Private Members' Business. - Urban Violence and Vandalism: Motion.

Tuesday, 29 April 1980

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 320 No. 1

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Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  I move:

That Dáil Éireann deplores the increase in violence and vandalism in urban areas and calls on the Government to introduce positive and comprehensive plans to eradicate this serious and growing problem.

We put down this motion because we are all aware of this very serious problem in the urban areas today and not necessarily to highlight it because it is highlighted daily in the papers. I want to put forward [172] some constructive suggestions. We are all interested in solving this very serious type of problem. People may want to make emotive speeches, but emotive speeches do not solve it. It is our duty as legislators to be aware of what is happening. When we see the danger signals, this House is the place to discuss them and to try to come up with some reasonable and helpful solutions.

Vandalism will have to be looked at on two levels, the short-term solution and the long-term solution. Long-term solutions for the eradication of vandalism will not solve the immediate problem. Basically, law enforcement is the Minister's business, but this problem covers a wider field than the Department of Justice. We would need to have a string of Ministers giving a commitment to try to tackle this problem. One of the major causes of vandalism is bad housing and the social consequences which emanate from bad housing, overcrowding and bad planning. We need to put sufficient capital and sufficient thought into planning our cities from the point of view of environmental, social and economic planning.

We will have to look at the economic facts. In the Government's White Paper on housing it is intended to take a back seat with regard to inner city housing. I may be wrong about that, but that is my interpretation of it. If that is the case, we will not solve these problems; we will compound them. Education is another very serious aspect, particularly at primary level, in areas where there is a high level of vandalism. There are also the aspects of overcrowding in classrooms and the socio-economic groupings in one school. All this does not make for a good society and does not give our children a break. We talk about cherishing all our children equally, but in the case of inner city primary education it can be said we are not cherishing all our children equally.

How many of those children go on to second level education, not to speak of third level education? The figures show the stark reality. Third level education does not exist. Those are two aspects: [173] bad housing and poor educational facilities. The recreational facilities are ill-conceived and ill-thought out. There is not a sufficient capital input to provide youth development officers. Our youth policies are totally inadequate and do not deal with the problems.

Most of these areas lack leadership and, therefore, the provision of youth development officers is very important. Their numbers would need to be trebled or quadrupled. Some areas can generate their own youth leaders with training programmes, and so on. The Government seem to adopt the attitude of piecemeal bureaucracy—what is good for one area must be good across the board. Of course, that is not the case. The cost of vandalism is astronomical. It is a soaring cost on our society. That refers to the economic side, but the cost in human terms is not calculable. One has only to look around to see the tragic cost in human terms.

I have given the House some of the causes of this problem. They are genuine and will stand up to scrutiny. If we are serious about attacking this problem in the long-term, we must have proper educational programmes which relate to the people in the areas, and not some obscure educational curricula which do not relate to the people and to which they do not respond.

It is important that the pupil-teacher ratio should be very much lower than it is. Because of overcrowding in the home and lack of ambition on the part of the parents, from day one their children are underprivileged and are not in a position to take advantage of formal education. We can only do this by lowering the pupil-teacher ratio. In these areas there are many classrooms going abegging and the actual cost will not be great. I am aware that the Minister is looking at this and is making some effort to do something about it but the time is long overdue and we should be making positive decisions to get organised and select the right type of teacher for these areas. There should be direct contact between parents and teachers so that teachers will be aware of the conditions [174] under which children are living and will be aware if there is a problem or if the child is not being properly fed. This sort of approach towards education could raise the standard considerably.

Many children leave school unable to read or write and that is a recipe for vandalism. These children inevitably feel inferior, they blame society and take it out on society. Our attitude towards education in these areas is very important and a greater amount of money should be invested on job training and job experience programmes. People who come from homes where the father is constantly unemployed consider that a normal way of life and are not encouraged to adapt to normal working hours. Job training and job experience at an early age will help them to adapt to regular working hours and to work. This sort of thing will get them away from the attitude that they are not able to work and that work cannot be part of their way of life.

The whole area of housing is also very relevant and we must make a positive decision to spend more money on housing. This would promote the type of community spirit we all wish to see and will help to do away with marauding vandals in the streets. I know there has been a lot of controversy between the Minister and the Garda Commissioner about whether or not there is an increase in the crime rate and this type of conflict does not do anybody any good. Anyone living in the city can see quite clearly that urban vandalism is on the increase. The fact that people just do not bother reporting it any more is an indication. The breaking of windows and the attacking of old people is an everyday occurrence and only a very small percentage of this type of thing is reported. The statistics, whatever they are do not relate to reality, and I wish we did not have to see this type of conflict between the Garda and the Minister as it is not a healthy sign.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Will the Deputy elaborate on the alleged conflict he is talking about as I would like an opportunity to deal with it?

[175]Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  The Minister was of the opinion that crime was decreasing and the Commissioner was of the opinion that crime was not decreasing.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  Opinion is not all that relevant to the debate before the House.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  It is, because if a conflict can be seen between the Minister and the law enforcement body it is not healthy for law enforcement. We are basically talking about vandalism and that comes into it. I will not dwell on it. There is nothing wrong with conflict so long as it is not portrayed in the public press. These things should not be exposed because they do no good.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  The Deputy is aware that both the Commissioner and I are on public record at a Garda function as saying that there has not been nor is there conflict between us on any matter.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  The Minister can always say that after the event. With all due respect that is the proper thing to do.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  We should leave it at that and get back to the motion.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  If the Deputy is not interested in the truth, fair enough.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  I am, but we know the diplomatic niceties that happen in all aspects of life.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Will the Deputy accept a statement of fact for what it is rather than a newspaper headline?

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  If there is no conflict I am happy to hear it.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  The Deputy can take it that there is definitely no conflict. For the information of the Deputy, one newspaper journalist who went out of his way to try to promote this so-called conflict did not point any word of my denial [176] or the Commissioner's denial when we spoke on it last Wednesday night.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  As we have disposed of that little aside let us get back to the motion.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  I would not agree that it was not relevant.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  It was not in the way it was developing, certainly.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  I believe it is but I will not go beyond that. The things that I mentioned that have to be tackled obviously do not come within the Minister's Department. These things will have to be tackled right across the board. An inter-departmental committee for the inner city of Dublin, a committee that would have been relevant to any inner city situation, regrettably seems to have been shelved. The inner city report touched on many of the positive things that should have been done to improve the environment in the city. If we can improve standards by way of housing, recreational facilities, jobs and so on, at least we will be tackling some of the causes of the problem. It appears that the findings of the interdepartmental committee have been shelved. If that is the case then it would appear that the Government—I say the Government because it will have to be a Government decision—have no intention of tackling the source of the problem, in which case they are remiss and must take a major share of the blame for the existing problems.

Even within the Minister's Department it can be shown that there are insufficient gardaí on the beat. Indeed, I know of one Garda station under strength to the extent of 30 in number, a Garda station in the inner city area. That situation must be examined. If the cost and economics alone are examined—and that is what Governments often do—it will be seen that the viable thing to do is to increase Garda strength. In my view an increased number of gardaí on the beat will prevent [177] crime, and prevention is what we should be talking about. It is all very well to arrest and convict after a crime has been committed—that is part of their duty—but prevention will be affected in addition to carrying out environmental improvements, by way of a strong Garda presence on the street.

To illustrate what I am talking about, I heard quite recently of a particular task force and Special Branch men who had a certain place marked out. They knew an armed raid was going to take place there. Just as they were ready to move in and arrest, a soldier in uniform passed the scene. That soldier in uniform put off those prospective offenders. That is a clear indication that the mere presence of the Garda Síochána on the street will act as a deterrent to such offenders, who will know there is a great risk of their being arrested. Always our gardaí on the beat were respected and served our community well. I should like to see more of them patrolling our streets. I realise that there are certain areas where they would find it difficult to operate alone. Again that is something that must be faced and resolved. When we have reached the sorry stage of having situations in which Garda patrol cars are now targets for thugs, God help the rest of us. If these people are not afraid of the gardaí, then we are all in trouble. Only the weekend before last there were three people killed in the city——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Seán Browne  Zoom on Seán Browne  I do not think we should get involved in something that is, as far as I know, before the courts, or is liable to come before them. The Deputy can make his case without mentioning specific cases.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  Three people were killed by a stolen car. It did not raise a ripple; it was as if nothing had happened. I had often thought that some time people would be killed, when it would bring things to a head. People were killed in that incident and, regrettably, nothing happened.

In a certain Garda station last Saturday evening the patrol cars could not [178] come onto the streets because in that area there were a number of stolen cars being driven about, like marauding dogs looking for patrol cars to ram. That is true. I got that information from a reliable source and I am satisfied it is true. It is now the “in” thing to tackle the Garda. Again last weekend in a particular case two cars chased a Garda inspector for half an hour with the intention of running him down. Obviously, in that process a man can be killed. The offenders did not succeed, but they called out his name—they had the wrong name—the name of the man they were calling being a respected member of the Garda Síochána who was doing a lot for that area. Yet they tried to run him down. This is a fact of life we must face.

I know this may seem to be emotive, but when one represents an inner city constituency one hears regularly that old people cannot walk the streets; they cannot even go to church, to evening mass without having their handbags robbed. This happens in broad daylight. They do not feel secure in their homes without having several locks on their doors. In such situations if a fire occurs there is no doubt but that they will be unable to open their doors fast enough and will perish because of their fears of what is outside. When people do not feel safe in their homes it is time we called a halt. It is time we said: this far and no further. When our people cannot walk the streets of our cities without fear or being molested we are in trouble.

Unless we take both short-term and long-term preventive measures, this very serious problem will worsen. There is no doubt about that. Crime is on the increase. I know it. I am hearing of cases regularly—people telephoning me, deputations coming to see me asking “What will happen?”, “When will something be done?” I know that the Minister recently had to meet a deputation of his own inner city Deputies because they are receiving the same complaints. It is certainly not something new to me. Every Deputy, particularly those who represent inner city areas, is hearing about it regularly. We want to [179] see visitors being able to move around without being molested. We want to see our elderly people able to move about in comfort. Only yesterday I led a deputation to the corporation about a certain problem, and many of that deputation mentioned that they could not leave their homes unattended. One woman said “I must have a babysitter”. There were no babies in the house but she had to have somebody to mind her home while she went out. It seems that even when couples are leaving their homes they must do so at different times: the husband leaves now and the wife in ten minutes time because, if they are seen leaving together, their home became a target for the boys. That is the genuinely sad situation obtaining in our cities, cities with a fine heritage.

I would appeal to the Minister to take preventive measures. We hear a lot of talk about Loughan House and incarceration. I am not somebody who wants to incarcerate everybody who commits an offence, but there are individuals roaming the streets of this and other cities who have no regard or respect for human beings, individuals who are incorrigible, who cannot and will not respond to training and advice, individuals for whom a place must be found. In Dublin there is need for a place of custody for serious offenders. They go to court where they get bail and within 24 hours they are back in the business of robbing and wrecking cars and all we are told is that there is nowhere to put them. If we are thinking in terms of building a custodial centre we should ensure that it is designed as a place of strict training for work and not as a place of leisure. I would be in favour of short sentences in such places for the incorrigible. For others who come before the courts we should think in terms of the whole aspect of community work with a view to having a system on the basis of that which operates on the Continent whereby such people are sent to do such work as clearing derelict sites and to help in all sorts of community schemes. Those who are likely to respond to such treatment [180] should be given that opportunity but in regard to those who are preoccupied solely with attacking the weak and the elderly positive action must be taken. That is why we must stop the pussyfooting.

I am talking about short-term measures but the long-term measures are the ones which concern me most. There is no point in our having short-term proposals for dealing with the problem if we fail to take account of the long-term situation. When there is a positive commitment to the long-term we can talk about the steps to be taken in the meantime to solve our social problems. First, we must ensure that the breeding grounds and the training grounds for the type of activity we are talking about are eliminated. By pursuing positive steps we will ensure in the long-term that our cities and towns are places we can be proud of and in which we can walk without fear of being attacked.

There are many aspects of this whole area of vandalism but we must take the situation step by step. I am sure the Minister has heard the phrase, “an acceptable level of crime”.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I have always rejected it.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  To say that there is an acceptable level of crime is to say that crime is justifiable. In a report sent to the Minister by the sergeants and inspectors association there were put forward some positive ideas for dealing with crime. These people are the experts. They are the people on the ground who are dealing with the situation on a day-to-day basis. I have not been able to get the report concerned but from the excerpts from it that I have read it is obvious that these men are making a serious attempt to deal with the problem in as humane a way as possible. I should hope that the Minister would take their recommendation into consideration in regard to whatever steps the Department may take in respect of this whole area with particular emphasis on vandalism and the stealing of cars.

[181] Another aspect of this matter is the inconsistency of the courts. There should be some consistency in this regard and the punishment should suit the crime. If people engage in violent activity they should have to pay for their deeds in some way or other but in my opinion the courts are inconsistent in terms of the punishment imposed. I do not believe that the Garda are getting sufficient support from the courts. While members of the force may work very hard to effect arrests they are often treated in court as if they, and not the accused, were in the dock. This must be very disheartening for the Garda. We must ensure that they have everything they need to deal with crime.

There is need for a much greater number of junior liaison officers in our cities. Such people could play a major role in monitoring the activities of young people and observing what potential they might have. They could keep a fatherly eye on young people who might drift unwittingly into crime and could become involved in worthwhile activities for them in problem areas. In many such areas the Garda are resented and are not getting the co-operation they deserve from the people of those areas generally. That is why I am suggesting that we appoint more of these junior liaison officers who could make for better relationships between the Garda and the offenders.

I would ask the Minister to look at this, to take up this matter as possibly one of the most serious problems facing our society today because if it is allowed drift on and get worse the city will become a jungle and it is not far removed from being that at the moment. People will want to move out of the cities and leave them there for the vandals and marauding thugs. This would be sad. I have been around the cities on the Continent and I was rather surprised by what I saw. It was different from Dublin where everything is chained up, locked up, bolted up, and even at that it is still not safe. The time has come when we have to take this on in a very serious and positive way. Certainly the Minister will have my full support and the support of [182] all on this side of the House in whatever action he takes, because people are getting fed up. I am surprised we have not had a backlash. But let us not wait for a backlash. Let us take it on now and deal with it in a positive way.

Minister for Justice (Mr. G. Collins): Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I move amendment No. 1:

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

“aware of the problems posed by acts of violence and vandalism in urban areas fully supports the Garda Síochána in the measures they are taking to deal with the situation.”

I have little doubt that this House will give overwhelming support to this motion. The Government will not shirk their responsibilities and will continue to provide the resources that the Garda Síochána need to enable them to prevent crime and maintain the rule of law.

Despite the recent happenings in our cities, for example, where gardaí have been attacked, where Garda vehicles have been damaged and Garda personnel have been at serious risk when cars have been driven at them and at their vehicles, I am confident that the members of the Force will not be deflected from combating such activities. A good deal of publicity has been given in the media to a number of the incidents of the cars and public concern has been expressed about them. In every instance the perpetrators were travelling in cars which had been taken without the consent of their owners. I can inform the House that to date charges have been preferred in all but one of the cases concerned. That is something that is not given prominence. Indeed less than 1 per cent of the publicity that has been given to this recent craze of bashing police cars has been given it. In all but every one, charges have been preferred. Let me mention briefly something that was mentioned by the Deputy. He said that squad cars were afraid to come on to the streets the other night. I have asked my officials who should be in a position to know and who would know if such were [183] the case and we have no knowledge of it. We have certainly had no report from the Garda authorities that this situation arose.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  I got it from a reliable source. I am not saying it is correct. There was one man who was 19 or 20 years in the Force and he said it was the first time he could not come out in his car because of the “marauding dogs” as he called them. I can tell the Minister where it was.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  I am not saying that I do not accept what the Deputy says as being what he believes to be true. What I am saying is that if such were the case then it is the responsibility of the officer concerned to tell his authorities and they would, as a matter of courtesy, tell me. We had no knowledge whatsoever of it, nor indeed have we any knowledge whatsoever of it, nor indeed have we any knowledge of two cars chasing a Garda inspector for half an hour.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  That is correct. I can give the Minister details of the whereabouts of that incident.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Again I do not doubt that the Deputy has been told this. I must say again that the Garda inspector concerned has not reported it or if he has it has not been reported to me.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  I believe it took half an hour to rescue him.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  The reason I mention that and the reason I go to the trouble of nit picking, if it might appear to be such, is that in all but one of the cases where police vehicles have been rammed charges have been preferred. Let me further say—and I believe this will probably come out in court——

Mr. F. O'Brien: Information on Fergus O'Brien  Zoom on Fergus O'Brien  I hope the court deals with it.

Mr. G. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  ——I understand that the mother of a 12½ year-old who [184] was driving the car was a passenger in the car and was seemingly enjoying herself at that time.

The problems for the Garda that are posed by acts of vandalism and violence on the streets of our cities are considerable and the Garda cannot be expected all alone to carry the burden of dealing with them. There are those who loudly proclaim that the causes of the mindless anti-social behaviour that often characterises such acts derive from deficiencies in family and social life, from bad housing, from lack of amenities and so on. I do not altogether exclude these factors but constant attribution of them as the root cause of the whole problem is not acceptable. There can be no tolerance in a democracy for these law-breakers. There can be no excuse made for violent attacks on the weaker sections of the public—the old, the infirm, the very young. Regrettably it is often they who suffer from the violence and the depredations of the vandals.

The Garda Síochána are our defence. They are in the front-line in combating crime. They deserve to get the wholehearted support of every citizen. I know that they do get a considerable amount of assistance from the public. They have acknowledged that help. But I urge that an even greater contribution be made. Any information that anyone has, however trivial or unimportant it may seem, that may have a relation to a criminal offence, he should pass it on to the Garda. They will be grateful for such information and, maybe, it will result in the detection of the offender. That is the most effective deterrent against the criminal.

Of course parents have a responsibility in all of this. The criminal acts we are talking about here are in many instances being done by young people whose parents cannot altogether escape censure. The schools, too, can make a contribution by inculcating in the young a respect for their fellowmen and for public and private property. Young people will respond if they are given proper guidance and I should like here to [185] pay a tribute to the excellent work that is being done by the many voluntary organisations that cater for young people. The boys clubs, community centres, parish centres and the like are all providing real and positive assistance in this regard. The local authorities too have a role to play. Dublin Corporation, particularly, has made a very direct impact by providing playgrounds and recreational facilities in very many areas of the city. I acknowledge the work they and other local authorities have done for the travelling people by the provision of serviced sites for them. But despite all this good work, we are still faced with problems.

I believe that it will need the concerted and continuing efforts of all those involved to work together to provide young people with outlets for their energies and enthusiasm in legitimate activities. It is right to point out to those who may not know it, or who choose to overlook it, that we in this country are not alone in having a crime level which is much higher than it was ten years ago. A rise in serious crime has occurred in many countries over the past few years and what has happened here is a reflection of what has happened everywhere. No doubt here I run the risk of being accused of complacency because I make this point. No fairminded person who knows my record and the record of the Government in the area of law and order can validly make that accusation.

The reason I refer to the possibly worldwide escalation in crime is to put our situation in context. It would be wrong for anyone to get the impression that high crime rates here arise from any dereliction of duty by the Garda Síochána or from any failure on my part, as Minister for Justice. It is my job as Minister for Justice to see that the Force have the resources of men and equipment that they need. This is not an appropriate occasion to deal at any length with the causes of crime but the crime rates here, as elsewhere in the world, arise from a combination of many factors which include changing social and moral values in the community. These [186] changes have made the primary functions of the police—the prevention and detection of crime—that much more difficult to accomplish. Let me here again underline one important point, that the community must realise, that sector of it, the vast majority which is well-behaved and law-abiding, that crime prevention is not just a matter for the police. It is everybody's responsibility. We can all help the Garda and, of course, ourselves, by taking common-sense precautions to protect ourselves and our property, in this way making things that much more difficult for the potential criminal.

It will be generally agreed that essentially the Garda need manpower, and manpower that is well-selected and trained and deployed in the most effective way. They need transport and communications and a range of varied equipment. My record in looking after all these things is one that I am not afraid to defend.

In relation to manpower—and with due respect to Deputy Desmond I am not omitting woman-power—we have excellent ban-ghardaí as well as men—I would remind the House that when I took office as Minister for Justice in July 1977, the strength of the Garda Síochána was 8,485. By 31 March this year, Garda strength had been increased to 9,577 and recruitment is continuing with a view to bringing the strength up to 10,000 by the end of the year. In all, a total of 1,509 gardaí have been recruited since July 1977 but, allowing for wastage through retirement and deaths, the total net increase in strength since then is 1,092. The next batch of 90 recruits will complete their training in Templemore on 8 May next and the majority of them will be assigned to stations in Dublin.

During 1979, the Detective Branch was increased by approximately 300 members and the strength of the Garda Technical Bureau is now being increased to provide for four investigation units instead of one as at present, whose services will be available to assist in the solution of serious crimes. The Special Task Force is also being increased to approximately [187] more than double its present size so that it can more readily respond to whatever demands are made on it.

There have been comments for some time past about the alleged need to improve the quality of Garda recruits. I dealt with this matter fairly fully in reply to a recent Dáil question and here I will just repeat three points: first, the vast majority of recruits coming into the Force in recent years have qualified in the leaving certificate examination. The figure is that at the last intake over 94 per cent had the leaving certificate. Secondly, the academic standard required for entry to the Garda Síochána is comparable to the standard set for entry for practically every major police force in Europe. Thirdly, I have the assurance of the Garda Commissioner that the standard of recruits coming into the force in recent times is as high as at any time in the past, if not higher.

Recruit training is being reviewed to see whether the existing programme is adequate in terms both of content and duration. I can assure you that the findings which emerge from this review will meet with a very positive response from me.

In-service training—that is refresher training for serving gardaí—has been introduced and is being gradually extended. The Government took a decision some months ago to establish a residential Police College for the training of middle and senior rank officers. I should mention that to strengthen the management structure of the Force the Government also some months ago, appointed two additional assistant garda commissioners, one of these to have specific responsibility for force training at all levels.

Towards the end of 1978, a new unit was set up in Garda Headquarters, headed by a superintendent with special responsibility for the operation of a community relations bureau, and for the overall administration of the juvenile liaison officer scheme. The main objective of the bureau is to increase the co-operation and improve relations [188] generally between the Garda Síochána and the public.

The superintendent and inspectors in the bureau have given a number of talks to various community groups and associations in the Dublin area, and in addition a selected inspector in each district in the Dublin Metropolitan Area has been given special responsibility for community relations work in his particular area. In general, these inspectors help members of the public and youth or community organisations who need advice; they also keep in touch and co-operate with groups and organisations in their districts and so encourage a better understanding of Garda problems.

It is essential to ensure that members of the Force are deployed in the way that enables them most effectively to perform their duties. Here some experimentation is necessary. Modern transport has created certain problems for police—it has made criminals much more mobile—even to the extent as Deputy O'Brien said of ramming Garda cars—and takes up much police time in dealing with traffic congestion, accidents and so on. At the same time transport is an invaluable aid to police—it makes it possible for them to maintain a presence over a wide area and to respond quickly to incidents or calls for assistance. Patrol cars, controlled by radio, make different systems of policing possible and studies are at present being carried out by a joint Garda and Department of the Public Service study team to see what organisation of mobile and foot patrols can best meet our needs, both in rural areas and particularly in the developing new suburbs of our cities and towns.

We are told constantly that what is needed is the garda on foot, patrolling his beat. In the same breath we are told that this system of policing is outmoded having regard to the fast cars and sophisticated methods used by modern criminals. What we need is a satisfactory level of Garda presence on our roads and streets where they are easily accessible to the public but at the same time the Force must have the means of responding quickly to whatever demands [189] arise. A garda on foot, patrolling a suburban roadway may give reassurance to the residents there but he can be of little help in the case of a burglary or some other crime which arises maybe only a quarter of a mile away. It is necessary to establish what allocation of men to different areas and what combination of foot patrols and patrol cars is best suited to our needs, and work is going ahead rapidly on this.

To ensure that the maximum possible number of gardaí are made available for operational police work, an examination is being carried out to see to what extent gardaí on clerical duties can be replaced by civilians. The Force already have the assistance of approximately 300 civilian staff but I am hopeful that this number can be considerably increased. It is obviously desirable that gardaí who are specially selected and trained for police duties should not be utilised on duties which do not require police training, skills or powers. The possible extension of civilianisation is being examined in full consultation with the Garda staff associations under the Garda Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme and I am hopeful that good progress will be made soon.

I propose now to give the House some crime statistics for 1979. The figures I give are provisional figures—and I stress that—and there is a possibility of some variations in the final figures when these have been compiled. It is hoped that the Commissioner's Annual Crime Report for 1979 will be ready for publication in a few months' time. Although we are dealing here with violence and vandalism in urban areas, I think it would be useful to view the problem in context of the overall crime situation. The number of indictable offences for 1979 is provisionally 64,051 which represents an increase on the 1978 figure of about 3 per cent. A total of 26,310 of these offences were detected in 1979; this is a detection rate of 40.0 per cent, which is about the same as the rate for 1978.

Turning to incidents of vandalism I do not think that I need weary the House [190] with reams of statistics. I will confine myself to giving some figures about the situation in central Dublin. The number of reported incidents of malicious damage in the city centre in 1979 was 6,211; in 1978, the figure was 5,924, in 1977, 5,997 and in 1976 5,593. Of course the level of vandalism is high and is a matter of serious concern. Since I have taken up office Garda strength in the four Garda districts in the city centre has been increased by 9 per cent.

Vandalism is also on the increase in Cork City, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, but I am advised that outside these urban areas this type of behaviour is not causing a serious problem, though of course the members of the public who suffer from the actions of vandals view the situation in the light of their own experiences. I do not blame them for that. Anyone of us who was a victim would react the same way.

Current provisional overall crime figures for the Dublin Metropolitan area are not good. They have not been good for many years now and despite the measures that have been taken by the Government and by the Garda the level of crime remains far too high. Vandalism and violence have increased, but I am not despondent. I have every confidence in the Garda Síochána and, so far as I and the Government are concerned, they will not be denied the resources they need to do their job.

I want to refer briefly to comments made by Deputy O'Brien with regard to an alleged conflict, a row or, as one newspaper put it, a public brawl between the Garda Commissioner and myself. At a dinner in Limerick last week I went into this in great detail because it was my first opportunity with a Garda audience to deal with the matter since publicity was given to what happened in Galway. There was no row, no conflict, or anything remotely approaching a row or conflict, between the Garda Commissioner and myself. I do not have to ask anybody to accept my word for that because I can prove it very easily.

The statement I made about crime levels and for which the commissioner, [191] according to one newspaper, had “rapped” me, was not thought up by me or by anybody in my Department. It was a statement provided by Garda headquarters. The story that I was trying to conceal the true picture and that the commissioner found it necessary to reveal it, is completely untrue and is not in accordance with the facts. I could be more specific. I, as Minister for Justice, have no source of information about crime levels other than the Garda Síochána. It is therefore impossible for there to be any conflict between us about these figures because I get the figures from them.

Crime statistics are not secret. They are published yearly in great detail in the commissioner's annual report. For a variety of reasons, the 1978 report was not available until quite recently and showed a small decrease in crime when compared with 1977. When the 1978 report was being published some weeks ago I said in an interview—and I am not now referring to the Galway speech but to an earlier interview—that the decrease, small though it was, was welcome and I paid tribute to the Garda Síochána for their efforts in securing such a result. I went on to say that indications were that the 1979 figures when available would turn out to be of about the same level. That was exactly and precisely the information supplied to my Department by Garda headquarters. That was not bad news, bearing in mind that we had previously witnessed increases of the order of 20 per cent between one year and another. Having made that remark and having paid tribute to the Garda—which was the whole point of what I was saying—I went on to point out that I was not foolish enough to think that a small reduction of this kind should make us complacent about the crime situation.

I repeated the gist of those remarks a few weeks later in Galway. I did not even speak of the downward move in 1978 but of the halt in the upward trend. I did so before a Garda audience for the purpose of enabling me to lead into a [192] tribute to the Garda Síochána for their efforts. The commissioner in his speech in Galway was good enough to respond by thanking me for my tribute to the Force making the observation that the hope I had expressed about the 1979 figures might be slightly optimistic. That was the sum total of the “challenge”, the “contradiction”, the “row”, or, as one evening newspaper put it, the “public brawl” between the Minister and the Garda Commissioner. Life is full of hazards. I clearly said in Galway and elsewhere that there was no room for complacency about the figures but, believe it or not, the same newspaper accused me of being complacent. One cannot win. That is the situation.

I thank Deputy O'Brien for accepting what I said, that there was not, is not and will not be a row, because I can prove beyond a shadow of doubt that there was not. I appreciate the Deputy's very responsible approach in this area. It would be very bad for the morale of the police if there was a row. The police, as a body, need 100 per cent support and co-operation from all the community if they are to take on the criminals, whether they be juveniles or adults, and to deal effectively with them on behalf of our community.

I had a number of meetings recently with the Garda Commissioner and Garda authorities about what I believe is a very serious problem in this city, as it is in other cities. This is a very big problem. The temporary arrest we had made in this type of juvenile crime is on the increase again.

I thank Deputy O'Brien on his comments on Loughan House. I did not like to establish Loughan House, I never wanted to have to do it, but there are people who would be free if members of the Labour Party had got their way, and perhaps members of Fine Gael. They have a motion on the Order Paper asking that Loughan House be closed. As I said, I did not like the idea of Loughan House, but I do not make apologies to anybody for having it. I have been pilloried for it by the do-gooders.

I say to them that it will be kept there, [193] and if necessary I will open more of that type of institution. If it is necessary to have such institutions to protect the community, the old and the infirm, I have a responsibility to provide them and that I will do. Some youngsters of this age are in for rape, for assaulting and mugging old people—I am talking about the people in Loughan House. They are not just put in there. They are being trained to be channelled back into society again. Some of those who have been in Loughan House have been brought back into society and we hope and pray that we will continue to be successful with this work. Those who complain in this House about the high rate of vandalism and violence, which I agree exists, would do well to remember that when you talk to the old people who have been mugged or whose handbags have been snatched, you learn that if they are to be protected as they must be, those, as they were called by Deputy O'Brien, incorrigibles must be taken out of circulation for the protection of the community.

Deputy Eileen Desmond is shaking her head and smiling. She was on the radio the other night asking for my resignation as Minister for Justice. She is about to speak and perhaps she will tell us what she will do about the under-16 rapist or the mugger. Will she bring him down to Togher in Cork and let him loose there? No fear.

Mrs. Desmond: Information on Eileen Desmond  Zoom on Eileen Desmond  I should like to commence by congratulating Deputy O'Brien. This is a commendable motion, it is opportune, it is of pressing concern to a great number of people throughout the country. Deputy O'Brien is concerned about his own area. In his reply the Minister referred to the Togher area in Cork. Of course that is of real concern to all of us.

First of all, I compliment Deputy O'Brien on his appeal for lack of emotion in this debate. It is important that we do not give way to emotion, as the Minister displayed in the closing part of his speech. That is not at all helpful. We all have different views about how to [194] solve this problem and it is not a matter of confrontation across the floor of the House. The motion calls for a positive and comprehensive plan to deal with this problem and I did not see the need for the Minister's amendment.

In his motion, Deputy O'Brien did not imply any lack of support for the methods of the Garda in combating crime. He appealed for an unemotional, responsible approach to it. The only area with which I agree with the Minister is that he appreciates that crime and violence in our society might be rooted in deprivation. These things may be rooted in the fact that many of our citizens have been treated unjustly and that there is a great sense of alienation and hopelessness among many people. This is a long-standing problem which calls for a long-standing solution, as Deputy O'Brien said. That is the aspect of the problem to which we must address ourselves.

In the meantime, there is an immediate, short-term problem to be dealt with. I agree with those who say that it can best be dealt with by the positive presence of more gardaí on the beat throughout our cities. That is not inconsistent with our opposition to the move to open Loughan House. We believe in the preventive role of the Garda. That is the role they see themselves performing in relation to crime. They hope they will have the co-operation of citizens. Unfortunately the victims of that crime are in the main deprived people themselves, the elderly and the disabled.

They are the people, as the Minister said, who are the victims of even gang rape. They are condemned to live in insecure surroundings, deprived of the amenities which people in more favoured areas take for granted. They look to us for a short-term solution to their problems and, as I have said, we see that solution in more gardaí on the beat, gardaí with better equipment and morale. The only problem in this respect is that people who may be alienated and deprived cannot see that the law works impartially, and that the same force of the law is being applied to those who are [195] deprived as to those in more favourable circumstances.

Violence is the root cause of vandalism and I am afraid violence is acceptable in our society. I am afraid there is a great tolerance here of violence. Groups and individuals are very concerned at this tolerance. Our young people see violence on television. They are exposed to it from the moment they are born and therefore have a great tolerance of violence. We are inclined also to turn a blind eye to violence in the home. We have a Family Home Protection Act, we have barring orders when violence occurs within the home, but we have not had proper enforcement of these barring orders, despite several questions and appeals to the Minister to have those provisions tightened up.

I have been trying to say that for many of our children violence begins in the home. Both parents and children in many instances are the victims of an unjust society and by our tolerance in that respect we are exposing children to violence from the moment of their existence. That might be all right for children with more enlightened or favoured backgrounds because they get a proper sense of balance.

This debate is about an overall comprehensive plan to deal with violence in the long-term. In the areas where violence is most prevalent—and I am not saying that violence does not apply right across the board or in the more privileged areas—and in the areas where it is more obvious and more apparent, there is a total lack of amenities. I am surprised that the Minister attaches so little importance to this. I favour the line taken by Deputy Fergus O'Brien, which is consistent with the line we have always taken on these benches—that we need an overall long-term plan to combat the violence that exists in those urban areas of our cities and towns.

Some people in the first analysis, come from homes which, through no fault of their parents, are deprived. We must start with proper housing. We have built huge, heartless, mindless estates [196] with no centres, no recreational or community facilities, no prospects whatsoever for a community spirit. Children of that deprived background and bad housing, with parents who are themselves deprived, lack a favourable start in life. They must have security in the home and prospects of education and of employment. Pre-school facilities are also very important. Estates need day centres and pre-school facilities to combat the injustice and deprivation perpetrated on these areas by society. These should be our priorities but, instead, in these areas we have classrooms with the largest number of children per teacher. There is a complete lack of teachers to make up for the deprivation of these children, which is, unfortunately, their birthright.

The Minister has responsibility for the upholding of law and order and is the one to whom a motion of this nature is addressed in the House, but there is no question of any one Minister having overall responsibility for tackling this problem, whether on a short-term or long-term basis, particularly not on a long-term, basis. We must have changed attitudes towards housing, towards education, and involvement with health problems. It has been stated many times, including quite recently, that a number of the people who commit acts of violence need psychological care and health care in one form or another. It has been proved beyond doubt, without going into statistics, that the people who are in line to be committed to Loughan House were in the main underweight under par so far as education is concerned, deprived in every way.

The Minister when opening Loughan House told us that he intended closing it within three years and giving us a more modernised approach towards these victims of our society. He horrified me tonight by saying that he was going to keep Loughan House open and to open more such institutions. This is against all the thinking and all the advice given to the Minister and we are talking here about children. No child is born bad; he is the victim of his environment and [197] should be so treated. We have children who are perpetrating these crimes of violence and who have gone before the courts before, many of them perpetual offenders because there is no follow-up service worth talking about. There is the expansion of the service of which the Minister speaks tonight but that is only a drop in the ocean compared with the needs which exist.

The Minister himself, in response to my question earlier this year in relation to Loughan House, admitted that a number of children had been released whose whereabouts are not known. That is a terrible indictment, for which I do not hold the Minister and his Department wholly responsible. These children whose whereabouts are not known are in the vulnerable position they were in before they were committed to Loughan House. There should be some follow-up service, some extension of the juvenile liaison service to cover these children who are supposed to be the greatest offenders and who must be contained to the extent that they have to be incarcerated in that closed prison situation. What the Minister has said does not alter my attitude towards Loughan House. You can lock people up for as long as you like, but if you have no follow-up service you build up a sense of frustration and alienation. The service must be geared to bringing these people back into society and making them feel that somebody cares. Given proper environment, consideration and affection, children will not respond with acts of violence against their fellow citizens. There is no doubt about that.

We have the question of employment prospects for the boys and girls who are often the unfortunate victims of society. I have no wish for this situation to continue but it is a question of how to go about changing it and what will bring about a greater measure of justice and [198] equity in society, which, in turn, will eradicate this violence. We have the question of the employment prospects of people living in those areas from which vandals come and of children who have come before the courts and have records. There are areas in our cities where an address mitigates against getting employment. People in those areas have come from deprived homes, have no education and are deprived when it comes to being accepted by society into positions of employment. I make my case for a long-term solution, based on fair treatment for all and special consideration for children who are at risk and who might be the victims of hard core criminals. We have always made a case that there might be a very small group of people who need containing, who could be incorrigibles, as we say, and who may suffer from illness in one form or another. A lot of our children are exposed to that sort of environment because of the lack of facilities. I appeal, in the closing moments of this debate that, if this debate does nothing else, it might impress upon the Minister the need to encourage his colleagues, the Minister for Health and the Government generally, to take some action on a Children's Bill, some action on the report of the task force, which I understand has now been submitted and which certainly is in preparation for some time. This would be a substitute for the Children's Act of 1908 and the School Attendance Act of 1926 and would be a measure of up to date thinking, so far as children are concerned. I stress the need of children from deprived areas.

Debate adjourned.

The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 April 1980.


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