Wednesday, 26 October 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Stanton: I will continue where I broke off earlier today when I was expressing my concern that this Bill is a work in progress and we have seen approximately half of the provisions it will eventually enact. We are told that there will be further additions to the Bill during its passage through the House. It is important and desirable that the full provisions of a Bill that will have far-reaching effects on many people and give more power to the Garda Síochána are properly thought out and presented. These should not be brought in later on Committee or worse, Report Stage, as seems to happen more and more frequently.
It is fine for Deputies on all sides to make suggestions which the Minister takes on board and brings forward on Committee Stage. What seems to happen, however, is that a half-formulated Bill is presented and important provisions are brought forward on later Stages. That denies Members the possibility of debating those measures. This procedure is dangerous in a republic, which means “a thing of the people”. I urge the Minister to introduce a Bill as a finished product, not a work in progress, unless there is some pressing reason not to do so.
It is crucial to protect citizens against crime as this Bill does, up to a point. That protection has two sides: the prevention of crime and leading people away from crime. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who is in the House, wears many hats, among them Minister of State with special responsibility for children at the Department of Health and Children. The Children Act should have been fully implemented before we were presented with this Bill because it would have gone a long way towards preventing the types of activity the Bill proposes to protect.
Last Monday, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, was in my town, Midleton, but I could not be present at that time. Transition year students from the 11 secondary schools in the area came together at a youth forum for the day where they made presentations about issues affecting them and the solutions they wanted brought forward. Their overarching demand was for a place in the town they could call their own. Younger people, teenagers in particular, have nowhere to go and all night to go there. I have teenage children and I would not expect them to be inside at night watching television or using Playstation. That is not desirable if they cannot socialise. The Government must properly implement the Youth Work Act and put some money into the national youth work development plan. That is not currently happening. The Youth Work Act was passed in 2001 and the national youth work development plan was approved in 2003, with little or no money made available to implement it.
What young people wanted was a drop-in centre where they could meet their friends, drink tea, coffee or minerals, chat and play games. They did not get it. Instead, they must hang out on the streets, outside people’s houses. Often, people then ring the Garda to have the young people moved on. They have nowhere to go. We should be providing facilities for young people across the country. We provide sports facilities for rugby, GAA and soccer fans and that is laudable, desirable and important, but we also need to provide places where young people can safely socialise with their friends. We are not doing that. We have no proper youth service and the Government does not seem to want to provide one.
Various issues and problems arise. The drugs problem is growing out of all proportion countrywide with new, dangerous and very addictive drugs coming on the scene. This problem is growing in rural areas as well as in the cities, and in most rural areas there is no youth service at all.
Youth workers tell me they are overworked and under-resourced. I understand an application will soon be made to the Department of Education and Science for another youth worker in Midleton. I hope the Minister of State will approve that if it comes across his desk, or talk to his fellow Ministers who have a say in the matter and urge them to approve the appointment.
Since I was elected to the Dáil I have been making speeches on this issue in this House — not to much effect, but I will keep at it until I see action. Preventing young people from becoming involved in crime initially is the best way to go.
I agree it is important to preserve crime scenes. In the past we have seen major problems arise as a result of not preserving such scenes. Regarding search warrants, it appears from the Bill that officers below the rank of superintendent can issue such warrants in exceptional cases. They would need to be exceptional. In cases where a member of the Garda Síochána issues a search warrant in an emergency, when a district justice is not available, some provision should be made for the warrant to be retrospectively examined by the local district justice, to ensure everything was done above board. This would be a safeguard mechanism. We have all seen cases involving a small number of members of the Garda Síochána exceeding their powers and doing things they should not have done. If we give the Garda more powers we must ensure this cannot happen again. If a garda is obliged to act quickly or otherwise lose evidence, a search warrant would be important, but the Garda must always act properly and not use the warrant to intimidate people or for other reasons. There should be a retrospective oversight procedure by judges or other personnel regarding search warrants issued by Garda members, with the circumstances outlined in some shape or form.
I have no major problem with the issue of saliva and mouth swabs. It is sensible, and the establishment of a DNA database has proved useful in other jurisdictions. Again we must be careful it is not abused. It would work both to identify and eliminate suspects, so it could be used as a safeguard, which is important.
The admission of evidence in court through statements of witnesses who refused to testify or retract original statements relates to the issue of witnesses being intimidated. We have seen such allegations in the recent past and the issue must be dealt with, so that if someone makes a statement and subsequently retracts it, the statement will still be admissible and the courts can make a judgment on it.
There seem to be a great many firearms currently surfacing. We do not know where they come from and it is a major worry. Criminal gangs appear to be involved in executions in Dublin and abroad. Operation Anvil has been successful but we need to boost it and ensure the Garda has the proper resources to deal with the situation. We have seen reports of international criminals moving into Ireland. As the country becomes wealthier, that is to be expected. People trafficking also seems to be happening across Europe, and Ireland is not an exception. I encourage and support the Minister of State in anything he can do to deal with that problem and keep it under control. It is a serious issue.
I note we are to have a provision dealing with criminal organisations. As I have not yet seen the text I cannot comment. However, such organisations are growing. We have seen mafiosi in other countries and if they are beginning to operate here, that is a serious worry. The Government is the only organisation which can bring forward legislation on this matter and ensure the Garda has the resources, possibly including a special unit, to deal with it.
As far as possible, we need to pursue the drug trafficking kingpins and throw the book at them. Very often we deal only with those way down on the pecking order in this criminal activity. Clearly they must be discouraged but we must pursue the big boys making the big money. The Criminal Assets Bureau has done much good work in this area and that must continue.
There have been mixed reports about the use of electronic tagging. If it is to be used, it must be used carefully, and there must be an ongoing evaluation of how it works. Regarding the new offences of supplying drugs to prisoners, the only drug-free prison in the country, the one on Spike Island in Cork, has been closed. I understand the other prisons have different issues with regard to drugs.
Mr. Stanton: We had that debate before. Spike Island is currently closed and the issue is whether the island is a suitable location for a prison given that it is a major historical site. From a retail point of view, Cobh is dying on its feet. There is nobody there, with no business being conducted and shops closing. If Spike Island were opened as a major historical centre in the manner of Alcatraz or Robben Island, it could become a magnet to pull people through Cobh. Clearly, the project would need to be evaluated in economic terms, and UCC has people who could do that. They might bring business to Cobh and then continue to the island. Deputy Dennehy is familiar with the place, not from spending time there but because he is from the area. From a tourism point of view, Spike Island is unique. I ask the Department to re-examine this matter. A prison may be built anywhere within reason but there is nowhere in Ireland like Spike Island. It lies in the midst of one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and is of major historical and architectural significance. If marketed properly as a tourist attraction, it could benefit the entire region. I put that case to the Minister of State and ask the Government to consider the island’s fate before any final decision is made.
This project may not commence for a lengthy period of time because of the planning involved. Some years ago, I was quoted a price of €10 million for the construction of a bridge to the island. If a new prison has to be built, it may be more cost effective to buy a farm to the north of the city as a site. People have to visit prisons but it is not easy for family members to access Spike Island and would not be even if a bridge was built.
The supply of drugs to prisoners is a serious matter because prisons should be places where people are rehabilitated. In terms of the philosophy behind the Bill, Members have expressed concerns that people may be needlessly criminalised. When people are criminalised, they become stigmatised and it is difficult to resolve such situations. We must prevent people from being criminalised in the first instance.
However, we must also protect members of the public. I come across regular examples to illustrate this point. Recently, I received a telephone call from a woman who had contacted the gardaí because her house was being stoned and her car smashed. The first time the gardaí responded, their squad car and its flashing blue lights were apparent from a mile away, which gave the boys time to escape. On a subsequent occasion, the gardaí were able to catch the teenage culprit because they drove an unmarked car and wore plain clothes. This was an example of good thinking that meant the boy was dealt with. Hopefully the affair will act as a deterrent to others.
The Garda must be given the support it requires to put as many of its members on the beat as possible because visibility is important. We should also consider the victims of crime. The Minister of State may tell us what the State is doing for those at the receiving end of crime.
I do not have more to say because the full Bill is not before us. I may have a further opportunity to speak on Report Stage. The legislation is in place to take action with regard to youth services but unfortunately, the political will does not seem to exist. This Bill attempts to address one aspect of the issue but does nothing for the others. Youth work can help young people to develop leadership and citizenship skills.
Mr. Dennehy: I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004. The intention of this Bill is to enhance the powers of gardaí to investigate and prosecute offences and provide for improvements in the operation of the criminal justice system. I join with the Minister and others in paying tribute to the late Eamon Leahy, senior counsel, for the work he has done in this regard. It is somewhat disappointing that his report, which was put forward in late 1998, is only now being implemented.
The Minister added provisions that he deemed necessary to take account of a changing situation. He has been criticised for introducing a surfeit of legislation but many of the proposed changes are intended to counteract defence lawyers who act for suspected criminals. The issues that can be brought forward to evade blatant breaches of the law are incredible to those who are not members of the legal professions. It is reasonable that, as often as necessary, this House should review and amend laws containing loopholes that can be circumvented by clever lawyers. It has been said that one may get away with murder if the right lawyer is hired. We have seen that happen in other jurisdictions.
The Minister has expertise available to draft and implement laws to address various situations. However, the public has concerns on the many cases that are lost for flimsy reasons. This applies in situations ranging from drink driving to high profile and dangerous offences. The interactions between component parts of the process of justice, including the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Judiciary, the legal profession and the Garda are beyond the comprehension of most people and the public suffers because of this. Gardaí are also concerned because on many occasions they have become the meat in the sandwich.
Officials of the Department and members of the Judiciary and the legal profession have similar training, work environments and rules. They speak a different language to the rest of us and it can be difficult to understand what they do. Gardaí, who must fully interact with the public, are the frontline for the justice system. They implement the law and literally put their lives on the line. They are expected to prevent crime, assist community activities and investigate and prosecute crimes. However, they are at times treated as the poor relation within the justice system. On occasion, we have seen accounts of that in the media.
We are constantly told that society is changing, which is true with regard to the criminal sector. New technology is used to defraud ATM machines. There are new ways to make and distribute drugs, commit white collar crimes and smuggle persons with regard to sex crimes. New types of offensive weapons such as machine pistols are being used. A range of nasty changes have taken place. Garda powers must be increased to enable gardaí to combat such criminal activity.
Several speakers referred to incidents in Donegal, west Cork and other areas where an abuse of Garda powers is perceived to have taken place. Such incidents must be forcefully dealt with, but they are exceptions to the rule. They cannot be used, as seemed to be implied in one or two of the contributions, to prevent the introduction of good law enforcement by good law enforcers. Gardaí must have the power they need to deal with such changing circumstances.
It is long past time that a Garda ombudsman was in place as well as various other measures, but those necessary developments are evolving. It is also essential that the Garda has audio-visual aid equipment in place for interviewing suspects, a matter to which the Minister referred.
One could ask who would want to be a garda in the current circumstances. Members may have seen a television report of an incident, in regard to which I want to be careful not to pre-judge the inquiry into it, where gardaí had to use firearms and shoot people who were carrying out a crime. Before they left the scene, calls for an inquiry were made from expected sources. Less than a week after that incident, I read of an off-duty garda having been almost kicked to death because he was known to be a garda and as a result of which he suffered horrific injuries. I have yet to hear of anyone from those sources seeking an inquiry into that incident or offering a word of consolation or sympathy to that garda.
We had a philosophical contribution from Deputy Cuffe who spent some time trying to figure out whether he or the Minister, Deputy McDowell, was the greater liberal. The Deputy referred to the various labels attached to both of them. He went on to say something about which I am concerned, namely, that the State should not get involved in the nitty gritty of people’s lives. That is an approach that deals with the theory of what is wrong but does not do anything to address the practice in that regard. It is suggested that the State should not interfere in people’s lives and, if it does, this could become a nanny state.
We pay lip-service by saying we would not tolerate a situation where people aged 70, 80 or 90 are virtually unable to leave their homes after twilight. I am sick of the excuse that the people who hang around the homes of these elderly people have nowhere else to go. I have been involved for 35 to 40 years in community development, am the chairman of a community council and am involved with the scouts and various other issues. The people gathering with the bottles and cans will not go on to a soccer pitch or hurling pitch or a basketball court——
Mr. Dennehy: ——and that has been proven. I will show people who advocate the theory of encouraging such participation but who are not involved in the practical side of dealing with these people sports facilities and the gangs gathered within 200 or 300 yards of them. We cannot tolerate that situation being experienced by people, especially those to whose needs we pay lip-service. We say they built the State and gave us our chance, but they cannot live their lives in a safe environment.
An attempt was made by the Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, when he was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to deal with this situation by introducing legislation. On that occasion before the night was out, a few of the more prominent groups, whom I will not name, some of whom were associated with religious groups and various other interests, attacked the Bill on the basis of civil liberties. They said that these young people would be deprived of their civil liberties. That was the only reason for power not being granted to move such gangs on.
My local superintendent told me on one occasion that gardaí could only move these people on by 100 yards or so, but I told him I was talking about moving these people on at 2 a.m., not 2 p.m. They have ghetto blasters with them at that time. I found it incredible they could not be moved on further. Opposition Members have advised me, as probably have some Members on the Government side, that there is sufficient law in place, but that superintendent told me he could not move such a gang on. I gave him details of the time and place these people gather and I have seen them.
I have been deeply involved in Cork community services council from its foundation and I can tell Members that those people who gather will not use sports facilities. I have worked with clubs and other groups to put facilities in place. A local curate was told by the same gang exactly what he could do with a timber building facility he had provided because they would burn it down. Members should not tell me that such gangs do not gather in neighbourhoods.
I met three groups in one night complaining about the anti-social behaviour of young people, including a group near my home. The incredible message from the parents in each place was that none of the offenders was local. I said that somebody must be bussing these people from spot to spot. Nobody was prepared to accept responsibility. There is a refusal to accept responsibility.
I agree with Deputy Cuffe who cited a quote by a former Garda Commissioner that it will not be force of arms that will keep the peace but rather good police work. It is impossible to police people who do not want to be policed. That is a fact. There must be an acceptance by the public of the need for the Garda to enforce the rules and regulations. That quotation, like another quotation by Éamon de Valera about dancing at the crossroads, is a bit dated. We must adopt a more modern approach. We need a policing board in place and we need to support the force.
That was a reaction to on-the-spot fines which would have been sent by post to the person concerned, as was carefully explained. That kind of reaction is no good to the Garda either. They need to deal with such cases and need our support in doing so. Some Members talk about situations from which they are somewhat removed. I do not know if they mix with the same type of people I see in action. Many of the situations outlined are not based on the facts. I subscribe to the need for recreational facilities but we should not allow gangs to terrorise people. We all have our duty. We may have had to put the boot up the backside of one of our own from time to time and that should be done.
My community garda has told me that when calls to a door, a parent will argue that no way was his or her son or daughter the person he had to pull out of a drunken crowd to stop a fight. That has happened in high profile cases, particularly in Dublin, where the parents would not believe that their sons were responsible for the vandalism done. In that regard, I am sure we would all have something to contribute to the debate.
There are families throughout the country who are not well off but it is not members of those families who stagger out of the nightclub or the superpub at midnight or 1 a.m., rather it is members of families who are well off. What excuse have they for such behaviour? They have had the benefit of education and yet, as P. J. Stone said, they behave like drunken louts. We are tolerant of such behaviour.
Three or four months ago I had a fracture and had to attend an accident and emergency department. It was 2 p.m. and work in the department came to a halt because of the appearance of a regular customer with three gardaí who were trying to hold him down while three or four hospital staff tried to deal with him. He cursed everybody, including nurses, and that was tolerated. We are too accepting of bad behaviour.
The issue of roads was raised by Deputy Keaveney and I agree there should be a traffic corps. We are all aware that 3,646 people were killed in the North over 25 years. That number of people are being killed in half that time on the roads. People are effectively being murdered on the roads and it is tolerated. If gardaí set up a speed trap near a town, they are considered to be sneaky, yet most of the fatalities involving cyclists and pedestrians happen on the fringes of towns. If gardaí were to set up a speed trap on a motorway, people would not want to be stopped on the one good section of road. We all contribute to the problem and I am concerned about it.
I accept Deputy Stanton’s complaint about organised crime gangs, firearms offences, drug trafficking and electronic tagging. That is a legitimate case but let us look at the existing powers. The issue of the admissibility of statements by witnesses has flared up in one city in particular. On the last occasion it happened, we had to set up a branch of the Special Criminal Court. That was one of the other options. People will say they are being harassed and the issue of civil liberties will be trotted out. That is probably the most abused phrase in the country.
There is also the statutory power to preserve a crime scene. As a non-legal person I had thought that right always existed and I find it incredible that it did not. There is a general power in regard to the issue of search warrants. It took the Revenue Commissioners approximately 15 to 20 years to reach the point where they were given the right to obtain search warrants and we have seen the intake from that change. Until then we were told one could not enter private houses and that it was an infringement of people’s rights. Where did the infringement of rights of those who did not pay any taxes for generations leave the rights of the rest of us who paid them? In my case, as mentioned previously, the tax rate was 67% and there were nine of us to feed. Since Revenue was given the power to enter and search premises, billions of euro have been taken in. Obviously it was a necessary power.
On the issue of increased detention powers of up to 24 hours for arrestable offences, technical issues have been raised in the past. That people are trained to look at the spot on the wall has created difficulties and needs to be examined. Some amendments were made to the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act because we thought it was crazy that the taking of saliva and mouth swabs was prohibited. It is similar to the problem that existed with the dental faculty where those other than orthodontists and dentists were not allowed to make molars or dentures as it was invasion of a person’s body. The change in this Bill is a logical step. Deputy Costello and others who have been spokespersons for many years will cite some reason this should not happen but it is the most logical step that has been enacted in a long time.
Mr. Dennehy: ——will be interested in extending the power of the prosecution to appeal in limited circumstances, particularly on points of law. Two issues that have frustrated the public are the refusal to reveal the reasons a person is not prosecuted — this is especially frustrating for victims and their families — and the failure to appeal a case in certain circumstances, especially on points of law. We are all familiar with the scenario where the lawyers negotiate and suddenly, even though everybody knows the accused is guilty, he or she walks away, usually with a smirk on his or her face, because of some frivolous point of law. As a lay person I welcome the extension of power in the Bill to deal with this.
I wish the Minister well. Many issues were raised but I do not have the time to deal with them. As a humble backbencher who is not involved in the legal profession and is not a spokesperson, I hope to voice the views of those I represent who are being harassed in their homes, have terrible lives at times and cannot walk the streets because of drunks and others. We need more gardaí.
Mr. McHugh: I am glad of the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is wide-ranging legislation which seeks to amend and extend the powers of the Garda Síochána in the investigation of offences and includes the provision for the admissibility in evidence of certain witness statements.
The first issue I wish to address is the admissibility in evidence of certain witness statements. I could never understand the culture that accepted the withdrawal of statements even at the risk of arriving at decisions which were clearly wrong. We all remember the genesis of this particular section which involved a well-known Limerick criminal.
This Bill provides that a person sent for trial can have statements made by him or her to gardaí admitted as evidence, even though the witness denies making the statements or refuses to give evidence. This is to be welcomed as the position heretofore was making a laughing stock of the courts and sapping the morale of gardaí who had to endure the ridiculous situation of a criminal or criminal associates clearly lying by denying they had made a statement, which they clearly had, or withdrawing a statement in a clear attempt to frustrate the courts or, even worse, withdrawing it under duress from others. A continuation of this ridiculous situation would have had the effect of undermining the courts and surely would have left gardaí asking themselves why they bothered.
The greatest way to undermine the pillars of society is to allow criminals give the two fingers to the institutions of State. That is what was happening in this case. If the Bill did nothing else, other than this, it would be worthwhile legislation. In a democracy we could not allow a situation to continue where persons were forced to withdraw statements under duress from the criminal fraternity.
I welcome the provisions in the Bill that allow for the authorising of a search by a chief superintendent without a search warrant in certain circumstances. It appears excessively bureaucratic to have members of the Garda obtain a search warrant from a District Court judge in circumstances where they are aware there are stolen goods on a premises. This is an unnecessary burden placed on the work of gardaí and further frustrates and hinders them in their work. If people do not have anything to hide, they should have no objection to the forces of law and order entering their premises. If they have something to hide, why should the forces of law and order not be in a position to gain access as quickly as possible and with the least bureaucratic resistance as possible? This is a practical measure which will assist the Garda in its work.
One of the scourges of our communities is anti-social behaviour. I am not satisfied that all that can be done to root out anti-social behaviour is being done. What we need is a comprehensive community policing system. It may sound dated and old hat but gardaí are needed on the beat and in sufficient numbers to allow them time to work in the community to get to know the people to find out who exactly is engaging in anti-social behaviour and to frustrate them.
I am not convinced that the cumbersome no-leader, multi-agency approach is the way forward. The involvement of the social services, juvenile liaison officers, the Department of Education and Science and social workers could be described as a windy, convoluted and excessively bureaucratic approach to dealing with problems which, in many cases, could be nipped in the bud if more gardaí were on the beat interacting with communities and liaising with community leaders. I do not agree that Irish society has changed so much that the notion of a return to the old way of policing would not work. If we had the required number of gardaí it would work.
This brings me to the thorny issue of the Government promise to recruit 2,000 additional gardaí. The promise does not reflect the reality and the number of additional gardaí recruited was just a fraction of what was promised. The reality of the Government’s broken promise in this area is that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his Government colleagues can introduce all the legislation they like but it will not be enforced because of the lack of gardaí.
Many of today’s anti-social problems have their origins in planning inefficiencies throughout the years under successive Governments. Large housing estates with no facilities are breeding grounds for anti-social behaviour. While this is well recognised it is ignored. The Government has yet to take decisions to eliminate the blight of bad planning.
A case in point is the Planning and Development Act 2000 introduced by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey. He was very courageous in introducing the social housing obligations in that legislation. He had been inspired to do so for a number of reasons one of which was the need for social integration in our housing developments — a very laudable aspiration, but one which regrettably did not survive for long.
His successor as Minister, Deputy Cullen, was not a wet week in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he rowed back on this element of the legislation and introduced a number of ways developers could meet their social housing obligations, including a provision whereby developers could meet their social housing obligations on land other than lands within the site of the development, a very retrograde step, no doubt introduced at the behest of big business and big builders. This change in the legislation has resulted in a developer in County Galway who is providing state-of-the-art expensive housing for the well-heeled intelligentsia in a site in Oranmore in the constituency of Galway West meeting his social housing obligations not in Oranmore but 30 miles away in Headford, which is in the constituency of Galway East. This is an absolute disgrace and has come about because the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, changed legislation introduced by his socially conscious predecessor, Deputy Noel Dempsey, at the behest of big builders.
This is the kind of decision that guarantees that we will have segregated communities with no integration leading to a continuation of anti-social behaviour. This is the clearest modern-day example of the creation of a two-tier society that one could imagine. It is a nauseating concept resulting from shameful direct Government action.
The elderly in my constituency of Galway East are in fear of being invaded in their homes, attacked, hurt and robbed by marauding gangs terrorising rural Ireland. Our senior citizens deserve better protection from the forces of law and order and from the State than they are getting at present. However, they are not being afforded that protection by the Garda Síochána because it does not have personnel to provide the service to which our senior citizens are entitled. In a so-called caring society with a so-called concerned Government it is disgraceful that senior citizens who lived their lives with their doors open to everybody should now be prisoners in their own homes, living in fear for their lives.
I welcome the many good elements of the Bill. However, it is pointless to pass legislation through this House when the resources and personnel are not being provided to enforce it. I object to discussing legislation on the blind, as it were. The Criminal Justice Bill 2004 was presented to the House and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform then informed us that he intended introducing major and extensive amendments. Such a modus operandi makes a mockery of the House.
Mr. J. Breen: The Bill’s explanatory memorandum states, “The Bill proposes a number of amendments to the criminal law, particularly in the area of criminal investigations, which will enhance Garda powers in tackling crime and will generally improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of the criminal justice system”. If this is proved to be true I would generally welcome such a move. We are now living in a society with high crime rates, a general sense of fear for their safety among ordinary decent people and a sense of fearlessness among thugs who feel they can do what they like and get away with it. We have to do something to improve this situation. The implementation of this Bill could do something to help but I feel it is not enough. We need a real change in society and society’s reaction to crime and crime prevention.
The Bill concentrates on areas of criminal investigation and enhancing the powers of the Garda, but it does nothing in addressing the causes of many crimes. It does nothing to promote a community response to crime and its causes. It does nothing to address educational issues to assist in crime prevention and it does nothing to offer support to any groups other than the Garda in the area of crime prevention.
The Government has once again attempted to introduce legislation to tackle important issues in our society but such legislation is of no use unless the necessary resources are put in place to support it. We have been barraged by a series of reforms in legislation only to hear from relevant Ministers afterwards that they do not have the money to provide the necessary resources. Almost every question asked of a Minister in this Dáil is given the answer that while the Government is considering taking action it does not have the resources or finance to deal with the problem. Such a response is becoming a sick joke. When will the Government realise that it needs to provide the necessary resources for any such legislation to be effective?
People in housing estates in many parts of Ireland are living in fear because of intimidation by groups of thugs who control the streets in such estates. People in my constituency in such places as Kilrush and Cloughleigh in Ennis are living in such fear. They are being held prisoner in their own homes by thugs who are involved in all sorts of anti-social behaviour and other crimes in the area. They are afraid to go out at night for fear of being attacked. They are afraid their cars will be stolen or set on fire, that their houses will be robbed or burned down and most of all they fear for the safety of their families and loved ones. These decent people feel they are powerless to do anything about crime in their areas.
The Bill is designed to increase the power of the Garda in its investigation of crimes in the belief that this will lead to more convictions and thus to a reduction of future such crimes. I feel this is a mistaken belief because the Government is not supplying the Garda with the additional resources it requires to combat crime in these areas. We need additional gardaí on the beat in housing estates throughout the country. People need to feel safe in their homes in the knowledge that gardaí are patrolling their areas. The Garda needs funding to provide the additional resources associated with additional staff.
There is also a need for additional resources to be provided to those sections of the Garda, such as community gardaí and juvenile liaison officers, who do valuable work in crime prevention and reduction and, in co-operation with other agencies such as the youth service and local community groups, offer real opportunities for participation in society by some people who could otherwise become involved in crime. Great work is being done in these areas but they are sadly under-resourced and the introduction of new powers of arrest will do nothing to help them. They need funding and resources to do their jobs and I call on the Government to increase their budgets in the areas of crime prevention and crime reduction as a matter of urgency.
If we can educate people to live in any way that shows respect for other people and their property and encourages the entire community to play an active part in society, then we will have a significant reduction in anti-social behaviour and crime in housing estates.
Crime is not only of concern in housing estates. It is of major concern in rural areas too. Elderly people, particularly those in isolated rural areas are in constant fear of their homes being broken into, robbed, of being beaten or even killed by mindless thugs who have no respect for anyone. The Government has systematically worked towards the withdrawal of services from rural Ireland, by reducing the number of gardaí and the availability of health services and attempting to get rid of services such as the postman calling to homes, which not only provided a postal service but a source of personal contact for vulnerable elderly people in isolated areas. The Government needs to act on these issues and to show respect for elderly people who worked all their lives to make this country what it is today. It is a disgrace that elderly people now feel that we are too mean and too caught up in corporate Ireland to care for them and ensure that they feel safe in their own homes. It is ironic that this Bill devotes much space to defining the place of a crime when we all know that the Garda Síochána does not have sufficient resources or manpower to patrol such places of crime. It would be better if the Government spent our money on patrolling the places of crime rather than on defining them.
It is vital that we start with the root causes of many of the crimes that plague our society today and that we approach the issues from many angles. Provision of greater powers for the Garda Síochána, as outlined in this Bill, is one such angle but is useless on its own and will not have the desired effect. If we do not adopt a wider approach we are wasting our time with piecemeal legislation. We need to provide sufficient resources for those involved in the fight against crime. This includes the Garda Síochána, youth organisations and caring organisations that work with the authorities in the provision of educational, recreational and social programmes which promote the social inclusion of people who are effectively excluded from mainstream Irish society. We must provide adequate resources for those who work with children, in particular, to ensure that the younger generation can grow up in a society where they feel a sense of belonging, responsibility and respect.
•Children appearing before the court tend to come from the most deprived parts of the city and from difficult family backgrounds i.e. where there had been a breakdown in the relationship between parents, where there were no parents or where there was a criminal record in the family
We need to ensure that we do not fail these children and that adequate resources are provided for those who work with them. It is a pointless exercise passing legislation if the Government does not provide the necessary resources to implement legislative provisions. The Youth Work Bill 2000 is an example of such practice, where the relevant legislation has been passed into law but youth services are still waiting for money to be provided to implement its provisions. That is a damning indictment of this Government.
Bearing in mind recent revelations regarding Garda misconduct, I have some concerns about increasing the powers of gardaí in situations where they are the sole or main arbiter of petty crimes or social order offences. The Bill empowers gardaí to issue, without appeal, on-the-spot fines, with a refusal to pay leading to criminal prosecution. I am also gravely concerned with the proposal to revoke a citizen’s right to withdraw a statement which may have been made under duress or intimidation. I understand the reasons behind such a move, as evidence in recent court cases where people who had previously given statements appeared to suffer gross amnesia, but a denial of rights to all our citizens is not the way to solve that problem. A better method should be found.
The Government should rethink its approach to crime and adopt a position that includes the provision of adequate resources and funding for those involved in upholding the law, that is the Garda, and those involved, in association with the Garda, in crime prevention. The Government must ensure that adequate resources are in place before enacting legislation such as this. We need a fuller debate in this House on law and order, in light of recent events relating to the abuse of power by some members of the Garda Síochána and in light of the disgraceful lack of resources which is preventing the relevant groups from carrying out their work effectively.
Mr. J. Higgins: The Criminal Justice Bill 2004 purports to be an act to amend the powers of the Garda Síochána in relation to the investigation of offences. In fact it is a typical Progressive Democrats, Fianna Fáil response to problems of crime in our society. Essentially, it addresses the issue of crime or criminal behaviour in some sectors by giving more generally repressive powers to the Garda Síochána and the State. No analysis has been done of alternative means of effectively responding to crime and creating a society where crime would be the exception rather than the rule.
There is a frightening meanness and cruelty in some of the crimes catalogued in the media on a daily basis, as perpetrators come before the courts. Undoubtedly, people who are guilty of such crimes need to be taken out of society for a period and, one would hope, rehabilitated or retrained so that they can live again in society as an asset rather than a destructive force. However, what is never analysed is that the meanness we see perpetrated by certain people, in a criminal fashion, mirrors the meanness of the philosophy by which the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil dictate many negative trends in our society today, particularly with regard to the governance of economic affairs and the rules governing the economy, property and income.
We have a very narrow definition of crime. It is a crime to mug a person or to break into somebody’s home and steal. These should be considered serious crimes. However, it is not a crime for a corporate entity to rob hundreds of workers of their livelihood in pursuit profit. It is not a crime for Irish Ferries to replace 540 permanent workers on trade union rates of pay and conditions with semi-bonded labour on semi-slave rates. What is the subliminal message the philosophy the current Government and elements of the business establishment send out in this regard? This type of immorality and criminality sets a headline for those who cannot aspire to such methods of exploitation. These people are not in the corporate board rooms or in the board rooms of the financial institutions, but they are equally greedy as those who are. Their methods, which would be considered in the media to be venial methods, include mugging, robbing and imposition on one’s neighbours, often in working class communities. The Bill deals with that narrow understanding of what crime constitutes in society. Many of its provisions attempt to deal with a very narrow concept and narrow range of crimes, but those provisions have serious repercussions for the wider society generally and, in particular, for the civil rights of the majority in society.
Section 5(1) gives the right to a garda superintendent to issue a search warrant to members of the Garda to enter and search premises. I am very concerned about this. Section 5(1)(a)(6) means that when the gardaí enter under the authority of a search warrant given by a superintendent, they can require any person present where the search is being carried out to give to the member his or her name and address and if one refuses, one is guilty of a criminal offence. If this power had been given to that element of the Garda who were responsible for horrendous invasion of people’s rights in Donegal over an extended period, to what end would this power have been used? Even if we remove a motivation which is as venial as the activities of a certain element of the Garda in Donegal, we can see how a provision such as this could be used as a general trawl for information, including information about people who had no hand, act or part in crime but in whom the gardaí might be interested for their own reasons, or for reasons other than the alleged reason for a garda superintendent being provided with a search warrant.
Section 8(c)(i)(bb) extends by 100% the length of time a person can be detained in a Garda station before being charged. If one takes the rest period, it means the length of time one can be detained in a Garda station will be extended to a potential 32 hours or almost one and a half days. I am very concerned about this. Other organisations with a human rights remit are equally concerned. Some recent examples are to be investigated whereby people came out of Garda stations, allegedly damaged, and perhaps even fatally so, as a result of what transpired within the precincts of the station. Doubling the time, which is unnecessary, increases the possibility of such occurrences.
Section 29 is extraordinary. It gives a garda the right to impose an on-the-spot fine. This is an incredible provision whereby ordinary members of the Garda are now being given judicial powers. They will not have to go before a judge or a District Court to prove anything. They can decide immediately that one is guilty of breaking the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 and impose a fine. I have not seen the fine referred to anywhere. I do not know the amounts it is proposed to impose if the Bill is passed. It is particularly outrageous, considering that it is imposed under sections of the 1994 Act that are incredibly impressionistic in the criteria by which an offence is said to have taken place. Section 5 of the 1994 Act indicates that it shall be an offence for any person in a public place to engage in offensive conduct. “Offensive conduct” means any unreasonable behaviour which, having regard to all the circumstances, is likely to cause serious offence or serious annoyance to any person who is, or might reasonably be expected to be, aware of such behaviour. It was a shameful day when this was passed and the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil carry responsibility for this. The Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, who regards himself as being in the more liberal wing of Fianna Fáil might like to revisit that section.
Mr. J. Higgins: The section states that it shall be an offence for any person to engage in offensive conduct. This presumes these people would cause serious offence or serious annoyance. On foot of this provision, a garda can impose an on-the-spot fine and, if the person does not pay the on-the-spot fine, he or she will be charged and brought before the court. This will mean a significant increase in the numbers dragged before the courts under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. A garda who might exercise a certain judgment under the current Act might tell a person to go away and not annoy him or her because her or she will not go to the trouble of bringing the person to the station or before the courts on foot of what the person is doing. It will be much easier for the garda to say he or she will slap a fine on the person and to give them notice of that, and if that is not acted on, the person will be brought before the courts. Young people generally will fall foul of this, even though they have not committed a serious breach. They will find themselves pressurised into paying the on-the-spot fine to avoid having to go to court and take a chance on the judge taking the garda’s view of events, which is normally the case.
I refer to 1 May 2004 when European Union Heads of State attended a meeting in Dublin. This incident should be examined to see how such all embracing provisions under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 can be abused. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government turned Dublin into a police fortress and serious civil rights abuses were perpetrated for which the Minister was responsible. During the weeks leading up to the meeting, the media, elements of the security establishment and Government elements behind the scenes, whipped up hysteria about Dublin being taken over by mobs, anarchists and various dangerous elements.
Water cannon were supplied to the Garda and we witnessed a dress rehearsal of what inevitably happened. The Garda, at the slightest pretext, rolled out their cannon to demonstrate their use on the Navan Road, which borders my constituency, for the first time in the history of the State. A total of 25 people were arrested under the public order Act. It is incredible that they were kept in jail from 1 May in some cases until 5 May having fallen foul of one or two provisions of the Act. It is disgraceful that this has not been commented on more. One of the accused was charged with the most grievous crime of stealing a garda’s cap and he was remanded in custody by a judge who was seized of the same effete rage as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that thousands of young people would dare to campaign against what the EU political establishment represented, and in opposition to the war in Iraq. However, this incident passed with scarcely a comment.
The Minister wishes to give powers to be used at a whim by members of the Garda. Other pillars of the establishment, business people and speculators, have paraded before tribunals for eight years on foot of a suspicion of being involved in shady dealing for their own enrichment at enormous cost to society. Few of them have darkened the doorway of a prison by contrast with the 25 young people arrested on May Day 2004. The summation of this incident is that in a capitalist society the law, the courts and the apparatus of the state protect the establishment and will suppress those who are in opposition to it to different degrees depending on the situation.
It is extraordinary that the Minister proposes to introduce the so-called anti-social behaviour orders on a future Stage of the Bill. It is disgraceful that we do not have sight of what he intends to do on this Stage. I do not care what form such orders take because they will not be the solution to anti-social behaviour. They are an instrument by which youth will be criminalised and they do not address the problem. However, instead of examining appropriate alternatives and solutions, we have this excuse for a policy, which looks good as a soundbite and which will throw dust in the eyes for those suffering because of anti-social behaviour in our society.
The Minister has not provided positive measures and investment, which will achieve the social integration of young people who are alienated and which will correct the planning disasters which threw significant numbers of poor people on top of each other. New housing developments are incredible. In Tyrellstown in my constituency, which I share with the Minister of State, 2,000 new homes were built in four years but no community facility was provided, but the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has come up with ASBOs to deal with problems there.
The Minister of State has questions to answer about the implementation of the Children Act 2001 and the many constructive proposals within it, which could lead young people away from becoming a scourge on their neighbours on housing estates at an early stage.
Mr. J. Higgins: Maidir le leathnú cumhachta a thabhairt don Gharda Síochána anseo, caithfidh mé a rá go gcuirim ina aghaidh go mór. Níl aon réiteach anseo d’fhadhbanna móra na sochaí, agus fadhbanna coiriúlachta go mórmhór. Táim in aghaidh an leathnú cumhachta a thabhairt do Cheannfort an Gharda chun barántas cuardaigh a eisiúint seachas go gcaithfeadh na gardaí dul os comhair giúistís. Is é m’eagla go mbainfear mí-úsáid as cuid de na cumhachtaí seo faoi mar a deineadh cheana.
Mr. Gregory: The briefing material relating to the legislation presents it as “a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures which will enhance the powers of the Garda in the investigation and prosecution of offences and generally provide for improvements to the operation of the criminal justice system”. Aspects of this anything but comprehensive Bill may be useful in that they will focus attention on the need for changing strategies to deal with, on the one hand, organised crime and, on the other, anti-social behaviour, which is an increasing problem in many of the local urban communities I represent.
However, if we had a fairer and more equal society, the number of crimes we experience, including those relating to organised gangs and local issues, would be much reduced. The Progressive Democrats philosophy on social inequality is a significant contributory factor to some of the crime problems experienced. This is particularly true of drug related crime, organised or otherwise, and the increasing anti-social behaviour. Disadvantaged inner city areas and larger urban suburbs where disadvantage is concentrated are the areas that experience the highest levels of this type of criminal activity. Thanks to the views expressed by the governor of Mountjoy it is no secret that a disproportionate number of prisoners come from these same areas. This does not happen by chance but is a direct result of the extreme inequalities in our society. Although the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not present, he told us that one of the tenets of the Progressive Democrats is that inequality is good for the economy. Inequality is a destabilising factor of major significance that contributes to levels of crime in our society.
I refer briefly to some measures in this Bill. The briefing document refers to detention of up to 24 hours for arrestable offences. To the public this may seem necessary and reasonable. Are safeguards in place to ensure this measure is not abused? The Minister has not helped us to understand this issue. We await a decision from the Minister on an inquiry into the Dean Lyons case in which an innocent man was charged with the Grangegorman murders following his detention by gardaí. We have discussed the details of this case on many occasions in this House. I have pursued this matter with a reluctant Minister, much like the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue. Both appear to wish the case would disappear rather than doing the responsible thing by investigating what happened to Dean Lyons. The case did not go away. A recent move, having a senior counsel examine Garda papers on the case, had to be dragged out of the Minister. We are still no wiser about what the Minister will do.
I took grave exception to an answer received to a parliamentary question tabled inquiring about the Minister’s intention to take action following examination of Garda papers by a senior counsel. The reply stated the Minister was examining the matter. This answer displays the usual contempt for questions from Members of this House. The following morning, the details sought in my question appeared in great detail on the front page of The Irish Times. There was no problem leaking this to The Irish Times but these details could not be provided to me. This follows a pattern in this case. The Evening Herald has more success getting details from the Minister than Members of this House have when they table parliamentary questions. This is not the manner in which to treat Dáil procedures, nor is it the way to treat elected Members of this House when they table questions of importance.
I refer to a recent case in my constituency in the context of the Minister’s proposal of increased detention powers. I know the family of the late Terence Wheelock, who died tragically following his detention in a Garda cell. I do not wish to rush to judgment but changes must be introduced to ensure there is absolute transparency when a prisoner sustains fatal or serious injuries in a Garda cell.
That Mr. Wheelock sustained serious injuries in a Garda cell is not disputed, the manner in which he sustained them is. Why were detailed medical findings not released to the family and its legal representatives? This was the entitlement of the family and it would help clear the air. Instead, questions about this case are mounting.
Why was the scene of the fatal injuries not treated with the same care as a crime scene, given that he died from injuries in the cell? I do not suggest a crime took place, nor do I make any judgments on the matter. The man sustained serious injuries and subsequently died and a Garda investigation is now complete, with findings to be sent to the Minister. Why was the scene not preserved pending the outcome of the investigation? It is extraordinary. Critical items in the cell were relocated and the cell was swept clean. It was swept clean as methodically as the Provisional IRA cleaned up the scene at the bar in Belfast after murdering Robert McCartney. I am not comparing the two events but why was this done, thereby contributing to the mounting disquiet about the case? The scene of the fatal injuries was not preserved pending completion of the investigation, thereby contributing to the fears of the family.
When I raised this matter I was told the cell had to be prepared for other prisoners and the gardaí wanted to avoid hazards for other prisoners. We are so short of Garda cells that we could not keep one Garda cell closed until an investigation was completed. The Garda authorities took the decision to clean and renovate the cell, relocating items critical to the determination of the cause of injuries sustained by the young man. We have not heard from the Minister on the results of the Garda investigation yet he is pressing ahead with measures to increase detention powers. That is not acceptable. Only when the safeguards are in place should the Minister extend hours of detention where it is reasonable and necessary.
I will refer to some other measures, many of which are not in the Bill, a point made by Deputy Joe Higgins, but will be added to it. That is not the best way to stimulate debate. I note, for example, that there will be provision to strengthen sentencing for drugs trafficking. That is something for which people throughout the area I represent have been calling with very good reason, given the devastation drugs has caused in my constituency.
In that context, in recent weeks we have seen the re-emergence of heroin in flats complexes and areas of the north inner city where gardaí have made significant seizures of heroin. These areas were devastated by heroin in the 1980s and 1990s and we all hope we will not have a repetition of that in the area in the next year or two but the reality is that heroin has re-emerged, and the evidence exists in Garda seizures.
Even more alarming are the recent seizures, at least five or six, of crack cocaine in a variety of locations but concentrated in the north city area of Dublin Central. That is largely within a section of the Nigerian community but we all agree that crack cocaine is something we can do without. I have been critical of the Garda drugs strategy in the past but in this instance the Garda drugs unit in Store Street has been very active and successful. I hope that will continue.
In that context, we all accept that the ten-year mandatory sentence provision has fallen flat on its face. I argued at the time that it should have been specifically focused on heroin because that would have put it up to the Judiciary to implement it where appropriate. A training course for some members of the Judiciary, perhaps even an in-service training course where they would have to spend some time in communities scourged by drugs, might be more productive than new sentencing provisions.
On the Minister’s proposal for new provisions to deal with anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs, there is no doubt in my mind that a great many people in some urban communities are increasingly frustrated and infuriated by anti-social activities from out-of-control gangs of youths. I was at a meeting in part of my constituency in the Cabra area last night where the community is making efforts, through a community policing forum, to confront that issue. I am involved in a community policing forum in the north inner city that is equally active on this issue and many other issues in the community.
People who live in disadvantaged areas are probably far more conscious of anti-social activities than anyone else because they usually bear the brunt of them. Laneways, street junctions, open areas and, ironically, even playgrounds can be the worst locations, particularly at night. In many instances the elderly and more vulnerable people living alone are fearful of even going out at night. A good deal can be done about that problem but the issue is not helped by the scarcity of community gardaí locally, despite the Government’s often quoted promise of the extra 2,000 gardaí that did not materialise. Even where gardaí are present, they say this is a difficult issue to handle. I have been involved in discussions with them on many occasions and they appear not to have any effective strategy or any strategy in mind to confront this issue. We hear constant complaints from residents that when the Garda is called a patrol car eventually arrives, circles the area, drives off and there is no redress for the people living there who are left with the intimidation and harassment.
In my experience it is usually only in areas where there is an active and strong residents group or a community policing forum made up of the residents, the gardaí, the city council and so on that the Garda is called to account, the resources put in place and some attempt made to tackle the problem. Even then, gardaí claim their powers are limited when those involved are not adults. The result is that a small number of out-of-control youths can cause havoc in an area. Against that background, in theory at least, the ASBOs would appear to have a part to play but the difficulty is how they are utilised by individual gardaí, that is if the gardaí are present in the first place or available in sufficient numbers on the ground to tackle the problem.
There will be dangers in the use of ASBOs if it is in the absence of better Garda training and a coherent strategy when dealing with the anti-social activities of teenagers in particular. As far as I am concerned, the ASBOs are not the answer but they may be a small part of the answer. More is required and sufficient numbers of gardaí working in the community and providing a presence when they are needed must be the starting point. We must have accountability but we will only have that if we have organised and well run community policing fora in areas. It is in the areas where there is a partnership between the community, the gardaí and the local authority that these issues can begin to be addressed. In the absence of that type of action, the ASBOs will not work.
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. S. Power): We have had a good and lengthy debate on the Bill and I thank all Deputies who contributed. Although there are differences in emphasis from different sides of the House, I am pleased to note that there is broad agreement on the need to update our law to provide a more effective response to modern crime.
As the Minister, Deputy McDowell, said last February when presenting the Bill, it is an important legislative proposal. It contains an essential updating of our law to ensure that criminal offences can be investigated and prosecuted in a way which is efficient and fair and which meets the needs of modern society. The provisions of the Bill get the balance right between effective State powers and guarantees concerning fundamental rights and respect for the rule of law.
The Minister wants to ensure that the Bill brings as much added legislative value as possible to the fight against crime. He therefore intends to bring forward some additional proposals by way of amendments to the Bill during its passage through the House.
It will be obvious from his approach that the Minister intends the Bill to reflect contemporary needs fully. It includes a provision to deal with participation in organised criminal gangs in addition to provisions to strengthen the existing sentencing provisions for drug trafficking and firearms offences. Its provisions also include a drug offenders register and new offences of supplying drugs to prisoners and possession of an article with intent to commit certain offences. The Bill will also allow for the electronic monitoring of offenders. New provisions will allow courts to suspend, partially suspend or adjourn sentences on conditions which will motivate the offender to stay away from crime or deal with issues giving rise to offending. The Bill also includes new provisions to deal with anti-social behaviour in addition to proposals for the establishment of a criminal law codification advisory group which will advise on the drawing up of a criminal code and monitor its implementation.
Other provisions include a new offence relating to attacks on emergency workers, a provision to clarify the jurisdiction of District Court judges in the issuing of warrants and a provision to clarify the meaning of the word “torture” as defined in the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Act 2000. The need for the latter provision arises from a judicial review application on a deportation matter. The Bill will also include proposals to tackle the illegal use of fireworks. Further amendments to the Firearms Acts will address matters arising from recent court judgments on the process of certification for the possession, use and carriage of firearms and ammunition, and the penalties for firearms offences.
The Minister proposes to give effect, by way of amendment to this Bill, to one of the key recommendations in the Ferns inquiry report, namely, the creation of a new criminal offence of engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child or failing to take reasonable steps to alleviate such risk. The amendments the Minister will propose will necessitate a change to the Long Title of the Bill.
Deputies will recall that the Minister presented an outline of his proposals on these matters to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on 7 September to inform them more fully of his intentions as well as giving members of the joint committee an opportunity to raise matters with him which they considered needed to be addressed in the Bill. The Minister intends to bring these proposals to Government shortly and, subject to the approval of his Cabinet colleagues, will send them without delay to the Human Rights Commission and the joint committee.
My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, expects to bring proposals to Government in the near future to amend the Children Act 2001 to provide for anti-social behaviour orders for children and to secure the implementation of the Act. The intention is to provide for these amendments to the 2001 Act by way of amendment to this Bill. The Minister will propose these amendments to this Bill to optimise the opportunities in this legislation to ensure the maximum protection for our citizens. This approach is being adopted to ensure that this legislation can be utilised fully for maximum protection against crime. Deputies will appreciate the Minister’s concern in this respect and, consequently, their full co-operation is being sought.
Recently, the Minister published the latest provisional crime statistics furnished by the Garda Commissioner. While the year-on-year statistics show a continued decrease in the incidence of headline crime, the Minister is concerned about the increase of 0.4% in the first three quarters of 2005 compared with the same period last year as well as the 5.5% increase in figures for the third quarter of this year compared with the same quarter last year. We must all continue our efforts to combat incidents of crime. The Bill is part of the answer to the challenges posed by crime in our communities.
Additional legislative provisions can only ever be part of the answer. A well resourced police force is critical and in this regard I highlight that the Garda budget, at more than €1.1 billion for this year, is greater than it has ever been. Ministers will continue to fight for increased resources. Furthermore, the strength of the force has reached a historic high and is rapidly expanding to its target, approved by the Government last year, of 14,000 by the end of 2006.
In drawing up the proposals in this Bill, the Minister has been conscious of the importance of balancing the rights of the individual with the rights of society as a whole. In this respect, he has had regard to the protections of our the Constitution and the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition, the Minister sought and was glad to receive the observations of the Human Rights Commission. He has taken these into account in as far as possible.
Hand in hand with the availability of extra Garda powers such as those provided by the Bill, there must be a mechanism for independent supervision of how these powers are exercised. The legislation must be seen against the introduction of the national scheme providing for the audio-visual recording of interviews with persons detained in Garda custody under certain detention provisions, which will include those proposed in the legislation when enacted.
The Bill must also be seen in the context of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. That legislation, which comprehensively reforms the law governing the force, will establish the Garda ombudsman commission to investigate independently complaints or allegations of wrongdoing. The Act will also establish the Garda inspectorate which will assess independently the effectiveness and efficiency of Garda practices and procedures and benchmark them against best performance internationally. The Minister will proceed with the establishment of these bodies in the coming weeks.
On the proposals for a comprehensive reform of the law concerning firearms, section 30 of the Bill provides for the secure custody of firearms and requires all applicants for firearms certificates to satisfy the Garda superintendent to whom the application is made that they have provided secure accommodation for the firearms. A number of Deputies raised concerns about making provision for this in the Bill. They also expressed the view that a wider and more comprehensive range of amendments to the Firearms Acts are required which should be included in a more comprehensive firearms Bill. The Minister is proposing a wider range of amendments to the Firearms Acts which will form a separate and distinct part of the Bill and which will encompass many of the issues raised by Deputies in the course of this debate.
Before briefly outlining the proposals which it is intended to bring forward on Committee Stage, I thank the many sporting organisations involved in shooting, particularly the National Association of Regional Game Councils and the Shooting Sports Association of Ireland. They have engaged constructively with the Department in the development of a number of these new proposals. Over the years, members of all these shooting organisations have demonstrated an extremely responsible approach to their sport. Their excellent safety record in the handling and use of firearms bears testimony to this fact.
Government amendments on Committee Stage will insert a new Part in the Bill to deal with a series of provisions amending the Firearms Acts 1925-2000. The proposed amendments also involve moving the present section 30 to this new Part. The new provisions will allow the Minister to deem certain firearms as restricted by reference to specific criteria, including the calibre, action type and muzzle energy of the firearm. Any person wishing to obtain a certificate for a restricted weapon must in future apply to the Garda Commissioner.
The new provisions will also increase fines and penalties relating to offences generally under the Firearms Acts as well as creating mandatory minimum sentences of between five and ten years for certain firearms offences. These offences include possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances, possession of a firearm with criminal intent, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, possession of a firearm while hijacking a vehicle, and use or production of a firearm to resist arrest. In addition, the new provisions introduce a new offence of modifying a firearm, such as shortening the barrel of a shotgun, converting a de-activated or replica firearm into a live firearm, modifying a firearm to fully automatic and increasing the calibre of a firearm.
The new provisions provide for decisions on firearms certificates to be issued within a minimum statutory period, introduce a statutory right of appeal to the District Court of decisions on certificates, introduce a new type of certificate which will allow young persons to be trained in the use of firearms for sporting purposes, introduce a new power for the Garda Commissioner to make guidelines or guidance notes for the uniform administration of the Act, and provide for the authorisation of rifle and pistol clubs and shooting ranges.
The Minister intends to introduce a statutory basis for an amnesty during which firearms may be surrendered to the Garda Síochána before new penalties and minimum mandatory sentences are introduced. This will enable those in possession of firearms who are not in compliance with the legal requirements to regularise their position and thus enable the Garda Síochána to concentrate on more serious offenders.
I sincerely thank Deputies for their contributions on Second Stage. The Minister will reflect on this debate further and if he considers it appropriate to bring forward amendments to deal with any of the issues raised, he will do so. The Minister has heard a number of contributions and the points made by other Members will be brought to his attention. I commend the legislation on which I accept there are different views. I believe the enactment of the legislation will ultimately be for the betterment of society.
|Ahern, Dermot.||Ahern, Noel.|
|Andrews, Barry.||Ardagh, Seán.|
|Blaney, Niall.||Brady, Johnny.|
|Brady, Martin.||Breen, Pat.|
|Brennan, Seamus.||Browne, John.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Callanan, Joe.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carey, Pat.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Collins, Michael.||Connaughton, Paul.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Cregan, John.|
|Curran, John.||Davern, Noel.|
|de Valera, Síle.||Deasy, John.|
|Dempsey, Noel.||Dempsey, Tony.|
|Dennehy, John.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||Ellis, John.|
|English, Damien.||Enright, Olwyn.|
|Fahey, Frank.||Finneran, Michael.|
|Fitzpatrick, Dermot.||Fleming, Seán.|
|Fox, Mildred.||Gallagher, Pat The Cope.|
|Hanafin, Mary.||Harney, Mary.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Hoctor, Máire.|
|Jacob, Joe.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Tom.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McGrath, Paul.|
|McGuinness, John.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Donal.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Mulcahy, Michael.|
|Murphy, Gerard.||Neville, Dan.|
|Nolan, M.J.||Ó Cuív, Éamon.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||O’Connor, Charlie.|
|O’Dea, Willie.||O’Donnell, Liz.|
|O’Donovan, Denis.||O’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Keeffe, Ned.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Malley, Tim.|
|Parlon, Tom.||Perry, John.|
|Power, Peter.||Power, Seán.|
|Ring, Michael.||Roche, Dick.|
|Sexton, Mae.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Smith, Michael.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Treacy, Noel.|
|Wallace, Dan.||Wallace, Mary.|
|Wilkinson, Ollie.||Woods, Michael.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Breen, James.|
|Connolly, Paudge.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Gormley, John.|
|Gregory, Tony.||Healy, Seamus.|
|Higgins, Joe.||McGrath, Finian.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Murphy, Catherine.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|Ryan, Eamon.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Last Updated: 04/11/2010 02:48:05||Page of 191|