Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Questions (34)

Danny Healy-Rae


34. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to bring forward legislation to provide for stronger sentences and penalties for criminals who target the homes of elderly persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27155/19]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Justice)

Following the closure of many Garda stations on both sides of Kenmare Bay, including Lauragh, Portmagee, Ballinskelligs and Valentia Island, and given that many more such as those in Sneem and Waterville are only open at certain times, there are genuine concerns among communities in this vast area that response times in seeking Garda assistance are not adequate and that this is creating an opening for the importation of drugs along this extensive coastline.

I am sure the Deputy will agree that burglary is a most serious offence, in particular, where the victim may be elderly or vulnerable, and that it often leaves a lasting impact. Given the seriousness of the crime, there are significant sentences in place in the law for burglary offences. I refer to the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, which provides for sentences of up to 14 years' imprisonment. Aggravated burglary - where a weapon may be used - is punishable by a sentence of up to life imprisonment. Furthermore, the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015 specifically addresses bail applications and targets repeat offenders by allowing for consecutive sentences where deemed to be appropriate.

I know that the Deputy will be aware that, within parameters set by the Oireachtas, sentences imposed in any given case are a matter for the courts and that judges are at all times independent in their decisions, subject only to the Constitution and the law. A matter that is fundamental in the law is that a court is required to impose a sentence which is proportionate, not only to the crime but also to the individual offender in identifying where in the sentencing range the particular case should lie and then applying any mitigating factor which may fall for consideration. The vulnerability of a victim, including vulnerability by reason of age, may be regarded by the court as an aggravating circumstance.

It is welcome that the Court of Appeal has set down sentencing guidelines for burglary and robbery. In this jurisprudence the court has stated that if a considerable number of aggravating factors are present, it raises the offence to the highest category which merits a sentence of between nine and 14 years, before mitigating factors are taken into account.

I advise the House that the Judicial Council Bill 2017 which has recently been passed by the Seanad and which I expect to bring into the House next week will address the matter of sentencing guidelines more generally. I welcome the initiative of Deputy Ó Laoghaire in that regard.

I am really shocked and disappointed. The Minister has not answered my question at all. The question he has answered has nothing to do with the one I asked about the coastline that is left unpoliced all along Kenmare Bay. What he dealt with was something else, the matter of sentencing. In all honesty and fairness, he did not answer my question. It is ridiculous. Did he get mixed up or did he get the answer to another answer? What has gone wrong? I asked him a question about the closure of Garda stations on both sides of Kenmare Bay, but he dealt with the matter of sentencing and something else unrelated to my question.

I regret that, but my understanding is I am dealing with Question No. 34 which deals with legislation providing for stronger sentences and penalties for criminals-----

No, that is not it. It is about the closure of Garda stations.

I am dealing with Question No. 34. Any criminal who is before the court in County Kerry is dealt with independently by it. I am pleased to note that the courts in County Kerry have full lists. I was also pleased to accompany the Deputy last year to the busy Garda station in Kenmare in the heart of his constituency. I acknowledge the constructive nature of that meeting. I assure the Deputy on the ongoing resources provided for the Garda and the chief superintendent's team in County Kerry.

Something has gone wrong as the Minister is not dealing with my priority question. As I said, the closure of so many Garda stations on both sides of Kenmare Bay has left the area unserviced, response times are not adequate and communities genuinely believe they are being exposed to the importation of drugs along this massive coastline. Every town and village in County Kerry is rife with drugs. How are they getting in? No one is being intercepted. There are many piers in the area, including Blackwater pier, Tahilla pier, the Oysterbed Pier, Gleesk Pier, the White Strand, Westcove Pier, Derrynane, Kilmakilloge, the Cloonee Lough, Bear head and Cahermore. My question has been left totally unanswered. The Minister did not address how it would be responded to or what would be done in the future to address it.

The Chair has no responsibility for the answers the Minister provides.

The Minister answers the questions put to him. I ask the Deputy to check with the Office of the Ceann Comhairle after this session. My understanding is the specific question referred to by the Deputy was disallowed. The question that was allowed is the one on the Order Paper, notice of which would have been given to the Deputy in recent days. The Garda Commissioner and his team across An Garda Síochána will continue to give priority to communities in County Kerry and other parts of the country. From my perspective, I am keen to ensure the Garda Commissioner and his team are sufficiently resourced. That is why a total budget of €1.76 billion has been provided for An Garda Síochána for this year, which represents an increase of 6% on the initial allocation for 2018. Specifically, I refer the Deputy to Operation Thor which is providing a swift return for the Government on the investment made. It includes an overtime budget of almost €100 million, as announced in budget 2018.

We will clear up any misunderstanding later. I apologise on behalf of Deputy Eamon Ryan who is unable to be here and sends his apologies.

Question No. 35 replied to with Written Answers.