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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 May 1994

Vol. 140 No. 10

Reform of Criminal Justice System: Motion.

Acting Chairman

I welcome the Minister to the House.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann, in view of the escalation of violent crimes throughout the country, calls on the Minister for Justice to immediately bring forward a schedule of reforming legislation to radically amend the law in the following areas:

(1) Reform of the bail laws;

(2) Repeal of the petition system;

(3) Abolition of the unlimited right to silence;

(4) Reform and expansion of our prison system so that prisons are places of discipline, productivity and detoxification;

(5) Establishment of the Criminal Injuries Tribunal on a statutory basis with adequate funding;

(6) The appointment of at least four additional Circuit Court Judges to end the delays in both the Circuit Court and the High Court;

(7) The replacement of the listing system in the High Court by a modern, computer-assisted appointments or diary system and a total review of the courts system; and

(8) The introduction of the promised Juvenile Justice Bill to tackle the high incidence of juvenile crime.

I join in welcoming the Minister to the House. The motion presents an opportunity to the Progressive Democrats to put on the record of the House our plan to combat and contain the crime wave. We were all appalled today by the serious incident in which a body was found in a car in Athlone. This incident follows the incident in County Clare. Rather than dwell on these matters and give a redundant expostulation or condemnation of the surge in crime and lawlessness, the Progressive Democrats have tabled a worthwhile agenda which would be both balanced and effective.

Our first proposal is for the establishment of a modern and effective criminal code. Almost every other common law jurisdiction operates on the basis of a criminal code in which all the ordinary criminal law is set out in one statute. There are many models and precedents from which Ireland could choose and develop. All that is missing is a criminal law review committee to get on with the task. In this context, the valuable work done by the Law Reform Commission should be acknowledged but there is no reason to believe that the commission has the resources or mandate to accomplish such a task. On the contrary, the other tasks facing the Law Reform Commission suggest that codification of the criminal law should, as the Whitaker report on the penal system suggested, be entrusted to a specialist criminal law reform committee.

It is noteworthy that the Law Reform Commission is currently conducting a review of the law on bail. It is not, apparently, engaged in preparing recommendations for a change. Short of a referendum, the Progressive Democrats believe that the widespread abuse of bail could be tackled by making a bailsman liable to forfeit bail if the accused commits an offence while on bail. At present, he or she is only liable to forfeit bail if the accused absconds. By making bailsmen liable as sureties for the good behaviour of the accused, in addition to failure to turn up for trial, the State would prevent the abuse of bail. The amount of bail in such circumstances could reflect the criminal past of the accused without prejudicing his right to a fair trial.

The present law on bail is too lax and the changes made in the 1994 to require mandatory corrective sentences for offences committed while on bail, while of some value, are clearly not enough. If the statutory changes proposed above to modify bail law are implemented, a referendum may be necessary. However, the people demand some significant changes, and they are correct. In the course of travelling throughout Leinster over the past weeks, the view of the electorate in terms of bail and these matters has been underlined in the comments I have heard.

In relation to speeding up criminal justice, there is no need for the present delays. Summary offences are commonly dealt within six to 12 months after the event because of court listing problems.

I apologise to Senator Dardis. There is some confusion. I am not sure of the procedure when Senators Dardis and Honan have concluded.

Acting Chairman

The procedure is that after the proposer and seconder have contributed, I will call on a Fianna Fáil Senator to move an amendment. They have eight minutes. Senator Dardis has 12 minutes and the seconder has eight minutes. The Minister can come in when she wishes after that.

Appeals for summary convictions frequently take six months. The length of time it takes to deal with the court listing problems is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice. Trials on indictment normally take 12-18 months after the events charged. This delay is also the responsibility of the Minister for Justice.

The Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, needs urgent reform to end the practice of taking every witness's evidence down in handwriting by the deposition proceedings, where the accused so demands. This is being abused by serious criminals to delay and avoid criminal sentencing. It should be possible to circumvent the present District Court procedure by allowing the prosecution to serve a book of evidence without any right, except in rare cases, for depositions to be taken.

Recent events in County Clare have shown again that a person sent forward for trial in custody on one offence is immune from any power of interrogation or from any obligation to provide scientific samples in connection with the same or different offences while in custody. This loophole is of major significance. It has been known for many years but nothing has been done. The Minister should tell the House why nothing has been done.

In relation to delays in serious appeals, I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that because of entirely avoidable delays, persons who are convicted on indictment of major offences cannot be confident of appealing the verdict to the Court of Criminal Appeal within 18 months. It is a scandal and responsibility for it also lies with the Minister.

The Progressive Democrats believe that the Minister for Justice should be required in every case where a sentence is remitted to publish the fact in Iris Oifigiúil. Even if the identity of the person concerned in some cases should be kept secret, the bare fact of the remission should be a matter of public record. The power of remission and parole should be exercised on the advice of a properly constituted paroles and remissions board.

The device of temporary release is being used to disguise the fact that offenders now serve between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of the sentence term on average; sometimes it is very much less. The abuse of temporary release must be curtailed. Many serious crimes now are committed by people who are temporary release from prison. In future, the use of temporary release should be fully documented and supervised by a paroles and remissions board.

Extra prison space is required. As things stand, the system only works by releasing convicted prisoners prematurely. If an accused is remanded in custody, a convicted prisoner is released to make room for him. In our crazy Alice in Wonderland system, the guilty are released to make room for those still presumed innocent. The new facilities are Wheatfield and Castlerea are not adequate to deal with the problem. Instead of Mountjoy, we need a modern, purpose built prison which could function alongside Mountjoy while the present demographic bulge in offenders between 15 and 25 years passes through the system. In time, we could retire Mountjoy. This will cost money but so does crime. If the cost of operating an adequate prison system was compared to the cost of not having one, the arguments would be clearly in favour of building adequate prison accommodation now. If finance is the problem, a lease-purchase plan for the new prison accommodation could be considered with the private sector.

Our present jails are sumps of drug abuse and despair. The Minister has a clear duty to stop our prisons from becoming drug abuse havens. She is failing in that duty. Modern visiting facilities that prevent drug abuse and the taking of blood samples from prisoners suspected of abuse would be some response to the drug wave in our jails.

What type of society is it if we compensate victims of uninsured driving in full but often give nothing by way of compensation to a young woman who is raped or an elderly woman who is crippled by muggers or an elderly man who loses an eye while being beaten by burglars? In a society dominated by compensationists, the Minister has a clear responsibility to give some modest compensation to the weakest section of our community, the victims of crime.

At present, some victims of crime are reimbursed their medical expenses; those healthy enough or young enough to be at work get compensation for loss of earnings. However, even those meagre gestures at compensation are delayed by up to 30 months. Frequently, it takes two years for an award to be pronounced by the criminal injuries compensation tribunal. However, it takes a further two and a half years for the Department of Justice to pay the money to the victim — a delay of nearly five years from crime to payment. This, again, is the Minister's responsibility. She must put the criminal injuries compensation tribunal on a statutory basis and use more fines to pay part of the cost of compensating victims.

The Government has spoken about a juvenile justice Bill but what we need is a juvenile justice Act not merely talk of a Bill. We also need proper resources for the supervision and detention of juvenile offenders. Thus far we have had nothing but hot air. These and many other measures will be set out in detail in the forthcoming Progressive Democrats' policy on crime. We need more judges and courts to deal with offenders promptly in addition to prompt appeals and speedy trial procedures. We also need fair and transparent parole and remissions, workable bail laws and action from a complacent and incompetent Government. We need to see the Minister's proposals for change in all these areas now.

Acting Chairman

Before I call on Senator Honan I would like to say that when asked to explain the procedure earlier I should have said that there are two amendments but I omitted one. Senator Honan has eight minutes to second the motion while Senator Ormonde has eight minutes to propose the amendment and needs no seconder. Senator O'Toole has eight minutes and his seconder also has eight minutes. That is the procedure and I hope Members understand it.

I welcome the Minister and compliment her for her efforts so far in the area of justice. However, as my colleague has outlined, there are huge areas that need to be addressed which are of major concern to everybody and not only to people in cities. While the level of crime in our larger cities is high, people are also concerned about increasing levels of crime in rural areas particularly among young people. The motion before us deals with many areas and my colleague, Senator Dardis, has dealt with most of them. However, I would like to elaborate on some of them.

As regards the reform of the bail laws, a recent Garda magazine editorial said that "bail for serious crimes from the current breed of organised criminal merely supplies an opportunity to build up a nest egg for when they come out of prison". The current laws, which refuse bail to people only on the basis that they will intimidate witnesses or not turn up for trial, are totally inadequate. They take no account of whether the person is a persistent offender or if evidence is produced that he is likely to reoffend. This is totally unacceptable. If necessary my party would support a constitutional amendment to change it.

People need to be reassured that our system of justice can deal with criminals who, if they come before the courts, will not be allowed out on bail to continue reoffending. This is of major concern particularly to elderly people who feel it is hardly worth the garda's while arresting people and bringing them to court only to see them all out again to continue their illegal deeds. The Minister would have the full support of our party if she introduced changes in this area.

We have raised the repeal of the petition system when dealing with other Bills before this House. This is of both public and political concern and should also be of concern to the Minister. The Minister has outlined several times that she feels it is a reasonable system and that judges, when handing down fines or sentences, may not be aware of all the circumstances. The present system, however, is not very transparent and is a huge waste of the Minister's time because everything has to be referred to the Minister for Justice. Obviously some consultation must take place with the judge in the case but we should have that system only in exceptional cases. If we are to be transparent names should be published in Iris Oifigiúil. I understand this was the procedure up to 1961 but had to be changed due to the large number of cases coming before the Minister for review.

In the past year the Minister has introduced several Bills in this House, including a system allowing for appeal against lenient sentences. People feel that we are being two-faced and hypocritical about this. What is the point in handing down increased sentences if people can then appeal for leniency and have the sentences or fines reduced? The general public are very dissatisfied with this. Some of my colleagues will probably say they have found the system very useful and I am sure the Minister will also say that in her reply. Ordinary people are very concerned when they see others being taken to court and, in many cases, receiving what they would consider to be inadequate fines or sentences. Such people can then appeal and have their fines or sentences substantially reduced. This is not acceptable and the Minister should consider the situation. I have heard the Minister and the Minister of State speak on this matter several times and there seems to be some feeling that this cannot be done. I admit that there are some hard cases but these are the exceptions. We should make such exceptions only in very special cases.

The reform of our prison system is of major concern to all. At the moment prisons are not seen as places of discipline or rehabilitation. A recent report by a visiting committee concluded that the lack of work for prisoners was of great concern. I saw that problem myself when I visited a women's prison.

Overcrowding in our prisons must be looked at. Many problems in the system need to be dealt with, including the delay in getting cases to trial, remand prisoners being detained in prison, and others who have been convicted being allowed out before their term is served.

We must examine why such huge numbers of prisoners continue to reoffend. The governor and prison officers in a women's prison I visited told me that the women come back again and again and that in many cases their mothers were there before them. The prison staff said they felt that these women's children would also be in prison in years to come. That is a huge indictment on us as a society. I know the Minister intends to spend £66 million on changes in the prison system but building more prisons is not the answer. While there is a need for extra places of detention we have to ensure that prisoners will not end up in prison again and again. If not, this problem is going to escalate with the current prisoners' children, and their children, eventually serving prison sentences.

The system of education and detoxification must also be examined because 30 per cent of our prison population are drug addicts. A recent visiting committee's report stated that many prisoners are mentally ill and that prison was not the place for them. We must consider what other facilities can be provided. There is no place for young offenders to go at the moment so many of them end up in prison in the company of hardened criminals; this is totally unacceptable. The huge percentage of crime committed by young people is frightening. If people get involved in crime at an early age they are likely to continue along that road and they will have little hope for the future.

As Members of this House we are failing in our responsibilities if we do not highlight that problem and try to implement procedures that will change the system. For far too long it has continued in the same vein. I know the Minister has good intentions. I respect her; I think she is doing an excellent job but she has a huge task ahead. We have to be imaginative and see how we can change the present unacceptable system which is not doing any good for those in prison. It is not acceptable to our judiciary either, so we must look at radical ways of reforming it.

The appointment of additional Circuit and High Court Judges would help to reduce delays in the courts. However, the large numbers of people on remand are leading to overcrowding. The whole courts system needs to be modernised and computerised. The Minister has our full support in what she is trying to do. Although I did not have time to discuss this matter, the establishment of a criminal injuries tribunal on a statutory basis with adequate funding is vital and must be addressed immediately.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "that" and substitute the following:

"That Seanad Éireann commends the very significant measures taken by the Minister for Justice to improve the effectiveness of the Criminal Justice System; and urges her to continue to devote the necessary resources to deal with the crime problem."

I have spoken many times on the criminal justice legislative measures which have been passed in this Chamber in the last couple of months. We welcomed the public order legislation and it was well received in the community. The Minister was in tune with how people in the community felt and she responded accordingly. The Minister moved effectively in introducing legislation on the confiscation of drugs. The legislation sought to curtail the problems associated with drug abuse and to deal with drug dealers and those who satisfy their habits through crime. The Minister is busy and has shown tremendous energy and commitment in the area of justice.

We must start at the beginning. We are not talking about crime; we are talking about the nature of crime. What causes crime? We cannot assume that crime just happens, that we are not in a position to deal with it and that the Minister for Justice must answer for all aspects of crime. When we discuss the nature of crime we must also talk about social welfare and the planning that has produced the concrete jungles in our cities. Crime is not the responsibility of the Minister for Justice alone. Other Ministers are involved. The Minister has previously referred to that aspect of the problem.

I saw the Ronanstown report today and I am amazed that I have not seen it before now. It is a very important document. I am sure the Minister would like this document to receive more publicity because she was instrumental in it being written. The report spoke about the various issues which cause crime. It referred to the responsibility of parents and disrespect for society, authority, our institutions and people. Teachers, for example, cannot chastise a child without parents coming in to chastise the teachers. Every aspect of authority is being challenged. Perhaps we do not deal with students strongly enough in our education system. Perhaps we should involve parents more. I am quite concerned about this issue and my thinking on it has come around full circle.

The Minister cannot be held responsible for what we do in the educational sphere. Social welfare policy and issues such as second chance education are community issues and they affect the crime problem. The Minister should concentrate on her area of responsibility. However, she should open her Department to involvement with the Departments of Education and Social Welfare to see how the Departments can dovetail to deal with the crime problem. I could speak for a long time on this aspect of the issue.

I agree with the Minister and other speakers on the issue of bail. The easy availability of bail should be examined. The Minister has referred the issue to the Law Reform Commission and I hope she will return to the House to discuss its recommendations. I am concerned that the number of judges should be increased and the Minister has indicated that this will happen. I have great interest in the juvenile justice system. It is the subject of exhaustive debate because it relates to the education system. It involves the junior liaison officer, home school links, public health nurses, career guidance teachers, parents and the rest of the community. If we can get those areas to dovetail it will be the means to deal with crime.

Crime is a societal issue. We cannot say that it is the Minister's responsibility alone and that she should be answerable for it. She has done a superb job in the areas I have outlined. However, we cannot expect the Minister to do more than she is doing at present. We must involve the other Ministers. We must accept that this issue will not be solved by the Members of the Oireachtas. It will be solved by the community and the community must accept its role in that regard. I must refer again to parents. Disrespect for authority is very much in evidence. Where does that start?

I compliment the Minister on her work and I am delighted to move the amendment.

I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1:

After "problem" to add:

";and that the Minister for Justice establish a number of intervention programmes at primary school level, such programmes to include:

(1) the provision of hot meals;

(2) the appointment of child welfare officers and additional home school liaison officers, and

(3) special areas in schools in underprivileged areas for the education of chronically disruptive pupils."

I am glad a debate is being held on crime. There was a time in the recent past when every debate on urban crime began with a call from this side of the House for the resignation of the Minister.

Not this Minister.

Every tragic hanging in a prison cell was blamed on the Minister. I am glad we have moved away from that attitude.

That was in Senator Costello's time.

I did not like to say that.

Senator Ormonde referred to the report on urban crime and disorder. As an educationalist I welcome that report. It is the first time such a report has looked beyond the area of justice and included other aspects of the problem, including education. I was determined to include an educational element in this motion. The Minister's Department might not have been very enthusiastic about that. However, the issues I raise are based on our experience in education.

During the last two years I have conducted a follow-up investigation into the tragic case of a young man who committed suicide in Mountjoy. I wanted to find out about the educational background of that person. Typically, he came from a highly disadvantaged area. It was close to the inner city but not in a broadly recognised disadvantaged area. He was a young man in his twenties and I spoke to the teachers who taught him when he was in infant classes. The teachers remembered vividly the problems he created. They sought help at the time and called for support from the local inspector. Throughout the primary system they sought psychological reports on the young man. They failed to get such support — the structure was not there to deal with the problem.

Suffice to say that he went from primary to post-primary education and he did not last long in post-primary. He dropped out of school and dropped into a life of crime very easily. He terrorised people in the neighbourhood and got involved in petty and then more serious crime. Eventually, in the course of a larceny in a house in the area, he was disturbed by a person who happened to be a teacher. The teacher challenged him and a scuffle ensued. In the end the teacher was murdered and the young man was sentenced to Mountjoy for that crime. He was in Mountjoy for about four or five months when he committed suicide. Two lives were lost as a result of a problem which was identified when he was four or five years of age. The Minister, being a teacher, will have come across similar situations, although perhaps not as harrowing. She knows that when a problem is recognised at an early stage something should be done about it.

I told the Minister on another occasion that when the report about the north Clondalkin area was published, the Dublin west branch of the INTO considered it, spoke to the local teachers and came back to me with their views. My amendment is a proposal to take the report forward. I have chosen the wording carefully; this is not a proposal without limits. It suggests that steps be taken in a restricted way and that these could be assessed and monitored with the full co-operation of all groups to see how it would work.

The suggestion is that the provision of hot school meals might be more important than the building of more prisons. This may seem an exaggeration, but we must analyse why a large proportion of the prison population comes from recognised and identifiable disadvantaged areas. We must also discover why people enter a life of crime. In speaking to the Minister's officials and those who drew up the report, one crucial issue which emerged was that the first crime committed by those who went on to a life of serious crime was pilfering from a supermarket.

Which supermarket?

I do not wish to frighten my colleague, Senator Quinn; I hope he will support the amendment. Such pilfering usually involves items of food. This happens not only in Ireland but in other countries and the problem has been mentioned to me by teachers and officials from the Minister's Department. It is impossible for a system to intervene positively if children are hungry. I suggest we give hot school meals and develop the system of home school liaison officers and child welfare officers, which will be a combination of school attendance officers and juvenile liaison officers.

It is known and accepted that crime begins at an early age. It is also known that truancy leads to crime. As recently proved by the Department of Education, one of the reasons for children not attending school is that they have not had breakfast; they have no reason to get up in the morning and so will not go to school.

We need to respond to these problems progressively. We should try to introduce hot school meals in a number of areas, to increase the number of home school liaison officers and combine school attendance officers and juvenile liaison officers in a new expanded position of child welfare officers. We should also give resources to schools to deal with children who are constantly disruptive and troublesome. Such children have a dual impact, both on the other children in the classroom and on themselves in that they lose out. It would be more acceptable if they could be dealt with in the school.

The other great seed bed of crime is unemployment. Half of those unemployed have no qualification beyond primary school; therefore we should begin the process of coping with unemployment at that level. There is no point setting up extraordinarily expansive and expensive training schemes for people who cannot read or write, or have difficulty doing so. Such people will not gain from those schemes. An investment at primary level enables people to gain more from post-primary education, become qualified and gain employment.

If crime is endemic in certain areas, we must start at as early an age as possible. This report is progressive, forward-thinking and extremely useful. All those involved in it are to be complimented, as is the Department.

I agree with some aspects of the main motion but I would be completely opposed to the abolition of the right to silence, although it may need to be amended. The return of flogging, hanging and the stocks will not improve the position in the prison system or outside it. Early intervention is necessary. I ask the Minister to look favourably at the amendment to the amendment and implement the suggested schemes, in as limited a way as she wishes. The teachers in the north Clondalkin area who have examined this report would be happy to be involved in the monitoring and implementation of such a programme.

I second the amendment to amendment No. 1. Senator O'Toole concentrated on measures to avoid crime and attack the seeds to ensure crimes are not committed. Senator Ormonde said we should not simply put the onus on the Minister; this is a duty of the community as a whole. For some years I have been chairman of a judging committee for the neighbourhood watch schemes and the community watch schemes, which are strongly supported by the Garda. These measures do a world of good and are exactly what the Senator is talking about.

This motion is greatly concerned with resources and in some cases those resources are quite substantial. No doubt we will hear, as we have in the past, that not everything can be afforded. It is fundamentally wrong that our approach to criminal justice should be dictated by resource constraints. I do not suggest the justice system should not be subject to the same budgetary control as all other areas. Our resources are limited and we have to set priorities. However over the past decade the availability of resources, or lack thereof, has begun to dictate our approach to criminal justice. We have talked and failed to do what needed to be done because there was no cash to put into operating the system we would like to see.

A good example of this is sentencing. The amount of time people spend in prison after conviction is greatly affected by the amount of space available in prisons. People are being released because the system has no room for them. We should consider the alternatives to physical incarceration, made possible in recent years by developments in technology. These methods, called house arrest, electronic surveillance or tagging, may not be appropriate for the violent crimes referred to in the motion. They could be applied to offenders whose crimes are less serious, or to people who have already served the bulk of their sentences. In the case of some crimes house arrest could be used as an alternative to a custodial sentence in the first instance. In other cases it could be used as a halfway point between a custodial sentence and complete freedom, a sort of electronic parole for which offenders could qualify after serving a certain portion of their sentence.

Quite apart from the benefits for those directly concerned, the prisoners, an important result would be the amount of space that would be left free in the prison system which we could use to deal with more serious offenders. It would provide space to ensure that those convicted of serious violent crimes would always serve their full sentence; or at least, if they did not, it would not be because there was not enough space in the prison system. It would also allow us the scope to increase sentences on those convicted of the most serious crimes, if that was thought appropriate.

Electronic house arrest is now a fact of life in the United States, where it has been developing for ten years. Of the 50 US states, 42 have established such schemes, or are about to establish them. We should carefully examine this scheme here. It has been promoted in America because of the problem of resources, the same subject which concerns us here. They also have problems with overcrowded prisons, although it is much more acute there than here. I do not suggest we explore this approach solely from the resources standpoint. However, since that is an issue, we should do more with the resources available rather than do no more than we do at present. In the United States the concept has been frequently used for pre-trial detention as an alternative to bail or in cases where bail has been refused.

As the motion suggests, bail is a problem in this country. Our ability to refuse bail is severely constrained for constitutional reasons. The Minister is concerned about this problem, but we cannot continue to avoid it. In America the electronic approach has also raised questions about civil liberty, privacy, etc., but it is considered worthwhile to continue experimenting with the concept of electronic surveillance. We could also explore this possibility. I was surprised to see that people are given a choice. They are asked if they prefer to go to jail or to avail of this procedure. In most cases people accept electronic surveillance.

We are not as ready to embrace technology in the service of justice as we should be. I am not sure we use technology enough in the prevention and detection of crime. Our approach to the custodial side of criminal justice is technologically adverse. We have not taken the first steps in that direction. Our detention system is based on a series of pre-20th century concepts, where one locks offenders away, often in degrading conditions and with little possibility of rehabilitation, in order to keep them out of trouble. That may be the only answer in some cases, but not in all. We must open our minds to the different technological ways of achieving what we want to achieve.

Detention deprives people of their liberty and it is used as a means of retribution and rehabilitation, as a deterrent, and as a means of protecting the community. At one time the only way to deprive people of their liberty was to lock them up and throw away the key. There are other alternatives if we are prepared to look for them, and I am sure the Minister is hungry to find them. Some of these, such as electronic house arrest, could save the State the expense of detaining some offenders and it would also give the detainee a better chance of rebuilding a normal life. It would be possible to stay at home and to continue working for certain hours of the day, but they would have to remain in their own homes because it would be controlled by technology.

Perhaps the most important thing these alternatives could do is to broaden the range of responses available to deal with offenders. One size does not fit all. For some people prison is an appropriately severe sentence and punishment. For other more serious offenders, and we are faced with the growth of a relatively small number of hard core serious offenders, the type of prison sentence they are now getting is decreasing in effectiveness as a deterrent. For the serious offender involved in violent crime we must increase the certainty of being caught and, once caught, the certainty that they will be effectively punished. That is what the motion is about and what the amendment is hoping to achieve by trying to get at the roots of crime. To do that within the constraints of the available resources in our system, we must find new and better ways of using those resources than we have done in the past.

We live in an age where the horizons of what we can do are greatly extended by the onward march of technology. Unfortunately, the public service in general and, perhaps, the justice system in particular, is slow to take advantage of that opportunity. We should try to do something about it.

I thank Senator Dardis and Senator Honan for affording me this opportunity to speak about the significant measures I have taken, and plan to take, to improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. I have been afforded quite a number of such opportunities in the recent past both in Dáil Éireann and in this House. Senators will forgive me if there is an element of repetition in what I say. I can only surmise that interest is so great in what I am doing that there is a view that it bears repetition.

Before I get into the subject matter of the motion before the House, it is appropriate and opportune that I should address a topic which I have not had occasion to address before now but which has become the source of misleading comment in the media and elsewhere. I refer to an impression which has somehow gone abroad to the effect that contact and business generally between the Garda Commissioner and I is conducted in a tense, unfriendly atmosphere. One newspaper went over the top on the subject last Sunday by quoting anonymous "official" and anonymous "sources" and I have since taken the matter up quite firmly with the editor of that newspaper.

Senators may also be aware of an extraordinary but unsuccessful attempt by an Opposition Deputy in the Dáil today to suspend the business of that House under Standing Order 30 in order to discuss his allegations, conveyed in advance through the media, that in my dealings with the Garda management and in the discharge of my responsibilities in relation to prisons I have been guilty of abuse of power. He referred in particular to my decision that Salthill Garda station be upgraded to district headquarters level and he also referred to the fact that I personally examine all temporary release applications in the case of offenders from Galway.

When I, or any of my predecessors, have had occasion to meet the Garda Commissioner on matters of business, we are invariably dealing with matters of substance which can be of real concern to a great many people There are times, as anybody who has served either as Minister for Justice or Garda Commissioner will know, when it is difficult to know the right answer to the many problems we face, but which must be answered and sometimes under considerable time pressure. The public would have genuine cause for concern if it were the position that either the Minister, the Garda Commissioner or both thought it best to adopt a meek, submissive, unquestioning approach towards the serious matters on hand for the sake of an easy life, or for fear that somebody might conclude that a candid exchange of views, or an admission that there were at times differences of views, signalled the existence of personal animosity.

Let me put the record straight. I have the utmost respect for the Garda Commissioner's professionalism and I greatly value his integrity and honesty in our dealings since I became Minister for Justice. Neither of us is so squeamish that we go sulking or running for cover whenever there is healthy tension concerning matters of substance and neither of us has the slightest intention of allowing misleading comment to damage our excellent working and personal relations.

As to the matters on which a Deputy sought to bring the Dáil to a standstill this morning, let me say a few brief words in case anybody considers it appropriate to raise these same matters in the course of this debate. As regards the upgrading of Salthill to district headquarters level, I have already fully outlined the circumstances which led to this decision, by way of reply to a Dáil question and, unless Senators think otherwise, I see no reason to waste the time of this House by repeating what I have already put on the record.

As regards the release of offenders from the Galway area, I examine applications and it would be extraordinary if I, like my predecessors, did not do so, given my special knowledge of the Galway area and the fact that I am quite well placed to assess the advice I get about the likely impact on the community of decisions I make in that regard. It is completely misleading to suggest that I look at Galway cases only. I look at all serious cases and it is quite erroneous to conclude that, by dealing with all applications relating to the area which I know best, I learn nothing about what happens elsewhere or about the advice I receive on all other applications. I do learn, sometimes quite a lot, and I assure Senators that what I learn has an impact on all the decisions made in my Department.

Returning to the terms of the motion before the House, I have been conscious since taking office as Minister for Justice that my primary task is to address the problem of crime. Crime is something which impinges on all our lives to a greater or lesser extent and there is huge public demand that it be tackled. However, there is no magic solution and no quick fix strategy which will suddenly reverse crime trends. This is the universal experience.

I am endeavouring to tackle the problem in a planned and methodical way. We do not have unlimited resources to throw at the problem. In the area of criminal justice policy, as in all other areas of public policy, choices must be made and priorities set. We must have a coherent and planned approach if we are to get on top of the crime problem, and this I have.

The comprehensive package of law and order measures, which I announced on 14 December last, is designed to improve the effectiveness of the Garda Síochána in the fight against crime throughout the country. The following elements in the package are especially significant in this regard and will be seen in time as a major contribution towards tackling the problems we face. The package is not the end of the road. The situation needs to be kept under constant check and if we need further strategies or different responses, I will be the first to pursue them.

In line with the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government, recruitment to the Garda force is being accelerated so that 407 gardaí are being recruited in 1994 and an annual intake of a further 350 will take place each year over the period 1995 to 1997. I have obtained Government approval to recruit 200 clerical civilian staff between 1994 and 1997 for clerical and administrative work. This will increase the number of clerical civilians in the force to over 900. It will also increase the operational strength of the force by 200 by releasing an equivalent number of gardaí for outdoor police duties. In addition, I propose to recruit civilian staff for certain key areas within the Garda management structure where special qualifications are required. The areas involved include personnel, financial control, organisational development and press relations.

A major information technology plan for the force, drawn up with the assistance of outside consultants, is to be implemented. It is one of the largest information technology plans in the public sector. The information technology plan will make a substantial contribution in the years ahead to the effectiveness of the Garda Síochána by enabling gardaí to spend more time on outdoor policing duties and less on paperwork, by increasing crime detection rates and improving overall Garda responsiveness, by providing computerised fingerprint identification facilities to help to solve more crimes, and by providing improved management information so that more effective use can be made of Garda resources. The package also provides for the purchase of additional Garda vehicles, including specialist vehicles for the Garda fleet over and above the normal fleet replacement requirements. This will ensure optimum replacement of vehicles in the Garda fleet over the next four years.

Extra funding will also be made available for the upgrading of the Garda communications network to enable Garda radio hand-sets and radio car-sets, purchased in the early and mid-1980s, to be replaced with modern equipment. It will also enable a more modern communication system to be installed in Cork city in the next year or so to ensure more effective use of Garda resources.

Officials from my Department are already at an advanced stage of discussions with the relevant authorities in regard to the installation of closed circuit television cameras in Dublin city centre. The operation will be totally under the control and management of the Garda Síochána. It is planned to install the cameras in the city centre area and in the Temple Bar area. It is also planned to install fixed closed circuit television cameras to detect and collect evidence of speeding offences on roads.

The Garda Síochána is already involved in two successful youth diversion projects in the Dublin area — the KEY project in Killinarden and the GRAFT project in Ronanstown. Funding is provided by my Department towards the running of these successful projects. I have increased the funding available to this type of project by £100,000 per year for the period 1994 to 1997. This will allow further new projects to be established.

In another initiative, a pilot scheme involving juvenile liaison officers and professional social workers will be introduced to concentrate on the drug problem among juveniles at risk in Dublin. Two social workers will be employed to coach selected juvenile liaison officers in drugs counselling and related work.

Arising from the recommendations of the Government Advisory Committee on Fraud, I have also provided additional funds to recruit two additional detective inspectors and three professional accountants for the Garda Fraud Squad and to purchase specialised fraud related IT equipment. These measures form part of plans to establish a national bureau of fraud investigation headed by a chief superintendent. I am confident that these measures will make an enormous contribution towards the fight against crime and I assure the House that the situation will be kept under review and that no effort will be spared to prevent and deal effectively with incidents of serious crime, in particular those aimed at sections of the community most at risk.

In relation to the prison system, I draw the attention of Senators to the Programme for a Partnership Government which includes a commitment to the finalisation and implementation of a new set of aims, objectives and agreed priorities for the prison system, including a programme of positive sentence management and a timetable for the implementation of the Whitaker report on prison reform.

As I already stated publicly, I am in the process of completing a policy document, a five year plan, for the prison system which I plan to publish next month. The document will draw extensively on the philosophy and recommendations of the Whitaker report; review the main specific recommendations of the Whitaker report and indicate the approach being adopted towards them; contain overall aims and objectives for the prison system as well as objectives for the important elements within it; contain an action plan for the development of the system over the next five years, including the concept of positive sentence management, and a strategy for dealing with high numbers of prisoners taking account of the Government decision to provide an additional 210 spaces, including 60 for women in a new purpose designed facility; set out strategies for dealing with particular problem areas including drug abuse in prisons; and include new draft prison rules and a draft code of discipline for prison staff. I am satisfied the prescription I propose will represent a modern, progressive approach to the prison system and go far beyond the confines of the motion before the House.

I would like to deal in more detail with some of the specific issues referred to in the motion and to refer in particular to the amendment in names of Senator O'Toole, Senator Lee, Senator Norris and Senator Henry. I am not satisfied that the repeal of the petitions system is either necessary or desirable. The power to exercise clemency and to mitigate penalties is conferred by the Constitution.

While the right of pardon and power to commute or remit punishment imposed by any court exercising criminal jurisdiction are vested in the President under the terms of Article 13.6 and 13.9 of the Constitution, Article 13.6 also provides for such power, except in capital cases, to be conferred by law on other authorities. Pursuant to this, the power was conferred on the Minister for Justice under the Criminal Justice Act, 1951, and the delegated authority of Government dated 30 March 1951. It is right and proper that the Executive should have the power to provide a remedy in those cases where the strict application of the penalties imposed would, on any objective assessment of the matter, cause unwarranted hardship. I exercise that power to the same and no greater extent than each and all of my predecessors in office.

I receive approximately 4,000 petitions each year and, judging from the numbers received from Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas on behalf of their constituents, I suggest there is overwhelming support for the system. I am satisfied that the system is justifiable and operated with care and that calls for its repeal are misguided. I am not aware that the operation of the system is the source of general concern to the Judiciary, indeed, I have had contact and correspondence which suggests the opposite.

As regards Senators' call for a schedule of reforming legislation, including a Bill to reform the bail laws and the Juvenile Justice Bill, I believe the House will accept that the Government has embarked on a major programme of criminal law reform. I will mention a few examples. Last year we had the Criminal Justice Act which focused on the plight of victims in three fairly novel ways. First, it enables unduly lenient sentences to be appealed, second, it authorises criminal courts to require offenders to pay compensation for any injury or loss caused by an offence and, third, it places an obligation on the court before passing sentence to take account specifically the effect of violent crime on the victim. The House will recall the lengthy debate we had on what has become the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, and the widespread support which there was for its provisions. I believe that Act provides our police and our courts with appropriate and effective powers to deal with modern realities in this area.

The Criminal Justice (No. 3) Bill, which is before the House at present, contains severe measures which will enable the courts to confiscate the proceeds of crime. Particular emphasis is given in the legislation to cracking down on those involved in the deadly trade of drug trafficking. Again, there has been widespread support for this measure and I believe that most people would accept that the severity of its provisions are an appropriate response to the evils inflicted by these people on society. This Bill recognises that the reality of crime today is that it has increasingly an international dimension and the legislation contains a comprehensive series of measures which will enable us to co-operate effectively with other jurisdictions in the fight against crime. The Bill also takes steps in line with a European Union directive to prevent money laundering.

I assure the House that the present pace of criminal law reform will continue. For example, the comprehensive Juvenile Justice Bill, to which the Senators refer, is at an advanced stage of preparation and, among its many provisions, it will address the issue of the responsibility of parents in relation to the delinquent behaviour of their children. I was most interested to hear the views of Senators on how they see the proposed Juvenile Justice Bill tackling crime. I say that because, historically, most urbanised societies have approached the problems presented by juvenile crime in one of two ways, the "get tough" approach or the "treat them softly" approach. The fact that countries continually oscillate from one approach to the other strengthens me in my view that neither approach on its own works over an extended period.

The Juvenile Justice Bill being prepared by my Department recognises that a balanced approach to juvenile crime is needed and that legislation by itself is just one element of that balanced approach. It will reflect modern thinking in many countries, based on years of research, that custody alone does not work. Experience elsewhere has shown that the more punitive a regime of juvenile justice, the worse the outcome.

This Bill is being prepared on the basis that the way to tackle juvenile crime is by a positive use of cautioning and community based strategies combined with ensuring that parents are made to face up to their responsibilities. It sounds like an unbalanced "softly, softly" approach, but it is not. Community based sanctions can be exacting and challenging for those juveniles on whom they are imposed and, of course, detention will be available as a last resort for juveniles who are persistent in their offending or who commit serious offences.

The new Juvenile Justice Bill will be a major and comprehensive piece of legislation which will repeal the 1908 Children Act. The 1908 Act, which was known as the Children's Charter, was itself the culmination of over 50 years of legislative development in the area of care and protection for children and the treatment of young offenders. The new Juvenile Justice Bill will deal with all aspects of the juvenile justice system. Work on it is at an advanced stage, but because it is a major undertaking with significant implications for other Departments, I do not expect to be in a position to publish the Bill until later this year.

Among other criminal law measures in the course of preparation at present is a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, which will greatly reduce the amount of time the Garda Síochána spend in court thus freeing them to spend more time on operational duties. I also have legislative proposals well advanced in the areas of criminal insanity and fraud.

The motion calls for legislation to abolish what is referred to as "the unlimited right to silence". There are, in fact, a number of statutory provisions which relate to providing information to the Garda Síochána in relation to particular offences. For example, sections 18 and 19 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, allow a court or a jury to draw inferences from an accused's failure or refusal in the course of Garda questioning to account for certain matters. This is an area of the law which I am keeping under review.

The motion also call for reform of bail laws. I am aware of the legitimate and widespread public concern about the operation of the law in this area and, indeed, I have made it clear publicly that I share that concern. It is an unfortunate reality that serious offenders facing the likelihood of long periods of imprisonment on other charges are tempted — and sometimes do — to use their time on bail to commit further offences. That situation is clearly unacceptable and I am determined that it will be addressed effectively. That is why earlier this year I raised the problem with my colleagues in Government and we decided to request the Attorney General to secure the advice of the Law Reform Commission on the options that may be open to bring about a change in the law on bail.

There is no point pretending that complex issues do not arise in this area but I believe the House will accept that the Law Reform Commission is uniquely placed to provide the type of detailed analysis and considered and comprehensive proposals for change that are necessary.

I hope that the House can accept too, particularly in the light of the track record I have outlined in relation to criminal law reform, that when the commission's proposals are available they will be acted on with all possible speed.

Turning now to the concerns which the Senators have raised about our courts system, I am of course very concerned by delays in the hearing of cases in our courts. A review of activity levels in all courts has been carried out by my Department to assess the impact of the increased civil jurisdictions introduced by the Courts Act, 1991. The results of this review will form the basis of proposals which I will be bringing to Government shortly with a view to eliminating present delays in the courts. The question of additional judicial resources will be addressed by these proposals. As the House will appreciate, I cannot be more specific as to the content of these proposals prior to their consideration by Government. With regard to delays in the hearing of criminal cases, I would like to inform the House that, as part of the law and order package, I have already obtained Government approval for the appointment of three additional judges, one to the District Court, one to the Circuit Court and one to the High Court, to deal with delays in the hearing of criminal cases.

I am very much aware that delays in the hearing of criminal cases give rise to much anxiety on the part of the victims of crime, particularly where the defendant is remanded on bail. As I already mentioned, defendants remanded on bail whose cases cannot be heard for lack of a judge are in effect free to commit further crimes. The three additional judicial appointments will address this. The necessary legislative provision will form part of a new Court and Court Officers Bill currently under preparation.

As this House will appreciate, the organisation and management of the High Court, including the listing of cases, is the responsibility of the President of the High Court and is one in which I have no function. I am of course committed to providing within the resources available to me the facilities necessary, including computer facilities, to enable the courts to give an efficient and effective service.

The motion refers to two distinct aspects of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal which I will deal with in turn. First, it proposes that the tribunal be established on a statutory basis. I have not been convinced by the Senators' arguments of immediate advantages that would arise from my doing this. The scheme of compensation for personal injuries criminally inflicted commenced in February 1974. The effective date of application of the scheme is 1 October 1972. During the 20 years since its establishment, the tribunal has received almost 12,000 applications for compensation. Awards have been paid in about 7,800 cases. The total amount paid out in awards up to the end of 1993 is £41.3 million. Decisions as to the awarding of compensation and the determination of the amount of such award are, in accordance with the scheme, entirely a matter for the tribunal, and the Minister for Justice has no role in these matters.

A statutorily established criminal injuries tribunal as envisaged by the Senators would, in my view, be operating in an almost identical manner to the present tribunal. While in the long term it might be desirable to give the Tribunal a formal place in our legislative code, it is not among my priorities for legislation.

The question of funding for criminal injuries compensation is the second point raised by the Senators. The payment of awards by the tribunal is made from funding provided in the Vote for the Office of the Minister for Justice. Overall, in the past six years the very sizeable sum of £18 million has been paid out on such awards. The 1994 Estimate includes a sum of £1 million in respect of awards. I would like to have been in a position to secure a larger allocation for the criminal injuries compensation scheme in 1994, but there are many competing demands for the limited resources available and it was not possible to secure a larger allocation for criminal injuries. If, however, the opportunity presents itself of adding to the sum available as a result of savings elsewhere, I will certainly give it priority.

With regard to the amendment in the names of Senators O'Toole, Lee, Norris and Henry in relation to the establishment of intervention programmes at primary school level, I suppose the obvious temptation would be to say, as Senator O'Toole suggested I might, that the specific matters raised — provision of hot meals for schoolchildren and so on — are matters for my colleague, the Minister for Education, and leave it at that. While it is a case that the specifics are matters for the Minister for Education, I fully appreciate, having worked as a school teacher myself, the importance of understanding the interplay between the education system and the criminal justice system, particularly in relation to the problem of young children at risk. As the inter-departmental group's report on urban crime and disorder puts it, "the atrisk child who is neglected today stands a more than even chance of becoming tomorrow's offender." In many cases, non-attendance at school is closely associated with school-related problems such as poor educational attainment, the unsuitability of curricula and methodologies in addressing the particular learning needs of certain pupils who are likely to see little value in schooling, and the disaffection of such pupils with teachers and with the general authority structure of the school, as quoted by Senator Ormonde. This group often, sadly, become what are referred to as "drop-outs" from the educational system.

We all know of course that there are non-school related factors involved in the drop-out syndrome, if I can put it like that. Malnutrition and lack of proper clothing, for example, and the low priority placed on education by families who find themselves in stressful situations are probably the main contributors to the problem. The recent school attendance/ truancy report by my colleague, the Minister for Education, refers to the fact that the National Youth Policy Committee report, 1984, provided the most comprehensive analysis of records for persistent non-attendance at school. It found the more widely based reasons for non-attendance to be hidden disabilities, such as brutality, hunger, or moral danger within the home; broken homes arising from alcoholism or domestic violence; delinquency due to alcohol and drug abuse and trouble with the law.

There are limits to what I, as Minister for Justice, can do within the sphere of my functional responsibilities. I have referred to my initiative in establishing and funding certain projects in particular areas of economic and social deprivation and of my plans to expand on these initiatives, which are targeted mainly at young people who may find themselves in trouble with the law. I also met, as he generously acknowledged, with Senator O'Toole and some of his colleagues to discuss matter such as those mentioned in the addendum to the motion. This followed an earlier meeting with senior officials in my Department. Most importantly, perhaps, I will be bringing these matters to the attention of the Government shortly in the context of proposals to give new impetus to the implementation of the report of the inter-departmental group on urban crime and disorder to which I have already referred. I will have more to say on this subject in due course.

I have summarised the more important policies and measures I have adopted in terms of the criminal justice area and I have explained that many of the specific issues referred to the in the motion are being addressed. However, as I also explained at the outset of my remarks, not everything can be done at once. I have ordered my priorities in terms of what, on the evidence and advice available to me, will have the most immediate and beneficial results. I cannot therefore accept the critical import of the motion put down by Senators Dardis and Honan. I commend instead the amendment tabled by Senator Wright and proposed by Senator Ormonde to the House.

Ar dtús ba mhaith liom fáilte a chuir roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo agus comhghairdeas a ghabháil lei maidir leis an obair mhaith atá á déanamh aici chun cosc a chur ar coir agus creachadóireacht. There is no doubt that we have many problems in that regard and I sometimes wonder what the answer is.

Prior to 25 years ago we had very little crime. It was possible to come to Dublin, park a car anywhere around the city and go window-shopping at night and nobody would go near the car. Despite our great educational system, which is one of the best in the western world, crime and vandalism are becoming a huge problem. We should look at the amount of time, money and work which has been spent on psychologists, psychiatrists, social welfare workers and remedial teachers. Despite all this we still do not seem to be coming up with an answer to the crime problem.

I have said with regard to the health and the educational area that I believe our two biggest problems are the abuse of alcohol and drugs. Either of those once brought into a home is capable of wrecking it, but when both are brought in it can really destroy a family. For that reason we must try to put an end to the drug barons and those who seem to be able to import drugs.

I congratulate the Minister, the Government and the Garda Síochána on the amount of drugs that have been seized recently. They are certainly making an all out attack on it. When the assets of these people can be confiscated, it will further hinder them and bring peace to our streets.

I sometimes wonder what has happened to responsibility, another word we hear very little of now. We hear a lot about rights, but not about responsibilities or respect. Over 90 per cent of our youth today are as good or better than they were in the past. They are involved in a lot of very good community work, but that small minority are causing many problems. There is no doubt that some youths are not attending school —"scheming" as we called it, truancy as it is called now. Why can we not come to grips with these problems? In the old days the garda would visit the school three or four times a year and questions were asked about anyone who was not attending. In the old schools the teacher knew every pupil and their parents and would know the child who might have come to school with no breakfast, for example. I remember in my old school in Carney we would be sent up to a woman called Mrs. Dunne to get a cup of tea and some bread and butter. That human personal touch no longer exists. If we are to have a good society we must have a good community with the personal touch.

The Garda Síochána does a good job and I am happy with the information the Minister has given us this evening. The gardaí will be able to spend more time on outdoor policing duties and less time doing paperwork. There is a view abroad, right or wrong, that gardaí have to have so many court cases to exist. We should put an end to this view. Honest hardworking people may violate the law in some way, perhaps coming home in a tractor without the lights on after a hard day's work or in a car with something minor wrong. They can be brought to court and they get annoyed and do not co-operate with the law as they should. If it is the case that gardaí have to have so many cases, then it should be abolished. The Garda want the co-operation of all of the community.

In the old days the Garda sergeant was, as the old saying goes, "monarch of all he surveyed" and his right there was for none to dispute. He was based in an area and he knew everybody there and everybody knew him. There was a great community spirit with no law breaking. Nowadays, the gardaí do not know the people in their area; they are not in communication with the community as in the past because their work schedule is completely different. I would like to see the gardaí have a more personal role and something done to instil greater respect. In days gone by there was great respect for the school teacher, the parish priest, the curate or parson and for the Garda.

Was there respect for politicians?

In those days there was. For whom is there respect today? Something is wrong when that respect is lost.

There is an old practice of not reporting anybody or "telling tales out of school". In order to confront the crime wave, we have to encourage the community. In my village 33 or 34 years ago whether or not one locked the shop at night no one would interfere with it; one could leave cars unattended on the street. We now have to have burglar alarms and secure and lock everything. In itself crime is a big business and it creates many jobs for security firms etc.

Another problem now is that criminals are motorised and can move quickly from place to place. The Garda have a problem in being able to follow up crime fast enough, because the criminals are often one step ahead as they are often good clever planners. Policing is a difficult task and it is unfair that the Garda Síochána is sometimes accused of not doing its duty. It does a good job and I commend the force.

The Minister should bring in more on-the-spot fines. If one is stopped for speeding it would be easier to have the fine paid there and then. At present, if one is stopped for speeding in Kinnegad and one is from Sligo, one has to get a solicitor to plead at the court sitting in Kinnegad. More use should be made of on-the-spot fines.

I congratulate the Minister on doing a good job. She is one of the best Ministers for Justice we have had since the first Government in 1919. She is facing up to the problems and taking the difficult decisions. In the next couple of years we will see a change. She is doing the right things at the right time.

There is nobody afraid in the country? We all feel secure?

Yes. We will see a more trouble free country in future.

I do not know what country the Senator is talking about but I wish it was true.

The growing level of crime is extremely disturbing. Statistics show a serious upward trend, which is a cause of concern for all citizens. People are affected by crime throughtout the country, whether in the cities or in the rural communities. The statistics present us with hard facts indicating the failure of the Government to halt the unacceptable increase in the crime rate and to protect the people and allow them to feel safe in their homes, on the streets, commuting to and from work, at their place of work or at their place of entertainment.

We are concerned about rural policing policies. The present arrangements whereby small rural Garda stations are open for a limited number of hours per day is totally unacceptable. The gardaí are not in touch with the community and are not aware of what is happening in the locality. When the Garda sergeant lived in the rural station and members of the Garda lived in the community there was much more awareness of deviant activity and the gardaí were always on the alert to cope with it.

Commuting gardaí to rural areas is inadequate for the purpose of rural policing. This has been mentioned in the context of the recent tragic occurrences in County Clare. There is a strong belief in that community that if the present rural policing policies had not been introduced, matters would have been different. I ask the Minister for Justice as a matter of urgency to re-examine the Government's policy on rural policing and bring the Garda back to rural communities.

The motion before the House calls for a reform of the bail laws and this requires an amendment to the Constitution. It is regrettable that the Government will not take the opportunity to have a referendum in June to do this. It was an excellent opportunity for the Minister to introduce the constitutional change necessary to allow the bail laws to be reformed. Murderers, rapists and robbers are being freed by Irish courts. The bail laws facilitate this outrageous situation. The law must be amended to stop people who are charged with crimes being freed and to compound this with further offences because they know that they will not be punished in any event. The law needs to be tightened up urgently so that the courts will not have to free people who are likely to commit further serious crimes.

Our bail laws are the most lax in the world. The problem is that bail cannot be refused by the court on the grounds that there is a likelihood that further offences will be committed by the accused. A constitutional amendment is necessary to restore the discretion to the courts. As a matter of urgency the Government must arrange the necessary referendum to allow the law to be changed and the Minister should address this as a priority.

Over the years notorious organised criminals have had little difficulty in getting bail and abusing it. For the more serious offences such as rape and bank robbery there is little ground in Irish law for objecting to bail, even if prosecutors know that the accused is likely to commit these crimes again. We have seen shocking scenes of organised criminals out on bail having engaged in gun battles with gardaí and putting the lives of all at risk. These were people who were caught by the Garda for serious crimes, such as bank robbery, and granted bail only to be caught in the act once again.

The provision for consecutive sentencing in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, has had a deterrent effect on petty crime but little or no impact on serious criminals. Organised criminals, who know that they are going to jail for one offence, have no compunction about committing other crimes because they are aware that they will serve only a fixed period of time in the overcrowded prisons.

The right to silence is a relic of the last century when individuals had no access to free legal aid and punishments were more severe. Moreover, as it stands, this right is currently a major obstacle to the Garda in its investigations into organised crime. A suspect can refuse to answer questions or give any explanation about matters put to him in the course of an interrogation. Experienced criminals do this as a matter of course and subversives are especially adept at it.

While the abolition of the right to silence 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 this right would remove the importance of obtaining a self-incriminatory confession in many investigations.

The right to silence was introduced at a time when an accused was rarely represented in court and could not give evidence. Today these rules are only helping an increasing number of professional criminals to avoid conviction. The new system would simply mean that it would not be an offence to refuse to answer questions or to give explanations, but an adverse inference could be drawn from silence on a particular issue.

This approach is not unique to the Irish context. The present right to silence does not protect self-incrimination in a variety of statutory offences. Under the Road Traffic Acts in cases like drunk driving, suspects are required to provide blood or urine samples on which they may later be convicted of an offence. Likewise, genetic fingerprinting obliges the subject to provide a DNA sample. If he does not, the court will be allowed to draw an inference from that. In the case of the Revenue Commissioners, a person being investigated cannot use the right to silence to mask giving potentially incriminating evidence to tax inspectors.

I welcome the Minister saying that she will seriously look at this matter. It is the first time the Minister has reacted positively to the many times this issue has been brought up in this House. Criminal interviews should also be video recorded to protect the Garda from false allegations and also to ensure the rights of the individual are protected during detention. This would also provide the courts with a true picture of the difficulties facing the Garda in such circumstances.

There is an urgent need to reform our criminal law system. Many of our laws date back to the last century and are totally inadequate to deal with the current situation. We should immediately update and codify our criminal law. The alarming increase in the number of inmates in our prisons is at a high cost to the taxpayer. The whole system should be re-examined. Prisons should only be for those convicted of a serious crime, against the person or against property. Sentencing duly imposed by the courts should not be arbitrarily set aside by earlier releases for reasons of overcrowding. There should be more alternatives to prison for minor offences such as the nonpayment of fines and debt. The Minister should introduce measures where those convicted of serious offences should serve their full sentence, only allowing normal remission for good behaviour.

The Government should provide resources so that those serving prison sentences would undergo training and treatment to avoid returning to criminal life. The present drug culture in our prisons is totally unacceptable. It is now accepted that those admitted to prison are continually exposed to peer pressure there to experiment with hard drugs. It is a disgrace that such drugs are freely available in our prisons and it should be fully investigated. A programme of action to deal with this difficulty should be initiated as quickly as possible.

Problems are arising in our courts. They 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 critically looked at and reformed. Every day, District Courts are swamped with persons charged with all types of criminal offences. Sometimes the sentences handed down to those people fit the crimes, but too often they fall short of what one would expect. There is no clearly defined sentencing policy. Criminal trials are cluttering up the system, which is in chaos because of the bureaucracy surrounding the courts.

There are insufficient members of the Judiciary to deal with the level of work. Courts are cluttered up with cases that could easily be efficiently dealt with under a different system. Courts are busy dealing with committal orders, instalment orders and so on. These should take place elsewhere. The Government should establish a debtors panel or court to relieve this area.

I fully endorse the proposal in the motion that the Circuit Court and our High Court systems should be modernised as part of the total review of our court system.

I commend the Minister for the proposals she has brought forward in this document. I also commend the Progressive Democrats for introducing this motion. There are many matters in it that need to be addressed urgently and the Minister has gone a long way in there report towards doing that.

I know there is a major amount of work to be done on this matter throughout the country, but criminality is currently changing. Many people blame the lower classes and the poor for crime. However, criminals do not come only from these sectors of society. There are also criminals from the middle classes and the reasonably well off, tax dodgers, who regularly bleed the system, dole dodgers and drug barons who come from so called respectable areas. There is also insurance fraud and the changing role of the itinerant. They used to trade their wares but now many people think they are involved in serious crime. This was not part of their culture in the past.

I welcome the package of law reforms introduced by the Minister on 14 December; indeed, she mentioned a few of them in her report. I welcome a number of them, especially the allocation of 200 clerical staff to be brought into the service between 1994 and 1997. Too many gardaí are doing paperwork in their stations when they should be out on the beat, and not only in cars. Over a number of years, there have been some reasonably serious problems with crime in my home town of Letterkenny. The gardaí in the town have been wrongly rostered. They seem to spend more time on clerical work than walking the streets. The problem could be dealt with and addressed if they were released from clerical duties and allowed to do their job.

Young people have a lack of respect for the Garda. When a garda walked the beat many years ago, he was known by young people and their parents. If any problems occurred, there seemed to be an understanding with the garda. These problems were quickly dealt with and never seemed to get out of hand. The perpetrator was identified early on. Someone always seemed to have the ear of the garda and the word came through the system. This is now lacking. There should be more gardaí on the beat, not sitting in cars or in offices.

The situation is being blown out of proportion. Many people come on the media and claim there is a major drug or crime problem in their town but give no figures or information to back this up. The Garda then say they have the situation under control. This so called information should be curtailed as quickly as possible.

I welcome the major information technology plan outlined by the Minister. It covered many of the issues I raised. Gardaí should be policing and not sitting behind desks. Many other proposals were in the package. Extra vehicles will improve and make efficient the Garda fleet. The extra funding provided to the Garda network is also to be welcomed.

Regarding the Garda commission on fraud, it was unfortunate that only the areas of high unemployment in Dublin were considered, such as the area depicted in the series "The Family" on RTE and BBC television. Other areas should have been considered, such as those involving people who are much better off, the golf playing set and so on. There are major problems within these areas which could have been addressed rather than picking on an area of high unemployment and poverty. It is always the lower classes which are picked on when examining issues such as drug abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence. The television series "The Family" could have depicted the higher classes and people who are extremely well off. In this respect it was an unfortunate attack on the less well off.

Regarding the prisons, occasionally people are remanded by the courts in County Donegal, my home county and sent to Dublin; but, because of lack of space in the holding centre or whatever, they are moved on to Spike island, County Cork. It then emerges, for example, that one such person must travel 300 to 400 miles up the west coast to appear in court in County Donegal, but because the book of evidence, or some such, is not ready, the person has to be taken back to remand in County Cork.

I have advised the Minister of State previously of this matter and suggested that consideration be given to providing a remand centre close to my area in the north west of the country. This would save a fortune for the Department of Justice.

Regarding the system of bail, a person in my own town had approximately 40 charges against him. That person was being picked up for committing a crime and allowed out on bail. But he broke into shops, was caught, charged, released again and so on. One of the tougher aspects for the person whose shop was broken into was the fact that the insurance companies covering the premises would not provide indemnity because the insured had not given proper consideration to the small print of the insurance contract. The shop owner endured the double blow of being broken into and having no insurance cover.

It appears that the same people are committing crimes over and over again. It is easy to blame the parents; but in regard to the parents I have spoken with on many occasions, nothing but sympathy should be offered them because they have done their best to survive in this difficult situation. In this respect I am pleased to note that the Minister indicated to the House today that this matter would be examined.

Regarding the system of petitioning the Minister, which appears to be allowed under the Constitution, it is a system which I welcome and which should be retained. I recall one case where I had reason to make use of the system. It involved a person who had been fined a large amount of money. He had seven or eight children and he found it difficult to pay the fine. I agreed to petition the Minister for help if he agreed to do something about his alcoholism. The Minister helped him 18 months later and the man has obtained help for himself. In this respect the system has worked well.

This is an important motion which must be welcomed and the Minister is dealing with most of the problems raised by it.

The situation regarding crime in this country has taken off and nobody is secure. The most extraordinary aspect of the situation is that nobody feels responsible for it. The Minister painted a picture for the House today of her intentions and the intentions of her Department and the Garda Síochána. Like all pictures, it looks good on the wall; but standing on the ground and travelling around the country, in urban or rural areas, it becomes apparent that people are afraid. They are not afraid of the presence of the gardaí, or in regard to the promises of change and the PR exercises in which the Minister for Justice is engaged. People are afraid for their own personal safety and their own property, and nobody is going to tell me otherwise. Furthermore, the crime situation appears to be on a slippery slope. Approximately 3.5 million people live in this country, which is not an excessive number in terms of population density. Given a country with such a small population, the availability of modern equipment and modern facilities, there has to be something wrong when the Garda Síochána have lost the battle against crime and the criminal is winning.

Many changes have been introduced — for example the closing down of Garda stations in rural areas. In any war, if an army of occupation vacates its positions and withdraws to other areas, what will happen to the vacated area? The enemy will move in and take it over; and, regrettably, this has happened. Criminals are driving around in vans and so on, 50, 60 and 70 miles from home, calling on people and making excuses to gain access to houses. Everybody knows that these people are scouting out, but there is nobody to apprehend them. As it is her sole responsibility, the Minister for Justice must take seriously the fact that crime is winning in this country, that people are genuinely afraid in their homes and that taxpayers and old people are entitled to security, something they do not have today.

Regarding the issue of bail, the Garda arrest people but they are then bailed out from remand. They wave at the gardaí, showing them they are out again. Once out on bail they commit more crimes. If the Minister is serious she should immediately deal with this matter.

An application in respect of the refurbishment of the courthouse in Longford is with the Department of Justice for a long time. I ask the Minister to deal with this urgently. We want to see it refurbished. The courthouse in your home town, a Chathaoirligh, was refurbished this week and opened by the Minister. What is good enough for Athlone should be good enough for Longford.

The Garda Síochána has a difficult job. I have always been a supporter and defender of the force. It is the last line of defence. A country without a police force is in chaos. The Garda needs support from the Minister and the Department. I appeal to the Minister to initiate action on the ground to root out criminals and lock them up. We have too many laws but not enough order. People must be defended and order restored. The Minister must set about this task.

The community alert scheme in rural areas has received a great deal of support from the community. People have supported it because they are afraid for themselves and their neighbours. This is a sign of where we stand today. I am not an old man but can remember when doors were always open during the day and night. Now people, especially the elderly, are afraid to open their doors and shiver if they hear a knock. One could understand this if there were ten, 15 or 20 million people living on this island. The day will come in the not too distant future when people will defend themselves if the forces of order break down and cannot control the situation.

Fine Gael supports most of what is contained in the motion. Most of its points are part and parcel of our policy. We favour reform of the bail laws. We called on the Government to hold a referendum on them on 9 June to coincide with the European and urban elections. Such a referendum would be worthwhile. I believe most people would support reform of these laws. I regret the Government's failure to take this opportunity.

I have seen the petitions system working on occasion and it has some good points. However, the existing system is unsatisfactory and needs close scrutiny and some changes.

I and a number of people in my party are concerned about the existing right to silence. It is an outrage that people accused of serious crimes and brought to Garda stations are able to order meals and ask for their doctor and solicitor before any examination starts. This will now be videotaped. The battle is lost at this stage because people have an unlimited right to silence.

There is considerable fear throughout Ireland and I believe terror stalks the land. Some years ago everybody would be concerned if a murder had taken place. Details of an unsolved murder were given on the television programme "Crimeline" the other night. There are three unsolved murders in the west. I am not certain of the situation regarding the body found in Athlone this morning and will not comment on it. There are at least four, possibly five, unsolved murders. This has not occurred in my lifetime before. There is no doubt that a certain level of responsibility falls on the Minister and the Government because of the existing situation. If people want to commit murders, they will be able to do so irrespective of what kind of police force we have. However, one should not facilitate and make it easier for a person to commit such crimes.

I spoke against the changes made to rural policing by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Ray Burke. More gardaí were moved from towns in Laois, Offaly and the midlands than the number of gardaí which look after Ministers for Justice. Up to ten gardaí perform this role, whereas small villages and towns were deprived of the two or three gardaí they had continuously over the years. I appeal to the Minister to re-examine what is happening to the rural policing system. The only way to have communication between ordinary citizens and the Garda is for gardaí to live among the people. Senator Maloney gave a cogent description of how he saw the situation in Letterkenny. I agree fully with the points he made. It is essential for gardaí to walk the streets and meet people so that they are part and parcel of the local community. This was always the strength of the Garda, whose members lived in the community and were part of its life. This situation is changing rapidly and for the worse. I hope this will be re-examined by the Government.

I am aware of a serious crime which was committed. The wife of a member of the Garda — I will not say what rank — was approached and asked to convey important information to him. The person who was giving the information was afraid to be seen talking to a garda because of the significance of the information. They quietly conveyed the information to the wife in a supermarket. The point I am making is that the person was only able to convey the information because they knew the wife. There is a breakdown in communication here and it is absolutely essential that we re-examine it. The Minister should ensure that Garda stations are reopened and, if necessary, houses should be provided so that gardaí can live in those villages and towns. If this problem is left unattended, people will no longer bother speaking into the green man on the door but will keep the information to themselves.

It has been brought to my attention by a number of gardaí that they are obliged to bring in a certain number of summonses every month. Could the Minister tell me if that is true? Gardaí have told me they have to go out and serve summonses. It is not the duty of a garda to serve summonses but rather to prevent and control crime. The Garda Síochána were never intended to be revenue collectors or to collecting fines for summonses. Their duty is the protection of citizens' rights. If the country is so stuck for finance that ordinary people, in cases where a caution would suffice, have to be brought to court for minor offences, then we are heading down the wrong street. If it is not true I will go back to those gardaí and tell them that is not Government policy.

Our prison system should be a rehabilitation area but it should also serve as a deterrent. Regrettably, it is not a deterrent. What is sad about our prison system is that so many people come out of prison involved in drugs or with AIDS. The prisons should be clean and properly run. However, they should be a deterrent and people should have to work while they are in prison. The existing situation needs to be examined. The revolving door is part of the cause of the continually spiralling level of crime.

I cannot support the amendment which commends what the Minister is doing because, regrettably, I cannot commend what she is doing. I believe that if the people were asked to vote on whether to congratulate the Minister on what she is doing the answer would be in the negative.

I thank the Senators who contributed to this important debate. It is a matter of some disappointment that, on an issue of this gravity, the full muster could not be brought to bear on the Government side of the House.

The motion calls on the Minister to take certain actions and, to be fair to her, she dealt with some of the issues in her reply — unlike the Minister for Equality and Law Reform who dealt with very few of the issues which were raised when we were discussing public liability.

One of the disappointing aspects of her reply is that once again we are into this paralysis of analysis — Whitaker produces a report and then we produce a policy document on the report; we decide that the Law Reform Commission must look at the matter and, in due course, bring forward its recommendations; we then probably have a review of the recommendations and eventually, at some undefined time when the Government's period in office has expired, it becomes an issue for the incoming Government and so on and so forth ad nauseam. That is why we do not do anything.

However, the demand within the country is that we do something decisive and effective now. As Senator Enright said — to use the cliché — fear stalks the land. There are people living in fear, afraid to leave their homes even during the day; there are people who are afraid to walk down the streets of our cities. That is an appalling reflection on our society and it is up to the Government to deal with those defects. It is not society's fault that all of these things happen. Some of the blame can be firmly laid at the door of the Administration and the Government. Those responsibilities must be dealt with where they lie, which is what is being asked here this evening.

I share the Minister's respect for the Garda Commissioner whom I know to be an effective and hard working officer and someone who does his job well. I agree with her that there are no quick fix solutions. However, the motion does not ask for quick fix solutions but considered and detailed solutions brought forward in a balanced and reasonable way.

The question of resources was mentioned and the Minister's reply was anticipated by Senator Quinn in his contribution. If we were to take a clinical balance sheet approach to this issue, we would have to say that the cost to society of crime is much higher than the investment which should be made to rectify the situation. It would be money well invested. During my earlier contribution, I indicated where some of the resources could be found from outside the State apparatus through the leasing of prisons and so on. There are ways of dealing with the matter.

The extra provision of gardaí, clerical workers and staff are to be welcomed. The increases to the fleet are also to be welcomed provided that the cars are not smashed up by the potholes when in pursuit of criminals. However, the resources which, according to the Minister, are being allocated in respect of fraud are totally inadequate to deal with the type of white collar crime which exists and which is just as bad and has just as pervasive an effect on our society as more extreme forms of crime.

I was in Ardee this afternoon where I saw the green man. The point about the green man is that it comes back to the necessity of having gardaí on the beat. It is no good pressing a button in Ardee at 10 p. m. to call somebody in Navan to respond to a crisis in Ardee. That is not good enough.

Senator Farrell mentioned that when we were growing up we looked up to and respected the local policeman. As youngsters, we sometimes feared him because our parents made us fear him. The Garda are doing a very difficult and dangerous job and they are not getting the support they deserve either in resources or in law. It must be a great frustration for them to go to court and see people whom they, in all conscience, believe to be criminals and who should be convicted walk free and laugh at them. That is not how the Garda should be protected and resourced by the State.

Returning to earlier days, I remember in the fabled time of "Lugs" Brannigan when I was a university student when there was mayhem in the Olympic Ballroom——

And when the green man had a vote.

——the masses parted like the Red Sea for Moses in front of "Lugs" Brannigan and he brought two miscreants who were in front of the stage into the back alley. I do not know what he did with them but——

Rock `n' roll kids.

The serious point I wish to make is that we have got to the stage that if a garda lays a hand on anybody he is the criminal and not the person he is apprehending. There is something wrong with a society where that happens. Let us give the Garda the resources, respect and protection under law which they deserve.

Part of the problem in society as a whole may be related to the violence we see on our televisions daily in Northern Ireland, paramilitary activity and so on. The balance is wrong. It is the victim who should be supported but frequently it is the criminal who is supported by the apparatus of the State, not the victim. I met a lady in Wexford whose house was burgled. The criminal was convicted but she cannot get her possessions back from the local Garda station. She has had enough trauma without adding that to it. The emphasis is in the wrong place; the victim must be supported.

The matter of the bail laws has been discussed. If a referendum is required, let us have it. It will be carried overwhelmingly. Incidentally we did not ask for the right to silence to be abolished. We asked for the abolition of the unlimited right to silence. There is a distinction which was dealt with effectively by Senator Neville. The area of compensation for victims should be put on a statutory basis as should the pain and suffering element. It could be funded from the seizure of the assets of criminals. I commend the motion to the House.

Is the amendment to amendment No. 1 being pressed?

In the light of the Minister's statement that she would take my proposal on board, that she is not opposing it and will bring it to Government, I intend to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.

Is amendment No. 1 agreed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 13.

  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Seán.
  • Calnan, Michael.
  • Cashin, Bill.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kiely, Dan.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Mick.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McGennis, Marian.
  • Maloney, Sean.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Wright, G. V.


  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Cregan, Denis (Dino).
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • Honan, Cathy.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Mullooly and Calnan; Níl, Senators Dardis and Honan.
Amendment declared carried.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 13.

  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Seán.
  • Calnan, Michael.
  • Cashin, Bill.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kiely, Dan.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Mick.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McGennis, Marian.
  • Maloney, Sean.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Wright, G.V.


  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Cregan, Denis (Dino).
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • Honan, Cathy.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Mullooly and Calnan; Níl, Senators Dardis and Honan.
Question declared carried.