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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 14 Mar 1995

Vol. 450 No. 6

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Child Abuse Allegations.

Liz O'Donnell


3 Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Justice her views on the fact that crime statistics indicate a discrepancy as between the numbers of child abuse allegations reported to the Garda and the numbers of prosecutions which proceed to trial; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5644/95]

Liz O'Donnell


31 Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Justice her views on whether the crime statistics indicate a discrepancy as between the numbers of child abuse allegations reported to the Garda and the numbers of prosecutions proceeded with to trial; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5476/95]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 31 together.

Where a complaint or allegation is made to the gardaí on child abuse, a detailed investigation is always carried out. Arising from this investigation, the gardaí will refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions if the evidence supports such action. However, in certain exceptional cases where there is reason to believe that the suspect may abscond, the gardaí may arrest and charge the suspect without first obtaining the directions of the DPP.

It should be borne in mind that not all cases reported to the gardaí will, ultimately, be referred to the DPP. For instance, some allegations may be withdrawn. In other cases, despite exhaustive investigation on the part of the gardaí, there will be little or no evidence to sustain a prosecution.

Where the evidence is deemed sufficient, a file is forwarded to the DPP for a decision as to whether a prosecution should be instituted. Having examined the investigation file, the DPP will then decide whether a prosecution should be taken.

For those reasons, the process of investigation and referring the matter to the DPP will almost inevitably result in a lesser number of cases ultimately being the subject of a prosecution as compared to the number of complaints originally made to the gardaí. This is not due to any discrepancy but rather to the fact in this, as in other forms of crime, cases go to court only where the evidence is sufficient to support such a course of action.

The fact that not all complaints of child abuse ultimately result in a prosecution should not, of course, deter anyone from making such a complaint. It is important that all such complaints are brought to the attention of the gardaí.

Does the Minister accept that the gap between the number of validated allegations and prosecutions brought represents a failure of child protection in this State and that there is a need for a review of the guidelines used by the Director of Public Prosecutions in making a decision on whether to proceed with a case to trial? I refer the Minister to the 1993 annual report of the Garda Síochána in which it is stated that out of a total of 552 sexual offences, including children and adults, reported to the Garda, the State achieved only 17 convictions even though 232 proceeded to trial. I put it to the Minister that the whole area of non-prosecution of sexual allegations — allegations of sexual abuse and sexual crimes — needs to be reviewed by this House in the context of the operation of the DPP's office.

The Deputy will be aware that the work of the DPP is independent of me or any Minister for Justice. I share the Deputy's concern about the gap between the number of allegations made and the number of prosecutions, but it is a matter for the DPP to decide when prosecutions will be taken. On the later question I will deal with the machanisms whereby the gardaí and other agencies relate to child sexual abuse reports.

I am not happy with the way statistics and information have been gathered in recent years. The Garda research unit which was set up last year will assist greatly in ensuring that this type of question can be answered more fully and realistically. The introduction of technology into the Garda will ensure that such statistics are broken down in a way that makes it possible for us to take the necessary action.

The statistics in question do not use the term "child abuse", nor do they refer to a specific crime. In 1992 there were 225 crimes against children, in 1993 there were 243 and in 1994 there were 249, but they cover a number of categories of crime against children.

What about successful convictions?

The statistics in the 1993 report refers to all victims — adults and children — unless otherwise stated. In 1993 there were 40 proceedings taken for rape, 174 for indecent assault on females, six for defilement of girls under 15 years, five for defilement of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 and seven under incest. There were 143 reported offences of rape in that year, and 40 proceedings were taken.

What about convictions?

I do not have that information, but I will communicate with the Deputy in that regard. I have information only on the number of offences and prosecutions taken. I am not satisfied that in answering questions relating to statistics it has ever been possible for Ministers to be as specific as they should be and I have taken action to ensure such statistics are more readily available.

Does the Minister agree that no arm of the criminal justice system, particularly the DPP's office, should be independent and thus incapable of review? The criminal justice system worked to bring the man at the centre of the X case to trial. Will the Minister respond to the negation of justice handed down by the decision today to reduce his sentence from 14 years to four years?

That is a new matter and it is not in order.

This is an opportunity for the Minister to comment on the matter as it is relevant to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Minister is obliged to comment on the question before her and the Deputy may not introduce new matter.

I can answer part of the Deputy's question, although I have information about the case to which she refers. Up to 1974 the Attorney General was also the public prosecutor in Ireland. In 1974 the Government decided to remove prosecutions from the political arena and did so through the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974 by creating an office of the Director of Public Prosecutions which is totally independent. Accordingly, the director is completely independent in the exercise of his functions and any changes we wish to bring about would require changes in legislation.

Does the Minister for Justice agree that it would be appropriate for the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal against the mitigation of this sentence by the court today on the grounds of leniency?

That question is out of order now.

Let me comment in a general way on the powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The DPP has powers to appeal against a lenient sentence provided it comes from a trial court. The case in question today has come from an appeal court and, therefore, he has no power to appeal.

That compounds the injustice.

That is the legislation.