The Minister would need to ask someone else that. Ever since then I have had a profound scepticism about the sort of information that comes to a Minister for Justice. When Nicky Kelly was on hunger strike I had to tell the Minister the conditions in which visitors were being received in the Curragh Military Hospital because the Minister was misinformed. He thought that certain things were not there and, in fact, when I told them they were there he said they were not. He checked and he has since confirmed that I was right and he was wrong. So one wonders about the information. I do not know if any other Member of this House has had the dubious pleasure of being followed home by members of the intelligence and security section of the Garda Síochána. We are told that innocent people have nothing to fear from these powers. I was an innocent person and I have never been involved with an illegal organisation either directly or indirectly. In fact, I took a lot of stick in Cork about the H-Blocks question because of my position within the trade union movement and of what I did to try to prevent the trade unions being unjustifiably entangled. When a lot of people who now shout and wave the law and order banner were talking about humanitarian and other reasons I and other people like me in the trade union movement were trying to protect that movement from exploitation on that issue. At that time I was followed by a carload of these protectors of the security of the State and they were so organised that at midnight one shift went off and a further shift came on to inspect my house, all because I was drinking in a public house which in the eyes of the Garda was known to be frequented by subversives, whatever they are.
To draw the House's attention to a couple of other dubious practices, there is a misfortunate poor man, a member of the travelling community whose name I will not give, who was alleged by the Garda to have confessed to robbing a house at No. 37 Paddocks Estate, Naas, on 16 April 1983. This man was in Mountjoy Jail on 16 April 1983, the day on which gardaí alleged he had confessed to committing an offence. I have a photocopy of the certificate of imprisonment from the Governor of Mountjoy.
We could go on and on. The point I am making is not that all the gardaí are wrong or evil or anything else. The point I am making and that I will continue to make is that there are enough of them there who either for reasons of poor training, personal inadequacy or the pressures of their position are prepared to bend the rules and bend the law and no amount of ministerial assurances will make any difference to that. Let me give two final examples of this. There was a murder in Cork seven or eight years ago and a solicitor whom I know was called to the Garda station where people were being detained under the Emergency Powers Act. He is an eminent, well known Cork solicitor. On arriving at the station he heard groans, shouts and screams coming from the cells where people were being detained and he demanded to meet his own client. His client came out with white dust all over his knees from crawling around the floor and, in the words of this solicitor "with burn marks as big as tenpenny pieces on his chest and complaining of severe headaches". When he was examined by the doctor the following day he was found to have a perforated eardrum. There were a lot of such allegtions at the time. There were claims that the allegations could not be substantiated. The major issue here is that the solicitor, being a very conscientious man, made formal complaints to the Garda, to the Minister for Justice and to the Director of Public Prosecutions about the way his client was treated but he has heard nothing about any of them. How can I believe in a promised complaints procedure, how can I believe in assurances of control when the record is there of a succession of abuses of this kind?
There is another guarantee. That is that all Garda photographs of people will be destroyed. Senator Higgins and I had the privilege of being videod by the Garda Síochána when we were marching outside this House when President Reagan was here. The gardaí said they were making the video recording so that in the case of trouble they could identify the troublemakers. That is fair enough. There was no trouble and when asked if they would destroy the video, they replied, "no". What does it matter if the formal photographs are destroyed? They will have informal records anyway. There are lots of ways of identifying people, such as from fingerprints. The formal way will not matter. I do not believe in any of these assurances. I think the evidence is that they do not work.
We have ample evidence — and this needs to be put firmly and in detail on the record — from that misfortunate visit of what the State can do with its existing powers if it wants to. An example of this was the experience of the Phoenix Park women. Let me remind the House that there are allegedly regulations under which people in custody must be looked after. I have here a file of statements from people who were detained because of having taken part in the Phoenix Park demonstration. I do not want to read all of it but I want to read a part of it. This is a statement by a girl named Anne Claffey. I have their permission to use their names. She says that one woman in the cell was on the point of using the toilet when two men entered. There were no apologies offered or anything like that. All of these statements confirm the same thing that Senator Higgins said last week, that none of these women was allowed to make a phone call for 36 hours. Many of them were refused visitors for long periods of time. A considerable number of them had difficulty even getting access to a solicitor and let me remind the House that these are people who were in Garda custody, who had not been brought before a court, who had not been charged before a justice of the peace and who had been refused bail for reasons that the Garda Síochána refused to divulge to me or indeed to the people's solicitors simply on the basis that it was not appropriate, or something like that. All of these statements show that people were arrested at about 6 o'clock or 7 o'clock in the morning, that it was seven or eight hours before they were charged and that it was seven or eight hours more before most of them got access to a solicitor or met visitors and none of them was allowed to make phone calls. One of these women had a 12 year old son — she is a deserted wife — who did not know where his mother was who could not find out where she was, and she was refused permission to contact him. One of the women was in the middle of her period and had her tampons confiscated by the Garda Síochána, presumably because they were a threat to prison security. I do not know why. There is a long list of horrific complaints, apart altogether from the horrific conditions in the Bridewell. That is a place where people are going to be taken to be detained for questioning. We are told innocent people have nothing to fear because innocent people will simply have to demonstrate their innocence. If to demonstrate your innocence you have to spend five or six hours in the physical environment that these women have described in the Bridewell, then no innocent person should ever be there in the first place.
I do not believe that the authors of this Bill are either aware of the circumstances and conditions in which people are detained or that people can now actually describe what happens to them — and that is the unfortunate error that the Garda made. Unlike the usual unfortunate, inarticulate poor illiterate and poorly credible people who usually end up in Garda stations, these women were articulate, educated and able to describe what happened to them. What happened to them was a disgrace to justice, a disgrace to the Garda Síochána and a disgrace to this country and augurs very poorly for so-called safeguards. In spite of the assurances we have been given in successive speeches by the Minister for Justice, the sort of thing that these women describe can happen. If I had speculated that these things could happen before they happened, I would have been laughed out by the Minister for Justice and by most of the present Cabinet and told it was impossible, that that could never happen. It happened and nobody did anything about it. These women were left there because it suited the powers of the State to keep them out of the way because they were a nuisance. One of these women was detained under the Offences Against the State Act in another prison for reasons that escape me and escape her. The experience of the women in the Bridewell is probably the most damning indictment of this Bill and the powers. It is unfair to give the Garda those powers, apart from whether it is right or whether they would abuse them. It is unfair because the expectations that would be put on them by the public, the politicians and their own superiors will inevitably lead to abuses. I have no doubt that it was not the gardaí who arrested those women in the Phoenix Park who should be blamed or punished for what was done to them. But those who put such severe pressures on the Garda to make sure that this nuisance was removed from the Phoenix Park, irrespective of the methods by which it was done, should bear the blame.
This Bill has caused profound unease among the section of our community who are best described as the gay community. Under a most antediluvian piece of nineteenth century legislation, homosexual acts in private carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Do not ask me why, or how anybody can justify that, but it is there and nobody apparently wants to do anything about it. During the Charles Self murder inquiry—it still has not been finally settled — 1,500 gay men were contacted by the Garda in their homes, in their places of work and in many cases with a profound lack of concern for people's feelings or for whether their families or their fellow employees knew that they were part of the gay community. Detailed statements were taken from all these people and they are presumably still on file. Therefore, 1,500 people are already aware that the Garda have more than a reasonable suspicion that they are involved in an offence which in this country carries a sentence of life imprisonment. Is it any wonder that our gay community are campaigning against the Bill? One person from the gay community I know who made this point vigorously to the Minister for Justice was treated to a pat on the head and an assurance that he had nothing to worry about. I am quite sure that in that particular case the Minister for Justice does not dream that anybody would use the Bill in the way I am suggesting.
I return again to the evidence that in every other legislation which gives powers of this sort they have been abused and that any extra powers will be abused, because we do not have the capacity to control their use in a way which would justify us giving them in the first place. When people make a statement like this the reply is that no complaint was received by the Garda. I had the experience of going into a Garda station with what I know to be a perfectly justifiable complaint about the treatment of an innocent individual with no criminal record who complained that he had been roughly handled by the Garda. That particular individual complained to me. The following morning I went to the Garda station, which is what my solicitor advised me to do, to make the complaint. You would want to feel the atmosphere in a Garda station when you go in and say "I want to make a complaint that a member of the Garda from this station assaulted a friend of mine". I was lucky. I was reasonably secure, articulate and even at that stage, a somewhat prominent individual in Cork. Therefore, I had a certain immunity. If I was poor, inarticulate and did not know my rights I would not have the courage to go in and say that, in the light of the frosty reception I experienced. There was a large number of gardaí there and a number of conversations being carried on, but the minute I mentioned the possibility of an assault on a friend of mine by a member of the Garda Síochána the atmosphere changed, and I had an audience of 35 listening to every word I said. There was no privacy, there was no opportunity to make a statement in private. Anything I had to say was said in the presence of 35 gardaí. I was lucky I was able to get out of it, but other people cannot.
If that is the case, what has been the response? The response has been extraordinarily widespread and perceptive. The Roman Catholic Church through various agencies, the Commission on Justice and Peace, the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, the Sisters for Justice, etc., have vigorously opposed the Bill. There has been a certain reluctance apparently on the part of the non-Roman churches to be critical of the Bill and it is regrettable that they have not found the same capacity to be critical of this issue as they have been on many other issues. One suspects a certain law and order instinct in some of the ascendancy churches that perhaps would be better if it were not there. It is wrong to suggest that, for instance, the National Conference of Priests are out of touch with community realities when they say that these powers are excessive. One of the things that has bothered me most is the number of Members of this House and the other House who have quietly assured me that they do not believe that the Garda can be trusted with powers like this but who at the same time will publicly vote for the same powers and will publicly say that they are in favour of them. Surely churchmen, priests and nuns working in the community have a reasonably good perception of what is going on in our society. Surely, people like them have an idea of what is going on. Will they not be listened to before it ends? I would like to know who is in favour of this Bill. The travelling community felt obliged to complain about this Bill. The Law Society officials and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have complained about this Bill. May I read briefly from a press release issued by HOPE, the voluntary organisation for homeless and unattached young people and children, dated Tuesday, 14 February:
Young people, and particularly homeless young people, are gravely at risk under section 18 of the Bill, which covers inference from the accused's presence at a particular place, about the time an offence is committed. A combination of high unemployment among young people and a lack of youth facilities results in many young people "hanging about the streets". This in itself can hardly be regarded as criminal but, if a stolen car is crashed when a young person is around, he is suspect; if he runs away so as not to be associated with the event, he is suspect; if in interrogation he has nothing to say about the event, he is suspect. We are forced to ask what is "reasonable suspicion"? If there is proof there is proof and there is no need for such a vague concept as "reasonable suspicion" to be written into our legislation.
People from voluntary organisations like that are too easily dismissed as do-gooders, because those people have to deal with crime daily. They are often the victims of crime. I can speak from my own time in Simon. I had to deal with people who wanted to steal and rob, people who were nasty, dangerous and violent. I am aware of what crime is like, and often more aware than many people who talk a great deal about it. Anybody working in a voluntary organisation in an inner city area or in a deprived community knows full well what crime is and what it is like to be threatened by criminal activity. It is not some sort of middle class do-goodery; it is the exact opposite of that. People who know precisely through their own experience what crime is like raise the most vocal objection to this.
Since the opposition has been so vigorous and widespread, one must ask where did this Bill come from? I think it came from the perception of the Garda of their own inadequacies in dealing with a more sophisticated society. Where the logical, rational and proper response would have been an improvement of Garda training and an extension of their resources and of their capacity to respond to new situations, the simple reaction was to say that they want more power. There is no evidence to suggest that any such powers will bring about any improvement. The fact that there are no statistics to suggest that people are getting off on much talked about technicalities is ignored entirely. The fact that there is no evidence to suggest that large numbers of people will be caught by these powers and what will happen I will discuss later. This is based entirely on the opinions of the Garda and, I suspect, on the views of Department of Justice. That Department have certain things to answer for, for which presumably the Minister is responsible, in particular the freedom with which they use the word "subversive". It has been branded on the Prisoners' Rights Organisation and in the past it was branded on one of the most humane and humanitarian men I know, Ian Harte, a founder member of the Simon Community, who was not acceptable to assess the young people in Shanganagh Castle because he had spoken, in the words of the Department of Justice, "to a subversive organisation". Therefore, he was branded with the title "subversive" also.
At this stage my view on the Bill is fairly clearly on the record. The question, then, is what will happen if this Bill goes through. First of all, one thing of any significance that will not happen is a difference in the crime rate. I do not think there will be any greater detection. There may well be more confessions, but they could easily be from people who did not commit half the offences and who would confess for convenience. If a poor, misfortunate traveller can be persuaded to confess to something that happened when he was in prison, then it will be quite easy to get many people who are frightened and terrorised at the prospect of being inside — I am not saying that they will be beaten up — to confess to all sorts of things. It may improve and do wonders for the detection rate in some areas, but it will have no significant effect on crime.
The first and major area of problem will be with young people. One-third of our crimes are attributable to people under 17 years of age. Therefore, young people will be a major object of suspicion. Since one of the great public obsessions at present is the matter of joyriding — it seems to be young people who do a great deal of that — we will have problems there immediately. There is enough tension, enough conflict between young and old with various groups in society, there are enough problems without increasing the alienation of young people from the Garda Síochána. We have the additional question of changing values, of young people and old people having different perceptions, and of the Garda tending to be custodians of traditional values, but young people will be alienated. Then, of course, throughout all of this the poor will be the victims, as they are the victims now of our repressive society and, as Senator O'Mahony said, of the way this Oireachtas does its business.
Let me give some evidence on the present structure of the prison population just to get this firmly on the record once and for all. Of those committed to prison in 1981, 76.9 per cent were between 15 and 29 years of age and only less than 8 per cent were over 40. I suppose it is not entirely a coincidence that the 15 to 29 section represent something like 50 per cent of the unemployed. Also most prisoners come from socially deprived urban backgrounds, from families who have problems with poverty, marriage difficulties, alcoholism and unemployment. Their work skills are minimal and usually they have a history of unemployment. A high percentage of them have been juvenile offenders — in other words they have already gone through the so-called system of deterrents and it has not deterred them in the least; probably it has made them worse. Frequently other family members have been engaged in criminal activity and their standards of education are usually poor, many of them being illiterate and, indeed, quite a number being innumerate. Apart from not being able to read or write, they cannot add at all. The Catholic Bishops' Council for Social Welfare said the following:
This is not to imply that only the deprived commit crimes of dishonesty. The forms of theft more likely to be committed by the better off — the educated, the employed, for example — include pilfering from the workplace, abuse of expense accounts, use of inferior materials in building or manufacture, and indeed abuse of state grants or subsidies. These are much less likely to be reported as crimes and even when they are detected, the perpetrators may not be charged and if convicted they are most unlikely to be sent to prison.
Equivalent thefts of equivalent amounts of money in one case are called fraud and in another case are called theft. Whereas with fraud you have a chance of a suspended sentence and, as in one famous case, you have the distinct possibility of half the Roman Catholic Church lining up to give you references, if you are a kid and you steal £100 from somebody then you are locked up because that crime and the other thing are different.
The final outcome of this Bill will be abuse, mistrust and alienation of a large section of our society. I do not trust all members of the Garda sufficiently to give them these powers. I do not believe they have the skills, the training or the controls necessary to use these powers and even if they had all these, those powers are not in the least necessary. Trust is a very complex thing and trust in our society has broken down. Trust between the Government and the community has broken down. Trust between the Garda and the community has broken down. Trust between young and old probably has gone also. If we are to rediscover and encourage trust as a basis for any sort of rediscovery of a sense of common purpose in this society, we must introduce things like communication, understanding and respect. Loading the powers on one side in the enforcement of law will do the exact opposite to that. It will produce alienation, distrust and fear.
There is ample evidence already of that alienation. The Garda Commissioner has adverted to it and some of the speeches by representatives of the Garda when they talk about homosexual rights being somehow a sign of corruption of society and certain remarks attributable to senior gardaí, in Cork at least, about politicians holding up the Criminal Justice Bill and therefore being responsible for the crime rate, suggest that there is not just alienation but a frightening beginning of politicisation on the part of the Garda. The way the Garda were reported and complained about by people in Cabra who have handled the problems there recently; the fact that the young man who was chairman of the youth development association and who was obviously a very sensible, respectable and dedicated young man felt obliged to say that the Garda had over-reacted, had mishandled it and had caused more trouble by their presence — all this adds to the problem. What will we end up with? We will end up with prisons which are already over-crowded and useless becoming more overcrowded and even more useless. Prisons do not work. They may be an excuse. They may give us somewhere to put people so that we can say we are doing something, but manifestly they do not work. Increasing penalties will not work either.
The usual question is what people like myself propose should be done about crime. Usually we are accused of being very negative and critical. Let me put a series of proposals. The first is that Garda training should be changed fundamentally. A quick ten to 12 week training period is entirely inadequate. A garda's training should last at least two years. An Army officer gets about three years' training and I suspect even an Army private, who has a far less delicate and difficult job to do, gets a longer period of training than the gardaí get at present. Fundamental training of about two years followed by further and further levels of training should apply. We should have degrees in police work. There should be a whole series of qualifications in police work, not just one blank qualification. Gardaí should be experts in all the areas of social sciences not just the forensic areas; there should not be just one sort of token specialist wheeled out on occasions to meet members of the community. Large sections of the Garda should be specialist in a large number of areas. It should not just be left to the good natured gardaí who work in youth and football clubs and community groups to improve the Garda image. The Garda should be part of the community, and to be part of the community they have to understand the community. The reflections of prejudice and hostility, which sometimes are close to class warfare, often attributed to the Garda in urban working class areas must be got rid of. It can be dealt with only by education, and the best place to start with such education and training is in the Garda.
There must be a transformation of community policing. We had a fine document from the Garda Sergeants and Inspectors Association. I disagree with them in many things but that document contains many almost revolutionary suggestions. They accept that there is a growing gap between the Garda and the community and that the only solution to that is to have the Garda become members of their own communities. The image of the garda that I have referred to before, the gum-chewing garda with his elbow out the car window and his dark glasses on cruising through estates, is like something in an American movie: it may make the garda feel good but it does not do anything for Garda-community relations. That should be ended quickly.
Until we deal with jobs, housing, education and the environment we will not be able to deal with crime. The entire court system must be modernised so that those who go to court will not feel that they are on one side and that solicitors, Garda, the Judiciary and everybody else are on the other side — that is a permanent perception by many people, particularly of the District Court. In the Children's Court the idea of branding seven-year-olds as criminals and the fact that we can produce this Bill at such short notice when we cannot introduce children's legislation which has been promised for many years, are a most eloquent reflection of the distorted priorities we have in public life. Our children have to suffer on under antiquated and non-existent legislation, but we as a community have decided that our criminal law must be amended to allow children to incriminate their parents if there are stolen goods around the place.
Access to the legal profession will have to be looked at. That profession contains within itself a class bias and perception in regard to what is important in society. It has a bias towards property which is overwhelmingly evident.
It is astonishing that right through the debate in the Dáil, when Deputies suggested that many in detention would not be able to afford to pay for solicitors, the national economic circumstances were put forward to explain why we could not give them free legal aid. Effectively, what we are saying is that anybody who is detained has the right to have a solicitor in theory but, if they cannot afford it, it is hard luck and they will have to do without it. Since the evidence is overwhelming that most of those detained would be poor, it is obvious that most people affected by the Bill will be poor and therefore unrepresented legally.
One could go on to say an enormous amount about the Bill. At its core it is a reflection of the way we as a society see ourselves, a society riven with fear, based sometimes on fact — for instance, the Northern problem — sometimes on our economic circumstances and our levels of unemployment, and there is the fear in those of us who have done well in the last 20 years that somehow this has all come to an end in various ways, because of State policy and because of crime. Consequently, there is a tendency to put up barricades, to dig moats and to pull in the drawbridges to protect those of us who have privileges from those who have not.
Effectively, that is what this Bill will do. It provides another weapon in the armoury of the privileged to protect themselves from the often incoherent reaction of the underprivileged to the injustices in our society — it is a protection of those of us who have something against those who have nothing, a protection of the relatively comfortable middle-aged people who dominate this and the other House against the restless and disaffected young who are such a large section of our society and who think poorly, if they think anything, of those of us who are Members of the Oireachtas. It is a Bill that will do the opposite of what its conceivers hoped to do. It will not deal with crime; it will deal with one or two trivial complaints that the Garda have magnified and which the Department of Justice and successive Ministers have found it useful to rely on. It is a situation in which we have to do something but at the same time we throw our hands up in horror and say we can do nothing about unemployment or the other basic economic circumstances. There are many Members of both Houses who believe we cannot do anything about unemployment.
Therefore, we have found an area in which we think there will be a good public response. We wanted to be seen to be doing something and therefore the Criminal Justice Bill became a major issue. It is divisive legislation. It is a Bill that will produce fundamental divisions in our society, largely, I hasten to say, on a class basis. The Garda, instead of becoming the Garda of the community will become the Garda of the ruling class, outside of which will be the unemployed, the homeless and the disaffected young, being treated not as part of the community but as the other side of a struggle between them and the Garda about the enforcement of law.
This Bill is not capable of amendment — the only amendment possible would be to have section 4 removed completely, in which case a number of other sections would fall and the Bill would be meaningless. The only proper thing that can be done with this Bill is to withdraw it and later to introduce legislation covering the minor matters. I have opposed this Bill since it was drafted. Amendments will make very little difference to the fundamental questions involved. Therefore, the Bill must be opposed and I hope it will continue to be opposed.