Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015: Committee and Remaining Stages

I welcome the Minister.

Sections 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

The Bill was developed following detailed consultation with Garda management and the detectives working on the ground to tackle burglary every day. It addresses two key problems they identified, namely, the relative ease with which repeat offenders can obtain bail and the fact relatively short sentences can be imposed by the courts when multiple burglary offences are taken into account.

The Bill will provide that for bail applications previous convictions for domestic burglary, coupled with pending charges or recent convictions, shall be considered as evidence that an accused person is likely to commit further domestic burglaries. The Bill will also require a court which decides to impose custodial sentences for multiple burglary offences committed within a 12-month window to impose such sentences consecutively. It is important legislation which carefully balances the right to an inviolable dwelling with the right to liberty, both of which are guaranteed by the Constitution.

The legislation, together with Operation Thor and the joint agency response to crime, is focused on tackling and managing prolific offenders. It forms part of a comprehensive package aimed at reducing the scourge of crime, and burglary in particular. The package is supported by the Government's significant investment in Garda vehicles, ICT and buildings, but most importantly in recruitment to the force. I have secured the funding that will see 1,150 new recruits enter the college between 2014 and 2016. I thank all Senators who contributed to the debate during our discussions.

I welcome the Minister and the very speedy passage of the legislation. We did all point out on Second Stage last week how important the Bill is and how real a concern there is about levels of burglary throughout the country, in particular high levels of recidivism. Last week, the Minister quoted the very high level of recidivism, particularly arising in statistics on burglary offences. The Bill is particularly focused and targeted. It seeks to ensure preservation of safeguards and protections for the rights of due process of accused persons, but it is targeted specifically at recidivist offending. We all welcome this in the interests of victims' rights.

We just heard from the chairperson of the parole board a moment ago in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, and we spoke about the need to ensure rehabilitation of offenders. Of course the Bill, as a criminal justice measure, is only part of a package of measures aimed at dealing with recidivism and tackling repeat offending. The Minister pointed out the need for the interagency approach and we all very much welcome this. Clearly a range of other interventions are necessary to prevent reoffending and crime. I thank the Minister for coming to the House and note the speedy and welcome passage of the legislation.

I welcome the Minister and concur with the sentiments expressed by her and Senator Ivana Bacik. The legislation has been called for by many people, particularly those who have been the victims of crime. It certainly will equip the courts to impose appropriate sentencing. I hope it will act as a serious deterrent for people who repeatedly engage in criminal activity, which is something that must be welcomed.

We all share Senator Ivana Bacik's view, and the Minister holds the same view, that rehabilitation is ultimately what is necessary. The House has had motions on community courts and restorative justice. When it comes to justice, the House is leading the way. I commend the Minister for initiating legislation in the Seanad. We are always delighted to co-operate with the Minister's busy programme. It is a busy legislative programme to make this country safer and better and to make citizens feel safe in their homes.

It is very poignant and worth noting that a Behaviour & Attitudes survey conducted in 2014 found only 67% of Irish people had confidence in An Garda Síochána, but a survey carried out in the past two or three months has shown the figure is now up to 87%. This is worth noting, and the newly appointed Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, the Minister and the senior management team in the Minister's office and in An Garda Síochána deserve credit because we came from a low place where public confidence was very poor. The Garda always had the confidence of the Irish people. Unfortunately, there was a little erosion, but thankfully we are back to where we want to be and it will only improve from here on in.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, back to the House. Like Senators Martin Conway and Ivana Bacik, I very much welcome the speedy passage of the Bill through the House. It makes very important changes to the bail laws and sentencing policy. As we are all aware, burglary must be one of the most horrific crimes that can be visited upon ordinary people in their own home. Several Senators, including Senator Sean D. Barrett, quoted what Mr. Justice Hardiman of the Court of Criminal Appeal stated, which is that the offence of burglary committed in a dwelling house is in every instance an act of aggression, an attack on the personal rights of the citizen as well as a public crime and a violation of the victim. This sums up exactly how horrendous the crime is. Any attempt to deal with the people who are, in some cases, habitual offenders of burglary is welcome. I thank the Minister and welcome the speedy passage of the Bill through the House.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 4.30 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.