Thursday, 28 November 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
The wider Coolock area is currently in the midst of a cycle of savage violence related to the illegal drugs trade. Last Sunday, a 22 year old postman, Eoin Boylan, was brutally murdered in his garden at Clonshaugh Avenue. This was the fifth murder involving a local feud this year. There were three fatal shootings in May, including that of Jordan Davis, who was shot in front of Our Lady Immaculate school in Darndale as he pushed a four month old baby in a buggy. In January, Zach Parker, aged 23, was shot dead at a gym in Swords.
This cannot be allowed to continue. There can be no normalisation of this activity and children, in particular, cannot be allowed to continue to witness such horrible crimes on a weekly basis. The people of Coolock and the surrounding areas are citizens of this State, like everyone else. They are honest, decent, hard-working people who are raising their families, going to work and getting on with things as best they can. They are entitled to the protections of the State like everyone else but that does not seem to be the case in this situation.
Coolock Garda station needs more resources and personnel to tackle this problem. DMR north is the relevant division and Coolock sub-district is the station involved. A report presented to the joint policing committee, JPC, meeting last month showed an increase in several types of crime, including burglary, which is up 34% on last year and robbery from the person, which is up 200% on last year. The area on the north fringe of the city is experiencing an explosion in population in the Coolock Garda district. There needs to be a reorganisation of Garda districts because of this and the mooted new Garda station for Northern Cross should be given the go-ahead immediately.
I am aware the Minister visited Coolock Garda station in June of this year. Following the Minister's visit, nine probationary gardaí commenced in Coolock. They are most welcome but, of course, this is not enough. We need more community gardaí in the area, as recommended by the task force on policing. This would help to stamp out on-street drug dealing, which would be welcomed by everyone.
The report published this week by the EU drugs agency and Europol makes for frightening reading. Drug-related violence and intimidation are nationwide problems. The report details the three-tiered hierarchy of crime gangs, with the top tier now apparently gone international. I put it to the Minister that not enough is being done to break up these drug rings nationally.
I welcome the publication of new legislation by my colleague, Deputy Curran, in regard to drugs and children. I hope the Government will support the Bill. The proposed legislation will make it a crime to use children in the distribution of drugs, and it would be a criminal offence to buy drugs from a person under the age of 18, or to cause a child to be in possession of drugs for the intent of sale or supply.
Separately, we need to support our young people in their efforts to live active and fulfilling lives, and to avoid being caught up in the devastating drugs culture. There are many youth and sporting organisations and individuals in the Coolock area doing great work with our young people, including the Northside Partnership, the Dublin north east drugs task force, Sphere 17, RASP, the Kilmore West Youth Project, the Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme, and more recently Fr. Bryan Shortall who is the new parish priest of Priorswood. I call on the Government to launch a new initiative in the Coolock area, co-ordinated by the Northside Partnership and the Dublin north east drugs task force, and in consultation with these organisations, to tackle the drugs culture in this area. One could call it a task force or whatever one likes, but we need to take the initiative and we need special measures to be implemented in the Coolock district to tackle this escalating problem.
I acknowledge the importance of this debate and I thank Deputy Seán Haughey for raising it. I also acknowledge the importance of raising the issue under Topical Issue matters in the manner the Deputy has done, rather than engaging in type of soundbite politics we see every day on the Order of Business. There are not many of those people here now. Those are the people who rush in, engage in soundbite politics and then leave the Chamber. I very much welcome the points raised by Deputy Haughey. I assure him that the Government is committed to ensuring that Ireland is a safe and secure place for all, and that the well-being of all our communities is a priority for me as the Minister for Justice and Equality.
I am aware of the incidents referred to by Deputy Haughey, and in particular the shooting that took place in his constituency last weekend. I have condemned this wanton violence and I call on everybody to pass on any information they might have, however small, by calling the Garda station in Coolock or the Garda confidential line. The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment on any specific investigation or any other ongoing criminal investigation, but I assure Deputy Haughey that we are making progress in tackling drugs and organised crime. I share Deputy Haughey's concern about the destructive impact that drugs and crime related to drugs can have on communities. I fully agree on the importance of tackling such behaviour effectively.
Before addressing the Garda resources in the area, I will take the opportunity to highlight that action is being taken on a range of levels to address these matters. While policing is a key issue, I believe Deputy Haughey will agree that we cannot address this as a policing matter alone. There is a need to address drug-related offending in a strategic multiagency way. Our policy in relation to drug and alcohol misuse is set out in Ireland's national drugs strategy for 2017-2025, which is a health-led response. I note that the strategy is unique among national drugs strategies across EU member states in recognising the need to address drug-related debt intimidation at a community level. It is also important to note the budget provided for Garda youth diversion projects, and I appreciate the work done in this regard by Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton. I also recognise the importance of community stakeholders and community leaders in this work. Deputy Haughey referred to the activity on the ground on the part of many people, and he specifically mentioned Fr. Bryan Shortall, who I saw on television recently. I agree with the points made by Fr. Shortall on those broadcasts. Work such as that in communities plays an important preventative role and show good results over time, coupled with Garda enforcement action.
The Garda national drugs and organised crime bureau continues to have significant success in tackling these issues. I understand from the Garda Commissioner that since its establishment in March 2015, the bureau has been responsible for the seizure of controlled substances with an estimated value of approximately €167 million and has seized 108 firearms. I also mention Operation Hybrid. With regard to Garda numbers in the Coolock area, as of 31 October 2019, the workforce increased from 103 gardaí and 11 staff to 117 gardaí and 16 staff. This means that an additional 73 gardaí have been allocated to the Dublin metropolitan region northern division since the start of 2016, alongside a 38% increase in Garda civilian staff over the same period. These numbers are still increasing. The Taoiseach and I will attend the Garda college in Templemore tomorrow to see a graduation of a further 200 new gardaí. I understand that the Garda Commissioner intends to allocate additional Garda resources to the DMR northern division from the attestation scheduled for tomorrow.
I thank the Minister for his response. The Taoiseach visited the offices of the Northside Partnership in September 2019 when he met with the chairperson, Nessan Vaughan, and the chief executive, Paul Rogers. The Taoiseach listened to the views of representatives of several local organisations who outlined what should be done to tackle disadvantage in the area. The Taoiseach's visit, along with visits by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Finian McGrath, followed some of the shootings I referred to earlier. The Taoiseach heard presentations, including one on the loss of a teaching post in Our Lady Immaculate national school in Darndale. This case was put forward following the shooting of Jordan Davis outside the school, on a school day. The Taoiseach said he would get back to the group with his proposals, but we are still waiting. The meeting took place in September but the Department of Education and Skills has since confirmed that the school will lose the teacher. This is despite the strong case made on that day.
I note the collective call from former Ministers of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy to the Government to renew its efforts on the drugs crisis, to beef up the local partnerships and the local drugs task forces, and to listen to communities affected about what needs to be done. The recent big call by these former Ministers of State and by several organisations working on the drugs crisis on the ground is that communities just wish to be listened to. They have the on-the-ground experience and they know what needs to be done. As the Minister rightly said, it is not just a criminal justice issue; it is also a community issue. There is a need to develop youth services and sporting organisations and to tackle disadvantage generally. The call from the former Ministers of State was a cry for help that communities want to be listened to. The Government needs to renew its efforts on the drugs situation.
The Coolock gardaí still need more resources. The area has had a population explosion. A new Garda station is promised for Northern Cross, which the Acting Chairman, Deputy Alan Farrell, will be familiar with. We need to ensure that the resources are put in place as soon as possible.
Deputy Haughey raised two issues in his contribution. I undertake to the House and to Deputy Haughey that when I meet the Taoiseach later this evening I will be happy to raise the issue of the Northside Partnership.
I had the opportunity of visiting the partnership. I acknowledge the community work being undertaken over a range of issues and pursuits in that area. I would be happy to ensure that Deputy Haughey gets an appropriate reply.
The second issue was that of resources. I am pleased that it has been possible for the Government to sustain the level of funding necessary to recruit a further large increase of Garda numbers and staff in what is a difficult financial climate. The large-scale recruitment and redeployment within the Garda means that we are significantly increasing the Garda workforce. Garda deployments in all areas of the country, as well as specialist national units, have benefitted from increased recruitment.
Regarding the Garda's capital allocation, this year we invested €92 million in projects, including the fleet, the Garda estate and ICT. One of the key actions in the plan published last year following the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is in the course of being implemented and will allow for a new operating model for the Garda, the object of the exercise being to reduce bureaucracy, devolve power from Garda Headquarters and increase the number of front-line gardaí. It is all about availability and visibility. I have welcomed the announcement by Commissioner Harris as regards the new operating model.
I thank Deputy Haughey for raising this matter by way of Topical Issue, which gives him an opportunity to make his case and me an opportunity to attempt to reassure him of our commitment to the area. I would be happy to engage further as time evolves.