Thursday, 25 April 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. G. O'Sullivan: I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for giving me this opportunity to raise this very important issue this evening and thank the Minister of State for coming into the House to respond. The number of attacks on elderly people has increased in recent times and this unacceptable and despicable practice must be stamped out. All the resources of the Garda Síochána must be utilised so that our senior citizens are allowed to live in safety and security.
There has always been a traditional respect for the elderly, but recent events in urban and rural areas are a source of serious concern for public representatives, the Garda Síochána and community leaders. Old people living alone are now afraid to open the door, particularly at night. There are ruthless thugs who think nothing of viciously assaulting these vulnerable people. These attacks are now becoming prevalent throughout the country. For instance, in my city of Cork this week an 81 year old woman was mugged in broad daylight in the grounds of a church. Very often these attacks are motivated by robbery and, while in many cases the amounts of money stolen are small, these attacks leave an indelible scar, physically and mentally, on the victims. Very often these attacks can trigger off a deterioration in health for many of our senior citizens and in some cases that has proved fatal.
These attacks are vicious and cowardly and must be condemned outright. I would like to pay tribute to the gardaí involved with Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert. They are playing a major role in trying to alleviate the fear many of our old people experience. The system of a register which some Garda stations carry out where the elderly living alone are recorded and checked from time to time is very good. This is being carried out at my local Garda station at Gurranebraher, Cork, and is proving very effective. Many of our elderly are reluctant to instal a telephone due to the initial installation cost and maybe it is time the  Department of Social Welfare looked seriously at the feasibility of providing this service for the old living alone and on fixed incomes.
While Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert are at the development stage, there is now a very valid reason to see that extra resources are made available urgently to make sure all our elderly are properly protected from the crimninal element who prey on these vulnerable people. There is also responsibility on the general public to make sure they are protected. Very many of these people have contributed down the years to this nation. They have raised their families, paid their taxes and worked hard for this country. The least we can give them now is security, comfort and peace of mind in their declining years.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. N. Treacy): Attacks on any members of our society are unacceptable but there is something particularly malicious and evil about attacks on helpless and elderly people. When these crimes are reported through the media not only do they profoundly affect the victims themselves who have their sense of security destroyed and their right to enjoy their latter years in peace taken from them, but they have a domino effect on the entire community. Elderly friends and neighbours of these victims quite often fear for their own personal safety and this can create anxiety all round. It should be an inviolable principle of any caring society that the more vulnerable among us be protected. Attacks on the elderly must be one of the most abhorrent of criminal activities to have emerged in recent years, and no right minded person can fail to feel outraged at the thought that such atrocities can occur.
During the winter of 1984 the problem of attacks on the elderly first emerged. Quick and effective action by the Garda resulted in many of those responsible being apprehended and being brought to justice. Because of the seriousness of these attacks the Garda put into operation a number of measures specifically  designed to tackle the problem. These included mobile patrolling of areas deemed to be at special risk, paying particular attention to post offices on days when old age pensioners are paid out and manning checkpoints to carry out spot checks on any suspect cars. Members of the force also visit elderly people who might be at risk both in urban and rural areas. The Garda advise them of ways to improve their own personal safety and the security of their homes.
The Garda also work closely with a number of voluntary agencies who work with the elderly such as Muintir Na Tíre who organise a very successful Community Alert scheme. This involves members of the community maintaining contact with elderly people and bringing to the notice of the gardaí any suspicious or unusual circumstances. The Garda are convinced Community Alert plays a vital role in preventing attacks on the elderly.
The community relations section of the Garda Síochána have also become actively involved in promoting these schemes and this promotion has proved to be successful. The number of schemes now operating around the country has increased from 185 in 1989 to the present level of 274. The Garda authorities are satisfied that these measures are proving to be effective. The 1990 level of recorded attacks on elderly people was only a fraction of the level recorded in 1984 when the problem was at its peak. The Garda also assure me they will continue to monitor the situation very closely and further measures will be considered if these are deemed to be appropriate.
Despite their obvious commitment to and concern for the elderly members of our society, the Garda cannot provide them with round the clock protection. Every member of society must play his or her role in this regard. We should all remember to keep a watchful eye on our elderly people, to be good neighbours and to alert the Garda to any suspicious activities which might have the effect of putting an elderly neighbour at risk.
I want to assure the House that the Minister for Justice is constantly monitoring the situation and is appraising it at  the moment and I am very confident that during the year he will be able to put into action in co-operation with the Garda Síochána a new, revamped scheme that will help to give better protection to the elderly members of our society.
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