Friday 23 March 2018

Fitzgerald has no data to back up claim of big 'crime drop'

Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Kevin Doyle and Barry Lennon

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has been embarrassingly forced to admit she cannot present figures to back up her claims that burglaries rates are falling.

The minister said on national radio yesterday that burglaries have dropped since 2014 despite official statistics showing a year-on-year rise of 6.2pc.

"We have one of the lowest rates in November-December for a long time," she said. But her office was unable to provide any figures to back up the claim, with a spokesperson saying Ms Fitzgerald was referring to "informal provisional feedback from the Garda authorities on Operation Thor".

The Department of Justice said figures are "not officially available yet" but pointed to a 6.8pc reduction in the number of burglaries between July and September last year, compared with the same three months in 2014.

However, a wider analysis of the statistics show that in the 12 months to the end of September the number of burglaries and related offences actually rose by 6.2pc, or 1,660 incidents. The figures show 78 burglaries every day during that period.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO), which compiles official figures, said it would be mid-March before they have the burglary rate for the final quarter of 2015.

Fianna Fáil Justice spokesperson Niall Collins said: "The minister isn't allowed to just make up facts to suit the government's spin that it's tackling crime.

"I have no doubt that the gardaí are now starting to make a meaningful impact given the attention the issue is getting - but what has Fine Gael been doing up to now?

"Closing garda stations and allowing the strength of the force to fall to a dangerously low level have left communities across this country really exposed. The increase in crime, particularly burglaries, on Fine Gael's watch is undeniable."

He told the Irish Independent that if Ms Fitzgerald has new figures to support her claims, "she should publish them so they can be analysed and verified".

Speaking to RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke programme, Ms Fitzgerald described "an act of burglary as an absolutely heinous crime".

"The peak of burglaries back at the start of 2014 was the highest rate we'd seen in 10 years in the country, whatever the reasons are and I could speculate on them as well," she said.

"But that's why, many months ago, I sat down with frontline gardaí and asked what could we do from a legislative point of view.

"What was very clear was that gardaí were detecting serious offences but felt legalisation wasn't strong enough for them to deal with offenders.

"And so I got legislation prepared and I implemented it, which is the Criminal Justice Burglary Bill.

"Serious offenders can now be refused bail and instead of a solicitor standing in court, I also want 10 extra offences.

"We now have consecutive offences," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said Operation Thor, which was set up to specifically target burglary gangs, has adequate resources and is working.

"If you go round the country to the different voluntary groups, Muntír na Tire, as I do out there working with the gardaí, everybody will tell you they are being stopped more by the gardaí."

The minister said the operation involved over 8,000 additional anti-crime patrols and 11,709 targeted checkpoints .

"This is all under Thor and increasing arrest; 496 arrests out of those operations and the rates, in relation to burglary going down this year. Now those are the facts," she said.

However, Mr Collins pointed out that there were more than 20,000 burglaries in the first nine months of last year.

"The fact that Fine Gael ignored the upsurge in crime for four and half years is shameful," he said.

Irish Independent

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