By Cormac O’Keeffe
NEARLY a fifth of serious drug offences last year were committed by people out on bail for other crimes, according to new figures.
Department of Justice statistics show a 5% rise in the number of serious crimes carried out by people on bail from 5,306 in 2004 to 5,456 last year.
Justice Minister Michael McDowell described the figure as "disturbing" and said he had requested a detailed report "as a matter of urgency" from the gardaí.
"Among the matters on which I have requested further information are data on the offences for which the offenders were on bail when they committed the subsequent offence and how many have been convicted of that subsequent offence."
Figures for offences committed by people on bail for 2005 and 2004 record:
20 homicide offences in 2005, the same as in 2004.
232 assault cases, compared to 281.
32 sex assault offences, compared to 26.
430 drug offences, compared to 317.
2,914 theft offences, compared to 2,848.
1,171 burglary cases, compared to 1,170.
321 robbery offences, compared to 305.
The figures, supplied in response to a parliamentary question by Labour's justice spokesman Joe Costello, show serious offences committed by people on bail accounted for 5% of the total number of serious crimes in both 2005 and 2004.
The figure was higher in relation to possession of drugs for sale or supply accounting to 15% of drug cases in 2004 and 17% in 2005.
Mr Costello said: "There's a lot of anecdotal material from gardaí that guys facing drug charges are granted bail, despite their objections.
"These figures tend to suggest a far greater proportion of drug offences, as opposed to people say on burglary offences, are committed by people out on bail."
He said judges seemed to be taking a "lenient" attitude towards drug charges, despite a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for possession of drugs worth more than €13,000.
The figures also show quite a high percentage of homicide offences are committed by people on bail.
Of the 20 homicide offences in 2004, there were 10 murder threats, nine murders and one manslaughter.
In 2005, there were 17 murder threats and three murders.
Mr McDowell the figures showed 22% of the 45 murders and manslaughters in 2004 were committed by people on bail, dropping to 5% in 2005.
Speaking generally, the minister said the statistics could include people who have not been convicted of the original offence for which they were granted bail and people who committed a minor crime.
Mr Costello welcomed the minister's request for information from the gardaí.
"It certainly deserves study and whether or not it needs to be tightened or varied," he said.