I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the opportunity to open the Second Stage debate on the Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2019. The purpose of this legislation is to amend the legislation of 1990, the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 and, in particular, to amend section 9 of that Act, which deals with the carrying of knives.
In particular, the purpose of the legislation is to increase the maximum sentence that can be imposed on a person who is convicted on indictment of having in his or her possession a knife for the purpose of inflicting harm on another person. At present, the maximum penalty under the legislation is five years imprisonment. The purpose of the Fianna Fáil Bill is to increase that penalty to a maximum sentence of ten years.
The background to this amending legislation derives from the increase in the number of assaults in cities, towns and - I regret to say - smaller towns. According to statistics released recently by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, the number of assaults being perpetrated increased by 6.7% in the year up to the second quarter of 2019. Unfortunately, one of the deficiencies of the figures placed into the public domain by the CSO is that they do not permit us to identify the number or percentage of assaults that are perpetrated through the use of knives. On the basis of other information that is available, however, the Fianna Fáil Deputies who are going to speak on this legislation are concerned that the prevalence of knife crime in Ireland is increasing.
The first item of evidence on which our concerns are based is the response to a parliamentary question I tabled to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan. This response has enabled us to identify how many knives were seized by An Garda Síochána in 2016, 2017 and 2018. It does not indicate how many crimes were committed using knives, but it indicates the extent to which knives are being carried by individuals in public for no lawful purpose. I was told in response to my parliamentary question that 1,200 knives were seized by An Garda Síochána in 2016. I understand that 2,000 knives were seized by An Garda Síochána in 2018. This increase of approximately 66% shows that the number of people carrying knives unlawfully appears to be increasing.
We also have evidence from some tragic events that took place this summer. This evidence leads us to believe there is a growing problem with knives. In May, June and July of this year, four people were killed in our capital city as a result of being stabbed with knives. In May, a young man - we could describe him as a boy - of 18 years of age was fatally stabbed in the Finsbury Park area of Dundrum in Dublin. Tragically, he lost his life. In June, a homeless man was stabbed in the vicinity of the GPO. He also lost his life. In the same month, a Latvian woman who was staying in a hostel in west Dublin was stabbed and fatally injured. She lost her life as a result of the use of a knife. In July, a man was stabbed and fatally injured in the North Strand area of the north inner city. He lost his life as a result of an attack with a knife. I have given some examples of people who have lost their lives as a result of knife crime. We are aware of a number of other attacks this summer. In July , an 18 year old man was hospitalised after being stabbed in Crumlin. In the same month, a 30 year old man was attacked in Temple Bar. He was stabbed when he was walking home. This is not just a Dublin problem. I regret to say that a member of An Garda Síochána was slashed with a sharp implement, causing him significant and serious injuries, in the course of his duty in Dundalk last week.
I regret to say that this grisly catalogue indicates that knives are being used more frequently and are having a negative, and sometimes fatal, impact on the individuals who use them. I suspect that many young men carry knives at night in the belief that it is necessary and helpful to do so in order to be able to defend themselves. We need to inform them that they are wrong in this regard. We need to help people to recognise that if they go out with knives - even if they do not intend to use them - and if they get into an argument, the strong likelihood is that somebody will be fatally or seriously injured as a result of a knife being present during the dispute. I suspect it is also the case that many people who go out with knives do not intend to use them, but as a result of a combination of alcohol, drugs, aggression or loss of temper, they find themselves doing so. This can have appalling consequences for their lives as well as the lives of the victims. People who do not intend to use knives when they go out but who end up doing so can find themselves subject to manslaughter or murder charges in respect of things they probably did not intend to do.
Obviously, the State can go down many avenues as it seeks to deter people from carrying and using knives. The first legislative avenue that is available to us is the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990, sections 9(4) and 9(5) of which provide that it is a criminal offence to carry a knife in a public area for the purpose of incapacitating or injuring another person. Section 9(7) sets out the penalties that should be imposed. As already stated, this Bill seeks to amend that section by providing that the sentence which can be imposed on someone who is convicted on indictment of being caught with a knife in a public place for the purpose of inflicting injury or harm on another person should be increased from five years to nine years.
Regrettably, in the context of the neighbouring jurisdiction, we have seen what happens when it becomes perceived as acceptable for young men to carry knives with them when they go out at night. There has been a tragic litany of fatalities there. Large numbers of people have been victims of knife crime in the United Kingdom, particularly in London. We have seen that it has become a trend in London for young people in gangs to carry knives and use them to inflict damage on one another. We have to ensure we do not allow that type of society to develop in Ireland. We must not allow young men to think it is unacceptable for them to carry knives in public. In other jurisdictions, the carrying of knives is perceived as a form of prowess on the part of individual gang members. The Oireachtas needs to send a loud and clear message that this is not acceptable.
Our efforts to deal with knife crime, or, indeed, any crime, cannot be confined to the use of the legislative tools available to us in this House. Legislation will not solve society's problems in their totality. We need to recognise that other mechanisms and other avenues have to be used as well. We must recognise that we have a strong job of work to do in informing and educating young people about the dangers of knives. It appears that many people get involved in committing assaults or in using a knife to attack someone else as a result of taking drugs, or drugs combined with alcohol, which can have a very toxic impact on individuals and particularly on their aggression levels. We need to start informing and warning young people about the dangers of carrying knives and about the impact that taking drugs and alcohol together can have on their aggression levels. It can turn someone into a person that he or she is not, for a particular evening, with horrendous consequences for him or her and for other people.
I commend the Bill to the House. I am sharing time with my colleagues, Deputies O'Loughlin, Lawless and Butler, who have many anecdotes to tell about how their constituencies have been affected by these crimes.