Written answers

Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Crime Levels

9:00 pm

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Question 457: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether a substantial amount of crime goes unreported; if estimates are available as to the amount thereof; and if analysis is available as to the reasons therefore. [13557/06]

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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While there are general claims of under reporting of crime, there is no evidence that the level of under reporting now is any greater than in the past, or that the proportion of unreported crime in Ireland is any greater than in other jurisdictions. The problems of unreported and unrecorded crime are well documented in the international criminological literature, and are in no way unique to this country.

Furthermore, the introduction of PULSE has improved the accuracy and comprehensiveness of Garda statistics — for example, the system demands that incidents now have to be recorded before particular actions can be taken.

In July 2003, the Government approved my proposal that a regular national crime victimisation survey be carried out biennially as a valuable and useful complement to the information on crime already available, which includes the Garda Commissioner's annual report and the headline crime figures which I publish on an annual and quarterly basis. Such surveys would provide a more comprehensive perspective on crime victimisation than is currently available and when undertaken on a regular basis, would provide useful information on emerging trends in crime and so provide input into developing strategies to combat crime.

The expert group on crime statistics, which I established and the report of which I published in July 2004, recommended the establishment of a central crime statistics unit, which would, inter alia, examine the collation of information relating to crimes reported to and recorded by the Garda, examine the collation of information relating to other crimes where the Garda Síochána is not the prosecuting authority, identify the needs of key stakeholders within the criminal justice system and the wider research community and publish criminal justice statistics, based initially on PULSE data. I accepted the recommendation that such a unit be established and work is underway on establishing it within the Central Statistics Office.

The report of the expert group strongly endorsed the Government decision to conduct biennial national crime victimisation surveys and recommended that the new unit be responsible for overseeing the national crime victimisation survey and involved in its design and planning. I also accepted this recommendation and work on the survey will be undertaken by the unit as part of its duties.

I understand from the Central Statistics Office that a crime and victimisation survey is to be carried out, either via a dedicated survey or a module of the quarterly national household survey, QNHS, in 2006. This latter approach has previously been used in both 1998 and 2003. The Central Statistics Office expects that dedicated crime and victimisation surveys will be carried out in 2008 and biennially thereafter.

I also understand that the Central Statistics Office intends to develop these surveys in a way that will maximise their utility and their coherence with other administrative data available in the criminal justice system. It is important to note that the data that will result from these surveys will not be directly comparable to the crime statistics based on data recorded by the Garda Síochána as there will be fundamental differences in sources, definitions and classification methodology. As a result of these surveys, we will have a greater understanding as to why some victims chose not to report cases to the Garda and what we can do with regard to reduce the level of under reporting.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are sufficient measures in place to facilitate the reporting of all offences. These measures include 999 emergency calls, phone calls, visits to Garda stations, and the availability of gardaí on mobile and beat patrols. I am assured that the Garda Síochána urges all members of the public to report any matters of a criminal nature for investigation by them.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Question 458: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the PSNI has begun recording hate crimes against transgender people separately from other hate crimes; and his views on arranging for the Garda Síochána to do the same in order to identify the scale of the crime in order that it can be addressed. [13575/06]

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I am informed by the Garda authorities that gender is recorded as male or female and there are currently no plans in place to capture additional information on gender status.

I am further informed that a number of gardaí have received special familiarisation training and were appointed as liaison officers to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, GLBT. The Garda authorities have also established a national advisory panel, which includes members who represent the GLBT perspective, to assist and inform gardaí on matters relating to their community.

With regard to hate crime, the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, created an offence, inter alia, of using words or behaviour that are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended, or are likely, to stir up hatred.

"Hatred" is defined as hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation. Public incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offence under sections 2 and 3 of the 1989 Act in terms of material, written or oral, which is threatening, abusive or insulting.

The announcement of a review of the incitement to hatred legislation was made by my predecessor as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at a time when few if any successful prosecutions had been taken under the Act. One of the aims of the review was to ascertain whether problems with the Act were contributing to this lack of prosecutions and, if so, whether reasonable changes to it could remedy that situation. Since the review was announced, a number of successful prosecutions have been taken under the 1989 Act. These trends are being monitored as part of the ongoing review and if maintained could have a significant influence on the outcome of the review and any subsequent proposals for legislation.

Apart from the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 is the main relevant legislative instruments pertaining to hate crime. That Act created an offence of using or engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place. It also created an offence of distributing or displaying in a public place material which is threatening, abusive, insulting or obscene.


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