Garda overtime takes bulk of supplementary Justice estimate

 

Garda overtime payments totalling £16 million make up the bulk of a 1998 supplementary estimate for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The £23.3 million estimate adopted yesterday includes provision for an expanded witness protection programme.

The £25 million provided for Garda overtime was exhausted by July, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr O'Donoghue, said. Garda overtime was likely to exceed £43 million this year, a 300 per cent increase since 1994.

The two biggest demands were investigations of serious crimes and measures to deal with the BSE crisis, accounting for 50 per cent of overtime. "It was vital to the national interest that overseas purchasers be assured that infected cattle were not being smuggled into the State."

Witness security, Mr O'Donoghue said, was a priority commitment in the Government's programme for tackling organised crime. Some £250,000 would be spent on a protection programme during 1998.

Extra funding would also be used in operations aimed at seizing drugs and the assets of drug dealers, a policing plan for the north inner city of Dublin, and Operation Lifesaver, aimed at reducing road deaths.

Efficiencies and value for money were being achieved within the force, he said, while publication of a strategic management plan was imminent. This would signal the most significant changes in structure since the force's foundation.

The Fine Gael spokesman on justice, Mr Jim Higgins, said the supplementary estimate was welcome as the bulk of it was to be used to continue funding of Garda schemes shown to be operating successfully. There was a strong case for extending Operation Lifesaver in an attempt to reduce the "frightening carnage on Irish roads".

The Minister, he said, should also take the opportunity of instituting an inquiry to establish who in the i Garda authorised a leak to the media about an impending visit to the offices of the Dublin law firm, Michael E. Hanahoe. Such an inquiry was in the public interest, in the interests of the Garda and those within the Criminal Assets Bureau.

The Minister said he would be seeking a full report on the matter from the Garda Commissioner.

Commenting on the publication of the 1997 Criminal Justice Bill yesterday, Mr Higgins said it was "a pathetic version of the zero tolerance policy" which Mr O'Donoghue advocated while in opposition.

The Bill was flawed, ran contrary to the proper separation of functions between the courts and the Oireachtas, and allowed, unnecessarily in some cases, for justice not to be done in public. He disputed whether it would lead to swifter justice. "The humbug of zero tolerance is truly dead and buried."