Dáil debates

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Priority Questions

Criminal Assets Bureau.

1:00 pm

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Question 7: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if consideration has been given to expanding the Criminal Assets Bureau to include a local bureau in each of the 25 divisions of the Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12992/07]

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I refer the Deputy to my reply of 22 February 2007 to Priority Question No. 3 in which I dealt with this subject. I set out the following summary points in responding again today to the issue of a more localised Criminal Assets Bureau structure. I have no difficulty in principle with a proposal for more localised CAB bureaux but what must determine our attitude is an assessment of how in practice CAB can be best structured. I will first deal with any possible misconception that CAB's work is wholly centralised, without any connection or interaction with what is happening at local level.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that while the bureau requires a high degree of specialist staff for its functioning, CAB's operational success is very often intrinsically linked to information made available to it from local levels. This is facilitated in particular by the work carried out by the trained criminal asset profilers who have been appointed in every Garda division in the country. The background to this initiative is that since 2004, a programme has been in place whereby one member of the Garda Síochána from each Garda division is trained as a profiler in respect of criminal assets. The initiative was developed by the CAB in conjunction with the office of the Director for Public Prosecutions. A divisional asset profiler is now in place in each of the 25 Garda divisions and a full complement of divisional profilers is being maintained. Essentially, a key function of these profilers is to ascertain and build up information at local level and point out individuals at whom the bureau's work can be targeted. Such information is then investigated and followed up further by CAB.

In the course of investigations, gardaí, generally speaking, should be encouraged to be on the lookout for assets that appear to be the proceeds of crime. For example, when they apprehend a bank robber and search the house, they should be on the look out for assets that look like the proceeds of crime or documents that suggest involvement in crime.

There is an appetite for this task. It would be wrong for Deputy Cuffe to take the view that CAB is simply operating in a goldfish bowl in Dublin, and does not have local eyes and ears, which it does — it has a formalised system of local eyes and ears. It also has the backing of the entire force and interacts with other agencies within the force. It does not operate in isolation.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Should we not go further than this? In the past five years Ireland — the cities of Dublin and Limerick in particular — has seen a phenomenal rise in organised gang-related crime. Fuelled by the massive amounts of money to be made from the trafficking and sale of drugs, gangland crimes have resulted in a dramatic increase in gun-related murders. We need to send a clear message to the members of criminal gangs that crime does not pay. Unfortunately, at present crime pays handsomely here. A few weeks ago, the Minister will have heard in this House, stories of criminals claiming social welfare payments while driving around in SUVs. These are the ones who are the driving force behind the gang-related violence we are currently experiencing.

There is no doubt CAB has done good work in recent years but, by its nature, it is a centralised and limited operation, notwithstanding the trained criminal assets profilers. It is time to consider the establishment of sub-offices throughout the country. In the United Kingdom the Serious Organised Crime Agency works closely with the police force with regard to intelligence and operations at national level as well as the work of police forces at local level. This link at local level is not strong enough in the Irish situation.

Does the Minister agree that the setting up of local bureaux in some or all of the Garda divisions would send a strong message to the criminal community that CAB is not only interested in high-profile drug barons in Dublin but that it and the Garda Síochána is fighting organised crime in every corner of the country?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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I would not like Deputy Cuffe to create the impression that CAB's activities are confined to the city of Dublin, which is not the case. It is active and pursues the proceeds of crime throughout the country. For example, it has been very active on a number of occasions in Deputy Howlin's constituency and has recovered very large sums of money. It is not the case that CAB members are somehow sitting in Harcourt Square, thinking only of high profile Dublin people.

The Deputy makes the point that the more CAB can do throughout the country, and the more it can operate on the basis of local information, the better. I have conveyed these views to the Garda Commissioner and the head of CAB, who are responsible for the day to day operation of the Garda Síochána and CAB respectively. Contrary to what has been said in Deputy Howlin's constituency in the past couple of days, I am not micro-managing the Garda and am not in a position to direct it in one direction or another. The Garda Commissioner decides on the deployment of resources. Nonetheless, I have given him every encouragement to expand CAB and my Department has made available civilian accountant and forensic accounting experts to help the bureau with its work. Nobody should think there is any holding back by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the funding or resourcing of CAB.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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This one practical measure could have more impact on organised crime here than all the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill currently being railroaded through the House. Infringements of the right to silence and extending the maximum periods of detention will not make this kind of crime less lucrative. However, if we can get hold of criminals' SUVs, cash and other property, we can certainly make it less attractive.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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It is not a choice between one and the other. I welcome the support for the Criminal Justice Bill of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and most of the political parties, with the exception of the Deputy's party and Sinn Féin. My views are not unusual on these matters, although I might sometimes find myself lonely on the matter in some newspaper columns. The inspector of police has also stated that, in her view, it is appropriate for gardaí to have measures of this general type at their disposal.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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She also endorses some interesting increases in resources.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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She is there because I pushed through the Act to create that position. Let us remember that.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Minister will recall it was announced by his predecessor.