Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this urgent matter on the Adjournment. I refer to the brutal murder of a young man, Mr. Daniel Treacy, as he went about his business at a busy premises in Limerick early yesterday morning. This killing is extremely worrying for those who live in the immediate Caherdavin area, including many elderly people. It is a great tragedy for the immediate Treacy family, including Daniel Treacy’s young family.
I would like to raise a number of points with the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. I am glad he is here tonight. Although extra gardaí were assigned to Limerick on foot of the Fitzgerald report, the resources of the Garda have been drained by aspects of the fight against crime such as witness protection, ongoing investigation and escort duty. Withdrawal of many gardaí from community policing duties has led to a reduction in information gathering and surveillance. We need extra Garda resources in such areas. In the past year, we lost 49 gardaí through retirement. I am glad the Minister replaced one chief superintendent, four inspectors and ten sergeants who retired last year. The problem is that our resources are being drained in terms of dealing with the fight against gangland crime The Garda in Limerick has one of the best murder detection rates in the country. It has solved two thirds of all gangland-related murders. However, difficulties with gangland crime continue. Will the Minister provide the extra gardaí to ensure community policing which will allow people feel safe going about their daily lives?
An operation on the same style of Operation Anvil needs to be put in place. This would complement the outstanding work done by the Limerick Garda. While the armed response unit is in place with extra personnel drafted in from Cork, such an intensive operation would deal with the gangland issue head on as happened in Dublin.
There are concerns the Garda is not being provided with sufficient resources to implement the provisions concerning membership of a criminal gang and surveillance contained in the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act. Will the Minister update the House on their implementation?
The question of mobile telephones in Limerick Prison also arises. The pilot project to block the use of mobile telephones in Portlaoise must be extended to Limerick to stop gangland operations being directed by prisoners there. The restriction of the movement of gangland criminals in certain areas on the evidence of a chief superintendent in certain areas would also assist. Anyone caught in the possession of an illegal firearm should not be granted bail. The fact the Tetra system is up and running in the Limerick division is to be welcomed. However, extra resources are needed there, namely extra gardaí on the ground. Existing resources are being drained in dealing with and fighting gangland criminality which are taking from other services such as a Garda presence in immediate areas. Yesterday’s shooting worried many elderly people in Caherdavin on the Ennis Road as it occurred in a public place and against a young man going about his daily routine.
If Customs and Excise was given the resources needed to prevent the entry of illegal drugs into the State, it would cut the oxygen supply to these criminal gangs. Will the Minister provide extra resources and personnel to the Limerick Garda division to deal with this scourge of criminality and allow the law-abiding people in Limerick to live in peace?
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I share Deputy O’Donnell’s concern, and that of all right-thinking citizens, about the importance of combating gangland crime in Limerick and in other parts. The Garda Commissioner shares that concern and my determination that this type of criminality be confronted with all the resources at our disposal.
I strongly condemn the recent killing in Limerick. The Garda has made significant progress in its investigation. Arrests have been made and the House will appreciate it would not be appropriate for me to go into any further detail in this respect.
Considerable resources will continue to be put into containing and pursuing criminal gangs in Limerick. An additional 103 gardaí have been deployed to Limerick since December 2006, bringing the total strength there to 635 at the end of 2009, the highest number ever deployed in the Limerick division. By comparison, at the end of 1997 there were 423 gardaí, only two thirds of the most recent figure. Limerick is the most policed area in the country.
The Garda Commissioner and I are aware of the importance of community policing. An Garda Síochána is committed to the community policing ethos, particularly in Limerick where there are 88 officers dedicated to it. The number of such gardaí in the Limerick division has increased by 138% over the past three years. We must accept, however, community policing is not a panacea for addressing the most serious types of crime but it does make a real contribution.
An Garda Síochána is delivering a robust and determined response to crime in Limerick, underlined by the reduction in the number of cases of murder and manslaughter in Limerick in 2009 to three compared to seven in 2008. There have been convictions and persons charged in respect of eight of these ten cases. The rate of detection and conviction is better in Limerick than in any other area.
The number of incidents where firearms have been discharged in Limerick has also decreased considerably from 103 in 2007 to 28 in 2009, a decrease of 73%. The number of persons found in possession of firearms has also decreased from 42 in 2007 to 33 in 2009, a decrease of 21%. An Garda Síochána has recovered 168 firearms in the past three years.
It was partly against the background of the difficulties in obtaining evidence in cases of organised crime that last year I introduced the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act. It is wrong to claim the legislation is not being utilised. I shudder to think of the situation we would be in if the legislation had been delayed or diluted as some Members advocated. I hasten to add Deputy O’Donnell did not but his party did ask for the legislation to be delayed.
The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act is more about the person behind the person pulling the trigger. The resources to utilise the legislation are available and, since it was enacted, the Garda has utilised it to build up cases against those involved in gangland crime. Due to the legislation’s provisions some files are already with the Director of Public Prosecutions and more are being prepared for submission to him. I share the frustration at the time which inevitably must elapse before legislation enacted by the Oireachtas results in successful prosecutions under it. However, I am confident that over time this legislation will be seen to have been a vital turning point in the fight against gangland activities.
Despite the pressure on the public finances, the Government has prioritised allocations for front-line policing and recently approved 170 Garda promotions as a derogation from the moratorium on promotions. I am continuing to put forward significant proposals for legislation, including the Criminal Procedure Bill 2009 and the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2010 which will see the establishment of a national DNA database.
Gangland activity is inextricably linked to the drugs trade. While deadly violence between gangs is highlighted, we cannot forget the misery which these gangs wreak silently in our community. The Garda, of course, liaises fully with Customs and Excise which has primary responsibility in the prevention of the importation of illicit drugs.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: Today, it had a successful operation in my hometown against smuggled cigarettes. The Revenue Commissioners continue to upgrade equipment and technology in the fight against illicit imports of drugs. Last year saw the delivery of a second purpose-built customs cutter as a further response to drugs importations and other smuggling via the coastline and of a second X-ray container scanner at ports.
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