A police response

Perhaps out of fear of being identified with lawless elements, few voices have been raised against the Criminal Justice Bill. Senator BRENDAN RYAN, speaking to the Sociological Association of UCC, outlined urgent reasons why the Bill is dangerous.

We have, for the past number of years, been subjected to a barrage of headlines of the "Crime out of control" variety, mostly based on fear rather than fact, and on a profound misuse of the limited statisstics available. Many Irish people would admit to being afraid to walk along O'Connell Street in Dublin at night. Yet the same people would walk around Paris, London or Berlin while on holidays, blissfully unaware that crime rates in these cities were far ahead those of Dublin!

Some years ago the media, and in particular Independent Newspapers, raised the "Bugsy Malone" issue. Loughan House was opened. There was no change in the Dublin crime rate. Most of the kids sent there were convicted for offences which involve no violence and no weapons. There has been a 70% recidivism rate among detainees. All this progress backwards cost the community £60,000 per child per year. No old people were proteccted, no criminals were deterred, and a lot of money was wasted.

A new wave of hysteria now grips us - crime is allegedly out of control and lawlessness is rampant we are told. And yet the crime rate in this country is among the lowest in Europe - nottwithstanding the huge volume of politically inspired crime of the past ten years.

Criminal convictions leading to imprisonment are overwhelmingly conncentrated on a couple of groups in society. In 1981 76.9% of those commmitted to prison were aged between 15 and 29. Only 7.9% were over 40. This is coincidentally the sector of the population which carries the heaviest burden of unemployment close to 50% in some cases in many urban areas. It is also significant that about 60% of indictable offences recorded in the state occur in the Dublin merropolitan area - although that area contains only 33% of the national population. But it is the area of the greatest concentration of deprivation.

The population centres from which most prisoners come are the areas where the Gardai are less and less seen as friends and more and more as oppressors. This has been adverted to by the present Garda Commissioner and by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors in their discussion paper called "Scheme for Community Policing", The Gardai are no longer trusted in certain areas of Dublin, Cork and Limerick. The areas of distrust are the areas of highest economic, social, environmental and educational deprivation.

The main thrust of the Criminal Justice Bill is (l) to give more powers to the Gardai - powers of search, powers of arrest and detention, (2) to reduce defendants' rights, e.g. rights to silence and the use of alibis, (3) to deal with alleged abuses of bail, and (4) to increase penalties for some offences.

No objective evidence is available to justify these decisions, no published investigations, no research. All we have is the demand from an increasingly politicised police force.

The Bill is being introduced because the people are worried, indeed frightened, and because the Gardai have organised a successful political campaign, using the trust they still retain in the prosperous and articulate, a campaign which distracts attention from the Gardai's own failures and focusses instead on the alleged excessive rights of suspects.

We are told that an independent complaints tribunal will ensure that powers are not abused. For middleeclass respectable people - e.g. Patsy Buckley's husband - such a tribunal may well have an appeal. But in realism, if there is a conflict of eviddence between a member of the Garda Siochana and the illiterate, inarticuulate, unskilled type of person typical of our prison population, who will be believed? Who will judge what is a reasonable cause of suspicion? If a l6-year old is arrested on suspicion of car theft - and the Gardai say that cars are stolen by 16-year olds in cerrtain areas, then when will the Gardai not have reasonable cause for suspicion?

No respectable middle-class tribunal is really going to penalise a Garda who picks up a kid from an area with a large restless unemployed population - and questions him about car thefts. Who ever listens to the poor? The establishment almost invariably beelieves itself.

Bernard McNally, coaccused of Nicky Kelly, claims to have been assaulted while in custody. The Special Criminal Court chose to disbelieve him and suggested that the obvious bruissing on his body had been self-inflicted or inflicted by another. The only occaasion on which McNally was not under surveillance was the night he was reemanded in the Bridewell. He was alone in his cell that night. The Special Criminal Court chose to believe that Bernard McNally was a self-confessed terrorist who confessed to his crimes without undue pressure and then prooceeded to beat himself up.

A friend of mine, whom the Gardai suspect of armed robbery in the past, but who is now working in inner Dublin to combat drug abuse and who participated in the survey which is the basis of the recent Government deciisions, is a case in point. He has never used drugs, and most assuredly never dealt in drugs. Yet he has been repeattedly arrested, brought to Store Street Garda station and strip-searched under the misuse of Drugs Act, not by the Drugs Squad, but by plainclothes detectives. Who would believe him? How would he ever convince this Tribunal?

This Bill is misdirected, draconian and sinister. It threatens us all .

In a particular way, however, those who are least able to defend themmselves - lacking education, employyment, articulateness, a decent home, and above all public sympathy, are most at risk. To allow Gardai extra powers which will inevitably be used most frequently against the communiities which are the most hostile to the Gardai will bring more crime, not less. Northern Ireland is the most perfect example of giving increased powers to an unacceptable police force, and we know the consequences.

This Bill is the wrong response. It is based on a police analysis of a serious problem, rather than a mature political response. The poor are almost invariably the victims of any attempt by the establishment to protect itself from further assault - as the rich, the powerful and articulate rush to placate the Gardai. •