Dáil debates

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

2:30 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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8. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which criminal activity continues to be monitored with particular reference to the number and strength of such organisations; their modus operandi including the intimidation of witnesses, lawyers and jurors; if it is considered that such gangs have successfully circumnavigated the law on bail with consequent increased influence and power; if the targeting of such gangs requires further legislation and-or action in efforts to bring to an end the litany of shootings, killings and stabbings over the past number of years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39814/13]

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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The operation of organised crime groups in this jurisdiction is monitored on an ongoing basis by An Garda Síochána. I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are two categories of organised crime groups operating within the jurisdiction. The first consists of groups that are well established and tightly structured and are involved in drug trafficking, armed robbery and firearms offences. The second category involves groups whose activities are characterised by less cohesive group structures and criminal activities which are mainly confined to Ireland. Tackling these groups remains a key ongoing priority for both the Government and An Garda Síochána. This priority is clearly reflected in the Garda policing plan for 2013.

In targeting such activity An Garda Síochána continues to develop and implement strategies to dismantle and disrupt criminal networks, utilising advanced analytical and intelligence methods to facilitate targeted intelligence-led operations. Notwithstanding the challenges faced in tackling organised crime, An Garda Síochána is unceasing in bringing those involved in this type of criminality before the courts and securing convictions.

As referred to by the Deputy, the issue of intimidation is a challenge. However, all information or complaints relating to the alleged intimidation of those involved in criminal trials are thoroughly investigated by An Garda Síochána and appropriate action is taken.

The Deputy also raised the issue of our bail laws and questioned whether they are fit for purpose. As I have previously indicated to the House, I believe that bail law must be continually reviewed to ensure that all possible avenues are taken to protect the public against the commission of crime, particularly serious crime, by persons on bail.

Accordingly, my Department has been engaged in work to consolidate and update bail law with a view to presenting a clear, accessible and modern statement of the law. In the context of that modernisation of the law, I will be seeking to restructure the law so that it has a focus on the protection of the individual and of the public. The intention is that the new proposals will provide better guidance to the courts on how such protection might be provided. I intend to bring proposals to Government on the matter as soon as possible, having regard to other legislative priorities.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

I am also keeping under review the legislative provisions underpinning the State's response to organised crime, including the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, to ascertain whether any further improvements could be made in this area. A comprehensive review of the proceeds of crime legislation is also under way with a view to identifying possible improvements which would serve to strengthen the operation of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

I draw the Deputy's attention to the recently published Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2013 which provides for the establishment of a DNA database. Enactment of this legislation will represent a major step forward in the fight against serious crime. I am committed to ensuring that all necessary legislative provisions are in place to support the operational actions of An Garda Síochána.

Following yesterday's publication of the CSO recorded-crime statistics, I again take this opportunity to commend An Garda Síochána on its work on behalf of our communities. The latest official recorded crime figures, which cover the 12-month period to the end of June 2013, show reductions in 12 out of the 14 categories for which figures are given, and an overall reduction of 8%, building on reductions recorded in the previous figures from the CSO.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. What studies have been carried out into the use by the organised criminal gangs of so-called "mules" in carrying out their illegal activity? To what degree have such people been caught and prosecuted? How successful have follow-up operations to incriminate the gang leaders been? What documentary evidence has been retained relating to specific instances of the abuse of the bail laws by such criminal gangs and what action can be taken?

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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It is a matter for the courts to determine whether an individual be granted bail based on current legal provisions and if granted bail what the security for bail should be. There has been understandable concern that some individuals, who have been granted bail, commit further offences while on bail. There are certain constraints on the extent to which legislation can address that issue. That is one of the issues involved in the consideration of bringing new bail laws before this House as I mentioned earlier. That is a very particular issue and I hope it is one we can address in a particular manner when the legislation is published and enacted. Ultimately whether an individual should be granted bail or there are adequate grounds for refusing bail is a matter for the independent determination of the courts. It is a matter in which I cannot interfere.

2:40 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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With regard to the last response, will the Minister indicate whether there is now evidence to suggest that perhaps the law in this country might be brought into line with the law in other European countries in so far as bail is concerned in regard to those involved in criminal gang activity?

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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One of the issues in determining whether an individual should be granted bail, based on the current applicable law, is whether they pose a threat to an alleged victim of a crime for which they are being prosecuted or whether there is an issue of intimidation of juries. There are different laws applicable with regard to bail in different countries. There are constitutional pronouncements made by the courts of relevance in this area and it is open to the courts where a person commits a crime when out on bail to impose consecutive as opposed to concurrent sentences if they are subsequently prosecuted in those circumstances. Other relevant criminal offences arise in this context as well.

Naturally there is a wide variety of provisions in place in other countries. One of the criticisms of some countries is that individuals are held in prison for far too long pending the hearing of a criminal prosecution. That can perpetrate a particular injustice if, when the prosecution takes place, they are found not guilty. It is important that we provide a considered and proportionate response to addressing the real issues of concern in this area and that there is protection for the general community against individuals intent on continuous offending. However, at the same time it is important that we do not find ourselves in a position where a significant number of persons are held in prison on bail who are found to be innocent of the offences for which they are being prosecuted subsequently.