LEADERS’ QUESTION ON CRIME

The Taoiseach might recall that last week I asked him and the Minister for Justice and Equality what steps are being taken in response to an appalling shooting and murder in my constituency. That dastardly crime was the latest in a litany of gun murders, which include tragic victims recently in Swords and Leixlip. The Minister for Justice and Equality told me in January that the Garda’s Operation Hybrid had resulted in 86 arrests and the seizure of 91 firearms, including machine guns and assault rifles. I welcome the work of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau in the investigation of gun crime but the number of firearms seized in almost four years seems low by comparison with the number of reported crimes. There is a significant number of unsolved gun crimes.

Are there further actions the Government and An Garda Síochána might take to prevent firearms entering this country, perhaps alongside our EU partners, by targeting the manufacturers of guns in Europe and elsewhere and addressing the issue of traceability? Do we need to strengthen greatly, with the support of Interpol and Europol, the sanctions for importing and using guns and use our extradition powers to apprehend any criminals outside the jurisdiction who are directing crime in this country?

The Taoiseach might remember that, in 2006, the then Minister, Michael McDowell, who is now a Senator, introduced a weapons amnesty before implementing the Criminal Justice Act, which imposed a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for illegal possession of guns and a sentence of up to life imprisonment for possession with intent to endanger life.

While shootings and murder have the most shocking impact on communities, some districts of Dublin Bay North have also suffered greatly from burglaries, car theft and related joyriding, illegal dumping and serious nightly drug-fuelled, anti-social and criminal behaviour.

There are also regular reports of intimidation of households and vandalism of public facilities, including DART stations. We often hear those reports at the Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, north joint policing committee. A persistent request from our constituents who live in the north fringe of Dublin city and the south fringe of Fingal is for a new Garda station at the centre of this rapidly-developing area, which is destined to be home for 50,000 or 60,000 people.

I received comprehensive replies from the Minister for Justice and Equality and Commissioner Drew Harris regarding the provision of a new police station. The Minister informed me that it is the Commissioner’s job to allocate resources, delineate Garda boundaries and so on. Commissioner Harris outlined the actions he has taken and referenced the capital investment and Garda modernisation and renewal programmes. We know from Garda sources that a new district headquarters is being planned for the north DMR and its location in this burgeoning north-south fringe would be best.

The Taoiseach, in his reply, will probably refer to the 21,000 Garda personnel, including 15,000 members, promised by 2021 but is community policing not the Cinderella service in all of this? In jurisdictions such as Sweden, New Zealand and Japan, local community police officers are the core of active policing.

Why have the Fine Gael Governments since 2011 left An Garda Síochána well behind other EU police forces when it comes to the most up-to-date IT assets and modern policing technology methods? We are tired of hearing of deficiencies in PULSE and IT systems and, for example, the late delivery of the hand-held devices for the traffic corps.

The Taoiseach

I made an error in my earlier reply. The commitment made at Weston Park in 2001 was, of course, made by former the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and not David Cameron, one of those who succeeded him. The position of the Government is the same. The United Kingdom Government made a commitment in 2001 at Weston Park to carry out a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act into the death of Pat Finucane. The Supreme Court decision shows that the reviews carried out to date were not compliant with that commitment and it is our strong view that the commitment should now be honoured by the British Government and we will be pressing it to do so.

I am obviously aware of the incidents that have taken place in recent days – the shootings at the M1 retail park in Drogheda, in Corduff in my constituency and in Coolock in Deputy Broughan’s constituency. The Government is working with the Garda to improve its resources and capabilities to deal with all forms of crime, particularly violent crime. For many years, there was little or no investment in the Garda as a consequence of the recession this country experienced. In the past three years, however, we have been investing in the force again. The number of gardaí has been increased to over 14,000, the largest in a very long time. There are more civilians involved in the organisation, which frees up gardaí to carry out front-line policing work, and there is real investment in new Garda stations throughout the country. There has also been investment in IT and vehicles. Such investment will continue.

Where new or refurbished Garda stations are located is something that has to be worked on by An Garda Síochána, the OPW and the Department of Justice and Equality. It depends on the availability of sites and other operational matters and it is best done in that way.

The Garda has made some important progress in tackling the insidious threat of organised crime and there is ongoing contact between the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána to ensure that a successful and proactive approach is taken. Deputies are aware that a number of arrests have recently been made in the United Kingdom on foot of investigations into the supply of drugs and firearms in Ireland and the United Kingdom. These arrests resulted in several court appearances, while others who were arrested and released are under investigation. These investigations are being led by the UK National Crime Agency and supported by the Garda and the UK police. I acknowledge the co-operation between the two forces and commend those involved in the operation.

I also note the work of An Garda Síochána in securing a number of convictions in the Gareth Hutch murder case over the course of the year. The House is aware that Operation Hybrid was established to co-ordinate the response to violent crime in Dublin and to alleviate concerns about community safety, particularly in the inner city and on the northside, where there is significant support from armed support units.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

When will the working group report on alternative responses for personal possession of drugs? It was due to report to the Government by the end of 2018 and we now hear that it will be the end of the first quarter of this year before the report is completed. At many of our joint policing committees and other meetings with An Garda Síochána, we hear that virtually all crime is now drug-related. What consideration is the Government giving to decriminalisation, along the lines of the Portuguese, Uruguayan or Canadian models, or those adopted in many states in the US?

It must be remembered that the Government and the previous Fianna Fáil Government slashed Garda numbers and retrenched across health, housing and education. This had a desperate impact on vulnerable communities and the development of the north fringe, south fringe and Fingal areas of Dublin city was held up for almost a decade. It is now proceeding again but surely an integral part of any plan for a new urban district is a public security presence. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Justice to liaise with the two planning authorities to ensure that the new Garda divisional headquarters will be in that new city, as it were, on the northern boundary of Dublin?

The Taoiseach

I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to contact the Garda Commissioner about that matter. We should allow the Garda Commissioner, the OPW and the Department to work together to establish where the best, most practical location is for that new headquarters. I imagine other people will have different views as to where it should be located and everything will have to be taken into account and consideration.

I am not sure if it is the case that all or most crimes are now drug-related.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

Many of them are.

The Taoiseach

That certainly would not be the case, for example, when it comes to sexual assaults, domestic violence and crimes of that nature. It probably is the case in the context of murders and burglaries. A huge number of burglaries are now, and always have been, drug-related.

The work of the group chaired by Mr. Justice Garrett Sheehan is ongoing. We expect the group to report in the next couple of months. It is examining whether decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of drugs or narcotics might be the way to go for Ireland. It would not involve legalisation but it would involve decriminalisation, thereby focusing Garda resources on those who are involved in pushing, selling and distributing drugs, rather than those who possess them. It would move away from a criminal-justice approach to minor possession towards a healthcare approach. I favour that but it needs to be worked through.