Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

10:30 am

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I thank him and his Department for the courtesy extended to me and the way they have dealt with a number of issues I have brought to the attention of the OPW and the Department.

I come from County Limerick and the closest city to me is Limerick city, obviously. It is where I spent my college years and got my education. Limerick city has had trouble with organised crime in the past. A number of ruthless gangs were operating in some of the more socially deprived areas of the city. The crime gang families that operated there were savages. Thankfully the people stood up to them in the face of the murder of Roy Collins and the horrific murder of Shane Geoghegan. At that time the mayor of Limerick, Councillor John Gilligan, a sound man,-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator should refrain from putting people's names on the record of the House.

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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----- led the citizenry of the city through the streets. It was a hugely poignant moment. Through terrific policing and real community support the city has rooted out those people who have been brought to justice and put behind bars.

However, what is operating north of the Border is shocking. There is a crime gang operating there which is one of the largest in Europe if not in the world. The Criminal Assets Bureau maintains the gang is clearing about €40 million per annum although I accept that estimate is a shot in the dark.

We saw two members of that gang being arrested in Spain over Christmas, with a plethora of bank accounts and a whole heap of property portfolios, and God only knows where the money is going.

Last Friday, the Assistant Garda Commissioner was sitting in the seat where the Minister of State is now and gave a presentation to former Members of the Oireachtas. It was an excellent, very interesting presentation about the causes of crime. We all know some of the causes, people in desperation or poverty, people in socially deprived areas and such like but I am not sure he referred to policing and political vacuums. I believe such a vacuum has existed for a long time now in south Armagh, which is known colloquially as bandit country. How can an area of complete lawlessness be allowed to exist on this island?

I would like the Minister and the Department to outline what measures are being taken by the Irish Government in conjunction with Stormont, Westminster, Interpol and international police bodies to bring these people to account. We hear about Islamic extremism and people being held hostage and ransoms demanded. The people of areas like Cullyhanna and Crossmaglen are being held hostage by these criminals.

10:40 am

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Heffernan for raising this Commencement matter. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who sends her apologies that she is not able to be present here today due to other business. The Minister has asked me to thank the Senator for raising this very important issue. The Senator has raised issues concerning cross-Border co-operation between our own Garda Síochána and the PSNI. Trusting it is agreeable to him, I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to revert directly to him on that specific question. More generally I am informed that the level of co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána is at an all-time high. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald to revert to the Senator on the issues of cross-Border co-operation and global co-operation, to which he also referred.

Organised crime activity has serious consequences for the well-being of our communities and, more broadly, for the well-being and proper functioning of society. It affects all sections in society, whether it is the community struggling with the effects of drug misuse and the violence it brings with it, the businesses undermined by the black market economy and the workers who have lost their jobs because legitimate businesses are failing, or the public services that have to be curtailed because taxes and duties are avoided. The Minister has asked me to assure the House of the continued commitment of the Garda Síochána to tackling organised criminality in all of its guises. The Garda Síochána continues to vigorously tackle organised crime through a range of activities designed to disrupt and dismantle the operations of criminal organisations. This involves targeting serious criminals and organised criminal groups on a number of fronts, including through the use of focused intelligence-led operations by specialist units including the organised crime unit, the Garda national drugs unit, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau. In addition, the Garda Síochána has strong and strategic partnerships in place at national and international level in targeting cross-Border criminality and transnational criminal groupings.

The Minister has asked me to assure the House that this approach is yielding results and that we are continuing to see Garda successes in tackling organised criminal activity both at home and abroad. For example, arising from this work drug seizures valued at approximately €62 million were made by the Garda Síochána during 2014. This does not include the well-publicised joint operation involving the Garda Síochána, Revenue Customs Service and the Naval Service, which led to the interception of a yacht off Ireland's south west coast last September containing cocaine with an estimated street value at the time of over €70 million. This operation reflects the investment made by those agencies in building strong and strategic partnerships at international level, including those formed as part of Ireland's participation in the maritime analysis and operational centre for narcotics based in Lisbon. More recently, as part of an ongoing operation earlier this month in the north Dublin area, drugs were seized with an estimated value of just under €0.5 million.

Such drug seizures play a critical role in disrupting the ability of organised crime groups to carry out their illegal activities. Of course, these are just some examples of the work of the Garda Síochána in what is an ongoing effort. In addition, the legislation underpinning the work of the Garda Síochána is being kept under review so as to ensure that the necessary investigative tools are at the disposal of the Garda. Most recently, the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, which provides for the establishment and operation of the DNA database, has been a very significant development and considerably enhances the investigative tools being made available to the Garda.

On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, I assure the House of the continued commitment of the Garda Síochána and this Government to tackling organised crime. Senators can be assured of the full support of the Government in this regard.

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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While I welcome the Minister's response, having the Border still in existence enables these people to keep profiteering. There seems to be such bureaucracy in cross-Border policing, and the criminals are operating because of that. These people claimed they were fighting for a united Ireland at one time. We are coming up to the anniversary of 1916 and we have to have that debate about a united Ireland and where we may see it going. I am proud to represent the tricolour behind the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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A question, Senator.

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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It abhors me to see that the Border, which is being used to divide communities, is also being used by these people - who claim to object to it - to profiteer from crime.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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A question, Senator.

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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The people there feel that they have been abandoned to the wolves. These criminals are running around the Border areas still armed to the teeth. The Government has to be serious about meeting them head on with everything we have got.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator again and reiterate my comment that I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to revert to him on the cross-Border element, which she will be able to discuss with him in more detail than I can. I restate the Government's ongoing and steadfast commitment to tackling organised crime. While the challenges posed by organised crime are clear, we are continuing to see very successful outcomes from the work of the Garda Síochána. In addition, as I have outlined, we are seeing the Garda working closely with Revenue and the Customs Service in tackling organised criminality in all of its guises. We are seeing significant enforcement success. For example, in 2014 over 53 million cigarettes with a value of over €25 million and over 9,800 kg of tobacco worth over €4 million were seized in tackling the illegal trade in tobacco products. By seizing such products, disrupting the activity of a gang, cutting off a funding stream to it----

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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The Minister of State should know that one seizure gives an idea of scale----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator, there is no provision for interaction.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The final point I would make on providing the members of the Garda Síochána with the physical infrastructure to go about their jobs is that the Government has recommenced recruitment of members of the Garda in Templemore. This development is welcome on all sides of the House, I am sure. In the most recent budget we made provision for more Garda cars. In the period 2012-15 the Government will have provided €27.5 million for new Garda vehicles. This represents a significant increase from the paltry amount of €4.8 million which was invested in new Garda vehicles in the period 2009-11. We are not just talking the talk. In addition to the legislative reform, we are putting in place the physical infrastructure in terms of gardaí and Garda cars, and are working at a cross-Border level. I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to revert to Senator Heffernan.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, and welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, to the House.