Wednesday, 30 April 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Will the Minister comment on the ongoing scourge of gangland crime which is having a huge effect on society? Apart from the fact that those involved are taking each other out in broad daylight, often in front of children, it impacts along the food chain. We see the activities taking place on O'Connell Street in Dublin, on the Luas and along the boardwalk, including drug dealing. It goes down along the criminality food chain emanating from gangland. In addition, we had another example in my constituency this week in Kildimo on the N69 in County Limerick, where a body was thrown from a car in broad daylight and unfortunately the car coming along behind it rolled over it. Will the Minister comment on where we are going?
I can assure the Deputy that violent and organised crime is being tackled aggressively by An Garda Síochána with all necessary resources deployed to the investigation and prosecution of those involved. While any shooting incident, or an incident such as that the Deputy illustrated, is a cause of great concern, to speak of a surge is misleading and alarmist in the context of falling crime rates, which the Deputy chooses to ignore, and the ongoing impact the Garda is having on organised crime. In particular, the organised criminal activity which gives rise to this violence is being targeted by An Garda Síochána across a number of fronts, including through the use of focused intelligence-led operations by specialist units such as the serious and organised crime unit and the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau.
While the challenges posed by gangland and organised crime remain clear to all, week in week out An Garda Síochána is making arrests and bringing persons before the courts with substantial sentences handed down in many instances. In recent weeks, there have been significant outcomes from a number of Garda operations against criminal gangs including a carefully planned and co-ordinated strike to dismantle a major drugs gang, which led to the arrest of nine persons and the seizure of drugs with an estimated value of more than €5 million.
These law enforcement operations are underpinned by a comprehensive framework of criminal law measures that are being fully utilised by An Garda Síochána. I have, however, made it clear repeatedly that I will look positively at any legislative suggestions the Garda Commissioner may wish to make that would render the efforts more effective. I also draw Members' attention to the legislation currently before the Oireachtas to provide for the establishment of a DNA database to assist the Garda Síochána in tackling crime. This is an initiative of huge significance and will substantially assist the Garda in the investigation of a wide range of crimes, including homicide and firearms offences.
The crime figures show that those involved in criminal gangs are being opposed robustly. I am determined that these efforts will be vigorously maintained and the Government and I will continue to provide every possible support to An Garda Síochána to confront criminals and keep communities safe.
While I am the first to acknowledge that the Garda is doing a tremendous job in this area, unfortunately the level is too high. It must be kept as a priority and Members must keep a focus on it in this Chamber. In his reply, the Minister made reference to the Garda Commissioner and he earlier referred to the fact that the new Cabinet sub-committee has met. Leadership of An Garda Síochána, in this area in particular, is most relevant and with regard to the recruitment process for the Garda Commissioner, it was announced in this Chamber that it would be an open competition. The Minister should outline when it will commence. The Minister also stated it would be worldwide. Who will conduct the search and who will screen the applications? Who will conduct the interviews and when will the appointment be made? The leading person in the Garda Síochána in the fight against gangland crime and all crime obviously is the Garda Commissioner. Can the Minister provide Members with information on the recruitment process? In an allied issue I have raised with the Minister previously regarding the current vacancies at deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner level, that interviews were held in which the former Garda Commissioner was central. Does this interview process still stand as valid? In other words, will the recommendations of that interview process still hold or will it be conducted subsequent to the recruitment of a new Garda Commissioner?
The issues the Deputy raises are separate matters from the question he has tabled to me. The context of the question he has tabled to me deals with the issue of homicides. While even one homicide is one too many and consequently, none of us ever should be complacent in those areas, it is interesting to consider the background reality, that is, the context of the alarmist presentation the Deputy makes. As the Deputy is aware, in 12 out of the 14 crime categories, the level of crime has fallen on an annualised basis and is down on a year-on-year basis. This applies equally in the context of homicides generally. It is worth noting that in 2006, there were 138 homicides in the State while in the annual period ending 31 December 2013, there were 80 homicides in the State. There has been a considerable reduction in the numbers of homicides. This is not to state that any homicide or any murder of any individual is acceptable, even if it occurs in respect of individuals who are known to be engaged in criminality. While the Garda investigates these matters to great effect, as the Deputy is aware there are considerable difficulties in the context of dealing with gangland crime. There are gangs engaged in this State in the drug trade that are at war with one another. There are subversive organisations that have fragmented and that are at war with one another and, as a consequence and tragically, life is being lost. However, the Garda is committed to and dedicated to investigating each and every such event. However, I implore the Deputy to please not be alarmist and opportunistic in this area for political reasons.
It is unfair and unfairly alarming to the public to make the type of presentation the Deputy repetitively makes, which suggests that crime is on the increase and murders are rampant. The reality is there has been an enormous reduction in homicides between 2006 and 2013. Moreover, there has been a substantial reduction in every area of crime when it is examined in the context of the very statistics that are being produced.
The Minister is again reverting to type and he is trying to play the man rather than the issue. The business community in this town has extended an invitation to the Minister to step out of his ivory tower, to walk down O'Connell Street and the side streets off O'Connell Street, to take a trip on the Luas, to walk along the boardwalk and to witness what is going on. There is no point in being in denial about it and trying to throw it back at me by saying that I am being alarmist. I am articulating what I have been told factually and I am not making it up. The Minister may quote statistics and I agree they are trending in the right direction. He should move away from trying to play politics with the issue. He should come out of his ivory tower, step out of his Department and bring some of his officials with him, the guys who would not go down and talk to the GRA. He should step out into the real world and take a look at it. He might educate himself and he might come to realise that what we are saying is the case. We are not playing politics with the issue and we are legitimately raising it here.
My question to the Minister about the recruitment process for the Garda Commissioner is linked and is relevant. I will ask him another related question about gangland behaviour because members of An Garda Síochána are targeted. A bomb was laid at the door of a garda in Leitrim. Members of An Garda Síochána have been assaulted. The GRA has reported up to 1,000 assaults. My party tabled a Bill to provide for a minimum mandatory sentence of five years for anyone who seriously assaults an emergency worker and the Government rejected the Bill. The Minister said at the time that the Government intended to bring forward proposals. What will the Minister do to protect the Garda Síochána against assaults by gangland people and figures and by those engaged in criminality?
In response to the last issue raised by the Deputy, everyone recognises the dangers that can be faced by members of An Garda Síochána in the line of duty and the risks they undertake. Unfortunately, this has been an issue for members of An Garda Síochána since the foundation of the force. The criminal law includes specific legislation to deal with assaults or threats to assault emergency workers, including gardaí, and this is contained in section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. Strong penalties are provided for these offences, including fines and prison terms of up to 12 months on summary conviction and up to seven years on indictment. This is worth noting in the context of these provisions.
The CSO figures for the number of recorded instances of offences under section 19 against all emergency workers was 330 in 2012 and 309 in 2011. Not all such instances would be recorded as section 19 offences. It is important that the risks faced by gardaí are managed and mitigated through appropriate operational procedures and supported by training and effective equipment. I assure the Deputy that these concerns are fully appreciated and subject to ongoing monitoring and development by the Garda Commissioner and her management team. Specific operational arrangements are a matter for the Garda Commissioner in the first instance.