DÁIL SPEECH ON FIREARMS AND OFFENSIVE WEAPONS (AMENDMENT) BILL 2019

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2019. This is a short Bill which will amend section 9 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990. Its key purpose is to increase the maximum sentence for knife crime from five years to ten years. I commend Deputy Jim O’Callaghan for bringing forward this legislation following four tragic deaths by knife attacks in Dublin this summer.

I also have been raising the serious issues of criminal and anti-social behaviour with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality, as well as writing directly to the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, and chief superintendents in the districts policing my constituency of Dublin Bay North. Earlier this year, the whole community in Dublin Bay North was astonished and flabbergasted after a series of murders in broad daylight. People were gunned down in cold blood, one in front of a school. A wave of terror affected the local community. Some parishes profoundly affected by these events are still trying to recover. At the time, I contacted the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality to take proactive steps. I tried to adjourn the Dáil to take an emergency debate and there were Topical Issues debates on these events in late spring and early summer. I asked the Taoiseach to look into setting up a similar commission to the Mulvey one set up for the Dublin Central constituency to deal with the desperate and dastardly crimes in certain areas of the Dublin Bay North constituency. I also called on him to deliver additional resources to hard-pressed communities.

A meeting was held to which non-Fine Gael Deputies and Ministers were not invited, which people were rightly upset about. It was the politicisation of the necessary response. I never saw that happening under previous Governments. Generally, in the past, everybody, both national and local representatives, were always invited to such meetings. The Northside Partnership, based in Coolock, was chosen to lead an overall response to this wave of serious anti-social behaviour and criminality. Although we have got small additional numbers of gardaí, we do not see the necessary impact on the ground. For example, on a walkabout last Friday, I came across a burned-out car and bits of other burned-out vehicles in an open space amenity. Residents there told me about the horrendous drug-fuelled anti-social behaviour and crime that had occurred on the previous night.

I know this year in the run-up to Hallowe’en with Brexit, we will have several dramatic weeks ahead. Every single year since I have been in politics, the run-up to the Hallowe’en festival has been an excuse for miscreants to misbehave and terrorise communities. In the Dublin north Garda divisions, we need to see continued strong response under the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris.

Garda figures have revealed an increase of 66% in knife seizures since 2016 with 1,200 seized in that year, 1,600 seized in 2017 and 2,000 seized in 2018. The Garda, of course, claims the increase in seizures is down to the increased number of personnel out on the beat. As Deputy Sherlock said, however, we need to examine the accuracy of statistics in this area. The CSO recorded crime figures for the second quarter of 2019 showed that the weapons and explosives offences increased by 6.6% from 2,427 in 2018 to 2,588 in 2019. Attempts-threats to murder, assaults, harassments and related offences also increased by 6.7% from 19,353 in 2018 to 20,656 in 2019.

In May, it was reported the CSO does not report on knife crime because of the lack of consistency in reporting on PULSE across different Garda stations. A working group was expected to report to the Garda executive in July on knife crime, seizures and assaults against the person. Has the working group completed its report? Will this legislation fit with its recommendations?

I note the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, is calling for a knife amnesty. I agree we need another weapons amnesty.

We had a weapons amnesty in the past. We had one in 2006, which the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will remember because we were both in the House at the time. That amnesty resulted in hundreds of firearms, knives and swords being handed in to An Garda Síochána. Replica firearms and a grenade were also handed in at that time. Of course, it was before the Criminal Justice Act 2006. We gave a last chance to those who had offensive weapons to bring them in.

The Taoiseach repeated this morning that he was a follower of the old Blairite policy of tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime. It was always my policy when I was spokesperson in the Labour Party that one must deal with both. One must stop bad behaviour, anti-social behaviour and criminality, nip it in the bud before it starts or at the very earliest opportunity, and then try to put in the resources to help young people to lead normal lives.

It must be asked why young men and male teenagers carry knives and knife-like weapons. We have seen many reports from London, including a fine report recently on the BBC’s “Newsnight”, about the devastation that the carrying of knives is doing, particularly in the south London and in other areas of the UK. Obviously, tougher penalties are necessary but we also need steps to be taken by community policing teams to increase their presence, approachability and helpfulness.

I do not know whether Deputy O’Callaghan has been in touch with anybody who represents the manufacturers of these weapons. There are manufacturers and suppliers and even people who supply these weapons on the web. Why do we need a long-bladed knife or a flick-knife? Why should such a product exist? There is a responsibility on businesses, especially in other member states of the European Union and in the UK, to address this.

As I said, we have heard many stories from the UK about increases in knife seizures and crime over a number of years. In the 12 months up to the end of March this year, there had been astonishingly more than 43,500 knife crime offences in the UK, which is 80% higher than in 2014. The 44 police forces across the UK are coming up against this major problem.

Deputy O’Callaghan’s Bill is timely and important. We need to address this and deal with it as soon as possible. I commend Deputy O’Callaghan and his Fianna Fáil colleagues on coming forward with this Bill, which we should speedily enact.

 

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