Dáil debates

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

4:00 pm

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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This week another two men lost their lives in brutal murders. One was beaten to death with iron bars and the other was gunned down in cold blood. Everybody in the country recognises that Ireland has become a far less civilised place in which to live in the past ten years. In that time gun crime has doubled, trebled and quadrupled. Gun murders are six times what they were in 1998 and detection is down by75%. Conviction rates have fallen and it seems that zero tolerance is a distant memory.

It appears that the Taoiseach has given up on this job. His comment yesterday to the effect that society should stop tolerating violence misses the point completely. It is not as if this is an 'us and them' situation, that criminals live in a gangland or crime land that is entirely different from the rest of the country. People have walked innocently into a lethal hail of gunfire and have died as a consequence. Society, said the Taoiseach, should not put up with this, but society does not put up with it. Did the taxi driver put up with the lethal hail of gunfire into his vehicle yesterday? Did the three young women in the back of the car tolerate a brutal assault by mere chance? Does the public tolerate a violent murder every five days? Do they tolerate this kind of vicious crime? It seems that in gangland Ireland if one stays silent one will live but if one does not stay silent one may well be next to die.

The Taoiseach fails to appreciate that people look on him as the boss, the political boss, of the country. He has been Taoiseach for the past ten years and is presiding over this situation. It is not just about investing additional millions of euro. As Deputy Charles Flanagan pointed out this morning, there is a fundamental requirement on the Government to respond in a multidimensional way to deal with this problem. I met a garda sergeant in Finglas two years ago who showed me on a computer screen the 17 serious cases reported to his station in a two-hour period. He told me that every night the gardaí in Finglas are in fire brigade action but that they are 15 years too late. Geography, environment and circumstances dictate that the John Dalys of this world — may God rest his soul — and all the other people who have been gunned down in gangland war die because of the inability of the Government to deal with the situation. How does the Taoiseach, as head of Government, intend to respond to the latest set of atrocities?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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First, with regard to the murders of Paul Quinn and John Daly, we send our commiserations to their families, who have to live with their grief and we all understand that, for them, this is very difficult.

On the horrendous murder of Paul Quinn, with whose family our sympathies lie at this tragic time, there is a Garda investigation under way in close co-operation with the PSNI. The priority in this case is that the Garda concentrate on this intensive investigation. We all hope those involved in this vicious killing, whatever their background, will be brought to justice. The Garda appealed for anyone with information to come forward. This appeal is supported by all parties in Northern Ireland and I strongly endorse that. The investigation is at an early stage. The Garda Commissioner has advised the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that there is no information available which suggests this attack was carried out or sanctioned by paramilitary interests. Every aspect of the investigation will be followed up to ensure these people are brought to justice.

On gangland crime and the murder of John Daly, provisional figures indicate there have been 57 murders this year as compared with 42 in the same period last year. Gang related killings do not account for this increase to date. There have been 17 murders involving firearms most of which resulted from gang related activities. It is not much consolation that the figure is the same for last year. Seventeen murders is 17 too many. Members will be aware of the Garda Síochána's excellent record in solving murders not related to gangland activity. It is only right we acknowledge this. Those murders, while all regrettable, occurred in a variety of circumstances not all of which are amenable to action by the criminal justice system. We are determined to do what we can to reduce the prevalence of violence. The aim of the new agency dealing with domestic violence is to treat all these incidences as appalling crimes. Deputy Kenny stated there is almost one death a week in this area. However, of the 40 recorded, practically all of them are domestic related.

Yesterday's shooting of John Daly was deplorable. It shows two things — I have said this in respect of other gangland killings — the appalling ruthlessness of people who carry out such killings and, the gun culture of death which is now part and parcel of the activities of these gangs. I am sure everyone sympathises with the taximan and others who found themselves caught up in such a dreadful situation. It also shows the difficulties involved for the Garda in trying to bring an end to these killings. I have received a great deal of information on this from the Garda Síochána and from the Minister. However, I do not wish to use it in this instance. John Daly has not yet had a funeral and it would serve no purpose to use it.

It is not easy for the Garda — this has been stressed to me by senior members of the Garda Síochána — when it does not receive co-operation from people whose lives are in danger. These people will not co-operate with the Garda who are trying to help them. While the Garda Síochána has launched countless operations to try to stop these killings, it cannot divert all its resources, on a daily basis, away from ensuring ordinary, law-abiding people can go about their business.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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As I stated, it is a case of be silent or be next. The Taoiseach rightly referred to the difficulties the Garda have in getting witnesses to come forward. Deputy Charles Flanagan raised the issue of a witness protection programme. I accept this is not the answer to all these problems.

I was asked a few short years ago to meet a person serving on a witness protection programme. The meeting which took place on a dark street in this city was not a pleasant experience. The Taoiseach will recall I communicated this to his office at the time.

The Fianna Fáil programme published ten years ago states: "We still have it within our power to arrest the growth of crime and roll it back. Unless we act effectively now we will have a very different and unpleasant Ireland in five years time and, it will be five years too late." The Taoiseach's response to the effect that society should not tolerate violence is of no comfort to the public who expect the Government to live up to its fundamental responsibility to protect citizens. I agree this cannot all be fixed by providing extra funding in a Vote. However, there is a need for greater understanding of what is happening in communities. It has been said to me by people from these communities that despite the provision of facilities and good people to work with young children, many of these children go home to hell. Geography, environment and circumstances dictate that ruthlessness and complete unconcern for the rule of law applies in many of our communities.

I would like if the Taoiseach could look, perhaps in a different way, at what happened following the murder of Veronica Guerin when the Government of the day sat on these warlords and drug barons and put them out of business. This is what people want. There is a carrot and a stick here. In 2007, people are entitled to live in a degree of peace and security and they look to the Taoiseach and to the Government to provide whatever resources are required and to take whatever action is necessary to deal with these issues.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate Deputy Kenny's remarks and the constructive manner in which he makes them. I am not suggesting there is any one simple solution. I have attended many meetings and security briefings with the Garda Síochána which has, through Operation Anvil, collected some 750 guns and carried out some 40,000 drug searches. Earlier this year, an extensive Criminal Justice Bill was added to the already enormous volume of legislation in this area and we have recruited 4,000 gardaí. Proportionately, given the size of this country, we have put more gardaí into the system than any other country in Europe. The proportion of gardaí per head of population is high. This is not an easy area to manage.

In speaking earlier about communities, I was referring also to the young people who are beaten up on our streets at weekends. These people are being turned on within communities by thugs who beat them to a pulp for fun. Neighbourhood police and community activists can assist in addressing these issues, but obviously they cannot do so without help and involvement of the Garda.

The Government has introduced a vast range of supports be it better housing, education programmes for the disadvantaged, facilities such as training or workshops to help rehabilitate those who have had difficult lives — perhaps through no fault of their own. These are important issues. Trying to save people in society, often from themselves or from the bad luck they have experienced in their lives, is important.

I assure Deputy Kenny that I am in contact with the Garda Síochána and that I, and some of my Cabinet colleagues, will shortly meet senior Garda in a high level meeting to discuss the issue of wanton vandalism on the streets of urban and rural Ireland and other related matters.

In terms of legislation and actions we are down to very hard places. I accept Deputy Kenny's point that we may need to examine them. We have used all the obvious mechanisms open to us; what remains is quite draconian but we may have to give some thought to it. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in conjunction with the Garda Síochána is considering whether more stern action is required.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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The Taoiseach is reported in today's newspapers as quite rightly describing the murders at the weekend of Paul Quinn and John Daly as horrendous and of describing the killers as vicious thugs who must be treated accordingly. He stated further that as a community we have to stop being tolerant of these people. The community is not tolerant of crimes such as murder, shootings and what we saw over the weekend. It does appear as though the Government, which the Taoiseach leads, may be tolerant of it. I do not blame the Government every time there is a murder or a shooting but I blame it for the failure to have the criminals apprehended and put away and, to break the cycle of crime.

Since Deputy Bertie Ahern became Taoiseach, there have been 141 gun murders in the State, but only 20 convictions, a ratio of 1:7. I know he cannot stop every murder, but it is not unreasonable to ask that the Government has in place a system of policing, investigation and prosecution under which there is a better than even chance that the killers will be apprehended, tried and convicted. A conviction rate of 1:7 is clearly a failure. It needs to be recorded also, although I do not blame the Taoiseach for this, that the pattern of violent crime has changed somewhat and those involved in crime are younger and more vicious. John Daly was only 18 years when he received a nine year sentence. Many killers and violent criminals are in their teens or at best early 20s.

The people who are in touch with a community, such as teachers, youth workers and neighbours of some of these people, would be able to give a short-list of those who are likely to be the criminals of tomorrow. Only the Garda Síochána are not on top of the situation, because in my opinion, unlike the teachers, youth workers and neighbours in the communities, the Garda are not in the community. We do not have a community policing system that people can be in touch with. In the ten years since he became Taoiseach, children of ten or younger are on a conveyer belt to criminal activity, growing up on crime. The people who deal with these children in schools or neighbourhoods know where their future is heading. What advice do you give to a primary school teacher who has a ten year old child in his or her class who is disruptive in the classroom, bullying in the school yard, and perhaps from a dysfunctional family and who believes the child is heading for trouble? Who does he or she ring, what supports are there to try to lead that child away from crime and prevent the probable string of victims who will be left in that child's wake?

In short how does the Taoiseach propose to break the cycle of crime so that we do not see a repeat year after year of what we are seeing week after week?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Gilmore raised a number of points. There is no doubt that early intervention in the community with programmes such as the breakfast scheme, the preschools and the additional facilities in disadvantaged schools, such as lower pupil-teacher ratios and after school projects are preventive measures. Most of these schemes did not exist before I became Taoiseach. In Cherry Orchard, an area that had a high level of crime and other difficulties, we have provided a high level of facilities in the new model school to help child protection. We will continue to do that. It is essential that FÁS or other schemes help to save young boys and girls from getting into crime.

There is one area in the State where we have 75 Garda working in a fairly small community, where a few years ago six or seven gardaí were trying to deal with the situation. That is the level of resources it takes. There are still dysfunctional families who will not co-operate. What the members of the Garda who are in the front line are saying is that the reason the Garda record is so good in the cases of non-gangland murders, where the detection rate is very good, is because of the information it gets from the community, as we have seen in Galway. In areas of gangland crime, the situation is different, and even those who are threatened will not speak. Nobody associated with those being killed will speak. The Garda, unlike the teacher, the doctor or the politician, needs evidence. The system of justice is evidence based. The Garda brief me about this or that gang, but if there is no evidence, the Garda cannot prosecute. The reason that people can walk around is that the law in a civilised society does not in some cases operate in a way that catches these people. This difficulty is not confined to Ireland but exists elsewhere. If one wants to go a different route, one must think very carefully about the downsides to it. The Garda Síochána cannot be in every driveway, every pub carpark and every highway watching the known criminals and their associates, however, it is putting significant resources into Operation Anvil and other such initiatives in trying to follow up cases and get information. That task is horrendously difficult in this city and in at least one other city. That does not mean anyone has given up. We have tough criminal justice legislation, but people have the right to silence, and will sometimes not co-operate even when it is in his or her own interest to save his or her life. That is creating pressure for the Garda Síochána. That is a fact. The Garda know this better than you or I.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I know the Garda have to collect the evidence and perhaps it would have a better chance of getting evidence if members of the force were working more in the community than they appear to be. The availability of gardaí in some communities is very low. I suggest that a Garda presence in the community would increase the possibility of getting evidence. Second, the Taoiseach has been urged by the Court of Criminal Appeal to have a statutory basis for a witness protection programme. The Labour Party has proposed this on a number of occasions, and I suggested it would make it easier for people to provide evidence to the Garda. Third, I suggest the National Drugs Strategy be implemented in full, as it appears to be on the backburner, and we know that crime is related to drug activity. It would be helpful also if the Taoiseach were to legislate to make membership of a criminal gang a criminal offence. I suggest there is a need to introduce reforms into the court system, so that the cases can be brought to trial more quickly than currently, because one of the difficulties that exposes witnesses to intimidation and to fear is the prolonged period between the committal of the crime, the arrest of the suspect and the case being brought to trial. The five suggestions I have put forward would help what the Taoiseach has rightly described as the difficulty the Garda has in assembling evidence to put these people away.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I accept those constructive suggestions and at least two or three of them are being examined, particularly in regard to the court system, the length of sentences and how the cases are dealt with. It is very difficult in gangland crime to get statements. We are all aware of the reasons for the difficulties, because we know the consequences. We can never give up on this issue, but there are dangers. There are other ways of dealing with these matters, but they are fairly tough. I do not disagree with any of the Deputy's suggestions.

In regard to the courts, it is not their speed of operation that matters; it is the type of court and how they operate. We have had experience of operating the kind of court where cases are not just based on witnesses coming forward. Cases in the Special Criminal Court were based on the word of members of the Garda who had information. We will re-examine this possibility if necessary but it is not entirely how we would like to operate. However, if gangs continue to act as they do, as legislators we will be forced to reconsider these issues, although this must be done carefully.