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 Header Item Crime: Statements (Continued)
 Header Item Business of Dáil

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 908 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy] Why is this happening? Is it due to the increasing use of pornography or the Internet? What is going on? This is why we need that type of information.

I also want to discuss the fantastic work the rape crisis centres are carrying out across the country, particularly in Tullamore and the work of Offaly Domestic Violence Support Services. They are doing fantastic work for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. We must ensure funding is put in place for them. It pains me to see volunteers fundraising when they should be providing supports to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. We need to increase funding there if we can.

We need to look at sentencing, which reflects what we believe is the outcome of a crime. A recent offence only attracted a suspended sentence of seven years because the perpetrator confessed to the crime initially. I firmly believe a suspended sentence of seven years for raping one's partner is inadequate. It sends out a really negative message about our view of the seriousness of this crime. It is appalling that we would allow that type of sentencing. If we are to take sexual assault and rape seriously, we must ensure that the sentence is commensurate with the crime. I acknowledged the helplines. It is important that people are aware that Women's Aid has a 24-hour helpline for victims of domestic violence and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has a 24-hour helpline for victims of sexual assault. It is very important that people are aware of them.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on this very important topic.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I am delighted to have such attention for my wrap-up speech. On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank Deputies on all sides of the House for their contributions to this useful and constructive debate on crime. It is clear that there is much common ground between us on the need to continue to resource An Garda Síochána and protect our urban and rural communities. I will briefly address some issues raised during the debate.

A number of Deputies spoke about the recent CSO statistics. As the Minister stated earlier, I welcome the overall reduction of 5% in burglaries for the 12 month period ending on 31 December 2015 and the substantial reduction of 26.2% for the last quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Nonetheless, this is clearly an issue that requires all of our concerned efforts as we try to address it.

Deputies raised the issue of sexual offences. I think everyone in this House agrees that for too long, many victims of sexual or domestic abuse suffered in silence. It is critical that all such crimes are reported and all of us in this House must do all we can to support victims of such crimes.

Reference was made to knife crime. I would point out to the House that figures provided by the CSO show that the number of recorded offences involving a knife has decreased each year since 2010. Notwithstanding the statistical trends, the impact of these crimes is, of course, extremely serious and I assure Deputies that the Minister for Justice and Equality is in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner in respect of a wide range of crime and policing concerns, including knife crime and other violent crime. A comprehensive and robust legal framework is in place with regard to knife crime, including heavy penalties for breaches of the law concerned. Under the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, the maximum penalty for possessing a knife in a public place without good reason or lawful authority has increased from one year to five years. An Garda Síochána also has extended power of search without warrant in respect of knives and offensive weapons.

Earlier in the debate, Deputy Niall Collins raised the issue of the Garda retirement age. This is a complex matter that requires careful consideration before any decision to change the existing arrangements could be contemplated. Having said that, I hope this is something the new Government, should it be formed soon, can examine in the context of overall Garda resources.

In her opening address, the Minister paid tribute to the men and women of An Garda Síochána who diligently and effectively go about their work knowing the significant risks involved. I condemn outright all assaults on members of An Garda Síochána and emergency workers and I hope that is something all of us in this House will do. Section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 provides for specific offences relating to assaults on peace officers, which includes members of An Garda Síochána. Section 185 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 increased the penalty for this offence from five to seven years imprisonment and also provided for the criminalisation of threats of assault. Nonetheless, it is vital that continued investment is made in protective measures for An Garda Síochána and all emergency workers.

In terms of Garda recruitment and investment, I would simply say that the needs are well known and are not being disputed. Under the outgoing Government, recruitment has recommenced and investment has increased. I look forward to this continuing under the incoming Administration. Since the Minister recommenced recruitment in 2014, 63 new Garda recruits have been assigned to the DMR north-central and south-central divisions covering Dublin city centre and inner-city areas.

On the formation of a new Government, my party has also agreed to increase the strength of An Garda Síochána to 15,000. We have further agreed to mandate the Policing Authority to review the boundaries of Garda districts and the disbursement of stations. I believe these commitments will respond to many of the concerns expressed by Deputies here today.

I reaffirm my party's commitment in government to enacting legislation to place the Parole Board on a statutory footing.

Deputies O'Donovan and Phelan and others raised the question of criminal legal aid. The long-standing position is that the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962 gives expression to the constitutional right that free legal aid must be granted in certain circumstances for the defences of persons of insufficient means in criminal proceedings. Obviously, these matters are determined by the Judiciary. I would point out to the House that a new criminal legal aid Bill is being drafted to update and strengthen the system of granting legal aid. Perhaps some of the issues raised in this House could be considered in the context of that forthcoming legislation.

Many Deputies have reflected on the fear instilled in our communities by the persistence of crime. As an elected representative, I know this sense of fear only too well. However, the Minister knows that this fear can be overcome. I know that crime can be, and is being, tackled across many categories. I hope that the Thirty-second Dáil will be in a position to support the work of the incoming Government in continuing to do all we can to increase recruitment and investment in An Garda Síochána, which is so critical to tackling crime.

Business of Dáil

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the resolution of the Dáil of this day, that the Dáil shall sit tomorrow at 12 noon and the business to be transacted shall be the resumption of business under Article 13.1 of the Constitution, namely, nomination of An Taoiseach, the arrangements for which shall be agreed tomorrow.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Is the proposal agreed? Agreed.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

The Dáil adjourned at 4.30 p.m. until 12 noon on Friday, 6 May 2016.

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