Wednesday, 1 March 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. G. Mitchell: I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter. The Government stands indicted for not making an effort to ensure that modern legislation prevents some of our graveyards falling into disuse, disrepair and dereliction. Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, in my constituency has been greatly improved thanks to a heritage group established by me, the efforts of the Prisons Service and the owner of the cemetery. However, there is a long way to go before it is in an acceptable state as a place of interment for human remains. Goldenbridge Cemetery, now in my constituency, is strewn with used needles, condoms and broken headstones as a result of official toleration of criminal and unseemly behaviour in such a hallowed place. This was the first Catholic cemetery after emancipation. A temple in the graveyard marks the spot where a Mass rock stood in penal times. The first Head of Government of this State, W. T. Cosgrave, is buried there and yet official Ireland deems itself to have no responsibility to address this sad state of affairs. Goldenbridge Cemetery should be a national monument, not a monument to Government indifference. This is a national shame.
I want the Government to declare Goldenbridge Cemetery a national heritage park and to give the authority, resources and back-up, including inoculation against hepatitis when clearing the cemetery, to local groups to turn this cemetery into a national and international tourist attraction. It is close to Kilmainham Gaol and the place of incarceration of many of the 1916 leaders, now St. Michael's Christian Brothers school. I also want the Government to bring in modern legislation akin to the Derelict Sites Act to prevent cemeteries from falling into disrepair by penalising owners or requiring local authorities to move in and take over the operating of cemeteries which do not meet required standards, passing on the costs to the owners where possible.
We are a civilised people but one would not know that from a visit to some of our graveyards. Would any of these standards be tolerated in the so-called commercialised United States? Certainly not, and we should not tolerate these standards here either. It is an appalling indictment of us as a nation, and the way we treat our dead shows the adolescence we are going through as a nation. In centuries gone by the dead were always treated with respect. A death notice cannot be put on the door of a house in Dublin, which was the tradition when I was a boy, because somebody might burgle the house when the people are out. If somebody puts an announcement in the newspapers, which again is the tradition, they cannot put the number of the house for the same reason. To add insult to injury, some of the places  of interment of the loved ones of people who grieve with great pain and sorrow are inadequate.
Dublin has spread out to the west in particular and new graveyards are being opened. The Government cannot allow people to simply walk away from the older graveyards and leave them in a state of dereliction. I appreciate very much the efforts of the management of Mount Jerome Cemetery, together with the group set up by me, the heritage group, and the Prisons Service to try to do something about that cemetery. I am hopeful, particularly with the opening of a crematorium there, that the income from that will be used to restore the cemetery, which is an important heritage centre because of some of the people who are buried there.
Goldenbridge Cemetery is probably one of the most historic monuments in this country. It is an absolute indictment of us all that there is not in place legislation to prevent such a hallowed place from falling into total disrepair, which would be disrespectful. If it is not possible for the owners of that cemetery, or for the owners of cemeteries generally, to ensure that a proper and dignified environment is maintained within cemeteries, it behoves us as a Legislature to ensure that legislation is in place to provide for that. We would not allow it in terms of derelict sites and we certainly should not allow it in places of burial of human beings.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I am not sure that many of the issues raised by Deputy Mitchell come within my domain but I will attempt to answer them as best I can. I will try to deal with the general issue of the condition of cemeteries in the Dublin area. I am informed by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, that in
recent years functions in relation to burial grounds have been devolved from central Government to local authorities with the result that virtually all such functions, including management and maintenance of burial grounds provided by them, are now exercised by the local authorities. Other burial ground owners are responsible for the maintenance and care of their own grounds, although local authorities have power to intervene where a burial ground is not kept in decent order.
I now wish to turn to the issue of crime in cemeteries. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that the situation in respect of cemeteries in divisions within the Dublin metropolitan region – DMR – is that the statistics from the DMR east division and the DMR north division indicate that the issues raised by the Deputy are not a problem evidenced by crimes reported to the gardaí, while the DMR west division and the DMR south division each have only one such recorded crime for the 14 month period 1 January 1999 to date. These divisions have ten and nine cemeteries respectively. That is not to say, however, that such problems never occur. In recent years, for example, Glasne vin Cemetery experienced intermittent problems with vandalism, mainly damage to headstones. As a result, the gardaí were given keys to the main gate to enable a patrol to be carried out at night and to facilitate access in the event of receiving a call to the cemetery while it is closed. The cemetery is patrolled by gardaí when it is open between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and in addition to Garda patrols at night, it is visited twice nightly by a private security firm.
In the same context, problems experienced at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold's Cross, in the Deputy's constituency, were successfully tackled through the combined efforts of uniformed gardaí and detectives and improved security measures implemented by those responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery.
I am confident that the Garda authorities are taking appropriate measures to deal with the problem mentioned by Deputy Mitchell, and this seems to be borne out by the statistics from the Dublin metropolitan region. Current Government crime policies are working. Never in the history of the State have the gardaí been better resourced or equipped. Garda strength is heading towards 12,000, an all-time historic high. We are on target for increasing the capacity of the prison system by one third. In reality, our tough anti-crime policies are yielding the anticipated good results, with a further fall of 5% last year leading to a cumulative fall of about 21% since we came to office. I am satisfied that the legislation currently in place, such as the Criminal Law Act, 1997, the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997, the Criminal Damage Act, 1991, the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 to 1996, and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, is appropriate to deal with any such problems that may arise.
I have mentioned the appropriate law enforcement responses to the issues raised by the Deputy. In general terms, however, the problems associated with drug abuse, mentioned by the Deputy, cannot be solved by law enforcement measures alone and as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I am fully aware of the correlation between drugs, crime and social disadvantage.
The complex problem of drug abuse is one of the critical issues in modern society and the Government has been active on many different fronts in a bid to reduce the demand for drugs and to relentlessly pursue those profiting from the sale or distribution of drugs. In addition, addressing the causes and consequences of social exclusion in urban and rural areas in an integrated and co-ordinated way is very much a priority of the Government. An unprecedented level of resources is being targeted at areas most in need to facilitate the development of local strategies which aim to address issues such as drug misuse, early school leaving and unemployment.  In this context, the active participation of the local community in developing and implementing appropriate policies and programmes to deal with the drug problem is a cornerstone of the Government's national drugs strategy. The Government is totally committed to this multi-agency partnership approach to dealing with the twin problems of drugs and crime at community level.
In this context, I am sure Deputy Mitchell will agree that tremendous progress has been made through the allocation of funding by the Government under the national drugs strategy and under the young people's facilities and services fund. These resources will make a significant contribution towards dealing with the drugs problem in local communities and towards tackling social exclusion. A total of £10 million has been allocated on an annual basis to support the implementation of over 200 projects proposed by local drugs task forces in their areas. In addition, a further £15 million over a two year period has been allocated to support the development of new service development plans by the local drugs task forces. The Government has also allocated a sum of £35 million over three years, 1999 to 2001, under the young people's facilities and services fund to assist in the development of preventative strategies, in a targeted manner, through the development of youth, sport and recreational facilities and services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to develop.
In this context, I have secured an additional £16 million of funding under this plan which will facilitate a significant expansion of the Garda juvenile diversion programme. I have also secured approximately £70 million for additional crime prevention measures and over £200 million to fund the development of the child care provision over 2000 to 2006.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I believe in these policies and I believe they are working and will continue to work. However, there is no room for complacency and I assure the Deputy of my commitment and that of the Garda Commissioner to tackling the drug problem at local level.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I will do that. I agree that the cemetery could be a national monument of considerable importance given the fact that the late Mr. William Cosgrave is buried there and its proximity to Kilmainham Jail. I will bring the issues regarding the other cemeteries to the attention of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.
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