That Dáil Éireann expresses its concern at the increasing frequency of offences of armed robbery and similar offences of violence, and deplores the failure of the Government to check this trend.
The problem of security has been the subject of political intrigue and accusations during the past few years. I hope my contribution will not place the blame at the door of the Minister for Justice. The security of the State is of common interest and is not a political plaything. Anything I have to say tonight will be frank and fair.
In doing that I must put on record that, having searched the Official Report of this House, I could not help noticing that the Minister, when he was Opposition spokesman on Justice, accused the then Minister for Justice of cutting down for economic reasons the overtime which was allegedly taken from the gardaí. That was his only contribution to the security of the State and in trying to help the Government of the day overcome the terrible difficulties of security. Every parliamentary question, every supplementary asked in the House, on every Adjournment Debate in the House, every public statement and utterance of the present Minister, when Opposition spokesman, accused the Government of subscribing to the high rate in crime by reducing the amount of overtime paid to the Garda.
I will allow any Member of the Opposition a certain permit to exploit and I must accept that any spokesman for an Opposition will put forward in a constructive way things which he sees as being basic to the issues being discussed. However, when we turn back the pages and see that a former Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Malley, adopted the same attitude as did Deputy Cooney we see with crystal clarity the political manoeuvring which Fianna Fáil were using during their last two years in Opposition. I hope to be constructive and frank and fair. I believe security is the basis of our society, the streets we walk upon, the homes we live in, the places we work in, the lives of our people, and the property we own. We are so dependent on security that it is not proper for an Opposition spokes-man to castigate any Government for falling down on the job but it is my responsibility to illuminate the attitude of the Minister when he was spokesman for Fianna Fáil in Opposition.
The Minister has been in office for six months and he has told us, through a good public relations exercise, that he is restoring overtime. The crime rate has increased and the detection rate has fallen in spite of the fact that the former Government presented the Minister for Justice with 1,000 extra gardaí. What is the answer to the problem now? Is the solution that which was put forward by Deputy O'Malley and the former Deputy Cooney when they held the office of Minister for Justice: that it was proper to treat the Garda properly and give them a living wage and not have some members of the force earning so much money that they were turning down promotions and in some cases earning as much as superintendents and chief superintendents? That was an unhealthy position but that was the extent of the contribution of the Minister when spokesman in Opposition.
I do not know where one starts to lay the blame for the high rate of crime. The system is wrong, but the former Minister for Justice had foresight, wisdom, ability and determination to see to it that a survey was carried out in relation to this. He commissioned a survey and we know that the results of it have been in the Department for at least six months. Why all the fiddling around when we know from conversations with ordinary members of the force that they are waiting for the report to be presented? We are all wondering what has happened to the report but the Minister, and his civil servants, insist on dilly-dallying unaware of the urgency of this matter. The present system is wrong and must be changed soon. We would be blind and less than adult if we did not recognise that there is unrest in the force, if we did not know that there is suspicion at all levels in the force, that for many years there has been political involvement, particularly when Fianna Fáil were in office, and we would be blind if we did not know that most of the gardaí voted for Fianna Fáil in the last election. We would also be blind if we did not remark that so also did Provisional IRA supporters. Why? Because the contribution to security during the term of office of Fianna Fáil was nothing short of irresponsible. They were only interested in the number of votes they could gather in their political basket. That was the sole exercise of any contribution by the Minister when in Opposition.
I should like to put a number of relevant quotations on the record. On 9th March, 1976, in the course of a debate on the Castleblayney car bomb, Deputy Collins, as reported at column 1564, Volume 288, of the Official Report said:
We have had an unbelievable frequency of bank and post office robberies in recent times. Unfortunately, we have had two and three in one day. Three or four years ago a bank robbery was given banner headlines on the front pages of our national newspapers but because of their frequency now they are hardly mentioned on the inside pages.
It is not necessary to tell the House that those words were uttered by the Minister when in Opposition. The Minister also said, as reported at column 650, volume 290, of the Official Report of 5th May, 1976:
Is the Minister aware that the Garda themselves say that the basic principles of policing and fighting crime are being largely abandoned in the interests of economy? Is he aware that the Garda are saying they could do much better in the fight against crime and violence if the resources were made available to them? Can the Minister say if even the most generous resources which are available to him are being used as they should be? If they were, normal policing would not be as neglected as it is.
I should like to put on the record another quotation from the Castleblayney Car Bomb debate on 9th March, 1976 as reported at column 1562, volume 288, by Deputy Collins:
The Minister for Justice is the person charged with responsibility in the area of security so the blame for there not being a Garda street patrol in Castleblayney during the hours I have mentioned must rest solely with him.
If I am to take Deputy Collins' remarks on those occasions as being substantial and his total contribution to security am I not right in saying that every bank, post office, train and house robbery and every attack on people on the streets is the responsibility of the Minister? The remark made by Deputy Collins in Opposition was irresponsible because I could not hold any Minister for Justice responsible for having a garda outside a bank daily or at the other places mentioned. I have put those quotations on the record to show that Deputy Collins was exploiting a very delicate position, a position which was a threat to the national security, for a hundred votes, as if it mattered a damn which party won a general election.
I would prefer to go out of Government than use those tactics. In many parts of this country security has meant things which are different to my meaning of the word. In some parts it means putting in the jackboot, wrecking homes and arresting people at all hours of the night. That is not the type of security I am talking about.
The type of security about which I am speaking is where there is a police force doing their best, a force which is recognised, has the backing of Parliament, and are given the back-up support for all the things that good policing needs and not merely the lip service of politicans, while in Opposition, who do nothing about it or perhaps see the folly of their own ways when they come into Government.
A lot has been said about the fall down of the National Coalition Government on security while in office. Nobody has yet mentioned that two years before the National Coalition Government took office I had the duty to ask the former Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Malley, if he was satisfied with the things that were happening in Donegal. Deputy O'Malley assured me that everything in the garden was rosy and that there was no need for more guards in Donegal. He said that the modern technological apparatus available to the Garda meant that there was no need for extra guards and that we could close down rural Garda stations. This young Minister was then, on a wave of emotion, going to change the whole of Irish society as fast as he could get out of his State car and into a bigger office. Deputy O'Malley denied that there was any need for increased garda numbers in County Donegal. What was the position? Two years before we came into office, I asked the former Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Malley, about a robbery in Ballyshannon where a Garda patrol car—which had over 100,000 miles on its speedometer— broke down giving chase to a 1964 Ford Consul. Not alone that, but the patrol car that took over from the broken down one also broke down. The Minister denied that despite the fact that I came into the House on a second occasion with another question. However, I will acknowledge that, on a later date, the Minister came into the House, as reported in volume 254, column 896 of the Official Report, and said amongst other things that he wished to express regret to the House and to Deputy Harte that, in replying to his supplementaries, he did not allow for the possibility that the information supplied to his Department was incorrect, as it turned out to be. The full story behind that is this, that the guards in Donegal—and remember that was two years before the National Coalition assumed office—were being asked to use cars which had, in many cases over 100,000 miles done, which were in the local garage at least once a week, which in very many cases would not stand up to the normal test the Garda expected public vehicles to withstand, and which had no radios.
That was the type of structure the Fianna Fáil party considered to be necessary, available and adequate to deal with the rising crime rate in Donegal. It took us months to penetrate the ignorance or stubborness of the Minister to tell him that that was not good enough. However, all of that changed. Before I leave that point I should say it was common knowledge that gardaí on patrol duty in those bangers had to stop at public telephone kiosks, go to a local hotel or, if they knew a citizen sufficiently well, stop and ask if they could use his private telephone to make contact with the local barracks. That was the type of security the Fianna Fáil party presented to the country less than two years before the National Coalition took office.
We now have a very efficient, determined, skilled, anxious force to come to terms with the rise in crime. What is the position? The Minister is sitting on a survey that the National Coalition Government, through the then Deputy Cooney, commissioned, the first and only ever undertaken to examine the Garda force in greater detail. The quicker that is commissioned the better because my contribution here will be to assist Deputy Collins while he is Minister for Justice. I do not see any good reason for me to come into the House and play-act the way he playacted in Opposition.
Despite all the things Deputy Collins in Opposition said could be done he is now six months in Government, and that might be a short enough time in which to achieve the things he said could be achieved—I cannot help remarking that last Friday evening, when I was otherwise engaged, or I would have been watching television, I was told by those people who saw the programme that the Minister came across to the general public with this phobia about the fact that the former Minister, Senator Cooney, reduced Garda overtime and that that was the cause of the increased crime. In this year's budget £5 million extra was voted for Garda overtime; £450,000 was transferred from the Garda wages' heading to Garda overtime. I am told that nothing like that has yet been paid out. Perhaps the Minister has the right attitude but he is continuously selling himself as the golden jewel of the security office, the highest office in the country, the Department of Justice. I do not find fault with that. I believe it is necessary also to have the right attitude. It is not so long since the attitude to those people who were still gainfully employed robbing banks, post offices, filling stations, small business or anywhere a few bob could be rifled was "observe but do not apprehend." Those same people might just misunderstand the Minister. They might just think: well, when they were last in office there was a short period of "observe but do not apprehend." Deputy Kelly is smiling but I remember that to be the position. I remember guards approaching me in County Donegal, men who had come back into the county to do Border patrol, who said they were ashamed of the Donegal people because they were not exposing these people in their midst. We developed the argument and said: "Fair enough, do you expect the Donegal people to expose these people when they know that the guards know them and are not doing anything about it?" Any guard who was in agreement would say: "Well, we are not doing too much about it ourselves." That was the position in 1969, 1970 and possibly in 1971. The position changed under Fianna Fáil. Why did it change? It changed because then those people who were heroes north of the Border, who were doing as some would say, "not a bad job up there," began to interfere with our ball-game down here. They began to be a force to be contended with by the Fianna Fáil Party. But the Fianna Fáil Party can say: "We have been as severe on provisional Sinn Féin and suversives as any other party in the country." That is also true. That is true but it is only true when one takes into consideration that they came to that point of thinking when they were forced to do so too late. That was a terrible attitude.
The full meaning of it is that we would give consent to people who would go North of the Border to rob banks, shoot policemen and soldiers and burn and bomb buildings so long as it did not interfere with us. The attitude was that there were so many other things up there that were wrong it did not matter much. Nobody can point a finger in the direction of the previous Government and if anybody could have done I would not have been a backbencher supporting them. The extension of the argument is that we would close our eyes to people who would cause bombs to go off that would kill innocent people—and those innocent people also happen to be Irish. They may have come from families that did not have the same traditional background as we have but they were human beings and were part of a family unit.
Lo and behold, bank robberies started here, as soon as the money was needed. When the security position tightened in the North so that robberies could not be carried out so easily, when the money ran scarce for paying the boys, and when the NORAID money started slowing up, they started to rob banks here. This pattern was repeated before. Men of an older generation have told me that they have seen this happen before when the story was "Ireland is not for the making, Ireland is for the taking". That happened before I was born. All the stages of subversion, the breakdown of law and order, were not invented by this generation. They happened during the lifetime of this State since 1922.
We took strong measures but Fianna Fáil only saw the need for improved security measures, for more gardaí on the beat and for the need for protection whenever the breakdown of law and order in the North was imported to the South. When it interfered with the political game of Fianna Fáil in the South, then there was a change of attitude. There was a rush to buy more patrol cars, to install more two-way radios, there was a need for over-time. At the same time there was an attack on the very basis of our society by those people whom we were stopping from robbing our banks. There was also a change of Government.
In that change of Government the then Minister for Justice was in the most difficult seat of the entire Cabinet. He deserved the support of every Member of this House. He deserved the support of every Member of his party and the party in Government with them and also the support of Members of Fianna Fáil. Did he get it? No, he did not get it. The only thing he got from Deputy Collins was the accusation that if overtime was restored, the overtime which his Government took away, all of the crimes being committed could be stopped.
We know that in those days there was a detection rate of 60 per cent in respect of crimes committed but now it is falling to below 40 per cent. What is happening about this matter? The former Minister for Justice was in almost daily contact with the Commissioner's office. I want to ask the Minister if he has ever had to talk with the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána. I do not want to be unfair to the Minister and he can correct me now if I am wrong. He has been six months in office and he has not yet had a conversation with the chief of our police force despite the fact that the crime rate is escalating and the detection rate is falling even though there are an additional 1,000 gardaí at his disposal. If this is true it is a terrible indictment of the Minister. If I were Minister for Justice the first person I would communicate with would be the man in charge of the everyday working of our police force. I hope the Minister will refer to this point in his reply.
We have reached a stage where people in wheelchairs can mastermind robberies. A neighbour of mine has been robbed four times in the last two years, twice in one week in the last three months, and another neighbour was robbed on two occasions in a fortnight. All these robberies take a certain amount of planning. Some of them are major jobs and we must assume that those planning them are skilled, experienced and intelligent. What have we done about them?
During my lifetime since 1931, Fianna Fáil have been in office during an economic war, civil unrest, a world war, civil unrest and the last eight years of trouble in Northern Ireland. Security means a citizen can go to bed at night and know his front door will not be bashed in, that his house will not be robbed or that he will not be murdered during the night. Security is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice. He has the responsibility to restructure the Garda Síochána, something I am not satisfied about at the moment. Until such time as there is a proper restructuring and until the desirable points in the survey are implemented, the crime rate will continue to increase. It will not make any difference what party are in office. If there was a general election next week and if we took over it would not make one iota of difference. The crime rate would continue increasing unless we did something about it.
The former Minister for Justice commissioned a survey. That survey has been in the Minister's office for the past six months and I want to know why it has not been made public. Although I am not in a position to know exactly, I believe there are revolutionary proposals in it. Why is the Minister doing nothing about it? Why does he sit back and dilly-dally while the crime rate is increasing and the detection rate dropping?
For the record the following is a litany of robberies that have been carried out since Friday, 28th October: Drogheda, £15,000; Sunday, 30th October, Enniskerry, £5,000; Ballybrack, £10,000; Rathgar £700; Monday, 31st October, Muff—in my own county—£1,500; Tuesday, 1st November, Capel Street, £20,000; Friday 4th November, Tallaght, £12,000, Artane £3,500, Cork £6,000; Monday 7th November James's Street £600, Dún Laoghaire £1,000; Tuesday, 8th November, Waterford £1,000; Wednesday, 9th November, Montague Street £2,000; Thursday, 10th November, Convoy, a local bank about three miles from me, £800; on Friday, 11th November, we had four robberies, Slane £3,300, Maynooth, we do not know how much was taken; Charlestown £200, Phibsboro' amount unknown; Saturday, 12th November, Nenagh £10; Thursday, 15th November, Cabra £3,000, Longford £3,000; Friday, 17th November, Finglas £2,000, Dún Laoghaire £1,000; Saturday, 19th November, Tallaght £10,000 and Merrion Row several thousand pounds.
The irony of this is that during the time the Minister was on television last Friday night, accusing the former Minister for being responsible for the high rate of crime during the term of office of the National Coalition Government, four robberies took place including one in my country. In view of all his statements in Opposition, I believe the Minister will not be doing credit to himself, and justice to his predecessor, if he does not say openly that the former Minister for Justice had a very difficult job to do and that he was doing it in the interests of the nation, including Deputy Collins and every member of his family circle and the Fianna Fáil Party. It was also wrong for the Minister to say that the amount of money which the then Deputy Cooney and the Coalition took from overtime being paid to the Garda resulted in increased crime and a lower detection rate. We all know after six months of Fianna Fáil being in office that that is not the case.
I hope the Minister will put on record that he made a mistake. As spokeman for this party and a Member of this House, I will co-operate with the Minister, with the Fianna Fáil Party, or any other party, who are doing a good security job. At the same time I reserve the right to criticise. I hope my criticism will be fair, honest and straightforward. Tonight as part of that criticism I have to say something unpleasant about this Minister, a man for whom I have a great personal liking. I would like to speak about the 1977 Fianna Fáil manifesto—a document called "Action Plan for National Reconstruction".