Rural Crime: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— 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?

And Kerry, and all over the country. Information on the average cost per annum during the same period for civil legal aid shows that it has never dropped below €30 million. It is a gravy train that must be derailed. The Minister must do something about it or his legacy will be a disaster. The figure is based on detailed information provided to me in reply to a number of parliamentary questions to the Minister. It is his Department and I did not make it up or dream it up. I did not set out to embarrass Deputy O'Callaghan but it is not acceptable.

The Deputy is not embarrassing me.

He is not embarrassed. I know he is not because legal people have necks, which they have to have. That kind of a charade is disgusting in the extreme. People are being pilloried.

The Deputy will refrain from making personal remarks.

There was nothing personal. I explained that it was not personal.

I am not offended.

That does not give the Deputy the right.

It is not personal. We are good friends.

It does not give you the right to make those sorts of comments. Continue, please.

Our motion this evening makes some specific long-term recommendations with respect to identifying and preventing rural crime and introducing greater fairness to the operation of the justice system. We remain convinced, however, that there are simple things that can also be done in the immediate term to create a greater sense of protection for rural Ireland. One of the most obvious is the need to increase Garda visibility in rural communities. People want to see the local garda on patrol, not just for the protection of property against theft, but also for peace of mind on a day-to-day basis. I salute the community police and local gardaí in my area who do such a good job. They need to have confidence and where that is not possible due to cuts or station closures, people feel increasingly isolated and vulnerable. That is why we are also calling for a review of the trespass laws, aimed at strengthening the rights of farmers, homeowners, landowners and business people to protect their property and person.

Rural communities are very much open to active collaboration with the Garda and with the various agencies and Departments that can help in reducing the incidence of rural crime. For this reason, we will push for a dedicated rural crime task force to be established on a permanent basis, where such collaboration can be targeted and focused to achieve the best possible outcomes. We have seen with the community alert groups, the second of which was set up in my home village of Caisleán Nua, and neighbourhood watch schemes that people are willing to support and help the Garda. No police force can provide a policing service without the support of the people and that also applies here.

Road traffic legislation was recently railroaded through the House by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, with the acquiescence of Fianna Fáil Deputies who sat on their hands and did not vote against it. The level of over-policing of that legislation is shocking and is doing untold damage to community support for An Garda Síochána, local gardaí who want to help and the traffic corps. We want to support the Garda but the excessive number of checkpoints at which people are being stopped and breathalysed is ridiculous and is intimidating people going to and coming from work. Some balance is needed because we need people to support the Garda. Rural people are ready, willing and able to support An Garda Síochána. They want to do so but we need balance. We need community police in communities, going to meetings and giving them communities their time and energy. We need more gardaí on the beat. We do not want to see these massive checkpoints, not to mention the €100 million being spent on the contract for GoSafe vans. This is a cash cow for the Department of Justice and Equality which will do nothing to solve crime or give confidence to people in rural areas.

I am delighted to be able to introduce this motion with my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group. I thank Triona and David in Deputy Mattie McGrath’s office for their assistance in this regard.

Coming from a rural area in west Cork, I know only too well the fear and worry caused by rural crime in our communities, especially among isolated people living alone who may be elderly and vulnerable. The prolonged closures of rural Garda stations are without doubt the biggest contributor to the fear that exists around this issue. The role of gardaí in rural Garda station is very important in crime prevention. They work with local communities and community groups such as community alert in preventing crime and that role cannot be underestimated.

In my constituency a number of Garda stations have been closed, including in Castletownsend, Ballygurteen, Goleen, Adrigole and Ballinspittle. During the talks for Government, I and other independent rural Deputies highlighted the mistake made by the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government in closing rural Garda stations. We were told by members of the previous Government that rural Garda stations were only bricks and mortar. The politicians and decision makers were totally wrong. They underestimated the harm they were about to do to rural Ireland. During the talks for Government, it was agreed by the present Government to reopen a number of these Garda stations. By agreeing to reopen Garda stations, mainly in rural Ireland, the Government acknowledged that wrong had been done.

Unfortunately, the Government has continued to make decisions that make life very difficult for people in rural Ireland. I am not sure it understands rural isolation. The previous Government definitely did not understand the fear that many people in rural Ireland lived under as a result of its policies. I have seen at first hand the people of Ballinspittle working hard as a community to have their Garda station reopened. In spite of promises to reopen the station, they are still waiting. I have asked the Minister for Justice and Equality many times in this Chamber to give the people of Ballinspittle an exact date for the reopening of the town's Garda station. The people of Ballinspittle and west Cork deserve to know exactly when that Garda station will reopen. I call again on the Minister to give a definite date for the reopening of Ballinspittle Garda station. I would welcome him to west Cork. Rather than going out to Stepaside to keep the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, happy, he should come to west Cork and keep us happy and safe. We are sick and tired of promises with no delivery date. I would appreciate if he was in a position to make an announcement on that matter this evening.

I commend the individuals and community groups who volunteer their time to the task of community policing, a community orientated style of policing. I am proud to have been involved in Schull community alert scheme for the past 25 years. There is no doubt that community policing helps to tackle crime prevention, with a view to building trust and enhancing the quality of life for the entire community. I ask the Minister for Justice and Equality and Garda Commissioner to make a clear statement as to what community policing is because it remains unclear as to the boundaries of community policing. The Garda Commissioner needs to work with people on the ground and be clear about the role of community policing.

To tackle rural crime, more resources must be allocated to groups like Muintir na Tíre. Mr. Damian Cronin in west Cork is being stretched to the limit as he seeks to ease the minds of people in rural areas. More funding is needed for community alert groups. A scheme is needed to enable elderly people to apply for grants to pay for sensor lights and closed circuit television, CCTV, systems to protect their properties. This scheme should be similar to the successful scheme providing the personal alarms that many elderly people wear around their necks or wrists and the text alert schemes. Text alert was first suggested by a little group in Schull in west Cork. At the time, we were treated as if we all had two heads, whereas everyone wants to run with the system now. Under text alert, which is run by Muintir na Tíre, communities are alerted to crime or suspicious activity in their neighbourhood.

Immediate funding needs to be provided for the installation of CCTV systems in all our rural towns and villages. CCTV is already in place in many towns, including Schull where I was involved in the community alert committee that had it installed. Problems have arisen with CCTV being installed in Bandon. This is a very serious issue for people in the town, many of whom have called me to see if we can push the scheme across the line. Many towns in west Cork have CCTV systems in place and they have significantly reduced crime. CCTV is a necessity in the towns and villages of west Cork.

The Garda youth awards is a great initiative by the Garda for commending young people on their vigilance and the good they do in their communities. I was honoured to be asked to attend the Garda youth awards last December in Castletownbere. It was an uplifting experience to see how much great work the youth of our local communities are doing in their areas. We need to acknowledge that 99% of our young people are good natured.

We have a large number of community alert groups in west Cork which work closely with the Garda to prevent crime and discuss with the Garda all options for preventing crime. Their work is invaluable.

The Rural Independent Group has called 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 specific challenges when dealing with rural crime. We also call on the Government to conduct an immediate review of the operation of the bail laws, specifically with respect to addressing the provision of free legal aid to repeat offenders time and again and identifying possible abuses of the legal aid scheme.

The motion makes some specific long-term recommendations with respect to identifying and preventing rural crime and introducing greater fairness to the operation of the justice system. We remain convinced, however, that there are simple things that can also be done in the immediate term to create a greater sense of protection in rural Ireland. We have a saying that the man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away some small stones. We are calling on the Government to introduce simple measures such as increasing Garda visibility in rural communities. People want to see local gardaí on patrol in the community, not just for the protection of property against theft but also for peace of mind on a day-to-day basis.

On 20 December last, an awful crime in Bantry in my constituency left the local community in shock and afraid. There is a great community alert group in Gortnacloona. At 11.45 on the night in question, two armed men dressed in dark clothing and wearing balaclavas entered a house. The occupants of the house were present but thankfully no one was injured. This was a deeply disturbing crime for the people involved and the local community. It is natural that people feel increasingly violated and vulnerable in rural Ireland when crimes such as this happen. That is why the Rural Independent Group is also calling for a review of the trespass laws aimed at strengthening the rights of farmers, landowners and property owners to protect their property and person.

We know that rural communities are very much open to active collaboration with the Garda and with all the various agencies and Departments that can help in reducing the incidence of rural crime. That is the reason the Rural Independent Group and I will be pushing for a dedicated rural crime task force to be established on a permanent basis where such collaboration can be targeted and focused to achieve the best possible outcomes. It is vital that action is carried out to allow these groups put in place prevention measures and to stop rural crime altogether around west Cork and all over the country.

The Garda Commissioner needs to explain how he sees the role of the Garda in our communities. Are all the resources being spent on the traffic corps to try and clean up the mess created by the Minister, Deputy Ross? That is how people see it. We know the gardaí work best with people in communities, nipping much crime in the bud, as they always did. Community gardaí encourage people to report crime carried out on their properties. People now feel it is worthless to report crime and many are scared in case it will cause them more trouble as they do not have the same access to the Garda as they did in the past when gardaí lived in the area. It was important for people in the past that when the local gardaí were appointed to an area they lived in the area. It was a considerable boost to the community. I could name numerous members of the force that are either retired or still active. When they were on the beat little or no crime took place. When they drove through the town they knew who should or who should not be in the town at any given time. Rural community policing is gone and has been replaced in many cases with the traffic corps. While those gardaí are carrying out their duties they anger people instead of working with communities. I am aware of some great community gardaí such as Garda Jonathan McCarthy in Ballydehob. He would see a needle out of place. Garda John McCarthy in Kilbrittain is another great garda on the beat and Garda Eamonn White is another great community garda. Those are the type of people the Garda needs to look at and to build a system around them if we want to have safe communities in the future as we had in the past.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

notes:

— the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities;

— the Government’s plan to implement the recommendations in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which has a core focus on a Garda organisation working closely and collaboratively with communities and other agencies to keep communities safe and to prevent harm to vulnerable people;

— the significant financial supports provided to An Garda Síochána by this Government, amounting to €1.76 billion in 2019, to ensure resources are available to tackle all forms of criminality, including rural crime;

— the recruitment of over 2,400 additional Gardaí since September 2014 and the commitment to recruit 600 Gardaí in 2019 and to redeploy 500 Garda officers to frontline policing duties nationwide;

— the latest Central Statistics Office crime statistics for quarter three of 2018, which indicate a regrettable rise in robberies but a decrease in burglaries, theft-related offences and damage to property incidents which were down 6.4 per cent, 3.2 per cent and 7.4 per cent respectively over a 12 month period to the end of quarter three of 2018;

— that since Operation Thor was launched by An Garda Síochána in November 2015 burglary figures in Ireland have decreased substantially;

— the successful operations carried out by An Garda Síochána nationwide and the recovery of machinery, farm equipment and other stolen property; and

— that the Programme for a Partnership Government commitment in relation to a Garda station pilot reopening project continues to progress, and the fact that identification of appropriate stations is a matter for the Garda Commissioner;

recognises:

— that there is a particular fear and concern about burglaries in rural locations;

— that community policing plays a key part in responding to crime by taking into account and responding to local conditions and needs;

— that a range of partnership initiatives have been established between An Garda Síochána and important rural-based organisations such as the Irish Farmers Association, Muintir na Tíre and other rural community organisations;

— the impact of special Garda operations to target organised crime, in particular Operation Thor which has resulted in more than 168,630 targeted checkpoints nationwide and in the region of 8,840 arrests connected to offences including burglary, handling stolen property, possession of firearms, and drug offences;

— the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015 which targets repeat burglars who have previous convictions and who are charged with multiple offences of residential burglary;

— that the Criminal Justice Act 2017 has significantly strengthened Ireland’s bail laws;

and

— the constitutional right to criminal legal aid on foot of a means test where serious legal charges are brought;

supports:

— the Government’s commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime;

— the Government’s plans to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians;

— the unprecedented resources provided by the Government to An Garda Síochána with an allocation of €1.76 billion for 2019, an increase of over 6 per cent over the initial allocation for 2018;

— the significant capital investment being made in An Garda Síochána, including investment of €342 million in Garda ICT infrastructure between 2016 and 2021;

— that €60 million of Exchequer funding underpins the Garda Building and Refurbishment Programme 2016-2021, which is a five year programme based on agreed Garda priorities benefiting over 30 locations around the country;

— the development of three major new Divisional and Regional Headquarters at Galway, Wexford and Kevin Street, Dublin, each of which has entered into operational use in 2017 and 2018;

— that the Capital Plan 2016-2021 provides for an investment of €46 million in the Garda fleet, this is in addition to the investment of almost €30 million in the period 2013-2015, to ensure that the Gardaí can be mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community to prevent and tackle crime;

— the 3,700 Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch schemes nationwide;

— the Text Alert scheme operated by An Garda Síochána as an effective means for Gardaí to communicate crime prevention information to local communities, noting that the scheme is now offered in every Garda division, with 164,000 subscribers and counting and in the order of three million text messages sent annually;

— the Minister for Justice and Equality making up to €150,000 available in 2018 to local communities who wish to apply for a rebate towards the costs associated with running their local Text Alert scheme;

— the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which will help maintain and enhance more visible policing and greater community engagement, address current challenges and enable An Garda Síochána to meet future challenges; and

— the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to support investment in closed circuit television (CCTV) systems to assist in the establishment of community based CCTV systems in local areas; and reaffirms its ongoing support for An Garda Síochána and the work Gardaí do every day on behalf of the Irish people and the unique role of the Gardaí as guardians of the peace.

I am pleased to discuss this motion on rural crime and I thank the Deputies from the Rural Independent Group for providing an opportunity for the House to address these issues so early in the new Dáil term. As a Minister who represents a large constituency, which is primarily rural in nature, I am most familiar with the concerns of people living in rural Ireland. I know the impact that crime and the fear of crime can have on people. However, I stress that crime is not a rural phenomenon and crime rates are much lower in rural areas. The Government has decided to table an amendment for a number of reasons which I will outline in the course of my address.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to highlight the scope of An Garda Síochána's response to rural crime, which has been underpinned by the provision of significant and unprecedented resources in recent years. However, I sincerely believe that all Deputies in this House are working towards a similar goal of achieving safer communities for all our citizens and I look forward to a constructive debate listening to the contributions of Members opposite.

As the House is aware, the Government is committed to ensuring a strong, visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement and to provide reassurance to citizens to deter crime. The evidence of this commitment is not hard to find. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014 almost 2,400 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and they have been assigned to mainstream duties across the country. This accelerated recruitment of gardaí saw Garda numbers reach almost 14,000 by the end of last year, with Garda numbers expected to be in the region of 21,000 by 2021. Furthermore, a total budget of €1.76 billion has been provided to An Garda Síochána this year, an increase of over €100 million on last year's allocation. That investment will provide new and leading-edge technology to support front-line gardaí in carrying out their work in both urban and rural communities.

The programme for Government underlines the need for close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities. As Minister for Justice and Equality I place significant focus on policing. The Government recently approved my proposals on the implementation of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The recommendations were made by a panel of experts after a number of consultations took place around the country, and beyond our shores. The core focus is on a more visible Garda organisation working closely and collaboratively with communities and other agencies to keep communities safe and to prevent harm to vulnerable people. The high level implementation plan was published before Christmas. Among the recommendations to be taken forward this year is the revised local policing model which will provide more visible policing and the continued roll out of divisional protective services units which protect the most vulnerable in society.

As to the deployment Garda resources, including personnel, to specific areas, Members will appreciate that this is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. Late last year, the Commissioner announced that he will be seeking to recruit 600 additional gardaí next year and he will redeploy 500 experienced officers to front-line duties. The injection of that large number of experienced officers into the field, along with the new recruits, will be most beneficial in terms of community safely. As recognised in the motion, An Garda Síochána has responded to the type of threats that communities face through a robust and determined drive against criminals who seek to prey on vulnerable householders with the implementation of special operations such as Operation Thor.

On 20 December the CSO published the latest crime figures for quarter 3 of last year. Regrettably, a rise in robberies was recorded, while there was a welcome decrease in burglary and theft-related offences which were down by 6.4% and 3.2%, respectively. I am concerned about the rise in robbery. That is an issue that is receiving the attention of An Garda Síochána.

I wish to refer to the ongoing commentary regarding the prevailing fear of crime in certain communities. It is interesting to note that the latest public attitudes survey published by An Garda Síochána for quarter 3 of 2018 indicates that 71% of people perceive national crime to be either a very serious or a serious problem. However, only 18% of respondents considered crime in their local area to be a very serious or serious problem. I do not wish to understate the concerns of individuals or communities with respect to the prevalence of crime. Many possible factors generate a fear of crime which ought to be addressed but it is clear that there can be a disparity between the perception and the actual occurrence of crime. In that context, I appeal to the Deputies opposite, in particular Deputy Mattie McGrath, and to commentators to be measured and factual in their comments on crime.

As part of a concerted strategy to combat burglary, the Government made it a priority to secure the enactment of specific legislation targeting prolific burglars in the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015. These provisions are available to the Garda to support prosecutions arising from Operation Thor. I know many Deputies have concerns regarding trespass in the criminal law. I assure Members that all the legislative provisions on trespass remain under constant review. I am advised that the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 and the Prohibition of Forcible Entry and Occupation Act 1971 are robust. I am happy to engage further with Deputies on these matters.

Another area of concern that has been mentioned is the operation of the bail laws. The law was recently significantly strengthened by the Government. The Criminal Justice Act 2017 expanded the factors a court may take into account when refusing bail. These factors include previous convictions for serious offences that indicate persistent serious offending and the likelihood of any danger to a person or the community that the release of the accused on bail might cause. The Act places greater emphasis on the rights and the safety of victims, and of the public, in bail decisions, while continuing to safeguard the rights of the accused. The Act provides increased guidance for the courts and greater transparency in the bail process, including requiring judges to give reasons for granting or refusing bail. While we must all remain vigilant in the fight against all forms of criminality and lawlessness in our communities, I assure Deputies that the Garda Commissioner and I remain in ongoing contact regarding countering new and emerging crime trends. The ongoing recruitment and redeployment of gardaí, our energetic and community-focused Garda Commissioner, the recent legislative improvements and the significant unprecedented budget of the order of €1.7 billion allocated to An Garda Síochána should give confidence to Members of the House-----

They slashed overtime.

-----that everything possible is being done to fight crime in this country. I want to stress the importance of having constructive debate. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and I will continue to address the many issues raised here and in other debates in this House and the Upper House. We will have an opportunity at Question Time shortly.

To be clear, the amendment in my name and that of other Government Members is a clear statement of our ongoing commitment in terms of the actions that have been taken, are being taken and will be taken to ensure that communities up and down the country, rural and urban, are dealt with in a way that ensures our crime statistics remain in decline.

I call Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, who is sharing time. There is 20 minutes in the slot.

We have 20 minutes and I will be sharing my time with seven of my colleagues. The reason we have 20 minutes is because the Fianna Fáil Whip's office was inundated with Deputies from my party who wanted to speak on this motion. These are Deputies who want to speak in a measured and factual way, to quote the Minister's language. The reason they want to speak is because rural crime is such an issue in their constituencies. It is not some fictitious issue that has been raised in this House by the Rural Independent Group.

It will come as no surprise to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and other Members to learn that Fianna Fáil is supporting the motion. The reason it will not come as a surprise is that 13 months ago, we put forward a motion on rural crime that dealt with many of the issues that are identified in the motion before the House. The reason that motion was put forward some 13 months ago was because of the continuing concern of Fianna Fáil Deputies, not just in rural areas but also in urban areas, about the issue of crime in our community.

Let us be clear about what was debated 13 months ago and what we believe to be the issue 13 months later, as we discuss it this evening. The most important requirement for Fianna Fáil Deputies and members of the community is greater visibility of members of An Garda Síochána in their communities and constituencies. That adds to the confidence local people have in the Garda force that protects them and gives them a sense that work is actively being done on the ground to ensure crime is tackled. I note that in the city of Dublin, such visibility has improved in recent times and anyone travelling around Dublin will say they notice more gardaí out on the street and on the beat. I will be interested to hear what my colleagues from rural constituencies have to say on whether that is replicated in rural areas. Obviously, it is also important that if there are more gardaí out on the streets, they are not simply being used for the very important issue of detection of road traffic offences. They must also be there to deal with the other forms of criminal behaviour that take place in our constituencies.

We need to look at what else was discussed in the debate some 13 months ago. One of the issues we raised was that of technology. It is still the case that the CCTV scheme that was rolled out many years ago by the Government is being under-utilised, in particular because the scheme is too difficult for local communities to operate and implement. The Minister and the Government need to be much more proactive about ensuring local communities and the community in general have the benefit of CCTV. We know from areas where it is used that it acts as a very real deterrent to crime. The Minister must take greater responsibility in this respect, as must the Government, to ensure that local communities both know it is available and how they can use it.

On the last occasion, some 13 months ago, I also raised the issue of our bail laws and how they need to be strengthened. Fianna Fáil acted on this issue. We introduced legislation that got through Second Stage and which sought to make our bail laws stronger so there would be a presumption that a person convicted of a serious offence in the five years previous to when he or she applied for bail would not get it. Although we managed to get it through the House on Second Stage, we were opposed by the Government and we were also opposed by the Government on Committee Stage. Unfortunately, given the reality of the numbers in the House, we are not going to get that through. However, the Minister and the Government need to recognise we have a problem with our bail laws and it is not some fiction that is created by politicians.

I will hand over to my colleagues from rural constituencies to let them speak. We will be supporting the motion.

It is important that we take the chance to debate this, particularly at this time of year, when people's genuine fears about crime are accentuated because of the darkness. I thank the Rural Independent Group for giving us this chance.

Deputy O'Callaghan referred to a number of the issues. First, I acknowledge the service that every member of An Garda Síochána gives. We often take them for granted and we need to remember that many have lost their lives in the pursuit of that service and in minding and protecting our communities. We also need to look at what we need to do to assist them. I agree with my colleagues in regard to visibility. In urban towns, including my own, there is much higher visibility than there has been in some time. While the implementation of the community garda system has been hugely significant and beneficial, we also need to see it operating on a rural basis, with community gardaí assisting communities on day-to-day issues. As well as visibility, there needs to be availability of gardaí to do the basic jobs, such as dealing with passports, gun licences and so on. When somebody calls to a station, a garda should be there to carry out that service, as well as being present at the station for other reasons. As one of people's biggest frustrations concerns this engagement on the basic jobs that need to be done, there must be some sort of reform of the system.

Second, the Minister needs to look again at the issue of CCTV with a view to making the scheme much more user-friendly. This is particularly the case given the Government is about to roll out a national broadband scheme. Surely this is the opportunity to tie those two projects together and ensure that, as we roll out the national broadband scheme, the technology is linked into communities across the country, enabling them to manage community CCTV. The Government must ensure money is available to An Garda Síochána, which is taking over the data-sharing responsibilities from local authorities, and must also ensure it is available for CCTV systems. We are great at putting in these things but not so great at looking after them. Unless they are maintained, they are not effective.

The availability of drugs is no longer exclusive to cities or to large urban towns; it is an issue that has been hitting every single rural community. There is a genuine fear among parents and communities about the impact of this and it has to be faced up to. It is necessary to upskill gardaí and local people with regard to their knowledge and to give the resources to An Garda Síochána to deal with this in the manner in which it needs to be dealt with. Unfortunately, it is no longer the preserve of urban areas and is now an all-island problem that needs to be dealt with.

The neighbourhood watch scheme is still relevant and important. It needs commitment from the Ministers, Deputies Flanagan and Ring, to re-energise it as a community response.

The relationship between local gardaí and An Garda Síochána in communities is key to this area. That relationship needs to be tended and invested in. It is fragile, and is particularly fragile at the moment in many communities. Senior Garda management, who may not be on the ground, need to bear that in mind for the sake of their mission and that of the members of the force.

As our spokesperson on justice said, we will be supporting this motion. There will be a lot of repetition by rural Deputies because the problems are common across all of our constituencies. The first point I want to make is about trespass laws and the legitimate concerns of landowners and businesses which cannot avail of the criminal law to force trespassers off their property. This is a serious issue in rural Ireland. Gangs are going around the country under the mask of hunting but the law does not allow the landowners to report that as a criminal offence. It is seen as a civil wrong, and this needs to be corrected in legislation. Trespass must be seen as a criminal offence. It needs to be stamped out in rural areas and trespass laws need to change.

The other aspect is legal aid and frequent access to it. In the last eight years €430 million has been spent on free legal aid which can be sought orally without any documentation to verify the financial circumstances of the accused. Citizens against whom criminal acts are being perpetrated, one of whom was on local radio this morning to discuss their property being broken into for the seventh time, see the person accused accessing legal aid on an ongoing basis, which is extremely frustrating and disheartening.

I also raise with the Minister the issue of manpower in Garda stations. In one Garda station in County Tipperary there are ten gardaí out of work owing to injury as a result of assaults or stress, maternity leave or other unpaid leave. The shortfall is not being made up by the Commissioner and stations are short-handed. This is extremely bad for the morale of gardaí and leaves the sergeants in charge unable to police their areas properly. With the ongoing ban on overtime, this puts gardaí on the ground in an impossible position.

I could make many more points than those three to the Minister, but I must give my Fianna Fáil colleagues an opportunity to contribute.

Living in a safe and secure house in a safe and secure community is incredibly important to each of us and our constituents. Sadly, however, many people do not believe they live in a safe and secure house in a safe and secure community. Many are being terrorised by rural crime in their communities. While many may consider Kildare to be an urban area, almost 50% of the county is rural. Owing to the presence of motorways, there is a huge level of rural crime. I heard only at the weekend of a farmer in south Kildare who was terrorised by six men with dogs who arrived on the pretence that they were hunting. I have no doubt that they were stalking the land. There appears to be some correlation throughout the country, in particular in counties close to Dublin which contain rural areas, between people coming to hunt and stalk and robberies happening at a later stage. The particular individual in question had the presence of mind to send a text immediately to the local text alert service. I compliment the communities involved in it. They are doing a fantastic job. Within ten minutes ten members of the local community attended, not to take the law into their own hands but to show solidarity to the person being victimised. That is just one example.

There has been a failure on the part of the Government. The Minister said rural crime statistics were down, but they certainly are not. The Government closed 139 Garda barracks in rural Ireland. The barracks and local garda were the nerve centre of an area and had a lot of local knowledge and so could prevent crime, but that has been taken out of the equation. We need to increase the number of gardaí on the ground in rural communities. We need to establish a rural crime task force. We also need to increase funding for Garda supported CCTV and strengthen the bail laws.

The group has lost time and will have to decide how to allocate what is left among themselves.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion on rural crime. I thank my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, for his generosity in sharing his time with rural Deputies.

I always like to begin on a positive. In this case, it is the recent good work in opening the new Garda station in County Galway. I acknowledge also that before Christmas, Galway was one of the fortunate areas to be selected for inclusion in the pilot scheme on domestic violence. As a member of the joint policing committee, I welcome this. However, I reflect on the time 17 months ago when I spoke in the House about the bridge crossings over the River Shannon. Coming from Portumna, I live on the banks of the river and spoke about the crossings at Portumna and Banagher and the need to install Garda CCTV systems to provide for number plate recognition. It would help a great deal to prevent raids by larger gangs who enter Galway via one bridge and leave by the other. If we had CCTV cameras, it would be fantastic. There are fantastic dog kennels at the new Garda station and I would love to see drug dogs in Galway. Currently, we have to apply to Cork or Limerick to borrow a dog for drug raids. As Deputy Calleary said, drugs are no longer an urban issue but also a rural issue. It would enhance the capacity of gardaí on the ground to protect the youth.

Fianna Fáil brought forward a very similar motion in November 2017. While it was passed by the House, unfortunately, little has changed. As such, I wish the Independent Alliance better luck than we had.

Many of us have stood up in the Chamber time after time to highlight the decimation of rural Ireland. The social aspect of rural living has been eroded in many places and, unfortunately, replaced with fear. This is due in part to the closure of 139 Garda stations and a lack of resources which have left the countryside wide open to criminal activity.

I ask the Minister for an update on the reopening of the Garda station in Ballinspittle. It has been promised for a while by the Minister and I ask him to provide a date for its reopening.

Local communities are so disheartened they have set up their own anti-crime community groups. My colleagues have highlighted many aspects the of rural crime problem. In my short slot I will focus on CCTV systems giving an example of the disparity facing towns and villages in my constituency of Cork South West. There were attempts to break into many properties on an estate in Dunmanway on Saturday night last at 4 a.m. If two men returning from work had not entered the estate and disrupted four criminals, many houses would have been burgled and many cars stolen. Having spoken to gardaí who checked the CCTV footage, the car used in the criminal act was identified. That is how the system should work. However, many other towns and villages, including Bandon, my home town, have been waiting for years for the provision of CCTV systems. What is more annoying is the fact that only €430,000 of the €2 million allocated has been spent on CCTV systems to date. In Cork South West 27 applications have been submitted, of which seven have yet to be given the go-ahead. Will the Minister advise why there is a hold up? Surely, there is an allocation of funds such that all applications should be sanctioned. Rural Ireland is being destroyed at a social level and people must now be content with basic safety. They deserve to feel comfortable and safe in their homes.

I compliment the Independent Alliance on moving the motion and commend the support groups, including Community Alert, Muintir na Tíre, and farm and community groups that are making, with An Garda Síochána, the best efforts on behalf of communities. However, the problem remains urban and rural isolation. People are living in terror and fear, including fear of gangs and often of drug-fuelled repeat offenders. Last year gardaí in the Louth Garda division had to deal with five murders, in addition to two ongoing murder investigations. Three of those charged with three of the five murders were on bail and that is not to mention the well known drug feud in Drogheda, of which the Minister is well aware.

I do not want to delay the debate other than to say I support many of the suggestions made. I will not go into the issue of CCTV systems, as I could talk about it for a week. Instead I will provide some thoughts for the Minister's consideration on the practicalities of dealing with the surge in crime across communities.

I might not be supported in suggesting that we should consider extending the option of voluntary deferment of retirement to gardaí who wish to continue to serve in the force. Perhaps that option could be made available until we have reached the required recruitment levels. Such a measure would allow the Garda to keep the experience that is needed. I also suggest that we should set up a lo-call community alert number on a regional basis, and on a cross-Border basis around the Border, so that people can call a very recognisable number to make contact with monitored answering systems within their regions. That raises the whole issue of regional crime, to which others have referred.

There should be no bail for repeat offenders. There should be electronic tagging, especially of those who are involved in gun crime. There should be zero tolerance of the use of all offensive weapons. I have looked at the statistics for repeat offenders for the years between 2013 and 2017. Sex offences increased by 33% during that time. Robbery, hijacking and extortion increased by 20%. Thefts increased by 75%. Other offences against the State and the Government doubled.

The authorities in County Louth have been looking at the very successful Theft Stop scheme, which has been in operation in the Monaghan region. Individuals and communities should be proactively encouraged to avail of this scheme, which involves the marking of vehicles and equipment. Insurance companies should be supported in offering reduced insurance premiums to people who avail of the scheme, which should be rolled out nationally.

I would like to share time with Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I think the last time we had a large-scale debate on rural crime was last summer. That debate took place in the context of some particularly horrific and violent attacks. I know that for many people, those attacks have left psychological scars in the communities where they happened. People in many communities remain deeply concerned about their safety in their own homes. This issue has yet to be addressed.

All the evidence and anecdotal experience shows it is undoubtedly the case that visible policing is the best deterrent to crime. While Sinn Féin appreciates that there are other deterrents, we have put police visibility at the heart of our proposals in this area. I have said time and again that there has been a significant reduction in Garda visibility over recent years. A few Deputies, including the Minister, have said they believe there has been an increase in Garda visibility more recently. I have to say I am not convinced. I am aware that some of these discussions are focused on Dublin. It has not been my experience and I am not sure it has been the experience in every constituency. I think there has been an increase in Garda visibility in areas proximate to district headquarters in some specified ways. However, many Garda stations are still at or below 2010 levels. That is why so many stations were reliant on overtime. Many stations in Dublin and other areas are running to stand still. There is a need to address the serious reduction in community gardaí since 2010. The number of community gardaí in many areas has decreased by 75%. There is a serious need to address this issue.

The issue of community CCTV schemes has been raised time and again. It is clear that the current system is not working. Many applications have been made but have not been processed. The CCTV system in Carrigaline, which is in my constituency, is not working at present. There is a need for joint policing committees to have more power to allow priorities to be set at local level.

Changes in bail legislation are not necessarily required. I suggest that better monitoring of bail is needed. I have often instanced the case of Shane O'Farrell. It is one of many cases in which repeated clear breaches of bail conditions were not followed up or enforced. We need better enforcement of bail, especially in rural communities.

I am conscious that crime increased last year, by comparison with 2017, in a number of significant areas, including robberies. In the first nine months of 2018, there were 655 burglaries and 339 vehicle thefts in Cork. Before Christmas, I raised with the Minister my concerns about the ban on Garda overtime. I would be very interested to see the crime statistics for the fourth quarter of 2018. It seems from my anecdotal experience that there was a very significant increase in a wide variety of crimes, particularly property crimes like burglaries and thefts, in the last three months of the year.

I am not just talking about rural areas in this context. There have been significant numbers of burglaries and robberies in Togher, Lehenaghmore and Glanmire. The Carrigaline area, in particular, was hammered over the Christmas period. Hardly a day went by without a new report of people snooping around cars. The town was hammered. In some instances, people who rang in were told that the squad car was out on an emergency call and no other car was available. That is not the fault of gardaí. It is a resourcing issue. Carrigaline is a very significant town, but it is clearly under-resourced in policing terms. The CCTV scheme clearly needs to be addressed as well. That scheme needs to be approved. Major towns like Carrigaline need better Garda resources.

In supporting this Private Members' motion, which has been proposed by the Rural Independent Group, I am conscious that some rural dwellers have been subjected to the most brutal treatment by people who have violated their homes and their properties. While all of that is terrible, I expect that the predominant thought in all our minds this evening is the fear such incidents have given rise to. Rural Ireland is afraid. A real and tangible fear has gripped rural Irish society and whole communities across every county in Ireland, North and South. Robberies, coupled with blatant thuggery, have been taking place with limited detection and prosecution of those involved. Although senior gardaí claim there has been a reduction in home burglaries across rural Ireland, it is clear that isolated homes and farm machinery remain on the target lists of reprehensible individuals.

During the Christmas recess, I called on and spoke to many people I know in my constituency who are fearful for their safety. They are living alone and are no longer as agile as they once were. They are maintaining a stressful lifestyle because they are on constant alert as they listen, watch and, worst of all, expect the worst. This is no way to live. It is harmful for everyone who is affected by it. Further charges and consecutive sentences should be applied to those who are apprehended for burglaries and farmyard thefts. Engendering fear should attract a further penalty for those involved.

The motion we are debating calls on the Government to "establish a rural crime taskforce", to "conduct an immediate review of the operation" of relevant legislation, to "conduct a review of the trespass laws", to increase "the funding available for ... local Text Alert and Business Watch schemes", to further "initiatives like Operation Thor" and to reopen some strategically located rural Garda stations. The motion also calls for more funding for Garda overtime. In tandem with that, I suggest that more funding for more gardaí might be a better answer.

Citizens and communities deserve peace of mind. People in rural Ireland need to feel safe again. The steps commended in the motion before the House merit the serious address of the Minister, his Cabinet colleagues and the Garda Commissioner. Trust and security must be restored to everyone who lives in rural Ireland and indeed in every community in the land. I urge the Minister to consider withdrawing the Government amendment so that we can demonstrate a united front on the floor of the Dáil Chamber this evening in our determination to confront the scourge of rural crime.

I welcome this debate and support the motion introduced by the Rural Independent Group. Some of the proposals in the motion such as the establishment of a taskforce and a review of trespass laws are good idea. We need to move forward with those. The recommendations of Kathleen O'Toole's report included much of what many people have said about ensuring there are gardaí in local areas. Strategically, the Garda stations that are going to be open and the ones that are not need to be nailed down sooner rather than later. Communities in some places are also willing to do work. More Garda patrol cars can be seen in rural areas during the day. It could be debated whether they are out on checkpoint duty in the morning time. However, between the hours of 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. when much of the rural crime happens, there does not seem to be as big a Garda presence on patrol. Many communities are willing to help work on the CCTV issue. It is a cumbersome task, with many obstacles that have to be overcome and, basically, they struggle.

Regarding legal aid, I recall during the talks on Government formation it was stated that if we were to remove legal advice that under an United Nations measure we could be in trouble in terms of the challenge of a legal case. The Minister might comment on that.

On rural crime, there were hits on a house in Caltra and then the offenders moved on to Glenamaddy. The issue is not the amount stolen but the ransacking of the properties. The fear that such crime instills in an area, especially among older people, is the big problem. Obviously, such news travels. People, especially the older generation, are locking themselves in their homes.

I, too, welcome the motion and my party supports it. I want to speak briefly on the report on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Inherent in it are some very valuable recommendations, which would very much tally with the methodology set out and the motion that is before us. There are 50 recommendations in the report and I will refer to a few of them. These recommendations are eminently sensible and predicated on a wide consultation whereby those involved in the report went out into the communities.

Recommendation 22 states:

The building of genuine community partnerships should be a requirement for all Garda districts. Gardaí should be assessed for their performance in this respect, and it should be a factor in determining assignments and promotions.

It also refers to district policing plans.

Recommendation 26 refers to the redeployment of experienced gardaí currently employed in other duties. It states:

Job specifications should be developed for all positions in the police service, clearly indicating the skills and expertise required and whether police powers are necessary for the job or not. If not, the presumption should be that a non-sworn person should occupy the position.

Regarding the number of gardaí in rural Ireland and across urban Ireland, there is a clear view in the report that perhaps too many gardaí are involved in administrative duties, some of necessity, but that if there is scope to redeploy people to the front line, that should be accelerated in a timely fashion.

Recommendation 40 states:

District police should be in close communication with their communities.

An Garda Síochána should produce regular, and eventually real-time, open data feeds to the public.

Public apps should be developed at the community level to enable residents to report their concerns, and police to disseminate the information about matters of interest from crime prevention to road closures.

An Garda Síochána should develop and implement a new social media strategy. In all districts the police should use social media and other technology tools to engage with the local community.

If we can start the work of bringing to fruition these recommendations, that will have a great impact. If we can deploy these resources at the district level in a way that allows the community to communicate directly, using the new technologies that are available, with the gardaí, that will provide real-time information and that should give rise to a real-time response. There is still a lag time in many districts and the evidence of that is clear. If there is a genuine willingness to implement these recommendations, that will have a bearing on some of the issues, particularly for rural areas. Chapter 6 of the report on the Future of Policing in Ireland is quite stark. It refers to the recording of crime statistics. It states:

it is hard to say with confidence what the level of crime is. But we encountered concerns about crime wherever we travelled in our consultations around the country, both in urban and rural areas. Fear of crime, which is often greater than the reality of crime, is also a serious matter in itself, badly affecting quality of life. We have found many examples in our public consultations of communities and individuals living with an unsettling level of fear of crime.

Deputy Ó Caoláin referred to this issue in his contribution. There are specific recommendations regarding greater police visibility, engagement and accessibility and that this would help address that fear of crime. It would be helpful if we, collectively, as an Oireachtas can work on those issues and if we could instill confidence in the community. Deputy Ó Laoghaire referred to this issue as well and mentioned poor Shane O'Farrell whose family still has not received justice. Until such time as they - to name one family among thousands of people who have been the victims of crime - receive justice, we will continue to have a lag in terms of confidence. Furthermore, until such time as we accelerate the recommendations and principles in the report on the Future of Policing in Ireland, I fear the lack of confidence in some parts of the country will continue to be an issue.

We have an opportunity to address that. We have the tools of the trade to seek to resolve the very many issues brought before us in this motion. We must ensure the resources are deployed in a smart way to ensure people, particularly in rural areas, have confidence that when they report an incident it is responded to in a timely fashion and that justice is done in a timely fashion. We must also ensure he preventative element of criminality is such that if the resources are deployed in a smart way, employing the technologies, that we can do much to prevent the crimes against people we are articulating and that are espoused in this motion.

I, too, would like to raise the issue of clarity regarding CCTV. We know that there are issues regarding the GDPR and whether citizens going about their daily business have certain entitlements to the right to privacy. We need to overcome that challenge because there must be a balance between protecting our communities, ensuring there is proper surveillance and ensuring the balance of rights for individuals who are going about their daily business in an honest fashion. If we were to poll people throughout the country, I believe the vast majority of them would want to have a public infrastructure that involves some degree of surveillance of sensitive areas throughout our towns and villages and within rural communities.

The vast majority of people would want a public infrastructure that involves some degree of surveillance of sensitive areas throughout our towns and villages and within rural communities. We support the motion. On the issue of bail in respect of the Criminal Justice Act, we have to be mindful, notwithstanding the fact that we are supporting the motion, of its constitutionality. To be fair to the proposers of the motion, they are seeking to reduce the level of recidivism and that should be supported.

We support the motion. I thank its proposers for tabling it. The issue of rural crime affects people in practically every part of Ireland because Ireland is largely a rural country. In many of our towns and villages, even reasonably-sized towns, we have issues with crime, especially with burglary. That affects many people living in rural areas in a very negative way. When a house is burgled in one part of a parish, it creates serious fear, particularly among older people, everywhere in that parish. I have experienced it in my parish as I am sure nearly everyone who lives in rural Ireland has. This motion suggests that we need a task force on crime to bring all the elements together to look at this issue. That is a very good idea. We need to recognise that it is not only the gardaí that will have to respond to this. Communities across the country have found that, while things have improved somewhat in recent times, they have in the past had to step up to the mark, form text alert services and community alerts, trying to do something to protect themselves and their community.

The bail law has a significant impact on this issue. As Deputy Ó Laoghaire said, in many cases the people that engage in some of these crimes are already on bail, sometimes several times. It is not so much about the law as the implementation of it and what is going on in our court system. We need to get a grip on this, particularly with the kind of crime that most people are most fearful of when living in rural areas, where one is talking about somebody breaking into an old person's house and robbing him or her or stealing machinery. In many cases, when the culprits are caught, we find that they are repeat offenders and that they have been on bail several times while they carried out other crimes. The issue of additional funding, particularly for text alert and other schemes, really needs to be looked at. It has a significant positive impact on the community because it means that people in the community feel that they can respond themselves. It gives them confidence in themselves and in their area.

In most parts of rural Ireland, thankfully, crime rates have been very low and they have been very safe places to live. We want to send that message that it is a safe place to live. It is a safe place for people to settle and live in in general. It is because it has traditionally been so safe that when these things happen, people's fear is raised to such a high level. We need to make sure that we continue to ensure that these are safe places for people to live and operate. Small businesses are particularly impacted by crime. I was speaking to a person in business recently, in a small local town. He tells me that he cannot count the number of times his shop has been robbed over the years. Shoplifting is a serious problem. Some people who he knows do it all the time yet he is fearful to approach them. There is an element of intimidation in some of the gangs carrying out these kinds of operations. In many cases, for whatever reason, the local community, especially businesspeople, feels that the gardaí are not acting strongly and forcefully enough and doing enough to prevent this kind of crime from happening.

We absolutely support the essence of the motion. It is unfortunate that the Government has chosen to table an amendment to this motion to try to water it down. The amendment is basically saying that we are doing a great job and that everything is hunky-dory. I am sure all of the backbenchers in Fine Gael know that is not the view of people on the ground. There are problems and the Minister and Government need to face up to them and put the investment in place in the Garda Síochána to resolve them.

The most recent report from An Garda Síochána, entitled Policing with Local Communities, made for some very interesting reading. Its recommendations only support what others have said here tonight. Some of these recommendations mirror the concerns of the general public. Under the heading "Rural Crime and the Fear of Crime", it states:

During this inspection, a number of local people and organisations representing communities raised the issue of rural crime and the high fear of crime experienced by some people. Geography and rural isolation present challenges for the Garda Síochána in terms of visibility and providing reassurance. Additionally some rural areas have experienced the closure of local stations and seen reductions in the number of community policing gardaí. Recognising the concerns about crime in rural communities, the Inspectorate believes that a multi-agency rural crime prevention and reassurance partnership should be developed to tackle crime and the fear of crime in rural communities.

The report raises the issue of visibility. It states:

The Garda Public Attitudes Survey measures visibility and in 2017 only 36% of adults reported that gardaí patrolled their area regularly (98% of which was in cars). Awareness of gardaí patrolling on foot was 12% and on bicycles 5%.

The report goes on to state, as previously advised by the Minister, that budgetary constraints from 2018 to 2021 will significantly impact the delivery of the Garda building and refurbishment programme from 2016 to 2022 and subsequently the capacity of An Garda Síochána to implement the Garda modernisation and renewal programme.

The Minister says the Garda report is contradictory to what he is saying. On the issue of the Garda fleet, 2,771 modes of transport are registered but over 1,076 are six years or more old as of 31 July 2018. Garda management in County Cork says that crime rates are increasing. In a report made to Cork County Council's joint policing committee on Monday 23 October, Garda commissioners from all three policing divisions said that they have recorded 1,734 incidents of property crime between July and September compared with 1,345 cases for the same period last year. Crimes against persons have also increased, from 489 to 622, with incidents of burglaries increasing from 163 to 269 when compared with 2016 figures. Despite the best efforts of An Garda Síochána, crime is on the rise, and if we do not support the gardaí, we will lose the battle against crime. The Minister of State is well aware that we had two serious cases over the Christmas period in Midleton and I wish those two victims a very speedy recovery. I urge the Government to withdraw its amendment and support gardaí and the Rural Independent Group on tonight's motion.

Fianna Fáil supports the broad thrust of this motion tabled by the Rural Independent Group. We tabled a similar motion to address rural crime in November 2017 which was passed by this House. In preparation for tonight's speech, I went back and read over what I said that night. It is unfortunate that I am back over a year later raising the same issue, as little has changed since.

I want to speak on a specific type of crime prevention, CCTV, which has been spoken about by nearly every speaker tonight. An extract from the 2016 programme for Government reads: "We will support investment in CCTV at key locations along the road network and in urban centres." Every time I raise this issue with a Minister and other members of the Government, they deflect to the community-based CCTV grant-aided scheme. This is not what I refer to. I refer to the failure by the Government to honour its commitment to erect CCTV cameras at key locations on our motorways, which are being used by criminal gangs to access and escape the communities they are terrorising. Will the Minister of State clarify at which key locations along the road network CCTV has been erected to combat rural crime, or his plans to erect it in the near future? As far as I know, there is very little coming off the motorways. Two motorways go through my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny, the M9 and M7. Organised gangs are targeting businesses, robbing them and using the motorway to aid their escape.

Billions of euro of taxpayers' money have been spent on upgrading our motorways over recent decades, and the advantages of this investment speak for themselves, but we must do more to police our national primary routes effectively.

Referring back to the community-based CCTV grant-aided scheme, I am receiving complaints about the cumbersome application process from individual communities around the country, in particular those in my area. I accept that taxpayers' money must be put to good use and due diligence must be applied to the application to ensure that CCTV systems are effective, but there must be some way of streamlining the system. I know of one text alert group in my constituency that is seeking clarification from the local authority and the Garda as to who will have responsibility for monitoring the footage. The local authority continues to state that it awaits advice on data protection legislation, and this has been ongoing for some time. The community is setting it up and getting funding from the Department, yet no one is taking responsibility because of data protection legislation. This needs to be clarified in order that these schemes can be put in place. This would at least be of help in crime prevention. Perhaps the Minister of State could indicate where the responsibility lies. Approximately €17,000 has been collected by the people of the community I speak of, and the CCTV is badly needed. Can this be clarified? Who will take responsibility? Will it be the local Garda station? Who, where and how?

I also wish to say a little about bail laws. We all know about people out on bail who commit crimes and then come before the courts. Not alone have they one, two, three or four convictions. We all know of terrible cases in which they have 40 or 50 cases against them and they are out on bail. These people do not mind the recording of another offence against them. It means nothing to them. Fianna Fáil brought forward legislation in the Dáil and in our manifesto during the previous general election proposing that second and third offenders would not get free legal aid or, if they did, would only get it on a limited basis. These people do not care. They are free to commit more crime, more robberies - it is usually robberies - and what difference does another one or two convictions make when added to the five, six or 20 they have already? I ask the Minister of State to look at our bail laws and do something about people who commit crime consistently. They should be kept either in jail or under a curfew such that they cannot go out and create havoc in our communities, in particular in rural Ireland.

I am thankful for this opportunity and I thank the Rural Independent Group for using its time for this important issue. I join others in commending our gardaí in communities throughout the country on the hard work they do on their behalf. That said, through no fault of their own, we can provide a template such that they can be even more effective. Consecutive Governments over the years, not just the Minister of State's own but indeed those of our party, have undermined the viability of rural Ireland. This has increased the vulnerability of rural communities to be victims of crime. We have stripped out Garda stations - Fine Gael being responsible for 139 of them in 2012 and 2013 alone - and many post offices, which is still ongoing. This in turn has led to closures of other businesses and increased the vulnerability of villages that no longer support family businesses, and it is for city-based crime gangs to prey on these villages. This is something we need to reverse and look at closely when we look at the overheating nature of capacity here in Dublin city and in our other cities. We would do better to think a little more strategically about this.

Community policing is where all the success has been in larger urban areas of the future, but we have moved away from it in rural areas where, historically, in any rural area - Easky or Cliffony, County Sligo, for example - the local garda and the local sergeant lived in the community. This is now a rare occurrence. Normally, gardaí can now live 20, 30, 40 or 50 miles away. They do not have the level of local knowledge that their predecessors of some decades ago had. The gardaí of those days knew where every body was buried, where every stone was to be unturned and what was going on. We should, if necessary, incentivise local gardaí to live in rural communities. I appreciate that a guy from a particular street in the city cannot be a garda in that area, but it is something we could usefully look at.

Regarding not just bail but also reoffending, we have heard the statistics. In 2016, the rate of crimes committed by people on bail rose to 13%. We also have a huge number of reoffenders, whether in burglary, aggravated assault or drugs. Drugs are in every community in Ireland. It does not matter how rural they are, unfortunately. These are the issues. We need to look at our whole system of incarceration because, sadly, it is foundering in terms of its rehabilitative focus. Sadly, people in high percentages of cases are honing their skills while they are guests of the State, coming out to reoffend, perhaps learning an extra trick or two from colleagues in the prison system. We need to look at rehabilitation in order that we weed out the potential for reoccurrences.

My colleague, Deputy Aylward, has rightly pointed to CCTV. It is one thing to announce €1 million per year for a scheme, but if the scheme is unworkable and overly bureaucratic or we put so many obstacles in the way, as is the case, the money will not be spent. Of the €2 million allocated so far, only about €430,000 has been drawn down. Local authorities have to be data controllers. Local authorities such as Sligo, for example, do not have a red cent to support their normal services. Therefore, despite the fact that the communities may want the local authorities to expand to other areas, they cannot support the costs that are necessary to back up these applications and be the data controller. I ask that the network of community councils throughout the country be looked at as the applicant or the conduit for data controlling, which may help in this regard.

I am glad to have the opportunity to talk on this very important motion. It is important for people living in rural areas and perhaps not so rural places, as Deputy MacSharry said in his speech. It is a fact that gardaí were very effective when they lived in the local community. In many instances a house was provided locally for the sergeant to live in. There was one in Kilgarvan until very recent times, and then even that was sold along with the Garda station. Going back even a generation, the gardaí helped people when pressure was on them to save hay or turf. In their time off they helped widows or people like my grandmother, whose husband was disabled, to save turf and even bring out the turf. They accrued an awful lot of local knowledge and valuable information by visiting people, perhaps sick people or whoever else, and having the cup of tea and wandering around from place to place. There was not a thing they did not know or understand about that happened in their parish.

Rural places are now very lonely and desolate at night, however, as a result of the laws that were recently passed here. I am sad to say that some of the parties here abstained on and more of them voted for the Bill in the name of the Minister, Deputy Ross. This has meant that roads from rural places are now desolate from 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. and open to criminals, vandals, thieves and robbers. Before if there was a fellow going for the pint or two, he would see something or someone. Now there is no one out because they are afraid to go out. They are like rabbits in a burrow, barely peeping out now and then because they are afraid of being popped, as it were, if they go out. It is a waste of Garda resources.

I challenged the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality a few weeks ago as to why they were directing the gardaí in this regard. It is across all divisions. That day I asked why people were being checked going to mass. They are being checked coming out of mass now. That is the truth. It has happened. People who have never drunk have been checked and are angry about this. Even mothers going to school with children in the morning are being stopped. People generally are so angry all across my constituency about what has happened. It is unnecessary and wrong.

It has changed rural Ireland forever because they do not have the transport in the morning or at night that there is in urban places such as Dublin. Our Garda chief superintendent, Tom Myers, said there are drugs in every town and village in Kerry. Does that have anything to do with the fact that the Garda stations in Lauragh and Sneem are being closed and there are vast stretches of our coastline along the Kenmare River that are open to the bringing of drugs into our county? Maybe there should be more emphasis on that because it is sad to see mothers and fathers bringing up their children, doing everything they can for them, sending them to college and then too many of them get drugs, which are too easily available. We should and could do more to prohibit and prevent that serious scenario that is taking place.

There is constant fear and concern about the threat of criminal activity emerging as a persistent feature of rural life. There is significant under-reporting of rural crime and growing amounts of farm machinery, diesel and heating oil are being stolen. It is impossible to take care of an oil tank. They are being hit by these people, more often than not, who take the heating oil people so badly need.

The cost of legal aid in the past six or seven years ranged from €49 million to €58 million. It is sad to think that the same villains who get legal aid in one, two or three instances get it if they have 40 instances, and in many cases they do. The Minister of State should examine this and the bail laws for people who commit crime and are out on bail waiting for court hearings who think nothing of carrying out another atrocious crime. The statistics show that they carry out most crimes as they are on bail because they know they will get legal aid. It is no bother to them at all. It is no bother to them to go to jail because they learn how to do worse things when they are in there. Many serial offenders should be locked up and the key thrown away for a long time until they see sense and understand what they have done.

I want to thank those responsible for our community alerts and text alerts. These people do much great work for their communities with the little funding they get. I thank this Government and previous Governments for giving them a bit of funding, however small, because these people do tremendous work. They provide a sense of confidence to the elderly people in rural communities. I know of one elderly man who lives on a long bóithrín and from his kitchen window he can see the minute a car turns into his bóithrín. The minute it does he goes to an outhouse across the way so that he will not be inside the house if they are raiders or intruders because he got caught once. He will wait until he sees through a peephole who has arrived in the yard. If it is someone he does not know he goes out the back door of that outhouse and down the fields behind the bushes. That is not how it should be. The closure of the Garda stations, taking them out of communities, has affected people like this by taking away their confidence.

We will agree that if the incidence of rural crime is increasing, more people are being hit because so many have left rural places and the numbers have declined in many of the places we represent. I am disappointed that the Minister put down an amendment to our motion.

We need to strengthen the trespass laws and the rights of farmers and land owners to protect their property and their person. These trespassers can trespass on land without any prosecution because there is no law to prosecute them. That is not right.

I thank Deputies for their contributions tonight. Protecting our people and our communities is a fundamental responsibility of government and one which we take extremely seriously. It is clear that this subject resonates very strongly with Members of the House. My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, has highlighted some of the excellent work of An Garda Síochána in tackling rural crime, along with the huge unprecedented resources allocated to the Commissioner, €1.76 billion for this year alone; the ongoing recruitment and redeployment of gardaí and the significant new legislative provisions that help gardaí to fight crime and put criminals behind bars.

Some commentators have suggested that not all crime is reported. It is absolutely vital that as elected officials we continue to encourage all citizens to report all instances of criminality to An Garda Síochána. Only then can the crime be properly investigated by the Garda. Also, and just as important, the reports will allow the Garda authorities to identify any new or emerging crime trends affecting a particular community and, where necessary, to allocate Garda resources in order to tackle these problems. It will also inform the Government and this House as we develop policy and legislation. The new Garda Commissioner has been travelling the country engaging with people and he has placed a huge emphasis on protecting the community and ensuring responsive policing. It is important that policing is and continues to be a collaboration between An Garda Síochána and the community it serves.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to support and prioritise community crime prevention, including text alert, which is an example of Garda community collaboration. The Garda text alert scheme provides an additional and effective means for members of the Garda to communicate crime prevention information to local communities. Since it was launched in September 2013, it has grown quickly with a total of 164,000 subscribers and in the order of 3 million text messages sent annually. Every Garda division, rural and urban, now offers the text alert service and An Garda Síochána has published guidelines to assist in the establishment and operation of local groups. At the National Ploughing Championship last September, the Minister for Justice and Equality announced details of the 2018 text alert rebate scheme which was available to over 1,000 local groups registered under the Garda text alerts scheme.

The Department of Justice and Equality committed in the region of €150,000 to local communities that wished to apply for a rebate towards the costs associated with running the local text alert scheme. In 2017, payments made under the rebate scheme almost doubled to €125,000 which was paid out to almost 50 groups.

The proposed motion indicates that just four CCTV grant aid applications have been approved. It is not accurate. In fact, 20 grant applications have been approved to date. By voting this through, the House would be voting something through that is not accurate because 20 grant applications have been approved to date. In furtherance of the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to support investment in CCTV schemes, a grant-aid scheme was launched by the Department of Justice and Equality in 2017 to assist in the establishment of community based CCTV schemes in the local areas. It is intended the scheme would run for three years with funding of €1 million being made available each year. In establishing the grant-aid scheme, the Department consulted broadly, including with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, An Garda Síochána, the Office of the Attorney General and the Local Government Management Agency. The scheme is open to all groups wishing to take advantage of available funding and meeting the longstanding statutory requirements for establishment of CCTV schemes. The Department continues to actively engage with all relevant parties to provide information on the scheme and to reply to any queries that arise.

There has been a lot of misinformation about this scheme but the Data Protection Commissioner has clarified the law and I am pleased that many groups have been successful with their applications. To be clear about this, it is provided in section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act, as amended, and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) order 2006 that the law requires proposed community CCTV schemes to be approved by the local joint policing committee, JPC, have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner and have the powers to go to the relevant local authority, which must act as data controller in respect of the system. I hope that clarifies that matter.

Regarding criminal legal aid, as the House knows there is a constitutional requirement for criminal legal aid to ensure the right of a fair trial is upheld. It is a fundamental principle of law that an accused person is entitled to a presumption of innocence when he or she comes before the court and legal representation. Any obstacles to obtaining necessary legal aid which were found to be unreasonable could give a defendant an avenue for appeal or prohibition of the prosecution. The overriding concern is to ensure that no risk arises with regard to prosecution of persons charged with criminal offences before the courts. Criminal legal aid is not popular but it is a necessary facet of a democratic society and a fair and just legal system. In a demand-led system it is difficult to predict or reduce expenditure. The more successful gardaí are in bringing accused persons before the criminal courts, the more likely there will be an increased demand for criminal legal aid. The Department is currently preparing a draft scheme of a criminal justice (legal aid) Bill. Commitments contained in the programme for Government will be addressed in the general scheme, including the introduction of a contribution system, the introduction of more rigorous and effective means testing and provision for increased sanctions for false declarations of income. We are looking at that as well.

Regarding Garda station reopenings, the programme for Government commits to a pilot scheme to reopen six Garda stations both urban and rural, to determine possible positive impacts that such openings will have on criminal activity, with special emphasis on burglaries, theft and public order. The Garda Commissioner's final report on the matter, which is available on the Department of Justice and Equality website, recommends that Ballinspittle Garda station be reopened along with stations in Bawnboy in County Cavan, Donard in County Wicklow, Leighlinbridge in County Carlow and Rush and Stepaside in County Dublin. I am told the one in Ballinspittle will be completed in quarter two of 2019. That is some information for the House. The OPW has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. The Garda authorities are continuing to engage with the OPW with regard to design, planning, where required, and procurement of the works required to permit the reopening of these buildings as operational Garda stations. As the works required are different at each of the six former stations, it can be expected they will reopen at different times. The works required at Donard station have been completed already and the building has been handed over to An Garda Síochána by the OPW. Implementation of the programme and the reopening of the five remaining stations is being pursued as a priority. I have already addressed one of them. The OPW expects works to be completed in each case in 2019.

We will monitor the outcome of the pilot scheme because it is important to stress the presence of a Garda station is not necessarily the most effective way to deter criminals. Modern policing operations are far more sophisticated and the Garda Commissioner is best placed to determine where resources should be deployed to combat crime and protect the community.

Mention has been made of resources and €342 million is being provided for ICT between 2016 and 2021. There is a €60 million Garda building and refurbishment programme. There is €46 million being provided for the Garda fleet from 2016 to 2021. Many resources are being made available.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, mentioned in his speech earlier that all Garda activities, including community policing, will benefit significantly from the financial resources provided in recent budgets. As well as that, there is a huge injection of personnel coming on stream through the Garda recruitment and redeployment programmes. The Government's commitment to substantially increase Garda numbers will ensure An Garda Síochána has the capacity to address the needs of communities throughout the country, now and into the future. The Government will continue to offer our unwavering support to An Garda Síochána in is fight against crime. I expect and know every Member of the House will so the same. We will continue to place community safety at the heart of our work in the Department of Justice and Equality.

I appreciate very much the opportunity to speak on this most important motion. I thank our Whip, Deputy Mattie McGrath, and Triona and David in his office, for the research work they did to bring forward this very important item. I thank everyone who contributed tonight. Deputy Bobby Aylward has just left the Chamber but I thank him for being here up until now. Apart from the Minister of State and Deputies in the Rural Independent Group there is no one else remaining in the Chamber. I ask anybody to look around the Chamber and then talk about rural crime and what is happening in our countryside where old people are being terrorised in their own homes. They should look around the Chamber and see how seriously other Deputies are taking this issue. They are not taking it very seriously at all. It is a very important motion that highlights an issue. We are seeking to do this for the future and for the protection of our most vulnerable people. It is not entirely about rural crime but it has an awful lot to do with rural crime.

The Minister of State spoke about statistics. I will give him a statistic in a simple way. There are nine people who I know personally who were the victims of crime. I will tell the Minister of State what type of crime was involved. The windscreen of one person's car was broken and items were taken from inside the car. Another person's home heating oil was taken. It was not diesel oil for agricultural use. That is just to give examples. I rang the nine people and said I would never divulge their names but wanted to know if they had reported the crime to the gardaí. Of nine, two had reported it. I do not blame the gardaí. I hear senior gardaí talking about how they are combatting crime and stating that numbers are decreasing. It is no disrespect to the gardaí but they are going on false information. I would go so far as to say the majority of crime is not reported in Ireland. The Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, are shooting in the dark because they are not being given the information. My colleagues in the Rural Independent Group and I always encourage our constituents to report every crime. How can we adequately say we need more resources in rural areas if we are not proving the crimes are being committed? It is the same issue with local authorities. How can Kerry County Council put in applications for funding for an accident prone spot unless we are reporting when a car hits the ditch or when two cars collide because of a dangerous camber on a road? How can we adequately seek funding unless the incidents are being reported? It was a unanimous decision of the Rural Independent Group to use our very valuable Private Members' time to discuss this issue on behalf of the people who send us up here. We are very proud to be here to talk up for people, whether they are from Valentia Island, north Kerry, south Kerry or west Kerry. My job is to be here to support them. We are out every night of the week.

We are meeting people who are afraid inside their own homes. There was a time when if someone inside in a house heard a rattle in the yard or a car or somebody coming, he would have a smile on his face wondering who was coming and was there some bit of gossip, some bit of a racket, some bit of a story that he would be told that night or what bit of entertainment was coming.

A bit of comhluadar.

It could be somebody calling that would be delighted to see him. We are at the stage now that if there are people outside in the yard making noise, the people inside are afraid and thinking "oh my goodness, who is this?", "who is making that noise outside?"; older and more vulnerable people, in particular, wonder if it is an unwelcome person coming that they are afraid of. When our people get older, they should be given more respect every day by all of us because we adore them. We should be so glad to have them, those we have lost and the people who are left, that we want to hold onto them for as long as possible. We want their time on this earth to be happy, safe and comfortable with no stress or duress, especially at the end of their days.

I want to change the argument a little bit now in that we are not just concentrating 100% on rural areas. What about the people living in our larger towns who, when they lock the door, do not want to hear anybody coming because they are afraid of who is coming? They could be living where there are people to the left and right of them and across the road but they are still afraid because of nasty things that have happened in their localities. This is where the Minister of State and his Government have such a part to play. When people get caught having broken into the homes of or hurt or threatened violence on older people, for God's sake, the punishments are not half enough for that type of crime. I unfortunately can remember one instance where two elderly brothers were held up. The two of them are gone to their eternal reward now. One of them was a bigger man and the other was a smaller man. The bigger man was tied to a chair and the people who went into his house late at night beat him continually until the smaller man was made tell where they had the little couple of pounds saved in their house. Those two people, I am sad to say, never again slept a night inside in their house, their own house where they had grown up from two small boys. They were farming people and they lived all their lives there until they were hunted out of their house by thugs, by the scum of society that unfortunately were never caught for that crime and never spent one hour behind bars for what they did to those two lovely men. It is things like this that upset every person and not just politicians. We have seen it happening where elderly ladies are inside in their houses and where people break in and demand money with menace or steal their goods. That should not be tolerated in the Ireland we are living in today. Whatever about any other type of thing that will happen, where older people are hurt or threatened and when these people are caught we must look at the sentencing and the punishment. There is no dread in these people. It is the same for people who are pushing drugs. There is no deterrent because they are not afraid.

I said it earlier on the Plinth when Deputy Mattie McGrath organised a press conference to highlight what we were doing here today. I thanked them very much and said I did not care whether they were Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, or the Labour Party. I thanked every one of the Deputies who were here after the awful shooting of Veronica Guerin, when every Deputy came in here and threw off their political colours and put their shoulder to the wheel and changed laws immediately. They brought in the Criminal Assets Bureau, one of the most successful and useful tools that we had in tackling organised crime. Unfortunately it is not enough. Drugs are still coming into this country but when we look at the vast coastline that we have and when the very small amount of policing that is put into our coastline it is no wonder the drugs are coming in. I compliment the politicians of that time and the general public that supported them in ensuring that more stringent rules were put in place. A lot of those bully boys were hunted down. For the smart big men with the big swaggers on them when they were going around thinking that they could kill a journalist like that in broad daylight, not far from here, the smile was put on the other side of those little worms' faces when they were hunted down in their big fancy places out in Spain and dragged back and taken before the courts. The dirty little horrible people that they were, they were put into jail and they got a long time. They saw that their assets were stripped and taken from them and sold off to respectable people. The only thing I can say is to hell with them and they may rot in hell along with the others who are after our older people at present because we have no sympathy whatsoever for them.

I thank my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group. The one thing I am disappointed with is that the Government is not supporting the motion in its entirety. Coming along tonight and putting forward an amendment is only messing with it and the Government is not giving it the serious consideration we believe it deserves. We are not coming here tonight in a political or adversarial way. All we are saying is for God's sake, there are a lot of things wrong and we want them to be addressed. We want to work with the Government on this, not against it, but unfortunately it is going against us by bringing forward a counter-motion. As far as I can see it is only doing it for the sake of it.

I compliment the gardaí in County Kerry on the sterling work they are doing with limited resources. It is right to say they are being put on the wrong track because all they are being told now from on high is bag people and to give their time to that instead of to fighting rural crime, which is what we want them to do.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 17 January 2019.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.58 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 January 2019.