I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, and his officials. Today we are considering the Estimates for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for 2001. We will commence with the Minister's opening remarks.
Estimates for Public Services, 2001.
Vote 19 - Office of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Vote 20 - The Garda Síochána.
Vote 21 - Prisons.
Vote 22 - Courts Service.
Vote 23 - Land Registry and Registry of Deeds.
Vote 24 - Charitable Donations and Bequests.
I thank the Chairman for his words of welcome. I have with me a 50 page speech, all of which I do not propose to deliver, although I pay tribute to everybody involved in producing it. It is important that I update the select committee on the progress of the Department in the last year.
On the international front, justice and home affairs is the most rapidly growing policy-making area of the European Union. This is largely due to the work programme agreed in Tampere at the European Council meeting in October 1999.
In 1997 the allocation for the Justice group of Votes, including the Vote for the Department of Equality and Law Reform, was £705 million. This year the allocation amounts to £1,029 million, a major increase of 69%.
We have had an organisation change programme within the Department, the objective of which is to achieve integration and cohesion. There are a number of new initiatives. There is a new Refugee Applications Commission, a new Refugee Appeals Tribunal and a Reception and Integration Agency. We are proceeding with the conversion of the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds into a commercial semi-State body and implementing the SMI report on the Garda Síochána. We are also involved in sectoral issues such as modernisation and established the justice and equality sector quality assurance group in April 2001. Previous achievements include the establishment of the Courts Service, Equality Authority, Office of the Director of Equality Investigations and National Disability Authority.
On criminal law reform and reform generally, since becoming Minister I have had an unprecedented 35 Bills enacted, 11 Bills are before the Houses of the Oireachtas and 25 Bills are at various stages of preparation. Some of these Bills have made major differences to society. At the top of the heap, in terms of criminal law reform, is a Bill I introduced when in opposition, now the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996. It has made a major difference to the Criminal Assets Bureau. We will bring forward an amendment to the Act to make it even more effective.
The Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000, introduced the strictest ever provisions to deal with under age drinking. Many parents of teenagers are scourged by this menace and expressed deep concern over a long period about what was happening in this area. We have introduced legislation which provides that if somebody serves drink to a minor, no excuse will be accepted by the court. The pub will have to be closed down for up to seven days for a first offence, for a period of between seven and 30 days for a second and subsequent offence and the publican can also lose his or her licence.
There have been complaints in regard to discos being allowed to stay open until 2.30 a.m. It is being asked if this is the cause of rowdiness on the streets at night. Rowdiness on streets at night, where it occurs, has been with us for longer than the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000. It is open to the State, when an application is made for a special exemption order by the owner of a disco, to object on a given ground and the court has discretion to refuse to allow the premises to stay open until 2.30 a.m. if it sees fit. All it need do is give its reason for this. The issue must be made clear. This is a discretionary power; there is no obligation on the court to grant a special exemption order until 2.30 a.m. and if the consequence of a disco being open is an adverse effect on society, it is open to the State to object to the order.
With regard to human rights, the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into Irish law is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas. In relation to crime, the Government has shown an unprecedented commitment to tackling it and the results achieved are evidence that such persistence pays off. The legislative proposals I have outlined will build on and consolidate this success. While the crime statistics for last year have not yet been published, the marked decline in crime levels in recent years continued into the year 2000, giving a cumulative decrease of 25% since 1996, this at a time when crime levels are increasing by 11% across the European Union. This is a significant achievement. I am not saying everything in the garden is rosy, far from it. However, there has been a significant improvement.
With regard to drugs and organised crime, the policy of strong legislation backed up by tough law enforcement measures and a commitment to a multi-agency partnership approach to dealing with the problem of drugs, crime and social disadvantage, has proven to be an extremely effective approach to combating these problems. We have made substantial progress in tackling the drugs problem. There are 14 local drugs task forces established in priority areas identified as having the most acute drugs problem. I am satisfied these measures represent a balanced approach to the problem posed by drugs and drug addiction at local level. Officials from my Department participate in the various fora which aim to seek solutions to the problems of international drug trafficking and organised crime.
On courts issues, the question of the criminal legal aid review committee under the chairmanship of Judge Buchanan should be addressed. It was established in 1996 to review the operation of the criminal legal aid scheme and make recommendations. The thrust of the exercise is to ensure the scheme is kept up to date and modernised where deemed necessary.
On the issue of victim support, we have always said we will be considerate of victims which is illustrated by the allocation for 2001 which stands at £868,000, over three times the amount allocated in 1997. I pay tribute to Victim Support and its constituent bodies throughout the country. With regard to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal, we have also continued to support victims of crime in this way. This year we have allocated £3,226,000 for compensation for personal injuries criminally inflicted, an increase of £73,000 on the year 2000. A comprehensive review is taking place.
With regard to the Garda Complaints Board, I have stated on a number of occasions that a comprehensive review is being undertaken. One of the most important elements I am considering in the course of my review is the establishment of a new independent Garda inspectorate, which I favour. The issue of the Garda Complaints Board must be considered in the context of a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights which raised some extremely important questions.
A sum of £779,000 has been allocated this year to deal with the issue of violence against women. The object of the exercise is to assist in whatever way possible. I pay tribute to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, for her work as chairperson of the national steering committee on violence against women.
Regarding asylum, the Government is committed to the continued development of an asylum process that is fair and directed at protecting those who are in fear of persecution. The State is still receiving a large number of asylum applications, particularly from countries such as Nigeria and Romania. While there were only 31 asylum applications in total in 1991, the total number of applications for 2000 was almost 11,000. At the end of May 2001, the total number of applications received was 3,887, which was a decrease of approximately 21% on the number for the same period last year. A considerable amount has been allocated under this Vote. Some £24.7 million has been allocated under subhead G of Vote 19 for asylum services administered by my Department with an additional £8.09 million for the provision of a legal service to asylum seekers.
The Government approved an enormous number of additional staff. I hope that by the autumn there will be approximately 670 people working in the asylum area. At present, the Department can keep up with the number of applications being submitted. I anticipate that by the autumn, as a result of the additional staff, the Department should be in a position to ensure that every individual's application for asylum is considered and a decision made within six months. This is an enormous achievement given that it was a green field situation in Ireland only a few years ago. Ireland was traditionally a country of emigration; it is now a country of immigration. In the last full year for which statistics are available, it is estimated that 42,000 people came to Ireland while 20,000 left voluntarily. This means there was a net increase of 22,000 people. The country has changed in that respect.
Funding of £8,099 million has been provided for the refugee legal service for further increases in staffing, up to a total of 140. As I announced, a new immigration policy will be developed which will be expressed in a new immigration and residence Bill to take account of the fact that the country is now one of immigration as opposed to emigration. Measures are in train in that regard.
Regarding civil legal aid, the grant-in-aid to the Legal Aid Board has been increased to £13.7 million in 2001. This scheme works particularly well. The committee will be aware that the original scheme operated in respect of certain cases in the Circuit Court only. However, earlier this year I obtained sanction from my colleague, the Minister for Finance, to extend the scope of the private practitioners scheme, which is operated by the Legal Aid Board, to include cases in the Circuit Court. The extended scheme will include divorce and separation cases in the Circuit Court and District Court appeals to the Circuit Court in domestic violence, maintenance and custody cases where the initial hearing was dealt with under the private practitioner scheme. This development will be welcomed. There has been a significant reduction in the waiting times and in the number of people waiting for an appointment with a solicitor. The board continually monitors the situation.
Regarding equality issues, the Employment Equality Act, 1998, came into operation on 18 October 1999. It and the Equal Status Act, 2000, which came into operation on 25 October 2000, are working extremely well. I have provided £3.669 million to fund the Equality Authority and this will be welcomed also. In addition, I have provided a total of £1.335 million to enable the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations to carry out its functions.
I have provided a grant of £409,000 to the National Women's Council of Ireland for 2001. In addition, I have provided £401,000 in 2001 for the development of a national plan for women. This area is extremely important. Regarding gender mainstreaming and positive action for women, I have provided £5.548 million in 2001 to support activities in the national development plan gender equality unit and the equality for women measure. A sum of £476, 000 has been provided in 2001 in respect of the work of the gender equality unit while £5.072 million is included in respect of the equality for women measure. I expect to announce funding shortly to develop initiatives to upskill and retrain women employees with a view to developing entrepreneurship and career development among women; to support innovative projects for disadvantaged women and women over 50 years of age; and to support gender balance in decision making.
Regarding the review of maternity protection legislation, a working group was established and the Government has approved the implementation of all the recommendations in the report. The effect of the amendment was to increase the period of maternity leave which attracts payments from 14 weeks to 18 weeks and the period of unpaid maternity leave from four weeks to eight weeks from 8 March 2001.
The Parental Leave Act, 1998, came into operation on 3 December 1998 and it provides for an individual and non-transferable right of both parents to 14 weeks unpaid leave from work to care for children under five years of age, with certain exceptions in cases of adoption, for example, in the case of an adopted child who is under three years at the time of the adoption, the leave must be taken before the child reaches five years of age. However, if the child is aged between three and eight years at the time of the adoption, the leave must be taken within two years of the adoption order.
Regarding equal status legislation, an anti-racism public awareness scheme is due to come on stream. A core budget of £4.5 million has been provided for it. The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism is doing a particularly good job. I am glad I established it in July 1998, which was long before there was any question of fears of racism among minorities in Ireland. It is an important body and it is working very well.
A sum of £900,000 has been allocated to the Citizen Traveller programme while £100,000 has been allocated to Pavee Point mediation service. In addition, a committee to monitor and co-ordinate the implementation of the recommendations of the task force on the Travelling community has been established
Regarding child care, there has been revolutionary change under the Government. More money than ever before has been provided for child care. It is the first Government to take the issue seriously. A sum of £250 million has been allocated under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, to develop child care provision. However, it is not designed to push women into the workplace. The object of the exercise is to give women a choice on whether they wish to enter the labour market. It is a matter for them; it is a question of equality of opportunity. I am particularly pleased with the way this area is developing.
The decision of the Cabinet sub-committee on social inclusion has led to the transfer of responsibility for out of school hours child care from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and the transfer of responsibility for after school child care from the Department of Education and Science to my Department. This is a vote of confidence. This decision and the funding arising from the anti-inflationary package agreed with the social partners last year means that, in total, an additional £94 million is available to my Department. This brings the total figure available for child care between now and 2006 from my Department to £344 million. This will make a difference throughout the country and there should not be any parishes without quality child care. In all honesty, this will be one of the very fine legacies, among others, of this Government.
On a point of order, for how long more must we listen to the Minister tell us what a wonderful job he has done?
He has done so many wonderful things, I am sure he will try to address them in as short a period as possible.
We all acknowledge how wondrous he is, but I suspect he might be quicker if he just read his script.
"And still they gazed and still the wonder grew - That one small head could carry all he knew". In regard to the status of people with disabilities, much has happened in the area of disability since the Government took office and I pay tribute to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, for the significant advances. The most farreaching was the introduction of mainstreaming of services for people with disabilities and the establishment of the National Disability Authority, both of which were launched on 12 June last year by the Taoiseach. The policy of mainstreaming has meant that services for people with disabilities are now provided in the same way as for all others in society. That is a matter of social justice which has been achieved.
Last year we saw the establishment of People with Disabilities in Ireland Limited as the representative organisation for people with disabilities. This organisation is the successor to the Irish Council of People with Disabilities which operated from January 1997 and whose mandate expired on 31 December 1998. I appointed a steering group in January 1999 to complete the work of the national board of the ICPD in relation to the development of a constitution and the holding of elections to a new permanent council of people with disabilities. It has brought coherence to the administration of the council, it has restructured the national office and transferred it to a permanent accessible premises.
I have taken an active role in supporting the pursuit of disability equality. This is demonstrated by the steps taken by my Department to achieve the attainment of the 3% employment target for people with disabilities in the broader public service. The monitoring committee continues to ensure this target is achieved. The National Disability Authority is doing very well. Its role is essential in equality infrastructure as is the framework it provides for the policy of mainstreaming services for people with disabilities.
The Killarney Shared Services Centre is in my constituency, so it must get a mention. My Department's finance division, which is located in Killarney, is facing dual challenges posed by the ongoing modernisation of financial processes in the Civil Service and by the restructuring of the Department's relationship with its agencies, including the Garda Síochána and so on. The Killarney Shared Services Centre will continue to provide a range of financial services tailored to meet the individual requirements of the Department and the agencies. I pay tribute to everybody in Killarney involved in this and I thank the staff there. Sometimes they are described in the Department as country cousins, but they are much beloved.
Could we wait until the other contributions have been made? Then we will come back to the Votes as we go through them. Would that be appropriate?
If Deputy Shatter is as short as I have been, we will certainly make a lot of progress.
I can assure the Minister I will be short because I regard the procedures we go through in dealing with Estimates as nothing short of a farce. This is an exercise in complete futility. The idea that this is an exercise which, in any way, holds the Executive to account for public expenditure or an exercise which allows us, in any detailed way, to examine departmental priorities is laughable.
I start by pointing to something which I think is deplorable. In years gone by, one would get printed Estimates which would be received some time in advance of a meeting. The printed Estimates would, in a coherent fashion, detail and compare expenditure in the year to which they relate with the previous year. Someone can explain to me what this document is all about. It seems to detail expenditure for this year. Figures are dotted around paragraphs and it is not clear to what they relate. The presentation of this document is a disgrace as an exercise in accountability to the Houses and it shows the degree to which Ministers and Departments hold Members and committees of the House in contempt.
The Minister knows that despite being on opposite political sides, I have a degree of affection for him but I do not want that to be misinterpreted beyond the fact that I suppose he is a decent man. I thank the Minister for not subjecting us to his reading of his script but the fact his Department would produce a 50 page script is symptomatic of the difficulties in properly dealing with issues. This is a Department that seems to be incapable of preparing replies to Dáil questions that are sufficiently brief to allow the Minister to explain whatever his position happens to be in his initial reply. He is in the unique position of being the Minister who has answered the most Dáil questions which have been interrupted half way through the answer and have resulted in additional parts of the answer appearing two or three weeks later in the Dáil debates when somebody in this House finally gets around to publishing them.
There is a problem with this entire procedure. We should have had the final information in detail at least a week before this meeting. If this type of script is being prepared, it should be prepared as an aide memoir to members of the committee to go through and consider. As every Minister knows, because of the excessive amount being spent by Ministers on public relations, if one wants coverage in tomorrow's newspapers, one does not hand them a 50 page script. I presume some user friendly two page script has been issued on whatever issue the Minister may wish to highlight from today's meeting in the hope that some lonely journalist with nothing better to do for the afternoon reports on it. It might have been informative if we knew what was in that. If there is not one, I sympathise with the Minister that someone went to the trouble of producing a 50 page script but not one that was user friendly to the media.
Having said that, I will take up the Minister's invitation that we deal with some specific issues. I would not be doing my job as an Opposition Member if I simply sat back and allowed the Minister to laud all his achievements and did not point out some of the difficulties that pertain to the area of his brief. It is worth starting by noting something which I do not think is in the Minister's script. Today is World Refugee Day. The Minister referred to the achievements in dealing with the area of refugees. Between initial applications for refugee status and appeals, I think I am correct in saying that somewhere in the region of 11,500 and 12,000 people are awaiting a decision; some of them have been waiting for two or three years. Organisations across the political and economic spectrum have said it is bizarre and unacceptable that it takes so long for decisions to be made on refugee applications and that it is ridiculous that those who come here and who make such applications are denied the right to work no matter how long they are here going through the process.
There was a call today by the Irish Refugee Council to give refugees, who are in the State for six months or longer and whose cases have not been addressed and finalised, the right to work. I support that call. Other organisations are pointing out that we are short of employees across a range of areas. The Tánaiste is wandering the world encouraging people to come to Ireland to gain work yet we have 10,000 to 12,000 people here who want to work but we do not allow to work; instead pay them social welfare. What we pay them is a pittance and we keep them on direct provision in a manner which violates their legal rights and is contrary to statutory provisions in relation to the supplementary welfare allowance. Eventually, someone is going to take the Government to court under the supplementary welfare allowance legislation. The direct provision, the manner in which it is being dealt with and the guidelines by which supplementary welfare allowance officers administer it rather than exercise their discretion will be found to be contrary to the existing law. The Minister should not praise himself for the manner in which he has dealt with this issue. It has been dealt with disgracefully.
The public perception that has been created by the way in which the Government has dealt with the refugee issue has fostered racism. It is ironic that this should happen in the Minister's Department, which is supposed to be addressing the problem. I do not suggest the Minister intends it but the stance taken is fostering racism and helping to spread prejudice. The fact that this is not perceived and understood is a sad reflection on the manner in which the Government has dealt with the issue.
The Minister referred to crime. There is no doubt that during the lifetime of the Government instances of violent crime and street violence have substantially increased. There is not a person in Dublin who feels safe on their own in the city centre late at night. That is an indictment of the Government. It is extraordinary that this is the position. Despite the increased expenditure on the Garda Síochána, including increases in Garda strength, there is still a sad lack of community policing and insufficient gardaí on the beat. People want to see more gardaí on the beat but it is not happening. A myriad of excuses has been offered and the Minister may argue it is an operational matter for the commissioner. Ultimately, the commissioner is responsible to the Minister, who is responsible to the House. The House wants this committee to deal with Justice issues and hold the Minister accountable for the manner in which public money is being spent.
Public money is not being spent correctly in the context of the Garda Síochána. There should be many more gardaí on the beat. People in Dublin and other urban areas are entitled to feel safe at night walking the streets on their own. In many parts of the country, including the capital city, they do not. That is a sad indictment of the Government.
The Minister has still not got to grips with ensuring that his Department has adequate information on the making of policy. A couple of parliamentary questions yesterday highlighted this. I submitted a question asking the Minister about the number of public order offences and instances of street violence that had occurred in each of the past four years in Clonmel, Cashel and Tipperary town, including the number of prosecutions initiated and convictions secured as a consequence of such instances. In the context of a by-election in south Tipperary it might be thought the Minister would have ensured that the research was done and that he might be aware that the people of south Tipperary, especially in urban areas, are concerned about public order offences and street violence. However, in his reply said he was informed by the Garda authorities that statistics are not available in the format requested by me and he directed me to look at the Garda Síochána annual report for 1997, 1998 and 1999. However, the information is not discernible in them.
Six months into this year we still do not have the Garda Síochána annual report for 2000. How is it possible to make policy if one does not know what is in the report? Is it the case that the Minister received the report months ago but it has not been published? If he has not received it he should ask the Garda Síochána for it. It is unacceptable that six months into the year it has not been received and that we do not know the position at the end of 2000. Normally reports of this kind submitted to the Government are detained for a number of weeks, yet the compilers manage to leak to selected journalists the good news anticipated to be contained in them. Last February the likely crime figures at the end of 2000 were leaked. I am appalled to learn the Minister does not have the report. It is clear that the Government, when making policy on issues related to crime, is approximately 18 months behind in terms of the information it needs.
The Minister has told the committee about the great achievements in expanding the prisons. I congratulate him for providing additional prison places but counteracting crime is not simply about the provision of such places. It is about providing alternatives to prison where it is not needed and ensuring that people sentenced to terms of imprisonment do not reoffend on their release.
There are still inadequate services to deal with sex offenders to ensure that those who commit sexual offences when released have been through a counselling and psychiatric services system that seeks to minimise the possibility of them reoffending. I accept it is not possible to guarantee that nobody who is released will ever reoffend but the minimum possible has been done in this area. The Minister keeps announcing plans about what will happen but the reality is there is a grossly inadequate service.
The Minister does not even know how many people serving prison sentences have offended in the past. Apparently we do not know the rate of recidivism. Yesterday the Minister was asked about the number of those serving sentences who previously served sentences as a result of criminal convictions, either as an adult or as a minor. He replied that statistics are not maintained which allows that information to be readily available. Not only can he not give it to Deputies but the Government does not have information to help assess the effectiveness of the prison system or the other available systems to deal with those found guilty of committing offences.
The Minister said the new information technology system has been authorised by him to enable the Prison Service to collate this type of information. Next week he is celebrating four years in office as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I am not sure if we should celebrate or offer our commiserations It is extraordinary that the information is not available.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has been seeking to provide video recording facilities in stations throughout the country to ensure that any interviews are properly recorded. We have heard for four years about the installation of video recording systems. Again, in response to a parliamentary question yesterday, the Minister replied that the major programme to install the necessary equipment will get under way shortly. He said the same 12 months ago. What is meant by "shortly"?
Last week a person was convicted of a series of sexual offences over a period of two years. Following a review of the sentence a judge of the Circuit Criminal Court in Cork decided that a previous sentence of 36 years would be commuted to 18 months. The same judge had previously said it was necessary, in the interests of society, to impose a lengthy sentence for the level of offending engaged in by James Kenny, known as Brother Ambrose. Some 18 months earlier he sentenced this man to 36 years imprisonment but saw fit to review his sentence and release him after 18 months. That grossly undermined the criminal justice system and any possible confidence the victims of sexual offending may have in the courts. It sent out all of the wrong messages and was a scandalous way in which to deal with a criminal case.
In the Finn case the Supreme Court decided towards the end of last year that once a judge passes a sentence that is the end of the matter and that sentences cannot be reviewed. The Minister promised legislation to deal with this. The case means that anybody sentenced following the Supreme Court decision is effectively sentenced and judges cannot review the case in court. It is urgent that the Minister introduces the necessary legislation in this area to address the consequences of the case.
The other difficulty with the Finn case judgment is that the Supreme Court said that where prior to the date of the judgment being delivered, the court in a criminal case imposed a sentence which included a provision for a review the court would not interfere with decisions made in existing cases. The Supreme Court would not interfere with decisions made in existing cases. When the Judiciary brings people back into court to review their sentences in cases heard and determined initially before the Finn decision, it is left to the judge, based entirely on his discretion, to decide what should happen, what type of review is warranted and the extent, if any, to which a sentence should be commuted. I call on the Minister to introduce legislation to provide by statute how the remaining types of review which the Supreme Court allows to occur are to be dealt with in all future cases.
I also hope, as none of us have any role in the matter, that the DPP will appeal the decision made on review in Cork Circuit Court.
Like Deputy Shatter, I know it is our duty as Opposition spokespersons to examine the detail of the Estimate and to hold the various representatives of the Department to account under the various headings when we are talking about spending almost £200 million. As Deputy Shatter said, there is no way in which we will be able to deal in any great detail with the various issues before us, though we must address them.
I will take home the Minister's speech though I cannot guarantee I will read every word of it but I presume it is there as a sort of bible for us to refer to——
——whenever we need to find out what the Minister's head contains.
That would be interesting.
My wonder is growing.
I do not know if Members or officials were listening to Joe Duffy's radio programme yesterday, which discussed the case of two young Dubliners who are in prison in Germany as a result of a car-burning incident. The contrast revealed in the discussion showed that youngsters of the same age in Ireland are burning cars every day of the week and getting away with it. There was shock at the idea that doing something like this in another country - I accept that in this case we are dealing with allegations - would immediately result in apprehension and imprisonment. It is an indication of how little law and order we have in Ireland, particularly in areas of our cities. There is constant lawlessness with joyriding, car burning, break-ins and street assault. Despite the fact that the Minister says crime figures are decreasing, there is a perception in many communities that there is no protection and that people are at the mercy of whatever lawless people want to throw at them. We need a Garda presence, particularly in areas where there is a high level of crime. One reason the figures are decreasing is that people are not bothering to report crime any more. I cite the German case as a contrast between one EU country and another, where what provokes an immediate response from the authorities in one country is a two a penny event in Ireland which provokes no great response.
There is no reason for us to be complacent as the perception among the public is that they are not safe in their homes or on the streets. Despite the statistics quoted by the Minister, we need a higher Garda presence and more support for gardaí. It is difficult for two gardaí in a squad car to enter a place where lawless people are willing to take them on; they should not be put into that position. They need resources and support to deal with such situations.
In Cork there are areas where there is no bus service at night because there is no protection for drivers. I know it is the same in parts of Dublin. I had to intervene in a situation where there was no postal service. We got it restored when the gardaí supported the delivery people but it is not good enough that these basic services for citizens are denied because they have inadequate Garda protection. I do not blame individual gardaí as it is a question of resources and putting the resources where they are needed.
I support Deputy Shatter's comments on refugees and the right to work. When so many refugee representative groups and organisations like IBEC, ICTU and others request the Minister to consider the right to work for people who have been in the country more than six months he should reconsider this. He has told us that he intends to lower the waiting list to six months in the near future. If that is the case, why not deal with those who are here already and who have been waiting more than six months? It would involve a relatively small number and would be once-off if he proposes to lower the period to six months in any case. I can think of no compelling reason for him not to do so at this stage.
The Minister referred to child care and the figures given to us in a parliamentary discussion on 12 April indicated that the estimate for what the Department would spend on child care was reduced because money was not being drawn down at the level the Minister originally expected. Will he examine the regulations again? He told us he has £344 million at his disposal for child care for 2000 to 2006 but at this rate it will not be spent and we will still have inadequacies in the child care service. I ask him to look again at the regulations or whatever is causing difficulties for people who run child care services. In capital funding, we were told that up to 30 March 2001 only £1.75 million had been drawn down; we will not spend even the reduced amount that has been allocated. This is a very important issue and logjams in the system should be investigated.
Does the Minister intend to change the means test for legal aid? The limit is an income of £7,350, which was set in 1995 and has not been altered since. If we are to talk about people's legal rights then the right to legal representation is not assured with such a low limit.
Violence against women was mentioned but is it intended to deal with violence against men? It was indicated in a recent survey that domestic violence against men is higher than we thought. I do not know if the Minister has had an opportunity to investigate that survey, which was in the media a week ago, but it needs to be addressed.
I will leave the other issues until we come to them.
The Minister went as far as the end of Vote 19 and did not reach Vote 20, so if there are questions on Vote 19 - Justice, Equality and Law Reform, we can get the Minister to reply to contributions and questions on it.
I thank the Chair for giving me a coherent document on the Estimates. I do not know if the Minister has seen this document, which we were handed.
To explain, that came over on e-mail and as it was printed out the comparative column got lost.
I appreciate that but when dealing with figures that is a symptom of e-mail. I accept this may happen by accident but in future the Department should provide this document directly to the committee secretariat by way of fax message, delivery of a hard copy or whatever. I am not complaining about the timeframe involved and I appreciate that there is a difficulty in transmitting figures by e-mail.
We need to develop greater expertise in terms of the transmission of figures by e-mail.
Yes, because everyone is affected by this problem. I presume we are dealing with subhead A1 - Administration - first?
The provisional outturn for 2000 for foreign travel in relation to the European Union is £271,000 while the estimated figure for 2001 is £184,000. Is it in the context of the anti-European stance the Government has adopted that the Minister has decided that if he travels as much in other European Union countries in the next 12 months as he did in the past 12 months he might be in some way contaminated and become a Europhile? Will he explain why the amount to be spent on travel within the European Union will be almost £100,000 less than last year? I would have expected that, in view of the debacle of the Nice referendum, Ministers might need to travel more throughout the European Union to increase their knowledge of it. They also need to mend fences, particularly with some of the applicant states.
My second question relates to entertainment, which is a good thing. Will the Minister explain why there will be a £20,000 increase in the spend on entertainment in 2001? Is this simply because, in an election year, he will be entertaining large numbers of people from his constituency in County Kerry or does the increased figure relate to the functions of Government?
In relation to staff training and development, there is an additional spend of approximately £160,000 compared to last year. Will the Minister clarify to what this increase relates?
In the context of other areas, the provisional outturn for consultancy services in 2000 was £46,000 while the estimated figure for 2001 is £373,000.
To what subhead is the Deputy referring?
Subhead A7. It appears the increase for consultancy services is roughly of the order of 600%. Are these services being used for the benefit of the nation, for the electorate of Kerry or for party political purposes? Will the Minister indicate who is providing those services and outline the consultancy contracts that are in place at present, the matters to which they relate and the extent to which they differ from the contracts completed last year?
I would usually welcome research being undertaken by a Department which seems to lack essential information when making policy decisions. Will the Minister outline the reasons for the huge difference in the figures for expenditure on research this year as compared to last year?
The questions I have just asked all relate to subhead A. Does the Chairman wish me to proceed to subhead B?
I would prefer it if the Deputy did so.
In relation to subhead B and the Human Rights Commission, will the Minister indicate the expenditure incurred to date by the commission? Will he indicate the number of meetings that have been held by the commission, as currently constituted? Have any of the persons the Minister wishes to nominate to sit on the commission, but who he has not yet officially appointed because the requisite legislation has not yet been passed, been invited, as guests, to attend meetings? Will he indicate the contact the Human Rights Commission has had with the commission in Northern Ireland and the expenditure incurred in that regard?
On subhead E, will the Minister clarify why there has been a substantial increase in the pay element of the figures relating to the Garda Complaints Board? Does this relate to an increase in staff numbers? When did the Minister last receive a report from the Garda Complaints Board? My recollection is that we have had not yet seen the reports for 1999 or 2000 . Given that it is now June 2001, I would have expected both reports to have long since been published. When did the Minister last receive a report? Is he currently sitting on the 1999 report and, if so, when did he receive it? When does he anticipate receiving the report for the year 2000?
Will the Minister clarify the current position in relation to the proposal to provide large centres at which asylum seekers will be accommodated? In that context, will he indicate the premises that, to date, have been acquired, the premises it is envisaged will be acquired before the end of the year and the locations of such premises? Is it the intention to simply provide a payment of £15 per week to those who will be accommodated in these centres? If that is the case, will the Minister indicate whether these centres will effectively become holding camps? Has he considered whether these centres will facilitate the integration of people within the community or whether they will help to isolate them further and lead to a greater degree of intolerance and racism in this country? Has the Minister given any thought to this issue?
I would like to pose questions in respect of a number of other areas but I am conscious that other Deputies wish to contribute. I will, therefore, reserve my right to raise questions in respect of later subheads. I have no wish to dominate proceedings.
I will avoid repeating questions on matters to which Deputy Shatter has already referred. Under subhead F, which deals with data protection, to what does the substantial increase in the non-pay element refer?
In relation to subhead G, which deals with asylum seekers——
Is the Deputy referring to G1 or G2?
They are more or less the same because they both relate to asylum seekers. In relation to the large centres to which Deputy Shatter referred, what level of consultation has the Minister had with local support groups which have concerns about large numbers of asylum seekers being accommodated in such centres which, in some cases, are located some distance from town centres? For example, the Limerick centre is situated a long way from Limerick city centre and is not served by the public transport system. There is serious concern among members of the local support group with regard to how this will isolate asylum seekers housed at the centre from the community in general. Up to now, people have been accommodated in city centre hostels and have, as a result, been able to integrate with local communities. Has the Minister consulted people on this matter and, if so, does he intend to reconsider the position?
I have already posed questions on the Legal Aid Board and, specifically, whether it is intended during the year to raise the limit in terms of access to civil legal aid. That limit has not been increased since 1995. The increase from £12.8 million to £13.7 million is not very large. Does the Minister intend to address the increasing waiting lists in the centres?
I referred to child care. Is the figure £9.218 with three zeros following it under subhead N correct?
That is a mistake.
I could not relate that figure to anything in previous documentation I received. Even if one removes the three zeros, it does not relate to figures we have been given thus far. Will the Minister clarify that?
That should read £9.218 million.
While there is an aspiration to spend money on child care, it is not happening in reality. Will the Minister re-examine the regulations for people who apply for this funding, otherwise there will be an under spend again this year?
While I welcome the increase in funding under the subhead relating to violence against women, violence against men is also an issue. Organisations such as Amen have taken this issue up with the Minister. It needs to be addressed in the interests of equality.
How much has been expended on the Human Rights Commission under subhead B1? Is it up and running to the extent that it can utilise its budget? How effective is the budget in terms of both operating costs and services?
Subhead G2 relates to the European refugee fund. A proportionate amount of aid was to be provided by an EU fund also to member states. Is that included in this figure or is the Government's allocation in addition to the EU aid? What is the status of the European fund? How well has Ireland done from it?
Free legal aid centres are still considerably under funded, as Deputy O'Sullivan said. How accessible are the centres? What is the waiting time for an appointment? Has a centre on the south side of Dublin been closed? What is the implication of the closure? Given that there is generous Government funding, more free legal aid centres should be opened, which should be more accessible, rather than that we should close legal aid centres.
We welcome the Government funding for child care but we have discovered that previous allocations were not taken up because the infrastructure was not in place. Will the Minister provide us with a progress report, particularly in regard to reform in the area of planning to enable community and private child care centres to open? Is the budget which is allocated expended?
A network of women's refuges has been set up throughout the State but the refuges are desperately in need of money not just for support services but for co-ordination of services and conducting analysis. The Minister launched a research report, "Attrition in Sexual Assault Cases in Ireland", which I welcome. Is there a deadline for the completion of the report?
I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan that the alleged non-reporting of violence against men is an issue. It is disturbing that one report, the status of which I do not know, has grabbed headlines to the effect that more men are being battered than women. Similar allegations in the UK some years ago led to refuges being set up for men, which were never occupied by men. There is an extraordinary discrepancy between the reality and the reports that are published. Will the Minister come back to us regarding the report he has launched and the feedback from women's refuges?
Such refuges, particularly those in isolated rural areas, lobby constantly for more funding. Perhaps a network could be established to analyse violence against women and the isolation of men and women who are subject to violence throughout the country. It is a major issue, about which there is little information and on which little research has been conducted. I welcome the launch of the project by the Minister but I would like to hear more about it.
I congratulate the Criminal Assets Bureau on its success. Where does the money which the bureau seizes go? Is it directed into a specific area?
Foreign travel is my favourite occupation but its budget has been reduced because next year the Presidency of the EU will be held by Belgium and the UK for six months respectively and this will mean less travel. I presume the entertainment bill has increased because of inflation. I assure Deputy Shatter that none of my constituents were fortunate enough to savour entertainment at the expense of the Department.
None of the consultancies are used for personal or political benefit. They are undertaken for the SMI, performance management and development and so on and they are required. It is well known that research must be funded and it is ongoing.
The provision for the Human Rights Commission is £1 million. Nothing has been spent yet. A board has been set up on an interim basis. I do not know how many times it has met but that can be checked. However, I am conscious that it is necessary to put the board on a statutory footing. I thank Deputies Shatter and Howlin for their co-operation in ensuring the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into law and the commission up and running on a statutory basis prior to the summer recess. I thank them for that and they agree with me that it is something that is necessary.
The Garda Complaints Board reports take some time and my understanding is that the 1999 report was only cleared by Government for publication this week. I accept there is an enormous time lag between the date the report is published and the year it covers. That is something we will have to examine to see if it can be improved.
Regarding asylum and the right to work, it is not my intention and never would be to penalise, be unfair or unjust to any human being. The difficulty is that, if it is accepted an asylum seeker should be allowed to work, is there not an automatic suggestion that any person outside the country has no business applying for a work permit and that all he or she has to do is stay here for six months and he or she will have the right to work? That would undermine the integrity of the work permit and work visa system. More important than that is the fact that the granting of the right to work would be an enormous pull factor in terms of people coming here to seek asylum. There is no denying that. There were almost 80,000 applications for asylum in Great Britain. There is a common travel area between there and Ireland.
The system is under enormous strain and is a difficult area in which to work, whether one is an immigration official or a civil servant or the Minister. If there were to be a major increase in the number of asylum seekers coming in, which is almost unquestionably the consequence of allowing a right to work after six months, could the system cope? I have a constitutional responsibility to ensure the security and the economy of the State are protected. It is true that many people seeking asylum are unfortunate human beings and should not be treated with anything other than the respect which that human dignity requires and expects. However, it is not possible to grant a right to work after six months and not have serious consequences. If it were otherwise, and I wish it were, I would be only too happy to support the cause for a right to work.
Last year, we issued 18,000 visas to people to come to work here. Already this year we have issued 15,000. We have one of the most open and easiest systems of work permits in all Europe. There is nothing to prevent any person who wants to work in this economy from applying to do so. However, people cannot expect the system to be circumvented through illegal immigration. That argument does not hold water. That undermines not only the work visa and work permit system but also the integrity of the asylum process. If people are allowed work who subsequently turn out to be illegal immigrants and if they are to be granted the same rights as refugees, we might as well tear up the 1951 convention and forget about it. The country could not sustain a large level of illegal immigration.
IBEC and everyone else who has put in the call on the right to work should come and look at the system and watch how much work it takes to accommodate approximately 1,000 people every month. I do not know by how many multiples that would increase as a result of the right to work being granted after six months. I know that, when the Government decided in July 1999 to grant the right to work to people who were in the system for a year, the result the following month was a trebling of the number of asylum seekers coming into the country. Do those who ask me about the right to work foresee the consequences of granting that and is that in the interests of the citizens of this country? They should answer the questions honestly and not make the call without doing the analysis. I am not critical of anyone, just putting the facts on the table so that we all understand what we are discussing.
Without prejudging the claim of any individual for asylum, it is the case that 7% qualify for refugee status. Once we have the additional staff recruited, we will certainly be able to deal with the backlog. I do not know what exactly that is. We know there are approximately 13,400 applications in the system but I cannot tell committee members until the interviews have been completed how many of them have dropped out of the system, how many will drop out at the appeal stage, how many are manifestly unfounded and how many have left. I know that the number is not 13,400, although that is what it would appear from the figures. I know from previous experience that it cannot be. We are now in a position where we can deal with each claim that is made. By autumn, the time will be cut to six months. That took a considerable amount of work. I do not claim credit for that but I pay tribute to and compliment the people who work in this difficult area.
It is not and never was the intention to spread racism. That is why I established the committee on racism and interculturalism and why we have a steering group to implement the report. The objective of the exercise is to ensure that, in so far as it is humanly possible, we minimise the possibility of racism in society. I do not accept the argument, although it might be sexy as a news story, that many Irish people are racists. That is patently untrue and I will prove it.
This was traditionally a country of emigration and we know that. We also know there has been a sea change in the past six years and that this is now a country of immigration. More importantly, we also know there were almost no asylum seekers in this country six or seven years ago whereas there were 11,000 last year. We settled more than 4,000 in various towns and villages throughout the country. There were flashpoints in some areas for a short time but, to be fair to the people, once integration began, it took place peacefully and pleasantly. I pay tribute in that regard to the people in the areas concerned because that is the truth. There are people who will act the yob and who will never understand they are supposed to treat human beings properly. We will try to deal with them through the steering group, but I must pay tribute to the vast majority of the people.
The Refugee Act, 1996, which was introduced by Deputy Owen, a debate to which I contributed, was welcome legislation. It provided specifically that asylum seekers would not be allowed to work. That was in the Refugee Act, 1996, which was brought to the Dáil not by me, but by the then Minister, Deputy Nora Owen, on behalf of the rainbow coalition government. I supported that provision then and I support it now. This is not because I want to wrong any human being and I stress that. It is because I know, from the figures available to me and the readings I have studied, that if the right to work is granted after six months, the system will be unable to cope with the number of asylum seekers. Perhaps it will be proved wrong. Perhaps there will be a different Government that will bring in the right to work. However, my difficulty is that I cannot prove my case unless I concede.
To deal with Deputy O'Sullivan's argument regarding the Mid-Western Health Board, consultations have taken place with the board on the system built centre which is under construction for more than 400 asylum seekers close to Limerick city. We have consulted various groups and are trying to ensure that, wherever we go, we consult people. A free bus service will be provided from this centre for asylum seekers who wish to travel to Limerick city. The centre is about three miles from the city.
With regard to Deputy Barnes' question about the European refugee fund, the Reception and Integration Agency is the designated authority for the administration of the fund in this country. It was established by a decision of the European Council late last year to fund projects relating inter alia to the reception of asylum seekers and the integration of refugees. A statutory committee chaired by the Reception and Integration Agency met recently and has allocated funding of £1 million for the budget years 2000-2001 for 17 projects. I understand many of these are integration projects and Members will be pleased to hear this.
With regard to whether asylum seekers can live on £15 per week, as Deputy Shatter asked, I accept that the sum is not a great deal of money. However, we are also providing good quality accommodation and meals, and in so far as people can be assisted within the system, they are. There is not a prejudiced mentality in relation to asylum seekers of which I am aware either in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or anywhere else in the official system.
Asylum seekers are paid reduced allowances under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. That is administered by the health boards on behalf of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs. Every applicant for that allowance is subject to a means test which includes the provision of re-assessment of any benefit and privilege including board and lodgings enjoyed by the applicant. The £15 takes into account the full board and accommodation that is provided. There is also an allowance in respect of each dependent child and asylum seekers are entitled to claim once-off exceptional needs payments under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme for items such as clothing. Child benefit is also payable.
I accept that there are critics of the asylum system in the Houses of the Oireachtas and people are entitled to criticise. That criticism is a good thing in that it keeps everyone on their toes. However, the system of processing and dealing with asylum seekers here is one of the most advanced in the world.
With regard to Dublin Airport, the Reception and Integration Agency in conjunction with the Office of Public Works have formalised arrangements for the construction of an accommodation centre in the Dublin Airport region. This follows an international tendering competition which was publicly advertised last November for the construction of a facility within a ten-mile radius of the airport. The facility in addition to the usual accommodation, dining and associated services, will also have medical services on site and will consist of low-rise buildings modelled on similar facilities in use throughout Europe.
The Government decided in March 2000 that accommodation for 4,000 asylum seekers should be provided in this fashion, i.e. system built accommodation. The Reception and Integration Agency and the Office of Public Works are implementing that decision and the plan is that about 12 facilities of the type envisaged at Dublin Airport, with a capacity of up to 400 asylum seekers, will be constructed at suitable sites in or near the major cities and towns throughout the State. Centres are currently under construction close to Limerick city and at Cork Airport.
It has not ever been the intention to simply lock people up in these centres. I would be entitled to a barrage of criticism if men, women and children were left to sleep on the streets. That has not happened to my knowledge. We do our level best to ensure that quality accommodation is provided for every individual. However, we must be clear that this is not an easy task. It is necessary to have accommodation available for people. There is nothing wrong with providing it in this fashion.
The Human Rights Commission was an issue raised by Deputies Barnes and Shatter, and I am conscious that Deputy O'Sullivan refrained from raising certain matters which were dealt with in other questions. We have adequately explained the situation regarding the commission. There is no need for me to go any further with it other than to again express my appreciation to the Opposition spokespersons.
We are to increase the legal aid income limit to £10,000. A statutory instrument is being prepared at present. That matter has been of concern. At the present time, the £7,380 limit relates to disposable income after deductions for tax, mortgage, rent, child care, dependants and so on. It should be welcome news to Deputy Barnes that the limit is to increase to £10,000.
On the Data Protection Office, there is inflation and there will be extra expenditure on publicity in relation to the changes and the printing of information leaflets for the public. When I refer to changes, I am talking of changes that will occur in the context of the forthcoming Data Protection (Amendment) Act. With regard to the non-pay increase in the data protection area, this relates to the assignment of additional staff to the Data Protection Commissioner's office with the resultant increase in other costs.
Waiting times have been reducing at legal aid centres as a result of additional staff. The legal aid board is reviewing procedures to increase productivity. The section is not being closed down at Mount Street but is being moved to Smithfield. The rent went through the roof in Mount Street and we have a very nice centre in Smithfield, which I visited.
Will it accommodate the necessary numbers?
I hope so. Deputy O'Sullivan referred to £9 billion for child care. The provisional out-turn for 2000 was £9,218,000. That represents the funding for the pilot programme of 1998 to 2000 and the beginnings of the NDP funding which could only be spent when it was approved in Brussels in October or November of 2000. I got special permission to advertise for the programme so that it could start. We are breaking new ground with this. The strategy is over a seven-year period and the budget is about £344 million. This is new to the country and we are a long way behind our European partners in the provision of child care. I hope this will help us to catch up and I sincerely hope that quality child care services will soon be available in every parish throughout the country. To date, £52.3 million has been allocated although the draw down is not as high as we would like for the simple reason that people must obtain planning permission and build premises.
I am satisfied that the applications for which grant aid has been approved will be in a position to proceed. Inevitable delays occur which can only be overcome by the people concerned; we can only ensure the correct allocation of moneys.
Child care committees, comprising statutory and voluntary child care providers, parents and social partners, are being established in each county and will work with the Department to establish the level of need therein. We will ask the committees to draw up a county plan for child care services for which funding will be provided. A national co-ordinating child care committee, an interdepartmental committee, an advisory committee on child care with special needs, an advisory committee on training and qualifications and an advisory committee on school entry ages, etc. have also been established.
The report of the expert working group stated that it would take approximately seven years to deliver on the strategy and it would be unreasonable to expect that the first eight months of the strategy would yield thousands of places. I am satisfied that we will achieve our target. A one stop shop has been established for child care funding and we are in the process of establishing a child care directorate. The Department has funded national voluntary organisations to assist in the funding of child care projects throughout the country. I guarantee, on my own behalf and on that of my successor, that the £344 million will be spent. Since October 2000, we have assisted the creation of 15,000 places, 7,000 of which are new places. That is a significant development.
Deputies Barnes, O'Sullivan and Shatter raised the issue of violence against women and men. The primary responsibility for assisting victims of violence lies with the Department of Health and Children. My Department is responsible for the national steering committee on violence against women which takes initiatives in regard to awareness raising, information, research and perpetrator programmes. Violence against men is an emerging issue. There is an increasing awareness of domestic violence against men and women alike. Legislation and perpetrator programmes are not gender specific. However, if we are honest about it, violence against women is a more widespread problem. The national steering committee under the chairmanship of Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, is doing a great deal of good work in this area. Domestic violence is a terrible burden for women to bear.
Deputy Shatter spoke about prisoner releases. The entire question of reviews was considered in the Finn case. In that case, the Supreme Court commented on a practice whereby, in imposing a sentence, a court can also provide for a review of the sentence. Deputy Shatter is correct in stating that the Supreme Court found sentences of this form undesirable and advocated that the practice of imposing such sentences should be discontinued. Those comments were made obiter dictum although they can be expected to have a strong persuasive effect particularly as the Supreme Court, in making them, stated it was satisfied that it would be desirable, in the public interest, for such guidance to be available to trial judges. I would point out that Mr. Justice Keane in making the comments stressed that they should not be taken to impugn the validity of sentences imposed by trial judges in cases which had already come before the courts.
The Supreme Court made other statements which must also be considered by the Executive. It suggested a number of reasons for the growth of the above practice, including the need created by the revolving door syndrome to ensure prisoners actually served their sentences in the absence of any significant legislative initiative on the topic. It went on to state that it was extremely desirable that remission and sentence review should be placed on a clear and transparent footing and that it is ultimately a matter for the Oireachtas to decide whether to retain the present system, put it on a more transparent footing or devolve it to a parole board or confer it on the courts.
I am happy to have received the Supreme Court's views on this matter because I have devoted much of my time since taking office to dealing with problems identified by the court as facilitating the growth of the practice of imposing reviewable sentences. As Deputy Shatter acknowledged, we have provided an unprecedented level of funding for prison infrastructure resulting in an increase of 1,207 places with a further 700 on the way. The revolving prison door has been closed under this Government.
I previously announced my intention to establish a parole board on an administrative basis, pending the enactment of legislation in this area. I had hoped to provide for a statutory parole board as part of the prisons Bill being prepared by my Department but I am currently considering whether it may be more desirable to separate the provisions in regard to the parole board from the other content of the Bill, principally to allow the non-statutory parole board to gain experience prior to placing it on a statutory footing.
The Criminal Justice (Temporary Release) Bill, 2001, will provide a clearer legislative basis on which the Minister can grant temporary release as we intend to set down the principles which will apply to the exercise of that power. I am satisfied that this Bill and the parole board will place us in a position to provide the clear and transparent footing advocated by the Supreme Court in addition to the safeguards necessary for the operation of the temporary release system.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive comments.
I am loathe to raise this issue again as I am not sure I could endure another hour of comments from the Minister. I asked the Minister whether he could inform us of the number of occasions on which the human rights commission has met to date and whether the prospective invitees announced officially or unofficially or leaked last December, who will presumably be appointed subsequent to the Bill's enactment, have been invited to and participated in any of the meetings held to date.
I stated earlier that no expenditure has yet occurred in this regard. However, I am informed that since its first meeting as an interim body on 6 March 2001, total expenditure in this area amounted to £2,500. The full commission has met on five occasions since 6 March and I understand there have also been a number of meetings of the commission's sub-committees. The Department has not been involved with the commission other than in relation to financial and staffing matters as the commission is independent of the Department and the Government. I understand that the membership of all of the commission's plenary and sub-committee meetings has been drawn from the full membership. No distinction has been drawn as between members appointed by the Government on 5-19 December 2000. The full commission met once with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissioner on 30 May and the full commission also met with the chief commissioner and chief executive officers of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. On speaking with the president of the commission, he was desperately anxious that the commission should be on a statutory footing.
The full commission would comprise 14 members?
Yes, approximately 14 members. I understand all members have accepted their position.
Given that such a modest amount was expended, there must not have been many entertainment expenses.
What is the Government doing with the money CAB has very successfully managed to recover?
The Criminal Assets Bureau implements, inter alia, the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996. Any money, goods or property frozen by the court must remain frozen for a period of seven years; therefore, it would not be possible to take any of those funds because the seven year period must be allowed to elapse before any funds can be taken. This was done for constitutional reasons.
Is Vote 19, subheads A1 to A11, agreed? Agreed.
In regard to Votes 20-24, will the Minister accept that that part of his speech is taken as read and will be included on the record of the meeting?
It is disappointing, but if that is what is required——
The Minister can refer to the highlights in his answer to the questions.
On the Garda Vote, it is my view that the gardaí, having criticised the manner in which they are being used, should be used to a greater degree on foot patrols and community policing. As they appear to be under-equipped, are there any plans to purchase new Garda cars in the next 12 months and modernise the fleet of cars available to the gardaí? Is it intended to provide additional patrol cars, particularly for urban centres such as Dublin? As is the case in my constituency, the local gardaí are unduly limited if there is a series of burglaries or a number of assaults on a given night. Families must often wait until the following day for a garda to call on them. Normally this is not the fault of the gardaí; they just do not have sufficient garda cars and they cannot get from one end of the constituency to another on time if a series of incidents occur. What is the Minister doing to address that issue?
In response to my earlier comments, perhaps the Minister will tell us more about video recording of interviews. Some Garda stations throughout the country are antiquated. Gardaí are working in extremely poor conditions and they deserve better. I would like the Minister to clarify when new Garda stations will be built or refurbishments carried out during the course of this year.
Is the PULSE system now fully working and have all the glitches been ironed out? It has been reported to me in the past by members of the Garda Síochána that due to what is involved in inputting information into the PULSE system, incidents that might have been recorded in the past in Garda stations are no longer recorded because of the amount of time involved. This is resulting in an under-estimate of the crime which is taking place. I wish to bring to the Minister's attention that incidents are taking place throughout the country which the general public believe it is pointless reporting to the gardaí because they are under so much pressure. Does the Minister have plans to mount a publicity campaign to encourage people to report crimes to the Garda? I suggest there should be such a campaign because the general public are entitled to know that they have Government support in reporting crimes to the Garda. It allows Members of the House to assess the true extent of crime and the capacity of the gardaí to meet the current demands imposed on them.
When does the Minister anticipate he will be in a position to make a statement regarding allegations against a small number of gardaí in County Donegal? I express some surprise at reports that private interviews between solicitors and clients were being taped in one particular Garda station. Will the Minister clarify whether the person in charge of that Garda station is being put in charge of investigating whether that occurred? I understand gardaí have not yet been interviewed on the matter. It is a very serious issue and is one of a myriad of issues relating to the gardaí in Donegal. It has cast a cloud over gardaí in Donegal and it is unfair to many very good members of the Garda Síochána throughout the country that it is allowed to remain. Will the Minister be in a position to make a statement on the matter to the House or to this committee before the summer recess?
I commented earlier on recidivism and people who are currently convicted having previously committed offences. I also referred to services in regard to sex offenders. While I do not wish to delay the meeting by repeating my comments, I thought the Minister might utilise this section of the Estimate to respond to my comments on these issues.
I have already made the general point in regard to the gardaí and the need for a greater Garda presence in communities and on the streets. Will the extra significant spending on communications, which is very welcome, and the improvements in the courts system free up more gardaí to go out on the beat? Many gardaí spend much of their time doing paperwork and waiting for cases to come up in court. I wonder if more Garda time will be available. In addition, there is the general point that we still need more Garda personnel but I will not labour that point as I have already made it.
Why is there a decrease in spending on traffic wardens, according to No. 2 in subhead A1 for salaries, wages and allowances?
I welcome the increased spending on the youth diversion scheme. Will the Minister indicate the details of that scheme?
I suppose I should welcome the decrease in spending concerning No. 4 which concerns conferences and exhibitions, provided the Minister is not starving the police dogs which are included in the item. The subhead obviously covers a variety of matters.
I want to make a general point about links between the Prison Service and what happens to people when they leave prison. It is not so much the point concerning recidivism, to which Deputy Shatter referred, but the fact that a large number of prisoners may have mental health problems, learning disabilities, behavioural difficulties or other health issues. There is not much connection between what happens to people when they are in prison and what occurs when they are released. There is a need for a link-up with other Departments and services in an effort to avoid cases of re-offending. There is a lack of support for prisoners once they are released, in terms of accommodation and other support they need. If there was more interdepartmental co-operation on these issues it would help ex-prisoners to avoid falling back into their old, bad ways. Perhaps that issue should be raised at a different forum but I wanted to raise it now since we are dealing with general expenditure under that heading.
I have two brief questions. With regard to the Estimate in subhead A1, clerical and other administrative staff, does that figure indicate that there is a greater use of administrative staff within the Garda Síochána to release more gardaí on to the streets for other duties which require their competence and training? Does it indicate a resolution of the problems by having more gardaí available on call instead? If the use of more clerical staff would allow gardaí to be relieved from desk jobs, it is to be welcomed.
The subhead provides for a modest sum of £690,000 for equipment to assist the enforcement of the Road Traffic Act. In view of the traffic problems, and the responsibility of the Garda Síochána with regard to traffic control, and clemency regarding traffic offences, has any thought been given to establishing a separate task force of traffic police? Such a force would have the training, competence and time to concentrate on traffic problems, particularly in urban areas. As we know, such forces are very effective in other cities. It would be a better system than having all gardaí dealing with a problem that is worsening every day. If such a force was established, it would assist in speeding up traffic flows, rather than the system we have at the moment where we wait for a garda to emerge from a Garda station when traffic lights break down. I do not need to go into that matter because everyone is aware of the frustrations involved.
There is great public concern about certain Garda matters in County Donegal. While that is not specifically related to the Estimate, if the Minister wishes to address it, that is fine.
I will try to be brief on this occasion. The Garda Vote has increased by 48% since the Government took office, which is a significant increase. Last year's increase was 8% so we are now up to £693 million in this Vote.
There is a division in the Dáil. What is the situation in relation to that?
I do not have a pair.
I think we need voting equipment.
I do not know when it came up. We are at a disadvantage as we cannot hear the division bells.
Appropriately enough, the division is on the Horse and Greyhound Racing Bill. I have a share in the Dáil greyhound, with Deputy Liam Burke.
The bad news is that they went ahead with the races at Royal Ascot without me watching them.
What about the 4.50?
I thought they would hold back the races until such a time as we were finished here but they did not.
The Garda Vote is up by 48% approximately in the lifetime of the Government and that is £693 million which is up 8% from last year. Deputy Shatter asked about Garda cars. A sum of £5.5 million was allocated for new Garda vehicles for 2001. The average age of the fleet is gradually being lowered while the fleet is increasing in size and we are conducting a review of that at the moment.
There are almost 700 Garda stations in the country and I agree that many of them are in a bad state of repair. The Vote for Garda stations went up this year from around £10 million to around £25 million to the best of my recollection. I have seen some terrible stations. I was recently in Killybegs, Ballyshannon and Donegal and in all three places the need for new stations was clear. Some stations are beyond repair and need to be totally demolished.
PULSE is now up and running. Video recording is progressing also and 150 installations should be completed by the end of the year.
I am very concerned about the situation in Donegal. My understanding is that a number of files are still with the Director of Public Prosecutions. I wrote to the Attorney General to find out what he thought of me moving now to establish what occurred. The difficulty, as Deputy Shatter will know, is that the file is with the DPP and I cannot do anything which would prejudice any criminal case which might result from that.
Deputy O'Sullivan asked about communications. The increased spend is for digital radio. This will allow more efficient use of Garda resources. The question of court time was also raised. A system of court presenters has been introduced to reduce Garda time spent in court. On the issue of traffic wardens, a number of them were transferred to Dublin Corporation recently and that is the reason for the increase.
The whole youth diversion situation is another issue. In Limerick we have two schemes up and running, one in Moyross and one in Southill and that has meant some improvement. We got 75% funding from the European Social Fund and the balance from the Exchequer. Phase two of the NDPs was announced last October for Ballynanty in Limerick city.
Deputy Barnes asked about civilianisation. It will become a feature of the Garda Síochána. I want to take the gardaí at present behind desks and get them on the street. We have now agreed with the Garda associations a method whereby approximately 560 will actually come out in this way over the next three years. There will be about 170 coming on the streets this year. Garda numbers have increased from 10,800 to 11,632 approximately. That is an all time high. I made a commitment that during the life of this Government we would increase the numbers from 10,800 to 12,000 approximately and we are on course to do that. By the end of the year we should have in the region of 11,830 gardaí in the force and it will certainly hit the 12,000 mark by the end of the life of the Government. There are always going to be difficulties in relation to crime in any country. The increase in prison spaces and the greater availability of gardaí have led to a decrease in crime of 25% since 1966 and that is a phenomenal decrease.
A number of people referred to street violence. Street violence is a very difficult area to define because it does not readily correspond to any category of crime. The main legislative provisions are the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1977, the Criminal Justice Public Order Act, 1994, and the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990. We have Operation Oíche in place since October 2000 and it is quite successful. As part of the operation each division officer is asked to compile an operational plan which incorporates all initiatives from the operation to combat public order problems and illicit drug use. Additional plans are to focus on public intoxication and under-age drinking. The Garda has reported to me that these initiatives have been very successful and have received favourable comment from both the public and the business community. They have led too to greater Garda visibility on the streets particularly at closing times of licensed premises and night clubs.
We must factor in, of course, that the foot and mouth disease crisis caused immense difficulties to us because 1,300 gardaí were involved in that operation. That had a debilitating effect on the force in terms of its capacity to control and monitor crime. I expect that we will have a far greater degree of availability in the near future when we can take the gardaí off the Border and the other places where they have been involved in this work. The increased degree of civilianisation will also help. Visibility of gardaí is extremely important in combating crime. The Children Bill which is currently before the Oireachtas should have a significant effect on public order offences where younger people are concerned.
On the question of traffic, there are two specific bureaux, the national traffic bureau and the Dublin bureau, that deal with this. The Deputy should remember that next time she is stuck in a traffic jam.
Is the telephone number available?
There we have the additional problem of political gridlock.
There are two bureaux in any event. Deputy O'Sullivan spoke about the link for prisoners with outside supports and the question of cross departmental co-operation and the need for hostels and pre-release programmes. I agree it is very important that prisoners being released should have a linkage to the community. It is an essential part of pre-release planning. Up to recent years it would have been extremely difficult on account of the revolving door syndrome whereby many prisoners were released in an unplanned way prior to the completion of their sentences. Many were released on the sole criterion that there was insufficient space for them. Now that the prison building programme has provided additional places sentence and release planning is possible.
The national development plan does contain substantial funds for the Connect project which is specifically designed to prepare and link prisoners to employment on release. The Connect project is being delivered in Mountjoy Prison training unit and is being rolled out in five more prisons. As I indicated to the committee earlier this year the director general of the Prisons Service has informed me that he has obtained sanction for the recruitment of a director of regimes who will be responsible for all resettlement and through care initiatives in the Prisons Service. It is expected that this post will be filled in the autumn. The Probation and Welfare Service also provides funding for a number of hostels used by former prisoners on release and examples of these include Priorswood in Coolock, Lion's Village, Chapelizod, Sarsfield House, Ballyfermot and the Waterford Probation Hospital, Waterford.
There is already significant cross-departmental co-operation, especially with the Department of Health and Children in the case of drug treatment for prisoners. Such co-operation also deals with the question of sex offenders programmes raised by Deputy Shatter. The best advice available to me is that if a person is to go on a sex offenders programme, that is, the intensive course, two criteria should be fulfilled. The first is that the person is suitable and the second is that the person volunteers for it. Until relatively recently there were only ten places on the intensive course, all at Arbour Hill. We now have a new course in the Curragh Prison where there are also ten places. This is not the only course or counselling available to prisoners but it is the most intensive.
Under NDP funding for prisons, £45 million has been allocated to the Connect programme, which is being rolled out over the next six years. There will be a personalised programme of training and development. The training needs of prisoners will be identified and links will then be made with employers and services to ensure prisoners do not fall through the net. The pilot project produced very good results. The programme will be rolled out to all prisons with the governor taking a lead and with the involvement of the prison officers. It will no longer be just a question of security in prisons but the development and social rehabilitation of prisoners will also be addressed, which is a new departure.
In the feedback from the pilot project one prisoner stated that it was the first time he was asked for his opinion on anything. He is lucky he is not here.
Had he sought to give an opinion previously?
The objective of the programme is to enable prisoners avail of opportunities and become linked to the labour market on release.
Will the Minister comment on the street violence last summer in the urban areas, especially in Dublin and less so but with greater ferocity than usual in Cork, Limerick and Galway? Foot and mouth disease took on a different meaning in these areas. Is he taking steps to ensure that similar violence is prevented this summer?
The ideal solution would be to make the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Will he insist that disinfectant mats be used outside the pubs?
We could ask him. I understand he brings his mat everywhere with him. A committee under the aegis of the Garda Commissioner is examining the question of street violence and especially why young males are engaging in it. I hope the study will be completed soon. The National Crime Council is looking at crime in the country with a view to the development of a White Paper.
There has been a dearth of research into crime here, which is a great pity because many eminent criminologists could be of great assistance in this area. Operation Oíche has undoubtedly been a success. The figures for last summer referred to by Deputy Shatter and Deputy Fitzgerald were taken from hospitals. The difficulty with them is that I do not know how many of the people concerned were victims of assault. Very often those who perpetrate assault say they were victims when they attend hospitals. There is also the question of those involved in domestic violence.
The only reliable guide is the information I get from the Garda Commissioner and I can see no discernible increase in the figures I have seen from him. We must take cognisance of the reports of street violence, public disorder and thuggery. There is no good in pretending that they do not exist. That is why there is Operation Oíche. Research is being conducted into this problem and I hope in so far its provisions relate to crime, the Children Bill will be of great assistance.
The Minister's party candidate in the South Tipperary by-election has said he favours castrating people who are found guilty of sexual offences. Is this official Government policy and, if so, has the Minister made provision for it in the Estimates?
It is with satisfaction and with pleasure for the gardaí in County Tipperary that I can report the crime rate there is falling. The rate for 1999 was less than half of the national average and there has been a 5% fall in the crime rate since 1996. The national detection rate was 41% in 1996 and 42% in 1999 but the detection rates in County Tipperary were way above the national average. With Counties Waterford and Kilkenny, one of which counties may yet meet in the All-Ireland hurling final, it had the highest detection rate in the country in 1999. There has been a 7% improvement in the detection rate, from 51% in 1996 to 58% in 1999. Out of a national total of 42 murders in 1996, three were recorded in Tipperary Garda division while, happily, no murder was recorded for 1999. The total number of burglaries recorded for 1999 has also been low, with 487 out of the national total of 23,042. That equates to 3.5 burglaries per 1,000 of population, which is low by comparison with the national average. Things are looking up in County Tipperary and I am sure people there hope things will look up even more next Sunday week.
Do I take it the Minister is not pursuing the castration issue?
I will not pursue the castration proposal.
The Minister happens to have the crime figures for County Tipperary with him. Does he have them for County Cavan?
There were no figures availablein response to a parliamentary question yesterday.
I have the figures for County Tipperary because Deputy Shatter mysteriously identified three towns from County Tipperary. I decided to give him some help.
The year 1999 did not present problems but there is concern about the figures for 2000.
Is Vote No. 20, The Gárda Síochána, agreed? Agreed. Is Vote No. 21, Prisons,agreed? Agreed. Is Vote No. 22, Court Services, agreed? Agreed. Is Vote No. 23, Land Registry, agreed?
May I ask a question on that? The planned future development of the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds is set out. It refers to legislation to convert the registries to a commercial semi-State body. Why is that being done? Is it a question of resources and, if it has always worked well, why change it?
May I comment on that, Chairman?
It has always worked well.
It is a profit making body for the State, but it is not working particularly well.
I referred to resources.
On a daily basis, questions about dealings in the Land Registry are being tabled in the House by Deputies of all parties. It is absolutely ludicrous. Whatever about the legislation which, in my view, will not be passed in the lifetime of this Government, can the Minister say if we will get to a stage where the backlog in the Land Registry is finally addressed and resolved during the course of this year?
Deputy Shatter is correct. The Land Registry makes a profit, but it does not have to pay rent, heating or lighting bills. If the costs paid by the Department are factored in, I am not sure the Land Registry is making a profit. The proposal to put it on a semi-State basis is intended to make it more efficient and effective. I am not for one moment denigrating the work of the people in the Land Registry - far from it. By putting it on a commercial basis, the level of activity should increase and the Land Registry may then decide to set a commercial scale of fees for its work. That would be a matter for the new board and I do not wish to go into it in any detail now. However, both the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds will, undoubtedly, benefit enormously from having semi-State status. The people working in those registries are among the most specialised civil servants in the country and I take the opportunity of complimenting them on their work, while acknowledging the need for a greater degree of commercialisation. I understand there was a 50% increase in productivity in the Land Registry as a result of the application of IT and better work practices.
Thank you. Is Vote 23 agreed? Agreed. Is Vote 24, Charitable Donations and Bequests, agreed? Agreed.
I thank the Minister and his officials for their attendance and I thank the members for their co-operation.