Coalition's policies on crime fail to win majority support in poll


A COALITION of the main opposition parties would make a better job of handling the crime problem than the current Government parties, according to the latest Irish Times/MRBI opinion poll.

More than a third of respondents (36 per cent) thought Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats would be more effective in handling crime. The Coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left was preferred by only 21 per cent, with the remainder preferring neither grouping or having no opinion. The finding contrasts with the overall level of support for the Government, running at 50 per cent.

The poll shows that the public rates crime second to unemployment among the issues on which the next general election will be fought.

Polling was conducted among a quota sample of 1,000 electors at 100 sampling points throughout the State last week.

A huge majority (86 per cent) considers crime to be increasing, compared with 10 per cent saying it has remained at the level of previous years. Of the remainder, 3 per cent thought crime was falling, and 1 per cent had no opinion.

A large proportion of those polled were unhappy with the Garda's response to crime.

Asked whether they thought the Garda was "getting on top of the crime situation" almost a third (31 per cent) thought the force was performing worse than in previous years. Some 30 per cent thought the Garda was doing better, while 36 per cent felt its effectiveness was the same as in previous years.

The poll also shows that despite their feeling that crime is rising most members of the public have had little direct experience of it over the past year.

Almost two thirds (63 per cent) said neither they, nor their close relatives or friends, had been victims of crime during the year. A total of 36 per cent said they or their close friends or relatives had been victims.

Analysis of the poll shows that young people are more likely than the elderly to have such direct experience of crime. It also indicates that older people have more faith in the efforts of the Garda than the young.

The relatively high level of support for the main opposition parties' crime policies will come as a disappointment to the Government, which has devoted much of its efforts and resources to a series of "crime packages" over the past year, including a new prison building programme, new legislation and a new agency, the Criminal Assets Bureau, which is working to deprive the major criminals of their wealth.

However, many of these measures were in response to crises such as the murder of the journalist Veronica Guerin last June rather than the result of planning. Some of the initiatives, such as reform of the bail laws and the prison programme, were resisted within the Cabinet before finally being implemented.

With almost 80 per cent of those polled unwilling to cite the Coalition parties as the best political grouping to tackle crime, the Government appears to be paying a price for seeming at the mercy of events rather than in control of them.

Senior gardai will also be concerned that 31 per cent of the public thinks the force is less effective than in previous years.

Older people tended to believe the Garda was performing better. Of people aged 65 or above, only 22 per cent thought the force had turned in a worse performance, compared with between 28 and 38 per cent for the other age groups.

The poll also shows that people in urban areas, which have the highest crime rates, were more likely to be unhappy with the Garda's performance than those in rural areas.