Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Priority Questions

Criminal Prosecutions.

2:30 pm

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Question 8: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if all sections of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, have been brought into operation; the number of occasions on which the powers contained in the Act have been used since its enactment; the number of prosecutions transferred to the Special Criminal Court under the provisions of section 8 of the Act; the number of charges that have proffered under the powers contained in the Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31683/09]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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All sections of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 are in operation. The Garda Commissioner has informed me that compiling statistics in respect of Part 4 of the Act, which deals with detentions and arrest, would require an examination of manual records and thus require a disproportionate expenditure of Garda time and resources.

The House will be aware that, prior to a renewal of the provisions dealing with the use of the Special Criminal Court, a report must be laid before the Oireachtas and said report will, in due course, contain all relevant information in this regard. However, the legislation in question was only signed into law on 23 July and it would be completely unrealistic to expect that by this stage people would have been charged, tried and convicted under it. It was precisely because there is an inevitable timelag between legislation coming into force and its yielding results that I was so anxious to have the legislation, together with that relating to surveillance, enacted before the summer recess. If this had not been done, in the past couple of months, the Garda would have been deprived of the opportunity to take action designed to lead to convictions under both items of legislation. That is exactly what the Garda has been doing.

Against the background of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act, the Garda has launched a series of operations designed to disrupt the activities of gangs and gather evidence for use under the new legislative measures. Information relating to some of those operations, which involved raids and searches, are in the public domain. However, it would clearly be counterproductive to give details in respect of surveillance operations. The House will understand that it is not helpful to offer a running detailed public commentary on action that the Garda is taking against specific gangs. What I can say publicly is that I know that An Garda Síochána is determined to use to the full the measures, which the Oireachtas passed just prior to the summer recess, to support it in its efforts to counteract the activities of these gangs.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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There is no reference to a timelag in any of the newspaper cuttings from the period prior to the summer recess. All I can see are headlines inspired by the Minister to the effect that 300 crime bosses were to be rounded up and that crime bosses would flee to the "costa del crime". There are several references to the fact that as soon as the President had signed the legislation into law, these people would have been rounded up. I have only one brief question to put to the Minister. Will he indicate to the House the number of referrals there have been to the Special Criminal Court since the legislation was enacted?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am of the view that the Deputy may, perhaps, suffer from a misapprehension with regard to how legislation is enacted. The legislation in question was only brought into force on 23 July. The Deputy and others said that we should not pass this legislation and that there should be further analysis and discussion in respect of it. He stated that the courts would not be sitting in July and August and that there would be ample time in which to debate the legislation further. However, the reality is that criminal law legislation cannot be enforced retrospectively. It was my intention, therefore, to bring this law into force as soon as possible following its passage through the Houses so the Garda could apprehend and investigate people.

The Deputy does me a disservice when he states that various articles appeared in the newspapers at my instigation. The latter is most certainly not the case. From discussions with the Garda Commissioner and other senior officers, I am aware that the force has been extremely active in respect of the implementation and use of the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act. In light of the fact that these items of legislation, particularly the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act, relate to significantly new legal terrain, the Garda Síochána was obliged to ensure that its officers received the best legal training and advice in respect of these two Acts, under which they will be obliged to prosecute individuals in the future. Work has been ongoing in this regard since the Acts came into force.

As recent media reports indicated, a major conference on Garda Síochána activity relating to these two items of legislation - at which senior members of Garda management were present - took place in Templemore.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I must take a brief supplementary from Deputy Rabbitte.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Rabbitte is doing the House a disservice because he is well aware of the answer to his question, namely, that there have been no prosecutions to date under the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act, which only came into force on 23 July.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I do not believe I am doing the House a disservice at all. The Minister did it a disservice when he engaged in what was a political stunt designed to lead unfortunate victims of crime to believe that if the law were passed and if referrals were made to the Special Criminal Court under its provisions, the crime bosses responsible for directing criminal activity in this country would be locked up. However, he has now informed the House that no one has been locked up. The Minister would not facilitate the Bill being referred to the relevant committee during the summer recess so that some of the nuances and detail relating to it might have been dealt with at length. I am, therefore, under no misapprehension with regard to this matter.

The proposition that the Minister did not inspire the headlines to which I refer is certainly not believed by me. He is no mean hand at garnering headlines. Someone brought my attention to a headline in last weekend's Irish Mail on Sunday which clearly indicates that the succession race is under way.

We have now established that no crime bosses have been put behind bars as a result of this mechanism for referrals to the Special Criminal Court. Will the Minister indicate what he means when he states that elements of the Act are being used by the Garda to prepare cases? A couple of very important convictions have taken place since the House rose for the Summer recess, but these were secured under the normal system of criminal justice. Is it not the case that the evidence which must be adduced in normal criminal courts must also be adduced in the Special Criminal Court and that it is in respect of this area that a difficulty arises in the context of putting certain crime overlords into prison?

When Members return for the Minister's next Question Time, he should be able to show them some progress on foot of the brouhaha and the storm he kicked up about the necessity to put the normal criminal justice system into suspension and to invoke the powers of the Special Criminal Court. He should be able to show some progress as a result because none has been evident thus far.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am astounded. For someone who is a spokesperson on justice and who should have some experience on how court cases are managed and Garda files are put together, the Deputy shows total ignorance as to how a court action is prepared. The Deputy must be doing so tongue in cheek because he is well aware that within a month or two of the passage of legislation, particularly of this magnitude and import, it is completely unreasonable to expect the Garda to have brought a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions pertaining to it.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Why did the Minister's people brief the newspapers?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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It is the case that in respect of-----

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Minister is the one who briefed the newspapers-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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An tAire, without interruption.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I was not briefing the newspapers.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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-----that 300 people would be locked up.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I can assure Members on my word of honour in this House that I was not briefing the newspapers.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Minister's agents..

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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The Minister knows the spin was in overdrive.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am not privy to who was briefing in that fashion and no one was so doing on my behalf either.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Come on.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy is well aware of where it was coming from.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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What does the Minister mean by "where it was coming from"? It was coming from the Minister.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Rabbitte was caught out in respect of this important and vital legislation. At no stage did I state that it would solve entirely the issue of gangs and crime in Ireland.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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We are well behind time.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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However, I did state that it would be a better tool and an important tool, as was the legislation pertaining to surveillance. The Deputy need not try to-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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We need to move on.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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------put me under pressure regarding clocking up progress. I believe the Oireachtas did the State good service by passing this legislation-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Ceist Uimh. 9 in ainm an Teachta Charles Flanagan.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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-----and by taking action rather than analysing it.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I have called Question No. 9.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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What action?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Question No. 9 has been called.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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We will wait and see. This is not-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I have called Question No. 9. We need to make progress as three minutes-----

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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While the Deputy may regard this place to be theatre, I do not.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Please, Minister, I call Question No. 9.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I regard it as being serious business.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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We are more than three minutes over time on this question. I call Question No. 9.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I find it ironic that Deputy Rabbitte is criticising me. He is asking questions with his tongue firmly in his cheek.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I have called Question No. 9. Please Minister.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Minister is the one who has his tongue in his cheek.