Adjournment Debate. - Drugs Crisis.

Thursday, 10 February 2000

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 514 No. 2

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Mr. Gregory: Information on Tony Gregory  Zoom on Tony Gregory  Only a few days into the new year, people around the country were appalled at the vicious butchery of two young men in the so-called canal murders – young men apparently caught up in the heroin trade murdered, it is suspected, by an individual well known to the Garda and to the community he terrorised in Ballyfermot, an individual attempting to build up his own heroin network in an area with one of the worst heroin scourges in Dublin.

At a recent commemoration service in Lourdes church in Dublin's north inner city, organised by the city-wide Drugs Crisis Campaign, a young woman from Ballyfermot told me that her area had recorded the highest number of drug-related deaths of all the areas in Dublin represented at that service. With an estimated 1,500 deaths in Ballyfermot, Ballyfermot had 167 more than any other community represented at the service.

There are five gardaí in the Ballyfermot drug unit and they are supported by two adjoining area drug units. Resources for the gardaí have improved dramatically in this area in recent times. This Garda unit is dedicated, highly professional and effective but it covers an area with one of the greatest concentrations of the drugs problem in Dublin.

In April 1998, after months of surveillance and [427] good police work, the Garda arrested and charged an individual, Raymond Duff, with possession for sale and supply of half a kilogramme of pure, high quality heroin, just in from the supply source in Manchester, with a street value of £300,000. The heroin was hidden in the interior wall of the house next door to Ballyfermot Garda station. A large weighing scales was also found. In statements to the gardaí, Duff admitted that he collected and delivered heroin to various locations around Dublin. He was not an addict. Duff was a significant cog in a heroin network run by an individual named Comerford who was recently sentenced to 12 years in jail in Manchester.

Duff was charged with an offence punishable under the law by life imprisonment. Under the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue's new mandatory sentencing legislation, he would have received a minimum of ten years in prison. To the utter disbelief of gardaí and the horror of the community, he was rewarded with a suspended sentence and set free. This happened within days of the discovery of the canal murder victims in the same area. Not that this individual was involved in those, but what message does that judge's decision send out to the embattled communities, to the dedicated gardaí or even to the young people tempted to enter the drugs trade to make quick, easy money? Surely this case must be urgently brought to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions to review the undue leniency involved. I read this week in Magill magazine that this case is only one in a pattern of suspended sentences in recent drugs cases.

I am well aware of the seriousness of questioning in this House the correctness or otherwise of the decisions of any judge, but I believe the matter simply cannot be ignored. I have received correspondence from community groups outraged by this judge's decisions. The suffering communities—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I would prefer if you did not develop that point, Deputy. It is not appropriate to comment on the decisions of members of the Judiciary.

Mr. Gregory: Information on Tony Gregory  Zoom on Tony Gregory  I accept what you say, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but this matter has caused disquiet and disbelief—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I would prefer if you did not develop it.

Mr. Gregory: Information on Tony Gregory  Zoom on Tony Gregory  I will not develop it further other than to finish what I am saying. This matter has caused disquiet and disbelief among gardaí, crime journalists and community anti-drugs groups. I have no option but to draw attention to it here.

On Tuesday last, over 2,000 people packed themselves into Lourdes church in Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin's north inner city. They were there to commemorate the estimated 1,500 [428] young people who have died from the heroin scourge of the past 20 years. The groups of people came from communities in every working class area of Dublin to represent the young lives lost in their own district. They said that there are now in the region of 15,000 persons in Dublin addicted to heroin, with some 4,000 treatment places and little aftercare and rehabilitation services. The waiting lists for treatment are again on the increase.

I am aware of the independence of the Judiciary and the matter to which the Chair drew my attention. However, it is against this background that I believed I had to draw attention to judicial decisions that appear to be—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Gregory, I must make it clear that no Member of the House is entitled to comment on a judge's decision. The Judiciary is independent by virtue of the Constitution and it is most important that Members refrain from discussing decisions of individual judges.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I am glad to be given this opportunity to address the aspect of the drugs problem in the Dublin area raised by Deputy Gregory. The drugs problem in certain areas of Dublin did not arrive overnight and it cannot be solved overnight. The Deputy is probably more aware of this than most other people. There are no quick and easy solutions to the problem.

As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, my commitment to dealing with the drugs problem is well documented and I am confident that the Government's policy for dealing with it is working. This policy is unambiguous. It is and will continue to be to tackle the drugs problem on two fronts, supply and demand. Never in the history of the State has the Garda Síochána been better resourced or equipped. Garda strength is rapidly heading towards 12,000, an all time historic high. We are on target for increasing the capacity of the prison system by one-third. Our tough anti-crime policies are yielding the anticipated good results with a further fall of 5% in crime figures last year leading to a cumulative fall of approximately 21% since the Government came into office.

I make no apologies for my policy of strong legislation backed up by tough enforcement to tackle drug dealing and trafficking. I have put in place the Criminal Justice Act, 1999, which provides for a minimum mandatory ten year prison sentence for persons convicted of dealing in drugs with a value of £10,000 or more. This Act has also introduced a range of new measures designed to prevent the intimidation of witnesses, jurors, those who are assisting the Garda in the investigation of an offence and their families, and provides for a maximum ten year sentence for such offences.

The Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, which I introduced while in Opposition, has been success[429] fully utilised by the Criminal Assets Bureau to deprive those involved in criminal activity from enjoying the benefits of their ill gotten gains. This legislation and the activities of the Criminal Assets Bureau have received much praise both at home and abroad.

On the enforcement side, An Garda Síochána has enjoyed considerable success in its operations both at national and local level. During the period from January 1998 to December 1999 drug seizures amounting to an estimated street value in excess of £120 million were made. In the period January 1998 to September 1999 Garda operations Dóchas, Cleanstreet and Mainstreet, aimed at combating drug dealing at local level, yielded seizures of illicit drugs with an estimated street value in excess of £12 million and resulted in over 15,700 arrests.

Overall, my policy of strong legislation backed up by tough law enforcement has resulted in record drug seizures, many Irish based drug trafficking organisations being dismantled, major drug barons fleeing abroad and a high percentage of persons who are prosecuted being convicted and sentenced to prison.

These Garda successes in dealing with the supply of drugs is evidence of the commitment of the Force to tackling the problem. The Garda national drugs unit deploys 50 gardaí under the command of a chief superintendent to deal with the problem at national level. This national deployment is backed up by 116 officers based in local drug units in the Dublin metropolitan region. In addition, there are 27 sergeants and 186 gardaí involved throughout the city on Operation Dóchas. This operation is currently under review in terms of an overall examination of community policing in Dublin. In this context, all Garda operational units are subject to ongoing review by the commissioner and if it is felt that more resources are needed, they will be made available.

I am aware that enforcement measures alone will not be sufficient to deal with the drugs problem. In this context, the multi-agency partnership approach is the cornerstone of the Government's policy for dealing with the drugs problem at community level. This approach has borne fruit and will continue to be successful. The community and voluntary sectors bring a dynamic to the equation that cannot be replicated by the statutory agencies no matter how involved they are on the ground. This multi-agency partnership approach has given local communities an effective and vital role in dealing with the drugs problem in their own areas.

I have ensured and will continue to ensure a commitment to the integrated policies which are being implemented under the national drugs strategy through participation in the structures which have been established to co-ordinate this strategy. I am a member of the Cabinet committee on social inclusion and officials from my Department are represented on the interdepartmental group on the national drugs strategy and on the national drugs strategy team. Representation on each of the 14 local drugs task forces, which were established in the areas where the [430] heroin problem is most acute, include an inspector from An Garda Síochána and the local Probation and Welfare Service officer. This level of representation ensures that my Department plays a full role, along with the other agencies involved, in the ongoing development of the national drugs strategy.

The Deputy will agree that tremendous progress has been made through the allocation of funding by the Government under the national drugs strategy and under the young people's facilities and services fund. These resources will make a significant contribution towards dealing with the drugs problem in local communities and towards tackling social exclusion. A sum of £10 million has been allocated on an annual basis to support the implementation of over 200 projects proposed by local drugs task forces in their own areas. In addition a further £15 million over a two year period has been allocated to support the development of new service development plans by the local drugs task forces. The Government has also allocated a sum of £35 million over three years, 1999 to 2001, under the young people's facilities and services fund to assist in the development of preventative strategies, in a targeted manner, through the development of youth, sport and recreational facilities and services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drugs problem exists or has the potential to develop.

On top of this funding, significant amounts are being made available to deal with the issues of social exclusion and disadvantage under the national development plan. In this context, I have secured an additional £16 million of funding under the plan to facilitate a significant expansion of the Garda juvenile diversion programme. I have also secured approximately £70 million for additional crime prevention measures and over £200 million to fund the development of child care provision over 2000 to 2006.

I believe in these policies and I believe they are working and will continue to work. However, there is no room for complacency and I assure the Deputy of my commitment and that of the Government and the Garda Commissioner to tackling the drugs problem at local level. Our policy of targeting drug dealers at both national and local level will continue relentlessly as will our policy of active participation in the partnership with local communities.

We know the drugs problem in the Dublin area will not be solved overnight. There are no quick or easy answers. It can only be dealt with by a sustained campaign that tackles both the symptoms and the causes of the problem. Current Government policies are doing this and ultimately they will prove successful.


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