Wednesday, 1 February 2012
I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to raise this matter. While this matter comes within the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality, given the environmental dimension, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government may also have a responsibility in this regard. I am sure the Minister of State will clarify the position for me.
What does the Government propose to do to address what is now an epidemic throughout Ireland, namely, the thievery, sale and transfer of scrap and precious metals such as copper, lead and zinc? Theft of these items is highly orchestrated and is posing serious economic, commercial and social problems throughout the country. I know of a number of businesses which, if broken into and robbed one more time, will cease trading. The loss of materials at these plants brings production to a halt, has serious security implications and poses a threat to jobs and the viability of these businesses.
The illicit trade in scrap and precious metals has ballooned out of all proportion in recent months. As in the case of any criminal activity, this would not be happening if there were not people willing to receive and launder stolen precious metals, thus providing an illegitimate outlet for these materials. In some cases, this practice is posing a risk and a serious threat to public health and life, not alone to those stealing the items but to children, owing to exposure of cables and electric devices. It is a most despicable act. Nothing is sacred any more.
A memorial to deceased members in my constituency of Castletown was stolen, resulting not alone in the loss of the memorial, which cost €30,000, but also a great deal of hurt and distress in the community. Many of the people commemorated by that memorial were young people who lost their lives in various tragedies in the locality. Nothing is safe or sacred. The Minister of State and Members will be aware that public sculptures, monuments and art installations throughout the country are being stolen. This problem must be tackled. Doing so will require new regulation, intervention by Government and a greater level of enforcement in the tracking of metals. I urge the Government to ensure this practice is brought to a halt. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, who is unable to be present owing to other commitments. The Minister shares the Senator's concern about incidence of this type of crime and the impact it has on local communities and businesses. I share that concern. My wife and I own a public house in east Galway and have had to undertake extra security measures to protect the barrels in which our beer is delivered.
The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities that An Garda Síochána is acutely aware of the increase in the theft of metal and is targeting such crime, as well as burglaries and theft related crimes generally, through a number of initiatives. These include Supporting Safer Communities, which lays particular emphasis on burglary prevention and reduction. The initiative involves a targeted response to burglary, taking into account locations, times, offenders and victims. It also includes the development of advice on the prevention of theft of farm machinery and farm security generally. In addition, Garda divisional officers have been advised of measures which can be put in place to prevent and reduce the opportunity for such crime, including measures involving relevant external stakeholders.
As stated by Senator Whelan, tackling this type of crimes requires a collaborative effort and a targeted multi-agency response. Following an analysis of crime trends, An Garda Síochána has established a metal theft forum, involving stakeholders particularly affected by this type of crime. The forum includes the Irish Farmers' Association, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, the Electricity Supply Board, telecoms, transport companies, brewing concerns and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. A metal theft crime prevention and reduction plan is being developed in discussion with the metal theft forum, which it is anticipated will be published in the near future. It goes without saying that the implementation of any strategies in this area will not be solely dependent on the statutory authorities. It will be essential that all stakeholders play their part in supporting the Garda and the local authorities in counteracting illegal activities.
In terms of existing legal provisions, An Garda Síochána enforces the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, which covers the handling, possession and withholding of information regarding stolen property. Members of the force will investigate fully any breaches of this legislation. The House will appreciate that issues arise in this area which go beyond the field of criminal justice legislation for which the Minister for Justice and Equality is responsible. While there is no sector-specific regulation for the waste metal industry, I understand that there are relevant statutory provisions in relation to waste activities. These include requirements for appropriate authorisations under the Waste Management Act 1996. The terms of such authorisations are primarily derived from requirements of EU directives on waste and specific waste streams such as end-of-life vehicles or electronic waste. Depending on the authorisation required, these activities are controlled either by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, or by local authorities as competent authorities nominated by the State to implement such legislation. The purpose of these controls is to regulate the collection, recovery or disposal of waste in order to protect the environment. Enforcement of waste legislation is a matter either for the EPA's Office of Environmental Enforcement, OEE, in relation to waste licences or for local authorities in relation to waste permits. Provision is also made in the Waste Management Act 1996, as amended, for the appointment of members of An Garda Síochána as authorised officers under the Act who are granted powers, including the powers of stop, search and seizure, where there are suspected breaches of the Act.
As indicated on behalf of the Minister, the recent increase in illegal activities in this area is being addressed by the metal theft forum led by An Garda Síochána. Publication of that forum's plan is anticipated. In addition, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, has asked his Department to examine the waste licensing and permit legislation to ensure all necessary provisions, especially those relating to traceability, are in place to avoid situations that might be exploited by criminal elements. This examination is ongoing.
I welcome that there is a multi-agency and cross-departmental response on this issue. I await publication of the forum's plan. I welcome also that the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government continue to examine what additional measures or strengthening legislation might be necessary to curb what is not a casual matter but a highly organised and orchestrated offence. I welcome that, as stated by the Minister of State, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is reviewing its traceability provisions in respect of the transaction and trade in scrap and precious metals, which will assist greatly in bringing this matter under control.