Good morning. I welcome members of the Committee, the Minister and her officials. Is the proposed timetable agreed? Agreed. As far as possible, I intend to keep to that timetable but I will be a little flexible. I again call for co-operation so that we can get through the agenda and give all members of the Committee an opportunity to participate in the discussion. The Minister has 15 minutes for her opening statement.
Vote 19—Office of the Minister for Justice.
I am delighted to be here on the first occasion the Select Committee on Legislation and Security will examine the Estimates for the Justice Group, Votes 19 to 24. The total sum involved is over £515 million which is a large sum and a reflection of the Government's commitment to the fight against crime and its desire that ordinary citizens should be allowed go about their daily lives unhindered, without fear or harassment from criminal elements.
Vote 19 provides for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Justice and for certain other services such as the Data Protection Commissioner, the Garda Complaints Board, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal, the Forensic Science Laboratory and the payment of certain grants. The Estimate is for £18.293 million, representing an increase of 17 per cent on the 1992 outturn. The additional funds are mainly in respect of payments due under theProgramme for Social and Economic Progress and for payments under the criminal legal aid scheme.
The provision in this year's Estimates for the Garda Vote is £371,713,000. This represents an increase of £20 million or 5.4 per cent on last year's allocation. It will ensure that the Garda Síochána have sufficient manpower and resources to uphold law and order in this State and to carry out all their responsibilities.
The present strength of the force is 10,932. As members are aware, a campaign to recruit 1,000 gardaí is underway and I plan to accelerate the rate of intake of these recruits in line with the commitment in theProgramme for a Partnership Government 1993-1997. This campaign is designed to maintain the overall strength of the force at its present general level. I also intend to increase the number of gardaí available for operational duties through further civilianisation as promised in the programme. There are approximately 700 full-time civilian clerical staff working in the Garda Síochána at present and the Commissioner has proposed that approximately 450 further civilians should be recruited to release gardaí from routine clerical work for outdoor operational duties.
One area I am particularly interested in is the introduction of professional civilian support staff in the Garda Síochána. Some progress has already been made with the appointment of a civil engineer in charge of fleet maintenance, and an electrical engineer in charge of radio and communications areas. There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to establish a Garda research unit. The competition to select a head for the research unit is underway and I am confident an appointment will be made in the very near future. I wish the unit well and I have no doubt that it will make an important contribution to the future success of law enforcement in this country.
On 14 April last the Garda Commissioner presented to me the five year corporate strategy document for the Garda Síochána as a discussion document in line with the commitment in theProgramme for a Partnership Government, 1993-1997 to prepare such a plan to enhance their capacity to fight crime in present day conditions. This is the first occasion in the 70 year history of the Garda Síochána that Garda management have set out a comprehensive statement of the purpose and function of the police service in this jurisdiction.
The fight against crime is, of course, of paramount concern to us all and the tackling of it is a priority both for the Government and myself as Minister for Justice. I am informed by the Garda authorities that official figures for 1992 are not yet available. However, the most recent indications are that, while there was a slight increase in crime last year, it was significantly less than the increase in the previous year. Obviously what I want to see and everybody else wants to see are not crime increases whether small or large but decreases. That is the aim of the various strategies being put in place. Having said that, worlwide experience shows that a significant reduction in the incidence of crime is a notoriously difficult thing to achieve. The rate of crime escalation here is nothing compared with that on our neighbouring island. While this provides no grounds for complacency and cannot dismiss what looks like a significant drop in the level of increase as a matter of no significance.
As the committee will be aware, a wide range of plans has been implemented on the Garda operational front to meet the particular challenges posed by crime today. Various community based initiatives have been introduced and continue to make a widely recognised contribution towards dealing with problems in particular areas and for particular segments of society. Of course, increased resources and imaginative management of those resources are not a sufficient response. I have a comprehensive programme of law reform in the criminal law area. I am attaching particular priority to the need for public order legislation.
In considering the problem of crime it is important to realise that dealing with it involves not merely a law and order response. Important though this is, it is widely recognised that a broadly based response to the problem of crime in modern urban societies is required.
Following a number of incidents in Dublin in 1991 the then Minister established an inter-Departmental group in November of that year to examine the problem of urban crime and disorder. This group examined the situation in Ronanstown and met with local interested groups and received submissions from many interested parties. The group reported on 2 November 1992 and the recommendations made will be implemented. The fight against crime involves not only a Garda response — a point which was made very strongly in the Ronanstown report, but it also involves the co-operation of every man, woman and child, without whose help and co-operation the task of the Garda would be virtually impossible.
An important strategy that involves the general public is crime prevention. The Garda authorities are committed to implementing on an on-going basis measures designed to alert the public to the threat of crime and continue to promote and develop community-based crime prevention initiatives.
Illegal drugs dealing is a worldwide scourge. It is difficult to think of a single factor which has contributed more towards criminal activity and attendant human misery in western society. It is recognised internationally that because of the power and sophistication of the international criminal organisations who thrive on this misery, it is essential that the response also be organised on an international basis. Ireland, I am glad to say, is playing its full part in this response but nobody is under any illusion concerning the difficulties involved. Looking at our domestic situation I am informed by the Garda authorities that, while there has been an increase in the level of seizures of illicit drugs and in the number of people charged with drug-related offences, they are satisfied that the strategies in place are adequate and appropriate to deal with the matter.
Turning to the Prisons Vote, a total of £96.084 million is provided for the running of the prisons and places of detention, and the probation and welfare service. This is an increase of £4.8 million, or 5 per cent, on the 1992 provisional outturn. I shall be glad to deal with any specific provisions which Committee members may wish to query on this Vote. There are, however, a few things I would like to say about the prisons generally.
It is fair to say that the existence of prisons and what they are meant to achieve are taken for granted by most people, especially when there is, as now, a lot of genuine and deeply felt concern about the problem of crime in our society. There would be wide agreement that prisons are there to hold wrongdoers under the law, in accordance with the law. There would also be a general expectation that prisons should provide scope for personal development and rehabilitation and, finally, there would be broad agreement that is not necessary to put each and every wrongdoer in a prison cell. The problems arise, however, when one tries to apply all of these principles to practical situations.
In the last few years the prisons have been faced with a 17 per cent increase in the daily average number of prisoners in custody — up from 1,870 in 1986 to 2,193 last year. In case anybody is tempted to repeat the old canard that prisons are choc-a-bloc with debtors and fine defaulters let me say straight away that this is simply not true. At any one time they occupy only a tiny fraction — about 1 per cent — of prison places. There have also been new problems such as those associated with the management of HIV positive prisoners. In this time, staff numbers have increased from 1,700 to 2,300 — a fact which has considerable financial implications as pay accounts for 75 per cent of non-capital expenditure.
Because of all of this, and because of the major role which the prisons play in how we respond as a community to the problem of crime, I am carrying out a major review of official policy on the operation of the prisons and the treatment of offenders generally. In short, as I have already announced, I am aiming for a draft corporate strategy for the prisons which would clarify aims and objectives of all concerned. That is the context of the Estimates of £96.084 million for the Prisons Vote. The main provisions are on the area of prison service pay, buildings and equipment, running costs and the probation and welfare service, which includes pay and running costs.
For the probation and welfare service there is a total provision of £8.765 million, of which £5.015 million is in respect of pay. This service provides a probation and social work service for the courts and prisons as well as operating the community service order schemes and it has a professional staff of 218. Altogether, there are about 3,200 offenders under the supervision of the service, including about 750 who have been required to perform community service. A total of £2.415 million is provided for grants in connection with hostels, workshops and other centres in the community which are operated in association with the service.
I will consider the Courts Vote. I have broad responsibility for providing the services necessary to allow the courts to function effectively and efficiently and the Courts Vote provides the funding necessary to equip the courts to do so. The Vote covers the usual costs such as salaries, office equipment, accommodation and telecommunications. The estimated net cost of the courts system in 1993, taking into account the gross current expenditure and revenue accruing to the State through fines, etc., is approximately £12.61 million.
The computerisation of the court offices is vital to a modern and efficient court service. Financial constraints have limited the funds available for computerisation in the past but provision has been made in this year's Estimate for an increase of almost 60 per cent on last year's figure. This money will be used to purchase equipment and software for new developments and also to replace present outdated equipment in the courts.
The small claims procedure which was introduced on a pilot basis in 1991 to improve the accessibility of the courts by providing a speedy, informal and low cost system to handle consumer claims, has been operating most successfully to date. A review of the procedure to assess its possible expansion is underway in my Department at present and will be completed shortly.
The introduction of the live video-link system to the courts under the Criminal Evidence Act, 1992, is a major step forward in that it enables witnesses under 17 to give evidence in certain cases and be cross-examined while not present in the courtroom. It provides an audio-visual link between the courtroom and a separate witness room to allow court proceedings to be conducted as if the witness were present in the courtroom itself. The system has been introduced on a pilot basis in the Fourt Courts and three courtrooms have been furnished with the necessary equipment. It is proposed, depending on the volume of business, to introduce the system in two provincial courts at a later date. In the meantime relevant cases in provincial courts can be transferred to Dublin for hearing.
Despite these positive developments there are, however, other areas which are a cause of some concern to me, such as delays in the hearing of cases and poor court accommodation. These are in part the result of increased court business and limited resources. Although indications are that court business will continue to increase and resources are likely to remain limited, inadequacies in the service provided by the courts must be addressed. I have initiated a number of major reviews to assess the adequacy of court accommodation and the operation of the courts with regard to the flow of cases through the courts, particularly in the context of the increased civil jurisdiction of the Circuit and District Courts and the hearing of family law cases. When these reviews are completed and the results analysed I will be in a position to formulate a structured overall plan to tackle deficiencies in the system as resources become available.
A sum of £11.848 million provided in the Vote for the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds represents a 4.8 per cent increase on the 1992 figure of £11.305 million. The additional funds provided in the Vote are mainly to cover general pay increases and for improvement of the registries office accommodation facilities.
Following on the Government's decision in principle to re-constitute the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds as a commercial semi-State body, an interim board for the registries was appointed in July 1992. The interim board operates on a non-statutory basis. It is at present engaged in its main role of advising and assisting me in the various steps which need to be taken in readiness for the re-constitution of the registries. Meanwhile preparation of the legislation to formally vest the registries in a semi-State board is underway.
I would remind the Committee that the change-over to a semi-State body is being done in order to give the registries the commercial orientation and flexibility that will enable them to provide a fast, efficient and modern service to the public and to adapt to the changing demands of this technological age.
I am satisfied that every effort is being made to achieve the maximum efficiency and the maximum value in the expenditure of the very considerable sums of public money which are provided in the Justice Group of Estimates. I have endeavoured, in the limited time available to me, to explain how, by the formulation and development of appropriate policies and strategies, resources are being focused in a manner designed to achieve maximum results. I look forward to members' contributions on the examination of these Estimates.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): At the outset, I want to say that — despite all the efforts being made — the scales of justice are still titled in favour of the criminal and victims are losing out. I do not know whether it is because the activities of the IRA have led to a lack of standards in human behaviour or simply because religion and the Fifth Commandment, in particular, no longer hold any place in Irish society but the respect we have for humanity seems to have diminished in recent years. Whether we like it or not, decent, law-abiding citizens walking through the streets, or walking through the Phoenix Park and old people down the country, locked in their homes at night are afraid.
The lack of standards is unacceptable: criminals will have to be dealt with. They must lose their freedom as punishment for what they have done. We cannot have criminals roaming the country doing what they like and apparently getting away with it. They are not all getting away with it but they are not made to suffer as much as they should be.
The effect criminals have on their victims can last for a lifetime. We often forget about the victims of crime. The psychological effect on victims of some thug who beats them up at home, perhaps in a bank or elsewhere, or of having a gun put to his or her head during a raid, can last a lifetime. It is very hard to know what can be done by way of prevention. I believe we should consider not so much a patient's charter, which was mentioned before the last election, as a victim's charter. Under such a charter compensation for personal injuries and loss of property and, most importantly, counselling should be available to help victims recover from attacks made on them.
In an effort to deal with criminality we must have the Garda Síochána fully engaged. I pay tribute to the Garda for the work they are doing. May I suggest to the Minister that the Crime Task Force, which did so much good to prevent and detect crime, should be restored? The advantage of the Crime Task Force was that the criminals who were organising themselves did not know at any time exactly where this task force would appear. The powers it had give it a leading role in bringing down crime. It was remarked that its effectiveness automatically rendered it redundant. I believe a Crime Task Force should be there as a deterrent to stop people going down the country, breaking into shops and homes and driving miles without apprehension.
The Garda must be supported in their fight against armed crime. We cannot expect the Garda to go into an armed situation where their lives are at risk and at the same time criticise them if they take action to defend their own lives because they are defending our lives as well. The armed thugs who go out with guns must be prepared to pay the consequences if they are challenged by armed Garda force.
Regarding the breakdown in the estimates of the cost of patrolling the Border, may I ask the Minister to indicate the figure? I believe it must be costing us a fortune to try to keep law and order because of self-appointed patriots who are causing us so much trouble, financially and personally.
Reference has been made to a revolving door and this is perhaps exaggerated. I believe we should make a clear distinction between criminals and, for example, a widow or a deserted wife who has not paid a fine, not because she is defying the courts but simply because she cannot afford the fine. The whole concept of fines is something that must be examined in a serious way. Judges are independent republics and I do not know if they have ever consulted among themselves. One judge has a fixation on speeding, another on bald tyres and these kinds of attitudes result in varying fines. I can testify to this, having had the experience of listening to two judges dealing with the same case with one of them being correct in his judgment and the other incorrect. It is important that judges are held in the highest esteem but they must earn that esteem by their actions.
Regarding fines, I want to defend the position of the Minister for Justice is being able to deal with these. There has been much criticism, one by a former judge, that the Minister was able to overrule judgments made in courts. I would not wish there to be any interference in dealing with criminal activity, but take the case of a widow who is fined £150 for having a bald type on her car. She cannot pay the fine, as paying £150 can often mean near starvation for a family and I cannot ever reconcile to the fact that £150 is the right balance to have as punishment for her. The sum of £10 might be more than sufficient punishment for somebody in her condition. However, the sum of £150 for somebody who is driving a Mercedes is perhaps only chicken feed. Sometimes judges fail to see the human side and for that reason I suggest there should be more women judges. I believe they would have more balance in administering the law. They would see that there is a human side to everything.
Regarding prisons, there is no breakdown on overtime. Sometimes the media carry reports of the overtime earned by some of the prison staff. I believe that if those figures were correct it would be better to employ extra staff in this age of unemployment.
Drug pushers must be the lowest form of human life and their disappearance from society would be a great relief to everybody. We must have a humane approach to those who are drug addicts because by their nature they cannot help their own position and they need all the help they can get. However, those who are pedalling drugs at the expense of the life, health and sanity of other human beings deserve severe sentencing. I believe prison is too soft a punishment for them.
There is too long a delay in many court hearings. Despite the financial crisis we may be in, I believe that extra judges should be appointed. There must not be up to two years' delay in administering justice as this undermines the legal process.
The Land Registry has been criticised, very often unfairly, because of lack of staff. In dealing with the registry I find the officials courteous and helpful. May I ask the Minister to ensure that the registry gets extra staff also? Delays in the Land Registry lead to many problems for people. For example, there is the present problem in producing maps to enable farmers complete the EC area aid application forms. The Land Registry is being criticised unfairly for these delays, as are solicitors.
I am pleased that the Minister is present for this Estimate. I wish her well in what is a difficult job.
Deputy Browne referred to the need for more women in the Judiciary. We also need more women at senior level in the Garda Síochána and I know the Minister is on record as wishing to encourage that. I want to support her in this because any group that does not have a fair balance of all sections of the community, particularly of the different sexes, cannot be wholly objective. More importantly, I believe women do have a different approach, including a more practical approach to many issues. There is an absence of women at senior levels in the Garda Síochána and from senior judicial appointments. There is one woman in the Supreme Court, one woman at High Court level, and a number of women at District Court level. However there is still far too few women at these levels. I hope the Minister will have influence in ensuring that in future appointments the Government will make to the Judiciary there will be more women.
The issue of crime, and the breakdown in law and order is something that is now of concern to almost the whole population. Few families have not been touched in some way by the rise in crime in the past few years, whether an immediate family member, a member of the extended family, or a neighbour has suffered. Everybody is aware of the huge upsurge in crime and the breakdown in law and order. There are a number of causes for that. The terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland has had its impact here. There has been a spread into the Republic of a vicious type of criminal we might have been lucky enough to escape were it not for the continuing campaign of terrorism in Northern Ireland for over 20 years.
The high level of unemployment is also a factor in the breakdown in law and order. There is no doubt that poverty is a substantial consequence of unemployment. That is not to say that everybody who is poor commits crime. Most of those who commit crime are people who come from poor and deprived back-grounds and they often come from neglected families. We need a broadly-based response to this problem. We also need firebrigade measures in terms of changes in the law, in custodial sentences and more effective use of Garda resources. In the longer term we must concentrate on crime prevention because that is the only effective way of dealing with crime.
The growth of our consumer society and the demands that come with it is also a factor in the breakdown of law and order. Everybody wants more and in effort to get more, people are prepared to commit serious crime. I read a report recently in relation to lotteries and I read of the case of a bank official in Canada who is accused of stealing in the region of CAN$280,000. She felt she was not earning enough and needed more money and kept trying to win the Lotto, so she was stealing money from her employer.
Crime does not always stem from people not having enough. The society we live in leads to demands for more and more, and of course the drug epidemic and alcoholism contribute to our crime problem. We should commit greater resources to education and about awareness of addiction, particularly drug addiction, because I am told by professionals that many young people are given drugs free of charge by drug pushers in order to get them addicted, and once they are hooked the addicts begin to commit crimes to get the money to feed their habit. Any resources that we could put into education and awareness would be money well spent.
I wish to make a number of suggestions to the Minister. I am pleased to hear that only 1 per cent of those now serving custodial sentences are there in relation to civil debts or fines. About three weeks ago I said it was as high as 30 per cent having met with members of the probation service and prison officers and having been told that this was the case. The Whitaker report in 1985 put the figure at 14 per cent and Whitaker was then alarmed that the figure was so high. I have been told by professionals working in the service that it had now more than doubled. I am pleased that this is not the case, but I wonder whether the reason the figure is so low is that everybody who is fined now places a petition before the Minister and has that fine significantly reduced or removed altoghether.
To vest this power in a Minister puts the Minister of the day in an impossible position. All Deputies know that when constituents have to pay a substantial fine they are often told by the Garda that the only way of having the fine reduced or removed is by petition to the Minister for Justice, so inevitably they are sent along to their local TD and a letter is written to the Minister. I have decided in recent weeks not to write any more of these letters, so the Minister will not be receiving any letters from me in the future. If I am going to criticise her I cannot also write letters to her asking her to reduce fines, although I have written letters on behalf of people I thought had a genuine case to make.
I wish to make a number of suggestions about fines. First, there should be an attachment of earnings procedure; secondly, there should be a facility to pay fines by instalments; and, thirdly, we should take responsibility for the collection of fines away from the Garda Síochána and give it to an independent group who would be paid on a commission basis. This would be a far more effective way of collecting the fine and it would enable more effective use to be made of Garda resources. Collection of fines is often time consuming and can require several visits to collect each fine.
As long as the Minister for Justice has the power to do so, she will be forced to either remove the fine or reduce it substantially and this power should not be in the hands of a politician. If the section of the Department which deals with these petitions was made into an independent patrole board it could make decisions in relation to fines and early releases and do so on an independent basis.
This will not alleviate the overall problem, which is that there is a serious shortage of prison accommodation and we cannot continue to put people who do not pay fines into jail. There is a mandatory sentence for non-payment of a fine and I do not believe mandatory sentences are appropriate. Custodial places must be reserved for those who are a danger to themselves or to society. We have by international standards quite a high amount of prison accommodation. Prison space in this country costs on average £110 a day. It is a very expensive way of dealing with criminals and we must make sure that the available space is used as efficiently as possible for those who are a danger to themselves and to society.
No more than 50 per cent of prisoners at any one time are serving their first sentence. The rest are serving a second, third or fourth sentence. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this for me. If that is the case, then imprisonment is not an effective deterrent and we must ask ourselves wider questions about that. Do we have sufficient expertise in our prison system to rehabilitate offenders, which must be a primary motive of any prison system?
Our criminal justice system must become far more victim orientated and the Minister herself has spoken at length about that. She is the first Minister for Justice to attend the annual conference of the victim support group. I commend her for that because for a long time that group was ignored by the authorities as if they were some kind of semi-criminal group, their correspondence was not replied to, and one Minister for Justice would not meet them at all. I remember finding that quite appalling. They are an excellent group of people, dedicated to what they do, genuinely trying to help the victims of crime in our society. Many of them were themselves victims of crime.
The victim support group get a budget of only about £18,000. I raised this by way of parliamentary question and the Minister of State told me that they only applied for something around that figure, so they got more or less everything they asked for. I have spoken to them about that and they say that they have only applied for modest sums because they found it so hard to get anything. The first grant they received was for £3,000 and for this reason they have always made applications for modest amounts of money. Their grant is far too modest. They should be given the resources to allow them to staff their office on a full time basis so that they do not need to rely on voluntary staff. The Minister is aware that recently when they left their office on a Friday evening to go to a meeting, a woman placed a call on their answering service at 5 o'clock. They did not get the call until Monday morning and that person committed suicide over the weekend. I am not suggesting that the suicide could definitely have been prevented but we need to give the victim support group more resources so that they can be available to genuine victims of crime when they are needed.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal must be placed on a statutory basis. It is quite appalling that it is not possible to get compensation for pain and suffering. Compensation is only payable for out of pocket expenses, but even with the paltry compensation available I understand it can take as long as two years to pay that compensation, and that is two years after the tribunal has assessed the case and made the award. That is unacceptable. If we are to be a society which puts the victims centre stage, then we have to find a way of compensating the victims much earlier on. More importantly than that, I would like to see the tribunal placed on a statutory basis. The law should of right, provide for compensation of the victims of crime.
The pain and suffering of victims should be considered when deciding the level of compensation. In 1985 the Government, because of the tribunal's rising costs, decided to restrict compensation to recompensing victims for financial losses incurred by them. Increased crime resulted in greater costs for the tribunal. Those injured as a result of crime should be compensated. It is appalling and unacceptable that one could be in a wheelchair for the rest of one's life because of injuries inflicted as a consequence of crime and not be compensated for the pain and suffering. A way must be found to allow the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal award compensation for pain and suffering.
Why do people commit crime? Some engage in crime at an early age as a result of unemployment. That is why we need to invest greater resources in certain priority areas where families and individuals are very much at risk. There is an excellent project in operation at the moment in Ballyfermot called "We have a dream". The probation service and other volunteer groups are involved in it. They work with juveniles who are at risk, some of whom have previously been in trouble, on a group therapy basis very much like the way the AA operates. They provide work and educational projects and holidays for young people. I am informed by those involved in the project that it is highly successful when young people are given a meaningful purpose to their everyday lives, many of them will not engage in crime. Lack of opportunity, work, and in some cases proper parental supervision, drive many young people into crime. Once they start at 15 or 16 years of age it is very easy to continue on a path of crime.
Helping deprived areas is relatively easy because there are large numbers of people concentrated in them. We need to be more imaginative in the way we provide such help. It is a poor reflection on our society that 40 per cent of crime is committed by juveniles. Custodial sentences are simply not the answer. It is easy to call for more prison places in response to vicious crimes. Nobody would deny they are needed on particular occasions, but sending 15 or 16 year olds to prison and then releasing them back into society where they have no jobs and where they return to families in which abuse and neglect continues is not an answer to their problems. We need, through our social services, to find more imaginative ways of help young people at risk.
Unfortunately, when we talk about crime we tend to speak exclusively about a particular type of crime and we ignore white collar crime. The Minister has recently given additional resources to the Garda Fraud Squad but we need to do much more. We need to provide the squad with the services of accountants and lawyers to enable them to easily detect white collar crime. We might then not need the tribunals and all the other investigations we have had in recent times. Lack of proper resources in the Garda Fraud Squad has unfortunately resulted in white collar crime being undetected. In other jurisdictions well known individuals have been imprisoned for white collar crimes. However, this has never happened in our jurisdiction, and this contributes to a belief in society that our system of justice is unfair. If a young person aged 17 or 18 years, from a deprived background, steals a few jumpers in Dunnes Stores, there is every chance he or she will be caught and sentenced; but if somebody defrauds their employer or does not pay their fair share of taxes, the chances are that they will walk free. This leads many people to believe that we live in a very unfair society.
I would advise Deputy Harney that there is only one minute left.
People will engage in crime if it pays. Too many people in our society are making a good living from organised crime. We need urgently to enact legislation to permit the confiscation of the assets of criminals who are unable to explain how they acquired those assets. There are well known individuals in this city who have engaged in crime for the past ten years and the Garda Síochána seem incapable of apprehending them so that they can be successfully prosecuted. They do not directly commit crimes but others do this for them; yet they make a very considerable living from the proceeds of crime. This is a scandal and action must be taken to deal with it.
We need changes in our bail laws. Almost 5,000 offences were committed by persons on bail in 1991, the last year for which figures are available. That is a very high level of crime. In the short term we could enact legislation to allow bailsmen to forfeit bail if the person on bail commits a further crime. In the longer term we need to look at the Constitution. Granting bail in all cases except where there is a probability of the accused interfering with the jury or evading justice is far too liberal. This is a serious problem and of enormous concern to the Garda Síochána.
I will now conclude. I look forward to the more detailed debate later because I have many questions to ask the Minister in relation to the specific breakdown of the Estimates. I hope we will have a good question and answer session as I believe this is the most useful way for this committee to proceed. I wish the Minister well in the work she is goind to do. She has promised legislation on public order, something which is long overdue. In this city the Dublin Police Act, 1842 governs the whole area of public order. I recently read that Act and found that it is a crime in Dublin to shake a rug outside one's front door if one lives alongside a footpath and there is no garden between the door and the path. An old lady can be convicted of a criminal offence for shaking a rug outside her front door, but it is not an offence to pay protection money to a well-known criminal gang. This Minister knows that this law is very much out of date. I am delighted that she is bringing in new amending legislation on public order; it is long overdue.
I am glad to contribute to this discussion and, like Deputy Harney, I welcome the Minister and wish her well in her portfolio. If she implements many of the commitments she made in her opening contribution she will have the wholehearted support of this Committee.
Personal safety and security are among the most basic of human needs and one which many people feel are under threat. Crime and security have become major issues, politically and for individuals and communities.
I am a supporter of civil liberties but I think the term "civil liberties" has become debased over the years. It has come to be associated exclusively with freedoms and rights for those accused or convicted of crimes. There is a need to redefine civil liberties so that it means the protection of ordinary, day-to-day freedoms of people, such as the right of a women to travel about in her own neighbourhood after dark, the right of a child to go to the local shop without fear of being attacked — an 11 year old child was attacked by a gang in my own constituency recently — the right of children to go out to play without being molested and the right to leave one's home without it being invaded or attacked in some way. Those are the basic, day-to-day freedoms and liberties that our criminal justice system and our approach to justice needs to protect. I very much support the comments of the Minister and other members arguing for an approach to the criminal justice system which puts victims, citizens, and their rights at the centre of attention. That is not in any way to denigrate the rights of those accused of crime, but it is a shift in emphasis I very much welcome and support. Some aspects of these Estimates do not seem to support a victim oriented approach to crime. I know the Minister was the first Minister for Justice to attend the annual meeting of Victim Support. That is welcome and I hope that will be reflected in future years in increased support for that organisation and for other organisations who are helping the victims of crime.
When I look at a set of Estimates and see that the amount of money allocated to Victim Support is £18,000 and that the amount of money provided for the criminal legal aid system has gone up from just under £4 million to almost £6 million, while at the same time no legal aid is provided for the victims of crime, I have to wonder about the emphasis that is reflected in those Estimates. One of the previous speakers talkes about the scales of justice being tilted in favour of the criminal; they are certainly tilted away from poor people. A poor person in this country finds it difficult to get justice because they do not have the resources with which to use the courts system. It is critically important that the civil legal aid system gets more resources and that resources are provided to enable the victims of crime to go into court, to be represented in court and to state their position.
Reference has been made to new legislation. I believe it is urgently needed. We cannot continue to attempt to police and deal with crime in a 20th century environment with 19th century laws. I hope that the legislation promised will appear soon.
I agree that it is not just a question of a law-and-order approach to justice. We would always support law and order, but we need not only to be tough on crime but also on the causes of crime. A community based approach to tackling crime is critical, it must extend to more than just providing a few community gardaí or to enabling the establishment of neighbourhood watch schemes. We must look at what is happening in communities and provide assistance to those voluntary organisations who are constantly working to keep people out of trouble.
Consider the summer projects which will take place this coming summer in urban areas all over the country, the various sports clubs who will organise football tournaments, who spend their free time organising events, often with very little resources, and whose work keeps young people out of trouble. It is amazing the number of officers of football clubs who have told me they can proudly say that no youngster who have ever been through their hands has been in serious trouble with the law. They do more to keep young people out of trouble than a whole army of gardaí ever could. It is time that is recognised and that resources, whether from the national lottery or elsewhere, are used to help them keep their clubs and their organisations going. I know that is perhaps outside the Minister for Justice's domain, but crime prevention is not something confined to the Department of Justice.
If, however, law and order is to be maintained in our society generally then it must also exist to the highest standard in the institutions charged with its enforcement. The public must see that nobody is above the law and that all are treated equally. The past week has thrown up two cases which give rise to serious concern. The first is the decision of the DPP not to prosecute a high court judge who was involved in a fracas outside a city hotel some months ago. I respect the independence of the DPP and I do not wish to question his decision, but I feel it needs to be explained if the general public is not to conclude that there is one law for a working class youth who causes a disturbance outside a pub and another for a High Court judge who does the same outside a grade A hotel.
The second case relates to incidents which occurred in Limerick Prison in April 1992 and which were the subject of a Dáil question from me last Thursday. In reply the Minister acknowledged that the incident involved, among other things, an alleged assault by a member of prison staff on a chief officer in what might be described as a mï¿½lée. She confirmed that an investigation had resulted in that disciplinary action was commenced but had to be abandoned because of what she considered to be the confidential character of the investigation. As a result she admitted that, and I quote "wrongdoers will go unpunished". I have been provided with information regarding these incidents which I would now like to put before the Minister and this committee.
On 5 April 1992 a prison officer was seriously assaulted by a prisoner. The prison officer was badly injured, suffering a broken jaw and several facial injuries. He was eventually out of work for about six months. The assault understandably angered the prison officer's colleagues. The prison authorities became concerned for the safety of the prisoner who committed the assault and decided that he should be transferred to Cork Prison. On the morning of 9 April one of the prisoners involved in the incident was brought to the prison reception area, locked in a room and beaten by five prison officers. The prisoner complained to the governor and gardaí. Later that day a number of officers went to the cell where the prisoner who assaulted the officer was being detained pending his transfer from Cork. They beat the prisoner and they were joined by a number of other prison officers some of whom had been off duty on that day.
What the prisoner described as a mï¿½lée resulted in the process of a chief officer being assaulted and another prisoner who had no involvement in the earlier assault on the prison officer being dragged from his cell, punched and kicked by several officers, dragged by the hair of his head and thrown down two flights of stairs. Efforts by senior officers to put a stop to the incident were overwhelmed and a chief officer was assaulted.
What happened in Limerick Prison on 9 April 1992 amounted to a mutiny by a number of prison officers who disobeyed and assaulted superiors and who took the law into their own hands by attacking the prisoners concerned. The investigation referred to by the Minister began the following day and lasted for 12 days. None of the officers involved in the incident has been disciplined in any way. They remained at work while the investigation was being conducted. I am informed that arising from the investigation disciplinary action was recommended, including a dismissal and suspensions.
It now appears that although the initial steps were taken to commence disciplinary action, they have been abandoned. It is not good enough for the Minister to effectively transfer blame to the official who conducted the investigation. She is the Minister responsible for the prison service and she has in her possession evidence that trained officers mutinied and that they seriously assaulted prisoners entrusted to her care and yet she has decided not to take any disciplinary action.
This has serious implications for the prison authorities at Limerick Prison, whose authority she has seriously undermined. How are they now to control and command officers whose previous challenge to their authority has now been absolved by the Minister? It also has serious implications for the remainder of the staff at Limerick Prison, whose morale must be affected by the incident, for relations between prisoners and staff and for prisoners who are supposed to be detained in prison in safe custody.
I appreciate the difficult job carried out by the staff of our prisons, but a breakdown in discipline such as occurred at Limerick will result in chaos in our prison system. It is something that the Minister has to address and she must give a better explanation than that given in reply to my question in the Dáil last Thursday. She is accountable to this House and this Committee for the prison service. I raise this issue at this stage as I want to have an opportunity when we come to deal with the prison service to pursue that further with her. It was a serious incident. The law has to be upheld, has to be seen to be upheld and has to be seen to be upheld by those entrusted with upholding the law and with the detention of offenders.
In her reply, the Minister referred to the Garda strategy document, although she did not express many opinions about the various recommendations and approaches that are taken in that document regarding its implementation. She also mentioned that there had been an increase in the allocation.
May I remind Deputy Gilmore that he has two minutes remaining?
The Minister for Justice mentioned that the allocation in respect of the Garda has been increased. However, there are — and I am sure that when we reach this section we can discuss this matter in detail — a number of headings in relation to the Garda where there are significant reductions in the amount provided in 1993 as against 1992. Such reductions are evident in the areas of home travel, staff training and development, the maintenance of Garda premises, clothing and accessories and the maintenance and purchase of vehicles.
The Minister spoke about increasing the number of gardaí and this is welcome. However, the Minister will agree that in order for the Garda Síochána to do their job effectively they will need good working conditions. They will require up to the mark premises, equipment, vehicles, resources and, indeed, training. There may be some explanation why the provision under those headings for the Garda is being reduced. If we are serious about tackling crime and providing the kind of protection demanded by the public the number of gardaí must be increased and they must be provided with the necessary resources, equipment and working conditions.
I will take questions relating to Vote 19. The Minister may then respond to these questions.
Deputy Harney and Deputy Gilmore raised the issue of the petition system under Vote 19. I appeal to the Minister to retain the petition system. Deputy Harney envisaged an ideal world where a disparity between rich and poor did not exist and where people had access to legal assistance. One could say that ideally this matter should begin and end in the courts. However, such disparities and discrepancies exist in our society and it is essential that a safeguard be in place.
I appeal to the Minister for Justice, while she might have to modify and amend it, to retain the petition system. It is essential to maintain a balance. When the courts are clogged with cases judges, in the absence of legal representation cannot afford time to the accused person to present their case adequately. I appeal again to the Minister to ensure that the petition system is retained. Owing to the circumstances which obtain today there is a strong case for continuing this process.
I ask the Minister to retain the petition system although my colleague, Deputy Harney, disagrees with it. We need input from elected representatives in relation to decisions made in the courts. We need a facility whereby our constituents may come to us. A mitigation system is essential, otherwise we will be unable to question the reality of the fines imposed on people. Often there is a disparity between the fine imposed and the individual's ability to pay the fine. An appeals system whereby appeals may be made by public representatives is essential and I would like to see it retained.
I support the retention of the petition system. If one can continue to petition the Revenue Commissioners for income tax purposes and customs offences one should be able to petition the Minister for Justice. However, I do not support the use of political influence. A petition should stand or fall on its own merit.
Over the years I have petitioned different Ministers. At times their intervention was helpful and at other times it was non-existent. My understanding of the petition system is as follows. The Minister for Justice through her civil servants asks for reports from the judge, the clerk of the court and then seeks advice on the correctness of taking action. It is a fair system so long as there is not too much political bias. I have confidence in the Ministers that have served in the Department of Justice and I believe it would be wrong at this stage to do away with the petition system.
Coming from a Border county I have, like many other Deputies, approached the customs authorities and the Revenue Commissioners when circumstances demanded it. The system adopted by the Revenue Commissioners and customs authorities is fair. I see nothing wrong with this system. As Deputy L. Fitzgerald said, one is acting on behalf of people who do not have the resources to pay a lawyer or people who did not realise that they had to be represented in court. Often people are not properly represented and if the judge had been aware of the facts a different decision would have been made. These people must have recourse to the Minister for Justice. The system may have to be altered, but I would be against doing away with it.
The question would have been more appropriate under the Court Vote.
I was glad to hear the Minister's remarks with regard to the community response to crime and the involvement of the community in crime prevention measures. I quote from the Minister's speech: "The fight against crime involves not only a Garda response, it involves the co-operation of every man, woman and child, without whose help and co-operation the task of the Garda or any police force is virtually impossible." Their involvement is crucial in the battle against crime and vandalism in urban areas, particularly in Dublin city and its environs. The neighbourhood watch system, which receives attention under the crime prevention policy of the Garda Síochána, is excellent. It is working well and I would like to see it intensified and improved.
I would like the Minister to elaborate on what measures she and the Garda Síochána are taking to involve the community in crime prevention and anticipation and what methods are being employed to educate and liaise with community groups. A system should be devised whereby the Garda Síochána are regarded as the friends of the people.
I welcome the role played by the Garda and other State and local authority bodies in the Ronanstown area of my constituency. A pilot project has been undertaken and a report has been issued. All the lessons contained in that excellent report recently produced by the Department of Justice can be applied, not just to Ronanstown but throughout the whole of our urban community. I have looked at that report and I have met the local residents there. They have been very constructive, but they want more involvement from the Garda. The community groups have also responded magnificantly.
If one can get that sort of intensive application to crime prevention throughout the urban areas we will have made a real step forward. This is a great opportunity for the Minister and the Garda Síochána to break the old mould of approach towards crime and concentrate on crime prevention in a big way and allocate a greater segment of resources for this purpose. What is the Minister going to do about the Ronanstown proposals as they apply to the area and what general applicability will she devise for those proposals throughout other urban areas, particularly in Dublin where similar problems await similar solutions, as envisaged in that report?
Before I call the Minister, I again wish to make it clear that we are dealing with Vote 19 and I appeal to Deputies to stick to the headings before us so that we can conduct the business in the interest of everyone and give the Minister an opportunity to respond to matters concerning her.
May I first apologise for not standing up when I was making my initial contribution?
You may sit down if you wish, Minister. Members can stand or remain seated.
I support what all the Deputies, and particularly Deputy Lenihan, have said in relation to the Ronanstown report. It was very comprehensive and dealt with, as Deputy Harney said, all the other matters — not just the justice area — that need to be put in place to tackle urban crime. What is happening with the report at the moment? First, we are in the process of preparing in the Department a memorandum which I will bring to Government shortly. It will include all of the proposals in the Ronanstown report. We have already accepted in principle that we want to implement it. That will mean a commitment of resources by some of my Government colleagues around the table to implement what is stated in the report and its recommendations. I would also like to see the Ronanstown report being used as a catalyst in other areas. It can be used and implemented efficiently and effectively, not just in Dublin, but in other urban areas which are experiencing difficulties in relation to crime.
Regarding crime prevention generally, I welcome the great co-operation that currently exists between the public and the Garda Síochána. The Garda probably enjoy a greater level of public support than any other police force, certainly in Europe, and probably in the world and that has to be encouraged and improved on. Schemes such as Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch are working effectively and are growing all the time. We should support and encourage the public to become increasingly concerned. Certain projects identified in the Ronanstown report should be proceeded with on a priority basis with a view to the reintegration of the long term unemployed.
In relation to the petitions, I decided that in the light of various parliamentary questions that I received in recent months this would probably be raised and I had decided I would not embarrass members of the Committee by asking for a show of hands from all those who have never petitioned a Minister for Justice before. Everyone accepts that politicians, members of the public, the Judiciary and, from time to time, journalists, have petitioned various Ministers for Justice. It is important to put this on record. There is a misconception that it is only politicians who do the petitioning. I would defend that right because often, as Deputy Harney rightly said, the reason people petition is that they cannot, for financial reasons, afford to pay the fines imposed, and these are the ones that generally receive favourable consideration from the Minister.
Deputy Harney made a number of suggestions which I am currently looking at in the course of having a full review of the petition system. One was the attachment of earnings, which is a good proposal and is being carefully looked at while the other concerns paying fines by instalments. There are pros and cons in relation to that. First, it gives an opportunity for people to pay when they can afford to, in a system worked out with a court clerk. The problem with that is that, in some instances, you might get the first instalment, or the first and second instalments but then you are back to square one when people decide they are not going to pay any more instalments. They are all good options, and options we are considering, and will continue to consider within the Department, so as to come up with a system that we feel is fair and adequate.
Some of the critics of the petitioning system, especially members of the Judiciary, are of the opinion that since the legal system already guarantees a rehearing on appeal to anyone dissatisfied with a court decision, there is no need for the existence of the petitions procedure. However, it is important to take account — I know that members of the Committee have done this — of the fact that, in a high percentage of cases, as I have already said, the reason for the petition in the first place is because they cannot financially afford to pay the huge fines imposed and therefore, could not afford to appeal the decision. The power the Minister has is one of clemency and all Ministers, including myself, have exercised this right in cases where we consider it necessary to do so.
A number of points were raised in relation to specifics in the Garda Vote, which I will deal with, should the Committee so wish, during the course of discussion on that Vote.
Before I call the next speaker, since the Minister has responded on Vote 20 are there any questions on that Vote that Deputies would like to ask?
I endorse the sentiments of Deputy Harney and Deputy Gilmore in wishing the Minister well. She will make a tremendous success in her portfolio. I have a short question for the Minister under subhead A.1. — Salaries, Wages and Allowances. The figure for the outturn for 1992 is £8.456 million. How much of that is overtime?
I would like to say to the Minister that I wish the Garda Complaints Board could be abolished, or at least reduced to a nominal level. The cause of the decline in morale of the Garda in some parts of Dublin is due to this board and it is the same people who are making the complaints time after time. The Garda will not get involved and would rather drive around at 10 miles per hour when they get a complaint in the hope that some one else will get to the problem first. I am talking now, about item E under Vote 19.
I have been talking to some gardaí and the fact that they have to endure constant reports being sent to the board is the major cause of their not doing their job up to the level expected. If a garda gets to the scene of a crime and makes an arrest, the sergeant does not want to know. The garda has to undergo a series of questions about why he did his job, whereas if he took his time, he would get away from the problem. It is easier to put in your eight hours getting away from problems rather than taking them on. The complaints board does some good work and is well meaning but it has gone overboard. As a result gardaí are afraid to do their job.
I wish to deal with subhead D.1. and D.2. I was a Member of a Government that abolished compensation for pain and suffering as a result of injuries inflicted on members of the public through criminal activities. It was a wrong decision and it should be reversed. There is no justification for the non-payment of compensation to people who have suffered pain and suffering as a result of vicious attacks. As a society, we have a responsibility to look after people who have been attacked and have no other means of receiving compensation. Is the Minister considering bringing forward a new scheme even with certain limits on the amounts that could be paid? There are many instances now where people badly need some form of compensation for trauma and pain inflicted upon them by criminal attacks.
The other point I wish to make is under subhead D.2. in relation to the Irish Association for Victim Support. The Estimate for 1993 is £18,000. My colleague, Deputy Browne, (Carlow-Kilkenny) made the point that the emphasis in criminal law seems to be on the protection of the rights of the person who is before the courts. As a society we have consistently ignored the rights of the victims of crime. We are living in difficult times but when I raised this matter as spokesman for Justice from 1987 onwards, the Minister always gave a commitment that he or she would examine it for the following year’s Estimate. It is still a miserable sum of £18,000. We are talking about a group of volunteers who give up their time to look after persons who have suffered from the traumatic experience of crime. It is an insult to them to be given such a paltry figure as £18,000, and it was £15,000 last year. I saw a nice photograph in a newspaper recently of the Minister opening an advice centre with some representatives of that association. That is a move forward and I was delighted to see it but we should show our concern for victims in promoting, through our pockets, the concept of society looking after those who have suffered from crime.
All of us in our constituencies know that people, particularly the elderly and people living alone, find that the experience of their homes being broken into, of having to go back into their home knowing that somebody had been there and the chance that it might happen again, is quite frightening. The Irish Association for Victim Support gives a great deal of comfort to those victims who need care and attention. We cannot expect the Garda Síochána to do that sort of work; they have too much else to do. We have a group of individuals who are prepared to give their time voluntarily and we should support them in whatever way we can. The association has appealed from time to time for additional resources for training and so on and I ask the Minister to reconsider for next year's Estimate the level of moneys made available to it under this subhead. I also ask her if there is any proposal in her Department to reconsider the previous decision to abolish compensation for personal injuries resulting from criminal activities?
I wish to ask the Minister a number of questions in relation to the Estimates. I note that the salaries, figures for allowances and staffing of her Department is up by 9 per cent and the figure for office premises is up by approximately 50 per cent. I ask the Minister to clarify the huge increase for office premises and, secondly, can she tell me how many members of the staff of the Department of Justice have moved to the Department of Equality and Law Reform? I note that expenses for travel both at home and abroad are down. The Minister obviously intends staying here and not going away. I do not know whether I should compliment her on that. It is good when there is a large decrease in an area like that.
In relation to commissions and special inquiries the sum of £12,000 is for the fees of the members of Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. May I take it then, that no fee for salaries is paid under subhead D.1. — compensation for personal injuries criminally inflicted? Regarding that amount I share the views expressed by Deputy Barrett. In a Dáil question last week, the Minister told me that in the five year period 1988-92, inclusive, there were 2,362 awards amounting to £16.81 million. That is an average of nearly £3.5 million a year and if that is the case why is there a figure of only £1 million for 1993? It is an appallingly low sum and given the upsurge in crime and the need to look after the victims of crime in a more meaningful way that figure needs to be re-examined. The sum of £18,000 for the Irish Association of Victim Support is very small. I know the association did not ask for very much because it said that it always got such a modest amount that it felt it had to keep its demands modest too, or it would get nothing. I presume the counselling rooms in the Four Courts, which the Minister opened recently, are not included, and that they are being given free of charge by the Department to the group so that it can counsel the victims of crime.
In relation to the Garda Síochána Complaints Board, £353,000 is an enormous sum when one compares it with the amount of moneys for victims support and for those criminally injured. Could the Minister tell us how many complaints are made annually to that board and how many of them are serious as opposed to vexatious complaints? Is it the case that everybody who comes into contact with the Garda Síochána decides to make a complaint because I am surprised that the amount of money is so large.
I have a number of specific questions on the Estimates. Under subhead G., the data protection fees were £160,000 last year. It is estimated at £180,000 this year, which works out that approximately 3,000 computers are to be registered. That seems somewhat low, given the widespread use of computer equipment by the public service and various bodies which hold data on citizens. Can the Minister give some indication of the number of computers which have been registered and an indication of the number not registered?
In my initial contribution I raised the question of the increase from just under £4 million to almost £6 million in the provision for criminal legal aid. I would like some explanation of the increase. Does it mean there are more criminals before the courts? Does it mean that the criminals before the courts are more in need of legal aid or does it mean that the persons providing legal aid are charging more? I would like some information on that.
Finally, both in this and elsewhere there is an item headed "Telephones." Is the estimate for telephones based on the old charges or on the rebalanced charges and does the Minister anticipate any revision arising from the rebalancing in the Estimate for 1993? Which direction would that revision take?
Carlow-Kilkenny): Chairman, I wish to speak.
Eight members have indicated. I cannot expect the Minister to answer all the questions. We will return to them as soon as possible.
In relation to the overtime figure raised by Deputy Foley, the figure was £174,000 for 1992. In relation to the recently announced changes in Telecom charges, it is as yet unclear whether the new charges structure will cause bills to rise. Staff will continue to assess the situation. We have not made any adjustments in relation to the Estimate. In relation to an increased provision for office premises, we are providing for major alterations to the office of the film censor.
The Irish Association for Victim Support applied, as Deputy Harney said, for £18,000 in 1993, which they received. However, in discussions with them recently, they made the point that they have always looked for a modest increase every year on the basis that they were likely to receive this amount. I suggested to them — and I reiterate it today — that if they could make a detailed case to me for the extra funding they require, I would look very sympathetically at their application.
As Deputies Harney and Gilmore stated, I was the first Minister for Justice to go to the annual conference of the Irish Association for Victim Support, which I found surprising. I thought that all my predecessors would have taken the opportunity to attend. Since then, I have attended a number of functions where various initiatives have been taken by the Irish Association for Victim Support and that will continue. They provide a very worthwhile service to victims. It is important that the vast majority of their volunteers are people who have been victims of crime. They are prepared to give their time and energy freely to the organisation.
It is important to point out that the Garda Síochána now automatically refer victims to the Irish Association for Victim Support, where branches exist. There are nine branches in operation, or at an advanced stage of establishment, in Dublin and there are a number of other centres throughout the country. Approximately 700 victims of crime were referred to the Irish Association for Victim Support in 1992. That is an increase of about 50 per cent over the previous 12 months which bears out the point made by Deputies that the IAVS's support is being increasingly sought.
We should also remember that in addition to the £18,000 which they receive from the Department by way of direct grant, accommodation within the Four Courts complex was provided for them towards the end of 1992. Members of the association use that accommodation to provide a service of advice and support before and during court hearings. They have acquired rented accommodation near the Fourt Courts for the project co-ordinator, which for Deputy Barrett's information, is where I was the other day. Accommodation has also been made available to them for the victim witness project in Dún Laoghaire and Letterkenny courthouses. I hope we will be able to make this accommodation available to the IAVS countrywide, in the course of refurbishing courts.
In relation to compensation for pain and suffering, which was raised by a number of Deputies, Deputy Barrett is correct that in 1985 this scheme was considered to be too costly. It was decided that the Minister for Justice should review the scheme with a view to reducing its impact on the Exchequer at that stage. Subsequently, in January 1986, a revised scheme was introduced. Under that scheme compensation cannot be paid in respect of pain and suffering.
The reason for amending the scheme was that compensation for pain and suffering was making it extremely costly. It is estimated now that reintroduction of compensation for pain and suffering would increase the annual cost of the scheme by about £8 million to £10 million. At a time when resources are very limited, I think there are competing priorities. While I will take into account the points raised by Deputies in relation to compensation for pain and suffering, they must take into account that there are limited financial resources overall and we have to take account of the overall budgetary outlook for the future.
In relation to the Garda Complaints Board and the points raised by Deputy Ahern, Deputies would agree that there must be some system of complaints available to members of the public who come into contact with the Garda Síochána. That is not to say that all the members of the Garda Síochána or indeed, a majority of the members of the Garda Síochána need to be investigated because of the way they deal with the public. We need a system whereby if a member of the public feels aggrieved there is some body to which he or she can appeal or complain. That was the reason for the setting up of the Garda Síochána Complaints Board in April 1987.
I do not have exact figures here of the number of complaints heard by the Garda Síochána Complaints Board, but everybody will agree that the complaints have been dealt with efficiently, effectively and quickly. It is important that they be dealt with quickly because this removes the element of suspicion which might remain about a member of the Garda. This is the point Deputy Ahern was making. It does and can interfere with the performance of a garda's duty if a complaint is under investigation.
The Garda Síochána Complaints Board provide the figures in their published reports. Their second triennial report is due this year, which will give us an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of measures which were introduced following their first triennial report. I do not know if there was any other point raised which I missed in my reply.
How many members of the Minister's staff went to the other Department?
I welcome the Minister to our Committee meeting. I have read her comprehensive speech and I appreciate that she is aware of the crime situation. While I accept the broad outline of her speech, I would like to compare her statement that there was a slight increase in crime with the 50 per cent increase in free legal aid. This suggests an imbalance because anticipating a need for a 50 per cent increase in legal aid indicates a substantial increase in crime rather than a decrease.
I support Deputy Barrett in regard to the minimal sum of £18,000 for people who are suffering as a result of crime. In so doing I would also like to refer to Deputy Callely's comments on radio this morning about the problems of crime in Dublin. Let us not forget that rural Ireland is under siege as well. We are suffering just as much in the country as people are in the city.
I come from a rural constituency, and over the years many Garda barracks have been closed down. We are now depending on mobile patrols to ensure that people are given the protection to which they are entitled. While a mobile patrol is sufficient, the closing of a Garda station in a rural community — as rural Deputies will appreciate — is a withdrawal of a very essential service in an age where elderly and sick people living in isolated areas are under constant siege. Many people are afraid to leave their houses and are asking younger people to get their essential groceries. I appeal to the Minister to do something about this. I welcome the fact that 1,000 more people will be recruited to the Garda Síochána. The Garda training college is in my constituency and I see the recruits in their passing out parade. However, they are usually posted to Dublin. I am not anti-Dublin but there are as many problems in rural Ireland as there are in Dublin city. The Minister should bear this in mind. I appreciate the good work of the Garda Síochána in my area helping people in every way possible.
I would like to question the Minister on the Border duties of the Garda Síochána. Some gardaí have served on the Border for many years. I would not like to spend eight or nine years on Border duties. Has the Minister a policy on the maximum length of time a garda should serve on the Border? I know gardaí who have served for eight or nine years on the Border and who are anxious to be posted to an area where; perhaps, there is not so much pressure. Many of them have returned with changed dispositions as a result of Border duty. I hope the Minister will issue guidelines on when a garda on Border duty can return to a normal duty roster in his or her own area.
Huge profits have been announced by the banks in the last week. A figure of £0.5 million was received from the banks by the Garda Síochána for protection duties throughout the country. That represents £10,000 a week, which I consider a minimal sum for the excellent service provided by the Garda Síochána.
I ask members to be brief in their questions. We are due to finish at 11.45 a.m. There are seven or eight Deputies still to speak and I ask them to be brief.
I am probably the most brief of all speakers and each time I stand up to speak I receive that advice.
I ask the Minister to consider including the following measure in the Criminal Justice Bill: employing inspectors instead of gardaí to process arrests. I have been told that in one area of my constituency such a system would mean that as many as six to eight extra gardaí would be available per shift. That amounts to between 18 and 24 extra gardaí in a 24 period in just one area. I think that system is already operating in Britain and I know the Minister is examining it. There are 1,000 new recruits being trained but operating this system would be the equivalent of putting an extra 2,000 or 3,000 trained gardaí on the streets. If it was implemented it would be an enormous achievement.
I agree with the points made by Deputy Browne about fines imposed on elderly people. I knew of a situation some years ago in which an old man with a poor heart condition was to be imprisoned in Mountjoy because he did not have the money to pay a fine. I knew that man would not reach Mountjoy before he would have collapsed and the Minister of the day was very sympathetic. Deputy Harney sometimes queries interference in these matters by Deputies, but in this case a man's life was saved by the fact that the Minister was informed and the fine was mitigated. The person and his family were extremely grateful.
Such incidents occur and perhaps the Ministers should appoint a social worker or some other qualified person to investigate the circumstances of people in those cases. Nobody wants to worry anybody to death, let alone have them die in prison. I compliment my colleague, Deputy Ivor Callely, on his performance on the radio this morning. He has told me that he received many phone calls of support from the public. People are imprisoned in their homes. The locks and chains should be on the criminals and not on people in their homes. The interviewer asked if this was a populist theory. "Populist" means popular, popular with the people who elect us. Yes, it is populist, it is popular. People want something to be done about the situation. The Minister would have the support of all members when implementing measures to protect people in their homes, whether the homes are in Dublin, North Tipperary or anywhere else——
——or rural Ireland.
However, people in rural Ireland have an advantage that Dublin residents do not have — it is an advantage I would not like to be widespread in Dublin — and it is that many of the farming community have shotguns in their homes. They can defend themselves. Now, I am not advocating that situation; but no one in Dublin has a shotgun in their home. In recent cases people in their homes have defended themselves. If we fail to provide protection for people they will eventually take the law into their own hands and no one wants to see that happening. I do not want anyone to interpret what I am saying to mean that people with shotguns should shoot people. I am simply pointing out that people in rural Ireland sometimes have methods of defending themselves that are not available in Dublin. Dublin residents are having a bad time due to crime.
I congratulate the Minister on the job she is doing. She is determined to stamp out vandalism and she has my full support. I reiterate my point that if inspectors process cases there will be an extra two or three thousand gardaí on the streets. In addition, when a case comes to trial the garda need attend court only once instead of three or four times.
I wish the Minister for Justice well in her office. I have one query in relation to Item G as I do not understand what the item is. It is called "film censorship fees" and it is increased from £280,000 to £404,000. Is the Minister considering legislation for company cars and the associated problem of joyriding. It is difficult to deal with the problem as, under present legislation, cars are means of transport whereas today they are used for criminal activity and anti-social behaviour.
I notice the entertainment allocation has been reduced by £4,000 from £10,000 to £6,000. Does that mean that there will be less fun in the Garda Síochána this year? Staff training development is reduced by £40,000 from £220,000 to £180,000. Would the Minister explain that reduction? The training of police dogs and other matters has been reduced by £316,000. How will the Minister achieve that? Under B, there is a reduction of almost 50 per cent for clothing and accessories. Where is that applied?
What concerns me most is a reduction of £643,000, a 25 per cent reduction for the maintenance of Garda premises. Being a rural Deputy and knowing the premises the gardaí must tolerate, I am disappointed about that reduction.
In Castlefin they do not even have toilet facilities. The same conditions apply at Claddybridge. It is no credit to the country to ask members of the Garda to go into neighbours' houses to use toilets or to ask them to tolerate the facilities that are provided at the more remote cross-Border roads. Perhaps the Minister will let me know how she is going to achieve these reductions.
Questions about policing in Dublin have been raised by a number of people. Any decisions made in relation to policing are not just confined to Dublin. Any legislation which is introduced will operate on a countrywide basis and I think that is what all non-Dublin Deputies are anxious to ensure. I have promised public order legislation which I hope to have published and I would like to see going through Second Stage in the Dáil and then going to Committee Stage during July. Public order legislation was part of a large Criminal Justice Bill which was due to be published in late autumn.
It was brought to my attention that the Garda have problems dealing with large gangs of youths who are publicly abusive, who are involved in bad behaviour and who are menacing and threatening to members of the public. We have seen this not only in O'Connell Street but also in other parts of the country. Because of strong representations made to me both by Members of the House and by the Garda Síochána, I decided to take that part of the legislation out of the Criminal Justice Bill. This will be included in the public order legislation which will, be before the Dáil I hope, before the summer recess.
This legislation is important because we have seen a situation occuring where people, not all of them elderly, are concerned about the fact that large gangs of young people can spill on to the streets from various discotheques, late at night and in early morning bars and hotels and while not committing crime, can be menacing and threatening to ordinary members of the public trying to go about their business.
The Garda need to have the power to disperse those young people and in the event that they refuse to disperse, the Garda need to have the power to arrest them and process them within the law. That is important and is something many people have been looking for over a long period of time. It will go some way towards helping to resolve the situation we have seen developing in Dublin and other urban areas around the country.
In regard to crime in Dublin, which I know Deputy Briscoe and others are extremely concerned about, we spoke earlier about the Ronanstown report on urban crime and the various recommendations it had made which affect the Department of Justice and other Government Departments. The recommendations contained in this report must be implemented reasonably quickly. I will be seeking the support of my Government colleagues in this matter.
Only a very small percentage of the recommendations on the Ronanstown report refer directly to the Department of Justice and will come directly under the aegis of my Department. Other recommendations referred, for instance, to the Department of Enterprise and Employment, the Department of the Environment, and the Department of Education. We need a concerted effort to tackle this problem quickly and that is the message coming through from the Committee today.
One of the reasons for the increase in the Estimate for criminal legal aid is because of the nature of the crimes involved. If the cases are heard over a long period of time, if there are several court sittings, if there is a lot of preparation to be made, criminal legal aid costs go up. I do not have effective control over the two main determinants of expenditure on criminal legal aid which are first, decisions to grant the legal aid and, secondly, the actual cost arising from the grant of legal aid in any particular case.
A number of Deputies raised questions about the fees paid under the scheme. The remuneration of solicitors for legal aid cases in the District Court is controlled by regulations which I am empowered to make under the Criminal Justice Legal Aid Act, 1962. The fees of solicitors and counsel in the higher courts are determined entirely by the fees which the DPP pays to prosecution counsel. The cost of criminal legal aid in 1990, including VAT, was £2.692 million; in 1991 it was £3.152 million; in 1992 it was £3.870 million and in 1993 the allocation is £5.920 million.
Deputies are anxious to know whether I have any plans to amend the scheme by introducing legislation. As Deputies will know proposals for amending the legislation are under consideration in the Department. Expenditure on criminal legal aid accounts for approximately 1.1 per cent of total estimated State expenditure in connection with the maintenance of law and order. Implementation of possible cost-reducing measures would also involve the co-operation of and consultation with bodies such as the Bar Counsel and the Incorporated Law Society whose members, at the end of the day, operate the scheme. Within these constraints the question of possible cost-reduction measures is being considered in the context of the proposals I am considering for amending the legislation.
Some Deputies are concerned that a few prominent solicitors enjoy a virtual monopoly of legal aid work in Dublin in particular and these can earn huge sums of money representing their clients on legal aid. It is important to point out that, in contrast, many other solicitors earn very modest sums working in this scheme. For instance, one solicitor earned in excess of £290,000 in the year ended 31 December 1992, which gives an indication of the monopoly that has tended to exist, particularly in the Dublin area.
One Deputy was interested to know why the provision for maintenance of Garda premises dropped this year compared with the 1992 outturn. I am told that the 1993 provision is the same as the original 1992 provision allocation of £1.9 million and would be the minimum required to provide for the maintenance of Garda buildings throughout the country. Since I became Minister for Justice, I have travelled to different parts of the country to visit divisional headquarters. I have met the Garda representative associations and I have had the great benefit of attending their annual conferences over the last number of weeks.
The Garda representative associations, Garda management and the Department of Justice are concerned to ensure that gardaí have the best and most efficient accommodation available to them to enable them to carry out their duties as a modern police force. Over the years dramatic changes and improvements have taken place in Garda accommodation. In a number of areas existing garda houses were no longer being used as accommodation by members of the Garda. Some of those have been sold and have realised approximately £8 million for the Exchequer.
Where one of these houses is adjacent to an existing Garda station which needs further space, the Office of Public Works have been converting this building into extra accommodation for that station. Yesterday, I had the privilege of officially opening the refurbished Garda accommodation in Dunboyne which is now the new Garda station. The cost of this kind of refurbishment can be much less than the cost of building a new Garda station, when it is necessary to acquire a site and so on.
There have been difficulties in other areas of the country. For instance, in Enniscorthy there was considerable difficulty in relation to title to a site and this has only been resolved in the recent past. Deputy Harte can take it that the Department of Justice together with the Garda associations and Garda management are moving as quickly as resources permit to ensure that Garda accommodation is suitable for a modern police force, to carry out its business and duties properly.
Stores expenditure was raised by Deputies concerned that adequate systems be put in place to avoid excessive purchasing and, ultimately, waste of resources. The question of Garda stores has been the subject of consideration over a number of years by the Committee of Public Accounts — and a number of Deputies here are, or have been, members of that committee. The Secretary of my Department is scheduled to appear before the Public Accounts Committee next week.
I am satisfied, however, that a number of substantial improvements have taken place in the stores over the last 18 months, including the introduction of information technology. These improvements will, over time, produce significant additional controls into the present system. I am also satisfied that, as recognised in the Garda Commissioner's corporate strategy document, a number of Garda initiatives, including a move towards just-in-time purchasing where appropriate, will further enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and value for money of the Garda stores.
Somebody raised a question as to why the Department is spending less on uniforms and associated clothing. The 1992 Estimate included the issue of new items of clothing, such as the Gore-tex jacket and pullovers to the entire membership of the force, together with the build-up of stock to facilitate the routine periodic general issue of items such as great coats. The stock of general issue items is built up over a number of years to facilitate their issue in a single year to all members. This inevitably spreads the cost over a number of years providing continuous employment opportunities in industry. In the case of the new items of uniform, the bulk of the cost had to be met in 1992. I have recently confirmed with the Garda authorities that the level of funding provided is adequate to meet the requirements of the force.
One Deputy mentioned Garda overtime, while the fact that the overtime allocation is less than the 1992 expenditure has been highlighted, I would emphasis that expenditure on pay generally is significantly greater in 1993 and the manpower has increased over the last 12 months. Overtime is a supplement to general manpower and it accounts for less than 3 per cent of the entire allocation to Garda pay. Given the significant increase in staff and, consequently, the availability of manpower over the last three years, it is appropriate that the level of expenditure on overtime be curtailed with a view to providing optimum value for money. Deputies will appreciate that it is desirable that tasks be performed during normal hours of duty rather than at premium overtime rates.
The Garda authorities have introduced a number of measures over the last 12 months designed to improve efficiency. They include, as members will know, the allocation of overtime budgets to divisional officers. The overtime expenditure in 1992 included a number of major operations the cost of which will not arise to the same extent in the current year including, as Deputies will appreciate, the highly successful Operation Silo, the referenda and the elections. Obviously, major events such as the recent and very successful Eurovision song contest at Millstreet give rise to additional substantial costs. This Estimate may have to be reviewed later in the year. I do not have a precise figure for the cost of maintaining gardaí on the Border, but I will communicate with Deputy Browne who raised the matter. The total cost to the State security effort relating to Northern Ireland is about £200 million per annum, about three times the Britishper capita expenditure.
I think Deputy Harte raised the question of gardaí on Border duties. The numbers of gardaí on Border duties is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner as is the length of service that they spend on such duties. The length of service is a question of staff assignments and I know the representative associations have been in constant discussion with senior Garda management over the years to see if this can be reduced, so that the level of stress, that I accept is part of Border duty, can be relieved. Deputy Harney raised the question of stress-related difficulties within both the Garda Síochána and the prison services. I talked publicly about stress within the Garda recently and it is something I have a great interest in. That is why I have been talking to senior Garda management in relation to the welfare and employer assistance programme within the Garda Síochána, because, quite frankly, the Department has not taken a pro-active role in this area in the past. I am very concerned for families who suffer; that is not to say that the level of abuse is any higher within the Garda Síochána than it might be in any other section of society, but we have to be concerned that abuse exists at all. The employee assistance programme is needed to help the members of the force itself and also their families who may suffer from stress, tension and stress-related difficulties that can arise.
Deputy Browne raised the possibility of the restoration of the task force. The Commissioner sets up task forces in different areas as and when they are required. That is considered by the Garda authorities as the best use of resources, rather than having one single task force. I listened carefully to the points made by the Deputy and I will be considering those in ongoing consultations I have with the Garda Commissioner and senior management.
I put a question to the Minister on the continuing viability of rural Garda stations. I mentioned the stress for gardaí on the Border, not Deputy Harte. Perhaps, the Minister could respond on the future role of rural Garda stations in Ireland, so many of which have been closed already.
I have no plans to close any rural Garda stations. I believe all of us would like to see Garda stations maintained where they are. We would also like to see as many gardaí as possible patrolling our streets, both in rural, and in urban, areas. That is my priority.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): We normally question increases in Estimates, but I am surprised that in subhead A.3. — Incidental Expenses — there is a drop in the estimate for forensic science equipment. Does that mean the Garda are well equipped or does it mean that the Department is not emphasising forensics? For example, have we DNA testing?
Have we got inside information about next winter's weather, or is there going to be an increase in fuel charges? On subhead A.6., note 3, heat, light and fuel for last year was £74,000 and it will be almost double that, £134,000, for this year.
Deputy Briscoe raised a matter that I am interested in, but I believe the Minister did not respond to it. The question of inspectors processing charges is very interesting and I see positive implications in this for the north side of Dublin, in terms of Garda personnel availability on the beat. I am interested in the Minister's comments on the matter and what her Department has done in relation to it. If it could work it would have significant implications for greater availability of Garda personnel.
I support what Deputy Barrett said in relation to compensation for personal injuries criminally inflicted. I know the Minister and the Government do not have a crock of gold to liberally compensate everybody who has been injured. I believe, however, that the change brought about in 1985 and which remains the position in law is unfair. The Minister and the Government should reconsider bringing forward legislation to make the procedures for compensation fairer and more just than they are perceived to be.
Regarding subhead D.1., may I ask the Minister if she could elaborate as to the categories of persons that are covered by this? It provides for compensation in respect of personal injuries where the injuries are directly attributable to crime or violence, and so on. If a person is injured when making a citizen's arrest, for example, is such a person covered? If not, what categories of persons are covered and what criteria are used? The Minister referred to the deletion of compensation for pain and suffering. What criteria are used for awarding amounts to victims within the categories that are covered?
I thank the Minister for attending this committee meeting and wish her well in her new position. Regarding the question of Border duties, as somebody who lives on the Border, and probably nearer to it than anybody in this Chamber, I can empathise with Deputy Harte's remarks on the conditions the gardaí have to endure in Border areas.
However, there are also conditions which the general public have to endure where situations arise frequently requiring members of the Garda Síochána from areas just to the south of the Border to go out to the Border to, in effect, mind the British security forces on the far side. I understand this is necessary in order to protect these people, whether they are closing Border roads, engaging in operations or putting up towers along the Border, which is something we do not particularly like. Unfortunately that is a fact of life in Border areas. This presents a problem for those of us who live in Border areas as gardaí have to be taken away from ordinary duties. In my own village outside Dundalk, which has a population of over 4,000, there are times when there are no gardaí present as they are minding their counterparts on the other side of the Border. That is something that is probably not known to most Deputies.
Regarding compensation for criminal injuries under subhead D.1., I appreciate that the Minister has inherited the decision made in 1985 to take away the element of pain and suffering from the compensation awards. That was, in effect, a cost cutting measure at that time. There is a greater public awareness of the difficulties that victims now suffer as a result of crime and I draw attention to the Vote in relation to Garda compensation. Approximately £6.5 million was paid out to gardaí last year for injuries suffered by them in the course of their duties. To be even handed, the victims of crime should also be entitled to some compensation, particularly the more horrific incidents of crime to their person. I ask the Minister to consider reintroducing, in a small way, perhaps, the pain and suffering element into the compensation for some scheduled offences. It is unthinkable today that in a crime like the Kilkenny incest case the victim is not in a position to obtain compensation for the pain and suffering she has suffered. Similarly with regard to other cases such as rape.
Perhaps in clawing back some of the compensation that could be paid in some very small scheduled cases, the Minister could also examine ways in which moneys could be recouped from some of the criminals involved. Quite a lot of the criminals have assets from some of these horrific incidences. Whilst I fully accept that the vast majority of moneys that might be paid out would not be recoupable, there would be an element of recoupment in this area.
Regarding the Garda Complaints Board, any garda will advise that the board is hamstrung in that every single complaint made has to be fully investigated. Perhaps there could be a filtering or vetting of the complaints that the Garda Complaints Board receives. Most gardaí will tell you that once somebody is taken into custody a complaint is made and unfortunately the finger is then pointed at the garda. That presents a difficulty for the gardaí working from day to day in that area.
I would remind members that we are due to finish Vote 20 by 12.30.
In the context of the Minister's departmental Vote, how many officials has she in her Department in the Aliens Section dealing with matters relating to aliens? Could the Minister also tell us what training those officials get in relation to the rules applicable to applicants who seek political asylum in Ireland? Could the Minister tell us what training has been provided specifically by her Department in relation to the rules and laws applicable to designated officials at points of entry to the State and could she indicate where those officials are currently placed?
Regarding the section of the Minister's Department dealing with citizenship applications, could the Minister advise how many officials in her Department deal with those applications? How many applications are currently outstanding and can she explain the reason for the paucity of information that emanates from her Department with regard to citizenship applications? It would appear that applications get bogged down for two, three or four years and when one makes inquiries about them one is told that the matter is being processed and there is no other information available. Perhaps the Minister would tell us the numbers of applicants for citizenship currently before her Department and how many of those applicants have been awaiting a decision for two years or more. The Minister might also explain the reason for the lengthy delays that take place in that area.
Deputy Browne raised the issue of genetic fingerprinting. Could the Minister tell us if the Garda's own forensic operation in the area of genetic fingerprinting is now operational and how many personnel are employed? If it is not operational why is it not?
Regarding the Garda, many fine sentiments have been expressed by members from all sides about the need to provide support for the Garda and the need to tackle crime. I was hugely impressed by Deputy Callely on the radio this morning — one would almost think that Fianna Fáil was in Opposition for the last six years and had suddenly discovered there was a crime problem which had developed to horrific proportions. One would not think, from his comments that we have had successive Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice since 1988, or one would imagine he had been sitting on Mars or the moon and no one told him we had a crime problem. When I heard Deputy Callely on the radio this morning I was instantly reminded of the current Minister's predecessor on "The Late Late Show" a year and a half ago trying to plámás the nation and promising the crime problem would be solved within 12 months. It is fortunate for him that he was extradited to Brussels; otherwise he would have been called to account for his failures.
The Garda have a substantial problem and it is not going to be solved by the enactment of legislation. The problem arises because they are demoralised. There is no point providing legislation to give the perception we are tackling a problem. The Garda know if they implement existing legislation or even new legislation, arrest those responsible for crimes and bring them before the courts, even when sentences are given within two or three weeks of sentencing they are likely to be set free from prison because there are not enough places. We will deal with the Prison Vote later.
In relation to the Garda, let us not fool people with a public relations exercise about legislation, some of which has been promised so many times the public may think every time the Minister makes a promise, something has happened. None of this legislation will work if there are no places for people sentenced to terms of imprisonment or released from prison long before their sentences have been served for no reason other than shortage of prison spaces.
The Minister knows this is happening. Members of the public feel when crimes are committed that there is no point reporting them to the Garda because those convicted will simply be released if sentenced. It is demoralising for the Garda Síochána in their good work. I expect the Minister to say more about this when reviewing the prison system. As I said, we will come to it later on, but it is relevant to the Garda Vote because the Garda are at the coalface fighting crime. They know that if they put the fire out it is likely to be lit again three weeks later because people they have successfully prosecuted through the courts are being released too early.
Perhaps also the Minister could explain to the House the reason there are new rules introduced with regard to prosecutions of criminal offences. Those rules and the difficulties they are creating are very well explained in a report inThe Irish Times for Thursday, 20 May 1993. That report states:
After a recent armed robbery in a bank branch on the outskirts of Dublin, three men were arrested. During questioning by gardaí, they allegedly admitted their involvement in a series of other bank robberies, including one in which a customer was shot in the arm.
Within a few hours all three had been released pending completion of the investigation, the compilation of a report for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the decision by him on whether there was sufficient evidence to prefer criminal charges.
There was a similar sequence of events after an incident in Dublin's inner city a few weeks earlier in which a garda was stabbed . . . The alleged assailant was arrested at the scene . . . taken to the local Garda station for questioning. He was released a short time later.
The procedure — which has been repeated in many other cases — has its origins in "advice" to the Garda authorities from the DPP who has established a "general rule" that a charge should not be preferred until an investigation is completed.
Where once an alleged defender was charged almost immediately and released on bail by a court, or, in the most serious cases, remanded in custody while the investigation was being completed, he is now being released until that process has been completed.
We all know there is a problem of people commiting crimes being released on bail and then committing further crimes. I have long expressed the view that if a person is charged with commiting a crime on bail, that of itself should be sufficient to terminate their entitlement to bail. We have gone one step further now. People caught red-handed in banks by the Garda and identified cannot be charged and brought before the courts. The Garda take them to the station, have a chat with them and then release them. No country in the western world would behave that way. It is an extraordinary example of bureaucratic incompetence in processing criminal charges which is detrimental to the public and the Garda.
These nonsensical press releases about all the new legislation which is going to be introduced must stop because we cannot implement the legislation we have. There is an epidemic of bank and building society robberies in the city and county of Dublin. Hardly a bank in this city or county has not been robbed in the last 18 months. Very few post offices have been unaffected. I would be surprised if there is a member of this committee representing a Dublin constituency who is unaware of at least one bank robbery in his own constituency in the last six months.
The media has paid little attention to this and I do not understand why. There is an occasional report about a bank robbery having taken place. Notice is only taken when there are serious injuries resulting from the bank robbery. Fortunately, most times people are not injured. But there is an epidemic of bank, post office and building society robberies in Dublin city and county. Bank staff are being terrorised. One bank adjacent to my constituency, in Terenure, had two robberies within the space of eight days. The people robbing the bank were more regular visitors than bank customers.
I want to know specifically what is being done about this epidemic. If there is a particular gang responsible, are they some of those being picked up by the Garda as they walk out of banks and then released three or four hours later?
I am glad two reporters are here this morning. That is important because reportage by the media is the lifeblood of a Parliament and is vital for the relevance of these committees in so far as the public can find out what we do. I deplore the apparent journalistic practice at these meetings. We are engaging in important public duties. The reporters come in for the first hour, listen to speeches from the party spokesperson and then most of them disappear. Perhaps I am wrong and they are watching this on the television screen. I congratulate the people who are still here.
This committee covers important issues in going through Estimates for different Departments. We tease through matters. On occasions we may be critical of the Minister, at other occasions we may be supportive, or perhaps we may be just looking for information. These committees will not work if they become internal psychotherapy sessions for frustrated Members of the Oireachtas raising questions that they want answers to and are not paid attention to by the public. That also seems to be the way the television programme "Oireachtas Report" on Friday night covers the Houses. There ispot-pourri of what happened during the week and a quick flash of the various party spokespersons. The real work we do is not being reported at all. This is a serious issue.
For some reason the media to date have not properly investigated bank robberies in Dublin. I want to know if there is any connection with the new rules in relation to bringing charges. I want to know specifically what is happening in that area.
I do not want to go on at greater length because there are other issues to be raised at a later stage. I have one other question for the Minister about her problems in the prison system. I agree with the Minister that the problem is not created by the numbers of people in prison for civil debt. I fully accept there is a small number in that area. That is an issue that will easily generate a headline if an individual case occurs where someone clearly should not have been imprisoned for civil debt. We need to redress that but it is not the main reason for the overcrowding in our prisons.
I am of the view that where people are sentenced for serious offences they should be required to fully serve their sentences, but there are people in our prisons for minor offences. It would save the State money and benefit the community if far more of those people did community service. A major expansion of the community service order scheme would ensure sufficient prison places, so that people convicted of serious crime would fully serve their sentences, it would remove the expense of imprisoning those sentenced for minor crimes and it would do this in a way that benefits the community. That scheme should be extended to apply from people over 16 years to people over 12 years. Young people who come into contact with the law because of misbehaviour, are simply released or warned, and subsequently engage in further serious misbehaviour, should be ordered to do community service work which would benefit local communities in which they previous created trouble. The Minister should so something constructive and practical in this area. If she does, she will have support from all sides in the House.
I remind members that five other Deputies wish to speak and according to the agreed timetable we should now be debating the Prisons Vote. The Minister also has to respond.
On a point of order. When some members' contributions are too long could the Chairman warn them while they are speaking rather than when they finish because pressure is put on the next speaker? Some of the speeches are too long.
I repeat that all members, including Deputy Briscoe, have spoken for too long. I was hoping to permit every member to ask questions relevant to the subhead we are discussing. I wish to be as helpful as possible to members but there are five speakers remaining and the Minister has to respond. There are many questions to be asked and important information to be obtained. Therefore, I appeal to the remaining speakers to be as brief as possible.
I do not think it is fair to chastise Deputy Briscoe who is trying to help the Chairman. I do not think you could accuse him of speaking for too long.
I will conduct the meeting. I have made my points. I have been as helpful as I can. I have appealed for brevity throughout the morning and I am doing the same now.
I wish to contribute because I want to congratulate the Minister in relation to subhead D.2. of Vote 19, the Vote of the Office of the Minister for Justice. This subhead covers the Irish Association for Victim Support. The feedback I have received from people associated with the IAVS is that they greatly appreciate the Minister's very positive and favourable responses to their various requests to her. Although Deputy Barrett referred to the allocation of £18,000 to the IAVS as a small amount it was, nevertheless, the amount they sought.
The Minister indicated that she will try to ensure that accommodation in courthouses is made available to the IAVS. I ask her and her Department also to explore the possibility of providing accommodation, the use of a telephone and other back-up services to local branches of the association in a Garda station in each Garda division. The Minister should examine ways in which the Garda Síochána and the association could work together more closely at local level and in a co-ordinated manner.
Deputy Ryan referred to my comments on radio this morning. I want to make it clear that although I referred to the Dublin area I am very aware that life exists outside Dublin. I have very close contact with the south-west and I visit relations there regularly.
So you are not a Real Dub after all.
I did not quite say that. I regret Deputy Shatter's comments on the views I expressed on radio this morning and the words he used not only in relation to me but also the former Minister for Justice, former Deputy Flynn, when he referred to his extradition. Such comments are not very helpful.
Ordinary decent people in Dublin are living in fear, not of serious crime such as bank robberies to which Deputy Shatter referred — I congratulate the Garda Síochána for their excellent endeavours in relation to serious crime — but of petty criminals. Hardened local petty criminals are abusing regulations and taking advantage of the fact that there are not enough detention centres and prison places. The victims of their crimes are becoming the prisoners, living behind the locks and chains of their own homes. We need to deal with local petty crime. Any Garda inspector or superintendent would point out that 70 per cent of all crimes in each Garda division is committed by a handful of known individuals. We need to increase the available number of detention centres and prison places.
I wish to make some suggestions in relation to prison centres——
I would prefer if the Deputy dealt with Votes 19 and 20, which we are now discussing.
Are we discussing the Prison Vote now?
We can defer the Prisons Vote to this afternoon or discuss it now. Could I have the view of the Committee? Will we deal with prisons now? Agreed.
I think we should. Deputy Shatter stated that Fianna Fáil Administrations and Minister for Justice since 1987 had an opportunity to deal with detention centes and prison places. However, this is true of all political parties, including Deputy Shatter's party, Fine Gael, which also had an opportunity to increase the number of, and places in prisons and other detention centres but failed to do so. A member of this Committee Deputy Collins, when Minister for Justice initiated the construction of Wheatfield Prison in Dublin in the early 1980s. Deputy Shatter is very selective in what he wants to recall and not recall. Fianna Fáil have played a full and active part in relation to prisons. On radio this morning I suggested that Collin's Barracks be used as a detention centre. The Curragh Camp and other centres could also be used for this purpose.
I am somewhat amused at the amount of Garda time spent attending court on minor offences. A great deal of the time of gardaí, traffic wardens and, indeed, the courts themselves is taken up by court cases involving minor traffic offences. Rather than pursuing cases through the courts after a 21-day statutory notice period has expired and requiring gardaí and traffic wardens to attend court the Minister should examine the feasibility of entering fines on the tax books of motor vehicles. These would have to be cleared prior to tax renewal or change of ownership. In doing so it would be possible to reduce the demands on garda time, traffic warden time and court time.
May I suggest in order to be helpful that we might let the prisons session go into the afternoon since it is of more relevance than the Land Registry and other matters? On the Garda Estimate, Vote 20, will the Minister accept that there are about 500 fewer gardaí in the Force than there were in the middle of 1985? There were 11,400 in the middle of 1985 and, as she said in her address this morning, there are 10,932 at the moment. I understand that this year 420 gardaí will retire but only 270 will be taken into service in the Force, as opposed to new recruits. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that. At the end of this year there will be fewer personnel than at the beginning of the year because of the number of gardaí retiring. I raised the question with the Minister some time ago of extending the retirement age from 57 to 60 as was done on another occasion. At the time she has having discussions with the Garda authorities. I would ask her if those discussions were concluded and if a decision was made as to whether to extend the retirement age for a temporary period in order to overcome man-power difficulties.
We are all anxious that Garda time be used more effectively and that some tasks currently carried out by the Garda should where possible, be done by others. I suggest in that regard that minor traffic offences would be converted to civil offences where a levy would be imposed and only contested cases would end up in court. It would not require, as a matter of course, that for every minor traffic offence there would automatically, be a court hearing. It would be a good idea if they were converted to civil offences.
In relation to the appropriation in aid of £500,000 for bank escorts, does that cover the full Garda costs of the escorts or is it just an allowance towards that? Perhaps the Minister would clarify that.
I mentioned earlier the question of the Garda Fraud Squad and I have here the report by Stokes Kennedy Crowley which, in reference to white collar crime, considers it a significant problem, in that 40 per cent of companies had admitted to experiencing fraud during the past three years. According to their survey 29 per cent of fraud involved sums in excess of £10,000, two thirds involved sums over £1,000 but 2 per cent of fraud involved sums in excess of £1 million. That is an enormous amount of white collar fraud when 2 per cent of it involves sums of over £1 million. The report goes on to say that only 28 per cent of cases detected ended in criminal prosecutions. That brings me back to the point I made earlier, that the Garda Fraud Squad is totally inadequate to deal with white collar crime. Could the Minister tell me the numbers in the Garda Fraud Squad and the kinds of expertise they have?
I believe, from talking to Garda personnel, that there is a glut of capable young gardaí many of whom have been to college or have done the Bar or other exams yet they are far down in terms of seniority within the Garda Síochána. The promotion system is unsatisfactory and extremely slow and cumbersome. The Garda Síochána are about the only professional body, to the best of my knowledge, certainly in this country and perhaps elsewhere that does not have professional recruitment as such, although many gardaí go on to do third level degrees. Could the Minister tell me how many of the Garda Síochána have pursued third level education and at what level they are serving in the Force. People who go to the expense and effort of third level education do not seem to get very far. They seem to be left down towards the bottom and that is a pity.
The juvenile liaision service is excellent but it is totally under resourced. I understand that there are only about 70 juvenile liaison officers. Recently in the Dáil the Minister indicated that there was only one for the counties of Carlow and Kildare. This is an excellent service which works with young people who have been identified as being at risk or who have been before the courts. In my own constituency it is an extremely useful resource for the gardaí in trying to keep young people away from committing further crimes. The scheme needs to be greatly extended if gardaí are to develop the relationships with young people which are necessary to keep them away from crime. Each garda can only develop these relationships with a certain number of people and if they are looking after 100 such cases they will not be effective.
With regard to the Kilkenny incest case which was raised earlier in a different context, I was upset that Garda Agnes Reddy and her colleague, who were involved in the investigation of this crime, were not interviewed by the McGuinness committee. I have made some inquiries and I understand they were not interviewed because their superiors blocked their interview and did not allow them to attend the inquiry. If that is the case it is a great pity since they would have been of invaluable help to the McGuinness investigation. Perhaps the Minister could clarify why they were not allowed to give evidence to the investigating committee.
Many people will be disappointed if that is the case as all of us in the House complimented Garda Agnes Reddy in particular for her painstaking investigative work in that case. Were it not for her that case would never have been brought to trial and a successful prosecution obtained and that poor unfortunate girl would continue to live under the stress and circumstances of violence and abuse she had to endure for so long. Any inquiry that did not hear the evidence of the investigating garda cannot be a complete inquiry and I wonder what the reasons were for not allowing that garda to give evidence.
There has been much praise for the gardaí during the course of these contributions and it is well merited. The Minister said that the Garda now enjoy a high degree of public confidence. That is true and it is well earned. However, it would be quite wrong to gloss over the real problems which exist in the Garda, particularly the problem, of morale. I would like to raise a couple of issues in addition to those raised here by colleagues.
The Minister attended the annual conferences of the Garda representative bodies and she will be aware of the disquiet that arose at those conferences resulting from comments made by the Garda Commissioner at one of the conferences. She will also be aware of the resolutions which were passed by the Garda representative bodies seeking to have themselves recognised fully as trade unions with the right to strike and the right to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in the same way as other organisations. Has the Minister any plans to give the Garda bodies the right to become trade unions in the full sense of that term? Their right not to be trade unions dates back to 1924, in the fledgling years of the State, when public acceptance of the police force was quite different from what it is now, and when there may well have been some case for taking a particular approach to the organisation of the police force. Those circumstances clearly no longer apply and the time has come for the Minister to bring forward legislation which will enable the Garda representative bodies to become full trade unions and to deal with the kind of issues that Deputy Harney raised about difficulties in relation to promotions and to pay etc.
I would like to raise some points relating to subheads in the Estimates. In response to an earlier question on the reduction in the amount provided for clothing for gardaí, the Minister gave as the reason that all the new clothing was bought in 1992 and, therefore, there would not be the same requirement in 1993. However, looking back to 1991 it is clear that the amount provided for in 1993 is considerably less than the amount provided in 1991.
Under every heading relating to the provision of services and facilities for gardaí the amount allocated for 1993 is less than the amount collected two years ago. We may praise the gardaí but they must be provided with the resources to do the job. I would like an explanation why, at a time when everybody in this House is concerned about crime and crime prevention, there is a reduction in the amount of money being spent on providing the Garda with premises, equipment, transport, clothing etc. Why is there a reduction in the amount allocated in 1993?
Could the Minister update me on the situation in relation to the Garda premises in Drogheda? New premises are required and I know the Minister is aware of the difficulties there. Gardaí in Dundalk are accommodated in prefabricated buildings.
Why under subhead A.3. — Incidential Expenses — has £1,000 been allocated to health, safety and fitness? This was not in last year's Estimate. I played in a football match against a Garda team last night in Oriel Park and I can vouch for the fitness of the gardaí.
Is it agreed that we defer the Prisons Vote until this afternoon? Right. If the Minister is unable to answer specific questions she may convey the answers to members at a later stage.
My responses may be somewhat disjointed because the debate wandered from one Vote to the other. I hope Members will bear with me.
A number of Deputies raised the point that crime pays and that we are not doing anything to ensure that this does not happen. The confiscation of the proceeds of crime Bill is in the final stages of being drafted. It is with the parliamentary draftsman and it will be published shortly. This will provide for the seizure and confiscation of the proceeds of serious crime and the creation of an offence of money laundering. It will enable us to give effect to important international instruments on drug trafficking and mutual assistance in criminal matters.
In relation to the forensic science laboratory, there has been a reduction in this year's Estimate for that subhead. The reason for the reduction is that last year there was considerable expenditure providing for DNA testing. DNA testing will be operational on 1 July and two scientists are working full-time in this area.
Deputy Fitzgerald raised the question of the type of cases referred to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. The scheme allows forex gratia compensation in respect of personal injury where the injury is directly attributable to a crime of violence or in circumstances arising from the action of the victim in assisting or in attempting to assist the prevention of crime or the saving of human life. Claims are considered in respect of injury received in the following circumstances: because of or in the course of the victims coming to the assistance of the Garda Síochána in certain specified circumstances; because of or in the course of attempting to prevent a crime in a public place; because of or in the course of attempting to prevent in a public place the escape of a person who had committed a crime or the rescue of a person in custody and because of or in the course of attempting to save human life.
Deputy Callely and other Deputies suggested that accommodation be provided for the Irish Association for Victim Support at Garda divisional headquarters. Garda automatically refer victims of crime to the IAVS. I will consider this suggestion and I will talk to the Garda management.
A number of Deputies raised points in relation to the number of gardaí, the retirement age and its extension and the recruitment of gardaí. I have answered parliamentary questions on these matters. A decision was made by the Government as to whether to extend the retirement age or recruit new gardaí. The decision taken, on my advice, was to provide opportunities for young people to join the Garda Síochána. The associations have raised this matter with me. They felt, and they made a strong case, that they had not been consulted in relation to this decision. I have outlined the Government's decision to the representative associations. I feel that the Government made the right decision. Regarding the number of gardaí, I accept the figures mentioned by Deputy Harney. However, a commitment was given in the Programme for a Partnership Government to accelerate the recruitment programme.
In relation to pain and suffering experienced by a victim of crime, it would cost £8 million to £10 million to include this category in this year's Estimate. Given the limited resources available a decision has been taken not to extend it to pain and suffering. However, under the Criminal Justice Act, 1993, compensation for the effect of a crime on a victim has to be taken into account. I will deal with points made in relation to prisons this afternoon.
Public order legislation is very important. A number of points were made about the amount of time spent by gardaí in the courts. I am aware of this and it is a matter which I am considering in the course of the second half of public order legislation which will be published this autumn.
Deputy Briscoe recommended that inspectors should be processing court cases rather than gardaí. Although difficulties may arise in certain cases, it is something which I am looking at care-fully. We all want gardaí to be freed from court and administrative duties so that they are available for the tasks they were trained to do. As Deputy Shatter said, newspaper reports have suggested that gardaí are being frustrated in their fight against crime by instructions to release offenders before charging them. I have seen the reports and I am as concerned as Deputy Shatter and other members of the Committee are. The DPP expressed his concerns to the Garda Commissioner over difficulties being experienced with regard to cases where offenders were arrested and charged by the gardaí, brought to court and released on bail, pending the further processing of the case through the courts. In a number of cases, when the files were submitted to the DPP it transpired that the charges originally laid by the arresting gardaí were not considered to be the most suitable in the circumstances. The DPP then had to issue instructions to withdraw the charges already before the court and have new charges preferred. As a result, a change in practice was put in place by Garda management to ensure that in serious cases the most suitable charges are brought initially. Instead of proceeding by way of arrest and charge the case is dealt with by summons taken out after the DPP has examined the file and given the appropriate instructions as to what offences should be charged on the summons.
The logic is to make more gardaí available on the streets in order to prevent the type of situation that Deputy Shatter referred to very emotively in relation to bank robberies and so on. If there are snags in the present system as currently operated by Garda management, that would concern me and I know would also concern Garda senior management. I can certainly raise this with them and I am sure they will be interested in the points made by members of the Committee.
I will leave the matter of prisons until this afternoon. In relation to the points made by Deputy Harney about the Kilkenny incest case and the fact that Garda Agnes Reddy and the detective garda involved both in the initial investigation and the successful prosecution of this case were not before the committee of investigation, I must say, that I had concerns on that matter as well. When the initial report appeared in the news-papers recently, I asked the Garda Commissioner's office whether there was any evidence to suggest that management had, in some way, frustrated their appearing. I was informed and I was delighted to see that Mrs. McGuinness, who chaired the investigation inquiry, stated that there was no request from the investigation team for the appearance or attendance of either of these two gardaí before the committee of investigation. I understand the only request made by Mrs. McGuinness was a general request to the Garda to allow someone to appear before the investigation team to answer a number of questions relating to policy and procedures that are followed in cases such as this. Having said that, I am sure all members would like to compliment Garda Agnes Reddy and the detective garda involved in this investigation, and also in relation to a number of similar investigations they are allowed in around the Kilkenny area.
In relation to cash escorts — I am responding now to questions as they were raised — the levy placed by the Minister for Finance in the budget on banks does not, of course, cover the cost of cash escorts. It is a levy and there is no legal provision for the Garda to charge for public duties such as this. The matter of introducing such a legal provision will be considered in the context of evaluating proposals to charge for public duty costs arising from policing events such as GAA matches and public concerts such as those in Slane, Thurles and so on.
In relation to Deputy Harney's suggestion about promotions and the promotional system within the Garda Síochána, I know that she welcomed, as did other Deputies, my success in achieving Government support to end the "one-in-three" embargo that had existed in relation to promotions. This change will result in almost 200 promotions in the Garda Síochána this year. That was an important step forward. I do not have the figures in relation to the number of gardaí who have pursued third level education since they entered the Garda Síochána. I am not sure whether I will be able to provide that figure but I will ask Garda senior management for it and if I get it I will give it to the Deputy.
In relation to the fraud squad and the improvement of the facilities and specialist support that should be available to the squad, the Deputy is aware that I recently accepted the fraud report and I said in principle that I was in favour of its implementation. That remains the position and I am proceeding with this. That includes all the areas Deputy Harney had concerns about in relation to the support services that should be available to the Garda Fraud Squad. Concerning Deputy Ahern's inquiry in relation to health and fitness, that is a token sum. A health and fitness promotion programme is still being developed by the Garda authorities, in consultation with the Garda representative bodies.
In relation to the aliens division of the Department, one of the things I would like to do during my time in the Department of Justice is to change its name. It creates a certain feeling in the public mind. We are moving rapidly to make that division more user-friendly. We had an organisational review of that section recently to establish if more user-friendly guidelines could be put in place for the staff working there.
Deputy Shatter knows — this was announced in the Dáil last week — that we now have an inter-departmental committee made up from the three Departments with certain responsibilities in relation to non-nationals, the Department of Enterprise and Employment, the Department of Foreign Affairs, where mostly queries are made in our consultates and embassies abroad, and my own Department. They are looking at the various provisions and changes that need to be made, but while that Committee is sitting we, in the Department, are moving quickly ahead on the preparation of a Bill to fundamentally change and amend the situation that has existed up to now in this area.
In relation to the number of applications dealt with it may be of interest for Committee members to know that there are around 350 applications for visas dealt with weekly, about 40 applications annually for political asylum and around 450 applications for naturalisation and 250 applications for postnuptial citzenship annually. There is a large amount of work currently being done in that area.
In relation to staffing, there is an assistant secretary who has responsibility for other areas, including this area. There is a principal officer, two assistant principal officers, three HEOs, one EO, one staff officer who is job sharing, four clerical officers, four clerical assistants and three clerical assistants. Obviously, the clerical assistants would be dealing with a number of other areas as well as this area.
Deputy Shatter accepted, as did other Deputies during the course of the Private Member's Bill debate last week, that the processing of all of the applications involve extensive interviews with the applicants and extensive discussions both within the Department and between the three Departments involved. It is to try to have a more efficient and effective service which will be more user-friendly, that we had the review within the section and within the Department. The inter-departmental committee is moving ahead as quickly as possible with amending legislation in this area.
There are 83 juvenile liaison officers in the Garda Síochána at present. They are assigned to 34 major centres of population. In Dublin, there are three sergeants and 34 gardaí; in Cork, one sergeant and seven gardaí; in Limerick, one sergeant and one garda; in Galway, two gardaí; in Kilkenny, two gardaí; in Waterford, two gardaí and in other provincial areas, there are 28 gardaí, which is one garda per centre. There are two sergeants attached to the juvenile liaison office in Harcourt Square. In 1991, we had the implementation of the first major reforms of the Garda juvenile liaison scheme since its inception in 1963. These reforms are intended to improve the effectiveness of the JLO scheme and to ensure that it is available for all suitable young offenders.
The new measures which were put in place last year include the establishment of a national juvenile liaison office to monitor and co-ordinate all matters relating to juveniles on a national scale. That office reports to the chief superintendent in charge of community relations and its director is the superintendent in charge of the community relations JLO section in the Dublin Metropolitan Area headquarters in Harcourt Square. Reform has taken place in the reporting and supervision arrangements for juvenile liaison officers.
In relation to a point raised by Deputy Gilmore and by the Garda representative associations at their conferences — they talked to me about it before the conferences — was about the right to form a trade union, affiliation with ICTU and the right to strike. The Garda Síochána Act, 1924, as amended by the Garda Síochána Act, 1977, provides that it shall not be lawful for a member of the Garda Síochána to be, or to become a member of a trade union or any association, other than an association established under the Act. It also makes it an offence for a person to cause dissatisfaction or to induce any member of the Garda Síochána to withhold his or her services. There are no plans to change these legal provisions. The Garda association fully participate in the Garda conciliation and arbitration scheme. The scheme, which is similar to schemes operating elsewhere in the public service, provides for a conciliation council and arbitration board, both of which are designed to deal exclusively with pay and other specified conditions of service of members of all ranks of the Garda Síochána up to and including the rank of Chief Superintendent. The scheme works well as is evidenced by the fact that the Garda associations have secured significant benefits under it for their members.
The Garda associations have raised the question that they are not involved directly in theProgramme for Social and Economic Progress negotiations. They have not been involved but the official side of the conciliation council, which includes representatives of the Department of Justice and Finance has endeavoured, and I think the associations would accept this, within the limits of confidentiality to keep the associations up to date on these matters. Special meetings of the council have been held for this very purpose. The bottom line is that we cannot allow a situation to develop whereby those given the vital task of maintaining law and order can go on strike.
Deputy Dermot Ahern asked about the position of Drogheda Garda station. Plans for the new station are being drawn up at present. This project is a high priority and every effort will be made to ensure that it commences this year.
I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply to the many questions.
We will resume on Vote 21 — Prisons.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Could I remind the Minister about the question I asked earlier about overtime? Are those figures fiction or fact? Will she verify that £22,000 for overtime was paid to a prison warden? If prison wardens are earning such amounts of overtime there is scope for employing extra staff.
I referred earlier to the incident in Limerick prison which I would like to pursue further with the Minister. The Minister has already agreed, in the course of her reply in the Dáil last week, it is quite unsatisfactory in a case such as this where it is accepted wrongdoing occurred and the incident was of a very serious nature, that disciplinary action cannot be taken. She justified it on the basis that the manner in which the investigation was conducted granted an assurance of confidentiality to those giving information. I am not sure that the assurance of confidentiality was any more than would normally be given in such circumstances. In any event it does not justify a decision not to pursue the matter.
Will the Minister address the implications of her decision not to pursue the matter of morale in the prison service and the relationships between prison staff and prisoners which, at the best of times, can be difficult? As I said earlier, I fully understand that prison officers have a very difficult job. However, in a situation such as this where the Department acknowledges that prisoners can be beaten up, investigates the matter and takes no action, what recourse is there?
Will the Minister inform us when the last annual report for the prison service was published? What is the delay in publishing the annual reports on the prison service? Does she have any plans to improve this?
I believe — and I think my views are widely shared by others — that prison must only be a place for those who are a danger to themselves or to society. Prison is not the best place to deal with minor offenders or first time offenders, except in cases of serious crime.
Contrary to the impression generally held in the community, we have, by international standards, quite a sizeable prison population. I have a report by Dr. Paul O'Mahony on the Irish prison system and European comparisons. He compared figures for detention rates and imprisonment for the 21 Council of Europe countries. It is interesting that Ireland has one of the lowest detention rates but one of the highest imprisonment rates. Only ten of the Council of Europe countries have a higher imprisonment rate than Ireland. The average for the Council of Europe countries is 186 per 100,000 of population, whereas Ireland's rate is 206 per 100,000. However, Ireland's detention rate is very low because although many people go through the prison system — 206 per 100,000 of the population which compares very unfavourably with other countries — their stay is remarkably short — the average is 3.2 months. This helps to explain some of our current difficulties with the revolving door policy.
This morning I was interested to hear the Minister repeat her reply to a Dáil question which I tabled last week, that the number of people serving sentences related to fines and civil debts is only 1 per cent. I asked the Minister to clarify if that is because the courts are not imposing fines, that persons are now paying fines or that petitions are successful and that, therefore, imprisonment does not follow. It has to be for one of these reasons. As I understand it, the same number of fines, if not more, are being imposed by the courts. The Garda tell me there are still many difficulties trying to raise the fines. Am I to take it that it is the Minister's policy to commute fines because there is no prison space? If it is, it is quite appalling for a number of reasons. Virtually every Member who spoke this morning wants the Minister to retain the appeals system. That is rather strange as it puts enormous political pressure on individuals at constituency level and on the Minister at a national level. I do not question the Minister's integrity in this matter and I am not suggesting that anything improper is being done in relation to individuals. However, I know that when a particular Minister held that portfolio some years ago it was disclosed in a TV programme that nobody in County Roscommon paid any fines. Such a policy brings the judicial system into disrepute.
I have spoken to members of the Judiciary about this matter and they are furious with the number of fines that are commuted. They do not have a formal way of finding out that fines are commuted. I would like the Minister to outline the procedures that follow a petition being made. Who is consulted: the investigating gardaí, the court clerk? On what basis are decisions made? Is it the case that following a petition, a fine is substantially reduced or struck out altogether? Is that why only 1 per cent of prisoners are imprisoned for fine related matters?
It is not my policy to imprison people who cannot pay fines. That should be dealt with in other ways, for example, through attachment of earnings, community service orders and instalment payments. Inadequate notice of final payment date is given to those who are fined so it is almost impossible for the person to find the money on time. There should be a different system for payment of fines. Non-payment of fines brings our system into disrepute. The garda time taken up by court appearances was mentioned earlier. When time is spent on court appearances that result in fines being commuted, it is equally wasteful and a disgrace.
We have more than 2,000 people in prison at an average cost of about £110 per day on 1991 figures. It is extremely expensive so we must use that space in the most efficient way possible, I do not believe that happens at present.
I wish to draw attention to the Vickers case. Some time ago I asked the Minister in the Dáil if representations had been made by the prisoner in question. She said she thought the prisoner had made representations. Has the Minister been able to clarify that? What form did those representations take? Did the prisoner write to her or write to her Department or did a legal representative write on his behalf? Were the investigating gardaí in that case consulted before the early release order was signed? The justification for the early release of that person has caused public disquiet and enormous trauma to the family of the young girl who was killed in that traffic incident.
If we are concerned about victims and their families we must give people full information. People have a right to such information. There is no justification for withholding information. The attitude adopted by the Minister that it would be better not to divulge the reasons for what happened are quite appalling and caused great distress. I do not wish to add to that distress but a number of questions about that case have not been properly answered.
In the subsequent adjournment Debate in the Dáil it was said that the early release order was signed by the officer in question as it was anticipated that there would be an accommodation crisis in Shelton Abbey, where the prisoner was held, over the St. Patrick's Day weekend. I tabled a Parliamentary Question asking how many people were in Shelton Abbey during those days. I understand from the prison authorities that there was no accommodation crisis; 158 persons had been released from custody between 10 and 15 March. I do not believe 158 other persons were taken in. When I asked the Minister a question on that I was told that it would require too much staff time to give me the answer. If the staff did not have the answer for me, how did they have that information to decide on the early release? I find it hard to accept that the information is not available.
The Department of Justice, and most Departments, are reluctant to release information. In Ireland we have a paranoia about releasing information even when it contains no security element. We operate a very confined Official Secrets Act and, as a result, basic information is withheld.
We have not had a prisons report or a report on the probation service since 1988. It is difficult for policy makers or for those interested in criminology to deal in any considered way with these issues if basic statistics are not available. It will also clog up our parliamentary system if Deputies are obliged to put down parliamentary questions to get basic information that should be available from reports. If we receive the answer that there are not enough resources to supply the information then that avenue of inquiry is closed which is a pity.
I understand there are about 180 probation officers. They do an outstanding job, they are well qualified and their average age is 30. They have social science degrees and have an interest and expertise in criminology and related matters. The probation system can be very effective in keeping people out of prison. There are about 1,200 probation orders and about 1,300 community service orders made each year. That is a total of 2,500 orders, not including early releases, which are supervised by 180 probation officers. The service is far too small to deal with that volume of work. As a result we do not make more use of the community service orders which were established as an alternative to prison for those who commit certain crimes. Could the Minister clarify how many people are supervised by each probation officer? It would be interesting to see those figures as no human person can be expected to deal successfully with such large numbers.
Many people come before the courts due to alcohol or drug related problems. Custodial sentences are not appropriate in such cases. Many of those people may get probation orders. It is a condition of probation bonds that they must attend a mandatory alcohol or drug treatment course? Members of the probation service have told me that the same people appear before the courts because their probation orders are not conditional on them attending alcohol or drug treatment centres. As a result the real cause of their crime is not tackled so they continue to commit crime.
There are about 1,500 drug abusers and most of them live in the Dublin region. It costs between £65 to £100 per day to feed the habit. As nobody can afford that amount of money drug abuse has to be a major cause of crime. There is no point in the garda apprehending a young person in possession of drugs, charging him, confiscating the drugs and letting the person go. That person will steal more money to purchase more drugs. We must take people with drug and alcohol related problems out of the judicial system and into proper treatment centres. I am aware that the Minister favours a multi-disciplinary approach to crime involving the Departments of Education, Health and other appropriate Departments. These abuses are health related problems but often the sufferer or the addict is only discovered through the criminal justice system. I am advised that the links between the two Departments are not strong enough to make the treatment mandatory and as a result the judicial system is unnecessarily over-burdened.
The Minister has implemented many of the recommendations made by the prison advisory group. I am delighted that 50 of the 57 recommendations have been implemented as that group revealed that one had a 16 times greater chance of dying if one was in prison than if one lived in the general population.
Could the Minister tell me what stage the Department has reached in its implementation of the Whitaker report? The vast majority of the report's fine recommendations have not been implemented. What plans has the Minister to implement the Whitaker report and with what aspects of the report does she disagree?
I know that Whitaker took issue with the policy on petitions.
If we want to keep a petitions system, and I am not saying we should not, it should be an independent system. Ministers' stopped making decisions on planning applications in the mid-1970s. A politician is not a suitable person for making decisions about fines, early releases and matters of that kind. We need an independent parole board. I am not going to raise this matter now because of the larger policy issue, but I would prefer to see responsibility for management of our prisons removed from the Department of Justice. The prison system would have its own management structure and chief executive while the Minister would be responsible for penal policy. But that is a wider issue and I do not wish to discuss it in any great detail today. The more autonomy we give our prison system and the better we streamline its management, the more effective use we will make of the considerable resources that are going into the prison system.
I have been lobbied by the family of a constituent of mine who is serving a long sentence in Arbour Hill for rape. They tell me that their family member is not receiving any treatment. My office has been in touch with the Department of Justice about this matter. I ask the Minister if she could clarify whether all prisoners serving sentences for sex related offences receive treatment, whether the treatment is compulsory and whether prisoners can opt out of that treatment? There seems to be confusion in the prisoner's family as to whether the treatment is available, or is being offered and refused. I know that person's family members are concerned that he receive whatever treatment is appropriate. I ask the Minister if she could clarify the nature of the treatment facilities that are available for sex offenders.
I have questions for the Minister under subheads — F, G and I. The first question is in regard to the community service order scheme. There is an increase of £30,000 in the Estimate for material and equipment, which brings the figure to £70,000. As a member of a local authority which has great difficulty in the local community with the removal of graffiti from various public places, I ask the Minister whether, it is possible to make some provision within that budget for the extension of the community service order schemes to include the removal of graffiti as local authorities are having difficulties finding finance for this work. This would be a great community service. Graffiti is now widespread in the community, so perhaps a scheme of this kind to make offenders remove graffiti would act as a deterrent.
Under subhead G, Educational Services, I wish to know whether these services include work training programmes operated through FÁS schemes, or whether these are separate. Under subhead I, the European Social Fund, listed as £135,000 reduced to £100,000, I wish to ask the Minister whether that reduction is related to the type of educational service mentioned as employment training for prisoners. That question is partly connected to the question under G.
The figures for overtime in prisons are factual. The figure for 1990 was £11.467 million; for 1991, £13,638 million; for 1992, £12.767 million, so it is factual overtime.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Would the Minister accept that this should continue?
Overtime in prisons is a difficult issue to tackle because there will never be a situation where overtime does not exist in the prison system. From time to time situations arise, perhaps through absenteeism or particular difficulties in one prison or another, where overtime has to be available. It is preferable to have less overtime and over the years we have tried to encourage both services to curtail the overtime. When the Estimates are being discussed we have tried to curtail the amount of money spent on overtime.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Does the Minister have an average figure for the amount of overtime each person worked?
I do not have a figure just now but, if I can, I will get it before the end of the debate for the Deputy.
The number of prisoners serving sentences has been raised. Comparisons on detection rates are unsafe unless you know what exactly is being compared with what. For example, in some countries younger persons in secure custody may not be included in the numbers' published. Another factor is that Ireland has a younger population than many European countries and the types of crimes are different, meriting different penalties.
In relation to the Vickers case, I have made a very full statement on this on a number of occasions already in the Dáil but the underlying innuendo, which I thought I had dealt with in the course of a lengthy reply to a parliamentary question last week, that there were representations in this case, is without foundation.
An official made the decision to make space in Shelton Abbey which was full. It is not correct to say that the prison was not full that weekend. As well as the prisoner Deputy Harney is interested in, 47 others were released on the same day to make space available.
The annual report has been raised by Deputy Gilmore and others. There has not been an annual report since 1988. Major strides have been made in preparing reports for 1989, for 1990 and 1991 and they are all now at an advanced stage of preparation. The delay has arisen because of staffing problems in the prisons division of the Department which have now been addressed. I am told that the 1989 report is in proof form and will be ready in a matter of weeks.
I thought that we had dealt with petitions procedures comprehensively earlier. The petition procedure is not a court of appeal, as I said in the course of a response in the Dáil recently. I have no function in determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant or the appropriateness or otherwise of the penalty imposed by the court. Consideration is primarily given by all Ministers for Justice to any circumstances which for one reason or another were not made known to the court or which the court could not take into account. For example, clemency is exercised where there is a mandatory penalty or where mitigating circumstances arose subsequent to the court hearing. In the majority of cases, as I said earlier today, the decision to exercise clemency is taken on humanitarian grounds.
I welcome the comments made by Deputy Harney when she complimented the good work which is done by the staff who are working in the probation and welfare service. The main functions of that service are preparing pre-sentence reports on convicted persons for the courts, supervising people placed on probation by the courts or on temporary release from custody, the operation of the community service order scheme, helping local communities to organise and operate probation and after-care hostels, training workshops and day attendance centres, resolution of family difficulties in civil cases as requested by the courts, helping offenders in custody and their families to cope with their problems, and provision of services to the special schools run by the Department of Education. The present establishment of the probation and welfare service is 218.5 staff, five service officers, 40.5 clerical and supervisory staff, 134 probation and welfare officers, 32 senior probation and welfare officers, six assistant principal probation and welfare officers and one principal probation and welfare officer.
The recommendations made in the Whitaker report represents a very wide prescription indeed. I doubt if anybody could object to the general thrust of that prescription. Policies which have been pursued in recent years are in line with that prescription — for example, the wide development of neighbourhood watch type schemes and greater concentration on education for drug and alcohol abuse, the development of the juvenile liaison officer scheme, which we spoke about earlier, the identification of problem areas and possible solutions to those problems. I fully endorse the approach of the Whitaker report and its recommendations for controlling crime and consequently reducing the demand for prison accommodation. I intend to continue to advocate that approach as the opportunity arises and as far as resources permit me to do so. As I indicated in the Dáil recently, I am carrying out a thorough review of prison policy and in the context of that review I will take full account of the Whitaker report and of many of the things which were said earlier today. In the meantime the sentence review group which reviews most sentences of seven years or more has been operating for three years. This goes a long way towards meeting the recommendation for regular review of long sentences.
There is one recommendation in the Whitaker report which is often singled out for particular mention, and that is the establishment of a prisons board. That would involve major change in the way prisons are administered. I listened carefully to the point Deputy Harney made that in the longer term we should look at whether prisons should be operated by the Department of Justice at all or if we should have an independent management system installed. I would not like anybody to think that would be an easy thing to do. I believe that having a prisons board would involve a major departure from the way in which the Department's business is administered and would result in a fundamental dilution of the role of the Minister for Justice in relation to the prisons, something Deputy Harney does not wish to see.
I have not made any final decision in relation to my attitude to that recommendation in the Whitaker report. My initial reaction, however, is that it might not be in the public interest, or the interest of the Dáil and Seanad, to make such a fundamental change at this time. I do not believe we should alter lightly the situation where the Minister for Justice has to answer to the Houses of the Oireachtas on matters relating to the prisons. That responsibility is important and it should be retained but I have listened carefully to what people are saying in relation to this matter.
The Whitaker report contains many recommendations: many of those have already been implemented, and others are in the course of implementation. Implementing the report is mainly about the adoption of a philosophy in relation to penal policy, and acceptance of that philosophy provides a fundamental basis on which the various recommendations in the report can be assessed. Many of the recommendations have not yet been put in place but they have been kept under review and are taken into account as the prison system develops. My first priority is to have a fundamental review of prison policy and that is being done as quickly as possible.
Deputy Gilmore referred to the incidents which occurred on 5 April and 9 April, 1992 in Limerick prison. In my response, which he quoted, to a parliamentary question on 13 May I explained at length the reasons why disciplinary action was not taken in relation to the alleged assault on a chief officer. I accept that it would have been better had disciplinary action against a number of alleged wrongdoers taken place. However, as I explained in my response to the parliamentary question, this would have not been possible without breaching the confidentiality of the various interviews which were conducted in the course of the investigation of the incident. That would have involved a breach of confidentiality not just with respect to information gathered from the prison officers but also with respect to information which was gathered from prisoners. Legal advice says that the confidences would have to be released in the eventuality of the publication of a report. I am still satisfied that the correct decision was taken to avoid a breach in confidence. I want to make it clear that this decision implies no criticism, as Deputy Gilmore seems to suggest, of the officer who carried out the investigation, but in future arrangements will have to be made to avoid such situation happening.
Regarding the alleged assaults on prisoners, my Department arranged for the Garda Síochána to carry out investigations, and the gardaí concerned, as Deputy Gilmore knows, submitted reports to the DPP. I understand that the DPP has decided today that there should be no prosecution arising out of the incidents and I have no responsibility for the DPP's decision. I recognise that the incidents which occurred could have implications for the maintenance of good staff relations and staff morale in Limerick prison, and for proper relations between staff and prisoners.
I have to say that difficulties on this kind were present in Limerick prison for quite some time and did not just arise as a result of these incidents. The difficulties require resolution and I have asked my Department to take such steps as are necessary to achieve that result with the least possible delay. I am sure that reply will not satisfy Deputy Gilmore but he will have to take it in good faith. I am giving him all the information at my disposal other than the confidential report and, as I said, commitments were entered into not to disclose the information therein.
In response to Deputy Browne's question the average overtime for a prison officer is £6,000. Deputy Eamon Walsh mentioned how the community service order scheme might be extended to include other works, for example the removal of graffiti. I will look at the suggestion that this should be given prominence in community service order work.
The question of sex offenders was raised. I have expressed concern, both publicly and in the prison service, in relation to these prisoners. All treatment of a psychotherapeutic nature for such offenders is of necessity voluntary. The co-operation of the offender is crucial to such therapy. All sex offenders in prison have access already to the full range of medical services, including psychological and psychiatric services, available to prisoners. A specially prepared therapeutic programme has been proposed for sex offenders, and I have a study made by my officials in this regard on my desk. I expect to be in a position to make an announcement on that study in the near future.
Deputy Eamon Walsh also mentioned training and education. The amounts outlined separately under the Vote do not reflect the total input in this area. Staff costs also include costs of instructors and the Vote does not include the cost of 125 full-time teachers. The European Social Fund money is in respect of training in the training unit itself.
I dealt with the probation and welfare service when I was talking earlier.
In relation to community service orders and how many of those are in operation at any one time, Deputy Harney is correct that 1,390 orders were in operation for 1991. In total, over 250,000 hours of work have been performed over the last seven years. This work has been of enormous benefit to the community as a whole and — I would say — to the offenders too, in that it allows them to work in an normal environment and gets the community to accept that.
We have gone over time on the Prisons Vote and we have three remaining Votes on which I am sure Members will want to ask questions.
In relation to juvenile crime and the proposals for the publication of a juvenile justice Bill, are there any negotiations taking place between the Department of Justice and the Department of Education in relation to special schools? These special schools are regarded publically as detention centres and they are neither functioning as schools nor as prisons. Members of the last committee on crime, myself included, paid a visit to these special schools and I have to say one would need to be there to understand the frustration of those in charge. the teachers are getting the juveniles too late so that their programme is of little value. Teachers are actually operating as semi-prison officers, trying to detain advanced, yet very young criminals.
Are there negotiations taking place and, if so, what type of changes does the Minister anticipate in dealing with juvenile crime? In Trinity House the failure rate is well in excess of 80 per cent and the cost of keeping one juvenile there is in excess of £60,000 per annum. If juveniles are re-offending we can be certain that they will end up being considered in the Prison Vote. When one looks at a budget of £96 million for a prison service and asks if we are achieving anything, the answer has to be no.
I listened to the Minister's reply to Deputy Eamon Walsh's question on the educational services subhead which, of course, excludes the cost of the teachers' salaries which I understand are covered by the Department of Education under the EC Vote. The comparison of the sum of £332,000 for educational services with a total budget of £96 million gives some indication of the failure of the system in that people are going into prison, coming out and going back in again. Nothing is being achieved. It is neither a deterrent nor a rehabilitation of the criminal.
Regarding subhead A.3., £480,000 is provided for escort and conveyance of prisoners. I understand this sum relates to the cost of running the vehicles but not the time of the officers involved, including the Garda Síochána. Compare this with the paltry amount being spent on educational services.
If we are going to detain those involved in serious crime, in prison, of which I am in favour, then surely it is to our benefit that these detainees are taught skills so that when they are released that they will move from a career of crime into normal society.
We should be debating the Estimates for next year, not the money we are spending this year. In respect of next year's Estimate, will proper provision be made for educational services and the question raised about sex offenders to reduce the overall figure of £96 million which is a colossal sum of money to be spending in running our prisons? Does the Minister have figures available regarding the percentage of prisoners who reoffend?
Arising from my earlier question regarding the incidents in Limerick, I do not accept the Minister's explanation of events. To argue that no action can be taken because of confidentiality is nonsense. As I am sure the Minister knows, Garda investigations or investigations carried out by Government Ministers involve confidential information. Is the Minister saying there can never again be an investigation where confidential information is provided? It appears now if there is an investigation where information is obtained confidentially you cannot take any action which seems to nullify the reason for having an investigation in the first place. I do not accept that.
The Minister is responsible for our prisons and, as she said herself, it is proper that she should be accountable to the House. The Minister has information available to her regarding serious matters and she has decided that no action should be taken. I do not accept the Minister's argument in relation to confidentiality.
At present a number of prison officers in Limerick prison who mutinied against their superiors and the Governor of the prison are still in the service of Limerick prison. I understand the first time it was made known that no disciplinary action would be taken was last Thursday and I thank the Minister for making this information available in reply to my question. Since or before last Thursday, did the Minister have discussions with the Governor or the authorities of Limerick prison about a situation which now pertains where a number of prison officers who mutinied against their superiors are still in the service of that prison? Has the Minister had any discussion with the Governor or the authorities of that prison about the implications for command, control and discipline in the prison? How does the Minister foresee relations between the Governor and the senior staff of Limerick prison and the prison officers continuing in that prison? How does she foresee the relationship between prisoners and prison staff proceeding?
The Minister mentioned there had been problems previously in Limerick prison. I am not denying any rights to the staff involved as they would have the right to respond to any case made against them. However, it appears that the Minister's decision has now given rise to a situation which may in time have serious implications within Limerick prison and the prison service generally.
I will first deal with the points raised by Deputy Gilmore. Deputy Gilmore accepts that I am as concerned about this issue as he is. I inherited a situation in that my predecessor sent an official of the Department to Limerick prison to investigate the events of 5 and 9 April, 1992. I regret that a commitment relating to confidentiality was given. In retrospect it would have been better if it had not been given. I also understand that the official could not have established the full facts without giving that commitment. If I could be assured from the legal advice available to me, and I have not yet received this assurance, that I could proceed with disciplinary action in relation to what happened in Limerick prison without having to release the confidential report, then I would have no hesitation in proceeding.
The case has implications for the maintenance of good relations in the prisons. I visited most of the prisons since I became Minister for Justice, I have not had an opportunity to visit three prisons. Limerick prison was one of the prisons I visited and, obviously, in the course of discussions with the Governor and senior management of the prison this issue and others were discussed with me. I know there are concerns in relation to what happened at that time. All I can advise Deputy Gilmore is, that as a result of my own concerns and indeed the concerns raised by him and others today, I am prepared to seek further legal advice. I assure him that if the advice to me indicates that I do not have to publish the confidential report then I would be prepared to consider disciplinary action. That is as far as Deputy Gilmore would expect me to go at this stage.
Regarding the Juvenile Justice Bill and the whole area of juvenile prisoners, it is a core issue whether one takes children as young as 12 years of age who have to be held in custody out of the education area and into the area of justice and prisons. There is no doubt that some young people must be held because they commit extremely serious offences. A Juvenile Justice Bill is at an advanced stage of preparation and I hope it will be published in the autumn. We have considered all the options available and which have been enshrined in law in other countries. We have closely examined the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Crime dealing with this whole area. Deputy Quill, who was the chairperson of that committee, has spoken to me on a number of occasions to ensure that Departmental officials will consider the very worthwhile recommendations of that committee's report. There is, and always has been, tremendous co-operation between the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, not just in relation to this Bill that will be published in the autumn but also in relation to the continuing matter of juvenile offenders.
There is an urgent need for additional semi-closed spaces for young women. The Department of Education had intended, as I am sure Deputy Barrett knows, to construct a new centre to hold up to 20 young female offenders in Finglas. Architectural planning was at a very advanced stage. However, as happens in these instances, on a number of occasions local people objected to the proposal and the Department of Education had no alternative but to move and to look at an alternative location. That has obviously slowed up the process again. I assure the Deputy, if assurance is necessary, that there is and continues to be full co-operation between the Departments of Justice, Education and Health in relation to the formulation and implementation of a co-ordinated and comprehensive policy for this area.
I now turn to the education courses and activities in prison. With 125 teachers working in the prisons it must be one of the largest schools in operation anywhere in Ireland. I pay tribute to all the teachers who perform such wonderful work in the prisons. I have had an opportunity with my visit to all of the prisons to see at first hand the results of the work and see how much it has benefited prisoners who had little education and few literary skills when entering prison. They now are taking the Junior Certificate, the City and Guilds or the Leaving Certificate and doing very well. There is educational input from the Open University which provides degree level study for about 50 prisoners around the country. There is a strong public library service. The Arts Council run a writers workshop and a prison scheme based on their "Writers in School" scheme and there is an artist workshop scheme for prisoners. The prison officers are involved in providing the psysical education in some prisons. Several third level colleges are involved — for example, the NCAD at Portlaoise, Cork regional technical college at Cork and the University at Limerick, which has an involvement in both Mountjoy and Limerick. The courses and activities in the education area are provided almost entirely by eight local vocational education committees.
All prisons promote education. Prisoners learn basic literacy, art, English, French, Spanish, computers, business studies, home economics including social studies, sociology, health education, craft, history, Irish, creative writing, music, mathematics, drama, biology, technical drawing, geography, yoga and physical education. The teachers do a tremendous amount of work. Prisoners leave at the end of their detention with a far greater appreciation of education and with far greater skills than they had when they entered.
Shall we move on to Vote 22 dealing with the courts?
Before we do, the Minister said earlier she would answer some of the queries from earlier in the morning. I mentioned in my contribution areas the Department might look at for extra accommodation in prison or detention centres. The Minister referred to it when she mentioned Finglas. I cited Collins Barracks, which has already a barracks atmosphere and which would be acceptable to people if it was altered to accommodate prisoners or as a place of detention. The Curragh might also be adapted. Could the Minister comment on that area?
I regret I did not respond to Deputy Callely as I promised, but I will now. As I said earlier, we are reviewing the prison service at the moment. Therefore at this stage I am not prepared to say what the result of that review might be in relation to the provision of extra prison spaces. I will say I do not think nor do those who advise me feel that either Collins Barracks or the Curragh would be suitable for alteration to a prison or a custodial place. A conservative estimate is that £15 million would be required to make Collins Barracks suitable for prison spaces.
We must remember that if the review advocates extra prison spaces, there are a number of alternatives within the current prison service that would be examined. One of those might well be the site at Wheatfield, which would be available. Another is one I may have mentioned in a Dáil debate, the Spike Island location, where we have a number of buildings which are in need of refurbishment and could be refurbished if necessary.
If the review decides we need extra prison spaces, we then have to decide how to fund them. There are a number of ways in which that might be done. The Minister for Finance might find himself in a particularly generous mood and be prepared to give the Minister for Justice the money required, which might well be substantial. Another alternative might be that in the event of the Department of Finance not being able to give the amount of money required, the prison could be built from private sources on a lease-back basis to the Department, much in the same way as we have in a number of decentralisation projects around the country.
However, it is too soon even to speculate or talk about that because we have yet to make a decision as to whether we need additional spaces. I would not like to hold out any hope to Deputy Callely that either of the two places he recommends could be used.
I thank the Minister for her detailed reply. I do not know whether there is any date for receiving the findings of the review committee in relation to prison places. The Minister is the person most aware that a number of prisoners who are getting early releases——
I interrupt the Deputy because we have dealt with that adequately.
I know, but I want to take this opportunity——
I am not allowing further discussion on it. We have covered the points. The Minister has responded earlier. Are there any questions in relation to the courts?
Could the Minister answer my question about conveying prisoners and escorts from prisons to courts?
I think Deputy Barrett would accept that the conveyance of prisoners to the court in which they are charged and have to stand trial could not be allowed to continue unless they were accompanied. It is important that remain as it is. Every effort is made within the prison service to reduce this to the minimum accompaniment necessary. At the same time, I think it is important we maintain the system as it is.