Seanad debates

Friday, 11 December 2015

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


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

10:00 am

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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I am pleased to present the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015 on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, who is unavoidably detained on other important business. The Bill aims to tackle persistent offenders charged with multiple offences of burglary of homes. It will enhance the provisions for refusal of bail in appropriate cases and provide for consecutive sentencing for repeat offenders.

Burglary is an invasive upsetting crime which is not simply about theft or property. When it occurs in the home it strikes at our peace of mind in the one place where we should feel most secure. Article 40.5 of the Constitution highlights the importance of the home, "The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law." The courts have long recognised that the burglary of a person's home is an egregious crime. In his judgment in the 2006 case of DPP v. Barnes, Mr. Justice Hardiman 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."

On account of her concern over a rise in domestic burglaries, the Minister initiated a review of the response of the criminal justice system to the problem. The review examined legislation, the management of prolific offenders, policing and crime prevention. It involved the Garda Commissioner, the Probation Service and the Prison Service. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, has been consistent in her view that serious and serial offenders must continue to be imprisoned in appropriate cases. Public safety is of paramount importance. However, it is equally clear that imprisonment is only part of the solution. Locking people up and forgetting about them is not an effective way to reduce re-offending or protect our communities and reduce victimisation.

The review highlighted the fact that a large proportion of domestic burglaries are committed by serial offenders. Senators will be aware that approximately 25% of offenders are responsible for 75% of property offences. There is also evidence of a high rate of recidivism for burglary. Data from the 2013 Prison Service recidivism study shows a rate of over 79% among persons imprisoned for burglary and related offences. Data from the 2008-13 Probation Service recidivism study shows a recidivism rate of 49% among persons engaging with the Probation Service for burglary and related offences. These are the highest rates for any offence group.

Offenders pass through the hands of the Garda, the courts, the Prison Service and the Probation Service. The criminal justice system cannot be effective if it is disjointed. The Minister is keen to ensure that it handles offenders in a co-ordinated way from beginning to end. Last week, the Minister launched the joint agency response to crime initiative. JARC is an inter-agency response to the management and rehabilitation of offenders. It involves the Probation Service, the Prison Service and the Garda Síochána working in collaboration with statutory, community and voluntary partners. The JARC strategy aims to target those recidivist offenders responsible for the majority of crime. To reduce crime and enhance public safety, the nominated prolific offenders will be managed through the co-ordination and integration of policy, practice and research between the organisations. It makes sense that by targeting identified prolific offenders with such cross-cutting initiatives, which address their criminal behaviour and the harm it does, crime will be reduced and public safety increased.

These people require a specific programme in the community if they are to make better choices. In this context, targeting the relatively small group of repeat burglars has the potential to significantly reduce the incidence of burglary and the harm it causes throughout the country.In addition to a more co-ordinated approach to offender management, 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. This Bill will address these problems.

Of course, before one can prosecute or manage offenders, one has to respond to burglaries and investigate them. Tackling crime and burglaries remains a top priority for the Government and for An Garda Síochána. Operation Thor, a new multi-strand, national, anti-crime and anti-burglary operation was recently launched by the Garda Commissioner. An extra allocation of more than €5 million has been committed by the Government to support Operation Thor, which entails a broad range of activities to tackle crime, particularly burglaries, in urban and rural communities nationwide. These include: additional high-visibility patrols in identified burglary hot-spots; increased use of checkpoints to tackle the criminal gangs using the national road network; the use of high-powered vehicles by the armed regional response units; efforts to disrupt the stolen goods market; programmes to help reduce re-offending by prolific offenders; a high-profile national crime prevention awareness campaign; targeted crime prevention advice for local communities; and enhanced supports for victims.

Since Operation Thor commenced last month, there has been a range of arrests and persons have been charged as part of planned operations. These include arrests in Dublin, Dundalk, Cavan, Dunboyne, Mullingar and Birr, as well as a large-scale search of 12 locations in the Limerick area as part of a targeted operation against organised crime groups in which drugs and firearms were also seized. The Minister expects to receive ongoing reports on the impact of the operation throughout the country.

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. It is also important to note that the sustained Garda response under the previous 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.

The everyday tasks of An Garda Síochána and the specialist operations all have to be resourced. The Government has prioritised investment in the Garda and all aspects of its work. More than €34 million has been invested in new Garda vehicles since 2012, with more than 640 new vehicles coming onstream in 2015, ranging from more Garda patrol cars to high-powered vehicles for armed units. The Government's capital plan for 2016 to 2021 provides for a further €46 million of investment in vehicles as well as the recently authorised allocation of €1.8 million for the replacement and upgrade of equipment on the Garda fixed wing aircraft.

The capital plan contains an additional €205 million for Garda ICT systems and technology. This will bring overall Garda ICT funding to €330 million over the lifetime of the capital plan. A few weeks ago, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, together with the Minister of State at the Office of Public Works, Deputy Simon Harris, announced details of the Garda building and refurbishment programme, which includes more than €60 million of Exchequer funding as part of the Government capital plan for 2016 to 2021 as well as a major public private partnership project.

Last month, the Minister commenced the DNA legislation that saw the launch of a new state-of-the-art DNA database system, based in Forensic Science Ireland in the Phoenix Park. The DNA database represents a significant development in assisting the Garda Síochána in the investigation of crime. This high-quality intelligence and investigation tool will be invaluable in the fight against a whole range of crimes, including burglary.

The most important resources the Commissioner has at her disposal are the members of the force themselves. I commend them for their brave, compassionate and dedicated service, none more so than Garda Tony Golden who went far beyond the call of duty and gave his life to protect a vulnerable victim of domestic violence.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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He, along with the 87 other members of the force who have given their lives in the line of duty, did so out of a sense of service, a vocation to care for and protect their fellow citizens. There are no words of sorrow or gratitude equal to that service and that sacrifice. We can, as legislators and Government, show our support for the members of An Garda Síochána in a practical way by giving them the resources they need to do their work. I have spoken already of the investment in vehicles, equipment, buildings and technology being made by the Government. The Bill we are debating today will be a valuable legislative tool for gardaí in their work to tackle burglary.

We also need to address Garda numbers. The Garda College in Templemore was reopened to new recruits in September 2014. Since then, six intakes of new Garda trainees have entered the Garda College, giving a total intake of 550 recruits. Of these, 295 have already attested and are now working in communities nationwide. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, recently announced the opening of a recruitment campaign for new members of An Garda Síochána in 2016. This new campaign underscores the Government's commitment to seamless ongoing recruitment to An Garda Síochána to ensure that the service is renewed and has the capacity to deliver an effective, responsive police service throughout the country to protect our communities and respond to emerging crime trends. This additional recruitment will bring to 1,150 the total number of Garda trainees recruited under the Government between September 2014 and 2016. The 2016 campaign will include a special stream for eligible members of the Garda Reserve, who give their time on a voluntary basis to support the work of An Garda Síochána.

Community-based organisations, such as the Irish Farmers Association, Neighbourhood Watch and Muintir na Tíre, are key partners of An Garda Síochána in the fight against rural crime. Part of Operation Thor is to raise awareness in the community as to how they can work together to prevent crime. The funding being provided to support community alert and Crimestoppers is being doubled, with a total allocation of €397,000 in 2016.

I will now outline the provisions of the Bill. Section 1 of the Bill seeks to ensure that prolific burglars can be refused bail in appropriate cases. 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.

Section 2 of the Bail Act 1997, which gave effect to the 16th 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 add new provisions to section 2 of the Bail Act 1997. The new provisions will apply where a court is considering a bail application from an adult charged with a relevant offence alleged to have been committed in a dwelling. A relevant offence is defined as a burglary or aggravated burglary offence contrary to section 12 or 13 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, respectively. For the purposes of bail applications in such cases, the court must consider previous convictions for domestic burglary, coupled with pending charges or recent convictions as evidence that the accused person is likely to commit a further domestic burglary.

Turning to the detail of the provisions, the new subsection (2A) applies where a court is deciding whether it is reasonably considered necessary to refuse bail to prevent the commission of a serious offence by a person who is charged with a burglary alleged to have been committed in a dwelling. In such a case, if certain circumstances exist, as set out in subsection (2B), the court must consider the existence of these circumstances as evidence that the person is likely to commit a further domestic burglary. These circumstances are that the person has a previous conviction for domestic burglary committed in the five years before the bail application and that the person has been convicted of at least two domestic burglaries committed in the period starting six months before and ending six months after the alleged commission of the offence for which he or she is seeking bail, the person has been charged with at least two domestic burglaries allegedly committed in the same period, or the person has been convicted of at least one domestic burglary committed, and charged with at least one other domestic burglary allegedly committed, in the same period. The provisions, while making it clear that prolific burglars should be refused bail in the circumstances set out in the Bill, will leave the courts all necessary discretion to vindicate the constitutional rights of an accused person in relation to bail.

The new subsection (2C) provides that a reference in subsection (2B) to a conviction for a relevant offence includes a conviction that is currently under appeal. The new subsection (2D) provides that subsection (2B) will not prejudice the operation of section 258 of the Children Act 2001, which provides for the non-disclosure of certain findings of guilt relating to offences committed by persons under the age of 18. A new subsection (4) will be inserted into section 2 of the Bail Act to define "dwelling" and "relevant offence" for the purposes of the new provisions.

Section 2 of the Bill seeks to deal with the related problem of concurrent sentences being handed down for multiple burglaries. In many cases, relatively short sentences are imposed when multiple burglary offences are taken into account by the court. Section 2 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.

Subsection (1) of the new section 54A will apply where an adult is being sentenced to imprisonment for a domestic burglary, was convicted of another domestic burglary committed in the five years before the offence for which he or she is currently being sentenced, and was sentenced to imprisonment for another domestic burglary committed in the period starting six months before and ending six 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 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 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 whether or not to 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.

This Bill targets repeat burglary offenders through bail measures and provisions concerning the imposition of consecutive sentencing for repeat offending. It is one part of a broader co-ordinated strategy to tackle burglary and other crime through investment in Garda resources, increased recruitment, specialist operations like Thor, co-ordinated offender management through the Joint Agency Response to Crime, JARC, investment in community initiatives like text alert and investment in crime fighting technology, including the DNA database. The key objective of this 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 which they inflict on other people.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The review by the Department of the criminal justice system, as a result of the recent spate of burglaries, is very important, as is the legislation before us. I do not have to remind the House that people in rural Ireland are absolutely terrified at the moment. This is evident from the fact that public meetings that have been held on this issue have drawn huge crowds. In some cases, those attending do not want to hear politicians talking. They are making their own case and that case is particularly strong.

The Minister of State is correct in saying that burglary is not simply about the theft of property. Anybody who has been burgled has also lost his or her peace of mind. If one looks at that terrible case in Tipperary, one can hardly believe that such a thing could happen. When the criminals involved were going to court, the sheer contempt they displayed to the cameras was an indication of the seriousness of the situation.

There has been a marked increase in burglaries, with 28,830 recorded, representing an increase of 2,241. I hope the Minister of State is correct in his assertion that matters have improved in more recent times but the statistics would indicate that the burglary rate is increasing rather than decreasing. One of the reasons for this is the flaws and weaknesses in the criminal justice system itself. More than 60% of people who have been convicted for burglary repeat the offence, which shows there is no deterrent within the criminal justice system. A full 25% of people on bail commit burglaries while at large. It is vital that the courts are given the power to deal with what is now an epidemic.

We must consider the introduction of mandatory sentences which send out a clear message to burglars. As Mr. Justice Hardiman said, if someone breaks into one's home, that is an act of aggression. The issue is not the property but the aggression towards the citizens of this State and that should be met with the most severe penalties. There should be a mandatory sentence of three years for anyone who breaks into a person's home. Indeed, we should go further than that and introduce a sentence of seven years for anyone who commits burglary on three occasions within a 12-month period. That would send a clear message to the burglars that if they go down that road, they will pay for it. Such a message is important in the context of the damage done to peace loving, innocent citizens by burglars. That damage must be reflected within the sentencing process.

It is worthwhile, in the context of this debate, to turn to the Garda Inspectorate's most recent report. There are many issues highlighted in that report which the Department should seriously consider. There are 80 recommendations in all but one of the most fundamental points is that between 1,500 and 2,000 gardaí who are currently engaged in office-based work could be released for front-line duties. The Garda Inspectorate recommends that at least 1,000 of these be so released and is confident that An Garda Síochána will still have sufficient numbers to handle the administrative processes within the force. The Government should take that recommendation on board. As I understand it, Garda numbers in Dublin alone have been reduced by 639 in recent times.

I mention Dublin because this debate on burglary is not just about rural Ireland; the same is happening in Dublin. The criminals are acting with impunity. I am sorry to say, and this is no compliment, that they are working with professionalism. It is quite clear they have strategies but, above all else, they have inside information. I am certain that before criminal gangs, particularly the mobile ones, hit a town, they are provided with information by people in that town. If the gangs did not have such information, they would not be able to do what they are doing. That suggests that a network exists and that network must be broken.

The closure of 139 Garda stations is relevant here too. I am convinced, despite technological advances and our changing society, that there is nothing like the presence of a garda in an area. I am not suggesting that gardaí should necessarily be on the beat, so to speak, as in the past. However, the mere fact that there is a garda in an area who could receive information quietly, privately or even secretly, if necessary, means that he or she can combat the work of the local informants and be prepared for the gangs when they arrive. We should consider reopening a number of the Garda stations that were closed in recent years, particularly in areas that have experienced the type of crime to which we refer today. People might say that is done and dusted but I would argue that things have changed and the situation has gotten out of hand. This must be a priority issue. Having listened to the contributions made at a recent public meeting in Thurles, it was quite clear that nothing will satisfy the citizens or put their minds at ease other than radical action in this regard.

The neighbourhood watch scheme has been operating quietly for many years and has been quite successful. While the neighbourhood watch sign might not be a major deterrent, the fact that the scheme is organised and focused means that information is being shared and suspicious movements are being reported. However, communities need someone to receive that information and act on it. Making a phone call and hoping that a Garda car will arrive is not sufficient any more. The presence of local gardaí on the ground is essential.

Closed circuit television cameras on our motorways are vitally important because mobile criminal gangs have to use the motorways to commit their crimes. Closed circuit television cameras at motorway exits would pick up the movements of certain cars and so forth. I accept that there has been an improvement in the use of technology. Members of An Garda Síochána are upfront in telling us where the inadequacies exist at the moment.They are on the front line. I often wonder if we appreciate fully the work members of An Garda Síochána do. We have one of the finest police forces in the world and know gardaí at local level. When somebody steps out of line, as happens in every element of society, there is a hullabaloo, but the truth is that gardaí are willing, ready, committed and dedicated to do what is required. We must ensure they are assisted and that the criminal justice system takes cognisance of the current position. It is a sad, sorrowful day for the country that we have come to this. We owe it to citizens to protect them and give them peace of mind.

We support the Bill, which is as it should be. There are no kudos politically in it for anybody, but there are responsibilities for all of us who are privileged to be legislators.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who is a regular visitor to the House at this stage. I thank Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú for his support for the Bill which is long overdue. We have all heard about the beatings that have taken place around the country, particularly in County Tipperary where the Senator is based and where there has been a spate of crime. Criminal gangs are operating and take full advantage of the motorway network to target certain areas. I commend An Garda Síochána for its recent successes in investigating these crimes.

The Bill is necessary. Members of the public cannot understand the notion of sentences running concurrently. If somebody commits a burglary in County Tipperary which is successfully investigated by the Garda, the person concerned will be brought to court and a sentence imposed. If they have committed another burglary in Ennis, they will receive a sentence for that crime, too, and all of the sentences will run at the same time. For the ordinary person, this does not appear to be just. Consecutive sentencing for repeat offenders is important because it is important not only that justice be done but also be seen to be done.

I wish to speak briefly about restorative justice, community courts and the prevention of crime. The Government has demonstrated its commitment to try to deal with the causes of crime and what makes young people engage in crime in the first instance and, when somebody is found to have engaged in crime, what can be done to ensure he or she will not repeat it. Everybody in society deserves a second chance. There was all-party agreement in the House on a motion I had tabled on the issue of restorative justice. There is a very successful restorative justice programme which is being operated on a pilot basis in south Dublin and north Tipperary, of which Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú will be aware. The figures for the programme are incredible. There has been a 66% reduction in the number of repeat offenders where offenders engage in a restorative justice programme. I call on the Minister to enter into discussions on extending the pilot programme and running a restorative justice programme on a national basis. This proposal is worthy of consideration and is supported by this House.

There is also the issue of community courts. The Minister is engaged in developing a pilot project in inner city Dublin, similar to the one operating in New York but obviously in an Irish context. Community courts have been very successful. A community court is, effectively, a one-stop-shop. Usually I do not like that term, but it is a one-stop-shop in providing for addiction counselling and all the other supports needed to ensure offenders will not become repeat offenders. However, where there is repeat offending, it is important that the law take its course. The Bill is extremely welcome in that regard.

The Government has been very successful in re-equipping An Garda Síochána which, like all elements of society, has experienced a difficult period. A behavioural analysis study of An Garda Síochána was carried out in 2013, which I mentioned previously in the House. It found that only 63% or 64% of the population had confidence in it. The same exercise was carried out three or four months ago and the figures had improved dramatically, with 87% of the public surveyed expressing confidence in An Garda Síochána. That is due to the diligent work done by the new Garda Commissioner and her senior management team. Nóirín O'Sullivan is the first female Garda Commissioner and has set the bar very high. She has appeared before the justice committee on a couple of occasions and delivered a flawless performance, as has done since her appointment as Commissioner. This, coupled with the dedication of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and her two able Ministers of State, Deputies Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Kathleen Lynch, have transformed the Department of Justice and Equality and we are now in a position where both we and An Garda Síochána can move forward with confidence. An extra 600 gardaí will be recruited in the coming months and the recruitment programme will continue.

I welcome the Bill which I hope will receive all-party support. The message must be conveyed from this House that if one continues to offend repeatedly, one will be punished and justice will prevail. I hope the Bill will be passed speedily by the House.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin will support the passing of this legislation on Second Stage. However, that does not take from the fact that under the Government the incidence of assaults, sexual offences, theft, fraud and burglaries has risen. While it is welcome that serial offenders are being targeted in the Bill, the structural causes that give rise to the problem of burglaries stem from the decisions made by the Government.

Recent CSO statistics illustrate the following increases when one compares the figures for the year ending June 2014 with those for the year ending June 2015: the number of assaults increased by 10%, from 14,548 to 16,054; the number of burglaries increased by 8%, from 26,589 to 28,830; the number of ssexual offences increased by 3%, from 2,006 to 2,072; the level of theft increased by 2% to 78,885; and the number of fraud offences increased by 6% to 5,337. In the past year the number of burglaries has risen by 2,241. In Dublin alone the number has risen by 15%. These figures are startling, but the true number of crimes may be much higher. An audit of 2011 Garda statistics by the CSO in June 2015 located 75,000 crimes that had not been recorded by the Garda. They included 5,100 burglaries. According to recent reports in the Irish Examiner,the CSO still does not know if there have been improvements in the Garda system since the audit.

What can be said is that under the Government the incidence of certain criminal offences continues to rise, while Garda stations continue to be closed. In response to a parliamentary question from my colleague, Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, on the closure of Garda stations, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, confirmed that the Government had closed 139. This has resulted in a minuscule saving of €556,000 per annum. On average, only €4,000 per annum has been saved on utilities and maintenance costs per station. Such a small saving has had a disproportionately negative effect within rural communities and it is not only Sinn Féin that has identified this problem. According to the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, the decision made by the Government to close Garda stations has resulted in an increase in crime. We are witnessing the human impact of seven years of austerity. The association has further outlined that its office has been inundated with concerns about increased crime, particularly in rural areas. In addition, according to a Garda source reporting to The Irish Times,the closure of rural Garda stations exacerbates the sense of fear and corresponding uncertainty.When reliant on an ever-changing roster of personnel and mobile patrols, a loss of continuity is apparent. Without a continuous presence in the community, gardaí cannot provide an adequate community police service. The closure of rural Garda stations severs the tie with the community, with the added problem that crime is neither reported nor detected. Mr. Seamus Boland of Irish Rural Link points out that the only policy put in place by the Government is the closing of Garda stations. This means rural areas are without adequate Garda cover. The absence of a highly-visible local Garda station is advantageous only to those with criminal intent. Since the criminal fraternity knows which stations have closed, it presumably has a greater opportunity to evade gardaí. Closing Garda stations directly undermines the confidence the community has in policing, and it directly affects the reliability and speed of response.

According to Sinn Féin's reform agenda, key principles that must inform any positive change for on Garda Síochána include policing with the community to develop maximum confidence in the policing service and maximise co-operation between citizens and An Garda Síochána.

The impact of rural crime and the absence of Garda stations are 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. Cross-border co-operation makes sense for border communities where common working arrangements and protocols can tackle criminal behaviour and promote community safety.

It is the Government's austerity agenda that creates the environment in which the crime rate is increasing. A lack of resources is well known to increase the incidence of theft and burglary. Misguided decisions to close Garda stations to make small savings to the Exchequer merely increase the opportunity for criminal activity and add to the uncertainty and fear citizens in this State are already experiencing under seven years of austerity. As always, it is the poor, isolated and vulnerable who suffer most under this Government. This Bill, while welcome, does not address the root causes of the increase in criminal activity and the negative social consequences of austerity.

The review being carried out on the rostering of gardaí, which rostering is having a negative impact on rural stations, is part of a pilot project. Even the chief superintendent in Galway has spoken about rostering and the problems it is causing. Rural gardaí are being sucked into urban stations to cover when personnel fall ill, etc. The rostering does not seem to be working very well. I realise this is a result of the working time directive but it certainly needs to be reviewed because of the very serious impact on rural stations.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, to the House along with his hard-working officials. We have commented already on the large volume of justice legislation we have been dealing with recently. Today is a case in point because there are four justice Bills before us. We have had to deal with many complex and lengthy Bills but this one is very short and focused. As Senator Conway said, it has received cross-party support. It has a very clear aim, namely, to tackle the very specific issue of recidivism where it relates to burglary offences. Others have spoken about the real fear so many people have in various communities around the country owing to the prevalence of burglary. Others have rightly spoken about the dreadful impact burglaries have on victims and their families and children, particularly in domestic dwellings. We were all horrified by the dreadful domestic burglary in Tipperary. From reports from the meeting in Thurles that followed, it is clear there is genuine concern over burglary and the high number of burglaries in certain communities.

An issue arises over the perception of burglary. Many burglary offences are dealt with in the District Court as minor offences but the sorts of burglaries about which there have been so many reports — burglaries in homes at night when occupants are present that appear to be carried out by gangs in an organised fashion as part of a series of burglaries — are clearly very serious.

This Bill clearly deals with just two aspects of the legal process, namely, bail and consecutive sentencing. With regard to the offence of burglary in the original Act of 2001, we might examine these aspects again to determine whether some distinction could be drawn between the very different types of burglaries. The one offence may cover a number of levels of seriousness. This may be a real issue. There is an aggravated burglary offence in the 2001 Act but, even with that, there is quite a range of types of burglaries, ranging from what might be termed more minor ones to more serious ones. Burglary is never minor to the victim but circumstances can mean offences vary greatly in their nature. The distinction between serious and minor offences capable of being tried in the District Court is one that might be examined in a broader review of the substantive law of burglary.

The Bill deals with the two issues of bail and consecutive sentencing and is clearly aimed at dealing with the issue of recidivism. The Minister of State has spoken about the high rate of recidivism related to burglary offences. The Irish Prison Service's recidivism survey suggests a repeat offending rate of 79%, and the Probation Service survey also shows a high level of repeat offending associated with burglary. I am aware of research on the psychology of young offenders in the State who are convicted of a number of burglary offences who might be described as "persistent burglars". The psychology is interesting, as evident in the report and interviews with those convicted of multiple burglary offences. One finds there is an opportunistic element in that the individuals concerned may take the opportunity to commit a burglary if they see an open window or house that appears empty or without a burglar alarm. However, there is also an ingrained culture. One hesitates to say that expertise or experience builds up. Within the very small community of very persistent burglars, there is an ingrained burglar psychology. Clearly, this needs to be tackled.

The Bill seeks to address this through the criminal justice system. The amendment to the Bail Act 1997 allows a court to consider repeat offences where burglary is committed in a dwelling and where the offender has attained the age of 18. This might be taken into account when refusing bail in respect of a particular burglary offence. I am glad to see there are safeguards in this regard. The Minister of State has pointed out the right to bail derives from the constitutional presumption of innocence. It is important that we ensure that the constitutional rights for those accused of crimes are protected. There are clear safeguards related to the qualifications in respect of the courts' role in deciding on bail.

With regard to section 2 and consecutive sentencing, a range of safeguards is in place. A number of different provisos must apply before a court can impose a consecutive sentence. Where a consecutive sentence is imposed by the District Court, the aggregate term is still limited to two years. That is important and the range of safeguards must be supported.

Clearly, however, these provisions will not tackle the underlying causes of offending. For that reason, I really welcome the inter-agency approach the Minister has announced, namely the joint agency response to crime initiative, JARC, which one anticipates will be more effective than any criminal justice response can be. We all know that the issues involved in the repeat offending of a small group of mostly young, persistent offenders must be tackled. Clearly, initiatives associated with bail and sentencing can go only partially towards that.

More generally, it has been welcome to see that the Government's approach to criminal justice has focused on tackling causes of crime and emphasised the need to strengthen our restorative justice system. Senator Conway has mentioned the latter. The approach has also focused on penal reform more generally. I really welcomed earlier this week the closure of St. Patrick's Institution, that dreadful place which for far too long has been a blight on our prison estate. Other Senators have also welcomed it. There was a general welcome for the emphasis on further resourcing of the Probation Service and on non-custodial sanctions as a way of ensuring the rehabilitation of offenders. Our own justice committee's report on penal reform, unanimously adopted some years ago, recommended that prison should be a sanction of last resort and that efforts should be made to reduce the number of those incarcerated for minor, non-violent offences. For that reason, everyone will welcome the commencement of the Fines Act in the new year, as announced by the Minister. It will ensure we will no longer see people sent to prison for the non-payment of fines. There was some discussion on that in the House this week. It is a very welcome change towards a more enlightened and progressive criminal justice and penal system that will see real inroads being made into addressing repeat offending and much better protections for victims of crime. Ultimately, victims of crime wish to see crime prevention and the tackling of repeat offending.

I commend the Garda on its work and welcome the fact that Operation Thor has been put in place to tackle very serious, organised burglary offences. I commend the Garda on its previous operation, Operation Fiacla, and the community groups on their efforts. The justice committee had hearings with Muintir na Tíre and the community groups, which are clearly doing a huge amount of invisible work on crime prevention on the ground in various areas.My own experience in an urban setting of the Garda's crime prevention office has been hugely positive. It is largely unseen work, with crime prevention officers coming out to people's homes in neighbourhoods where there has been a high rate of burglaries in previous weeks to advise communities on how best to secure their homes and to ensure crime prevention strategies are put in place. These are really important interventions. They are invisible, but they have a huge impact in terms of crime prevention.

The Bill is only a small part of a much larger package of measures which are needed to tackle burglaries. It will receive general support and I am glad that safeguards are in place to ensure the presumption of innocence will be protected, as will the due process rights of accused persons.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State who is a regular visitor to the House these days. I welcome Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú's generous response to the Bill and the Minister of State will receive the same support throughout the House.

As Mr. Justice Hardiman said, the offence of burglary, committed in a dwelling house, is an act of aggression and an attack on the personal rights of the citizen, a violation of him or her, as well as a public crime. People believe that when personal jewellery is scattered around the place or stolen, it is a real violation and it takes older people and those who live alone or in the country a long time to recover from such a traumatic experience.

In the context of attempts to enforce drink driving legislation, I regret the ingenuity of the legal profession in defending activities which lead to the death of some 160 people a year. Will the loophole merchants find a loophole in this legislation? Is the definition of "dwelling" strong enough? Will they be able to say they did not know something was a dwelling? Will they be able to say they did not know somebody lived upstairs? Will they be able to say they were robbing the post office, not knowing the postmaster or postmistress lived overhead? Perhaps on the next Stage we might look at whether the definition is watertight. The loophole merchants of the legal profession are probably at work already to find a way around it. I regret such conduct, but, after the recent drink driving case and the role different languages played in the case, cynicism among the public is at unprecedented levels. That is what the Garda has to cope with.

The requirement to retire earlier than in any other occupation is wrong because the Garda force loses all that expertise. A previous deputy commissioner took the case for normal retirement in An Garda Síochána to the courts but lost as there needed to be a system of promotions and people would have been blocked off if others stayed on too long. On the retirement age in general, the unnatural early retirement age for gardaí might be looked at. I welcome the reference to the Garda Reserve, the members of which sometimes feel left out but whom the Minister of State has brought firmly back into things.

We need joint operations in Border areas. In the Smithwick report which investigated the deaths of two RUC men on leaving Dundalk Garda station there was a recommendation that the United States-Canada model for cross-Border policing be used. Given the very harmonious relationship between the PSNI and the Garda and the fact that there is a meeting in Armagh today between the Ministers of the two jurisdictions, that recommendation might be looked at. It is related, as the Minister of State said, to the deaths of Garda Tony Golden and Garda Adrian Donohoe. We cannot have areas of criminality on both sides of the Border.

Garda visits to schools have a good record and should be maintained. This is not particularly relevant to burglaries, but children should be warned of the dangers on roads or being invited to get into cars.

On the question of a cumulative record of burglaries being taken into account, I accept the point about the presumption of innocence and that it is a strong part of the Constitution, but if there are 64 or 94 previous offences, the statistical probability of presuming innocence is reduced. A person is his or her record and it should be taken into account. There is general despair when people commit crimes while on bail and I welcome the Minister of State's attempts to deal with the matter today. It is an abuse of freedom.

I wish the Minister of State well with the legislation. On a side issue, the name "An Garda Síochána" originated in this House and the title in legislation was to be the "Civic Guard". A Senator made a contribution which was acknowledged throughout society.

Senator Feargal Quinn is unable to be here, but he did ask that, in addition to the 999 number, we look at the 101 system whereby people who are not reporting a crime could seek the advice of gardaí. The Senator assures me that the system works very well in Northern Ireland. It takes pressure off the 999 service because one person deals with crimes, while the others give advice. Other Senators have mentioned the value of advice. For old people, a much appreciated piece of advice from gardaí is to get a dog, as burglars can get around technology, but a dog is a real deterrent.

There should be greater community policing, while Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú mentioned the curse of bureaucracy. We should get gardaí on the beat, meeting people and reinforcing the relationship between them and the public, one of the great relationships in the country. An Garda Síochána is probably the most trusted institution in public life. On the subject of cherishing the role played by it in the development of Irish society, the Garda Museum in Dublin Castle has been shut for a very long time. It would be of great interest in increasing the appreciation and knowledge of the great history of the great servants we have in An Garda Síochána.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and compliment him and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on the raft of reforming legislation which has been steered successfully through the Oireachtas in recent months and which will come to a conclusion in the next number of days. I particularly welcome this significant and timely legislation which addresses an issue which is near and dear to every citizen, namely, how the law can be strengthened to keep them safer from thugs who invade their private lives and homes where citizens are entitled to feel safe. The Bill does just that by addressing the issues of repeat offending and sentencing. It will close some loopholes in the justice system that allow dangerous criminals to commit multiple burglaries, obtain bail and reoffend while out on bail. Many people say it is long overdue to get tough with burglars, particularly those who use violence. We all know friends and neighbours whose homes have been burgled and some in this House have also experienced it, albeit without the violence, and know the trauma and anxiety it causes which last for a very long time.

Burglary with violence is a particularly heinous crime and must be met with the full rigour of the law. Members will have read about a case in east Galway last year which involved a business couple in their 70s who ran a shop off the motorway in the village of Kiltullagh. They have been burgled on a number of occasions and last year were savagely beaten. Their son who arrived on the scene was hit on the head with a hammer. Their business was ransacked as the burglars looked for cash before they sped off in a high powered vehicle down the motorway. Four months earlier the same couple had been robbed of cigarettes, equipment and cash. I heard a heart-rending interview recently on local radio with the elderly gentleman concerned in which he recalled the events which had happened to them in the past few years. He said their lives had been changed forever and that they found it difficult to sleep in their beds at night.We must put an end to this behaviour. It is ludicrous that repeat offenders who have been charged with multiple burglaries are given bail and often commit further offences while on bail. I cannot understand how this practice has been allowed to continue.

I concur with Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú that sentencing for home burglaries must reflect the seriousness of the crime which involves intruding on people's lives and instilling fear in them. Many professional burglars make smart use of technology and often have inside information. Above all, however, they have an outlet for disposing of stolen goods. This issue must be tackled by cutting off these outlets, thereby putting an end to their ability to dispose of stolen goods.

Investment is the key to tackling serious crime. The Government has invested heavily in crime prevention and Garda resources, including Operation Thor. The Garda was starved of investment during the recession. I am particularly pleased that a significant investment is being made in the Garda fleet. Approximately €34 million has been spent on Garda vehicles since 2012 and a further €5.3 million was allocated recently to fund the purchase of 600 additional new vehicles for the Garda fleet. I also welcome the recent announcement by the Minister that 600 new gardaí will be recruited in the coming year. Moves to strengthen the community approach to policing are also welcome. Community involvement through community and text alert and neighbourhood watch schemes is increasing and involves communities working closely with the Garda. There is no doubt that burglary rates decline significantly in communities where this approach is working effectively.

Today is significant in that we are passing legislation which will, I hope, deal with repeat offenders. We need to go further, however, by continuing to invest in Garda resources. I am pleased that a Garda station refurbishment programme was introduced early this year, much of which will come to fruition in 2016. I am not especially worried that small Garda stations will not reopen. I want to see more and more Garda patrols in rural communities at times when thugs are out doing their evil deeds. Having gardaí sitting in Garda stations is a waste of time. Unannounced Garda patrols in rural communities and villages are the best way to prevent crime.

I applaud the Minister for introducing the Bill. I am particularly pleased that every Senator who has contributed thus far has spoken in favour of it. Together, we can help to eliminate this cancer in society by dealing with criminals who are terrorising innocent people. We are entitled to feel safe in our homes. As the old saying goes, a person's home is his castle and we all expect to be safe when we turn the key in the lock at night.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. If he does not have the answer to any of my questions, I ask him to circulate it afterwards.

Was an impact assessment made of the implementation of this legislation by judges? One of the reasons people are given bail is the possibility that there will be an undue delay in hearing cases in court. It can take some time for a case to come to court.

On the issue of whether not to grant bail on the grounds that a person is likely to reoffend, how many more people will end up in prison as a result of this proposal? Some 25% of people who commit burglaries account for 75% of burglaries. What does this represent in hard numbers, in other words, to how many individuals does it amount? Does the prison system have the capacity to deal with the numbers involved if the law is implemented and judges refuse bail applications?

I spoke previously about the issue of smart tagging. The Minister of State alluded to the Bail Act 1997. The briefing material from the Library and Research Service notes that section 6 of the Act allows for electronic monitoring or smart tagging of persons who are charged with a serious offence or appealing against a sentence of imprisonment imposed by the District Court or out on bail. Unfortunately, this section has not been commenced.

On alternatives to bail, the Criminal Justice Act 2006 allows for an alternative sentence to imprisonment by means of electronic tagging. Research carried out by the Library and Research Service has found that reoffending rates among those who were subject to smart tagging or electronic monitoring in Florida for property and drug-related crimes declined by 95%. The Library and Research Service also notes that monitoring a person for one month costs €195, whereas imprisonment for one day costs €263. While I am in favour of the Bill on the basis that it is necessary to tackle those who are responsible for the majority of crimes, smart policing also involves using smart technology. I agree that habitual criminals should be allowed not to have a series of other crimes taken into consideration when being sentenced. In a recent case a person who had 60 convictions for burglary was sentenced to six months for a series of crimes. Let us be honest, this person will be convicted for a 62nd and a 63rd time because he is a habitual offender. We should use the Bail Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice Act 2006 to implement electronic and smart tagging for habitual burglars, as well as for other habitual offenders. As the Minister of State and the officials will be aware, of 16,000 people disqualified from driving, 500 were subsequently involved in serious accidents, some of which caused death. If electronic monitoring or smart tagging had been used, a member of An Garda Síochána would have been able to determine if the person was in a car at any time and could have had the vehicle stopped. Provided someone else was not driving, the person being monitored could then have been imprisoned. I am raising the possibility of such a provision being added to the Bill.

My principal question to the Minister of State is whether the prison system has the capacity to deal with the 25% of burglars who are habitual offenders when they come before the courts. Will a judge agree with the Garda that a habitual burglar should not be granted bail but ultimately decide not to incarcerate the individual in question on the basis that the prison system cannot accommodate him or her or that a trial may not be held within 12 months?

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach.

The Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015 has two main provisions. It provides for the option of refusing bail in certain circumstances to a person charged with domestic burglary.It also will provide that where a court imposes custodial sentences for multiple domestic burglaries, these sentences must be consecutive in certain circumstances. Members should consider the number of burglaries and other offences committed by criminals out on bail, as has been referred to by many Members, as well as repetitive burglaries and the question of access to free legal aid for persistent offenders. I am aware that constitutionally, one is innocent until proven guilty and as far as I can see, a criminal who has committed in excess of 100 offences can have free legal aid and it is available ad infinitum. However, I believe there should be some way to get payback by those criminals, whether it is through voluntary work in their communities or, in many cases, a small reduction from social welfare benefits. I believe continuing to burgle houses while out on bail definitely is not constitutional.

I acknowledge all community organisations and neighbourhood watch schemes, as well as the Irish Farmers Association and Muintir na Tíre. I also acknowledge the co-operation that exists at present between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Síochána. I recently called to a home in County Louth in which an elderly lady in her 70s lives alone. She called out to ask who was at the door and when I told her who it was, she asked me to wait as she had four locks to open on the door. I simply was calling to check on her and to ensure everything was all right but it took her three or four minutes to open all the bolts she had on the door. She is living in fear with the lights on all night and so on. Members must act to stop this. I met a fellow recently who received a telephone call at 3 a.m. A guy was going by boat on a business trip to Scotland when he saw a jeep, the number of which he recognised. He rang the owner to find out where on the boat he was in order to have a chat during the crossing, only to discover the man was at home in his bed in Cooley and did not realise his jeep was on the ship going to Scotland. It was fortunate that the man had made a telephone call because the owner then realised his jeep had been taken from outside his door and was being taken to Scotland during the night. Thankfully, with the co-operation the perpetrators were apprehended.

I acknowledge the remarks by Senator Ó Murchú about our police force, the Garda Síochána. Its members must be commended on their dedication and full commitment to protecting communities nationwide. I support this Bill and I am glad everyone who has spoken is supportive of it. It is being supported by all parties and I look forward to its implementation.

If I can raise one further matter, the Minister of State might comment on the issue of reasonable force. I would like it if someone to explained to me what constitutes reasonable force. If one goes home and opens one's door to find some guy leaving with one's television or goods from the home, what does one do? I know what I would do in any event and while it might not be within the law, that is the case.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator, I am trying to use reasonable force and I call Senator Wilson.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, to the House. I also welcome the Bill, which Fianna Fáil supports wholeheartedly, and the changes it makes to the bail laws and to the sentencing regime. I have listened to all the contributions in the Chamber, all of which are familiar to me. I did some research on this issue and I understand there were 28,830 recorded burglary and related offences in the 12-month period ending in June 2015. This represents an increase of 2,241, or more than 8%, when compared with the corresponding period ending in 2014. While this is only a statistic, when Members think about all the families, households and communities that are affected and the devastating impact a burglary can have, these statistics can only be described as a national crisis. The closure of 139 Garda stations and the reduction in Garda numbers from 14,000 to approximately 12,500 members, have left both urban and rural communities extremely vulnerable to burglary. The recent spate of violent attacks during burglaries on elderly people in their homes has left many people living in constant fear. My party already has published a Bill to introduce a mandatory three year jail sentence for criminals convicted of burglary and a minimum of seven years on conviction of a third offence. Fianna Fáil did this because we understand that when someone breaks into one's home, it is not just the items which are stolen that causes the impact but also the shattering of the sense of security and comfort a home offers. This is particularly the case for elderly people, who are most vulnerable in their homes. No law can bring back that comfort and security to the individuals targeted and that is why Members must be ready to do whatever it takes to end the current crisis. I note what the Minister of State said in his contribution and Senator Barrett alluded to the comments of Mr. Justice Adrian Hardiman of the Court of Criminal Appeal when he 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." That sums it up quite well for us all.

The burglary epidemic being witnessed nationwide is being carried out by a few criminals. These individuals are ruthless, often albeit not always, fuelled by drugs and have absolutely no regard for the law. Unfortunately, they are better equipped with technology than are gardaí and have high-powered vehicles that can outrun any Garda patrol car. I acknowledge the Government will invest in new high-powered cars for the Garda, which I greatly welcome. Members must give the Garda the necessary resources to defeat these criminals. The State has a duty to defend its citizens from lawlessness and at present it is failing in that duty, which is a great shame. Members must wake up to the challenge faced by communities and rural communities in particular, which feel isolated and where people often live in fear because of these criminal actions. I am familiar, as are other colleagues, with the stories of many elderly people who lock their doors at 6 p.m. and Senator Brennan has just alluded to such a case. They refuse to answer the door after that time because they live in fear in their homes. I also know of neighbours who do everything they can to protect their homes but believe they will be the next victims of this horrendous crime. I hope this Bill will act as an additional deterrent to those engaged in criminal activities. However, even in cases where criminals who engage in burglary are convicted, there is a significant chance of the individual reoffending when they are released. As some colleagues have referred to the reoffending statistics, I do not intend to go into that subject again.

The other issue I wish to see addressed is the free legal aid system. Victims of burglary who are obliged to go to court must have legal representation and are obliged to pay for it themselves. In 99% of cases, the criminal who has committed the offence is given free legal aid. Free legal aid is too freely available and this issue must be examined in depth. I ask the Minister of State to so do. I welcome the resources the Government is providing to the Garda. We need to build up the numbers of gardaí in communities. A burglary in a house in Dublin or in a rural community has the same effect on the person who is burgled. Such victims feel isolated and live in fear. Some communities have taken matters into their own hands. I refer to the group formed recently after a public meeting in Swanlinbar in County Cavan. A group of individuals is now patrolling their area and has had some success in catching criminals. Cross-Border crime is a particular problem in the area I come from. The Minister of State would be familiar with it through family connections. In these particular cases, persons have been caught engaging in criminality and have been handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland but they have walked free. That is because the law is backing the criminal. These communities telephone the local gardaí but by the time the gardaí get to the scene of the crime, it is too late and they are gone. We need to put the gardaí on the ground in the communities.

There is also a need to invest heavily in smart technology. Garda stations that have been closed will not reopen. Unfortunately, it is a fact that more Garda stations will close. We should have a system where every number plate in the State is recognisable and it should be easy to say whether a car is taxed, is insured, has undergone the NCT and who owns it. If it is cloned, we should be able to identify this and move in fairly quickly on the person driving it.

I welcome the Bill, which my party fully supports. I hope it has a speedy passage through this House.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I pay tribute to the late Garda Tony Golden, the late Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe and the 87 members of the Garda force who lost their lives protecting us. I hope the Bill will do what it is supposed to do and help to put a stop to the revolving door. There is nothing more frustrating than when one's house is burgled because one's home is one's castle. It is protected by the Constitution, which states, "The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law."

The previous speaker spoke about closure of Garda stations but Fianna Fáil closed more Garda stations than we did. I do not agree with the view on the closure on Garda stations. Compared to 2011, before Garda stations were closed, the number of burglaries and aggravated burglaries recorded has fallen by 0.4% and 5.7%, respectively. It is preferable to have a garda sitting in a highly-equipped car with a mobile phone and IT - one of the new 640 plus vehicles put on the road this year - rather than sitting in a station with an old phone and no IT.

The technology is available whereby gardaí could log on to the PULSE system from their cars through a secure mobile hand-held unit. This should be available to every community garda. Gardaí should not have to travel back to the station to log on to their computers. It is like being back in the Dark Ages and it must change. An extra €205 million has been allocated this year for ICT, 640 new vehicles have been provided and €1.8 million has been allocated for replacement and upgrade of surveillance equipment.

I have much to say about repeat offenders. Some 25% of offenders are responsible for 75% of property offences and the rate of recidivism is at 79%. Tagging was mentioned. It would be much cheaper if one could do that. The DNA legislation will go a long way. When gardaí come out to one's house to take fingerprints, what happens after that? The new system and the new legislation will go a long way in that regard.

The Minister of State might make a statement on automatic number plate recognition, ANPR. I raised it at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly recently. According to the Automobile Association, there are cameras all around the country but they are not linked to Garda stations. If one computer could talk to another one, it would save a lot of money also. If automatic number plate recognition was linked to the technology the Garda has and to the speed cameras, one could cut down on the number of burglaries. The JARC system that has been introduced and the inter-agency offender management community programme will go a long way to addressing that.

Senator Wilson spoke about free legal aid. One should hit people in their pockets. If they are on social welfare, there should be even a minimal deduction. For every offence, let it creep up and hit them where it hurts. If repeat offenders can go to prison for a day, or an hour like the two Deputies, it says it is all right and that they can get away with it.

I welcome the €397,000 extra the Minister has put into community alert. Community alert and people working together and keeping an eye on what is happen are important. We should have a programme to address the 79% recidivism rate. The individual must decide to transform himself or herself. There are programmes in America and in England, namely, cognitive transformation theory for desistance from crime, which work. One could work with communities because many communities know the repeat offender. Rather than locking them up and throwing away the key, it is preferable to do something with the individual and to let him or her try to transform himself or herself. There are some cognitive transformation desistance programmes in action and we should look at them.

As was stated, there is no point in having the legislation if we do not have places to put people but I do not think that is what it is about. It is about how we prevent crime.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. Fianna Fáil supports this Bill to address the significant rise in burglary offences witnessed in the past three years. Sadly, the number of burglary offences continues to soar within the State. The CSO recently published figures show a national increase of 8.4%. I wish to speak about the constituency of Dublin Rathdown in which the Stepaside Garda station was closed. I have called that a folly on a number of occasions and Fianna Fáil is committed to reopening the Garda station there or, alternatively, to building a new custom-built Garda station in the area that would have three cells and whatever else is needed.

Exit 13 on the M50 is used by burglars who travel freely and quickly into, and out of, the constituency. It is unbelievable. At the two public meetings I held on burglaries in the area, more than 60% of those who attended said they had been burgled or knew somebody who had been burgled. It is a daily occurrence. It has left many older people in constant fear of being burgled. I always recommend to older people in the constituency that they put on their alarm early in the evening and do not to answer the door. Fianna Fáil has proposed that CCTV cameras be installed at motorway exits to assist in the detection and prosecution of criminal activity. In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, for instance, that would include exit 13 off the M50. In the case of public transport, the operators of the Luas have inspectors on the tram who observe passengers and monitor criminal activity, but they cannot intervene where a crime is committed. There is very little they can do if they see somebody committing an offence, such as pick-pocketing, or notice a person they suspect was involved in a crime in the area. We are proposing that gardaí be seconded from local stations to deal with cases, for example, where a person suspected of committing a crime is frequenting the Luas. Unlike the security people monitoring the trams, gardaí have the power to arrest people in those circumstances. From my own experience, the community gardaí in Dundrum do a marvellous job.

Fianna Fáil intends to bring forward legislation to introduce longer sentences for those who assault elderly persons, who are among the most vulnerable in both rural and urban communities. In addition, we propose to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for persons convicted of burglary offences. The neighbourhood watch schemes operating in many areas serve a very useful purpose but my party is committed to establishing a national neighbourhood watch directorate to centrally support and drive community initiatives across the country. Gardaí do an excellent job in nurturing and supporting local neighbourhood watch schemes but it would be excellent to have an overall directive. In a similar vein, Crimestoppers is an international organisation which has a great deal to offer in terms of preventing crime within communities. However, it does not receive adequate funding in this country to let people know what it is capable of doing and to get them involved.

The rate of burglaries in the State is a very serious issue. As I said, criminals are using the motorways and the Luas to move around the place with ease. I support the Bill on behalf of Fianna Fáil.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am delighted to welcome this Bill, which represents a timely and appropriate response to the increased incidence of burglaries of dwellings. That is not to say it is the ideal solution. In fact, nobody knows what the ideal response is to this very serious issue. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill notes that the recidivism rate for persons convicted of burglaries and related offences is 80%. There must always, of course, be a presumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty in any criminal prosecution but, as Senator Barrett observed, there is cause for serious concern when a person comes before the courts who has 94 previous convictions. Will consideration be given to setting an above-the-bar figure beyond which a person will not be granted bail? I ask the Minister of State to address that suggestion in his response.

I support the measures in the Bill in regard to consecutive sentencing. However, the issue I am most concerned about is the impact of these crimes on victims. I do not claim criminal justice as a specialism of mine but I do understand the trauma that is visited on people when these things happen to them. At the time I moved to Oranmore in the mid-1990s, a local man in his mid or late 60s was murdered during the course of a burglary. That represents the nth degree to which these types of crimes can escalate. Such is the trauma visited on people that they often do not feel safe in their homes and end up living in fear. This is especially so for older people, whose confidence may be taken away forever.

On Monday night I heard about the number of break-ins in Clarinbridge, in Maree in Oranmore, where I live, and also in the Newcastle area of Galway city and in Portumna. We need to tackle the root causes of this type of crime and implement measures to make it very unattractive to potential criminals. Senator Brennan spoke about hitting these people where it hurts. There certainly is a case for reviewing social welfare entitlements, for instance, in such cases. I am conscious, however, without in any way wishing to justify criminal activity, that if we penalise people to the degree that we put them on the bread line, they might be driven to burgle out of necessity. I was involved in a study on early school leaving in the course of which we interviewed a number of young prisoners. Many of them, particularly the female prisoners, spoke about growing up in an environment of abuse, illiteracy and drug addiction and with family members who spent time in prison. The only way they could survive that environment was to burgle. It is a major societal issue at that level. None of that is reflected in the Bill, although I acknowledge the inter-agency approach to which Senator Bacik alluded.

On the other hand, if the sanctions and penalties are too weak and if offenders know they will get away with it, they will continue to engage in criminal activity. We know there is a culture of crime in certain areas and within certain families. That is part of the bigger picture and it needs to be tackled through the education and juvenile justice systems. I agree with Senator Mullins about the need to have a visible Garda presence. We need more community gardaí and more regular patrols. At the same time, there are steps people can take to reduce the likelihood of burglary and keep themselves safe. The text alert system is very good and is in operation where I live, in Maree. Having alert neighbours is better than having any number of gardaí on patrol. People who are at home on a regular basis notice unfamiliar vehicles and unusual activity in their area. People also need to be careful when it comes to social media usage. Young people, in particular, tend to advertise their location at any point in time. That gives very valuable information to smart burglars. I agree that a good dog is a great asset. I have one at home and it does make a difference in terms of making one feel safer.

I will conclude with a few questions for the Minister of State. Based on the evidence, what is the best sanction or penalty to prevent criminal recidivism and rehabilitate offenders? We need to work with offenders to help them see the impact of their crimes and ensure they do not want to do the same again. Second, what is the Garda Síochána seeking in terms of additional resources and supports to tackle this problem? I am presuming they have sought such assistance. Finally, will the Minister of State consider provisions to withdraw access to bail for repeat offenders after they have been convicted of a certain number of burglary offences?Is there a means of tagging offenders above a certain number of burglaries?

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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I appreciate the contributions made across the House and the support for the Bill. I listened with interest to what Senators had to say and I thank all those who contributed to the debate. It is clear that all of us here are of the view that burglary is an odious offence, particularly when it interferes with what should be the peaceful haven of a person's home.

In tackling burglary, the Government is particularly focused on serious and repeat offenders in terms of sentencing and in smarter and more co-ordinated offender management and investing in the capacity of An Garda Síochána to tackle such offenders.

The Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, commissioned a review of this area earlier in the year and the Bill is directly informed by the concerns identified by An Garda Síochána. Officials from the Department met with the detectives tackling burglaries so that they could hear first hand the difficulties they face to identify the improvements in the law which have been delivered in this Bill. Gardaí noted the particular challenges they face in tackling repeat offenders who obtain bail, despite having multiple convictions or facing multiple charges. Such offenders often commit many burglaries while on bail and then push to receive a sentence for as few offences as possible while having many more taken into consideration. The Bill addresses both ends of the problem.

The constitutional right of liberty of accused persons is carefully balanced with the constitutional right to inviolable dwelling. Multiple offences of domestic burglary or multiple pending charges or a combination of both will be considered as evidence that the person is likely to commit further domestic burglary. The courts will be empowered to deny bail to such prolific offenders in appropriate cases.

As regards sentencing, multiple offences committed within the same 12-month period cannot simply be taken into consideration or rolled up into a single concurrent sentence of imprisonment. If a court is minded to impose a sentence of imprisonment it would be obliged to impose it consecutively to any sentence of imprisonment for domestic burglary committed within the same 12-month period.

Work is progressing on the drafting of a new bail Bill which the Minister intends to bring forward as a matter of priority to strengthen other aspects of the law and to protect the public against crimes committed by persons on bail. Legislation is only part of the solution. Results on the ground are delivered by the men and women of An Garda Síochána. Gardaí ensure that our laws are enforced and that the rights of vulnerable victims are upheld.

It is important that we equip the gardaí to do their jobs. I wish to outline the significant investment this Government is making in Garda equipment, ICT, vehicles, buildings and the new DNA database. The Government's capital plan is providing a major investment in 21st century policing to tackle crime. An additional €46 million has been provided for vehicles, €60 million for buildings and overall ICT funding of €330 million over the lifetime of the capital plan. The Minister secured an extra allocation for the recruitment of 600 new gardaí. I have already mentioned the effect of Operation Thor.

I listened with particular interest to the concerns of all Members of the House to particular cases mentioned by colleagues. I sympathise with all victims of burglary. In addition to resourcing An Garda Síochána to tackle the offenders, we are putting in place supports for victims. The general scheme of the criminal justice (victims of crime) Bill has been published and the Bill is being drafted. Victims of crime will be placed at the heart of the justice system for the first time. Victims will have a right to receive clear information on the criminal justice system, their role within it and the range of services and entitlements they may access. The Bill provides the right to receive written acknowledgement of the making of a complaint as well as details on how further information can be obtained. Victims will be able to request information concerning the progress of the investigation in any court proceedings. The information must be provided by a prison service on the release and escape from prison of an offender serving a sentence for an offence against the victim if requested. Victims will also have the right to individual assessment of the measures necessary for their protection from further victimisation. The Garda Síochána, the Courts Service, DPP, the Irish Prison Service and the Garda Ombudsman Commission will all be obliged to train staff members in the needs of victims and to enable them to deal with victims in a respectful and professional manner.

In regard to the closure of Garda stations, policing has a lot more complexity to it than where a station is located. Recent statistics show no correlation between station closures and a rise in burglary. Burglary has, in fact, fallen in some areas where stations were closed. I understand the concern expressed at the closure of Garda stations. It can appear that resources have been withdrawn from an area when this happens but this is not the truth. The closure of Garda stations was not about saving money. It was done to enhance service delivery and efficiency. We have heard again in recent days from the Garda association and the Garda Inspectorate about the need to release gardaí from paperwork for front line duties. The rationalisation programme put in place by Garda management shows front line gardaí to be deployed with greater mobility and flexibility, particularly for targeted police operations. As a result, communities benefit from increased Garda visibility and increased patrolling hours which improves the police service to the public.

The network of more than 700 Garda stations inherited from the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police reflected a 19th century model that predated the invention of the motor car. Can anyone seriously argue that a 19th century policing model should be applied to 21st century crime? The Garda strategy, which the Minister supports and has resourced, is to ensure a dynamic policing response that has enabled it to tackle crime where and when it happens and the appropriate equipment. The Garda cannot drive a desk to a scene of a crime to apprehend criminals or move that desk to the other side of the county in response to changing crime patterns. However, a garda in a patrol car or a high-powered response vehicle can both engage with the local community and attend the scene of a crime. We must support a 21st century model of policing.

On the issue of tagging, the Criminal Justice Act 2007 provides for the introduction of electronic monitoring as a condition of bail at the discretion of the court. However, due to issues relating to the operational effectiveness of untargeted electronic monitoring, these provisions have not been commenced. Evidence in other jurisdictions has shown that electronic monitoring has significant limitations. For example, the report on the Scottish electronic monitoring has a condition of bail where neither the aims of increasing public safety perceptions nor reducing the custodial remand population have been achieved in any significant way.

I thank Members for their support for the Bill. The Bill was developed, having sought the advice of gardaí on the ground and in light of the challenges they face. It represents a targeted response to those who think they can repeatedly burgle the homes of innocent victims with impunity. Suggestions that people's right to free legal aid should be curtailed is not consistent with the values of a republic. One may not like it, and we may find it difficult to accept but if we believe in living in a free and open democracy and in a republic there are certain rights and entitlements that go with living in that republic, it is a constitutional right.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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We might want to amend the Constitution.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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It may not be consistent with the rights of a republic but-----

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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It represents in this Bill, a short Bill, a technically complex Bill which carefully balances constitutional rights to ensure the Garda and the courts can respond fairly but effectively to the crime caused by prolific burglars. This legislation, together with Operation Thor, and the joint agency response to crime is focused on tackling and managing prolific offenders. It forms part of a comprehensive package aimed at reducing the scourge of crime and burglary in particular. There is a wider debate to be had about the causes of crime, the roots of crime and issues of inequality in that respect but that is for another day.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 15 December 2015.