Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Proceeds of Crime (Investment in Disadvantaged Communities) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]

 

8:10 pm

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I will share time with Deputy Ó Murchú. The vast majority of the money seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, has been ripped from communities in which the criminals have been most active. It must, therefore, be returned to these communities. I represent Dublin Mid-West and I grew up in north Clondalkin. Parts of my constituency have been ripped apart by drug use and criminality over the years. It is no coincidence that some of our most disadvantaged communities are those most affected by crime.

Years of cuts and stagnation in funding for community-based services by successive governments have eroded community resilience. Sinn Féin has always advocated that any money seized by CAB should be put back into the communities to rebuild resilience and enhance existing community services. My comrade, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, raised this issue more than ten years ago.

A response to a parliamentary question I tabled recently confirmed that CAB seized almost €65 million in cash and assets in 2019. This is a huge increase on previous years and it is very welcome news. If passed, this Bill would require the Minister for Finance to carry out a review of the financial supports required for disadvantaged communities affected by crime and to reinvest the money generated through the seizures of assets by CAB in those communities with a view to alleviating the impact of crime and enhancing crime prevention measures.

It is vitally important that additional money invested in our communities needs to be on top of allocated resources and not seen as a replacement to the normal funding channels. It does not happen by accident that most of the money seized by CAB originates in areas that are highly disadvantaged, like my own. In my community, the best deterrent to crime is early intervention, which leads to prevention. Pockets of areas in my constituency have been the victims of very visible criminal activities. These activities range from what is seen as low level antisocial behaviour to intimidation to open drug dealing. The people involved in this activity seem to be operating with relative impunity. This has given a sense of lawlessness to the people living there, many whom have been living there for 40 or 50 years or more. They have to put up with this behaviour every day. It is not good enough. There is a real sense of fear and abandonment in our communities. Residents report a lack of police presence in our areas, particularly at night-time. The dogs in the street know the hotspots in my area. In fairness to the Garda, its members react and call out to these areas. As soon as their backs are turned, however, these people go back to the criminal activities they were doing before the gardaí came out.

If the money seized by CAB was reinvested into community groups that could provide early invention to these young people, this could have a positive impact on all our communities. It could literally save these young people from a life of crime, addiction, prison and debt. Family resource centres, youth organisations, unemployment services, sports clubs, drug task forces and others - I could go on - that work in these disadvantage areas should benefit from this fund. We have all seen the documentaries about the glamorous lives these criminal gangs live, with fast cars, big houses and flash lifestyles. There are young people in my area throughout the State who are attracted by this lifestyle. They want the money in their pockets. They want the status and the brand new jackets and runners. If we could reinvest the money seized by these unscrupulous criminals, who are at the top of the pyramid, back into the communities in which these young people live, it could broaden their horizons and give them better options to escape poverty. They could move from being burdens on society to being productive members of our society.

Most things in life have a way of filtering down but dirty money also filters up. The money a mother borrowed from the credit union to pay the drug debts of her child flows right up to these criminal gangs. I have met parents who have been forced to pay drug-related debts their children had accumulated. These debts their children apparently owe to these unscrupulous dealers are frequently exaggerated and these parents end up paying exorbitant amounts back to these dealers for fear of reprisals. To me, there is a certain karma in knowing the money that came from the poor mother's purse would be returned back to the communities instead of funding the lavish lifestyle of these criminal gangs.

I have raised this issue before in the House and have had promising sounds come from the Government and across the Chamber. I would like to see cross-party support for the Bill.

8:20 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I add my voice to what Deputy Ward has put very eloquently. What he said is from the heart. He is talking about the community he comes from, which has been absolutely ravaged by the organised criminal gangs that prey on really good people.

This is all about natural justice. We do not for a second believe that this one small item of legislation or one very small solution is going to deal with the wider pandemic of drugs we are all constantly and consistently dealing with. However, this is about natural justice in the sense that we all welcome the work done by the CAB, we welcome seeing its officers on streets and the people who live in the areas in which the raids happen all welcome that too. It is about the fact that criminals who have been seen to operate with impunity are taken apart and what the criminals love, that is to say the money and the lifestyle, is taken from them. Obviously, there is a need to follow up with coherent and strategic policing operations in order to basically put their lights out, from an operational point of view. I welcome much of the work that has been done by the Garda, including in my constituency. That said, we still have an issue with resourcing and with resourcing the courts and we still have a huge number of serious criminals who continue to walk the streets on the basis that they have not been processed through the courts.

We must look at this situation in the context of the drugs pandemic. I have even heard a positive narrative from the Government regarding the need for a multi-agency response - a whole-of-Government response. I say this while knowing about the current situation of the Family Addiction Support Network in Dundalk that deals with counties Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. It has a really strong relationship with the Garda and plays a part not only in providing supports to the families of those suffering from addiction but also has a major role in the reporting of drug debt intimidation. That is absolutely necessary work and, unfortunately, it is something that I and many others deal with on a daily basis. I have spoken to the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, about this. It is a matter in respect of which action is really needed. We are talking about many organisations. We all know of the lack of funding for the likes of the North Eastern Regional Drugs Task Force. We know that there are many organisations, such as Turas and the Red Door Project, which do a huge amount of work but are utterly under-resourced. The Family Addiction Support Network is operating on the basis of volunteerism and this must be addressed.

Deputy Ward has already spoken of the 2019 figure for assets and cash seized amounting to €65 million. If that is added to moneys that exist, then it is a worthwhile endeavour. Last year, something of the order of €8 million in cash was seized. We know that things have changed logistically for drug dealers when it comes to laundering money. As much as we want to get ourselves out of the pandemic, I hope that problem continues for them into the future. As stated, I will always welcome any pain that can be visited upon the people who have hammered our neighbourhoods, communities and the families that must live with the impact of their activities.

I recall the story of the man in County Kerry who asked for directions only to be told "I wouldn't start from here". This State has absolutely failed to deal with this situation for many years. Now we have all got to the level where we are aware that the drugs pandemic runs right through all social strata and every part of society. We have seen the recent Health Research Board, HRB, report. We are aware of the figures from last year relating to seizures of drugs, namely, €9.5 million worth of cocaine, €7.5 million worth of cannabis and €5.3 million worth of heroin. Anyone who deals with gardaí or community workers will be aware of the plague of crack cocaine we are dealing with. We have a huge issue with this, and not just in disadvantaged communities. Disadvantaged communities suffer the most and are where these dealers and organised criminals prey and where many of them operate out of. However, I am also aware of, and have dealt with, many instances where middle-class families which probably thought they were protected and insulated from this sort of situation had the knock on the door, the petrol bomb through the window, the car burnt out and much worse, and the threats were far greater. Anyone who saw the reports in the news about the situation in Drogheda three years ago will know that it went absolutely out of control because those in the criminal gangs had a rush of blood to the head. Luckily enough, they bit off more than they could chew. The State, through Operation Stratos, and, obviously, the significant work done by many people in the Drogheda area played a huge part. This is the reality in every town throughout this State, this island and beyond. Thus we must have a holistic means of dealing with this particular issue and it must involve a multi-agency approach.

I reiterate what Deputy Ward said in respect of early interventions. This money should indeed be added to regular channels of funding, which are currently insufficient. It definitely needs to come in addition. Beyond that, we must ensure we take a holistic approach to communities and what is lacking. Certain individuals and families require a greater level of support. I recall the words of the chief superintendent of the Louth Garda division who has spoken many times in the media and whose expressed fear of losing a whole generation to cocaine has been reported widely. We have a major issue. I reiterate something else he said when he spoke of his absolute frustration at arresting low-level criminals who were out robbing and stealing - carrying out criminal acts - but who were doing so to pay back a dealer. They were looking for addiction services. Those services do not exist. As a result, those to whom I refer are put into the criminal justice system and that is done at a huge cost. Eventually, after a while some of them will go through prison at huge cost to the rest of society. Then they will be back out on the street and it will all start all over again because we are never addressing the problems. Early intervention is what is necessary. This is straightforward. It is literally about us going after these criminal gangs, taking their resources and putting those resources back into communities. We need a much wider conversation and more comprehensive solutions.

I welcomed what I saw in the programme for Government regarding the idea of a convening a citizens' assembly on the drugs pandemic. We have seen the HRB report and are aware of the major number of people who partake in illegal drug use. We have seen the letter from the community workers who operate in this field. What I take from that is the fact that there is a massive issue with drug addiction and its impact on society and that we do not have a solution at this point. Previous citizens' assemblies have shown what can happen if we can get normal, regular people into a room. We can even do it via Zoom or whatever means are necessary in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Those people could interact with experts and look at best practice throughout Europe and the world. I do not doubt what many experts say, namely, that the Twenty-six Counties - and, indeed, the Six Counties - are very small and that we might need to look at a solution that works on a wider European level. However, we must have this conversation. Otherwise, we will be constantly at it.

I sound like a broken record. I have made this speech many times before. I welcome that we have legislation before us and that it involves a natural justice element such that we can take a slice off these drug dealers and put it back into those communities which have been absolutely ravaged. Like Deputy Ward, I am absolutely sick of going to homes in which people are under pressure. I could start giving out people's first names and everybody in Dundalk would know who I was talking about. People get the rap on the door and it is a case of them being asked if they want to start their payment plan at €300. Alternatively, one might hear of a granny who goes down to the home of X, Y or Z and then tells you afterwards that they have reached an arrangement. Granted, I know of situations where people have been given support and have stood up to the intimidation.

It is what I would always say, but it is very difficult to do. We definitely need them to report it. We need the Government's support on this but we need a wider solution in dealing with the drugs pandemic that is absolutely ripping apart our communities.

8:30 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, is dealing with this Bill. She has the graveyard shift like the rest of us.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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It is a good shift. I thank the Deputies for introducing this Bill and their contributions this evening. Organised crime has destroyed lives and undermined communities all over Ireland. It affects every community but those that are already disadvantaged have borne the brunt of the harm. It is absolutely right, therefore, that we recognise and seek to alleviate that harm through increased investment into those communities. I welcome and look forward to the debate this evening.

The Garda and the Criminal Assets Bureau have had very significant success in recent years hitting the criminal gangs that have spread such misery. As the Deputies have mentioned, in 2019, a record €65 million was frozen on foot of CAB's work, up from €8.3 million in 2018. This dramatic increase reflects a one-off seizure in 2019 and there is a very significant difference between assets being initially frozen and those assets being disposed of and their value realised but the amounts involved are nonetheless very substantial. In a reflection of the importance of CAB's work, an increase in funding of almost 10% was approved in its budget for 2021.

To ensure successes are reflected in increased community investment, in April my colleagues, the then Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, announced agreement in principle to establish the community safety innovation fund to support vital projects and ensure this money is used for the benefit of disadvantaged communities. This fund will be included in the justice Vote as part of the Estimates process for 2022 and the allocation to it will reflect the amounts returned to the Exchequer from the proceeds of crime.

The establishment of the fund will provide additional money for investment in important community projects but it will not replace existing sources of funding. It is being designed to encourage and recognise the efforts of local communities on the ground based on their local experience and unique perspectives and to support communities in building resilience and enhancing existing community services. The establishment of the fund will ensure that the best proposals to improve community safety will get the funding they need and encourage the development of innovative ways in which to improve community safety from those people who understand local community safety needs best. It will also allow best practice on community safety to be shared with other partnerships around the country as new proposals get developed.

In practical terms, while the Proceeds of Crime Acts provide for the return of assets seized by CAB to the Exchequer, this does not happen at the time of seizure. A court determination is required and a seven-year period must elapse before ultimate confiscation. It is only at this point that the money is returned and available to the Exchequer. The seven-year period may only be waived if all relevant parties consent and potential delays can and do arise through legal challenges.

Given the uncertainty involved in the amounts and the time that elapses between seizure and realisation of value, it is not practical or appropriate to directly link project budgets to such seizures. Such a direct link would not provide any certainty for projects or allow them to take any sort of a long-term view on their work, whereas the approach being taken by the Government will provide certainty and funding to local communities. Accordingly, as agreed with the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, the allocation to the fund will be made taking a longer term view reflecting the revenue that is returned from proceeds of crime actions.

This funding is expected to operate in a similar manner to that successfully used at present around dormant accounts funding, which operates on the basis of rolling plans and allocations for specific purposes, making it clear how the extra resources are being targeted and ensuring accountability. Enhancing community safety is a priority for the Government and this is reflected in Justice Plan 2021, which was published by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, earlier this year. The Government's goal is to provide more targeted and effective support to the most disadvantaged communities and foster safe local areas for families, residents and businesses in order to feel more secure. The objective is to link with other whole-of-government strategies and structures, such as the healthy communities initiative being developed under Slåintecare and the existing local community development committees, to allow these areas to develop and flourish and for areas to break the cycle of disadvantage.

While State services carry out their individual responsibilities, too often their interventions rely on a reactive response to emergency and crisis situations. The aim of community safety is to focus all relevant government services on prevention and early interventions and the impact that a shared approach to problem-solving can have in ensuring that situations do not develop to the point where they impact on the safety or feeling of safety of the community at large. This will mean State services working with each other and the community to ensure there is better co-ordination between services such as educational and youth work with young people, the availability of local health and mental health services, drug prevention, housing and the built environment and actions taken to combat alcohol and substance abuse, domestic abuse, youth crime, antisocial behaviour and hate crime. This policy will be supported by the policing, security and community safety Bill, legislation that will place a statutory obligation on Departments, local authorities, public bodies and agencies to have regard to harm prevention in their activities and to co-operate with each other to deliver safer communities.

Justice Plan 2021 contains a number of specific commitments to enhance community safety. These include publishing the scoping exercise on criminal activity in Drogheda, agreeing a cross-Department implementation plan and supporting and working with Dublin City Council to ensure the implementation of the report on Darndale, Belcamp and Moatview in north Dublin city. It also commits to establishing three pilot community safety partnerships in Dublin city, Longford and Waterford.

On the question of Drogheda, I welcome today's announcement by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys, of new national and local structures that will drive and co-ordinate a plan to increase safety and well-being in Drogheda. The Minister also today welcomed a commitment by Mr. Martin O'Brien, the chief executive of the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board, that the training board will host new structures to deliver services in Drogheda. The Drogheda implementation board will be the core driver and co-ordinator of change in Drogheda through the actions to be outlined in the Drogheda implementation plan, which will be brought to the Cabinet and published by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, before the summer break.

The Minister also announced Mr. Michael Keogh, a former senior official in the Department of Education who is from Drogheda, as the chair of the Drogheda implementation board. The Government will agree the Drogheda implementation plan and the Minister will publish it before the summer break.

Local community safety partnerships will be piloted in Dublin's north inner city, Waterford city and county and Longford county. The locations of the pilots were chosen based on a number of factors, including population density, crime rates and deprivation. These locations allow the proposed structure to be trialled in a high population density area, a medium population density area and a low population density area with a regional distribution. The pilots will run for 24 months and be subject to a robust independent evaluation from the outset in order to ensure the proposed structures are fulfilling their objectives. The lessons from the pilots and their evaluation will be taken into account in the drafting of the statutory framework for community safety and will be applied to the national roll-out of similar partnerships in communities across the country.

At the beginning of the year, a chair was appointed to the local community safety partnership in the north inner city electoral area and last month I announced the chairs for Waterford and Longford local community safety pilots. These chairs bring extensive expertise and experience to their roles and I look forward to working closely with them and with the local communities over the coming months as the partnerships are established.

The local community safety partnerships will replace the joint policing committees, building on the work they have done to date. Each partnership will devise and oversee a local community safety plan that will be informed by the community itself. The plans will detail how best the community wants to prevent crime and will reflect community priorities and local safety issues. The goal is to make communities safer for families, residents and businesses.

These partnerships will operate at local authority administrative level and replace and build upon joint policing committees.

They will bring together residents, community representatives, business interests, councillors, local authorities and State services such as An Garda Síochána, Tusla and the HSE to devise and implement local community safety plans.

Partnerships will support a strategic approach to this work so that issues arising can be dealt with in a co-ordinated manner, and addressed collectively by relevant service providers in partnership with the community.

It is not intended that the local community safety partnerships will replace or impede the functioning of successful local safety initiatives. The intention is that where local safety fora are active, the local safety partnerships will serve as a useful forum to which they can escalate any issues as appropriate, and gain access to a range of service providers. The pilots will inform the development of the roll-out of local community safety partnerships in every local authority area as part of the provisions of the policing, security and community safety Bill.

I will speak briefly in respect of the specific provisions of the Bill. I note that the Deputies' Bill suggests that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform would conduct reviews of supports for disadvantaged communities and prioritise the resulting recommendations. I suggest to the Deputies that this process of ongoing review and prioritisation would be more appropriately conducted through the community safety innovation fund as I have set out above.

As I have also mentioned, there are practical issues with the sort of ring-fencing that the Bill envisages. However, the Government and I support the principle behind the Bill that revenue from proceeds of crime seizures should support investment into disadvantaged communities. I believe that we are agreed across the House that this is the case. The question of how best to achieve this is one I am happy to discuss both now and in the future with Deputies and we will not be opposing this Bill on Second Stage.

8:40 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Minister of State, and I thank her again for being here at this late hour. We will proceed to the Deputies offering.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí Mark Ward agus Ruairí Ó Murchú for bringing forward this important Private Members' Bill. It is nice to hear the initiatives being rolled out by the Minister of State also.

I honestly believe that the community policing and the different initiatives the Minister of State talked about are too little too late. Drugs, drug crime, and the money around it is just a whole epidemic in every town and village now. I spoke about my area several times in this House. There is intimidation, demonisation and striking of fear into mothers, dads, grandparents, aunts and siblings of those people who get sucked into what they think is a very salubrious way to live. They find out differently, however.

I am delighted to see the huge and massive successes of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, in recent years, but we do not have half enough of them. I salute the work of CAB. The tone and import of the Bill is to try to get the seized funds back into the disadvantaged communities that have been terrorised by these gangs. With regard to the seven year waiting list, I understand there is a protocol, but I believe it is too long and too slow. We need that funding and we need much more funding with it.

We do not have enough gardaí. We are starved of resources for the Garda and starved of numbers. We had good numbers during Covid, but now they have gone back into Templemore. We need them. We have excellent people. In Limerick we had huge problems with crime with different gangs. I salute those people who did a huge clean up there. We could learn a lot from there for other areas from the Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan and Superintendent John Courtney, and a whole plethora of good gardaí.

I believe that there are issues when people are convicted and imprisoned. There are huge issues in the Prison Service. I have written to the Minister for Justice, I have raised it in this House and I have written to the Secretary General of the Department. A blind eye was turned.

I listened earlier to Deputy Pringle reporting on the horrific cases of inaction in the HSE, but what is going on inside the Prison Service is quite shocking also. There are two prisons in my area. One is in Cork, which I never got a complaint from. I have a stream of people contacting me, whistleblowers too, about what is going on in Limerick. A cabal is operating there, I have said this before. They like to call themselves the mob. They like to be known as this. They terrorise families. It goes right to the very top of the Prison Service and right to the top of the prison officers' union. There are many good people there, and officers who try to stand up, but they get silenced, intimidated, bullied and sullied. Their good names are destroyed. This is shocking. Prisoners say things that are not right to the prison officers and spread things. We saw a prison officer recently who came out. Deputy Peadar Tóibín raised this also, as did Deputy Marc MacSharry. How will we deal with the crimes outside if we cannot deal with what is going on inside? There is supposed to be reform and retraining and so on.

I compliment Michael Clifford of the Irish Examiner, who has also exposed this many times, but to no avail. I wrote about an interview process that was going on too, where proper procedures were not adhered to. People are entering into relationships with each other. The Secretary General thinks this is okay and the Minister thinks it is okay. We must root out this rot that is inside in the Prison Service. As I said, Cork is impeccable. Other Deputies are getting it too, however, if they would care to raise it or not. This should not be going on. I would say that to whistleblowers. I knew a very beautiful young girl who lost her life and then, in order to intimidate a prison officer's family, her family name was impersonated. Horrible things happened, such as death notices being sent and horrible allegations about prison officers. This is despicable and has no place in a modern society or a modern prison service that needs to be reformed and needs to rehabilitate the prisoners who go in there. Some people make mistakes in their lives and end up there, but they try to get out of it.

The good staff try to stand up but they are bullied and their names are sullied. Awful things are said about them. When An Garda Síochána visited the prison to interview a prison officer who complained, the records disappeared, and the video footage disappeared of the gardaí entering the prison. This is how bad it is. It is very serious.

I am sorry for straying away from the Bill. The Bill is very important but we also need huge reform of the people inside the system. There were union members who decided to go for positions in the union and they have been literally destroyed as well because they challenged the chair of that union. There are huge issues and huge failures. The prisoners inside are being used by senior managers of the prison to tarnish good prison officers. This is unbelievable.

It is 100 years since the freedom of our State and our independence. I want action. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, is in the Chamber tonight. I want the Minister for Justice, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and the Secretary General to deal with this. Deputy Tóibín has called for this to be dealt with, as has Deputy Marc MacSharry, but it is futile. Good people's names are being sullied and destroyed. Very senior and female prison chiefs are also doing this bullying and intimidation. It is a cabal. They like to be known as the mob and they spread their fear that way-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, now-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I always read about mobsters in Chicago-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy McGrath needs to be careful that he does not-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am not. It is there. We can all be careful and go around the house and mind the dresser, but let us deal with this. How are we going to reform it? How will we get the likes of the legislation, which these good Deputies have put forward tonight, and people want to support it and have the debate-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy McGrath-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Yes, I am going to finish. We need a thorough investigation into what is going on in Limerick Prison.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank Deputy McGrath. We go next to Deputy Johnny Mythen. Where is the Deputy?

Photo of Johnny MythenJohnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is like being in the crow's nest off up there.

Photo of Johnny MythenJohnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)
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It feels like it sometimes.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. I thank and commend my colleagues Deputies Ward and Ó Murchú on bringing forward this important proposed change in the legislation. If passed, this Bill would ensure that the proceeds of crime would be invested in social capital, primarily in disadvantaged communities, to help them improve services on the ground, and would be invested in much needed rehabilitation programmes.

This is really about rewarding the invaluable dedication of community and voluntary workers across the State who deal daily with the awful consequences of drugs and the appalling effects on local communities. It also takes a more holistic view of the problem of crime, in trying to create safer communities, through proper investment in deterrent measures and increased support for those most vulnerable from the coercion of these criminals.

One of the main reasons I speak in support of the proposed legislation today is my concern around drugs in my county of Wexford. Those who work at the coalface of addiction in Wexford have described a sea change of drug misuse, with a recent dangerous increase in fake benzodiazepines, specifically doing the rounds in the south east. The invasive nature of the pandemic of the past year and a half on people has resulted in a subsequent increase in mental health issues.

We are now in an increasingly worrying situation with regard to drug misuse in my county. On the other side, there have been several drug raids there in recent months. I commend the Wexford Garda division on its vigilant and success rate in apprehending drug dealers and confiscating large quantities of drugs. However, it has said far more resources are required to combat the growing number of drug dealers and suppliers.

This is the perfect mix of the vulnerable in communities that are at the mercy of organised criminals. This Bill, if enacted, would go a long way towards building vital services and supports for communities across the State and would be much welcomed in County Wexford. The proceeds would be guaranteed to go through the proper channels where they will produce the best results.

There are many outstanding drug task forces, family resource centres, youth organisations, unemployment services and other community services in Wexford, which are acting as a safeguard against criminals in our communities. We know they are under-resourced and go above and beyond in providing help and guidance. This Bill would help to ensure that they are properly resourced. It will help those in communities that need it most.

One final issue I implore the Government to listen to is accessibility of drug support services for those in rural parts of the county. Remote towns and villages are not serviced by public transport. People living with drug addiction in these communities need transport to get to the vital counselling and medical help they need. The Bill would go a long way to support people who have nowhere else to go. I urge all Members to support this worthy legislation.

8:50 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I commend my colleagues, Deputies Ward and Ó Murchú, on bringing forward the Bill and thank the Minister of State and Government for not opposing it. It is important that all work together in the House to try to relieve the communities that are under severe strain the length and breadth of the country. Everywhere we go we come across families and communities that are under pressure because of the ravages of drug addiction and criminality that circles around all of that. It is particularly intense in many urban areas and more densely populated regions.

The truth is that most communities feel aggrieved when they see the spoils of what I often describe as the "Love/Hate" type lifestyle that some of these people live and how it is somehow or other romanticised, and young people can fall into that. Communities feel aggrieved when they see that going on around them, with the proceeds of crime and wealth being splashed around and young people being taken in by all of that. They would love to see CAB take action to capture more proceeds of crime and that money going back into their communities to ensure adequate responses and assistance are put in place for the many young people who need addiction services, counselling, assistance with employment and all so on.

Many young people who end up in prison, perhaps initially because of minor offences, get deeper and deeper into the spiral of criminality that exists around all of that. There is a big job of work to be done in our Prison Service to work with people when they come out of prison to ensure that they can make a break away from the criminal connections they made before going into prison, which are often waiting to bring them further down when they get out.

I acknowledge the work that has been done. The pilot schemes mentioned by the Minister of State are worthy and we need to see more of that happening. Many communities hear a pilot scheme is going on for two years. What about all of the other areas where everything is happening but they are not getting resources? People feel they have had enough pilot schemes, reports and analysis of the problem. They need to have action.

Many of the pieces of analysis on shelves, such as the one from Dr. Johnny Connolly on the south inner city of Dublin, present a scenario whereby there are almost two different lives and communities. There is a tiny criminal community comprising less than 1% of people and then there is the majority of decent people living in those communities who feel under pressure from the 1% that continue to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for many people.

For many young people who unfortunately get hooked on drugs and then get involved in petty and worse crime, they stand almost aghast as to what they can do. They feel helpless. The Government needs to put in place resources to help them. It needs to work with communities because there are genuine, decent and honest people who want to solve these problems. All they need is the assistance to do that. This Bill is about ensuring that the proceeds of the crime that happens in these communities, and, unfortunately, all over the country, go to provide those services everywhere and ensure that people are adequately looked after.

The point was well made by Deputies Ward and Ó Murchú that this money needs to be additional money. It cannot be about creating a pot that community groups can apply to for funding, and if they do not get it, they get nothing. We do not want that scenario to emerge from this Bill. We need this money to be in addition to what is there. However, what is there is not adequate, there needs to be so much more. In the areas of drug addiction and youth services, funding would need to be doubled to have any impact in many urban communities which are particularly under stress.

The import of what we are trying to do collectively – I hope we can all work together - would be to change the future for so many people. All of us get up in the morning and have the opportunity to make a new day and future, leave the past, whether it is negative or positive, behind us and look to a new future. Most of us can do that because we are fortunate enough to live in communities where we have support and are affluent enough to have a few bob and are able to get on with life.

For many communities people are not in that position. They are not able to create a new future. They do not have the supports, money or opportunity and, therefore, they do not have the ambition. That is what we need to change. That can only change if the Government provides the services to do that. This Bill is about ensuring that the money these thugs have is taken from them and put back into communities. It has to be on top of what the Government already needs to provide to make a clear and lasting difference.

I welcome the support for the Bill from the Government. I hope as it goes to Committee Stage all of the various issues can be teased out and that we can work together to reach a good solution for everybody.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I acknowledge the fact the Minister of State said the Minister for Finance announced a fund would be created to provide additional money for investment in community safety projects, the community safety innovation fund, from the proceeds of CAB. We also need additional funding for social services to build resilience in communities. It is vitally important that they are community-focused and based and are in communities. They need to come from within communities that have been directly affected. I hope the idea is not to set up a type of forum such as joint policing committees. They have their place, but many feel they do not reflect the communities that are in the thick of this issue. Sometimes they are made up of the great and good. Some have an opinion that they are a talking shop.

During the recession many services were cut or closed and we are now seeing the consequences of that. In my home town, Drogheda, we endured savage cuts to local services, policing and local government. We now need to build up youth and addiction services, in particular, to protect our young people from getting dragged into this type of crime scene all over again. Drogheda is the largest town in Ireland, but it is fair to say it has probably suffered more than most large towns. We experienced serious problems when the drug feud erupted. There was violence, extortion, arson, assault and murder. It ripped communities apart and sucked young people into lives of drug addiction and crime. The fear and terror that instilled right across the community is something we never want to see again.

The Minister for Justice, as we know, commissioned a report from Mr. Vivian Geiran on Drogheda which was published in March. The report laid bare for all to see the long-lasting effects of austerity and cuts to services in Drogheda. The two main findings were the need to improve inter-agency co-operation and the need for increased resources and additional services. We hear that over and over again. They are the two obvious recommendations, but there are more than 70 recommendations in total in the report.

I welcome today's announcement of the establishment of the Drogheda implementation board - it will be headed by Mr. Michael Keogh - as a good first step. Another first step I welcome is the statement by Mr. Martin O'Brien that the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board, LMETB, will host the new structures to deliver services in Drogheda. However, there are concerns in Drogheda. The Minister stated today that the implementation plan would be published before the summer break, which is next week. I hope that the plan will clarify matters, as we have no clear idea of the plan, details, timeframe, funding or whether all of the 70 plus recommendations will be implemented.

The Minister of State said that the Government would not oppose the Bill, which is okay, but neither will the Government go along with it. The chief superintendent of the Louth and Meath division stated publicly that he would be in favour of CAB's proceeds being ring-fenced for the communities directly affected by the drugs feud and gang wars. The joint policing committees, JPCs, have also stated that publicly. I take this opportunity to commend Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan and his team on their work throughout the feud. When we eventually got the additional resources, the team did Trojan work with Operation Stratus.

A great deal of work went into the report. There was widespread consultation. More than 70 recommendations were made, each and every one of which is as worthy as the next. The board is being set up and people have been tasked, but we have heard nothing. It is important that there be follow through. We need timeframes and we need to know exactly how many, if not all, of the recommendations will be implemented. If we are ever to get to the root of this problem, we must invest in communities and address the decades-long neglect of Drogheda. We must get community spirit back in the town, address addiction services and so on.

I will wait until the Minister's announcement next week. The devil is in the detail. We will see what the timeframes and proposals are and what funding will be provided to enact those proposals.

9:00 pm

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I commend Sinn Féin on this important debate. We broadly welcome the Bill and anything that addresses the spoils of crime, which devastates individuals and communities. The proceeds that CAB seizes largely come from the illicit drugs trade. I have a different view than most as regards drugs policy, which is antiquated and does not work. Criminalising people for drug use is counterproductive and we must do something different. We need a paradigm shift in how we treat people, determine why people take drugs in the first place, address the inequalities in society and so on.

There is obviously a large market for drugs and not only in Ireland. It is probably the most profitable industry across the world. People make enormous amounts of money and will use grotesque violence to get their profits. It causes chaos in communities. I have seen it in my community. Deputy Ward is from the same community as me. When I was growing up, I saw what drug addiction did to people and communities. It is pretty bad. The socio-economic aspect is significant. People turn to drugs for all sorts of reasons.

There is a vacuum in society and where a vacuum exists, people fill it. Usually, the black market and criminal gangs do that. The spoils of that market are enormous.

We could still be having this argument about the proceeds of the drug industry in five or ten years' time, so we need to do something very different. We need a grown-up debate about the decriminalisation, legalisation and regulation of certain substances that people use. This year alone, large amounts of money and drugs have been confiscated. One of the main reasons for this was that there were many gardaí on the roads, which cannot be sustained over a long period, but it shows that there is a significant demand for drugs. In September, I will introduce a Bill on the legalisation and regulation of cannabis. We will see what kind of support we get from other parties. Criminalising people for using cannabis is a complete waste of time. Locking people up is a complete waste of time. Some other countries, including a number of states in the US, have taken control by regulating cannabis. That has been a success. Instead of the revenue going to criminal gangs, it goes to the states. That could work in this country if there was the will, which I hope there will be.

Is the war on drugs about containment? Is it about keeping working people down? There are a number of factors, but the policy of this and previous Governments has been one of neglecting working class communities because this problem has not been on those Governments' doorsteps - if someone wants to die, go ahead; if someone wants to take drugs, go ahead; it is not the Government's responsibility.

We need to look at this in a different way because what we have been doing has failed. The demand for drugs is greater than ever. Even though the drugs in question are illegal, more people are taking them. Not everyone takes drugs, of course, but what does this say about our current laws? The laws make drugs illegal, but people are still using them. There is no deterrent. That is why we need to do something very different where this matter is concerned. I hope we will consider the issue differently than we have been for the past 45 years.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies for their contributions. I welcome the debate and the opportunity to discuss these issues.

Targeting the money is central to fighting organised crime. Those who mastermind crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and fraud depend on hiding and converting the proceeds of those crimes. By pursuing the proceeds, we can bring those responsible to justice and meaningfully reduce the incentive to commit the crimes in the first place. We can also use the proceeds to help with the damage that organised crime does to our local communities. The establishment of the community safety innovation fund will ensure that there is proper reinvestment into communities, reflecting the successes we have had in pursuing the proceeds of crime. I acknowledge the support of colleagues across the Government, in particular the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, in facilitating the establishment of the fund.

Enhancing community safety is a priority for the Government. It is reflected across the Justice Plan 2021, which was published by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, earlier this year.

Our goal is to provide effective support and allow areas to develop and to break the cycles of disadvantage. I emphasise, as I did in my opening speech, that the establishment of the community safety fund is intended to complement existing structures. It will not replace existing sources of funding. Rather, it will be an additional and alternative route to funding for important community projects.

I also wish to acknowledge the work of CAB. The bureau is widely regarded as a best-practice model in the context of combating organised crime. It works closely with law enforcement bodies at national and international levels and continues to relentlessly pursue the illicit proceeds of organised crime activity. The investigations conducted by the Criminal Assets Bureau and the consequential proceedings and actions resulted in more than €194.5 million returned to the Exchequer since its establishment in 1996.

I thank all the Deputies for their contributions and look forward to considering these questions further.

9:10 pm

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank all the contributors to this debate. It was an informed and good debate but we also saw the need out there in our communities. I also welcome the support of the Minister of State for this Bill and for putting the moneys back into communities. While we may differ slightly on how that goes, it is a starting point and I look forward to this Bill proceeding through the proper legislative scrutiny. I will be seeking Government support on that.

As I mentioned already, I am from north Clondalkin. When I moved up there first, there was nothing. There were no schools, shops, transport or buses. There was nothing. Our community had to go out and fight for everything it had and has now. Young people, including family and friends of mine, fell into addiction and crime to escape the poverty inflicted on them. This poverty was created by Government policies. This is the same Government which went on to blame the people for falling into addiction and crime. As a young boy, I remember playing football and the parents getting together. We were like ragball rovers. They did the best they had with nothing; absolutely no resources whatsoever but they did the best they had. That is the community resilience we need to build on and start supporting and resourcing.

I was on the board of the Clondalkin drug and alcohol task force for a number of years. We wanted to start an under-18 project for outreach with members of our community who were falling into criminality and drug use. It had not got the funding. It was as simple as that. The normal funding structures were not there. When the Minister of State mentioned long-term funding, this fund we are talking about today, to return the money back from criminality, would fund projects such as this. It would give projects such as this a kick-start and enable them to go out to meet the needs of our communities.

I was also on South Dublin County Council. The Minister of State mentioned the community safety forum, the local policing forum and the joint policing committee. I was a member of all of them while I was on the council. They do serve a good purpose within our community and I have no problem with any restructuring, additional funding or anything which will enhance community safety. I have no problem with that whatsoever. However, we need to get the balance right with regard to community safety - the structures are already there - and building the community resilience we were talking about earlier on by building up the likes of the Clondalkin drugs and alcohol task force, Ronanstown youth services and the services around Adamstown, Rathcoole, Newcastle and other areas in my constituency. We need to start building up those communities and giving them an opportunity to apply for funding which has been taken out of the pockets of criminals.

We also need to work on how we will engage with those on the margins of society, such as the young people who could be falling into criminality in our areas. With regard to those families I mentioned earlier on that have to look out their windows all the time and see this activity and open drug dealing outside their own front doors and who are afraid to look at these young people for fear of reprisals, we need to tell those families we are putting things in place which will support them and stop these families from moving out of the area because of the fear, reprisals and intimidation some of them are going through.

We also need to tell the mother I spoke about earlier on, who went to the credit union to get a loan to pay these unscrupulous drug dealers and criminals, that we are listening to her. We need to tell her that the money, which was taken from her and went to criminals but which was taken back from criminals, goes back into the community and will stop children such as her own falling into drug use or into the hands of these unscrupulous dealers.

The vast majority of people in my area are good, honest, hard-working people who do their best on a daily basis to get on with their lives. It is the minority which upsets this majority of people in our community. This Bill takes away the money from the minority causing all the upset in our communities and puts it into structures, community safety programmes and services which will look after the majority of people in our communities. That is what I hope for.

I look forward to seeing how this proceeds from now on but today is a good starting point and we will take it from there.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I thank everyone who contributed. Everyone is generally in agreement on the necessity of this legislation or type of solution. We all get the natural justice aspect of those people who have done harm to the communities, in that the money is taken and put back into those communities to add extra funding to necessary projects that make life better. I will not reiterate my whole point but while this will be insufficient to deal with all that needs to be done in terms of the drugs pandemic, it is a good start and part of an overall solution.

I welcome much of that the Minister of State says, even with regard to the justice plan 2021. I have had many discussions, especially with the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, and the narrative I am hearing from Government is positive with regard to the multi-agency response and what is required. Deputy Munster and I, following the Guerin report, spoke to a number of officials in a meeting arranged by the Minister, Deputy McEntee. The officials were keyed in and spoke about projects about which they were well versed, such as the Greentown project and projects aimed at taking young people who are falling into criminality and removing them from those situations. We need more of that carried out.

As Deputy Ward said, it is all about those early interventions. We are dealing with issues caused by poverty. We need to have overall change in society and to deliver upon that. We need to give people hope and we need community-based solutions across the board, such as family and early interventions. Some of these have been carried out. There are pilot projects. The problem is sometimes they do not move beyond pilot projects but we need that to happen. We need to ensure we put our projects in place with irreversible momentum to ensure we deliver.

I welcome what Deputy Gino Kenny said. While we may vary with regard to the outworkings, we all need to accept we need to have a real conversation.

The war on drugs across the world and in this State is not working. What we are doing at present is not working, so we must have a wider conversation.

There is a need for the Government to establish a citizens' assembly. I also reiterate much of what Deputy Munster said. We have seen the Guerin report and we welcome the implementation board and the involvement of Mr. Martin O'Brien. We have congratulated Mr. Christy Mangan, the Garda and others on the massive work that was done, particularly through Operation Stratus. I am aware of much work that has been done in the Dundalk area, which has experienced high levels of criminality, including drug criminality, for many years. This has impacted greatly on communities. They are good communities but they do not have the resources. They have not been given the necessary resources and assistance. We have to give people those resources and work with them.

I welcome the new youth justice strategy. We must be able to deal with the fact that young people fall into and are being groomed by criminal gangs. We also need a strategic outlook and to be able to deliver. We cannot continue with the current situation where drug gangs can operate with impunity. For every one we put away, two more arrive on the scene. We have a massive problem and we must deal with it across the board. There must be a decent youth justice strategy. We must ensure there are greater community safety partnerships. I was involved with the local JPC and I know the JPCs in Louth contacted the Minister, Deputy McEntee, about this type of project. We accept and take for granted that the law and due diligence must be applied with regard to moneys taken. We accept that these are additional moneys. We are not particularly worried about what the solution is. We welcome the Minister of State's comment that there will be interaction on finding a solution that delivers for people. This is a simple first step that could make a huge difference. We should take the money from the drug dealers who have done massive harm to our communities and put it into projects that make life better in those communities.

Question put and agreed to.

The Dáil adjourned at at 10.12 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 July 2021.