I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and call on him to make his statement.
Crime Levels: Statements.
I thank the House for affording me the opportunity to speak on the subject of crime. Senators may be aware that, in reply to a parliamentary question last month, I undertook to publish provisional crime figures for 2002 as soon as possible, pending the publication of fully validated statistics by the Garda authorities in the commissioner's annual report for 2002. This mirrors a similar undertaking in respect of the 2001 figures because legislators, policy-makers and the general public are entitled to be informed of trends in key quality of life indicators as soon as possible. Crime is one such indicator.
I am now in a position to make available the provisional headline crime statistics for 2002. However, by way of caveat, I reiterate that these statistics are still undergoing a validation process within the Garda organisation and should not be regarded as the definitive word on the matter. Notwithstanding this, I do not expect the validated figures to differ significantly from these provisional data. I will place a copy of the figures, with the Garda Commissioner's covering report, in the Oireachtas Library today. I will make no bones about it – the news is not good.
In 2002 total headline crime, which corresponds in large measure to what was called total indictable crime, increased by 22.2% on 2001 bringing the total number of headline offences to 105,840. The overall upward trend was not reflected in the figures for murder, of which some 51 cases were recorded in 2002, a decrease of one on the figure for 2001. However, assaults have increased by just under 50% while the figures for sexual offences show an increase of approximately 62%. Sexual assaults, the largest group of offences in this category, rose by more than 50% while the figures for rape increased by approximately 25%.
Larcenies, the largest single group of offences, also increased by 25%. The main types of crime in this category are theft, theft from a shop and theft from a vehicle. Burglary crimes, on the other hand, increased by a little more than 6%, and robbery offences – larceny involving violence or the threat of violence – by just 2%. Fraud related crime increased by 22% and offences recorded under a miscellaneous heading by approximately 65%. These include offences such as those under child pornography legislation as well as dangerous driving causing death, child neglect and cruelty and firearm offences. These figures are a matter of great concern. They demand a firm, comprehensive and coherent strategy for dealing with crime.
It is worth noting that the statistics take no account of recent population increases. Between the two census periods of 1996 and 2002, the population rose by 300,000 or 8%. We can factor in the effect of population change on crime statistics by using the measure of the crime rate as opposed to the crime level. The former is the number of crimes recorded per 1,000 of the population. On this basis, the crime rate in 2002 was 27.02 per 1,000 of population which compares with 27.79 per 1,000 of population in 1996. Unfortunately, a similar analysis cannot be conducted by geographical area because the Garda regions and divisions do not correspond to civil administrative areas used in collecting data for the census.
Historically, the publication of the Garda Commissioner's annual report has occurred in the second half of the year following the reporting period. By computerising a range of pre-existing manual systems, the PULSE system will ultimately promote timeliness in crime statistics production. I regard the timely publication of crime figures, even of a preliminary kind, as an important contribution to public debate and policy formulation on crime. In this context, I am announcing to the House that I am arranging for preliminary crime figures to be made available on a quarterly basis as quickly as possible. It is a significant development which, I am sure, will be welcomed by all Members.
The Garda Commissioner has indicated in the report which accompanies these statistics that preliminary indications for the beginning of this year show a decrease in crime figures over the corresponding period last year. I do not yet have those figures but have asked the Garda Commissioner for them and will make them public when they are available to me.
The Government has one over-riding and fundamental strategy in the area of criminal justice. The Garda will be given the resources to investigate crime, the courts the resources to deal effectively with criminal cases and there will be sufficient prison places to ensure that those convicted of crime will serve the sentences imposed on them by the courts. The Government's approach to tackling crime must encompass a resolve to tackle the causes of crime, a determination to ensure that all aspects of criminal law are adequate to combat crime and protect the public and a commitment to ensuring that sufficient resources are available to the criminal justice system generally.
The causes of crime are varied and complex. We are kidding ourselves if we believe that there is a quick fix solution or one way of addressing the factors which contribute to criminal behaviour. Apart from issues of personal morality and free choice, tackling the causes of crime involves addressing a wide range of societal issues such as marginalisation, educational and social deficits, housing issues, questions of parental responsibility and so on. The national crime council has published a consultation document on a partnership approach to tackling the underlying causes of crime and has engaged in a wide-ranging process of public consultation on it. The council is finalising its report and recommendations on the subject and I look forward to receiving the recommendations, particularly those relating to how crime prevention partnerships might be structured. I intend to examine the recommendations expeditiously with a view to their implementation.
One of my major concerns is the implications of the drink culture for public order and society generally. The drink culture has an impact not only on public order offences but in other areas which are not so obvious. One of these is the area of sexual offences. It is clear from figures being collated by responsible people that drink consumption has a double effect in that it affects perpetrator behaviour on the one hand and, on the other, the capacity of victims to protect themselves, to give an account of what has happened to them and on their general vulnerability.
I already have taken a number of steps to counteract the negative effects of the drink culture. The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill is currently going through the Oireachtas. This provides for a closure order for a premises which is the focus of serious trouble or disorder and for an exclusion order which will prohibit a person convicted of an offence under the Public Order Act from entering or being in the vicinity of a specified premises, which can include licensed premises, take aways, cafes, nightclubs and the like.
The Government has within the past few days received the final report of the liquor licensing commission. Some of its recommendations have implications for combating crime and public order offences. I will bring proposals to Government in the near future to address the more urgent issues raised in the report, including measures to address under age drinking.
I will continue to put forward proposals before the Oireachtas to strengthen the provisions of the criminal law. In particular, I intend to bring forward a Criminal Justice Bill containing legislative proposals providing for new Garda powers of investigation. In the main, these proposals arise from the recommendations in the report of the expert group appointed to consider changes in the criminal law which were recommended in the report of the steering group on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda Síochána. My proposals will provide for longer periods of detention in Garda custody, the strengthening of Garda powers in relation to the preservation of the scene of a crime, the introduction of new powers in relation to the issuing of search warrants in certain circumstances and the strengthening of the law in relation to DNA sampling.
Over the last five years the budget for the Garda Síochána has increased by 60% from just under €600 million to €960 million, just short of €1 billion per annum. The current strength of the Garda Síochána is at an all time high. We are prioritising Garda recruitment and training to bring Garda numbers to its authorised strength of 12,200 as soon as possible. The Government is committed to expanding the size of the force to 14,000 and to promoting change and reform.
A wide-ranging programme of civilianisation is under way in the Garda Síochána. This process will continue with all possible speed, so that more gardaí can be freed up for work more suited to their training and experience. I am in the process of extending Garda CCTV systems to new locations and pursuing the grant aiding of local communities who wish to install a community-based CCTV scheme.
I want to see the partnership between local government representatives and the Garda authorities strengthened. I intend to bring forward legislation on Garda accountability and structures before the end of the year. As part of this legislation, I foresee the creation of a legislative foundation for a structured relationship between local authorities and the Garda. The effect of this will be that local representatives and the communities which they represent will have the legal capacity to work, in an appropriate forum, with the Garda on matters of local concern.
Thirty additional probation and welfare service staff are being assigned to ensure the full implementation of the Children Act, which represents a radical overhaul in the area of juvenile justice. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on his hard work in securing the additional resources for this vital service in the current straitened circumstances. It is important that the courts system is structured in the most efficient way to enable it to fulfil its duties under the Constitution as effectively as possible. I therefore welcome the review of the jurisdiction of the various courts currently under way, under Mr. Justice Fennelly, and I look forward to the group's recommendations. In particular, I will be looking at ways to reduce delays between a person being charged and the trial being concluded. It will be necessary to bring about radical change in existing procedures which will dramatically reduce the delay between arrest and trial in all areas of criminal procedure.
Ireland has a liberal bail law. That is as it should be. People who have not been convicted should not spend long periods incarcerated prior to their trial if that can be avoided. However, that is used by some people as a context in which a more gentlemanly and relaxed approach to bringing forward the criminal prosecution can occur. A similar common law system operates in the United Kingdom. However, the period between the commission of offences and the trial is much shorter in the UK than in this country. We will have to examine the reason for that. A partnership approach will be required, involving the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is independent under the Constitution, the Attorney General, the courts system and the Garda Síochána, to see how we can create a sense of linkage and immediacy between the circumstances in which people are arrested and the date of their trial.
This is particularly relevant in the case of young offenders. If a period of years elapses between the commission of an offence and the offender being called to task in terms of trial and punishment, a total disconnection and departure from reality occurs in the mind of that offender. It worries me, too, that this is not simply a problem which manifests itself in relation to trials on indictment. Summary justice was always supposed to be a system of justice in which people were tried in quick order for minor offences. However, there is an extending gap between the time at which summary offences are committed and the time the District Court deals with those offences. There is no easy solution which can be summoned up by simply clicking one's fingers or wishing for it. It will require work. I believe this disconnect between the commission of crime and its investigation, trial and punishment on a timely basis is having a seriously lethargic and corrosive effect on people's faith in the administration of justice.
I have already established a committee to examine the possible use of video conferencing for criminal and civil trials. This will extend also to jail visits, conferences between lawyers and their clients who are in custody, and the possibility that people will give evidence in trials on a distance basis. As soon as I receive that report I will set about taking action to implement it.
I want to deal with the proposition that life is not and should not be cheap. I mentioned that a fundamental part of our approach is to ensure there is sufficient custodial accommodation available. There is a related point which I should mention because of some misconceptions that have arisen relating to persons serving life sentences. As things stand, all long-term prisoners, with the exception of those serving sentences for the murder of a member of the Garda Síochána, are eligible to have their cases reviewed by the parole board after serving seven years. This may have created the impression that in some way seven years was regarded as the going rate, as it were, for a life sentence. I want to dispel any such notion. Life is not cheap and must not be considered as such.
Entitlement to review is not entitlement to release – far from it. As Minister, I have the final decision in such cases. While I will continue to decide on such cases on their individual merits, I do not accept as a general proposition that seven years, or anything like it, is anywhere near adequate in cases of murder. Those people who think there is an eight, ten or 12-year tariff should remember that from now on I intend that no single digit sentences will be served, except in the most extraordinary circumstances, which I cannot even envisage. Anyone who deliberately takes another person's life – and I am distinguishing between cases of manslaughter and murder – and anyone who with malice of forethought murders another citizen can now expect that they will serve a very substantial sentence. I have spoken to the chairman of the parole board, Mr. Gordon Holmes, and I intend to meet that board with a view to making it clear that prisoners serving life sentences will be expected by society to serve very substantial sentences.
I hope it will be clear to the House that, despite the disappointment which the crime statistics for last year represent, the Government has a comprehensive and coherent strategy for dealing with crime. The increase in recorded crime in 2002 is most worrying and demands close study. Undoubtedly, it represents a genuine increase in crime, which cannot be argued or analysed away. It is what it is. However, that being said, I believe there are some complicating factors which could have a bearing on how we should interpret these statistics. In this respect, I mentioned earlier the crime rate per head of population.
Since late 1999, the Garda Síochána has been in the process of introducing new information technology systems, on a phased basis, collectively known as PULSE. This process will continue for some time into the future. We are not simply talking about replacing one old, outdated computer system with a newer, more modern one. Rather, PULSE has revolutionised both the way in which the Garda Síochána records crime and the associated work processes. Before PULSE, many of the processes involved in the generation and validation of crime statistics were totally or partially paper-based. With PULSE, these processes are now performed electronically. When developing these electronic systems, the Garda Síochána took the opportunity to "design in" mandatory data entry to ensure that best practice is followed in the recording of crime.
For example, before a charge sheet can be prepared on the PULSE system, an associated incident record must first be created, so that all relevant information is collected about the event prior to further processing. Another example would be the case of juveniles who receive the benefit of admission to the Garda juvenile diversion programme. Prior to PULSE, the fact that a particular juvenile received an informal caution would not necessarily have been recorded, but PULSE now demands an electronic sign-off of records to the effect that such a caution was administered.
I could furnish further examples but I think the message is clear. Without a doubt, PULSE has facilitated the more timely, accurate and comprehensive recording of all incidents which come to the attention of the Garda Síochána, which in turn promotes the more comprehensive compilation of publishable crime statistics. This is not just a once-off phenomenon at the time of the initial introduction of PULSE. As more and more constituent systems of PULSE are being brought on line, the ensuing benefits are only gradually being realised within the Garda Síochána.
More importantly, it is obviously the case that for a crime to appear in published Garda statistics, it must first be reported to the Garda Síochána. It is a fact, however, that members of the general public take a very selective approach in deciding whether to report incidents of criminal victimisation. For example, in the survey on crime and victimisation carried out by the Central Statistics Office in 1998 as part of the quarterly national household survey, the percentage of crimes reported to the Garda Síochána varied between a high of 94.9% in relation to the theft of a vehicle to a low of 39.6% in the case of vandalism. In the CSO survey, the main reason cited for non-reporting was a perception that the incident was not serious enough or did not result in loss. This was often followed by the view that the Garda Síochána could effectively do nothing about it due to a lack of proof, given the nature of the circumstances.
The level of under-reporting varies according to crime type. For example, as I have mentioned, it is generally accepted that crimes such as burglary and theft of a motor vehicle tend to have very high reporting rates because it is normally a condition of an insurance claim that the matter is reported to the Garda Síochána. The scale of unreported crime is a difficult statistic to measure precisely by virtue of the fact that, by definition, it does not appear in official statistics. However, in countries where crime victimisation surveys are a regular feature of the criminal research landscape, tentative comparisons can be made between the results of such surveys and selected police statistics. I have obtained Government approval to conduct national crime victimisation surveys every two years as a complementary source of information to Garda crime statistics.
To date, PULSE has proven its worth in facilitating a reclassification of crimes in order to offer a comprehensive description of modern criminal activity in a readily understandable form. Specifically, the new classification of headline offences, which corresponds in a major degree to what was previously defined as indictable crime, contains ten subdivisions in comparison to the four catch-all subdivisions previously in use. Similarly, the new classification of non-headline offences corresponds to the previously used non-indictable category.
A significant advance to be introduced in the Garda Commissioner's forthcoming annual report for 2002 and subsequent annual reports, will be an analysis of non-headline offences in comparable detail to that traditionally available for headline offences. Previously, for example, non-headline offence statistics were restricted to those where commencement of proceedings had taken place. In the forthcoming reports, the non-headline statistics will include details of all offences reported or known to the Garda Síochána. While superficially this will appear to indicate a significant increase in "non-headline" offences, the apparent increase will in fact be due to the provision of more complete information.
Although positive, these kinds of changes have generated an increased awareness of the degree to which crime statistics are subject to Garda recording practices and changes in these practices. The opportunity presents itself, therefore, to develop an accepted and acceptable framework for the production and presentation of reported crime statistics over the coming years, having regard to the capabilities of PULSE and other information technology developments within the wider criminal justice system.
That is why I sought and obtained Government approval last year to the establishment of an expert group on crime statistics to ensure that public confidence can be maintained in the validity and legitimacy of official crime statistics generally. Members of the expert group, which I established in January, represent the following bodies, including my Department: the Garda Síochána, the Courts Service, the Irish Prison Service, the Central Statistics Office, the National Crime Council and the academic community, particularly criminologists. I also appointed an independent chairperson, Mr. David Kennedy, former chief executive of Aer Lingus, to chair the group.
Currently, the group is actively working towards fulfilling its terms of reference, which essentially require it, first, to examine the generation, compilation and presentation of crime data produced by the Garda Síochána and other organisations with criminal prosecution functions, and, second, to make recommendations on the necessary structures and resources to be provided to allow crime statistics to be analysed, so that emerging trends can be identified and appropriate policy formulated by Government. This is particularly important, as the Government is anxious to place policy making within the criminal justice system on a firm evidence-based foundation, with less tolerance for mere hunches or knee-jerk reactions.
The role of the National Crime Council as a non-executive advisory body is considered critical in this regard. I expect to be in receipt of the expert group's findings by the end of the year. I will consider them expeditiously and bring proposals to Government, where appropriate, as soon as possible thereafter.
Many points could be made about crime today. A statistic is something with which the CSO or PULSE is concerned. In many crimes we are talking about personal tragedy, suffering and loss. We cannot deal with this in an arid, academic way; we have to deal with it in a humane and personal way.
I want to say a few words about drugs and organised crime. In common with many other countries worldwide, the drugs problem continues to be a matter of grave concern. Our overall strategic response, quite rightly, has been embedded in a broad social inclusion framework. Policy has been developed and resourced in partnership with local communities most affected.
In reducing the supply of major drugs the Garda Síochána and the customs service are to be congratulated on the significant seizures they continue to make. For example, in the first few months of 2003, the Garda seized over €23 million worth of cannabis, over €1.5 million worth of cocaine and over €500,000 worth of ecstasy but those figures betoken the size of the trade with which we are dealing. These seizures are evidence that organised crime continues to target this country for illicit drug importations. Attempts are also being made by criminal gangs to establish new routes and sources in response to Garda and Customs service successes. In recent months a South African route has emerged with so-called "drugs mules" being intercepted by the law enforcement services on a regular basis.
The Garda Síochána will ensure its response to new sources of drugs supply is successful. In relation to the new South African route, for example, a Garda operation with our European partners, in tandem with the South African authorities, is aimed at disrupting that source completely. This operational response will be a significant European initiative in the context of our forthcoming Presidency of the European Union. Further international co-operation against drug trafficking will be developed.
Organised crime is a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland. It has its origins in the illegal drugs markets of the early 1980s. The Government's response has been especially hard-hitting by international standards. This is demonstrated mainly by a policy of strong legislation which has established a modern criminal justice system able to respond effectively to the activities of organised criminal groups but organised crime is a global problem in which opportunity is a key factor. As measures are taken to respond to drug trafficking, for example, experience shows that criminal gangs look for opportunities elsewhere.
Trafficking in human beings is a new and serious form of international criminal activity which we are now experiencing here. I recently had conversations with the Garda Commission on the steps we must take to face this down. I regret that there is clear evidence that people resident in Ireland of eastern European extraction are heavily involved in this business and succeeding to some extent in normalising their activities through lap dancing and other fronts for plain old fashioned prostitution and enslavement of women in what is called "the sex trade". Where those phenomena appear, it is sometimes tempting for the media to try to say, "How liberal we are, we have lap dancing clubs here and there." Where they are fronts for prostitution, which they are, we should remember that prostitution is the thin end of the organised crime wedge. There is not such a thing here and there is never likely to be a significant sex trade which is not dominated by organised crime. I regard this matter as being very serious.
Those same interests and the people connected with them of Irish extraction are also trying to dominate the security industry. This is an issue on which we should be careful. I appeal to this House and, through it, the other House to push through the security industry Bill as quickly as possible. We cannot allow organised crime to use the mask of security as a means of extending its capacity to extort money from industry to dominate the drugs trade by the use of bouncers and to take money off people by way of protection rackets. This is serious. I will not elaborate on the matter now but appeal to this and the other House to help me gain control over that area as soon as possible. This is a matter in respect of which we can make a difference by bringing that law into operation as quickly as possible.
Trafficking in human beings is a serious form of international criminal activity which we are now experiencing here. The profits to be made are considerable. The tragic experience of the people found dead in a container in Rosslare is stark evidence of the level of victim abuse involved.
New developments in computers and technology provide new opportunities globally for illicit activities to expand into new markets. Political changes and the removal of borders in central and eastern Europe and further afield present new challenges in responding to organised crime at a national level. Our crime figures are experiencing the effects of these new developments but we are responding effectively, too. A major element of this response has been to hit the criminal where it hurts most – in the pocket. The Government's strategy on criminal assets has been that the pursuit and recovery of the proceeds of crime are essential to crime reduction and public confidence in the rule of law. The evidence of this strategy is illustrated in the main by the legal powers given to the operational agencies and, in particular, the activities of the Criminal Assets Bureau. It is up to the operational agencies – the Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions – to use these powers to ensure criminals do not profit from their activities. The Criminal Assets Bureau is regarded as a model of its kind in Europe. People come to Dublin regularly from across the developed world to see how it works and how effective it has been.
As a result of the activities of the Criminal Assets Bureau, assets of criminals valued at millions have been frozen by the courts. Taxes in the order of over €46 million have been collected from serious criminal activity. The bureau primarily enforces the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and related legislation but there are other confiscation provisions which I am determined will be used extensively in a comprehensive assets recovery strategy. Reforming legislation to strengthen the bureau is on the way.
Studies elsewhere have shown that financial investigation and asset recovery are under-utilised. Weaknesses in other jurisdictions tend to be a lack of a joined-up approach from the operational agencies and the fact that only a small percentage of drug trafficking convictions and even fewer convictions for other acquisitive crimes result in confiscation orders. It is not being suggested that operational policies here in the area of financial investigation are weak but, as in any other policies, it is necessary to review them to ensure the promotion of an awareness of financial investigation and inter-agency co-operation; adequate training for investigators and court officers; availability of specialised expertise and skills; the setting of objectives and targets; and the establishment of an information baseline on proceeds recovered.
The enhancement of financial investigation and asset recovery by all the operational agencies will be of considerable benefit in achieving an increase in the effectiveness of existing measures and identifying new priorities. Legislative changes will provide that suspicious transaction reports under existing money laundering legislation will be made to the Revenue Commissioners as well as the Garda authorities. The Government has also authorised the Garda Síochána to conclude bilateral agreements with financial intelligence units worldwide to allow for the exchange of information to tackle money laundering. It is intended to maintain and improve, where possible, a comprehensive strategy of tackling the assets of serious criminal activity by every means possible.
It is necessary, too, while maintaining that focus, to ensure emerging trends in organised crime are analysed and monitored in order that effective legal instruments and operational policies are developed in a coherent and co-ordinated strategy. Anticipating trends is becoming more and more important as organised criminal gangs respond to new opportunities nationally and internationally. This underlines that intelligence led policy, on which I spoke to the commissioner at some length recently, and international co-operation should be important strategies for responding to serious criminal activity.
Having regard to the international dimension, the Garda Síochána works closely with partners in Europe and further afield in tackling organised crime. It is a sophisticated and innovative form of crime, involving the economic, financial and technological sectors, among others. Sophisticated and innovative approaches against such crime have thus become a necessity.
Crime analysis is not a new working method for law enforcement authorities but some countries have made it a specific discipline, with positive results achieved by criminal profiling and analysis. Result-oriented and targeted approaches have tended to become an imperative in policy-making methodology. Reactive policing is no longer enough. Professional crime analysis appears to be a technique for better targeted crime policies, in particular, keeping in mind the better use of public resources and the accountability of policy makers and authorities. This is a discipline with huge further potential which will be pursued.
There are many other things I wish to say but I know Senators are anxious to contribute. Nobody should take it that by omitting obvious areas from my speech – many areas occur to me even as I conclude – the issues I have raised represent the substantive part of the drive against crime. I hope I have demonstrated through the anti-crime measures outlined that the Government has a comprehensive strategy with which to take forward the fight against crime. I look forward to Senators' contributions as I know they have been looking for this debate for a considerable length of time. I thought it timely to bring these crime figures before the Houses of the Oireachtas rather than slipping them out in the fog of war and be accused of taking advantage of it as a smokescreen.
Like the Minister's predecessor.
I have stated the facts frankly and put the good, the bad and the ugly regarding crime before the House.
Coming from the mid-west, I welcome the recent decision of the Supreme Court to turn down the request from the killers of Jerry McCabe to be freed. I also appreciate the efforts of the Garda in attempting to tidy up a difficult situation in Limerick recently. I am thankful for the resources provided to try to achieve that laudable objective. Several incidents in the Limerick area have not been good for the area's image, on top of which we had the tragedy of a bouncer who stood up to drug dealers losing his life. His son, Aaron Fitzgerald, is four years old. Losing a father at that early age brings home to us forcefully the power of crime and drugs.
The Minister was Attorney General for five years. He was, therefore, at the coalface and could see what his predecessor, now Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, was doing regarding crime. If Deputy O'Donoghue is to be remembered for anything, he will be remembered for his famous buzzwords at election time of zero tolerance. If one studies the figures for the last few years, one will realise that despite the consistent use of the "zero tolerance" mantra, that mantra was deceitful. Reality is expressed in the figures.
I welcome the Minister producing provisional statistics for 2002. One difficulty in discussing this issue at any time is that we always seem to be using historical data going back over 18 months; the report we received recently details crime statistics for 2001. It is worth comparing the statistics for 2001 with those for 2002. I do not know what the Taoiseach meant when he said at the Ard Fheis of 2002, "We promise to cut crime by getting tough on criminals. We have done just that." If one looks at the figures for 2001 and 2002, they tell a completely different story. In 2001 we had 86,621 recorded headline offences; as the Minister said, this figure is now up 22% to 105,841. Surely that is an indictment of our approach to crime. It is worth nothing what "headline offences" are, as not many may know what they means: they include homicide, assault, sexual offences, arson, drug offences, larceny, robbery and fraud. These are not trivial offences.
What is really causing concern is the level of gratuitous violence in the streets. One need only read the heartrending story in today's edition of the Irish Independent of the young man from Templeogue who was brutally kicked to death at the side of the street. One's heart goes out to the family left behind. Their position encapsulates what has happened in many cases in the last year or so. The Franklin family in my area are also waiting patiently at the bedside of their son who is on a life support machine after a similar incident in Cork. This is due to the breakdown in public order as well as the increased emphasis on alcohol and its relationship to crime. That is what really concerns the public – the fact that many are afraid to walk our streets. It is a shocking indictment of the system and the times that that situation obtains. The Minister has referred to the statistics which are frightening. Assaults are up 20% on last year, when they were up 18%; over two years there has been a 20% increase.
The report of the Liquor Licensing Commission is timely. In that regard I compliment Gordon Holmes, whom I know well from Limerick and who will have brought his professional touch to the report which I have not read. Therefore, I can only comment on what I have read in the newspapers. However, from reading articles such as the editorial in the Irish Examiner the commission seems to have come up with many recommendations, though whether they are implemented is another issue. I was among those politicians lobbied extensively by vintners when they sought to extend opening hours but that decision was a mistake. There is a knock-on effect from those longer hours that is not just confined to Dublin and the larger cities. People go to pubs, then discos and fast food restaurants. There is now a hard core of people in every rural community who hang around the streets in the small hours. Often offences occur in a GAA field as a result of rows in the street after a nightclub closes. Much of this trouble revolves around drink.
If the Minister is honest, he will admit there is a parallel problem in that when gardaí seek leave, they seek it for the weekend. They are almost afraid of public order offences and have a right to be. The clip of the Minister putting a poster on a pole during the last general election was shown again on television recently. He must now realise that he is on a greasy pole and that he may continue to slip.
We know what happens at the bottom.
A clear commitment was made to providing an extra 2,000 gardaí but what is happening? The retirement age for gardaí is 57 years but many retire at 50, 51 or 52 after 30 years' service. There is a consequential brain drain from the Garda of experienced officers. Many are leaving out of sheer frustration with the work.
How many gardaí based in Dublin are living in Mullingar, Carlow and other towns? Sheer economics are driving them to buy houses in those areas. They are commuting to work in Dublin. A survey of gardaí working in rural areas would show they generally prefer to live 20 or 30 miles from where they are based. This is leading to the loss of a sense of trust and undermines good relationships between ordinary people and members of the Garda Síochána who previously lived in the communities in which they worked, participating in, for example, local GAA clubs, and identifying with local young people. An analysis of where gardaí live would show they do not have an incentive to live in the community in which they are based.
If an increasing number of gardaí are leaving the force, how does the Minister propose to achieve his target for Garda numbers if he does not increase recruitment in parallel? The two year training programme in Templemore is regarded as a major success. However, it includes a requirement to complete a dissertation and present a project which probably takes about three months to prepare. It must be extremely difficult to dream up such projects for one's dissertation. Would this three month period not be better spent on the beat in the community and recognised as part of the training programme? I am trying to make constructive proposals which would accelerate the pace at which recruits finish their training at Templemore in order to replace those leaving the Garda Síochána.
Will the Minister explain how having gardaí work in 230 decrepit, often rat infested Garda buildings is conducive to good morale? How does he expect gardaí cramped in small offices to do a meaningful job? If we want to tackle crime, we must make resources and facilities available to the Garda Síochána which are compatible with the role of those who serve in it. We, too, expect to have offices which reflect our position. Failure to do so will result in further frustration and lead more of them to retire almost lemming-like from the age of 50 years onwards, which would exacerbate our problems.
The Minister made great play of the increase in funding for the Garda Síochána during the past five years. This has been laudable, although it took place during the Celtic tiger era. This year's increase of 2% does not match inflation which is projected to be between 4.5% and 5%. My figures stand open to correction.
A budget of more than €40 million has been allocated for Garda overtime. I understand the Department has introduced devolved budgets, meaning a certain amount is allocated to the various areas to pay for overtime. My colleague, Senator Ulick Burke, is more familiar than I with the west. However, I am sure the cost of overtime in the western region, which covers the Shannon area, will not be met from the resources allocated for Garda overtime there due to additional costs of providing security at Shannon Airport. This will leave less money to administer Garda duties and could lead to attendant problems.
The PULSE computer system to which the Minister referred appears to require a long gestation period. The Committee of Public Accounts investigated the significant cost of the programme many years ago. Can we honestly claim it is working effectively? Is it closer to reality to point out that if a crime in which a garda is involved occurs in Dublin today, it will probably not be logged in the PULSE system until tomorrow. There is no immediacy about the system. Given the amount of administration it requires, I doubt if gardaí are keen to tabulate data on crime. As the PULSE system is confined to certain Garda stations, one also finds that gardaí have to travel for miles to other stations in order to log the crime details. What level of sophistication does that show?
With the exception of health, crime and justice are probably the most important public concerns. I recently read in The Mirror that 25 assaults took place here every night. I hope the report of the Liquor Licensing Commission will help us address our approach to alcohol, particularly binge drinking by young people. I understand it recommends that young people between the ages of 15 and 17 years should be barred from public houses. Does this include lounges and pool rooms which are often adjacent to the bar? Many young people with a few hours to spare after school head for pool rooms located in the confines of pubs. Desperate diseases require desperate remedies. We should be moving towards a system of mandatory identity cards as publicans find it hard to discern whether young people are above or below 18 years. I look forward to receiving the report to ascertain how many of its recommendations are incorporated in legislation.
I always try to be constructive. However, if the Minister looks back over nearly a year in office and draws up a list of his achievements, he will, unfortunately, be remembered more for Operation Hyphen when he went after illegal immigrants than for tangible achievements in the area of justice.
That is not fair.
He has another few years in which to record such achievements. I look forward to seeing how he goes about it.
I applaud the former Minister for Justice, Nora Owen, who set up the Criminal Assets Bureau, a body the Minister praised as an international model in this area.
During Nora Owen's period in office if a person went missing while on parole, Deputies O'Donoghue and O'Donnell automatically rushed to condemn her on radio. Had that process of vilification continued, the Minister would find himself being criticised in the media nearly every day.
The Senator should move on.
The Minister will have several more years to achieve something, provided the cracks emerging between various Ministers do not get bigger. I look forward to seeing his true colours.
There are more colours in the rainbow.
Given the massive increase in crime across the various categories of offences, he cannot claim to have achieved much.
A lot done.
A lot more to be done.
I wish to share time with Senator Dooley.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I apologise for rushing, I have to catch an aeroplane. I was very anxious to come to the House this afternoon to hear the Minister speak on this fine paper on measures to combat crime. I could speak at length on many of the issues he has highlighted but will briefly focus on under age drinking, the simple reason being that I wish to take off my political hat and put on my educational and career guidance hat.
I talk at length with teachers and colleagues in schools who tell me they cannot control their students. Irrespective of the kind of civic education schools provide, young people pull down the shutters the moment they walk out the gate at 4 p.m. They are then able to get their pack of beer and drink it in public spaces such as parks. As I walk a great deal, I decided to see this for myself. I see young schoolchildren aged 13 years and upwards sitting on seats in parks with cans of beer at 4.30 p.m. and 5 p.m. While I am aware the Minister is in the process of introducing a public order Bill, measures must be taken to tackle this problem. We have to link with local authorities which have a role to play in applying rules and regulations prohibiting drinking in public spaces. For some reason they do not appear to be able to get on top of the problem.
Last year an awful crime was committed in the area I represent and know well, the Orlagh area of Knocklyon-Rathfarnham. Last week I attended an important public meeting on crime in Knocklyon. The local Garda representative – the community garda – was also in attendance. During the meeting, representatives of the residents' associations from these nice areas said that they dread the summer evenings when fifth year students have time on their hands from 4 p.m. onwards. They do not go to the local sports clubs and they are not involved in leisure activities. Their parents all work and they are not supervised as a result. How can we tackle that problem?
I used to work as a career guidance counsellor and I was all for helping under-privileged children and those with dysfunctional backgrounds who had no support at home, but I have come full circle in my thinking in that regard. I blame the parents.
The Senator is right.
Parents are not fulfilling their role. We can pump money into the system, but it will not solve the problem. The teachers are doing their best. These children come into schools with their mobile telephones switched on and when the teachers ask them to switch them off, they say their parents need to be able to contact them. If the principals tell the students that the rule of the school is that they cannot have their mobile telephones on, the parents subsequently come in and chastise them. There is something wrong with the fabric of society when that can happen in our schools.
I welcome the points made by Minister's contribution, and I support him all the way in that regard, but it all boils down to hitting parents where it hurts most, namely, in their pockets. I do not know how the Minister will do that. I do not care if the newspapers take me up on this, but I know the system. The Minister must ensure that every family is aware that if their 13 or 14 year old son or daughter is caught with a six pack, the strategy will be A, B or C. I will not outline the strategy because that is another day's work, but that is the current position. If their passports were endorsed in some way, they would be unable to leave the country or if they have been in trouble they could not get a job.
It is difficult for me to say that, but I have come full circle in my thinking in that I used to favour the softly, softly approach. Parents know their rights, but they are not behaving responsibly. I would like to stay for the remainder of the debate and hear the Minister's reply, but I have to leave.
What about crime?
I wish the Minister every success in trying to implement the measures he outlined today. I support him all the way.
I thank Senator Ormonde for sharing time and welcome the Minister. I am filling in for Senator Walsh who sends his apologies. He is unable to be here today as he is attending a family funeral, but I will pass on the Minister's comments to him.
I compliment the Minister on his up-front analysis of the situation. It is always welcome to hear a Minister outline the position and admit the figures are worrying, but that he is prepared to examine the problem and put in place a strategy to deal with it.
What about action?
There is no doubt that the figures are worrying and I will not labour that point because the Minister is aware of the issues. Despite the fact that the figures are worrying, the Minister has been working to ensure that when crime is committed, the criminal law is adequate to deal with it. An examination of the record of this Government and the previous Administration will show that there are an extra 1,100 gardaí on the beat and that an additional 1,223 prison places have been provided. The Minister referred to the increase in the Garda budget of 60%, to just under €1 billion, during the period in question. That figure highlights the commitment on the part of the Minister, but a trend is emerging and society is changing. Senator Ormonde touched on that in terms of people not respecting our laws, despite the additional measures that have been put in place. The Government has enacted an unprecedented amount of criminal law legislation recently. That has been helpful, but, unfortunately, the crime figures continue to go in the wrong direction. Much of what the Minister outlined earlier will help to deal with that problem.
We had a good debate on crime in the House on 24 October, during which the Minister outlined his thinking on the problem he was dealing with. The issues are the same now as they were then but the Minister is tackling them, which is welcome. Crime will always be high on the public agenda, but it must be recognised that it is also to the forefront of the political agenda. That has always been the case.
The Minister referred to the number of headline crimes and the vicious nature of personal attacks. Statistics alone are not striking but they are brought into sharp focus when we hear of events like those referred to by Senator Ormonde, of which there have been many recently. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that people have been convicted of these crimes and that is a vindication of our criminal justice system and the hard work of investigating gardaí. The number of crimes committed may be worrying, but the numbers solved should be welcomed. However, that is an area we must examine and it is one to which the Minister referred earlier.
Crime is broad based, as the Minister said, and there are many reasons for the difficulties brought about by crime in our society. We could analyse that subject for a week and not understand the full extent of the problems associated with it, but violent crime and the public order elements are of the greatest concern to most Members.
There is a lack of respect for life and limb in that people are prepared to coldly perpetrate vicious crimes on individuals who have given no cause for that type of behaviour. Senator Ormonde and the Minister referred to late night drinking and the consumption of alcohol by under age people inside and outside public houses. In that regard, I welcome the report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing, which has just been published and which contains some useful provisions, particularly those dealing with the sale of alcohol and the size of premises on which alcohol is sold. It is obvious from the report that an effort is being made to limit the numbers of people who congregate in an area following the consumption of alcohol because there is no doubt that alcohol has the capacity to alter the mood of those who consume it. Notwithstanding that, people can consume alcohol to a lesser or greater degree and it does not encourage them to engage in violent behaviour. Perhaps there is an underlying problem with those who become violent following the consumption of alcohol.
Another area the Minister has addressed in the past, and which will form part of his deliberations, is fast food restaurants and amusement arcades where people tend to congregate. Many of them have consumed alcohol in places other than public houses. There is a need to continue to monitor that situation.
There has been some debate on the closing times of licensed premises. I am not sure that earlier closing times would solve the problem. I have travelled in countries where there are no closing times and it does not lead to any great problems.
The lobby is getting at the Senator.
It meant there were not large numbers coming out on the streets at the same time. To deal with this we must change the culture and position of alcohol in society. Like any culture, it will be difficult to change because the desire to have a drink is deep-rooted in our tradition and we are recognised as a nation fond of a tipple. That is fine but young people have no respect for alcohol. In French society, alcohol is not taboo. The culture of drink among young people in Ireland, however, has created a taboo where large amounts of drink are taken before it is legal. I am not suggesting we should remove the legal age for consumption but there should be guidance in the home in order that alcohol does not become a demon that has an attraction for young people.
There was a debate recently about the problems caused by young people over-indulging in alcohol. People had talked about date rape drugs when, in reality, alcohol was to blame. For a long time they believed drinks were being spiked and a sinister element in society was responsible when alcohol consumption was the real culprit. Anything that can prevent such over-consumption would be helpful.
There is nothing new in the solution – it is a combination of education, regulation and enforcement. Education takes place at a number of levels. I fully agree with Senator Ormonde that there is an onus on parents. Many children from a particular socio-economic background, however, do not have the necessary parental control and we will not be able to bring pressure to bear on their parents. We must, therefore, provide educational guidance. In our approach to sports clubs, with education, we must create an environment that builds respect for people and property.
I welcome the Minister. I have listened to what he has said with great interest but do not like percentages, I get a better feeling from real numbers. There were 9,695 assaults, 23,000 incidents of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, 35,000 incidents of public drunkenness and 10,000 cases of failure to comply with garda directions. Those are just some of the figures and they are horrific. I had no idea that we were talking about such large numbers. I am shaken by it.
Who is responsible for this? Too many of us shelve responsibility to someone else because there is no easy answer. In one of my first supermarkets, 30 years ago, I told the employees that I would trust them because I believed that if I trusted a person, he or she would not misbehave. One day three 17 year old check out operators were caught stealing. They were reported to the Garda and when they returned that evening, they looked me in the eye and told me it was my fault, I had made it too easy for them to steal. I felt very guilty about that because I felt I was responsible for their having a criminal record. I thought it over and realised there was no one answer to this, trust on its own was not enough. We then put a system of training in place that pointed out the ways a person could steal and the controls we had put in place to make sure he or she would be caught. While we must trust people and have confidence in them, we must also be sure that, as Roosevelt said, we speak softly but carry a big stick.
Who is responsible? Society has a responsibility but often I read a committee has been formed to deal with a problem and the first thing it does is send a delegation to Dublin for Government help. That is not taking responsibility. PULSE and CCTV are good examples of the State taking responsibility and technology helping but what about community responsibility? I was chairman of an adjudication committee for the community alert and neighbourhood watch schemes. Those are marvellous systems where local communities come together with the Garda to look at the problems in their own area. If they see something going wrong, they take responsibility and make sure behaviour in the area is in the hands of those who live there.
Senator Ormonde's words about parental responsibility were emotive. Clearly, there is parental responsibility. British figures were published recently about the number of 12 to 15 year olds breaking the law and the parents do not seem to have any control. It comes down to education. We debated this two months ago when I spoke of the need to invest in education in order that those children who have no parental guidance learn about a sense of responsibility.
The fourth and most important form of responsibility is personal. What happened to personal responsibility? We no longer hear of guilty consciences or shame. We must make sure that it is known that we do not accept anti-social behaviour. If at the first inkling of misbehaviour, even throwing litter on the street, we say we cannot live with it, we can lift our standards in order that when we call on society, community, parents and schools to help us, we have also taken responsibility.
I grew up spending every summer in Skerries and visitors from England in the 1950s could not believe that every door had a key in the lock. They asked about people stealing or breaking in and we told them that people did not do it. There are no keys in doors anymore. We must ask whose responsibility is this. We must not pass the buck to someone else, the answer is in our own hands.
I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on the enthusiasm and energy with which he is tackling his job and his commendable honesty in showing us the warts in this area. I was taken by the wise contributions of Senators Dooley and Quinn and endorse much of what they say. Like other Members, I will not have time to say all the things I want to but, with a certain degree of authorial pride, point to my more extended thoughts on the matter contained in the Patten report where the Minister might read them.
I welcome the establishment of a body to collate statistics. Crime statistics are notoriously difficult. Some of the increases may come from under-recording in the past or more willingness to report crimes. A 60% increase in assault is a frightening statistic.
I am glad that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform focused on the causes of crime. Crime is associated very largely with poverty and disadvantage. Anything the State can do to move people out of this area might help, but it may just move them into white collar crime.
So much crime is drug-related and drink-related that I am glad the Minister is focusing on these factors, particularly among young people. I have no problem with an identity card system for young people. It has become necessary. I congratulate the Minister and the Criminal Assets Bureau on their work.
The Patten report, shorn of the specific Northern Ireland issues such as symbols, is really about police management and mobilising the resources of the community to police itself. This comes back to the point raised by Senator Quinn. The police cannot do it on their own. What is needed is a multi-agency approach to these matters. One might be better able to deal with difficulties by providing for more time in the youth club than an extra policeman. It might be easier to protect old ladies and make them feel secure through better street lighting. The agencies have to work together. I see the police as a broker in this.
I was impressed by the training offered in the Garda College, Templemore, and it is important that police in training are given as much opportunity as possible to interact with the other groups – social workers, probation workers, health workers – with whom they will be working in the future.
The Patten report is also very largely a managerial document. This might cheer up the Minister for Finance. I used to think health services were badly run, until I looked at the police. There is a real problem of management. There is a problem with people thinking that resources are there on demand. I commend the Minister on setting targets for the Garda, focusing on crime analysis and deploying the resources where they will have the most effect and finding some means to ensure that outputs begin to relate to inputs.
As policing arrangements bed down in Northern Ireland on bases that are acceptable across the community, it might be time to think of a mini-Schengen agreement to deal with cross-Border crime, where the complementarity of the two forces would be enhanced. I know one of the ideals is to have exchanges. However, we need to ensure that people cannot dart from one jurisdiction to another.
I was taken by the force and emotion of Senator Ormonde's reflections on parental responsibility. I would not agree with her on putting parents in jail, but we need to think of the needs of children, particularly those who come into contact with the law at an early age. Some of these are very difficult children. It is also difficult to get the resources mobilised to deal with them. There may well be jurisdictional difficulties and clashes in legal interpretation, but that might be done on a North-South basis by providing one decent facility on the island.
Senator Dooley made the point of culture change, particularly concerning the drink culture. There is no point in coming down like a tonne of bricks on all children because they do exactly what they see their seniors do.
They do the things that are paraded for them in the media as the smart and sassy thing to do. I am all for sports and it is an important way of mobilising children by giving them a sense of responsibility. At present, sport is used to mobilise them into the drinking culture. I am glad the Minister for Health and Children is dealing with this issue.
I wish the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform well. It requires work from people in all departments and all parts of society. It is unfair to expect the Garda to do it on their own.
I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his statement, even if some of the figures are somewhat worrying, particularly the increases in assault and sexual assault.
Of the many issues facing us in this new materialistic society is the issue of public order. I wish to concentrate on this area and the correlation with alcohol abuse. Recently, I sat with two sets of parents who had lost sons as the direct result of street violence – two different stories, but the same horrifying grief suffered by families. Listening to their story, witnessing their grief, left me numb. As a parent of two teenage sons, one can only say, "There but for the grace of God go I." We all worry about children's safety. I would concur with other Senators that one of the major issues concerning the public, despite what we debate in the House, is public order and safety of young people on the street.
As a politician I have taken part in many debates on this issue and formulated my views. At times, I marvel at how our standard of living has improved in certain areas, but I despair too at our abject failure in other areas. We have developed too quickly in recent years and, not alone have we been unable to keep pace with infrastructural needs, we have also failed to keep pace socially. The inability of a large number of our young people to cope with society results in social problems, alcohol abuse, drug addiction and violence. Like many other parents, I worry as to the future and safety of my children, but as a politician I feel I have an added responsibility to address these concerns.
I was horrified to discover that as a society we are now drinking more than almost all our EU colleagues. In the last six years the consumption of spirits alone has increased by over 50%, while there has been a staggering increase of 100% in the consumption of cider. Between 1989 and 1999, the per capita alcohol consumption increased by a massive 41%. The overall per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland in 2002 was 14.2 litres.
These statistics are even more staggering when we compare them with those of our EU counterparts. Nine other EU member states have shown a decrease in alcohol consumption during the same period, while three states showed a modest increase of just 5%. If we look back in ten years' time to see this curve has not peaked, then the consequences for our society and health system are frightening. A conservative figure of €2.4 billion was estimated as having been spent in 1999 in health care as a result of road accidents, alcohol-related crime and lost productivity. That is a serious figure and a wake-up call to our society. We must face this issue seriously and tackle it.
Binge drinking also figures in these surveys, particularly among 15 to 16 year olds. Many of us come from an era when we took the pioneer pledge in secondary school until we reached the age of 18 years. Although some did not take it, binge drinking at 15 or 16 years must be recognised as a new phenomenon. We have a responsibility to protect the young people concerned from each other and themselves. We cannot allow a situation to develop where people, due to a lack of proper supervision and enforcement of the laws of the land, are allowed to ruin the rest of their lives, or have the lives of others ruined. We must reduce alcohol consumption and control binge drinking.
Enforcement of the law is an issue. The laws on the Statute Book must be enforced. I particularly refer to public order. I also refer to the knife culture that we are now looking at and facing up to. To stab someone requires personal close contact, and the nature and viciousness of such a crime are becoming far too acceptable in our society. We were all taken by a recent interview on the Marian Finucane radio programme with a retired garda who referred to this knife culture, something we have to face up to. The binning of the knife is something we should be actively promoting.
I do not find it acceptable that the vast percentage of those arrested under public order offences are released without charge or given the benefit of the Probation Act. We must get real on this issue if we want to arrive at a set of acceptable standards in society. We must come down tough on this issue and show direct leadership. The Judiciary is too lenient in this area. Historically, we have been too tolerant of drink and drunkenness. We need sentences that fit the crime and the courts to enforce the law, be it on licence holders or those in breach of the Public Order Act. Clear messages must be given by District Courts that drunkenness and activities resulting from excessive drinking will not be tolerated in our society.
We must also face up to the vested interests without fear or favour. This is a market driven addiction. People are making vast amounts of money and we must face up to them now. They also have responsibilities. I advocate strongly that we face up to these responsibilities with the production of a national ID card, on a compulsory rather than a voluntary basis. In that regard, I welcome the recent report by the commission on liquor licensing and hope that all of its recommendations will be taken on board and implemented as soon as possible.
We must also examine the area of advertising, particularly that targeted at young people, the so-called advertising on television that promotes the drink culture, alcopops, etc., as being something cool and the "in" thing, which it is not. As late as this week I read a report that even in the consumption of alcopops we are now topping the EU league by a massive percentage.
We all know concerned parents but being concerned does not get them off the hook. I concur with previous speakers who said that unfortunately there was a breakdown in some parents taking on board their personal responsibilities. They have to have control over their children and exercise that control. To say leave it to someone else is not acceptable. There are times when the State will have to intervene in families. This should be done sensitively and carefully. Equally, parents have to accept responsibility for the actions of their children. We cannot have a society where parents do not know where their children, particularly young children, are.
As legislators, we have a responsibility to face up to the protection of our citizens, particularly the youth of today who are the future of tomorrow. Will we say we will allow all this unacceptable tolerance of drunkenness to continue or will we send out a clear and unequivocal message that the time has come for us to show leadership? Leadership is the only way that we will move forward on this issue and what the public demands. We also have to recognise the warnings from international surveys and unequivocally state it is no longer acceptable. We have a responsibility to educate young people. While I concur with Senator Ormonde's comments about the responsibilities of schools, teachers have to be assisted. I hope as a result of this debate, we will begin this process in earnest, which should include teachers, parents, the Garda, the courts and the drinks industry.
As a politician, what am I suggesting that we do? First, I hope we will provoke a serious and responsible debate on this issue but I am also saying we, as a society, should no longer be willing to stand by, that we want to take something forward. I want to make a proposal and throw a thought out into the debate. I would like to float the concept of an unpaid voluntary reserve police force. There is nothing new in this initiative. It is not radical, risky or even revolutionary. It has been around for a long time. Our nearest neighbours, the United Kingdom, have 15,000 reserve policemen and women. The special constable is the United Kingdom's reserve law officer. The name dates back more than 700 years to the time before paid policemen, when the preservation of the peace was an unpaid common law duty. In South Africa the reserve unit has been operational since 1998 and consists of a dedicated group of unpaid volunteers who have been selected for their language, law enforcement and paramedical skills.
Most cities in the United States have a reserve police force. These reserve officers are selflessly dedicated citizens who donate their time and knowledge towards augmenting the police department in patrol functions, policing special events and providing security for visiting VIPs. They include a wide variety of primary vocations such as lawyers, businessmen and civil servants. We have many and various role models from which to choose.
It should be acknowledged that the role of the Garda has changed since the 1950s. The force now has additional duties such as increased general office work, community policing, specialist criminal squads working with the CAB, an anti-racism role, immigration units, sexual attacks units, drugs units and overseas duties. Therefore, its role has changed quite dramatically since its establishment. It should be reformed to meet the challenges of a different era and a rapidly growing society. As we are in the era of a multicultural society, there is a need for linguistic and various other cultural skills.
I am a firm supporter of the CCTV system which should be extended to all major urban areas. I have seen it work very successfully in Cork city but it is manned by permanent members of the Garda. I do not see the reason reservists cannot assist. We must get real and immediately address the situation with the establishment of a reserve force in which—
There would be substantial costs.
No interruptions, please.
I am trying to put forward some constructive ideas, hoping to promote a debate, not political sniping.
The plinths were worn by the efforts in a previous Government's time.
Interruptions are not in order.
I am suggesting a reserve police force in which responsible adults can participate – parents and young people – to reflect the society in which we now live. I suggest a combination of initiatives from courts, planners, legislators and the Garda. As a parent, I share the fear and concerns of many parents who worry about their children visiting our city centres.
My proposal for a reserve Garda force is much more than a comparison between, say, the FCA and the Army. There is much to be learned from the FCA, it develops comradeship and is an outlet and a training ground for the future for our youth. The reserve force I envisage will be an opportunity, not alone for our youth but for parents and the people of Ireland of all ages, to play their part in giving us a 21st century policing authority.
Is this another promise?
How many parents lie awake worrying about their children on the streets at night? How many of them would volunteer to help patrol those very streets in the knowledge that they were ensuring a safer environment for their children? Could these same parents man telephones, watch CCTV, assist in administrative duties at weekends?
I saw an ideal model when I researched this in Los Angles – a three-pronged reserve, which is an option we should consider. In level one, there would be members of the public who would have no law enforcing powers but who would assist in the routine duties such as those I outlined earlier. Level two would have persons with restricted powers working under the direct supervision of a law enforcement officer. In level three, to which one would graduate, there would be persons with full police powers. This concept is tried and tested around the world and merits serious consideration and analysis here in Ireland. I hope that the Minister will take some of these views on board and at least look at this opportunity.
I am suggesting a cohesive approach where people take responsibility for their actions and for our society. In saying all that, I want to make it quite clear that I fully support the Garda Síochána and their commitment and dedication to their job. However, we must also support them in spirit and in action. I am encouraging Members of this House to give serious consideration—
—to the thoughts I have put forward and I hope my fellow Senators will give us some constructive ideas when they get their opportunity to speak.
I wish to share my time with Senator White.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I agree with Senators who stated that the increased crime figures are worrying. Crime is an issue I have been fortunate enough to come across only as a politician generally, but for the first time ever the house of a member of my family was burgled recently, and a friend of mine was recently mugged and badly beaten around the face in a senseless way. It is important that we provide support for victims of crime. Many people like to appear strong, but it is important that they are encouraged to take up any counselling needed in the aftermath of a criminal act.
I want to respond to some of the points made by the Minister. I welcome the information the Minister has given about crime figures, his promise of quarterly reports and also the committee to review the method of producing crime statistics. The Minister stated it was not possible to provide a geographical analysis of crime figures. That kind of information is important and needs to be addressed. I can understand factoring population increases into the current figures, but it is important, in terms of crime prevention, to point out that we need to keep developments in infrastructure and resources in line with those population increases.
I agree with the Minister's point about the importance of the causes of crime. An aspect which the British Labour Party developed is that one needs to be tough on the causes of crime. The Minister mentioned marginalisation, etc., but on the other hand it must be said to the Government that the cutbacks in such areas as education, local authority housing funding and facilities are all working against such an approach. If the Government says it will do something about the causes of crime, it needs to invest in local community infrastructure.
Another example I would give is the cutting back of community employment schemes. It is important to keep young people involved in voluntary activity and the cutting back of CE schemes is not helping in that regard. For example, in my area there are two schools which were to get sports extensions. One of the reasons was that they are in a drug task force area. Unfortunately those projects are now on hold because of difficulties in the Department of Education and Science. If the Minister wants to deal with the causes of crime, he must provide the investment and the infrastructure.
Senator Maurice Hayes mentioned the importance of the multi-agency approach. As I stated previously when the Minister was in the House, the local authorities play an important role in crime prevention. I welcome the plans about which the Minister spoke for a local government-Garda partnership. The Labour Party made this proposal, as far as I know during the 1991 local government election and certainly during the last local government election, and it is a development I would like to see. As a county councillor, I see it as a useful formation.
There is other work local authorities do which impacts positively on the area of crime prevention and they could be involved in more work in that area. For example, they look after the areas of estate management, housing, facilities for the homeless, design of local authority estates, public lighting and park rangers. Due to the cutbacks, local authorities do not have the funding to provide the required standard of park ranger services, for example. There are very few parks in my community where there are park rangers on duty. People are afraid to use those parks at night and crime takes place in them.
Voluntary activity is important and local authorities are not able to provide voluntary groups with the facilities they need. For example, local authorities are finding it difficult to provide sports changing rooms because they do not have the required funding.
We need imaginative responses to community needs. We need to provide more facilities for teenagers. I am very interested in the Minister's proposal regarding café type pubs. That would be a good initiative. Teenagers do not have anywhere to go and are hanging around the streets. They cannot go to the local pub, where the facilities are not suitable. Most teenagers are well-intentioned. We are in a modern society with a supposedly healthy economy, and we need to do more in that regard.
One of the problems with CCTV systems is that they take so long to become operational. In my area they have been calling for such a system and it still has not been implemented, although it is promised.
I should mention Garda accountability, particularly in light of last night's protest outside the Dáil. I am not making any judgment and I realise the dilemma in which the gardaí and the protesters found themselves, but it is important that Garda reforms are implemented. The Minister should implement the Labour Party proposal for a Garda ombudsman because that would be good for the Garda and for community confidence in the its work. There is a great deal of good work done by the Garda but, without independent scrutiny, much of it is undermined.
Where are the 2,000 extra gardaí that were promised? The Garda need the resources and better equipment to do their work. They also need training. My impression is that the training available is not filtered down adequately through the Garda force in terms of new responsibilities and the changing Ireland which they must deal with. I realise it is a bit of a mantra, particularly for local councillors like myself, to go on about the need for more gardaí on the beat, but community policing is hugely important, both for confidence and also for future relationships with the Garda. Young people and communities should get to know their local gardaí, who should be out in the community and seen on the beat. With all the new responsibilities there are for the Garda, the force needs extra resources so that it can manage its role and improve community policing.
The Leader said this morning that I could use today's debate to raise the issue of the report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. There is a need for a more comprehensive debate about the report before any legislation is introduced by the Minister, but I am interested in many of the things suggested. We need to tackle the issue of licences. The number of licences has been reduced since the original liquor licensing legislation was brought in, yet there are loopholes involving hotel licences and so on. This has given rise to superpubs. There is also, however, a need for sensitivity to the investment made by publicans. When taxi deregulation occurred, there was a genuine need for action in this area but many people were hard hit. This needs to be taken into account when considering the issue of licensing, although the big interests in the industry need to be taken on.
I am not happy with the idea of rolling back the extension of opening hours. This matter should be given careful consideration. The Minister was talking about giving a role to local authorities in this area. In the UK, pilot schemes involving 24 hour licensing are being considered and we should do the same. There is a problem with the way everybody comes out of the pubs at once. At present, there is a timeframe in which one must drink. The elimination of this might bring a more relaxed and mature approach to drinking. I do not have a definitive answer on this, but it is an idea that needs to be explored. We must be imaginative.
Enforcement is very important when it comes to underage drinking and this should be done on a country-wide basis, not just in certain areas. There is, perhaps, an imbalance in terms of enforcement that leads to the closing of pubs. The Minister should consider having a major Garda operation on the next occasion the junior certificate results come out. If RTE can go into pubs and film underage drinkers, the Garda should also be able to be present. Any premises that allows underage drinking should be closed down. It is easy to recognise 15 year olds; I can recognise them and publicans should also be in a position to do so. I am not so sure about those in the 18 to 22 age group. Once a person is over 18, it becomes a bit more difficult to judge their age. I often see 30 year olds who look a lot younger. Picking out people who are 18 to 22 years old is a bit arbitrary. It would be better to enforce the law and introduce a voluntary ID system. I am willing to accept the consideration of some kind of proposal in this regard.
Senator Ormonde mentioned the responsibility of parents. Some parents have problems. There are people found guilty of crimes who practically do not have any parental supervision because their parents have such problems themselves. We need to recognise this. We obviously need support for victims, but we also need support for people who have served their time in prison in areas such as housing, drugs treatment and so on. Most of all, the community and society have a responsibility in terms of crime prevention.
Senator Minihan mentioned the possibility of a reserve police force. It is important that we consider the introduction of community wardens at local authority level. One local authority has already adopted this. The Government should consider expanding this scheme and providing resources for it.
I am probably treading on dangerous ground in what I am about to say. However, if I do not speak out here, I might as well stay at home.
In 50 years, we will look back on our society and consider it barbaric. It is a source of constant pain to me that most of the people in our prisons are poor. People are born into poverty, dysfunctional families and drink and drugs problems. It is very difficult. If I were born a Traveller, I do not know how long I would survive. I am not suggesting that Travellers are responsible for crime, but illustrating that life is difficult enough to survive when we have everything going for us. I feel strongly that our system is barbaric. When I was chairperson of the President's Award organisation, I made that point at a function in Trinity College. The President's Award encompasses all sections of society.
I believe that 95% of gardaí are models of good behaviour, but the other 5% need to reform their ways. I was watching a programme on the television which contained a skit on the behaviour of gardaí in Donegal. I find that truly disturbing. I will probably get into awful trouble for saying this to the Minister and being provocative, but I look to him as a man who will deliver the goods.
We have heard that before.
I am telling the truth. I believe in the Minister, but there must be reform.
I was an observer on one major issue where things went wrong – I cannot say any more that that. There was appalling behaviour involved. I got nowhere with it. There is a problem with a small percentage of the Garda. Like any organisation or company, personnel training should be provided. Gardaí should learn to speak to people in the correct manner and with courtesy. If somebody telephones the Garda, they should not run into bureaucracy or bad behaviour. I saw in the newspaper at the weekend that Kevin Carty, the Assistant Garda Commissioner now responsible for Dublin, had his mobile phone snatched from his hand in O'Connell Street, so he has had some personal experience.
I met the Minister while I was canvassing for election to the Seanad and I look to him to be like Donogh O'Malley. As I said to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, there are opportunities for politicians to go down in history as political leaders.
The Minister will do so, but for the wrong reasons.
I am only giving my honest opinion. The Senator knows I am telling the truth.
I hope we all do.
Some people are more diplomatic than others.
The Leader should remember that for the next day.
On a point of information, we all try to speak the truth.
Many people in the House are just trying to please the Ministers when they come in. As a new Senator, I have observed that.
There are cracks everywhere.
I have faith in the Minister. As representatives of the people, we should be able to look to members of the Garda as our friends and believe in them.
I had an encounter just two weeks ago. I look on the local gardaí as my friends—
Did the Senator get a penalty point or something?
No, I did not. I will not say what happened, but it was much more serious than that. I was in trouble.
I support what people have said during this debate. I do not want to get involved in discussing the issue of alcohol abuse because I could not even bear to talk about it. I have met the Minister face to face and I appeal to him as a human being to deliver the goods. He will probably be raging mad with me for saying this, but the job must be done. Who is responsible for Donegal? How many people are involved? Who is accountable? It is a farce.
I warmly welcome the Minister and I welcome his important statement. There is no difference in the priority given by both Government parties in tackling the areas of justice and crime and giving them the resources and political attention they needs. Fianna Fáil will be giving the Minister the same amount of support that his party gave his predecessor, Deputy O'Donoghue.
The Leas-Cathaoirleach referred to the tenure of former Deputy Nora Owen as Minister for Justice. She was perhaps slightly hard done by, but that is the nature of politics. She did not get the support of her colleagues in Government who were members of other parties. They felt that the problem of crime did not deserve the type of priority that, by the time of the death of Veronica Guerin, it clearly needed. Solidarity in the Government on the importance of this area is vital and it is evident at present.
I agree that we need a credible information base – the main point of the Minister's speech. I welcome his determination to provide it. He said the Government was anxious to place policy-making within the criminal justice system on a firm evidence based foundation with less tolerance for hunches or knee-jerk reactions. That was exactly the approach of Seán Lemass in government.
The Garda needs to do more than collect statistics. The public finds very frustrating its attitude of impotence to less serious crime. The friend of a family member recently reported an incident to me. He uses a bicycle for transport and has quite an expensive one. This was stolen, even though the incident was covered by a CCTV camera. It was impossible to get the college authorities to review footage from the camera, even if it had been turned on. When he went to the local Garda station, he was asked if he realised he was simply adding to the statistics. That attitude applies to many crimes which are serious enough for the people who suffer from them. This is a cause of great frustration.
I would like this debate to be balanced. We should record the Garda successes, for example, in dealing with dissident and subversive crime in the past four years. You, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, made reference to the case of Detective Garda McCabe. Like you, I am glad of the court judgment. In an earlier capacity, the morning after that terrible event I told a representative of Sinn Féin that whatever settlement was reached over prisoners, those responsible for that act would be excluded. My leader said the same thing at the time and that has been the position. It has been very controversial and many have challenged it. However, I believe the Government is within its rights to do so and I am glad this has been upheld by the High Court.
I also applaud the Garda for its firm but not over the top dealing with public demonstrations. As Senator O'Toole said on the Order of Business, within those demonstrations there is an element appearing under many different names and guises which is out to create violence and wrongfoot the Garda. I deplore the vilification of the Garda by those out to get a violent response from it. The republican movement is now in the process of becoming passionately anti-war concerning Iraq and I hope that is now its position in the case of conflict in Ireland. I hope we are getting very close to that point.
Although not quite as good as in the past, there has been a high degree of success in detecting murders, which is important. There has been much success in tackling organised crime and drugs and there should be no let up. We have seen one or two other countries in Europe that have thrown in the towel with disastrous consequences. The Criminal Assets Bureau has been a great success and I hope the legal hiccough of recent weeks is no more than that.
There is an excellent training college in Templemore and a high degree of acceptance of the Garda by the community. Like Senator Maurice Hayes, I look forward to closer co-operation and interaction between the police forces on this island. He was a member of the Patten commission and author of the Patten report. I hope it will shortly lead to the breakthrough of having almost complete cross-community support, involvement and participation in the police force in the North. It was a superb report and a superb contribution by a public servant and his colleagues to policing not only in Northern Ireland but also elsewhere. That said, I am quite happy with the Minister's choice of a Garda inspectorate rather than an ombudsman.
A few nights ago I attended a meeting in Fethard, County Tipperary, which had been called to discuss anti-social behaviour. The issues raised would be relevant to any town in provincial Ireland and no doubt most cities. The complaints include the lack of a Garda presence in the town, especially late at night. The people would like a quicker response time and a presence on the streets after midnight. I am glad the Minister remains committed to extra gardaí and I am glad Senator Tuffy, on behalf of the Labour Party, is urging him to keep to this. It is not long since the Labour Party and some other Opposition parties took the view that it was a complete waste of money to invest in more gardaí and more prison places.
While parental responsibility is important, nobody should underestimate the difficulties that parents face. The old authoritarian ethos is gone and young people enjoy considerable freedom. Example is one of the best ways of getting a message across to them. I agree that parents should be involved in the follow-through after offences by minors.
People are afraid to report crime and live in fear of retaliation for doing so, which discourages many. There should be severe penalties for anyone who victimises another simply because he or she has reported crime. I hope the Minister will find a way to tackle the problem of under age drinking which requires a holistic approach. In ten or 20 years the health effects of the amount of drink now being consumed will be appalling. Drink in public places has been banished by by-law.
I previously raised the issue of attacks on churches on the Adjournment, which I notice are still continuing. Where there is a pattern of crime and particular places or types of places are being done over, the Garda should adopt a proactive approach to trying to catch those responsible.
I wish to share my time with Senator Ulick Burke.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister to discuss a very emotive issue. I thank him for a very frank and forthright submission. Crime is an issue with which we all have to deal and on which we must be united to defeat. There is one flaw in the programme for Government which states:
We will complete the current expansion of the Garda Síochána and increase recruitment so that the numbers will increase by a further 2,000. These additional gardaí will be targeted at those areas of greatest need, especially areas experiencing a significant drugs problem and a large number of public order offences.
Senator Minihan made a useful suggestion to introduce volunteer reserve gardaí or policemen and women. However, it cannot work. As anybody who runs a football club or any voluntary organisation knows, people will not work voluntarily any more; they want to be paid. Citizens pay their taxes and expect a reasonable Garda force in return and it should be increased by 2,000 members. It occurs to me that we would replace the B Specials with the PD specials, which is nonsense.
Crime is local. I grew up in a town in the west much like thousands of other small towns. The gardaí then were involved in local soccer, GAA and boxing clubs – it was community policing before the phrase was coined. My worry was that if I misbehaved, I would get a size 12 from the local Garda sergeant and if not—
He got it at home.
—I got a size ten from my father. Senator Ormonde is correct when she says parents have a responsibility.
There is a problem with a growing lack of respect. People want their rights without recognising those of other people. I walked past the protest outside Leinster House yesterday. Those people have a legitimate right to protest, which I admire and respect. Some 95% to 97% of those people wanted a free and violence-free protest, but 5% of those present went out to cause grievances and antagonise the gardaí. I raised this matter two weeks ago when I observed a man with a megaphone – which I could do with for my church gate speeches – who was inciting people to riot. I cannot understand why he was not arrested for a public order offence. I pay tribute to the gardaí and the riot squad. Although I do not like to see the riot squad on the street, it is necessary and it makes me, and 99.5% of the decent people, feel secure.
We have had problems in our area. The Minister is familiar with the cases of Garda superintendents arriving in certain towns only to leave again just two or three months later, as well as the many judges who are waiting to retire. The phenomenon of politically-appointed judges does not help the system. Gardaí in Ballaghadereen, as in every other town with a disco, are fighting for extra resources but cannot get them. The trouble will not be nipped in the bud unless extra resources are provided.
A friend of mine was attacked in O'Connell Street three weeks ago. He came to my clinic and told me that he feels insecure, jumpy and tense. He wondered whether he could have done something different and if the attack had been his fault. He is one of the many thousands of people who have been attacked on our streets. He has been through the health system and is receiving treatment for depression and insomnia. This is a burden on the health system which could be avoided if resources had provided for 2,000 extra gardaí.
We have a drugs task force but the drugs problem exists right around the country, as well as in Dublin and Cork. We need to have rehabilitation centres to ensure that drugs will be eradicated from our towns and cities.
Young people, the elderly and 99.5% of ordinary people are looking to the Minister. They want zero tolerance and gardaí on the street 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Young people are sickened by the minority among them who are causing trouble and giving them a bad name. I ask the Minister to provide for the 2,000 extra gardaí promised before and after the election and put them on the streets. If that happens, we will no longer have the problems we are experiencing now.
I welcome the Minister to the House and the opportunity to contribute to this important debate.
At the beginning of the debate, the Minister told us, "The news is not good." There has been an endeavour to put a spin on an intolerable situation and I do not know how any Minister could describe the situation in such mild terms. We have waited to give an opportunity to the Minister to implement his strategy, but I cannot understand what it is from his speech today and after nearly 12 months in office. The Minister's predecessor advocated zero tolerance and led the public into a period of expectation that something positive would be done about solving the crime problem, but it obviously went out of control under him.
The Minister acknowledged the Government's failure over the past six years to tackle crime in any meaningful way. If the justice Minister of a rainbow Government had produced statistics of crime increases of the order of 60%, 52% and 22%, the current Government parties would be wearing holes in the plinth outside Leinster House, declaring war on the Government and Minister responsible for such incidence of crime. Nothing the Minister has said convinces me that there is a Government plan and unfortunately he has to take sole responsibility for the solution to this problem. It is a multi-departmental problem which primarily involves the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Social and Family Affairs and Education and Science, although there may be others. This is an all-embracing problem the responsibility for which has been attributed to various factors by different speakers.
As a matter of urgency, I ask the Minister to review the rural policing policy, which has shown to be a failure, specifically the nine to five rural Garda stations. If the Oireachtas undermines the confidence of the public in the Garda, we do a massive disservice to everybody and damage the possibility of solving crime. It is of the utmost importance that we wholeheartedly support the idea that the Garda are the people – as opposed to any voluntary group – who are charged with this task. For a number of years a community alert scheme has been in place. It was a good initiative for which the community support was impressive but, after its initial launch and establishment, the follow-through, back up and on-going service has not been forthcoming. I ask the Minister to make every effort to relaunch the community alert initiative. With that initiative we could solve many of the problems that occur in rural as well as urban areas.
I wish to share my time with Senator Morrissey.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I pay tribute to my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, for the reforms he has carried out since his appointment. I support the sterling work being done by members of the Garda Síochána, often in extremely difficult circumstances. Too often the gardaí are easy targets for criticism. I believe they deserve more praise than they receive and, more importantly, they deserve greater co-operation from local communities and support from the general public.
Last week there were three large drug seizures in different parts of the country. That removed millions of euro worth of drugs from the streets. I am fortunate that in my constituency of North Kildare, particularly in Celbridge, the gardaí and local community enjoy a good working relationship. As a result, Celbridge has a lower crime rate than many other towns of comparable size. Of course, Celbridge is not free of crime. The town has its share of drugs, public order and criminal offences. They are often fuelled by an excessive intake of alcohol. However, the situation is under control. The increased number of detections indicates that the local gardaí have the upper hand. The gardaí, community leaders, publicans, local business people and residents work together. Our guardians of the peace are not left to fight crime in isolation and are delivering results.
Members of the public like to complain when a crime is committed in their locality, and they have that right. However, many offer the gardaí no support or co-operation. Everybody has a responsibility to keep our local areas as crime free as possible, to get involved with neighbourhood watch schemes, to keep an eye on elderly and vulnerable neighbours, to report any suspicious activity, to name and shame the publican who serves drink to teenagers, to get involved with local residents groups and ensure areas are closed off to potential trouble, to lobby our local authorities for better lighting and ensure there are enough activities and facilities in the community to ensure that children have something to do, somewhere to go and something to occupy them and to keep them off the street corners where trouble can find them.
Too often, the people who are most vocal about crime figures play little or no part in crime prevention or detection. The issue of parental and family responsibility must also be addressed. If teenagers are gathered in an area late at night and causing disturbances or taking drugs, one must ask about their parents. Why are the teenagers not at home or properly supervised? Why do parents not react when their teenage children come home late at night intoxicated or on drugs? Instead of picking up the telephone to ring the gardaí, it is a better idea to ring the parents of these teenagers.
If we played a significant role in helping the gardaí, our guardians of the peace would not be isolated and we could sleep easier in our beds at night. Supervision of our children is not a restriction, it is a safe way of rearing them.
I thank the Minister for the all-encompassing approach he is taking to the serious problem of crime. Every Member of the House will have experienced crime at a personal, family or community level. I recall leaving last year's All-Ireland football match and being confronted twice in the space of 20 yards for my mobile telephone.
Looking at the figures given by the Minister, one wonders what are the real causes of crime. I remember people talking 20 years ago about marginalisation, housing, poverty and unemployment. However, over the last five to seven years marginalisation has been rooted out to some extent. Record numbers of houses have been built and there is huge employment compared to the situation 20 years ago. I do not see those three issues as the causes of crime.
When I was a teenager, I took a drink when I was under age. I am sure others did too. The difference between then and now is that we probably did not have as much money. A survey carried out two years ago in Dublin 15 showed that 65% of secondary school children, approximately 2,500, were working in excess of 15 hours per week in the local shopping centre. That generated £100 every week in pocket money for those children. It is the advances we have made and the affluence of society that has caused part of this problem.
The Minister omitted one option in his statement, a curfew on young people for anti-social behaviour. It is an issue in nearly every community. Senator Mansergh even mentioned it with regard to rural towns. Anti-social behaviour and what the community can do about it is also an issue in my constituency, a sprawling suburb of Dublin. If five or seven of these teenagers were under curfew from 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., something that would not cost the State anything, it would be of great benefit to the communities. The local gardaí and community representatives know who these people are.
The Minister spoke about grant aid for local communities for CCTV. In my community a recently installed CCTV system has proved worthwhile. It repaid its cost within four or five weeks. If the system can be installed in other communities, people will stay outside those restricted areas. I am not saying it will reduce the problem but it will reduce the problem in those areas by making it more difficult for troublemakers.
What surprises me is that the CCTV is often not monitored at the local Garda station. There should be such a monitoring system. The town centre in Blanchardstown has an advanced security system but the local Garda station, which is only about 200 yards away, does not monitor what is happening. Every afternoon two gardaí walk the 200 yards to the town centre and patrol it. It would be better to put those gardaí on the beat and have a system in the Garda station for monitoring the CCTV.
Senator Feighan spoke about extreme violence. After witnessing the occurrences outside the House last night, I urge Senators to do what I did today, which is to congratulate the gardaí on duty here on their behaviour last night despite the extreme provocation they faced.
I wish to share my time with Senator Brian Hayes.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The Minister spoke on the wireless today about the events last night. He made a number of good points, particularly the fact that the Garda response was an administrative decision within the Garda and was not a direct ministerial responsibility. Although he accepts the ultimate responsibility, he did not trigger the decision. The response has to be proportionate. I saw part of what happened last night and, without taking sides, I believe people regret seeing gardaí in riot gear. The rights of Parliament must be protected but it was regrettable and I hope there will be a degree of proportion in future.
I applaud the Minister on his engaging frankness. It is not appropriate to play political games on this issue and he has been open in his disclosures. There has been a substantial social change during my lifetime for which neither the Government nor the Minister are responsible. It is something we will all have to tackle. There are elements of responsibility involved, but it is wrong to pretend that it is all the responsibility of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.
Unprovoked assaults, which come out of nowhere, were unheard of some time ago. I have been a victim of such assaults on several occasions. The latest involved two young women who I think were probably as high as kites on drugs. One of them threw a cigarette packet on the ground and when I reproved them for this they went for me. What I did then was to swell up like a toad, pop my eyes and use my stentorian voice and they took to their heels. I took a chance, however, and I would not recommend doing so to anybody because if they had had a dirty syringe I could easily have had it stuck into me. Such unprovoked assaults are terrible.
Let us consider the case of Mr. Mulvaney, this decent young lad whose family has been left grieving. The two young people convicted yesterday included a Mr. Willoughby, a person who had some kind of seething rage with which his unfortunate mother could not deal. They did not know Mr. Mulvaney but Mr. Willoughby said, "There's a queer from Knocklyon, let's hammer him." The level of homophobia is appalling and it should be addressed in our schools and elsewhere.
The other aspect of the current situation, which was not a feature of my youth either, is the deliberate and calculated crime of hiring guns and gangsters. I recall an outpouring of sympathy for the woman and her two sons involved in recent events in Limerick, but they are blackguards and savages. When those two young men returned, the yahooing that went on from the massed blackguards down there was a disgrace. That is a pity because Limerick is a wonderful city and its people are marvellous. It has had such a boost since the Hunt Museum and the new university were opened. It should not be allowed to go down the drain because of these sort of people.
Many of these problems have arisen as a result of the abuse of drugs, including alcohol, but there are long-term methods of dealing with this. Every year I visit Marlboro Street School, where I see lovely young children from places in the inner city such as Champion's Avenue, which has a severe drug problem. They are the most delightful, decent little children because they are part of the Breaking the Cycle programme. If we want to get crime off the streets, the Minister should invest further in education instead of giving children intensive schooling at primary level only. It may cost a little more to do so, but we should get them through secondary school and into university and they will be the leaders of their communities.
Leaders of the country.
They will really break the cycle. I do not mean to be critical, I am just making a recommendation. I was delighted to see that a horrible empty space in Gardiner Street has been turned into a lovely children's playground. That is the way to go and it will help a great deal.
With regard to drunkenness, I applaud the Minister for taking on these enormous pubs that I have christened "boozeramas". Can we close these damn places down by making the legislation retrospective?
Look at what they have done to the Ambassador Cinema and St. Mary's Church, which is an historic building and has been turned into another one of these boozeramas. Licences have now been granted to supermarkets to sell trays of beer. What is the logic behind granting these licences?
I wish to raise serious questions concerning the District Court judges who are involved in the licensing system. I have seen it operating on a rubber-stamp basis and they never ask questions. All kinds of blackguards are being given these licences and the same applies to lap-dancing clubs. I am glad to see that the Minister had something to say about this and so have some members of the Judiciary. This has to be tackled. Prostitution is decent and honest compared to this kind of thing, which breeds crime and oppresses the unfortunate, mainly eastern European, women involved.
I agree with colleagues on both sides of the House, including Senator Morrissey, who said that community policing is the way forward. We have a marvellous community policing system in North Great George's Street and we want more of it. Our community Garda, Ger O'Sullivan, jumped into the Liffey recently to rescue two people. His fiancée, who is also a garda, was also involved in saving those two people's lives. He is a very popular person in our area, where he meets people and knows their names and their backgrounds. He is a kind of father figure for many children who do not have such figures in their lives. Community policing presents a good, positive image so any money the Minister can spend on community gardaí will be a wise investment.
I thank Senator Norris for sharing time, although at times trying to stop him from speaking is like trying to stop a runaway train.
I thank the Minister for the frankness of his statement. It is the first time we have seen the crime statistics, even in their provisional format, being announced so quickly. The Minister's predecessors certainly did not do it and we often received the statistics 18 months later. The statistics are bad, but it does not matter how many laws and regulations are forced through this House and the Lower House. The Garda Síochána has a huge responsibility, not only to enforce the law but also to change their practices where they are not working.
I concur with what Senator Mansergh said about the need for a Patten-style police reform process to examine ways of improving policing and making it more efficient. I do not say that in order to be critical of the Garda Síochána in any way, but every large organisation or bureaucracy needs to be examined from time to time. One of the benefits of the Patten reforms in Northern Ireland, even though it is a totally different situation, was in-depth analysis by outside police experts from other jurisdictions. We need the same thing in this country. I do not wish to be critical of the Garda Síochána, but it requires greater efficiency and people who are not pulling their weight need to be told that is the case. In addition, those who are doing a good job, such as the young community garda to whom Senator Norris referred, should be given further incentives to continue doing so.
The garda in question is doing a tremendous job and is making a great difference, but I bet that in a year's time he will be off the beat doing other things within the force. We must incentivise those who make a huge effort and put to one side those who are not doing their job.
The Minister should examine the proliferation of knives in our major cities. A sub-culture has come into existence involving gangs of youths carrying dangerous knives. Some months ago we saw a terrible, unprovoked attack in Coolock in which a young man was killed. That case, which involves juveniles, will be coming before the courts. I ask the Minister to consider a proposal by a former Garda superintendent for a "bin the blade" campaign. It was used to great effect in some UK cities where the police granted an amnesty to encourage people to hand in their dangerous knives. Having examined our legislation in this regard, I do not think it needs to be updated that much but it does need to be enforced. A high-profile advertising campaign together with the involvement of local gardaí would ensure that we can get these knives out of circulation. They are causing untold damage on our streets every weekend.
I have a suggestion to make about gardaí living in housing estates. This is a cost-effective measure, so I am sure the Minister's ears will prick up when he hears it. There are 20,000 households in Tallaght, which is in my constituency. There are about 8,000 households in west Tallaght, although I suspect that not one member of the Garda Síochána lives in that community. The Minister, together with local authorities, should develop an incentive scheme to encourage young recruits from Templemore to live in such communities because they probably cannot afford to buy a house. Their presence in housing estates, where currently there is not a large Garda presence, would be of tremendous benefit in providing protection and security. If the Minister entered into discussions with some local housing authorities in Dublin such a scheme could be developed. Many gardaí are living in the area in which I reside and it is a form of protection. The Minister should consider examining this suggestion, particularly with regard to large local authority estates where there are no resident gardaí. It would provide additional protection to people living in such areas.
In recent months, there have been calls every morning on the Order of Business for the Minister to come before the House. On each occasion I told the House that the Minister informed my office that he was very keen to come here and wanted an opportunity to address Senators about his policies. It is a matter of record that those calls have been made and, by coming to the House today, the Minister has answered them.
There is also the matter of the importance it has given the Seanad to provide the environment in which the Minister can give us three hours of his time on this issue. Ministers come and Ministers go with great speed – they remind me sometimes of a character in Alice in Wonderland– because they have all sorts of appointments to keep, which we all understand, but the Minister has come and stayed. That marks a difference, on which Members on all sides of the House have commented, given that the justice ministry is one of the busiest. The Minister has given us three hours of his time to speak in a forum where, regardless of political persuasions and the viewpoints expressed – we all admire diversity – he has aired a very imporant document – his speech.
The Minister set out openly the crime figures which are appalling and for which nobody is attributing blame to him. The percentage increases in various crimes, particularly sexual assaults, including rape, are major. Such crimes are fuelled by drink. I have no doubt that those who drink heavily and commit crimes such as this are fuelled by drink, although I am not excusing them, how could one? On the opposite side, those whom they assault are often drunk and, therefore, have less power to defend themselves. That is a terrifying situation.
The Commission on Liquor Licensing has reported. I strongly believe super pubs or "boozeramas", as Senator Norris called them, are places that are inimical, hateful and a breeding ground for more and more drink. They are in the market business. Their approach is to rake young people in, fill them up, spill them out and then count the money. There is the appeal of the glamour of a super pub with its beckoning seductive lights, chants of loud chatter, loud clinks of glasses and young people cocooned in what they believe is a place where they and their peers can have a whopping good time. I am all for having good times and certainly like my drink but the proliferation of super pubs is a bad idea.
I have not had sight of the commission's report which I presume we will all receive. The idea has been brought forward to introduce small café style establishments where one could have a beer or a glass of wine, chat and make arrangements to meet somebody in an intimate atmosphere, as happens elsewhere in Europe where people are far more acclimatised to having a drink from a very early age en famille or dealing with drink in such an environment. Such a move to people frequenting that style of establishment would involve a major sea change, about which Senator Dooley talked. To change people's attitudes from going out to drink solid in order to get drunk to going out to meeting or hoping to meet a friend or two in a café style establishment where one could have a drink and perhaps a snack, talk to people in a convivial intimate atmosphere would be a major jump. This concept is an important one, the timing of which is well overdue. Most people have travelled to various countries and would appreciate such an atmosphere. I appreciate that they would have enjoyed the sunshine and that it would have been a happy holiday time but we can make such an atmosphere part of our lives. Such establishments would be far more comforting than the super pubs.
When we talk about drink, a punitive note tends to creep into our voices which we try to avoid but it is impossible to do so. However, it is the abuse of drink that we abhor. Drinking in moderation is a wonderful adjunct to being sociable. It is a wonderful adjunct to life to be able to meet friends and have a drink in good convivial company. There is nothing finer than people having a good conversation and a drink but it is the abuse of drink that is awful. I know I am of an age that I will probably never understand the idea of a person going out to get drunk, being incapable and going on to commit a crime or several crimes. That is such a hateful prospect.
I welcome the commission's report and look forward to reading it. If introducing café style pubs is one of the ideas contained in it, it is a good one but I do not know what will happen to the existing super pubs which in their own way are greatly fuelling a drink culture and the expectation that life will be wonderful if one goes into them, keeps drinking and that somehow one will be more of a man or a woman. That is just awful.
The Minister's speech reminds me not of a White Paper but a Green Paper. A Green Paper means action whereas a White Paper is mostly full of gab. This is a fine document which sets out proposals in regard to legislation, review committees, reportage and ideas about what the Minister and the Government will do in this area. It should be widely disseminated, although I do not know how this could be arranged but it should because it is an excellent document on all fronts. It sets out the figures and asks how we should involve the Garda – I applaud what Senator Kate Walsh said about the force – and can best use the tools at our disposal to tackle the problems in this area. Speaking in the context of Europe and sharing ideas the Minister said:
Crime analysis is not a new working method for law enforcement authorities but some countries have made it a specific discipline with positive results achieved by criminal profiling and criminal analysis. Result-oriented and targeted approaches have tended to become an imperative in policy making methodology. Professional crime analysis appears to be a technique for better targeted crime policies.
That is very much a policy both now and in the future. We could have 10,000 more gardaí on the beat which we would all like but would it make a difference? Are we expending our resources in a non-targeted way? If we could use research to find out in a targeted way the specific crimes, profiling and other related details and use that information in a more modern way, we would make fine use of our resources. It is easy to say 2,000 more gardaí should be put on the beat – I have every confidence that by the end of our five years in government that additional number will be on or about to be put on the beat but there needs to be a more modern, streamlined forensic examination of the resources available to us and how they can best be used. If we can do this with the force we have, we will be well on the way in this regard. The road the Minister has to travel is a long one, which I know he understands. In many respects it will be a rocky one but it he keeps his enthusiasm and appetite for work in tact, he will surmount many difficulties.
I refer to what happened last night outside the gates of the Houses of the Oireachtas, about which I spoke on the Order of Business. We accept that people can protest and have a right to do so under the Constitution but equally those in employment, be they Members or staff of the Houses, have a right to go to and leave work without being hassled and harassed in an appalling way. I thank the Minister for his contribution and listening to what I had to say.
I, too, welcome the Minister. Both he and his ancestors were trained in the great law and order party of this country. I have no doubt that he has the ability to do the job if he gets the necessary resources from the Minister for Finance to do so. Gilbert and Sullivan in their well known operetta, "The Mikado", struck the right note when they wrote the familiar line, "Let the punishment fit the crime".
The rising crime figures given by the Minister are an indictment of a failure on the part of the Government. This is a message we should all take to heart. The record of the Minister and his predecessor is appalling. If one allies the notion of proper punishment with another concept, that crime is contagious, it is imperative that crime prevention is first and foremost a matter of adequate deterrent. Sentencing must reflect the gravity of crime and deter the knock-on effect that arises from undue leniency.
Currently criminals who rob at knifepoint, terrorise the old and infirm or kill while driving stolen vehicles do not fear being punished because the lack of prison places means they will be back on the streets within days, if not hours. The offender has nothing to fear and he or she knows it. While constituting an insult to the victims of crime, this is also detrimental to offenders, who receive no rehabilitation that could help them become responsible and productive citizens.
The law needs to be applied more swiftly and fairly but the court system is clogged up, as any solicitor or town clerk can testify. It can take months for a case to come to court and then, as has been demonstrated in a recent high profile case concerning paedophile activity, there seems to be one law for the rich and one for the poor.
With ongoing increases in almost every criminal category, it is imperative that the Government increase Garda manpower and provide more resources in our criminal justice system. The Garda budget has been slashed by 22%, overtime has been reduced by €42 million this year and the 2,000 extra gardaí promised before the general election have failed to materialised. This was one of the high profile election promises made by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats and I call on the Minister to honour it; he has gone some distance in that regard in his speech. Where is the zero tolerance that was promised in the general election before last?
It is time the Government made crime and law and order a priority and made proper funding available. Scrimping on the overall Garda budget and cutting overtime is a cause of great concern. That is not the way to tackle the crisis. The Garda are overstretched and do not have the necessary numbers or resources to deal with the growing crime rate, as any garda will admit. The PULSE computer system was provided supposedly to assist the Garda but it has been an extremely costly white elephant at €60 million. It has increased rather than reduced bureaucracy. The Garda Representative Association has said that it is hampering gardaí at their work, forcing them to spend more time at their desks than on patrol.
It is also of the utmost importance that local authorities assist the gardaí in combating crime. Improving infrastructure such as public lighting deters crime by increasing surveillance and provides a less expensive alternative to CCTV. Last year the British Home Office review stated that improved street lighting reduced crime by 20%. Street lighting works well if targeted to a specific crime hotspot and can be a feasible and inexpensive method of crime reduction.
Crime figures in this country will continue to rise unless the Government acknowledges that our crime figures are at crisis level and that appropriate remedial action needs to be taken now rather than later. Previous speakers have mentioned community policing, which is the way forward. When I was growing up everyone knew the local garda – he was involved in youth clubs, the GAA and Macra na Feirme and he gave a lead. We must bring that community policing back.
I encourage the Government to establish a missing persons unit and to accept the help with training and technology which has been offered by the United States Missing Persons Agency. The Minister should consider this option.
This has been an interesting debate and I have learnt a lot. I am deeply grateful to all Members for their contributions. It would be impossible to echo even a fraction of the original analyses offered and I hope no Member is offended if I am selective in making my response.
Senator Maurice Hayes referred to his experiences with the Patten report, to the cross-Border aspect of crime and to the possibility of Schengen coming into existence. Others have echoed those sentiments, saying that at least in Northern Ireland someone sat down and analysed what policing is all about. Obviously there is a different situation in some respects from that which exists here, but in other respects policing is policing the world over and we should not think that a cross-community issue in Northern Ireland makes the rest of the Patten report inapplicable.
Senator Tuffy referred to Labour Party policy and she will be glad to hear that Deputy Rabbitte impressed upon me in private conversation the importance of developing a partnership dimension between police and the local community – formal links between the community and local public representatives, not simply through the Minister or occasions like this – in relation to how areas are policed. I intend to do so and to learn from the Patten experience if I can. The republican movement is getting very agitated about district policing partnerships in the North and whether they are trophies in a particular bargaining process unfolding before us. Nonetheless, according to the Patten commission, they are seen as necessary cornerstones of proper community policing which should be in place north and south of the Border.
In relation to general issues raised by Senator Quinn, I was struck by the layers of responsibility he mentioned – State, community, parents and individual. I was also struck by the fact that we have cornered ourselves in our social discourse. The coinage of political talk in Ireland and many western societies has been debased to the point where individual responsibility does not seem to feature at all. I fully accept that the pattern of crime is driven by marginalisation, deprivation and exclusion – anyone would be foolish not to accept that. Issues such as those and dropping out of education are deeply embedded in the crime issue and there is also a class element to crime. However, moral responsibility cuts across the community and we cannot avoid issues of moral responsibility.
Without being a shrivelled old moral prune, our kids are watching "Ibiza Uncovered" on MTV, with teenagers discussing how to get laid or jarred as if that were perfectly normal social recreation. If that is the coinage of their culture and it is being delivered to them as a perfectly acceptable norm of behaviour, can we be surprised if we reap the harvest which emerges from the seeds sown in young minds? There is a Carlsberg advertisement about the perfect nightclub which connects drink with the availability of women and which suggests one enters a different world if one enters the nightclub the Carlsberg company runs. The subliminal messages to 14 to 16 year olds is that there is a great big world out there based largely on alcohol and that their sexual prowess and social acceptability will be largely mediated through alcohol or other drugs. We should ask ourselves if this underlying message is likely to lead to any results other than those we are dealing with. I accept that Government must lead the way in social change but I also take Senator Quinn's point that right across the community, at both parental and individual levels, notions of personal responsibility must inform what is happening.
I am the Minister with political responsibility to the Oireachtas for the Garda. I echo Senator Walsh's remarks about the Garda. It is a force which deserves our support. Regarding the incidents near the House last night, there was no over-reaction. There was a contrived effort to make the Garda Síochána look like the enemy of decent people. Senator Norris stated it was unfortunate to see gardaí in riot gear. If a group of right-wing racists had sat down and impeded his exit from this House, he would have fulminated about the necessity to remove them, demanded that something be done and declared that such intimidation should not be permitted. It is horses for courses.
I wish to echo a comment by Senator Minihan. We are a small society which requires a radical examination of the nature of policing. I have already discussed with the Garda Commissioner the Senator's idea for a reserve police force. Whereas my thinking and that of the Commissioner are inchoate at this stage, we have to arrive at a position in which traffic duties, the supervision of museums, protection for diplomats and similar tasks are not all carried out by fully qualified policemen.
Senators referred to rural Garda stations and the need for a Garda presence in certain areas. To put one garda in a hut outside my house on a 24 hour basis, which, incidentally, will not happen, would require the deployment of the equivalent of 5.2 gardaí. Manning the counter of a rural station with two gardaí on a 24 hour basis requires 10.4 gardaí. We need to realise that totally different thinking about how we marshal resources is required.
One of the major advantages emerging from the forthcoming legislation to reconfigure the Garda Síochána and its management process and establish an inspectorate is the exciting prospect that it will bring direct responsibility and proactive policing into our community. This is what the Patten report planned for Northern Ireland and it is what we have to do here. Many of the Garda Síochána's procedures and structures have hardly changed a jot since the post-Civil War society of the 1920s in which it was founded three quarters of a century ago – a bicycle lamp culture very different from the society in which we live today.
My support for the Garda Síochána is in no way diminished by my desire to manage and drive the process of change in the organisation. I assure any member of the force who examines the record of the House or hears about the proceedings today that all the Senators who spoke about the necessity for change today did so from the point of view of being supportive. Reform is the ultimate form of loyalty and friendship. Driving such a process of change is the best we can do for the Garda. To argue that the force must move with the times is in no way to criticise or diminish it.
This has been an interesting debate with many interesting contributions on crime and its causes. While I do not want to hog the time set aside for Ministers to come before the House, we could probably have another session of this kind on another occasion. I am deeply grateful to the Leader for nagging me to come here. She did not need to nag me much, but constantly squeezed my elbow to ensure I lived up to my commitment to come before the House.
I have learned a great deal from the proceedings and will come away from the debate by no means complacent, but convinced that Senators from across the House, from all parties and none, appear to have an immense sense of goodwill towards the process of change unfolding before us. There is a mature understanding that nobody will drag out from under the table some instant solution which would transform the situation overnight.
I detect there may be a legacy of antagonism arising from debates on crime in the period from 1994 to 1997. Those who believe certain Ministers received an unfair press or were subject to over-robust opposition at that time may be right. However, there is no reason to replicate that unfair debate now. We have to be constructive, realistic and honest. I am deeply grateful to Senators for arranging this debate and giving me an opportunity to participate in it.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Mrs. O'Rourke: At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday, 8 April 2003.
The Seanad adjourned at 5.05 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 8 April 2003.