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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 10 Jul 1990

Vol. 401 No. 4

Private Notice Questions. - Leixlip (Kildare) Bank Robbery.

This Private Notice Question is in the names of Deputies Jim O'Keeffe, Flanagan, Durkan and McCartan.

I wish to ask the Minister for Justice if he will make a statement on the Leixlip bank robbery on Friday last, and its aftermath.

I ask the Minister for Justice to make a statement on the circumstances of the bank raid in Leixlip, County Kildare on Friday last following which two suspects were shot dead by the Garda and what investigations will be held into the shootings.

I propose to outline to the House the factual details of what occurred last Friday in the aftermath of the Leixlip bank robbery as relayed to me by the Garda authorities. At approximately 10.10 a.m. on 6 July 1990, two masked and armed men entered the Bank of Ireland branch at Captain's Hill, Leixlip, County Kildare. They held staff and customers at gunpoint and took approximately £2,000. They left the bank and were seen by witnesses to get into a green car which sped off towards the city. The alarm was raised and all Garda mobile patrols were alerted. The car was spotted near the Phoenix Park by a garda in a patrol car and a chase ensued.

The suspect vehicle was driven at speed through the Navan Road-Castleknock area and on to the dual carriageway on the new Finglas Road. Other Garda cars had joined the chase at this stage and one of these attempted to stop the suspect car's progress by blocking the inward lane of the carriageway. The passenger fired a shot at the member in the Garda car who replied by discharging a single shot. The suspect car then crossed to the incorrect side of the carriageway and drove against oncoming traffic pursued by a number of Garda cars. At Claremont Court a garda sergeant managed to draw abreast of the car. The passenger again discharged a shot at him and he fired a single shot in return. The chase continued into the Glasnevin area where there was a further exchange of single shots. At Richmond Road the passenger again discharged a shot into a pursuing Garda car but fire was not returned by the garda at that stage.

The pursued car eventually drove into Upper Fairview Avenue where it collided with a parked car. One person leaned out of the window and discharged a number of shots at gardaí, hitting the windscreen of a Garda car. The suspect car then drove along the footpath and attempted to force its way through a number of marked and unmarked Garda cars. It collided with one car and came to a halt. A number of shots were fired at gardaí who returned fire. The two people in the pursued car were seriously injured and conveyed by ambulance to the Mater and Beaumont Hospitals where they were later pronounced dead. Two gardaí were also slightly injured. Gardaí recovered four firearms from the suspect car, including a double barrelled sawn-off shotgun, a pistol and two revolvers. As is usual in such cases, a Garda chief superintendent from outside the area of command where the incidents occurred has been appointed by the Commissioner to conduct an investigation into what happened.

It is a matter of deep regret that two lives were lost in the aftermath of the bank robbery. The loss of human life is always regrettable in any circumstances. It is, however, an unfortunate fact of life in these times that gardaí have to use their weapons to defend themselves in the performance of their duties. The Garda are to be commended for their actions in cornering the pursued car at Fairview. That the people concerned chose to shoot it out with gardaí is very unfortunate and they paid the ultimate penalty for making that decision.

I am conscious of the fact that an inquest will be held into the circumstances surrounding the two deaths in question and, accordingly, it is not my intention to say anything here today which might, in any conceivable way, be interpreted as prejudging the findings of the inquest which is, of course, an inquiry provided for by law to investigate deaths such as these.

On behalf of myself and the Fine Gael Party, I want to offer congratulations to the Garda Síochána for their heroic role in the Leixlip incident and its aftermath. Their courage and bravery are a cause of great pride to all law-abiding citizens. I am sorry the robbers acted as they did and brought about their own deaths, but what were they doing there in the first instance? They were out on bail because our bail laws are the most lax in the world.

Does the Minister not agree that a constitutional referendum is necessary if we are to give back to the courts the necessary discretion to refuse bail where there is a likelihood of further offences being committed by an accused? Does he not accept that almost 3,000 crimes will be committed this year by persons on bail? Finally, does he not accept that a golden opportunity arises next November to coincide with the necessary referendum which I have proposed in the past at nominal cost, namely the Presidential election?

The grounds on which bail may be refused were clearly set out by the Supreme Court in the case of The People v. O'Callaghan in 1966 and reaffirmed by that court in 1988 in the case of the Director of Public Prosecutions v. Ryan. The Supreme Court held that bail cannot be refused merely because there is a likelihood of the commission of further offences by the accused while on bail. In regard to the numbers who committed offences while on bail, it is interesting to note that in 1983 the number of offences committed was 8,295. In 1989 that figure had reduced to 2,647. I believe that drop is due in some measure to the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 providing for consecutive sentences for offences committed while on bail and extending the jurisdiction of the District Court in relation to such offences. It is understood that the courts are implementing these provisions.

I take the Deputy's point about the concern in relation to the availability of bail. The two people involved were out on bail, having been charged with serious offences. I take note of the Deputy's suggestion of a referendum in the matter of the courts having discretion to refuse bail, but I would not like to mislead him by suggesting it would take place in November.

Would the Minister not need to take action now?

I join Deputy O'Keeffe in commending the gardaí concerned for their bravery, and express my regret at the loss of life of the two men who, unfortunately, took up arms in this case so ill-advisedly.

Will the Minister confirm that the inquiry of the Chief Superintendent of An Garda Síochána will be for internal purposes only? Will he not agree that the coroner's inquest is very specifically constrained by the Coroners' Act, and that in view of the serious extent of the incidents here there is a need for him to convene a more public and open inquiry into the circumstances? Will he give regard to that?

Secondly, has he addressed the fact that Leixlip town where the offence occurred is the largest town in Kildare and is the only one without a Garda station? Has he considered to what extent the absence of proper policing in the area is a factor that may have contributed to this crime being committed in the first place? Finally, will he confirm that, so far as his information goes, only two people were involved in this from the outset? The number of weapons recovered would seem to suggest more may have been involved. Will he comment on that?

In regard to the Garda investigation into the incident on Friday last, it is not the practice to publish reports of such matters. Of course, such reports are given full consideration and the Deputy can be assured that any action considered appropriate is taken. The inquest is public.

As far as Leixlip is concerned, at the moment my Department are examining the suitability of a number of premises for use as a Garda substation. It would be a substation to Lucan. Deputies may be assured that there will be no delay in opening a substation in Leixlip once a suitable building has been located.

In regard to the availability of a station and the effect that would have had, I suggest that the presence of a Garda station or a substation in itself would not have prevented the occurrence of a robbery such as that which took place in Leixlip last Friday, as these things happen in other areas all the time where there are stations.

In regard to the number of people involved, the information I have given in the original answer is from the report I got from the Garda authorities and only two people were mentioned in that report, but there were four guns in the car.

Let me draw the Minister's attention to the fact that among the similarities between the incident at Leixlip last Friday and the unfortunate incident earlier in the year in Athy was that on both occasions the offenders were out on bail. This is the key to the entire problem. Does the Minister accept that thousands of crimes are being committed annually by offenders who are out on bail at the time the offence is committed? Does he not now accept that the time is right for the introduction of a comprehensive bail Bill that will set out clearly and unambiguously the circumstances under which the courts may grant bail to offenders? Does he accept that we have perhaps the most lenient bail regime in Europe? What steps does he as Minister for Justice intend to take to rid our streets of this "Bonnie and Clyde" activity? How many more shootouts are we to have before the Minister is prepared to set out in detail the strict criteria laid down by the courts regarding persons who habitually appear before the courts and get bail when the fact that they are out on bail on a charge which is likely to attract, if convicted, a lengthy prison sentence is a further inducement to these people to have a final go and commit a final crime before being brought before the courts?

Deputy Flanagan will appreciate that he is extending the terms of the question in a fashion that is not going to make it possible to be dealt with at Question Time.

The Minister could answer.

As the Deputy is aware, I have just replied to Deputy O'Keeffe on the question of bail. As far as coincidences are concerned, the happy coincidence is that on both occasions, at Leixlip and Athy, the Garda proved themselves to be successful and were seen to be such by the general public.

Is the Minister aware of the sensitivity of the north-east Kildare area by virtue of its geographical position in relation to Dublin from the point of view of bank robberies? Is he aware of the number of robberies that have taken place in that general region over the past 12 months or so? Does he propose to initiate any procedures to deter this activity? Finally, will he accept that perhaps had a Garda substation been established in the area, though the lack of such was not particularly responsible on this occasion, the delay might not have occurred? Would the Minister agree that a substation could have been provided there long before now?

As I said, the Garda authorities have already recognised the need for a sub-station in Leixlip. Premises are being acquired for that purpose, but it would be ludicrous to suggest that the presence of a Garda station or substation in itself would have prevented the occurrence of the robbery. Of course, north Kildare, like every other area, is constantly being monitored by the Garda in relation to how they can improve cover and prevent crime of every type, armed robbery or otherwise.

We come now to three final short questions, one from Deputy Seán Power, one from Deputy O'Keeffe and one from Deputy Pat McCartan.

Like the other Deputies, I congratulate the Garda for their action following the robbery in Leixlip. It was unfortunate that lives were lost, but we must be grateful to the gardaí concerned for putting their lives at risk on Friday last.

However, I feel that policing in north Kildare is inadequate to deal with the spiralling population. Armed robberies have become a regular occurrence in this area. I just appeal to the Minister to take immediate action, and the type of action I would like to see is more gardaí on the beat and the provision of a full station in Leixlip.

Could the Deputy ask a question, he is inclined to make a statement.

Would the Minister consider providing more gardaí for north Kildare in an effort to prevent further armed robberies in the area?

Policing problems are a priority with me and with the Garda authorities. I have acknowledged that there is a need for a Garda sub-station in Leixlip. At the moment my Department are examining the suitability of a number of premises in Leixlip for use as a Garda station. Deputy Power can be assured that there will not be any delay in opening a substation once a suitable building has been located. The new station will be a substation of the Lucan Garda station. It will serve as a centre for patrolling the Leixlip area, including foot patrols in the town. Normal station services will be provided there in relation to such matters as production of driving licences and motor insurance certificates, certification of passport applications etc. On the question of additional gardaí for the area, the Deputy will be aware that in the 1990 Estimates the Government provided extra funding to increase the number of trainees to be taken on. There are approximately 300 in training in Templemore at the moment. I will bring the Deputy's concern about north Kildare to the attention of the Commissioner with a view to securing additional manpower for the north Kildare area from the present batch of recruits.

Could I press the Minister on the question of a referendum? Would he accept an offer from the Opposition, certainly the main Opposition Party, Fine Gael, to co-operate in getting any necessary legislation through, so that the necessary amendment to the Constitution can be made to coincide with the presidential election in November? It is very clear that a constitutional amendment is necessary. It is very clear that the courts do not now have discretion. Would the Minister accept an offer of co-operation from Fine Gael to ensure that the necessary legislation is put through the House so that it can be put to the people next November, when I have no doubt it would be carried by an enormous majority.

I will note it.

I will take Deputy McCartan's question now and then Deputy Mitchell, for a final question.

I will bring the Minster back to the issue of the public inquiry. Will he consider the scale of the issue that has now emerged, not just in relation to this but in relation to previous incidents in Enniscorthy and Athy, and consider whether there is need for a more broadly based investigation?

In relation to the incident, when the information is available to us, will the Minister assure us that there was no other way of dealing with the raiders in the circumstances and that efforts had been made to confine the motor car, to avoid the escape and so on? I appreciate that the raiders persisted in their efforts in trying to barge along the footpath but I understand that there was a large fleet of Garda vehicles on the scene at the fatal moment.

As I outlined in my original reply this was not just an incident that occurred at the fatal moment as it has been described by Deputy McCartan. This had been a chase right across the north city area — Castleknock, Navan Road, Finglas, and down through Glasnevin — with shots being fired at gardaí who were risking their lives to protect the citizens of this country. The gardaí were doing their duty on behalf of our citizens and I have no intention of initiating a further inquiry. A normal inquiry has already been set in train by the Garda authorities with a chief superintendent in charge. As far as recent incidents are concerned, the Garda should be congratulated on what they achieved——


Hear, hear.

——in Athy, in Enniscorthy, in this Leixlip raid and also in Arklow where they made a massive find and in Limerick as well as in all of the other incidents where the Garda have been so effective, efficient and successful. Rather than establishing public inquiries into their activities, we should congratulate them on what they have achieved in the face of massive firepower against them. Thankfully they are proven to be the great guardians of the people, upholding the fine traditions of the force. I have no intention of setting up any other inquiry.


Deputy Jim Mitchell.


Deputy O'Keeffe, we have spent over a quarter of an hour on this question. Every matter here has its own importance and we have very important business to attend to. I indicated to the Deputy that he could have one more question and that I would then call on Deputy Mitchell for a final question.

The Chair rolled the two questions——

If you are substituting for Deputy Mitchell that is all right.

With respect, the Chair rolled the two questions into one and did not allow the Minister to answer them. The Minister said he would answer both questions.

I said I noted the Deputy's offer.

You are spurning it.


You are nothing it — what good is that? Do something about it to help the brave gardaí we are talking about.


I have no doubt that Leixlip urgently needs a Garda station but is the Minister aware that in the Lucan area which covers Ballyfermot, Clondalkin, Chapelizod, and Palmerstown as well as parts of Clonsilla, there are already too few gardaí and scarce equipment? Could the Minister tell the House today that the opening of a new Garda station in Leixlip will involve the supply and extra manpower together with extra Garda cars and motorcycles?

As the Deputy will probably be aware, having been Minister for Justice, the Estimate for this year provided for extra equipment, recruitment, overtime, manpower through the extension of the retirement age and extra promotional opportunities to strengthen the management force. The matter is constantly monitored with a view to improving things even further.


Deputy Pat Rabbitte has been given permission to raise a Private Notice Question to the Minister for Labour in connection with problems at the Irish Press group.