Thursday, 8 July 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
89. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the proposals there are for further co-operation with the authorities in Northern Ireland on the need to implement effective measures to deal with the scourge of illicit drugs on this island; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36818/21]
The prevalence of drugs in our society is causing havoc and devastation for individuals, families and communities. Unfortunately, this destruction is happening in every community, urban and rural, and is not confined to any particular age cohort. I am aware that drugs are travelling North-South and South-North. That supply chain needs to be smashed. We need to cut off the supply and deal with the people who are wreaking havoc on many communities and individuals, and ensure their ill-gotten gains are seized.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Tackling serious crime, including drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs, are key priorities for the Government. As he will be aware, there is strong ongoing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI. The cross-Border joint agency task force, JATF, was established under the 2015 Fresh Start agreement to bring a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle cross-jurisdictional organised crime. The task force is led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána, Revenue, the PSNI and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and the National Crime Agency are also involved as needed in operational activity.
Tackling drug-related crime by disrupting criminal groups and targeting their money is among the top priorities for the JATF. At a recent virtual meeting with my Northern Ireland counterpart, justice minister Naomi Long, on 26 May, we were briefed by officers from An Garda Síochána and the PSNI who updated us on the work of the task force. They highlighted the practical value in the continuing high level of co-operation and operational activity between the agencies in tackling drug crime, as well as rural crime, financial crime, trafficking in human beings including children, excise fraud and organised immigration crime.
I can further inform the Deputy that on 10 June, the two police services announced a number of arrests and the seizure of significant quantities of controlled substances and cash, arising from the work of the JATF. It is also noteworthy that on 1 July An Garda Síochána initiated Operation Tara, an enhanced national anti-drugs operation with a strong focus on tackling street-level dealing in cities, towns and villages across the country based on intelligence and the latest crime trends.
I thank the Minister for her reply. I welcome the actions that are being taken. I know about cross-Border co-operation at a local level in my own constituency.
The Minister referred to the task force. Prior to that task force being established, I proposed legislation in the Dáil some years ago, which went to committee level, regarding the establishment of a cross-Border crime agency, on a statutory basis, consisting of officials from the different statutory agencies mentioned by the Minister. At that time, the particular focus would have been on illicit trade in drugs, drink and tobacco products. At that time, we were well aware of the scourge of illicit fuel products being brought into the country. Now, the focus would need to be on the drugs issue.
Is the Minister confident that the task force has enough resources? Does it need any legislation to underpin its work? Could consideration be given to the proposal I brought forward that a cross-Border crime agency be established, on a statutory basis, to deal with these cross-Border crimes that cause havoc in every community throughout our island?
A key aspect of co-operation is the joint agency task force, as I described. It is led by senior officers in the PSNI, An Garda Síochána and another key partner agencies. As I said, among the top priorities for the task force is drug-related crime.
As the Deputy knows, there is great cross-Border co-operation. An example of this between the two jurisdictions is an annual event called the cross-Border seminar on organised crime, which is organised by the two justice departments and the two police services and focuses on co-operation and best practice in countering organised crime that seeks to exploit the Border.
I am assured by the Garda authorities that the long-established and close working relationship with the PSNI remains central in An Garda Síochána's efforts to provide an effective policing service to the Border area and its communities.
As we are aware, paramilitary groups are still involved in drug dealing. I understand from some media reports that drugs are travelling from Dublin to east Belfast and drugs are coming from the North into our jurisdiction. Drug trafficking is not what it was ten years ago. The continuing development of new drug trafficking networks causes havoc and destruction and destroys the lives of good young people and people of all age groups. Of course, we have some biggest crime gangs in Europe in our country.
There needs to be a huge concerted and intensified effort to deal with these issues. At the most recent joint policing committee meeting we had in County Cavan, An Garda Síochána gave a very good report on the detection and seizure of drugs, which was very welcome. It shows the growing prevalence of these illicit products in our society, however.
I appeal that when the Estimates process begins, which I assume will be in the autumn, the Minister wil give consideration to providing greater resources to the different Garda drug units throughout our country. I am particularly interested in the Garda divisional drugs unit in Cavan-Monaghan getting additional resources to deal with what are, unfortunately, increasing problems. I compliment the members of An Garda Síochána and also the PSNI on their ongoing work in trying to deal with these very complex issues.
I agree with the Deputy. As we both know, a huge amount of work is going on in counties Cavan and Monaghan. I am assured by the Garda Commissioner, however, that the distribution of resources among the various Garda divisions is kept under constant review in light of emerging crime trends and operational needs.
As of the end of May this year, 389 Garda members and 58 Garda staff were assigned to the Cavan-Monaghan division. These figures represent increases of 22% and 53%, respectively, compared to the end of 2015 when 318 Garda members and 38 staff were assigned to the division.
Deputy Smith and I both know we have a very long border with Northern Ireland. He is absolutely right when he said paramilitary groups are involved in this type of activity. There have been successes and we will continue to provide the resources to An Garda Síochána. At the end of the day, however, the Commissioner makes the decisions on how these resources are distributed on an operational basis.