Almost a quarter of a million crimes — ranging from murder to public order breaches — have been committed by offenders in Ireland while they were out on bail for other charges in the past ten years.
The figures were released to Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish in a response to a Parliamentary Question he had tabled for Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
Deputy Grealish called for a change in the laws so that criminals are dealt with within days of their arrest, as usually happens in the Netherlands, rather than being given bail until their cases are heard months later.
“These figures are a stark indicator of the level of repeat offending and the total disregard for the law among a certain section of our society.
“The figures show how much our laws in relation to bail need to be changed when more than 24,000 crimes a year are being committed by people who are already before the courts charged with another offence.
“It’s particularly disturbing to see that last year, for instance, a total of 7,465 burglaries and thefts for which people were charged were carried out by offenders who were out on bail at the time.
“And that figure only relates to the number who were actually caught and brought before the court — how many thousands more burglaries are carried out by people on bail who haven’t been caught?”
The figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the number of recorded crimes where the suspected offenders were on bail rose each year from a total of 18,109 in 2005 to a peak of 29,542 in 2008, steadily dropping after that to a level of 22,647 in 2013 before rising slightly to 23,071 last year.
Among the main offences committed by people already out on bail for other alleged crimes is theft (an annual average of 5,286 over the decade), public order offences (5,005 a year), burglary (1,832 a year), and drug offences (1,818 a year).
At the most serious end of the scale, offences carried out by people while on bail included an average of 9 homicides a year, 23 sexual offences, and 761 murder attempts or threats and serious assaults.
Deputy Grealish said that in Ireland it takes far too long for criminals to be dealt with by the courts and we could take a leaf out of the book of the Dutch.
“In the Netherlands, the judicial system aims to have a person dealt with within a day or two of their arrest, and a week at most.
“A lot of lesser cases are decided in out of court orders for fines or community service — in 2013 more than 11,000 out of 15,000 criminal cases were dealt with within seven days, and in 40% of those cases the matter was settled within a single day. Here it usually takes months
“What this would do in Ireland if we had something similar, would be to free up the courts for cases where there is likely to be a prison sentence or cases where the defendant is denying guilt.”
Deputy Grealish said that proposed changes to the bail laws, and changes in bail and sentencing for repeat burglars, currently going through the Dáil, were welcome.
“But it’s important that we allocate the resources needed by the prison system to ensure that when these people are sent to jail, they serve their full sentences and aren’t released within days because of pressure on prison numbers.”
And while he also welcomed the new Garda campaign targeting gangs known to be involved in burglaries and similar crimes, he said it was vital that the recruitment of new Gardaí was stepped up even more.
“While the Government is making much of the numbers of Gardaí being recruited again, the fact is that the total strength of the Garda Síochána fell by 1,748 from the start of 2010 to the start of this year, from more than 14,500 to less than 12,800.
“We have a long way to go before we get back anywhere near the strength that is needed to provide a proper policing force that can keep people safe in their homes,” added Deputy Grealish.