… is the catchphrase of politicians in the wake of each new crime headline. The ‘something’ which must be done generally involves creating ‘new’ crimes in legislation, imposing mandatory or minimum sentences for existing crimes, or some combination of the two. Unfortunately, the Left in Ireland all too often falls in with the mantras of the Right, as each party and each politician seeks to outdo the other in being ‘tough on crime’, whilst singularly failing to be ‘smart on crime’.
Yet it is the parties of the Left which have – or should have – the greatest vested interest in devising workable and effective solutions to both crime and its causes. After all, it is those whom the Left seeks to represent – people living in marginalised inner city neighbourhoods, sprawling exurban estates or isolated rural communities – who are most affected by high crime levels.
And it is those communities who have borne the brunt of the Right’s failed responses.
In 1996, following the murder of Veronica Guerin, the FG-led Rainbow Government produced a flurry of legislation, the centrepiece of which was the referendum to restrict the right to bail – a legislative gimmick which was cravenly supported by both Labour and Democratic Left, and which, during the succeeding decade, has had no discernible impact either on crime levels, or on judges’ willingness to grant bail. The mindset underlying the bail referendum was best illustrated a decade later, during the run-up to the 2007 General Election, when Fine Gael issued billboards demanding “Tougher Bail for Criminals” – apparently unaware that those receiving bail have, ipso facto, not yet been convicted of any crime and cannot therefore be termed criminals. Fine Gael was subsequently taken to task by Mr. Justice Adrian Hardiman who noted that “the slogan clearly suggests, intentionally or otherwise, that the question of their guilt can be taken for granted” and went on to write that “in this, it was typical of much public discourse”.
Fine Gael’s Nora Owen was succeeded as Justice Minister by John O’Donoghue, who promptly proclaimed a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ (implying, of course, that crime had previously been ‘tolerated’). Zero tolerance, along with mandatory sentencing, is one of the Right’s favourite – if misunderstood – mantras. As originally practiced in New York, ‘zero tolerance’ is based on the ‘Broken Windows’ theory, first devised in 1983 by American criminologists, George Kelling and James Wilson. Kelling and Wilson posited a link between disorder and crime. According to their thesis, visible signs of decay – litter, broken windows, graffiti, abandoned housing – signal public disinterest. Fear of crime is greatest in these disorderly neighbourhoods, prompting ‘respectable’ community members to leave. This undermines the community’s ability to maintain order, and the neighbourhood declines as a result. Therefore, tackling low-level crime (e.g. vandalism) and restoring the physical infrastructure of neighbourhoods will impact on headline crime levels. The ‘Broken Windows’ theory has come under fire from sociologists and criminologists in recent years – but, regardless of its merits or otherwise, there was never any likelihood of John O’Donoghue paying more than lip-service to it: after all, true zero tolerance, in accordance with Kelling and Wilson’s theory, would require massive investment in community policing, services and infrastructure. Zero-tolerance, O’Donoghue style, was always about words rather than action.
O’Donoghue was succeeded by Michael McDowell, who will be remembered for the 2006 Criminal Justice Act (introducing ASBOs), and the 2007 Criminal Justice Act, incorporating mandatory sentences.
As of December 2007, a year after ASBOs were introduced, not one ASBO had been sought by the Gardai. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Gardai were not confronting anti-social behaviour – merely that, as senior Gardai admitted privately to the Irish Times, they were using existing measures (such as public order legislation) to deal with it.
So ASBOs were yet another redundant measure. Redundant measures – or duplicated legislation – is a favourite tool, deployed by the Right (and sometimes espoused by the Left) to give the appearance of action. Most recently, there have been calls by both Fine Gael and Labour for gang membership to be made illegal. Even Michael McDowell – who originally proposed a similar measure as far back as 2003 – subsequently retreated from the idea. Not only would criminalising gang membership be, at best, impractical (how does one define a gang? Irish ‘gangs’ are loose opportunistic associations, rather than ethnically or geographically based groups, as in the US) and, at worst, an invitation to a Star Chamber approach (are you now, or have you ever been, a member of …?). Similar legislation has been enacted in several US states and in Canada. Speaking last year to the Sunday Tribune, Professor Don Stuart of Queens University in Ontario, a consultant on criminal law reform to the Canadian Justice Department, said the Canadian legislation “had proven not to work effectively and failed to have any significant impact”, and pointed out that the legislation had “diverted attention away from more effective alternatives such as increased resources for police.” Professor Stuart went on to note that the law was “a symptom of a political desire to be seen to combat crime but it is not effective.
Very few politicians are willing to stand up and oppose such a measure for risk of being seen to be soft on crime, including opposition politicians”. Sounds familiar?
Of course, the main argument against criminalising gang membership is that such a move is unnecessary: there is already an established offence in common law known as “secondary participation”, defined as counselling, procuring, aiding or abetting in the commission of a crime. Secondary participation is punishable to the same extent as the actual crime, and the concept is codified in the 1861 Accessories and Abettors Act.
When not seeking new laws to define ‘new’ crimes, the Right seeks to impose mandatory or minimum sentences for existing crimes – most recently in the 2007 Criminal Justice Act. The conventional argument against mandatory sentences is that they limit the power of the judiciary to take the circumstances of both the crime and the perpetrator into account when pronouncing sentence. But there is another, rather more telling, argument against mandatory or minimum sentences: they do not work – indeed, they may prove counter-productive. Mandatory sentencing has been commonplace in the United States for some time, and the results have been extensively researched.
In 2003, a report by the Common Sense Foundation found that, despite a drop in recorded crime during the previous decade, the North Carolina prison population had exploded – an explosion which the report’s authors attributed to mandatory sentencing. The report also found that mandatory or ‘structured’ sentencing – especially when combined with a tightening of parole – militated against rehabilitation and contributed to increased levels of recidivism. In light of these and similar findings, it is unsurprising that, in 2001, Louisiana and Mississippi repealed their mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offences, and similar repeals are being considered by Alabama and Georgia.
Other studies have found that mandatory sentencing impacts most severely on already disadvantaged population groups. In 2004, a report entitled ‘Arizona Prison Crisis: A Call for Smart on Crime Solutions’, published by the pressure group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, found that ‘structured’ sentencing disproportionately affected substance abusers, ethnic minorities and women; the report also echoed the findings by the Common Sense Foundation to the effect that mandatory sentences militated against re-habilitation.
Fortunately – like the 1996 bail legislation, and the 2006 ASBOs – mandatory sentencing has proven to be something of a damp squib in Ireland, since judges will go to extreme lengths to exercise their remaining powers of discretion when pronouncing sentence: in October 2007, the Irish Times found that, out of 57 convictions for possessing commercial quantities of drugs during 2006, only three of those convicted received the mandatory ten-year sentence. However, it would be naïve to continue depending on the good sense of the Irish judiciary to mitigate some of the more extreme effects of right-wing legislative zeal.
The Left must now formulate a pro-active strategy: a strategy which is ‘smart on crime’ rather than merely ‘tough on crime’. And once that strategy has been formulated, the Left must sell it to those most affected: the vulnerable communities plagued by both high-level and low-level crime: the communities to which the Right pays lip-service while withdrawing or freezing the very resources which will help combat the causes of crime (and those resources are set to become even more scant as the economic downturn bites).
The Right’s sanction-led strategy has not worked. Not merely for the reasons enumerated above, but also – and primarily – because of low detection rates. Garda detection rates for headline crime actually fell by 6% between 2002 and 2005 – from 41% to 35 %. An absence of detection renders sanctions irrelevant – regardless of their substantive merits.
While the responses of the right detailed above – whether Fine Gael, Fianna Fail or PD – tell a common narrative, so do the proposals advanced by all parties on the Left in relation to the areas examined below. The task now facing the Left is to weld the different party-political chapters of that narrative into a coherent progressive alternative – an alternative which is solution-led rather than merely sanction-led.
The following are a number of solutions to recurring problems in criminal justice that the Left can use to form that alternative narrative.
Community Policing and Garda Accountability
Everybody’s for community policing. But do we know exactly what it is we are for? The Right’s notion of community policing simply means ‘more Gardai in the community’: the boots-on-streets approach. The Left’s notion – a notion which has also been espoused by the Garda Inspectorate – is more radical: ‘policing with the community’ rather than merely ‘policing the community’.
It is worth quoting the recent Inspectorate report ‘Policing in Ireland – Looking Forward’. The Inspector states that “Community policing should be at the heart of policing in Ireland”, and points out that:
“One of the ways in which the Garda Síochána can seek to maximise community support is by demonstrating a passionate commitment to the basic principles of community policing—respect for human rights, partnership, prevention and problem-solving. Respect for human rights is the most important of these principles. A police service in a democratic society must be firmly grounded in a human rights culture. The very essence of policing is the guarantee and protection of people’s human rights. This must be the foundation on which the police service and police community relations are built.”
The Inspector also notes that:
“community policing should be more than a separate unit or operation within a police service. It must be the fundamental policing philosophy at the core of the organisation. It can only be achieved by a community policing approach and commitment that permeates the entire police service, from top to bottom.”
So – what would this kind of community policing look like? It remains to be seen whether the Garda Siochana’s ‘National Model for Community Policing’ – publication of which is overdue – will incorporate the Inspectorate’s approach. But, by drawing on the recommendations made at various times by the three Left parties, we can devise a rough model.
In its 2006 policy document ‘Better Policing for Safer Communities’, Labour recommended adopting the Patten Report, and stated that: “A commitment to community policing would amount to a profound shift in Garda thinking and community thinking. We believe that neighbourhood policing should be at the core of police work, and that the structure of the police service, the staffing arrangements and the deployment of resources should be organised accordingly”. As well as recommending that a new promotional rank of Community Garda be created, Labour recommended that the Garda District command be organised in support of the neighbourhood Garda policing teams, rather than those teams being a minor unit of the District command. The party also advocated creating formal links between neighbourhood policing teams and other agencies, such as health, education and childcare services.
Also in 2006, the Green Party published its ‘Crime and Justice Policy’, echoing the partnership-focussed approach adopted by Labour: “Community policing is policing which goes beyond the standard emphasis on law enforcement. It is in essence a problem solving approach to policing based on partnership between the police and the community. The collaboration works at successfully identifying and solving community problems. Problem-oriented policing recognises that many of the community incidences that police must address are symptoms of underlying conditions that need to be resolved or they will persist.”
In 2004, Sinn Fein published its policing proposals ‘Policing for the People’, seeking “effective policing with local democratic accountability, shaped as a community service and imbued with that human rights ethos”. In August 2007, Sinn Fein’s submission to the 2008 Garda Policing Plan sought a “commitment to increase the number of Gardaí employed full-time on community policing […] and to address the difficulties involved in filling such positions with the right candidates and reversing the high turnover in this post by changing Garda perceptions of the post and its status through, for example, alterations to the current norms governing promotions and career development in an Garda Síochána”.
So the Left is singing from the same hymn sheet on community policing, and the Garda Inspectorate has joined in the chorus. But who’s listening? At present, community policing is viewed by both right-wing politicians and large sections of the Gardai themselves as an optional add-on, rather than as a core part of policing 21st century Ireland. To quote Labour’s Justice Spokesperson, Pat Rabbitte TD:
“Privately the official view is that community policing is a soft liberal out-of-date unworkable concept. Of course, those who comprise the official view never live in these damaged communities”.
It is precisely those ‘damaged communities’ which feel that the Gardai are not only inaccessible, but also unaccountable.
Nowhere has the Left-Right divide on this issue been illustrated more clearly than in the case of Terence Wheelock, the North Inner City man who died in unexplained circumstances after two-and-a-half hours in Garda custody, and whose family – despite an alleged campaign of Garda intimidation – is still seeking an independent enquiry into the events leading up to and surrounding Terence’s death: Independent TD Tony Gregory, as well as Sinn Fein’s Christy Burke and Labour’s Joe Costello, have all supported the family’s call for an independent enquiry, while right-wing public representatives – local and national – were notable in their silence.
Although the recent establishment of the Garda Ombudsman Commission and Garda Inspectorate are welcome, they fall far short of the transparent civilian oversight and accountability procedures which have long been demanded by Labour, the Greens, and Sinn Fein. By the same token, the Joint Policing Committees established pursuant to the 2005 Garda Siochana Act are narrow in their conception and patchy in their implementation, again falling short of the Community Policing Partnerships demanded by Sinn Fein or the Local Policing Forums sought by Labour, both of which would be representative of, and accountable to, the community.
Whether on the ground, as in the Terence Wheelock case, or at Dail level, as demonstrated during the debates on the 2005 Garda Siochana Bill, the Irish Left has – if only tentatively – made common cause on issues of crime and policing. The Left must now join forces in further developing and articulating its alternative vision of community policing and accountability.
Implementing that vision would require nothing less that a revolution within the Garda Siochana themselves, and in the relationship between communities and the Gardai. It would require an acceptance that policing structures which have remained largely unaltered since 1922 are inappropriate to policing the Ireland of today – an Ireland which is heavily urban, increasingly multi-ethnic and, in too many cases, atomised. Only the Left is equipped to drive forward such a revolution.
Replacing custodial sanctions with community sanctions
The Right does, at least, pay lip-service to the need for community policing, although its interpretation of the term, and preferred prescriptions, differ widely from those of the Left. There is much more opposition from the Right to replacing custodial with community sanctions, which are viewed as a ‘soft option’ by the Right both here and elsewhere.
The Left knows that prison does not work, and this has been explicitly acknowledged by Labour, the Greens and Sinn Fein. To quote Labour’s 2005 policy document, ‘Taking Back the Neighbourhood’:
“The Labour Party strongly favours the use of restorative justice programmes and Community Service Orders […] Community-based sanctions are significantly less costly to implement than custodial sentences. Implementing community service orders costs about one third of the cost to the public of implementing the custodial sentences that might otherwise be imposed”.
In their 2006 proposals on crime and justice policy, the Greens went even further, stating that “We should recognise the severe limitations of the existing, prison oriented, criminal justice system, which neither encourages rehabilitation nor prevents recurrence”, while Sinn Fein’s crime and justice policy proposals, published before the last election, stated that: “We believe that for most non-violent offences, community restorative justice alternatives can be more effective than custody, for both victim and offender”.
The Irish prison population increased by over 30% between 1997 and 2002, and – when the prison population is expressed per 1,000 crimes – Ireland’s use of custodial sanctions is three times higher than England and Wales, and five times higher than Finland. The Green Party’s Ciaran Cuffe has attributed the disproportionate use of custodial sanctions in Ireland to “a number of factors including the politicisation of the issue of crime, disproportionate media coverage and subsequent moral panic”, and it is difficult to argue with his conclusion. The majority of those serving custodial sentences in Ireland – over three-fifths – have been sentenced to six months imprisonment or less, and in many cases have been convicted of non-violent crimes which pose little or no threat to society (fine defaulters being the classic example). Even more worrying, Ireland has amongst the highest recidivism rates in Western Europe. A 2006 study by UCD’s Institute of Criminology found that over a quarter of released prisoners are re-imprisoned within a year, and nearly half are re-imprisoned within four years. 85% of those imprisoned for defaulting on fines are re-imprisoned within four years – a clear indicator of prison’s criminalising effect.
To quote one of the authors of the above study, Paul O’Mahony, writing in the Irish Times:
“A short sentence of a few days or weeks may have a powerful deterrent effect on some individuals, but it only serves to stigmatise, embitter and harden many others, who are drawn deeper into criminality by the experience”.
As a result, Mr. O’Mahony noted, countries like Germany and Austria have strongly discouraged prison sentences of less than six months. These countries have turned to fines, community-based sanctions, suspended sentences, community service and restorative justice approaches to deal with minor offenders. To quote Paul O’Mahony again: “These methods are as effective as prison at preventing future crime and have the great advantage of avoiding the many negative effects of imprisonment”.
So – what would alternatives to custody look like in an Irish context? In 2006, Dr. Mairead Seymour published a study – “Alternatives to Custody in Ireland” – sponsored by Business in the Community in association with the Irish Penal Reform Trust. Following extensive research into the options available as well as a consultation process involving the various players (ranging from the Courts Service to the Probation and Welfare Service), and following the introduction of appropriate legislation, She recommends that the following actions be taken:
- All offenders sentenced to one year or less to receive a community sanction in place of imprisonment
- Suspended sentences to be placed on a statutory footing
- Community service to be retained and used as a genuine alternative to custody
- Imprisonment to be removed as the automatic default sanction for non-payment of fines, and replaced with community service or other alternative sanctions
Expansion of probation order options to meet the needs and risk levels of offenders (a range of probation order to include options such as intensive supervision or mentoring)
Use of these and other alternatives to custody would have two immediate benefits:
- A drastic reduction in the prison population
- A significant reduction in the numbers of low-level offenders who, at present, are effectively ‘criminalised’ by prison and, hence, a reduction in recidivism rates
Dr. Seymour’s conclusions were echoed recently in a Government-commissioned report by the former head of the Probation and Welfare Service, Sean Lowry. Despite the fact that this report was commissioned by then Justice Minister Michael McDowell, it has not been published and was only obtained by the Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act. Pointing to experiences in Finland and Norway, where community sanctions have proven so successful that prison terms below six and eight months have either been abolished or converted to other forms of rehabilitative punishment, the report suggests that, if the same approach was adapted here, committals to prison of sentenced criminals would fall by about two-thirds, from 5,800 to 1,800.
Drugs & Crime: the Case for a New Approach
It is axiomatic to say that drug abuse is behind much of the crime committed in Ireland – whether the low-level crimes against property committed by drug users to fund their habit, or the ‘gangland’ crime fuelled by the highly profitable market for drugs.
A Garda study in 1997 found that drug users were responsible for 66% of detected indictable crime. A similar study carried out in 2004 found that drug users were responsible for just 28% of crime. There has been some doubt, however, regarding the latter lower figure, largely because the same study also found that almost all drug users surveyed admitted to funding their habits through larceny, burglary or robbery, casting some doubt on the former figure.
There are four models used internationally to explain the causal link between drugs and crime: the psycho-pharmacological model identifies the drugs–crime link as arising as a result of the intoxicating effect of the of the drugs themselves; the economic-compulsive model assumes that drug users need to generate illicit income from crime to support their drug habit; the systemic model explains drug-related crime as resulting from activities associated with the illegal drug market, while the common-cause model suggests that there is no direct causal link between drugs and crime but that both drug use and offending behaviour are related to other factors, including socio-economic deprivation.
Whichever model one espouses – the truth is likely to lie in a combination – there is no doubt that effective drug treatment is associated with a reduction in crime: A Garda study in 2004 found that 75% of drug users surveyed claimed their criminal activity had declined as a result of treatment. Likewise, it has been suggested that the 29 per cent reduction in recorded crime in Ireland between 1995 and 1999 might be partially explained by the increased availability of methadone maintenance programmes throughout the Dublin area during that period. International research tends to buttress these findings: for example, the UK National Treatment Outcome Research Study (NTORS), a study of 1,075 clients of treatment services launched in England in 1995, showed a reduction of 67 per cent in the reported number of crimes committed at one year into treatment and a maintenance of this effect at two-year and at four-and-a-half-year follow-ups.
While it is thus clear that blanket provision of accessible, community-based drug treatment services will reduce acquisitive and opportunistic crime (crimes committed by drug users to fund their habit), a more radical response is needed to reduce ‘systemic crime’ – or what our politicians and media prefer to call ‘gangland crime’. To quote John Connolly’s ‘Overview of Drugs and Crime in Ireland’, published by the Health Research Bureau in 2006:
“The systemic model explains drug-related crime as resulting from activities associated with the illegal drug market. Systemic types of crime surrounding drug distribution include gangland murders and fights over organisational and territorial issues, disputes over transactions or debt collection, and corruption of business and government officials. Associated third-party violence can include injuries to bystanders.”
It is obvious that removing demand for drugs would put these ‘gangs’ out of business. However, the treatment approach is unlikely to achieve this objective on its own. Even if we had the blanket treatment provision demanded by all parties on the Left, there will always be some users (and this relates primarily to heroin users) who either do not wish to stop using, or who are not comfortable in conventional treatment programmes.
A system of state heroin provision (prescription heroin administered by GPs and injected in so-called ‘safe rooms’) would (1) ensure that users receive high-quality pharmaceutical heroin in clean and safe surroundings, thus reducing the risk to their health (2) reduce acquisitive crime carried out by users and (3) significantly reduce the profits available to drug traffickers. It should, of course, be made clear that any system of state provision of prescription heroin would go hand-in-hand with an accessible, properly resourced treatment programme: the ultimate aim must be to help users kick their habit.
A similar system of state provision was introduced in Switzerland over a decade ago and, according to The Lancet, has not only resulted in an 82% reduction in new heroin users over that period, but has also reduced levels of drug-related crime and user deaths. The provision of ‘safe rooms’ in which to inject has also reduced the numbers using in public, thus – in turn – contributing to a sense of community safety. Given the obvious benefits – in terms of both improving public health and reducing crime – of a state provision policy, it is not surprising that, early last year, Ken Jones, head of the UK Association of Chief Police Officers, called for heroin to be prescribed to users on the NHS.
A similar system was introduced in The Netherlands in 2002; prior to the roll-out, a pilot heroin prescription programme there saw an 85.7% reduction in the time spent on illegal activity by users participating in the programme. In early 2007, the Dutch Central Committee on the Treatment of Heroin Addicts (CCBH), which advisors the Dutch Minister for Health on matters to do with heroin prescription, published a study assessing patterns of acquisitive crime during methadone maintenance treatment among patients eligible for heroin assisted treatment. Among other findings, the authors noted that:
“in a Dutch population of chronic, treatment-resistant heroin users eligible for HAT, about half reported having committed acquisitive crimes mainly in order to buy illicit drugs during their methadone maintenance treatment. These crimes were committed every other day on average, with a mean of three property crimes on such day. Shoplifting, particularly supermarket theft, was the most frequently reported acquisitive crime. Theft of bicycles and burglary were frequent crimes as well. Meat, coffee and other products from a supermarket were often sold for small amounts of money, while household items, clothing and especially electrical devices were sold for substantial sums”.
It is thus clear that, while methadone maintenance and other conventional forms of drug treatment have a crime reduction effect, as noted earlier, there remains a cohort of users who continue to commit crime to buy illicit drugs to supplement their methadone. These users have a two-fold impact on crime: as well as committing crimes themselves, they contribute (as consumers of illegal drugs) to ‘systemic’ (or ‘gangland’) crime.
While heroin users commit acquisitive crime and fuel systemic crime, the situation with regard to cannabis users is rather different. Cannabis-related prosecutions have consistently formed the vast majority of all drug-related offences prosecuted. In 2004, such prosecutions accounted for 62 per cent of the total number of drug-related prosecutions. By and large, however, these prosecutions were for possession of cannabis, rather than for crimes linked with its acquisition or use. Cannabis supply, however, forms one of the main pillars of ‘systemic’ crime. Were cannabis to be legalised and its provision rendered subject to state control – as is currently the case with alcohol and tobacco – users would not be criminalised, and drug traffickers would be deprived of a lucrative source of funds.
In contrast to the two areas discussed above – policing and alternatives to custodial sentences – the Irish Left has (with one or two notable exceptions) refrained from putting the case for de-criminalisation, legalisation or state provision, of drugs. Admittedly, Labour TD Emmet Stagg has advocated the de-criminalisation of cannabis since the late 1990s, when he asked Junior Minister Chris Flood “Would he consider decriminalising the use of cannabis? It is not sustainable to have 60% of the young people of the country in criminal capacity”; most recently, Deputy Stagg sponsored a motion to the 2007 Labour Party conference seeking to have cannabis de-criminalised. However, he remains a lone voice (and, on this issue, marginalised) in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Greens’ Ciaran Cuffe has called for Ireland to follow the UK by downgrading cannabis to a ‘Class C’ substance, and ceasing arrests or prosecution for possession – but that is as far as the Greens have gone. Although Ogra Sinn Fein has tabled a motion to the party’s conference seeking de-criminalisation of cannabis, the party as a whole has remained aloof from the issue.
Unsurprisingly, none of the Left parties has raised the issue of state heroin provision. To do so would be to invite opprobrium from the media, the Right and – at least initially – from the very communities most affected by drugs.
Nevertheless, any ‘solution-led’ approach to crime will have to involve some combination of de-criminalisation/legalisation and state provision. The Left is best-placed to sell the arguments to those areas which are currently suffering from the effects both of systemic, drug-fuelled crime, and of acquisitive crime committed by users. The link between drugs and crime is of little more than theoretical significance in Ballsbridge – but it is of concrete, daily significance in Crumlin, Finglas or the North Inner City.
Any moves towards state provision would require wide-ranging consultation with all the stakeholders, as well as extensive research into existing models. While writing this article, it seemed that the most appropriate forum for such consultation and research would be the National Crime Council. I then received a copy of the policy document issued a couple of days ago by Fine Gael entitled ‘Streamlining Government’. And there, buried in eighty-three pages of suggested cuts, was a proposal to abolish the National Crime Council on the grounds that it is “Largely a talk shop. Resources better spent on fighting crime”. In those ten words, Fine Gael illustrated what is wrong with the Right’s approach to tackling crime – and why we need a Left alternative.
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