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PJ Browne: What shatter must do to avoid failures of ahern and mcdowell

An open letter to the new Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter

Dear Minister,

I want to congratulate you on your appointment.

As Minister for Justice you'll quickly realise the first priority is ensuring people sleep safely at night - not worrying about break-ins or public order offences in their neighbourhood.

Your portfolio will be judged on the amount of crimes that are committed against the community.

As an old dog who ran a hard road for 38 years and encountered plenty of criminals on the way, I offer a few suggestions for your consideration as you read yourself into your new brief.

First of all, don't get sucked in by the smarmy mandarins in the Dept of Justice. They've led Dermot Ahern and Michael McDowell up the garden path and you don't want to follow those two idiots into what I see as abject failure.

In many ways, the citizens of Dublin South will be your best advisors, filling you in on burglaries and everyday crime trends. You're lucky too, to have a good force of detectives in that area.

It's not all gun killings and headline crimes -- petty offences can severely impact people's lives too.

If you successfully tackle those property and public order crimes, you'll ultimately bring gangland to heel too.

Here's my advice to you:

1 The scandal of crimes against the elderly. There are so many people living alone who are afraid to open their doors to allow neighbours in because of the fear of bogus people representing themselves as genuine callers .

This is where a social-security policy comes in. Every pensioner should should be given an alarm to alert a safety unit or the Gardai.

2 Can you ensure everyone given community service for what is deemed small crime actually performs that service?

3 There is a public order problem on the streets. Why? Very simple, There are not enough gardai in uniform on the beat. I know because I served in the area of Temple Bar and its environs, which has its share. I know that Supt Joe Gannon, an old colleague in Pearse Street, does more than his utmost to cover everything but he is restricted by fiduciary issues. So is every other superintendent throughout the country.

4 Alan, we have a serious problem with begging. It is only recently that new legislation came in, but writing laws doesn't solve crime, enforcing them does. We also have a big problem with cyclists intent in cycling against the flow of traffic -- though no law is there to prevent them doing that.

5 Alan, do you not think it's strange, given the effects of knife crime in the city, that there is no ban on the sale of knives? Why do cigarettes have to be covered from display, yet knives of all sizes are offered for sale in shop windows?

6 Last week I attended a trial at the Criminal Courts of Justice and met many old colleagues, men and women battling the city's gangs. They are totally despondent. They are not allowed do their work due to lack of funds.

Two of the most important units in the gardai, the National Surveillance Unit and the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, are not allowed to do overtime. Why? As Minister for Justice, Alan, you will quickly come to realise that these are the most important units in the entire force.

At present, when on a job, they cannot leave their respective offices until the appointed time, some must return for lunch break so that no subsistence allowance will be allowed, and no overtime will be incurred.

Alan, these words are from the mouths of the garda operatives. And they are not telling lies.

Unlike our detectives, criminals -- serious or petty -- do not work a 9-5 day. You cannot and will not beat them by imposing those hours on detectives.

Finally, Alan, I wish you well. As an old hand, I've been through it all before. If you ever need a bit of advice don't hesitate to get in touch.

PJ Browne

PJ Browne is a former detective superintendent with over 35 years' experience policing serious crime.