21 February 2015

'Cracking Down On Crime" - Address by Minister Fitzgerald

Fine Gael National Conference – Castlebar.

February 21st, 2015.


Colleagues,

If there's one thing Fine Gael has always stood for, it's preserving law and order. Our police service is called An Garda Síochána for a very good reason: their job is, first, last and always, to preserve the peace.


To ensure we can walk on the streets of our cities without danger.

To ensure that our homes are sacrosanct.

To surround the citizen with the peace that makes it possible to work, to rest - and to play.

The enemy is crime.

The enemy of every family, every neighbourhood, every business - is crime.

And crime is like an opportunistic virus. It shifts. It morphs. It provides new and different threats every year.

To meet those ever changing threats:

    We are delivering improved, frontline policing for the 21st Century

    We are delivering targeted policing initiatives to tackle current crime trends

    We are going to change the law to tackle crime, particularly repeat offending

    We are putting the victim at the heart of the Justice system

Two weeks ago, I stood with our Taoiseach in the Garda College in Templemore. We re-opened that college. And we won't let it close again. Right now, 300 new recruits are there, buckling down to their increasingly sophisticated training. And - be clear - those recruits are the cream of the crop.Twenty four thousand men and women, of wonderfully diverse backgrounds, applied for those posts.

Why?

Because An Garda Síochána is a magnet employer.

Because we have empowered the new Commissioner to get on with making the service comparable with any other police force in the world.

Because those applicants can see the investment being pumped by this Government into new vehicles to allow the response to crime to be immediate, speedy and local. This Government has invested ■27.5 million. Every cent of that will go to improving the service, just as the investment we plan in twenty first century technology will take a paper based organisation into the digital era.

Look.

Here's the reality.

If any one of you is a crime victim, you want Gardaí there, in front of you, taking action. If you want to see crimes being prevented and interrupted, you don't want Gardaí doing paper pushing, and you certainly don't want them desk-bound. I've sent a clear, simple message to An Garda Síochána: get the Gardaí out from behind their desks. Get them onto the streets, where we can see them. And - just as important - where the criminals can see them.

Civilianisation of immigration functions has commenced. And that's just the beginning.

I want to talk about the heinous crime that is burglary. The sense of invasion, the sadness when what is taken has family or sentimental value, the fear --- this cannot go on. That's why we have demanded a new Garda anti-crime strategy with a particular focus on tackling burglaries. Right now, the Commissioner and her colleagues are looking at setting up ‘Burglary Response Units’ in the areas most plagued by this crime. One way or the other, this Government is demanding action on the burglary front - and it will get action, so that when we meet next year, we will see provable improvement.

Some of the advances we plan require changes in the law.

We are examining the law around repeat offenders including for repeat burglaries and the question of consecutive sentences for repeat offenders

We will free up prison space so that those who should be imprisoned are imprisoned. So that serious, serial and violent offenders are put behind bars and kept there.

We are publishing a new Community Sanctions Bill to update the provisions for effective non-custodian sanctions.

Prison is about serving out a debt to society. It is also about prisoner rehabilitation. The scourge of drugs in prisons thwarts and undermines those fundamental principles.

Stemming the flow of drugs into prisons is a key priority for the Government.

We're going to initiate more rigorous screening, search and detection.

We're expanding the Canine Unit.

We're opening a confidential telephone line where information on drug trafficking into our prisons can be given in confidence.

Plus, we're improving treatment in prison for drug addiction.



The capacity of the Mountjoy Medical Unit will be increased to create a national treatment centre for prisoners who want to detoxify and address drug addiction. The development of therapeutic communities will also be pursued within certain prisons where prisoners who want to remain drug free can do so in a drug free environment.


Two weeks ago, the Director General of the Irish Prison Service announced new initiatives  to combat smuggling of contraband into prisons, particularly drugs.

This will go together with a renewed focus on screening persons entering prisons and intelligence-led searching of cells and areas within the prisons.

Key components of the new drive to combat drug smuggling include:

    An increase in the number of drug detection dog teams.

    Training is currently ongoing and all teams will be fully operational by end of May 2015.

    Introduction of a standardised screening procedure across the prison Estate.

    The creation of a confidential telephone line (similar to that operated by an Garda Síochána) so that any person with useful information regarding the smuggling of drugs into prisons can assist the authorities in tackling same.

        

The Government is committed to taking steps to reduce the availability of illegal drugs in prisons. The Irish Prison Service is committed to reducing this problem in view of the negative effects of drug smuggling in prisons, such as self harm, assaults, bullying and even death.

Every crime has a criminal at one end and a victim at the other. Historically, victims were seen as little more than an inevitability - a statistic.

I have indicated to the Gardaí that I want that changed. Justice requires that we focus on victims so they feel vindicated by the way they are treated, as well as by the capture and conviction of the criminal.

I'll be bringing in new legislation this year to allow for implementation of the EU Victims Directive. And New Garda Victim Support Offices will be established in every Garda division.


Oversight is important, too.

We can't tackle crime effectively unless

- we have confidence and trust in the integrity of our law enforcement agencies,

AND

- those agencies work together in an effective way to address crime.

Each of the agencies such as the Gardaí, the Prison Service and the Probation Services have to work together if we are to succeed.

We have a Garda Inspectorate and an Inspector of Prisons and both are doing an excellent job.  But they cannot follow an offender through the system and make recommendations as to how the agencies could work more efficiently together to reduce re-offending.

No joined up approach.

For that reason I am considering the establishment of a Criminal Justice Inspectorate.  It would incorporate the Garda Inspectorate and the Inspector of Prisons but would also cover other criminal justice agencies such as the Probation Service. The Criminal Justice Inspectorate in Northern Ireland provides a model that might be followed.

A Criminal Justice Inspectorate here would:

(i)  carry out inspections and make recommendations concerning the efficiency and effectiveness of individual agencies,

(ii)  carry out thematic inspections and make recommendations concerning the efficiency and effectiveness of  the criminal justice system as a whole including the interaction between the different agencies,

(iii)  carry out inspections of places of detention and make recommendations concerning safeguarding the rights of detained persons and protecting against abuse.

Such an Inspectorate, I believe, would ensure that all the criminal justice agencies would be measured by the same standard and have to have the same respect for human rights.

Before making a final decision, I want to hear the views of all those concerned and to this end I am initiating a consultative process.

In combating crime, facts are our friends.

I believe that the recent Strategic Review of Penal Policy very clearly pointed out for example that minimum mandatory sentences  do not actually have any measurable effect on reducing crime. Many people are convinced that further minimum mandatory sentences would be worth introducing.

The reality is that such sentences can actually reduce the flexibility of the system in diverting people away from repeat offending.  Furthermore research within my Department clearly shows that the rate of re-offending for people sent to prison is actually higher than those who were dealt with by the Probation Service.

Now, I want to address the touchy issue of bail - and it is a seriously touchy issue.

Bail is not just an issue in relation to burglary.  It's a  touchy issue on a wider front, so I'm planning  to bring proposals to Government within the next month looking to draft a Bill reforming the general law on bail.

One area of the law that affects many people is that dealing with sexual offences. I have recently published the Heads of a Sexual Offences Bill.  It will update our law in a significant way, addressing the grooming of children, the abuse of vulnerable people, the management of sex offenders and other issues such as prostitution.  It involves many sensitive and complex issues but progress is being made in the drafting and I would hope to bring a Bill before the Houses of the Oireachtas prior to the summer recess.

Within the same time frame I also expect to publish a Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill which will consolidate and update all our laws on corruption.  I need not explain why such legislation is both necessary and overdue.

The investigation and prosecution of crime can be a complex undertaking and increasingly attracts an international dimension and not just for terrorism.  I expect to enact the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Bill close to Easter.  I also have a Bill in the Dáil providing for greater international cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of crime, the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill.   On a more domestic front, a Criminal Procedure Bill providing for pre-trial processes is being drafted.

Fine Gael is determined to face down crime and criminals, to integrate the agencies overseeing that, and to deliver a new level of understanding and compassion to victims.

Thank you...