Dáil debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Priority Questions.

Crime Prevention.

2:30 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 85: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the contacts or discussions he has had with the banks or financial institutions to deal with situations whereby staff members or their families are taken hostage in order to facilitate robberies; if there are agreed procedures between the banks and the gardaí about the way such situations are dealt with; if his attention has been drawn to at least one case where a particular branch has ceased carrying out cash transactions due to a series of such raids; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36430/06]

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The recent incidents in which bank workers, non-bank workers and their families have been held captive with a view to assisting robberies are clearly a cause of great concern. The phenomenon of tiger kidnappings has been translated from the paramilitary world into the ordinary criminal world. Determined criminals use any opportunity to further their illegal activities. The targeting of family members to put pressure on those with access to cash is another manifestation of their ruthless attitude.

In my meetings with representatives of the banking and security industries this year, I have made it clear that I expect the highest security standards to be adhered to by their members. As the Deputy would expect, there are regular contacts between the banks and other financial institutions and the Garda to discuss methods of forestalling attempts by criminal gangs to enrich themselves by preying on the vulnerability of individuals. There is a forum in which representatives of the various interest groups meet, in line with agreed operational standards and procedures.

Every bank, financial institution and company with large deposits of cash owes it to itself and its employees to put in place a system which deters tiger kidnappings. It has been disclosed to me on a preliminary basis that Garda investigations in a recent case strongly indicate that proper procedures were not in place in a certain bank to protect employees from crimes of this nature. With fear and ordinary human emotion, one can well imagine that decisions would be made to make cash available to victims of tiger kidnappings without alerting the Garda Síochána. Although one could see something like this happening through fear, to do so is to set up the next family for this kind of crime. The decision that any bank, bank manager or employee makes in respect of one incident will inevitably have consequences for another family. If this tactic is seen to succeed and people are seen to circumvent standardised procedures such as notifying the Garda Síochána, having time-locked safes or putting in place a system of warnings, they may take the pressure off themselves on a particular occasion, but those who perpetrate such crimes will inevitably target other innocent families and subject them to the same ordeal.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Minister is surely not proposing that banks expose their staff to this.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I am suggesting the exact opposite. Any bank that does not take stern measures to deal with this threat is exposing its employees and the employees of other banks to this threat. There is no excusing corner-cutting by the banks on this issue.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Minister is not a disinterested party in these matters. He is not an independent security consultant advising banks. Does the Minister not accept that he is the person to whom the public looks to protect them against attacks of this nature? Given that five so-called tiger robberies took place in an eight-month period this year, does he accept that this is a serious and real issue? Does he accept that it is rather brave of him to counsel others that they should not behave in such a way as to encourage other criminals by putting their own families at risk? Is that what the Minister is counselling when he suggests that it is somehow the fault of the individuals for whom the lives of their families or children have been threatened?

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It is a dangerous suggestion.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Is the Minister suggesting that these people should stand up to this? If this type of terror robbery is to be faced down and dealt with, I ask that it be done as a co-ordinated response from not only the banks — at least one of the robberies concerned a supermarket manager. What co-ordination has taken place with the business community, including the banks, to ensure protocols are put in place, by statute if necessary, to make it impossible for individuals to have access to substantial hoards of cash in the dark hours of the night or the early hours of the morning? We must make it as difficult as is humanly practicable for this kind of terror raid to yield profit. Will the Minister give the details of the actions he has taken to prevent this new terror from continuing in this State?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context

As the Deputy will appreciate, the majority of these raids have happened to deposit-taking institutions and banks. I have established a forum comprising the Garda Síochána, cash-holders and cash in transit companies to discuss these matters.

I assure the Deputy that I do not blame the victims in tiger kidnappings. However, victims are made vulnerable if the systems are not in place to defend them. Large sums of cash in a bank are either held in time-locked safes or they are not. When the time lock allows the bank's safes to be opened, there are either systems in place to counteract tiger kidnapping or there are not. There are either protocols of behaviour in existence or there are not.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Has the Minister drawn up such protocols and made them mandatory?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Where somebody in authority in a bank knows that another employee is the subject of a tiger kidnapping, there must be a system for reporting this. The Deputy asked if I had made such protocols mandatory. The only method whereby I could make them mandatory is to make them a term of the licence of the banks licensed by IFSRA.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Minister could introduce criminal justice legislation to achieve this too.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I have discussed this option with the banks regarding the cash in transit issue. I have indicated to them that whereas the Private Security Authority can regulate the cash in transit industry, I see the banks responsibilities as being equally serious. I have also indicated that if voluntary adherence to codes of conduct were not sufficient, I would ask the Minister of Finance to instruct IFSRA to generate a legislative framework putting in place mandatory procedural arrangements to protect bank employees.

However, supermarkets and pubs also hold large sums of money and mandatory regimes become unworkable at some point. One cannot instruct the proprietor of a pub chain to put in place time-lock systems on safes or protocols for bar managers should any of them be subject to tiger kidnapping. It is difficult to achieve this at the retail end of cash-holding enterprises.

I reiterate that I do not blame the victim. However, anyone who pays out without informing the Garda Síochána is teeing up another family for exactly the same experience.