That Dáil Éireann:
— that the Programme for a Partnership Government commits to maintaining and strengthening cooperation between An Garda Síochána and local communities;
— that fear and concern about the threat of criminal activity is emerging as a persistent feature of rural life;
— that the latest crime statistics released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show an increase in burglary and theft offences nationally for quarter one of 2018, when compared to the same period in 2017;
— that there is significant under-reporting of incidences of rural crime;
— the growing number of quad, farm machinery and livestock theft;
— that costs for criminal legal aid for every year covering the period 2011-2017 ranged from €49 million to €58 million;
— that information on the average cost per annum during the same period of 2011-2017 for civil legal aid shows that it has never dropped below €30 million;
— the widespread perception in rural and urban Ireland that the application of the system of free legal aid is open to abuse, specifically with respect to repeat offenders;
— that as of May 2018, only four grant aid applications have been approved under the Community Based CCTV Scheme that was launched in 2017 to assist groups in the establishment of community based Closed Circuit Television systems in their local areas;
— that the Criminal Justice Act 2007 permits a court granting bail to make it a condition that the person’s movements are monitored electronically; and
— that statistics released by the CSO demonstrate that the rate of crimes carried out by individuals on bail has been increasing, rising from 9 per cent of all crimes in 2011 to 13 per cent in 2016;
and calls on the Government to:
— establish a rural crime taskforce, to ensure all relevant departments coordinate with An Garda Síochána to identify and address the specific challenges when dealing with rural crime;
— conduct an immediate review of the operation of the Bail Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice Act 2007, specifically with respect to addressing the high rates of recidivism and the provision of free legal aid to repeat offenders, and to address the 47 constitutionality or otherwise of limiting the provision of free legal aid;
— conduct a review of the trespass laws aimed at strengthening the rights of farmers and land owners to protect their property and their person;
— commit to increasing the funding available for local communities in 2019 towards the cost of running local Text Alert and Business Watch schemes, and to maintain the provisions of the Text Alert Rebate Scheme;
— significantly increase investment in Garda overtime, ICT equipment and high- powered vehicles;
— commit to future Garda initiatives like Operation Thor, aimed at targeting mobile criminal gangs engaged in burglary and related crimes; and
— commit to a more expansive programme of reopening rural Garda Stations than that outlined in the Programme for a Partnership Government Annual Report 2018.
I wish the Leas-Cheann Comhairle a happy new year. I welcome the opportunity to introduce the Rural Independent Group's motion on rural crime. It is the first motion of the new term, and it shows how seriously concerned we are about the escalating and difficult issue of crime, which affects both rural and urban people - although it is mostly rural people. People who live alone, who are elderly or vulnerable, or who have served the State well and done the State some service, should be able to live out the rest of their days in happiness, free from marauding gangsters, but the system supports those gangsters.
All of us who live and work in rural communities are only too aware of the concerns about this ongoing and, in some respects, increasing problem that continues to exist. While we accept that some productive efforts have been made, such as the introduction of Operation Thor, we remain deeply troubled by the lack of co-ordination in tackling the issue. Last year, when the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, it referred to a number of reports it had published in connection with the Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, on agricultural and rural crime, for which I compliment it. The reports were authored by Dr. Kathleen Moore-Walsh and Louise Walsh of WIT. They were based on a survey of 861 farmers across Ireland and make for stark reading. If a survey of 861 people was done by any of the polling companies, the media and everyone else would be jumping up and down about it.
The first report outlined that of the 861 respondents, 66% had experienced some form of crime which affected them, their farms or their homes, while some 41% of respondents had been the victim of crime more than once. The second report quantified the average value of theft on farms at €1,818 and that incidents of vandalism and criminal damage cost the farmer on average some €360. The report also highlighted that a significant level of agricultural crime is not reported. It is an important issue and it is a pity that the Minister of justice and the Ministers of State are not present to listen. Do they care? Agricultural crimes are not reported to insurance companies. Some 94 incidents of theft and 348 incidents of vandalism, criminal damage or trespass were not reported to insurance companies.
The third report showed that farmers were also reluctant to report crime to the Garda, which is more worrying and concerning. Some 45% of respondents did not report instances of agricultural crime to gardaí. According to the ICSA and the authors of the study, the reasons can be summarised as a sense of hopelessness that anything could be done, which would be worrying for the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Ministers of State, if they were in the Chamber to listen. Is mór an trua an rud sin.
What the ICSA and WIT reports show is that rural crime is underestimated by official figures from An Garda Síochána. To demonstrate that this is a real and ongoing issue, I note a report this morning on Tipp FM Radio - my local radio station, which has been the subject of a take-over by the Kerry brigade in recent days - in which a victim of seven burglaries on his premises on the Tipperary-Offaly border feared someone might take the law into his or her own hands. I do not advocate that but what will the victims do? I listened to a gentleman's fear and terror at a crime meeting recently organised by the Irish Farmers Association in Nenagh, north Tipperary. He showed us a box of keys larger than a can of Coke in his pocket, and he has triple locks and quadruple locks on his gates, doors and everything else. His house was cut down, torn away, stripped away and penetrated. His home is his castle. For all of us, that is an abominable situation.
The report noted that the latest attack on Ashgate farm in Barn was last Sunday night, that is, after the meeting in Nenagh, and hundreds of euro worth of equipment was taken, which is shocking. Clive Clarke is one of a number of homeowners and businesses that have been hit over the years along the Tipperary-Offaly border, and he is brave enough to come out and speak about it. He is a young, able and physically strong man. It is not acceptable and he should not have to be in that vulnerable situation. I salute Clive Clarke and the many other Clive Clarkes who are trying to defend themselves and their neighbours when it is clear there are not enough gardaí on the ground doing this kind of work. He said the local gardaí are doing their best but the criminals know the system is in their favour. The local gardaí, including sergeants, attended that meeting. In my area of south Tipperary, the local garda in charge is Superintendent Willy Leahy, while in Tipperary town it is Superintendent Pat O'Connor. There are inspectors, sergeants and gardaí, but we do not have enough of them. We have been starved of Garda numbers in Tipperary, which has been one of the worst-resourced areas in the country since Templemore opened. All the gardaí are trained in the county but they are posted everywhere except Tipperary. Something radical needs to be done about that.
The Save Our Local Community group was set up in the wake of a spate of burglaries in recent years. Clive Clarke, however, who was a member of the group, said people are losing faith in the system. Imagine that. The Minister for Justice and Equality is not present, but the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on justice, Deputy O'Callaghan, is. It is shocking that people are losing faith in the system. We will celebrate the centenary of the first Dáil next Monday, but people are losing faith in the system. Is it any wonder? Tá an t-Aire ag teacht anois. Clive Clarke fears that unless something is done to tackle the problem once and for all, someone might take the law into his or her own hands, which it is not something I or anyone else in the House advocates.
The report clearly captures what we are debating and what is motivating us to bring the issue before the Dáil. The Minister will note that the motion calls for the establishment of a dedicated rural crime task force to ensure all relevant Departments co-ordinate with An Garda Síochána to identify and address the specific challenges when dealing with rural crime, which is what is needed, namely, a co-ordinated effort.
We call on the Government to conduct an immediate review of the operation of the bail laws, especially with respect to addressing provision of free legal aid to repeat offenders. We have seen on episodes of "Prime Time" that 100-time repeat offenders receive free legal aid. In deference to my good friend and colleague on my right, Deputy O'Callaghan, I note that the legal eagles have much to answer for. They are on the gravy train of the system. It is disgusting and it is not good enough that no one wants to halt this perverse, sickening state of affairs. As the motion notes, the cost of criminal legal aid for every year covering the period 2011 to 2017 ranged from a staggering €49 million to €58 million. My goodness, what would that not do for children's hospitals and the hospitals in Tipperary and elsewhere?