Around €50 million spent per year on free legal aid for criminals

A Private Members’ Business (PMB) motion is to be put to the Dail calling on it to note a number of points relating to rural crime – not least among which is the levels of expenditure being racked up on free legal aid for criminals.

The motion – being tabled by the Oireachtas Rural Independent Group this evening (Tuesday, January 15) – notes that costs for criminal legal aid for every year covering the period 2011-2017 ranged from €49 million to €58 million.

It also quotes that information on the average cost per annum during the same period for civil legal aid shows that it has never dropped below €30 million.

The PMB also called on the Dail to note the “widespread perception in rural and urban Ireland that the application of the system of free legal aid is open to abuse – specifically with respect to repeat offenders”.

The document also highlights that the latest crime statistics released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show an increase in burglary and theft offences nationally for quarter one of 2018, when compared to the same period in 2017.

This is accompanied by the assertion that there is a significant under-reporting of incidences of rural crime, with a call for recognition of the growing number of quad, farm machinery and livestock thefts occurring.

As of May 2018, only four grant aid applications have been approved under the Community Based CCTV Scheme that was launched in 2017 to assist groups in the establishment of community-based closed circuit television systems in their local areas.

The document seeks the Dail to recognise that the Criminal Justice Act 2007 permits a court granting bail to make it a condition that the person’s movements are monitored electronically.

Such calls have been made previously by rural crime prevention group Save Our Local Community.

Finally, the statistics released by the CSO demonstrate that the rate of crimes carried out by individuals on bail has been increasing, rising from 9% of all crimes in 2011 to 13% in 2016.

Calls on Government

The motion, tabled by the group comprising deputies: Mattie McGrath; Michael Collins; Michael Harty; Michael J. Healy-Rae; Danny Healy-Rae; Noel Grealish; and Michael Lowry – calls on the Government to make the following changes to improve the current situation.

The group is calling on the Government to establish a rural crime task force, to ensure all relevant departments coordinate with An Garda Siochana to identify and address the specific challenges when dealing with rural crime.

Another call being made is to conduct an immediate review of the operation of the Bail Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice Act 2007, specifically with respect to addressing the high rates of recidivism and the provision of free legal aid to repeat offenders, and to address the constitutionality or otherwise of limiting the provision of free legal aid.

A suggestion to Government is to conduct a review of the trespass laws aimed at strengthening the rights of farmers and land owners to protect their property and their person.

The Government is called to commit to increasing the funding available for local communities in 2019 towards the cost of running local Text Alert and Business Watch schemes, and to maintain the provisions of the Text Alert Rebate Scheme.

Other suggestions include to significantly increase investment in garda overtime, ICT equipment and high-powered vehicles; and to commit to future garda initiatives like Operation Thor, aimed at targeting mobile criminal gangs engaged in burglary and related crimes.

Finally, the group advocates to commit to a more expansive programme of reopening rural garda stations than that outlined in the programme for a Partnership Government Annual Report 2018.