Dáil debates

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015: Second Stage


2:45 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to present the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015 to this House. The Bill, on which I and the Department have been working for a number of months, is targeted at those repeat burglars who have previous convictions and are charged with multiple offences of residential burglary. It strengthens the provisions for refusal of bail and provides for tougher sentencing for repeat home burglars.

Burglary is a persistent and highly damaging crime, particularly in the very distressing situations where householders may be assaulted by the criminals involved. I am conscious of the serious impact of these offences on individuals, families and communities and I recognise the public concern at these crimes. The importance of the home is recognised by Article 40.5 of the Constitution which states: "The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law." The courts have recognised that burglary of a person's home is a heinous and traumatic crime. In its judgment in the 2006 case of DPPv.Barnes,the Court of Criminal Appeal stated: "The offence of burglary committed in a dwellinghouse is in every instance an act of aggression, an attack on the personal rights of the citizen as well as a public crime and is a violation of him or her."

The background to this Bill is that earlier this year, in response to concern about a rise in domestic burglaries, I initiated an urgent and broad review of the criminal justice system's response to the problem. The review included a focus on interagency measures in relation to the management of prolific offenders, visible policing, crime prevention support for communities, and an examination of legislative issues. As part of the review, I convened and chaired a high-level meeting, which was attended by the Garda Commissioner, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service to look specifically at this issue and decide what legislative action we could best take.

An important fact which emerged during the review was the finding that a large proportion of domestic burglaries are committed by serial offenders. Figures from the Garda Síochána analysis service indicate that approximately 75% of property offences are committed by 25% of offenders. I have been consistent in my view that serious offenders and serial offenders must continue to be imprisoned. Public safety is of paramount importance and I am absolute about this. In this regard, I firmly believe that targeting the small, hardened cohort of repeat burglars has the very real potential to significantly reduce the number of burglaries being committed. With this in mind, the review I referred to identified two key problems which can be tackled by legislation. One relates to repeat offenders who are granted bail despite being charged with multiple burglaries and who often commit further burglaries while on bail. The other relates to the fact that relatively short sentences can be imposed by the courts when multiple burglary offences are taken into account.

There is evidence of a high rate of recidivism for burglary. Data from the 2013 Irish Prison Service recidivism study show a recidivism rate of over 79% among persons imprisoned for burglary and related offences. Data from the 2008-13 Probation Service recidivism study show a recidivism rate of 49% among persons engaging with the Probation Service for burglary and related offences. These recidivism rates are the highest rate for any offence group. They are considerably higher than the overall recidivism rates indicated by both studies.

Tackling crime and burglaries remains a top priority for the Government and for An Garda Síochána. I am in close contact with the Garda Commissioner to ensure that the policing response is effective and that Garda operations take account of evolving trends and patterns in burglary offences, both in rural and urban areas.

In recent times, Garda strategy to counter burglaries and related crimes has been co-ordinated under Operation Fiacla, which is a national operation targeting burglary by using an intelligence and analysis-led approach. In support of Operation Fiacla, there are burglary related operations in place in each Garda division. Special targeted patrols have been implemented with the assistance of Garda national support services against criminal groups. These arrangements have also targeted the use of motorways by criminal gangs and have contributed to the arrest of a number of high-priority suspects. The sustained Garda response under Operation Fiacla has produced many successes in disrupting those involved in this type of criminal activity. As of 31 August 2015, Operation Fiacla had led to 14,381 arrests, with 8,181 persons charged. I congratulate An Garda Síochána for this work in detecting and dealing with these crimes and bringing people to court.

Work is progressing on updating the Garda operational response to burglary. Recently, I authorised €700,000 for new specialised vehicles to support the Garda in responding to current and emerging crime threats, including burglaries committed by highly-mobile gangs. This is being supported by the allocation of €1.75 million to An Garda Síochána to upgrade surveillance equipment on Garda aircraft, including infra-red cameras for night-time use which will greatly enhance the capacity of gardaí to monitor and track mobile gangs and tackle night-time burglars. More generally, this Government has invested nearly €29 million in new Garda vehicles since 2012, with 370 new vehicles coming on stream since the start of this year. The Government's investment in new Garda vehicles clearly supports the Garda in being mobile, responsive and visible in the community, both urban and rural, as well as being critical to supporting the work of the Traffic Corps and national units. More particularly, in terms of rural policing, our priority has been focused on delivering highly-mobile and responsive Garda patrols in rural communities which are being supported by this Government's ongoing level of investment in new vehicles.

I emphasise this investment is only the start. The Government's Capital Plan 2016-2021, published on Tuesday, includes an unprecedented allocation of €875 million in capital funding along with approval for further public-private partnership projects in the justice sector. I welcome particularly the total allocation of €46 million for Garda vehicles, which proves the Government's ongoing priority commitment to ensure that the Garda fleet is modern, effective and fit-for-purpose. Funding will be provided for both regular Garda patrol vehicles as well as specialist, high-power vehicles for targeted operations.

On Tuesday, I announced the substantial additional investment of €205 million in new technology and systems for An Garda Síochána, which delivers my commitment to progress important much needed reforms of An Garda Síochána on foot of last year's comprehensive report from the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. What will this ICT do? The allocation will deliver new systems which will ensure a more responsive deployment of gardaí in the community and improved Garda response times. Let me give some examples of the new integrated systems to be developed through this investment. Let us be clear we do not have these at this time because the investment has not been made previously to upgrade ICT within An Garda Síochána to ensure it has the kind of technology it needs to respond in the most effective way.

This new investment will mean that we have a new computer-aided dispatch system to ensure more responsive and co-ordinated deployment of gardaí in the community and to improve Garda response times. This is very important to deal with changing crime trends.

As we know, the trends in criminal activity vary all of the time. Another example is mobile technology to give gardaí secure mobile access to critical information when and where they need it while another example relates to investigations management systems to ensure enhanced management of crime investigations. The latter was highlighted by the Garda Inspectorate report last year which highlighted the fact that the gardaí had the technology to record the initial reporting of a crime but did not have the appropriate technology to have an investigation management system that could be shared around the country. Given the mobility of criminals not just nationally but internationally, having an investigation management system that is up to date is essential to enable the gardaí to have data that can give up-to-date information on where an investigation is at a particular moment in time. Extending the roll-out of automated number plate recognition to enhance policing of road safety and compliance is very important and speaks for itself. These and other new technology solutions will start immediately and some will be in place before the end of the year. They will cut back on the amount of time involved in paperwork so that gardaí can spend more time engaged in visible front-line policing in communities. With this investment, we will consign outdated paper-based practices to the dustbin and equip our police service for the digital era. I think everybody is agreed that this is an essential part of the investment that is needed in An Garda Síochána over the next period of time.

In addition to the ongoing construction of three new divisional headquarters in Kevin Street in Dublin, Galway city and Wexford town, I also announced on Tuesday that €18 million is being provided for the refurbishment of Garda stations throughout the country. In addition, a new public-private partnership project will be developed to provide new Garda stations at a number of locations throughout the State as well as providing new facilities such as modem property and exhibit management stores in a number of Garda stations throughout the country so where the gardaí have confiscated material of one sort or another, they will have the resources and facilities to store it appropriately. This can only help in court when they are producing evidence and ensure that there are more convictions. I will announce further details of all these projects in due course.

Of course, the fight against burglaries and crime generally will be aided greatly by the Government's decision to recruit new gardaí. In September 2014, the Government re-opened the Garda College in Templemore for new recruits for the first time since 2009. The fact that Templemore was not recruiting from 2009 until we opened its doors in 2014 had a detrimental impact on Garda resources around the country. I am very pleased that as a Government, we were in a position to begin steady recruitment of new gardaí once again. Since we opened Templemore, four intakes of new Garda trainees have entered the Garda College giving a total intake of just under 400 recruits. Of these, 290 have already attested and are now working in communities nationwide. New recruits who have emerged from Templemore have been assigned. In addition, 150 more recruits are due to enter the Garda College by the end of the year. This will bring to 550 the total number of Garda trainees recruited under this Government between September 2014 and 2015. It is my intention that there will be ongoing recruitment of Garda trainees throughout 2016. This ramped-up recruitment underscores the Government's determination to deliver an effective and responsive police service to protect our communities and respond to emerging crime trends.

The gardaí continue to pursue a range of measures to support elderly and more vulnerable people in the community working closely with Community Alert and other schemes and groups. Deputy Stanton, who is chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, told me earlier that Community Alert will celebrate its 30th anniversary very shortly. Great credit is due to those people who initiated Community Alert, Neighbourhood Watch and other community groups. They are essential. I believe many communities around the country are increasingly becoming involved in a variety of these schemes and this is also an essential part of communities feeling safer and helping the gardaí in their local areas. I have met many of the groups involved. Community partnership has been particularly evident in the success of the Garda Text Alert scheme. Since it was launched in September 2013, this initiative has developed as an important crime prevention mechanism. There are over 600 local groups involving in excess of 120,000 subscribers. This is a great example of voluntary effort, community responsibility and citizens supporting each other. An estimated 200,000 text messages are sent each month under the scheme. I am informed that every Garda division, rural and urban, now offers the Text Alert service and An Garda Síochána has published guidelines to assist in the establishment and operation of local groups. It is clear from meeting the groups involved in running this that it takes some time to begin to set it up, use it properly and develop the liaison with the local gardaí. The local gardaí are there to work with the community to make sure it is working effectively.

I am aware of the concerns that have been expressed regarding the risk that "cash for gold" and other outlets which purchase second-hand jewellery and precious metal from the public could be used by criminal elements to dispose of stolen goods, particularly from home burglaries. I recently announced a public consultation on the possible regulation of "cash for gold" outlets and the second-hand sale of precious metals. A consultation document setting out a number of policy options for mitigating risks in this area is available on my Department's website. The closing date for receipt of submissions is 30 October 2015.

I wish to comment on the reform of bail. Deputies will also be aware that I published the general scheme of a new bail Bill in July. This new Bill will seek to improve the operation of the bail system and make the law as effective as possible in protecting the public against crimes committed by persons on bail while also safeguarding the rights of the accused person. I have outlined a range of initiatives which are being taken to confront repeat offenders and protect households and businesses around the country. I am confident that these measures, including new legislation and targeted Garda operations, will strengthen my carefully considered approach to dealing with serial offenders and supporting improved community safety.

I will now outline the provisions of the Bill, dealing first with bail in burglary cases. Section 1 seeks to ensure that prolific burglars can be refused bail in appropriate cases. At the outset, it is necessary to recall that a decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the court which is, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of its judicial functions. There is a constitutional presumption in favour of bail because in the eyes of the law, a person is innocent until proven guilty. Prior to 1997, bail could be refused essentially only on the grounds that a person would be likely to abscond or interfere with witnesses or evidence. Section 2 of the Bail Act 1997, which gave effect to the Sixteenth amendment of the Constitution, permits the courts to refuse bail to a person charged with a serious offence where refusal of bail is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. Burglary offences are designated as serious offences for the purposes of the Bail Act. However, it is clear that prolific burglars with numerous previous convictions are repeatedly granted bail despite Garda objections even when charged with a series of burglaries. Section 1 of the Bill will deal with this issue. We outline in the Bill how bail is to be dealt with. We have many new sections relating to that.

We also deal with consecutive sentences for burglary. Section 2 deals with that and will insert a new section 54A into the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. The new section will require a court which decides to impose custodial sentences for multiple domestic burglary offences committed within a 12-month window to impose such sentences consecutively. The new section applies only to a "relevant offence", which means a burglary or aggravated burglary. The provisions will apply only to adults previously convicted of a domestic burglary committed in the five years before the burglary offence for they are being sentenced. There are a number of new subsections which outline the various circumstances where it will apply.

Subsection (1) of the new section 54A will apply where an adult:

(a) is being sentenced to imprisonment for a domestic burglary,

(b) was convicted of another domestic burglary committed in the 5 years before the offence for which he or she is currently being sentenced, and

(c) was sentenced to imprisonment for another domestic burglary committed in the period starting 6 months before and ending 6 months after the burglary offence for which he or she is now being sentenced.

In such a case, any sentence of imprisonment which the court chooses to impose for the burglary for which the person is currently being sentenced must be consecutive to any sentence of imprisonment imposed for the prior domestic burglary offences.

Subsection (2) makes it clear that where a prior burglary offence would come within paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (1), that offence may be considered for the purpose of satisfying either paragraph (b) or (c) but not both.

Subsection (3) provides that subsection (1) will apply only where the burglary offence for which the person is being sentenced was committed after the Bill comes into operation, and will apply irrespective of whether the other offences were committed before or after that date.

Subsection (4) provides that the aggregate term of imprisonment for consecutive sentences imposed by the District Court under the new provisions can extend to but not exceed two years. No such restriction, of course, will apply to the Circuit Court.

Subsection (5) provides that a reference in subsection (1) to a conviction for a relevant offence includes a conviction that is currently under appeal.

Subsection (6) defines "dwelling" and "relevant offence" for the purposes of the new section.

The discretion of a court to impose or not impose a custodial sentence will not be restricted by the new provisions.

Section 3 is a standard provision providing for the Short Title and commencement of the Bill.

I wish to mention a newspaper opinion piece from The Sunday Timesof 20 September, which reflected on the effects of burglaries in rural communities. It concluded that the new Bill would be a lever for change which would have the effect of:

obliging the criminal justice system to lock up violent, repeat criminals, while dealing more humanely with non-violent offenders - it should be welcomed as a progressive measure. And rural Ireland will be a safer place on winter nights.

I would also add urban Ireland.

The Bill targets repeat burglary offenders through bail measures and provisions concerning the imposition of consecutive sentencing for repeat offending. The key objective of the legislation is to target a cohort of persistent offenders who prey on law-abiding householders and clearly have no concern for the damage and distress they inflict on other people. The Bill is designed to keep these repeat burglars off the streets and to improve the safety of our communities.

I hope the Bill will be passed by the Dáil and Seanad as early as possible. I commend the Bill to the House.

3:05 pm

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome that the Minister has introduced the Bill, which will go some way towards addressing the appalling situation, with the CSO crime statistics showing that we are effectively losing the battle against crime on a number of fronts. I acknowledge that CSO statistics indicate some areas of improvement. The Government has been behind the curve for many reasons - not the fault of the Minister, I credit her with that - in coming to terms with the issues that Deputies have been raising in the House and people throughout the country have been raising at public meetings.

I spent most of last Thursday at the National Ploughing Championships. One of the significant themes of discussion at the event was the issue of rural crime. People need reassurance and need to know that we get it. I know that I get it and that the Minister gets it. The question is whether everybody else gets it. Those in our communities, particularly elderly people, have been under siege. Unfortunately, there is more of a rural dominance of crime than an urban one. However, it is a significant problem across Dublin and our urban centres. The legislation will go a long way towards dealing with it. I believe the Minister could go further and I will outline that.

I wish to comment on what was reported in the news at 1 o'clock. I mentioned that the public and victims in particular need reassurance. The public will take considerable reassurance from the news that seven individuals involved in a case in County Tipperary were handed down sentences totalling 105 years, which is a very powerful statement by the courts, which are independent of us obviously, but which have to follow the legislation enacted here. I welcome that the courts have sent that powerful message.

The Minister will be aware of a tragedy in my constituency where a man died as a result of coming across two people burgling his house in Doon, County Limerick. There was to have been a public meeting in Doon on Tuesday evening, but it did not happen for a number of reasons. I know the village because it is in my constituency. The community there is no different from the communities in Littleton or other parts of the country that have experienced these incidents. They need reassurance and they will have got that from the courts today. This legislation will go some way towards reassuring them.

The Minister spoke about Garda recruitment. I have been on the record in welcoming that Garda recruitment has started. The shorter period of training, which is now the model in Templemore, will push people through that training facility more quickly and get them into our communities and on our streets, which is welcome.

On a number of occasions I have raised the issue of the Garda Reserve with the Minister. I mentioned it last week in the debate on the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The Garda Síochána Act 2005 placed a cap on the number of Garda reserves we can have as a complement to the total force. We need to look at that. I believe we have about 1,100 Garda reserves. I know many people who want to be Garda reserves and are willing to give of their time to serve their community through the Garda Reserve. I believe it is a great complement, addition and asset to the main force to have these people. We need to consider amending the 2005 Act. Perhaps the Minister can investigate doing that through the Bill before the House in order to give the Garda Commissioner the discretion and capacity to increase the number of Garda reserves.

I have previously told the Minister that the Garda reserves feel undervalued. Many of them are disappointed with the outturn of the recent recruitment campaign, as they did not make it through that process. However, they are still working as Garda reserves. Even though their powers are limited as Garda reserves, many of them partake in duties and functions beyond their specific remit. In other words they are doing the full job and doing it quite well. They can provide testimonies and presumably they could provide references from their superiors to vouch for that. We need a better structure for the Garda Reserve and use it as it is used in other jurisdictions where the reserve force is used as a pool to feed into the main force when recruiting to fill vacancies in the main force. I would like the Minister to look at that again.

We have had hours of debates in this Chamber on Garda stations since before the Minister became Minister for Justice and Equality. We have left large parts of Ireland without the presence of members of An Garda Síochána as a result of closing Garda stations.

We had a debate on the cost of keeping a station open. The figures available to me suggested it would be approximately €3,500 to €4,000 per annum. As Garda stations are owned by the OPW, the main costs concern upkeep and repair. The net point is that by closing Garda stations we deprive communities of the visible presence and service of the Garda Síochána. In many instances, that has been cited as a reason for a spike in crime in communities, including in Doon in my constituency. The Minister rightly referred to the investment in the provision of Garda vehicles but in Doon, the local garda had to use his own car. I accept the Minister is investing in the fleet but we must expedite the provision of Garda vehicles in communities. The timescale must be faster. The matter has been discussed at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The turnaround period is very slow from the time the announcement is made to when it gets through the system, for the vehicles to be bought by those responsible in Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park and for them to be marked up and deployed into communities. The process is very slow and it must move more quickly.

The Minister outlined the provisions of the Bill. We support and welcome the fact that bail is being significantly tightened up for those who have previous convictions, who appear likely to reoffend. The statistics available on recidivism are truly shocking. A total of 60% of convicted burglars reoffend within a three-year period. That sends a very powerful message.

I also welcome the provision in the Bill on consecutive sentencing. The Minister might be aware that I published a Private Members’ Bill on behalf of my party on sentencing for burglary. Following a review of the legislation, that is something the Minister should consider. We will see how the situation pans out. We will support the changes. If the legislation could provide for a minimum, mandatory sentence on first conviction, as outlined in my Bill, and a higher mandatory second on one’s third conviction, it would send a message. The figures show that a small number of people carry out the vast majority of burglaries throughout the country. The argument is that my Bill, which provides for a mandatory sentence, would be unworkable because prisons would be full. However, the official figures indicate that prisons are at 90% or 95% capacity, so that argument just does not wash. We must consider an approach such as that which I have suggested.

I urge the Minister to take on board a policy suggestion we previously offered in respect of sentencing. We said that we need to examine the UK model in terms of the establishment of a sentencing council, the entire remit and focus of which would be to provide consistency and uniformity in the handing down of sentences. That is not to trample on the independence of the Judiciary. Such a council would work with the latter. The review of the sentencing council in the UK has been very positive. In the UK, there is not the same situation that arises here from time to time when there is outcry due to the perceived, or otherwise, inconsistency in sentencing. A sentencing council would include a majority of members of the Judiciary. It would not be a new quango but would fit neatly into the Courts Service. The members of the Judiciary would be supported by representatives of the HSE, the education sector, the Garda Síochána, the Prison Service and anybody else who could bring something positive to the table. That is something we could examine as part of the current overall review of the criminal justice system.

In the context of recruitment, I mentioned the Garda Reserve. Could the Minister indicate whether it is her intention to bring the force back up to the magic figure we had once upon a time of 14,000? That is an aspiration to which the Fianna Fáil Party subscribes. If we were to consider it; that is something for which the Minister would get great credit. The strength of the force is now well below 13,000. Capacity is an issue. Policing duties are a 24-7 business. The men and women working on the force must take holidays and when they get sick, they also require time off. Crime does not just happen on a Monday-to-Friday basis.

The Bill does not specifically mention protection of the elderly but, indirectly, it concerns their protection. We have all seen the most recent graphic image of a 92-year old lady from Bray, County Wicklow, who was assaulted in her home. An attack by young able-bodied people on an elderly person living alone must rank among the worst crimes that can be committed. The Bill we are discussing - like those I have published - will send a message and put a robust legislative response in place on the Statute Book. That is what I offer in the assaults on elderly persons Bill, whereby a person who assaults an elderly person, namely, a person over 65 years of age, would receive a minimum mandatory sentence of five years. We must have strong legislative deterrents in place. Two weeks after the assault on the elderly lady in Wicklow, which was graphically reported on the RTE news, she was still in hospital. She will never return home. That is a shocking state of affairs. It is ironic, perhaps that is the wrong word, that the crime occurred in an urban setting - a very densely-populated area - rather than in a rural area, particularly as much of the focus has been on the situation in such areas.

The Minister referred to the text alert system and the neighbourhood watch scheme. There has been a significant uptake in such schemes, which add considerably to combatting crime. I am a member of the text alert system in my community of Patrickswell. We regularly receive text messages on various issues and keep an eye out for issues of concern to the local Garda. We should consider how we could better co-ordinate such schemes, including neighbourhood watch, in conjunction with Muintir na Tíre. Muintir na Tíre is not a statutory body, it is a voluntary organisation that does great work. There are other such bodies that deserve great praise and support. A national directorate is required to provide assistance and oversight to all of those organisations and the text alert, neighbourhood watch and community alert schemes. It would work with the organisations and help them to help their communities and keep them safe. That is an issue that must be taken on board.

The Minister also referred to the investment in technology. Much of that concerns ICT systems within An Garda Síochána. On previous occasions, the Minister acknowledged that we must roll out more CCTV capability and capacity, in particular on motorways given that much of the crime and burglaries in rural areas is carried out by people who come from the capital city and use the motorways to get to isolated rural communities. That is evident from the report from Tipperary today.

The criminal justice system must also be restorative. That is a challenge for the Prison Service. It is key that we must send out a strong legislative message that people will be locked up for crimes such as burglary and assault on the elderly. However, because the criminal justice system must be restorative in nature, we must consider measures which will hopefully reconstruct the lives of those who have committed crimes.

The fact that statistics show recidivism is so high points to a problem with the criminal justice system regarding the restorative nature of what happens within the prison system and this matter must also be considered.

I believe I have covered all the issues but in summary, naturally Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill. I welcome that the Minister has brought it further and ask her to take on board my comments on mandatory sentencing. I acknowledge that when mandatory sentencing was introduced previously for the trafficking, supply and provision of drugs, it was not found to be a success because effectively, those who were profiting and gaining from drug trafficking and drug dealing were not the people who eventually found themselves being curbed by mandatory sentencing. Certainly, however, in respect of the crimes of assaults committed on elderly persons or during burglaries, as well as the act of burglary itself, the provision of mandatory sentencing would send a strong message to such people and there would be a significant drop in such crimes. Nevertheless, I welcome the Bill in any event.

3:25 pm

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin supports this Bill. Although my party will support the passage of this legislation, this does not take away from the rise in assaults, sexual offences this year, theft, fraud and burglaries under the current Administration. As the Garda Inspectorate report on crime investigation revealed, the number of such offences may be higher but has been under-represented in Central Statistics Office statistics due to errors in the categorisation of some offences. This is compounded by the Government's closure of so many Garda stations throughout the State, thereby increasing the uncertainty, fear and isolation felt by citizens it is tasked to protect. This results from an austerity agenda that places savings to the Exchequer over the security and safety of the citizens within this State. While the targeting of serial offenders within this Bill is to be welcomed, the structural causes that give rise to the problem of burglaries are a result of the direct decisions made by the Government. Recent CSO statistics illustrate several increases in crime rates when comparing the year ending June 2014 with the year ending June 2015. Assaults increased by 10% from 14,548 to 16,054. Burglaries increased by 8% from 26,589 to 28,830. Sexual offences increased by 3% from 2,006 to 2,072. Theft increased by 2% to 78,885, while fraud offences increased by 6% to 5,337. In the past year, the number of burglaries has risen by 2,241. In Dublin alone, burglaries have risen by 15%. Although these figures are startling as they stand, the true number of crimes may be much greater. An audit in June of Garda statistics from 2011 by the CSO located 75,000 crimes the Garda had not recorded, which included 5,100 burglaries. According to Cormac O'Keeffe of the Irish Examiner, the CSO still does not know whether there have been improvements to the Garda system since that audit.

What can be said is that under the current Government, the rates of certain criminal offences continue to rise while Garda stations continue to close. In response to my parliamentary question regarding the closure of Garda stations, the Minister has confirmed that the Government has closed 139 stations, which has resulted in a minuscule saving of €556,000 per annum, as an average of just €4,000 per annum has been saved on utilities and maintenance per station. Such a small saving has had a disproportionate negative effect within rural communities and Sinn Féin is not alone in identifying this problem. A number of interested parties have identified the effects of such poor decision making. For example, according to the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, the decisions made by the Government to close Garda stations in service to an austerity agenda has resulted in increased crime and that "We are now witnessing the human impact of...seven years of austerity". The AGSI further outlined that its office has been inundated with concerns regarding increased crime, particularly in rural areas. There is a palpable sense of fear in rural communities as the services of the State retreat to urban areas far from where they are needed. At the funeral of John O'Donoghue, who died after disturbing burglars in August of this year, Fr. Tony Ryan stated "Perhaps our politicians will see to increasing a Garda presence on the ground in rural Ireland again to reassure all who feel so alone". It is difficult to see how the continuing closure of Garda stations will alleviate Fr. Ryan's concerns. In addition, according to a Garda source reported in The Irish Times, closure of rural Garda stations exacerbates the sense of fear and corresponding uncertainty. Indeed, one does not need a Garda source and I prefer to have quotations from official Garda representative associations such as the Garda Representative Association, or the AGSI rather than sources. In addition, one could refer to the Irish Farmers Association, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, or parish councils across the State all of which confirm that view. The closure of rural Garda stations severs this tie with the community with the added problem that existing crime is neither reported nor detected.

Similarly, Séamus Boland of Irish Rural Link has pointed out that the Government's only policy in place is the closure of court decisions. The high visibility of a local Garda station and the visible absence of such are advantageous only to those with criminal intent. Since the criminal fraternity knows which stations have closed, it means Garda presence is less and, presumably, the opportunity for evading gardaí is greater. Closing Garda stations directly undermines the confidence the community has in policing with reliability and speed of response being directly affected. As part of Sinn Féin's reform agenda, key principles which must inform any project of change for An Garda Síochána include policing with the community to develop maximum confidence in the policing service and to maximise co-operation between citizens and An Garda Síochána.

The impact of rural crime and the absence of Garda stations is particularly apparent in neglected Border regions. At present, the delivery of policing and justice is undermined by partition. Criminality and illegality do not recognise borders and cross-Border co-operation makes sense for Border communities where common working and protocols can tackle criminal behaviour and can promote community safety. The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly carried out a detailed examination of cross-Border criminality over the course of a year and published its report earlier this year. Sinn Féin supports the 16 recommendations arising from its report and calls on the Government to act on those recommendations and in particular the call for a cross-Border and inter-agency police service joint task force to tackle these criminals head on.

I wish to repeat a statement I made previously in the Chamber today. Those responsible for criminality in the Border areas are criminals. I do not care if some of them may have been in the IRA or not; they are criminals. They are a threat to communities and are taking huge amounts of money that could be spent on the health services and education systems on this island. I wish to see the PSNI and An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners and HMRC on this island fully resourced in a joint task force to tackle these gangs head on and to remove their revenue from them. I read the Minister's interview with The Sunday Times and I wish to be clear: if hundreds of millions of euro are being made, it is in the hands of criminals and it must be taken from them. Not a single member, cumann, branch, comhairle ceantair, ard chomhairle or structure of our political party benefits from that or any other kind of criminality. Sinn Féin raises its money from church-gate collections, nights at the races, lottos and from frustrating our members at every branch meeting about the need to raise funds, as I am sure the Minister does at her branch meetings and as does every single community, policing, sporting and political organisation on this island. I am proud to be a member of Sinn Féin and I stand shoulder to shoulder with communities across this island that are confronting the scourge of criminality.

If the Minister's focus is on tackling the Border gangs and taking resources from them, she will have 110% support from Sinn Féin. If her objectives are to implement the 16 recommendations from the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the suggestions by Ronnie Flanagan, who has had meetings here in recent times, we will fully support them. The message from these Houses, therefore, has to be that there is no political party or elected representative in these Houses and there is no elected representative on councils anywhere on the island who gives succour to criminality in any way, shape or form. We need to tell the Garda and the PSNI that they have the full support of these Houses to tackle that head on and we need to resource them to do that.

I have met gardaí and PSNI officers in the North in my role as justice spokesperson and I have assured them that they have full support of our party. Whatever resources we can deploy collectively across the island, we need to do that. I would say to any journalist who has an agenda to cut out the nonsense. If journalists have evidence of criminality, they should produce it and cut out the nonsense and political agendas. They should take every single word I have said today as the justice spokesperson for Sinn Féin and print it in their newspaper next week rather than their utter nonsense and slurs of criminality against Irish republicans that they publish week in, week out. They should stop their nonsense and cop themselves on. Gardaí should be given the resources they need to do their job and the Minister will have 110% backing from my party if she needs it.

People should stop criminalising members of my party. Frank McCabe is an Irish republican in south Armagh. Criminals tried to kill him in recent times for the stand he has taken and they almost killed his son. They put a booby trap bomb on a poster. That is the price we pay for confronting criminality in the Border area. Martin McGuinness's home was paint bombed; the house of two Sinn Féin councillors were petrol bombed his year; the car of another senior Sinn Féin member was petrol bombed; while three cars were petrol bombed in Derry city. The lives of senior Sinn Féin people are threatened on a regular basis. I have had security advice from An Garda Síochána about my movements in the past. That is the price we pay for confronting criminality along the Border and, therefore, we will not take lessons from any journalist with a political agenda about our commitment to standing by democratic principles and confronting criminality. It is time for people to put up or shut up or end the slurs of criminality against our party. I am taking the opportunity to set the record straight and to make that clear. From now on, slurs of criminality against my party will be confronted head on.

This is why I wrote to the Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan. I read an article in the Sunday Independentby Jim Cusack, who makes a career out of slurs against our party. He always talks about Garda sources but, on this occasion, he made the mistake of attributing his views to An Garda Síochána. He said: "Gardaí believe that the Provisional IRA retain their military structures and are involved in diesel laundering and other criminal activities". I sought clarification from the Garda press office because I did not believe that An Garda Síochána held that view, whatever about his so-called Garda sources that I do not believe exist, certainly according to anyone with credibility to whom I have spoken in the Border area. After a number of weeks, I appreciated the fact that the Garda Commissioner clarified the position. There was nothing she said in her letter to me that differs from the assessment of other policing services on this island, yet she was castigated for having the temerity to give an honest assessment about criminality on the island. She was almost bullied into clarifying her position further.

We have a situation where a handful of journalists with a long established political agenda - thankfully, it is only a small number of journalists, as the vast majority in this State are people of integrity who hold all of us, rightly, to account - thought they could bully a Garda Commissioner into backing down on her intelligence-based view versus their nonsense.The Minster also had to take some of this. I read the headlines attacking her for giving a balanced, reasoned view on matters that were developing. A tiny minority of journalists believe they can dictate to the Minister for justice and policing services of the day regarding the situation on the ground. I am sending a clear signal as the Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, on behalf of republicans across this island, that we will no longer take their slurs of criminality. If that is their agenda, they should put up the evidence, bring it to the appropriate authorities and let us see what happens. I have not seen evidence yet and I look forward to the day when it will be produced. Until then, I will let the people make their own assessment. I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.

The president of the Garda Representative Association described the position well regarding this Bill when he stated: "Legislation is always welcome but legislation requires enforcement and enforcement requires gardaí. The only deterrent that can be out there is more gardaí". inn Féin has repeatedly challenged the Government parties over their severe cuts to Garda numbers. While we welcome the renewed recruitment of recent times, the reality is that the additional numbers will merely counter-balance the loss of Garda personnel due to retirement. We need to get numbers back over the safe threshold of 14,000 and maintain that number through ongoing recruitment. Sinn Féin will continue to campaign on this.

The Government's austerity agenda has unfortunately enabled the environment in which crime has increased. It is not the only contributory factor but it is not doing anything to help. A lack of resources is well known to increase cases of theft and burglary. Similarly, misguided decisions to close Garda stations to make small savings for the Exchequer have increased the opportunity for criminal activity and added to the uncertainty and fear citizens are experiencing following seven years of an austerity agenda. As always, the poor, isolated and vulnerable have suffered most because of austerity and the legislation, while welcome, does not address the root causes of the increase in criminal activity and the negative social consequences of austerity. Our citizens want a criminal justice system in which they can have confidence and which addresses serial offenders, in particular, who are clearly a threat to our communities. However, a more holistic approach is needed. We need to examine the resourcing of our policing services on the island and, as Deputy Collins said, we also need to examine enlightened approaches such as a sentencing council, similar to that in place in England and Wales, restorative measures in our communities, community courts, and community service orders rather than incarceration strategies. We need to identify when young people move towards criminality and devote resources to assist them. We, therefore, have to undertake a range of measures. While the Bill is welcome, I had to take the opportunity to reassert our criticism of austerity measures and I hope the Garda can be given the numbers it needs to do its job over the coming years.

3:35 pm

Photo of Tom FlemingTom Fleming (Kerry South, Independent)
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Burglary is rampant and widespread, given what is occurring on a daily basis, and any initiative to combat this epidemic such as the upgrading of the Statute Book through this Bill is welcome. Almost 2,300 more burglaries have been committed following the closure of 139 Garda stations. Some 80 burglaries are committed every day with hundreds of communities left feeling neglected following the closure of these stations, particularly in remote areas far from urban stations. Recent statistics relating to County Kerry indicate a steady increase in thefts and related offences in a number of areas where stations have closed in recent years. For instance, in the greater Killarney-Kenmare area, following the closure of stations in Beaufort, Lauragh and Kilgarvan, the number of crimes steadily increased from 230 in 2011 to 273 in 2014. Likewise, in the Tralee area where the Abbeydorney, Camp and Fenit stations have been closed, the number of criminal incidents increased from 446 in 2011 to 542 in 2014.

It is reaching epidemic proportions. The trend nationally is that there has been a 9% increase in the incidence of burglaries while there has been a 12% spike in the incidence of thefts from shops. Incidents of rural crime, thefts and home invasion have rocked rural Ireland in the past year, with some 28,830 burglaries and related offences having occurred compared to 25,589 in the same period in 2014.

The surge in crime directed at rural communities requires a meaningful Garda presence and exemplary sentences will have to be imposed on those in the criminal community. The number of crimes is estimated to be even higher according to a document published by Central Statistics Office during the summer indicating that around 30% of offences are not reported. That was based on what was examined in a sample year. That level of offences goes unrecorded.

A major factor in this context has been the Government's plan to press ahead with shutting down vital rural Garda stations. From the start of that process, it has sent out a strong message and signal to the criminal community that it is open season in rural Ireland for marauding gangs to torment the people and create a stressful situation for them. They have enough stresses but this has made matters worse, particularly for people living in isolated areas especially those living alone. There have been many cases like that of the man in County Limerick who died in such an incident. There have also been cases of innocent people having been tortured, subjected to beatings and other punishment. We have also heard that burglary gangs are using high powered cars and night vision goggles to outrun, and foil attempts by, the Garda to intercept them. We heard this week that the surveillance equipment used by the Garda air support unit is 20 years out of date. That needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. That is another example of how the force has been starved of vital resources in recent years.

The moratorium on Garda recruitment during the recession years has led to a disastrous reduction in Garda numbers, which has particularly impacted on the effectiveness of the force. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors issued a statement calling for Garda numbers to be increased from the current 12,800 to at least 17,000 over the next number of years. We could start bringing in recruits on a phased basis over the next three to four years to build the force up to the required number.

Law and order and peace of mind in the sense of safety and security in people's own homes is imperative and it is, if anything, as important as financial security. We should strive to ensure that we meet those goals and ensure our police force has the necessary resources. On the wider aspect of the issue, the stress, worry and the fear caused by break-ins, suffered by many household in recent years is greatly damaging people's health. In some cases it has led to fatalities. In many cases, families have suffered bereavements due to it. Also, due to the insecurity, people living alone or elderly couples have been driven prematurely into long-term nursing home residency.

3:45 pm

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I understand the Deputy is sharing with three other Members. Is that right?

Photo of Tom FlemingTom Fleming (Kerry South, Independent)
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Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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If that is the case the Deputy's time is up.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak on this new and important legislation, the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015. I welcome the debate because we need to do something urgently to protect the rights of our citizens in this State, in particular our senior citizens and vulnerable people. It is a complex problem, and we all must focus on a sensible response to burglaries and come up with sustainable and sensible solutions. Above all, we have to focus on the protection of human life, which must be the priority. We can deal then with the issues of loss of property, bail and sentencing. For me, the protection of life and the rights of our citizens must be the number one priority.

We must also ensure that this debate is not just a quick response to a particular issue that is popular now because of the current wave of burglaries. Prevention must be part of a proper community policing strategy. There is often too much talk following serious criminal events. We need to be more proactive in terms of prevention.

If all of us are serious about reducing the number of burglaries, we have to deal with the drugs crisis issue and the issue of dysfunctional people in our wider society, which is a more complex issue. One does not need to have a Master's degree in psychology to know that if a young five or six year old child grows up in a drugs fuelled and violent family that child will not have a normal, happy life enjoyed by other children. That is the reality we must face. Some will become very violent and dysfunctional and the remainder will go into themselves, suffer low self-esteem and end up in a very bad and sad place. We all know that from experience. We have all met those types of people in our local constituency clinics. We must examine the complexity of crime, burglaries, dysfunctional people and the drugs issue. Otherwise, we will not solve this problem. We have to be proactive, get involved and do so at an early stage, and help them before these young people end up in our jails or looking for bail, which we are dealing with in this legislation. That is all part of the broader debate on crime and it must be tackled head-on. Otherwise, we are going nowhere.

The purpose of this Bill is to address issues relating to bail and sentencing for prolific burglars of dwellings. That is a good and sensible issue. We must also look at the details, including the recidivism rate, and the data show there is a 79.5% recidivism rate among persons in prison for burglary and related offences, the highest rate for any offence group, and considerably above the overall recidivism rate of 62%. The Probation Service in its studies has stated there is a recidivism rate of 49% among persons engaging with the Probation Service for burglary and related offences. That is an issue we must deal with also.

Burglary of a person's home is a very serious offence and very traumatic for the families affected. While on a walkabout in my constituency the other day I met a lovely family who had been recently burgled. That had a major impact on that family. Nobody was injured or hurt but the personal impact was traumatic for those people. They are often the forgotten victims of this crime. The offence of burglary committed in a dwelling house is an act of aggression for many of us. It is also an attack on the personal rights of the citizen as well as a public crime and a violation of him or her.

We must ensure also that we deal with these issues in regard to the legislation.

I hope policing by text is not seen as a long-term solution. Text messaging can be used by community groups but I hope we will not be relying on it for proper policing. We must have gardaí on the beat in the community on a regular basis.

There are certain crimes that cannot be prevented and will go out of control. We had the horrific murder the other day of a taxi driver, Martin Mulligan, who was just doing his job. I am sure this involved a row about a fare or something trivial but with alcohol or drugs involved. His family are suffering immensely because of this. I have no mercy or pity for people involved in violent crime. Anybody with a knife or a gun or other kind of serious weapon should be nicked. There are too many violent assaults in our society. The carrying of such weapons should not be tolerated. When one digs deeper, one has horrific gangland murders across the State, with another one recently in Spain. However, no major impact has been made in solving these crimes. We have to face up to this reality. A downside of this is the widespread intimidation of communities where people are afraid to talk to the Garda.

When the Minister is addressing these issues, she must deal with the complex side of them, as well as what appears to be popular. It now seems modern policing does not need Garda stations. I strongly disagree. One needs Garda stations in the community. I challenge anyone to argue the €500,000 the Government allegedly saved on the closure of rural Garda stations was value for money, particularly after yesterday when the Comptroller and Auditor General highlighted how millions of euro of public moneys are squandered. The Government needs to wake up and deal with this issue of waste while dealing with policing in a proper and constructive way.

Has the Minister asked the new Garda Commissioner how many hours of a garda’s eight-hour shift are spent on the beat in the community? When I was on the Oireachtas justice committee, we visited London to see community police there do six hours of their eight-hour shift in the community, walking around flats complexes, meeting people and pulling sick and dying drug addicts from stairwells, rescuing and saving lives. Are we getting value for money?

No leniency in granting bail should be shown to anyone involved in violent crime. However, some people are in jail but they have never appeared in court or been convicted. They must wait until 2017 or 2018 before their cases will be heard.

3:55 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am afraid the Deputy is over his time and I must call Deputy Clare Daly.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Will the Minister take on board the issues around bail and the other complex aspects in crime?

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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I was supposed to get 12 minutes in this slot. Deputy Finian McGrath's party colleague, Deputy Shane Ross, will lose out now. I will try to leave him a little bit of time.

Given the fact we are discussing this Bill is indicative that a general election is in the air. It usually goes hand in hand with statements about being tough on crime and so on. This kind of Bill is about creating the illusion of dealing with crime issues rather than actually dealing with them. The sort of slogans like “zero tolerance” jump to mind. It goes without saying that for victims of burglary, it can be a horrific crime, linked to violence. Even when it is not, the invasion of somebody’s privacy and personal space is a horrible thing to happen. It is not the most horrible thing that can happen to anybody, however. There are substantially more serious crimes which we are not addressing in this legislation.

This Bill effectively deals with the issue of bail for people who are, in essence, prolific burglars. It allows for consecutive sentencing to address the short sentences already provided for but also allows for previous convictions to be taken as evidence in determining whether somebody will be granted bail. There is nothing too dramatic about either of those provisions. Why, however, is it being done in this way? Obviously, the Government has stated it intends to reform the overall bail laws more generally. It submitted heads of Bill to deal with this in July this year. However, this legislation is only dealing with one aspect of that. Why are the general provisions around bail not included in this Bill? Why is this one being dealt with separately? This Bill has been moved quickly from publication to being tabled for debate, even though it was published after the overall Bill on bail.

The only answer I can give to that is that this is a stunt, a masquerade to cover up the impact of the closure of rural Garda stations and other cutbacks in policing resources. Even in my own area, chambers of commerce, along with other business and resident associations, are noticing a sharp increase in crime because of the lack of Garda coverage on the ground. The important point is that this legislation is only going to deal with one aspect of crime prevention, namely, burglary and bail while not dealing with the larger problems.

When the Minister published this Bill, one of the reasons given as to why the Government was pushing it was the importance of the home. In itself, that is a bit of an insult to those who do not have a home. They will find it a little bit alarming that the Government has a newfound interest in the home, considering thousands of people are without a home and many children are homeless. If we are serious about dealing with bail, then we should follow the advice of the Irish Penal Reform Trust which is:

The most effective way to improve compliance with bail conditions, particularly where the accused person has a chaotic life and complex personal challenges, lies in the provision of bail supports and services that allow the accused to remain within their community and address offending-related behaviour in a familiar environment.

If we really want to have an impact on criminal behaviour and deal with bail properly, then that is what we would be doing. Burglary is a bad crime and should be dealt with but is not the worst crime.

More than 100 people have been murdered or killed by offenders out on bail for other crimes over the past ten years. This bail Bill will not address that situation. There was the horrendous case of Sylvia Roche Kelly, which came into the public domain. She was murdered by a man out on bail for two other crimes at the time. Gerald Barry was out on bail when he murdered a young Swiss student out walking in Galway in 2007. He was then 29 years old and had been charged with assaulting his girlfriend, awaiting trial. Thomas Murray, a convicted murderer, was allowed back into the community, not by the courts but by the Prison Service. Despite the fact the Garda said this man should not be released into the community because he was a danger, he was released. The day he was released, he murdered his former schoolteacher, Nancy Nolan, who lived in Galway. There was the case of Daniel Martin, a troubled young man with a propensity to violence, who himself, while awaiting trial, asked for his bail to be revoked because he could not deal with anger issues. These are real challenges to our bail system that this Government had an opportunity to debate today but chose to ignore. Instead, it is looking for nice, juicy, sexy headline that it is somehow dealing with burglars when in reality it is cutting resources to deal with crime.

If we were serious about dealing with the victims of crime and criminal behaviour, why are we not dealing with the bail scenario that resulted in the horrific death in 2011 of Shane O’Farrell, a case with which the Minister is well familiar? Shane was killed by a Lithuanian national, Zigimantas Gridzuiska, a man who had 40 previous convictions in three different jurisdictions and was out on bail. He was supposed to be signing on in a Garda station daily but no one even noticed that he was not.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am afraid the Deputy must talk about what is in the Bill. That is not in the Bill.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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It is about bail.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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No, the Bill is about bail and burglaries. I appreciate the importance of what the Deputy is saying but we must stick to what is in the Bill.

4:05 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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I would like the Minister to introduce an amendment to this Bill to include in it bail for cases involving dangerous drivers who, having taken heroin, are stopped by the Garda, who have no tax, insurance or NCT certificate and who end up mowing someone down on the road. In the case to which I refer, a man in the prime of his life was killed. Nothing in this, Bill as it stands, is going to address that situation. We need, therefore, to amend it.

The courts need accurate information when deciding whether to grant bail. In the case of Shane O'Farrell, we know that the court was not given evidence of the perpetrator's previous convictions. The Garda did not give that information to the court, so the court made the decision without it.

GSOC is carrying out a public investigation in respect of this area into 59 admissible complaints of a criminal character, yet one of the policemen who is under investigation has been promoted. One of the senior counsel who protected that person-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Shane Ross.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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-----was appointed by the Minister to review these crimes. We need a balanced approach when dealing with bail and we need consistency. We also need the Minister to deal with the conditions which are giving rise to crime, including drug abuse, lack of supports for people coming off drugs and difficult socio-economic circumstances which drive some people to commit burglary.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin South, Independent)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Clare Daly-----

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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I did not get all my time actually.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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There are only six of the 30 minutes allocated remaining. It is for the Deputies to decide how to share the time.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin South, Independent)
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That is okay. I would like to reiterate much of what my colleagues have being saying about this Bill. It is headline-grabbing legislation which is meant to send out a message to people who have been victims of burglary that the Government is somehow tough on crime and is going to lock up the burglars. I do not believe this will happen. This is not the way to tackle burglaries. It is the way to tackle headlines. It is easy for the Government to say it is going to introduce tougher sentences, bail laws and all sorts of legal penalties for burglars but they must be caught first. The headline figures released yesterday were all about homicide and murder, which are down, thank God, but the figures suggest that the number of burglaries is rocketing. My guess, and I think this has been proved by criminologists over the years, is that what deters criminals of all sorts, and not just burglars, is the likelihood of getting caught and not the severity of the sentence. Once again, the shortcut is taken by the Government. It will appear as being a zero-tolerance Government in the face of what is an epidemic of burglaries in certain parts of the country. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong but, as of yesterday, the number of burglaries is up 9% per annum. That is not an acceptable figure and one which this Bill will not dent. This Bill will lock up people who are caught for a little longer but it will certainly not catch any more people.

Deputy Clare Daly and other Deputies who represent urban areas have already stated it but what we need is the reopening of Garda stations. The Government has made a massive mistake. More than 100 Garda stations were closed throughout the country, yet the Government says it is a surprise when the number of burglaries increases. It is extraordinary. The Government saved €500,000 in the process of closing those stations. This is backward thinking. The Government must now recognise the folly of that policy and reverse the decision. It is very difficult for a Government to reverse one of its decisions. However, this Government must know that its decision was wrong. It must know the number of burglaries has risen as a result, that the €500,000 in savings is a pittance and that to reinstate many Garda stations would be the answer.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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What about Stepaside?

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin South, Independent)
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It would certainly reassure many people who are scared in their beds because they cannot get gardaí to come on time or prevent crime. I have had my own experience, as the Minister knows because I have brought this up many times in this House with her. In Stepaside, the Garda station was closed and there has been an epidemic of burglaries since. The Minister will say that I cannot prove it and she is right because the Garda will not give us the figures. The figures are so damned embarrassing, the Garda will not give them to us. In the case of Stepaside Garda station, which is the one I have experience of, it lumps all the figures in with Dundrum Garda station so we cannot tell by how much the figures have gone up in the area that was controlled by Stepaside Garda station. I will quote the example of Dundrum to the Minister in any event. The figures are inflated and have spiked since the closure of the Garda station. The national figure for burglaries has increased by 9%. The figure is 34% for the eastern division of the country, which is about four times the national average. In the Dundrum division, the number of burglaries is rocketing. In 2014, there were 584 burglaries in the Dundrum area. This figure includes burglaries committed in Stepaside. In the half year after that, there have been 427 burglaries. On an annualised basis, this means there has been an increase of more than 40%. This is what is happening, yet the response of the Government to those statistics is to introduce tougher bail laws.

It is all very well for the Minister to state that we are spending a lot more on motor cars. The capital programme shows an allocation of €46 million in this regard, with €29 million of that to be spent immediately. This is not a game of cops and robbers. Gardaí are fast coming to the scene of the crime. There are more faster Garda cars but they are not preventing any burglaries. Gardaí are being turned from community gardaí with intelligence on what is going on into gardaí who play cops and robbers and arrive on the scene of a crime to be comforters to the victims.

In view of what has been happening, the Minister should give serious consideration to the repeat offences committed at various shops in villages such as Stepaside. The house of one particular widow, which situated next to the Garda station, has been burgled four times. The Government's policy to close stations in rural areas and elsewhere should be reversed. It has been shown to have been an abysmal failure.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Kieran O'Donnell, who is sharing time with Deputies Fitzpatrick and McFadden. The Deputies have approximately six minutes each.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I thought I had ten minutes.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Three Deputies are sharing the time.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I very much support the Bill. The Minister for Justice and Equality is well aware of my views. I have spoken previously in the House on this matter. We must be hard on crime. One issue affecting Limerick city and the east Limerick area is the increase in burglaries and that must be acknowledged. It is happening for a number of reasons. One of the reasons relates to the regulation of shops that pay cash for gold. I welcome the fact that the Minister has set up a public consultation process and I urge people to make submissions before 30 October. We must ensure that we put in place a mechanism to trace goods which have been stolen and sold on. In many cases, they cannot be traced. I know of two cases which occurred in close succession. One was in the rural end of my constituency in east Limerick and the other in the city or urban end. Both involved elderly people who have been left devastated and shocked at their properties being broken into and precious items, including engagement rings and gifts from their parents, being stolen.

In all likelihood, it will be very difficult for the Garda to recover those goods. We must cut the gateway for disposing of these stolen goods effectively, particularly with regard to paying cash for gold. Many legitimate businesses do that as well, but they will have nothing to fear from proper regulation. That is one aspect.

It is a pity Deputy Ross has left the Chamber. The issue for the public is the presence of gardaí on the ground. The Minister has had the unenviable task of trying to redress the situation where Templemore was closed by the previous Administration and there was no recruitment of gardaí. However, 500 have been recruited over the last year, and they are now out among the public or are being trained. I have said previously that the Minister must be supported in expediting that process further. The single issue in both urban and rural areas is the need for extra gardaí on the beat. I feel strongly about that. When I speak to people in communities in both urban and rural areas they tell me they want to see gardaí both on foot and in patrol cars. I welcome the provision of €46 million to upgrade the fleet. Extra gardaí and extra patrol cars go hand-in-hand because obviously the patrol cars cannot be manned unless there are extra gardaí.

In places such as Cappamore, Doon, Pallasgreen, Murroe, Caherconlish and Oola in rural east Limerick, an area I represent, people are going through a difficult time. There was the terrible tragedy of John O'Donoghue's death when his house in Toomaline, Doon, was being burgled. People were appalled and shocked. That issue must be dealt with and it involves putting extra Garda resources on the ground. I have made representations already to the Minister in the Chamber about this. That area of east Limerick requires at least one or two extra gardaí. I hope that will be addressed quickly.

The second issue is the legislation the Minister is introducing. I welcome the fact that the bail laws are being changed with regard to people who have been repeat offenders. Perhaps on Report Stage it can be made even more flexible, within constitutional requirements, whereby when an individual appears before a judge on a first offence the judge would have the latitude not to grant bail. I believe we must be hard when it comes to breaking into a person's home. In fact, we cannot be hard enough. I have visited people's kitchens and living rooms and seen the devastation when their house is burgled. The victim must be put at the centre, not the criminal. I strongly believe that should be examined further on Report Stage.

The other issue is sentencing. I welcome the fact that consecutive sentences will now be available. Obviously that is an important point, but we must also examine the length of sentences. The message must be conveyed through this legislation that if somebody commits a burglary, they will be held to account, pay the price and be put in prison for their actions. This is something that goes to the core of our being, particularly with regard to the elderly and people living alone. There are people in my constituency who are afraid to go to bed at night. That is intolerable. People have rights, certainly in terms of legal representation, but I believe the victims have more rights. It is something we should examine.

The issue of cash for gold outlets is arising repeatedly. In the burglaries that take place the burglars are invariably seeking items of jewellery and cash. Many of the elderly, for whatever reason, keep cash in their homes. We must find a way to make them feel that they can put their money elsewhere and feel it is secure. It is a historical issue. Many of them were reared in very prudent times and they are anxious to ensure they have cash. That is why the burglars are targeting elderly people living alone. What is required is the patrolling of residential areas. In many cases at present burglars are scouting areas, both urban and rural, and sometimes marking the houses by various means so that when they return they know which houses to rob. What is required is a strategic way of being preventative as well as catching the criminals, and that is about Garda resources and gardaí being out and about on the beat and in patrol cars.

Deputy Ross referred to Garda stations. Garda stations are very important but if one gives somebody a choice between having a Garda station that is manned for one or two hours a day or gardaí patrolling in a patrol car, they will opt for the latter every time. That is what we must get. I hope the Minister will get support in the forthcoming budget and that there will be an allocation in respect of expediting the recruitment of extra gardaí. It is a huge issue for people. Criminals involved in burglaries feel that the sentences are light. The penalties do not match the crime. This legislation will redress that. I look forward to seeing the amendments and to participating in the Report Stage debate.

I commend this Bill to the House. The message must be loud and clear that if somebody breaks into a person's home and violates their privacy, they will be held to account in the most forceful fashion. Ours is the law and order party; it has been since the foundation of the State. This issue goes to the root of people's entitlement to live their lives without fear. There is nothing worse than knocking on a door at night and seeing that the person is afraid to come out. That is because their house, their neighbour's house or the local business has been burgled. This is one of the issues that have been galvanising people. They want it dealt with expediently and in a tough, hard fashion so the criminals will know that the emphasis is very much tilting towards the victim and away from the criminal.

4:15 pm

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. First, I wish to praise the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and her Department for bringing the Bill before the House and to record my full support for the Bill.

The Bill is designed to keep repeat burglars off our streets and to improve the safety of all our communities. I wholeheartedly agree with the Minister that the burglary of a person's home is a heinous and traumatic crime. A large number of domestic burglaries are carried out by serial offenders and this Bill targets those repeat burglars. I was shocked to learn that 75% of all burglaries are carried out by only 25% of burglars. This is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. The Bill will target those repeat offenders and will reduce significantly the number of burglaries committed.

The Bill contains two main provisions. First, it will require a court to impose custodial sentences consecutively where the offender has committed multiple burglary offences within a 12 month period. Second, it provides that in the case of bail applications, previous convictions for domestic burglaries, along with pending charges, shall be considered as evidence that the accused is likely to commit further domestic burglaries. In addition to the new legislation, I am pleased that the Minister has recently allocated an additional €700,000 to An Garda Síochána for the purchase of specialist vehicles which will support gardaí in tackling highly mobile criminal gangs, including those involved in burglaries.

It is right to put on record this Government's commitment to tackling crime. This commitment is being backed up with real investment in the services that need it most. We are recruiting more gardaí and, last September, we re-opened the Garda College to facilitate that.

This college was closed in 2009 as a result of Fianna Fáil’s catastrophic mismanagement of the economy. To date, 400 new gardaí have started their training, with the first 295 having already passed out and now working in communities nationwide. Some 150 more recruits will enter the Garda college next month, giving a total of 550 new recruits from September 2014 to September 2015. The Government is committed to recruiting at least 500 new gardaí each year and has pledged that the Garda college will not close again.

Some €29 million has been invested in new Garda vehicles since 2012 and a further €46 million has been committed for the next five years. Approximately 70 new Garda vehicles have come on stream since the start of this year alone. In the recently announced capital plan for 2016-21, the Minister confirmed an unprecedented allocation of €875 million in capital funding along with approval for further public private partnership projects in respect of the Garda Síochána and the Courts Service. While I welcome the new announcements in funding, we have to do more. More than ever, we need to provide more resources for our gardaí.

I met recently with gardaí from the Dundalk region. While they recognise the Government is providing more funding, they very strongly made the point that more resources are badly needed. In this regard, it is particularly pleasing that the Garda Commissioner recently estimated there are 61,000 more man-hours available for front-line Garda patrols following reforms to the delivery of rural policing.

In Dundalk this week we unfortunately witnessed a brutal murder that has left the local community in shock. Martin Mulligan, a 53 year old taxi driver, was murdered in a senseless act in the early hours of Monday morning while going about his work. Martin, who was married to Gráinne, had two daughters, Sharon and Shauna. He was a highly respected member of the Point Road community. I knew Martin through his involvement with his local GAA club, the Sean O’Mahoneys. He was an absolute gentleman. He was a hard working and honest person who was highly regarded by all who knew him. He will be sadly missed by his family and the community at large. This murder was a senseless act and we must do all we can to help the Garda bring the perpetrators to justice. Gardaí have requested that anyone with information contact them on 042 9388400 or on the Garda confidential line at 1800 666 111. I appeal to anyone with any information to contact the Garda as soon as possible. This senseless murder must not go unpunished and those responsible must be brought to justice and pay for this cowardly act.

To conclude, I want to put on record that I fully support the Bill before the House and the great work being done by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and her Department. However, I appeal that even more resources be made available to gardaí, particularly in the north-east region, to help them combat crime in this country and to make it a safer place for all our citizens.

4:25 pm

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak on an issue which is of huge concern to communities but also one which the Government and the Minister for Justice and Equality are taking a very proactive role in addressing.

The burglary of a person’s home is a very serious offence and can be extremely traumatic for the victim. Last weekend, I bought my Sunday newspaper for the very last time in a shop in Athlone where five generations of my family have shopped. The shop's closure was brought forward by a burglary which had taken place some weeks before. Unfortunately, the incident involved the brutal assault of the shopkeeper. Gardaí are following a very definite line of inquiry in regard to this crime and, thankfully, the shopkeeper, while badly shaken, was not too seriously injured. However, this is a clear example of the horrendous effects this crime can have on people and families. While this legislation is about protecting the family home, the trauma felt by the shopkeeper and his family was the very same, as his home and shop are part of the same building.

It is hugely important that victims of crime are listened to and I am very pleased that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, undertook a review of how the criminal justice system treats burglars. When the Minister published this Bill in September last, she made it very clear why it was being introduced, namely, to keep repeat burglars off our streets and to improve the safety of our communities. By introducing this legislation, Fine Gael, which I am very proud to say is the party always strong on law and order, is ensuring strong punitive measures are being put in place to tackle these criminals.

As has been outlined, the new Bill is targeted at those repeat burglars who have previous convictions and who are charged with multiple offences. It is clear that it is the same few who are causing trauma for many, and that the deterrents in place up until now were not enough.

Section 1 of the Bill seeks to ensure that prolific burglars can be refused bail in certain circumstances. This new law will allow the courts to refuse bail for offenders who have a previous conviction for domestic burglary, coupled with two or more pending charges.

Section 2 will insert a new section 54A. This new section will require a court which decides to impose custodial sentences for multiple domestic burglary offences committed within a 12 month window to impose such jail sentences consecutively. I am confident that this firm targeting of repeat offenders has the potential to reduce significantly the number of burglaries being committed across the country. If you do the crime, you must pay the time.

As the Minister has previously said, home is the place where we should all feel most safe and secure. I take this opportunity to commend the work of the members of the Garda Síochána, who are working day and night to tackle this problem. I am glad to say there have been decreases in the incidence of burglary in some areas of my constituency of Longford-Westmeath. However, the fight must continue in order to keep reducing the incidence of this type of crime. Where it is possible, the number of gardaí on the beat should be increased.

I am glad the Government has considerably strengthened the force in terms of providing more gardaí and more Garda vehicles including, as was mentioned, specialised vehicles to deal with highly mobile gangs. The previous Government closed Templemore, starving An Garda Síochána of new entrants. This Government has re-opened the training college, with 550 gardaí being recruited by the end of this year, and I look forward to future intakes in Templemore in the coming years. I am delighted that, in my constituency, 18 new Garda cars have been made available while 16 new gardaí have been assigned to various stations across the constituency. There is always room for more.

Fine Gael in government is very determined to combat all types of crime in our communities and rightly so. Most importantly, we are putting the victim at the heart of the justice system and this legislation is one very important measure in helping to protect our communities from repeat offenders. I wholly support the Bill.

Photo of Bobby AylwardBobby Aylward (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister to listen to our problems in rural Ireland, in places like Carlow-Kilkenny, where people are living in fear. The sense of fear among elderly and isolated members of rural communities, which is being caused by the significant rise in burglary offences, is a crucial issue facing rural Ireland. These people are being deliberately targeted, watched and attacked by a number of well-organised criminal gangs, which continue to terrorise rural townlands and villages. This is not a new issue as the number of burglary offences in the State has soared over the past three years, developing slowly while the outcry of victims has fallen on deaf ears.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill, which aims to address the problem, and the Minister’s work in commencing the review of the criminal justice system’s response to the problem of burglaries is to be acknowledged. I support the provisions of the Bill which tackle repeat offenders who are granted bail, despite being charged with multiple burglaries, and who often commit further burglaries while out on bail. I also support the amendment to the Bail Act to provide that, for the purposes of bail applications, pending charges or recent convictions can be considered as evidence that an accused person is likely to commit further domestic burglaries.

I must be critical, however, of the length of time it has taken to bring this legislation to the House. This is a long-term problem which has developed insidiously in our rural communities over the last three, four and five years. I am also of the opinion that the Minister is underestimating the issue at hand. These are well-financed and well-organised criminal gangs which are expertly equipped with high-powered vehicles, weapons and even night-vision goggles to aid their escape at night.

Fianna Fáil has already published a Bill to introduce a mandatory three years in jail for criminals convicted of burglary and a minimum of seven years on the third burglary conviction within 12 months. I ask the Minister strongly to consider introducing such legislation as a matter of urgency because the deterrents are not currently strong enough to combat these criminal gangs from continuing their predatory pursuit of rural towns and villages.

A senior member of An Garda Síochána told me a number of years ago that the single greatest deterrent to crime is the garda on the beat.

The closure of 139 Garda stations by the coalition Government and the reduction of Garda numbers from 14,000 to 12,772 has been publicised as the reason that both urban and rural communities have been left vulnerable to burglary. I am not going to shout and roar about this, but the point I want to make is that, if we have less of a Garda presence and fewer Garda vehicles on the streets, we must legislate for stronger minimum sentencing to act as a crucial deterrent between dangerous criminals and the innocent people within our urban and rural communities.

The protection of our citizens is paramount. I will finish with an example of how bad the threat has become. I was contacted by the chairman of the Myshall community alert group, Carlow, who explained to me that on Thursday, 20 August 2015, the housekeeper of the parochial house in Myshall village answered the door to two males who entered the house and tied her up. This is the fourth time that this parochial house has been targeted in recent years and this outrage, along with numerous other incidents of burglary, robbery and vandalism in our community, resulted in an emergency meeting of the community alert group on 1 September 2015.

I am informed that it was a very heated meeting where residents spoke out giving vent to their anger and frustration. They made comments of the following nature: "We are living a nightmare and are afraid to answer the door at night. We block our gates with our cars. All our doors and windows are locked from the onset of darkness and there is total fear in the area”, or “These criminals know that they are less likely to be caught in rural areas because of the closure of rural Garda stations, low Garda resources and the lack of manpower”. These comments are just an example of the fear that exists among thousands of communities the Government must act to protect.

I compliment the Minister on bringing this much needed legislation to the Dáil. We on this side of the House will support it and will do anything we can to protect people in both rural and urban areas.

Debate adjourned.