Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Charles Flanagan: The motion is self-explanatory. It says a great deal about the Government’s attitude to gangland crime that it requires an Opposition motion to have this crucial matter debated in the Dáil.
The tentacles of gangland crime have such a far-reaching grip in society that we require a whole package of solutions, rather than a piecemeal gesture here and there, designed to convince the public that the Government is getting to grips with the problem. The decision of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to introduce harsh new laws last year reflects his Government’s approach: talk tough at the microphone but remain silent and in the background when it comes to crucial issues such as Garda resources, Customs and Excise and Revenue checks or the non-existent conviction rates for those held responsible for brutal organised crime murders.
If the State is to take on organised crime with a hope of winning, we require a well-resourced, comprehensive strategy across a number of Departments, but especially the Departments of Finance and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The first step must be to cut off the source of gangsters’ money, power and influence. That requires stemming the tide of drugs flooding the country. It is clear there is a lack of will on the part of Government to do that, which is why, to quote the Taoiseach in what has become an already hackneyed phrase that we hear from a procession of Ministers on a daily basis, “We are where we are”.
We are where we are as far as murders are concerned. In the first three weeks of this year, there were five so-called gangland gun murders. John Paul Joyce, Brendan Molyneux, Paddy Mooney, Noel Deans and Gerard Stanton lost their lives. Paddy Mooney had no involvement in gangland crime; he was the unfortunate victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is not the first innocent victim to be hit by a bullet fired by a gangland criminal and no doubt he will not be the last. There appears to be an unspoken attitude that as long as organised criminals kill each other, it does not matter — it is one less criminal about whom to worry. The Minister might say that is not the case but the conviction rates suggest otherwise.
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform figures from May 2009 reveal that no convictions were secured for firearms murders between 2007 and 2009. I would like the Minister to explain to the House what the conviction rate is now. For example, how many convictions have been secured for the 20 gangland gun murders that took place last year? Who has been convicted for the following murders which took place between January and October 2009 — Michael “Roly” Cronin, his driver, James Maloney, Stephen O’Halloran, Graham McNally, Michael Hendrick, John Carroll, Michael Murray, Seamus O’Byrne, Liam Carroll, David Fred Lynch, Roy Collins, John “BJ” Clarke, Charles Sinanapayen, Paul Smith, Tommy Joyce, Wayne Doherty, Anthony Cannon, Pierce Reid, David Thomas and Jason Egan? Who has paid the price for murdering innocent bystanders in recent years — people who were not known to the Garda and who were not involved in organised criminal activity? Who has been convicted and jailed for murdering Roy Collins, Sean Poland, Darren Coughlan, Anthony Campbell and Eddie Ward? The late Donna Cleary’s alleged killer died while in custody and, therefore, her family did not see justice done in that case either.
The few gangland criminals that are placed behind bars clearly do not see prison as an obstacle to carrying on their business. This week in the newspapers it was reported that in July 2008 two searches of the prison cell of Mr. John Gilligan resulted in the discovery of a number of interesting items, among them a mobile telephone, a charger, a SIM card, a syringe bar and eight and a halfblue tablets. A total of 2,174 mobile telephones were seized in prisons in 2009. It is evidently easy to smuggle mobile telephones into prison and easy for gangsters to use them and direct their operations from behind the bars of their prison cells. One could ask why the criminal justice system is failing.
We are where we are in terms of Garda resources. A glance at the most recent report of the Garda Inspectorate might shed some light on the problems faced by the State and the correlating advantages enjoyed by criminals. In a report published last week, the Garda Inspectorate revealed disturbing findings, including the fact that as many as 1,650 gardaí are required each day to provide administrative services to the public at Garda stations, that is, 14% of all members of sergeant and garda rank assigned to divisions. More than 3 million hours in overtime were clocked up in 2007. That is the equivalent of adding 1,737 extra gardaí to the force. Much of that time was spent on attendance in court. After many years of promises and commitments, it is clear that little has been achieved in introducing new systems to ensure that gardaí do not have to waste time hanging around court houses. What will the slashing of overtime mean to the service provided by the Garda? It will mean less visibility of a Garda presence. There will be fewer gardaí on the front line and fewer on the beat on the streets.
While Garda stations have computers, they are stand-alone personal computers without Internet access or email facilities. There is no GPS system and, therefore, there is no way of knowing where Garda cars are at any given time, which is crucial in the text of organised and gangland crime. The absence of data on demand for Garda services is unacceptable, and must be addressed as a priority. The Garda Inspectorate noted, “Such absence is exceptional in modern police services.” The Garda Síochána does not have systems in place to routinely collect and analyse workload data for individual units across the organisation. There is no dedicated Garda team or individual responsible for monitoring workload and advising Garda management on deployment. The rostering system is completely outdated and outmoded.
What has happened to the Garda Reserve? We have not heard about it in a long time. I believe I have never heard the Minister speak on the subject. The Garda Reserve lacks a clearly defined role, matched by appropriate training and direction. While criminal gangsters have top of the range technology at their fingertips, the gardaí who face the grim task of defeating them are operating in a time warp. The Garda Inspectorate has made 27 recommendations. I expect the Government will ensure they are implemented without delay. I take this opportunity, as will other Members, to congratulate Chief Inspector, Kathleen O’Toole, and her team on an excellent report, which is one of many. The excellence of the reports will be seen only in the manner in which the Government is prepared to implement the recommendations as contained therein.
A new problem faced by the Garda this year involves garda retirements. The cumbersome way in which the Government dealt with the issue of increased taxation led to an unprecedented exodus from the ranks in 2009. Figures from November 2009 indicate that three assistant commissioners retired, 12 chief superintendents, 28 superintendents, 31 inspectors, 170 sergeants and 464 gardaí, totalling in excess of 700 members of the force, almost triple the amount compared with the previous year. I would like the Minister to inform the Dáil of how many of those gardaí have been replaced to date, not how many he would like to replace nor how many he intends to replace, but how many of those vacancies have been filled, as of 2 February 2010. Are we still operating with three fewer assistant commissioners, 12 fewer chief superintendents and 28 fewer superintendents? Is the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the special detective unit still without a dedicated superintendent in charge? Are community Garda levels still a mere 6% of the force? Introducing tough new legislation and then expecting a Garda force with outmoded resources, a hole in its senior ranks and depleted morale to enforce this legislation is not a recipe for success. It is simply a means of shifting the blame for the Minister to the Garda Síochána.
We are where we are in terms of the Customs and Excise service. The gardaí who are charged with defeating gangsters are at the end of a chain. The first link in that chain is drug smuggling. I have no doubt that being an Irish drug smuggler is wonderful. Until recently, there was only one Revenue cutter to monitor 4,300 km of coastline. We now have two cutters but the Naval Service patrols that supplemented Revenue have been slashed by 200 days recently. This country has the dubious distinction of being the drugs gateway for the whole of western Europe, so easy is it to import illegal drugs into the State. Smuggling drugs in via a port is relatively straightforward. One simply finds out which ports are going to have the container X-ray scanner in situ that day, and one chooses an alternative route. It is a stroll in the park. Alternatively, one could use a private airport. According to figures supplied by the Government, the majority of private airports never or rarely see a customs patrol or officer. It appears that it is too expensive. Last year, a private airport, Weston Airport, experienced 50% fewer customs checks compared to the previous years.
It is ironic that it was also last year that Judge Hunt expressed concern that private airports were being used to smuggle drugs into the State. He made this warning as he sentenced John Kinsella for conspiring to import €7 million worth of heroin and cocaine through Weston Airport in 2007. Judge Hunt further stated that the customs systems in place at ports and large airports are “set at nought” if private airports allow such controls to be bypassed. The systems at large airports to which the judge referred also deteriorated last year. Customs checks fell by almost 500,000 at Dublin Airport and fell by 68,100 at Cork Airport in 2009 compared to the previous year.
Comparing 2009 to the previous year, the figures show that customs checks at airports fell by 73% at Waterford Airport; 50% at Weston Airport; 40% at Shannon Airport; 33% at Kerry Airport; 27% at Galway Airport; 21% at Cork Airport; 15% at Donegal Airport; and 11% at Dublin Airport. One can only conclude it is easier to be a drug dealer in Ireland than to run a legitimate business. The blame for this must lie fairly and squarely on the Government’s shoulders. It is not good enough to expect the Garda to take on and tackle dangerous drug barons on the streets while, at the same time, the Government cannot be bothered to seize drugs at the point of entry to the State. Until the deficit in customs and Revenue is addressed, the Garda will be always fighting a losing battle.
I refer to the social cost of where we are. Drugs are tearing our communities apart. Recently, a senior Garda officer, Chief Superintendent Gerry Phillips of the Dublin northern division, stated juveniles as young as 14 are being caught by gardaí holding guns and drugs. They do so as a means of ingratiating themselves with gang leaders because they wish to follow suit and become like them with the SUVs, gold rings, money, power and fear that they instil in communities. One can only imagine the havoc visited on a community when a gangland murder takes place such as those this year in Pearse Street and Coolock in Dublin and in Cork.
These murders are a stark illustration of the impact of drugs but there is also the scourge of drug addiction. Heroin has “spread to every county” in the State with a increase of 130% in treatment cases outside Dublin since 2002, according to a report published last September by the Health Research Board. Carlow, one of the smaller counties, has almost the same incidence of cases of heroin treatment as Dublin, followed by my county of Laois and the Minister’s county of Louth. Merchant’s Quay Ireland has echoed the findings of the Health Research Board, stating that heroin use has become a national crisis. In 2008, almost 20 new drug injectors attended the charity every week for needle exchange services.
Meanwhile, the national advisory committee on drugs has highlighted that the number of opiate takers outside Dublin soared by 165% in the period 2001-06, although Dublin remains the greatest heroin blackspot. Merchant’s Quay Ireland delivers services in many locations outside Dublin including Carlow, Westmeath, Longford and in my own constituency of counties Laois and Offaly. There has been a near doubling of cases for cocaine treatment across the country while crack cocaine addiction is also on the rise.
Criminal gangsters have gained a strong foothold in this State. They have done so with the tacit consent of a Government that is not willing to take the steps required to stop them. We in Fine Gael have a range of proposals aimed at crippling gangland crime and bringing a halt to organise crime. They are contained in the motion. I have dealt with the problems tonight and I will deal with the solutions tomorrow night. We are calling on the Minister to fill senior Garda vacancies immediately. We do not want him to tell us he will do it or he will talk to the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Finance about it. It needs to be done now, given it should have been done weeks ago.
We in Fine Gael pledged ourselves to support the robust, harsh gangland legislation introduced by the Minister in a blaze of publicity last summer. He promised action during the summer. The passing of the legislation could not even await the summer recess because the Minister had lined up a posse of top gardaí to act on his behalf to round up the criminals and put them all behind the bars. Will the Minister give us a progress report on the legislation before the conclusion of the debate? Will he introduce legislation to act as a deterrent to the crime of murder? Life in this country has been cheapened because of gangland and gun murders and organised crime. That is why a mandatory minimum life sentence of 25 years should be introduced for gangland murders. I was horrified by a comment from a witness in a murder trial who swore on oath about a conversation he had with the defendant who was ultimately convicted. The murderer, a foreign national who had lived in a number of jurisdictions but who had settled in Ireland, said to the witness, his brother-in-law, “If you’re going to commit a murder, commit it in Ireland because you’ll be out after a few years”. That is a sad indictment of the criminal justice system over which the Minister presides.
I would like him to introduce new measures in prisons for those who are convicted. For example, full body scanners should be used and screened visits should become the norm to prevent gangsters from operating behind bars. If people are convicted of having contraband in prison, penalties should be imposed on them such as non-contact screened visits and the withdrawal of privileges enjoyed by many in our prisons.
Community policing should be enhanced by implementing quotas and incentives, as Fine Gael has proposed. I will outline our proposals in greater detail tomorrow night and I would like the Minister, for once and for all, to deal with gangland crime and organised criminals in a manner which to date he has sadly neglected to do.
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: I compliment Deputy Flanagan on tabling the motion, which is timely, opportune and important. I would like to refer to the issue of Garda resources in the context of my constituency, Limerick East, and Limerick city. In reply to a question I tabled to the Minister before Christmas, I was informed 8% of the Garda force in Limerick had applied to retire up to mid-December. This amounted to 49 gardaí, comprising one superintendent, four inspectors, seven sergeants and 37 ordinary members. This has made it impossible for the force to operate in an effective manner combatting gangland crime in the city. In particular, inspectors are very much involved in bringing cases to court and the loss of four inspectors will make it much more difficult for the Garda to do so.
In addition, all the retired gardaí have a minimum of 30 years service. Their reservoir of knowledge and expertise regarding what is happening on the ground will be impossible to replace. Many of them are in their early 50s and their knowledge and expertise of dealing with gangland crime in Limerick will not be passed on to younger members of the force who are doing excellent work. Like Deputy Flanagan, I call on the Minister to ensure senior gardaí are replaced with immediate effect, in particular, the chief superintendent, the four inspectors and the seven sergeants in Limerick. Rank and file gardaí are being taken away from ordinary patrolling activities, including fighting anti-social behaviour, and placed in special units that are being set up to combat drugs. They need to be replaced as this is compromising the Garda’s normal work on the ground.
In 2009 there were three murders in Limerick; this is three too many. One of those was the murder of Roy Collins, which was a senseless killing of an innocent victim and should never have happened. Senior gardaí must be replaced. I have no doubt the Minister is aware that the Limerick Garda was successful in defusing three pipe bombs that were found at Roxboro shopping centre last week. I praise the work of the Garda in doing this, but it sends out the message that criminality and gangland crime continue to be an issue. Resources are a key factor in dealing with this.
Drugs have become pervasive in every city and town in Ireland but nowhere more so than in Limerick, where there have been seizures of heroin in the last week. We must intercept drugs at the point of entry, but this has not happened to date. In addition, there is a problem with the bail laws. The granting of bail to a person caught in possession of a firearm defies logic. It should not happen. Furthermore, there should be mandatory sentencing of 25 years. A life sentence does not mean life — it means eight or nine years. In many cases we have a revolving system of early release, which means there is no deterrent.
We need a commitment from the Minister that he will replace the gardaí who have effectively retired, particularly the chief superintendent in Limerick, as well as the four inspectors, seven sergeants and 37 gardaí. I ask the Minister to assure the House that he will provide the resources for these to be replaced with immediate effect in order that the Garda can continue to fight these heinous crimes.
Deputy Andrew Doyle: I commend Deputy Flanagan on tabling this motion. A successful gangland criminal must have control over people’s lives, whether it be the worker bees or the slaves on the lower level who live lives of misery in order that those on the upper level can profit. It has become so lucrative that those involved are now killing each other willy-nilly, because of an insult or a dirty look, just to have complete control.
Deputy Flanagan called on the Minister to fill senior Garda positions. For a whole host of reasons there have been more than 700 retirements from the Garda in the past year, not least because of the cumbersome issue of retirement gratuities. Speaking to gardaí, one finds that anyone with 30 years of service is now contemplating retirement, even if he or she previously had no intention of leaving the force. When we put this together with the data restrictions gardaí encounter in their everyday work when they are on duty, we can see they are being asked to take on the criminal with one hand tied behind their backs.
There are other matters, to do with the way the system works, which must be addressed. The rostering system means the same number of gardaí are on the beat on a Monday morning as on a Saturday night. As has been said before by experts, in many ways the solution to crime is as simple as having a Garda presence on the street. The streets of Manhattan have seen a transformation in the past ten or 15 years; at one time one dared not walk down certain streets even in broad daylight, but now one can walk there 24 hours a day, all because policing was dealt with from the top down and from the bottom up.
The area in which I live, sadly, has been a burial ground for victims of subversive organisations over the years. It was confirmed only today that remains found there recently were those of an unfortunate person who was abducted and had been missing for some time. The road leading from Dublin to the Sally Gap is no man’s land. It is bandit country. If the Minister went up there tonight on his own he probably would be hijacked and have his car taken from him by gangs of criminals who, for sport, steal cars in the city, drive them around in rallies, burn them out and then steal other people’s cars to go home. Coupled with this, since the advent of the new divisional structures west Wicklow has had no holding facilities for criminals. The nearest holding facilities in the division are miles away in Bray. There has been a lack of co-operation, as the new structure has been introduced, between the Garda in Wicklow and those in Kildare and Carlow.
These are the issues that are working against the security forces in their efforts to take on crime. What we have asked for is simple. It is disingenuous for the Government to turn our proposal to introduce a mandatory life sentence of 25 years on its head by stating in its amendment “... rejects the implication that such prisoners should have an expectation of release after serving 25 years in prison”, knowing full well that is not what is intended by our proposal. The Government amendment goes on to do the same with all our proposals, implying that we are attacking the Garda and not the Government.
Deputy Tom Hayes: I join with my colleagues in commending Deputy Flanagan’s action in tabling this important motion for debate on Private Members’ time. People have many worries nowadays, including worries about finances and employment. However, the greatest of these is the increase in crime levels, whether in rural or urban Ireland. This problem is not being dealt with. The number of gardaí on the beat and in towns is falling, while the number who are leaving the force and not being replaced is rising. Morale among gardaí has never been so low. We all have brothers, cousins or other relatives in the Garda and any one of them will tell one that morale is low. If we are to tackle crime we must increase morale in the force. There is only one person who can do this, namely, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He must show leadership to help those people go out and deal with crime.
The most important issue is that of drugs. The dogs in the street will tell one that large amounts of drugs are coming in. There are figures to prove that more people are being fined and brought before the courts on drug-related charges. The problem of drugs is growing by the day and this is having knock-on effects. Day in, day out we hear about criminal cases in which the young people involved were high on drugs. All communities are being saturated with drugs. This is a problem the Minister must face. The Government has failed miserably with regard to drugs. We are letting the problem run away with us. Nobody is tackling it in the way it should be tackled. If ever there was a time to deal with this issue, it is right now.
Another issue is the movement of people from high-crime areas to other, quieter communities. Recently, in my constituency, a young man was stabbed to death. It happened in a quiet rural village, Lattin, where there was never any trouble when someone came from a different area. I am not trying to say people are not welcome in parts of the country but in that area there is no Garda station. I hear Fianna Fáil TDs and councillors claiming they will retain the rural Garda stations but in my constituency and every other rural constituency Garda stations are not being manned, they are being closed down and Garda attendance is being reduced
I support this motion. We could spend hours debating it, embarrassing the Government worse than what we have. We need to tackle the issues that are affecting ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.
Deputy Deirdre Clune: There have been five gangland murders in the first three weeks of 2010. One of them was in Cork when Gerard Staunton, 42 years of age, was shot in front of his partner and children in a quiet, residential area near Wilton. That has had a chilling, shocking and frightening effect on the local community. A garda reported last week that one shot hit the rear seat of a car where the two children were sitting; it could have taken the life of one of those two innocent children.
This is the sort of incident that communities throughout the country are living with. There was an uncomfortable twist to the story last week when the Evening Echo newspaper received a letter from a group claiming the Real IRA had killed Mr. Staunton and had threatened further action against drug dealers in the community. This follows an incident in September 2009 when leaflets were distributed around purporting to be from the Real IRA claiming it would deal with those who continued to deal drugs. We have no room for this type of vigilante activity. The people living in these communities, parents trying to rear young children and elderly people, are living with the fear that things will blow up at any stage in their neighbourhood where a family member could be involved in an innocent situation.
People want to know what is being done. Many proposals have been put forward in the Fine Gael motion but the most important is to resource the Garda, provide them with the necessary equipment and to increase the numbers working in the community. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of community gardaí. Only 6% of the force works in this area but the information they can gather and support they can give to local communities, the work they can do with young people and the information they relay back to senior gardaí are invaluable. It gives those living in the community a sense of confidence and comfort that there is support for them. At the moment they do not see that and do not have that comfort.
Almost 14% of the gardaí are involved in administrative duties. Why not release them from those duties to ensure they can do the job they were trained to do and that they want to do — protecting their local communities?
The criminal gangs involved in the type of reckless behaviour that frightens local communities must be tackled. They are dealing and supplying drugs to our young people and are responsible for gang turf wars that are claiming the lives of innocent people. There has been an increase in tiger kidnappings, all on the watch of this Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has produced emergency legislation to deal with the situation but it has not been dealt with. People want to know what the Minister is doing, and I look forward to his response, to ensure people living in our communities can feel safe in their homes tonight.
As a representative of Longford-Westmeath, a constituency which is at the mercy of the “day tripper” gangs, who see the midlands as being just a short drive for a grab and run attack on the old and vulnerable, I would like to highlight the Government’s lack of provision for the safety and protection of the elderly in rural Ireland.
That aggravated burglary has risen dramatically is not a myth, it is very much a fact according to the latest CSO figures, which show a 51% increase in aggravated burglaries in the three months to the end of September 2009. If that percentage were to be updated today, it would be considerably higher. That such an increase in violent burglary has been accompanied by a cowardly and shameful targeting of vulnerable elderly people in their own homes is a double indictment of the failure of the Government to tackle rising crime rates and to provide the necessary security for the most vulnerable.
In my constituency of Longford-Westmeath, an elderly couple were held hostage in a bathroom of their home in Clondra, County Longford last December during an aggravated burglary. The couple, aged 74 and 65, managed to escape and raise the alarm. The physical and emotional damage done to this couple is immense. Detectives described the attack as horrendous, leaving the couple bleeding heavily and severely traumatised and afraid to return to their home. This burglary is just one of a pattern of escalating rural crime and attacks on the elderly, which are shocking communities around the country, but which the Government chooses to ignore. Society has become more violent and crime-ridden on this Government’s watch. Break-ins and violent incidences are now an everyday occurrence in rural Ireland.
What is the response of the Government? A savage cutback in the community support scheme for older people. The shameful reductions in this scheme, which allows vulnerable people to install important safeguards such as personal alarms and window locks, is placing the lives of such people at risk.
The community support scheme in Westmeath has been decimated, with the 2008 figure of €137,160 cut by €103,885 in 2009, leaving funding for the county at the miserable level of €33,275. Longford saw its already low 2008 funding of €26,687 slashed by €14,422 to a 2009 low level of €12,264, leaving the elderly victims of a system that is rotten to the core. With a lack of community gardaí and restricted opening hours for rural Garda stations, it is essential that the Government empower the elderly and vulnerable to look after themselves, particularly those living alone. The main way to do this is to restore the funding for the community support scheme for older people.
The other obvious answer to a reduction in crime is an increased Garda presence: 24 hour Garda stations, more patrol cars, extra gardaí on the beat, an increase in the number of community gardaí and updated equipment. With a well-known lack of these essential crime deterrents, Dublin gangs are hitting rural Ireland, targeting the most vulnerable and creating a fabric of violence, with, it appears, the Government’s complicity. Allied to the cutbacks in the community support scheme, the small number of community gardaí, who make up only 6% of the force, is a further indication of the lack of duty of care for the elderly by the Government.
There have been calls for mandatory sentencing in cases of aggravated burglary, in which elderly people are terrorised and assaulted in their own homes. It is also high time that the impression given to criminals that life is cheap is knocked on the head with a minimum sentence of 25 years set for gangland murder. It is more than time that the Minister considered these deterrents and put some fear into the criminal element——
Deputy James Bannon: I do not need to tell the Minister that actions speak louder than words. His lack of action in terms of support for the Garda gives the lie to his words. It is time he faced up to the fact that he is losing the war on crime by his own inept approach to crime control.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: Tomorrow night, the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, will refer to the issues raised by Deputy Charles Flanagan regarding Customs and Excise. I have made it clear in this House and I will say it again that I will listen to any constructive suggestions made from any side of the House on how to deal with the problem of gangland activities. However, I regret that the motion before the House is designed to be anything but constructive. Instead, it is a highly selective litany. For example, it mentions five gangland murders that occurred in the first three weeks of this year but makes no mention whatsoever of the fact that the Garda has been active in a number of these cases. Whatever the solutions are to the problems of gangland crime, they do not lie in crass motions that fail to acknowledge the difficulties faced by the Garda in tackling gangland crime or contain one word of commendation or encouragement on its efforts.
Let me be clear about one thing — the Government will continue to support fully the efforts of the Garda and the other agencies of the criminal justice system in their fight against gangland crime. This commitment is not mere rhetoric. Time and again, it has been backed up by ensuring that the resources are there, both legislative and financial, to allow the Garda to get on with its work. As I have previously stated in the House, the fight against these gangs is going to be a long one and will be waged relentlessly. There will be setbacks, but it is wrong not to acknowledge the Garda’s successes in bringing those involved to justice. Indeed, the pressure we are experiencing on our prison accommodation is in many cases a reflection of those Garda successes.
The Garda faces severe challenges in dealing with gangland murders. In some cases, persons who have been identified by the Garda as being at risk not only fail to co-operate with it, but seek to thwart it at every turn so as that they can get on with their gangland activities. When persons are murdered, their associates offer no assistance to the Garda. Witnesses may also be subject to high levels of intimidation not to come forward and it is to assist such witnesses that the witness protection programme is in place.
Of course, the criminal justice system has a role to play in attempting to stop these killings. The Garda will continue to do all it can to bring the people involved to justice. However, let no one forget that the blame for these killings does not lie with the failings of the Garda or the Government. Rather, it lies clearly with those evil perpetrators who show a complete disregard for the value of human life.
It was partly against the background of the difficulties in obtaining evidence in these cases that, last year, I introduced two groundbreaking Acts, namely, the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act. The motion before the House refers to the absence of any convictions under this legislation. It seems hypocritical on a breathtaking scale for a party that wanted to dilute and delay the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act to complain now about the fact that convictions have not yet been secured under it. The facts of the matter are quite simple. Since the legislation was enacted six months ago, the Garda has been utilising it fully to build up cases against those involved in gangland crime. Some files are with the Director of Public Prosecutions and more are being prepared for submission to him.
Of course, like anyone else involved in the criminal justice system, I feel frustration that it inevitably takes time to gather evidence that will stand up in court against these people. However, we are a country governed rightly by the rule of law under our Constitution. I assure the House that, however long it takes, the so-called godfathers involved in gangland activities will be targeted under this legislation. Over time, I am confident that the legislation I introduced will be seen to have been a vital turning point in the fight against gangland activities.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: In the meantime, the Garda would not have been able to amass the evidence it needed while the gangs went about their criminal business. If we had taken the Labour Party approach, the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act would not have been enacted at all. It is all very well for people to come into this House to deprecate the activities of gangs, but it is of little use if they flinch from taking the requisite action when it is needed.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: My amendment to the motion shows the comprehensive measures which the Government has taken. I have time to mention just some of these in my contribution. Before doing so, I want to reiterate the Government’s determination to continue to do all it can to take whatever measures are necessary to deal with gangland crime. All the better if we can do so with the support of the parties opposite, but we will do so one way or the other.
I continue to table significant legislative proposals. The Criminal Procedure Bill 2009, which is currently before the House and has been passed by the Seanad, gives effect to the measures contained in the justice for victims initiative. The Bill provides for reform of the law on victim impact statements and proposes to end the ban on retrying people who have been acquitted in specific circumstances.
Recently, I published the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill, which will see the establishment for the first time of a national DNA database. This year’s Estimates include a sum of €4.1 million for the setting up of that database. This represents a major step forward in the fight against serious crime. It will give the Garda access to intelligence on a scale and of a quality that has never before been available. When the Bill becomes law, everyone who is arrested for a serious offence will be required to give a sample. Everyone serving a sentence for a serious offence when this law comes into force will also be required to give a sample. Analysis of this material will produce hits that may indicate a link between the person and other offences where that person was previously involved but no link had previously come to light.
We are also providing An Garda Síochána with the resources to tackle serious crime. There has been a considerable increase in Garda resources in recent years, with the number of attested members rising from 11,895 at the end of 2002 to 13,755 at the end of 2007 and 14,547 at the end of last year. Even in a year of budgetary constraints, there were two intakes of 100 recruits each and some 900 student gardaí became attested in 2009 with more attestations due in 2010. The combined strength of both attested gardaí and recruits in training as at 30 December 2009 was 14,779. In addition, there are more than 2,650 civilian staff in the Garda Síochána in a variety of positions such as administration and technical roles.
I was pleased to announce last week that, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, I had obtained approval for a significant number of promotions across all ranks of An Garda Síochána, notwithstanding the current moratorium in the public service. As a result, some 170 vacancies will be filled at various ranks in the force. This development will allow the Commissioner to allocate the necessary resources to senior management and supervisory positions throughout the force. I should point out that these promotions will be in addition to the filling of some key vacancies in the force in 2009, when two assistant commissioner, three chief superintendent and ten superintendent positions were filled.
There has been an unprecedented level of investment in the Garda over the past number of years to provide the necessary resources to protect communities around the country. The gross allocation for the Garda Vote for each of the past two years has been in the order of €1.6 billion. This unprecedented level of investment has not only facilitated the increase in Garda numbers to record levels, but has also allowed for the deployment of new state-of-the-art IT and telecommunications systems to support the Garda in its efforts to protect communities and tackle the scourge of gangland crime. A prime example of this is the ongoing roll-out of the new national digital radio system, which is now fully operational in the Dublin metropolitan and eastern regions. It will shortly be rolled out to gardaí in the southern divisions, including the cities of Limerick and Cork. The new secure digital radio system, which will be fully rolled out nationwide by spring 2011, provides a number of benefits to the Garda. It provides increased protection of radio transmissions from interception and eavesdropping, increased protection for garda officers on operational duty, coverage for air support and offshore operations, interoperability with other emergency services such as the fire, ambulance, customs and Coast Guard services, full integration with mobile telephones and land lines, data transmission, including text and images, and interoperability with other police forces such as the PSNI. As well as digital radio, the past three years have seen the introduction of new IT systems such as automated fingerprint and ballistics identification systems, a new automated number plate recognition system and significant enhancements and upgrades to the PULSE system.
I have been consistent and clear in my approach of prioritising expenditure on the fight against crime despite the criticisms this has led to from Members opposite. The Commissioner and I are determined that the resources available will continue to be directed towards front-line policing, which remains a high priority.
Those involved in criminal gangs are of keen interest to the Criminal Assets Bureau, which relentlessly pursues the assets of those who seek to profit and benefit from criminality. The House is aware of the CAB’s successes but it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of just how successful it has been. In 2008 alone, the CAB obtained interim orders to the value of over €5 million and interlocutory orders — final restraint orders — to the value of over €2.5 million. It collected almost €6 million in taxes and interest and made social welfare savings of over €712,000 and recoveries of over €358,000. Since its inception in October 1996 and up to the end of 2008, the bureau has obtained interim and final restraint orders to the value of over €76 million and €38 million respectively. In the same period, taxes and interest demanded was almost €136 million, with over €124 million collected. If it were not for the concerted, ongoing and determined efforts of bureau officers on behalf of the State, this is money which would otherwise have lined the pockets of criminals.
The ongoing development and support by the CAB of the divisional asset profiler programme ensures that local knowledge can be combined with the bureau’s expertise in stripping criminals of illegally gained assets to ensure that life is being made progressively more difficult for those who seek to profit from criminality and the consequent misery of others. There are currently 127 asset profilers in An Garda Síochána based in every county in Ireland, and this number will be reviewed in the light of changing needs and requirements.
It is also important to note that the CAB does not just target the most important or best known criminals — it has a policy of targeting the lower-value assets of emerging and mid-ranking criminals. I have spoken before in this House about how these low-level drug dealers are a constant source of concern to parents and community workers who are trying to keep young people on the right path. The CAB activities in this area offer the community a very visible and effective example of law enforcement confronting criminals and making life difficult for them. It is evidence of law enforcement activity which I am certain this House fully supports and endorses.
In the light of our experience of the operation of the proceeds of crime legislation and to ensure that the legislation remains a strong and effective deterrent to criminality, I have asked that the CAB and my Department review the law in this area. The review will look at areas such as decreasing the amount of time which must elapse before criminal assets which have been frozen become the property of the State; increasing the powers of receivers over properties so as to deprive criminals of the use of those properties immediately; the short-term seizure of assets believed to be the proceeds of crime pending determination of the courts; further improving arrangements for sharing information with similar organisations in other countries; and entering into arrangements with other countries where assets which are forfeited as a result of joint investigations can be shared.
An important aspect of front-line policing is community policing. Policing in local communities is a matter for all gardaí and not just those assigned to the roles of community policing. The total strength and number of gardaí dedicated to community policing who are specifically tasked with the duty of liaising with communities within their districts has increased considerably in recent times. The figures available at the end of 2009 show that there are 1,058 members of An Garda Síochána specifically assigned to community policing compared to the total attested strength of 14,547. At the end of 2007, only 630 members were assigned to community policing. The present number therefore represents an increase of 68% to the end of 2009.
The Commissioner and I launched the new Garda Síochána national model of community policing early in 2009. This new model is about renewing, reinvigorating and restructuring the community policing function within An Garda Síochána to deliver a consistent national structure and a more co-ordinated and efficient Garda service to the community. This model will provide a structured and cohesive approach to community policing on a national basis. I strongly support the concept of community policing but there is no point in pretending that, particularly in the area of gangland crime, community policing of itself is some form of panacea. The perpetrators have to be pursued and brought to justice and that will always be a core function of An Garda Síochána.
The motion refers to introducing a mandatory minimum life sentence of 25 years. I have difficulty with the concept of a life sentence expressed in years. Life sentences are already mandatory for any type of murder in this jurisdiction. A person who receives such a sentence is subject to that sentence for the rest of his or her natural life and has no entitlement to be released after serving a specified period of imprisonment.
Neither I nor my predecessors would contemplate the early release of a person convicted of gangland gun murders. I would be concerned that introducing a mandatory minimum tariff of 25 years as proposed would change the nature of the existing life sentence and seriously undermine the ability of the Minister of the day to safeguard public safety. A system that involves a minimum tariff would under the case law of the European Court of Human Rights impose a requirement for that person’s continued detention to be subject to review by an independent body and as a result would take the decision out of the remit of the Minister, which no Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would agree to.
A decision to grant extended temporary release to a person convicted of murder is not made lightly. A number of persons convicted of murder have served more than 30 years in prison and continue to serve their sentences in prison. To the best of my knowledge no person convicted of a gangland gun murder has ever been given extended temporary release and nor can I envisage circumstances where such a person would be given extended temporary release, as there would be a clearly posed threat to public order and safety.
The Irish Prison Service has been proactively engaged in an ongoing extensive programme of investment in prisons infrastructure, involving both the modernisation of the existing estate and the provision of extra prison spaces. Since 1997, in excess of 1,670 new prison spaces have been provided. Furthermore, current projects will see a further 250 spaces provided by means of a new block in Wheatfield Prison, which will accommodate around 250 prisoners, and the reopening of the separation unit in Mountjoy, which will provide an additional 50 spaces. In addition, work is expected to commence this year on a new accommodation block in the Portlaoise Midlands prison complex, which will provide 300 prison spaces. In the longer term, the Government remains firmly committed to replacing the prisons in the Mountjoy complex with modern prison accommodation at Thornton. This extensive prison-building programme speaks for itself and is in stark contrast to the failure of the last Fine Gael and Labour Government to provide any additional prison places during its term.
A major challenge facing all prisons is the need to prevent contraband, such as mobile phones, weapons and drugs, entering the prison. To meet this challenge, major initiatives have been introduced by the Irish Prison Service to modernise and enhance existing security measures. All persons entering our closed prisons are now subject to full airport type security screening using X-ray machines and scanning equipment. Body orifice security scanner, BOSS, chairs have been introduced in all closed prisons, and the high-tech chair enables the detection of weapons, phones and other contraband that are hidden by inmates in body cavities or on their person.
Efforts have intensified to ensure that prohibited items within the prisons are removed. Some of the security measures being used include mobile phone detectors, the use of modern cameras and probe systems which assist in searching previously difficult areas such as hollow chair or bed legs, underfloor boards and other cavities, and walk-through metal detectors at entry points to exercise yards to detect potential weapons.
A new unit was opened in Cloverhill Prison in 2007 to isolate serious criminal gang members on remand so as to stop them continuing to engage in criminality while in prison and exerting influence over other prisoners. A block in Portlaoise is also used for a similar purpose for sentenced prisoners. The Irish Prison Service is undertaking trials of three different types of mobile phone inhibition systems at three separate locations — Mountjoy and Limerick prisons and the Portlaoise Midlands prison complex. All three systems are currently undergoing a rigorous evaluation process which includes external independent analysis. Legislation was also introduced in 2007 to deal with unauthorised possession of mobile phones in prisons.
The Government takes the crime of human trafficking very seriously and is determined to ensure that Ireland remains an inhospitable place for those criminals who attempt to trade in the misery of others. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 provides for very severe penalties of up to life imprisonment for sexual and labour exploitation, the removal of a person’s organs and trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. The Garda has identified tackling trafficking in human beings as one of its priorities. A dedicated human trafficking investigation and co-ordination unit was established within the Garda National Immigration Bureau in January 2009 to provide advice, guidance and operational support for investigations where there is an element of human trafficking. The Garda authorities have placed particular importance on ensuring that its members receive training in the investigation of human trafficking, as well as in prevention and in the protection of victims.
The motion before the House tonight is, to put it at its most charitable, inadequate. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity it provides to discuss one of the most important issues facing the country. When the opportunism and shoddiness of the motion are left aside, the House can unite in sending a message to those who engage in gangland activities. The State, on behalf of the people, is determined that, however long it takes, they will have no hiding place and justice will prevail.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy John Curran): I welcome the opportunity to address the House this evening. I will focus on the drug related matters raised during this debate.
The Government remains resolutely committed to tackling the drugs issue. Problem drug use continues to be one of the most significant challenges facing us. It has the potential to devastate the lives of the individuals involved, as well as those of their families, and to cause serious problems for whole communities. We must examine the problem in the wider context in which it takes place, and take cognisance of the fact that the demand for and the use of illegal drugs is what fuels the drugs trade. The measures we put in place to address the problem must take account of this.
The national drugs strategy for 2009-16 has been developed in partnership with a wide range of Departments and agencies, together with the community and voluntary sectors. Real partnership is evident across the initiatives of the national drugs strategy at national, regional and local level. The approach of sustained inter-agency and inter-sector work is very effective in addressing many areas affected by the drugs problem. In fact, it is the very basis of the Government’s interim national drugs strategy and this fundamentally underpins all of my work and that of the drugs office. Nobody in the Government underestimates the challenge of the problem, as drug abuse is a societal ill faced by all countries of the developed world. That is why we place such emphasis on having a co-ordinated and integrated approach in place.
The strategy brings together all the elements of our response to drugs misuse in a co-ordinated manner and will deliver results through the implementation of its 63 specific actions and its related key performance indicators. The new structures recently put in place under the strategy to oversee and co-ordinate all of our efforts such as the new office for the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs and the oversight forum on drugs are already bedded down and working well. The continued roles and contribution made by our local and regional drug task forces, backed up by the research expertise of our national advisory committee on drugs, also remain key as part of our collective response.
In excess of €31 million has been made available to fund the activities of drugs task forces in 2010. Despite the overall reduction in funding available, I am confident the work of the drugs task forces will continue to make a positive impact on the lives of those affected by drug misuse. I met all drugs task forces towards the end of last year and funding for 2010 was among the issues discussed in all cases. I emphasised the need to prioritise projects with a view to ensuring the most effective use of resources and the most beneficial outcome for service users.
Needs and priorities change over time and consequently, drugs task forces and service providers must ensure that funding is realigned to match changing circumstances. The task forces are fully engaged in this process and I gave them the scope to redirect funding within their allocations to address the realigned priorities they identified for their areas of operation. I am satisfied that this approach has helped to minimise the impact from the reduction in funding in 2010.
The Government’s welcome support for my proposals last year to develop a new national substance misuse strategy will combine a comprehensive response to alcohol issues with the provisions we have already agreed regarding illegal drugs, and this will further strengthen our policy response in dealing with these complex issues. Work towards the development of this new combined strategy, which is being led out by the drugs office in partnership with the Department of Health and Children, is well under way. The drugs strategy, which was launched in September 2009, has the strategic objective to continue to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on the five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research.
As part of our response, drug law enforcement is a vital feature of our policy framework. The objectives of the supply reduction pillar of the strategy are to reduce the volume of illicit drugs, to disrupt the activities of organised criminal networks and to target income from illicit drug trafficking. In examining our drug law enforcement response, I applaud the ongoing efforts and successes of the Garda Síochána and the Customs Service in continuing to prevent significant quantities of illegal drugs arriving in our communities. Both law enforcement agencies exceeded the drug supply reduction targets set for them under our previous national drugs strategy. Since then, they have consistently continued to seize substantial volumes of drugs. It is important to acknowledge that during public debates such as this. Their ongoing successes in this respect are a tribute to their professionalism and hard work and I acknowledge that this evening.
Given the lucrative business that drug trafficking entails, it is not surprising that trafficking and distribution is such an attractive prospect for organised crime around the world. Criminal networks organise themselves along business models. Established criminal networks involved in the drugs trade display the same organisational substructures as conventional businesses incorporating procurement, processing, marketing, distribution, finance and administration. Our law enforcement agencies must be able to tackle this head on and proactively pursue those involved in such activity through intelligence-led approaches.
The Government will continue to place emphasis on this issue as a priority. In setting the policing priorities for the Garda Síochána in 2010, the Minister specifically asked the Garda Commissioner to continue the focus of the force on tackling serious crime, in particular targeting organised crime including its involvement in drug trafficking. This is also reflected in the Garda policing plan for this year, which was launched earlier today. It is vital that this Government direction is backed up by ensuring that the Garda Síochána has the necessary level of resources and support it needs to tackle drug trafficking effectively, and in ensuring that our legislative response remains effective in dealing with this issue.
In his contribution, the Minister amply demonstrated in detail the extensive action the Government has taken in backing up such commitments, including the record level of resources being provided to the Garda Síochána to tackle crime, the increase in Garda numbers to record levels, and the extensive suite of crime legislation introduced in recent years to tackle organised crime including drug trafficking.
With all of this in place, the Garda Síochána will continue to pursue vigorously all of those involved in drug crime. The Minister has already referred to the ongoing work carried out by the Garda national drugs unit, the divisional drug units, the organised crime unit and the national bureau of criminal investigation, all of whose work is backed up by the Criminal Assets Bureau. The national unit works in close co-operation with other agencies and jurisdictions on drug issues. Garda liaison officers based in London, The Hague, Madrid, Europol and Interpol provide specific assistance to the national unit on international aspects of operations which target drug traffickers.
Ireland is also a full member of the MAOC group based in Lisbon, which is an international intelligence led operation against drug trafficking at sea. As we saw with Operation Seabight, the centre has a significant role to play in assisting in the interception of narcotic shipments, especially cocaine, destined for the European Union and arriving from the Americas. Irish personnel are permanently based at the centre. Given the nature of drug trafficking, the Customs Service works very closely on an ongoing basis with the Garda Síochána in carrying out drug law enforcement. During his input to this debate tomorrow, the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, will outline the specific role of the Customs Service in our law enforcement efforts on drug trafficking.
On the development of the joint policing committee initiative and action needed to tackle the emergence of headshop outlets, joint policing committees have been established in the vast majority of our local authority areas. Through involvement of the Garda Síochána, the community and voluntary sectors, elected local authority members and Oireachtas Members, the issue of drugs and drug related intimidation will remain central to the work of these committees and I support and urge such a focus.
I have already voiced my grave concerns at the activities of headshop outlets on numerous occasions since my appointment as Minister of State, and the representation of substances as “legal highs”. I am currently co-ordinating the Government response across various Departments to tackle the problems associated with the proliferation of these shops, which I know is a matter of serious concern to the public. In line with this, I have asked the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, who has responsibility for the designation and controlling of substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act, to ensure that every effort is made to expedite the response to this issue through the early control of substances under that legislation and I hope that steps can be taken to progress this as soon as possible.
I have also raised insurance and consumer protection issues with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as well as planning issues with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This issue shows the need for the integrated approach on which I am placing so much emphasis in the drugs arena. I reiterate that the Government remains resolutely committed to tackling the drugs issue and will continue to do so through a co-ordinated and partnership approach outlined in the national strategy. Accordingly, I commend the Government’s amendment to the House.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I propose to share time with Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Costello and Upton. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Ahern, has described this motion as opportunist and shoddy. Given the way politics is going in this country and outside this country, a hard neck is an essential ingredient to survive. One must really take off one’s cap to the major party in this Government in that regard. For the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to describe this as an opportunist and shoddy motion belies the reality of life on the ground but, above all, conveniently forgets what this House was like in the mid-1990s when Fianna Fáil was in opposition. Given how long the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in this House, could he have forgotten what zero tolerance was like? Could he have forgotten the scenes in this House when the crime situation was not remotely similar to the vicious spiral that is the reality now? Fianna Fáil Members came into this House with their then spokesman on justice and jumped up and down every morning. Was any regard given to responsibility? No, there was not. It paid dividends in the subsequent general election in 1997. That is my view and is shared by many.
Irresponsible beating of the drum on crime in the mid-1990s brought electoral dividends. Instead of being provocative, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should be on his knees every night, praying to whatever God he believes in thanking him that such a responsible position on crime is taken by the Opposition parties in this House now. He referred to the fact that the Labour Party opposed to the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act passed last summer. The Labour Party did not do so; it opposed section 8 of that Act, which asked the House to declare the ordinary court courts inadequate for the administration of justice and that crime bosses should be brought before the non-jury Special Criminal Court. At the time, the Minister’s agents fed to the newspapers the story that 300 gang bosses would be rounded up at the weekend and that 300 gang bosses were ready for incarceration as soon as the President signed the Bill. I have the press cuttings from the time. That was in late June or early July. Eight months later, we can reasonably ask how many times the emergency legislation, brought in with such fanfare and brouhaha, has been invoked and how many cases have been before the Special Criminal Court. The answer is none, not one. The last thing the serious crime situation in this country requires is another legislative stunt. On that occasion I took offence at the rolling out of the relatives of victims of terrible tragedies of violence to praise the Minister’s initiative and to welcome the step he took. The step was never necessary; the ordinary courts of this land are able to do the business. As this motion points out, the business lies in the enforcement of the existing law and better detection and convictions. The Minister boasts about the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act. One and a half years earlier I published a Garda Surveillance Bill and Deputy Ahern’s predecessor described it as a Bill that would alert the criminal fraternity to Garda techniques. The quote sticks in one’s mind if one has a mind like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and myself. When one looks at the state of crime, one can set one’s clock by the certainty that human life will have been taken in a violent incident at the end of the week. That is as certain as Saturday and Sunday dawn. The Minister should be a little more humble and should acknowledge the seriousness and responsibility of the Opposition in dealing with a matter with which Fianna Fáil would make hay in opposition.
I am a great admirer of the Irish Civil Service and the political aficionados who help the Minister to write his speeches. There is great detail in his speech. I do my best to compare the Minister’s exposition with the report from the Garda Síochána Inspectorate last week. One is left with the view that we are in two different countries. I know there are thousands of dedicated policemen led by a Commissioner with a reputation that has rightly earned widespread respect. I was shocked by the report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. It was brief, accessible, intelligible, common sense and a sensible report on what the inspectorate views as the state of the police force, its management, the deployment of resources, the technology available and the methodology pursued. It makes the most disturbing reading, recommendation after recommendation.
Deputy Andrew Doyle referred to the fact that gardaí are being rostered on Monday morning the same as on a Friday or Saturday night. I heard a spokesman for the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors on radio saying that most Garda stations do not have e-mail facilities. That is almost beyond belief in 2010. When one reads the report, is it any wonder, with regard to the technology available and the familiarity of the Garda Síochána with it, that we are in this situation?
The entire purpose of civilianisation was the use of competent civilians to free gardaí for front line policing duties. This has not happened; it has been a complete failure. The Government has not displaced a single garda. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, the Taoiseach and the Celtic tiger would have recruited anybody especially if they had the right colour. The Government recruited civilians but it did not free up one garda for frontline duty. The civilianisation programme is highlighted in the recommendations of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. I take no pleasure in this situation.
Will the Minister explain how it is that after five or six years actively talking about reform in the Garda Síochána, along with the Garda Síochána Act and the Garda Ombudsman being established, a sober, competent, professional police officer from Boston and her colleagues could make such findings? Never mind the polite language or the verbal felicities that accompanied the publication of the report, the reality is set out in those recommendations. If we do not deal with it, and if the Minister does not deal with it as it is his responsibility, we will continue to see the Garda Síochána unable to operate to the maximum efficiency in dealing with the crime wave.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Gabhaim buíochas le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre as an deis a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an rún ríthábhachtach seo, agus ar an leasúón Rialtas, ach go háirithe. Gabhaim comhbhrón le clann Kenneth Fetherston, a fuarthas a chorp i sléibhte Bhaile Átha Cliath inné in uaigh uaigneach. I also extend my condolences to others who have been visited by the gangland killings since the beginning of this year. There have been five killings since January: John Paul Joyce, Paddy Mooney, Brendan Molyneux, Noel Deans and Gerard Stanton. Our thoughts are with the families and the communities who have witnessed and have been traumatised by these killings. There will be very few tears shed for some of them but this does not alter the fact that these gangland killings are becoming all too commonplace. All such killings must be condemned. They brutalise society and the communities in which they happen. They undermine the fabric of our communities and the justice system which is the key aspect of this problem.
It is a pity the Government does not understand the underlying sentiment of the Fine Gael motion tabled by Deputy Charles Flanagan and accept there has been a total failure in the past number of years to fully address the problems. I am in agreement with some of the Fine Gael proposals and there is nothing major in this motion that is objectionable. However, the Government amendment to the motion is disgraceful and self-congratulatory. It seeks in its tone to deny the real facts which are that gangland killings are on the increase. There have been five killings in one month. The Garda Síochána has exceeded its target on the capture of drugs — which is to be welcomed. I have gone out of my way to welcome this success and I have encouraged Minister after Minister to do more because the wealth to be achieved in the drugs trade is what underlies gangland killings and the gangland drugs trade. If the drugs trade is tackled head-on properly, then the Government will deliver.
I hope the Garda will continue to exceed it but perhaps the target was too low and the scale of the problem may have been underestimated. The figures released by the Central Statistics Office last week showed a drop of 19% in those charged with drugs-related offences but this does not give the scale of the success of the Garda Síochána in terms of the weight of drugs it has captured. From what I can see in my constituency, one of the areas hardest hit by the drugs trade, there is availability of all types of drugs, not only illegal drugs but now what is available in the head shops. This is a debate for another day and I welcome the Minister’s approach that he will tackle the problem. I hope the House will have an opportunity to debate the issue and we will come up with imaginative proposals. I do not believe the blame lies solely in this country. Ireland is a member of the European Union and that means an open market. I urge the Minister to talk to his European counterparts and to block this material getting into the European Union in the first place. If they cannot be prevented from coming from one country in particular — New Zealand — by means of trade agreements, then what is the use of the European Union and our trade agreements to date?
The Government amendment to the motion congratulates the successes of the Criminal Assets Bureau. I agree the CAB arrived in a fanfare of publicity and has been quite successful. However, it has not been successful on the ground because at a low and medium level the criminal fraternity is still lording it. Its members have the best cars and houses, they can have parties and six or seven foreign holidays a year and they are not being tackled. This is where communities are frustrated and they are demanding action. Some areas do not have confidence in the Garda Síochána. This is due to a breakdown in confidence over a period of time and also because the Garda Síochana is not properly resourced. Ten years after it was first discussed, the Tetris system has not been rolled out across the country and it is still being piloted. It is ridiculous in this day and age that the Garda Síochána does not have a secure digital network. Some of the offices do not even have e-mails and the opening hours do not give full access to the public.
The report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate was referred to. Ms Kathleen O’Toole was damning in terms of the management of the Garda Síochána. It is hoped the Garda Commissioner and the Minister will listen to her proposals. I met her a number of years ago and this is what she was talking about at that stage, the management of resources. She now believes that the Garda management does not know exactly where the resources are allocated. One of the examples is the need for an urgent roll-out of civilianisation. The Garda Síochána members are fully trained as crime fighters, having been trained for two years, yet they are stuck behind desks filling out forms. I refer to Blanchardstown Garda Station which was mentioned in Ms O’Toole’s report and where 60 forms are filled out by gardaí which could be filled out by anyone such as any civil servant or any other staff members in other State agencies.
I wrote to the Garda Síochána recently regarding a court warrant that needed to be executed in a family law case. The person who wanted it executed was informed it would take a year to be executed against a person living in a house. It was not the case that the person was on the run. These are simple problems but if we do not deal with the simple problems then the gardaí will not be released to work on the streets nor will there be more community gardaí. If there are more community gardaí then there will be more information coming through and communities will start to have confidence in the Garda Síochána.
Community gardaí have done tremendous work with scant resources and the change of attitude that has taken place within the force is welcome. Information is garnered through the work done by PC Plod walking the beat and engaging with people. That type of engagement will deliver the information that is needed. The Government’s amendment “notes the difficulties for An Garda Síochána in obtaining evidence in shootings which are the result of gangland activities”. That type of evidence will be obtained with far greater ease if adequate resources are in place to assist community gardaí.
The Fine Gael motion proposes the introduction of full body scanners in prisons. It is worth noting in this context that there are only two scanners for trucks in the country. Such scanners should be installed at every port, in addition to increased use of sniffer dogs, in order to intercept drugs shipments.
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