Community Policing: Presentations.

I welcome the representatives of the Nenagh Community Reparation Project, including Ms Carolle Gleeson, the co-ordinator, and Ms Alice Brislane, the chairperson.

Ms Alice Brislane

I am chairperson of the Nenagh Community Reparation Project and Ms Carolle Gleeson is a probation and welfare officer and co-ordinator of the project. She is responsible for this presentation.

Ms Carolle Gleeson

Does the Chairman require me to read my presentation?

I would like Ms Gleeson to focus on the principal points she feels should be emphasised to the committee. The committee members will read the presentation in its entirety.

Ms Gleeson

The project seeks to harness moral resources and local knowledge in identifying and prioritising concerns surrounding problems of crime, disorder and crime prevention within the community. It is a power-sharing project involving a partnership in which the community and police work together to address the underlying factors leading to serious problems associated with crime.

The idea is that the offender is reformed and reintegrated into the community. Healing is sought rather than retribution. It is important to stress that the model does not seek to replace the traditional justice system. The benefits of the model are considerable. It has the potential to intervene early to prevent people going off the rails — one should excuse this colloquialism but I believe we all know what it means — and doing harm to victims, the community and themselves. The model provides victims with an understanding of the offender, which removes much of the fear, while giving them the satisfaction that justice is served. The model also provides offenders with a sense that the legal process actively seeks to be helpful and has treated them fairly. This is very important to our project. It is most important that the community be empowered, that it have a real input, that its voice be heard and that it have the capacity to shoulder responsibility for both the offender and victim.

The committee will probably be aware of the background to the Nenagh Community Reparation Project because my predecessor, Donal Hurley addressed it. I will not elaborate on it unless any member is unfamiliar with the way in which we work. Suffice it to say that whereas the normal justice system defines crime as breaking the law or offending against the State, restorative justice focuses on crime as an injury or wrong done to persons or the community. It encourages the victim and offender to be directly involved in resolving any conflict through dialogue and negotiation. The victim and offender become central to the process. We are all aware that the retribution model of justice is focused on punishment and deterrents whereas restorative justice is concerned with the harm done to the victims and the community through a process of dialogue, mediation, negotiation, victim empowerment and reparation.

Since its inception we have sought to directly involve both the community, the Garda and the probation and welfare service along with any other relevant stakeholders in a joint enterprise. Our management committee has representatives from all stakeholders and the Garda and the probation and welfare service, with the voluntary community representatives are directly involved in the reparation process, which includes the referrals and the panel meetings. This forms the core of our work.

It is a partnership that is instrumental in resolving the types of problems many communities experience. We all hear in the media about drugs and alcohol abuse which leads to violence and criminal damage, assaults due to poor self-control and the influence of drugs or drink, criminal damage and neighbourhood disputes. Our project has sought to facilitate the offender in addressing the offending behaviour and the problems of addiction or anger control, which may have been a contributing factor in their offending.

We have some statistics that I will not go through in detail but, in a nutshell, we have had a total of 63 offenders from June 1999 to September 2004. Members may cast their eyes over the statistics but at the end of the document we say we have had a success rate of 84% with first-time offenders. Criticism has been levelled at the choice of first-time offenders in the initial stages of the project. I would argue that it was a valid choice, especially in the early days because it proved to be a way of dealing with very serious issues underlining the offences. The offences might have been public order offences, assault, criminal damage, possession of drugs, theft or possession of an offensive weapon but underlying all those were very serious problems of both alcohol and drug addiction, to say nothing of self-control.

On the contracts, I have been in this project for about 18 months and I built on the marvellous groundwork of my two predecessors. We have had a revision of some of the practices, the first of which concerns the contract. It is a two-part document requiring, first, the offenders to address the issues which contributed to their offending behaviour and, second, to make reparation to the community. Members will see that some of the tasks have been quite good, in particular the young man who decided to give up his own holiday week to help a disabled group. Other tasks involved window boxes and helping in tidy towns projects etc. Since September there have been even more innovative suggestions to make reparation to the community.

We recently commissioned an evaluation of the project up to September 2004 and participants in the project made comments. They found it quite worthwhile for the following reasons: lack of a criminal record; more knowledge of the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol; the freedom to travel, in particular to America and Australia; a second chance; and an opportunity to make reparation. We should make no mistake that making reparation was very important to some people. They knew they had done wrong and they wanted to be punished for it. Other reasons included punishment without conviction; a chance to pay for one's crime; and an easier way for them to sort out problems.

There are strict criteria for a successful contract, namely, genuine remorse and a commitment to addressing the issues underlying their offending behaviour. The court is notified if the panel is not satisfied with their attitude and if they are not suitable or have not completed the contract.

On the question of community volunteers, it is a community based initiative that is wholly dependent on the consent, good will and participation of community members. It is to their eternal credit that they have chosen to become engaged in such a service whereby they endeavour to work from within the community with problems that emerge from that community. They give their services entirely free of charge to the project and reject the "not in my back yard" syndrome by adopting this approach. For this reason, the project has been able to operate on a very small budget of €30,000 per annum.

Volunteers come from a wide cross-section of the community and include the families of previous offenders. We now have a total of 14, four of whom are newly appointed. We recognise that to fully understand the task they are asked to undertake there must be both training and nurturing from our management group. To this end, in the past year we have commenced a series of training evenings combined with a social aspect. This enables the panel members to meet and discuss cases and issues arising from their participation in a confidential setting. As it was explained to me, it is difficult to sit in on a panel. Various issues arise but one knows it is confidential and that one cannot talk to anyone else about it. It is something these people need to get off their chest and these evenings are essential in providing them with that support. We also use these meetings to plan for future training needs according to how they see their needs.

This project would not be possible without the initiative and support of the Judiciary, the continuing participation by the Garda and funding by the probation and welfare service. It is an excellent example of the community, in the real sense of the word, working together for a common goal.

Thank you, Ms Gleeson. That was an interesting and informative presentation.

I thank Ms Gleeson for her most interesting presentation. I was interested to hear that Judge Michael Reilly was involved in the initiation of the project. He was the district judge in my area in Limerick and would have had to deal with these types of offences on a daily basis. His was one of the busiest courts in the land. Has Ms Gleeson's project been replicated anywhere else throughout the country or internationally?

Ms Gleeson

Last year, I was fortunate to attend the conference in Budapest where I met a man called Uri — I cannot remember his surname — who was a professor at the Hebrew university. They have used this model, and also use the probation and welfare service as a way of settling conflicts and problems within the Arab, Jewish and Israeli communities. They do not include the Palestinians. They found that bringing people from these two communities together in a reparation process was extremely useful in settling conflicts. It gave members of the community confidence in having the ability to deal with their own problems. That project is still in its early stages and is extremely interesting. I cannot remember the surname of person to whom I spoke there but I recall having three long conversations with him. He was particularly interested in our project.

Another project about which I have read is used in some areas of Northern Ireland. Neither the Garda nor the probation and welfare service is involved in communities there. Apparently, it was thought that this project might be a useful way to turn particular groups away from punishment beatings by involving the community in such a reparation process. I am advised that some successes were achieved, although I do not have a great deal of information on it. Details are listed on the relevant website, which I skimmed through.

It has a resonance with the recent events that have taken place in Northern Ireland. Is Ms Gleeson aware of whether the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the probation and welfare service have examined the project and propose to use that model in other urban areas throughout the country?

Ms Gleeson

No, I am not aware of a proposal to use it in any other areas. Both Ms Brislane and I have spoken to a number of groups which asked if they could talk to us about it. There is interest in it among people in various areas of the country.

As the project deals with offenders and different categories of offences, I imagine project organisers have built up a bank of knowledge as to the causes of crime, as they learn about it almost first-hand from the offenders. Do they use that bank of knowledge for any other purpose? Do they pass it on to the local authority, the Garda or any other statutory agencies with a view to understanding why people engage in such anti-social behaviour?

Ms Gleeson

The Garda has been involved with us from the beginning. It takes part in the panel meetings. It is as aware as we are of the problems. For example, an offender is asked to explain the circumstances which got him or her into the situation and what he or she thinks was the reason behind that. There is always a representative from the Garda at a panel meeting. Since I came on board, I have sought to keep records and we are starting to compile statistics, which hopefully can be checked in the future to ascertain that, for example, X number of cases were due to drink-related offences, etc.

If somebody comes before the District Court on an offence of assault or criminal damage or a public order offence, does the judge give the offender the option to avail of the Probation Act or community service or does the judge refer the offender to the project?

Ms Gleeson

It is done at a non-statutory level. It is only by the good grace of Judge Michael Reilly that the project is operating in Nenagh. It is unfortunate that when he is away, visiting judges would not normally use the project. We try to overcome that by saying referrals could come from the solicitors and the Garda. That has been tried but has yet to be tested.

As a number of members are offering, I ask Ms Gleeson to note members' questions and to reply to them together.

It is interesting to hear from those engaged in a restorative justice programme which, from the figures presented, appears to be working. I have heard from colleagues in the North about such projects, about problems they experienced in getting them up and running effectively and about how time-consuming that can be. One or two of my friends travelled to South Africa to meet those engaged in such programmes there. There was a facility for people to travel to South Africa to avail of training in a community restorative justice programme dealing with problems in the townlands.

Nine people referred to the programme refused to co-operate. In such circumstances, are they referred back into the system?

Ms Gleeson

The judge would deal with that.

I might remind Ms Gleeson that it was agreed she would reply at the conclusion of questions.

Of those nine offenders, it was repeat offenders, in the main, who refused to co-operate. Is there a reason it is mainly repeat offenders who would refuse to do so? Are they happy to go to jail or take their punishment?

How long are the participants involved in the programme? How long after participants have completed the programme does the project team keep in touch with them to check if they re-offend?

I welcome Ms Brislane and Ms Gleeson and I thank them for their presentation. As Deputy Hoctor is forever singing their praises, we know all about them. Their reputations have well preceded them.

I have a number of questions. At what stage does the intervention takes place? Is it at the stage that an offender comes before the court that a decision is made by the judge that an offence has taken place and that the person is found guilty that the judge then decides — in consultation with the project organisers — that he will refer the offender to the project? Is that how an offender is referred or what consultation process takes place?

What training did the representatives undergo? Is there training available in restorative justice work? The project is based on community goodwill and is a community-based initiative. How is that reflected or what consultation takes place with the community? Are people fully supportive of the type of project work that takes place in the community?

This type of project is not precisely the subject with which we are dealing; we are dealing with community policing. This project operates at a different stage, namely, that involving a court hearing when an offence has taken place. Have the representatives had a chance to read the section in the legislation dealing with community policing? Do they recognise any linkage between their project and the community policing proposals?

I will be brief. I welcome my colleagues from the Nenagh Community Reparation Project. They are not strangers here as they have appeared before the committee previously.

I wish to make two points. This project is an example of what happens when a community and the local Garda Síochána work well in co-operation with the local Judiciary, which initiated this project, and the statutory bodies and other organisations, including Victim Support, working among the community in Nenagh. The project is relevant to the involvement of the community at local authority level in this respect, which is being proposed in the Garda Síochána Bill. Perhaps the representatives would comment on the call to give statutory recognition to this project.

We welcome the comments made by delegates from the probation and welfare service, who came before the committee previously. They indicated that a significant number of judges have approached the probation and welfare service and sought more information on this project. The judges have expressed an interest in learning more about it, which is encouraging. The project has been successful and cost effective. It is run on a budget of approximately €35,000 per annum. To date, approximately 65 offenders have stayed out of jail, fulfilled their contracts and been reintegrated into their communities with no instances of recidivism. The Minister will have to give serious consideration to granting the project statutory recognition.

I understand Deputy Hoctor was the chairperson of this organisation at one stage.

That is correct.

Does Ms Brislane wish to respond?

Ms Brislane

Ms Gleeson will deal with most of the questions. With regard to community goodwill, we have the support of the community and recently we received a good deal of publicity on local radio and in newspapers. We do not have a problem getting volunteers from the community. Everybody feels it is an excellent way of treating offenders.

Ms Gleeson

The people who failed the contract were those who did not turn up, did not make any contact with us or said they were going to do X, Y and Z but did not do them. As co-ordinator, I monitored what happened and, at the next court sitting, I informed the judge that the person had failed.

A question was asked about repeat offenders. This year, we have moved up a notch. Thanks to my predecessors, the project was built on firm foundations. We are now dealing with more serious offenders — people who have criminal records and those who have committed more serious offences. We believe we are on firm ground and that we can move to this area. Where repeat offenders complete the contract but then proceed to re-offend, the offence tends to be fairly minor from what I have seen so far. I have not seen any serious convictions which, for example, resulted in the person being sent to prison.

With regard to keeping in contact after they have completed their contract, our service has limited resources. I am a working as a probation officer as well and it should be borne in mind that the community gives its services free of charge. The process concludes at the end of the contract. As far as I am concerned, we refer them to appropriate services where they can get help.

As regards training, the volunteers have so far been given talks and presentations by addiction counsellors and anger management counsellors. I am due to give a presentation on restorative justice in the next couple of weeks. Two years ago, three of our personnel went to Tallaght and undertook training in mediation.

There was a question about the new police Bill. The probation and welfare service and this project have always co-operated with the Garda and I anticipate no change in that regard in future. If this project was on a statutory footing, it would be another option for judges, similar to community service or community sanction. It would be an excellent option for judges. We often hear about judges using the poor box as a sanction but that does not address the underlying problems of, for example, people convicted of public order offences.

Ms Brislane

This is a team effort. As with most teams, the strong people are down the middle. While we in the community are doing our bit, the probation and welfare service is doing wonderful work in this area. Deputy Hoctor spoke about this being put on a statutory footing. The probation and welfare service is crucial in this. We knew nothing about these people until the emergence of this project. The judge referred people to the probation and welfare officer and we did not know who they were. The contribution of the probation and welfare service is unbelievable. It is a community project and everybody thinks it is great but the people in the service are the people down the middle. They have a lovely ethos which they bring to dealing with both offenders and victims. Hopefully, the project will be put on a statutory footing but the probation and welfare service personnel are central to it.

I thank the committee for this opportunity to address it.

It is a great model and it has developed well. It is important that the victim is put at the centre of things, which is the case with this model. I hope it will be used further throughout the country. We are grateful to the members of the delegation. The presentation was excellent and it will be helpful to us when compiling our final report. I thank the delegation.

I now welcome the representatives of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, Mr. Robert Berney, Mr. Mark Fielding and Mr. Jim Curran, the representatives of The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland, Mr. Seán Murphy and Ms Pauline Dooley, and the representatives of the Small Firms Association, Mr. Pat Delaney and Ms Avine McNally.

I thank our guests, in their capacity as representatives of business — particularly small and medium enterprises and small firms — for coming before the committee to provide it with assistance and to make a contribution on behalf of their sector, which has an important role to play in terms of community policing. I am sure we will be better informed when we have listened to their contributions. I will ask them to make a presentation to the committee and we will then engage in dialogue with the various groups on the effect on business of community policing. I ask Mr. Berney to introduce his colleagues and to make a presentation.

Mr. Robert Berney

I thank the Chairman. I am accompanied by Mark Fielding, chief executive, and Jim Curran, director of research. I am chairman of ISME. We welcome the opportunity to address this committee. We believe the small business agenda has an important role to play in any community. The issues which affect small business affect the community in general, so we believe it is relevant that we should be included.

In general, there are very few statistics available to show the effect of crime or lack of law on small business. ISME, in common with a number of other organisations, has conducted various surveys. Over 50% of our members, who are representative of the small business community, have suffered crime of some form in the past 12 months. Four in five retailers have suffered crime in the past 12 months. An alarming figure was that 23% of our members who suffered crime did not bother to report it to the police. I will discuss the reasons for this later.

The cost to business of crime comes under various headings, including direct security measures, security guards, alarms, monitoring, etc. It is a huge cost and the average is over €10,000 per business in direct costs. We have no idea of the impact of the loss on small businesses. That is the hidden figure. We believe there is a further loss, namely, the loss of motivation among people running businesses. If they operate in an environment of continuous crime or the threat of crime, it is demotivating. It leads to disillusionment and, in some cases, the closure of businesses.

The other issue which alarms small business owners is the growth of protection rackets. We have no idea of the cost of such rackets which are prevalent in most urban areas. The growth of vigilantism and the number of criminal groups involved in such activity is alarming.

As far as community policing is concerned, we would like to concentrate our efforts on the activities of gardaí in communities, who we regard as the primary drivers of any form of community policing. We would like to see a visible presence of gardaí on the streets in communities. They are a source of advice on crime prevention and of information and they are also a mechanism for promoting the crime prevention function of most Garda stations. They also promote the attitude of respect towards the police. If they are seen in the community, there is opportunity to build respect. A lack of respect is a very poor feature. In some rural areas, there is such a low Garda presence that there is a local sport called "Garda watch" where information about the local squad car is passed from rural community to rural community to allow various forms of late night activity to take place.

What we believe is needed is an increase in the number of gardaí on the streets in communities. We want to see a more effective use of their time and less administration, less involvement in court work, if possible, and certainly fewer red herrings in terms of public relations outcomes. Certain areas have been denuded of Garda stations. There are no Garda stations in many rural areas. This is a cause of growing lawlessness.

We cannot leave this issue without considering the legal system. The concept that a person caught red-handed in the act of stealing can be released on bail and returned to the community within hours is alarming. Many other jurisdictions would not suffer this. The concurrent sentencing of criminals is not a disincentive to commit further crime while on bail. Delays in court procedures and in producing reports from the Director of Public Prosecutions are all disincentives as far as the Garda is concerned. We would like more closed circuit television systems to be used in communities which have a proven criminal presence. By all accounts, CCTV has worked in the Limerick area. We would like to see services delivered locally in the community. That means proximity of Garda stations to places where people live, where business is being conducted, etc. That could then facilitate the involvement of local police in local communities.

There is a danger of a descent into general lawlessness in certain parts of the country. We do not want what happened in Northern Ireland, where there was an absence of law in certain areas, to happen here.

I thank Mr. Berney. I welcome Mr. Seán Murphy and Ms Pauline Dooley.

Mr. Seán Murphy

I am head of public affairs with The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland and Ms Pauline Dooley is our research and policy executive who supports, for example, our retail crime council which we have established with CCI and which may well want to present to the committee at some stage in the future.

We represent 12,000 businesses on the island of Ireland, including 59 chambers, two of which are across the Border. We have much interest in and understanding of issues of community policing in both parts of this island. In addition, I sit on the community CCTV project board for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform which is looking at rolling out CCTV in communities which do not have it in place. The chambers, at local level, are very strongly supportive of this initiative. For example, Roscommon Chamber of Commerce, which sits in Roscommon town, has no full-time executive and has raised €75,000 to fund a CCTV system in the town and is working in partnership with the town council on the ducting side. The town council put up the ducting but Roscommon Chamber of Commerce put up the money to put these cameras in place. We are very much involved in delivering solutions in this area and we are very supportive of it.

I wish to go over our views on community policing and what is required and then give our views on Chapter 4 of the proposed Bill. We support community policing in principle. However, we have a number of concerns regarding the role of the proposed liaison committees and a number of clauses in the proposed legislation which we would like to articulate. There is a tendency of the business voice to be drowned out in entities involving the community. A prime example is the county development boards, which are about developing counties' economies and building the ability of counties to generate wealth and taxes. The business voice on county development boards is, typically, one of 15, although the business community is a vital element in developing the county. This is an issue in the legislation, namely, that the business community must have its voice weighted and heard in the context of giving the response of business to this vital community policing issue in the future.

We must recognise that gardaí have limited time and many responsibilities. We would be concerned that, in some of the legislation, there are allusions to other liaison bodies involving the Garda. The CCI view would be that if we are expending all this effort and energy now on this legislation, let us subsume all other forms of community involvement and interaction with the Garda into this liaison structure. Why should, for example, a hassled chief superintendent in Terenure be obliged to liaise with five different levels of community involvement on policing in his local area. For example, in Tallaght the then chief executive of South Dublin Chamber of Commerce, who is now CCI chief executive, had to travel into Terenure where the superintendent had to speak to many such people. Ideally, there should be only one such level of interaction.

We need to address the causes of anti-social activity and crime at the community level. One of the many causes is binge drinking. Typically, crime is a young man's profession and alcohol tends to have a significant impact in that regard. The business community has issues on policing the matter and how it is done. In our presentation to the committee, we note equality officer decision DEC-S2003-142, where the Equality Tribunal fined the Castle Inn, Rathfarnham, for ambiguity over recognising the age and identity of a person who was over 18 and not serving that person on Christmas Eve 2004. According to the actual judgment, there was ambiguity as to when the owner or manager of the pub should ask for the ID and how it should be done. The person in question did not have the universal ID card introduced in recent times and the bar owner, therefore, stated "If you do not have that, I should not have to police your age. Essentially, it is your loss."

We need a culture where people expect to be asked for ID to confirm their age and are expected to have ID cards if they are between the ages of 16 to 20 or 22. It is an issue, for example, in Massachusetts where the legal age for drinking alcohol is 21 and where people aged 24 and 25 carry their passports. The same applies in San Francisco.

We, as a society, have a substantial problem with binge drinking, of which we all are well aware. Ireland is the third highest consumer of alcohol per person in the world. The average Irish man or woman drinks ten and a half litres of pure alcohol per year and that has definite impacts on anti-social activity, from petty vandalism through to crime, damage to cars and shops and the smashing of windscreens and windows in town centres. It is a substantial issue that we need to address.

One of our other concerns or observations is that this anti-social activity, of which we all are aware, has always been with us but that we traditionally exported it. Our young did their drinking, fighting and all other associated anti-social activities not here but in London, Manchester, Boston and New York. With the demise of emigration, we are seeing much more of it in this context. Perhaps our understanding of it and maybe even the statistics about our alcohol consumption are being skewed by the fact that so many of our young people are now drinking alcohol in Ireland as opposed to doing so abroad.

The CCI has issues with crime against business and its impacts. Like others, we have some research about the impact of other forms of petty criminality like shoplifting. In the retail business, it is known as shrinkage. The latter is the difference between the value of goods when they arrive in the warehouse of a shop and their value when they are totted up after sale in the shop. Shrinkage losses in Irish businesses would typically amount to about 5% of sales, which is approximately two and a half times the UK benchmark. On-shelf availability of stock in shops is limited because owners are constrained as a result of shoplifting. Irish store managers spend approximately one third of their time managing shrinkage, whereas managers in the UK devote approximately one fifth of their time to such activity. In the region of two and a half times more money is spent on security guards in this State than in the UK and for each unit stolen, nine need to be sold in order to recoup the loss.

There are a number of different issues behind this. We live in a post-colonial society which regards the law as that of somebody else. We are only maturing in this regard. We have an issue with comparisons in prices between goods sold across the Border and those sold here. The substantial amounts of shoplifting and lack of dealing with that issue, and the fact that one needs to sell nine additional goods to recoup the loss of one, perhaps indicate why there is price differential in goods sold in the South and in the North. This is only alluded to slightly by the retailers and shoppers in this country but it is a substantial fact that we need to address. It is about maturing as a society in respect of binge drinking and also in terms of seeing petty criminality as a substantial cost on business.

There is another issue, namely, churning at policing level, which arises. The Morris tribunal has highlighted the issue of taking ownership of the crime statistics in a local area, particularly at the superintendent and perhaps even the chief superintendent level. The Minister is in favour of having superintendents sit for a four-year period in order that they take responsibility for the crime statistics in their areas. If a superintendent is in and out of an area in an 18-month or two-year period, it is harder to be responsible but also to take responsibility for criminality in his or her area. The CCI would argue that is another issue at the policing level that needs to be addressed. Without leadership being in place, it will always be difficult to execute real actions against criminality and crime, both petty and anti-social.

The CCI wishes to raise with the committee a number of comments on the Garda Síochána Bill 2004. May I refer to the individual sections?

Yes. However, I ask Mr. Murphy to be as brief as possible.

Mr. Murphy

On section 31(1), we wish to be consulted on the guidelines, as per our involvement with strategic policy committees and county development boards where we would have a direct impact. On section 31(2), CCI does not foresee the need for any other joint policing committees. As stated earlier, these should be subsumed by this new entity. In addition, recognising partnership as essentially the voice of business at local level, we would act — we have done so in the past — as the facilitators for the business community input into entities such as county development boards and we would also be willing to do so at the crime council level.

On section 31(2)(k), funding for these committees must be additional to the current budgets of local authorities. We do not need to see capital provided by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It needs to be ongoing and continual because yet another administrative function is being abrogated to county councils, which is not fair on them, and it will default to the business community, by way of rates, if it is not funded adequately for the future. We would add that, as the committee will probably be aware, the local business community contributes one euro in three in current expenditure and approximately one euro in five in capital expenditure by local authorities and we are sensitive about this.

Section 32(2) seeks too many inputs. The purpose of the group should to incorporate four of those mentioned in this clause. It is about having one unified community voice communicating with the police. The CCI would urge, under section 34, that all deliberations and all submissions to the Garda should be published.

I thank Mr. Murphy for that helpful submission. I now call on Mr. Pat Delaney, director of the Small Firms Association.

Mr. Pat Delaney

I am accompanied by my colleague, Ms Avine McNally. Like others, the Small Firms Association would certainly share and fully support the development of community policing in Ireland. We recognise the absolute necessity that gardaí should be given the opportunity to make more visits to schools and engage in greater interaction with marginalised communities, particularly developing ethnic communities.

However, we do not feel that this can be taken in isolation from the manifest problems of crime which are being faced by society as a whole and, in particular, by the small business community. We are under constant siege from planned professional criminality and the conviction rates achieved in Ireland fall far short of those being achieved in other jurisdictions, particularly in the UK.

The latest figures available from the Garda for 2003 show that the number of headline offences reported to it was 103,360. The number of convictions achieved to date for those offences is just 4,411. The figures for 2002 show the number of headline cases reported at 106,415, from which 6,739 convictions resulted. It appears that Irish criminals are living in a crime utopia with little chance of ever being brought to justice, leaving the victims of crime in a sense of hopelessness and despair.

The respective conviction rates for 2003 and 2004, of 4% and 6%, respectively, compare very unfavourably with the UK, where earlier this week a conviction rate of 19% was reported. This conviction rate of 19% in the UK has resulted in a House of Commons inquiry for being unacceptably low. Either all Irish criminals are masterminds or we need a major overhaul of our policing system, with greater resources invested and better results achieved in both prevention and detection of crime.

I wish to give the committee a breakdown of these figures. The crimes figures in 2003, under the various headings, were as follows: some 4,738 assaults resulted in 362 convictions; 1,440 cases of arson resulted in 14 convictions; 57,870 cases of theft resulted in 2,653 convictions; 25,733 cases of burglary resulted in 585 convictions; 2,794 robberies resulted in 101 convictions; and, 257 convictions have taken place in relation to 4,037 cases of fraud.

The issue of crime is important to us all. It costs businesses money, it affects health and lowers our quality of life. Those unfortunate enough to become victims of crime experience one or more of those traumas. Our research shows that 41% of our members have been a victim of crime during the past 12 months. In addition to the obvious cost of crime, such as insurance, there are many hidden costs including the cost of production, administrative costs associated with crime investigation, higher staff turnover, absenteeism, stress, loss of premises, degeneration of business areas, business closures and job losses. Crime can, for small business, result in failure to complete orders or to meet delivery times with consequent loss of good will to them. We estimate the hidden cost of crime to be between 2% and 3% of the visible cost or in excess of €1 billion per annum.

I will deal now with what our community needs. The SFA has called for the development of a specialised business unit within the Garda Síochána to specifically support small business. This unit could, in our view, liaise with small business in providing victim support, improve communications and practical measures to assist small business in preventing and tackling crime. It is a great pity that the only time crime features on the political agenda is when an election is forthcoming. What happened to zero tolerance? It is, in our view, buried in public indifference because business and citizens are losing faith in a system which has a constitutional imperative to protect them.

Crime against business continues to rise. We are dealing with planned, professional criminality across a wide range of areas including, theft, criminal damage, burglary, fraud, extortion and armed robbery. We would like crime to be tackled in an efficient, effective, economic and equitable manner. Too often the emphasis is placed on the needs of the perpetrator and not the victims. This must change. Every citizen and business in the State must be reassured the necessary steps will be taken. The business community will support any development which will bring to a close or lessen the extent, scope and impact of crime on it and the wider community. We, therefore, recommend the following in an effort to reduce costs and the incidence of crime on business at a policy and operational level.

The Government and the Garda Síochána must address the concerns of small business and the criminal justice system's ability to deal with the problem of crime. Rather than calling for the enactment of new laws current laws on the Statute Book must be rigorously applied to all forms of crime. The resources of the courts should be increased in terms of judges, back-up staff and facilities to ensure they can deal expeditiously with crime. A strategy should be formulated for the penal system to ensure it provides an effective deterrent and aims to rehabilitate offenders and prevent recidivism. It is widely recognised that reform of the legal system or court system is futile without reform of the penal system. The prison system does not have the capacity with those being convicted or sentenced.

We recommend the strengthening of the Garda Síochána to whatever level is necessary to deal effectively with crime, particularly in the Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford regions. As part of this development, the SFA recommends the establishment of a specialised business unit within the Garda Síochána to act as a direct link between businesses and it. To be successful, it will be necessary to give some consideration to ensuring the Garda interacts with business. We would like gardaí of middle to senior rank to spend time in businesses learning the difficulties being experienced by business in dealing with crime.

Small business is spending hundreds of millions of euro on security provision yet the incidence, extent, scope and costs associated with crime are increasing. This alone reflects societal changes which are taking place. It is important crime, its prevention and the manner in which we deal with convicted criminals must change, otherwise society is in danger.

Perhaps Mr. Delaney would provide the committee with a copy of his speaking notes. I thank him for his useful contribution which provides us with the view of business on this matter. The hearings on community policing relate to the Garda Síochána Bill and in particular Chapter 4, and sections 31 and 32 as mentioned by Mr. Murphy, dealing with local policing committees and to develop a template for community policing that will be effective in Ireland. The emphasis up to now has been on the non-business community. However, the business community is also an important player in this regard.

Perhaps Mr. Berney will tell the committee if the business community has considered the detail of the proposals.

Mr. Berney

Yes, we have. Liaison is all very well in theory but the people on the ground must have the resources to deal with the problems they encounter. Liaison committees can be time consuming and ineffective. The Garda must have the resources to deal with issues brought to its attention by the liaison committees. Resources and the effectiveness of the policing system remain important issues. Liaison committees may communicate effectively but unless there are people on the ground to deal with the real issues they are just talk-shops.

I am aware Mr. Murphy volunteered the services of the CCI on the matter and we are grateful for that. All of the delegations are representative of one another and I am sure there is a cross-over and that members of the SFA and ISME may also be members of The Chambers of Commerce in Ireland.

Mr. Delaney

This is like motherhood and apple pie in that everyone wants to embrace it and wants it to be successful. However, a central question arises. From where will Garda resources come in order to make community policing work? Much training is required and the Garda is already under-resourced. We have been promised 2,000 extra gardaí for many years. It now looks like they will be delivered at some time in the future.

The business community is under siege from criminality every day of the week. The reason many of us are here today is to again ask what is happening with the criminal justice system and why crime has reached such an astonishing level in Ireland? Also, why are conviction rates so low? A 4% conviction rate, taking the inverse, gives a criminal a 96% chance of getting away with a crime. That is too high.

It might be appropriate to have a forum in the future at which the delegations could put to the Garda Commissioner and other relevant interests the position in relation to criminality. These hearings are focused on a specific issue which impinge on some of the matters raised.

I wish to continue the theme started by the Chairman. Everything we have heard today illustrates resources invested in the Garda Síochána and the legal system have not worked as we would have wished and that we have not obtained results. That is evident from the statistics given. We would all like to see a situation where there would be extra gardaí on the beat and where barracks in most rural areas would be contactable and a high Garda visibility on the street. Our objective is to see how community policing works within the community and to consider if crime and community relations tackled at a very early stage can act as a preventative. If a special corps is not established which will be community-based and non-confrontational, be part and parcel of the community and aim to tackle the issues before they arise, then there will be no radical change in the system.

An analysis of the situations which have arisen in the recent past and the statistics provided for the committee today show that one of the problems is that community policing does not give instant results. A Minister or a Garda Commissioner or a chief superintendent will not achieve visible results by promoting community policing within the timeframe of his own career and this is a difficulty. The committee is considering this matter on a long-term basis because up to now the undertaking has not been successful. Statistics on the progress of community policing produced on a six-monthly or yearly basis will not be satisfactory because resources will continue to be diverted into mainstream policing. Community policing is working in some areas. However, it is a long-term situation in which develops an association and a community spirit. This helps prevent many situations which then require the intervention of mainstream policing. Accepting that more resources must be made available for mainstream policing, does the delegation consider there should be a dedicated community Garda corps to tackle problems at source?

I thank the delegations for their attendance. The remarks made indicate a degree of frustration which was echoed by most of them on the issues of policing and dealing with crime. The delegations have stated that the incidence of crime is at an astonishing level. The Minister would argue that statistically crime is decreasing, that there are sufficient numbers of gardaí and he has promised an extra 2,000 gardaí, the deployment of which we all await.

The crime prevention office deals with the business sector. How does that office liaise with the business community and how many staff work there? The proposed legislation does not make provision for representation of either the community, business or voluntary sectors on the joint policing committees. The delegation would not have to worry about going to meetings because the Minister does not intend to consult them on the matter. If a structure is put in place would the delegation not consider it appropriate to be represented on such a structure which will be a joint effort by the Garda and the local authority?

Some members of the delegation may be acquainted with the special policing committees, SPCs, in local authority areas. Statements were made by the General Council of County Councils and other organisations representing local authority members and officials, to the effect that the business community was not very participative and that the local elected representatives were the only people who came to the meetings.

Those are called special policy meetings.

I apologise. I meant to say special policy meetings.

If this structure is put in place it will be important for the business community. A co-operative consisting of the Garda and the local community and business interests will be of great benefit to the local retailer when dealing with situations that arise locally. Incidents will be dealt with directly and there will be a report of the action taken. It will not be a case of an incident being recorded with no report of the outcome. How will this be funded, considering it will not be funded from local authority rates? Should there be a separate departmental budget and should the business community make a contribution?

The general thrust of the submission is that in terms of retail business, Ireland is the most crime-prone country of which the delegation is aware. Has the delegation any statistics to prove this argument? The official Garda statistics show that crime is decreasing and the detection rate is holding at approximately 40% — how that relates to the conviction rate is another day's work — and that by international comparisons Ireland is at the top of the table for low levels of crime. I acknowledge the statistics do not show a separate figure for crime against the business sector. Is the situation as terrible as the delegation suggests?

I welcome the delegations to the meeting and thank them for their oral and written submissions. In the case of my constituency, attacks on staff in small businesses and shops are a significant issue. I know of a woman who was recently robbed of €6,000. Two men with a gun and knife held her up. Her staff are traumatised. She is considering whether to continue in business. As a backbencher I am aware that attacks on staff and intimidation of staff is a serious issue. Does the delegation agree with this view?

The delegation referred to numbers of gardaí on the streets. In the UK it is estimated that 10% of a policeman's shift is spent on the beat and the remaining 90% on office or station duties. Is this figure relevant in the Irish situation?

The delegation from The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland referred to its membership in the North consisting of two chambers. Which chambers are they? Is there an interchange of information between both sets of chambers of commerce in respect of policing and community policing?

Mr. Murphy referred to the causes of crime and to binge drinking. It is accepted that binge drinking is a significant problem. However, I do not agree with the constant blaming of alcohol consumption for bad behaviour. Most people can go to a football match or to a social event and do not smash up their local shop, chipper or off-licence on the way home. I am concerned about alcohol being used as the excuse although I admit it is a factor. People must be responsible for their actions. The problems are societal and drink is not solely to blame.

The figures quoted by Mr. Delaney were amazing because the House has been given differing figures. I endorse his statement. Does Mr. Delaney consider that from the criminal's point of view, crime now pays?

On the broader issue of crime and its causes, the groups want their staff and businesses supported and want gardaí on the ground, a concept which I fully support. However, we need to look deeper. Would the groups acknowledge that we need to intervene early, particularly with dysfunctional young people and those at risk to try to prevent them from getting involved in anti-social behaviour and crime generally? In my experience many of these young people cause much of the crimes affecting shops, off-licences and small businesses as well as attacks on the elderly in my community. Do the witnesses consider that a strategy of early intervention is necessary?

All the legislation in the world will not do anything about crime without quality policing, meaning the professional time management of Garda hours. If gardaí are working eight-hour shifts, they should be in the community and on the street meeting people.

I welcome the three delegations. As one born into a small business that has since closed due to the pressures of other issues, which I will not outline today, I appreciate the situation the witnesses have clearly indicated to us both verbally and in writing. Is it possible to break down the crime statistics presented into those for Dublin and outside Dublin? I would expect quite a difference in the incidences of crime in these two areas. What types of crime are committed on the premises of those represented here today? Are they significant armed robberies and organised crime or discreet but very effective shoplifting? What crime causes the most significant frustration?

Many questions are to be answered. While members of the committee have parliamentary privilege the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before it. Questions should be answered in the order I stated. However, anyone who wishes to come in should feel free to do so.

Mr. Murphy

I will answer the questions in order. Deputy Murphy asked about the need for a dedicated Garda corps. We would be very interested in a dedicated link between the Garda and the business community. There is an issue of visibility. We are not sure whether a crime corps is needed as it could cause another layer of bureaucracy between this corps and its core responsibilities — excuse the pun.

I referred to dedicated community policing.

Mr. Murphy

Sorry, dedicated community policing corps. We are not so sure about that matterper se. We would be more interested in an oversight board for the local policing area. As soon as borders and boundaries are created people start saying, “That is not my responsibility; it belongs to unit X or division Y.” We believe in having business nominees represented on the committee linking the Garda with the local authority. We act as the co-ordinator for the business pillar including all the other business entities in nominating business representatives on the SPCs. We have the people who are strong on the ground in places like Roscommon and Newcastle West.

We agree that a separate budget is needed for these liaison committees. Too often central government abrogates additional responsibilities on to local authorities without giving them the means to fund them. If we are serious about establishing this, we must have a separate multi-annual budget to which we, the taxpayers, commit through the budget of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Regarding the willingness of businesses to contribute, business is already contributing vast amounts of money by subsidising and paying for para-security and security firms in their shops. I have indicated some statistics which come to us via members of our crime policy council. For example, business in The Square in Tallaght paid for an additional horse to be given to the horse division of the Garda and did not see it afterwards.

Tallaght is a good example of any super-mall. There was a feeling that the boundary of The Square was where the Garda stopped. It did not feel the need to go into The Squareper se and felt it was only responsible for the space outside The Square even though this is the land of Ireland and the Garda is the civil authority charged with this duty. This view extends into shops. Until a person is caught red-handed on camera or with evidence many gardaí are not interested in policing, regardless of whether a person is a known shoplifter who does huge economic damage to a shopping centre, shopping street or shopping area. This probably feeds into the business improvement districts debate, which we should see in 2006 and beyond.

What happened the horse?

Mr. Murphy

He is still there, but the local Tallaght region has not seen him. A mounted policeman is also involved but the business community in The Square essentially paid for the horse.

Deputy McGrath mentioned attacks on staff, which is an enormous issue, especially for the mother and father, or "mom and pop" type stores where, by definition, the staff are the owners. It can be quite traumatic for young people working in such shops to get experience.

I wish to move on to Mr. Delaney.

Mr. Delaney

I would like to reinforce a few points that have been made. In answer to Deputy Hoctor's question, our statistics show that armed robberies and syringe robberies account for 2.5% of all attacks on business. Those of us in the room would have had dealings with people who have responsibility and a duty of care to staff who have suffered a syringe attack. The societal impact as well as the impact on the business, individuals their family and friends are enormous.

We were asked whether the business community would pay for community policing. I believe it should not. We are already paying through a 27% increase last year in commercial rates and water, environmental and local authority charges. The business community is paying through the nose and we want value for the money we are already paying.

We need to consider the value for money we are getting from the Garda. In some ways we are soft on the Garda. We do not benchmark the Garda and accept far too lightly that it is doing a good job. We should make international comparisons and consider what other forces are doing and what happens in other jurisdictions before we blindly suggest that the gardaí on the ground are doing the best job they can. It is a fair question. While others may not agree, I believe the Garda needs to be benchmarked against what happens elsewhere.

Deputy Costello asked about representation on committees. The committees turn into simply a ponderous abyss of what the business community might want in any particular area with no opportunity to feed into national policy. We have already seen what happens when policy becomes regionalised. We only need to look at our waste management policy to know that we cannot regionalise anything in this country without ending up with a mess. We need national policies on all matters.

Crime is paying and is paying very well. Having a 96% chance of getting away with a crime represents very good odds. This is the chance criminals take every day. Based on our conviction rates, criminals are winning and we are losing, particularly our community. It is costing us hundreds of millions of euro each year. We are not getting value for money. We do not feel safe and all the time we feel more isolated from a system that is supposed to protect us.

Mr. Berney

Deputy Murphy asked why the existing system does not work. We consider it is not working because of the policing system being used. Establishing liaison committees etc., avoids the main issue. The resourcing and management of policing in the country needs to be addressed before any liaison committee can be effective. Crime prevention officers are effective when they are available to advise businesses on crime prevention strategies. However, they are not particularly well resourced and not available, in general, without some delay. The system is not bad — it works — but it is not well publicised. Not many people know that crime prevention officers are available in most Garda stations. Publicity and availability are the two main issues in that regard.

The additional funding needed will have to come from central sources. Our detection rates look good because there is a considerable level of under-reporting of crime. The members of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association have recorded that the level of under-reporting of crime is approximately 23% but we believe the real figure is higher. While the statistics available to us may look good, they do not reflect the reality. The association's research has indicated that there is under-reporting because people are fearful of reprisal and because they have a lack of confidence in the system which has a low detection rate. The research which suggests that the detection rate for reported crime is less than 13% and the conviction rate less than 5% more or less bears out the other figures.

The association does not have figures which specify the percentage of the time of community gardaí that is spent on the beat. I suspect that any information supplied by the Garda Síochána would not indicate that the Irish system is any better or worse than the UK system. If the percentage of time spent on the beat is approximately 10%, that would be an appalling figure.

It is disgraceful.

Mr. Berney

A member of the joint committee asked why the system was not working but that question answers itself. It would be terrific to prevent crime by making early interventions in the social system that causes crime. Many communities are taking action without the assistance of the Garda Síochána or liaison committees. There can be problems in urban areas where the large sense of community spirit found in rural areas is not present. I am familiar with a number of rural areas where one finds a local community spirit that feeds into sports clubs and other organisations which give adolescents something to do.

We have spoken about the quality of policing which is a key factor. I refer to the effectiveness of policing actions. I ask Mr. Jim Curran to speak about the types of crime perpetrated in rural and urban areas.

Mr. Jim Curran

I assure Deputy Hoctor that the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association prepares an annual crime survey which includes comprehensive statistics by region and sector. It provides figures for Dublin city and county and each of the four provinces. It indicates the sectors and regions most affected by crime. It also outlines the type of criminal activity that impacts on small businesses.

Mr. Murphy

I would like to cite some cross-Border examples. Derry Chamber of Commerce which is heavily involved in community policing in the North has issued some good statistics in this regard. I can furnish the data to the joint committee in due course, if it wishes.

We would be glad to receive such statistics. We would also like a copy of the ISME survey mentioned by Mr. Curran.

Mr. Curran

One of the biggest problems faced by the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association is that crime against business is often considered victimless. The impression that businesses can afford to pay for crimes against them is a huge mistake. The association's research indicates that just 18% of smaller businesses which were affected by crime in the past 12 months had insurance cover that covered the cost. That is a significant direct expense when one considers the indirect expenses also suffered. The attitude I have mentioned is found among members of the Garda Síochána and in the courts system in some cases. Crimes against businesses are seen as soft crimes which do not have any victims. The association questions whether as much emphasis is being put on dealing with business crime as is being put on dealing with other crimes.

That is a good point.

Mr. Murphy indicated that The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland would be happy for businesses to be represented on joint policing committees. Would the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association and the Small Firms Association be happy with such representation? The Minister has not proposed in the legislation to have a business representative on the committees. If such a provision is not included in the legislation soon, it will not appear and businesses will not be included in the committees which are to be established under the auspices of the Garda Síochána and local authorities.

Mr. Berney

The committees will be based regionally.

They will be based in local authorities.

Mr. Berney

They will be spread throughout the country. The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association will participate in the committees which will be established on a national basis. The association would welcome the participation of its members in regional committees. It is obvious that there is an overlap between the membership of the association and that of the chambers of commerce. There is no problem in that regard.

Will the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association and the Small Firms Association examine section 32 of the Bill in detail to ascertain whether they believe there is a need for business representation on joint policing committees? Will they contact the joint committee after they have examined that specific matter in more detail?

We have reached the end of the joint committee's five days of hearings. As Deputy Costello is the rapporteur of the committee, he will compile the final report. Does he wish to say anything at this point?

I am glad the hearings are about to finish. The joint committee has received bundles of information, including the transcripts of its proceedings, which has been stacked away to be read and digested at a later stage. The committee believes its investigation is an important initiative. Many of those who address the committee are fed up of promises and believe this forum is yet another talking shop. I do not doubt that the policing of the community and business sectors and the country at large is not successful. The joint committee has a duty to examine carefully any proposals which may improve policing.

The joint committee is keen to engage the Garda Síochána in the process of changing community policing structures. Such changes should involve communities and be facilitated by local authorities. A system should be put in place to ensure ongoing reporting. It should ensure people will not be afraid to report crime. It is not satisfactory that people cannot be bothered to report crime because they think nothing will happen and the matter will not be dealt with properly. That is the crux of the matter.

The joint committee hopes an effective mechanism can be put in place to deal with the vast majority of relatively petty crimes such as theft and anti-social behaviour. I refer to crimes being experienced by retail outlets. The new mechanism should be community-based. It is obvious that businesses will be involved in that regard because they are based in the community. The committee would like the full support of the delegations in this respect. I hope the report that is eventually produced will be taken on board by the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, local authorities, communities and the business sector and that the changes which need to be made will be made on a statutory basis. If we put in place a substantial and effective structure that will ensure those responsible for policing will be held accountable for their actions in a transparent manner, we will do well.

I thank all of the representatives and bodies which have appeared before the joint committee during the five days of hearings. A number of most interesting and insightful points have been made on which members will deliberate further. While common strands of thought have emerged during the course of the discussions, consensus has not been so evident in some areas. I thank everyone who contributed so positively to the hearing process, especially the representatives of the community and voluntary sector and non-governmental organisations, including Victim Support Ireland and the Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament, who presented very strong and persuasive arguments in favour of their involvement in full and transparent consultation on community policing.

Today's meeting with representatives of the business sector was most informative and emphasised to members the conditions prevailing in local areas and the importance of involving the business community in community policing. It is only because of the presence at the meeting of business representatives and the presentations they made that these matters have come to the fore. The joint committee will fully consider the matters raised in its deliberations.

Contributions were also made during the hearings by representatives of the State, including the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell; the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern; the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Noel Conroy; the probation and welfare service and other statutory bodies such as the National Council on Ageing and Older People, the National Crime Council, and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism. The joint committee also heard from our Northern brethren representing the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Confederation of European Councillors. Community Alert and Integrated Rural Development scheme representatives also made most interesting presentations. The positive contributions of local authority representatives and members of local authority representative associations were much appreciated and will assist us in our deliberations.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.15 p.m.sine die.