The Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill, 1999, is a short Bill to address and reinforce powers available under the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, to freeze certain assets and in some cases to dispose of assets by court order for the benefit of the State if those assets can be proven to be the proceeds of crime.
Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).
(Dublin West): On a point of order, I protest in the strongest possible manner—
That is not a point of order.
(Dublin West):—about the fact that you did not give me an opportunity to speak on the Order of Business.
The Deputy must behave in an orderly manner during the Order of Business. If he had done so, there might have been some hope of including him. The Deputy should resume his seat now.
(Dublin West): I was much more orderly than the party leaders, who for 20 minutes were completely out of order, but I was muzzled.
That is not a point of order. The Deputy was not muzzled.
(Dublin West): The people who have sent me to this House to represent them are muzzled also.
In accordance with Standing Orders, the Deputy should carry out his duties—
(Dublin West): The party leaders were out of order for 20 minutes. They did not obey Standing Orders.
I pointed out that the party leaders were acting in accordance with Standing Orders.
(Dublin West): I am appalled.
The 1996 Act has proven to be one of the most effective legislative measures enacted by these Houses by enabling the forces of law in the State to seize the ill-gotten gains of those involved in serious crime here. It was part of a legislative and operational package put in place with inputs from all sides of this House. I readily acknowledge the role of the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in putting forward his proposals in this regard, which were accepted by the then Government, of which I had the honour to be a member, and were built upon and expanded into an effective package of measures and operational procedures which had such a forceful effect on organised crime. It was the most co-ordinated and effective response to serious crime ever seen here.
The procedural improvements, which the Minister has brought before the House in this amending Bill, seek to bring about the streamlining of the operation of the existing law regarding the position of clarity and certainty and the tendering of evidence in the course of court applications. All those procedural changes are supported by the Labour Party.
The 1996-97 initiatives were effective. Many criminals who operated in the State were deprived of their loot and many more were put out of business entirely. Some abandoned the State. Unfortunately some now operate criminal activities from outside the jurisdiction, but even that has proven not to be an insurmountable barrier and the forces of law in the State have combined with those in other countries such as the Netherlands to reach out beyond even our statutory borders.
The work of the Criminal Assets Bureau in particular is to be commended. It is highly regarded at home and abroad. I avail of this opportunity to pay tribute to the personnel involved in this difficult and dangerous work. It is no easy task to involve oneself in facing up to the vicious thugs and criminals who are willing to perpetrate viciousness and assault for their own ends. Therefore, those involved deserve our support and will get it from all sides of this House because their work is among the most important work to be done in the criminal justice system in the State.
I have said that those people have been remarkably successful in tackling a criminal underworld which had developed in this city and in the State. There are two areas, however, which I want to put to the Minister where the Criminal Assets Bureau has not been visibly active and which seem to be tailor made for its intervention. The first is tackling organised crime by proscribed organisations, so-called paramilitaries who are involved in the State in such areas as cross-Border smuggling, racketeering and, indeed, drug-peddling. A variety of proscribed organisations, so-called patriots and others, have been involved in a variety of nefarious activities, all of which impact horrendously on the quality of life of many of the citizens of the State, particularly in the most vulnerable and deprived areas of the cities. These same individuals often present themselves as saviours of working class communities. It is surprising that the effectiveness with which the Criminal Assets Bureau and the other mechanisms which were available to the Garda Síochána and the agencies established have not dealt with this dimension of crime with the same force and effect.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Mandelson, recently said that legislation similar to the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, will be introduced in the UK Parliament, focusing particularly on the paramilitaries which operate within the UK jurisdiction. If that recognition is there, it is surely just as applicable to this jurisdiction and I would welcome a response from the Minister to that issue when he is replying to the debate.
Another dimension which is increasingly a matter of concern for citizens is the increase in white collar crime. There seems to be a disproportionate focus on what used be called ordinary criminal activity and less on the damaging effect of white collar crime, even the estimate of which is much more damaging in economic terms to the well-being of the State and our ambitions, for example, of establishing Dublin as a hub for international finance and commence, particularly e-commerce. We are playing a losing game of catch-up in monitoring white collar activity, money-laundering and e-commerce fraud. In recent times some initiatives have been taken on this matter but it is an area on which there does not seem to have been the same focus by the forces of law and order as on the more regular and visible types of criminal activity perpetrated in the State.
There is a view, because of that lack of focus, that so-called white collar crime is more acceptable even on a huge scale than the petty theft which is focused on by the forces of law. Those two areas, the activities of the paramilitary organisations and the focus on the new types of more subtle, more complicated white collar crime, merit and demand particular attention and focus by the criminal justice system to ensure a common attack on criminal activity of all types and equal treatment for all citizens. There is often a different socio-economic background for those engaged in white collar crime than for those engaged in the more regular types of criminal activity.
There were remarkable achievements by the criminal justice system under the stewardship of the Minister's predecessor in 1996-97. That progress has been steadily undermined, particularly in the past 12 months. New criminal gangs have grown to replace those that were successfully smashed in 1996-97. These new gangs that have emerged on the criminal scene in Dublin are more vicious, savage and ruthless than those who went before. The Minister, rather notoriously, in a statement some time ago described the current crime rate as akin to the 1950s. The grim catalogue of serious crime, murder, rape, vicious and serious assault and armed robbery, mocks that statement and the Minister's complacency when in the past few months there have been newspaper headlines such as "Godfathers of crime – 13 gang syndicate". This headline referred to a report from the EU Justice and Home Affairs meeting which said there is a 13 gang syndicate operating in a vicious underworld in this State. Litanies of murders, names and circumstances, are printed in our national newspapers. Murder was once regarded as a rare and notorious event and was commented on for months or years. Murder is now a regular event and it does not shock us to the degree it once did. Newspaper headlines read "Gangland murderers", "Young criminals set up the violence". There have been the most horrific types of murders involving gangland assassinations, drownings, killings and shootings, the details of which are catalogued in the national newspapers.
There has also been an increase in street assaults. Some 1,400 victims have been treated for assault in Dublin this year. A newspaper headline such as "Gangland killings on the increase" is an indication of the new upsurge in viciousness that has been allowed take place particularly in the past 12 months. The success achieved in 1996-97, when the will of this Parliament mirrored the will of the people and a determination by the forces of law, the divisions of An Garda Síochána, was remarkable but has not been maintained. The criminal underworld has pushed its way back. That stands as an indictment to the complacency of the Minister.
The willingness of the last Administration, of which I had the honour to be a member, to accept good ideas and bold initiatives from any quarter in our common battle—
She did not have anything of her own at the time.
That is absolutely untrue. It is disingenuous of the Deputy to say that. I shall catalogue the measures we brought before the House in this Dáil which were voted down by the Government. This is not a partisan issue. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom. This is a parliament. In a parliament good ideas which are for the public good should be accepted by the Dáil. There was a willingness in the last Administration that had a clear majority to accept good ideas and to acknowledge them. I have already acknowledged them in my contribution. The fingerprints and hallmark of the current Minister from the Opposition benches are there to his credit. Because he walked across the hallway to sit on the Government side does not mean any person who sits on this side has no good ideas and that he must find an argument to vote them down because they were not his. I regard it as the hallmark of a good Minister to accept good ideas from any quarter rather than to be conceited and arrogant enough to believe that only ideas authored by himself or herself have merit.
We have a common objective as parliamentarians to provide the basis of law that will allow our citizens to go about their lawful business without let or hindrance, without fear, and in safety. That is one of our primary responsibilities. Above all, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Yet any initiative, no matter how worthy, even when supported by the Minister's backbenches and colleagues, is voted down by him if authored by Members from the Opposition. That is a sign of inadequacy. A view often entertained by Departments is that if it does not come from the confines of the Department it is, by definition, flawed. A strong and good Minister overcomes that and understands the principles of a parliamentary democracy. We do not run our business by executive authority. Parliament disposes, Ministers propose. Members can also propose. A willing, good and efficient Minister accepts good ideas. For example, the Labour Party Bill dealing with joyriding was an extremely important measure to tackle an important issue for the streets of Dublin. Deputy Keaveney may not be familiar with joyriding as an issue in her area of Donegal. In Dublin it is a very serious issue that impacts catastrophically on the lives of a huge number of citizens here. It is not a joke or a laughing matter. That proposal from the Labour Party benches was strongly supported by a phalanx of Dublin Fianna Fáil Deputies. Yet they were whipped to vote against it. We have seen no alternative from the Minister. He could have accepted the Labour Party Bill and it would be the law of the land by now.
Similarly, Deputy Higgins of Fine Gael proposed a Bill dealing with enforcement of court orders. That was killed off by the Minister not because it was without merit but because the idea was not his. That is an indictment and a negation of the rights of Parliament. All of us filter the views of the people and what should emerge is a consensus of views. There is no monopoly of wisdom on either side.
While the Minister adopts that arrogant position, the promises he made in Opposition now stand hollow and empty. The Minister no longer dares to speak the words "zero tolerance", a phrase that evokes hollow laughs in the media and among people when set against his record. Zero tolerance, as explained by the Minister when he was in Opposition, meant all offences and misdemeanours would be acted on. There would be no exclusions under the law and all people would be treated equally. I doubt that even the Minister is brazen necked enough now to suggest that his record could demonstrate that this was the policy implemented by the Administration in the last three years.
There is much to do in the reform of our criminal justice system. A remarkable start was made under the previous Administration when we looked at, under the stewardship of the previous Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, the creation of a number of agencies to run the courts and prison services, to be responsible and accountable and to bring to the administration of justice the ideas of accountability that were demanded in every sector of public life. We sought to bring transparency to all aspects of the justice system, to improve its responsiveness to public need and to make it more effective.
There is much to do because those ideas have progressed slowly. I do not have a huge criticism to make in that regard because it is difficult to establish a new courts system through a new administration. It is also constitutionally difficult to provide the degree of accountability in the courts system that the citizens of this country require and demand. However, we must be responsive to those needs. It is our job, as legislators, to deal with them effectively and well.
Later today my parliamentary question relating to judicial accountability will be dealt with. I will be interested to hear the Minister's response. However, it is certainly a requirement now, whether with regard to An Garda Síochána, the operation of the Judiciary, the operation of the prosecutorial services or the operation of the Department, that transparent, accountable and consistent decisions are made which can be justified and accepted by the people through this Parliament and its committees. We need to work more quickly and enthusiastically to bring about effective transparency.
In that context, the measure before the House is small. It seeks to improve the armoury of the forces of law. The Labour Party willingly supports this amending legislation. We want to give to the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda Síochána whatever equipment, supports, clarity and legal measures are required to do their jobs effectively. For that reason we have no difficulty accepting this small set of technical amendments to the 1996 Act and supporting it on Second Stage.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill. It was the current Minister who, in 1996, introduced his organised crime, restraint and disposal of illicit assets Bill which the Government of the day had no option but to accept because matters had got so badly out of hand. The Bill was subsequently renamed the Proceeds of Crime Act. If that Bill had not been introduced, today's amendment would not be before the House.
I congratulate the Minister on the tremendous work he is doing. I listened to Deputy Howlin extol the virtues of the previous Minister but she did not have the initiative to deal with this serious issue. I do not have her record to hand but one can assume that with 34 legislative measures on the Statute Book since 1997 or more than 40% of all legislation introduced by this Government, with several more measures due to come before the Oireachtas and with 13 Private Members' motions introduced by the Minister when he was an Opposition Deputy, three of which were accepted, it is disingenuous of Deputy Howlin to claim nothing is happening and that the Minister is sitting on his hands. The opposite is the case.
We are discussing a relatively small but important amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996. It will ensure that one of the most historic Bills to come before the House from the justice Department is brought to an even higher level of effectiveness and efficiency. That is solely due to the work and authorship of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue. The Criminal Assets Bureau is being replicated in various parts of Europe. Our example has set the headline for Europe and other member states are trying to catch up with us. This morning on the Order of Business the Government was accused of being anti-European and against anything that represented progress, but we are leading the way with the Criminal Assets Bureau and not playing catch up, what many people appear to believe is Ireland's role. I congratulate the Minister in that regard.
Under the Proceeds of Crime Bill the criminal's assets could be sequestered and their bank accounts investigated. The assets of people who appeared to be living beyond their means and to have untold wealth from unknown sources could now be frozen. The legislation prevented them from disposing of their assets before questions could be asked. Between its inception in October 1996 and 31 December 1998, the Criminal Assets Bureau succeeded in having assets to the value of £10 million frozen under the Proceeds of Crime Act, demanded in excess of £19 million in tax payments and saved almost £1 million in social welfare payments. This cannot be underestimated as an important element of dealing with crime.
The Minister has always operated on the basis that there is correlation between crime and social deprivation and that the drugs problem cannot be solved by law enforcement measures alone. We must deal not only with the person and his or her assets but also go behind the scenes and deal with the situation which allows people to command such assets and become heavily involved in the huge drugs culture.
Crime should not pay and this legislation will close many loopholes. I come from the Border region of Inishowen in County Donegal and the cross-Border element of crime and criminal assets is most important. I am pleased the UK is moving in the same direction. However, there must be increased cross-Border co-operation. We live close to the huge urban centre of Derry and to one of the fastest growing towns in Europe, Letterkenny. Crime is present in every big centre in every country, even though Deputy Howlin would make anyone feel that it is strange to have crime in Ireland. Very few places are free from crime which is a particular issue in larger urban centres. We are located close to the big urban centres of Derry and Letterkenny and I would like that problem to be recognised. Unfortunately, we are touched by the drugs problem the same as everywhere else in the country. We are not the quiet little backwater some people may believe and it is very important for that to be recognised.
Many young people in the area are working very hard to steer along the right path. Many people in areas like Letterkenny, such as Councillor Blake and others, are involved voluntarily in the national drugs strategy team and the local drugs task forces. I again congratulate the Minister on the level of support we are beginning to receive through him, together with the Taoiseach's involvement in the Cabinet sub-committee and the involvement of the Minister of State, Deputy Ryan, in getting support, advice and finances through to the local task forces. This is where changes can be made. Some £10 million has currently been made available to help implement 200 projects proposed by local task forces and it is very important that this continues. Most projects are effective when they are as close as possible to the source of the problem. The local task forces are on the ground and are very aware of the needs of their areas. I hope this idea will be expanded. A superintendent was appointed to liaise with the Border drugs team concept and perhaps the Minister will let me know how this concept has advanced or if there are plans to expand it. The concept is very necessary and will have a big bearing on places like my constituency which, because of their proximity to the large urban centres, could fall victim to more serious crime levels in future. Many of these areas are outside our jurisdictional control at present.
Many young people are getting into crime and can probably be best helped by people like my constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy McDaid. I congratulate him on the level of funding which he is providing to County Donegal. For the first time in many years we are receiving real funding. This is providing facilities that did not exist in the past for people who if unchecked would have ended up being the big barons of the drugs industry which the Bill is targeting. Young people should be given alternatives to hanging around and finding themselves with so little to do that they become involved in activities that may initially have minor consequences but may lead to greater difficulties.
I listened to a radio programme yesterday involving young joyriders. I wish to clarify for Deputy Howlin that even in Donegal we know what a joyrider is. The young joyriders to whom I listened said they have become involved in community activities and community clubs. Community leaders deserve extra support. We should put a community leader into every region and every small area because community leaders are in touch with young people and keep them involved in more constructive activities than they would otherwise become involved in if left to their own devices. Those who spoke on the radio yesterday were former joyriders and were given an alternative which they found interesting. They decided to give up joyriding because they would have lost the opportunity to go horse-riding, get involved in adventure sports or whatever activity the club leader was providing. If these people in the heart of Dublin who were able to find an alternative to going out joyriding can be dealt with, joyriders can be dealt with throughout the country. I stress the value of local sporting facilities, facilities where people can congregate, and the value of having paid community leaders. Many community leaders are working on a voluntary basis at present. This service should be better organised and these people should be given a proper role.
I commend the Minister on tackling the issue of under age drinking about which I have been very vocal in the past. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, introduced the Intoxicating Liquor Bill and did not hide around the corner like earlier Ministers for Justice. Many people talked the good talk but did not walk the walk. The Minister did so and introduced a Bill that no one in the industry believed he would. He is dealing with the very serious issue of under age drinking. I hope every effort will be made to ensure the Intoxicating Liquor Bill is fully implemented. I would like to think the Minister will monitor the success of the Bill, particularly the under age drinking section, because even in rural Ireland petty crime is leading to petty vandalism which, in turn, is leading to more serious vandalism. This can lead to vicious crime and, if it is not dealt with, it can lead to people getting away with committing minor offences and moving to more serious crime. We should consider seriously the use of ID cards and promote them as best we can. They should be available free of charge and reviewed.
There should be pilot schemes for role modelling in schools and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform should co-operate with the Department of Education and Science in developing this. Young people who start to drink from the age of ten upwards are very susceptible to the influence of pop stars, football stars, some sporting or local hero. Such potential role models reside in every area and could have a positive effect on small children in the local schools. They could give young people someone to look up to, someone who can survive and enjoy a night out without drinking. I have had experience of people offering to become such role models. These opportunities should not be wasted but should be pursued.
I know the Minister is considering the issue of juvenile liaison officers. Under the national development plan, funding amounting to approximately £87 million will be made available to cover crime prevention measures. This is the first time the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has received substantial funds to undertake programmes which will be designed to assist children at risk of becoming involved in crime and those who have already come into contact with the criminal justice system. We should look at the juvenile diversion programmes in particular to see whether they are effective and decide if we can co-ordinate a better strategy.
Young people need to be assessed educationally and in terms of training. Their future employment prospects and their proper integration into society must also be examined. Those who have come into contact with juvenile liaison officers have tended to stray only a little but there are not enough officers. Some people believe the scheme does not work. Statistics highlight, however, that offenders who take up the programme early tend not to re-offend. The scheme is not ideal, but it has great potential.
The Garda's motto has always been "Prevention is better than cure". Prevention can work if gardaí are visible on the beat dealing with young people in the community and building up relationships. It would be a good start if one officer in every Garda station was assigned to juvenile liaison activity. Many gardaí are involved in the voluntary sector outside their daily work and are involved in GAA, soccer and boxing clubs. In terms of prevention this could help the State to avoid spending money on cures later.
There are young people in north Donegal who have gone beyond underage drinking, vandalism and stealing and burning cars to the stage where many people have identified this small section of our community as candidates for Mountjoy Prison in the near future. They need a great deal of support to help themselves. There is a vacuum in certain parts of the country into which a great deal of the money which the Minister has at its disposal could be channelled to deal with such young people who are candidates for involvement in serious crime in the not too distant future.
A huge proportion of young people in Inishowen leave school early. The former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, recognised that and provided funding to deal with the problem. Some early school leavers are taking up employment but others are going astray. They could be taken in hand through psychological assessment and the provision of proper support for them and their families. There is probably legislation in the pipeline that will outline what should happen to these people but I would like action to be taken on the ground.
Some young people who have been in serious trouble have decided after a while that they want to get back on the straight and narrow. I recently heard some of them on a radio programme who had been diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. However, they get into trouble and when that happens nobody wants to know them. They cannot get back into the education system and are stuck for somewhere to go. They are not given the second chance opportunities that are always piloted and recommended in the education system.
I hope the Minister will do what he can in terms of North-South co-operation. Crime is advancing in the bigger urban centres in the North, particularly Derry. We are taking the brunt of it in north Donegal because we are on the Border. Criminals from the North are chancing their arms as they travel further into north Donegal. They used to operate near the Border but are now travelling 20 or 30 miles to break in to houses and escape with money and goods. Good and strong co-operation is needed on both sides of the Border and gardaí must be visible in the communities.
I recently raised the issue of equipment with the Minister and he will address it. Donegal is a large county and if basic Garda equipment and personnel are not provided we will get nowhere. That is contrary to everything the Minister has done because he has led the way in tackling crime in terms of bringing in legislation and putting control back into the hands of those who can enforce it. I ask the Minster to keep in mind Border areas, such as north Donegal, which people believe are quiet little backwaters. They are not and crime could potentially get out of hand in these areas, particularly if the cross-Border criminal element is not pursued more vigorously than at present. Links have been established and I fully endorse a cross-Border relationship between both police forces. There is a great deal of crime in north Donegal because it runs along the Border.
I thank the Minister for tightening up this important legislation which will affect those who are most heavily involved in crime. The Minister should also keep in mind, as he has done, those who are starting out on a career of crime. I hope they never get to the stage whether they will be prosecuted under this legislation.
I wish to share time with Deputy Gerry Reynolds.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
This is a short Bill aimed at fine tuning aspects of the 1996 Act to ensure that it will be as effective as was intended in the fight against criminals retaining assets acquired from proceeds of unlawful activity. It has been pointed out that there are specific problems with the interpretation of certain aspects of the original Act which are dealt with in this legislation. The Minister clarified the purpose of the legislation in his contribution in June and I have no problems with what he said in regard to the need to clarify the question that has been raised about who is legally in possession of or who has responsibility for a criminal's assets following a court order to freeze them.
The Garda does not want that responsibility when an asset can be frozen for up to seven years. However, the original owner must not be allowed to sell or devalue it. The Bill deals with the legal framework around these issues successfully. The purpose of the original legislation was to allow the High Court to order the freezing of the assets of certain criminals with a view to possibly disposing of them at a later date for the eventual benefit of the State. It meant that the Garda was no longer powerless against individuals who displayed wealth and a lifestyle that was clearly beyond their legitimate means. This not only ensures a financial punishment for the criminal involved, but also satisfies the public and the Garda that the system allows them to return some of the proceeds of crime to the Exchequer.
As a result of the 1996 Act the Criminal Assets Bureau has been successful in seizing proceeds of criminal activity. Since 1996 court orders have been issued to freeze property to the value of almost £15 million. Demands for tax payments to the Revenue, interests payments and savings on social welfare payments for persons involved in crime have amounted to more than £1.5 million in the same period. The legal framework to allow this process to continue successfully has been recognised internationally as a success story in the fight against organised crime. On behalf of my party, I compliment everybody involved in that fight. As Deputy Howlin said, it is not a pleasant fight and the individuals with which one has to deal in combating organised crime are particularly dangerous and nasty characters. For that reason, I compliment everyone involved in the work against such individuals.
When the Minister spoke on the Bill in June, he used the opportunity to comment on the battle against drugs and the measures being put in place to deal with juvenile crime, much of which is linked to drug and alcohol abuse. We are now experiencing a growing problem with the breakdown of public order in our large towns and cities. This was particularly the case during the summer, and is so now at night and over weekend periods. During the summer months there was increased media awareness of, and sometimes hype about, street violence. However, there has also been a genuine increase in the number of unprovoked and vicious attacks over the past three or four months. Reading newspaper headlines over the summer months one could be forgiven for wondering what city or country those stories referred to. There were headlines such as "Crazy night of stabbings, shootings and petrol bombs", followed by an article describing Dublin city on a Saturday night. Other headlines have included: "Huge increase in number of violent attacks", and "Street violence takes its toll as fear escalates amongst the public".
Such headlines seem strange following a recent report that the number of assaults and violent attacks is apparently decreasing. In the past three or four months I attended forums both in Dublin and Cork to discover the facts about the levels of street violence. I did not believe the figures from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform which suggest that they are not on the increase. The reason for that disparity, however, is that many such crimes go unreported due to the time at which they take place and the circumstances surrounding them.
I wish to offer some possible solutions to the problems of street violence and attacks in general, which I hope the Minister will consider. The forums I visited were attended by representative groups from many different sectors of the community concerned about street violence. These included parents' groups, vintners, taxi drivers, night-club owners, minority groups such as the gay and lesbian community, the security industry, student bodies representing students in Cork and Dublin, other youth groups and hospital doctors. Everybody seemed to agree that the level of violent attacks is on the increase. Perhaps more importantly, people stressed that the viciousness of these attacks was also increasing. This point was made in particular by representatives of Victim Support.
Victim Support dealt with over 3,500 cases in the first six months of this year. Over the summer months the organisation expressed serious concern at the failure to control unprovoked assaults which are mainly taking place against males in the 16 to 25 age group. The age profile of those involved in assaults seems to be coming down all the time, which is a worrying factor. A young man of 16 or 17 who has lost control of himself on a Saturday night may, some years later, become a more dangerous person who is consequently more difficult to deal with.
While I do not want to be over-dramatic, many young people are now afraid to go into towns and city centres. I am speaking in the main about Cork and Dublin as those are the areas I know best. Parents also are afraid to allow their children to go into city centres at night. Many parents have told me they cannot sleep at night until they hear their sons or daughters coming home and closing the door behind them, which can often be 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning.
Has the Minister examined the real causes of the breakdown of public order in towns and cities? He is attempting to tackle the issue of underage drinking, but in attempting to introduce an ID or age card system why did the Minister not make it compulsory? What is the objection to making ID cards compulsory for young people? If we want to ensure that proprietors of pubs, off-licences and nightclubs take on their responsibilities, as they must under the new legislation, why can we not provide them with the obvious aid of ensuring that every young person who wants to purchase drink has an ID card? That is how it is done in the United States, Canada and many European countries. It makes no sense to introduce the age card system on a voluntary basis. I cannot understand it, so perhaps the Minister can clarify why that has been done.
We must also seek reasons for the breakdown in respect among young people for authority. I am all for offering young people independence and responsibility but we must also examine the issues of parenting, teaching and religion to try to find solutions to the problem whereby many young people are out of control when outside the family home. Unfortunately, they are sometimes out of control inside the home as well.
We must examine the issue of drunkenness. Many people have rightly focused on the use of hard drugs and recreational drugs as creating a potential for violent attacks. However, from my experience and having spoken to many people about the issue, alcohol is by far the biggest reason many young people go out of control late at night. We must raise awareness and increase the responsibility of those who sell drink and those who consume it, whether that is done through education, policing or enforcement. One way or the other we must reduce the quantity of alcohol that is consumed as well as reducing its strength.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform also has a responsibility to co-operate with other Departments on the question of public transport and taxis. A massive marketing effort has been undertaken to encourage young people to socialise in towns and cities at night. No such effort has been made, however, to try to get them home again afterwards. The Government has not dealt satisfactorily with the issue of providing late night bus services or a proper taxi system and, thus, people cannot get home as quickly as they wish.
I would like to see an increase in the Garda presence on the beat, to which Deputy Keaveney referred. There is no substitute for Garda personnel walking on the beat through towns and city centres at night, moving people on before trouble arises.
Long-term solutions to this problem probably lie in education and in reform of the juvenile justice system. I agree with Deputy Keaveney when she says that we need to provide proper role models for young people to ensure they do not get caught up in a vicious cycle of crime and the revolving door syndrome that, unfortunately, our prison service provides. Crime should not pay and this short Bill goes some way towards ensuring that it does not. The assets of criminals, who do not deserve them, will be seized by the State and I welcome the fact that the resulting money will be used for projects in the public interest.
I thank Deputy Coveney for sharing his time. I welcome the Bill which is technical legislation. It will tighten up aspects of the Act introduced in 1996. It is important that aspects of that Act are tightened up to ensure that criminals do not have any opportunity to avail of legal loopholes.
The original Act was introduced by my colleague, Deputy Owen, who was much maligned when she was Minister for Justice. The 1996 Act was historic and brave legislation and I compliment Deputy Owen and the then Government on having the courage and foresight to introduce it. I also congratulate the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Garda Síochána, the Judiciary and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who have played a great role in tackling organised crime over the past number of years. Given the roles played by all those arms of State, organised crime has been dealt a severe blow.
A next door neighbour of mine, Mr. Paul Williams, is the crime correspondent for theSunday World and he has done much brave work in journalism by outing criminals and organised crime in Ireland. He did this long before the Criminal Assets Bureau was established or other journalists, who also had the courage of their convictions, pursued and exposed such individuals. They must be complimented on the important public service role they have played.
Unfortunately, much of the legislation was introduced following the tragic shooting of Veronica Guerin. However, even today, many of the crime correspondents put their lives at risk when they investigate the atrocities that some individuals have committed. These journalists also play an important role in the ongoing battle against organised crime. I wish all those involved in that battle continued success because if we are seen to be soft on organised crime, it would cause major difficulties for the country. The view in other countries is that as a result of the legislation that has been introduced Ireland is not a safe haven for people who wish to pervert the course of justice or become involved in organised crime.
Other issues pertain to crime and many of my colleagues referred to juvenile, drug related and alcohol related crime. I wish to reiterate some of those points. My firm belief is that much of the crime committed at weekends by young people is alcohol related. Many children first take alcohol at the age of 14 or 15 and by the time they reach the age of 17, they are using soft drugs. The Minister introduced legislation to deal with late drinking and the liquor industry but I agree with Deputy Coveney that a major omission in that Act, which should be rectified urgently, is provision for a national identity card scheme.
I was raised in a family run public house and I understand the practical difficulties involved in trying to ascertain whether a person is over the age of 18. The only way this problem can be resolved or that a publican or nightclub owner can be prosecuted properly is through a national identity card scheme. As it stands, there are voluntary ID schemes, but we are all aware of stories where 16 year olds gave false dates of birth. If the youth hands in such an ID card to a publican, a nightclub owner or a person working behind a bar, there is nothing that person can do; he or she must accept the card. This problem can only be addressed practically through the introduction of a national identity card scheme.
I have called for such a scheme since I was elected to the House, but no Government has yet introduced it. I hope the Minister will introduce a national identity card scheme as a matter of urgency because it would play an important role in the fight against underage drinking. My firm belief is that underage drinking is the cause of much violent crime in towns and cities.
Another issue which must be considered is the regulation of fast food outlets at weekends. If one speaks to gardaí in provincial and larger towns, one is told that many young people gather outside fast food outlets after discos and much of the trouble flares there. I am not sure if regulations can be introduced regarding the closing times of such outlets, but this aspect should be taken into consideration.
As Deputy Coveney said, it is time to consider putting more gardaí on the beat. Their presence prevents much crime, although I appreciate it is impossible to police every nook and cranny. However, the level of violent and juvenile crime in towns and cities over the summer was frightening. Many of these attacks were on tourists and more gardaí on the beat are needed. Such a move would be supported by the public.
Sligo town, which is in my constituency, is a large provincial town. The amount of unreported crime that has taken place there over the past number of years is frightening. If one speaks to young people, one is told that they are afraid to go into town at weekends because of the number of attacks. I call on the Minister to introduce a CCTV scheme in Sligo town as a matter of urgency. I read in the newspapers that the Minister will provide funding for CCTV systems in eight or ten towns and cities and I ask him to give Sligo town priority in that regard. Such systems and more gardaí on the beat would play an important role in reducing crime levels on our streets.
The Proceeds of Crime Act is very good legislation. It is right and proper that the State now has the power to question people who commit and gain from crime and who cannot prove where they got their wealth, and to take their money and property from them. I hope when more people are working in this area we will also be able to deal with petty criminals. Many of them live on social welfare in housing estates, yet they have new Mercedes cars and second homes. There is no evidence to show where they got their wealth, but we all know where they got it. They sell drugs in housing estates and commit crimes in towns and villages. In the past the gardaí did not have the power to ask the right questions to ascertain where and how they got their resources. This Bill must be welcomed for allowing them to do that.
Last year 81,274 crimes were committed, of which approximately 42% were detected. That left approximately 1,000 per week which were not detected. In County Mayo 794 crimes were committed, of which 336 or 42% were detected. That means that for every two crimes committed in Mayo – I am talking about robberies and crimes causing criminal damage – one was detected. There is something wrong with those figures. Those are the crimes which were reported. I know people whose property and cars were damaged but who did not notify the gardaí because they felt the perpetrators would not be caught and they were only wasting their time. The unreported crime can be added to the total figure.
People have become more violent. I know the statistics show that crime is reducing, but the crimes being committed have become more violent. I heard previous speakers talk about gardaí on the beat. Both you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and I live in a rural area and it is lovely to see a garda walking around a town either at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. There should be more gardaí on the beat. I know a scheme is being introduced to take gardaí away from administrative duties in the stations and to employ civil servants. That is good because the more gardaí there are on the streets the more it will stop people from committing crime.
No Government has ever tackled the problem of allowing fast food outlets in every village and town to stay open until 3 a.m., 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. If 500 or 600 people congregate around them, it will lead to rows and violence. I cannot understand why we allow people to trade at such hours in the morning. I have been a member of a local authority for 20 years and I have often been criticised for making such comments, but I have always stood my ground. When people look for planning permission from the council, I always insist they should not be allowed to trade after 12 midnight. That is only now beginning to happen.
When people leave nightclubs at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. and go to fast food outlets, rows develop, windows are broken, cars are damaged and people end up in hospital. The gardaí, doctors and the ambulance service are called to the scene and hospitals become crowded, particularly at weekends. It is time the Government introduced legislation to stop these people from trading at these hours. There is no need for places such as Burger King to be open at such hours when people tend to gather outside them.
I have seen this happen in Westport. One establishment is open until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday or as long as there is someone prepared to buy a burger. There is not a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night without a row and the people living in that area cannot get a night's sleep. People are entitled under the law to a night's sleep when they go to bed at 12 midnight and get up at a reasonable hour. These people should be protected.
The Department of Education and Science has introduced a new proposal that if an unruly pupil causes trouble in a school, he or she can engage a barrister to assist him or her. He or she will be helped, but what will happen to the other 30 students in the school whom he or she has interrupted and upset and whose education has been ruined? How will they and the teachers be protected? That is what is wrong in this country.
The do gooders always condemn every Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when they come to power. They have all the answers. However, they always live in Dublin 4 or on a greenfield site in the best places in the west, south or east. They do not live in the middle of a housing estate or a town where there is a problem. They will go to public meetings and lecture politicians and Ministers about the rights of criminals. What about the rights of the people who do not commit crime and who want to be protected by the State? No one seems to fight for their rights. However, the criminal must always be looked after.
This issue also arises in relation to jails. Criminals there must always be given the best treatment. It reminds me of the mother who came to me recently complaining about her son being locked up and asking why she could not visit him three or four days a week. I asked her if she realised that her son had gone to prison and not to Hotel Westport. People must realise that if someone commits a crime they are not put into a hotel but prison, that there are restrictions and that someone else is in charge. The reason they are in prison is that they have committed a crime. They have either injured someone or damaged someone's property. Mammies and daddies must realise that if their sons or daughters have committed a crime they must pay the penalty and that they are not going to a hotel but to jail.
Perhaps the Minister could clarify if people who commit crimes, whether they have been caught for drink driving or fined for not having tax or insurance, and who are on low incomes can pay such fines through their social welfare payments. A court case was taken recently against a former Minister for Justice. When a judge fines a man on social welfare £500 or £600 for being drunk and disorderly, the court clerk sends out the order and the gardaí call to the house for the money owing to the State. However, his wife and family suffer because he will not change his ways and she will have to make the payment. I am not a legal person but I say to the judges, there is no point fining someone £600 or £700 if they are on social welfare of £100 or £150 a week. That does not make sense. There must be another way for these people to pay their debt to society. There was a time when Ministers had discretion to overturn judges' decisions but the court has recently decided that Ministers cannot interfere. I tabled a number of questions to him in the Dáil and in all fairness to him he has been consistent. He has not overturned any of these fines.
I am not saying people who commit a crime should not pay for it. They should pay for it but there is little point in putting further pressure on families or on husbands or wives. The husband may not care whether a fine is paid but the family will not want to see the husband going to jail so it is the wife who will have to scrape together the money from the social welfare payment. She is the one who will have to go out and borrow or beg to pay it. Is there another way out of this problem whereby people on social welfare could be given some community work to do or whereby they could make a phased payment rather than having to pay £600 or £700 which is not possible and which tends to create many problems? It is also blocking up the whole system.
I am glad the State is at last dealing with the drug barons and the people who have committed serious crime here. These people now know that if they are profiting from the sale of drugs or other illegal activity and have big houses and other wealth, even though they may be on social welfare, the State can move in. That is a good development and it is great to see so many of the major criminals behind bars, which is where they should be.
The people who commit petty crime also hurt many people. Last Christmas Eve, a window in my own property in Westport was smashed and I spent the day trying to get somebody to repair it. The man who broke it did not come back to ask me how much he owed me. The first person to come forward to protect him was his mother, who said he did not mean it, yet the same man was in court again last week for some other reason. These people do not learn. They have to learn through justice. There is only one place for people who commit petty crime and that is behind bars.
I agree with the "do gooders" that everybody is entitled to a chance but if they do not reform themselves having got a number of chances, the only place for them is behind bars. The "do gooders" should remember that there are not enough prison spaces. Many people who commit serious crime remain undetected. I hope the police catch up with these people and put them behind bars.
(Wexford): I welcome the Bill, which is long overdue, and I compliment the Minister because for a long time Ireland was seen as a safe haven for organised crime. In fairness to different Governments and different Ministers for Justice, it is always difficult to deal effectively with an island nation. With vast miles of coastline, it is easy to gain access to a country like Ireland to peddle drugs and become engaged in other money making rackets.
The late Veronica Guerin was mentioned earlier in the debate. Following her death, politicians and all those in authority here sat up and took notice because organised crime was taking over. I am glad that the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has continued to deal effectively with the drug barons and the problem of organised crime and I hope he will continue to be tough in his dealings with those problems in the future.
As Ireland gets richer and everyone is better off, does anyone care any more? We seem to be becoming a greedy and selfish nation concerned only about ourselves. Respect for authority seems to be going out the window. Perhaps it is my imagination but young people seem to be far more aggressive nowadays. They certainly have more money in their pockets. They are spending more money on drink at weekends and frequently become involved in rows. There no longer appears to be any respect for gardaí, teachers or the clergy. We hear so much these days about the rights of the wrong-doers but very little about the rights of the people who are attacked or, in some cases, killed and those whose property is vandalised.
Murder now seems to be accepted as the norm here. I know the Minister does not accept it as the norm but 20 years ago, if a murder happened in a village or a town there would be ferocious criticism but people do not seem to care any more. In Ireland today, very little value is placed on life. That is not the Ireland we grew up in, and it is certainly not the Ireland we want to see for the future. Almost every day on "Morning Ireland" or in the newspapers we hear or read about a person who has been murdered in some town or a village. That is not acceptable and it needs to be dealt with. It is not easy for a Minister to deal with it. People have to deal with this problem and more value has to be placed on life than currently is the case in the community.
I live in Wexford, very close to Rosslare Harbour, and we have first-hand knowledge of the drugs problem and the drug barons who try to bring drugs through Rosslare. In the past week, the customs people apprehended drugs coming in through Rosslare to the value of £1 million. I compliment the customs people and the gardaí at Rosslare for their vigilance and the way they accost people coming through on a regular basis. One must look seriously at places such as Rosslare and ensure that there are more customs people and a greater Garda presence in such ports because the drugs coming through Rosslare will help to create the criminals of tomorrow. They will also devastate families and the young people who become hooked on drugs. Total vigilance in our ports is very important to ensure that few, if any, drugs get through.
The drugs problem in housing estates is no longer confined to Dublin. It is now evident in villages and towns throughout rural Ireland. I am regularly baffled that people from housing estates in communities are able to tell me as a politician that Joe Soap is selling drugs in a certain housing estate, yet the Garda do not seem to be able to deal with people selling drugs. The Garda tell me they visit the house named but are unable to find drugs, yet later that night these people are out on the streets selling the drugs again. Legislation should be introduced whereby the Garda should be able to arrest people known to sell drugs although they may be able to hide them effectively from gardaí on their visits to housing estates. They are doing serious damage to young people living in housing estates in towns and villages in rural Ireland. The problems that were confined to Dublin ten years ago are now visiting rural Ireland and it is time to deal with the small drug barons, as I call them, in the smaller towns and villages.
There was much talk earlier about what are becoming serious problems in towns at weekends. The Minister extended the drinking hours. I had reservations about extending the drinking hours because of what I see happening in Wexford, Enniscorthy and Gorey at weekends where up to 1,000 people are dumped out on the streets from nightclubs at 3 o'clock and 3.30 in the morning. They go to the local chipper or restaurant but most of the time many of the young people are drunk and, more often than not, a row will break out. The number of cowardly attacks in the smaller towns on weekends is escalating. The gardaí are doing their best to deal with the problem but they cannot be everywhere on the one night. Under age drinking in nightclubs is a major problem that has to be dealt with effectively. ID cards go some way towards addressing the problem but they will not solve it. Nightclub owners have a major responsibility in this area. During the week they advertise the acts that will take place in their clubs on Friday and Saturday nights and at 2.30 a.m. or 3 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings they let young people out on to the streets, having ripped them off by charging high prices, and do not care how they get home or what happens to them.
Underage drinking is a serious problem. Communities in the smaller towns are starting to take action. They are calling public meetings, asking to attend council meetings and visiting the local gardaí and superintendents to ascertain what can be done to address this problem. Some communities are paying for the installation of cameras to protect themselves from young offenders. It is not good enough that people who live over shops or in houses in the centre of towns should be subjected to shouting, harassment and abuse at 3 a.m., 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. at the weekends.
Such behaviour seems to be the new culture. Everyone has more money to spend, but sanity must prevail. While I accept it is not an easy problem to resolve, nightclub owners, publicans, gardaí and the local community must get together to investigate how to resolve it. It will cause politicians and the gardaí major headaches because communities are not prepared to put up with it.
Many of the cowardly attacks on young people are drink related. A number of people walking home on their own in Enniscorthy have been attacked and beaten by gangs of young men and gangs of young women, with some of the attackers being as young as 13 or 14. It has got to the stage in Enniscorthy that a young person more often than not will not walk home alone for fear of being attacked. Cameras have been installed in a number of streets in the town to ascertain how this problem can be dealt with. It is a disgrace that people as young as 14 are out at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. at the weekends attacking genuine decent people making their way home after a night out. It reflects a lack of parental control. Parents have become too soft.
People talk about the need for a greater Garda presence on our streets. While that is important, I do not support a policy of a single garda patrolling the streets at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., as such a garda could also be attacked. There is a need for more Garda cars and a re-arrangement of Garda structures. Perhaps fewer gardaí are needed in our towns from Monday to Thursday and a greater garda presence is needed from Thursday night to Sunday night when there tends to be a major congregation of young people. The Minister should discuss such a re-arrangement of Garda personnel with superintendents and chief superintendent to deal effectively with this problem.
The superintendents and chief superintendents who report to the Garda Commissioner do not always tell the truth to the Minister of the day regardless of who he or she may be. When I make representations to the Minister about the need for extra gardaí and extra facilities for gardaí in parts of County Wexford more often than not I get a letter back stating that, having consulted the Commissioner, who in turn has consulted the local chief superintendent, the Minister is satisfied that the area is adequately served. When I show such letters to the local gardaí, they laugh and say, "the superintendent is looking for promotion or the chief superintendent wants to go up the line and he will not upset anyone further up". The Minister needs to get more in tune with what is happening on the ground. I am not saying he is not in tune with everything that is happening, but some of the information being fed up the line by superintendents is not factual or beneficial to the communities concerned. The Minister and his officials need to get more factual evi dence of what is needed in our communities and counties.
I compliment the Minister on his work to date. He has put in a tremendous effort to try to deal effectively with organised crime, which has been fairly effectively dealt with. He should now move on to deal with juvenile crime which takes place mainly at the weekends and is mainly drink related as young people now have more money to spend on drink. Communities are up in arms about the level of rowdiness at weekends. There is a need to bring the owners of nightclubs, off licences and late night chippers together to increase the level of community awareness of how people should behave. Some young people seem to have very little respect for authority. They seem to be more aggressive and more interested in picking a fight after a few jars than enjoying themselves. This is a new mood that should be stamped out.
I compliment the Minister on introducing this and the other Bills he introduced since he came into office to try to deal effectively with crime and make Ireland a better place in which to live.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate. While I read about various court cases on pages 3 to 5 of theIrish Independent and The Irish Times every other day, I do not recall such incidents happening. That indicates we have become immune to these incidents, whether the case is one of grievous bodily harm, manslaughter or murder. They mean nothing to us any more. We seem to have a acceptance of a certain level of violence.
Several speakers referred to late night violence. If my memory serves me correct, Brendan Grace used to do a sketch where a guy was up in court for being over the limit for having had two bags of chips as opposed to one. All the violence seems to happen after visits to chip shops. Deputy Ring also made this point. Many of these premises have restricted trading hours, but we do not seem to implement the law in that regard. If one drives through any village on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, one will see a skirmish of one sort or another taking place. It is a miracle that we do not wake up each morning at the weekend to hear of more than one person being murdered or killed on our streets. Without question late night violence is one of the most serious problems of the modern era. This was reflected in the talk shows on radio over the summer and is reflective of what we see in front of us. It is the luck of God that many more people are not killed.
When an incident happens we are full of outrage. We saw a young man recently on "The Late Late Show" who had his face stamped on, but when offenders come before the courts they tend to get lenient sentences because someone pleads they were under the influence of alcohol, their mother is dying, they have to look after their children, and so on. We accept such excuses but forget about the concerns of the victims of crime.
Our medical services are greatly stretched as a result of such late night violence. If one was to visit any casualty ward of the main hospitals in Dublin tomorrow night, one would find several people who have been injured as a result of drink related incidents or so-called normal violent incidents. We need to address this area. Many genuine people who end up in casualty wards late at night at weekends have to go to the back of the queue while such people are being treated.
I understand the CCTV system which was installed in Tralee, in the Minister's county if not his constituency, has proved very successful. A similar system has also been installed in Dublin. Representatives in my constituency of Wicklow have been seeking for a number of years to have that system installed in Bray. I believe it has been given the green light but it is not yet operational. There was a serious sexual assault in Bray during the summer and if there was a camera system in the town it would be much easier to identify the culprits. Such a system would not cost much and if it can prevent a brutal and horrific crime such as rape we should consider introducing it around the country.
I have contacted the Minister's office on several occasions about joyriding in Wicklow, particularly in Blessington and Kilbride. With the best will in the world, local gardaí find it difficult to address this issue and the local population feel it has been forgotten. It has become almost acceptable that every weekend cars are burnt out and the roads become a virtual no-go area for locals. That is probably not unique to this rural area, it is probably the same for the rural areas near major cities all over Ireland.
Deputy Browne mentioned the letters the Minister receives about Garda requirements for various areas and he will be familiar with the Glendalough-Roundwood group which has sent several letters to his office in recent years. I am not necessarily blaming the Minister, but a standard reply comes back to the effect that the Minister is satisfied that there are enough Garda resources on the ground, but Glendalough is one of the busiest tourist centres in the country and there is no permanent Garda presence there. It is very important for both local and foreign tourists to have a Garda presence in the village of Glendalough and I ask the Minister to re-examine that position to see if something can be done. It would be reassuring for the local population which has suffered a lot from crime and would help our tourism industry. If one is in a foreign place it is reassuring to see someone in a uniform.
There have been several violent incidents in Wicklow recently. I will not go into them in too much detail, but they include the tragic death of a young child in Wicklow, the death of a youngster in Aughrim after sustaining head injuries outside a nightclub and the rape of a young woman who was tied to a tree in the Ashford area. Regarding these crimes, it strikes me that Irish people were shocked by the Jamie Bulger incident in Liverpool, but now when similar if not identical cases occur here the same impression is not made on us.
This is one of the terrible downsides to our economic boom – there seems to be an acceptable level of violence. Our society has become wealthier and the gap between rich and poor has become greater. A smaller percentage of people have a greater percentage of the wealth and many people are being left behind. As a result, they are striking back at society. It is difficult to create an equitable society, but one area where this can be done is in education. I realise the Minister is not responsible for education, but he has an input at Cabinet. The Minister for Education and Science has established an expert review group on dyslexia and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform should have an input here. Statistics from abroad have shown that dyslexics have a greater chance of being involved in serious crime and of going to prison. We should consider putting resources into special needs education, particularly in the area of dyslexia.
During the summer there were reports of serious incidents on the train taking supporters from the Tipperary-Clare match. Sporting organisations have a responsibility to the public. This morning's newspapers carried reports of the suspensions imposed on Antrim clubs and some elements in the GAA seem to be looking for leniency. Unfortunately, the GAA hierarchy does not furnish me with a ticket – I get the standard letter back when I write to Croke Park for All-
Ireland tickets – but I go to GAA games regularly and I find the acceptance of a certain level of violence increasingly disturbing. When an incident happens we are shocked, but when it comes up for arbitration some weeks later it is generally swept under the carpet and taken as part and parcel of what we are. That is not good enough. It sends out the wrong message to the community, particularly children. We must nip it in the bud. People in court should get harsh sentences, particularly when physical violence is involved. We should not adopt a lenient approach to sentencing in these matters.
I understand Dessie O'Hare, who is in Portlaoise Prison, is to seek release. I doubt if he qualifies under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, but I ask the Minister to examine that case carefully. That individual was involved in a lot of criminal activity and committed serious, horrific crimes. Many of us may forget that with the passing of time, but the victims do not.
I welcome the fact that the Bill is before the House. This debate began on 1 June and has not resumed until today. It is right to proceed with and enact the Bill, subject to some technical amendments which I will deal with on Committee Stage.
The Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, has had a very important impact on our criminal justice system. It has finally allowed for investigations to be conducted regarding individuals whose wealth is not reflected by any known work they do and who have accumulated assets as a result of criminal enterprise. A large number of these enterprises involved the trade and distribution of drugs and those targeted by the existing Act brought death and destruction to the lives of countless numbers of young people. They broke up families and spread misery as a result of their enrichment. The Minister's amendments are largely of a technical nature, as he said, and are common sense in that they take into account the manner in which the legislation has been applied since being brought into force.
However, one aspect of the legislation should be fundamentally examined – although it was not mentioned by the Minister, ordinary people are talking about it as they watch the events unfolding on a daily basis in the tribunals. There are people who held prominent position in public life and who, by virtue of their public life, sought to enrich themselves. I think all of them have been identified so far with senior members of Fianna Fáil and a former Taoiseach who now find themselves trying to explain how they accumulated funds and, in one case, extraordinarily substantial assets while solely in receipt of a Dáil salary. The former Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, is currently trying to explain why he benefited from the munificence of what appears to be practically every major, successful Irish businessman in the system from the late 1960s to the 1980s.
I share the outrage of many people at what we have witnessed. Unfortunately, people have become almost immune to the daily revelations – very little could now emerge from the tribunals which would surprise people. I have been a Deputy for almost 20 years and I am extraordinarily angry as I listen to the revelations of the manner in which people abused positions of public confidence. It is not something any Member should be sanguine about. We and the general public are entitled to be outraged and Members who, in the interests of the people of the State, involve themselves in public life are entitled to be disgusted by the manner in which a small group of individuals associated with Fianna Fáil used their positions to enrich themselves.
In that context, a former Taoiseach, C.J. Haughey, accumulated vast amounts of wealth beyond the reach of the overwhelming majority of people and beyond the reach of the vast majority of Members who have served politics and this State in this House since its foundation. I think people are sickened by the fact that, while perhaps there will be revelations of which we are still unaware in tribunals and reports will be published, they believe that ultimately there will be no really serious consequences for the violation of a public trust.
The Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill is designed to ensure that those who have enriched themselves in the conduct of criminal acts do not remain enriched, that the State is in a position to seize assets and that the State and the people through the State can ultimately benefit from the unseemly gain acquired as a consequence of criminal acts, such as the sale and purveying of drugs, the robbing of banks, conducting fraudulent enterprise or a vast number of other criminal acts.
No one has yet had the Proceeds of Crime Act used against them for committing the crimes of failing to deal properly with their tax affairs. No one has had the Act used against them, for example, for a failure to declare to the tax authorities substantial gifts of moneys received by them over decades which allowed them to become among the wealthiest people in this State. People outside this House who look at the type of action taken to implement the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, applaud the fact that those guilty of criminal conduct can have some of the wealth they have acquired as a result of that conduct taken from them, but people are right to ask the following question, and I ask it of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Is the Minister prepared to amend this Act to allow a situation where a former Taoiseach, who is now known to have acquired a vast amount of wealth solely as a result of his position in public life, can become a target of the Proceeds of Crime Act? He may say to me in response that we do not know if he committed a crime. We know he received gifts of exceptional proportions, sums of money that no other individual would expect to receive for any reason from anybody and from such a broad spectrum of people within Irish society, in return, we are told, for no favours, although we do not know that to be true or untrue. That is one of the matters being investigated by the tribunals and I am not going to impede the work done by them. We know vast sums of money were received by way of gifts as a result of someone being in public life, sums of money that went undeclared for tax purposes.
What consideration has the Government given to putting in place legislation to target individuals who behave in that way in public life, similar to the Proceeds of Crime Act as it currently applies to those who acquire riches and substantial wealth in other circumstances? Nothing is being said about that by this Government. It is being talked about by people on the streets.
I regard myself as no different to anyone else who lives in my constituency or in any other part of this State. I am privileged to have been elected to this House in successive elections but I want to reiterate that I am disgusted by what has now been discovered to be the behaviour of senior Members of this House, senior members of past Fianna Fáil Governments, in the daily revelations to which we have been subjected in the months and, in some instances, the years since the establishment of tribunals. I find it sickening and it is behaviour in public life that is completely unacceptable. I find disgusting the bemusement at wondering whether to buy an island somewhere off the Irish coast, from where the money will come to buy it, whether to build a large house on the island and from where the money will come to build it, although mysteriously and magically the money was there and it all happened.
What morality was applied to politics in those years? What morality will allow people who behave that way to get off, not be penalised financially as a result of their behaviour and perhaps to conclude a simple settlement with the Revenue for a couple of million pounds or £1 million which does not remotely reflect the current value of the wealth they had acquired as an abuse of their position in public life?
I want the Minister to say something about those issues in his reply. I want to know if the Government has any thoughts on this. Will any steps be taken against individuals who have been improperly enriched in this way or will the only step be taken where the Revenue can establish that there has been a breach of the income tax or capital acquisitions tax legislation? These are very serious issues. They go the heart of the political morality and the conduct we expect of people public life.
In his opening speech the Minister, having spoken of the Act of 1996 and the need for the amendments, took some time to talk generally about his achievements in the area of criminal law and in tackling the crime problem. Then the Minister, as he is never shy to do, engaged in the usual personal back slapping and self-praise with which he has become identified. In the context of welcoming this Bill and the amendments it makes, it is worth noting that this is not a measure with which this Government has dealt with any great priority. This measure was published on 17 November 1999 and it took until 1 June 2000, six months later, before the Second Stage debate started. It has taken until October 2000 for us to complete the Second Stage debate. I do not know why greater priority was not given to legislation that the Minister deemed necessary and, in some instances, which was required as a consequence of minor difficulties which had arisen with the original legislation as it was tested before our courts. This simple Bill should have been passed in a speedier fashion and should have become law many months ago.
In the self-praise in which the Minister engaged in the context of tackling our crime problem he omitted to refer to something which has now been well and truly highlighted in the 1999 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, that is, the gross incompetence shown by him and the Government in dealing with the installation of the new PULSE computer system which was designed to bring the Garda Síochána into the 21st century. This is not the time to go into any great detail on that report but the Minister might explain how it has come to pass that a computer system that was originally contracted to be put in place at a cost of £23 million is projected, in the context of the delivery of phase one, to have cost in the region of £46 million. He might also explain to us why the project was scaled down by reducing the number of functions being provided, the volume of hardware installed and the number of locations in which the system was installed from 242 to 181. The Minister knows the Comptroller and Auditor General tells us it was scaled down to remain within the Government's approved budget. However, the system did not remain within that approved budget and is now less comprehensive than originally envisaged and does not provide the Garda with all the IT functions originally intended.
The Minister should clarify why the acquisition and installation of the PULSE computer system has been such an appalling shambles. He should also clarify why such a costly system failed to properly come on stream in October 1999. As a consequence, the Garda Síochána report for 1999 dealing with the levels of crime, and the statistical analysis of the levels of crime, by and large confines itself to the nine month period from January to 30 September 1999. That is extraordinary.
If a private business spent money on a new computer system to ensure that better information was available, that statistical analysis could be properly conducted, that the information was available to facilitate the development of policy to target areas of crime which require special attention, it would be extraordinary for that business to operate on the basis that one switches on a new system on 1 October 1999 and it does not matter if it works properly for the following six to nine months. This situation means that the Garda report for the year ended December 1999 is laced with provisos and comments indicating that the statistical analysis is not comprehensive because, for the first time in decades, the report cannot deal with the various crimes committed throughout the State in the period 1 October to 31 December. That is a shambles for which the Minister is politically responsible. It is about putting in place the systems to ensure the Garda can efficiently tackle crime. I want the Minister to state whether the PULSE system is now fully up and working. Are there any remaining glitches about which we do not know?
The Minister pats himself on the back for the fact that overall crime figures are down. However, it is a reality in all societies that the level of crime falls when an economy starts to do well and goes up when an economy gets into difficulties. One area in which the level of crime has substantially increased is in street violence. There has been a significant upsurge in street violence in recent months and a number of young people have died on the streets of Dublin and elsewhere. There has been a failure of policy and an absence of gardaí on the street involved in community policing, visibly present during the day and night to act as a deterrent to violence. The Minister was practically invisible during the summer while young people were being beaten up on the streets of Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway. He has utterly failed to tackle the problem of street violence and to put in place the policies needed to make our streets safe so that young men and women can walk in our cities, day and night, without the risk of being attacked. Other Ministers have failed to ensure that other services, such as taxis, are efficiently in place and available to facilitate young people getting home safely at night so they do not have to spend hours walking from the city centre to outlying areas of Dublin because of the impossibility of obtaining proper public transport or taxis. We will be returning to these issues.
If I was Minister I would be slow to engage in much personal back-slapping until the real problems which remain are properly addressed. I look forward to hearing the Minister outline what he intends to do about former Fianna Fáil Members who have enriched themselves solely by virtue of the fact that they participated in public life at senior Government level, some of whom, and one in particular, have accumulated wealth to a level which the vast majority of ordinary people find utterly disgusting in the context of the circumstances in which it was acquired.
I thank Deputies who contributed to the debate on the Bill. This is a short Bill to make more effective the operation of the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, which I introduced from the Opposition benches and which has been acknowledged internationally as one of the most important and innovative measures ever introduced in any criminal justice system. These are facts not boasts.
I look forward to similar generosity with Private Members' Bills I introduce.
The Bill will achieve this in a number of ways. It will allow applications for court orders to be made in the name of the Criminal Assets Bureau instead of, as at present, in the name of individual members of the bureau; it clarifies that the original possessor of criminal proceeds will be deemed in court proceedings to be in possession or control of those proceeds, notwithstanding that the Garda may have already seized them; it will allow for the varying of freezing orders in the application of the bureau in order to make certain disbursements; and it will allow for evidence to be given on affidavit in certain circumstances where currently such evidence must be given orally.
By and large the 1996 Act has worked well in targeting and freezing the assets of criminals. In my opening speech I outlined how the Criminal Assets Bureau has, in the period from its establishment in 1996 up to the end of 1999, obtained court orders on property to the value of £13 million, demanded over £32 million in the payment of tax and interest and obtained social welfare determinations and savings exceeding £1.5 million.
These are impressive results which prove the effectiveness of the 1996 Act. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the bureau is very highly regarded nationally and internationally as a model operation. I intend that these successes will not make us complacent and that is why I have brought forward this amending Bill to ensure its continued effectiveness. To that extent the Bill will further improve its operation and enhance the capabilities of the bureau in fulfilling its functions.
When outlining the terms of the Bill I stated regarding section 7 that information provided by a person under section 9 of 1996 Act may not be used in evidence against that person in any criminal proceedings, apart from proceedings for perjury. I also pointed out that this limitation applied only to criminal proceedings and would not affect the use of the information, for example, regarding tax assessment.
Deputy Howlin asked about tax fraud. The same rules apply. If a person is being prosecuted for tax fraud the same rules of criminal evidence apply and information provided as a result of a statutory demand may not be used against that person in criminal proceedings. It is my understanding, however, that the Revenue Commissioners have the power to require persons to provide details of their financial affairs which may then be used to assess their liability for tax. However, that is not a criminal matter unless it results in a prosecution being taken in the courts.
Interestingly, Deputy Howlin claims that new criminal gangs have emerged to take the place of those targeted post-1996 and seeks to paint a picture of the forces of law and order being frustrated by the growth of criminal gangs which fill the void left by the defeat of earlier gangs. It suits the Deputy to paint such a picture to give the impression that the Government has been ineffective in tackling crime and criminal gangs. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I remind the Deputy that the Criminal Justice Act, 1997, provides for a mandatory ten year prison sentence for persons convicted of possessing drugs with a street value of more than £10,000. Deputy Howlin and his party, and Fine Gael opposed that measure. I am preparing a Bill which will provide more effective powers for the Garda when investigating crimes and the Bill before the House will further assist the targeting of organised crime.
The recently published Garda annual report confirms the trend of recent years of an unprecedented fall in reported crime. This Government has succeeded in bringing crime figures down by in excess of 20% since taking office. These are the bald facts. They are the statistics, they are the facts, and there is no hiding from them. It is plain nonsense for any Deputy to claim that the legislation which has been so effective against criminal gangs has somehow become ineffective and that the gangs have managed to position themselves in such a way that they can avoid the effects of that legislation. That is nonsense. Clearly the law needs to be updated periodically to ensure its continued effectiveness, which is precisely the purpose of the present Bill with regard to the proceeds of crime. I strongly reject the assertion that, on the whole, the legislation put in place since 1996 is no longer effective against criminal gangs. That simply does not add up.
Deputy Howlin asked why the Criminal Assets Bureau is not targeting paramilitary groups which are involved in various forms of criminal activity. I remind the Deputy that the 1996 Act does not distinguish between crimes and their proceeds. In the 1996 Act "proceeds of crime" refers to property obtained or received by or as a result of or in connection with the commission of an offence. I further remind him that the Criminal Assets Bureau is a multi-agency organisation made up of members of the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. This structure enables it to tackle criminals and gangs engaged in various forms of criminal activity. The Criminal Assets Bureau, therefore, goes after the proceeds of all criminal activity, irrespective of whether those proceeds are obtained by so-called ordinary criminals or paramilitaries. It would be worth bearing in mind also that the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, which I introduced in the House, contains provision for the confiscation of property used in the commission of an offence under that Act.
Deputy Howlin also spoke about white collar crime and e-commerce crime. It may have escaped his attention that I published, at the end of June, the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Bill which will do just what he suggests. This legislation, which redefines definitions in respect of offences such as larceny, embezzlement, forgery and so on, represents the single most innovative legislation introduced in this House dealing with crimes of dishonesty which was ever seen. I do not expect anybody on the Opposition to acknowledge that and in those circumstances, I would be foolish not to say it. I anticipate that this Bill will commence Second Stage in the House during the present session. It will dispel the notion, again repeated by some Deputies, that white collar crime, so called, is more acceptable than any other form of crime. I assure all in the House that that is certainly not the case and will not be the case under the Bill.
I am pleased Deputies on all sides recognise the achievements of the 1996 Act and of the Criminal Assets Bureau. We can be rightly proud of these successes and rightly complimentary of the Criminal Assets Bureau. It is very important that we show our support for the fight against crime so that those who think that a life of crime is a profitable one will know that we as legislators are at one in our endeavours to prove them wrong and that the law will see to it that they are caught and that their profits are taken from them. In short, the objectives of the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, which I introduced in Opposition, in tandem with other measures which I have taken since becoming Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, are meant to send out two very clear messages. The first of these is that if people commit an offence and obtain illicit assets, the assets will be taken from them. The second, which is now being established through the prisons building programme, is that if people commit an offence, not only will the assets be taken from them, but their liberty will be taken from them. It will not be as it was before. If somebody gets time, he or she will serve it. There will be no revolving door. Progressively the revolving door is being closed under this Administration.
It is nonsense for Members opposite to claim, for example, that the state of the economy is the sole reason for the unprecedented drop in indictable offences in this State. It must be remembered that the population of the State in the intervening period since 1997 has increased by more than 200,000 people, yet crime levels have dropped by in excess of 20%. That is an extraordinary achievement which Deputy Shatter, if he were magnanimous enough, might acknowledge.
Deputies Coveney and Reynolds raised a number of issues about behaviour in public places, especially by young people. I am concerned about that. The recent Intoxicating Liquor Act will tackle the issue of underage drinking by imposing severe penalties on publicans selling drink to young people. Deputies will be aware of the recently announced Garda initiative to increase Garda presence on the streets at night to counter crime and anti-social behaviour. This concentrates on locations particularly prone to such incidents. The operation, known as Operation Oíche, will, in its initial stages, concentrate on trouble spots in the Dublin area. However, it is certainly possible that this operation will be extended to other trouble spots in urban centres throughout the State.
Why did it only start operating after there were deaths on the streets of Dublin? Why did it not start earlier?
I am concerned about public disorder.
What about compulsory identity cards?
It is something about which the Garda Commissioner and I have had discussions. I have no doubt but that the Garda Síochána, which was attacked so needlessly by Deputy Shatter during the summer, will be in a position to deal with this matter competently. The reason I say that is that since my coming to office, the number of gardaí in the force has risen from 10,800 to 11,500 approximately. We are now on course towards having 12,000 gardaí in the force towards the end of this Government's term of office, which will be the fulfilment of another commitment made during the course of the last general election.
I have been asked why the identity card is not compulsory. While that is not strictly within the terms of this legislation, it is important that I should reply to it. The reason the identity card is not compulsory is that there are a considerable number of young people who are over the age of 18 who do not wish to drink. It would be unfair of me or anybody else to impose upon them an obligation to obtain a national identity card to enable them to consume intoxicating liquor when they do not wish to consume it. The second reason it is not compulsory is that one could not legislate as to when precisely it would no longer be compulsory. For example, would a person aged 68 be obliged to have a national identity card? The objective of the identity card is to ensure that people who are selling alcohol will ask for it if they have a doubt. If the card is not produced, the person selling, supplying or distributing alcohol should not serve, because the offence is now one of strict liability and no excuses are accepted. The offence, if committed, requires no proof other than the sale of the alcohol. It has been eminently successful. I believe that the far quieter than usual night of the junior certificate results this year was due in large measure to the legislation now known as the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000.
Deputy Shatter spoke about the work of the various tribunals which has nothing to do with the legislation either. These tribunals are currently examining various matters. Everybody is right to be concerned about the allegations which are being made at these tribunals. However, the rule of law has to operate. It is the task of the tribunals to establish the facts surrounding the allegations. They were established by the Houses of the Oireachtas for precisely this purpose. I, for one, am prepared to await their findings before making judgment and I would strongly advise everybody else to do precisely the same.
Does the Minister believe it is reasonable for the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, to retain the totality of the wealth he accumulated by his abuse of public office? Perhaps the Minister will answer that.
I have already mentioned that the 1996 Act defines "proceeds of crime" in such a way as to include all criminal activities. If it transpires that crimes have been committed, those who committed them will find no hiding place from the law. Listening to Deputy Shatter – I am not one to be churlish in such matters – one might forget that a very prominent member of his party is also subject to scrutiny by a tribunal established by this House.
No prominent member of the Fine Gael Party is a subject of scrutiny for acquiring millions of pounds by abuse of their public positions, and as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the Minister should not misrepresent that situation and he knows that well.
Deputy Shatter, the Minister without interruption.
I am glad to hear that Deputy Shatter said this Bill—
He should acknowledge that there is no relationship between the two.
Deputy Shatter, the Minister without interruption, please.
Acting Chairman, I cannot proceed unless Deputy Shatter desists. I sit here, and I have listened to a great deal of wind from Deputy Shatter on several of occasions and I did not interrupt. In those circumstances, I would ask him to listen to plain common sense.
The Minister without interruption, please.
I am glad to hear Deputy Shatter state that this Bill should have been passed some time ago. It is a testament to the prolific output of legislation by the Government. As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I am particularly pleased that this important Bill is being debated at this stage.
People cannot have it both ways. The legislation before the House is important but other Bills which I introduced – some 34 Acts are now on the Statute Book since I became Minister – were of considerable importance. There was a review of the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, and following upon that review it was decided to bring these measures before the House. I did not hear Deputy Shatter mention the legislation or the need to amend it before I brought the amending Bill before the House – which will not surprise anybody.
This Bill is a relatively short one to tighten up and reinforce certain provisions of the 1996 Act to make it more effective. To that extent, it is concerned with amendments to a limited number of sections of the Act which is working well otherwise. However, I am concerned to ensure that the criminal law is effective against criminal activity and keeps pace with the changing character of that activity. I do not wish to exclude consideration of any relevant matter and, therefore, I will consider any sensible amendments to the Bill which Deputies may wish to offer on Committee Stage. I will not be slow to take on board any which I consider will improve the operation of the 1996 Act.
In the meantime we will continue the prolific output of legislation which has been maintained since I became Minister and the Government came into office. We will continue our prison building programme and will have an additional 1,200 places by the end of this year. There are 700 more planned which will be provided during the lifetime of the Government, thereby fulfilling another commitment we made to the people. We will continue to increase the number of members in An Garda Síochána to 12,000 during the lifetime of the Government so that more gardaí will be available on the streets. We will continue to try and install the CCTV schemes, which were mentioned by Deputies, at other locations around the country because they have proven to be effective in the fight against crime. I am pleased the £46 million or so which was spent on PULSE has been well spent. PULSE is now up and running and proving effective. We will continue to put the kind of resources I have mentioned into the fight against crime, but what I cannot be asked to take on board are criticisms based not on fact but on fantasy.
On a point of information before the Minister concludes. Could the Minister clarify—
There is no point of information.
There is no such thing as a point of information at this stage.
Acting Chairman, I am entitled to ask the Minister, in the context of the new rules, if the 1999 Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General is fantasy or fact.
He is being over simplistic about PULSE.
—I would ask you to listen to the Chair. The Minister has now concluded and there is no opportunity to put any other questions.