Thursday, 25 November 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. McGinley: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me this opportunity to raise in the House a disturbing incident. I am sure the country is aware of the vicious attack on an elderly man in my constituency, namely William Bartley, a 74-year-old pensioner living on his own outside Donegal town. A week before the attack he came out of hospital after a serious operation, was at home recuperating, and was doing very well. In the middle of the night he was attacked in his own home and beaten beyond recognition. I am sure the Minister saw the photographs in yesterday’s national press. The photograph is in the Donegal press this evening. I have a copy of it with me but I am aware I may not show it in the House. I am not allowed to show the newspaper to the House and I always abide by the rulings of the Chair.
It has scandalised the people of Donegal that an attack such as this should be perpetrated on an innocent man, one of the nicest neighbours one could have. He is a hard working farmer, an excellent neighbour and a highly respected member of his community. William Bartley is in Letterkenny Hospital this evening. Less than an hour ago, I was in touch with the hospital and I am glad to report that, according to the ward sister, he is comfortable. However, he will be in hospital for another while during his recuperation.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident; it is one of a series of such incidents which have taken place in Donegal in recent months. At the beginning of September, a neighbour of Mr. Bartley, John Logue, was similarly attacked in his house during the hours of darkness. He was found by kind neighbours the following morning seriously injured on the floor of his house. The only difference between John Logue and William Bartley is that John Logue is 92 years of age. He was in Letterkenny Hospital for a number of weeks and was subsequently moved to Donegal Hospital where I visited him on a number of occasions. I am glad to say that in spite of the vicious attack he sustained, he is at home recuperating and doing very well.
It is no wonder people in Donegal are scandalised by these happenings and that elderly people living in isolated areas, and in many cases not so isolated areas, are afraid to go to sleep in their beds at night. I have been reliably told that some of them are staying up all night and are only going to bed during the day when they feel safer. What kind of society are we creating that people, who have contributed so much to this country through their hard labour — hard working people, small farmers who have lived in the area for many years — cannot rest safely in their own homes in their declining years? It says much for the society we are creating.
As a country, our priority should be to make these people feel safe in their houses. We should be there for them and should protect them. What is happening to these people could happen to us in years to come. I am not blaming the Garda Síochána. I did not come into the House to attach blame to anyone. The only people to whom I attach blame are the vicious criminals who perpetrated these acts. I agree with the headline in the Donegal People’s Press this week that only animals would do this, although animals would not to this to their own. These matters must be taken seriously.
The Garda are doing their level best. I do not expect them to be there 24 hours per day, seven days per week and 365 days per year. They must work and rest like the rest of us. However, they should at least be given any resources required to hunt down these inhumane criminals, bring them to justice and put them where they should be and where they are not a danger to elderly people, including septuagenarians and nonagenarians in my constituency.
Both gentlemen, William Bartley and John Logue, are known to me, as I am sure they are known to the Minister’s colleagues, and they wrote to me regularly. I am very annoyed that this should happen to these good citizens who have given so much in the service of this country and who do not feel safe in their houses anymore. It is a very serious issue. The Garda are doing their best but they must be given the resources. I appeal to their neighbours, and to the neighbours of all such people, to be constantly on the look out, to look after them and to ensure such attacks do not recur. If that is happens, a good day’s work will have been done. The people of Donegal expect some action and want to see these people apprehended as soon as possible.
Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin): I thank Deputy McGinley for raising a very serious issue. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law shares the concern, as would the public, about attacks on elderly members of our population. I saw the photograph in the newspaper of the poor man who was attacked. It was quite appalling, a barbaric attack on an elderly man. I, too, wish him a speedy recovery and hope he will have the courage to return to his normal life with the support of his neighbours and community.
Deputy McGinley put the case in a very responsible way and recognised the importance of community and of the Garda. Successful programmes include the neighbourhood watch and the community alert schemes. They are very tangible and practical ways of dealing with crime prevention at community level. They work well because they have the support and involvement of people who care for their local community, who are willing to give their time and make the effort. Neighbourhood watch has gone from strength to strength since 1985. Civic-minded people are working in co-operation with the Garda and are looking after neighbours in their community. That, too, has helped to foster positive relations between the Garda and the community.
As Deputy McGinley said, we need to expand that type of involvement to areas not covered. The community alert programme has been in place since 1985. Approximately 1,110 local groups are involved in it and are trying to improve the quality of life for people in rural areas. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform contributes annually to funding that programme.
The Deputy spoke about one particularly sad case, and I know it will be of no comfort to him for me to talk about the numbers of assaults, but it is important to put on record that 1,100 fewer people were the victims of serious assault — a reduction of 22% — and over 2,300 fewer people were the victims of minor assaults — reduction of 14% — in 2003 compared with 2002. It would appear from the provisional statistics for the first nine months of 2004 that there is a further reduction of 7%. It is important to put things in perspective while appreciating that it is of no comfort to an individual like this poor man who was so brutally attacked.
As Deputy McGinley said, crime prevention is not only a matter for the Garda but is one which is of importance to the entire community. The development of a comprehensive strategy to prevent and reduce crime is imperative and requires community involvement. The Deputy will be aware that the national crime council recommended the establishment of a national crime prevention model and recommended that it commence with a pilot in three city and county development boards. The Garda Síochána Bill provides for the establishment of joint policing committees by local authorities and the Garda Commissioner and for the issuing of guidelines by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with the consent of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. These guidelines concern the establishment and maintenance of the committees and may also include provision for the establishment of the committees within the framework of city and county development boards and for their funding. There is great scope for those committees to serve as a forum for consultations, discussions and recommendations.
The Garda Síochána Bill takes up a number of the recommendations made by the crime council. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform believes that implementation of the crime council’s recommendations, including the commencement of pilots, should take place in the context of implementation of the Garda Síochána Bill.
Deputy McGinley rightly paid tribute to the Garda who do such work throughout the country. The Garda place great store on fostering community spirit and work hand in hand with communities. There is the youth diversion project in the Donegal division and the Leaf project situated in Raphoe. The Garda use diversion projects and work in consultation with local communities and youth service providers. The multi-agency approach can be very successful. The personnel strength in the Donegal division is 416, all ranks, as at 24 November. That will be kept under review as needs develop and in the context of the overall needs of Garda divisions throughout the country. I am not sure if the Deputy saw the advertisement campaign in today’s newspapers for recruitment of the extra gardaí.
Ms Hanafin: This is something we all welcome. The strength of the Garda Síochána will be increased from a record level of 12,200 to 14,400. Starting with today’s recruitment campaign, there will be an intake of 1,100 recruits in each of the next three years.
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