Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Question 39: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, having regard to the fact that the murder rate in the State is now the highest since the Civil War, he will outline the steps he proposes to take to deal with the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27353/07]
The number of murders is a matter of concern to me and the Government. I have been informed by the Garda authorities that 57 murders have been recorded to date in 2007, whereas 60 murders were recorded in 2006 as a whole. I have also been informed that 35 of this year's murders have been detected, which corresponds to a detection rate of 61%. Some 36 of the murders which took place in 2006 have been detected, which corresponds to a detection rate of 60%. The detection rate for murders in 2007, excluding those in which a firearm was used, is significantly higher at 78%. I have been informed by the Garda authorities that the number of murders to date this year involving firearms, most of which are attributable to so-called "gangland" or "organised" crime, is 17. This shows no increase on the figure for the same period last year. Therefore, the increase in the number of murders so far this year is not due to an increase in gang-related activity. Having said that, the level of such killings clearly remains a cause for great concern. Many murders involve acquaintances as victims and as perpetrators. It is regrettable that some killings stem from domestic violence. As the figures I have just given indicate, the Garda Síochána has an excellent record in apprehending the perpetrators in such cases. Detections in cases of organised crime are more difficult to achieve, however, as some people will stop at nothing, including killing others, to protect their drug or other criminal activity. Not only are they prepared to intimidate witnesses and their families, but they are also forensically very aware and skilled in destroying evidence.
The number of deaths involving knives is a cause for concern. We have strong penalties for offences involving knives, but we have to continue to get the message across to young people, in particular, that carrying around knives is dangerous and wrong. As part of its policing plan for next year, the Garda plans to launch an education and awareness raising programme aimed at discouraging people, especially young people and teenagers, from carrying knives. The force will also take rigorous action under the criminal law against people found carrying knives. A new agency, COSC, has been established to give priority to tackling the broad issue of domestic violence, with a particular objective of treating all instances of domestic violence as the appalling crimes they are. The Garda Commissioner has recently announced significant enhancementsto the way in which the investigation ofmajor crimes will be managed by the Garda Síochána.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
In addition to the recently announced appointment of 21 divisional detective inspectors and additional regional detective superintendents, a senior investigating officer will take charge of each serious crime investigation. Each serious crime will have a designated incident room co-ordinator. Over the lifetime of this and the last Government, we have significantly increased the strength of the Garda. The programme for Government reaffirms the commitment to a Garda strength of 15,000 by 2010 and commits the Government to increasing the strength of the force further to 16,000 by 2012. The Garda budget for this year stands at €1.44 billion compared with just over €900 million five years ago. This increase in resources is enabling the strength of the force to be increased and providing for high levels of overtime and increased civilian support. The force is pursuing an extensive programme of building, fleet modernisation, purchase of protective equipment and training. A major programme of investment in technology is under way, including a new national digital radio system, a major incident computer system and an automated fingerprint identification system. While we have seen extensive changes in the criminal law in recent years, I will introduce further legislative proposals, including a Bill to create a national DNA database. This will assist the Garda in bringing perpetrators to justice, including in cases of murder.
I would like to comment on the statistics produced by the Minister in response to my question. The forces of law and order in the State appear to be losing the battle against so-called "gangland" or "organised" crime. The 21 fatal shootings in 2005 led to just two convictions. The 27 gun murders in 2006 led to just five prosecutions, with no convictions to date. There have been 17 gangland gun murders this year, with just one prosecution pending. Such statistics are causing serious concern in communities throughout the country. Does the Minister agree that an intense and sustained programme of pressure is needed if we are to combat gang lords, bosses and members? Will the Minister give the House details of the legislative response he is considering? When the Taoiseach recently addressed this issue, he mentioned the possibility of introducing special courts to deal with crimes of this nature. What is the Minister's response to that suggestion? When speaking in Templemore recently, the Minister suggested that legislation could be introduced to accord greater powers of surveillance to the Garda. He proposed that the force be allowed to use bugging devices, for example. Can he expand on his ideas in that regard?
I would like to speak about the resources that have been allocated to deal with serious crime. The Garda budget for this year is €1.44 billion, compared with just over €900 million five years ago. Garda overtime will cost approximately €140 million this year.
A great deal of that money is being spent as part of Operation Anvil, under which the relentless pressure advocated by Deputy Flanagan is being placed on criminal gangs. The events of recent days show that results can be obtained if patience is exercised. Such results are being obtained by the Garda.
I would like to speak about the steps being taken by the Garda to combat the growth of organised crime. The Garda authorities utilise intelligence-led operations to target organised crime gangs. All available intelligence is fully analysed and used in the strategic deployment of local and specialised operational Garda units to target particular gangs. Organised crime is being targeted on a number of fronts. Uniform and plain-clothes gardaí are overtly and covertly disrupting known criminals in the course of criminal activities. Specialist units from the national support services are also assisting operations which are dealing with various aspects of this type of criminal activity. The organised crime unit of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which was established in November 2005, has been expanded. It now has 70 members working full-time to target the various criminal groups which operate throughout the country. The unit works closely with other specialist units, including the Garda national drugs unit, the special detective unit and the emergency response unit, to target those suspected of involvement in organised criminal activity. Operation Anvil, which started in 2005 and was expanded regionally last year, is an intelligence-led policing initiative. The focus of the operation is the targeting of active criminals and their associates who are involved in serious crime by preventing and disrupting their criminal activity through extensive additional overt patrolling, such as static checkpoints by uniformed officers and mobile and footpatrols.
Question 40: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the Central Statistics Office crime statistics for the third quarter of 2007; his further views on the continuing high level of crime and anti-social behaviour; the steps he will take to deal with this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27394/07]
The provisional headline crime figures for the third quarter of 2007, which were released by the Central Statistics Office recently, show that there was no increase in headline crime in the 12-month period to 30 September last. This positive outcome has been achieved despite the continuing steady rise in the population over that period. There was an increase of 2.8% in headline crime in the third quarter of the year, compared with the same quarter last year. This compares with an increase of 4% in the second quarter of this year. Some successes in combating crime are reflected in the improving trend, but a great deal of work remains to be done. The biggest challenges to be faced are the level of gangland crime and the number of murders being committed. The detection rate achieved by the Garda for murders which are not committed by firearms is excellent. Detections for murders related to organised crime, which account for most murders committed by firearms, are more difficult to achieve. This is a matter of concern, even if such murders make up a minority of all murders — 17 out of the 57 murders recorded to date in 2007. The significant improvements in the way major crimes are investigated, which were recently announced by the Garda Commissioner, will help to improve all detection rates, including those for murders connected with organised crime.
We recently learned of a number of successful operations by the Garda which resulted in the arrest and charging of a number of people following the recovery of drugs and firearms and the foiled robbery of cash in transit. It is relentless activity of this type by the Garda Síochána, under Operation Anvil in particular, which has contributed to the statistics for the third quarter showing significant reductions in the number of robberies of cash and goods in transit, down 71% in the quarter, and of robberies of an establishment or institution, down 12%.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
I welcome the increases in the number of detections for possession of drugs for sale or supply, up 26% in the year to date, and of cultivation, manufacture and importation of drugs, up 55%, which were also the result of such police work directed against those involved in organised and drug crime.
I am pleased to note that the third quarter figures also show a reduction in the overall figure for sexual crimes, down 5% in the quarter and 9% in the year to date. All five sexual crime categories showed a reduction or no change during the quarter. The figures for sexual crimes no longer show the steep declines experienced in earlier quarters. I hope that any reluctance on the part of victims to report sexual crimes, as a result of publicity surrounding court cases last year, has now dissipated and the figures better reflect the underlying reality.
The Garda Síochána Act gives the Minister the power to determine priorities for the Garda Síochána. I recently published the policing priorities for 2008. These priorities set clear objectives for the Garda Síochána which the Garda Commissioner must take into account in drawing up his policing plan for 2008. The priorities I have set show what the Government and I consider should be the focus of policing activity in crime prevention and detection.
One of the policing priorities I have identified for the Garda Síochána for 2008 is to combat, in co-operation with other agencies and the community generally, the problems of public disorder with particular emphasis on alcohol-related behaviour, including under age drinking. Combating public disorder and anti-social behaviour has been a Garda priority for some time. Operation Encounter was commenced in 2002 and targets public disorder and anti-social behaviour by specifically targeting offences contrary to public order and intoxicating liquor legislation, including the sale and consumption of alcohol by under age persons.
I am informed that all members of the Garda Síochána proactively target public disorder and anti-social behaviour and pay particular attention to areas subject to such behaviour and which have been identified as hot spots by local Garda management. Additional foot and mobile patrols are directed to these areas during the times when these offences are most likely to occur. All such incidents detected by gardaí or reported to the Garda Síochána are dealt with as quickly as possible and suspected offenders are dealt with in accordance with the law.
I recognise, as does every Member of the House and all public representatives, that anti-social behaviour can cause great distress to individuals and communities. I wish to assure Deputies that we will continue to take all measures which are open to us to address this issue.
The report from the Central Statistics Office makes grim reading, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Deputy Flanagan has asked a question about gun murders so I wish to ask about anti-social behaviour. I will instance my question by telling the House about a man who visited my clinic last Saturday. He is a single man and a night worker. Local youths know his pattern of work. They break into his property frequently; they urinate through the letter-box; they damage his property; and they send for takeaways in order to have people call to the door to test if he is in. He is forced to stay at home on occasion to defend his property when the windows are broken. He is now threatened by his employer who cannot continue to tolerate this man's absence from his duties as a night worker. Yet, the housing authority will not respond and neither will the Garda Síochána. What is that man supposed to do? I ask the Minister to instance in simple language three things he will do differently from his predecessor in this area of anti-social behaviour.
I readily accept that anti-social behaviour can make a person's life a misery. One of the priorities in dealing with anti-social behaviour is the need to address alcohol-related behaviour. I have set this priority out in my policing priorities for 2008. The Garda Síochána will drive forward the establishment of inter-agency activities working with the local authorities against anti-social behaviour, including the deployment of CCTV in urban areas. The Garda Síochána should identify local public order and anti-social behaviour hot spots and develop responsive actions and plans. The programme for Government outlines measures which will further tackle anti-social behaviour.
Extensive powers under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 enable the Garda Síochána to deal with street violence and anti-social behaviour. The 2003 Act also provides the Garda with additional powers to deal with late night street violence and anti-social conduct attributable to excessive drinking. The 2006 Act provides for the anti-social behaviour orders and this regime includes——
In practical terms, how does that affect my constituent who, like in the Minister's own constituency, is not alone? Anybody who is alone or old or vulnerable is targeted by these young thugs. They do not necessarily have any alcohol on board, yet they torment and persecute people living in their homes. The Minister points reasonably to the powers that exist but these powers are not being exercised. This man can get no relief either from the housing authority or the Garda Síochána. Community policing is under-resourced in the area and his life is a misery. He is only one of a large number of people known to me in the belt of west Tallaght, such as women living alone, lone parents, immigrants and people of a different race. This is a problem not only in the gun murder area and it is an intolerable situation. What practical advice can the Minister give to my constituent?