Thursday, 5 July 2018

Questions (4)

Danny Healy-Rae


4. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if longer sentences and stiffer penalties for criminals who break into homes of elderly persons will be introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29824/18]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Justice)

To my mind one of the worst crimes that happens in our communities is where the homes of elderly people are broken into and robbed and the elderly people are assaulted. They have given their lives to bring our country to where it is. This is the most unsavoury crime that happens.

I call on the Minister to treat this as such and ensure the severest penalties possible will be meted out to these criminals and that they will be put away for a long time in order that they will not perpetrate these crimes on elderly people again.

I agree with the Deputy that burglary is a most serious offence. I am mindful of the impact it can have on a victim, particularly a victim who is elderly or vulnerable. Reflecting the seriousness of the crime, there are stringent penalties in place for burglary offences. Under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, the offence of burglary is punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment. Aggravated burglary, where a weapon is involved, is punishable by up to life imprisonment. The Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015 was introduced by my predecessor specifically to target repeat offenders, with provisions on consecutive sentencing and bail.

Within the parameters set by the Oireachtas, the sentence to be imposed in a given case is a matter for the courts. The Deputy will be aware that judges are independent in the matter of sentencing, subject only to the Constitution and the law. The court is required to impose a sentence which is proportionate, not only to the crime but also to the individual offender, in the process of identifying where in the sentencing range the particular case should lie and applying any mitigating factor which may be present. The vulnerability of a victim, including vulnerability by reason of age, may be regarded by the court as an aggravating circumstance.

The Deputy may be aware of recent judgments by the Court of Appeal which set down sentencing guidelines for burglary and robbery. In this jurisprudence the court stated that if a considerable number of aggravating factors were present, it would raise the offence to the highest category, meriting a sentence of nine to 14 years before mitigating factors could be taken into account. In addition, I have indicated that I will be bringing forward amendments to the Judicial Council Bill 2017 which will address the matter of sentencing guidelines more generally. The amendments are close to finalisation and I am satisfied that they will strengthen the provisions contained in the Bill which provide for a sentencing information committee.

A home is a person's castle. I will outline two incidents. Johnny is an elderly man. There is a straight laneway of half a mile to his house from the public road. If someone opens the gate and proceeds along the laneway, he is watching at the window. He goes into an outside shed to peep around the corner to see who has landed in his yard. He will not make himself available if he does not know the person. That is how afraid he is after his house was broken into while he was at Mass. Two brothers, Tim and Joe, were robbed recently. Now one of them sleeps while the other stays awake to watch because they are afraid that they will be robbed again. Regardless of the figures and the sentences the Minister mentioned, many of these crimes are being committed by people on bail. Someone who has a record and is caught again should not be granted bail again. There should be mandatory, not discretionary, sentencing. I am calling for mandatory sentencing where old people's lives are changed forever when someone enters their home and robs or beats them. No discretion should be allowed in how they are dealt with.

In the time available I will not repeat what I said on sentencing. I sympathise with Johnny, Tim and Joe. There are Johnnys, Tims and Joes in every constituency. I am concerned to ensure there will be special initiatives to tackle crime, especially in rural areas. In addition to the extensive policing measures being implemented as part of Operation Thor, An Garda Síochána is also supporting a number of partnership initiatives to tackle categories of crime which particularly affect rural areas and elderly people.

In dealing with the theft of tools from tradespeople and machine equipment in general, I acknowledge the importance of TheftStop which has been designed to deter criminals from taking and selling farm equipment and other machinery by ensuring it is clearly marked with a unique identifier. I am also aware that An Garda Síochána and the Construction Industry Federation recently launched a "Secure It, Keep It!" initiative in County Cork which adjoins the Deputy's county. I send a strong message to communities that they should work closely with An Garda Síochána to ensure every effort is made to fight the unacceptable incidence of crime rightly referred to by the Deputy.

I do not want to inhibit debate on such an important issue, but I remind the Deputy that he has one minute and one minute only.

All right. The Minister is saying communities should connect with the Garda, but that is impossible because of the closure of Garda stations in rural areas. There is no Garda station in Sneem and it is 35 minutes before a garda lands from Kenmare and almost an hour before a garda lands from Killarney when gardaí based in Kenmare are out. Communities do not have the same level of interaction with the local garda as they had previously. There were four gardaí in Kilgarvan, but there is none now. It is now served from Kenmare.

The Minister talked about burglary, including the theft of farm machinery. I am talking about elderly people whose lives are changed forever. I travel around the county a lot and have found that anyone who is a licensed gun owner does not seem to be targeted. How do these fellows find out who has a gun licence and who does not? I appeal to the Minister to deal with the crimes perpetrated against vulnerable elderly people in rural areas and villages. I have received many requests for lighting to be improved because people are so afraid. They have a little comfort when they can see up and down the street and there is no one around.

Please, Deputy. I need to call the Minister.

The Minister needs to deal with this issue differently in rural areas because these fellows are at it continually and do it while out on bail, which should not happen. I am asking for mandatory sentences. We should lock them up and throw away the keys because elderly people are never the same once they have been hit once.

I am sorry to say the Deputy breaks his promises.

As Minister for Justice and Equality, I am committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country, including County Kerry, to provide reassurance for the Deputy's constituents in the many cases he raises in the House on a regular basis. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that on 31 May, the latest date for which figures are readily available, the strength of the Kerry Garda division was 325. There are also 20 Garda reserves and 36 civilians attached to the division. When appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units. I acknowledge the importance of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. Every effort will be made to ensure the ongoing protection of the Deputyis constituents in County Kerry and beyond.