Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here today to launch the Directory of Irish Criminological Research, which, as we have heard, has been compiled on behalf of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice by Margaret O’Shea under the supervision of Fr Tony O’Riordan.  I want to commend  and thank them both, and their team, for their work on this project.  The Centre is now well established and in addition to its other activities produces thought provoking publications on a wide range of issues including many of direct relevance to my Department.  The publications are valuable contributions to the issues they address and are always well worth careful consideration.     

In recent years there has happily been a significant increase in the level of criminological research activity in Ireland.  Our third level academic institutions have been to the forefront in this, as is clear from the Directory being launched today.  While criminological research is undertaken across a wide range of academic faculties, I particularly welcome the establishment by many of our educational institutions of centres of research dedicated to this area.  While it might be invidious to single out particular names, I would like to acknowledge in particular the work being carried out by the Institute of Criminology at UCD, the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights at UCC, the Centre for Criminal Justice at the University of Limerick and the Centre for Social, Educational Research at the Dublin Institute of Technology and the Irish Centre for Human Rights in NUI Galway.  I also want to mention the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.  While there are two jurisdictions on our island, we face the same issues North and South and I am sure can share the solutions to the problems we all face.

One consequence of this higher level of research activity is that it is sometimes difficult to get an overview of what is happening in this field.  Not only has the volume of activity increased, but there is also constant change in the work underway.  This Directory will make a significant contribution to providing the necessary overview to research being undertaken.  While in many ways there is no substitute for a printed hard copy Directory, it does have the disadvantage that it can go out of date quite quickly.  I am glad to see that the compilers are signalling this by making it available online and using the title Towards a Directory. Not only will this make it more widely accessible, it will also make it easier to update and add to on a continuing basis.  It is in the nature of publications such as this that when the first version appears it motivates people to submit further information for inclusion. 
In general, from the perspective of a policy formulator and legislator, indepth research and analysis can greatly inform the process of formulating and developing policies.  This is no less the case in the criminal justice field and my Department has been conscious for some time of the importance of criminological research particularly in the context of policy development.  Ten years ago it commissioned the ESRI to report on the Department’s research capacity.  Following that report the Department established a Policy Planning and Research Unit (PPRU) in the Department in 1998.  Its primary purpose is to inform the Minister’s and the Department’s policy making process and to examine the effectiveness or otherwise of the policies in place.    

In fulfilling this purpose, the PPRU identifies research needs in the various functional areas for which the Department has responsibility.  It prioritises those research needs and co-ordinates research between the different areas.  At the more specific level, it draws up the research brief for particular projects and when projects are completed evaluates the quality of the completed reports.  The Unit assesses the policy implications of reports and incorporates the research results into the planning and strategic management processes of the Department.  In addition to commissioning research itself, the Unit also considers research proposals submitted to it from outside the Department and provides assistance where the research meets the needs of the Department’s functional areas. 

Since the establishment of the PPRU, it has received a specific yearly financial allocation.  The allocation for this year amounts to €771,000.  Funding is awarded to a wide range of organisations and academic institutions.  One example is listed on page 35 of the Directory, the research project on the reasons for attrition in rape cases - why some complaints to the Gardaí by victims of rape do not progress as far as a trial.  I attach a high importance to rape victims reporting to the Garda Síochána.  It is important that all parts of the criminal justice system, from investigation to prosecution to trial, make it possible for the maximum number of cases to go through the system to a final result.  I understand that the project is near finalisation, and I look forward to its report.

In addition to my Department’s Policy Planning and Research Unit, I would like to draw your attention to two bodies who make a significant contribution to research in this area and to which my Department provides support, namely, the National Crime Council and the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development (which recently changed its name from the Irish Association for the Study of Delinquency).

The Crime Council was established in 1999 and it focuses on crime prevention, with a particular emphasis on the underlying causes of crime and the development of partnerships in this area.  It also focuses on raising public knowledge about crime and pays attention to the fear of crime and the issues which arise as a consequence of this fear. The Council which is funded by my Department has carried out a wide ranging programme of research in such highly relevant areas as the partnership approach to preventing crime, public order offending, domestic abuse and time intervals in the investigation and prosecution of murder and rape.  Its most recent report, published in April, makes the case for community courts in Ireland.  Each of the Council’s reports contains wide ranging recommendations addressed to the agencies in the criminal justice system and these are carefully fully considered and taken into account.
The Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development also pursues an ongoing programme of research.  The Association’s principal objective is to promote a wider understanding of criminal justice, the causes of offending and the treatment of offenders.  A very important part of its role is a programme of research into the implementation of criminal law and policy.  To date, it has focused on youth justice in Ireland, given the dearth of empirical data in this area.  In 2004 it undertook a pilot study on the circumstances and treatment of a sample of young people before the Dublin Children Court.  This was followed by a national study of a larger sample before the Children Court generally which I launched last April.

I would also like to mention the Garda Research Unit.  The Unit exists primarily to provide a research facility to the Gardaí to enable it to better fulfil its functions.  However, each year since 2002 it also commissioned and published a survey into public attitudes to the Gardaí - the directory lists the survey for last year.  The Gardaí intend to continue to conduct an annual survey and so build up an extremely useful resource, to researchers as much as to others. 

Looking through the Directory, I am struck by the amount and variety of research being carried out.  This research is very relevant to the operation of the criminal justice system and hence to the work of my Department and its associated agencies. For example, the Directory shows how much work is being done in the areas of juvenile justice and young people.  This is an area of particular importance to myself and to the Government.  In order to tackle the issues in this area, the Government last year established the Irish Youth Justice Service.  For the first time since the foundation of the State, it brings responsibility for young offenders together under one roof.  The Service’s primary role is to develop effective responses to juvenile crime.  To help it in this, the Service will have a research capability.  At the same time, it is important that research dealing with young people continues to be carried out by others, and I am glad to see from the Directory that this is the case.

The Irish Prison Service is also aware of the importance of research into prisoners, their characteristics and profile.  It has always been anxious to facilitate researchers in their work.  I am glad to see that a significant proportion of the research projects listed in the Directory deals with prisoners.  I am also glad to see that Tom O’Malley is undertaking research on sentencing.  This is another matter to which I attach a high priority.  A section of the Programme for Government is devoted to sentencing and includes a commitment to establishing a Judicial Sentencing Commission comprised of serving judges.

Finally, I want to mention a significant development in the past year in the area of crime statistics.  The Central Statistics Office now compiles and publishes the statistics instead of the Gardaí.  The Gardaí of course continue to record crime, and it is on the basis of Garda data that the CSO compiles the statistics.  With this change the CSO, as the national statistical agency, is bringing its professional expertise to the compilation of the statistics.  The CSO is fully aware of the importance of research and is available to discuss with researchers how it might assist them.  Of course, as Minister I continue to be accountable to the Oireachtas for Government policy.  The CSO has also carried out surveys into victimisation and fear of crime as part of the Quarterly National Household Survey, most recently in the third quarter of last year.  In addition they are planning to carry out a full scale victimisation survey next year.

In conclusion, the Directory we are launching today represents a very important resource for both research and policy maker alike.  I am confident that many will find it useful, and I look forward to future editions.

Thank you.

16 July 2007