Tuesday, 9 December 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
The introduction of a minimum sentence will be welcomed by the public. We are concerned by the huge increase in the last two decades, especially in recent years, in the trafficking of drugs such as heroin, marijuana and ecstasy. Approximately 80 per cent of crime committed in this country is drug related. Such crimes are probably more prevalent in cities such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway than in rural areas. However, as I have said before, regrettably every village and town is affected by the drug scourge. Senators on both sides of the House will recognise the necessity to tackle this.
The Minister's initiative to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for the possession  of drugs worth more than £10,000 with intent to supply is welcome. The public is demanding such sentences. Schools and parents are worried about the ready availability of drugs and the social problems in parts of our cities. The drug barons must get the message that we have had enough of their killing and maiming which affects many innocent people If this legislation is enacted, convicted drug barons will be sentenced to prison for minimum periods of ten years; indeed, in a recent case a drug baron received a far greater penalty. They may then realise that crime does not pay and that they will not be sentenced to merely 18 months or two years. This message must be understood by all those involved in drugs, whether they import them or engage in sophisticated operations such as retailing. They must understand that these operations will not be tolerated and that severe penalties will be imposed. This is the most significant aspect of the Bill and it is an important deterrent.
Those who consider the legislation to be unreasonable should visit parts of Dublin and Cork and other areas around the country where drug trafficking has unfortunately become the norm. In this regard, zero tolerance must be effected. The Minister and the Government should be encouraged for their efforts. They should be lauded for this Bill.
Hitherto, for those involved in drugs, crime has paid, especially those making millions of pounds and who have access to the best lawyers and sophisticated technology, such as that found recently on a suspect who had a micro-electronic device concealed in his shoes enabling him to receive and send messages. We must endeavour to put a stop to that. This legislation, especially the provision regarding ten year mandatory sentencing, will assist.
There is a divergence in sentencing in our courts. For example, one judge may impose a sentence of eight years for a serious crime while another may impose 18 months. This legislation sends a message to the drug barons that if they are convicted they face at least ten years in prison except in exceptional circumstances where there is a plea of guilty at an early stage. Indeed, in most cases a prison sentence far greater than ten years — such as life — will apply.
I disagree with the argument that the provisions in the Bill regarding the use of preliminary examinations will erode the rights of citizens and remove certain civil liberties. Such examinations have been generally ineffective. They have been repeatedly used as a ploy by lawyers to defer cases and slow up court procedures. In this respect I welcome the imminent introduction of the Courts Service (No. 2) Bill, 1997. It is an indication of the Government's wish to streamline the judicial system and make the administration of justice more effective.
The proposed abolition of the preliminary examination is to be welcomed. Apart from  speeding up the court process it provides a stop gap in so far as, at the time of trial, the accused may apply to the trial court for a dismissal at the outset of a case if there is insufficient evidence before the court to secure a conviction. The preliminary examination would slow down the process, although this was not its intention.
The public is concerned at the length of time that elapses between the committing of a crime and the trial of a suspect. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that, following apprehension of suspects, cases will be initiated within 90 days. I welcome this because delays in the courts have caused problems for the judicial system and for all Ministers for Justice.
Under the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, where a person is convicted on indictment, the court could determine whether the offender had benefited from the offence and, if so, could make an order confiscating money to the value of any such benefit. It is now proposed that, unless the judge considers it to be financially not warranted, automatically immediate inquiries will be initiated by the direction of the court on sentencing to ascertain if the person concerned has financial assets and, if so, to ascertain if they have been acquired through property dealings or bank accounts by way of the sale of drugs. This important function will speed up the process and help in the fight against the drug barons.
I wish to discuss the Garda evidence by certificate. There is a common complaint among members of the public that there are not enough gardaí on the beat. We are all concerned about the demotion and closure of rural Garda stations. In a recent debate in the House, I and other Senators criticised the inadequacy of the “green man” which is in Garda stations when no garda is on duty. Despite this, one will often find a plethora of gardaí attending District Courts to give nothing more than technical evidence regarding the arrest and caution of an accused. If this garda evidence was provided by way of certificate it would free many gardaí and save the State on overtime. It would also ensure better policing of the streets, townlands and countryside.
Another important aspect of the Bill is the guilty plea. If a person says they are guilty of a crime and puts themselves at the disposal of the gardaí and the courts, it should be taken into account. I have often praised District Court and Circuit Court judges for showing leniency in sentencing when a person confesses to a serious crime, thereby saving the Garda and the State time and money. This is an important factor which is recognised in the Bill. However, if a person is caught with a boat full of drugs, that must also be taken into account. It does not mean a person will get two or three years but they may not get life imprisonment. If a person saves the State, the Garda and the courts money, time and effort, that will be considered in sentencing.
The Minister said that the year and a day rule will be abolished. Up to now if a person committed  an assault and the victim did not die within a year and a day, they could not be prosecuted. I welcome this development.
Mr. Quinn: The Minister said he hoped this would be a constructive debate and he assured the House he would take fully into account the points made during it. Senator Taylor-Quinn and Senator O'Donovan referred to the historic importance of this occasion. The Bills we will discuss this week from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform represent a fundamental change in our criminal law and the way we administer it. As we scrutinise the texts of criminal law legislation, we should not forget that criminal law is only part of the picture. We will never solve the crime problem by relying solely on the law even if it is superbly formulated and administered.
The British Labour Party's slogan is “tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime”. This shows we cannot deal with one side of the coin. We heard the same rhetoric during our election campaign. Fianna Fáil talked about making dramatic attempts to eliminate deprivation in our society. I hope that is more than simple rhetoric. We cannot hope to deal with crime effectively until we grasp the nettle of deprivation. That is particularly true in relation to drugs.
It is easier to pass laws against crime than to tackle the causes of crime. It is easier to clean up our courts system than to clean up the urban ghettos in the land of the Celtic tiger. While I applaud the Bill I urge the Government not to let the issue of deprivation lie on the backburner. It should be tackled as was promised during the election. Cosmetic touches will not solve these problems. We must have the will, determination and resources to start a national crusade. The people are ready to make the necessary sacrifices in this regard. It remains to be seen whether our political process is equally ready.
I will confine my remarks to Parts II and III of this Bill which seek to establish two major changes in our system. Part II will create a new offence relating to the possession of more than £10,000 worth of drugs which will carry a severe minimum mandatory sentence. Although this will be useful, I have reservations about it. It is not that mandatory sentences reduce the judge's discretion and, in doing so, dilute the constitutional separation between the Oireachtas and the Judiciary because if we took that argument to its logical conclusion, sentences would not be specified in law. Some people might argue that specifying sentences in law will guard against excessive sentences. Most Acts specify only maximum sentences which should not be exceeded by the judge.
When making laws, legislators should indicate to the Judiciary the relative degree of seriousness the people attach to a particular crime. The law must be respected by the people but it can be seriously undermined if sentencing is too far out of line with public opinion by being too severe or  too lenient. A recent example of lack of respect for the law was the trial of Louise Woodward in America where the original sentence was felt to be out of line with public opinion.
I do not have a problem with the concept of minimum sentences. However, I am worried about the danger of creating a sheep and lamb syndrome — if I am hanged for stealing a lamb, I may as well take a sheep. I am talking about the distinction between hard and soft drugs. One does not have to be in favour of decriminalising cannabis to be in favour of dealing with hard drugs, such as heroin, more seriously.
I am worried that under this Bill the possession of £10,000 worth of cannabis or heroin will be treated in the same way. One could argue that the market price creates that difference but I disagree. Some £10,000 worth of cannabis does not cause the same problems for society as £10,000 worth of heroin, although more cannabis is involved. There is a step between the two which is not captured by the difference in the market price. It is good that the Bill sends a signal that anyone caught with a significant amount of drugs will receive a severe prison sentence. However, the subtext is that dealing in heroin will not be punished more severely than dealing in cannabis. I agree with the message but my fear is that it will be the subtext which is listened to and acted on.
The Minister should consider the possibility of being more specific as to the sentences specified in the Bill. It should be possible to devise a sentencing tariff — a class 1 and 2 or something like that. This would produce the correct deterrent effects without the possible adverse side effects. It would be worth going to the trouble to do so. The Church distinguishes between venial and mortal sins so it may not be out of the question for us to find a similar solution. The Minister should consider this before Committee Stage. The strong message which must go out is that dealing in drugs is not acceptable and that those who do so will be punished.
Some years ago I arrived at Singapore Airport. There was a sign above the customs officer's head which warned of the death penalty for the importation of drugs. The officer asked me two questions: “Are you aware that the death penalty exists for the importation of drugs?” and “Have you got any?” Everyone knows that the importation of drugs into Singapore is not acceptable. This Bill sends out a strong message that we are taking a similar stand.
My second reservation about the new offence is less easy to deal with. It concerns the concept of possession. We must be honest with ourselves — this new offence is not directed at drug barons. They take good care never to get too close to their merchandise. This offence will trap the underlings, not the drug barons or the bosses. For example, suppose it became an offence to sell jam doughnuts and my company continued to do so. I could be prosecuted because, even though I never went near a jam doughnut, the law can prove  ownership and control of goods in ways other than physical possession. However, we only have possession when it comes to an illegal activity such as drug trafficking. There are no invoices covering drug transactions and no audit trail to follow. This is the major loophole which allows the barons to go free while their underlings are more readily caught. They become prison fodder for the real bosses.
The new machinery which allows for the confiscation of the assets of drug traffickers has improved the situation considerably. However, the fundamental flaw still exists. If we are serious about dealing with this problem we will have to consider accepting evidence of trafficking other than possession. Years ago we had difficulty with subversive activity and, eventually, we introduced the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1972, under which a Garda Superintendent could say “I believe that.” It is too strong a test to prove physical possession by the bosses. They will never be caught in possession. Changing this measure would be a greater step than is contemplated in the Bill. However, we may be forced into it before long.
Part III of the Bill abolishes preliminary examinations in indictable cases. This is an attractive proposal. It will drastically cut down on the amount of time it takes to resolve cases, removing many of the delays which work against the interests of justice and innocent defendants. It will also reduce the amount of Garda time spent in court. Whenever I have been in courts they seem full of gardaí waiting to be called. This measure will reduce the overall cost of administering criminal law, including free legal aid. It will also free up the lower courts to concentrate on what is, arguably, their main function.
These are real advantages yet it is possible to argue that the existing system of preliminary examination is not very effective and perhaps we would lose little in doing away with it. However, I find it hard to accept such a sweeping change. We are replacing a two-tier system with a single tier. The two-tier system is used throughout the world even in systems which differ fundamentally from ours. Continental European systems have an examining magistrate as the first tier. The US has a Grand Jury. The British system involves a preliminary examination which we have followed. These systems exist to protect the rights of the defendant. That benefit offsets their cost. Our initial tier may be flawed but is that sufficient reason to abolish it? Is it not an argument for reforming it so that it performs its function properly?
Every so often we hear people say that we should abolish the Seanad. The Progressive Democrats proposed this in the past, although we have not heard much from Senator Dardis on this subject in recent years.
Mr. Quinn: Others think it performs a useful and valuable function and, therefore, it deserves to be reformed. What worries me most about this proposal is that we are attempting to trump people's rights for the sake of money and convenience. I am uneasy about that trade off. We are doing this at a time when we have not exhausted the possibility of increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the court system. There is a raft of legislation before the House this week. Some of it will begin to address these issues. Before waiting to assess the outcome of these reforms we are taking a further step which will revolutionise our criminal justice system. Is this a step too far, too fast? I am being moderate in my words. I was pleased that the Minister said that he would take Senators' views into account. There are strong cases to be made in the House and I hope they will be taken into account.
Mr. Dardis: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, to the House. I understand why the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform cannot remain with us for the debate. The House has an onerous schedule of legislation from the Department with which it must deal this week. The Minister stated he will return to the House later and give careful consideration to what has been said in the debate.
Senator Quinn stated that this Bill not only involves legal issues but also those relating to exclusion, social disadvantage and the need to deal with aspects outside the law. I recognise and support the Senator's concerns. The Minister said: “I do not pretend that the answer to our community's drug problem lies exclusively in criminal justice measures”, and proceeded to talk about social exclusion. The Minister realises that while the Bill, which is part of a raft of legislation aimed at dealing with this problem, is welcome, there is far more to this issue than passing legislation. It would be superficial and glib to state that one Bill could solve the problem. However, the Bill forms part of the legal system to deal with that problem. In my view it will be an effective instrument to deal with the scourge of drugs which is a blight on our society.
Arising from the degree of concern and misery caused by drug dealing, the law must be stronger than it might otherwise be in terms of the curtailment or circumscription of civil liberties. The Bill fulfils the test in terms of striking a balance between civil liberties and the need to deal with drug dealing. It must be remembered that there is prior right in respect of this kind of legislation, namely, the right of the citizen to live in freedom under the law and that citizen's right to life. The term “right to life” has certain connotations which I do not wish to raise during this debate. In the context of the Bill, we are discussing the rights of citizens to live freely without being subjected to the scourge of drugs. As already stated, the Bill passes the test in that regard.
As the Minister indicated, the Bill forms part of a package to deal with the supply of and  demand for drugs. We rely on the authorities at sea, the Garda and customs officers to restrict the supply of drugs. We must also consider the question of common security at European level and we will deal with this in debates on the Amsterdam Treaty and the enlargement of the European Union. However, the EU has a definite role to play in dealing with this matter.
One of the issues which arose on the Order of Business in recent weeks was whether it would be reasonable to legalise cannabis or, in certain circumstances, heroin. I believe that such substances should not be legalised. The more communication I have with gardaí and experts working in this area the more I am convinced that cannabis and Ecstasy should not be legalised. I am advised that cannabis is more carcinogenic than cigarettes and account must also be taken of the drug's side effects. It has reached the point where people in America are being injured at work on Monday mornings because of the residual effects of cannabis in their systems. I do not subscribe to the view that any of these substances should be legalised with one possible exception, namely, the use of heroin for terminally ill patients under controlled conditions in hospitals. I am sure this suggestion can be given consideration and could be prescribed within law.
Another matter of concern is the possession of drugs for one's own use or the point at which the amount of a substance in one's possession cannot be considered to be for one's own use. I am subject to correction by the Minister but I understand that a person currently found in possession of substances for their own use must be convicted three times before a custodial sentence is handed down. I believe wider discretion should be granted in this area and the courts should be given the power to impose custodial sentences in cases where they have been advised of a person's background.
Before dealing with the detail of the Bill, I am concerned about the expertise of the Garda Síochána and the force's ability to deal with drugs. I am aware that its capacity has been greatly increased in recent years and that it has wider expertise and intelligence capabilities. The force is now in a good position to deal with the problem. However, from my contacts in the Garda Síochána, I also understand that in a typical town such as Newbridge two young plain clothes gardaí may be involved in the control of drugs on the ground. They get to know who are the dealers and users and build up contacts in the community but, due to lack of resources, etc., they are moved on after a number of months. That does not strike me as a good use of manpower or the intelligence accumulated over a period. It is also my understanding that ten years ago there might have been two people dealing drugs in a typical rural town with a population of 10,000, whereas there are now 25 people involved in such activity. It is obvious that there is a greater need for the gardaí to involve themselves in the control and detection of drug dealing and  securing convictions against those involved. Much knowledge has been built up in this area.
The question of mandatory sentencing, the effect this would have on civil liberties and the discretion, or lack thereof, given to the courts is at issue in this Bill. Given the gravity of the offences involved it is prudent to adopt the approach taken in the Bill and to put in place mandatory sentences. It is not true to say that the courts are given no discretion under the terms of the Bill because section 5(3C) refers to exceptional and specific circumstances and later sections deal with the reviewing of sentences at mid-term under certain specified conditions. There is a degree of discretion involved but, on balance, because of the severity of the matters with which we are dealing, it is in order to employ mandatory sentencing. A minimum of ten years on conviction is appropriate because the offence we are dealing with is nothing less than murder.
On a radio programme this morning reference was made to a Christmas tree in a community in Dublin's inner city. Over 100 stars have been placed on the tree to indicate the number of people who have died as a result of drug abuse. In the past year the number has risen from 80 to over 100 which is an indication of the devastation exacted on a city community. In that context, drug dealing should be seen as murder and the minimum sentence of ten years is entirely appropriate. Likewise, I welcome the provision relating to the confiscation of assets whereby there is an automatic determination of the benefit accruing to a convicted criminal.
With regard to the market value of drugs and the sum of £10,000 to which Senator Quinn and others referred, I have a number of difficulties with this part of the Bill. Where is the market and what is their price? Under the terms of the Bill, a garda, a customs officer or an expert in the area will be able to suggest what is the market value of drugs. However, from sources in the Garda Síochána, I am aware that the market value of drugs in Dublin's inner city is different to that in a rural town. In other words, drugs which might cost £200 in Dublin may cost £400 in a rural area. How does one objectively assess the market value? What is the difference between so-called hard and soft drugs? I understand cannabis dealers are making more money from their activities than their counterparts who deal in hard drugs, such as heroin.
It is invidious to put financial parameters on misery but, nevertheless, it would appear that £10,000 worth of cannabis may produce a far greater benefit to the criminal than £10,000 worth of heroin, although I am open to correction. I understand the going market rate for one kilogram of cannabis is approximately £10,000. That is a large amount of cannabis. While I understand the reason for a figure, different circumstances pertain to hard and soft drugs. Perhaps that is a matter which should be looked at.
 Senator Quinn was right when he said the people at the top walk away while the dealers lower down the line are caught and convicted. These are sophisticated people and have sophisticated advice and technology available to them. They know the law. What will happen as a result of this measure is that consignments will be spilt up into half kilograms or whatever to minimise the risk of being convicted on the basis of the £10,000 threshold. I envisage some difficulties in this area and will be interested to hear the Minister's comments at the conclusion of Second Stage.
I have dealt with the question of the ten years and the specification on the minimum period. I have reservations about section 5(3G) on the review of a sentence on the basis of a person being addicted. Would it be open to a person to say they were an addict if convicted of a crime and jailed on the basis that it would lead to a review of the sentence? I assume it is done on the basis of an objective assessment by experts in the area. I also wonder about the prudence of dealing with addiction in that way. I understand that victims of drug dealing are drawn into dealing as a result of being addicted. They become totally locked into a system and are used by the drug barons who walk away.
I would like to draw an analogy in this regard. I do not believe it would be regarded as mitigating circumstances if an alcoholic driving home one evening knocked a person down and killed them. Are two different standards being applied? That is a matter which the Minister might address in his remarks. I have a slight reservation that perhaps we are applying a different standard to different cases. It is as unacceptable for an alcoholic to drive a car and kill somebody as it is for an addict to peddle drugs and kill somebody.
I refer to the power to exclude the public from trials. The point was made that in cases involving children in the children's court which do not relate to drugs and where sensitive evidence is being taken, there are prudent and good reasons trials should be held in camera and there should be no subsequent reporting. I assume the courts will exercise reasonable discretion as regards excluding the public from trials and that, by and large, this rule will not be applied. However, I envisage circumstances where because of the sensitivity of the evidence and the fact it might prevent charges being laid against other people or convictions being secured, there might be good grounds for not holding cases in public. By and large, I suspect the Judiciary will take the view that it is better not to exclude the public.
I noted a recent case where people were asked by the judge to leave the curtilage of the court and to move a certain distance from the court. In circumstances where it is decreed that the court should be cleared during a trial, perhaps we should include the curtilage of the court as well as the court itself. However, that is a technical matter. I emphasise that I am not a lawyer but one of that happy band of people who do not  belong to the legal profession. It sometimes strikes me that it, like farming and other commercial activity, is an industry in itself. I sometimes wonder whether the law is for lawyers or for the administration of justice, but that is by way of an aside and I am sure the legal profession will be able to counter quite magnificently on its own behalf when it is its turn.
The provision under which a person may be remanded to appear at a court which is near the prison in which he or she is being held is welcome. As someone who travels regularly up and down the dual carriageway from Kildare, it strikes me as ludicrous to have daily circuses with blue lights in front, behind and amidships bringing people from Portlaoise prison to the centre of Dublin, adding to the gridlock. I do not understand why it is not possible to deal with some of these matters locally. Why must everything gravitate to the middle of Dublin city when matters could be dealt with locally?
We must accept that criminals have access to the latest modern technology. They are sophisticated people dealing in death at a sophisticated level in a business sense. The State must apply the same level of sophistication to the way it deals with these people. Criminals and their wellheeled advisers should not be able to find loopholes in legislation passed by these Houses. It should stand the test of time. The Seanad has almost always improved legislation initiated here. I recall when the Environmental Protection Agency Act, a large Bill, went through the House. It was considerably improved by amendments tabled and accepted in this House. I hope this legislation will be improved as well.
The certificate of evidence applies to the custody of exhibits so it is not so broadly drawn as to raise questions about civil liberties. I reemphasise the point made on the amount of Garda time frequently spent on administrative detail in court. It is important gardaí are released to deal with the situation on the streets and to combat crime.
Legislation was passed earlier this year which allows the use of seized assets to fund anti-drug programmes, which is welcome. My colleague, Deputy O'Donnell, as Justice spokesperson in the Dáil during the last Administration attempted to amend earlier legislation to allow for this. At the time it was described as cosmetic rubbish by Deputy Dukes. That was not good enough. Eventually, last summer before the House rose the matter was rectified, which I welcome. A measure which was out of the question ten months earlier became possible as we faced a general election. I hope this legislation achieves the objective everybody in the House would want and that it will help to put those responsible for this trade in misery away for a long time so they will not be able to peddle their goods on the street.
Mrs. Ridge: I prefix my remarks by saying I do not see the need to be adversarial on such an  important matter as a criminal justice Bill. I am mainly concerned with the drugs related aspects of this Bill. When I was very young I remember being brought to the cinema by my aunt every Saturday — it is an old Dublin practice — and I always enjoyed it. I particularly remember being brought to see a film called “The Man with the Golden Arm” in which Frank Sinatra starred but did not sing. He played the part of a drug addict. I did not know to what the golden arm referred but he used a tourniquet on his arm when he injected himself and I did not even know what it was. I was not that young and I should have known, but there was no drugs problem in Ireland at the time so, in effect, that film was my introduction to drugs.
As somebody who was brought up in a very large working class housing estate in Dublin, I can remember when stealing from gas meters was the most prevalent breach of the law. The offenders were always caught because one could smell gas from the copper when they were found. Indeed, the visit of a squad car to the street was a major event. The gardaí would be surrounded by thousands of kids, all of whom were fascinated at the arrival of the Garda because it was so unusual. How society and times have changed.
However, as I grew older I wondered why we did not have a drugs problem in Ireland. Of course the answer is very obvious: we did not have any money and money and prosperity breed new types of crime. Again, the old Irish attitude prevailed — it could not happen to us because we are too good, too Christian and too kind, and the Pontius Pilate mentality which all Governments maintained until they introduced the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977.
However, the intervening years have brought untold horror. Fire must be met with fire before the next generation meets the same fate as so many who have died. In saying that I am conscious that the major aspect of the Bill is the protection of the citizens of the State as well as sympathy for those caught in the net. The Criminal Assets Bureau is to be complimented on its work but certain aspects of this Bill give me cause for concern.
I am new to this House but I gather that Second Stage is the time to put forward general opinions and it is up to the mandarins in the Department to refine the Bill, so I hope some of what I say will be useful.
It is obvious that law and order must prevail but it is essential that checks and balances be built into fair and just legislation. I wonder at the wisdom of abandoning the preliminary hearings and bringing everybody before the Circuit Courts. Are we not moving the process forward quickly at District Court level but clogging the system in the Circuit Courts? I am not a lawyer but I sought the opinion of a close family member who is and that is what I was told. Will we be doing the same as we did with the motorways, shifting the bottleneck — curing a problem at one level and creating another somewhere else? I  appreciate that this legislation is very complex but, for what it is worth, I am putting forward that view.
I am quite concerned about the person who pleads guilty. If somebody pleads guilty — it is obviously in their interests to so plead — they are saving the courts, the State and, in many cases, victims time and trauma. I still believe a judge should have the final right to decide whether a guilty plea should allow a diminution of sentence. I am very reluctant to give up rights which have been thought out over many years and enshrined in the laws of the State.
I have great difficulty with mandatory sentencing, particularly with regard to young drug offenders. I want to refer to the brief note in the explanatory memorandum and the Bill about the financial considerations of long-term imprisonment to the effect that this will be a major consideration. Are we thinking of the arithmetic? If we are going to incarcerate a huge number of drug offenders for ten years — I appreciate that sentence is for the major drugs barons — we must realise there are many of them about and many of them are very young.
The drugs problem crosses every social divide but it is fair to say that it is hugely prevalent in deprived areas of Dublin, particularly the outer western suburbs, and other cities and, as Senator Dardis stated, it is becoming a major issue in rural towns and villages. It is well known that some children are marked at birth and face a life of crime and alienation from normal society. I have heard them described by a priest who serves in one of the western suburbs as “the no tomorrow children”. That is a terrible description but very apt.
I will not go on at length about what has already been said about the drugs problem but I visited the criminal courts recently on remand applications day when prisoners on remand returned to court to see what would happen to them. When their barristers spoke on their behalf there was no doubt but that all the remand prisoners, without exception, were from dysfunctional, deprived and inadequate backgrounds. I suppose it is inevitable that if one comes from a dysfunctional, deprived and inadequate background, one would turn to drugs for kicks or to make life, as they see it, better. No doubt they are alienated, desperate, uneducated and unemployable but that does not give them the right to abuse, steal or attack a citizen. This is a terribly complex problem and I do not know whether anybody will find the answer to the social aspects. However, we can only try. I dread draconian laws. I am very conscious that the denial of civil liberties is a very big step to take.
With regard to mandatory sentencing, how can one compare a drug offender from a dysfunctional background — the no hoper — with somebody who is well heeled and articulate, and feel that one is meting out justice? The particular circumstances of every defendant must be taken on  board. I would be totally against mandatory sentencing. Every system has its inadequacies and mandatory sentencing would also have its inadequacies. There is no such thing as a perfect solution but I believe judges, who are appointed on merit with knowledge of and experience in the criminal code, are capable of exercising discretion in these matters. Justice is about sentencing the criminal, acknowledging the trauma of the victim and seeking to rehabilitate the offender so that he or she can become a full citizen of the State.
I am very worried about the diminution of the right of appeal to the Minister. I know everyone decries politicians' abuses of power, but I believe there should always be the court of further appeal. It is very dangerous to interfere with that. I appreciate in some cases the most spurious of appeals were made to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, from not paying television licences to other matters mentioned in the papers but which I will not deal with here. The right of appeal should exist in case an innocent person is put behind bars. I note that under section 5(3G) consideration will be given as to whether the offender's addiction was a contributory factor in the commission of the offence, and that in such cases the sentence imposed will be listed for review after half the term is served. I do not have a problem with that but I still disagree with the mandatory aspect of sentencing.
I am very worried about the exclusion of the public from court proceedings. I was shocked to hear Senator Dardis speak of removing them from the curtilage of the court. I view the denial of access of the public to the courts as a terrible and backward step. The only time they should be denied access is if there is a serious threat to the safety of anyone in the court or in cases of abuse to protect the innocent families of both the perpetrator of the crime and the victim. I do not understand the reason for the denial of access. The public have had the right of access to any court in the land since the State was founded unless the sign on the door stated the court was being held in camera. Will the Minister explain why this is necessary? People can be excluded on the grounds of intimidation, but a blanket prohibition on public access to the courts is a retrograde step.
The justice system should not only be able to imprison the guilty but should also hold out the hope of rehabilitation, thus protecting citizens from horrific attacks. We should try some innovative approaches at this stage and I have three suggestions in that regard. First, when drug dealers are sentenced, the money they earned which is seized should be invested in the communities from which it came. For example, if a person makes an enormous profit from dealing on the corner of the street in the inner city or in Clondalkin where I live, that money, when seized, should be invested in the community from which it came. It could help the next generation by providing recreational facilities. It could be used to  protect the elderly and it could provide for educational facilities for parents.
Second, it cannot be condoned that the GAA received £20 million in the budget, the same amount given to the drugs task force. It is time to put our money where out mouths are with regard to the drugs issue. Crime prevention costs but pays in the long run. I pay tribute to the Dóchas programme and to the initiatives of all groups, voluntary and statutory, which try to do something to improve the lot of those caught in the drugs web, both victims and offenders. If there were more money, it could be used to saturate specific problem areas with extra gardaí.
Mr. L. Fitzgerald: In any programme of punitive custodial measures to secure convictions it is important to focus on the origins of crime, the reasons for the abuse of drugs and what measures, if any, society should take and what philosophy it should adopt on an ongoing basis to tackle such problems. Without that and irrespective of the harshness of the measures and the introduction of the most wide ranging laws and law reform, we will not succeed in the long term in transforming our society to one which is relatively free of drugs, drug dealers and drug barons who pose a phenomenal and frightening threat.
I pay tribute to the Minister. In Opposition he had the reputation of being a spokesman who set high standards. Since he came into office, he has run the gauntlet of those who have sought to make him measure up to the standards he set for his predecessor. If the measures he has introduced after such a short period in office are anything to go by, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is measuring up well and is showing commitment and determination at an early stage in tackling the drug related crime problem with as wide a range of measures as possible. Although this Bill is only one aspect of the total package of measures, it is an extremely important one which is being initiated in the Seanad. It is a landmark and a milestone in the Minister's all-out offensive on drug pushers and dealers. The reforms it will make to criminal law will send profound and unambiguous signals to the dealers in death, as they have so aptly been described. One expression which is most appropriate to this Bill is the Minister saying that, if criminals commit crime, he will make them do time.
I have differences in emphasis to some of my colleagues opposite on some of the tough provisions of this Bill, which some say are harsh and others say are perhaps too extreme. It is an indisputable fact that these highly organised gangsters are destroying the fabric of our society. The scenarios depicted in the media and by politicians representing deprived areas of society, both urban  and rural, attest to the serious challenge and threat posed by this evil trade.
The health and lives of our young people are put at risk every day. The trade is being conducted by irresponsible people with no regard for the welfare of society. They are subtle and in many cases sinister. They have a highly sophisticated network of contacts at home and abroad, as well as huge resources in money and personnel. The tragic consequences of their handiwork include severe illness, ill health and in too many cases——
Mr. L. Fitzgerald: I am baffled about the necessity for calling a quorum; there are obviously many Members around. I was speaking about the enormous challenge posed by drug dealers. They are highly organised, their networks are sophisticated and the consequences of their actions are tragic in many cases. They have wreaked devastating havoc on our urban communities. Against this background, a responsible Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has a clear and bounden obligation to wage war against them — war in the legal and constitutional sense, but war nevertheless.
The criminal justice process, with its numerous imperfections and bottlenecks, must be radically altered and the climate in which these gangs operate must be drastically transformed without delay. To do so we must employ every means, resource and weapon legitimately available to us as a democratic society to exterminate what can only be regarded as a cancer which causes death in far too many cases. We must also send an equally clear and potent signal to those who might presume to step into the shoes of those we put away. The Bill directly confronts the challenges I have outlined. It is important legislation for many reasons, but primarily because it takes four huge steps as part of a series of anti-crime measures to confront and eradicate this menace.
I fully support the Minister's views on minimum mandatory sentences but Senators opposite have expressed extreme reservations. I agree that there are grounds for such reservations and in an ordinary criminal justice Bill I too would prefer to leave such discretion to the judge. It has been stated that the sentence set in law is usually the maximum but because of the nature and enormity of these crimes minimum mandatory sentences are essential.
I commend the Minister for consistently, cogently and forcefully articulating the need for this type of sentence when in Opposition and for introducing it into law at the earliest possible opportunity. I am heartened that he has introduced this measure so early in his term of office.
 I accept it is a strong, harsh measure with which some people have serious difficulties but, regrettably, this measure, with others, is a necessary weapon to be directed against dangerous and evil forces.
The creation of a new offence of possession of drugs with a value of £10,000 or more with intent to supply is the legal framework by which the new minimum mandatory sentence of ten years can be imposed. Senator Quinn said that £10,000 worth of drugs might be carried by middlemen whereas the drug barons would have possession of far greater quantities, and for that reason he had difficulty in subscribing to the use of this threshold for the imposition of a minimum mandatory sentence. However, it is difficult to reach the barons so it is commendable that a value be set. If it is unfair or unjust it can be amended on review.
Some Members disagree with long-term custodial sentences and advocate substitute measures. However, it is naive to think programmes of social inclusion will work as immediate measures for dealing with hardened criminals. While the measures should be promoted in the long term, it is imperative that we have strong, punitive measures which will send out unambiguous signals to hardened criminals, particularly those involved in the drugs trade.
People have expressed concerns about removing the Minister's powers to commute sentences. I welcome this measure and believe that in circumstances as serious as this the use of the Minister's powers could be easily open to abuse. I am delighted, therefore, that the Minister is removing such powers in these circumstances.
I enthusiastically support the minimum mandatory sentence but accept and acknowledge that provision must be made for exceptions if justice is to be served. Exceptional cases must be reflected in legislation and the Minister has carefully included safeguards to ensure justice will done in such circumstances. However, to widen the categories would weaken and flaw this provision beyond effectiveness.
I thank the Minister and commend him for the speed with which he brought forward these measures. I welcome the Bill and am convinced it will be successful in tackling what is and what threatens to continue to be — if we do not deal with it — the biggest threat to the security of the State.
Mr. Norris: I wish to share my time with Senator O'Meara. I welcome the Minister to the House. As Senator Fitzgerald said, I have been a discordant voice in the House because I take a slightly different view. I do not believe this Bill will win the war on drugs as the problem is far too complex and sophisticated. There is disagreement among Independent Senators and there was a spat between Senator Quinn and Senator O'Toole on this matter last week. Senator O'Toole said that deregulation was the only way to combat the problem, a view with which I agree  and one not only enunciated on this side of the House. Some years ago Dr. John O'Connell, a previous Minister for Health in a Fianna Fáil Government, made the point that, terrible as the prospect may appear, the deregulation of drugs, including heroin, is the only way of destroying the drugs trade. The reason for this is that the motivating force behind the trade is profit which can be so enormous as to tempt people to engage in this deadly trade even if it means placing their own lives in peril. Those who travel to Singapore, Hong Kong and other such places know this is the case. It is clear that people will be subject to severe penalties, including the death penalty, in such places but they still take the risk. The war on drugs will drive the market price up and will make a smaller number of drugs barons even wealthier. For this reason I have considerable reservations.
A distinction should be drawn between soft drugs such as hashish and heroin. The limit of £10,000 does not specify hard drugs, but could include hashish which is widely available throughout the country. Heroin is an extraordinarily insidious drug which turns its victims into zombies who then act as cats paws and under the influence of which they rob, maim and injure. I do not know of a single case in which an old lady was battered or there was a serious robbery involving hashish. It is a mistake not to draw a distinction between these two types of drugs.
I strongly welcome the automatic asset inquiry which is a very valuable provision. I would like to see those who profit from this trade being made subject to the penalties involved and, in particular, having their assets sequestered. It is obscene that people who make their money out of the misery and suffering of others are allowed, even if they go to jail, to hold on to the assets they have gained from this particularly foul form of trade.
I support what Senator Ridge said about the money obtained in this and similar manners from the drug barons being specifically targeted into the areas of greatest deprivation where the drugs problem is at its most extreme. I have called for this many times in the House. Sending a person to jail for a mandatory term of ten years will cost the State about £500,000. I do not see why the taxpayer should be automatically penalised in this way.
I am worried about setting the value at £10,000. How is this value to be established? How does one ascertain the value of a consignment of drugs? Is it to be arbitrary and capricious? Could this provision be subject to a constitutional challenge on the basis that it is impossible to quantify the market value of drugs on a particular day which may lead to discrimination between one case and another? These are technical matters. Everybody shares a revulsion at the damage done by drugs. However, I take a different view on how to solve the problem which is so sophisticated and complex that we must be sophisticated and complex in our approach to it.  In the past week we all received a report from the European Parliament produced under the chairmanship of Mrs d'Ancona, whom I know and for whom I have great respect. I think she was Minister for Education in the Netherlands some years ago. She is an extremely fine woman. The report makes a number of interesting and important points. It notes that the divergent approaches by the different Governments in Europe means the whole approach is haphazard, unco-ordinated and, therefore, weak and flawed. It calls for a co-ordinated approach across Europe. Whatever solution is proposed, it is vital that Europe has a co-ordinated approach at the highest level. The report looks for co-operation on this issue.
Regards urban and regional policy experiments in the field of harm reduction, the reduction of demand for drugs and crime prevention as being of importance in finding new methods to curb the problems involving drugs; Recognises the importance of policy experiments in developing countries for finding new methods to reduce the problems involving drugs, including the participation of local communities in planning initiatives for the reduction of drugs consumption and drug linked crop production.
Those parts of the world where a significant portion of the population make their living from the production of opium poppies, etc., will continue to do so unless we intervene economically. The supply will continue and the problem of distribution then has to be dealt with.
Much more money should be spent on education. The report, which is being sent as a recommendation of the Council of Ministers of the EU, requests the generalisation of the harm reduction policies, including distribution of syringes, methadone and heroin under medical supervision; the depenalisation of the consumption of all drugs; the legalisation of hashish and its derivatives and the modification of the international conventions pertaining to drugs. Perhaps we can arrange for another debate in the House or in the committees to discuss this issue at greater length.
That Seanad Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill because in the opinion of Seanad Éireann the crime problem must be tackled in a resolute and integrated approach through providing necessary resources to our criminal justice system and social services, and through necessary legal changes only after adequate study; and consequently Seanad Éireann is of opinion that the  Bill shows inadequate evidence of having received such study or forming part of a resolute and integrated approach.
The amendment has been tabled because it is time to call a halt to what is a dangerously rushed and populist response to the need to make fundamental changes to our laws, especially criminal law, to address the problem of drugs. The Bill is an inadequate response to the problem of crime in society. It is obviously based on the belief that crime can be defeated by legislation alone and it is a totally inadequate response to drug related crime. It contains provisions which should not be introduced, particularly regarding mandatory sentencing. This proposal was considered last July by the Law Reform Commission and it did not recommend it.
There is growing unease that criminal law and the methods being used to deal with organised crime are causing a gradual and consistent undermining of civil and human rights. A view of crime based on fear has been generated in this country. The Minister, when he was in Opposition, and sections of the media have not been slow in generating this fear in a populist fashion. However, this does mean there is not a crime problem. No Member of either House could say it does not exist. The number of murders and crimes against women is of great concern to me. I have raised this matter in the past and it concerns all women, particularly in recent times.
However, I am worried that a serious situation has been allowed to develop in terms of the response of the law to the growth of serious crime. Nobody wants drug barons and other criminals who perpetrate awful deeds in communities to go free or to retain assets gained by their evil acts. Nobody wants gangland bosses, about whom we read in the guise of their pseudonyms in newspapers, to act as if there was no law and order. The murder of Veronica Guerin, which will be viewed in the future as a watershed in terms of our attitude to crime and criminal law, resulted in a certain level of guilt. As a former journalist, I felt at the time that the balance had gone too far in the direction of criminals and not enough was being done to deal with gangland bosses and criminals who were out of control.
However, the climate generated by such a heinous crime puts a responsibility on legislators to take due care and attention and not to speedily introduce changes to criminal law in response to it and other offences. In a climate of guilt and fear, where some politicians believe in just legislating against crime, it is possible to tip the scales too far in the other direction and the Bill shows that the Government has done just that. This may lead to society, against a background of guilt about how criminals appear able to behave with impunity in public, turning a blind eye to some practices. An example is the conviction last week of Patrick Holland and his 20 year sentence for the possession of cannabis on the uncorroborated evidence of Charles Bowden. I will not deal with the details of that case because it received huge  media coverage and Members are familiar with them.
Certain elements of trial and conviction, about which I am concerned, have already been commented on by some parts of the media. There appears to be a view that it was fine to put Patrick Holland away because he is guilty of something. The constant reference during his trial to Garda opinion that he was responsible for the murder of Veronica Guerin leads me to the view that the vast majority of the public believes he was responsible for her murder although he has not been charged it. The view is that it was fine to convict him of possession of cannabis because there was more than a suggestion that he was involved in other crimes greater than the one with which he was charged. The feeling is that it was fine to convict him on uncorroborated evidence because he is obviously one of the evil drug barons and he must be put away. He is not an innocent and if he was not guilty of the crime with which he was charged, he must be guilty of something.
Such developments should not be allowed in a democracy. We must have rules and procedures which underline and form the basis of democracy. The use of uncorroborated evidence from a so called “supergrass”, who is now part of a witness protection programme, is of concern. I do not suggest this method should never be used. However, it should only be used on rare occasions. The lack of additional evidence in this case and the use of uncorroborated testimony from a known criminal who is not a credible witness is a worrying trend in a democracy.
However, if one raises this aspect, particularly in political circles, one is considered soft on crime. I and my party are not soft on crime. We are responsible for the Criminal Assets Bureau Act, which is probably the most successful legislation in terms of tackling the drug barons. I am also not soft on the causes of crime and I support Senator Quinn's remarks in that regard. He echoed my thoughts when he referred to the slogan of the British Labour Party during the last election that it is not just a case of zero tolerance of crime but zero tolerance of its causes. This is why the Bill and the Government's response are inadequate.
Senator Ridge mentioned children from poor social backgrounds in certain areas who are dysfunctional and have problems. They and their communities are, in effect, vulnerable to and the victims of the drug barons. This is not only the case in urban areas. I attended a conference recently in Nenagh which considered ways to ensure that children from disadvantaged families and communities are not allowed to slip through the net. Teachers, social workers, members of the Garda Síochána and representatives of health boards also attended the conference and there was a sense of despair that, despite the fact that such children can be identified at an early stage, a mechanism still does not exist to ensure that  they do not end up in prison. If they go to prison at the age of 14, 15 or 16, they emerge from the system as hardened criminals a couple of years later. We are also aware that in sending them to prison, they are being placed in a drug ridden environment. We discuss drug peddlers, but such children are the real victims of crime. In that context, the Bill and the Government's response are inadequate.
Last week's budget was another example in that regard. Resources must be targeted at this complex problem which did not start today or yesterday. Communities and children are vulnerable to drugs. I did a project on Dublin's inner city 15 years ago while training to be a journalist. Teenagers there were already having problems with heroin, and many of them are now dead. Our society and this legislation let them down. Mandatory sentencing of those carrying a supply of drugs worth over £10,000 is not an adequate response to the complex problems of communities trying to cope with poverty and unemployment. We must have a strategic, long-term approach to the problem.
There are no headlines for that approach. There are headlines for the “hang them and flog them” approach, but not for a ten or 15 year programme of investment in education, social workers and specific counselling and psychological services. That is how crime should be tackled. Mandatory sentencing is a blunt instrument and was not recommended by the Law Reform Commission which referred to it as having emotional appeal — obviously the Minister does too. I agree with the distinction that has been made between hard drugs and cannabis.
The sentencing of those in possession of drugs worth £10,000 means that couriers will be caught by this Bill. The drug barons do not handle drugs in many cases, so how will they be caught? Section 28 states that the maximum penalty applies even when a person pleads guilty. Will this discourage guilty pleas? We propose that this be limited to exceptional circumstances. Regarding denial of public access to the court, justice must be done and seen to be done, as Senator Ridge stated. This is a fundamental principle except in serious family law cases which must be dealt with in private. I am worried about this provision.
Mr. Farrell: I welcome this Bill which goes a long way towards solving a terrible problem. We speak about criminals being put in jail, but what about the addicts who are sentenced to life? In some cases, those lives are very short, because they are poisoned or murdered. We are dealing with very dangerous criminals and no jury would convict them because they are powerful, intimidating people. They have the money and men to do anything they want. We must have tough laws and mandatory sentencing.
Listening to some criticisms of the Bill, one would think Fianna Fáil had been in power for the last 20 years. Those criticising the Bill just left  Government. What did they do? Why did they not put forward an alternative policy? Deputy O'Donoghue when in Opposition forced the then Government to set up the Criminal Assets Bureau. If Veronica Guerin had not died, nothing would have been done about the criminals now behind bars. It took her murder to take the straw out of the then Government's eyes — to use a country phrase — and it saw it had to do something about this problem.
This will be brilliant legislation when it comes into force. I agree it is not the kind of law any of us would like, but 95 per cent of people will not be affected by it. However, drastic ills need drastic medicine. The Government is pumping resources into this area. The justice budget has increased by 10 per cent, and 660 new prison spaces are to be created.
Regarding comments about the ten year sentence, what sentences have drug pushers received? On average they have received two year sentences. We are told that some are running their businesses by telephone and fax from their cells, and this must be stopped. They cannot be allowed to run these businesses from prison. This type of legislation must be supported.
We are living in a democracy and if the day comes when drugs are no longer a problem, a future Government could amend or relax the provisions of this Bill. However, that can only happen when this Bill has done its job. All Governments have put resources, which means money, into this area. The taxpayer has paid a lot of money and we are entitled to ask if we are getting value for that money. Is the money spent to provide good housing for those involved in drugs being abused? Are the houses being abused? Is the money being spent on drugs? Up to 80 per cent of crime in the country is drug related.
It has been suggested that only couriers transporting drugs will be caught under the £10,000 provision. I have long said that if enough couriers are caught the suppliers will eventually be caught. They are part of the link between the supplier and the user. If that chain can be broken, those at the top will eventually be caught. Perfect evidence cannot be found in all cases, but there is often circumstantial evidence. A person who is drawing the dole and supposedly living in a council house may own houses worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and may be taking four or five holidays a year. That person is registered as unemployed, but from where is the money coming? Those in business must account for their money and if these people cannot account for the money which provides their high living they must be convicted because their money is not obtained legally. By and large, such money comes from drugs.
The Minister is doing a great job in improving police co-operation between Ireland, Northern Ireland, Britain and the rest of Europe. Many large hauls of drugs would not have been made and many drug smugglers would not be in jail without such co-operation across Europe. It will not be an easy job even with the best law in the  world. However, we are heading down the right road and showing we will not take any more nonsense from the drug barons who live the high life at the expense of many people.
Resources are also being provided for the treatment of drug addicts. This too is a step in the right direction for which the Minister should be congratulated. If convicted drug addicts make a commitment to avail of treatment and stop taking drugs they will be treated in the proper environment and restored to health rather than being sent to prison. That will be money well spent.
We should congratulate the many people in Dublin housing estates who courageously risked their lives and those of their families to try to break the drug barons. There is unity in strength; as the seanfhocal says, ní neart go cur le chéile. When they came together they played a leading role ridding our streets of drugs. I hope they will continue to play that role because drug pushers must be forced out of business and into prison long enough for their connections to be severed. That is the only answer to this terrible scourge.
Almost every secondary school and third level institution is awash with drugs. We are educating those students to lead the way forward and to set an example. A very strong line must be taken by the Garda on the availability of drugs in those establishments.
I do not see why plain clothes gardaí cannot go into discos where drugs are sold and pose as punters. Many journalists pose as customers to find out the activities of certain businesses. The Garda will have to go down to that level. The first time drugs are found in a disco the owner should lose his licence for a year. If it happens a second time he should lose his licence for three years and if it happens a third time he should lose his licence forever. That would put an end to the availability of drugs in discos.
Students found with drugs must be threatened with expulsion from school or third level college. I am reliably told that our schools are awash with drugs, which is very sad. What kind of country will we have if its future leaders are drug addicts? We speak about the drug problem in disadvantaged areas and dysfunctional families but what road are we going down if people who come from good homes and who received a good education are involved in drugs?
Mr. Coghlan: The Minister has been a frequent attender at the House; perhaps he is becoming fond of us. He may prefer the gentility of this Chamber to the more robust conduct he has encountered in the other House.
While the Bill has many fine features, it contains a rather dangerous section and it does not represent an adequate or appropriate response to the drugs crisis. While there is a need for the Garda to infiltrate some activities, almost on an undercover basis, I would hate to learn that  schools are awash with drugs, although I understand they are freely available. The drugs scourge is a serious menace to society. I do not know much about the difference between soft and hard drugs. Senator Farrell depicted young people as being keen on drugs. If so, they will change the legislation we are enacting when the time comes for them to take their seats in this House.
It will be difficult to assess the market value of drugs. The Bill provides that valuation will be based on evidence provided by a member of the Garda Síochána or an officer of Customs and Excise. Perhaps the Minister would elaborate on this.
The Bill allows the courts to depart from the proposed mandatory prison sentence of ten years in limited circumstances. Why the necessity for such sentences and why the limited opt out from their application? Hitherto, they have used their discretion in sentencing to good effect. For example, Mr. Holland received a 20 year prison sentence on a drug offence.
I welcome section 5(3G). According to the explanatory memorandum, it provides that “a court will have power, when imposing sentence on a person convicted of the new drug related offence, to inquire whether the person was addicted to drugs at the time of the offence. .” In addition, it provides that the court will have discretion regarding remission of the sentence. I also welcome the provision which allows for the correction of a defect on a charge. Things have gone wrong too often in the justice process because of technicalities.
The proposals regarding the abolition of preliminary examination are dangerous. Preliminary examination serves to ensure that some independent scrutiny is undertaken to justify the continued involvement of the accused person in the criminal process. The function of the District Court judge in the preliminary examination is to examine the evidence and decide whether it discloses a sufficient case. The judge assesses, as his duty, the prosecution's evidence. There is no independent scrutiny over what the DPP does, and abolishing preliminary examinations is another form of eating away at the rights of the accused, even though the accused is innocent until proven guilty.
I am worried about the increased powers which the Bill would confer on the DPP without adequate independent scrutiny. In addition, the abolition of preliminary examination goes against the Supreme Court decision in Costello v. the DPP, 1984, when Chief Justice O'Higgins held that in conducting the preliminary examination and in determining his questions, the District Court judge was exercising the judicial power of the State as conferred by law on the District Court in accordance with Articles 6 and 34 of the Constitution. In the Costello case, the District Court judge conducted a preliminary examination and ordered that the plaintiff be discharged, being of the opinion that there was insufficient  evidence to put the plaintiff on trial on the charges.
Abolishing preliminary examination would erode the rights of the accused. The Constitution supports the fundamental principle of innocent until proven guilty. All other European judicial systems have some method of independent scrutiny over prosecution, or at least some form of preliminary examination. The abolition of preliminary examination will lead to a case ending up in the European Court of Human Rights. That is not something we would wish to see happen. We are proud of our system and of the Constitution. I would urge caution, especially with regard to that section of the Bill.
Mr. O'Toole: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I want to raise an issue which caused controversy when I raised it in the House before. This Bill is necessary, although people are concerned about human and constitutional rights which should be addressed during this discussion.
Drug abuse is one of the most intractable problems in Irish society. It is difficult to speak about it without using clichés and restating what others have said. Any progress we make must be imaginative and creative. We all agree the drugs problem has not been solved in any country in the world. None of the strategies, such as sending people to death row in the US or handing out free drugs on the streets of Amsterdam, has worked. Anyone who calls for something which is not working elsewhere is wasting our time.
If we lock up every known criminal today, it will not stop criminals being on our streets tomorrow because the vacuum will be filled by new people. If we use the Criminal Assets Bureau Act, 1996, and our improved court system — I support the technical exchange of evidence and the ability of both parties to agree on the evidence and to ignore its unimportant and confrontational aspects — to lock up every drug baron, will that solve the drugs problem? Does anyone believe the drugs problem will be solved if the courts are given all the necessary powers? Anyone who answers that question honestly will say no, although I know the Minister and his officials will not answer it. It might reduce the problem and make society feel more safe, but it will not solve it.
Is it possible to address the drugs problem? We will only make progress on the demand rather than the supply side. We can put ten feet high customs barriers around every drugs producing country in the world, but drugs will still get over, under or through them. If that does not happen, chemists in the developed world will design new drugs. We will not stop the supply of drugs. We might defoliate Columbia and South America and stop a particular type of drug for a couple of seasons. We could do the same in the Middle East, but these will be quickly replaced by other drugs we have never heard of before. We never  heard of ecstasy until a couple of years ago or crack until a couple of years before that.
We may make some progress on the demand side. It would be more effective if people refused to take drugs. That could be done through education, although experimentation will still take place. As surely as children will walk along the edge of a cliff or take chances in dangerous sports, young people will engage in dangerous activities. There will also be an element of experimentation or usage of drugs. There is no point in do gooders blaming parents, teachers or peer pressure, because it will happen.
We can make an impact by locking up more people but we know it will not stop drugs being sold on the streets as they will be replaced by others. We can try to reduce the supply of drugs but we know other drugs will take their place. We can seize large amounts of drugs for the television cameras and take the assets of criminals who have millions of pounds in the banks and feel good about it. We should recognise the extraordinarily good work done by the Garda and the Customs and Excise in this area. Recent court decisions will also please everyone. These people are doing their work and the legislators are trying to legislate for it.
How do we make further progress? I raised an issue in this House a few weeks ago which seemed to upset a number of people, but I will do so again. We must concentrate on the drug addict who is addicted to heroin, which is the biggest killer. Heroin is less addictive than tobacco. People always feel threatened by that statement and want to contradict it. Heroin addicts can live a normal lifestyle in that they can do their work and take their fix in the evening without looking like dozed out junkies from the street gutters. We have seen high profile drug users in this country in the past couple of years. These millionaires and multimillionaires can afford to buy their kicks and still run supermarkets. We have also seen it in the rock and roll industry where people can sing and cut records while taking drugs. People at a lower level can also do menial work while on drugs. One can be a heroin addict and feed the habit on a daily basis and continue to be employed and to be a useful citizen. It is an easier habit to kick than smoking as it is less addictive.
If someone takes gateway drugs it does not mean they will eventually take heroin. Nevertheless, I have not met a heroin addict who did not also smoke tobacco. Vested global interests, which deal with legitimate drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, are keen to ensure that illegal drugs are hyped up. Is their vested interest driving them rather than their commitment to a better society? I will leave that question open. A heroin addict's habit can cost £150 per day. Where does he get the money? In some cases these addicts are multi-millionaires who can finance their habit. They buy drugs and support the illegal trade but are not involved in violence against others. However, those from whom they buy drugs are likely to be involved in serious criminal activities.
 The majority of heroin addicts cannot buy heroin easily. In order to get £150 per day they will hit an old lady, terrorise a couple in their home, hold up a small shopkeeper, rob a local building society or engage in some other violent crime. Any area in which there are a number of heroin addicts will suffer from a frightening amount of crime. In order to deal with this problem we put in place huge levels of security, huge policing and court resources and legislation. There is virtually no aspect of life which is not influenced in some way by drugs — education, the media, the law, politics. Users have two choices: they do not feed their habit or they engage in crime to get heroin.
Let us suppose that the Minister of State announced that heroin will be a controlled substance made available under medical supervision and that registered addicts could go to their local centre and receive an injection instead of stealing or sticking AIDS infected needles into people. What impact would this have on society? People should give this suggestion some thought before writing it off.
Why do we have this huge fabric of law enforcement, the courts, financial and security implications and the terror of ordinary people, from the west of Ireland to the inner cities, who are the victims of these crazed drug addicts? Who will lose out if drug addicts are registered and receive heroin? First, there will be a reduction in crime levels because addicts will get their drugs without having to attack anyone. Second, pushers will no longer be able to sell drugs because the price will collapse and the economic principle of supply and demand will take over. We have tried everything else. In the context of imaginative and creative solutions to the drugs problem, surely we can do something which removes terror from communities, decriminalises the drugs trade and takes the market away from drug barons? Would this not give peace to parents, communities and society? Is it not worth considering?
One might ask whether it is right for the State to feed a habit. However, addicts will be registered and can also be offered detoxification and treatment facilities for the first time. Anyone who has robbed, maimed or killed to feed a habit will have no difficulty registering as an addict. This proposition has worked. I will make available to the Minister of State a description of where this was done in The Wirral, outside Liverpool. I circulated this information last year, including to Deputy O'Donoghue when he was a member of the security sub-committee in the Dáil. I asked him to consider this proposal and to go to Lancashire and talk to the people. Crime was almost eliminated in that area. Addicts continued to use heroin but many of them continued in employment. Some of them kicked the habit through the help and support they received. Neither the Garda nor the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform like this idea. None of those involved in finding solutions feels that this is a viable alternative, and it may not be. However, I would like to see it tried.
Ms Cox: The Government is committed to a war against criminals, law breakers and drug pushers. Deputy O'Donoghue is introducing a major weapon to be used to help citizens live safely. We all know the trauma of being a victim of crime. Whether you are the child of a parent brutally murdered, a parent of a child killed by a drunken driver, a parent of a child who dies as a result of drug abuse, a householder whose home is infiltrated by a gang of criminals, crime is invading and traumatising the lives of you and your family.
Without this major legislation, which is overdue, the hands of the Garda, the courts and the prison services are being tied and they cannot begin to fight back. It is unacceptable that the country in which I live is becoming increasingly dangerous. I do not want my children to be offered drugs at school. I do not want to spend my life wondering if my home is secure, or if it is safe to go for a walk on a crisp, dry, winter evening. I do not want to lie awake at night worrying whether myself, my daughter or my sister will be safe if we go out for the evening. This is not the type of Ireland in which I or anyone else want to live. This Bill, which is a valuable weapon in a move to reverse the trend in criminality in Ireland, is most welcome.
There has been much criticism of the term “zero tolerance”. However, we are now beginning to see what zero tolerance really means, namely, Government approval for 400 new prison spaces at Portlaoise and approval for a prison building programme. We have also seen the benefits of the Garda air support unit, and overall crime levels are on the decline. That is what we want and that is what zero tolerance is beginning to mean. Zero tolerance is at the heart of the Bill. It is not merely one action, it is an entire package. This Bill is a vital and strong section of that package.
Looking at the specific measures of the Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill, 1997, let us examine what is proposed. Everyone agrees that the real baddies are the individuals who benefit from the human misery of drug abusers. I fully support the mandatory sentences proposed. We must ask ourselves whether we are men or mice? Do we have the courage to stand by our conviction that drug abuse is wrong and drug pushers who trade in human misery and fallibility must be punished? Which Member of the Opposition would be a drug pusher? If one of their children died from an overdose of ecstasy tablets, would they like to the see the drug pusher who murdered that child in prison for anything less than ten years? Stand up and be counted if that is how you feel. Do not be that mouse, because it is time to make a difference.
 I have one suggestion for the Minister. I am concerned that the value element of £10,000 written into the legislation will be difficult to prove. The onus of proof of value must be on the defendant, the alleged drug pusher. Perhaps it would be better to rely on measuring quantities of drugs — for example, 2,000 ecstasy tablets or a certain weight of heroin, cocaine, etc. In Dublin, 2,000 tablets may be worth £8,000 today while they might be worth £10,000 in Galway. Tomorrow the value of those drugs may only be £5,000. It is always difficult to prove value in court and a judge or defending counsel can often ask gardaí what makes them experts, how do they know that a quantity of drugs is worth £8,000 or how many drugs have they tried to sell.
I welcome the freeing up of Garda time. We need gardaí on our streets and in our communities because that is where they are most effective. Everyone recognises that police presence is one of the most effective deterrents to crime. The Minister is providing other tools for the Garda to use such as helicopters, modern technology and high visibility jeeps. These are all useful to the force but the manpower must be available to utilise them. The provision to free up gardaí from unwarranted court appearances will do just that.
I welcome the restrictions on temporary releases for prisoners convicted of drug offences. All too often prisoners are let out on temporary release on a Friday. They travel home, run riot in their home towns over the weekend, steal cars, break into houses, cause wrack and ruin and return to prison on the following Monday. Sometimes the local gardaí are not even aware that these prisoners have been released, which is not acceptable. This restriction on temporary releases in the case of drug offenders is necessary and welcome.
In respect of the proceeds of a drug pusher's exploitation of human misery, I welcome the possibility of a court confiscating money to the value of such benefit. This Bill obliges the courts to make inquiries and to determine whether the convicted person has acquired assets as a result of drug trafficking. It is not right or equitable that a convicted drug offender or pusher can continue to benefit from financial gains made at the expense, and through the exploitation, of others.
I give the Bill my full support. I am not afraid to stand up and be counted in the war against crime. The Minister is providing the weapons to allow the Garda, the courts and the prison services fight and begin to win against crime and drug pushers in our society. Let us give them our support. The message is clear: “There is no longer any future for you in this country if your business is profiteering in drugs.”
Mr. Bonner: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary Wallace. Like the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, she has been present in the House on numerous occasions since the beginning of this session. I compliment her on the  tremendous work she is doing on behalf of the disadvantaged.
I thank the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, for initiating the Bill in this House. He is providing a heavy workload in respect of justice matters for both himself and Members. The House has dealt with numerous Bills from his Department heretofore, three are due to be taken this week and a further one next week. The Minister was an excellent performer in Opposition. Regardless of the slant Members of the current Opposition are trying to place on this issue, he is proving to be an excellent Minister.
I welcome the general thrust of the Bill. I accept that many people have reservations. Members on the Opposition benches stated earlier that there are other ways to deal with the drugs problem such as educational programmes and the provision of assistance to those who live in deprived areas. As far as I am concerned, the Bill deals not only with the criminal law in general but also with two main provisions to which I intend to refer.
The first of these provisions will ensure that the authorities will be able to come down heavily on drug dealers and traffickers and those who might gain from such activities, namely, people involved in money laundering. The Bill will also release gardaí and make them more readily available on the beat and in Garda stations to carry out the duties for which they were trained. Thus they will be a deterrent and will not merely make arrests following the committal of a crime.
The drug problem is the main area of concern with which the Bill deals. As a parent of young teenage children my greatest fear is that they will become involved in the drug culture. When I was young my parents were most afraid that I would begin drinking too early, but now parents' greatest fear is that their children will become addicted to drugs.
A few weeks ago on my way to the Seanad I attended a funeral in Ashbourne. The 18 year old child of a Donegal man who was in school with me had died from a drug overdose. He told me he was not ashamed to admit it and that the public knew about this problem. He had got a promotion and a transfer back to Donegal in the hope that he could take his child away from the drug culture; but, unfortunately, it was too late. Because of that, I have no sympathy for anybody involved in drugs.
I recall when Commissioner Flynn, who was then Minister for Justice, appeared on “The Late Late Show” and told us what would be done to counteract criminal activity. The head of the Criminal Assets Bureau, who was then State solicitor in Cork, appeared on the same show and spoke about the large amount of drugs being smuggled into this country, but nobody took him seriously. We are facing up to the realities at last and are enacting laws which will enable us to deal with the problems.
 The ten year mandatory sentence is too short for anyone involved in drugs or drug trafficking. Unfortunately, the provision may not catch the real drug barons. When dealing with amendments on Committee Stage, I hope the Minister will see if other provisions may be included to ensure the traffickers are caught because, as the law stands, couriers and middlemen only will be caught.
I am pleased the Criminal Assets Bureau will confiscate the property, assets and bank accounts of those convicted of drug dealing and the possession of drugs. There has been a series of articles in the newspapers over the past two years highlighting the assets acquired and the lifestyles of these drug traffickers. I recall a pilot scheme initiated by the Revenue Commissioners in County Donegal. They came down heavily on people who were only trying to make a living for their families. These people were not making a fortune and through a lack of experience, the commissioners came down very heavily on them. One man had to give up his business and become a PAYE worker because he was almost cleaned out. He was not a wealthy or successful man and was only trying to make a living. However, we have had to wait many years for drug traffickers and those acquiring a fortune from the sale of drugs to be dealt with.
I refer to the release of gardaí to perform duties which they are supposed to perform. When the first ceasefire was announced, we were told there were approximately 424 gardaí in County Donegal, which was hard to imagine because they have always been tied up with duties other than those with which they were supposed to be involved. I find the almost complete closure of rural Garda stations hard to understand. Senator O'Donovan referred to the “green man”. Approximately 18 months ago I was involved in a minor car accident in the middle of the day in a large town in County Donegal. I could not contact a garda as only the “green man” was available, which was not sufficient.
During the early stages of the peace process, a number of people living along the Border, especially young families with new homes, were burgled. The culprits were identified by criminals from the other side of the Border and word went around at the time that, for the sake of the peace process, they were to be left alone and not pursued. Dealing with crime is the main function of the Garda, not attending court.
After the BSE scare, gardaí protected the Border. While I have nothing against the Garda, but rather the management of the force, I would point out that Army personnel on the Border, who were subsequently withdrawn, were fed sandwiches while gardaí were given the best of food. The Army should have protected the Border while the gardaí should have been on the beat protecting the citizens of the State in their homes and towns.
I welcome the amendments the Minister mentioned. I always found the year and a day rule, which the Minister said goes back centuries, difficult  to understand in that after a year and a day somebody could not be found guilty of murder because a time period had elapsed from the initial injury. On the nomination of judges under the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996, I suppose the Minister let the ball slip slightly, but I am glad he has moved so quickly to correct the situation.
I have every confidence in this Minister, who is acting quickly. There may be slight flaws in this Bill, but it is better than nothing. All the other measures the Minister proposed, such as increasing the size of the force and the number of prison spaces, etc., will result in zero tolerance, to which he has referred. The Minister will deliver during the term of this Government and I hope the State will become a better place in which to live, particularly for those of us who are parents of teenage children.
Mr. Lanigan: This is an important Bill which affects all our lives. I did not realise how much it impacted on the people in Carlow-Kilkenny until this morning when I heard that six young people between the ages of 18 and 22 were brought into St. Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny. They had taken one wrap of speed — a dose of an amphetamine which, unfortunately, had been mixed with another substance. Nobody knows what it was mixed with, but instead of a pure amphetamine, which people should not take unless prescribed, it was perhaps mixed with chalk, cheese or another substance. Whatever it contained, these six young people between the ages of 18 and 22, suffered major heart and skin conditions which they would not have suffered unless the amphetamine was significantly polluted. Pure amphetamines may be prescribed by a doctor.
The effort to eliminate drugs has concentrated on Dublin where there has been a major improvement, but now drug dealers are moving down the country. If one of these young people had taken two wraps, they would be dead. The danger is that nobody has found out yet who is supplying the amphetamines with which these problems are associated. No doubt somebody will die in the Carlow-Kilkenny area in the next couple of weeks because these drugs are available.
The Bill will not eliminate the problems, but it is an attempt to regulate the situation. The drugs to the value of £10,000 to which the Bill refers is basically what a drug dealer can hold in his hand. He or she can dump them and nobody can find them. Maybe that amount is too small, but at least it is a benchmark and they will face a mandatory sentence of ten years.
The sooner these people can be brought to trial, the better. I have only one problem with the Bill, that is on the abolition of preliminary examinations. It is suggested that this will speed up court procedures but it has been suggested to me that that will not be the case. The Minister stated that:
 At the preliminary examination stage the District Court can decide that the accused has no case to answer, although in practice this very rarely happens. The procedures surrounding preliminary examinations can be quite cumbersome.
If one takes away the preliminary examination, the garda who will take the case must go around the country trying to find a court at which he or she can produce the evidence. Is one cumbersome procedure being replaced by another? Could the abolition of preliminary examinations make it more difficult to get the cases to court? I think that is a problem.
Everybody has seen people backing horses at race meetings over the past 20 years as if money had gone out of fashion. The bookies knew the source of the money. These people had houses worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in Dublin and everybody knew who they were, but nothing was being done; so I am glad automatic asset inquiries can take place under this Bill. It is about time an attempt was made to reform the criminal justice system.
Whether or not we achieve zero tolerance, the Minister is trying his best in this Bill to make sure those who deal in drugs will be taken before the courts and, if they come before the courts, every asset of the State will be behind their conviction. I ask the Minister to ensure that every asset of the State will be brought to bear. We will not eliminate the drugs trade. Anybody who thinks we will eliminate the drug trade is not being realistic; but if we make it more difficult for them, maybe they will all move to Amsterdam. That would be satisfactory because we want to get them out of this country.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace): I thank all the Senators who contributed to this important debate. I assure Senators that their views will be considered by the Minister between now and Committee Stage.
It is obviously right that undoubtedly strong legislative measures which are introduced to tackle our crime problem should be subject to the closest scrutiny, and we have benefited from the debate in the Seanad in this regard. Each of these measures has to be justified by reference to the threat which it is trying to address and we must ensure that what is being proposed is proportional and balanced. The Carlow-Kilkenny example to which Senator Lanigan referred brings to mind the seriousness of the situation. Understandably some Senators have differing views on how best to address these issues, but the Government believes that the measures contained in this Bill are justified. Examples like that Carlow-Kilkenny case would bring that home to us. It may be regrettable that it is necessary to introduce some of these measures, but it would be far more regrettable if we failed to take whatever  action is reasonably open to us, particularly in relation to tackling organised crime.
The subject of zero tolerance was mentioned during the debate but there is hardly any point in going over all that ground again. Ultimately the test of zero tolerance will be whether, at the end of our time in Government, communities are safer than they otherwise would have been, and the people will be the judge of that.
However, to talk of the abandonment of zero tolerance makes no sense in a context where some of the toughest measures are being taken in this Bill, particularly against those involved in the drugs trade. Mandatory sentences will be imposed, trials will be speeded up and the courts will automatically initiate asset inquiries.
Concerns have been expressed during the debate about the introduction of mandatory sentences. It is the case that the traditional approach to sentencing is for the Oireachtas to lay down the maximum penalty and for a court, having considered all the circumstances of the case, to impose an appropriate penalty up to that maximum.
There are, of course, already exceptions to this — in particular in the case of murder where there is a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. The Government has no proposals to depart generally from existing arrangements but it believes, because of the unique nature of the drugs trade and the widespread harm which it causes to the community, that mandatory sentences are warranted. It is worth noting too that certain limited exceptions are included in the Bill so as to avoid injustice.
Once this Bill is enacted people who decide to engage in serious drug trafficking will be aware of the new penalties which they face. It seems to me any person who is involved in trafficking of controlled drugs to the value of £10,000 is, by any definition, playing a major role in the illegal drugs trade. Essentially what is at issue is the Oireachtas taking a view that the unique threat posed by drug trafficking is such that special measures in relation to sentencing need to be taken.
The unfortunate reality is that it is hard to imagine a more corrosive threat to the quality of life in our community than that posed by those who engage in the evil trade of drug trafficking. Their activities have brought about death and destruction on an incalculable scale. Families have been destroyed — we heard examples of that during the debate — and communities have been placed under siege. There is probably no greater fear among parents — some Senators spoke as parents — rearing children in this country today than that their children might fall pray to drug abuse.
The Government is committed to tackling drug abuse in a comprehensive way. We will take steps to reduce the demand for drugs through education and community based initiatives. This point, that it should be more broadly based and comprehensive, was raised by Senator O'Toole.  We will offer services to those who have become addicted to drugs to help them break the habit. We clearly recognise that the criminal justice system on its own cannot comprehensively tackle the problem of drug abuse, but it has a vital role to play in curbing the activities of drug traffickers. This Government will ensure that role is played fully and relentlessly. It is as a part of this approach that we will be asking the House to support this legislation in providing for minimum sentences in serious drug trafficking cases.
The point has been made that the Bill does not distinguish between the relative dangers of different kinds of drugs — for example, that heroin is being treated the same as cannabis. It must be borne in mind that the ten year mandatory sentence is only a minimum one. The court will still be able to impose a sentence of up to life imprisonment where it considers it appropriate. What we are going after in the Bill is the organised drug trade. Gangs are not concerned primarily with the types of drugs in which they deal; what they are interested in is profit. In those circumstances the approach taken in the Bill is to link the new drug trafficking offence to monetary amounts.
It has been pointed out that preliminary hearings have been part of our law for a considerable time and we should be very careful about changing them. I take the views of Senators on board in this regard, but what the Bill proposes here takes into account modern realities. A person cannot be tried on indictment without the consent of an independent DPP. It also contains the essential safeguard that a person will be entitled to apply to the court of trial to have the charges against him or her dismissed on the basis that the book of evidence would not support a conviction.
There was general praise in the debate for the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau. The Bill attempts to build on that work by providing further provisions relating to the confiscation of assets. In particular there will be automatic asset inquiries where people have been convicted of drug trafficking offences.
There was a general welcome for the abolition of the year and a day rule. This rule has been focused on in the context of the BTSB issue. There may be other changes required in the law in light of that and this is being examined. However, I believe all Senators agree it is worthwhile to use the Bill to make this change.
There was some discussion about the circumstances surrounding the release of certain persons detained under the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act. It would not be useful or appropriate in the course of this reply to go over that ground again. The events which arose were complex and involved a series of judicial decisions on which it would not be appropriate to comment. As has already been indicated, there will be a  quick legislative response by abolishing the requirement that judges of the District Court need to be specifically nominated for the purposes of the 1996 Act.
Senators are correct in saying that this Bill can only be part of the response to drug trafficking, and in this context it might be useful to set out some of the other justice related issues which arise. Co-operation on the drugs issue, both nationally and internationally, is the key to successfully fighting the evil merchants of the drugs trade. Drug traffickers know no borders. It is only through effective action at national level complemented by wider measures at European and international level that we can hope to tackle drug trafficking and those who perpetrate such despicable crimes.
Significant strides have been made to enhance co-operation, both nationally and internationally, ensuring a sustained, co-ordinated attack on those people who amass vast wealth at the expense of so much human misery. Evidence of increased national co-operation is illustrated by the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Garda and Customs and Excise last year. In addition, the Disclosure of Certain Information for Taxation and Other Purposes Act, 1996, provides for more effective exchange of information between the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners.
Garda operations, such as Operation Dóchas, and the hard work of the Criminal Assets Bureau are also worthy of special mention. Operation Dóchas came into effect in October 1996 and involves the deployment of in excess of 500 uniformed and plainclothes gardaí working with local communities. This operation has resulted in an increase in the quantity of drugs seized and in the number of arrests of those suspected of being involved in drug related crime. The success of this operation is a real sign of hope for the future for those individuals and communities worst affected by the drugs problem.
The most recent statistics available indicate that under the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, the Criminal Assets Bureau has obtained 20 interim orders for assets in excess of £2 million and 12 interlocutory orders for assets in excess of £1.3 million for the period from 1 January 1997 to 24 October 1997. Revenue officers of the Criminal Assets Bureau have investigated, assessed and made demands for payment of income tax with interest to the value of £8.2 million on persons suspected of criminal activity. The bureau has also assessed social welfare overpayments of £150,000. The Criminal Assets Bureau has proven in the short time it has been in place to be very effective in denying drug dealers and organised criminals the benefits of their ill-gotten gains and has seriously disrupted the activities of criminal gangs in Ireland.
At European level substantial progress has also been made in the fight against drugs and organised crime. In December 1996 the European  Council decided to intensify the EU's response to the seriousness of the threat posed by organised criminal activity by mandating a high level group to produce an EU action plan to combat organised crime. This high level group compiled an action plan containing 30 recommendations ranging from increased co-ordination at national level to a European network for judicial co-operation. A multi-disciplinary working party has been established to oversee the implementation of the recommendations contained in the action plan. This group will facilitate new and more co-ordinated action in combating organised crime in the EU and, when combined with the new orientation of the Amsterdam Treaty, will lead to a more effective anti-organised crime strategy. Joint actions are being developed to reflect the determination of the EU to organise itself to counter the threat of organised crime by all possible means. In addition, the adoption of a joint action on new synthetic drugs is a significant development and will help ensure that newly identified synthetic drugs will be controlled throughout the European Union.
Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, including the additional protocol, and the European Council Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds of Crime. As a party to these conventions, Ireland now plays a full part in international co-operation against drug trafficking and organised crime.
The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has stated on numerous occasions that he takes seriously the duty of the State to protect the citizen's right to live in peace free from the fear of criminal intrusion. The most menacing form of criminal intrusion today is generated by the drug dealers. This stark reality is clearly highlighted by recent research which shows that drugs are responsible for 66 per cent of all detected crime in the Dublin metropolitan area.
Matters were inevitably raised during the debate on the treatment of drug addicts. This is a key issue in the overall strategy of coping with the drugs problem and we will bring the specific points made by Senators to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children. We all recognise that a criminal justice response is of itself insufficient but it has a key role to play and that is the issue on which we have concentrated today.
Ridge, Thére se.
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