I apologise, my colleague, Paddy Byrne is stuck in Web Summit traffic but will hopefully join us shortly. We have given the committee a detailed written submission. In view of the time constraints, I will pick a few highlights from it and leave the committee to study the detail.
Muintir na Tíre is a national voluntary organisation dedicated to promoting the process of community development. It was founded in 1937 and aims to enhance the capacity of people in communities to become involved in local social, economic, cultural and environmental development. For the past 30 years, we have actively promoted the community alert programme in partnership with the Garda Síochána. This programme continues to harness the voluntary input of community members to provide a community crime prevention programme in over 1,400 community alert groups nationwide. The programme operates with the five principal partners, Muintir na Tíre, the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Health Service Executive and, most importantly, local communities. The programme is operated by five community alert development officers, one for each Garda region outside of the Dublin area. My colleague, Mr. Cronin, is the development officer for the south west of the country. The engagement that we have with all those local groups enables us to identify many issues arising in the area of crime prevention which is relevant to this committee. The current issues can be summarised under a number of categories - the seniors alert scheme, pendant alarms and changes that have been made to that scheme recently; Garda resources; the judicial system; adequate deterrents to crime, funding; and victim support. In our written submission, we have details under all of these categories but I will concentrate on the recommendations that we make in section 6.
We suggest the establishment of a special purpose committee to examine rural crime. This could be similar to the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, CEDRA, which had a limited lifetime and budget but which was asked to make specific and practical recommendations. This would allow for more public consultation than this committee will have time for and could instil a sense of participation in the communities that take part.
We strongly support the provisions in the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill - currently going through the Houses - regarding consecutive sentencing and refusal of bail for repeat offenders. We agree that the right to freedom and the presumption of innocence need to be weighed against the constitutional protection afforded to a citizen's dwelling and we feel this Bill offers a balanced approach to these issues.
We welcome the recent establishment of the second Special Criminal Court and hope it will significantly reduce the time it takes to process cases. However, it must be adequately resourced and must not simply be a reallocation of resources from elsewhere in the Courts Service. We request a review of the free legal aid programme, of its costs and efficiency of delivery. While recognising a right of legal representation, we feel this should be reviewed for repeat offenders. Consideration should be given to reducing the representation for legal offenders and possibly treating the costs of this representation as a repayable loan. We also request a review of the allocation of resources to crime prevention and crime detection and punishment.
We believe a slight shift towards prevention could have significant impact. This would include an expansion of the community alert, neighbourhood watch and crime prevention ambassador programmes. Such a review should also value voluntary input and examine ways of recognising it. For example, it may be possible to make a contribution towards the costs of properly established text message alert programmes. Currently, communities must cover all the costs associated with these programmes, including texts, insurance, signage and VAT.
We request a review of the prison system, including a review of the balance between cost and security. Such a review should also consider non-custodial options which might be appropriate in certain cases, including tagging, curfews, transport restrictions and expanded community service programmes. We would also suggest a review of anti-social behaviour in built-up areas, villages or estates and how anti-social behaviour is currently dealt with, and an examination of options for practical and fast sanctions and how to expedite landlords' abilities to terminate the leases of undesirable tenants.
Since Muintir na Tíre made its submission, the Minister has made proposals in a number of these areas, and we welcome the proposals as a first step. I thank the committee for its time and I am happy to take questions from members.