Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Questions (3)

Dara Calleary


4Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the action he has taken to address the spate of crime that has hit rural Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29853/12]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Justice)

While the latest recorded crime statistics show a decrease in most types of crime during 2011, as I have previously stated, I am concerned at the increase in certain categories of crime, notably burglaries and other property crimes. In particular, I share the widespread outrage at recent incidents of aggravated burglary, where elderly people were terrorised in their own homes and subjected to barbaric brutality. Although the overall incidence of crime is generally lower in rural than in urban areas, I am conscious of the deep distress these disturbing assaults can cause and the fear they give rise to in rural communities. I am sure the Deputy will agree that An Garda Síochána has been relentless in its efforts to bring to justice those involved in this type of crime.

I welcome that all crime trends are monitored closely by Garda management, with intelligence-led initiatives put in place to target burglary and other criminality in rural as well as all other areas. The Deputy will be aware the Garda Commissioner has introduced a wide range of measures as part of a new operation aimed at tackling gangs involved in burglaries. These measures, which are showing welcome results, are encompassed in Operation Fiacla, which is particularly focused on identifying and targeting mobile gangs involved in burglaries throughout the country so as to disrupt their activities and bring them before the courts. Specific burglary related initiatives are being implemented in each Garda region in support of the operation. This is a co-ordinated, intelligence-led strategy designed to maximise organisational resources to proactively target prolific offenders.

In addition to the concerted law enforcement efforts which are being pursued by An Garda Síochána, crime prevention is a key component in tackling burglary and other property crime. In this regard, the Garda national crime prevention unit and crime prevention officers at divisional level provide advice, information and support to organisations, businesses and individuals aimed at reducing burglary and property crime. Similarly, the Garda national model of community policing plays a key part in responding to crime by taking into account and responding to local conditions and needs. In this regard the Garda continues to work closely with communities to enhance community safety in a wide range of local fora, including through partnership programmes such as community alert and neighbourhood watch.

I am full aware of the concerns that exist at the incidence of certain property crimes as well as the specific concerns felt in rural areas, and I welcome, therefore, the fact the Garda Commissioner is deploying the substantial resources available to him in a targeted and strategic approach to confront those engaging in this form of criminality.

I thank the Minister for his reply and join him in paying tribute to the Garda for the work it is doing. I raised the issue of recent attacks on vulnerable people with the Minister of State, Deputy Dinny McGinley, during the Topical Issue Debate. Since these attacks, the level of concern in rural areas has increased significantly. In the light of the cuts in the Department of Justice and Equality, including to the community alert and senior alert schemes, I raised with the Minister of State the possibility that he, wearing his Gaeltacht affairs hat, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, wearing his community affairs hat, and the Minister for Justice and Equality would discuss whether additional funding could be made available to support the community alert scheme and, in particular, the senior alert programme. If Departments have underspent, they could release funding for the schemes in the coming weeks, thereby offering people a degree of security as we approach the winter months.

Last month, in response to an oral question, the Minister provided an update on the number of investigations that had taken place under Operation Fiacla. Will he provide a further update?

I do not have definitive figures, but I can provide some information for the Deputy. Again, I must be careful not to say anything that could prejudice prosecutions. Operation Fiacla has been particularly successful. A number of individuals will find themselves before the courts in the not too distant future as a result of successful investigations. Some of those who have been engaged in appalling thuggery will find themselves before the courts. The Deputy will understand, therefore, if I do not say anything more on the matter. I pay tribute again to the Garda for the work it has done in this area.

I am conscious of the value of community alert schemes which have been funded through my Department. Unfortunately, owing to the financial and economic legacy the Government has inherited, we must reduce the levels of public expenditure. I have approximately €100 million less available in my Department in 2012 than I had in 2011. However, we are doing our best to ensure community alert schemes are adequately funded. Towards the end of last year we managed to find additional funding to meet needs. We are operating with substantial efficiency in the Department. An initial allocation of funding is being made to the community alert scheme this year and if the schemes require additional supports, I am hopeful we will be able to provide them towards the end of the year.

The senior alert scheme, under which an emergency pendant is provided in the home, gives people great security. Will the Minister ascertain from his colleagues whether further funding is available for the scheme?

The Law Reform Commission has issued a consultation paper on mandatory sentencing for certain crimes. I understand a final document has not been published by it. When does the Minister envisage he will be in a position to bring before the House proposals on mandatory sentencing for aggravated burglary?

Heavy sentences can be passed in cases of aggravated burglary. In the context of the mandatory sentencing issue, clearly we have to wait for the final report. I understand the Law Reform Commission has published a consultative document, but it has not yet published its final report. If that is the case, we have to wait to see the contents of the final report.