Thursday, 3 March 1988
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Andrews: With the greatest of respect, I think it may be a little wider than that and including Dublin city and county. This is an issue which is current and which we as Dáil Deputies should be seen to raise as issues of this nature demand an airing in this House. This occasion, gives us an opportunity to express points of view on an insidious community evil.
Reports in the newspapers have indicated that the Garda Síochána in their investigations into the slashing of tyres on two dozen cars in the Shankill area on Tuesday night last have discovered that it was not the work of organised criminals; certainly it was the work of criminals but they may not have been organised in the sense we have come to appreciate over the past couple of months. Happily, the Garda Síochána now appear to have under observation the organised criminal gangs who are roving the city. We will be  all the better when these gangs are placed behind bars, I hope sooner rather than later.
Taking into account the report of the Garda Síochána in Shankill that this was not the work of the so-called organised criminal gangs but rather the work of a couple of local thugs this does not suggest for one moment that the campaign of tyre slashing in the recent past has not been the work of criminal gangs. My own belief is that it is not mindless vandalism but rather a deliberate and calculated campaign to weaken public support for the custodians of law and security in our country. It is in all our interests that the Garda Síochána be seen to win this war. These criminals are cowards. They must be exposed as being the cowards they are and they must be defeated.
The litany of events is well known. Last Friday night at Cowper Downs 90 tyres of cars were cut and in the Dartry, Terenure and Monkstown areas on the same night tyres of 107 cars were slashed. Again, on the same night car tyres at St. Anne's Golf Club on Bull Island were slashed. On the Saturday night tyres were slashed and windows broken on cars outside the Garda Club on Harrington Street. On Tuesday night, as I have mentioned, 24 cars were damaged in Shankill. Effectively, all of this began ten days to two weeks ago when £20,000 worth of damage was done to vehicles at Stackstown Golf Club.
The reason I raise this issue is that I am concerned about where all of this is going to end and when it is going to be brought to an end. The response I have received from the Shankill area of my constituency, from the constituency generally and from outside it has been extraordinary. As I have said, the community wants the Garda Síochána to win this particular war. I believe the community will support them to a man and woman to ensure that they win this battle. At the same time, people feel they are the victims of the continuing tension between the Garda Síochána and well-known criminal gangs and it is for that reason, among many others, that I have raised this issue in the Dáil.
 It is very important that the community be supported on the one hand and that the Garda Síochána be supported on the other. At the same time the community should be seen to be supporting the Garda Síochána. I know the Minister will respond that the Garda Síochána cannot and will not be intimidated. I believe that to be so and that they are a very brave force of men and women serving the best interests of the nation. The Garda Síochána will not be intimidated and we must ensure that the local comunity will not be intimidated also because of co-operating with the Garda Síochána.
The Garda Síochána must be, and will be, strong in their resolve to rout out these criminal elements in the community and in doing so they must be supported and must be seen to be supported by the Government. In fairness to the Minister he has in his short period of office brought a new confidence to the Garda Síochána. That view is shared throughout the community. That is why I say the Garda Síochána must not lose this war because if they do the rule of law will break down. The rule of law must be protected at all costs, irrespective of the cost of putting more gardaí on the ground in local communities. There has never been a substitute for the garda on foot patrol. With modern equipment and more cars there appears to be a perception in the public mind that the foot patrol is less evident. I know the Minister is dealing with that problem and I ask him to deal with it with some considerable urgency.
The other matter which I would like to mention is vital to all of this. In the recent past a neighbourhood watch scheme has been introduced and I believe it has a vital role to play in tackling the sordid campaign of attempted intimidation. People should immediately report anything suspicious to their local Garda authorities. Unfortunately and inevitably they do so after the crime has been committed by these cowardly elements in our community. I realise that my colleague, Deputy Barrett, would like to make a contribution to this debate and therefore in a few minutes I will resume my seat so as to allow him to make a contribution. I  think the individual who spoke on RTE radio yesterday morning from the Shankill area expressed all of our thoughts when he said, and I quote from the Evening Herald of Wednesday 2 March 1988:
That man did not want to give his name and I certainly can understand that having regard to the kind of intimidation he might be subjected to from these cowards, thugs and criminals. At the same time I would re-echo his expression of support for the Garda. While supporting the Garda we are supporting the local community.
In Shankill there has been some local criticism by a number of councillors about the building of a new Garda station there. I fully suport the building of this new facility for the Garda Síochána. It has been suggested that it might be too big but as far as I am concerned it cannot be big enough. I hope that when it is built it will house more gardai than are at present in Shankill. At the moment the gardai there are in severe difficulty because of the conditions in the station. The same could be said for the Garda stations in Kill-O-the-Grange and other areas throughout the constituency.
The Garda are coming to grips with crime but there is some way to go yet. We must ensure that we as Dáil Deputies are not afraid to be seen to be leading public opinion in our resolve to support the Garda. This is where we have a leadership role. Dáil Deputies cannot be seen to be funking issues of this nature and we must not be seen to be intimidated. The Garda are approaching the crime problem properly. If they have to sit on these criminal gangs for 24 hours a day so be it. These criminals cannot remain silent for 24 hours a day for 12 months of the year and not make some slip up.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: To satisfy the formal requirement I know that I am anticipating agreement in the House when I say it agrees to Deputy Andrews dividing his time as indicated. Deputy Sean Barrett will now have eight minutes.
Mr. S. Barrett: I thank Deputy Andrews for sharing his time with me. I tried to raise this matter yesterday when I asked the Government for time but that was not possible and my Private Notice Question was disallowed.
It is important that the Minister for Justice should get an opportunity to outline the current position in relation to the happenings over the past number of days involving the slashing of tyres and the intimidation of the public. Will the Minister indicate whether there was any connection between the incident in Shankill and those Deputy Andrews mentioned involving other areas in south County Dublin, because there is a danger that here we can have copycat type vandalism because of the publicity given to these events. It is important to establish whether this was part of the organised crime being operated in the greater Dublin area.
Part of the problem is that statistics for the last couple of years have shown that crime is dropping. However it is alarming to read in the papers about the numbers of armed crimes being committed. These crimes have involved the use of firearms and knives. I can imagine the difficulty of the Minister at the Cabinet table when seeking additional resources for the Department. If the Department of Finance are satisfied that crime is dropping they will want to know why we need more money to support the Garda Síochána. It would be a pity and it would be foolhardy if we set about solving our economic problems and allowed a situation to develop whereby through lack of resources to the Garda, serious crime were to escalate. It is vitally important to support the Garda in getting the necessary resources to combat serious crime.
 The reason behind the recent happenings are quite obvious. As a result of the open and constant surveillance by the Garda of well known criminals, there has been a systematic attempt to intimidate both the Garda and the public in the hope that, through public pressure, the Garda will be forced to reduce surveillance on criminals. One could argue about the wisdom of open surveillance but now is not the time to do that. I join with Deputy Andrews in saying that it is up to us as public representatives to clearly support the Garda Síochána in their attempts to defeat the criminals and to call on the public not to be intimidated despite their present losses. For many people struggling to keep a car on the road to come out and find four tyres slashed which will cost up to £200 to replace, is gross intimidation. The criminals hope that through public pressure the Garda might be forced to ease off in the level of surveillance. It is important not to give in to that, to win this war and to ensure that these criminals are eventually put behind bars where they belong so that the ordinary citizen can go about his business without serious threat from criminals. It is important that the Parliament calls on the public to support the Garda Síochána despite the present intimidation.
One could ask where were the Garda Síochána when the tyres were slashed. I am sure the Minister in his reply will give some of that information. We hear from time to time that there are not sufficient gardaí on the beat and that the public do not see them. It is vitally important that gardaí should be seen mixing among members of the public. I note that the Minister has launched community-type policing in a number of areas in Dublin. The sooner we see gardaí on the beat mixing with the community the better. The Garda should support the community and the community should support the Garda. That leads me to the neighbourhood watch scheme which has been successful. It arose from co-operation between the public and the Garda and the citizen is seen to be part and parcel of law enforcement. We all have a duty to inform the local gardaí if we  suspect that a crime is being committed and we should assist them in their efforts.
There has been quite an alarming increase in the number of reported incidents of armed crime. On a number of occasions I have asked that the law in this area be changed. It has been changed in Britain and we should do it here. It is an offence in Britain to carry a firearm or a knife. At the moment the Garda have to prove that a person is carrying a knife for a certain purpose. It should be an automatic offence to carry a dangerous weapon and without very good reason for carrying such a weapon a person should be open to be brought before the courts. We must stamp out the increase in the number of armed crimes.
The latest things to appear are stun guns which are being openly advertised. These are dangerous things which can cost lives and be used in committing crime. The sooner we change our laws the better. I am sure the public would support us in our call for a change in the law to make the carrying of dangerous weapons an offence. So far as my party are concerned we will be only too pleased to support any legislative changes the Minister may have in this area. Now is the time to do it and not allow a situation to continue where we all are asked when we attend meetings why we do not do something about the alarming increase in the number of crimes involving use of arms.
Again I support Deputy Andrews in saying the sooner we have a Garda station in the Shankill area the better. The conditions under which the Gardaí in that area operate at present are, to say the least, somewhat archaic. I know money is short, but in this we have to support whoever is acting as Minister for Justice in his attempts to get the necessary resources to defeat crime. If we have a certain cake to divide, if a certain amount of money is there to be spent on the public services, if we have to find the money somewhere else, so be it, but we cannot through lack of resources allow a position where the Garda Síochána and law enforcement agencies cannot carry out their duties properly. We will have  to find the money somewhere else and if there are cuts in other areas, so be it, but we cannot allow the criminals to be seen to win this war.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Collins): First, I thank Deputy Andrews and Deputy Barrett for their general welcome for what I as Minister for Justice and the Garda are doing successfully in combating crime. For fear there might be any misunderstanding whatsoever from what Deputy Barrett has said, let me put him, the House and the public at large at ease in that there is not — I emphasise — an increase in armed raids as has been suggested during this debate by Deputy Barrett. That is not so. The reverse is the truth. Let me say to the Deputy that in 1986 we had the highest ever number of armed raids standing at 685 reported. In 1987 this was reduced to 574, a decrease of 16 per cent. Provisional figures available to us for the first couple of months of this year show a 30 per cent decrease in armed raids over the corresponding period last year. It is important that that be remembered. It is not good enough to say there appears to be from newspaper reports a big increase in armed raids. That is not so and it is wrong to suggest that it is so. There is no need for Deputy Barrett or anybody else to be concerned about my ability or lack of ability at the Cabinet table to get the funds necessary for the successful operations of my Vote and my Department. Let there be no doubt whatever in Deputy Barrett's mind that I am more than capable of doing it, and if the Deputy would only have recourse to the Book of Estimates published a number of months ago he would see how successful I was in maintaining that position over and above every other Department.
This matter refers to incidents of tyre slashing primarily in Shankill. The Garda  authorities have informed me that the incidents referred to occurred between 10.30 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Tuesday night last. I understand that in the Sea View Park and Hazelwood areas 25 cars were interfered with and a total of 45 tyres were punctured by a sharp object. The Garda have commenced an investigation into these crimes, and while matters are at an early stage, the Garda believe that the damage is very likely the work of local vandals and is not related to similar incidents over the last week.
This incident is one of a number of car tyre slashing incidents in Dublin within the past week. Deputy Andrews has referred to a number of specific incidents. I am, of course, conscious of the financial loss, inconvenience and distress that such incidents cause to the victims. I want to assure Deputy Andrews and Deputy Barrett that I share the concern they have expressed here in this regard.
Expressions of concern are, of course, not enough. I want to make it crystal clear that crime is regarded by this Government as a major social evil and people quite rightly expect the Government to tackle it and to do absolutely everything possible to combat and reduce it. If this means tackling head-on ruthless, well-organised criminals then let it be said: this is and will continue to be done for as long as is necessary. We would be failing in our responsibilities to the law-abiding citizens of this country if we were to even contemplate shirking that responsibility. It is evident from at least some of the recent events that the new strategies employed by the Garda in recent times are making a marked impact on the criminals' world of big business and big profits. As far as this Government and the Garda are concerned, life for these ruthless parasites will be made increasingly difficult until such time as they are put where they belong — behind bars. I might add that it is evident from the reaction of ordinary people to some recent incidents that they too share the Government's determination in this matter. Their overwhelming support for the Garda — even where they have been the object of the bully-boy intimidatory  tactics of these hooligans — is something for which they are to be highly commended. I want to assure these people that their strength and determination will be more than matched by that of the Government and the Garda in tackling the criminal. Be certain that the full rigours of the law will apply to those who engage in wanton destruction of property, whatever their motive.
I want to say that the Garda Síochána can be relied upon to do everything possible to prevent a continuation of this pattern of crime and to apprehend and bring to justice those who are responsible for it. Deputies will, I am sure, appreciate that it would not be right or proper for me to go into details in relation to a Garda operation or investigation. Indeed, it is my considered opinion that to do so would not be in the best interests of the prevention and detection of serious crime. I might also add that the fact that certain crimes have been given high profile attention by the media does not constitute a valid reason for my departing from the practice of successive Ministers for Justice of not giving detailed information in relation to Garda operational matters. In addition, there is the most important consideration that no comment of mine should even appear to be prejudicial to any person in the event of criminal charges arising in connection with the matters being discussed here. Having said that, I want to say that the incidents are being fully investigated by the Garda; that a number of persons have been questioned in connection with them and that technical and other possible evidence is being examined. In addition, Garda personnel and other resources are being redeployed to deal with the situation as the need arises, and crime prevention  patrols are being stepped up. I want to emphasise to the Deputies that if any criminal group think, for one moment, that destruction of the type we have seen will affect any Garda operation, they are very much mistaken. The strategies and methods used by the Garda in the fight against crime are, of course, matters for determination by the Garda authorities but I can safely say that the Garda will not back down when confronted by such brazen activities as we have seen in the past few days. They have, of course, the full backing of the Government, myself and, I am sure, of all Members of this House, in the fight against the criminal.
Again I thank Deputy Andrews and Deputy Barrett for their welcome in particular for the foot patrols as they were described by Deputy Andrews, or community policemen, as described by Deputy Barrett. The intention is that this scheme, which is extremely successful, will be fully operational in urban areas as quickly as possible. There is a very strong, considered view that this is the best type police effort possible and the public generally welcome the policemen becoming part of the community. In recent weeks I have had much commendation and support from the general public through my office and representatives in this House urging that many of those gardaí who are involved in other type activities such as desk activities would forsake the desks and become more involved in community police work. This is a matter on which I am sure I will get the full support of all the Members of the House when the matter comes up for further consideration in the near future.
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