Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Jul 1996

Vol. 468 No. 1

Private Members' Business. - Measures Against Crime: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Eireann condemns the horrific murders of the investigative journalist, Ms Veronica Guerin and of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and resolves that these events represent a defining moment in the battle against subversion and organised crime and calls on the Government to consider and take action as a matter of urgency on the following matters:
(a) reform of the bail laws;
(b) measures to curtail the absolute right to silence, with safeguards, in serious criminal matters;
(c) measures to expedite the law in relation to criminal procedure;
(d) minimum sentences for use of illegal firearms;
(e) measures to control the abuse of temporary release;
(f) the establishment of a statutory prison service with an obligation on the State to provide adequate prison spaces;
(g) the immediate filling of all judicial vacancies in the Circuit Court and High Court;
(h) to arrange with the Presidents of the Courts to have special sittings of the Central Criminal Court and Circuit Courts during the legal vacations to deal with the intolerable delays and backlog of criminal cases;
(i) the establishment of a unified prosecution service;
(j) measures to provide for formal questioning of suspects before judicial officers;
(k) measures to protect witnesses in criminal prosecutions;
(l) to ask the Garda Commissioner to review Garda deployment and resources in order to maximise the effectiveness of the force; and
that, in the light of existing circumstances, and the threat to the security of the State, posed by subversive and organised crime, consideration be given to the passage of laws and the publication of proposals to secure the public safety and further that Dáil Éireann shall set aside all non-urgent business this week and shall reasssemble on the 25th of July to allow for the Organised Crime (Restraint and Disposal of Illicit Assets) Bill, 1996 and other legislation to be passed."
—(Deputy O'Donnell.)

On many occasions during the past 18 months I have asserted that the Government has no criminal justice policy. Today I am in a position not alone to assert but to prove that is so. After 18 months of prevarication, indecision and ideological paralysis, the Government has abandoned the pretence of having a policy and is thrashing around looking for proposals to implement. Measures that were previously deemed unacceptable are now Government policy. I welcome those Government U-turns and the fact that it has belatedly moved to implement a series of Fianna Fáil policies, but I condemn utterly the months of concerted Government effort which went into repeatedly blocking necessary legislation introduced by Fianna Fáil. I condemn the lack of vision and foresight which repeatedly brought Government Deputies into the lobbies to vote down the measures they now deem necessary.

Who in this Government of accountability will accept responsibility for blocking legislation which it now accepts needs to be enacted in law? Who is accountable? Where does the buck stop? Who in the Government is responsible for the non-development and non-implementation of criminal justice policy?

Last year I published and introduced the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution (No. 1) Bill, which was designed to give judges power to refuse bail to a person if they were satisfied there was a probability that the person would commit a category of offence which is also an indictable offence. The Government voted down the Bill and denied the people the right to vote on that issue. Every day since that Bill was defeated, the courts have been compelled to release on bail heroin addicts whose addiction costs them upwards of £200 per day. Those addictions can be fed only through theft, violence and robbery. The Government took a conscious decision to vote down the Fianna Fáil Bill, but who will take responsibility for the carnage which those addicts have since caused on our streets? Will the politicians, who last Friday night accepted for the first time the need for a constitutional amendment, accept responsibility?

What I find particularly shabby about the Government's decision to hold a bail referendum is its pretence that the issue has just arisen. It is an issue which it opposed resolutely. When it was finally brought, kicking and screaming by a tide of public outrage, to the realisation that a referendum was necessary, it had not even taken the preliminary preparatory step of drafting the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment. The Taoiseach, fumbling for clarity, was reduced to announcing that the referendum would seek to deny bail where there was a danger of reoffending. That inarticulate and woolly expression of the carefully drafted Fianna Fáil proposal demonstrates the lack of consideration by the Government of the proposal.

The Taoiseach now asserts as Government policy the proposal he voted against in this House. He is flanked by the Minister for Justice who denigrated the proposal and said it could not be done. She was right: it could not be done because neither she nor the other members of the Government had the political will to do it. They are now compelled to accept that what they said could not be done can be done. There will be a referendum which the Government prevented last year.

In 1995 I introduced on behalf of my party the Criminal Justice (Bail) Bill which was designed to introduce a number of sensible measures within the confines of existing constitutional parameters. Among other measures, it sought to make provision for the forfeiture of bail moneys where an offence is committed on bail. The Minister for Justice, reciting her customary mantra, declared it could not be done and that there were constitutional difficulties. Where have we heard that recently? Today that proposal is Government policy. Who will accept responsibility for this reversal of policy? Who will accept responsibility for incorrectly stating this could not be done? The Government has pursued a policy of studied inactivity in regard to crime. Belatedly it has come to the realisation that legislative action is needed, but it continues to send out inherently contradictory messages.

I listened to the Taoiseach recently speak publicly of the need for tougher sentences in drug distribution cases. Within hours of this policy assertion, the Minister for Justice opposed a Fianna Fáil amendment to the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill, which would have had the effect of imposing a minimum sentence of ten years' imprisonment for any person found in possession of controlled drugs with a minimum street value of £10,000. Who are they trying to fool? I am not fooled, nor is the public. Issuing statements calling for tough sentences achieves nothing. Voting such measures into law is helpful, but the Government resolutely refuses to do so. There is no point in the Taoiseach calling for heavy sentences if the Minister for Justice opposes those measures when they are proposed in the Oireachtas. This is symptomatic of the disarray which exists at Government level. There is no policy, only confusion.

In the past 18 months I introduced nine separate criminal justice Private Members' Bills. The Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Bill was accepted by the Minister and the principal sections of the Criminal Law (Incest Proceedings) Act, 1995, were adopted from our Bill on the same topic, but every other measure was voted down. It is ironic to hear of a revolt by Labour backbenchers against the Government's inactivity on the issue of crime. Do they not realise that they, by their votes, prevented those measures from becoming law? Do they think their constituents do not realise they voted against holding a referendum on bail, that their leadership probably prevented it, that they voted against toughening bail laws, imposing a minimum ten year sentence on drug dealers found in possession of drugs with a street value of £10,000 or more and provisions which would provide trials within 90 days for serious criminal offences? That is their record and it is also the sorry record of Democratic Left. That is what the electorate will be asked to judge them on.

Less than two weeks ago I asked the Minister for Justice whether she intended to establish a special task force to combat drug trafficking. The Minister, Deputy Currie, informed me that it was not intended to establish such an agency. Why then, less than a fortnight later, is this measure the cornerstone of Government policy? Who will be made accountable for the failure to establish a task force which is now accepted by the Government as necessary? Those questions need to be answered.

We are dealing with a Government that not only failed to introduce necessary legislation and take necessary initiatives but that voted down legislation which is now acknowledged to be necessary, a Government that refused to take initiatives which are now acknowledged to be vital. The Government has acknowledged that its crime programme has been deficient, that in the past it has taken incorrect decisions on crime policy, but what concerns me most is that it appears set to repeat the policy of aloof indifference which brought about its inadequate response in the first place.

Despite having power to do so, the Government has refused to appoint the extra judges which the Oireachtas authorised it to pass in the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995. The appointment of extra judges is the only way to bring an end to the unacceptable delays in our courts, and only the Government can appoint those judges, but to date, with a few notable exceptions, it has refused to do so. At a time when delays in the Central Criminal Court often exceed two years, the Government refuses to arrange sittings of the court throughout the legal vacation. A fortnight in late September is an inadequate response to a crime crisis.

If the Government wants to know the direction in which it must travel it should examine the Private Members' Bills published by Fianna Fáil, enact the various measures it voted down since taking office and restore public confidence in its ability to adequately tackle the crime problem, but it should start by announcing who is accountable for its past failures. Should the Minister for Justice take all the blame or should it rightly be shared between her and the Leaders of the Labour Party and Democratic Left? The public knows the answer to that question and there is no need for me to add anything.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Flanagan, Brian Fitzgerald and Lynch.

I am sure that is in order and agreed.

The sentiments contained in the motion have already been referred to and have garnered positive suggestions in many respects. In accepting some of the suggestions in the motion I wish to express my sincere sympathy to the families of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin whose deaths crystallised the outrageous behaviour of organised criminal gangs.

The problems of crime have been with us for many years without the required response forthcoming from Government. Deputy O'Donoghue's contribution this evening was interesting in that regard. One would think that crime began only after Fianna Fáil left office.

The proposers of the motion call for reform of the bail laws but they do not indicate the number of prison spaces and other resources required to implement that measure. In addition, they do not outline the measures required to control the abuse of temporary releases. In a policy statement on the problems of temporary release Fianna Fáil stated that something must be done irrespective of the impact any action will have in the short-term or the resources that will be required over a period to implement these measures.

It is worth noting that in the eight years Fianna Fáil was in office, from 1987 to 1994, not one additional prison space was provided. One would think there was no crime in Ireland at that time. A statistic that comes to mind is that in 1991 there was a massive 7.7 per cent increase in crime but we did not get any response from the then Government.

The manner in which Fianna Fáil has sought to pillory the Minister for Justice in recent times for the problems in our criminal justice system is nothing short of disgraceful. One would think this Minister was personally responsible for the deaths of people such as Detective Garda McCabe and Veronica Guerin.

The same approach was not taken by the Opposition in 1994 when Imelda Riney and her son and Fr. Joe Walsh were murdered. It would have been easy politically for the Opposition to blame the then Minister for Justice for those tragic events. It would be equally easy for the Opposition to blame the Minister for Justice for the murder of Philomena Gillane. There is a fundamental difference of decency between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael spokes-persons on these issues in that our public utterances are tempered with a degree of fairness and humility.

Party political point scoring on the crime issue at a time when an outraged public demands all-party support for tough anti-crime measures is counterproductive. Partisan politics are out of step with the will of the people at this time of great tragedy in our community.

It would be easy for me to say that the gentleman who appeared on the front page of last Sunday's Sunday Independent, who is alleged to be the main suspect in the murder of Veronica Guerin, might have been a beneficiary of a tax amnesty introduced by the Leader of Fianna Fáil when he was Minister for Finance. It would be easy for me to say also that the tax amnesty may have contributed to the wealth he has created over the years in that he had to pay only 15 per cent tax on his ill-gotten gains.

Previous Governments did not adequately face up to the crime problem, particularly organised crime. Fifteen months ago the Minister for Justice outlined what she believed was the required response to deal effectively with the level of criminal activity in our society. I regret the Government did not see fit at that time to implement the long overdue package but I welcome the anti-crime measures now being introduced.

The Minister for Justice is dealing with the problem of crime by reforming the courts, the Garda Síochána, the prison service and the law in a structured and coherent way. It represents a meaningful response to the need to protect our citizens and will ensure that the people who perpetrate these appalling crimes do not benefit from the revolving door syndrome in our prisons.

I welcome the proposed measures which include strengthening the bail laws, eclipsing the right to silence for drug traffickers, the provision of 525 new prison spaces in addition to the 278 already announced this year, an additional 600 gardaí on the beat as well as the establishment of a special unit to deal effectively with the assets of criminals.

While I should not have been, I was surprised by the attitude this evening of the Garda Representative Association spokesperson, P.J. Stone——

One of my fans.

—— and the attitude of the Prison Officers' Association to the package announced by the Minister. We should not expect a member of the Garda Síochána, like Mr. Stone, to know anything about the building industry and the time involved in finalising planning and design arrangements and getting the work under way.

I would say many of them have a good idea.

I regret he did not see fit to welcome the toughest measures and the largest number of prison spaces provided in the past ten years to help the security forces in their fight against organised crime. I wish the Minister every success in dealing once and for all with these appalling criminals.

There are a few gardaí who know something about building; it is one of their favourite pastimes.

I wish to make some points in the short time available to me. The Leader of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Harney, in a context not dissimilar to that we are debating tonight, once stated that somebody somewhere has got to do something. That is the difference between Government and Opposition Members. It is easy for the Opposition to say that somebody somewhere must do something. The Minister for Justice is doing something about this problem and has been engaged in that exercise for the past 17 months. The record is clear in that regard.

For the remaining time in this debate we should concentrate on the positive proposals contained in the package announced by the Minister last night. That package was not cobbled together in recent days. It shows clear vision in regard to reform of the criminal justice system after many decades of inactivity.

On the right to silence, there is no doubt that law abiding citizens of this State, approximately 99.9 per cent of the population, have nothing to fear from changes in the right to silence, particularly as we now have video taping facilities in our main Garda stations.

We have those facilities.

We have a pilot scheme.

There is also the statutory availability of legal advice to any suspect. The courts should be able to draw inferences from silence in cases where a serious crime has occurred.

The culture of our society must change towards assisting the Garda Síochána in resolving the crime problem. Every citizen of the State has a social responsibility to tell the police about any suspicious activity of a criminal nature. Unfortunately, that moral responsibility does not have the force of law but it should be taken seriously by every citizen.

There are no more than 40 drug barons or crime lords in the country. I wonder how many of them have been subjected to Revenue audits in recent times because on a weekly basis in my clinics small business owners and farmers complain about the crack squad from the Revenue Commissioners demanding large amounts of tax refunds from them even where minor omissions occurred. Serious consideration should be given to paying a bounty to people for information which successfully leads to the resolution of a criminal case or the freezing or seizure of assets of crime. The Revenue Commissioners must consider this more seriously than they have in the past. I see no reason this concept cannot be taken on board and expanded.

The previous speaker said the words of the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil ring hollow when one looks at the record of those parties in Government. We have had four successive Fianna Fáil Ministers for Justice over a period of almost ten years and not one prison place was provided in this State——

They were provided for in the Estimates.

What type of Estimates were they? Paper Estimates?

——except the political mirage of Castlerea, which was nothing other than a political stroke conjured up by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, to appease her backbenchers, including Deputy Doherty. When we came into Government, we had to tackle the problem relating to prison spaces. The Minister's announcement last night shows we are committed to that.

It costs £88,000 per year per prisoner in Portlaoise prison. Will we follow the American example of building more prisons without looking at the fundamentals of our penal code? The Minister has set up various commissions and studies and published reports which attract nothing but disdain from the Opposition benches because they are more concerned with the easy headlines, such as that from Deputy Harney —"somebody somewhere should do something". The Minister for Justice is doing something and this Government will continue it for the duration of this Dáil.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I extend my sincere sympathy to the families of Veronica Guerin and Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. No words will help to console them and it will take a long time for the wounds to heal.

Last week's events sent shock waves through our community. There has not been such an outpouring of anger or sympathy since the famous Enniskillen bombing in which Gordon Wilson's daughter died. The murders of Veronica Guerin and Detective Garda Jerry McCabe represent an attack on our society and its democratic ideals. Journalists are no different from anyone else but they represent what is best in our society.

The Government's response has been rapid and reasonable and it has listened to the legitimate concerns of the Opposition. However, in the past few days there has been an outpouring of anger against all politicians. This is understandable and we all share some blame for the crime problem. Last night during this debate I had a verbal row with Deputy Harney. I regret it, but I do not accept that full responsibility for this crisis lies with the Labour Party and I resent her saying so. The Labour Party has not held the justice portfolio and those who criticise us should bear that in mind. I would fully support the party if it sought the justice portfolio in a future Government because it would apply the same dynamism it has brought to health, education, foreign affairs and finance, a ministry it was said we would never have.

We will give it to the Labour Party the next time.

I have noted in the past few months the plethora of Criminal Justice Bills from the two Opposition parties. This is difficult to understand given that Fianna Fáil held the justice portfolio for seven consecutive years up to 1994. Nobody can tell anyone in this House crime started to escalate after 1994.

The package announced by the Minister for Justice yesterday evening will cost a considerable sum. When tax reductions in the next budget are not as great as some would like, I hope the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil remember how trenchantly they called for this reform and the building of prisons. I fear they will forget it will cost an extra £50 million. I will support the provision of whatever funding is required to do what is necessary because irrespective of what part of Ireland we live in, we all, face the same difficulties.

In recent months the Progressive Democrats attempted to ring-fence themselves and the people they represent from the problems of society. In their world the problems of others should not interfere with their right to lower tax rates. Public spending is anathema to them except when it comes to building new prisons, which insulate them from another world about which they know little and care less.

Before I entered this House I worked as a trade union official. In industry there are certain rules and regulations which govern the workplace. Employers have an obligation to ensure their employees' safety. If a worker on a building site refuses to wear a hard hat, it is the employer's responsibility to make him do so. What happened last week raises serious questions about the dangers many journalists face in the course of their work. It is ironic that Veronica was murdered in the week she was due to talk about her experience as a journalist working under threat. Media practitioners and newspaper owners must now chart a course which exposes wrong doing and crime in our society without putting journalists at risk. Newspapers and media organisations have a duty to protect their staff whether they want it or not. We must not allow another journalist or reporter to be murdered.

I welcome last night's constructive debate and the efforts to introduce legislation but we do not want legislation which does no more than give people a perception that we are doing something when we are not. I welcome the Government's decision to apply the terms of the strategic management initiative to the Garda. Public confidence in the Garda is at an all time low. Some weeks ago Commissioner Culligan suggested the underlying consensus which underpinned Garda operations in the 1960s and 1970s had changed. He also suggested we should examine the conditions under which the Garda operate and what we as a society want from it. I support Commissioner Culligan's sentiments. The current malaise in the Garda Síochána will not be rectified until there is a root and branch analysis of its work practices and conditions. The net losers are the members of the Garda Síochána. They suffer most when public support for the force is conditional and unenthusiastic. However, they will benefit most from a public debate about what we expect from them and what they require from us.

The threat we face now is one of the gravest this State has ever faced. The measures we have put in place only represent the beginning of a battle against organised crime. We have had political rancour in this House in the past few days which is understandable when people are frustrated. Despite the impression given by elements in the media that all we do is fight and debate, debate is the life and blood of our democratic system. We have now embarked on a difficult road with many obstacles which we can only overcome if we face them together as a people and a Parliament.

I thank Deputies Flanagan, Fitzgerald and Hogan for sharing their time with me.

As well as the crime problem we should remind ourselves of the great shock to our political system which resulted in the establishment of this Government. We should not forget how it came about, the type of bungling, lack of information and the ineptitude of the system that brought about the downfall of a Government. Neither should we forget the problems with which the Government had to deal when it came to office. It had to deal with a major crisis in health, a legacy from the previous Government, a crisis in social welfare that was not dealt with during the previous ten years and not so much a crime problem as a drugs problem, bequeathed to us as a result of the previous Government's refusal to deal with it either because it did not consider it sufficiently serious or had other matters on its agenda. We should never forget that.

In the past few months there have been not only political but media attacks on the Minister for Justice which appear to be based on the idea that a woman is not capable of doing the job. Half the criticism appears to be made on the basis that she is a woman. Such criticism stems from outdated notions that women should stick to the soft, fluffy areas of society, but women are capable in all areas. I have heard not only those I am close to but those with whom I would probably not otherwise agree to a great extent say that the Minister is probably the only Cabinet member who has held her head on all occasions, something for which she should be complimented. As women we should support her in that area.

Nobody would disagree with the broad thrust of the motion. Many of the measures suggested are contained in the Government's anti-crime package. However, I have grave reservations about specific suggestions in the motion. Many people have similar reservations about some of the measures being preached to us and some of us are afraid to put our heads above the parapet for fear that it might be regarded as disrespectful of those who have given their lives for this country. That is not what this debate is about. It is about balance.

I am concerned that by expanding the concept of mandatory minimum sentences we would remove an essential element of judicial discretion and would fundamentally alter the relationship between the Legislature and the Judiciary. The independence of the Judiciary is fundamental to a democratic society and any attempt to dilute its independence diminishes all our freedoms. We should keep that in mind. We are not talking about restricting the freedoms of only one group but restricting the freedoms of all our people. Democracy and law are fundamental to freedom.

In drawing up a considered response to the crime problem — what we have in the motion is not a considered response — we should be aware of the experiences in other jurisdictions and the experience of mandatory sentencing in the UK which has been nothing less than disastrous. Rather than adopting the gung-ho mandatory approach, I urge the establishment of a national bureau of sentencing data charged with compiling and disseminating relevant information and with organising an ongoing programme of judicial education in that respect.

How many more jobs will there be?

I am amazed that the Progressive Democrats find this so funny, but I suppose they would since they are in Opposition. Much of the debate in recent weeks has concentrated on catching and convicting criminals. I would welcome an increased focus on what should be done following conviction, an area on which we have not focused. We should focus on expanding and developing community service options for less serious crimes, a matter I raised here on three occasions. Democratic Left has long argued for the establishment of a prisons board and a parole board which are essential. We should not talk about people being allowed out on early release when there is no structure in place to provide for that.

The antiquated legislation governing our prison service needs to be replaced by a modern statutory framework which is fully accountable. We should not forget that when people go to prison they still retain their rights. Such legislation would incorporate prison rules and a code of conduct for prison staff. It should also place the sentence review group on a statutory footing. In addition, legally enforceable prison conditions should be established. We have all heard of the horror stories of prisoners and I am not going to talk about them as it might be too sensitive an issue.

I welcome the Government's commitment to provide extra prison spaces. In particular, I welcome its commitment to build a separate remand facility. This should have been built a long time ago. It is required not only on account of events in recent weeks but of those in the past few years when unsupervised first time young offenders on remand committed suicide. I cannot understand why people when questioned before being charged have full access to legal opinion and a doctor, but once charged and still innocent they are deprived of those rights.

The Government is committed to increasing the supervision of prisoners on early release and I am sure everyone welcomes that. It is unacceptable that, according to some reports, at any one time more than 1,000 prisoners are at large. The package proposed by the Government will address that issue. I hope the Government will quickly move to establish a parole board to ensure that early discharges are implemented in a structured fashion. Some people should be released early rather than according to the ad hoc system that applies at present.

We also need to examine alternative non-custodial sentencing options for crimes such as civil debt and non-payment of fines. We all agree that prison spaces are scarce and that people should not be sent to prison when they do not have the financial resources to meet their obligations. Perhaps they should not have incurred financial obligations, but that is a separate issue.

At a time of public insecurity there is understandable concern that the odds in our criminal justice system are stacked in favour of criminals and against society. There is an onus on us as legislators to ensure that in redressing the balance we do not go too far in the opposite direction. If in seeking to counter crime, we sacrifice hard won individual freedoms, the criminals will have won. We do not legislate for the moment, we legislate for future generations who will have to live with the results of our deliberations long after today's headlines have been forgotten. I am not arguing for a blind maintenance of the status quo; on the contrary I am one of the people who believes that we must have constant debate and change because that is how our society evolves. I am arguing for reflection and against the type of short-term approach that has dominated the airwaves in recent days and has been more than adequately promoted by people who should know better.

The test of legislation is not popularity but effectiveness. I am concerned that the abolition of the right to silence, albeit only in drug trafficking cases — I do not know how much that can be ringfenced — when combined with a seven day detention period could lead to real and alleged abuses. I endorse the calls by Deputy Shatter for video taping of police interviews. I hope the Government will move as soon as possible to extend the current pilot programme which has been introduced in a small number of stations. It has been operating as a pilot programme for a number of years and it should be examined and introduced.

The problem concerning the programme is that the people being questioned will not accept it. It is voluntary. They are afraid of what would be captured on camera.

As the programme is so limited perhaps the numbers asked about it are also limited.

The measures proposed by the Government include a root and branch review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda. I am not the only person who has said that review is long overdue, the problem was that we were all afraid to say so. I am delighted that, due to my party's efforts, this review will finally be implemented.

I intervene to inform the Deputy that the time available to her is almost exhausted.

Though a fine body of people, this review of the Garda undoubtedly is long overdue, but the solution to our crime problems is not simplistic. I should like to believe that the £80 million which I estimate the package will cost will be borne in mind by the Progressive Democrats who, while in Opposition, appear to think they can advocate tax cuts along with proper protection of citizens on our streets.

With the permission of the House I should like to share my time with Deputies Kenneally, Haughey and Michael McDowell.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

Given the seriousness of the present level of crime within our society, this debate is long overdue although to date general attention has focused on legal changes and the provision of resources which, while crucial, do not represent the overall answer to the fight against crime.

It is vital that the general public and public representatives acknowledge that legislation passed or resources provided will always be somewhat inadequate. The Government cannot be compared with, say, television characters in the A-Team. While it can do a certain amount and should do more, the most important need is to provide leadership, to take a complete overview of these problems and identify solutions to them. In addition to Government, there should be such onus on communities nationwide, many of which have accepted they have a critical part to play, not merely in alerting the Garda to where there are problems of a criminal nature but in ascertaining how the system works, in so far as it works at all. They must become aware of the appropriate action to take, knowing who to contact, how to alert the Garda and how generally to play a role in their local neighbourhood watch and community alert programmes, many of which are not properly implemented especially in areas lacking such community leadership.

In the north Fingal area, with which the Minister is familiar, there has been an effective response by communities which have acted in a united and effective way. They have observed a distinct change in the levels of crime, recognising that people can no longer get away with drugs-related crime. That being said, the Government must respond effectively and urgently, but not in panic, to our overall crime problem. It is most important that our bail laws be amended. Some provisions in this area overlap to the extent that one is often led to wonder whether the various arms of the law operate in isolation from each other. One of the latest proposals is to restrict the availability of bail. There is also a proposal that the bailee be made responsible for the conduct of the person granted bail. That should lead to considerable diminution in the incidence of bail. However, I would anticipate many people being very reluctant to be held responsible for the conduct of somebody who has already shown himself or herself to be quite irresponsible. As Deputy Lynch said, there is need for a thorough, systematic check and balance procedure to tighten up existing structures. What are described as openness, transparency and accountability in Government circles need to be applied in legal circles.

The proposal that the Garda video tape interviews with persons detained is also commendable. I am not sure that such procedure should be dependent on voluntary acceptance. I would be guided by appropriate legal advice in that regard. We do not want to bring the overall legal system into disrepute by, for example, a recurrence of what happened in the Birmingham Six trial.

While this Bill places emphasis on the freezing of assets, which is important, it should also be borne in mind that there may be need for constitutional change acknowledging that, at times, private property should not be deemed to be so sacrosanct, that the seizure of assets should not be permitted. Of course, other matters affect us all, such as bad economic planning, pollution, acid rain and so on, all interrelated, but which can relate to crime as much as anything else.

Imprisonment for petty crime needs to be reviewed, with a view to replacing it by way of community service. That would represent at least one step towards dealing with the crisis vis-à-vis prison spaces which must be dealt with immediately.

Much of our present crime has its origins in long-term problems such as the breakdown of community spirit which the Government must take into account when implementing its package of proposals.

I am glad to have this opportunity of contributing briefly to this debate. I am also glad that the Government has more or less indicated its acceptance of the motion tabled by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, perhaps realising at long last that something needs to be done to tackle crime generally. In particular we have witnessed the reawakening of Democratic Left and the Labour Party which appear to have suddenly realised there is an enormous problem needing to be addressed.

When speaking last evening I mentioned the threat the IRA posed, and continues to pose, to this State. I have also begun to wonder whether there is the same realisation of the threat posed to our society by the criminal underworld. While knowing that many members of the Garda Síochána are constantly aware of IRA activities, I question whether they are equally conscious of the threat posed to our citizens by criminal gangs in this city and country generally.

I was informed of a community meeting held in Dublin recently at which the drugs problem was discussed, when there was a discreet Special Branch presence outside the building endeavouring to ascertain whether there was any IRA presence. I understand that some participants were followed home. I wonder whether all criminals nationwide are watched as closely. We must encourage rather than discourage such surveillance. We must all endeavour to co-operate in resolving the difficulties with which we are confronted because the Garda, journalists and-or communities alone will not resolve them. I do not advocate vigilante groups, having witnessed some of their actions in the not too distant past.

I heard a woman from Fettercairn in Tallaght, an area with which I am familiar, speak on radio this morning. She said the community there had more or less got rid of drugs through appropriate surveillance, that whenever any drug activities were witnessed, somebody immediately rang the Garda. Unfortunately, that action has led to those drug addicts — pushers being moved from that area to another. If all communities nationwide co-operate we shall eventually eliminate this scourge from our society.

I read with interest the Minister's press release yesterday and noted all of the measures included in her proposed package which I hope will meet with greater success than the July 1995 one which appeared to be reduced merely to rhetoric, we heard no more about it. It is easy to talk or write about such problems but we must insist on action to counteract them and I hope that will be forthcoming on this occasion.

The Minister's proposal to establish a special unit of the Garda to be comprised of members of the Garda Síochána, Revenue and officials of the Department of Social Welfare is also welcome but why is Customs and Excise not involved? It obviously has a major role in that drugs come into this country mainly by sea. The Minister need only look at the minutes of the various subcommittee meetings on drugs to see that we have been calling for this for some time. I am glad the Minister is responding to our call. As a result we might eventually be able to touch the untouchables.

I wish to extend my sincere sympathy to the families of the late Detective Jerry McCabe and journalist Veronica Guerin. These murders were outrageous and have shocked ordinary decent people throughout this country. In the case of Veronica Guerin, more could have been done to protect her by Independent Newspapers and the Garda Síochána. She was the subject of many previous threats. She had important work to do and the dangers involved should have been evident to all concerned. In addition, I appeal to the media to leave the families of these victims alone to grieve in private. I hope the media in general will adopt a responsible attitude in this regard. I and many others throughout the country were incensed at the way well known criminals have been using the newspapers, radio phone-ins etc. over the past few days to discredit the character of Veronica Guerin in particular and to discredit her work. Their propaganda should not be facilitated in this way.

I fully support the motion under discussion. I have consistently campaigned for many of these measures since my election to the Dáil in 1992. Many of these proposals have been dealt with in Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bills. I thank God that all three Government parties have finally realised the threat the current wave of organised crime represents to the very fabric of our society. We on this side of the House watched in disbelief the voting down of our proposals in relation to bail, the right to silence, drug trafficking, more prison places, etc. I could never understand why Deputy Spring and the Labour Party, and Deputy De Rossa and Democratic Left, consistently vetoed every worthwhile tough measure brought forward by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen. These two Deputies owe it to the public to explain their past actions and why they have done a U-turn on these issues in the past few days. Surely they must have realised the depth of anger in our communities in relation to crime. Little was done up to now to combat organised crime because the three parties in Government were immobilised by ideological differences. It is no wonder the general public are so cynical about politicians. It took the murder of Veronica Guerin and the response of an outraged public to shake this Government out of its complacency and indifference. Suddenly, millions of pounds could be found to introduce a wide range of measures which should have been introduced before now and which the general public consistently demanded; laws could be changed; a referendum could now be held; and decisions were made overnight. The past few days have been a learning experience for me on how this Government operates.

The most significant measure to come forward in the past few days, after all the debate, is the Organised Crime (Restraint and Disposal of Illicit Assets) Bill, 1996. This Bill should hit the godfathers of organised crime directly in a way that nothing else will. I commend Deputy O'Donoghue for his efforts, his quick thinking and his imaginative response and suggest that everybody in the House, and the public, are indebted to him for bringing this Bill forward.

I support the proposal in the Government's package of measures in relation to the review of efficiency and cost effectiveness of the Garda Síochána, but it does not go far enough. The retiring Garda Commissioner asked a number of relevant questions in his speech to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce on 5 June this year. Mr. Culligan reiterated his calls for a higher standard of debate about the role of police in society and society's own attitudes and response to crime. Government is not giving a clear lead to the Garda as to what is expected of them. Mr. Culligan is right when he says there have been profound economic and social changes in society over the last few decades. There has been a breakdown in communities and in the sense of community responsibility. Mr. Culligan stated:

We in the Garda Síochána can only remain the guardians of community accepted ideas of right and wrong with undisputed authority to enforce agreed standards of behaviour where there is a clear consciousness of right and wrong and a willing acceptance by the community of the constraints which that consciousness places on each of its members... We must find again the concept of wrongdoing as something for which we have a personal responsibility in all areas of community life.

I was bitterly disappointed with the address of the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Burton, to the Dáil last night. In her lecture to the Progressive Democrats Party she more or less said that crime is just a symptom of unemployment and deprivation, that criminals are the real victims. Unemployment and poverty are serious social issues that need to be tackled, but no excuses can be made for the murder of Veronica Guerin. I suggest that type of thinking on the part of the Minister of State is unhelpful. Unfortunately, the Garda Síochána are caught in the middle of this ideological debate. How can they function effectively and get the full co-operation of the public if society's representatives are saying crime is inevitable and not necessarily wrong? The Government must give a clear message to the Garda as to their role. I welcome the proposals for an in-depth analysis of the Garda Síochána but it should have a wider scope.

I do not accept the criticisms of some of the measures by civil libertarians. We need to get the balance right, but innocent people, the vast majority, have nothing to fear from the proposals the Dáil will pass this month.

I want to share my time with Deputy Quill. In the past few days there has been an effort, on the part of the Fine Gael backbenchers in particular, to suggest that this is a personalised attack on the Minister for Justice. It is not, nobody has suggested that she personally is in any way to blame for these crimes. However, this Government collectively operates through the Department of Justice, and she is the Minister in charge of that Department. I am sure that she, as a decent and sensitive person, can understand that she bears political responsibility for that Department and that she speaks for this Government on the issues of crime, law and order. I would like her to accept from me that there is nothing personal in what I have to say.

On the issue of bail, the Minister has tried to pretend there was no division in the Government where there manifestly was. She battled in this House — I remember Deputy O'Donoghue quoting statements by the Tánaiste in The Kerryman which proved there was — and became quite excited telling us that Deputy O'Donoghue was trying to create division where there was none. We now know that there was such division and that explains the paralysis of the Government on that issue over the past two years.

The Minister was very quick to shoot down as constitutionally suspect the legislative measures relating to bail which were put forward by this party. Suddenly that constitutional cloud has lifted from them and they are now part of Government policy. It makes one cynical that the people who write speeches and advise the Minister can bat down propositions because they come from the Opposition benches and suddenly, when two horrific events take place, all those doubts disappear like the early morning dew.

Deputy McGahon yesterday and Deputy Brian Fitzgerald this evening suggested that in some sense the management of Independent Newspapers was to blame for the fate of Veronica Guerin because it did not take sufficient care. That is outrageous. She was a courageous journalist who operated with great liberty. The management of those newspapers on many occasions expressed doubts to her about the wisdom of the course she was taking and expressed concerns for her safety. The Garda, who were criticised here for not offering her sufficient support, offered support but she declined as she could not continue her work in the context of Garda support.

To say that her employers or the Garda were in some respect to blame for her fate is outrageous, irresponsible and an abuse of the privilege of this House. The assertion is totally lacking in substance. It is ridiculous for Deputy Fitzgerald to say there is an analogy between the duty of an employer to ensure that employees wear a hard hat on a building site and the duty of Independent Newspapers to secure the safety of their employee. It is equally absurd for Deputy McGahon to suggest they should have taken her off the work in which she was involved and put her on to other work.

I am glad this motion is accepted by the Government. I do not want to hear in two months time that the Government really did not go along with two or three of the items on the agenda. I want to see action on this motion when the package comes before this House on 25 July.

To talk about the prison service is relevant. We have twice as many prison officers as New Zealand and half as many people in custody. Our prison service costs a great deal, as the Minister is well aware. The average earnings of prison officers exceed the average earnings of Members of this House. The cost of the prison service has increased by 50 per cent in the past five years even though prison space has increased negligibly during the same period.

In that context we must ask whether it is right that we are told now there will be a new remand prison at Wheatfield sometime in the early years of the next century. The appropriate thing is to allow private enterprises to tender to build a new facility of a substantial size and to rent that accommodation on a sale and lease back basis. I am deeply suspicious that we will go down the road we went with Wheatfield prison which cost many millions of pounds over and above what was projected and took multiples in time over the original estimate. This country needs prison accommodation now.

It is not some fanciful notion that there is a crisis in prison accommodation. My colleagues in this party and other Opposition speakers have raised the issue in the past number of years. The Minister may say justifiably that the crisis was not of the making of this Government. However, the culture of her Department is seriously at the heart of this problem because it has not set out to deal with the real problem in prison accommodation and it did not address the problem of temporary release or the revolving door syndrome.

All of us who practise law know that people who are sentenced serve only a small fraction of their sentences. None of us knows the extent of the problem. Every time one asks the Department of Justice for clear statistics on this matter, one is told it is impossible to assess because of manpower considerations. Every time somebody is let out on temporary release it should be possible to fill out a docket indicating the length of sentence and how much had been served. It should not be beyond the powers of the Department of Justice to tot that up and give it to Deputies when asked about it. The fact is that it is too shocking to reveal. Some of the instances are quite outrageous. Two people in a town near Dublin ganged together to engage in burglaries. They burgled houses, businesses and so on and also committed offences while on bail. Eventually, when the Garda finally brought them before the Circuit Criminal Court on indictment they were given four year sentences. The prosecuting garda in charge of that case was contacted four weeks after the day on which they were committed to prison and asked if he had any objection to their temporary release. That is the extent of the problem. That is a case about which I have certain knowledge. The mind boggles as to the real percentage of sentences served by people in these circumstances.

We need more prison accommodation and have needed it for some time. We cannot wait until the early years of the next century. In a different professional context I was told recently I should take up office accommodation on a green field site in the inner city of Dublin, which has not yet been touched by a contractor. I was told that if I put my money down now I will be in an office on that site in October 1997. It is not acceptable that the Department of Justice should produce a prison some time in the early years of the next century.

It is not acceptable that the prison should be built on the same basis as was Wheatfield prison. It is not acceptable that the Office of Public Works should have anything to do with this prison. If we are serious about dealing with this issue, it is essential to get a turnkey project and ask a private sector contractor, such as Seán Quinn, Roadstone or somebody else, to build it now because the people of Ireland need prison accommodation now.

Are they Progressive Democrats builders? I do not know them.

We do not need more prevarication. We do not want to hear there will be extra prison accommodation in the year 2002, 2004 or 2006. That is not an adequate response.

I welcome the package of crime measures adopted by this Government and acknowledge they have been prompted on the one hand by an intelligent Opposition and propelled on the other by truly tragic events. I hope there will be a successful outcome to the element of the package which deals with the drug barons and drug pushers. However, that is only one element of the drug-problem.

There is no evidence in the package to date of any effort to deal with the supply of drugs or of any effort to come to terms with or to do anything for the thousands of young people who are the main and first victims of drugs. These young people stand to do irreversible damage to their life prospects, employment prospects and their health if they become caught up in a life of crime.

There is no evidence that any of this has been taken into account in the Government's promised package of measures, despite the fact that four years ago a select all-party committee of this House, of which I was chairman, presented the Government of the day with a thoroughly researched and comprehensive report on juvenile crime, its causes and cures. It was to be the basis of a long awaited juvenile justice Bill, but as yet there is no evidence of that Bill being put in place. I ask the Minister to have it in place on 25 July as part of her package if the Government is to have any credibility.

I welcome the more serious and less emotive tone of this evening's debate. Perhaps the reason is the seriousness of the issue and a recognition that nobody is without blame for the way in which the criminal justice system has been allowed to reach almost bursting point. The necessary incremental changes were not made. On taking office I was determined that easy and all as it might have been to tinker at the edges for which I would have got immediate kudos I would take the job seriously and endeavour to try to put in place structural changes in the way business is done. It is a slow, painful, frustrating process, not something that can happen overnight. As one Deputy said last night cancer seldom develops overnight, nor did all the problems that beset the criminal justice system develop overnight, for example, the blame that attaches to local authorities for ignoring the courthouses and the fact that the courts were becoming more and more over burdened with work. Perhaps the professionals working in the courts system were allowing cases to drag on and we all are aware of the syndrome of settlements on the steps of the court.

There was an attempt made to reproduce as it were a pretend system where the lawyers and clients may think they were on the steps of the court to try to speed them up to finish. This has been developing in our system. I am satisfied that when my term of office comes to an end and we go before the people it will be recognised that serious changes were made such as the new fraud bureau, the National Drugs Unit the new unit to be set up in a matter of weeks targeted at organised crime and to deal with the assets of criminals. Everybody has talked about it and everybody must take some of the blame for it not having been set up before now, not only the politicians but the agencies themselves which resisted that kind of change. I am very pleased with the welcome for the Government decision that there will be a review of Garda management and the Garda Síochána. Like every other institution the Garda Síochána is open to scrutiny by the media, Members and the general public. They, no more than anybody else, cannot be free from criticism on the way in which they detect crime, catch criminals and deliver the service to the public. I am not surprised by Mr. John Ferry's comments — everything is always a little too late for John Ferry. He has another job to do in that perhaps he might take the opportunity to resolve the ongoing dispute in the Garda Síochána. As I said when I was dealing with the GRA Bill, it is time that dispute was ended and it is in their own hands to do so. They need to do that as a matter of urgency to make sure the work they are doing is not in any way taken from by the fact that they cannot work together.

Many issues were raised tonight, such as video taping, the revenue laws, a matter for the Minister for Finance. I am glad that Members raised important matters. In the minute she had, Deputy Quill made probably one of the most relevant comments on the issue of dealing with young people, dealing with the education and health facets of the problem as well as the breakdown in communities as Deputy Sargent raised. Let us not forget that these are all facets of the debate so that when we have a response they are considered, carefully put together and worked on in a way that will see a change so that these evil drug traffickers and other criminals will recognise the resolve of this Government and Parliament.

I am required to call Deputy O'Donnell.

I am winding up the debate and sharing my time with Deputies Lenihan and Woods.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I understand why the Minister finds it a frustrating process to be in Government with the Labour Party and Democratic Left which more than anyone else have delayed progress in this area in the past year. It is very disappointing that it took a tragic murder in the city to bring the Government to its senses and agree with Fianna Fáil policy on this matter. Last night we had the spectacle of a Government agreeing a Fianna Fáil Bill which was moved and sent to Committee. This fine Bill had been rejected by the Government a while ago.

There is an element of a public relations exercise to the package announced by the Government. For example, the appointment of two High Court judges was presented as part of an anti-crime package. It is indecorous and demeaning to the appointees to present their appointment as part of an anti-crime package. The particular lady and gentleman who were appointed to those positions were appointed by the President on the advice of the Government on the basis of their qualifications to be High Court judges and not on some presumed attachment to an anti-crime crusade.

A crucial decision required from this Government on criminal measures is the appointment of more Circuit Court judges because the Circuit Court is the workhorse of the system. I would lke to see the Government going ahead with the appointment of Circuit Court judges.

Many solicitors and barristers want to be judges. There were 200 applicants for the posts.

There are very few of them coming up here but there seems to be many seeking the Minister's favour.

My party has put forward a number of ideas on parliamentary examination in relation to the abuse of the deposition procedure and the waste of Garda time in court. I would like to see the Minister address those issues which were not mentioned as part of the package yesterday.

They are already in the criminal justice system.

I hope the Minister is already looking at those issues and attending to them. On the question of bail, the key decision is the establishment of a remand prison. We are all very disappointed that it will take some time to do so. I agree with Deputy Michael McDowell when he said this matter should be put out to tender. There is one practical matter I would like to ask the Minister about in that connection, the provision of a central locking facility in prison. The major defect of Wheatfield is the absence of a central locking facility. I hope the Minister in her negotiations with the prison officers and in engaging a contractor to build this establishment will ensure that this facility is available. There is a great deal more I would like to say but I will give way to my colleague, Deputy Woods.

I welcome this excellent package and I am very happy that the Government has rowed in behind it. I congratulate Deputy O'Donoghue on putting it together. It covers the key elements that need to be addressed, bail, the right to silence, criminal procedures and the national emergency. If we have a package in place backed up by the provisions in Deputy O'Donoghue's Misuse of Drugs Bill, followed by the Minister's recent Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill, with the Organised Crime (Restraint and Disposal of Illicit Assets) Bill agreed by the Government last night, put forward by Deputy O'Donoghue and followed up by effective action, it will work. The Minister knows what I am talking about. If all these are not brought together and put into action it will not work. We can make all the laws, proposals and suggestions we want but unless there is Executive action they will not work. The Government must follow through on the terms of the motion. Rather than go into recess on Friday next, 5 July, the House should sit next week to put the various proposals together and into effect.

The measures in these packages have been proposed repeatedly. I proposed them on 5 February last year and again in January of this year. While we welcome the comprehensive package announced by the Minister we want to see results. As she is aware, the officials dealing with the drug barons have fears. When Minister for Social Welfare. I highlighted the difficulties and the Garda Síochána provided protection but as soon as it was removed an officer of the Department was shot.

He is now working in the Department of Justice.

The Minister must receive the support of the Government in implementing the package.

I have many other ideas and suggestions. I agree strongly that there should be a special action force comprising members of the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda Síochána and the Department of Social Welfare in particular to tackle the crime lords and the drug barons. Unless such a force receives all the support it needs we will not get results. I am aware that the Minister sought to ensure liaison but it has not been effective and needs to be tightened. We will support her in her efforts to bring this about.

I wish the Minister well in the implementation of the package announced by the Government and congratulate Deputies O'Donoghue and O'Donnell on tabling this comprehensive motion and the work they have done in the recent past in highlighting many of these issues. There is a need for action to put the crime lords away.

I thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate on the motion which was agreed with the Government parties on Monday as part of their response to the legitimate public outrage, anger and despair at the murders of Veronica Guerin in Dublin and of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe by the IRA in Adare. The murder of Veronica Guerin delivered the most recent political message to the Government and the Members of the House. She was murdered because of what she wrote, what she knew and might expose about people who claimed to be untouchable.

Having agreed to the terms of the motion the Government, in a great PR exercise, spectacularly arranged a press conference at the time the motion was to be debated in the House. This was offensive to the Dáil, the elected assembly of the people. This is an indication that the Government is on the run.

The range of measures proposed are almost casually being nodded through. This makes me highly suspicious because last February they were cast aside with contempt and declared by the Government to be fundamentally unsound, glaringly unconstitutional, daft and nothing less than a fraud. It has now done a U-turn on all of them in the glare of the white heat of the public's rage. I welcome this as it is in the public interest that it should do so. All these measures need urgent attention. I question, however, the Government's sincerity in accepting them.

The Government has a new found interest in being constructive with the Opposition parties. It is blindingly obvious that this is not the politics of the last atrocity but of the last blunder. The Government's initial reaction to the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was to minimise the involvement of the persons responsible, the Provisional IRA. Its initial response to the murder of Veronica Guerin was to suggest that we should think about the matter for a month and return for a debate on the report of a task force. When this was greeted with the derision it deserved the Government panicked and caved in and would have signed up to anything.

In speaking on Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill last night the Minister gave the game away by making it clear that she saw more bad than good in it.

The Deputy should admit that she had similar thoughts.

The elements of the package which the Government has signed up to are unravelling before our eyes. It appears that the Wheatfield prison project is just a jumble of figures pitched into the future.

Next century politics.

The Minister is truly planning for future generations. Illogically, the Government is accepting only a curtailment of the right to silence in respect of those who sing dumb throughout their trial. There is no mention of any extension of this curtailment to other serious crimes such as murder. Last night the Government moved an amendment to restrict the right to silence in drug trafficking cases. It voted down, however, a necessary amendment to ensure interviews with persons detained for up to seven days are taped. The Bill will be faulty if it is passed without that important safeguard. The Minister has deemed that the regulations in force on the 48 hour detention. apply equally to seven day detention. This is foolish and unsafe.

The Government's package announced last night was trumpeted as tough, new and immediate but as the hours tick by it is beginning to unravel. Words have lost all meaning. It was mentioned that there would be immediate and urgent action on the prison programme but this has now been turned into "two year's time".

The full extent of the scandal of temporary release will never be known. A total of 4,000 orders for full temporary release are made each year. This is a misnomer because it means in effect "goodbye". It is an unconditional and permanent release of which there is no public record and where the victims and their relatives are never contacted in advance. This is a scandal waiting to explode. Today the relatives of the victims of such a person handed a petition into the House. This petition was signed by hundreds of people objecting to the early release of this person without their prior knowledge or adequate consultation with the distraught relatives of the three murdered soldiers.

It is not early release.

It is temporary release.

He has served 13 years in prison.

That is only half a sentence. He was sentenced to 30 years penal servitude.

He got life.

Question put and agreed to.