Private Members Motion on Youth Crime Debate- 30th January 2019

Opening Speech - Minster Patrick O’Donovan T.D.

I am very pleased to take part in this important debate on behalf of Minister of State, David Stanton who has special responsibility for Youth Justice. The Minister is glad to have the opportunity to engage with Deputies, and he shares many of the concerns outlined in the Motion.


However, there are concerns about some elements of the Motion and the Government is proposing a Countermotion. The revised text highlights strategic actions that are already in train which address many of the concerns raised in the Motion. There are also some aspects of the Motion where the proposed actions would be most unwise or where the wording of the Motion needs tightening up.


That being said, all of us in this House can agree that we are seriously concerned at the issues outlined by the Garda Commissioner regarding the handling of youth crime cases which were deemed unsuitable for inclusion in the juvenile diversion system. The Commissioner provided an Interim Report to the Policing Authority of a review of youth crime cases from 2010 – 2017. There is more work to be done to complete this review, so we do not have the final picture at this stage. However, it seems there were in the region of 160,000 youth crime cases in that period. Roughly, one third of them were deemed unsuitable for the Garda Diversion programme. Of those incidents deemed unsuitable there appears to have been a failure to carry out a prosecution of almost 8,000 youth crime cases. It is completely unacceptable that failures in Garda systems, or by individual Gardaí, would lead to a situation where crimes are not properly pursued. On that I have no doubt that we are all in agreement.


The Government also agree that action must be taken to address this situation thoroughly. This must be done not just in the interest of victims and the proper administration of Justice, but also for the future welfare of the children and young people who become involved in crime. 


However, the motion does not take account of the fact that most of the issues which it highlights are already being addressed in a focussed and strategic manner through the implementation of the recommendations for the Commission for the Future of Policing in Ireland, which the Government has endorsed. Bear in mind that the issues under discussion cover a seven-year period starting in 2010 and that enhancements to PULSE, commencing during 2015, have led to significant improvements in case management in the last few years. This was clearly set out in the Garda Commissioner’s presentation to the Policing Authority.


Fundamental issues identified in the Commissioner’s Interim Report include inadequate ICT, poor supervision, lack of training and possible individual failings. Deputies will recall that similar concerns were highlighted in other Garda-related reports, and that the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing are aimed at addressing, systematically, the failings that have been identified. Having published a four-year Implementation Plan in December, we are now setting about putting those recommendations into effect. This is the key strategy to achieve lasting structural, administrative and cultural reform within An Garda Síochána. Minister Stanton will return, later in the Debate, to discuss this in more detail.


The Countermotion underlines the importance of the Commission’s report and it also amends some of the details contained in the Motion which was proposed. These include a call for a review to determine whether disciplinary action should be taken. Minister Stanton agrees that it is very worrying that so many individual Gardai appear to have been at fault over the seven year period. However, Deputies will be aware that disciplinary issues within An Garda Síochána are a matter for the Commissioner, and he has very clearly outlined the process that is being put in train to address this. Chief Superintendents have been mandated by the Commissioner to assess if disciplinary action should be taken in each case. The Commissioner has also undertaken to update the Policing Authority on the outcome of this process. Understandably, the Commissioner has been reluctant to give any more details in relation to disciplinary measures, so as not to do anything that might be seen to prejudice such actions. Clearly, such procedures must be allowed to take their course.


The Motion contains a call for reporting to the Oireachtas on Garda oversight of Youth Crime. This would have the effect of subverting the statutory remit of the Policing Authority which operates according to legislation enacted by the Oireachtas.  It would also involve the Houses of the Oireachtas in direct monitoring of Garda functions. This would be entirely inappropriate, and Deputies will be aware that the Commissioner is already subject to examination by Oireachtas committees.


The Motion incorrectly attributes the serious failures to prosecute crimes as failures of the Garda Diversion Programme. The Garda failures in youth crime cases were related to cases deemed unsuitable for Diversion, and which were dealt with outside of the Diversion Programme.


Minister Stanton feels that the Motion’s confusion of the Diversion Programme and Garda failures to prosecute, could be construed as criticism of the very valuable work of Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers and the community-based Garda Youth Diversion Projects.  This would be most unfortunate. Over many years, the Diversion Programme has helped thousands of young offenders turn away from crime and anti-social behaviour, and the Government greatly values this work. Both the Chair of the Policing Authority and the Commissioner were very careful to acknowledge the value of the Diversion programme, and it is essential that the Dáil does so as well. Our Countermotion is framed accordingly.


The sustained focus which the Policing Authority is giving to this matter is very important to help us understand what happened, why it happened, and what is being done to fix it. The Authority conducted a very rigorous public examination of the issue on 17th January and have made it clear that they will continue to probe the detail of what has happened, what is being done to rectify it, and the implications for Garda crime management generally.


Minister Stanton believes that continuing engagement and monitoring by the Policing Authority is the best way for us to verify that the errors made in the past will not be repeated. However, it will take some time before the full examination and verification of these matters is fully completed.


Minister Stanton shares the concerns expressed in the Motion in relation to the 3,500 victims of the crimes in these cases. These included 2500 individuals and 1,000 business or organisations. We have to accept that Justice was not done in any of these cases. Clearly, people have been let down and have not received the support that should have been given to them by agents of the State. It was right and fitting that the Commissioner made a very full and sincere apology to the victims of these crimes when he addressed the Policing Authority.


An Garda Síochána have taken a number of steps to help the victims of these crimes, the first of these is a Helpline which has been set up as a contact point for victims should they need support. Details of the Helpline are available on the Garda website. An Garda Síochána have also issued letters to each of the victims. In some cases, these letters have been hand delivered by members of the force, depending on the circumstances of the case. In addition to this, each of the victims can request a visit from a local Garda team from the Garda Victim Services Office to provide further information on their individual cases.


Another disturbing issue is the fact that most of the cases which went unprocessed will be statute barred, due to the time delay. However, senior Garda Managers are looking at the more recent individual cases to determine whether any further action can be taken. The Commissioner has also indicated that relevant discussions with the DPP will take place as may be necessary.


A Ceann Comhairle, despite some differences in the approach and some issues with the detail of the Motion which has been proposed, there is substantial common ground among Deputies in relation to this matter. We all want a full explanation of why these very serious issues have arisen. We all want to see effective and reliable systems in place within An Garda Síochána. We all want the victims of crime to see Justice done. And, we all want those children and young people who become involved in crime to have their behaviour challenged. I am sure we are also in agreement that those young people are also worthy of our best efforts to support them in finding a more positive path in their lives.


We look forward to a positive debate, and very much value the input which Deputies make to the ongoing development of our Youth Justice policies. We are opposing the Motion and moving the Government’s countermotion.  Deputies will see that we are proposing to keep as much of the spirit and language of the original Motion as possible and I hope that the House will be able to unite around the revised text that we are proposing.


Thank you