Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to open the Second Stage debate on the Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2019. The purpose of this legislation is to amend the legislation of 1990, the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 and, in particular, to amend section 9 of that Act, which deals with the carrying of knives.

In particular, the purpose of the legislation is to increase the maximum sentence that can be imposed on a person who is convicted on indictment of having in his or her possession a knife for the purpose of inflicting harm on another person. At present, the maximum penalty under the legislation is five years' imprisonment. The purpose of the Fianna Fáil Bill is to increase that penalty to a maximum sentence of ten years.

The background to this amending legislation derives from the increase in the number of assaults in cities, towns and - I regret to say - smaller towns. According to statistics released recently by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, the number of assaults being perpetrated increased by 6.7% in the year up to the second quarter of 2019. Unfortunately, one of the deficiencies of the figures placed into the public domain by the CSO is that they do not permit us to identify the number or percentage of assaults that are perpetrated through the use of knives. On the basis of other information that is available, however, the Fianna Fáil Deputies who are going to speak on this legislation are concerned that the prevalence of knife crime in Ireland is increasing.

The first item of evidence on which our concerns are based is the response to a parliamentary question I tabled to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan. This response has enabled us to identify how many knives were seized by An Garda Síochána in 2016, 2017 and 2018. It does not indicate how many crimes were committed using knives, but it indicates the extent to which knives are being carried by individuals in public for no lawful purpose. I was told in response to my parliamentary question that 1,200 knives were seized by An Garda Síochána in 2016. I understand that 2,000 knives were seized by An Garda Síochána in 2018. This increase of approximately 66% shows that the number of people carrying knives unlawfully appears to be increasing.

We also have evidence from some tragic events that took place this summer. This evidence leads us to believe there is a growing problem with knives. In May, June and July of this year, four people were killed in our capital city as a result of being stabbed with knives. In May, a young man - we could describe him as a boy - of 18 years of age was fatally stabbed in the Finsbury Park area of Dundrum in Dublin. Tragically, he lost his life. In June, a homeless man was stabbed in the vicinity of the GPO. He also lost his life. In the same month, a Latvian woman who was staying in a hostel in west Dublin was stabbed and fatally injured. She lost her life as a result of the use of a knife. In July, a man was stabbed and fatally injured in the North Strand area of the north inner city. He lost his life as a result of an attack with a knife. I have given some examples of people who have lost their lives as a result of knife crime. We are aware of a number of other attacks this summer. In July, an 18 year old man was hospitalised after being stabbed in Crumlin. In the same month, a 30 year old man was attacked in Temple Bar. He was stabbed when he was walking home. This is not just a Dublin problem. I regret to say that a member of An Garda Síochána was slashed with a sharp implement, causing him significant and serious injuries, in the course of his duty in Dundalk last week.

I regret to say that this grisly catalogue indicates that knives are being used more frequently and are having a negative, and sometimes fatal, impact on the individuals who use them. I suspect that many young men carry knives at night in the belief that it is necessary and helpful to do so in order to be able to defend themselves. We need to inform them that they are wrong in this regard. We need to help people to recognise that if they go out with knives - even if they do not intend to use them - and if they get into an argument, the strong likelihood is that somebody will be fatally or seriously injured as a result of a knife being present during the dispute. I suspect it is also the case that many people who go out with knives do not intend to use them, but as a result of a combination of alcohol, drugs, aggression or loss of temper, they find themselves doing so. This can have appalling consequences for their lives as well as the lives of the victims. People who do not intend to use knives when they go out but who end up doing so can find themselves subject to manslaughter or murder charges in respect of things they probably did not intend to do.

Obviously, the State can go down many avenues as it seeks to deter people from carrying and using knives. The first legislative avenue that is available to us is the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990, sections 9(4) and 9(5) of which provide that it is a criminal offence to carry a knife in a public area for the purpose of incapacitating or injuring another person. Section 9(7) sets out the penalties that should be imposed. As already stated, this Bill seeks to amend that section by providing that the sentence which can be imposed on someone who is convicted on indictment of being caught with a knife in a public place for the purpose of inflicting injury or harm on another person should be increased from five years to nine years.

Regrettably, in the context of the neighbouring jurisdiction, we have seen what happens when it becomes perceived as acceptable for young men to carry knives with them when they go out at night. There has been a tragic litany of fatalities there. Large numbers of people have been victims of knife crime in the United Kingdom, particularly in London. We have seen that it has become a trend in London for young people in gangs to carry knives and use them to inflict damage on one another. We have to ensure we do not allow that type of society to develop in Ireland. We must not allow young men to think it is acceptable for them to carry knives in public. In other jurisdictions, the carrying of knives is perceived as a form of prowess on the part of individual gang members. The Oireachtas needs to send a loud and clear message that this is not acceptable.

Our efforts to deal with knife crime, or, indeed, any crime, cannot be confined to the use of the legislative tools available to us in this House. Legislation will not solve society's problems in their totality. We need to recognise that other mechanisms and other avenues have to be used as well. We must recognise that we have a strong job of work to do in informing and educating young people about the dangers of knives. It appears that many people get involved in committing assaults or in using a knife to attack someone else as a result of taking drugs, or drugs combined with alcohol, which can have a very toxic impact on individuals and particularly on their aggression levels. We need to start informing and warning young people about the dangers of carrying knives and about the impact that taking drugs and alcohol together can have on their aggression levels. It can turn someone into a person that he or she is not, for a particular evening, with horrendous consequences for him or her and for other people.

I commend the Bill to the House. I am sharing time with my colleagues, Deputies O'Loughlin, Lawless and Butler, who have many anecdotes to tell about how their constituencies have been affected by these crimes.

I commend my colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, on bringing this important measure before the House. It is part of my party's plans for reforming the criminal justice system. This is one of many important initiatives to have been brought forward by Deputy O'Callaghan during the lifetime of the current Dáil. As he outlined, the introduction of this Bill, which we hope will be enacted and carried forward into the criminal justice system, sends out an important signal that knife crime is unacceptable.

We cannot allow a culture to emerge where it is acceptable or becomes the norm to carry an offensive weapon such as a knife or similar implement because the more knives that are in circulation the more likely it is that they will be used in a fatal crime. It is a vicious circle because the more accidents, injuries and attacks that occur, the more likely it is that people in those circles will begin to carry knives for the purposes of defence. That exacerbates and perpetuates the cycle.

A report in The Irish Times in April this year claimed that the number of fatal stabbings in the jurisdiction of England and Wales was at an all-time high. Only a third of the way into the year, ten teenagers had already been fatally stabbed in the UK. We can see what is happening across the water and in other jurisdictions, and we do not want the same to happen here. The Bill is a very important signal to send out that knife crime, in particular, is more heinous and something which should be punished appropriately. By elevating the offence and sanction, we are making that clear. We are also making it clear to the Judiciary what we expect in terms of enforcement of these measures.

As I said, this is one of many measures Deputy O'Callaghan has proposed on behalf of my party. Other initiatives in the system are equally important in tackling antisocial behaviours and corrosion and corruption in the community sense, right down to difficult repeat behaviours such as noisy neighbours, harassment, littering and public drinking which corrode a community and society and can be very difficult for a local authority or Garda force to police efficiently and correctly.

There is a financial cost to repeat prosecution. Part of our proposals in that regard will include such things as community protection orders and dispersal orders. Community protection orders could be targeted at repeat offenders at lower levels in order to try to manage very difficult and problematic crimes and antisocial behaviour as it creeps out into communities, estates and public places. These measures will try to put a cap on such behaviour so that the quality of life for all is improved. Many of these measures serve as a signal to others that this behaviour will not be tolerated. Deterrents must be put in place to ensure such behaviour will be punished. I commend the Bill to the House.

I compliment my colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, and thank him for his ongoing work on the important Bills he has brought forward during the term of the Dáil to make our country a safer place to live in.

Fianna Fáil is seeking cross-party support for this important Bill, which proposes to increase the maximum sentence which can be imposed for carrying a knife intended to injure a person from five to ten years thereby deterring people from carrying knives. Stronger deterrents are necessary in order to cut down on the growing knife culture in Ireland, in particular among younger people. Unfortunately, it is the case that many people, in particular young men, think it is appropriate and sometimes necessary to carry knives. We need to send out a message that it is wholly unacceptable for anyone to carry knives for the purpose of inflicting harm on others, even if they think knives are necessary to defend themselves.

There is a lack of available data regarding the prevalence of knife crime in this country. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, does not release statistics relating to the incidence of crimes involving the presence of knives. It has a concern that information provided through the PULSE database would yield inaccurate or misleading results. Despite the lack of data, there is growing anecdotal evidence that a subculture has developed where carrying knives is acceptable.

In recent times, there have been a number of horrendous crimes involving knives where lives have been lost and life-altering injuries have occurred. Older people in rural areas feel especially vulnerable, in particular with the winter months and dark evenings approaching. The home of an 86-year old neighbour of mine was broken into recently. Thankfully, he was not at home. His savings were taken, his home was ransacked, bleach was poured everywhere and his home, his castle where he had lived all his life, was destroyed. There was no knife involved or face-to-face interaction, but the effects have been devastating. I can only imagine the after-effects for a person, young or old, who has been threatened by a knife. Having seen first hand how this man's life has been cruelly destroyed in his latter years because of this horrific crime, I shudder to think what would have happened if he had been faced with an attacker with a knife. This is a culture we need to stamp out, and the Bill will send out a very clear message and act as a deterrent.

Knife crime cannot be dealt with in isolation. The prevalence of drug use also has a major part to play. Tackling the country's crippling drug problem requires major reforms to our approach. Every day we hear stories of individuals, families and communities around the country that have been devastated by drugs. Drug-related harm consistently clusters in communities marked by poverty and social inequality. These communities cannot survive if this continues. Nonetheless, we should not think that drug problems are simply confined to these communities. When a person is desperate for drugs and needs money to fuel an addiction, unfortunately knife crime can be used to attack or steal from a person.

I welcome that, in recognition of the epidemic in knife crime, the Garda recently announced plans to roll out a national anti-knife awareness campaign. This is welcome, but we, as legislators, must play our role in introducing legislation which will help to tackle the increased level of knife crime.

I commend my colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, on bringing the Bill before the Dáil. We, in Fianna Fáil, stand firmly behind him and hope the Bill will progress and make life a bit safer for people around the country. This is an important Bill, in that it will increase the maximum sentence which can be imposed for the possession of a knife with intent to harm which sends out a very strong signal that it is completely wrong to carry knives and we will not tolerate knife crime in this country.

While we acknowledge that there is a lack of available data on the prevalence of knife crime in the country, we have to ask, through the joint policing committees of which we are all members, that this area is examined and details are given. In my county, Kildare, an 18-year old was stabbed in April and a woman was attacked in February. Not far from where I live in Newbridge, a 20-year old woman, Kim Amy Smith, was threatened in an incident where a knife was held up to her face and her handbag cut with a knife. Luckily, she did not fight back because she was afraid of her face being marked. No county is immune to this type of crime and the Bill should help us to tackle it.

The CSO does not release statistics relating to the incidence of crimes involving the presence of knives because it is concerned that the PULSE database would yield inaccurate or misleading results. I cannot understand why that is the case. In the past few months four people were murdered through knife crime. A number of people were hospitalised following very serious attacks, which is shocking.

I commend the Garda. Having recognised the knife crime epidemic, it has announced plans to roll out a national anti-knives awareness campaign. That is welcome, but it is not enough. We in the House, as legislators, have to play our role in terms of introducing legislation which will help to tackle the increased level of knife crime. The provisions in the Bill will help to do that.

I would like to join with other Deputies in thanking Deputy O'Callaghan for bringing this important Bill before the House and facilitating this very important debate. Everyone in the House was shocked by the tragic knife-related events which occurred earlier this year and to which colleagues opposite have referred. They highlight only too clearly the trauma and damage which can occur when knives are used during serious assaults.

All Members are conscious of the very serious impact which violent crime, particularly attacks of a random nature, has on victims and families. The Fianna Fáil Deputies who have spoken described that very well.

At an operational level, the Garda Síochána proactively targets public disorder and anti-social behaviour, including knife-related crime, through the strategic deployment of Garda resources. Unfortunately, many incidents involving knives occur with a degree of spontaneity which increases the challenges for preventative policing and enforcement.

The spirit and intention of the Bill is clear, namely, to ensure that the penalties for knife-related crime serve as a deterrent to such criminal activity. As the law stands, the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 provides a comprehensive and robust legal framework with respect to knife crime, including heavy penalties for breaches of the law concerned. The maximum penalty for an offence under subsection 9(1), namely, possession of a knife in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, was increased from one year to five years by the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. That Act also provided the Garda Síochána with an extended power of search without warrant in respect of knives and offensive weapons.

The Commissioner has advised that the Garda Síochána tackles knife crime through a tiered approach involving a rigorous enforcement policy, education and awareness-raising programmes. In addition, detective units and divisional crime task forces may be utilised to provide a high-visibility presence in areas such as late-night bars, clubs, etc., particularly when people are exiting premises, to deter and detect anti-social behaviour and possible altercations.

The number of knives seized has risen from approximately 1,200 in 2016 to 1,600 in 2017 and almost 2,000 last year, but this is an indication of increased Garda activity in tackling knife crime, as well as improvements in the recording of knife seizures. It is notable that recent media reports pointed out that the number of serious knife assault injuries recorded in Irish hospitals last year was the lowest since at least 2005. When combined with the Garda Síochána seizure data, this suggests that knife crime remains relatively low and that the Garda continues to be extremely proactive in tackling these issues. That is further evidenced by the fact that Irish Prison Service figures indicate that 34 prisoners are in custody serving a sentence on charges of possession of a knife or flick knife. Their sentences are at the lower end of the existing sentencing range, with the majority serving sentences of less than one year.

The Garda recently launched its assaults in public reduction strategy, which includes a knife crime element. It was approved by the Garda executive in August 2019 and commenced on a national basis on 2 September under the operational name Operation Soteria. The strategy has been communicated throughout the Garda Síochána for implementation between 2019 and 2021 and will be under constant progress review by local and national management. Its overall objective is to reduce the incidence of assaults in public places, including assaults involving the use of a knife or other weapon. The Garda Síochána is dealing very effectively with the issue of knife crime. However, the Government must never be complacent and the response to all aspects of criminal activity must be kept under continual review.

Deputy O'Callaghan outlined his reasons for introducing the Bill. It was introduced following several knife-related incidents earlier this year and because of the increase in the number of knives seized by the Garda Síochána. As I stated, I am of the view that the rise in knife seizures is an indication of proactive policing, with increased Garda activity in tackling knife crime arising from the additional resources which the Government has provided to the Garda Commissioner in recent years. As Deputy O'Callaghan outlined, the purpose of the Bill is to amend section 9(7), dealing with the possession of knives and other articles, of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 by increasing from five years to ten years the maximum sentence which can be imposed on a person convicted of possession of a knife under section 9(1), (4) or (5). Section 9(1) creates an offence in circumstances where "a person has with him in any public place any knife or any other article which has a blade or which is sharply pointed". Section 9(4) states: "Where a person, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse (the onus of proving which shall lie on him), has with him in any public place any flick-knife, or any other article whatsoever made or adapted for use for causing injury to or incapacitating a person, he shall be guilty of an offence." Section 9(5) provides that: "Where a person has with him in any public place any article intended by him unlawfully to cause injury to, incapacitate or intimidate any person either in a particular eventuality or otherwise, he shall be guilty of an offence."

In principle, I am open to considering the case for increased penalties for possession of knives and other similar articles. However, the Bill as drafted requires detailed consideration to ensure that the consequences of such legislative change are identified and taken into account. The five-year sentence currently provided for in the 1990 Act is in line with other sentences in the 1990 Act and comparable offences such as, for example, assault causing harm under section 3 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, which carries a penalty of five years. I note that the Deputy does not propose an increase in sentences for what appear to be more serious offences under the 1990 Act. This would mean that, on enactment of the legislation, the offences under sections 10 and 11 of the 1990 Act, namely, trespassing with a knife or other weapon made for causing injury or incapacitating a person or intended for such use, and production of an article capable of inflicting serious injury while committing or about to commit an offence or in the course of a dispute or fight, would still carry penalties of five years, resulting in an imbalance in the penalties for offences in the 1990 Act. I am also concerned that an increase in penalties for possession of a knife would be disproportionate to penalties for more serious offences such as, for example, possession of a firearm, for which a maximum sentence of up to ten years is provided.

As I stated, the Government is, in principle, open to considering the case for increased penalties for possession of knives. I acknowledge the number of fatalities arising from knife-related incidents earlier this year and sympathise with the families concerned, as do other Deputies. I am aware that several Deputies, including some speakers thus far on the Bill, have voiced concerns about such incidents. In that light, I will not oppose the Bill subject to engagement with Deputy O'Callaghan to highlight a number of difficulties with the range of penalties proposed, in addition to its being scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality with particular reference to the likely unintended consequences of the proposed amendments vis-à-vis sanctions for possession of other weapons. As the Bill provides for an increase in criminal penalties, the issue of a money message will need to be addressed in due course. In principle, it is very important to have this debate at this time and for the committee to scrutinise the Bill to identify any unintended consequences from which we can learn. The Government is happy to engage further with Deputy O'Callaghan as the Bill progresses through the Houses.

I commend Deputy O'Callaghan on bringing forward the Bill. The issue of knife crime, as well as violent crime in general, has affected communities across the country. The use of knives has had a dramatic and terrible effect on many victims and, often, the perpetrators also. As was pointed out, the perpetrator may have been intoxicated or under the influence of drugs and ended up in a terrible situation, filled with regret and remorse.

The essence of the Bill is its proposal to increase the sentence and deterrent. It is about getting people to think before they act and to recognise that they must be very careful when going to enjoy a night out. People need to think long and hard about choosing to bring an offensive weapon with them on such occasions, whether they think it is needed for defence or otherwise. In my area, there is very vibrant night life in the town of Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. A significant number of people visit the town, with many of them taking part in hen or stag parties. The town has enjoyed huge success in terms of how business owners and the Garda have worked together to provide a safe place for people to congregate and enjoy themselves on the streets or in premises. Many security staff are employed by the businesses. It is very well run and works very well. That said, there are occasional incidents although, thankfully, they have been few and far between.

We must recognise that much violent crime stems from a culture which has emerged whereby when a person or group of people go for a night out, nothing matters to them except that moment. Although it is good to live in the present moment, we must recognise that there are consequences to our actions. It is often the case that a greater degree of enlightenment or education on these issues would make a big difference to people.

I take the point made by the Minister of State regarding the sentences for crimes which may be related to knife crime and that a maximum ten-year sentence would be identical to the sentences for possession of other possibly more lethal weapons such as firearms in particular. Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that the possession and use of a knife can have terrible and dramatic consequences for people.

It warrants a dramatic increase in the sentence imposed, where appropriate. However, it is not always appropriate. We acknowledge that it applies, as is stated in the Bill, "for the possession of a knife to cause injury to, incapacitate or intimidate any person". It must be acknowledged that many people carry knives and have knives on their person for whatever job they may be engaged in. It is not always the case that a person is carrying a knife to cause injury. It comes down to the intent of people, why they carry knives and why they use them. Each case that comes before the judicial system is taken on its merits and consideration must be given to the circumstances surrounding the events that have occurred.

In the context of the Bill, it is important to shine a bright light on the relevant section of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act. At present, the maximum sentence for crimes such as those we are discussing is five years. From the limited research I have done, I understand that the maximum sentence is seldom imposed. The vast majority of sentences for the possession of knives amount to less than one year. While this legislation provides for the sentence to be at the very high end of the scale, I expect that it will be in place more as a deterrent having regard to the sentence that will be imposed if the Bill is enacted. Matters such as the pros and cons of what is proposed, the dangers involved and the consequences, unintended or otherwise, can be teased out on Committee Stage.

I note from the recently published crime figures that homicide and related offences are down 40%. That is a welcome development. It is a sign of the good work members of An Garda Síochána are doing in many areas in the context of crime prevention. Homicide is very much described as a "gangland" crime. I find that term difficult to use because I do not know of any particular land that has a gang. These gangs are groups of criminals who may reside in or have a particular territory. Decent, genuine and honest people who work hard in their communities live in those territories where such criminal activity is rife. In many ways, they are the victims of where they live. Most of that crime relates to the drug epidemic in our society. This epidemic must be tackled. We cannot deal with any of this without examining the reality that most of it stems from the drugs trade, from the massive amount of money being made from it and from those engaged in this activity and who terrorise the communities in which they live.

While the number of homicide and related offences is down, the number of sexual offences has risen. The number of attempts or threats to murder, assaults, incidences of harassment and related offences have also increased. The rise in this regard is 6.7%. This highlights that there is a problem with people who are engaging in harassment, threats and bullying in communities. We come across that. I have spoken to members of An Garda Síochána and I have been informed that people do not report incidents because they are afraid to do so. This is due to the fact that the communities in which they live are under threat from the very dangerous individuals to whom I refer. People have good reason to be afraid. A key element to resolving this matter is to ensure that nobody is ever handed down the sentence outlined in the Bill and also to ensure that we have an adequate police service that can keep people safe. To do the latter, we need a properly resourced community policing service. We all recognise that we need more gardaí on the streets meeting people, dealing with them and being a part of their local communities.

When I was growing up, everyone knew the sergeant in the town and also the local gardaí, some of whom helped train the football team. They were involved in their community and they knew about whatever was happening. This has changed and that change has been regressive. Many gardaí now do not live in their local communities. They live further away and they come and go and do not have that sense of connection. That has been disappointing for many people.

When I am in Dublin for a few nights each week, I stay in the north inner city. I am always conscious that it is an area which is marked out as having a high crime rate. Today, our party president, Deputy May Lou McDonald, raised the issue of the north inner city and the high crime rate there, which is five times the national average. While one may see a patrol car driving through that area now and again, one seldom sees a garda walking the streets or coming out of a shop and having a chat with a person they meet on the street. The reason for that is there are not sufficient numbers and officers are too busy. The force does not have the staff it needs to enable it to provide a community policing service. The provision of a such a service can be equated with the provision of the home help service in the health sector. If there were more people delivering the home help service, we would need fewer staff in hospitals. Likewise, if we had more gardaí in the community policing service, we would need fewer at the other end because the prospect of crime developing into an epidemic would be resolved at source. That is what we need to do and to do that we need to more gardaí on the streets better equipped and working in the local communities. That is central to what we need to do.

I commend Deputy O'Callaghan on introducing this Bill. We will support it. When the Bill progresses to Committee Stage, we will examine whether it needs to be tweaked. I am sure the Deputy will acknowledge that it may need to be amended. We want to develop the Bill into something that will be there for the long haul. The idea is to put in place a measure that will act as a deterrent in the context of violent crime. We do not want it to become the norm that people will be sentenced to long periods in jail for using knives; rather, we want communities in which this eventuality is not the norm. That is what we need to bring about.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I, too, commend Deputy O'Callaghan on bringing it forward. I wish to talk about my own constituency, which has been wrecked by high incidences of drug and knife crime. Both of these types of crime seriously affect the way ordinary people pursue their daily lives. Residents in the area recognise the pressures gardaí, particularly those who operate out of Coolock Garda station, are under. However, the response from the Government has been lacklustre, to put it mildly. The situation in my area has become a political football for some. On the one hand, we had Fine Gael local representatives shouting from the rooftops to constituents that a new Garda station was on the way while, on the other, the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, will not provide any extra resources to make that a reality.

The gardaí in my area are under increasing pressure. Part of that is down to the rapid population growth in and development of Clongriffin, which forms part of Dublin's north fringe. While attempts to stem the growing levels of knife crime are welcome, these are just a drop in the ocean in terms of what is required to allow people to feel safe and confident in raising their families. I call on the Government to ensure that capital funding is identified and prioritised for a new station in Clongriffin along with making more resources available for gardaí based in the constituency of Dublin Bay North. We need change in areas in which there is serious crime and not just when some Ministers see bringing such change about as an election platform.

I support the legislation. I submitted a parliamentary question on 13 November 2018 and I will give the reference number for the information of the Minister of State's officials. It was Question No. 277, reference number 46967/18. In it I asked specifically about the number of recorded knife crimes in the country. I subsequently received correspondence from the CSO, specifically from the crime and criminal justice statistics section.

It stated:

The Central Statistics Office, CSO, has taken the decision to resume publication of recorded crime statistics under a new category entitled statistics under reservation. This categorisation indicates the quality of the statistics do not meet the standards required of the official statistics published by the CSO. Please see the attached explanatory link … Knife crime would have been for crime incidents where it had been indicated that a knife was used via the modus operandi, MO, data field. The CSO would have concerns that figures generated in this way could understate the true figure and, as such, we are not happy to release such data.

There is a serious issue with the specific recording of knife crimes which the CSO has pointed out. Since I submitted my parliamentary question on 13 November 2018, which is not too far off a year ago, I hope there has been some improvement in the quality of the recording of the statistics in question. It would be useful if the Minister of State in his reply or his officials later could give me an update on this matter. If we are not dealing with real-time figures, we will not know the true extent of what is going on. We need a real picture of what is going on if we are to legislate efficiently and effectively on these matters.

As an aside, there was a Topical Issue matter before this legislation was presented. It would be a vote of confidence if line Ministers were available to take individual Topical Issue matters. It would stave off much of the tension created when they are not available. My colleague, Deputy Kelly, raised an issue concerning Tipperary.

We were not physically available to take those Topical Issue matters. I apologise for that.

I am a constituency colleague of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and I accept his response. I do not wish to score a political point on this matter. However, there is an issue in respect of the administration of justice. The Topical Issue matter referred specifically to the new operating structures of An Garda Síochána in Tipperary. It is also a major concern in north County Cork where the new divisional Garda headquarters will be moved to Macroom. Some Deputies have genuine concerns. When a Topical Issue matter is raised, it should be dealt with by the line Minister. I have stood where the Minister of State is standing now and I fully accept his explanation in this regard. I am not being political or trying to score a point. However, I wanted merely to state it for the record.

Just to clarify, neither the line Minister nor the Minister of State were available earlier, as explained by the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton.

The norm is that if the Minister or Minister of State from the relevant Department is not available to take a Topical Issue matter, the Ceann Comhairle’s office will be informed before 12 o’clock. An opportunity will then be given to the Deputy who raised the matter to defer it.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2019. This is a short Bill which will amend section 9 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990. Its key purpose is to increase the maximum sentence for knife crime from five years to ten years. I commend Deputy Jim O’Callaghan for bringing forward this legislation following four tragic deaths by knife attacks in Dublin this summer.

I have also been raising the serious issues of criminal and anti-social behaviour with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality, as well as writing directly to the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, and chief superintendents in the districts policing my constituency of Dublin Bay North. Earlier this year, the whole community in Dublin Bay North was astonished and flabbergasted after a series of murders in broad daylight. People were gunned down in cold blood, one in front of a school. A wave of terror affected the local community. Some parishes profoundly affected by these events are still trying to recover. At the time, I contacted the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality to take proactive steps. I tried to adjourn the Dáil to take an emergency debate and there were Topical Issues debates on these events in late spring and early summer. I asked the Taoiseach to look into setting up a similar commission to the Mulvey one set up for the Dublin Central constituency to deal with the desperate and dastardly crimes in certain areas of the Dublin Bay North constituency. I also called on him to deliver additional resources to hard-pressed communities.

A meeting was held to which non-Fine Gael Deputies and Ministers were not invited, which people were rightly upset about. It was the politicisation of the necessary response. I never saw that happening under previous Governments. Generally, in the past, everybody, both national and local representatives, were always invited to such meetings. The Northside Partnership, based in Coolock, was chosen to lead an overall response to this wave of serious anti-social behaviour and criminality. Although we have got small additional numbers of gardaí, we do not see the necessary impact on the ground. For example, on a walkabout last Friday, I came across a burned-out car and bits of other burned-out vehicles in an open space amenity. Residents there told me about the horrendous drug-fuelled anti-social behaviour and crime that had occurred on the previous night.

I know this year in the run-up to Hallowe'en with Brexit, we will have several dramatic weeks ahead. Every single year since I have been in politics, the run-up to the Hallowe’en festival has been an excuse for miscreants to misbehave and terrorise communities. In the Dublin north Garda divisions, we need to see continued strong response under the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris.

Garda figures have revealed an increase of 66% in knife seizures since 2016 with 1,200 seized in that year, 1,600 seized in 2017 and 2,000 seized in 2018. The Garda, of course, claims the increase in seizures is down to the increased number of personnel out on the beat. As Deputy Sherlock said, however, we need to examine the accuracy of statistics in this area. The CSO recorded crime figures for the second quarter of 2019 showed that the weapons and explosives offences increased by 6.6% from 2,427 in 2018 to 2,588 in 2019. Attempts or threats to murder, assaults, harassments and related offences also increased by 6.7% from 19,353 in 2018 to 20,656 in 2019.

In May, it was reported the CSO does not report on knife crime because of the lack of consistency in reporting on PULSE across different Garda stations. A working group was expected to report to the Garda executive in July on knife crime, seizures and assaults against the person. Has the working group completed its report? Will this legislation fit with its recommendations?

I note the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, is calling for a knife amnesty. I agree we need another weapons amnesty.

We had a weapons amnesty in the past. We had one in 2006, which the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will remember because we were both in the House at the time. That amnesty resulted in hundreds of firearms, knives and swords being handed in to An Garda Síochána. Replica firearms and a grenade were also handed in at that time. Of course, it was before the Criminal Justice Act 2006. We gave a last chance to those who had offensive weapons to bring them in.

The Taoiseach repeated this morning that he was a follower of the old Blairite policy of being tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime. It was always my policy when I was spokesperson in the Labour Party that one must deal with both. One must stop bad behaviour, anti-social behaviour and criminality, nip it in the bud before it starts or at the very earliest opportunity, and then try to put in the resources to help young people to lead normal lives.

It must be asked why young men and male teenagers carry knives and knife-like weapons. We have seen many reports from London, including a fine report recently on the BBC's "Newsnight", about the devastation that the carrying of knives is doing, particularly in south London and in other areas of the UK. Obviously, tougher penalties are necessary but we also need steps to be taken by community policing teams to increase their presence, approachability and helpfulness.

I do not know whether Deputy O'Callaghan has been in touch with anybody who represents the manufacturers of these weapons. There are manufacturers and suppliers and even people who supply these weapons on the web. Why do we need a long-bladed knife or a flick-knife? Why should such a product exist? There is a responsibility on businesses, especially in other member states of the European Union and in the UK, to address this.

As I said, we have heard many stories from the UK about increases in knife seizures and crime over a number of years. In the 12 months up to the end of March this year, there had been astonishingly more than 43,500 knife crime offences in the UK, which is 80% higher than in 2014. The 44 police forces across the UK are coming up against this major problem.

Deputy O'Callaghan's Bill is timely and important. We need to address this and deal with it as soon as possible. I commend Deputy O'Callaghan and his Fianna Fáil colleagues on coming forward with this Bill, which we should speedily enact.

We move now to the Rural Independent Group.

I commend Deputy O'Callaghan on bringing forward this important legislation and for highlighting what is a growing menace in society, namely, knife crime. I found it disturbing to hear Deputy O'Callaghan refer during his First Stage introduction of the Bill to the fact that the number of knives seized by An Garda Síochána has increased by 66% since 2016. In 2017, 1,600 knives were seized by An Garda Síochána and in 2018, 2,000 knives were seized. Clearly, the problem is getting much worse. Our response must be proportionate. We must ensure that we do not end up capturing with endless procedures those who must use or carry knives as a legitimate part of their job. That is, I suppose, part of the difficulty.

I note that the Bill before us is quite specific in that it relates to the possession of a flick-knife or any other article made or adapted for use in order to cause injury to or to incapacitate a person. That is an important distinction and I am glad it is included.

This issue, while of course about the law, is also about the culture we live in today and that we are creating. We must ask ourselves what is leading to the emergence of a more dangerous and more violent society. Why is it that an increasing number of young people feel it necessary to carry deadly weapons, such as knives? No doubt there has been a general degrading of the value of human life. We cannot pretend that this will not have an impact because it has. This is as much an educational and values issues as it is a legal one. I hope that we can bear that in mind when debating this Bill and when it goes forward to Committee Stage. We must try to gain an understanding of what in society is creating such violence and the staggering figures I quoted of the number of knives seized in the past two years. As I said, it is an educational issue.

We also need to ensure gardaí are given enough of those so-called "knife-vests" to protect themselves in the course of their duties. People in Tipperary and in many other areas are always looking for extra gardaí and extra resources. In that regard, we are badly served. I have taken issue with the removal of the district headquarters from Thurles. However, we must give the Garda the tools of the trade across a wide spectrum of issues to ensure they are able to carry out their duties without fear or favour, and that they can be safe, and that their families and loved ones will know that they are safe, when they go on duty on the front line. We must never forget that there is a thin line between them and us and they must try to protect us at all times.

Perhaps the Minister of State might confirm that this will be a part of his response to the growth of this worrying phenomenon.

I compliment Deputy O'Callaghan and his Fianna Fáil colleagues on bringing this important Bill before the House.

First, we must look at the people in control of law and order, namely, the gardaí. No member of the Garda or, for that matter, anyone else should ever have to be faced with a person in possession of a knife, whether for threatening purposes or menacing purposes, or for wanting to do harm to another person. Therefore, the law on the carrying of knives should be tightened up.

The one area I would be careful of and of which Deputy O'Callaghan is acutely aware, as are all his Fianna Fáil colleagues and all of us supporting this, is that there are categories of person who must have a knife in their pocket when they do their work. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will be aware of this. In making legislation, we must be acutely aware of that. I would go so far as to say that there are persons for whom, if they did not have a knife in their pocket when they needed it, it could result in serious harm being done to themselves. They may need to take out a knife to cut a rope holding a gate where there was problem. At home at the weekends, one would not be without a knife in one's pocket.

To cut the bale of turf.

Exactly, or to cut something that could be causing a problem.

Let us make this comparison. Why would a person walking along Grafton Street have a big knife or a dangerous knife in his or her pocket? There would be no requirement whatsoever for that. Of course, in introducing a Bill and bringing it before the House, one must be conscious of persons, such as fishermen, farmers or contractors, who might need a knife in their possession at all times, as I say, merely for the purpose of doing work and ordinary jobs for which a knife is required. We must acknowledge that and make sure we allow for that.

The message must go out, loud and clear, around Ireland that what Deputy O'Callaghan is trying to do is protect citizens. Whether it be the shopkeeper, the garda on the street or the person who may be moving money from their business, no one should be threatened by a menacing person with a knife. We must legislate to deal with such situations so that gardaí investigating crimes know the strong arm of the law will come down on those who unlawfully carry large or small knives for menacing purposes while at the same time acknowledge that they are required by others for work.

I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for bringing this important issue to the floor of the Dáil.

I am glad to get the opportunity to talk on this important Bill. I compliment Deputy O'Callaghan on bringing it forward. We hear every day of knife crime and it is on the increase. We have to ask ourselves why. Many believe that it is because of drugs and that it is used by these villains who supply and are in command of drugs and who are destroying our communities. We hear so much of it every day. I know it will be difficult for the Garda to apprehend these fellows. I believe now it is coming close to the time when the gardaí themselves have to be armed because the criminals going around now are getting more serious and are more dangerous. There seems to be more of them. In that regard, we must have ways of dealing with them and, when these fellows are apprehended, it should not be deemed to be a minor offence if they are found with dangerous knives. I was listening to the previous speakers about fellows having knives and I can tell them that my father always carried a pen knife that was certainly well edged and if he gave it to one of us he would be looking for it back. I can honestly say that for most of the time he was here he had a small pen knife in his coat pocket because he was used to having it, and would have had it at all times in his pocket. To go back to the serious aspect of knife crime, there is more of it and it is timely that we do something about it. We all support Deputy O'Callaghan's Bill and hope good will come of it because we need to protect our citizens; that is one of the reasons we are here.

I am sharing time with Deputies Donnelly and Lahart. I compliment Deputy O'Callaghan on bringing forward this important legislation. It is straightforward and specific. The purpose of the Bill is to deter the carrying of knives by increasing from five to ten years the sentence that can be imposed. It is apparent that in recent years the incidence of knives being used in crime has increased significantly. It is disappointing to learn that the CSO does not keep figures on this. That is because of issues it has around the PULSE system whereby it states the data would be inaccurate. While I have a note that clearly shows a number of people who died in Dublin in the past few months as a result of knife attacks, I do not intend putting them on the record of the House. I do not think it is fair to their families. They are known to us and we have read about them in the papers. Predominantly in Dublin, but also in other parts of the country, people have lost their lives in recent months due to serious knife attacks. If we look at the statistics that are available from An Garda Síochána, while they do not measure the crime, the Garda has talked about the knives seized and the figures have increased by about 400 seizures per annum. Deputy Broughan suggested that it might be because there are more gardaí on the streets. I beg to differ. I believe it is because there are more knives in circulation. That is a significant point.

It is my view that this legislation should be fast-tracked. It may not be our party position but it is my own strong position and view that the Bill should be also accompanied by a knife amnesty. The Garda is well aware there is a growing problem. It has established a working group to formulate a national strategy to deal with assaults against the person. An Garda Síochána has included knife crime as part of that work. The working group will monitor the prevalence and frequency of individuals carrying knives or knife-like instruments and will devise a strategy. The Garda is acutely aware of the growing issue of knives and knife crime. This legislation will act with it and it would be timely, in parallel with the legislation, that the Government would give serious consideration to implementing a knife amnesty. There is no point just increasing the penalty without the general population realising that possession of a knife is a serious offence and the sentence will reflect that.

I am also of the strong view that a lot of this is related to gangland crime associated with the drugs business. I do not think the figures will ever reflect what is going on in reality. The reality is that many young people are carrying knives. They are using them in a threatening and menacing way and I do not believe those incidents are always reflected in reports to An Garda Síochána or in the figures the Garda might have on PULSE.

I ask the Minister of State to support this actively and to see if it can be fast-tracked. We do not want to end up in the situation we have seen in the UK, which is worse than here. This Bill, accompanied by an awareness that we have now made this a much more serious offence and by an amnesty on knives to afford those who have them an opportunity to dispose of them through Garda stations, would be a comprehensive package in tackling the scourge of knife crime.

I congratulate Deputy O'Callaghan on introducing this Bill. It is one of a number of measures he is leading on behalf of Fianna Fáil to deal with some worrying changes in our society, including increases in crime, intimidation and violent crime. While the CSO does not report detailed figures on knife crime for various reasons, it is pretty clear that things are moving in the wrong direction. We can look, as various Deputies have, at the increased number of seizures, up from 1,200 to 2,000 in just two years. That is an extraordinary increase. We know that in many of these trends we follow the UK, and that it has become a most serious issue there. Everyone in this House knows, from representing our constituents, that there is an increased level of fear and of weapons being produced in violent incidents. I have been looking at this in detail for Wicklow over the last while, since I was at a joint policing committee meeting, and the figures are really worrying. Rape and sexual assaults are up by a third in one year. Burglaries are up by a third in one year. Drug sales and supply are up by a half in one year. Shoplifting is up by a half in one year. When I talk to gardaí, retailers, citizens and community groups they are saying two things again and again. The number of gardaí has been depleted to an unsustainably low level and the resources they have are unsustainably low. It is in the power of the Government to do something about that. It has to be looked at. We have a situation where we know a lot of gardaí will get pulled up to the Border region. It is entirely likely that is going to happen. We have to consider accelerating the number of gardaí we are deploying around the country and in my case out to Wicklow. I am not even going to put on the record the depletion in the numbers but it is not pretty and it has led directly to increases in crime and violent crime all over Wicklow and, I am sure, all over the country.

The second issue coming up again and again is drugs. People are telling me that they have become prevalent and that drug dealing is happening in the open in the middle of the day in a way it never has before in this country. What that says to everyone in a town or village who sees these open acts of criminality is that the State is not here to protect them and the Garda does not have the resources to protect them. If that is allowed happen, God knows what else can happen. It tells people they are not safe and none of us wants that. I am not making any political points here. No one in this House wants that to happen. I appeal to the Government that whatever its ambitions are to add more gardaí, some of which was agreed through confidence and supply, we have to go further. In some areas at least we are losing the fight and it is not a fight we can ever lose. I compliment Deputy O'Callaghan and hope the Government will not just accept but champion this Bill and bring it forward. It does something very reasonable. It does not set a mandatory sentence of ten years; it provides that the maximum sentence can be up to ten years. We need to send out a strong signal that it is not okay to walk around this country carrying deadly weapons with the intent to hurt, maim and stab people.

I join my colleagues in commending Deputy O'Callaghan for bringing this legislation forward. I wish to share with the House some correspondence that I entered into with the Garda Commissioner's office on foot of the Christchurch, New Zealand massacre regarding the use of semi-automatic weapons.

I put down a few questions and got comprehensive replies. I asked initially when legislation was last introduced concerning firearms and, given it has been ten years, it is timely we are looking at these offensive weapons. I again commend my colleague on allowing us the opportunity to do this.

One of the questions I asked was how many semi-automatic centre-fire rifles - that is, larger calibre, military-style rifles - are currently licensed in this jurisdiction and how many semi-automatic rifles in smaller calibres such as .22 are currently licensed. I was told that a new category of firearms certificate, namely, a restricted firearms certificate, was introduced in the legislation in 2009. Of the approximately 53,408 rifles currently licensed in the State as of May this year, only 263 fall into the restricted category. The majority of these 263 restricted rifles are predominantly licensed for the purpose of recreational target practice at authorised shooting ranges, which are very strictly regulated. The point is that these are the types of weapons that were used in the Christchurch attacks in New Zealand. As I said, the majority of these 263 restricted rifles are licensed for the purposes of recreational target practice. However, I am told these firearms are not kept or stored in clubs and the individual owner brings these rifles to the clubs. For the remainder of the time, they are kept in the private possession of the individual owner. This is exactly what happened in Christchurch. They are free to access them at any time, as was the case with the perpetrator of the New Zealand assault. They are military-style, high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons and have no real application in a sporting sense. While it may seem a small figure, there are more than 260 of them in the hands of individuals in Ireland. I believe they should not be just regulated or restricted; they should be banned.

The final question I asked was in regard to whether gun licence holders have to undergo any form of mental health vetting or Garda vetting prior to being licensed and, if so, what is the nature of such vetting. The Minister of State might clarify that point. The general answer I get is that each application for a firearms certificate is considered on its individual merits by an issuing person, so there does not seem to be any great series of hoops a person who has one of these has to go through. That ought to be looked at, possibly in the context of this Bill and, if necessary, there should be further restrictions or tightening. It seems to be at the discretion of the issuing person involved. The Minister might take on board some of those suggestions.

I want to deal with some of the points that were raised. With regard to the CSO statistics on knife crime, while it is true the CSO does not currently record the statistics on knife crime, it is hoped the improved Garda IT system will mean the recording will meet CSO standards. The recording of knife crime statistics is also being considered by a high level working group.

In regard to issues of Government policy on Garda numbers, as the House is aware, the Government is totally committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, to provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. The evidence of this commitment is not difficult to find. Since the reopening of the Garda College in 2014, almost 2,400 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide. This accelerated recruitment of gardaí saw Garda numbers reach almost 14,000 by the end of 2018, 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 in 2019, an increase of more than €100 million on the 2018 allocation. This substantial investment will provide new and cutting-edge technology to support front-line gardaí in carrying out their work in both rural and urban areas.

The programme for Government underlines the need for close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities, and this is an essential feature of the strong community policing ethos which has long been central to policing in this jurisdiction. As part of the overall strategy to tackle criminality, the Garda authorities pursue a range of partnership initiatives with important rural-based organisations such as the IFA, Muintir na Tire and other community organisations. These partnerships are very valuable and I want to thank the organisations involved.

The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, has listened to all of the interventions from Deputies. While knife crime accounts for a small percentage of total assaults, nonetheless, I know it can have serious and devastating consequences for families. The Government's response to crime is focused on two main objectives, the first being investment in the Garda Síochána. As mentioned earlier, a new nationwide initiative has been put in place by the Garda to reduce the number of assaults and fear of assaults, and to make public places safer. This is a multi-strand operation, with a pro-arrest, early intervention, proactive, high-visibility policing focus. The second objective is the strengthening of the law, where it is necessary to do so. In that regard, the Minister is open to considering the case for increased penalties for the possession of knives and other offensive weapons and, as such, we do not oppose Deputy O'Callaghan's Bill, on which we compliment him. We will engage with him in regard to the range of penalties proposed.

Like others, I want to compliment Deputy O'Callaghan. Any time I have approached him on any issue, but particularly on this issue, he has always had a listening ear. It is long past time this issue was addressed. I have spoken about the need for mandatory sentencing for those convicted of causing incapacity, or injuring or intimidating, with the use of a knife, who should face the full rigour of the law. I welcome this Bill and the clauses to increase the fines and sentences imposed for offences committed.

I have always said the punishment must fit the crime. We have heard here this afternoon from my colleagues about the current figures for crime, in particular knife crime, across the country. Outside of the capital, Louth ranks as above average in crime rates, and this is not just attributable to what is going on in the drug feud in Drogheda. On 12 August 2019, we witnessed the barbaric stabbing in Blackrock of Donie Lynch, a 93 year old, innocent man going about his business, who was badly injured and had to spend a long time in hospital in recovery. His wife was also present and was terrorised. Donie is a good friend of mine. It is awful to reach the old age of 93 and to be attacked in such a vicious way. Perpetrators of such crimes have absolutely no conscience and need further deterrence. When I see incidences like this in my own locality, I believe stronger sentences should be mandatory where conviction occurs.

This is not an isolated case, and other Deputies have spoken about the situation in their constituencies. On 30 August 2019, a man in Oakland Park, Dundalk, was stabbed in the back. On 26 August 2019, a man was arrested in Ashbrook Park, Dundalk, with a knife found in his possession. On 18 September 2018, a young woman in Dundalk died following a stabbing incident. On 4 January 2018, Yosuke Sasaki, a young Japanese man working in Dundalk, was stabbed to death on Avenue Road, Dundalk. It is a small town but this is comparable with what is going on in Dublin in terms of its population. Only last week, there was a vicious attack on a garda in Dundalk, where his face was slashed not with a knife but with a garden trowel which, equally, is an offensive weapon when used for the wrong reasons. These crimes are causing serious concern to my constituents and they all happened within a few kilometres of where I live. All of this is coupled with the ongoing feud in Drogheda, which has seen 76 incidents. People in my constituency want to see greater punishment for these criminal offences.

The purpose of the Bill is to deter people from carrying knives by increasing the maximum sentence for knife crime, and I welcome that. It is a no-brainer, and I hope it will deter when implemented. There is a knife crime epidemic, as can be seen from what I have outlined in respect of my locality, which is a microcosm of what is happening elsewhere. These deterrents need to be strengthened.

I will outline what the granddaughter of Donie Lynch stated after her grandfather was stabbed:

The person who did this has robbed my grandparents of security, peace of mind and quality of life. It takes decades to get over something like this, but at their age, they don't have long. How desperately sad this is after having such a wonderful long life together to be forced to live in fear, think twice before opening the door, worry and feel anxiety [that they do not need] in their final years.

She concluded by saying, "I really really really hope the Judiciary take this very human aspect into consideration when making any decision in knife offence crimes that come before them."

I am glad to hear that the Government will not oppose the Bill and that we can send out a united message from the House condemning knife crime, ensuring that our voices are in unison and that the offenders will face the full rigours of the law. I welcome the introduction of an amnesty not just for knives but for all offensive weapons. People should be given an opportunity to hand in such weapons.

I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for bringing forward the Bill, which aims to increase the penalty for the carrying of a knife for criminal purposes. Knife crime is a serious and growing crime. The message needs to go out from here that the carrying of a knife for criminal purposes is not acceptable and that anyone who does so will suffer the consequences. There is a serious culture of knife crime in the UK and, regrettably, there is a growing culture here too, albeit only beginning. The UK experience is that knife crime is contagious: when some people begin to carry knives, others feel they need to carry them as well. This is why this culture needs to be stopped now. Young people must be turned away from crime through early intervention with appropriate supports. For young people we need a meaningful public health approach that can address knife crime and its causes. UK research highlights that young people who use knives often believe they are carrying knives for self-defence purposes. They fear being the victim of bullying or attacks. Very often, however, such a situation ends up in tragic circumstances for others and for themselves. Whatever the reason, there must be no tolerance of knife crime.

This Fianna Fáil Bill, which increases the penalty for knife crime from five years to ten years, will send out a very strong message but will not solve the problem alone. The greatest deterrent is not the length of a sentence but the belief that one will be caught. The problem today is that many criminals do not fear being caught. This is why we need to see more community policing, more boots on the ground and an increased Garda presence on the streets and in our housing estates. People are entitled to feel safe in their homes, in their places of work and while out and about doing their business. Increasingly, they do not feel safe. Young people are often afraid to go out; older people are afraid to stay in. Let us all work together to make people feel safer.

I will finish by highlighting the victims of knife violence. We need to think about victim support for those who are the subjects of attacks and those who witness attacks. The scars of a knife attack, both physical and mental, can stay for a very long time - long after the assault, long after any court case and long after the perpetrator has served any sentence.

I thank all the Members who contributed to the debate. It has been very beneficial. I note what the Minister of State said and some of his suggestions. We will give consideration to what he said. It is appropriate that the legislation is not steamrolled through but we will give it consideration when it comes before the Committee on Justice and Equality.

Many Members spoke about the fact that there is a deficiency in our statistics. We need to look at that. It would be beneficial if we had accurate information on the use of knives in assaults, which at present we do not have.

The Minister of State referred to sections 10 and 11 of the 1990 Act and said there may be an anomaly if the offences under those sections were left with penalties of up to five years and we were to increase the penalty for knife crime to up to ten years. We can look at that and would be happy to take the Minister of State's comments on board by also amending the penalties for the offences under sections 10 and 11 of the 1990 Act.

A number of colleagues spoke about the necessity to send out a message that this is a deterrent to people carrying knives. That is an important contribution.

A number of colleagues spoke about a knife amnesty. I think this would be a good idea, but if there is to be an amnesty for something, there must be a more severe deterrent for people who do not abide by or avail of the amnesty. This is why I think, as Deputy Curran said, this legislation would be very useful if accompanied by an amnesty. The two elements would probably complement each other.

I am conscious that my colleagues from the Rural Independent Group mentioned that people sometimes need to carry knives for a lawful purpose. I fully accept that. The purpose of this legislation is to deal with a specific crime, which is the carrying of a knife for the purpose of inflicting damage and harm on another person. The legislation would, therefore, not apply to the circumstances Deputy Michael Healy-Rae mentioned when he talked about the fisherman who would need to carry a knife. Obviously, such a person is not affected by this legislation in the slightest.

I thank Members for their contributions. They reflect a concern in our society about the growing levels of assault and what we hear anecdotally about the increased use of knives.

Question put and agreed to.