Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2010: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to bring this Bill before this House. The purpose of the Bill is to clarify and restate the law on the use of force in defence of people and property in the context of an attack by an intruder in the family home. The Bill is intended to ensure the law is clear about the rights of an occupier in the application of defence against a person entering the home with the intention of committing a crime. The Bill is also intended to strike the correct balance between the rights of the occupier and those of a trespasser.

I recognise and share the understandable public concern that exists regarding attacks in the home. This kind of crime is intolerable. It strikes at the heart of what most of us hold dear, that is, our homes and our loved ones. There have been a number of high profile, serious cases involving intruders entering homes with criminal intent in recent years. Fatalities have occurred and subsequent public comment has indicated the need for people to be certain of the legal position and to be reassured that there are laws in place to protect them. The legislation addresses that need and is intended to allay any doubts on the issue which may be in people's minds. It is my intention to remove any ambiguity there may be in the law and to ensure people are able to protect themselves, their property and others in the home.

The law has always provided that people can use force to protect themselves, to protect others and to protect property. The statute law in this area is set out in the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. This Act sets out, among other matters, the rights of those who are required to exercise self defence in the face of an attack on themselves, others or on property. The Act permits the use of reasonable force in applying this kind of defence. The 1997 Act is concerned with attacks irrespective of where such attacks may occur. This Bill deals specifically with matters relating to attacks in the dwelling and on the curtilage of the dwelling. We all realise the importance of the home as a place of refuge and safety. We are entitled to feel safe there and to have the freedom to defend that safety if it is under threat. The home dwelling represents a sanctuary to us all which is generally regarded as more important than any other. For the purposes of this Bill, "dwelling" includes not just the dwelling itself but also the curtilage as defined in section 1. It does not repeal the 1997 Act, which remains on the Statute Book.

It is also important not to lose sight of the fact that the law offers other significant bulwarks against burglars. Burglary is a criminal offence which carries serious penalties. The law in this area was updated by the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. Section 12 of that Act provides that:

"A person is guilty of burglary if he or she—

(a) enters any building or part of a building as a trespasser and with intent to commit an arrestable offence, or

(b) having entered any building or part of a building as a trespasser, commits or attempts to commit any such offence therein”.

A person guilty of burglary is liable to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, or both.

Section 13 of the 2001 Act provides: "A person is guilty of aggravated burglary if he or she commits any burglary and at the time has with him or her any firearm or imitation firearm, any weapon of offence or any explosive." A person convicted of aggravated burglary is liable to imprisonment for life.

More recently, the law in this area has been further strengthened. Section 26 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 provides that a court may make a monitoring order for persons convicted of aggravated burglary. The court may also make a protection of persons order. Such an order prohibits the offender from engaging in any behaviour that would be likely to cause the victim of the offence fear, distress or alarm or would be likely to amount to intimidation of any such person. The same Act provides mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders. These are significant provisions and mark the determination, not just of this Government, but of all Members of the Oireachtas, to penalise those who would prey on people in their homes and to protect those innocent victims of such an intrusive crime.

While the measures available to the Garda Síochána and the courts for tackling this crime have been strengthened in recent years, it is right the Oireachtas should review and renew the law governing those measures which householders can themselves take to protect their homes. The common law position on the question of resisting unwelcome intruders was set out in considerable detail by the Court of Criminal Appeal in a judgment issued in December 2006 in the case of DPP v. Anthony Barnes. Among the points made by Mr. Justice Hardiman in his judgment was that the home of a person is more than bricks and mortar and a person is entitled to a very high degree of protection by the law. The court noted that by virtue of Article 40.5 of the Constitution, the dwelling house has a higher value legally and constitutionally than other forms of property.

The court also stated in its judgment that every burglary is an act of aggression and every burglar is an aggressor. Although it clearly stated that every burglar is not liable to be killed by the householder simply for being an aggressor, the court made it clear that a householder may not kill with impunity any person whom he finds in his house. The Court of Criminal Appeal also held that force may be used to immobilise or detain a burglar to end the threat to the personal rights of the householder or family or guests.

One of the effects of this judgment was to encapsulate elements of the so-called castle doctrine into Irish law. The origins of the doctrine can be traced back as far as the 14th century. It had been established at that time that a killing performed in defence of one's home or to repel a burglar, was justified. However, Deputies should note that in the Barnes decision it is explicitly stated that although an occupier may defend his home he does not have "a licence to kill".

The judgment in the 1972 case, The People (A.G.) v. Dwyer, is regarded as the seminal judgment in the matter of self defence in this jurisdiction. Although it does not relate to a case which occurred in the home it does have general application. It states:

A homicide is not unlawful . . . in reasonable self defence of person or property . . . Full self defence permits such a degree of force up to and including the infliction of death as may be regarded as reasonably necessary . . . the prosecution must establish that the accused knew he was using more force than was reasonably necessary.

I do not propose in this Bill to introduce legislation which might be viewed as encouraging people to take the law into their own hands. However, I wish to clear up any misunderstanding there may be among the public as to the law in this area and to ensure that people are aware that the law does not leave them helpless to defend themselves against aggression by a trespasser.

I believe that all sides of the House share a unity of purpose on this matter. We are all aware of its importance. In addition to the case law there has been considerable public debate on the issue in recent years. The Law Reform Commission report of 2009 has also contributed significantly to our understanding of the issues. This Bill builds on all of that debate and learning in order to clarify the law.

The Bill diverges from the Law Reform Commission recommendations in some specific areas. The reason for this divergence is that the structure of the Law Reform Commission draft Bill, which dealt with defences in criminal law generally, made it difficult to apply the relevant recommendations to a Bill dealing only with the dwelling and not dealing with general law on defences. To adopt a greater part of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission would have required changing the entire law on defences. I do not propose to address such general issues in a Bill which deals specifically with the application of defence in the context of the home dwelling.

I will now outline the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 is the standard provision containing the definitions of terms used in the Bill. I draw the attention of Members to two particular definitions which are at the heart of the Bill, the first of which is curtilage. The Bill deals with defences which are applied in both the dwelling itself and on the curtilage of the dwelling. Article 40.5 of the Constitution states: "The dwelling of every person is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law."

Section 1(2) provides that every reference to the dwelling in the Bill includes a reference to the curtilage of the dwelling which is defined in the Bill as follows: "curtilage in relation to the dwelling means an area immediately surrounding or adjacent to the dwelling and which is used in conjunction with the dwelling, other than any part of that area which is a public place." Careful consideration was given by my Department and by the Office of the Attorney General to the drafting of this definition. I am advised by the Attorney General that the definition as drafted is appropriate.

It is important to provide this definition as it goes to the heart of the Bill first, because the curtilage and the dwelling are one and the same in this Bill and the dwelling does have specific constitutional protection. Second, in light of the fact that the Bill provides, in subsection (1), that it shall not be an offence for a person who is in his or her dwelling or a person who is a lawful occupant, to use force against another person in the particular circumstances outlined in this section.

The definition of dwelling contained in the Bill is a comprehensive one. For the purposes of the Bill, "dwelling" includes:

(a) a building or structure (whether temporary or not) which is constructed and adapted for use as a dwelling and is so used

(b) a vehicle or vessel (whether mobile or not) which is constructed or adapted for use as a dwelling and is being so used,

(c) a part of a dwelling;

The kernel of this Bill therefore, is the appropriate use of force by an occupier against an intruder entering the dwelling, which includes the curtilage, with criminal intent. These provisions are set out in section 2. The essential component for the use of force, as set out in that section, is that the occupier must believe that the intruder has entered the dwelling to commit a criminal act and the force used against the intruder must only be such as is reasonable in the circumstances the occupier believes them to be, in order to protect himself or herself or others or property. It will be a matter for a court or a jury to decide whether the occupier's grounds for belief with regard to the amount of force used, was honestly held.

It is important to note, however, with regard to the grounds for belief the occupier may have, that section 2(4) provides the following:

It is immaterial whether a belief is justified or not if it is honestly held but in considering whether the person using the force honestly held the belief, the court or jury, as the case may be, shall have regard to the presence or absence of reasonable grounds for so believing and all other relevant circumstances.

Subsection (5) further provides that: "It is immaterial whether the person using the force had a safe and practicable opportunity to retreat from the dwelling before using the force concerned."

The absence of any requirement to retreat is a new and important feature of the Bill which I will discuss later. Section 2(2) makes it clear that the use of force is not permissible against a member of An Garda Síochána or a person assisting a member acting in the course of his or her duty or against a person lawfully performing a function authorised by or under any other enactment.

Section 2(7) provides that the use of force shall not exclude the use of force causing death. This provision is an acknowledgement that a fatality could occur arising from the use of force by an occupier against an intruder as provided for in this section of the Bill. The provision is not intended to be an encouragement to use force which will result in death.

The test of reasonableness as set out in section 2(1)(b) applies in all cases. If an intruder to the dwelling who is intending to commit a crime is killed by the occupier, it remains a matter for a court and a jury to decide whether the force used against the deceased person was reasonable.

The occupier will obviously have a judgment call to make when using force against an intruder as to the level of force required. Such an event, in most cases, is likely to occur in a situation of great tension and anxiety. The force that may be used is such as is reasonable in the circumstances the occupier believes them to be at the time of the attack. This will be the case whether the force results in the death of the intruder or not.

Section 2(8) provides that within the meaning of this Bill an act is criminal notwithstanding the fact that it may be one which, if the person was charged in respect of it, he or she would be acquitted on the grounds that he or she acted under duress; that his or her act was involuntary; that he or she was in a state of intoxication; that he or she was insane so as not to be responsible according to the law for the act; or that he or she was a person to whom section 52(1) of the Children Act 2001 applied. The justifiable use of force provisions apply even if it turned out that one or more of the conditions above obtained in regard to the intruder.

Section 2(10) defines the term "intoxication" for the purposes of this section as meaning being under the intoxicating influence of any alcoholic drink, drug, solvent or any other substance or combination of substances. Section 2(10) also defines "property" for the purposes of the section, which includes property of a tangible nature, whether real or personal, including money. Section 2(11) provides, for the avoidance of doubt, that a reference in this section to property includes a reference to a dwelling.

Section 3 provides that nothing in the Bill shall operate to require a person to retreat from his or her dwelling or require a lawful occupant in a dwelling to retreat from the dwelling. An occupier should never have to flee his or her home in the face of an intruder entering with the intention of committing a criminal act. People should have the right to stand their ground in their own homes. The provision in section 3 also reflects a point made by the Court of Criminal Appeal in the Barnes case to which I referred. In that judgment, Mr. Justice Hardiman said it was inconsistent with the constitutional inviolability of the dwelling that a householder could be under a legal obligation to flee in the context of a burglary. Section 20(4) of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 provides that the fact that a person had an opportunity to retreat before using force shall be taken into account, in conjunction with any other relevant evidence, in determining whether the use of force was reasonable. In this Bill I have decided not to include a similar provision for the reasons I have outlined. In its 2009 report on defences in the criminal law, the Law Reform Commission recommended that a defender should not be required to retreat from an attack in their dwelling even if he or she could do so with complete safety. By omitting such a provision, we are making an important point with regard to the rights of an occupier faced with an intruder in their home.

Section 4 of the Bill states that nothing shall operate to prejudice any defence recognised by law as a defence to a criminal charge. Section 5 deals with civil liability and provides that a person who uses force as permitted by section 2 — justifiable use of force in the circumstances referred to in that section — shall not be liable in tort in respect of any injury, loss or damage arising from the use of such force.

The Occupiers Liability Act 1995 provides that an occupier owes a duty to a trespasser not to injure the person or damage the property of a person intentionally. Under section 4(3) of that Act, where a person enters a premises for the purpose of committing an offence, the occupier is not liable for a breach of duty under section 4(1)(b) unless a court determines otherwise. There are also provisions in that Act for the occupier to use proportionate force in his or her self-defence. My purpose in making this provision in section 5 is to ensure that persons who use justifiable force, in the circumstances we are dealing with in this Bill, will not be liable for civil actions by or on behalf of the intruder who has entered the dwelling intending to commit a criminal act.

I have been advised by the Office of the Attorney General that the proposed provision in section 5 of this Bill will ensure that no liability will arise for the occupier who uses force against an intruder with criminal intent. Section 6 of the Bill amends section 18 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. The reference in section 18(3)(a) of the 1997 Act to a person under seven years of age requires amendment so that it now refers to section 52(1) of the Children Act 2001, which deals with the age of criminal responsibility. The new provision has been redrafted to reflect the fact that a child under the specified age cannot be charged with an offence.

Section 7 is a standard provision concerning any expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of the Act if passed by the Oireachtas. It provides that expenses sanctioned by the Minister for Finance will be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. Section 8 is a standard provision setting out the Short Title and when the provisions will come into operation. Section 8(2) sets out the commencement provisions. This is a standard provision and, although it is the intention to commence the statute at the same time, the provision allows for maximum flexibility.

While this Bill is relatively short, it is an important Bill and deals with an issue of concern to us all who own dwellings. The protection of the home dwelling and the safety of those within it is a matter of paramount importance. The intention behind this Bill is to ensure clarity with regard to the rights of householders and other lawful occupants. In this jurisdiction we already have relatively severe penalties for burglary. For example, a person found guilty on indictment of aggravated burglary is liable to a fine and to a sentence of up to life imprisonment.

For the first time, this Bill defines the curtilage of the dwelling along with the dwelling itself in the context of the use of force against criminal intruders. The Bill ensures that people are aware they may stand their ground in the face of an attack in the home dwelling. The Bill ensures there will be no exposure to civil liability if an intruder is injured as a result of force being used against him or her by the occupier. The Bill acknowledges that the use of force in the circumstances envisaged in the Bill may result in the death of an intruder.

It is essential that people are fully aware of the law in this area. The Bill provides that clarity and introduces some new elements to the existing legislation relating to the defence of persons and their property. I look forward to hearing the views of Members on its contents and I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House.

I welcome the fact that the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill is before the House. The Bill is the Government's very belated effort to provide protection to people confronted by attackers in their homes. Fine Gael advocated reform of the law in this area over four years ago, publishing a Private Members' Bill in 2006. The Government repeatedly and cynically voted down Fine Gael's efforts to change the law in 2006 and again in 2009. The initial Bills were published by Deputy Michael Ring in 2006 and by Deputy Charles Flanagan in 2009.

The Government sent the issue to the Law Reform Commission for the commission to report and that report was published in 2009. While welcoming the Bill, Fine Gael is critical of the fact that the Government delayed its publication and delayed changing the law in this area. If the Government had a more constructive view of the legislative role Members on the Opposition should be allowed to play in this House, legislation in this area could have been enacted in late 2006 or early 2007. Any amendments to the Bill presented by Deputy Michael Ring could have been incorporated into it on Committee Stage after passing this House on Second Stage. The same applies to the Bill presented by Deputy Charles Flanagan.

I agree with the Minister's point that people should feel safe in their homes. No person should feel under any obligation to retreat in his or her home or from lawful occupation of it when confronted by an intruder. It is of substantial importance that the law in this area is set out clearly in an Act of Parliament so that people know exactly their position if they are confronted with the nightmare of a burglar or someone who is uninvited intruding into their home and who clearly poses a threat to the person, their family and their property.

Statistics in respect of the offence of burglary and related offences are interesting and show what is happening under the watch of this Minister. In the context of the published statistics that are available, in 2007 there were 23,603 recorded burglaries and related offences. By 2009 that had increased to 26,877, an increase of in excess of 3,000. In the case of burglaries, but not aggravated, as they are described in the statistical report, in 2007 there were 23,052, in 2009 there were 26,079. Again, an increase of in or about 3,000. In 2007 there were 2,171 robbery, extortion, and hijacking offences. In 2009 there were 2,487. In 2007 there were 814 cases of robbery of an establishment or institution. In 2009 there were 1,030.

On this Minister's watch there has been a substantial increase in offences of burglary, robbery and related crimes. The number of robberies and burglaries carried out in Ireland rose by a third in the second quarter of 2010 according to data from the Central Statistics Office. Robbery, extortion and hijacking offences rose by 33.9%, from 575 to 770. There are 1,659 recorded offences of robberies against individuals during that period, a rise of 37.4% compared to the same quarter in 2009. The quarterly figures for robbery, extortion and hijacking offences rose by 24.3%, from 676 in the first quarter of 2009 two 840 in the first quarter of 2010.

The reality is that under the watch of this Minister, despite a great deal being made of the action he has taken to tackle the problems of crime, people are less safe in their homes today than they were when he took office. Only today the Irish Examiner, addressing the issue of drugs and drug gangs, reported on a conference that took place yesterday which indicates that this country is experiencing a gangland and drugs crisis with entire communities facing intimidation on a regular basis. The report was on the proceedings of a major conference that was held yesterday.

Many of the burglaries that occur are drug-related. Desperate people, drug addicted, on too many occasions out of their heads on drugs, enter the homes of individuals, burglarise them and terrorise families, placing individual lives at risk and engage in conduct that leaves a lasting scar on the lives of those who find themselves victims in these circumstances.

It is right that this legislation is before the House and that we set out very clearly that people are not under any legal obligation to retreat when they find an intruder in their home. Quite correctly the Minister made reference to the judgment of Mr. Justice Hardiman in the case referring to the constitutional provision about the inviolability of the home in which he made it clear that whatever about the perception in some legal quarters, if one's home is burglarised or one finds an intruder, one is not under any obligation to retreat.

The provisions in the Bill address issues both with regard to an intruder who enters a property where a person feels a need to protect himself or herself and also the position with regard to property being stolen. I refer to section 2, which is a section of particular importance. The Minister has detailed its provisions in his speech. It provides a mixture of an objective and subjective test in determining whether the use of force is justified by an individual in their home confronted by an intruder.

Section 2(1)(a) deals with what I would describe as the subjective test. It says it is not an offence for a person, “who is in his or her dwelling, or for a person who is a lawful occupant in a dwelling, to use force against another person or the property of another person where..he or she believes the other person has entered or is entering the dwelling as a trespasser for the purpose of committing a criminal act.” The provision is based on the assumption that a person must believe someone has entered their property as a trespasser for the purpose of committing a criminal act and then the force used under section 2(1)(b) can only be such as is reasonable in the circumstances as he or she believes them to be. That is very much the subjective test. One must believe that someone has entered one’s home to commit a criminal act and in the circumstances, as one believes them to be, the force one uses must be reasonable. That essentially is a personal perception. It is quite possible that someone could enter my home and I could believe I am under some sort of a threat that I am not in fact under and use a certain level of force and I could not be prosecuted for using that level of force if I had a genuine subjective belief as to the position.

Section 2(4) which deals with the objective part of it states: "It is immaterial whether a belief is justified or not if it is honestly held." One must have a belief as to the circumstances, that they justify force, and one must obviously hold that belief. If that is challenged in court proceedings the objective test which is prescribed by section 2(4) allows a jury or judge to consider whether the person using the force had "regard to the presence or absence of reasonable grounds for the person so believing." The mixture of the subjective and objective gives rise to a complex piece of legislation. The mere fact that an individual believes that the force he used in the circumstances is appropriate does not necessarily mean that that belief will be accepted if the background circumstances are such in which it was concluded that one did not have reasonable grounds for that belief.

The mixture involved in the test is designed to ensure that the force used is reasonable and is not disproportionate. That will leave a certain lack of clarity in the legal position but I am not sure that there is a different way of dealing with it. I am not being critical in any way of the Minister for the approach now taken in the Bill, as prescribed. It cannot be that one can use any type of force simply because one swears one believes something to be the position in circumstances in which no reasonable individual could possibly have had that belief. For example, if a young child climbs over a garden wall to rob an apple from an orchard and I decide to take out my shotgun because I think the eight or nine year old poses a threat to my life and I shoot the young child it is clear that is not something that could possibly be defended under the Bill. No judge or jury could regard one as having reasonable grounds for such an approach.

The question that I wish to raise with the Minister — it is something he might respond to in replying, laying emphasis on my view and the view of the Fine Gael Party that people must feel safe in their homes and that they must be able to use reasonable and appropriate force to protect their person and property, is the extent to which the Bill has been assessed by him, his office and the Office of the Attorney General by application of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the right to life provision therein which, as I understand it based on case law, is that when one is acting in a self-defence role the actions one takes must be proportionate. I want the Minister to address that issue because there are varied views on it.

The Minister, instead of accepting the second Bill proposed by Deputy Charles Flanagan, said he was awaiting the report from the Law Reform Commission. In the 2009 report, the LRC referred to the English lawyer and scholar, Professor Ashworth, queried if English law on the use of lawful force complies with Article 2, the right to life provision of the European Convention on Human Rights. His questioning was prompting by the English legal test of reasonableness, or whether it is reasonable and necessary, rather than absolutely necessary and strictly proportionate, as adopted by Article 2 of the EU Convention on Human Rights, being the test prescribed to allow for the loss of life when someone engages in an act of self defence.

The Law Reform Commission decided the test of reasonableness is too "vague and unstructured" in paragraph 2.25 on page 31 of its report. It recommended that "substantive requirements traditionally embedded in the defence" should form part of any new law on legitimate defence in an effort to achieve certainty. These requirements, as minimum thresholds, were described as "imminence, necessity and proportionality". According to the commission, "Placing these requirements on specific statutory footing will help guide the courts and, ultimately, juries; it is the opinion of the commission that juries should be provided with direction with regard to these elements rather than simply being asked to base their decision on a test of reasonableness." Those quotations come from the Law Reform Commission report on defence and criminal law, 2009, paragraph 2.26, page 31.

I would like the Minister to address further why he has not adopted that approach as prescribed by the Law Reform Commission and has not prescribed a specific test of proportionality. It is important that issue be addressed by him.

This Bill is an important measure that will let people know where they stand when their privacy is violated, when intruders are discovered in their home and when individuals and families experience terrifying events through no fault of their own when others decide they will burglarise their homes and assault the occupants. There have been far too many incidents in this State in isolated homes in rural areas. Families have been terrorised by thugs and gangs of young people who have not only set out to burglarise homes in general, but have particularly targeted retired people and subjected them to acts of barbarity and viciousness that are completely unacceptable anywhere and which must be stopped. There are many individuals who are not capable of defending themselves. The elderly cannot defend themselves when their homes are burglarised and even the able-bodied cannot when confronted by individuals with guns, knives, bars or other weapons or when they are confronted by people high on drugs. While people should not ever be obliged to retreat from their own homes, there are occasions when, for their own safety, if they discover intruders in their homes, they should be cautious as to how to deal with them.

It is important that the message goes from this House that while in principle, this legislation is welcome, Fine Gael supports the position that an individual confronted by an intruder in his home should not for defending themselves or their family ever find themselves either a defendant in a criminal trial nor a litigant defendant in a civil action in which a burglar tries to secure damages from them. Nevertheless, there are many circumstances in which it is very unwise to confront an intruder in the home. The message should not be sent out of this House that we are encouraging ordinary citizens to take on violent individuals some of whom are sometimes completely out of control on drugs because on occasion taking them on can result in greater tragedy than finding a way to avoid a confrontation.

There are circumstances where someone might have no choice but to engage in confrontation and if he does not do so, his life or the life of a member of his family may be placed at risk but there is an issue of public perception surrounding the Bill and we must be careful about that. The body to which we look to protect the public, to preserve law and order in this State and to prevent and detect crime is the Garda Síochána. If someone's house is invaded it is essential, if it is possible for the occupants to do so, to make an emergency call to seek assistance from the Garda Síochána. The Garda must have the resources, be they patrol cars or communications systems or manpower, to respond when families make an emergency call and state that they are under threat because there is someone in the grounds of their home, or to use the old fashioned word from the Bill, on the curtilage of the home, or someone has been found to be within their home. When the Minister responds, he should address that issue.

This should not be seen to be a Bill that encourages people to take on intruders; people should not be encouraged to put themselves in harm's way when it is unwise. Fine Gael and, in fairness, the Minister wish to tackle the difficulty of those in harm's way being criticised for defending themselves in appropriate circumstances. The Bill not only allows people to defend themselves to protect themselves from injury, assault, detention or death caused by a criminal act, it also expressly states that individuals can protect their property or the property of another person from appropriation, destruction or damage caused by a criminal act. The Bill acknowledges that on occasion people defending themselves are allowed or may under its provisions use appropriate force and may in their defence cause a loss of life.

Coming back to the principle that people are entitled to feel safe in their home, to have privacy in their home and not to have a fear of intruders, people are entitled to protect themselves and their family from attack, there is concern outside the House that the Bill facilitates the killing of burglars for taking property. That is an issue the Minister must address. People should be able to defend themselves, their home and their property, but there is a difference between defending oneself and one's family against attack and killing someone because he or she is going to steal the lawnmower. This State does not have capital punishment. Killing someone for taking property when an individual's safety or the safety of his or her family is not under threat and where there is no genuine risk or concern of assault, detention or injury to anyone, is an issue that requires further teasing out.

I gave the lawnmower example deliberately because the Bill is not only concerned with an intruder entering within the bricks and mortar of a home, but with an intruder being within the curtilage of a home. The curtilage of one's home is one's front garden and back garden. Interestingly, the Bill does not fully define what is meant by "curtilage". While there is a definition, it does not provide for a particular acreage. I am open to correction, but my recollection is the Family Home Protection Act 1976 describes the curtilage as a maximum of one acre around the home. In this Bill, the curtilage is defined as "an area immediately surrounding or adjacent to the dwelling which is used in conjunction with the dwelling". How many acres could that include?

It is very important that we get the Bill right. If a young child climbs over a wall to steal an apple from an orchard, he or she is stealing property. If a passerby picks up someone's garden shears which that person has left in the front garden, he or she is stealing property. No matter how we may condemn the individual stealing the shears and tell the child he or she should not steal the apple, we cannot have occupants of homes trying to shoot individuals in those circumstances.

It is also important that we protect the treaties to which we are parties and our position with regard to them in international law. Will the Minister outline to what extent the provision in the Bill relating to theft and property, as contained in section 2(1)(b)(ii), has been tested against Article 2 of the European convention on human rights? It is reasonable to expect the Minister to address the issue and put it on the record of the House. It is important that he do so.

It is desirable that any individual who burglarises a house or intrudes on others within their homes and threatens their safety, their lives or assaults them, be arrested and sentenced and that the proper provisions of our law are applied. It is important that appropriate sanctions be applied to individuals who commit crimes. As the Bill deals with criminal law, I will refer to an announcement by the Minister, as reported in newspapers a couple of days ago. He suggested that some form of legislation might be introduced urgently to provide for community service for individuals who, having been convicted of minor offences, could possibly be sentenced to terms of imprisonment of six months or less. Presumably, this would largely apply to the District Court. When replying, will the Minister tease out his suggestion further?

I am conscious that the majority of those serving prison sentences are sentenced to terms of one year or less. In 2009, the number of individuals sentenced to terms of imprisonment of one year or less was 9,150, according to the Prison Service's annual report. Some 5,750 of those convictions were for three months or less. A difficulty in the prison system, as is well documented, is the number of prisoners serving short sentences of one year or less who re-offend within a year or two and go back to prison. One of the burdens which this country has is that each prisoner serving a sentence costs an average of €77,220 per annum according to the Prison Service's figures. It works out at just short of €1,500 per week.

I agree with the Minister in so far as he seems to be developing a policy in this regard. A number of individuals who are given short-term prison sentences at substantial expense to the taxpayer are not prevented by their terms of imprisonment from re-offending but simply emerge from the prison system as better graduates and perhaps more proficient offenders. A number of these people could repay the community more effectively by doing community service. If we make better use of the community service system, they might not re-offend. What is the Minister's exact plan in this regard?

I will conclude, as I am conscious that I only have approximately 20 seconds left. Fine Gael supports the principle of the Bill. We regret it has taken so long to get to this point after the publication of our Bill on this matter in 2006. In general terms, we welcome the Bill's approach. The issues I have raised are appropriate for this side of the House to raise so that the Minister might address them on the record of the House. After Second Stage, I hope the Bill can proceed to Committee Stage rapidly. I also hope that, when the Minister concludes, he will give us some indication as to how quickly that can occur. There is no particular reason for this Bill not to be enacted and become law before the end of November.

This is a slight Bill that purports to clarify the law in circumstances where a householder finds himself or herself confronted at home by an intruder with apparent criminal intent. In particular, it addresses the issues surrounding the use of force in circumstances where the intruder is injured fatally or non-fatally.

Unfortunately and as has been stated, many people are apprehensive about being attacked in their homes. The extent of drug abuse in so many communities has fuelled this fear, leading, as it does, to burglaries when the intruder is under the influence of mind-altering substances. Whether this malaise can be addressed by more criminal law is doubtful. Whether this particular Bill improves on the existing law is extremely doubtful.

This is the first time that Dáil Éireann has been asked to approve a law that positively refers to the intentional killing of another citizen. As the law stands, lethal force is already a permissible possible outcome in cases of self-defence. The Minister will need to answer concerns summarised by the Oireachtas Library Service Digest as: "the wholly subjective test as to the occupier's belief will potentially allow for the infliction of deadly force on the basis of paranoia, fear or anxiety rather than objective concerns over physical threats to the individual, rather than just to property."

The public controversy surrounding certain terrible incidents that have happened in isolated rural communities has prompted this Bill. There have been some appalling atrocities in rural Ireland where elderly defenceless people have been the subjects of shocking physical attacks. In my native county and other western counties, for example, some acts of unimaginable cruelty have been inflicted on senior citizens usually, but not always, living alone. It is difficult for some urban dwellers to comprehend the effect of such bestial attacks on persons who live alone and are vulnerable to such attacks. I have no doubt that many decent, law-abiding senior citizens living in isolated parts live in nightly terror of being the victims of such aggravated assaults.

The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights had an opportunity to take submissions on this issue from a number of organisations such as Rural Link which set out most graphically the fear present in the countryside. People such as elderly farmers living alone literally live in fear for their lives as a result of the spates of attacks that take off from time to time. There have been some terrible examples. If all the Members of this House thought we could correct that malaise by having more criminal law we would be more than willing to enact it but is that how we are going to combat this phenomenon, which is relatively new in rural Ireland? It is not many years since one could leave the door off the latch in rural Ireland and the question of personal safety never arose. However, those days are gone and the question arises now. It is a challenge for wider society and needs more considered strategies in terms of encouraging or reassuring those people they can be more safe in their homes. It is a more difficult, complex and complicated question than additional criminal law alone will solve.

I do not wish to give the impression that although the Bill was undoubtedly prompted by what has happened in rural Ireland in some celebrated cases such things are unknown in urban Ireland. That is not the case. Last week in committee I gave the Minister the example of a meeting in Fettercairn in Tallaght in my constituency that I attended along with colleagues in the House at which the joint policing committee held a forum. It was very well attended by the local community, the chief superintendent, the superintendent, senior community gardaí and senior officials of the county council. It was a night for us legislators to hang our heads in shame because of the litany of abuse suffered by law-abiding decent citizens trying to rear their families and make a living. We heard their cry of pain about the manner in which they have been neglected and how policing has fallen down and become ineffective. There are terrible instances of racial and other attacks and regular spates of burglaries and people are genuinely living in fear in their homes This is especially the case where such people are vulnerable or living alone, or are women living alone or housed emigrants.

The resources available for community policing are entirely inadequate. None the less community policing seems to have been a tremendous success. Everywhere I go I hear the role of community gardaí praised. However, the resources are not there and in the times that are in it I do not see this Government, or, to be honest, any Government that will replace it, making more resources available. This calls for a redirection of resources within the Garda Síochána to community policing. It is a very worrying situation when a community loses faith in the Garda Síochána. I do not know whether the Minister received a report on that meeting but I am sure one went up the line in the Garda. A great number of decent residents got up to explain their personal circumstances, in which they feel persecuted in their homes or are afraid to go out at night, and how the increasing number of break-ins is a great worry.

I mentioned the influence drug abuse has on this phenomenon. When I talk about strategies other than additional criminal law I have in mind such measures as action to reduce demand for drugs. The Garda in my constituency, which I doubt is different from the Minister's constituency, will be able to point to the fall in the number of burglaries where a community drugs treatment centre is doing its job as it ought. When young fellows, who, for whatever complex reason, have fallen into the drug abuse way of life are put on a methadone or stabilisation programme the number of burglaries immediately and identifiably falls. It is an argument for strengthening capacity to reduce demand for drugs and ensuring the resources are in place. There is panic among local drugs taskforces about further paring back of the resources available to them because they are overstretched already. Notwithstanding their success the problem has become worse and is endemic in some communities. For example, I attended a meeting last week in St. Andrew's Resource Centre in Pearse Street. It had nothing to do with my constituency but a number of organisations came together to deal with problems such as intimidation of people working at the coal face on the drugs issue. They, too, live in some trepidation concerning resources and the forthcoming budget. They operate on a shoestring as it is but do so to considerable effect. For example, the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, appears to have signalled that the moneys available — which were paltry — to the informal sector in terms of education and prevention among young people will now be pared back and brought into the formal sector, namely, the school system. We have been down the road on this before and we know that it did not work. I was the Minister of State at the time who established the national drug strategy and the local drugs taskforces. The reason I was given the job was the Departments of line Ministers were involved in turf wars as to whether it was the responsibility of the then Departments of Health, Justice, the Environment, the probation service, the local authority or whoever.

The basis of the national drugs strategy was a partnership between the community and the statutory agencies. The community and its voluntary allegiance to the objectives is central. If the Minister pulls back the moneys again going into the statutory agencies, and he loses that community intent, then there will be a worsening of the drugs situation, especially in urban Ireland.

At the moment the law provides that a householder is entitled to defend his or her home. However, under the existing law if he or she uses force to defend himself or herself, the family or the home, the force used must be proportionate. The householder cannot lawfully kill the intruder, merely on the basis that he or she is a burglar.

As has been referred to, the Court of Criminal Appeal held in the case of the DPP v. Barnes that under Article 40.3.1° and Article 40.3.2° of the Constitution a person cannot lawfully lose his life simply because he trespasses in the dwelling house of another with intent to steal. The common law rule is that a person in his dwelling house can never, in law, be under an obligation to leave it, to retreat from it or to abandon it to the burglar or other aggressor.

The Minister spent a great deal of time drawing our attention to section 3, where he is enshrining in statute and making plain that a householder is not required to retreat. Section 3, he says in his script, provides that nothing in the Bill shall operate to require a person to retreat from his or her dwelling, or require a lawful occupant in a dwelling to retreat. I am sure there is an explanation but he will have to explain to me how that differs from the present situation. The courts have clearly held that there is no obligation to retreat. As Mr. Justice Hardiman has said, there are occasions when it may be wise to retreat but there is no legal obligation on the home owner or occupier to retreat. That is the danger of the perception that Deputy Shatter spoke about, and people know that. The danger now is people will get the impression that it is permissible to use legal force in circumstances where they believe their property, their family or themselves are at risk. However, the court has clearly pointed out that there may be many situations where the householder would be well advised to flee but he or she can never be under a legal obligation to do so.

The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 states that in all cases of self-defence, the opportunity to retreat shall be taken into account in determining whether force was reasonable or not. However, no lawyer I know believes, and no court has held that there is a duty on the householder to retreat. The Bill seeks to clarify the law relating to self-defence in the context of the dwelling and the justifiable use of force. It states that force against a trespasser will be lawful when the householder or occupier honestly believes that the trespasser is on the property to commit a crime, and the force is necessary to protect the occupier, another person or property.

This force can include, depending on the circumstances, lethal force. Section 2(7) states: "The use of force shall not exclude the use of force causing death." It is my understanding, given the matters I have indicated being taken into account, that the use of force never excluded the use of lethal force. I do not see where the test in this Bill for assessing the justifiable use of force differs from the test required by the 1997 Act. Again, I refer to the digest prepared for us by the Oireachtas Library, which states, "In respect of the assessment of the reasonable use of force, the Bill clarifies the existing law but it does not substantively amend it". Therefore, whereas section 2(7) does not exclude the use of lethal force, it is not at all clear from section 2(1) whether lethal force may be used to protect property

Various court judgments have established a hierarchy of values where the protection of human life ranks higher than the protection of property. This Bill may cause more difficulty for the courts that it clarifies by purporting to address certain issues but then dodging them.

If it has been the law since time immemorial that one can rely on self-defence even if one's attacker is fatally wounded, what does this Bill add to the law? I do not know of any legislation on this side of the Atlantic where this House has ever been asked before to expressly set out in legislation the right to kill another human being. Up to now the courts seem to have been able to apply the law without offending the reasonable sensibilities of most people. Deputy Shatter pleaded that the Minister would promulgate very clearly that this is not the intention in this case. Moving from Deputy Shatter to another object of the Minister's affection, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, it deals with this question as regards the defence of property. I only received this as I walked into the Chamber, so I am not sure whether the Minister has seen it.

Is it something about "thin ice"?

No, it is simply drawing the Minister's attention to the Law Reform Commission paper and expressly saying that he ought on Committee Stage to remove the defence of property as a legitimate reason for the use of fatal force. I believe this is something he ought to consider. It is one thing, in extremis, to defend one’s family or oneself. However, it is a different matter to risk fatality either to oneself or an intruder in defence of property. The Minister ought to be prepared to look at that.

I am not clear that the Bill improves on or adds to the provisions of the 1997 Act relating to the use of force by an individual that is reasonable in the circumstances. Section 2(4) may purport to clarify these provisions but I am unclear as to whether that constitutes any substantive change in the law.

It is really for clarification only. Are these clarificatory gains worthwhile? I hope they are, but it would be wrong to give the impression that we have somehow significantly amended the law when we have not done so. The Bills Digest summarises the impact of these clarifications, which it states are not an amendment of the existing law. It states that the Bill makes certain there is no obligation to retreat from the dwelling and, in this respect, ends the confusion created by section 20 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. It gives greater guidance on what constitutes the dwelling, which we all welcome; it removes the defence of the dwelling from the ambit of the 1997 Act; and it updates the 1997 Act to take account of section 52(1) of the Children Act 2001, which contains a general commitment not to charge or prosecute children under the age of 12. I note what the Minister said in his speech about this. Of course, there are exceptions in the case of serious offences. The Bill also provides that justifiable force used in defence of the dwelling will not lead to a home owner being sued.

The issue raised here, which I hope the Minister will address and which we will have an opportunity to discuss on Committee Stage, is whether these clarificatory gains are a counterweight to the fact that we are now relying on a wholly subjective test of the occupier's belief, which will potentially allow for the infliction of deadly force on the basis of paranoia, fear, apprehension or anxiety rather than objective concerns over physical threats to the individual, as opposed to property. I note that the Bill does not adopt the four suggested factors of the Law Reform Commission — threshold, eminence, necessity and proportionality — in assessing reasonableness, and therefore the emphasis on the judge or jury's belief in the credibility of the individual rather than the physical factors surrounding the incident will be crucial.

The Bill is a very slight measure. I have listened to claims that it is a very important Bill, but it is very slight. It does not change or amend the law; it merely makes certain clarifications. The issue it purports to address is a real one — that is, the right of all citizens to peaceful enjoyment of their homes — but the perception difficulty to which this Bill will give rise is worrying, and this will be the main focus of our attention on Committee Stage.

I welcome this Bill, as will most people around the country, because it will tidy up once and for all a legal situation that most people would consider unjust. It will also define for both householder and intruder where they stand in the event that their paths cross.

I believe in the concept that a man's home is his castle. This tenet may have originated in England but now extends across the world to countries that hold that a person has a right to defend his or her family home, members and property in all reasonable circumstances. I hold this to be sacrosanct, and have been dismayed on occasions when I read of severe penalties being imposed on people who — on the face of it at least — were defending their homes, families and property from being seriously intruded upon by people with robbery or worse on their minds.

I am especially pleased to see this legislative proposal come before us because the position is not clearly defined not only in this country, but in many countries across the world as well as several US states. Everybody refers to the castle doctrine but in many cases the entire interpretation is left to the police, the prosecution service and, ultimately, the courts. Now we will have as clear a definition of what is allowable as exists in any jurisdiction, and people will know their limitations in protecting their families and property. After the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights held hearings on this subject and teased it out in some detail, the outcome was communicated to the Law Reform Commission.

This is a considered piece of legislation dealing with a subject which troubles many people, particularly those living alone, and will define clearly what is allowed and what is not. If a person or his or her family are truly at risk, will that person stop to consider whether he has the right to strike a blow, fire a shot or push someone out a window? The instinct for survival is paramount, but we must reassure people, in the uncharged atmosphere of this debate, that they finally have the legal right to defend themselves, their families and their properties with all reasonable force at their disposal if they consider it necessary at the time.

In recent times there have been several high-profile cases involving intruders and defenders which have been as emotive as they have been tragic, and the publicity surrounding them has prompted debate and division, producing scenarios which should not be legally unclear. Neither, it should be said, should they be used to justify an extreme position on either side. I refer in particular to the case of Padraig Nally, who was convicted of the manslaughter of an intruder, although the conviction was subsequently overturned. This case was the subject of widespread debate at the time, and there is no doubt that the sympathies of the vast majority of the contributing population were on his side.

There are difficulties at present in this regard, particularly in rural Ireland. Deputy Rabbitte referred in his comments to the submissions we received in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights about what is happening in rural areas and the fact that so many people are living frightened lives. There are people roaming the countryside daily in every rural county seeking vulnerable people, mostly those who are living alone. If these people are challenged they will pretend they are looking for directions or something similar. That in itself is frightening for people who do not expect such people to call, and they have a reasonable assumption that these people have an ulterior motive. This must be taken into consideration when evaluating the actions of a house owner. There are other people in rural areas who call at houses for legitimate purposes; those people have nothing to fear. However, there are grave problems in this regard, and the law has perhaps not been strong enough in protecting these people. That is what we are striving to achieve.

What we are debating here is the right or otherwise of a householder or occupier to defend his or her home and the definition of the level of violence that can be used against an intruder. I hold little sympathy for a person who is injured or even loses his life in the commission of a crime against an individual or his property, provided only reasonable methods have been used in the defence of the occupiers or the property. This is not to equate property with people. Let us envisage a situation in which a home is about to be burned, with the occupants either inside or outside. I have no difficulty in supporting the property holder in defending his property, whether he be in his home, his business, his garage or his garden shed. I see it as lawful to resist such an attempt to destroy property, provided a reasonable and sufficient level of resistance is used. Each case will vary, but a homeowners or occupiers have a right to feel safe within their dwelling and have a right to defend their family and companions with whatever reasonable means are at their disposal.

It is interesting to see that just last week, the state of Pennsylvania grappled with this problem, but they had no difficulty in extending what they describe as the "castle doctrine" by giving homeowners more latitude in using deadly force to protect themselves and their property. Their measure passed in the state Senate on a vote of 45 to four, so there was very little room for doubt in that state. The measure received across the board support from both sides of Parliament and I suspect that there will be little in the line of opposition to the proposal before this House either, if Deputies are truly to be honest.

Pennsylvania's new Bill proposed allowing homeowners the use of a firearm or other weapon to defend themselves on the porch, lawn or garage of their homes, as well as in the house itself. It is interesting to note that we have confined the provisions of our Bill solely to the dwelling and curtilage, while Pennsylvania included the occupancy of a vehicle as well. The Bill in Pennsylvania defined the right as follows:

Persons residing in or visiting Pennsylvania have a right to expect to remain unmolested within their homes and vehicles. No person should be required to surrender his or her personal safety to a criminal, nor should a person be required to needlessly retreat in the face of intrusion or attack outside the person's home or vehicle. The use of deadly force is not justifiable under this section unless the actor believes that such force is necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat; nor is it justifiable if the actor, with the intent of causing death or serious bodily injury, provoked the use of force against himself in the same encounter.

I consider all of that to be perfectly reasonable and principles to which we should aspire.

Let us return to our own country. Just this week, a house under construction was burned down by five individuals wearing balaclavas and the security man threatened and ordered off the property and had his car keys and mobile phone confiscated. If that house were occupied at the time with means of escape cut off, should not the occupier defend himself and his property with all reasonable force? We have had many petrol bombings in recent years for a variety of reasons and it would be foolhardy to deprive the occupant of the house the right to the use of reasonable force to defend himself or herself.

In my own city last year, a man's home was attacked by individuals and he died as a result. There was no actual physical assault, but there is no doubt that the incident caused the unfortunate victim to lose his life. Would he not be justified in using a high degree of force without question to remove the risk to his person? Had he not an equal right to life as enshrined in our Constitution? The penalty for conviction in a case like this should not merely be for burglary or breaking and entering, but related in some close fashion to the death which resulted. Deaths caused in the commission of a crime, or by virtue of the commission of a crime, must be treated with appropriate penalties.

There was widespread public debate in the media at the time and there was no doubt where people stood on the issue. My own feeling is that if a perpetrator gets injured during a break-in or in an assault during the defence of the family home, then, to put it mildly, "tough luck". He was grievously breaking the law and violating the Constitution. A publican in the midlands was attacked in his place of work a couple of years ago, and was assaulted and mutilated to the point where he lost his life. Who could deny that man the right to defend himself with all reasonable force and methods at his disposal up to and including taking life?

The Pennsylvania declaration surely applies and its words go to the very core of our debate. "No person should be required to surrender his or her personal safety to a criminal, nor should a person be required to needlessly retreat in the face of intrusion or attack outside the person's home."

If somebody is trespassing with criminal intent or is in the process of burglary, then there must be the right to defend oneself and one's home with reasonable force. The term "reasonable", like in so many other elements of the law, is the key to all this and must be kept in mind when combating the threat of or actual violence. Section 2 of the Bill deals with the question of reasonable force. This does not exclude the use of force causing death. It is important that we now define this clearly, in light of some famous cases which have occurred in the more recent past. As far as I know, this is the first time this principle has actually been enshrined in law and it may well be a precedent for other jurisdictions.

I am also pleased to see that a person who is injured in the commission of a criminal act does not have any legal redress in civil law against the homeowner. This is common sense and is long overdue. It is important that the Bill bans the taking of civil actions against occupiers who protect their dwellings and inflict injuries incidental to that. There was a case in Chicago a few years ago where a young man was being stalked by somebody to the extent that the stalker broke into that man's house. The young man's father — the owner of the house — had no idea what this person was doing or what he was capable of doing. He took out a legally held firearm and he shot the intruder in the arm. That homeowner ended up being sued. Most people do not carry firearms in their homes in this country, because we do not have the same culture as that which exists in the US, but a person here could have a hurley or baseball bat close at hand for such situations. If that person had acted similarly to the person in Chicago, then perhaps he could end up being sued here. Any doubt that exists will be removed by this Bill, which is to be welcomed.

I must query whether being intoxicated by either drink or drugs is being considered as a defence in such cases. I sincerely hope not. The day is long gone when any court should accept the plea that "He had too much to drink, your Honour." I would ask the Minister to clarify this matter definitively. This would be a charter for people to act recklessly, but I do not think this is what the Minister had in mind. Section 2(8) states that "An act is criminal notwithstanding that the person doing the act— (a) if charged with an offence in respect of it, would be acquitted on the ground that. . .(iii) he or she was in a state of intoxication”. I asked a solicitor in Waterford to look at this wording. He was of the opinion that it was fairly vague and difficult to understand, but he agreed with me that using the fact that one was intoxicated as a defence basically means that the owner of the house does not have the right to attack an intruder because the intruder was intoxicated. A person can be intoxicated from alcohol, drugs, solvents and so on. I want to see this issue clarified. If that can be used as a defence, it means that anybody can have a few pints and then carry out a burglary, and would be better off doing so than carrying out a burglary in a sober state. If this is the case and if it replicates similar provisions in other Bills, then we have to look at those other Bills as well. The Minister should clarify this when he responds at the end of this debate.

We see how the country is sliding into a culture dominated by drink, with excesses causing a wide range of social, medical and legal problems. I am all for the social life which the pub affords, but there is no doubt that we have gone much too far. The combination of excessive drinking and the easy resort to freely available weapons, or just fisticuffs, has caused many deaths, in addition to permanent disability and serious injury. A death occurred outside a public house just this week, following a difference of opinion on a football match. This may well have been unpremeditated and accidental, but the victim is dead, the casualty of an increasingly violent society.

One of the perceived problems with this legislation is that those opposed to it will claim that property owners may use it as justification for attacking people they believe are intruders or, in the extreme case, use force against people because they feel they just looked at them in a funny way. Critics may call it the law to shoot first and ask questions later. I have every confidence in the courts to assess the evidence before them and deal properly and effectively with people who abuse the new latitude. It will soon become apparent to people that this is not a licence to shoot to kill, but a serious and limited ability to use force to offset real and immediate risk of harm.

I hope that this measure in the criminal law may steer judges in the civil code who tend to award compensation to people with criminal intent who get injured in the course of committing a crime, just because they fell foul of some defect in the home. The public are tired of this and I hope this measure may go some way to redressing the civil imbalance also. I congratulate the Minister who has tackled other social problems very effectively in the recent past, particularly the scourge of head shops. I welcome this Bill and with the clarifications I sought earlier, I commend it to the House.

I wish to share time with Deputy Ring.

This is a very important Bill, which in a different guise was originally proposed by the deputy Fine Gael spokesman at the time, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, and subsequently brought to the House in 2009 by Deputy Charles Flanagan. I am pleased the Government has finally accepted the need to bring clarity to an area of the criminal law that has been ambiguous for quite some time. As mentioned by Deputy Rabbitte earlier, there is greater clarity in the common law at least on the basis of Mr. Justice Hardiman's judgment in the Barnes case, specifically on the question as to whether a home owner has an obligation to retreat. It was definitively interpreted on that occasion by Mr. Justice Hardiman that there is no duty to retreat, which allowed for some degree of clarification in the criminal law in this matter. However, there is a need to introduce greater clarity and certainty on the broader defence of property, and defence of the person and family members in one's own family home or dwelling place. The Bill goes some way to achieving that but, sadly, does not go far enough.

While the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, made it clear to the House when we debated the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill that he wanted to await the Law Reform Commission's report in order to take on board its recommendations to a large degree, it is very disappointing that has not happened in one important aspect of the Bill, which is the question of reasonableness.

The Minister and other Deputies have referred in particular to older people living in rural areas, often in fear, and the need for them to feel a sense of protection — that the law serves them and protects them fully. Nobody invites an intruder onto his or her property or wishes a burglar to enter his or her home. Rightly or wrongly, there has been a sense among the public and many individuals and organisations representing older people that they have been served poorly by the law and have not felt protected by it, leading to a prevailing feeling of uncertainty. It is an important Bill from the point of view of giving protection to people in isolated areas, in particular older people living alone often far away from neighbours on farms and so on with no security or protection advantages.

Since as far back as 2006 I have heard some commentators suggest that legislating in this area represents some kind of right-wing agenda, playing to a wealthy upper-middle class audience, and that it does not reflect the needs of the common man. I could not disagree more. The Bill at least sets out to protect ordinary people who are vulnerable and who do not have the privileges and trappings that would enable them to protect their homes with lavish security systems and so on. It is important to knock that point on the head.

The opportunity is to provide a greater sense of security and protection for those people who do not benefit from elaborate security systems and so on. However, sadly, the Bill misses some of those opportunities. For example the Bill's most important section, section 2(1), sets out when it is considered lawful to use force against an intruder within the home. There are two criteria: that the person against whom force is used be a trespasser, trespassing on the property in order to commit a crime; and that the force used must be reasonable. While we could not dispute that, the Bill does not contain any definition of reasonableness and I hope that will be addressed on Committee Stage. Such a definition should be along the lines of what was proposed by the Law Reform Commission, which I will outline to jog the memory of the Minister and his officials with a view to improving the Bill on Committee Stage.

The Law Reform Commission report refers to four factors which would lend a degree of clarity and certainty to the concept of reasonableness. First is a threshold requirement, which it suggests would only be suitable in certain types of unlawful attack in justifying the use of defensive force especially lethal defensive force. Second, the attack must be immediate, which speaks for itself. Third, the use of defensive force must be necessary and a person should usually retreat if possible. Fourth, the defensive force should be proportionate to the unlawful attack. As I said at the outset, the issue of a requirement to retreat has already been clarified in the courts, but it is often in the interests of the home owner to retreat for his or her own personal safety, a matter that needs to be addressed. There is no requirement that a person should retreat. If those four criteria of reasonableness were included in section 2, it would introduce more clarity and certainty. That would be beneficial from the point of view of interpreting this legislation in the future. The last thing we want is for this legislation, which is being introduced to provide certainty, to bring more ambiguity into this arena and around this important issue relating to criminal law.

A number of points contained in the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill have been excluded from this Bill, and that is regrettable. The Fine Gael Bill explicitly set out that the presumption of the use of force in the family home, in a dwelling place, is reasonable in a criminal case. That is an important element; the burden would rest with the Director of Public Prosecutions to disprove that. That was clearly and categorically set out in the Fine Gael's Private Members' Bill, but it is not set out in this proposed legislation. That aspect could be improved.

The clear protection provided for the homeowner in civil law is an important provision. The provision in the legislation that the homeowner cannot be sued for the trip and fall of a burglar who is illegally on his or her property is an step forward. That is an important provision. It would not be right for this aspect of civil law to be overlooked, even though the core issue here is one pertaining to the criminal law.

Another point contained in the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill is important in the context of the home being sacrosanct. Any invasion or violation of a family home or dwelling place should be viewed not only dimly but should be singled out by the criminal law, punished accordingly and treated as being a much higher level crime than any ordinary form of criminal activity. We dealt with that in our initial proposals by providing that a harsher sentence should be handed down for an assault perpetrated against a homeowner on his or her property. An assault on a person walking down the street is not deemed to be on the same level of gravity as an assault perpetrated on somebody in his or her own home, in his or her own sanctuary, as it ought to be and ought to be seen to be and treated as being by the criminal law. That is glaringly absent from the Minister's Bill. I hope that is something that will be considered necessary to address on Committee Stage. We have to develop and promote the concept that a person's home, a person's family place, is sacrosanct and any intrusion of that very special place will be dealt with harshly and will not be tolerated by the criminal law in this country. Those are the main elements of this Bill to which I wished to allude.

I may stand subject to correction on a point raised by Deputy Rabbitte, which he did not expound. I believe he suggested that the defence of one's property should not or could not be contemplated as a justifiable reason for the use of force. I would disagree with that. That is a very black and white interpretation of the issue. The test should be one of proportionality. Who is to say, unless one is in the circumstances at a given point in time, whether a person can judge necessarily whether his or her life or bodily integrity is under threat, whether a family member's life is under threat or whether it is simply the person's property that is under threat? It is difficult to distinguish in that respect in the context of something that happens in the matter of split seconds. The introduction in the legislation of a hard and fast distinction between property and the protection of oneself or one's family would be a dangerous step.

I remind the Deputy, as my colleagues asked me to do, that six minutes remain in this timeslot.

I will sum up because I want to share some of my time with Deputy Ring. I support the introduction of this Bill to the House and I am pleased that the Government has finally done so. However, there are improvements to be made to it, especially in the definition of reasonableness and in some other matters, in particular the distinction between an assault perpetrated against a homeowner in his or her home and the ordinary criminal offence of assault and the type of sentencing that is handed down. We have to distinguish between those. This is an important Bill, particularly for older people and people living in isolated regions. I thank the Acting Chairman for having had this opportunity to speak on the Bill.

I thank my colleague for sharing her time with me; I appreciate it. The reason I want to speak on this legislation is that my colleague, Deputy Flanagan, and myself brought a Bill on this matter before the House but the Government was mean-minded in that it could have accepted it at that time and brought in the necessary amendments to it on Committee Stage. I hope that the Government will take on board the amendments Fine Gael will produce on Committee Stage to strengthen this Bill.

I take this opportunity to compliment the Law Reform Commission on its report. We are sometimes critical of such organisations but I must compliment it in this instance. It made strong recommendations in its report, on which I compliment it. It was brave and it had courage. I thought it would take the other view, that view of the do-gooder in this respect, and that it would have taken a different approach.

Previous speakers have said that a person's home is his or her castle. If an invader comes into one's home at midnight or 2 a.m., that person is not coming in for a cup of tea. That person is coming in to rob one, one's home, to hurt one or one's family and one has a right to use reasonable force in such circumstances. One should not have to wait to see whether in a few months' time one will get a solicitor's letter or be sued in the courts by the person who robbed one or beat one up in one's home. I hope this legislation will go far enough to deal with that. I listened to the contributions of my colleagues who have a legal background and while they are not quite happy with the legislation, I welcome it. It is important that we have clarity on this matter.

I come from a rural constituency. People in rural Ireland are living in fear of the threat to their lives and in fear of being robbed. Over the years gangs from other parts of the country have travelled to my area and beat up, robbed and hurt old people. Deaths have occurred as a result of intruders breaking into people's homes. People should have a right to defend themselves. I advise the Minister of State present and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform that a rapid response is also needed in such circumstances. In terms of providing for people living in a rural, isolated area, this legislation is being introduced while rural Garda stations are being closed. We must ensure, and elderly people living in rural Ireland must have confidence, that when an person dials 999 and ask for the Garda Síochána that the gardaí will arrive at that person's home in a very short time and that the gardaí will not have to travel from a town 25 miles away in that the person who made the call could be dead by the time the gardaí reach that person's isolated home. Criminals who assault, rob and beat up old people must be dealt with. We must send out a strong message that this cannot be tolerated in the courts.

My colleague, Deputy Creighton, was right when she said that an assault on the street is one thing but if somebody comes into one's home, that is a very serious offence and it should be dealt with in the courts. It is time we brought in further legislation to make that a more serious offence than it currently is because if somebody comes into one's home and assaults, robs or beats one up, that person should be put away for a long long time. The do-gooders will not be there at 3 o'clock in the morning when an elderly person is being beaten up in the home, however. In this country, the law serves the criminal only. If a criminal commits and is detained for an offence, the first action he takes is to get a consultant on taxpayers' money to see if he is okay in the head. He then gets free legal aid for his court case, again paid for by the taxpayer. If he appeals his sentence to the High Court and Supreme Court, again the taxpayer pays. It is time the criminals paid their way too. Those before the courts every day should be dealt with and put away for a long time instead of annoying and harassing decent citizens who want to feel safe and protected in their homes.

I am delighted this legislation has been introduced and hope its provisions will be strengthened on Committee Stage. The majority of our people never want to commit violence as they are law-abiding citizens. However, I want to send a warning to those criminals who attack people in their own homes, particularly in rural areas. Reasonable force must be, will be and should be used to stop them.

Tonight, some people in rural areas will go to bed praying they will wake up safely in the morning. That is a sad sign of our society. We cannot just be depending on voluntary organisations in this area. When an emergency call is put in, people, the elderly in particular, must be reassured there will be a rapid response from the Garda. There is nothing worse for someone than to be isolated, lonely and afraid in his or her home.

I recall the late Gerry Ryan challenging me on his show one morning that this legislation would never come before the Dáil. I promised him that I would introduce it. While the Government did not accept my proposed legislation, I am glad it has introduced a similar Bill. A person's home is his castle. No one else has a right to wrongfully enter it. If they do, reasonable force can be and should be used.

I wish to share time with Deputy Devins. Could the Acting Chairman, please indicate to me when my ten minutes is up?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

If I look at Deputy Flynn the same way as I was looking at Deputy Ring, it is only because I am paying attention.

I hope I notice the Acting Chairman looking at me then.

He might prefer looking at her than me.

I welcome this important legislation. I agree with my constituency colleague, Deputy Ring, about the concerns of elderly people living in isolated rural areas, particularly in County Mayo. As Deputy Kenneally earlier said, gangs are going around the countryside identifying elderly people in isolated rural areas as prime targets for burglaries. I have often been surprised at local meetings in my constituency at the number of elderly people who raise this as a serious issue. If one's nearest neighbour lives several miles away and one does not see active policing, one will feel frightened at any time during the day. This Bill will go some way in allaying these concerns.

The Padraig Nally case focused much media attention on this area. Mr. Nally, a constituent of mine from Cross in south Mayo whom I know personally, had several incidents on his farm in which his property was endangered and led him to become very anxious. Many in County Mayo and across the country were happy to see his manslaughter sentence overturned and Mr. Nally found not guilty. It is an insult to people to insist they must retreat in their own homes if there is an attack in it. It is preposterous that a burglar could come onto someone's property with the intent of doing criminal damage, sustain an injury and then sue the owner for damages. This is outrageous to ordinary decent people who watch these events unfold day in and day out on the news. This Bill addresses these concerns.

No legislation can take the place of extra vigilance on the part of neighbours and the Garda. Community policy must be re-examined because I have noticed, particularly in County Mayo, the decline of rural-based gardaí. When I have contacted local superintendents to find out if a garda was to be replaced, I have often been informed only when resources allow, leaving many communities without a Garda presence. The greatest deterrent to crime is to have greater Garda visibility. In the past such similar actions have been successful. While I commend the neighbourhood watch and community alert programmes and the Garda's older people strategy, there is no substitute for the policeman on the ground.

The Bill's four elements are justifiable use of force, no obligation to retreat in one's home, the castle doctrine, the extent of the dwelling and the prohibition of criminals suing under civil law for damages sustained while trespassing. The Law Reform Commission recommended legitimate defence should be divided into four key elements: a threshold requirement; the attack must be immediate; the use of defensive force must be necessary and it must be proportionate to the unlawful attack.

I have been burgled in my home twice, once as a student when I was going in the front door and he out the back. At the time I was flippant feeling sorry he did not take the television which was on the blink. I was burgled again just before I had children which caused some upset. However, now being the mother of two young children, if I were burgled today, my feelings would be very different. The state of mind of a homeowner when he or she has to use force is critical. Did the person feel there was a serious threat to himself or herself, his or her family or property? Did he or she act reasonably when he or she used force?

One definition does not suit all scenarios in such cases as the experience of state of mind for a young person can be very different from that for an elderly person living alone. The definition provided by the Bill, that if the occupier honestly believes the trespasser is there to commit a crime and believes a reasonable level of force must be used in defence, even if it is lethal, is correct. We do not want this Bill to be seen as licence to kill. However, it must be borne in mind the occupier's individual circumstance and state of mind at the time of defence. The Minister has provided the right definition in the legislation.

I could see where the Law Reform Commission's recommendations were coming from and in the confines of this Chamber they seem reasonable. However, it may not seem perfectly reasonable to a vulnerable person in their home when there is a criminal on his or her property.

As a Deputy representing a rural constituency, I draw the attention of the Minister to the definition of what constitutes the dwelling in the Bill. We all understand the dwelling and curtilage in an urban setting and it is clear that where one comes into contact with a public place, it is not one's property. In rural communities, however, a person who lives on a farm might have a number of acres around their house. The land might be fenced off or have a hedge and a gate. Where is the boundary? Does it include the farm buildings? It is very important that we understand the intent of the Minister in this regard. There might be vast areas of ground around a house so we need a better understanding of what is meant by the curtilage around a house. That is particularly important.

Consider the time of day a burglar might enter a premises. If people come onto one's property at midnight or two o'clock in the morning and they are only in the vicinity of the house but one is aware of their presence, it is a serious issue because they come to the property without the owner's permission. If they are uninvited, the chances are they are not on the property with the intention of doing one any good. If they are within the confines of one's house or half way up the driveway, is that enough to allow one to act with reasonable force if one feels there is a threat to one's property or the persons on that property? This must be nailed down a little further. I would appreciate if the Minister would clarify the issue.

In general, this Bill hits the right note. It tips the balance back in favour of the homeowner, which is critical. Many people feel that in the last number of years the law has been tipped in favour of the criminal and there is insufficient protection for the homeowner. That has been addressed in this Bill. It is a very welcome development. In Ireland, as elsewhere, one's home is one's castle and one has every right to do everything in one's power to protect oneself, one's family and one's property.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill. The defence of a person's dwelling house is an issue that arouses great public debate when a person is put in a situation where he or she must defend his or her property or, more importantly, his or her life arising from an attack on his or her property by an intruder, such as a burglar. This interest is not just confined to Ireland but applies worldwide. However, in Ireland it arouses great emotion and debate, which is probably linked to our history and the importance that land, and particularly property and one's home, has in the Irish psyche.

We need only recall the recent case of the farmer in Mayo, Mr. Padraig Nally, which was mentioned by Deputy Flynn. He was convicted of the manslaughter of a man whom he suspected of attempting to rob him on his farm. This conviction was subsequently quashed and he was found not guilty in the retrial. The intense public interest and wide support for Mr. Nally was evidence of the huge interest in this issue. This huge interest is driven to a certain extent by the media, who regularly highlight injustices, perceived or otherwise, that occur in the course of defending one's home.

The statistics for burglary are interesting and show that the number of burglaries carried out with a weapon has remained virtually static since 2004 when taken as a percentage of all burglaries. Last year there were 26,793 burglaries, of which 363 were aggravated. In 2005, the respective figures were 26,381 and 274. While it is early to state why the number of these crimes appears to be stabilising, I have no doubt that credit is due to successive Ministers with responsibility for justice, who have responded rapidly and decisively to the hitherto ever-increasing level of crime. This Bill is a further example of that response and I welcome it.

There are very important principles of civil liberty in this country and where these rights appear to clash with each other, it is the duty of the Dáil to give clear leadership as to its intentions so any subsequent testing of legislation by the courts does not reveal anomalies or weaknesses. Under this Bill there is, on one hand, a right of the individual to protect himself or herself and their property when it is threatened by attack. On the other hand, there are those who will argue that the attacker or burglar has certain rights which remain attached to him or her even though they are committing a crime. In this debate it is important to achieve the greatest clarity possible on who has the greater right to protection. When a decision is made by somebody to enter another person's property with the intention of harming either the dweller in the home or his or her property, the person carrying out the crime is wrong and as a result must forfeit much of the protection he or she would have as a citizen. He or she is the instigator of an act which is a crime.

The issue of how the home dweller responds, particularly how he or she responds with the use of force, is of great interest. It raises the matter of the justifiable use of force. It is a point that has exercised many eminent minds, both academic and legal, in many arenas for many years. I am also sure lawyers have debated this issue ad nauseam in the courts over the years. The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 contains much of the current law on defence by a homeowner. This Bill updates that law to bring it more into tune with the Ireland of the 21st century. The key component of the Bill is that force used against a trespasser will be lawful when the homeowner or occupier honestly believes the trespasser is in the property to commit a crime and that the force is necessary to protect the occupier.

What is the justifiable force that can be used by a home occupier within the dwelling and its surroundings? Nobody condones violence but everybody has the right to self defence. People have a right to defend themselves and their properties when they are attacked or invaded for illegal purposes. What is interesting is that under this Bill the force used by the occupiers must be reasonable in the circumstances, as they believe them to be, and be used only to protect the attacked person or his or her property or to prevent the occurrence of a crime. If either of these elements is absent, the home occupier is not entitled to the rights which this Bill will confer.

A further issue I wish to raise is what precisely is covered by the term "dwelling". This was mentioned by the previous speaker as well. The term is defined in section 1 of the Bill. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify the wording. Does the word "dwelling" include outhouses or, in the case of farmers and others, sheds which are adjacent to the main house? What about outhouses or sheds which are some distance from the main dwelling? Take the example of a farmer with a small holding or a farmer with two separate holdings on which the farmer has outhouses that are occupied by farm machinery. If an intruder or burglar enters the shed which is far removed from the main dwelling house but which houses valuable property and the farmer is in the shed when the burglar enters, do the provisions and protections of this Bill apply in the same way as they would if the burglary was committed in the main dwelling? This is something that can occur, and I would be grateful to have it clarified. A full and apt definition of the term should be included in the Bill.

Finally, the castle principle is used by some authorities when dealing with the issue of defence of one's home. It is not language which I favour. I understand it arose from English law and dates to the time when one's home was one's castle. Frankly, few of us in the Republic would have any allegiance to or relationship with castles, certainly not with regard to our homes. However, the rationale behind the so-called castle principle is clear.

Homes are important to the occupier and the thrust of the legislation reflects this. However, the extent of a home or a dwelling should include all buildings on the land and any movable properties resting there.

The home occupier is required to believe that the crime is about to be committed against him or her, not that the crime has been committed, to secure the protection the Bill provides. While this will give rise to great debate in certain areas, it is an important protection for the homeowner, which I welcome. Faced with an intruder, as I was when my home was burgled, it is important that the homeowner can act to protect his or her property and life in order that he or she can feel safe and secure. Having to spend time thinking whether he or she is right to attack this person and defend his or her property might allow the intruder to make the first move, which could be fatal. This Bill protects the homeowner and I warmly welcome it.

We have waited a long time for this legislation. The Fine Gael Party, in particular, has argued for quite a period of time that such legislation is necessary. In 2006, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe tabled a Private Members' Bill on the subject and, as recently as last year, Deputies Charlie Flanagan and Ring tabled a similar motion on the issue. Some commentators look on the Bill as political posturing. I do not agree because it is necessary legislation that redresses the imbalance, both perceived and real, in our law.

The Minister, in debating this matter during the Fine Gael Private Members' motion last year, stated, "I am a strong believer in tough legislative provisions in combating criminal activity of all kinds". Tough legislative provisions in their own right are worth little more than the paper they are written on. The issue of security for older people was a catalyst in drafting this legislation but, ironically, this cohort is the least likely to be able to defend themselves with force in their home. Elderly people need more than legislation.

I refer to two specific examples of more concrete action than legislation. The McCarthy report states: "The number of Garda stations is very high at 703, and many of them are in need of extensive refurbishment. We recommend that the Garda station network be reduced by around half." Can the Minister extend his belief system beyond tough legislation to ensure broad brush stroke proposals such as this in the Government-sponsored report are framed in the context of the Garda's ability to counter the criminal activity of aggravated burglary? I remind him that the presence of rural Garda stations offers security to the people they serve and removing them from these vulnerable communities will have the opposite effect. Traditional community style policing and the frequent patrolling of neighbourhoods has become the exception rather than the rule in the Ireland we live in today. I acknowledge the community policing initiative is a success story but we need more dedicated community gardaí. In my own county town of Ennis there are seven community gardaí headed by a sergeant while in Shannon, there are two dedicated community gardaí. I compliment them on their sterling work liaising with communities. They offer a wonderful service, which represents the way forward. However, nine dedicated community gardaí is too few to police a population of 110,000 in County Clare.

The second example is the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs scheme that provided pendant alarms and household security devices to older people, which has encountered major problems over the past two years. The pendant alarms, worn around the neck, enable the holder to make immediate contact with a central station to seek help if they fall or experience a sudden emergency, including a robbery. It is incredible that this successful scheme, which provided older people with a sense of security in their own home, was suspended last year because the Department felt the spend was increasing too much. Under the scheme, every person in the State over the age of 65 was entitled to financial assistance for the pendants or for improved security to their homes. Elderly people are concerned about safety in their own home. They took action by availing of the pendant alarm scheme. The Department became concerned at the spend on the scheme and it was, ultimately, suspended because it proved to be popular and worthwhile.

In shifting the focus from allowing older people to feel safer in their own homes towards a canon of legislation, the Government is taking its eye off the ball. An elderly, frail person living alone in an isolated area will feel safer when this legislation is enacted but he or she would feel 100 times safer if his or her local Garda station were not under threat of closure or if the suspension in the acceptance of applications for security devices was lifted. The Bill is not an end in itself, as it must be backed up with practical measures on the ground.

State intervention in the provision of proper community-based policing along with secure locks, burglar alarms and pendant alarms would create a much more valid improvement in older people's security. The number of burglaries and robberies carried out in this State increased by one third in the second quarter of 2010. The recent CSO statistics illustrate that robbery, hijacking and extortion offences increased by almost 34% from 575 to 770 during the quarter. A total of 1,659 robberies against the individual were recorded, which represents an increase of 37.4% when compared to the same period in 2009. The crime figures presented by the CSO for recorded crime offences make interesting reading. Burglary and related offences increased from 24,913 to 26,877 between 2004 and 2009, an increase of 8%. The number of aggravated burglaries increased from 282 to 369 in the same period, an increase of 31%. Aggravated burglaries, those carried out with a weapon, as a percentage of all burglaries, have increased by just over 0.2% from 2004 to 2009.

This is a prime example of using statistical data to present an argument in a particular light. A total of 282 out of approximately 25,000 in 2004 and 369 out of approximately 27,000, represents just a 0.2% increase on the overall figure. However, this is little comfort to the 369 individuals or families who suffer an ordeal such as this. More than one aggravated burglary takes place in our country every day of the year. There is little doubt, as a proportion of overall recorded burglary offences, that aggravated burglary is on the increase. This trend, which is disturbing, is not unexpected. There is no doubt that the effects of the recession have had an impact on the crime rate. One can only expect this trend to continue.

The 2009 Eircom PhoneWatch burglary report, published last November, found that more than three-quarters of respondents felt they were more at risk from theft. A further 40% felt more at risk from violent crime and 71% believed that crime as a whole had increased in Ireland since the recession officially began in 2008. The figures for this November should make for very interesting reading.

Many view this Bill as being a right-wing measure which bestows some type of charter on the homeowner to act in a more aggressive manner. However, I do not share these views. This legislation will finally provide homeowners with a measure of protection by balancing the law in their favour against the increased number of burglaries and attacks in the home. The Bill is about addressing the imbalance in the current law and giving rights back to the homeowner when faced with an intruder. It is this principle that Fine Gael tried to reassert through a Private Members' motion in 2006 and 2009. At this stage we have case law to help in the drafting of this Bill. I welcome the publication of the Bill but it is very unsatisfactory that we have had to wait such a long time for its publication.

Section 2(1) provides that it will not be an offence for a homeowner or a lawful occupant of the home, to use force against an intruder where he or she believes the other person is a trespasser and is in the dwelling in order to commit a crime, and the force used is only such as is reasonable in the circumstances. The force must be such as to protect himself of herself or another person present in the dwelling from injury, assault, detention or death, or to protect his or her property or the property of another person from appropriation, destruction or damage caused by a criminal act, or to prevent the commission of a crime or to effect a lawful arrest. The Bill states unequivocally that there is no obligation to retreat from the dwelling and that force can be used even if there was a safe and prudent opportunity to retreat. This in effect is the castle doctrine in practice which is based on the old dictum that, "a man's house is his castle".

The Minister has stated in his contribution that juries will still have to assess whether the degree of force used was justifiable in all the circumstances. The Bill does not currently define the factors in terms of assessing reasonableness. The Law Reform Commission in its report made an effort to do this on threshold requirement, imminence, necessity and proportionality. The Minister is leaving it up to juries to retrospectively try to decide on these matters, without a proper set of legislative tools. This element of the legislation needs elaboration and further work on Committee Stage.

The fact that the legislation potentially straddles both the criminal and civil justice systems creates ambiguity in that burdens of proof differ across both systems. I ask the Minister to consider the following scenario where the legislation could overlap both criminal and civil systems. I presume that, were somebody acquitted of an offence in the criminal justice system on the basis of "beyond reasonable doubt" under section 2 of this legislation and, subsequent to this, faced civil liability charges, he or she could use section 5 as a defence in the civil court. This seems clear and serves the purpose of the legislation.

However, what would happen if there were no prosecution under criminal law against the individual who had protected his or her property and the process began with the injured party making claim in the civil courts where the threshold is now the "balance of probabilities"? If this individual is now found liable, does this open the possibility of a new prosecution? Is it the case under this legislation, as currently presented, that the homeowner or individual has to go through the criminal justice system in order to protect themselves from any potential civil liability?

Section 5 seems to have been tacked onto the Bill without much thought to its consequences. This section muddies the overall legislation and the crossover between courts may create an unwanted ambiguity.

I welcome the Bill but the strong belief in tough legislative measures so favoured by the Minister must be backed up by concrete, practical work on the ground.

The next speaker is Deputy Noel O'Flynn who is sharing time with Deputy Chris Andrews.

I ask the Acting Chairman to advise me when I have spoken for eight minutes.

I welcome this Bill and I am sure the Opposition parties also welcome it. This is a sensible Bill which clarifies the law regarding the rights of homeowners when faced with intruders with criminal intent. It tips the balance in favour of the law-abiding citizen — where it should always have been. The Bill provides that a person can use justifiable force, including in some cases, lethal force, to defend him or herself against a trespasser. It establishes that there is no obligation to retreat from the dwelling. It also defines what is meant by a dwelling.

I will deal with each of these provisions in turn. This is the first legislative proposal in this jurisdiction to recognise the special status of the home and the right of people to defend it. This may sound radical but, generally speaking, the Bill is more concerned with clarifying rather than amending existing law. It provides that a person can use reasonable force in defending his or her home against an intruder with criminal intent. The test for assessing the justifiable use of force does not broadly differ from that which is currently in place under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. In deciding what constitutes reasonable force, the courts will look to the circumstances as the person believes them to be at the time. It is immaterial whether this belief is reasonable or not.

Those who say this is a charter for "Have a Go", are wide of the mark.While this Bill does not exclude the use of lethal force, it does not specifically provide for it. Rather, it acknowledges that the use of force in a situation of great tension and anxiety may result in the death of an intruder. We recognise that in the context of an attack in the home, on can use the force which one genuinely thinks is necessary at the time and that could cause the death of the criminal intruder. It is clear that an occupant cannot kill a burglar simply for being a burglar. It should pointed out that force against a Garda can never be justified. It is also important to note that a person may not use force as a shield where he or she has deliberately provoked a violent situation.

I will now deal with a feature in this Bill that is different from the current law. This Bill states unequivocally that there is no obligation to retreat from the dwelling. Indeed the notion that a homeowner should be compelled to retreat in front of an intruder who has entered with criminal intent is plainly ridiculous. This new provision reflects the unique characteristics of an encounter between an intruder with criminal intent and the occupier and the old dictat that a man's house is his castle. In "Report on Defences in Criminal Law" from December 2009 the Law Reform Commission said the general rule that a person should retreat where possible should not apply where the incident applies in the dwelling.

Another important provision of this Bill is the definition of the term "dwelling". Dwelling does not simply mean the four walls of a house or a building. The term not only incorporates the home or building but also its curtilage, namely the areas surrounding or adjacent to the home. It does not stretch to public areas or areas that are some distance away from the dwelling. While I welcome the fact that the term dwelling has been defined, there is perhaps more room for clarity here. It is unclear whether sheds and surrounding gardens come within the definition of a dwelling. Curtilage refers to the entire boundary of one's property.

Another important feature of this Bill is that it puts an end to the bizarre practice where homeowners can be sued by burglars for damages. It provides that where a homeowner injures an intruder while legitimately defending himself, his family, or property, he will not be open to suit. Recently I had four young members of Sinn Féin on my roof. They stole onto the roof of my constituency office on the morning of 6 July. My concern was that they might sue me if they fell through the roof. My son rang the insurance company and the Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána removed them from the roof because if we had not and if they had fallen through the roof, they could have taken a lawsuit against me. Sinn Féin Members in this House did not condone the activity and said so on the day.

In any discussion on defence of the home, it would be remiss not to mention the sanctions available to deal with intruders. Penalties for burglary in this jurisdiction are very high. A person can be fined or sentenced to imprisonment of up to 14 years for burglary on conviction on indictment. The Attorney General has asked the Law Reform Commission to look at mandatory sentencing, particularly for those found guilty of attacking the vulnerable in our society.

It is important to recognise the sterling work of the Garda Síochána in making our homes safer. The force continually develops and implements crime prevention and detection strategies to target those committing burglaries, with intelligence-led and focused operations. The new Garda national model of community policing is not only concerned with reducing crime but also the fear of crime to ensure a better quality of community life for all. Furthermore, the Garda Síochána supports a number of initiatives which promote a community contribution to increasing public safety, including the community alert programme, neighbourhood watch and Crimestoppers.

We are very fortunate in Cork city and county to have a Garda Síochána force committed to protecting the community it serves and enforcing and upholding the laws of our country. I am sure the same situation applies in Tallaght. Garda numbers in Cork city under Chief Superintendent Michael Finn are now at 698, increased from 540 in 1997. In the county there are 616 members, up from 424 in 1987. I commend the gardaí on their community involvement, community policing and interacting with local communities and organisations. They have the trust of the communities they serve. I pay particular tribute to Chief Superintendent Tony Quilter of the national drugs unit for the many drug busts and seizures carried out this year. The arrest of international drug lords will reduce the amount of drugs coming into the country. I acknowledge the role of the Garda Síochána in these international operations.

I am heartened to see this Bill has received a positive response from a number of groups such as Irish Rural Link, AdVIC, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and the AGSI. This is not a groundbreaking Bill but it is important. I refer to some comments in reaction to the Bill. A support group for the families of homicide victims, AdVIC, has welcomed the proposals in the Bill. The charity's co-founder, Joan Deane, said the organisation supported any changes in the law that would act as a deterrent to violent crime and murder and that if this even makes them stop and think about it, it is a good thing. AGSI vice-president Dan Hanley said the Bill aims to shift the balance of rights back to the homeowner where it should always have been and that "it is intolerable a homeowner should be compelled to retreat in front of an intruder who has entered the home and who may have malign intentions towards the homeowner, the family or the homeowner's property". Mr. Seán O'Leary, policy officer with Irish Rural Link — the national network of rural community groups — said it is sensible legislation giving much needed clarity to homeowners on their rights when confronted by intruders. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has welcomed proposals on defence and the dwelling. Speaking after the publication of the Law Reform Commission report, executive director Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop stated that such measures would help women feel safer at home and gave women the right to protect themselves without fear of prosecution.

I hope people will recognise the merits of the Bill. I commend the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on the legislation he has introduced over the past three years. Since he became Minister for Justice and Law Reform, he has introduced important legislation that is necessary in the times we live in. I welcome the recent legislation on head shops, which has shut down most if not all of the head shops in this country. The Minister also introduced the Criminal Justice Amendment Act, the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. These are important items of legislation to combat crime in this country. I hope all the parties in this House will support the legislation. I recall a Private Members' Bill introduced by Fine Gael on this topic. Once this Bill goes through Committee Stage I hope it will be accepted unanimously in this House.

I thank Deputy O'Flynn for sharing his time with me. This Bill amends existing legislation applying to the defence of the person and the person's home. I commend the Minister on introducing this item of legislation, which is timely and welcome. It builds on other welcome legislation.

The Bill outlines what is meant by the dwelling, and provides when justifiable force, including lethal force, may be used against a person entering for criminal purposes. It also states clearly that the occupier has no obligation to retreat from the dwelling. In addition, it bars the taking of civil actions against occupiers who protect their dwellings and inflict injuries incidental to that. That is a common sense measure. The notion that someone who breaks into a home, having injured himself, can claim damages makes no sense.

The right to feel safe in one's own home is a basic entitlement. Article 40.5 of the Constitution states specifically: "The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law." The Constitution clearly states that our home is our castle and we should be allowed to protect it and defend it. Unfortunately, this legislation is necessary.

In recent years, a number of high profile incidents have increased the focus on this subject, most infamously the Nally case. There has been a perception, somewhat unfairly, that the law in this area comes down more on the side of the people who perpetrate the crime of breaking into another person's home rather than those on whom the crime is committed. The legislation clarifies the fact that the law is on the side of the wronged party and ensures that homeowners can be certain of their right to defend their dwellings without fear of civil action.

I welcome the legislation and commend the Minister on the stance he has taken on the matter. However, as I have stated previously there should be greater deterrents for the people who commit crimes, particularly against the elderly and vulnerable. One such deterrent would be the introduction of mandatory sentences for burglary and aggravated burglary. I accept that mandatory sentencing will not solve the underlying problems that cause people to commit crimes but it is my belief that the thought of going to prison for a set number of years would make many burglars think twice before they enter a property.

According to recent statistics from the Central Statistics Office, there were 26,793 burglaries and related offences last year — an increase of 8.5% — while the annual increase in aggravated burglary offences, compared with 2008, was 11.7%. Statistics show that Dublin is the worst affected area, with 32.7% of all burglaries. In my constituency of Dublin South-East there was a spate of burglaries earlier this year in which elderly people were targeted in their homes. Criminals took advantage of the lonely and isolated. They preyed on the trusting nature of those homeowners by posing as council officials or other people on official business such as television licence inspectors or ESB meter readers. While the Garda has been excellent in combating such crimes, providing people with checklists for home security and warning them not to trust anyone they do not know, it is an uphill battle due to the fact that many of the perpetrators serve only a few months in prison before being let out on the streets again to reoffend.

I pay tribute to the former chief superintendent for the south Dublin area, John Twomey, who has been promoted to Assistant Garda Commissioner. He was committed to community policing and drove on that agenda which has made a difference. In the inner city I attend another forum he has set up with residents, public representatives, council officials and the Garda. It has made a difference and improved matters to some extent. It is not a magic wand but it has made a difference. John Twomey deserves credit for his work, which no doubt has been recognised in his promotion. I wish him well in his new post.

I also welcome the appointment of the new chief superintendent, Michael O'Sullivan, whom I met last Friday at a community policing forum meeting which was very well attended by residents and the Garda. The fact that he was present shows his personal commitment and the commitment of the Garda to community policing which has a significant impact on improving the quality of people's lives. There is a considerable level of anti-social behaviour which might not fall into the criminal bracket but does constitute a real nuisance and has a negative impact on people's lives. The community Garda section and the work of such people as Michael O'Sullivan has made a positive difference in my constituency. The community is involved in making decisions. Sometimes even explaining to residents why certain things cannot be done is of benefit. The time given by the Garda to local community residents has made a difference. I wish the new Assistant Garda Commissioner, John Twomey, well and the same to his replacement, chief superintendent, Michael O'Sullivan, in Pearse Street. The area has had its difficulties over the years and of late the Garda has made a big effort to be involved and to build relationships with the local community. That has been a positive development.

Earlier this year the Attorney General asked the Law Reform Commission to consider the issue of mandatory sentencing, particularly for those who attack the vulnerable in society. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform said he was open minded on the subject of mandatory sentences and has not ruled them out, but he queried the need for them in view of the fact that a maximum sentence could apply, which is up to 14 years for burglary and a life sentence for aggravated burglary. I am open to correction but the handing out of maximum sentences is not the norm for burglaries. Until such time as the maximum sentence is handed down for aggravated burglaries we need to introduce mandatory sentencing for such crimes.

The Bill ensures that those people who are in a position to protect their homes, if they wish to, can do so without fear of repercussion. It also adopts the castle doctrine into Irish law, stating that a homeowner is not under a duty to retreat, which has not been clear up to this point. In most cases of burglary the advice would be to get out of the way and leave them to it. However, that is not acceptable. A person should not have to retreat from his or her home, although it is probably wise to do so. If a person defends his or her home, he or she should not end up as the victim.

While I have spoken about my belief on the introduction of mandatory sentencing for burglary I accept that is not the only solution to the problem. Funding and investment in youth training and programmes also need to be maintained in so far as possible in these challenging times to try to prevent those individuals most at risk of embarking on a life of crime from doing so. I commend the work of the community groups in Dublin South-East, Pearse Street, Kevin Street and others across the constituency. I support the work they do and the commitment they have shown. I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister on its introduction.

The Bill does not in any substantial way alter the law as it stands on the issue of self defence in the context of defence of one's dwelling. Instead, the Minister is simply putting on a statutory footing the common law as it stands and was enunciated by the Court of Criminal Appeal in the case, DPP v. Barnes.

It is typical of the Minister that at a time when the Central Statistics Office figures for the second quarter of 2010 reveal a sharp increase in robberies, hijacking and extortion offences he is content to introduce legislation which fails to actually do anything. Figures from the Central Statistics Office outlined in the Bills Digest show a consistent increase in burglary and related offences since 2007. In terms of aggravated burglaries there has been a substantial increase of 43% since 2007 with 2009 figures of 363 aggravated burglaries.

The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern's excessive legislative focus has clearly failed to deal with the crime level in the country. He needs to focus instead on tackling the resource restrictions which are serving to prevent the Garda from fulfilling its role of protecting people from crime. Government measures such as the pension levy, the recruitment embargo, the reversal of the civilianisation programme have all contributed to reducing the number of gardaí on the street which affects their ability to prevent crime and protect people. Not alone is the Government failing to tackle the crisis, it is contributing to it. It does not bear thinking about what further cuts the Government will inflict in the forthcoming budget. The Government would be better served in focusing on taking initiatives aimed at tackling crime rather than passing legislation that does not even change the existing law. For example, the Minister should bring forward legislation to regulate shops that are offering cash for gold. These shops seek to take advantage of the economic circumstances of the least well off and are leading to an increase in burglaries as thieves are targeting jewellery more than ever. There has been an increase in burglaries in my own constituency and in many cases jewellery has been the target. The burglars are specifically targeting the elderly and those living alone as they are considered easy prey.

While I have no difficulty with supporting the Bill, considering that it simply restates the law as it exists, there are a number of observations I would like to make on it. The Bill comes in the context of public controversy following the Pádraig Nally case. Its key focus relates to the level of force that a homeowner may justifiably use in defence of his property as well as the issue of whether there is an obligation on a homeowner to make use of an opportunity to retreat. Furthermore, the Bill provides a definition of the dwelling as well as dealing with the issue of civil liability.

On the issue of the justifiable use of force, the Bill states that the use of force against a trespasser will be lawful when the occupier honestly believes that the trespasser is on the property to commit a crime and the force is necessary to protect the occupier, another person or the property. This is already the law as set out in the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. It is worth noting at this point the criticism that the Law Reform Commission has levelled at the existing standard, and indeed by extension the new Bill, in its 2006 paper. In assessing the justifiable use of force the LRC found that the existing standard was too vague and required clarification. It instead proposed a four part test focusing on threshold, whether the threat was sufficient to warrant a response; imminence, whether the threat was close and impending; necessity, whether force was necessary to protect persons or property; and proportionality, whether the force use was proportionate to the threat. This test has not been adopted in the current Bill and may constitute a missed opportunity to clarify the limits of force in such circumstances.

Section 2(7) of the Bill does not exclude the use of legal force in such cases and the Library and Research Service believes this is the first example of legislative enactment allowing for the use of lethal force by someone other than a person acting for the State. This issue was also considered by the Court of Criminal Appeal in DPP v. Barnes, which found that lethal force may be reasonable in certain circumstances. The balance which this Bill attempts to strike on this issue is to focus on whether the homeowner had an honestly held belief that lethal force was necessary in the circumstances.

On the issue of obligation to retreat, this Bill again reaffirms the finding of the court in DPP v. Barnes that there was no obligation on the householder to flee or retreat from his or her home and that therefore a person should not be punished at law for standing his ground.

Two other key issues in the Bill are the definitions which it provides of the extent of the dwelling as comprising the home and the area immediately surrounding the building and used in conjunction with the home.

Finally, I welcome section 5 of the Bill, which provides that injuries inflicted by a householder within the parameters of this Bill will not give rise to civil liability as long as the trespasser had criminal intent.

While I have no major problem with much of the content of this Bill, I want to re-emphasise that it is purely a restatement of the law as it is. It does not and cannot be considered a credible response to the rising incidence of crimes such as burglary and aggravated burglary. I call on the Minister to take real steps to tackle crime in this country by lifting the resource restrictions which are serving to prevent gardaí from fulfilling their role of protecting people from crime.

I welcome this Bill because this is an area that has caused controversy in recent years, perhaps more than it warranted, but the legislation should hopefully pass quickly and give people some peace of mind that they are safe in their own homes and action they take to defend themselves or their property will not come back to haunt them civilly or criminally in reasonable circumstances. For those reasons it is good this Bill is before us.

There was criticism of the Government for moving slowly but that was unfair because it is important to get this right. When the news dictates the agenda, often the Opposition brings motions to put pressure on the Government when it is fashionable but the Oireachtas must ensure legislation is right and will work beyond the fad. The Oireachtas has an important role to play in looking at this Bill and I expect there will be amendments on Committee Stage.

The Bill has been a long time coming and gives certainty to those who were worried about the safety of their homes and their families. It is important that we clarify the circumstances in which a home owner or other lawful occupant may defend their person or their home. It makes it lawful for him to use force on the grounds that he believes the other person who has entered or is entering a dwelling is a trespasser for the purpose of committing a criminal act. It is not just a case of someone getting a fright, it is a much greater test, someone must have the intention of committing a crime. It allows a person to use reasonable force to protect himself or any other person in the house from injury, assault, detention or death caused by criminal intent. That gives people peace of mind, knowing they are allowed to protect themselves and will not be liable criminal or civilly.

Reasonable force is more subjective than the objective test Mr. Justice Walsh put forward in the High Court in the 1970s. He was one of our most renowned jurists throughout the history of our constitutional law. I was privileged once shortly before he died to speak to him on the telephone, where he apologised for not being able to attend a debate in the Law Society in Trinity College. It was a privilege for me to speak to this great man we had studied so much. His pronouncement has been slightly modified by the legislation but that is the duty and role of the Oireachtas. The courts interpret the law while we make it so it is possible for us to make changes.

There is scope for further definition of reasonable force to allow for even more certainty. The Law Reform Commission made a number of recommendations in that regard. I understand the Minister has considered these, reached a conclusion and proposed this legislation, but Committee Stage may change the situation.

I welcome the Bill's civil liability aspects. Criminal liability is one matter, but section 5 states "a person who uses such force as is permitted by section 2 in the circumstances referred to in that section shall not be liable in tort in respect of any injury, loss or damage arising from the use of such force”. By this, it means the person will not be liable for damages, as a significant concern among people has been that they might be sued if they take action in defence of themselves, their families or their private property. It is well that their concern is being addressed in this criminal law Bill. It is good to see the criminal and civil sides coming together in legislation, as there is an artificial distinction between them too often and issues are dealt with separately, which could lead to delays. However, this Bill deals with them together. If it did not, there would have been a major gap. It is unfair that honest, law-abiding people have the threat of civil action hanging over them if someone engaging in a criminal act on their property is hurt because they took reasonable action.

The Bill is before the House, so let us deal with it. The subject matter has been a bone of contention in the Oireachtas in the form of various motions. I hope that the House will be able to deal with it as speedily as possible. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform presides over a significant amount of legislation tabled in the Dáil and the Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights. A great deal of legislative work is done in his Department over a wide variety of subjects from housing estate management companies to the Defamation Act 2009 and from this Bill to the immigration Bill. The Department of Justice and Law Reform is busy, so I pay tribute to the officials in attendance and to its wider workforce. Like the Minister, they have a busy agenda.

Regarding other matters relating to crime, the issue of anti-social behaviour has recently taken on a particular focus in my constituency, especially in Kells, a lovely town. As the Acting Chairman knows from his constituency, it is usually a small minority that engages in anti-social behaviour. The town of Kells is well known for its community spirit, for its sense of purpose and togetherness and for working for the greater good. While everyone does that, it is unfortunate that one or two people always come in and try to destroy what exists. Today's Meath Chronicle reported how my party colleague, Councillor Sean Drew, was attacked in his home town of Kells when he challenged someone. It was wrong and unfair.

I have attended meetings in Kells and, to be fair, its community wants to work together to prevent such attacks. Whenever the community meets to discuss the issue with the Garda and public representatives, public pressure seems to have an impact. I hope that my raising of this issue in Dáil Éireann will have an impact on those few people who are engaging in anti-social behaviour. They must stop, as the community will not tolerate it. The community will work together to stop it and to ensure the people in question are brought to the attention of the Garda and before the criminal justice system.

I pay tribute to the Garda, which has always been available to me, my colleagues and the community for meetings when incidents are reported. The Garda is being stretched, but it is taking this matter as a priority. Meath County Council has drafted an anti-social behaviour strategy and will adopt it shortly. I hope the strategy will have an impact where it applies and that people will know that every agency of local government will work to tackle the issue. The draft strategy will also be tabled before the Meath joint policing committee.

The message must be sent to the people engaging in anti-social behaviour that they must stop. People want to live their lives in peace. That is their entitlement. The Oireachtas must send the message that we want the Garda and the judicial system to deal with the people in question in the best and strongest manner possible to ensure they are punished appropriately.

I commend the legislation and support the Minister's efforts in introducing it. I hope it will receive the House's support.

The next speaker offering is Deputy Deenihan. While there are 20 minutes in this slot, I remind him that it is almost 6.55 p.m. and that I will interrupt him at 7 p.m.

I thank the Acting Chairman. The Bill amends current legislation on the defence of the person and the person's home. The Bill defines what is meant by "dwelling" and provides for circumstances when justifiable force, including lethal force, may be used against a person entering a dwelling for criminal purposes. It also states clearly that the occupier has no obligation to retreat from the dwelling and bars the taking of civil actions against occupiers who protect their dwellings and inflict incidental injuries.

I have spoken in the House about the importance of introducing this type of legislation several times. On local radio in County Kerry some years ago, I had a debate with Deputy Ferris, who has left the Chamber. He was against this approach at the time, but I am delighted that he has changed his mind, given his contribution this evening. I welcome the general progress and recognise the work of the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, in introducing this legislation. It is fair to say the Minister has introduced a raft of legislation. His officials deserve recognition for the backup service with which they provide him.

What the Bill addresses is only part of the problem. As we know from the statistics cited this evening, burglary is unfortunately becoming increasingly prevalent. It is a reflection of our economic times, in that some people go out to seek money or property for which they can get money because of the pressure they are under. They need that finance to fund a certain lifestyle or to buy drugs, drink or whatever. Unfortunately, the trend seems to be on the increase. The level of aggravated burglary is another concern. I just read the statistics. In 2004, incidents of aggravated burglary numbered 282. In 2009, they numbered 369. I do not know the up-to-date figures.

The Bill is only one part of what is required to deal with the issue of people breaking into homes. For this reason, there should be greater national awareness of the importance of security. The Bill will not help old people in their homes too much, in the sense that most old people are incapable of putting up resistance. There are few weapons of protection out there, as not many people have guns or other types of weaponry in their houses that they can use in their defence. This Bill does not mean that people will feel more secure in their homes or that we are protecting a large portion of the population. The reality does not follow like that. Rather, the Bill will remove the legal ambiguity regarding people who take the necessary measures to protect themselves, their families or their properties. Previously, it was for courts to interpret the position. That is now being stated in law, which I do not doubt will be helpful.

There should be a national campaign to ensure that people, particularly older people, are conscious of the fact they are becoming more vulnerable and that they should lock their doors, secure their windows and take the necessary measures to prevent uninvited people from invading their houses.

Debate adjourned.