Thursday 19 October 2017

Crime up but prosecutions plummet after years of cuts

Dearbhail McDonald and Paul Melia

PROSECUTIONS in the country's busiest criminal courts have plummeted in the wake of cutbacks to gardai and the Office of the DPP.

In the same period, rates of some crimes have soared by over 50pc.

Cases at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court – where serious criminal offences from Dublin and around the country are tried – have dropped by a fifth between 2011 and 2012 alone and by a third overall since 2007.

The decline in the number of prosecutions in the capital's district courts – where minor offences are tried – is even more pronounced, with numbers dropping by a record 44pc between 2008 and 2012.

The drop in numbers being brought before the courts for trial comes despite figures showing that burglaries, thefts of the person and sexual offences rose over the same period.

It also comes at a time when the budgets of the DPP, An Garda Siochana and the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme have been significantly reduced.

The annual budget of the DPP fell by 18pc – from €44.78m to €36.77m – between 2009 and 2011, the latest year for which figures are available.

Gardai have also been dealt a series of fresh blows in their ability to fight crime – €39m has been cut from the force's budget this year – at a time when burglaries, attacks on the elderly and dissident activity have been major public issues.

Crime rates, which had been steadily rising for more than a decade, peaked in 2008, just as the economic crisis began.

Impact

And although many official headline crime rates, including homicides and dangerous driving, have fallen since 2008, burglaries, thefts of the person and sexual offences are on the rise.

Personal thefts increased nationally by 35pc and by 52pc in Dublin between 2007 and 2011, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), which will produce the 2012 garda recorded crime statistics figures next month.

Burglaries increased by almost a fifth around the country during the same period.

The impact of progressive cuts to the annual budget of the gardai is also affecting prosecutions as investigations are scaled back due to reduced manpower and overtime.

The garda overtime budget peaked in 2007 at €135.4m.

Operation Anvil, a dedicated national garda operation targeting organised crime, also got €20m for overtime, bringing the total overtime budget to €155.4m.

The Government has cut the garda payroll by more than €25m, meaning there is only enough money in the Department of Justice coffers to pay about 12,500 personnel, although the current garda strength is 13,417.

John Parker, President of the Garda Representative Association – which represents 11,200 rank-and-file gardai – said that progressive cuts to garda budgets was having "a huge impact" on gardai's ability to prevent, detect and prosecute some crimes. Justice Minister Alan Shatter, whose department's budget faced a €62m cut for 2013, did not respond to queries from the Irish Independent.

The spend on legal aid payments to defence lawyers in the criminal courts has declined by 12pc since 2009.

Figures released by the Department of Justice show that €50.5m was paid last year to barristers and solicitors – a drop of €7m or 12pc on the outlay of €57.5m in 2009.

Irish Independent

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