Thursday, 15 July 2021
Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
Jim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
I thank the Minister of State and my colleagues, Deputies Devlin and Kenny, for their contributions. It has been most beneficial that we have had this debate. As all speakers have recognised, changing this law is not really going to resolve the problem. Legislation itself is a very blunt instrument. Therefore, when we introduce legislation into this House, sometimes it can generate a debate and a discussion about an important issue. Obviously, when it comes to legislation, it is very difficult to implement into that legislation the type of broader issues we have been discussing in the debate, such as education, training and trying to ensure we can attack the inequality that is behind so much criminal activity that takes place in our society.
I thank the Minister of State for providing some very important information and data in his speech. It is very important when we are having a discussion, whether on specifically amending law or policy issues, that we do so from a position of information and empirical evidence. It was interesting to note the Minister of State has acknowledged that, between 2010 and 2016, there was an increase in the number of knives seized each year in that period. That was alluded to by my colleague, Deputy Devlin. However, it is also important to note there was a reduction in the number of incidents where knives were involved, from 1,500 in 2019 to 1,300 in 2020. I do not have the up-to-date information in respect of the incidents of knife crime; the Minister of State does. It is very beneficial he is putting that information before the House today. It is also beneficial he has given us information in respect of the slight increase between 2018 and 2019 in hospital discharges following an assault by knife.
I am not suggesting, nor do I think anyone in the House is suggesting, that young people should be targeted with increased penalties and sentences if they are apprehended carrying a knife for the first time. Great discretion is given to our judiciary when it comes to imposing sentences on people who have been convicted of offences. I would not like to see a situation develop where boys, children or young men who are apprehended with knives immediately face prosecution or, indeed, the sanction of a criminal sentence. That is why I agree with the Minister of State that the youth justice strategy is so important in trying to divert young people away from a pathway of crime. We must recognise that in certain communities, young people are targeted and presented with opportunities, as it were, to engage in crime. We must ensure that no longer persists in those communities. We need to recognise that certain communities require further attention from the State to ensure young children - boys and girls - and young men and women who are facing difficult struggles and inequalities in their lives are not led down the pathway of crime that so many of them could go down unless they were deterred from it.
I welcome the Minister of State's point about the model that operated in Scotland. That seems to be working most effectively. I was also interested to hear what Deputy Kenny had to say in respect of the experience in Boston. These models show that if you implement changes in policy and take a holistic approach to a problem such as this, it can result in the reduction of dangerous incidents of knife crime. That is why it is important we try to put together, as the Minister of State is trying to do, a policy in respect of it.
I am fully aware the legislation itself, if it is enacted, is not going to be a major part of the solution. However, as I have said, the purpose of legislation, particularly in its early phases as it passes through the House, is to try to generate a debate on policy issues that we must seek to attain. That is why I welcome the response of the Minister of State and, indeed, Deputies Kenny and Devlin in respect of the proposal. When the Bill goes beyond Second Stage, we will have a further opportunity to look at a broader approach and to try to ensure we can put in place policies that will have an impact in reducing the incidence of knife crime and will also have an impact in reducing the number of people who get involved in carrying knives and, as a result, lead themselves down a path towards trouble.
I am conscious I may be the last Deputy to speak in the convention centre. I hope I am. It is to be hoped we will never be back here as Deputies discussing legislation. I am aware the Seanad also sat here. I wish to thank the Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the work they have done. I thank all the staff who have been here. We have been here since last May or June. It has been a difficult time for Members of the Oireachtas. Sometimes, politicians are not given any sympathy by the public. Indeed, we are not looking for sympathy. However, I am very conscious that colleagues who were elected for the first time in 2020 have not had the opportunity yet to settle into life in Leinster House, which is a lot easier to work with than having to come down to the convention centre.
I thank Leas-Cheann Comhairle and all the staff for all the great work that has been done in facilitating us to come down here. I hope we will not be back again, notwithstanding the fact we all did enjoy our time in the centre.