Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Tackling Crime: Statements (Resumed)
I am not sure if it is in order for me to join the Acting Chairman in extending a welcome to our visitors. This debate might be of great interest to them and, as legislators, we too might learn significantly from the manner in which crime, organised crime and gun law are dealt with in New York State in very difficult circumstances.
I thank the Minister for his personal comments on my appointment. I trust we will have a constructive relationship in the next few years.
I am pleased we are having this debate on crime and its threat to society but it is no coincidence it takes place in the second week of the Dáil session. It would not be happening if it were not for the dreadful incident in Dublin last week involving the shooting of a garda in the course of his duty, which underlined the serious threat to society we face on a daily basis.
As legislators representing all the citizens of this Republic, we have a solemn constitutional duty to the people of Ireland to take all appropriate steps to end criminality and ensure that people can live and work in safe, crime-free communities. In the complex society which characterises modern Ireland, crimes take place in multiple locations — from housing estates where criminal gangs establish their headquarters to the school gates where drug pushers daily target our children. The criminal justice system, therefore, must no longer be regarded as the sole preserve of the organs of State and tackling crime on our streets can no longer be regarded as a job exclusively for the Garda Síochána. The new and radically changed Ireland needs a new and radically changed approach towards crime and criminality.
The criminal justice system must be seen as embracing a set of shared responsibilities for communities, local authorities, businesses, schools, voluntary groups and parents. The primary duty of the criminal justice system is to enable law-abiding citizens to live in safety. In modern Ireland, a fundamental question has emerged — how can the justice system balance both liberty and security? Occasionally, the balance of these competing interests of security and liberty tilt and change depending on society and its needs and priorities. We urgently need to address this balance at this point.
The unacceptable face of Celtic tiger Ireland reveals a society where our elderly citizens are terrified in their homes, men and women alike are afraid to walk the streets at night, our children can obtain drugs freely in any school yard in the country and we have seen the emergence of drive-by shootings, tiger kidnappings and callous contract killings. Homes and business premises are burgled daily and bags are snatched in broad daylight to feed the drug habits of the thousands of heroin abusers who shoot up in public places with careless abandon. Last week, the media reported that one of the country's largest drug dealers had made death threats to a 16 year old schoolgirl after she was caught with €50,000 worth of rock heroin she had been storing for him in the wardrobe of her bedroom. The gang boss in question, who is currently is Spain, has threatened to murder the schoolgirl unless he receives €50,000. This is one of the sad realities of crime today.
In modern Ireland our sophisticated criminals travel abroad for practice and training in the most sophisticated firearms known to the world. The head of the Criminal Assets Bureau, Superintendent John O'Mahony, is on record as stating recently that it is only a matter of time before the ruthless foreign national groups begin operating here. Foreign criminal gangs may have already established a foothold in this city and jurisdiction.
On an all too regular basis, guns and drugs are being smuggled hand in hand into the State along the coastline. Among the weapons of choice favoured by the criminal fraternity are sawn-off shotguns and AK47s, a number of which were recently seized in Dublin, Limerick and on a halting site in Ballyfermot. The prevalence of guns has sent the murder rate soaring. Some victims have been specifically targeted while others, including Donna Cleary and Anthony Campbell, have been innocents, victimised by criminals and failed by the State. Their killings were greeted with the same pathetic refrain that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In modern Ireland crime takes place at many levels. It is not just criminal gangs wielding sawn-off shotguns. A proliferation of public order offences means that decent people are also threatened by countless petty criminals, drunken yobs, juvenile delinquents and mindless vandals who stalk the streets day and night with no regard for order or the rule of law. These petty criminals are a menace to society. Alcohol-fuelled thuggery is a major problem which requires action of an urgent nature. It is well past time that the Government faced up to the reality of criminality.
While I accept that the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has not been in the job very long, the Government has, for too long, buried its head in the sand, accusing the Opposition of scare-mongering when legitimate concerns were raised about spiralling crime and the breakdown of civic order. The infamous words, in response to a specific crime, that it constituted the last sting of a dying wasp were said by the Minister's predecessor more than two years ago. Far from the criminal gangs being eradicated during the past ten years of Fianna Fáil-led Governments, we have reached the point at which a garda, attempting to stop a stolen vehicle in broad daylight in the capital city, was shot in cold blood. I hope this heinous crime will be the catalyst to shake the Government out of its slumber and force it to face the facts.
Last year was the bloodiest and most violent in the history of the State. The most recent figures indicate that 66 homicides — one death every five days — took place in 2006. Serious assaults have increased to ten violent attacks every single day. Since the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats parties took office in 2002, well in excess of 500,000 serious crimes have been committed. Armed robbery has increased by 70% and gun related crime by more than 50%. Of the €400 million worth of property stolen, a mere 5% has been recovered.
The solution does not lie in the creation and maintenance of a repressive police state or "Big Brother" society or in restricting freedom. The law must, however, protect law-abiding citizens rather than criminals. While criminal gangs thrive, law-abiding citizens are threatened. In the debate on liberty and security, the balance between the two must be struck in the best interest of society and the overall public good.
After the tragic murder of Veronica Guerin in 1996, the State declared war on criminal gangs and established the Criminal Assets Bureau which quickly achieved many successes. The time has come for a similar new departure by the State. What is needed at national level is joined-up thinking across State agencies and Departments and a significant investment in resources, particularly in terms of manpower and state-of-the-art technology for the Garda Síochána. While the force continues to struggle with outdated radios, a lack of real-time information and a shortage of bullet proof vests, our sophisticated and well-resourced criminals will continue to have an advantage.
A recent article in the Garda Review will, I am sure, have been brought to the Minister's attention. I do not have time to cite it at length but it offers a shocking indictment. It notes, for instance, that whether a garda is equipped with a digital radio in the centre of Dublin depends on which side of the River Liffey he or she is standing because communications between the north and south sides of the city are not possible. I will, at the earliest opportunity, revert to issues such as gardaí using their personal mobile telephones and cars for business purposes.
On the matter of Garda resources, I very much welcome the presence in this State of Kathleen O'Toole, Chief Inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, and acknowledge the significant contribution she has already made in the form of the recommendations made in her first three published reports. As chief inspector, Ms O'Toole offers us her unique experience as a former Boston Police chief. She also brings with her an objective, expert view on how to address matters. When she speaks or highlights how a scandalous lack of up-to-date resources is putting gardaí at a significant disadvantage in their efforts to tackle criminality in communities, the Government must sit up and listen.
While the main focus of the debate on the Garda in recent years has been on numbers, particular focus must be placed on resources and modern equipment for those currently serving in the force. In Ireland, as in the rest of the world, a small number of repeat offenders commit the vast majority of serious crimes. For this reason, gardaí need to have access to technologies which would allow them to identify, monitor and track these career criminals.
I give a commitment from the Fine Gael benches that my party will co-operate with and give every possible support to the Minister in efforts to tackle crime and make our streets safe. Measures must include resourcing and legal reform, from the housing estate to the prison cell. In offering the support of Fine Gael to the Government, I ask in return that the Minister set himself specific targets and report to the House on a quarterly basis on progress on the many initiatives needed to bring about a change for the better.
We must consider a radical extension of summary powers of the Garda Síochána to tackle the criminals head on. A more visible Garda presence is needed in our towns, villages and urban centres. The recently established local authority police committees should be expanded nationwide. I welcome the Minister's comments in this regard and hope his initiative will bear fruit in early 2008. Juvenile liaison schemes have been useful and successful and must be beefed up and expanded. We must also take greater preventative measures by assigning greater resources to youth work initiatives and early intervention programmes for young people at risk in crime-ridden communities. In this context, money seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau must be ring-fenced and ploughed back into vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.
The introduction of a national scheme of identity cards using biometric technology needs to be assessed and progressed. This and initiatives such as the creation of a DNA database must be considered in the context of the balance between liberty and security to which I referred.
Mandatory sentencing in the criminal justice system must mean exactly that, particularly in the area of drug crime and firearms offences. All too often, this has not been the approach adopted in the courts. While I accept that section 33 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 may help, its application needs to be closely monitored. I fail to understand the reason mandatory sentences are not imposed regularly when this House has enacted legislation requiring the courts to apply mandatory sentences.
Tackling criminality should use a multi-stakeholder approach involving communities, local authorities, the business sector, schools, parents and voluntary groups. A revamped witness protection programme is urgently needed and must be placed on a statutory footing at the earliest opportunity. We need mandatory sentencing for a wider range of drug offences. Anyone handling a gun illegally should be given a minimum five-year sentence.
We need to examine the matter of legally held firearms in the State, recently extended in respect of airport authorities. There must be a clear onus on the licenceholder to act responsibly at all times and to understand the circumstances under which the licensing has taken place, to whom and for what reasons the licences have been issued and what checks will be made by the Garda Síochána to ensure the safe and careful use of the firearms. Stolen shotguns play a significant part in criminal activity. They are being stolen on a regular basis and I hope we will exercise more care in the manner in which dealer licences are issued.
Automatic releases and early remission of prison sentences should be curtailed. Anyone seeking remission should earn it through circumstances laid out clearly at the earliest opportunity after sentencing. Drugs in prison must be eradicated. The notion that crime bosses continue to operate criminal gangs from their prison cells with mobile telephones and modern communication systems is an affront to the concept of law and order in society. Where I live in Portlaoise is 150 m from two of the busiest and largest prisons in the State. I urge the Minister to visit both prisons to see at first hand the difficulties experienced in running modern prisons in Irish society.
Deputies must do all we can to ensure consistency and transparency in sentencing and the Judiciary must play its part. I hope that the setting aside of time to discuss the urgent need to tackle criminality represents a crossroads in terms of the Government's willingness to take on the growing crisis facing the State. Criminals are more sophisticated than ever and criminality has permeated every level of society. The State must respond in an equally sophisticated and multifaceted manner. Fine Gael is willing to support the Minister should he mount a widescale counteroffensive to tackle criminality and restore our civic society to one in which criminals fear the law rather than one in which the citizenry fears the criminal fraternity.
The deliberate shooting of a garda has caused widespread concern. The casual recklessness of last week's murderous attempt on the life of a member of the Garda Síochána is an assault on the democratic institutions of society. The murderous recklessness that led to the deaths of innocent civilians Donna Cleary and Anthony Campbell has caused alarm to many citizens. It is a measure of the worsening climate of unlawfulness and wanton violence that these things have come to this pass.
Thinking people are properly outraged when the impression is given in some quarters that so long as gangland figures are only killing each other, there is no acute cause for concern. Some people on this side of the House who warned of complacency leading to the shooting of an innocent civilian were ignored, but so it transpired. Few of us foresaw such a descent into violence that an unarmed member of the Garda Síochána would be the victim of a casual daylight shooting. Thankfully, Garda Paul Sherlock has survived, but the incident means the Government can no longer claim that concern about crime is exaggerated.
The Government is not alone in falling back on that argument. While most commentators who make similar claims are well intentioned, they are generally convinced that all crime is the product of disadvantage and inequality. All of the evidence indicates a definite connection between poverty and disadvantage and resort to criminal activity, but it is also apparent that the most serious criminal behaviour in today's society has little to do with social conditions and is concerned with the enormous profits to be made from criminal endeavour, in particular the trafficking of drugs.
It should go without saying that it is the duty of Government to address the causes of crime, but this does not remove the imperative to protect our citizens on the streets and in their homes. People living in the poorest areas of urban Ireland suffer most from the breakdown of law and order. The people besieged in their own homes by young thugs are the old and the vulnerable. People who are afraid to venture outside their homes or who are afraid to walk the streets at night should not be required to wait until the Government has sufficiently improved social conditions before they experience some improvement in their quality of life.
Life as it is lived in some of our most difficult estates is an unknown for many well-intentioned people who write about crime. People are deliberately targeted for persecution because they are vulnerable. Their property is damaged and they are deprived of the enjoyment of their homes. Often, they cannot get a garda when needed, nor can a garda be stationed at every corner. The areas worst afflicted are often the areas least policed. Society must accept that those who choose to disobey the laws of the land — their crimes, the pain they inflict and the damage they wreak on their own environment — threaten the rights and security of every citizen.
I was interested to read yesterday that the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, returned to his theme that violence in society may only be overcome by "the mobilisation of communities". He is correct that it is in places where society does not function adequately that anti-social behaviour finds its breeding ground. However, until such communities are rebuilt, the practical and unnerving reality is that people who would seek to lead the mobilisation would be putting themselves, their families and their property at risk. I do not disagree with the Archbishop that law alone will not set standards of behaviour, but it is not immediately clear to me how vulnerable, broken, disadvantaged and imperfect communities can rise up against those dictating criminal activity without considerable support from the State.
Part of State support for these damaged communities must be improved community policing, namely, gardaí taken from behind their desks to police communities they know and people they should get to know. I welcome the Minister's reference to the recruitment of additional civilian staff, but the civilianisation programme of the Garda has been a complete failure. During the last Dáil, a report prepared by experts for a trade union showed that not a single garda was taken from behind a desk and put into the community. Civilianisation has become the recruitment of additional civilians as distinct from putting gardaí tied up in pen-pushing duties into the community.
Given the great need for genuine partnership with the community, we must ask why there is such official resistance to proper community policing. The evidence is that where genuine community policing has been tried with the endorsement and support of senior gardaí, it has been a very considerable success. Despite the evidence, the official culture regards community policing as an add-on and concession to community and public pressure. Privately, the official view is that community policing is a soft, liberal, outdated and unworkable concept. Of course, those who comprise the official view have never lived in damaged communities themselves. The truth is that they do not know what daily life is like in communities that are terrorised by crime.
The problem is not just the corrosive impact of gangland feuds but the everyday experience of petty vandalism, intimidating youths and destruction of the local environment. In certain communities, old people must stay indoors, women are fearful walking the streets after dark and people who live alone or are different or vulnerable fear being targeted by youths who are out of control. In its most extreme manifestation, anti-social behaviour can lead to serious injury and, as in the tragic case I saw first hand in Clonmel last spring, even death.
Ronnie Flanagan once said that policing was too big to be left to the police themselves. Reforms were extracted in the last Dáil from a reluctant Government. The former justice Minister, Michael McDowell, may have been better disposed to reform than the establishment in the Department. The reforms won were less than perfect, however, and it is too early to say what impact they will have. I approached the former Minister with the idea that we should establish at local authority level local policing committees before which senior gardaí would be publicly examined in council chambers on policing effectiveness by a small number of public representatives who would develop some expertise in the area. The then Minister became persuaded of the idea, was generous enough to say in public where it came from and gave effect to it in his own way. The committees are not yet operational and will, when implemented, prove to require some adjustment.
The major reform of which we did not persuade the Minister was the need to provide for civilian oversight of policing in the shape of a Garda authority. It was interesting to hear Denis Bradley's views in evidence to the joint committee on the reform proposals. He said:
Having looked at the Bill and had discussions with the Minister, I have two difficulties. One is that there is no police authority between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the appointment of the Commissioner and senior Garda officers. The Conroy report of 1968 pointed out that this was not good for policing. Our experience in Northern Ireland is that having a political but also independent group of people acting rationally together as regards those senior appointments creates a distance between government and the police and this is something the police become extremely comfortable with after a period.
I was interested to note that in one of his first actions on becoming Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan availed of a platform in July at the McGill summer school to rebut the notion of a Garda authority as advanced by the Labour Party. In an outburst of populism, the Minister said he was very concerned about the extent to which Government was hiving off responsibilities to agencies of State thereby allowing it to "abdicate responsibility". It is a view with which many of us would agree. The Minister was very slow, however, to advance the examples he had in mind. The significant problem with the new quangos lies in the absence of accountability to the House through the Minister. While the Minister received good publicity from his remarks, it is not clear what meaning they had. Did he mean the Courts Service should be abolished and that the courts should once again be run as a branch of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform? Does the Minister think that plans in train to establish an independent Prison Service should not go ahead? There did not seem to be anyone present at the summer school with the knowledge to ask the Minister these questions.
The last Minister was given to provoking the public and Garda. When frustrated that he could not catch criminals, he expressed the intention to get his hands on the Opposition. We now have a Minister who has a far more soothing approach and will go forward on the basis that he feels our pain and will pour treacle on all these issues. The fact remains that the Garda Síochána is maintained within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform precisely to ensure that there is no public responsibility for its current operations or future. An independent Garda authority, representative of civil society, is needed to introduce an efficient, transparent regime of openness and accountability which is completely lacking currently. Direct responsibility to the Minister of the day is the single greatest roadblock to a reform package for the Garda.
The Minister said in Donegal: "I cannot be left as the Minister for Justice in a position where I have to beg the chairman of an authority to urge the Garda to take a particular course of action". How many times have his predecessors responded — and how often does he expect in future to respond — to particular crises by claiming the Garda has operational independence and is not subject to ministerial direction or control? How many parliamentary questions will the Minister refuse to answer on the basis that he has no official responsibility for the operations of the Garda Síochána? Responsibility to the Minister of the day is claimed as an essential democratic bulwark by Ministers only when they argue against establishing a new police authority with a clear mandate for oversight and change. Such responsibility, however, is absolutely denied by precisely the same Ministers when public representatives seek answers on issues of profound public importance.
It is clear that a radical reorientation of the Garda will not be delivered by the force itself or by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform whether acting in concert or isolation. I am convinced that transparent, accountable policing in partnership with local communities must be matched at national level with meaningful and appropriate civilian oversight of the Garda. An independent Garda authority would drive the agenda for reform and ensure measures were implemented rather than put on the long finger. An independent authority would have a clear remit and inject professionalism and modernism into a force which has served the country well but requires nevertheless to be updated. These goals can only be achieved by speeding up the pace of reform within the Garda which must become a modern, effective police service with a commitment to community policing, modern management and proper systems of accountability. The representative bodies within the Garda are beginning to recognise the need for change and have given a guarded welcome to the call for an independent authority. The Minister and his officials are now alone in resisting the demand for change.
I have avoided in my remarks resorting to statistics to support my arguments because real people in real communities are not concerned about statistics. They are concerned about the breakdown of law and order, the coarsening of Irish society, living in a country where thugs in broad daylight can casually use a shotgun on an unarmed garda, that innocent citizens can be the accidental victims of gangland feuding, that so many of our young people are being poisoned by drugs and at the destruction of the local environment. In any event, people do not believe the statistics. The scale of non-reporting of petty crime is growing every week because the victims cannot see the point of reporting incidents to the Garda. In brief, while statistics are falling, fear of crime is rising.
There is, however, one statistic which cannot be ignored. The casual taking of human life has become commonplace. The past two years were the worst in the history of the State for gun murders, as the Minister admitted in today's Irish Examiner. A total of 27 gun murders were committed last year and 21 in the previous year. The reason we cannot ignore these statistics is because the evidence shows the new breed of vicious criminal responsible for these gun murders believe they can escape detection. The former Minister provided figures which revealed convictions were obtained in 16% of the recorded gun murders over the past ten years. For example, of the 21 gun murders in 2005, only four were regarded as having been detected. The new breed of vicious criminal concludes from these statistics that if he or she kills or orders the killing of others, there is little chance of facing prosecution and even less chance of being convicted.
The Garda must be resourced and organised in a fashion that puts this generation of criminal gangs out of business. The new Minister must introduce legislation to put the witness protection programme on a statutory footing. A statutorily-based witness protection programme must be an essential element of the Garda response to the changing nature of crime, organised crime, gang warfare and drug trafficking. We must also have regard to the views of the Supreme Court and Special Criminal Court in that regard.
I accept that fighting crime is a complex process with no single answer but a firm determination is needed to deal with the problem effectively and with toughness. We will get the opportunity on another day to discuss the causes of crime but regardless of our analysis of causes, in which regard a look at the addresses of those in Mountjoy would be telling, it cannot deflect society from a determination to ensure crime is properly punished. We must stand with the individuals and families who have been victims of crime by supporting their entitlement to personal safety and safe communities. Ten years after the humbug of zero tolerance was exposed as a gimmick, our law-abiding citizens are not guaranteed such a basic entitlement.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a gabháil as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Tá mé ag labhairt ar an ábhar seo are feadh blianta anuas. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil ráitis ar siúl seachas reachtaíocht mar uaireanta bíonn muid ró-ghafa le reachtaíocht. I hope this debate will result in effective action rather than rhetoric so that we do not end up with the usual posturing and calls for more gardaí or legislation. We need to use the Garda Síochá na effectively and, rather than a raft of new laws, existing laws should be better targeted. We have enough on our Statute Book to deal with the major crisis our society is facing.
Tugaim féin agus tugann Sinn Féin tosaíocht do shábháilteacht an phobail. Ní gá dom ach mo theach a fhágáil maidin ar bith agus feicfidh mé, agus a lán Teachtaí eile sa Teach seo, áiteanna a bhfuil drugaí á ndíol go hoscailte iontu, áiteanna a raibh círéib nó a leithéid iontu ag an deireadh seachtaine nó an oíche roimhe. Feicimid go díreach cad é tá ag bualadh an phobail lá i ndiaidh lae. Caithfimid anois, agus an deis againn sula n-éireoidh sé ró-dhona, déileáil i gceart leis agus sin an fáth go bhfuil mé ag gníomh de réir briathra na dTeachtaí sa Teach seo, seachas an gnáth-rud a bhíonn ann le linn ráiteas, raiméis gan aon ghníomh ina dhiaidh sin.
In order to effectively deal with gangland crime, we must resolve the drugs crisis. The size of recent drugs finds should be a signal to us of the scale of the problem. Recent finds have included: seven bales of cannabis recovered from the sea off the west coast; cocaine worth €200,000 in County Kildare; heroin worth €2 million and €200,000 in Clondalkin and Cork, respectively; cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis worth €420,000 in Tallaght; cannabis worth €220,000 confiscated at Dublin Airport; heroin worth €10,000 in Galway; heroin worth €2.4 million in Dublin port; and drugs worth €200,000 in the south-west inner city. It is generally accepted that finds by the Customs and Excise and the Garda account for only one tenth of the drugs trade. Congratulations are due to the Garda, the Customs and Excise and anybody else involved in ensuring these drugs did not reach the streets but nine times that amount get through on a daily basis. The problem is not confined to Dublin city, as some would claim, but has hit every town and village throughout the country.
If we accept the scale of the problem, we have also to accept that the drugs trade is the single biggest influence on crime. Gun crimes, anti-social behaviour, mindless violence and thuggery are often associated with the misuse of cocaine, heroin or alcohol. Intimidation makes people too fearful to walk to their local shops and open drug dealing, muggings and burglaries only add to the problem. If we acknowledge the scale of this problem, we also have to accept that weapons of every calibre were recovered in the aforementioned drug seizures. The weapons entering the country with these drug shipments are sufficient to prosecute the war that drug barons have been declaring on our society over the past 30 years. Greater awareness is needed, as well as greater urgency in addressing this problem.
Only last month, the State was rightly put on full alert in response to the threat of foot and mouth disease. When that disease last threatened several years ago, we were able to shut down every port in the country and invest additional resources to clean trucks and ensure travellers from various parts of the world were screened. If we were to take the same approach to drugs, we would go some way towards dealing with the huge quantities of drugs which are entering our country. That is a topic of urgency.
We must address the causes for people's involvement in drugs, which are poverty and disadvantage, as well as the results in terms of those who seek methadone and other treatments. I urge the Minister for Health and Children to ensure methadone treatment services are not disrupted by the dispute between her Department, the HSE and pharmacists. If that happens, much greater quantities of drugs will be sold on our streets than is currently the case. Many people who have tried to turn their lives around would end up back on heroin.
This morning I met the Garda inspectorate as part of our efforts to ensure the Garda Síochána tackles crime effectively and it was a worthwhile meeting. Some of the points made in a recent report were very welcome. I take this opportunity to appeal to the Government, particularly the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to ensure the Garda Síochána is given the basic tools with which to tackle crime, for example, a proper radio system to allow communication between gardaí. The radio system in question has been in a pilot phase for far too long. Other countries around the world have been using it for the past 30 years and it should be rolled out immediately. The Government should also ensure the Garda Síochána has cars and other equipment, including mountain bikes, required to deal with crime. The stations from which gardaí operate should also be conducive to good policing.
We welcomed the joint policing committees when they were being set up and would have liked them to go further. We have actively worked in the committees since they were initiated and urge the Minister to roll out all joint policing committees throughout the State. We also urge all Members of this House to play a full role on the committees because my experience to date suggests a very limited number of Oireachtas Members are playing such a role in Dublin. Hopefully the joint policing committees will be rolled out to allow communities to play a role, have their voices heard and have the Garda act upon their concerns.
The Cabinet yesterday discussed the Government's priorities for a policing plan and we made a submission to the Garda Commissioner in that regard. Hopefully he will take on board some of the points we raised to ensure the Garda Síochána lives up to its responsibilities in terms of tackling drug related crime and anti-social behaviour. We believe the policing plan must reflect the priorities of communities and that it must commit gardaí to working in partnership with those communities. We also feel that there should be a move towards an all-island police service. Communities can influence local policing plans through the JPCs and hopefully this will happen in the near future.
We seek police services, north and south of the Border, that can attract widespread support from the host community. There are areas throughout the State where communities are suspicious of the Garda Síochána, have turned their backs on the force and are afraid to co-operate with gardaí. This issue must be tackled and we must be imaginative in how we achieve this. I have often called, in this House and at the joint policing committee, for the pilot scheme on stopping drug dealing in the Minister's constituency, Baile Bhlainséir, to be expanded. That initiative provided an anonymous phone line, not run by the Garda Síochána, that meant people were less wary of being targeted for trying to rid the community of drugs. This is a major concern because some people who willingly help the Garda Síochána are then targeted by the drug barons and their sidekicks and this discourages others. This matter can be addressed and for a small amount of money the aforementioned initiative could be helpful.
In our submission we made a number of key recommendations on deployment and resourcing priorities and I believe they will help build on the trust, confidence and co-operation required between communities and the Garda Síochána. Simple things, such as gardaí on mountain bikes or targeting hot-spots of anti-social behaviour, will encourage people to engage with the Garda and break the perception that gardaí are unwilling to respond or will only sit in the station or in their cars.
The bulk of the recommendations in our section were based on a large piece of research we conducted in the first few months of this year surveying households across Dublin. The findings were similar to those of other surveys carried out by national newspapers and others. We found that more than one third of respondents identified drug abuse, drunk and rowdy behaviour, threatening and intimidating behaviour, discarded needles and syringes and drug dealing as serious problems in their communities.
Some 52% of respondents were personally affected by anti-social behaviour in the past 12 months, yet only 60% of them reported the matter to the Garda Síochána. I found this part of the survey most disturbing. Many of those who reported the incidents to the Garda Síochána felt that they received no clear response, that there were lengthy delays or that a lack of interest was shown. They complained that sometimes gardaí failed altogether to respond. Many Deputies will know of constituents with similar experiences. This all fosters low public expectations of the Garda response and makes people less likely to contact the Garda again.
We asked how the Garda Síochána should tackle crime and anti-social behaviour and build community response. A common suggestion in Dublin among the almost 1,000 respondents was that gardaí on foot patrol, youth liaison officers, community gardaí and gardaí on bikes rather than in patrol cars and vans are needed. Greater visibility of gardaí is required.
We request that resources be made available to allow gardaí to get back on the street and win community confidence. We also seek extra resources to be dedicated towards the Garda drugs unit to help tackle the biggest cause of crime in our society. Drug barons and dealers have declared war on society.
On a point of order, I believe that Deputy Peter Power has ten minutes to speak, but that is somewhat pointless if it means we are to revert to another speaker with only a minute left. Does the Acting Chairman see my point?
I congratulate Deputy Brian Lenihan on his appointment as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Most Members of the House will agree it is one of the most onerous Ministries to hold, but I do not doubt that he has the capacity, experience, ability and skill to discharge his duties in this difficult Ministry. I know he will have the support of all Members as he seeks to deal with the difficult issues surrounding crime that face the country.
I take this opportunity, perhaps the last one I will have, to compliment the outgoing Commissioner, Noel Conroy, on his successful tenure as Commissioner of the Garda Síochána. During the years I was a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights he always made himself available and gave much time to assist it in its work. He was also assisted on many occasions by the incoming commissioner, commissioner designate, Fachtna Murphy. I wish him well in his work over the coming years.
I welcome this opportunity to discuss and make statements on crime. Like others, I welcome the format of the debate, namely, that it is not by way of motion in an adversarial way with accusation and counter accusation. We need to send a clear message from the House, political system and Government to the criminal fraternity and general society that we are united on one element, namely, that we are sending the clearest message to the new breed of criminal, the new crime boss and new criminal gangs who operate here that there is unanimity across the political spectrum that in respect of whatever measures need to be taken we will not be found wanting. As in the case of Northern Ireland policy, there will be cross party unanimity as to what needs to be done to tackle some of the most serious issues. We are dealing with an entirely new breed of ruthless and sophisticated criminal — people who have no respect for the State. A parallel can be drawn between this type of criminal activity and the type of criminal activity practised by so-called republican paramilitary groups in the past whereby these criminals' respect for the State is non-existent and their fear of the State can often be non-existent. We must introduce measures and enforce the existing legislation in a way to reverse that trend that has developed in recent years.
Before dealing with some of the issues it is important to keep a level of perspective on the crime levels facing this country. What has given rise to this debate is the development of serious and unwelcome trends in recent weeks and months in regard to gun crime in particular. That is a worry but we need to keep a level of perspective on it. While one crime is one too many, any interpretation of the crime figures must factor in the increase in population here but also take into account that, by any international standard, crime levels here are relatively low. Serious crime levels here in comparison to other western European countries are low. In 1995, with a population of 3.6 million here there were 28 crimes per 1,000 of the population, while in the UK in the same period crimes per 1,000 of the population were 111, five times the level of crime here at the time. We must keep some level of perspective in all of this.
While crime statistics taken over time are an indication of trends in the crimes committed, we should never lose sight of the fact that each crime is one too many. Crime statistics, of their nature, cannot give a picture of the suffering and damage caused within communities. In that respect, I am mindful particularly of public order offences and anti-social behaviour which, by their nature, tend not to make the headline crime figures but for many people and communities throughout the country, this level of crime can impact on them more than some of the more serious crimes including that of murder. It sounds a contradiction that a community can be affected more seriously by anti-social behaviour on a Saturday night where windows are broken, elderly people are victimised and people are intimidated than by a murder, but that is the case and we must not lose sight of that.
Gun crime is a cause of concern. Since the beginning of August the Minister pointed out that there were 18 murders and manslaughters. That is not acceptable. There are no depths to which the drug-fueled and ruthless criminals of today, particularly those involved in the drugs trade, are prepared to stoop to avenge slights and enforce their particular brand of authority within their criminal gangs. Therefore, we need to match that with an equal level of determination and ruthlessness to tackle them head on. In that regard, I am mindful of using the most sophisticated methods, including the most modern and technically advanced levels of surveillance. As the Minister will be aware, currently, there is debate Britain as to the admissibility of surveillance evidence, covert evidence and bugging, electronic and eavesdropping technology. I see no reason we should not examine and use, in so far as it is practical given the costs involved, such modern technology to tackle these gangs head on. While respecting constitutional safeguards which we have always done here, I see no reason we should not use an enhanced level of sophisticated, modern eavesdropping technology on gangs, admissible in court where practicable, to secure convictions of these people who have no respect for the State.
In my constituency in Limerick we have had a particular problem with gangs over a number of years but mostly with gangs centred around certain families in limited areas throughout the city. Despite much media commentary and coverage, the Garda and the organised crime unit at the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation have had significant successes. They need to be complimented on keeping a lid on what could be an altogether worse situation.
The Criminal Justice Act initiated in the previous Dáil in 2006 introduced some new stringent measures in terms of minimum sentencing, firearms control and evidence which are welcome, but I echo what Deputy Charles Flanagan said about the provision of minimum sentencing. It is a seriously worrying trend that the courts are not implementing and enforcing minimum sentences which are laid down by the Oireachtas. The Minister sets out the priorities on the advice of the House and Government. We set out the priority areas that we want to tackle and it is up to the courts to enforce those priorities and the minimum sentences which we set down.
The Minister will be familiar with John Fitzgerald's report which was adopted unanimously by Government, which I wholeheartedly welcome. In it Mr. Fitzgerald suggested that in order to contain — that is the word he used — a difficult situation in very troubled areas of the city 100 extra gardaí need to be put on the beat immediately. I implore the Minister to make sure that all appropriate resources are made available to make that recommendation a reality in Limerick. In so far as it has been implemented in part already, it has been a success. Mr. Fitzgerald made the point in his report, with which I wholeheartedly agree, that there is no point in the Government expending billions of euro on regenerating troubled parts of our city unless there is matching resources for the Garda to tackle and contain the criminal fraternity and criminal problems which gave rise to those difficulties.
While I said that crimes of anti-social behaviour are not included in the headline figures, collectively, they cause a serious threat to our communities and we need to tackle such crime head on. I welcome what the Minister said about the number of warning notices which have been issued.
I welcome this opportunity to have a seriously constructive and informed debate on this issue. I wish the Minister well in his new job and reiterate that he will have the support of this side of the House in his endeavours to bring forward his priorities and implement them in government.