Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Public Order Offences.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to speak about the recent vicious attacks on both tourists and residents in Tipperary town and to condemn the disgraceful behaviour of a small group of thugs who brought shame on themselves on St. Patrick's Day, our national holiday. It was with great horror and disgust that I learned of the vicious attacks that ruined the national day festivities for so many in Tipperary. As an elected Deputy for Tipperary South which includes Tipperary town, I apologise to our American visitors and the local families who were terrorised. The attacks which left an American tourist in a serious condition in hospital as well as other residents injured after they had chosen to celebrate St. Patrick's Day on the streets of the town were despicable. It is a source of great regret that the town has received so much bad publicity since St. Patrick's Day.
It must be stated Tipperary is a beautiful town with a great sense of community spirit which was evident when so many went out to support the St. Patrick's Day parade in the town and so many community organisations and businesses entered floats. The sunshine on the day was gallant and it should have been a tremendous day for all. However, the actions of a few individuals damaged the efforts of those who had taken the time to organise the parade and festivities for everybody else.
I compliment the mayor of Tipperary, Tipperary Town Council and the St. Patrick's Day committee on their hard work in organising such a splendid parade. I was pleased to learn this morning that there was a huge Garda presence in the town area, including the emergency response unit, to address the matter. We must now examine and address the root of the problem. I compliment Superintendent Courtney and his team on their ongoing work in combating crime in Tipperary town but, unfortunately, gardaí cannot work alone and there cannot be a garda on every street corner. Some 99.9% of the citizens of the town are decent and law-abiding, as are the citizens of most towns in the country, although a small few are hell-bent on making life miserable for the rest of the community. I invite the national media to come to examine Tipperary town and try to portray some of the positive attributes of life there.
Far too often, we witness attacks on innocent people simply because they get in the way of some thugs on a bad day. There is nothing in place to allow ordinary individuals to defend themselves. Those responsible for these vicious attacks are more often than not repeat offenders who will not stop until they are behind bars or, worse, they cause somebody's death. They have no respect for others and absolutely no respect for law or order. We must deal with them when apprehended. While they are entitled to due process, to go before the courts and defend their good names, if they are found guilty and are repeat offenders, we should hit them where it hurts. The State should stop funding those found guilty of such heinous offences. They should be doing community service, trying to assist the communities in which they are wreaking havoc. I call on the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Finance and Social and Family Affairs to work together to introduce legislation to deal with those who for far too long have been terrorising ordinary law-abiding citizens. I have witnessed at first-hand what such attacks can do to a community. I have experienced the fear that can be caused if a person is confronted by thugs. I know people cannot defend themselves without putting themselves at risk of being persecuted. This is not just a problem in Tipperary town, it has also become a problem in every community throughout the country.
I have great experience with Community Alert, the national organisation which helps the Garda Síochána. Tipperary was the founding location in 1937 of Muintir na Tíre, the national community development organisation which has been based in Canon Hayes House in Tipperary town since. Today, it operates its community development programme, supporting communities and encouraging people to be proactive within their own communities. It has operated the community alert programme since 1985 in partnership with the Garda Síochána. Through its network of community councils, it operates many innovative programmes in local communities. I call on the public to come out and support the community alert groups, get involved in neighbourhood watch, be supportive of the Garda Síochána and together we can tackle these thugs and get them off our streets.
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform regrets that due to other business he is unable to be present for the debate but I assure the Deputy that he shares his concern, as I do, about the incidents in Tipperary town on St. Patrick's Day and is conscious of how distressing such incidents are for the victims and the local community. The Minister and I would like to sympathise with the victims.
There is no excuse for the type of behaviour which took place in Tipperary town on St Patrick's Day which should be a day of celebration. As the Deputy knows, I have often enjoyed the hospitality and friendship of the people of Tipperary town and the Glen of Aherlow. The Minister and I find it particularly deplorable that injuries resulted from these incidents.
I am informed that the Garda made a number of arrests shortly after the incidents took place. The persons arrested were subsequently charged with offences under public order legislation, pending ongoing investigations into more serious incidents, including a number of assaults, and were remanded in custody. Arising from the scale of the assaults, a Garda investigation team was assembled and an incident room established at Tipperary Garda station under the supervision and direction of the district officer. As part of the investigation, CCTV footage has been sought from a number of local premises. I understand the CCTV footage being examined is of high quality and expected to greatly assist the investigative process. A Garda sergeant has been appointed by local Garda management to liaise with victims. I am also informed that to assist the investigation an operation was put in place today for a large number of searches to be carried out by district and divisional personnel, supported by the regional support unit, the Garda air support unit and the Garda dog unit. A number of premises were searched and a number of persons arrested.
The incidents which took place on St. Patrick's Day in Tipperary town and other incidents coming to the attention of local Garda management in the course of the investigation are being thoroughly investigated and investigating gardaí are confident that further substantial progress will be made. The House will appreciate that I am not in a position to say more on the Garda investigation at this time. It appears that the consumption of alcohol may have played a role in the disturbances. We have to recognise that alcohol lies behind many incidents of public disorder and violence and that there is a problem with binge drinking. Strong provisions are in place to combat anti-social behaviour and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 modernised the law in this regard. Furthermore, the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 contains provisions to deal with alcohol abuse and its effect on public order. In addition, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 provides the Garda with powers to deal with late night street violence and anti-social conduct attributable to excessive drinking. The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 gives further powers to the Garda to tackle the misuse of alcohol which is often at the root of crime and anti-social behaviour. The Act places restrictions on the availability and visibility of alcohol and provides for more effective enforcement to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse. As a result of the Act, it is now possible for a garda to issue fixed charge notices for the offences of intoxication in a public place and disorderly conduct in a public place.
Operation Encounter has been in operation since 2002. It specifically targets offences contrary to the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 and the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988 which include the sale and consumption of alcohol by under-age persons. Over 520,000 offences have been detected during the operation. All members of the Garda Síochána proactively target public disorder and anti-social behaviour. Areas subject to such behaviour have been identified as hot spots by local Garda management and additional foot and mobile patrols are directed at these areas during times when the offences are more likely to occur. All such incidents detected by members on patrol or reported to the Garda are dealt with immediately and the suspected offenders are dealt with in accordance with the law.
The personnel strength of the Tipperary Garda division at the end of January, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 387 — a significant increase of 26% over four years — while the strength of the Tipperary town Garda district was 39 — an increase of 18%. It is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner to allocate personnel throughout the force, taking all relevant factors into account. Garda management will fully consider the needs of the Tipperary Garda division within the overall context of the needs of Garda divisions throughout the country. The incidents which took place on St. Patrick's Day are completely unacceptable and it is right that this House says so. I welcome the substantial progress which the Garda investigation has already made and I am glad that the Garda are confident of making further progress.