Other Questions

Crime Levels

Niall Collins

Question:

108. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the measures she will bring forward to address the problem of burglaries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35219/15]

Will the Minister provide a statement on the current statistics for burglaries? We know the official statistics from the Central Statistics Office indicate an 8% increase in burglaries involving upwards of €30,000. Will the Minister outline the actions she proposes to take in this regard?

As I have already stated to the House, I am extremely conscious of the impact of burglary on communities throughout the country and I am determined to continue to take strong action against the criminals involved. My response to burglaries and crime generally is focused on two key objectives: strengthening of the law to get tougher on serious and repeat offenders and investing in the capacity of An Garda Síochána to enforce that law effectively.

Earlier this year I called together the heads of all of the criminal justice agencies to devise a new approach to tackle burglaries. One important factor that emerged was the finding that a large proportion of domestic burglaries are committed by serial offenders. Figures from the Garda Síochána analysis service indicate that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of burglars. As I noted earlier, that is why I brought forward the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill, which is targeted at repeat burglars with previous convictions. That will allow for consecutive sentencing where a burglar is being sentenced for multiple offences and allow courts to refuse bail.

Legislation on its own is not enough and we want proper operational policing responses. The Deputy asked about figures. The Garda strategy to counter burglaries and related crimes has been co-ordinated under Operation Fiacla, which has led to 14,672 arrests and 8,358 charges brought to date. I am providing the Commissioner with the means to enhance this operational response. I have already spoken about the investment and recruitment, and this will facilitate further operations, including surveillance. We have also upgraded the surveillance capacity of Garda aircraft.

Taking all of these together, it will make a substantial difference in terms of what we will see and have seen. I am working closely with the Garda Commissioner to finalise details of an enhanced operational response to burglaries and related crimes. I expect to be in a position to make that announcement shortly.

Will the Minister consider a number of proposals, to which she might respond if she gets the opportunity? I acknowledge that she has to strengthen the law and that she is taking some measures in respect of that, but they do not go far enough. My party has submitted proposals regarding, for example, mandatory sentencing for those who assault elderly people or who engage repeatedly in burglary. A small number of people carry out a large proportion of the burglaries, so there will not be a prison capacity problem. In regard to the many public meetings taking place throughout the country, what is the Minister's view on a proposal from the meeting in the Anner Hotel in Tipperary to tag people who are on bail and who have multiple convictions, particularly for burglary? Also arising from such meetings, what is her view on the allegation that free legal aid favours the criminal too much, given the constitutionality of people's right to a fair trial? Could she also speak about the requirement for closed circuit television cameras on motorway junctions and the proposal for a national directorate to co-ordinate the IFA, which has hired its own crime prevention officer, Muintir na Tíre, the neighbourhood watch schemes, and all the other voluntary organisations?

I call Deputy Mac Lochlainn to make his point very quickly as we are running well behind.

I had put my hand up because I had tabled a priority question but the sequencing rescheduling today meant I lost out on that priority question which concerned Garda station closures. The president of the Garda Representative Association, speaking on the radio today, clearly linked the closure of 139 Garda stations with the increase in burglaries. He is in a position to know about this. Does the Minister accept his assessment that those station closures have impacted on the rise in burglaries or would she contest it?

I have said that I believe the most effective response to the issues that have been raised is the series of initiatives I have mentioned: further gardaí, so we have more visibility, specialist operations, investment in vehicles, and a mobile force that is able to respond to the changing trends in crime. People have raised the issue of bail. This is an important area and I am addressing it in one piece of legislation. I have further legislation coming out. I will be making changes in that legislation regarding electronic tagging in order that the prosecution and the Garda can request this. That is an important initiative.

I would put a fact to the House, that the increases in offences committed by people while out on bail peaked in 2009 and 2010 and have been reducing since. It is important to have a sense of perspective on it. I sympathise with every individual who has been the victim of these heinous crimes and I want to interrupt them and ensure the Garda has the resources to deal with it. That is what we are doing and this is the most effective way to deal with these issues.

Crime Prevention

Niall Collins

Question:

109. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to deal with the escalation in incidents of knife crime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35216/15]

Will the Minister comment on her plans to deal with the escalation of incidents where a knife was used? Will she also comment on the issue of knife crime?

I am advised that figures provided by the Central Statistics Office show that the number of recorded offences involving a knife has decreased each year since 2010. Notwithstanding these statistical trends, the impact of these crimes is quite serious and I assure the Deputy that I am in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner on a wide range of crime and policing concerns, including knife and other violent crime. This is a challenging situation for the Garda every day of the week, as we know.

A comprehensive and robust legal framework is in place with respect to knife crime, including heavy penalties for breaches of the laws concerned.

Under the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, the maximum penalty for possessing a knife in a public place without good reason or lawful authority has been increased from one to five years. The Garda also has an extended power of search without warrant in relation to knives and offensive weapons.

Deputy Niall Collins will also be aware that the Garda Síochána proactively targets public disorder and anti-social behaviour through the strategic deployment of Garda resources. The night-time economy is a big issue in the context of the kind of offences that take place late at night. The detective units and divisional crime task forces are utilised to provide a high-visibility presence. The CCTV that is available in Garda stations around the country is used to ensure that gardaí are deployed where crowds are gathering and where there is anti-social behaviour late at night. The increased recruitment will help with that visible policing as well. This is the way to deal with this issue.

Although knife crime is obviously very serious, and can have dreadful consequences in individual cases, it is important to note that the figures are decreasing.

Notwithstanding the trend in the figures from the CSO which the Minister detailed, it is important to point out that last year alone 19 persons died as a result of knife attacks, which is a very high statistic given the population, and that there were 35 incidents in which people's lives were threatened with a knife during the commission of a crime. We know, for example, because we discuss burglary so often here, that many burglaries are aggravated burglaries in which a knife is used, and there have been incidents of car-jacking and other types of theft associated with knives.

The reason I raise it here on Question Time is that there is a subculture in Irish society within a small community of criminals who feel it is acceptable to carry and use knives in the commission of crimes. What I am asking is whether the Minister thinks we need to send out a more robust message about the carrying of knives in public places, which in many instances unfortunately leads to the commission of a crime resulting in death, and whether we need to have more robust legislation, including, for example, the possibility of a mandatory sentence for the carrying of a knife in a public place.

Clearly, the message that needs to go out is that this crime will not be tolerated. Of course, there are very serious individual incidents of the kind described by Deputy Niall Collins, for which heavy sentences have been imposed where such cases were brought to court. At present, the law allows for mandatory sentences where those cases, for example, have resulted in the murder of an individual. I share Deputy Niall Collins's view about such crime. There have been strong public information and awareness campaigns over the years. Indeed, that is something An Garda Síochána could consider further, because we need to continue to get the message out about the approach to this type of crime, how unacceptable it is, and the dangers of carrying a knife in a public place where persons may use them when provoked.

Deputy Niall Collins mentioned mandatory sentencing on a number of occasions. A considerable amount of work has been done on that, both in Ireland and internationally. As the Deputy will be well aware, the comprehensive review of penal policy which was carried out by an expert group, the independence and expertise of which would be recognised by everyone, did not recommend any further mandatory sentencing. I note mandatory sentencing is a key part of the Deputy's approach, but all of the evidence that has been presented to me is that it is not an effective way of dealing with crime, except in very limited circumstances which we have provided for already.

Missing Persons

Thomas Pringle

Question:

110. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps she will take in a missing person case (details supplied) in view of recent allegations; her plans to authorise a new investigation into the case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35185/15]

This question relates to Ireland's longest-running missing person case, the case of Mary Boyle, who disappeared in Donegal in March 1977, and the two very serious allegations that were recently made in relation to that disappearance.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that a comprehensive review of this case has, in fact, been ongoing since 2011 under the direction of the assistant commissioner for the northern region.

All aspects of the original investigation and subsequent reviews have been examined by the Garda review team. As part of the Garda inquiry, a file is currently with the Director of Public Prosecutions following the arrest of a person in October 2014 in connection with the disappearance. The case has also been the subject of an investigation by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission on foot of complaints to that office. Within the past two weeks further statements have been made to the Garda regarding the case, and these will now be examined by the review team.

I am very conscious of the ongoing distress for the families and friends of persons who go missing, and I met with the mother of the missing child in this case at last year's annual national missing persons' day. I was grateful to have been able to speak with her on that occasion and to hear her moving address to those present as to the lasting impact these events have had on her and her family. All in this House would wish to ensure that nothing we say adds to the distress the family has experienced. We recognise that the examination of allegations concerning the disappearance is a matter for the relevant investigatory agencies. I recognise how long the case has gone on and the serious upset caused to all members of the family over the period. The investigation is very much ongoing and further statements were taken two weeks ago.

I thank the Minister. The case has been very harrowing and has destroyed the lives of the family involved over the years, particularly Mary Boyle's twin sister, Ann Doherty, who justifiably feels the person she believes is the prime suspect was never interviewed by the investigating gardaí. There have been allegations of political interference to ensure the person was not considered a suspect. This is the nature of the statements the family has made in recent weeks. It raises very serious questions about the conduct of the investigation. Given that a review has been ongoing since 2011, it is timely that the person who they believe to be prime suspect be questioned by the Garda and treated as a suspect in the case in order to try to achieve some closure for the family.

The Deputy will appreciate that I do not have a direct role in the investigation of the case. I encourage people to give any information that has been brought to their attention to the Garda. I have no doubt that what the Deputy has asked for will happen. While I will bring his comments to the attention of the Garda Commissioner, they should be brought directly to the attention of the Garda authorities. I hope everybody involved is kept informed on an ongoing basis of the developments I have mentioned.

The Garda authorities are aware of the allegations and the substance of the investigations. Earlier this year, Ann Doherty wrote to the Minister requesting a meeting to outline her concerns about the handling of the case, but the Minister declined to meet her. In light of the fact that two weeks ago the Taoiseach said he would be happy to meet her, would the Minister reconsider her decision and consider meeting Ann Doherty?

I am aware that the Taoiseach has indicated that he would be available to meet with the person, and I will engage with him regarding those arrangements.

Garda Operations

Joe Higgins

Question:

111. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if there was an investigation within her Department regarding a surveillance programme within the Garda Síochána named Operation Mizen; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35279/15]

Did the Minister for Justice and Equality, as we asked her months ago, institute an investigation in her Department regarding a Garda Síochána surveillance programme entitled Operation Mizen against anti-water charge activists? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

I am happy to confirm that Operation Mizen is not a surveillance programme operated by the Garda Síochána, contrary to recent assertions in commentary on water protests by public representatives and others. I have been informed by the Garda Commissioner that Operation Mizen was established by the Garda Síochána as a national co-ordination office to provide appropriate policing responses to maintain public order and to ensure the safety of all involved in protests against water charges.

In this context, one of the approaches adopted by the Garda authorities involves making use of open source information that is generally and publicly available on the Internet and on social media platforms. The Deputy probably uses this information when he wishes to locate a convenient water protest at which to appear. I mean it is open source information that is effectively involved. Obviously, I fully support the right of people to protest. I understand that Operation Mizen does not engage in technical surveillance or interception. This is very important. I am further informed that no public representative or member of the public is subject to such surveillance by Operation Mizen.

The Deputy is aware that the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 provides the legislative basis for the carrying out of covert surveillance in this State. Under that Act, authorisations for surveillance are granted on application to a judge of the District Court. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have no role in that process. The 2009 Act makes provision for independent judicial oversight of its operation by a serving judge of the High Court. The designated judge is independent in his functions and reports to the Taoiseach. His reports are made public. There is also an independent complaints mechanism for individuals who believe they have been the subject of an authorisation under the relevant provisions of the Act. The complaints referee is a serving Circuit Court judge who may investigate any complaints made.

Does the Minister have any appreciation of how sinister it is that a mass movement of ordinary people against a water tax is being policed in this way? People understand that this hated austerity burden, which is part of the bailout of bankers and bondholders, is a precursor to commodification and privatisation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been actively involved in campaigning against this aspect of austerity. Some 57% of the population boycotted their first bill because it did not have their consent. Gardaí have flooded into communities to help a billionaire's company and others to ram water meters down people's throats. It now appears that a special unit of the Garda has been spying on this movement. That is the reality. According to media reports, the senior garda heading up this spying operation is the spouse of the Commissioner. Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case? The Minister has said that open source information is used. Can she tell us exactly what this means? Will she acknowledge that under section 8 of the 2009 Act that she mentioned, a garda can get permission from a senior officer to conduct tracking and so on for four months without having to go to court? Is that the case? Are elected representatives the subjects of this activity just as are water charges activists?

I do not think the Deputy listened to my reply. I said, "I am happy to confirm for the House that Operation Mizen is not a surveillance programme operated by An Garda Síochána, contrary to assertions that have been made recently in commentary on water protests". I also answered the Deputy's question about whether public representatives are being monitored when I made it absolutely clear that this is not the case. That was very clear in my answer. The statutory functions of An Garda Síochána include the preservation of peace and public order, the protection of life and property and the vindication of the human rights of individuals. As we all know, in the context of these functions it has been necessary for the Garda authorities to deploy gardaí routinely at water meter installations and protests. That is the reality of what has been happening. We know that when we look at the number of arrests, for example. The Garda authorities have confirmed that there have been 188 arrests in relation to water protests since November 2014. It should be noted in that regard that some individuals have been arrested on multiple occasions. That, and not the way the Deputy characterises this operation, is the reality of the job the gardaí are doing out there. This is a routine operation in terms of managing protests and ensuring the safety of protestors.

Will the Minister acknowledge the reality that her Government's water tax, and the commodification of water that is part of it, does not have the support of the vast majority of ordinary people in this country?

Instead of recognising that and abolishing the water charges, we have the institution of political policing to track, observe and keep under surveillance people who are simply enunciating the objections of their community. Hundreds of thousands of people have been on the streets, representing a mass movement of ordinary people. Will the Minister agree that it is an entirely unjustified response from the establishment, which is trying to force a false tax on people that they do not want?

Will she confirm that the spouse of the Garda Commissioner is in charge of this unit, as reported in one particular media outlet?

I do not accept the assertion that the Deputy makes or his description of the work that An Garda Síochána is doing as political policing. I do not accept that assertion. Gardaí are out there, doing their job. The Government and I fully support the right of our citizens to protest, including the right of those who wish to protest peacefully against water charges or Irish Water. However, I am grateful to the men and women of An Garda Síochána for facilitating the safe and orderly conduct of many large protests in cities and towns throughout the State and for the other work they have done, often in extremely difficult circumstances, as we have seen in many video clips on various social media. I am very grateful to the men and women of An Garda Síochána for the way they have done this work in recent months and the way they have carried out their functions. Operation Mizen is simply what I have said it is - a straightforward operation to make sure that public order is maintained.

Question No. 112 is in the name of Deputy Mattie McGrath. The Deputy is absent.

Question No. 112 replied to with Written Answers.

Criminal Law

Mick Wallace

Question:

113. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she is satisfied that her Department's plans for the criminalisation of the purchase of sex are truly in the interest of those working in the sex industry, particularly given the recently publicised stance of Amnesty International calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35252/15]

As we know, sex workers are one of the most vulnerable groups in society and need to be protected. Most international groups agree that the decriminalisation model is the only one that actually protects sex workers. Sadly, however, this Government has decided to push ahead with an agenda which will push the industry further underground, making it even less safe for the people involved. We are dealing with a decision that affects the human rights of vulnerable groups and I ask the Minister if she has undertaken any research into alternative legal models, such as the one in New Zealand.

I thank Deputy Wallace for his question. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 is currently before the Seanad and will be coming before this House in due course, when I have no doubt that we will have a full opportunity to debate this issue. Clearly, there are different views on the management and handling of these issues and we will have an opportunity to discuss them. I do not want to prejudge the debate but I am sure it will be an interesting one. The debate has already started in Seanad Éireann.

The proposals in the legislation have been developed following extensive consultation, initiated by my Department, dating back to 2012. The new offences implement the recommendation of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence which called for the introduction of an offence criminalising the purchase of sexual services. The purpose of introducing these provisions is primarily to target the trafficking, which is very extensive, and sexual exploitation of persons through prostitution. There is a very strong association between the trafficking of young women and girls into this country and prostitution and this legislation is targeting that situation.

I have considered all sides of the debate and my Department has examined the research. We have engaged in extensive consultation and there is very successful implementation and research to prove it. I have met people who have been involved in the implementation of similar legislation in Sweden. I have also met the rapporteur who completed an extensive report on the issue in Sweden. She visited Ireland recently and addressed a seminar on the matter. Both the Council of Europe and the European Parliament have made recommendations in this regard too. On the basis of that research I have decided that this legislation is the way to go forward. We need to combat trafficking and its drivers, as I am sure Deputy Wallace will agree. There is a lot of evidence of wider exploitation of persons involved in prostitution, outside of those trafficked, such as those coerced or otherwise forced through circumstances, to engage in it.

I accept the point the Deputy makes about the vulnerability of sex workers which is why I have increased the funding for organisations working directly with them.

Interestingly, these organisations also recommended this type of legislation. For example, Ruhama, the group which has done most of the work in this area, recommended and strongly supports the actions I am taking in the Bill. I agree with the Deputy on the issue of vulnerability and the need for additional action and work to support women who wish to exit prostitution.

According to a report by the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to health published in 2010, "the conflation of consensual sex work and sex trafficking in such legislation leads to, at best, the implementation of inappropriate responses that fail to assist either of these groups in realising their rights and, at worst, to violence and oppression."

The Minister stated that consultation took place. Did she speak to sex workers? It is important she does so because I understand they were not properly consulted. If she insists on proceeding with the legislation, I implore her to ensure it is based on proper research. I do not believe proper research has been done in this jurisdiction. Research done in Belfast found that sex workers did not believe that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex would do them any favours in any circumstances. This legislation needs to be carefully considered before it proceeds.

I met and held discussions with representatives of the sex workers association. I also examined all the research on this issue. The Council of Europe and European Parliament, for example, did a large amount of research and the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality examined and made recommendations on the matter. While I accept that there are different views and reports on the issue, I have outlined the reasons I have taken my decision. The Assembly in the North introduced similar legislation which was supported by a large majority. This is the right direction in which to move in terms of an all-island response.

Garda Investigations

Clare Daly

Question:

114. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the operation of the independent review panel; the number of cases where the review has been concluded and persons contacted; where follow-on action was recommended, and the nature of the recommendations; where no further action was recommended, if she will reconcile these with her statements on the matter prior to the recess; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35188/15]

I listened to the Minister's response to questions asked by Deputies Niall Collins and Mick Wallace on the independent review mechanism. The only conclusion to be drawn about this process is that it is possibly a deliberate attempt to deflect public anger surrounding issues of Garda malpractice rather than an effort to address the issues. The process was supposed to be a short-term paper review to recommend what action should be taken next rather than an end in itself. No serious action has been suggested in any of the 200 cases reviewed to date. Will the position change in respect of the remaining 100 cases on which there have not been communications?

The Deputy makes a big assumption in stating the independent review group has not made any serious recommendations. I do not know how she could possibly make that assumption as she does not have all the facts. It is open to the group to make a recommendation, the seriousness of which will be judged in the first instance by the complainants who submitted the information. As I stated, in more than 200 cases, the complainants submitted extra information.

The recommendations are, in the assessment of the independent panel, a potential way forward for dealing with the cases in a more satisfactory manner, dealing with unanswered questions or making recommendations for further investigations, including very serious investigations under section 41(2) of the Garda Síochána Act. I consider such recommendations to be serious. I have not yet published the outcome in all the cases because the process is not complete. Inevitably, the group assessing the cases will make a variety of recommendations. It was always intended to assess all the information and see what recommendations would emerge.

The process has taken longer than anticipated because we accepted more than 300 cases and, as I indicated, they are highly varied. Some of them date back 30 years, some are more recent, others have been through the courts and decisions have been the subject of decisions in the courts, while others arise from decisions made by the Director of Public Prosecution and Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. There is, therefore, significant complexity involved. I am accepting the recommendation in all cases where there is scope for a recommendation to be made to me that would help deal more effectively with the complainant's circumstances.

This issue will not go away. My point about no serious recommendations being made must be seen in the context of the decision by the review panel to recommend that the Garda make a report on serious complaints about malpractice in the Garda. After 18 months, the panel recommended not that the case be re-investigated but that the Garda issue a report. I have in mind cases such as the murder of Baiba Saulite, the anniversary of which will take place next month. One of the gardaí involved in the complaint made repeated requests to the review mechanism seeking to furnish it with corroborative evidence to support his contention that this young woman and mother would not have been murdered if the Garda had acted appropriately and joined the dots in the previous crimes committed against Ms Saulite and her solicitor, Mr. John Hennessy. Serious and well-substantiated allegations were made, yet the panel did not even ask to see this corroborative evidence. How could this possibly be a serious investigation to have something done?

I will allow Deputy Mac Lochlainn to make a short contribution.

I have a right to contribute again.

I am sorry but the time for questions has almost concluded.

I would like to respond to the Minister once she has spoken.

We will not have time. Deputy Mac Lochlainn may make a short intervention.

The revelations made on the RTE "Prime Time" programme confirmed all the concerns of Opposition Members. They showed a cursory examination of documentation by barristers, a failure to interview families who submitted allegations and a failure to access Garda Síochána files. The Minister must accept that this is not the response required in light of the scale of public concern. Will she look again at the independent review mechanism and introduce a new structure for some of the very serious cases that were brought to her attention?

I have commented on the cases that were referred to publicly and pointed out that they were at different stages of the process. As the process is not yet complete, I cannot comment on individual cases in the way Deputy Clare Daly has done. I simply cannot go into the detail of the case she raises.

The Minister has received many communications on it.

I can state, however, that this is the first Government to have taken these allegations.

It may have taken them but the Minister is not taking them seriously.

We have had a very wide lens in respect of accepting cases that needed to be in the process, of which there are more than 300. We set up an independent review mechanism to examine those cases.

That is an abuse of the word "independent".