Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Oct 1996

Vol. 470 No. 7

Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1996: Report Stage.

Before we proceed I would remind Members, in accordance with recent modifications to our Standing Orders, that they may now speak twice to an amendment on Report Stage. However, the second contribution shall not exceed two minutes. The Member who moved the amendment retains his or her right of reply. I invite Members to avail of that facility.

Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 8. I suggest we discuss amendment Nos. 1 and 8 together if that is satisfactory and agreed?

I move amendment No. 1:


The objective of these amendments is to create a new criminal offence of the supply of a controlled drug or drugs for substantial monetary reward. The amendments put forward would provide for a minimum of 10 year sentences for drug pushers or dealers convicted of possession of drugs with a street value of £10,000 or more. The object of the exercise is to ensure that people found in possession of vast quantities of drugs would have to explain precisely where they obtained these drugs or, more specifically, why they had this quantity of drugs in their possession. If they are unable to establish to the satisfaction of the court that they did not have these illegal drugs for supply or sale they could be convicted of the offence of having in their possession drugs for substantial monetary reward in the sense that they would supply same to others.

Much has been made of the fact that there are sufficient sanctions in our criminal law to deal with this kind of offence. As far back as 1977 there was recognition of the need to increase the penalty for those who were convicted of the sale or supply of drugs. At that time that Oireachtas provided that a court could impose a sentence of up to 14 years for an offence such as this. Recognising that the situation was deteriorating further the Oireachtas in 1984 decided that the maximum sentence should be increased to life. The Oireachtas did not take that decision lightly but did so on the basis that there was a recognition that the problem was growing. I submit that 12 years on, the problem has become serious. In many parts of the country it is out of control. There are too many dealers and pushers on the streets who often deal in drugs openly, which is a sad indictment of society.

The difficulty with the imposition of sanctions is best illustrated by the statistics. The intent of the Oireachtas in providing for a maximum life sentence does not appear to be recognised in the courts. In 1993 — the last year for which statistics are available — 71 people were convicted of possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply. The sentences of imprisonment imposed were as follows: three offenders received less than three months; six offenders received between three and six months; 20 offenders received between six and 12 months; 29 offenders received one to two years; four offenders received two to three years; five offenders received three to five years; three offenders received five to ten years and only one offender received over ten years. The figures indicate that the majority of convicted drug dealers receive prison sentences of less than two years.

Given the misery caused by illegal drugs, to deal in these drugs is to deal in death. Accordingly, there is an onus on the Oireachtas to ensure the full rigour of the law will be brought to bear on those convicted of this heinous offence. The reality is that this is not the case. In the normal course of events I would not advocate minimum sentencing across a broad range of crimes. However, I would move to close a loophole in this case. If an individual deals in drugs for substantial monetary gain he or she should serve a considerable period in prison. Amendment No. 8 proposes that such an individual should spend 10 years in prison as a minimum.

Unless this problem is contained in the immediate future it will continue to spread. We will have the urbanisation, so to speak, of the heroin problem throughout the country, which will have catastrophic consequences for the future of society. With these amendments the Oireachtas has the opportunity to send a clear message to those who might become involved in the destruction of young lives. It has a unique opportunity to provide for a minimum sentence for drug pushers convicted of the possession of drugs with a street value of £10,000 or more. Any individual in possession of such a quantity of drugs must have it in his or her possession for the purpose of supply. If not the onus of proof should shift to the individual to establish the contrary.

Amendment No. 8 provides that a court would be entitled to hear in evidence the opinion of any garda or customs officer as to the street value of the controlled drug in question in any case, notwithstanding any rule of law or evidence to the contrary. In this context, such opinion would be considered expert. There should not be a prosecution under subsection (1) of the proposed section without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions and this is provided for in subsection (11).

A further sanction is required for those convicted of dealing in drugs for substantial monetary gain. Such people should not have the benefit of full temporary release from prison. We must be serious about dealing with those who deal in drugs for substantial monetary gain and we must provide for a minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment for those convicted. We must also provide that such individuals will not have the benefit of temporary release unless that release is for a humanitarian reason. Such a provision would send a clear signal of our abhorrence of such an offence. This offence must be treated with the seriousness it merits and this twin pronged proposal in the amendment strikes a reasonable balance.

In the past the Government has put forward academic arguments against minimum sentencing. The world of academia is often divorced from reality and while it makes a worthwhile contribution to society it is not appropriate to arguments on this most serious problem. The Oireachtas has the opportunity to respond positively to an urgent and serious problem. I earnestly request the full support of the House across the political spectrum for this amendment. There is no point in saying there will be a relentless fight against the scourge of drugs and drug dealing if we are not prepared to put our votes where our mouths are. There is no point in Members railing against drug pushers and drug barons in the House or on radio unless they are prepared to vote in accordance with their convictions, as expressed. This amendment gives Deputies the opportunity to express in a tangible way their extremely serious concern about a problem which is getting worse every day.

I thank Deputy O'Donoghue for his comments. Amendments Nos. 1 and 8 were also tabled on Committee Stage. The Deputy, in his resilient way, also tabled similar amendments to the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act. The purpose of the amendments is to provide for a mandatory sentence of ten years for persons convicted of possession of drugs with a monetary value of more than £10,000.

Successive Ministers for Justice have generally opposed mandatory sentencing on the grounds that it is more appropriate for the Oireachtas to provide for maximum penalties and for the court, having heard all the evidence, to impose an appropriate sentence up to the maximum limit. It is open to the courts in serious drug trafficking cases to impose a penalty of up to life imprisonment. In a recent case a severe sentence was imposed on a major drug trafficker. There is also provision in law for an appeal to be made against unduly lenient sentences. I am not aware of any appeals against the type of sentences referred to by the Deputy.

I am not saying this because of some academic argument but because I am saying it because we all want to protect the independence of the Judiciary in terms of the way in which each case is handled and to leave it to judges, having heard the full circumstances of the case, to decide the appropriate penalty. This is a good policy and I hope we will never reach the stage where we tie the hands of the Judiciary or remove some of its independence.

The Government has taken many steps to curb this growing problem which is a matter of huge concern to everybody. It has taken adequate and unprecedented steps to tackle the problem on the supply side, for example, through the introduction of seven day detention and changes in the law to ensure that drug traffickers cannot accumulate assets etc. It also recently published a major report on the demand side which will be debated tomorrow. There is no point in pretending we will solve the problem of drugs by locking up every drug addict. We will only solve it by reducing the demand and educating eight and nine year old children on the dangers of drugs. The Government is approaching the issue of drug taking, drug abuse and drug trafficking on the supply and demand side. I refute the implication in the Deputy's comments that unless we impose mandatory sentencing we will not give a strong message to drug dealers that they cannot continue to peddle misery and death to young and not so young people.

While I understand the purpose of the amendment is to send another message to those involved in drugs, this is not the way to deal with the issue. The Law Reform Commission's recently published report addresses the issues of minimum and mandatory sentencing. I am considering the report which I hope will give me and all Members an opportunity to examine the pros and cons of the action taken to deal with this issue. In these circumstances it would not be correct to accept the amendment.

I supported this amendment on Committee Stage. I wish to raise again with the Minister the facility on our Statute Book whereby the State can appeal a lenient sentence. If I recall correctly from replies to questions to the Minister, this facility has been used in only one or two cases since its inception. Deputy O'Donoghue's amendment highlights the fact that while the courts have the capacity to impose strict and long sentences up to 14 years and life imprisonment for drug related offences, the empirical evidence from the courts is that the majority of sentences handed down are for two and three years. This is a problem.

Will the Minister consider the extent to which the capacity of the State to appeal against such lenient sentences is used? This facility would be a good mechanism for addressing this deficiency in the courts. Is it a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal a lenient sentence handed down by the courts for a drug related offence? It is ridiculous to put laws on the Statute Book and not use them.

I accept it is the prerogative of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and not that of the Minister, to appeal these matters. However, the points made by Deputy O'Donnell are correct in that there seems to be a general unwillingness by the Oireachtas to send a clear message to the Judiciary as to what this Legislature wants done by way of a punitive regime in respect of serious crimes.

The Minister referred to the Law Reform Commission's report on sentencing. I wrote a few words on the subject in the media and while I did not deal with this proposition I want to make clear where I stand on it. On the issue of a mandatory life sentence for murder, I totally reject the Law Reform Commission's arguments. It is open to the Oireachtas to provide the penalty for murder, and the public demands a life sentence for murderers. If anything, the public is dissatisfied at the extent to which the Executive in general terms uses remission, full temporary release and the like to water down and dilute the effect of the mandatory sentence for life prisoners.

I have never heard any significant body of people, except those whom Deputy O'Donoghue referred to as the occupants of the groves of academe, propose that there should be murders for which lesser penalties of five, ten or 15 years should be handed down by the Judiciary. I do not agree with the proposition enunciated by the minority in the Law Reform Commission that sentencing is a type of scientific art where one effectively engages in a rehabilitative treatment programme with the accused and that is the purpose of sentencing. At the very least, the just desserts theory proposed by the majority in the Law Reform Commission is the way we should proceed.

The arguments against minimum sentencing do not stand up to scrutiny. The public demand a minimum sentence of life imprisonment for murder and it will not accept anything less. People in the Law Reform Commission, universities or civil liberty organisations who believe that anything less would be acceptable to the public are deluding themselves. The public want a mandatory life sentence for murder. They stood by the mandatory disqualification from driving of people convicted of drunk driving. Those of us involved in such cases may sometimes believe it is harsh for a person who is two degrees above the relative limit to lose his or her licence. The reason mandatory provisions were inserted in the liquor licensing laws in respect of the number of convictions one may have before losing a licence — although that is not a very auspicious example as it is rarely put into operation — the reason there is a mandatory life sentence for murder and the reason one is automatically disqualified from driving for 12 months if caught driving while drunk is that the public want to direct the Judiciary on what it must do in certain circumstances. In a democracy they have the right to do so. I do not believe in the crude American approach of three strikes and one is out. I do not believe it would be in the interests of justice for this House to set exact tariffs on which everybody must be judged in respect of all offences. The quality of mercy must always be an element in justice and individual cases must be decided by reference to their facts. However, other considerations, such as public dissatisfaction with the sentences imposed by the courts, must also be taken into account.

Apart from making a speech in this House there is no way of conveying the notion to the Judiciary that supplying drugs to others should carry a heavier sentence than the three year average, or even lesser sentences for other offences. If a judge imposed a two year sentence on a person caught with £100,000 worth of heroin we would be told by the Chair that it is not our business to criticise judgments because of the tradition in this House to respect the independence of the Judiciary. In a constitutional democracy, whose right is it to determine in the final analysis the span of sentences that should apply to particular cases? It is the people's right, not the right of the Judiciary. It is a conceit on the part of the Judiciary to believe its right to administer justice allows it to decide on a range of penalties from zero to life imprisonment for, say, drug pushing. Some members of the Judiciary believe that because their independence is guaranteed under the Constitution they must have a free hand to act in all cases in accordance with what they consider to be justice. That is not the law or the constitutional basis of matters. They take the law as they find it and it is the law of the land they declare themselves bound to uphold. It is open to a constitutional democracy to oppose minimum sentences in certain circumstances.

Deputy O'Donoghue's amendment has a great deal of merit, not merely because it is well drafted but because it is not necessarily the case that an individual caught with a drugs haul worth more than £10,000 would be prosecuted under this section. There might be some residual discretion given to the Director of Public Prosecutions to use the provisions of section 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act in a particular case and to ignore the £10,000 value of the haul for certain reasons, including plea bargaining in return for evidence against others. There should be an unequivocal element of Irish statutes which makes it clear that Ireland is no longer a pushover for drug pushers, especially foreigners who come to our shores with drugs in their possession, and that there are certain circumstances in which the Oireachtas lays down to the Judiciary that if these people are prosecuted and found guilty on cogent evidence beyond reasonable doubt they are put away for a minimum period of ten years. That is a perfectly reasonable law in such circumstances. It is also perfectly reasonable to impose a life sentence on those convicted of murder. If it is legitimate to impose a mandatory sentence for murder, it must be legitimate, in theory at least, for the Oireachtas to lay down lesser minimum sentences for offences society believes are sufficiently grave to warrant them.

I am not suggesting there should be a system under which the Oireachtas should administer justice by laying down a huge menu of tariffs or usurping the role of the Judiciary, but it could create an offence for which there is a minimum penalty. In this case Deputy O'Donoghue wins the argument because he is referring to a serious offence which threatens the very fabric of our community. His proposal is not ill-considered or an ill-judged intemperate response to a matter; it is well measured. He proposes that the Director of Public Prosecutions, in serious cases of drug pushing, should be entitled to go before a court and prove that the offence lies within a certain category and demand a minimum sentence of ten years for the pusher. There is nothing undemocratic, unjust or invasive of the independent role of the Judiciary in providing for such a regime in such circumstances. It would have only beneficial consequences.

The Department of Justice takes the view that traditionally minimum sentences have not been a part of Irish jurisprudence. They have not, but they are there for murder, capital murder and certain other cases where the Oireachtas has found it necessary to lay down minimum sentences to get a message across to the Judiciary that if people commit such offences there are certain consequences which follow as a matter of law, not as a matter of discretion.

I support Deputy O'Donoghue's amendment. The Minister's response to it is somewhat patronising and banal. Deputy O'Donoghue is not proposing this as a piece of tabloid, reactionary, knee-jerk headline grabbing politics. He suggests that there are certain categories of offences for which it should be within the remit of the prosecuting authority to establish certain facts which bring with them certain minimum consequences for those convicted in due course of law. There is nothing wrong with that in principle and some phoney doctrine of noninterference with the independence of the Judiciary should not stand between us doing what we believe is right and what we consider to be our duty in this House in these circumstances.

I generally support the sentiments of previous speakers and the motivation behind Deputy O'Donoghue's amendment. Apart from the fact that most of the main drug barons have not been caught or charged, the single greatest encouragement to drug dealers is that when lesser drug dealers are charged and dealt with in the courts they are dealt with leniently. This is highlighted in statistics presented in reply to various Dáil questions which state that the average sentence for drug dealing is two to three years. There is no distinction between heroin dealing and murder. I have attended the funerals of too many young people who died from using adulterated heroin. The individuals who live off that misery and destruction of life are similar to murderers. A serious attitude should be taken by everyone concerned about heroin, especially the courts. I have watched many trials before the courts and that has not been my experience. The one exception was an individual who had already served ten years and had been released. He was caught again on three or four occasions and got a longer sentence.

I drew attention to one case in my area where a significant heroin dealer was caught. He was able to afford one of the most expensive legal teams in the State to defend him although he did not have any source of income. He got a suspended sentence on the basis that the onus was on the prosecution to prove that he did not have the heroin for his own use. He never used heroin but he got off because of the expertise of the legal people he was able to afford. That happened in the past year and since then he has been caught again with a greater amount of heroin. I have no doubt he is confident that he will beat the rap a second time. I hope he does not and that one or two reasonably significant heroin dealers from the centre of Dublin who will be before the courts do not get the type of sentence that others similar to them have. I regret that they may end up getting a six year sentence reduced to three and a half years because they come from a respectable background or have not appeared before the courts before. They have not appeared before the courts because they have never been caught, but they have wreaked havoc in communities in this city and caused spin-off crimes such as attacks on people by addicts desperate to get money to buy heroin from them.

The Judiciary is out of touch with the gravity of heroin dealing so there is an onus on us to send out a message that we want this problem taken seriously. We want sentences of at least ten years for heroin dealing. It greatly encourages drug dealers to see that those who are caught and appear before the courts get lenient sentences. Examples have been seen in recent weeks of the money that some of them are making. It becomes worth the risk because of the huge financial gain. Which one of them would not risk two or three years in prison to make that money? It is not a deterrent but an encouragement to continue and until that changes more people will get involved in drug dealing and take that worthwhile risk.

I was in this House in 1984 when life sentences were introduced for drug dealers. It was a big deal at the time and successive Ministers told us that drug dealing had the highest priority. Has any drug dealer been given a life sentence? No. Drugs are destroying parts of our capital and the Judiciary is not in touch with that. One has to legislate based on what has happened, not on what we would like to see. With one or two exceptions people dealing in heroin are not being dealt with in court with the severity that crime deserves. Nine times out of ten the severity of the sentence is based on the value of the drug seized. In high profile cases where the Garda captured a yacht loaded with cannabis severe sentences of up to 12 years have been handed down, but when a heroin dealer who is killing people in Dublin is brought before the courts a different attitude is taken. On average a sentence of two and a half years to three and a half years is given to people who are killing young people or destroying their youth.

As long as that happens we will not get near to countering the development of drug dealing. I do not know how the Minister intends to approach this problem but it needs to be addressed because these people make far too much money and are escaping detection. I told the Minister when others were attacking and criticising her that I would judge her at the end of her term in office if people like the Boxer, the Footballer and the Psycho and others given names by the media were still driving around this city in their fast cars and taking foreign holidays, as they still are. Some of them have taken off to Amsterdam and England while the heat is on.

I am delighted to see that the Garda are making great inroads against another major drug trafficker. I hope they pursue the others in the same way but that has not yet happened. These people feel they are above the law. When their middle level operators and organisers are caught they get miserable two year sentences. I support Deputy O'Donoghue's amendment in so far as it relates to heroin but as it is a blanket amendment I am not entirely happy with it. It is necessary to get a message out that anyone who deals in heroin and threatens the lives of young people and is caught will go down for at least ten years. It is one aspect of dealing with the problem. I am well aware of the need for treatment facilities, that heroin is associated with poverty and social deprivation and that there is a range of other matters that must be dealt with, but as long as heroin is freely available in any community young people will be vulnerable to abusing it and suffering dreadfully as a result. The problem must also be dealt with effectively from a law and order angle. Based on experience to date, the only way to do that is in the manner suggested by Deputy O'Donoghue.

It is frightening on occasion to read in the newspaper the sentences handed down by some of our learned judges to those arrested and charged with being in possession of drugs, particularly heroin. Some members of the Judiciary appear to some extent to be woolly in their thinking when it comes it comes to sentencing major drug dealers. I made that point recently when known drug dealers were handed down a strange sentence, a jail sentence followed by a sentence in Coolmine Therapeutic Community. Such sentences do not seem logical and I challenge the thinking of the judges who make them. Will the Minister confirm if sentencing policy can consist of a three and a half years' jail sentence followed by 12 months in Coolmine Therapeutic Community, if a judge can sentence an offender to serve the first three and a half years of a seven year sentence followed by participation in a drug detoxification programme in the Drug Treatment Centre Board or request the offender to report to the Cherry Orchard centre for drug addicts run by the Eastern Health Board? There is no logic to sentencing a heroin dealer to such a sentence. What are the sentences handed down by those judges saying about our prisons? Such judges sentence drug offenders to serve three and a half years of a seven year sentence after which time the offender will need to be rehabilitated to come off drugs. The logic of the sentencing policy implemented by a number of judges in the recent past is that drug offenders sentenced to imprisonment in Mountjoy Jail will need to attend a drug treatment centre after their release. That is proven by such offenders being sentenced to participate in a drugs treatment course in Coolmine Therapeutic Community on their release.

It is realistic, unfortunately.

It might be realistic, but it is a poor reflection of our prison system that we are sentencing offenders to serve time in prison, who on their release, are deemed to be in need of detoxification and rehabilitation.

What annoys most people in the communities devastated by drug dealing and addiction is the person who grew up in the ghetto and moved out of it a wealthy man. He may have moved less than half a mile away, bought a site and built a house worth £300,000, never having worked a day in his life.

I will support the position adopted by the Minister if this amendment is put to a vote. Rather than a compulsory ten years' sentence being automatically handed down to an offender, the electorate, particularly those living in poverty and suffering from the effects of a major drugs climate, would be more impressed if drug offenders were stripped of their assets. The Minister should direct judges on sentencing policy. Rather than suggesting that a person, say, from Harold's Cross, who has a tyre and car showrooms business and is arrested for being in possession of cocaine worth £100,000, might need treatment for 12 months in Coolmine, it would be better if sentence were duly passed and the person's assets seized. That would go a long way to rebuild confidence in the Garda Síochána, the Judiciary, politicians and politics. Such assets could include expensive houses built by such offenders or a car showrooms business.

Mandatory sentencing across the board tends to be the subject of academic debate, but there are valid reasons for having reservations about it. I remember a tragic case of an Irish woman who fell in love with a Palestinian Arab who placed a bomb in her luggage and sent her on an aircraft. Luckily the security forces detected the bomb in her luggage. That Arab intended to kill her and all passengers on board that plane.

She was not guilty of any offence.

The Deputy should bear with me while I draw a comparison. The sad reality of those engaged in the drug culture, dealing in, abusing or addicted to drugs, is that it is extremely easy for clever manipulative drug barons, dealers or pushers to viciously exploit relatively young innocent people. They use such people to carry material from Great Britain to Ireland on the ferries and to carry heroin and other substances in here from mainland Europe. Many of the carriers are totally innocent in terms of their relationship with those who are exploiting them. It is not difficult to imagine cases where people unsuspectingly carry goods across Europe to a port here on behalf of an unscrupulous gangster who exploits their innocence. Cognisance must be taken in law of unusual cases that come before the courts. Some individuals, many unknowingly, are viciously exploited. If a mandatory sentencing policy of ten years is implemented, it will result in those individuals being sent down as well as drug offenders. We have read time and again that judges when handing down a relatively lenient sentence often proclaim in open court that the real culprits are not before them and they wish they were.

I listened carefully to what was said today and much of it was said during other debates in this House. Valid concerns and worries were expressed about sentencing policy. I clarify that I cannot give directions to judges. The directions the Oireachtas gives to judges are the laws we pass and judges implement them as they see fit when they take each case.

Under the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, the Oireachtas wanted consecutive sentences to be imposed but when such sentences are handed down all but one are suspended. As I indicated, I intend to strengthen that section of the Act to ensure the wishes of the Oireachtas are plain to see. I cannot comment on what an individual judge does or says in a court case, any more than Members can outside this House. I listened with interest to the critical comments on judges and I am sure Members have ways of letting people know what they say here. As Deputy McDowell said, I have no power to direct the DPP to exercise his power to appeal sentences, even if I consider them lenient. Under the 1993 Act that is exclusively a matter for the DPP. However, I will indicate to him the tenor of this debate because I am not restricted in that regard as I am with judges.

There has been a wide-ranging discussion about mandatory sentences. When the Law Reform Commission report was published I said that while I respected the commission's views, which led to its conclusion that there should be a mandatory life sentence for murder and a minimum 40 year sentence for the murder of a garda, there were cogent arguments for maintaining the status quo. That indicated what I thought of that element of the report. I believe there is a need for a more constructive debate on sentencing in general. That is why, with full understanding and without being banal, I believe there is a case for looking at sentencing in its entirely on foot of the commission's report. I will take on board what has been said when we return to that debate. However, I cannot accept the amendments.

In case there is any confusion, subsection (11) of the amendment provides that no prosecution can be commenced under the section without the consent of the DPP. Even when the section is invoked there is nothing to prevent the court imposing a sentence of greater than ten years. The Law Reform Commission report on sentencing, referred to by the Minister, does not give great cause for optimism on the question of whether minimum sentences should be applicable, because it comes down in favour of one side of the argument. As Deputy McDowell said, it goes as far as to say there should not be a mandatory sentence for murder and judges should have discretion. Society would not agree to that.

It is certain that this House has the power to provide that there should be minimum sentences. There is a provision in criminal law whereby an individual convicted of murder must receive a life sentence. In the same way, if an individual is found guilty of murdering a member of the Garda Síochána, he must receive a minimum sentence of 40 years imprisonment. Why is that the case? Is it that judges are not to be trusted? I submit that this is not the reason. These provisions and others of a more minor nature exist because this House, representing as it does the broad mass of the people, wishes to reflect its abhorrence of certain offences and the only cogent, clear way it can do so is to provide for a minimum sentence.

The only argument left is as to whether the offence of possession of illegal drugs to achieve substantial monetary gain should or should not be an offence attracting a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment. I argue that it should but the Minister and the Government say it should not. With the greatest possible degree of respect, they were entirely out of touch with our serious crime problem for a long period and they are equally so in this regard. If, as Deputy Byrne says, the Judiciary is out of touch also, it is the duty of this House to put judges back in touch. I am not here to engage in vituperative criticism of the Judiciary, which has largely done an excellent job. However, there are occasions when this House must exercise its authority.

One may ask whether imposing a minimum sentence will work or has worked in the past but it appears that certain draconian measures passed by the House have worked. In the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 the House provided for consecutive sentences for people who committed offences while on bail. There was a discernible drop in the number of such offences until the criminal community received the message that one might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb — that is, the courts were interpreting a consecutive sentence to mean a consecutive suspended sentence and would insist that the totality of the offence be reflected in the totality of the sanction. That was known as the totality principle. Once criminals received this message, there was an immediate increase in the number of crimes committed by people on bail and the figures have crept higher, from approximately 2,500 recorded in 1990 to 5,500 in 1995. That speaks for itself. Deterrents work and society has the right to put severe deterrents in place in order to protect itself — in this instance, to protect its very fabric.

Debate adjourned.

Since it is not yet 2.30 p.m. and the amendment before the House has been fully debated, surely the vote should be taken before the debate is adjourned?

The Chair is grateful to the previous occupant for asking that the debate be adjourned. If a vote were to take place now it would encroach severely on time allocated for questions to which time limits apply. There is a slight hiatus before Question Time commences but it is only one minute.