Thursday, 27 April 2006
Question 1: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he intends to take to tackle the alarming rise in crime figures for the first quarter of 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15877/06]
Question 2: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the 7% increase in the yearly headline crime figures published on 13 April 2006 and the 8% increase in the quarterly figures; his views in particular on the substantial increase in the number of murders; the action he intends to take arising from the increase in the number of serious crimes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15879/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2, together.
Since I took the decision to publish crime statistics on a quarterly basis at the beginning of 2003, I have consistently emphasised that care must be taken in interpreting the statistics, especially when considering short term fluctuations or extrapolating trends over short periods. I have emphasised this both when the level of crime has decreased, as it has in the majority of quarters since 2003, and when it has increased, as it did in the last quarter.
First, I wish to refer to the long-term crime trends. The level of headline crime in 2005 was actually lower than that for 2003 by 1.6% and for 2002 by 4.4%. Furthermore in 1995, when we had a population of almost 3.6 million, there were 29 crimes per 1,000 of the population, while in 2005, with a population of over 4.1 million, there were 24.6 crimes per 1,000 of the population — 15% of crimes less per 1,000 of the population in 2005 compared with 1995. To put this in context, during the two full years of the rainbow coalition Government, with a population of 600,000 fewer than at present, the headline crime figures were as follows: 1995 — 102,484; 1996 — 100,785, a rate of over 500,000 crimes for a five year Government at a time when our population was much lower than now.
The figures for the first quarter of 2006 paint a mixed picture. Of the 25 headline offence categories, 13 showed decreases and 12 recorded increases. Furthermore, there was an increase of 8% in the overall figure for the quarter compared with one year previously. This increase is less than that for the last quarter of 2005, when it was 10%.
Crimes against property account for the majority of the increase in headline crime for the first quarter. I have been advised by the Garda Commissioner that he has instructed the regional Garda commissioners and divisional chief superintendents to devise and implement strategies in their areas to target, track down and bring to justice persistent offenders. Furthermore, I have made available a further €10 million to the Garda Commissioner for special Garda operations tackling specific forms of crime including burglaries and other offences.
Murder and manslaughter is up by three in the first quarter, from a total of nine to 12.
No. One of the problems is that homicide offences had risen but this term includes verbal threats to kill. While no level of murder is acceptable, I would advise the Deputies that Ireland has one of the lowest murder rates in the western world. For example, the homicide rate in Glasgow, a city of comparable size to Dublin, is 5.5 per 100,000 of the population. The comparable figure for Dublin in 2005 is 1.7 per 100,000 of the population. Deputies Howlin and O'Keeffe will be interested to learn that the rate of murder and manslaughter in Ireland in 1995 was 1.47 per 100,000 of the population. The comparative figure for 2005 is 1.41 per 100,000 of the population.
The combined total of murders and manslaughters for each year since 1995 is as follows:
1995 = 53
1996 = 46
1997 = 53
1998 = 51
1999 = 47
2000 = 56
2001 = 58
2002 = 58
2003 = 53
2004 = 45
2005 = 58
There have been significant reductions in the quarter in all but one of the five sexual crime categories, which show an overall decrease of 36%. In particular, there have been significant decreases in the offences of sexual assault, down 42%, unlawful carnal knowledge, down 32% and rape of a female, down 20%.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
There has been an increase in detections of possession of firearms, up 8%. Increases in possession offences are overwhelmingly due to police detection work. There has also been a reduction in the offence of discharging a firearm, down8%. Operation Anvil has contributed significantly to these encouraging developments. The most recent figures available to me show that since the introduction of Operation Anvil one year ago next month, more than 500 firearms have been seized, which has a corresponding effect on the level of use. To date, Operation Anvil has resulted in more than 2,300 arrests for serious crimes, including murder and serious assault. The operation is being extended and strengthened. Following my request to the Garda Commissioner, it has been extended nationwide this year. This has already resulted in a number of arrests, the seizure of a substantial quantity of drugs and ammunition and the targeting of criminals who travel to parts of the country outside the Dublin metropolitan region to commit burglaries and other offences. It has resulted, for example, in the arrest of a number of persons from west Dublin in the Garda southern region for a number of residential burglaries and the arrest of a person in the south eastern region for a series of burglaries who had recently been released from prison in the UK.
Initiatives under Operation Anvil are ongoing and focused on what is most required. They are monitored closely by senior Garda management in the light of crime trends at divisional level. In addition, the Commissioner in November 2005 augmented the organised crime unit at the national bureau of criminal investigation with an additional 55 Garda members to address the problem of criminal gang activity. Enforcement by the unit has resulted in further firearms being seized and a number of persons arrested, thereby disrupting their criminal activities.
I am determined that disturbing trends will be addressed and, despite an increasing population, we should continue to enjoy relatively low crime rates. I am particularly concerned at the increase in the level of murders. While the detection rate for murders remains in general high, the rise in gangland killings and the lower level of detection for them remains a cause of concern. I note that no cases of manslaughter were recorded for the quarter.
High on the Government's list of policing priorities for 2006, which has been incorporated into the Garda Síochána policing plan for the year, is the continued targeting of organised crime, including drug trafficking, and the gun culture associated with it through the use of specialist units and targeted, intelligence-led operations. Garda strategies are in place for dealing with drug offences which are designed to undermine the activities of organised criminal networks involved in the trafficking and distribution of illicit drugs. These strategies include gathering intelligence on individuals and organisations involved in the distribution of drugs, conducting targeted operations on criminal networks based on intelligence gathered and working in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies both within and outside the jurisdiction to address the national and international aspects of drug trafficking and distribution. These strategies continue to result in operational successes.
While it is the case that a number of the increases in headline crime statistics reflect increased enforcement activity on the part of the Garda Síochána, the overall picture indicates there absolutely is no room for complacency. The Government's decision to continue to devote unprecedented resources to the fight against crime shows that it is not complacent, as does my insistence that those resources be deployed at the front line of policing in the State.
The Garda Síochána this year has the highest level of resources in its history — €1,290 million — an increase of €146 million or 13% on 2005 and over 100% on 1997. The provision for Garda overtime in 2006 is €83.5 million, an increase of €23 million on the allocation for 2005. This increase is greatly assisting the planned deployment of a visible policing service in a flexible, effective and targeted response to criminal activity and to crime prevention. The €83.5 million in overtime will yield 2.725 million extra hours of policing by uniformed and special units throughout the State.
Implementation is well advanced of the Government's decision of October 2004 to approve the recruitment of 2,000 additional gardaí to increase the strength of the force to 14,000. As a result there will be a combined organisational strength, of both attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 in 2006 and 14,000 attested gardaí in two years' time. The Commissioner is now deciding how to distribute and manage these additional resources in the areas where they are most needed. One thing I have already promised is that the additional gardaí will not be put on administrative duties but will be put directly into frontline, operational, high-visibility policing.
I am pleased to inform the Deputies that the first group of newly attested gardaí under the accelerated recruitment programme came on stream in March and a further 275 newly attested gardaí will come on stream every 90 days from here on in.
The decreases in the two categories of robbery of cash and goods in transit and robbery of an establishment or institution, down 38% and 7% respectively, are encouraging. However, recent events have highlighted that a radical lapse in standards has occurred. It had been intended that the Private Security Authority would introduce licensing of the cash movement sector at the end of a voluntary compliance period where the industry would be given time within which to bring its standards up to the requisite approved standards, which would form the basis for licensing. As a result of recent developments, however, the chief executive of the authority has advised me that she will bring forward proposals for the introduction of mandatory licensing of this sector as quickly as possible. Regulation of the cash in transit sector is only one aspect of the functions of the authority which was established to regulate the entire private security industry. These include licensing companies and persons providing a whole range of security services. The authority has already commenced licensing contractors providing private security services in the door supervisor and security guarding areas as well as licensing for suppliers and installers of intruder alarms.
The Criminal Justice Bill 2004, which is currently before the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, provides a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures which will enhance the powers of the Garda in the investigation and prosecution of offences. 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. It addresses such matters as the preservation of crime scenes, increased periods of detention in the case of arrestable offences, a general power of search in relation to all arrestable offences and also powers for the Garda Síochána to issue search warrants in circumstances of urgency. The Bill also contains amendments to the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act 1990, provision for a fixed penalty procedure in respect of certain lesser public order offences and the admissibility of statements by witnesses who subsequently refuse to testify or who retract their original statements.
It is widely acknowledged that our legislative provision for tackling crime, especially serious and organised crime, is already one of the toughest in Europe. Nevertheless, I have brought forward a range of proposed additions to the Bill. Key proposed additions include the creation of criminal offences in relation to organised crime, the strengthening of provisions on the imposition of the ten year mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking, new offences of supplying drugs to prisons, provisions for the establishment of a drug offenders register, provisions to deal with anti-social behaviour; provision to deal with the Supreme Court decision that a judge could not issue warrants if he or she was outside his or her district, new provisions to allow the courts to suspend or partially suspend or to adjourn sentences on conditions which will motivate the offender to stay away from crime, such as participation in drug treatment programmes and provision to allow for restriction of movement orders including electronic monitoring.
Furthermore, because of my concern about firearms in general and in order to ensure public safety and security, I propose to bring forward a wide range of amendments to the Firearms Acts 1925-2000 in the context of the Bill. Included in these new proposals are measures which will require all persons wishing to legally hold a firearm to satisfy the Garda that they have provided secure accommodation for the firearm; 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 — in future any person wishing to obtain a certificate for such a firearm will have to apply directly to the Garda Commissioner; introduce new offences concerning the modification of firearms such as "sawing-off" a shotgun; increase fines and penalties generally for offences under the Firearms Acts; create mandatory minimum sentences, of between five and ten years, for certain firearms offences, including possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances, possession of 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.
I also intend 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.
Furthermore a comprehensive package of proposals on juvenile justice issues has been brought forward as Committee Stage amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill by my colleague, Deputy Brian Lenihan, Minister of State with special responsibility for children. The enactment of this Bill is a top priority and I hope to see it on the Statute Book by the summer.
I assure Deputies that the legal, operational measures and resources in place to tackle crime are kept under continuing review and any further measures and resources which are required will be made available.
I assure the House that I am in regular contact with the Garda Commissioner to keep the measures and resources for tackling serious crime under continuing review, and I will continue to do all in my power to maximise the level of resources available to the Garda Síochána.
I have set out in tabular format the percentage changes in indictable-headline crime, 1995 to 2005.
|Year||Frequency||Population||Crime Rate per 1000||% Change on 1995||% Change on 1996||% Change on 1997||% Change on 1998||% Change on 1999||% Change on 2000||% Change on 2001||% Change on 2002||% Change on 2003||% Change on 2004||% Change Year on Year|
It should be borne in mind that any interpretation of the crime figures should factor in the increase in our population in the past ten years. In 1995 with a population of almost 3.6 million people, there were 29 crimes per 1,000 of the population. In 2005, with a population of over 4.1 million, there were 24.6 crimes per 1,000 of the population, a reduction of 4.4 crimes per 1,000 of the population. To put this in context, during the two full years of the rainbow coalition Government, with a population of 600,000 less than at present, the headline crime figures were as follows: 1995, 102,484 and 1996, 100,785.
The figure for 1999 refers to January to September only because of the introduction of PULSE. Figures for the years 2000 onwards reflect enhancements to the compilation of statistics due to the introduction of PULSE. The figures for 2005 are provisional only.
The Minister does not seem to accept that we have a huge crime problem in this country. How can we expect a solution from the Government unless he accepts there is a problem? For all his bluster and bravado, does he not agree, now that he is in his fourth year as Minister and with his term nearly over, that crime is worse than ever? I refer to the figures over the nine years the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government has been in office. In 1998, the first full year, the crime figure was 85,000 and last year the figures smashed 100,000 for the 12 months. The quarterly figures show an increase of 71% in murder and homicide, a 22% increase in robberies from the person and a 25% increase in thefts from vehicles.
Will the Minister accept that his legacy is that the crime rates are up, the detection rates are down over the same period I mentioned, from 44% to 35%, and the public are living in fear of their lives? Will he not agree that unless he is prepared to accept there is a problem, there will be no solution under this Government? I have to suggest to the Minister that he is all tongue and no teeth, he promises a lot and delivers little. He talks tough and achieves virtually nothing. Will he agree that he will not solve crime with his tongue? He must provide the resources that were committed and promised in the past. He has not done so and until that is done, we will not tackle the crime problem. If he does not do so, the next Government will provide those resources.
It is obvious the Deputy has not listened to a word I said. The situation is that the level of headline crime in Ireland is now less than it was when he and his partners were in Government in 1995 and 1996.
If we are to compare performances — there is an unwillingness to accept there was a problem — the problem was significantly worse when some members of the Deputies' parties opposite were at the Cabinet table.
The Deputy asked me about resources. The resources that have been devoted to the Garda Síochána have never been higher——
——when they were in office. It is fascinating that every time we discuss the record of the parties opposite, they start shouting.
I remind the Deputies that when they were in office the numbers of gardaí in the force declined, whereas while I have been in office and while the two parties have been in office, the numbers of gardaí have dramatically increased. The size of the Garda Síochána budget has gone up from approximately €590 million to €1.3 billion in the lifetime of the Government of these two parties and during my stewardship it has gone up by39%. The Garda Síochána has never been better resourced and never been better equipped. It is achieving results which are very good in general terms. The crime rate per 100,000 of the population is down. The number of murders, compared with when Deputy Howlin was at the Cabinet table, is down per 100,000 of the population. Compared with Glasgow, Ireland has a crime rate and a murder rate which is significantly less——
I returned relatively recently to this brief and I started by accepting the figures which were e-mailed to me by the Minister, but he has already contradicted them. He stated that the murder rate is up by three. The figure sent to me shows that the number of murders, not manslaughter or homicide, is up from seven to 12, which is 71%, and that is contained in the Minister's press release. I will be more jaundiced in dealing with the Minister's figures from now on because it is clear they cannot be accepted at face value. The Minister whistles past the graveyard. He always has somebody else to blame.
I have some direct questions for the Minister. His predecessor asserted that the judgment of the people in how safe they felt would be the criterion by which the success of the Administration dealing with crime was to be judged. That was the litmus test set by his predecessor. On that basis, would the Minister accept that the most recent opinion poll, published on 22 March last, showed that 85% of the public are concerned about crime and public disorder which was the number one issue, that just 5% of the people believe the level of crime has fallen which the Minister has tried to assert yet again, and that, irrespective of statistics he uses to bamboozle people, they know full well that murder is becoming a regular occurrence and that life has been devalued under his stewardship and that of his immediate predecessor?
Every time there is a damning indictment of the Minister's stewardship, he flies a new kite. His latest one is that we need to again tighten the bail regime. Does he accept that the bail regime was tightened by referendum under the stewardship of the rainbow Government of which he is now so disparaging, and that was effective? Despite his smokescreen of last week, does he accept that the Garda figures in 1994, which are the ones in advance of the referendum, showed that the Garda believed that 9% of crimes were committed by those on bail and the most recent figures from the 2004 Garda annual report show that only 5% were committed by those on bail? Contrary to the Minister's assertion that the courts are not implementing the Act subsequently——
——is he aware that the numbers on remand have increased from 6.5% before the bail referendum to 16.5% in the most recent figures available ten years later in 2004? Contrary to the Minister's assertion, the changes put forward by the rainbow Government are having an effect on reducing the recidivism of those on bail. Will the Minister set the record straight on that and take some responsibility for his and his predecessor's eight years of stewardship in this coalition?
——with a population of 3.6 million then and 4.1 million now. The number of gardaí was allowed to drop when the rainbow coalition was in office and I and my predecessor, Deputy O'Donoghue, have increased the number of gardaí substantially.