Private Members' Business. - Victim Support Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. We seem to lag behind other countries in identifying the need for victim support. I commend Deputy O'Dea on bringing in the Bill. Coming from a city with an unenviable crime reputation he knows a thing or two about the issue. I come from a town which is in the same category. Last week in Dundalk three people were stabbed on three consecutive nights, a young lady was raped and there was an armed robbery. That level of crme is totally unacceptable.

In the early hours of Saturday morning and Sunday morning Dundalk is a hell hole as buses disgorge passengers returning home from discos. All Members share a common approach to drug trafficking. The day will come when people must address the entire drug problem and many discos, which undoubtedly are the fairground and trading post for much drug trafficking, will be closed down. Far from being an amenity for young people discos are hell holes. I hope the gardaí will scrutinise them over the next few years.

After many years of listening to people make apologies for the perpetrators of crime it is nice to know that the Department of Justice has identified the need to help victims of crime. For many years they were ignored. Thousands of crime victims must have suffered great distress and trauma. I spoke tonight to a friend of mine who is a garda and said the extent of the trauma experienced by crime victims is incalculable. It is not only people who have suffered personal assault who need counselling; those whose houses are burgled are also traumatised. Elderly people who have great pride in their homes and may have spent their lifetime making them comfortable experience great stress when their homes are defiled. I commend the Minister and Deputy O'Dea on identifying this area as one where further progress must be made.

I regret the confrontation aspect of politics and would like to see consensus politics on this matter. The Government should accept Bills of this nature as far as possible rather than prevaricate and say that while it accepts the spirit of the Bill, it is not quite right.

Funding in this area is totally inadequate. The State accepts that victims of crime need to be helped but the amount of money provided is petty cash by any standards.

Special training is now provided for ban gardaí to enable them deal with sex offences and offences concerning young children of which we see all too much in today's society. That is a worthwhile development. When a person's home is robbed the gardaí call and provide him or her with the name of various counselling services. It could be argued that there should be provision for specialist counselling within the Garda but health boards provide that service. There should be more trained counsellors to help the victims of crime. In the past people were left without any help or acceptance of the fact that they suffered great stress and trauma.

The Minister accepts the spirit of Deputy O'Dea's Bill and believes she can upgrade it. I wish her well in her efforts and hope she will co-operate with and involve him in consultations. He could counsel her on what is needed in this area.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Byrne. I support any measure which provides assistance and compensation for victims of crime. The Bill contains a number of provisions which will make a positive contribution to those directly affected by crime. I welcome these measures and congratulate Deputy O'Dea on his excellent work. I hope the Bill is accepted and becomes a vital part of our legislative framework as soon as possible.

Before discussing specific aspects of the Bill I will briefly consider the social context within which we are evaluating these proposals. In certain ways our society is becoming more advanced and progressive with each passing day. In the area of technology, for example, we continue to make significant strides in process control within our various manufacturing industries and information management through the use of modern computer equipment. Steady progress is also being made in the area of health care with previously unknown medical procedures becoming routine. As a result our people are, thankfully, living longer and more vigorous lives.

Unfortunately, there are developments in modern society which are totally opposite to the overall positive nature of change. We have witnessed in particular a major deterioration in law and order in recent decades. Crimes, such as murder and rape, were relatively rare up to recent times while the vast majority of other crimes were of a relatively minor nature and rarely involved acts of violence against the individual. Times have changed dramatically, however. One cannot now open the daily newspaper without being assaulted either by accounts of recently committed crimes or by graphic details of court hearings of serious crimes.

The list of appalling crimes is endless, whether it involves murder, manslaughter, rape, serious bodily harm, sexual abuse of a variety of types and severity, drug abuse, drink driving, joyriding or domestic violence. No section of society is immune from violence from the youngest innocent child to the frail and largely defenceless elderly person. Rather than stabilising the pattern towards increasing crime is firmly established. The current year has been particularly depressing in that regard. One has only to review the events of the past week when three people were gunned down without mercy in the Dublin area alone to realise that contract killing is increasingly being seen as a routine method of settling scores.

The criminal consequences of increasing drug usage are becoming the single most alarming threat facing modern society. Daily we read statistics relating to the enormous amount of money required to feed a serious drug habit. In the vast majority of cases the drug user must resort to crime to obtain the necessary funds for the daily purchase of drug supplies. It has been estimated that there may be as many as 5,000 hard drug addicts in the Dublin area alone.

This House, and the Government in particular, have a grave responsibility to offer comprehensive protection to each and every law abiding citizen. It does not require much analysis to clearly establish that the people are not being well served. Despite the ever increasing amount of legislation and the sterling efforts of our excellent law enforcement agency, the ordinary citizen is subject to a real risk of becoming a victim of serious crime at any time, on the streets and in the home.

The crime problem is intolerable and the Minister for Justice in particular has an enormous task ahead of her to ensure that the upward pattern is, initially, halted and subsequently reversed. The successful tackling of this huge and vital challenge will require a level of assessment, planning, implementation and monitoring which has been noticeable mainly by its absence to date. Every responsible person must, however, wish the Minister an early and significant breakthrough in her work.

The number of victims of crime is increasing rapidly and there is absolutely no evidence that their urgent needs are being addressed by the Government. The Victim Support Bill is, therefore, particularly welcome and a heartening indication that the just requirements of those who have been hurt and abused are at last being given their rightful priority in our legislative programme.

The first reaction of most non-legal people on reading the Bill is shock that its many excellent provisions are not already fully enshrined in our criminal law. Section 2 recommends a number of legal entitlements for the victims of crime. It begins by proposing that every victim, as a matter of law, should have the right to be consulted by the prosecution in relation to any pre-trial procedures. This is both correct and just.

The remaining provisions of the section outline the clear rights of natural justice of the victim in relation to free legal advice, the arrangement of appropriate counselling and the careful preparation of a victim impact report to enable the judge to assess the full mental and physical consequences of crime for the victim. Each of these provisions is necessary and just, particularly in the context of violent crime.

Section 3 is made up of a number of vital support mechanisms for the victim in terms of obtaining information on the processing and outcome of their case. Sometimes the initial damage to the victim is further aggravated when they are not kept fully informed of the overall management of their case. The original injury and the unfortunate frequent delays in the over-burdened courts system are sufficient crosses for the victim to bear without having to deal with the inadequate information on a case which, in many instance, is both dominating their lives and casting a dark shadow over them. I particularly welcome each of the nine proposals in this section.

Yet another highly desirable provision is recommended in section 4 for the victim of sexual abuse. It is vitally important that every support is given to the victim to obtain full civil as well as criminal justice subsequent to their horrible experience.

I am particularly supportive of sections 5 to 7, inclusive, which deal with the imposition and allocation of fines and levies on those found guilty of crime and which address the need to ensure the maximum provision of funds to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. While custodial sentences will undoubtedly continue to play a vital role in terms of both punishment and deterrents, it is essential that the victim of crime receives full compensation directly from his or her attacker where possible. The simple message that crime does not pay must be made absolutely clear to anyone with the slightest tendency towards criminal behaviour. This Bill is an excellent statement and offers practical support and consolation to the all too many victims of crime. I am happy to support it.

I thank Deputy O'Dea on introducing this Bill. In recent weeks I spoke in the debate on the Bill introduced by Deputies Eoin Ryan and O'Donoghue which the Government decided to accept. I said on that occasion that I thought it was a good indication that the House was becoming more responsible in its approach to legislation produced by the Opposition which, up to now, tended to be shot down automatically. It seems that Deputies O'Dea and O'Donoghue got lucky.

Whenever we listen to reports of crimes on radio and television the reporter, having giving details of the crime committed, finishes off by saying that "nobody was hurt". That really annoys me. How can anyone make such a statement? Just because no bone has been broken and no blood has been spilled it does not follow that no one has been hurt.

Unfortunately, there has been a major increase in crime throughout the country. In this Bill Deputy O'Dea asks us, as legislators, to face up to the problem and accept that victims deserve and need the support of the State. We must treat these people in a caring and sensitive way.

For the past ten years there has been no provision in Irish law for the payment of compensation in respect of pain and suffering to the victims of crime. The only financial support available is out-of-pocket or medical expenses. Most European countries have some provision for the payment of damages to victims. At a time when the Government is telling us that we have to keep up with Europe in so many other ways it is ironic that when Deputy O'Dea introduces this legislation the instant reaction of the Minister for Justice is to pick holes in it.

A woman who has been cooking, baking and making sandwiches to supplement her income is asked to close down because she no longer meets the hygiene standards laid down by Europe. When Deputy O'Dea introduces a Bill, which is in line with legislation passed by other EU states, the Government says it cannot accept it for some other reason. While our membership of the EU has been of overall benefit, some of these needless restrictions serve only to annoy and frustrate.

There can be little doubt that the public has lost confidence in our system of justice. The perception among the majority of people is that the law favours the criminal. Since the 1970s when free legal aid was introduced, great emphasis has been placed on ensuring fair play for the accused. Unfortunately, little attention has been given to victims. If justice is to be done, surely it is as important to provide aid for the victim as well as the accused.

I remember my first visit to a court. I found the atmosphere unnerving and intimidating. It is not a place to which a person can come for the first time and feel relaxed. When my case was over, I realised I should have prepared for the occasion. The same applies to most other people who face a court for the first time. If we are intent on ensuring justice is done, it is important that this preparation be provided.

Deputy Wallace spoke about child sexual abuse. One of the cornerstones of any caring democracy must surely be reflected in how its laws seek to support its children and protect them from abuse of any kind. In this regard, the recent flood of revelations of child abuse, many of them going back years and even decades, has thrown up an enormous challenge to the limitations of existing civil law and the ability of the judicial system to administer justice in such circumstances. Clearly it poses a number of fundamental questions.

The existing common law with regard to trespass to the person may or may not be adequate to deal justly with the rights of victims in sexual offence cases. No such case has ever been brought to the courts, although there have been a number of out of court settlements. Section 4 (1) establishes clearly in law the rights of such victims and puts this issue beyond doubt.

Surely to do anything less than enshrine in our laws a full, unequivocal affirmation of the rights of sexually abused victims to bring a civil action for damages against a perpetrator of such an offence is to send out a sinister and dangerous signal from this House. At the very least, it is the denial of a basic civil right, it immediately has the effect of trivialising such an offence in our civil law and it serves to heap further trauma on an already highly traumatised victim. In effect, it is tantamount to telling victims that if the criminal law can deal with the offenders, we are not interested in their well-being. Such an attitude is unacceptable.

I appeal to the Government to consider this Bill which Deputy O'Dea spent so much time preparing. There is a great need for it and this need will increase with time. I call on the Government to bring forward its own legislation on this issue.

I commend Deputy O'Dea for the concern he has shown introducing this Bill and on his knowledge of the legal system.

The criminal justice system further victimises the victims of crime. Crime, unfortunately, is a growing and increasingly profitable business. Statistics clearly show that an average of 400 crimes are committed every day; only 300 are reported. This is an indictment of our policing system. Of the 300 reported crimes, only 100 are detected and convictions are brought in only 50 of the detected crimes. Seven out of eight times a crime is committed, the criminal makes a 100 per cent profit; only one in eight cases results in a conviction. This is not encouraging. Because of the lack of prison spaces, prison sentences are increasingly devalued penalties. The Minister for Justice has a stash of solutions, none of which contains the only measure which will make any real difference, that is, the provision of more prison spaces. Creating new powers to deal with criminals in the one in four crimes which are detected is an academic exercise if there are no prisons to incarcerate convicted criminals. The Minister has adopted the Lanigan's Ball concept. Some prisoners are no sooner in than they are out again. There is a greater turnover in the prison system than there is in Dunnes Stores. Government policy is putting the cart before the horse.

Replies to parliamentary questions and letters which I have received from the Minister demonstrates the gap between Government rhetoric and the reality faced by real people. I was assured that policing arrangements in a particular village in Country Wexford were adequate. The Minister's arrogance was outstripped only by her blandness. This village, concerns about which were recently articulated in the Dáil and were in turn arrogantly dismissed by the Minister, has since been hit by a wave of crime.

I am talking about Clonroche. One business there has been burgled six times in three years, twice in eight days. If the Minister imagines that policing is adequate in Clonroche and places like it, what is her concept of adequacy? The people in the communities I represent do not think the policing arrangements are adequate. In Clonroche and elsewhere people are angry with the Government's arrogance and indifference.

I recently received a letter about Clonroche from the office of the Minister for Justice. This letter states:

The Minister has been in touch with the Garda authorities on the matter as they are responsible for the detailed allocation of Garda manpower to individual areas. They inform her that under the Community Policing Initiative for Rural Areas, Clonroche forms part of the Enniscorthy Garda District. The main idea behind the Community Policing Scheme is that the manpower and other resources of a number of small stations are combined in order to improve the police service to the district as a whole. This enables the Garda authorities to deploy their members to better effect throughout the district and provide the maximum level of service to the public.

There is currently one garda allocated to Clonroche. [He lives 15 miles away in Wexford.] In addition, there is a Garda Sergeant stationed at Enniscorthy station with responsibility for the Clonroche and Kiltealy sub-districts. The Garda authorities report that the Clonroche area is regularly patrolled by members from Enniscorthy station and by the Traffic Corps based at Gorey.

The Garda authorities are satisfied that the current policing arrangements for Clonroche are adequate to meet the policing needs of the area and it is not intended at present to allocate additional manpower to the station. They are keeping the situation under continuing review and any changes considered necessary will be made.

One premises in my area was burgled on two occasions in the past two weeks. I am on fairly good terms with all the gardaí in County Wexford and, like all public representatives, I meet them very often. However, I have yet to meet a garda who accepts that the arrangements are adequate. I am informed by my colleagues from all over the country that they too receive similar responses to their requests for extra policing. I would ask the Minister what is the origin of the statement we read so often—"policing is adequate to the needs of the area". If it is not the gardaí who write that phrase, and I am sure it is not, from where does it come? I do not think I have ever accused anyone, in this House or outside it, of telling lies, but tonight I am tempted to do so.

For every crime committed there is at least one victim — in the majority of cases there are many victims. I met a garda at a football match last Sunday and we discussed the proper and best method of policing. The garda living in the area will gather an enormous amount of intelligence. He is probably involved in the local GAA club or is a member of the many other clubs in the towns and villages. He is know to everyone in the area and, as has often been said, he knows everything about everyone because he is trusted. On the other hand, the garda resident outside the area does not enjoy that trust and cannot gather the same level of intelligence. As a consequence crime is rampant.

The occasional visit of a patrol car is farcical. That would-be criminal waits for the car to leave the village, knowing that it is unlikely to return that night, and sets out to prey on his victim. The Minister is fighting a losing battle as every victim will confirm. Is it any wonder the awful word "vigilante" is mentioned nowadays with greater frequency? I have cautioned against the use of that word, not to talk of putting it into action, but that is little help to the Clonroche businessman whose supermarket has been broken into twice in the last two weeks. Try telling him that Garda levels are adequate.

The ridiculous system where a garda must witness the signing of dole forms continues to operate. Since the garda has little authority in that regard, why cannot a departmental official preside over that procedure? Why must gardaí spend so much time dealing with paper work? What was wrong with the old system where the garda was resident in his own area of responsibility? Is it any wonder victim support groups are being formed? As Deputy Power said, there is a perception that the criminal receives much more attention than the victim.

I wish to refer briefly to the victims of child sex abuse and the other awful crime, drugs. The number of victims is unknown. I do not wish to go over ground already covered by Deputies Wallace, Power and O'Dea. Suffice to say that drug pushers in each town, as in the city of Dublin, are well known. Why therefore are they not apprehended? The reason is that gardaí who are assigned to the drugs problem are transferred to another case when the need arises. That is when drug pushers are at their best. I suggest that gardaí be specifically assigned to deal with the drugs problem. In that way not alone will drug pushers be known but their activities will be curtailed in a very short time.

Child sex abuse is the most savage and saddest of all crimes and we hear of a new case every day. Many people have been hurt as a result of that crime, and it is incumbent on the Minister to ensure the problem is solved. The criminal in this instance should get his just desserts and it would discourage people from committing the crime again.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Upton and McGrath.

I am sure that is satisfactory. Agreed.

I compliment Deputy O'Dea on the work he has put into the Victim Support Bill. For reasons already outlined to the House, the Government is not in a position to accept the Bill. We are currently developing a charter for victims of crime and, with that in mind, we are listening carefully to the views expressed in this debate.

Before I comment directly on the Bill, let me make one or two general observations. It is only fair to recognise that a great deal has been done in recent years to make the criminal law more victim oriented. In violent or sexual offences, there is now a statutory obligation on the courts, when sentencing an offender, to take into account the effect of the crime on the victim. As part of this process, the court must listen to any evidence the victim may wish to put forward. The court may also order an offender to pay compensation to the victim. A further recognition of the rights of victims is the power which the Director of Public Prosecutions now has, in indictable cases, to apply to the Court of Criminal Appeal to review any sentence which appears unduly lenient. This is a major advance. Few things aggravate the violation felt by victims of crime more than the belief that the punishment has not fitted the crime.

When we think of victims of crime, foremost in all our minds is the plight of children who have been sexually abused. Nothing can erase the suffering caused by this most dreadful of crimes, but we can and must ensure that our criminal justice system is sensitive to the special needs of such a vulnerable group. I especially welcome the fact that our courts are now enabled, in cases involving violence as well as sexual abuse, to hear evidence from children by live television link and to admit into evidence video recordings of statements made by children to gardaí or other competent persons.

There have been other changes to the laws of evidence in favour of victims. Children can now give evidence without taking an oath, provided the court is satisfied that they can give an intelligible account. Moreover, their unsworn evidence no longer requires corroboration as a matter of law. The law on corroboration has also been improved as regards the trial of sexual offences. Judges are no longer required to warn juries of the danger of convicting the defendant on the uncorroborated evidence of the complainant. In rape cases, the law now contains a specific measure to prevent a defendant from unfairly undermining the testimony of a rape victim by irrelevant questioning of her previous sexual experience. Rape victims, and since earlier this year incest victims, also have their anonymity protected by law.

In addition to the reform of the law, services available to victims of crime have also been developed through the good work of the Irish Association for Victim Support. I congratulate that association. Appreciation of its work has been reflected in the increase in State funding from £18,000 in 1993 to £130,000 this year. Most Deputies are familiar with the range of services provided — including listening to victims, counselling victims and giving them advice on a range of practical matters from legal aid to health service entitlements.

I will now comment on some of the principles underlying the Bill, without dwelling on drafting technicalities. One of my main concerns is that the entitlements set out in the Bill for victims of crime do not seem to have been thought through, either in terms of their practical benefit for victims or their consequences for the State. How realistic is it to require the State to immediately provide a universal and open-ended legal advice and counselling service without regard to need? Should the prosecution, as the Bill would require, have to consult a victim about every individual pre-trial procedure, even routine technical applications to court? What remedy would a victim have if this requirement was not complied with in a particular case?

This is not the only part of the Bill where questions are unanswered. Take, for example, the requirement on the Garda to provide certain information to victims of crime. It would only apply where a victim makes a written request, but how realistic is that? Will victims of crime write to the Garda specifying the categories of information under section 3 of the Bill about which they want to be told? We all agree that communication between the Garda and victims of crime is important, but I must question the practicality of the proposal in the Bill. Deputy O'Dea will argue that he is making a start in providing minimum entitlements, but entitlements, whether minimum or maximum, are of no benefit if they are not used. Another factor is that a statutory requirement of this nature tends to focus attention on compliance and, in effect, can become a standard practice rather than a minimum practice.

Another aspect of the Bill which leaves me less than convinced is the provision whereby judges could allocate part of a fine to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. Everyone is aware of the financial difficulties which the tribunal has experienced in the past, but good progress has been made in recent times in making available the necessary resources, to the extent that delays in the payment of accepted awards have now been virtually eliminated. I doubt if this progress can be maintained and built upon by the proposal in the Bill. Such a scheme needs adequate and consistent State funding. The proposed income from fines would be completely unpredictable, depending on the number of convictions, the number of fines, the size of the fines and, not least, the extent to which judges would exercise what under the Bill is a discretionary power. That does not seem to provide a stable platform on which the tribunal could develop its services.

However, we must review the operation of the scheme of compensation for criminal injuries to see where improvements can be made. Such a review is currently being carried out in the Department of Justice in line with a commitment in A Government of Renewal. I do not pretend there are easy answers to these questions. All the issues need to be carefully considered and their implications teased out. That is what the Minister for Justice is doing in the preparation of a charter for the victims of crime, which is a commitment in A Government of Renewal. Work on this is already under way.

Shortly after I was appointed I met representatives of the National Women's Council, the Rape Crisis Centre and Women's Aid to talk about the experience of women who are victims of domestic violence. The Department is funding a study by that group, to which submissions can be sent by the public, to talk about the experience of women who are victims of particular types of crime, whether inside or outside the home. That is important.

Last week a major conference was organised by the Department of Justice and Women's Aid on the subject of domestic violence in Ireland. We looked at what has become known as the Leeds model, which is an integrated interagency approach to deal with domestic violence. Its focus is twofold — to assist the victim of domestic violence and to deal with the violent abuser. We are not just talking about victims, but about addressing the crime. That work is ongoing and will be reflected in the Department's policies.

The ongoing work with organisations such as the Rape Crisis Centre, the National Women's Council and Women's Aid is pioneering work. When I was Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare I was able to fund a primary survey on the extent of violence against women. We must find out who are the victims of crime. Some Deputies referred to unreported crimes. We deal with hospitals where people who are victims of domestic assaults attend and they tell the staff they walked into a door and the doctors or nurses may not be aware of the distinction between domestic violence and domestic accidents.

One area which must be addressed is the need to explain to victims of crime why it is not possible to proceed with prosecutions. I have tried to explain to many families why a prosecution was not proceeded with by the Director of Public Prosecutions and to explain the independent role of that office. Victims of sexual crime, particularly child sexual abuse which is often not disclosed for many years, find it difficult to handle non-prosecution, which is a result of time delays. While we may discuss support for victims of crime, the most satisfactory support is to successfully prosecute and punish the perpetrator of the crime. That should be the primary focus of our attention.

I welcome the Bill which attempts to draw attention to the problem of crime and its effect on victims. The debate should help the Minister for Justice and other agencies who are involved in formulating a charter for the victims of crime. I pay tribute to Deputy O'Dea for introducing this Bill because it required a lot of work, particularly as he does not have the resources which are available to the Government.

Crime is a major political issue. While some progress has been made in dealing with this problem a lot has yet to be achieved. It is a challenge to deal with crime because it affects many values, including liberty, which are dearly held in society. The effect of crime on victims has received little attention. Few studies have been done on the short-term and long-term effects of crime on victims. It is a pity that more research is not done on this issue. It is remarkable that so little money and attention have been given to such an important matter.

Major emphasis has been placed on the rights of the criminal over the past 25 years but little thought has been given to the right of victims to live without fear. Little attention has been given to the people's right to feel confident that they will not become victims. Too many people live in fear of crime and are afraid to report it. Too many people will not take part in the legal process as witnesses because of intimidation or will not state their case because they are afraid. A significant degree of intimidation is evident in certain parts of the country and, in particular, in this city. It presents an enormous challenge as it erodes confidence in people's belief that if they come forward and give evidence in court against a criminal they will not be intimidated or become victims of crime. That major problem must be addressed.

Little attention has been given to determining the root causes of crime. To some extent analyses of crime have been replaced by announcements by shrill advocates proclaiming simplistic solutions. Some people have encouraged the abstraction of the criminal's responsibility for crime. Simplistic arguments have been produced suggesting that in some cases criminals are not really responsible for the crimes they commit. That is incredible and damaging. In the past some people here advocated that point of view and promulgated it with great vigour and enthusiasm as an explanation of how society works.

More emphasis should be placed on ensuring that criminals bear responsibility for their crimes. Simplistic arguments in that regard have been destructive in encouraging certain people to become involved in crime. Such arguments have been disastrous to the extent that in some circumstances, they have eroded the central factor militating against crime — the imposition of a social sanction. They have removed the social sanction factor which in the past was crucial in discouraging people from becoming involved in crime. It is bizarre that some people claim that criminals are not responsible for their crimes. As stated on a recent television programme, some people go so far as to suggest that the gardaí are responsible for some incidents involving crime. It is time people faced down that claim.

I was pleased to hear my colleague, Councillor Michael Conaghan, state that on a television programme without equivocation. It is time the central role played by criminals in committing crimes was recognised rather than the excuses and explanations of their criminal activity put forward by some people. In the long-term such explanations encourage criminal activity which has disastrous consequences for many people who may be direct victims of crime or live in fear that they will become victims.

I suspect that some of the causes of crime may be deeper than many people are prepared to recognise. I believe some of them are rooted in the values underpinning consumer society or, as recently stated, the values of hedonistic individualism. In many ways that type of philosophy has abstracted responsibility from people who should put greater emphasis on advising people of their duties. Every right carries a duty. It is time Irish society faced up to the fact that there are duties which none of its citizens can avoid. While it is desirable that some emphasis is placed on citizens' rights, if society is to be cohesive, greater emphasis must be placed on the duties rather than the rights of individual members of society, but for every right there is a responsibility.

Some members of our society who formulate opinion should lay greater emphasis on rights, community, society, and the obligations on the ordinary man and woman on the street to make their society work. Far too much emphasis has been placed on rights and there is great enthusiasm among certain people to vindicate people's rights while disregarding the issue of responsibilities and duties.

I appreciate some of the reasons the Minister is not accepting the Bill. Nonetheless, its introduction has been worthwhile. I gather that some of its limitations have been covered extensively during the debate. One of two aspects of the financial attachments to the Bill are worth mentioning. It is regrettable that Deputy O'Dea was not more specific about the funding of some of the provisions in the Bill. The introduction of the Bill has filled a useful role in stimulating a worthwhile debate.

I thank my colleagues for sharing their time with me.

Listening to the debate in my office I heard a number of worthwhile contributions. I was somewhat amused to hear Deputy Power criticise the Government for not accepting the Bill. It is only a short time since he was sitting on the benches of a Government which was quick to dismiss Bills, motions and other measures brought before the House. I am amused that he has had a change of heart since crossing the floor of the House; many people have a change of heart when they cross from one side of the House to the other.

Deputy Martin, another Member who has crossed the floor of the House, made worthwhile contributions when on this side. He must have read what is mandatory reading for all Members of the Opposition, certainly members of the Fianna Fáil Opposition, "How to Behave in Opposition". One must check the scripts of previous Opposition spokespersons and bury any ideas or principles one might have held, all for the sake of Opposition. We should be more realistic and face up to the fact that, generally, a Government which intends to introduced its Bill will not accept one introduced by the Opposition a short time earlier.

I compliment Deputy O'Dea for introducing this Bill. Having been an Opposition spokesperson I realise the tremendous amount of work involved in preparing a Bill like this. Opposition spokespersons must prepare legislation without the necessary back-up. They must rely on the goodwill of the public. We should acknowledge that some people give freely of their time and expertise to assist in the preparation of such Bills. I am not suggesting that Deputy O'Dea did not put work into this Bill. When I was an Opposition spokesperson I relied on the assistance of volunteers in the preparation of such Bills. In the long-term we should address the problem that the Opposition must rely on the assistance of volunteers in the preparation of such work. It is unfair that they should be burdened with so much responsibility and have so few back-up facilities. This Government, or a future Government, should address that matter.

The high level of crime is a topic of conversation everywhere. Many people are fearful. The lives of many victims of crime have been shattered. Last night I attended a meeting at which the question of crime was to the forefront. It was proposed that as many resources as possible should be given to the Minister for Justice to combat crime. It was proposed, and agreed, although there were some dissenters, that in the coming year lottery money should be provided to help the Minister for Justice combat crime. The people who attended that meeting supported such a measure because crime is such a major problem. Are there any people who do not know somebody who has not been a victim of some type of crime? We hear of the perpetrators, sometimes they are caught, brought to court, fined or sent to prison but, unfortunately, they leave behind innocent victims who were attacked in their homes, robbed, beaten up or even raped. There have been serious travesties of justice and many people fear that they may become victims of crime.

This time of the year elderly people living in rural areas are house-bound from 4 p.m. with their doors barred. They will not answer a knock unless they know it is a neighbour because they are afraid of what might happen. Crime is creating tremendous fear and will have to be addressed.

In referring to crime in rural areas I commend the Garda Síochána on providing a confidential telephone number where people can pass on information in relation to crime. We have a long tradition here where people do not let anybody down but it is time we made it more difficult for the perpetrators of crime and to tip the balance, slightly at least, towards the victims so that there will not be another victim as a result of not passing on information.

I compliment the Irish Association for Victim Support which was set up recently. One of the people who was instrumental in setting up the association has had a long tradition in law enforcement and a tremendous involvement in voluntary organisations. I got to know him a number of years ago when I served in a voluntary organisation with him. This country is blessed in that many people are prepared to work on a voluntary basis and help out in many different ways. I welcome the fact that this association, which is doing much good work, receives Government support.

Members of the association listen to the fears of victims of crime, spend time with them and give expert advice on how to proceed and how to present their case in court or whatever. We should be proud that we have such an association and we should support it.

Recently some hideous cases of the appalling crime of child abuse have been reported. I cannot fathom the reason anybody would abuse an innocent child. We should do all we can to bring those people to justice and ensure that justice is carried out as far as possible. I have no doubt the child victims of crime go through hell and we must ensure adequate counselling is provided for them to help them readjust to normal life.

There is, perhaps, another victim who is not often mentioned. While I abhor crime in every way, during the past couple of weeks I came across a lady for whom I felt extremely sorry. She was employed in a caring agency and about six months ago a letter was sent to it by a person claiming that an inmate of the agency was being abused. The person who was supposedly being abused was mentally and physically handicapped and was unable to explain clearly what had happened. To make a long story short it was suggested that this lady was abusing a person in the institution. The first the lady knew of it was when a squad car appeared outside her house and a garda asked if he could speak to her. He told her she had been reported for abusing this person although the agency for which she worked had not informed her. The garda was particularly helpful and took a statement but those for whom she works have not mentioned it to her. The garda has not taken a case against her to date. Five months after the initial interview this lady is still wondering whether something will happen, if she will be charged, if the case has been put to rest, if she has been cleared, if she has been tarnished for the rest of her life and where she will go from here.

I have a certain sympathy for that lady. I firmly believe from what she told me — her reaction and so on — that she is not guilty of any crime. She feels she is a victim because the matter has been left so long and that people talked about it without telling her. Also her family knows about it and it has caused tremendous tension. To speak about it five months later reduces her to floods of tears. If she has done something wrong certainly she should be brought to justice but if she has not the matter should be laid to rest.

In recent times we seem to have gone overboard in relation to so-called perpetrators. I have noticed that people's names and photographs are printed in the newspapers before they have been brought to court and tried in the normal way. Surely people are innocent until proven guilty. I do not want to tip the balance in favour of the criminal but at the same time we have to be sensitive to the fact that there are people on the other side with families and in jobs in which they wish to remain.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the Victim Support Bill. I wish to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Michael Ahern.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy O'Dea, for introducing this Bill. He has shown commendable enterprise and sincerity in his role as Fianna Fáil spokesman on law reform and this is one further example of his commitment in this area. I have listened to speakers from both sides of the House and the common denominator is that there is general agreement across the political divide that crime is at a crisis point all over the country.

In his opening speech, Deputy O'Dea acknowledged that his Bill is lacking in some respects, either because of drafting difficulties or because a Member cannot impose a charge on the Exchequer in a Private Member's Bill that he or she introduces. The whole question of drafting difficulties encountered by the Opposition is a matter to which I would like to refer later. However, it is sufficient to remind the House that Deputy O'Dea made it clear that he hoped to persuade the Government to accept the Bill in principle and, at least, to give a commitment to introduce a comprehensive Bill later.

I have some sympathy for the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, on this occasion. He has already provided sufficient evidence to show his concern for the victims of violence and abuse, particularly where children are concerned. He must have been severely embarrassed last Tuesday when he had to read a speech which effectively gave a pat on the head to Deputy O'Dea but went on to say that really he was talking a load of rubbish. The Minister of State would be well aware that a court appearance can be a traumatic experience, especially for a very young or a very old victim of violence or abuse who may never have been in a courtroom. Those of us who have are aware of the scenario encountered by some victims who are called to give evidence against the person who inflicted the physical injuries. The offender could be a drug addict of a particularly violent nature. He would be sitting very near the victim, perhaps with eye to eye contact, and with an intimidating presence calculated to terrorise any witness, especially anybody of a timid or vulnerable nature.

When one considers that witnesses may be called to give evidence which might result in a prison sentence being imposed, I do not have to spell out the possible consequences for that witness. There is always the possibility that there may be present in the court one or more friends of the offender from the wider drug community, yet there is no obligation on the State to provide any legal aid or support for the victim who is required to appear in court. He or she would have been through a trial by ordeal, severely traumatised and sent home without a second glance unless there is a garda or legal representative present who has compassion for the victim and the time to offer a little comfort and advice.

I find it difficult to understand why the Minister for Justice — I regard her as a compassionate person — could come up with nothing better than a litany of technical objections to the way the Bill was framed. With the army of skilled legal personnel at her command she could at least have said she would do her best to draft a Bill which would provide proper legal and other advice to these witnesses as well as an appropriate system of compensation where necessary.

Deputy O'Dea suggested various ways in which the criminal injuries compensation fund could be added to by way of fines, etc. All we heard in response were niggling objections about possible book-keeping difficulties. In dealing with the proposal to provide free counselling for victims, we were referred to the work done by the voluntary organisations such as the Irish Association for Victim Support. Does the service provided by this worthwhile group extend to every parish? I do not think so.

Section 2 covers legal entitlements of victims of crime as follows: (a) the right to be consulted by the prosecution in relation to any pre-trial procedures, (b) the right to free legal advice in relation to any trial at which the victim shall be a witness for an indictable offence involving violence or the threat of violence as a result of which the victim suffers either physical or mental injury and (c) the victim shall be entitled to counselling for the psychological effects of a crime involving violence or the threat of violence as a result of which the victim suffers either physical or mental injury, which shall be provided by the State without charge to the victim and regulations regarding the provision of counselling shall be drawn up by the Minister for Justice and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas within six months of the date of the passing of this Act.

The Minister of State outlined legislative measures which were introduced by Fianna Fáil in recent years and which were designed to tilt the balance more towards the victim. They included the affording of much more protection to the victim from unfair cross-examination and harassment in cases involving rape or other violence. These measures included the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act, 1990 and the Criminal Evidence Act, 1992, which made it easier for children or other witnesses such as mentally handicapped persons to give evidence without being treated as if they were the criminals rather than the victims.

In addition, the Criminal Justice Act, 1993 was steered through the Oireachtas by Deputy O'Dea — acknowledged by the Minister as significant legislation. This Act includes provision for compensation to be awarded to victims in various circumstances. The snag is that the compensation must be extracted from the offender. This is all very well if the offender is a person of means, otherwise it is a case of trying to get blood from a stone.

I mention these Fianna Fáil Bills not to blow a party political trumpet but to stress the underlying message behind the introduction of this Bill. In recent years we have seen the gradual build up of legislation which gives more and more protection to the victims of crime. However, for various reasons, including lack of funding at particular times, that legislation contains many loopholes which requires serious attention. We hoped the Minister would have availed of this opportunity to make her contribution to the process by at least giving a commitment to initiate action in the near future. To promise a charter for victims of crime is simply not good enough unless its contents are given the full force of the law.

I mentioned at the outset that I would return to the matter of the drafting of Bills. Over the years many Private Members' Bills have been voted down by the Government of the day. More often than not, what seemed to be worthwhile proposals were rejected on the grounds of improper drafting. Deputy O'Dea reminded the House last evening that the Attorney General told a parliamentary committee that it takes at least eight years to produce a fully fledged draftsman. The Opposition does not have the services of one person with these qualifications. We must realise that every Member is a legislator and as such is entitled to initiate legislation at least once in his or her term of office.

I do not absolve my party for failing to address this question while in Government but a short spell in Opposition concentrates the mind wonderfully in certain directions. I wish to compliment Deputy McGahon for stating in his contribution that all Bills should be accepted on both sides of the House. The State should provide Members of the Oireachtas at least with the means and expertise to draft Bills. I strongly recommend this idea to the Government because Members on the Government side could find themselves back in Opposition after the next general election and, therefore, they would benefit from what I am suggesting.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important Bill and I compliment Deputy O'Dea on his excellent work in publishing it. The time and effort that goes into preparing a ten minute speech is enormous and to write one that is worthwhile takes a great amount of time. When I was in college I engaged in public speaking and we were told that if we wanted to give a speech of 15 minutes duration we had to spend 20 to 30 minutes preparing it. If we wanted to give a five minute speech, we had to spend approximately eight hours preparing it to ensure that the necessary points were got across in that short time.

The same applies in this House because in order to initiate any legislation one must undertake an enormous amount of work. Members emphasised in their contributions that research services are inadequate. I hope the powers that be take that into account when considering the provision of resources to the Houses of the Oireachtas because if Members of the Opposition or Government backbenchers are required to make meaningful contributions, they must have adequate resources available to them.

The Bill is aimed at providing support for victims of crime. We are all aware of the problems crime is causing. There is an increasing incidence of crime in all areas, much of which is caused by the rise in drug abuse. The cost of a drug habit is enormous and addicts are forced to resort to crime in order to feed their habit. Last year more than 100,000 indictable crimes were reported. That is up to 300 indictable crimes a day. In addition, there are non-indictable crimes. This illustrates the enormous problems facing society today. For every one of those crimes there is at least one victim who is affected immediately by the crime. In many cases the effects can last for years.

How the system treats victims and their relationship with the system when the criminal is brought before the court are important questions. It is not acceptable that victims appearing in court for the first time on behalf of the State get no opportunity to meet the barrister and solicitor representing the State prior to the hearing of the court case. This should be addressed and should not be allowed to continue. Very few people in this State enter a courtroom unless they are a victim or are being prosecuted. Most are law-abiding citizens who want to help the Garda, but often the meeting between the victim and the Garda Síochána is perfunctory, and the proceedings in court are disconcerting and even frightening to some people. There should be greater interaction between the solicitor for the State, the Garda Síochána and victims in order to put victims at ease, advice them and help them not be be frightened of giving evidence.

Victim witnesses should be entitled to free legal aid and be advised on court procedure and about their rights and duties as witnesses. The Garda Síochána should, on written request by the victim or the victim's solicitor, provide basic information such as the name of the Garda station, the telephone number of the garda investigating the case, whether or not somebody has been charged and whether the accused person is in custody or on bail. The victim should be entitled to know as early as possible whether or not he or she will be required to give evidence, and should also be advised if the perpetrator who has been sentenced is released from jail. We all know of people who have met their attacker on the streets within a couple of weeks of being jailed. Such a meeting out of the blue can be psychologically damaging to victims. However, there is such severe overcrowding in our prisons that some people describe them as having a bigger turnover than Dunne's Stores, and victims, particularly those who have suffered physical damage at the hands of criminals, should be advised of their release.

The Minister of State, Deputy Currie, objected to the Bill because it had no sanctions built in, but Ms Helen Fenwick of the University of Durham, in the 1995 Criminal Law Review, page 843, stated that a sanction would not be necessary if rights were statutorily provided. If a garda does not comply with the law, is he not open to discipline either internally or through the Garda Complaints Board? If a victim is not given his or her rights it could prejudice the prosecution case. Therefore, the Garda who are looking for convictions have a built-in incentive to freely provide the rights mentioned.

Some Government speakers suggested a charter for victims of crime, but my experience of charters is that they are not worth the paper they are written on. The farmers' charter has not improved by one whit the lot of the 10,000 farmers who marched on the streets today. I have been dealing with hospitals for many years, but have seen no improvement in the treatment of patients which resulted from the printing of the patients' charter. Charters are all very well nicely printed and displayed on walls, but their effect is negligible. It is necessary to enshrine rights in our laws. One charter that comes to my mind is the Magna Carta of 1215 which set out the rights of the king and his barons. What happened after the signing of the Magna Carta shows how much weight a charter carries. Kings did not abide by charters, and the same is happening in regard to charters printed today.

Under section 2 of the Bill the legal aid centres would have to provide free legal advice to victims of crime. This is very important for victims who cannot afford to pay for legal advice.

Counselling is also very important for traumatised victims, most of whom cannot afford the cost of counselling which should be provided free of charge to all victims. If such services were available not only in Dublin City but throughout the country many of the problems victims of crime have in later life could be averted. It would not be necessary to go through the Oireachtas to provide counselling for victims of crime; it could be done by way of regulation.

At present, owing to lack of support, many victims are pushed to the margins. They become disillusioned and this disillusionment spreads to their families and friends and leads to loss of confidence in the system of justice. The Government and Opposition parties must guard against this happening.

Debate adjourned.