Thursday, 25 March 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
7. Deputy James Reilly asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gun murders that took place in 2007; the number of these that have resulted in prosecutions; the number of these that have resulted in convictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13157/10]
8. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gun murders that took place in 2009; the number of these that have resulted in prosecutions; the number of these that have resulted in convictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13149/10]
I am informed by the Garda authorities that in 2007 there were 18 murders involving a firearm recorded, in respect of three of which proceedings commenced. In 2009 there were 23 such murders recorded, in respect of eight of which proceedings commenced. I might add that up to 21 March this year, nine such murders have been recorded, in respect of four of which persons have been charged. No convictions have yet been recorded in respect of these murders but no significance can be attributed to that given the time period in question and the length of time which inevitably is taken for the judicial process to be completed.
It is important to emphasise that all of the cases in which proceedings have not yet been taken remain under active investigation. The detection rate for murders by its nature increases over time as Garda investigations progress. It is expected that the number of convictions obtained will also increase as Garda investigations are concluded and proceedings commenced are finalised by the courts.
I am, of course, deeply concerned about the incidence of gun murders and I deplore all such killings. All killings, regardless of the circumstances involved, are the subject of rigorous investigation by the Garda Síochána and will continue to be so. In setting the policing priorities for the Garda Síochána in 2010, I have asked the Commissioner to continue the focus of the force on serious crime and on organised crime in particular. This priority also is reflected in the Garda policing plan for this year and specific initiatives, including under Operation Anvil, have been introduced.
While the Garda Síochána has made significant progress in the investigation of a number of killings, there can be considerable difficulties for it in obtaining evidence pertaining to shootings which are the result of gangland activities from associates of a victim of a gangland killing or from gangland figures, even when they themselves are the victims of violence. It was against this background that I introduced greatly strengthened legislation in the area of gangland crime, which is being fully utilised by the Garda Síochána.
I have also introduced further significant legislative proposals, which are currently before the House, including the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill and the Criminal Procedure Bill and I will not hesitate to introduce further proposals if that becomes necessary.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: Perhaps more than any other topic, this subject is a feature of questions to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. During the rushed passage through the Dáil last year of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act containing the anti-gangland measures, the Minister promised action. Regrettably however, as the Minister has admitted and accepted today, not a single person has been convicted by the criminal courts or by the non-jury courts because not a single case has been taken since last year. Whenever a gangland murder takes place, as it invariably does at weekends, the Minister’s response is that he will meet the Garda Commissioner. The Minister should outline to the House, in so far as possible, what consequences arise from such meetings. Last year’s response was legislation, which clearly has not worked because legislation of itself will not be sufficient. While the aforementioned legislation was going through the House, the Minister was warned that legislation of itself would not be sufficient to deal with this problem. How does he intend to deal with the regular occurrence of gangland cold-blooded gun murders in this city, eight of which already have taken place this year?
Deputy Dermot Ahern: The Deputy is incorrect regarding the legislation passed by the Oireachtas in July 2009. I understand from the Garda Síochána that both the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which pertained to the issue of gun culture and the licensing of guns and which also effected an increase in the penalties for knife crime and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act are being actively used. As for the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act, which was the major legislation pertaining to gangland crime, the Deputy may be aware, because it has entered the public domain, that a number of significant cases have come before the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is independent and makes his decisions independently.
I note this law was contested as often as possible by outside interests. I acknowledge this was valid as people are entitled to make criticisms of legislation. In this case, a number of leading lawyers penned their name to a letter to make known their views on this legislation, albeit they were fewer in number than those lawyers who took the same action when the former Minister, Mr. McDowell, introduced a previous Bill in 2007. Obviously, the preparation of a Garda file in respect of such a matter takes a considerable amount of time. However, the Garda must be congratulated on its ability in this regard since the passage of this legislation. I know for a fact that in the run-up to the legislation, the Garda was well apprised of its possible implications and had done much preparatory work before the legislation was passed in anticipation of its passage. There were those in the House who stated that it should not pass before the summer but should be left over.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: I always say that Deputy Rabbitte is something of a court jester in this House. However, if he is supposed to be a spokesperson on justice, he must at least try to understand that when one passes legislation, one cannot simply round people up thereafter. Even the Labour Party, which opposed the legislation tooth and nail, would not wish to have people rounded up immediately after the legislation was passed.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: I criticise Deputy Flanagan because he is familiar with the procedure and what is the reality regarding the independence of the Garda Síochána in the prosecution of cases and the putting together of files. Once Members of the Oireachtas decide on policy and on legislation, it is up to the Garda Síochána and the Director of Public Prosecutions to implement it. The Oireachtas has given the Garda Síochána the power, in particular under the 2005 legislation, to act independently of the Minister or the Government. It is up to the force to bring forward files. Thankfully, I understand it has brought forward a number of significant files to the DPP, who I understand will make decisions in due course this regard. I can put it no further.
As for resources, the Government must be given some credit for having increased the budget for Operation Anvil and for the Criminal Assets Bureau this year, when every other heading in every other Department was decreased.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I note that 800 gardaí retired last year, which is triple the number of the previous year. As the Minister referred to resources, how many of those 800 positions have been filled,?
Deputy Dermot Ahern: ——and stands at 14,000. Despite the retirement of a substantial number of gardaí, more gardaí are entering the force because of the Government’s round of recruitment to the Garda Síochána.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: The Deputy should give the Government at least some credit for increasing the level of gardaí to a record high. Similarly, the resources available to the Garda are at record high, despite the constrained financial circumstances in which the country finds itself.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: The Minister has stated there were no convictions for the period he described. He cautioned Members not to read too much into that because the period is recent. However, according to the Minister’s own figures, the number of gun murders for the decade subsequent to 1998 was 182, while the number of convictions was 23. Is this not a crisis in our criminal justice system that cannot be diverted by any talk of legislation or of what the Opposition did or did not do? Is it not a cause of concern that there have been 23 convictions and 182 gun murders?
Deputy Dermot Ahern: The Garda does its absolute best to try to put a file together to convict people, but we live in a democracy. I speak for my party when I say that people are entitled to their innocence until they are proven guilty. It is often difficult to prove offences, particularly the commission of murder. People who might have been involved in those crimes have been convicted of other crimes and not necessarily the actual pulling of triggers.
Of course, we would like a 100% prosecution rate, but in no society will one get that level. I have full confidence in the Garda Síochána in its investigation of crimes. I must be careful in what I say, but four people have been charged and are before the courts in respect of the nine murders committed to date this year. Obviously, they are innocent until proven guilty, but the Garda has been active.
Despite what has been stated in a tongue-in-cheek fashion by people like the Deputies on the far side of the House about the most recent legislation passed by the Dáil, the legislation has helped the Garda Síochána. I hope the fruits of the legislation, in particular the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act, will be seen in the years to come.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: It is not a question of anyone expecting a 100% success rate. There is not even a 20% success rate. The Minister referred to what people like myself and the Opposition say, but this Opposition has been remarkably temperate and moderate in this criminal justice environment. I am in the House long enough to remember what went on while the Minister’s party was on this side of the House, a time when the situation was far less grave than it is now. Young gangsters are running around my part of Dublin shooting people because they do not like them. I accept the Minister’s comments to the effect that the Garda has an extremely difficult task on hand, but it must be a matter of concern that we have secured 23 convictions over a decade in which there have been 182 gun murders.
The Minister tries to keep his fingerprints off stories planted in the media, but he and Deputy O’Dea were responsible for putting abroad the view that, if we only signed the July legislation, it would not be back from Áras an Uachtaráin before a number of leaders of the criminal fraternity would be arraigned before the juryless courts. We have not had a single such case. The Minister referred to July of this year, but he meant July of last year because we have not reached July of this year. The Act was passed last July and we are now at the end of March, but there has not been a single case. The Minister is jibing at the Opposition, but we have been remarkably responsible and temperate in our response, given what is occurring on the streets of this city, other cities and towns.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: As I stated originally, even the victims of these types of crime, particularly those emanating from gangland crime, are sometimes unprepared to co-operate. This makes the conviction of those involved in crime more difficult and is one of the reasons the Government acted swiftly. It became clear to us after a number of serious events that removing the possibility and, as we were aware, the fact of witness and juror intimidation was necessary. Deputy Rabbitte’s party vehemently objected to this proposal. I disagreed with the Labour Party, which was entitled to object, but the provision was necessary.
As to the issue of people running around various estates, I was accused of introducing a rough gun regime. At no stage did I claim I was doing so to tackle gangland crime, although it was suggested that the legislation was a response to gangland crime. I introduced that regime on the basis of my firm belief that people did not desire widespread gun ownership, particularly hand gun ownership.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: I was working on the basis of the strong advice I received from every garda with whom I spoke around the country, from ordinary gardaí in stations to the highest garda in the land, to the effect that going down the road of a legalised hand gun culture would be a slippery slope.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: The other response related to gangland crime. Another element of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act was not only the targeting of the person who pulled the trigger, seeing as how some old eejit was sent out on the mission more times than not, but the targeting of those behind the trigger, those who put the eejit up to it. Of everything the Oireachtas could have done, we decided to take the organisers of the murders off the streets. They need not necessarily be anywhere near the commission of an offence. I did not get great support from either side of the House. Fine Gael supported the provision, but it wanted me to leave the legislation until after the summer. I believed correctly that it was important——
Deputy James Reilly: The question is in my name and I allowed my colleague to speak, but the Ceann Comhairle is allowing the Minister to talk over him. The question is in my name and I allowed my spokesperson to go ahead.
Deputy James Reilly: The Minister has spoken at length. Some might interpret it as wittering on. In reality, there have been nine murders so far this year despite his legislation. Multiply that by four for the remainder of the year and we will end up with 36. Please God, that will not be the case. The Minister’s comments vis-à-vis how leaving the legislation over the summer would not have prevented deaths are clearly not correct. The legislation has not resulted in anyone being arrested in the intervening period, as my colleague stated.
Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister a direct question on the number of gardaí who have retired because of Government policy and their fear that their lump sums would be taxed. Experienced gardaí are leaving to be replaced by whom? How many of those vacancies have been filled? That was a direct question which the Minister should answer.
The people of Dublin North, in particular, are concerned by gun crime. Lead pipe bombs were found in Swords last week and there was recently a tiger kidnapping in Lusk. I had the unpleasant experience of having the body of an unfortunate victim of gangland activity being dumped on my land. People are concerned. They want to know what the Minister will do to aid the gardaí, who very often know who the culprits are but whose ability to prosecute is frustrated by the law.
As Deputy Rabbitte has said, our ability to prosecute successfully, at less than 20%, is appallingly low. Strengthening of legislation, which was supported by this side of the House, has had no effect. Murder levels have gone up.
Is the Minister saying that as a consequence of this legislation murders have, in fact, increased but gun ownership has gone down? That is not what the people of Ireland wanted. The people who enjoy their sporting guns, not one of which has been proved to have been involved in a criminal act, have been deprived of their sporting activity on the basis that reduced ownership of safe licensed guns is a great thing. However, it has not had the effect the people are concerned about.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: If anyone is whittering on it is Deputy Reilly because he is merely repeating what was said a couple of minutes ago. I sponsored the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to ensure that we would not have a gun culture in this country. In such a culture guns would be available in houses where one might be used in haste in a domestic violence situation.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: I faced down the vested interests which Deputy Reilly and others are representing. Gun clubs and others want to have what they call practical shooting. This is, in effect, running around and shooting at moving targets. In my view and in the view of the Garda Síochána this is akin to replicating the incidents which are happening, unfortunately, in certain areas of the country where people are running around urban areas and shooting people.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: A High Court judge clearly indicated that if the Oireachtas did not take some action in this regard we would have a gun culture. In view of Mr. Justice Peter Charlton’s judgment in a seminal case that the matter should be looked at, I introduced the legislation.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: We are just pointing out that he made mistakes. He has made mistakes and errors of judgment. He came in with Deputy Willie O’Dea, who sniped at me from under his moustache like a pet hamster in a bathroom squinting over the toilet brush. The Minister and Deputy O’Dea, between them, were going to round up these guys before the end of July.
The Minister asked what would have happened over the summer if he had not passed the legislation? Where was he during the summer? Did he see what happened during the summer anyway? Did he see the gangland murders that took place over the summer, autumn, winter and spring?
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: For all this tough law we are not able to deal with gangland crime. What can the Minister do to ensure better enforcement and better equipment of the Garda Síochána to deal with a phenomenon that is causing widespread concern among ordinary law abiding citizens who are becoming enmeshed in what is going on in the drug dealing communities in this and other cities?
Deputy Dermot Ahern: Deputy Rabbitte is always good with his words but action is better than words. The actions the Government and I, as Minister, took was to increase the budget to deal with organised crime. Funding of Operation Anvil has increased from €20 million to €21 million per year. Resources for the Criminal Assets Bureau have gone up by 15% year on year, despite the fact that other Votes have gone down. The level of the Garda Síochána is at an all-time high at 14,500.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: The number of gardaí dedicated to fighting organised crime has gone up to a record high. We also have passed significant legislation. Deputy Rabbitte’s party opposed that legislation.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: The Deputy need not say I am criticising myself. He criticised me time and time again. Criminal legislation is not retrospective. If it had been left until September it could not have been applied to anything that happened over the summer. That is why we brought it in sooner rather than later. I am proud we did. I have no doubt in the coming months and years that the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act will be used extensively by the Garda Síochána.
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