. It is the responsibility of everyone to prevent and assist Garda investigations arising from such incidents.

Over the past few years, there has been a substantial increase in investment in the Garda Síochána. The force's overall budget stands at over €1.6 billion this year, which is an all-time record high and an increase of 11% on the 2007 figure. The Garda's budget over recent years has been used to make a significant investment in equipment and modern technology. I was delighted to attend the recent launch of a new helicopter for the Garda air support unit. The purchase of the helicopter represents a large investment in the Garda's air support capability, which is an essential aspect of modern policing. The major ongoing programme of investment in the Garda fleet is aimed at improving and expanding the fleet of vehicles available to the force. Over 1,700 new vehicles, or over 70% of the Garda fleet, have been acquired over the last two years. Almost €100 million has been provided in this year's budget for a range of information technology projects to support the Garda in its fight against crime. I emphasise that there is no basis for the suggestion that Operation Anvil is being wound down. The Commissioner will continue to allocate resources to the operation as appropriate. I remind the House that Garda expenditure on overtime for the first two months of this year was higher than for the same period last year.

The introduction of joint policing committees was one of the most significant innovations in the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The basic idea behind the committees was to provide a forum in which the Garda and the relevant local authority, which are the two organisations which make the most significant contribution to preventing and tackling crime in a specific area, can discuss in a structured way the matters affecting the policing of that area. The committees can make recommendations on such matters in conjunction with Members of the Oireachtas and community interests. They meet an identified need and have great potential to ensure that policing is responsive to local needs. The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, called yesterday evening for the establishment of a community forum at local level. I consider local policing committees to be the point of departure for any community forum because they comprise the democratically elected representatives of the people. The Garda always tries to be accountable to, and responsible for, the people.

The joint policing committees monitor two broad areas — the levels and patterns of crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour, particularly patterns and levels of misuse of alcohol and drugs, and the broader issue of the factors underlying and contributing to crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour. Based on such monitoring, the committees advise local authorities and the Garda on how they might best perform their functions and improve the safety and quality of life of communities. Each committee can reach out to the local community by arranging and hosting public meetings on matters affecting the policing of the local authority area. While it is right that a great deal of media attention focuses on serious forms of crime, such as gangland crime and homicide, we must not forget that the day-to-day lives of the vast majority of the people we serve are much more likely to be directly affected by crimes which might be classified as less serious, but can have serious adverse affects on the quality of life in our communities. Such adverse affects are especially prominent when the offences in question are persistent.

I have made it clear since I was appointed as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that I value partnership in tackling crime. The joint policing committees are the cornerstone of that approach. They represent a forum in each community where issues can be addressed. I issued the guidelines under which the committees operate after consulting the relevant Ministers. As the committees are a new and innovative development, the Ministers decided that before the committees were established in all local authority areas, they should be established on a pilot basis for a limited period in a variety of locations throughout the country. A consultation seminar last November gave an opportunity to those involved in the committees which are up and running to discuss their experiences to date. The deliberations were useful.

I intend to establish a joint policing committee in each local authority area as soon as possible, probably towards the middle of this year. This will require issuing a new set of guidelines. Work is under way on revising the current guidelines to incorporate the experience gained in the pilot phase. Respect is being given to the suggestions made at the November seminar in the preparation of the new guidelines. My Department, through the Garda, and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will provide financial assistance for the committees. It is intended that the support will focus on the training and development of committee members, help to meet the travel expenses of community and voluntary sector representatives on the committees and support the staffing of the committees in the larger local authority areas.

Community policing is built on the recognition that an effective way of addressing local problems of crime and anti-social behaviour is for agencies to work in an integrated way, based on the informal social mechanisms which already exist in communities. In that way, it enlists the potential that exists among the public to contribute to preventing crime and anti-social behaviour. Such an approach involves partnership between the Garda, the community and other relevant agencies. The Garda Síochána is committed to providing a visible presence at local level throughout the State. Community policing is an important mechanism to that end. The Garda has been convinced of the value of community policing for some time. It has been considering how to increase further its profile and effectiveness within the organisation. The Garda Commissioner has established a working group to develop a comprehensive model of community policing. Submissions were invited from the public and voluntary and statutory agencies last year, to be considered in developing the new model. The final report of the working group is under consideration by the Garda authorities.

The Garda is involved in important partnerships such as the community alert programme and neighbourhood watch. There have been significant developments in these areas. While high levels of investment are essential, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Garda Síochána's most important resource is its people. The force needs to build strong relationships on the ground by maintaining a visible presence. The Garda mountain bike unit, which was introduced on a pilot basis in 2001 in Tallaght and Raheny Garda districts, is a good example of such an initiative. The unit has expanded nationwide since then — 359 mountain bikes are now in use in the force. The unit has been successful in tackling anti-social and disorderly behaviour in local parks and estates. It works well in conjunction with other units. Its success can be attributed to its commitment, its ability to respond quickly and effectively and its capacity to provide a highly visible presence. The mountain bike unit has made a significant and positive contribution to a more proactive approach to tackling crime. Garda management has received a positive response from communities where such units are in operation. Community gardaí use mountain bikes whilst patrolling their respective allocated areas. The bikes are a major asset to the unit as they provide an excellent off-road mode of transport. They allow members to patrol parks and green areas in an effective manner. They facilitate ease of access throughout estates, laneways, footbridges, pedestrianised areas, shopping centres and other areas. I am pleased the Commissioner is significantly expanding the mountain bike unit. He will shortly have a new contract in place for the purchase of an additional 130 bikes, a 36% increase on present provision, at a purchase cost of over €100,000. He has included an option within that contract for the purchase of a further 130 bicycles.

The Government has made very substantial progress in the area of youth justice. There has been a very significant increase in investment in the area and a structural approach is now in place for tackling youth offending. I should also mention the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime, which is part of the programme for this Government as well as that of the principal Opposition party, and cares for the victims of crime. It ensures they are respected within the criminal justice system at every possible stage.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on an extremely important issue. First I express my sympathies to the families of the two Polish men murdered recently in Dublin. Their parents lost these two sons to emigration less than a year ago, which must have been difficult for them at that time. To bring their children home in a box must be particularly traumatic and my sympathies are with them.

I attended the remembrance mass last night in Drimnagh and it was heartening to see a community reclaim and restate its own sense of community after such horrible and cruel murders. There is no doubt that crime is a major challenge to every society in the world and Ireland is no different. It seems as we become wealthier as a nation, we become more detached as a community.

As the Minister stated, no crime is victimless and nobody deserves to be the subject of an act of violence. Earlier today I heard Deputy Rabbitte asking what the Minister was going to do about groups of young people loitering with intent. I only caught the comment briefly so I may be misinterpreting what the Deputy said. Unfortunately, this is the sort of perception that does not assist anyone when making an effort to deal with an extremely sensitive issue.

It is important to remember that not every group of young people will attack older people when they walk by and not every older person realises that the noisy group in front of them is not about to assault that person. There is clearly a disconnect between older people and young people and a lack of understanding of youth culture. Young people are not aware of how older people feel when they see a large group of young people shouting or enjoying themselves. This disconnect must be addressed and, as Fr. Cosgrove said at last night's mass, this must be done from the ground up. It must be done in schools, youth clubs and sports clubs, and most importantly, at home by parents. We do not need more legislation, we need more education.

I am glad this issue is receiving attention both within this Chamber and from the media. I am glad this Government has clearly prioritised the health and safety of its citizens. The Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, whom we have just heard, is at the helm of a Department which is successfully providing resources to tackle crime, combating the causes of crime and dealing with the aftermath, which is just as important. The Minister listens and when there is a national conversation on crime it is important to have a Minister who does this.

There is no doubt that those who carry out criminal offences do so for a number of reasons. As there is not a single reason, there is not a single measure that will cure all our ills. One Department will not resolve all the issues around crime. The advocates of locking people up and throwing away the key will sound good. We should face the fact that this motion and the rhetoric addressing it appeal to our collective sense of fear and concern for the health and safety of children and parents. The motion does not offer any real solutions because what is needed is a complex set of actions. The Minister and this Government are working to lead and not scare people.

One piece, and only one small piece, in the jigsaw is policing. This is vital in ensuring not only that criminals are caught but also to provide reassurance and security to ordinary citizens. The programme for Government has committed to an increase in gardaí to 15,000 by 2010 and 16,000 by 2012. I am told we are on track to reach this target.

The Department has also launched a 2008 policing plan. This outlines key objectives for 2008, including the facilitation of joint policing committees; the tackling of gun crime, organised crime and drugs; and increasing public order. The plan includes a commitment to a publicity campaign directed at the use of knives in serious crime. The plan creates closer synergy between local authorities and Garda divisions. Resources have clearly been provided by the Government to the Garda to the tune of €1.6 billion in 2008, an increase of 11% since 2007.

There is no doubt the consumption of alcohol plays a major role in crime. Garda activity has been very strong in this area and in my constituency of Dublin South-East there has been a concerned effort to address this issue. There has been an increase of 19.7% in the detection of possession of drugs for sale or supply and this has a deterrent effect on potential criminals.

This Government has also prioritised the need to discourage under age drinking and anti-social behaviour. This has been backed up by legislation including the Intoxicating Liquor Act amended in 2000, which provides for closure orders for serving under age persons. We have recently seen a debate on the selling of alcohol in outlets such as petrol stations and supermarkets. I strongly believe there should be a complete ban on the sale of alcohol in supermarkets and petrol stations. Unless this is done we are just asking for trouble. It is healthy that we engage in this debate and question the effect of easy access to alcohol, particularly for young people. In my constituency of Dublin South-East, I see many local community groups working very hard on the ground, providing sports facilities and activities for young people. There is no doubt that this has a positive impact and discourages children from turning to anti-social behaviour.

Fianna Fáil-led Governments have rightly invested significant sums of money in improving facilities for young people. Ringsend Park is a tribute to this commitment and we need to continue creating and improving facilities for young people. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, is continuing to tackle the drugs problem through the national drugs strategy and is in the course of preparing a new strategy.

Nobody would deny that knife crime must be combated as a matter of urgency. However, as the Minister indicated, it is a complex issue and what this Opposition motion is omitting is that there has been a mixture of trends in recent years. For example, there was an increase in headline crime of 1.7% in 2007 but the level of crime per 1,000 people has actually decreased. There was a reduction in the number of burglaries by 5.4% in 2007 and the number of stabbings increased to 36 in 2007.

I notice in the motion a focus on the use of knives. As far as I am aware, a number of deaths by stabbing not too far away from here in Dublin South-East have occurred with the use of kitchen knives. These knives were not bought in a knife shop or procured illegally. These people went home, picked knives from a drawer and then committed the stabbing. So how does the Opposition propose to deal with knives in our kitchen drawers? The motion sounds dramatic but it demonstrates that the Opposition wants headlines rather than to tackle the issues in a serious way. The motion's focus on the availability of knives detracts from the complexity of the issue. It is not just about availability, as the Opposition would have us believe, as there are knives in every kitchen in the country. Instead it is about tackling the root causes of violence as well as ensuring the provision of necessary resources.

This Government is prioritising crime. We have increased resources and funding. The new policing plan for 2008 has been launched and as a result, the number of gardaí will be increased to 15,000 in 2010. An holistic approach that recognises the multifaceted nature of crime has been adopted. I am certain this Government and the Minister are working effectively on this issue.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Rabbitte.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion on the issue of random violence and weapons on our streets. The murder of two Polish men in my constituency ten days ago has been the catalyst for much debate and public outcry on the issue of violence in our communities. We can only hope that the wanton and vicious attack on these two men resulting in their deaths will bring about some sense of responsibility and some real action from this Government to curb the ongoing attacks in our communities. This, however, is little consolation to the families and friends of the two law-abiding Polish men who died.

It seems this Government only wakes up to the level of violence on our streets in the wake of a brutal attack such as this one. However, the reality unfortunately is that violence has become commonplace. Every weekend there are reports of stabbings, shootings, beatings and much more gratuitous violence.

It should be stated that the level of violence now experienced is not exclusive to any particular area or class. It seems to be all-pervasive and random. In recent weeks in my constituency, the following cases came to public attention. A doorman at a nightclub was shot because he refused entry to someone. A young girl was beaten up by a group of her peer age group for no other reason it would appear than she was not Irish. A young man was executed by the canal and, most recently, there were the two Polish victims.

Sadly these events are the ones that have entered the public domain but many more incidents classified as "minor" go unreported or attract very little attention, although somebody may have ended up paralysed because of an unprovoked attack. The events I describe are by no means exclusive to my constituency. Listening to all those who spoke this evening, it would appear to be almost the norm throughout the country.

As public representatives, we are obliged to do everything we can from a legislative, social and policy perspective to tackle this issue. There are some short-term measures which can and must be put in place to address the level of crime now ravaging communities. The role of community gardaí must be enhanced because all the indicators are that where there is a prominent community Garda presence, crime levels are reduced. However, as I highlighted previously in another context, four of the five stations in Dublin South Central — Ballyfermot, Crumlin, Sundrive Road and Terenure — have fewer community gardaí than the average in the Dublin metropolitan region. This deficit must be rectified immediately.

In the Drimnagh area, where this appalling and vicious event occurred last week, relations between the community gardaí and the local community are excellent but there is only so much the gardaí can do if they are under-resourced and if there are not enough gardaí to take charge and tackle this problem. While the role of community gardaí is hugely important in the community, they act as something of a sticking plaster. We need to look at the fundamental problems causing this anti-social behaviour and violence in the community.

Alcohol and substance abuse were mentioned by speakers on all sides. As we heard, alcohol can now be purchased in almost every garage forecourt, supermarket and off-licence attached to a pub. Earlier today Deputy Eamon Gilmore quoted statistics I recently accessed via my colleague, Councillor John Gallagher, which showed that in Dublin South Central in 2007, there were 15 applications for off-licences. Some 14 of these were granted with just one refusal. It is not as if there was a dearth of off-licences in a particular area because two off-licences were sanctioned within four doors of each other. The review of off-licences the Minister promised is long overdue but I will certainly welcome the report.

The need for better services and facilities for young people has been raised. On this issue, we must move with the times and engage with young people to find out what activities and services they would like and would use. However, the services currently in place must be made available and be appropriate to all age groups. They must be available at the time when young people want to use them. What is the point of closing the doors of these facilities at 6 p.m. with youth workers going home, as happens in some cases?

A cold hard look at value for money from our investment in youth services and facilities would be welcome. There will always be a need for new different ideas and outlets, so we should be open to providing those young people tell us they want and not what we think they might want.

This motion calls for a review of the availability of knives. While I appreciate the significance of trying to achieve that, it would be very difficult to implement as kitchen knives would be available. In addition to knives, many more weapons are widely available. I welcome the points made by Deputy Charles Flanagan who put forward some ideas which have been implemented in the UK and particularly in Northern Ireland. These ideas are worth trying but it will be difficult to make progress.

The fundamental question that must be addressed is why these out of control young people behave the way they do. Gratuitous violence is the order of the day on most television programmes and in many films and videos which are readily available.

I am a great supporter of young people participating in sporting activities. As the Labour Party spokesperson on sport, I will always be very supportive of that but I ask for a review of the many sporting activities where one sees players engaging in violent aggressive behaviour towards each other. Perhaps those responsible for setting the standards in sport would like to take a look at the impact of this type of fighting and aggression on young people who aspire to become involved in sport. I am very much in favour of providing sporting facilities but let us look at one of the downsides.

As far as television and videos are concerned, the genie is out of the bottle and nothing can be done. We have moved on and the challenge is to change the way people think about the violence which, in many cases, is being force-fed to them on a daily basis.

What is the role of the family in ensuring the children for whom it is responsible are not involved in crime and anti-social behaviour? The values of our society must be tackled in the family home. Schools do their best, often battling against the odds, to provide structure and boundaries, particularly for children they know are at risk. However, what explanation can a parent give for six and seven year olds being allowed to wander about unsupervised and falling prey to vultures who use him or her to help break the law? I refer to incidents of small children being used to steal, break into shops, damage cars and carry drugs.

Where are the HSE and the social workers? What is the role of the National Educational Welfare Board when these children do not attend school? There are unfortunate parents who are unable or unwilling to be responsible for their children. Intervention is urgently needed in these cases. The real problem is a lack of support for families at risk. There are few supports and no sanctions, so why should these parents bother? Will the Minister look at the needs of families at risk and intervene to break the cycle? Until there is intervention at the earliest stage, the cycle will continue.

No amount of knife and weapon amnesties will change the mindsets of those intent on doing damage to their communities and individuals. The interventions now needed must be addressed collectively, but most fundamentally in the home. The community, the various State agencies and most of all the families must get together to find an agreed way forward on this huge issue. This Government must take responsibility for ensuring that all the main players come together and that there is connectivity between the various agencies. It is not good enough to wring our hands and say how awful this blight is on all of us.

We must bring these thugs — the untouchables — to justice. We have been very polite about them for a long time but it is time to move on, call it like it is and ensure justice is done and is seen to be done. We must ensure parents have their rights but we must enforce their responsibilities as well. We must address the abuse of alcohol, binge drinking and drugs and put more community gardaí on the streets and give them the support they need.

I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1:

To delete paragraphs 4 to 15 and substitute the following:

"—believes that Government failures have resulted in serious drug, gun and knife crime becoming a growing concern in all parts of the state;

believes central Government, an Garda Síochána, local authorities and all relevant statutory bodies must prioritise serious drug, gun and knife crime, anti-social or anti-community behaviour and domestic and sexual violence;

is of the view that an Garda Síochána must work in full partnership with communities if crime is to be tackled effectively and community safety enhanced;

calls on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to complete, in consultation with communities and as a matter of urgency, a comprehensive review of the availability of knives and offensive weapons;

demands the Government resource An Garda Síochána to mount a six month targeted operation to tackle the proliferation of knifes and similar offensive weapons in co-operation with the PSNI;

demands the number of Gardaí employed full-time on community policing be increased and measures brought forward to address the difficulties involved in filling such positions with the right candidates and reversing the high turnover in this post by changing Garda perceptions of the post and its status through, for example, alterations to the current norms governing promotions and career development in an Garda Síochána;


greater civilianisation of the force to free up fully-trained Gardaí;

a more visible presence of Gardaí in the community;

that the resources of local Garda drugs units be at least doubled; and

greater investment in prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and reducing the supply of illegal drugs."

The effect of the amendment to amendment No. 1 will be to undo what the Government is attempting through its head-in-the-sand approach and to reintroduce some of the proposals put forward by Fine Gael. It will also go beyond the latter in order to ensure that which we are debating, and that upon which we will vote, represents a proper response rather than an approach such as that to which I refer.

The Government and its spokespersons and backbenchers do not seem to be aware of the extent of violent crime in our society. If they were, they would not have had the audacity to table amendment No. 1, which is a disgrace. We are discussing this motion on the back of the public's revulsion at the reprehensible murder of two Polish men in my constituency. At the same time, however, the Government is praising itself for all the good things it has done. It is time the Government woke up to the extent of the problem.

Like Deputy Catherine Byrne, I can discuss matters with my constituents. I invite the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues to engage in such discussions with their constituents. This problem does not just relate to Drimnagh, Ballyfermot or wherever. If Ministers got out of their ministerial cars on occasion and spoke to people, they would be aware that their constituents are living in fear and that elderly individuals are no longer prepared to go to the shops on their own. They will also discover that the Garda does not respond quickly enough for most people. By the time gardaí arrive on the scene — one or two hours or perhaps more later — the perpetrators of crime have left. In many instances, the young people who are out of their heads on cocaine and who are hassling others at chip shops or outside pubs or off-licences or who are engaging in raves outside people's houses have usually dispersed by the time officers arrive.

I accept that An Garda Síochána is struggling because of a lack of resources. In addition, its members do not have proper equipment. The Minister praised himself earlier, stated how great he is and highlighted the amount of money that has been invested in An Garda Síochána. The force does not even have a half decent radio system to allow its members to communicate with each another and with their barracks. Gardaí are obliged to use their own mobile phones to maintain contact. However, the Minister earlier lauded his response and that of the Garda.

Successive Governments were content to pass law after law but they failed to focus on the causes of crime. Neither did they place an emphasis on why the continual increase in violent crime. Lack of respect, materialism and drug and alcohol misuse are some of the causes of crime. People are engaging in gratuitous, mindless thuggery and violence.

A much greater level of resources needs to be pumped into crime prevention measures, drug schemes, the provision of services to the victim of crime, rehabilitation, and diversionary programmes. If proper investment is made in these areas, results will be forthcoming.

Since I was first elected in 2002, I have called for the adoption of an approach similar to that taken in respect of foot and mouth disease. We should take an all-hands-on-deck approach to the scourge of drugs. We must recall the promise that foot and mouth disease would not kill a solitary soul. However, drugs and gun-related crime are destroying our communities.

All organs of the State should be mobilised to tackle drug-related crime head on. In the opinion of most gardaí and criminologists, approximately 70% of crime in our society is drug related. We should, therefore, tackle the causes and deal with what is causing people to become involved in drug abuse and drink more and more alcohol. If we do this and take steps to confiscate the profits of the drugs barons, we will have achieved something worthwhile.

This Government and its predecessors stand indicted for their failures. In the 1980s when communities cried out for help and eventually took to the streets, the Government response was to batter them down. We still do not have a proper response to the drug crisis in this or any other city. Individual communities and Sinn Féin have continually flagged the need for a proper response. I am sure we could turn the tide if such a response was forthcoming. If we do not tackle this problem, it will become much worse and we will witness further events similar to those in Drimnagh.

I appeal to Ministers to get real and not to engage in self-praise when tabling amendments. The Government should put in place proper responses. The necessary laws and gardaí are in place. We should direct the latter to where the problems lie. We need to focus on community policing. On Question Time, the Minister referred to the effectiveness of community policing. If it is so effective, why can he not demand that the Garda Commissioner, as is the case with the traffic corps, ring-fence the number of community gardaí? If we deploy sufficient numbers of community gardaí, we will be able to rebuild the confidence of communities in the force as a whole. In addition, we will be in a position to bring to an end people's fear in respect of approaching An Garda Síochána.

People need to have confidence in An Garda Síochána in order that they can work with individual officers and ensure they are effective not only in policing communities but in ensuring that crime does not occur in the first instance. The most effective way to tackle anti-social behaviour is to provide communities and the victims of crime with an assurance that the State will protect them.

For over a year, I have been calling for a pilot scheme initiated in Blanchardstown to be rolled out elsewhere. I refer to the "Dial to Stop Drug Dealing" scheme, under which an anonymous telephone line was provided to encourage those who feared approaching An Garda Síochána or using ordinary telephone lines to share information with the force on drugs or drug-related crime. People who used the special telephone line could not be identified and could not then become targets for mindless thugs. The pilot scheme in Blanchardstown led to the arrest and prosecution of many drug dealers. This is a great scheme but the Minister will not put his money where his mouth is in respect of it. Rolling the scheme out across the city, or the country in general, would not cost a great deal. If it was rolled out, communities and individuals living in fear would have an avenue by which to report crime. If it only led to the imprisonment of one drug dealer or one violent criminal, it would still be worth it.

I stated earlier that almost 70% of crime is drug related. In such circumstances, any action which frustrates this multi-billion euro industry and the crime associated with it must be welcomed. Every shipment of drugs that enters this country seems to be accompanied by a huge number of weapons. We have not previously seen the importation of these illegal weapons, which are being used on the streets of Dublin and elsewhere, on such a scale. The availability of such weapons is leading to violence, shootings and murder. One need only consider what has happened in Drimnagh and Dublin South-Central in this regard in recent times. An ongoing drugs feud in the area, which has not been properly dealt with, has led to 11 people being killed. In addition, a doorman and a garda were shot by those involved in the feud. These drug-fueled crimes would not have happened if the Government or its predecessors had taken seriously calls for a proper approach to be adopted.

The scale of the lawlessness in Dublin city, particularly in the community I represent, is such that criminals are driving around tooled up with weapons and wearing bullet-proof vests. Only a small minority is engaged in this type of activity. Most people are law-abiding but live in fear because of the State's failure to stand up to those involved in drug crime. The example they give to the young, alcohol-fuelled criminals coming up behind them is that it is okay to carry on in this way. It is not okay. If the State is not willing to come up to the mark, communities will have to take to the streets as they did in the 1980s. We have learnt our lessons from that period but if all arms of the State are not willing to stand up, the communities will take to the streets and ensure that this violent trend and the increasing drug scourge are tackled head on.

Debate adjourned.