Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Questions (36)

Jim O'Callaghan


36. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the ongoing work of the Central Statistics Office on crime statistics; the actions taken by him to ensure trends in crime are identified and that appropriate policy responses are formulated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26868/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Justice)

We spend a lot of time in this House talking about criminal justice responses to crime. The Minister will agree with me that in order to come forward with proper responses to criminal activity, we need to have accurate information and evidence. To a large extent, we are dependent on the Central Statistics Office to provide crime statistics. It recently produced details of criminal activity and crimes reported in the last quarter. Do the Department and the Minister have proposals to improve the method by which information on crime statistics is accumulated? What is the level of the Minister's engagement with the Central Statistics Office on that important feature?

On Monday the CSO published the crime statistics for quarter one of 2019. There were some welcome decreases in a number of crime categories, including homicide, the level of which was down by 14% compared to the level in quarter one of 2018, and burglary, the level of which showed a 10% decrease. There was also a significant increase in the reporting of fraud and related offences, with 1,500 additional incidents reported when compared to quarter one of 2018. I welcome the increased reporting of crime and the fraud figures, in particular, which reflect the significant step-up in policing activity with respect to these offences. While I also welcome the increase in the reporting of sexual offences, the continued upward trend of these offences is a concern. As the Deputy will be aware, the Government has adopted a number of measures to combat sexual offences and support the victims of these crimes. They include legislative steps, the roll-out of the Garda divisional protective services units and public information campaigns. This is an area that is kept under review.

As outlined to the Deputy last week, the CSO's official crime figures remain “under reservation”. This is by no means unique to An Garda Síochána and similar issues have been reported in other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, Australia, the United State of America and Denmark. However, it is clear that progress is being made through the joint efforts of An Garda Síochána and the CSO to improve the quality of the crime statistics. In December last the CSO published a third review of the quality of recorded crime statistics based on data recorded on the PULSE database system for crimes reported to the Garda in 2017. The review concluded, inter alia, that clear improvements had been made in the manner in which criminal incidents were being recorded on the PULSE system. While this is encouraging, it is also clear that there is more work to be done in this area. My Department, in conjunction with the Policing Authority, will continue to monitor the progress of An Garda Síochána to ensure the national crime statistics are returned to the highest standard.

The Minister will agree it is essential that we get accurate information in respect of reported crime and the recording of crime. Without it, we cannot formulate proper policy responses.

The Minister mentioned the crime statistics for the first quarter of 2019. In many respects, they reveal the point I wish to make. For example, the increase of 10% in sexual offences is a matter about which I am extremely concerned. Each recent CSO quarterly crime statistics publication has shown an increase in sexual offences. That is either due to the fact that people are becoming more confident about reporting sexual offences or, alternatively, it could be due to the fact that there has been an increase in sexual offences. The latter would not surprise me because the prevalence of pornography on the Internet, which we discussed earlier, must be having some impact on young men. We need to try to engage more with the CSO to ensure it can try to identify more accurately the cause of these trends in reported crime. I do not know whether the Minister has any proposals in that regard on a higher level.

The Deputy made two points. I share his concern regarding sexual offences. He also referred to the steps being taken to improve the quality of crime data. On the latter point, I wish to assure the Deputy that I and officials in my Department, in conjunction with the Policing Authority, will continue to monitor the progress of An Garda Síochána in ensuring that the information published and our national statistics are returned to the highest standards.

On sexual offences, I wish to advise the Deputy that An Garda Síochána continues to improve its specialist services in this regard. I acknowledge the importance of the roll-out of the divisional protective services units, nine of which have been established. The plan and target is that there will be a divisional protective services unit in all divisions by the end of the year.

The State is improving in terms of how it deals with people who report sexual offences. Many people who report them are very satisfied with the response they get from An Garda Síochána. However, the point I was making was slightly different. For instance, on knife crime, we know that some 2,000 knives were seized in 2018, compared with 1,600 in 2017, but we do not know the extent to which knives are used in crimes or criminal activity. We need to try to identify how we want to expand the role of the CSO and formulate our statistical procurement process in order that we can get more useful information. We will again find ourselves in a situation where there will be another increase, possibly in sexual offences. At some stage, we will have to identify the reason for this. Unfortunately, we are operating in a vacuum at present as we do not know whether more people are becoming confident about reporting or there is a serious rise in the number of incidents.

I will take a short supplementary question from Deputy Ó Laoghaire.

I agree with the points made by Deputy O'Callaghan. The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and the Garda Inspectorate identified that the Garda has not always been entirely up to the mark in terms of the quality of data. Data are very important in ensuring a proper response to crime.

There are two issues which I wish to specifically flag. One of the main issues that led to the statistics being published under reservation was the review into homicides in the period from 2003 to 2016. What is the status of that review?

There is an issue that may have come to the attention of the Minister and which follows on from a previous question I asked. The Minister stated that 10,024 arrests were made under Operation Thor between November 2015 and 7 May of this year. That represents an average of eight arrests every day over the past three and a half years or one every three hours. Operation Thor is important, but that figure seems a bit high.

I previously heard Deputy Ó Laoghaire speak publicly on this issue. I have no reason to question the accuracy of the figures from the Garda Síochána at this time. Neither I nor my Department have any role in the compilation of the figures, but I have no reason to question them. If the Deputy has any further evidence in that regard, I would be happy to hear it.

Deputy O'Callaghan made two points. On knife crime, last November, the Garda Síochána Analysis Service conducted analysis on PULSE data which disclosed no significant statistical increase in crimes involving the use of a knife. However, I acknowledge this is a serious issue. The working group will continue to monitor the prevalence and frequency of individuals carrying knives or knife-like instruments on their person, in addition to devising a strategy to tackle assaults involving the use of knives.

On sexual offences, I broadly share the views of the Deputy. He will be aware that I recently launched a major national awareness campaign on sexual harassment and sexual violence under the theme "No excuses". I agree that there is a considerable amount of work to be done - and I acknowledge the work that is under way - to address what is a societal attitude towards sexual abuse. We need to ensure that there also is a criminal justice response in terms of clamping down on offending and reoffending.