Wednesday, 10 May 2006
The key promise made by the Government was that people would feel safer in their homes and on the streets, a record on which the Government would be judged. Everybody stands for that kind of society. The latest figures published for headline crime, however, suggest a serious situation.
The reality is that crime is up and detection is down. Homicides are up from 98 in 2004 to 155 in 2005. Every week there are more than 1,000 thefts, amounting to 56,000 last year. In every one of the ten headline categories of crime the detection rate in 2005 was lower than in 2000 where similar figures are available. That means there is a lower detection rate of homicides, assaults, sexual offences, thefts, burglaries and robberies. There are ten categories within which to measure the Government's performance, amounting to ten failures.
Does the Taoiseach believe that his Government's fundamental commitment to making people feel safer in their homes and on the streets is being fulfilled to this point?
Yesterday's annual report to which Deputy Kenny refers sets out the statistics confirming the provisional headline crime figures which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform released in January. It shows an increase in headline crime of 2.7% last year compared with 2004.
The statistics also include non-headline crime — for the first time in the annual report — which increased by 12.2% in 2005. This covers several areas which I will go through if necessary. A significant part of the headline crime involved murders and manslaughter, the figure for which in 2005 was 58 as against 45 in 2004. There were reductions in 11 of the 25 headline areas and increases in 14. I have cited the figure for the significant increase in manslaughter. Aggregated sexual assaults were down 43%, robbery of cash goods in transit was down 27%, robbery from the person was down 23%, theft from the person was down 18%, possession of drugs for supply or sale was up 20%, and possession of firearms was up 16%.
With regard to traffic offences, because we now have a dedicated traffic corps of several hundred on the streets every day——
——there has been a substantial increase in the detection of crime in this area. That is to be welcomed by all of us who wish to see an end to the carnage on the roads, whether caused by drink driving offences, insurance offences or vehicles having difficulties. Detection in all these categories has substantially increased. The figures differ very little.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has asked me to clarify the figures in respect of firearms seized. The figures published yesterday in this category for 2005, if they stood, would show a substantial reduction over those for 2004. That would be surprising given the successes we heard about throughout 2005 under Operation Anvil, which was introduced that year. The Garda had difficulties with its system and will clarify its figures today.
This Government stated that it would continue to run a strong economy, last year creating more than 80,000 jobs.
The Taoiseach did not answer my question. He made a fundamental promise on behalf of his Government that people would feel safer in their homes and on the streets and that the Government would be judged on this. I have cited failure in ten categories in the nine years the Government has been in office. Is it not a fact that as a consequence of this our country is in many ways a much less civilised place in which to live? It is the responsibility of Government to deal with the issue of crime.
Will the Taoiseach explain why 500 gardaí are doing civilian jobs? Why have the gardaí not been given a world-class system of communication? Why is it that many must ring into Garda stations on their mobile telephones and sometimes travel to the scene of accidents in taxis? Will the Taoiseach accept that this is the responsibility of his Government? I have been pursuing the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is not present, who self-combusted over——
——a challenge to his correctness but he has not self-combusted over murders, assaults, rapes or theft which have all increased under his jurisdiction. This reminds me of what Churchill said about US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, "I know of no other bull who brings his own china shop with him." Given the resources available to the Garda Síochána, is he not in a position to——
——set targets and achieve results? Will he address the question whether he thinks the people of this country feel safer in their homes and on the streets, as was his promise upon which he shall be judged and in respect of which the Ceann Comhairle is correct, the Taoiseach's time, if not up, is almost up?
Deputy Kenny asked me whether we are giving the Garda Síochána the resources and the facilities, and the answer is that we are. This year we will have 14,000 gardaí. The Deputy raised the issue of the new digital phone system. I am unable to explain the reason that, when the Government granted approval for the system in 2002, a series of people within the Garda Síochána and various agencies and Departments have spent four years looking into it and looking out of it. I cannot explain it.
Four years after the Government approved the system, it is now operational, but it should not have taken so long. We provided the resources and following a tendering process the system is now in place and available to the Garda Síochána, which is as good as any system in use anywhere in the world. That issue has been dealt with, but it should not have taken so long.
The Deputy referred to new Garda stations and Garda cars. We have a total of 14,000 gardaí.
The budget has been increased from €600 million to €1.3 billion and we have provided for almost 3 million hours of Garda overtime. Deputy Kenny will agree that our population has increased from 3.5 million to 4.1 million. Every examination of the figures has shown that crime per thousand of the population is down. If the Deputy asks me whether I am happy that we are delivering on our promise to lower crime rates, I am happy the figures show a decrease in real terms.
Please, Deputy, I am answering your leader. I am not happy with the current figures but I am happy that we have dedicated gardaí who are out every day doing their best. I always resent that in this country we always seem to speak against ourselves. Our crime figures are lower now, pro rata, than ten years ago and lower than practically any other city in Europe. We have more gardaí than the equivalent anywhere except in Spain and Portugal, yet we try to talk ourselves down. This is one of the most popular countries for tourism.
As far as I am aware, all parties in the House are in favour of a rational planned programme of decentralisation. Deputies on all sides of the House privately concede that the plan announced in 2003 by the then Minister, Mr. McCreevy, is a shambles, is unworkable, is doing permanent damage to the cohesion of governance and is causing serious unjustifiable disruption to families who have long put down roots in this city.
Why has a voluntary programme of decentralisation, announced admittedly off the top of the head and for political reasons, turned into a compulsory programme of relocation of civil servants and public servants working for agencies? In some agencies, nobody is offering to relocate. In FÁS six people out of 400 are offering to relocate. Specialist agencies will lose the undoubted skills accumulated over the years. Permanent damage will be done to the corporate memory in the Civil Service. We know that a parallel Civil Service will be developed at enormous cost — we do not know how much. In the words of my colleague, Deputy Burton, for the more than 5,000 who are determined not to move, they will end up being whitewalled in this city with somebody scrounging around to try to find work for them to do. That is utterly unjustifiable. However, what is most unjustifiable——
——is that civil and public servants in this city who had married and are rearing families, who have families in education, are forcibly being relocated. That is the issue. It is made plain that if they want promotion, they must be agreeable to transfer.
Has the time not come for us to agree an all-party review that would seek to underpin the national spatial strategy announced by the Taoiseach in light of the census figures, which will be available soon? Would that not be a sensible approach to a programme that his Deputies behind him admit has failed? We have had sensible planned negotiated decentralisation before and we can have it again.
If we want to transfer people to Athy, Ballina, Clonmel or wherever, we can do it by agreement and by negotiation. That is not what is happening and it is a disgraceful slight on the service given to this State by so many worthy public servants.
I readily agree with what Deputy Rabbitte has asked. We will negotiate and deal with the Civil Service unions and work with them as we did on the programme that I launched over ten years ago when there was successful decentralisation to Letterkenny, Sligo——
——Ballina, Ennis, Tullamore and several other centres. It takes an increasing amount of time to effect decentralisation. The OPW and the committee dealing with decentralisation have sourced a number of sites and buildings and are dealing with the operational arrangements. Several thousands of civil servants want to move while others do not want to move. I understand for people who have children at certain stages of education such as second level or college, it may not be suitable for them. I accept it creates difficulties with promotional posts, as arose in FÁS which has been asked to move to Birr. The Government has been actively trying to address these issues.
I also readily admit there has been no appetite within the State agencies to move out of Dublin. The figures on the take-up in that regard have been very small. The reason for decentralisation now is the same as it was a decade ago, to achieve better balanced regional development. I am not arguing with what Deputy Rabbitte said but this city cannot continue to take the densities being forced on it and the traffic pressures without the Government responding by trying to move some people to other centres.
Daily, people commute great distances to this city. It would be far better if we were to relocate people to offices in the regions where they could successfully provide services to the public. The Government is working with the public service unions and is determined to try as best it can to facilitate, on a voluntary basis, those who want to move and equally those who want to stay.
I cannot understand how the Taoiseach can say this city cannot take the pressure and that we must alleviate it while the Government ignores its own national spatial strategy. The Taoiseach said the task is to take pressure off this city but when one checks the applicants applying for transfers to various Departments, a high percentage of them are civil and public servants living in parts of the country other than Dublin who wish to transfer to other parts of the country. How will such transfers alleviate the pressure in Dublin? What is the point in saying to people that such a transfer is voluntary when they are presented with Hobson's choice to either relocate or not be considered for promotion or to relocate because if they stay here they will have nothing to do? We will end up with a Civil Service similar to the Legal Aid Board, which has two head offices, one in Cahirciveen and one in Mount Street, with all the costs involved in personnel flying by Aer Arann to this city two or three times a week. That is the model we will have throughout the country. We will have a parallel Civil Service.
There is no difficulty about a planned programme of negotiated relocation and the one to which the Taoiseach referred took successive Governments ten years to agree. What is involved here is the enforced compulsory relocation of public and civil servants. That is not acceptable. The Taoiseach knows he has misled——
——many of the towns to which he has promised to relocate agencies. In the case of Mitchelstown, 200 people from Bus Éireann were promised to be relocated there, but there has not been a single application to transfer there. Does that promise fool the people of Mitchelstown? Some Ministers talk about this process as if we were engaged in a programme of property development. This is not about property, it is about people.
The opportunity exists on an all-party basis for us to sit down together and negotiate a review of this programme, to have regard to the gateways established by the national spatial strategy and to implement a programme of genuine balanced regional development.
The Government will continue to work with the Civil Service unions to relocate a substantial number of public servants. Deputy Rabbitte is aware that all these arguments were used previously. I remember dealing with sections of various Departments that did not want to move ten years ago. However, many of the Departments that did not relocate ten years ago are sorry they did not. They did not envisage the difficulties of population and traffic growth in the city. A sizeable number of public servants want to move. It makes sense to move services, on a balanced basis, to regional locations from where they can be effectively delivered to the public on a nationwide basis, as has been proven.
I accept there are difficulties involved in doing that. If a person is working in Department A which is due to relocate and he or she wishes to remain in that Department and for that Department to remain in Dublin, we must be realistic and acknowledge that we cannot move 99 public or civil servants and leave one to remain in Dublin, and that that person can expect to stay and be promoted. That is an unrealistic argument.
A civil servant cannot do that. If a civil servant does not want to leave this city, he or she must transfer to another Department and follow a career path there. A civil servant cannot hold up the relocation of a Department.
The Government will continue to manage this programme as we have done successfully. When I was Minister for Finance more than ten years ago, I listened to arguments about how it would be impossible for the Office of the Revenue Commissioners to be relocated outside Dublin and for services to be provided from Sligo. It was said at the time that people would not be able to get through by telephone or find the office but now people deal with such issues.
Members of the public are happy to deal with services provided from regional locations.
As a Deputy representing the heart of Dublin, I do not understand what people have against other parts of the country. They are nice places to work and live and good places in which to be based.
There is a more long-standing order of the House covering Leaders' Questions.
Is the Government trying to add to the agony of the tens of thousands of young workers who are priced out of the housing market? The Minister for Social and Family Affairs announced a study, which will take several months, on some kind of mortgage support for them, during which the price of a house will have increased a further €10,000 and created even more problems for them. Is the Minister cynically constructing an alibi to defend himself from a belt from the Comptroller and Audit General over shovelling around €400 million of taxpayers' money to speculator landlords in rent supplements, instead of building social and affordable houses for the 50,000 families who are priced out the market and the tens of thousands of other young workers who cannot afford to buy a house?
Is it not striking that in nine years of his party being in Government, any time he has feebly examined the rocketing house prices, he has never once pointed at the real source of the problem, namely, the land speculator, the profiteering developer and the financial institution? The Government's policies have bloated them further rather than cut them off at the legs.
Young people who must pay €375,000 for a three bedroomed home are forced to take a 40-year mortgage. This morning I asked a bank manager to work out the figures based on the house price I gave and he told me that, on a mere 4% constant interest, a person would have to pay a staggering €750,000 before he or she would own the home. If interest rates increase to only 6%, the house buyer would have to pay the even more staggering price of €1 million for a modest home. Young people will be in their 70s and still paying their mortgages. Is it any wonder the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is on a systematic campaign to undermine the entirely human and reasonable expectation that workers should retire at 60 or 65 years of age with a reasonable pension when Government policy on housing is utterly subservient to the capitalist marketplace and workers will be enslaved to the banks into their 70s merely to put a roof over their heads?
Why are there not foot high headlines about the extent of this extortion in the media? Every wing of the establishment is compromised in property speculation.
Rich doctors, rich lawyers and politicians are up to their necks in it. Endless acreage of advertising by house developers means endless millions in advertising revenue for newspaper proprietors. There is a powerful vested coalition of interests conspiring to cover up the extent of the rip-off of young workers and the Government is assisting those vested interests. How does the Taoiseach answer in that regard?
The only question I could pick up was that Deputy Joe Higgins asked if a review is taking place of the rent subsidy for the 60,000 people who are in receipt of it. The answer to that question is yes, such a review is taking place. It is designed to find ways and mechanisms and to encourage those concerned to use many of the schemes in place to obtain home ownership rather than to remain endlessly in receipt of rent subsidies which is against their better social interests.
On affordable housing, we are investing substantial resources in significant numbers of houses. It is envisaged that more than 15,000 units will be delivered under various affordable housing schemes this year, next year and into 2008. I gave the details of the Part V programme and the other programmes last week. The total provision of social and affordable housing was €2 billion last year. We are providing €2 billion to address the various issues.
As Deputy Joe Higgins pointed out, we spend €400 million on rent supplements each year. That money goes to private landlords. The point made by the Minister, Deputy Brennan, is that it would be far better to spend a substantial part of that money on housing, in addition to the €2 billion we are spending on social housing, rather than giving it to landlords and others involved in this business.