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Leaders' Questions

Varadkar: 'Ireland is a pretty safe country. We shouldn't be scaring people into thinking otherwise'

The Taoiseach said he does not think minimum sentences are a good idea.

“IRELAND IS A pretty safe country,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil, adding: “We shouldn’t be scaring people into thinking otherwise.”

The issue of crime and garda recruitment numbers was highlighted in the Dáil today by Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín today. 

He claimed “people can attack gardaí with impunity at the moment” and with garda recruitment numbers under pressure, those in the force feel they can no longer do their job. 

“Ireland is becoming more violent,” Toíbín told the Taoiseach. 

In response, Varadkar said statistics can be quoted back and forth “until the cows come home”, but said “if you compare Ireland with other European countries, other countries in the Western developed world, this is a pretty safe country”.

In 2019, a UN study found Ireland has the 11th lowest homicide rate in Europe and the 23rd lowest in the world

“Just look at the murder rate, for example, per capita, one of the lowest in the Western world and that is because of the hard work of our gardaí and because of the strong society which we’ve built.

“And yes, crime crime numbers go up and they go down, but take the broad period of time compared to other countries.

Ireland is a pretty safe country. And we shouldn’t be scaring people into thinking otherwise

The most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show in 2018, there were 88 homicides recorded, 63 in 2019, 71 in 2020, 53 in 2021 and 69 in 2022. 

Figures show that fraud crime in 2022 fell by 32% to the year pervious, but that theft crime rose by 41%.

Most other crime categories increased over the year with homicide and related offences up 30%, robbery, extortion and hijacking offences up 19%. 

Attempts/threats to murder, assaults, harassments and related offences were up 17%. Controlled Drugs offences fell by 13% while Dangerous or Negligent Acts were down by 1%.

Justice Minister Simon Harris got Cabinet approval this week to introduce increased sentencing for those that attack gardaí and other emergency workers. However, Tóibín called for minimum sentencing to be introduced. 

Maximum custodial sentencing is to be welcomed, but without a minimum custodial sentence “it is entirely possible that people can continue to assault gurdaí in this space and never ever see prison time for that”, he said. 

Varadkar said more gardaí are needed and he still believes that 1,000 will be recruited under new plans for this year.

Currently there are around 14,000 gardaí, but the Taoiseach wants to reach 15,000, he said. However, concerns have been raised by opposition politicians about the pace of recruitment, with fears that the target will not be met this year. 

In terms of minimum sentences, Varadkar said he didn’t think minimum sentences are a good idea.

“I know I’m accused of all sorts of ideology. Maybe this is the liberal in me speaking. Minimum sentences tend to backfire. What happens when you have minimum sentences is sometimes people get detained in prison when they probably shouldn’t be, when a more appropriate approach might be a suspended sentence or probation or a juvenile liaison program, for example,” he said. 

In some cases people are acquitted when they shouldn’t be because the judge or the jury think that the minimum sentence is “too stiff in the circumstances”, Varadkar added.

“That’s generally why think minimum sentences can be a bad idea,” he said. 

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