Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When the debate was adjourned last night, I was speaking about the importance of the dwelling, how it is sacrosanct and the impact on people of marauding gangs burgling dwellings. Article 40.5 of the Constitution states that "The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law”. This is very important. When people find their houses have been burgled and ransacked, the invasion of people's space is even more important than the theft of their valuables, and leaves a deeply distressful and traumatic feeling of despondency and helplessness. Although nobody should ever deprive people who have worked hard at building up their houses and putting various implements and items in them, as one couple said to me, one can replace the valuables or material items. However, one cannot easily get over the horrific feeling associated with the invasion of one's private space and dwelling house. The intangible fear remains.

The Bill amends two previous Acts, the Bail Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 by providing that where a person applies for bail in a domestic burglary case, the existence of certain circumstances must be considered as evidence that the person will commit a domestic burglary if released. The judge always retains discretion on whether bail should be granted, having considered all the evidence tendered. This is very important. The independence of the Judiciary from the Legislature and the Executive is constitutionally recognised, and I respect this. I have been appearing before judges for more than a quarter of a century and their independence, probity and integrity cannot be questioned. I have always admired them. They are ruggedly independent in administering justice and adhering to the oaths they took when they entered office. Even when a decision is given with which one disagrees, it is the nature of the process, and there is a right of appeal if one feels strongly enough. This is the essence of democracy. A judge listens carefully to all the evidence and is the essence of judicial independence, which I acknowledge and salute. The Judiciary has served us very well.

The Bill provides that where a person has been sentenced to a period in prison for domestic burglary, the sentence must run consecutively to a sentence of imprisonment imposed for prior domestic burglary offences in certain circumstances. Section 1 amends section 2 of the Bail Act 1997 regarding refusal of bail. I used to be very familiar with this. The Minister of State's officials are probably more familiar with it. It is focused on the new situation of considering a bail application from an adult charged with burglary or aggravated burglary offences under section 12 or section 13 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, which pertains to the dwelling. The Bill sets out various circumstances which may be admitted as evidence that a person is likely to commit a further domestic burglary.

Such horrific offences can wreak havoc on citizens, individuals, families and communities. People can feel so bereft. It is important we do not overstate this. The apprehension and fear can be spread and promulgated, and we do not want to reach this stage. They are despicable crimes and we have witnessed in recent months the Save our Community campaign and how people are registering the impact on them and how they feel. These are people getting up in the morning, reaching for a toolbox, working equipment, machine or tractor, and finding the means of earning their livelihoods has been removed. Such an attack breaches not only Article 40.5 of the Constitution, but is an attack on the personal rights of the citizen. This has been eloquently set out by the thousands who have attended Save our Community meetings. In my county, a farmer lost 100 head of stock. This is a very hard working young family in the Kilbeggan area who worked night and day to put together a herd of animals, and the next minute they found their means of earning a livelihood and everything was gone.

That is horrendous.

I am aware that the Minister has been eager to deal with this issue for a considerable period of time. She initiated a major review of how the criminal justice system was responding to what had become an epidemic of burglaries. One of the statistics that emerged from the review was that up to three quarters of property offences are committed by a quarter of offenders. It is clear that there is a cohort of persistent offenders in this area. That is a major problem that has to be tackled. Recidivism is another issue that emerged from an analysis of the data in the review. We do not want to put everyone into jail. There has to be rehabilitation and restorative orders etc. If people are repeat offenders, however, the only logical thing to do is to take them off the streets.

I appreciate that various strategies, such as Operation Fiacla and Operation Thor, have been employed by the Garda Síochána to deal with and target various groups who are continuing to plan burglaries, especially those who use their high-powered vehicles on our improved roadways and motorways. We must acknowledge that there have been significant successes. I appreciate that if there was a policeman or a policewoman at every corner of every street in Ireland, some burglaries would take place regardless. Nevertheless, the presence of gardaí on a continuous basis has a significant deterring effect.

There have been recent robberies in my area of Ballynacargy even though it has a Garda station with active gardaí who deal with the community on a daily basis. Elderly relatives of my late mother were robbed approximately two years ago even though their house is less than 1200 m from the Garda station and there were gardaí on active duty that night. It worries me that in many of these cases of burglary and theft, some local information appears to be provided to pinpoint the existence of elderly people who are living on their own. I meet many elderly people in Longford-Westmeath, which is a very rural constituency, through my constituency work. I would not know about the presence of such people if I was not doing this work, but these criminals seem to have some degree of inside information that is being provided locally to enable them to target the elderly. Those providing such information have to be rooted out as well.

Significant additional funding has been allocated for the purchase of new specialised vehicles, which are urgently required to support our gardaí who risk life and limb on a daily basis to keep us secure and safe. Gardaí deserve the best of equipment and technology to assist them in their duties and tasks, which are clearly not easy. There should be no limit on the expenditure that is required to enable the gardaí to achieve their objectives of deterring, preventing and responding to these horrendous offences. I suggest that the PULSE system should be available in all Garda stations. Members of the force who detect something while manning checkpoints should not have to drive long distances to the nearest Garda station where this facility is available. It should be available in local Garda stations. That it is not is a major failure which needs to be addressed.

I note that substantial financial commitments have been made in the Government's capital plan, which extends from 2016 to 2021. I am glad to see that Mullingar courthouse will get substantial refurbishment and modernisation at long last. The people of Mullingar deserve these additional facilities. It is something I have pursued and advocated for over a long period of time.

One of the most important things in rural Ireland is reassurance. People want to have a sense that they are not being left isolated. Rapid and co-ordinated responses are all fine and dandy, but there is no replacement for the garda on the beat picking up useful information from members of local communities who act as the eyes and ears of such communities and convey vital information to local gardaí. That is why the local garda who lives and plays football in the local area is a treasure. I grew up with such a person, who was a great motivator in terms of football and everything else. He got all the community together. However, the day came when gardaí stopped living in the local areas they serve. They moved out. There was always a Garda house provided to gardaí. We had all of this in rural Ireland when the population was not as big as it is now. We started to move away from things that were important and successful in terms of preventing and deterring crime. In this fashion, a store of important and useful information was assembled and used in the prevention, deterrence or detection of crime.

The recruitment and training of additional gardaí is vital. The reopening should now be permanent. I listened carefully to President Hollande of France in the aftermath of the horrific atrocities that were committed in Paris two weeks ago. Obviously, we were all shocked and traumatised. Our hearts and our empathy is with the French people at this time. President Hollande made a salient and important point about the need to provide vital additional resources in France to enable additional security personnel, intelligence officers, police officers and military personnel to be employed. He rightly said to the EU Commission that security was going to cost a great deal of additional money. He said that he was not too worried about EU caps in terms of GDP ratios and everything like that. He is right when he says that such things are of no use in these circumstances. I support him. We should take the same approach here.

I heard some of the comments that were made about the Fiscal Advisory Council this morning. That is all fine and dandy, but if everything was done as a book-keeping or accountancy exercise, we would never make any progress. It is essential that people are built into these decisions. It is important to remember that we have a social responsibility as well as an economic and accounting responsibility. Additional money might be needed in that context. The recruitment of 500 gardaí is wonderful, but between 200 and 250 gardaí are retiring. If they are spread across all the stations, there might be seven or eight in every county. We need approximately 1,000 gardaí to be additionally recruited every year. We want to get beyond the 14,000 level that is often mentioned. The important thing is to have gardaí on the beat. That is where we are. I think that is very important and I would support that.

A colleague of mine at the bar informed me of a robbery that took place one time in his own area. A home owner who had a small trade and business had his house burgled, with substantial items taken, on one of the few occasions when he left his house to go to a particular event. That shows again that there must be an inside track. People are worried and are trying to react to the best of their abilities. They are installing alarms, sensor lights and electronic gates. They are carefully noting the registration numbers of strange cars in their local areas. They are getting back to the old meitheal concept, not in terms of work but in terms of looking out for their neighbours. It is important to monitor strange activity and to note car numbers.

The community alert programme, the neighbourhood watch scheme and the various support schemes for the elderly see communities working actively together in co-operation with gardaí. We should acknowledge and appreciate the valuable input and great work of the community activists who initiate and supervise the operation of these schemes. The Garda text alert scheme also has a pivotal role to play.

I have received correspondence from the chairperson of a community alert scheme in County Westmeath that is doing a tremendous job in liaising with the Garda in a rural community that spans a significant geographical area in south Westmeath and has a membership of almost 600. The members were asked to contribute to the group's funding so that it could erect signage throughout the area and receive texts from the Garda Síochána on incidents that happen inside and outside the immediate community. The problem is that it costs money to get such texts. It recently cost the group in question €90 to get texts relating to an outside area. The members of the group have no problem paying for texts relating to internal matters in the community, but they feel the State should contribute to the remaining costs. Obviously, they will play their role from that perspective in ensuring people are aware and fully alert, and providing any help they can in the detection of culprits who might be at large and continuing to prey on people. The gardaí are aware of this but their hands appear to be tied. One could say in the context of the central role that community alert groups play in our communities, and the centrality of text alerts in that work, that there should be no cost to communities. That would allow them to send out more texts. I think the Minister should try to provide some finance in this area.

There are many things that can happen as a result of a burglary. I would like to mention some of the unseen consequences of a burglary in a house or a business premises. One might not think of the effect of such an incident on insurance. The question of indemnification arises after burglaries. People may well have to install new security systems, including CCTV. The system of loading that is used by insurance companies can lead to significant increases in premiums, that is if one is lucky enough to secure a quote at all. That is one issue.

As residents of rural Ireland - I live in the heart of rural Ireland on the border between two counties - we pay our taxes and expect as a minimum that our contribution to this country's progress will be recognised by the comfort of not having to live in fear or apprehension. That is all we want. This means that additional Garda resources have to be provided. People across the country are disgusted when they learn that someone who has perpetrated an awful crime upon a citizen, having been brought to court, subjected to due process and convicted, has been released from prison within a short period of time because of the shortage of prison accommodation. If additional prison accommodation is required, it should be built.

I am talking about serious crimes. We got rid of all that thing of putting people in jail for not paying fines or TV licences at their local post offices. That was nonsense. Nobody who has committed a serious crime should be back out on the street because of a lack of prison space. It is difficult for those who believe it is very important that respect for the law is inculcated across the country to see people getting out. Notwithstanding the advice of the Fiscal Advisory Council and other eminent bodies, I suggest that if we need to recruit an additional 1,000 gardaí to ensure the safety of our people, we should do so. It will take us a number of years to get back to the policing levels required.

I am aware that Fianna Fáil has proposed a Bill to deal with the installation of CCTV systems on approach roads and motorways in order to capture roving criminals in their souped-up and high speed vehicles.

At the ploughing championships the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, brought forward a pilot scheme, which is operational in Laois, using CCTV in conjunction with the local community. This is a big help and I have no doubt it would be very useful to install CCTV on the N4, the N6 and the N52 across County Westmeath and the entire west. If it requires legislative underpinning, let us proceed in that fashion as it would play an important role in the detection and prevention of criminal activity. Communities place a significant value on the role of CCTV. The bringing forward of the DNA database is also critical and is long awaited.

Somebody said in the debate that if there are no receivers, there will be no stealers. That is a truism. There have been significant increases in the populations of towns across the midlands, including in my constituency, and there should be a concomitant increase in the allocation of Garda resources but it often goes the other way, leaving people frustrated and flabbergasted. An article by Michael Carty, a retired chief superintendent of An Garda Síochána who also served as an overseas police adviser to the UN, advocates the implementation of a zero tolerance approach to crime and recommends that every offence be dealt with. This is based on the belief that if minor offences go unchallenged or unheeded by gardaí, they will develop into more serious crime. Sometimes small things lead to big things. When people disregard the law and are seen to get away with it, it dispirits people who are law abiding, who get up in the morning go to work, pay their taxes and ensure everything they have done is above reproach and in compliance with the law. This would be a new approach and would require additional resources but it is a worthwhile objective and should be factored into our criminal laws going forward.

This is a good start but it is only a start. In my area, Lismacaffrey and Rathowen have been subject to a number of burglaries recently, with machinery being taken out of farmyards. People believe that the allocation of additional gardaí is fundamental. We can dress up everything else, we can soup up rapid response cars, but it is critical for people to see a garda every day with whom they can build up trust. Whoever is in Government, additional resources will have to be provided to ensure additional Garda manpower is available throughout the country in urban and rural areas. We in rural Ireland feel that resources are inadequate at this point. Anybody who speaks to Garda personnel will hear the same sentiment.

I hope I am not tempting fate by saying that I have never been burgled but friends, members of my family and constituents of mine have been burgled and the common denominator is the sense of invasion. One normally thinks of one's home as one's sanctuary or refuge or a place of safety and comfort. When I listen to these people's stories I am constantly struck by how difficult it can be to regain a sense of security. Burglary is a violation of one's personal space and those who are burgled say they always have a sense of the intruder touching their personal possessions, which they find quite eerie. It can take quite some time before the person burgled can feel safe again.

In Dublin Central we have quite a number of community policing forum meetings where gardaí from the various stations give the crime statistics since the previous meeting. The stations are Store Street, Mountjoy, the Bridewell and Cabra and each will report on a number of burglaries. Sometimes they are up on the previous figure, sometimes they are down. At a meeting this week, the numbers were down and I would hope that Operation Thor is being successful in this regard. I acknowledge the work of the community gardaí. Their proactive contact, the advice they give and the circulars and leaflets they provide in their respective areas on how best to prevent burglaries are very welcome. Their availability is valuable and some stations have the text alert facility in order that people can let them know of suspicious activity or if houses or premises have been burgled in the area.

The pattern with burglaries is that there is no pattern. There is a wide variation and they can occur at any time. Those that occur during the night are particularly frightening, especially for older people. There have been examples of assault and violence. I was at a birthday party for a 102 year old man a couple of weeks ago who told me he had been burgled when he was in his 90s. He was living in senior citizen accommodation and, apart from the illegality of it, I find it completely immoral to target old folks' and senior citizens' residences deliberately because they know people in such places are vulnerable. There is a need in certain areas for better grants for people, especially those on low or limited income, to take precautions in the form of locks, chains, alarms CCTV, lights and panic buttons.

The Bill is about sentencing and reoffending by serial burglars but I will mention two other aspects. Those in possession of stolen goods are often young people, elderly people, people in addiction or people who are intimidated. There are others who knowingly buy stolen goods. PhoneWatch estimates that €48 million worth of property was taken from households in the past 12 months, which averages out at €1,870 in property from each household.

I acknowledge the work of the crime victims helpline for the emotional support and information they give and for the way they point victims of crime towards services they may need.

We have seen burglars in Dublin Central becoming quite sophisticated, acting as charity workers, workers from various companies, doing surveys or, as recently happened, posing as legitimate window repair workers who had permission to remove the window panels, which bypassed the alarms. Garda response and Garda resources are one aspect of the answer to burglaries and the Garda Síochána must be resourced to do the job. I listened to a report from the meeting in Trim this week and heard the frustration among gardaí over the fact that they are not resourced adequately but are still expected to do the job. There have been times when burglars had better technology than gardaí. Gardaí said that cuts to the force rather than the closure of stations had led to the increases in rural crime. The meeting also heard from victims of crime and people in communities who lived in constant fear because of their space being violated. One-person patrols are an issue. When dealing with young people there have to be two adults, but gardaí can go out to these situations on their own.

It is welcome that there are more recruits coming out of Templemore but not if they are simply filling the places of gardaí who have retired, because we need more. At the Cabra station, as well as having to look after the Cabra area, they have to provide gardaí to the President, to Áras an Uachtaráin, to Farmleigh and to the American ambassador's residence, all from a station which needs all the resources it has.

A question was asked about high-speed vehicles. Are the drivers of those vehicles trained to drive them?

Some elderly people in rural areas keep large sums of money in their homes and I think this comes from the lack of access to the local post office and banks due to closures. It may be that the closure of post offices and banks is having a more serious effect on rural crime than the closure of Garda stations. People would prefer to see gardaí on the streets. whether on foot or cycle patrol or in a car, rather than behind a desk.

We have discussed cash for gold and cars for cash and there were suggestions that these activities were contributing to crime. Do we know how much that may be happening? There is a need for a legal requirement to provide proof of ownership before selling on particular articles.

Article 40.4 of the Constitution speaks of the dwelling of every citizen being "inviolable" and "shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with the law." Statistics show that this provision is not respected, as indicated by the increase in the number of burglaries, both aggravated and non-aggravated, and offences involving possession of an article with intent to burgle. How can the Bill act as a deterrent? The statistics show that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of burglars, with re-offending rates among people in prison for burglary and related offences standing at almost 80%. The conclusion one must draw from these figures is that current procedures do not work and will not bring an end to burglaries. Concurrent sentences are not an effective approach. If I were a burglar facing a three-year sentence, I would be inclined to commit a few more burglaries on the basis that I would receive the same sentence for multiple burglaries.

Continuing to lock people up without intervention does not work, nor should people be kept in prison for long periods on remand. While bail should be denied in certain circumstances, specifically when the person seeking bail has been found guilty of repeated violent offences, the practice of holding prisoners on remand for two or three years before bringing them before the courts is a denial of prompt and due process.

I have a difficulty with mandatory sentencing. The different circumstances that apply to each crime or criminal should be taken into account. I referred, for example, to the issue of intimidation. While this problem is primarily associated with drug crime, it has also spilled into other areas of crime. In certain areas, especially Dublin Central, intimidation is a very serious problem for families and individuals.

Recent burglaries involving the use of violence were horrific crimes and some involved appalling assaults on individuals and families. These crimes led to the introduction of this legislation and hours of debate on the punishment of criminals. It is necessary to consider the profile of burglars and criminals. In saying this, I am not condoning or excusing criminal behaviour, particularly violence. However, we know that prisoners tend to have a particular profile. Most come from similar socio-economic backgrounds and lack educational attainment as a result of early school leaving, which causes literacy problems. We also know there is dysfunction in the majority of prisoners' families and addiction issues are common. Many also have a propensity of violence, which is often related to the inability of the individuals in question to express themselves. In addition, the majority of prisoners in Mountjoy Prison and Wheatfield Prison are from three postal areas. The Minister of State will be familiar with the revolving door system from his time working in this area. Why are we not debating the need to tackle the issues as part of a discussion on prevention? We do not do prevention well in any area, whether health, addiction or crime.

If we are serious about tackling crime in a positive manner, as opposed to through punitive measures alone, we must consider approaches that work, including restorative justice and community courts. Restorative justice, which involves supporting the victim in meeting the perpetrator, is powerful in many cases. Positive research evidence is available on the effectiveness of community-based responses to crime and anti-social behaviour. Those who participate in restorative practice have been shown to be up to 40% less likely to reoffend. In that regard, we should bear in mind the number of burglars who reoffend. Between 80% and 90% of victims who participated in restorative justice programmes reported satisfaction with the outcomes. Speaking to a conference some time ago, the then Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, noted that restorative justice encouraged the individual to take responsibility and supported a focus on solutions rather than blame. Restorative practice is not just the response to crime, but also a measure for preventing crime and giving people a greater sense of safety and belonging in their communities.

Community courts are also part of this process. In 2007, the National Crime Council chaired by Mr. Justice Michael Reilly, with the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Michael McDowell, issued a major report titled, Problem Solving Justice: The Case for Community Courts in Ireland. While the Government of the day responded positively to the report, the concept was abandoned when it fell. In January 2014, the Dublin City Business Association organised a seminar on community courts and made a presentation to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which was strongly in favour of community courts. The Secretary General of the Department and the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, were also positive about the concept. However, both men have since left their positions. The current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, appears to be in favour of community courts and seems to support the idea of establishing a pilot community court in Dublin. The North Inner City Community Policing Board, of which I am a member, covers an area with significant levels of crime that produces a significant proportion of the prison population. It also supports community courts. What is the current position in respect of community courts? By using restorative justice practices, these courts would make a difference.

I share the view of the Irish Penal Reform Trust that judges should adopt an individualised approach. This means taking into account the circumstances of the accused and the offences with which he or she has been charged to ensure sentencing is strictly necessary and proportionate. The Bill appears to encourage judges to deny bail on the basis of very loose terms such as the likelihood of a person re-offending if released on bail. Judges are human, which means they are not infallible and cannot predict the future. Decisions on bail must, therefore, be based on evidence.

The message from some previous speakers seemed to be along the lines that we should bring back the gallows. While I have full sympathy for victims of crime, if we want to prevent crime, we must consider the reasons people get involved in crime, especially young people, and ways in which they can get out of the cycle of crime. The Irish Penal Reform Trust will hold a major meeting tomorrow which will be attended by members of the Care After Prison programme, CAP, run by the Carmelite Community Centre on Aungier Street, which works with prisoners when they leave prisons. The programme does amazing work and will demonstrate tomorrow that it is possible to rehabilitate former prisoners and help them to become useful members of society again.

I would love to live in a crime-free environment. I recall an era when people could leave their doors open or their keys in the door. The recent proliferation of gated communities is, therefore, a sad reflection on society. I encourage the Minister to move towards community courts, restorative justice practices and prevention.

I am pleased to speak on this important Bill in light of the recent discussion on crime in rural and urban areas. The legislation is designed to keep repeat burglars off the streets and improve the safety of communities by providing for the refusal of bail and tougher sentencing for repeat home burglars. Gardaí have expressed much frustration over the years about the revolving door attitude that has prevented crime from being addressed. The two new measures on bail and sentencing should go some way towards eliminating crime in our communities.

We have heard a great deal about crime in recent weeks and months. It was interesting to note that statistics published in recent weeks showed that crime levels are higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Without seeking to diminish the importance of crime, we must provide balance in this debate and avoid painting a picture of rural areas as a kind of wild west of old where people are no longer safe. Crime has always occurred in rural and urban areas and it is important not to get carried away when discussing the issue.

Unfortunately, no one is immune from crime and all of us will know someone who has been a victim of crimes such as burglary. We must step up a level in tackling the problem. Technology has changed and criminals have become more literate, as it were, in information technology. They also have access to faster, more powerful vehicles, which creates a different environment for the Garda when tackling crime. For this reason, a new approach is required.

In recent years, we have heard a great deal about the closure of Garda stations, especially in rural areas. Bricks and mortar are no good for tackling crime. We need a Garda presence on the ground.

There is no point in someone ringing a Garda station at 2 a.m. having been a victim of crime if no one is there. That will not help the person to sort out the issue. Unfortunately, in most places where there is a rural Garda station, it may only be open for one or two hours every week or every fortnight. That is of no value whatsoever. The real need is for a greater presence on the ground which is to say more gardaí on the ground as we had 20 or 30 years ago. We need a different approach.

We have seen the reopening of Templemore. I agree with Deputy Willie Penrose who spoke earlier about Templemore. Closing it was a very retrograde step as we are now playing catch up and it will take a while to get back to the numbers we had. It is important to keep reinvesting in gardaí because we need more of them on the ground. In the past, the garda was part of his community. He lived in the community and got involved in the GAA club, soccer club or community association. Now, he may come 15 or 20 miles from his home as part of a job rather than being part of the community. The old joke in times gone by was that if a garda was moved to some far-flung place, it was as penance for something he may or may not have done. He would have to move lock, stock and barrel whereas now he simply comes to do his job and does not get involved in the community as much as a garda did previously. That is a disadvantage. Being involved in the community, be it through the GAA or soccer club, he was able to hear exactly what was going on. He could go to the local pub for a drink with colleagues or friends and hear what was going on. That acted as a deterrent. A garda could build up a stockpile of important information in that way.

Another important matter has been the development in my area and many others of Muintir na Tíre, the community text alert system, which has been very effective and should not be underestimated. It is something we could develop more. I agree with Deputy Penrose again that finance needs to go to this area if at all possible from the national pot. My county, Carlow, is a relatively small one and it has 32 different community text alert areas. That is very important. They are all up and running. Not only does it create a deterrent to criminals, it binds communities together. During the Celtic tiger years, people would get up for work in the morning when it was dark and not come home until it was dark in the evening. Generally speaking, they did not know their neighbours. Now, they are more concerned about that. They are getting involved in their communities and watching out for one another, which did not happen in the so-called Celtic tiger years. We need to move to the next stage with the community alert system. Community alert areas must be joined up so that neighbouring parishes or communities can communicate with each other to let them know if an issue is happening in their area. The community alert system must also connect adjoining counties because we are dealing with very mobile criminal groups who can travel across several counties in one night or day. It is, therefore, important to be able to contact one another all the time.

The new chief superintendent in the Carlow-Kilkenny division has introduced Operation Storm, which has been very effective. He gets all the resources of the division in certain areas every so often so that there is a large presence of gardaí in different towns in the community on a regular basis. It acts as a deterrent and is very welcome. Operation Storm is very effective, but it needs to move on to the next level. We need to see more investment in CCTV cameras on motorways and in towns. It can be very helpful in the ongoing battle against criminals that gardaí know but must be able to catch in the act. That is something we should consider going forward.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, to the House and I welcome the publication of the Bill. It is an important one with the potential to combat the scourge of burglary. As the courts have said, burglary is a serious act of aggression and attack on the personal rights of the citizen. It is a traumatic event for a person to endure and it often has repercussions and consequences long after the crime has been committed. As a society we need to ask questions of our communities, political system, education system, economic system and the behaviour of people towards one another, all of which are factors in the persistence of burglary. Certainly, there have been some horrific cases in the not-too-distant past. Looking at the crime statistics over the last dozen years for my own county of Galway, it is clear that the incidence of burglary has fluctuated around the 1,000 per year mark. It is a similar picture for the western region which, for the purpose of compiling statistics on crime, comprises Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Longford and Clare. Last month, An Garda Síochána in Galway noted that the 2015 rate of burglaries is down 7% on the 2014 rate. One burglary is one too many, but the issue is unfortunately being used to stoke fears and to fill column inches, web pages and current affairs programmes. While burglaries are a serious problem which we must tackle, the picture of complete lawlessness that some are working hard to create is not an accurate one.

Crime is being tackled through a mix of resources and legislative changes. By the end of 2015, the Government will have spent over €34 million since 2012 on Garda vehicles. In 2015 alone, the investment has brought 640 new Garda vehicles to communities across the country. Funding has also been provided for new specialised vehicles to support front-line gardaí responding to crimes, including burglaries by highly mobile gangs. The reopening of Templemore Garda College by the Minister for Justice and Equality, the recruitment of 550 new gardaí in 2014 and the recruitment of 600 more as highlighted in budget 2016 are welcome. An additional allocation of €5 million has been made for the anti-crime and burglary plan, Operation Thor. The plan involves the use of high-powered vehicles by regional armed-response units, increased use of checkpoints and additional patrols with the particular aim of combating highly mobile gangs using motorways and national roads for burglaries. It also includes crime awareness and prevention and enhanced support for victims. On top of this welcome investment are legislative changes which are a necessary component of tackling burglaries. Issues such as bail, the type and length of custodial sentences and legal aid are regularly raised by constituents. They are complex issues which require a thorough examination because of the competing rights of the different people concerned. Legal aid is important for the fair and transparent administration of justice, which is not to say that there are not abuses of the system. Rather, it is a recognition that the right to legal representation is a crucial one. However, I note that it aggrieves many that there are multiple repeat offenders who get free legal aid on every occasion. Whether there needs to be a system whereby some moneys can be taken from social welfare for repeat offenders might be something to consider. The issue of bail is also raised regularly but it is associated with the fundamental element of our criminal justice system which is the presumption of innocence. I welcome the publication of the general scheme of the new bail Bill which will consolidate the law around bail.

It is clear that changes to this area are being considered carefully and thoroughly. In this respect, I am encouraged that the Minister initiated a review of the criminal justice system's response to the problem of domestic burglaries. The Bill seeks to address the two problems identified. The first is the problem of repeat offenders. Garda statistics show that three quarters of burglaries are being committed by one quarter of burglars. The same few are causing trauma for the householders affected by this category of crime. Section 1 of the Bill will address this by ensuring that previous relevant offences are taken into account and that bail should be refused in cases of repeat and serial offenders. The review identified the problem of relatively short custodial sentences and the running of sentences concurrently. As a result and to act as a greater deterrent, section 2 inserts a new section 54A into the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. Under defined conditions, persons committing burglary offences will be given consecutive custodial sentences.

The home is the place where one should feel most safe and secure. This ideal is enshrined in our Constitution and held dearly. I am confident that the Bill and the extra resources for gardaí which I have highlighted will reinforce this ideal and support it by reducing the number of burglaries in Galway and other areas nationally. I welcome the publication of the Bill.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on the reforming nature of the work she has done since she was appointed to office. She has taken on the problems affecting both the Department and the Garda Síochána and shown real leadership in tackling the criminals who plague this country.

This Bill is just another example of how, under her stewardship, the Government is cracking down hard on criminals.

The Bill is targeted at repeat burglars who have multiple previous convictions and have been charged with multiple offences of residential burglary. It has two clear elements. First, it will strengthen the provisions for refusing bail in respect of future offences and, second, it will provide for tougher sentencing for repeat home burglars. Criminals need to know that, from now on, there will be tougher sentences and sanctions for this type of crime. There needs to be a deterrent to stop them from appearing before the courts every few months. As the system stands, it is acting like a merry-go-round because it does not sanction criminals hard enough to stop them from repeatedly offending.

Thankfully, neither my family nor I have ever been the victim of a residential robbery. However, I am sure that the House agrees that it is a highly damaging crime. In many instances, the victims are also physically assaulted by the criminals involved. I know a large number of families, widows, widowers, business people and elderly persons in my constituency of Sligo-North Leitrim who have been burgled by criminals, causing them and the areas under threat shock and horror. Too often, there is an even greater shock for the victims when these repeat robbers and scourges to society appear before the criminal justice system only to be handed concurrent sentences or sentences so lenient that one wonders whether there is any point in bringing criminal proceedings in the first place. This leniency needs to stop and we need to start getting tougher with such criminals. The Bill, when enacted, will be the starting point for this to occur.

From speaking to gardaí on the ground in Sligo and Leitrim, this type of result clearly has a demoralising effect on them. Gardaí can spend many months working hard on a case to bring criminals to justice only to see them laughing at them in the courtroom as the sentence is handed down. Seeing these criminals walking into our courts only to be handed such sentences week in, week out does not promote the drive that is necessary for gardaí to put serious effort into their work.

The Bill is just one component in Fine Gael and Labour's plan to tackle criminals and make crime pay. Work is progressing on updating the Garda's operational response to burglaries. For example, €700,000 for new specialised vehicles to support gardaí in responding to current and emerging crime threats, including burglaries committed by highly mobile gangs, was recently announced to tackle the gangs hitting rural Ireland. This is on top of the €29 million that the Government has invested in new Garda vehicles since 2012, with 370 new vehicles coming on stream since the start of this year. This investment clearly supports the Garda in being mobile, responsive and visible in communities, both urban and rural, and is critical in supporting the work of the traffic corps and national units.

Another aspect of the fight against burglaries and crime generally will be aided greatly by the Government's decision to recruit new gardaí. In September 2014, the Government opened the Garda college in Templemore for new recruits for the first time since 2009.

I thank the Deputy, but we are squeezed for time and, unfortunately, I must bring his remarks to a conclusion.

I will conclude. The Minister for Justice and Equality recently announced a large new capital investment budget which will see the refurbishment and construction of new Garda stations. When enacted, the Bill will be just one more step in the Government's plan to tackle repeat offenders and put them behind bars for longer. I call on all sides of the House to support it and let the courts get tougher on repeat burglars.

I could speak for the day on this matter, but I will try to put as many of the relevant points forward as possible in three minutes.

I welcome the Bill, the provisions of which I hope will give an advantage to the Garda and the justice system. We need to put the same level of fear into criminals that they are putting into people. I am not sure whether it can be replicated lawfully but these scumbags need to be hammered by every means that the State can employ. What they are doing to ordinary, decent folk around the country is unacceptable. We must show no tolerance for such behaviour, in particular among repeat offenders. Everyone makes mistakes, but these people make mistake after mistake. There can be no leeway for them. They need to be locked up. I would throw away the key. The fear that I have encountered among people in rural parts of my constituency who have been victimised is shameful. We must take the strongest possible line.

I wish to address isolated rural communities. I welcome the Fianna Fáil Bill on motorways that was published last week, but a small bit of common sense would see us offering more protection to people living in isolated communities through the placing of cameras at strategic locations. I will provide an example from my constituency. There are only two access points onto the Dingle Peninsula, with 13,000 or 14,000 people living beyond them. One must either cross the bridge at Boolteens or take the N86 at Derrymore or Curraheen. There is no other vehicular access. Why not have cameras at those two points? A number of people on Valentia Island were the victims of burglary in recent times. One needs to cross the bridge to get onto the island. That is, unless one takes a boat, but I do not know many criminals who are making high-speed escapes by boat. Why not have a camera on the bridge? If one wants to get to most parts of the Iveragh Peninsula, one must cross the River Laune. We need cameras at its bridging points. If one wants to get from south Kerry to north Kerry or vice versa, one must cross the River Maine. There are only a handful of bridging points, so let us have cameras there. They will not prevent crime, but they will help as deterrents.

The little parish that I come from is squeezed between the Slieve Mish Mountains and Castlemaine Harbour, making it a long, linear parish. A single main road runs through it with little byroads branching off of it, each of which is lined by 20 or 30 houses. One must pass a single point between the main road and the byroad to access them. For a very small cost, a little camera placed at the bottom or top of each byroad would provide a great deal of security and a sense of safety to the people living there. People might claim that this is big brother territory, but it is not. It is only using modern technology cleverly to give us the best possible chance of targeting the scumbags to whom I referred.

We must keep recruiting gardaí. Templemore was closed but has since re-opened. It will take a long time for the cycle that came about after the embargo on recruitment to be reversed. This is not an issue of Garda stations but of gardaí who are visible, mobile, effective and resourced. We need to get gardaí into our communities, give people a sense of security and ensure a deterrence against the perpetrators of crime.

I welcome that my Ramming of Garda Vehicles Bill 2015, which has been selected to be read on Second Stage, will be debated in the House on 11 December. We must make ramming Garda vehicles a specific crime as it is now almost second nature for criminals when being pursued. They do not think twice about doing it and injuring the vehicle's occupants or worse. We need to clamp down hard on this issue. I look forward to contributions from Members from all sides of the House on that Bill when it is debated on 11 December.

Like others, I welcome this Bill, but I wonder about its impact in terms of the custodial sentences that might be granted. Have we the places to accommodate all the extra individuals who might be sent to prison? I also question the extent to which the Garda can investigate every burglary.

It will require extra resources, which must include not only cars but also manpower and the ability to deal with under-age burglars. I disagree with some of the comments made earlier to the effect that this thinking is driven by media comments that burglary is widespread throughout the country. There are indeed burglaries throughout the country. In fact, they are horrendous in rural areas. The number of people in isolated areas who live in fear and have a gun or some other weapon beside their bed or elsewhere in their house when the nights get long has grown immensely. They will say this. People openly admit they will defend their homes and belongings at all costs.

There are burglaries that are not reported. Farm machinery, diesel and home heating oil are being stolen but these crimes go unnoticed because they are not reported to the Garda, although they are reported generally to us or on local radio. When they are reported to the Garda, it is very difficult to find the culprit. Since that is the reality, investment is required in technology, gardaí and the means of pursuing the hard-nosed criminals involved in burglary as a business.

I can point to an industrial estate in Kilkenny that is burgled regularly. Substantial businesses are under threat because those who are involved in the criminal activity, and who are known, leave little or no trace behind them. It is therefore hard to tie them down and convict them. It is also a fact that they are using young children to carry out burglaries. At times, they can be untouched by the law. CCTV footage that pinpoints individuals at particular locations may not be good enough to be presented in court, yet everyone knows what is going on.

It is a crime to extract from a business a sum of money every week for protection. Businesses have to go to such lengths as paying criminals to protect their properties. The growth of activity in this area is outrageous. It is outrageous that commercial operators are subjected to that sort of Mafia control of their business and locality without the Garda being able to intervene substantially to track down the criminals.

I have witnessed under-age youths being used for the purpose of criminality. The Garda and local community know this, yet no action is taken because the amount of evidence required is simply not available. However, local knowledge and the experience of businesses and households in the area in question prove my point. We have to find a way to tilt the balance of justice in favour of the person whose property is broken into and the families against whom the criminals are acting.

With bullying, intimidation and criminality comes fear. Householders are living in fear, as are the businesspeople who are paying protection money. The latter know it is easier to pay the protection money than to rely on the Garda. I fully support the efforts of the Garda and am behind it in every way I can, but its hands are tied. As legislators we need to untie its hands. We need to enable it to take on the powerful criminals and ensure they are put out of business. In most cases, the burglars and thieves to whom I refer start in some way with petty theft. They start in some way on the first rung of the ladder. They are known at that stage but they are not plucked from their community and sent to prison or redirected, through guidance and counselling, to a more productive and active role in society. That is where the breakdown is. If we do not correct the small things, the bigger things will continue to feature. Right now, burglary and criminal activity are out of control in rural areas to the extent that criminals now feel they can pick up a gun or other weapon and attack a person in his or her own home. They feel they can hold a man or woman overnight while taking control of his or her family home or business with the aim of walking away with the takings and damaging him or her in some way. I know from experience that when this happens to one, one never looks at that crime in the same way again. One constantly lives in fear and overreacts by installing in one's house or business extensive technology to ensure everything is recorded. Nowadays, however, although criminal activity may be recorded, the police cannot rely on the recording because the criminals are too smart and too far ahead of the gardaí who are trying to detect the crime.

All support should be given to the gardaí but we have to find some method of engaging with the burglars and other criminals at a very early stage to put them out of business. Where people who live in fear are willing to come forward and speak about it, they should be given protection. I would go so far as to say that if they speak against a known burglar or criminal publicly, they should be afforded the protection of the Garda to ensure they are safe in their homes and businesses. As long as we stand by and do not introduce an effective mechanism or control of this kind, we are allowing the criminals to prosper. That does not bode well for rural areas or communities generally.

Rural areas are undergoing serious difficulties with burglaries at present. It is a fact that the motorways have made the countryside more accessible. It is a fact that organised gangs are travelling from Dublin and identifying properties by marking them in a particular way. The Garda recognises this. The activities of the individuals who own the properties, be they commercial or residential, are known to the gangs. When the criminals come to visit, they already have a plan of engagement and know exactly how they will vandalise the property or rob the household, machinery or commercial outlet and take away the proceeds. They use high-speed cars and carry out burglaries regularly. They are organised and are known to the Garda. If they are known and if what we are hearing in rural areas and seeing on television is true, or even half true, it is demanded of this House to react in a far more effective way than simply passing this legislation. Let us be honest with one another. As parliamentarians setting out the law, we have a real problem and it will not go away with the introduction of this legislation, although I welcome it.

I ask the Deputy to move the adjournment of the debate at this stage. He has nine minutes remaining.

I will do so, but I wish to say that beyond this day we need to engage with the police and communities. We need to support them by funding text alert and community alert systems. Without that we are going to fail.

Debate adjourned.