Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill, 1997 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Thursday, 11 June 1998

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 492 No. 3

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

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  The Bill will be widely welcomed across the community. This problem is of major concern to parents, public representatives, the Garda authorities and the courts. No one has been spared the curse of the drugs problem.

We must address the two main aspects of this tragic problem — prevention and cure. The Minister has brought forward a Bill which will go a long way towards meeting the prevention requirements. Anybody found dealing in drugs with a monetary value of more than £10,000 can expect a ten year prison sentence from the courts without remission other than the discretion the Minister has built into the Bill to cover those unfortunate people who are addicted to drugs.

That is the tragic aspect of this problem. The drug barons get young people hooked on drugs and then use them to sell the drugs which they do willingly to feed their habit. That is all part of the web of crime affecting communities.

In introducing the Bill, the Minister recognises the serious nature of the situation. At a recent parliamentary party meeting I was surprised that many rural colleagues were able to speak of firsthand experiences of crime in their constituencies. When representing an urban constituency, one tends to believe that urban areas bear the brunt of the problem. However, it appears that, due to increased Garda activity, additional information [592] being submitted and people being prepared to address the problem, crime is being pushed into other regions.

The additional cost of the drugs problem to communities and the country is now reaching substantial proportions. Money which is badly needed in many other areas is now being directed towards this serious problem. Like many Deputies, I have attended numerous meetings of concerned parents and communities objecting to the location in their areas of health centres and clinics which dispense methadone. There is a crisis in this area. Deputy McManus drew a distinction between soft and hard drugs and suggested it was not acceptable that people were treated in the same way if they were caught with £10,000 worth of cannabis as if they were caught with £10,000 worth of heroin or other hard drugs. My simple philosophy is that soft drugs lead to hard drugs and that they are all a plague on our houses. The Minister is correct in deciding to deal with it in the manner he has.

The Minister's area of responsibility is at the coalface of this problem but it also involves the Department of Health and Children and the health boards. The Minister of State, Deputy Flood, is also involved as he is responsible for disbursing large sums of money in the area. There is a need for cohesion in tackling the drugs problem. The Minister has already made massive strides and it has become obvious, nationally and internationally, that the country is no longer a safe haven for people engaged in this vile trade. There has been tremendous success in this area through the use of the Criminal Assets Bureau which has resulted in the freezing of bank accounts and a recognition that Ireland is no longer a country where drugs can be sold and money laundered without hindrance. Mr. John Gilligan lived in my revised constituency and I have hands-on experience in local housing estates of the crisis which this trade has caused.

It is to be hoped that communities opposed to the provision of facilities catering for those affected will see that the Oireachtas is prepared to tackle the problem. It is also to be hoped that it will give them a willingness to see that we are, by the medium of this Bill, doing what has to be done as regards prevention. I hope it is passed speedily, signed into law as quickly as is practicable and brought into effect.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the Garda Síochána's work is dealing with these people who have vast sums of money available and who can afford to invest in their vile trade. That is not to speak of the risks individual gardaí have had to take in terms of obtaining evidence and bringing such people to court. Community gardaí also take risks in working with communities to wean people off drugs. Such people have an addiction and a need for treatment but they are also the local sales people for the drugs barons. Therein lies the need for the integrated approach to try to tackle the problem.

The Eastern Health Board is trying to disperse [593] treatment facilities by setting up smaller units throughout my constituency so that no community is afflicted by large numbers of young people gathering to collect their prescribed methadone and causing problems. The local communities in which the rare facilities are located must carry an unfair burden in terms of an influx of young and mostly male addicts endeavouring to kick the habit but who are in need of treatment. The other communities in which the more dispersed services are to be located naturally object. Public representatives should give a lead on this.

The methadone maintenance programme provides a legalised drug to those who have been taking illegal drugs. A final cure is a serious and complex matter. For those willing to undergo a cure, residential detoxification facilities are urgently needed but they are costly. There are many demands on the Government's limited resources, such as the Minister arguing for money for more prison spaces and the Minister for Health and Children seeking money for more beds, etc. Having spoken to those involved in the Coolmine Therapeutic Unit, the Clondalkin Against Drugs group and other bodies, it seems that detoxification facilities are the eventual requirement to adequately tackle and break the cycle of drug addiction. I hope that, as part of an overall integrated plan, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Health and Children ensure there is prevention and cure. That is the challenge facing us. I hope the Bill is passed quickly and becomes a landmark decision in tackling and preventing the availability of drugs.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  I wish to share my time with Deputy Ulick Burke.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Browne, Carlow-Kilkenny): Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  : Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  I do not share Deputy Lawlor's optimism about the Bill. While its provisions generally are an inadequate response to crime I welcome some sections. The ten year jail sentence for those caught in possession of drugs to the value of £10,000 is welcome and, as Deputy Lawlor stated, it sends out the proper signal that we now have a policy of getting tough with criminals involved in drug activity. The provision to seize the assets of those involved in drugs trafficking is also welcome, although I believe it was introduced by the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is operating and helping to control the scourge of drug dealing.

I am sure the Minister is aware of the growing concern in many communities about the rise in crime. Many communities in cities, towns and rural areas live in fear and anxiety as a result of the rising levels of crime in their areas. Among the crimes committed are car thefts, burglaries and petty crime, some of which is drug related. The Minister in Opposition raised the hopes of [594] many harassed people with the promise of zero tolerance. Unfortunately, he has failed to live up to those promises and has failed in his responsibilities to act correctly in the matter. Although sections of it are welcome, I do not believe the Bill is the answer to the problem facing communities.

When he was in Opposition, the Minister was not slow to blame the then Minister for Justice for the rising crime figures. We had passionate outbursts from the Minister on a daily basis condemning the former Minister and stating what should be done. The boot is now on the other foot and we have a lamb, not a lion, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Elderly people are afraid to go to bed at night. There has been a disturbing increase in criminal activity in Galway city. The stealing and burning of cars has become far too common and there has been an alarming increase in break-ins to shops and houses. The Minister is aware of the grave concern on the west side of the city. Concerned residents have called a number of public meetings which I attended at which they expressed anger and frustration at what is happening. Deputy Jim Higgins recently met with representatives of residents associations on the west side of the city and I accompanied a residents' deputation to see the Minister. However, all our pleas are falling on deaf ears.

The chief superintendent in Galway applied for an extra 24 gardaí for the city but his strong case has been ignored. A sergeant and three gardaí were transferred to the division on 3 April but this is an inadequate response. The Minister will cite figures showing that the levels of crime are decreasing but that is not the position on the ground. The level of crime is greatly increasing. There may be a danger that people are not reporting crimes as they see no point in doing so when there are not enough gardaí to deal with the cases and no one will be apprehended. I advise people to continue to report crime as the number of gardaí allocated to an area is often based on the crime statistics.

The Minister will state that the deployment of extra gardaí is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and I accept this view. However, the legitimate application by the chief superintendent in Galway has been ignored. He would not apply for these gardaí if they were not required.

When compared with Garda numbers in similar sized cities, the numbers in Galway are very inadequate. The reply to a parliamentary question on 25 March showed that Limerick, which is similar in size to Galway, has 245 gardaí compared to 132 in Galway. Galway is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe and it has suffered a rise in crime because there are not sufficient gardaí to compensate for the population increase. The city has a population of over 55,000. In addition, there are 12,000 students in the two third level colleges. We are entering the tourist season during which the population will exceed 90,000. There is a need for more gardaí in Galway [595] city. We need more community gardaí on the beat. I appeal to the Commissioner to accede to the chief superintendent's request for the immediate deployment of the additional 24 gardaí.

The Minister should look again at the valid requests made for a substation on the west side of Galway. In a letter to me the Minister stated:

With regard to the request for a Garda substation in Newcastle, local Garda management believe that the establishment of a substation would not enhance the Garda service in the area or be cost-effective. They believe that a large amount of personnel would be engaged in public office duty to keep the proposed substation open on a 24-hour basis.

The Minister believes that those members would be better employed on outdoor duties. I accept that gardaí should be deployed outdoors but I do not accept that there is no need for a substation on the vast housing estates to the west of the city. I accept that gardaí would be more usefully used on beat duties.

I recently spent a day in court in Galway on a civil case. During the day there were 30 or 40 uniformed gardaí waiting as witnesses. Some of the cases were not called and the gardaí were simply waiting around. This is a waste of valuable manpower. There is a better way of handling this situation. Perhaps there should be station clerks or one garda who presents evidence in court. It is a terrible waste of manpower if 20, 30 or 40 gardaí are waiting for cases to be called at every Circuit and District Court sitting.

I appeal to the Minister to introduce more community gardaí. The way to cure crime is to prevent it. If enough gardaí are on the beat crime will be prevented. It is completely inadequate to have one community garda on the vast housing estates west of Galway city. How can one garda patrol such an area? The original concept of rural and urban policing was based on the fact that the garda in the community knew the people and what was going on. This placed him in a position to detect or prevent crime. We should return to that principle of more gardaí on the beat, especially in Galway city.

In the long-term placing gardaí on the beat would be more cost-effective than dealing with the present level of crime or filling prisons and remand centres with criminals. It would also avoid the humiliation for the gardaí and the community of seeing people sentenced for petty crimes back on the streets within a few days of sentencing.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the debate on Second Stage of this Bill. The Bill proposes to introduce strong measures against those who deal in and abuse drugs and, as a result, cause such misery within families and, in particular, to young people. Despite everything that has been said and written, [596] what is lacking is a comprehensive research programme, similar to those in place in countries where the problem is much more serious, covering every aspect, including the effects of drug abuse and addiction and drug related crime. Yesterday the vast sums spent by Departments on consultancies were published. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform spent least.

There are other Departments and agencies ploughing a lonely furrow. The activities of the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform should be co-ordinated to confront the huge problems in society.

The Minister should include in the Bill heavy penalties to be imposed on the owners or licensees of licensed premises, discos and night-clubs who allow their premises to be used by drug peddlers. Research indicates — a garda connected in any way with the drugs unit will confirm this — that in the greatest proportion of cases young people are introduced, perhaps through peer pressure or intentionally, to the drug culture at these premises or at parties. The Minister who is responsible for the issuing of licences has to take action. If owners and licensees were penalised, they would ensure drugs were not readily available at their premises.

If a proper drugs awareness programme was introduced in primary and second level schools, vast savings would accrue to the Exchequer in the areas of health and legal costs. Were it not for the determination of and the initiatives taken by enthusiastic individual teachers at national, second and perhaps third level, school principals, boards of management and parents associations, there would be no structure in place. Vast sums have been spent on technology in our schools. If some of this was diverted to fund the introduction of a structured rather than piecemeal or hit and miss programme, we could achieve great results in tackling the problem.

Most crime in rural areas is drug related. As Deputy McCormack said, there is a serious problem in the west from Kerry to Donegal. Those who have been driven into a life of crime in urban areas are travelling to rural areas to feed their habit. There are limits to what people involved in well organised community alert schemes can do in co-operation with the Garda Síochána. They have a different culture to those involved in community protection groups in housing estates in urban areas.

Do we have a secret service and, if so, what is its function and to whom does it report? In rural areas certain individuals, who may have a criminal record, for some reason, as a result of gossip or otherwise, have been identified as being members of a secret service. They do a great disservice to people involved in community alert schemes who are feeling the pinch. Does such a service exist and, if so, why?

While the Bill has some positive features, there is a lack of cohesion and co-ordination. When a drug trafficker is brought before the courts, it is [597] wrong that somebody in the background can plead for leniency by the judge when the Garda are trying to get a conviction. Where will this confusion end? I am not casting any reflection on judges at various levels, but there is no consistency in the way such cases are dealt with in court. It all depends on whether a person brought before a court has someone who will state that resources are available to provide counselling for him or her. That person will be treated more leniently than the person who does not have anyone to make a similar plea for him or her. This is a major area that needs to be addressed.

Mr. Killeen: Information on Tony Killeen  Zoom on Tony Killeen  This is a major criminal justice Bill. While one welcomes it as a response to dealing with the problem in this area, as time passes one must be concerned that we need to introduce rafts of legislation to deal with criminal justice problems. Approximately 22 Acts are referred to or amended by various provisions in this Bill. It is another statutory attack on drug trafficking and related ills. There is a need to display the determination of the Government and the Oireachtas directly to fight the drugs menace. I welcome this legislation in that context and I commend the Minister for his efforts in bringing it before the House. Previous Ministers over a number of years have struggled manfully to meet the challenges posed by various criminal activities, most of which appear to relate to the drug culture.

There are inherent dangers in putting huge volumes of legislation before the House. Some of the Bills are very extensive. There are 35 sections in this Bill and it has a considerable number of pages. It puts a tremendous workload on Deputies. It also puts pressure on committee members, particularly Opposition spokespersons who have fewer resources available to them than Government members. There is also considerable pressure on Government resources in terms of legal expertise, parliamentary draftspersons and research back-up, but the research facilities available to backbenchers are woefully inadequate. This will all lead to major cock-ups and, undoubtedly, major expenditure by the State in various areas in the not too distant future.

This Act is part of a major programme of criminal law reform. One must acknowledge the work of the steering group on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda Síochána, some of whose work will be reflected in the Bill. The Minister indicated it will be reflected in an amendment he will table on Committee Stage. We must also acknowledge the work of the expert group whose report is expected later this month. I understand it will form the basis for the preparation of a major piece of criminal justice law.

One wonders if a justice consolidation Bill, similar to last year's consolidation Bill in the finance area, might be introduced. If such a large Bill were introduced, I do not know if it would make life easier or more difficult for those involved in amending legislation as it is difficult to find provisions in such Bills. There is a case for [598] introducing consolidating legislation which would make the work of those fighting crime easier. It would provide them with a better opportunity to fight those who, because of the resources that become available to them through crime, are able to mount challenges at all levels, sometimes successfully.

There is a need for many approaches to tackle crime other than criminal justice measures. It can be approached through education and combating social exclusion and disadvantage. I commend the Minister of State on her work in that area. However, I cannot help but suspect there is no serious commitment in any party or arm of the State to approach problems of that nature from that perspective. One has only to glance at the level of funding available for primary education and the type of resources available to early school leavers, which fortunately are improving as time passes. One must consider, with some concern, what was said at the teacher conferences at Easter when a substantial number of teachers complained of a level of unruliness and indiscipline in the classroom which they said was making their job impossible. If that is part of a trend, it bodes ill for the future and it will cost many hours of deliberation and planning to deal with it in the criminal justice area, probably the most expensive way it could be dealt with.

I commend the anti-drugs initiatives introduced by the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, but they are confined to too narrow an area. Confining activities of that nature to pilot schemes does not acknowledge the extent of the problem. Some of those initiatives should be introduced in rural areas, certainly in the smaller rural towns where the problem is far more widespread than is acknowledged. The drug menace, particularly in small rural towns, could be dealt with relatively easily because of the smaller numbers involved. If it were addressed at this stage, it could be dealt with more cheaply and effectively than in five or ten years' time when the supply network would be so sophisticated, so well armed and so well able to deal with whatever the State could throw at it that it would be impossible to break down.

There is very little political capital to be made from calling for preventive measures. Nobody commends us for calling for more money for education at primary or any other level and nobody commends the efforts of those involved with early school leavers. There is no political capital to be made from making provision at that level, but everyone understands there is political capital to be made for providing more prison spaces, recruiting more gardaí and mounting more direct attacks on crime by the criminal justice system. That is an expensive way to approach the problem and in the long term it ensures the generation coming up will present an even greater problem in the not too distant future.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has provided for minimum mandatory sentences for people found carrying drugs to the value of £10,000 or more by way of amendment to the [599] Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977. There has been a perception that sentencing policy for some of these people has been somewhat lenient. The message we are sending in this Bill is welcome.

The Minister was correct to dispense with the preliminary examination in the District Court, which it appears was being used more and more widely to delay proceedings rather than to enhance the justice system. There is a new safeguard procedure provided which will probably be regarded as an attack on civil liberties. On balance, the change in this instance is a good and positive one.

I also welcome the provision of a confiscation order which will come into effect automatically unless the court believes it would involve the acquisition of items of too little in value. The issue of the proceeds of crime being held by family members of convicted criminals and drug dealers has not been adequately addressed in previous legislation. It might not have been considered appropriate in this Bill, but it needs to be tightened up considerably by way of amendment of the Criminal Assets Bureau's regulations or otherwise.

Too little notice has been taken of attacks on State forensic scientists and social welfare officers by the likes of Martin Cahill. One wonders to what extent intimidation of that nature could still be perpetrated and to what extent the arms of the State are in a position to combat it. One also worries about the effects of the film portraying that gentleman's life which, it appears from what one reads, glamorises crime to a very undesirable extent.

The Minister has also provided that Garda evidence can be used on a much more widespread basis by means of certificate. This will undoubtedly lead to better use of Garda time and is welcome.

I am concerned by the escalating Garda dispute and I call for a cooling off period and a genuine engagement in dialogue towards resolution of the problem. There is an onus on some of those not party to the dispute to declare their commitment to facilitate a solution and ensure there is not a knock-on effect on public service pay. I am very concerned by the message the ongoing impasse is sending to those involved in criminal behaviour and those concerned by it.

I welcome the statutory basis for guilty pleas rather than relying on case law as has been the practice to date. People who follow legislation closely in the House are frequently surprised by the extent to which case law in this area and practice heretofore in legislation has been accepted as the basis for law. There are many instances where legislation does not provide a statutory basis for many major activities.

One must be concerned by the provision of treatment for addicts in prison and mitigation in relation to their prison sentences if they offer for treatment. There is a presumption that virtually all drug addicts would offer for treatment if it was [600] available. However, I understand a recent survey in Mountjoy prison found that slightly less than half of those with a serious or less than serious drug problem were prepared to opt for treatment if it was available. The most advantageous political response in terms of political kudos is always to call for a lock up of these people. However, is it cheaper and more effective and does it in the long run address the problem? There is a certain lack of confidence in the alternatives which have not been properly probed or researched, something alluded to by Deputy Burke. Alternatives do not appear to have a high level of credibility among politicians and others involved in this area.

There is a constant argument in relation to crimes committed by drug addicts as to whether there should be further movement towards treatment or even more rigorous imposition of penalties. Everywhere in the western world has struggled with the concept of drug addiction as a mitigation for crimes concerning drug dealing. There is a growing realisation that throwing offenders into institutions frequently maintains or reinforces the habit and ensures the continuation of the market in which drug dealers make their ill-gotten gains.

Studies in the US on the effects of drugs on crime statistics indicate that in comparison to non-drug using offenders, severe drug users tend to commit 15 times as many robberies, 20 times as many burglaries and ten times as many thefts. There are no comparable statistics available for Ireland, though some figures are available from the Garda which reflect an approximate trend. It is clear from the studies that active drug use accelerates crime by a factor of between four and six, with the crime content being at least as violent and frequently more so when compared to non-drug user counterparts. The US studies were mainly of heroin users, though some were of crack cocaine users for whom there were similar statistics. One American expert said that empirical studies of the association between drug use and crime provide an appreciation of the enormous impact drug abuse has on crime. Indeed extensive research on the relationship between drug abuse and crime provides convincing evidence that relatively few severe substance abusers are responsible for an extraordinary proportion of crime.

Debate adjourned.

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