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.