Dáil debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

2:30 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Question 82: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the increase in the number of drug offences recorded in the Central Statistics Office figures for the third quarter of 2006; the amount and value of heroin and cocaine seized since the beginning of 2006; the way this compares to the same period in 2005; if the gardaí have an estimate of the overall proportion of such drugs coming into the country these seizures represent; the steps he intends to take to deal with the ongoing problem of the drugs trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36429/06]

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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The Central Statistics Office's recent publication for the first time of the provisional headline crime statistics for the third quarter of 2006 is welcome in providing further expertise and independence in the compilation of such statistics and in acting as an important aid in informing policy formulation.

While being mindful of the need for caution in the interpretation of such statistics, especially when attempting to extrapolate any trends over short periods, the CSO report provides us with important data on drug offences statistics and trends. I stress to Deputy Howlin that unlike other serious crimes such as murder, armed robbery and rape, the drug figures in Garda records and in the CSO statistics reflect successful Garda activity in combating the drugs menace. If a murder takes place, that is a question of fact. If an armed robbery in a bank takes place, it is a question of fact, but if drugs offences are taking place in the community, the only real way they will end up in Garda figures is if there is a detection and an arrest or a seizure.

The gardaí do not record what is obviously unrecordable. There is no doubt that important arrests have been made and serious inroads made into the activities of drug gangs. Any estimate of the overall proportion of such drugs coming into the country, about which Deputy Howlin asks, would be highly speculative. I agree with the Deputy, however, that what the gardaí recover must be a minority of the drugs brought into the country, but it is impossible to say how much of a minority they represent. If the gardaí knew exactly how much was coming into the country or could estimate it, they would be in a position to intervene and seize the drugs in question.

Some of the key information which the report provides shows that there is a 8.6% increase in the total number of drugs offences recorded for the first three quarters of 2006 compared to 2005. There is a 23.8% increase in the total number of drugs offences recorded for the third quarter of 2006 in comparison with the equivalent third quarter for 2005. That shows increased Garda activity and increased successes. There was a sizeable increase of 153, or 25.8%, in the number of the possession of drugs for sale or supply offences recorded in the third quarter of 2006 compared to the third quarter period of 2005.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In terms of the amount and value of heroin and cocaine seized since the beginning of this year and how this compares to the same period for 2005, the Garda authorities have provided me with the following data.

For the first ten month period of 2005, the Garda Síochána seized 12 kgs of heroin, with an estimated street value of €2.4 million. There has been a significant increase in the comparative period for this year with 115.75 kgs of the drug, with an estimated street value of €23.15 million, having already being seized.

For the first ten month period of 2005, the Garda Síochána seized 212.6 kgs of cocaine with an estimated street value of €14.882 million, and over the comparative period for 2006 seized 109.5 kgs of the drug, with an estimated street value of €7.665 million.

The Government would view with concern any apparent rise in the level of any illegal drugs being trafficked into this country. However, the seizures could also be a reflection of the success of the gardaí in targeting this illicit and pernicious trade. The drugs situation is dictated by global developments. It is dynamic and ever-changing and our policies need to be flexible to meet those changes.

In terms of estimating the proportion of drug seizures made by our law enforcement authorities in relation to the overall volumes of drugs being trafficked, given the clandestine nature of this illegal activity this is extremely difficult to quantify with any degree of certainty. What can be said though is that the global illicit drug trade is, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, UNODC, reputed to exceed billions of US dollars annually. That UN office estimated in 2005 that global seizures for that year accounted for 44% of cocaine production, 28% of cannabis resin, 25% of opium production, 7% of amphetamines and 4.7% of ecstasy.

In response to all of this data, the first point I wish to make, and I am sure Deputy Howlin and all Members of the House would support me, is to commend the Garda Síochána for its ongoing operational success in tackling the problem of drug trafficking. The continuing high level of drug seizures being made by the gardaí, their continued success in bringing serious drug traffickers to book and their increasing detection of drug related offences as identified in the CSO report is to be warmly applauded.

Undoubtedly, drug misuse remains one of the most complex social ills faced globally. Our drug law enforcement response is a vital feature of our overall response in addressing the issue but we cannot just look at the issue from a supply reduction perspective only. Rather, we must examine the drugs problem in the wider context in which it takes place and take cognisance of the fact that the demand for and the use of illegal drugs is what fuels the drugs trade. The measures that we have put in place to address the problem must take account of that aspect.

The Government remains resolutely committed to tackling the problem through our National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008. The national strategy addresses the problem under pillar headings of education and prevention, supply reduction, treatment and rehabilitation and research and is firmly founded on the principle that drug misuse needs to be addressed in an integrated manner across these headings through a co-operative approach involving the statutory, community and voluntary treatment sectors.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, under the stewardship of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, is the lead Department in co-ordinating the implementation of the national drugs strategy. My Department's remit in this area, while not exclusively, is primarily in the area of drug supply reduction and drug law enforcement remains a key feature of the Government's drug policy framework.

The Garda Síochána invokes a number of broad strategic responses in addressing the issue. These include the following: identifying, targeting and dismantling national and international drug trafficking networks which supply and distribute illegal drugs within this State; conducting intelligence-driven operations focusing on all aspects of the illicit drugs trade, including commodity, logistics, distribution and financing; working with other national and international law enforcement agencies on joint actions designed to reduce the availability of drugs and the proceeds derived from the drugs trade; and working in partnership with statutory, community and voluntary groups to reduce both the supply and demand for drugs within society.

Tackling organised crime and drug trafficking is primarily achieved through the use of specialist units and targeted intelligence-led operations. The organised crime unit, established in November 2005, in conjunction with the Garda national drugs unit and local gardaí, continues to implement initiatives such as Operations Anvil and Oak, which target criminals involved in the trafficking of drugs.

Significant drug seizures, including the considerable increase in the amount of heroin already seized this year to date, to which I referred earlier, have been made as a result of these operations, which are ongoing. They continue to dismantle drug trafficking networks and have led to the arrest in recent times of major criminals based here and abroad who are involved in the drugs trade.

The record level of resources, both in financial and personnel terms, being made available to the Garda Síochána this year is proof of the Government's commitment and determination to ensure that the Garda authorities will continue to implement targeted, intelligence-led and high intensity operations against organised crime with a special focus on drugs crime.

Furthermore, we are ensuring that our law enforcement agencies have a strong legislative platform from which to operate in their work tackling those involved in such criminal activity. While our legislative package for tackling drug trafficking is already viewed as being one of the most stringent in Europe, the Criminal Justice Act 2006 provides for further measures which will enhance the powers of the gardaí in the investigation and prosecution of drug offences.

Nobody on the Government side is under any illusions on this issue. Tackling drug trafficking and those involved in this destructive trade remains an ongoing work in progress and challenge to be met head on, but I clearly signal again that the policy of targeting those involved in organised crime, including drug trafficking and the gun culture with which it is associated, remains the Government's top policing priority. It is a policy on which I assure the House we will continue to steadfastly and relentlessly pursue.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Does the Minister agree that the most worrying fact in the statistics issued by the Central Statistics Office, and I welcome the involvement of the CSO in crime figures analysis and presentation, was the increase of 25.8% — more than a quarter — in the number of possession of drugs for sale or supply offences? Obviously, interdicted drugs are all that manifest themselves, and I publicly welcome the vigilance of the gardaí in some of the biggest seizures of drugs in the history of the State in the past few months, but will the Minister indicate to the House the accepted norm, that is, the relationship between interdicted drugs and the volume of drugs available in society? I understand there is an internationally acceptable multiplier. If the Minister has that multiplier, will he give it to the House so that we might have some view of the scale of the drugs problem?

Does the Minister further accept that drugs are now the biggest single issue in regard to crime in this country? Will he accept that the crime gangs are the biggest threat to public order in this country now that we have moved beyond criminality in terms of violence dressed up in the national cause? Does the Minister share the nation's horror, and mine, that a five-year-old child would be shot in a housing estate in the third city of our nation recently? Does the Minister have specific ongoing measures to put in place to ensure that the violence being perpetrated by drug gangs in this State is faced down and eliminated?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I totally identify with the Deputy in regard to the incident in which a five-year-old child was shot. Nothing could be more depraved or more indicative of the total disregard a tiny minority of people in some of our cities have for human life. The people who earlier this year were shooting people on wasteland in Dublin or the people who are letting off weapons in pursuit of feuds in Limerick have no regard for human life and no respect for the law of our land. The gardaí in Limerick are putting in huge resources to counter that threat by a tiny minority of people who have unleashed violence upon each other and, inevitably, innocent third parties are the victims of such criminality. Great efforts are being made at community level to improve every aspect of life in that estate and similar estates in Limerick. We should not allow the actions of a tiny few who are behaving barbarously to drag down the reputation of a whole community or misrepresent the wonderful work being done in that community.

I am not aware of the percentage of drugs interdicted internationally as a norm but I believe the Garda has made very substantial inroads in that regard in this State. I join the Deputy in congratulating the Garda on its recent achievements in this area.

For the first ten months of 2005, An Garda Síochána seized 12 kg of heroin with an estimated value of €2,400,000. In the comparable period for this year, 115.75 kg of the drug, with an estimated street value of €23,150,000, have already been seized. This represents a significant increase. It shows the Garda is achieving successes but also that these drugs are available to be seized.