Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

2:30 pm

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Question 9: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of community gardaí assigned to each county that borders Northern Ireland; his views on whether an absence of community gardaí may be creating space for vigilantes to operate; and the steps he proposes to take to address vigilante activity in Border areas. [31686/09]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that there currently is no evidence of vigilante activity in any of the Garda divisions on the Border with Northern Ireland. The Deputy may be referring to a newspaper report from earlier this year relating to local concern in a part of County Donegal about burglaries but local gardaí have worked with the community to ensure an effective and proper response to that particular pattern of burglaries and they have since ceased.

The Deputy asked about the number of community gardaí currently assigned to each of the Garda divisions and I am informed there are nine gardaí in Cavan-Monaghan, three sergeants and 32 gardaí in Donegal, two sergeants and ten gardaí in Louth and in two sergeants and 18 gardaí in Sligo-Leitrim. This makes a total of 76 gardaí who are currently dedicated to community policing in these divisions. These gardaí play an important part in combating crime in local communities and the role generally of community gardaí is to be considerably enhanced by the Garda Commissioner under a new national model of community policing. However, policing in local communities and combating crime in particular is a matter for all gardaí and not simply those assigned to the roles of community policing, which is a point highlighted in a recent report of the Garda Inspectorate.

In the case of the areas mentioned by the Deputy, a crime management team has been appointed in each of the Garda divisions to analyse headline crime in conjunction with the Garda Síochána analysis service. Funding received from the Operation Anvil budget also has been utilised to introduce specific operations to counteract criminal activity in the region. Co-ordinated checkpoints are conducted utilising traffic gardaí, the detective branch and regular uniformed gardaí. A number of community alert and neighbourhood watch schemes are in existence and mountain bike units have been established in each division.

It also is the case that a significant level of cross-Border co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland takes place. There are regular cross-Border crime meetings and at station level, there is daily communication regarding individual crimes and criminals.

I have no doubt that in the event of anyone attempting any type of vigilante activity, the Garda Síochána will take strong and effective action in response.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I ask the Minister to ensure that such action will be both strong and effective and that he might visit this issue with the Garda Commissioner at the earliest opportunity. Lest the Minister is under the impression that there is no vigilante activity along the Border, I put to him the direct link between such vigilante activity, that is, people taking the law into their own hands, and an upsurge of dissident republican activity along the Border. There was an improvised bomb in County Donegal on 10 September that was made safe by Army bomb disposal experts. The Real IRA planted two pipe bombs in Derry on 11 September. Óglaigh na hÉireann was behind a 600 lbs bomb that was defused at Forkhill, County Armagh on 8 September, the command wire of which was located in this jurisdiction. There have been other unsettling developments in recent times, including reports that the dissident republican 32 County Sovereignty Movement has been active in counties Cavan, Fermanagh and Donegal and most recently in County Cork. Is the Minister aware of Internet chat forums of a horrendous nature that seek to recruit young people into the 32 County Sovereignty Movement? The Minister should have his officials examine these Internet film clips, which show the most disgusting, horrendous and outrageous violent activities to have taken place in Ireland over the past 30 years. This is a real and serious issue that is directly linked to the vigilante activity whereby leaflets have been distributed in Border counties and as recently as last week in County Cork. The Minister should take this matter seriously.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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While we are dealing with two different issues, I do not underestimate the issue of dissident activity, either in Border areas or further afield. There is no doubt that this is the case. However, a general point regarding Border areas is there has been a 10% decrease in crime between 2008 and the first two quarters of 2009, from 14,774 to 13,430 occurrences. Moreover, there has been a realignment of divisional areas whereby all Border areas now are under the aegis of a single assistant commissioner, whose headquarters is based in County Cavan. Deputy McHugh of Fine Gael acknowledged in this House last week that while there was a problem in County Donegal, due to the excellent work of the Garda with the local community, this now has ceased.

As for the other issues to which the Deputy referred, of course the Garda and I are aware of them. However, I strongly suggest the Deputy should be careful not to publicise the issue of dissident activity, because they undoubtedly constitute a serious threat to our society on both sides of the Border. However, I caution that the Deputy should be careful about giving undue attention to this issue. While I do not suggest he is doing so on purpose, this tends to publicise their activities rather than trying to contain them.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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On a daily basis, one hears from the Garda top brass of the effect that enforced Garda retirements arising from Government policy is having within the higher echelons of the Garda Síochána. The Minister should assure the House there will be no switching of personnel who are involved in intelligence gathering from Border areas and that any retirements will be filled immediately to prevent dissident republican groups from engaging in the type of activity now suggested by anecdotal evidence.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Deployment is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and senior Garda management. However, I am assured by the Commissioner that there has been no diminution of activity by the Garda in Border areas, despite the relative peace that has obtained in the area. The Garda and the PSNI are conscious of the increased activity of the dissidents in those areas.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Has activity increased? The Minister has told the House that it has not or that if it has, he does not wish Members to speak about it or acknowledge it. Has there been such an increase?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Both Governments have acknowledged there has been an increase and that there is an increased threat in respect of dissident activity.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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What specific measures has the Minister introduced?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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This is the reason that in the North in particular, the threat level in respect of the potential to create damage has been raised to "severe". This is the reason the Garda Síochána is highly active in Border areas in particular to ensure such activities do not take place. This has been acknowledged by the former PSNI commissioner, Mr. Hugh Orde.

At the end of this year the number of gardaí will reach an all-time high, some 14,800, with another 400 or 500 to be attested in the following year. It is accepted that there were a significant number of retirements but one must give credit to the significant increase in the number of gardaí. Despite suggestions that we should take away large numbers of gardaí from the Border Garda stations, there has been a significant increase in the number of gardaí in Border areas.