Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Peter Power): I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this important new legislation coming before the House, not least because a number of years ago I proposed this type of legislation when I was privileged to chair the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights. In addition, I am a representative of Limerick and perhaps have more experience than most of the type of crime with which we are dealing through this legislation. I am aware of the prolonged gang warfare and feuds which have plagued my city for so long. I hope therefore to bring some of my experience and perspectives to this debate.
Let us be under no illusion or in any doubt that what we are dealing with is a sustained attack on everything in which we believe. The people of Limerick believe this is not just confined to a small number of people intent on exacting revenge and counter-revenge, involving killing and maiming. Rather, it is an attack on the city itself, its citizens, their way of life and everything in which we believe. The people of Limerick believe in going about their daily business, bringing up their families and partaking in the city’s great sporting tradition. They want nothing to do with this violence and so they look to Dáil Éireann and to the Government to provide an appropriate response to what has happened.
Let us recall that we are not talking about ordinary crime in this respect. We are talking about people who are not just content to maim or kill in the most horrific ways, as well as burning out houses, they will go much further than that. Some have been caught by effective Garda action, but they want to go further by trying to rise above the law. They want to be immune from all arms of the State, including detection, prosecution and sentencing. That is quite an extraordinary situation involving a unique type of crime.
The extraordinary circumstances we face demand an extraordinary response by Oireachtas Éireann, the Government and all other arms of the State. Gangland crime constitutes an attack on the State in much the same way as the IRA attacked the foundations of the State for many years. Its killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was an attack on the people of Limerick, while those who killed Veronica Guerin sought to attack the foundations of the State. There is little difference between these crimes and the crimes the legislation seeks to address. The common desire in all these cases is to confront the State and its people and undermine our way of life.
The question the Oireachtas must address is what should be the response to the extraordinary circumstances we face. The first aspect of the State’s response should be for all parties in the House, in conjunction with the Garda, to send a clear and agreed message to those with whom we are dealing that they will not and cannot win and that collectively we will take whatever action is required to defeat them. This message must go out not only to the gangs of Limerick but to every person in the State engaged in gangland activity.
The second aspect of our response should be to recognise the nature of the criminals with whom we are dealing. The cowardice they show in killing and maiming is matched only by the cunning with which they try to evade detection. This, too, is unique and we need to match it by availing of all weapons in our armoury. Before considering the characteristics inherent in gangland crime in Limerick, I will briefly allude to our approach to the issue until now.
Even before the brutal murder of Shane Geoghegan and the callous killing of Roy Collins the Garda had achieved astonishing successes in its investigation of gangland activity in Limerick. All the evidence and research shows that detection and successful prosecution rates match those for any type of crime either here or elsewhere in Europe. Gardaí in Limerick deserve to be congratulated on the manner in which they have gone about their business. Members and the community of Limerick owe them their support and the message must go out that they enjoy this support.
Gardaí often express frustration that after spending long hours collecting evidence and investigating crime using all the skills and experience they have acquired over the years and having secured successful prosecutions against criminals, those convicted of gangland crime do not serve sufficient time in prison. The consensus among people in my home city of Limerick and one I believe extends to the rest of the country is that a member of a criminal gang who is convicted of murder as part of a gangland feud should serve a minimum tariff of 25 years’ detention without remission. A life sentence is a movable feast because the penalty imposed is unclear. We need to be clear on this issue because it is only when gangland criminals are removed from society for long periods that the message will get through to remaining gang members that when they are caught, as they inevitably will be, they will be imprisoned for a long time. Sending out such a clear message would have a deterrent effect as well as removing criminals from the streets and preventing them from committing further crime for a long time.
The only objective of any individual caught in possession of a firearm in Limerick — this is almost certainly also the case elsewhere — is to kill someone. A person caught in possession of a gun is clearly a gang member who intends to kill. No other construction can be put on the mindset of someone who moves around Limerick or any other city with a gun. For this reason, all such persons should serve an exceptionally lengthy prison sentence.
How does one show that a crime is associated with gangland activity, a gang feud or membership of a gang? This has been a difficult question for gardaí to answer in the courts. It is for this reason that legislation such as this is required. It can make available to the Garda the corroborative, secretive evidence required to demonstrate that someone is part of a criminal conspiracy or gang and is intent on carrying out gangland type activities.
What are the characteristics of a gang? Gangs by nature are secretive and ruthless and usually have a leader. Their members work together conspiratorially and in concert and communicate with each other. The best way to determine whether certain activities are gang related is to deploy technological surveillance, as permitted under the legislation.
It has taken me some minutes to come to the real reason this legislation is needed, namely, to counter the threat to society posed by the nature of gangland crime and tackle the difficult problems encountered by the State, Garda and courts in providing the final link of proving membership of a gang. I hope the Judiciary will take the next step and match our determination by putting away those involved in such crime for extremely long periods.
Given the technological world in which we live, it would be naive not to use the technology available to us. Criminal gangs do so. Technology has the capacity to solve and prevent crime and target gang leaders. There have been many examples of surveillance technology being used for this purpose. The targeting of John Gotti, a mafia leader, is perhaps the most celebrated case in point. As Deputies will be aware, there is no difference between the mafia and the criminals who will be targeted under this legislation.
I am pleased to give my full support to the Bill for the reasons I have set out. The purpose of the legislation is to regulate by law the present practices of the Garda Síochána and in some circumstances the Defence Forces and Revenue Commissioners relating to the secret surveillance of suspects. These operations can often produce valuable intelligence material, not only at the planning stages of serious crimes and activity but also during the commission and cover up of offences and subsequent intimidation or planned intimidation of witnesses, an activity we have observed all too often in Limerick and elsewhere.
The Bill provides for a good system of authorisation and approval for the use of surveillance devices in security operations aimed at investigating and preventing these types of offences. An authorisation will be issued on an application to a District Court judge, who has to be satisfied, based on the evidence presented to the court by a superior officer of the Garda, Defence Forces or Revenue Commissioners, that the surveillance is necessary and is the least intrusive method available to the Garda. While, generally speaking, judicial authorisation will be required for surveillance to take place, there are two exceptions where approval from a superior officer in the Garda, as distinct from a District Court judge, will provide sufficient authorisation.
I welcome this Bill and hope it is passed unanimously in the House. It is the type of legislation we need to confront the very real threat which presents itself in my home city of Limerick and throughout the country. I commend it to the House.
Deputy Joe Carey: I welcome the publication of this Bill as an instrument in the State’s ability to fight gangland crime in particular. It is worth noting that 16 other Acts are referred to in this Bill, including legislation covering courts, criminal law, defence and finance. I would like to see the term “gangland crime” in the Title of theBill. We still talk of subversive and terrorist threats, but the landscape has changed. While I do not question the substance of the initiative, it is almost as if we are afraid to acknowledge openly the specific modern threat gangland crime poses to our society.
Many Members of the Oireachtas have tried to enact proposals such as those contained in this Bill in recent times, with little support from Government parties. In 2007, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated similar proposals were unnecessary and would alert criminals to Garda investigative techniques.
The events in Limerick over the past six months, including the murder of Mr. Shane Geoghegan and the recent murder of Mr. Roy Collins, notwithstanding the previous murder of Mr. Brian Fitzgerald, have brought us to what could be termed our very ownappalling vista. The murder of Mr. Collins, in particular, was designed to frighten people against giving evidence in court that could put leading criminals behind bars. This is not a position in which any society wants to find itself. In some ways, this Bill lightens the load on people as witnesses whose evidence heretofore may have been the only option gardaí had to secure conviction against gangland members. This is a welcome development.
This Bill, and its potential, was played somewhat cynically following the last atrocity in Limerick just two weeks ago. The impression had to be given that something was being done. I listened to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea, talk about it within 24 hours of Mr. Collins’s murder and since then much has been written and spoken about regarding various aspects of this Bill.
There has been a public presentation on how a member of a gang could introduce countermeasures before the State gets a chance to enact the provisions of this Bill. In the Government’s headlong rush to be seen to be doing something, the Minister has made true his comments in 2007 that criminals are now even more alert to Garda investigative techniques. Some media reporting has actually provided a comprehensive list of potential locations for surveillance equipment, which is a helpful manual for criminals.
Having said that, there are measures in the Bill which will help in the fight against organised crime. Fine Gael welcomes its publication and we urge its implementation immediately. In fact, we have called for such a Bill for a very long time. Covert surveillance legislation is critical in the battle against modern day organised crime. Hours and hours of criminal monitoring takes place in this State, but until now gardaí could not use this material in a criminal trial. Due to this barrier, gardaí have been fighting a very difficult battle. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern’s commitment to addressing this situation.
If we are to really tackle gangland crime in this country, we need to unleash a holy war on illegal drugs. The free availability and increased amounts of drugs on the streets of our cities, towns and villages are fuelling gangland crime. No part of our country is free from drugs. The monumental failure of Government to properly resource the Garda Síochána and the Customs and Excise service with the proper numbers of people and equipment makes our State an easy target for crime bosses.
It is simply outrageous that Customs and Excise currently has just one boat to patrol the entire coastline and only one mobile scanner for use at the country’s shipping ports. One cannot tackle the drugs problem in this country if agencies such as Customs and Excise and the Garda Síochána are not properly resourced.
This Government’s threat to target rural Garda stations with closure is most regrettable. In my own constituency of Clare, I want to say to the Minister of State “hands off” our vital network of rural Garda stations. Stations in Quin, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Crusheen, Lisseycasey, Doonbeg, Labasheeda, Kilmihil, Broadford, Mountshannon, Ballyvaughan, Corofin and Inagh are vital. Many housing estates have sprung up in these areas in recent years. Instead of cutting back resources and threatening to close stations, the Government should be channelling resources into community Garda stations and ensuring that they remain open.
In 1997, we were promised a policy of zero tolerance on crime by a Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice. Since then, the State has witnessed some 140 gangland murders with a mere 14 convictions. The average sentence served by murderers is only 15 years. Fine Gael wants the crime of murder to carry a mandatory sentence of 25 years and it welcomes the comments of the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, in that regard.
I would like to ask the Minister some specific questions about the Bill. In the definitions section of the Bill, section 1(10)(c) the Minister refers to excluding a surveillance device, specifically a camera, to the extent to which it is used to take photographs of a person, or a thing, in a place to which the public have access. I understand the Minister’s logic. Undue intrusion on members of the public is not what this legislation is about, but the question of whether it places restrictions on members of the Garda in clearly identifying persons on whom they are carrying out surveillance must be asked.
Section 5(8) of the Bill outlines a three month period for which the surveillance can apply with the option of a renewal for a further three months. Is it correct that, in total, surveillance on a suspect can only go on for a continual period of up to six months? If this is the case, does the Minister believe this is enough time for the Garda to establish and build a case against a person? Are there provisions to extend the period of surveillance beyond six months if this is deemed necessary?
This Bill fulfils the need to protect the integrity, effectiveness and security of a system of surveillance implemented by designated officers of the State. It allows evidence gathered in this manner to be admissible in court for the first time. This is a welcome development. The Bill is cautious in nature and respects the International Convention on Human Rights. I hope that we will, in a short time, see the benefits of the legislation. It is largely an operational measure for the collection of evidence and I hope, despite the amount of publicity about its imminent arrival, it ultimately will be effective.
The gardaí in Limerick have an exemplary track record in solving crime and bringing to justice the perpetrators of murders. This legislation will, I hope, allow the Garda Síochána to go after more senior gang members, who have until now allowed the foot soldiers and those younger members wishing to progress through the ranks to carry out the murders that continue to shock and outrage the ordinary people of this country. Those in custody for the Collins murder are 19 and 22 years old.
I hope the Minister will continue in this vein of introducing legislation on gangland crime — legislation of an operational type which gives more practical powers of investigation to the Garda, whose members are on the ground battling day in, day out against gangland crime. I also hope the Government will not place any funding obstacles before either the Garda or the DPP in their fight against organised crime.
There has been an escalation of activity against innocent people with no connection to the activities of gangs. This cannot be allowed to develop any further. The Government’s attitude must change from reactive to proactive and I welcome this legislation as a small, distinct step in that direction.
Deputy Michael D’Arcy: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Fianna Fáil-led Government are heralding the coming into being of the latest in a long litany of criminal justice Bills as another step towards victory in the fight against gangland crime. This is a surveillance-oriented step that was taken by most EU countries years ago and by the US decades ago. Why does the Minister continue to drag his heels? His steps heretofore are having no effect in a situation that clearly requires leaps.
Since 1997, here have been no less than ten criminal justice Bills incorporating a gangland element, but what has happened in the area of gangland crime? So far this year there have been 11 gangland murders, as well as many more non-fatal shootings. This is a total of more than two killings every month since January. In 2008, there were 19 such murders; in 1998, when Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in Government, there were four. The figures do not just speak for themselves; they scream. Ten gangland-orientated criminal justice Bills later, not only has there been no let-up, but there has been an unprecedented increase in such atrocities. The Irish Examiner reported on 22 January of this year that only 21 convictions for gun murders had been secured in the last ten years out of the 161 gun-related killings during the period, with not one person jailed for a gun-related death in 2007 or 2008. It seems the Government has adopted a cure-is-better-than-prevention approach, waiting for a catastrophic event such as the murder of Shane Geoghegan before instituting any change. Any legislation born of such an atrocity must be viewed with much caution.
More worrying still is the fact that even if gangland legislation is envisaged, its inception is a long and drawn-out process. The Fianna Fáil-led Government appears to insist on delaying criminal justice legislation; this is not a recent phenomenon. The Criminal Justice (Illicit Traffic by Sea) Bill, aimed at reducing the importation of narcotics, came into being in 2000 yet was not enacted until June 2003, representing a three-year delay, while the Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill of 1997, aimed at amending the enforcement of penalties against drug traffickers, was not enacted until May 1999, a significant two-year delay. More recently, the Criminal Justice Bill 2004, which contained provision for admissibility into evidence of witness statements to counter witness intimidation, also lingered for two years before becoming law, finally being enacted in July 2006. Still lingering in Second and Committee Stages, respectively, are the Criminal Justice (Violent Crime Prevention) Bill 2008 and the Criminal Law (Admissibility of Evidence) Bill 2008. These Bills provide for the abolition of automatic remission of sentences in criminal cases and for civil restrictions on persons involved in organised crime, along with changes to the existing evidence laws. Will it be another two years before these provisions are enacted? How can it be that the Minister for Finance is capable of driving through Bills such as the Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Bill 2009 in a matter of weeks? It is clear the Government considers the bailing out of our nation’s incompetent bankers a much more pressing issue than the saving of innocent lives and the promotion of criminal justice.
In recent weeks, the prison population has exceeded 4,000 for the first time in the history of the State. This problem is not going away or even easing to any extent. When will the Garda actually be capable of utilising the provisions of this long overdue Bill? Will it be 2010 or, perhaps, 2011? Two or three years does, after all, seem to be the average time it takes to implement any gangland-related legislation. In the meantime, how many more innocent people will have died?
The recently announced embargo on recruitment of gardaí will hardly lend itself to effective enforcement of the new provisions contained within the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill. Our economy has just exited a period of boom and extreme growth, yet not even the large amounts of extra capital and resources available to the Minister could secure a higher detection rate for gang activity. If the Minister could not achieve victory in the fight against organised crime with the Celtic tiger behind him, he certainly will not achieve it without. The implementation of this Bill will require massive amounts of capital and manpower which are no longer readily available, if available at all. Had we followed our European and US counterparts long ago in the enactment of such laws when we had the budget to do so rather than now attempting to play a feeble game of catch-up, the picture being painted would surely be a prettier one.
The Minister has also pledged forthcoming legislation which will make membership and directorship of criminal gangs a criminal offence. How is it that it is not already an offence? Gang violence has been escalating at unprecedented levels on this island over the last decade, yet physical membership and even leadership of these gangs remain entirely legal. Every day our media portray reports and headlines involving known criminal leaders and associates who are roaming our streets freely. Everyone knows who they are and what they do, but this does not appear to be enough to ground a conviction. Yet again, we see the Minister waiting for more inevitable bloodshed before administering the legislative cure, rather than aiming towards prevention.
The Minister has also promised to increase the maximum sentence for intimidation of juries and witnesses from ten years to life imprisonment. This is good in theory but, in practice, even the dogs in the street know enforcement on this island is weak. Maximum sentences are rarely imposed, even for repeat offenders. The Minister cannot even ensure the enforcement of mandatory sentences, let alone discretionary ones. Existing law coupled with the 2006 and 2007 Criminal Justice Acts apparently imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for offences committed pursuant to sections 15(1) and (2) of the 1977 Misuse of Drugs Act for possession or importation of controlled drugs with a value of more than €13,000.
However, the extent of legislative exceptions to this apparently mandatory sentence means it morphs into an entirely discretionary sentence which is rarely imposed. These mandatory minimum sentences may not apply where there has been a guilty plea by the accused, assistance by the accused to the Garda — this has lately become relevant due to the case of Kieran Boylan — the accused is addicted to controlled drugs, or even where there any exceptional and specific circumstances relating to the offence which would make a sentence of not less than ten years’ imprisonment unjust in all circumstances. In addition, with the Judiciary being given leave by virtue of this legislation to have regard to any matters it considers appropriate in its assessment of the suitability of what should have been a mandatory sentence, how can the Minister expect tough enforcement? When even mandatory sentences are being qualified in legislation by vague rhetoric which allows any hardened criminal to excuse himself from such a sentence, there is little or no chance of strict enforcement of any new legislation. The Minister has even stated that he will send gangland bosses and gang members to the non-jury Special Criminal Court for trial. However, one must question the effectiveness of such a threat in light of the brutal killing on 9 April last of an innocent Limerick father, Roy Collins, following the giving of testimony by his cousin, Ryan Lee, against a key associate of the killers. The Special Criminal Court may eliminate the need for juries and the Criminal Justice Act 2007 may allow for witness statements to be admissible in court, but this is of little use when these gangs are willing to kill innocent family members who are far detached from any court proceedings.
The Ministers who are part of the Government’s inadequacies are not doing us any service. Instead, they serve only to damage Ireland’s international reputation. The nolle prosequi entered by the DPP in the Kieran Boylan case is disturbing. Instead of serving the minimum mandatory sentence as set out by this House, the perpetrator in that case was not even prosecuted. Moreover, he was given a licence to operate as an international haulier. This beggars belief.
It was neither Aristotle nor Plato but Spider-man who said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” That statement is pertinent to our situation. Fianna Fáil has been in government for 20 of the past 22 years, in the course of which it has abdicated its responsibility to the public. Many people’s response to the 19 gangland murders that took place last year may be that it is okay as long as these people are killing each other. However, there will always be innocents caught in the crossfire. The Minister of State referred to the deaths of Mr. Geoghegan and Mr. Collins in Limerick city. Let there be no more such deaths.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009. The legislation provides a comprehensive statutory backdrop for the use of covert surveillance techniques by the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and the Revenue Commissioners. It also provides powers to acquire intelligence on individuals and vehicles in a manner outside the system of warrants upon which law enforcement agencies have relied heretofore.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, on his deserved reappointment. I listened carefully to his fine speech on this legislation. Given that he mentioned Limerick so often, I presume I will be allowed to make some mention of Tallaght in my contribution.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: I am always proud to mention Tallaght, but I now have another incentive for doing so. In The Irish Times last Saturday, Miriam Lord’s fine article referred to the new kildarestreet.com website. As she pointed out, the website informs its readers that Charlie O’Connor has mentioned Tallaght 696 times in parliamentary debates over a period. I hope to mention Tallaght four times today so that I can reach the 700 mark. Having said that, Ms Lord also records that our good friend and much loved colleague, Deputy Ring, has managed to mention Mayo almost 2,000 times. Perhaps he should give the classes on this particular subject.
I have listened carefully to Members’ contributions. It is important that we understand the importance of this legislation. I bring to the debate not only my views as a Deputy for Dublin South-West but also as a Member who in my first term in the Dáil was privileged to be a member of the Oireachtas committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights. That was an amazing experience. On a local level, I am a member of South Dublin County Council’s joint policing board, which involves significant contact with local gardaí.
We must not be afraid to take every opportunity to applaud the work of the Garda Síochána. I do so in the first instance as a proud Dubliner but also with particular reference to my own area. My constituency is serviced by Tallaght Garda station and Crumlin Garda station and, to a lesser extent, by Clondalkin and Rathfarnham Garda stations. We must support the work of the gardaí in every way we can. My constituency colleagues and I are strongly supportive of the campaign for a new modern Garda station for Tallaght. The current building was constructed in 1987 and is lacking many facilities. It is very outdated and requires at least to be refurbished. I will continue to stress to the Minister, even in these difficult times, that proper resources and facilities should be provided for gardaí in all constituencies.
I do not get as many opportunities as some colleagues to go on the radio, but I was interviewed by Derek Davis last Sunday week on the new radio station, 4FM. In the course of our discussion, we spoke about this Bill and crime in general. Mr. Davis reminded me that my constituency, which embraces Tallaght, Firhouse, Templeogue, Greenhills, Brittas, Bohernabreena and so on, has had serious crime problems in the past. Without wishing to offend the Minister of State, I am grateful these problems have not been on the same scale as those in Limerick. As I said, it is important that we support the Garda. The force enjoyed success recently in a court case which followed the investigation of a murder in my own parish in Fettercairn. I applaud the gardaí for their work on this case which has been welcomed by the community. Deputy Rabbitte and I have been involved in a campaign in Tallaght relating to the case of a young man, Robert Delaney, who was seriously injured in a shooting incident and is currently in a very poor condition in hospital. I take this opportunity to wish the investigating gardaí and Mr. Delaney’s family well as we all seek justice for that terrible deed.
As has been said in regard to events in Limerick and elsewhere, these types of crimes gravely upset the communities concerned. This Bill will help to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. As a proud Dubliner, I am greatly concerned by the growing incidence of such crime in the city and county in recent years. While many Members may assume I am from Tallaght, I was reared in the inner city and in Crumlin. During the last election, a constituent remarked, upon being told that I had lived in Tallaght for 40 years, that this was not very long at all. There has been a high incidence of crime in the general Crumlin-Drimnagh area. We must continue to support communities throughout Dublin and the State who are suffering from this type of violence, as well as the gardaí who serve them.
I was in the Chair earlier today when Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Catherine Byrne expressed concern about problems in Dolphin’s Barn and Crumlin which have been reported in the newspapers in recent days. Everything possible must be done to ensure that nobody can hold communities to ransom. We are all entitled to live in safety in our community and to go about our business in a normal way. As a near neighbour of the community in Dolphin’s Barn, I emphasise that what is happening there is an absolute disgrace. All my colleagues in Dublin South-Central are working hard to tackle the problems and it is important that we support them.
When people talk about crime and its effects, they often refer to regeneration and the need to continue to provide facilities in areas that are under pressure. I have often made the point that in the good times, when all boats are rising, it is important to remember the small boats. When all boats are struggling, as they now are, it is even more important to remember the little boats. Despite the current difficulties, we must continue to press the Government to ensure that facilities and services are provided in all communities, particularly in those where such problems could occur.
May I express my solidarity with the Minister of State, Deputy Power, and his colleagues in Limerick, including Deputies Michael Noonan and Kieran O’Donnell? I do not know as much about Limerick as they do but I am a frequent visitor to Doon and I know people in that community. What has been happening in Limerick has upset the rest of the country. I am glad efforts are being made to improve the circumstances in which people live. Mr. John Fitzgerald was formerly city manager in Dublin and also served as an official in South Dublin County Council, of which I was a member, when it was formed in 1994. He impressed us then and we were very sorry to lose him. Mr. Fitzgerald has been a superb public servant and I know he has done great work in Limerick.
I will never condone criminality. I never take the view, which is sometimes expressed, that young people would not turn to crime if they had community centres. I lived in Crumlin when things were difficult there. Almost everyone in Crumlin, including myself, avoided a life of crime. We should not be afraid to support those endeavours which try to deal with community problems. Every public representative will fight for resources for his own constituency. I hope my colleagues will not mind my saying that Limerick has got the sort of publicity which communities do not deserve. I say this as an expression of solidarity with Limerick. We must continue to support the people of that city. The Bill will not apply to Limerick alone but it has a particular importance for the city. I wish all of my colleagues well as they continue to deal with the problems of crime.
The Minister told the House that the primary purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the use in evidence of material gained by secret surveillance in criminal proceedings while, at the same time, ensuring that the encroachment on certain rights relating to personal privacy and privacy of property, particularly a dwelling, which this entails is limited and proportionate. He said the Bill deals with these objectives in a number of ways.
All Members have contact with organisations which articulate views and concerns regarding civil liberties. The Irish Human Rights Commission is currently carrying out a major analysis of the Bill. I am sure we all look forward to reading that analysis when it becomes available. As a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for five years, I had much contact with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which keeps in touch with all Members. The council has made it clear to Members that it will shortly release a brief submission on the Bill. I note that the council has given a cautious welcome to the Bill and stressed that intelligence-led policing, and not the restriction of fair trial rights, is the most effective way to tackle gangland crime. I also note that the council’s chief executive, Mr. Mark Kelly, said the Bill “will, at last, place Garda surveillance on a lawful basis that broadly conforms to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights”. Mr. Kelly pointed out, on behalf of his organisation, that the “need for judicial authorisation of most forms of surveillance is welcome but it does remain unclear why it is felt acceptable to allow tracking devices to be placed on people’s vehicles on Garda authority alone”. He also points out that in the interest of the protection of privacy, his organisation has urged the Minister to “publicly disclose, before the Bill becomes law, the proposed content of the regulation foreseen in subsection 8(2) of the Bill in order to ensure that there will be a human rights compliant framework for use by gardaí of tracking devices”. Mr. Kelly said his organisation hopes the Bill will bring an end to the “patent nonsense mooted in recent days” regarding the expansion of the role of the Special Criminal Court, which would do nothing whatsoever to tackle the problem of witness intimidation. I quote Mr. Kelly’s words because it is important that we have balance in this debate.
I fully support the Bill. It is necessary. The Minister is responding to a situation which has been brought to his attention by colleagues on both sides of the House. We must continue to support those who uphold the law. Crime has been a problem throughout the ages. In times of economic recession fighting crime becomes even more challenging. I have lived in difficult times. I grew up in Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s. My grandmother, who died 43 years ago, lived in Stephen’s Street in the south inner city of Dublin when the British were still here. She had strong views about criminality and the importance of protecting the rights of citizens and those who were vulnerable. She abhorred petty crime. I often wonder how she would respond in modern days when committing crime has become so easy for some people. It is important that law and order be upheld at all times.
I do not wish to cause friction between my two colleagues on the front bench. I mentioned Deputy Peter Power earlier and I am glad my good friend, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea, is now present in the House. I want them to know that what is happening in Limerick has caused a reaction in my community in Tallaght. One often hears reference to the relationship between Limerick and Tallaght. I hope my three Limerick colleagues will not mind my saying that. What is happening in Limerick is something we should be upset about and I know the Minister, with his colleagues, has taken several recent initiatives in respect of those issues. I wish him and all public representatives in Limerick well. It is important that law and order should prevail. I am not afraid to visit Limerick and I hope to do so again soon. As Limerick colleagues come to Dublin to relax I go to Limerick to relax.
In contrast to the 1993 Act, authorisation to carry out surveillance under this Bill may be granted by a judge of the High Court. I apologise for my throat. Mentioning Limerick and Tallaght tends to dry my throat.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: I note that authorisation is granted by a judge of the District Court only in circumstances of exceptional urgency. I further note that the Bill is narrower than the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission in its 1998 report, which proposed judicial and administrative authorisation, a broadly based, flexible and workable system of authorisations, both judicial, granted by the District Court, and administrative, granted by a chief superintendent, which should be put in place and which would give the Garda Síochána the protection it needs in carrying out its function of the prevention and detection of crime.
I understand an application may be made to a judge by or on behalf of a superior officer of the Garda Síochána, Defence Forces or the Revenue Commissioners. Given the covert nature of the proposed surveillance these applications may be made without the other side or the public being present. I note an officer of the Garda Síochána may apply for authorisation if it is a necessary part of an investigation, the prevention of an arrestable offence or the maintenance of the security of the State. An arrestable offence is one which may be punished by imprisonment for five or more years.
I have welcomed the opportunity to make my brief contribution. It is important that we all support it and I sincerely do so. I am pleased to have taken the opportunity to continue to support the work of the Garda Síochána not only in my community, but throughout the country. We are all impressed by the attitude of the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Fachtna Murphy, in that regard. The responsibility of the House and the Government is to ensure that the Commissioner and the force continue to receive the resources, facilitates and services required to protect the public as much as possible not only in Limerick, Cork, Tallaght and Dublin South-West, but throughout the country.
I welcome the Bill and I agree with the approach of the Minister and his officials, but I have several queries I wish to raise related to some of the proposals about which I have concerns. I will come to these in due course. The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009 was promised by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform following the murder of the late Shane Geoghegan in November 2008. At the time we understood it would be introduced before Christmas 2008. However, it was not and it took another murder, that of Mr. Roy Collins, to provide the impetus for its publication.
The Garda Síochána and other State agencies have been involved in surveillance since the foundation of the State. That surveillance has a weak statutory basis and evidence gathered from the surveillance is inadmissible. The Bill provides a statutory basis for surveillance by the Garda Síochána, the Army and the Revenue Commissioners and the evidence gathered through surveillance will be admissible.
The procedures to be followed before surveillance takes place and the record keeping prescribed seem reasonable. The role of the Judiciary at various stages in the process is welcome, as are the provisions for complaint. However, some issues remain a cause for concern. Section 4 sets down the conditions under which a superior officer of the Garda Síochána, the Army or the Revenue Commissioners may apply to a judge for authorisation for surveillance. It is implicit in the section that the surveillance would be carried out by members of the Garda Síochána, the Army or the Revenue Commissioners. However, section 13, which makes provision to preserve confidentiality, lists the persons to which the section applies. These include members of the Garda Reserve and the Reserve Defence Forces. It is pointless including such people unless it is the intention of the Minister to have members of the Garda Reserve and the Reserve Defence Forces involved in surveillance. Otherwise, it is inexplicable — how would such people access confidential information, which must remain confidential under penalty? A period of up to 12 months in jail is the penalty set down. This is of concern and must be clarified. There is a mismatch between sections 4 and 13.
More worrying is the inclusion in the definition of “a relevant person” of persons “engaged under a contract or other arrangement to work with or for the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces or the Revenue Commissioners”. Upon reading this any normal person would believe the Minister intends to allow these agencies to employ contractors. The concept of private sector security contractors involved in surveillance does not appeal to me. The use of private sector contractors in security has become widespread both nationally and internationally. Their record in Iraq does not inspire confidence and I do not approve of private sector security contractors being involved in surveillance on behalf of State agencies. The Minister must explain to the House why the measures in section 13, which refer to the confidentiality of the procedures in which the Garda Síochána are engaged, would apply to contractors working on behalf of the Garda or persons who have entered other arrangements on behalf of the Garda. I presume it is not to allow for a situation where contract cleaners encounter documents on a night when they are cleaning a Garda station. This requires an explanation. There is a mismatch between sections 4 and 13. I cannot envisage a plausible explanation and I want the matter clarified as quickly as possible. I do not approve of private sector contractors involved in surveillance. It is simply not acceptable.
The provisions of section 7 are probably necessary. The duration of the emergency surveillance envisaged is confined to 72 hours but I believe this section may encounter constitutional difficulties. Its chance of not being struck down would be improved if the superior officer in the section were defined as an officer not below the rank of chief superintendent, rather than that of superintendent. There may be a case for extending the conditions required for authorisation beyond those listed in section 7(2), in which authorisation may be granted if there were a likelihood of absconding, obstructing the course of justice, destroying evidence, or if there is a likelihood that serious crime could be prevented.
The provision that authorisation may be sought if it was considered that a person was likely to commit an arrestable offence is too wide. The normal procedure is that the Garda must go to the District Court. If it does not do so and is permitted to proceed through the authorisation of a superior officer for surveillance for a 72-hour period without the authorisation of the district judge, then that is, by definition, an exceptional situation. The conditions under which that section operates should be exceptional. To state that for an arrestable offence, a superior officer may grant authorisation without recourse to the courts puts the measures on very thin constitutional ground. It seems the provision is only applicable in exceptional circumstances and in cases of urgency.
Let us suppose a child is kidnapped, there is a clear danger and no District Court judge is available. Then it is fine for the superintendent to authorise surveillance. The definition in the section refers to a case where the Garda suspect that an arrestable offence may occur but there are innumerable arrestable offences. The definition is too wide for an exceptional provision. I realise an arrestable offence is one for which a penalty of imprisonment for five years applies. Why not recast the section and have something along the lines of “if in the opinion of the Garda a murder or serious injury to a third party may take place”? If they only apply in exceptional cases, then the provisions under which the Garda may act in this way must be clearly seen to be exceptional.
I do not propose a full solution, but the section as drafted is constitutionally suspect. There must be specific grounds if one moves away from the procedure of authorisation from the District Court judge and vests the procedure in the hands of the Garda authorities, even though the period of surveillance would not pass 72 hours. The passing of the authorisation by a District Court judge should be exceptional as should the bypassing of authorisation by District Court judges, and the conditions which allow it should be quite specific and spelled out in law.
The final point I wish to raise is another section which should be more specific, section (5)(iv), which provides that a judge should not issue an authorisation if the surveillance being sought is likely to relate primarily to communications protected by privilege. This is fair enough in one way. The restriction on surveillance is unclear. We all know about privilege with regard to solicitor-client relationships, patient-doctor relationships, but would conversations between husbands and wives in gangland families be excluded? Is that not privileged also? What about gangsters being interviewed by journalists? Is that excluded? What about money-laundering financiers and gangster clients? Is that privileged and excluded? Just to say that privileged conversations and occasions are excluded is not enough. More detail must be given, if only in the interests of the District Court judges who will have to apply the law when an application goes before them.
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. This Bill is long overdue. In the wake of the murder of Shane Geoghegan we understood that this covert surveillance legislation would be forthcoming and now five months later and just after the terrible murder of Roy Collins it is being introduced. Many years ago when Deputy John O’Donoghue was the Fianna Fáil spokesman on justice, he spoke about zero tolerance. It is critical that these criminal gangs are taken on and it is ensured that law-abiding people feel safe because at the moment many people in Limerick do not feel safe. We must ensure that this legislation is enacted. Regulations are required for sections 7 and 8, for approval of surveillance in cases of urgency and the use of tracking devices and these sections must be considered on Committee Stage. These regulations, which will enable the Garda Síochána to proceed with proper covert surveillance, need to be brought in as soon as possible and any issues can be ironed out on Committee Stage.
The Garda Síochána is already involved in gathering evidence by means of covert surveillance but it is not admissible in a court of law. When this legislation is enacted, at the discretion of a District Court judge, the current legislation governing surveillance by the Garda Síochána could be considered with a view to being admissible. The Garda Síochána is already doing the work on the ground carrying out covert surveillance. We must enable the Garda Síochána to carry out its work which has been fantastic in Limerick in particular. They have gathered evidence by surveillance but it is not admissible in a court of law. I hope to raise this issue on Committee Stage and ask the Minister to consider it.
The video evidence of the interviewing of suspects by the Garda Síochána, which is not currently admissible, should be allowed as evidence in a court of law. A judge should be allowed see the video of an interview as it is a transparent means of gathering evidence.
I can talk knowledgeably about my own constituency of Limerick East. People want this issue dealt with. Regeneration projects are under way in the city but people living in those areas and in the wider city want the issue of gangland criminality dealt with. Innocent lives are being lost and gangland criminals are operating as if they are above and beyond the law. They have no fear about murdering people and think they will get away with their crime. This legislation should be applied to prevent people being murdered. I understand the Minister is carrying out a review of the bail laws. There should be no bail for murder and no bail for those caught in possession of a firearm. A person caught in possession of a firearm means to do harm and we cannot allow people to be out on bail. Murder should carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years, possession of illegal firearms should carry a sentence of ten years and automatic remission of sentence should be abolished with remission based instead on good behaviour. If evidence gathered by covert surveillance is to be admissible in a court of law, it is extremely important that the Director of Public Prosecutions is given the resources to deal with this additional work and the cut of 3% in the budget needs to be re-examined.
Membership of a criminal gang must be made an arrestable offence. I note the Minister has given an assurance that he is currently preparing proposals to this effect for Cabinet. The use of the Special Criminal Court must be considered. We need preventative measures. The leaders of these gangs are drawing younger people into the gangs and being a member of a gang is becoming a status symbol which is something it should not be. We must put these people out of circulation so that ordinary law-abiding people can live in their communities free of worry for their children, their parents and themselves.
There must be a review of the juvenile court system. The waiting times are too long. Young people are coming before the criminal courts a full year after a crime has been perpetrated and they may have moved on to committing more serious crimes. Resources must be put in place. Most of the gangland activity in Limerick is fuelled by drugs, greed and money and by heroin in particular. Heroin rather than cocaine is the growth drug in Limerick. An extra patrol boat is needed because there is only one patrol boat and one mobile scanner to cover the whole coastline. Once the drugs come into the country they will get to the cities and to areas like Limerick.
I have a worry about the numbers of gardaí in Limerick. A total of 40% of the members of the Garda Síochána have less than four years service experience and this is a worry. The knowledge to deal with gangland crime comes with experience and cannot be learned from a textbook. I commend the gardaí and detectives dealing with gangland crime in Limerick. They have years of experience. It is critical that these people are encouraged to remain in the service so that they can use their expertise. My worry is related to the embargo on recruitment and the taxation of gratuities which has been proposed in the budget. We cannot drive people out of the Garda Síochána because we need them to stay.
I welcome this legislation. I want it to be enacted and the Garda Síochána given the resources. I want people in Limerick to feel something practical is being given to the Garda to deal with gangland crime. As I mentioned earlier, the surveillance evidence already gathered by the Garda at the date the legislation comes into operation should be allowed to be used in a court of law at the discretion of the judge. That is critical. The regulations must come into being as quickly as possible in terms of enacting sections 7 and 8. We must bring in legislation that will make membership of a crime gang an arrestable offence and we must use the Special Criminal Court.
People might regard these measures as extreme but in recent months two innocent people have been killed. Shane Geoghegan was innocently returning home from the Canada-Ireland game and Roy Collins was going about his daily work in his business with his family. The Collins family upheld the law, and their son has been murdered for that. We, as a society and people, must act, show solidarity and bring in legislation to enable the Garda Síochána to deal with gangland crime and ensure these people are brought to justice. We need to bring in other measures such as denying bail to those caught in possession of an illegal firearm or accused of murder. We must increase the penalty for murder to a mandatory minimum of 25 years — it is currently approximately 15 years — and the penalty for possession of an illegal gun to ten years.
Limerick is a great city. The people who live throughout Limerick city are fantastic, sporting people. My colleagues will also know that. The problem is a certain criminal section which is a serious threat to the local communities in the city. We must deal with the issue. This legislation goes some way towards doing that but we must make membership of a criminal gang a criminal offence and I look forward to the proposals in the legislation the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will bring before Cabinet and the Dáil as soon as possible.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: I am glad to be able to address the House on this issue. I had the opportunity to listen to my constituency colleagues, Deputies Noonan and Kieran O’Donnell, and I have taken very careful note of what they said. Deputy Noonan made a point about the Garda Reserve and the Reserve Defence Forces and the apparent mismatch between sections 4 and 13. The Minister can deal with that matter in his winding-up speech and I will bring it to his attention. There is no question of private contractors carrying out surveillance. The reference in the section is to people such as Eircom technicians, computer experts, etc. I hear what Deputy Noonan says about section 7 and I accept his logic, but unfortunately it is based on a misinterpretation of section 7(2). Again, I will bring it to the Minister’s attention. Deputy Noonan raised the question of what is meant by “privilege” in section 5(4). In my opinion there is only one type of privilege known to the law, and that is the relationship between solicitor and client. Communications there are privileged and no other privilege is known to the law.
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell made the point about evidence already collected being admissible. That is a fair point and I will bring it to the Minister’s attention. The Deputy also made the point that the legislation should not stand alone but other measures are needed. I fully accept that and so does the Minister. The Minister has already discussed with his colleagues and the Cabinet various other measures he intends to bring forward. Listening to the tenor of Deputy Kieran O’Donnell’s remarks, I do not think he will be too disappointed when those other measures are published.
Last November this House came together to express its anger and outrage at the brutal and callous murder of Shane Geoghegan, whose family are friends of mine. The message we sent out then was that Shane’s murder, and the other crimes and violence we have seen in Limerick and elsewhere, would be met with the full force of the law, within the law. That we have done and will continue to do. We also stated clearly and forcibly that this Government would provide the Garda Síochána with whatever powers it deems fit to defeat the gangland leaders in Limerick and elsewhere. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform assured the Garda Commissioner that any additional assistance needed, whether legislative or by way of resources, to deal with the Limerick criminal gangs would be forthcoming.
This is precisely what we are doing today with this important legislation and, as I have indicated to Deputy Kieran O’Donnell, it will not stand alone. When passed, this Bill will enable the Garda to build on the successes it has had in its fight against gangland crime in Limerick to date. This legislation is particularly important to me as Minister for Defence because I have a role in the matter, which I will address presently. It is vitally important to me as a representative of the people of Limerick.
The vicious slayings of Shane Geoghegan and Roy Collins, and the earlier slaying of Brian Fitzgerald, all of whose families are friends of mine, with the Collins family particularly close friends, has horrified and appalled every right-thinking person across the country. Shane, Roy and Brian were decent, honourable and respected citizens of Limerick. Both Shane and Roy contributed positively to the social, business and sporting life of our city, but were murdered at the behest of people who continue to show nothing but contempt for the value of human life and the people of Limerick.
With the murders of Shane Geoghegan and Roy Collins the leaders of these gangs have demonstrated the threat they pose to the State and to decent society. The message they sent with the killing of Roy Collins was very clear and unambiguous: “If you dare open your mouth we will get you, no matter how long it takes.” No State or society can allow a small number of people to hold it to ransom in this way. Theirs is not a criminality born of want or need. Theirs is not a criminality born of neglect or a deprived childhood. What they inflict on the people of Limerick is beyond criminality. Those who lead these gangs and who order such killings are motivated by sheer greed, depravity and vindictiveness, whether they operate in Limerick, Dublin or elsewhere. They confuse callousness with toughness and inhumanity with bravery. It is all the more sinister that many of these gangs, particularly those in Limerick, have close associations with dissident republican paramilitaries.
The people of Limerick have been shocked and stunned by the sheer ferocity, depravity and vindictiveness of what has happened in recent months. The fact the Collins family, a family deep in mourning for their son, are still being intimidated and threatened demonstrates the absolute inhumanity of those who persecute them. The people of Limerick are angry and frustrated. They want to see the people truly responsible for the killings of Roy Collins and Shane Geoghegan put away. By “responsible” they do not mean just those who carried out the crimes. They also want those who ordered those killings from a safe distance to be punished.
That, among other things, is what this legislation is designed to do. It will help the Garda Síochána in its mission to punish the gangland leaders who pull the strings from a safe distance and send their people out to do these unspeakable deeds. Where evidence cannot be obtained from witnesses, because they are terrified of gangland intimidation of them or their families, we will have the means to use the criminals’ conversations, actions and movements in evidence against them. We are empowering our law enforcement and security organisations to use as evidence or corroboration the information and intelligence gathered by a range of methods on the conversations, movements, contacts and methods of operation of key individuals and criminal gangs.
My colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has set out the main provisions of the Bill. As Minister for Defence I want to briefly address certain aspects of the Bill as it pertains to the Defence Forces. The Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces perform complementary roles in the protection of the security of the State. There is ongoing and close liaison between the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding internal security matters including in the intelligence field. The Garda Síochána has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. In the intelligence field, the Defence Forces act in a complementary role, primarily regarding the gathering and analysis of intelligence on paramilitary activities, while also providing intelligence on external threats. Military intelligence is also responsible for ensuring the security of the Defence Forces against internal threats. This Bill provides a legislative basis for surveillance activities carried out by the security services of the State, including the Defence Forces, in respect of their role in protecting the security of this State.
Deputies will be aware that throughout the period of the Troubles the Defence Forces were deployed extensively in support of the Garda Síochána in protecting the State against the threat from paramilitaries. In this regard it is vitally important that the Defence Forces have the capacity to undertake surveillance and other intelligence-gathering activities to support them in this role and to target their operations. They continue to support the Garda in respect of the potential threat from dissidents and international terrorists. They are also engaged in monitoring and assessing any potential emerging threats. Although the assessment of the threat from international terrorism in Ireland is low it is not one we can ignore. The collection of intelligence and information, including through surveillance, is vital to ensuring the security of the State against any potential threat.
Military intelligence also supports the internal security mechanisms within the Defence Forces to ensure that the security of the Defence Forces and its installations are not compromised. This Bill will support the important activities carried out by the Defence Forces in protecting the security of the State and, perhaps more important now, in supporting the Garda Síochána. It will also enable information and material gained through such surveillance to be admitted as evidence in trials for arrestable offences. At the same time, the Bill also introduces a range of protections in terms of surveillance activities carried out by the security services of the State whereby authorisation of a District Court judge will be required in most cases for the carrying out of such surveillance. The Bill also makes provision for a judicial mechanism to deal with complaints, and for separate oversight of the operation of the Bill by a judge of the High Court.
This legislation is important to me, as Minister for Defence, because it enables and supports our Defence Forces in their important tasks of protecting the State and supporting the Garda Síochána. I also reiterate its particular importance to me, as a long-standing representative of the people of Limerick. This is one of the most important pieces of legislation I have been associated with in my time in Dáil Éireann. Although it is balanced in its provisions, it is a powerful and groundbreaking initiative in nailing crime gang bosses. The leaders of such gangs in Limerick and elsewhere may feel they are invincible. They will learn in time, as others have learned across the world, they are not.
Deputy M. J. Nolan: I am pleased this Bill has come before the House and I commend the Minister on its introduction. It is unfortunate that an interpretation may be that it has taken the deaths of Shane Geoghegan and Roy Collins to have had it brought forward. However, I wish it every success and a speedy passage through the House.
It is important to put on record that it is not only Limerick which has been affected badly by the crime bosses of this century. There is not a town, an urban or rural area in this country that has not seen the effects of drugs, the impact of drug abuse and the huge amounts of money made from this vile trade.
I understand the position of the previous speakers in this Second Stage debate who are mostly from Limerick. Rural Irish towns are being affected badly by drug abuse. We must commend the work of the Garda who are trying to limit the effects of the drug problem in our country. I support 100% the efforts being made by the Minister to put legislation in place to support the security forces, both the Garda and the Defence Forces. It is interesting to note the Revenue Commissioners have been included. That is a move I welcome because if we did not take some action to support the efforts of our security forces very soon the Garda in particular would become fed up with the abuse its members receive at the hands of these thugs. It is interesting to view television clips of these individuals being brought into court. The contempt with which they treat the gardaí and the courts is something to behold.
In that light, I wish to outline my reservations concerning the way this country can continue to support the legal aid these individuals receive. This is a difficult area to police but it beggars belief that individuals who have a track record as long as one’s arm can be brought into court having driven up in four wheel drive vehicles with ’08 or ’09 registrations. They get out, go in and are represented by individual barristers or legal professionals who are paid by the State and by the taxpayer in the very areas where they ply their trade outside the court.
Perhaps the Minister cannot deal with this matter in this Bill. However at some stage in respect of future legislation I would like him to examine cases in which there is a track record of individuals being brought to court. It might be possible to look at the evidence given against them or the verdicts delivered on them. If there is a continuing record of these individuals being found guilty for whatever type of crime it may be, then at some stage we must call stop and say that these people are not entitled to and should not be dependent on legal aid from the State that gets them off the hook. I believe that measure would receive widespread support not only from the public but from gardaí.
Having looked at the legislation I wonder whether it goes far enough. Perhaps there is scope to examine the Bill and see whether some more draconian measures might be implemented in it. If safeguards are required then let us have a time limit for the renewal of the legislation, whether in six months or a year. In order to have public support for the legislation we are implementing now and that it be seen in a positive light, it is important that the security agencies, namely, the gardaí and the Defence Forces, do not overuse it. Let us not take the easy option every time and go to this form of surveillance in order to gather evidence. If the evidence can be gathered through normal channels let this be done. It is only in extreme cases that the security agencies should resort to the contents of this legislation.
In addition, it is worth noting that this country is party to international treaties that will have a direct bearing on the operation of the Bill when it is enacted, as we hope it will be. We are party to the European Convention on Human Rights and in that regard we must be mindful that the convention states that everybody has the right to respect with regard to his or her private and family life, home and correspondence. I trust that when the Minister drafted this Bill he looked at the implications of this, and that in three or four months time when aspects of the legislation are being implemented and when individuals are charged, as one hopes they will be, we will not find a conflict, or that some of the individuals in question might look to the European Convention on Human Rights as a way out for the charges preferred against them. I hope that area has been covered well and I trust it has.
I briefly mention another matter, namely, Garda numbers. This Minister and others have gone a long way to ensure that Garda numbers have been increased and this is all very welcome. They should be put in areas where the need is greatest as I believe they will. Urban areas must be tackled immediately.
There is also an issue concerning the imposition of jail sentences by judges. This continues to be source of irritation, not only to me but to many people. A criminal is sentenced to ten years in prison but one finds that after four, five or even six years that person is free once more. Can we not reach a position where, if a judge gives a sentence of ten years, the particular person serves ten years? If it is the judge’s intention that such a person should serve only six years, let him or her say so, but this charade of giving a sentence of ten years in the full knowledge that only six will be served, is doing neither the Judiciary nor the legal system any credit.
It is unfortunate that it has taken the death of two individuals before this legislation has come before the House. I acknowledge the efforts being made by the Minister, the Department and the Defence Forces in bringing it to fruition now. I hope it has a speedy passage and that those aspects of the legislation in terms of its constitutionality and how it deals with our partnership as part of the European Human Rights Convention have been examined comprehensively so that we may be able to see the implementation of this Bill in the short term.
Deputy Seán Sherlock: I welcome the publication of the Bill. I acknowledge the work of Deputy Pat Rabbitte in introducing the Garda Síochána (Powers of Surveillance) Bill, which I believe is the forerunner to the legislation before the House today. I also acknowledge the very helpful document published by the Oireachtas Library and Research service, which was an invaluable source for me, in particular, in seeking to interpret the legislation.
The basis on which we would support the legislation is the morass that exists in Irish society today. This is exemplified by the spate of ruthless killings we have borne witness to over a number of years. The question outside these walls is whether the tipping point has been reached — and whether this legislative proposal will facilitate that tipping point to restore some semblance of peace, again, on our streets. We were previously told that the murder of Veronica Guerin was the turning point in the context of gangland killings. That point came and went and now we are being told that the murder of Shane Geoghegan in Limerick is the turning point. I hope it is, and I continue to hope that this legislation, while it will not be a panacea, will facilitate a process that will allow the Garda Síochána to have the necessary tools to allow it to carry out its work in this regard.
As Deputy Rabbitte has said recently, in outlining the Labour Party position on this, the fundamental question is whether the response by way of legislation is reasonable, legitimate and proportionate. I believe that it is and that the Garda must be given powers to respond in a manner that facilitates a preventative mechanism. The powers within this legislation, on first reading, would deem that to be the case. I am encouraged, also, by the statement on 17 April by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which gave a cautious welcome to the Bill. Its statement said that intelligence-led policing and not the restriction of fair trial rights was the most effective way to tackle gangland crime. I refer specifically to Mr. Mark Kelly, the ICCL’s director who stated that the Bill would at last place Garda surveillance on a lawful basis that broadly conforms to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. He went on to say that the need for judicial authorisation of most forms of surveillance was welcome. However, it remained unclear why it was felt unacceptable to allow tracking devices to be placed on people’s vehicles on Garda authority alone.
While the ICCL has reservations, I am sure many of them can be worked through on the later Stages of the Bill. Mr. Kelly said that in the interests of protection of privacy, the ICCL was urging the Minister to publicly disclose before the Bill becomes law the proposed content of the regulations foreseen in section 8(2) in order to ensure that there will be a human rights framework for the use by gardaí of tracking devices. I understand that Deputy Rabbitte stated earlier that this would also be teased out on later Stages. However, I welcome the ICCL’s support while appreciating its concerns in relation to Article 8 under the European Convention of Human Rights 2003, and the recognition of the need to ensure that the right to a fair trial is maintained, or not compromised in any way.
I hope that putting into effect an explicit statutory provision in relation to surveillance will assuage any fears regarding the rights of an individual and the need to reduce crime. I believe that ICCL support for this, while qualified, is significant. My interpretation of this support is that there is no danger such an Act would contravene Article 40.3 of the Constitution in term of the personal rights of the citizen. Such Article 40.3 rights are germane to the tipping point or the turning point I spoke of earlier. What Shane Geoghegan’s murder teaches us is that at some crucial point the personal rights of a citizen must not be unqualified. That is to say, they are not absolute. If we are to pursue his killers and those of others, then the constitutional rights of some must be subservient to the common good, and as the late Mr. Justice Hamilton previously stated, subject to the requirements of public order and morality.
I believe that is what this legislation is about. It is about ensuring that we can reach a stage where a person’s personal rights are vindicated but that the common good and the desire for the rule of law is maintained or restored within this country. We need to get to a point where we can have some confidence that the powers the Garda have will be used to such an extent.
If I was never involved in the legislative process, I would still take the view that it is necessary for the Garda to have such powers to enable it to carry out its functions. That this Bill will provide a statutory framework for carrying out such surveillance by gardaí and others is the right approach at this time. In fact, it is overdue and if the gardaí are not given such powers, then the morass that this society finds itself in, which incorporates the slaughter of innocents, will continue and go unpunished in some cases.
In addressing the specific provisions of the Bill, there are a number of questions to which I seek answers. Section 5 provides that “an authorisation may be made ex parte and shall be heard otherwise than in public”. I hope that the power to seek authorisation for surveillance in such circumstances is balanced against the power of the judge to grant a specific authorisation. If I interpret that provision correctly, there is no onus on the superior officer to state a particular offence and I hope that this power will be used wisely. However, I am satisfied the specifications in regard to the authorisation leave no grounds for a potential abuse of power.
Section 5 outlines that where an authorisation is sought, there are specifics in regard to the particulars of the surveillance device authorised to be used, the person who or the place or thing to be the subject of the surveillance, the name of the superior officer to whom it is issued, the conditions subject to which the authorisation is issued and the date of expiry. It is necessary that there are specific provisions within that authorisation which will ensure there is no vagueness about the authorisation and, therefore, it will not be potentially open to abuse. I welcome that provision in regard to the authorisation and I hope it will be stringently adhered to when implemented.
In regard to sections 5 and 6, where an authorisation is sought, it may authorise the superior officer named in it or any member of the Garda Síochána, member of the Defence Forces or officer of the Revenue Commissioners designated by that superior officer. There is a provision where a superior officer may seek the authorisation but that any other member of the Garda Síochána can also be subject to that authorisation. If another garda who is not a superior officer is subject to that provision, is he or she named in it?
If we are to grant new powers of surveillance, will there be specific training or will resources be allocated to train junior officers under the legislation? If the legislation is to work, it must be on the basis that every officer, whether in the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces, is given specific training which will ensure there is no scope to challenge the provisions of the legislation thereafter where criminal proceedings are brought. Will the Minister address that in his reply?
I refer to section 8. What does the Minister interpret as a “tracking device”? I have watched many cop shows and we all know what a tracking device is. In practical terms, how will this play out? I know it provides for specific vehicles to be tracked. I would like to hear the Minister’s take on that section when he responds to the debate.
I refer to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the powers vested in section 11. There is a complaints procedure in the legislation which states specifically that recommendations can be made and that a matter can be reported to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. What are the powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in regard to the legislation? There is a reporting procedure but is there a power of intervention or recommendation which must be acted upon where a complaint is made?
I understand the provision in regard to the power of a Circuit Court judge and the complaints referee. That is very clear. However, the powers in regard to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission are unclear to me and I would like a more specific interpretation of that.
I hope from a societal point of view, that we have reached a tipping point where we can now restore some semblance of peace on our streets and that once this legislation is enacted, there will be a pressure on people who have acted with impunity which will stymie their activities and put them out of business for a long time to come. It is necessary to enact this legislation and in that sense, I welcome it. It will not provide a panacea for all our ills but it will provide the start of a real process which will restore some semblance of peace.
Deputy Brendan Kenneally: I warmly welcome this legislation which is long overdue but I well understand the hesitation up to now to introduce what many people might regard as an extreme measure. Everyone in Ireland accepts we have an extreme situation on our hands in certain parts of the country in regard to organised and violent crime and that we need stronger than normal measures to combat it. Everyone wants, and is entitled to, his or her privacy. In an ideal world, we would not introduce or support such a measure as this. However, we are responsible for, and accountable to, every citizen of this State and it is our duty to see they are protected by every reasonable measure and by taking whatever lawful action is deemed necessary at any given time.
The people are crying out for action against the growing criminal element which is seeking to take over areas of our cities and towns. This is one more step in what has been a progressive programme of action in passing legislation, providing resources and signalling through the law enforcement agencies of the State, that gangland violence is totally unacceptable and will be opposed with every resource at our disposal.
I congratulate the Garda on the fine job it has done under very difficult circumstances. We have seen the level of threats these criminals have levelled against innocent people and the level of violence, including murder, which they employ to maintain their evil empires. The Garda is not exempt from these threats or immune from their actions and yet they go out on a daily basis and place themselves in harms way on behalf of every citizen. If there is something we can do or some measure we can enact, it is our bounden duty to do it.
Having grown up against the background of violence in Northern Ireland that occasionally spilled over into this jurisdiction, it was one of my happiest days when the Good Friday Agreement was signed which signalled the beginning of the end of paramilitary violence. I do not wish to see that violent regime replaced by an equally violent criminal one and that is why I have no reservation in supporting the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill. I congratulate the Minister on bringing the Bill forward and my only questions are those seeking clarification of certain points.
It is time we further tipped the scales in favour of those who support a lawful society. I have no sympathy for the position held by those who say this is an infringement of civil liberties. Our freedoms are, by necessity, dictated by the society in which we live. While we all aspire to the perfect society, in which everyone is treated equally, it is the criminals who introduce inequality into our system, unfortunately. Intruding into people’s privacy is not something we should or do take lightly. Certain measures have been forced on us. We must react accordingly. CCTV cameras have been installed in many towns, including Dungarvan in my constituency. Those who were uneasy when CCTV facilities were first proposed have come to accept them. They give a measure of assurance to those who use our streets at night. They offer a general feeling of security to everyone. The vast majority of our citizens, who are law-abiding and guilt-free, have nothing to fear from CCTV cameras. If such facilities help to catch a rapist or a murderer, or to thwart criminals in the areas they cover, they are worth every penny invested in them and the minor unease they might cause.
While the provisions of this Bill might be seen as intrusive, they will deliver beneficial returns over the years to come. People will come to accept them as they have accepted other legislation about which they were originally concerned. Law-abiding citizens do not need to have any fears. The Garda Síochána has proven itself to be a trustworthy organisation. It is an honest custodian of the wide-ranging powers it has been given over the years. I am more than willing to trust the Garda with the latest tool we are giving the force to help it to fight serious crime. It is up to us to ensure that sufficient safeguards are built into the system. Civil liberties and rights are for everyone, including those who live in daily terror of the gangs that keep them in subjugation and in constant fear of their lives. Such people are entitled to walk the streets without the threat of being hit by a stray bullet. They have the right to live in peace without trembling at the sight of well-known criminals when they cross their path. The people to whom I refer should not have to wonder if they will be the next victim of retaliation for a real or imagined slight or offence. A recent revenge attack took place over five years after the incident that prompted it.
Those of us who are familiar with the problems in Limerick know how easy it can be for feuds to start. We know how difficult it can be to get people into the witness box to testify against known gang members or their lesser partners. Feuds and criminality are inclined to dominate our law-enforcement agenda. It is our duty to discharge to the fullest extent our role in combating the rise in the power of the gangs. We acknowledge and applaud those who have taken a stand by stepping back into the witness box at great personal risk and giving valuable testimony to contribute to the reaching of a guilty verdict. Some of those people have paid a supreme price for their bravery in doing their civic duty. It behoves us to vindicate their courageous stand by doing all in our power to ensure that everyone involved in criminality is brought to justice.
While I laud those who intervene to try to stop violence, I cringe when I see newspaper headlines declaring that a feud has come to an end, accompanied by photographs showing known gangsters shaking hands for the benefit of the cameras. We need to be a little more responsible, for example by ensuring that we do not reward criminals by giving them cosy column inches. They should not be applauded for not murdering each other and not beating up their so-called rivals, particularly when they continue to terrorise innocent people in housing estates. Criminals, by their very nature, are secretive people. They are not particularly intelligent, however, in many cases. In the case of Limerick alone, more than 50 serious criminals have been successfully put through the legal system and lodged in prison for varying lengths of time. They have generally received long sentences as a result of good policing on the part of the Garda. I do not doubt that this process has saved many innocent lives in the community. How much more effective might this campaign have been if the Garda had been able to acquire vital information about the movements of gang members and the potential for crimes to be committed? How much more effective might it be in the future as a result of this legislation, which deals with such scenarios? I have no doubt about its success. The Garda is entitled to our active support, where we can provide it through measures that are justified.
This country’s drug culture, which has long since started to pervade all levels of society, is destroying communities. It has been pointed out previously — it bears repeating — that those normally law-abiding citizens who purchase so-called “recreational” drugs each weekend represent, perhaps unwittingly, a significant part of the problem. If there were no drug users and buyers, there would be no drugs trade, no financing of greater criminality, fewer guns and fewer deaths on our streets. Everyone has a contribution to make in this respect, including people in comfortable suburbia who think the ills of society are other people’s problems and are well away from them.
Evidence is a requirement of our criminal justice system. I have no problem with the gathering of evidence through secret surveillance, as long as the proper safeguards are in place and are adhered to. I note that the Bill requires the District Court to give its approval to any surveillance operation, so that the evidence that is gleaned can be used in court. I am happy that this will be the case. Secrecy is paramount in all such matters. I wonder who, other than the relevant judge, will know that a surveillance order has been made. Will the decision of the court have to be typed up and filed by a junior member of the court’s administrative staff, thus widening the circle of people who know about it? Is it the Minister’s intention that the Garda will generate such records? After all, the Garda has an established record of confidentiality, as proven by the multiple dawn raids it has kept secret and implemented in recent times. The Garda has been able to co-ordinate searches of up to 30 premises, involving 100 officers, without prior word of the operation leaking out and tipping its hand.
The Bill makes provision for surveillance to be authorised in the absence of a judge in cases of emergency — for example, if it is deemed likely that a suspect may abscond or destroy evidence or, more seriously, if the security of the State is threatened. In such circumstances, a senior Garda officer of superintendent rank or above may authorise such surveillance. I note that such an order would last for 72 hours only, which should be sufficient to allow evidence to be placed before a proper court and the order extended, if appropriate. What if a judge later decides that there had not been sufficient urgency to warrant the making of such an order by a senior Garda? Will all the evidence that was collected under such an authorisation be null and void? What will happen if an order is made allowing a bug to be placed on foot of a suspicion that a person is dealing seriously in drugs, but evidence of a different crime, such as gun smuggling or sex trafficking, is uncovered? Will that evidence remain valid? Will it be allowed by the courts even though it was discovered during surveillance that was originally authorised for a different reason?
Section 11 is important because it provides for a system of complaints, which will initially be made through the Circuit Court. It is essential for people to be clearly seen to have access to their records, to a review of their cases and to compensation if it is found that the surveillance was not justified. Access to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is also possible. Perhaps that will give the best guarantee of reasonable behaviour on the part of the force. I am pleased that it is proposed to give the High Court the power of oversight of the orders that are made. It will be an avenue for complaints. I am happy to note that safeguards will exist in respect of the justification of the surveillance, the duration of the operation and the level of intrusiveness in each case. The secure storage of documentation and other records that are generated by the surveillance will also be required. The Minister has gone to some lengths to ensure that the intrusion into people’s private lives, and the resultant risks to people’s character and good name, are kept to a minimum.
I ask the Minister to clarify whether the tapping of the telephones of Ministers, Members of the Oireachtas, serving gardaí of all ranks and judges will be permitted under this Bill. Will everyone be subject to this legislation? Does the Minister propose to nominate exemptions? Does the Minister intend to make available some sort of general information about the number of orders made, or the general extent of the surveillance carried out, on an annual basis? Will a tally be kept of the bugging devices that are installed, the telephone lines that are tapped or the other means that are used to gather intelligence? I do not think people would look for specific details, but it would be valuable to provide for an indication of the level of usage of this process. It seems odd that we would not use all the modern electronic means available to us to gather information. These days of Google Earth and the most up-to-date electronic technology are a far cry from the days when employees of the then Department of Posts and Telegraphs had to climb poles to use what was known as a “spare pair”. In those days, spare telephone lines were used to eavesdrop on telephone conversations.
We live in dangerous times, as I have already said. Society is under threat and must be protected. People live in fear, which must be eliminated. I wholeheartedly support this reasonable method of trying to achieve that.
I note that the Bill specifically mentions the Defence Forces which include the Naval Service, the Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners. The National Fisheries Protection Authority about whose activities I have serious reservations is not mentioned. Its members go about their duties in a heavy-handed manner and adopt an unreasonable stance in some situations. One person described them to me as the “gardaí of the sea”. However, they behave differently to gardaí who are mainly willing to adopt a degree of flexibility and common sense in policing, recognising that they are there to serve the people as well as to implement the law. They have rightly earned and enjoy the respect of the majority of people which is hard won and not easy to retain.
I am less than happy about the approach and unreasonable attitude of the National Fisheries Protection Authority whose attitude to policing is best described as blind justice at its worst. I have recently come across cases in which its approach was heavy-handed and its obdurate attitude imposed the distress, expense and hardship of a lengthy trial on hardworking and law-abiding fishermen before the trial was prematurely ended by a judge who clearly sympathised with the fishermen’s position. Such cases bring the justice system into disrepute and generate hostility and disrespect for the agencies of the State and do more harm than good. I would like the Minister to outline what role, if any, this body has in respect of this Bill.
There is a serious threat to our social framework. No society can allow organised crime to dictate to the State. There is a history in the past century of governments taking the kind of action, sometimes violent, which would otherwise not be entertained. This Bill thankfully does not propose any such approach. It proposes measures designed to be effective in gathering evidence so that the criminal justice system can work as it was designed to do. This discommodes only criminals and it is hoped that it may lift some of the onus to testify in court from ordinary people. If law-breakers can be convicted by their own words and recorded actions I am quite happy and unreservedly support this measure and thank the Minister for bringing it forward.
Deputy Michael Ring: I wish to share time with Deputy Crawford. I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill. The previous speaker spoke a great deal of sense. He asked whether the telephones of Ministers, Deputies and Senators would be exempt from the legislation. I hope they are because the Deputy may remember that not many years ago members of Fianna Fáil were ahead of their time in tapping one another’s telephones. I hope those days are gone and will not come back.
Deputy Michael Ring: Those people were very sophisticated when they did that. I welcome the Bill because Fine Gael has looked for these measures for a long time. We put our own Bill forward and it was voted down. I am glad that the Government has brought this legislation forward. A few weeks ago I read that the Human Rights Commission was not happy with the first draft of the Bill but saw in one of yesterday’s newspapers that it welcomed it in principle, with some minor reservations.
I welcome the provision that a garda must go before a judge to get permission to put surveillance on a person’s home. The gardaí must always be answerable to somebody and somebody else must make that decision. If a garda does this without the permission of a judge what sanctions does he or she face? I would appreciate if the Minister could answer that question when he concludes this Stage. We must ensure that this does not happen.
Some private investigators use very sophisticated equipment to spy on people and get information. How does the law cover them or will it cover them? What sanctions do they face if they break the law because they will not get permission from a judge?
I welcome this legislation because the members of the Garda Síochána have held the most difficult job in this country since the foundation of the State. They do it well and put their lives at risk. I recently attended the funeral of a fine young man in Swinford, which is in my county, who was serving the State well. This is a great loss to his family. I would like that people who attack gardaí never see the light of day again. We need some legislation to deal with that problem. I hope legislation will come before this House that will protect anybody, whether the Garda Síochána, medical workers, ambulance drivers, who works on behalf of the State and is attacked by thugs at any hour of the night when doing his or her civic duty. The legislation covering the killing or injuring of a garda is not enough. I believe in law and order and that people who attack the gardaí must if convicted spend a long time in jail. I would go even further but my party would not share my view on what should happen to some of these criminals.
The gardaí have a very difficult job. They are dealing with sophisticated criminals who have lots of money to hire professional people including legal specialists and accountants. They have the resources, the money and the manpower. In some cases our gardaí do not have the manpower, the resources or the backup they need and they are frustrated, when, after working hard on a case to bring it to court they are not able to prosecute a serious criminal. Something needs to be done about that. The gardaí think they can get a conviction but because of some technicality, such as a letter not signed or something else not done, these people walk away from the courts and are on the streets again giving the finger to the Garda Síochána and to the State.
These criminals have no respect for human life, they drive up on motorbikes or walk into pubs and put a gun to a man’s or woman’s head and shoot to kill. What is wrong with these people? We must deal with them. The decent, honest hardworking people of Limerick have suffered on account of a few families over recent years. Their county and city have got a bad name because of feuds between these families. We must stop them. There were also feuds recently between families in local authority estates in the midlands. The gardaí should be given the resources to deal with this. Otherwise, the Army should be brought in to deal with these dangerous armed criminals.
A young man was killed recently because a family member gave evidence against serious criminals. According to the newspapers this week the criminals are again threatening his family. This is a small country of only 4.5 million people. I do not know why we cannot deal with these criminals. They are dangerous. They are in the drug trade, robbing banks and intimidating people. Surely we can introduce the legislation to give the Garda the necessary resources and backup to deal with these criminals who are the scourge of the country and are giving it a bad name.
I have referred before to people with no known wealth who are driving BMWs and Mercedes, as well as having three or four homes. Some of them are drawing social welfare and pretending that they are dependent on it. We should be giving powers to the Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners and the Criminal Assets Bureau to identify such people in all our communities. If they can show that they won money on the lotto, then by all means they are entitled to it. In that regard, I want to congratulate the usher staff of this House who recently won €1 million on the lotto. The win was well spread out and they deserve it. I am delighted for them and hope they enjoy it. At least they can show where they got that money, but I see people in my own community who do not work driving around in big cars. We all know what they are at, so the Garda Síochána should be given whatever powers it needs to deal with them. These serious criminals must be dealt with. Something must be done because we cannot continue with people being frightened by gangsters who are roaming around the place. We saw it again last night in Tipperary where they were driving around five or six pharmacies. The time has come to give the Garda Síochána the support required to deal with such criminals because the number of murders taking place has got out of hand.
As regards the Bill before us, I welcome the Garda ombudsman’s role. Everybody has to be regulated but nobody should be regulating themselves. If someone makes a complaint against the Garda Síochána, the ombudsman’s office can deal with it. If there is a complaint under the terms of this legislation, a person will be able to deal with it in the High Court.
The Judiciary does a good job and has a major role to play. In some cases, suspected criminals have the financial resources to hire the best legal advice in the country. The time has come for whatever legislation is needed to combat such criminal activity and the Opposition will not be found wanting in its support for such laws. Fine Gael is the party of law and order and will always support what is right for the country, including whatever legislation must be introduced to deal with these criminals who are roaming around the country murdering people and committing other crimes.
It is a small country so we should be able to deal with the problem by isolating those involved. We should not let these people operate as if they were above the law. People ask me regularly whether these criminals are above the law, but I say they are not. We have always had a good police force in this country since the foundation of the State. I want to congratulate both the newly appointed Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, and the reappointed Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, who are present. I wish them well and must tell them that my grand-uncle, Michael Staines from Newport, helped to establish the Garda Síochána. When he had to make a decision which side to take, he took the Free State side.
I welcome this legislation which I hope will go a long way towards dealing with these criminals who must be tackled. The Garda Síochána is doing a good job in difficult circumstances and must be given the required backup. However, the Garda Síochána should not abuse its powers, but rather use them to deal with the criminals we need to tackle. I hope the gardaí are successful because these criminals seem to be getting more and more powerful. We need to deal with them by taking them out of the system.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill, which is a necessary support for the Garda Síochána. I thank my colleague, Deputy Ring, for sharing time with me. As he said, Fine Gael proposed a similar Bill not so long ago, which was rejected by the Government. Thank goodness this Bill is now before the House but, unfortunately, not before further deaths have occurred.
The Bill provides for the first time a legal basis for secret surveillance by the organs of the State. In his earlier contribution, the Minister said the legislation will allow for the use of secret electronic surveillance devices which are specifically designed to eavesdrop, film, monitor movements and record information. The Bill seeks to regulate the use of such devices by the interests concerned.
Secret surveillance is invasive and intrusive, but the death of a loved one as a result of the abuse by others who are using many secret devices is extremely serious. I certainly welcome anything we can do to ensure that is stopped. The Garda Síochána will welcome this measure. Earlier this week, I attended one of the Garda policing committees where it was made clear that they welcomed a number of changes that have been made in the past year or so. Those changes have allowed them to deal with situations in different ways, especially the issue of crowd control.
Up to now the Garda Síochána has been reluctant to use such evidence in court, mainly for legal and operational reasons. It is important, however, that gardaí will now be able to use the benefit of sophisticated surveillance devices, which are essential tools towards that end.
The Minister cited two exceptions to the requirement, which is an important point. I agree that there must be control over such matters, but some of the persons involved in these serious crimes will not wait for the judicial process to take its course. It is therefore important that exceptions are allowed for and that people can adhere to them if there is a likelihood of a suspect escaping. The second issue of tracking devices is equally important.
A key element of the Bill is to facilitate the use of surveillance material as evidence in criminal proceedings in light of some of the cases that have come about. I am thinking specifically of issues that arose outside this jurisdiction, in Omagh, where lack of evidence was the main issue in failing to prosecute those responsible for the most serious incident arising in the history of the Troubles. Some 29 people were murdered in that bombing, including a woman pregnant with twins.
Coming from the Border area, as I do, one cannot help but think of issues such as oil laundering and smuggling in general. The death of a young garda in Donegal has already been mentioned. These issues bring home to us the pressures on gardaí and what they have to put up with. It is vital that all possible help is given to them to try to stop such criminality. This week, policing committees, especially in the Clones district, have been discussing the ongoing activities of difficult people in the Border areas on a stretch of road just outside Clones. There is no doubt that if proper surveillance could be used it would be much easier to catch those people and deal with them. While they are not murdering people, as is happening in Limerick, they are causing enormous distress to families in that area. Part of the road that goes through Northern Ireland is being used for joy-riding by cars, motorbikes and quads. Unfortunately, their use of electronic devices means they know when gardaí are approaching the Border or the PSNI is arriving on the scene. It is important, therefore, that the Garda is also able to use such devices.
One cannot overstate the tragedy of Limerick. It is one of the reasons the Fine Gael Party, of which I am proud to be a member, is so committed to the issue of law and order. It is unforgivable that a person’s family can be placed at risk when he or she gives evidence in court. No one wants to live in a country where that is possible. It is essential, therefore, that every possible tool is made available to the Garda to ensure thugs and criminals are brought to justice in a proper and expeditious manner. If the Garda delivers justice, it will send out a clear message to individuals who may be inclined to become involved in criminal activity, that crime is not an option.
We are moving into a difficult period with large numbers of people facing unemployment. Many young people in my area and further north do not remember the Troubles and they may be easily led into engaging in activity whose outcome they do not understand. It is vital that these young people see that means are available to bring those who do wrong to justice.
I welcome the decision to introduce a Bill to address the attachment of fines. It is wrong that gardaí drive out to people’s homes to collect fines when the force should be fully utilised to catch those engaged in smuggling, murder and other illegal activities. We must ensure it is able to pursue these crimes. For years, we have been promised that gardaí who sit behind desks doing jobs that could be done by civilians will be released to perform other duties. I ask the Minister to ensure as many gardaí as possible are made available to utilise surveillance equipment, as permitted under the legislation, and bring criminals to justice.
Deputy Mattie McGrath: I am pleased to contribute to the debate on the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009. The purpose of the Bill is to provide a proper statutory basis for the existing work of the Garda Síochána, Defence Forces, Revenue Commissioners and Customs and Excise, as appropriate, in the use of secret surveillance methods in preventing and detecting serious crime and safeguarding the security of the State against subversive and terrorist threats. In regulating this area by law the Government is removing possible legal obstacles deriving from constitutional or European Convention on Human Rights privacy considerations. The Bill will ensure material obtained by secret surveillance may be used as evidence to support other direct evidence on criminal charges or on its own for charges of conspiracy.
Much of the work of the relevant agencies is directed at serious gangland crime. A multi-agency approach is often taken to the targeting of criminals, particularly in cases where, in addition to the commission of serious criminal offences involving witness intimidation, assaults, murder and extortion, other offences connected with money laundering, for example, drugs and firearms importation activities, may be involved. A crucial element of strategy in such cases is the secret gathering of important information about planning, movements, contacts and methods of operation using the latest technological aids, devices and expertise available to police and security services worldwide.
While the Garda is already good at performing such tasks, they are primarily undertaken for intelligence gathering purposes and the force has been reluctant for legal and operational reasons to use as evidence information gathered in this way. The Government must make available all possible tools to the Garda Síochána, Defence Forces and other State agencies to tackle this serious threat to the State.
The south Tipperary-west Waterford area has been affected by armed gangland activity, most of which has drugs at its root. While illicit drugs cause misery for those who use them, they provide rich pickings for gangs and the thugs who peddle them. It is beyond time that the Garda Síochána were armed and equipped with all available tools to enable them to tackle gangs. For this reason, I fully support the surveillance measures proposed in the Bill. In accepting that such measures have been a cause of concern in the past, there should be no doubt about our determination to meet head on the serious challenge we face. The Garda Commissioner and Minister are correct to show serious intent in this matter. The enactment of this legislation is vital as it will send out a message to blackguards and thugs that ordinary people will not allow themselves to be terrorised.
In Limerick and other areas members of the public going about their lawful business have faced a naked threat. In some cases where persons gave evidence in court, entire families and neighbourhoods have been threatened and in one recent case, a family member of a witness paid the ultimate price and lost his life. This is shocking, outrageous and intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue.
I am concerned about recent events in my constituency of Tipperary South to which State agencies appear to have helped to relocate some marauding gangsters. I do not ask that south Tipperary should be treated as sacred. Some people have moved from towns where there have been minor problems with intimidation, as occurs in every town, to outlying areas of my constituency. In a recent incident, people picking up their children from school were caught up in what can only be described as a scene from the wild west when gangsters made an assassination attempt in a quiet country village. It is frightening that young people witnessed this incident.
With the support of the emergency response unit, Garda superintendents and their officers, whether working in the drug squad, fraud squad or other areas, are willing and able to deal with the problem of gangs. However, a proper legal framework must be in place to enable them to perform their duties and bring criminals to justice. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It is vital, however, that people are not afraid to give evidence and provide a valuable service to the State. We are fortunate to have a jury system because it has served us well. While it may be past time, the legislation will be effective in addressing a serious problem.
Certain groups that claim to work for civil rights and so on may object to this Bill. The rights of ordinary people were trampled on during the Celtic tiger and ordinary law abiding citizens continue to be harassed, intimidated and threatened. Our forefathers did not fight to free this country to allow gangsters take control of it.
As a board member of Muintir na Tíre and a member of the second oldest community alert group in the country, I support any activities and continually urge the public to support the Garda Síochána and use their community alert neighbourhood watch groups, be vigilant and aware, contact their local gardaí, use the freephone numbers and pass on information on any kind of strange activity to relevant bodies. The gardaí will not mind hearing every little piece of information on a serious situation. It is vital they receive support, information and different leads. One telephone call could be very important in linking a serious situation.
We had shooting incidents and intimidation in my community in recent weeks. Many families contacted me in recent times to express their concerns about unlawful intimidating activities in their areas. I have written to the superintendents in Clonmel, Cahir and Dungarvan recently to thank them for their swift and prompt action and for using the emergency response unit, CAB and all the vehicles of the State to show the gangsters this situation will not be tolerated. From what I have heard, the public are delighted and pleased. Unfortunately, we cannot have a garda at every crossroads.
I spoke to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, recently when there were media reports on the downgrading of rural stations. In my area, we lobbied ten years ago for the reopening and reoccupying of a number of local Garda stations, namely, Ballyporeen, Clogheen and Ardfinnan. I compliment and thank the gardaí who have moved, in some cases with their families, to live in local station houses and communities.
The communities concerned now have confidence in the Garda. There is no replacement for it. There is no point in driving a squad car, unmarked car or motorbike on an occasional basis. There is no replacement for the garda on the beat, in the butcher’s shop, in the GAA field training the lads or bringing his own children to matches or school.
People have the confidence to get to know them and feel free to ring them or drop into the station when it is open to meet them to pass on minor pieces of information. They are not informers in away way, shape or form and should not have that tag attached to them. They are interested in making a good, clean, honest living for themselves and their families in the community. Without the gardaí and public support for them, we cannot have that. The gardaí cannot police on their own. They need the support of the community and in the vast majority of areas they have such support.
Muintir na Tíre, which runs the community alert programme nationally, in conjunction with the Garda Síochána, does a great deal of work. It has a number of field offices throughout the different provinces whose members go out to community alert and neighbourhood watch groups to encourage and train them to be active and hold various functions. They empower people to come together and have confidence in themselves and they do so with the support of gardaí who address meetings and make people feel easy about ringing them at any time, day or night. Many local gardaí are grateful that members of the public have their mobile phone numbers.
We often criticise the gardaí for not being available, but they are on duty 24-7 via their mobile or home phone numbers. Such members of the Garda Síochána provide a wonderful service and we should never forget that. A number of them have paid a price for that, as we saw recently in Donegal, which activity must be condemned.
I hate the term but we experienced the “heavy hand of the law” in my own local area in recent weeks. It was badly needed because some gangsters had moved from the towns. The Celtic tiger was bad in that way, in that many houses were built and bought by people as rental properties. One does not know to whom one is renting. In many cases, when one rents a house and then finds one has a troublesome tenant or one who engages in suspicious activities, one cannot remove him or her.
There was an incident in my locality yesterday evening, where some gangsters went into a pub, asked to be served and, when they were refused, threatened to burn the place down. Such outrageous and unacceptable behaviour must be stamped out. These thugs must be shown they cannot and will not succeed.
I compliment the garda officers involved because we have an unarmed Garda force. Their bravery, diligence and duty in facing up to gangsters must be commended and applauded. We must support them and continue to do so. We must have the proper surveillance and legislation to allow for this. As other speakers have said, we trust it will not be abused. I do not lightly say “to hell with all the people who say we cannot have this and ask about civil liberties”. At what cost civil liberties? Is it at the cost of people not being able to sleep peacefully in their homes?
I met two groups today, the Vintners’ Association of north and south Tipperary and a group from the chamber of commerce from the south east. All these groups are struggling to do business, which has become much tougher. They are all paying their rates, taxes and workers and have associated insurance and other costs
The publicans now have a much more difficult job in dealing with unlawful activity. We had the smoking ban and other legislation. We expect them to run good houses, which they do. They can be under threat from people, some of which is more subtle than one might think, and may have to deal with extortion and other issues. It is difficult enough to survive in business without any semblance of extortion, bullying, or the outrageous threat that if somebody is refused drink for their own safety if in command of a motorbike or other vehicle, a publican could be burned out of house and home.
It is high time we had this legislation and get these thugs off our streets. We cannot have any hand wringing, crying or gnashing of teeth, or people saying it is too tough. We must preserve our democracy. We have freedom of expression and the right, under the Constitution, to live without fear or favour and go about ordinary daily living without being threatened or intimidated.
The gardaí are getting on top of the situation in Limerick and I hope they deal with it soon. I listened to a radio programme last Sunday where a family man told his story. It sent a message home to every law-abiding citizen in our State that we are under a threat which must be treated very seriously. We must deal with it and we all must put our shoulders to the wheel and support the institutions of the State.
I was delighted to see the moves made by CAB in my own town of Clonmel in recent days. It seized property it decided, following investigation, was obtained from unlawful revenue from drug dealing and other crimes. This situation is frightening and unnerving for rural and urban communities, but rural communities may be further away from a Garda station or patrol. It is good to have mobile patrols. People are entitled to sleep in their beds at any time of the day or night, to keep their door open or unlocked and not be under threat.
“Threats” would be too strong a description, but I have often received phone calls when I make a public statement or do something else in support of the Garda Síochána, which I did recently, and again this morning. I said in the past when people are convicted of these activities and have served their sentence, there should be double checks on where they get their dole or rent allowance from. As taxpayers, we cannot provide such payments. The people concerned can be in bed all day and out all night. When other people are trying to sleep they are out planning, plotting and terrorising. If they have past involvement in crime, and the Garda knows that, they must be watched and tagged, not physically but placed under surveillance.
Our criminal justice system must also be changed. Our prisons are sometimes more like hotels, with a choice of menus and other facilities. We cannot just lock them up and throw away the key. Community service should be considered more seriously. There is much work to be done. Much damage is being done by these people in communities; why not have them out doing the repair work? It is also good physical and mental therapy for them. When they do work such as this which is therapeutic and beneficial to the community, their mindsets can be changed and they can become exemplary citizens. It is a struggle in communities at the moment with the cutbacks in certain areas, and people may wish to develop playground or community facilities. This Bill should include provision for community service as a real option.
I commend our judges on the hard job they do. They should have refresher courses on an ongoing basis because matters are constantly evolving. There is no comparison between the situation in 2009 and that which obtained ten years ago and we must keep adapting.
On the retirement age in the Garda Síochána, senior officers, inspectors and sergeants, and ordinary gardaí should be allowed to stay in the force if they so wish. This is because of their valuable acumen; there is no substitute for the experience they have gained over long and dedicated careers. It is a pity that if they wish to stay on a few more months or years they cannot do so. They should be encouraged and facilitated, otherwise we are losing a major resource. Although security is a concern, we should as far as possible bring in white-collar workers to do much of the paperwork in Garda stations to allow more gardaí on the beat. We need them to integrate with the public and we need the public to engage with them and support them.
I compliment the Minister and wish the legislation God speed. I hope it will be up and running soon so we can tackle together the atrocious situation that pertains in many communities. We need to rid ourselves of that and get back to peaceful living.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Is Bille an-thábhachtach é an Bille seo. Tá an Freasúra go mór i bhfábhar an Bhille ó thaobh an bhun prionsabal atá ann. Tá sé tábhachtach nuair a dhéanann daoine dúnmharuithe ar bhóithre agus sráideanna Bhaile Átha Cliath, Luimneach agus áiteanna eile go dtagann an dlí iomlán aniar aduaidh orthu. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeireann muid orthu aon slí gur féidir linn agus go dtugann muid aon fhianaise gur féidir linn a thabhairt i gcúirteanna na tíre. Mar sin, táimid go mór i bhfábhar bun prionsabail an Bhille seo agus ní bheidh aon trioblóid ag an Rialtas ón Fhreasúra ina thaobh. Tá rudaíáirithe sa Bhille gur féidir a neartú agus is féidir linn plé a dhéanamh ar chúpla ceist bhunúsach agus díospóireacht a dhéanamh orthu ar Chéim an Choiste.
Is rud tábhachtach é go bhfuil cead ag éinne a bhfuil ainmnithe dul isteach i dteach nóáit chun “bugs” a chur isteach. Luaitear sa Bhille na daoine seo, mar shampla, duine atá san Airm, gardaí agus daoine atá ag obair sa Revenue Commissioners. Tá ceist bhunúsach agam i dtaobh seo. Beidh na daoine seo ag dul isteach in áiteanna ina bhfuil daoine uafásacha, daoine atá tar éis dúnmharú a dhéanamh, daoine atá ag pleanáil robálacha agus daoine atá baint acu le drugaí.  Tá sé an-thábachtach mar sin go mbeidh na daoine atá ag dul isteach sna háiteanna seo sábháilte agus nach marófar iad. Is riachtanas bunúsach é sin.
Mar a dúirt an Teachta Michael Noonan sa ráiteas a chuir sé amach anocht, tá seans ann go rachaidh daoine atá ag obair do private security firms isteach in áiteanna mar seo. B’fhéidir go mbeidh duine mar seo under contract with the service commission agus ag dul isteach in áit mar sin. Seans go mbeidh an duine sin i ndainséar mór pearsanta. Mar sin, tá sé thar a bheith riachtanach go mbeidh gardaí in éineacht le haon duine a théann isteach. Chun na fírinne a rá, níl a fhios agam cén fáth nach dtugtar an chumhacht sin san iomlán do ghardaí. Ní fios cad a tharlóidh má théann aon duine eile isteach in áit mar sin, mar tá dainséar mór ann dóibh mar go bhfuil daoine a ndearna dúnmharú sna tithe sin agus tá dainséar ann go marófar na daoine a théann isteach. I mo thuairim, tá sé tábhachtach níos mó béime a chur ar an sórt duine a rachaidh isteach in áiteanna mar seo. Measaim go mba chóir gur gardaí armtha a rachadh isteach, mar ní fios cad a tharlóidh.
While we on the Opposition side welcome the Bill and support it in principle, we have no doubt about the certainty that must be required in terms of evidence in the courts. We have no doubt that all new technologies, including those which are yet to be implemented, should be used to deal with people who may be about to commit crimes involving a sentence of at least five years in jail. We are talking about serious offences with significant jail sentences.
I must mention, in the most constructive way, that the powers in the Bill allow at least three categories of people to plant the evidence——I am sorry; I did not mean to say “plant the evidence” but “plant the bug to get the evidence”. I thought I was in Fianna Fáil for a minute. I am sorry — I was only joking.
The three categories of people who can break in to plant devices are gardaí, Army officers and Revenue officials. As they are going into places that are occupied, owned or frequented by highly dangerous, evil people — some of whom, as we know, have murdered people in cold blood on the streets of Dublin and Limerick — I am concerned about the safety of these officers. Some of the powers apply in extremis; in other words, if I am a Revenue official and believe that a serious crime is about to be committed, I must carry out this operation now, as I do not have time to go to court. In that case the person carrying out the operation is in extreme danger if he or she is not physically protected. There may be nobody there when he or she goes into the room or building; but that is not to say the people involved will not come thundering over in five or ten minutes, and if they find the person with evidence of bugging, they may treat him or her very aggressively.
Thus, I am concerned about the different categories of people who will have these powers. It should always be an armed garda or a garda with armed backup. We need that degree of certainty about the support the person will have while conducting the operation. I am not sure of the legal position but I do not know whether an Army officer can be armed in the State on his or her own. This should be considered and debated with the aim of protecting the individual who is carrying out the operation. A Revenue official would be in grave danger. The issue needs further reflection.
I understand the Bill allows covert surveillance for up to 72 hours without recourse to a court. I do not have a problem with allowing the designated officer — on Committee Stage we should be given clarity on who this will be and whether he or she will have armed support — to protect himself or herself, but there is currently no recourse to the courts to authorise the action being taken in extremis for a period of up to 72 hours. That time should be shortened. I do not see why any authorised officer, whoever that person may be, cannot resort to the courts in extreme circumstances. One should be able to approach a District Court judge within 24 hours. That is not unreasonable. Wherever possible, there should be due process. In other words, it should be done through the courts as soon as possible, wherever possible, in order to ensure there is absolute certainty as to the actions taken in an extreme and exceptional situation. I absolutely accept that such action may have to be taken. To be clear, I have no problem with these measures provided that the persons concerned are protected and the courts are involved as quickly as possible. As I said, 72 hours is excessive.
It is important to consider why people end up in these types of situations. In all our urban centres, there are young people being raised in homes where no parent is regularly present. These are the children who used to be called latchkey kids. Such people are at risk in their own homes because there is no person with whom they can identify who is on the side of the law and who can affirm to them the values, attitudes and beliefs shared by the majority of society. It is important that we address this issue in communities throughout the State in terms of support for families who are likely to end up in a situation of significant conflict, which may ultimately lead to the callous, brutal and evil behaviour we have seen recently.
Intervention at the earliest possible stage is vital and is what we must strive towards. As a former teacher, I dealt with students who were in trouble, some of them from very difficult family backgrounds. That is why I am able to deal with the Minister of State.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Interaction with these families is the means by which we can affirm to young people in difficulty that they have their own importance and worth. Many of those who end up in trouble cannot read, write or communicate properly. These are the young people who never received support in their family homes. It is possible to identify the children and families at risk at primary school level. The families appearing before the District Court today will be the same families appearing before it in 20 years time. We must get to the root of these problems by supporting children who do not receive any support at home. We must affirm their worth and identity in order to ensure they become fully functioning members of their communities.
There must be an increased emphasis in schools on out-of-hours activity. Likewise, there must be an improved provision of recreational and sporting facilities in local authority housing estates. Young people must have access to better support services, which would involve not only social workers but also people who work with and like young people and who can be role models for them. This type of approach, even in these most difficult of times, is the best way to address the inequalities in our society and the problems arising in communities throughout the State. I have passed through Limerick city many times but do not know it well. Significant changes are taking place there under the former Dublin City Manager and the excellent committee for whom I have nothing but the height of praise. There must be more of that approach in disadvantaged communities throughout the State.
We should look again at the role of the Garda, particularly community gardaí. What is important about the latter is that everybody in the community knows them by their first name. They walk around the area rather than travelling in squad cars. Most important, they identify with the community they serve. That is the type of policing we need. Rather than an oppressive authority figure, the local garda should be somebody who will help people, offer them advice, get them involved in the local boxing club and so on. These are the types of links we must build within communities. In their absence, we will continue to have drug-ridden and crime-ridden areas in our cities and towns. In these difficult economic times, it is particularly important that we provide support to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are likely to end up in conflict with the law.
There must be a focus on community supports, interaction with schools, the provision of youth and sports facilities and efforts to counteract antisocial behaviour. We must increase the numbers working full-time in education and youth work and support them in their work. What a child from a background of crime needs above all is a friendly face. Such children must be brought into society via education and other means. In the absence of such intervention, a child of nine, ten or 11 years of age, who is without parents or whose parents are disinterested, unsupportive and offer no affirmation of the child’s worth to society, will become isolated and will turn against the system. Their only pleasure will be from drugs and crime.
When I was spokesperson for community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs, I made it my business to meet staff and clients in some of the drug support centres in Dublin city. I met former heroin addicts and people who had done time in prison. I went to the drugs court where I met families who were trying to break the drug habit. Although this court required significant resources in terms of teachers, gardaí, youth workers and so on, it was very satisfying to see people being presented with certificates to signify their success in breaking their drug addiction. These were people who had been convicted in the courts of a crime not involving violence and who, instead of going to jail, had opted to beat their habit. Judge Gerard Haughton of the District Court affirmed the achievements of these people, who had pleaded guilty to their crimes and overcome their drug addiction, thus indicating their desire to re-enter society, by declaring them full and excellent members of our society and affirming their goodness and worth.
Such a process takes a great deal of time and effort but it is already working successfully in this instance. If we have that type of fair and progressive attitude towards people who want to escape a life of crime and drugs, and who have not been convicted of any offence involving violence, much can be achieved. On the other hand, the perpetrators of the appalling and evil crimes we are discussing today represent the other side of the equation. We are 100% behind what has to be done and so is all of society.
Legislation must be balanced. We cannot allow further generations of families to find themselves in the same situation. In five, ten, 15 or 20 years, we do not wish to see people before the courts of Limerick and Dublin with different first names but the same surnames as those before the courts today. We must break that cycle.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Dick Roche): May I refer to some of the points made by Deputy O’Dowd? I am impressed by the philosophical approach he adopted, which is the right approach.
We need to be very careful when we move in this direction. As Deputy O’Dowd has said, there are truly evil people who know no bounds and who are determined not only to dominate their own society but also to poison it.
Deputy O’Dowd mentioned the extraordinary work going on in Moyross. When Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government I was very pleased to fund that work and to be instrumental in selecting the former Dublin City Manager, Mr. John Fitzgerald, to lead it. Moyross is an extraordinary example of a society which is struggling against great evil. It needs to be praised and not stigmatised. There are many actual and potential Moyrosses throughout the country. There are many areas where societies need to be freed from the extraordinary influence of small numbers of evil people who are not prepared to be bound by any sense of decency or by any or the mores and norms of civilised society. I agree fundamentally with the Deputy.
A Bill such as this cannot be taken lightly. We must strike a balance. There is a requirement that we do not cross the boundary between the protection of civil liberties and the natural anxiety of law makers and public representatives to protect our constituents. There is a need for this legislation.
I listened earlier to contributions made by Deputy Pat Rabbitte when he spoke about the Labour Party on a Private Member’s Bill and by Deputy Michael Noonan when he spoke about specific areas. Members may know that long before I became involved in politics I was honoured with the positions of membership and later chairmanship of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace. To establish where that boundary line exists between the right of a society to protect itself and the issue of civil liberty is always difficult.
The Bill strikes an interesting balance. Crime and the technology that surrounds it has changed dramatically in recent years. A few years ago, while canvassing with the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, in a part of Bray that will be well known to Deputy Liz McManus, we noticed that something untoward was happening. We agreed to phone the gardaí because we suspected that drugs trafficking was going on. As soon as the call was made and was being responded to by the gardaí, one could see activity. The traffickers were scanning Garda networks, finding out what was happening and were able to clear away. We need to catch up with the technology the criminals have. That point was made by Deputy O’Dowd.
However, we face a problem in this regard. Garda surveillance is ongoing. The gardaí are using new technologies in this area but there is a legal ambiguity. The last thing we need to see is courts, which have no option but to uphold the law, striking down cases which are otherwise well constructed because there has been ambiguity about the use of surveillance equipment. It is critical that there is a proper statutory basis for the use of new technologies by the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and the Revenue Commissioners, and for the appropriate use of secret surveillance methods in preventing and detecting serious crime and safeguarding the security of the State against subversive and terrorist activities.
I agree with Deputy O’Dowd that one of the most subversive activities in our nation at present is the peddling of drugs and the barons of that industry. The misery they visit on societies and the knock-on effect of their activities is astonishing. It is as if a large rock were dropped into a still pool. Their effects ripple out and touch all parts of society. We have all seen this phenomenon in our own constituencies. We have seen how the smart alecs stand back and, because they have power or are particularly ruthless, use other members of society. The only way we can get to them and protect society is by providing the Garda and the other forces of law and order with the equipment to fight the battles.
Much of the work of the agencies concerned is directed at serious gangland crime and subversion. We have seen in recent times how people in these groups could not care less about the normal mores of society. They could not care less about what we do in this House. On behalf of the people we represent, we must make it clear to criminals that there is no place they can hide. There are areas where a multidisciplinary approach can be effective, particularly regarding serious offences such as witness intimidation, assaults, murder, extortion and a web of other offences. We must arm ourselves and our society to protect it. What has happened in recent times in parts of Ireland is truly awful. Witnesses have been intimidated. We thought we were past that but we are not.
Deputy Dick Roche: We must be in a position to clamp down on those people. There is no question of striking a balance between their civil liberties and the rights of the rest of society. I have listened carefully to the contributions of the Opposition and I am sure the Minister will do so too. When we enact this legislation we will be making a strike for civil liberties.
A crucial element in the strategy is the secret gathering of important information about planning, movements, contacts and methods of operation. It is extraordinary that we have not equipped the Garda and other agencies with the necessary statutory protection in this regard. We need to ensure that legislation keeps up with rapidly changing technology. How many of us had a mobile phone 15 years ago? Virtually every child now has one. Technology has stepped ahead of us and we need to put legislation in place to protect the gardaí in the use of the devices and expertise which are available worldwide in this regard.
Deputy Dick Roche: He is, and there are many very good judges on the Bench. I say that because in this House we are, from time to time, critical of judges. There is a need for that type of proactive approach to assist people who are getting through addiction. I was pleased Deputy O’Dowd mentioned a number of drug rehabilitation centres. Very few of us, thank God, have had the experience of trying to deal with an addiction. Drug addicts, particularly people who live in the socially impoverished settings which Deputy O’Dowd spoke about, are the real prey of this group of criminals. We have a special responsibility to protect them, particularly where their families are incapable of providing the supports which the rest of us take for granted.
The changing nature of crime, particularly the growth of organised and ruthless gangland crime, requires a correspondingly robust legal response. I am pleased the Minister and his Department have put that in place.
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