By John Breslin, Irish Examiner
Budget cuts to the probation, prison education services and youth programmes reveal the Government's "deep indifference" to tackling the causes of crime, a juvenile justice group said last night. While Mr McCreevy yesterday confirmed the justice budget will increase by 6.1% to 1.8 billion, the Irish Juvenile Justice Alliance highlighted across-the-board cuts to the probation and welfare service, including an 8% drop in services for offenders.
The group comprising Children's Rights Alliance, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the [Irish] Penal Reform Trust said the Budget cuts will lead to a decrease in services to young people most at risk of ending up in conflict with the law.
When releasing the Estimates, Justice Minister Michael McDowell promised elements of the Children Act, aimed at steering at-risk children away from crime, would be fully funded by the Budget. A key part is paying for extra staff to help police community-sanction elements of the act.
But Ray Dooley, of the CRA, said: "These Budget measures will only undermine efforts at prevention, early intervention and diversion all of which are at the policy core of the Children Act. From a financial standpoint, the failure to adequately fund these services is incomprehensible, since any short-term savings will be insignificant when compared to the long-term costs to the taxpayers, to the victims of crime ... the diversion of garda resources and the enormous expense associated with prosecution and incarceration."
Aisling Reidy, of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, described the cuts as incredible.
The Government has allocated 39 million to the probation service, including an extra 5% for wages, mainly to pay for benchmarking.
The garda budget has been increased by 91m to over 1bn, while an extra 7m has been earmarked to pay for overtime. A substantial amount will pay for benchmarking, but the Government has promised the force's strength will be 12,200 by the end of next year.
Fine Gael's John Deasy said: "there is still no sign of the promised 2,000 extra gardaí."
The Government was also criticised for cutting funding to various equality and anti-racism programmes. Amnesty International's Katrina Goldstone said the "savage" 76% cut in the Government's Know Racism Campaign on top of last year's 63% drop revealed a "woeful lack of leadership against racism."
© Irish Examiner, 2003