Malicious Injuries (Amendment) Bill, 1986: Second Stage (Resumed).

Thursday, 19 June 1986

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 368 No. 3

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Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The proposals in it represent a frightening abandonment of the citizens, particularly the property owners, here. In normal times and in different circumstances there would be some justification for minimising the effects of malicious injuries claims on public funds. But these are not normal times. I am sure the House will agree that property has been placed at the gravest possible risk as a result of the increasing level of crime and vandalism. It is becoming impossible to insure property against [685] this because of the cost which is now at an all time high. It is almost impossible to get insurance at any price. That problem has been referred to on many occasions in this House in other debates relating to the Department of Justice and the Department of Industry and Commerce.

The Minister, by his action in introducing this Bill, is literally throwing property owners to the wolves, these being the vandals who have embarked on a deliberate campaign of the destruction of property. He is not able to contain the level of vandalism and neither will he pick up the bill for the damage and destruction of property following his failure to contain crime in the first instance. In the past 12 months I and my colleagues have found it necessary to bring to the attention of the Minister the increasing problem of crime and vandalism not only in the city of Dublin but throughout the country. For that reason I hope the House rejects this Bill. It will have frightening effects on property owners and people who own private houses but, in particular, it will have very damaging consequences for industry where high insurance costs are already a frightening burden. It is hardly necessary for me to remind the House of the increasing vulnerability of public property.

It is all very well to say that when we abandon malicious injuries claims provisions, they can and should be replaced by private insurance of property. But it is almost impossible to get ordinary insurance cover for a normal family house at present. This is certainly the wrong time for the Minister to contemplate bringing legislation of this kind before the House. Community organisations will also be under threat as a result of the passing of this legislation. Parish property, particularly schools and community halls, have in the past been obvious targets for vandals. The Government have got their priorities wrong in terms of national development. All of their policies have been of a reactionary nature, reacting to events after they have occurred rather [686] than taking action to prevent their occurrence in the first instance. There can be no doubt that the present unacceptably high level of crime is a product of the society which the policies pursued by this Government have created.

Nobody would disagree that unemployment is a major factor in the very high rate of crime. While we do not condone vandalism it is easy to understand the reactions of young people in a society which does not provide them with the opportunity to work and to use their education and skills as they were intended to use them, in the work of nation building and as a means of self fulfilment. Youth leaders and social workers in any city or town will say that crime and vandalism are the product of the society which the politicians have created. For that reason I regret that we have not been more positive in our efforts to generate employment and to provide a fulfilling role, through work satisfaction, for our young people who are now highly qualified and capable of taking up employment. They are denied that opportunity because of the policies which are formulated here in this House.

Let me give an example, in passing, of the kind of opportunity we are missing for the purpose of stimulating fast economic growth and generating employment. I refer to the construction industry where the potential for job creation is. The economy would benefit from accelerated growth in that industry. In fairness, the Government recognised that potential and to some extent legislated to try to deal with it when they introduced the house improvement grant scheme. We now find that there are thousands of applications unprocessed in the Department.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  I would remind the Deputy to stick to the Bill.

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  I am sticking to the Bill. I said I would make a passing reference and I was giving an example.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Construction grants are a long way from the Bill.

[687]Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  I appreciate the Chair's ruling but I am merely trying to demonstrate the opportunities we are missing to create fast employment and I give the construction industry as an example because unemployment is the root cause——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  It is still very far from malicious injuries claims.

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  I do not wish to have a dispute with the Chair but I feel it should be acceptable to demonstrate one's point. I will leave it at that. There is ample opportunity for job creation within the Government proposal to which I have referred. We are not maximising our efforts in this House, even within the framework of the existing schemes introduced by the Government, from the point of view of getting the best possible return in terms of employment.

If the Government had taken the decision to delegate to local authorities rather than trying to control schemes like this from national level, more employment could have been generated. Centralised bureaucracy is inhibiting the country in the creation of productive employment. I agree with many informed sources such as teachers, clergy, community leaders and workers that unless we can tackle unemployment we will have to provide more money for security, which is of its very nature unproductive. The Government should get their priorities right. We would get a far better return for the nation if, instead of having to provide vast sums of money for increased security, we made more advanced preparations in terms of legislation for investment in the economy for the purpose of creating productive employment.

The Government cannot have it both ways. One cannot allow crime and vandalism to be at the present unacceptably high level and at the same time wash one's hands of the effects of the deteriorating situation in society. Property, private and public, is no longer safe and is subject to damage by vandals. In different circumstances, given the present high incidence of vandalism one could [688] envisage legislators seriously examining proposals to protect the citizens and property and to compensate for malicious damage. It would not be difficult for the Minister to envisage some Government bringing before this House proposals to safeguard the property, and indeed the lives, of the citizens. Yet this evening we are proposing to dismantle the only system through which people can have their investments protected from malicious damage. That is not acceptable. It is an abandonment of the citizens at a time when they are most vulnerable and least protected in terms of the safeguards they are entitled to seek from this House.

The malicious damages scheme as it operated up to now was tightly administered and there was no easy access to compensation until the case could be clearly established and fully proven. There was never the option of getting either easy money or easy compensation. Many have suffered serious financial loss because of what seemed to them to be excessive delays and unfair and tough State opposition to the claims. I am not saying it should not happen like that. The Government would be absolutely correct in contesting, as far as reasonable, any malicious damage claim, but the scheme was very tightly administered.

While this Bill may not of its nature be unconstitutional, it undermines the spirit of the Constitution which gives assurance to protect the citizens and property. I regret that the Government, at this of all times, should make this decision for whatever reason. I studied carefully the Minister's speech to see if I could find any justifiable or sustainable reason as to why the system should be changed. The cost of the scheme to the Exchequer was the only valid reason I could find.

Where is the social justice of a Government who would decide to cut back seriously on a scheme to provide personal compensation for the victims of the now rampant crime and vandalism? Within the past couple of months we saw the despicable performance of saving £1 million on this very vital and important [689] scheme, the only legislation on our Statute Book providing some level of protection for the victims of crime. The Vote was in the region of £3 million and the Government decided in 1986 to cut that small amount by £1 million. This leaves the citizen vulnerable and unprotected in the teeth of crime which is raging at present. The Minister proposes in this Bill to extend that drastic measure to the point of dismantling the scheme for malicious injuries compensation. That is totally unacceptable at this time. If this Bill goes through the House, which I sincerely hope it will not, there will be no means by which individuals, committees and communities can be protected against damage to property. All this is happening in an environment in which the citizen feels helpless to protect his property.

In this city, and in most urban and indeed rural areas, people have to form local committees to protect themselves and their property. Security is a big business, costing industry and private property owners a vast amount yearly — not even considering the amount of money which has to be spent on equipment to provide security. Industrialists and business people will tell you of their worries in this connection and the trouble to which they have to go to protect their property. They will say that insurance cover, when they can get it, is becoming an intolerable burden and in some cases can be the straw which breaks the camel's back. I have known of small industries, even in rural Ireland, where the insurance premiums have increased at such a rate that the owners and operatives of the businesses no longer found them profitable. While trying to provide maximum insurance cover for their business, they were still under attack and losing money.

Did Members of this House ever think they would see the day when just down the road from Leinster House business premises would display a notice: “Please ring the bell for admission”? There are many businesses on the short stretch of road from Leinster House to Grafton Street displaying such notices. That is a [690] frightening example of the level to which crime has risen and the insecurity of owners of such properties. It is totally unacceptable, given that kind of activity, that the Government should say they will not do anything about it. Did we ever think it would come to the point where firms would have to pay private security companies to protect their property?

The Government will say, as they are saying in this Bill: “Hard luck, but we are now going to leave you the victims of our inability to contain crime and you will have to bear the cost of any damage which occurs”. Is there any justice or fair play in a system which would allow this kind of situation to develop? Is it any wonder that this House is being treated with a very high level of cynicism at present? Instead of looking towards this House for protection, the citizens will now be totally abandoned and left without any support or any security, particularly under the heading which we are discussing.

I referred to the risk at which community property is being placed arising not only from the level of crime which we experience but also as a direct result of this Bill if it passes through the House. We all know the high cost of securing insurance. We know that as a result of this Bill, and we have done a certain amount of research on it, insurance on schools in urban areas in particular will increase by 45 per cent. The cost of insuring the glass in these properties will increase by over 100 per cent. Fire insurance will rise by from 35 per cent to 40 per cent. These are all intolerable burdens being placed on local communities. There is no other means by which the necessary level of insurance to cover this property can be got except from the local communities concerned. Therefore, there will be an increased demand and an increased burden on local communities to provide insurance cover for the property for which they are responsible in their own areas.

It may not be generally known that in rural areas since 1982, which is only a few short years ago, insurance cover on rural schools and community halls has [691] increased by 100 per cent. The reason the Minister is bringing this Bill before the House is the cost to the Exchequer arising from malicious damage claims. It is true to say that these claims have escalated from £5.6 million in 1982 to £18.7 million in 1985. That is a very substantial increase and a very substantial drain on State funds. Unfortunately, it also reflects the cost to the State of vandalism and crime. More frightening still, the Bill before us will transfer that cost and that expenditure from the State back to the individual, to the private property owner, the factory owner and the community organisations in terms of schools, churches and community halls. In many cases the people concerned will not be able to meet the level of insurance which is sought. That will create other problems which I will not go into in this debate.

I wish to refer to the cost of car insurance. We all know car insurance is at an intolerable level at present. All the indications from insurance companies and people who do research into this kind of work are that motor insurance will increase by at least 5 per cent on top of the present intolerable burden if this Bill goes through the House. Last year damage to cars amounted to 50 per cent of the total compensation paid out in malicious damage claims. Cars are no longer a luxury as far as the vast majority of the citizens are concerned. I say that particularly in relation to rural areas where, if a man or woman is lucky enough to have a job, it will be a considerable distance from their home which means they must have a car to get there. From their point of view a car is an agent of production. For that reason any increase in car insurance would be a detrimental blow to these people. I can envisage a position where, instead of trying to reduce the number of uninsured cars, we will have an escalation. Nobody wants to see that because uninsured cars and uninsured drivers are a menace on our roads.

By this method of trying to bring about a reduction in public expenditure the [692] Government will lose substantially more under other headings. Community organisations, schools, churches, halls and GAA playing fields will all be seriously affected. This Bill, if enacted, will no doubt have serious repercussions for all these organisations and communities. Did anybody ever think we would see the day in this little country of ours, known as the island of saints and scholars, when churches would be locked during the day? People cannot gain access to churches for the obvious reason of damage by vandals. The pastors, priests and clergymen in all these churches find it necessary to turn the key in the door when no service is taking place. That reflects very seriously on this House and on our failure to come to grips with the problems of crime and vandalism.

I want to make it quite clear in highlighting today the unacceptable level of crime and vandalism and the effect which it has on malicious injury claims, that I am not in any way casting a reflection on the Garda who are doing a marvellous job. At present they are doing a job far beyond the call of duty in terms of protecting our citizens and their property. I know the Acting Chairman will remind me that I should confine myself to the Bill, but it is relevant to the extent that our gardaí at present are operating in an environment where, if they cannot perform their duties within the limits of the amounts of money available, they are expected not to do that duty. It is to their credit that, even when they cannot get overtime or adequate financial compensation for their work, they still beyond the call of duty, do the work which they have so ably undertaken on behalf of the State. Instead of trying to pinch money by way of a saving in relation to this operation which we are discussing, the Government would get a far better return by channelling more money into the protection of our citizens and their property.

In the long term, and this is where I have the greatest possible complaint about the Government, they would have been far better off to get their priorities in order and concentrate, as far as Governments can, on the creation of productive [693] employment. We react to events after they have occurred and have to provide more and more money for State security whereas, if we had different priorities in terms of job creation, that security would not be necessary. I appeal to the Minister of State, as my colleague appealed to the Minister of State on the Courts Bill, to look seriously at the proposal before the House. It will have a detrimental effect on the economy, on individuals and on the community. Instead of contemplating taking the Committee Stage, the Minister and the Government should withdraw the Bill.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Farrelly): Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  I want to apologise to Deputy Skelly for not calling him first. I had no list of speakers.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I want to thank Deputy Hyland for allowing me in on this debate. I accept that his submission was sincere from the point of view from which he argued it. Over the past couple of weeks we have discussed a number of Bills which seriously affect the citizen. The Minister said this Bill is the end result of a number of measures aimed at reducing public expenditure. They were also the main reason for bringing in the Courts Bill to abolish juries. There is always a human cost involved. We have to take into consideration the situation in relation to malicious damages which pertains in the State. We should look back on it to see its extent, whether we are getting value for money and whether we can curtail it in any way. I do not think the sole reason for change should be the rising costs in meeting claims for malicious damages and the consequential effect on the level of expenditure.

As I said on the Courts Bill, there are some things the insurance companies can do to mitigate the high cost of insurance. As on that Bill, the initial plea by the insurance companies was that, because of the high cost which had to be passed on to the motorists in that case, juries should be abolished. In this case it is because of the high cost to the insurer.

[694] Because of payouts on malicious damages they are again looking for a reduction. I do not think the insurance companies have contributed in any way, given their strength, muscle and the huge amount of resources at their disposal. They have not tried to reduce the high cost of insurance by their own efforts in the case of the abolition of juries in civil actions for personal injuries, nor have they contributed in any way in this case. They spend huge amounts of money, a very large proportion of their total expenditure, on marketing and advertising in trying to draw the public to take out insurance policies. They could direct that expenditure to the public in a way that could influence them to respect property and inform them of the high cost in the end to the taxpayer because of an increased amount of vandalism and malicious damage to premises.

On the other hand, there are many abuses by those in business and by those who have a need for public liability insurance and who make claims against local authorities for malicious damages. These are often badly abused. I can think of one instance where a business was run by telex from New York to here. This business was run on a daily basis by telex. The managing director as part of his daily report informed the principal in New York by telex that there had been a storm the night before and some corrugated iron fences had been blown down. A telex came back from New York asking if any damages could be claimed. The managing director responded by saying there was no damage done. Another telex came back asking him if damages could be claimed and to send a list of damages which could be claimed. That went on until such time as a large claim was put in. This just goes to show that there are tremendous abuses of the system. On the other hand, there is the small business person who cannot afford to pay the increased cost of insurance as a result of malicious damage. If he does have a claim, he is in a Catch 22 situation. Immediately, his premiums will be reassessed and he will not be able to pay.

There is a certain amount of disquiet [695] in the country as a result of what some people might say is the removal of a civil right by abolishing juries in civil actions. In this case, it will fall to the citizen to pick up the tab of £20 million which the Minister is trying to save for the Exchequer. The insurance companies will increase it. The administration of justice, the monitoring of cases involved in malicious injuries, personal injuries and criminal injuries have to be examined. For example, there has been tremendous disquiet in the last week or so concerning the case of Fr. Molloy and Richard Flynn. Throughout the country people are very unhappy and feel disturbed as they did after the Fairview Park murder case. In this case, the judge ruled that there was no case to answer. Many people feel they need juries and tribunals. They are comforted by the fact that they can be tried by their fellow citizens.

Many people would say that in the Flynn case the judge was wrong in his instructions to the jury, that he should have taken particular note of the medical evidence which was available and there was a case to answer, that he should have taken note of the marks and cuts on the priest's body, that there was a death and an assault. Richard Flynn was charged with the unlawful killing of Fr. Molloy and with a second count of actual assault.

Acting Chairman:  Can I remind the Deputy the decisions or judgements of a duly constituted court cannot be subject to discussion in the House.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  They can be discussed in the newspapers.

Acting Chairman:  That may be so, but under the rules they cannot.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I have to disagree with you because we had a debate in this House on the Fairview Park murder case for two hours. There were questions down on this case. This case is over. It is no longer sub judice. It is finished.

Acting Chairman:  Under an agreement of the House we had.

[696]Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I have questions down about it as well. This case is not sub judice any more. The case is finished. I am referring, as I have been in my contributions in the House in the last couple of weeks——

Acting Chairman:  As I told the previous speaker, perhaps the Deputy would adhere to the Bill before us.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I am talking about courts, juries, malicious damages, about the administration of the law, its costs and effects on citizens. I am talking about the terrible disquiet that will arise as a result of the provisions of this Bill and the disquiet occasioned as a result of cases that are heard daily in our courts. Of course we can talk about them in here. That is what this Assembly is for. With respect to the Chair, I beg to differ from him. I hope he will allow me to continue making my submission.

In that case I and many other people felt that case should have been put to the jury. On the other hand, of course, the judge was entitled to take the decision he did. There are other questions I will be putting to the Minister in relation to this case, to cases that arise from time to time, in relation to the monitoring of the administration of the law, civil and criminal, and the questions we can refer to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions about the manner in which that particular case was approached. For example, questions arise with regard to the slowness in having the defendant arrested, why three months elapsed before there was an arrest. Indeed, questions arise as to why it was necessary for the Cardinal and the local Bishop of Elphin to become involved. It appears the Molloy family are very upset by what has happened, some of them feeling that justice has not been done. Indeed, if this happened in my constituency in, say, Ballyfermot or in the inner city area——

Acting Chairman:  May I remind the Deputy that we cannot go into the details of an individual case which has gone through the courts? We are not dealing [697] with an individual case; we cannot do that under the Standing Orders of the House. I would appreciate it if the Deputy would relate the remainder of his remarks to the Bill before the House.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  It is difficult enough to contribute to the debate but, if I am to be constantly interrupted by the Chair, I will be unable to make that contribution. I am afraid the Chair will have to bear with me. I know the rules of the House fairly well and I fear the Chair is wrong in his direction. I shall have to continue with my contribution when I will be ranging over a wide field.

Acting Chairman:  I should like to remind the Deputy that, as long as I am in the Chair, I will certainly obey the ruling of the Constitution in this regard. It is not my decision; it is a decision of the Standing Orders of the House.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I agree with Deputy Keating in his past attempts to suggest that monitoring of court decisions should take place and that we encounter difficulties because that does not happen.

Finally, in relation to that particular case, last Sunday's edition of The Sunday Tribune outlined it in fairly good detail, as did also The Irish Times and the other Sunday papers. There remain a lot of questions unanswered. There is much unhappiness and disquiet about the case throughout the country. One might well pose the question: is there now a new rule which says it is all right to beat a person to death as long as it is in a public park at night time or in a bedroom? Is that the proposition put to citizens as a result of the decision in this case? Questions will continue to arise about this case. Indeed, they will continue to be asked in this House until such time as they are answered satisfactorily. It is the job of the parliamentarian to ask such questions. Otherwise I would suggest that every citizen saves up sufficient money to get out of the country at a moment's notice if the administration of justice continues down this path.

[698] I could list 20 or more questions that remain unanswered in relation to this Flynn case and another. The matter should be debated in this House and I shall be asking the Minister concerned to allow time for discussion of this most serious case which has caused so much disquiet. A man has died whose name has not been cleared. There has been much innuendo. The Church have taken up a position in relation to a nephew of the dead man in that they have not accepted him into the Church. It appears they are regarding him as guilty. This is hypocritical of a Christian Church with so much influence in the country at present, who are now taking up a position on an amendment we are endeavouring to make to the Constitution. The Church and Cardinal must answer for their interference in this case. We must all know why it was necessary to have this interference, why it is that people are so anxious to hush up the facts of this case.

I am not saying at all that the judge was wrong to acquit the defendant at the time. I admire the solidarity of Mr. Flynn's family. I do not suggest for a moment that the defendant should have been found guilty, sent to jail or anything like that; that is not always necessary. But I do believe there was an assault, there was a death. The judge said there was no impropriety on the part of the priest, even though the defendant put up a case of self-defence against the priest. The case leaves many questions unanswered. In the interests of the administration of justice I hope time will be given in this House for its discussion. Certainly I shall be asking that that be done within the coming week and I hope some other Members will join me.

We had an answer today from the Minister who, understandably, could not be present, in relation to the Bill that preceded this one. We are really in the business of amending our laws in a far-reaching manner as far as the administration of justice and the individual citizen are concerned. I had been talking about the great difficulty experienced by business people in this city where most of the malicious damage takes place. It is [699] becoming impossible for such people to afford insurance cover bearing in mind the premiums being charged. The insurance companies are very quick to select particular businesses, to put a loaded premium on them, either because they do not accept the information they are given or they feel they are high risk.

For example, the construction industry has been paying much over the odds for insurance cover. It is reaching the stage when business people will be unable to afford insurance cover at all. They dare not make a claim. I know of many business people who have experienced many break-ins, with much malicious damage, their roofs and windows smashed, their property stolen. Yet they have not lodged claims with insurance companies because they cannot afford to pay the increased premiums. The Government should examine this closely before taking the drastic step of leaving citizens or business people to pay increased premiums.

The record of insurance companies is appallingly bad, as was demonstrated in our discussion of the Courts Bill and to date on this one. These must be lucky times for insurance companies, or they must have very great influence in this House because they appear to be receiving such favourable treatment. Everything they are seeking is being given them without much effort on their part. It is not as though they need the money. It is just that they are not making sufficient profits in certain areas. They are not asked to put into the pool all of their profits in certain areas to offset losses in others. Just as in the case of the banks, who are not prepared to lend in high risk areas, the Government must then become involved.

Debate adjourned.

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