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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 Mar 2000

Vol. 516 No. 6

Adjournment Debate. - Garda Strength.

As the next two items in relation to the weekend disturbances in County Donegal are being taken together, each Deputy will have five minutes and the Minister will have ten minutes to reply.

Thank you for the opportunity to raise the need for an urgent review of Garda numbers and, therefore, Garda visibility in the Inishowen peninsula, a region which is now a suburb of Derry city with the associated social difficulties of a major city.

Over the past ten days we have had two extremely disturbing and totally unrelated incidents in Inishowen. One was an unprecedented take-over of Moville by more than 600 drunken youths on St. Patrick's Day, for which no one was charged. The second and most recent event was the disturbances in Buncrana over the weekend which led to gardaí being hospitalised and those who carried out the attack being released. The influx, unchallenged, of 15 busloads from Derry on St. Patrick's Day led to unrivalled scenes of under age drinking and unparallelled and appalling scenes that, suffice to say, it is miraculous no one died. Should there be further occasions such as this, we may not be so fortunate. Moville, a town that once had 28 gardaí, now has a Garda strength of nine gardaí and a sergeant. Given the shift nature of the work, we expect three people to deal with this situation. Is that realistic or fair?

The town of Buncrana is astounded at what happened there last weekend. As in Moville, for months, locals implored the Garda hierarchy for more support for the town, particularly at the weekends, before someone would be killed. Yet, even after someone was killed in the town, we had local gardaí on Saturday night put in a position where, having been called to the scene of a fight, they were set upon by a number of men from outside the jurisdiction. The adequacy of our personnel was reflected in the fact that gardaí from Burnfoot, Clonmany and Carndonagh had to come to Buncrana to assist the small number of personnel who were on duty in this large town, leaving their own busy disco areas vulnerable.

Sergeant Brian O'Sullivan was hospitalised with a broken bone in his neck and very severe bruising – the second time he has been hospitalised recently in the course of duty. Gardaí Tom McDonagh, James Canning and Brendan Joyce were also injured. While I wish them a speedy recovery, I praise the efforts of the gardaí in the course of their work and commend the fact that eight people were arrested. It has astonished the entire population of the peninsula that despite the fact that this was a violent assault and not a small breach of the peace, these eight people have been released almost as soon as they were caught. I am not privy to what takes place between the DPP and the Garda, but it is vital that this case is pursued, those charged brought to justice and made pay for what has been a very serious crime against not just our police force, but our town and peninsula. The releases are a very demoralising blow to those who were injured in the course of doing their jobs and it is a poor example for the local people who see that violence on the streets and serious assaults on the gardaí are, it appears, offences that one can expect to get away with. I call on the Minister to gain answers for all those who at this time are quite speechless.

I have spoken often to Ministers and senior and junior figures within the Garda at both local and national level about our mainly alcohol related difficulties that are intensifying in their repetition and seriousness. The situation is spiralling out of control. I call tonight, Minister, for a change in attitude and a review by the authorities. I call for answers. If we have enough gardaí in Inishowen per head of population, why, when a difficulty arises in one part of the peninsula, have gardaí to leave equally vulnerable areas to support their colleagues? Why am I often told there are not enough personnel to deal with the situation?

When minor issues cannot be resolved, the message being sent to the larger hinterland is quite clear. Look at our geographical position and our role as the social focus for 100,000 plus people in a time when the spending power of sterling is extremely strong. We need an increase in personnel throughout the peninsula. We need a minimum fine brought in for public order offences that will act as a serious deterrent. We need a prison van, a paddy wagon, for the peninsula and improved facilities for the gardaí who operate in Inishowen. We need a concerted review of the cases brought to attention here tonight and action taken as a result to ensure that examples are made and repetition is not allowed. Our gardaí deserve proper resources and the people of Inishowen deserve a well resourced and visible police force. Not to react now would be to condone what is a progressively deteriorating situation. I cannot be party to inaction. I wish well, all those who were injured at the weekend and those people who send their loved ones out every day in the course of their duty and who are set upon in such a violent and unprovoked manner. This is unacceptable. We need help and I ask that the situation be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Jim Higgins. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this serious matter on the Adjournment, together with Deputies Keaveney and Higgins.

There has been a long tradition of Northern Ireland people coming across the Border to Buncrana and to other parts of County Donegal. This has been to the mutual advantage of both sides. The citizens of Buncrana and of Border counties in Northern Ireland such as Derry have benefited economically and socially from this relationship. This mutually beneficial relationship is certainly much valued by both groups. However, it became obvious last weekend that a certain group of individuals do not value or respect this traditional relationship and friendship which has developed down through the years.

Last weekend 40 young men travelled from Northern Ireland to Buncrana to attend a stag party. After being thrown out of a disco for their unruly behaviour, they viciously attacked several members of the gardaí who had been called in to try to control their behaviour. As a result of these violent and vicious attacks, three members of the gardaí had to receive medical attention. One had to have several stitches to his face. Furthermore, a garda sergeant had to be detained in Letterkenny hospital suffering from facial injuries, a broken bone in his neck and a suspected broken jaw, all sustained in the incident. Reinforcements arrived from surrounding towns. Eventually order was restored and eight men who were the ringleaders were arrested and taken to Buncrana and Burnfoot Garda stations. At 11.30 a.m. the same morning, the DPP's office was contacted by the gardaí and at 1.45 p.m. the call was returned. Having been briefed on the circumstances, the official directed that all eight men be released and a file be forwarded when ready so that a decision could be given. The official pointed out that while the gardaí involved may have regarded this as a serious incident, his office regarded it as a relatively minor affair. All eight men were released and returned to Northern Ireland. Despite the appalling injuries and the viciousness of the attack, the DPP allowed these dangerous individuals to flee across the Border and escape any repercussions for their reprehensible actions. It is unlikely they will face repercussions in the future as they are now safely outside the jurisdiction.

I cannot begin to comprehend the actions of the DPP in this instance. How could his office possibly classify such a violent action as a relatively minor incident? If it was such a minor incident why was it necessary to send for reinforcements from surrounding towns? Were it not for these reinforcements and several brave members of the Buncrana public who aided the Garda, this relatively minor incident could have resulted in even more serious injuries to the individuals involved.

Does the DPP's office really think the friends and families of the injured gardaí classify this as a relatively minor incident? It is not a minor incident and to classify it as such is a slap in the face to the Garda and the citizens of Buncrana. The brave men in the Garda did their job and risked their own well-being to quell the incident of the past weekend. Why was it so difficult for the DPP's office to do his job and detain the eight individuals arrested in the attack so that they could be charged with the crimes they committed? The DPP has clearly undermined the authority of the Garda as a result of his actions. His office has sent a clear message that it is acceptable to attack members of the Garda. It is not acceptable and the DPP owes them and the citizens of Buncrana an answer for his actions.

(Mayo): The decision by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to order the release of the eight people from Northern Ireland arrested for disturbances in Buncrana on Saturday night as alluded to by Deputies Keaveney and McGinley has been irresponsible, misguided and an absolute disgrace. The five gardaí on duty in Buncrana on Saturday night who were called to break up the fight between the 40 young people who travelled across the Border in two buses from Dungiven, County Derry, deserve to be commended, but they have been badly thanked for their toil and efforts. As has been said, when they intervened they were mercilessly attacked and set upon. The garda sergeant is in hospital with fractures to the neck and serious facial injuries. Three other gardaí were kicked and punched and required stitches to the face. Eight people were arrested. At 11.30 a.m. on Sunday the Garda sought the permission of the DPP's office to press charges, but they were ordered to release the men immediately.

I was contacted by a very angry garda sergeant, Chris Lavan, who speaks for himself and his force. They are extremely angry that the reason advanced, as Deputy McGinley has said, for the DPP's attitude in releasing the men was that it was a relatively minor incident. One garda has a broken neck, facial injuries and stitches while others are badly bruised. The attitude of the DPP's office is grossly irresponsible and is a disgrace. How can gardaí who are brutally attacked while trying to uphold law and order be expected to perform their duty when their position is not underpinned by the other office of the State, the prosecution system, that of the DPP? The people involved should have been detained, charged and remanded in custody or let out on bail. We want to ascertain from the DPP the reason the authority of the Garda has been so undermined by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in this episode. We must never have a repeat of this incident or attitude from the DPP's office.

I thank Deputies Keaveney, McGinley and Jim Higgins for raising this important matter. I am sure the entire House will join with me in wishing the injured gardaí a speedy recovery. It is completely unacceptable that gardaí should be subject to assaults while in the course of their duties.

The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities that last Saturday night, two groups of men travelled from Derry to Buncrana to attend a stag party in a local night club. During the course of the night a serious disturbance occurred on the premises. One group, consisting of about 15 persons, was ejected from the premises. The disorder continued outside the premises and the Garda in Buncrana was called to restore order.

One sergeant and four gardaí responded immediately to the call for assistance. On arrival the gardaí were attacked by the group. They were beaten with fists and two of them were repeatedly kicked and beaten. Reinforcements were called from adjoining stations. As a result of this incident four members of the Garda Síochána stationed in Buncrana required medical attention. Eight men were arrested and subsequently released without charge. A file on the matter is being forwarded to the DPP.

The prosecution of offences and the preparation and presentation of prosecution cases are functions which are prescribed in law on the Director of Public Prosecutions. The director is independent in the discharge of his statutory duties. The House will, therefore, understand that it would be inappropriate for the Minister to comment on any decision to be made by the DPP.

With regard to the Deputy's comments on Garda strength, anyone who has studied the Government's achievements in office will need no convincing of its determination to provide the Garda with all the resources it needs to combat anti-social behaviour. Garda strength has been consistently increased. From a base line of 10,800, Garda numbers have increased by 600. The Minister is on target to achieve a strength of 12,000 by 2002.

The detailed deployment of Garda personnel to individual areas is a matter for the Garda authorities. As of 21 March 2000, the number of gardaí of all ranks in the division of Donegal is 435. Of these, 34 are stationed in Buncrana. Garda strength in the division is kept under constant review by the Garda authorities in the light of the resources available and the policing needs of other locations.

The Minister is assured by the Garda authorities that the laws on anti-social behaviour are being fully enforced by the Garda. The Garda has extensive powers under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, and the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, to deal with late night drinking and disturbances. For instance, it is an offence under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act for a person to engage in unreasonable behaviour likely to cause serious offence or annoyance between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m. or at any other time, having been requested by a member of the Garda Síochána to desist. Under the Act, the Garda also has the power to seize intoxicating liquor or other substance from persons they suspect are committing an offence under the Act.

The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities that under section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, which deals with the offence of intoxication in a public place, proceedings were commenced in 9,334 cases and 7,176 convictions were obtained in the year 1998 alone, the last year for which statistics are published. He is assured by the Garda authorities that the legislation is enforced countrywide by the Garda in a uniform manner. The Minister is also informed by the Garda authorities that the current manpower strength in the division is adequate to meet the demands placed on it.

I appreciate the concerns expressed by Deputies this evening and I know the Garda have the support of all sides of the House in their strenuous efforts to deal with the reprehensive behaviour witnessed in Buncrana last weekend.