Adjournment Debate.

Road Safety.

In the past three months, road deaths have increased from their 2008 levels. In May there were 32 deaths on our roads, up from 19 deaths in the same period in 2008.

I am seriously concerned that improvements in road safety are being eroded. I note with despair that a recent report on RTE News stated that Ireland has been severely criticised by the European Transport Safety Council in respect of our failure to implement certain key aspects of the road safety strategy. In particular, we have failed to roll out the promised safety camera programme and all but abolished the successful Road Safety Authority advertising campaign.

Last year, 279 people were killed on our roads and thousands of others injured. Based on the most recent figures from the Road Safety Authority, the cost of all accidents reported to the Garda Síochána is €1.38 billion. Unless someone takes ownership of this project more families will lose their loved ones, more people will be maimed, more families will lose breadwinners and more families will endure untold heartache. I have received nothing but hollow assurances in this House in replies to questions on this matter, stating that discussions are ongoing between the Department of Transport and the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Finance. I am calling on the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children to support the road safety strategy of the Road Safety Authority and the Garda Síochána by providing the necessary funding to support the RSA's advertising campaign and implementing the promised safety camera programme.

Ireland is lagging far behind countries such as France, the Netherlands, Finland and the United Kingdom in respect of its roll-out of speed cameras. In France in 2001, some 8,000 people lost their lives on French roads, but that figure has since fallen by 50%, with 4,000 people having died on French roads in 2008. Speed cameras were introduced during that period. The delay in this process can only be put down to incompetence. Poland and Lithuania began their speed camera tendering processes after Ireland and now have those cameras in operation, while we are still waiting for them.

I call on the Minister of State to support the road safety strategy initiatives including the roll-out of safety cameras. These initiatives will have a positive effect on Irish drivers. They will reduce excessive speeding and increase compliance on the roads. Speed affects the outcome of every accident. By reducing speeds, we can reduce the effect of road traffic collisions, thereby saving lives.

The Department of Transport put the speed cameras contract out to tender two years ago and several Irish companies with international partners incurred significant costs in tendering for that contract. The successful company, with partners who are proven experts in road safety, incurred considerable additional costs in further advancing the project. This project will create 100 jobs throughout Ireland, with 40 in Listowel, my home town. It will create jobs in Donegal and along the west coast. These are employment black spots and need every job that can be provided, but the Government has abandoned them. Most damning of all is that while speed cameras are likely to be a revenue-neutral initiative, the cost in lives saved could never be measured. I appeal to the Minister of State to convey the sentiments I have expressed this evening to the Minister for Transport and to plead with him to ensure that the contract will proceed as soon as possible.

According to the recent report of the European Transport Safety Council:

While the introduction of a speed camera system in the Republic of Ireland is one of the main features of the Irish Government's road safety strategy, it has been hit with delay after delay.

The latest hold up comes after the Republic's Minister for Finance confirmed in late 2008 that a €10 million budget was being provided for the introduction of a speed camera programme in 2009.

This has been promised but has not been delivered. I hope that in the interests of road safety and saving lives it will be delivered as soon as possible.

I apologise to Deputy Deenihan for the absence of the Minister Justice, Equality and Law Reform who unfortunately is unable to be present due to other business.

The Government attaches a high priority to road safety and the prevention of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. This commitment is set out in concrete form in its road safety strategy. One of the actions in the strategy is the provision of a network of safety cameras. In pursuance of this action, the Garda Síochána is engaged in a procurement process for outsourcing the provision and operation of safety cameras, in accordance with EU directives, national public procurement procedures and relevant legislation. As a result, a preferred supplier has been selected.

Discussions are taking place between the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Transport and Finance and the Garda with a view to making every effort to proceed with this project as quickly as possible. In the current economic climate, we must do everything possible to achieve value for money, especially on a project of this scale. The aim, however, is to proceed with this project as soon as possible. Until contract discussions are concluded, it is not possible to indicate a timescale for the project.

We cannot and will not become complacent, as even one death or injury on our roads is too many. The Departments and agencies responsible for road safety are tackling rigorously driver behaviour in the context of the road safety strategy. One of the strategic goals in the Garda Síochána corporate strategy 2007-09 is to significantly reduce the incidence of fatal and serious injuries on the roads and improve road safety. The Garda Síochána continues to focus its enforcement activities on the main causes of death and serious injury on the roads, speeding, drink driving and failure to wear safety belts.

The Garda Síochána, in conjunction with the National Roads Authority, has completed an extensive analysis of the collision history on the road network. Sections of road have been identified where a significant proportion of collisions occurred in which speed was deemed the primary contributory factor. The public will continue to be made aware of roads which have been identified as having a propensity for speed related collisions, including through the Garda website.

Considerable resources are now available for traffic policing. There has been a significant increase in the personnel of the traffic corps which stood at 1,092 at the end of March, an increase of 92% since 2005. The emphasis of Garda speed enforcement is on the use of mobile speed cameras, and the force's capacity in this area has been substantially enhanced recently. In September 2008, the Minister, in conjunction with the Garda Commissioner, launched eight new Garda mobile speed detection vehicles. These state-of-the-art vehicles represent a substantial upgrading of the resources available to the Garda Síochána to address the problem of speeding on our roads. The Garda Síochána also has over 400 hand-held speed detection devices. In addition, there are several fixed camera installation posts at various locations in the Dublin area and the Louth-Meath division, and cameras are rotated between these posts.

The Garda authorities have also procured an automated number plate recognition system, ANPR and are finalising its roll-out. The new system allows for automatic in-car detection by the Garda Síochána of stolen vehicles, untaxed vehicles and vehicles on Garda lists. The Garda, therefore, will not only gain improved intelligence on persons known to them, be able to deny the use of roads to criminals and detect drivers who do not pay their motor tax, but they will also have enhanced traffic law enforcement capabilities, including the detection of speeding.

These initiatives are contributing to the significant progress being made in the area of road safety. Looking at the overall figures, the trend in fatal collisions has been favourable for the past number of years, decreasing from 365 in 2006 to 338 in 2007 and to 279 last year. Progress in reducing fatalities is continuing in 2009. To date this year, 16 fewer people have been killed on our roads, compared with the same period last year. Every effort will be made to ensure this progress continues. I can assure the Deputy that saving lives through making our roads safer will remain an absolute Government priority, including taking effective, efficient and targeted measures to reduce speeding.

Coroners Service.

The recent revelations in the Ryan report have shocked, angered and saddened all of us. Having discussed the report in detail last week, we are now struggling to come to terms with its findings and how best to move forward. It is almost impossible to comprehend the emotions of those who have been abused and whose wounds must be reopened. However, as I was contacted by relatives of the victims at the weekend, I have been able to get a little insight into their needs at this time. I have spoken to people whose loved ones have died while in care, and who have found difficulty over the years in locating their resting place.

I spoke on Saturday to one of these relatives, whose uncle was committed to one of these institutions at the tender age of eight years, and died aged 13. Freddie was born the eldest of three children in 1921, and his mother died in 1927. He had two siblings; a brother who died last year at the age of 80 and a sister who is still alive at 85. Following a court hearing after the death of his mother, Freddie was sent to an industrial school in Killarney, where he remained until he was transferred to Artane in 1931. Freddie died in Artane in 1934. His death certificate stated that he died of influenza and heart failure after entering the infirmary. Children resident in Artane at the time said Freddie entered the infirmary following a beating and never came out.

Freddie's father had a tombstone erected on his original grave in Artane, but during development in the grounds of Artane years later the bodies of the young boys and the brothers were removed. The bodies of the brothers were interred and identified with headstones but the bodies of the boys who were buried in a mass grave — their names only recorded on a wall in the chapel — were never found. Freddie's family have done their utmost to locate Freddie's resting place so they can give a proper identification and bury him alongside his parents and brother in Mount Jerome. They are also requesting that an inquiry take place into the deaths of all children who died in the care of religious institutions and that their bodies be exhumed and returned to their families. There should be a proper burial place for children who may not be claimed. Each child should have an individual gravestone in a recognised cemetery, away from the industrial school in which they were abused, and appropriate engraving on the tombstone should be erected for each child.

I can only imagine what it must be like not to have a place of rest where family members can visit and sit and reflect on the lives of loved ones who have passed. The need to have a place of rest to visit is well documented by counsellors and psychologists as very much part of the healing process of any family bereavement. Arrangements should be made to assist family members in visiting the burial places of their loved ones.

It is time for the Government to give a commitment to the relatives that justice will be done, not only for those who have lived through this nightmare, but also for those children who have died during the darkest time in the history of our country. These children may be gone, but they are not forgotten, especially by the families, friends and relatives.

For Freddie's family and for many other families, the need is now for closure. These families have waited for a long time to have their voice heard, and at last this has happened. As Members of this House, we owe them. These should be the first steps taken to heal the many broken hearts of those who were abused and those who have died, and to give some comfort and consolation to the family members who are left.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.

Last week this House debated possibly one of the most shocking and grave reports ever published in the history of the State. In their contributions, Deputies from all sides expressed with deep sincerity and often emotive terms the terrible regret, shame, sadness and outrage evoked by the horrors committed in residential institutions, which have now been laid bare by the Ryan report. The House spoke with one voice, unequivocally, expressing our nation's deep shame at the horrendous abuse perpetrated by people in our society who were entrusted with the care and protection of so many vulnerable children. We humbly acknowledged both society's and the State's failure to protect our children, and with a deep-seated determination said that society must face up to what happened and ensure it can never be repeated again. That is the express will of this House and it is now incumbent on us to do everything in our power to help those who suffered so much.

In the interests of clarity and for the benefit of the House, I propose to outline the manner in which the State's exhumation process operates. The role of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on acceding to requests to have the remains of deceased persons, including children such as in this specific case, is limited to acting under Section 47 (2) of the Coroners Act 1962, where a death may have occurred in suspicious circumstances. The relevant statutory provisions state that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is empowered under section 47(2) of the Coroners Act 1962 to issue an exhumation order when requested by the Garda Síochána and the relevant coroner.

The legislation states that where a coroner is informed by a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of inspector that, in his opinion, the death of any person whose body has been buried in the coroner's district may have occurred in a violent or unnatural manner, the coroner may request the Minister to order the exhumation of the body by the Garda Síochána. On being requested under this section to authorise by order the exhumation of any body, the Minister may either make or refuse to make the order. Having regard to the Coroner's Act as outlined above, the Minister under law can only make a decision on whether an exhumation order is necessary and warranted based on the advice of the coroner and the Garda Síochána.

It is understandable, especially in light of the Ryan report's findings, that many families will now be anxious to establish the circumstances in which their relatives died or to have them re-interred in family plots. The Garda Commissioner has appointed an assistant commissioner to examine the Ryan report from the perspective of the commission of any criminal offence which may arise from it. This examination is underway and I urge anybody wishing to report information relating to the commission of a criminal offence arising from the report to do so by contacting the Garda Síochána without further delay.

However, if it is a case that relatives of those children and young adults who died in institutions wish to have them re-interred in family plots and an exhumation order is required for that purpose, then this is granted by the relevant local authority. The relevant legislation here is the section 46 of the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1948 and it is within the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The Government is working with the representatives of survivors to implement the Ryan report's recommendations relating to them. As stated by the Taoiseach last week, the Government will have before it a plan for implementing all of the report's recommendations by the end of July.

Anti-Social Behaviour.

Anti-social behaviour has become the scourge of many of our communities, and many people in this country are now afraid to leave their homes, for fear of being harassed or intimidated. In some cases, life has become so unbearable that local authority housing lists are swamped with applications from people who are looking for housing transfers to escape the torment. One elderly woman who visited my constituency office was crying. She was afraid to leave her home because eggs and stones were fired at her house and souped-up cars are driving around her estate at night. She is not alone; many more are living in the same hell.

All incidents of anti-social behaviour are totally unacceptable. However, in recent times there have been more sinister developments, fuelled by the growing drug culture. Prior to 2001, the drug problem in this country was confined to Dublin and the larger cities. From 2001 to 2006, according to figures released by the Health Research Board, the number of drug users seeking treatment for the first time in the west increased by 100%. During the past 12 months there has been a significant increase in drug dealing in my county, Clare. Heroin is available mainly in urban areas and cocaine and cannabis are freely available on our streets. The major growth in the drugs business has been a by-product of the Celtic tiger, when we witnessed the explosion in the use of the so-called recreational drugs, supported by the culture of some celebrities who glamorised the use of these drugs. What these people must realise is that they are fuelling the demand and supporting drug gangs in the country. Real people in our communities are living with the consequences of this every day.

Last weekend, in one of the oldest parts of the town of Ennis, in the early hours of Saturday, a sinister incident occurred. A grenade was thrown into a house in Cloughleigh estate. Ten families were evacuated from their homes as a precaution. The Army disposal unit was called in but, thankfully, the grenade was faulty and did not detonate. Some 99% of the community in the area are decent, hard-working people trying to get on with their lives. They do not deserve this. They are shocked and worried and live in great fear that lives will be lost if these incidents are not stamped out.

I acknowledge and commend the Garda Síochána in Ennis, under the command of Superintendent John Scanlon, for their efforts and their fast response on Saturday morning, and for their work in trying to deal with the increase of crime in this area. I am anxious to ensure that a lack of resources does not hamper the Garda effort. I ask the Minister of State to outline the extra resources available to the Garda Síochána in Ennis.

I want a clear commitment on the future of rural Garda stations. Any decisions to close rural Garda stations will put a further drain on urban Garda stations and we will see fewer gardaí on the beat. An increased visible presence on the street and more regular patrols in areas such as Cloughleigh is vital in the battle against this senseless violence. The CCTV system in Ennis needs to be expanded and necessary funding must be made available to make this fully operational. This would give comfort to people living there.

Tackling anti-social behaviour is a major problem but one immediate step to be taken is a review of the vetting system for housing applicants. While local authorities can vet applicants for housing, there is no legislation for the HSE to vet applicants for rent supplement. This anomaly must be addressed. Tomorrow morning, I will address a public meeting in Ennis, where there will be an opportunity for the wider community to show its solidarity with the people of Cloughleigh. We must work together to stamp out this malice not just in this estate in Ennis or another part of Clare, but in every town and village affected. For the benefit of the entire society, it is time to take a tougher approach to anti-social behaviour. The Garda Síochána is best equipped to handle this crisis. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that no obstacles are put in the way of the Garda Síochána and that resources are made available so that it can get on with the job.

I apologise for the fact that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform cannot be present but I assure the Deputy that the Minister shares his concern about incidents of anti-social behaviour in Ennis and is conscious of how distressing such incidents are for the local community. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the investigation of such incidents has resulted in a number of arrests. The persons arrested have been charged with a number of offences including assault, criminal damage and violent disorder.

Ennis town is patrolled on a 24-hour basis by Garda personnel attached to Ennis Garda station. Regular patrols are conducted, under the direction of local Garda management, by personnel on mobile, foot and mountain bike duties supplemented as required by personnel attached to the divisional traffic corps and drugs unit, the detective branch and a dedicated community policing unit. Additional personnel are also available from other Garda districts within the division if required.

The Minister is informed by the Garda Commissioner that at the end of May the personnel strength of the Clare Garda division was 334. The strength of the Ennis Garda district was 215, with 131 members based in Ennis Garda station. The divisional strength is augmented by the resources available to regional and national units, such as the national bureau of criminal investigation, the Garda national drugs unit and CAB, when required.

A policing initiative targeting public disorder, minor assaults and other anti-social type behaviour has been put in place in Ennis, with particular emphasis on weekends. This initiative has been enhanced by the recent introduction of a Garda CCTV system in the town centre. Other initiatives are regularly put in place targeting under age drinking and ensuring the enforcement of liquor licensing legislation. These include covert and overt policing measures, which assist in the prevention and detection of anti-social offences.

Incidents relating to public disorder and other anti-social behaviour reported to the Garda Síochána are the subject of investigation and can be dealt with by way of adult or juvenile caution, a fixed charge penalty notice or by the initiation of criminal proceedings. As a result, there are a number of individuals currently before the courts for alleged public order and anti-social behaviour in the town. The Minister is informed that local Garda management is satisfied with the level of service being provided to the community in the Ennis Garda district. Resource levels are constantly monitored in conjunction with crime trends and other demands made on the Garda Síochána and are kept under review to ensure that optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public. The situation is kept under review by the Commissioner and his senior management and when additional personnel next become available the needs of the area will be fully considered within the overall context of the needs of Garda stations throughout the country.

The Minister and the Garda Síochána are aware of the damage and distress that anti-social behaviour causes communities. The Garda policing plan for 2009 reflects the priorities set for the force by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and contains a series of measures aimed at reducing the impact of crime and criminal behaviour. One of the strategic goals identified in the plan is to reduce significantly the incidence of public disorder and anti-social behaviour in communities.

Strong provisions are already in place to combat anti-social behaviour. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 brought into force additional legislation to target public disorder and anti-social behaviour. In January 2007, behaviour warnings and civil orders were introduced for adults and in March 2007 behaviour warnings, good behaviour contracts and behaviour orders were introduced for children.

The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 gives further powers to the Garda Síochána to tackle the misuse of alcohol. The Act places restrictions on the availability and visibility of alcohol and provides for more effective enforcement to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse. Gardaí may seize any bottle or container from a person under the age of 18 years that a Garda suspects contains alcohol to be consumed by a person under 18 in a public place. They may also seize bottles or containers containing alcohol where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder or damage to property and may require a person to leave the place concerned in a peaceable and orderly manner. The Act also allows for the issue of fixed charge notices for the offences of intoxication in a public place and disorderly conduct in a public place, which are offences under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994.

The Minister and the Garda authorities will continue to attach the highest priority to tackling anti-social behaviour. Legislative provisions dealing with anti-social behaviour are kept under review by the Department.

Inquiry into Child Abuse.

I ask that the Department of Education and Science open a book of condolence in that Department for the victims of child abuse. I am putting this request on the record because it was made to me by quite a number of victims of child abuse recently.

Virtually all the children in the reformatories, industrial schools and Marlborough House, which the Department of Education was directly responsible for, were of school-going age. The Department had a statutory responsibility to fund, inspect and supervise the welfare and education of those children while they remained in those institutions up to when they were 16. It was negligent over the decades and failed to do what it was statutorily obliged to in protecting the well-being and welfare of the children and care for their needs in those institutions. The Department allowed the needs of the institutions to be put before the needs of the children and consequently the educational provision and attainment, along with the well-being of these children, was "deplorable", according to the Ryan report.

One can pick any of the conclusions to give an indication of the dreadful operations in these institutions which were ostensibly and statutorily under the care of the Department of Education. Chapter 6.01 of volume IV states:

Physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions. Sexual abuse occurred in many of them, particularly boys' institutions.

Chapter 19.06 of volume III states:

More than 90% of all witnesses reported being physically abused while in out-of-home care. In addition to being hit and beaten witnesses described other forms of abuse such as being flogged, kicked and otherwise physically assaulted, scalded, burned and held under water. Witnesses reported being beaten publicly in front of other staff, residents, patients and pupils as well as in private. Many reports were heard of witnesses being beaten naked and partially clothed, both in private and in front of others. They reported being beaten and physically assaulted with implements that were for the specific purpose of inflicting pain and punishment, such as leather straps, bamboo canes and wooden sticks. In addition, witnesses gave evidence that everyday implements were routinely utilised for the purpose of striking children. Witnesses described pervasive abuse as part of their daily lives.

That is an example of the regime which operated in 216 institutions throughout the country, mainly industrial schools and reformatories, which were under the aegis of the Department of Education. It had the responsibility to finance, inspect and supervise the facilities and it had responsibility for the 165,000 children of the nation put under care in them. The Department was grossly negligent of them.

The Department of Education was for decades a major obstacle to children and their parents obtaining any redress or satisfaction when they made complaints about the dreadful treatment they experienced in the institutions under its supervision. Not only did the Department neglect these people but it was also an obstacle to them achieving any redress.

The Department, which has failed the children entrusted to its care, should as the State institution with the greatest specific responsibility make a symbolic statement or gesture of apology and atonement by opening a book of condolence in its main office on Marlborough Street in Dublin 1.

I thank Deputy Costello for putting this matter on the Adjournment this evening. I apologise as the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, cannot be here to take the matter himself.

In 1999, the then Taoiseach offered an apology to victims of abuse, during which a range of measures were announced to address or alleviate the effects of child abuse. These included the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and a dedicated national counselling service. Subsequent to this, the Government also established the Residential Institutions Redress Board to provide compensation to victims of institutional abuse and, more recently, the education finance board, which provides education grants to former residents and their families.

The then Taoiseach's apology was an admission that the State had failed in its duties towards children who were removed from their families and who were totally dependent on the State for their most basic of needs. This apology has been reiterated several times in the weeks following the publication of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse by the current Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen. In the Dáil last Friday, the Minister for Education and Science apologised separately and unreservedly for the failings of his own Department during the period under investigation by the commission.

The Ryan report contains 20 formal recommendations and the first four are placed under the heading "To alleviate or otherwise address the effects of the abuse on those who suffered". One recommendation — the issue of erecting a memorial to survivors — has been the subject of consultations with the Office of Public Works. It is proposed to hold further discussions with the survivor groups to advance implementation of this recommendation.

The report also made recommendations relating to education, counselling and family tracing services. Currently, funding is being provided for education and counselling purposes and Barnardos is being funded to provide a family tracing service for former residents, which is highly valued by them. The Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, has been asked to bring to Government before the end of July a comprehensive implementation plan to put in place the recommendations on how children should be cared for now and in the future.

On 3 June, the Taoiseach and members of the Cabinet met with survivors of child abuse and their representatives to begin the process of discussion of the issues arising from the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. During that meeting, the Taoiseach confirmed the Government's acceptance of and commitment to the full implementation of the recommendations contained in the report. In addition, he conveyed the Government's commitment to addressing the needs of survivors and other issues arising from the report in consultation with representatives of survivors of abuse. This meeting represented the beginning of a process of engagement with the representatives of the survivors.

A range of issues was raised by the survivor groups during that meeting, which include contributions by the congregations, redress, future needs of the former residents, criminal records, counselling and therapy services and a memorial. All of these will now be given further consideration by the Government. The issue raised by the Deputy of opening a book of condolences will be considered in that context and in the course of further engagement with the survivor groups.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and all Members of this House for their unanimous approval of the all-party motion on the Ryan report last week. I again assure all Members of the Government's commitment to addressing the needs of survivors.

The Dáil adjourned at 6.40 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 23 June 2009.