Dáil debates

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Other Questions

Criminal Prosecutions.

3:00 pm

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Question 47: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of cases of murder in which firearms were used in respect of each year from 1998 to date in 2007; the number of such cases in which prosecutions for murder were initiated; the number of such cases where convictions were secured; if he is satisfied with the level of detection and conviction in such cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27366/07]

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The information requested by the Deputy concerning the numbers of cases of murder recorded in which firearms were used in each year from 1998 to date in 2007, prosecutions initiated and convictions secured is set out in the following table. Figures provided for 2007 are provisional, operational and liable to change.

The table shows that, in the relevant period, there were 142 murders in which a firearm was used, in respect of 39 of which proceedings were commenced. This gives an overall rate of 27%. Murders in which firearms are used are often, but not always, connected with gangland crime and are by their nature difficult to detect. All killings, regardless of the persons or circumstances involved, are the subject of a rigorous investigation by the Garda Síochána. The identification of the motive and the evidence available in its support are key elements of the investigation and prosecution process. On completion of such investigations, a file is forwarded to the law officers who direct what charges, if any, are to be preferred. It is then a matter for the courts to decide a person's guilt or innocence.

My highest priority is to bring gangland killings to an end and to bring those involved in gangland activities to justice. In recent days, we have witnessed a number of successful operations carried out by the Garda Síochána to deal with gangland crime. I am sure all Members of the House will join me in commending the Garda on these successes. Many have already done so. I cannot comment on the detail of what took place since the operations form part of criminal investigations and court proceedings, but I can say that this type of relentless activity by the Garda Síochána, under Operation Anvil in particular, will continue to be used to deal with these gangs.

Last week, I published the policing priorities I have determined for the Garda Síochána for 2008, as provided for in the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The first priority relates to targeting gun crime, organised crime and drug trafficking. The priorities refer in particular to the use of specialist units and targeted operations such as Operation Anvil; profiling, intelligence gathering and threat assessments of individuals and groups involved in this type of crime; and the pursuit by the Criminal Assets Bureau of the proceeds of crime, including through the presence of enhanced liaison arrangements between bureau and Garda divisions.

The Government and all Members of the House will support the Garda fully in its efforts. For our part, we are providing unprecedented resources not just to the Garda Síochána but to all the agencies involved in the criminal justice system.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

We have considerably strengthened the criminal law. For example, we have made it more difficult to obtain bail in drug trafficking and firearms cases. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 updated offences and penalties for firearms offences and introduced minimum mandatory sentences of between five and ten years therefor. We have extended the periods for which the Garda can question people suspected of involvement in serious crime and we have updated the law on the right to silence. However, in any criminal justice system it takes time for legislative changes to have full effect in practice. In the immediate period ahead, we need to support fully the operational measures being taken by the Garda to target all of those involved in these activities.

The number of murders recorded in which a firearm was used, proceedings commenced and convictions for the years 1998 to 2006 and in 2007 up to 1 November 2007.
YearRecordedProceedings CommencedConvictions
2007 (to 1 November)1710

Figures provided for 2007 are provisional, operational and liable to change.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I join the Minister in congratulating the Garda on recent apparent successes, especially the Celbridge operation. This demonstrates the resources and degree of patience required for such operations.

Given the very low level of detection and conviction that the tabular response shows, are there plans to make internal changes within the Garda Síochána to target the gangster leaders? I am always interested to hear, within hours of a gun murder, one newspaper crime correspondent or another outlining on a radio programme details on those involved, including their seed, breed, generation and background, in addition to information we all should have known and the suspects' previous records. This implies that the information is well known to the Garda and that, in most cases, comes from it in the first instance. If the Garda has such information, is it not possible to reorganise the force such that there could be more interceptions like the one that took place in Celbridge?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Rabbitte for wishing well the Garda. The Government conveyed such wishes to the force after its meeting yesterday. The Garda is as organised as the Deputy desires. Incredible patience is often required in operations that seek the conclusion we witnessed last week. While the Garda has a great deal of information and intelligence at its disposal, the question of how one assembles a case for presentation in court is an entirely different matter. The assembly of legally admissible evidence that will establish the guilt of an accused person beyond reasonable doubt is a considerably greater task than accessing information and intelligence. This is the challenge that faces the Garda in all investigations of this type.

The Garda has a policy of engaging in relentless confrontation with all those involved in gangland activity. In some jurisdictions, a decision is taken to simply target one group at the expense of another and to apply relentless pressure on it to the exclusion of all others. The Garda is satisfied it can maintain pressure on all the operations and organise specific, dedicated operations, when appropriate, to seek to apprehend those who are about to commit a particular offence.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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There is not a citizen in the State who would not applaud the Garda. Deputy Charles Flanagan has done so on behalf of Fine Gael in respect of what happened in Kildare. Everything has a cause and effect and one of the effects of Operation Anvil is that some of these ne'er-do-wells are flying below the Garda radar and moving out of the city. They move out of the city for five or six days per week and reappear back for their social welfare payments. Operation Anvil is applying pressure in Dublin and therefore the individuals targeted just move somewhere else. This is a particular problem where residents are not living in their houses on a full-time basis and are living partly in holiday homes. I have referred to Courtown previously in this regard.

Some of the major players leave Dublin because the pressure is applied there but the minute they leave there is none on them. The gardaí in Courtown, which has 2,500 houses, are operating there on a part-time basis. The minute suspects cross the Dublin border into Wicklow, Meath, Kildare or Wexford, the authorities behind Operation Anvil need to chase them. The gardaí in each of the relevant divisions outside Dublin need to be informed.

The Minister referred previously to the Criminal Assets Bureau and local lieutenancies. It is essential that additional funding be put in place to ensure that local lieutenancies can be set up and funded correctly. There is no point in giving them names and the opportunity to do something without sufficient funding. They constitute what I have described previously as a reasonable version of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Is the Minister concerned about an article written by Mick McCaffrey, a former confidante of the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which was published in a newspaper last Sunday? This study found that only 5% of fatal shootings resulted in convictions. Is the Minister concerned about this finding? Is there a need for additional training for the Garda Síochána to ensure that when preparing cases, no technicalities exist in their preparation that would allow some of these criminal elements to escape conviction?

What measures will the Minister take to tackle that and the point raised by Deputy Rabbitte, namely, the fact that there seems to be a continuous leakage from the Garda Síochána to the newspapers of every detail of the individuals under investigation and the investigation itself? What steps will be taken to secure information within the Garda Síochána until successful convictions are achieved?

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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The question refers to firearms. We have had amnesties and initiatives, all of which have failed. Does the Minister agree that there have never been so many illegal guns in this country? Will he tell the House where these guns are coming from? Are they primarily brought in by east European gangs? There is a problem with stolen legally held firearms as thousands of them have been stolen in recent times. What about republican guns coming in from Northern Ireland which do not have the same use as they had before? What initiatives will the Minister undertake to take the guns out of society because we have never had such difficulty with firearms being used on a daily and regular basis?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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In response to Deputy D'Arcy's question, Operation Anvil was extended to the entire country in 2006. However, I take his point that there is a particular need to keep an eye on the very large new suburbs that have developed in the Leinster area, cognate areas in Munster outside Cork and Limerick and in areas outside Galway. I certainly will bring this to the attention of the Garda authorities.

Operation Anvil does apply outside Dublin. One of the matters which has been progressed in recent months is the appointment of divisional profilers in each division to liaise with the Criminal Assets Bureau in respect of local intelligence about persons with unexplained assets in rural and provincial communities. That network of profilers has been established in recent months.

In respect the point raised by Deputy Ó Snodaigh about Garda information, we all know that a certain relationship exists between the news gatherer and the news provider in every walk of life. However, I can say that at Garda headquarters, a new head of communications in the form of a civilian post has been now established and appointed and I believe there will be considerable analysis of Garda communications in the month ahead.

In respect of Deputy Charles Flanagan's query about guns, this is a subject in itself. There is no doubt that the widespread use of guns in Ireland resulted from the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland from the 1960s onwards. Unfortunately, the ending of the Troubles has not seen the end of the proliferation of guns and their use in criminal activity. The reverse has happened and we have seen the habituation of their use in the criminal culture. As Deputy Charles Flanagan is aware, very strict legislation was enacted during his temporary absence from this House which provides for very severe penalties for possession and for the tightening up of the regime. An amnesty was also offered to those who would surrender such weapons.

Despite all these measures, a considerable problem with firearms remains. The information available to me is that, much like drugs, they are being smuggled into the country and that it is very difficult to put this down. The incidence of gun trades worldwide has increased with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the putting on the market of a very large number of weapons in many different jurisdictions. Weapons are being smuggled into Ireland. Indeed, one of the Garda Síochána's successes last weekend was the seizure of a substantial amount of such weapons at a location in County Kildare.