Thursday, 7 November 2019
Topical Issue Debate
This important debate is at a difficult time for people in my community, particularly in east Meath and Drogheda. A gang war has been going on for some years in Drogheda. Despite the welcome efforts and supports which the Garda and the Minister for Justice and Equality have put in place, we had a second gangland killing this very week. It shocked and appalled everybody in our area.
I welcome the commitments given by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality to our community. They have personally visited the areas in question. Not only that, but they have provided significant additional resources to the Garda in Drogheda to fight this appalling level of crime.
Due to the excellent work of the Garda, some of the criminal activity has been displaced and moved into the county area of south Louth. This week, sadly and appallingly, it moved into a built-up fine estate in east Meath. The people in east Meath are concerned because the Garda actually patrolled the estate in question half an hour before an assassination by a criminal gang of a rival criminal gang member. What the people want is increased resources in the east Meath area.
One concern is that the population of east Meath has grown exponentially. As the Acting Chairman knows, up to 10,000 people now live in the area between Julianstown and Drogheda which used to be a sparsely populated rural area. The Garda station there is physically inadequate. There are 18 gardaí based there, two of them sergeants. They have no operational room and it does not have sufficient opening hours. We need a new Garda station there. I was in communication with the Garda Commissioner some weeks ago about this matter. I do not expect the Minister to give me an answer on that today. However, the issue is presenting a difficulty. The nearest official control centre for the Garda in east Meath is Ashbourne which is many miles away. The Garda station in Drogheda is closer.
I raised this issue with Garda chief superintendent, Christy Mangan, on Monday, the day before this assassination took place. He told me that there are protocols in place and cover for east Meath is provided by Drogheda Garda station which is in the Louth division, as and when the seriousness arises. The people in the community of east Meath are not clear on this issue. We need a statement from the Minister and the Garda Commissioner on this. I know the Garda Commissioner is coming to a joint policing committee in the east Meath area shortly.
Perhaps, when it is appropriate, the Minister will visit the area, as he did Drogheda, to reassure residents that he is doing his best. We need increased physical presence in terms of Garda. The Minister will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is due to visit the area.
The fight against crime is never-ending and drug crime is a significant and serious issue in Drogheda but An Garda Síochána is winning. There is no doubt but that increased pressure in terms of policing, the Armed Response Unit and CAB is making is mark, but we need more. As recently as Monday last, Superintendent Christy Mangan in Drogheda made an application for the retention of the current resources into the future. I am not suggesting there is any doubt in this regard, but there was a serious question raised about the matter earlier in the week.
I thank Deputy Fergus O'Dowd for again raising this matter. I condemn the violent loss of life that occurred on Monday last in Bettystown, County Meath. As Deputies will be aware, An Garda Síochána is conducting a full investigation into this matter and I am limited in what I can say about an operational matter. Deputy O'Dowd has been unstinting in his advocacy on this issue over a long number of months. I acknowledge his leadership in the area and I echo his appeal to anybody with any information on this matter to contact An Garda Síochána at the incident room in Ashbourne Garda station or the Garda confidential line I800 666 111.
More generally, I am aware of the concerns of the people in the area referred to by Deputy O'Dowd and of the constituents of County Louth, which is also the constituency of the Acting Chairman, Deputy Breathnach. I can assure the people of Drogheda and east Meath that neither the Government nor An Garda Síochána will permit a small number of individuals to continue to put local communities in fear for their safety.
The Taoiseach and I visited Drogheda over the summer and we were both very impressed by the robust response which has been put in place in the region by the Garda authorities under Operation Stratus, which consists of high visibility patrols and checkpoints, days of action, covert policing initiatives and the targeting of specific parties engaged in fued-related criminality. This operation, supported by divisional and district uniformed and plain-clothes personnel and, in particular, the roads policing unit, community engagement and public safety personnel, detective drugs and crime units, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and the emergency response unit. The Garda has made important progress in tackling the threat of organised crime and they work closely with colleagues in other jurisdictions in investigating the supply of drugs and guns.
I remind Deputies that co-operation with relevant agencies and intelligence-led policing is producing significant results in the fight against organised criminality in Drogheda and elsewhere. For example, last week gardaí attached to the Garda National Drugs and Organised Bureau intercepted a commercial haulage vehicle in Dundalk and recovered cannabis herb with an estimated value of €3.2 million, subject to analysis. Two men were arrested and investigations are continuing. Against this background, the Government has made unprecedented resources available to An Garda Síochána of €1.76 billion this year, plus €92 million in capital investment, which is a 50% increase in capital funding on the allocation for 2018. Provision for next year has increased to €1.882 billion, as well as capital investment of €116 million, which is a further 26% increase. As Garda numbers are increasing, we are on track to meet the Government's target of an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021.
I acknowledge the work of Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan and his team in Drogheda and Louth. An Garda Síochána has the full support of the Government in its ongoing work and we are providing record resources to enable it to perform its critical role in difficult and challenging circumstances, as outlined by Deputy Fergus O'Dowd. The purpose of this funding and the Government's support for police reform is to ensure the best possible policing services are provided across the country and, in the context of this debate, Drogheda and east Meath.
I again thank Deputy Fergus O'Dowd for raising this important issue this evening.
I welcome the Minister's comments and his continued affirmation of support for An Garda Síochána, in particular Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan and his team and Superintendent Fergus Dwyer who is also very active in this area. The people of east Meath want public awareness of the increased co-operation between the two divisions. Crime knows no boundaries and for criminals who want to target particular people for money, or an enemy, there are no barriers. There are equally no barriers between the two police services but there is an administrative issue, but I acknowledge this is a matter for the An Garda Síochána, not politicians. The people of east Meath need a public initiative or a statement from the Garda Commissioner regarding the co-operation of services in relation to this issue and an assurance that all available resources will be deployed. There is a need for additional resources because of the displacement of crime, particularly into east Meath. The level of Garda activity in Drogheda is high but, unfortunately, this has displaced some criminal activities. Both of the assassinations-murders related to this fued took place outside of the town of Drogheda, although that is not to suggest there were not attempts in this regard within the town as well.
I reiterate that An Garda Síochána is winning this battle but it needs our continued support. Like me, Deputy Breathnach is aware that Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan announced on Monday last that he would be making an application this week for the retention of current resources. He is not seeking additional resources in his area but he wants an assurance, and demands, as we do in support of him, that the current level of resources be retained, and I do not think there is any doubt about that. However, there are resources additional resources in east Meath. I appreciate the Minister listening to what I have to say.
I acknowledge what the Deputy said in respect of the administrative issue. I trust it is an operational issue that will be dealt with positively by An Garda Síochána. Over the past three years, and due to Government funding, the Garda strength in the northern region has increased to approximately 1,500. I take this opportunity to assure the Acting Chairman, Deputy Breathnach, and Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, who raised this issue, that this figure includes, for example, the 25 new Garda assigned to Drogheda in June by the Garda Commissioner. There are now more than 150 additional gardaí deployed in the northern region, as compared with the position two years ago. I trust that this will continue in the context of further gardaí coming on stream from Templemore over the next few weeks. I visited Drogheda and I met some of the 25 new gardaí. I have seen their enthusiasm, ambition and expertise and I acknowledge their work. They are supported by approximately 160 Garda staff in the region, which has increased by almost 35% over the past three years. The increase in Garda staff means that gardaí can be redeployed from administrative duties to operational policing duties where their experience can be utilised to best effect. Significant financial resources are being made available to An Garda Síochána. The efficient use of these resources, including the deployment of personnel, are matters which are, by law, for the Garda Commissioner. I fully support him and the wider management team in An Garda Síochána in their tireless efforts to keep our communities safe, in particular our communities in Drogheda and east Meath, as raised by Deputy O'Dowd. I assure the people of Drogheda and east Meath of the continued support of Government until the small number of people responsible for most unacceptable crimes are brought to book and taken out of business.