Private Members' Business. - Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism: Motion.

Tuesday, 13 May 1986

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 366 No. 4

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Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  I move:

That Dáil Éireann requests the Government to provide the Garda Síochána with the resources needed to enable them to deal effectively with the present unacceptable levels of crime, lawlessness and vandalism.

At the outset I reject the amendment put forward in the name of the Minister for Justice suggesting that the Dáil approves of the provision by the Government for the Garda Síochána of resources in [741] the current year. In the past few days, particularly, we have all seen the widespread alarm about the cutbacks in Garda overtime. There is a basis for this. Alarm, some of which may have been unnecessary, has been created by what is happening in the Garda Síochána. The news of the cutbacks was particularly alarming to people living in areas where there are high levels of crime.

The Minister gave us assurances in the House that despite circumstances at the Border or elsewhere, areas in which there were high levels of crime would be given the attention they need, that the Garda would not be cut for overtime, that they would be allowed the necessary flexibility. Therefore, our great concern when we read of these difficulties recently can be understood. We know very well that in recent years the volume of crime has increased dramatically, with nearly 100,000 crimes being recorded for 1984. No doubt the Minister will claim that there has been a drop in the figures in 1985 — the figures should be available by this time. A special feature of the past three years has been the rise in violent crime and injuries to law-abiding citizens.

We are not dealing with statistics, whether they are going up or down, but with the clear pattern of an increase in violent crimes and injuries to citizens. Various Coalition Ministers have tried to fudge the issue in an effort to avoid their responsibilities. They suggest that the crime problem is under control. This head-in-the-sand approach does not help at all, especially when it is juxtaposed with the low detection rate of one in three, the low rate of recovery of stolen property, about 8.6 per cent, the spiralling of violent crimes, especially in urban and suburban areas, the ready availability of unlicensed firearms, the growth in racketeering and the failure of the Government to give needed support to those who are involved in the front line of the fight against crime, the community, the victims, and above all the Garda, who at the end of the day are the thin blue line between the community and the criminals.

[742] It is vital that this House provides the Garda with the resources to deal with the dreadful problem they have to face. Our newspapers highlight this failure daily when they report criminal cases. Whole communities are forced to throw a cloak around criminal activities in their areas not because they do not care but because they are caught helplessly between the complacency of the Government and what they see as the success of the criminals and the intimidation, by threats, of the racketeers.

The Garda can give only so much. At present they are being asked to fight the criminals with their hands tied behind their backs. I have been speaking to gardaí recently who are responsible for policing serious crime areas, and that is the way they feel about it. Their comment is that because of cutbacks in overtime and the lack of flexibility available to them they are facing criminals with their hands tied behind their backs.

The buck stops with the Minister for Justice, and as long as the Government continue their cutbacks and their failure to re-inforce the Garda the criminals will have a free rein. There has been a failure to beat the criminals and to reduce the crime rate significantly. Therefore, the community are forced into a position in which people are forced to accept that the activities of criminals are in some way normal. We cannot ask people to sacrifice their self respect, their peace and their right to security of life and property. There is no such thing as an acceptable level of crime and we will continue to oppose Coalition attempts to peddle the notion that there is.

The community are being savaged by criminals, vandals and thugs. Last year, the value of property stolen is estimated to have been more than £31 million, of which only £2.6 million, or 8.6 per cent, was recovered. People no longer feel safe in their homes. The elderly, in particular, are living in an unnecessary state of fear. I say “unnecessary” because very often the presence of a garda on the beat would take away a great deal of the fear they have and give them a sense of security.

[743] I know of schools, pubs, shopping centres and post offices which have been burned and vandalised. Racketeering is on the increase, a point the Minister continually refuses to accept. What does the Minister know about the situation on the ground? He can see from the newspapers that during last weekend, in a locality close to me, a school was plundered, a pub was robbed and a garda is in hospital tonight because of trying to do his duty in a shopping centre. A church was set on fire, a school was robbed and a community centre was vandalised. That is what happens at a weekend in this city but it could be stopped if sufficient gardaí were made available. We asked the Minister about this before and we will go on shouting about it. It is not good enough to pull back resources from certain areas. The result is that some people are bearing the brunt of the storm of crime and vandalism. The Minister has refused to accept that this is happening.

I am not interested in the generality of statistics. The Minister can go and see the areas in question. Night after night, weekend after weekend, crime and vandalism are rampant. It could all be stopped. It is interesting to note that during the recent kidnapping affair crime was wiped out when all the detectives and gardaí were around. The Minister can check the statistics if he wishes. Because the gardaí and detectives were on the street checking to see what was going on, people had peace. It shows that if the resources are allocated to areas that have higher crime levels the problem can be solved. It is the duty of the Minister to do this.

I know of one public house that cannot be sold even at half its market value because of the involvement of racketeers and of another where insurance cover was withdrawn on change of ownership also because of racketeers. In that case the Garda Síochána were aware of the circumstances; but, given their limited resources, there was little they could do to ensure the rights of that pub owner. This kind of thing crops up again and again. The Garda may have an idea of [744] what is going on, but they must put in resources to get results. That means flexibility of operation and overtime, and unless they are available they cannot carry out the kind of surveillance that is necessary in such circumstances. The pub owner to whom I referred, and I suspect an increasing number in that locality, are victims of a Government who are less than honest in confronting criminals.

Some insurance companies will say that no longer can they afford to insure pubs because of vandalism and arson in certain areas. The insurance of schools is also approaching a point of crisis. Some 95 per cent of school insurance is carried by one company and recovery rates for malicious damage to schools have risen from £250,000 in 1982 to over £409,000 in 1985. Of course, the actual cost is higher — that is just the amount an insurance company can recover in respect of malicious damage. Three quarters of the claims came from the Dublin area. Schools in that area are in a constant stage of siege and, with the Government's proposed withdrawal of malicious damages, it is anticipated there will be a premium increase of between 25 per cent and 30 per cent in school insurance later this year because of vandalism and because people are not being protected. The Garda are well able to do that if they are given the resources, but they are not being given the resources. This is the net result of Government policy, of penny pinching and cutbacks of Garda resources. It means that gardaí are taken off the beat, leaving the community exposed to criminal activity.

It is no wonder that the only growth industry in the country is in the area of home security which accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the entire security industry. This is an industry that is feeding on fear, a fear that has been bred both by the success of the criminal and the failure of the Government to act. It causes all the more concern in that it is alleged that some of these security companies are little more than a front for protection rackets. The response of the Government has been to cut back on Garda resources. I know that this Minister has a deserved [745] reputation for cutbacks, that he is trying to implement in the Department of Justice what he tried to do in the Department of Finance before the present Minister re-wrote his budget.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  The Deputy got there before me in June 1982.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Minister is forcing the Garda into an increasingly untenable position. They are caught between the words and the deeds of this Government because the deeds do not match the words. Not only is there a fall-off in resources and manpower but morale is also hit. There is a feeling of being conned by the posturing of the Coalition and this was seen clearly at the recent annual conferences of the Garda associations. To give just one example, the president of the Garda Representative Association said “It is untrue and the criminals know it”, when the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Noonan, told everyone he had provided spike chains to deal with the problem of car ramming. The Government were trying to convey a false impression not only to the public but to the Garda themselves.

The deception and confusion that characterised the Government's policy on crime, expecially where cutbacks were involved, hit the morale of the Garda Síochána. The denial of adequate resources is a vote of no confidence in the Garda. Since this Government came into office in 1982 they have been systematically undermining the effectiveness of the Garda. For example, in relation to the strength of the force, we are still 600 gardaí short of the 12,000 target set and approved by the Dáil in 1982. It is not as though the extra gardaí were not needed. Every community knows they are needed and the crime statistics and the low detection rates prove that. The annual number of Garda recruits has taken a dramatic downward turn from the figure of 983 when the last Fianna Fáil Government were in office in 1982 to 253 last year and to a zero intake so far this year.

How can the gardaí be expected to cope effectively with criminal activity when manpower levels are not increased [746] to meet the challenges of the criminals? Civilian posts in the force are also being left unfilled because of the public service embargo. Again, this is shortsighted. It means gardaí are being diverted from their primary function which is to police to clerical and other duties. The penny-wise and pound-foolish policies of the Government means that the efforts and money spent in training gardaí to the current highly professional standards are not achieving the maximum results.

The Government cutbacks have affected the operation of Garda overtime. In terms of the budget, there has been nearly a 50 per cent cutback in overtime in the past four years. In the current year a sum of £12 million was allocated. Recently we learned that £2 million per month had been spent during the first four months of this year, using up £8 million of the £12 million allocated for the year as a whole. On this basis there will be only an average of £500,000 per month for each of the remaining eight months to cover all overtime duties, including the Border areas.

The Minister indicated that overtime would be provided where crime was a serious problem and that activities on the Border would not take from the provision of flexibility in overtime in the areas where this was needed. The reason for this step is quite clear. The Government committed the country to increased Border security as a result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but they are unwilling to pay the bill for it. Not only is the bill for overtime on the Border taken from the general overtime fund which, as I said, has been decreasing, but it results in the depletion of funds for the more effective policing of other areas. Cutbacks in overtime for areas apart from the Border areas make a farce of the effort to beat the criminal. As Garda personnel are redeployed to Border areas, regular levels of Garda activity on our streets are being cut back. This applies even to squads such as the Serious Crime Squad and the Drug Squad. In all, it is estimated that there has been a net cutback of over 1,000 gardaí as a result of deployment to the Border.

[747] It has been clearly indicated to Garda superintendents that little or no money is available for overtime for the rest of the year. As a result, in one district a directive went out last week from the superintendent that there would be no overtime in any circumstances following a directive from headquarters. This may have been a misinterpretation of the directive, but that is how it went out. From what we are told, that is how the directive was handled on a much wider basis. I might add that the district to which I have referred was not in Dublin. Last weekend in the case of a murder in Dublin the technical bureau could not go to the scene of the crime until Monday. The same happened in respect of a robbery in Cabra and a fatal accident in Offaly. These men would be going out from Dublin outside normal hours.

Cutbacks have reached such a ridiculous point that personnel on surveillance and in the technical bureau who are working away from home, for example, in Bray, must now return to base for lunch, instead of getting the subsistence allowance which would allow them to complete their work. The Minister must agree that this is a ridiculous situation. The cutbacks in both overtime and personnel have major implications for the maintenance of law and order. They have resulted in the cancellation of court sittings, in the curtailing and disruption of security patrols — even at high security prisons such as Portlaoise — and in the scaling down of special missions and surveillance activities. Surveillance activity is particularly important where crime levels are high. If you want to catch those who are damaging a particular shop, public house, school and so forth you put a few gardaí on duty who spend from four to seven days there, watching very often at nighttime, and they will catch the culprits. There is plenty of evidence in support of this. However, if overtime is so curtailed that they cannot do so, then crime will continue.

Let me quote the words of the Secretary General of the Garda Representatives Association as follows: “Cutbacks [748] have already led to the cancellation of certain duties and services considered vital.” Not just the trappings and trimmings, but the basic services have been affected. That is what we are concerned about. These include cutbacks in operation, including the temporary closedown of smaller stations and the depletion of foot patrols. Resources must be used with flexibility. Organisationally, the Garda force are flexible enough to adapt to the new situations which are confronting them. However, there has been no action on Garda review, despite the Minister's promises to act. We believe that special squads should be developed to confront the changing pattern in crime. In those areas where the racketeers are operating, or where there are high levels of vandalism, a special squad should be assigned to back up the local gardaí and given the flexibility and the manoeuvrability to deal with the situation in these areas. If this is done, I am quite certain they will be able to clean up crime.

These policies worked well in the past and I know they will work well again in the future. For me, such squads are part of the continuous review of Garda activity. Review must be an active thing and must not be put on the long finger. The crime problem will never be under control unless and until the Government confront the problem honestly and realistically. At present they are not doing so. So the nightmare of crime goes on and will go on until the Garda are given the resources they need. They need the active support of the Government, not the string of verbiage they have been getting. Our communities are entitled to a real commitment from the Government to tackle the crime problem. Our gardaí are ready and able to do their part; so are our communities. The weak link in the change is Government policy and until that link is strengthened the criminal will reign free.

In conclusion, I appeal to the Minister to take this matter seriously and urgently. If the extra overtime has been used up because of Border activities, he gave us an undertaking earlier in the year that overtime for high crime areas would not [749] be cut as a result. We want to hear definite assurances from the Minister for those who are beleaguered and besieged by crime in these areas. I have already invited the Minister to come to these areas. He will be very welcome. If he wants to come tonight, he will see the gardaí from our own areas who are in hospital. That is what we are facing day in, day out in Dublin and I am sure it is no different in parts of Limerick and Cork. We are asking for the resources and the support and not further cutbacks. People come first; give them the support. The gardaí are fully capable of doing the job and have shown that again and again, if they are given the resources and the opportunity to do it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Deputy Lyons has until 7.40 p.m.

Mr. Lyons: Information on Denis Lyons  Zoom on Denis Lyons  Ní mór dom cuidiú leis an rún atá molta ag mo chara anseo. The seriousness of crime, lawlessness and vandalism throughout the country is indicated by the fact that we have again introduced a motion here to discuss the situation arising from the prevalence of crime, this despite the claim that things are getting better and are not as bad as they were. The parallel can be drawn with the Government's reaction on unemployment. The position on crime is still too bad for the House to be fobbed off with easy statements such as have been made in recent times. In the matter of crime we could use the phrase, “Prevention is better than cure”. That would be achieved by the strengthening of our Garda force in numbers, technology, facilities, time, in every detail which is required for the prevention of crime.

We are not putting sufficient emphasis on prevention. The task forces which the various divisions had throughout the country were discontinued by this Government and surely that was removing a preventative aspect of crime. The only task force retained was in the metropolitan area of Dublin and that on occasions has been deployed to another region further north to guard the Six [750] County mythical Border, when the practical thing to do would have been to train people in that area who knew those with whom they were dealing and were familiar with the whole scene. Deploying a Dublin task force does not result in prevention.

The cutback on overtime and the use of the overtime fund in specific areas — perhaps where there is a need — leaves the remainder of the country in such a state that the criminal is encouraged and takes advantage of the opportunity to commit the crimes which could have been prevented. The causes of crime are wide and varied. Surely they are social; surely they are economic in many cases. That stems from Government policy in the matter of social activity and the economy. There is an old saying that the devil tempts the idle mind and, with so many people idle, we can expect an increase in crime. The Government have a responsibility to prevent crime by eliminating the causes and much of the cause arises from our economic and social situation at this time. The only section of our community who are very lucratively engaged at this time are the security firms counteracting the crime, lawlessness and vandalism that is being carried on here for want of proper action by the Government.

Poverty breeds crime. Free legal aid is required and I support its availability for people who cannot afford, from their own resources, to have themselves defended in court. But let us look at the free legal aid situation in Cork alone. The number of claims by solicitors has increased in this year by 30 per cent. Since 1 January this year a total of 371 certificates for free legal aid have been presented by solicitors to the Department of Justice. Some years ago only a handful of solicitors operated free legal aid in Cork city. Now there are 36 on the panel. Surely there is a message there for the Minister.

Deterrents are another factor. Our over-crowded prisons meant that the prospect of imprisonment was no longer a deterrent because the criminals realised that there was no place to keep them. When we were in Government we used part of the Curragh Camp when [751] Mountjoy was not available. Just over 12 months ago the then Minister for Justice made this marvellous announcement that he was going to set up in Cork Harbour Ireland's answer to Alcatraz, Spike Island. It was going to be the be all and end all of deterrents. The Minister was advised by the Garda and prison officers that the hurried use of Spike Island without proper preparation other than bricking up fireplaces, would not work. But Deputy Noonan knew it all. Spike Island was definitely the answer. At the time the Minister indicated that only trustworthy prisoners would be imprisoned there while it was being made suitable. But we know what happened to this wonderful solution. For some people what happened to the selected trustworthy detainees on Spike Island last year may be history, but not for me.

What about the commitments and the marvellous plan suggested to provide accommodation for 300 detainees on Spike Island? It has been scrapped by the Government. During the visit by the present Minister to Cork yesterday it emerged that there is no long term strategy for the development of the island prison which was wrecked during the rioting last September. The Minister indicated that the project would not go ahead despite the fact that Minister Noonan said that there was a plan and that something less than £11 million represented an attractive prospect for the Irish taxpayer. Yesterday the Minister said that the Cabinet had not considered specific plans for a new jail on Spike Island nor was there any policy for the long term. That came as a surprise to many people. It now seems likely that the Spike Island prison will develop on a piecemeal basis and that Minister Noonan's plan to have a prison capable of accommodating 300 detainees will never be developed.

Another aspect in the prevention and elimination of crime is the fact that there are only 32 sitting days in the year for trials in the Circuit Court in Cork, that is, four terms of eight days each. On average 90 indictments await trial. In the not too distant past one trial took five [752] days and that left three days for the remaining 89 trials to be held. Let me ask the Minister a very simple question. Who could have confidence in the system when such a situation can arise? The rate of crime indicates that criminals are taking advantage. To my knowledge no judge has ever deliberately perpetrated an injustice. Yet it would seem that in some cases too much emphasis is laid on technical rules to the profit of the criminal and to the detriment of the injured party and of society in general. This matter will have to be looked at.

Let me conclude by saying that the neighbourhood watch schemes seem to be floundering, starved of resources, manpower and direction. The scheme for rural policing has seen large holes bored in the front doors of Garda stations and green coloured radio transmitters inserted. These little green men are no substitute for the flesh and blood of the Garda. Let me give an example in regard to country Garda stations being closed because sometimes we must get down to specifics. The new region of Cobh Garda station services Carrignavar and Whitechurch. Carrignavar station is closed at 6 o'clock in the evening. There was a call from Whitechurch to Cobh recently on an urgent matter sometime after tea. Nobody arrived until 2 o'clock in the morning and one of the questions posed at the other end of the line was “Where is Whitechurch?”.

The Minister has a good deal to do. I compliment the Garda for the work they are doing to combat crime but they are also trying to combat the problems I have already outlined. Prevention is better than cure.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Dukes): Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  I move amendment No. 1:

Delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann approves the provision by the Government to the Garda Síochána of the resources which have enabled the Force to combat crime more effectively, resulting in a reduction in the levels [753] of reported crime in 1984 and 1985, and supports the Government's further action in this direction.

There is one point on which I agree entirely with Deputy Woods — and I think I am using almost his exact words — when he said he does not know what the Minister knows about the situation on the ground. He is dead right.

I find it more than a little difficult to understand why Deputy Woods thought it necessary to put down his original motion. During the course of his remarks I wondered if he actually disapproved of the resources being made available to the Garda and if he was going to get around to suggesting that fewer resources should be made available. I am not sure if he has made up his own mind about that because there were some inconsistencies in his remarks. At one point Deputy Woods said, in so many words, that he did not want to know about the facts, but the facts of the matter are that crime is on the decrease and whatever resources the Garda need to tackle it have been, and will continued to be, provided for them.

Since first taking up office this Government have been fully committed to the provision of the resources necessary to deal with the crime situation and have made substantial additional resources available to the Garda Síochána over the past three and a half years.

The most essential requirement of a police force is manpower. Since taking office in December 1982 the Government have provided the resources necessary to recruit, train and equip over 1,400 gardaí. This resulted in a net increase of over 700 in the strength of the force and recruitment is continuing in order to maintain Garda strength at its current level of 11,400, which is the highest level in the history of the State and is the target strength provided for in the national plan. I need hardly remind the House that this national plan has been endorsed on at least three occasions by this House. The fact that the substantial financial resources necessary were made available to enable Garda recruitment to continue, [754] at a time when a restrictive approach is rightly being taken to public expenditure generally, demonstrates the Government's commitment to taking the steps necessary to deal with the crime situation.

The fact that the Garda strength is currently at 11,400, the highest level in the history of the State, indicates that whatever else we might describe the Garda force as, we cannot accept Deputy Woods' description of it as “the thin blue line”. It is a very solid blue line and more solid than it ever has been in the history of the State. Not alone is it clear that there has been no cutback in Garda strength, as Deputy Woods seems to suggest, but there has been an increase since December 1982 — and I emphasise this again for the benefit of Deputy Treacy who is shaking his head — bringing it to the highest ever level in the history of the State.

Since the strength of the Garda Síochána reached the target level, the emphasis has been on providing the force with the most modern technology available so that it can carry out the vital and demanding duties entrusted to it with the greatest possible efficiency and effectiveness. Progress in this area has been very good and I would like to enumerate the various advances that have been made so as to emphasise to the House what has been achieved in the technological field in recent years.

A new national communications network is being provided at present and, when it is completed, the Garda will have one of the most advanced communications systems in Europe. The new system went “live” in February of this year in all parts of the country other than the Dublin Metropolitan Area — I will come back to the Dublin situation later. The provision of this new system involved the installation of radio communications equipment at the 18 divisional headquarters, the 72 district headquarters and the 570 Garda stations outside Dublin and the provision of personal and car radio sets for all gardaí engaged in outdoor patrolling duties. Each of the 18 Garda divisional headquarters concerned has [755] been provided with sophisticated divisional radio control equipment. Within each Garda division there is the facility for instant communication between the divisional headquarters and each district in the division, and between each district and the subdistrict stations attached to it. This means that at practically all times gardaí and Garda cars on patrol duty within the division are contactable from their station. In addition, each Garda division has the facility of instant radio communication with all adjoining Garda divisions. This new system provides for much greater efficiency in the transmission and exchange of information and in the utilisation of manpower and patrol cars. It also enables an improved service to be provided for the public — for example, in terms of a quicker response by the Garda to calls for assistance.

An important feature of the new network is the provision of radio telephone equipment — known as the “Green Man”— at small rural Garda stations. This equipment provides the public with immediate and direct access to the Garda at times when small local substations are closed. This is an extremely useful feature in small rural communities where station opening times are restricted.

I am sorry Deputy Lyons should have decided to take issue with the provision of this facility. The fact is that where in the past a person seeking assistance from the Garda would find that the local garda was gone away, was at the other end of the parish or the station was closed, he now has available to him an immediate and direct radio link with the nearest open station. This means he is in a position to get a more rapid response than would have been the case under the old system. It is a grave mistake for Deputies on the other side of the House, simply because they want to make a political point, to run down a facility which is of inestimable value to rural communities.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  They do not want to lose the gardaí as a result.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  If I were in the business [756] of handing out invitations I would ask Deputy Woods to come and see the gardaí patrolling in a rural constituency before he or Deputy Lyons started making the ill-informed comments they have been making this evening.

On that radio project we spent approximately £11 million to date. This is one example of the Government's commitment to ensuring that the Garda Síochána are provided with the technical resources they require. I am sorry Deputy Woods is leaving the House——

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  I am getting a copy of the Minister's speech from a colleague. I have already read the Minister's speech quickly——

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  The Deputy should do less speed reading and take more time to think.

As regards the Dublin Metropolitan Area, the position is that a £2 million contract was placed in April 1985 for a new radio communications system there. It is planned that the new system will come into operation later this year. It includes the most modern type of central control room which will replace the existing central control room in Dublin Castle which is no longer adequate for a large and growing capital city like Dublin.

Computerisation is another area of technology which can be of invaluable assistance to the Garda Síochána. The Garda have their own computer since 1981. At present it is of principal benefit in Garda work on stolen vehicles, firearms and criminal records. Work is being carried out at present on improving these systems and on developing new systems to meet the needs of the force. A new computer costing over £300,000 was purchased for the Garda in December of last year. This will facilitate considerable expansion of the computer service being provided for the force and it has replaced the former Garda computer which was no longer adequate to meet the growing needs of the force.

Sixty visual display units and ancillary equipment were purchased in 1984 and a contract was placed towards the end of [757] last year for a further 45 visual display units and ancillary equipment. This equipment, which has cost over half a million pounds, has enabled the 18 divisional headquarters and some other busy stations both inside and outside the Dublin Metropolitan Area to be linked directly to the Garda computer. This facility for immediate access to records — for example to check out stolen or suspect vehicles — is proving to be of immense practical assistance to the Garda.

The most recent innovation available to the Garda is a new crime reporting and analysis system. This is a sophisticated computer system which will place the most modern technological aids available for the detection and prevention of crime at the disposal of every garda in the country. A database on criminal activity in the country will be built up and the most up-to-date methods will be used to search and analyse it. Gardaí may enter crime details in their own words into the computer and the system will search and analyse these data to provide investigators with assistance in the solution of particular crimes, or produce analytic reports that explore particular areas of criminal activity in depth.

The system is intended to benefit primarily the ordinary uniformed or plainclothes Garda officer engaged on routine police work. The intention is that every garda in the country will be no more than a telephone or a radio call away from the facilities provided by the computer. These include, for instance, the facility to list on request:

—all crimes committed by persons with physical characteristics similar to those described in the case of a suspect,

—all crimes committed at certain times within specific areas,

—the times and areas in which crimes with specific modus operandi are committed,

—all thefts of particular goods at certain times within specific areas,

—the times that particular goods are stolen in certain areas,

[758]—the streets, roads, or areas in which particular crimes are committed, and so on.

The system will also produce statistics for Garda management for tactical and strategic purposes.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Minister fiddles with computers while the communities are on fire.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  I feel sorry for Deputy Woods. He is reduced to the pathetic expedient of sneering at the provision of resources which he thought was not taking place. The man never even thought before he jumped. He should look before he leaps and if he wants to claim that resources are not being made available to the Garda the least favour he can do himself is to find out what is being made available before he makes an ass of himself.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Come and see the crime on the ground.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  Deputy Woods is now scraping the barrel in desperation for some class of argument. He begins to see very clearly that not alone are the Garda being provided with the resources they require to keep up the present level of policing activity, their facilities are being expanded in order to provide the ordinary garda on the beat with the communications and the information that he requires to do his job more effectively. If Deputy Woods wants to find something to argue against, it should not be that.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Minister is living in cloud cuckooland.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  Ask any ordinary garda on the beat about the facilities available to him to do his job and you will get the real picture. If you ask him a loaded question you will get a daft answer.

Considerable financial resources have been committed also to meeting the accommodation needs of the Garda Síochána. In the last three years over [759] £11 million has been spent on the Garda station building programme and a further £10 million has been provided for this programme over the next two years. In addition to this, two major construction projects costing almost £4 million are underway in the Garda Depot while the fitting out of the new Garda complex at Santry will be getting under way later this year. I should also mention that an ultra modern indoor firing-range, costing £360,000, was completed in the Garda Depot last year, while a site for an outdoor range, on which planning is already under way, has been purchased. In this connection I should say that, while it is our proud tradition and policy that the Garda Síochána is an unarmed force, it is an unfortunate fact that, on occasion, members must be called upon to carry and, at times, to use firearms. In these circumstances it is essential that the Garda be provided with firing range facilities where they can undergo the necessary training. This has been, and is being, attended to.

I want to mention also the forensic science laboratory of my Department which is of very great assistance to the Garda in detecting crime. At the moment the laboratory is being expanded and it will take over additional new laboratory space in the near future. This year additional funds, amounting to almost £200,000, have been provided for in the Estimates for the purchase of new sophisticated equipment, to ensure that the laboratory continues to be equipped to the highest and most modern standards. Furthermore, an additional three scientists are currently being recruited to ensure that the necessary analytical work will be carried out expeditiously so that there will be no avoidable delay in the conduct of criminal investigations. This is a further example of the Government's commitment to providing whatever resources are needed to enable the Garda, to tackle crime and bring to justice the criminals in our society.

The most important resource which a [760] police force have is their own manpower and it is essential, therefore, that appropriate training be provided to ensure optimum development of this resource. The Commissioner, with my predecessor's approval, established a committee in January of last year under the chairmanship of Dr. Thomas Walsh to undertake a thorough review of Garda training. The committee have presented to the Commissioner a report concerning the basic training of new entrants to the Garda Síochána and the recommendations in that report are at present under consideration. It is my hope that it will be possible to implement at least some recommendations in time to benefit the new entrants to the Garda Síochána who will come from the next recruitment competition.

In view of all that I have said about the equipment and the resources being made available to the Garda, it will be very clear that there is no question of there being any truth whatever in Deputy Woods's allegation that the Garda are fighting with their hands tied behind their backs. On the contrary, we have made it a deliberate policy over the last three and a half years to ensure that whatever useful tools we can give the Garda, to do their job more effectively will be placed at their disposal. The Garda themselves are making very effective and imaginative use of the new resources we have placed at their disposal.

The Government have been concerned also to ensure that the Garda have available to them sufficient powers to enable them to deal effectively with crime and I believe that the Criminal Justice Act will achieve this objective. Some of the provisions of the Act are already in operation and the remainder will come into force when a Garda complaints board have been set up and regulations dealing with the treatment of persons in Garda custody are implemented. That Act is one of the most important developments in criminal law and procedure since the foundation of the State.

Deputies present are, I am sure, familiar with the details of the Act, but it would be useful, in the context of this [761] motion, to outline briefly some of the main provisions. Many of the Act's provisions were brought into force in March 1985. These include stiffer penalties for firearms offences and the compulsory fingerprinting of convicted persons. With regard to bail, the law now requires any sentence for an offence committed on bail to be consecutive on any other sentence passed, or about to be passed, on a person for a previous offence. To make this provision more effective, so far as sentences passed in the District Court are concerned, the aggregate term which a District Justice can impose when passing two or more consecutive sentences has been increased from 12 months to two years. In addition, absconding on bail has been made an offence for the first time and carries a penalty of up to 12 months' imprisonment. Moreover, any sentence imposed for this offence has to be consecutive on any sentence passed for a prior offence. Offenders who continue to engage in criminal activity while on bail can now expect much stricter punishment from the courts.

Important changes in trial procedures have also been introduced. An accused person is now required to give advance notice of any alibi he intends to put forward in a jury trial. Also, majority verdicts have been introduced in criminal trials. The right to make an unsworn statement has been abolished. New procedures to allow proof by written statement and formal admission in trials save court time taken up in formally proving matters which are not really in dispute and also free greater numbers of gardaí to deal with crime on the street instead of requiring them to attend court for unnecessarily long periods.

Some of the key provisions of the Act are not yet in force. They deal with detention after arrest, the offences of withholding information about stolen property or illegally held firearms, and inferences which may be drawn by the court against an accused. These provisions will be brought into operation when a new statutory procedure for dealing with complaints against members of the Garda [762] Síochána is in operation and when regulations on the treatment of persons in custody have been made. The Garda Síochána (Complaints) Bill is ordered for Committee Stage. I published proposals for regulations for the treatment of persons in custody in Garda stations in the form of a White Paper last month for public comment and it is also my intention to have these proposals debated in the House shortly so as to give Deputies an opportunity to suggest amendments before I seek formal approval for the regulations.

So far, I have concentrated my remarks on the resources being made available to the gardaí in terms of manpower, equipment, and legal changes to deal with the crime situation. Of course, the ideal solution to the crime problem would be to prevent crimes in the first place. The Government have been anxious to ensure that the necessary resources are allocated to the vital area of crime prevention. One approach to this area which is being actively pursued by the gardaí is the neighbourhood watch scheme. I am sorry Deputy Woods and Deputy Lyons had the bad judgment to claim, contrary to the facts, that the neighbourhood watch scheme was not operating.

Following a study of similar schemes in operation in Britain and in the United States, the Garda initially established pilot schemes in a number of districts in the Dublin area. These schemes were considered to have a useful role to play, not just in relation to crime prevention, but also in fostering a closer relationship and understanding between the Garda and the community. The Government allocated funds in mid-1985 specifically for a publicity campaign to promote neighbourhood watch with a view to having it adopted as widely as possible throughout the country. The campaign was launched in mid-summer and concentrated on television and radio coverage. So far there are over 170 schemes in existence involving 50,000 households throughout the country and I am confident that the Government's initiative in having the scheme promoted throughout the country will pay dividends in terms [763] of crime prevention and closer Garda and community co-operation.

I wish to thank Deputy Woods for his invitation to accompany him tonight to a particular place — not that I need it as I have no difficulty in seeing the gardaí at their jobs — but I must decline it as I have an engagement to launch another neighbourhood watch scheme in Dún Laoghaire to which I look forward with pleasant anticipation.

I should now like to turn to areas of particular concern and to illustrate the effectiveness of the measures taken to curb these criminal activities. The Garda responded to the threat posed by the so-called joyriders and have, I am glad to say, been very successful. A special Garda unit has been tackling the problem in Dublin since January 1985 and their success has been heartening.

Available statistics indicate that the problem of unauthorised takings of vehicles and rammings of Garda patrol cars has reduced considerably in the past 12 months. For the State as a whole there was a decrease of 20 per cent in the number of unauthorised takings of vehicles in 1985 compared with 1984. Furthermore, there was a similar decrease of 20 per cent in the number of unauthorised takings of vehicles for the first three months of 1986, compared with the same period last year.

Another area of concern over the past few years has been the incidence of drug abuse. Immediately on taking office, the Government addressed themselves to this problem. A special task force, chaired by the then Minister of State at the Department of Health, were established to examine the extent of the problem and to make recommendations. A number of those recommendations are being implemented, including a wide range of measures involving education and treatment facilities, improvement in the health, education and community youth development areas and the undertaking of appropriate research projects.

In addition, the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, provides for the amendment of criminal law and procedure to deal more [764] effectively with serious crime including serious offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act. On a previous evening in the House I said the incidence of drug trafficking has levelled off. In 1985 there was a decrease of approximately 7 per cent in the number of persons charged with drug offences compared to 1984 and a decrease of 4 per cent in the number of drug seizures over the same period. As I indicated on that occasion, the Garda will remain vigilant in this area and it is much too early to conclude that any other course can be adopted.

In the winter of 1984 there was an outbreak of attacks on elderly people living in isolated rural areas. I am glad to say that in 1985 there was a very considerable reduction in the number of recorded attacks of this nature. That reduction was brought about by specific action decided on by divisional officers in the Garda who drew up plans to meet the needs of their own divisions, implemented them and brought them up to date as and when necessary. Those plans included the patrolling of high risk areas, spot checks on vehicles and the allocation of specific members to duties which included visiting elderly people living in rural areas. That specific action has been successful and, with other examples I have given, clearly belies the allegation by Deputy Woods that no action is being taken by the Garda to deal with particular types of crime.

We are also concerned with the question of arms crimes. However, we have taken specific measures, especially in the Dublin area, to deal with the problem. As I pointed out during an Adjournment debate here some weeks ago, I do not intend to go into the measures adopted as it would be counterproductive to do so. That again belies Deputy Woods's contention — he should know better — that no special action has been taken by the Garda to deal with specific problems. They have shown their ability, given the resources we have made available to them, to react flexibly and quickly to new problems as they emerge and on the evidence are doing so successfully.

I will now turn to the general question of crime levels. I will abbreviate my [765] remarks, given the time constraints, although I am sure my colleague, the Minister of State, will develop this theme more fully tomorrow evening. In 1984, for the first time in six years, we had a reduction of 2.6 per cent in reported crime. That was an indication that the previous trend had been arrested. That trend was confirmed in 1985 when there was a further decrease, this time a significant one, of 8.5 per cent. The Garda authorities have reported to me in the last few days that provisional figures for indictable crimes in the first three months of this year show a further significant decrease from last year's figures. If that is put against the spurious claims that have been made by the Opposition, one will see the emptiness of the motion they have put forward. They have closed their eyes, taken no account whatever of the successes of the Garda in dealing with crime or the resources we have made available to them. We have made those resources available because we are not interested in words or the fine phrases that are trotted out. What we want are results and we are getting them.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Unfortunately, the Minister only got through half of his speech that was circulated and did not reach a topic Deputy Woods was very concerned about, financial resources given to the Garda. The Minister said that there had been talks with chief superintendents in regard to the £12 million allocation for Garda overtime. His speech went on:

To put the matter in perspective, what happened was that I drew attention to the very high level of expenditure on Garda overtime so far this year which, were it to continue at the present rate, would be substantially out of line with the Estimates provision of £12 million.

The chief superintendents understood from those discussions that they had spent two-thirds of the allocation and could not continue to employ gardaí on overtime. They reduced the amount of overtime substantially. I am sure the Minister, and other Members, are aware [766] that £8 million was spent on overtime for gardaí on Border duty. I have learned from my colleagues of the number of gardaí who have been floating around small towns along the Border for the last few months. I have no doubt that those gardaí are very busy but they are not patrolling in the areas where crime is highest in the Twenty-six Counties. When the chief superintendents were told they were not getting anything in excess of £12 million they calculated that they would have to reduce the amount of overtime by 50 per cent. I do not know if the chief superintendents misunderstood the position but there is no doubt that the chief superintendents in the Dublin Metropolitan area were of the opinion that they could not spend any more money on overtime.

The Minister's speech also stated that he was concerned that spending on overtime was running at a high level and he exorted senior officers, as part of their management responsibilities, to review the deployment of their resources so as to ensure that the policing needs of their divisions were met in the most cost effective way. There was only one way they could do that, cut back on overtime. There is no point in the Minister saying he did not tell the chief superintendents to cut back and it is a little silly to go on in that fashion.

This is about the tenth time that the House has debated Garda resources and the level of crime since the Coalition took office. I have contributed to most of the debates on this topic and I wonder if there is much point in raising these matters. I accept that there has been success. During 1981, 1982 and part of 1983 there was an improvement and the number of car thefts has reduced. Those who live in the city, or in places like Finglas and Cabra where the car stealing problem is greatest, are aware of that improvement. The introduction of modern technology and the new communications system are welcome. I accept that since 1977 the Garda have been given substantial resources to provide modern technology and I hope the Government will continue to provide those resources. There is no [767] doubt that having car registrations and the records of criminals on computer has helped. Many gardaí comment on how useful that information is.

Irrespective of who is in Government it is wrong in the course of a debate like this for a Minister to trot out statistics in an effort to show that everything in the garden is rosy. We must acknowledge the dedication of gardaí and officials in the Department of Justice, but we should not fool ourselves when quoting statistics into thinking that the problem is under control. It is sad to think that in a small country like ours, with a little over three million people, we can have more than 100,000 crimes in a year. Those who live in our cities and suburbs are frightened. Last week-end a friend of mine who has a very extensive alarm system in his house told me that for the second time thieves broke a window and removed his video and television set. A short time ago in the course of a debate I gave details of a similar occurrence in the case of a neighbour of that person. Thieves are no longer afraid of house or car alarms. At one time alarms were a deterrent but that is not the case any more. There is no doubt that those who join video clubs and give their name and addresses make a big mistake because those lists find their way into the hands of criminals. I have mentioned that very often at meetings in my constituency, but unfortunately people continue to give their addresses. There is an alternative way of hiring videos and many people are adopting it.

In the city suburbs people are putting massive bars in their driveways to prevent their cars being stolen. Extensive locks are being fitted to doors and iron shutters put on the windows of business premises. In one case in North King Street criminals broke through a wall and the owner of the premises, who had erected a cement roof, steel shutters and the basement blocked off discovered that he was not insured because there was no alarm in the wall. A very reputable insurance company in the city got off the hook in this case but the individual concerned was at a loss of £8,600. The number of armed [768] crimes in the city is very big. In a licensed premises in my constituency which I frequent regularly criminals walked in at 9.50 p.m. and took the till. There have been so many bank robberies that AIB and Bank of Ireland have had printed notices sent to their branches to be displayed in the event of a robbery on the following lines, “Closed due to robbery”.

A garda in any Garda station will tell one that the chances of detecting armed robbers or those involved in house burglaries are pathetic. A meeting was held in the Bridewell Garda station last week — a station which covers huge, fairly dodgy parts of the city where a lot of crime is committed — at which we were told that between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. they have one squad car and one motorbike only available to them. The people who know most about that are the criminals; they know exactly what is available in each area and Garda manoeuvres.

The reason many robberies are carried out at, say, 9.55 p.m. or at 10.05 p.m. is that the criminals know there is a Garda change of shift at that time. Therefore, they strike and get away with it then, whereas they would not if they did so half an hour earlier or later. That is a fact of life. That happens every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night in the inner city, right out to Cabra, Finglas, East Wall, Marino, all the areas I know well. I have spoken frequently to the Garda about these robberies. Therefore, I resent the Minister or anybody trying to con people into believing that we have beaten crime.

It is now more difficult than ever to get insurance cover if one occupies a private flat in an inner city area. Equally it is extremely difficult to get insurance cover on a business premises in those areas. It all affords great scope for security consultants, the latest breed who prepare sophisticated reports on how to turn one's business premises or house into a Fort Knox. That costs a fortune but there are always loopholes so that, even if one does become involved in such expenditure, the criminals find ways around them. I cannot understand why the Garda Review [769] Group, the people concerned with crime, those in the Department of Justice and so on cannot devise adequate solutions.

I am as right wing a person as one could find in this House when it comes to the matter of defeating crime but I contend it is not acceptable to allow people to go around in armed gangs, or in any other kind of groups, robbing and terrorising people in businesses, in private houses, to such an extent that people are afraid to walk a few hundred yards from bus stops at night. The Minister contends that we should not be surprised at that, that crime has risen since 1960 and has done so in other western cities as well. I contend that in many other European cities there is not that problem. The Minister of State present will be well aware of the fact that people living in other European cities can walk home in safety.

Recently a group of politicians visited a number of cities in the course of our travels to the other side of the world. What struck us all, including the Ceann Comhairle, was that people could walk along the streets at midnight. I am talking about places like Malaysia, Singapore and Australia where we observed that people could walk the streets freely at night. The suggestion that one cannot do so in this city is not a myth; it is a fact of life. There are large sections of this city where it is sufficiently difficult to get the Garda to walk at night, although I must admit that they are back on the beat in a number of areas from which they had pulled out four or five years ago.

There must be a concerted effort at rooting out the criminal gangs. It will always be impossible to stop individuals engaging in crime at some level, but it must be acknowledged that there are well organised, dangerous groups involved in crime in this city. They are feared by many people, by people involved in State and semi-State offices and by members of the Garda. Equally it is difficult to obtain sufficient hard evidence to put them behind bars. Deputies on all sides of the House should engage in a campaign to break that spiral once and for all, rather than engage in shameful exercises such as the passage of the Criminal [770] Justice Bill, some of whose provisions have been implemented for six years now while others have never been implemented. It should be remembered that the bail scandal has been eliminated as have some of the other anomalies abused by criminals in this city. Other provisions are badly in need of implementation.

When the Criminal Justice Bill was being debated it was always my view that the amendments proposed were not sufficiently tough. I suppose always one has to reach a compromise but it appears we have been suffering ever since because we were not sufficiently forceful at that time. One wonders did some of the more liberal Deputies who spoke on that Bill ever speak to old people who have been robbed or mugged. For example, a man died of a heart attack last week only days after he had been mugged. Probably nobody will ever prove whether his death was related to that incident. That has happened many times in the inner city and other areas as well. A review must be carried out of Garda operations in the city, of their resources, indeed the will of the courts and of this House to tackle the problem properly.

We should not be playing with the fact that in 1982-83, when heroin was freely available in several parts of the city, our crime level shot up to 100 points and because it has now dropped to 90 points we all claim an apportionate decrease. That is statistical nonsense that fools nobody. The public are prepared to pay taxes to ensure they can walk the streets of the city, that their families can sleep in peace and that their property is safe at night.

The neighbourhood watch and other schemes are to be welcomed. Both Deputy Woods and Deputy Lyons have said that the neighbourhood watch scheme is potentially very successful if only the necessary resources were allocated. Some areas most in need of a neighbourhood watch scheme have none because there is more manpower needed. There was a meeting held recently in a block of flats in the inner city area — I know that the people living there would not mind my saying it is in the Dublin 7 [771] area, which has had more than its fair share of criminals from within and without — at which a Chief Superintendent of the Garda said they were patrolling that block of flats, that a garda walks through every evening at 8 o'clock and another at midnight. One might as well send up one's grandmother's aunt as do that.

If we are in earnest about beating the crime, thuggery and gangsterism, as strong in Dublin today as at any time over the last seven to eight years, there must be gardaí regularly on the beat and seen to be on the beat regardless of cost. Surely it would be better to spend £30 million or £40 million annually on more gardaí on the beat than have them sitting in offices in, say, Dublin Castle waiting to hear of a robbery and all charge at that point. That is like Fossett's Circus. Would it not be better to expend that money on crime prevention?

Again, our laws with regard to stolen property are known by everybody. The Garda know better than anybody else how stolen property is disposed of in this city. The same people are involved in selling stolen property as were involved two, three or five years ago. Yet we have failed utterly to deal with the problem. I suppose, to be fair, it could be said that when Fianna Fáil are on that side of the House again the same debate will take place. But one must ask: why does a Minister come into the House and talk so pathetically about all the good things we have done to combat crime? Why does he not come clean and acknowledge that there is a major problem obtaining, that our courts system does not withstand the demands made on it, that there are too many gardaí tied up in court cases, too many gardaí engaged in clerical duties, too few gardaí able to cope with the problem because they have not sufficient squad cars or motorcycles in the city, that there is insufficient money available for Garda overtime? Indeed, it could be said that insurance companies are merely pumping up security firms while doing nothing to defeat crime.

[772] People in this city are terrorised, frightened out of their wits. After dark, old people barricade their doors with bars, buckets, rocks and this is not in one or two instances.

Debate adjourned.


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