Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality

Effects of Gangland Crime on the Community: Discussion

10:00 am

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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As we have a quorum, we shall commence the meeting in public session. Apologies have been received from Deputy Ann Ferris and Senator Mulcahy. As this meeting is being broadcast live, I would ask those present to switch off their mobile phones or put them on aeroplane mode so that they will not interfere with the broadcasting systems here.
Deputy John Paul Phelan has been discharged from this committee and Deputy Fergus O'Dowd is his replacement. I want to put on record, as I am sure the members will agree, our thanks to Deputy Phelan for his service to the committee and I welcome Deputy O'Dowd to the committee.
The purpose of the meeting this morning is to engage with a number of those who have made a written submission on the issue of gangland crime. This is the start of work we are doing on this. Deputy Finian McGrath has agreed to act as rapporteur on this issue and the briefing has been circulated.
I welcome Ms Patricia Flynn from the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development, ACJRD, Ms Suzanne Vella, Mr. Gerry McNally and Mr. Mark Wilson from the Probation Service, Ms Anna Quigley from the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, and Mr. Dermot Gough and Ms Marian McKenna from the Dublin North East Drugs Task Force. I thank them for giving of their time and expertise to assist us in this work today. We really appreciate that.
The format, as per usual, is that I will invite the witnesses to make a brief opening statement, if possible, as close to but not more than five minutes, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session with members. I suggest we might do something a little different today. I held a discussion with Deputy Finian McGrath before we started. I suggest each member would ask three questions initially and if he or she wants to come in a second time we can go around again rather than have a member feel that he or she must ask ten questions at the beginning and will not get in a second time.
Before we begin, I draw the attention of witnesses to the position on privilege. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members should also be aware that under salient rules of the Chair they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I ask Mr. Gough to make an opening statement.

Mr. Dermot Gough:

On behalf of the Dublin north east local drug and alcohol task force, I thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to come here this morning. My name is Dermot Gough and I am accompanied by my colleague, Ms Marian McKenna, who is a director of the local drugs task force and also TravAct, which works with Travellers in the area.

I manage an addiction project in Darndale, Dublin 17. I have 20 plus years experience of working in the area of addiction and homelessness and I suppose I have that unique trait of working across the voluntary, statutory and community sectors.

I currently manage the Dales Centre, which is a community based addiction centre set up in and by the local community. It is important to note that it was set up by the community 14 years ago. We are funded entirely through the HSE and the Dublin north east local drugs task force. We work closely, as do all the projects in the area. As set out in the brief the committee received, there are 20 or so youth and drug projects in the area which would work closely with each other but also with the task force. I sit on a number of committees, including the treatment and rehabilitation of the task force.

I will give a brief background of the task force. Its role is to complement the National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016. The service level agreement of the Dales and all of the projects in the area would reflect and be in line with the aims and objectives of the national strategy. We received over €1 million funding annually in Dublin North-East to go across all of the projects and the role of the task force is very much to identify gaps in services and work to extend the level of drug services in the area. In the future, our brief is looking at merging alcohol in with drugs, that is, the national drugs strategy with the national substance misuse strategy, and fill in identified gaps.

I will speak on my own experience, and the experience of the other projects in the task force area, of gangland crime which is the topic here. Addiction is a hugely complex area and we need to say that from the outset. Mark Twain, for example, is credited with saying, "Giving up alcohol is easy; I have done it hundreds of times." It shows how complex addiction can be.

When one begins to talk about addiction and drugs and alcohol in Ireland, nearly everybody has an opinion and he or she will offer that opinion. Often it is quite simplistic. That may be down to the fact that Ireland has a unique association, and problems, with alcohol. There is probably not a family in the country that is not touched by alcohol addiction, or certainly the damages of alcohol in some way, and I would include my own family in that.

I do not have the answers to stopping gangland crime. It, too, is a complex issue.

The projects with which I am involved take a rehabilitative approach. We try to work with people and build relationships with them, no matter who they are. We deal with some of the most challenging people in society. They are marginalised, excluded and operate within a subculture. It is not unusual for clients to walk into our facilities wearing bullet-proof vests. Also, when we make appointments with clients, they often change the times from week to week because of the danger of keeping regular appointments. Often they have been warned by gardaí that their lives are at risk so they cannot stick to regular routines.

The drug services are very good at working with such people. They open the door to them and welcome them in, despite the fact that they are quite challenging to deal with. Those of us who work in this area cannot but be affected by it. We work with people who have lost brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers through gangland crime and addiction. People ask why they do not call the police. We have all seen the television series, "Love/Hate" which showed that to be a "rat" or to "grass up" on a neighbour or someone in the area is a social taboo. Not only is there a huge social stigma around being a rat, as Nidge would say, there can also be enormous repercussions for the individual and his or her family. It is very difficult for the Garda Síochána to address that issue.

Drug users are using cocaine, heroin and cannabis or "weed", all of which are illegal substances. Therefore, by virtue of using illegal substances, drug users are criminals. Is legalisation the answer here? Do we legalise drugs? That is a topic for debate but I believe the short answer is "No". There is no simplistic answer to this problem. We know that authorities in the US have spent billions on the war against drugs but they have not made a dent in the drugs trade. Can we learn anything from that? We know that alcohol is legal. Dr. Bobby Smith, a consultant psychiatrist spoke at a conference last week and argued that alcohol is a gateway drug. For a large proportion of the people he comes into contact with - and for those we work with - alcohol was their first drug of choice. Do we go back to the days of Prohibition and impose a ban on alcohol?

Our brief is rehabilitation. We believe that in order to halt the increasing levels of gangland crime, we must reduce the demand for drugs. Drugs and gangland crime are inherently linked. We must increase the number of options for people who want to use addiction services. We must also increase the provision of such services to drug users, as well as the provision of associated and ancillary services, including mental health services. Addiction and mental health problems are strongly related. We have extremely high levels of suicide in this country.

It is also important that we invest in schools and early education programmes. Almost every drug user who uses our services was an early school leaver. There is a very distinct link between early school leaving and drug use. Diversionary activities are also hugely important. Youth services, youth reach programmes and alternatives to mainstream education as well as additional sporting and recreational facilities are also vital.

There is an acute need for an increase in resources to allow for the expansion and development of our services and to enable us to plan strategically. All of our funding comes through the HSE and we are very grateful for that. However, the funding is provided on a yearly basis which makes it very difficult to plan strategically for a three or five year period. The role of the Garda Síochána is also hugely important. We have an excellent relationship with gardaí, as do all of the drugs projects. Garda resources must be increased and we must involve gardaí who are confident working in this area because they are working with very challenging people. Finally, there is a need for increased co-operation between local communities and various statutory bodies. When the national drugs strategy was first launched, there was significant buy-in from the Departments of Education and Skills, Health and Social Protection but that has waned to some degree.

I am not sure what winning the war against drugs actually means but I do know that we must work with people to help them to make positive choices in their lives and move away from addiction and criminal activity.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Gough for his presentation. He raised the issue of legalising or decriminalising drugs, which is an interesting subject. We may have some questions on that issue later on. I now call Ms Quigley from the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign.

Ms Anna Quigley:

I thank the Cathaoirleach and members of the committee for giving me the opportunity to address them. The CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign is a network of community organisations which are tackling the drugs crisis on the ground in our most disadvantaged communities. We represent the community sector in the national structures of the National Drugs Strategy.

I wish to comment today on the impact of gangland crime on the aforementioned communities. I will speak about the impact on communities in general and on young people in particular. In the context of the impact on communities, there are two issues. The first is low-level intimidation and the second, serious violence around drug-related debt.

On the issue of low-level intimidation, members will remember that 20 years ago when we first began to see activities related to the drugs market in local communities, those communities responded. They took action by taking to the streets and marching on drug dealers' homes. There was a community response whereby people said that they would not tolerate drug trade activities in their communities. That does not happen anymore and people often ask why that is the case. It does not happen because of the levels of violence associated with the drugs trade today. While most people in a community do not have direct experience of that violence and are not direct victims of it, the threat of violence is implicit at all times. It is a case of not crossing certain people because one knows what those people can do. People have described how they keep their eyes down, mind their own business and keep their mouths shut. It is almost impossible to describe the corrosive, negative effect this has on communities, day after day. In these communities, community bonds, links and supports helped people to survive in the past but these are being seriously undermined by low-level intimidation. That means that communities are more open to drug-trade related activities. It is important to point out that such low-level intimidation will never show up in Garda statistics because it is not a question of incidents happening but of fear. It only takes one shooting in an area for 30 or 40 people to be silenced. That is how it works. We should not underestimate the importance of low-level intimidation which is extremely corrosive over time.

Violence related to drug debt can range from horrific beatings right the way up to death, which is the ultimate punishment. There is no sense of proportion around this. The actual debt itself can be very small in some cases - €100 or €200, for example. It is not about the amount of money but the principle of paying a debt. This can have an impact on entire families. Often it is not just the drug users who are held responsible for the debt; their families and friends can be subjected to violence and intimidation too. We have heard of quite a number of young people who have committed suicide because of a drug debt but in some circumstances, the debt lives on. Their families have been told that they have inherited the debt, which is an absolutely horrific situation for them.

In many disadvantaged communities young people are growing up in an environment where the activities associated with the drugs trade have become normalised. Young people are looking out their windows at what is happening on the street and they do not see that the people involved in the drugs trade are being sanctioned in any way. That normalisation also means that the drugs trade has become part of local economies. Young people are making, from their point of view, rational economic decisions. They are in low-income families and have very limited opportunities to earn money. They see that within a very short space of time, say an hour, they can earn €100 or more by getting involved in the drugs trade in some way. That is a very appealing economic opportunity for many young people.

As Mr. Gough mentioned, intervention at the earliest possible stage is really important. It is crucial that we now have practical initiatives and responses in order to break the cycle. People out there have a sense of utter hopelessness and feel they can do nothing and cannot stand up to these people. It is extremely important that we do have initiatives, no matter how difficult it is. There are a number of initiatives in place on the ground, such as the community policing forums. There are major operations to tackle drug dealing and it is particularly important for young people to see there is a response from the police and the State. However, we always emphasise that it is not enough to have all the resources going into an operation if there is then no more policing for weeks afterwards. That does not work. If there is an operation, it must be backed up afterwards with day-to-day community policing. Otherwise it just reverts really quickly. We need both together. The National Family Support Network has established an intimidation reporting helpline in co-operation with the Garda. In every Garda station in the country there is a named person with responsibility for taking calls from families dealing with intimidation. In terms of breaking the silence, we are involved with the Health Research Board in auditing the extent and levels of intimidation citywide. Because of its nature, it is extremely difficult to put any kind of figure on it, but for policy reasons and to have it taken seriously we need to try and gather the data no matter how difficult that might be.

To back up what Mr. Gough said, youth interventions are crucially important. Young people are unsure whether they should get involved with the youth services and the alternatives they have to offer, or go out onto the road and earn €200 doing a message for a drug dealer. That is the choice they are facing and it is really hard to direct them the way we would want them to go. Youth services are crucially important and have been hit by significant cutbacks, which is making their work nearly impossible. Community services also cannot be emphasised enough, and I am afraid people in bureaucracies do not understand the importance of local community development projects. They do not get it - they look and ask what service is being delivered. They do not understand how important it is that people have that support so they can maintain their sense of having a right to stand up in their own community, a right to say "this is not acceptable and we should not have to live like this", a right to say they should not have people behaving like that within their own areas. All those community supports have been devastated.

While it is crucially important that we have practical initiatives, the reality is that poverty and disadvantage underlie all of this. The communities most affected are the poorest ones, and it is from those communities that the people carrying out the intimidation and violence come. If we do not seriously tackle poverty and disadvantage we will never deal with this problem. People do not like to hear that because they think it is too big an issue, but it is the truth.

10:10 am

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank Ms Quigley. There was a lot of food for thought there.

Mr. Gerry McNally:

I thank the Chairman and committee members. I want to begin by introducing myself and my colleagues. On my right, Ms Suzanne Vella is director of operations in the Probation Service, and on my left, Mr. Mark Wilson is the regional manager for Dublin north. I am the assistant director with responsibility for research and special projects.

The Probation Service is an agency within the Department of Justice and Equality operating nationally, with almost 400 staff. We are the lead agency in the assessment and management of offenders in the community and we also work in prisons to address offending and the reintegration of prisoners on release. At any one time, the Probation Service is supervising approximately 9,000 offenders - juveniles and adults - in the community, including offenders who are on supervision post-custody. A core element of how the Probation Service works is its partnership and joint working with the other criminal justice agencies such as the Courts Service, the Irish Prison Service and the Garda Síochána, as well as all the other statutory and voluntary community organisations such as the drugs task forces across the country. The Department of Justice and Equality - through the Probation Service - and the Irish Youth Justice Service provide funding to 60 community-based organisations to support their work with offenders. In the main, this is to support the reintegration of offenders into their communities by providing specialised treatment, skills and support.

The Probation Service has experience in working effectively with high-risk offenders including gang members and those involved in organised crime. We use evidence-based interventions with an emphasis on addressing pro-criminal attitudes and behaviours, resolving addiction and related factors and promoting changed behaviours and lifestyles. For most offenders this involves a radical change in their lives and there can be many risks of relapse.

Bringing about lasting change requires the input of a wide range of services. Inter-agency co-operation with our justice partners, particularly the courts, the Garda Síochána, the Irish Youth Justice Service and the Irish Prison Service, is critically important in this work, as is collaboration with the statutory and voluntary bodies. It is a question of joined-up services. I would like to take the opportunity to highlight several initiatives in which the Probation Service has participated, targeting higher-risk offenders who have been involved in serious offending including gang-related and organised crime. The Probation Service in co-operation with the Prison Service has been a partner in an EU-funded project, JCN, which is examining and developing best practice across Europe in the transition management and supervision of high-risk offenders leaving custody. It is about preparation and supervision of offenders post-custody to reduce any risk of further offending. We have also participated with the Garda Síochána in a two-year EU-funded project, SOMEC, which focuses on safeguarding citizens against serious and violent offenders travelling across Europe. It is about the transnational movement of crime. Sex offender risk assessment and management, SORAM, is a multi-agency model established by the Garda Síochána, the HSE, the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service. It involves co-location of staff and has provided important learning and experience which we can use in the supervision and management of high-risk and gang-involved offenders. Opt In is a new joint agency response to crime developed by the Probation Service, the Garda Síochána and the Irish Prison Service, which will target persistent and prolific adult offenders. Again, this concerns people who will be involved in crime both in the communities and in gangs. It is similar to the integrated offender management model in the UK. As part of the increasing co-operation and co-ordination in these initiatives, Irish Prison Service personnel are now located in the Probation Service and a Probation Service manager is also part of a multi-agency team at Garda headquarters.

In terms of this committee’s deliberations, the Probation Service proposes the development of a co-ordinated overall strategy to support joined-up interventions across the social, criminal justice, education and economic realms to tackle gang and organised crime on individual, community and gang levels. We propose enhanced information and data sharing and joint working across the criminal justice bodies as well as other statutory and community-based services. We propose the increased use of probation supervision as a sanction including post-custody supervision with enhanced joint working and collaboration. We propose prioritising the allocation of resources for intensive interventions with offenders involved, or at risk of involvement, in gang and organised crime. We also propose that there should be particular research on the factors and causes which contribute to organised crime, in order to identify the risk factors and those at most risk and to inform effective interventions. We propose investigation and evaluation of initiatives both here and in other jurisdictions to identify lessons that can be learned and approaches and actions that can be implemented to improve the outcomes and results. We also support and propose continued participation in European and international projects to develop and share best practice in working with offenders in general, and in particular with those at high risk of reoffending and becoming involved in the kind of crime we are discussing this morning.

I thank the committee for the invitation to come here today. The Probation Service will fully co-operate with and provide any necessary information required by the committee in its work.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. McNally and am again taken with the level of co-operation between the Probation Service and the other services, something that should be developed further.

I represent the ACJRD, the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development. It is a non-governmental, non-profit-making organisation that seeks to promote the reform, development and effective operation of the Irish criminal justice system. It comprises organisations and individual professionals from the criminal justice system. The views represented in this presentation are those of ACJRD in its independent capacity and are not those of its member organisations or their employers.

As the committee has heard, gangland activity, including killings, is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. It does not have a simple cause or solution and no single agency can provide a solution to the problem on its own. Tackling gangland activity will require a multifaceted, multi-agency approach which will require inter-agency co-operation and collaboration at local, national and international levels.

Public perceptions of gangland homicide support a strong link to the drug trade, but other motivating factors include social, economic, psychological and family factors. Empirical research and anecdotal evidence from youth and community workers indicate that the drug market is a factor in gangland activity. Gangs are ingratiating themselves into communities, targeting vulnerable individuals and instilling fear into individuals in the community.

Children as young as 15 either are on the periphery of gangs or have already been recruited by them for drug dealing and even tiger kidnappings. Recent research by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol suggests that this activity has, for the most part, been unaffected by law enforcement. In order to tackle the problem, early intervention is required at community level. We need to involve local communities and their leaders in any interventions, particularly those individuals working on the ground who understand the problems.

An essential key for the success of any intervention will be providing a safe and secure environment for participants. To this end, we need a strong Garda presence in the community to provide public order and safety, and to control anti-social and offending criminal behaviour. Although policing on its own cannot resolve the problems, it is needed to allow other interventions the opportunity to work.

The ACJRD recommends the following. We need to develop a national collaborative strategic approach to combating gangland activity and violence. We need to review the implementation of the Criminal Justice Acts that were particularly focused on gangland crime. There should be a focus on community-based initiatives that encourage education, economic and social development and community safety partnerships. Examples of these include the Ballymun and Limerick regeneration projects, the National Collective of Community-Based Women’s Networks, and projects such as Garda community liaison schemes, juvenile diversion schemes and other projects outlined earlier.

We need to encourage at-risk communities to report criminal activities to An Garda Síochána. This will require an improvement of confidence and trust in An Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system. We need to continue to develop the witness security programme and introduce a robust victim support programme. We need further training for members of An Garda Síochána that will assist in fostering understanding and in the delivery of services to at-risk communities and to witnesses to and victims of crime.

We need to review the Planning and Development Act 2000 with a view to insertion of crime prevention strategies. We need to introduce programmes and policies into the school curriculum that will assist communities in the prevention of crime. We need to share knowledge by establishing a knowledge hub to track offenders both within the communities and in prisons and child detention services.

We need to allocate funds to at-risk communities and those who wish to conquer their addictions and desist from offending. We need to promote relevant multidisciplinary and multifaceted research into the causes of gangland activity and its effect on communities. We need research into what works so that funding can be linked to outcomes.

With greater investment in community safety programmes, early intervention and community-based programmes for families in socially deprived areas, anti-social and offending behaviour by gangland criminals can be changed. Although the State cannot be expected to eliminate the motivation to offend, responses to the crime issue can be controlled. Ensuring that resources are available to support those who wish to conquer their addictions, increase their social capital and desist from offending is critical to redressing the harm caused within communities.

The key principles of success for these programmes and interventions are inter-agency co-operation at local, national and international level, a multifaceted approach to interventions, particularly educational community safety programmes, in-reach programmes for offenders in custody, robust enforcement of powers, and sufficient funding and resources to implement programmes and legislation. Confidence and trust in the law enforcement agencies is integral to any initiative to counteract gangland activity, as is a robust witness and victim support programme.

10:20 am

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank Ms Flynn. It is very challenging. All of the contributors have stressed the need for inter-agency co-operation and extra resources from the start.

I also welcome the people from the various agencies who are in the public gallery.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I thank Mr. Gough, Ms Quigley, Mr. McNally and Ms Flynn for their contributions. I also thank them for their written submissions to the committee. The background to these hearings is that we are trying to deal with the effects of gangland crime on communities. In recent years I, along with other Members of the Oireachtas, have privately met in our clinics families who have been devastated by drugs-related issues and have also been intimidated. They are so fearful that they will not go to the Garda and instead come to our clinics or other private meetings. It is essential that the witnesses know that is the background to these hearings. We are listening to their advice in order to try to come up with solutions on how to help those families.

The oral submissions seem to focus on three issues required to deal effectively with gangland crime in communities. They are seeking a social and educational response and a response dealing with poverty and disadvantage. They also want support for and investment in communities. The third point was the need for a high-quality policing service that is in tune with local communities in order to have their trust and support. We know there is an addiction problem and some sort of disadvantage problem. Does the solution go down to those three things of dealing with educational and socioeconomic disadvantage, support for communities, as Ms Quigley mentioned, and good solid local policing. The people from the community are telling me that third item is not evident on the ground.

Ms Anna Quigley:

Deputy McGrath has given a good summary. Part of the challenge with this is that we all name the big picture issues and the need for broad action around education, disadvantage and policing. While we have to state that, in order to get past the sense of this being such a big issue and how are we going to make a difference and how we can help people now, we definitely have to say they are the overall objectives we are working towards, but we need to identify the practical steps we can take now that will move us towards them.

We always talk about poverty, disadvantage and education, and people say that is all very well but it will not happen overnight. The Deputy is right in saying they are the underlying causes and that they need to be addressed. However, we need to identify practical steps we can take in the meantime. In terms of policing, the community policing forums on the ground are really important. That kind of day-to-day low-key stuff is very important. The community policing forums act as an intermediary between the community and the Garda.

Sometimes, however, when people go to a local policing forum or use the reporting system or the family support network, they will not get a solution. The drug debt will not be written off and whoever wants the money will not go away. However, the first step is to have a place where somebody supports them in the process, which breaks down the isolation. I referred to the audit. The first step must be to get people from a place in which they are dealing with this in isolation and feeling powerless to a space in which, at least, people in the community are coming together and deciding that they are not powerless and there are things they can do. The community policing forum is a very practical place where this happens, and it is crucial, as are local community services where people come together. Anything that keeps people in isolation is very damaging, so we need to have supports in place for people as a first step.

Youth services are already in existence and doing this work. There are big questions with regard to resources, but they are already doing the work. Much of what is already happening forms part of the steps needed to improve the situation, but it goes without saying that it is all under-resourced. The challenge for us is how to combine an understanding of the broad change needed in our communities if we are to seriously address the issue with the taking of practical steps. The practical steps are based on measures that are already being taken in our communities but which, unfortunately, instead of being supported and developed over the past two years, have been undermined. These include community policing forums, local community organisations and youth services. They are all there, but they do not receive the support they need to do the level of work needed. I cannot emphasise enough that to break the silence there need to be places in communities where people who experience this type of intimidation and difficulty know there is support available. This is a crucial first step. Long-term, we must tackle the broader issues of education, employment and disadvantage.

10:30 am

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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People tell us they want immediate solutions to their problems. I am speaking specifically about the intimidation issue. The witnesses from CityWide Drugs Crisis spoke about low-level intimidation and stated that there were no incident or Garda reports and that those experiencing it keep their heads down, do not make eye contact and mind their own business. Last week I met a gentleman who lives on the same street as a serious player, and the gang is intimidating the entire street. He keeps his head down and makes no eye contact. This is how broken he is. He told me he felt he could not go to the Garda because he would be burned out or acid would be thrown on his kids' cars, so he came to me privately. I have advised the Garda on it but the gardaí tell me they have no evidence. He will not go to the Garda. There are many streets in Dublin, Cork and Limerick like this, where the people have ceded control to the gangs, which is heartbreaking for these families.

Will the witnesses comment on this from a policing point of view and based on their own experience? Some of the kids doing the intimidation are among the 9,000 kids who have just been released from prison. When I say kids, I mean those aged up to age 18 or 19 years. They are part of the jigsaw also. What advice can the witnesses give the committee with regard to responding to this ceding of control of an entire street? It is just not acceptable. It is also not acceptable from a policing point of view to hold up our hands and ask what can we do. The same families tell me when Johnny was kicking a ball on the Howth Road two gardaí pulled up, stopped him and told him he should not be kicking the ball there, but they seem to back off dealing with the serious issues in communities. We must address this problem. The committee is seeking solutions. How would the witnesses advise us on this aspect of it?

Mr. Mark Wilson:

One of the projects mentioned by my colleague, Gerry McNally, is an opt-in project, which is a joint agency response to crime led by the Probation Service, the Garda Síochána and Irish Prison Service. This model is based on the high level of overlap between these services, in terms of the individuals with whom we work, and it examines how we can best utilise our statutory roles to have best effect on these individuals. To take the Deputy's example, we are targeting the opt-in initiative in east Ballymun to try to increase public confidence in areas of low-level intimidation. We are targeting a small number of prolific offenders, some of whom have come through prison, and making it clear to them that once they have been identified as part of this project, based on their level and type of offending, we will have a high level of involvement with them, either with their engagement or, if they choose not to engage, with higher levels of interference from the Garda through the way in which they are placed. The idea of opt-in is that they will continually be offered a carrot-and-stick approach. We want them to make positive life changes and will provide opportunities for change, but if this does not happen we will look to have a higher level of contact with them. Through structured temporary release programmes for persons coming out of custody - such as the community return initiative under which prisoners are obliged to do three days of community work - as well as supervision by the Probation Service and Garda activity, we can use motivation to effect change for these individuals.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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How effective is the national drugs strategy in communities?

Ms Anna Quigley:

In 1996, when the first drugs strategy was brought out with the Rabbitte report, there was clear recognition of the crisis that existed at that time, which came to public attention through the death of Veronica Guerin. There was a huge political response and drugs were seen as a priority issue. The national drugs strategy at the time set out very clearly the principles people have been speaking about today, such as inter-agency operations, work at a local level in local communities to tackle the problems and community engagement. All of these principles were clearly set out. There was also clear recognition that the issues of disadvantage and poverty needed to be tackled. This was clearly stated in the drugs strategy.

Unfortunately, what happens is that such a strategy gets a few years in the sun, and for several years it was a critical priority. I remember it was one of the top five issues in the manifestoes for the 1997 general election. By 2002, however, it had disappeared as an issue. Unfortunately, once structures are established, which is what happened with task forces and national committees through the national drugs strategy, there is often a sense, politically, that the job has been done. However, setting up the structures is only the start of the job. While in principle we still have the same structures, inter-agency operation and community involvement, in practice, we no longer have the commitment to it at political level. This feeds through to Departments, where there is no longer the same commitment either, and to the people who have responsibility for making decisions.

We still have the strategy and structures, but the implementation is very weak and the problem is no longer viewed as being rooted in disadvantage and poverty. In our experience, the drugs issue is now seen as a problem that individuals have that needs to be dealt with. This completely negates the reality of what we are discussing, which is the impact on communities. The fundamental principles of the drugs strategy are excellent, but over time the commitment to implementing it has dwindled as it has become a lower political priority. This morning, everyone has restated these principles as being key.

If we are to tackle the issue of intimidation, and the broader issues, it is time these were re-established as priority issues.

10:40 am

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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As in the case of the regeneration of Limerick and the appointment of Mr. Fitzgerald in that regard, do we need one person to oversee and be responsible for this area? At the end of the day, where does the buck stop? Ms Quigley mentioned the Departments of Education and Skills, Health and Transport, Tourism and Sport, all of which have various responsibilities. Would the appointment of one person with responsibility for this area who would then report to the Oireachtas on it be a way of addressing this issue?

Ms Anna Quigley:

Traditionally, a Minister of State has been responsible for this area. When this initiative started it was the responsibility of then Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who had a seat at Cabinet. There have been approximately nine different Ministers of State with responsibility in this area over the past number of years, all of whom were excellent. Currently, there is no Ministry responsible for this area and it is now a matter for the Department of Health. We have met with the Minister for Health, who has said that while he is interested in the issue his agenda is too large. He was very honest about that. There needs to be a Minister of State with responsibility for this issue only and who is dedicated to addressing it. It is crucial that the parent Department, which is currently the Department of Health, sees its role as bringing together all of the other Departments on this issue. Its role cannot be a paper exercise. It must have the authority to hold all of the agencies to account in respect of what they should be doing. That worked in the early days of the strategy. If a Minister of State is appointed, he or she must have a real commitment to this issue and have a track record in this area. Up to recently, that was the case.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Would Mr. Gough like to comment?

Mr. Dermot Gough:

I would like to reiterate some of the comments already made by Ms Quigley. When the taskforce and national drugs strategy was working people at a local level felt they had access to places of seniority and that gave them confidence. Reference was made earlier to the lack of confidence people have in their communities and their feelings of disenfranchisement and isolation. The task force meetings which were held on a monthly basis were attended by senior Garda, officials from the Departments of Education and Skills, Social Protection and Health, and this instilled a feeling of inclusiveness that filtered down. When difficulties and problems arose communities had an avenue and platform to highlight them. However, as stated by Ms Quigley that has dwindled. Former Minister of State, Pat Carey, would regularly visit projects. People felt empowered by that.

Photo of Seán KennySeán Kenny (Dublin North East, Labour)
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I represent the Dublin north-east constituency, which includes the area covered by the Dublin north-east drugs task force. I am well aware of the work being done by the task force in Darndale, Kilbarrack and Edenmore and I have had many dealings with it.

Darndale was mentioned as an area of focus in terms of the type of anti-social behaviour that arises from crime and the drug addiction problem. Has any of the delegates come across people who have had to leave their homes in particular areas because of intimidation by local crime gangs? I have come across one or two cases of it myself. As has been said, very often the people involved are afraid to put their heads above the parapet, leading to victims not getting recourse because they are unwilling to give evidence to An Garda Síochána. That is a matter which I believe needs to be addressed. I would welcome the views of the delegates on that, as the people working on the ground.

I was particularly interested in the presentation made by Ms Quigley, in regard, in particular, to the community policing forums and local safety forums in the north east constituency. I am sure there are similar forums in the inner city constituency. Ms Quigley mentioned that these forums are not receiving the same priority they got in the past. That point is well made. Under housing legislation the local authorities have a role to play in dealing with criminal gangs living in local authority estates. In Ms Quigley's view, are the local authorities doing enough in terms of housing and estate management to tackle low-level criminal activity, including intimidation? We hear much on the news about people being shot but nothing about the everyday low level intimidation that annoys people intensely and makes life unbearable for them. I would welcome the delegates' views on what more the local authorities could do or if there is need for further legislation in that regard.

I have one more question.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I will ask the delegates to respond to those questions first, following which the Deputy can come back in.

Ms Anna Quigley:

On the local authorities, obviously they do have a role in this area. In many areas, in particular the north inner city, the council and Garda work closely on issues relating to persons living in local authority accommodation who are causing difficulties, including intimidation of neighbours and so on. This is a difficult issue. As stated by Deputy McGrath, the council will proceed if it has evidence but the difficulty that arises is how that evidence is gathered in the context of peoples' fear around providing it. The legislation is very complicated in that at the end of the day people have the right to a home and, if evicted, they will need to be housed somewhere else.

The fundamental issue underlying all of this is that there are legal systems and structures to enable address of the issue but people are too afraid to come forward and give evidence. There is a process by which people can be evicted from council housing, which is a difficult and long process and, rightly so, because nobody should be easily evicted from their home. However, the council can only act on evidence given to it by other residents. The difficulty is around peoples' fear of giving that evidence. In regard to Deputy McGrath's question as to what is the answer to this, the reality is there is no instant answer. Nobody, including a garda, can advise a person to ignore another person who is intimidating him or her. The reality is that often people are advised to pay up if they can come up with the money to do so. None of us can give a commitment that we can protect one person from intimidation by another person. In that immediate case, it is difficult for people. If we are to bring about change in this regard, everyone needs to work together. If a Deputy comes to us seeking help we would like to be able to offer it but we cannot do that. We cannot say to anybody that if they come forward and identify and name in court those who are intimidating them they will be protected. For this reason, all of the solutions offered, taken together, is the only way forward. We have to start with supports for those people. We cannot and do not just tell them we cannot do anything for them and to go away. We must at least provide them with support by way of a local service or structure to which they can go.

Policing, including community policing, is crucial. The issue that arises for people living in areas experiencing a lot of intimidation is the lack of visible policing on the streets. Where surveillance of a drugs issues is in place normal policing is withdrawn from the streets. While that is understandable it is not acceptable. Again, I know resources is an issue in this regard. I am aware, for example, that Garda numbers at Store Street Garda station have reduced by 65. That is bound to have an impact. I am sure that is replicated in other areas. There is need for a return to garda visibly patrolling areas, as they did in the past. Visibility in terms of policing provides reassurance for people. The previous Minister for Justice and Equality once stated we no longer need that type of policing because of the availability of technological equipment. However, visible policing is important.

I do not believe that what is needed at this stage is more processes, procedures or laws. The difficulty is around peoples' fear of giving evidence. I am not suggesting that evidence is not given in some cases because it is. However, giving evidence is very difficult.

Photo of Seán KennySeán Kenny (Dublin North East, Labour)
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I agree with the point made by a number of the delegates in relation to the need for appointment of a Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy. Previously, this was the responsibility of the current Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, and prior to that Deputy Rabbitte, was the first Minister of State with responsibility in this area. There have been a number of appointments since then of Ministers of State with particular responsibility for this area. The message from the delegates is, I think, that this position needs to be reinstated.

I was interested in the point made by the speaker from the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development on providing a safe environment where people can come forward and give their views. She mentioned that a Garda presence is required, with boots on the ground, in order to make people feel safe, so they come forward and give information that will lead to some kind of resolution of these problems. One hopes that when these new extra gardaí are trained and become available, that will release more gardaí who can go back to doing the kind of work that was previously done in that area.

I asked a question earlier about cases in which people have to leave their homes.

10:50 am

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Does anyone want to address this? Mr. Gough?

Mr. Dermot Gough:

Sometimes entire families have to leave their homes, or members of families. It can be heartbreaking for families when they have to send their children away for their own safety. Often, people will not leave their homes. They are proud to stay there, but they are very often living in fear. As Ms. Quigley said earlier, it is difficult to report this. People live in fear and even though their windows might be broken, they will not go to the gardaí. Therefore, these crimes are not reported. These people receive beatings. They are not severe enough to require them to go to hospital, but they are severe enough to hurt them and do serious damage. This will not be reported and the statistics are down as a result, but it is happening and it is very real for people. As Ms Quigley said, the person knows not to go any further. If someone gets a bad beating, he or she is definitely not going to report that.

Ms Marian McKenna:

To add to what Mr. Gough said, within the Traveller community, people have had to leave their homes as well. There have been issues between Travellers and other Travellers, but also between Travellers and other gangs within the wider community. It does happen, and there is no reporting as such of it to the Garda.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Gough mentioned at the very beginning of the session the possibility of legalisation or decriminalising of certain substances or drugs such as cannabis, to allow a small amount for personal use. This kind of stuff has been around for a while. He brought up this issue earlier on. I would like him to revisit that and to hear his views on it. Perhaps others might like to come in on this also. The drugs scene is integral to our discussion today.

Mr. Dermot Gough:

Legalisation is a topical question. It is controversial. Should we do it? Could we do it? What would be the implications and the ramifications? There are areas outside Ireland which have done it. Canada, for instance, provides legalised heroin under supervised injection as a way to reduce the risk of HIV, hepatitis and overdosing. Safe injecting rooms are a way forward as well. The Ana Liffey Drug Project in Dublin is contemplating and examining the possibility of opening up safe injecting rooms. Cannabis is very much a hot topic at the moment. We are running a seminar tomorrow on cannabis, or weed, because we are seeing many problems and difficulties in this regard. A number of years ago, cannabis, or weed, was perhaps viewed as a soft drug. I am not sure I would agree with this. The attitude was "It is only cannabis." We are seeing serious problems, for young people in particular, caused by weed. It is being produced at home and its strength is much higher than it used to be. Drug-induced psychosis is a real issue. The amount of debt people are getting into buying cannabis has risen drastically. People are running up drug debts and getting themselves into difficulties with people in organised crime. I am not sure about legalisation. Alcohol is legal, and we know all the problems and difficulties we have with alcohol - so much so that we have included it in our national substance misuse strategy. We would have to think long and hard about this and look at other possibilities before we look at legalisation.

Ms Anna Quigley:

One of the important points is to distinguish decriminalisation from legalisation. They are two very different things. We strongly favour decriminalisation. Currently, we make a person a criminal for using a drug. People use drugs for all kinds of reasons, including personal or social reasons. To make them a criminal for doing that makes no sense. It only adds to their difficulties and increases their engagement with the criminal justice system. We believe there should be decriminalisation, which is much more widespread than people think. People think of Portugal and the Netherlands, but in fact there has been decriminalisation in around 30 countries. Places such as Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic have all had some form of decriminalisation. We need to look at this as an option. Around 70% of prosecutions relating to drugs are for possession. In terms of resources, decriminalisation makes sense. Legalisation is far more complicated. As Mr. Gough said, our track record with alcohol is not great.

In the UN, there is a move by the Latin American countries to instigate a review of the war on drugs and a new approach to it. All international drug controls are operated in Latin American countries, and these are the countries which suffer the brunt of the illegal drugs trade. We all know what is happening in countries such as Mexico and Colombia. Nobody is going as far as to suggest legalisation. However, there is a general recognition in the international drugs policy area that what we are doing now in the war on drugs is not working. Across the world, it is the poorest communities that suffer the damage. We should decriminalise drugs. This approach is about not making a criminal of a person who is using a drug, no more than I should be a criminal if I drink a glass of wine. Legalisation is a far more complicated issue. However, we should have a discussion. We should not just say no to this. We need to look at the evidence, which tells us that what we are doing at the moment is not working at all.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Ms Flynn stated that it is important for us to remember that all these gangland criminals were once little babies in a cot oblivious to the degradation and depraved behaviour that surrounded them. Like all babies, they are dependent on their parents for love, attention and sustenance. She went on to talk about the parents being out drinking and so on, and the baby not getting appropriate attention. Later on, such a person may find a sense of identity and belonging within the gang on the streets. There is a sociological issue here and she speaks about the need for extra research. She spoke about gangs carving out territories, having access to lethal weapons and killing and torturing people and so on. She also mentioned youth workers. There is a lot of stuff in this. The key question is how much research is going on at the moment in this area. What needs to be done?

Ms Patricia Flynn:

Research into gangland activity is very limited. That is why we advocate more research in this area, on its causes and its effects on the community. We have a lot of anecdotal evidence, but we do not have a great deal of specific empirical evidence. We need a cross- or multidisciplinary approach to research which would take in the whole gamut of services and community support groups on the ground. We need to talk to these people and the wide range of professionals working in the field, particularly An Garda Síochána and the Probation Service. It needs to be a multidisciplinary body of research.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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We shall pass on the information obtained here today to the Garda, if everyone is happy with that. This is only the start of this work. It is multifaceted and complex, but, as Ms Quigley has pointed out on numerous occasions this morning, this should not stop us from tackling it and dealing with it as best we can. Deputy McGrath has agreed to act as rapporteur for this work. I congratulate him on the work he has done so far on this. There is a lot more to do. I thank the witnesses for coming here today, for their engagement and for giving their expertise and time to this very important topic.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.10 a.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 December 2014.