Wednesday, 24 October 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress that has been made in confronting the increase in gangland crime over the past number of weeks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46576/12]
To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will clarify that there is an action plan that will tackle the recent gangland murders and crimes; and if so, if he will outline same. [46644/12]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 3 together.
I share the widespread outrage at the serious crimes which have been carried out recently and fully appreciate the concerns of communities that find this violence taking place on their local streets. The brutal nature of these crimes is a stark reminder to us of the mentality of those involved in organised criminality and the danger they pose to our society. I am in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner about all aspects of serious crime and the Garda will continue to bear down heavily on the activities of those involved in gangland crime. Specifically, the Garda Síochána policing plan sets out key actions aimed at tackling organised crime, with a continued focus on drug trafficking, identifying and targeting the proceeds of crime and challenging organised crime gangs through proactive, intelligence-based operations. The determination with which the Garda is putting this plan into effect is clear from the extent of the Garda operations
launched against gangs as well as the many drug seizures that have taken place in recent months, weeks and days. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Garda Commissioner and all in the Garda Síochána on their successes in tackling serious crime as well as all other forms of crime. The most recent recorded crime statistics, which were released last month, indicate that in most categories crime levels are falling, which also reflects well on the work of the Garda Síochána. These figures showed that in the 12-month period to the end of June, the number of murders decreased by 8% and the number of assault offences declined by 9.7%.
We should not underestimate the difficulties the Garda faces in trying to prevent gangland killings and related crimes and bringing the perpetrators to justice. These crimes are carefully planned and carried out by people who are familiar with criminal and forensic investigation techniques. Moreover, even where members of gangs are clearly at risk, not only will they generally not co-operate with the Garda, but they will do everything they can to avoid Garda attention. Unfortunately, there has been gangland violence for some time. Where gardaí learn through intelligence that an individual engaged in criminality has been targeted by others, where possible, they warn the individual under threat. However, it is unrealistic to expect the Commissioner to devote his entire resources to individually protecting people who are routinely trying to avoid gardaí in order that they can continue to engage in criminal activity. Such an approach could only come at the expense of ordinary Garda activity to protect the community generally.
The only effective way to combat organised crime is by disrupting and prosecuting those involved in its operations, especially the drugs trade, which is at the heart of much of its profits. Substantial efforts by the Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise are, therefore, devoted to damaging this lucrative business, with the value of drug seizures estimated at €59.3 million for the first six months of the year. This figure does not include a number of substantial seizures made towards the end of the period in question, which remain under analysis and include the largest ever inland seizure of cocaine made in this jurisdiction. These successes are being achieved on a daily basis. Earlier today, as part of Operation Nitrogen, an intelligence-led investigation by the Garda national drugs unit, assisted by divisional units, conducted eight searches into cannabis cultivation around the country which resulted in the discovery of four large industrial-style grow houses and a storage depot for equipment used in cultivation. A number of individuals have been arrested at multiple sites and thousands of cannabis plants have been seized at various locations, with an initial estimated value of €4.96 million. Similarly, and again only this morning, a diesel-laundering operation was disrupted in Dundalk, with 21,000 litres seized. I do not want to go into detail and risk prejudicing these investigations or any prosecution; I cite these cases simply to underline that the Garda is conducting effective operations, in conjunction with Customs and Excise, on a continual basis. I congratulate both organisations on these most recent successes and all of those involved on the side of the Garda Síochána in the events of today.
As Minister, I will continue with the full support of the Government to do everything in my power to assist the Garda in its work. Very strong anti-gangland legislation is in place and I have made clear to the Garda Commissioner that if he believes there are other measures which might be taken in this area, I will consider them positively. However, it is misleading to suggest there is some simple legislative solution that will prevent dangerous criminals from trying to kill each other. If that were the case, it would have been enacted years ago.
Despite the difficulties it encounters, I understand the Garda has been able to bring people before the courts, particularly for a number of high-profile killings that have taken place in the past couple of years, although it will be some time before the cases in question are disposed of. As Deputies will be aware, arrests have been made in the cases of a number of recent shootings and a person has been charged in connection with one killing. The Garda Commissioner has my full support in continuing to confront this type of criminality and bringing those involved to justice.
Arising from the murder on 3 September 2012 of Mr. Alan Ryan, and in the absence of the Minister, who was unavoidably detained, Deputies discussed at length with the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, the fallout from a disgusting series of events that took place at Mr. Ryan's funeral. The activities in question had the potential to inflict severe reputational damage on Dublin city and the country. They were not done in the name of republicanism but were acts of criminality, nothing more or less. Since the murder of Alan Ryan, it has been disturbing to note that children have witnessed several other murders on our streets in broad daylight. We must take this issue seriously.
I welcome the decision of the Garda Commissioner to appear before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Several weeks ago, I stated in the House that we must do everything possible to assist the Garda in stamping out gangland crime. I also called on anyone with information to assist the Garda, a call I reiterate today. While I concur with the Minister that there is no simple solution to the problem of gangland crime, we need to provide adequate resources for the Garda Síochána and show political leadership. Resourcing the Garda is a matter for ongoing discussion. While I and the Minister have shown political leadership on this issue, in Limerick, where 50 gardaí were deployed under Operation Ambience to arrest nine people, Sinn Féin has provided political cover to criminals and thugs. The party described the activities of the Garda in furthering its investigations as disgraceful and an overreaction. I ask the Minister to join me in condemning the comments of Sinn Féin. It would be unfair to describe them as a new low as they are a continuation of that party's low standards in giving political cover to thugs and criminals who pose as republicans while engaging in gangland activity. We must give political leadership in this matter.
I condemn outright the public comments by Sinn Féin that the Garda overreacted in investigating the disgraceful activities that took place at the funeral of Alan Ryan. I call on the Minister publicly to condemn the comments also, as I am sure other public representatives will do. If Sinn Féin is to be taken seriously, it must resile from the comments in question.
I very much welcome the Deputy's continuing support for the work An Garda Síochána is doing. It has the full support of the Government in the work it is doing.
On the barbaric shooting of Alan Ryan, the Garda dealt in an appropriate manner with the despicable events that took place during the course of the funeral which, essentially, was used by those engaged in subversive activities and criminal terrorism to put on a display in Dublin. A contingent present at the event had come down from Northern Ireland and I condemn the volley of shots fired. The Garda dealt with the matter in a manner based on the best policing approaches, both North and South, where large numbers are gathered at an event, bearing in mind the welfare and safety of those innocent of any criminality present. Following on from that event, I can tell the Deputy that there has been substantial Garda activity. I am always cautious about saying anything that might prejudice investigations or prosecutions, but I expect the public and the Deputy to become aware of the successful outcome of investigations conducted and charges brought against certain individuals arising from that event. I am sure the Deputy will appreciate if I say no more than this.
It is of substantial importance that there is no ambivalence on the part of any Member of this House or any party in it in his or her support for An Garda Síochána. The criminal terrorists we have on the island who like to term themselves "dissident Republicans" are individuals substantially engaged in criminality, including fuel laundering, drugs and a broad range of other criminal activities such as tobacco smuggling. They are greasing their own palms with the profits they earn from these activities. It is of the greatest importance that there be no question of hesitancy in the support given to the Garda in dealing with these individuals or those involved in gangland crime. It is important that no Deputy and no party is exercising any mental reservation in the support given to the Garda.
There is no ambivalence in supporting the Garda and sensible anti-crime measures. On the comments made about the funeral, as the Deputy representing the area, I commended the Garda for the way it handled the issue. Many innocent local people were involved and we could have ended up in a difficult situation. The local point of view was that the Garda had handled it very well.
On gangland crime, there is no simple solution to this difficult and complex problem, but people on the ground are crying out for help because there is massive intimidation and they need more support both from the Garda and politicians. Recently I met representatives of the Family Support Network which provides 44 family support services. They have worked with families experiencing intimidation and tell me that it is horrific. They knew about intimidation originating from a debt of €500 or less. Some people were being intimidated in respect of amounts ranging from €10,000 to €20,000. There had been 39 verbal threats, 33 acts of physical violence and 33 attacks on people's homes. Is the Minister aware that there is massive intimidation in some communities, particularly in my constituency of Dublin North Central where people are very frightened and want to see more action taken to deal with the issue?
From previous comments made by him in the House, I know the Deputy is supportive of An Garda Síochána and I welcome what he said. The Garda dealt with a very difficult event at the funeral mentioned with great intelligence and insight. As I said, there will be consequences - there have been some already - for the display that was put on.
The Deputy has referred to individuals being intimidated. If intimidation is taking place, I urge the Deputy to furnish any information he has to An Garda Síochána. Any individual who believes he or she is being intimidated should give full information to An Garda Síochána and identify those engaging in it where he or she can do so because the greatest weapon available to assist the intimidator is fear, silence and a belief individuals will not go to An Garda Síochána. The way to ensure communities will not live in fear and that individuals will not be intimidated is to provide the Garda with the maximum amount of information.
In the context of Alan Ryan's funeral, the Real IRA leader, reference was made to Operation Ambience which was launched by the Garda Commissioner. Nine men who had attended the funeral were arrested in Limerick, some of whom may have played a significant role on the day. It was surprising - I agree with Deputy Collins on this - that the Limerick city councillor, Maurice Quinlivan, who is a member of Sinn Féin and apparently knew a number of those arrested, accused the Garda of over-reacting. As Minister for Justice and Equality, if people were to engaged in illegality on the streets of Dublin, if any individual was to be intimidated on the streets of Dublin, or if shots were to be fired unlawfully by way of tribute to a deceased person on the streets of Dublin, that would be entirely unacceptable. If, as a consequence, Garda action was to be taken, the Garda would have my full support in the action taken. As I said, I expect that it would also have the full support of all parties represented in this House and their members.