Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Question 44: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress to date with regard to the Garda investigation into the murder of two persons (details supplied) in Walkinstown on 5 October 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27369/07]
I am informed by the Garda authorities that the investigation into the murders referred to is ongoing. A dedicated investigation team of 40 officers is being assisted by specialist units from Garda national support services, including the national bureau of criminal investigation and the Garda technical bureau. The investigation includes taking statements from witnesses, viewing CCTV footage and visiting premises and establishing vehicle and foot checkpoints for the purpose of obtaining completed questionnaires. A number of lines of inquiry are being pursued to establish a possible motive for the murders.
I am further informed that Garda management is satisfied that sufficient resources are allocated to the investigation. As this is an ongoing Garda investigation it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this time.
I am sure all Members of the House will join me in calling on all members of the community to provide any information and support they are in a position to provide to the Garda Síochána to enable it to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice.
I do not want to probe the appalling crime too deeply either. Is any breakthrough anticipated by the Garda authorities in this regard? The figures we had earlier showed there has been a 50% increase in gun murders in the third quarter, which is an appalling level of carnage by a small number of gangsters running areas of our city. We have had 137 such gun murders since 1998, with only 20 convictions, which is less than 15%. Is that not an alarming level of detection and conviction? What legislative proposals does the Minister have in an attempt to combat this phenomenon? Was the Minister's answer in respect of surveillance and the use in evidence of information secured through surveillance given off the top of his head as he seemed to indicate on television the other night, or is it a considered proposal that the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission made in 1998 and as yet unimplemented will now be implemented? Why does the Department seem minded not to implement those recommendations over the years since 1998?
The Deputy has asked a number of questions. Of course it is a matter of concern that detection rates are not higher in crimes of the character to which he referred. However, it is the case and the Garda intelligence suggests that a number of those involved in the commission of these crimes have been apprehended, charged and convicted on other charges and are now in detention. If we are to discuss the phenomenon of gangland crime we need to face up to the fact that the basic need is to ensure that the membership of these gangs are put behind bars.
On surveillance, I indicated the other evening that the question had been put to me out of the blue but that I had on my own account asked the Department to examine the question some time previously. The Department is carrying out an examination of surveillance. However, the Law Reform Commission report to which the Deputy referred simply seeks to put on a statutory basis the investigative powers of the Garda Síochána regarding surveillance. The question of employing surveillance techniques against the gangland criminals is not restricted to the issue of simply having them put under surveillance. It is a matter of knowledge and notice in this House that such individuals are put under intensive surveillance by responsible Garda units. It is a matter of deciding whether the fruits of surveillance can be led in evidence and made admissible in evidence against these individuals. The practice in the State has always been that a great amount of surveillance material is not led in evidence in court. I have asked my Department to examine whether we should maintain the traditional arrangement where surveillance evidence is not generally led in court, for example evidence arising from a wiretap or from visual and auditory surveillance, or render such evidence admissible on a statutory foundation — in practice some of it is admissible already. That issue was not examined in the Law Reform Commission report.
It raises major operational questions because, of course, when such evidence and the method of obtaining it is disclosed in court the investigative authorities are exposed and the criminals are advised how they can be located and caught. A fine judgment needs to be made about the use of such evidence. It is not quite as straightforward a matter as it can be represented to be.
I am sure it is not straightforward and a judgment call would need to be made in certain cases. However, I am at somewhat at a loss to understand how it might alert the criminal as mentioned by the Minister. If these individuals are already under surveillance as he suggested and the Garda is gathering intelligence on them anyway as it ought to be, what more precisely does the Minister mean by saying that it would alert them? Surely they know that the purpose of the Garda is to put them behind bars. I can understand in a particular case why it might betray a wider operation to reveal in court evidence gathered as a result of an interceptor, bugging device or whatever. However, generally I am having some difficulty struggling with the concept of alerting criminals.
I am surprised that the Deputy has difficulty grappling with any concept. Of course the range and sophistication of equipment that can be used to exercise surveillance has been increased dramatically in recent years. A parallel inquiry into these matters is taking place in the United Kingdom at present where similar concerns have been raised that the disclosure of the techniques of surveillance would alert the criminal to the possibility of exposure.
I am glad the Deputy has had an opportunity to ask the question because I was not refusing to answer it. The constraints of time that the Ceann Comhairle must properly implement prevented me from dealing with the question. As it is, the Director of Public Prosecutions can have recourse and can determine that a prosecution should take place in the Special Criminal Court. The Taoiseach did not indicate there were legislative proposals relating to the Special Criminal Court. His comments were made prior to recent successes the Garda Síochána has had in this area. He indicated if gangland crime continues unabated and undetected, we would have to examine the question of the extended use of the Special Criminal Court. The Taoiseach was, therefore, postulating a future examination of this subject if current measures were found inadequate to deal with the persons concerned.