It is absurd to state that there has been a dramatic increase in headline crime for 2005 when the level of headline crime for 2005 is 4.4% lower than the level for 2002. I did not hear the Deputy state that there was a dramatic fall in headline crime when there was a decrease of 3% recorded for 2003 compared to 2002 and a further decrease in headline crime of 4% recorded for 2004 compared to 2003.
Since I took the decision to publish crime statistics on a quarterly basis at the beginning of 2003, I have consistently emphasised that care must be taken in interpreting the statistics, especially when considering short-term fluctuations and extrapolating trends over short periods.
I would like to refer to long-term crime patterns. The level of headline crime in 2005 is actually lower than that for 2003 by 1.6% and for 2002 by 4.4%. Furthermore, in 1995, with a population of almost 3.6 million people, there were 29 crimes per 1,000 of the population, while in 2005, with a population of over 4.1 million, there were 24.6 crimes per 1,000 of the population.
Our headline crime rate continues to compare favourably with those of our nearest neighbours. In England and Wales, in the year April 2003 to March 2004, the most recent for which figures are available, 113 crimes were committed per 1,000 population. In 2004-05 in Scotland, there were 86.3 crimes per 1,000 population and in Northern Ireland 69 per 1,000 population compared with our rate of 24.6 per 1,000.
There have, moreover, been significant reductions in 2005 in the incidence of manslaughter, down 50%, aggravated sexual assault, down 43%, robbery of cash-goods in transit, down 27%, robbery from the person, down 23%, and theft from the person, down 18%. However, the overall increase in recorded crime and the increases in particular categories in the most recent figures I published are disappointing and I will not downplay my concerns in that respect.
However, I do welcome in particular the significant decrease of 27% in the number of incidents of robbery of cash-goods in transit — down from 62 in 2004 to 45 in 2005. This trend improved in the fourth quarter with a decrease of 47%.
Operation Delivery, an initiative undertaken by the Garda Síochána to counteract the increase in cash-in-transit robberies, which emerged in 2004, has contributed significantly to this welcome decrease. Furthermore, the new code of practice now being operated by the major financial institutions and security companies involved in the cash-in-transit industry, has dramatically raised the standards in operation. I took a direct personal hand in dialogue with the leadership in the banking and security sectors in securing the adoption of this new code, which has made a significant contribution to the decrease. These developments have been underpinned by the establishment of the Private Security Authority, which has also taken place on my watch.
I also welcome the increase in the number of detections for possession of drugs for sale or supply, up 20%, and possession of firearms, up16%. In both cases these are offences which, in the main, become known as a result of active police detection work. This trend continued in the fourth quarter and, in the case of possession of firearms, improved, with an increase of 24%. These are statistical crime figure increases which we should welcome because they are detections flowing from increased Garda vigilance and a proactive approach.
Operation Anvil, which the Garda Commissioner introduced last May and for which I obtained substantial additional resources, made a significant contribution to this level of detection. Operation Anvil will continue as long as it is deemed necessary in operational and policing terms. At my request, the Commissioner has extended the operation to Garda divisions outside Dublin. The most recent figures available to me show that Operation Anvil has contributed to encouraging outcomes, with a total number of arrests of 1,522, which include 17 arrests for murder, 310 arrests for serious assaults, 629 arrests for burglary and 280 arrests for robbery offences. Furthermore, the total number of firearms seized to date under Operation Anvil is 347, and property to the value of more than €5.5 million has been recovered.
While it is the case that a number of the increases in headline crime statistics reflect increased enforcement activity on the part of the Garda Síochána, the overall picture indicates that there is no room for complacency. The Government's decision to continue to devote unprecedented resources to the fight against crime is clearly justified, as is my insistence that those resources be deployed at the front line of policing in this State.
This year, the Garda Síochána has the highest level of resources in its history at €1,290 million, which represents an increase of €146 million or 13% on 2005. The provision for Garda overtime in 2006 is €83.5 million — an increase of €23 million on the allocation for 2005. This increase will greatly assist the planned deployment of a visible policing service in a flexible, effective and targeted response to criminal activity and to crime prevention. The €83.5 million in overtime will yield 2.725 million extra hours of policing by uniformed and special units throughout the State.
I take great satisfaction in the Government's decision of October 2004 to approve the recruitment of 2,000 additional gardaí to increase the strength of the force to 14,000. As a result there will be a combined organisational strength, both of attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 in 2006 and 14,000 attested gardaí in two years' time. I have already promised is that the additional gardaí will not be put on administrative duties but will be put directly into frontline, operational, high-visibility policing.
In addition to this increase in resources, I am also bringing forward proposals to strengthen significantly the legislative provisions available. The Criminal Justice Bill 2004, which is currently before the House, provides a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures, which will enhance the powers of the Garda Síochána in the investigation and prosecution of offences. It contains an essential updating of our law to ensure that criminal offences can be investigated and prosecuted in a way which is efficient and fair and which meets the needs of modern society. It addresses such matters as the preservation of crime scenes, increased periods of detention in the case of arrestable offences, search warrant powers for the Garda Síochána, amendments to the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act 1990, provision for a fixed penalty procedure in respect of certain lesser public order offences, and the admissibility of statements by witnesses who subsequently refuse to testify or who retract their original statements.
The Garda Síochána policing plan for 2006, recently published by the Commissioner, includes a targeted reduction in the incidence of crime by 2% and an increase in detection rates by 2%. It also reflects the Government's priorities in the fight against crime and the actions which it wishes to be taken.
I can assure Deputies that I am in regular contact with the Garda Commissioner in order to keep the measures and resources for tackling crime under continuing review.