I intend to share time with Deputy Mulherin.
Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings Bill) 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)
The Deputies will take ten minutes each. Is that correct?
Yes. I thank the Minister of State for being present. The Bill, as proposed, is one of many steps that the Government has taken with regard to addressing the issue of burglaries of dwellings, as well as the general investment in our criminal justice system and An Garda Síochána. These moves are essential in light of the closure of the Garda Síochána College in Templemore in 2009. Clearly, we have a requirement to bolster and improve the technology, equipment and facilities available to An Garda Síochána in order that it can tackle crime head on. This is particularly relevant regarding the burglary of dwellings, which has become a major problem throughout the country.
I wish to refer to some independent research carried out by the University of Michigan on Irish rural communities between 2011 and 2014. This was reported on in The Irish Times by John McManus. The report made interesting reading, as did the research findings. One finding is that crime in rural communities is not driven by the fact that Garda stations are closed, nor is it driven by the fact that Garda numbers have been reduced. Previously, the strength of the force stood at upward of 14,000. In fact, the research indicates that crime is being driven by our economic position and joblessness. Clearly, the Government has embarked on a two-pronged attack in that area, not only by increasing the number of gardaí available on the beat - there were as many as 61,000 hours last year alone as a result of the closure of part-time stations throughout the country - but also through facilitating the creation of 130,000 jobs since March 2012.
The Bill addresses issues relating to bail and sentencing for prolific burglars. Instances of crime, including burglary of dwellings, farms and places of work have been numerous in recent years. This measure being introduced by the Government is an essential component to tackle that problem.
I held a number of public meetings in my constituency right through the summer months. Genuine concern was expressed and the question of the steps we are taking to address these issues was raised. I am pleased the Government has been able to address issue of Garda numbers and also that relating to the number of squad cars available for deployment. Over 600 cars have now been deployed. I understand this is a net increase of over 200. In addition, the purchase of 260 new Garda high-speed or interception vehicles was announced earlier this week and these will be deployed on our roads before Christmas.
There is considerable fear of burglary. People are going to extraordinary lengths to secure their homes and farms. This is something the Government must address. We pick up the newspapers on a daily basis and read of an individual who has been before the courts with 50 or 100 instances on his or her rap sheet, including burglaries and other offences against individuals and property. Some of these people receive short sentences. Worse, they are being released on bail only to reoffend and so the cycle continues.
This Bill will tackle these problems by imprisoning such individuals for consecutive as opposed to concurrent terms. This is positive step on the part of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald.
Section 1 will ensure in appropriate cases that prolific burglars can be refused bail outright in such cases as an adult who is charged with a relevant offence alleged to have been committed in a dwelling.
A relevant offence is defined as being a burglary or aggravated burglary contrary to section 12 or 13, respectively, of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud and Offences) Act 2001. In these cases the court must consider previous convictions, coupled with pending charges or recent convictions, as evidence that the accused is likely to commit further domestic burglaries. That is an essential component of a proper functioning criminal justice system.
I wish to address another issue raised, namely, the requirement of the State to invest in the Prison Service. It is all well and good to bring about legislation such as the Bill before the House and have An Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system implement it, but is very clear that as part of the process, we must also provide for increased numbers of prison cells and modernisation of some prisons. On the "Today with Sean O'Rourke" or "The Pat Kenny Show" radio programmes today, a topic of discussion was whether there is a case to be made regarding a concern that the Judiciary is conscious of the number of prison cells available at any given time when deciding on a sentence. I am sure the Judiciary is independent in its thinking, but the fact that such a concern exists in the public domain and was discussed on a national radio show shows it is something of which the Government and House must be cognisant in terms of providing supports for the Judiciary to ensure it can carry out its duties as effectively as we would like. That includes the concerns about bail laws and the release of individuals who are guilty of prolific crimes, their reoffending and perhaps going before the courts again having not been properly dissuaded - I do not like to use the term "punished" - from carrying out further criminal activities.
As I mentioned, I welcome the introduction of consecutive sentences for prolific burglars. The implementation of such sentences will assist in keeping them off the streets in our local communities and will give greater peace of mind to individuals in their homes. It will also act as a deterrent to burglars once the Bill is enacted. Section 2 will insert a new section 54A, into the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. This will require the imposition of consecutive sentences where a court has decided to impose custodial sentences for multiple domestic burglaries committed within a 12-month window. I ask that the Department of Justice and Equality review the implementation of the Bill after 12 months of it being enacted in order that we can assess whether a 12-month window for a repeat offender to be caught is an effective way of dealing with such criminals. That should happen on an ongoing basis with all Bills passed by the House and would be a worthwhile endeavour for the Department to engage in.
Section 2 applies to relevant offences, meaning it only applies to domestic burglaries or aggravated burglaries where the charged person is an adult convicted of domestic burglary in the five years prior to the burglary offence for which he or she has been sentenced. Section 54A(2) provides that where a previous burglary offence on the part of a person being sentenced would be determined to be within the remit of section 54A(1)(b) and (c), that offence can only be considered for the purposes of satisfying either paragraph (b) or (c) and cannot be used to satisfy both. That is related to my point on ensuring there is an effective review of the implementation of the Bill.
As I said at the outset, it is all well and good for us to pass legislation such as this Bill, which I would describe as a groundbreaking. It has been a groundbreaking day. Within the past hour, the Seanad passed the Marriage Bill, which is an extraordinary watershed for our society. Bills like the one before this House will help those who have been subjected to horrific crimes, some of which we saw reported in recent months, and for which crimes individuals have been given quite lengthy sentences. Once the Bill is enacted by the Houses of the Oireachtas and signed by the President, we will ensure proper deterrents are in place.
It is a step towards ensuring we dissuade criminals from reoffending. A suite of measures and investment are required. I very much welcome the Bill and I am sure the Minister for Justice and Equality will be only too happy to invest more money in the Department and Prison Service. This is the first step in moving towards that.
I also welcome the opportunity to speak on this important and timely Bill. Its particular significance is that it speaks to the reality of what is happening regarding burglaries. It examines repeat offending, sentencing and so on. Burglary is a heinous crime which invades people's private property and personal space. We know in the case of aggravated burglary that it can cause harm to individuals, homes, families and so on. It is very traumatic and we have to deal with it in a serious fashion. This Bill, among a suite of measures undertaken by the Minister and An Garda Síochána, goes some way towards tackling serious crime.
Repeat offenders are granted bail despite having been charged with multiple burglaries, and they often commit further burglaries while out on bail. I guess they feel they have nothing to lose. Another problem is that when they have been convicted having been charged with multiple burglaries, all the offences are taken into account and one sentence is imposed. There is concurrent sentencing, as Deputy Farrell has described. A person might as well do a dozen burglaries as he or she will be treated the same.
We know that at the moment the hands of the courts are tied on the issue of bail. Where charges are pending and a person applies for bail, the fact he or she has previous convictions for domestic burglary is not taken into account in the decision of judges on whether to grant bail on the basis of whether the person is likely to commit further burglaries. It seems to be a habit for those engaged in burglaries.
The figures provided by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, show that 75% of burglaries are carried out by 25% of burglars. I would call them career burglars and they need to be dealt with in that fashion. Parts of the Bill amend the criminal justice Act of 2001 which allows and requires a court to impose a custodial sentence for multiple burglary offences on a person's conviction on same and to impose consecutive sentences. That is only fair and is what justice demands.
Deputy Farrell mentioned an interesting report covered in The Irish Times. Some burglars are vicious, in particular those involved in the case in Tipperary. Some burglars seem to have a mean and more vicious streak. Criminologists look to the reasons that is the case. Yesterday, Deputy Farrell explained that such behaviour is put down to the desperate economic times we have had, including joblessness. From my observation, I would say it is somewhat of an insult to those who are unemployed because most of the individuals carrying out burglaries have never done a day's work in their lives. They are very inventive and creative when it comes to breaking into people's homes and destroying lives. That is why we have to be very severe with them.
More prison places need to be provided because if a person is given time, they should be serving time. Many criminals coming before the courts do not have a fear of the prison system and do not care about going to jail.
We might care about it because we are law-abiding and most law-abiding people are afraid of going to jail, but these guys are not. We must look at the regime in prison. Often people get out pretty quickly. Early or temporary release should be an exception and not the rule, but it is the rule currently.
A person must want to be rehabilitated but clearly, based on these figures, these burglars who have previous convictions are not being rehabilitated. It is all good and well if a person wants to be rehabilitated. My colleague put it more politically correct by saying we want to dissuade people. They want to be left in no doubt that if they do the crime they will do the time. This is my attitude to it. The attitude they have at present is that they have no fear of law and order and no fear of prisons. This is a serious issue that must be addressed. I am not saying they should not be treated in a civilised manner. There should be no barbaric treatment, but it should be a lot leaner in prison than what it appears to be in some of the cases for some of the guys who are frequent offenders and who are in and out of a revolving door.
I very much welcome the other suite of measures the Minister has introduced and the investment undertaken. There is ongoing recruitment in Templemore. It has been quite debilitating for the Garda that for quite a number of years no new recruits have come into the system. As well as learning, gardaí need practical experience on the ground. The Garda has also lost older members through retirement and natural wastage. We have a gap and a difficulty in the Garda Síochána which is now being addressed with 550 people recruited between 2014 and 2015, with provision in the budget for a further 600 gardaí. I also welcome the provision of new Garda vehicles between the start of this year and the recent budget announcement, which will mean approximately 600 additional vehicles. The recent budget announced an investment of €5.3 million, which will bring the total invested in Garda vehicles since 2012 to €34 million.
Rural crime is a very sensitive issue because when it happens it is very severe and has a very deep impact on the people affected. It is causing a lot of fear. I would like to think many of our plans will be about empowering people and helping them to fight back in conjunction with the Garda. I am not speaking about vigilantism, but there comes a time when one gets sickened when one sees these guys going into court after tormenting and breaking into somebody's house and they have no shame whatsoever. We have to draw a line. I am delighted to see investment in the Garda text alert scheme because it is particularly helpful in rural areas. For a few hundred euro people in many communities around the country can look out for each other. Not only this, but they can connect with the Garda. Intelligence is passed around and it is a very good system. It is a very sound investment and I welcome the allocation of €397,000 for 2016.
A particular issue I have raised with the Minister is the provision of CCTV. There has been much talk about the closure of rural Garda stations, and without a doubt there was nothing much happening in them beyond the building itself and this is a fact. However, we need to help the Garda by providing more tools for rural policing. Rural CCTV through the main streets of towns and villages is critical. This is something in which the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, takes a particular interest in her portfolio. The amount of crime solved and how gardaí are assisted by CCTV is remarkable. Believe it or not, it is only in the past three years that my town, which is the largest in County Mayo, got CCTV on the back of RAPID funding from the Government. There needs to be co-operation between the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, to ensure this is a feature and not ad hoc. Previous schemes which rolled out CCTV were not extended throughout the country and it was a case of whoever got in first. This must be done to give people hope that crimes can be solved and these criminals who are going around the country can be captured and put in their place, which is behind bars. It also requires investment in IT systems and general support for the Garda Síochána, who we know are out there at the coalface upholding law and order and keeping us all safe. I pay tribute to them all, particularly in light of the loss recently of Garda Tony Golden who was from my hometown.
Deputy Martin Ferris sends his apologies. I am afraid we will not have his dulcet tones this afternoon as he had to head away.
We have you.
We have me. I am fortunate to live in a beautiful area in north Leitrim and to represent the beautiful constituency of Sligo-Leitrim North, which is mainly rural apart from Sligo town. Until ten or 15 years ago, in the wee town where I live almost every door was open and people could walk out and walk into a neighbour's house, sit down and have a cup of tea. Often, when people left their houses at night they would leave their doors open. It was marvellous. It was a lovely way to live. There was a certainty about life in rural Ireland until approximately 15 years ago. There was a sense of community and togetherness and several factors went into this. We had a rural economy for starters with small businesses in towns. People got by and were able to trade. They were able to keep the shops, post offices and pubs going. If people were lucky enough they might have a wee restaurant in the town as well. It was a lovely place to live. Our economy went south and the services in the towns and villages followed. I do not know which caused which; if the economy goes south it hits businesses and if businesses are hit it hits the economy. These two things happened over a very short timescale of approximately ten years.
Rural Ireland is now a colder place to live. From ten years ago when people could walk into a neighbour's house without knocking and put on the kettle for a cup of tea, we now have groups like Macra na Feirme embarking on campaigns such as know your neighbour day. Know your neighbour day in rural Ireland would have been unheard of just a short time ago. People knew their neighbours. People knew who they should call to and who might need help. Know your neighbour day would have seemed so alien in the rural Ireland of ten, 20 or 30 years ago. Not all change is improvement and it certainly is not for rural Ireland. I have not mentioned gardaí yet.
Another factor which has very badly hit rural areas is the loss of young people. It is a hugely critical factor. The fact a young person is not driving into the parents' or granny's house in the evening is so destabilising. It has caused so much damage in rural Ireland. In rural Ireland we now have middle-aged and older people, like myself, or very young children.
A whole generation has gone to Australia or America and there has been internal migration as well. When a young lad or lassie leaves Manorhamilton for Dublin, he or she will travel up and down for a few weekends but such people eventually play their football and hurling in Dublin and will be lost to the rural area of north Leitrim. That damages the sense of togetherness and certainty in rural areas.
We are killing rural areas through policy and neglect. I understand it is difficult to have jobs at every crossroads but the centralisation of jobs in the major urban centres must be accompanied by a policy ensuring that appropriate businesses will be supported, with positive discrimination for appropriate businesses in rural towns. I am not saying that every rural town should have a big Apple facility, with thousands of people working in it. However, if the grant assistance and tax concessions go to the major urban centres, it will kill the small towns in rural Ireland. We need to proof every policy, and not just industrial issues, for the impact, good or bad, on rural areas.
It is one thing to have post offices, shops and pubs closing, or only opening for a few hours per night because the owners cannot afford to stay open during the day, but the closure of the rural Garda stations was the final straw for some rural areas. The Garda station and its gardaí were more important than just being first responders in the event of a crime, although that is a very important role. They acted as a deterrent. People knew of a Garda station in an area, with the chance of a Garda car going by a house or keeping an eye out. For example, a garda might know that poor old Johnny down the road is vulnerable and keep an eye on him. That sense of deterrence is no longer there in rural communities. People had the sense that as long as the Garda station was there with gardaí in it, their interests were being watched over. It lent a sense of security and that somebody was protecting the people.
I know community organisations use text alert and have people visiting homes, meaning they can do a certain amount of excellent work. Nevertheless, communities were used to having a Garda presence in a station, so there is a major sense of loss. It does not take Einstein to figure out that as austerity increased, crimes such as theft and burglary also increased. If the heat is on in places like Dublin or Cork, thieves and burglars will head down the motorway and go to more vulnerable areas. I dare say that some burglars are looking at places where Garda stations are closing, and I would love to see some statistical analysis in that regard to determine if there has been an increase in burglary rates in the vicinity of closed Garda stations. I would be surprised if that was not the case. There was not a major saving to the Exchequer in closing the Garda stations.
We have seen small savings for the Exchequer and an increase in opportunities for criminal activity, which in turn has increased fear and uncertainty while destroying the sense of comfort that vulnerable people had, particularly in rural areas. It was too high a cost to pay for a small Exchequer saving. As always under austerity, it is the poor, lonely, isolated and vulnerable who are hurt most. We welcome this Bill but it does not begin to address the root cause of the levels of criminal activity and negative consequences of austerity.
My own beautiful constituency has suffered its own share of crime due to the closure of Garda stations. Today or yesterday, I read in the newspaper how a pub and shop business in a lovely place called Dromore West - it is a quiet and peaceful village - suffered a break-in, with a substantial amount of cash and cigarettes stolen. The nearest Garda station is now 30 miles away, and one would have lots of cigarettes and money taken from a place by the time a squad car would get there if the station is 30 miles away.
Is it any wonder that many older, vulnerable people living on their own are now going to bed with loaded shotguns? It is awful to see that and it should not happen in this country. We spent parts of the past two days here with the Government parties and Fianna Fáil trying to score cheap political points arising from the savage murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe and others. Instead of debating bail laws, custody and sentencing, examining ways to better protect gardaí and the community or figuring out changes to make this country and its communities better for every vulnerable citizen and garda, we got jives, jeers, lies and politically inspired points scoring. That is no way to run a business or a country.
I would like this Bill to be seen as part of a process, with an urgent examination of the entire block of legislation that affects the security and comfort of people in this country. That would make a difference. Within five years, older, vulnerable people living on their own could then go to bed at night and have a sound sleep without having to bring a loaded shotgun with them.
The next speaking slot is shared by Deputies Seán Kenny and Noel Harrington, who have ten minutes each.
I welcome this Bill, which will toughen the criminal law in relation to burglars. Burglary is a crime which has always caused a particular anxiety in society. To be a victim of a burglary, to realise that an individual has broken into one's home, intruded on one's belongings and stolen items of value is an awful experience. I have had personal experience of having several bicycles stolen over the years. This may appear minor in comparison with other crimes, but this type of crime is unfortunately on the increase as a growing number of people have taken up cycling for healthy exercise or as a means of commuting. Tougher action needs to be taken against bicycle thieves, who are the modern equivalent of the horse thieves of the past. I also wish to refer to the trauma suffered by the Corcoran family in Killenaule, County Tipperary, including their three children, during an aggravated burglary of their home at night two years ago which shocked the entire nation. I hope the Bill will go some way towards preventing a similar catastrophe in the future.
This Bill is targeted at those repeat burglars who have previous convictions or who are charged with multiple offences of residential burglary. Figures from the Garda Síochána analysis service indicate that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of burglars. It is obvious, therefore, that a great many burglaries are committed by serial offenders. Targeting this cohort of repeat offenders has the potential to reduce significantly the number of burglaries.
As a member of the Oireachtas justice committee, I am pleased this legislation has resulted from a review of the criminal justice system’s response to the problem of burglaries, which was initiated by the Minister earlier this year, and I commend her on doing that. As part of the review, the Minister convened and chaired a high-level meeting on the problem of burglaries, which was attended by the Garda Commissioner and representatives of the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service. The review highlighted that a significant number of burglaries are committed by a small number of offenders and targeting these prolific offenders has the potential to reduce significantly the harm being caused.
The new legislation will require the District Court to provide for consecutive jail sentences where a burglar is being sentenced for multiple offences and it will allow courts to refuse bail for offenders who have a previous conviction for domestic burglary coupled with two or more pending charges. Constitutionally, the legislation highlights the importance of the home as recognised by Article 40.5 of the Constitution which states, "The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law.” This legislation is an endorsement of the principle that a person’s home is his or her castle.
Considering the legislation in more detail, it requires, where a court decides to impose custodial sentences for multiple burglary offences committed within a 12-month window, that the court impose such sentences consecutively and not concurrently as is done frequently in Irish criminal law. This is in response to the fact that, in many cases, relatively short sentences are imposed when multiple burglary offences are taken into account. Section 2 will amend the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. It provides for the problem of concurrent sentences being handed down for multiple burglaries on the basis that where an adult is being sentenced to imprisonment for a domestic burglary and was convicted of another domestic burglary committed in the five years before the offence for which he or she is currently being sentenced, and was sentenced to imprisonment for another domestic burglary committed in the period starting six months before and ending six months after the burglary offence for which he or she is now being sentenced, any sentence of imprisonment the court chooses to impose for the offence for which he or she is currently being sentenced must be consecutive to any sentence of imprisonment imposed for those prior domestic burglary offences.
The Bill provides that for the purposes of applications for bail, previous convictions for domestic burglary coupled with pending charges or recent convictions shall be considered as evidence that an accused person is likely to commit further domestic burglaries. This is in response to the fact that prolific offenders are repeatedly granted bail even when charged with a series of burglaries. It is important to point out here that a decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the court, which is, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of its judicial functions. This means that while the Legislature can define what is permissible in terms of sentencing in legislation, the Legislature is not able to tell a court what it can or cannot do in its day-to-day function. Section 2 of the Bail Act 1997 permits the courts to refuse bail to a person charged with a serious offence where refusal of bail is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. This legislation enhances that piece of law in the context of burglary offences, which are considered serious offences for the purposes of the Bail Act. I commend the Bill to the House.
Deputies Harrington and Spring are sharing the remaining time. There are 20 minutes in this Government slot and we have to finish at 4.42 p.m.
I welcome the opportunity to speak this evening on the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015. In doing so, I recognise that our criminal justice system is built on principles such as deterrence and punishment and the idea that people are deemed innocent until proven guilty. That is why we have bail provisions in the first place. This Bill makes two basic provisions, namely, that in granting bail in a domestic burglary case, the existence of certain circumstances must be considered as evidence that a person will commit subsequent burglaries and that prison sentences must run consecutively with sentences imposed for prior domestic burglary offences in certain circumstances. I would also submit a third provision, that where a person who is charged with a domestic burglary and had previously been convicted of a domestic burglary is granted bail, he or she would be electronically tagged.
The provisions of this Bill, along with other Acts and Bills we have passed in the past few months, will mean more people will serve greater prison time and more resources will be used. However, I do not believe, for example, that prisons are the appropriate place for people who do not pay court-imposed fines. If a judge initially felt that a fine was the appropriate penalty, he or she would not have imposed anything else. It is simply unreasonable and abhorrent that those who are hit with fines eventually find themselves in prison. I fully support the legislation providing for attachment orders to wages and, if necessary, to social protection payments, as a sufficient deterrent in these situations. In the recent debate on rural crime and crime in general, a few facts have been lost. Ireland, by international standards, is a very safe place to live, work and visit. Rural Ireland, by national and international standards, is one of the safest places in the world in which to live, work and visit. That is not to undermine the great fear that exists in rural Ireland. This fear is matched by an irrational appetite in some quarters for unnecessary scaremongering. To quote Shakespeare's Macbeth, "Present fears. Are less than horrible imaginings". Some people in the countryside are paralysed, not by crime, but by the fear of crime, which is, in many cases, greater than it would be if they were ever exposed to a crime.
The home enjoys a very special constitutional status, but the problem here is that home burglaries are treated in the exact same way as other thefts, despite the fact that they are among the most traumatic events a person can experience. It is not to equate or compare crimes. If a person's home is burgled, he or she does not really care about the penalties, the debate or the palaver about other crimes. That is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can have and it should be dealt with appropriately. A domestic burglary should be dealt with differently from other thefts, particularly thefts from commercial premises, or other petty crime.
We have heard in recent weeks a lot of scaremongering, pointing out the obvious, and facts and figures, but very few solutions. There has been very little debate on what has been done. New gardaí are being recruited, Templemore is almost at capacity and new vehicles are being introduced. These and other initiatives which, to my knowledge, have not been mentioned, will be hugely effective in combatting rural crime.
These are simple and efficient methods and include, for example, the community alert system. I particularly compliment the crime prevention officers of An Garda Síochána in my area and pay special tribute to Sergeant Ian O'Callaghan of the west Cork division who set up a Beara business watch where any suspicious activity is immediately circulated by text alert to businesses and residences, not to engage in vigilantism but merely to be informed. If people see suspicious activity, the gardaí are the appropriate people to deal with it, if they are aware of it.
A number of American police forces and police in Sheffield in the United Kingdom have been trying a new method of predicting crime by recording details of crime, collating this information and detecting patterns to allocate resources more efficiently to combat possible future events. It sounds out of this world but it works. These pilot projects have had significant results. Will the Minister and her officials communicate this to the Garda to see whether it could replicate this initiative?
Everyone carries a mobile phone or a smart phone and most of us can install software. For example, when one's phone is stolen, no matter what is done with it, one can find it. However, we have not yet figured this out for cars. I have tabled it as a Topical Issue when I will speak about it in more detail but I want to make one point. In regard to rural crime, I do not know of any situation where criminals go to Tipperary, Leitrim, Wexford or Kerry in their own cars. Typically, they travel in stolen cars. We have simple technology to detect stolen or lost phones but we cannot deter potential car thieves from stealing cars. Will the Minister and the Department of Justice and Equality engage with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to immediately begin to roll out an initiative where cars can have a hardware device installed in them to inhibit the practice of stealing them? Cars are stolen for two reasons - for the value of the car and to commit crime. If we cut off that essential part of the crime chain, we will have done something significant to combat crime not only in the towns and cities but, more important, in rural areas. That, together with effective CCTV investment, will deal a strong blow against the criminals who roam the countryside.
There are things we can do. I suggest to those who shout the loudest from podiums that rural Ireland is a dangerous place that they reflect on the damage they are doing and on the fear they are generating and start to reflect instead on the simple solutions that they, if they are as committed or as expert as they say, could bring to the table. I am sure we can all work in partnership to deal with this issue and ensure rural Ireland continues to be the safest place in the world to live.
I thank Deputies Seán Kenny and Harrington for sharing time with me. I have two purposes in speak on this Bill. The first relates to the effect of burglaries of domestic dwellings on people and the fear it generates in the vicinity, which was eloquently spoken about by the previous speaker. The second purpose is to provide some solutions as to how we can deter criminals, who use the motorway network, from burglary, particularly of houses and businesses outside of the Dublin area.
I will speak on the latter first. I am of the opinion that big brother data are not something to be feared. I am okay if there is information out there about people, generated by State agencies for the purpose of detection of criminality, if they are, for the most part, law-abiding citizens who would like to see society developing in a safe and meaningful way. For example, there are cameras on the M50 and at the Red Cow roundabout, the purpose of which is to detect and log a licence plate numbers, which can also be detected at another junction on the road. They can estimate journey times. That collates into software for use in iPhones but it also collates into the expected journey times and the delays one hears broadcast on the radio. That information is currently not allowed to be provided to the Garda or to anybody in the justice system because it is only for use in traffic management. I would like to see a change in the law so we can use that information in the event we have to detect a car that has been stolen or, if we get to such a point, we can detect individuals because the cameras are of such high resolution that they can identify those driving the cars and they can have merit in a court case to be taken against the individual.
I would also like to see such use made of the Go Safe cameras. I have heard stories about how people did not want them outside their houses but now they say it would be wonderful if there was a Go Safe camera because it provides a form of security and provides back-up information, particularly in rural areas. That information could be collated. Ultimately, big data give information which provides the ability to detect and deter.
We all have mobile phones and most of us have them registered in our own names but, unfortunately, the pay-as-you-go system is there to be abused because one can purchase such a mobile phone without having to register one's name and address and those of us who receive nasty texts and everything that goes with that might think that is only a light form of abuse. However, no society should have to tolerate somebody burgling a house in which there are young children and, potentially, tying up the residents and abusing them. There is something a little amiss that burglars can be back out on bail or can do concurrent sentences.
I am not all for long sentences. I believe in correctional facilities but also in a tagging system. If a person is out on bail, it is not a big deal if he or she is tagged. One form of use for the tagging system would be that criminals could be placed under house arrest rather being fed, watered and looked after by the State to the tune of between €80,000 to €100,000 per annum. If somebody has committed a crime, the last thing he or she should be is a burden on everybody else in society. He or she should be tagged and kept in his or her own house and, ultimately, should be responsible and held accountable.
One of the previous Government speakers spoke about the lack of fear of going to jail, that it has become something of a holiday. One hears reports on radio programmes, such as Joe Duffy's programme, of people who will not pay a fine because they will be out of jail before the gardaí even complete the paperwork. That is a crazy system. I accept we do not have enough prison places but is there an ability for us to develop as a society? I have many aspirations in this regard. As a Government backbencher, I am not in the most influential of positions but if we do not have solutions and aspirations to try to develop a better society, we will not make progress towards that end. We need to look at how we want criminals and the victims of criminality to be treated but we also need to look at deterrents and why people become criminals and why people become victims of criminality.
There is talk that security systems for homes might be allowed under a grant scheme, particularly outside the built-up areas, such as cities, but there is also the capacity to stop rural crime through a collective, cohesive effort by communities. In terms of community alert, for example, local authorities need to have a role as do schools whereby people are brought in, made to understand how community alert works and allowed to have a sense of belonging to and ownership of an area so they can play a role in helping people have a better and safer society.
While I welcome some of the steps that are being taken, we have a long way to go and can resolve it using technology and a little goodwill from society.
Deputy Wallace has 20 minutes, to be shared with Deputies Maureen O’Sullivan and Catherine Murphy. Given that we must finish at 4:42 p.m., the Deputy has just over two minutes. It is the rule.
It is tough. I was looking forward to having all 20 minutes to myself.
Stay going, Deputy.
I will not get to cover much this evening. Out and about in Wexford at the weekends during the past few months, I have found one of the most talked-about issues is rural crime. One of the speakers said the issue was, to a great degree, more about the fear of crime than crime itself. However, in Wexford people would argue that crime happens a lot. Our statistics are frightening. Since 2008, crime figures have improved less in Wexford than in any other county. The second poorest performing area is Kilkenny and Carlow. The Garda Inspectorate’s report threw up many questions about the massaging of crime statistics. We are not sure if there is full reporting of crime in the area. It is frightening.
The closing of Garda stations has been a major factor for many people. While one can make up all the reasons in the world for this and say the alternative works better, the people do not feel it, and it does not work better. There is much to be said for having a Garda station in every decent-sized village. The Government has estimated that the closure of Garda stations has saved approximately €4,000 per year per station. It does not stack up. It is not worth it, given the fear and the level of crime that is resulting.
I must ask the Deputy to move the adjournment of the debate. I am sorry. The Deputy has 18 minutes left in the slot, and will have plenty of time to study during the week.
I do not need any time to study.