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.