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.