I remind Senators that the overall time limit on the debate is two hours and, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the time limits for the debate are as follows: for the Minister's contribution, 15 minutes; for the speech of the proposer of the motion, 12 minutes; for the speech of each other Senator, eight minutes; and for the proposer's reply, five minutes.
Anti-Crime Measures: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann deplores the abject failure of the Government and the Minister for Justice to respond with any adequate legislative, tactical and pragmatic measures to combat escalating crime levels throughout the country; and in particular vicious attacks on and the murder of elderly people living in rural areas; and accordingly Seanad Éireann calls upon the Government to abandon its lethargy and implement the following measures:
(i) ensure a sufficient Garda presence in rural areas;
(ii) provide adequate resources to improve community policing;
(iii) provide a sufficiency of prison places;
(iv) terminate the system of early and temporary release for habitual criminals and convicted drug traffickers;
(v) provide grant aid to the elderly living alone or with other elderly people to assist them to install Telecom Éireann's medi-alert system in their homes;
(vi) adopt Fianna Fáil Criminal Procedure Bill, 1995, and Misuse of Drugs Bill, 1996; and
(vii) introduce emergency legislation to provide for minimum sentencing in respect of certain serious indictable offences including aggravated assaults on persons and drug trafficking.
I welcome the Minister to the House. She has taken the time to give us the benefit of her knowledge and insight into the crime situation as it now pertains. I am in total agreement with her statement yesterday that the provision of prison places alone will not solve the crime crisis. That statement should perhaps go further; neither legislation alone, nor the Garda alone, nor education or the family alone, will solve the crisis. What we have to do in a mature and supportive way in all efforts to tackle this problem is to bring all the agencies and parts of the State and our community together to fight the problem.
Tonight's motion has been put forward by the Fianna Fáil membership of Seanad Éireann. The Minister will recall the last time we discussed a crimerelated motion in the House was the drugs debate last November. She gently chided me for saying——
Perhaps it was not gentle, but she chided me for saying there was a drugs crisis. I will not say there is a crime crisis because I do not have to do so; the Minister claims to be in touch with people's concerns in this area and they tell us there is a crime crisis. This is not a personal matter which only concerns the Minister or the Department of Justice; it is an issue for the entire Government. I have not heard one member of the public who would say this Government's record on law and order is anything but abysmal.
Senator Mulcahy without interruption.
Why has it taken 12 months to make a decision on extra prison places? Why has the Minister not yet reached a conclusion and a decision on amending our bail laws, given that she has had the Law Reform Commission report on bail since October 1995? Why has it taken her this long to introduce one Bill concerning criminal justice? What has been happening for the last year? Notwithstanding the fact that yesterday's announcement about moves to provide more prison places is welcome, or that the proposed regionalisation of the Garda Síochána is an excellent idea, the public does not have the impression — even if is the reality, which I doubt — that this Government is moving in a unified way to combat what people see as a crime crisis.
I will discuss the bail system in particular. The Minister may have more accurate figures than I, but my information is that in the region of 4,416 crimes were committed by persons on bail in 1994.
When Fianna Fáil was in power.
Yes, their term.
I am trying to remain non-political but if others wish to become political, that is fine. The figures for crimes committed while on bail have oscillated from 4,000 to 2,000 and back up to 4,000 and we can assume that for 1995 the number of crimes officially recorded as having been committed by persons on bail will be of the order of 4,000 to 5,000. That is only reported crimes, it will not be the total number of such crimes.
This Government has decided to take on board three Fianna Fáil Bills in the criminal justice area——
A very democratic decision.
I do not deny that. They have been proposed by Deputy O'Donoghue in two cases and by Deputy O'Donoghue and Deputy Eoin Ryan in the other and the Government's decision is to be commended. We have said in this House that if there is a problem in relation to Fine Gael's coalition partners on the subject of bail, why does the Minister not bring in the legislation and get support from Fianna Fáil, which is firmly committed——
Who said the coalition partners had a problem?
That is a fairy tale.
Senator Mulcahy without interruption, please.
That is a totally untrue statement.
Vote him down.
Let the Senator continue, please.
Am I being allowed extra time for that?
There is an attempt by the rainbow coalition to try——
Address yourself to the motion and you will not waste any more time, Senator.
Yes, but in fairness if I am interrupted I think I am due more time.
There is no provision for that in Standing Orders.
Leave the fanciful assertions outside the House.
Please allow the Senator to continue.
Will the Minister outline her intentions on reform of the bail laws? Is she in favour of reforming them and, if so, will she introduce legislation to hold a constitutional amendment? If she is not in favour of this proposal, will she explain her reasons? The public shares my belief that the Government is not united on this issue.
Paragraph (v) of the motion states: "provide grant aid to the elderly living alone or with other elderly people to assist them to install Telecom Éireann's medi-alert system in their homes." Paragraph (vii) states: "introduce emergency legislation to provide for minimum sentencing in respect of certain serious indictable offences including aggravated assaults on persons and drug trafficking." We have all been appalled by the recent spate of murders, rapes and assaults. We do not know if these crimes were committed by people on remand or on bail, but we know that sometime earlier this year the State paid out substantial sums of money to the victim of a crime committed by somebody on temporary release. We must tighten up this area. There is widespread public alarm that many dangerous people are at large because of the temporary release scheme, the bail laws or a shortage of prison spaces.
Recently the Minister for the Environment published a Bill to abolish the remaining provisions of the Malicious Injuries Acts. The 1986 Act amended the 1981 Act and limited compensation for malicious injuries to property which was damaged as a result of riotous behaviour or events stemming from the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is extremely insensitive to abolish that legislation. Victims of crime need more protection, not less. I call on the Minister for Justice to ask the Minister for the Environment to consider withdrawing that Bill because it is inappropriate to proceed with it given the current situation.
Deputy O'Donoghue called for the reintroduction of the murder squad. Is the Minister satisfied that the present structures, resources, etc., of the Garda are adequate to deal with the current spate of vicious crimes?
I second the motion and I hope we will take an objective and positive approach to this issue. The crime wave throughout the country has reached such a critical level that it is no longer enough for any of us to bemoan the failure of the Government to take effective remedial action. There is understandable concern for the victims and families of violent crime, particularly when they are attacked, brutalised and murdered in the sanctity of their homes. The agony and suffering of these victims and of their grieving families demand a comprehensive and vigorous response from the Government, the Oireachtas, the courts and all law enforcement agencies. There is growing public demand for protection and compensation for the victims of crime as well as an effective and vigorous action campaign against the criminals who are undermining the basis of our society.
The Minister for Justice has been the target of vigorous and consistent criticism. She is a victim of this outrageous surge of crime and inhumanity because the composition of this Government, especially the minority leftist elements which dominate the Government, prevent her from taking the necessary steps she wants to take. It is outrageous that the Minister for Justice should be left in such a defenceless and helpless condition by the lack of adequate resources to implement an effective policy at all levels and by the proclaimed concern of the parties of the Left for individual rights as distinct from responsibilities and community rights, for State responsibility as distinct from individual responsibility and for agencies and advisers as distinct from family support and parental responsibility.
That is not fair.
As the roots and origins of crime are multifactorial, so also must the solution be multifactorial. This generation has seen a preoccupation with rights as distinct from responsibility and we all pay the price for this selfish, anti-social preoccupation. It is a great irony that when the rights of children are being proclaimed in this generation more than in any previous one, the level of juvenile crime has soared, particularly in recent years. Just as President Clinton proclaimed in his visit to Belfast that the children of this generation in Northern Ireland have a right to be born and raised in an environment free from terrorist violence, so too do the children of this generation throughout Ireland have the right to be born and raised in an environment free from criminal violence and abuse.
From the early 1960s the courts took a radically different approach to the basic rights of citizens. It was the era of vindication of individual rights. A Supreme Court decision in the O'Callaghan case in 1964 struck down the long established judges' rule on bail and brought about a major change in the balance between the victim and the criminal. The vindication of individual rights may have been appropriate in those days but it is now clear that the vindication of the most fundamental rights of all, the right to bodily integrity and the right to life, must take precedence.
It is long past time for the referendum on bail to be introduced and passed to enable judges to take into account the background and character of people charged with serious offences in determining whether they should be allowed bail pending trial. It is ludicrous that judges are only entitled to refuse bail on the grounds that a person is likely to abscond while on bail. The decision to put this matter to the people needs no further study group, task force or Government special advisers. It should be immediately referred to the people who will sanction the Government's authority to prevent any further abuse by offenders of the bail system at the expense of the life and limb of law abiding citizens.
The review of our system must go further. Our system of criminal procedure derives from the English common law procedure of centuries ago. This procedure is an adversarial one where the presumption of innocence against the accused is such that the burden of proof on the State prosecuting authorities must be established beyond all reasonable doubt. This is a heavy onus and can justify accused people remaining silent when charged with any offence. Furthermore, it prevents the court at the trial from bringing to the attention of the jury this basic fact which it might consider in its deliberations on the guilt or innocence of the accused.
Even the old common law system pointed out at the same time that an accused person who was mute of malice was not entitled to the benefit and protection of silence in the face of criminal charges. This exception has long since passed out of our criminal procedures, which only underlines the fact that the criminal has learned all of the protections on individual rights to his advantage in a professional way.
It is, of course, essential that people should not be intimidated or pressurised into making statements and that they should continue to have the right to make a voluntary statement after full professional advice, but this right should not be asserted to the point of making the offender a protected species while the unfortunate victim remains fair game.
Now that we have become full and vigorous members of the European Union, is it not time that we considered the system of criminal procedure which operates by and large throughout Europe? There is no reason for clinging slavishly to the old common law adversarial system which has proved to be inadequate in current social conditions when the much more searching and effective inquisitorial system, which is in practice in France and other European countries, seems to establish a better balance between the victim and the accused. The preliminary procedure there of an examining magistrate conducting investigations on which he can draw conclusions for consideration at the plenary trial has certainly been more effective in the ratio of convictions to charges under that system than under our adversarial common law system.
On behalf of the citizens, the State is entitled and, indeed, obliged not just to investigate a charge but also to prosecute the people eventually charged. The presumption of innocence until proved guilty must, of course, remain; but the victims, dead and alive, of violent crime in our society have for some time now cried out for a restoration of a proper balance between the rights of offenders and those of victims.
It would not be appropriate for me to conclude this contribution without acknowledging the fact that we have a special responsibility to young people to protect them against the spread of the virus of crime, particularly in our heavily populated cities. Local authority housing in Ireland provides physical accommodation of an order that will not be matched in any country in Europe, many of which are much wealthier. Due to the lack of any enlightened social policy on the part of our housing authorities, particularly in our big cities, we have created the community of crime by rehousing vulnerable groups, such as unmarried mothers, unemployed fathers, battered wives and alcoholic husbands in one major local authority housing conurbation. The old street culture that was an effective guarantee against crime because of the community cohesion in our towns and cities has been recklessly cast aside at great cost to our society. The mix of generations from young to grandparents and, indeed, even great-grandparents, was always a stabilising element in the streets of our towns and cities, but local authority planning has shown no awareness of this and it is time to restore the security of community in a harmonious blend of youth and age, of employed and unemployed and of healthy and disabled in our housing programme. This requires a radical change in our housing allocation system which can only react to the benefit of all, young and old, in an integrated and harmonious society. What I am talking about is the need for radical change in all our procedures, including criminal procedures.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:
"—expresses its sympathy to the families and friends of the persons who have died recently in violent circumstances or who have been viciously attacked;
—notes the determination of the Garda Síochána to bring the perpetrators to justice and supports the Garda strategies recently put in place in the West of Ireland to combat attacks on the elderly in rural areas;
—commends and supports the Government and the Minister for Justice on the series of measures approved by the Government on 30th January, 1996 to provide additional prison places both in the immediate and in the longer term;
—recognises that the crime problem must be tackled in a co-ordinated and structured way and that the fundamental causes must be addressed;
—commends and supports the Minister for Justice on the measures she has already taken, and proposes to take, to provide the Garda Síochána with the resources necessary to prevent and detect all forms of crime;
—notes the measures being taken by the Minister for Justice to tackle the drug problem in the prison system;
—welcomes the establishment of the Working Group on a Courts Commission which is carrying out a major reappraisal of the organisation and structure of the Courts including an examination of establishing an independent body with financial and management autonomy; and
—welcomes the administrative and procedural reforms introduced by the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, which will maximise the resources of the Courts and enhance the overall efficiency of the system."
There has been an unacceptable level of crime in society for many years and everything must be done to control and reduce it. People must feel safe in their homes and the State has a duty to protect people and ensure they feel safe in their homes.
The Minister for Justice's announcement yesterday is a worthwhile step on that path and must be welcomed by everybody. In particular, the provision of 278 places in the next 18 months, 223 of them in 1996, is a positive step towards solving the problem. This also includes the provision of a new wing at Limerick Prison which will provide an additional 55 places and I welcome this, in particular, because I have communicated with the Minister on that matter.
I want to refer to the editorial in today'sIrish Independent. It states:
Additional prison space will mean the end of the revolving door system which saw people serving only a fraction of their time because other prisoners were turning up on the doorstep.
I congratulate the Minister on what theIrish Independent refers to as the end of the revolving door system by virtue of her decision yesterday.
I also welcome the decision to take advantage of the opportunity for better use of prison space as presented by the peace process. As a consequence of the move to Castlerea and following some internal adjustments, 105 places will be available at Portlaoise Prison. This policy in the treatment of republican prisoners is in stark contrast to the approach of the British Government, which has introduced a much harsher and cruel regime for Irish political prisoners.
I congratulate the Garda on the efficiency with which it has introduced "Operation Shannon" to detect the cruel, ruthless, inhuman and vile criminals who attack the elderly in their homes in the west. The people there are looking carefully at this operation. Two elderly people in my parish in Limerick were attacked in their home some six weeks or two months ago and we are carefully watching the situation. The actions of the Garda has engendered a belief that something is now being done and there is growing confidence in the system that this vile approach to the elderly will now be stopped.
Crime against the elderly, where people are maimed and killed, is new and has become more frequent. There are drug related problems and offences in every village. I welcome the approach the Minister has taken to this and look forward to the introduction of the measures which she announced previously. There is a shortage of money to feed the habits of drug users and there is a general belief that old people have money hidden and do not use banks.
The perception is often put abroad that the high level of unemployment and changes in society are contributory factors to the increasing level of crime. While there may be some truth in this, we must at all times ensure that we uphold the position that the criminal is responsible for his or her acts. Civil rights should favour the victim. Society must be protected from those who commit violent crime and the punishment must fit the crime. People who decide to commit violent crime must be responsible for their actions and drugs or alcohol must never be accepted as an excuse.
Crime has changed over the past ten years and is now more nasty and violent. Criminals hand out violence for no special reason. There has been an alarming growth in sex crimes, which must be targeted with the same level of efficiency as the present approach to what has taken place in the west.
I want to refer especially to a short important statement which the Minister made yesterday. She referred to the importance of the wider response to crime, which, she said, cannot be over-stressed. She said:
We need, as a society, to reawaken our tradition of caring for those around us; our neighbours, those who are alone; the infirm; the elderly.
The value of positive voluntary input is enormous. We need also to coordinate input by educators, by health workers and other welfare agencies if we are to ensure that today's child-at-risk will not become tomorrow's threat to society.
The Fianna Fáil motion calls on the Government to ensure a sufficient Garda presence in rural areas, but they did not do so when they were in power. The motion calls for the provision of adequate resources to improve community policing. Why was that not done before last year? They seek the provision of sufficient prison places. Why was that not done? I could read the list of measures and ask why each one was not done when Fianna Fáil was in power.
On that last provision, I want to refer to an article inThe Irish Times on 6 August 1993, which states that up to 200 new prison places are to be created by the Government at Wheatfield Prison in Dublin. It adds:
In order to speed up such a building programme while keeping initial costs down, the Minister for Justice, Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn, is giving consideration to the possibility of employing a lease-back arrangement with private sector builders . . .
A Government spokesman said the Minister for Justice would like to see work on the new building programme start later this year or early next year . . .
There has been growing criticism . . . . of what has been described as "a revolving-door" prison system, under which some prisoners are released prematurely in order to make way for others. The lack of prison space has also given way to a practice whereby criminals are charged and immediately released, pending a hearing of the cases in court.
What happened up until the end of 1994?
InThe Irish Times of 7 August, 1993 an article entitled “Prison doors will keep revolving” stated:
With the announcement that up to 200 new places are to be created at Wheatfield prison in Dublin, the Government have moved to ease pressure on an overcrowded system that is bursting at the seams.
But it will also be hoping that the plan will stem the public's growing realisation that the duration of custodial sentences handed down by the courts often bears little resemblance to the length of time convicted criminals spend in prison...
The result is that prisoners — with the exception of sex offenders and subversives — are released early to make way for newcomers. Dozens walk free every day, according to prison sources, long before they have completed their sentences ... many are simply released to relieve overcrowding, often having served terms measured in days.
Given the political implications of convicted offenders, some of whom have committed serious crimes, walking the streets, it is hardly surprising that official statistics are hard to come by.
What happened between then and the end of 1994?
I wish to refer to another article fromThe Irish Times of 24 July 1993 relating to Limerick. Senator Mulcahy has great concern for crime committed by people on temporary release from prison.
[A named person], one of two young women charged last weekend with the murder of [a named person] in Limerick city, was on temporary release from Limerick Prison at the time of the crime. [She] was granted the temporary release by the prison section of the Department of Justice.
The Minister of State for Justice, Mr. Willie O'Dea, toldThe Irish Times that he did not make representations to have [the person] released during the period of the crime. He had made representations to the prison section of the Department of Justice to have her temporarily released some six weeks earlier, he said. . . .
She was discharged on temporary release on 2 July . . . The prison authorities were contacted on July 5th by telephone to have an extension of the temporary release. This was granted until July 8th. She returned from temporary release at 6 p.m. on July 8th and was granted a further temporary release at 2.50 p.m. on July 9th. [She] returned from the temporary release at 5.05 p.m. on July 13th according to the prison records. She was granted another temporary release at 5.20 p.m. the same day . . . until July 16th.
There were three other releases and she committed murder while out on release.
Everything is now being blamed on the Minister for Justice. We are being told the present situation has gone out of order since this Minister took office.
I am a little upset by the Senator's contribution. As an Independent Member I have seen the to and fro of debate in the House. The present incumbent of the office of Minister was as good at giving it out to her predecessors. We might learn one small lesson — the rate or state of crime does not increase or decrease with Ministers, rather there is a plan that is worked towards. The justification that matters were no better under a previous Minister than they are at present brings politics into disrepute.
The Minister for Justice is the politician who is answerable. She has to take the stick at this time and she knows that as well as everyone. We must adopt the approach that any attempt to personalise the matter or blame it on the party in Government is wrong. We lose credibility with the public if we try to introduce to the debate the idea that for some reason there is more crime now because somebody else was in Government or that if another party was in Government there would be an immediate drop in the crime rate. The voters are not stupid and we need to catch ourselves on. The Minister for Justice has to take blame for things that go wrong and if things go right the Minister can take credit — that is the nature of her job.
The Government has made mistakes and the alarms initiative in the budget is one example — it is a disaster. I live in the country and I have had an alarm on my house for the last ten years. During that time I have been burgled seven to ten times. Alarms are not a cure for all ills. The initiative was an elastoplast idea that someone thought should be included in the budget. The Minister should admit it has been a disaster; it has not worked, so let us move on from it.
We need to introduce a little common sense into how we deal with the issue and respond to it. Speaker after speaker has put the view that there is a way to stop crime and we can then end the ills of society. Crime and violence are simply the effects and we have to examine the causes, whether of violent crime against the person or drug abuse. There are people in the Government who think there is a way of stopping the supply of drugs and thereby curing the drugs problem. There are even more foolish people in the Government — I heard one of them speak recently — who feel that if the supply of drugs is stopped people would not make or design any more of them. As long as such thinking is involved and the Department of Justice allows Ministers to believe that one can control the supply of drugs or stop crime simply by looking at the impact of crime and addressing violence with roadblocks — although such measures are welcome — we will not stop the causes of crime. We need to go back much further.
I ask the Minister to give a commitment that all our legislation should make a clear distinction between crimes against the person and crimes against property. There is a difference and people feel the robbery of money is not nearly as important as old people being put in fear of their lives and being unable to face the world as they had been. Crime against the person is the issue for the voters.
From a teacher's point of view the recent upsurge of crime makes it imperative to recognise the intrinsic link between educational disadvantage and crime. This week a 16 year old girl has been questioned by the Garda about a brutal murder. I am not saying who is guilty or innocent in the case; that is for the courts to decide in time. The relevant fact is that a 16 year old girl has been questioned. That is what has changed in society. We have to ask why and where it changed.
The Minister's new proposals include a constitutional referendum to allow changes to be made. It is a progressive and welcome idea but it fails to address the obvious root causes. The Minister should look at another aspect of the Constitution that has been ignored by every Government since the Constitution came into effect. There is a requirement in the Constitution that every child gets a minimum level of education. Many Governments tried to pass a law to establish the minimum level of education. The intervention of right-wing, reactionary groups, Church groups in particular, challenged the constitutionality of the legislation in court as an interruption of family life and it was not passed. Consequently, that constitutional imperative has never been dealt with.
In any move to eliminate crime we need to focus in the first place on identifying the areas, social conditions, ages and immediate causes which generally tend to provide the genesis and the ambience of crime. If it is a fact that most of our prison population comes from the same identifiable areas of our cities, is there not a question we need to ask? In many cases it might be nearly cheaper to build walls around some housing estates because we have abandoned them. Children are born without an innate tendency towards crime or violence. Something happens between the time they are born and the time they commit crime to lead them in that direction and we are not intervening soon enough.
The School Attendance Act only takes effect for children aged six or older. On occasion I have gone into the background of some of the most high level and vicious crimes committed — crimes of brutality committed by people in their twenties against other people. In four cases over the last four years, involving people whose names may be familiar to Members, the teacher who taught each of the offenders at infant level pointed out to somebody in authority that there was a problem. The number of deaths caused by those four people is very close to ten, with multiple deaths in three cases. There is something wrong with a society which cannot deal with that. It is not just a matter of putting more gardaí on the beat but of dealing with uncontrollable, vicious five year olds who need treatment and counselling. I do not have time to develop some of the other areas but early intervention is essential; we need to get to the root and genesis of crime.
I will be voting against the Minister tonight as a protest about all these issues. I do not subscribe to the view that she is personally responsible for the crime wave or that crime levels worsened with the coming to power of this Government — if those who are now in Opposition were in power tonight I would vote the same way. This is a crucial issue and we are not addressing it. We need to get back to basics and to intervene at a much earlier stage when the professionals — teachers, social workers, psychologists, gardaí, probation officers or home visitors — identify a problem. I urge the Minister to take that on board.
I thank the Senators who contributed to the debate. I thank Senator O'Kennedy, who is an experienced Member of this and the other House, for his very thoughtful remarks which contrasted with those of the younger, less experienced Member who opened the debate. I also thank Senator O'Toole, who is also an experienced Member of this House, for his non-partisan approach. I would like this debate to continue in the vein begun by Senator O'Kennedy and continued by Senator O'Toole.
Senator Neville wisely tried to point out how little changed the situation is from a couple of years ago and how quickly people's memories fade and fail with the passage of time. In the 1994 Official Report when a Progressive Democrat Bill was put before the House, the then Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, said much of what I am now being heavily criticised for saying by members of her party. There is a touch ofdéjà vu about this as we have seen and heard it all before.
Some very practical and realistic debates take place in this House. That is not to say that they do not take place in the other House, but this forum tends to allow for a more realistic debate at times. I thank those Senators who spoke in a measured way and highlighted the fact that these problems did not begin today or yesterday. I thank Senator O'Toole for highlighting the fact that the matter is one of social and public health which requires a multi agency approach. Senators Neville and Mulcahy also made that point. It is important to have a realistic approach to this debate.
I wish to express my deepest sympathy to the victims of recent horrific attacks and to the relatives and friends of those who have lost their lives in such tragic and awful circumstances. I assure them that all necessary Garda resources will be allocated to finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. We know that one person has been taken into custody. He will be taken through the system of justice and it is not right for any of us to decide now whether he is guilty. I am very concerned about the apprehension and fear which recent events have engendered in the community and I will continue to take the steps open to me to allay those fears. However, I wish to open my response to this motion by making a plea for a degree of honesty and realism.
Wrongdoing is a part of the human condition and its extent is governed by the nature of the society in which we live. It is not just one or two factors which contribute to crime, but a range of influences whose complexity and interrelationship have teased and exercised the professional skills of sociologists and criminologists for years. It is extremely dishonest to pretend that the problems are of recent origin. It is dishonest to pretend that we have moved within the past week or one, two, three or four years from a way of life in this country characterised by absolute tranquillity, perfect order and model citizenship to one characterised by chaos, anarchy and the total breakdown of law and order. Neither the former nor latter pictures accord with reality.
The false impression that the move from tranquillity to disorder has been both sudden and unprecedented may make "good copy"— of which there has been plenty — and could even provide the temptation to engage in opportunistic political gamesmanship, but is far from being honest and has nothing to do with reality. In the end, it serves only to scare rather than help those about whom we claim to be concerned. That is unforgivable. It is heartening to note that some of the more thoughtful media commentators and politicians, over the past few days in particular, have acknowledged that hysterical reaction simply preys on vulnerability and drives fear beyond all reasonable bounds.
I believe that realism is required on two broad fronts. First, is the reality that the problem of crime cannot be addressed successfully in the longer term by relying exclusively on law and order responses. We all know that, even as we debate here tonight, there are children of tender years in the community who, because of today's neglect, will be tomorrow's criminals. We must, as a society, find ways to help them now before they, like many thousands before them, turn their anger on their fellow citizens. It will be too late when the law and order system intervenes.
We all have responsibility for the kind of society we have built up; we must look at the elements in that society which cause crime and see what we can do about it. We must then take the necessary action to address the elements which lead to the kind of crime we are witnessing today. That means starting well before today's child becomes tomorrow's threat to society. It requires considerable voluntary as well as official help and intervention, and the reawakening and co-ordination of caring instincts in society as a whole. The law and order system, however efficient, cannot meet the challenge on its own. We are all challenged and must accept that challenge.
The second reality is one which I, in common with all my predecessors, have talked about several times, both inside and outside the Oireachtas. It is absolutely essential, if one is to address any problem, to begin by looking objectively and dispassionately at the actual facts. I am not talking about the facts as we imagine them to be, or as some would misleadingly wish to present them, but the actual facts about crime. The statistical data available to me do not support the suggestion that we are caught in an unprecedented crime wave. I know that statistical data are no consolation to the victims of the crimes which have occurred, and I am not suggesting for one moment that they ought to be, however, if we are to tackle the problem we must do so with a clear understanding of the facts.
During 1995 crime increased by an estimated 1 per cent compared with 1994. The increase in Dublin was, in fact, an estimated 4 per cent with a reduction of 2 per cent outside Dublin. The overall increase of 1 per cent compares with an overall increase of 2 per cent in 1994 and 4 per cent in 1993.
Horrific as recent crimes have been, it is sadly the case that they are not unprecedented. In the case of attacks on the elderly, the basic fact I want to mention is that in 1984 there were 432 attacks where the injured party was 65 years or over living in a remote area. Garda action, supported by the rural community, succeeded in reducing that number to 118 in 1988 and a low of 66 in 1991 and 1992. There is evidence of a recent overall increase in such crimes but nothing approaching the 1984 level.
Furthermore, the commission of serious crime involving the use of firearms decreased from 723 in 1993 — comprising 593 aggravated burglaries involving firearms and 130 robberies involving firearms — to 582 in 1994 — 403 aggravated burglaries involving firearms and 179 robberies involving firearms. This downward trend continued in 1995 with an estimated decrease of 7 per cent.
It is true that there are also extremely worrying upward trends within the category of crime involving offences against the person. It is clear, for example, that there has been a very large increase in the level of reported sexual crime, including rape. Reports of rape doubled during the period 1990 to 1994. In the latter year, 184 rapes were reported to the gardaí and this upward trend is continuing. Provisional figures for 1995 — I stress that these have yet to be finalised — indicate that the number of reported rapes increased by 28 per cent.
I do not believe that these statistics can be put down simply to a greater willingness on the part of rape victims generally to report such offences. While this may be a factor, it seems reasonable to assume that the real, underlying trend is towards a higher incidence of abuse.
Sex offending, by its very nature, is very difficult to prevent and is sometimes quite difficult to detect. It occurs at all levels and among all classes in society. The laws are comprehensive and quite stern, and the attitude towards those imprisoned for sex offending is strict — they are not, for example, among the categories who would be considered automatically for early release concessions. I have asked my Department to produce a paper on further options that may be open in terms of law reform in this area and I hope to publish that paper in the near future.
Probably the most seriously misleading piece of information which has got about, in recent times, is that homicides have rocketed out of all proportion. It is an allegation devoid of substance. Last year I launched a Department of Justice study on homicide in Ireland in the period 1972 to 1991. The author of the study — Dr. Enda Dooley — discovered that, while violent crime had increased over the period in question, this had not been mirrored by an increase in the overall homicide rate. In fact, the actual figures were remarkably consistent throughout the years covered by the study. A further point worth noting is that the homicide rate here was the lowest of 11 other European jurisdictions.
There was an increase in the number of homicides towards the latter half of 1995 and that is obviously a cause for concern. However, the fact remains that, considered professionally over a 20 year period, the basic finding is that our homicide rate is relatively stable and well below European levels.
While emphasising, as I have, the need for honesty and realism, and the need to avoid unnecessary scare-mongering, there is no doubt that, at present, some specific law and order responses are called for and I now wish to deal with these.
In relation to the recent spate of savage crime, I have had detailed discussions with the Garda Commissioner. A specific issue in these discussions was that of resources. I can again advise the House that I have been assured by the commissioner that he has all the resources he needs to respond to the problem. I am aware that, from time to time, suggestions to the contrary are made — sometimes by anonymous Garda sources, sometimes by Garda representative associations. However, like my predecessors, I must rely on the advice of the commissioner who is head of the police force.
Hear no evil, see no evil.
The House will be aware that at the weekend, the commissioner put in place a special rural crime task force. This has already involved intensive Garda activity in western counties with widespread and mobile road-checks accompanied by air surveillance provided by the Army-Air Corps. Every possible resource is being directed to apprehending the perpetrators of recent killings and the hunt for them will continue until they are found and brought to justice.
The House will also be aware that at a meeting of the Government yesterday, Tuesday, 30 January 1996, I received the approval of the Government for a series of measures to tackle crime — immediately and in the longer term. Those measures include the provision of 278 prison places during the next 18 months by making 223 additional places available in 1996 — including the return to use of 30 places in St. Patrick's Institution and making a further 55 places available within 18 months; agreement for further expansion of prison accommodation with the immediate recommencement of the planning and development on the women's prison in Dublin and on the remainder of the site at Castlerea for prison purposes; implementation of the Garda restructuring plan — regionalisation — as a result of the appointment, by the Government, of four new assistant commissioners and the allocation of assistant commissioners to head the five new regions and approval for the appointment of new judges.
Before I go any further I believe it correct to dispose of the suggestion that yesterday's decisions are the first that have been taken by me and the Government to address law and order issues. Since taking office, I have also taken the following measures to assist the Garda response to crime.
I have secured the approval of Government for a comprehensive set of measures to take on the drug traffickers and intensify the fight against drugs. The measures being implemented are as follows: the Garda national drugs unit has been established; the memorandum of understanding between the gardaí and the Customs and Excise has been signed and will lead to enhanced liaison arrangements between the two agencies and allow for the setting up of the joint task force for particular operations; the National Co-ordinating Committee, chaired by Deputy Brian O'Shea, Minister of State at the Department of Health, has been re-established, the committee has established two new subcommittees to deal with the supply and demand aspects of the problem. That committee could have been re-established at any time during the past four or five years, but it was not; the position regarding dance hall and public house licences has been reviewed and the relevant legislation is being updated; the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill will be published shortly; additional powers will be given to Customs and Naval Service personnel; the review by the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners of certain Law Reform Commission recommendations regarding co-operation between the two agencies will be completed in the near future; the issue of drugs in prison is being attended to urgently and my colleague, Deputy Howlin, the Minister for Health will be bringing forward——
Did a reshuffle take place?
I beg the pardon of the House. Deputy Noonan, the Minister for Health, will shortly bring forward proposals on demand reduction measures.
Deputy Howlin is in the spending Department.
Senators will understand that I have been quite busy during the past number of weeks and gremlins occasionally get into my computer.
A sign that the Minister is working hard.
All these measures add up to substantial action which could have been taken years ago. These measures represent the most radical, comprehensive and integrated plan ever put in place to deal with the problem. They show the determination of the Government to deal with drugs and those who engage in this evil traffic. That determination includes all parties in Government and I refute the contention that some members of the Government are soft on some areas of crime. I know because I am on the inside looking out.
As far as the Garda Síochána is concerned, I have taken some very important steps to enhance its effectiveness. I have already referred to the regional command structure in this regard. I agreed to put the new structure in place specifically to deal more effectively with determined and ruthless criminal gangs which are highly mobile and equipped with the best technology. There are no shortages for the criminals. They have the best of cars and if they do not have them they steal them. The new command structure will provide the Garda Síochána with a much greater operational focus in terms of its leadership and will provide for a much more co-ordinated and cohesive approach on a cross-division basis in tackling all facets of crime.
But, of course, the fight against crime is not just a matter for the Garda alone. The whole community has a critical part to play. This community effort is best reflected in the excellent work being done by members of the 800 community alert schemes and the 1,946 neighbourhood watch schemes which are operating throughout the country. Based on research carried out on the crime levels for the three year period before and after the community alert scheme was established, the following results were recorded: a 17 per cent decrease in attacks on the elderly; a 25 per cent decrease in burglaries; and a 21 per cent decrease in other crimes.
These results convinced me that further support should be given to the community alert schemes, and in this regard I informed Muintir na Tíre at a meeting earlier this month that I would make £50,000 available to provide them with the resources to significantly expand the number of community alert schemes in operation. In response to their request, I also told them they could come back to me with any further proposals they might have.
Returning briefly to the question of prisoners, I would like to refer in particular to the question of temporary release of offenders. The statutory authority for the release of most sentenced prisoners rests with the Minister for Justice under section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1960. That Act came into force in 1960, not in 1995 as some people would contend.
It even predates that.
Temporary release is, in effect, our system of parole, which is a feature of prison systems in similar jurisdictions worldwide and has been used extensively by all Ministers for Justice since 1960.
I am sure that all Members of this House are aware that I receive frequent representations from Deputies and Senators from all parties on behalf of individual offenders seeking temporary release. In many of these cases the representations concern offenders serving sentences for very serious offences, often involving violence. While the temporary release system has attracted considerable controversy recently, I still believe it is soundly based. I am aware, however — and again it did not happen recently — that due to a shortage of prison accommodation some offenders are granted temporary release earlier than would otherwise be the case. Indeed, when Deputy McDowell moved his Bill in 1994 he made exactly the same case and I quote from column 1650 of the Official Report of 14 June 1994:
It is a fact, and one we will have to face up to, that many people are released from prison simply because a batch of remand prisoners is sent from courts to Mountjoy and room has to be made.
So, the then Minister had also to contend with those kind of allegations. I hope that the provision of additional prison places which I referred to earlier will go a long way to rectifying the present problems in this regard.
The House will, I am sure, be aware of my efforts to address the problem of drugs in prisons — I have spoken about it here — and the management of addicted offenders. In addition to recent successful measures to prevent smuggling of drugs into prisons, a secure drugs free unit will be opened in Mountjoy in March 1996. This will incorporate a strict drug urinalysis (testing) programme which will enable the prison authorities to accommodate those prisoners who do not have a background of drug abuse, or who have decided to opt out of the drugs culture, in a drugs free environment within the prison.
In April 1996, a new drug treatment facility at Mountjoy will provide prisoners with an opportunity to avail of controlled detoxification and methadone maintenance programmes.
Before I leave the subject of prisons, which has probably attracted more attention than any of the other decisions I announced yesterday, let me deal with the suggestion from some quarters that it is simply a "knee-jerk" reaction to the problems we face. There are three brief comments I would make. First, it is hardly rational to demand more prison places and then proceed to argue, when they are delivered, that it is simply a "knee-jerk" reaction. Second, anybody who believes that you can overnight, or in a week or month, produce an extensive package for prison places, such as I announced yesterday, can feel quite secure in the knowledge that he or she knows precious little about the operation of a prison service. I refer here to some of the more experienced Members of this House who have served as Ministers. They will know that it is not possible to provide a package like that as simply a "knee-jerk" reaction. Third, I have made it abundantly clear in everything that I have said — and I do so now again — that prison places alone will not solve all our problems. More than once I have made the point that without a broadly based response to crime we will not, as a society, win the battle.
I have outlined some of the actions which the Government has been taking, and is continuing to take, in dealing with crime and criminals. In concluding I would urge all Members of this House to send out at least one positive message to the general public. We should make it clear that as responsible politicians we will not allow ourselves to play games with the fears of the vulnerable in our society for political advantage. We should give the unequivocal message that we are united in our resolve to tackle crime in all its forms.
What about the Cabinet?
The public who put us here to represent them are not impressed by transparent gamesmanship when we are dealing with the serious issue of crime.
In a manifestation of my own words the Government yesterday made the decision that I would not oppose the Second Stage of the Fianna Fáil Bill in the Lower House. That is the most graphic manifestation that we in Government do not intend to play gamesmanship with the vulnerable in our society.
We are leading again.
I commend the amendment of the motion to the House.
I join with other Members of the House in welcoming the Minister for Justice. I have no doubt the Minister is as concerned about the crime situation as anybody else. Unfortunately, the public perception at the moment, rightly or wrongly, is that there seems to have been a lack of activity. There are some facts to back that up. My party has submitted a motion under a number of headings, asking for certain measures to be taken. Some of those were addressed in the Minister's statement of yesterday. The background to this debate is the great fear that exists in the community because of the breakdown of law and order and the lack of respect for persons and property. It is now accepted that on any given day in the media one is liable to hear of more heinous crimes.
This debate is important in that it provides elected representatives with the opportunity to air what has been brought to their attention. It is generally accepted on both sides of the House that at any one time, up to 1,000 people who should be in jail are out and about. Some perhaps do not pose a major threat to society, but the courts convicted them and imposed jail sentences. In some cases I question whether a jail sentence is merited — for example, where four members of a family are fined £35 for not having car insurance. I cannot see the logic of taking up the time of gardaí and using public money to ferry four members of a family to Dublin for the sake of £35 or £50 fines. The prison authorities usually must pay the train fares of the gardaí for the return journey and give them a subsistence allowance also. This is not of benefit to the convicted person or the State. It is an imposition on the State and it suffers a major loss financially and in terms of the time of highly qualified, experienced and highly paid gardaí who could be addressing other crime matters.
It is now generally accepted that the number of young people, from the ages of 12 to 19, involved in crime has increased dramatically. In the past many people who found themselves slightly outside the law spent time in industrial schools. This is no longer the case and the lack of that facility was not addressed in recent years. The industrial school system was not beneficial in all cases but probably was so in some cases. However, the lack of this option was not addressed to any great extent and this aspect should be tackled.
Through the years the psychiatric service also dealt with many social cases involving people who were just outside the law. People were dealt with medically rather than through civil law and many were incarcerated in psychiatric institutions. This system was phased out some years ago but no alternative was considered. These two aspects have led to crowding in the system in recent years.
The Minister is attempting to address the provision of extra prison places for people convicted of crimes. It is totally inappropriate that such people are roaming the streets because no prison space is available for them. The revolving door or temporary release is not an answer to the problem; it plays into the hands of criminals. They know prison places are not available to cater for them and so what if they are caught again because they will not spend much time in jail one way or the other.
Other speakers mentioned the bail system. It is obnoxious that people commit crimes while on bail. It is a dreadful reflection on the system and I hope this matter will be addressed. The Garda Síochána is involved in many areas in which it should not be involved. In particular, the amount of Garda time taken up with administration and clerical work is unnecessary. It is a waste of manpower; I mentioned this aspect previously. The work of the Garda in licensing matters, fines and other areas could easily be done by others. For example, gardaí sit in barracks waiting for people to sign on for unemployment assistance. Why is a member of the Garda required to oversee that type of procedure? It should be done by somebody from the Department of Social Welfare.
There was uproar in my county at the time of the Government decision in 1995 to postpone or defer the construction of a prison in Castlerea. The general opinion of groups representing the local community was that they had taken the prison project on board on the basis that it would address problems associated with crime and be of financial benefit to County Roscommon and Castlerea. This may not have been a major reason to provide a prison but it was considered a fact of life. It was proposed to close a hospital and a hotel to accommodate the project. The general view in Castlerea and the county is that not only have they lost a hospital and hotel but also a prison.
The Senator did not hear the gentleman on the radio. He is looking forward to the Minister's visit on Monday.
They are getting it and now they do not want it.
I ask the Senator to conclude as his time is up.
I outlined the general opinion but the Minister must clarify the position. However, nothing has been clarified about the £100,000 for 1996. The general opinion in the county and town is that 25 places have been provided in Castlerea and £100,000 will be provided to evaluate plans for the prison in 1996.
There is no capital budget for a high security prison.
The Senator is out of touch.
The Senator is out of time and out of touch.
I hope the Minister will clarify the position regarding the prison in Castlerea. She said this morning on the radio that it will go ahead and I ask her to give a date on which construction will commence.
I welcome the Minister to the House and the direction of the debate. Members are concentrating on a multi layered approach rather than an initial, although necessary, urgent response to the provision of prison places and extra gardaí and judges. However, the more fundamental aspects of the issue must be examined also. We will not do the public any favours if we do not look to the future in addition to considering the horrific violent crimes which occurred in recent weeks.
The Minister made it clear that her response to the Cabinet yesterday is not the end or beginning of her efforts. Many measures have been taken already and will continue to be taken; there is continuing reaction to the problem. There is no doubt that we live in a violent society and there have been many disturbing manifestations of this recently. Politicians and the media face a dilemma in terms of how to respond to those incidents and I am not sure of the answer to this problem.
I have been very moved by some responses, such as that of Ms Mary Cummins inThe Irish Times and the people who wrote to her regarding the fears of women in a violent society. I was particularly moved by the story of Mr. Pat Gardiner on “Prime Time” last night. I am not sure how many Members saw the programme but that gentleman's experience and his description of it was most frightening and moving. However, the people watching that programme were more likely to have been elderly people living alone — I happened to have been on my own when I was watching it — rather than those who perpetrate such crimes. People are afraid and we should not add to that fear. I do not know how we should deal with it because the individual stories must be told, but at the same time we should not concentrate too much on the individual stories because they make people even more frightened. We have to concentrate on practical responses rather than heightening fears.
Everybody in this House has attended public meetings in the last few weeks on responses to crime. People have been very responsible, they have tried to find solutions in co-operation with politicians and the Garda and that is the kind of response they want from us as well. It has to be a positive response and we should not be party political about it. Having said that, I have to respond to the direct allegations that were made in relation to my party. I am glad the Minister has clarified that nobody in the Government is soft on crime. I am sure Senator Sherlock will answer for his own party but the Labour Party has always responded to proposals made by successive Ministers for Justice in relation to crime and will respond to whatever proposals are put forward in relation to bail.
I was confused by Senator O'Kennedy's points in relation to parental responsibility and individualism. This stress on the individual is more right wing than left wing. Left wing parties are much stronger on social solidarity. The growth of materialism, which I see as right wing, is part of the whole problem of violence because there is more materialism, more goodies are shown on television and so on. People want them and that is part of the situation as well. I know there is no answer to that. I had intended, before I ever heard Senator O'Kennedy, to express my concern about the need for parents to be involved.
There is a need to separate the different types of crime being committed. The hardened criminals who are operating at present should be locked away for a very long time. They should be dealt with differently from young offenders. We will be doing a great service to the future if we can put responses in place for young offenders; I very much welcome Senator O'Toole's contribution in that regard. I had underlined an announcement that the Minister made on 5 December 1995 in relation to bringing forward legislation on juvenile justice. The Minister will not have an opportunity to respond to the debate but I would like to know what progress is being made with this because it proposes that parents be involved in dealing with young offenders and emphasises the need to deal with young offenders in such a way as to prevent them from reoffending. This legislation should give young offenders and their parents the kind of support that will ensure they do not develop into the kind of hardened criminals who are operating at present.
The kind of measures Senator O'Toole was talking about in relation to education tie into that strategy. There is a need for the provision of a psychological service in school and there is a need to invest money in education. It is important that the juvenile offender is dealt with in a preventative way; we must take action in that regard. Perhaps the Minister can tell me after the debate what progress is being made in regard to the juvenile justice legislation, which I understand is being drafted at present. We need to separate young offenders from hardened offenders who need to be locked up. We need to focus on what happens in prisons when people go to prison and what is done to lessen their chances of re-offending when they come out.
I welcome the measures the Minister has announced in relation to freeing up Garda time, which is important. The Criminal Justice Bill will change court procedures so that gardaí will not have to spend so much time in court. Electronic fingerprinting and other measures which she has indicated mean that something which took 500 manhours to do before can now be done in ten minutes. We need to look at what gardaí will be able to do with their time, at how their time is used. We can talk about the number of gardaí but it is also important that we ensure that what the gardaí are doing with their time is valuable in combating crime.
I support Senator O'Toole in what he said that crimes against the person have to be of paramount importance. They should have priority over any kind of crimes against property. The perpetrators of crimes against the person must be treated as severely as we can possibly treat them so that we value human life more than we value property.
I wish to share two minutes of my time with Senator Quinn.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The Minister's proposals are sensible as far as they go and I intend voting with the Minister because although many of the criticisms are justified in a general sort of way, it would be irresponsible to attribute them directly to the present Minister.
I agree with Senator O'Sullivan that a total Garda time budget should be devised to see what the allocation of Garda time resources is. The bail laws have to be amended, unusual though it is to cast Mr. de Valera in the guise of a liberal junkie whose Constitution was far too solicitous of individual liberties. I welcome what the Minister said about sexual crimes. She is right and I applaud her for not taking the easy way out by saying this is simply an increase in reporting; the increase in this type of crime reflects a fundamental change in the nature of our society and I applaud her for recognising that. On the other hand I thought she passed over a little too easily the quite sharp rise in murders in 1995. As I understand it the rise has been something of the order of 50 per cent on a year to year basis and if that were sustained it would be a dreadful increase.
We do not yet know which were murders and which were manslaughters. They are going through the system at the moment so it will be another while before we know.
Let us say that if the worst case scenario were sustained it would be a dreadful shift in trajectory. I hope this will not be the case. There is cause for concern there, but we are not a violent society. We have not historically been a violent society, much though it may have suited some to present us in that guise for the sake of denigrating us. We may very well become a violent society, however. This is where I have a problem with the Minister's speech.
After diagnosing that wrongdoing is part of the human condition and that the extent of it is governed by the nature of the society in which we live — I agree very much with her in that regard — she goes on to make comparable statements, such as that we all bear responsibility for the kind of society we have to build up and that reversing this or even stopping it requires a reawakening, in co-ordination, of caring instincts. The rest of her speech then concentrates on what can be done to curb crime on a justice basis. I know it is not her responsibility to take the totality of view but her introduction would lead one to suggest that there ought to be a mechanism for taking the totality of view and it should not be left simply to the Department of Justice to cope with the fallout.
I do not see much evidence that any of us have any idea how we restore society, if "restore" is the word. I agree that there was never an idyll in the past but there has been a change in the tone of our society. There is a growing coarsening of behaviour patterns and I see that continuing inexorably in the light of the influences on us, many of which are imported, many of which we choose to domesticate, some we may try to reject and fail to do so; but it depends very much on our own value system. That is why even though I approve of the specific measures the Minister is undertaking and which have been suggested by Senator O'Toole and by others here, I do not repose an immense degree of confidence in their capacity to resolve the core of the problem, which comes from our mindset and our value system. Unless we have some idea of how to foster a value system which rejects this type of behaviour we will be running hard to stand still.
I quoted from a newspaper in the last debate and I will quote again, because it suggests the dichotomy in our minds that we are up against. After deploring the hideous murders in Kildare for a couple of pages, theIrish Independent on 27 January, in its review of the television programmes for the week, described the first episode of a new programme, “Murder One”, as having “mingled sex and violence with expertise”. That was not presented in order to denounce it. I am not singling that comment out, it is absolutely standard for the type of comment that is made on media presentations in this country to which our young people are exposed for an even longer period than they are to school education if one looks at the number hours they spend in the classroom and the television room over the year.
If we continue to divide these two areas and look at one as if it is somehow unconnected with real life, we will foster an atmosphere which is conducive to a small, but crucial group, behaving in a manner which is damaging to us. We are not simply confronting the behaviour of a group of individuals, but the mind-set of society as a whole and we cannot shirk that. I do not know what the Government can do about it, but it must at least face it.
I do not know what the Government can do either, but I will make some suggestions. I support the Minister because I believe she is taking the right steps to support the Garda. I approve of good management practice and the new structure of the Garda, which seems to be in the right direction. If we are to support the Garda, we can do so in three ways. The first is structure, to which the Minister referred. The second is the bail laws. Four months is enough to consider the report of the Law Reform Commission which lasted 18 months; five months would test us but six months would be far too long and we would regard it as procrastination. We need a better bail law system.
The third way we can help the Garda is with modern equipment. I was delighted to read about electronic fingerprinting. We should bring in electronic tagging when we introduce new bail laws. This would ensure that people on bail would not need to be incarcerated, but could remain at home. Electronic tagging, which could be done voluntarily, works in other parts of the world and we can make it work.
I would like to list steps which the Minister could take in the justice area which would help the Garda to enforce the law in relation to serious criminals who offend time after time. I do not understand why we have a right to silence, which does not apply in the case of drink driving. We do not have the right to refuse to take urine or blood tests. If we refuse to take them, the judge may assume from that a certain degree of guilt. This should also apply where a criminal refuses to answer for his whereabouts when a crime was committed.
The Garda are unable to hold someone for questioning — even if they are sure that a few hours of questioning would enable them to determine guilt — for longer than six hours unless under the Offences Against the State Act. That Act is only enforceable if a firearm is used. If machete or a knife has been used in a murder, the suspected person must be released within six hours; but if a pellet gun has been used, the Garda may hold them for 48 hours which would give them the opportunity for more questioning.
Last week I was in the United States, where an execution took place. The execution was by firing squad and because of that it received a certain amount of publicity. I do not believe in capital or corporal punishment. Our crime rate is lower than that in the United States, which has much tougher laws. I support what the Minister is doing rather than birching and other efforts which have been getting publicity in the past week.
In the light of extra time taken by some Members, I suggest that an extra ten minutes be added to the debate.
The debate will conclude at 8.10 p.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Cosgrave's liberalism is highly commendable.
May I share three minutes of my time with Senator Belton?
By and large, we have had a reasonably balanced debate and some useful suggestions have been brought forward. I would like to knock on the head the idea that things have become radically worse since the Minister took office. There is no doubt that recent events, including vicious assaults and murders, have sent a wave of revulsion through the country. As Senator Lee said, a certain malaise has appeared over a period of time. We must extend our sympathies to the families who have been affected. Action is required and I am glad the Minister has taken a broad approach and has implemented a series of measures, which will be followed by more.
The question of bail has been mentioned. I, and I am sure others, would have supported the Supreme Court decision on bail 30 years ago. However, tremendous changes have taken place since. It is interesting to note that the increase in crimes committed by people on bail began in the early 1990s. In 1990 some 2,494 crimes were committed by people on bail, while in 1991 the figure was 2,690; in 1992 it was 2,791, in 1993 it was 3,191 and in 1994 it was 4,416. It did not happen in the past 12 months and that should be remembered.
Various measures must be implemented. Prisons must be examined and I welcome the provision of extra places. Obviously, the question of who is in prison must be addressed. Some people are in prison for non payment of debts, yet there are better ways to address this issue. If a debt needs to be paid, perhaps it could be deducted from a person's wages or welfare payments.
Some Members mentioned the manner in which the media have treated this issue. We must also address the question of violence on our screens and how it affects young people and influences crimes against women. Last week on television a Dublin District Justice, with a strong record, was interviewed. People outside the court were also interviewed and it was as if it was a virtue to be up in court. They were almost applauding the fact that they were out on bail after committing crimes. The media have a role to play, although in recent weeks one would think that crimes have only begun to be committed in this country. There are almost pull out supplements in newspapers on crime.
We must also look at victim support and I welcome what the Minister said about Muintir na Tíre. There is no doubt victims are forgotten at times. I pay tribute to the members of the Garda Síochána and the Army. I hope the progress which has been made, particularly in relation to recent horrific crime, will be maintained. Society must respond and assist the Garda. I support the Minister and the amendment to this motion.
I am disappointed that Fianna Fáil, the main Opposition party, did not congratulate the Minister on introducing a comprehensive package. This is what they have been talking about since the change of Government. All they did in Government was talk about it and they have continued talking about it in Opposition. The Minister has, in the last week, brought forward a comprehensive plan which deals with every aspect of the problem from prison spaces and reorganising the Garda Síochána to appointing judges who, we hope, will stay for a while. In reply the Minister has received a sad barrage from elected representatives who criticise her for taking action in the interests of the people. Does that make sense? It makes no sense to me.
I wish to deal briefly with Castlerea prison as I am from that part of the country. The Minister came to Castlerea last year and told the people that she was reviewing the overall situation in the context of the peace process. It was anticipated that extra places might become available in existing prisons and a decision would be made about Castlerea. The Minister has kept her word on that within the time limit she set then. She has now announced almost 300 new prison places. It is not something to celebrate but it is a sign of where our society is going. It certainly does not warrant the Opposition party coming into the Chamber to decry the Minister. They are running with certain elements of the popular media which are fired up by certain pals of a political party. However, other people in the media are more responsible and they have come forward in the last few weeks to say that it is up to all politicians to have the guts to stand up and support a Minister for Justice who is keeping society together.
Whose pals are they?
Senators can laugh as much as they please. Laughing is a sign of a certain attitude and I do not wish to name it when talking about a serious subject.
The Minister is laughing.
The Minister is nodding.
We have seen the contribution made by Fianna Fáil tonight. We have not heard from the other Opposition party but we know what they have been doing for the past few months — sniping at every opportunity. However, I am proud that this Government has stood firmly on the side of order.
I wish to share my time with Senator Honan.
I have a particular responsibility this evening as I am from Kildare where one of the murders took place. It is appropriate that the House should send its condolences to the Quinn family on the appalling tragedy. It has been the practice of the House in respect of Northern Ireland to extend condolences where atrocities have taken place. What took place in Kildare was an atrocity; the quality of the suffering of the family concerned is no different from the quality of the suffering of the families of those who died in Northern Ireland. From that point of view it is appropriate for the House to express its sympathy to the family. I was at the funeral last Saturday morning. It was a traumatic experience which left one numb and shocked. The whole community was shocked.
I also congratulate the Garda on how they responded and the civil defence and Defence Forces which assisted the gardaí. Happily there has been an arrest although we will not prejudge the outcome of the judicial process. However, we should thank the Garda on that account.
I agree that lurid language has been used about these matters. It is most unfortunate that, perhaps, it takes incidents of this magnitude to produce the type of response we have seen over the past few days both at political and media levels. We should reflect on that. When things are normal we should be working just as hard as when things are abnormal to address these evils within our society.
I hope to adopt the moderate tone which the Minister sought from us in her address. I welcome her actions in respect of prison places. It is a step forward. However, the Minister would agree that it is only part of the picture and no more than that. Solving the problem will require a deeper and more meaningful response. I welcome the fact that there will be more judges but I am not sure that the queues will get shorter.
I am aware of a particular incident which involved a serious assault. The family concerned travelled over 100 miles to the court proceedings but the case was adjourned. The person who had been assaulted carried out his duty to society by identifying the criminal and by being prepared to give evidence. However, when he arrived in court the matter was adjourned and the offender was let out on bail. These were ordinary country people who have, for generations, respected the law and had confidence in the law. My worry is not about the people who have no respect for the law but about the undermining of confidence in the law on the part of people who have for generations respected it and upheld the values which we believe to be important in a civilised society.
The most harebrained initiative was the alarm tax relief which the Minister for Finance introduced in the budget. In the first place, the number of people in this category who would have taxable incomes is minuscule. Second, because of where these people live, the only creatures who would hear the alarms are sheep. I do not understand the logic behind the proposal; it strikes me as the logic of a civil servant living in a built up area in Dublin. With regard to making recommendations, my recommendations would be similar to those of Senator Quinn. Fingerprinting has been suggested. It is quite conceivable that the entire population could be fingerprinted — people who are law abiding would have no difficulty about that — so that there could be a register of fingerprints. The part-time reserve has been spoken about before and might need to be looked at again.
The Progressive Democrats can claim a certain consistency on this issue. We had a motion before the House in 1994 and a Fine Gael Senator — who I will not name because I wish to underline a point to which the Minister has also referred — said: "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." My point is the same as the Minister's — we change places and the dance continues. However, I am not seeking to denigrate the efforts being made.
There is another proposal regarding the six hours which the gardaí can use when questioning suspects. It should be a good deal longer and that suggestion has been made to me by the gardaí.
I welcome the Minister and I welcome the package she announced yesterday. It is a long awaited measure in the fight against escalating crime. The provision of new prison spaces will be welcomed by all law abiding citizens. Developing a detention centre for paramilitary prisoners in Castlerea and the freeing up of prison places in Portlaoise are also welcome. When is it planned to have these places available? The planned regionalisation of the Garda Síochána should improve its operational effectiveness. That reorganisation and the appointment of extra judges are welcome.
However, there is widespread concern at the level of violent crime in our society at present. The reality experienced by some of our citizens is quite frightening and we must address that fear. It is not acceptable that women feel they can no longer walk freely in the streets of our towns and cities without being attacked or, in some terrible cases, raped and murdered. It is not acceptable that the most vulnerable group in our society, the elderly, are living in fear in their homes. It is an outrage that 1,000 convicted criminals, including perpetrators of very violent crimes, are allowed to walk free having served only a portion of their sentences.
We all accept that morale in the Garda Síochána is quite low at present. The Force is trying to cope with an unprecedented level of violent crime and, at the same time, they see many of their efforts come to naught when criminals who have been convicted are allowed to walk free under this crazy system of temporary release. I ask the Minister to bring forward proposals to end this continuing, chaotic and unregulated system of temporary release.
I wish to share my time with Senator Taylor-Quinn.
I am glad to be able to say at the outset that the Fianna Fáil motion has been overtaken by the Minister's announcement of a major anti-crime package which we welcome wholeheartedly. The crime wave did not break out suddenly a year ago. If that were the case, the remedies would be much easier. Long-term unemployment, demographic and social changes, serious town planning mistakes in the 1960s, trends in popular culture and a variety of other factors have combined to create a climate conducive to crime. I wish that the crime problem could simply be solved by increasing prison places, and the Minister mentioned yesterday that the number of prison places will be increased to 278.
I compliment the Minister on her action and statement that in so far as the Garda Síochána is concerned, she has taken some very important steps to enhance its effectiveness. That is the language that I like to hear the Minister speak. In the city and county of Cork, the dogs in the street know that for the last decade the gardaí have not been doing their duty in many instances. We have seen people walk free from the courts because they belonged to a certain class which gave them influence. Others could see this quite clearly. There must be a clear message that crime in any shape or form will not be tolerated and perpetrators must be brought to justice. Justice must not alone be done but must be seen to be done.
I have no doubt that the measures the Minister mentioned will help to alleviate the current situation and reassure the public, but they address the symptoms rather than the cause of crime. We need, and I believe this Government can deliver, a long-term co-ordinated response to the underlying social disintegration which is contributing to the spiralling crime rate. The recent attacks on people in their homes and on the elderly in rural areas have been particularly horrifying. Nobody will forget the battered and bruised features of old people throughout the country who have been abused and tortured by sadistic thugs.
Rural Ireland must have manned rural Garda stations. It is not good enough to police an area from a centre, such as the main town, without having police on the ground. In the towns of north Cork there are policemen paid by this State who are working for employers. I do not know whether that is well known but I am stating it here publicly. I have said it publicly locally and will never be afraid to say it publicly. It is not good enough. We want to see the police on the street doing the duty which this State is paying them to do. There have been many instances which have made people very cynical about the way justice is administered in this country.
I welcome the task force on security for the elderly announced by the leader of Democratic Left, the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa. The needs of older people must be addressed in a coherent and integrated fashion and I look forward to the task force's conclusions in that regard.
Any response to the current crime wave must also address the underlying problems such as poverty, social exclusion and low educational attainments. I am quite satisfied that this Government is addressing the issues in an integrated and coherent manner and that we will get the desired results.
I thank Senator Sherlock for affording me the opportunity to speak in this debate. It must be most frustrating for Fianna Fáil to table a motion and find that, within days, it is obsolete. I take the opportunity to compliment the Minister for Justice on producing an extraordinarily detailed package to deal with crime in this country. It is absolutely spurious for anyone to suggest that she or the Government are responding in a knee jerk fashion to the crime situation which has developed in recent weeks.
The package is detailed and wide-ranging. It deals specifically with prison places and I am delighted that in 1996 she will be providing 223 additional places. I commend the Minister for reopening the women's prison in Mountjoy, Dublin and getting it back on the agenda. Her proposals relating to Garda administration, particularly the appointment of Assistant Commissioners in five districts across the country, are most welcome. They will lead to far more effective Garda management, accountability, reaction and decision making in relation to specific problems which arise in areas. The Government approval for the appointment of new judges will also help the fight against crime.
On a previous occasion we have discussed the drugs situation. The Minister has put on record some of the work she has done and proposes to do in this area. I am delighted that she was able to announce details of a comprehensive programme to counteract drug trafficking, which is extremely welcome.
Some weeks ago she met with Muintir na Tíre to discuss the community alert scheme and granted £50,000 towards that scheme, which is also welcome. My colleague, Senator Hayes, who will not get an opportunity to speak tonight, was anxious to put on record the effect of community policing in the urban areas. It has operated successfully because people are there on the ground identifying those generating problems. It has been most successful and I suggest that the Minister's Department give this area more attention in the future.
It must be put on record that since the community alert scheme was established there has been a 17 per cent decrease in attacks on the elderly, a 25 per cent decrease in burglaries and a 21 per cent decrease in other crimes. That is something which must be highlighted and articulated across the country to remove the fear that some people have tried to generate in the minds and hearts of older people in particular. There has been a substantial decrease in the level of crime and the fear that has gripped this country over the past few weeks, generated particularly by certain elements of the media, must be condemned. The Government, and the Minister in particularly, has done extraordinarily good work in an extraordinary short space of time.
It is particularly interesting to note that Fianna Fáil did not include the bail issue in their motion but nevertheless some of their members are crying about it on local radio. This is despite the fact of having spoken and voted against it in the Dáil just two years ago.
I wish to share my time with Senator Daly.
I want to take up two or three points. I agree with Senator O'Toole and Senator Dardis about the £800 grant which I think is ridiculous. This task force on security for the elderly is completely out of touch. If the Minister wants to do something for these people, she should give them £300 for the Telecom Éireann medi-alert. I know this proposal did not come from the Minister but rather from the Trotsky branch of the Government. I was surprised to hear a Member say that the Garda turn a blind eye to certain people. I cannot believe that and I have nothing but the highest respect for the gardaí in this country.
The Senator is out of touch. He would be above that, of course.
I would indeed be far above it because my party is not headed by a former terrorist.
I must ask the Senator to withdraw that remark.
I withdraw the remark. There were some points in the Minister's speech which I want to mention. The Minister said that our homicide rate is relatively stable and well below European levels. This is good, but a little complacent, especially if one tells it to the family of somebody who was murdered recently. One murder is one murder too much. I do not blame the Minister. I am glad to see her responding finally to calls from the Opposition parties and to calls from the public and I laud her for what she has done today.
There are reports of a doubling in the rate of rape crimes and an increase in sex crimes, yet a member of the Government is legalising pornography, which demeans women. The Minister is aware that most of those involved in sex crimes have large collections of pornography.
A charge such as that should not be left on the record.
It depends on how one defines pornography. IsPlayboy pornography? Did the Senator read Nuala Ò'Faolaín?
Senator Lydon on the motion.
The Minister is correct in that there are children of tender years——
On a point of order, the Censorship Board legalised the sale ofPlayboy magazine. The Government had no hand, act or part in the matter.
Did it object?
A different question.
It should have objected. Does the Senator not think so? Of course he does. The Minister said we must find ways of helping these children. I agree with her, and we should support her in this. However, we need help from the Departments of Health, Education, Social Welfare and Justice acting together. The Minister has made a good point on this aspect, and we must all co-operate in this area.
I have some understanding of the position in which the Minister finds herself because I was in a Government at a time when there was a series of attacks on elderly people in the west of Ireland. Unfortunately, at the time we did not get very much co-operation from the Opposition. I recall many occasions, as I am sure can many Senators, when we almost hounded out of the other House by the Opposition, led by Deputy Jim Mitchell, a former Minister for Justice. There is a very serious problem to be addressed and we all have an obligation, regardless of what side of the House we are on, to offer suggestions to the Minister as to how best to deal with this situation.
I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the series of attacks and robberies on isolated houses in the west of Ireland, especially in my own area. Three people living near to me were broken into and robbed in the past year or so. Their main complaint was that after the event occurred they received very little help or advice. Many were left in a devastated situation, with their life savings being taken. Senator Taylor-Quinn knows the people concerned. My own neighbour was broken into and robbed and was devastated for months on end afterwards.
None of these cases was resolved. In one instance it was found that a bunch of renegades were on the rampage from Cork city. They had stolen a car, embarked on a series of robberies, but were let out on bail. They went to court, however, and one took the rap for the others who walked clear. People are very concerned about the issue of bail. Although the Minister advises it is under consideration, it is time to have it dealt with.
One other alarming point that has come to my attention is that in recent days shotguns have been purchased by people in the west who are now terrified. This is something that must be examined as it is undesirable that people are buying them. If the Minister has any information on this development I would appreciate some details. The demand for shotguns is escalating at an alarming rate. Some of them would be held illegally.
There has also been an alarming increase in the number of young people involved in drugs, especially in the west. We have all known for years that many of the problems associated with breakins, robberies and attacks in this and other cities were drug related. It is a scandal to see that this pattern will be repeated in the small towns of the west of Ireland. Even in some of our second level schools in west County Clare recently, young students in first year were exchanging drugs, something we never saw before. It will have alarming consequences for the young people concerned and their parents.
It is desirable that people be assisted in the areas where they have been attacked, robbed and relieved of all of their possessions. This includes helping them afterwards, inserting security equipment or helping to provide whatever may be needed. The questions of drugs, especially in second level schools and other institutions, including drugs coming from Dublin every weekend to west County Clare, must also be addressed.
We are in a critical situation. I would be the last to attempt to score any political points on this issue. We are in a serious downward spiral at present and all of us have an obligation to assist the Minister in ensuring that matters are resolved.
It is the primary interest of this side of the House to ensure that, over the coming session of the Dáil and the Seanad, we will be able to participate in a constructive way in speedily assisting the Minister in introducing new, tough criminal justice legislation to combat what is undoubtedly a serious escalation in crime.
I will not rise to the bait offered me by the Minister at the beginning of her contribution as this subject is far too serious for that. The central point the Minister appeared to make was that this is a problem that has newly arrived. She appears to be comparing herself to her predecessors. However, she has said, on the record, that the buck stops with her. She cannot avoid the fact that during 1995 she did not introduce one piece of criminal justice legislation.
What about the Courts and Court Officers Act?
He is a new Senator.
The Minister cannot avoid the fact——
What about the legislation on the reporting of incest cases?
The Minister's speech amounts to little more than a rehash of yesterday's press release. While there were approximately 24 murders in 1994, there were 40 or more in 1995. It is not me that is causing alarm——
The Senator cannot present that as fact.
It is members of the public who are communicating to us as public representatives.
There are 40 deaths under investigation.
In view of the Minister's speech, I wonder if the Government is connected to reality with regard to the law and order issue. The Minister was reported to have been very annoyed that the proposal to cancel the Castlerea prison project was cancelled when she was out of the country.
That is not the case.
We still do not have a full proposal regarding the Castlerea prison. All we have is a half baked proposal to provide a few places there. The Minister may not try and divide us by insulting me. She describes me as inexperienced——
The Senator is playing to the gallery.
I will take the Senator to Cork Street to see the consequences of the remedies——
Senator Mulcahy has the right to reply and I ask Senators to give him this right.
——yet in April 1995, when I was a Member of the House for barely four months, the Minister took my wording on the reporting of incest legislation, word for word. Does the Minister not recall? I am the inexperienced one. Members of the public——
Senator Mulcahy will learn when he is here a bit longer.
——will be disappointed that in the Minister's speech there is not one word about the proposal to amend the bail laws. Senator O'Sullivan said Labour was serious about law and order; let them show that by bringing forward bail proposals to change the law as a matter of urgency. The time for talk and press releases is over. The public wants action; if the Minister does not know that she is out of touch with them.
That is not in the motion.
Senator Wright clearly wrote the motion and that is not in it. Senator Mulcahy does not know what is in it.
- Belton, Louis J.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Cashin, Bill.
- Cosgrave, Liam.
- Cotter, Bill.
- Cregan, Denis (Dino).
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Enright, Thomas W.
- Farrelly, John V.
- Gallagher, Ann.
- Hayes, Brian.
- Howard, Michael.
- Kelly, Mary.
- Lee, Joe.
- McDonagh, Jarlath.
- Magner, Pat.
- Maloney, Seán.
- Neville, Daniel.
- O'Sullivan, Jan.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Reynolds, Gerry.
- Ross, Shane P. N.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
- Townsend, Jim.
- Wall, Jack.
- Bohan, Eddie.
- Byrne, Seán.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Dardis, John.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Farrell, Willie.
- Finneran, Michael.
- Fitzgerald, Tom.
- Honan, Cathy.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Kiely, Dan.
- Kiely, Rory.
- Lanigan, Mick.
- Lydon, Don.
- McGennis, Marian.
- McGowan, Paddy.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mulcahy, Michael.
- Mullooly, Brian.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- O'Kennedy, Michael.
- O'Toole, Joe.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Wright, G. V.
When is it proposed to sit again?
It is proposed to sit again at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.