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Overview, Recommendations & Executive Summary: Crime in Ireland A Review of Crime Levels and Trends 1950 to 1998

Part I: Overview Introduction

  1. The National Crime Council is an independent body appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. John O'Donoghue, T.D., to provide a forum for the development, expression and contribution of a wide range of views on anti-crime strategies and policies and to serve as an important aid to policy formulation on crime issues.

  2. In setting out the priorities for fulfilling the mandate given to the Council by the Minister it was decided that there was a basic need to provide authoritative and accessible information on the levels and trends in crime in the Republic of Ireland. This would be based on the recorded data as contained in the Annual Reports of the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána (The Commissioner's Report) and the evidence available from previous crime victimisation surveys conducted in the Republic. It is the view of the Council that it is imperative that accurate, up-to-date information is available on crime trends and that it is essential to be able to look at trends over a period of time, in order to identify emerging trends and in doing so to react promptly to new and emerging crimes.

  3. The Institute of Criminology at University College Dublin was commissioned to undertake a pioneering report tracking crime trends in the Republic of Ireland over a 48 year period from 1950 to 1998. The resultant report adds in a very significant way to our knowledge of crime trends in this country and we are grateful to the Director of the Institute, Dr. Peter Young and his colleagues, Dr. Ian O'Donnell and Dr. Emma Clare for the timely completion of the report. It is envisaged that this report will be a valuable resource to policy makers, researchers interested in crime, the media and most particularly the general public in helping to inform and put in context crime trends.

    Scope of the Report
  4. The report examines levels and trends in crime in the Republic of Ireland for the 48 year period from 1950 to 1998. It looks first at all recorded crime, both indictable and non-indictable, for the period. It then goes on to examine in some detail the four Groups of indictable offences: Group I (Offences against the Person), Group II (Offences against Property), Group III (Larcenies) and Group IV (Other Offences) for the 48 year period and then looks in greater detail at these crimes for the most recent ten year period, 1988 to 1998. Non-indictable offences (less serious offences) are also examined for the period under analysis. In addition, the report looks at Irish patterns of recorded crime in a comparative international context, crime surveys in general and victim surveys in the Republic of Ireland are then explored, as well as patterns of indictable crime committed by juveniles.

    Limitations of the Available Data

  5. The main source of information on crime in this country is contained in the Commissioner's Report. The Commissioner's Report contains information on indictable offences that are reported to the Garda. and recorded by them; it also contains information on non-indictable offences that are reported, recorded and result in proceedings. These statistics, insofar as they go, provide a valuable source of information about crime levels and trends in this country, though, they are inevitably incomplete, due to the fact that not all crime will be reported to the Garda.

  6. What is often referred to as the 'dark figure' of crime or the level of crime that goes unreported is more difficult to establish, as are the reasons for non-reporting by the public to the Garda.. Crime surveys have been utilised to estimate this 'dark figure' and the British Crime Survey, for example, estimates that only one out of every four crimes committed are represented in the official police statistics. Equivalent data for the Republic of Ireland is not currently available and this limitation is addressed in our recommendations in Part II.

  7. When seeking to establish levels of crime it is important that different sources of information are available, as different sources serve to complement one another. This is not to say that one source is more important or more reliable than another, but the more sources available the greater the extent of the information and the likelihood that a truer picture of crime will be realised. Whilst there have been a number of once off crime surveys conducted here over the years, up to now the Republic of Ireland has not conducted a regular National Crime Victimisation Survey nor participated in the International Crime Victimisation Survey (ICVS). For that reason it is not possible to compare recorded crime figures with rates of victimisation recorded in crime surveys. Of necessity, therefore, the data in this report is gleaned (in the main) from the figures in the Commissioner's Report.
  8. It is appropriate to say something about the recording of crimes as the way in which crimes are recorded is influenced by the so-called 'counting rules' which are used to compile the crime figures. The most important and widely used 'counting rule', both here and elsewhere, is the 'Principal Offence Rule'. The effect of this rule is that where a number of crimes have been committed against the same victim at the same time and place, then only the most serious crime is recorded. The natural effect of this rule is to reduce the number of crimes recorded.

  9. There are many offences where An Garda Síochána is not the prosecuting authority, for example, television licence evasion or social welfare fraud. Therefore, information on the number and type of these offences does not appear in the Commissioner's Report.

    Trends in Crime in Ireland

  10. At the outset the Council wish to point out that the Republic of Ireland has a low level of recorded crime when looked at in an international context.

  11. The main trends evidenced from the report are:
    1. Over the 48 year study period the total number of recorded crimes increased from 159,814 in 1950 to 498,967, in 1998, representing an increase of 212 per cent. The biggest increase in percentage terms was in indictable crimes, increasing from 12,232 in 1950 to 85,627 in 1998, or by 600 per cent. On the other hand non-indictable crime increased by 180 per cent over the 48 years from 147,582 in 1950 to 413,340 in 1998.
    2. It is clear from the report that non-indictable crimes, make up the majority of all recorded crime, 92 per cent in 1950, compared with 83 per cent in 1998. In contrast indictable crimes made up just eight per cent of all recorded crimes in 1950 and 17 per cent in 1998.
    3. Looking at figures for the start of the study period, 1950 to 1960, the total number of recorded crimes and non-indictable crimes fell by 26 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. In the same period indictable crimes increased by 26 per cent. After 1960 the total number of recorded crimes, indictable and non-indictable crimes all rose.
    4. The decade 1970 to 1980 showed the largest increase for both indictable and non-indictable crimes, with indictable crimes rising by 137 per cent, by contrast the increase from 1960 to 1970 was 100 per cent. Non-indictable crimes rose by 138 per cent from 1970 to 1980, while from 1960 to 1970 the increase was less than for indictable crime at 65 per cent.
    5. It is encouraging to note that the current trend in recorded crime reflects the trend in nonindictable and indictable crimes, which has fallen since the 1980s. In the eight years from 1990 to 1998, non-indictable crimes fell by 11 per cent, while indictable crimes fell by two per cent and the total recorded crime rate fell by nine per cent.
    6. Crimes against property make up the majority of indictable crimes, with violent crime accounting for only a small percentage of all indictable crimes. For example, in 1998 offences against property, in particular burglary and larceny, accounted for 98 per cent of all recorded indictable offences.
    7. Non-indictable offences make up the majority of all recorded crime, 83 per cent in 1998. The pattern for non-indictable offences over the 48 year period, is of a fall at the beginning of the period, followed by a rise in the late 1960s, peaking in 1985 and then falling off irregularly to 1998.

      The Geographical Distribution of Crime
  12. Crime rates vary throughout the country, with the lowest rates experienced in rural areas and the highest in urban areas. Throughout the 48 year study period over 50 per cent of all recorded indictable offences were concentrated in the Dublin Metropolitan Region. Juveniles

  13. The authors of the Report point out that data recorded on juveniles was not maintained in a consistent manner in the Commissioner's Report over the 48 year period of the study, due partly to the fact that the same age ranges were not in operation throughout the period. Nevertheless the authors conclude that whilst overall recorded crime figures started to fall in the 1990s, recorded crime committed by juveniles has been falling since the 1960s. Although there has been a decrease in recorded indictable offences for juveniles, this has been accompanied by an increase in the number of referrals to the National Juvenile Office of An Garda Síochána. Throughout the 48 years of the study period larceny has remained the main recorded offence committed by juveniles. The Republic of Ireland in the International Context

  14. The Council notes that placed in an international context the Republic of Ireland has a low level of recorded crime, at just above 2,000 per 100,000 of the population. Sweden, with a rate of just under 14,000 per 100,000 of the population has the highest rate. The Republic of Ireland belongs to a group of countries, which also includes Spain, Russia and Japan, which have low rates of crime. Indeed, in 1998 the rate of recorded crime fell here and in Denmark by six per cent, representing the largest drop in Europe. In terms of violent crime the Republic of Ireland is situated at the lower end of the scale; only Switzerland, Greece, Russia and Japan have lower rates.

Part II: Recommendations

In Part II the recommendations of the Council arising from this report will be outlined. The recommendations can be broken down into a number of subgroups: participation in crime surveys; the establishment of an expert group on crime statistics; alterations to the Annual Report of the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána and the needs of the research community.

Participation in Crime Surveys

Our understanding of crime in the Republic of Ireland is largely based on the figures reported in the Commissioner's Report. There is no alternative source of information, such as a routinely undertaken, independent National Crime Victimisation Survey. In the Council's opinion a regular National Crime Victimisation Survey would complement the Commissioner's Report and provide a more comprehensive perspective on crime to the official recorded figures and when undertaken on a regular basis could provide useful information on emerging trends in crime and the 'dark figure' of crime.


The Council recommends that:

  1. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform commission a National Crime Victimisation Survey in 2002;
  2. Ireland participates in the International Crime Victimisation Survey (ICVS);
  3. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform should continue to commission a National Crime Victimisation Survey on a biennial basis following on from the initial survey in 2002. The questions asked in each successive National Crime Victimisation Survey should remain unchanged in order to facilitate comparisons between years, while a unique set of questions relating to a particular topic or type of crime should be included each year to allow for more in-depth information to be collected on an area of particular importance at that time; and
  4. The results of these surveys should be published.

The Council recommends that in the interests of minimising the costs, work and time involved in undertaking regular National Crime Victimisation Surveys and participating in the International Crime Victimisation Survey, a subset of the questions asked in the National Crime Victimisation Survey should be harmonised with those asked in the International Crime Victimisation Survey. In this way the information for the International Crime Victimisation Survey can be collected with the National Crime Victimisation Survey, so meeting our national and international data requirements simultaneously.

Expert Group on Crime Statistics

The Council recommends the establishment of an independent Expert Group by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. John O'Donoghue, T.D., to:

  1. examine the collation of information relating to crimes reported to and recorded by An Garda Síochána, mindful of the capabilities of the PULSE system;
  2. examine the 'Principal Offence' rule which is used by An Garda Síochána which is 'incident focused' rather than 'victim focused' and other counting rules used by An Garda Síochána;
  3. examine the distinctions currently made between offences classified as indictable and nonindictable as contained in the Commissioner's Report having regard to the seriousness of the crime committed with a view to possible changes in the classification of offences; and
  4. examine the collation of information relating to other crimes where An Garda Síochána is not the prosecuting authority, for example, 'white collar' crimes prosecuted by the Revenue Commissioners.

identify the needs of the the key stakeholders within the criminal justice system and the wider research community to get appropriate information on crime statistics.

make recommendations on the necessary structures and resources to be provided which will allow statistics compiled within the criminal justice system to be analysed, so that emerging trends can be identified and appropriate policy formulated by Government.

The Expert Group should be able to call on the advice of IT Experts and Statisticians during the course of its deliberations and should report to the Minister within a four month period.

Annual Report of the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána

Acknowledging that the Commissioner's Report is the main source of data on recorded crime in Ireland available to the public the Council recommends that in future the Commissioner's Report should:

  1. Describe the main 'counting rules' used to collate the statistics included in the Report;
  2. Describe changes in the recording, categorisation, description etc. of offences as a result of the introduction of the PULSE system in the Report;
  3. Explain subsequent changes in recording practice in the Report;
  4. Ensure that the recording period of each Report is standardised;
  5. Include as an Appendix to the Report, a list of all new legislation enacted since the last Report was published which will have an effect on the information contained in the Report and an explanation of the effect; and
  6. Produce a Summary of the detailed Report for general distribution.

The Council is of the view that if the above recommendations were accepted by the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, the Commissioner's Report and Summary would help to inform the public and to put crime rates in context and would help to alleviate the fear of crime that is caused by lack of well-founded facts and misunderstanding.


The Council recommends that, where possible and mindful of other considerations, data which contains information from which the crime statistics for the Commissioner's Report are derived should be made available by An Garda Síochána to the research community for research purposes, with the necessary precautions taken to guarantee confidentiality and anonymity. This will ensure that the data is utilised to its maximum potential, while encouraging further research into crime.

Executive Summary

Scope of Report

  1. This report examines levels and trends in crime in the Republic of Ireland between 1950 and 1998 (the last year for which full data are available).

  2. The primary source of information on crime is the Annual Report of the Garda Commissioner. This contains information about indictable crimes that are reported to the Garda and recorded by them; and generally speaking non-indictable crimes that as well as being reported and recorded, result in proceedings.

  3. Indictable crimes are more serious and may result in a jury trial. They include murder, rape, robbery, burglary and larceny. Non-indictable crimes are generally dealt with to conclusion at the District Court. They include violations of the road traffic and liquor laws.

    Limitations of the Data

  4. The level of crime that goes officially unrecognised is known as the 'dark figure'. The size of the 'dark figure' can be estimated through crime surveys. It is generally accepted that one crime is recorded for every four committed. In other words the Garda Commissioner's Report, and indeed police statistics more generally, are inevitably incomplete.

  5. The way crimes are recorded is influenced by 'counting rules'. For example, only the most serious crime is recorded where several crimes are committed against the same person or property by the same offender during the same incident. The result of this rule is to depress the tally of recorded crimes.

  6. Ireland has not taken part in the International Crime Victimisation Survey and few national crime surveys have been conducted. The fact that there is no established alternative data set against which to view the official crime statistics limits the extent of any analysis.

  7. Care is needed when interpreting fluctuations in crime rates. For example, the number of nonindictable prosecutions rose from 571,000 in 1982 to 847,000 in 1984, before falling to 567,000 in 1985. These sudden breaks in the pattern might be more plausibly explained by changes in recording practice, than by real shifts in criminal behaviour.

  8. As they are presently arranged, the statistics do not allow crimes or individuals to be tracked through the criminal justice and penal systems. Nor are they sensitive to the question of victims. This raises the question of their ultimate purpose and the extent to which they can be used to call governments to account.

  9. Offences where An Garda Síochána is not the prosecuting authority are excluded from the official crime statistics. Examples include television licence evasion, welfare and revenue fraud, health and safety violations.

    Trends in Crime

  10. The total number of recorded crimes increased from 160,000 in 1950 to 500,000 in 1998. The great majority of crimes recorded each year are non-indictable (83 per cent in 1998). For this reason the overall trend in crime mirrors the trend in non-indictable crime, which has been falling since 1984.

  11. The general trend in indictable crime was for an increase between 1950 and 1983. This was followed by a drop until 1987, a rise until 1995 (the peak year) and a further period of decline. In 1988, 89,544 indictable offences were recorded, compared with 85,627 in 1998.

  12. Most indictable crime is against property, with offences against the person making up just two per cent of the total in 1998. For this reason the pattern of recorded indictable crime is determined by the level of property crime, especially larceny and burglary.

  13. The level of lethal violence (murder and manslaughter) has risen steadily although the numbers remain small. For example there were six murders in 1950 compared with 38 in 1998. The level of non-lethal serious violence increased until the early 1980s since when it has declined sharply.

  14. There has been a substantial increase in the number of sexual offences recorded over the past 20 years. This is likely to be explained by more frequent victim reporting rather than a change in the underlying pattern of sexual offending.

  15. Armed crime has risen and fallen dramatically over the years. From a very low base it began to increase rapidly in the early 1970s, fell throughout the 1980s, accelerated to an all-time high in 1994 and has since declined.

  16. The number of cases of dangerous driving causing death has dropped significantly since this crime was introduced by the 1961 Road Traffic Act. In 1963 there were 112 cases, compared with 29 in 1998. There was no corresponding increase in the number of traffic fatalities ascribed to manslaughter. This pattern is likely to be explained by a shift in prosecution policy rather than a reduction in criminal road deaths.

  17. Burglary is the most common type of indictable crime. The burglary rate per 100,000 population rose from about 65 in 1950 to over 700 in 1998. As with other crime categories this rise has not been relentless. Recorded burglaries fell between 1983 and 1987 and 1993 and 1998. The rise in robbery was more pronounced, from a rate (per 100,000) of less than one in 1950 to 50 in 1998.

  18. The rise of the motor vehicle has played a central role in shaping the crime statistics since the 1970s. In 1950 there were 14 larcenies of motor vehicles and accessories compared with 1,615 in 1998. In addition, 330,000 non-indictable crimes in 1998 (80 per cent of the total) involved traffic.

  19. Larceny from the person was recorded at a low and steady rate between 1950 and the late 1960s. It then rose sharply reaching a peak in the mid-1980s. This was followed by a fall, a rise to a new high in 1995 and another sustained fall.

  20. Crime rates vary around the country with the greatest number - and highest rate - found in Dublin. For example in 1998 the burglary rate per 1,000 residents was 12 in Dublin compared with three in the Western region. In the same year around 85 per cent of all robberies were recorded in the capital.


  21. In marked contrast to the overall trends, recorded crime known to involve juveniles has been falling steadily since the 1960s.

  22. Juveniles are responsible for a small proportion of all detected crime - in recent years less than 15 per cent.

  23. There appears to be no consistent pattern in juvenile offending as portrayed in the Commissioner's Report. There is considerable fluctuation over time. For example, only 15 violent crimes involving juveniles were recorded in 1998. This compares with a peak of 234 in 1973 and five in 1950. The International Context

  24. Comparisons of crime statistics across jurisdictions must be made with caution due to differences in how crimes are classified, compiled and presented. The amount of crime recorded may also be affected by the efficiency of the police and the level of social and political stability in a country.

  25. In an international context, Ireland appears to have a low level of recorded crime. Within the European Union, only Spain has a lower rate. The decline in crime in Ireland in recent years is more marked than in other European countries.

  26. The homicide rate in Ireland is comparatively low. It is almost identical to the rate in England and Wales and slightly higher than Germany's. In terms of overall levels of violent crime Ireland is situated at the lower end of the range.

  27. Ireland is in the intermediate range when it comes to domestic burglary. The rate is half that recorded for England and Wales and double that for Germany. There is a similar pattern for motor vehicle theft.


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