'Burglary is not being viewed as a serious crime by judges'
Published 06/11/2015 | 02:30
The Department of Justice believes members of the judiciary do not view burglary as a serious offence.
A senior department official pointed to cases where burglary suspects were arrested, but given bail only to go on and offend again.
Jimmy Martin, a member of the department's management board, made the comments while being quizzed by TDs over Government measures aimed at tacking the burglary epidemic afflicting several parts of the country.
The remarks will reignite debate over whether the judiciary is taking a tough enough stance against serial burglary suspects.
"Our perception is that the judiciary didn't view burglary as a serious offence," Mr Martin told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
He said that although burglary was classed as a serious offence, it was dealt with, in the first instance, in the district court, which normally deals with lesser crimes.
"We have a particular difficulty with burglary where the evidence of the guards suggests there was a lot of burglars who were effectively professional criminals who were committing multiple burglaries," said Mr Martin, the assistant secretary at the department's prisons section.
"They would be arrested by the guards, charged, released on bail, then commit more burglaries, and be released again.
"Indeed, we had one instance where it happened six or seven times in one month."
Mr Martin said that while it was feared judges had treated burglary as a non-serious offence, the department was not in a position to confirm this, due to the separation of powers.
"What I am saying is that there is a perception that may be happening. We don't know because obviously there is no contact between ourselves and the judiciary," he said.
The acting secretary general of the department, Noel Waters, said his colleague was "in no way" criticising the judiciary.
Mr Martin said a new Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill being introduced by the Government defined burglary as a serious offence for the purpose of bail hearings.
"We would hope that would give some guidance to the judiciary when they are considering bail, but it is still a matter for them to decide what to do," he said.
Meanwhile, officials said there were no plans to introduce widespread electronic tagging of individuals out on bail.
The use of tagging was flagged as one aspect of Operation Thor, the major garda crackdown on prolific burglary gangs announced earlier this week.
Mobile armed garda units, tougher bail rules and electronic tagging were three key aspects of the plan unveiled by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
However, Mr Martin told TDs that electronic tagging would only be feasible "in a small, select number of cases".
He said indiscriminate use of electronic tags was not considered "cost effective".
The official estimated that monitoring someone for a single day would cost €90.
The comments were queried by PAC vice-chairman John Deasy, who said it appeared to be a row-back on what was unveiled under Operation Thor.
"It is almost like you are advocating this in public and then making an argument against it," the Fine Gael TD said.
Mr Martin said that what Ms Fitzgerald had always planned was targeted electronic monitoring, rather than indiscriminate use of the devices.