Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Nothing is more important than this debate, short as it may be. Drogheda is a fabulous town of 40,000 citizens. Moneymore is one of the finest estates with which I have ever worked. It is a community of people and families who work together and who are fraught and distressed about what has been happening in their community. A small number of people are engaged in this activity. They are evil and have been targeting, in the most evil way, not only members of their own organisation. The fact that ordinary citizens could be killed, bombed, shot or attacked at any time is entirely unacceptable.
I very much welcome the response of the gardaí. They are on the streets. All garda leave has been cancelled in County Louth. Regrettably, what has been happening has also necessitated the armed reserve police being on the streets to protect and act in aid of the civil power.
What we need is the immediate tackling of these people by the gardaí. I and, I am sure, the Oireachtas and the Minister, will offer them all the support they can possibly get. There is a deficit in the number of police deployed in Drogheda. Drogheda is the same size as the town of Dundalk but while Drogheda has 107 policemen, deployed Dundalk has 159. I accept that the number of policemen deployed is a matter not for the Minister but for the Garda Commissioner. It is not acceptable there is this deficit in policing in Drogheda and it must be urgently addressed.
In recent days the decent people of Drogheda have had their town described as gangland-gripped. That is evident from the seriousness of the need to cancel Garda leave in the Louth division. The escalation of thuggery and crime in Drogheda was foreseen and flagged by me to An Garda Síochána and acknowledged as far back as last June. My concern was based on meeting people who were caught up in incredible fear and intimidation. They were sucked in, some relatively innocently, into the crossfire of these vicious criminals. Many of these young people have never come to the attention of An Garda Síochána before and many more continue to be sucked into the criminal underworld. Some subsequently have had to seek anonymity and emigrate while their families continue to be intimidated by these gangs seeking retribution for the debts which they have cleverly and deliberately made sure to accrue to secure the false loyalty of these young people and the expansion of their criminal activities.
The Minister should be under no illusion that what is happening in Drogheda is not confined to there but is being experienced in all the smaller towns and villages in County Louth and beyond into which these thugs' tentacles have expanded. These will continue to cause grief and expand unless steps are taken.
Incidents of drug-related crime in Dundalk and Drogheda have escalated to an intolerable level. Since first elected, I and other Sinn Féin representatives have worked closely with An Garda Síochána. The victims of these attacks are victims of unscrupulous and dangerous drug pushers who are targeting them for drug debts which are not theirs. In one particular case, one family had €11,000 demanded from it.
I wrote to the Minister, as well as speaking to senior gardaí, about this. In his response, the Minister said that An Garda Síochána was reviewing its drug-related intimidation reporting programme. Will the Minister inform us if that review is complete? Will he accept that additional resources are needed for Garda youth diversionary projects such as the High Voltage and the TEAM Garda youth diversion projects in Dundalk and the Boyne and CABLE youth diversion projects in Drogheda, as well as the family resource network. According to a reply to a parliamentary question, there are currently five community gardaí in Drogheda and six in Dundalk. That figure has not increased since 2013. The position of junior liaison officer in Dundalk is now vacant.
An Garda Síochána deserves our fullest support. Will the Minister support the resourcing of a specialist drugs unit for Louth, which was previously promised by him?
I am aware of the impact that the type of criminal activity that took place in Drogheda last weekend can have on a community. I understand the concerns being expressed by the people of Drogheda and other areas of Louth which have been articulated to me on their behalf by Deputy O’Dowd on several occasions over the past few weeks.
This type of criminal behaviour will not be tolerated. The Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of Garda resources, including personnel among the various Garda divisions. I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter. However, I am advised that Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities to ensure the optimum use is made of these resources in Drogheda, as well as in other parts of Louth and beyond.
On the specific incidents referred to by the Deputies, I am advised that An Garda Síochána is conducting full and detailed investigations into each case. As such it would be inappropriate for me to comment while these investigations are ongoing. However, I have been informed by An Garda Síochána that gardaí have put in place a policing operation to prevent, detect and mitigate against any further escalation of violence. In addition to cancelling all Garda leave in the Louth division for the next two weeks, the operation will entail high-visibility patrols supplemented by personnel from the regional armed support unit, community policing units, district detective and drug units and divisional roads policing unit.
An Garda Síochána has further advised it will continue to make every effort to disrupt the activities of any groups who may be involved in these incidents, to arrest and prosecute offenders and deny access to the road networks for those involved.
On drug-related crime, An Garda Síochána remains resolute in its determination to act against those in society who pose a significant threat to the welfare and well-being of our citizens and the communities they serve. A core focus of the work carried out by An Garda Síochána is aimed at tackling drugs and organised crime. The continued disruption of the supply of all illicit drugs remains a priority for An Garda Síochána and the other State agencies tasked with responsibilities in this regard. Liaison is also ongoing between An Garda Síochána and other relevant stakeholders, including the local authorities, Tusla, the HSE and others.
If anyone has any information about these incidents in Drogheda, they should contact their local or nearest Garda station or through the Garda confidential line, 1800 666111, as soon as possible. Any information, no matter how small, could be of great assistance to the ongoing Garda inquiries and investigations in Drogheda.
I welcome the Minister's response and the commitment he received from the Garda Commissioner that no stone will be left unturned to get these criminals. The fear must be in the bedroom of the criminal, not in that of the ordinary citizens who are having sleepless nights in some parts of Drogheda. This must end. I must point again to the inequality in Garda numbers in two towns of equal size. It is unacceptable that Dundalk has 52 more gardaí than Drogheda. While it is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, it is also a matter for public comment in that we needed more gardaí on the streets of Drogheda before these recent incidents happened.
I welcome the interest the Minister has shown in this matter. There is an open invitation for him to visit Drogheda. It is important the Garda Commissioner visits Drogheda, as he did other parts of the country recently, at an appropriate time such as for a local policing committee meeting.
We are absolutely resolute in Drogheda that there must be more gardaí and that they are fully supported. These criminals must be put behind bars for a long time. If we need to change the law and put tougher penalties on them, we must do that.
I acknowledge the Minister's contribution and the importance and efforts of An Garda Síochána, the joint policing committees, local authorities and other agencies in doing their best with the resources they have to tackle any forms of anti-social behaviour and organised crime. Often their hands are tied due to lack of resources.
I acknowledge Garda numbers have improved in the general district with nine new recruits joining recently. It is evident from my research that what is needed is more experience in the district, however. Manpower is one matter but there is a need for an enhanced Garda fleet and proper community policing. These services are currently depleted and in some cases are non-existent. This gives the opportunity of a free rein for these drug barons. All research has shown that high-visibility community policing engagement is the best deterrent. More uniformed Garda inspectors are needed who would be responsible for the supervision and direction of uniformed gardaí and sergeants to ensure management plans and strategies are properly implemented. However, uniformed inspectors have gone from a strength of six to zero in the past five years in the region. We need more front-line gardaí or, in other words, more boots on the ground.
If this does not change, I have a real concern that there is a generation coming up who already have some involvement in this criminal underworld through their siblings. This is a vicious circle and if the resources are not increased to deal with the insidious criminal drug culture which has grown exponentially in the region, there will be more loss of life. We have 20 year olds who want blood and have no conscience about maiming or killing. At times like Hallowe'en, gardaí only had to deal with bangers and stones. Now they are dealing with firearms.
An Garda Síochána can only use the resources it is given by the Minister. It does not have enough resources. There are five community gardaí in Drogheda and only six in Dundalk. That is not good enough. It is not good enough that there is a vacancy for a junior liaison officer in Dundalk. It is not good enough that there are not enough resources for community projects.
The Minister did not answer my question about whether the review of the drug-related intimidation programme is completed.
That is also not good enough. I ask, at least, for an answer to that question. Is the review completed?
An Garda Síochána has overcome similar challenges in the past and will do so again. Gardaí in Drogheda have put in place a policing operation to prevent, detect and mitigate against any further escalation of violence in the area. The operation will entail a number of high-visibility patrols. I am sure Deputies from the area will join me in wishing them well in their endeavours.
I assure the House that I am firmly committed to supporting An Garda Síochána and ensuring the organisation is appropriately resourced. Available resources have reached unprecedented levels with provision for 2018 standing at more than €1.6 billion, including an allocation of €95 million in respect of overtime. Further tangible progress is being made on achieving the Government's vision of an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, almost 2,200 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and ongoing recruitment will continue. Additional policing hours have been provided for across the country by way of both increased numbers of gardaí and the redeployment of experienced personnel to front-line policing duties on foot of civilianisation.
As of 30 September 2018, there are 331 full-time gardaí in County Louth. With the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore, there are 35 new gardaí on the streets of Drogheda. However, I acknowledge what Deputy O'Dowd and others have said and will convey their concerns directly to Garda headquarters. Unprecedented investment is being made in Garda ICT infrastructure. The provision of €342 million between 2016 and 2021 will enable An Garda Síochána to deliver on reform, work more efficiently and deploy cutting edge technologies to deliver a professional policing and security service for the community, including Drogheda.