Private Business. - Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism: Motion.

I move:

In view of the alarming increase of 8 per cent in the crime rate for last year, Seanad Éireann condemns the abject failure of the Government to halt the continued increase in crime, lawlessness and vandalism; and, in view of—

(a) the extreme concerns of the citizens of Dublin and other cities with the level of urban crime,

(b) the increase in rural crime by up to 60 per cent in certain areas,

calls on the Government to immediately allocate adequate resources and manpower to An Garda Síochána and to embark on a programme of law reform to modernise the judicial and custodial agencies.

I welcome the Minister for Justice, Deputy Flynn.

The levels of crime last year are extremely disturbing. The figures show the serious upward trend which we all feared and which we indicated in this House to the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Ray Burke throughout last year. The rate of reported crime levels is now almost back to the 1982 levels when serious drug addiction caused it to shoot up.

Crime statistics present us with the cold facts but to the people affected, whether they live in major housing areas or in small rural communities, they represent a growing and intolerable interference from criminals. The statistics present us with the hard facts indicating the failure of the Government to halt the unacceptable increase in crime rates and the failure to protect the ordinary people of Ireland and allow them to feel safe in their homes, on the streets, at their places of entertainment or at work.

While in 1982, when similar levels were experienced, the heroin epidemic in Dublin was the most easily identifiable reason for the then soaring crime levels, there is no such identifiable reason on this occasion. The reason on this occasion is the failure of the Government to give proper resources and adequate personnel to the Gardaí.

Problems arise with the courts. Our courts may have become punch drunk from the sheer volume of criminal cases coming before them. We, as a society, are moving too far towards conferring privileges on our deviants while we deny our law abiding citizens their rights.

Our criminal justice system must be looked at critically and reformed. Every day the district courts are swamped with persons charged with all types of criminal offences. Sometimes the sentences handed down to people convicted in the courts fit those crimes, but too often the sentences fall short of what one would expect. There is no clearly defined sentencing policy. Our criminal law must be codified and simplified.

Criminal trials are cluttering up the system which is in chaos because of the bureaucracy surrounding our courts. There are insufficient members of the Judiciary to deal with the level of work. Courts are cluttered up with cases which could more easily and efficiently be dealt with under a different system. Courts are cluttered dealings with committal orders, instalment orders and so on. These should take place elsewhere. The Government should establish a debtors panel or court to relieve that area. The long called for small claims court should be established without delay.

More gardaí must be made available to do the job of crime prevention and detection. There is no justification for keeping gardaí waiting through long trials just to give a few minutes' evidence. An example of this was in a long murder trial lasting six weeks; a Garda who conveyed the murder weapon, a knife, from the scene to the official examiner was required to give evidence providing the link in the chain of continuity in the investigation process. He was detained for six weeks in court to give this evidence, some of this time even after he had given the evidence. Surely with modern methods of communication such a witness could be contacted and given an hour or two notice that he was required to be in the court. The irony is that a doctor, engineer or other professional who is busy with his/her work is treated sympathetically by the court, and rightly so. They are released from attendance until due to give evidence. Gardaí should be similarly treated. They should be out on the street where they would be more usefully deployed.

For half a day each week members of the Garda are engaged in accepting unemployment claim forms. This should be done by a social welfare officer who could rent an office for half a day each week in the town or village concerned. The activities which engage gardaí outside their core responsibilities of preventing and detecting crime should be examined and allocated to those who can as effectively or in some cases more effectively complete those tasks.

The Minister for Justice's predecessor, Deputy Ray Burke, throughout last year maintained that the level of crime was under control, that his Department were satisfied with the level of resources to the garda. We now know that the situation is at crisis level. The citizens of and visitors to Dublin and other cities are afraid to leave their houses after dark. O'Connell Street, Dublin, is becoming a "no go area" after 8 p.m. People feel intimidated by gangs of rowdy youths walking the streets. We must ensure that people can walk our streets in safety. The people are angry with the current situation. They demand action and the Minister must respond.

On occasion after finishing work in my office at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. I have walked through O'Connell Street but I no longer do so. On occasion I have felt apprehensive for my safety. The conduct of young people who act in a boisterous and intimidating fashion must be controlled. The current situation is not acceptable. Firm action must be taken against people who engage in threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour.

It should be an offence for a person to be found in a public place in a condition in which, because he is under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, he is a source of danger to another person or himself. It should be an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour. It should be an offence for a person having been warned by a member of the Garda Síochána to desist, who engage in any shouting, singing or boisterous conduct in circumstances likely to cause annoyance to other persons in the neighbourhood.

It is a sad reflection that in 1992 those who mourn their loved ones must ensure the protection of their homes while the funeral ceremonies are taking place. Funeral undertakers, in response to the need of clients, are providing a home protection service against thieves. It is a sad reflection on society that security firms, sometimes using uniformed personnel, are being hired by undertakers to guard family homes during removals and funerals. This service is often extended to relatives and neighbours of the bereaved families as they too are being targeted by burglars. Too often bereaved families come home from the burial to find their homes ransacked and valuables stolen. People are being advised by undertakers not to put cards on the door or to leave the house unattended. This is a sickening development and no effort should be spared to catch the culprits and stamp out this ghoulish practice.

Crime incidents in rural areas are increasing at an alarming level. In the Minister's constituency of Mayo, crime rose by 26 per cent last year. Cork west Garda division topped the league by recording a whopping 60 per cent increase in crime, followed by Roscommon/ Galway East with 41 per cent and third on the list is Mayo. It is ironic that these three Garda divisions have traditionally been among the country's most crime-free areas. The Limerick division, my own area, which is in the constituency of the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy O'Dea, had an increase of 9 per cent; 21 of the 23 Garda divisions had an increase in crime levels last year. It is important that the Minister should allocate more resources and personnel to rural areas where crime rates are causing extreme concern.

People living alone, the elderly and vulnerable people in rural Ireland, are living in fear. It is not unusual when visiting rural areas to see doors locked 24 hours a day with guard dogs for added protection. This is no way to live. The quality of life in such circumstances is unacceptable and the Government have a duty to tackle the problem. People should be able to live in a reasonable way without fear of being robbed, assaulted, raped or even murdered in their homes. It is time to cry halt. Resources must be given to the Garda Síochána to deal with the criminals who perpetrate such foul acts. These attacks destroy their victims and make their lives a living hell. They leave an indelible scar both physically and mentally. Such attacks too often trigger off a deterioration in health in old people which in too many cases prove fatal within a short period. This is a sad and a cruel end to a good person's life, a person who, in most cases, has worked hard and contributed handsomely to his/her community and his/her country.

I wish to pay tribute to the Garda Síochána and citizens involved in the community watch schemes. These have proved very successful in most areas. However, the success of the system in an area is highly dependent on the coordinator. In some areas where the coordinator loses interest or leaves the area, the scheme becomes dormant. No analysis has been done of the number of dormant or defunct schemes.

The Government must, as a matter of urgency, arrange for the necessary referendum to change the bail laws. The Government must use the opportunity of the forthcoming Maastricht referendum to do this. It is an excellent opportunity for the Government and should not be missed.

A new approach to Garda interrogation should be taken on board by the Minister for Justice. In our society which rightly allows accused persons the best legal advice free of charge, it is only fair that the accused should be made accountable for his or her movements when questioned by the Garda Síochána. The right to silence in these circumstances is an outdated principle which only serves to protect the guilty and does nothing to further the case of innocent persons. It 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 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 of over-zealous police officers who 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 the accused was rarely represented in court and could not give evidence, but today the rules only serve to help an increasing number of professional criminals to avoid conviction. Under the new system 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. Legislation similar to this has been introduced and the right of silence does not protect self-incrimination in a variety of statutory offences, especially offences under the Road Traffic Acts, like drunken 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 finger-printing Bill obliges the suspect to provide a DNA sample. 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.

It is unacceptable and a failure on the part of the Government that due to lack of prison accommodation, hundreds of law breakers are serving their sentences on the streets. They are allowed to walk free from jails because of the chronic overcrowding. Hardened criminals are being released, in some cases to make room for TV licence defaulters. This allows them to commit further offences while they should be behind bars. Freed prisoners are being sent back to the same jails within days for being caught for crimes often committed just hours after leaving custody. This must be changed. Our prison system must be reformed. Full sentences must be served by those who commit serious offences and non-custodial sanctions must apply to those who commit minor offences, such as failing to pay small fines or debts.

Too many professional criminals have now learned to play the system to ensure they are set free as early as possible to resume their criminal rackets. The system must be changed and the scandalous situation eliminated.

Given that many crimes are committed by those under 25, there is a lack of detention centres to hold young people convicted of crimes. The Government have failed, despite repeated promises, to tackle this issue and are still no nearer a solution than when the former Minister for Justice addressed this House on this issue almost 12 months ago. Even when criminals are put behind bars the great frustration, especially for the victims of crime, is that the burglar or murderer will be out of jail after he has spent only an average of one-third of his term inside. Too often we hear of gardaí who have the experience of escorting people to prison only to find them at home before them when they return to their areas.

The Government must recognise that poverty, unemployment and education failure are the main causes of youth alienation from society, resulting in a high level of crime. This situation has a potential to grow and envelop more aspects of our society. The Minister and the Department of Education have a key role to play in this. The role of the school in deprived areas must be examined. Policies must be introduced to strengthen the schools in these areas. Achievement at school must have more acceptance in status and in the communities in deprived areas where not only family attitudes but the atmosphere in the school influences the young persons view of the education system.

In Dublin, on any one day, one out of ten pupils is missing through truancy. This amounts to 6,000 truants per day in our capital city. One in three working-class young people in our housing estates leave school without any qualifications. They either fail their exams or drop out altogether. Either way, their life opportunities are severely limited. They start life with a badge of failure. School must become important and attractive to these young people. If a person does well in school he/she will do well when it comes to looking for and getting employment.

There is a problem with young people of school-going age committing offences in these areas. A young person who has been identified as an offender will frequently be visited by the 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, 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.

In urban and rural areas in general we must recognise that crime prevention is a key element in tackling the problem. We must look at tighter regulations in regard to the retailing of alcohol, especially to young people. Cars should be more secure. Car manufacturers should be obliged to introduce proper and more sophisticated anti-theft devices. The Minister must look at the policies on and sanctions of youth crime. New and imaginative non-custodial sanctions must be introduced. Sufficient places must be available in residential care only where non-custodial sanctions clearly fail.

Professional help must be available to families in difficulty. The Child Care Act must be implemented immediately. Health boards must be given adequate resources to assist families in trouble. Child abuse, family violence and alcoholism are often features of a family where youngsters slide into trouble. Proper support systems should be available to families at risk.

I look forward to the Minister's reply.

I welcome the Minister for Justice to the House; I wish him the best of luck. I hope he will be innovative and will act immediately on many of the suggestions that will be put forward by all sides in this debate.

I second this motion of condemnation of the Government for their abject failure to halt the acceleration of crime, lawlessness and vandalism. It is evident that even since our last debate in Private Members' Time in June 1991 neither sufficient resources nor manpower have been made available to the Garda Síochána to deal with crime. It is essential that we embark, as the motion suggests, on a programme of law reform to modernise the judicial and custodial agencies.

Listening to radio and watching television over the last 12 months, and even before that, I noticed that our chat shows are predominantly taken up with distressed phone-ins by people who have been subjected to vicious attacks. This morning I was listening to the "Gay Byrne" programme on my way here. The worst case discussed was that of an extremely vicious sexual attack on a woman of over 80 years of age suffering from Alzheimer's disease. One could not imagine anything more vicious or horrific. This is happening in rural Ireland, not just in down-town New York or Chicago. We have turned into a nation of criminals. Viciousness is all around us. It is reflected on our chat shows; it is, unfortunately, a sign of the times. The assailant in this case was disturbed and was, fortunately, caught.

There are many such cases which are not even reported because of the sense of shock, fear and embarrassment felt by older people who might not even be visited by relations. They are so terror stricken that sometimes they cannot even tell what has happened until they get support and help. As the Minister saw, and responded favourably to, on the "Late Late Show", people who had been victims came across on our television screens as being psychologically, physically and financially affected, although the financial aspect was not emphasised to the same degree. One particular gentleman's appearance was one of shock and he had been attacked several months earlier. That was one of the most talked about editions of the "Late Late Show" and the applause was an indicator of the audience's concern for the plight of the victims and the ex-Garda member who spoke so sincerely and forcefully about the plight of the victims and looked for positive help by way of victim support for them.

The basic request was not for some weird and wonderful technological improvement but for the presence of more gardaí on the streets. I live in a suburban area and had two break-ins in succession some years ago. One occurred on a bright summer morning, despite the fact that I had a dog. It turned out that neither he nor the fact that it was a bright summer day was a deterrent to the intruder who subsequently returned before I could get a burglar alarm.

Almost all suburban houses and some in rural areas have burglar alarms. All precautions are being taken but there are still burglaries because these people are sly, and find skilful ways of gaining access. They have surveillance down to a fine art. Their surveillance of a house is of Interpol standard. They lie in wait and are ready to pounce. As Senator Neville said, one walks at one's peril through the streets of our towns and cities. Shop fronts are barred. Once upon a time as you passed by an electrical shop you sneaked a glance at the main evening news on television or the racing or football results. This is not possible now. The streets are desolate, empty and devoid of normal life. There is danger lurking behind every corner. The disco devotee's move in crowds; the late night revellers scatter to their homes and there is no loitering.

Once the garda would have been seen as a figure of authority and whose presence was viewed with a sense of foreboding. The garda is now seen as a supportive figure and, in a sense, as security, but as a result of cutbacks, the number of gardaí on the beat has decreased.

Senator Neville mentioned the familiar sight in rural towns and villages of neighbourhood watch or community alert. They are outward symbols of terror. The elderly are barricaded in their homes. They should be able to live in peace and security having devoted their lives working for the community. Again and again we discussed the closures of post offices and creameries but the last straw was the closure of rural barracks. Communities are living behind triple locked doors and many people keep vicious dogs; it is no longer the friendly sheep dog as politicians see when canvassing.

In 1985, Garda membership was 11,400 and 1990 it was 10,500. In rural areas a number of retired gardaí were not replaced; a third of all small rural stations are without a sergeant. In County Limerick not only little villages or what we would call crossroad settlements are without sergeants. Towns with sizeable populations are similarly affected. Kilfinane, Ballymurragh and Athea would like to be considered towns but, correctly speaking, they are large villages. They are without sergeants. The result is that the number of attacks on elderly people has increased. Many elderly people do not have telephones and they are left without aid; it is only a caring neighbour who might detect that an attack has occurred.

In a debate last year I referred to what is popularly known as the "green man" and having checked the system I now find that apparently it has not worked. Public representatives have answering machines which are necessary for our lifestyles but we are exasperated by the number of callers who go off the line because they are not tuned into an answering machine; about ten to one leave messages. One could argue the urgency of the message but some people just drop the phone. I say that to show that people are slow to accept new technology.

I do not see people queueing up to talk to the "green man". People do not like talking through intercoms. The "green man" was a most extraordinary innovation. I am not against innovation but the human dimension is very important when one is talking in terms of crime. Nobody needs a device like that when they are shivering and shaking with fear. They need a human being, the friendly face of a trained garda, not a machine. What research has been carried out on this system? Has the report been published? I know there was one ready. Are we spending money on technology that is not used? My information is that in the Limerick area there would be formal communication with the gardaí at least 20 times a day when gardaí were present but now there are only a few dozen calls over a prolonged period. The "green man" is no substitute for the uniformed garda. Before introducing technology the community should be asked if they wish to have this device or the real presence of the gardaí. If that were done I am sure the response would be to get rid of the "green man" and bring back the gardaí. In times of stress one wants the human dimension.

I would like to outline the need for proper support for victims. The smart slick burglar or the person who commits a sexual assault will know every movement of the gardaí and they will know who is vulnerable and when. During the summer months in the Limerick area, taking a figure of 19 gardaí on duty, approximately five gardaí will go on leave and others are on courses and will not be replaced. As a result of cutbacks in overtime, during the summer months a skeleton staff try to cope with increasing problems. On a typical Sunday, of the 19 officers on duty, there were ten on duty between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. The gardaí noticed that the number of crimes increased at that time, which shows the Interpol-type of surveillance mounted on the movement of gardaí. In the Limerick area, the number of cars broken into during that time increased. It is macabre and sad, but the number of house and car break-ins during funerals while the mourners are in the cemetery has increased. The mind boggles at the insensitivity of these attackers.

The fundamental test in deciding whether to allow bail is the likelihood of the applicant to evade justice. His solicitor will give a guarantee that he will appear when his court hearing comes up. Some people while on bail — this has been shown statistically — waiting for their court cases to be heard, commit new crimes because they know they will get concurrent sentences. We want bail to be refused because evidence shows that offenders continue to offend. That must be addressed.

There are 300,000 people on the dole. What research is being done on the relationship between unemployment and crime? Youngsters with ambition whose futures are bleak, who are in poor housing and have low self-esteem, graduate from glue sniffing to petty crime, from joy riding and wanton vandalism to robbery and serious crime. What is needed is early detection, the investment of resources in support systems, and the gardaí seen as figures of security and support by the community. Children do not set out to behave badly but if they do not get support at an early stage, given all the disadvantages — the areas they live in and the lack of opportunity — they end up committing crime.

We must increase the number of gardaí, get rid of the "green man" review the policy of policing in rural areas, deal with bail and, most of all, establish a task force involving the Departments of Justice, Health, Education and Social Welfare. As I said, I hope this Minister will be innovative and I look forward to immediate action.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "In" and substitute the following—

"noting public concern about prevailing crime levels in Ireland and accepting that Irish crime levels are extremely low by international comparisons, Seanad Éireann fully supports the Minister for Justice and the criminal justice agencies in their continuing efforts in this area."

I have sympathy and agree with much of what Senators Neville and Jackman said. Nonetheless it is appropriate to amend the motion.

I remember many years ago as a youth reading some old copies, of theBell Magazine. Sean Ó Faolain, the Lord have mercy on him, was editor. I remember reading a very moving article by a bank clerk who had committed a crime in the bank and had been sentenced. It was an account of his days in jail, the effect on his family, his friends and on himself. I suppose it was an example of what we now call white collar crime. I felt great sympathy for him and I still feel sympathy for prisoners when I visit prisons.

I also spent some time in a casualty department treating the people we think of when we talk about violent crime, people with a black eye or something like that, people with far more serious injuries from knife wounds or strangulation and people with various horrific injuries. There one sees the effect of violent crime on the victim. Until one has been assaulted or had someone close assaulted, or had one's house robbed, I do not believe one fully appreciates the sheer horror of a vicious criminal attack.

I have a great deal of sympathy with what Senators Neville and Jackman said. At the same time, we must have a sense of balance. They talk of an alarming increase of 8 per cent in the crime rate for last year. They could have said the crime rate in Dublin was down by 8 per cent in 1989 compared with 1988. Some of these statistics can be a little misleading but, nonetheless, I and my colleagues on this side would share their concern about crime rates. Any violent crime or burglary is one too many but let us be clear about it. We are very lucky in this country when we consider what is happening not only in New York or Florida — there are more deaths of young men between the ages of 15 and 30 from homicide than from any other single cause — but in other EC cities when it comes to the level of crime, particularly the relatively low levels of crime with violence. As I say, every crime must be condemned and we must attempt to reduce the number of crimes committed.

Unfortunately, one of the causes of the increase in crime in this city over the last few years has been the incidence of drug taking. I know of many chemist shops and doctors' surgeries which have been repeatedly raided by individuals hoping to find either drugs or prescription blocks so that they could write illicit prescriptions. A number of violent crimes committed in order to obtain a few pounds are carried out by drug addicts attempting to satisfy their addiction. However, there is genuine cause for concern and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, of which I am a member, has pointed to its concern, and rightly so. They carried out a survey among chamber members and the findings were very disturbing. They had some comments and criticism to make of the criminal justice system, some of which were justified.

We must look at what we mean by crime. There are many ways to define crime. It varies from country to country and from year to year, which is another reason statistics can be used to prove or disprove almost anything. Most of us think of crimes with violence — a tourist being assaulted, mugged or robbed while walking along the street or, alternatively, somebody's house being burgled and the contents strewn all over the house. That is what we have in mind when we think of crime.

There are other sorts of crime, for example white collar crime. Computer crime is growing but I do not think that is what we have in mind when we talk about crime. It is not something we are personally concerned and upset about as we would be if somebody was attacked, assaulted or beaten, or a house or car was robbed.

Let us think about the causes of crime and face the fact that, unfortunately, crime has been with us through the ages and, human nature being what it is, it is likely to go long after we have departed the scene. It has been shown many times that in the structure of the population when certain age groups are fairly dominant, they are more likely to be involved in some form of crime. We have some bad social conditions in this country, though we do not have the same appalling social conditions that exist in, for example, Central or South America, where it may be a crime to steal to feed your family, but it certainly is not a sin to do so. There are different definitions of what may be technically or really a crime. What can we do about it?

I join with Senators Neville and Jackman in their tribute to the Garda. We hear criticisms of them at times but, by and large, they do a very good job. I would rather approach a garda than a policeman in any other country. They do a good job. They are very fair. There is no corruption and they are a magnificent force of men. They have their difficulties and frustrations. Probably they are most frustrated by the courts system; they know criminals with records may be released on bail and back on the streets within hours of the court hearing, or, they may be released on a technicality, failure of evidence, etc.

Again we must have balance here. We are trying to run a fair criminal justice system and we must be very careful not to overload it too much in one direction. There is a feeling that sometimes we concentrate too much on the criminal ensuring he is not unfairly convicted and not on the victims, the frustration suffered by the gardaí and the feeling that they know who are the rascals, who is, has been and is likely to continue to be but because of the legal situation they are unable to deal with them.

I agree with Senator Neville that people should serve their full sentence for a serious crime, but again we must have balance here. The whole object of reducing the length of time which criminals spend in jail is to encourage them to behave better in jail and, hopefully, to turn from crime when they come out. If we say that, irrespective of their behaviour, they will serve a full sentence — particularly if it is a ten, 12 or 15 year sentence — they will have no incentive to be model prisoners to change their behaviour later. We have problems there.

Anyone who has visited Mountjoy — I am sure Senator Neville and other Senators have been there — know it is very depressing to see people in jail and to think why they are there. We must look at the overall picture and decide who really should be there, without any ifs and buts, and kept there. Then we must decide who should be in a custodial centre. It is not always best to send a young person to jail. Certain young people should be there and kept out of the way because they are evil and commit horrendous crimes; but there are others for whom sending them to jail is like sending them to a criminal academy because they come out worse than they went in. It is very difficult to strike a balance but we must endeavour to do so.

We must try to deal with the causes of crime and then try to stop them being committed; we must tackle the problem of hardened criminals who should be serving a custodial sentence; we should encourage those who can be helped to stay out of prison and last but by no means least, we should think more about the unfortunate victims.

The Minister was replying to an Adjournment Debate the evening he was appointed Minister for Justice. I again warmly welcome him and wish him success.

I would like to express my thanks to the Chair and to other Senators who congratulated me on my recent appointment to this high office. I am sure that sentiment is shared by Senator O'Toole.


Although I am a matter of weeks in the job of Minister for Justice I very much welcome this early opportunity to discuss the crime situation and the Government's response to it. While I accept that the Government and the law enforcement agencies have a major role to play, I maintain that the situation also requires a response from society as a whole.

Major social, economic and demographic changes are being wrought in our country. Many of these changes have implications for tonight's debate. In a matter of a generation, in my own lifetime, many of our institutions have undergone fundamental change. The institutions which traditionally supported ethical conduct in young people — the family, schools, churches and the institutions of the State — no longer seem to exercise the same influence. In a society where traditional values are undergoing challenge and change one would expect a rise in anti-social conduct and crimes against property. This is, indeed, reflected to some extent in our situation.

Demography is also central to any discussion of crime because over 70 per cent of all crime internationally is perpetrated by people under 21 years of age.

We can draw considerable solace from the facts about the prevalence of crime in Ireland especially when we contrast our experience with that of other jurisdictions.

First, the crime rate here is very low compared with that prevailing among our European neighbours. We have roughly 25 crimes recorded per 1,000 people per annum. The comparable figures are 74 per 1,000 for England and Wales and 71 per 1,000, for Germany. The number of indictable crimes committed in Ireland in 1990 was 87,658; the number committed in Scotland, which has a population of less than twice ours, for that year was 535,864. Indeed, crime increased in Scotland in 1990 by 42,497 crimes, nearly half the total number of crimes in Ireland in that year.

Crimes against the person constituted less than 2 per cent of all recorded crime in Ireland in 1990 which is a very low figure. Forty per cent of all crime was against property, mostly burglaries which comprised 32 per cent of total crime. Fifty-seven per cent of all crime was in respect of larcenies; larcenies from vehicles comprised 20 per cent of total crime.

I mention these figures to show that, although the indications are that the level of crime increased last year, and that in itself is of course a disappointment, it is important to consider the detailed statistics to gain a proper overview of the actual law and order situation. Most crime is property related and property can be protected with the active participation of society supporting the Garda Síochána.

Furthermore, it is extremely important when looking at crime figures to examine not just the movements that take place from year to year but also to look at the pattern over longer time spans. For instance, armed raids which peaked at 685 in 1986 were down by 33 per cent by 1990 to 459. In the same period attacks on the elderly fell by 90 per cent; unauthorised taking of cars fell by over 40 per cent. These are merely examples of successes which can be overlooked in the absence of detailed examination of crime statistics.

I draw attention to these considerations only in the interest of balance and certainly not to give the impression that last year's crime increase is something that can be looked upon with complacency. As to figures for 1991, they are not yet finalised. Official figures will not be available until later this year when the commissioner's annual report on crime will be published. I can say, however, that present indications are that the final figures will show an overall increase of the order of 7 to 8 per cent. The absence of official 1991 figures do not, however, invalidate the comparisons I am making.

As soon as it became apparent last year that an upward crime trend was emerging, immediate steps were taken by the Garda authorities to address the situation. These steps include a highly targeted use of resources to deal with crime problems in different areas. This involves the stepping up of Garda activity on the streets, the use of uniformed and plain clothes patrols on foot and in marked and unmarked cars, covert surveillance of known criminals and areas of high criminal activity, etc. No effort is being spared in reviewing, assessing and improving these Garda anti-crime strategies.

I have mentioned examples of Garda successes in recent years in the fight against crime, in tackling, for instance, attacks on the elderly and the scourge of joyriding. However, my purpose this evening is not to play with statistics. They are cold comfort, indeed, to the unfortunate victim of crime. We all know, and I do not intend to labour the fact, that our gardaí are effective by any standard in dealing with crime. I do not want law enforcement to be seen as the only response to the problem of crime but let me assure this House that I intend the gardaí to have the resources to do an even better job. With the proper deployment of Garda resources and the support of the wider community I know we will get the optimum result from the law enforcement agencies.

In that regard I note that the past decade has seen the gardaí reach out to involve the public in the fight against crime through a number of very successful community-based initiatives. Community policing schemes put our gardaí in better touch with the communities they serve, working with the people and at hand when they are needed. Neighbourhood Watch schemes have been developed throughout the country to assist the gardaí in protecting homes and property. Community Alert members keep a watchful eye on elderly people at risk in rural areas and work with the gardaí to ensure that maximum protection is provided.

A small number of urban areas are particularly hard hit at present with problems of youth vandalism and there is genuine concern among law abiding residents about public order in their neighbourhoods. This is a major issue as far as I am concerned. The subject, however, requires and deserves a response from many agencies and Departments not just the gardaí and the criminal justice system. That is why an interdepartmental working group is involved in preparing a special report on the topic for me. I look forward to receiving this report within the next six weeks or so and acting upon it as a matter of urgency.

Any discussion on the crime problem must inevitably raise the issue of drug abuse. Drug or substance abuse is a complex and difficult social problem, one which calls for a concerted effort from parents, teachers, voluntary and community workers, health officials and the law enforcement agencies. Last year the Government launched a comprehensive strategy to prevent drug abuse and set realistic and achievable objectives for reduction both in the supply of, and the demand for, drugs.

I applaud the excellent work of the gardaí in targeting drug traffickers and compiling up-to-date intelligence on their activities. I am pushing ahead with the legislation to hit these criminals where it hurts — their pockets. Work is at an advanced stage in my Department on the Bill to provide for the seizure and confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking and other serious crime and the prevention of money laundering generally.

Tackling the international dimension to the drug trade, Ireland is joining with the other member states of the Community in the establishment of a Europol Drugs Unit to act as a co-ordination unit for drug related information between member states. This unit will come into existence by the end of this year.

Ireland has one of the highest police population ratios in western Europe. We have one garda for every 323 people, which compares more than favourably with, for instance, one police officer for every 400 people in England and Wales and one per 367 people in the Netherlands; it is one per a higher figure than other countries we are closely associated with. Unlike most comparable jurisdictions, however, we have very low figures in terms of civilian staff backing up the police and relieving them of those duties and responsibilities which are not central to their policing function. For example, we have one civilian support worker for every 20 gardaí as compared to one to every three in England and Wales.

The Garda Commissioner and his colleagues and my own staff are critically reviewing this situation now with a view to bringing the staff ratios in the Garda into line with other modern professional police forces. This is also a matter that is receiving the attention of the Dáil Committee on Crime. While some progress has been made to date — there are 550 civilians working in the Garda Síochána and 150 more civilians will be recruited this year — we need to do more and we are tackling that as a matter of urgency. I have already appraised Garda management and the Garda representative bodies of my firm intentions in this regard.

Civilianising the clerical function in the Garda is a necessary step in the effective deployment of the membership of the Force but I have no intention of putting the crime problem on hold until we achieve our civilianisation targets. Far from it. Side by side with long term objectives, we need, and, as I have already indicated, we are making, an immediate and determined law enforcement response to the current situation.

I spoke at the outset about the huge social changes we are confronting as a society and the need for a positive response by our national institutions. The Garda Síochána are not just changing their tactics and the technology they employ in the fight against crime. The whole process of recruitment to and training in the Force has been drastically updated. Young men and women with a high standard of education and intelligence are now competing on equal terms to enter a career in policing. They go through a two year induction/training course — it used to be only six months — which is a far cry from the old drill and rote learning which characterised the Garda training approach in the past.

A knowledge of principles of sociology, clinical psychology and modern communications as well as standard forensic skills, are all encouraged and fostered in today's trainee garda. We are making real progress in producing modern police officers to face the modern policing challenge. Up the line in the Force management training involving lectures from IMI staff and commercial practitioners is now being provided for all Garda chief superintendents and superintendents.

The criminal law in Ireland is used every day to bring criminals to justice. Very rarely does the system let down the law abiding citizen or the victim of crime. Although our criminal law is substantially an inheritance from our colonial past, Governments have considerably updated this inheritance, particularly over the past 2 years. Moreover, several further major initiatives are in the pipeline.

Indeed, significant progress has been made in this regard since the present Government took office. Specifically, in the area of crime we have enacted the Larceny Act, 1990 which strengthens the law considerably in relation to a whole range of offences connected with the theft of goods; the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990 which bans stun guns and controls the availability and possession of crossbows, knives and other dangerous objects; the Criminal Law, (Rape) (Amendment) Act, 1990, which criminalises marital rape, improves substantially the legal protection for victims of rape and other sexual assaults and puts in place procedures to reduce the distress that can be suffered during trials by those victims; the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act, 1990, which gives the Gardaí the power to take bodily samples from persons suspected of serious offences for subsequent forensic testing. This includes the test of DNA or genetic fingerprinting. The Criminal Damage Act, 1991, simplifies and modernises the law of criminal damage to property. It also facilitates the courts in requiring offenders to pay compensation to owners of damaged property.

I should also say that the Criminal Evidence Bill, 1992, now before the other House, will reform the law of evidence in several respects. It will make it easier for children and persons with mental handicap to give evidence in cases of physical or sexual abuse. It sets out clearly the circumstances in which the spouse or a former spouse of an accused person is to be competent or compellable to give evidence. It makes business records, including computerised records, admissible in evidence and it will help to bring to justice persons who commit crimes against tourists.

As far as thuggery and intimidation on the street is concerned — a matter of considerable concern to me at present — I am giving top priority to the early production of a Bill to modernise the law in this regard as recommended some years back by the Law Reform Commission. The new provisions contained in this Bill will apply to adults as well as to persons under 18. They will include the creation of offences relating to (a) persons being found drunk, or under the influence of drugs, in such circumstances that they are a danger to themselves or others; (b) the use of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place; and (c) disorderly conduct as, for instance, shouting, singing or boisterous conduct between the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. in circumstances which cause annoyance to other persons in the neighbourhood.

The gardaí will be given powers of arrest in relation to these new offences. Offenders will be liable to substantial fines and, if drink is involved, I intend that the gardaí will have the power to confiscate it on the spot.

I welcome the response to my request in that regard.

I also have proposals on hands to amend the criminal law in relation to extradition, juvenile justice, criminal insanity and miscarriage of justice, among other areas.

The prison system plays a vital role in protecting the community against the actions of criminal elements in our society. It contains in custody some 2,200 prisoners at any one time and copes with an annual throughput of something approaching 8,000 prisoners.

A new institution, which accommodates 320 persons recently came into full operation at Wheatfield. Work is currently in progress on the provision of a new unit at Mountjoy, the refurbishment of St. Patrick's Institution and the renovation of the detention centre at the Curragh. When completed, these units will provide accommodation for 180 more offenders. Since 1985 there has been a total investment in excess of £76 million in the prison building programme. This is a clear indication of the Government's commitment in this regard. The question of whether further accommodation needs to be provided in the prison system is a matter that is kept under continual review, having regard also, of course, to the need to refurbish on a phased basis much of the existing accommodation.

The long term public interest is best served when prisons are used only as a last resort and when a comprehensive range of effective alternatives, including community service orders, are fully employed. At present, there are over 3,200 offenders serving community-based sanctions under the strict supervision of the Probation and Welfare Service. That is about one-and-a-half times the number of persons who are in custody. Of these, over 700 persons are on community service orders. The total number of community service orders made by the courts in the period from 1985, when the scheme began, to the end of November 1991, is 7,332.

In addition a new scheme of intensive supervision which provides for the close monitoring and supervision of offenders in the community by the Probation and Welfare Service commenced in recent weeks. This scheme when fully operational will accommodate up to 200 offenders who would otherwise have to be held in custody. My Department are constantly reviewing the scope for extending the use of community service orders and at present are considering, in particular, the feasibility of extending them to fine defaulters.

Accusations that a "revolving door" system operates in our prison system are without foundation. Those who allege that prisoners are released in some haphazard way do not understand how our system of conditional temporary release works. I ask that Senators pay some attention to this matter because some recent reporting in newspapers has given the wrong impression and is both misleading and mischievous. Under the Criminal Justice Act, 1960, the Minister for Justice may authorise releases in particular cases. Offenders are granted temporary release for varying reasons for short periods — for example, three days a week — under certain conditions. All these releases have standard conditions which include the obligation to keep the peace, be of good behaviour and of sober habits. Other conditions are added, as appropriate, such as a requirement to report daily to the Garda Síochána, to be supervised by the Probation and Welfare Service or to reside at prescribed hostels. Any person breaching any of these conditions is liable to rearrest and immediate return to prison to serve the remainder of the sentence.

The criteria by which individual cases are assessed include the nature of the offence, the offender's previous criminal history, attitude while in custody, length of sentence served and a Garda assessment of the risk, if any, which may be posed to the community by a particular release. The overriding concern when assessing cases for release is the protection of the public.

Our conditional temporary release scheme is our system of parole and, as is well known, parole systems are a feature of all civilised societies the world over. Indeed, the flexibility of our system and the substantial measure of control which it affords over the behaviour of offenders while in the community is widely admired by penological experts in other countries, who constantly refer to the success of our parole system. It is inaccurate to refer constantly to a "revolving door" system. That is not true and it should be resisted by Members of this House because it is inaccurate and misleading.

While it cannot be denied that pressure on accommodation is a factor in some early releases, it should be understood it is only one factor in a decision to release an individual prisoner and all releases are judged in the light of the above criteria. In administering sentences for serious offences, shortage of accommodation is not a consideration. It is important that that point gets across to those who engage in serious crime. For them there is not nor will there be any early release.

With regard to the question of punishment, the law provides maximum sentences that may be imposed and these are very severe for serious crime. For example, the maximum penalty for rape, aggravated sexual assault and wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm is life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for larceny is ten years, and for handling stolen property 14 years.

The penalty to be imposed in any case is a matter for the judge in the light of all the circumstances and any mitigating factors. Since the circumstances of cases will be different actual sentences imposed will be different — that is unavoidable.

I do not accept that as is sometimes said the courts generally are too lenient. For example, in January 1988, the latest date for which figures have been published, there were 23 rapists serving sentences of ten years or more and 22 serving between five and ten years. Many fines fixed years ago are now out of date. I am preparing legislation to provide for a system of indexing fines so that their value will not be eroded with time.

The general question of sentencing policy is being considered by the Law Reform Commission and I will act on their report when I have received it.

Despite what I have said, cases may occur where the actual sentence imposed by the court may appear to be too lenient having regard to the offence. That raises the question of whether the prosecution should be able to appeal against lenient sentences. That is a matter on which I expect the Law Reform Commission to make recommendations in their report on sentencing policy. I would like to have that aspect cleared up as soon as possible.

I would like to close my contribution, a Chathaoirligh, on a note of absolute candour. Ministers for Justice on their own can no more prevent crime than ministers of religion can prevent sin. We can only seek to provide a positive influence in both cases. The people who commit crime are people who have parents, who belong to families. They are people with friends and neighbours many of whom know exactly what they are up to.

Those of us who have an influence over others — parents, community leaders, teachers and so on — all have an important leadership role to play in preventing juvenile delinquency. And let no one forget that juvenile delinquency is the main source of crime in our country. When a juvenile does offend a swift decisive response by the community is essential. If we had more decisiveness with regard to juvenile offenders, we might see a large decrease in the level of crime.

The message must go out to everyone from this debate: alert the gardaí if you know something. They can and will act. They are well resourced to do so. Furthermore, the range of interventions for young offenders is widening and becoming more effective all the time. There is concern in Government as in this House about the level of crime and the fear of crime. Action is being taken to address the situation. The emphasis now and in the future will be on tackling the problem in and within the community or neighbourhood where it occurs.

I thank the Senators I have heard so far. While I will not get an opportunity to hear all the contributions I would like to refer to Senator Neville's remark about special courts for special arrangements. There is a small claims court operating in three different locations in Ireland at this time and it will be extended in due course. I hope the Senator will welcome this innovation and we like to think it will be a success.

Senator Jackman mentioned in passing the "green man" as if the "green man" was connected to an answering machine. That is not the case. The "green man" is activated by a live man on the other end. There is no answering machine doing the "green man's" talking. A little more understanding of how the "green man" works might facilitate a grasp of the purpose of the system. I look forward to further remarks in the debate.

I was delighted with the Minister's promotion; as a fellow teacher I was more than pleased. He is a member of the INTO and has given solid service to the teachers' union.

There is one point I would like to refer to immediately and I speak without any party affiliation. The Minister made a comment with which I agree in the course of his presentation; many mischievous comments are made by people at senior levels; that did not begin this year or last year. I recall a member of the present Government as a front bench spokesperson on Justice calling for the resignation of the then Minister for Justice following a suicide in Mountjoy. I am sick of hearing toffee nosed politicians pronounce here every time there is a suicide in some penal institution. I wonder when it is going to stop?

Suicides do not take place only in jail. They take place in schools, homes and at football pitches. What are we going to do? Are we going to start blaming the school principals or the parents? Every time there is a suicide a programmed response, like pressing a button, where spokesperson after spokesperson calls for somebody's head.

I agree although I may not agree with everything the Senator says, perhaps there is an absentee who might learn from some of it.

I regret that he is not here because I have had this speech in my head for a long time. It is unfair that we blame people in charge of institutions. Closing rural Garda stations is a similar case; that is being made a political football as well. I know something of the closing down of small schools myself; it arouses the same emotive response. Sometimes it is the wrong course of action to take and sometimes it is right. We must consider not only the loss of a Garda station but whether the Force and service are improved. I speak as the son of a Garda who knows something about that way of life.

The points the Minister made regarding the need for reasoned responsible comment from those in political positions are valid. I invite the Minister to read the report from the latest meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts. The most extraordinary points were made at that committee about crime and lawlessness in the course of an investigation of the Secretary of the Department of Education. On the question of juvenile delinquency and juvenile crime there was a long discussion on the secure unit centres for juvenile delinquents in various parts of the country. The point made was that the efficiency and effectiveness of these institutions and the effectiveness of Government and State Departments in dealing with juvenile delinquency could be determined by the level of bed occupancy of these units. That goes against all available evidence. The question of filling our institutions has never been seen as a solution to crime. It is far too facile a response and I ask the Minister to take an early opportunity of hammering that one on the head. Law must be enforced and I go along completely with the points the Minister and Senator Conroy made. Some people deserve to have their liberty taken from them for a period because they are a danger and a threat to society.

It does not help when elected public representatives of the Minister's party in the Dáil call for something as animalistic as the reintroduction of whipping for young offenders. That is worse than mischievous. It is exploitation by the hang them and flog them brigade in order to get cheap tabloid publicity to gain a few votes from people who do not know any better. It is pub talk given an importance far beyond its merit by having it enshrined in the proceedings of a senior Oireachtas committee. The Minister will have made his position on that quite clear.

The Minister in his contribution twice mentioned the need for vigilance, support and development from teachers in the community. In my remaining ten minutes next week I intend to develop that point. We should welcome the Minister's commitment to children and the mentally handicapped being able to give evidence. This is a serious issue which needed to be addressed. Two examples of that occurred in serious sexual abuse cases in the last week. Despite the Minister's assurances I do not believe he will bring in the legislation he promised on the seizure of goods in order to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of crime. So far, I have heard four Ministers promise that, and it always goes back to our Constitution.

When is the Senator's next birthday?

It is a long time away.

Debate adjourned.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Farrell

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.