Thursday, 15 July 2021
Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
Cormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
Like my colleague, I welcome the opportunity to examine the Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2021. I thank the Deputy for introducing this Bill last March. It seeks to increase the maximum prison sentence that can be imposed for the possession of knives.
The Bill is a direct response to the increase in knife crime we have witnessed, unfortunately, in the capital and throughout Ireland. We have seen a spate of high-profile incidents, including Josh Dunne and others, in recent years. Physical or other types of assaults and knife crime constitute the worst nightmare of any parent of a teenage child or older.
Statistics from the Garda demonstrate the problem is getting worse. In 2016, gardaí seized 1,200 knives. This rose to 1,600 in 2017 and a staggering 2,000 in 2018. It is clear we have an ongoing problem with the possession and use of knives, particularly in Dublin. The solution is not exclusively through the criminal justice system. We also need to recognise the need to educate young men and boys in particular about the dangers of carrying knives. Many of them carry knives for the purpose of seeking to defend themselves, not intending to use them. Often the carriers of knives become the victims of same. We have seen far too often the tragic experience that, on a night when a knife is used, people can lose their lives through being fatally stabbed. Lives are being destroyed, especially young lives. Part of the solution is in education. We need to provide more public information about the use and dangers of knives and to warn young people about the consequences that can arise from carrying a knife.
It is not just young people. It is also men and women, as the Deputy alluded to in relation to domestic violence. We need to look at the criminal justice system. Fianna Fáil is of the opinion that the maximum sentence for carrying a knife for the purpose of trying to inflict harm on another person is far too low and should be increased to give a court greater discretion. This will not be the only solution but it sends a strong message to our community that it is unacceptable to carry knives.
This Bill will amend the existing legislation to increase, from five to ten years, the maximum prison sentence that can be imposed for possession of a knife likely to injure, incapacitate or intimidate any person. The Bill is essential. It sends that strong message and recognises that knives can be just as dangerous as other offensive weapons. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, is working on that and I thank him for being in the House. I know he will engage and work constructively on this.
One aspect of Covid-19 was people reconnecting with their local open spaces. Anti-social behaviour, intimidation, racism and crime in these places is unacceptable and must be tackled. Everyone has the right to feel safe while enjoying public spaces in our cities, towns, villages and wider communities. In particular, we must feel safe here in our capital city of Dublin and it must be welcoming for everybody. Recent high-profile incidents have been unacceptable and more must be done to ensure communities are supported and streets and parks kept safe.
This Bill is one part of a solution to tackle knife crime. We also need increased support for organisations working with communities and a continued Garda presence to deter such incidents. I welcome efforts by the Government in this regard, particularly the introduction of local community safety partnerships. These partnerships grew out of the reform of the joint policing committees that were established to work in each local authority area. They will draw up local community safety plans to address issues of concern in their local area. Three pilot projects are currently being established, in Dublin's north inner city, Waterford and Longford, and will run for the next two years ahead of a national roll-out. Projects like these will ensure public spaces are safe and can be enjoyed by everyone. I commend the Bill to the House and thank Deputy Jim O'Callaghan for his work in bringing it forward.
I conclude by thanking the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for her assistance during our sittings in the convention centre. This may be our last time talking in this space. I also thank the ushers and all the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the convention centre for their help during the pandemic period.