Criminal Justice Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome this Bill tentatively. Since the dawn of time a disparity has existed between theory and practice. This truism could be applied to many of the measures set out in the Bill. On the face of it, the changes proposed are desirable and certainly aim to benefit Ireland's criminal justice system. However, while I am not so naive as to believe every Bill enacted in the House is perfect, I feel strongly, in light of the sensitivity of this legislation, that the utmost caution must be exercised before it is passed. Thus, its aims will be reconciled with the eventual outcome in so far as this is possible.

I make this point because the Bill deals with a number of delicate issues. The Bill extends a wide range of powers available to the Garda with regard to detainees in particular. It is safe to assume a person in custody is in such circumstances for good reason, but power must be exercised with caution regardless of the circumstances.

The Garda Síochána has been in the firing line on a number of occasions in the recent past and it can ill-afford to be accused of abusing any extension of power it is granted, no matter how small the element involved might be. Therefore, each definition contained in the legislation must be ironed out so the scope of our misinterpretation will be as narrow as possible.

That we are having this debate in the wake of the passing of the Garda Síochána Bill assists me in my support of this Bill given that we can now look forward to the establishment of a Garda ombudsman commission that will act as a support to the Garda as well as ensuring that it carries out its duties in the most proper fashion. In part, the Bill allows for the collection of personal information of detainees, including saliva samples, which could eventually be used to fill a DNA bank.

Today, more than ever, there is a feeling that Big Brother is watching our every move. People are increasingly wary of handing over personal information to any body, official or otherwise. Some say that if one has nothing to hide in respect of one's personal record, one should not be anxious about imparting details if they are of benefit to the State and our personal security. I suppose there is a basic truth in this but, while one might not have anything to hide, this does not eliminate one's right to privacy and dignity.

The rights of the individual is a concept that harks back to the Enlightenment, but it rightly remains as burning an issue as it was then, more than 300 years ago. Human rights are under close scrutiny across the globe and, now more than ever, we cannot allow ourselves to be left open to criticism in this regard. Definition is key and I want to be sure the measures in this Bill are both 100% justifiable and enacted to fulfil their express purpose.

The issue of justification brings me to the all-pervading topic of anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs. It seems the country has been swept away in a tide of anti-social behaviour. However, how many Members present can provide an adequate definition of the term "anti-social behaviour"? It is a loose term that can be applied to almost any activity of a disreputable nature. The ASBO debate has been extensive in this country. In the United Kingdom, where ASBOs have been in use for six years, a conclusion has yet to be reached as to their effectiveness. In this regard, I must return to the disparity between theory and practice. In theory, ASBOs are an excellent idea as they allow society to deal with low level crime without wasting police time and money. However, I cannot help but feel that anti-social behaviour has become the buzz phrase of the 21st century and ASBOs the eye-catching, hard-hitting solution.

How bad are Ireland's anti-social behaviour problems? Are ASBOs really the right tools to deal with it? Anti-social behaviour has become a key issue of concern in the press and in neighbourhoods throughout the country. The basic fear of anti-social behaviour not only has an impact on people's lives but can often blur the boundary between the perception of a crime epidemic and the reality of the circumstances that obtain.

A recent survey conducted by the Dublin City Development Board found that 40% of respondents put anti-social behaviour, crime and the general feeling of being unsafe at the top of their concerns. However, anti-social behaviour, crime and feeling unsafe comprise a vast sphere of concerns. Moreover, 50% of those same respondents felt community life in their area had improved in the past ten years. We already have the necessary legislation and bodies in place to deal with the problems we face.

When speaking on the Garda Síochána Bill in the House before the summer recess, I emphasised my strong support for the community policing scheme. I argued that joint policing committees and volunteer policing will bring communities and the Garda into closer proximity, thereby enhancing confidence and the feeling of security by allowing a greater sense of partnership and joint responsibility. My research showed this will boost community morale and that, if relations are more closely knit at local level, there is every reason to believe anti-social behaviour will be discouraged. The benefits that this joint policing scheme will bring to our communities, especially in disadvantaged areas, will be all but extinguished if anti-social behaviour orders are introduced. The threat represented by ASBOs will corrode the trust that joint policing will have established between communities and the gardaí, as well as within communities experiencing these problems. When will the joint policing schemes be up and running in our communities? Despite being a TD for Dublin North Central, I have not yet been informed of any initiatives in this regard. I look forward to the speedy implementation of this measure.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in his own explorations into the ways by which others are addressing anti-social behaviour, visited Boston. In that city, Operation Ceasefire, which dates back to the mid-1990s, has been hailed a success in combatting intimidation and nuisance behaviour. This programme was tough on crime but focussed on a new approach to community policing which included greater co-ordination between state agencies and a probation system that stops short of the ASBOs introduced in Britain.

We have the requirements in place to establish a similar system in Ireland. We have the legislation beyond the Garda Síochána Act, such as the Children Act 2001 and the Public Order Act 1994, and the necessary State bodies. There are other ways and we have the means. If we co-ordinate what we have and make it work to fulfil its potential then we will not have to whitewash over it with attention grabbing measures which could prove more harmful than beneficial.

There is a provision in the Bill for on the spot fines intended to combat late night public order offences. This is a good measure in theory but in four pilot schemes initiated in Britain, it was found that only 53% of fines handed out by the police were paid. Gardaí have commented on this measure and highlighted the difficulties of issuing on the spot fines to drunks outside pubs. It has been suggested that litter wardens would also be needed if this measure is to be made effective. I wonder whether the issuance of these on the spot fines will work in practice. I ask the Minister to re-examine this measure to ensure that it can be enforced.

The Bill also addresses gun crime. It will amend the Firearms Acts to require applicants for firearms certificates to satisfy a Garda superintendent that they have provided secure accommodation for their firearms. Concern exists over this measure among gun clubs and game shooting clubs. The shooting of game and clay pigeons is a widespread sport in this country. Game and gun clubs are organised and have responsible members, who are concerned that they are being treated like criminals because this measure is being introduced in the context of the Criminal Justice Bill. I ask the Minister to investigate the concerns of these clubs, which have made submissions to Members and, I am sure, directly to the Minister over the past year. If necessary, he should accommodate their concerns through amendments on Committee and Report Stages.

The Bill is good in theory and, hopefully, its measures will work in practice to improve the quality of life of citizens as they go about their day to day business.

I intend to share my time with Deputy Sargent. In the short time that I have been in this House, I have listened regularly to Deputies asking about forthcoming legislation. It is obvious a great deal of background work is required to prepare legislation. We are now being presented with legislation, much of it based on the recommendations of an expert group, containing significant additions by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. We are told that the additional sections will be introduced on Committee Stage or later. The extent of what is being proposed is breathtaking. Given that the criminal justice system is the cornerstone of our democracy, this is a shocking way to deal with legislation. It is an outrage.

Aspects of this Bill reflect changes in our society, including new technologies such as DNA. More sophisticated crimes involving mobile technologies obviously have to be legislated for. Crime scenes must be preserved for forensic examination, a point strongly made in the report of the Morris Tribunal. Much of what is being proposed will require additional resources. The long promised 2,000 gardaí have not yet materialised but we are adding to their workload. The proposed traffic corps will be drawn from the ranks of the expanded police force. In terms of what is needed, 2,000 is a conservative figure, particularly with regard to community policing and junior liaison officers.

We had zero tolerance but discovered it could not be delivered without additional gardaí. It was a high profile stunt intended to produce a quick fix solution at election time. There is no mood for quick fix solutions or stunts.

We are now presented with ASBOs as the great solution to vandalism, petty crime and public order offences. What is wrong with naming them correctly? We seem to have a problem with language in this country. Anti-social behaviour is understood differently by different groups.

I have a problem with the bypass of due process. We have not seen the nature of the proposals, we have seen them as a bullet points and we heard the Minister say a few words on the subject some months ago but we do not know what they involve.

County Kildare is no exception when it comes to the kind of behaviour I described and which falls within the criminal code. I want it tackled through the provision of sufficient police to deter and detect crime. We all know that resources are the main issue in this area. The difficulties faced by gardaí trying to clear the streets at 4 a.m. demonstrate the inadequate numbers available to deal with large numbers of people coming out of discos. The Minister is attempting to present a major solution. It is actually a short-term solution being put in place on the cheap that will have long term consequences if it is implemented.

Many Opposition Members took part in the debate on the Children Act, the provisions of which reflect a long-term view. It is comprised of early intervention measures to deal with children at risk or likely to present as having difficulties later in life, rather than punitive measures which have the effect of ruining the lives of the individuals concerned and those close to them. The Children Act contains ten penalties, including community service, day centre orders, parental supervision and curfews, but only two of the measures have been introduced. That Act illustrates that there is a great deal of legislation covering this area but little enforcement of it.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform often talks about taking tough decisions but such decisions necessitate having the political will to fund early intervention measures. I attended a recent event at which John Lonergan spoke and he highlighted that point. He said that a significant number among the prison population were in prison due to failures they encountered in life. Many had literacy and other difficulties which could be diagnosed and addressed by educational intervention at an early stage. Many young people have dropped out of school because they were not able to deal with such difficulties and just as they failed at school, they are now failing in life. Not only are their lives and the lives of their family members ruined but the lack of a Government approach that will address such difficulties costs the State a small fortune. We need to take a long-term view to addressing these aspects in the context of this debate.

The introduction of anti-social behaviour orders will add to the difficulties in this area. The use of ASBOs to address the problem is an acceptance of failure in a person's life. The Children's Rights Alliance, which represents 79 non-governmental organisations, describes ASBOs as a serious threat to the rights of all citizens and in particular those of children and young people. They are civil orders which require a lower standard of proof than criminal proceedings and they can be based on hearsay evidence. However, if one breaches an ASBO, one risks being given a jail sentence. That is the nature of ABSOs in a nutshell. They undermine community policing and deviate significantly from the early intervention approach contained in the Children Act and represent a fundamental shift from a problem-solving to a heavy handed punitive solution which is obtained without due process.

In Britain, ASBOs, and the more outrageous application of them, are the subject of television programmes. Certain categories of people, including young people, people who are different, such those with an intellectual disability, and the elderly find themselves targeted by ASBOs. Our neighbours across the water have come up with many good ideas but the introduction of ASBOs is not one of them. The jury is out on them at this stage.

ASBOs are being presented as a popular measure to give the impression that something is being done. The same impression was given with the passing of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 and the sanctions contained in the Children Act, but aspects of those Acts were not introduced. Significant administration will be required to implement such orders, but that has not been thought through. Such administration will take from the ability of community police and junior liaison officers to target the people who should be targeted and to give citizens a sense of security by ensuring an adequate Garda presence on the streets.

There is a cynicism about the timing of this legislation. If it is passed this year, its provisions will be implemented next year and we will be advised that the problem will be overcome when it is fully implemented just in time for the next general election. This proposal must be rejected. I will table amendments on Committee Stage in this regard.

Section 23 seems to imply that the Director of the Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General can seek an order for costs even where somebody has been found to be innocent. The Minister of State might clarify if I have misinterpreted the section. However, if that is the case, I would have serious concerns about it.

I also have serious concerns about extending the period of detention from 12 to 24 hours. We must always look at our criminal justice system from the viewpoint of a presumption of innocence until one is found guilty. It is not the majority of people who will be found guilty but the small number of people who will be found innocent that we need to ensure are protected in that respect.

I question the value of keeping large banks of DNA, fingerprints, and photographic evidence of people whom it is not intended to prosecute. That will draw from available resources and the retaining of such evidence is an inappropriate intrusion into people's lives. I welcome the Minister of State's comments on that aspect.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Murphy as a cuid ama a roinnt liom chomh maith. Tááthas orm deis a fháil labhairt ar an mBille um Cheartas Coiriúil 2004. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil neart moltaí ann a tháinig ó ghrúpa saineolais agus is fiú iad a phlé. Tuigim go bhfuil siad ag iarraidh an dlí a thabhairt suas chun dáta ar go leor bealaí. Ag an am céanna, áfach, ní ceist dlíí atá idir lámha anseo. Táimid ag caint ar éifeacht an Gharda Síochána agus an chórais choiriúla, agus sa deireadh thiar thall, beidh na torthaí ar na hathruithe sin níos tábhachtaí ná aon chineál díospóireachta.

While this legislation may to a certain extent update measures relating to DNA and mobile phones, in the area of north County Dublin that I represent people will continue to ask where are the gardaí. In 1988 more gardaí were stationed in Balbriggan Garda station than are stationed there today. That area is often referred to as one of the fastest developing suburbs. One can see the houses being built and detect the increased population from increased level of traffic on the roads and the increased level of activity at night, some of it responsible and more of it irresponsible. This means that there is an increased demand for additional gardaí. Although the Government makes considerable play about the provision of an additional 2,000 gardaí, it is out of touch with reality for it to say that those gardaí will be available soon.

As to whether there will be any increase in the number of gardaí available when account is taken of natural wastage and the impact of low morale which drives members to leave it is a moot point. Quite a number of the additional gardaí will be assigned to the traffic corps. There is probably a cynical explanation for that, namely, that the traffic corps can derive revenue from road traffic offences. The Minister of State can tell me if I am correct in my assumption. If that is the case, it will result in further lowering of morale among members of the force and a greater problem in our communities which are crying out for additional gardaí.

I ask the Minister of State to relay this message in the strongest terms to his senior Minister and the Department. We cannot continue for much longer in this vein. We are sitting on the equivalent of a community timebomb. The complement of gardaí is absolutely frustrated over what they are being expected to do They have additional duties, to do with drug-related offences and the multicultural nature of society as it has developed and any number of special responsibilities. The result is there is enormous reluctance to confront what needs to be done among many gardaí, and not out of any unwillingness. They simply realise that if they pursue relatively minor breaches of the law, incrementally, when these are accumulated the amount of administrative time involved means other work is not done. I know of a number of gardaí whose desks even surpass that of a Deputy in terms of the paperload. I ask the Minister of State to take this on board.

Balbriggan, which I represent, is supposed to be in the Drogheda and general Meath-Louth area. It ought to be in the Dublin metropolitan area. It is effectively a part of Dublin. Garda questioning in the case of the raid on the Lusk post office, for example, which involved a number of fatalities, had to be done at Swords. The facilities were just not available. It is a false demarcation line to say that Swords is in the Dublin metropolitan area and Balbriggan is somehow tied to Meath and Louth. Reform is needed to bring the Garda up to date as well as legislation. That requires extra gardaí and improved structures as well.

In the Department of Education and Science there is already great reliance on the Garda as regards Oberstown and Trinity House. Gardaí, who all come from Balbriggan, are involved in an enormous amount of travel around the country. That is wholly unfair and deprives the local area of much needed gardaí.

The bilingual nature of this legislation is presented on the Bill's cover page. The Garda Síochána, up to now, has had a strong identification with both Irish-speaking and English-speaking citizens. However, I detect a development emanating from the Government to the effect that in the interests of multiculturalism the Irish language requirement will not be as rigorous. The reaction I have had to that has been quite strong. The Minister of State may be surprised to learn that most of this reaction has come from non-nationals, who are very much part of Ireland, as they see it. They are willing and very much expect to learn Irish. I teach adult classes in Irish on a Friday evening, which are attended by a considerable number of non-nationals. I hope the Minister might reflect on this and review the whole situation in context. People coming to this country do not expect to be treated any less "Irish" than Irish people. I hope it is recognised that groups such as I Measc, which is an organisation for non-nationals in Ireland, feel Irish and want to learn the language. They often speak and work through Irish, whether as journalists, translators or members of communities where their children attend Gaelscoileanna. I hope we do not just rush our fences and assume that someone might not want to or is unable to speak Irish. That is not the case.

As mentioned earlier, we must be careful in addressing the whole area of petty crime, as it is correctly called, and see matters in context. The euphemism of antisocial behaviour sometimes means we can lose a sense of reality.about this. I work with the Balbriggan Awareness of Drugs Group. The Minister of State may be aware of it from various correspondence sent to him. The emphasis there is on liaising with members of the Garda Síochána and working with parents. The parent to parent courses, voluntarily undertaken and which have considerable support, are producing the types of results the Government needs to support. They involve parents dealing with parenting, and as a result, preventing the types of problem that very often the Government focuses on to the exclusion of the cause. If parent to parent courses could be replicated around the country this would obviate the need for antisocial behavioural orders. Parents could be held to account much more, they would know what to do and be better equipped for the job in hand. Parenting is the most important role that any adult could be asked to undertake.

There is much food for thought in this legislation. Beyond that, we must focus on the reality. For many communities it is not about the legislation, but rather where the gardaí are. They want to see more gardaí on the streets.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. While I am in favour of legislation that will boost the fight against crime, there needs to be a balance. While the Minister has introduced a stick, the checks and balances needed are not in place. I will focus on one area in this regard. While the Oireachtas is conferring additional and wide-ranging powers on the Garda, there must also be a balance between rights and responsibilities. One example that gives grounds for concern is the taking of bodily samples, for which there is provision in the legislation. There is also an issue as regards the extension of periods of detention without the requirement to bring a person before a judicial authority. That gives rise for concern, not only from the viewpoints of the individuals in detention but also for the Garda. The more additional powers that are given without the necessary checks and balances being in place, the greater the opportunity for complaints to be made against the Garda by individuals, sometimes unjustifiably. In the interests of the force and the citizen, a balance must be put in place. Sadly, that detail is not provided in this legislation.

I want to focus on the issue of bodily samples, fingerprints and photographs. The Irish Human Rights Commission has made a detailed submission on this. The commission has requested that a set of formal guidelines be put in place as regards such samples. It has made a number of significant recommendations as regards, for example, affording reasonable privacy to individuals in custody, noting that a person of the same sex should be present and that the taking of bodily samples should not involve any cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. I will return to this topic in a couple of minutes. This should be the norm not alone for the suspect, but also for the Garda Síochána and the health professionals involved. I hope samples will be taken by nurses, medical practitioners or dentists, depending on the procedure involved, rather than gardaí. In the case of children or incapacitated persons an independent witness should be present. These basic protections should be introduced.

Another recommendation made by the Human Rights Commission was to record on video the taking of bodily samples in all circumstances except when a suspect does not wish to have the procedure recorded. It is imperative that this recommendation be introduced to protect the rights of both the suspect and members of the Garda Síochána. Suspects should also have a right to receive legal advice on the provision of a bodily sample.

The Bill amends the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act 1990. It proposes, for example, to increase the defined period for the holding of a sample from six to 12 months and allow for mouth swabs and saliva samples to be taken without consent. These proposals deserve careful scrutiny because the need to impose such requirements will progressively decline in the coming years owing to continuing technological advances in the area of genetic DNA amplication. Cheek swabs, for instance, will no longer be necessary. As such, the new provision must be subject to ongoing review. Other legislation includes provision for an annual or biennial review of its provisions. This legislation should also provide for such review, given that oral samples will no longer be necessary in a few years because hair samples will be sufficient to carry out DNA analysis.

The Minister has indicated he may introduce regulations to provide for the manner in which samples are taken, their location, physical conditions etc. It is imperative that he change the word "may" to "shall" because specific, detailed regulations on how samples are to be taken are essential. However, no such regulations should be introduced before the House takes a positive decision on the matter. I hope the Minister will accede to my request as it would provide the checks and balances the legislation requires.

The Bill also provides for the Garda Síochána to use so-called "reasonable force" but does not define the term. This principle should be clarified for the sake of suspects and gardaí who need to know the precise circumstances under which force can be used and what type of force can be used. The level of force used should be commensurate with the scale of the offence about which a suspect is being questioned.

As I stated, we need to protect suspects, gardaí and any other persons present when a DNA sample is taken. The Law Reform Commission has pointed out the practical difficulties associated with using reasonable force to obtain a mouth swab. It notes, for example, that while this power exists in the UK, it is considered dangerous not only for the person seeking to obtain the sample because he or she may be bitten by the suspect but also for the individual from whom the sample is being obtained as the procedure may cause injury. I hope appropriate and significant amendments will be made to the relevant section of the Bill before it is enacted.

With regard to section 30 on firearms storage, approximately 200,000 ordinary, decent people hold gun licences. The inclusion in a criminal justice Bill of provisions covering legally held firearms creates an impression that the holders of such arms are considered criminals. It is wrong to introduce provisions on gun licensing for sporting purposes in criminal justice legislation. Garda statistics show that the illegal use of firearms by licensed gun holders is not a significant problem. The Minister must revisit this section for a number of reasons. He received an extensive submission from the National Association of Regional Game Councils, the representative body of those involved in the legitimate sport of shooting. Its members should not be criminalised by including them in this legislation.

Sensible firearms policies are necessary but this requires modernisation of the 1925 Act. Regulations should be introduced on the storage of guns by tourists. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, in his contribution on Second Stage earlier in the year, referred to tourists locking guns into the boots of cars, a dangerous practice which is ignored in the Bill. Firearms legislation must address specific firearms issues which should not be dealt with in general criminal justice legislation. The majority of licensed gun holders are decent, law-abiding citizens and the inclusion of section 30 unfairly labels them.

All public representatives are occasionally approached by individuals who have been refused a gun licence without grounds being given by the Garda. As my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, noted, the Garda Síochána sometimes receives soft intelligence on specific individuals and this forms the basis of its refusal to issue a gun licence. However, such intelligence does not feature in the majority of refusals. Those refused licences or renewals should be given reasons for the decision and a right of appeal should be enshrined in the legislation to allow a second opinion to be obtained. The area of firearms licences is in need of reform but this should be done in specific firearms legislation rather criminal justice legislation.

Every speaker so far has raised the issue of anti-social behaviour. The Minister has discussed the matter outside the House and promised to introduce legislation to deal with it, including anti-social behaviour orders which every Fianna Fáil backbench Deputy who speaks today will say is the solution. He devoted just one sentence to the issue in his contribution. We do not know the detail of the provisions about which the Minister is talking and it is about time he started outlining them. He can define it whatever way he likes and call it what he likes, but it is a significant problem in many communities. People are sick and tired of new legislation with little action and enforcement subsequently. Without giving the resources to the Garda it is pointless enacting more legislation. We still have not seen the 2,000 extra Garda — another hollow commitment by the Government before the last general election. The reality, with which we deal on a daily basis, is that communities cannot get gardaí. There is need for a complete overhaul, both of the recruitment and retention of gardaí within the force to address the issue and of garda rostering.

For example on a Saturday night in the town of Athlone which has a massive catchment area throughout the midlands, five gardaí are on duty. Of those five gardaí, two could be called out to a road traffic accident leaving three gardaí in the town of Athlone and its catchment area. There could be a disturbance abroad in Glasson and two gardaí would have to go out to that. The town of Athlone would then be policed by one member of the Garda Síochána. If there is a report of a domestic violence incident, two returning gardaí must go to that. How can they police our streets when the Minister is not giving basic resources to the Garda to police them at the times they are needed, at weekends and at night when there are difficulties? The rostering system does not facilitate that. Over the past eight years in which this and the previous Government have been in office, they have closed down the rural Garda stations. One Garda station close to my home is open for one hour a month. That is supposed to be a rural Garda station. That is not rural policing. The individuals in that community do not know their local garda.

We need to look at many of the issues. They do not require legislation. They require resources. They require political commitment and sadly that is not there. There is the farcical position on PULSE. Only one in four Garda stations operates PULSE. Gardaí are travelling 20 or 30 miles to input data into PULSE and returning to their base. That is not a proper use of Garda resources.

The Minister still has gardaí in clerical posts throughout the country when they should be out on the streets enforcing the laws we pass in this House. Garda time is being consistently wasted and the Minister is doing nothing about it. All he is talking about is bringing in ever more legislation without giving the Garda the resources, manpower and structures to facilitate it.

The communications system used by the Garda Síochána is also farcical. Gardaí who want to use a secure method of communication must use their personal mobile telephones.

Planning is another issue causing considerable problems and it will continue to cause problems. It is consistently ignored in addressing the issue of anti-social behaviour on which it has a significant impact. I am lucky enough to have come across the problems with planning, seen the plans at first hand and spoken with planners about planning. There are green areas not overlooked by houses and alleyways without public lighting not visible from any home. Such areas facilitate anti-social behaviour. That type of planning should not be accepted in this day and age. We should have learned from the planning mistakes over the past 20 or 30 years. Local authorities are trying to resolve those problems in housing estates while consistently planners are approving housing developments which facilitate and promote anti-social behaviour. There is a role for the local Garda superintendent in looking at the plans and advising the local authority on addressing such issues by stating, for example, that if a green area will cause more trouble rather than facilitate the community, it would be better incorporated into the adjoining property of a householder rather than leaving it as a green area merely to meet the conditions laid down in the planning laws that a certain percentage of land must be left open as a green area.

Although there are many aspects of anti-social behaviour that I wanted to raise, one particular issue is the probation and welfare service. It is a significantly under resourced asset which needs to be strengthened so that it can become a significant asset in addressing anti-social behaviour and many other petty crime issues. Sadly we regularly see young people over the age of 18 going into the prison system. We see juveniles from many parts of the country going into Trinity House and other facilities in Dublin. Such places are a breeding ground not only for anti-social behaviour but for criminal activity. If the Minister properly resourced the probation and welfare service he would keep many young people out of the prison system in the first instance. Many young people would learn a great deal more from taking up a yard brush and daily sweeping an estate where they have caused specific problems with anti-social behaviour, both from the point of view of humiliation and hard labour. That could resolve many of the problems of re-offending in anti-social behaviour. It would be preferable to putting people into the criminal justice system where one will not solve any problem but will cause problems for the future.

There have been a number of campaigns on drink-driving, speeding and insurance fraud. We need a public awareness campaign on anti-social behaviour. I have spoken to young people, some of whom have been involved in anti-social behaviour. Many are not aware of the impact their anti-social behaviour is having on older people and the wider community. We need to look at that element. We have many avenues of communications available to us. We should use them.

I concur with the comments of my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, when he expressed his dismay at the unfortunate habit of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of bringing legislation before the House before he has finished writing it. In the middle of its passing, he then proceeds to introduce substantial amendments which either add significantly to the scope of the Bill, as in this case, or change what it originally set out to do. The raft of legislation introduced encompasses so much. No doubt updated criminal justice legislation is needed but it should be considered and thought through, not like the patchwork of proposals the Minister, Deputy McDowell, has put before the Oireachtas.

At the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, the Minister stated that he did not believe he would pass two criminal justice Bills. Instead, he has combined one and a half bits of policy in one Bill, with the result that it does do the job properly. This Bill covers everything, from firearms, to explosives, to electronic tagging, to increased powers for the Garda Síochána.

Fine Gael has already made its position clear. There should be a separate Bill to deal with the serious issues of firearms. Deputy Naughten made a valid point on the significant number of licensed firearms held by property owners throughout the country; he referred to firearms held illegally and used to commit the increasingly common crimes that we associate with the term of this Government, and to explosives which cannot be treated satisfactorily in an appended section to a Bill designed to deal with almost everything else. The Minister's ego should no more interfere with the proper enactment of legislation than should his fear of being imminently put out of office.

In so far as there is a need for legislation like this, elements of this Bill are to be welcomed. At a time when crime — irrespective of how the Minister, Deputy McDowell, chooses to assess it — is at unprecedentedly high levels, it is vital that we, as legislators, take steps to tackle the issues that affect so many citizens in an intimate and intrusive way on an all too frequent basis.

With regard to crime levels and the number of gardaí on the streets, the Minister missed an opportunity to improve the situation by allowing gardaí retire at the age of 50 after 30 years service. Many gardaí would stay in the service if they got any sort of a deal. As a result of this retirement provision, we have lost an experienced section of the Garda Síochána. They could have been rostered on day shifts but they got no incentive to remain in the force. There has been a huge exodus of talented gardaí who could have been kept.

There is much in this Bill to cause concern, such as the changes the Minister proposes to make to the process by which arrest warrants are issued. On one hand the Minister has failed to deal with current issues of confidence in gardaí and on the other, he wants them to issue arrest warrants in urgent circumstances. This is a superfluous provision as gardaí have never had difficulty in obtaining a search warrant because of the lack of someone to issue it. Members of the Judiciary have been known to issue such warrants from their living rooms at midnight if circumstances require it or it is urgent.

This Bill proposes to provide value for money by the creation of a new controlling officer and it is proposed that the Garda Commissioner will be the new Accounting Officer. This is necessary, particularly when we consider the debacle this week regarding computer technology. It is quite extraordinary that only one in four Garda stations can use the PULSE system considering Ireland has some of the best technology world wide. It is not rocket science. Let us consider the example of the national lottery system and its interactive games that are found in every town and village in the country. It is extraordinary that technology that pays out cash prizes instantly has been in place since 1987 but, after all the money spent on PULSE, only one in four Garda stations are connected to it.

With regard to the current debacle in the computer system used by the health services, the system is a German software system that is one of the best in the world. The difficulty was with the implementation rather than the software and with the management and integration of the system in health boards throughout the country.

I am quite certain the software for the PULSE system is also top class. People may get the impression the Government is blaming the software, but that is not the problem. It is extraordinary, however, that there is a problem with the integration of software. Therefore, with responsibility lying with the Garda Commissioner as Accounting Officer, rather than with a Secretary General, there will be more accountability for the significant Garda budget.

This week we saw the appalling state of a Garda station on television. When we consider the lack of investment and disparity of conditions in which gardaí work, the number of Garda stations that have been closed and the lack of gardaí on the streets, it does not surprise me that crime and anti-social behaviour are at the level they are. Unfortunately, when it comes to policing estates effectively, the Garda does not have sufficient manpower. The level of management and control are understandable given that the number of gardaí rostered on duty at any given time is low.

The technology used by gardaí contributes to crime levels. Despite the excellent technology in the country, gardaí still use mobile phones. The criminal element in the country are quite capable of knowing enough to keep ahead of gardaí and to intercept and eavesdrop on what is being discussed. It is not good enough, considering the amount of taxpayers' money spent, that we have not got a better system in operation.

The Minister mentioned bringing volunteers, as in the manner of the FCA, into the Garda Síochána. I am not sure if his plans include bringing back people who had retired or people would just volunteer to join the Garda. I cannot see how this will work in regard to their effectiveness and powers or if they will be trained to the same standard as current members.

Some Garda stations are in an appalling condition. I welcome the new development planned for Ballymote. Gardaí have operated in appalling conditions there for the past 30 years. Although it is a district station, it did not even have a detention area for prisoners or interview facilities. Not before time, this much needed project is going to tender.

I cannot see the need to extend the power to issue arrest warrants to Garda superintendents. I am not aware of any call for such a measure from gardaí nor am I aware of any complaints about the current system having been made by the Judiciary. It is also unclear from the Bill under what urgent circumstances the provision would be necessary or why there is a problem with the current system which operates in a transparent and accountable fashion.

Furthermore, I am concerned that section 5, which allows Garda superintendents to issue search warrants, may be open to constitutional challenge as it appears to infringe on the inviolability of the home as enshrined in Article 40.5 of Bunreacht na hÉireann. This inviolability is seriously diminished by this provision. Notwithstanding the separation of powers, this is a major change for the Judiciary and will cause significant concern among people involved in the Courts Service.

It may be outside the remit of this Bill, but it is not good enough that some people who attend the Four Courts, who may have engaged top legal teams, may have their case deferred or that they be left waiting months for a judgment to be made because the judge on the day has decided to take the afternoon off.

I am also very concerned that the Minister has not exercised care in terms of his proposals for arrest without warrant. We must be extremely careful about proposals to restrict the liberty of individuals. Only in specific and limited circumstances should gardaí be free to arrest people without a warrant. This is a provision that requires close examination and a careful balance. On one hand there is a need to give gardaí the powers they need to enforce the law and bring criminals to justice, and on the other, the rights of the individual and the presumption of innocence.

Other concerns are the treatment of people in courts, bail conditions and, as we heard from the Comptroller and Auditor General, the inability to collect fines. In Dublin alone, millions of euro are owed in uncollected fines. Some people make a part payment and the remainder is invariably left unpaid. This again is the result of an inadequate technology facility. It is extraordinary that the nation that is second in the world for software production seems to have an inability to incorporate the latest technology in these areas. We pride ourselves on having the best educated workforce in the world but when it comes to the provision of State services and the ability to dealing with matters in a businesslike manner, we fail dismally. This is disappointing considering the perception of Ireland abroad as a prosperous and successful business country.

If one examines the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General dealing with court services, or the Garda report that has been mentioned, one will note that there is a great deal of criticism. The Comptroller and Auditor General has criticised the massive deficiencies in two key areas. I welcome the decision to give the Garda Commissioner total responsibility in this regard. I note the accountability provisions relating to how taxpayers' money is spent.

The Irish Human Rights Commission has expressed concerns about the proposal in the Bill to amend the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act 1990 to allow the Garda Síochána to take a swab from any part of a person's body. Deputy Naughten has spoken about this matter. The commission has raised the constitutional issue of the right to bodily integrity. I am aware that the courts have yet to explore the issue fully. I have raised it at this stage as something that needs to be examined closely. I do not doubt that the Minister, Deputy McDowell, will make a comment on the matter. We should not enact a provision that is unconstitutional or interferes unduly with the right of an individual to bodily integrity.

The Minister has provided in this Bill for a change in the limitation period within which certain prosecutions may be brought. There are concerns that he has shown some inconsistency in this regard. I ask him to provide a more complete explanation of the rationale behind the proposal in section 24, which needs to be explored.

This is an important Bill in light of the inquiries which have taken place throughout the country, particularly the inquiry into the fallout from the various difficulties in County Donegal. The proposals to give increased powers to the gardaí and to devolve autonomous power to the regions need to be considered in that context. I suppose there has been a slight redefinition of certain aspects of how the gardaí will operate in the future. It is important that the proposals are made totally clear. There should be no ambiguity about what needs to be done. We need to ensure there is value for money, efficiency and accountability. I am concerned about the number of Garda stations and the level of gardaí on the streets.

I would like to discuss the level of undetected crime that affects businesses. It is clear to those who watch television programmes like "CrimeCall" that most businesses are investing heavily in security systems such as CCTV cameras and night safes. Such facilities are par for the course as a consequence of the level of violent crime in pharmacies, supermarkets, licensed premises and hotels. Those who are assessing the level of risk in the services sector are trying to get inside the criminal mind. I am concerned that the State does not recognise sufficiently the level of private sector investment in facilities to help to control crime. Such recognition could take the form of tax incentives or benefits which assist those who are investing in equipment to maximise the safety of private enterprise. The Government has failed to take action to increase the current low level of such investment.

Many companies are employing private security guards to help them out. There has been an increase in the number of private security guards. We have not heard much about the private security firms Bill in recent times. We need to decide how such firms should interact with the Garda. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has spoken about the recruitment of voluntary gardaí to work in an honorary capacity, with expenses being paid to them. It is important that we reflect on the manner in which private security firms are established. I am aware that such firms are the subject of another Bill, but the matter should be considered in the context of the legislation currently before the House. We need to ensure there is independent regulation of private security firms.

I am concerned about the Government's U-turn in section 31. I refer to the minimum age of criminal responsibility. The Children Act 2001, which was quite progressive, provided for a minimum age of criminal responsibility of 12 years. The Minister has failed to bring the relevant section of the 2001 Act into force and he is now trying to amend it by reducing the relevant age to ten years. This matter merits more discussion. Perhaps the Minister could use his time better by bringing existing legislation into force, rather than unilaterally trying to rewrite it.

There was an extraordinary level of attendance at the public meetings which were organised by Fine Gael at venues throughout the country to debate the big issue of anti-social behaviour. Many people expressed a sense of dismay at the increase in such behaviour. It seems that any member of the Garda who applies to the courts for an anti-social behaviour order to be imposed will have to be of the rank of superintendent, at least. Strict Garda guidelines on the appropriate use of anti-social behaviour orders will need to be drawn up by the Garda Commissioner, approved by the Minister and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas before the new powers can be deployed.

Anti-social behaviour will continue to be one of the big issues among people who have invested heavily in communities. I suggest to the Minister that far more community gardaí be employed. The Minister has discussed the possibility of district superintendents working actively with local authorities, but that is not happening. The voluntary sector has done huge work. Garda sergeants, inspectors and superintendents should be actively involved in communities. We are all familiar with the outdated police watch and Garda watch schemes. The Garda authorities need to get involved with members and officials from local authorities, as well as representatives of local communities. I refer, for example, to people who give up their free time to work with sporting and community organisations on a voluntary basis. That such co-operation is not taking place is evident when one considers the level of unrest in many areas.

I would like to cite the example of a major nursing institution in Sligo. The management of the nursing home in question is seriously considering the closure of the facility as a consequence of anti-social behaviour in its vicinity. Although such behaviour is being reported to the Garda on a constant basis, nothing has happened. The facility, which can accommodate 50 patients, has just 27 patients because the Garda is not getting involved. Although there is huge demand for nursing home places in the region, just 27 of the 50 places in the nursing home are occupied. Serious consideration is being given to the closure of the institution, which is a major provider of nursing home facilities in the Sligo region, because of a lack of co-ordination on the part of the Garda. People are being intimidated when they visit the nursing home, which is located in an area that suffers from many anti-social behaviour problems. Cars have been damaged and unbelievable acts of injustice have been perpetrated against the people who own the nursing home, which is one of the region's major assets. It is not good enough.

There is a major problem of anti-social behaviour in this country. We need more gardaí, more community involvement in policing and complete integration on the part of the gardaí who are dealing with crime on the ground. Those who perpetrate criminal acts need to be dealt with by the courts and fined accordingly.

My Sinn Féin colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, has outlined our party's concerns about the provisions of this Bill as published. He spoke specifically about the proposals to extend significantly the powers of the Garda, including the proposal to extend the period of detention to up to 24 hours. Further proposed new powers include the power of compulsion of bodily samples without consent and powers to issue search warrants. The Deputy also spoke about the Irish Human Rights Commission's advice that the Minister's proposals may violate constitutional rights, as well as EU and international law. He confirmed that while Sinn Féin supports measures which are tough on crime, it cannot support the Bill before the House, as outlined.

Many communities are wondering whether the Garda needs to be given more powers. They believe that more effective and strategic deployment of Garda resources is needed. Garda reform is necessary to ensure gardaí are made accountable to the communities they serve. In other words, the Garda's present powers need to be put to better use and more resources need to be devoted to crime. Legislation seems to be introduced every year with the aim of resolving the crime problems which are found in certain communities. We were told that previous Bills would stop young people from drinking in fields, hanging around or becoming involved in anti-social behaviour. The reality for many communities, certainly the communities I represent, is that this problem continues. People still live in fear in their own communities.

On Monday next, a childhood development initiative will be launched in the Jobstown area of Tallaght. A previous report was based on interviews with young children from many of the estates in the area. The children were asked what issues needed to be addressed by society, Government and local politicians. One of the major issues for the young children was security. They talked in terms of bullying at school and so on, but also about security in their homes and their fears of living on their estates. Not a weekend goes by when I do not get a telephone call from a person living in terror in his or her home, and other public representatives in the area get similar calls. People are crying out for help. They say they have tried to contact gardaí or others but no-one responds while gangs are attacking their homes and property. They are living in fear. I do not know how many families have visited my advice clinics to look for help and told me they want to move out of the area because they are terrified. These are people who, in many cases, have lived 20 and 30 years in their community but they say they have never known it as bad as it is now. The Bill before us will not resolve the situation for those families.

We need more resources devoted to crime prevention and targeted at disadvantaged areas, as recommended by the National Crime Council and demanded by Sinn Féin. Why would we dispute that disadvantaged areas should be targeted and given that support? These areas are in the front line for attacks. As a society, we should pull together with decent people living in the communities faced with these attacks, which take place particularly at weekends but also during the week.

Last month the Minister casually presented proposals for additions to the Criminal Justice Bill which would change the Bill beyond recognition. On behalf of my party I object to the Minister'smodus operandi of publishing and debating one Bill on Second Stage before introducing a raft of controversial amendments on Committee Stage that never see proper debate in this House. What comes back from committee is effectively a totally different Bill. The effect is to suppress debate on controversial issues of public interest. This is the typical demagoguery we have come to expect from this Minister. It is not acceptable democratic practice and the Taoiseach should rein in the Minister.

I want to address a number of the proposed amendments. I will begin with the Minister's proposal to bring the notorious anti-social behaviour orders to this jurisdiction. Sinn Féin has challenged anti-social behaviour in our communities for many years. We recognise it as a significant problem. Our communities deserve solutions that work, not the pre-election gimmicks offered by the Minister, Deputy McDowell. The Minister is determined to convince us that his ASBOs are radically different to those used in Britain but this is simply not the case. While the duration of the order and the maximum prison sentence for its breach are less than in Britain, it should be remembered that the consequences of a criminal conviction for the individual are lifelong. Like the British ASBOs, because it will be a civil order, the onus of proof and hence assumption of innocence unless proven guilty is not safeguarded in the same manner as in a criminal trial. When imprisonment results from breach of an ASBO for non-criminal behaviour, the effect is the denial of the right to a fair trial. In this regard the Minister's proposals and British ASBOs are the same.

ASBOs are wrong. Their use involves a denial of human rights under international law and the European Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, anti-social behaviour orders do not work. After more than six years of implementation in Britain, there is no evidence ASBOs have reduced much less eliminated anti-social behaviour. According to Home Office figures published in March the breach rate is over 40%. Even the Garda Representative Association opposes their implementation here.

I am not speaking off the top of my head. I have travelled to Britain to talk to many of the communities affected by anti-social behaviour. We are all seeking genuine solutions to this growing phenomenon, not only in Ireland but abroad also. Most of the behaviour we call "anti-social" is actually criminal behaviour. Criminal behaviour should result in criminal charges and prosecution. We need to enforce the existing law. In England, I have seen photographs of children posted in local centres and medical centres with messages such as "If you have seen this person, contact... ". Given my long experience with the problems of young people involved in anti-social and criminal behaviour, I am uncomfortable with the idea of "wanted" notices in community centres and medical centres.

The legislation is already in place to deal with anti-social behaviour. For example, the Public Order Act 1994 allows the Garda to arrest and charge people for intoxication in a public place, disorderly conduct in a public place, threatening, abusive or intimidating behaviour in a public place, or failure to comply with a Garda direction. We were told the Act would resolve the situation with regard to young people gathering on green spaces and so on. We were given all sorts of commitments by all sorts of Ministers and other politicians, who said this would resolve the problems faced by communities. I remember the debate on the original Bill. At the time, I did not believe it would solve the problem because whether legislation was put in place, I was not sure the will existed to act on the legislation.

The problem is widespread, not just in urban but in rural areas, and the same message comes from people living in rural areas. However, we do not have the resources to tackle the problem. When politicians are contacted by constituents and telephone a Garda station, they are told the resources are not available. I have shared platforms with colleagues from my party and other parties in trying to address this issue. In my constituency there is general agreement between Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the PDs, the Labour Party and all the parties active in that area. The common view is that there are not enough Garda resources in the constituency. If gardaí are asked whether they can get a car to an area where a woman or a family is living in terror, or where there are gangs outside a house, off the record the gardaí will say they do not have the resources or that they have sent a car but the crowd is too large for the gardaí to deal with. I have witnessed situations when two gardaí have gone to an incident but have been assaulted by gangs outside residents' houses. The will exists on the part of many gardaí but the resources are not in place, unfortunately.

Sinn Féin has called meetings of local estate management groups and tried to involve the local community — the people affected — and the local gardaí. I remember one meeting in my constituency attended by an inspector, a sergeant, a number of community gardaí, the usual politicians and members of the community at which a breeze block was thrown through the window of the car owned by a Labour Party councillor and it was robbed. On the night of another meeting, a car was set on fire because the local gurriers in the area knew we were trying to resolve the problems the community faced.

In that same community where those attacks occurred, I dealt with a woman who was myopic and who lived on her own. Her son who was going to college was forced out of the house. He was attacked going into the house because he was seen as odd that he was going to college. That woman's house was attacked for three days. Tiles were missing from her roof following those attacks. She was terrified in her home. That is just one example.

Down the road another woman's children were constantly attacked. She felt it would be safer for the children to live in Israel rather than in that estate, and this was at the time of the suicide bombings there. It shames me as a local representative from that area and as an Irish citizen that someone should have to go through that. I could bring anyone to the area to talk to people who will go through their stories. I do not believe my area is very different from anyone else's although perhaps I can articulate more extreme cases. Every Member of this House has a story to tell about the failure of our society to support people who are vulnerable in their communities.

As has been highlighted by the Coalition Against ASBOs, these orders violate the principle of diversion of children from the criminal justice system and are contrary to the Children Act and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Children Act contains many provisions which involve alternatives to deal with anti-social and other criminal behaviour by young people. However, the Minister has refused to activate parts of the Act or to give it enough resources to work.

The last thing one wants is young people getting into the criminal justice system by going to jail or whatever. There are alternatives, including a number of pilot schemes to try to keep young people out of the criminal justice system. In my area, the probation and welfare service runs such schemes. When one of the groups applied to the Minister to expand a programme which was working, keeping young people out of the criminal justice system and turning them around, it was told money was not available for this type of pilot scheme even though it had been in place for eight or nine years in that area. The general consensus among certain politicians, gardaí and the probation and welfare service was that it was working but resources were not available.

ASBOs will do nothing to address the root causes of anti-social behaviour such as drug and alcohol misuse, mental health problems, lack of proper parenting or family or other support and lack of community recreational and youth facilities. Sinn Féin proposes other options which will be more effective if given the chance and the proper resources. These include better community policing to deter and enforce existing law, which makes sense; more resources to enhance community supervision by the probation and welfare service — I gave an example in my community; full implementation of the provisions of the Children Act 2001, including youth diversion programmes, conferencing options, community sanctions and parental sanctions; and community restorative justice alternatives to imprisonment or fines for adults engaged in anti-social behaviour. A group in my area is active in respect of restorative justice. It has worked to a large extent in the North. It places the onus on those involved in criminal and anti-social behaviour to change their behaviour. It is an example of the community coming together and it is an area which has received little attention in the fight against crime in the community and in the support of gardaí.

Other proposals include a community mediation service for conflict resolution, such as that which operates in Norway, where the behaviour involved is disruptive and offence but not criminal; and more resources for mental health care, addiction treatment, social services and investment in community infrastructure in disadvantaged areas, including recreational and youth facilities.

The infrastructure is in place in many areas but the policy was to close many of those centres because many schemes in which people were involved were being disbanded. I welcome the fact there seems to be a change in that regard. Hopefully, those community facilities will continue to engage and involve more young people. Getting young people off the streets can help to avoid many of the problems in which young people get involved. I have examples from my area where community facilities for young people are open until 12 midnight or 12.30 a.m. There is also a drop-in centre for young people. We must get young people off the streets and street corners and get them involved in positive activity and interaction with adults and their peers. Education also has a part to play, for example, providing young people with computer facilities.

The next important issue is the Minister's proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility by two years to ten years of age. Employing twisted logic, the Minister argues he is raising the age of criminal responsibility by three years but that is not the case. The Children Act makes provision for the age of criminal responsibility to be 12 years and this commitment must be implemented and not discarded.

As regards the Minister's other proposals, including a drug offenders' register, mandatory minimum sentences and electronic monitoring, I do not believe he has demonstrated the need for certain measures or that they are based on a sound examination of costs and social outcomes of similar measures in other jurisdictions. A number of his other proposals also pose a threat to fundamental civil liberties.

I reiterate my party's frustration at the Minister's anti-democratic habit of transforming Bills on a whim midway through the legislative process.

I wish to share time with Deputy Gay Mitchell.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This is an important debate. Clearly, many parties have the same views on issues. What is happening in all our communities, particularly in disadvantaged ones, is indicative of what is happening in our society. On the one hand, there is the Celtic tiger but on the other, there is the Ireland of poverty, unemployment, drugs and of communities, predominantly working class ones, which have no infrastructure, are concrete jungles with no playgrounds and which are without care. There are communities which rarely see a garda except on official duty or in a garda car. We are losing touch with a significant section of our community by not putting the resources into it. Those resources would come from the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science and, in particular, Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The message we must send to the people is that the Parliament cares and will act and do more to support communities in need.

A reality of modern life is that young people are growing up in communities who often never meet one of their parents. The other parent in the home is working or is always out or perhaps there are other issues involved. Young people are growing up who have no sense of responsibility or of belonging because they do not see anybody who is a model of what one might call the traditional type of caring parent or who demonstrates caring behaviour. That is why there are gangs on the street and people who lose control on a Friday night as a result of drink and become extremely aggressive. We need to address that. This Bill addresses some of the issues which arise but not others.

Many living in these communities fall into the drug culture. I recently spoke to an individual, formerly a heroin user, who was in drug rehabilitation through a useful and important community group. When I asked him why he did heroin, he replied it was the only good experience he and his fellow users ever had in their lives. It physically did something for them as there was nothing else for them in their communities. From recent reports on heroin seizures, the Garda is effective in going after the drug barons and dealers. However, more quantities are being seized, an indication of greater consumption of this and other drugs. We are not doing enough to deal with this issue.

I acknowledge the fine work done by the Dublin Drug Court. Has the Government extended it to other areas in the Dublin metropolitan area? While the Dublin Drug Court took up much time and investment, I was privileged to sit in on the debates on issues with social workers, the Garda and the judge to see the intensity, commitment and powerful drive the court has in dealing with these issues. It is a fine day when a former drug user sits besides the judge to receive the acknowledgement that he or she is now drug-free and a different person. When one meets these people and their families, they are extremely happy to have beaten drug addiction and something new is happening in their lives. They are also happy there was an intensive investment from the Government and State agencies into managing their lives.

Hopefully, they can manage to stay drug free. However, for an individual with a conviction for heroin abuse who has been through the courts, there is a stage in his or her life where he or she may wish to change. What can this individual do with a record of conviction when looking for a job? Many employers will not take on people with convictions. If a person is drug free for a minimum of seven years, backed up with evidence from the Garda and social services, he or she should be allowed to apply through the courts for the conviction to be wiped, allowing for a fresh start. Recently a person attended my clinic who had served a five year term in jail for a serious drug offence but who was now trying to get his life together. While the post release social support services in Mountjoy Prison were helpful to him, he still could not get a job. He told me he would be forced to commit another offence simply to earn a living. While I am not being soft on crime or drugs, more support services are needed for those who leave the prison system, no matter how serious the conviction, who have paid their dues to society and want to take up their lives again. They can come under severe pressure from their former associates to return to crime. The individual I referred to was in an appalling state. More ought to be done for him seeing as he had paid his dues and wanted to lead a proper life.

This morning a lady in an appalling state attended my clinic and showed me photographs of what was formerly her home. Windows were broken, doors smashed in and the place was a total mess. When I contacted the social worker, she informed me she could not deal with it because the housing officer had not asked her to. There needs to be more effort in tackling issues where there are social problems, tenants living in appalling conditions and families with serious issues. We are not simply doing enough in this area. While this lady has an appointment to meet the social worker next Monday, I do not know what will happen in the interim.

To tackle crime, we have on the one hand the courts, the Garda and the justice machinery to work out these problems. On the other hand, we must do much more to support those communities in need, particularly those where historically individuals drop out of school without qualifications and fall into drug use.

When the Criminal Assets Bureau seizes the property of drug barons, it must be retained for seven years before it goes into the State coffers. Fine Gael and Labour recently put down a motion, rejected by the Government, which sought to have the moneys seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau returned directly to those communities affected by crime rather than used for filling potholes and paying for a computer mess-up in the Department of Health and Children. The proceeds of drugs and crime seized from those individuals who live off the backs of others in their communities must be spent directly in those communities. This money must pay for community halls and other resources that these communities do not have. The return of the proceeds of crime must be related directly to the communities from which they are taken.

If one looks at the prison population in Mountjoy Prison, the majority, some two thirds, come from five identifiable areas in Dublin. When discussing disadvantaged areas in Dublin, we cannot say we do not know where they are. When I was Minister of State with responsibility for local development, we designated those areas in Dublin that are disadvantaged, putting partnership boards into them. The drugs ministerial taskforce, of which I was a member, applied the local taskforces on the same basis. We know from income, participation in second and third level education and social welfare benefit statistics, where in Dublin the difficult areas are and where particular attention must be paid.

The one set of people who do not know much about these areas are judges. I am not having a go at judgesper se but few of them have grown up in these areas or even had occasion to visit them. Most Members by being involved in these communities are aware of what is happening in them, while judges do not have much of an idea. Sometimes, they make decisions on mistaken beliefs. A programme must be encouraged by the courts’ officers to encourage judges, particularly those in the lower courts, to spend some time in these disadvantaged areas. They would learn, for example, that one or two families can turn a beautiful estate of 70 houses into a hell for the other residents. Sometimes, judges look for unrealistic evidence to come down on those making life hell for other residents.

Some engagement must take place with judges where, as part of their duties, they spend some time in these areas finding out what it is like on the ground. Judges have an input that will be helpful. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform knows about the BASE youth development in Ballyfermot from having been involved in its launch. All members of the Government and anyone who wishes to tackle the crime problem should visit that project. While it has not yet opened, its development team is in place. Usually, when youth clubs are built, items such as snooker tables or table tennis facilities are installed and are welcome. However, in this case the people involved in the club in conjunction with the public authorities did some research. For example, the club will have facilities for cutting CDs to facilitate music writing as well as other creative ideas that will attract children and young people to it. Children and young people now want more than was available to us when we were young. They have too many distractions. If they can be attracted to facilities like the BASE facility, we might be able to divert their energies in a positive way. The House should consider how many BASE-type projects can be got up and running in all 11 partnership board areas in Dublin. Thereafter, we should examine the possibility of introducing them in other locations. This is the way to divert many of the energies to which I referred earlier.

In Question No. 430 of 4 October 2005, I asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he would make a statement on the level of recidivism in prisons in Ireland. He replied:

It is regrettable that accurate figures relating to the rates of recidivism in the prisoner population are not available at the present time. Since taking office however, I have sought to address this deficit through a major research project which is currently being undertaken by the institute of criminology in University College Dublin in co-operation with my Department.

I do not know when the study was undertaken. It might have been after I tabled the question. The Minister continued:

It is hoped that the findings will present an accurate picture of recidivism which, in turn, will assist and shape the way we manage prison sentences in the future. I understand that the findings of this research are expected in early 2007.

How can we address any issue regarding criminal activity if we do not know something as basic as the rate of recidivism? This is not the first time I have spoken in the House about statistics. I introduced a Private Member's Bill on crime statistics. Last year, I spoke in a debate on crime without making any party political points. I spent my time discussing how the former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, turned things around in that city. In particular, I outlined the system used in New York to measure crimes so they could measure their level of success in dealing with crime. The Minister has been in office for three years. If we do not know something as basic as the recidivism rate in prisons by now, how can we restore law and order? It is farcical that such basic information is not available to the Minister.

All law and no order is farcical. A special committee within the Law Reform Commission should be established to conduct annual audits of criminal justice laws, in order to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens. This is desirable because 60 criminal justice Acts have passed through the Dáil between 19 February 1985 and 8 March 2005. What is the House debating? Another item of legislation, namely, the Criminal Justice Bill 2004. The mind boggles that we believe issues can be dealt with simply through legislation. During that 20-year period, 17 of those laws related to issues such as the Decommissioning Act, extradition and the Children Act. However, the remaining 43 were specifically aimed at creating new powers for the State.

Despite such Acts, headline crime has risen by 10% since 1985, while the number of gardaí per head of population fell from one to 331 to one to 360 in the same period. The number of headline crimes per head of population increased during that period from 39 to 40 incidents per head, as the following figures indicate. In 1985, the number of headline crimes was 91,285. The population was 3.54 million so the rate of headline crime per head of population was 39:1. Garda manpower then stood at 10,700 giving a rate of one garda for every 331 people. In 2004, the number of headline crimes rose from 91,285 to 100,000. The population had risen to 4.04 million so the rate of headline crime per head of population was 40:1. As Garda manpower then stood at 11,248, the number of people for every garda had risen to 360.1:1.

Throughout that period and every time there is an outcry about crime, we are promised new legislation. These laws apply to all citizens, be they law-abiding or law breakers. In most years, these laws were passed at a rate of two or three per year, but in 1997, four such Acts were passed, in 1990, five, and in 1993, six.

The State must keep abreast of new forms of crime and must equip its institutions to tackle criminals. However, we must also remember that we live in a democracy and the rights of law-abiding citizens must also be protected. There are too many examples of how Governments and their agencies can abuse power, both in Ireland and abroad. The Constitution requires that there be checks and balances to protect the public interest. Therefore, I suggest that a special committee of the Law Reform Commission be set up to audit annually the compendium of laws that have been passed to address various issues whenever Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come under pressure.

Last year, I asked the Minister to set out——

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

I do not have time to list the 20 pieces of legislation that were passed between 1985 and 2005, but they are on the record in a reply from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to a parliamentary question I tabled earlier in the year. If we put those 20 pieces of legislation into four or five different Acts rather than implement them incrementally, Members would wonder why there was so much law and no order. What does this law do to law-abiding citizens? It does not make the hardened criminal shake in his shoes.

We need to strike a balance. I have never apologised for believing firmly in law and order, but all law and no order is not the solution. I ask the Minister and Members of the House to give some thought to this. Some 43 legislative measures were supposed to deal with crime, but the crime level rose and the number of gardaí per head of population decreased. There is something seriously wrong there. The Minister and his Department have a constitutional duty to protect the good name and character of law-abiding citizens and we do not want to give powers to people to supervise those who are not breaking the law, nor to intervene with them in any secretive way. I have no problem with any law enacted by the Minister in order to deal with criminals, but he must make sure the safeguards are there for law-abiding people.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill, as justice is an area about which I feel strongly. As public representatives, our offices are inundated every day with issues about justice. This is a very complex Bill and the explanatory memorandum outlines its details, but it is worthwhile and it gives us an opportunity to put some facts on the record.

The Bill is entitled an Act to amend and extend the powers of the Garda Síochána in relation to the investigation of offences, to amend criminal law and procedure in other respects, including provision for the admissibility in evidence of certain witness statements, an extension of the circumstances in which the Attorney General in the case or, if he or she is the prosecuting authority in a trial, the Director of Public Prosecutions may refer a question of law to the Supreme Court for determination or take an appeal in criminal proceedings, a restriction of the offences to which section 10(4) of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 applies, an amendment of the jurisdiction of the District Court in criminal matters, the imposition of fixed charges in respect of certain offences under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, an amendment of the requirements for the issue of a firearms certificate and an amendment of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 relating to the issue and execution of certain warrants, and to provide for related matters. The Bill proposes a number of amendments to the criminal law, particularly in the area of criminal investigations, which will enhance Garda powers in tackling crime and will generally improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system.

It is one thing to enhance the powers of the Garda, but without a sufficient number of gardaí on our streets, little can be achieved by giving extra powers to existing gardaí. In my constituency of Tipperary South, a sizeable country town like Fethard has a mere two gardaí. It had three gardaí in 1997, when the Government came to power, which is proof that this country is going backwards rather than forwards on justice issues. The Minister talks quite a bit about increasing the number of gardaí to 14,000 members on a phased basis, but in Fethard, the gardaí are being phased out in a town that is growing. At a time when crime is rampant, one cannot pick up a local newspaper without reading about another spate of robberies or petty vandalism. However, the people of Fethard must be feeling very insecure as their safety is in the hands of this Government. A number of Oireachtas Members were called to a public meeting only three weeks ago in Fethard. A packed local hall was told of incident after incident and of how many people are living in fear in the town. In my regular weekly clinic last Monday, three people came to me to complain about anti-social behaviour in the town. To expect two gardaí to look after a town the size of Fethard is very unfair. There is a number of small Garda stations near Fethard which have been closed. That meeting brought home to me the fear in which many people, especially the elderly, are living in their communities. It is grossly unfair that when lifestyles have improved everywhere, the quality of life for some has not improved as they are living in fear.

Clonmel is a large town of 24,500 people. Unfortunately, it has been dogged by vandalism and anti-social behaviour, yet the number of gardaí in the town has increased by a mere two members during the lifetime of this Government. This is not good enough. Without a sufficient number of gardaí on our streets, a small number of thugs are empowered to terrorise decent people and rob them in their homes and businesses.

Robbery is rampant in rural Ireland. In many cases, I suspect they are committed by people seeking money to feed a bad drug habit.

The insufficient number of gardaí has undoubtedly contributed significantly to the flood of drugs coming here. Every small town and village is affected by the drugs scourge these days. In fairness, with the meagre resources available, the Garda has done a fine job in tackling the drug epidemic but more resources are badly needed. Every now and then the Garda seizes a large consignment of drugs, which is to be welcomed. This shows it can carry out first class surveillance and intelligence operations, especially in respect of drugs. However, a significant amount of illegal drugs are still making their way here, largely due to under-resourcing of the Garda Síochána.

Drugs tear families and communities apart. Small time dealers operate all over the country who are often beholden to the serious criminal gangs importing drugs here. The drugs trade is giving criminal gangs a foothold in every town and village in Ireland. Sadly, my own constituency of Tipperary South is as affected by the drugs scourge as everywhere else. Parents are worried about their children. They need to know there are enough gardaí on the streets to deal with the drugs problem effectively. Until we have a sufficient number of gardaí on our streets, Criminal Justice Bills, such as the one before the House, will do very little. If gardaí were on the street dealing with the drug problems things would not be as bad as they are.

It pains me every time I hear people say somebody's money was got from drugs or such a person bought something with money made from drugs. The rumour machine is working in every town and village about where people are getting their money. The gardaí need resources to tackle this problem. I have said before in this House that the drugs scourge is not being tackled. This is a very worrying development which is not being seriously tackled. It is not a political issue. Some weeks ago the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, spoke about the issue in certain parts of Dublin city and in country towns. Drugs are a scourge tearing communities and families apart. Parents do not know or understand the extent of the problem until their children become involved with drugs when they go to college or go out into the workforce.

The drug problem is the most serious issue facing us and it requires to be tackled urgently. The problem is worldwide. Some years ago we were considered to be very fond of drink and there was a significant problem with alcoholism. The late Fr. Theobald Mathew, a native of my constituency, tackled that problem. We need somebody like him or some Government institution to tackle the drug problem. We must educate parents on the problems associated with drugs. More importantly, the problems related to drugs and drug taking must be brought home to young people in universities and night clubs. If anything comes from debate, it must be the need to introduce legislation on this matter and the need to have a figurehead or a Government agency to deal with this terrible problem.

In Carrick-on-Suir the number of gardaí in the town has remained static at 16 members since the Government came into office. Likewise, the figure remains static in Tipperary town at 31. Where is the evidence in South Tipperary that this Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform cares about people's needs? Where Garda numbers have increased, the increase has been pathetic. The number of gardaí was increased from 12 to 14 in Cashel. This is most unfair to the people of South Tipperary. When will South Tipperary have sufficient numbers of gardaí to ensure that justice is administered comprehensively?

The sad situation in the urban areas of South Tipperary is matched by a similar lack of resources in our villages. Right across my constituency, which the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley knows, rural Garda stations from Emly to Grangemockler are unattended most of the week. The closure of those Garda stations is unacceptable. The local Garda station should be a focal point of the village community, no different to the church, school or hurling pitch. The local Garda station was always part of the fabric of the rural community. People depended on it and they went to the local garda. Young people had confidence in the local garda. We are missing out on a very key aspect of policing when we neglect those stations, of which there are many throughout the country. A small amount of resources could make it practical for a garda to work out of each one.

There is an important community aspect to the work of local gardaí. A garda in the locality can get to know young people, their habits, faults and failings. When I went to school, we had a very healthy respect for the two gardaí stationed in my local community. At that time 80 children were in the local school. Although there are now 160 children in the school, there is no garda there. It is pathetic that this is allowed to happen. In addition to more rural Garda stations we need more gardaí on the beat in very town.

If we had more gardaí on the beat they would build up a better relationship with people, especially young people. The presence of the gardaí late at night when people are socialising would deter disorderly behaviour and could thwart criminals in their activities. Garda morale is at an all-time low under the Government. Instead of concentrating the few garda we have in tackling serious criminality, gardaí are standing on busy streets checking simple things like tax discs and speed, all important matters, but what affects people most is the widespread criminality. Priority must be given to protecting people as that is most important in the work of the Garda.

Debate adjourned.