Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Ceisteanna (31)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

31. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the latest report on the Garda youth diversion programme, specifically the cases deemed not suitable for the programme that were not progressed by An Garda Síochána; his further views on similar difficulties existing in the adult justice system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4291/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

The Minister of State has discussed already and will agree that it is unacceptable that 7,894 crimes by more than 3,500 children and young people were not progressed. This failed the children and the victims. As to the latter, 75% of these cases involved four main categories, namely public order, theft, traffic offences and criminal damage. However, there were 55 offences covering matters of rape, sexual assault and one case of child neglect. It is appalling to think that someone came forward to gardaí and made a compliant in this regard but, as is now clear, no action was take to prosecute properly the child responsible. The Minister of State will agree that this is serious and requires action to address the systems failure and disciplinary matters.

I agree with the Deputy on this matter and thank him for raising it. It is very serious indeed. These issues arise from the Garda Commissioner's interim report on the handling of youth crime cases. As such, it was gardaí themselves who discovered the issues and sought to address them. The issues will be addressed through the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I emphasise the Government's commitment to implementing the report, which provides a strategic framework to address the full range of systemic, organisational and cultural deficits within An Garda Síochána. A high-level implementation plan was published in December and endorsed by every Minister and Government Department. It is an ambitious but realistic plan and the timescale is in line with the commission's own recommendations. It is being overseen by an independently-chaired programme office located in the Department of the Taoiseach in recognition of the multiplicity of agencies and Departments charged with implementing it.

I emphasise again that this issue should not cast any shadow over the value of the Garda youth diversion programme itself. I am sure the Deputies present will agree with me on that. These issues relate to cases that were deemed unsuitable for the Garda youth diversion programme. As such, no negative implications have been identified for the diversion programme itself, which is very beneficial and has helped generations of young people take a path away from criminal activity. Neither is it regarded as having implications for the community projects funded by my Department to support the diversion programme. We must distinguish between failures of youth crime case-management and the very valuable work of the diversion programme.

I am aware that members of the Policing Authority have asked if similar issues could arise in relation to prosecutions and case management for adult offending. The Commissioner has acknowledged that it would be necessary to examine that question further. As such, there are further questions to be asked here. I am concerned to ensure we have assurances about the quality of Garda prosecution procedures and systems in relation to all crimes, not just youth crime. The Policing Authority has indicated that it will assess whether there are any wider implications for Garda crime management and prosecution procedures which need to be addressed. The authority is responsible for independent oversight of policing and is clearly the appropriate body to examine these matters in the first instance. My Department has already been in touch with the authority and will maintain close contact to monitor developments to ensure we get a clearer overall picture of criminal case management and prosecution.

I agree, of course, that the Garda youth diversion project is a successful and valuable scheme and I stated as much in the Chamber last week. I am aware from many excellent projects in my own constituency, including in Douglas and Togher, the latter of which won a national prize in the TidyTowns competition a year or two ago, that excellent work is taking place. Nevertheless, the scale of what happened here is very significant. As I set out, 3,500 children and young people did not get case progression. If my understanding of the process is correct, these are people who had accepted responsibility in order to have been referred but were then deemed unsuitable, yet it is a very large category.

I am interested in what the Minister of State said about the possibility of wider issues involving adult criminality. There has been speculation on that in the media and the Policing Authority has given an indication in that regard. I am concerned by that. The level of detail is unclear but there is obviously something there or the chair of the Policing Authority would not say it. However, there is no scheme such as youth diversion involved and there is no form of reference of a similar nature. As such, what is the nature of the issues that appear to exist? What indication can the Minister of State provide to the House on any wider issues of crime prevention or possible failures to progress adult prosecutions?

I thank the Deputy for his questions and comments on the youth diversion programme and its projects. While it is correct to ask these questions, we must bear in mind that these issues related to juveniles who were under 18 and not adults. However, the question has been asked on adults and the Commissioner has indicated that he will look into it. As the Deputy said, it is very concerning that there were repeated failures in the case of some prolific young offenders. Justice was not done for the victims, nor was it done for the young offenders whose behaviour should have been challenged repeatedly. The issues raised in the report highlight the fact that many young offenders are themselves vulnerable and underline the need to address offending in a strategic and multi-agency manner as recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. That is why I am establishing a steering group. It will consider the matter and make serious proposals on how to deal with youth justice in future. I am also very interested in looking at international best practice and what works in other jurisdictions that we can learn from and introduce here. I look forward to receiving the support of Deputies in the House on this very important matter.

I welcome all that but we are not any clearer. There is an indication from the Minister of State, the Commissioner and the Policing Authority that there is a wider issue. The Minister of State said the Garda Commissioner is looking into it. Can it be said, therefore, that a review is taking place into the possibility that cases involving adults were not properly progressed? If so, what is the category of offence or what scheme is involved?

I do not believe the Minister of State would tell us that the Commissioner is looking into it unless he was of the view that something is amiss. If he was entirely confident, as is often the case, he would be indicating that he has no concerns about the adult prosecution system. This is clearly not the case. There is a concern but the House or the public are not being informed of the nature of that concern. Is a review taking place? What is the nature of offences, schemes or probation under which adult cases are potentially not being properly progressed and people are not being properly prosecuted?

I am aware, as is the Deputy, that members of the Policing Authority asked whether similar issues could arise in the context of the prosecution and management of adult crime cases. The Commissioner acknowledged it would be necessary to examine the question further, which is where it lies at present. The authority has indicated that it will assess how the wider implications for Garda crime management and prosecution procedures should be addressed. The Department has already been in contact with the authority in this regard and will remain in close contact to monitor developments and ensure that we get a clear overall picture of crime case management and prosecution. The authority has asked the question and the Commissioner is investigating to see whether there is anything there. I do not think there is a relationship between what we are dealing with today regarding youth diversion programmes and young people whose cases were not dealt with as they should have been. The question was asked and because it was asked it must be answered. I am sure the Commissioner will provide answers in due course to the authority, which is the appropriate place it should be answered. When we have that information, I will happily bring it to the House.