Thursday, 20 October 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
9. Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether violent crime connected with gangland activities has got out of hand (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29743/05]
Mr. McDowell: While all forms of gangland crime are unacceptable, I reject the assertion that violent crime connected with gangland activities is “out of hand”. Unprecedented levels of resources are being made available through my Department to the Garda to combat this form of criminality on a focused and coherent basis.
The National Bureau of Criminal Investigation is the Garda specialist unit tasked with the role of tackling organised crime. It carries out this role by conducting intelligence-driven operations in close co-operation with other specialist units, specifically, the National Criminal Intelligence Unit, the Garda National Drugs Unit, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Criminal Assets Bureau. A number of organised crime groups have been targeted resulting in the recovery of firearms, drugs seizures and the prosecution and conviction of a number of persons before the courts. The Criminal Assets Bureau is actively utilised to identify and target funds accumulated by criminals.
The National Bureau of Criminal Investigation is also closely involved in Operation Anvil, which operates as we have heard in the Dublin metropolitan region. Our legislative package for tackling serious and organised crime is already widely viewed as being one of the toughest in Europe. However, there are legislative proposals to enhance our legal framework in this area in the form of the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 and amendments spoken about for Committee Stage.
The Deputy will be aware of the ongoing recruitment campaign to bring the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000, which is well in hand. The rate of recruitment is 1,075 recruits per annum. The rate of recruitment for this year will continue for the next two years. By the end of 2006, the number of gardaí in uniform or in a detective role will be more than 14,000. The Garda budget is at €1.1 billion, which represents an increase of 83% on the 1997 provision from the second to last Government. The Garda Commissioner is satisfied that the necessary resources, both operational and financial, are being directed towards the containment and detection of serious crime. I assure the House that I am in regular contact with the Garda Commissioner to keep the measures and resources for tackling serious crime under continuing review.
Mr. Costello: I have no doubt the Minister is in contact, but he is not doing anything specific or effective about the problem. We are still waiting for the 2,000 phantom gardaí. What is the Minister’s response to the fact that in recent annual reports from the Garda and most recent quarterly reports, there are substantial increases in figures for shootings, manslaughter, murder, drug usage and gangland activity? All of these are increasing. These are crimes of violence against the person and the community. They have increased substantially in every quarter for a considerable period.
We cannot be complacent, and no amount of articulation of how good things are in certain areas will do. Even theft of bicycles has increased by 60%, which indicates that levels of so-called low grade crime are very serious. When the Minister entered office in 2002, there was no crack cocaine in the country, but now there is about to be an epidemic. During the term of office of the Minister’s predecessor, there was very little cocaine use at all. In 2000, for instance, there was no cocaine in the country, but it has now become the most serious drug problem in the country.
Mr. J. O’Keeffe: I am concerned about legislation on the criminalisation of gang membership. The Minister indicated early in September that he would introduce amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 to deal with the issue. What is the Minister’s position on that amendment and other amendments discussed at the time? Is he able to bring the process a stage further as we will probably shortly complete Second Stage.
Mr. F. McGrath: Does the Minister agree that his comments on a decrease in crime are not a reality for many citizens? I attended a packed meeting in my constituency last night where we learned of major anti-social behaviour problems, widespread sale of drugs and intimidation of local residents. The gardaí in the area were at the meeting and responded to the questions. This is the reality for many communities, particularly on the north side of Dublin.
On the question of administrative duties for gardaí, I urge the Minister to have more front-line gardaí on the beat. I ask the Minister to restructure the management within the Garda to be more effective on releasing gardaí, particularly young gardaí, into communities. Is the Minister aware of the major problem of unreported crime throughout the State? There is widespread intimidation in communities and people feel excluded from the justice system? Can the Minister act on this issue?
Mr. McDowell: I agree with most points Deputy Finian McGrath makes. People in many communities are experiencing the intimidation the Deputy mentioned. I am glad the Deputy stated that gardaí attended the meeting to which he referred. I am sure the Garda will take on board what they heard and respond to it. With some difficulty, I have piloted through legislation regarding local policing committees. I am engaged in a major transformation of the Garda Síochána, the ombudsman commission, the inspectorate and the professional standards unit. All of these things have to click in to bring about modernisation of the Garda Síochána.
Mr. McDowell: Yesterday I finalised some of those matters with the Attorney General. Some points caused difficulty and I hope to bring a raft of amendments to Government in the near future and to give them to the members of the committee as soon as possible thereafter.
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