Dáil debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

2:30 pm

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Question 81: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures he proposes to put in place to deal with the continual rising levels of crime. [36427/06]

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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The trend in the headline crime statistics for the three quarters to date in 2006 has been positive. The provisional headline crime statistics for the third quarter — the most recent — show a decrease of 1.6% for the quarter compared with the same quarter in 2005. These statistics are the first crime statistics to be published independently by the Central Statistics Office following my decision that new arrangements should be put in place for their publication.

With regard to longer-term crime trends, the level of headline crime in 2005 was lower than that in 2002 by 4.4%. Furthermore, in 1995, when we had a population of 3.6 million, there were 29 serious crimes per 1,000 of the population, while in 2005, with a population of more than 4.1 million, there were 24.6 crimes per 1,000 of the population — 15% fewer crimes per 1,000 of the population. By way of comparison, during 1995 and 1996 there were 29 and 28 crimes per 1,000 population in each of those years.

I am determined that any trends which emerge are addressed as they are identified and that as a result we continue to enjoy crime rates which are low by European standards. To this end I am active on two fronts, by providing the personnel and resources to the Garda Síochána which it requires and by updating the criminal law where that is necessary.

In October 2004, I announced that I was proceeding with the Government's proposal to recruit 2,000 additional gardaí over the life of the Government and an implementation plan to achieve that expansion was drawn up in consultation with the Garda Commissioner. The plan, published in November 2004, envisaged a recruiting strategy that would see the combined strength of the force reaching 14,044 gardaí, including trainees, by the end of 2006. The overall strength of the force, including recruits in training is now 14,137. We have delivered on our target well ahead of schedule because instead of recruiting 1,050 in each year, we increased the number to 1,100.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The expansion of the Garda Síochána is fully on target. Since the first quarter of 2005, approximately 275 recruits have been inducted to the Garda Training College each quarter. This has resulted in the personnel strength, all ranks, of the Garda Síochána increasing to a record 12,762 on Friday, 8 September 2006, following the attestation of 249 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702, all ranks, as at 30 June 1997 and represents an increase of 2,060, 19%, in the personnel strength of the force during that period. The induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November 2006 has resulted in a combined strength, of both attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137.

Excellent progress has been made on the establishment of the Garda Reserve. More than 7,000 have applied to join the reserve. Reserve members will provide valuable support for their full-time colleagues and will enhance the capacity of the Garda Síochána to respond to emerging policing challenges and allow for more gardaí to be visibly deployed on the street. The first group of trainees are due to graduate in December.

The Garda budget now stands at €1.3 billion, which represents a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms. In addition to expenditure on operations, these resources are also being used to provide required facilities. Most recently, significant property has been purchased in Tipperary to provide a major tactical and practical training centre for the force. This will enable a broad range of training facilities to be developed.

High on the Government's list of policing priorities for 2006, which have been incorporated into the Garda Síochána policing plan for the year, is the continued targeting of organised crime, in particular drug trafficking, and the gun culture associated with it, through the use of specialist units and targeted, intelligence-led operations. To achieve this, Operation Anvil commenced in the Garda Dublin Metropolitan Region in May 2005, and it was extended nationwide in 2006 at my request. It is an intelligence-led policing initiative, the focus of which is the targeting of active criminals and their associates involved in serious crime by preventing and disrupting this criminal activity through extensive additional overt patrolling and static checkpoints by uniform, mobile and foot patrols, supported by armed plain-clothes patrols. The operation remains in place and is ongoing. Additional resources have been made available this year for the operation of €11 million, with an additional €10 million made available for further operations to tackle gang related crime. Operation Anvil will continue to be funded to the extent and as long as the Commissioner considers it is necessary to do so and it is fulfilling its objectives.

Operation Anvil has proved to be very successful in disrupting the criminal activities of a number of key criminal gangs. It has resulted in a number of high-profile arrests and the acquisition of intelligence on the movements of criminals. Notable improvements have been achieved in recorded crime in the target crime areas under the operation.

With regard to legislative measures, the Deputy will be aware that the Criminal Justice Act 2006 provides a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures which will enhance the powers of the Garda in the investigation and prosecution of offences. In addition, the Act contains an essential updating of our criminal 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 updates and strengthens the law on firearms. With effect from 1 November, mandatory minimum sentences, of between five and ten years, came into effect for certain firearms offences, including 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. There are also new offences concerning the modification of firearms such as "sawing-off" a shotgun.

The Act also contains provisions to deal with anti-social behaviour. It empowers a senior member of the Garda Síochána to apply to the District Court by way of a civil procedure for an order which will prohibit an adult from behaving in an anti-social manner. Separate provision is being made for young people. The Act introduces provisions for behaviour orders for children aged 12 to 18 years into the Children Act 2001 and the protections of that Act will apply. There will be a series of incremental stages, with parental involvement, preceding an application for a behaviour order. These include a warning, a good behaviour contract and referral to the Garda juvenile diversion programme. Only after these stages can a behaviour order be sought through the courts.

Work is under way in the Garda Síochána to make the necessary internal arrangements to ensure the smooth introduction of these new procedures. As soon as these arrangements are in place, and following consultations between my Department, the Office of the Minister for Children and the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, the relevant provisions of the Act will be commenced.

Work is also under way on putting the necessary arrangements in the Garda Síochána to introduce the provisions in the Act whereby a fixed charge notice can be issued for the public order offences of disorderly conduct in a public place and intoxication in a public place.

A criminal justice miscellaneous provisions Bill is being drafted. The Bill will introduce a number of changes and improvements in the operation of the criminal justice system, give legislative effect to a number of international instruments relating to criminal law and facilitate the operation in Ireland of the Schengen Information System. Work is also proceeding on a Bill to provide for the establishment on a statutory basis of a DNA database.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The people will not be reassured by the Tánaiste's response. He seems to be in denial that we have a huge problem with crime. Does he not accept that headline crime, serious crime generally, recognising the Garda statistics has increased my more than 40% since 2000? Does the Tánaiste not recognise that even the recent CSO statistics clearly show that by comparison with his first full year in office, 2003, violent crime in the past 12 months has seriously escalated and is now virtually out of control? Does he not accept that over the period to which I refer, murders have increased by 25%, rapes have increased by 33% and firearms offences have increased by 43%? Does he not agree that these figures are of concern and that unless they are accepted as being such there is no hope of confronting them? The Tánaiste's main problem is that he is in denial of the extent of the problem.

Does the Tánaiste know about a study recently carried out in Dublin, as reported in today's Irish Independent, which indicates that three quarters of the people in Dublin live in fear of being assaulted? The study found that 88% of females are scared to walk in their own areas at night for fear of being attacked.

The Tánaiste has trotted out his figures for members of the Garda Síochána. Would he not accept that pompously parading like a peacock in Templemore, pretending that newly recruited student gardaí are out on the beat is not the answer to this problem? Would he not accept that four and a half years ago he stated in his party's manifesto — I presume it was drafted by him at the time — that his party would increase the strength of the Garda Síochána by 2,000 members? In the same election campaign, the Fianna Fáil manifesto stated that the planned strength for 2002 of 12,000 would be reached and if elected to serve in Government, Fianna Fáil would expand the Garda Síochána by a further 2,000. That was four and a half years ago and we have still not reached 13,000. We do not have even half the promised increase. The Tánaiste talking about what he said in 2004 is not the issue.

Does he not recognise that the people are paying the price for the absolute neglect of the Government? I do not blame the Minister alone. He told me in 2004 that he could not get the money to put the extra recruitment in place at the time. The then Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, was holding on to the purse strings. All the members of Government are in the one boat; they are all responsible. This was a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats commitment and it has not been delivered. Does the Minister accept that, in the meantime, the people have been paying the price? Nowhere is safe now. People walk the streets in fear. They do not feel safe in their own homes. A five-year-old child standing outside his grandmother's house is not safe from the depths of depravity to which the criminals in this country have sunk and which they are being let get away with by the Government.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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The time for dealing with this question is almost exhausted.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I listened carefully to what the Deputy said. The first thing to bear in mind is that the number of crimes per thousand of the population has gone down significantly since 1995. With an increasingly urbanised population, the amount of criminality per 1,000 people has reduced significantly.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Counting differently.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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The second point is that the Deputy will be aware, if he wants to deal with manifestos in the last election, that neither his party nor the Labour Party promised any increase in Garda resources.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is taking credit for promising an increase and not delivering.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I ask you to ask the Deputy to allow me answer the questions he put.

The third point is that it is no surprise they offered no increase in Garda strength because when last in office together they allowed the number of gardaí to fall, much to their perpetual disgrace.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Perpetual.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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When they had responsibility for strengthening the Garda Síochána, they allowed the strength of the force to fall.

Regarding firearms, the Deputy is aware that we recently concluded the amnesty with regard to firearms. Over 500 firearms were handed in during the course of that amnesty. During the debate in this House, it was agreed that the firearms amnesty should not be an anonymous——

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is a question later on firearms.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I will answer the Deputy's question later; he should not worry. I am answering Deputy O'Keeffe now since he raised the question of firearms.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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No, I——

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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We have gone over time on this question. We must move on to the next question.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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This is not a conversation. I am supposed to be answering questions. I am not engaging in conversation with the Deputy.

Regarding the firearms amnesty, it was agreed during the passage of the legislation through this House that it would be wrong to organise an amnesty in which weapons could be handed up anonymously because murder weapons could be handed up in those circumstances which would prevent any proper investigation. Deputy O'Keeffe sought in the meantime to renege on what was agreed in the House and to suggest that the firearms amnesty was a failure because it did not have the numbers that would follow from a completely anonymous amnesty. The Garda Síochána advised me, and the House accepted at the time, that the amnesty should be done on the basis that anyone handing in a firearm would do so in circumstances——

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Minister should answer the question.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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——where they accounted for them.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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We must move on to Question No. 82.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Am I permitted to respond?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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We spent almost nine minutes on that question.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Minister made an assault on the Deputy and he has no opportunity——

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I did not make an assault on anybody.