Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann condemns the abject failure of the Coalition Government in face of the deterioration in crime, lawlessness and vandalism and in particular for its failure:

—to increase the gardaí to their full strength of 12,000 as promised in the election manifesto;

—to review the policy on policing in rural areas and to "restore a realistic Garda presence there" as promised; and

—to deal with the bail situation which has not worked effectively for many years.

The level of crime is of great concern. There is no doubt about that. We hear this as we canvass for the local elections. The people are afraid in their homes, on the street and even at work on certain occasion. The Minister has tried over the past number of weeks to convince us that the level of crime is reducing but the public are aware of the deterioration in the problem and the seriousness of it. It is a measure of the people's despair that they do not report many petty crimes. They are convinced that nothing can be done and therefore many crimes go unreported and do not appear in the Minister's statistics. Many people, as we experienced while canvassing, are afraid to open their doors after 7 or 8 o'clock at night — they are afraid of who might be outside.

I can understand that, for different reasons.

I am glad the Minister is in good humour. We hope he will respond positively. There are a number of reasons why crime is on the increase. These must be tackled. Unemployment, at present 250,000, the level of drug abuse and the lack of educational opportunities for people in deprived areas, if allowed prevail will lead to an increase in crime. While this is not an excuse for crime, these social problems must be tackled and it is up to the Government to do so.

We need more gardaí in towns and rural areas. The Minister recently announced that 1,000 gardaí will be recruited over the next three years. He did not highlight that 1,000 gardaí will also retire. The number of gardaí is standing still while crime statistics deteriorate. There were 11,400 gardaí in 1985 while after the recent recruitment in 1990 there were 10,500 gardaí. There are 900 fewer today than there were in 1985. How will the Minister deal with the increase in the level of crime? Our motion calls for an increase in the number of gardaí to bring them up to the full strength of 12,000, as was promised in the Programme for Government. This is one way in which an improvement can be made. If the Garda strength continues to be reduced and our laws are not changed there will be more crime and our people will have less protection. What is the point in balancing the books and getting our current budget deficit and balance of payments in order if people are afraid to walk the streets?

Old people are afraid to leave their homes at night. People's homes are broken into. Even young people are being attacked as they alight from buses at night. The Minister might make light of this as regards us knocking on doors to canvass but I assure him that old people in their homes do not see this as a flippant subject. We hear daily of attacks on old people. I know of a person living alone whose family are in the UK. Lately, he opened the door at 11 p.m. He was tied up and terrorised for two hours before having a small amount of money, something like £25, stolen. Thankfully he got over his experience. The number of attacks on elderly people has risen in recent times and this must be stamped out. We have a responsibility to do so.

All the resources of the gardaí and the State should be used to allow the elderly and vulnerable members of our society to live in peace and security. They deserve to feel safe in their homes and in our midst. We must protect them against ruthless thugs who think nothing of viciously assaulting, raping and sometimes murdering their victims. These attacks destroy their victims and make the rest of their lives a living hell. They leave an indelible scar both physically and mentally on the unfortunate old or vulnerable person. These attacks usually trigger off a deterioration in health which, in many cases, prove fatal within a short period of time. I pay tribute to the gardaí and those citizens involved in the neighbourhood watch and community alert schemes. They do a fantastic job. These schemes should be developed.

Old people living alone should have the facility of a telephone. Many of them cannot afford one. The Department of Social Welfare should provide money for this purpose. When the old person passes on, the telephone could be withdrawn. Old people should have it for the required period. They have contributed to the nation and have paid their taxes. They worked hard and should have security, comfort and peace of mind in their declining years. The Minister should restore a realistic Garda presence in rural Ireland to combat crime and he should honour the promise he made to do so.

The growth of juvenile crime should be of extreme concern to the Minister. In 1989 there were 2,178 convictions against persons under 17 years of age. That was almost two and a half times the 1985 figure. In other words, juvenile crime has risen almost nine times as fast as adult crime in the second half of the 1980s. In spite of the rise of juvenile crime, no juvenile detention facilities were created and the number of cases in residential care has dropped. This has serious implications and we must get to the core of the problem. We must deal with the issues which create this problem: the level of unemployment, drugs and the lack of education opportunities in deprived areas.

No Garda juvenile crime statistics are available for later than 1989. The figure from Smithfield Children's Court where approximately half of Ireland's juvenile cases are heard, suggests the rise has continued in the nineties. The number of major warrants issued up to 9 May 1991 was 433 — up from 403 in the same period last year. In 1989, almost half of all juvenile convictions were for burglary, with larceny listed as second. Justice Hubert Wine estimates that the number attending his juvenile court sessions in Dún Laoghaire where 35 warrants have so far been issued this year, is up by at least 50 per cent on last year. He said that the situation at the moment can only be described as desperate and alarming. Recently an eight year old, a ten year old and 12, 13, 14 and 15 year olds were sent out to the street where they are a menace to our community and a danger to themselves.

There is also a problem with regard to handling such offenders. A person like this will frequently be visited by a plethora of professionals. He will probably be first visited by a health board social worker followed by a school attendance officer, a garda juvenile liaison officer, a probation officer, probably a solicitor and maybe a priest and teacher. The Government task force in 1980 recommended that there should be a child care authority with responsibility for all issues affecting children in these difficulties. The responsibility for problem juveniles should be handed over to one person who would be responsible to the child care authority. The Minister should take this recommendation on board.

Recent reports show that drugs are making a major comeback on the streets of Dublin. This comes at a time when a Garda management directive cut the number of plain clothes gardaí in Dublin by 100, and has virtually eliminated the presence of the Drugs Squad and Crime Prevention Unit in many parts of the city. In his address to the recent annual conference, the Garda Representative Association leader, John Ferry, voiced his concern as follows:

The decision by the Garda Commissioner cuts the number of plain clothes officers in Dublin by almost 15 per cent.

It means that officers who had been working on drugs squads in many Dublin stations have returned to uniform duties, giving drug pushers a free reign in many parts of the city. The decision also cuts down on the number of armed officers available for duties such as protection, bank escorts, and crime investigation.

The hardest hit areas are some of the city's toughest crime spots. The undercover drugs squad based in Store Street station, which had a strength of five, has been cut to three by the directive. In the city centre station of Pearse Street, the CPU which tackled crime on tourists and targeted specific crime sprees by criminals in the Grafton Street area will have to be disbanded.

Other areas hit include Kevin Street station, where the CPU had dealt with a serious heroin problem in the Thomas Street area.

The directive instructs uniformed gardaí, who had been working in plain clothes, to return to uniform duties.

It is plain that it is necessary to ensure that the growth in drug trafficking in Dublin is cut and that a proper presence of gardaí on plain clothes duties as heretofore is restored.

White collar crime is growing in modern society and it will undermine our system of justice if such criminals get away with it while people committing other crimes go to jail. Ireland's inability to prosecute white collar crime corrodes the social philosophy on which our democracy is based. It is vital that the current investigation into alleged corrupt practices in planning is an absolute success. It is not sufficient just to see a few prosecutions. All who are responsible, at whatever level, must be brought to justice. We should consider the appointment of a continental-style examining magistrate with extensive evidence gathering powers. Fine Gael have called for this. Such a magistrate might be given the power to grant amnesty to those involved in minor offences if evidence from such people will bring larger offences to light.

Fine Gael call on the Government and the Minister to immediately introduce legislation to reform our law to enable us to tackle white collar crime. We should make fraud a criminal offence whether committed by an individual or a group. We should make provisions to require people in certain circumstances to provide potentially self-incriminating evidence. White collar crime has now become extremely sophisticated. A country as small as Ireland cannot afford to have on constant standby the necessary concentration of high skilled staff resources of the required calibre to detect such crimes. White collar crime is an area in which there should be a pooling of resources between the European states.

The third section of our motion is that Seanad Éireann condemns the abject failure of the Coalition Government to deal with bail which has not worked effectively for many years. It is now almost 17 months since five men went to rob the Bank of Ireland at Athy, County Kildare. When confronted by the gardaí at the scene, a shoot-out ensued. One of the raiders died, two were wounded and members of the public and gardaí were injured. The lessons from Athy have to do with our bail laws and whether people who are likely to recommit crime should be granted bail, whether the Government should call a referendum to change the bail laws. Of the five people who went to rob the bank in Athy in January 1990 two were on bail. They had already been caught by the Garda and were charged with very serious offences. They had been allowed out on bail on these charges. If the courts had discretion two years before that, the Athy robbery would never have taken place. One life would have been spared and the serious risk to many others would have been taken away. This should be the real lesson of Athy and of so many of the other armed robberies and crimes committed by those on bail.

There is a constitutional problem. In 1966, the Supreme Court rejected a proposal by the High Court that an accused person's bail application should be considered along with his likelihood to commit more crime. The Supreme Court said that the provision was unconstitutional. Times have changed enormously since the Supreme Court made this decision in the O'Callaghan case. The breed of armed criminal operating in our society today is much more violent, callous and organised than his counterpart of 25 years ago when the Supreme Court made its decision. Granting bail for serious crimes for the current breed of organised criminals is an opportunity for them to build a nest egg for when they come out of prison. They have no compunction about committing more crime. The likelihood of rearrest does not put them off. Neither do the provisions for consecutive sentences in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984. This only deters petty criminals.

Fine Gael believe that the bail laws urgently need to be tightened up so that the courts will not have to free people who are likely to commit further serious crime. It is accepted that our bail laws are the most lax in the world. In 1989 the number of crimes committed by persons on bail was 2,647. A constitutional amendment is necessary and should be introduced to restore discretion to the courts. The Government must, as a matter of urgency, arrange for the necessary referendum to change the laws. It is unfortunate that the Government missed the opportunity to do this next week in conjunction with the local government elections. The provision for consecutive sentences in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 had a deterrent effect on petty criminals but had no effect on serious crime.

A new approach to Garda interrogation should be taken on board by the Minister for Justice. The right to silence when suspects are being questioned is a relic of the last century when individuals had no access to free legal aid and when punishments were much harsher. Moreover, as it stands, the right is currently a major obstacle to gardaí in their investigations into organised professional crime. A suspect can refuse to answer questions, or give any explanation whatsoever, about matters which are put to him in the course of his interrogation. Experienced criminals do this as a matter of course and subversives are adept at doing so. While the abolition of this right would greatly help Garda investigations, it would also protect suspects in cases where over-zealous police officers might try to extract confessions. The abolition of the right to silence would remove the importance of obtaining a self-incriminatory confession in many investigations.

The right of silence was introduced at a time when an accused was rarely represented in court and could not give evidence but today the rules are only helping an increasing number of professional criminals to avoid conviction. The new system should simply mean that it would not be an offence to refuse to answer questions or give an explanation but an adverse inference could be drawn from this on particular issues. This mirrors recent legislation introduced by the Minister.

The present right to silence does not protect self-incrimination in a variety of statutory offences, especially offences against the Road Traffic Acts, like drunk driving, where suspects may be required to provide blood or urine samples and where they may later be convicted of the offence. Likewise the genetic fingerprinting Bill obliges the subject to provide a DNA sample and if he does not do so, the court will be allowed to draw an inference from that. In revenue cases, a person being investigated cannot use the right to silence to mask giving potentially incriminating answers to the tax inspectors.

Criminal interviews should also be video-recorded to protect the gardaí from false allegations and ensure that the rights of individuals are protected during detention. This would also provide the courts with a true picture of the realities and difficulties facing the gardaí under such circumstances.

I now refer to something I brought up in the Seanad on numerous occasions, the policing of the open borders post-January of next year. Criminals, including drug and arms traffickers, will have free movement throughout the European Community. Ireland will be exposed to this and we should urgently address this issue to protect our society. I know the Trevi Ministers met on numerous occasions regarding this but nothing concrete came from their deliberations. I ask the Minister to use this opportunity to inform us of plans for the harmonisation of laws and sanctions in relation to criminal activity throughout the Community, post 1 January next. If harmonisation does not take place, we will give a platform to criminal elements to concentrate their presence in countries where laws and sanctions are least severe and farm out their activities to other countries in the EC. Similarly criminals will concentrate their activities in areas where police manning powers, abilities and equipment are weakest.

What plans are being made to ensure that there is consistency in the EC countries regarding police performance? What arrangements will be made for co-operation between police authorities from country to country bearing in mind that there will be free movement of people across borders? Will police jurisdiction end at national borders or will hot pursuit be accepted? These issues must be addressed before next January. I ask the Minister to use this opportunity to inform the House of the situation.

The Coalition Government have failed to improve the situation. They failed to increase the strength of the Garda to the promised level of 12,000; they have failed to protect the people, particularly the elderly against the rising level of crime; they have failed to use the opportunity of the local elections and the Presidential election last November to ask the people to change the Constitution to allow the law in relation to bail to be changed.

I second the motion. I join my colleague, Senator Neville, in calling on the Minister for Justice to address those questions raised in the motion which, for all law-abiding people, must be disturbing.

Many years ago the term "daylight robbery" was a figure of speech, a term used by people in ordinary conversation in a lighthearted or jocose way but, unfortunately, in Dublin in 1991 it is a reality, a brutal and frightening experience for many people. This House must be made aware of this. In order to combat this unfortunate trend the number of gardaí should, as a matter of urgency, be increased to full strength, or even more, as was promised. In addition, the courts should be equipped to meet the pressure of business where necessary and our Constitution, as Senator Neville said, should be amended to grant protection to the vast majority of our citizens. As it is, the Constitution is invoked in the main by criminals who have no respect for the Constitution or for the laws of this State. It is surely time that the vast majority of people who live, work and contribute to the development and evolvement of this State had a Constitution which gives them protection in their everyday lives.

Another problem which is causing a great deal of worry is the Garda presence, especially in rural areas. Many citizens are becoming nervous and this is obvious as one goes around canvassing, as I and many of my colleagues have been doing. It is sad to drive up a laneway or boreen in the middle of the day and find, in a peaceful sylvan setting, the door locked because elderly people are nervous and cannot trust people to drop in, as was the tradition over many generations and centuries. That underlines the need, especially in rural Ireland, for more mobile equipment, more cars, jeeps and, perhaps, a wider variety of mobile equipment for the force. If the Minister and the commissioner in their wisdom withdraw more sergeants from the various small towns and remove the gardaí altogether from the villages, there is an onus on them to indicate the steps and facilities that will be offered to replace the presence of gardaí in the local station. The public, especially the elderly and those who are vulnerable, should be able to relax and know that the State offers some protection and is concerned about the welfare of ordinary citizens.

What are the commissioner's plans for greater mobility of the force? Will greater resources be allocated to ensure that gardaí can move swiftly to tackle criminals from some Dublin areas who swiftly and effectively sweep into rural areas and commit violent crimes of robbery and assault on elderly people in their homes? This was a rarity in rural Ireland but in the last decade it has been creeping in. The penalties for such crimes should be stepped up. Now that we have a Minister of State with responsibility for law reform many of the penal codes should be reviewed and upgraded to deal with crimes. For habitual criminals the penalties for second and subsequent offences should be severe. For first and second time offenders we should, as a State, expend more money on rehabilitation. We should endeavour to rehabilitate what we might call the new criminals.

A short time ago we had a very interesting debate on the penal system and the prisons. We should have more prisons, not for the sake of having more, but so that the Minister could segregate categories of prisoners with a view to more effective rehabilitation and to spending more of the State's resources on ensuring that offenders coming into the system will not be there habitually because of recurring offences.

In previous legislation there was a provision for on-the-spot fines. It would be useful, if only to ease the pressure on the courts, if at least some of the minor offences were handled by on-the-spot fines. Perhaps that would have the effect of releasing gardaí who spend many hours in court. There is no doubt that fines should be rationalised. When one reads the provincial newspapers and sees the different fines that district justices hand out one is hard-pressed to know what is the most severe penalty. I read this week where a person was fined a three figure sum for sounding his car horn in the middle of the day. I do not know what damage that caused to the environment but it was an extraordinary decision under some obscure Act. At the same time people are fined little more than shillings for offences involving vandalism or injury to persons.

While district justices have great freedom it is difficult for ordinary mortals to follow their trend of thought or to appreciate their priorities in relation to what constitutes an offence or, indeed, the kind of society they would like to maintain. I know it is not easy but I hope the Minister in his new policy of law reform will look closely at the idea of rehabilitation and will try to have a cohesive system where not only everybody would be equal before the law but, as far as possible, the penalties would fit the crimes. I would like to see leniency for first time offenders but after that the law should be very majestic and powerful. I have absolute confidence in the members of the Garda Síochána; they do an excellent and, at times, a dangerous job. I hope they will have every available equipment within our resources to make their job more efficent and effective.

The commissioner should be more adventurous in setting up pilot areas, in trying out different methods and equipment and in examining the effectiveness of those schemes to combat crime, especially serious crime. In the various divisions under the control of the Minister and the commissioner it should not be too difficult to assess the effectiveness of different policing policies for short periods of six to 12 months to see how best the resources of the State can combat the activities of the people who are making a fat living from crime.

I also have a special commitment to the aged and the disabled. I worked in a voluntary capacity in those areas all my adult life and, indeed, since I came into this House. I know members of the Garda who are public-spirited people and who share that commitment. However, the State does not sufficiently protect the aged and the disabled and it is absolutely unpardonable that there should be barbarous attacks on elderly people in their homes. In my own county some months ago a number of thugs broke into the home of an elderly man in his seventies during the day and beat him up with an iron bar. He sustained broken arms and legs. The penalties handed out to those people should have been more severe. People will do such things for £5 or £6 gain. We must address those serious crimes because under our Constitution the vulnerable in our society are guaranteed the protection of the State but when you look at the way the Constitution works it is the lawbreakers who have first claim on the protection of the Constitution and it is high time that was changed. The majority of our citizens have a right to be protected and the Minister has it within his competence, capacity and power to do something about it. It is not good enough to see it as a nine day wonder when one reads of such events in the weekly newspapers. Most of those horrific crimes appear only in the provinicial papers and I hope that the Minister and his Department will monitor them. Invariably, either a jazzed up plea of insanity or drunkness seems to let people off with a lot.

I hope, in his review of the legal code, the Minister will find new ways of protecting the most vulnerable in our society. I support this motion and hope the Minister will secure additional resources to put more mobile equipment on the roads to assist the gardaí in combating those dangerous criminals.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

"noting the action being taken to increase Garda numbers, improve policing arrangements and deter the commission of offences by persons on bail, supports the continuing efforts of the Minister for Justice to curb crime, lawlessness and vandalism."

In listening to some of the comments from the other side, one would get the impression that we live in a very lawless State. I wonder if this motion, having regard to the fact that we are now facing into local elections, is something of a political gimmick and I am not being derogatory to speakers on the other side. Since his appointment to the Justice portfolio the Minister has done excellent work in many fields. I would like to cast the minds of the Members on the other side back to when the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition left office in 1987 when armed robberies were nearly a daily occurrence. Many of the facts and figures quoted here give a false and improper impression. When one considers the amount of legislation that the current Minister introduced over the last couple of years and also the legislation being proposed by the Government, they must be complimented and lauded for their excellent efforts in combating crime.

We must accept that crime has been in existence for the past three or four thousand years and will continue to be in existence. The purpose of the Government and the Minister of the day is to ensure by constant revision and review of policies that crime can be held in check. It will not be wiped out overnight; in 20 or 30 years' time I am sure, if the Seanad is still in existence, we will be debating the problems of crime. I have the highest regard and praise for the work of the current Government and the Minister in question. In 1987 when the Labour/Fine Gael Coalition left office this country was on the verge of bankruptcy and having regard to the financial constraints imposed on this Government and the last Government, we in Government are doing an excellent job.

The number of Bills the Minister has brought before the House in a short time indicates the concern of the Minister and the Government in relation to law reform generally, for example, the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989, the Larceny Act, 1990, the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990, the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act, 1990, the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Bill and so on. Those have all been dealt with by the present Dáil and that clearly indicates the commitment of the Minister and the Government to law reform and to constant review of the system.

The motion by Fine Gael which I oppose proposes an increase in Garda numbers. The increases of Garda numbers, in itself, will not automatically ensure that we will see the end of crime and violence. If that was the case I am sure the Minister would put another 3,000 or 4,000 gardaí on the street immediately. That is only one process and it must be clearly stated that a significant number of gardaí — about 500 — have been put on the street over the last two years. Another aspect that deserves credit is that because of constant review by the Department about 200 clerical staff have been employed by the Department of Justice, thus releasing gardaí who had been doing administrative and office work. This must be lauded.

In the 1991 budget, £10 million has been set aside for the provision of modern sophisticated equipment so that the Garda will be a better and more viable force in their fight to combat crime. In the budget this year alone £40 million was provided for capital expenditure. I compliment the Minister for some of the programmes he has set out for this country. He was recently in Bandon, in my constituency, opening a new Garda divisional headquarters. Some weeks later he was in Cork city opening another headquarters and I understand there is a major job in hand for the provision of a new court-house and Garda divisional headquarters in Dún Laoghaire at a cost of £3 million. This clearly indicates the concern of the Minister and the Government in relation to the ongoing review and reform of legislation, the updating of the Garda and so on. The Minister and the Government must be complimented.

Senator Neville praised the success of the Neighbourhood Watch and the Community Alert Schemes, and I would concur with him. A large number of those schemes are operating successfully throughout the country. Listening to comments voiced by some of the Senators, one would think that the communities in rural areas are being neglected. I live in a rural constituency and from my knowledge, both as a practising lawyer and a person living in a community, over the past four or five years elderly, weak or underprivileged people seem to sleep easier because the policies being put forward by this Government are working well. People complain to me that the gardaí in our area are over-vigilant. The songwriter and singer Jimmy Crowley of Stokers Lodge fame wrote a song about the over-activity of the Bandon special squad. In fairness, from my knowledge of gardaí throughout a rural constituency, they are doing an excellent job and there are no complaints of which I am aware, of lack of co-operation by the Garda. As someone who deals with many accident claims, I am aware that the Garda are on the spot day and night and are always willing and available to co-operate.

I would like to refute the political point made because of the forthcoming elections, that many rural Garda stations are being closed and that this Government are neglecting rural Ireland. This is totally untrue. In my view the number of gardaí in rural Ireland, where crime is much less than in the cities, is adequate to deal with the problem. It has been under constant review by the Minister and the Government.

I laud the Minister for his recent announcement to recruit 1,000 gardaí between 1992 and 1995 and also for extending the training period in Templemore. That training period has been almost trebled. Therefore, the garda coming on the street is much more educated, more sophisticated and more geared to tackle the serious crime this country is facing in the line of drugs and so on. I am not saying there are no problems here, particularly in cities like Dublin and Cork. There are black spots in certain areas, like vandalism to cars, which must be kept under constant review but, by and large, the Minister, the Government and the Department officials are doing a very good job. I am delighted to note that over the next few years extra gardaí will be made available.

Another example of the Minister's concern and regard for more policing was the extension of the retirement age. Last year in the region of 350 extra gardaí, senior people with good experience, were allowed to stay on at their job. This is another indication of the concern of the Minister and of the Garda. From commissioner down, the Garda are doing an excellent job and must be complimented for their great work.

One hears criticism in relation to bail. The right to bail is a constitutional right given to any person who is taken into custody and a referendum would have to take place to remove that right. The Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution. On who occasions in the recent past this matter was referred to the Supreme Court and on each occasion the court upheld the constitutional and basic right of a person held for questioning to have the right to bail.

The provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, have worked extremely well. This Act clearly sets out that a person who is out on bail and commits a crime will automatically, if convicted, be forced to serve concurrent sentences and this, in itself, is a deterrent. In 1984 approximately 8,500 people on bail committed crimes. Last year that figure dropped to about 2,500 people, in the region of a 75 per cent decrease. This decrease over the past four or five years shows that this matter is under constant review. I would be concerned that anyone on bail should commit any crime. It is an outrage against society. This matter is being kept under constant review by the Minister and the Department. The calls by the Opposition for a referendum on the bail issue are not warranted. The Supreme Court, the guardian of the Constitution has, in the past upheld the constitutional right of individuals seeking bail.

Over the past three or four years the Minister, his Department and the Government have spent millions of pounds on updating equipment and providing the Garda with sophisticated recording systems, such as computers to ensure that much of the time wasted on filling out forms and filing records can now be spent by gardaí on patrol duties. This is a step in the right direction. In the speeches we have heard so far on this motion, one would be forgiven for wondering if there was any evidence to support what the Government are doing. I could spend a week explaining how the Government and the Minister, on different issues, are taking steps in the right direction to combat crime and to provide more gardaí on the streets.

Nobody complimented the Minister for his excellent work over the Christmas period when, as a result of his direct intervention and as a result of the vigilance of the Garda, as many as 100 lives were saved because of the clamp-down on drunken driving. There were fewer accidents and the Minister is keeping this under review. His stern action and strict enforcement of the law in this respect has ensured that there are fewer accidents on our roads and fewer deaths. Yet, we hear nothing from the Opposition to compliment the Minister on that.

The garda being recruited at present are joining the best police force in western Europe. The number of serious crimes prevalent in the mid-eighties had decreased substantially as a result of Government policy. In my view the problems with regard to crime are being tackled extremely well. This Minister has also proposed new legislation to ensure that the penalties for drunken driving will become more severe and rigid in that in the near future it is proposed that the alcohol limit for driving will be reduced. The vigilance of the Garda and the special squad dealing with road traffic offences and so on is paying dividends.

The Government and the Minister must be given the highest praise. In the mid-eighties members of the party who moved this motion — and the Labour Party — said we should not put people in prison. On the other hand, we heard a previous speaker say we do not have enough prisons. That indicates the type of disjointed approach by Fine Gael-Labour Coalition in the mid-eighties up to 1987. This Government are doing a good job and this Minister is keeping the situation under constant review. In my view, he is a considerate Minister. He has put through much legislation over the past two years and he has more legislation which he intends to bring before this House. That clearly indicates he is doing an excellent job and he must be complimented.

I am opposing the motion being put down by Fine Gael and recommending that the amendment suggested by me be accepted by this House.

The Minister for Justice.

Senator Hederman rose.

Senator, I must point out that constitutionally the Minister for Justice is entitled to attend the House and be heard in the House and I cannot absolve myself from confirming that.

Until what time?

It is a matter for the Minister for Justice. He has unlimited time.

I would like to thank Senators O'Donovan, Neville and McDonald for contributing to this debate. I would like to thank, in particular, Senator O'Donovan for the fact that he has put this whole question into perspective.

Crime is an understandable source of concern in all societies. The fact that our community is, in relative terms, more crime free than many others obviously provides no grounds for complacency. Recognising crime as a problem in our community certainly does not, in other words, mean we have come to accept it as an inevitable feature of modern living or regard it as something against which we are unable to take effection action.

The Government have always listed the fight against crime among their top priorities and I reject any suggestion that we have failed to counteract it. In particular, I want to reject the type of fear which was being generated here in the House by Senators Neville and McDonald among our old, the less well off and the infirm in our society in rural Ireland in relation to attacks on the elderly.

I want to clarify the situation and say that in 1985 the crime figures recorded that there were 453 attacks on the elderly in this country; in 1990 that figure had been reduced to 51. Even one attack on the elderly is unacceptable but to try to paint a picture, as was being done by Senator Neville and Senator McDonald, of a lawless situation prevailing around the country is not doing justice and is, I believe, creating an atmosphere of fear and concern for those in our society who deserve not to be subjected to that. As I say, even one attack on the elderly is one too many and we are striving to tackle that problem.

Even at the height of the financial stringencies forced upon us in restoring order to the public finances the Government have always been fully committed to the funding of measures to tackle crime, lawlessness and vandalism. For the record, let me list a number of specific measures which this Government have taken in this area.

By the end of this year 500 extra gardaí will have been put on our streets since July 1989 as a result of recruitment and the release of gardaí from office work through the civilianisation programme. I will be coming back to this later in my contribution, but I want to say that these 500 gardaí are part of the current 1,000 recruits. The last people in this present recruitment programme will be going through the training college by Christmas and we are already advertising for further 1,000. Over 120 gardaí in Dublin alone have been assigned to community policing duties, which have been instrumental in promoting better Garda community relations and preventing crime. Cork, Limerick and Galway have also benefited from this programme which will be extended shortly. In order to strengthen the management of the Garda Síochána — a very important aspect in the management of any organisation, especially an organisation of approximately 11,000 men and women — some 660 promotions in its ranks have been authorised by myself and the Government since November 1989. In the past 18 months 195 civilian staff have been taken on to release gardaí for outdoor duties and a further 55 civilians will be taken on for this purpose before the end of the year. Again, let me elaborate slightly.

It has been my policy since becoming Minister for Justice that gardaí should be used for the purposes for which they were recruited and for which they were trained, that is, to be out on the beat preventing crime and dealing with the general public. They were not recruited as clerical officers and should not be doing the tasks of clerical officers. That is why I am engaged in this recruitment of 250 civilians to replace and release the gardaí from their desks and get them out on the beat.

A sum of £10 million is being provided in this year's Estimate to upgrade Garda equipment of every kind. By the end of this year £40 million will have been spent on the current Garda building programme. This was touched on by Senator O'Donovan and I want to assure him that that programme will be continuing in the years ahead. Further contracts have been released. A contract has been released, for example, today in the Dún Laoghaire area where approval has been given for the contract for a new courthouse and Garda divisional headquarters there. The Garda have been operating in very bad accommodation and we will have a brand new headquarters completed there within about 15 million.

A new divisional headquarters is being built in Cork city. Senator O'Donovan referred to the new divisional headquarters in Bandon. We have had a new divisional headquarters in Cavan and a new district headquarters in Balbriggan, a new station in Watercourse Road, a new divisional headquarters in Mullingar, all opened within recent weeks; and, just as they are being opened, new contracts are being issued because we are committed to ensuring that our gardaí will operate in the most modern and efficient premises to allow them to provide the type of service to which the general public are entitled.

Garda juvenile liaison officers and public service vehicle inspectors have been put on the seven day roster to enable evening and weekend working by these members of the force. The juvenile liaison officers service is being totally reformed and a national office to oversee this service was set up last December. Community based initiatives to rehabilitate young offenders have been set up in Dublin and Limerick and will be extended elsewhere.

For those juvenile offenders for whom custodial education is the only option, my colleague, the Minister for Education, intends to provide 45 extra places by September at the Ard Mhuire site in Lusk, County Dublin, that is 36 places for boys and nine for girls. The Minister for State at the Department of Health, Deputy Chris Flood, presides over the new interdepartmental committee of officials from his own Department, Justice and Education, who are dealing with this and all other aspects of the treatment of juvenile offenders and young people at risk. A Garda schools programme is now in place in 14 Dublin schools and will, be extended to other population centres shortly. I will be announcing the details of that extension tomorrow at a passing-out parade in Templemore from which we will see a further 80 gardaí coming on to the streets of Dublin.

There has been a major response to Neighbourhood Watch schemes with over 1,046 schemes now in operation covering 202,000 households approximately. Of course, we have Community Alert as well, which is the rural equivalent of Neighbourhood Watch, with approximately 250 schemes there.

The Government's commitment to the proper resourcing of the Garda Síochána had led to noteworthy success in the fight against crime. The level of recorded indictable crime in the Dublin metropolitan area decreased by approximately 8 per cent in 1989 as compared with the corresponding figures for 1988 and provisional figures indicate that the level decreased in 1990 by a further 3 per cent. Tentative figures for the first five months of this year show an increase in crime in certain areas. Although it is far too early to conclude that these figures are firmly indicative of a longer-term trend, we cannot obviously await confirmation of trends before we act. I want to make it quite clear — because it does not always emerge from media and other coverage of the situation — that the Garda authorities have already put specific measures in place to counteract the increased incidence of crime in certain parts of Dublin city, in particular. These measures include the use of additional patrols and checkpoints, greater deployment of plainclothes surveillance units and the targeting of Garda resources to meet specific anti-crime needs in particular areas. For example, in some areas the gardaí are riding on the DART. Garda authorities are satisfied that these measures will prove effective in tackling the problems, especially drug-related incidents which have given rise to concern in certain Dublin suburbs of late.

Reference has been made in several fora lately to specific areas which are allegedly down in terms of Garda activity on the ground. DMA East Division is one example cited. That division is, in fact, a good example of the swift response taken by the Garda authorities in our major cities to emerging problems. DMA East has a new chief superintendent since the turn of the year. He has three able superintendents and 440 other members of the force reporting to him, which is roughly on a par with the Garda strength in the area in recent years. In the past three weeks the division has been augmented by a new nine person Garda task force which is concentrating its efforts on burglary, larceny from cars and drug-related offences in the area.

The "copycat" car burnings problem in DMA East, which is a new phenomenon, has received particular attention from the gardaí in this division and three persons are now before the courts in this regard. Furthermore six additional gardaí are being scheduled for assignment to this division next week, three in Cabinteely and three in Shankill. This can hardly be characterised as inaction by the authorities.

As I said, only yesterday I announced the provision of a new Garda divisional headquarters and courthouse at the Adelphi Centre, Corrig Avenue, Dún Laoghaire, at a cost of approximately £3 million. The new station will be purpose-built to meet the requirements of the Garda Síochána and will provide the gardaí with all the facilities necessary in a modern divisional headquarters. In addition to the public office and general office accommodation, the station will have modern communications facilities, a dining and recreational area, showers, locker rooms, briefing and conference facilities and a modern cell block.

The project will also provide new and improved accommodation for sittings of the District Court at Dún Laoghaire. The new courthouse will be located alongside the new Garda divisional headquarters and will include adequate office accommodation, a public waiting area, consultation facilites, public toilet facilities and a solicitor's room, all of which will be a vast improvement on the existing courthouse accommodation. In addition, and in line with my recent undertaking to the Irish Association for Victim Support, the new courthouse will also include a separate room for the use of the association. I believe very strongly that for people who on occasions find themselves as victims of crime and have to go to a court there is already enough trauma in that situation and that we should provide as far as possible a room in the courthouse where they can have an opportunity to relax in advance of going into the actual court building and into the court itself, so that they can feel comfortable and feel they are not the people on trial; they are the victims and the victims should be assisted.

The overall project for the provision of the new Garda divisional headquarters and courthouse will be completed in an exceptionally short timescale. The detailed design and the legal formalities are being finalised at present with the developers of the site, Dillon Associates Limited, and the entire project will be completed in approximately 15 months from now.

Senators have raised three specific items in the motion before us this evening — Garda numbers, rural policing and bail procedures. The Garda Síochána are in the forefront of the battle against crime. Since becoming Minister for Justice, I have made it my priority to maximise the number of gardaí on the street to ensure that the force has the resources it needs to do its job of protecting the public from the wrongdoer. The objective is not just to increase the strength of the force until some magical number is reached, but rather to ensure that the Garda Síochána is provided with the level of manpower required to deliver an effective police service.

I have already announced that, following on the recruitment of 1,000 Garda trainees over the past few years, a further 1,000 will be recruited over the period 1992 to 1995. We have a newly-refurbished Garda college and a training course for trainee recruits to the Garda Síochána that is the best in Europe, if not the world. We have been recruiting to the maximum capacity of the Garda college and are continuing to do so.

I want to ensure that everybody here fully understands that last point. Irrespective of whatever ultimate strength is appropriate for the Garda Síochána, Garda recruits are currently passing through the college in Templemore as fast as its capacity will allow. The new initial training course is much longer than heretofore — 62 weeks as compared with 22 weeks under the previous system — and, therefore, there is a significant time lag before new recruits become full members of the force and available for police duty. However, this training programme is essential to provide us with young gardaí who are fully trained and have all the skills they need for policing work in modern society. The Government are fully committed to the Garda recruit training programme and there is no question of taking short cuts to artificially boost Garda numbers in the short term.

Recognising the current need for fully trained gardaí, the Government have not relied solely on recruitment to increase Garda numbers. As a further measure, the services of 350 experienced members of the force are being retained by means of a temporary extension of the retirement age for garda sergeants and inspectors. This extension, which I first announced in November 1989 for a three year period, is being extended for a further year, up to 31 December 1992. The combined effect of the Garda recruitment process and the extension of the retirement age will be to keep the strength of the Garda Síochána at the desired level in the coming years.

However, I would caution against getting too immersed in a debate on just Garda numbers. I am convinced that our emphasis in the future must not relate simply to adding more and more manpower to the ranks of the Garda Síochána, but rather to making the best possible use of the manpower already available to the force. It is this consideration which underlies the Government's civilisation programme and, indeed, the decision of the Garda authorities to review the policing arrangements for rural areas to make them more responsive to community needs. It is recognised internationally that there is a point at which it is simply wasteful and extremely non-productive simply to throw more police manpower at the crime problem. Not only does crime demand a much wider community response — because crime is not simply a policing issue — it is also necessary to ensure that the police resources available are used to best effect.

The rural policing plan submitted to me by the Garda authorities is not, as some have suggested, a cost-saving exercise. It involves substantially more, not less, expenditure on rural community policing. What it aims at is substantially improved contact between the Garda and the communities they serve in rural Ireland.

I am committed to ensuring an adequate and realistic Garda presence in rural areas. First, I want to get gardaí in rural as well as urban areas out from behind desks to do the job for which they were recruited and trained. Under the proposals being considered at present they will have more transport, new computer facilities, additional civilian clerical back-up and will see the abolition of outdated record-keeping. For example, the number of forms to be filled at a Garda station will be more than halved from the present number of about 60.

I want to emphasise that there will be no closure or downgrading of Garda stations. On the contrary, the plan entails the renovation of rural stations and Garda houses, specifically to encourage gardaí to reside in the communities they serve and with all the security and reassurance for local residents that implies. These proposals would guarantee to the general public that their local station will be open during those hours if it is officially due to be open. At present the opening hours of rural Garda stations can be unpredictable, with many of them closed for up to a quarter of their official opening hours. This is something I am determined to redress.

Those who make a great play about the new proposals leading to severe restrictions in the opening hours of rural Garda stations might do well to inform themselves fully about the situation on the ground before making further inaccurate comments in this regard.

I consider it vitally important that expert advice received from the Garda authorities as to how rural community policing might be improved should receive full consideration, and I do not intend to be deflected from my examination of the plan on the basis of misleading comments as to what is involved. Of course, full consideration will be given to all the views that have been put forward, both inside and outside this House, before any final decisions are made. The Garda associations have already given the opportunity to put their views to the Garda authorities and to me and I can assure the House that I will weigh very carefully the views of all interested parties before finalising the new arrangements.

My major concern at this point is to reassure the rural community, some of whom — for example, the elderly — may have been unnecessarily distressed by the misleading and in many cases, unfortunately, politically motivated statements which have been made. Let there be no doubt about it — the aim of the Garda plan is to make their communities safer from the activities of criminals. The aim is to devise ways in which the Garda services in rural areas can be improved. Let me repeat, there is no hidden agenda in the Garda plans for rural policing and I deplore the irresponsible comments being made which suggest otherwise. I would like to state it one more time, and hopefully for the last time. The plan ensures the ongoing operation of Garda stations which may have been under threat of closure by previous administrations.

The proposers of this motion also disregard the facts when they allege failure on the part of the Government to deal with the bail situation. The best deterrent against crime, including crimes committed on bail, is where persons who engage in such criminal acts know that there is every chance their wrongdoing will be detected and that they will be brought to justice and punished.

Contrary to recent public statements, including the implication in the motion before the House, the situation regarding crimes committed on bail is actually improving. In 1983, before the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, was passed, 8,295 offences were committed by persons on bail. Last year the comparable figure was 2,494 — a drop of about 70 per cent in the number of offences committed. In the period 1987 to 1990 the pattern is one of steady decline in the figures. The importance of the 1984 Act is that it provides that a sentence of imprisonment for an offence committed by a person on bail must be consecutive on any sentence passed or about to be passed on him for a previous crime.

While the number of offences committed by persons on bail has shown a very significant decrease, I accept that the commission of 2,494 such offences is still a matter for concern. My approach on this matter, and in relation to crime generally, is to give the Garda the necessary resources and to give the courts, subject to approval of the Oireachtas, the necessary legislative powers to deal with particular offences, consistent with the administration of justice. However, proposals under which non-convicted persons could be locked up in prison while awaiting trial would require very careful consideration. I am continuing to monitor the situation to see what further can and should be done in this area. If I am satisfied that further measures are needed, I will bring forward appropriate proposals.

I should like to point out that the Government's commitment to reform in the criminal law area is very clear. A number of important Bills have been enacted recently: the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989; the Larceny Act, 1990, which updates and refines the law on receiving; the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990, which provides for very strict controls on the supply and posession of dangerous weaponry; the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act, 1990, which provides for the taking of bodily samples for DNA and other forensic testing; and the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act, 1990, which redefines the offence, gives recognition to the seriousness with which sexual assault offences should be viewed and makes marital rape a crime.

The Criminal Damage Bill, 1991 which proposes to replace the Malicious Damage Act, 1861, and to penalise the unauthorised modification and accessing of computer data is before the Dáil at present. More recently, I introduced the Courts (No. 2) Bill, 1991, which,inter alia, allows District Court summonses in summary cases to be served by post.

I hope shortly to be in a position to publish a Criminal Evidence Bill which, among other things, will provide for the admissibility as evidence in criminal cases of business and computerised records. I will also shortly publish a Bill to provide for the seizure and confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking and other serious crime as well as the prevention of money-laundering.

A Juvenile Justice Bill will be introduced by me next year to update the whole illegal approach to young offenders. In the meantime I am invoking the powers conferred on me as Minister for Justice under the 1908 Children Act to bring in new rules of court which will change the regime in regard to the attendance of the parents or guardians of young offenders at juvenile court hearings.

The Law Reform Commission are at present conducting a comprehensive review of the law on dishonesty and fraud and their report, when published, will be receiving my early attention.

In relation to a number of the other points mentioned by Senators, may I say, in relation to the whole question of rehabilitation of offenders, that I share the Senators' concern in relation to rehabilitation and it is my policy and the policy of this Government to try to stop persons who have committed a crime from continuing on the path of crime. It was with that in mind that I reorganised on a national level the juvenile liaison service, because we want to ensure that our young people, if they have been tempted into their first brush with the law, rather than immediately being put into jail, should at that stage be helped and encouraged to get off a possible life of crime. It is with that in mind that we have the schools project operating now in Dublin and extending to other areas.

The whole question of on-the-spot fines and the general question of courts was touched on. I want to say to the Seanad that I had the pleasure yesterday of introducing into the Dáil a new Courts Bill, which increases the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court from £15,000 to £30,000 and of the District Court from £2,500 to £5,000 and which increases the number of High Court judges, the number of Circuit Court judges and the number of District Court judges. I was able to tell the Dáil yesterday about the new small claims procedure which has been established and which has been requested for many years in this country. Later this year, I will be introducing legislation also to establish a Court of Civil Appeal. All of these steps are aimed at making our courts more accessible to the general public and ensuring that there will not be undue delays in dealing either with civil or criminal matters.

On the question of different policing experiments which was touched on by Senator Neville, may I assure the Senator that that is what we are looking at in relation to using Garda manpower in rural community policing — to ensure the absolute maximum benefit for the people and to ensure that our people will get the service to which they are entitled. I can assure the Seanad also, in relation to post-1992 Europe and the necessary cooperation between this Government and the Garda Síochána and the police forces around Europe, that all necessary actions are being taken.

I have no hesitation in commending the amendment proposed by Senator O'Donovan to the motion before the House. The Government's record in relation to providing adequate resources for the Garda Síochána is above approach. We are ensuring the most effective use of available resources in the fight against crime and vandalism both in urban and rural areas. The sustained programme of law reform we are pursuing is proof positive of our commitment to ensuring the safety of our people from the criminal and the wrong-doer.

Debate adjourned.