Local Judge Seamus Hughes described the Legal Aid System as a “joke” at a district court sitting in Mullingar last week, and his comments have been backed by Longford-Westmeath Fine Gael TD, Gabrielle McFadden.
Judge Hughes said it was “amazing” that €7,000 cash bail could be produced in court for 14 defendants, but that nobody could afford legal representation. Backing Judge Hughes, Gab McFadden called for a review of the legal aid process to go with the range of “tough on crime” policies now being introduced.
“There should be tighter rules for allocating legal aid,” she said. “The taxpayer should gets its money back from criminals who are later found to be well able to pay. And there should be a limit on the number of times repeat offenders can apply for legal aid without contributing.”
Deputy McFadden outlined how she has been centrally involved in legislation which will make things much tougher for burglars.
“Criminal gangs are using the M6 to terrorise our community” said McFadden, “but Operation Thor will use checkpoints and patrols to protect homes and businesses in Westmeath. This will be a major Garda operation, which will give us extra high-visibility patrols in burglary “hot-spots”, with funding allocated to increase our Garda presence, especially at night and especially in rural and vulnerable areas.”
“As a member of Dail’s influential Justice, Defence and Equality Committee, Gab McFadden said she worked closely with Minister Frances Fitzgerald to bring in the new legislation, which will also make it harder for burglars to get bail. “Judges will now have to explain specifically why they are giving bail to criminals who have already been convicted”, she explained.
“There will also be tougher sentences for burglars”, she said. “Sentences will run consecutively rather than concurrently, so that repeat offenders will serve much longer sentences than before. In future, each crime will be sentenced rather than being lumped together.
In a separate address to the Fine Gael Ard Fheis this weekend Deputy McFadden welcomed the 1,150 new Garda recruits, and commended the Minister for reopening the Garda Training Centre, after it was closed by Fianna Fail in 2009.
“Fine Gael has always been the party of law and order”, she said, “and we will continue to put the victim first. There will be a special Victim Service Office within the Westmeath Garda Division. This office will be staffed by a dedicated, specially trained person, who will keep victims informed of all significant developments in their case.
“It is intolerable that people sometime only found out about progress in their case by reading the local papers. Now all judges are required to hear directly from victims before finalising any case”.