Private Members' Business. - Organised Crime (Restraint and Disposal of Illicit Assets) Bill, 1996: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." The killing of Veronica Guerin was a calculated attack on the freedom of each and every person in this country. It was an act designed to silence not alone the late Veronica Guerin but everybody who might follow in her footsteps. It was an act of unspeakable evil which was carried out for a specific and defined purpose. Veronica Guerin was killed because she investigated and wrote about organised crime. She had become a threat to criminals and to their continued enjoyment of illegally acquired assets. She was killed so that criminals could hold on to the proceeds of crime. Are we as a community, as my party Leader has asked continously in the past number of days, prepared to tolerate the continued unhindered existence in our midst of people who have accumulated vast and unexplained wealth? If we are, I suggest Veronica Guerin died in vain.

The Bill which I introduced on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party today is designed to separate criminals from the illicit proceeds of their crime. It was published last Thursday in the immediate aftermath of Veronica Guerin's murder. It had been prepared as an integral part of our anti-drugs initiative and is both necessary and urgent now. I was disappointed, though not surprised, that the Minister for Justice saw fit to describe it on Thursday night as unnecessary and on Friday as unconstitutional before, belatedly, in the early hours of Saturday morning deeming it to be acceptable in principle. In so far as echoes of her now lapsed criticism may still be heard reverberating in this House or elsewhere, permit me to dispel them one by one.

The provisions of this Bill are unique. The powers proposed by the Fianna Fáil Party are not contained in any existing statute. The proposed powers are necessary to shift the balance of our laws to the detriment of the criminal. The Bill entitles the High Court to freeze the assets of persons suspected of being in possession of the proceeds of organised crime on the evidence of a Revenue Commissioner or a chief superintendent of the Garda Síochána. It permits the court accepting opinion evidence. In that it is unique. It is not covered in any way by existing legislation.

I am sorry to interrupt Deputy O'Donoghue, but on a point of order Sir, may I ask a member of the Government parties to send for the Minister for Justice? It is a dreadful insult to Deputy O'Donoghue, given all the work he did in a very short period that neither the Minister for Justice nor a member of Cabinet is present.

We have no function in that matter.

The Minister for Justice has not been in this House since 4.20 p.m.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy may register her protest——

I wonder whether we should continue this debate. It is a terrible insult to the House and in particular to Deputy O'Donoghue. The public will be shocked when they discover that the Minister is involved in some PR press release.

Government by press release.

I raised this matter earlier. Deputy John O'Donoghue worked extremely hard on this issue for months. He brought forward an excellent Bill, is here to explain why he believes it should be passed and to rebut the arguments made against it outside the House about its constitutionality. I understand the journalists who were at the press conference returned over half an hour ago. I thank the Ministers of State present but it is ridiculous that nobody from the Government wants to listen to an Opposition Member's Private Members' Bill taken in Government time, the first time in 30 years — and I cannot check back further than that quickly — that this has happened. We believe we can do something about crime, if not we might as well go down to "Lord of the Dance".

I wonder if we should adjourn until the Minister for Justice is present. The announcement she made at a press conference could and should have been done in this House.

Deputy Harney should be the last Member to take that approach to people being present.

Acting Chairman

The only way the Dáil can adjourn is by a motion.

It is a dreadful insult to the public.

We will be asking where Deputy McDowell is in future when he is not present.

Is that a threat?

The Whip in Fine Gael again.

I welcome the Minister to the House.

(Interruptions.)

Acting Chairman

Will Deputy O'Donoghue please proceed?

The Bill is unique. It is not covered by existing legislation. I have explained that tortuously since the Minister for Justice announced last Thursday night that the legislation already existed. It fell on deaf ears until the Minister for Justice decided to accept the inevitable truth. There was a Greek philospher who used to say that one does not have to face one's own ineluctable faith with equanimity.

Who was he?

It also entitles the High Court to swear an affidavit as to their assets and income.

Who was the philosopher?

Acting Chairman

I ask the Deputies to refrain from interrupting.

I understand that a member of the family of the late Veronica Guerin is in the Chamber. It is important legislation for them in their darkest hour and I ask that their position be respected.

This Bill places the onus of proving that assets were legally required on the person asserting that proposition. These provisions are not contained in any statute concerning organised criminals. This Bill is necessary to protect democracy.

The suggestion that this Bill is in some unspecified way unconstitutional is equally unsustainable. A clear and direct precedent exists for legislation of this type. The Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1985, permits the freezing of assets of illegal organisations. The constitutionality of that Act was tested in the High Court in the case of Clancyv Ireland, 1988 Irish Report page 326. There, Mr. Justice Barrington stated that the Act in question was a permissible delimitation of property rights in the interests of the common good. The two factors identified by Mr. Justice Barrington, as being necessary in order for such legislation to be constitutional, the right to apply to court to have the issue of ownership determined and the provision of a scheme for the payment of compensation are present in this Bill. Similarly, a direct precedent exists for the acceptance by a court of opinion evidence from a Garda Superintendent. The Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1972, provides in section (3) (2) that the belief of a member of the Garda Síochána, not below the rank of chief superintendent is sufficient evidence on which to grant a conviction for membership of an unlawful organisation. That is an offence under section 21 of the Offences Against the State Act, 1939, and by virtue of section 2 (6) of the Criminal Law Act, 1976, and carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment.

It cannot seriously be contended that the hierarchy of rights envisaged by the Constitution considers the right to the unfettered ownership of property to be superior to the right of liberty. Let there be no doubt that this Bill is constitutional in its present form. I regret that the Minister has seen fit to seek to undermine public confidence in it by uttering allegations of unspecified constitutional difficulties. If there are problems between the partners in the rainbow coalition in relation to the policy on law and order, the blame should be placed where it belongs and not on the Opposition which is trying to be as constructive as it possibly can. No amount of bluster or muckraking by Government Front Benches or back benches will gloss over those facts.

What is the Deputy talking about?

He has a short memory.

I deeply regret that the Minister's utterances have slowed down the pace at which the Bill can be passed. It is noteworthy that the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1985 was enacted on the day after it was published and implemented on the day after it was enacted. The political will then existed to freeze the assets of subversives. The question which must be on everybody's lips is why it is that the same political will and sense of urgency cannot be mustered today to freeze the assets of organised criminals. Why is it that the rainbow coalition is proposing to serve one month's notice on organised criminals of its intention to accept asset freezing legislation? If the same laconic approach had been applied to the passage of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act in 1985, the moneys which, as a result of the commendable swiftness with which that legislation was passed, were frozen would have been spirited abroad.

I regret that the Minister's initial reaction to this Bill typifies her attitude and that of the Government to criminal law reform. The attitude of "it is not necessary, it is unconstitutional and we will do it but slowly" is partly responsible for the growth of organised crime. I appeal to her and to anybody who might have shackles on her in the rainbow coalition to bring a sense of urgency to bear on this issue and speed the passage of this legislation through the House.

Pompous and arrogant.

Organised criminals exist in order to acquire illicit assets. This Bill is designed to deprive them of the use of those assets. Organised crime is defined in the Bill as follows:

Any criminal activity organised, undertaken or performed by two or more persons involving the theft, illegal acquisition and/or destruction of property valued in excess of £10,000 or the distribution of controlled drugs within the meaning of the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984.

This legislation cannot be used against petty criminals. It is specifically directed at the criminal gangs which have become bloated on the profits of drug dealing and the proceeds of audacious robberies. It permits the Garda Síochána, which is frequently unable to gather admissible conventional evidence against criminal godfathers, to strike at the heart of their criminal empires.

Section 3 authorises a Garda chief superintendent or a revenue commissioner to applyex parte to the High Court for an order restraining a person from disposing of or otherwise transferring the ownership or diminishing the value of any or specified assets for a period of 21 days. That order can be made if the High Court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the person in respect of whom the application is made is in possession or control of the proceeds of organised criminal activity or assets acquired directly or indirectly from the proceeds of organised criminal activity.

It is important to note that the provision permits assets in the possession of any person to be restrained. It is not necessary that they be in the actual possession of the person suspected of being involved in organised crime. If members of his or her family or entourage are in possession of such assets, they can still be frozen. If the assets have been invested in legitimate businesses or commercial partnerships, they can be frozen. The huge importance of this section is that it permits assets in the possession of any person to be frozen provided that the High Court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that they represent directly or indirectly the proceeds of organised criminal activity. In short, there is nowhere in this jurisdiction when criminal assets can be hidden to protect them from the provisions of this important Bill.

The Bill authorises the initial application for a restraining order to be madeex parte. This is necessary to ensure that assets are not moved or transferred with a view to frustrating the order of the High Court. Where the High Court makes an interim restraining order freezing assets in the possession of any person it will be obliged by the provisions of this Bill to make two further orders. It must order the person whose assets have been restrained to file within 21 days an affidavit setting out the assets owned or controlled by him or her. It must also order the person to file within the same period an affidavit setting out the sources and amounts of his or her income over the preceding ten years. Section 5 (4) would prevent any application to discharge the interim order being heard until adequate affidavits had been filed.

The Bill will compel persons in possession of assets which are suspected to be illicit to step forward and state openly where they came from and how they were paid for. It also contains important ancilliary provisions designed to assist the Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners in investigating the contents of affidavits. Section 5 (5) authorises the High Court to order the discovery and production of relevant documents in the possession of any person. Thus, accounts, bank statements and business records can all be ordered by the High Court to be produced for inspection and scrutiny. It is important to note that this provision applies to documents in the possession procurement of "any party to the application or any other person or institution". The important point is that there will not be under the provisions of this Bill any safe hiding place within the State for documents relating to assets arising from organised criminal activity.

Once the necessary affidavits have been sworn and the necessary documents produced and examined an application can be made for an interlocutory restraining order. The High Court has power at the hearing of such an application to direct that any person, including a party to the proceedings, be present in court to give evidence and be cross-examined. It will not be possible for criminals to hide behind layers of obfuscation. They will have to openly and publicly assert their claim of ownership and defend it in the face of crossexamination.

The Bill provides that the court must make an interlocutory restraining order unless it is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the assets, the subject matter of the interim restraining order, are not the proceeds of or acquired directly or indirectly with the proceeds or organised criminal activity. The importance of this provision is that for the first time, despite the protestations of the Minister and some of her colleagues to the contrary, it forces or obliges people to explain the origins and sources of their wealth and property. Unexplained or inadequately explained assets will remain frozen. The onus of establishing the legitimate pedigree of assets rests on the person espousing that proposition. If he can satisfy the court, on the balance of probabilities, that the frozen assets are not the proceeds of organised crime then they are unfrozen and returned to him. If he fails to satisfy the court about this then an interlocutory restraining order is made. These provisions, the restraining order and the interlocutory restraining order, will operate to deprive a person of the use of illicit assets. The assets remain in the ownership of that person but he is prevented from using or enjoying them. The interlocutory restraining order remains in operation indefinitely.

The Bill also envisages that the High Court will have power to make disposal orders in respect of frozen property. If no adequate affidavits as to income and assets have been filed after a period of seven years has elapsed from the making of the interim order the High Court can make such an order. Similarly, once five years has passed from the date of making the interlocutory order the High Court may make a disposal order.

In cases where the true owner of the assets can be identified the court can direct that they be transferred to that person, while in cases where the true owner of the assets cannot be identified the court can direct that the assets be transferred to the State. There is a significant difference between the onus of proof required for an interlocutory order and the onus of proof required for a disposal order. An interlocutory restraining order must be made unless the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the assets are not the proceeds of crime. In that instance, the onus of proof rests on the person seeking to have the assets released. The importance of this provision is as follows: we are not at the point of disposing of the assets but merely at the point of freezing them and, accordingly, it is constitutional within the terms of a judgment on the matter for the State to freeze those assets and to shift the onus into the suspected person. This was made very clear in the case of Alan Clancy and David McCartneyv. Ireland and the Attorney General, 1985 No. 2912P., when Mr. Justice Barrington held that a permissible delimitation of property rights in the interests of the common good was not an unjust attack upon private property contrary to Articles 40.3 and 43 of the Constitution.

Given that this is the legal position as interpreted by the courts it is difficult, if not impossible, for me or anyone else interested in the subject to justify the intimation by the Minister for Justice to the public that this Bill is unconstitutional. This was an attempt to undermine public confidence in the Bill at a time when such a Bill was never more required.

The Deputy is being sanctimonious.

(Interruptions.)

A disposal order can only be made where the person seeking it satisfies the court, on the balance of probabilities, that the assets are not the property of the respondent. In so far as the onus is shifted onto the State to prove that the assets are the proceeds of organised criminal activity and on the basis that this burden of proof is the balance of probabilities, it will be clear, given that we are talking about the disposal of the assets and not the freezing of them, that it is right in accordance with the 1937 Constitution that the onus should shift to the State. This is precisely what we are doing. How then can anyone seriously suggest the Bill is unconstitutional, unless he has an ulterior motive?

The Bill contains many safeguards which should be highlighted. The provisions identified by Mr. Justice Barrington as being constitutionally necessary — that is the right to apply to the High Court to have the issue determined and the power to pay compensation — are dealt with in sections 5 and 8. In addition, section 6 permits the payment of a portion of restrained assets as are necessary for reasonable living expenses or for the discharge of reasonable legal costs. This provision will ensure that one cannot argue under statute law or the Constitution that the individual concerned is being deprived of his right to life or his right to discharge his reasonable costs. The court is also entitled to make any order it considers necessary in relation to publicity at the time of making the interim order. Thus, the High Court, if it considers it necessary in the interests of justice, may prohibit the publication of the name or address of the person whose assets have been restrained at anex parte application.

Members on this side of the House have become accustomed to attempts to undermine legislation published by us. In the past 18 months we have published the Criminal Procedure Bill, the Misuse of Drugs Bill, the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Bill, the Criminal Law (Incest Proceedings) Bill, the Criminal Law (Mental Disorder) Bill, the Criminal Law (Bail) Bill, the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, the Proceeds of Crime Bill and this Bill.

What did the Deputy's party do when it was in Government?

It was paralysed.

On virtually every occasion, it was suggested that the Bill was unconstitutional, it only tinkered with the problem and did not tackle the underlying cause of crime. The initial response of the Minister and the Government to the legislation proves beyond reasonable doubt, and not on the balance of probabilities, that when it comes to the implementation of criminal law reform, the rainbow coalition Government opts for political expediency and not relevant action.

The Bill represents the will of the people. I say this given the welcome it received throughout the length and breadth of the country from people who want to see organised crime rooted out and want a society in which they can live in peace. The Bill is an example of democracy in action. It is an historic occasion for the Fianna Fáil Party in Opposition to move this legislation during Government time at this critical juncture in Irish life. This is an example of the kind of leadership required. I have stated on numerous occassions in the House that we would support legislation introduced by the Government when it was required, and that when the Government failed to introduce necessary legislation we would introduce it. The pity and sorrow is that every genuine effort made by my party in the House in the past 18 months has been thwarted, not in the interests of the public but for political expendiency.

What did the Deputy's party do for the past ten years?

The Deputy without interruption, please.

The Deputy's party thrives on division.

Let us have an orderly debate.

Like it or not, we have a Government which is riven by dissent——

That is what the Deputy wishes.

——on how it should tackle the problem of law and order. This Bill is an example of society moving against an evil within. I commend its provisions to the House. In relation to our efforts in the past 18 months regarding criminal law reform we would have accepted any assistance which might have been forthcoming but in the immortal words of Éamon de Valera, if we had got any such assistance, which we did not, we would not regard it as charity.

If the Minister of State, Deputy Durkan, wishes to sign his constituency letters perhaps he would do it in his office rather than here during a serious debate.

Maybe the Deputy should reflect on the past ten years, too.

The Minister must be allowed make her contribution without interruption from either side of the House. This is an important debate, let it be an orderly one.

The Government is not opposing the Second Reading of this Bill. There is a responsibility on all of us in this House to consider carefully every responsible suggestion, from whatever quarter, on how the laws on crime can be improved.

I had hoped the debate this evening would be conducted in the spirit in which I offered, to the Fianna Fáil Whip, to accept it at Second Stage, to debate it in Government time and amend it as I saw fit in order to make it an effective constitutional Bill. I thought the manner in which the Bill was being handled would have led Deputy O'Donoghue to at least accept that his Bill was getting a Second Reading in Government time. There is only so much sanctimonious sermonising and arrogant certitude I can take from Deputy O'Donoghue. If this legislation is so important — and it is important — why did his party not introduce it in 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 or 1992 with its then new sweet-hearts, the Progressive Democrats, in Government?

Who cancelled the prison programme?

Why was it not introduced in 1993? It was not until 1994 that the Fianna Fáil Party who has possession of the Department of Justice for nine years decided it was time to do something about the problem. Frankly the public do not take a blind bit of notice of the politicking Deputy O'Donoghue engages in. I can take all the Deputy can throw at me and I will do my job in an effective way but I do not need to sit here and listen to the literary quotes he considers humorous and which might get him a line in the newspaper.

I thought that in accepting this Bill this evening he would understand that the Government was giving time for this serious matter to be debated and that he would have avoided the kind of politicking he has engaged in given that in 1994 the Government, of which he was a member, decided that the way to deal with the seizure and freezing of assets was the way in which his predecessor in that office, Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, decided. A couple of short years later the Deputy has changed his mind on that, as he is entitled to do, but he should at least have the honesty to say so in the House.

I will go through the Bill and point out the areas where the advice available to me is that the Bill is unsound and ineffective and could be unconstitutional. I would never be so certain, as Deputy O'Donoghue appears to be. I do not know who drafted the Bill to him but there is no guarantee that there is no constitutional weakness or impediment in it.

As Minister for Justice I have a responsibility not to accept a Bill blindly, just because Deputy O'Donoghue says it is all right put it through and forget about the consequences until later. The Deputy's two colleagues who are sitting beside him — Deputies Burke and Geoghegan-Quinn, former Minister for Justice — had to do precisely the same. Fianna Fáil's record in Government of accepting Bills from the Opposition is paltry. I do not believe it ever accepted a Bill from the Opposition during Government time. I had not intended to say all of that but it followed on the sanctimonious sermonising I have to listen to everytime Deputy O'Donoghue speaks. He is constantly trying to snipe at things that need to be done.

The Minister had all the answers when she was on this side of the House.

I do not believe anybody would dispute that the objective of this Bill, the confiscation of proceeds of crime, is central to any modern criminal justice system. This is particularly so in relation to those who organise crime and who in the process accumulate considerable wealth. The fitting punishment for those who are convicted of organising serious crime must be lengthy terms of imprisonment, but there must also be effective mechanisms to enable the State to confiscate the proceeds of those crimes. We must make sure that we can give reality to the maxim that crime does not pay.

This House knows full well, despite the posturing of Deputy O'Donoghue to pretend otherwise, which is an insult to his colleague, Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, that there is on the Statute Book legislation on the matter, and very modern legislation. The Criminal Justice Act, 1994, contains the most detailed and comprehensive provisions on the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. Those provisions have been in force since November 1994, only a little over a year and a half ago. There is a perception, and perhaps in the past it has too often been justified, that this House, and successive Governments, have been slow to update our criminal laws to keep pace with the realities of modern crime. On this occassion that charge is not justified and it is only fair to acknowledge that the legislation in question was brought into this House by my predecessor, Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, and the last Government. The regulations giving it effect have been brought in by me, as Minister for Justice, and this Government. Therefore, Deputy O'Donoghue should stop trying to imply that there is no legislation in place to freeze and confiscate assets.

It would be worthwhile to briefly examine the relevant provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, if only to see how the present proposals depart from the principles so recently agreed by this House. Under the 1994 Act, where a person is convicted of an offence on indictment, the Director of Public Prosecutions may apply to the court for a confiscation order requiring the person to pay a sum equivalent to the benefit which the court is satisfied the person obtained from committing the offence. The standard of proof for determining whether and to what extent the person benefited from the offence is that applicable in civil proceedings, which is the balance of probabilities, although the conviction itself must be obtained on foot of the normal criminal standard — beyond reasonable doubt.

Where the offence concerned is a drug trafficking offence, the court is empowered to make strong assumptions about the origins of the defendant's property, such as that any property transferred to him or her in the six years prior to the proceedings were as payment or reward for drug trafficking. In addition, the Director of Public Prosecutions may apply to court for a restraint order, which prevents any dealings in, in other words, freezes, specified property in anticipation of a confiscation order, even where criminal proceedings have not commenced but are merely contemplated. A prosecution must then be commenced within a reasonable time, otherwise the restraint order will be discharged.

The principle behind the Act, therefore, is that confiscation of the proceeds of crime is dependent on securing a conviction. In following this approach, the then Government, and the House, accepted the advice of the Law Reform Commission in its report on the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. The commission considered the merits of a civil procedure for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime and concluded that: "a civil procedure would either be ineffective or encounter the risk of a serious constitutional challenge." The commission went on to say, not surprisingly, that it did not recommend the adoption of such a procedure. Instead it recommended the availability of confiscation orders as part of the criminal process and the then Government and Fianna Fáil Minister chose to follow that advice. That is the background to the Bill before us. It explains why our modern confiscation law is based on criminal convictions. This Bill, however, provides that a person may be deprived of property on the basis of allegations of criminal activity in respect of which there has been no conviction, or even proof to the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. The standard of proof envisaged is that applicable in civil proceedings — on the balance of probabilities — and, once property is frozen under the Bill, and subject to proposals for the ultimate disposal of property, on which I will comment later, the onus is on the person claiming the property to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that it does not represent the proceeds of crime.

Clearly, the contrast between the proposals in the Bill and what was so recently provided for in legislation raises some questions. Following the proceedings in the House tonight the public will not be able to say of us as legisaltors that we ignored or neglected this issue. They could, however, legitimately ask why those involved in promoting comprehensive legislation on confiscation are now, when the resulting Act has barely had time to settle in, introducing entirely different proposals based on principles so recently rejected by them.

In any event, we have to deal with the situation before us, rather than dwelling on past events, and if it is put to this House that the existing legislation on confiscating the proceeds of crime is inadequate, then the Government, and I as Minister for Justice, take the matter very seriously.

With absolute certainty, Deputy O'Donoghue said his Bill is constitutional and dare an institution of the State, such as the Attorney General's office, question him as to whether it contains any flaws. Such arrogance does not have a place in the preparation of criminal or civil law. We must be humble enough to admit that we do not always get everything right.

The Minister is a very humble person.

As Deputy O'Donoghue was not brought up in that way, he has not learned that type of humility and I do not expect it from him.

I understand the difficulties faced by an Opposition party in bringing forward proposals. I realise it is difficult to bring forward well drafted proposals for legislative change while in Opposition, and that Fianna Fáil, in contrast to its position when bringing forward the Criminal Justice Act, did not have the benefit of the resources of Government in preparing these proposals. Perhaps it would acknowledge that.

Section 2 provides the definitions of words and terms used in the Bill, the most important of which is the definition of "organised crime". It is worth nothing in passing, however, that the term used both in the long Title and in the body of the Bill is in fact "organised criminal activity". In any event, the scope of the definition and, therefore, effectively the scope of the Bill, is limited to activity organised, undertaken or performed by two or more persons and involving the theft, illegal acquisition and-or destruction of property valued in excess of £10,000, or the distribution of controlled drugs.

The House will have to carefully consider the wording of this provision. First, are the references to offences correct? Should the reference to "theft" be to an offence under the Larceny Acts? Should the reference to destruction of property be a reference to an offence under the Criminal Damage Act? What does the term "illegal acquisition" mean? Even if these references can be made technically correct, should the Bill be limited to these offences?

The House is aware that the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act apply to any indictable offence. Even if the House wished to limit the scope of this Bill to offences normally associated with organised crime, it may be that a case could be made for the inclusion of more offences. Persons running protection rackets, for example, commit offences not provided for here. I am sure many Deputies could think of more examples, and that is something we will have to consider.

In addition, there is a general danger in limiting the Bill to particular offences, and to what I might call joint ventures in crime, that it would be a legitimate argument for a person to acknowledge that particular property represented the proceeds of crime, but that he or she had carried out the crime alone, or that it was acquired by means of an offence other than those set out in the Bill. I raise this point not as criticism of the proposals, but by way of arising the implications of the Bill. I will certainly need some time, as I am sure the House in general will, to tease out the finer points of the proposal before us. It would surely be paradoxical if, in enacting legislation designed to make it easier for the courts to confiscate the proceeds of crime, we were to erect obstacles to that objective in the legislation.

Section 3 provides for the making of an interim restraining order by the High Court on anex parte application by a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of chief superintendent or by a Revenue Commissioner. This has to be read in conjunction with section 4, which provides that the court may receive as evidence the opinion of such a member of the Garda Síochána or a Revenue Commissioner. In providing for this, the Bill borrows a concept from the Offences Against the State Acts, but adds the important proviso that while the court may act on such evidence, it may do so only if satisfied that the opinion has been formed on reasonable grounds. Thus, the opinion of a senior Garda or a Revenue Commissioner will not be conclusive, nor will the mere fact of such an opinion, however deeply held, be sufficient in itself. The court will have to be satisfied that the opinion has been formed on reasonable grounds.

The effect of an interim restraining order would be to restrain a person from, "disposing or otherwise transferring the ownership or diminishing the value of any or specified assets for a period of 21 days or such longer period as the court considers just". The House would need to examine this formula to see if it achieves its objective, which is to freeze property. There is no mention of a prohibition on removing property from the State or of powers for the Garda Síochána to prevent such a removal. The reference to "disposal" may not be sufficient in this respect: A person who moves his or her property out of the State, while retaining ownership of it, may not be said to have disposed of the property. If we are to have a provision along these lines, I know the House will want to be sure that it is as watertight as legal drafting can make it.

Section 3 also requires a court, on making an interim restraining order, to direct the respondent to give details of all his or her assets and the sources and amounts of his or her income for the preceding ten years. There are important consequences in regard to the ultimate disposal of property for a respondent who does not comply with this. I might also mention the tie-in between this provision and section 5 (4), where it is provided that a respondent may not even apply for the lifting of an interim restraining order until he or she has supplied these details. This requirement seems to be needlessly absolutist in nature and could raise serious constitutional questions.

Section 5 provides that, after 21 days of an interim restraining order, application may be made to the court for an interlocutory restraining order, and the court would be obliged to make this unless satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the property did not represent the proceeds of crime. In other words, the onus would be on the person claiming to own the property to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that it had been acquired legitimately.

The effect of an interlocutory restraining order is described in section 5 (8), which states that the order shall freeze all or such portion of the assets of the respondent as are ordered by the court. I have used the word "freeze" in my contribution tonight, but I know that Deputies understand my use of the word as shorthand for a comprehensive legal prohibition on any dealing in property. It goes without saying that there is no place for such undefined colloquialisms in an Act of the Oireachtas.

Section 6 provides for the release of reasonable living expenses and legal costs from frozen assets, I have no difficulty with that.

Section 7 provides for the making of disposal orders. This enables the court to make a disposal order either on the expiry of seven years from the date of an interim restraining order where the respondent has not given details of assets and income, or on the expiry of five years from the making of an interlocutory restraining order, where the court is satisfied that the respondent is not the true owner of the assets and that the assets represent the proceeds of crime. A number of issues arise here for the consideration of the House.

What is meant by the phase "true owner"? A person who uses money derived from crime to buy property is the owner of that property. I do not dispute that the law can, indeed already does, provide that the property can be confiscated, but it is that person's property which is confiscated. The phrase occurs several times in section 7 and its effect could have the most serious implications for the process of disposal set out there. It would mean that one of the two tests in section 7 (1)(b) might never be satisfied.

The provision permitting disposal of property seven years after the making of an interim restraining order, and where the respondent has failed or refused to disclose adequate details of assets or income, needs to be examined. It seems to allow disposal effectively as a punishment for not having disclosed such details, even where the court may believe that the property is not the proceeds of crime. I am sure that this is not what Deputy O'Donoghue intended, but that seems to be the effect of the provision.

What about the police property Act?

Deputies will note that section 7, in providing for disposal five years after an interlocutory order, does allow a court, in making a disposal order, to rely on the opinion evidence provided for on the making of interim restraining orders, nor is the onus of proof that the assets are not the proceeds of crime on the respondent. I understand that these omissions are intended and that they have been advanced as an argument in favour of the Bill's constitutionality but we surely must examine the practical implications. We must look beyond making the first interim restraining orders under this Bill and make some estimate of the likely effectiveness of the disposal process. One thing on which we can all agree is that there has to be an ultimate disposal of property. We cannot provide for the indefinite freezing of property and, indeed, some might question the time limits already set out in the Bill in this regard. The difficulty seems to be that, while the proponents of the Bill argue that to freeze property the courts need to be able to act on opinion evidence and to be able to place the onus of proof on a respondent, they envisage the disposal of property a more severe step than freezing without those special provisions.

It is all very well to promote the absence of these special provisions in the disposal process as conservative drafting which underscores the Bill's constitutionality, although such an argument seems to carry implications for the earlier provisions, but what concerns me is their practical implementation. There is surely a question mark over the making of extraordinary provision for freezing property, only to provide for the disposal of that property on principles deemed to be inadequate for making the original freezing orders. Disposal may be five or seven years down the road but we have to look that far ahead and work through the consequences of the proposals.

I fully understand and share the concerns of this House on the need to deal with serious crime. I agree that provision in our laws for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime is an essential element in a modern criminal justice system. It must also be recognised, of course, that we have in place very recent and comprehensive procedures for such confiscation. I again acknowledge that Deputy O'Donoghue's party — not him but Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn — played a part in introducing that legislation. The relevant provisions have now been in force for 18 months or so and the Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts are developing their implementation.

I have already told the House that up to April 1996, in less than a year, there were already 300 reports of suspicious transactions in the financial institutions. Many of those cases are proceeding and will be taken to the DPP, I hope they will be followed by convictions. They must be recognised as an important part of the legislation I put in place in May 1995.

The proposals before the House represent a significant departure from the principles decided by the House so recently and go against the advice of the Law Reform Commission. They raise constitutional concerns and certainly contain serious drafting errors, only some of which I had time to mention. That is not to say that the principle of this Bill, or a Bill along the same lines, should not receive the approval of the House. If Deputy O'Donoghue feels that the legislation passed recently is not adequate, he is right to bring forward proposals for change.

I have shown myself open to good ideas and willing to accept Private Members' Bills. While I have not carried out an analysis, I have been more willing than many previous Ministers for Justice to accept Opposition amendments on Committee Stage. If at times the level of acceptance of Private Members' Bills is low it is simply a reflection of the difficulties involved in drafting complex proposals properly. Acceptance of such Bills is often impossible.

Deputy O'Donoghue made the case over and over again that I was willing to accept the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Bill. While I accepted its principle — nobody could have been against it — I stress that I am now in the process of making substantive changes on a scale which are tantamount to a new Bill.

Deputy O'Donoghue may think he has done a great day's work, but my officials and I must redraft those Bills when we get them. Perhaps Deputy O'Donoghue could talk to whoever is drafting these Bills for him and try to get a little more substance into them so they do not have to be changed.

I appreciate the effort which he has put into the Bill but, as I say, there are difficulties in preparing complex proposals. Even in this Bill, which Deputy O'Donoghue's party leader made clear had been published very quickly, I see a kind of hand-written additional amendments to the Bill even after it had been typed up. I do not know their genesis but it is clear that even after the Deputy had prepared it he decided more changes were needed and they came over in hand written form. Deputy O'Donoghue should recognise that sometimes he does not get it quite right. I have responsibility to get it right and all the roaring, shouting and sermonising will not make me any less responsible in introducing legislation.

We must now — and I am already in consultation with the Attorney General — examine in detail the proposals to see how they may be improved or whether an alternative measure is needed. I have given a commitment that I will do that in the coming week and I will report back to the relevant committee as quickly as I can. My intention is to have the Bill fully examined so that I can see it passed by the House.

It is unfortunate that in this instance Deputy O'Donoghue could not have dealt with these crime measures in a spirit of unity and with some acceptance that everybody has good ideas to put into the melting pot in deciding what changes can be made.

The Deputy prompted the Minister into action, if nothing else.

For once, he could have shown some maturity and statesmanship by accepting that this Government has accepted this Bill in Government time, something which the Deputy's party never had the generosity to do as far as I can recall.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

I am glad I had a chance to listen to the Minister's speech before making my contribution. It is clear she does not accept the principle of Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill.

That is right.

The entire spin doctor response of this Administration to recent events is fiction. The Minister's speech is a litany of criticisms of the Bill, not only technically but also of its substance. The Minister said:

The proposals before the House tonight represent a significant departure from the principles decided by the House so recently and they go against the advice of the Law Reform Commission. They raise constitutional concerns and certainly contain serious drafting errors, only some of which I have had time to mention.

The Minister's speech gives the game away because, as Deputy Shatter said earlier, it was written by the Department and is a traditional script defending thestatus quo. The spin doctored message is that, in the light of recent events, this Government is accepting Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill. However, the truth is that she supports nothing. The terms of her speech criticise the Bill from top to bottom, and from start to finish she has rubbished it. The Minister and the Government do not really accept this Bill, although a spin doctored picture goes out from the press conference that this Administration is accepting the Fianna Fáil Bill as well as the terms of an agreed motion with the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil on the need for radical reform of the criminal justice system.

The Government held a press conference when the motion was being debated. The Administration's real response to recent events is a disastrous fiction. It is amazing that this Government spends millions of pounds on its image and how it presents itself to the electorate, on programme managers, advisers and spin doctors, yet has the memory of a goldfish when it comes to the last blunder. The first blunder was the response to the murder of Veronica Guerin, a courageous journalist whose murder jolted everybody in this House into believing that we must bring about change to deal with the untouchables. What we have heard tonight was a fiction of a response, and that is a disgrace. The House has been offended by this administration. Yesterday I spent two hours carefully drawing up a motion with the Government Whip so that the Government could fictionally agree to its terms. It went into Government Buildings tonight and launched a press conference instead of coming into the House to listen to the terms of the motion. It is a disgrace.

Deputy O'Donoghue is to be commended on bringing forward this Bill, which is a real effort, in so far as Private Members' Bills can be, to push forward the agenda and keep pressure on the Government. We were accused of political point scoring, media hype, being over-reactionary and putting fear into people's hearts. We were told it is our fault that people are afraid in their homes, that because of what Deputies Harney, Ahern, O'Donoghue and I say people are afraid, but it is the criminals who are responsible for instilling fear in people's minds. The Government has been lethargic and has failed in terms of criminal justice reform. It has voted down every constructive proposal put forward by the Opposition.

The Deputy tried to water down the drug trafficking Bill.

Deputy O'Donnell, without interruption.

These are the Deputies who are members of committees but never attend Committee Stage debates.

Except when there is a vote.

They are herded in by the convenors to vote down measures, one of which the Minister accepted today because Veronica Guerin was murdered.

The Minister inherited a situation that was not created by this Government.

Let us have order for the Member in possession.

The Deputy should ask Deputy Harney, who was so vocal in Government, why she did not introduce such a measure.

Let us have the same order for the present speaker as obtained for the previous speaker.

When I was in Government I got rid of smog. The Minister should do the same with crime.

The only thing the Deputy did was support an amnesty.

There was no such thing as contract killing then.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): There was no such thing as crime.

Who killed Martin Cahill and who paid for his killing?

This level of interruption is totally unacceptable. Deputy O'Donnell should be allowed continue without further interruptions.

It is clear the Minister does not accept the Bill. It is just a PR exercise.

The Deputy is disappointed I am accepting it.

This Bill is one measure to deal with crime. The other measure, presented in Government time today, is the drug trafficking Bill. Both these Bills are radical measures which are necessary to deal with the serious problem of organised crime and drug trafficking. Our criminal justice system, our laws, the Garda and other State authorities are not equipped to deal with the sophistication and type of criminality posed by organised crime.

No democracy can accept a position where people see themselves as untouchable. I do not accept, nor does anybody in this House, that those who did not like not only what Veronica Guerin wrote but what she knew, those who took her out in a contract-style killing, should be untouchable. After the initial outrage, after the bouquets of flowers were placed outside Leinster House to give us the message that we must introduce radical measures to deal with organised crime, people caution us that we are going too far. They caution us lest we enact laws in the heat of the moment and without due consideration. I accept there is need for caution, but I say to those people that they should not be afraid because this House is fully capable of introducing laws that are balanced, fair and relevant to present day circumstances, as are this Bill, the drug trafficking Bill and our motion of tonight. They are reasonable, considered proposals which have been well debated in this House. We have had a revolving debate on all those issues since I came into this House in 1992. I could give a speech on bail, temporary release and the right to silence without a note.

The Deputy should be careful. She is talking about Fianna Fáil, the party that was in Government in 1992.

This Government is so intellectually bankrupt that the only statement it can come up with time after time is: "Why did you not do that when in Government?" The time has come to balance the books in terms of fairness to the State in prosecution matters and to the accused. There is a vast body of jurisprudence protecting the rights of the accused. The improvement in the capacity of the State to prosecute and tackle serious criminality need not diminish the rights of the accused. It is a question of balancing upwards, parity of esteem as between the State and the accused. At present there is no parity, and that is very clear.

Was there parity when the Deputy came into the House?

The Supreme Court has said that the potential damage to society from the use and distribution of controlled drugs is so great and constitutes such a pernicious evil that the Legislature has very wide discretion in reconciling the interests of the common good with the interests of the individual. I make no apology for supporting that view. As has been said by Deputies Ahern and Haughey, the first duty of the State is to protect the citizen.

The criminal justice system has three traditional aims: punishment, deterrent and reform. In the case of the so-called untouchables, we have failed markedly in all three areas. We cannot link these people with their crimes, and when they are caught and convicted, which is very rarely, they get temporary release because there is nowhere to put them. In the case of hardened criminals who have made crime their life's work, perhaps it is time to accept that reform and rehabilitation is not a realistic option.

Hear, hear.

We need to reconsider this matter. If traditional methods fail we must devise new ones. If we cannot punish, deter or reform these people we must set a new aim, to stop them from operating their evil trade.

This Bill, which forms the basis of that new approach, is long overdue. We have given the courts power to seize the assets of those convicted of certain crimes and to restrain the assets of those facing certain criminal charges, but given the difficulties experienced in getting convictions, or even gathering evidence, a new power is needed to restain the use of assets outside the context of criminal proceedings. To date we have dealt only with assets which are the fruits of past crimes. What we need to do now is prevent assets being used as the seeds of future crimes. To put it another way, if we cannot arrest the criminals, why not confiscate their assets? That is the substance of Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill.

I commend Deputy O'Donoghue for his work in bringing forward this Bill, which sets out the principles on which we should work.

It is flawed.

I acknowledge, as does Deputy O'Donoghue, that there are aspects of the Bill that need amendment.

He did not say that.

The Minister was not here when he said it.

That is the purpose of Committee Stage, although one would not be aware of that because the Minster does not accept amendments. Without getting too involved at this stage in the technicalities — the Minister did little else but get involved in the critical aspects of the technicalities.

That is my job. The Deputy will never know what it is like.

Deputy O'Donnell without repeated interruption.

I want to suggest a few areas with which the parliamentary draftsman and members in committee can deal. The title of the Bill refers to the restraint of illicit assets but it must be remembered, and we will debate this on Committee Stage, that in many cases illicit assets will be laundered and reinvested in legitimate ways. We should treat those legitimate proceeds as being equally tainted. If not, they will continue to be available to fund criminal activities. Another area — the Minister referred to this tonight — is the definition of "organised crime" which must be examined. I will not attempt to define "organised crime" but a number of features need to be worked into the definition. We need to acknowledge that in many instances we are talking about a whole series of crimes. For example, a drugs wholesaler funds a drugs deal by a bank robbery. He will illegally import and supply drugs and then illegally launder the proceeds. What sets organised crime apart is the element of co-ordination.

Another hallmark of organised crime is the element of fear, menace and intimidation, particularly in regard to protection money. These criminals terrify and intimidate people in their businesses. They spead fear in communities by their power and the fact that they are armed. That fear and menace renders them a threat to the security of the State and that is the reason we are moving ahead with such radical measures here tonight.

Turning to the type of interim order to be made, we should consider giving the High Court two options; to restrain the use of specified assets or, if assets cannot be specified with sufficient particularity, to restrain the use of all assets within a specified value. We need to specify also the penalties that will be imposed on a person who breaches an interim order.

Under the current wording the person against whom an order is made will have to file an affidavit setting out assets owned or controlled by him or her and the sources and amount of his or her income for the previous ten years. One wonders about the impact of the tax amnesties on these provisions. As Gene Kerrigan stated in theSunday Independent in relation to the tax amnesty: “If the criminals themselves had been asked to design a money laundering system, it is hard to see how they would improve on this one.”

On the issue of evidence on which the application for a restraint order will be based, the proposal in the Bill is that the court will be able to act on the opinion of a Garda superintendent or a Revenue Commissioner if satisfied that the opinion was reasonably informed. It is difficult to see how the court could satisfy itself on this point without the disclosure by the Garda or the Revenue Commissioner of the basis on which the opinion was formed. That, in certain circumstances, might not be desirable, for example, if the opinion was based on the word of an informant.

It would be desirable also to confer powers to investigate bank accounts before the application for an interim order is brought. We should clarify whether the evidence on which the application is based is to be notified to the person against whom the order is made, whether it would be possible to restrict such notification——

The Deputy is picking the Bill apart.

——in order to protect informers and whether the person against whom the order is to be made will have an opportunity to challenge the validity of opinion evidence.

The Deputy is doing precisely what I did, she is picking the Bill apart and yet she criticised me for doing something similar.

I am not picking it apart. I give up on the Minister. It is legitimate on Second Stage to point to measures——

Flaws. That is exactly what I did.

The Minister did not have a positive word to say about the Bill.

The Deputy is upsetting Deputy O'Donoghue, the poor man is distraught.

The Minister has put out the fiction that she wholeheartedly, unequivocally accepted this Bill. That is the spin doctored image given to the media.

I beg the Deputy's pardon. I did precisely what she is doing. The Deputy's legal advisers have told her the Bill is flawed.

Deputy O'Donnell, without interruption.

The Minister is reported in the media at the weekend as saying that she had generously accepted the Private Members' Bill.

Deputy O'Donnell should face up to it and stop pretending.

There will be many changes in the Bill before it goes through the House.

The Deputy accepts that yet she criticised the Minister.

All Bills are changed and enhanced on Committee Stage.

The Deputy should give the Minister a chance.

Let us give the Member in possession a chance to make her contribution. The Chair should not be continually disregarded in this matter. I will not tolerate this.

The Minister is consistently incapable of taking responsibility for the chaos in which she finds herself.

What does the Deputy think I have done?

That is the reason we are here tonight debating Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill which was accepted in haste by the Minister in an effort to convince the public that she is learning from her mistakes and that she is caving in to the Progressive Democrats' agenda on criminal justice reform.

That will be the day.

The Whip of the Minister's party signed every aspect of the motion yesterday. He would have signed anything so that the message would go out that the Government is responding realistically to the public's outrage over its inactivity of crime.

Does the Deputy or her party want to tackle the problem?

There is no doubt that across a wide range of areas our criminal justice system needs reform. That is the substance of the Bill and the Minister did not come into the House to listen to the debate even though she signed her Government's assent to all the provisions. The Opposition has been to the forefront in demanding these changes and keeping pressure on the Government.

On drug trafficking, we were accused tonight of only presenting a criminal justice response to the drug problem. That is not true because in my other role as Health spokesperson for my party, I have consistently hounded the Minister for Health to outline his proposals for real intervention and real therapeutic responses to the problems of drug addiction among young people in particular. I accept that is not a one-sided penny and that there are two sides to this problem.

There are three sides to it.

I am overwhelmed by the Deputy's brilliance.

A criminal justice and a therapeutic response is needed to help drug addicts, but one need not postpone the other. The Government has been paralysed by this dilemma. The parties in Government, particularly the parties of the left, have an obsession. They do not want to take the criminal justice approach because the therapeutic approach dealing with deprivation, poverty and drug addicts as victims must come first. The two approaches must be taken in tandem but one should not postpone the other. That is what has happened. Because of the conflict in Government as to how to deal with drug addiction and the criminality related to drug addiction, there has been paralysis.

There are areas in this country where drugs are an integral part of the lives of children. People are growing up who do not know a life outside heroin addiction. Unless we do someting about this end of the chain, we will continue to have the drug barons with us. Drug barons are in operation because there is a market for heroin and other substances which are abusive of the individual and the society of which they live.

Huge sums of money can be made from the sale of drugs and the drug barons know the authorities in this State do not have the wherewithal to tackle them, to investigate them, to take them to task, to prosecute them, to jail them and keep them in jail. That undermining of the sense of confidence in the criminal justice system is central to this debate. The people who murdered Veronica Guerin believed they were untouchable and they were right. Unless we get our act together they will continue to be untouchable.

Today the Minister accepted some amendments to the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill — one aspect of a curtailment of the absolute right to silence.

There is not an absolute right. The Deputy should be fair about what is in existence.

The Minister put forward her own amendment to curtail the right to silence in relation to——

In a third area. The Deputy should at least know her facts.

——silence maintained by the accused while in custody, but she did not accept another amendment which was twinned with that amendment. Because she only accepted one and not the other, her response was illogical, incoherent and inexplicable. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response, or the response of someone speaking on behalf of the Minister, in regard to this illogicality.

I wish to share my time with Deputy McGahon.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am glad we are having this debate this evening. It is recognised by all Members that we are confronted with a new type of criminal problem which has been developing for some years. The tragic deaths of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin illustrate that the gun has replaced the rule of law in parts of this country. It is time to reclaim the freedom of ordinary citizens and their right to personal safety from the criminal gangs who consider themselves above the law. Our criminal law is grossly inadequate and incapable of coping with the sophisticated violent type of organised crime with which we are now confronted and or bringing to an end the criminal gangs now operating in some of our cities as home grown Mafia.

I have no time for the party political games we see in this House on a regular basis, some of which we saw this evening. I have no interest in political parties which claim to be the sole fonts of wisdom in this area. When in Government, the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats had a less than praiseworthy record in these areas and were extremely short-sighted in the context of medium-term, let alone longterm planning of what reforms were necessary to deal with crime. I have watched with increasing anger and frustration the Government's performance from the politically impotent stage of the Government back benches. I have watched its public relations exercise where Ministers hold press conferences to announce initiatives, only portions of which are implemented. I welcomed the announcement last July that there would be a new united approach by the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners to tackle the drug barons. I was left speechless with anger on Thursday in this House when the Taoiseach told us that approximately two weeks earlier a committee had been formed to seek to implement that proposal. That proposal was again announced this evening in the Government's crime package. I do not want to take away from that package, which I welcome, but there are elements in it that, with any level of insight or knowledge of the extent of the problems with which this country is faced, should have been put into operation a long time ago by the previous Government and should have been implemented by this Government at an earlier stage.

I favour amending our bail laws in circumstances where there is a serious possibility that someone will commit a crime when charged with an offence or where there is a record of people committing crimes when charged with offences. I favour changing our bail laws to allow the courts wider discretion to hold people on remand pending the hearing of their cases. The most effective way to deal with that issue is to speed up the court processes. It can only best by described as asinine for any Minister to constantly talk about the need to extend or reform our bail laws at a time when our prisons cannot cope with retaining people already convicted of crimes. I recall five years ago haranguing the then Fianna Fáil Government from the Opposition benches for the fact that people were being released from prison on a daily basis long before their sentences had been properly served. If we want to reform our bail laws, we must provide the prison places needed as quickly as possible.

I listened with interest to the Minister of State's contribution earlier this evening when she told us about the Government's package, which was again released to the nation in a press conference at 8 o'clock. Some of what is contained in it is repeating previous announcements, while other things are new. I hope when we come to assess the position at the end of July or next October we will see that much of what has been announced has been implemented. It is disappointing that some of the funds to be provided for additional prison places will only come on stream in 1998. I wonder how that will match with the proposal to review our bail laws.

I want to deal with proposals which are not in the Government's programme but which should have been brought forward some time ago and which no-one yet at Government level is considering or intends to bring forward. These are essential elements of any coherent package if our criminal justice system is to properly serve the people and provide them with the protection which they deserve and to which they are entitled. I emphasise that we are dealing with a criminal justice debate and I accept all sorts of other initiatives are required to tackle the crime problem. In a justice debate there are issues which fall within the justice brief which should be addressed, but which are not being addressed.

We need and should have a unified prosecution service, for which the Director of Public Prosecutions, the man at the coalface of prosecuting those charged with serious criminal offences, has been calling for some years. Nothing has happened in this regard. It is long since past the time when the manner in which we prosecute criminal offences in this State reflects the manner in which the British dealt with criminal offences in this State prior to 1922. The office of the DPP was the innovation we introduced, but he has highlighted the inadequacies in the system which need to be addressed.

We need to bring an end to temporary releases. It is undermining the gardaí, the courts and the judges to see people released on our streets within weeks of being sentenced to serve longer sentences than they have served. Sentences should be fully served. The criminals are laughing at the Judiciary and the Garda because they know if they are sentenced, there is little likelihood they will be required to serve more than half of the sentence they have been given. We need what is known as RICO law — an anti-corruption and racketeering measure which reflects the type of legislation that had to be introduced in the United States many years ago to deal with organised crime. Are we researching that? Will we produce this legislation? That is what we need if we are serious about tackling this problem.

We need intensive community policing and surveillance to remove the drug sellers and drug pushers from the streets of Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway. I watched theNine O'Clock News on RTE this evening which showed a film of people selling drugs in Dolphin's Barn. I presume that happened today, but perhaps it was a reply of what we saw on a current affairs programme on RTE a couple of week ago, If the RTE cameras can pick up the drug pushers, why can the gardaí not do so? In Sweden the Government provided intensive community policing which stopped the sale of drugs on the streets. We do not approach this problem in the intensive way required.

We also need to change our approach to events such as raves to which hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of young people go and which are attended on a regular basis by the purveyors of drugs. We have seen young people die from taking ecstasy at rave events. There should be separate licensing procedures which identify rave events. Everytime there is a major rave event there should be undercover gardaí at them and they should be closed down if drugs are on sale. However, that is not being done.

In this House we have irregular and, on occasions, correct preoccupation with the need to change laws and some of what I said tonight emphasised that need, but we must also bring our policing methods into the 21st century. We must realise that radical change is necessary. We must also realise that in fighting the drug barons and organised crime and getting the purveyors of drugs off our streets, the Garda must deploy different methods from those deployed to date. They must learn from the successes of other police forces. In saying that I do not want to take from the Garda's successful drugs seizures, but we are fighting a war and, as in the case of war, if one's tactics are not working, one must change them. Members on all sides of this House have a duty to fight that war effectively and not to play foolish political games.

As a Member of a Government party, it should have been my role presumably to come into this House and simply praise the Government's initiative. I would not be doing my duty to the people or to my constituents if I adopted that approach and simply pretended all is well. All is not well. Some measures were announced this evening, but a great deal more needs to be done.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ring.

The debate provides for the sharing of time.

This debate is taking place in a very hysterical atmosphere. There is hysteria on the streets and a certain amount of it in here. I may have been expected to get up here and tell Members, "I told you so", but I will not do that. I do not wish to see a repressive, knee-jerk reaction. For that reason the Minister is correct in taking her time about introducing meaningful legislation in this area. Unfortunately, the issue has become a political football and we all know what happens in the game in which we are engaged. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that if Fianna Fáil and the poor dears, the Progressive Democrats, had been in power, we would be saying what they said; that is the business of politics. Opportunism when it presents itself is too compelling to turn away from.

We are all in accord on the law and order situation and I regret that the issue is being used as a political football. I do not believe in confrontational politics. On an issue of national importance we should reach a consensus because we all believe this problem has resulted in an explosion of public outrage. For that reason rather than shouting at each other across this Chamber we should reach a consensus on it. Many of the amendments put forward by Deputies O'Donnell, O'Donoghue and Harney are worthwhile and similarly the Minister's approach to the Bill is very responsible. I cannot see why we cannot work this out in an ordered manner.

Since I was elected to this House I have been suggesting that the main problem in society is the breakdown of law and order. It did not happen overnight, it certainly did not happen in the past 20 months during which the Minister, Deputy Owen, has been subjected to stress, personal abuse and vilification in this Chamber, which she did not deserve, by people who should have known the difference. Cancer does not appear over night, it is many years a-growing and the Irish crime problem is many years a-growing. Virtually everybody in this Chamber ignored it, with the honourable exception of Deputy Kenneally who is very welcome to sit with me on the right any time and Deputy McDowell whose forthright views on crime are well known.

All political parties ignored this burgeoning problem. It was there in the eight years that Fianna Fáil and the poor dears were in power when I was told on a daily basis of protection rackets operating in Talbot Street. The IRA terrorised this country for 25 years, burning and looting, robbing banks and shooting anybody that stood in its way. It laundered money all over Ireland, in hotels, pubs and anywhere it could hide it and there were no demands or proposals to seize its assets. I welcome the proposals put forward and I hope all political parties will support the measure that should have been introduced years ago. It does not matter who was in or out of Government. It was not done when the parties opposite were in power. There was complacency in all political parties.

This debate has concentrated on seizing the assets of drug barons. I have no difficulty with that. I would open the Curragh and put them in for life. I would not let them out. The lack of sentencing policies in our courts system is the kernel of the problem in our society. We have a philosophy that a jail must be rehabilitative instead of what it is meant to be — a punitive deterrent to regular and consistant criminals who Deputy O'Donnell believes are beyond reform. A 20-year-old criminal who last year was sentenced for his 21st attack on tourists, whom he specialised in targeting, is beyond redemption and we should accept that. Instead of building community halls in every county we should build jails. In the affluent world in which we live, crime is here to stay. In recent years there has been no shortage of bleeding hearts and kinks in this establishment who poured derision on my theories and in the media when theSunday Independent recently dubbed me “Mr. Law and Order”. I charge the Sunday Independent with introducing the liberal ethos into this country which has undermined the political world and using what in the newspaper trade is commonly called “human interest journalism” to pour scorn on those who serve in public life.

If repressive measures were brought in, which the media are now demanding because of its personal tragedy, the papers would be the first to put the opposite slant on them. It is only interested in sales. I want to point the finger at the management of Independent Newspapers and to ask why it did not take more care in protecting the late Ms Guerin following the shooting at her home. They should have dropped her column to protect her and she might be alive tonight had they treated her with greater concern. She wrote a newsy column which was very successful. Sales and position on the Stock Exchange are what matter in newspapers. When that girl was shot at her home, having been the recipient of threatening calls for many years, in her interests she should have been asked to write a column on something else. Independent Newspapers should examine its position. I believe in deterrents as their absence has brought us to this dreadful pitch. There should be mandatory sentencing, no parole in the case of persistent criminals, particularly those who assault, rob, rape or murder. Prisoners should not have weekend visitors or facilities such as televisions or pool tables. We should remember that prisons were meant to be punitive places. In Alabama, of necessity, they have now reverted to a ball and chain.

No, it has been declared unconstitutional.

In that case there must be many liberals in Alabama.

It is hard to find them.

I hesitate to interrupt Deputy McGahon but I thought he had indicated he was sharing his time.

In that case I will concede to Deputy Ring.

I welcome the Government's announcement in relation to law and order and I congratulate the Minister. Despite having been the subject of much criticism in recent weeks, if the Government had listened to her last year when she wanted to introduce more stringent measures, we might not now be debating this Bill or the necessity might not have arisen for the Government's announced measures. I compliment the Minister on having had her finger on the pulse from the beginning.

A few weeks ago the Fianna Fáil Party celebrated the 70th anniversary of its formation, of which some 50 years had been spent in Government——

——and look at the state of the country.

The best thing the last Government did for the drug barons was the amnesty it announced two years ago. It legalised the drug barons and made them respectable. Since becoming a Member, a public representative of rural constituents, I have been consistent, believing in law and order. I am also of the conviction that for far too long criminals have been treated much too softly, provided with televisions and facilities in prison. Our Army, Navy and Garda should be provided with the necessary resources to tackle the drugs barons. We know who they are, week after week we read about them. I am glad the Government is making these resources available to the agents of this State to take them on.

I thank the Minister for the manner in which she resolved rural crime last year. I have no doubt that, if she receives the support of her colleagues in Government, she will also deal with the drug barons.

With the permission of the House, I should like to share my time with Deputy Michael Ahern.

That is in order.

There appears to be a feeling that traditionally the Fine Gael Party has a monopoly on law and order. While it may have spoken loudest about it, having made it one of the main planks at election time, the Fianna Fáil Party has never been slow to measure up to the threats to this State and its people from whichever direction they emanated. Successive Fianna Fáil Taoisigh have not shied away from the responsibilities. Whether it was Éamonn de Valera, Séan Lemass, Jack Lynch, Charles Haughey or Albert Reynolds, all had a proud record in introducing though, unpopular legislation to meet the needs of the day.

(Interruptions.)

What about Liam Cosgrave?

A couple of years ago when there was a series of murders west of the Shannon, some of which were the most brutal in living memory, we were appalled and outraged at their callousness, viciousness and regularity. When finally the Garda cracked the cases, or at least exposed the background to those appalling occurrences, some people felt relieved that they appeared to be a series of isolated incidents rather than an indication that our society had fallen apart. I and many in my party did not perceive the picture in such a benevolent light believing that, if those killings were not related, they were an indication that all was not well in society.

How many prisons did the Deputy's party build?

While individual cases may have been resolved and people convicted, the rotten underbelly of a deteriorating society had been exposed and we had lost our national innocence forever. There never has been a time in the history of this State when an Opposition spokesperson for Justice had to introduce a number of Private Member's Bills, that task has fallen to my industrious colleague and party spokesperson, Deputy O'Donoghue. It is fortunate that he is as alert, talented and committed as he is for without him, little or no progress would have been made on the overall matter of justice within the lifetime of this Government.

What did Deputy Kenneally do to Deputy O'Donoghue who is blushing?

I congratulate him on such a speedy, timely response to the crisis so loathsomely demonstrated by a continuous series of atrocities culminating in the needless, horrific deaths of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and journalist, Veronica Guerin. Once again I acknowledge the bravery and commitment not only of Detective Garda McCabe who gave his life in the cause of peace, but that of his partner, Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan, who escaped death by little more than a stroke of fortune and who will have to live with the trauma for the rest of his life. I acknowledge the bravery of all members of the Garda Síochána, Defence Forces and other organs of the State who daily place themselves in danger on our behalf.

(Interruptions.)

Where is Charles Haughey now?

He will be careful of his assets, will he not?

I did not interrupt other Members when they were speaking.

The Deputy must be allowed to continue without interruption.

I record my appreciation of the public duties the late courageous journalist, Veronica Guerin discharged on our behalf. In this unprecedented attack on the freedom and independence of the press, in the person of the late Veronica Guerin, those responsible for her death attacked the very heart of democracy. While acknowledging the Minister's wisdom and political pragmatism in accepting this Bill——

What did the Deputy's party do to the State Forensic Laboratory?

Deputy Byrne will have an opportunity of contributing; in the meantime he might contain himself in quietude.

All the parties opposite are good at is constantly interrupting; there is never any substance in anything they say.

Hypocrisy.

——from the manner in which she spoke, it appears she may well not accept this Bill. The public wants swift, decisive action to apprehend those who perpetrated these callous acts, the perpetrators of general criminality in our society, but is unlikely to obtain it from a Government riven with disputes, contrary views and conflicting ideologies. Not for nothing was this Government christened the rainbow Coalition. It is on occasions like these that its deep-seated differences come to the fore. While it is easy to apply political polyfilla to the cracks in economic policy or to compromise on social policy, when it comes to hard choices on the matter of law and order, it is obvious that common ground cannot be found among the Government parties.

Deputy Kenneally should be careful, the Progressive Democrats might not support his party.

Just as a terrorist bomb in Sackville Place saved the neck of the leadership of the Fine Gael Party on the infamous night of the mongrel foxes in 1972, so too has it taken the deaths of two innocent people, two much-missed partners and parents, two key members of different branches of public life, to galvanise the reluctant parties of this Government into action. In the debate on my party's proposal to limit bail I said in this House in May last:

I do not say that we should entirely remove a person's freedom, not even someone who has been charged with serious crime, but where aprime facie case has been established, where there are reasonable grounds and compelling evidence to show that a person may be guilty of a serious crime, then I feel we not only can, but indeed must, reasonably limit that person's freedom to whatever degree is necessary to protect society.

I should remind the Minister that was a full 14 months ago in which we have heard many pious platitudes, empty promises and a package of measures trumpeted with much ceremony in July last which have seen the light of day merely in print.

The Minister had barely made a dent in her chair when she announced that the Government would hold a referendum on the bail laws, but she had not reckoned with the parties of the left and their handlers who imposed on her the necessity for an embarrassing u-turn almost within hours of her announcement. Now, too late for many good people, they have been made to see the error of their ways and have at last had to concede that we have a real crisis on our hands. Maybe they too saw the searing indictment of their ineptitude, misplaced loyalty and procrastination when the criminal record of a drugs mastermind was shown to the nation on television just a couple of weeks ago. The career of Tony Felloni was aided and abetted by the absence of a coherent bail policy, and countless lives have been put at risk by this Government which failed to live up to its duty and implement the course of action which it must have known was inevitable. The Fine Gael spirit might indeed have been willing, but the Labour flesh was weak. The promises were shadows and, as we know, the substance in the shadows is non-existent.

It would be wrong to lay the full blame for the bail debacle at the feet of the Minister, for when she has to face her colleagues in Cabinet, who not only do not share her views but actively discourage her proposals, she is on a loser before she starts the much-vaunted tradition of a law and order Fine Gael is in tatters.

Today we have in front of us a concrete measure to face up to the godfathers of crime in our cities, towns and wherever they are located. At last the people will not have to gaze helplessly at neighbours who did not work a day in their crooked lives, as they polish their yachts, empty the ashtrays of their new BMWs or move to the lush pastures of Kildare, all without benefit of a visible income or, worse, with the assistance of the Department of Social Welfare.

In maintaining any kind of criminal law system, it must be accepted that where people are accused of serious crimes, life for them will not be that of the ordinary citizen. There will have to be curtailments in their freedoms, and society must accept that. A genuine attempt to speed up the work of the courts would help to limit the time for which the life of the accused is disrupted. In the meantime, if he has to suffer a curtailment of his freedom, that is for the greater good and must be accepted.

Likewise, if he has to survive without access to what are suspected to be illgotten gains, whether cash, bonds or buildings, he must suffer that upset in the current climate. Constitutional freedoms are privileges we enjoy in an ordered and orderly society but which we may have to relinquish in the cause of the common good. We have only recently taken back our flag from the IRA. It is now time to recover our Constitution from the criminals in our society.

I am amazed that while we slavishly copy all that is crass, obnoxious and objectionable in American society, we do not capitalise on its successes and achievements. As far back as the 1930s it realised that people like A1 Capone, the very people for whom the term "godfather" was coined, would not be brought to justice through normal methods for the worst crimes they were suspected to have ordered or committed. The authorities adopted the then novel approach of seeking technical, but no less culpable, offences which were relatively easily proved and which carried substantial jail sentences. We must adopt a similar approach, for there is nothing more dear to the criminal, nothing more valued by the gangster than the property or assets he has accumulated.

There has to be a unified approach by all the agencies of this State to our current problems. There has to be a body of public servants who can and will pursue all legal avenues until a valid conviction is gained for one or more of the crimes with which suspected criminals are charged. If that takes special legislation, let us enact it; if it requires special people, let us recruit them; if it requires additional finance, let us provide it. The time for kid gloves is over. The public are asking for, and are entitled to results, and we in this House are the people to whom they are looking.

I referred to the Minister's announcement of a package of measures last July which would, in her own words, "wage an all-out fight against the drugs scourge", which she described at the time as a threat to the fabric of our society. Frankly, the follow through on that much-heralded initiative has been less than laudable and, until the Minister's sleeping partners woke up from their slumbers over the weekend, there was not likely to be any progress on that initiative.

As I read the Minister's press release of 19 July last, I was angered at the poverty of the attempts since to put into effect all that was promised there. Talk of drug strategy teams, the extension of drug tretment centres, substance abuse programmes is all still "pie-in-a-Rain-bow-coloured-sky".

The proposals before us today are realistic and hard-hitting, designed to hit the criminal where it hurts most, in the pocket. This is a measure designed to target assets, not people, but which will effectively curtail the activities of evil men. It will have the effect of stopping the known and convicted criminals from thumbing their noses at society. By that I mean the person in the street who pays his taxes will not see those people who make a career of crime, walking the streets in defiance of any and all authority. At any time when most people are put to the pin of their collars to survive, carrying an unfair burden of tax, it is the last straw to see known criminals defy the law, elude taxes and, perhaps, draw social welfare benefit as well.

The airwaves have been inundated for the last week with presenters reading letters from people who had been asked by the Revenue Commissioners to prove where they got relatively small amounts of money. I have no difficulty with that, if that is the law. However, it must be the law for everyone without exception, derogation, or special consideration. In the words of the Taoiseach, no one can be seen to be above the law; no one can be seen to be untouchable, and no one can have the inside track when it comes to evasion. I just hope he continues to practise that, and that he can get his partners in Government to do likewise.

These are hard-hitting measures, designed to be effective, to achieve a particular goal and to uphold the primacy of the courts and other institutions of the State. I have no doubt we will be accused of chipping away at constitutional rights and of harming our democracy, but more damage was done to our democratic institutions in this House two weeks ago when a Minister railroaded through a transport Bill after it was defeated and in flagrant breach of democratic parliamentary principles.

There is adequate precedent for the acceptance in evidence of the opinion of a chief superintendent that assets are the proceeds of organised criminal activity. The Offences Against the State Acts were brought in originally, and subsequently amended, to combat a very real threat to the existence of this State, and there is little enough evidence of its misuse in the past 60 years.

This measure is designed to counter a threat which is no less real, no less substantial, no less dangerous in its own way, as the threat from the IRA. Let us act now, swiftly and decisively, to restore the confidence of the people in those institutions of State we seek to protect and uphold.

There are adequate safeguards built into the Bill to prevent a miscarriage of justice. The proposals, in the short-term, are for the freezing of assets only, and adequate time and opportunity is given to the person to prove they have been legitimately acquired. If there is an application for their confiscation, the onus of proof is on the applicant and not the respondent.

As Deputy O'Donoghue said in his statement on this Bill, those involved in organised criminal activities have escaped justice and continued to enjoy lavish lifestyles because of the inability of the authorities, within the parameters of existing legislation and legal precedent, to prove their guilt. This will level the playing pitch a fraction. It will tilt the balance from the criminal just a little, and reassure honest people that there is still one law for everybody. Nobody should be seen to be untouchable.

If the law is not adequate to the needs of society, it must be changed and strengthened. We are in crisis and must respond accordingly. I suggested in this House a few weeks ago that we take other decisive steps to deal with another aspect of serious crime detection. I suggested that the time was right to avail of modern technology to solve serious violent crime by the more extensive use of DNA testing, more commonly described as genetic fingerprinting. The public would not only approve of such a measure but would welcome it with open arms.

The people are very angry and it is a righteous anger born of frustration and fear. This is a legitimate attempt to assuage that anger. The people are frightened. That fear is no longer confined to elderly widows who fear night time attack but it is experienced on the streets of our capital in broad daylight. We must bring back respect for the law. If there are those who abuse it seriously and continually we must require them to confirm in the only way we know.

This measure provides for the first time a realistic set of proposals to come to terms with the problems of organised crimes and those who mastermind them. The present situation brings our system of justice into disrepute and we need to reassure the public and take realistic steps to improve it. This is a genuine attempt to face the problem and I commend the Minister for taking our proposals on board. They are long overdue. The public expect them and the citizens who walk our streets have a right to see them enacted.

Over the weekend I thought there was a change in the political scene, but having listened to the Minister this evening it is clear that she has no intention of accepting Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill. It is clear that the Government, through the Minister, accepted this Bill and allowed this debate for purely political purposes and out of political cowardice. This is the height of hypocrisy. It would have been more honest for the Government to stick to its original decision for a meeting on 25 July, but it has lost its nerve and again shown itself to be incapable of making correct and wise decisions under pressure. The Government should resign forthwith.

Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill attempts to deal with organised crime, which has grown and developed over the years. He has put forward far-reaching proposals to tackle organised crime, including the seizing of assets and the restraining of the use of assets. These proposals are necessary to shift the balance of our laws to the detriment of the criminal.

The Bill is not open-ended. It is aimed at organised crime which is defined as any criminal activity organised, undertaken or performed by two or more persons involved in the theft, illegal acquisition and/or the destruction of property valued in excess of £10,000 or the distribution of controlled drugs within the meaning of the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984. We must change our tactics, as Deputy Shatter said earlier, to fight a new type of crime which is destroying our country. This Bill is an attempt to do so. It is not excessive or oppressive but necessary and moderate. The Minister would ignore it at her peril.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Upton.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the broad thrust of this Bill, particularly Fianna Fáil's late acceptance of the need to close all loopholes which allow the State's crime bosses to launder their profits. They are slow learners. We must remember that in 1993 the tax amnesty which they introduced was a charter to launder illegal moneys under the shield of anonymity. I believe it was seized on eagerly by those who are running Dublin's underworld today.

How many?

That is Fianna Fáil's contribution to the legislation of criminal bosses and their establishment as legitimate taxpayers. Before dealing with the specifics of the Bill I would like to make a few points about the current situation.

Few of us will forget where we were last Wednesday when we heard the appalling news that a journalist had been gunned down in our capital city. The news caused us all to halt in our tracks and take stock of where our society is — a society largely moulded by Fianna Fáil in power since the inception of the State — and where it is going. In recent weeks we have witnessed too many violent deaths. In my own constituency Josie Dwyer, a heroin addict and AIDS victim, was summarily murdered by a lynch mob. Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was callously murdered by the IRA in the course of his duties and last Wednesday came the killing of Veronica Guerin.

We do not know who carried out the killing or who ordered it. I would caution both the media and the public against leaping to conclusions. We do know however that ruthless criminals have launched a calculated assault, not only on individuals and society but on fundamental civil liberties and individual freedoms which were hard won and which many of us take for granted. If in seeking to beat the criminals we concede these fundamental liberties the criminals will have won the day.

It is no exaggeration to state that when one buys a house and has to install a burglar alarm, one feels that one's civil liberties have been shattered. When I grew up in a Dublin working class community we could leave the key in the door or the door open day and night with no fear of intruders. Now one cannot buy a car unless it has a burglar alarm. My civil liberties have been trampled on. I do not like the notion of having to install alarms. Sadly, under the leadership of the Fianna Fáil Party, Irish society has been brought to the day when we must debate this serious onslaught on the democratic process and the assault on the Garda Síochána and investigative journalists. It is surely clear by now that the band-aid system of legislative change, beloved of successive Governments, has served this country ill.

There has been much talk in recent days of the so-called rights of criminals. What people are referring to, of course, are not simply the rights of criminals but the rights of accused persons. There is a significant difference between criminals and accused persons. It has been said already that at the heart of our criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence. It is a presumption which, while often infuriating for the general public, the legal profession and politicians, helps to guard against the miscarriages of justice which are commonplace in other jurisdictions. Over the weekend there were detailed reports in the media about five alleged crime bosses. These reports were written and published because of an understandable desire to lift the veil of secrecy which has protected organised crime bosses for too long. However, I fear genuinely that if these individuals are ever brought to court a mistrial may be declared because of prior media coverage.

There was already one such case in England.

That is one of the very real dangers we face as we try to come to terms with the present problem. It would be a sad day if these criminals engaged the best legal minds — including possibly the honourable Member of the House here tonight who will be the first to jump to their defence, as would any barrister engaged to defend them — to declare that the media had found them guilty and subsequently walk free from the courts because of that media exposure.

Rather than adopting a scatter-gun approach which will target the innocent and the guilty, the petty criminal and the major gangster, the drug baron and the drug victim, we need to ensure that our response is targeted and specifically effective to deal with the real rather than perceived problems confronting us. The first prerequisite for such an approach is the establishment of a criminological statistics bureau to provide us with comprehensive data.

At present we do not have reliable and up-to-date statistics on the types of crimes committed by persons on bail, the number of persons who previously committed crimes while on bail, recidivism rates for different types of crime or patterns of juvenile offending. We are statistically ignorant of many facts which should be before us. Unless we gather such data and ensure it is disseminated to those charged with formulating and implementing legal policy we may well find that our response by-passes the problem and that we will be sitting here ten years from now debating the same concerns.

We also need to ensure that the worthwhile proposals in the Government programme, ranging from a thorough review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme to the establishment of a prisons board and the abolition of imprisonment for civil debt and the non-payment of fines, are brought forward and implemented. It is outrageous that an itinerant could be sentenced to five years for robbing a bale of briquettes while criminals who have inflicted bodily harm are being released. It is outrageous that because two neighbours row with each other on Bride Street in my constituency one of them spends five days in jail. That use of scarce prison space must be confronted.

While we are operating largely in an atmosphere of ignorance there are some things which we do not know. We know that organised crime is thriving and that it cannot be addressed using the same methods with which we tackle, for example, petty and opportunistic crime. We know that those at the top of the criminal gangs are rarely involved in executing criminal operations. Their role is restricted to planning and financing. Above all their role is centred on gathering the profits. Organised crime generates large amounts of cash and stolen property that needs to be laundered. This is where organised crime is most vulnerable. The conventional criminal justice system is simply not equipped to bring the so-called crime bosses to justice since they can rarely be directly linked with the execution of a crime. They can, however, be linked with the enormous profits generated by their crimes. Targeting their financial resources demands a multi-pronged approach, highly intensive policing and the use of sophisticated intelligence by infiltrating their ranks and converting former associates into informers.

Finance for such a programme should be made readily available. Such an approach must also include highly sophisticated electronic surveillance methods. We must ensure that the technical resources of those fighting crime match and exceed the resources of those committing crime. Organised crime must be rendered unprofitable. That will only be done if the illegal wealth is pursued with the same vigour that the Revenue Commissioners display when pursuing PAYE workers and those with small businesses. The proposed profit busting squad should have sufficient financial, technical resources and personnel to construct a flawless paper trail of evidence tracing illegal wealth to its criminal source.

Territorial jealousies which sadly periodically display themselves are unacceptable, such as Customs and Excise officials and the Garda Síochána fighting about the value of "crack" seized at Shannon Airport. The Garda Síochána tried to rubbish the Revenue Commissioners' estimate of £800,000 by suggesting the seizure was worth a miserable £80,000. That type of sniping between two State agencies has to stop and I have every faith that the Minister will guarantee that bitter bickering between agencies of the State will cease. Co-operation between State agencies such as the Garda and Revenue Commissioners must be put on a statutory basis. I welcome recent assurances from the Government in this regard.

As well as establishing a profit busting squad, existing measures such as those in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act need to be ruthlessly implemented. The measures proposed in this Bill, while they obviously need to be scrutinised, would complement the existing measures and will provide a valuable weapon in the fight against organised crime.

Organised crime defends itself through a calculated vicious policy of intimidation. The ultimate form of intimidation is assassination or the threat of assassination, the greatest threat to our social and political stability. During the past two years there have been 12 unsolved contract and inter-gang killings in Dublin. The lack of detection in this regard is a cause for great concern. Contrary to the popular myth most of these hitmen are not slithering through loopholes in our criminal justice system because there are no loopholes in regard to murder. They are quite simply escaping because they are known only among the criminal fraternity and to the rest of us they are as anonymous and insidious as a deadly virus infecting the body of society. The only way to deal with these hitmen is through effective, efficient and relentless policing which relies on high quality intelligence. Once potential assassins are identified, the gathering of necessary evidence through sophisticated surveillance begins. With specific regard to the Bill, it seems perfectly reasonable that an individual who with good cause is suspected of criminal activity should have their assets frozen until they can prove they have been acquired legally.

There may be constitutional concerns about the provisions of the Bill in regard to the freezing of assets. These may be addressed by the amendment, reportedly suggested by the constitutional review group in regard to property rights. When the question of bail is put to the people in a referendum in November I appeal to the Minister to put another question on the constitutional rights to private property. I do not want to come into this House at some later stage and discover that the biggest crime bosses who have had their assets frozen by the State appealing their cases to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court finding in their favour on the grounds of constitutionality. We cannot afford to allow that to happen and I appeal to the Minister to consult with the legal authorities in her Department to make sure that if we are to seize assets we have the constitutional right to do so. If it requires a constitutional change to do that, I would be delighted to be out canvassing wholeheartedly on behalf of the right of the citizens to put criminals once and for all behind bars and out of business.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased with the Government's decision not to oppose this Bill. I welcome its introduction and compliment Deputy O'Donoghue on bringing it before the House. The murder witnessed last week has galvanised the nation into action. We have been facing the threat of drug barons and drug trafficking for years and those of us who represent and live in Dublin constituencies are more than familiar with the problem. In working class areas it dominates the agendas of community groups and residents' associations. However, it took the murder of a crusading journalist to focus the public's mind on the issue in a way that countless other deaths in working class Dublin has not been able to do. The speedy reaction to the crisis is understandable, and very desirable.

I sound a note of caution. I have no difficulty with the provisions of the Bill, but it is essential that they be within the terms of the Constitution. The public would not thank us in the event of this Bill being passed by the Oireachtas and being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. On this evening's television news, inner city community leaders who are directly involved in the fight against drugs while welcoming the measures announced sounded a note of concern at the extent of them and their capacity to fully deal with the problem. I share that concern, even if it may not be entirely popular to say so.

My party's document on drugs which was launched this afternoon took a wider view of the problem as well as the law and order aspect, which is essential. It is crucial that tackling the supply of drugs is complemented by a policy which deals with reduction in the demand for drugs. As long as there is a demand for drugs I have no doubt that there will be gougers prepared to fill that demand.

The Progressive Democrats, as usual, have been high on morality and long on blame and accusations. To some extent they have a point in that we share a certain responsibility for this problem. However, it goes much wider than politicians. Politicians are one aspect of Irish life, but many other more important people have simply reneged on their responsibility in this matter. The Progressive Democrats have been long on law and order but in the past week or so they have not had very much to say and they have not been proposing effective action to deal with the drugs crisis in inner city Dublin. That aspect of their policy is totally deficient.

Deputy McDowell abandoned his constituency in the south inner city when the boundaries were redrawn.

There is a great frustration out there and it is essential that action is taken that is seen to have an effect in the short-term. Some of the corporation estates of Dublin are crying out for management reform and change and, as Deputy McGahon said earlier, the breakdown of law and order in society took place quite some time ago. The culture of crime has been allowed to grow and develop. This needs to be counterbalanced by an emphasis on obligations and duties and, above all, the need for fraternity.

It is important that we implement the law and order package outlined by the Minister earlier today and elements of this Bill which the Government is accepting. It is clear that in recent years organised crime and the methods and systems it uses have outstripped the capability of the State to respond. What we have to do now is get ahead of the game.

With regard to witness protection, when Veronica Guerin's death was reported it was said the woman who had witnessed what had happened was terrified and in hiding. This is extraordinary. The approach to witness protection will have to change. Will the Minister examine the possibility of cross-examination by video link and how we can move forward in this area. This is an extremely important aspect which will require more attention as we take on the issue of organised crime.

While the law and order package is extremely important, if we want to tackle the drugs problem comprehensively we will need the same sense of urgency in putting education and health services in place. There are 40 drug addicts attending the clinic in Baggot Street and a waiting list of well over 100. Three local community treatment centres are needed in Dublin south-east but it is extremely difficult to establish them because of resistance from local communities. While this is understandable we will have to deal with this problem. There is a need for more GPs to run methadone maintenance programmes. This cannot be done with 20 GPs in one or two areas of Dublin. Programmes will have to be developed throughout the country.

Responsibility for tackling the problem extends over a wide area. It is not about any one approach but a combination of approaches. If we focus on one approach, we will not get it right or deal with the problems of drugs and crime which are intimately linked. We will only be able to break the cycle by introducing a comprehensive package of measures covering all these areas.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Woods.

I am sure that is agreed.

I welcome the Government's announcement that it accepts the Bill in principle and commend my colleague, Deputy John O'Donoghue, on bringing it forward. I read the Minister's speech with growing incredulity. It seems the substance of what she said is that she does not accept it, that she will introduce something entirely different.

The Deputy should read the first paragraph again.

I have marked some of the objections she advanced to it in its present form some of which are interesting to say the least. We have been told that the Law Reform Commission does not agree with the system proposed. This is supported by a selective quotation from one of its reports. Apart from the fact that it does not have a monopoly of wisdom, did the Taoiseach not rubbish it in the House recently as a body to which Governments refer matters as a device when they want to delay them? Is that not what Fianna Fáil was accused of on the bail issue?

The Minister accused Deputy O'Donoghue of being arrogant in his certitude that this legislation is constitutional. I do not think he was.

He made the reasonable point that in the Clancy case in 1985 a provision along similar lines but infinitely more draconian was accepted in the clearest possible terms by the courts as being constitutional and an acceptable delimination of the right to private property in the public interest. Article 43 of the Constitution specifically allows the right to private property to be delimited in the public interest.

There is a definition of "organised crime" in the definitions section. The long title, however, refers to organised criminal activity. If I understood her correctly, the Minister advanced this as a point of opposition to the legislation. Does she expect us to take that seriously?

We have to be exact. I thought the Deputy was supposed to be a barrister.

The Minister told us that perhaps the Bill is limited. On Friday we were told it was not necessary and today that it does not go far enough. Which line do we accept?

We have been told the Bill does not cover property transferred out of the State. I have not studied it closely enough to comment accurately and the Minister may have a point but, if so, this can be rectified by a five word amendment on Committee Stage which should be taken this week.

The Minister said the word "freeze" is not defined in the Bill and is a colloquialism which has no place in statute law. Section 3 (1) states that property is frozen "where an order is made restraining that person or any other person notified of the making of the order from disposing or otherwise transferring the property or diminishing the value of any specified assets for a period of 21 days." There is no need to define the meaning of a term the meaning of which is clear in the legislation.

It is not enough.

The same objection was advanced by the Minister in respect of the phrase "true owner" in section 7 (1). The meaning of this term is clear on the face of the legislation which states that "a person is not the true owner of assets if those assets are the proceeds of organised criminal activity or assets acquired directly or indirectly from the proceeds of organised criminal activity". It seems she has been sent in by the Department of Justice or her left wing colleagues in Government to act as a political wood-pecker to nit-pick holes in the legislation. That is the reality.

The Deputy will never be Minister with that kind of analysis.

These objections are shoddy excuses for inaction. The Minister made the extraordinary statement that we should ensure legislation drafted for us has more substance. We would not be forced to ask people in the Law Library and elsewhere to help us draft legislation if the Minister did her job. It is her job to draft legislation. She has all the resources of the Department at her command.

The Minister referred to the 1994 legislation. As I was acting in a junior capacity when it was introduced, I will refer to it briefly. That legislation allows assets which represent the proceeds of either general crime or drug trafficking to be confiscated in certain circumstances after a conviction. It also contains a limited provision which allows the DPP to seek the right to freeze assets which represent the proceeds of crime in anticipation of criminal proceedings which have to ensure within a short period.

It was introduced in good faith and regarded at the time as radical and innovative. We honestly thought it would have certain consequences, but in practice it has proved disappointing. It is clear that a more radical and new approach is needed.

This Bill is being debated against a grim backdrop. It is unspeakably tragic that it has taken two high profile murders in recent weeks to galvanise the Government into taking action. The question is, will action follow. From that point of view the Minister's speech has an ominous ring to it as has the press conference with which Deputy Shatter dealt adequately. There is no need to repeat what he said.

There is a danger as time passes and the sense of outrage diminishes that the civil libertarians on the left who once supported, espoused and defended the regimes of Stalin, Hô Chi Minh and Ceausescu will rediscover their so-called principles and continue to shirk their responsibilities taking refuge behind the usual bland and empty slogans. If the experience of the past 18 months has taught us anything it is that promises from the rainbow Coalition to tackle crime head on should come with a health warning attached. I warn the Minister and the Government that there better be no back sliding on this occasion. The tolerance of the public is exhausted, the Rubicon has been crossed and the vaudeville which has passed for criminal justice policy for the past 18 months must come to an end now.

What about the previous ten years?

The Deputy has political amnesia.

Unbelievably, fears are still being expressed that the decision to proceed with this legislation and the other measures proposed is a knee-jerk reaction, an instant reaction to an immediate crisis, which will lead to a sort of semi-totalitarian regime and bad law. I want to dispel that illusion. The problems with which we are dealing tonight are not new — they have been around for several years——

Why did the Deputy's party not deal with them?

——and constructive suggestions have been advanced, mainly by Members on this side of the House but also by independent commentators outside the House who have no axe to grind. These proposals have been stead-fastly and resolutely rejected by the Government on every occasion they have been put forward, yet these are the same proposals the Government is proposing as part of its action plan.

The legislation is not a knee-jerk reaction and it will not interfere to any significant extent with civil liberties. Thankfully we have not yet reached the stage — and we never will — where the substantial curtailment of civil liberties is necessary. The proposals in the Bill are designed to prevent the leaders of organised crime from using their illgotten gains to interfere with the liberties of others, including the most fundamental liberty of all, the right to life. No one wants to live in a totalitarian state but neither should anyone be expected to live in a state where life has been cheapened and devalued to the extent that, to coin a phrase, it is not worth a penny candle.

The Bill is specifically geared to deal with organised crime and the pocket emperors who control it. The growth in organised crime and the lifestyles of the tsars of organised crime have contributed significantly to the perception of a criminal justice system in terminal crisis. These people live like feudal barons and openly cock a snook at the law and the law abiding. Its leaders, who fortunately are few in number, have been given innocently sounding names which apparently have been taken from a "Batman" comic. Behind these cuddly pseudonyms are the most callous, odious and evil people imaginable. They control their areas with a vice-like grip, fear is their weapon and anyone who crosses them will attract immediate and terrible retribution without any possibility of appeal. Generally these people originated in the ghettos and their new and lavish lifestyles are fuelled by a generation of addicts. Despite repeated declarations of war by Governments, the power, wealth and arrogance of the overlords of organised crime increase on a daily basis. The Bill is directed at these people and it will make a difference.

As the overlords of organised crime are comparatively few in number, the provisions of the Bill will not be widely used and the law abiding will have nothing to fear from them. Surely it is blindingly obvious that if the State is given the right to freeze the assets of these individuals their capacity to continue to operate effectively will be severely curtailed. Surely it is also blindingly obvious that this is precisely what society wants and desires.

I am extremely disappointed that the Minister persists in her refusal to take Committee Stage of the Bill this week and insists on pushing it forward until 25 July. She will be aware that similar legislation specifically directed at the assets of paramilitaries was introduced in 1985 — it was published one day, debated and passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas the next day and signed by the President the day after. Why is this legislation different? The leaders of organised crime present no less a serious threat to the State than the paramilitaries did in 1985. What is happening is that these criminals are being given one month's notice to take evasive action with the assistance of the best legal brains their limitless resources can purchase. Where is the logic in this and can anyone begin to explain it? The Minister has certainly not explained it.

The notion that assets can be frozen, or that they can be frozen without anybody being convicted, is not new. Such legislation has been in operation in the United States for more than a decade. That country also has a written constitution which contains express protection for civil liberties and robust private property protection rights. The Minister should know that this legislation commenced in 1984 with the comprehensive Crime Control Act, 1984, and was subsequently amended, with the result that the United States now has legislation which allows for the forfeiture of assets which are suspected of being the proceeds of crime, even when a prosecution never ultimately takes place. Recent statistics show that in less than 50 per cent of the cases where assets were seized, subject to forfeiture and sold, no prosecutions took place. The United States, which has a written constitution and which protects civil liberties in express terms without any caveats such as those built in by us and protects the right to private property much more aggressively, has infinitely more draconian legislation on the seizure and forfeiture of assets and this has consistently withstood constitutional challenge. The director of the forfeiture office of the United State's Department of Justice was recently quoted as describing the asset seizure legislation in the United States as, "the most valuable and powerful we have against organised crime".

This legislation is a good start in tackling the overlords of organised crime and the Minister should accept it substantially as it is. However, it must also be accompanied by other legal changes which the Government has resolutely refused to implement. The law must be changed not to look politically respectable or to present a cosmetic change or an illusion to the public that at last the penny has dropped with the Government, but rather to end the phenomenon of untouchability in this society. This is what the public craves and it is the least it is entitled to expect.

I congratulate the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Justice, Deputy O'Donoghue, for introducing this Bill. He has been working on it for some time and it is appropriate that it should be introduced. Members of the committees of the House have been calling for this legislation for some time and it is unfortunate that the points made by them have not been heeded by the Government. I do not want to be critical tonight as this issue is above party politics and the people want us to attack it as a Legislature. However, if the Government listened to the points made at committees it would have a better understanding of what is happening on the ground and of the action which needs to be taken.

The legislation is important in two respects. First, it gets to the heart of the matter by aiming to seize the assets of these criminals and to tackle them in a way they have never been tackled. I am aware that there have been other Bills in this area — some years ago I proposed a draft Bill — but this Bill goes the route which needs to be followed at this time. Second, the legislation is important to the families, relatives and friends of Veronica Guerin, Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and others. People regard us all as politicians and they do not understand the difference between the executive role of the Government and the role of this House. This is an occasion when the House must be seen to stand together in agreeing the measures proposed in the Bill.

The one problem I have with the legislation is that the Government is proposing too long a gap between Second Stage and the remaining stages. I appeal to the Minister and the Government to shorten that gap and to take the remaining stages as quickly as possible so that the legislation can be enforced. Given that it has all-party support, we must have the courage to take these measures and to do so without delay.

I know for a fact that the assets are being shifted. At long last the criminals know that because of this legislation we are catching up with them. I suggest, even at this stage, that the Garda track down immediately and demand an account from every estate agent who is selling property above a value of £200,000 or £250,000. We have previously told the Government what is happening and how bad the situation is but the matter was put on the long finger. It is important to crack down immediately and at least use the existing powers to check up on what is happening.

People are making changes now because they know Dáil Éireann is on the move, that it is out to get them and that it will get them. The actions proposed will be effective. This must also be associated with action at Executive level. I am disappointed the Taoiseach did not come into the House today as his authority, power and direction are needed to make these measures work. The Minister has made various efforts and has been up against difficulties. She can command her own Department but only to the extent she is allowed by the Government. The person who commands the Government and the executive action is the Taoiseach. He must involve himself and follow through on all the necessary backup that should go with this legislation. We have had the PR, the proposals by the Labour Party and the Government's proposals this evening and they must all be acted on in concert. The only person who can ensure that happens is the Taoiseach. I appeal to him to follow through on what his Minister for Justice is doing in accepting this legislation and to act immediately, urgently and decisively. I assure the Minister those actions will be effective.

I wish to share my time with Deputies McCormack and Broughan.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

I wish this was not a party political issue as it merits something much more serious. With all due respect, when Deputy Woods said "Dáil Éireann is on the move" I cringed because I do not believe that is true. I welcome the Government's measures announced this evening and the statement by the Minister but I do not think it is sufficient. I do not believe one can defeat these people by conventional methods. They have had the first run and have a grip on the country, in Dublin city in particular, which will not be loosened by conventional methods. These people constitute a Mafia, comparable with their counterparts in Italy, as they have been operating over the last 40 years and the type of criminal justice system in operation here will not defeat them. The liberal agenda introduced over the past 20 years has been absolutely disastrous. It has taken away the powers of the Garda Síochána, the powers of the Judiciary and we as legislators are literally powerless. We all know Members are merely voting fodder.

We must assert ourselves and take back the running of the country from the undesirable elements who can go out and kill at will. We have had 12 unsolved murders in the past two years, all of which were carried out by professional hit men, and the savage murder of Veronica Guerin last week which brought about this sense of urgency which people feel will lead to a solution to the problem. I do not believe that. The crime problem has gone too far.

Deputies McGahon, Ring and I were rubbished in the House when we told the truth. If I was perverse enough to tell some aspiring politician how he or she should succeed and be guaranteed a lifetime in this Assembly I would say: do not tell the truth, tell lies; be politically correct, never address the problem but talk around it; give into every pressure group and talk a lot of claptrap and gobbledegook. That is the unfortunate fact of the matter. One gets the distinct impression that people with initiative and backbone are not wanted in politics. They are like lepers.

I am pleased the bail laws will be reformed as a result of a referendum as reform is badly needed. The proposal to limit the right to silence should not be confined to dealing with drug traffickers but should be mandatory for every type of criminal. Given that we have been much too liberal we have to take draconian measures. I would not be shy to support a move to suspend the Constitution and bring in emergency powers whereby the Garda Síochána and the law enforcement agencies in general would have the power to immediately intern or imprison people whom they suspect of serious crime.

I do not see any need for the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions because it is only another stalling mechanism where criminals are concerned. If they commit a murder tonight they will be detained for questioning for a few hours, released in the morning and the file sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That type of remote control system of justice is not sufficient to defeat the criminals. Let there be an end to it as soon as possible.

I said here in February that the crime problem had got out of control and that the 10,000 members of the Army at our disposal should be brought in to help the Garda Síochána. It was reported but I did not hear anybody comment on it. It is as if we would rather pretend there was not a problem and that it went away. I am surprised the IRA has not tried to get Brownie points from the public. It is the only group who has the arms and trained personnel and the killers in their midst who could eliminate the godfathers of crime. I am surprised it has not done something like this, maybe it will. I am not advocating it should but there is a possibility that we will have a very bloody war unless we take action. It is a daunting task for the Minister and the Government but orthodox methods — conventional methods — will not succeed. I see people being intimidated left, right and centre but people will not admit it. Even politicians are intimidated. People are afraid to speak their mind. I am aware that gardaí are being intimidated. The question is whether the Judiciary is being intimidated. We are aware that social welfare officers and Revenue Commission officials are being intimidated. Intimidation is rife. We will not have law and order, democracy or freedom of speech while intimidation takes place under our noses. We need courageous people to tackle it. We must take action. The law should not apply only to law abiding citizens, which is currently the case. It should apply to the criminals, to what I call the Mafia. Those people have no ideals. Murder and power is their only objective.

I want the Minister to adopt a hands on approach. Solving murders and serious crime should not be an operational matter merely for the Garda. The day must come when the politicians will have to decide what to do. Far too much power is seconded at present. We must adopt a direct and solid approach and send out a clear message. If that means suspending the Constitution and introducing emergency powers, then so be it.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate. I will support any measure the Government introduces to restore law and order. I thank Deputy O'Donoghue for introducing the Bill and I will thank Members from any side who support the Minister in her efforts to restore a sense of normality to the lives of our citizens.

The rancour in the House this evening is regrettable. The tensions displayed are unnecessary. We all know we must work together to restore a state or normality to the country. The public want us to do that. Let us work together to enact the necessary legislation. I welcome the proposal to hold a referendum on the bail laws in November. We should support the Garda in its efforts to bring criminals to justice. Politicians, parents, the Garda, the church and the media have a part to play in bringing back a sense of normality to the country.

Before coming into the House tonight a constituent telephoned me to say how justice has affected him. Last year he rented a house, at a modest rent of £50 per week, to a person employed by the State. After the first week the man did not pay any rent and after ten weeks my constituent told him he would have to get out if he did not pay the rent. The man left the house and, through Threshold, took action against the owner. Even though the case was thrown out of court, costs were granted against the owner and he received a Bill for £2,100. Members of the Garda have called to his house three or four times in the past week. He will be arrested and put in jail on Monday if the money is not paid. Is that the way law and order should operate? Our justice system must be examined thoroughly. We should work collectively to do what the public want, to bring back a sense of normality to the country.

I support the Bill and commend Deputy O'Donoghue on his proposal to give extensive powers to Garda chief superintendents and the Revenue Commissioners. This is crucial if we are to deal with the vicious godfathers of illegal drugs who have treated the State with impunity and reduced many areas of my native city to a sense of helplessness and fear. I commend the general approach adopted by Deputy Bertie Ahern and Harney to stamp out the terrible evil which endangers our democracy. However, last year when I pursued the question of the powers that should be extended to the Revenue Commissioners, I was surprised at Deputy Ahern's bitter opposition to section 153 of the Finance Act, 1995. Fianna Fáil's ambivalence to tracking down ill-gotten gains and income that cannot be explained was surprising.

Deputy Michael McDowell dubbed section 153 as a snitcher's charter — whatever that is supposed to mean — when the Minister, Deputy Quinn, was simply trying to create the basic conditions which would have enabled us to do what Deputy O'Donoghue called for tonight, confiscate the gains these outrageous criminals have taken from, in most cases, the vulnerable in society.

I felt a sense of desperate loss and intense anger when I heard of the recent deaths of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the journalist, Veronica Guerin. Veronica interviewed me on a couple of occasions about the general crime problem in Dublin. She lived not far from my home. The people of Artane are especially outraged at the dastardly murder of such a noble, brave and fearless journalist. It is with great frustration that I speak on the matter. I have spoken on the subject of crime six or eight times since my election to the Dáil. Approximately a year ago I spoke here following an outrageous gun attack on a senior police officer's house in my constituency. It is appalling that we have had to wait for these recent tragedies to create the political will to attack the core of the problem.

We have witnessed a relentless slip into a hell of drug-fuelled crime, with massive harassment, intimidation, the open sale of drugs and flouting of the law, particularly in the most vulnerable and deprived areas of the city. Like many others I noted the concerns expressed in the editorial inThe Irish Times this morning. Where were the people from The Irish Times during the past four or five years when night after night my constituents experienced relentless pain and suffering at the hands of criminals, whom I hope we have in our sights tonight?

Our key failure has been a lack of political will and determination to co-ordinate State agencies to focus on the godfathers of illegal drugs and crime. There is a lack of Garda resources, which I have often noted in my constituency. I welcome the Minister's announcement of a significant increase in the strength of the Garda, many of whom I hope will be stationed on the northside of Dublin. Community policing has been a successful preventative measure and should be extended. There has also been a lack of political will to deal with the problems in our prison system. I welcome the measures announced tonight by the Minister. I look forward to her increasing the number of prison places and to the opening of the drug free unit in Mountjoy.

It is open, Deputy.

It is open and I look forward to its further development. At long last the Minister has tried to grapple with the problems of our court administration which is still somewhere in the mid-18th century. Why do the courts close down for four months a year? Even Deputies, who have often been criticised now work a full 11 month year in Committees and in the Dáil. Why should judges not do the same?

We have shown a remarkable unwillingness to deal with the terrible lack of resources in youth facilities and training, particularly in urban estates. I welcome the Minister's announcement about the youth diversion programmes with the Garda.

I noticed on Sunday, listening to a repeat broadcast of an interview with Veronica Guerin, that while she would have approved all the measures we now propose she said we needed to change focus and transfer resources to vulnerable areas. The record shows that for years the most vulnerable parts of Dublin have been most deprived. They have not received their fair share of national resources.

Our other major failure has been to co-ordinate State agencies in directly taking on the crime godfathers. That is why I applaud my colleague Deputy Shortall and my other colleagues in the Labour group who produced a report today on the drugs menace and organised crime. They advocated the establishment of an organised crime unit and a national drugs enforcement agency, which we have needed for several years. I look forward to all our resources being focused on this area.

I welcome the comments in that report about education and treatment, and particularly on estate management which I hope will have an airing at the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs later this week. I strongly support the measures that will be taken on the bail laws. I welcome the Minister's announcement on the referendum in November. I also welcome her determination to do something about the right to silence in drug trafficking cases and the Opposition proposal for a witness protection programme.

I hope we at long last have the political will and are prepared to co-ordinate resources. Enough is enough and we want to see action.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Wallace and Gregory. There is an unbelievable sense of shock at the murders of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin. Ordinary people are determined that those atrocities will prove to be the high water mark of the crime wave that has swept the country. I welcome the decision of the Government to implement a crime package at the prompting of Deputy O'Donoghue. We must be clear, however, that what is proposed is only a tentative first step.

More prison places, more gardaí and a co-ordinated response from the Revenue Commissioners, Customs and Garda Síochána have been desperately required for some time. It is a tragedy that these recent murders had to be the catalyst for action.

We must not forget that Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin were not the first victims. The country was horrified as elderly people were terrorised, beaten and murdered in their homes in isolated rural area. The next wave of terror consisted of the gangland hits in Dublin. It is a measure of the extent to which our society has been degraded by crime that many people felt these gangland hits were only the just deserts of thugs.

The murder of Veronica Guerin was proof, if proof was needed, of the extreme danger to all if the liberty or rights of one of us is taken away. It is now clear this epidemic is not confined to Dublin's inner city or to the people of a certain social class. A great deal of the complacency to date was based on the premise that it was. As horrifically evidenced by the series of atrocities on elderly people in rural areas this crime wave has spread not only from one part of Dublin to another but into rural areas as well. Representing Wexford, I am particularly aware of the problem of crime. Wexford has the unfortunate distinction of having had the biggest rise in crime of any rural area. Some of this is undoubtedly attributable to our proximity to Dublin but a great deal of our crime is home grown and is as likely to be fuelled by drugs here as it is anywhere else.

The effect of crime goes far beyond the actual crime. Fear is engendered in the victim and his family. People's quality of life is seriously affected in many ways for a long time. Society as a whole loses its sense of openness and friendliness. The image of rural Ireland as a place where the door is left on the latch is now entirely out of date. Within ten years or less the society of the open door and the unquestioning welcome has been extinguished. What we all took as being normal all our lives we have now let slip from our grasp forever. When Deputy Bertie Ahern said the political challenge is to win the streets back for the people, he had it right. We also need to win back the boreens and laneways of rural Ireland.

In my constituency of Wexford it is common knowledge there are two so called drug barons. These people openly live far beyond their visible means and gardaí are virtually powerless to touch them. By now this is a familiar story which has been dealt with exhaustively in the media. I mention these people only to point out that this horrible phenomenon is not confined to Dublin. Drug barons are living off the fat of the land in many rural areas. Inevitably, it follows there are also drug users and addicts with all the misery and crime that follows from this litany of abuse.

There is much more I could and should say. It is indicative of the problem we face that so many people wish to speak but do not have the opportunity to do so.

While the level and nature of crime in society is now alarming, there is one aspect which is particularly sinister. This relates to the increasing evidence that widespread organised crime is now a fact of life. It is clear that major crimes, such as bank robberies, require the co-operation of a number of criminals. The overall supply and distribution of illegal drugs also depends on a high level of organisation.

When one considers the direct and indirect negative consequences on society of the illicit drug trade, it is clear that a comprehensive approach is required from the State to tackle organised crime as a matter of urgency. While each and every possible strategy must be used to attack organised crime, it is extremely important to keep in mind that most crime is carried out with the clear purpose of illegally accumulating wealth. Consequently, one of the most effective ways of taking on organised crime is to attempt to identify the destination of illicit resources and to remove them from criminals.

The Bill is a significant step in the right direction. Its early implementation has the potential to strike a major blow at the heart of organised crime. It will have at least two major effects. The wealthy criminal who has flouted the law to date will be put under serious pressure for the first time. He or she will no longer be secure in the knowledge that no direct line of evidence exists to tie assets to specific criminal acts. The requirement to clearly identify the source of their wealth will present them with an extremely unwelcome challenge. Ultimately, they will be likely to lose the greater part of such assets. Furthermore, they will have little time or opportunity to plan for new crime if sufficient pressure is brought to bear on them regarding justifying current asset levels.

I urge that renewed efforts be made by each and every one of us to remove the evil of serious crime from society. The task ahead is formidable and will require much patience, courage and determination. However, it cannot be stressed enough that the battle must first of all be taken on with the full resources of the State and, subsequently, it must be pursued with vigour and determination. At this stage we simply cannot afford to lose any more time before uniting to play a key role in furthering the battle against crime.

I thank my colleagues for sharing a few minutes of their time with me. I listened earlier to the Minister with as much attention as I could in the context of the exchange between her and Deputy O'Donoghue, but I am still not clear if the Minister's view is that the objective of the Bill can be achieved on Committee Stage. She accepts the principle of the Bill although she detailed many flaws in it——

I am hopeful that can be done.

I welcome that because the legislation is essential. However, existing powers available to the Revenue Commissioners could be utilised against drug barons, but there is no evidence to suggest they have been. The same will happen with this legislation if there is no effective agency to make use of the powers and target the assets of drug dealers. That is why for some considerable time I have pressed that a special agency be set up consisting of the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and social welfare officials, people with expertise, that whatever powers it requires be given to it and that the Garda gives it a list of the main suspected drug dealers. If those people were convicted there would not be a problem in targeting their assets. They are suspects, but they are well known to the Garda. Such an agency must be set up in tandem with the introduction of new legislation; one will not be successful without the other.

In terms of law enforcement, gardaí should be redeployed in sufficient numbers to deal with drug supply and drug dealing. I am aware this is not the Minister's responsibility but that of the Garda Commissioner and I lay much blame with the current Garda Commissioner for not dealing with this matter. It is evident to me, and I am sure to representatives who spoke before me, that the number of gardaí deployed to deal specifically with the drugs problem is inadequate. I hope the new Garda Commissioner will change that position, otherwise many of the people involved in drug dealing at present will be as big as the main dealers in two or three years' time.

I have lost confidence in the Judiciary. The recent Felloni case is an exception, but other cases indicate that the Judiciary is out of touch with the problem. There is little option but to introduce mandatory sentences — this suggestion was made by Deputy O'Donoghue — but they should relate to heroin supply.

I have been told in the last day or two that a school in an area I represent, which experiences a serious drugs problem, is to lose a teacher. If that can happen in a community battling against drugs, we are wasting our time debating legislation such as this.

Deputy O'Donoghue agreed to share his time with me.

I am sure that is satisfactory. Agreed.

This is a unique occasion in that it is the first time in many years that a Private Members' Bill has been taken in Government time. The reason for that is also unique in that for the first time in the history of the State a journalist has been murdered for attempting to expose the activities of one of the worst types of criminal.

I had the great privilege of having known Veronica Guerin for a very short time and, like many people, I am still numb at the knowledge that this remarkably courageous lady was silenced, most probably, on the orders of one of the so-called drug barons. In the circumstances it would be very easy for legislators to respond in a highly emotional manner to this horrific crime by enacting legislation without giving enough thought to the consequences, but I do not believe that any Member would be so disposed.

During the past 18 months my party introduced a succession of Bills covering a wide area of crime, including the type of organised crime which this Bill seeks to address. It is said that the dogs in the street are aware of the manner in which the godfathers of organised crime flaunt their ill-gotten wealth. My colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, is to be highly commended for the work he has put into this Bill, which is designed to prevent these parasites from enjoying the fruits of their evil crimes. The Bill has not been prepared overnight or with undue haste. I am well aware of my limitations in the field of law, but I find it difficult to find any obvious flaws in the Bill. It seeks, in the absence of direct evidence admissible in court, to make this an unprofitable crime. Not only do the drug barons of Dublin and elsewhere deserve to be deprived of their loot, they must also be deprived of their liberty for a very long time.

My abhorrence of drug barons did not begin with the death of Veronica Guerin. More than six years ago I spoke on the Criminal Justice Bill which abolished what then remained of the death penalty. Up to that time the death penalty applied only in the case of the murder of gardaí and diplomats. The Bill changed that penalty to a mandatory sentence of 40 years' imprisonment. I said then that if the ultimate penalty were to be justified, it should be used for the so-called drug barons who prosper from selling drugs to others, mainly youngsters, while being careful that they and their families do not partake of them. I said that if we are to have a segregation policy in our prisons, those callous individuals should be confined where they belong, with other murderers. My opinion has not changed in the meantime, and what happened last week strengthens it further.

The Minister is a caring person who is genuinely concerned about what happened. I believe that she would like to be regarded as the Minister who dealt with the participants of organised crime, who took the radical decisions presented to her tonight. It is not entirely the Minister's fault or that of her party that that has not been done before now. I heard her say on "Farrell" that she would support a referendum on bail, and her party supported building a prison in Castlerea, but what happened to change the Minister's direction? The level of crime has never been as high as in the past 18 months and it demands action from the Minister. Her speech tonight, however, represented classical Department of Justice hyperbolical procrastination. The Government agreed to this debate, not out of generosity as claimed by the Minister at the beginning of her speech, but because it was forced to do so by public pressure, evidenced by the mounting floral tributes outside the gates of this House.

The criticisms of the legislation by the Minister for Justice tonight would have been more appropriate to Committee State, I will not have the opportunity in the short time available to me of answering all the points raised not just by the Minister but by other Deputies. The Minister's speech was as pedantic as it was peripheral. The amendments which would be required arising from the Minister's contribution would take no more than one hour to draft.

The Minister stated that protection rackets, for example, are not covered. I would remind her that demanding money with menaces is an offence under section 23 of the Larceny Act, 1916. Thus, if £10,000 or more is extorted, that offence is covered. The Minister was incorrect when she stated there is nothing to prevent the removal of assets from the State. Whoever told the Minister that has demonstrated an appalling lack of understanding of legal procedure. If a restraint order has been made, it is clearly in contempt of the court's order to remove the assets and that offence is punishable by a fine or imprisonment. In this or any other legislation the High Court does not need any statutory provisions to enforce one of its orders.

The Minister said the provisions of the Bill are needlessly absolutist but if she had cared to read section 6 it would have been apparent to her that an application can be made to the court for living and legal expenses prior to the filing of affidavits.

The suggestion has been made recently both inside and outside this House — as if it had any relevance to this issue — that the tax amnesty comes into the picture. Let us be quite clear about the tax amnesty. If a person obtained assets by illegal means and subsequently availed of a tax amnesty, that person is guilty of a criminal offence. That is the position and there is little point in drawing red herrings through the debate.

This legislation does not hinder the Revenue Commissioners. It will be of enormous assistance to them in relation to people who may have utilised the tax amnesty to launder money or to make themselves look respectable. This legislation allows the Revenue Commissioners to say in court it is their opinion that the individual in question obtained the assets concerned through organised crime. It allows the Revenue Commissioners to reopen the file on such an individual. Unfortunately, there has been an attempt in the debate to divert attention from the issue at hand.

The Minister questioned the constitutionality of the Bill. I have stated before and reiterate now that the opinion of a chief superintendent is accepted in criminal trials for the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation contrary to section 21 of the Offences Against the State Act, 1939 by reason of the provisions of section 3(2) of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1972. If the opinion of a chief superintendent is sufficient to deprive a person of his or her liberty for up to seven years because he or she was a member of an unlawful organisation, it cannot be seriously argued that the opinion of a chief superintendent is insufficient to deprive a man or woman of the use of their assets. The argument simply does not stand up.

The freezing provisions in this legislation are broadly similar to the provisions in the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1985. That legislation was considered by the courts in 1985 and Mr. Justice Barrington, in refusing the declaration sought to the effect that the Minister's freezing of the assets in that case was invalid having regard to the provisions of the Constitution, held that despite reversing the ordinary onus of proof by placing it upon the owner of property seeking to establish his entitlement to it, the machinery of the 1985 Act nevertheless provided for a fair hearing and compensation in cases of error, as does this Bill, and thus constituted no more than a permissible delimitation of property rights in the interests of the common good and that it was not, therefore, an unjust attack upon private property contrary to the Constitution. The arguments on the constitutionality of this Bill do not stand up.

The Minister is correct when she states there is provision in the Criminal Justice Act, 1994 — full credit to the previous Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, for her work in that respect — and these restraint orders can be made by the court in relation to an individual's assets where that individual is convicted or where there is a clear intention to prosecute, but there is no provision for the freezing of assets on the opinion of a chief superintendent or a Revenue Commissioner — if nothing else came out of the debate tonight, that much is crystal clear — let alone a provision, following upon the freezing, for the confiscation of those assets by the court after a given number of years.

In her contribution tonight the Minister engaged in what I can only describe as an academic excursion. The truth of the matter is that the provisions of the——

Another sanctimonious sermon.

——Criminal Justice Act, 1994, in so far as they operate, have not to date, to the best of my knowledge, resulted in confiscation or restraint orders. If they exist, the Minister is entitled to tell the House they do.

The Minister intimated that she did not understand the meaning to the term "true owner".

In legal terms.

I suggest that the meaning of "true owner" is clear to anybody on reading the legislation.

If a person became the owner through illegal gains, he is not really the true owner. The person who owned the money in the first place is the real owner.

The Minister failed to recognise that the onus shifts from the person with the suspected assets to the State when one is dealing with a disposal order as opposed to a freezing order.

I thank the Members who participated in the debate and acknowledge their resolve to take swift and effective action against organised criminals. I confess to being disappointed at the contribution of the Minister. Not for the first time she has failed to understand the purpose and effect of criminal justice legislation introduced in this House. She has displayed a capacity to erect obstacles where there were none, to create difficulties where none existed and to generally seek excuses for inaction.

I am not impressed by the legal advice the Minister has received. Presumably it is from the same source which told her the changes to the bail laws proposed by this party would be unconstitutional. They now form part of Government policy. The Minister views the Constitution as an obstacle to progress. We view it as a sword to be used in defence of our citizens. It is apparent that our two views will not meet and that we will never agree.

Question put and agreed to.