Leaders' Questions

I wish to raise with the Taoiseach the issue of crime, as well as the position of An Garda Síochána. As the Taoiseach is aware, a major conference is being held by the Garda Representative Association, GRA, at present and a number of significant issues have emanated from it relating to manpower, equipment, resources and Garda morale. In tandem with these issues, the Central Statistics Office has confirmed that burglaries have increased by 17%, while robberies, extortion and hijackings have increased by more than one third. One of the more worrying statistics is that only one in four burglaries and only one in three thefts are actually detected, which comprises a significant and serious position.

In respect of equipment and resources, gardaí have stated the fleet has been reduced by more than 370 vehicles in the past three years, which is a reduction of more than 30%. Gardaí have stated that criminal gangs are conducting their crimes with high-powered vehicles while, to use a phrase employed, gardaí are pursuing them in the equivalent of lawnmowers. The fleet as it was has been replaced by commercial vans that are completely unsuitable for modern policing. On the manpower front, the remarks of the GRA president, John Parker, were quite worrying. He stated that gardaí are demoralised because manpower and resources are so depleted that even the investigation of crime itself is affected. He stated: "It's a PR exercise often where you go out and you record as much as you can and you try to allocate as much time as you can to the investigation of that crime." He went on to state:

The manpower is not there for a serious follow-up to crime. On previous occasions what you would do is door-to-door [inquiries], you would saturate the area. These facilities are not there now.

Deputy Martin raises two issues, first, the comments about crime rates and, second, the question of transport. The Government fully understands that the Garda Commissioner runs Garda operations on a day-to-day basis. There is no interference in that regard, nor can there be, unlike what happened on a number of occasions in the past. I understand the Garda Commissioner responded this morning to allegations made in the media by the president of the Garda Representative Association, GRA. The Commissioner has no information or evidence about the allegations that were spoken about and has called formally on Garda Parker to clarify his position and provide any information or evidence he has concerning the claims he made. The Garda Commissioner has assured the public that all crimes reported to gardaí will be fully and thoroughly investigated and that, where possible, offenders will be brought to justice. The Commissioner has the full and absolute support of the Government in this regard.

The latest crime statistics show a reduction in crime under a wide range of headings, 11 out of 14. It is not a good situation to have the GRA making claims concerning which the Garda Commissioner has no evidence or facts with which to back them up. Since the enactment of the Garda Síochána Act in 2005, as Deputy Martin is aware, the Central Statistics Office is the independent national statistical agency which compiles and publishes crime statistics. The CSO has established a dedicated unit for this purpose, and to this end the Garda Síochána provides data to it concerning crime. General crime counting rules are published by the CSO as technical notes in each of its quarterly recorded crime reports. These notes explain when a crime is captured on the Garda PULSE system. The Minister for Justice and Equality is advised that supervisory ranks within An Garda Síochána review all incidents recorded on PULSE to ensure the correct crime classification is recorded. Further to this information, the Garda information service centre, the central authority for recording crime incidents on PULSE, also monitors and reviews PULSE information to ensure the crime classification is correct.

The Deputy mentioned transport, which was a problem in the past when no finance was provided for the acquisition of vehicles. I repeat to the Deputy that it is the Garda Commissioner who, entirely independent of Government and along with his personnel, decides which vehicles, according to type and specification, should be purchased. In 2012, 213 Garda vehicles were purchased at an overall cost of €4 million-----

That is less than half of what was needed.

-----including, I point out to Deputy Healy Rae, those that go to Kilgarvan. A further €5 million was made available this year for the purchase and fit-out of appropriate Garda vehicles, as determined by the Commissioner and his staff.

Who got the black windows for the Minister for Justice and Equality?

This represents a considerable investment in Garda transport, particularly at a time when the level of funding across the public sector is limited. Currently, the Garda fleet consists of 2,400 vehicles, with Garda patrol cars being taken out of commission when they reach 300,000 km on the clock. That decommissioning is undertaken to ensure the safety of Garda personnel and of members of the public.

To reiterate, the provision and deployment of Garda transport are matters for the Garda Commissioner in the light of what he considers are operational requirements. The availability of resources and responsibility for the efficient deployment of all official transport in each division is assigned to the divisional officer or the chief superintendent, who may deploy vehicles between stations in response to existing police demands. The allocation of resources across all divisions is monitored and reviewed on a continual basis. Far from a situation where previous Governments in the recent past did nothing about this, with limited cash available this Government made €4 million available last year and a further €5 million this year, which will provide a significant number of vehicles, to be determined in size and specification and scale by the Garda Commissioner.

The Taoiseach did not answer the question I asked.

He answered a question I did not ask. The issue of the dispute between the Commissioner and garda relates to the massaging of figures, but I did not raise it. The Commissioner clarified that this morning. The Taoiseach took up his three minutes to answer a completely different question, deliberately in order to avoid the question I asked, namely, whether the Taoiseach was concerned about the low detection rate in regard to burglaries and theft. As he correctly pointed out, the CSO has confirmed that only one in four burglaries and one in three thefts are actually solved. That was my question. It might be useful if the Taoiseach answered the questions we ask of him.

The second question was about morale. Every garda one meets - it does not have to be at a GRA conference but anywhere, even if one knocks at any garda's door throughout the country - he will tell one that morale has never been worse, in 30 years within the force. Gardaí are not entirely enamoured of the attitude and approach of the Minister. That is fine, it is a personal affair.

That is out there, but there is a combination of factors involved here. In 2009, there were 2,800 vehicles, now there are 2,444. There has been a reduction.

Did the Deputy's party allocate any of those vehicles?

The Minister got his windows.

They are chasing criminals who have high-powered Audis and BMWs while the Garda has family saloon cars. Apparently, the Garda has bought 80 commercial vans where one has to throw a prisoner in the back and have two in the front.

The vans are the new Garda stations.

It is becoming ridiculous. There is no point in trying to set up a straw man - the Commissioner versus gardaí - and then he has to discipline them. We are in a democracy and should allow people to articulate their position. I spoke about morale. Gardaí were treated very badly by the Croke Park agreement. According to the welfare arm of the GRA, every day a garda is becoming insolvent. Equally, mortgage arrears are becoming a significant problem for many gardaí.

Thank you, Deputy.

What I hear from senior gardaí who have been around for a while is that morale is very low among the younger generation of gardaí who are looking for alternatives out of the force, if they can get one. That is a serious matter and I have no wish to raise it other than to suggest to the Taoiseach it is imperative for the Government to get to grips with this issue because it is wider than the Garda. It affects our society and our democracy. Gardaí are central to that and a linch pin of it.

Why did the Deputy agree with the troika to bring-----

Why did the Minister get the windows blacked out in his new State car?

I call the Taoiseach.

The Deputy must have been somewhere at the weekend. I liked the way he started, asking me to answer the question I was asked.

Have him treated for amnesia.

Did I not hear the Deputy for 12 glorious minutes on Sunday, refusing to answer a question? The interviewer asked Deputy Martin about his proposal to take €350 million from the public service although he was complaining that the Government was not being fair in dealing with the figure of €300 million. The Deputy refused point blank to answer the question so he should not come into the Chamber and tell me it would be great if I answered his question.

(Interruptions).

He must have had a little interaction. I can understand him getting buoyed up by these things.

The Garda Commissioner has challenged Garda Parker to back up his evidence for the claims he made that crime statistics are being massaged and manipulated.

I never made that point. I did not ask that today. The CSO figures were what-----

I say to the Deputy-----

I did not ask that question.

Please allow the Taoiseach to reply to the question.

This is an issue in the public interest.

I did not ask that question.

Deputy Martin needs to do a FÁS course on question asking.

I asked a question about the low detection rates for burglaries and thefts. Will the Taoiseach answer it?

Deputy, please.

I am telling Deputy Martin that in the interest of public safety and public accuracy the Garda Commissioner has asked the president of the GRA to substantiate his claims of manipulation of crime statistics. The Government fully respects the work that gardaí carry out day and night on front-line services as the only line between the criminal and the civilian. These are difficult economic times for many people. They are equally difficult for lower paid members of the public services and front-line workers in the fire brigade, the Defence Forces and the many areas in which front-line services are provided, as well as for people in general. Nobody underestimates the scale of that. I want the Deputy to understand that the Government is fully committed to seeing that the men and women of the Garda force are given the equipment and facilities they need to do their job. This is why €9 million has been provided in the transport area in the past two years for the purchase and provision of appropriate Garda vehicles, as determined by chief superintendents and the Garda Commissioner and his staff.

A drop in the ocean.

Unlike the situation under Deputy Martin's Government, which made very little available, the provision of facilities has increased over the past two years. When burglaries occur, it happens on a frequent basis that they destroy people's hopes when they have to enter their own homes to find them ransacked. We have evidence of this. Many of the vehicles available to the emergency response unit and the specialist units of the Garda are far from the descriptions I heard this morning.

One in four burglaries is detected.

Twenty one years ago the case of a raped 14 year old child brought into being the judgment in the X case. From that time to this, we have awaited a legal clarification of an existing right for pregnant women to avail of termination of pregnancy where their lives are in danger. For 21 years medical professionals who care for those women have also waited for legal clarification and protection for their medical roles. I understand that the legislation for X was discussed today at Cabinet. Why is there an ongoing delay in the publication of the heads of the Bill? I want the Taoiseach to explain what precisely is happening at Cabinet.

The Deputy will have to be elected to office before she gets to know that.

I want him to reassure us that the legislation has not become a hostage to fortune in some kind of political stand off between Fine Gael and the Labour Party. I want him to confirm that he remains resolved to ensure this legislation is brought before the Oireachtas and put on the Statute Book by the time we rise for the summer recess. I want him to reassure medical professionals and, in particular, women of child bearing age this Government will not fail them as so many have done in years gone by. Where is the legislation and when will it be published? Can we expect it today or tomorrow, or will we have to continue to rely on media speculation as to what might be in it? When will the general public see the Bill and when can we debate it? Crucially, is the Taoiseach still committed to putting it on the Statute Book by July?

I will be frank with the Deputy. I think we had 28 items on this morning's Cabinet agenda. The Government dealt with all of them, including the approval of 1,000 to 1,500 jobs on the Kilkenny-Waterford border. This will have a significant employment impact on rural Ireland when the milk quotas are abolished. It is an example of strategic and important planning. The Cabinet began discussing the heads of the Bill dealing with the issue she mentioned but because of time constraints, including the need to be in this House, it was not possible to conclude our discussion. The Cabinet will resume its work on the matter after a little while and I hope the heads of the Bill can be published this evening. I hope the Deputy understands this is not the legislation but the heads of a Bill. They will go to an Oireachtas committee and everybody will have an opportunity to have a say on this sensitive matter. Work on the provisions of the Bill will continue both in parallel with and subsequent to the deliberations of the Cabinet sub-committee. It is my intention and hope that it will enacted before the House rises for the summer.

As I noted previously, this is a sensitive matter which has been around for a very long time. The intention of the Government is to address it within the parameters of the Constitution and strictly within the law. No new rights will be conferred but legal clarity and certainty will be given. This is about saving the lives of women and their unborn babies, with due regard to what the Constitution says and what was determined by the Supreme Court. Work on the matter will continue later this evening.

From the Taoiseach's response, I imagine that the issue of legislation on X must have been 28th on the agenda, or perhaps it was dealt with under any other business.

She is an absolute genius.

I do not appreciate the tone of the Taoiseach's response. He knows as well as I do the urgency in bringing forward the heads of a Bill. The fact that it will not be finished legislation is all the more reason for the Oireachtas to see it and for it to proceed to committee without delay so that a full and frank debate can proceed. I have a worry, which I know is shared by others, that what is happening at Cabinet is a form of posturing, not least from the Taoiseach's political party.

A question please.

Total nonsense.

I understand fully that the legislation, when it comes before the House-----

Who is posturing now?

-----will simply-----

Some of the faces behind Deputy McDonald are not happy that she is raising the issue.

-----legislate that which is already lawful.

A question please.

We are 21 years on and further delays cannot be justified in any way. Over the past week there has been a considerable amount of intemperate and inaccurate rhetoric from the Taoiseach's own benches.

The Deputy must be referring to last night's "Prime Time".

I hope the Taoiseach has faced that down and that we will see the heads of a Bill this evening. I ask him to make it clear that he intends to bring the legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas and onto the Statute Book by the end of July.

Yes, it is my intention. I remind the Deputy that it has been 30 years since the amendment was first introduced in 1983 and, as she noted, 21 years since the last occasion in which people were engaged here. This matter has not yet been dealt with. The Government intends to deal with the issue within the parameters of the Constitution and the law, taking account of the obvious sensitivities of this complex and technical matter. It is about saving the lives of women and their unborn babies, and it ill-behoves Deputy McDonald to come in to this House, after all those years, to play politics with the lives of women.

It ill-behoves the Taoiseach to delay the legislation. We have waited 20 years for it.

If she waited 20 years for it, she can wait another 20 minutes.

Tomorrow is May Day, a day when trade unions and workers across the world unite in solidarity and in support of workers' rights. It is also 100 years since the 1913 Lockout, when Irish workers endured great hardship to secure such basic rights as the right to join a trade union and decent working conditions.

I doubt workers in 1913 could have foreseen the decimation of these hard won entitlements that is taking place today. Is the Taoiseach aware that Ireland is one of only three European Union member states in which workers do not have a statutory right to workplace representation? Whereas workers once stood up and were counted, there is now a growing culture of keeping one's head down and getting on with it for fear of being targeted by certain employers, albeit not all of them, as they take full advantage of the recession to have labour laws watered down in the name of economic recovery. Some unscrupulous employers are driving down wages, sacking workers and hiring others at cheaper rates, cutting overtime payments, demanding longer hours and ignoring trade unions. All of this is being done by stealth and the Government is doing little about it.

Is the Taoiseach aware that the Council of Europe watchdog, the European Committee of Social Rights, has found Ireland to be in breach of eight European requirements on employment rights? Far from protecting workers on low and middle incomes, the Government has aggressively gone after increments and pay for unsocial hours and is now threatening worse if public sector workers do not agree to its plans. Will the Taoiseach make a commitment to strengthen the regulatory framework of labour legislation and collective bargaining? As many Deputies are aware from their constituencies, the regulatory framework is clearly not solid enough to deal with current levels of exploitation and marginalisation of workers. Will the Government commission the OECD to investigate the full consequences of the bailout exit strategy it is pursuing in terms of its impact on workers' rights and their quality of life?

The Taoiseach will recognise that labour rights are human rights. The failure of the Government to enforce legislation which gives every worker the right to join a trade union without being intimidated or facing the possibility of being sacked is a gross violation of workers' human rights.

The position in so far as workers and their conditions are concerned has changed radically since 1913. In the intervening period we have had the development of a unique voluntary architecture for industrial relations which has, by and large, proved itself to be outstanding when compared to legislative or statutory based systems. It is important that the concept behind this architecture is maintained.

It is the right of every worker to join a trade union if he or she so wishes and the Government is cognisant of the bargaining rights of workers. We reversed the cut in the minimum wage, removed 300,000 employees from the scope of the universal social charge and provided in the proposed Croke Park II agreement that 87% of lower paid workers on salaries of less than €65,000 would have their core pay untouched.

I engaged yesterday with the Prime Ministers of Spain and Portugal, two countries where the position is very different from the position here. While the Government completely understands the challenge we all face, it has been cognisant of the need to understand and ameliorate, in so far as possible in the circumstances, the difficulties and challenges faced by workers.

It is a long time since "Big" Jim Larkin did his thing for workers on O'Connell Street and we have come a long way since. We hope workers will benefit from some of the financial decisions the Government made today. I fully respect the bargaining rights of workers and the opportunities in place. It is in the interests of government and the nation to have a well run, competitive economy where employment opportunities beckon for those who have a particular talent or experience and those who are unemployed.

As noted by the European committee to which I referred, the human rights of workers in Ireland are being violated in three ways, namely, in respect of the failure to provide for trade union recognition and in aspects of the liquidation and insolvency processes. While I do not have any time for some of the current leadership of the trade union movement, legislation must be introduced to give workers a right to join a trade union without being vilified by the management of companies that refuse to recognise trade unions.

Is it right that when companies are liquidated workers are the last people to be paid? Whereas everyone else is paid by the liquidators, workers, even those with families, are told to go home and wait for 12, 14 or 16 weeks to receive a social welfare payment. Is it right that in the case of insolvency, a company can tell workers to take statutory redundancy, for which the State pays, before proceeding to reopen under another name and hire workers at lower wages? This is happening all over the country. I can cite four examples of this practice in my constituency and, as Deputy Boyd Barrett could tell us, workers who were sacked by a company that subsequently reopened under another name have been on strike for four years.

I ask the Taoiseach to carefully examine the three areas I have highlighted where the human rights of workers are being denied. Workers should have the right to join a trade union. They should be looked after when a company is liquidated by being paid the wages, overtime, holiday pay and so forth that they are owed, and for which they can wait years under the current system. Furthermore, if a company becomes insolvent, it should not be permitted to reopen under another name, selling the same products, having hired workers at a lower rate of pay.

The Deputy has raised three important issues. I reiterate that it is the right of any worker to join a trade union. While it is assumed that the joining of a trade union brings with it bargaining rights, this also assumes the number of members is such that it will make that happen.

The Taoiseach should ask Dunnes Stores if its staff can join a trade union.

As I stated, the unique structure of Irish industrial relations has, by and large, stood the test of time and it is important that we retain the voluntary concept. It is not true that workers are always the last to be paid when companies are liquidated. While there may be challenges or competing interests from different creditors, when companies become insolvent or are liquidated it is always of critical importance that workers receive the compensation due to them and are afforded their rights. This can take time and court cases are sometimes required to validate these rights. This is obviously an issue that arises from time to time and is one that is difficult to sort out.