Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I am delighted to be here to support strongly the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2014. It is typical of Deputy Maloney. In his time in this House he has brought forward a number of thoughtful and necessary pieces of legislation over a range of fields and none is more valuable than the proposed amendment of the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996, whereby section 4 will be amended by substituting “2 years” for “7 years” to significantly bring down the period of time within which the illegally acquired assets of criminals will be able to be taken back by the communities from which they were stolen in the first place.
This is another important piece of legislation and it reminds us of the rise of drug-fuelled crime in the period from the 1980s to the mid-1990s which led to the terrible assassination of Veronica Guerin and the virtual collapse of law and order in many areas of our cities. This Bill brings us back to that era and the helplessness that many communities felt. I was one of the people who did not regard “Love/Hate” as a valuable contribution to drama because, like many of the citizens in this city, I lived through the situations depicted in that drama. It is very painful for communities to see, even in a dramatic form, the visualisation of the kind of suffering of those times when, in a period of five or six months, five or six people would be assassinated and where the iron grip of major drug gangsters was able to intimidate communities.
In the early 1990s, the party to which I belonged was involved in Government and we took a valuable step in establishing the Criminal Assets Bureau and giving it powers, which have been sustained by the Supreme Court, to ensure that the viciously ill-gotten gains that destroyed communities in this and other cities would be brought back to the community. From its establishment in late 1996 to the end of 2011, the Criminal Assets Bureau successfully froze some €70 million worth of assets. It has 70 staff from the Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection, backed up by the Chief State Solicitor. It has done a very good job over the years and the money returned to the Exchequer, even in the period of the last Government under the 2005 Act, has been very valuable. In 2008, for example, over €6 million alone was returned and €1.5 million was returned in 2009. The figure for 2010 was €3.1 million and it was €2.7 million in 2011.
In economics, we sometimes debate the hypothecation of taxes. In the recent UK general election there was a major discussion of the value of specifically hypothecating taxes for particular purposes. Most of us would agree that the proceeds of ill-gotten gains from major crime should be returned to communities. In that context, one of the most appalling things about this Government’s record has been the way drug task forces have had their expenditure slashed by 70%.
Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: No, they have not.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Sorry?
Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: It is 9.8%.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: It is 9.8%. What is the actual figure in euro?
Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Since 2009 there has been an effective 9.8% reduction.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I know some drug task forces have had cuts of up to 70%.
Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: The Irish Times has already accepted that the relevant report was wrong.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I will follow that up with the Minister as it is his new area of responsibility. I was in correspondence with him recently about some of the anti-drugs structures in our own constituency. The cuts in this area were fairly vicious and must be restored. When people are doing a good job in taking on young people whose lives have been interrupted and whose family life, education and community activity have been totally devastated by drug-fuelled crime and they come to a community body for support, such as Kilbarrack coast community programme in Dublin Bay North, it is important we back them up to the hilt and give them whatever support is necessary. This should comprise finance and the enforcement of rules relating to community employment so that we can take on such people as support workers in the anti-drugs campaign.
I look forward to the initiative taken by my colleague, Deputy Maloney, which will ensure the funds recovered will be seen on the ground helping communities through community and sport development.
I recall several years ago when Deputy Rabbitte was the leader of the Labour Party, a Bill was introduced whereby An Garda Síochána would be given powers in the court system to indicate the directors of major drugs organisations, as had been done with terrorist organisations. Unfortunately, Deputy Rabbitte decided he could not support such a measure where these gangsters could be pointed out and identified. I lost my job as Labour Party Whip at the time for supporting that Bill because I believed it was critical this House and An Garda Síochána took the strongest possible measures against these gangsters at every turn. That is what this Bill will do. My colleague, Deputy Conaghan, eloquently put forward a strong case in this regard, as he did in our many years together on Dublin City Council. We must take the strongest possible measures against these vicious criminals and unravel their grip on communities. We must step in as early as possible to ensure they do not get a grip on young children, teenagers or young people and embroil them in criminality.
This legislation is another important step forward. I assume the Minister of State will give it his full support and we will see it in action in the future as another major deterrent to this type of crime. I commend Deputy Maloney for introducing this legislation and hope the Minister of State will implement it quickly.