The Order of Business today is No. 1, Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Bill, 2001 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed); No. 5, Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 2001 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; Private Members' Business shall be No. 115, motion re crime (resumed), to conclude after 90 minutes.
Order of Business.
As there are no proposals to be put to the House we will now take leaders' questions.
Is the Taoiseach aware, either in general terms or from his constituency, that fear of crime has increased to huge proportions? Is he aware that a recent survey found 90% of parents are afraid their teenage son or daughter will be assaulted at night? That is not only in Dublin city, it is also around the country. Is he aware that 70% of people are afraid in their own neighbourhoods at night, even in those which would be regarded as the better suburban areas? Is he aware that over 90% of people are afraid to walk on Dublin's O'Connell Street at night? Is he aware that 94% of people are afraid of serious personal assault to themselves? In the dying days of the Government what does the Taoiseach intend to do to remove the fear of crime which is now pervasive throughout the country?
In support of the comments made by Fine Gael, does the Taoiseach share with me the views articulated by many of our constituents – both in this city and throughout the country – seeking a physical presence of gardaí on the beat? Does the Taoiseach accept that fear of crime would be alleviated if there were more gardaí on the beat providing a sense of reassurance with their uniformed presence? If so, will he indicate what steps have been taken, or the steps he proposes to take, to bring about that increased and enhanced presence of uniformed gardaí?
I accept that the public feel more confidence when they see uniformed gardaí on the street. That is a proven fact. It is welcome that there are now over 900 extra gardaí in the force. I welcome the special units that are now in existence and co-ordinated under one assistant commissioner. The drugs units, which deal with areas that create an enormous amount of the crime referred to by Deputy Noonan, are working in each of the 26 districts and have additional members and resources. The new structures introduced last year are working effectively. We have 1,200 additional prison places and the revolving door system we had for many decades no longer operates. We have had a substantial decrease in serious crime since the Government took office.
What is the Taoiseach's next joke?
I welcome the 53% increase in the Garda Vote and that the national crime council, established by the Government, is now in operation.
(Mayo): Where is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform?
Crime prevention schemes directed towards young offenders are working very effectively. We have introduced the necessary legislation and allocated additional resources to ensure that it works effectively. I am sure Deputies Noonan and Quinn will join with me in congratulating the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on overseeing such an effective operation against crime.
I do not believe the Taoiseach knows what is going on. Ordinary decent young fellows accept it as a fact of life that they risk being assaulted randomly and in an unprovoked fashion when they are socialising. Young women are afraid to walk home alone, even if it is only couple of hundred yards. The thugs have taken over the streets while the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform arrogantly preaches about the concept of zero tolerance which never happened anywhere but in his own imagination. It is time to get real about this. Although the Garda recorded 10,400 assaults in 2000 there is massive under-reporting because people feel that nothing will happen. If the reports on assaults were matched with admission figures to accident and emergency rooms in major hospitals one would find there are probably double the number of assaults taking place on the streets than are reported.
Will the Taoiseach do anything about this? Does he talk to young people any more? It is the issue that most affects young people, upsetting their social lives. Young people face the risk of being randomly beaten on the streets of Dublin and that risk has escalated in other cities and every major town. The fear of crime stalks the streets. The Government has not done anything about this problem in the past five years and is not doing anything about it now.
While there is crime, attacks and difficulties, the Deputy should not instil fear by saying that everyone who goes out at night risks being attacked, which is entirely untrue.
It is there already.
I, like others in this House, am out and about and the picture that has been painted is not the true position nor is it the picture that has been painted by the main police stations throughout the country.
The Taoiseach is insulated in his Mercedes.
There are so many camera men around him that those people could not get near him.
The main police stations throughout this and other cities, including Limerick, show a huge reduction in crime. While there are serious attacks—
They are not reported any more.
They are reported. There is a difficulty about problems outside nightclubs and bars. The Minister has given a legislative response to that problem and the earlier that legislation is passed in this session the better.
On a separate but sadly related matter, the Taoiseach has taken a unique and personal interest in promoting economic and cultural relations between this State, of just under 4 million people, and the largest state in the world, the People's Republic of China, with a population of, according to what various estimates suggest, 1.2 billion people. A number of those people, many of whom work in this House as cleaners, have come to this country in recent years to study English and to make an economic contribution to this State as they acquire that international language. On 21 January one of the members of that community was viciously assaulted for no other reason than he happened to be Chinese and therefore was distinctly recognisable in this otherwise homogeneous society. On 21 January, Mr. Zhao Liu Tao was attacked while walking home, in a manner not dissimilar to what Deputy Noonan outlined, and struck by an iron bar that had been left on the ground where maintenance work was being undertaken by the Dublin Gas Company. What action, if any, does the Taoiseach propose to take to deal with the increased incidence of racism?
I draw the Taoiseach's attention to a survey published in September last year, copies of which, I suspect, were sent to most if not every Deputy. That survey was carried out among people of ethnic and minority communities who live and work here. They make an economic contribution to this country and many of them staff our hospitals. Without their presence our health system would grind to a halt. They were invited here, yet it is a shame on us that 78% of the sample surveyed indicated that they had experienced racism, 36.2% of them recorded that they had frequently heard or seen people making insulting comments about their skin colour or ethnic background, over 80% of them tended to agree that racism is a serious problem in Ireland today, and 81.5% of them stated that not enough was being done to educate people about racism and so on. The Taoiseach is familiar with these issues, but what will he and the Government do about them?
Is the Taoiseach aware that the racist attacks that the Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, condemned as wrong and brought to the Taoiseach's attention are built on the fact that there is lawlessness on our streets? This period is the most virulent peak of it, but it is consistent with the attacks that are taking place every night in every city centre and town location throughout the country. What will the Taoiseach do about the lawlessness on our streets, the fact that our own young people are unsafe and that people of a different skin colour are like lightning conductors for the thugs who take over the night in Dublin and other cities?
I am aware of the horrific incident raised by Deputy Quinn. The following morning I got the full facts of what happened and the full report from the Garda. Initially two members of the Chinese community and two members of a neighbouring community confronted each other at a late night food shop. Words were exchanged, they followed them, and more members of the Chinese community joined in. Then a call was made to a local drinking site where more members of our own community joined in and an iron bar was thrown, which unfortunately, regrettably, sadly and disturbingly killed the Chinese student. We all abhor any of those acts of violence. This happened at 10 p.m., not in the early hours when many of these incidents tend to happen. It was in a suburban area where there have been few if any reports of an attack of a racial or any other nature. It is a respectable end of north Dublin. The people of the area told me that they cannot recall any such incident in the past 30 to 40 years.
I acknowledge the measures that have been taken by the Garda Síochána to facilitate the reporting of crime, particularly this aspect of crime among members of ethnic minorities, through the quality customer service initiative and the establishment of a Garda racial and intercultural office. I am advised that office is well staffed and that such cases are reported. As Deputy Quinn is well aware, minorities are spending their time in certain parts of this city and those are particularly sensitive areas of which the Garda are keenly aware.
On the broader aspect of the question, last autumn we launched a high level programme chaired by an eminent person, Joe McDonagh, and involving many people from different walks of life who have researched this issue and who have put a good national campaign in place to deal with the issues. The House will be aware that in some areas of our cities and in the countryside the percentage of the ethnic minorities is quite high and is creating some difficulties and tensions in those areas, where careful policing is required. Although there are a great number of Chinese here now, some 30,000 to 40,000 – according to the latest figures it is 33,000 – there have been very few incidents, but we regret those few. When the family of that young man was here, I asked the Minister if we could speak to them and assure them that we will do all we can to make sure we avoid incidents such as this. It is not easy, but at least we can advise people not to get involved in such incidents and educate them on this issue.
It is unfair to mention this issue without mentioning the other side of it. There are many schools in Dublin and elsewhere where different nationalities learn side by side. I visited one recently with Members of the House and other groups, where there are between 10 and 15 different nationalities gaining an education side by side and encountering no difficulties. That is the example. It is a credit to the teachers, the parents and the communities. It is possible to go through this transition to a multicultural society without encountering any difficulties. We must be vigilant about this.
I welcome what the Taoiseach has said. Does he consider the following comments to be helpful in light of what he has put on record? The comments are:
Too many are coming to Ireland and too many to Cork in my view. In the past five years there have been 35,000 applications for asylum and 80 per cent of those have been from illegal immigrants using the refugee system to get in. . . . We are against the spongers, the freeloaders, the people screwing the system. I'm saying we will have to close the doors. The majority of them are here for economic reasons and they are thumbing their noses at Irish hospitality and demanding everything under the guise of the Geneva Convention while the taxpayer is paying for it all. The bill was £20 million in 1997 and by the end of last year it was rapidly approaching £200 million.
I'm suggesting the following: the application and deportation process should be speeded up and a special High Court judge designated to deal with legal matters.
This was said by Deputy O'Flynn who is not in the House at present. It fuels what the Taoiseach has just discussed. It is a pity Deputy O'Flynn is not in the primary school to which the Taoiseach made reference. The way people are identified as spongers, freeloaders and those who screw the system is not by talking to them or finding out where they work or live but simply by the colour of their skin.
In light of his earlier comments, what action, if any, does the Taoiseach intend to take with regard to the comments made by Deputy O'Flynn and does he regard them as inflammatory?
Needless to say, I reject those comments and since he is a member of my party I have already made that clear. An increasing number of people from different parties, perhaps not Members of the House, are making these comments. People need to look at the broader picture of what happens. It is easy to raise racial issues. In my view, anybody who does that to satisfy a group in one area should be extremely conscious of what a group in another area feels. It is not an educated or tolerant view.
It is a dangerous view.
There is another aspect to this issue which we have been endeavouring to deal with and to which we have given enormous resources. Deputy Noonan mentioned research. We should be frank about the research and acknowledge that people are raising this issue. They are saying they are happy to follow the UN system but they also want the system to operate speedily so that refugees who come to this country and who are covered by the proper procedures are protected and that others are not.
We have put forward a system that deals with people properly and according to the rules and regulations. Everybody is entitled to come in and make an application. They are cared for when they make their application but people are not prepared to tolerate the fact that nobody leaves if they are found to be illegal. That is what people are saying. If we follow due process and adhere to the mechanisms, the community will not have these attitudes.
Those comments were an incitement to racism.
The Deputy is not entitled to put a question.
Other members of Fianna Fáil are saying the same and it is disgraceful.
As do members of other parties. Let us not get into that. It does not help.
Will he be censured?
I will deal with the Deputy but I am also listening to what people are saying in other places. There are enough meetings to hear what people say.
Order, please. The Taoiseach should not reply to other interruptions.
I was at a meeting recently where I had to defend all parties against these types of comments. Let us not get into that. As far as I am concerned, it is wrong.
Tell us about Deputy Olivia Mitchell and the Travellers.
That is a typical Fianna Fáil response.
We have to ensure that we implement the system in the way outlined in the legislation and that the programme put forward by the chairman, Joe McDonagh, and his committee is correctly dealt with.
That concludes Leaders' questions. I will now take questions relevant to the Order of Business.
The euro is now a month old and we have been hearing from the Consumers' Association about price increases—
A question about promised legislation.
The Minister of State with responsibility for consumer affairs promised that, through the Director of Consumer Affairs, he would name and shame those who had been involved in excessive price increases—
That is not a question on legislation. The Deputy is out of order.
What does the Minister intend to do about it? Where is his name and shame policy?
Deputy Clune is out of order and should resume her seat.
Could the Residential Institutions Redress Bill, which is at Report Stage, be returned to Second Stage to enable the House to debate in full the terms and details of the settlement that was announced last night and published in today's media between the Conference of Religious in Ireland and the Government with regard to the compensation of unfortunate victims of institutions?
The Deputy should not discuss the proposal, just put the question.
The Bill will be before the House on 20 February when I am sure those matters could be discussed.
The Taoiseach and I have been Members of this House for the same length of time. If he is trying to tell me, after more than 20 years in the House, that Report Stage is the vehicle for a comprehensive discussion of the terms and conditions of this compensation package, he is simply misleading the House – perhaps not deliberately but certainly effectively. I am seeking a recommittal of the Bill to Second Stage so the full terms and details—
The Deputy is seeking a recommittal?
I am making the point, which the Taoiseach might not appreciate, that much of the money that has been promised has already been delivered and that the scale of the settlement of €128 million is far less than what is conveyed.
We cannot discuss now what has been delivered. The Taoiseach can reply to the recommittal proposal.
He might tell us about the Government's contribution as well.
These issues were discussed at length on Committee Stage which, under the rules, would permit a relevant amendment to be put down. That would allow the matter to be discussed. The Minister can respond at that stage.
It cannot be discussed on Report Stage—
We cannot debate the issue here.
I am not seeking to debate it. The Taoiseach is misleading the House. The terms of the compensation were not debated in detail. The only mechanism available to allow us to discuss the terms of the compensation package is the recommittal of the Bill to Second Stage. I am asking the Taoiseach to give an undertaking to do that. He is, unfortunately, misleading the House. The details were not discussed because they were not available.
That is a matter for the Whips.
The Deputy can put down an amendment on it.
One cannot put down amendments on Report Stage if they have not been discussed on Committee Stage. The Taoiseach is misleading the House and he knows it.
Perhaps Deputy Quinn would raise the matter with his party Whip and the Whips could discuss the situation.
This is taxpayers' money. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that there will be a comprehensive debate on the terms of this settlement? A large section of our community is in pain as a result of the way we abdicated our responsibilities and put people into institutions which were not properly regulated.
The Deputy has made his point and has asked the question.
We had a responsibility and the Taoiseach apologised to those people. I want a debate on the details of the substance of that apology.
I did give an apology and now I want to give these people financial redress. That is what I am trying to do and if an amendment is put down, the Minister will debate it. The issue of compensation was discussed on Committee Stage—
One cannot put down an amendment on Report Stage.
—which means that if an amendment is put down, the Minister is duty bound to take it and he will.
He is not.
It is so long since the Taoiseach brought a Bill through the House that he cannot remember the procedure.
On a point of order, did the Ceann Comhairle say that the Whips would address the issue raised by Deputy Quinn? That would be acceptable.
On numerous occasions we asked the Minister to defer Committee Stage until the negotiations were concluded so we could discuss them in detail. He refused. We cannot table amendments on Report Stage because they were not tabled previously. There were no proposals on the table. Will the Minister come before the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science to give us detailed information before we take Report Stage?
The matter will be considered by the Whips.
Will the Minister undertake to come before the committee before Report Stage?
Will the Minister on that day also report from his expert group on the levels of compensation—
We cannot take any further questions on the matter.
I wish to ask about two legislative measures. The first is the Electoral Bill which will introduce a new system for nominating candidates for election. It follows the decision of the High Court which found that the payment of deposits is unconstitutional. All Members would like to know when the Bill will be published and when it will be taken in the House.
Yesterday the Taoiseach, in reply to a question I put to him on the housing (private rented sector) Bill, which will provide rights to tenants, informed the House that the Department of the Environment and Local Government is still considering the Bill. He had previously told us the heads of the Bill would be approved before Christmas. Does his reply yesterday mean that in the lifetime of the Government no action will have been taken to give legal rights to the 150,000 tenants who do not have such rights?
The Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2001, will be passed this session because it is required before the general election. The Department of the Environment and Local Government is endeavouring to publish the latter Bill as soon as possible.
(Mayo): Deputies Noonan and Quinn have already demonstrated that zero tolerance has been a dismal failure. It has been a farce, a cliché and a con job. Given that between 35 and 40 people will be seriously assaulted on our streets tonight, is the Taoiseach serious about tackling crime?
There are 38 justice Bills before the House, of which 14 were published yesterday. This is a wish list but if the Taoiseach is serious about tackling crime, will he front-load the Criminal Justice (Enforcement of Public Order) Bill, 2001, to provide the Garda with additional powers to deal with street offences so that there are more guards on the beat to combat thugs?
As I stated yesterday, that Bill is due before the House and it will be passed this session.
I object wholeheartedly to the Taoiseach's assertion that all parties make racist remarks. That is a scurrilous remark by him.
The Deputy must put a question.
I have no knowledge of any Green Party members making such remarks.
On promised legislation, the national tourism development authority Bill is expected in mid-2002. Is the Taoiseach aware of the problems in the tourism sector in this the year of eco-tourism? Key attractions such as the Irish Seal Sanctuary have been starved of capital funding. Will he make an announcement before the Bill is published to indicate the Government's plans in this supposedly special year?
That is not in order on the Order of Business.
Must we wait for that Bill before eco-tourism is introduced?
The Bill is due in the middle of this year. It is being drafted but it is doubtful whether it will be put through the House during this session.
The International Criminal Court will deal with international thugs and the Government is again in default. The referendum was passed last June—
The Deputy is out of order.
The best is yet to come.
I am like everybody else, Sir. I am following precedent.
The Deputy should put a question.
Legislation is necessary to enable us to ratify the court. A total of 49 other countries have ratified it. We do not even know what legislation will be required. What legislation is required to enable Ireland to ratify the court? When will it be before the House?
Is there promised legislation?
There is but the Deputy should table a question because the Bill is not listed in the legislative programme.
That is my problem. I tabled a question on this yesterday which pointed out the issue was being examined three years ago and that is still the case. When will we know what legislation is needed to ratify the court? When will it before the House?
The International Criminal Court Bill is required but I do not have a date for its introduction.
Why is not on the pink list?
Is the Taoiseach aware the referendum was passed?
When is it planned to published the education (children with disabilities) Bill? Will it be introduced early in the session so that it can be processed before the end of the session?
The International Criminal Court Bill is No. 77 on the list but there is no date for publication. The education (children with disabilities) Bill will be published early in the session. It is one of the priority Bills.
Will the Taoiseach appoint a new chairman to the National Roads Authority to allow much needed work to continue—
That question is more appropriate to Question Time.
We cannot ask questions about the NRA, according to the Taoiseach.
It is not a question for the Order of Business.
We want work to be carried out on the Derry-Dublin road.
The question must relate to promised legislation.
It is a cross-Border road and if the Taoiseach is committed to the peace process, it needs to be dealt with.
The Deputy's question is not in order.
Appoint a chairman.
Does the Taoiseach intend to have the Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2001, passed before the general election as it is important legislation? With regard to Deputy Clune's comments, does the Taoiseach agree the Government's miserable €10 per week increase in social welfare benefits has been wiped out by the great euro rip off? Will he take that into account in the Social Welfare Bill?
It is a little more than the £1.50 per week over two years that the rainbow coalition provided.
The Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2001, has reached Committee Stage in the Seanad and, hopefully, it will be passed.
As the general election approaches, many people will be tempted to say intolerant things about immigrants. The Taoiseach will be aware that for three years—
The Deputy should ask a relevant question on the Order of Business.
I have a relevant question on the Order of Business which relates to the murder of a man on our streets.
That is not in order on the Order of Business. There are other ways through which the Deputy can raise that matter.
If you had not interrupted me I would have got to the question long before now.
The Chair has not interrupted the Deputy. The Deputy should resume his seat.
I was about to ask in regard to a motion in my name, which is on the Order Paper, about the need for the appointment of a Minister to co-ordinate immigrants affairs but, of course, you are too busy interrupting Deputies—
The Deputy should resume his seat. There are other ways though which he can raise these matters. If he looks at Standing Orders he will find a way to raise them.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about—
The Deputy should resume his seat as he is out of order.
The Deputy is out of order. He cannot raise a point of order. That concludes the Order of Business.
We now proceed with No. 115, Private Members' Business, motion re crime.
The Deputy is most disorderly.
The Deputy has been ruled out of order. If he does not resume his seat, I will ask him to leave the House.
The Deputy must leave the House.
Deputy G. Mitchell withdrew from the Chamber.