Thursday, 9 May 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
The people of Drogheda are very proud of their town and of their record on hospitality and the fact that this year Drogheda will again host Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann and hopefully have more than 600,000 people visit the town. We welcome in particular the additional gardaí provided to Drogheda by the Garda Commissioner. I also welcome the contribution of the Minister for Justice and Equality to the fight against the appalling drug crime war that has broken out in the town.
I pay tribute to Superintendent Andy Watters and Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan for their work on this matter.
The problem of drug related crime did not develop overnight. For some years I have been holding meetings locally with local voluntary bodies and Ministers. Of particular note is the fact that more than 40,000 needles were exchanged in County Louth in 2018, the last year for which we have numbers. There is a significant dependence on drugs, but in the middle of this very serious drugs crisis in Drogheda, we do not have a proper outreach service. The Red Door Project, which has an annual budget of €150,000, is at maximum capacity. There is a four-month wait before a person with a drug problem who wants to go into treatment is able to get a place, which is a serious issue.
I concur with Deputy O'Dowd. Drugs, criminality, antisocial behaviour, fraudulent activity and raids on the elderly and bank machines are all matters regularly dealt with by the Garda Síochána and are not unique to the north east in any respect. What is happening in Drogheda and other parts of County Louth is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the country. However, the situation has been exacerbated in Drogheda. Crime is a scourge on all our communities, but the focus is currently on Drogheda. Crime, particularly gun and knife crime, is becoming expected rather than exceptional. Public order offences are up 9% year on year and there is a growing sense of lawlessness on our streets. All one must do to realise that is to look at the front page headlines of this week's edition of two local newspapers, one of which states, "Tackle drug crime now". That is referring to Dundalk. It is not just Drogheda which is experiencing this problem and some rural villages and towns as far away as Dundalk are affected. It needs to be tackled. I wrote to Commissioner Harris on 18 November and have not received a response. I asked him and the Minister to meet the joint policing committees, JPCs, and all Oireachtas Members who represent the area.
I attended a protest held in Drogheda last Saturday. There is a sense of fear in Drogheda and east Meath of what might happen next. Although the Garda resources that are being allocated to Drogheda are welcome, new gardaí should receive appropriate mentoring and training to deal with this situation.
I wish also to draw the attention of the Minister to the situation in east Meath and the Ashbourne Garda district, which is adjacent to Drogheda. Unfortunately, counties Louth and Meath are in different Garda regions. I have raised with the JPC in Meath that there should be as much co-operation as possible and that any armed support for Drogheda would also be available to east Meath. On that note, I thank and pay tribute to the Garda for some work it did in the east Meath area today and yesterday which will yield results. This problem is causing significant fear and needs commitments that will be followed through on after the election as well as before it.
I am acutely conscious of the serious concerns of the people of Drogheda. I totally condemn the disgraceful criminal behaviour and reckless violence committed by a small number of violent thugs in that area in recent times. In particular, I condemn the very serious issue of drug related intimidation which impacts greatly on our communities and society as a whole, especially families.
I am advised that An Garda Síochána and the national family support network have concluded separate evaluations of the drug related intimidation reporting programme and jointly agreed a number of actions in regard to the programme going forward. These include actions relating to training existing members and new recruits from An Garda Síochána, organising a conference for designated inspectors to share knowledge and experience relating to drug related intimidation, and holding a joint agency conference to include designated inspectors and agencies working in the drugs area. There will also be an internal programme of communication regarding the programme within An Garda Síochána, as well as external promotion of the programme through the media, external contacts and various forums. The national family support network will continue to run training in the field of drug related intimidation.
The implementation of the joint action plan is crucial to the overall response possible to the issue of drug related intimidation. Although the reporting programme was found to be effective in its current form, the jointly agreed action plan is designed to enhance the effectiveness of the programme through training, knowledge sharing and awareness raising.
As the Deputies may be aware, I visited Drogheda Garda station with Commissioner Harris on the evening of Thursday, 2 May and was briefed on the very important work of Operation Stratus, which was commenced in Drogheda in October 2018 to counteract this ongoing feud. I acknowledge the work of Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan and Superintendent Andy Watters. I am briefed daily by my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, who is on the ground in the area on a 24-7 basis.
An Garda Síochána put Operation Stratus in place to prevent, detect and mitigate against any further escalation of violence between the groups involved. I am informed that the measures to strengthen this operation, which are being discussed within An Garda Síochána, will be highly effective. On Tuesday, 30 April, Commissioner Harris announced that he will appoint an additional 25 Garda members to Drogheda next month. The allocation of resources, including personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. I hope this influx of Garda members to the Drogheda area will go some way towards comforting and reassuring the citizens of Drogheda that their safety and that of their communities is a main priority for An Garda Síochána. The assistant commissioner with responsibility for the northern region is putting immediate arrangements in place for additional uniformed patrols to be conducted within the district, thereby providing reassurance to and within the community. These patrols will be supplemented by the emergency response unit from Dublin and supported by the regional armed support unit within the northern region. It is clear that this intelligence-led policing, involving many Garda units throughout the country, is yielding significant results. I commend An Garda Síochána on its tireless efforts in continuing to tackle drug related crime.
I welcome the additional supports to which the Minister referred which are to be provided by the Garda Commissioner. A related issue is that of CCTV in the Moneymore area. When the Minister visited the locality, we pointed out to him the issues in that regard. The CCTV is not his responsibility, but this area has been worst affected by much of this crime, and the CCTV there is still not working. The local authority is only now putting together a proposal to reinstate it. I will be meeting the manager tomorrow and I ask that the Minister and his Department do their best to fast-track the reinstatement of the CCTV. There is nothing more important than people knowing that a criminal walking the streets with a petrol bomb or other weapon will be captured on CCTV such that the Garda can act.
Last week, Deputy Breathnach was present when the very positive and hard-working community of Moneymore came forward with a proposal for a community centre. Some 800 young people under the age of 16 live in the area. They have no proper youth or community services. The community is at breaking point in terms of these demands and needs. We want additional childcare, after-school services, community intervention and more community workers. The total expected cost is approximately €2.5 million. I will put the proposal on the Minister's desk and ask that he assist in furthering it in any way he can.
I commend the most recent activity by the Minister. I wish to echo the words of Deputy O'Dowd, but I will try not to be repetitive in the short time I have. What is happening in Drogheda is a microcosm of the situation throughout the country. Although the problem may not get out of hand elsewhere to the degree it has in Drogheda, the Minister should watch this space regarding criminality. This is not about politics. It is about operating together. That is why I asked that the Minister and Commissioner Harris would meet local politicians and the JPC for us to get to grips with much of what is going on in the area. Innocent people are being intimidated in Dundalk, Dunleer and Clogherhead, as was acknowledged by Chief Superintendent Mangan.
I welcome any move to get more boots on the ground, but it is an interim measure. The Minister appointed an additional five gardaí to Dundalk. That has not been flagged, but it is great to see. As well as having a short-term plan, there need to be medium and long-term strategies.
The task force must be put in place 24-7 to target these criminals. As Deputy O'Dowd said, there should be greater resources to engage young people and ensure that they do not find their way into the criminal activity that is taking place in our region.
I again pay tribute to the Garda. The Minister appeared to take exception about Drogheda, but he should know that a significant part of the town is covered by the Ashbourne Garda district and a significant number of the criminals involved in this feud live in east Meath. It is a matter of serious concern for me, and I appreciate that it is a serious concern for the Minister as well. I am concerned about resources and the fact that the area is in two different regions. I received assurances from the chief superintendent in Meath that there is ongoing co-operation. I accept that and realise the Garda is doing its best, but the resources in Drogheda, which are extremely welcome and necessary, must be matched on the Ashbourne side as well. The Minister and the Garda Commissioner should assure themselves that full resources are available and that maximum co-operation is taking place to get the type of results that were achieved today and yesterday in the area. That will give people confidence that this is being addressed. In addition, as other Members said, there are the underlying issues that must be dealt with.
The Garda authorities advise that every effort will be made to disrupt the activities of these groups, arrest and prosecute offenders, and deny access to road networks to those involved. Liaison is ongoing with the relevant stakeholders, including Tusla, the HSE and the local authority. I welcome Deputy O'Dowd's meeting tomorrow. Every Member of the House wishes them well in their endeavours. I also acknowledge the support of Deputy Breathnach.
There were a number of successful targeted operations in respect of organised crime in the Drogheda region recently. There was a seizure of drugs worth €110,000 at Moneymore before Christmas. One person was charged in that regard. There was the discovery of three firearms and a consignment of drugs at Boyne Rovers FC in Drogheda last March. On 10 April, four residential properties were searched, one vehicle was seized for examination and a quantity of suspected cannabis and cocaine with an approximate value of €5,000 as well as a quantity of mobile telephones were seized. Three men were arrested in that regard. On 14 April, gardaí arrested four men in connection with the shooting incident that took place at M1 Retail Park in Drogheda in February. A number of premises were also searched in connection with this investigation. The shooting followed a number of incidents earlier this year that the Garda is actively investigating. On 22 April, An Garda Síochána discovered a handgun and nine pipe bomb components during a search of open ground at Moneymore. To date, 319 proactive searches have been carried out in the Drogheda area, along with 870 armed support unit and roads policing checkpoints and 1,253 proactive uniform and plain clothes patrols.
When dealing with complaints of drug related intimidation which may be linked to criminal activity and offering advice on the issue, An Garda Síochána makes every effort to afford the person or family subject to the threat the best level of security, advice, protection and support. The confidentiality and security of persons concerned are paramount for An Garda Síochána when dealing with reports of drug related intimidation and other reporting issues.