Burglary rates down 10% in Dublin, Shatter tells Oireachtas Committee
Minister for Justice says fines collection legislation will be published in coming weeks
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter says fines collection legislation will be published in coming weeks .Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
More than 5,000 suspects have been arrested and almost 3,000 criminally charged as part of a major operation targeting burglaries across the State.
Since the commencement of Operation Fiacla last year, the burglary rates in Dublin, a blackspot region for the crime, has fallen by 10 per cent.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter revealed the figures while appearing this morning before the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice.
In an apparent reference to criticism of the Government for closing Garda stations, he said the trends covering the period up to the end of last month underlined the positive impact of freeing up gardaí from desk duties.
Total arrests have now reached 5,233, with 2,903 suspects charged, since it began 18 months ago.
The operation was set up after sustained increases in burglaries despite very significant declines across the board with general crime trends.
Appearing before the committee to discuss the Justice estimates from the year, he did however confirm that the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad and another on the establishment of a new court and civil and criminal appeal would take place on the same day, probably in early October.
He said legislation for the collection of court imposed fines would be published in coming weeks. However, while it would contain provisions for attachment orders enabling fines to be taken automatically from people’s earnings, not everyone could be reached in this way.
The self employed paid themselves and so had no employer from whom the fines money could be directly taken. Those on social welfare were in receipt of such monies to provide them with a basic standard of living.
It was unclear if attachment orders could be used to collect fines from them. Mr Shatter said while 87 per cent of the €2.2 billion annual justice budget went on Garda pay and pensions and public expenditure need to be reduced by €300 million in the current year, he was hopeful of re-commencing Garda recruitment.
“I do believe that it is important for an organisation such as the Garda Síochána to have some regular intakes of new recruits, even if on a modest scale.”
He added he was currently in talks with Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin to see how such recruitment could be put in place.
Mr Shatter has repeatedly pledged Garda recruitment would recommence by the end of the year. However, with unions rejected the so-called Croke Park extension aimed at securing public expenditure savings, Mr Shatter said the promised Garda recruitment could not take place.
While he has now indicated Garda recruitment is back on the Government agenda, he did not specify when it may begin again or indeed to what extent. Within the gross budget of €328.5 million for prisons in the current year, Mr Shatter said their remained some “less than ideal” prison conditions.
However, in Cork and Limerick prisons – which have been heavily criticised in inspection reports in recent years – overcrowding had fallen by 12 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.
While welcome, Mr Shatter said this was a temporary measure and that a number of capital projects were either completed, underway or about to commence across the prisons estate, with a new jail set to replace the existing facility in Cork.
Construction on that project will begin in October, with the new prison to facilitate 275 prisoners despite some objections on the locality.
Tendering for a new wing to replace the A and B wings in Limerick Prison is due to commence in coming months. A new 300-berth block opened at the Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, in December 2012.
In the State’s most notorious jail, Dublin’s Mountjoy, a major refurbishment project has been underway for two years that has involved installing in-cell sanitation in all cells. The C and B wings were completed last year, work on the A wing is underway and will be complete in September, and when the D wing is closed to allow work begin before the end of this year, slopping out will be eradicated for the first time in the prison’s 150-year history.