Incumbent on state to be unyielding in its response to crime

05 May 2016

Speaking on Dail Eireann Statements on Crime

Ceann Comhairle,

In recent weeks, we have seen a string of cold-blooded murders and attempted assassinations on the streets of Dublin.

It is clear that the criminals behind this murderous feud have no compassion for life, no respect for society, and do not fear the State. 

It is therefore incumbent on the State to be absolutely unyielding in its response, to ensure the brutal thugs behind this barbarity end up behind prison bars.

When Labour took office, amid the worst economic crisis this country has ever known, the Garda had been stripped of manpower and resources.

In addressing the crisis, our goal was to urgently restore the economy to health so that there would be room for new investment in essential public services – policing being chief among them.

We reopened Templemore training college after Fianna Fail had effectively shut it.

We set in train the new recruitment programme that will eventually see the number of Gardai exceed 15,000.

More than €34 million has been provided to deliver 640 new vehicles for the force.

And my colleague Brendan Howlin ensured a €160 million programme to build new Garda stations and refurbish and upgrade existing ones.

That’s in addition to a very significant investment in IT infrastructure for the Garda between now and 2021, which will allow An Garda Siochana deploy cutting-edge technology in the fight against crime.

Labour also ensured the establishment of the Garda Authority to ensure independent oversight of the force and ensure we have a policing system that is fit for purpose.

But the fight against crime is much wider than An Garda Siochana alone.

We have also paved the way for a second Special Criminal Court to swiftly deal with the most serious cases of organised crime.

Sinn Fein, of course, blindly refuses to acknowledge the need for the Special Criminal Court at all, simply because the court convicted one of its own, the so-called “good republican”, Thomas Slab Murphy.

I challenge Sinn Fein again here today to stop undermining this State’s capacity to deal with terrorism and gangland crime.

Of course, it’s essential to remember that terrorism and gangland crime are not the only forms of crime we must tackle as a society.

Our work as a House must be focused on ensuring that our communities are safe places in which to grow up, raise a family and grow old.

It must be focused on ensuring that our society promotes justice and fairness at all levels.

And these are very wide-ranging challenges that need a complex array of interlocking solutions.

This ranges from supporting victims of sexual and domestic violence to tackling white collar crime to reforming our prison system, and much more besides.

I want to take a few of those points in turn.

Sexual abuse and sexual violence are heinous crimes and it’s vital that victims receive the support they need when they make disclosures.

An Garda Síochána must be fully equipped and trained to deal with incidences and reports of sexual violence.

While training is currently available, it is not mandatory for gardaí at present – and Labour believes mandatory training on sexual violence is essential for all trainee gardaí.

The signing of the Istanbul Convention marks an important milestone for all those who have campaigned for better protections and supports for victims of domestic violence.

In government, we published an Action Plan for implementation of the Istanbul Convention in Ireland.

This includes actions such as the provision of education and training of public sector staff involved in this area; development and delivery of training for legal professionals; and implementation of co-ordinated national helpline service provision for responding to domestic and sexual violence.

What’s now required, in our view, is a new Domestic Violence Bill to improve the protections available to victims of domestic violence, most critically for those victims in crisis situations.

Such a Bill should include measures to reduce potential intimidation, limit the requirement for victims to give evidence before large numbers of strangers, bar electronic communications by perpetrators of domestic violence and allow for interim barring orders in emergency or crisis situations.

Labour believes it is also essential that the Garda maintain adequate contact with victims, report progress on the investigation and prosecution of their cases, and ensure that adequate advance notice is given about the proposed release of offenders.

Turning to white collar crime, I don’t hold the view that such crime is not pursued in Ireland, because it is.

It is undoubtedly the case, however, that the Garda, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and other agencies can only do so much based on current structures and resources. 

The Garda should have a dedicated Serious and Organised Crime Unit, properly resourced and with the additional professional expertise it requires to tackle organised crime, cybercrime, serious fraud and suspicious financial transactions in both the public and private sector.

Similarly, we believe there needs to be a specialist division within the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to be actively engaged and make appropriate directions much earlier in the investigation of white collar crime.

Turning to the prison system, there is no question whatsoever that for a cohort of hardened criminals and those who commit heinous crimes, they belong behind bars.

Equally, however, prison must be a penalty of last resort for non-violent offenders.

Our prisons are still overcrowded and our prison system is among the most expensive in the world.

The criminal justice system must provide for a safer society, at a lower cost to the taxpayer.

We need to switch from over-reliance on costly prison sentences to less costly non-custodial options and greater use of open prisons for appropriate prisoners.

We should look at mandating the courts to instead make much more effective use of alternative sanctions such as Community Service Orders.

It is also essential that we continue to resource – and increase the resources – for projects which divert young people from criminality.

There is, of course, a link between anti-social behaviour and young people who get involved in crime.

Anti-social behaviour is the scourge of many neighbourhoods, and is destructive of community life.

That is why a more visible and responsive Garda presence in these communities is essential.

Part of Labour’s focus in Government has been not just to recommence Garda recruitment, but to ensure additional professional civilian staff can be hired to free up gardai from administrative duties.

We want our gardai policing communities they know, serving the people they know.

Finally, I want to say a word about the tremendous work that gardai do on a daily basis amid the dangers they face.

It is more than time for the State to legislate to allow members of An Garda Siochána to join a trade union for the purposes of collective bargaining in line with the majority of other EU countries.

Labour has developed specific proposals on this front.

Affiliation to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions would be subject to representative bodies and ICTU recognising the unique character of our policing services and that their members voluntarily forswear the right to strike or to engage in other industrial action.

I have outlined above some of the areas where Labour in Government has sought to increase the State’s ability to combat crime and the areas where Labour believes further measures are now essential.

We will continue to make the case for these measures in the months ahead and seek agreement of this House to implement them in order to make our communities safer.

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