DÁIL TOPICAL ISSUE DEBATE ON GUN MURDERS IN NORTH DUBLIN

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

As the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, knows, I sought yesterday to adjourn Dáil Éireann to address the subject matter of this Topical Issue, which is for the Government to take all urgent steps to resource An Garda Síochána and to introduce any necessary legislation to end the appalling series of murders on the north side of Dublin in recent months.

Last week, communities I represent were devastated to hear of two more dastardly assassinations of young men, allegedly by gangs involved in the illegal drugs trade. One of those savage murders took place in broad daylight last Wednesday afternoon just outside our infants’ school, crèche and church in Darndale Belcamp parish and the tragic victim had been wheeling his child in a buggy just before he ran for his life and was brutally murdered. The area where this outrageous act took place is just beside our Darndale Belcamp village centre, our Sphere 17 youth centre and our local Belcamp tenants’ organisation, BESC, where I have held my weekly meetings with constituents for the past 25 years.

This appalling murder follows closely on a similar savage execution in north Fingal, and another earlier dastardly murder of a local citizen and family man on his way to work at 6 a.m. a few months ago, which I raised with the Taoiseach in February. As the Minister of State knows, RTÉ and Dublin Live have reported there has been another barbarous gun murder in Kilmore parish in Coolock just a few minutes ago, again in broad daylight and in total defiance of our community. This litany of gun murders across north and west Dublin and Kildare going back a few months beforehand is a direct threat to our Republic and democracy and it needs the Minister of State and the Government to vigorously address and bring those responsible for this appalling and cavalier lack of respect for human life to immediate justice and to take the stern steps that are necessary.

In the case of the parish affected last week, I have been deeply proud to represent Darndale Belcamp parish for over a quarter of a century and indeed all the neighbouring parishes of the greater Coolock area, including Kilmore. The wonderful people of Darndale Belcamp and their community leaders have produced a caring and progressive local infrastructure since the estate was developed in the 1970s. At the behest of the people themselves, the estate was largely redesigned and on their own initiative, Darndale Belcamp village centre was built with the support of the European Union and Dublin City Council, DCC, about 18 years ago. Our local primary schools, youth centre, tenants and the Dales Centre alongside the New Life Centre and our parish of Our Lady Immaculate have all provided a great fulcrum for our vibrant local community. Just recently, we had a fundraising football match between our local Darndale Football Club and the great Glasgow Celtic Legends team.

This community is shocked and exasperated by this cruel and brutal gun murder, as I am sure Kilmore parish just south of Darndale is today. The longstanding peace of north Coolock was seriously disrupted from the summer of 2017 with an outbreak of anti-social and criminal behaviour including joyriding, dumping and intimidation. Our Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, north Garda Síochána and local community leaders have made huge efforts to curtail this appalling behaviour and I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and the Taoiseach to ensure that An Garda Síochána had all the necessary resources, in particular for community and traffic policing and for specialist units like the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and for Garda actions such as Operation Hybrid.

Will these efforts be redoubled and all necessary funding and personnel be provided to Commissioner Harris? I am aware the Criminal Justice Acts need to be revisited, that there are a number of actions on the clár and we had the recent Supreme Court judgment on mandatory sentences, which seems to some extent to be a challenge to this Oireachtas. Is the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, planning specific legislation to tackle gun crime, gang crime and the level of homicides in the State which number up to 80 and more in recent years? What additional resources can also be provided for early education supports and community development given the major cuts to so many services?

Today’s outrage in the past few hours makes it critical that the Government’s response be vigorous and that it bring this disgraceful and appalling mayhem to an end.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton)

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter and I recognise his commitment to this very serious issue. Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, is unable to take this debate as he is in the Seanad Chamber. He wanted to be here but he is committed to the Seanad this afternoon and he sends his apologies. However, he has spoken in the House on this matter previously and I know that he shares the concerns of Deputy Broughan, as we all do and all Members of this House are horrified by the shocking disregard for life displayed by the persons who carry out these abhorrent crimes.

The Garda strength of the DMR north central and west regions on 30 April 2019, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 692 and 715, respectively. There are also 34 Garda reserves and 51 Garda staff attached to the DMR north central division and 23 Garda reserves and 63 Garda staff attached to the DMR west division. When necessary, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units, such as the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

The Deputy will also be aware that Operation Hybrid was established to co-ordinate the response to violent crime in Dublin and address concerns about community safety, particularly in the north east inner city. That operation benefits from significant support by armed support units. The robust Garda response to the series of shootings perpetrated by violent criminals in Dublin has, as of 5 May 2019, seen 76,699 high-visibility checkpoints implemented and a number of arrests and seizures carried out. The Minister is informed that An Garda Síochána is intently focused on disrupting the activities of these criminal gangs, with a particular focus on intelligence-led policing activities. For example, between Monday, 20 May and Thursday, 23 May, gardaí attached to the drugs unit in Ballymun division carried out a series of intelligence led searches targeting street dealers. A total of 14 houses were searched and 14 males arrested. During these searches, cannabis and cocaine to the value of €42,000 were seized, along with €14,000 in cash. Two vehicles and a scrambler bike were also seized. Members of the Garda also discovered and seized two firearms and ammunition in a follow-up search.

With regard to the introduction of legislation, I wish to assure Deputies that there is already a robust legal framework in place to address this form of criminal activity.

The crime of murder, as the Deputy will be aware, carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, as provided for by section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990. A sentence of life imprisonment means that the prisoner will be subject to that sentence for the rest of his or her life.

The Criminal Justice Act 2006 provided enhanced Garda powers in the investigation of offences. Part 7 deals specifically with organised crime, providing for offences targeting the activities of those involved in criminal organisations and those who commit offences for the benefit of criminal organisations. It also provides for a number of specific offences relating to participating or assisting in the carrying out of criminal activities by organised gangs.

I join Deputy Broughan in acknowledging the shock and horror felt by the decent people of the area the Deputy represents following such crimes. I assure him that everything possible is being, and will be, done to bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent it happening again. I am aware a man was shot dead in Coolock this afternoon and have been told gardaí are responding at the scene of the crime. The news is breaking as we speak. Unfortunately, it is another horrible crime in the area.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

The Minister of State referred to Operation Hybrid. A few months ago, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, outlined the successes of the operation, with 86 arrests and 11 people charged in relation to organised crime and gang murder investigations. There were three convictions for murder following the operation. However, only 37 firearms were seized, which seemed low given the number of reported crimes. What other measures have been taken to prevent the importation and use of illegal guns? Have the Government and the Department approached other governments or gun manufacturers in the European Union, the United States or elsewhere about the use of weapons they manufacture?

The media report on different developments and personalities in gangland crime but our constituents do not want to know that information. All they want is the organisers and perpetrators of murder on our peaceful streets to be identified, arrested by An Garda Síochána and sentenced to life imprisonment as urgently as possible. The Minister of State referred to the 2006 Act, which was important legislation introduced by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Senator McDowell. It is clear that it is now necessary to implement the Act fully to apply to the directors of murder rather than only the perpetrators.

The constituents believe that the Garda needs substantial resources to address the seriousness of the problem. During the mayhem, they were disappointed to read that Garda overtime had been cut. There were reports in the media that An Garda Síochána had not received sufficient resources for overtime. As the Minister of State will be aware, some of the constituents believe we need a permanent, 24-7, static and patrolling presence in the districts most affected by gun crime and drug-fuelled savagery.

I have previously asked the Minister of State and the Taoiseach, who is with our EU partners today, whether the State has approached leaders in other jurisdictions about the alleged organisers of major drug-fuelled crime in Ireland who are reportedly domiciled abroad. Will the Minister of State report on any efforts in that regard by the Government with the support of Interpol and Europol? Have we used our extrajudicial powers to reach such people?

As the Minister of State will be aware, early intervention in community policing is the key. Today is another tragic and appalling day for our communities. We need a forceful response from the State, given that there is a threat to our democracy.

Deputy David Stanton

I will convey the Deputy’s concerns and the points he has made to the Minister for Justice and Equality. As the Deputy outlined, two young men were shot dead within 24 hours of each other last week. They were shockingly callous murders carried out in broad daylight, as the Deputy described. By all accounts, neither man was particularly notorious or a high-level criminal, although that did not prevent them from being killed, which makes it all the more shocking. The murders should act as a warning to all those involved in low-level drug dealing or in any way with the enterprise of such criminal organisations that they have no regard for life.

It is important to join with the Garda to urge anyone who may have seen something before or after the incidents to contact the Garda confidential line on 1800 666 111. I fully appreciate the fear of reprisals that can accompany making any statement to the Garda about such a serious incident. The Garda confidential line allows concerned citizens to report often crucial details to the Garda, fully confident their identity will never be disclosed. The smallest detail can be very important. The Minister is assured by the Garda Commissioner that the level of recruitment of Garda members, both ongoing and planned for 2019, will ensure that the Government’s commitment to increasing the strength of An Garda Síochána to 15,000 Garda members by 2021 will be achieved. The injection of such a large number of officers into the field, along with new recruits, will be beneficial to protecting communities.

I accept what the Deputy stated about community policing. He is dead right in that regard, as he is in respect of education and other community supports. I am working hard on the area of youth justice to try to make a difference. I have been told the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, met people in the area last night and visited Coolock Garda station. I appreciate that all Deputies in the area are concerned about the matter. If anybody has information about it, the Garda confidential line is the way to go. We will ensure that the Garda Commissioner will have all the resources necessary to tackle the issue.

On the Deputy’s points about international contact, he is dead right that much of the response must be intelligence led. I assure him that everything that can be done will be done. We are all shocked by the breaking news of another man shot dead in Coolock this afternoon. It is terrible news.