Private Members' Business. - An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú Déag ag an mBunreacht, 1995: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).

Thursday, 28 September 1995

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 456 No. 2

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Atairgeadh an Cheist: “Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair.”

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

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Callely was in possession and he has seven minutes remaining.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  I wish to share time with my colleague Deputy Cullen.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Will the Minister clearly identify what the Law Reform Commission said about bail? If the Minister is adopting the Law Reform Commission report as her bible there is scope for her to accommodate the Bill and to show she has the courage to address crime. I had two messages for the Minister yesterday: first, we are experiencing a crime wave, the like of [357] which has never previously been witnessed and action must be taken. Second, the message for the criminal must be that on conviction by the courts he goes directly to jail.

There is much more I could say. A new prison was proposed for Castlerea but the proposal appears to have been put on the shelf. It is on the shelf when one considers that Government expenditure is 11 per cent yet the proposal was included in the Fianna Fáil estimates when Government expenditure was 4 per cent.

I look forward to the Minister's comments on the Law Reform Commission report on bail.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I thank my colleague for sharing his time with me. I welcome the publication of this Bill by my colleague Deputy O'Donoghue. Nobody can argue that over the past 12 months the constructive contribution from Deputy O'Donoghue in bringing forward measures to combat crime has been an outstanding feature of this Dáil.

If we listen to our constituents we know the one issue that is raised constantly, along with job creation, is that of crime. Crime knows no barriers. It is not peculiar to any section of society, it pervades all of society and touches every home and every family in some way. It behoves us to use all our abilities to produce legislation that will ensure society is protected and the criminal is brought to book. In ordering a society we have to make choices about what we want. There are occasions when we may have to limit general liberty. If we are to have the security we rightly desire, the law must ensure that the criminal faces the reality of his crimes, that he is sufficiently punished and society is protected so that we who want to rear our children in a safe environment have the opportunity to do so. In bringing forward the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill the Fianna Fáil Party is conscious of that.

Questions have been raised by the Government side as well as by my colleague regarding the bail laws and the [358] need to amend the Constitution. I cannot understand why the Minister for Justice was running with this issue sometime ago and now it has been put on the back burner. That is unacceptable. It is not the way to instil confidence in the Garda and those who deal with crime at the coalface. I commend the fact that this issue has been brought to the fore by my colleague. Nobody would argue that the manner in which the bail laws are operating is satisfactory. It is unacceptable in a modern society that criminals who are arrested and have long criminal track records who are likely to commit further crime should be allowed bail. It would be a failure on the part of the Government if it opposed this Bill. This Bill will create confidence among the people that we are doing all we can in this House to ensure that the law meets the requirements of society. It will instil confidence in the Garda who want to act on crime, not the revolving door syndrome which they face every day they go to the courts. The Garda want that confidence instilled in the people and they want the Legislature to back up their requirements by law.

I have no doubt that if the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution was put to the people it would be unanimously supported. That is a reason the Government should not oppose the Bill brought forward by my colleague Deputy O'Donoghue, whom I commend for having done so.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  I wish to share my time with Deputies Eric Byrne and Michael Finucane.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution on the important issue of crime, crime related activities and bail. I commend the Minister, Deputy Owen, on her contribution last night, from which I wish to quote two extracts as follows:

[359] My proposals to Government will reflect the fact — as I have stated publicly on a number of occasions — that I share the public concern that our bail laws are being abused.

... Both I and the Government regard tackling crime as a key priority and we have taken — and will take — whatever steps are open to us to tackle these problems effectively.

That is the first constructive statement we have had in this House for many years in relation to the ongoing problem of petty crime. The people are fed up to the teeth with criminals, thugs, roaming the country at will and nobody being able to deal with them. That is not good enough. The people are entitled to protection. It is the duty of the Government to protect them.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Here is an opportunity to reduce it by 25 per cent.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  The Deputy had that opportunity over the past seven to nine years. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been ongoing and nothing was done about it.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Do not talk about days gone by.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  The Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, has given her commitment and I accept it. I wish to make a few points on petty crime. Serious crime has been dealt with and we must commend the Garda and various Ministers for Justice who have taken a strong stand, unpopular at times, on tackling armed bank robberies and murder, warfare among thugs, and feuds among some criminal families, but petty crime has not been dealt with. Any garda will tell you off the record that it is a waste of time, that he brings petty criminals to court and they are back on the streets before he gets back to the barracks. That is not good enough. The Garda [360] must be supported. They have the information and they know who is involved.

Mr. Calley: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Here is the opportunity.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  This Bill is not worth the paper it is written on. This is only a charade. When the Deputy was on this side of the House he should have dealt with it. I am entitled to make my contribution. I represent the people of Cavan and Monaghan where there was an upsurge in crime in recent years and nothing was done about it. With fast moving cars distance is no object and criminals are able to travel anywhere. The gardaí may apprehend a criminal and bring him to court but when he is granted bail he is then back on the streets. There is a saying that you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and that is the attitude of the criminal. They might as well be caught with 20 televisions as with one or two. Bail is fixed at £50 personal bail and £100 security which is a pittance to these people. I saw on television a young girl being interviewed about her drug addiction who told how she needed £120 a day to feed her drug appetite which she had no difficulty getting from shoplifting. The criminals are well organised and have fast cars to drive down the country to break into houses. They are prepared to commit crime against the person who gets in their way. That is not acceptable.

Statistics show the spiralling rise in crime. Not all crimes are reported because people see little point in reporting the matter to the Garda, and going to court where criminals are being let off free and out on bail. The bail laws are far too flexible. A person with stolen property who has been apprehended by a garda should not be allowed out to commit similar crimes whilst on bail but should be locked behind bars until the court has time to deal with him properly. I make no apology for making that suggestion because we have to remember the rights of the victim. It is time that we started to deal with this problem and the public will support us.

[361] Concurrent sentences are ridiculous because it encourages the criminals to commit more crimes as they might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. If a criminal is sentenced to one month's imprisonment for an offence and the sentences for subsequent offences run concurrently, he is out on the streets within a fortnight. That is not good enough. The concept of sentencing a person to do community work should be rubbished immediately. A person may be sentenced to 20 hours community work. What does that amount to? I wonder if the Minister is aware that this scheme is not being supervised. The people are being brought to the area where the work is to be done by the local social worker and collected in the evening but there is nobody to supervise them during the day. I can tell you what they are doing — they are using the opportunity to monitor the area and observe when people are at home so that they can arrange to come back into the area and commit further crimes. That is hard fact and judges will tell you privately that their hands are tied. Is it any wonder that crime is spiralling. This serious problem needs to be tackled as citizens are entitled to be protected. I am delighted the Minister has taken this on board and has made a commitment to deal with it. This is the first commitment I have seen in years from a Minister for Justice to tackle this problem. I have every confidence in the Minister and the Government to deal with the problem and I look forward to results in the short term.

Mr. Callelly: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  The Minister said that seven months ago on “The Late Late Show” but we have had nothing the past seven months.

Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  I listened with interest to the Fianna Fáil Justice spokesperson Deputy O'Donoghue — and am glad he has come in to hear my contribution — say that the Fianna Fáil Party is committed to returning the streets of this country to the people. He was followed by my Fianna Fáil constituency colleague. [362] Deputy Briscoe, who said that this country is verging on a state of emergency, the public and the gardaí know it but very few are prepared to admit it.

I agree that we have a very serious crime and drug problem, indeed a very serious justice problem. If my constituency colleague is right and if the country is verging on a state of emergency then he, Deputy O'Donoghue and the whole Fianna Fáil Party had better quickly apologise to the thousands of victims of crime who suffered because of the ineptitude of the Fianna Fáil Party which was in Government up to 15 December 1994.

It is as clear as day follows night that Fianna Fáil is in absolute disarray in Opposition just as it was inept in Government. In case Deputy O'Donoghue is seriously proposing Fianna Fáil policy and not just playing Opposition politics it is very important to look at what Fianna Fáil is proposing as a solution to the crime problems it allowed escalate to the worrying levels at which they currently stand. Without reading the chapter on the law of bail in the Law Reform Commission report, Fianna Fáil rushes in with a simple political approach to a complex problem. The last thing this country needs is to spend large sums of money chasing phantom solutions when everyone can easily identify policies that should have been pursued by previous Governments and now must be pursued by this Government.

The extremely enlightened Circuit Court Judge, Michael Moriarty, first attempted to quantify the incidence of crime committed by drug abusers in Dublin and estimated that 80 per cent of crime is committed by drug addicts. It is therefore logical that we must tackle the drug addiction problem first if we are to reduce the level of crime. There are 7,000 drug addicts in Dublin, of whom only 900 have access to a methadone maintenance programme. The others are robbing approximately £150 to £200 a day to feed their addiction. It is a phenomenal problem. Deputy O'Donoghue's Government did [363] absolutely nothing to resolve the scandal of Mountjoy, where clearly many drug addicts end up, which has no methadone maintenance programme. It is an outrage that the Fianna Fáil Government allowed thousands of heroin addicts who were jailed for horrible crimes out on the streets of Dublin just as addicted as when they went to prison to continue robbing and mugging my constituents and the citizens of Dublin to feed their addiction. A Government must never be allowed to make that mistake again.

Deputy O'Donoghue, who represents Kerry, cannot possibly understand the nature of the drug problem afflicting Dubliners if his reported views on the solution are true. He told The Irish Times that “gardaí should be given the power to arrest drug addicts and detain them in drug treatment centres for up to six months”. Over the years the gardaí have detained and, after due process, have had sent to Mountjoy Prison hundreds of such addicts but Deputy O'Donoghue's party in Government did nothing about their treatment while interned there.

I invite Deputy O'Donoghue to walk with me through the streets of Dublin South-Central, the south inner city and the public housing and flat complexes to familiarise himself with the problem. He can get a close-up view of the real issues in those areas and hear from the people who are the victims of the drugs and crime problems. The people of Dublin want, in addition to punishment appropriate to the crime, treatment programmes that will remove the need for addicts to rob in the first place. They are not seeking Fianna Fáil's “national drug detention unit” as proposed by Deputy O'Donoghue. They want a planned and orderly development of services to educate, treat and reform addicts.

I wish to ask Fianna Fáil about its new discovery of drugs as an issue. What was Deputy O'Donoghue doing in Government when the national co-ordinating committee on drugs only met twice in 1992, twice in 1993 and not at [364] all in 1994? Did Deputy O'Donoghue and Fianna Fáil assume that they had solved the drugs problem?

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  What was the Deputy doing as a member of the Eastern Health Board? He is in Government now.

Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  This week the Law Reform Commission published an examination of the law on bail. While it was not mandated to make specific recommendations, its findings should give pause to those who see restrictions on bail as the panacea — as clearly Fianna Fáil do — for all our social ills.

This Bill strikes at the heart of the presumption of innocence which is the cornerstone of our legal system. If the amendment proposed by Deputy O'Donoghue were put to the people in a referendum and passed it would result in the introduction of a preventative detention system. Deputy O'Donoghue, as is clear from newspaper reports, is intent on the provision of such preventative detention systems throughout the country. He has also asked that the Garda Síochána be allowed to test suspected drug addicts to ascertain if they are habitual and, if so, intern them for up to three years for treatment. The least Deputy O'Donoghue should know about addiction is that the best way to solve it is to get the addict to admit to his addiction.

Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill provides that any person charged with an offence can be remanded in custody if the judge is satisfied “that there is a probability that the person will commit a class of criminal offence if admitted to bail”. In times of crisis there is always a temptation to seek quick fix solutions and there is no doubt that we are currently facing a law and order crisis which threatens to undermine civil society. However, the introduction of internment along the lines proposed by Fianna Fáil will not address the root causes of social breakdown. It will not even satisfactorily address the symptoms.

[365] I must allow my Fine Gael colleague to speak. I am sorry I did not have sufficient time to complete my contribution but there will be another day.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  What will the Deputy do as a member of the Eastern Health Board about drugs? The Deputy does not even attend its meetings.

An Leas-Cheann Chomhairle:  I ask Deputy Callely to restrain himself.

Ms O'Donnell: Information on Liz O'Donnell  Zoom on Liz O'Donnell  There is a squabble in Dublin Corporation.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  It is a health board squabble.

Ms O'Donnell: Information on Liz O'Donnell  Zoom on Liz O'Donnell  It is the same thing.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I appreciate why Deputy O'Donoghue has introduced this Bill. His colleague, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, authorised the Attorney General in February 1994 to ask the Law Reform Commission to investigate the issue of bail. We have only recently received its report and it would be wise to study its conclusions. It is a comprehensive report which has addressed the bail issue in Ireland and has compared it to the situation that prevails in other countries.

I praise the Minister's work during the short period she has been in office. She has been conscious of abuses of the bail laws and, as can be seen from her recent pronouncements, of the drugs problem. There is extreme concern in Ireland at present. There is a feeling that the balance has moved in favour of the criminal rather than of the victim of crime. I often wonder if the changes that have taken place recently have the interests of the criminal more at heart than the people oppressed by crime. I am referring to the right to silence, which is a contentious issue. Any person who is innocent of a crime will not require the right to silence. I would expect them to be loud and vocal in declaring their innocence. The right to silence appears to help the hardened [366] criminal and it does not make the work of the gardaí any easier.

Many people when talking about crime and its solutions suggest that extra garda resources should be put on the streets. However, that often is not necessarily the best measure to control the situation. While I admire the gardaí and what they are doing, the ongoing saga between the Garda Representative Association and the Garda Federation has done nothing to present a good image of the Force. I look forward to the day this matter is resolved. The most pathetic photograph I have ever seen was of a security force outside the Garda Representative Association conference in Galway to prevent people from entering. It was laughable. I make that point not to criticise the gardaí but to indicate that it does not present the right image of the role of the Garda Síochána to members of the community.

The Law Reform Commission has deliberated about this issue for 18 months. If its work is to be worthwhile it must be addressed seriously. There will be implications if any changes are made in the bail laws to make them more stringent. If a referendum is required to do that, so be it. We cannot continue to ignore the situation that exists. A protection mechanism for the ordinary people must be introduced and I would welcome holding a referendum to do this.

However, if we introduce more stringent bail laws there will be consequent costs to the economy and extra prison places will be required. In that context, the Government should seriously address the question of providing extra places at Castlerea prison in the near future. I have no axe to grind on behalf of Castlerea as I live a long distance from Roscommon. However, I can see the logic of what is happening. The Law Reform Commission has addressed this problem. We must change the bail laws and a referendum might be necessary. That implies that we will need extra prison space and more capital expenditure. If that is the case, so be it.

[367] The Criminal Justice Act, 1994, provided a protection mechanism vis-á-vis people who amassed extra finances through committing crimes when out on bail. The Act provided that the proceeds of such crimes could be confiscated, that is, assuming that the person were caught in such a situation. On this and the earlier points on the right to silence and the bail laws hopefully, as a result of this, we can do something about crime, which appears to be endemic in Irish society. We have a big problem in the Limerick area caused by imported crime with criminals, particularly young thugs from the city areas, going to what could be described as soft touch areas of the county and harassing small communities, towns and villages. Shops are robbed and cigarettes and alcohol stolen. I would hate to see the situation that exists in certain parts of Dublin emerging in rural areas, but if the present activities are allowed to continue rural shops will be almost like fortresses, like those in Dublin city. People in towns and villages around the country are concerned about this.

The situation that has prevailed in certain parts of Limerick city has given the wrong image of the entire Limerick community. The county suffers as a result of the crime problem in the city, because, to a degree, it is the soft touch. I understand it is possibly no different in Dublin and that Meath and Kildare are affected in the same way. If we are to restore confidence and heed the concerns of the people, it is incumbent on politicians to show leadership on this issue. If we have to have a referendum on bail in order to make laws more stringent, we should do so.

Ms O'Donnell: Information on Liz O'Donnell  Zoom on Liz O'Donnell  I wish to share my time with Deputy Haughey.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ms O'Donnell: Information on Liz O'Donnell  Zoom on Liz O'Donnell  I am sure Members know as well as I do that we have debated bail about seven times in the [368] three years I have been a Member of this House. There have been numerous motions and several Private Members' Bills during the period of office of the past two administrations.

It is fair to suggest at this stage that there is almost cross-party support for radical action to be taken, including a constitutional referendum, on the matter of bail. We appear to have a revolving debate and a total paralysis of analysis of this subject. The long awaited report of the Law Reform Commission is tortuous and comprehensive but after 200 pages, it peters out into inconclusive statements — weak suggestions of what might be appropriate in certain circumstances. That is not the fault of the commission, because it was not asked for hard recommendations or proposals for reform. It was asked to study the law and, indeed, it gave us a comprehensive analysis of everything one would want to know about bail here and in other jurisdictions, and the legal, sociological and administrative problems involved in making any change in the bail laws.

The founding principle of our due process is that one is innocent until proven guilty. The entire corpus of the criminal law is based on and radiates from that fundamental tenet of the presumption of innocence. It is a long standing rule of law and is, in fact, copper-fastened in our Constitution by Article 40.4.1º which states:

No citizen shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law.

That has been construed strictly by the Judiciary over the years, which means that preventive detention has been ruled out definitively by the courts. That is why we need an amendment to the Constitution to allow some flexibility and discretion and to allow this House to legislate in such a way that would empower a judge to have some discretion as to whether a person should be released on bail if there is a propensity in that person to, or sufficient evidence to suggest he will, re-offend while on bail. That is the nub of the problem. If [369] this issue was put to the people, they would give a resounding “yes” to that question.

The report is disappointing in that it peters out and offers no conclusions or proposals for reform, but that is an issue for politics, it is an issue for the Minister, the Government of the day and this House to deal with. Last night, when the Minister addressed the issue, she indicated that she did not see the weak recommendations in the Law Reform Commission report ruling out the possibility of a constitutional referendum on bail. Soon after the Minister was appointed she announced that there would be such a referendum on bail and it was warmly welcomed by this House, but there was some dissention from the Labour Party making the traditional argument that the presumption of innocence is too fundamental a tenet to tinker with.

I would be interested to hear if this is still the Labour Party's position, because it is important that when there is almost cross-party consensus on this issue we should know what is stopping the Government bringing forward the constitutional referendum to which the Minister for Justice committed herself when she was appointed. It was a basic principle of Fine Gael policy while it was in Opposition and is now a principle adopted by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. What is the catch? Why the delay by the Cabinet in driving this change and introducing the possibility of a constitutional referendum on this issue?

The traditional notion of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty must be balanced, in the context of Irish criminality at present, against the fact that most criminals in Ireland today are persistent reoffenders. We have high rates of recidivism, juvenile delinquency and juvenile offending. We have extremely high rates of drug addiction related criminality. Looking at the figures, we are not just talking about sufficient evidence to suggest a likelihood of reoffending. When one is talking about a drug addict who is 20 years [370] old being released on bail there is a certainty that he will reoffend — one is not even talking about a mere likelihood. He needs £200 a day to feed his habit and is released on bail with a long delay before his case goes to trial and there are no adequate systems in place, short of robbing, to feed that habit. The State is remiss in this regard. Recent figures show there are long waiting lists for people who are trying to get off drugs and who cannot get into clinics, which are full. We have 7,000 drug addicts in Dublin and a large proportion of them are not receiving any treatment. It is not a simple matter and there are no quick-fix solutions and in that sense I agree with the Law Reform Commission.

The depressing fact about the lack of recommendations is that it leaves it up to this House to respond. We must do the best we can as legislators. We must put in place a mix of measures which will improve the situation of offending while on bail. The reform of the bail laws to refuse a person bail, where there is firm evidence of the likelihood of reoffending, is a reasonable amendment to exist in law. At the moment, bail can only be refused when there is evidence that a person might not turn up for court or might abscond or intimidate witnesses. It is folly and reckless to release people who are certain to re-offend, given their drug addiction and their need for money to feed this.

When we look at the figures, it is clear we are presiding over chaos in our prison system. There are 2,210 prison spaces. In 1993 10,448 people were committed by the courts to jail, this includes those held on remand and those sentenced. To deal with this number, 3,564 people were given full temporary release, which meant they did not have to return. People are granted such release with conditions but I wonder what these conditions are and whether adherence to them is monitored.

I recently asked a parliamentary question about the number of offenders who re-offend while on temporary release. The Minister said this information would be difficult to compile [371] and would involve staff engaging in a disproportionate amount of work. Nobody knows what people do while on full temporary release. In 1990 a survey showed there were high rates of juvenile re-offending. I am sure these rates have increased since then, given the drug addiction problem. We had the highest rate of juvenile offenders among Council of Europe countries. The profile of criminal offenders at the moment is that they are young males with no stake in life and no hope of jobs.

The Lord Mayor's commission was chaired by Judge Michael Moriarty of the Circuit Court. Its report showed that the average number of convictions per offender was ten. The number of convictions of individual offenders ranged from 1 to 93. The most common age at which the first offence was committed was 16. This is a pathetic profile of our criminal population.

We have no juvenile justice legislation, which is urgently needed. On the Order of Business the Taoiseach announced it would not be available until next spring. Previously we were told it would be introduced during this session. In 1992 much of the intellectual work on the causes of and remedies for juvenile crime was done by a select committee of this House. The work done and proposals put forward by that committee are languishing and there is still no sign of a juvenile justice Bill.

I believe the report is worthy but it does not solve the problem and does not give directions to the Minister, who knows what is required. It is absolutely essential that we have more prison spaces and I hope the Minister will be in a position shortly to announce that the prison building programme, which was postponed because of cutbacks, will be reinstated because if we do not provide places for offenders we will contribute to the chaos. The problem is multifaceted; we need spaces and a detoxification and rehabilitation centre for addicted criminals. If we dealt with this pathetic type of criminal behaviour we would go a long way towards solving [372] the problem in our prison management system.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which is extremely timely. There is widespread anger among ordinary citizens at the level of crime on the streets of Dublin and throughout the country. Many corner shops are raided four or five times a year. Handbag snatches are a common daily occurrence. The crime wave, which is in the main drug-related, seriously threatens the quality of life we have enjoyed until now.

The public are furious that this situation is being allowed to continue. There is a groundswell of public opinion on this issue, which can be described as a community-based political awareness. I welcome this momentum for action and I call on the Minister to seize the moment. The public now demand and will accept changes in the law to make life tougher for criminals. There is now a widespread acceptance that the criminal justice system does more for the rights of criminals than for innocent victims whose plight is often ignored. Times have changed and modern society must cope with many new difficult issues. Violent crime is now a sad reality of life and, unfortunately, drugs are a part of Irish culture. As Deputy O'Donoghue and others have said, the balance needs to be readjusted and the civil liberties of the victim should also be considered.

During the summer the Garda Síochána called for changes in the law. This was in the context of the drugs reform package introduced by the Minister. The Garda said it wants action with regard to legislation on the bail laws and the right to silence. We need to know the Government's policy on bail. The Minister promised that a referendum would be put to the people, possibly at the same time as the divorce referendum. This now seems to be changed and the publication of the excellent document by the Law Reform Commission seems to have delayed this further. There appears to be confusion [373] in the Government on the matter. We need to know the policies of the Labour Party and Democratic Left on bail; we might then have some indication of what the policy of the Government as a whole is in this regard.

The Law Reform Commission's report is being used as an excuse to delay the matter even further by setting up more committees to examine all aspects of the situation. The report is good but I hope we can quickly reach agreement on what we need to do, particularly with regard to bail.

The commission's report is extremely helpful. It points out that a quarter of armed robberies are carried out by people on bail. According to Garda statistics, in 1993 3,200 indictable crimes were committed by people on bail, although it is speculated that this could be as high as 6,000 or even 9,000. One in ten crimes is committed by people on bail. The report of the Lord Mayor's commission shows that the average number of crimes committed by an inmate of Mountjoy is 10.4. This statistic shows the extent of the problem and the need to deal with it decisively and update the bail laws.

The Law Reform Commission did not opt for a referendum and it is not in a position to do so but it has come up with many useful suggestions. The present law is that bail can only be refused if it is feared the accused will not turn up for trial or will intimidate witnesses. There is no power to refuse bail on the grounds that the accused might commit further offences. That is, of course, based on the presumption of the right to be considered innocent. The Law Reform Commission suggests that the length of time people are at liberty before trial should be reduced. It also highlights the inadequacy of the number of judges available to deal with crime generally as well as the cumbersome aspects of the pre-trial period. We all agree with those recommendations which can be introduced in parallel with this Referendum Bill. Deputy O'Donoghue suggests more legislation to deal [374] with the aspects outlined in the Law Reform Commission's report.

The serious question of drugs-related crime is one of the big bail issues. Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill is reasonable and balanced, and examines all the issues. It proposes to introduce a third reason for refusing bail, that is the probability that the accused would commit another crime. That would deal effectively with the situation that now prevails.

At the end of the day the people will decide and nothing can be fairer than that. I have no doubt that the people would support this measure as a reasonable one to deal with the new, changed situation of modern Ireland and to restore the balance in favour of victims of crime.

One important safeguard — that no individual can be held for longer than 90 days without trial — should counter the arguments by civil liberties groups that there will be miscarriages of justice. In any case, we are dealing mainly with drugs-related offences where there is a probability that the accused will commit another crime, so the miscarriage of justice situation does not arise. There is no need for civil liberties groups to be dramatic in highlighting that aspect.

The key to the whole question is that limited spaces are available in our prisons. We have temporary release and bail to ease the problem but there are not enough prison places to deal with the situation if this referendum is carried. It is estimated that between 400 and 600 extra places would be needed to accommodate a change in the bail law. A capital cost of £80 million is suggested for building prisons and £20 million for running costs. These figures raise serious questions. Are we prepared to prioritise the fight against crime by spending that amount of money? People would support a measure to change the law on bail as well as to provide the necessary funding. The decision to postpone or cancel the building of the prison at Castlerea and the women's prison in Dublin was a backward step as far as the bail laws are concerned.

[375] Much has been said about the problem of drugs on our streets. While it sounds like a cliché, it is true to say that drug abuse threatens the very fabric of our society so we have a responsibility to deal with the situation effectively. I tabled a parliamentary question for the Minister for Health asking him to outline drug treatment facilities in the Eastern Health Board area. His reply showed that not many beds are available in the EHB area. The Minister says he is concerned about the numbers on waiting lists for drug treatment. However, he says he is satisfied his officials, in consultation with the EHB, are working to improve the situation. Detoxification facilities are hopelessly inadequate for dealing with the massive escalation in drug addiction.

We have debated the need to improve the laws in that respect, and this side of the House welcomed proposals by the Minister for Justice when she finally got them through Cabinet. We also need to look at other areas such as education and health services that must be provided by the State. We will not solve this problem until we provide adequate detoxification and other drug treatment facilities. We are only kidding ourselves if we think we will solve the problem by changing the law.

Detoxification treatment in prisons must be made a priority otherwise there is a strong possibility that convicted people will continue their drug addiction in prisons and, once released, they will continue their criminal activities. These serious issues need to be examined.

During the debate a legal point arose which warrants further discussion. It relates to section 11 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 which deals with crime committed while a person is on bail. The section obliges a court to give the accused a consecutive sentence in such a case. It was hoped that this section of the Act would cut the number of crimes committed by people while on bail but, unfortunately, the court adopted a new interpretation and did not implement [376] section 11 as it was intended to be implemented. It introduced the concept of suspended sentences and adopted the totality principle. I am surprised the court adopted that interpretation because the section would have been helpful in dealing with this problem. Unfortunately, in the last year or two there has been a huge increase in the number of crimes committed by accused people out on bail.

For the vast majority of people, the criminal justice system is out of touch with the realities of modern life. The priorities should be to protect the citizen and his or her property. The public cannot accept that crimes are committed by people out on bail or on temporary release. They simply cannot understand why that is being allowed to continue and why the Garda are being made to look foolish when — even if they manage to secure a conviction — they have to deal again with the convicted person who, within a short time, is out in the community again committing more crimes. The public wants action and change. Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill is an attempt to deal with this modern complex problem which will be supported by the people. I call on the Minister and the Government to introduce their Bill as quickly as possible, if it will not support this one.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  I am surprised this Bill is before the House because I remember speaking on this subject on 4 May 1995. I thought the Opposition would have the decency not to introduce similar legislation months after it was discussed. The Law Reform Commission, which was appointed by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn in the previous Administration, considered the issue of bail and we were waiting for the report to come before the House to discuss it. It is astounding that we are debating this issue on the day the report is published. I do not know if Deputy O'Donoghue has seen the report, but we need a reasonable period of time to study its 200 pages.

A Government of Renewal states that [377] an examination of legislation by the Law Reform Commission to allow courts to refuse bail where the court considered it desirable would take place. It did not speak in terms of a constitutional amendment, but of legislative provision. The Law Reform Commission reported yesterday that it proposed legislative changes, but it did not propose any change in the Constitution.

The central issue is that changing the law on bail restricts the liberty of the accused before trial, but changing the constitutional entitlement to bail denies liberty before trial. That is the nub of the matter about which we are concerned. Do we want to change the Constitution so that we will provide imprisonment prior to trial, or do we want to tighten the legislative provisions to ensure that offences are not committed while suspects are on bail? The latter is preferable in a democratic society because we could restrict liberty on the basis of suspicion and it could also interfere with the presumption of innocence.

The Supreme Court's decision in the O'Callaghan case in 1966 specified that all citizens should be entitled to bail, except where someone might abscond and not stand trial or a suspect might interfere with witnesses. It stated that the refusal of bail was a form of preventative justice which had no place in our legal system and was alien to the two purposes of bail. The Supreme Court made it clear that its approach was to strengthen the legislative provisions, rather than providing for constitutional change. The guiding principle of common law and our Constitution, the presumption of innocence before guilt, protects the rights of the individual. International jurisprudence recognises human and civil rights in that regard.

There is a low percentage of remand prisoners in this country compared with the rest of Europe and the western world. As a result, people spend less time in our prisons compared with other countries. It also means that we need fewer prisons. There has been a lot of discussion recently about building new [378] prisons. The Law Reform Commission estimates that we need 600 new prison spaces at a capital cost of £80 million and an annual running cost of £20 million. This is a direct result of a decision to introduce preventative detention. We must discuss if we want to spend money on prisons or on ensuring early trials. Often a long period of time elapses before a suspect comes before the courts because we do not have enough judges to deal with cases and our procedure is cumbersome. We should spend money on early trials rather than putting it into a system which needs an overhaul. I agree with Deputy Haughey who criticised the prison system. It does not rehabilitate prisoners or produce better people as a result of the time spent there.

There are serious problems which must be addressed, including the fact that people on bail are committing crime. There has been an increase in the number of crimes committed by people on bail in recent years, but it has not been as significant as was indicated. Approximately 8,000 offences were committed by people on bail in 1984, the year we introduced the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, which provided for mandatory consecutive sentences. That number has decreased dramatically over the years and it is now approximately 50 per cent of that number. The initial decrease was to 2,500 and then it increased to 4,500. We must address that problem.

There are two reasons why there has been an increase in the number of offences committed by people on bail. The first was referred to by the Law Reform Commission and relates to the fact that judges tend to be more lenient when dealing with consecutive sentences. Instead of imposing straight consecutive sentences, they often impose a suspended sentence, leaving us back at square one. This could be remedied very easily by strengthening the consecutive sentence provisions in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984.

The Law Reform Commission has not adverted to another reason for an [379] increase in the number of offences committed while people are on bail. It is an issue which is challenging communities on a daily basis and that is drugs. It is estimated that 75 per cent of criminal offences are drug related. Every garda in the street will tell one that. Let us examine the profile of the people committing those offences. The offences are committed in disadvantaged areas by addicts with no access to regular funds. They commit the offences to get money to feed their addiction. Irrespective of whether we change the bail laws and regardless of the restrictions we place on them, they will continue, both inside and outside prison, to want to feed that addiction.

A multifaceted approach is required to deal with the major drug problem. If we continue to interpret the problem in terms of law enforcement — I fear that Deputy O'Donoghue puts an undue emphasis on this — we will fail to address it. We pretend to the public that we are addressing the problem but that is not good enough. The introduction of new legislation, which we present as being tough on drug abuse and the drug barons, does not address the problem. We already have legislation to deal with drug barons. The Criminal Justice Act, 1994 provides for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. It should be implemented. When did we last hear of it being implemented?

If we want to deal with our criminal justice system, it is crucial that we put in place a broadly based treatment programme. Addicts are very often pushers. They commit crime to get money to feed their addiction but also peddle drugs on a small scale. The problem of crime and drug pushing is cyclical. I know many of these people in the inner city. They would love to escape from this cycle, go to a satellite clinic and join a programme which provides them with a heroin substitute, counselling and therapy. The facilities are not there. The only clinic on the northside of Dublin is in Amiens Street. Other communities are organising against the location of [380] community treatment programmes in their areas. This is one of the serious problems facing the Eastern Health Board at present. We must be tough and ensure that people who are abusing drugs are treated in their local communities or we will never solve the problem.

There is a ludicrous situation in the prison system at present. While one State agency, the Eastern Health Board, promotes substitute maintenance, counselling and therapy, the prison authorities refuse to implement it. They will not go along with the Eastern Health Board proposals. As a result, detoxification in Mountjoy prison lasts five or seven days and it is cold turkey after that. Naturally that void or vacuum will be filled by illegal drugs. As I have said on other occasions, Mountjoy is the biggest drug centre in Ireland.

We must deal with these issues and in doing so we will automatically reduce the number of crimes committed by people on bail. The figures for 1994 indicate that out of 4,416 offences committed, 1,648 were burglary offences committed by suspects on bail; 2,217 were larceny offences and 547 fell into the category of other crimes. By and large these are crimes against property and, even though there is no such breakdown in the figures, I believe they are largely drug related. We must address these matters and we must adopt a multifaceted, multi-agency approach.

The Law Reform Commission proposes a number of legislative changes which should be examined. We must review the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 and the court interpretation of consecutive sentences whereby judges suspend such sentences rather than making them truly consecutive. These provisions must be strengthened. We must also examine the estreatment of bail as recommended by the Law Reform Commission. I was surprised to find that this was rarely enforced. I thought estreatment was a regular occurrence if somebody breached the terms of their bail. We now find it is not being implemented. If somebody puts up a considerable sum [381] of money as bail, they should pay the price. Bail conditions include the good behaviour and non-criminal activity of a suspect. I cannot understand why the courts are not estreating bail.

The Criminal Justice Act, 1994, which we passed last year after the gardaí requested powers to confiscate the proceeds of crime, does not seem to be implemented. Why is it not implemented? Why is there no liaison with the Revenue Commissioners in relation to its implementation? It is about time that heads were knocked together on this issue because agencies seem to be operating independently of each other with the minimum co-operation. I ask the Minister to address these questions. There should be a new and specific offence covering breach of bail with which people could be charged and, when convicted, they could be sentenced.

The most important issue, and one which was also referred to by the Law Reform Commission, is the substantial reduction of the pre-trial period. We must examine this area. I am reluctant to see us put large sums of money into a prison system which all of us in this House know is a disaster. We have never been able to reform it properly. The fallout from that system is that the amount of money which is spent on it is not cost-effective. No Government has come to terms with it in any substantial fashion.

If we put a further programme in place costing about £80 million we will be putting 600 people — that is the immediate estimate — into prison on preventative detention, costing the State and the taxpayer another £20 million per annum on salaries and operational costs.

People can be out on bail for months, almost years. It is common to wait 18 months at present for a trial to take place. If we put some of that money into enhancing the pre-trial procedures and ensuring that people were not out on bail for any lengthy period of time, that would eliminate the problem in the first instance of a long period between the [382] charge and trial. If we must inject money, it would be better spent in either the provision of extra judges or dealing with the cumbersome procedure involved in the admissibility of evidence and preparation of books of evidence. I urge that we look at that. These, of course, are not my proposals although one or two of them might be. These are the proposals which are inherent from the Law Reform Commission's report.

All the proposals must be looked at. It would be rash indeed for us to embark on a constitutional referendum at this time since the Law Reform Commission has spent some 18 months compiling its report. It has undertaken a lot of research. It has conducted comparative work in other countries as well as looking at statistics here. By the way, they discovered rather poor statistics at the Department of Justice in the prison section and, indeed, in the Garda Commissioner's reports. A lot of new statistical work should be undertaken to ensure that statistics are reliable. Reliable statistics are not coming from either the Garda or the prison section at the Department of Justice. That is a key area which should be addressed.

In any case, I regard this proposal for an amendment to the Constitution as premature. It has not come at the right time. We have had two debates on it now without having had the benefit of studying the outcome of the deliberations of the Law Reform Commission. I have no doubt Deputy O'Donoghue will have another amendment to this effect a few months down the road, which would be the appropriate time. I welcomed the first proposal in May as an opportunity to discuss the issues but it is now unnecessary, out of line and comes at the wrong time. I do not know whether that was deliberate or not. Certainly, we cannot have any meaningful discussion now.

The debate in itself is welcome. We must update our legislation to face new threats to society. We have seen how the profile of the offender has changed over the years and the type of offence which is taking place now, the drug [383] offence, was virtually unknown in the seventies. That is the changing criminal profile so we must adjust to it. In doing so, we cannot discuss a legislative provision in a vacuum, without relating it to the offences for which it is intended. If we find that 75 per cent of offences are now being committed by people who abuse drugs and if we find that type of offence lends itself to a further offence while a person is awaiting trial, we are clearly right to home in on this point but we must do it in a meaningful fashion, addressing all aspects of the problem.

It must not be the old story which seems to be inherent in every Opposition. I cannot remember Fianna Fáil coming out strongly on these issues prior to the break-up of the Government last December. It seems to be inherent in Opposition to seek political mileage by throwing legislation at problems, by shouting from the rooftops that one is going to be tough on crime, by saying that the way one will be tough on crime is by introducing tough legislation and by leaving it at that.

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  Labour never did.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  That is really what we have had over the last number of months. That, to my mind, is why we have this legislation here once again.

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  The Deputy should come out and say what he feels about it.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  How long is it since 4 May? It is not very long to be bringing forward another private Members' piece of legislation on exactly the same lines. There is a touch of political expediency about this.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  Deputy Costello must not have read the debate. They are entirely different.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  I am sorry. I did not hear what Deputy O'Donoghue said.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  These two Bills are [384] entirely different. One deals with a constitutional referendum while the other deals with the provisions on bail within current constitutional parameters. The Deputy must not have read them.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  A constitutional amendment is what is involved in this particular piece of legislation.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  Not that Bill.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  That was part of the contribution which Deputy O'Donoghue made. He was looking for a constitutional amendment the last time around too, so I have not seen anything in either the spirit or the text of what he says.

I am sure we will debate this issue again. I will end with the words of Deputy Haughey that we should not be kidding ourselves that by changing the law we will solve the drugs problem.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  I understand it has been agreed that Deputy Ring share time with Deputy Costello. There are three minutes remaining.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I hope to get an opportunity next week to speak again.

I agree and disagree with Deputy Costello. I agree with him in that the Opposition did not bring forward all this legislation when they were in Government. Certainly, the people would not be crying out for this kind of legislation to protect themselves from criminals who are running around the country, and rural Ireland in particular.

I talked to a Garda sergeant on Monday in my constituency, where there have been a number of serious robberies recently. Some of the suspects were in custody all day and they spent half the day making statements and then decided not to make a statement. The Garda need the powers. The powers are certainly not with the Garda at the moment; they are with the criminals. This House must return powers to the Garda.

Yesterday, I heard on the news that [385] for the first time in 40 years there was a reduction in crime in England. The Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, should talk to her counterpart in England to see what they did to achieve this because it is important that people can go to bed at night, feel they are safe in their beds and have a night's sleep in the knowledge that these thugs will not break in, rob them and speed away in high-powered cars.

The other matter I want to address has nothing to do with the bail laws but I intend to speak on the bail laws next week when I get another opportunity. The Minister has my full support. As far as I am concerned, she has done a good job since she was made Minister for Justice. It is a difficult job, one which is not easy to do because there will always be crime. That said, we must give powers back to the Garda. I ask the Minister, as a political favour and a favour to the people of this country, to put the gardaí back on the beat. I ask the Minister to reopen the rural Garda stations that were closed by the previous administration. The stations in my own area at Louisburgh, Newport and Mulrany each had a sergeant and five to six gardaí stationed there. At present there are no sergeants or gardaí in some of these places. The gardaí must be put back on the beat and their powers restored. The power cannot be given to the criminals.

Debate adjourned.


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