Dáil debates

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

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

 

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

5:25 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I understand that Deputy Catherine Murphy is sharing time with Deputies Healy and Fitzmaurice, with six minutes apiece. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this Bill. We all speak to the gardaí in our areas. Something that they tell us is that burglary is a difficult crime to detect and becoming even more so. That may be because of television programmes that alert people to the possible detection methods. While I do not oppose strengthening the sentences, I am not sure that it will substantially change the profile of burglaries. Other actions need to be taken.

In many respects, we have a policing system that is reactive rather than proactive. How the Garda service is set up feeds into that. In recent years, more gardaí have necessarily been deployed to the Limerick and Louth divisions, given organised crime in the former, the tragic death of a garda in the latter and other crime statistics. If one considered the yearly crime statistics, however, the need to do this would scream out before it became tragically obvious. In both instances, tragic events prompted the deployments.

Every year, there is a policing plan. It is supposed to change based on demographics and crime rates. I have been following this issue for many years and every year I adjust my document to show where the changes lie. If each year's policing plan is not a work of fiction, then the response to it is. I have seen little or no adjustment based on demographics or crime rates.

I have documented this from CSO figures. County Louth jumped out as an area with very high rates of burglary, robbery and theft. These figures featured before the recent deployment.

I happen to come from the county that has the lowest proportion of gardaí to members of the general population. In 2015, County Kildare had one garda for every 698 people. The average is one garda for every 416 people. It is no big surprise that the crime rate in County Kildare is growing. According to CSO figures, the burglary rate is pretty much on a par with that in Dublin. I do not know what will have to happen for it to be recognised that the lack of gardaí on the ground is actually contributing to this. Counties such as Wicklow, Louth and Meath have the same profile.

I have met the Assistant Commissioner on a number of occasions and pressed the point on the deployment of gardaí. As the population grows, there is no evidence whatsoever that services grow along with it. This includes the number of gardaí. County Kildare is the only county that does not have a dedicated community policing service. The force is so stretched in the county that even answering the telephones in the main Garda stations is prioritised over it. The two counties with the lowest proportion of gardaí to members of the general population are Kildare and Meath. These happen to be two of the counties with a profile of continuous growth.

It is not good enough that the Minister does not have responsibility for the deployment of gardaí. I understand the rationale, but where there is a clear absence of recognition of the two factors in the policing plan that should be used to address the issues that the plan highlights, it is not good enough for the Minister to say it is not her responsibility but that of the Garda Commissioner. If the Garda Commissioner or person nominated by the Garda Commissioner to deploy gardaí is not doing that job, it is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and Equality to intervene and meet the Commissioner so that there will be some sort of equitable deployment arrangement. I am not talking about deployment based simply on population growth but deployment based on both population growth and crime statistics, which are supposed to be the two dominant criteria affecting deployment. That is partly what is needed if we are to proactively address the issue of burglary.

5:35 pm

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. As we all know, it has two main elements. The first is the question of bail and its refusal in the case of repeat or persistent offenders, and the second is the possibility of consecutive sentencing, again for repeat or persistent offenders. I do not have any difficulty with those provisions. We have been told, and figures show, that a small number of persistent offenders are responsible for a very large number of burglaries. However, there is a problem with statistics. We are told that approximately 27,000 burglaries take place every year, but there is a question mark over this statistic. It is possible that there is significant non-reporting of burglaries, because it is believed that the gardaí will take a significant length of time to arrive and that prosecutions may never occur. People whose homes have been burgled wonder whether it is of any great benefit to report it.

Invasion of the family home is very serious for any family. It creates fear within the family itself and among neighbours and the wider community. We have noted this in Tipperary and other areas over recent years. There is no doubt that the measures in this Bill will be of some help, but they will not solve the problem. Recently, the president of the Garda Representative Association said, "Legislation is always welcome but legislation requires enforcement, and enforcement requires gardaí." This is the nub of the problem. Unfortunately, the Government and its predecessor have undermined the Garda service. We have only to note the position as it has developed over recent years to realise this. The force has lost about 2,500 gardaí. One hundred and thirty-nine Garda stations are closed. The community garda system, which is excellent, has been depleted and personnel have been taken away to deal with other matters. There is no dedicated service in most of the country.

The traffic corps is an important element, particularly where city-based gangs use motorways to carry out burglaries down the country. As we were told just yesterday at the committee meeting, the traffic corps complement has decreased in the past few years from 1,200 to 738, a drop of 39%. The pay of gardaí has been reduced and conditions have deteriorated. There is a definite morale difficulty now because of the actions of the current and previous Governments. Only yesterday we were told about the attempt to freeze future Garda increments.

I welcome the return to recruitment of gardaí, but the recruitment rate is such that it will take anything from 20 to 25 years to return to the previous level. The rate is simply not high enough even to replace personnel who retire from the force each year. We need significant recruitment, probably 1,000 gardaí per year, if there is to be a real improvement. We need to reopen closed Garda stations. We need a focus for gardaí in local areas and we need to re-establish, on a dedicated basis, the community garda system. That system is absolutely excellent and works with local people, communities and youngsters, identifying difficulties before they arise. It is well worthwhile and very cost-effective. The number of gardaí in the traffic corps needs to be increased to its former level. Oddly enough, the traffic corps is key to combating burglaries, particularly when travelling gangs are involved.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. There are many parts to it that I welcome. There is no doubt but that reoffenders have been getting away time and again. I welcome the moves to curtail this. I advocate the tightening up of the legal aid system in respect of people who reoffend two or three times. The system cannot continue dealing with reoffenders.

I listened to an inspector last night who was in Trim. I saw him on the television speaking and they talked about tagging. If we have to go down the road of curtailing the activities of those who are causing a lot of hassle right around the country, then so be it.

Sadly, communities in Tipperary, the west, Trim and elsewhere have had to come together to highlight this situation. For the last 17 or 18 years, fewer gardaí have been out on the beat. We know that Garda numbers have dropped and we also know about the problems that have arisen since Garda stations were closed. People may ask what use a local Garda station was, but local or community gardaí knew what was happening. Templemore should have a section to recruit and train local gardaí. Such gardaí liaised with every man, woman and child in an area. When they saw youngsters starting to get out of hand they would have a word in their ear. One could never put a price on what they prevented, and they always knew what was going on.

Let us be honest. No one leaves Dublin or Cork and heads to a destination saying, "I like the colour of that house. We'll go in and raid it." They are informed by what we call the crow on the wire, information that is being passed on. At one time, however, gardaí based in a local station knew what was happening in their area. I am not talking about a garda doing any paperwork in a station, because that argument will continue; I am talking about someone who is available to work with the community and who knows the area.

Criminality has reached new heights in different areas. Some time ago, it might have entailed robbing a house, but now cattle and other items are being taken. It is said that it is more difficult now that we have motorways, but that is not so. When I was a youngster in the west, I remember there was a Garda presence on the four or five bridges crossing the Shannon at night during the dark hours. That was all that was needed and it prevented so much crime.

We have to plan for the future. Before 1996, 1,000 gardaí were taken on per year. In time to come 1,000 gardaí will be entitled to retire, but we are not planning for that, given the numbers we are recruiting. We are not planning for what will happen ten or 15 years down the road if we do not put feet on the ground. There is a simple solution to this. Retired gardaí who policed the countryside down through the years should form a group to talk to serving gardaí. They could thus explain to them how it was done. Such retired gardaí are willing to help and may also be helpful to the Minister. Sometimes one has to take a step back in order to move forward in this country.

In fairness, the Minister has done some good things in the Bill. I have spoken to gardaí about the new high-powered cars, however, and one cannot drive the Q7 Audis or BMWs unless one is a member of the rapid response unit. An ordinary traffic corps Garda cannot drive them, although they currently drive squad cars. Therefore, this will not happen for a few years, because a Garda cannot automatically be made a rapid response operator overnight. That issue has to be addressed. In addition, the traffic corps cannot even use a stinger. We may need to look at these matters, and I would encourage the Minister to consider using some of the retired gardaí who knew how to talk to people. Currently, however, we have policing from a distance. In my area at night one squad car could be covering 40 miles. It is not the fault of the gardaí. The reality is that burglars are cute enough to send a Garda car on a decoy route, while they could be somewhere else.

I ask the Minister to examine this new idea of mine involving local gardaí. I am not saying that they must be out on the beat, but they can be with communities, getting to know everyone and liaising with them. They were a mine of information and no one could ever put a price on what they saved the country from because they prevented incidents before they happened.

5:45 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Patrick O'Donovan is sharing 20 minutes with Deputies Áine Collins and Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this opportunity to speak. At the outset, I wish to compliment the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on the work she has done to date in her Department. There is no doubt that the Minister inherited an awful lot of problems in the Department. They have been well enunciated at this stage. Both sides of the House can agree, however, that the current Minister is dealing with a number of criminal justice issues that have dogged Garda management for many years. Everybody recognises that, including political commentators and the Opposition.

The Bill before us concerns a scourge that has afflicted this country for a long number of years. I have not been a victim of it, thanks be to God, and I would not wish it on anybody. It is horrendous to have somebody invade one's personal property, be it a home or business. The victims of these crimes are quite rightly asking a number of legitimate questions, including the number of people out on bail, the length of bail terms, and the number of convictions that a person can clock up and still get out on bail. In addition, they are asking about the cost to the State of legal aid in criminal cases, the number of times someone can gain access to such aid, and the type of people who offer criminal aid and profiteer on the back of it. I know that people must be properly represented in the courts and I do not have an issue with that. However, our courts service is regularly being treated as a fairground by criminals, so we will have to examine what is happening in that regard. It is a societal issue as much as one for the Government. How many chances does a person get before somebody eventually calls a halt to this?

I have listened to people at public meetings, clinics and marts across rural constituencies similar to my own. Their biggest frustration is the number of times the same people attend the same courts week after week. The provincial newspapers are reporting such cases. There is a level of frustration and people are legitimately asking how many times this has to happen before it is halted. In that context, there is a question for the Judiciary. Due to the separation of powers, I know it is frowned upon for Members of the Oireachtas to have the audacity to criticise members of the Judiciary. In some cases, however, one would really wonder what planet some of them inhabit. Given some of the sentences and commentary handed down from the Bench, as reported in the media, it is not the same planet that I and others inhabit.

While it would not be in keeping with a lot of Members' feelings in this House, to be quite honest, the element of deterrent for repeat offenders has gone out the window in many cases. They do not see a deterrent or any real punishment. For some of them it is almost like a badge of honour at this stage. A quarter of the sentence will be struck out straight away for good behaviour - whatever that is, since a person can have 300 or 400 convictions and still get time off for good behaviour. Before we know it, they will be back out again and perhaps up in front of the same judge on another charge before the first sentence has even come to its natural conclusion.

There is a level of public frustration and it is important for it to be voiced. My primary concern is for the victims. The free criminal legal aid people have the interests of the perpetrators of these crimes at heart. They do everything in their power to get them off.

In some cases, they are very effective, and good luck to them. However, the victims of crime have to pick up the pieces. They wonder what the State has done for them to get retribution and where they are left as a result. There is a temptation in criminal justice issues to focus on the perpetrator of the crime to see what can be done for him and how the perpetrator can be rehabilitated. At the same time, the victim is left to pick up the pieces. He may get a letter from the local gardaí, who have done their best to try to bring the perpetrator to justice, but that is it. This is no longer good enough. More needs to be done to ensure repeat offenders are dealt with. Repeat offenders are at the crux of this. Such people have 300 or 400 convictions but they can be on bail carrying on as if there is no law for them.

The previous speaker referred to Garda recruitment. It is important to point out that there are limitations on Garda recruitment because we can only fit so many people in Templemore. The previous speaker was advocating the creation of a new Garda college for tens of thousands of recruits, but he was somewhat vague on how he would pay for it and where he would train them. The important point is that for the first time in a long time there is meaningful recruitment in An Garda Síochána. That is what people want.

In my constituency, ten Garda stations have been closed. I rang the community council in one of the areas where the Garda station was due to be closed, and I was asked by the person whether it was still open. The person believed it had been closed already. One political party has a seven-point plan to deal with criminal justice and the justice area. Those involved have added two points to our plan. Anyway, the plan does not mention the reopening of even one Garda station. Perhaps that party will have an eight-point plan.

I am calling for one thing that has been referred to by previous speakers. It relates to the conveyor belt of repeat offenders going before the courts and the costs associated with criminal legal aid. I am keen for some measure of fixed prices in respect of the money allocated to deal with this.

5:55 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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You are eating into the time of your colleagues.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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This is a scourge on society and it needs to be dealt with.

I compliment the Minister on bringing the Bill before the House and on the reforms she has made in the criminal justice area since becoming Minister.

Photo of Áine CollinsÁine Collins (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I too welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. As all rural Deputies are aware, there is considerable concern in rural communities about the recent increase in burglaries. While the rise in numbers is a concern, the issue of fear is relevant too, particularly among older and vulnerable people. From this point of view, it is important that the Minister deal with the issue now.

The problems are compounded by the fact that some of these burglaries are carried out by city-based criminals who are using extreme violence against any person they come into contact with. Earlier this year, in response to the problem, the Minister instigated an urgent broad review of the criminal justice system. This Bill is the result of the review. As the Minister pointed out, the Bill is designed to keep repeat burglars off the street and improve the safety of our communities. I welcome the fact that the Bill proposes the refusal of bail as well as tougher sentences for repeat offenders. Importantly, the Bill requires the District Court to provide for consecutive jail sentences where a robber is being sentenced for multiple offences. In the past, the practice of passing concurrent sentences for multiple crimes meant the burglar was back on the streets in a relatively short time. Another major issue for the public is the fact that the people who carry out theft are often released on bail despite the fact that other charges are still pending. Moreover, concurrent sentencing for multiple crimes actually encourages criminals to commit a series of crimes while on bail. While we accept that under the Constitution the granting of bail or otherwise is a matter for the courts, this legislation will strengthen the criminal justice system and the power of the courts.

Section 1 amends section 2 of the Bail Act. Section 2 will insert a new section 54A, which deals with the issue of concurrent sentencing. These new measures are vital because of the importance Irish people place on their homes and their right to feel safe and secure in them. Any person who has been robbed in his or her home knows it is a serious offence. The people who carry out these offences should be punished. It is important that a person's home is given special recognition in our Constitution. The Constitution states, "The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law."

In addition to the new legislation, the Minister recently announced an allocation of €700,000 for the Garda Síochána fleet. This is for the purchase of specialised vehicles to support the Garda in tackling highly mobile criminal gangs. While acknowledging and commending the Minister's action, I am keen to pay tribute to the gardaí and the communities they work with. These include the people who set up the neighbourhood watch and text messaging alerts and the community groups who have erected street cameras. All these initiatives help the Garda in fighting this type of crime.

I was reminded of a story today involving someone who was robbed in Cork. He was a cameraman and his camera was stolen. Immediately he went to digital media and sent out a text to the local radio station. A campaign gathered momentum in a matter of minutes. The Garda became involved. Someone who had noticed people acting strangely rang in and provided identification. The Garda followed it up and traced the stolen goods back to the house. The Garda entered the house and found the equipment. We should be mindful of the new ways of dealing with crime today. We should use them and all the technology available. Cameras are a major issue for communities. If possible, more funding should be made available for them. We would all benefit greatly.

I commend the Minister on her review of the Garda Síochána. Let us consider the way things were done. Things have changed and we need to start moving with the times and implementing the recommended changes. Crime is getting more technical and more technologically oriented. There is a great deal more we can do that could help to prevent it. I compliment the Minister on her efforts.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Is this to conclude at 7.30 p.m.?

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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No. It is to conclude at 8.30 p.m.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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The Minister has firmly stated that this Bill is designed to keep repeat burglars off the street and improve the safety of our communities. I welcome the Bill. It provides for custodial sentences, which will no longer be served concurrently. Instead, convicted repeat burglars will serve multiple sentences. It infuriates me, my constituents and the Minister as well - I know this from multiple conversations with the Minister - that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of burgers. It is as if repeat burglars believe they have nothing to lose when robbing decent people who have worked hard to pay for their homes and possessions. I am pleased that the Minister has taken action to address this serious matter. I sincerely hope burglars know that they will suffer real consequences if caught.

I receive seriously distressing e-mails and telephone calls on an all-too-regular basis from residents throughout the constituency of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown about incidents of crime and serious theft. All too often, people view the leafy suburb of Dún Laoghaire as immune from crime and theft and take the view that only rural areas are affected. This is a falsehood. Burglary is a serious issue for rural Ireland, but it is also serious for hard-working families in suburbs such as Monkstown, Killiney, Dalkey, Foxrock, Blackrock and Sandycove, as proven by recent reports from the Central Statistics Office.

I commend the concerted effort of the Minister and welcome this much-needed legislation. It will enforce real action. I am keen to take this opportunity to praise the relentless and dedicated work of the Garda. I have attended many meetings of the Garda policing forum. At these meetings the community is engaged, asked for views and given advice. I have met the Garda superintendents in Blackrock and Dún Laoghaire as well as the chief superintendent and detective superintendent in Dún Laoghaire to discuss issues and the solutions that the Garda is implementing to hinder and stop burglaries in our constituency.

In 2009, as a consequence of Fianna Fáil's catastrophic economic mismanagement, recruitment to An Garda Síochána in Templemore was stopped.

Last September the Government reopened the Garda college for new recruits for the first time since 2009. Fine Gael will not again cease the recruitment of new gardaí. Some 550 new gardaí have come through in the past year and 150 more will begin training in Templemore soon. It is clear that gardaí are needed to catch repeat offenders.

In my constituency, Dún Laoghaire, I work with a number of extremely proactive residents' associations and neighbourhood watch groups. They meet regularly and liaise with gardaí and local community gardaí, keep locals informed and look out for one another. However, there is only so much they can do. I welcome the Minister's real efforts. It is not just talk with her; she listens and responds.

I also welcome the Minister's recent announcement of the electronic tagging of offenders as part of the bail Act, and support the measure. We cannot have elderly people feeling like prisoners in their homes while criminals, who should be in prison, are terrifying elderly people in marauding packs. I look forward to seeing tougher sentencing for repeat home burglaries and I commend the Minister for bringing this vital Bill to the House.

6:05 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I also welcome the announcement of Operation Thor, the focus on rural crime and the overtime allocation the Minister has provided to the Garda. A burglary is recorded every 20 minutes by An Garda Síochána. Each case involves another victim who has to deal with the impact of intrusion, the insecurity it causes in his or her home and the vulnerability it creates. People feel isolated, even if they are living in housing estates surrounded by hundreds of people, on foot of having had someone violate their personal space and burgle their homes.

Sadly, what is really frustrating for the members of An Garda Síochána to whom I have spoken is the fact that Operation Thor has been very much more of a public relations exercise rather than the provision of practical resources. It will take time for the operation to feed into the system, but gardaí need resources now. They are still waiting on high-powered vehicles, which I know have been ordered, but we need them now and not in a number of months' time. We need to fill the vacant posts within the traffic corps, which is to be given a special role in Operation Thor. However, at the moment four out of ten posts within the traffic corps are vacant. It is very difficult to run Operation Thor when the Garda does not have the basic resources that are needed.

On basic resources, a Garda station in my constituency has no car available to it. A garda is located in a strategic area of my constituency, through which runs a very busy road. How can a garda in that situation compete with a high-powered car? Does he or she take out his or her bike or stand in the middle of the road and put up his or her lámh to try to stop criminals? That is the kind of thing we are dealing with in terms of the resources that are being provided to some of the remaining rural Garda stations.

I welcome the overtime allocation that has been provided, but the difficulty is that, when spread across the country, in practical terms only seven minutes a day have been allocated to rural parishes and Garda districts across the country. That level of overtime will not make an impact on the policing of rural communities. Additional dedicated resources will have to be provided if we are to deal in real, genuine and practical terms with the fear that is currently out there. While on the one hand additional overtime is being given to Garda districts, on the other some specialist units have seen their overtime allocations cut. They are on the front line and can help to deal with the thugs who are persistent offenders.

The number of Garda stations across the country has been cut. I will refer to those that remain. Boyle, County Roscommon, is now a subdistrict of Castlerea. The Boyle subdistrict office covers the north and east of County Roscommon and encompasses some major roads, including the main Sligo to Dublin road and part of the main Dublin to Westport road. Yet, one needs a calendar to determine the opening times of the station because it is one of the only stations in my constituency that does not have regular opening times. It has four different sets of opening times during the week. Unless one has a calendar and knows which day of the week it is, one does not know whether the station is open and whether one is able to contact it or seek assistance or information. That is not good enough. People should know that their Garda station is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Sunday, and that they can access a garda during those times.

Yesterday, I listened to the advertisements broadcast by the Garda in connection with Operation Thor. The advertisements encourage people to lock up and light up, but forgot to refer to the fact that people are also loading up. Sadly, communities and individuals are now taking the law into their own hands. There have been reports from farmers in Border counties that the only way they can get results when stock has been removed from their lands is to confront the individuals involved with their guns and have it returned. The farmers are getting the stock back, but if farmers in a local community know who is committing such crimes the Garda also know. Obviously, it does not have the resources to secure convictions. This is not just happening in Border counties, but also in my part of the country which has seen a litany of instances where stock has been stolen and burglaries have taken place. It all comes down to local information, which is passed on to individuals.

What is really frustrating is that not only do gardaí not know the people involved in their own communities, they do not even know the geography. I spoke to a constituent last week who called the district Garda headquarters and was asked for an address, which he gave as Taghmaconnell. The garda at the other end of the phone asked the person where it was. Taghmaconnell is one of the few rural Garda stations left in my constituency, but the garda did not know where the individual concerned was located. If gardaí do not know the geography of the areas in which they are located, it is very difficult to police them.

As a result of that and the fear that is out there, people are driving around with shotguns in their Jeeps and sleeping with shotguns in their beds. I am genuinely afraid that we will have another story like that of Padraig Nally in the not too distant future unless we can resource the Garda and bring back a level of security, in particular in rural communities, that is not there today.

Gardaí have stated that 75% of burglaries are carried out by 25% of burglars.

We need to put in place measures to get them off the streets and keep them off the streets. The Minister is to be complimented on this legislation which will introduce consecutive sentences for repeat offenders and will help do this.

I will make a few other constructive suggestions to the Minister which I believe would strengthen the provisions she is making. Similar provision needs to be made for the handling of stolen goods. I ask her to do this because it is far easier to secure evidence and a conviction for the handling of stolen goods than for burglary. it is much easier to prove possession than to catch people in the act. Gardaí tell me it is very difficult to secure a conviction for burglary in the first place unless they catch the individuals in the act or there is forensic evidence linking them back to the particular home. If gardaí at checkpoints can stop the individuals in possession of materials which have been stolen from a home or a particular location, they can prosecute them for possession. The difficulty is we are back to the same problem, which is possession is not treated as seriously as burglary and the sentences are concurrent rather than consecutive. We need to strengthen the law to deal with those caught in possession of stolen goods because, as the Minister has said, one of her objectives is to try to cut out the routes for the sale and distribution of stolen goods. It is important that the law in this area is strengthened.

We need additional Circuit Court sittings to deal with the backlog in some parts of the country. We need to appoint additional Circuit Court judges, perhaps on a floating panel, to deal with the backlog as it arises in various parts of the country. I am told one of the reasons the Judiciary is so generous with bail is that in some parts of the country it takes up to two years for a case to come to court, and if the timeline was far shorter, the Judiciary would be far more sympathetic to having the individual remain in prison until the court hearing takes place. It is hugely frustrating to read reports such as the one in the newspapers last week where one of the nation's most prolific burglars has again been released on bail despite the protests of gardaí that he may flee the country and never be seen again. He is supposed to be connected with up to 60 burglaries in the Limerick and Dublin areas and in the south and south east. Gardaí believe the individual is one of Ireland's most prolific robbers who has dedicated a lifetime to this trade. Gardaí arrest these individuals, charge them and bring them before the courts where they are released on bail in order that they can commit further burglaries. The Minister's officials admitted at the Committee of Public Accounts that this happened six or seven times in one month with an individual. This has to stop. I know this is the Minister's intention with this legislation, but it is important that in tandem with the enactment of this legislation, clear guidelines are issued by the presidents of the courts to ensure people are not being released on bail into communities.

The Minister has spoken about the issue of tagging, and quite a number of speakers during this debate have spoken on this issue. We know 33 burglaries a week are committed by those out on bail while at the same time 60 electronic tags are available to us, with 50 them in a cardboard box gathering dust even though the State is picking up the bill for them. They remain in storage because the Criminal Justice Act 2007, which allows for the tagging of people while out on bail, awaits the Minister's signature. I know the argument she and her officials have put forward on this, that they do not want everyone out on bail to be tagged, but surely it is the Minister's intention to tag a cohort of people out on bail. This is what she has said consistently in her public comments on tagging. The tags are available and the primary legislation to do it is in place, so can we not just sign the legislation, have it enacted and issue guidelines to the courts on what type of individuals should be tagged electronically? The law as it was drafted and passed by the House provides the courts with discretion on whether to tag an individual. It requires the Minister's signature and the issuing of guidelines on the type of individual to whom electronic tagging should apply. These guidelines would be along the lines of the proposed amendments the Minister is speaking about with regard to the new bail Bill. It is a way to fast-track and introduce tagging, literally tomorrow morning, with her signature. It can be brought in on a trial basis in certain parts of the country to deal with some of the cohort of individuals about whom we are speaking.

Where someone avails of free legal aid for criminal offences and is back before the courts repeatedly, there should be a clawback on social welfare or other income with regard to court costs. The difficulty is that if people are apprehended, having been caught red-handed coming out the door of a house with the jewellery or television under their arms, and they end up on indictment before the Circuit Court, particularly in parts of the country with a big backlog, they will seek to have their case held before a jury. Why would they not do so when it gives them two years out to rob wherever they like while waiting to come back before the courts? There is no cost to them because when they come out of prison at the end of it, they will have their loot and still have their social welfare and any other income available to them. Surely, if this House introduces an attachment of earnings on people who do not pay their television licence and have a fine imposed on them and we take away some of their social welfare or income to pay for this, it is not too much to ask that if someone coming before the courts repeatedly and using the court system to delay justice and the enforcement of justice has an income, some of this income should be used to contribute towards the cost of the person's legal representation in the first place. This needs to be introduced. We are very anxious to persecute people for overpayments or not paying for their television licence, but it is about time these individuals started to pay for the cost of tying up court time and tying up the limited resources which should be available for genuine cases where people need a defence.

6:15 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I am very pleased to be able to speak to this very important legislation. I commend the Minister on bringing it forward and I wish it well. It strengthens the bail laws and introduces the possibility of consecutive sentencing, which I hope will act as a deterrent to committing crime. One of the biggest deterrents to crime is the knowledge that somebody will get caught and for this we need a number of measures.

As other speakers have said, we need mobile gardaí out on the beat on the streets. We also need intelligence.

In the past while, the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has heard from the Garda Commissioner and representatives of Muintir na Tíre and the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, making presentations on all this. A number of issues overlapped in their contributions. Prevention is very important and Muintir na Tíre has a community visitation scheme that we should support as much as possible in order that people can call around to houses in urban and especially rural areas where people feel isolated. People are trained by the Garda and they call around to neighbours to help determine what is required to make their places safer. Community alert is important and the text messaging system should be supported as it is very useful. With the system, text messages are sent by the Garda and people in order that people can be forewarned of somebody being in an area. Gardaí may also receive intelligence in that way.

I have heard people saying they will not report crime as there is no point, but both Muintir na Tíre, the IFA and the Garda have argued that this is not wise and that every crime should be reported because gardaí use such intelligence and information. Every attempted crime or suspicious movement should be reported as it all feeds into the general intelligence and information used by gardaí to track people who commit crime and build a profile. I ask people to report everything as it is very important that they do so.

Closed-circuit television, CCTV, is being rolled out in many areas and particularly towns. I know more is happening in this area and I encourage more of this to happen. The IFA told us about www.theftstop.ieand that where signs have been erected throughout the country indicating the use of TheftStop, nothing was stolen from those farms. The material and equipment is marked and thieves know that if they take it and it is found, it can be traced back to the original owners. There is another technology called forensic marking, which is a liquid that can be sprayed or painted on equipment. It is invisible but can be picked up with ultraviolet light and each farm can have a specific type of liquid that can be traced to the farm. Gardaí have told us that much equipment has been recovered but they do not know who owns it. We need to ensure people mark and photograph their possessions in order that gardaí can return them if they are recovered. That is very important. The use of alarms, locks, monitors and pendants for older people should be encouraged and I ask the Minister to look at that.

There is a sociological and psychological aspect to this as well related to fear of crime. People in some areas tell us that the fear of crime is more corrosive and damaging than the crime itself. I caution against people boosting a fear of crime for all kinds of reasons. Perhaps they feel they are doing the right thing. Such action can make people very afraid, anxious and even quite ill. I am not saying we should not be cautious or realistic but we must be very careful about boosting fear.

We put the issue of people using firearms to Muintir na Tíre and the IFA, and both organisations argued this was very foolish. Talk of using firearms should not be encouraged and, on the contrary, it should be discouraged. I am concerned that when people hype the fear of crime, they might encourage people to use firearms. Who knows what the results will be? Somebody could end up shooting a relative or friend who is visiting. We must be very careful about this. It was pointed out by both Muintir na Tíre and the IFA that if somebody uses a firearm, the next time robbers come visiting, they might use firearms first, leading to an escalation. Let us cool this a bit. I am quite concerned about this issue. There are public meetings throughout the country with people talking about going to bed with guns. It is being encouraged, which is dangerous. It is not just me saying this as experts, the Garda, the farming communities and Muintir na Tíre all say it. Cool it down and do not hype it. We must be realistic and cautious as we do not want to drop our guard either. Sociologists and psychologists have told us that fear of crime is a real issue, with many studies done about it around the world, so I urge people to take it into account.

To deter a fear of crime, we need to have gardaí visible on the streets and in our communities. We need to see gardaí in cars and on bicycles and motorbikes. We need to see them calling to businesses, shops and farms, meeting people and advising them. We need them to get to know people and to become known by the people. Many colleagues have spoken about the old style of policing, when the garda was known by everybody and everybody knew everyone else, but that day is gone. We must be careful not to become too simplistic in our approach either. As Deputy Naughten has said, we are dealing with very sophisticated criminals who travel the highways and byways, using the motorway network to go into rural areas in particular to carry out crimes.

Listening to some people, we might think we are living in a crime-ridden country, but various reports indicate that Ireland is one of the safest places in the world to live. It is quite safe here in Ireland. Let us be careful about hyping this up too much.

I recently attended a meeting marking the 30th anniversary of the setting up of community alert, which happened in my area of Carrigtwohill. I spoke at it and it was clear that 30 years ago, the same kinds of fears and issues were being raised. At that time there was an extreme case, as some people were killed by robbers. Community alert was set up at the time and it spread throughout the country. It has been very successful and we should encourage it as much as possible. At the time, people used new bridges across the River Lee in Cork to get out of the city into rural areas but now they use the motorways to do the same kind of thing.

The number plate identification system used by gardaí is very good and we should have more of it. Intelligence is very important. Some colleagues have asked why a certain number of young men in particular are becoming involved with crimes like burglary. Deputy Mattie McGrath and others have spoken about intervening at an early stage. I draw the attention of the House to a number of organisations in this respect. There is Care After Prison in Dublin, which intervenes with prisoners before they leave prison and afterwards to try to keep them away from crime. So far, it has a high success rate. The Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders is also doing fantastic work. There is the Cornmarket Project in Wexford, which does similar work, and the Churchfield Community Trust in Cork, among others. These organisations very often work on a shoestring and I encourage the Minister, if she can, to give them a little more encouragement, recognition and some more funding. With a small amount of funding, they can do a huge amount of work, get in early and dissuade people from carrying on a life of crime. If we can do that, it would be of major benefit. This is a multifaceted issue.

A number of gardaí came to me to say they were retiring the following year but they do not want to retire. They would like to stay in the job for a couple of more years. Some colleagues have spoken about bringing retired gardaí back, but that might be problematic. Perhaps the Minister should consider the idea of allowing gardaí to stay in the job for a few years if they want to. Last week we had an interesting presentation at the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in which people spoke about getting rid of the mandatory retirement age across the Civil Service. Why should somebody who is 65 have to retire and give up a job because of age? There are Ministers well over 65 who do not have to give up their jobs. Perhaps they will have to shortly, I do not know.

The point was made that if somebody who is 65 is hale and hearty and well able to do the work they are doing all their lives, and they want to continue, why should we not allow that? A number of gardaí have come to me and told me they did not want to retire at that age but would like to stay on another while if they could. There are pension entitlements and so on that would arise there, but these gardaí, who are slightly older, could probably man the stations and allow younger gardaí out onto the streets and onto the beat. It is another idea that might help and it should be considered.

Today we had the Courts Service before the justice committee. This is a service that often goes below the radar, but it does tremendous work. It has done a great deal of work with very much reduced resources over the last number of years. We find sometimes that there are delays in cases being taken in the courts. Very often, that is because the Courts Service does not have the resources it requires to expedite these cases. The ICT in the Courts Service certainly needs upgrading. That was the message we got today. Again, that would expedite and help to move cases on, so that we would not have people on remand for as long as is happening at the moment. That is something we need to do. We need to support them and I ask the Minister to have a look at the presentation that was made to the justice committee on the Courts Service. A small amount of support there could make a huge difference to much of this. We could get cases heard earlier and more efficiently and move them on. I am not saying anything about the Judiciary or anything like that - I do not go there - but certainly instances where cases are not heard for weeks and months should not happen. The fines Bill was mentioned and I know that is finally going to be working in the next number of weeks. Again, we would like to get an update on that. It is crucially important. We do not want to be sending people into jail for not paying fines, especially when we have the legislation here, but it is down to ICT and it is down to the Courts Service having the funding to make that happen. It is a small amount of money, I understand.

A mention was made earlier of livestock being stolen by robbers. We brought it up with the IFA when it was in before the committee. That is a serious matter, not only because people are losing livestock, but also because somebody somewhere is buying the meat and selling it. Looking at anything that is stolen, somebody somewhere is buying it. If somebody comes to a person's house and says "I have a bargain here for you", it may very well be stolen property. That comes back to the idea of having property identified, marked forensically and so on.

Coming back to the fear of crime, one of the issues that makes people feel safer is lighting. Public lighting in our towns and villages is particularly important. That should be looked at with the local authorities. Across the country we have joint policing committees and we could do a lot more with them. I have come across a situation recently where a number of people have come to me who are living beside the neighbour from hell. It is very hard and perhaps we need written protocols in these communities between the local authorities and the Garda regarding how certain issues are dealt with. I know that when somebody reports a crime, such as a burglary, they get a letter back saying "You have been a victim and we are very sorry about that", but they should get more than that. They should get more feedback as to how the investigation is progressing and what is going on. That might encourage people to report crime, as I said at the start.

We had a report a while ago about cash for gold and that report also needs to be acted on. If somebody comes into a shop to sell jewellery, it should be photographed, their identification should be taken and it should be recorded, so that if gardaí come back later with a photograph of stolen jewellery it can be matched up and maybe somebody can be trapped. That is an important issue. Again, in the committee, we said that should be done.

Community courts are something I come back to as a means of tackling low-level crime and allowing speedy access to justice. I know something is happening there and we need to work with that.

I am happy that this legislation is going through. This is a complex area and it is evolving. Criminals are getting more sophisticated: they are using ICT, the Internet, mobile phones and so on. They are using intelligence as well. We have to ensure the Garda has the manpower and the equipment to be ahead of them and to catch them out. I would be cautious of any form of vigilantism. I am concerned when I hear people talking about that.

Finally, Franklin D. Roosevelt said we had nothing to fear but fear itself. Not only do we have to tackle the crime, but we have to tackle the fear of crime and I caution people about making people afraid when there is no real need to do so.

6:35 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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Can I share time with Deputy Mattie McGrath?

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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That is okay. Just to clarify, we cannot have two Government speakers in a row, so it has to go to the Opposition and back to the Government.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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The Taoiseach says rural crime is nothing new and that it is the level of sophistication of criminals these days that makes policing very difficult, resulting in the violent crimes that have haunted rural Ireland. He has creatively profiled these sophisticated criminals as 21st century thieves, wearing night vision goggles and driving at excessive speeds down our motorways while high on drugs. He has used this criminal profile to justify the implementation of what he terms 21st century policing. However, it is his notion of 21st century policing that has left rural Ireland vulnerable to these types of criminals in the first place. The Government is conveniently blaming the sophistication of these criminals and not the Government's own failures for the violent attacks that have put fear into the heart of rural Ireland.

The real issue here is not that the criminals are becoming more sophisticated, it is that the centralisation of Ireland's police force has not worked in tackling violent crime since the Government first implemented these policies in 2011. The policy was simple: take away community policing, close rural Garda stations and use those savings to pool the resources into a centralised police force. Mobile criminals have exploited the policing vacuum created from continuous Garda station closures. Worse still, they are not getting caught, profiled and tracked, which is what those policies sought to achieve in the first place.

Community policing was replaced with the Garda district and station rationalisation programme, which was announced in 2011 by the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, and represented the biggest restructuring in the history of An Garda Síochána. The programme's aim was to centralise policing resources in order to facilitate the introduction of "enhanced patrolling systems", becoming operational and intelligence-led. Part of its policy was the closure of 139 Garda stations across the country, which has unfairly and disproportionately impacted on rural Ireland.

The anomaly in all this is the Government's justification for these closures. It says it has created 61,000 more man hours for front-line services. The Government believes 61,000 man hours is worth more than a local Garda presence in rural Ireland. In fact, 61,000 hours only equates to an extra 30 gardaí across the country, when one takes the annual hours they serve. All the while, the State only saves €556,000 a year and continues to implement cutbacks in Garda resources. In Donegal this has amounted to only €25,000 in savings from the closure of five rural Garda stations in the county. The costs of providing alternative services from other Garda stations have not been factored into the station closures. These gardaí have to travel further out to assist members of the public as a result. Centralisation is not working and rural Ireland has not seen the benefits of enhanced patrolling systems or intelligence-led operations. The Government has justified the closure of stations by saying it would mean a more efficient and effective deployment of resources in the area of policing.

The opposite has been the case. There are more vulnerable towns and people throughout the country and there have been major cutbacks to Garda resources. The Government is aware of all of this and has reflected this awareness in the recent capital plan. It has allocated €46 million for new Garda vehicles, €18 million for refurbishment of Garda stations, €700,000 to upgrade Garda cars and €205 million for Garda technology systems. From these investment measures in the capital plan, it is clear that centralisation still dominates the agenda while local policing is a thing of the past. The public can be sure this will continue in the next term if the Government is re-elected. New Garda cars and technology systems and upgrades to existing equipment will do nothing to bolster community policing in rural areas. Those areas need an increased presence of local gardaí. We need more resident community Garda personnel who have intimate knowledge of their localities and are aware of the at-risk offenders in their areas.

The lack of local gardaí has led not just to an increase in rural crime but also to the perception of crime and the vulnerability of our communities. As crime is carried out, people feel they are not adequately protected and this could lead to notions of vigilante justice and individuals taking the law into their own hands. The latter was mentioned in the media recently. In addition, rural communities have been shrinking due to the mass emigration of young people, job losses, threats of post office closures and actual Garda station closures. It has resulted in an aging population, the members of which are more susceptible to burglaries in their homes. The shrinking of rural communities has also led to increased geographical isolation of dwellings and less knowledge of the local areas due to the closure of post offices and Garda stations.

I am concerned about consecutive custodial sentencing. Who are these burglars and to what extent will consecutive custodial sentencing deter them from committing this kind of crime? The idea that consecutive sentencing will deter people from carrying out similar crimes and reduce recidivism rates is questionable. International best practice is increasingly gaining insight into this outdated notion. CSO figures suggest a significant discrepancy in recidivism between people who received custodial sentences and those who received probation or community service. According to the CSO figures, recidivism rates were lower for offenders who committed burglary if they received probation or community service, 49%, as opposed to those who received a custodial sentence, 60%. The CSO figures also show that 28% of burglars who had served a custodial sentence and who reoffended committed a subsequent burglary offence, as opposed to 10.7% of those who had received probation or community service. The majority of these reoffending burglars were aged 24 or under.

The punitive approach to sentencing has led to an increase in prisoner numbers while recidivism rates remain high. Rather than examining why recidivism rates are high and the contribution custodial sentencing is making to repeat offences, the Government wants to make it harder for repeat offenders to receive bail, meaning they will stay in prison longer and further continue the cycle of recidivism, proving the adage that prison is the university of crime. According to figures from the Irish Prison Service, in 2014 the average annual cost of an available staffed prison space was €68,959. This figure represented an increase of €3,417 on the previous year. How much will it cost to imprison someone without bail and for consecutive sentences? Would it not be far more cost-effective to use community service and probation and see the recidivism figures decrease as a result?

This brings me to the most ironic aspect of the Bill. Due to a reduction in Garda services in rural Ireland, there has been an increase in burglaries. The Bill will increase sentencing for the criminals involved, which will require more law enforcement and more Garda resources. It is a vicious cycle. The real deterrent is increased Garda presence and if 21st century policing means fewer gardaí, I, and those who live in rural Ireland, would prefer that we stick with 20th century policing instead.

6:45 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I, too, am delighted to speak on the Bill and I wish the Minister well, as I have done in the past. Although it is an effort, it is too little too late. Deputy Stanton, who is Chairman of the justice committee and does good work there, referred to the important Scrap and Precious Metal Dealers Bill, which I introduced here on one occasion in the Minister's presence and on two previous occasions in that of her predecessor, Deputy Shatter. I discussed the Bill with the Minister's officials and was sure she was going to support it. It would have introduced traceability and accountability and would have given the tools of the trade to the Garda Síochána. The Minister is not giving the tools of the trade to the Garda Síochána. I support Chief Superintendent Catherine Kehoe and all her officers in County Tipperary and throughout the country. Tipperary has been dealt a serious blow, which is a pity. We used to have a proud adage, "Where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows". Tipperary is leading in terms of the crime figures. That is not acceptable because we have good people in Tipperary.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Tipperary is not leading.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I have the figures from the CSO. They are not manicured. There were 3,091 recorded burglaries in Tipperary over a four-year period. It is a terrifying statistic. Confirmation of the level of recorded burglaries for County Tipperary in the past four years is a damning indictment of Government crime prevention policy. For rural Ireland, it has been death by a 1,000 cuts until, at last, the Minister and Government have woken up to the fact that the sense of safety among rural dwellers is on the verge of total collapse. I salute Robert O'Shea and his colleagues in County Tipperary, who have been victims of robberies, and also busy people trying to run their businesses for the activity they have undertaken to create an awareness. It used to be a case of "The West's Awake". Now, we are trying to get the Government awake and keep it awake. The Minister is asleep at the wheel. I salute the 2,000 people who attended the public meeting in Thurles and the members of the media who came to cover it and brought an awakening in rural Ireland.

Behind each of these figures is a family or community that has been terrified or subjected to a serious invasion of their homes. Their homes are their castles. They are a stark and brutal indictment of the appalling failure of the policy that has been pursued both by the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, and the current Minister in terms of the refusal to respond with sufficient speed to requests to reallocate Garda personnel to rural Ireland. There are five new gardaí in Tipperary under the new allocation, while at least 25 have retired or are out sick. I salute these officers. I am a great supporter. The second community alert scheme in the country was established in 1986. Gardaí cannot police without the support of the people. The gardaí have their support, and will have it, but they need the tools of the trade and legislation to stop the revolving doors. Why did the Minister reject my Private Members’ Bill to regulate scrap and precious metal dealers? It was an honest effort by my staff and me to bring in some legislation.

A reply to a parliamentary question by the Minister’s Department stated that Tipperary received nine extra Garda cars between 2011 and 2015, increasing the total from 53 to 62. The robbers can pick up a BMW or a Mercedes anywhere and at any time. We have to lobby and beg. We had vans with no batteries, cars with no radios and flashlights with no batteries. When I raised this matter with the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, he said the gardaí should go and buy the lamps themselves. It was so bad, we hardly had lead for the pencils, while the Government was telling us how good and rosy it was, with the bounce in the economy and the falling unemployment figures. It was all a myth. Eventually, the Minister decided to act. In the Tipperary Garda division, there were 693 burglaries in 2012, 737 in 2011, 755 in 2013, 637 in 2014 and 269 up to June this year, a small drop, which I welcome. I salute the community alert groups and all the agencies and bodies that help.

The Government got a fine mandate. One fundamental responsibility of any Government is to protect its citizens. The Government has failed dismally and refuses to pass legislation. Some weeks ago, the Minister held a press conference on the plinth with the Garda Commissioner, whom I salute and wish well. I did not watch it, I heard enough on the radio. The Minister announced that she knew of 200 criminals and was going to catch them all in Operation Thor. If one were picking potatoes, one would not tell the people where one was going to hide the potatoes. In rural Ireland, one does not tell people one is coming after them. No police force in the world gives advance warning to the criminals that it is going after them.

The Minister should listen to the people, protect them in their homes and give the gardaí the necessary resources. They have the intelligence network and the community garda is the primary collector of this intelligence and support. We have one in my area, local Garda O'Halloran, and many other good gardaí, who are living, playing sports, working and socialising in the community, and getting the information and passing it on.

The Minister does not want that, however. She wants them to tell and announce. There is no police force in the world that would go out and tell people it is going to go after them. Police forces do not say "We know who you are and we are going to get you." They go out and get the criminals first.

I salute the gardaí in County Tipperary who apprehended the terrible terrorist gang that destroyed a family in the county. We all saw the members of the gang going away in prison vans. That is what the public wants to see. It wants to see these people brought to justice. They should be arrested and given a fair trial with a chance to defend themselves. Then they can go off in prison vans. That is the press conference we want to see. We do not want to see the Minister's sham of a show when she announces a fleet of squad cars. We got nine extra vehicles and five extra gardaí in the years I have mentioned.

6:55 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I assure the Deputy that €39 million buys more than five cars.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I do not mind. I am talking about when it comes down to areas like Tipperary. The Minister has been given figures by Deputy Pringle and others to show how such areas are being neglected.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Why does the Deputy not acknowledge what is being done?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I want to ask the Minister about Garda overtime. I have been told by gardaí on the beat in Tipperary, in the traffic corps and elsewhere, that overtime is going back by the new time. It is not being spent or used. There is pressure from headquarters to save the overtime. That is a damning indictment.

I stood outside a little man's house near the famed Slievenamon at 12 o'clock yesterday. I knocked on his door to ask him if he would consider voting for me. He was shaking when he came out. He told me he had been robbed seven times in the last three years. He was probably a man of 75 years of age. Is it fair that he has been robbed seven times? That is what is going on in rural Ireland.

The Minister is new enough to the job. Her predecessor would not even attend the Garda conferences. He had disdain for the gardaí. At least that cannot be said of the current Minister, who supports the Garda. We need recruitment. We need to stop the haemorrhage of members through natural retirement. I am not saying we should force them to stay on. As Deputy Stanton suggested, we should ask them do so. If they want to stay on, we should allow them to do so. We need to bring back some of the excellent retired officers who did wonderful service for this State. We should ask them to help and assist in intelligence and in fighting crime.

We are closing our eyes to many other areas. I refer to threats from ISIS and whatever else. No one will tell the Minister that we do not have some of those people in this country, because we have.

I am going to stick to this matter tonight. There is no replacement for community policing. The community garda has the trust of the people. The people trust him. Although we need Garda stations to be open - we have heard the Minister's figures - there is no suggestion that gardaí are sitting in stations twiddling their thumbs. Having said that, I met a garda a year and a half ago when I called on a canvass who told me he was at home feeding his dog because the alternative was to sit in a Garda station with no telephone, no computer and no Garda van. I ask Deputies to imagine that. Should we give bicycles to gardaí to travel around rural Ireland? Individual gardaí sometimes have to cover a quarter of a county in a day. I do not want to say any more about this frightening situation because I would be giving too much information to the criminals. Do we think they do not know? They do. In addition, the technological support that is available to gardaí is outdated and antiquated.

I do not know why the Minister and her colleagues will not tackle the whole legal aid situation. I suspect that the many lawyers and solicitors in this Dáil do not want to tackle their friends. It is a scandal. I have evidence of free legal aid being used and abused, and top-ups being given by criminals to the people who are representing them. Why would they not be able to provide top-ups, given that they are robbing and stealing and getting away with it?

I would like to speak about the revolving door syndrome and the whole repeated bail situation. We have burglars being released on bail while home owners, farmers and small businesspeople are locked in jail for having difficulties in paying their bills. That is some indictment of this Government, which passed the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2013 - I call it the eviction Act - to give sheriffs, the Government and the banks the power to attack people's homes, persecute them and put them into prison. At the same time, the real robbers are repeatedly left out on bail.

I repeat that the justice system needs to be overhauled. We were promised a judicial council Bill, but where is it? We were promised the reform of the Judiciary. We were promised an accountable Judiciary. In some cases, judges who are sitting on repossession cases owe the banks tens of millions. If they do not have vested interests and are not on the side of the banks, whose side are they on? This is a shameful indictment of the Government, which promised reform, new politics and new government.

When judges have been appointed since this Government took office, it has been two for Fine Gael and one for the Labour Party. Two and two is four, and one is five, and how many bags full, Minister? That is what is going on. The Government has been punishing the electorate for keeping it out of government for 14 years. Fianna Fáil was in there for too long and it had all its own cronies. The Government parties wanted to balance that up by getting their cronies in. How are ordinary people going to get justice from the justice system when it is packed with political appointees who sometimes act on a nod and a wink?

We have many fine judges and I salute them, but I do not salute those who will not register their interests. The Government promised to introduce a register of interests for judges so that people would know how much the judges owe to banks. In such circumstances, it would be possible to ask judges who are due to deal with certain cases to step aside. Members of the New Land League have had to stand in jails and courthouses. They forced a judge to run off the bench. They demanded that a stenographer be in court as a witness while they told the court how many millions the judge owed the banks. The judges are supposed to be serving the justice system.

The Minister has a limited amount of time left in this office. I wish her well. I want her to take some action and to support the gardaí. The protection of people in their homes is a basic duty of any Government. The people of Tipperary and every other county should not be terrorised and intimidated. The Minister needs to support the Garda by allowing it to spend its overtime budget, rather than clawing back that money. She should give the force the tools of the trade, such as a modern fleet. She should allow gardaí to be armed, if necessary.

I contacted the Minister by telephone once since she was appointed. She took the call. I rang her to tell her that a receiver had approached a farm in Castledermot in the dead of night with a Garda superintendent and a Garda inspector present. I could name them. The Minister knows who they are. They had been crawling over fields with balaclavas and Alsatian dogs. One would not see it in the Third World. This third force was attacking a farmer, Mr. O'Shea, and his family. It was a disgraceful and despicable act. Gardaí had been on reconnaissance around that farm for ten days in advance. This was at a time when the gardaí in Kildare, which is an area with one of the worst ratios of gardaí to the population, did not have a squad car to respond to crimes. We have a Garda for every 370 people in this country. There are 30 agricultural officials for every farmer. The whole thing is red tape and regulations.

The Minister needs to give the gardaí the power. She should not engage in tokenism by announcing ten times that there will be 500 new recruits. I ask her to give the force the numbers it needs. If she brings white-collar people in to do desk duties, that will allow gardaí to go out to do what is needed. The Minister needs to remove the supports given to receivers as they do their dirty and lucrative business. Given that they are making a fortune, they should be paying for their own people. Gardaí should not be required to oversee cases in the dead of night that involve men crawling along on their bellies with balaclavas. I do not call them men; I call them cowards and scumbags. They were accompanied by unmuzzled Alsatians, which is a crime in itself, as they surrounded a farm and terrorised a family for the benefit of the banks.

Is the Minister is working for the banks and the people who broke this country? We have no bankers in jail. I do not envisage that we will. It is a crying shame that we have no banking legislation. The Minister did not address that either. The Taoiseach and the Minister should hang their heads in shame. As I have said, the most basic human right is the right to have one's home. One's home is one's castle. The Minister has failed to defend people in their homes. She has failed to pass legislation that was handed to her on a plate. She has left it on-----

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy has run out of time.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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Good man. Thank you very much. This Government has run out of time. Its time is up. We are going to call time very soon. The public will do that with the peann luaidhe. It will have lead in its pencil this time. The public will make its mark in support of the people who stood with it, rather than the people who promised it everything only to leave it to be attacked and marauded by gangs of lawless thugs in parts of this country.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Deputy McGrath helped to close down Templemore.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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The Deputy is late.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Deputy McGrath was not here when I was here.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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Does the Deputy know where Templemore is?

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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He supported the Government that closed it.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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The Minister should bring the Deputy down in her car and show her where Templemore is.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Deputy McGrath supported the moratorium on Garda recruitment.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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Templemore is in County Tipperary.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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We know that.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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Deputy Mitchell O'Connor should get a satnav.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Deputy McGrath is playing to the gallery.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I would like to share time with Deputy Costello.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015. The purpose of this important Bill is to address a couple of problems relating to bail and the sentencing of prolific burglars of dwellings. I know something about burglary because my family has a shop premises that was subjected to a burglary approximately ten years ago. Somebody broke into our small rural shop and took €10,000 worth of goods from us, even though, peculiarly, we have a Garda station and everything in our local area. That happens because we could have a garda on every corner and burglars would still sweep in and rob from us.

This Bill provides that when bail applications are made, previous convictions for domestic burglary, coupled with pending charges or recent convictions, shall be considered as evidence when considering whether an accused person is likely to commit further domestic burglaries. The Bill allows the court to decide to impose custodial sentences in cases in which a significant number of burglary offences have been committed within a 12-month period, and to impose such sentences consecutively if appropriate. The main purpose of this legislation is to address issues pertaining to bail and the sentencing of prolific burglars of dwellings. It specifically targets those prolific burglars who have previous convictions and multiple offences for committing residential burglaries. It also grants the court the power to refuse bail in specific circumstances and to increase the sentences imposed on repeat burglars.

Having practised in the courts for 25 years or more, I have to say I have no doubt about the probity, integrity and independence of the Judiciary.

It is beyond reproach. Its members are the third arm and are fiercely independent, and rightly so. They consider a huge number of factors in individual situations. I was interested in some of what Deputy Pringle had to say in this regard. A person's home is his or her castle. That is recognised in Article 40.5 of the Constitution. People work hard to put their homes and their businesses together, and we certainly did. They work hard to improve their homes, to maintain them and discharge the substantial mortgages associated with them. Then they return from an evening out or wake up the next morning to find their home has been destroyed, burgled or ransacked, sometimes damaged beyond repair with their valuables taken.

Debate adjourned.