Wednesday, 3 October 2007
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise an important matter regarding Limerick. Last night, there were four shootings at three different locations in the city and people going about their daily lives in quiet family areas were subjected to indiscriminate shooting. Thankfully, no one was injured or killed, but it has brought to a head the issue of the 100 extra gardaí promised under the Fitzgerald report on regeneration projects. We are falling short of obtaining that many gardaí. Current Garda numbers remain at the same figure as 12 years ago, meaning we have barely caught up. Community gardaí are being moved from their frontline duties to specialist areas.
Will the Minister fulfil his commitment to Limerick of 100 extra gardaí? For several years, Cork has had fewer headline crimes and 100 more gardaí than Limerick. To date in 2007, Limerick has seen 80 firearm discharges, which is an increase of 33% since last year, and one murder. The situation in the affected areas is intolerable. Residents' concerns about criminal elements being rehoused in their areas should be taken on board by the local authority and the HSE through consultation because their fears are legitimate rather than based on snobbery.
I demand the extra gardaí needed in Limerick. The Fitzgerald report promised a superintendent to head the operation and made the vital recommendation of a Criminal Assets Bureau branch in Limerick to deal with hardline crime. A gangland element is amassing wealth and must be tackled head-on in a firm way. There is a case for an Operation Anvil-style measure for Limerick and an agency to address drug issues, specifically the heroin problem, must be set up. The four shootings in Limerick were related to drugs and other criminal activities that must be stopped.
Community policing is suffering due to the escalation in gangland violence. The Mayorstone and Mary Street Garda stations should be operated on a 24-hour basis to provide security. Suburban areas such as Castletroy, which has a population of more than 12,000, need Garda stations and have none. All large towns of more than 4,000 or 5,000 people have Garda stations that are manned full-time. Extra community police must be on the ground and walking the beat because people in Limerick city are entitled to feel safe in their beds and neighbourhoods, but the 100 extra gardaí promised in the report have not appeared.
Máire Hoctor (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Tipperary North, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to respond on behalf of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who expresses his apologies for not being available.
I thank Deputy O'Donnell for raising this matter on the Adjournment and assure him that the Minister and I share his concerns about crime in Limerick. However, as the Deputy is aware, the Garda Commissioner has direct responsibility for the allocation of Garda resources. I am informed by the Commissioner that the number of operational gardaí in Limerick city as of 1 October 2007 was 436, an increase of 39 since 31 December 2006. Garda resources in Limerick are further augmented by the presence of members of a number of Garda national units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Garda National Drugs Unit and the Criminal Assets Bureau. This upward trend in the allocation of Garda personnel to the Limerick city districts shows the commitment of the Government and the Commissioner to meeting the targets set out in the Fitzgerald report in respect of Garda numbers.
The Government has committed to bringing the strength of the force to 15,000 fully attested members by 2010 and to 16,000 by 2012. The additional gardaí will be placed in frontline operational policing and will increase the ratio of gardaí to population throughout the country.
Operation Anvil is central to the strategy of the Garda Síochána in combating serious crime, in particular, murder. The operation, which commenced in the Dublin metropolitan region in May 2005 and was subsequently extended nationwide at the Minister's request, has proved to be successful in disrupting the criminal activities of a number of key criminal gangs. It has resulted in a number of high profile arrests and the acquisition of intelligence on the movements of criminals. Notable improvements have been achieved in the recorded number of incidents of crime being targeted by the operation. The most recent figures available show that under the operation, 92 arrests have been made in connection with murders and 1,080 in connection with serious assaults. Some 768 firearms have been seized or recovered and 37,427 drug searches have been conducted.
A suggested possible solution to problems is a more localised structure for the Criminal Assets Bureau. While a greater focus on local issues by specialised Garda units could bring specific expertise to bear on matters of concern, we must act in a manner that ensures that the resources available to, for example, the bureau are used in an optimum fashion.
We must rid ourselves of any misconception that the bureau's work happens in isolation or that it is of a centralised nature without connection to what is happening in local areas. The bureau's success can be attributed in no small part to the use of knowledge made available by local sources. This is facilitated by the work carried out by trained criminal asset profilers who have been appointed in every Garda division. The use of local asset profilers was developed by the Criminal Assets Bureau in conjunction with the Office of the Director for Public Prosecutions in 2004. The programme ensures that a fully trained asset profiler is in place in each of the 25 Garda divisions and a full complement of divisional profilers is being maintained.
A key function of the profilers is to ascertain and build information at local levels and point out individuals at whom the bureau's work can be targeted. Such information is then investigated and followed up by CAB. Management of An Garda Síochána and the chief bureau officer of CAB are keeping the situation under review to ensure resources are allocated in the most effective manner possible.
The underlying trend in crime statistics showing a drop of 1.1% in crime recorded in the year ending 30 June is encouraging, but there are no grounds for complacency. The Minister has discussed these figures with the Garda Commissioner, particularly the increase of 3.2% in the second quarter of 2007 compared to the second quarter last year. The Commissioner has advised that the Garda is undertaking a number of specific targeted operations directed against particular types of crime in areas where increases have been taking place. Garda personnel assigned throughout the country, together with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy, are continually monitored and reviewed. Such monitoring ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public.
As the House is aware, the Fitzgerald report concerns taking a holistic approach to the problems suffered by innocent people living in certain areas of Limerick. These people and communities have been the subject of persistent attacks on their lives and safety. The Government is committed to addressing the problems and bringing the perpetrators to justice. The gardaí in Limerick are to be commended for the high detection rate of the more serious crimes committed in the area.