Home > Dail Eireann debate. Criminal Justice (Search Warrants) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Criminal Justice (Search Warrants) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed). (04 Jul 2012)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

…… Deputy Michael Healy-Rae:… 

There are new crimes being committed. Houses in estates are being attacked in the middle of the night and shots are being fired. There are many forms of intimidation. It comes back to ensuring the swift passage of the Bill through the House.
There certainly should be a victims’ charter to support the victims of crime who have been badly affected by criminal actions. We have seen the spectacle of wealthy career criminals somehow managing to avail of free legal aid at a time when the Government is cutting back on expenditure in all areas. I fully support the idea of persons of limited means who may have drawn the Garda Síochána on them availing of free legal aid. They must have proper representation in court, as they have little or no means and may have abused drugs or alcohol. However, a wealthy career criminal with assets such as property held by other family members should never be allowed to avail of such aid. It is wrong and does not make sense, at a time when the Government is trying to save money, to assist the people concerned in fighting the efforts of the Garda to convict them for engaging in illegal activities.
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): I thank all Members of the House who have spoken on this legislation. I thank them for their support for the Bill, for the very constructive comments they have made and for the support they have expressed for the work done by the Garda Síochána. That work is of huge importance.
The reality is there are fewer resources overall available to this State, right across the board and within every Department. My Department has over €100 million less in 2012 than in the previous year and, based on the multi-annual budgeting schemes that now exist, we will have €63 million less in 2013, while we get our finances in order.
Gardaí are doing an extraordinary and successful job. They are applying their resources wisely and are engaging in smart policing. Under the direction of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, they have had some extraordinary successes. Deputies made reference to the drug gangs and one of the largest drug hauls in the history of the State occurred within the past ten days, although I do not want to say too much about that because of prosecutions that will take place. If we look at the most recent crime figures from the end of March, there are reductions under every category except the category of burglary, where there has been an increase. As a result, Operation Fiacla is in place, having been directed by the Garda Commissioner with a view to targeting those engaged in burglaries. Deputy Healy-Rae was right to raise the issue of the gangs which are travelling the country, using the excellent road network to target communities well away from where they live, with a view to carrying out criminal activity and then disappearing over the horizon. The Garda Síochána is targeting individuals engaged in this sort of activity and I hope and believe the operation that is taking place in that context will be successful.
It is of huge importance that Members of this House support the Garda but it is also important Members are realistic. I cannot invent money that does not exist and I cannot provide resources that do not exist. We currently have approximately 13,600 members of the Garda force, a substantially greater number than at any time during the Troubles. In addition, we have 930 members in the Garda Reserve, with in excess of 200 currently being trained, so we will have well over 1,000 operational in the Garda Reserve in the not too distant future. They are playing an important role and, as we noted on justice questions only a short time ago, they will now be playing an expanded role in assisting the permanent members of the Garda Síochána.
Deputy Finian McGrath, as well as several other Deputies, raised the threat posed by drugs gangs. The Garda Síochána has targeted, to a successful degree, drugs gangs. The tragedy within this city and other parts of the country is that it seems when one group, which compromises the leadership and main body of a drug gang, is convicted and sent to prison, there is always another group in the background which wants to inherit its mantle and continue its activities. The Garda will continue to target the drug gangs as is required.
Deputy Mattie McGrath, who was generally supportive of the Bill, made one point which it is important I correct. He raised the question as to whether the superintendent who was engaged in the conduct of the investigation and authorised the warrant which was ultimately set aside by the Supreme Court understood the law and why he did not get someone else to sign the warrant. That is the very issue with which we are dealing. The superintendent in question understood the law. Section 29 of the Offences Against the State Act allowed that the superintendent to sign the warrant. There was no criticism of any description of the superintendent. It is most unfair to have suggested in any way that he did not understand the law. Effectively, he made a considered judgment based on an investigation in which he was engaged and applied the law under section 29 of the 1939 Act as he understood it and as it has expressly applied for several decades. He behaved with absolute and total propriety and knowledge. It would be unfair that there would remain on the record of this House any criticism of him for the manner in which he dealt with matters.
Several Deputies raised the issue of a victims’ charter. We have one but it is a non-statutory provision. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to enact legislation to protect victims’ rights. I do not believe we will come to this legislation this year because of the legislative burden weighing on the shoulders of officials in my Department and the Attorney General’s office. Not coming to it this year is wise because of similar legislation being developed at European level which will provide a European-wide charter of victims’ rights. I am very much involved with my EU ministerial colleagues in engaging in this process. If we are going to have a European victims’ charter, it is important our equivalent domestic legislation is compatible with it. The European provisions will be the minimum ones with which we must comply. It may well be that additional protections will be put in place. We want to provide domestic legislation for victims of crime.
Several Deputies raised the issue of gardaí being available on occasions when they are required. The new Garda roster system came into place on 29 April which now allows for them to be on the streets at a time when they are required. Now, more gardaí can be available at times when there may be pressures such as on Friday and Saturday nights. These are times when there are many young people out on our streets, most of them just trying to enjoy themselves. Unfortunately, there are some individuals who may have drunk excessively, may also have taken drugs, who are not rationally focusing and pose a threat in their delusional state to others who are going about their business. This is a difficult and complicated issue which is not confined to a matter of policing. An important issue in this area is the manner in which alcohol is sold to young people and the extent to which many of them consume it outside of public houses. There are still too many promotions by public houses to encourage young people to down large amounts of alcohol at very low prices with the result they get inebriated. If there are drugs involved, then there can be real difficulties. This requires the implementation of better controls by those who run public houses. The issue of illegal drugs, which is extremely complicated, cannot simply be solved on a law and order basis. The Garda plays an extremely important role in trying to ensure that people on our streets are protected.
I wish to acknowledge the members of my party who contributed to the debate and who expressed support for the Bill. I thank them for that. Deputy Durkan stated that people should not walk away from court cases because of technicalities. A technicality relates to whether the law has been properly applied. We have a written Constitution which recognises fundamental rights. It is important that those who engage in criminality are brought before the courts. Where it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these individuals are guilty, they are convicted and appropriate sentences are imposed. Where an illegality has occurred and where matters have not been dealt with properly under due process of law, we cannot simply dismiss such eventualities as technicalities and state that we will proceed to convict someone in any event. This is why we operate under the rule of law. It is very important that we should continue to do so.
I agree with a point Deputy Durkan made which has also been made in other places. Where people are first-time offenders and where the offences they have committed are not of a serious nature - this is a distinction that is very important to make - penalties other than the imposition of prison sentences can be beneficial in trying to ensure that they do not become recidivists. There are other options in this regard such as pilot restorative justice programmes and diversion programmes for young people. There is now legislation which applies across the board in all criminal courts - it is particularly relevant to the District Court - which requires that judges should first consider imposing community service rather than handing down sentences of imprisonment in circumstances in which there is a possibility of their imposing sentences of one year or less on individuals. Alternative means of dealing with individuals who are first-time offenders and whose offences are not serious are being used - beneficially, I hope. Where someone commits a first-time offence which is serious, which involves a vicious assault on another individual who, as a result, loses a limb or an eye, which is sexual in nature or which takes the form of an aggravated burglary involving the assault of a person, an appropriate sentence must be applied in respect of the crime. In the context of first offences, we cannot provide for a disposal or a mechanism to deal with an individual that is grossly disproportionate to the level of harm inflicted. There must be an element of balance and proportion in respect of all of these matters.
Another Deputy referred to moneylending, which is subject to a licensing regime administered by the Central Bank. This matter falls within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Finance. People who engage in moneylending without possessing the necessary licences are, of course, committing an offence under the relevant legislation. Where such offences occur, complaints can be made to the Garda, which has the power to bring prosecutions against unlicensed operators. Where people have information relating to the operations of unlicensed moneylenders, they should give it to the Garda, which will take whatever action is necessary in order to enforce the law.
I hope I have dealt substantially with the many issues raised during the debate. I thank Deputies for their support for this measure. The Bill was published on 6 June last and was the subject of a rapid passage through the Seanad. It is in the public interest that it should be enacted prior to the summer recess. The legislation will be of assistance to An Garda Síochána in future investigations in which it engages. As I and other speakers noted, however, it cannot retrospectively, in any shape or form, affect the Supreme Court decision with regard to cases that are already before the courts or in respect of which decisions have been made. This is a short but important Bill. I again thank Deputies for their supportive and constructive contributions to the debate on it.
Criminal Justice (Search Warrants) Bill 2012 [Seanad}: Second Stage
Vol. 771 No. 2
Wednesday, 4 July 2012

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