Other Questions

Compensation Schemes

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

44. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a group (details supplied) has tried to secure funding for a small number of victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings that were referred by a general practitioner for a small number of counselling sessions; and the reason the Victims of Crime Office has refused this request to date in 2017. [24019/17]

This question is in the name of Deputy Seán Crowe. Permission has been given for Deputy Jonathan O'Brien to substitute.

Has the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality's attention been drawn to the fact that the Justice for the Forgotten group has tried to secure funding for a small number of victims of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings who were referred by a general practitioner and that this request has been denied by the Victims of Crime Office?

Following inquiries in my Department and telephone contact with the group referred to in the details supplied, I wish to confirm that there are no outstanding claims for payments in my Department. The group received funding in each of the years 2014 to 2016, inclusive, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the reconciliation fund administered by that Department. The applications for funding from the 2017 tranche of the fund are at an advanced stage of review in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I refer to my answer to a question tabled by Deputy Finian McGrath concerning those matters. The position has not changed since my reply on that day which outlined the exact situation in terms of the remembrance commission, for example, and the €3.87 million in funding that was made available to individual victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland resident in this jurisdiction to acknowledge their suffering. A significant amount of funding was also made available directly to the Justice for the Forgotten group, which supports many of the victims. The exceptional payments element of the remembrance commission scheme provided for the possibility of payment for counselling expenses incurred prior to the establishment of the scheme in the circumstances that were outlined. Some ongoing counselling services were provided through Justice for the Forgotten.

The group was also awarded funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under its reconciliation and anti-sectarianism funds to allow it to continue its important work.

While it is not possible to extend the nature of the schemes administered by it, I reiterate the assurances given previously that funding for certain ongoing medical needs of those who sustained injuries in the bombings has been and will continue to be provided through my Department's Victims of Crime Office. However, we have not been able to find any outstanding application. We have also made telephone contact with the group.

As the Minister is aware, I am taking this on behalf of Deputy Crowe and I do not have the level of detail that he would have. The information which has been passed onto me is that there has been ongoing funding for physical injuries, including access to funding for hearing aids. However, the issue he has raised with me concerns cases where people have been referred for counselling and psychological services by a GP but applications in this regard have not been granted. This is the information I have received. There is a recognition of ongoing funding for physical injuries. My information as of today is that individuals seeking counselling services have been denied funding to access those counselling services, even with a GP's referral letter. I am more than happy to ask Deputy Crowe to liaise directly with the Minister's office and to give her the details relating to some of the cases with which he is dealing.

The medical needs are being provided for. The Victims of Crime Office in my Department continues to provide the funding for certain ongoing medical needs. The Deputy said that. The particular group received total funding of more than €1.2 million through the remembrance commission which was financed by my Department. That operated a scheme of payments to groups offering support services. A total of €1.2 million of the €1.5 million that we had at that time for victims was given to this group. It was substantial support. It got almost €900,000 from the Department of the Taoiseach in the period from 2000 to 2003, inclusive. When the term of the remembrance commission came to an end in October 2008, the funding under the scheme ended. Nevertheless, a decision was taken to grant further funding to the Justice for the Forgotten group and another €190,000 was given by the State so that it could continue to operate while seeking to put alternative funding in place. Beyond that extra €190,000, which was a sort of bridging payment, it was not possible for my Department to continue to fund the organisation. I have outlined the position relating to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. If the Deputy's colleague wishes to submit any further details to my office, he should please do that.

I appreciate that the Minister is giving the information as she has it, as I am doing. I will revert to Deputy Crowe and relay to him the Minister's response. If he knows of individual cases that have been denied counselling services, I will ask him to take it up directly with her office.

Does the Tánaiste have anything further to add?

It is clear that there has been substantial support for the victims in these particular circumstances. It was a huge part of the overall funding available to my office. If there are particular ongoing needs at this point, it may be possible to see if there is some appropriate funding mechanism. However, it was not possible for my Department to continue the funding beyond the point that I have outlined to the House.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

45. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of gardaí in each of the Cork divisions who have been trained and are in a position to test for drug driving; the number of tests that have been carried out in each Cork division; and the number of positive results that have been identified.. [23963/17]

The priority here is that the Garda would have all the resources it needs, including training and equipment, to do the job to the best of its ability and that it would be in a position to do everything it can to make our roads safer. At more than 13,000 km and covering one seventh of the area of the Republic, Cork has the largest road network in the country. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety, MBRS, tells us that one in ten drivers killed in road accidents failed toxicology tests. We are trying to establish if the gardaí in Cork are in a position to test for drug driving effectively.

I have requested the specific information from the Garda authorities. As soon as I have it, I will make it available to the Deputy.

While An Garda Síochána has been testing Irish drivers for drugs with the assistance of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety since 1999, my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, commenced the drug driving provisions on 12 April. Therefore, this is a very new initiative. One of the key measures in the legislation provides for preliminary drug testing, which will enable the Garda to test motorists at the roadside. The new devices will be available in Garda stations. The MBRS found, for example, that 24% of the 3,020 specimens of blood and urine that it received in 2016 confirmed positive for drugs other than alcohol. This shows us why it is so important to have introduced this new legislation. It is interesting to note that 91% of the specimens were those of male drivers, most of whom were in the 17 to 44 age group. Cannabis, followed by benzodiazepines, was the most prevalent drug detected.

I believe that the measures the Deputy has asked me about will make a positive difference. I attended the ministerial committee on road safety on Monday. Professor Cusack also attended. He is now receiving the various specimens that are being taken and analysing them. This process is just beginning and under way. Representatives of the Garda were also in attendance and assured us that gardaí have been trained. As I stated, the samples are coming through.

I will have to get the detail of who has been trained in Cork for the Deputy. It is estimated that drug driving is a factor in approximately one in ten fatal crashes. Drug driving not only puts the driver at risk but also passengers and others who share the roads. The road safety figures have improved in the recent weeks and month and we have seen a welcome reduction in the number of fatalities and injuries this year so far.

The deferred reply under Standing Order 42A was forwarded to the Deputy.

I thank the Minister for the detail on the issue of drug diving. I am particularly focused on the ability of the Garda to deal with the issue. Has it got the trained gardaí and equipment? That is the purpose of the question. Unfortunately, there is no indication of any numbers in the reply. We understood that 72 were initially trained, including 30 full-time trainers. Have any others been trained? Is the Garda training gardaí in the training college or will it continue to take gardaí off the beat to train them? This legislation did not drop out of the sky. There was an opportunity for it to be ready before it came in and to have numerous gardaí trained and ready for it. I understand it was expected that most of the traffic corps would be trained by the end of April. Has that happened? It is disappointing that the figures are not there. Can the Minister get them? We need them to establish if the Garda is in a position to deal with the issue.

I reassure the Deputy, following the meeting I attended on Monday with senior gardaí involved in traffic management and testing, that it is operational. That is the first point to make. The tests are being done and the specimens are going through, as Professor Cusack outlined at the meeting I attended. That is important. It is operational. I may need to correct the figure for new Garda recruits who are working on the traffic units around the country but I believe 67 extra gardaí are there, in addition to the 10% increase in the numbers attached to the traffic corps. There is a substantial increase, unfortunately, in the detection of drink-driving. It means people are being brought to task and before the courts. The information I have is that it is under way.

The other point, which is very important because it came up before, is that the tender for the new preliminary breath testing equipment is now live. It is hoped that all stages of that process will be completed by early 2018. The new equipment, which is available in the marketplace, both for alcohol and drugs, has the capacity to record the time, GPS location and the number of persons breath tested. It has the capacity to download the information automatically. If one considers the kind of information that came out on alcohol testing, it is a major improvement. I will revert to the Deputy with the exact figures.

I ask her to so do. I am pleased to note the 67 extra gardaí. Are they brand new recruits or does it include trainers who are full-time on training? Are there 67 extra gardaí out there on the beat carrying out the tests? The Minister referred to the device and the tender for the equipment. Is she aware questions were raised about its ability to reliably test in cold temperatures under 5° Celsius, on winter nights and in poor weather? Is the Minister satisfied the equipment the Garda is being given is reliable and will give reliable tests and that members of the public will not be unnecessarily challenged on it? For example, will people who have prescription drugs such as codeine be safe to go through the new tests? I am keen to get the figures as soon as the Minister has them.

The point the Deputy raised about the temperature was discussed with Professor Cusack. I knew the issue had been raised. A number of issues were raised on social media in this regard and we do not want to create any anxiety. I am informed by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, which is the responsible authority for procurement, purchasing, approval and supply of the devices, that where the analyser cannot achieve 5° Celsius or where it exceeds 40° Celsius, a low temperature or high temperature message will be displayed and it will not be possible to do a test. This non-testing outside of the temperature range is a safeguard to ensure the test performs satisfactorily and is consistent. Professor Cusack was very confident about it.

The Deputy also raised a point on prescription drugs. The RSA is running public information campaigns and it emphasises it is against the law to drive under the influence of drugs, including prescribed drugs, where a motorist's driving is impaired to such an extent that he or she does not have proper control of the vehicle. There is a lot of information out there. People need to read it and to be very conscious of it and to discuss these issues with their general practitioner.

Domestic Violence

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

46. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will remove the €130 minimum contribution for civil legal aid and €30 minimum contribution for legal advice, in view of the fact this is a barrier to access for vulnerable persons such as victims of domestic violence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24389/17]

Will the Minister remove the €130 fee for legal aid, which applies to people seeking barring orders to flee from domestic violence? It is undoubtedly a huge barrier to women seeking help. It was increased by the last Government from €50 to €130 in 2013. It is very difficult, particularly since women often experience financial abuse, as well as physical abuse.

The Legal Aid Board provides civil legal aid and advice to people who cannot afford to pay for a solicitor from their own resources. Applicants are required to meet both the merits test and the financial eligibility criteria. The vast majority of applicants granted legal aid and advice are required to pay some contribution. The majority of applicants for legal aid in connection with domestic violence relief pay the minimum contribution. There is quite a lot of discretion in place in terms of guidelines for the Legal Aid Board's decision makers with regard to applications for a waiver of contributions. The guidelines provide for a sympathetic approach to be taken to applications for a waiver in cases where the application is in connection with a domestic violence matter and the person’s sole source of income is social welfare. This discretion enables the board to ensure that vulnerable persons seeking civil legal aid are in a position to access it. In 2016, fees totalling €38,700 were waived in respect of domestic violence cases.

The board has a policy role in the provision of civil legal aid and it has recently brought proposals to me on financial eligibility and other criteria. I have received that submission. In the submission, the board recommends some changes, including waiving fees for vulnerable applicants. I am very inclined to follow its advice on that because we have seen some horrific examples of domestic violence in our media in recent times. It is an horrific crime, which continues in this country. I want to ensure there are no financial barriers to women in that situation accessing legal aid. I will be examining those proposals shortly. There are other recommendations which I will have to consider but the board makes a proposal to waive the fees in those circumstances. That is also my position.

The Minister touched on the issue. An article by Justine McCarthy hinted at it on Sunday. There is collusion by society and the Dáil in the epidemic of violence against women. More women have been murdered in the past number of months than were murdered in the whole of last year. I particularly want to raise an issue about the Sonia Blount case in which the jury found the defendant guilty yesterday. What was most distressing is she was a young woman, a mother of a toddler, who had already escaped a serious, abusive relationship. She made the unfortunate mistake of having a few dates with somebody at work and ended up being stalked and harassed, incredibly, by this person and ultimately murdered. Will the Minister take action about a HSE-employed psychiatrist, Dr. Seán Ó Domhnaill, who testified in the case and went on a tirade of victim-blaming on behalf of the defendant? He actually wondered in court whether a residual part of Ms Blount actually liked Mr. Locke and knew she was going to meet him in that hotel room. It was an absolutely disgusting display by somebody who is getting paid by the State colluding in an epidemic of male violence against women and blaming the victim.

I am very reluctant to discuss individual court details and evidence given by professionals in courts on the floor of the Dáil.

I have not seen any collusion in the approach to domestic violence taken in this House. I recently launched the second strategy on domestic violence and considerable work is being done by all the stakeholders and front-line services involved in this area. The Government is providing increasing support. I accept, however, that there will always be requests for more support and I am open to examining these requests. Tusla provides funding for refuges.

I have, in the Domestic Violence Bill, taken on board the vast majority of the recommendations made to me by the various stakeholders. The Bill is on Committee Stage and I hope to progress it quickly to ensure we have much stronger law which provides stronger penalties for perpetrators and more supports for victims of domestic violence. We have also implemented a campaign targeted at bystanders to highlight the importance of greater societal awareness, one of the issues raised by Deputy Coppinger.

We have seen extraordinary, horrible and upsetting examples of domestic violence which have led to the deaths of young women. Many other women are suffering domestic violence, sometimes in silence, and we must do everything possible to break the cycle and ensure they can escape.

I ask Deputy Coppinger to focus on the content of the question.

I do not doubt that the Minister has introduced measures and will introduce further measures. However, the point the journalist in question was making is that Deputies jump up and down in the Dáil, quite rightly, about violence against the elderly in rural areas and so forth but do not jump up and down to the same extent about the epidemic of women being targeted and murdered. We must call out the toxic masculinity that is bred and reinforced by society, whereby men are encouraged to think they should be dominant, aggressive and seek to control women.

Alongside the measures to which the Minister referred, we need a criminal law that makes an offence of domestic violence. We also need emergency out-of-hours barring orders and legislation against stalking, which should be a ground for seeking a protection order. As we saw in the case to which I referred, stalking is an indication of more serious danger. In addition, protection orders should be served by the Garda rather than victims, the right of a possible perpetrator to interrogate a victim must be removed and child contact centres must be established. A slew of measures is required.

Domestic violence is a very serious issue. I can only agree with the Deputy that the more people talk about it, the better. A large number of men are working very hard to change current attitudes which result in an extraordinary level of violence against women. I had thought and hoped domestic violence would decrease but unfortunately that is not the case.

Domestic violence is often linked to alcohol and drug abuse and we must tackle those issues. Members must be clear in their attitudes to alcohol, which will be an important part of dealing with this domestic violence.

Many of the measures to which Deputy Coppinger referred are included in the new Domestic Violence Bill. For example, the legislation provides better law and stronger provisions on harassment, revenge porn and stalking. I have been advised that it would be difficult to capture an exact definition of domestic violence in the Bill and it would not be the best way to protect victims. If I am convinced it is the best way to protect victims, I will act, but my advice is that existing law and the changes I am introducing in the Domestic Violence Bill will provide a stronger provision than trying to provide such an exact definition. The Bill is on Committee Stage and we will have an opportunity to discuss it again.

Crime Levels

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

47. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which the number of reported incidents in the various categories of crime has fluctuated in the past ten years; the extent to which Garda strength has altered in the same period; if a correlation has been established between the number of gardaí and criminal activity; her plans to address this and other emerging issues by way of specific response, whether by new policing methods, increasing Garda strength or establishing policing procedures in line with those currently recognised as best practice in other countries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24342/17]

In this question, I seek to clarify whether there is a correlation between the possible increase in crime levels in particular areas and the reduction, as a result of the economic downtown, in the number of gardaí available and whether particular policing methods are required to deal with the issue.

This is a comprehensive question on which I will try to provide as much information as possible. I will also circulate figures in a table.

The Central Statistics Office, CSO, as the national statistics agency, is responsible for the publication of the official recorded crime statistics. These figures are published quarterly and I have provided the Deputy with a summary table of the trends in the main crime categories over the past ten years. It is perhaps worth noting that correlations only tell us a very high level story and do not tell us about cause and effect. Therefore, any analysis based solely on correlations should be viewed very carefully.

As the Deputy is well aware, a variety of factors may underlie the incidence of crime, including broader societal issues such as substance abuse - an issue I referred to a moment ago - and socioeconomic disadvantage as well as the activities of international criminal groups. It is clear, however, that the provision and deployment of policing resources is an indispensable part of our response to all categories of crime. One of the points made by the Garda Inspectorate and one about which the Policing Authority is concerned is the need to ensure Garda deployment is based on need and crime levels in various areas. The Government remains committed to providing the greatest level of support to An Garda Síochána.

The Garda Commissioner is responsible for the detailed allocation of policing resources to combat the incidence of crime and I have no direct role in such matters. I am advised that the allocation of resources is constantly monitored in the context of all new and emerging crime trends. This can be seen, for example, in the north inner city of Dublin where considerable demands are made on policing. We also have the armed response unit in Dublin. There is a substantial level of policing available throughout the country. Increased Garda visibility and more frequent checkpoints have been very important factors in reducing road deaths.

In terms of promoting best policing practice, the Garda Inspectorate was established to ensure the resources available to the Garda Síochána are used to achieve and maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness, with reference to the best standards of comparable police services.

As I indicated, I will meet Kathleen O'Toole, the chair of the new commission on policing, and I have no doubt some of these issues will be central to the commission's work. As the Deputy is aware, the commission will be able to make recommendations on a rolling basis over the next year.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Many of recommendations made in recent reports by the Garda Inspectorate are being taken forward as part of the Garda modernisation and renewal programme. A good example of the effective use of the considerable resources the Government is providing can be seen in Operation Thor, which has led to a steady decrease in the rate of burglary and related crime since it was established in November 2015. The full year crime figures for 2016 show a 30% decrease compared with 2015.

Underpinning all these measures is the Government's commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country and achieving an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Garda Reserve members and 4,000 civilians.

Crime - Recorded Crime Offences
Recorded Crime Offences (Number) by Type of Offence and Year

Type of Offence

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Homicide offences

138

132

89

88

89

66

79

83

80

63

71

Sexual offences

1,415

1,366

1,406

1,480

2,366

2,014

2,116

2,009

2,053

2,348

2,549

Attempts/threats to murder, assaults, harassments and related offences

15,454

17,665

19,150

18,353

17,703

17,062

15,710

14,502

15,164

16,976

16,360

Dangerous or negligent acts

19,280

21,009

19,587

15,532

12,093

9,946

9,051

7,660

7,298

7,224

7,768

Kidnapping and related offences

81

106

77

146

134

109

101

124

124

152

119

Robbery, extortion and hijacking offences

2,486

2,171

2,299

2,491

3,196

2,931

2,817

2,806

2,647

2,577

2,096

Burglary and related offences

24,788

23,603

24,682

26,910

25,420

27,695

28,133

26,218

27,635

26,261

18,438

Theft and related offences

74,494

75,187

76,861

77,031

76,826

76,974

76,402

78,737

77,697

75,864

64,981

Fraud, deception and related offences

4,176

5,858

5,410

4,947

4,988

5,370

5,790

4,824

5,178

5,579

4,902

Controlled drug offences

14,219

18,553

23,404

21,982

20,004

17,695

16,450

15,372

15,915

15,090

16,119

Weapons and Explosives Offences

3,119

3,595

4,016

4,064

4,099

3,483

3,038

2,750

2,479

2,377

2,123

Damage to property and to the environment

43,582

43,284

44,626

42,330

39,369

35,573

32,428

28,913

27,394

26,049

22,267

Public order and other social code offences

56,615

60,583

61,820

57,351

54,941

49,060

43,861

36,453

32,639

33,276

29,158

Offences against government, justice procedures and organisation of crime

9,482

10,997

13,255

11,898

11,396

10,172

9,445

9,187

9,765

11,438

11,683

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. To what extent have policing methods been updated and upgraded in line with best practice in other jurisdictions? What is deemed to be best practice in policing expressed in thousands of the population? How do we compare with other jurisdictions in Europe and globally, particularly on serious crime and criminal gang activity, which need to be dealt with urgently?

We must also look at our own figures over the years and I have provided these in the table. The effective use of resources can be seen in Operation Thor, which has led to a steady decrease in the rate of burglary and related crime since it was established with Government support in November 2015. The full year crime figures for 2016 showed a 30% decrease compared with 2015.

The basic principle is to have a strong and visible police presence. We have a tradition of having gardaí available to the community and we intend to maintain this important tradition.

To respond to the Deputy's question on best practice, the Garda Inspectorate continually makes recommendations which are made not only on the basis of analyses of developments here but also developments internationally. The inspectorate wants to ensure best practice is adopted here.

Has consideration been given to adopting a policy applied in other countries whereby community policing is undertaken by police officers on motorcycles, quad bikes and mopeds? This practice allows them to police a wide area, be visible to members of the public in a meaningful way and move rapidly from one location to another in line with the requirement to be able to respond to criminal activity in early course and in a responsive manner.

Introducing these policing methods might be considered, particularly in view how effective they have been in other jurisdictions and the clear need in this country for an improvement in how we deal with organised crime.

More than €34 million has been invested in Garda vehicles since 2012, with 720 new vehicles coming on stream since the start of 2015. The investment in a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose fleet will continue under the capital plan, which provides for a further €46 million for new vehicles. To take up the Deputy's point, this includes high-powered vehicles, marked and unmarked patrol cars and motorcycles for high-visibility road policing in order to support important anti-crime strategies such as, for example, Operation Thor.

I am informed that there are 721 community gardaí throughout the State, with four assigned to the Kildare region. However, all gardaí have a role to play in community policing. I agree with the Deputy on the need for flexibility, which the inspectorate has highlighted. In its third report, Policing in Ireland - Looking Forward, the inspectorate said that community policing is a fundamental policing philosophy with a strong foundation in Ireland and that it should be maintained.

The new community policing teams to be established in every district will entail gardaí from a number of disciplines working with local communities to prevent and detect crime. Community alert and neighbourhood watch schemes will be worked with and CCTV will be used, in which respect there is €1 million for a new programme. This area will need further investment in the time ahead.

I thank the Minister.

Law Reform Commission Reports

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

48. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the Law Reform Commission's report, Consolidation and Reform of Aspects of the Law of Evidence, published earlier in 2017. [24339/17]

In January, the Law Reform Commission, LRC, published its report on the consolidation and reform of the law of evidence. Does the Minister or her Department have proposals in respect of that report and does she intend to introduce legislation as suggested therein?

This report was published on 18 January and is under examination by my senior officials. As the Deputy probably knows, it contains an extensive draft Bill and is a substantial piece of work at more than 460 pages.

The law of evidence cuts right across the range of civil and criminal law and the stakes are high, not only in terms of ensuring that our evidence laws are effective, efficient and in keeping with people's rights and international developments, but also in the sense of ensuring that any change introduced is carefully considered in order to avoid as far as possible unforeseen adverse consequences.

The LRC report is a serious piece of work that needs examination and I welcome it. Obviously, it is the result of extensive research and expertise and follows a number of earlier LRC consultation papers that focused on categories of evidence law such as hearsay, expert evidence and electronic evidence. The report recommends the consolidation of statutory provisions and sets down an extensive set of specific reform recommendations. Some of the reforms seem to be straightforward and compelling. For example, it is recommended that we abolish the existing statutory requirements that a person who wishes to give evidence by affirmation as opposed to oath must also state that he or she does not have any religious belief. There are more fundamental recommendations. The report, not only with its 87 recommendations but also with the 110 sections of a draft Bill it includes, provides a sound and extensive basis for getting this work done and progressing towards the required legislation in this area. There is plenty of food for thought and much work for the justice committee. If the Deputy would like to bring to my attention any of its recommendations that he believes deserves priority consideration, he should please do so.

I thank the Minister for her response. I tabled this question because the LRC's report, which was published last January, is extensive and contains many useful proposals on how the law of evidence could and should be reformed. It is important to note that this is not just an issue of interest to people operating in the courts. We want to make the laws of evidence more efficient so as to ensure that the courts can become more efficient in how they handle cases.

The Minister mentioned that a number of consultative papers had been published in advance. They dealt with issues such as expert evidence, documentary and electronic evidence, hearsay evidence and consolidation of the evidence Acts. In particular, we should consider the issue of expert evidence, which has become a significant part of all civil and certain criminal litigation. It is important that experts who are retained by any side in a criminal or civil trial be aware that their overriding duty is to the court as opposed to being hired guns for either side.

I agree that how evidence is handled, tested and reconciled goes to the heart of court proceedings and the rights of litigants and accused persons. It has implications in terms of costs, the length of time taken in cases and efficiency in civil and criminal cases that are before the courts. I am conscious of those implications. I sponsored what became the Legal Services Regulation Act through the Houses in 2015. That Act contains a number of key provisions, which are being implemented at present, aimed at controlling legal costs and increasing transparency in that regard. The implementation of some of the recommendations of the LRC in terms of evidence is also likely to improve efficiencies and speed of processing of cases. It makes eminent sense to consider these recommendations favourably as part of the overall strategy to reduce costs for parties to litigation.

I have asked the civil and criminal law divisions of my Department to examine this report. It is substantial, though, and I do not want to mislead the Deputy by giving him an immediate timeframe, but we should start by examining it and analysing the proposals as soon as possible.

I agree that this should not be rushed into, particularly as it will require careful consideration. However, we cannot just let the report sit there or make no proposals. One of the report's interesting proposals is the suggestion that the Minister for Justice and Equality should publish statutory codes of practice for expert witnesses. This needs to be considered. The Tánaiste has established a group to examine the reform of civil litigation and how it can be made more efficient under the chairmanship of the President of the High Court. Perhaps his group could also consider this matter.

It must be recognised that, in criminal prosecutions, evidence can take an inordinate length of time. We have seen many examples of this in the not-too-distant past. As opposed to trying to infringe upon the rights of any individual, we must seek to ensure that cases can be prosecuted with evidence being made admissible in a more efficient and fair manner.

This is an extensive report that contains many recommendations. If there are recommendations that can be taken forward speedily, they can be examined. When I get the first report on the matter, we will be in a position to decide. The work by Mr. Justice Peter Kelly's group is progressing and basic arrangements are being put in place. That will be useful and could be a place from which we will get recommendations on the points raised by the Deputy. If the Deputy believes that certain issues should be followed up on expeditiously, he should please get in contact with me and the Department.

With co-operation from those on all sides, we will get through two further questions.

Surveillance Operations

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

49. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she is satisfied that the current system governing the surveillance of private citizens meets best international standards of accountability following the recent revelations of Garda surveillance on a private citizen; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24381/17]

We discussed this topic last week and I am happy to discuss it again, as the Minister raised more questions than she answered. It relates to governance of surveillance systems, in which respect the Minister was most vague. She stated that current legislation contains "strong safeguards to ensure the system of interceptions is operated properly" and that there are "multilayered checks and balances in the system." She did not flesh out these claims, so I wonder whether she could tell us how exactly Ireland lives up to international best practice in this regard.

The interception of telecommunications and the use of covert surveillance by the Garda and other law enforcement authorities are governed by the provisions of the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009. The law provides a clear framework and sets out strict criteria for the use of interception and surveillance powers and it also provides for clear judicial oversight mechanisms.

I presume the allegations to which the Deputy refers relate to allegations of abuses of the arrangements in place for the interception of telephone calls. As I said when we discussed this in the House the other day, it would be a matter of extremely serious concern if there were any abuses of the system for intercepting communications. The power of interception is an intrusive one and it is essential to have a proper system of checks and balances. However, I believe people need to be very clear that these powers are essential in the context of dealing with the activities of serious organised crime gangs and also in countering terrorist threats to the State, both national and international. Look at what we have just seen in Manchester.

I outlined in detail to the House last week the position in regard to the operation of the provisions of the 1993 Act. It is important to note that the Minister does not initiate a warrant and may only grant authorisations on the basis of a reasoned application from the Garda Commissioner, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces or the chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and then only for the purposes of the investigation of serious crime. This is not an ad hoc arrangement. It is only for the investigation of serious crime and in the interests of the security of the State and applies only once a number of strict tests that are laid out in the Act are satisfied.

It is overseen by a High Court judge, as I outlined to the House. That judge does important work every year in examining those applications and the judge has the absolute right to demand whatever level of information he or she wants in this regard.

Terrorist acts are no excuse for us not to legislate properly or not to follow international best practice. The Minister pointed out that under current legislation, only the Minister, after an application has been made to him or her, may grant authorisation to intercept communications. This is not a safeguard. Surveillance based on political authorisation rather than a judicial warrant is not best international practice. The powers granted to the Minister for Justice and Equality of the day under section 2 of the Act are possibly beyond the expertise of any Minister. For example, if the Garda Commissioner tells the Minister that all other means have failed or are likely to fail to produce the desired information and surveillance is necessary, how does he or she prove this? Is the Minister qualified to assess the proof if any is presented? In the US, all applications for interception of communications must be made in writing under oath or on affirmation to a judge of competent jurisdiction, including a full and complete statement on whether other investigative procedures have been tried and failed, or why they reasonably appear to be unlikely to succeed or to be too dangerous. Is any Minister for Justice and Equality competent in these areas? Is the Minister presented with the full evidence of the attempts and failures-----

Excuse me. I am informed there is a problem with the sound system and that Deputy Wallace's microphone is not working at present.

It is a conspiracy. It interferes with the bugging devices.

Deputy Wallace should continue.

International human rights law requires that interception of communications be authorised by a judge or an equivalent independent body. The legislation in Ireland does not have these strong safeguards. Having a judge browse over a few of them at the end of the year is not serious oversight.

The law provides for a clear, judicially based oversight process. There are multilayered checks and balances which are designed specifically to guard against the type of abuse we saw in the early 1980s which led to the current legislation. The nature of the report submitted by the designated judge is a matter for the judge. As I said the other day, it is not a question of the length of the report but the fact the designated judges have been in a position to be satisfied that the system for interception has been operated in accordance with the law. That is what the reports have confirmed.

The Deputy made comments about the robustness of the work that is being done. That is up to the High Court judge, who is in place to examine it and make sure it is robust. I do not believe we should underestimate the abilities and experience of the individuals who have carried out that role with distinction. The Deputy is making comments about the work they have done. There is also an independent complaints mechanism-----

Excuse me. We need to move on.

I will conclude. It would be quite wrong to suggest it has been established that there is widespread abuse of the interception system.

To compare this with the UK, oversight of phone tapping there is carried out on a full-time basis by an interception of communications commissioner with 13 support staff. The UK commissioner publishes detailed, twice yearly reports, statistics on the number of interception warrants issued and errors made and the safeguards in place. There is no comparison with what we are doing.

I am not giving out about the judge. I am giving out about the system and the poor legislation around it. The designated judge turns up on the day, looks at the bundles, and says, "I will look at two of these, one of those and three of the others." That is not oversight but that is what is happening. We have spoken to the gardaí who actually presented these to the judge. It is not international best practice. As T. J. McIntyre has pointed out on numerous occasions, we are in the dark ages in comparison with what other countries are doing in this area. It is a very dangerous area and we should tighten it up.

With respect, the Deputy does not know how the judge carries out the work. It is up to the judges to decide what level of detail they want in regard to any particular case. When responding to this in the Dáil the other day, I said that Ms Justice Marie Baker, who has the current responsibility, was informed of recent events and it will obviously be up to her to decide if further action is needed in regard to the issues that were brought to her attention by the Garda at the time of that court case. It is entirely up to the supervising judge to decide that level of detail. However, everyone is under an absolute obligation to give the judge all the information he or she requires, and I have no doubt that has been the case. Clearly, there are always developments in this area and I do not rule out changes to legislation in the future. What I am saying to the Deputy is that there is a robust system in place, supervised by a High Court judge, and that is a very important safeguard.

Criminal Law

Margaret Murphy O'Mahony

Ceist:

50. Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if new measures are being considered to tackle crimes against persons with disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24350/17]

I wish to ask the Minister if new measures are being considered to tackle crimes against people with disabilities, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

There are robust mechanisms already in place in legislation to deal with discrimination and offences against all members of our society. In general, where criminal offences such as assault, criminal damage, or public order offences are committed against any person, including a person with a disability, they are prosecuted as generic offences through the wider criminal law. Judges are required to take aggravating factors, such as targeting a victim because he or she has a disability, into account at sentencing. The discriminatory grounds in equality legislation to combat discrimination in employment and the provision of services also include disability.

As indicated, the Department is to undertake a review of the Prohibition of Incitement to Racial Religious or National Hatred Act 1989 with a view to ensuring it meets the needs of contemporary society. The case for including incitement against a person with a disability will be considered specifically as part of this wider examination. It is something that will be considered in the review of the legislation.

I thank the Minister. A report published in 2014 by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties found that people with disabilities who are victims of crime experience the same problems of under-reporting, lack of information provision, lack of private areas in courtrooms and delays in progressing complaints which apply in regard to all other victims in Ireland. However, very often the centrality of their outsider status is more pronounced.

This derives from a general failure to engage with the specific needs of people with disabilities beyond those addressed by the Disability Act 2005. One of the difficulties highlighted was the adversarial nature of our legal system, which as one of the authors pointed out can also be a discriminatory barrier given its emphasis on spoken testimony, lawyer-led questioning, observation of the demeanour of a witness, the curtailment of free-flowing witness narrative, confrontation and robust cross-examination. Clearly that can be particularly difficult for those, for example, who have a difficulty with a long-term memory recall and with communicating information, with cognitive overload and with questioning that invites acquiescence and compliance. Has the Department of Justice and Equality reviewed legislation with a view to making the system more accessible for people with disabilities?

I have been discussing this very recently. The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 makes very specific provisions requiring gardaí to carry our special measures in their assessments of victims. The Bill represents a sea change across the criminal justice sector in our attitude to victims. Obviously, that would include people with a disability. For example, that Bill, which is currently going through the Houses of the Oireachtas, provides that any communications with a victim are put in simple and accessible language and take into account the personal characteristics of the victim, including for example disability, which may affect his ability to understand or be understood.

Our law is increasingly reflecting the very critical point the Deputy is making. The law needs to be sensitive to people who have particular characteristics. The recently introduced Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 brings in further protections for people with a disability. When we review the incitement to hatred legislation, we can examine if further measures are needed.

The Minister mentioned the hate crime legislation. As she knows, Deputy O'Loughlin and I introduced a Bill last autumn to deal with this. Deputy O'Loughlin has brought forward extensive and significant amendments to the Bill which we believe now has wide support in the House.

However, we feel that the Department does not seem very supportive - we may be picking that up wrong. Does the Department support the principle of hate crime legislation? Many people who work with people with disabilities want such legislation and it is vital that the Government also support it.

As I said, we are undertaking a review of the 1989 legislation. I have already pointed to a number of pieces of legislation that are certainly strengthening the rights of victims who would be subject to hate crime. If further legislation is needed, we would certainly be open to introducing it.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.