Adjournment Debate. - Contract Killings.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important topic.

One of the most sinister developments in Ireland's rising tide of crime is what is known as contract killing. On Saturday, 27 April 1996, The Irish Times listed 11 cases of murder, most of which, if not all, were contract killings; some of them date back to 1994, but none have been solved.

The rise in the number of contract killings in this country is inextricably linked to the greater availability of illegal firearms. The Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990, sets out to control the supply and distribution of illegal guns. However, it has failed; illegal firearms have proliferated. In many cases they are imported with large consignments of drugs as the traffickers' sweetener in the drug deal. In the city of Limerick, which I represent, the experience is that anybody who wishes to gain access to an illegal firearm can readily and quickly do so. The firearm may be purchased for the going rate or, alternatively, rented.

The current price to rent an illegal firearm in Limerick is approximately £40 an hour. The standard charge for a contract hit is approximately £2,000. However, as guns proliferate, life inevitably becomes cheaper. In Limerick recently, a price of £400 was quoted. This is the price of a life now. In some of the larger urban areas in the United States, the police have managed to reduce levels of violent crime by targeting illegal firearms. It is long past time for the Garda to mount a similar operation in Ireland.

Contract killings are difficult to solve. In many cases they are carried out by professionals who are well acquainted with the law and are careful to leave no forensic evidence. There is no link between the killer and the victim and accordingly there is no motive in the popular understanding of the word. Nevertheless, it must be stated that the Garda's success in solving these crimes has been conspicuous by its absence. A number of factors contribute to this problem.

Garda management style is notable for its lack of consultation. The vast majority of the Force now regard the five year corporate plan as an unmitigated disaster. The abolition of specialist units whithin the Garda without consultation has proved to be a catastrophic blunder. Detection of contract killing requires a particular type of expertise which, in my opinion, can only come with the re-establishment of something along the lines of the now abolished murder squad.

All promotional decisions within the Garda up to the rank of assistant commissioner are made by senior officers. No outside agency is involved. This has led in many instances to a situation where promotional opportunities are denied to those skilled in the art of detection and the Garda's overall competance in crime detection has been badly compromised as a result.

The victims of contract killings are often people who have been involved in crime themselves. This has resulted in a tendency to send out a subliminal message to the public that it should not be as concerned about those killings as it might be about others. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no room for complacency about murder. The greater tendency to resort to murder inevitably endangers us all.

I am waiting with bated breath to hear the Government's response. Can the Minister of State tell us when will it be likely that some people will be apprehended, brought before the courts and charged with some of those contract killings which remain undetected, in some cases for a number of years?

Let me assure the House that all murders are fully investigated by the Garda and that every effort is made to bring the perpetrators to justice. In this regard, the Garda allocate optimum resources to the investigation of all murders. The primary task, of course, is to identify those responsible and to assemble evidence to support the institution of legal proceedings. In addition, special attention is also directed to the motivation involved, either directly or indirectly.

Crimes of this nature are investigated by divisional investigation teams, the membership of which includes detective gardaí who have been trained in the investigation of serious crime. The gardaí involved in these investigations know the local community and they work in close proximity to sources of intelligence. The divisional investigation teams are assisted by gardaí from the Garda Technical Bureau which provides specialised services, such as ballistics, photography and fingerprints.

In addition to providing assistance to the divisional units, the serious crime squad at the central detective unit has the task of gathering intelligence and information on all serious crime. Every effort is made in the examination and collation of this material to establish if the crimes are linked in any way. This includes, in the case of murder, trying to establish if there is a common perpetrator for two or more offences.

The Garda authorities are satisfied that maximum resources are deployed to solve all murder cases including the identification of possible so-called contract killers.

When will one be solved?