Private Members' Business. - Crimes of Violence: Motion.

I move:

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".

A national joke book.

You will get sick reading it out.

Number 7, under Justice, says that whatever technical equipment, foot patrol or overtime is required to combat the serious increase in urban crime will be provided as a matter of urgency. What is urgency?

Like the contraceptives Bill.

We must put another part of this document on record because this is really the funnies, although this is very serious.

It put us out.

The Minister for Justice and his colleagues were able to convince gardaí who lost their overtime that this bad man Cooney did it, while in the volume of the Official Report immediately preceding the National Coalition Government coming into office, the former Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Malley, said in my hearing that he was totally against overtime. He put that on record time out of number and I am surprised this was never brought to the Garda's attention before now. Fianna Fáil were able to persuade virtually every garda in the country to vote for this document: "Action Plan for National Reconstruction".

The softly, softly approach.

Foot patrols or overtime——

If you are not a softie we will make you one.

Deputy Harte is in possession.

——if required to combat the serious increase in urban crime will be provided as a matter of urgency. To add a rider to that, it must be quoted in the same paragraph that the Fianna Fáil Party succeeded in almost the impossible. They got the subversives and the law protectors to vote in the same ballot boxes for the same candidates. We know that has happened. We know that in certain areas which can be identified as strongholds of Provisional movements, there was strong support for Fianna Fáil candidates not because they were hardworking men, over-generous men or anything like that but because those people believed that the Fianna Fáil Government might again introduce their policy of "observe but do not apprehend".

It might be unfair of me to put this on the record but I do not think it is, because Fianna Fáil have to be reminded that when they speak publicly they should be speaking deliberately and they should be conscious of what they are saying. It is not good enough for a Minister of State to go to the United States of America and make a public statement ignoring in his brief criticism of the policies of the Provisional IRA, criticism of any organisation in America that collects money for the Provisional IRA and an acknowledgement of the changing attitude of politicians in the United States. I want to ask such a Minister a very straightforward question. What else could an Irish politician talk about to an Irish-American audience if he did not mention the present troubles in Ireland, the security here, or the relationship between the American and Irish peoples? What the hell else could he be talking about but these three points which were overlooked? I accept that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Kennedy, genuinely forgot about them but my point is this: subconsciously the Minister for Foreign Affairs allowed that chance to slip by. Like another member of his party, his memory failed him.

In the short time available to me I hope I have been able to put before the House some of the views I believe this Government must face. I do not believe in political bashing and I hope in my remarks that I have not been doing that. I am conscious of the fact that the present system adopted by this and former Governments, and this was acknowledged by the last Government, and present arrangements in the Garda and the present attack on crime are not adequate to meet present day needs. A whole new think must take place. If it does, it will call on the Minister in this emergency to bring in with the utmost haste the report of the survey which was initiated by the Coalition Government and implement every part of it. The Garda want it. This House wants it. The people want it. Everybody wants it. The quicker the Minister can get this done the better and he should stop dilly-dallying.

The Minister to move the amendment.

If I move my amendment may I reserve the right to contribute later?

No. As far as I am aware, the Minister in moving the amendment must speak at this stage.

But need I move my amendment at this stage? May I move it later?

No. The amendment must be moved at this stage.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after Dáil Éireann and substitute the following:—

"notes with concern the increasing frequency of crimes of violence, particularly armed robberies, and expresses its confidence in the Garda Síochána to reverse this trend."

Deputy Killilea can go home now.

Deputy Kelly is starting already. Please, Deputy.

Deputy Kelly is lucky to be here at all.


The Minister is now in possession and no other Deputy should be heard.

Having listened to Deputy Harte saying on more than one occasion how much he was trying to be frank and fair and how he believed that this was the only possible way that a debate of this nature could be approached, I must confess that I had every hope that he would approach the debate in such a manner. I confess disappointment because if a debate like this is to be as Deputy Harte said he would like it to be— non-political—then I respectfully remind him that the number of political jibes used by him certainly would not help to keep the temperature down.

If he professes to be as frank and fair as he wants to be it was not at all necessary to compare what happened to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in America with what happened to another colleague of mine who, I quote from my note, was described by Deputy Harte as "like another member of his party" whose memory failed. If we want to mix it let us mix it; if we want to be honest and fair let us make a sincere effort at being honest and fair. I would have every reason to approach this debate in the way that Deputy Harte would have wanted to and I will do my best not to be sidetracked along the way as he was. It is very easy for him in making his case to go through the Official Report as he did when a motion of this type was put down on the Order Paper by me when I was in Opposition. If Deputy Harte wants to take me to task for what I said then I would respectfully suggest to him that the time to trim me, as it were, was then and not now. There was ample opportunity ! for Deputy Harte and his colleague, who was in Justice then, and members of his party who could have been present at that debate, to come along and make their contributions then.

I say to Deputy Harte that during the 40 minutes he had at his disposal I found it difficult to determine the number of minutes which he used to talk about the ever-increasing number of bank raids and armed robberies which we are having and which nobody in this House condones in any shape or form. Every Member of this House would want to see that number of armed robberies decrease as rapidly as possible. Let me say to Deputy Harte and members of his party that the increase which we are having in bank robberies at present, big as it is, did not come about overnight. I am open to correction, and if I am proved wrong I will apologise humbly to the House and the Members present, but I believe that the increase in bank robberies in 1974 over 1973 was something approaching 50 per cent. I believe that 1976 was something in the region of 100 per cent over 1975. I would say that so far 1977 is approaching a 50 per cent increase over 1976. This is something that should bring the reality of the situation home to each one of us. It would be reasonable for me to get lost in kicking the political footballs that were tossed about, but I will try to deal with the facts first. If I have time then I will try to kick an odd one back into the court of the Opposition and I will be forgiven for that.

There are a number of things wrong at present with regard to bank robberies that we must all look at. We have seen a considerable increase in armed robberies and it is easy to take the members of the Garda Síochána to task for supposedly not doing their job. In fairness to them they have had successes in capturing in a most organised fashion a number of gangs involved in armed robberies. I am talking of armed robberies in the Deputy's own county and the neighbouring county of Sligo. Armed robbery gangs are operating in counties Cork and Waterford. We were all pleased, to say the least of it, on late Friday night or early Saturday morning to learn that another gang had been picked up here in town. We welcome the day when the Garda can come to grips with whatever gangs are operating at present. I have said publicly more than once that whatever resources are requested by the Garda authority and whatever means are required by them to combat this ever-increasing armed robbery trend that we are living with, I will see to it that they get them. I am prepared to live up to that assurance.

I also say to those who seemingly have the idea that the Garda are going to offer and provide protection for everybody who holds money, that a lot more can and must be done by the banks, hotels, petrol filling stations, supermarket owners and the like, who now too must see clearly that there cannot be a garda present at all times when money is being kept by these people. I was advised recently that £5,000 was taken from an isolated petrol filling station. A person who owns an isolated petrol filling station should think more than twice before having that sort of money on his person. Every one of us would like to see a situation in which we could all have as much money on our persons as we wanted to, at all times of the day and night, without fear of being robbed. That does not hold, unfortunately.

Companies also have an obligation and a responsibility to make it as awkward as they can for people who want to lift their payrolls from them. I mentioned recently the factory on the south side of Dublin which had something like £20,000 stolen from it. It appeared that armed gentlemen were able to drive right in to the front door unchecked, get into the building and tell a receptionist to lie on the floor, and then move without any great difficulty into the payroll office and take £20,000 from three young girls who were dividing that money into pay packets for the employees. Companies must do far more than they are doing to prevent this sort of thing.

A percentage of the moneys being lifted is finding its way into the hands of people engaged in subversive activities, and we must remember the amount of that money that is being used for unlawful purposes. That makes the crime worse, if one can use that phrase in ordinary layman's English. It is bad enough to steal, but when the money is being used as it is we have to push more strongly and mightily to see that that does not continue. Before I go on to the fair political game of Deputy Harte——

The Minister has something better to chase.

The Minister, please.

I read in a daily newspaper recently that it was the opinion of somebody involved in provision of security on a commercial basis for firms, that even the firms that believe they have protection never bother to check to see if their alarm systems are working. It was believed by the author of the particular article that many of the systems involved would not be up to scratch. The banks must also do far more, but in fairness to them we must recognise that they have done a lot. Much more needs to be done. In the litany of robberies read to us by Deputy Harte he gave one in Listowel, County Kerry, where £36,000, an extremely large sum of money was taken by armed robbers who simply had to remove an ordinary pane of glass from a back window to gain access to that bank and wait for the staff to arrive.

There is great room for improvement here. I am sorry that Deputy Harte did not get the opportunity last Friday night to watch the programme dealing with armed robberies, not that he would have agreed with much of what I said but there were professionals on that programme who had some interesting ideas which I believe merit considerable consideration.

There were many people who got money for it who did not bother to watch it.

I do not think that sort of remark helps the situation.


The Minister is in possession. I did not let anybody interrupt Deputy Harte.

There were many times during the Deputy's 40 minutes contribution when I felt I should interrupt him but I did not.

The Minister will make his own speech.

I should like to think that the Garda Síochána, who are presently reviewing the situation with regard to what is required of them and what is needed by them to combat the increasing number of armed robberies, will be able to come up with the answers. We all want to see that happening as quickly as possible for the reasons I have mentioned.

When I mentioned a few minutes ago that I would say something resulting from Deputy Harte's contribution, Deputy Kelly seemingly did not think that I should. Let me correct a few impressions that Deputy Harte seems to have, which are probably shared by other Members of his party. I want to say that Deputy Harte is very wrong if he believes that my predecessor presented the new Government with 1,000 extra gardaí. That statement could not be further from the truth. I might say, very briefly, for the Deputy's information that from the time the first announcement was made about increasing the strength of the Garda Síochána by 500 members it took over 18 months before the first of the raw recruits went into the training centre in Templemore. When I took office on July 5th there were approximately 40 trainee raw recruits starting the course of training, which is 22 weeks. I also want to say, in reply to Deputy Harte, that there was never at any time a decision made by the Government he supported prior to the 5th July to have 1,000 extra members added to the Garda Síochána.

That is not right. The Minister is juggling the figures.

The Minister is in possession.

I am telling the truth. If I am wrong then I am guilty of something serious in misleading the House. There was no decision made by the previous Government to increase the Garda strength by 1,000 men. I repeat that at the time I took office there were approximately 40 raw recruits in the training centre at Templemore and no more than that. It is very easy to say, as Deputy Harte said, "You are there six months, what have you done?" We have increased the capacity of the training centre to its maximum and, please God, the first of the gardaí we were waiting 18 months for, from the time it was first announced by my predecessor will be on the streets before Christmas. There was no decision by the previous Government to put 1,000 extra garda on the streets.

I do not want to interrupt the Minister. The fact is that there was a 25 per cent increase in the number of gardaí since 1972 and the Coalition were in power for some of those years. Were those extra gardaí all provided by Fianna Fáil?

The Deputy has 15 minutes in which to reply to this debate. He can, between now and tomorrow night, check if what I am saying is the truth and he will have the opportunity of telling the House tomorrow night. Deputy Harte spoke for a long time about speeches I made when I was in Opposition and said that some of my statements were irresponsible. He accused me of playing with security. He went on from there to say that all good policemen need are backup services. I accept the latter part of that statement but I refute the other observation made by the Deputy because it is far from the truth.

With regard to backup services for good policemen, let me say to the Deputy that the accusations I made against my predecessor were accusations made against the Government by the gardaí at that time. I could quote chapter and verse from the Official Report if I had more than 20 minutes at my disposal. It was the Garda who said that they had not the resources and that they were being denied them by the Government. It was the Garda who said that squad cars were grounded at the time because the men to drive the cars were not being paid. It was the Garda who said that the criminals were not being caught because there was not sufficient manpower. If Deputy Harte wants to check what I am saying he can find the truth of the matter not alone in the Official Report but in editorials in the Garda magazines.


They will be after the Minister now.

In reply to the Deputy, when they are after me I will see them and talk to them. Might I further say that the accusations made against me of having a phobia about the Garda is far from the truth. What I argued at all times from those benches was that, because of the shortage of Garda and the availability of Garda manpower in our urban areas where two-thirds of these robberies take place, the then Government and Minister should provide the money to enable the existing manpower of the Garda to work additional hours.


Deputy Harte should not interrupt the Minister.

If the Deputy wants to be fair he should let me make my contribution. It is so easy for Deputy Harte to go back to a situation which existed in 1969 or 1970. If he wants to make accusations of the type he made, I have not time to deal with them in this debate except by rejecting out of hand any suggestion that as Minister for Justice I gave the impression that they may observe but do not apprehend. As spokesman for his party with responsibility in this area, the Deputy is not doing justice to anybody by uttering such remarks and, indeed, he is doing himself far less than justice.

I did not take away in any way from Deputy Cooney as Minister for Justice in the previous Government. I sympathised with him in that seemingly he was unable to convince his colleagues in Government that more money should be made available to him. That is on record. Basically, the then Minister understood that you cannot tell a policeman who is investigating an armed robbery at 5 o'clock on a Friday evening: "Lay off until 9 o'clock or 9.15 on Monday morning because we will not pay you overtime to continue your investigation."

I agree the then Minister had a very difficult task. He might have been more successful if his colleagues around the Cabinet table had given him a little more help in getting the resources he needed to combat crime. I cannot be castigated in any way by Deputy Harte for not backing up the then Minister. I urged him to do the things I have done since I became Minister for Justice. It was not my role in Opposition which prevented the then Deputy Cooney from regaining his seat in this Assembly. I wish he did in recognition of his efforts. It was not Fianna Fáil, it was not the Garda who prevented him from regaining his seat. If the truth were known. I am afraid it was the members and supporters of his own parliamentary party who had the choice and their choice, seemingly, was not Deputy Cooney in his constituency.

With regard to the Fianna Fáil election manifesto, it was interesting to hear it being described today for the first time as "The Funnies". Funnies or no funnies it is there.

There is a lot of mickey-mousing about it.

It was accepted by the people. It will continue to be there despite efforts by the Opposition to ridicule it or trample it into the ground. With regard to off-the-cuff remarks which might be interpreted by people who wanted to do so to the effect that I, as Minister for Justice, have not met the Commissioner of the Garda, let me say to Deputy Harte that, if the rest of his contribution is as reliable as that part of it, he would want to do his homework because nothing could be further from the truth. If the Deputy wants to fulfil his role as spokesman for his party in this area in a fair and frank manner, he should research his contributions. Research is necessary particularly before accusations of the type I have just dealt with —wild accusations without any foundation—are made by him.

More than once Deputy Harte mentioned the fact that the Coalition Government commissioned a consultancy report. That is no secret. We had discussions on that consultancy effort in this House during the period of office of the previous Government. I am not sure whether we have had questions on this matter in the four or five weeks since this Dáil met. The report is in the Department of Justice. Certain final contributions on the report have still to come from the consultants. I have asked to have them submitted as quickly as possible. There is no desire on my part, or on the part of anybody in my Department, to delay or postpone action on this report. I have to await the final report before I make whatever decisions have to be made on it.

The Garda authorities are fully aware of the concern of the Government about the increasing number of armed robberies. They are fully aware that the Government are prepared to give generously of whatever resources are required to combat armed robberies. This is the situation as I have found it during my short term as Minister for Justice, a situation which did not exist during a good deal of the time my predecessor was in office when the resources he sought from his Government were not given to him by his colleagues.

The subject matter of this debate is so serious that it should be debated as dispassionately as possible. It is important that this motion should be debated just now. It reflects growing public concern about crimes of violence of all kinds in our society and, in particular, about the recent extraordinary increase in the number of armed robberies. That is what the motion is all about.

If we are to deal with the problem of increasing violent crime, it is important that we should be clear about the nature of that crime. Only if we are clear about its nature can we develop suitable means of dealing with the situation. The figures available to us show that the recent increase in the number of robberies offers the most serious immediate cause for concern. The number of such robberies has increased annually. It has built up over a number of years.

In 1969, there were 12 such armed robberies in the State. In 1970, the figure increased to 17. In 1971, it was 30. In 1972, it jumped to 132. In 1973, there was a slight decrease to 123. In 1974, it was 127. In 1975, it went up to 153. In 1976, it was 186. The estimated figure for September of this year is 213. Therefore, there is cause for concern and alarm. We must note that in the period armed robberies increased by 1,800 per cent. A senior Garda officer indicated recently that, of these armed robberies, 70 per cent approximately were carried out by ordinary criminals and the remaining 30 per cent by para-military groups. That percentage is important.

We are all aware that para-military groups were engaged in armed robberies to finance their terrorist activities and often, I suppose, to finance their own personal activities and their standard of living, but we were not aware until recent years that armed robberies by gangs of criminals have increased and continue to increase quite dramatically. I do not propose to deal at length with the problem of armed robberies by para-military groups but I would hope that security forces activities against such groups both North and South can be intensified. While security forces must continue to act vigorously against subversive organisations ultimately the ending of their activities will depend on the ending of the political backing in Northern Ireland. We must face that reality while we continue to do all in our power to control their activities in the meantime. The fact remains, and this is on the admission of the Garda authorities, that 70 per cent of all armed robberies are carried out not by terrorist groups but by armed criminal gangs. That is a cause for grave concern particularly as such activity is a relatively new phenomenon in this country. It is difficult to understand why this should happen at this time. One might suggest that the activities of the para-military groups have contributed in the sense of providing an example of how armed robberies can be carried out or committed or in the sense that their activities may have led to a greater availability of weapons with which to carry out such robberies. But I think that is too simple an explanation.

International experience has indicated that armed criminal activity has increased in most countries since the early 1960s. I suppose it can be considered a new and easy method of robbery. Its growth in all countries was most dramatic in the period before the police force and the institutions of state plus those institutions holding money had developed new techniques to combat the problem. In other words, the growth was most dramatic in the period before the police forces, banks and businesses generally devised new techniques to combat the new approach of the criminal and his new techniques. As the police and financial institutions developed new methods in other countries we find that such crimes as robberies with violence tended to decrease. We here are at the point in the scale where the gardaí and financial institutions have not as yet developed techniques to combat this new approach of armed criminals and, until they do so, armed robberies will continue to increase. That is no reflection on the Garda authorities. The gardaí are doing a fine job within the limits of the resources available. Their task is an extremely difficult one. However, the fact is armed criminals have found it profitable to rob since the forces of the law have not developed techniques designed to combat this relatively new approach to crime by criminals.

The Minister is responsible in this area and the motion is, therefore, well directed to him. While the somewhat sudden growth in armed robbery was, as I said, common in many countries in recent years, we must express concern at the fact that it has taken the State and the relevant institutions a long time to come to grips with the problem here. It has existed at a pretty high level since 1972 when the figures jumped dramatically from 30 to 132 crimes annually. The detection rate is unfortunately very low. It is in the order of some 30 per cent and the rate of recovery of the money involved is still lower, something in the order of only 9 per cent.

I find myself in agreement with the Minister. We must face the fact that firms and institutions likely to be the objects of armed robbery do not appear to be taking adequate precautionary measures and the steps necessary to protect themselves against the activities of these criminals. There is no point in thinking that this will just go away, that armed robbery will cease of its own accord. Protective steps must be taken by those likely to be robbed. One-sixth of all such robberies take place in banks and, while banks should not adopt measures that would place their staff and customers at risk, it has been shown in other countries that protective measures which do not have this effect can be taken. I agree with the Minister these steps should be taken. There can be no argument that banks have not sufficient resources to take these measures and serious consideration should be given by banks to the installation of such protective measures as screens, video cameras and other devices which would make armed robberies more difficult to accomplish and detection easier without placing staff or customers at risk.

It would appear to me no serious effort has been made by banks to date to deal with the situation. They should now be told by the Minister to do so. He is on record on a number of occasions complaining that these institutions do not take adequate care. The onus is on him now to ensure that, if these institutions do not voluntarily take adequate protective steps, they will be compelled to do so. By failing to take appropriate measures these institutions are making the lives of the members of the Garda Síochána very difficult indeed and contributing to an escalating level of armed robberies affecting the lives of all of us.

The Minister mentioned other institutions which have the resources to protect themselves. Any institutions which may rank as potential victims should take appropriate protective measures. Business firms should use some of their resources towards this end. To date, they do not seem to have done so and the rest of society is paying the bill in one way or another.

I am sure the Garda Síochána are far from satisfied with the present scale of the problem and the low level of detection. The demands of national security have placed an enormous burden on our police force leaving too few available for normal police duties. Is there need for a review, I wonder, of police methods and organisation in regard to the problem of armed robbery at this stage? It has been at a high level now for some five years and it seems clear from the level of activity and the low detection rate that something is wrong somewhere.

I shall not enter into the haggling as to which Government was responsible for increasing the strength of the force but certainly the gradual increase in numbers on the beat during the current year has been welcome and it will certainly pay a dividend. More gardaí on the beat are a deterrent. However, that is not the whole answer. It seems clear that the level of intelligence gathering in regard to armed robberies is minimal. The development of intelligence gathering techniques in other countries has played a crucial role in helping to reduce such crimes as armed robberies. It is essential that the Minister and the Commissioner should urgently review the approach to this development. In this kind of unwelcome activity intelligence gathering is of very great importance. Our police force do not seem to have developed this technique adequately to date. They do not seem to be in a position to do so. In many countries it has been found necessary to create a special anti-armed robbery unit to deal with the problem. In Britain this special unit has been highly effective.

Another crucial question is: where do the weapons come from for armed robberies by hard core criminals? Paramilitary groups have their own source of supply but it is unlikely that ordinary criminals would have access to their own special requirements. It has been asserted, and this is important, that there are guns for hire in Dublin for criminal purposes and if the order of speaking had been reversed I would have asked the Minister to comment on that and indicate if he believes it is true and if so, what steps are being taken to apprehend those who are hiring such weapons for criminal purposes. The situation is serious and is worsening and some steps along the lines I have indicated must be taken both by institutions with potential risk of being robbed and by the Minister in particular if the present level of armed robbery is to be drastically reduced.

I might expand the debate to deal with some of the long-term causes of criminal activity which are within the competence of the State and the Government to eliminate or at least to begin a programme of work towards their elimination. Certain steps have been taken to date but these are not nearly adequate to deal with the background to violence of this kind and its contributing factors. On the list are unemployment, deprivation of some people, particularly young people, bad housing, bad schooling, bad environment, lack of rehabilitation facilities inside and outside prison. But perhaps I should confine myself to the debate on armed robbery only and I would hope that the points I have made will be borne in mind by the Minister or by his representative in the House and that they will have some effect.

The problem which the Minister has this evening is one which is not shared in such matters by all his colleagues in Government inasmuch as he is one of the limited number of Ministers who is occupying the same slot of responsibility that he occupied as Opposition spokesman. That is probably comfortable for him in that he knows the material fairly well. I am sure he will realise that I am saying this in no condescending way when I say that I admired the way in which he, as a non-lawyer, got to grips with tricky legal matters during the year-and-a-half or so while he was spokesman. On the other hand, this situation must provide problems for his staff because in drawing up a brief for him this evening they were faced with the very acute problem not only of giving him the facts in regard to armed robberies and crimes of violence but in also making sure that the form in which he got the facts would not lead him into saying something completely contrary to many things he said here while spokesman. Not only had they to give the Minister a sensible brief but they had the almost impossible task of making sure that nothing in that brief would be incapable of reconciliation with the somewhat lighthearted observations with which he entertained the House when he was spokesman on Justice and his somewhat ready-made and facile approach to serious problems of law and order.

The Minister said something about Deputy Harte's contribution not being well researched. If a research worker in the future were to search through the Minister's speech this evening in order to find out what he had done to combat the growth of armed robberies and general savagery and violence, he would be absolutely stumped. I defy any Ph.D student or humbler researcher, an ordinary layman or politician, going through the Minister's speech, to come up with a positive answer. It was clear that he was taken short, that he had not expected to speak, that he thought somebody else would speak before him, that he could move the amendment technically; nevertheless he is expected to know his job, to be acquainted with its problems and be familiar with the workings of his Department but he spoke in an impassioned way—I make allowance for a man who has had no tea, who has been sitting in the same seat since 3.30 without getting out— for a full 30 minutes and we did not hear a word from him regarding what had been done to step up Garda strength, redistribute patrols, increase the overtime he was shouting about a year ago; what has been done to re-equip the Garda or improve the physical equipment they have which can be bought and paid for. There was not a word in his speech from which it would be possible to see what he had done to cure the defects and glaring faults which were to be seen, according to him, a year ago in Garda operations, not because of the Garda at all, as he put it, but because of the Government, because the Government was miserly and would not hand out the few pounds necessary to let the Garda get on with the job of tracking down bank robbers, patrolling areas adequately, getting out and doing a sufficient number of foot beats in urban areas.

The House is as wise now as it was at 7 o'clock in regard to the vital question; what has this Minister, or the Government which was to get us all moving again, done? There is not a word about that. If we were to go only by his speech, the answer is "nothing". Instead we got a scolding lecture to owners of banks, post-offices, shops, supermarkets, filling stations and companies handling pay-rolls. I should like to ask the Minister what he would have said a year ago if the then Minister for Justice had shrugged his responsibility in the matter of law and order and put it on the shoulders of the suffering shopkeepers, not only owners but employees also because it is they who are at physical risk in bank robberies, the responsibility for keeping a better eye out, having a better security system. The present Minister would have brought the House down, but the Minister for Justice for whom I was proud to work would never have stooped to the level reached tonight of pushing the risk back on others.

This is what is meant by getting the country moving again. The real message hidden in the Minister's attitude is: "You are on your own." That was the message that came loud and clear from the Minister for Justice this evening to the owners of shops, supermarkets, filling stations and companies with payrolls: you are on your own: do not look to the Garda or to the Government.

Debate adjourned.