Wednesday, 5 May 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Kenny: Last weekend saw an unparalleled level of security and policing on the streets of Dublin. The Government had an obligation to ensure the security and safety of our citizens and visitors from Europe. The ceremonies were very important. The duty of the Government to enforce law and order applies not only when we have visitors from Europe, but for the other 51 weekends of the year also. An MRBI survey published today shows how unsafe Dublin’s streets are after dark. Of every five Dubliners, four do not believe the streets of the city are safe to walk on at night. The level of fear is highest among 15 to 17 year olds, of whom 94% are afraid to venture out after dark. Of this group, half know someone who has been attacked in the city centre in the past 12 months.
Can the Minister for Defence explain on behalf of the Government why resources have not been provided to ensure that the streets of Ireland’s capital city are safe at night? Can he explain why 86% of Dublin people believe the Garda presence on our streets is insufficient or offer them any consolation? Does not this statistic point to the broken promise the Government made through the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is absent from the House, that 2,000 extra gardaí would be provided? Of these, 121 have now been trained. Is this not devastating in its implications for public safety and level of fear felt by visitors and citizens of the capital? What does the Minister have to say about that?
Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): I thank Deputy Kenny for his complimentary remarks on the security services provided over the weekend. I compliment the Garda, the Army, the OPW and everybody else who was involved in ensuring that a major international event passed off with the minimum of difficulty. It augurs very well for the capacity of our security services to deal with whatever lies ahead in this area.
Mr. M. Smith: The commitment given was to be fulfilled over the life-time of the Government. The facilities at the Garda College in Templemore are operating at full stretch to train gardaí. We have invested significantly in the reform of the prison system and the criminal justice system and undertaken unprecedented criminal law reform. There is no room for complacency.
Mr. M. Smith: We must be alive to the problems we face and the need to continue to make the maximum resources available to the Garda to allow gardaí make our streets and our country as safe as possible.
Mr. Kenny: Last weekend, there were 5,000 gardaí on the streets of Dublin. On St. Patrick’s day there were 700 gardaí on duty in Dublin. It is clear that when the Garda is provided with the necessary resources, it can effectively police the city. Responsibility for these matters rests fairly and squarely with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is not in the Chamber. If Dubliners cannot enjoy the streets of this city after dark, that responsibility is not being met. Incidents of unprovoked violence on the streets of the capital have risen by 300% to 400% in recent years. It is a frightening figure that 94% of 15 to 17 year olds will not venture out after dark. Some 78% of people are frightened of the city at night, 49% of teenagers know a crime victim, 86% of people want more Garda patrols and 56% blame alcohol abuse for violence and unprovoked attacks.
The words of Dublin citizens were published today about the places they would love to walk in and enjoy as facilities on a year-round basis. That is not possible due to what Dubliners say are strange people who hang around, the level of drunkenness in the city centre, dodgy people and potential drug dealers who lurk in different areas. This is the Government’s responsibility.
Mr. Kenny: Clearly, it represents another broken promise by a Government which told everybody that it would put 2,000 extra gardaí on the streets but has failed completely to protect citizens, including the young men and women of this city, from thugs, villains, unprovoked attacks and violence promoted by alcohol and substance abuse. It is time the Government answered to the people in respect of what it promised to do, but failed miserably to carry out.
Mr. M. Smith: Members opposite should listen. Figures for murder are down by 12% on 2002. There has been a decrease of 21% in the number of assaults causing harm, which is particularly welcome as it runs counter to a worrying trend in 2001 and 2002. Public order and intoxicating liquor legislation enacted by the Government has greatly enhanced the power of the Garda to deal with public order offences.
Mr. M. Smith: A new Garda powers Bill will be introduced in the current session to provide substantial additional powers to gardaí investigating serious crime. The Garda will continue to target the menace of organised crime, particularly through the use of the Criminal Assets Bureau and other new initiatives.
Can the Minister for Defence name a single private company in this country, with the possible exception of AIB, that would continue to employ a manager who frittered away €52 million? Can he give any such example? Does he believe the shareholders of a company would continue with the same board of directors that frittered away €52 million? Can the Minister advance one example in that regard?
I note the Minister’s female spokesperson is in the media today stating that only €42 million has been frittered away on e-voting machines, not €52 million as suggested by the Opposition. In reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Gilmore on 29 April, the Minister stated:
Mr. Rabbitte: He went on to state, “An additional 300 voting machines were ordered on 14 January 2004.” That amounts to €51.4 million or €52.4 million, regardless of what the Government spokespersons says. Is the Minister aware the advertisements are still running?
Mr. Rabbitte: ——and there was a break in the programme while it ran the advertisements. I note the advertisements are still running on E4 which ran them last night following “Friends”. Are the 300 additional machines ordered on 14 January included in the €52 million? Is there an opt-out clause in the contract with Q4, the contract which provides the lads in Fianna Fáil with €5 million to encourage awareness of the system?
Mr. M. Smith: The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Taoiseach have firmly indicated that the investment in the machines is a long-term investment covering a 20-year lifespan.
Mr. M. Smith: I hope that, in time, when the commission recommendations have been dealt with, the people will be provided with the opportunity to use a modern system in terms of how they cast their votes.
An Ceann Comhairle: Members should resume their seats when the Chair is on its feet. This is Leaders’ Questions. Deputy Rabbitte submitted a question to the Minister who should be allowed to continue without interruption. The Minister is entitled to reply and it is wrong of any member of the House to try to frustrate Deputy Rabbitte receiving a reply to his question, particularly members of a party which has submitted its own question.
Mr. Rabbitte: I presume the €8 million for warehousing and security is in addition to the €52 million. Is there an opt-out clause or are we stuck with Q4 and the €5 million paid to it to encourage people, as the Minister put it, to come out and vote?
Mr. Rabbitte: Is that included? I will repeat my other question. Is the Minister aware of any private company in Ireland that would continue to employ a manager who wasted €52 million of taxpayers’ money?
Mr. Rabbitte: On the matter raised by Deputy Kenny in terms of the crime figures in this morning’s MRBI poll, how many gardaí could be employed for €52 million? How many nurses could be employed for €52 million? How many home help workers would be paid for additional hours? The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, was forced to row back on widows at a cost of almost €6 million, resulting in the cuts in social welfare amounting to exactly €52 million.
Mr. Rabbitte: It is incredible that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, is still bouncing around and giving cheek after wasting such an amount of taxpayers’ money. The brass neck on the Government side of the House is almost beyond belief. Deputy Allen is right. The Government should put the machines into Punchestown and put Deputy Cullen minding them.
An Ceann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Rabbitte to resume his seat. I have called Deputy Joe Higgins. I appeal to Members of the House to allow Deputy Higgins to submit his question without interruption and to allow the Minister to reply without interruption.
Mr. J. Higgins: Over the May Day weekend the Government used thousands of gardaí to put a cordon of steel around the Phoenix Park, allegedly to deal with thousands of violent hooligans whom the Government and the usual elements in the press fraudulently claimed were going to cause mayhem on the streets of Dublin. Did it occur to the Minister that gardaí may have been facing in the wrong direction on the day? The Government had as its guests the prime ministers of the occupation powers in Iraq which were responsible only five weeks ago for the slaughter of hundreds of women and children in Falluja and for the systematic torture and abuse of prisoners. Did it occur to the Ministers that the Government ought to have directed some gardaí to question these prime ministers about war crimes rather than stuffing them with duck, salmon and Chateau Lynch Bages?
The Government, for the first time in the history of the State, ordered water cannons to be used against demonstrators. Some said this was an over-reaction. In fact, a calculated decision was made that, at the slightest excuse, the Garda would test the equipment which the Government had supplied. When a few plastic bottles and empty beer cans were thrown by foolhardy individuals, and they should not have been——
Mr. J. Higgins: May I put the incident in context? Some 23 young people were arrested and all have been charged with extremely minor offences. A constituent of mine was arrested because he got off the bus to make his way home. Far more people were arrested at the rally of the lakes in Killarney during the same weekend and it did not take two thirds of the Garda force and two water cannon to take care of the situation. Most of the people arrested at the demonstration were detained in jail until today. One is charged with the serious offence of being in possession of a Garda cap — receiving stolen property.
How can the Minister justify that? Corrupt colleagues of his who have robbed the State of millions have never darkened the doorway of a courthouse, yet the Government treats young people like that. Did it occur to the Government to send the water cannon into the boardrooms of the major banks to flush out millionaire executives responsible for the real theft of €1 billion of taxpayers’ funds?
The Government set out to thwart civil rights this weekend. It did it to frighten people away from their democratic right to protest and to keep numbers down at demonstrations against President Bush. It will not work.
Mr. M. Smith: I am happy to withdraw the remark. The people to whom I have spoken in the Garda and the security forces, everything I have read and people I have met from many different countries have been complimentary of Ireland and of the way the events of the weekend were managed. It is with some regret that I listen to Deputy Higgins decry people who worked overtime——
Mr. M. Smith: Again, I compliment the Garda, the Defence Forces and everyone associated with the handling of a wonderful weekend for this country. No one in this House has the right to decry it or present it in any other way. The problem associated with the dissent of protesters was dealt with in an efficient and speedy manner, with minimal problems for protesters. On behalf of the Government and people, I am proud of the manner in which the security services handled the situation over the weekend.
Mr. J. Higgins: I notice the Minister withdrew the allegation. I insist that, in fairness, the thousands of members of the security forces on duty over the weekend should be paid their overtime.
For a full month before May Day, there was a deliberate and orchestrated campaign by the Government, members of the security forces and sections of the media to terrify the citizens of Dublin, particularly families, so they would not exercise their right to peaceful protest. This was because the Government was seriously embarrassed on 15 February last year when more than 100,000 people came out in protest against the impending invasion of Iraq. In response to this protest, the Taoiseach tried to convince the Dáil that the 100,000 protesters were virtually card-carrying members of Fianna Fáil who took to the streets to support him. That did not work and will not work on the occasion of the Bush visit when, I have no doubt, massive numbers will want to protest against the outrageous atrocities taking place in Iraq and the disaster which Bush has brought on its people.
The Government campaign is to stop peaceful protest and to do so on the occasion of the Bush visit. This is why the Government brought in water cannon and used them without legitimate excuse, and had a ring of steel around the Phoenix Park. Despite this, I call on the people not to be frightened out of their right to peaceful protest and to come out again in large numbers.
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