Dáil speech on crime delivered May 5th 2016
Thank you Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to speak on this vital issue. I am happy that we live in a State where most citizens regard the Gardaí as their friend and where the Gardaí are save in exceptional circumstances, unarmed. I am proud to be in a political party that defended the traditions of law and order in this country and that supported the Gardaí . My party has been consistent, we have always supported the Gardaí including when they were murdered and intimidated by those intent on destabilising this state and the democratic institutions that we rely on. We owe those members of An Garda Síochána, who gave their lives consideration in this debate. Each Deputy in this house present at this debate needs to reflect on those lives that were lost unnecessarily and of the terrible pain and loss felt in their bereaved families still to this day. In supporting the Gardai the need for greater transparency and accountability in our policing are to the forefront of our justice policy.
As a solicitor and mediator I see the detrimental effects of crime on families. Crime perpetrated within families sets a terrible precedent for children, particularly when hidden. It stunts their faith in humanity, in fair play and destroys the idealism of youth . Crime is so corrosive, it undermines our faith in each other and in society. Violence within families is a problem that does not grab headlines unless it results in death, usually all too often that of the wife or female partner. Our domestic violence laws have been reformed and updated and funding for anti – violence initiatives continue.
For my constituency of Dublin Rathdown crime is of major importance. The closure of Stepaside Garda Station which I always opposed, took away a much respected and relied on Garda presence in Stepaside village. While the Garda presence continues in the form of patrols and Garda clinics, the loss of the Garda Station is keenly felt by many. I hope that the review of the dispersal of Garda Stations in urban, suburban and rural areas will increase the Garda presence in the Stepaside area and that the reopening of the station will receive serious consideration. I will continue to advocate as I have always done for the reopening of this station. Recent crime in my constituency like the recent burglary of Ballinteer community School require a policing response and a civic response.
Every citizen should feel safe in their home and on our streets, as citizens we need to reclaim our streets in the capital from those who too often use public spaces like the boardwalk in Dublin City to congregate in drunken groups which scare off other users. Anti- social behaviour is not the concern of the middle class, it is the concern of every citizen concerned for their communities. I have seen communities that are active and united form an alliance with the local Gardai with sound results. Fighting crime is a partnership between the citizens, our communities and the Gardai and we are all stakeholders. I would encourage citizens to come together and support the Text Alert initiative. This system supported by Neighbourhood Watch, the Irish Farmers Association and Muintir na Tíre allows the Gardaí to communicate with a community contact person who in turn contacts the community group. I welcome this recent initiative as a vital step in active citizenry having a role in their community assisting the Gardaí.
Burglary and car theft are concerns for many in my constituency. I hope that the recent Garda initiative Operation Thor will continue to reduce burglary offences particularly in the Dublin area. Increased resources, for high powered Garda and undercover vehicles to tackle thieves are necessary. High visibility patrols in areas identified by Pulse as having a high incidence of burglaries will deter crime. I note that total burglary offences have decreased from 27,635 in 2014 to 26,246 in 2015 this is encouraging but more needs to be done to further reduce these figures.
I remember as a student studying law at the time of the murder of Veronica Guerin, a driven passionate journalist, a wife, a mother. There was a sense that this criminality could not go on, that something radical had to be done. This was not just the response of Government and policy makers it was a feeling in every household and every street in the country. I was captivated by the use of civil law to combat the proceeds of crime under the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996. The use of the Courts in a civil setting and under the civil standard of the burden of proof , the balance of probability, to determine whether money seized was legitimately earned or the proceeds of crime was revolutionary and yet such a simple concept. In conjunction with the Criminal Assets Bureau real results were achieved.
As a lawyer, I am always interested in what a system can do to solve a problem. I fully support the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings ) Act 2015 targeted at repeat burglars which will require consecutive sentencing for burglars charged with multiple offences. The new law will allow the Court to refuse bail for offenders who have a burglary conviction and two pending charges. For too long criminals with convictions for multiple offences benefited from the charges being lumped together and dealt with by consecutive sentences. Each crime is an individual crime and an individual citizen wronged in the commission of that crime and merits more consideration for an individual sentence.
I welcome the commitment of the Minister for Justice to modernise and streamline our bail laws and the Bail Bill 2015 contains new powers to arrest without warrant for breach of bail conditions. Electronic monitoring known as tagging has been effective and cost effective in other jurisdictions and the Bail Bill will provide for this to be applied as a condition of bail when necessary. Tagging, when appropriately applied as a bail or early release tool has the potential to save the State millions, each person in prison costs the taxpayer €68,959 per year.
I welcome the fact that the Government formation talks include a commitment to increase Garda numbers to 15,000 and invest in CCTV and mandate the Policing Authority to review the dispersal of Garda Stations. In my own constituency of Dublin Rathdown it is hoped that the loss of Stepaside Garda Station will be reviewed and reversed.
I am greatly relieved that the 2015 figures show a significant drop in homicide offences from 80 to 57, this is a relief to me as I have seen the tragic effects of murder on the families left behind. The 2015 figures show a modest improvement in crime trends in the year previously and a noticeable decrease in homicide. However in welcoming these reductions we must always remember that every crime is unacceptable and every crime has a negative effect. Though I cherish the fact that An Garda Síochána is an unarmed force the need for specialist units to tackle gun crime is a reality of our time. Work on establishing an additional dedicated Armed support unit for Dublin is continuing. The Gardaí have in the past successfully faced down criminal gangs who believed they were above the law. Every one of us has a role to play in reducing crime, we all own our country and in cooperation with the Gardaí, communities and people can make a difference.