Thursday, 16 May 2019

Questions (18)

Bernard Durkan


18. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which the strength of An Garda Síochána is adequate to meet the challenges of organised crime; if particular issues have arisen that may require extra attention in the time ahead; if changes to the bail laws have resulted in an improvement in respect of recidivism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21145/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Justice)

This question seeks to examine the extent to which the strength of An Garda Síochána is adequate to meet the challenges of emerging organised crime and whether the revised bail laws have been shown to have restricted, restrained or contained the level and extent of the organisations involved in crime.

Tackling organised crime is an ongoing priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána and I am keen to ensure that necessary and appropriate resources continue to be made available. The manner in which the resources of An Garda Síochána are deployed, including personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and his management team. I am informed by the Commissioner that the additional resources coming on stream have enabled him to assign extra resources to specialist units involved in tackling organised crime, including the Armed Support Units, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and the Criminal Assets Bureau. Since the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore in September 2014, just under 2,400 Garda recruits have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide, including 800 new gardaí during 2018.

A total budget of €1.76 billion has been provided to An Garda Síochána this year, an increase of more than €100 million on the allocation for last year. The Commissioner plans to recruit a total of 600 trainee gardaí this year and, in addition, it is his intention to recruit a net 600 Garda civilian staff. This Garda staff recruitment will allow the Commissioner to redeploy a further 500 fully trained gardaí from administrative duties to front-line policing this year. The Garda Commissioner has confirmed that the Government's commitment to increase the overall strength of An Garda Síochána to 15,000 Garda members will be achieved by the target date of 2021. Deputy Durkan will be aware that recent changes to the bail laws were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2017 with the aim of strengthening the bail system and making the law as effective as possible in protecting the public against crimes committed by persons on bail.

What impact are the revised bail laws having on recidivists, if it can currently be quantified, and will revisiting of the bail laws be required?

I acknowledge the importance of the bail laws in respect of the power of the courts to refuse bail where there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is likely to commit a serious offence. In assessing this likelihood, the court must take a number of factors into account. The recently enacted Criminal Justice Act 2017 also strengthened Garda powers to deal with breaches of bail, provided for a power of arrest without warrant in certain circumstances, made provisions to increase the use of curfews, and facilitated the introduction of electronic tagging for those on bail in certain circumstances. Given that the new bail laws were only introduced a short two years ago, it is probably too early to give a comprehensive assessment as to whether or not the changes are having the desired effect. The figures for 2018 have not yet been made available from the CSO, but I expect that the introduction of the new tighter and more restricted bail regime will result in the type of activity envisaged and proposed by Deputy Durkan.

I thank the Minister. Has it become evident, from observation of court proceedings, that as many prisoners are receiving bail as did before, and are those who have committed a number of offences while on bail still receiving bail under the new regime?

I detect a change, however I am not in a position to inform the House by way of annual report or otherwise. As soon as I have these data I would be happy to inform both the Deputy and the House.

There have been proposals to further support changes in the bail regime, and while I would be happy to give due and careful consideration to any further proposals, I need, as Members will appreciate, to ensure that any new provisions are consistent with both the constitutional requirement for a fair trial and the fact that in these circumstances all persons are innocent until proven to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I need to ensure that all provisions, including any new ones, are consistent not only with the Constitution but also with the European Convention on Human Rights.

I thank the Minister.