The next speaker is Deputy Michael McNamara.
Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)
Can we please have order for Deputy McNamara? He is starting his contribution.
Thank you very much, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which I greatly welcome.
The effect burglaries are having throughout the State has been discussed in the media recently. There is a slight misconception that it is a problem unique to rural Ireland, but unfortunately it is not. Statistics would suggest that it affects urban Ireland just as much as rural Ireland, if not slightly more. However, it is a major problem.
People experience a sense of violation and invasion of privacy if their houses are burgled, and the sense of vulnerability which accompanies that is something this Government and previous Governments needed to tackle. I very much welcome that the Government has introduced a Bill which would give the Garda greater tools to tackle the blight that is rural burglary.
Since I was elected to the Dáil, I have attended many joint policing committee meetings in Clare County Council. Burglaries are discussed at all such meetings, as are other offences. From my attendance at such meetings I have learned from senior gardaí that there is a marked tendency, in particular in the commission of burglaries, for recidivism or repeat offending. That is borne out by the statistics. The explanatory memorandum of the Bill, which the Probation Service compiled, states that 49% of people who commit burglaries are repeat offenders. That figure is very high.
When discussing the issue recently in the context of a joint policing committee meeting with senior gardaí in Clare, I was told that a spate of burglaries is often accompanied by the release of a person or gang from prison. Once gardaí have been informed that such people have been released from prison, they will watch them. There is almost an expectation that there will be an increase in the commission of burglaries in a particular area. That is very unfortunate, to say the least.
Until relatively recently there was very little that gardaí could do other than investigate burglaries in the same way as all other crimes. However, the recent commencement order signed by the Minister for Justice and Equality in respect of the DNA database is a very important tool for gardaí. The DNA database gives the Garda the power to take and maintain DNA samples of persons convicted of offences. Up to now gardaí were quite reluctant and reticent to do so because of the costs involved in taking DNA samples at crime scenes, except for the most serious crimes such as homicides. They will now be able to take DNA samples at burglary crime scenes and will have access to the database to investigate whether DNA samples found at the site of a burglary match those in the database. Given that the Probation Service has said that 49% of those who commit burglaries are repeat offenders, it is not unreasonable to suggest or expect that there will be an increase in DNA matches, something which will make the prosecution of burglaries easier. One would hope it would lead to an increase in the number of convictions for burglary.
There is anecdotal evidence that when there is a spate of burglaries in an area, gardaí get a conviction for one. Nevertheless, they might have a strong suspicion that the same gang was involved in other burglaries. They will now be in a position to take DNA samples from all crime scenes if they think it is likely they are there. Fingerprinting is one thing, but burglars would be far more likely to leave a DNA sample than a fingerprint at the scene of a crime.
The Bill empowers the Garda to object to bail. When a bail application is made by persons charged with a burglary, if a person has been convicted of at least two domestic burglaries committed in the period starting six months before and ending six months after the alleged commission of the offence for which he or she is seeking bail or the person has been charged with at least two domestic burglaries allegedly committed in the same period or the person has been convicted of at least one domestic burglary committed when charged with at least one other domestic burglary allegedly committed in the same period, the Garda will be in a position to object to bail. Obviously the constitutional rights of the accused are respected. Judges will be able to weigh that up against the matters the Garda will bring to their attention when a bail application is made.
I am very to have happy to see the progress being made with this Bill. As I said, it will further empower the Garda and act as a further deterrent to criminal gangs who up to now had been roaming rural Ireland with a degree of impunity. This Bill will have, if enacted, will at least curtail their prospect of getting bail. Furthermore, the commencement of the DNA database will increase the likelihood of their being apprehended for these crimes.
It has been said that the Garda has not had sufficient resources to tackle burglaries. This Bill, on top of other measures, such as an increase in the Garda fleet and the provision of new vehicles, will help. As I said at the outset of my contribution, mobile gangs operate within a considerable distance. On that basis, I congratulate the Minister on bringing the Bill forward and commend it to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to this important Bill. It is quite obvious that we will support it. It is a much-needed Bill and something for which Fianna Fáil has called for a long time. We produced a similar Bill in recent months. Legislation alone will not tackle the serious difficulties facing Ireland, not just in rural areas. Rural Deputies speak about rural Ireland and urban Deputies about urban Ireland. We are here to represent our constituencies and highlight and articulate the causes of concern experienced in constituencies throughout the country.
The clear facts of the matter confirm one thing, namely, that policy decisions taken by the Government over recent years have led to a steady increase in the number of burglaries and related offences. In the first half of this year there was an 8.4% increase in burglaries and related offences. The simple fact of the matter is that people are terrified in their own homes.
On my way home from the Chamber recently, I called into a constituent to discuss a query which had nothing to do with crime. The man had two Alsatians and a collie dog and I said no one would come in and interfere with him. He said they would not and that he sleeps soundly at night because he has the animals with him and lies beside a shotgun in his bed. That is what we have driven people to.
While the Bill is welcome, legislation alone will not deal with the issue. We have to ensure resources are put in place. The Government cannot abdicate its responsibility for the implications of its decision to close 139 Garda stations. It was a bad decision and one which should never have been taken. Areas in my constituency such as Ardagh, Ratoath, Casteltown-Kinneigh, Ballinalee and Newtowncashel have seen the Garda presence diminish because of the closure of Garda stations.
This has led to an increased sense of vulnerability in these particular areas. When the decision was taken by the Government and the previous Minister, it was promised the decision would be reviewed at some time in the future. When will this decision be reviewed? If Garda stations were not an important presence in localities, why would we have them in any small community? If they are just a simple presence and just bricks and mortar why do we have them in any village or community - let us close them all and sell them off and see what money we would make? It would be the wrong decision. Why does one community or one village get to maintain a Garda station while another community or another village does not? The sense of presence of gardaí interacting on a daily basis with the local post office and community is no longer there with the removal of these facilities.
We have also seen a savage reduction in the number of personnel serving in the Garda. The Government likes to blame the previous Government for this, because of a decision taken in late 2010 to stop entrants to Templemore. The Government was in power for the full year in 2011, 2012 and 2013 but it did not make the decision to begin the recruitment process until the latter end of 2014. No one on the other side of the House made the decision to start the recruitment process, and because of four years of a lack of recruitment, one under the previous Government and three under the current Government, we have a radically depleted Garda force. I take this opportunity to put on record my admiration for the many people who do a fantastic job under particularly difficult circumstances.
In recent months and years I have been involved, as I am sure have been many Deputies across all political persuasions, in working with the Garda to see how we can support it in strengthening its presence in rural communities through the establishment of neighbourhood watch and the text alert system, which I heard previous speakers mention. Financial support for a more streamlined approach for the establishment of text alert systems should be examined. Some community groups do not have the money to erect signs to state there is a community text alert system in the area, and I hope the Minister of State will bring this back to the Minister for Justice and Equality. It should be looked at.
One of the most recent meetings I attended was in Street, County Westmeath, on the border with County Longford. In the space of one week, six burglaries occurred in that area. With only 24 hours' notice, more than 80 people gathered in a small community hall because they were so worried about the future safety of their community. This is a fact and I am not making it up. It was reported in the local newspaper. What was most stark was that a member of An Garda Síochána was to be present on the night to address and listen to the concerns of the community, but at 7.55 p.m. that evening the person organising the meeting received a phone call from local gardaí to state they could not attend because they did not have the resources as they were called to something else. Because that parish is on the border, three different stations look after it. The manner in which the borders and districts are set out needs to be examined. Three different stations were looking after the community but nobody could go to the meeting. I rang Mullingar Garda station, but nobody was available from there to address a public meeting. This was not the fault of the Garda but the fault of the Government for not ensuring the Garda is adequately resourced. If it was not for the commitment of the local sergeant, who came in although he was off duty to address the people's concerns, nobody would have been there. When he got up and spoke, and highlighted how underresourced the Garda is with regard to personnel and equipment, it would have made the hair on the back of one's head stand.
In Edgeworthstown in County Longford one female Garda was called out to attend an aggravated burglary on her own. This should not be the case. That lady ran the risk of being assaulted or overpowered, or even having an accusation thrown against her. This comes from the lack of adequate personnel.
According to a report in a local newspaper, a gentleman asleep in the middle of the night was woken by a man in a black balaclava brandishing a large knife, with another man armed with a handgun. This was the start of a terrifying ordeal for the man, his wife and their three daughters aged two, six and eight. This is what is happening in rural Ireland. This week, the Longford Leader had a report about farm theft, and people breaking in and taking diesel and oil. Half of these incidents are not being reported. Mr. Eugene McGee, a notable journalist from County Longford, wrote in the Irish Independent that, "Longford has become a convenient base for many criminals, large and small, who may be feeling pressure from the law in the capital and make the easy sortie to our territory instead." They empty domestic fuel tanks and commit cattle rustling, as occurred in Kilbeggan where 800 head of cattle were stolen one night. They steal copper piping and remove fire places from empty houses. The most problematic of all is that they threaten old people in their own homes.
This is repeated time and again, and not only in rural parts of the constituency in Longford, Edgeworthstown, Street and Finnea as it is also happening in Mullingar. I visited an elderly couple, who would not like me describing them as elderly but they are in their 70s, who told me that one evening they heard noises in their house and they saw somebody going out the window. When I returned to the house a week later to see how they were I might as well have been going into Fort Knox. They had fitted locks on every internal door in the house. This is what is happening. As I said, people are absolutely terrified in their own homes.
While I welcome the legislation, legislation alone will not answer the problem. We need to look at how we will adequately resource our gardaí, who are being put to the pin of their collars at present. They need greater support. I suggest that although we are now recruiting people into the Garda this will not keep pace with the number of people who are retiring and being promoted. Will the Government examine, as a temporary measure, allowing some gardaí who are coming to retirement age to stay on for a couple of years while we bridge the gap, because if we keep simply recruiting 500 gardaí a year we will not get back up to the strength of 14,000, which we need, because of the number of gardaí retiring and being promoted. This could be looked at in a short timeframe of three or five years while we get the numbers back up.
The new rostering process is not working. We have moved from a cycle of four shifts to a cycle of five shifts. In the past a quarter of gardaí worked at all times, but now only one fifth, or 20%, of gardaí work at all times.
Resources are again being spread further and it will lead to a lesser effect.
We also need to consider how people who have never worked a day in their lives can live very extravagant lifestyles, driving sports utility vehicles and going on holidays. Their only official means of income is social welfare. How can this be? It is quite obvious it is because these people are engaged in criminal behaviour, burglaries and theft. Maybe there is a case for bringing in the Criminal Assets Bureau to help eradicate the scourge of theft that has left such blight on our countryside and both rural and urban areas.
We also need to examine the number of people availing of free legal aid, as I have previously mentioned. I am not for one minute saying that we should cut this out and I do not advocate that. The question must be asked nevertheless. We know from statistics the high level of people who are repeat offenders. At what stage do we say "Stop" and no longer provide free legal aid for a person who repeatedly commits burglaries and related offences? We must look at the matter. It is not good enough that such people can break into a person's home. A home is a person's palace or castle and it is where people should feel a sense of security and be at ease. People do not feel that way in their homes now but we are helping people who have committed some of the burglaries to get off by providing free legal aid to them.
I use this opportunity to ask about the police authority that has been promised by this Government. I again put on record my admiration for the vast majority of those working in An Garda Síochána who are honourable, decent and hard-working people who have signed up to serve their country and are doing it in a very appropriate manner. Nevertheless, a number of people are not doing this, so there should be a level of authority to ensure we can deal with those who are not carrying out their duty properly. Only this week, it was reported that a colleague in this House would be charged with a criminal offence. From where did that information emanate? We cannot have cases like we had a number of weeks ago, when a former colleague of mine and former Member of this House was reported in a national newspaper as being under investigation even before he had the opportunity to go in, be questioned and give his side of the case. There is something morally wrong when this goes on in society today. The establishment of the police authority, advocated by the Government over the past number of years, is still awaited. We need to see it fairly quickly.
I welcome this legislation, which will help to deal with people who are caught. We know there is only a 10% detection rate of burglaries now, so with that in mind, we need to look at putting in adequate resources to ensure gardaí can be fully equipped to protect communities that they serve. Why are 50 of 60 electronic tagging devices unused? That should not be. My colleagues and previous speakers have spoken about the new road improvements in the past number of years, which leave everybody and every place so accessible. It leaves easy targets for criminal gangs to move into from place to place. We need to consider erecting closed-circuit television cameras at the main junctions so we can keep a watchful eye on the people who like to prey on our communities.
I will finish by telling a story of an event in my village that shows the importance of having a rural Garda station. A couple were driving along, minding their own business one evening when somebody came up behind and forced them to pull to the side. In their naiveté, they believed it was an unmarked Garda car. The person in the other car asked them why the couple was driving so slowly and requested a driving licence or identification. In their honesty, they went to hand it over but when the man took his wallet from his pocket, it was whipped from his hands and the perpetrators returned to their car and sped away. That is an example of what is preying on vulnerable people in our communities. I am thankful we have a Garda station in our village as within two minutes, the local garda was dealing with the incident. It is important to have rural Garda stations open and active. I ask the Minister to ensure that the review promised at the time the stations were closed can take place immediately. I also hope she will take on board some of my suggestions.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill. First, I compliment the Minister for Justice and Equality. Since assuming office, she has taken a number of initiatives to support the Garda and to strengthen the law to get tougher on criminals. The combination of policing reforms and legislative changes are testament to the determination of the Minister and this Government to tackle crime and protect our communities. We have a number of initiatives and the key objective for this Government has been to invest in more gardaí, which is happening, and put in more resources like vehicles, and that is also happening. We also want to strengthen the laws and get tougher on serious and repeat offenders.
I know the Minister is determined to ensure our policing strategies and resources are available to deal with the changes in criminal behaviour. This is important because in many ways, we are dealing with a different type of criminal today. We have criminal gangs that are highly mobile and are using our improved road infrastructure to target rural communities in hit-and-grab-type robberies. Some criminals charged with regard to cases in Clare recently have come from Dublin, as it takes approximately two and quarter hours to travel from Dublin to south-east Clare, so criminals can return to Dublin very quickly. Advancements in technology are generating an increase in cybercrime and the use of drugs continues to generate violence and criminal activity right across this country.
I have tremendous admiration for the Garda and the work it does in our communities. We have to invest in the services and in gardaí, giving them modern tools necessary to do their jobs. That is extremely important. I am speaking in particular about new technology, with the Garda Inspectorate report from 2014 recommending investment in technology and information technology. We had similar reports in 2007 and 2010, when Fianna Fáil was in government, but they were left unheeded. Not a single euro was put into IT and infrastructure at the time.
Now we have put it into the capital plan. More than €600 million is being spent on that. It is very important to ensure the Garda has the necessary, modern equipment to deal with the modern criminal.
Ensuring we have a strong, visible Garda presence in communities is the most effective way of reducing crime. In that context, the lifting of the ban on new gardaí is a significant development. Now that we have a yearly stream of gardaí passing out of Templemore and 1,150 gardaí are being recruited, this will boost the numbers on our streets. I heard the previous speaker speak about the lack of gardaí. Who closed Templemore but Fianna Fáil in 2009? We have opened Templemore. The Fianna Fáil election manifesto refers to the recruitment of 500 gardaí. We are recruiting 600 next year. Again, I heard comments from Deputy Troy about the closure of Garda stations and many other Opposition Members are scaremongering about the impact of rural policing. It is far more effective to have gardaí freed up and more mobile, because criminals are using the motorways to carry out the smash-and-grab robberies, particularly in rural areas. Since 2012, €34 million has been invested in Garda vehicles. I remind our friends in opposition in Fianna Fáil that when they were in government in the three years from 2008 to 2010, they spent a miserly €4.8 million on vehicles. That speaks volumes. This year 640 new vehicles are coming on stream. That is very important. Many of those are high-speed cars - Volvos, BMWs, SUVs - and it is very important for gardaí to be equipped and to be in safe vehicles when they are pursuing criminals.
Let us be practical. One cannot have a garda at every corner of the street. The presence of a garda or Garda station is no guarantee that crimes will not be committed. We have a Garda station in Sixmilebridge in County Clare and there was a serious robbery the other night in the business of a colleague of mine where €30,000 or €40,000 was stolen. Some years ago, there was a murder in Tipperary and there was a Garda station there. The presence of a Garda station does not mean crimes will not be committed. Many of these rural Garda stations are manned for only a few hours and these criminals know the movements of the gardaí when the station is open. That is the reality.
Figures from the Garda Síochána analysis service indicate that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of burglars. That is an important statistic in its own right. It is frustrating for gardaí when they spend considerable time solving these crimes only to find when the perpetrators come before the courts that repeat offenders can still be granted bail, resulting in them being able to continue their crime spree while out on bail. That is a problem which is being dealt with now in the bail Bill and it is very important. The new bail Bill will improve the operation of the bail system. Courts will have to give reasons for bail decisions and the District Court will have the power to refuse bail where there is an appeal against a sentence of imprisonment. At the moment, the District Court cannot refuse bail when such an appeal is lodged. These changes are very important in dealing with the faults in the previous legislation. The provisions of the bail Bill coupled with the proposals contained in this Bill, the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill, provide real deterrents for repeat offenders. The District Court will now be able to impose consecutive jail sentences where a burglar is being sentenced for multiple offences. That sends a clear message that this Government and this Minister for Justice and Equality are serious on crime. The majority of burglaries are committed by the same offenders. The courts will also be able to refuse bail for offenders who have previous convictions for domestic burglary or who have two or more pending charges.
As I mentioned earlier, it is evident that criminal gangs are using speed and our improved road infrastructure to carry out smash and grab robberies in our rural communities. They also have local information on these cases. While recent CSO figures issued for the second quarter of 2015 show that there has been a drop in the number of burglaries and related offences, in my county we were hit with a spate of robberies during the year. In part of one week in August there was a series of burglaries throughout east Clare, in Cratloe, Sixmilebridge, Broadford, Mountshannon and Whitegate. There have been similar problems in large urban areas like Ennis and in west Clare. Just last week Sixmilebridge was targeted. A consignment of cigarettes was delivered the day before. It is important to point out that they were delivered the day before. The shopkeeper had his Christmas stock in place. The burglars were well prepared. They cut the alarm and telephone and used cutting equipment to get in and out of the shop. The entire robbery was carried out in about 20 minutes and it was just a passing motorist who reported the incident to the Garda. These guys know what they are doing and we need to be ready for this type of criminality, which is now taking over in Ireland.
Operation Thor is a very important operation that was launched by the Commissioner recently. It is targeting these mobile burglars and it is making an impact. We have extra high-visibility patrols, checkpoints, high-powered vehicles - the regional response unit have Audi Q7s and BMW X5s - there is the high-profile crime prevention awareness campaign in place and there is enhanced support for victims of crime. The last is very important. Many victims of crime to whom I have spoken have suffered a lot afterwards, because the entering of a person's private home invades one's privacy and has an effect on people.
What is important is that 61,000 more man hours are now available for front-line gardaí. We also need to use new technologies to give access to critical information to gardaí at the front line. It is about gardaí working with communities. Any bit of information at all is important, because most of these guys have sussed out houses and businesses before they carry out the crime. It is very important that communities are aware of strange people around and report any incidents, numbers of cars and vans and so on in order that the Garda has that information when investigating a crime. The Minister has committed to investing €205 million in new systems and technology for the Garda, which is very welcome. This includes a new computer-aided dispatch system, mobile technology, investigations management systems and extending the roll-out of automated number plate recognition.
Like many other countries, we have become a tech-savvy nation. The digital revolution has seen mobile technology use soar, with 59% of the population using smartphones in 2014. People are spending twice as much time online compared with ten years ago. The availability of smartphones and tablets means that more are now accessing online information on the go and we should be using this technology in the battle against crime. That is why there is merit in looking at what police forces in other jurisdictions are doing as we try to improve police methods. The Metropolitan Police Service in the UK, for example, is providing 15,000 to 20,000 tablets to front-line officers after they successfully trialled 500 mini iPads across London.
They have been using the devices to take electronic statements, embed images and get people to sign with a fingerprint, and they are able to load all of this information onto the system instantly. The benefit for the officers is that they spend less time on administration in their offices. Now that the Government is making significant investment in mobile technology, I would hope that this type of technology will be chosen in the future to allow gardaí to access vital information that is needed on the move.
The text alert initiative, which other Deputies have spoken about, is effective in the battle against crime. I would like to see this initiative extended to all areas in time. I believe that social media could be further utilised to support the Garda Síochána. I have occasionally seen social media being used in this way. People can warn their neighbours when they notice suspicious vehicles or anything else in their area.
Crime, as I said, increased as a result of the moratorium that was introduced by the previous Government. It did not increase due to the closure of Garda stations, because I have seen statistics for the western division, where 41 Garda stations were closed, which show that there was actually an 8% reduction in crime. Crime has increased in urban areas. In my county of Clare, there was a reduction in crime of 20%. The Fianna Fáil Deputies who spoke here earlier on the Bill may remember the policy of zero tolerance which was introduced by a former Minister. Crime peaked when Fianna Fáil was in office in 2008. Then, when the moratorium came, and the closure of Templemore, it increased further.
We look at what this Government has done in this short period of time. For instance, the Garda air support unit was established by a Fine Gael Government. When the public finances were booming in the Celtic tiger period, not a single euro was invested in that unit. This Government has now invested €1.7 million to upgrade the surveillance equipment in the air support unit, and that includes night-time flying. The air support unit is extremely important in tackling crime. Being able to survey what is happening from the air and being mobile is what it is all about, and this is why we believe that equipping the Garda with more police cars, having them more mobile and out there on the beat, is the best way to deal with crime. This has been proven in other countries as well.
A previous speaker mentioned the policing authority, which constitutes an important reform. It is, I suppose, the core of our reform plans in this Government. Chaired by Ms Josephine Feehily, it is an important part of the reform of the Garda Síochána. I suppose it is the most far-reaching reform since the foundation of the State. It is a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system. While security remains the remit of the Minister, the policing authority has extensive functions. It will oversee the performance of the Garda Síochána in relation to policing matters. It will nominate persons for appointments to top positions. It will have an independent chairperson plus eight members, and they will have the power to speak to the Commissioner as well. Having that policing authority in place is something that we in this Government can be proud of.
There is a lot more I could say on this. It is so important that we commend the Minister on the work she has done in a short period of time. We talk about the bail laws and our prisons. As Deputies will be aware, there is not a problem with space in the prisons. Most of the prisons are operating at only 89% capacity at present. It is important, while the Judiciary is independent of us, that sentences fit the crimes that have been committed, as we saw recently in a high-profile case.
A lot has been done in a short period by this Government in transforming the Garda Síochána. We have reopened Templemore and brought new gardaí on board. We have provided the necessary resources to modernise the Garda Síochána. Having a criminal justice system that works is extremely important and having tough sanctions on criminals is important as well. It will not deter criminals but it certainly will bring down the level of criminality in this country. This is why it is important that we have this legislation. I support the bail legislation. I support this Bill. It is an important aspect of the effort to reduce the number of burglaries, particularly by targeting repeat offenders, as many Deputies mentioned today. As my time is just up, I commend the Bill to the House and I commend the Minister on the excellent work she has done in this short period of time.
The next speaker, with a 17-minute slot, is Deputy Joe O'Reilly, who I understand is sharing his time with Deputy Butler.
Yes. With the Acting Chairman's permission, I propose to share three minutes with my colleague Deputy Butler and two minutes with Deputy Tóibín, who has assured me he wants to recognise the Government's achievements in the area of crime detection and prevention. Maybe the Acting Chairman would indicate when my time is up.
I will inform Deputy Butler when the time has expired.
I thank the Acting Chairman.
It merits saying at the outset that the question of bail and crime committed while on bail - the misuse of bail - has been in the ether, for want of a better term, or floating around for a considerable time and has been the subject of much debate and discussion among all of us interested in crime detection and prevention. For that reason, it is to the eternal credit of this reforming and progressive Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, that she has taken the issue in hand and addressed the question in a practical way while maintaining natural justice, due process, etc.
Section 1 of the Bill states that if a person is charged with domestic burglary and has convictions for not less than two relevant offences, then the court must consider these convictions as evidence that the said person is likely to commit another burglary if he or she is released on bail. That is a reasonable contention and all empirical evidence would suggest the correctness of doing that.
According to figures from the CSO, of 5,489 people released on bail from Irish prisons, 60% reoffended in some way within three years. It is a sad statistic that raises a lot of questions, but it is a relevant and unavoidable one. Of this figure, 28% of subsequent offences were burglary. That is also pertinent. The majority of these reoffenders were aged 25 years or older - we are not talking about teenagers here. For offenders who went through a probation order or community service, the amount of recidivism was marginally less. That is to be recognised and welcomed.
Burglary can have a very profound psychological effect on victims. Apart from the physical loss of personal items which may occur, the feelings of intrusion, violation, insecurity and fear become overarching and are often long-lasting. Deputy Ray Butler mentioned it to me informally before the debate from his own perspective. These feelings are common among elderly victims, particularly those living in isolated rural areas. Even the fear of potential burglary is real and is a form of imprisonment. I welcome the fact that the legislation will allow courts to refuse bail to a suspect where there is clear evidence that there were previous convictions for domestic burglary. It is a very important, solid and welcome reform. While it has been talked about for a long time, getting it done is the important thing, and I am happy to be here to recognise it.
Section 2 amends the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 so that if a person is being sentenced for a domestic burglary, the sentence must run consecutively with any sentence of imprisonment imposed for prior domestic burglary offences, in certain circumstances. It is a very important reform which will increase the punitive dimension and, sadly, it has to happen. There must be consecutive sentencing. There must be clear evidence that burglary is not acceptable, does not work and results in a bad outcome for the burglar. Unfortunately, this element must be included. We would all wish for education and all the other initiatives to work. We are in favour of them and they merit debate in different circumstances. However, there must be clear disincentives and a clear system of punishment for repeat offenders. Bail must not be given in cases of repeat crimes and there must be consecutive sentences where a person has a previous burglary conviction. Section 2 is to be welcomed.
Operation Fiacla, a nationwide operation to crack down on burglaries, led to 11,688 arrests and 6,711 people being charged last year. It is very important that it happened, and it is also important in the context of a debate in which certain Opposition Members have chosen to distort figures, play on people’s fears and engage in pre-election political posturing about crime. The figures are indisputably accurate. Our new Garda burglary unit will use data analysis to target crime gangs, which are predominantly responsible for the majority of domestic burglaries. Operation Thor also deals with this.
In my constituency, Cavan-Monaghan, which is a Border constituency, there is a serious problem with crime gangs which operate across the Border. Thankfully, our local Garda division has an excellent relationship with the PSNI and they work together and share information and resources in order to combat these gangs. Since Operation Fiacla was introduced in 2012, burglary and related offences in the northern region have dropped from 679 to 556. While we do not want 556 burglaries to take place, it is a very significant decrease. Although our crime rates are nowhere near where they need to be, we are getting there. Gardaí in the region must receive the necessary support to combat these crimes. This is why I was pleased to hear recently that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, had approved a new Garda regional headquarters for Bailieborough. It is very important and I welcome it. The current station is in a very bad state of repair. The building is old, unfit for purpose and unsuitable to provide the kind of response to crime gangs we need. This is why I am delighted there will be a new, state-of-the-art station, which the Minister has approved. The gardaí are working in third-class conditions. Bailieborough gardaí will have a new station, which will confirm Bailieborough as a regional headquarters. I am very happy that my colleague and good friend, the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, is here today. He has confirmed that he is in the very final stages of acquiring a site for the Garda station. It is not a fiction, but a real thing which has received approval in the capital programme. I am very proud of it. It is the greatest signal my ministerial colleagues and I could send to the gardaí in our division that they are valued, that we want them to operate at a sophisticated, modern level, that we are concerned about crime and that they are being supported properly. It merits being mentioned in this important debate. Garda morale has suffered greatly. It is not germane to the debate to chronicle all the reasons, but the new regional headquarters will improve morale. We should take this opportunity to pay tribute to the individual men and women of the Garda Síochána, who fight crime very competently and sensitively on a daily basis.
I mentioned the new DNA database, which came into operation on 20 November 2015. It will be important to the Garda. The new database will be based in the Phoenix Park and will offer gardaí the most modern technology available in the fight against crime. This high-quality intelligence tool will be especially valuable in the fight against volume crime such as burglary and theft, and in the investigation of serious offences against the person. It will use our digital revolution to work with the gardaí. Garda figures show that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of burglars. There is a small pool of repeat offenders, and DNA analysis is very important in this context. The launch of the new database follows the recent publication of legislation to tackle repeat domestic burglars, which we are debating, and the launch of Operation Thor. Operation Thor is aimed at tackling burglars, organised crime gangs and prolific offenders as well as working with communities to prevent crime. Over €5 million is being committed to support this anti-burglary plan, and it is a very important initiative.
There is an issue with cross-Border crime. I am delighted that the new dye is working very significantly to reduce diesel smuggling. Although the crime gangs have the scientific know-how to remove the dye, the expense of doing so is a disincentive. The Government is tough on crime and has been successful. Although there is much we want to achieve, this is a law and order Government and will remain so, which is what people want. People want personal security and to be safe in their homes, and they want no equivocation about it. I am happy with the 640 new Garda cars this year and the €34 million spent on vehicles since 2012.
While I accept the need for free legal aid, it is important that there be attachments, in the context of allowing people a living income so they can get on with their lives. When a person receives free legal aid, there should be an attachment on his or her wages, salary or social welfare over a long period of time to claw the money back. The money should be ring-fenced to deal with crime. Apart from the economic necessity to do this, it would be a further disincentive to committing crime. It should be done humanely, over time and within the context of allowing people a living income. It is important, and I have no embarrassment about saying it. While people are entitled to legal aid in order to ensure they receive due process, they are not entitled to be subsidised. We must be very vigilant on this, as well as monitoring the objective overall cost of free legal aid.
It is a pleasure to participate in the debate. My time is almost up.
It is a matter of seconds.
The Bill will achieve the long-talked-about reform of the bail laws and the consecutive sentencing that is required.
It matches a raft of other initiatives that have been introduced by this reforming Minister, who is getting on with the business. Criminals are not welcome in this country. They will feel very unsafe in it shortly.
I thank Deputy O'Reilly for sharing some of his time with me. I would like to explain why I welcome this Bill. In 2007, my house was robbed. We were all asleep upstairs. It was 1 April 2007. When we came down the stairs the following morning, my car was gone. Keys and other items were taken as well. Three months later, my car keys were found in a skip in Blanchardstown. I want to talk about the scars and the victims that are left behind after something like this happens. My son was old enough to understand what had happened. My girls are younger, so they did not understand at the time. My son would not go to sleep until I came home at night because he was scared. If he heard anything, he would jump up and look out the windows. The scars that are left behind after these robberies affect those involved and local communities.
There were many robberies in the Trim area in 2007, 2010, 2014 and 2015. I will speak in a minute about the need for modern technology. There were 54 gardaí in Trim when many of these robberies were taking place. In 2014, we had one of the most violent robberies ever seen on CCTV in the Trim area. A jewellery shop in Trim was robbed. I went up to see the owner of the shop. All the glass was broken, and the man had been beaten and his shoes had been taken off. This happened in the area where the broken glass was. The man's mouth and hands had been tied. He was unable to stand up on the broken glass to look for help. This involved a group of foreign national criminals who had come into this country. They bought cars two weeks beforehand. After they did the robbery, they burnt the car out at Boardsmill and skipped out of the country.
I welcome the provision of €5 million for new cars. We need CCTV cameras at all the major junctions. That will definitely help, as will the new tagging and bail laws. I am pleased that gardaí will be able to argue against someone getting bail. We need tougher laws when these criminals go into court. We need judges to take these crimes more seriously. I agree with the Deputy who wondered how people who have never worked a day in their lives can afford new sports utility vehicles, Transit vans and flashy cars. We need the Criminal Assets Bureau to go in and target such people. They have to be doing something to facilitate the lifestyles they have. We also need to look at border security It is not good enough that just because one comes from an EU member state, one can flash one's EU passport to be allowed in and out of any European country. We saw what happened in France recently. I think we have to look at tighter border security in Europe. I welcome Bill. It is a start, but we have a long way to go.
Ba mhaith liom míle buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta O'Reilly as ucht an t-am seo a roinnt liom. I attended a Save our Community public meeting in Trim on Tuesday night. Some 500 people gathered to discuss the difficulties they were having with regard to crime. There was a palpable sense of fear right through the room. There have been many references to fear throughout this debate. Elderly people at the meeting were unwilling to mention where they live because they were afraid that the people who were at home that night would be in trouble. People spoke about being robbed on multiple occasions. People said that when they returned home to find someone robbing their houses, they were attacked. One individual said that a criminal who drove at his wife, was injured in the incident and was subsequently apprehended is now suing the family in question on foot of the injury he received. The perpetrator of this crime has indicated that he is suing the family because he was scarred from the injury he received while committing this crime.
There was a very strong sense at the meeting in Trim that the laws of the State are in favour of the criminals and against law-abiding citizens. A strong view was expressed that policing cutbacks have made an enormous difference. I was really proud to see that three gardaí got up and spoke at the meeting. They said they did not have the resources to deliver the service properly. The strength of the force has fallen from 15,000 to 13,000. The Garda Representative Association and the other representative groups will confirm that the current number of gardaí is below the threshold at which the Garda can do its job properly. The Cavan-Monaghan Garda division has lost 22% of its front-line gardaí. Some 100 gardaí are gone out of the system in that area.
I do not doubt that crime levels have increased. A great deal of crime is happening but not being reported. A report that was published some time ago suggested that up to 5,000 crimes are not being reported to the Garda because the victims of crime are worried that reporting those crimes will have an adverse effect on their insurance premiums and so on. A Government Deputy said a while ago that there was no correlation between Garda stations and crime levels. That must be nonsense. If there was no such correlation, we would not have put Garda stations there in the first instance. Around €500,000 was saved when 139 Garda stations were closed. That equates to approximately €4,000 per Garda station. I appeal to the Government to recognise that €4,000 per Garda station on an annual basis is a small saving by comparison with the cost to those who live in the local communities.
As Deputies can see on the monitors, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, is unavoidably detained in the Seanad, where she is dealing with another Bill. She has asked me to speak on her behalf as we close the debate on this Bill. I am very pleased to have an opportunity to participate in the debate. It is clear that domestic burglary is of great concern to all Members of this House. I want to thank everyone who contributed to the debate on this Bill. Clearly, burglary is not just an attack on property. It is also an attack on the sense of peace and safety we deserve to enjoy in our homes.
The Government's response to crime in rural and urban areas, particularly burglaries, is focused on two key objectives: strengthening the law to get tougher on serious and repeat offenders, and investing in the capacity of An Garda Síochána to enforce that law effectively. The Minister's concern about burglaries last winter led her to commission a review earlier this year. This Bill is directly informed by the concerns identified by the Garda during that review. Her officials met directly with detectives operating in our communities to tackle burglary so that they could hear at first hand about the difficulties they face and identify the improvements in the law which are being delivered in this Bill.
The Garda has highlighted the particular challenges it faces in tackling repeat offenders who obtain bail despite having multiple convictions or facing multiple charges. Such offenders often commit many burglaries while on bail and then push to receive a sentence for as few offences as possible while having many more "taken into consideration". The Bill addresses both ends of this problem in a focused way. It carefully balances the constitutional right of accused people to liberty with the very important constitutionally guaranteed right to an inviolable dwelling. This legislation will ensure the multiple offences of domestic burglary or multiple pending charges, or a combination of both, will be considered as evidence that a person is likely to commit further domestic burglary. This will allow courts to deny bail to such prolific offenders in appropriate cases. I know this is welcomed by all Members.
On the sentencing side of the problem, the Bill will ensure that multiple offences committed within the same 12-month period cannot simply be taken into consideration or rolled up into a single concurrent sentence of imprisonment. If a court is minded to impose a sentence of imprisonment, it will be obliged to impose it consecutively to any sentence of imprisonment for domestic burglary committed within the same 12-month period. As Members will be aware, work is progressing separately on the drafting of the new bail Bill, which the Minister intends to introduce as a matter of priority. This Bill will strengthen the law to protect the public against crimes committed by people on bail.
The Minister is aware that legislation is just one part of the solution. It has been made clear by Deputies on all sides of the House that this Bill must be followed by action on the ground delivered by the men and women of An Garda Síochána. They guarantee the rule of law and they are the means by which the democratic will of the people is upheld. One might say that gardaí are the backbone of the nation. Garda Tony Golden was a member of An Garda Síochána who protected the vulnerable. He died honouring his oath to faithfully discharge his duties. He went beyond his oath and laid down his life in the service of his community. We are all humbled in the face of such a sacrifice.
We can never repay the debt of gratitude owed to him or the 87 other members of the force who have died in the line of duty. We express our genuine sorrow, our deep sympathy and our heartfelt gratitude for their sacrifice, but it is incumbent on us as legislators and as a Government to go beyond mere words. We must do all we can to show all the members of the Garda Síochána that they have our wholehearted, practical support.
It is important that we equip gardaí to do their jobs. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, recently announced the allocation of a further €5. 3 million for the purchase of 260 vehicles by the end of the year. The investment comes on top of the almost €29 million this Government has invested since 2012 in renewing the Garda fleet to support front-line Garda responses. So far this year 370 new vehicles have come on stream, including new specialised vehicles.
Investment in the Garda fleet will continue under the Government's capital plan 2016-2021, which provides a major investment in 21st century policing to prevent and tackle crime. An additional €46 million for new Garda vehicles will be allocated over the lifetime of the plan. This is in addition to the recent authorisation of €1.75 million to upgrade surveillance equipment on Garda aircraft. The capital plan contains an additional €205 million for Garda ICT systems and technology. This will bring the overall Garda ICT funding to €330 million over the lifetime of the capital plan.
In Athlone recently, the Minister for Justice and Equality and I announced details of An Garda Síochána's building and refurbishment programme 2016-2021. This comprehensive programme of investment includes over €60 million of Exchequer funding as part of the Government capital plan 2016-2021 as well as a major public private partnership project. On 13 November, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, announced the commencement of DNA legislation and the launch of a new state-of-the-art DNA database system, based in Forensic Science Ireland in the Phoenix Park. The DNA database system became operational on Friday last. The DNA database represents a very significant development in assisting the Garda Síochána in the investigation of crime. This high-quality intelligence tool will be invaluable in the fight against volume crime, such as burglary and theft, and in the investigation of serious offences against the person. It is vital that our police force have all it requires, including modern technology, to protect the State and its citizens from crime. This new system will be an invaluable asset in this regard.
The most valuable resources within the Garda Síochána, however, are its members. We have seen almost 400 new recruits enter since September 2014, with another 150 due to enter in the coming months. In the recent budget the Minister secured an extra allocation to allow for the recruitment of 600 new gardaí next year.
A key part of An Garda Síochána's strategy in the fight against rural crime is to work in partnership with the community and key stakeholders directly and through community-based organisations such as the Irish Farmers’ Association, Neighbourhood Watch and Muintir na Tíre. Part of this strategy under Operation Thor is to raise awareness in the community as to how people can work together to prevent crime. The funding being provided to support Community Alert and Crimestoppers is being doubled with a total allocation of €397,000 in 2016. As of October, the latest date for which figures are available, there have been 813 dedicated community gardaí working and engaging with communities, both urban and rural.
Operation Thor, a new multi-strand national anti-crime and anti-burglary operation, was recently launched by the Garda Commissioner. A further allocation of over €5 million has been committed to support Operation Thor, which entails a broad range of activities to tackle crime, particularly burglaries, in both urban and rural communities nationwide. These include additional high-visibility patrols in identified burglary hotspots, increased use of checkpoints to tackle the criminal gangs using the national road network, the use of new high-powered vehicles by the armed regional response units, efforts to disrupt the stolen goods market, programmes to help reduce re-offending by prolific offenders, a high-profile national crime prevention awareness campaign, targeted crime prevention advice for local communities and enhanced supports for victims.
Since Operation Thor commenced earlier this month, there has been a range of arrests and persons charged as part of planned operations. These include arrests in Dublin, Dundalk, Cavan, Dunboyne, Mullingar and Birr, as well as a large-scale search of 12 locations in the Limerick area as part of a targeted operation again organised crime groups, in which drugs and firearms were also seized. The Minister expects to receive ongoing reports on the impact of Operation Thor throughout the country.
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, listened with concern to all the particular cases mentioned by colleagues. She and I sympathise with all victims of burglary and I believe that the victims would want us to go beyond expressions of horror at the crimes they have endured. In addition to resourcing the Garda Síochána to tackle offenders and strengthening the law, we are putting in place supports for victims. Any crime can have a devastating impact on a victim. There is the direct harm caused by the crime itself, but also the awful feeling of a loss of control and a sense of powerlessness. The general scheme of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill has been published and the Bill is now being drafted by the Office of the Attorney General. It will put the rights of victims of crime at the heart of the justice system for the first time. From their first contact with the Garda Síochána, victims will have a right to receive clear information on the criminal justice system, their role within it and the range of services and entitlements they may access. The Bill provides the right to receive written acknowledgement of the making of a complaint, as well as details on how further information can be obtained. Victims will be able to request information concerning the progress of the investigation and any court proceedings arising from it. Victims will have the right to an individual assessment of the measures necessary for their protection from further victimisation. The Garda Síochána, the Courts Service, the DPP, the Prison Service and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission will all be obliged to train staff members on the needs of victims and to enable them to deal with victims in a respectful and professional manner.
I know Deputies will be aware of the widely reported case which saw the Circuit Court impose heavy sentences for a case of aggravated burglary in Tipperary in recent weeks. On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, I wish to express our deep sympathy to the family who fell victim to such a terrible and traumatising crime. I hope that it is some comfort to them and to the whole community that the gardaí were equipped to chase, arrest and successfully prosecute such dangerous criminals. The case is also a clear demonstration that courts can and will impose heavy sentences in the appropriate circumstances.
Crime and policing has a lot more complexity to it than where a station is located. Contrary to what some people have said in this debate, recent crime statistics show no direct correlation between station closures and a rise in burglary. In fact, burglary has fallen in some divisions where stations were closed and in many rural areas in particular. The Minister understands the concern expressed at the closure of Garda stations. It can appear that resources are being withdrawn from an area when this happens. Nothing could be further from the truth. The closure of Garda stations was not about saving money; it was primarily done to enhance service delivery and efficiency. The rationalisation programme put in place by Garda management allows front-line gardaí to be managed and deployed with greater mobility and greater flexibility, particularly with regard to various targeted police operations. As a result, communities benefit from increased Garda visibility and increased patrolling hours which improves the policing service to the public.
The network of over 700 Garda stations inherited from the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police reflected a 19th-century model that pre-dated the invention of the motor car. Can anyone seriously argue that a 19th-century policing model should be applied to 21st-century crime? The Garda strategy, which the Minister supports and has resourced, is to ensure a dynamic policing response that is enabled to tackle crime when and where it happens, and with the appropriate equipment. A garda cannot drive a desk to the scene of a crime to apprehend criminals, or move that desk to the other side of the county in response to changing crime patterns. However, a garda in a patrol car or a high-powered response vehicle can both engage with the local community and attend the scenes of crimes.
We must support a 21st-century model of policing. I have already outlined the major investment by the Government, already under way and planned for future years, in Garda vehicles, Garda ICT resources, Garda air support and, most important of all, in new Garda recruits, with 600 planned for next year and 150 by the end of this year.
In conclusion, I ask Members to support the Bill. As Members of this House, it is our duty to respond to the needs of the communities we represent and to address the problems they face with practical solutions. It is incumbent on us to support the Garda Síochána in its efforts to tackle the invasive crime of burglary. The Bill was developed having sought the advice of gardaí on the ground and in light of the actual challenges they face. It represents a targeted response to those who think they can repeatedly burgle the homes of innocent victims with impunity.
While short, it is a technically complex Bill which carefully balances constitutional rights to ensure the Garda and courts can respond fairly but effectively to the harm caused by prolific burglars. It is only part of the Government's overall response to crime and is being supported by investment in Garda resources - that is, the men and women of An Garda Síochána and equipment. In years to come, we will look back on this Bill as a very positive weapon in the fight against crime. I commend it to the House.