Tuesday, 24 May 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Ms Burton: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important issue. Life is cheap in Dublin West where gun crime has reached epidemic proportions. I draw the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the recent, savage killing of Mr. Joseph Rafferty who was shot twice by a lone gunman as he left his apartment in the Ongar Park housing estate near Clonsilla at approximately 9.15 a.m. on 12 April. The shooting took place in broad daylight in a residential part of west Dublin. The brazen and casual manner in which the murder was carried out is especially horrific and demonstrates the extent to which gun crime has become an unavoidable part of life in Dublin West.
The Star newspaper reported on 19 May that the family of Mr. Rafferty had asked Sinn Féin councillor, Mr. Dathaí Doolan, to help them address the IRA death threat against their relative. The death threat originated with a dispute between Mr. Rafferty and an IRA member from the south inner city of Dublin about a relatively minor row at a 21st birthday party. What does the Minister have to say about this case and its chilling comparisons with the murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast?
Firearms are in plentiful supply and guns are being used to settle scores as never before. The fact that personal disputes are being addressed through fatal gun attacks is evidence that a gun culture has developed in Dublin. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made the bold claim six months ago that he did not believe there was new energy in crime in Dublin and that events were, to some extent, the sting of a dying wasp. The Minister has been stung by the stupidity of that assertion. The recent spate of killings in Dublin West demonstrates the degree to which the Minister has been divorced from reality.
While the Minister has been in never-never land denying the reality of gun crime, gangs have steadily reasserted themselves in Dublin West. While the Garda has recently launched Operation Anvil to target the significant surge in gun crime, which is welcome, Dublin West continues to show signs of chronic under-policing. It is still awaiting the establishment of a proper community Garda force based in the area and armed with local knowledge. I was stunned at the end of 2004 when the Minister revealed to me that the number of community gardaí in Dublin West had fallen to 17 from 19 in 2003. In 1997, there were 18 community gardaí serving Dublin West and Blanchardstown. In the intervening eight years, the population of Dublin West has grown dramatically to reach 80,000 and is now much larger than Limerick or Galway.
While the Minister appointed 20 recent graduates of the Garda College at Templemore to work in Dublin West, is he able to confirm that they will remain in the area for at least two years? It is usually the case that they come, go and are never seen again. The failure of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to supply adequate numbers of community gardaí to urban areas, especially those which are under siege from gangs, guns and drugs, is a shameful indictment of the Government’s failure on policing. We need real community and neighbourhood policing in Dublin West. That means communities being policed with gardaí back on the beat, not just cruising in squad cars. More effective training, longer assignments to the task and greater recognition for promotion purposes of the qualities required for successful community police are essential if the community garda service is to be successful.
International evidence shows that putting the police back into the community is the best solution to tackling the epidemic of gun crime and anti-social behaviour. Two years ago I told the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to travel to Boston to see how community policing operates there. It has taken him nearly two and a half years to get there. He has already been around the world before he managed to go there and have a look at what it means on the ground.
No issue is as important as this for the local community. The lawless operation of criminal gangs destroys the efforts of individual families and the whole community to create an environment where parents can feel secure for the safety and welfare of their children. I want the Minister to come back to Dublin West very soon to meet those who heard his assurances last year about the death of the gangs. They will give him an earful he will not forget for a long time but maybe he will learn enough to rise above his usual rhetoric and start to come to grips with the reign of terror currently operated by gangs in west Dublin under his nose.
I do not want to continue receiving e-mails from mothers and fathers who have just bought an expensive house in west Dublin, asking what they are to tell their four year old child about a man being shot down in cold blood at the end of their street. In the past six months that has happened four times with fatal consequences in Dublin West and many other times with less serious results. It is an epidemic.
Mr. Callely: I thank Deputy Burton for raising this matter. I am deputising for my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who would like to be present but is unable to be here as he is committed to other business.
As the Minister made clear in the House last week, he considers gun crime to be a matter of the utmost gravity. As a Dubliner I am concerned about this matter. The Minister has been concerned for some time that serious offences taking place have pointed to the emergence of a gun culture in Dublin. This, sadly, has been manifest in the number of fatal shootings, including the shooting referred to by Deputy Burton, which have taken place in recent weeks.
The Garda has amassed a considerable amount of intelligence about gun crime in Dublin and it has a very clear picture of what is going on. In the view of both the Minister and the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, the time is right to strike at this emerging gun culture. Consequently, the Minister reported to the House on 17 May that the Garda Síochána had launched Operation Anvil, specifically targeted at those involved in gun crime.
The Minister, my Government colleagues and I will put renewed energy and vigour into stamping out any gun culture that may exist. A clear message must be given to criminals of this nature that there will be no safe houses for them. This is one of the most intensive special policing operations ever undertaken in the State. It is intelligence-driven and is aimed at those involved in gun crime of any kind in the Dublin metropolitan region. Its cost will amount to €6.5 million, which the Minister has made available from his Department’s allocation for this year. It is intended that it will involve about 15,000 additional hours overtime being worked each week by Garda in the Dublin area. I should emphasise that this expenditure will not adversely affect existing agreed overtime allocations across the Garda divisions, including those for the Dublin metropolitan division.
Operation Anvil will involve divisional uniform and detective patrols throughout the region, backed up by national units, overt and covert operations, mobile and foot patrols, random checkpoints at specific locations, searches, execution of warrants and gathering and collation of high quality criminal intelligence.
A feature of the gun culture that has emerged is the apparent belief on the part of some criminals that they have immunity from the laws of the land. While our legislation for tackling organised crime is one of the toughest in Europe, the Minister is proposing that it be strengthened further. As Deputies will be aware, the Criminal Justice Bill 2004, which is currently on Second Stage in the House, provides for a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures that will enhance the powers of the Garda in the investigation and prosecution of offences. These include a general power in regard to the issue of search warrants, including a provision to allow a superintendent to issue an emergency search warrant in certain circumstances, increased detention powers of up to 24 hours for arrestable offences and a statutory power to preserve a crime scene.
In addition, Part 3 of the Bill makes provision for the admissibility as evidence in court of statements by witnesses who subsequently refuse to testify or who retract their original statements. Furthermore, the Minister is considering bringing forward a number of amendments to the Bill, including a proposal to provide for criminal offences in regard to participation in a criminal organisation.
There is a particular overriding necessity, in view of the recent increase in violent crime involving firearms to which Deputy Burton has referred, to ensure that public safety and security are given priority in any review of policy and legislation in regard to firearms. With this in mind the Minister has decided to bring forward at an early stage certain proposals for inclusion in the Criminal Justice Bill. The Bill as published contains one of those proposals, to provide for the secure custody of firearms. The Minister is increasing the sentences for the more serious range of firearms offences, including the possibility of mandatory minimum sentences in some cases, as well as new offences of illegally modifying a firearm, for example, sawing off a shotgun barrel, and the imposition of severe penalties for this offence. The Minister has already asked all sides of the House to assist in the early enactment of this legislation. We look forward to the support of all Deputies in that regard.
The Garda authorities have informed the Minister that the incident to which the Deputy refers is the subject of a major, ongoing Garda investigation that encompasses several Garda divisions and specialised Garda units. The Minister is further informed that this investigation has, to date, led to a number of arrests and that it is anticipated that more arrests will follow as further progress is made. The Garda investigation team is aware, as reported in the national press, of allegations that unlawful organisations were involved in this incident. Garda inquiries are continuing in this regard.
The Garda authorities have also informed the Minister that the level of both foot and mobile patrols in the Dublin 15 area has been increased and that the area is also the subject of intensive policing activity, in accordance with the operational goals of both Operation Crossover and Operation Anvil. Moreover, local gardaí will continue to liaise with residents and residents groups in the area to ensure that their concerns are being met. I hope that is somewhat helpful to Deputy Burton.
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