Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 6 Apr 2004

Vol. 583 No. 3

Leaders’ Questions.

In recent days the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, made a series of major announcements. He promised 2,000 extra Garda, two new prisons and a land bridge, a gun amnesty and mandatory sentences for gun offences. I am not sure what tablets the Minister was taking but there was a clear commitment in the programme for Government to the appointment of 2,000 Garda, which was then abandoned and announced as such by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, partly on the basis of cost and partly on the basis that there was not a manpower problem in dealing with crime here.

Is it not patently obvious that the credibility of the Government on matters of crime is in shreds and that the announcements made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, apparently off the top of his head, have no basis in terms of Government decision? Has the Government approved money for two extra prisons and a land bridge? When will legislation on gun amnesties be published? Why did the Minister not consider it appropriate to take measures on gun amnesties when certain personnel roamed the streets in Limerick a few months ago, murdering and maiming each other? Why did the Minister not take gun offences seriously at that time? Why has he made seven pronouncements here about evidence he has of criminal gangs and organised crime? Why has he not sent in the CAB and why has the Government not provided resources to ensure prosecutions can be brought in these cases and that known criminals, and evidence known to the Minister and the Taoiseach, can be brought before the courts, punished and put out of business?

Does the Taoiseach propose to bring in a Supplementary Estimate or is this just a whim of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, like some summertime Santa Claus, that he can appeal to the Minister for Finance, simply because he got an extra €1 billion in his resources from receipts from offshore accounts? Has the Government approved the extra gardaí and prison spaces and the finance for them? When will we see the legislation in respect of a gun amnesty? Why does the Minister not send in the Criminal Assets Bureau and pursue prosecutions in regard to organised crime about which he has evidence?

On the issue of resources, almost €1 billion has been provided this year to tackle crime. The Minister's recent announcement of measures to tackle the increasing level of gun crime builds on the unprecedented level of criminal law reform engaged in by the Minister and the Government. The Minister has a number of Bills before the House, including the criminal justice Bill, which is before Cabinet and which deals with a range of relevant issues.

The Minister and the Government have demonstrated an unswerving commitment to tackling crime through increased Garda resources and a budget of almost €1 billion. We have given the Garda new powers and introduced criminal justice reforms in regard to the courts and prisons. We have addressed the problem of public order head on with significant new legislation which is working well. As well as providing increased resources, we will also meet the challenge posed by gangland and gun crime with a firm resolve and a targeted, effective response, to which the Minister referred.

Where is the money for that?

The criminal justice Bill will be published during the Easter break. In addition to the substantial new Garda powers contained in it, the Minister proposes to examine the possibility of including new provisions, such as mandatory sentences for firearms offences to demonstrate the serious nature of such activity. He has also examined the current exemptions to the mandatory ten-year sentence for drug offences to ensure greater application of that provision in the courts. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, brought in that provision, which has applied for a considerable number of years. It has worked effectively in most instances but case law shows that some matters need to be examined. The Minister also announced he will examine the possibility of introducing an amnesty whereby illegal firearms would be handed in to gardaí, while not providing immunity for any crimes that might have been committed with them.

The programme for Government commits it to completing a programme of modernising our prisons and providing extra places, and the Minister has made a number of announcements in this regard. A combination of factors, including an increasing population, increased committals to prison, the fact that prisoners are serving longer sentences and that the revolving door is gone, has led to a larger prison population requiring more prison accommodation, which is why the Minister has raised this issue.

Some time ago, the Minister announced his decision to close the Mountjoy complex as soon as a suitable replacement prison had been built. There is general agreement on the need to replace the accommodation and facilities at Mountjoy as soon as possible. The prison has been subject to criticism from many quarters, including from the inspector of prisons and the committee for the prevention of torture. Some 28 offers of sites for the new prison are being examined by the OPW.

Equally, the accommodation at Cork Prison has been subject to criticism and expressions of concern. The Minister has already expressed the view that there is a need for a new prison to serve the southern region. Yesterday, he took the opportunity when visiting Spike Island to examine the suitability of a location for a new purpose-built security prison. That issue will be examined further and taken forward by the Prison Service.

The Government closed that prison two months ago.

Fort Mitchel place of detention on Spike Island closed temporarily due to a failure to reach agreement with the Prison Officers Association on an agenda to eliminate the payment of overtime. Fort Mitchel will resume its role as a closed detention centre in the event that agreement is reached with the association.

When will we see the 2,000 gardaí?

On Garda numbers, the Garda training facility has been operating at a maximum for some time and it is the Government's intention to keep it that way. The Minister has indicated he will bring forward the proposal to try to continue the Government's commitment to increase the number of gardaí over the lifetime of the Government. He is working on such proposals.

As the Taoiseach has not answered any of the questions I asked, let me remind him of them. Did the Government make a commitment to recruit 2,000 extra gardaí? Did it subsequently announce that this programme was being abandoned? Is this announcement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform a restoration of the original proposal or is it an example of how certain Members seem to be afflicted by the selective amnesia that has struck certain former and current Fianna Fáil Ministers? Is it not the case that 105,000 crimes were committed in this country in 2002, and that there have been 11 murders to date this year, culminating in a savage murder in Deputy Rabbitte's constituency within the past week? Are our streets not more like those of Dodge City in 1880 than of Ireland in 2004?

With regard to a gun amnesty, is it not a fact that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform knows well, from the intelligence briefings he tells everybody about, who the perpetrators are, and that a gun amnesty would apply to known criminals in organised crime gangs? Why has he not sent in the CAB and why has the Government not sat on these people day and night until they are put out of business? Does the Taoiseach accept that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has failed in his responsibility to deliver safe streets, stamp out crime and deliver on the programme for Government which the former Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is telling the Taoiseach he brought in through his zero tolerance policy, which has also failed?

I offer my condolences to the family of Joan Casey in regard to the terrible murder at the weekend. I do not accept the picture painted by Deputy Kenny is true. Of course there is too much crime.

The Taoiseach is not doing anything about it.

That is why we have continued to strengthen our laws. The Government has built two new prisons. We have substantially increased Garda numbers, which are at an all time high. We have improved and strengthened the training facilities for gardaí, which are at a maximum.

Where are the extra gardaí?

Over the lifetime of the Government, our policy is to continue to try to improve that number. We have set up numerous highly-trained, sophisticated and well-manned special units within the Garda to deal with this issue. We have invested in reform of the prison system and resourcing the criminal justice system. There has been unprecedented criminal law reform. Acts passed in this and the previous Dáil--——

The Government has not provided a single euro for an extra garda.

———and legislation before the House, including the criminal justice Bill which is coming forward, are all significant in the fight against crime. However, we know we must keep up this fight as one cannot ease up on it. In recent days, the Minister has outlined his thinking on such issues, in preparation for the new criminal justice Bill which will be published during the Easter recess.

We are back in the promised land.

Deputy O'Donoghue said, on becoming Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, that we could judge his zero tolerance policy after five years on the basis of whether people felt safer in their homes and on the streets. They do not feel very safe in my constituency — I suspect it is not very different from most constituencies in this city and elsewhere in the county — where a grandmother can be murdered in her own bedroom at 6.30 a.m. on a Saturday. That is the result of zero tolerance.

To focus on the Tallaght Garda division, there are 163 gardaí in the Tallaght area for 90,000 people. There are more than 400 gardaí in Limerick, for example, for a lesser population. In 1997, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mrs. Nora Owen, and the then Garda Commissioner accorded divisional status to Tallaght, which would have brought extra manpower resources and vehicles. Seven years later, not one aspect has been implemented on the bogus pretext that there is not enough accommodation at Tallaght to house the new manpower resources and vehicles. While there are 163 gardaí, the single Garda station is often manned by as few as half a dozen gardaí.

This is the reality on the ground while the Minister runs around the country making announcements, as the Taoiseach said. The Taoiseach is correct. The Minister makes announcements on everything under the sun. It would be a tremendous help if, one of these days, he could follow one of the announcements through to conclusion.

Let us consider the figures. There have been 263 murders since 1998 and proceedings have been commenced in 123 or 47% of cases, which is less than half. There were four murders involving firearms in 1998, of which there were three reported detections. Last year there were 21, only seven of which have been detected. That is the reality of urban life. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform travels around the country making these announcements. Deputy Kenny has already asked twice and I will ask for the third time. Will the Taoiseach say if the Minister, Deputy McDowell, had the approval of Cabinet to announce the recruitment of 2,000 gardaí as he did last night? Did he have approval to announce the construction of two new prisons or is this just a repeat of the bogus promises made by the Taoiseach in advance of the 2002 general election when he promised 2,000 additional gardaí, none of whom have been recruited since?

As I have already stated, An Agreed Programme for Government proposed that, over a five year period, the strength of the Garda Síochána would be increased by 2,000. That is a commitment in the programme. The resources for this year means that we will move to an all-time high of 12,200. The facilities for training gardaí, which have been modernised and updated, are full but further space will become available as trainees graduate. The Minister's proposal——

The Taoiseach knew that when he commissioned the Fianna Fáil manifesto.

——is to continue to maintain

There were no qualifications.

They are well trained and the Deputy should not talk nonsense.

Lazarus should give the House a break.

There are 38 instead of 2,000.

This is Leaders' Questions.

Our gardaí are highly thought of and highly trained in very good facilities. The Deputy's comments are ridiculous. We will continue to train as many as possible and the Minister is working on that.

This Government has built two new prisons. The Minister outlined his proposals on prisons last year. He hopes to bring private investment into the construction of further prisons and this is the right course to take. The Minister has brought forward extensive legislation and this has proved to be very effective in the area of public order. Fifteen months ago——


——-this was a major issue.

The Taoiseach is presiding over Al Capone land.

Allow the Taoiseach speak without interruption.

Bring back Deputy Deasy.

As I have already said in answer to Deputy Rabbitte, we all have our regrets about what happened to Mrs. Joan Casey and offer our condolences. However, does Deputy Rabbitte believe that every single criminal act can be stopped? It cannot be done. We have established highly sophisticated, motivated and well-trained specialist units and the Criminal Assets Bureau to assist in breaking these gangs. The reality is that it is not easy to do——

The Government has failed.

——but we must continue trying to do that. Many of the warlords who ran these gangs are now serving long sentences. However, the benefits of drug-related crime attract other people and new gangs now operate in a number of areas. We must continue in our efforts to defeat and break them. That is why we are looking at the sentencing, especially where there are exemptions to the mandatory ten year rule. The only way to deal with these issues is by means of detection, arrest, conviction and the imposition of long sentences, and that is what the Minister is endeavouring to do.

The Taoiseach knows that, more than any other single factor, the bluff, bluster and windbaggery of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, was responsible for him coming to office in May 2002. That same Minister said that we could judge him by whether the streets were safer and whether people felt safer in their homes. It is transparent that people do not feel safer in their homes nor in the streets and that is to understate it. The reality is that there have been 263 murders and proceedings against the perpetrators have not even been initiated in more than half of them.

The Taoiseach stated that a Garda strength of 12,000 will be an all-time high when it is achieved. He knew that when he made the promises in 2002. It was the Taoiseach, not just the Minister, Deputy McDowell, who said that he would recruit 2,000 extra gardaí. It turned out that the Garda training college in Templemore could not oblige because it would take almost four years, but the Taoiseach made the commitment. The situation now is that the number of new gardaí recruited since then less the number of retirees means 98 new gardaí have been recruited and the Taoiseach stated that there would be 2,000.

The Minister, Deputy McDowell, goes around making announcements. The Taoiseach says the Minister has brought legislation before the House. Where is it? He has promised and announced it. Unless the Taoiseach means the Bill on public order that was passed by the previous Dáil and that has not made one whit of difference, where is this legislation? When will the Minister deal with the fact that people do not feel safe walking the streets of Dublin and other cities because of the extent of gangland deaths? These people are ordinary, law-abiding citizens such as my constituent, Mrs. Joan Casey, who, despite that she was minding her own business was murdered in her bedroom in the early hours of Saturday morning. How is that acceptable? How can the Taoiseach continue to stand over a situation where 163 gardaí police a community of 90,000 people? How can he say it is being done because there is not enough accommodation to house additional gardaí in Tallaght?

There are 12,200 gardaí in the State. A large number of specialist units in the State deal with gangland killings. We will continue to provide increased resources. This year €1 billion has been invested in the criminal justice system and the Garda. We will continue to increase the number of prison places and to introduce legislation.

The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, closed two prisons.

Deputy Rabbitte is well aware of the extent of the legislation which has come through the justice system. There has been much useful legislation dealing with public order.

The Deputy asked when the criminal justice Bill will come before the House. He will see it during the Easter recess and it will be before the House in the next session. I will not quote the figures on the reduction in crime because it makes no sense to do so. I know the death of Mrs. Casey upsets people, as do gangland murders. I am aware that people are upset and horrified when gangs murder innocent people, but we will continue to provide more resources and to introduce more stringent legislation to deal with the issue.

The Government's commitment was to increase Garda numbers by 2,000 over the lifetime of the Government and we will continue to do that as resources permit. At any one time, about 500 gardaí are being trained in Templemore and capacity has been dramatically increased in the past five to six years to allow for extra numbers.

There was nothing about resources in the Fianna Fáil manifesto.

The Government should build a few decent community facilities instead of more large prisons.

We will continue to do that. The level of retirement reduces the increased numbers but we propose to continue to increase the number of gardaí and this year's figure will be 12,200.

In recent days press reports suggested that the Government was about to agree that our national airline, Aer Lingus, would be put up for sale within a matter of months. Will the Taoiseach confirm if this is the case and if the sale of Aer Lingus has been under active discussion in Cabinet or is scheduled for such discussion? If the Government sells Aer Lingus, what form will the sale take and to whom will it be sold?

Is the Taoiseach happy that the national airline should go the same way as the national telecommunications industry, namely, into the hands of venture capitalists, speculators, a billionaire tax exile facilitated by the Government's legislation and the type of people who think that the cabin crew should hop out and push an aeroplane along the runway if it stalls to get it going again? All these people have milked the telecommunications industry of hundreds of millions of euro, resources which properly belong to the people and which could be invested in many of our starved public services rather than going into the coffers of bloated multinational corporations.

Aer Lingus made a profit of €83 million last year. Anybody who used the service in recent times and saw the pressure workers are under to keep the company going will know from where the extra profit came. Is the Taoiseach aware that many people would regard it as outright treachery if the Government were to decide, in exactly the same manner as it sold our telecommunications industry, to sell the national airline of an island nation to faceless venturers and allow them to speculate with the company and its workers without democratic control?

The short answer to the Deputy's long question is that there is no proposal before the Government to sell Aer Lingus. I do not have anything——

He should tell that to his Minister for Transport.

All the answers to the other questions, therefore, fall. Twice in the past ten years, taxpayers' resources had to be used to save Aer Lingus, because of many of the issues the Deputy mentioned. The company was not able to survive without injections of resources.

It was not the only airline in need of them.

The trade union representatives, the representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions as well as SIPTU and IMPACT and the company worked hard to try to find a viability plan. The concern of the trade unions and workers now is whether, in the changed world of aviation, they can sustain all their achievements in the longer term without looking to the future and making plans. I know management and workers have that concern but there are no conclusions.

Will the Taoiseach be more specific on the Government's intention regarding the future of the national airline? It is not for nothing that he and his Minister for Transport orchestrated the passing of legislation facilitating the sale of a significant section of Aer Lingus to private venture capitalists. Does he remember how his Government burned 400,000 people, mostly small investors, when his former Minister for Public Enterprise engaged in every trick to con them into buying shares in Eircom? Admittedly the powers of recall of the former Minister in question, Senator O'Rourke, are much greater than the Taoiseach's, as we have seen in recent days. Surely, however, he cannot forget how ordinary people were burned while four executive directors of the company earned €29 million in a brief two and a half year period. For good measure, they threw a few million euro in the direction of a tame trade union leader who inexplicably maintains his position as general secretary of the main union. Is this the future the Government has mapped out for Aer Lingus? The Taoiseach should not tell the House that no decision has been made. What is his intention, as the Prime Minister, with regard to Aer Lingus in the remainder of his Government's period of office?

Whatever happens with Aer Lingus in the future, the Government will try to protect and maintain the jobs of all the ordinary people, as Deputy Joe Higgins describes them, who work in the company.

What about the people in Shannon Airport who have been told they must move to Dublin or lose their jobs?

As we know, aviation is extremely volatile. We have seen several airlines, including Olympic Airways, SAS and KLM, in trouble. At least we have an airline in which people may possibly invest to keep it expanding in future. Aer Lingus has gone through a period of overhaul but that matter is one for consideration in the future. As the Deputy knows, if the company gets into trouble again, the way is no longer open for taxpayers' money to be invested in it. That is not an alternative that is open to us.

It is open, that is a falsehood.

Aer Lingus has successfully turned itself around and the issue now is to try to maintain, sustain and develop it.