I wish to share time with my colleague, Deputy Olivia Mitchell.
Tackling Crime: Statements (Resumed).
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Unfortunately we live in a society that is experiencing ongoing crime on a large scale. I am delighted to see that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is present. I congratulate him on his appointment. Those of us who have been here for a number of years have seen many criminal justice Bills going through the House. Despite that legislation, however, crime continues to be committed on a massive scale. We need to examine new ways of dealing with crime. We should not give the impression that the Legislature alone can solve the problem because it is a matter for every citizen. We must seek the co-operation of citizens in dealing with crime. Thomas Jefferson once asked "If the people are not fit to govern themselves, then who is?" That is a worthwhile quotation because it is for the people to decide.
Those of us whose children go into town at the weekend worry about whether they will return safely. That is no way to live. Without the co-operation of the community this problem will continue no matter how many laws we pass. We must get the message across that everybody is responsible, not just politicians. For example, recently in my constituency, two primary schools were vandalised throughout August. In one case €36,000 worth of damage was caused by gangs getting in through skylights, ripping out wiring and wrecking the interior. Some local residents told the principal that they had seen several teenagers gathering regularly on the flat roof of the school during the summer. Nobody thought of calling the Garda Síochána about the possibility that these people were up to no good and now gardaí are trying to find out who caused the damage. That is only one example of the public co-operation that is necessary.
I read recently that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has increased the on-the-spot fine for littering from €125 to €150. That will not deal with the litter problem. I read also that last year 27,000 fines were issued for littering, 12,000 of which were paid. An extra €25 will not solve this problem and public representatives regularly call on local authorities to provide adequate litter bins. Wherever I went during the election campaign people asked me to get more litter bins. Why do we not ask the manufacturers of products such as crisps, chewing gum and cigarettes to sponsor litter bins and take responsibility for educating the public with the message that littering is not acceptable? Why chase people for fines? We do not want fines, we want clean streets. We give the impression that increasing fines will solve a problem. If people continually litter the streets they should do community service, picking up the litter from the streets, instead of paying a fine.
The Garda spends hours trying to catch drivers speeding. Is this a money raising racket or is it genuinely trying to deal with speeding? We would be better off without speeding fines or penalty points because it would mean that people were obeying the law. People do not respect these laws because they do not see them as realistic.
There are five minutes left in this slot.
I started only two minutes ago.
The Deputy started five minutes ago.
I did not.
The electronic timing may be wrong but I follow it.
I started to speak at 15.50.
The Deputy started at 15.48 and two seconds.
I am sorry.
On minor roads the speed limit is 110 km/h in rural areas. On the Bray dual carriageway the limit is 60 km/h and gardaí try to catch people speeding there. In some parts of Europe there are large signs warning drivers that checks are in operation for the following 20 km. That reduces speeding. Instead of trying to catch people we should encourage them not to speed.
I support the effort to stop people drinking and driving. Nothing has been done, however, about the drug problem. The after dinner brandy has been replaced by a line of cocaine. Middle class people do this. These people are the cause of the large scale importation of drugs into the country and of gangland crime.
If there are 14,000 gardaí in the force there are only at most 3,500 operating at any given time. It is time to discuss the outdated system of three shifts with the Garda Representative Association and Garda management. There should be more gardaí on the streets when they are needed and, if necessary, I will pay for this service through my taxes.
Deputy Olivia Mitchell has three minutes left in this slot.
With respect, the Deputy has five minutes. I started at 15.50.
The Deputy now has two minutes and 51 seconds.
The Leas Cheann-Comhairle is being very hard. According to a survey published last week inThe Irish Times the main concern of women here is fear of crime. Most women can identify and empathise with their feeling that they are not protected or secure. For some, however, that is not just a feeling but the reality of their everyday lives in many disadvantaged estates in cities and towns. People are subjected to vandalism, anti-social behaviour, intimidation, violence and, increasingly, murder is becoming almost commonplace. A parallel society is emerging in these estates. When that happens society begins to break down and alarm bells must ring.
Although we have often talked about crime and the need for prevention and enforcement we must examine what we are doing about this because it is not working. We need to be serious about a new approach, maybe by doing things we have shied away from in the past. We must for instance, stop pussyfooting around the concept of ID cards. Underage drinking is rampant and causes misery everywhere. Every evening on my way home I see groups of youngsters drinking. They are aged between 12 and 14 years and have no difficulty getting access to drink. They are destroying their own brains and causing misery for their neighbours as they make their drunken way home, destroying public and private property. They have no regard for anything and the police can do very little about them. They should probably be much more aggressive but we must help them by introducing a system of ID cards which has many other benefits.
We should be beating down the door of the European Commission to get help in patrolling our waters. Drugs come in through Ireland which is an easy back door into Europe. It is in everybody's interests that we co-operate in patrolling our waters. It is laughable to think that our naval services and coastguard are equipped with the money, the resources, or the incentives available to the international drug lords.
We have our own home-grown criminals. They are not born criminals. Children do not come into this world as criminals but without the right intervention some are immediately established on a path to Mountjoy or some other prison. Parents have a role in nurturing their children, ensuring they behave themselves and grow into responsible citizens, and Government's role is to help parents do that. There are, however, circumstances in which parents, regardless of help, cannot, will not, or do not want to nurture their children. Many of them are teenage drug addicts or criminals themselves. They will not get up on a Saturday morning to bring their children to the GAA or some other club. We must introduce pre-schools where every child gets an equal chance. There are primary schools around the country without sports teachers, sports halls, or swimming pools. There should be universal access to sports for every child in the country. The sports projects for those who are disadvantaged are great and the voluntary clubs do good work but the children who attend them are self-selecting, they come from motivated families whose parents want their children to succeed. Every child needs such a chance and unless the State takes over where parents have failed, we will face the breakdown of society. Alarm bells should be ringing for all Members in respect of crime.
I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this worthwhile debate. As I have noted in the past week or so regarding other issues, people on the streets want Members to debate issues that are of concern to them. In the past two days, Members have focussed again on health and crime issues, as the public desires.
I applaud the efforts of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan. I am a long-time and well-known supporter of the Lenihan family. I assure the Minister this is the case — I have demonstrated it — and I wish him well in his difficult task. I am confident he will do a superb job. I also will take this opportunity to wish the other parties' spokespersons well. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you will not object if I single out my constituency colleague, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, who will try hard to replace you after you did a tremendous job. I wish him well in this regard.
Many issues are raised in debates such as this, as was demonstrated by the previous two contributions. While I would like to make many points, I will focus on a few issues in the short time available, including my constituency. I represent Dublin South-West, which embraces Firhouse, Templeogue, Greenhills, the rural areas of Brittas and Bohernabreena and Tallaght. Some Members may find it surprising to learn that although Tallaght is the nation's third largest population centre, it only contains one Garda station. Garda services are also provided in my constituency from Clondalkin Garda station into Kingswood, as well as from Crumlin, Terenure and Rathfarnham Garda stations. A recent campaign for a second Garda station in the Tallaght west area has abated somewhat. Nevertheless, although the Garda authorities believe otherwise, this should be considered in future as such a major population centre should have adequate facilities. In this context it is proposed to redevelop the existing Garda station beside the Square in Tallaght. The Minister should take the opportunity to discuss the need for progress on the station's development with our colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for public works, Deputy Noel Ahern.
Moreover, while again reminding Members that Tallaght is the nation's third largest population centre, the question of manpower levels must be kept under review and the Minister should do so. While much progress has been made in recent years and certainly since I entered the Dáil, Members must devote much attention to the issue. I remember growing up in the streets surrounding Leinster House as I lived in South Great George's Street and attended school in Clarendon Street before moving to Crumlin. At the time, I always had the notion of the garda on the beat who did not want one to play football and so on. While times have moved on, I believe strongly that manpower levels in Garda stations should be such that regardless of other duties, gardaí on the beat should be supported.
I also wish to discuss briefly some other priorities. I recall my grandmother, who lived in a bygone time in Dublin. While I do not wish to make her sound controversial, I remember her telling me as a young child that whatever about serious crime such as bank robbery, she had no time for those who upset elderly people or others in communities. Forty or 50 years later, anti-social behaviour still registers with people in Tallaght and in Crumlin where I used to live and which is now represented ably by Deputy Catherine Byrne and other Members, as well as in other communities. While people are greatly concerned about serious crime, they are also concerned by annoying issues such as underage drinking or anti-social behaviour. The Minister must devote as much attention to such matters as to the major issues, on which I also support his views.
In this regard, I concur with other Members that it is important to support strongly the actions of the Minister, his predecessor and his Department in respect of dealing with young people who are in danger of falling into crime. In this context, I strongly support the Garda youth diversion projects. The Minister has recently approved funding for the new Garda youth diversion project in Brookfield, Tallaght west, and I warmly applaud that decision. This constitutes State money well spent. Previously, another project was funded in Tallaght, namely, the STAY project in the parish of St. Aengus in Tymon North. Although the Garda authorities will inform the Minister that the latter project is under some financial strain at present, I support it strongly. It is important for such projects to receive the support they deserve to reach those young people who experience difficulties and require assistance. Such use of resources is to be welcomed.
I could say much on drugs, the associated problems and the need for the Garda to stay on top of that issue. While this is not the Minister's direct responsibility, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform he should continue to assert that the deployment of State resources in communities in which facilities and resources are needed for young people should be supported. Our colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, with responsibility for drugs strategy and community affairs, Deputy Carey, has been highly proactive in recent times. He visited the local drugs task force area in Tallaght immediately after his appointment and, subsequently, a number of projects in Tallaght have received generous funding, including the Tallaght athletic club, the Jobstown all-weather pitch and the Kilnamanagh family recreation centre. I believe that communities and the public are behind the Minister with regard to Government expenditure of such moneys. Investment in young people, particularly at times when they could fall into the danger of committing crime, is money well spent and the Minister should continue to consider this matter closely.
The Minister has many tasks before him and people knock on his door continually. I listened to other Members discuss the question of prisons and who should be incarcerated. I have always believed that although wrongdoing should be punished, we still incarcerate people who could be dealt with in other ways. I do not condone crime at any level. Nevertheless all Members have encountered cases in which people have been taken away for offences such as failure to pay television licence fees. I encountered such a case the other day in which a young man was taken away and jailed. While I do not condone wrongdoing, prison places should be reserved for those who should be locked up. There are many dangerous criminals knocking around who cannot be accommodated in prison because others are inside. There is a thin line in this regard and while I must be careful not to condone anything, an innovative and radical approach is required on this issue. The Minister should consider it in the midst of his other concerns.
I have read some publicity on how the Minister responded to an issue that arose in his neighbourhood in recent times. People desire Members to speak up for victims of crime and those affected by it. Much progress has been made in this regard in recent years. However, although I acknowledge the Minister has a broad remit, he should not forget that victims of crime still need to be cared for. I have had some personal experiences of this kind as my car has been stolen and my house has been broken into. Although such incidents were not as serious as other crimes that have taken place, I share people's concerns. The British Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, has contributed to a debate on this issue.
I hope the Minister is examining all those issues. I wish him well. He has my absolute support. I know he will do well in this Ministry.
I wish to share time with Deputy Clune.
I welcome the chance to speak on this important matter that has implications for every man, woman and child in this country. Few citizens have not been adversely affected by crime in the past decade and by the scandalous inability of the Fianna Fáil Government to tackle the changing face of criminal activity, which seems to indicate that life is cheap given the large number of gun-related crimes over the past two to three years. Gun crime, killing motivated by greed and revenge, much of which is drug related, has reached epidemic proportions and is a massive indictment of this Government. After ten years in Government and over ten years after the horrific murder of Ms Veronica Guerin, Fianna Fáil has done nothing to tackle the rise in gangland crime.
Decent people are robbed and assaulted in their homes and communities are ravaged by the scourge of drug-related and other crime. Ordinary people feel the justice system is tilted in favour of criminals rather than unfortunate victims and are all too conscious that many sentences handed down for serious crime are an insult to the concept of justice. I was surprised the previous speaker referred to this, given that he comes from the Government side of the House. Prisons are operating a swinging door policy and the punishment is definitely not fitting the crime.
With regard to criminal activity at local level, I wish to highlight in particular the position in my area of Longford-Westmeath and the midlands, an area with which the Minister is familiar and where he has his roots, where the supposed rural pace of life is being threatened and its peace and tranquility are being overturned by excess and threats of violence and intimidation. Overall, the number of headline offences in the midlands between the end of the second quarter of 2006 and the end of the second quarter of 2007 has increased by 1.5%. While the number of offences across the State has decreased by 1.1%, a small percentage over the same period, according to the Central Statistics Office in its most recent report, analyses show that between the end of the second quarter of 2006 and the end of the second quarter of 2007 the number of headline offences in the midlands increased by 44, representing a rise of 1.5%. Over the same period the number of such offences across the State decreased by approximately 1,000, from 104,682 at the end of the second quarter of 2006 to 103,682 at the end of the second quarter of 2007. This is not a cause for Government self-congratulation, but is caused by people who have lost confidence in the justice system not reporting crimes. I know of several persons who have not reported crimes because they stated that nothing will happen and one will only get the sympathy of the Garda Síochána on the issue. According to the Central Statistic Office, headline crime statistics are interpreted as referring to serious crime incidence but while considered to be the most serious, they do not represent all crime figures.
The fear of crime is greater in the midlands compared to the average levels for the State. Indeed, the findings highlighted that the perceptions of crime are higher than the national average in four out of five key indicators. The level of crime in Longford-Westmeath over the past year has frequently grabbed headlines in the national press. There were four raids in Longford last year. There were also a similar number of raids in County Westmeath over the same period. The recent dreadful murder of a young mother in Longford town shocked the county and the entire country. One of the saddest cases I heard in the past year was that of two elderly sisters who reported a break-in at 7 p.m. one evening and had to wait until 11 a.m. the following morning for the gardaí to arrive on the scene.
To answer the crime rate in the midlands the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Government need to honour their promise to provide 2,000 extra gardaí. The Minister needs to achieve a visible Garda presence on our streets and to equip the Garda properly. The criminals are better equipped than the Garda Síochána and it is sad to have to say so.
The trouble with the law these days is that criminals know their rights better than their wrongs. Perhaps the trouble with this Government is that inaction encourages them in their misapprehension, but therein lies the rub. A government teaches the people by example. If by chance the Government becomes the law breaker, it breeds contempt for law and invites every man and woman to become a law unto themselves which invites anarchy. My party is the one with the record of standing for law and order and I wish the Minister would adopt the policy of former Ministers from this side of the House, former Deputy Paddy Cooney from my constituency and former Deputy Nora Owen, and indeed of my party's spokesperson who made a fine speech here today, Deputy Charles Flanagan.
I wish the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, well with his portfolio. We would not be discussing this matter if a young garda had not been shot in the line of duty last week. Garda Paul Sherlock, a 34 year old father of two out in the front line of the fight against crime, has become the latest victim of the apparent lawlessness which has engulfed the country.
Almost 20% of the homicides since 2000 have been gangland slayings. Maybe a blind eye was turned to these murders on the basis that it was just one criminal killing another and we should let them at it, but that was naive. The gangland criminals now believe they can get away with murder and many have already done so.
Mr. Anthony Campbell, the 20 year old plumber, should also be remembered as his only crime was to be working in a house in Finglas where he witnessed a gangland murder. For that, Anthony was executed. That was only last December. Mr. Campbell and Garda Sherlock are just two victims of the criminal gangs who do not fear the law, who kill without hesitation and who believe it is better to leave a corpse than a witness. Criminals are becoming the masters of an increasingly lawless element where life is cheap, witness intimidation is an art and all that matters is control of the drugs trade.
Drugs money is at the centre of many of the problems facing this country. Drugs money is the seed from which lawlessness is grown. In today's Ireland cocaine is the drug of choice for many. We heard over the weekend how Europe has become flooded with cheap cocaine. In the past four years cocaine seizures have increased by 750%. The major haul found accidentally of the south-west coast during the summer is one of which we know, but how many more are getting through? I support the call made earlier by Deputy Olivia Mitchell to get help from Europe to secure our waters. We need additional support in policing our waters. Ireland is a small island on the edge of Europe and it is seen as a gateway for many of these drug deliveries. In a study last year DCU tested 47 random EU notes every one of which was found to be contaminated with cocaine.
The lawlessness on our streets is a national crisis and a direct challenge to the State and to all of us. It is a challenge for the Government and one which I hope the Minister will face. I heard the Minister's speech in which he addressed a number of issues. I strongly support his efforts with juvenile liaison officers and the joint policing committees. Having been a member of a local authority, I know how valuable a role local authority members, local gardaí and local community activists must play in ensuring in many cases that problems can be nipped in the bud and that young people, who gather and come in the way of drugs, alcohol or lawlessness, can be helped and supported. It is worthwhile work. We need more gardaí on the streets and a greater Garda presence in our communities. That is an important element in the fight against crime which is worthwhile in terms of saving young people from becoming errant and saving their families and communities from the heartache and stress which that can cause.
We also need to ensure that we bring in legislation to tackle witness tampering, to introduce a witness relocation programme and to increase needed community services. If we continue to turn a blind eye to gangland crime, we can continue to expect that innocent victims such as Anthony Campbell and Paul Sherlock will pay the price for our cowardice and indifference.
I congratulate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on his appointment. He has all the qualifications to be an excellent Minister for Justice.
I welcome his earlier statement that he is consulting this House before finalising priorities for the Garda Síochána in 2008. I especially welcome his statement that it is easy to sound tough on crime, but what is needed is to be tough on crime. In other words, effectiveness counts much more than rhetorical pyrotechnics. While I take crime extremely seriously, I have little time for political parties here or elsewhere taking up positions or using exaggerated language, not objectively justified, merely in order to impress the public that they are the most macho on the subject.
We are also fortunate in having a Taoiseach who has always regarded justice as an area of major political importance and priority.
Tell us that again.
I wish to deal briefly with four subjects, namely, terrorism, domestic and international; violent and armed crime and activities associated with that; anti-social behaviour; and the best use of the State's resources.
People are concerned about terrorism here and abroad where lives can be ended in a flash entirely without warning. The first rule is to express no complacency nor to assume that because we have escaped so far, thanks in large part to Garda vigilance, we will always escape in the future. Since the Omagh bomb, terrorist activity in this State has been negligible and everyone is grateful for the peace we now enjoy, and which has been consolidated, and the protection that has been provided.
I remain concerned, however, by the continued existence of dissident organisations not committed to ceasefires and not foreswearing all criminal activity, as we saw in regard to the INLA yesterday. I am also concerned by the procrastination of mainstream loyalist organisations in winding up their activities. Full decommissioning and disarmament should be pursued in regard to each and every one of these organisations.
I was shocked when, some time over the past year in an RTE repeat of a "Léargas" interview of 1997, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, president of Republican Sinn Féin, denounced "the poison of constitutionalism". I am pleased mainstream Sinn Féin has, in effect, in recent years in a post-Agreement context repudiated the poison of the Green Book, which Irish democracy has successfully refuted.
With regard to the danger of international terrorism, I deeply deplore the type of rhetoric used about ongoing conflict in Iraq. It almost appears to incite terrorism in regard to this country, which has not been in any way involved. I refer to individuals outside this House, rather than anyone in it. The use of Shannon Airport is fully justified by the UN resolution of June 2004, which asked member states to afford facilities to the multinational force. Many references are made in this House and elsewhere to an illegal war, which in my view exaggerates the clarity of international law, but few references are made to a criminal regime, even if the manner of overturning it was arguably ill-judged and the particular justifications put forward for doing so are ill-founded and disingenuous. We have a multicultural population, which we wish to live in harmony together. We have had enough of young Irish people growing up in this country, blowing up themselves or others, without wishing to see it ever happen again.
The incidence and impunity, where it seems to exist, of armed crime is seriously destabilising if not consistently confronted. While armed Garda units are essential, we should hold on to the principle of an unarmed police force, as that is the best way to cement solidarity and co-operation between the Garda and the people. Armed gangs may be putting their lives and certainly their freedom at risk, but there must be no suggestion from these Houses relating to the Garda that could be misrepresented as encouraging a shoot-to-kill policy. On the other hand, the aggressive advertisements which try to deter people from dangerous driving should be extended to other areas, showing the consequences and victims of crime, and then the consequences for convicted criminals. One could, for example, pose the question: "Do you want to spend the best years of your life in jail?"
There is obviously some correlation between poverty and crime. However, around 1960, crime was at a low ebb when everyone was much poorer. Today, it is the opportunities of enrichment, especially in the drugs trade, that attract people to crime. The call to legalise drugs is naive. The State would still have to police the content and standard of drugs, and open warfare between cartels trying to capture the trade. It goes without saying that if Members of this House are required not to smoke inside this building and not to evade taxes, we are certainly required as public representatives to uphold the law on the consumption of hard drugs, whatever any of us may have done in our youth.
The single most important initiative, which at least checked the trade, was the Criminal Assets Bureau, established on foot of an initiative in 1996 by Deputy John O'Donoghue and subsequently adopted by the then Minister, Deputy Nora Owen, following the murder of Veronica Guerin. I welcome the announcement of international co-operation against the importation of drugs by sea from Latin America. The international community could be doing much more to create incentives to stop the relevant plants being grown in the producer countries.
There is a shocking number of very often drug or drink-fuelled lethal attacks on individuals enjoying a night out.
We are moving all over the place.
One of my daughters was with many others in August at a going-away party in the company of the young man, an employee of Google, who was murdered in Sandymount. It happened in the early hours of the morning while he was walking home with friends and he intervened to protect a girl on the street who was being physically abused by her companion. The ending of that young man's life had a shattering effect on his family and on all who knew him. Unfortunately, such incidences are an increasingly regular occurrence. Long sentences are needed for those who end other people's lives, regardless of class or so-called good character.
In most parts of the country, the single biggest day-to-day priority is tackling anti-social behaviour, which can so much affect others' quality of life, especially the quality of life of those who do not have the most advantages. Things can go horribly wrong, as occurred on an estate in Clonmel last spring and as referred to by Deputy Rabbitte. Extra Garda numbers must lead to a greater Garda presence on the streets in convincing strength, in places and at times when trouble is most likely, especially Friday and Saturday nights. There should be incentives for gardaí willing to live on-the-job in Garda stations in smaller villages so that there is always a Garda presence. This is a confidence issue with many communities.
I welcome the establishment of liaison committees in south Tipperary, initially in Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir, but I hope soon in Cashel and Tipperary town also. During the Seanad debate on the legislation a couple of years ago, I seriously pressed the Minister's predecessor to include town councils as well as bigger local authorities, and he did so. We must realise a holistic approach is required involving issues such as street lighting, housing maintenance, the positioning of walls and pathways, as well as positive recreational opportunities, including sports halls as mentioned by Deputy Olivia Mitchell, all of which are the function of other public authorities. All of these issues have a part to play.
Finally, we should use the resources we have to the best effect. Members of the Garda or the Garda Reserve should not be doing jobs that civilians could do equally well. I regret that high calibre judges have been diverted to tribunals that have lasted far too long. Prisons must be rehabilitative and not breeding grounds for crime. A new and drug-free environment must be the goal. Generally speaking, prisons should be used as far as possible only when restraint for the protection of the public as well as punishment is required. Tax evaders, for example, can be punished and deterred in other ways. Far more use generally should be made of name and shame, as well as financial penalties on those who can well afford them. Holding someone in prison, unnecessarily, is a penalty on the State.
A low crime rate will help all other economic and social objectives. We should not be despondent. Two centuries ago the world largely rid itself of piracy on the high seas and Jefferson, as invoked by Deputy Seán Barrett, was the person chiefly responsible for this. Equivalent achievements are not beyond our reach today.
I compliment the Minister on his recent appointment and wish him well in his portfolio. I also compliment Deputy Martin Mansergh on a well structured and well thought out speech. I agree with him on a number of issues, particularly in regard to retaining an unarmed police force, which has served us well since the foundation of the State. My only criticism is that Fianna Fáil has been in power for ten years so much of the advice Deputy Mansergh is now giving to the Minister should have been implemented in that period.
Unfortunately, the Minister in office for the past five years was prone to attacking criminals through the media and claiming not only that he had dealt with them but that he had seen the last sting of a dying wasp in 2005. Despite this claim, that year saw the largest number of gangland killings until then and the following year set another record. The last Minister did much talking but took little action. He was also anxious to condemn anybody who suggested he was not fully in control of criminality throughout the country. Unfortunately, he has left a legacy with which the current Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, will have to deal. I can predict with considerable certitude that this debate will mirror many debates in the next five years on this issue, namely, how we tackle crime.
At the beginning of his term in office, Tony Blair stated that we should be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. We have not been successful in being tough on either. If one reflects on the litany of crime in recent days, it raises the spectre of what urban Ireland in particular has become. In Limerick, multiple shots were fired at four separate houses in the course of last night. In my constituency of Dublin Central, guns and explosive devices were discovered at Stanhope Green and not just the Garda but the Army had to be called to deal with them. Yesterday, in Clondalkin, eight kilos of cocaine worth €2 million was seized by gardaí. Only last week, a traffic garda was shot seriously in the stomach on Ossory Road, again in my constituency. The previous week, a drug dealer was shot in Finglas. Clearly, this microcosm of criminal activity in recent days demonstrates the seriousness of gangland activity in the city, particularly as gardaí themselves are not immune to the threat of violence and the use of weapons against them.
I recently received a letter from a number of local pharmacists, who stated they would no longer be in a position to prescribe methadone to the large number of addicts in my constituency because the HSE had unilaterally and without discussion reduced the return they would make on the prescription of drugs from approximately 18% to 8%, and that this was to reduce further to 7% in January. These pharmacists are brave people who are concerned largely with the security of the personnel working in their pharmacies, who prescribe and deliver methadone in circumstances that give rise to considerable difficulties. For the HSE to act unilaterally and make it difficult for the pharmacies to operate in a profitable manner is not good enough.
The problems of this generation are much more serious than those of the previous generation. When I became involved with dealing with prison reform in the 1970s, criminality had a totally different profile. Crime is far more serious today. It is more drug-related and gun-related and the profile of the prisoner in the prison system is totally different also. We have been very slow to respond to the changing profile of criminality in Ireland. This partly stems from the attitude of certain authorities, such as the former Minister who spoke of the last sting of a dying wasp. There was a sense of denial that a serious problem existed throughout the country — the same is true of a large number of senior gardaí.
This sense of denial is fuelled by the type of statistics available, which relate to reported crime although only certain crimes will be reported. Homicides will always be reported because there is always a body. Crimes against property, if serious, will be reported because an insurance issue must be dealt with. Drug seizures will always be reported because gardaí must report them. In the past five years, statistics have been trotted out to suggest headline crimes are down overall because these are the only areas where crimes must be reported. All the crimes in regard to anti-social behaviour, muggings, community-based crimes and lesser crimes of assault on persons are not reported because there is a perception they will not be dealt with and, therefore, there is no sense in reporting them. The five-year household survey is the only statistical evidence on which we can rely with regard to criminality.
What can we do? First, we need to face the reality that there is an escalating level of serious criminality in this country. We must target areas in a much more focused fashion. For example, there was virtually no cocaine in this country before 2000 but when it arrived, we were not prepared and no steps were taken to deal with it. It could have been targeted early and dealt with but that did not happen. Every few years, a new type of drug arrives on the scene but because we are not prepared to nip it in the bud at an early stage, or we do not have a task force that is directed towards examining the new threats, we are not able to eliminate them. We must be prepared.
We must use local authorities more than we have done. For example, I do not understand why local authority boundaries or Dáil constituency boundaries should not coincide with Garda division boundaries. When we begin to operate the community policing committees properly, we must have a geographical area that is coterminous with the local authority boundaries, which are the major administrative boundaries in the State. In addition, the community policing structures must be rapidly upgraded and given the resources and strength they require.
We have been very slow to produce legislation on trafficking in persons. In a joint operation with Ireland, the British authorities are now extending Operation Pentameter, which deals with the trafficking of women and children from Eastern Europe and the Far East to this country, largely for the purposes of sex exploitation and work exploitation. Irish legislation is not in place to deal with this.
It will be published next week.
I am glad to hear that. I accept the Minister has already indicated he would give this matter priority. However, my other concern in this area is that although we are about to address the EU reform treaty, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the British Government are already seeking derogations on matters regarding criminality and justice operations on the unsatisfactory basis that two different systems operate in Europe, namely, the common law system in Ireland and Britain and the continental system in most of the rest of Europe.
Maximum co-operation, including joint operations, is required across member states on all issues of criminality. We cannot use excuses to seek a derogation from jurisprudence issues. We must be fully involved and it behoves the Department to come clean on the issue. We cannot stand idly by while cross-border trafficking of drugs, weapons and people is the order of the day, nor can we can take a position that we will stand alone with Britain because we are not part of mainland Europe and do not trust the jurisprudence or police forces of other countries. We must adopt a common approach and become fully involved in the reform treaty on this specific crime issue.
I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Kennedy. I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. His statement on tackling crime and the positive figures he presented to the House, including those showing an increase in detection rates and a decline in the number of headline crimes, is welcome. I also welcome his announcements on joint policing committees and the juvenile crime programme and join him in paying tribute to the work done by Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy. I wish the Commissioner well in his retirement and extend my best wishes to Deputy Commissioner Fachtna Murphy in the position of Garda Commissioner which he will assume next month.
As a Deputy living in a rural area, I can testify to the crimes perpetuated on constituents of mine, both young and old, weak and strong and those living in small towns and villages, rural hamlets and isolated parts of the countryside. In many areas, crime is an everyday reality with random incidents of violence, robbery and burglary experienced by many. We live in a madcap consumer world in which materialism is the new God. People's expectations leave many unable to cope, which results in considerable pressure and disappointment. Alcohol and drug consumption are at an all-time high. Crime creates a culture of fear, leaving many vulnerable people in isolated areas nervous when they hear such normal, everyday sounds as a knock on the door, the barking of a dog or a car pulling into a yard. This fear results in the twitch of a curtain and a nervous face peeping out behind it.
I have been attacked four times. One of the attacks was physical, while the other three were on my property. I have also had the unpleasant experience of seeing the trauma experienced by an elderly relative in rural County Wicklow who has been burgled seven times.
While progress has been made, it is vital that the Government continue to provide adequate resources and supports to elderly citizens, community groups and the Garda Síochána. I would like my local Garda station in Borris, County Carlow, to have longer opening hours. It currently opens for one hour on five mornings each week and for two hours on a sixth morning.
I will work with the Government to remove the service charge of €66 per annum associated with having a socially-monitored alarm system in the homes of the elderly in case of accidents or emergencies. These devices offer tremendous assistance to people living in rural areas when an emergency occurs because they provide a vital link to community support in the event of an incident in an elderly person's home. A dedicated law centre is needed in my home county town of Carlow for women who have been the subject of violence or abuse.
I welcome the provision in the programme for Government to further increase Garda numbers to 15,000 by 2010 and 16,000 by 2012. I also welcome the commitment to rid our estates and towns of anti-social behaviour by improving and supporting community-based approaches, including family-focused solutions and community policing. I ask the Minister to fast-track grant aid for CCTV systems — I am aware he intends to take action in this regard — particularly for local community groups and organisations in a bid to cut down on the anti-social behaviour and thuggery in many of our towns and villages. Tackling the causes of crime will lead to crime prevention. Building strong local communities with decent facilities for young people, adequate green spaces for recreational use and adequate resources for young and old will do much to strengthen and improve community relations.
I speak from the heart on this issue. Ordinary, decent people want to live peaceful lives devoid of anti-social behaviour and crime. They would like to leave the key in the door now and again without fretting about whether they have turned on their alarm systems. Fear must never replace trust in our communities.
I welcome this debate and support the Government in its drive to tackle crime in our towns, villages and rural areas. The debate provides an opportunity to highlight the needs of those living in rural areas who have been affected by crime. I hope it will strengthen the resolve of all those involved in policing and community engagement and result in further tangible financial support from Government.
I join other speakers in congratulating the Minister on his appointment. I have the utmost confidence that he will perform his duties honourably and effectively. I welcome the many positive aspects of the Minister's statement, particularly with regard to Garda numbers. While all of us want serious crime tackled effectively, anti-social activity is probably the issue of most concern to ordinary citizens. This problem needs greater Garda attention. I call specifically for an increase in the number of gardaí patrolling on mountain bikes as they are in a better position to cross open public spaces and so forth.
In my constituency, particularly in Swords, five or six pubs close at the same time. It is imperative that different establishments have different closing times because excessive alcohol consumption results in problems when 400 or 500 people leave pubs at the same time and seek taxis home.
I welcome the establishment of joint policing committees. Local authorities have an important role to play in this respect given that they own many public parks and open spaces where a great deal of anti-social behaviour takes place.
We should prioritise community service over fines. Requiring young people to go out among their own peers to clean up litter, sweep streets or engage in other community activities, acts as a much greater deterrent than imposing a fine. Parents must also take greater responsibility for their children and should be financially penalised if their children break the law. They must know where their children are in the early hours of the morning.
We need more gardaí on the beat right across Dublin North, the constituency with the fastest growing population in the country, if not in Europe. Despite this, my constituency has not benefited from an increase in Garda numbers. Part-time Garda stations should be manned to a much greater extent at weekends. While it is important to open such stations for a couple of hours on week days, the problems of excessive drinking and anti-social activity generally occur at weekends.
It is imperative that Garda divisions reflect the boundaries of county councils. The northern end of my constituency forms part of the Meath-Louth Garda division. This approach is not effective for the purposes of crime statistics. Joint policing committees, which I welcome, will be much more effective if Garda divisions are aligned with the boundaries of local authorities, for example, Fingal County Council.
In general, drug use is associated with people in our inner cities etc., but there is a growing culture of drug usage in the middle class. One hears stories of drugs being freely available at house parties and so on. It will have a detrimental effect on future generations. What effect will it have on the minds of young people if they see their parents taking drugs? While some of us are right to say drug barons are the bane of society, it is the middle class that is making multimillionaires out of them. The situation needs attention and I recommend that the Minister and his colleagues get to grips with it.
With whom is Deputy Catherine Byrne sharing her time?
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. In the past 20 years, our communities have undergone considerable transformations. Our newfound prosperity has resulted in much that is to be welcomed, but changing lifestyles have brought new and often difficult challenges. Daily headlines of violent crimes such as murders, gangland shootings and other crimes are well documented and there seems to be no deterrent for criminals. The Government needs an effective programme of action to bring to justice the dangerous criminals terrorising our communities.
While serious crime is widespread, the everyday problem of anti-social behaviour is making the lives of many people almost unbearable. Anti-social behaviour can hold a community to ransom. Behaviour that can start out as a mere nuisance can quickly lead to petty crime and criminal damage. Daily, I meet people affected by all kinds of bullying by groups of youths, many of whom are as young as nine years of age. That people are being terrorised and do not feel safe in their homes is unacceptable.
Sadly, the most vulnerable in our society, the easy targets, are the elderly. I know many elderly residents whose homes are fortresses because of anti-social behaviour. I could document many cases where a visit to the local shop after 6 o'clock is impossible. Verbal harassment, loud music, loitering, drinking and drug-taking have reached an all-time high in many communities. Even the once friendly family pet has become a weapon. Why must those who have given so much to our society endure isolation and intimidation? Have we become a society of hear all, see all and do nothing?
One of the main ingredients for tackling anti-social behaviour is at our disposal, namely, community policing. All the evidence shows that community policing works and that it is the best way to combat anti-social behaviour, street violence and overall criminal behaviour. However, the current system must be built on and expanded to create a safer environment on our streets. We need real and effective community policing through engagement with local young people. The key to community policing is partnership and shared responsibility between the community and the Garda. Community policing is getting to the heart of the community, getting to know the youths on the street corner, dropping into youth clubs and being on first name bases with the locals.
Community gardaí must stay in one community without changing regularly if there is to be continuity. This would help to develop a good relationship between the Garda and the youths. Community gardaí need to become the new frontline of policing because they are the ones making a difference, but there is a lack of community gardaí. Currently, a small number of men and women take on a significant task. In my constituency of Dublin South-Central, which has a population of 122,000, there are 21 community gardaí, six in Sundrive Road, six in Crumlin, six in Ballyfermot and three in Inchicore. On average, there is one community garda for every 6,000 residents. How can this be effective? The Government's long-promised resources have not been delivered.
As a member of a policing forum in my area, I meet community gardaí and the local residents to whom it is a safe haven because their voices can be heard by their local community gardaí. Often, the forum is involved in raising crime issues in their community. The majority of anti-social behaviour goes unreported and uninvestigated because it is considered more of a nuisance than unlawful. People need to know that they can go to the Garda and that their problems will be dealt with.
The Criminal Justice Act 2006 led to the introduction of anti-social behaviour orders earlier this year. How many such orders have been put into effect? As a citizen who believes in youth services and who has worked her entire life among communities, I do not want to criminalise young people, but they must be held responsible when they commit an offence.
I compliment the Garda Síochána on its work, but its resources are limited and anti-social behaviour is at the bottom of its list of priorities. Parents must take responsibility for their underage children causing mayhem in our communities.
The Deputy's time has expired.
Will the Minister continue to support policing forums in any way possible? Will the Government continue to support youth activities in communities, particularly the youth cafes in my constituency?
I wish the Minister well. It is not my intention to look back, but it was with a certain irony that I listened to Deputy Mansergh discussing his disdain for political parties that ratchet up crime. I must check to determine who he represents.
The Ceann Comhairle, Deputy O'Donoghue.
If I may be so bold, I will give the Minister two items of advice. First, he referred to how easy it is for one to sound tough on crime when one should be tough on crime, an opinion I advocate. His predecessor is gone, but it is important to do the job instead of articulating on the airwaves what he will do.
Second, it is difficult to follow crime statistics. While there is an attempt to dumb them down — the Department's officials inserted in the Minister's speech facts about detections per head of population — it is important to have clear statistics on crime. We cannot deal with crime unless we know whether it is increasing or decreasing. No favours are done by dressing up the statistics or massaging them in a certain way.
I want to see the Minister do two things during his time in office. He should try to establish the link between disadvantaged education and crime, an issue I have been raising for ten years. One of the Minister's predecessors gave a commitment and some officials may have travelled to the United States to examine statistics on the link between educational disadvantage, including dyslexia and other literacy problems, and people who become involved in crime. At a juvenile delinquency centre in Britain, approximately 50% of the residents suffer from dyslexia whereas the normal percentage of the population is 4% to 8%. As inequality can be dealt with through early primary education, we should invest more resources in that area.
I welcome the Minister's announcement of a new centre for young offenders. The educational centre for young offenders at Mountjoy Prison completed in April 2003 was not manned or operated until April 2007. I do not know what has happened since, but I advise the Minister to examine the young offender centre at Thorn Cross outside Manchester. My visit before last Christmas was a fantastic experience where I spoke with the inmates and prison officers. The centre has a vocational education ethos. The young offenders spoke of how they write to their buddies in the bang-ups, as they call them, and advise them to attend Thorn Cross. They have good relationships with the prison officers, are placed in jobs in the community and are liaised with as time passes. For many young male offenders, the relationships they built with the prison officers were the first in which they had male role models. If the Minister cannot go, he should request some of his officials to visit Thorn Cross before he develops the new centre.
Very often, simple measures can address the antagonism people face, especially from anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviour comes in waves. Today the problem is graffiti and tomorrow it will be something else. One of the most significant problems currently involves boy racers in souped-up cars who bomb around towns and country roads at night. A simple measure which considers the insurance and tax implications of upgrading and modification of cars might reduce the incidence of this kind of behaviour.
According to legislation introduced by the last Dáil, control over setting out Garda divisions is outside the Minister's control. My home county of Wicklow is covered by three Garda divisions and it is virtually impossible to follow their boundaries. We are governed by Gorey, Dún Laoghaire and Carlow-Kildare and there is no centre in the county itself. While there cannot be a Garda division for every county, there should be definitive boundaries such as could be established by joining two counties together. When everybody is in charge, nobody is in charge. It is difficult for the public to establish which is their division. I acknowledge that the matter is one for the Garda Commissioner.
When the Commissioner comes to look at the above matter, the Minister might discuss with him the rebalancing of Garda deployment. For historical reasons, there are significant disparities inper capita deployment of gardaí among certain areas. It is important to address the matter. While I realise it would be difficult to reallocate, for example, 100 gardaí from the Cork to the Galway division, appropriate placement of recruits could resolve the problem over a short period.
Os rud é gurb é seo mo ráiteas maighdine, mar a déarfá, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a chuir in iúl do mo bhean chéile, mo chlann, mo lucht tacaíochta agus mo phairtí, a obair chomh dian ionas go dtoghfar mé sa toghchán. I wish the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, well in his job. The incoming Commissioner, Mr. Murphy, will also do a fantastic job.
To echo other Deputies, the chances are low that a member of the general population will experience crime directly. As the Minister said, however, that is no consolation to those who are affected by crime, especially serious crime. A particular problem in my constituency and other areas of expanding population is the lack of gardaí, which leads to a fear of crime. While the adage that we have nothing to fear but fear itself applies, it is also true that fear itself is problematic. People are rightly afraid in their communities if they feel the gardaí are not around to provide the security and safety required. While the village of Slane is adequately served with a fantastic complement of four gardaí, including a sergeant, Duleek which is many times larger and serves a greatly expanded population has only one sergeant and one garda. Nobber has one sergeant and one garda, which is insufficient, while my own parish of Laytown has two sergeants and 11 gardaí to cover a population of approximately 18,000. Changes in the Garda divisions will require the Laytown complement also to police the village of Stamullen which has seen its population expand to 4,000. My constituents fear crime, including burglaries and robberies, and anti-social behaviour. If the Garda were to place recruits in expanding areas, it would have a very significant effect on people's perceptions and their fear of crime.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to recognise the need for policing in areas of growing population. The Government will conduct regular detailed analysis of garda-to-population ratios to ensure that every region has appropriate policing. I welcome very much this commitment. Just this week, some of my constituents had cause to write to me about policing in the village of Stamullen. Following representations, local community representatives were informed that despite massive increases in population above north Fingal and Stamullen, the number of gardaí in the area remained at 1979 staffing levels. While there has been a very significant increase in Garda recruitment under Fianna Fáil Governments and while such increased recruitment will continue with the programme for Government, allocation must more properly reflect changes in population.
I agree with Deputy Costello's remarks on the reporting of crime. It is an issue which is especially relevant in my constituency. If people feel gardaí are not present or able to do their job due to lack of numbers, it is far more unlikely that crimes will be reported. I take the opportunity to urge people to report all crimes to ensure that statistics are accurate and appropriate plans can be made. The Minister mentioned a number of issues on community service and plans for community payback schemes which I was pleased to hear him raise. I was speaking to the parish priest of one of the parishes in the northern part of my constituency at the weekend. While I was there, I encountered a person carrying out community service work for the parish. It had a significant impact on the parish and, according to the priest, on the individual who was committed to community service. I was pleased to see it working in that case and support all efforts to expand the scheme.
I endorse calls to continue to have a generally unarmed police service, which is very important. It is the wish of the people. However, we must continue to provide resources to those elements of the Garda which need to be armed to deal with the increase in gun crime. The most significant issue we face, however, is Garda numbers which are important to give people confidence that they are safe in their communities and that crimes will be dealt with.
I wish to share time with Deputy Deasy. I welcome the Government provision of time to discuss and make statements on this issue. The allocation reflects the seriousness with which Government and Opposition parties take crime. Many Deputies have spoken about gangland crime, murder, the drugs industry and people trafficking, the last of which we will discuss further at another time. I wish to use my time to make a case to the Minister for the community court concept, about which many generalisations have been made today which were not necessarily helpful. I wish to provide the Minister with details of a precise and well-thought-out concept for which the case has been made in the report National Crime Council report published in August 2007.
Community courts would represent an improvement and expansion of the drugs court concept. They would address the sorts of minor crimes which do not currently go before courts and which gardaí say it is not worth the hassle to try as they will be thrown out. As a result, people do not even report such crimes. I think of broken windows, for example. If a window is broken in an empty building and not repaired reasonably quickly, a great many other windows will be broken in a short space of time. If small crimes do not have consequences, they will lead to a great many more small crimes and, subsequently, a far more serious criminal problem. The advantage of a community court system is that it can be established specifically to deal with minor crimes of drug use, assault and the forms of anti-social behaviour we are seeing at the heart of every town and city on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
I assume the officials with the Minister have read the crime council's report, as perhaps has the Minister. What is envisaged is that accused persons would agree to attend a community court as an alternative to the existing courts system and plead guilty. If a guilty plea were not entered, the matter would revert to the ordinary courts. Therefore, the community court system would involve the acceptance of a guilty plea by the court and fault by the accused individual. The community court would then be responsible for putting a package of responses in place including punishment, which is necessary, but also counselling, drug addiction programmes and a series of other supports designed to reduce the likelihood of the small-time criminal becoming involved in further criminal or anti-social activity or a life of crime. That makes sense to me because the existing system for small-time criminals falls at every corner. In the first instance, most small-time criminals never go to court because it is too much trouble for gardaí to follow through on minor crimes. If somebody is punched in the face after leaving a nightclub, he or she is unlikely to receive satisfaction in the normal courts system even if the crime is reported to the Garda. However, he or she could get satisfaction in a properly implemented community court system.
The National Crime Council's proposals may not be perfect but given that the average prisoner in Ireland is in prison for the seventh time, we should consider the concept. When a person leaves prison, he or she is more than likely to return within a few years, so the system is failing in terms of reducing the likelihood of criminal activity among small-time offenders. We need to break that cycle and the way to do so is by taking a different approach.
I congratulate Deputy Cregan on his elevation to the Chair. Earlier during this debate, my party spokesman called for a radically different approach to policing. I am not sure I agree with that statement because we have been aware for several years of the core difficulties facing policing. It is more a matter of emphasis. I understand the Minister has asked his Cabinet colleagues to identify the priorities as regards policing and I presume he will receive some good suggestions. However, one could learn about local policing issues in the local bingo hall and, as a Minister of State in the Department for five years, I would hope he is aware of the issues.
A Government spokesman stated after yesterday's Cabinet meeting that the overall situation was not that bad, apart from the fact that the figures for gangland killings were not very good. That reminded me of comments made by the former mayor of Washington DC, Marion Barry, to the effect that crime figures were not bad if one did not count the killings.
I have been in the Dáil for the past five years, during which time the emphasis has unfortunately been on legislative measures as a means of cleaning the streets. The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 was completely useless, as were ASBOs. Tough measures to make judges impose reasonable sentences on people in possession of illegal firearms or in respect of drugs offences have been almost completely useless. For the past few weeks, the new Minister has discussed mandatory drug testing in prisons, fraud bureaus for financial crimes and codes of conduct for internet service providers. These are important issues but should not be his main priorities.
The Chief Inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, Kathleen O'Toole, identified police visibility, community policing, proper training, greater use of Garda time, civilians behind desks in Garda stations and pooled resources in rural stations as the main priorities for the service. Her comments were interesting because she reminded us that the core problems were the same five and ten years ago. Sometimes politicians avoid the obvious purely because it has been raised a million times. The minutiae of policing needs to be frequently debated and reviewed. Ms O'Toole reminded us that small structural and operational changes in the way we police will have a far greater effect than a raft of criminal legislation. I am aware that the prospect of discussing visibility, community policing and civilianisation for the next five years may not sound glamorous to a new Minister but that should be his job. The last time we had a new Minister, we had a number of well intentioned speeches on these matters but little was done. The Minister needs to get CCTV cameras up and running and ensure young gardaí are on a first name basis with the families and young people they serve. That is the nitty gritty of policing.
I do not mean to offend the Minister or his profession but maybe we do not need another barrister or senior counsel in his office. Maybe we would be better off with an ex-police officer such as Kathleen O'Toole. The Minister needs to leave the Four Courts behind him and concentrate on the streets, the barracks and the estates. If he does that, he might be successful.
It is appropriate that Dáil Éireann should debate measures to tackle crime and I am glad of the opportunity to participate in this discussion. I acknowledge the contribution made at the beginning of this debate by the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan. His speech was open, constructive, free of ideology and genuinely invited contributions from all sources, which is as it should be. The new Minister is a breath of fresh air in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In his short time there, he has displayed an admirable mixture of activity, intellectual rigour and humanity. I am also glad this debate has not been reduced to an argument over statistics. I strongly support the Minister when he stated: "It is no consolation to someone who has been a victim of crime to point out that the chances of it happening, particularly in this jurisdiction, are low." Particularly in disadvantaged areas, crime is a reality for far too many of our citizens.
Whereas I accept that all individuals must accept responsibility for their own crimes, I do not believe we should underestimate the linkage between social disadvantage and levels of crime. I receive more reports of criminal activity from disadvantaged parts of my own constituency, Dublin South Central. It is in all our interests to ensure that the benefits of our prosperity and the greatest available resources are targeted at the areas in greatest need. In that regard, initiatives such as the RAPID programme and the various drugs task forces are to be commended.
Crime at community level, particularly anti-social behaviour and alcohol and drug abuse, can make people's lives a misery. Some excellent suggestions have been made during this debate and Deputy Coveney's comments on community courts are especially welcome. Much more involvement by the Garda is needed in local communities. In this regard, I welcome the introduction by the Minister of community policing committees. Unlike England, a gulf has existed for too long in Ireland between local authorities and the Garda Síochána. Local authorities should have a statutory role in community-based policing and public representatives should also be involved. In England, public representatives sit on police authority boards but that democratic input is lacking in Ireland.
With regard to the issue of organised criminal gangs, I concur with those speakers who condemned the cowardly shooting of Garda Paul Sherlock last week and I wish him a speedy recovery. The minimum sentence for attempting to murder a member of the Garda Síochána in the course of his duty is 20 years imprisonment. In light of this latest shooting, the Minister might consider whether the need arises for new sanctions specifically related to attacking or shooting a Garda in the course of his duty.
With regard to the issue of drug smuggling and drug gangs, it is quite obvious that although a good start has been made, far greater co-operation is needed at a European level between police forces and drug enforcement agencies. In this regard, I look forward to a debate in this House on the home affairs section of the new treaty that is currently being drafted in Brussels after the recent European Council meeting in Lisbon.
I regret that there has been a lack of debate in this House with regard to the issue of penal reform and I support the statements made earlier by Deputy Martin Mansergh. In my view, we still cling to the Victorian notion of lock them up and, somehow, the problem will go away. This is a fanciful and self defeating policy that costs the State a lot of money in the long run. The fact is that the deprivation of liberty of any person is punishment enough and, in my view, incarceration should be accompanied by much more progressive educational and rehabilitative programmes to ensure that we can finally deal with the problem of recommitting offenders. Prison should not be a training ground for future criminality.
This is not to say, lest I be misunderstood, that a prison sentence should not be a form of punishment, it should be, but anybody reading reports prepared by the Penal Reform Trust or by the late and much admired Dermot Kinlen, SC, the former Inspector of Prisons, will have no doubt that the State has sadly neglected this aspect of the penal system to the detriment of society as a whole. The harsh reality is that overcrowding, violence, rape, drug abuse, and unsanitary conditions, have tended to harden criminals rather than assist in their rehabilitation.
I acknowledge that the new prison building programme, with modern, properly designed prisons, will be a fresh start in this process and may significantly contribute to tackling crime. I do hope that the new prisons are 100% drug free and that a proper technological solution is found to the problem of crime bosses using mobile phones or other devices while in prison for the purpose of their criminal activities.
With this brief statement I have tried to add my few words of wisdom to this debate and I want to acknowledge the positive comments made by almost every contributor to this discussion.
I too welcome this debate and I will focus on certain aspects of it because nobody could cover the entire range of relevant issues relating to crime in Ireland in ten minutes. There were four different shooting incidents in my constituency last night and this indicates a worrying trend towards the possession and use of guns in society. Thankfully nobody was killed or injured but fear has spread in the communities affected by these shootings and beyond. These incidents came only one week after the daylight shooting of an unarmed garda, Paul Sherlock, in Dublin. I wish Garda Sherlock well and we are all thankful that his injuries were not life-threatening.
This trend is very worrying and while I will come to other issues raised here, such as prevention, community courts and so on, later in my contribution we first must address the growing incidence of gun crime. There are the beginnings of a gun culture in this country that previously we would only have associated with the United States, US, and crime drama on television. That such crimes now happen in Ireland is genuinely worrying for people who feel vulnerable in their communities.
Statistics show that there were 27 gun murders in Ireland last year and 21 the previous year. The detection rates are also worrying as only 16% of recorded gun murders in the past ten years have resulted in a conviction. The message conveyed by such statistics is that there is a reasonable chance that a person guilty of a gun crime will get away with it. I strongly believe that we must address this hard end of crime and see these statistics turned around to give people back the safe communities they expect and are entitled to enjoy.
In many cases these incidents are connected to wider criminality and relate to drug gangs protecting what they see as their territory. Big money is at stake and those profiting do not concern themselves with those who might get caught in the crossfire or those terrified to leave their homes. There must be a coordinated and determined response with policing backed up by such bodies as the Criminal Assets Bureau, local authorities and other organs of State. Unfortunately many such criminals feel they can get away with their crimes and can continue to make large sums of money on the backs of vulnerable members of communities, such as drug addicts. I agree thoroughly with the contributors who have already said that we must retain an unarmed police force. Nevertheless, we must give the Garda the strength it requires and we must show these criminals that there will be a serious response. The criminals must know that the Garda Síochána is not a soft touch and that they cannot lord it over certain communities.
We need serious community policing that is valued at senior levels in the Garda Síochána, not simply seen as an optional extra, as is often the case when community police are taken away to perform other duties. The message given is that community policing is not the most important thing a garda can do. Communities need to get to know local gardaí so that they can feel safe about passing on valuable information and feel protected when they have the courage to stand up to the criminals in their midst. This is one of the most difficult issues in areas where crime, serious or petty, is prevalent. People are terrified about being vulnerable, particularly at night, if they are perceived to have complained about criminal activity. People often ask me to inform the Garda of criminality that is occurring in certain streets or houses but then ask me to leave their names unmentioned. People who inform the Garda of criminality feel they will be victimised as a result. The biggest challenge for the Garda Síochána in my constituency is to maintain control and a visible presence in areas where crime is prevalent.
I have not always agreed with Deputy John Deasy's comments in this House but I do agree that the simple things mentioned by Ms Kathleen O'Toole, Chief Inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, such as visible policing and community policing, are required in the communities with crime problems with which I am familiar. I wish the new Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, well in his office but the previous Minister seemed to rely on passing law after law with each one expected to solve a problem. These laws applied to many areas such as anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs, giving police powers relating to loitering and so on. A series of legislative measures has passed through this House since I came here and I do not feel that this is the way to address these problems. The real answer lies in the visible policing of communities, particularly at night.
Major regeneration of my constituency is taking place at the moment and this is most welcome. These projects have been introduced to help turn communities around and they have the potential to make real differences in areas beset by criminal activity. Genuine fears, however, have been expressed to me recently that problems will move from one community to another. We must address this rather than suggest people are merely being snobbish about their communities. There is a genuine fear that criminal families will move into communities and if regeneration projects are to win popular support this must not happen. There must be co-operation and vigilance from all of the agencies involved, including the Garda Síochána. This brings us back to people needing to feel confident that they can talk about criminal activity in their communities, provide information and name names. This will help ensure that we neither let criminals get away with their crimes nor transfer them to other communities.
The Labour Party proposed the establishment of local policing fora as part of our recommendations for the reform of policing, in addition to a Garda ombudsman and a police authority. Deputy Michael Mulcahy just referred to the need for such an authority and this is something the Labour Party proposed and feels is an important element in having community voices heard in the upper echelons of policing. None of these has been delivered in the way we envisaged. From my experience the policing committees established through the local authorities are not providing the real engagement between the gardaí and communities that is needed. Some Members said they have had good experiences of these committees. While I am open to persuasion about them, there is a need to make them more local and to facilitate the real involvement of community representatives.
In my constituency we set upad hoc arrangements whereby representatives from each part of a particular neighbourhood meet on a reasonably regular basis, a number of times a year, with the Garda sergeant in the local area and the local community policeman or policewoman. There is genuine engagement by the participants without any public media presence about the problems in an area. Such meetings are effective because they involve genuine engagement.
The Ceann Comhairle will be aware that it is a long time since zero tolerance was the mantra of Fianna Fáil. Many people still live in fear in their communities. The most vulnerable are the elderly, women living alone with children and anyone who is perceived to be different or weak in any way. They are the people who need the protection of the police. It is terrible for people to live in fear in their own homes, to feel they cannot go outside, that they must stay awake at night or sleep with the windows closed even though they might need air for their health. Every Member, regardless of the side of the House they are on, hears of such experiences from constituents who call to their clinics. We must address that issue for people. Tackling crime must be kept high on the political agenda because failure to do so has such a negative effect on the lives of so many.
I wish to refer to some of the issues raised. The community court concept to which Deputy Coveney referred, which was recommended by the National Crime Council, is a good idea. Drugs task forces, where they exist, have done good work, but unfortunately for people living outside Dublin and Cork drugs task forces do not operate in the way they do in Dublin and Cork where there are genuine preventative measures in place with funding available to local communities. We should examine extending these preventative measures to other parts of the country. There are some good juvenile justice preventative programmes that have the effect of preventing young vulnerable people from getting involved with criminal gangs, but sometimes there is not enough places on some of these programmes. This issue of tackling crime should be kept on the agenda of the House.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on an issue that touches everyone's life. I wish to deal with a particular issue but, first, I urge the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to continue to invest resources and equipment to fight crime. Much has been achieved in the past ten years, as the Minister said. We have taken on the criminal gangs and crime lords that eat away at the heart of homes and communities in every walk of life. We have increased the number of gardaí serving our communities. We have new laws to tackle a number of crimes such as anti-social behaviour, drug pushing and armed attacks. We have also invested in major crime prevention programmes, in one of which, the youth diversion programme, I have a particular interest. That scheme is making a difference to more than 20,000 young people every year. The programme allows gardaí to decide if a child charged with a crime can be helped to stay away from crime and to help him or her to achieve that aim.
I wish to make it clear to the House that all these crimes have one common thread, the illegal drugs trade. The importing and pushing of cocaine, ecstasy and heroin in Ireland is behind all major crime here. Parts of the constituency I represent have one of the highest rates of gangland related shootings in the country, and the previous speaker referred to this in regard to her area. Numerous murders and attempted murders have taken place and during one period recently an incident occurred almost everyday, some in broad daylight with adults and children in the vicinity going about their daily business.
All these crimes are linked to the drugs trade. The gardaí have had huge successes in seizing shipments of drugs. The drugs trade is a lucrative business, estimated, on the seizures that have been made, to be worth more than €1 billion per year. It is also accepted that almost every shipment of illegal drugs that is brought into the country is accompanied by a supply of guns and ammunition. Our task, as public representatives, is to work with the gardaí, hospitals, schools and treatment centres as they help thousands of people of all ages in every village, town and city.
We have invested in the key areas to help those who are affected by drug addiction through the five pillars of the drugs strategy. Government investment and the tremendous work of volunteer groups have helped thousands of young people to overcome drug addiction. Our education and training programmes have also contributed to making sure that young people turn their backs on illegal drugs. However, we can never sit on our laurels when it comes to tackling crime. When the Garda Síochána successfully put a crime lord behind bars, unfortunately there are five or six others read to take his place, and these replacements are becoming younger.
In recent years we have witnessed how vicious and ruthless the new wave of ganglords are compared to their counterparts in the 1980s or 1990s. We live in a society where criminals do not have any respect for their own lives, never mind for anybody else's life, and are quite prepared to shoot to kill anybody for even the most trivial reasons.
I heard the references in the debate to the shooting of Garda Sherlock in Ossory Road in my constituency of Dublin Central. That is a prime example of the ruthlessness of criminals today. I am delighted that Garda Sherlock is on the mend and is now at home recovering. He was extremely lucky.
While I have painted a grim picture of the problem, I would like to make it clear that the work of the people and the organisations that help people with drug problems has made a huge difference.
Having served the people of Dublin Central for almost 20 years, I have seen communities in the north inner city where two and three generations of families have suffered the devastation of drug addiction and have picked themselves up and worked to improve not only their quality of life but the quality of life in their communities. They are a credit to society, an example to all of us that if we work together we can sort out the problems.
As I stated, statistics show that every shipment of illegal drugs coming into this country is accompanied by a shipment of guns and other automatic weapons. Statistics also show that the majority of illegal drugs in Ireland find their way here from countries such as Afghanistan and Columbia. Despite efforts by the EU to get the governments of those countries to stop the production and smuggling of these drugs, the amounts arriving in Ireland continue to increase every week, as they do throughout Europe. I have met senior officials in the EU with responsibility for drugs issues. They will readily admit that in Afghanistan in 2006 there was a record crop of the poppy plant, which ultimately results in the production of heroin. According to all sources, the supply of cocaine is about to explode throughout Europe. Prices for it have fallen on the street and, therefore, it is more accessible to more people. There is no substitute treatment for cocaine, as there is methadone for heroin. Therefore, we are storing up a huge problem for the future. As long as there is a constant flow of these drugs into this country, we will always have vulnerable young people who will try them and become addicted to them.
The successes achieved by the gardaí, communities, hospitals, schools and treatment centres are all down to a commitment by everybody concerned to work together to make the change happen.
I urge the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to call on the European Union to take a leaf out of the books of these communities in Dublin city centre and to work together, as they do, to prevent drugs from coming into their areas. Steps have been taken throughout Europe and I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, was in Lisbon this week to sign a treaty to establish a new European centre, the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre for Narcotics, to tackle the increasing shipments of cocaine particularly into Europe from South and Latin America. The European Union provides up to €6 billion a year to the Afghanistan Government to implement programmes to stop the production of illegal drugs, but this has not worked. We need the Ministers to put pressure on the European Union to stop funding going to Afghanistan. It has failed to deliver any result year after year. I urge Ministers to get the European Union to divert the €6 billion to Ireland and other countries in Europe to help us increase measures to stop the drugs coming into our countries on boats and planes, to shore up security at EU borders and to enhance treatment, education and prevention measures.
If we can reduce or stop the flow of drugs into the country, we will reduce the number of crime lords living lavish lifestyles on the backs of drug addicts. We will see increased rewards and sustainable benefit for the time, effort and commitment of the thousands of people working in drug addiction prevention and treatment throughout the country. By reducing addiction we will automatically reduce the level and ferocity of crime.
In the meantime, I ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to continue to invest in initiatives that will help young people turn their backs on crime. By managing investment in prevention, treatment and education at local, national and European level we can make a difference and reduce the flow of drugs and the number of crime lords in every country in the European Union. I was delighted to be assured that commitment will continue and the drugs strategy and other initiatives taken to tackle crime will be supported into the future.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Michael Ring and Terence Flanagan.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I commend the bravery of Garda Paul Sherlock and wish him a speedy recovery. I am sure all in the House join me in that.
This debate has not been one of cross-party confrontation and I do not wish to make it so. We are all aware that we have serious crime and all parties want to see that addressed. We have had initiatives in various areas that have worked, including in the Minister's constituency a drugs hotline people can ring if they suspect drugs activity. This hotline is independent of the Garda, but feeds information to it. Many people are reluctant to ring the Garda because they feel they will be drawn into something into which they do not wish to be drawn. This hotline should be extended to north Dublin and the rest of the country.
In Balbriggan a juvenile was intimidated to the extent he was forced to take a three-month holiday down the country for his own protection. I am aware also of a person in north Dublin who started his drug habit when he was ten years old. As a result of these disturbing situations I have called for the establishment of a drugs squad for the north Fingal area, for Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush and Lusk, where we have had a number of drugs finds and drugs activity that has become a major problem which is of great concern to parents. I have called for the north Fingal area, Balbriggan and its environs, to be included in the Dublin metropolitan region and I look forward to an announcement on this which I have been told is imminent. It makes sense to have the same local and Garda authority from the point of view of by-laws etc.
In 1988 some 57 gardaí covered the areas of Balbriggan, Rush, Lusk, Skerries, Garristown, the Naul and Ballyboughal. In 1997 those numbers fell to 52 and in 2007 the numbers stand at 53. We have lost four gardaí in the past 20 years despite the fact the population has risen by 20%. What chance does the Garda have to police these areas successfully? It is seriously under-resourced. I do not want to be confrontational on this, but I urge that the population increase be matched by increased Garda numbers. There has been tremendous growth in north Dublin, but we have not been provided with the necessary infrastructure. The Government must deliver in this area. The local authority cannot build Garda stations and put gardaí on the streets. Neither can it build schools and staff them. I hope the Minister will take on board the need for the Government to take a line on this issue.
I am aware two excellent sniffer dogs are attached to Dublin airport in north County Dublin. These dogs reside in Skerries. If we had more dogs available to gardaí to take into public houses at weekends, we would pick up more drugs and possibly dissuade people from using them. Even middle class and professional people who abuse drugs support a dangerous industry.
Rush, Lusk and Skerries have three part-time Garda stations, while Donabate has none. Is it fair to the people of north Dublin that these towns and villages, with a population of 40,000, have only three part-time gardaí? It is not. That population is equivalent to that of Waterford. We need community gardaí on our streets, as mentioned by other speakers. I have fond memories of the garda in my area to whom people would go when in trouble. They went to him because they trusted and knew him and he knew them and their children. People knew that if they were out of order, they could not run away from it because he would be up to talk to them or their folks. This was not done in a threatening way but was a preventative measure and better than a cure. Visible policing through community gardaí or people in whom the public can trust is the most effective means of policing.
As a result of the significant level of small-time crime and misdemeanours in our communities we need a more flexible system than we have currently. I call on the Minister to initiate a public debate on the issue so that we no longer have a revolving door where people go to jail for a minor offence but do not complete their sentences. I hope the Minister will take this issue on board.
We have a serious problem with crime. I urge the Minister of State to listen to what I have to say. He has not been listening for the past while. The Government does not understand what is going on. It has lost contact with people. It has become so arrogant it thinks it knows everything, but it does not know what is going on.
I also wish to be associated with the remarks on Garda Paul Sherlock. I remember being on the Government side of the House at a time when we had bank robberies, murders and raids and the then Minister, Nora Owen, was blamed for everything. I remind the Minister of State that those in Government are responsible now because they are in power and should protect the people, but that is not happening.
In Mayo, for example, the main problem at weekends is anti-social behaviour, but what is happening to deal with that? We have fewer gardaí on the ground to deal with such issues. I will meet the superintendent this weekend with regard to a problem in Ballinrobe, where every weekend there are rows and fights. There are not enough gardaí to deal with this problem. If we have a problem in a town or village every weekend, somebody in power should deal with the issue. If they do not have the resources to deal with the thugs one Friday, they must deal with them and put manners on them the next Friday so that people who want to live in towns and do business there can do so in peace. They cannot continue with the situation as it is.
Deputy Cyprian Brady was right in what he said about drugs. People in my town and in every area have enormous wealth and are driving around in 2007 vans and Mercedes cars, yet they are drawing social welfare. What is happening to deal with this? Nothing is happening, yet if a poor devil does not pay his tax on time, the Revenue and tax office are after him. The Criminal Assets Bureau should investigate people who have wealth that cannot be explained. Nine times out of ten such people are involved with the drug trade, robbery and theft.
In County Mayo every summer people come into the county in new vans and they want the local authority to provide parking for them. They are on social welfare, yet have the best lifestyle. What is the Government is doing about this? Why does the State not do something about these people who have unexplained wealth that has not been acquired through work or running a business? Let us target the criminals and the people bringing drugs into our areas. Let us target people who continue to cause trouble with their anti-social behaviour. It is time we got tough on them and took them on. It is time to protect law-abiding citizens who are living in fear of being attacked at night.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on crime. The Government must urgently increase Garda numbers and make the necessary reforms to justice legislation to get a grip on crime. For too long criminals have stuck two fingers up to the justice system and the gardaí. They are running riot in our city and afraid of no one.
Gun crime, organised crime and the drugs industry are out of control. The recent shooting of Garda Paul Sherlock shows how low the gangs operating in our city will stoop. The Minister's mission in his new job should be to put these gangs out of business, making our streets safe once more. One crime is one too many.
We have a major issue with illicit drugs, particularly cocaine, in our society. Not long ago a major shipment was retrieved off the south coast by chance. How many shipments arrive on a weekly basis without being intercepted? We can learn from cities like New York that have dealt effectively with gun crime. A delegation from New York visited earlier today so I hope we can learn from their achievements.
To tackle crime we need a more visible Garda presence on our streets and an expanded force. The force must be properly equipped, as recommended in the Garda Inspectorate report. It is not good enough that gardaí must use their own mobile phones or cars while on duty. We need more closed circuit television cameras on our streets. CCTV acts as a strong deterrent to crime and the antisocial behaviour that plagues our streets, as Deputy Ring described. There are certain black spots where CCTV is needed and it should be employed immediately.
We need greater resources for youth work initiatives and early intervention programmes. I attended the information briefing by the National Youth Council of Ireland and it does some great work. We should encourage the youth of today to use their time more positively and to avoid trouble.
I hope the Minister will make criminals afraid of the law while making our streets safe again.
I thank the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for his comprehensive contribution to the debate earlier and welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate.
Crime is a policy area high on the agenda of every political party. This Government is providing unprecedented resources to all elements of the criminal justice system and has given a commitment to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 16,000. The most recent crime statistics may show a minor improvement but statistics cannot give a picture of the suffering and damage caused within our communities by crime. We must not lose sight of the fact that each crime is one too many and has a negative impact on individuals and communities. The sad fact is that victims feel they are the forgotten element in the criminal justice system.
The Criminal Justice Bill 2007 gave the body politic an opportunity to send a clear and unambiguous message that, as a society, we are not prepared to allow organised criminal gangs to set about the destruction of families and communities. In addition, the programme for Government includes a wide range of policy proposals to deal with crime and its causes. The programme for Government committed to increase Garda numbers to 16,000 by 2012. An additional 300 civilian support posts in administration for the Garda Síochána will release further gardaí to visible, frontline policing duties. Many speakers have pointed out that Garda visibility on our streets will play a key role in reducing crime rates.
A major expansion of Garda and community CCTV schemes is under way. These schemes can play an important role in fighting crime and antisocial behaviour and, in doing so, afford greater peace of mind to communities. Crime affects all of society and cannot be tackled effectively without the support and engagement of local communities.
The largest ever Garda station construction programme is currently under way, with €260 million allocated in the national development programme for stations. In my constituency, a new Garda station is currently being constructed in Leixlip at a cost of €4 million and it will open in autumn 2008, a welcome development for north Kildare.
We have committed to introducing a community payback scheme that will require offenders who are not subject to automatic prison terms to provide real services for the communities they have damaged, including street cleaning and painting over graffiti. A system where parental responsibility must be borne for criminal damage and costs incurred by victims of their children's antisocial behaviour will also be provided. While this may deal with a certain proportion of petty crime, it is my experience that much of the antisocial behaviour is carried out by people who are not under the legal control of their parents — boy racers are not always boys.
While increased resources, better technology and infrastructure and fit for purpose criminal legislation all assist in dealing with crime, a debate on the subject is not complete without looking at how we can prevent it. In my constituency of Kildare North there has been a rapid increase in population with significant growth in residential development. Economic success has led to a rapid rise in our population and while this success is welcome it brings with it challenges we must now address. The large residential areas now need a focused approach to building communities around the bricks and mortar of our housing estates. This is the time to invest in our communities in Naas, Maynooth, Clane, Celbridge and Leixlip so we can attract young people into sport, community activities and education.
I welcome the Government commitment to allocate €150 million to the community development fund over the next five years to build the infrastructure required to sustain these communities and I will press the Government to ensure Kildare gets its fair share of this funding. The development fund offers and opportunity to retrofit community facilities for these areas, particularly for young people.
Kildare is often seen as a wealthy county and while it has significant industry, it is not immune from the modern challenges all communities face. In Kildare North there is only one Garda youth diversion project, in Celbridge. These projects are an ideal mechanism for engaging with young people. They aim to help young people to move away from doing things that might get them or their friends into trouble with the law and can help them to develop their sense of community and social skills through activities such as employment training, sport, art and music. These projects seek to foster a better quality of life for everyone in the community and to support good relations between gardaí and the community. I urge the Minister to consider expanding this project to other towns in Kildare North and I welcome his earlier contribution on this.
Organisations such as the GAA, FAI and other national sports bodies also have a key role to play in building our communities. These organisations have contributed in no small way over the years to give our young people options to ensure their spare time is spent positively. Central and local government and these organisations can work together to penetrate new commuter belts and achieve better participation in sport from our younger people.
Partnership, between local interests and organisations and between communities, local and national government and the Garda Síochána, is an essential feature of the fight against crime.
I have an original idea which I feel would be of benefit in the fight against crime. A regional version of the Criminal Assets Bureau should be established throughout the country. The John Gilligans of tomorrow could be tackled now and brought to justice before they become the crime lords of the future. Sufficient information exists in the public domain to tackle them. Many are home owners with no obvious source of income who claim social welfare from the State. How can these people own property when they have no earning capacity? How can they be allowed to benefit from the ill-gotten proceeds of criminality?
The limited resources available to CAB means it must target its energies towards selected criminals. No Member of the House could disagree with that, but an extended CAB with regional links would help to tackle serious crime in its infancy outside major urban areas. In such areas, gardaí are expected to deal with the likely perpetrators, but they are stretched beyond a reasonable capacity. In County Wexford, there are less gardaí on the beat than in the past, yet from 1996 to 2006, the population of Gorey has almost doubled. Courtown was once a sleepy seaside village yet it has doubled in population in the same period. Further problems have arisen because of the number of holiday homes in the area, and the transient population is practically impossible to police. Members of major criminal gangs lie low there because the region is so difficult to police. As Deputies Reilly and Áine Brady said, tens of thousands of people are living in expanding areas, but there is no Garda presence, apart from a few gardaí who show up now and again. If local resources were made available to hire personnel with accountancy skills, local intelligence would come into its own to protect our communities from these leeches in society. I know who the main players are in my area of County Wexford. Most Members know who such people are in their areas. Members of the Garda Síochána know who they are and so do local newspapers, but we are not making funding available to deal with this problem because the people concerned are not the Slab Murphys or John Gilligans of organised crime.
The connection between drug abuse and criminality cannot be discounted. If the drug culture is curtailed then associated criminality, whether involving petty crime or physical violence, will also decrease. The regional CAB should have appropriate resources and protection to deal with the Gilligans and Murphys of the underworld. Costs incurred in extending and developing a regional CAB will be recouped by society in the short term and will hopefully protect the next generation from the tragedies of drug crime.
I welcome the Minister's position on the JLO scheme, but this must happen immediately. Future benefits will accrue from influencing the younger generation now and, thus, the cost of the scheme will be recouped many times over. The largest schools should have dedicated JLO officers. Gorey community school is the largest second level facility in the country with 1,700 pupils. One JLO officer dedicated to that school would be of huge benefit.
Approximately €1 million has been made available for capital funding for individual crèche facilities. When children move on to primary school, however, the same facilities are not provided. Meanwhile, paltry sums of €150,000 are made available for community development associations. We should be establishing four or five crèches in every district.
I am passionate about protecting our younger children. Earlier this year the Garda Síochána was ordered to pay compensation of €70,000 after a convicted sex offender was found to be staying with a family in Kerry. However, the compensation was not paid to any of his victims, it was paid to the family with whom he was staying. That is an absolute disgrace, but it was done on the basis of privacy. The Garda Síochána has been denied a legal framework which exists in US legislation where it is known as Megan's law. It could work in Irish law, but I would prefer if such a law was not named after a dead child as is the case in the United States. I hope we will act now before one of our children becomes a victim of this gaping deficit in our legal system.
I thank members of the Fine Gael group for sharing time with me on this occasion. It is much appreciated.
Will the Deputy join them?
I will not comment on that statement from the former Independent, Deputy Finian McGrath.
He is still independent.
He is a valuable Member of this House.
I only have a few minutes to comment on the specific stated priority of the Minister to tackle organised crime and drug trafficking. This morning he promised to listen and take account of our comments. I hope he will do so. For some years, I have been seeking a review or redeployment of the Criminal Assets Bureau so that it would have units operating in the communities worst affected by drug crime. I am calling for this because I see little evidence that drug dealers at local level — the middle range that organises distribution — are in any significant way directly affected by the Criminal Assets Bureau's work. In my experience, they are not cut off social welfare and do not have their assets, such as cars and jeeps, confiscated. The fact that this does not happen attracts other young people into drug crime, which is why it is spiralling. We need to know why this is not happening. We need to provide the Criminal Assets Bureau with the legal backing and resources to make it happen. That is what the Criminal Assets Bureau was set up to do. It is timely to have an in-depth review. Given their experiences since 1996, surely the Criminal Assets Bureau's personnel have their own recommendations for improvements, or is everything just hunky-dory? I cannot imagine that it is. After all, we must remember that since the bureau was established, drug crime has spiralled out of control, not just in Dublin but throughout the country. There is a message in that development.
There is far too much hype and spin about the achievements of the Criminal Assets Bureau. How much money from drug crime has actually accrued to the Exchequer since 1996 under the Proceeds of Crime Act? Is it tens of millions or hundreds of millions? Or is it, as I am informed, a mere trivial €3 million that has accrued to the Exchequer as distinct from frozen assets where nothing ever happens afterwards?
Is it true the Assets Recovery Agency, set up in Britain after the example of the Criminal Assets Bureau, turned out to be slightly more effective with seizures than our bureau, but was nonetheless slated for its ineffectiveness and then scrapped? It is now part of a larger agency. Is it possible we might learn far more from the Italian experience where they have been seizing Mafia assets since the 1950s and 1960s? I am putting these questions to the Minister in the hope he might answer them at some stage, although I know he will not do so today. Is it the case that a financial action task force has examined the Criminal Assets Bureau and has made certain recommendations, for example, that assets should be frozen for a maximum of three years and not the current seven-year period, which have been ignored? I would like to see the Minister obtain answers to these questions and make whatever legislative and resource changes are required so the Criminal Assets Bureau can be the deterrent that clearly so far it has failed to be. After all, as I have stated, drug crime has spiralled since the Criminal Assets Bureau was established.
I do not intend to criticise the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau, but I want to be constructive in seeking effective changes that will make the bureau's work the deterrent it should be. Clearly, there are few effective deterrents operating against drug crime in this county now, and the same applied in the past. Having said that, however, I agree with the general trend of the Minister's speech earlier. I listened to it carefully and there was very little in it with which I could disagree. I also want to be associated with the Minister's comments on the shooting of Garda Sherlock who was shot not far from my family home.
It was a cowardly attack that appalled every decent person in my constituency. I hope the persons concerned are dealt with speedily because while they remain at large they are likely to launch the same kind of cowardly and vicious attack or worse on a post office worker or anyone else who gets in their way.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on tackling crime. Unlike some of the previous speakers I have come here without a prepared script. Of all the issues on which I have spoken in this House I feel best equipped to speak on this one, because of my constituents and family involvement. Every Monday when I go into my constituency office and play back the answer phone to hear the weekend's messages, the first to greet me concerns anti-social behaviour and public disorder. While these would have been referred to the Garda people still feel the need to refer them to their local representative. I do not know if they expect me to do something different because some of my friends and family members are involved in the Garda in my area.
In this House we took some steps to deal with the problem when we introduced the Criminal Justice Bill providing for anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs. Last week I tabled two parliamentary questions on these in respect of the Dublin area. I wanted to know how the ASBO system was working after seven or eight months of operation in Dublin and specifically in my area. In his opening address today the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform responded to these queries saying:
On the subject of ASBOs, I want to respond to some inaccurate conclusions which have been drawn from the fact no ASBOs have yet been applied for by gardaí. The regime, which was introduced just last spring, involves a series of procedures including behaviour warnings and, in the case of children, good behaviour contracts. In setting up the regime, the intention was that these warnings or good behaviour contracts would themselves address the problem behaviour. It is only if they fail that an ASBO will be applied. In any case, it inevitably takes time to reach the stage where an ASBO itself might be sought. Some hundreds of warning notices have already been issued.
While I do not disagree with the Minister's point the volume of complaints we public representatives receive about public order offences and anti-social behaviour makes it a matter of concern that seven or eight months after the enactment of the legislation approximately 145 good behaviour warnings have been issued. In my area, Clondalkin and Lucan, there is a discrepancy in how these are being enforced. There are 31 in Clondalkin but only two or three in Lucan. When we debated this issue in the House there was serious concern about ASBOs infringing civil liberties and being slapped indiscriminately on individuals. That is far from being the case. Will the Minister meet the Garda Commissioner to discuss the issue and ask whether there is a practical impediment to the implementation of the legislation as we enacted it? I appreciate that an ASBO comes at the end of the line but it seems that each area deals differently with the warning letters. ASBOs took up much time here but maybe the Garda are not giving them as much attention as we had hoped they would. Before the system is deemed obsolete we need to review it to ensure the legislation is being enforced. The figures I received last week are a matter for concern.
I see victims of drug abuse every day in parts of my constituency. Some are still dealing and abusing drugs, others are on methadone, wandering aimlessly around the constituency. They make many of those I represent nervous. I have a degree of compassion for those whose lives are ruined in many ways through drug abuse. I have met many of them over the years and got to know them.
Deputy Gregory asked why we do not go after the middle range drug dealers. I am sorry the Deputy has left the House because I would put the problem another way. Drug abuse and gun crime are linked and have escalated because they are part of a lucrative business. I am glad we are having an honest debate without a motion condemning or supporting the Government because we can consider the issue as it is. Where do these people get their money? They are not the poor guys wandering aimlessly around, or the junkies on the street corner. There are affluent, middle class professionals who do not refer to themselves as drug users or abusers but who say they use "recreational" drugs. Each of those people supports the hardship that I see in my constituency and in other parts of the greater Dublin area.
It is a long time since I have heard or read of a professional, an accountant, a solicitor, or a Member of this House who has served time for possession of a drug. That group also has a part to play in tackling this problem. Too often we consider only the drug gangs. We must realise that another part of our society is funding this feuding. While the junkie on the corner and the guy going to the methadone clinic do have a degree of accountability because they have mugged people, stolen handbags, or broken into houses to feed their habits, there is another class of people who fund the problem and make it worse, and we need to pursue them. Too seldom do I see the Garda and the authorities pursue middle class people who use what they might call "recreational" drugs. It is time to examine that in a serious and meaningful way. Many young people, not a small minority, would not dream of going to a nightclub without popping a pill such as ecstasy. They see only the life inside the nightclub, not the chaos, havoc and destruction that drug-dealing has brought to our streets.
More than a decade ago legislation was introduced providing for mandatory sentences for those caught in possession of a substantial quantity of drugs. In recent years people have received that mandatory sentence but they are a small minority. Maybe the figure has grown from 10% to 20% of those brought before the courts in a four or five year period. Many of those caught with substantial amounts of drugs do not receive the type of sentences this House envisaged when the legislation was enacted. If we take drug-dealing and drug-taking as less than serious offences we are part of the problem too. The Judiciary has not reflected the legislation as envisaged by Members at that time.
I will make one or two specific points. At the outset, I mentioned that some of my friends, associates and family are involved in the Garda Síochána. It has been brought to my attention repeatedly that in many ways, the legislation and rules——
The Deputy's time has expired.
May I finish on this point?
It has been brought to my attention repeatedly that given the rules and procedures under which the Garda Síochána operates, its members are often playing catch-up. A key area that has been highlighted to me concerns mobile telephones, which are discardable items. Legislation is required whereby gardaí with reasonable and well-founded concerns can access taps and surveillance within an extremely short time because such telephones are discarded and renewed on a 24-hour basis. They hold a wealth of information for the Garda. While this issue has not been tackled seriously by Members, gardaí have repeatedly told me of cases in which although suspects are taken in, they are unable to pursue the line of information and the mobile telephones are changed. This issue must be addressed as the days when only land lines were available are long gone.
Crime is a growing concern in all parts of the country and my county is no exception. While the crime that makes the headlines concerns large-scale drug seizures and murders that are often carried out by gangs involved in the drugs trade, many people are more concerned by petty crime and anti-social behaviour, much of which is fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse. Although people may argue about levels of crime and reporting of crime, it appears to be accepted generally that many people, for whatever reason, do not report certain types of crime. Sexual and anti-social crime are among the categories less likely to be reported. Moreover, there is no generally accepted reason for people's failure to report crime. Do they believe there is less likelihood of the perpetrators being caught and dealt with or do they fear that a person who reports a crime will be subject to further abuse? This appears to be the most significant factor in respect of anti-social crime, whereby people live in fear of the minority in their neighbourhoods. I cannot recall the number of times I have encountered people who, having caught people red-handed in burglaries or other types of anti-social behaviour, have then made statements to the Garda. However, once the thugs in question become aware of this development, they threaten to burn the victims' cars, break their windows and so forth, thus forcing the victims of crime to withdraw their statements.
This problem is ongoing and I also am aware that in certain cases, gardaí have advised people not to make statements or to persevere with them, for fear of what might happen to them as a result of the actions of such thugs. Any Deputy who is being honest will have experienced similar cases. I have seen this at first hand in Tralee and know how badly affected individuals and families can be by such behaviour. I refer to the fear factor, namely, the thugs, or small minority of people who terrorise entire communities by their actions.
It can be extremely difficult to deal with this problem. This often involves attempts by local authorities to have those responsible moved. However, the fear factor also comes into play when making a complaint to local authorities, going into court and substantiating that complaint as such thugs and blackguards are able to intimidate people into not proceeding with the case.
In respect of sexual crime, at present victims of sexual assault in County Kerry are obliged to travel to Cork or even to Waterford for medical treatment and examination. This places an unacceptable additional pressure on victims and must be addressed by providing a treatment unit in close proximity to individuals. I refer to the Tralee area, in which a general hospital contained a sexual treatment centre until three years ago. Although money was promised to put it back in place last year, we still await its restoration.
Undoubtedly, the drugs trade is a huge source of crime, both by feeding anti-social behaviour and as a motivation for many of the murders that take place. Thankfully, to my knowledge, County Kerry has not experienced that level of drug-related crime. However, there are indications that drugs have become more freely available and obviously that is associated with increased crime carried out both by those selling and those abusing drugs. I tabled some questions to the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that elicited a response to the effect that the quantity of dangerous drugs being seized in County Kerry was increasing. While all seizures are to be welcomed, unfortunately there is also evidence of greater availability as the Garda itself admits that only a minority of drug movements are intercepted. I attended a meeting recently at which the gardaí involved in the drugs squad confirmed the strike rate was approximately 10%. In other words, 90% was getting in and being distributed in communities. I accept the gardaí involved are doing their best with the limited resources available to them.
I have more recent evidence that a substance known as crystal meths, which is a particularly potent amphetamine, is being sold in Tralee. Although this drug is not physically addictive, it leads to aggressive behaviour, which is a clear factor in street violence. I refer to personality changes in which a person becomes more violent and demanding to acquire that drug. It has also been suggested to me that this has had a tragic result for some individuals in the recent past. I do not know whether this is true and only time will tell. However, I have evidence regarding the availability of this drug, which has been referred to as the poor person's drug. It is available in small towns nationwide, as well as in Tralee.
Although heroin abuse once was unknown outside Dublin, it now poses a problem in many other towns. This is a consequence of well-organised gangs who target specific areas of population in the knowledge they are building up a market for their trade. The impact of heroin abuse may be seen in many towns, in which crime has escalated and health and welfare authorities face the problems arising from its effects. When drug gangs target towns such as Tralee, it is vital to provide the Garda with the resources to tackle the problem and to co-ordinate with the local communities that deal with the effects of drugs on a daily basis. It is also vital to invest resources in the provision of alternatives for young people to help drug abusers.
The level of Garda activity in Tralee and elsewhere in County Kerry is a matter that I, with other county representatives, have raised numerous times, including in direct meetings with the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or with Ministers of State. As yet however, there is no decisive evidence that the issue has been addressed. While policing is not the only solution to crime, a greater Garda visibility is certainly a factor in crime prevention, particularly in respect of anti-social behaviour and drink-related violence in town centres at weekends. I was a member of a delegation of the taxi federation of Tralee that came to this building during the last Dáil. Although it met a Minister of State and secured promises to make available additional resources and so forth, nothing has been delivered. Taxi drivers provide the escape valve for many of the buildings in town centres by getting people home late at night and so on. Better Garda visibility on the streets would guarantee the type of crime originating in such locations would be dealt with speedily and would be greatly reduced.
I have welcomed the establishment of the joint policing committee in Tralee of which I am a partner, with two colleagues. Such a body can play an important role in ensuring there is close co-operation between the Garda and local representatives. In this manner, the concerns and views of communities can be brought to bear on the operations of the Garda.
Members cannot be defeatist in the face of a problem that affects the quality of life of many people and must ensure the Garda has the resources and strategy to combat organised crime. However, Members also must ensure that communities retain their cohesion as this is the best way to ensure that young people in particular do not become sucked into anti-social behaviour and drug abuse. This is the reason it is so important both that communities should have access to employment and good quality housing and that local sports and other community organisations should be allowed to thrive and provide outlets for people of all ages.
The Ceann Comhairle will be aware of a story that appeared on the front page ofThe Kerryman last week. A decent family had its house burned and targeted by a drug dealer not too far from this city. They came into the town because one member of the family owed money and they targeted his mother and father to extract up to €40,000 that the drug dealer claimed was owed to him for supplying drugs to this fellow.
Two young lads, aged 17 and 21, respectively, from where I live are currently in Cork Prison awaiting trial for an armed robbery. They have stated — it is on public record — they were trying to get money to pay back a drug baron from Limerick because they were in fear of their lives.
I am aware of where a person who resides not too far from where I live in the Ballymacelligot area, which is known also to the Ceann Comhairle, has ended up in hospital. He had his legs and hands broken and acid thrown over his face. This also was drug related.
All of these incidents are coupled together with the growing problem of the availability of crystal methylated spirits and heroin. I have had it confirmed as late as yesterday, from reporters who have contacted the Garda in Tralee, that heroin is available on the streets of Tralee. We never thought we would see the day. I raised the matter six years ago and brought to the attention of the Garda and the public that heroin was in Tralee, albeit only in maybe one or two incidences. Heroin and cocaine are the two major drugs in Tralee. The Garda management has been in denial for too long. The gardaí at the coalface are doing their best but they deserve the resources and support of communities, of elected representatives and of everybody to try to curtail this problem and ensure that it is brought under control.
With the Ceann Comhairle's agreement, I propose to share time with Deputy Crawford.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
This debate should be of longer duration and it is long overdue. This matter needs to be addressed in more detail. I have much time and respect for the new Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and I wish him well. I know that he understands the situation. However, I am pessimistic about the current position and where we are going.
The institutions of State have lost the battle already. We have gone down the road so far in failing to vindicate our position, in failing to justify our existence and in failing to defend the public. The courts have failed to do their job, for one reason or another. We, the legislators, respond too slowly, inadequately and late. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has responded too slowly to date. This is not a criticism of the Minister. It is a fact that all the institutions of State have stood idly by while the people are being put to the wall, and it is a sad situation.
In New York and Chicago in years gone by, when the criminals first took control of the streets they shot each other and after a while they began to shoot the police, and that is what is happening here. It is a disgrace. Nothing will change until we take serious stock of what is happening.
One can state that at present serious criminals are brought into court, but more often than not there is complete disregard for the new bail laws and they get out on bail to commit more crime. They get free legal aid at the taxpayers' expense to ensure that they get their rights and they walk out of court to repeat the crime.
Like several other Members of this House in recent years, I have tried to get information in that regard. The Minister can control this to a certain extent through the replies we receive in the House but if we do not get accurate replies to probing questions, it will make life more difficult for the administration of justice, for the Minister and, ultimately, for the people.
Hardened criminals are the order of the day. They live high on the hog and go to the sunniest sun spots worldwide for their recreation and sometimes as part of their lifestyle they remain there. They are internationally known and recognised. They thumb their noses at the law and they ridicule the society they left behind. They extort and they use every means at their disposal to continue expanding their empires. Right from within the prisons they can run their empires. They intimidate and threaten from within the prisons and they can get away with crimes for which they should be made accountable.
How many times have we seen young thugs who want to emulate these people coming out of the courts and giving the two fingers to everybody and anybody — to the media, to the Minister, to the Oireachtas and to the courts — and walking away? In fact, they have been immortalised in paint on canvas in some parts of the country.
It is deplorable that we have got to the stage where these people seem to do at will what they want. That is why we have petty crime. It is not that the petty criminals are the cause of it but they see what is going on around them. As a result, there is complete disregard for property and for life. It is a vicious cycle.
Drug crime has been mentioned by others. My response to those who say I exaggerate is to say that in every town and village there is a drug problem. In every school, even the primary schools, there is a drug problem. We have a serious situation on our hands and until some means is found to deal with matters such as the intimidation of witnesses, we will not know where we are going. Are we all gone daft?
I will go one step further. It may well be necessary to introduce special criminal courts. I do not see how else these matters will be addressed, and I am as much a civil libertarian as anybody else. The innocent citizens going about their business are as much entitled to their civil liberties as anybody else. We are letting them down, and the quicker we come to recognise that, the better.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan. It is my first time to address him as such in the Dáil. I congratulate him on his post. From what some of his colleagues have said, he will be a breath of fresh air. I hope that comment is justified, but it gives us some indication of what they thought of their colleague, the previous Minister. I said nothing.
Crime is a serious matter. When one turns on the radio to hear of another shooting or a murder by whatever means, it is critical. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity to put some proposals to the Minister. I am sure they are not new, as I have already heard many of them commented on here earlier.
For instance, in Clones, a Border town that suffered as much as anywhere during the Troubles, there are still problems late at night. Unfortunately, the station is now closed except from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The area is serviced by Monaghan Garda Station which is 13 miles from Clones, and they have to police Scotstown and right around the Border. These are areas about which young gardaí in Monaghan simply do not have a clue. If these gardaí are called late at night there is a serious problem. I would ask the Minister to look at this situation. There are civilians available to man Garda stations and desks where valuable gardaí are sitting at present. There has been much talk in recent years of the civilianisation of these jobs and I ask the Minister to see if that can be done as a matter of urgency.
My party raised a number of times in the Dáil the idea of attachment of fines to earnings to ease the pressure on gardaí who must go out around the country or into the towns to collect fines, which is not a job that they should have to do. This would have two benefits. First, it would save the Garda money and time. Second, it would mean that those who cannot afford to pay their fines at once could pay through social welfare, through salary deduction, etc. Such a system seems logical. The credit union can stop money out of wages by agreement. Similarly, the VHI can stop its premium out of our salary, so why can simple things like this not be done?
I refer to two other outstanding matters in the short time available. Following the peace talks we had high hopes that the gangs involved in drugs, oil laundering, etc. would no longer operate, but that is not the case. It is important sufficient Garda resources are allocated to tackle people involved in this criminal activity.
Deputy Durkan referred to drugs being all over the place. I would have been less dramatic than he until I received a telephone call today from a person in a small village to say somebody had been arrested there and found with a considerable amount of drugs. I congratulate the Garda on its success, but it is frightening to think drugs are available only three miles away from my home in a small village.
This week we heard on local radio of an incident where the by-product from oil laundering was dumped on the Border. This practice is still ongoing. This activity underlines the need for a very close relationship between the Garda and the PSNI to ensure those involved are tackled once and for all. Such people are doing untold damage. First, Monaghan County Council has to hire a fire brigade to clean up the mess. Then the sludge has to be put on a lorry and brought to a safe place because it is an extremely dangerous product. Following this, it will eventually be sent to Germany at great expense to the taxpayer. Not only do we lose the tax revenue from the oil which is due to the State but we also incur other expenses in dealing with this illegal activity.
I wish the Minister well. I hope he can get the extra personnel on the ground. We can talk about statistics and numbers but unless people see gardaí on the ground and can leave home to go to their place of worship with the peace of mind that their homes will not be raided in their absence, we will not feel safe.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this important debate on crime. We all have to face up to the reality that we have a major crime problem. We have a duty to do our best, whether as Members of the Oireachtas, parents, teachers, or members of our communities. We must work together on this matter.
There are different levels of crime, from extreme, violent crime using guns or knives, to local, anti-social activity. When it comes to constituency queries, crime is at the top along with health, disabilities, education and housing.
In recent days in my constituency the murder of Finbar Dennehy occurred, and prior to that there was the horrific murder of Donna Cleary. I offer my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of these two people. I was not happy with the media coverage of Mr. Dennehy's murder, as some of the reporting was intrusive. Crime victims are human beings and have families and friends. I urge all who work in the media to respect the victims of crime.
We must be radical and creative in terms of the solutions to crime. First, we must declare war on social and educational disadvantage. We must invest in our communities and our young people. I warmly welcome the fact this process has already started in schools. I raised these issues with the Taoiseach during the discussions I had with him during the summer. I look forward to the roll out of more services for disadvantaged communities in the next five years.
Yesterday, the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brendan Smith, launched a major project for disadvantaged parents. He approved the community child care subvention scheme under the national child care investment programme, NCIP. This scheme, which was specifically designed to assist the most disadvantaged parents with their child care costs, has been allocated €153 million over the next three years. This represents a 16% increase in funding over the previous equal opportunities childcare programme.
The new scheme is targeted at parents in receipt of social welfare payments or engaged in education and training or work experience programmes. In effect, this will mean providers will be grant-aided according to the service they provide. This supports a key objective of the NCIP to support families and break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage by targeting resources where they are needed most. The new scheme will improve our capacity to target resources to services for high numbers of disadvantaged parents. It also carries forward commitments under the new programme for Government. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, on this new and radical programme.
If we tackle disadvantage and poverty, it will be a major arm in our campaign against crime. Children and young people are not born criminals but become criminals through dysfunctional families, child neglect, poverty, literacy problems and other forms of disadvantage. This approach must be the first rung of the ladder in the battle against crime.
The victims of crime need our support and we should listen to them. As I speak, a victim of crime is protesting at the gates of Leinster House. Peter Preston is on hunger strike, his second in the past 12 months. He is demanding justice and an end to corruption in our justice system. He believes he has been let down, especially in the way his innocent daughter was ruthlessly stabbed in the face in a pub. He wants this matter to be addressed. It is not good enough how his family has been treated. He is also highlighting the issue of under age drinking and the manner in which some pubs and off-licences sell alcohol to young people and hide behind their actions.
All Members of this House should understand Peter Preston's case and support him on this issue. He is a victim. His hunger strike is serious and we cannot have a situation where a person dies at the gates of Leinster House. We must ensure all citizens are treated with respect in our justice system. Nobody should be above the law. Peter Preston's voice should be heard, especially in a modern, inclusive society. Above all, Peter Preston deserves justice.
It is important in the context of community policing that we encourage minority communities and foreign nationals to join the police service. I welcome them. I urge the Minister and the Garda to be more open on the question of Sikhs serving in the Garda Síochána. Members of the Sikh community approached the Garda and asked to join. They seek our support, especially on the issue of wearing the turban as part of the Garda uniform. A member of the Irish Sikh community wanted to serve his local community by joining the Garda Reserve force. Having successfully passed three phases of training, when he commenced the fourth phase of training at the Garda station he was told by the human resource department he would have to remove his turban and wear a uniform cap if he wanted to continue.
This was a shock for members of the Irish Sikh community who had been assured repeatedly by the Garda authorities during the consultation process held over the previous two years that the turban would be accommodated without any difficulty. A typical response was they did not see any reason turbans should be a problem, especially when they are part of police uniforms around the world. Sikhs are required by their faith to keep their hair uncut and covered by a turban.
Sikhism is the fifth largest and youngest religion with 25 million followers throughout the world, 20 million of whom live in India. There are approximately 1,500 Sikhs living in Ireland. They believe in honest and truthful living, commitment to community service, social justice, tolerance and mutual respect for other cultures, which make them ideal citizens of every country where they live. The contribution of Sikhs is noticeable in every walk of life, but more so in law enforcement agencies throughout the world.
In the last two world wars, 83,000 turban wearing Sikhs died and 109,000 were wounded in the cause of freedom. Sikhs still make up 10% to 15% of all ranks in the Indian army and one fifth of its officers, while they form 1.87% of the Indian population. Apart from India, the United Nations, the London Metropolitan Police, the Canadian army, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the US army, the New York Police Department, the PSNI, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have all allowed turban wearing Sikhs to serve their respective countries. Countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and even Pakistan recognise the Sikhs' right to wear the turban and accommodate it as part of the official uniform of their forces. I support that position. I urge the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to review and change their position on this policing issue. It would send out a positive message that they respect all cultures and all religions.
With regard to armed crime, it is important we wake up and take account of the reality on the ground. We have a crisis on the drugs issue. Operation Anvil is an excellent operation and I commend all the gardaí involved. From my experience on the north side of Dublin, I know of the great work being done in this and other crime prevention operations. We need to fund, resource and support the gardaí involved.
I offer my sympathy to Garda Paul Sherlock and his family following his brutal shooting while on duty. Thankfully, he is recovering but that incident is not acceptable in any modern society. If we do not draw a line in the sand following that case, and with regard to Donna Cleary's slaughter, something is radically wrong with the country. However, while we need armed operations such as Operation Anvil and armed gardaí within the force, the vast majority of gardaí remain unarmed, a position I support and which is supported by the vast majority of the community.
In tackling crime, it is important we focus on disadvantaged communities as part of the strategy. It is no use introducing more legislation because it will not work. We need to assist alienated communities and those who are being hammered every night in their communities. Every day in my constituency I see that men and women are afraid to come out of their houses. To tackle crime, we need to tackle poverty and educational disadvantage. We need quality, accountable policing and we need people to do the job.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. From the first time I heard him speak in the Dáil, I recognised him as a capable and competent individual.
I compliment and congratulate Deputy Charles Flanagan on his appointment as Fine Gael spokesperson on justice. He continues a long and strong tradition in the party. Having listened to the debate, I acknowledge Deputy Flanagan's generosity in stating he would co-operate with the Minister and support any positive policies he is prepared to bring forward. This is a new departure, especially given the type of approach taken by my Kerry colleague, the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy John O'Donoghue, when Mrs. Nora Owen was Minister. Deputy O'Donoghue's approach was not as generous as that offered by Deputy Flanagan and accepted by the current Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan.
The Minister and Deputy Flanagan can together do something about what is happening. Having spent 20 years of my career in the House, I am convinced there is a major disconnection between this House and what is happening in communities. Unless the Minister is prepared to go into housing estates and meet people affected by crime or those on the fringes of society, he will not have an understanding of what is really happening out there. More Members of the House should venture out, particularly those making decisions and making the law.
The policing committees are very important. It is an issue Fine Gael and I promoted ten years ago. I welcome the Minister's appointment of more committees throughout the country, which is a good idea. I am a member of a committee in Tralee and I have seen how well it works. We have already reduced pub opening hours, which has had an effect on the streets at night. The policing committees are a mechanism through which the Minister can make improvements.
We have had a full and constructive debate, with contributions from all sides of the House. I will read the transcript in some detail as I had to repair for nutrition at one stage of the debate, and I will draw the concerns raised by Deputies to the attention of the Garda Commissioner.
I thank Deputy Charles Flanagan for giving a commitment on behalf of Fine Gael to co-operate with me in initiatives launched to tackle crime. It is important, whatever may divide us, that a strong message goes out from this House that all sides are united in our determination that crime will be addressed.
I welcome Deputy Flanagan's support for the establishment of a DNA database, for which I will bring proposals before the House. I will be interested to hear Deputy Flanagan's views on the uses to which such a database might be put. A balance must be struck between security and liberty. We may need to strike a new balance. I look forward to hearing from the Deputy where that balance might be struck in establishing a database.
Deputy Flanagan also called for the introduction of a national identity card. Again, I am interested to hear his views on what data such a card should contain, who should be required to hold it and the sanctions that would apply to those who fail to hold it when they should. I am bringing proposals to Government on the options in regard to an essential preliminary to this, namely, that in the first instance we record the location at which every person in the State resides.
Deputy Flanagan also suggested we should examine remission rates for prisoners. I recently signed new prison rules which are now in force and cover a wide range of issues, including that of remission.
Deputy Rabbitte made the case for establishing a police authority. It is a matter of record that I am not in favour of this, although I am not sure that in the short time available I can outline all my reasons for that. I hope it is an issue we can explore on another occasion. However, I make this point — Deputy Rabbitte referred to the fact that when parliamentary questions were tabled in the House, no adequate information could be obtained on operational matters. Were we to establish a police authority, that authority would find itself in precisely the same position this House finds itself vis-à-vis the operational side of the Garda Síochána. It could not of necessity intervene in operational matters because under our legal system the Garda’s operational functions are accountable to the courts and the civil law, and are performed in that way. It does not seem to me that the argument in regard to the Garda authority turns on this point.
The idea of such an authority makes perfectly good sense in the context of the United Kingdom regional police structure, where there is no corresponding regional democratic unit, and in Northern Ireland. However, one point that is often overlooked with regard to the Northern Ireland Policing Board by those who suggest a similar authority for the Garda Síochána is that the Patten Commission recommended that a majority of the members of the board be from the elected Northern Ireland Assembly. I look forward to returning to this topic with Deputy Rabbitte and exploring whether the structures we have established go some way to meeting the concerns I know he has in this area.
The work of the Garda Inspectorate and the high level group, which has reported to me, have been of great assistance to me in implementing a reform programme involving the introduction of civilianisation at Garda Headquarters and examining the structures and operational techniques of the Garda. The reports of the inspector, to which a number of Deputies referred, have been very valuable in charting the direction we should take in the context of the reform of the Garda Síochána.
Deputy Rabbitte referred to community policing, which I agree is vital. In line with the Garda Síochána policing plan for 2007, the Garda Commissioner is currently preparing a new national model of community policy. A public consultation process was recently completed and in preparing this new model the Garda Síochána is considering a wide range of issues, including service delivery, partnerships, the process of problem solving and accountability.
Several Deputies referred to and welcomed the new local policing committees. One issue I raised with the Garda Commissioner in this regard is the need to harmonise Garda divisional boundaries with the boundaries of the relevant local authorities. This issue has caused considerable difficulty in many areas where gardaí have found themselves reporting to several authorities. It is essential that there be a harmonisation. I know work on this subject is at an advanced stage at Garda Headquarters.
Several Deputies raised the question of the surveillance of our maritime space and the ease with which our coastal area could be accessed by vessels from other countries smuggling drugs to Ireland. Last Sunday, I signed a treaty in Lisbon establishing a new European centre for the surveillance of traffic that would possibly have narcotic cargoes. It will focus on interdicting large maritime cocaine shipments into Europe. The headquarters is based in Lisbon. It will involve staff of the Revenue Commissioners and members of the Garda Síochána and Naval Service working with their counterparts in six other states on the western Atlantic at a central intelligence centre in Lisbon. Seven European Union member states, including Ireland, participate in the programme at this stage. The pooling of intelligence resources drawn from naval, customs and police services will result in an improvement in the monitoring of suspicious vessels heading towards our waters and in the waters of the north Atlantic generally. I thank Deputies for their contributions and undertake to bring their concerns to the attention of the Garda.