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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 8 Jul 2004

Vol. 588 No. 7

Other Questions.

Metro Project.

Pat Rabbitte


6 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has received the report of the senior Garda officer who has been requested by the Garda Commissioner to examine all matters featured in a television programme (details supplied) of 8 January 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20720/04]

I previously informed the House that a senior Garda officer had been appointed to examine all matters featured in a television programme of 8 January last. In this regard, I have been informed by the Garda authorities that the Garda Commissioner recently received the report of the senior Garda officer about the issues raised in the programme. He is considering the report and I expect to hear from him shortly.

Allegations of serious wrongdoing by members of the Garda, such as those broadcast on the "Prime Time" programme, are of serious concern to me. Some of the cases featured in the programme were previously reported and in the public domain. They have been, or may be, dealt with in the courts or through existing complaints and disciplinary mechanisms. In the circumstances, the House will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on specific details of the cases. I expect that the Garda response will address the issues raised and examine the individual cases featured in the television programme. Where relevant, the systems, practices and procedures which operate in the Garda will be assessed with a view to seeing whether additional safeguards or other changes are necessary.

I do not doubt that the existing laws and procedures for dealing with complaints against members of the Garda are not adequate. It is essential that such cases should be dealt with by means of a proper mechanism, which commands the full confidence of the public and the force alike. For that reason, the establishment of a fully independent ombudsman commission is a key objective of the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, which is before the Seanad at present. The commission will have wide powers to investigate complaints made against members of the Garda and will be able to investigate policies and practices of the Garda, where such policies and practices may be the cause of complaint.

I thank the Minister for his reply, which contained specific details, unlike his previous reply. I am glad the Garda Commissioner has recently received the report. Does the Minister agree that the allegations made on "Prime Time" in January were of systematic abuse by the Garda? Does he recall that a retired Circuit Court judge spoke about regular perjury in his court? It is imperative that action be taken on foot of the report. Does the Minister agree that the Government has been slow to provide a proper system to deal with complaints? His predecessor spoke in 2002 about the need to hold the Garda accountable. However, the 2004 Estimates make provision of €1,000 for a Garda ombudsman.

There is no sign that the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 will be effectively implemented this side of Christmas. Will the Minister give us some indication of his serious intention of ensuring that the alleged abuses will be properly investigated at an early stage so that they do not lead to a tribunal or cause scandal in the public arena? I refer not only to the matters highlighted in the "Prime Time" programme, but also to other matters in the public domain such as Abbeylara and, to a much greater extent, the Morris tribunal in Donegal.

I reject the suggestion that the "Prime Time" report reflected on the great majority of members of the Garda, who do their job extremely well and professionally. They strive to attain the highest possible standards in the way they conduct their work and cannot be said to have let down the country in any way. Although it appeared from the manner in which the programme was broadcast, which was deeply regrettable, that the remarks of the retired Circuit Court judge were applicable to the great majority of gardaí with whom he had dealt, that was not the case. It is important to remember that the judge disowned the implication after he had seen the programme.

I accept that there has been a disturbing departure from proper standards on the part of a small number of gardaí in a number of cases. The consequences of such behaviour have been damaging to the force. I wish to make clear that as long as I am Minister, I will take these matters very seriously. That is why I am waiting for the report to the Garda Commissioner to be handed to me. I regard the issues raised as very important and grave.

Does the Minister agree that the problems with the Garda Síochána complaints procedure have been known for years? The system must be changed because it is the root of the problem. When is the Garda Síochána Bill likely to be brought before the Houses to enable us complete the process? Even the Garda representative bodies accept that gardaí investigating gardaí is not the proper process and they are anxious for change.

I assure the Deputy that I accept the general consensus that the current system is inadequate. That consensus includes the practitioners of the current system because Gordon Holmes, who is the chairman of the body, has been one of the leading advocates of change and reform in this area. Unlike others, however, I have acted on this matter and brought the legislation before these Houses. The legislation is being considered by the Seanad. Deputy Durkan, in a generous reference to me just before this Question Time began, pointed out the considerable amount of legislation I have before the Dáil committees. Fourteen legislative measures are pending. The Garda Síochána Bill is before the Seanad and I hope to introduce it in this House and get it passed as quickly as I can. Nothing is holding me back except the volume of legislative duties of this House. I am enthusiastic that this law should come about.

The €1,000 provided for in this year's Estimates was to make it possible for me to apply extra funding. It was a nominal sum to open a new head of expenditure so that if the legislation is in effect this year, I would have a statutory basis to apply money to fund that body. It is not indicative of the size of funding I believe should be applied if the legislation is passed by the end of this year.

Garda Resources.

Joan Burton


7 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if Garda resources were used to deliver a personal invitation to a person to a dinner hosted by a Minister (details supplied); his views on whether this is an appropriate use of Garda resources; if regulations exist to cover such requests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20688/04]

While I have no personal knowledge of the matter raised by the Deputy, I am aware of a newspaper report on it which dates back some weeks. My understanding from that newspaper report is that a member of the Garda Síochána, as a courtesy, facilitated the delivery of an invitation to a person to an official EU function.

The background, as I understand it, is that the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, was sending out invitations to a State function in connection with the EU Presidency. There was to be security on the occasion and persons without a written invitation were not to be granted entry to the occasion. One late invitee, as I understand it — there may have been more — required an invitation and a member of the Garda Síochána agreed, as a courtesy to one of the Minister of State's officials, to effect delivery of that invitation which was necessary for the person to get past Garda security at the State function.

I have discussed the matter with the Commissioner and I am quite satisfied it has no element of abuse of power or authority or was in any sense a dishonest appropriation of Garda time. It was members of the Garda Síochána acting the way they often do — beyond the call of duty — as a courtesy to the other arms of the State. Just as a garda who is called to a house and asked to get a cat out of a tree could say it is none of his or her business and that he or she does not want to help, members of the Garda Síochána frequently go the extra mile and try to be of assistance on occasions like this. I do not believe it should be the subject of negative publicity when they do so.

As I understand it, two gardaí and a Garda car were used to deliver that European Union invitation, which appears a little excessive and more than normal courtesy.

A high-risk invitation.

This is not the only instance in which there have been suggestions and allegations of misuse of Garda time, drivers and cars. As the gardaí are the Minister's responsibility, will he not consider introducing a code of conduct for Ministers in the first instance and ministerial drivers to ensure that neither the gardaí nor the Garda cars are used other than for the purpose for which they were intended? We are not talking about courtesy but substantial diversions of Garda time and cars for issues that might not be appropriate.

I strongly reject the suggestion that this had anything to do with the use of a ministerial car. As I have explained, this was an occasion when it was necessary for anybody attending the event in question to have an invitation in their possession in order to pass a Garda cordon. One member of the Garda Síochána agreed, as a courtesy to the Minister's officials, to deliver the invitation. Deputy Costello is right. The member of the Garda Síochána could have said it was none of his or her business and told the officials to deliver it themselves, but on this occasion the garda engaged in a small kindness to the people organising this official event and it is churlish and mean-minded to suggest that there was something improper with it or that it was wrong and a waste of time. If there were two people in the Garda car at the time, so what? Would the Deputy have wanted one of them to get out of the Garda car while the other did that small favour? This is mean-minded politics at its worst.

Was the security necessary because of the bad election results?

I wonder whether security was required to deliver the invitation. The Minister may not recall but I have asked questions on this subject previously and received replies which were in the negative, that is, that nothing happened. I accept this was probably done for the most innocent of reasons but I have no doubt that if the Minister were on this side of the House asking questions about this matter, it would be a major event. He would ask whether this was the best use of——

As the Deputy is rapidly running out of time, I suggest he submit his own question rather than surmise what the Minister might ask.

One cannot always anticipate a Minister's thinking.

As the Deputy is running out of time, I ask him to put his question.

Will the Minister confirm for the House that this is an isolated incident which will not be repeated and that it will not become the norm for gardaí or any branch of the Defence Forces to use their time in a way to facilitate social functions organised by Ministers? It is a serious matter.

I do not accept that it is a serious matter.

It is a serious matter.

As far as I am concerned, this matter is one in which a garda, as a matter of personal courtesy and kindness, facilitated the delivery of an invitation to a person who needed to get past a Garda security cordon around a State event. There is nothing more or less to it than that. I have no doubt that I could be as mean-minded when I was on the Opposition benches——

I have no doubt either. That is some admission.

——as Deputy Burton was in tabling this question, but I hope I would aspire to slightly more decent standards. If this was an egregious abuse of gardaí or if the gardaí involved felt in any way that they had been put upon, that would be a different matter, but that is not the case.

Has the Minister checked out the matter?

I spoke to the Commissioner today about this matter and told him this question was coming up. As far as he is concerned, and I agree with him, there was nothing untoward about it. It was a personal act of kindness on a particular occasion because of a unique set of circumstances in connection with an official function of the State.

The next time invitations are being sent out, will the Minister send one to my house?

I am glad the Minister has spoken to the Commissioner about the matter. He did not indicate that he impressed upon the Commissioner that something like this should never happen again. Why should any Minister or Minister of State expect a garda to deliver an invitation? The garda will do it out of courtesy but he or she should not be asked. Why was an ordinary citizen not asked to do the job instead of two gardaí using a garda car?

This is a mean-minded question. The incident in question was blown out of all proportion. The press report on this incident which give rise to this question indicated that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon was wholly unaware that a request had been made of the Garda Síochána to do this and that it was an official who had made it.

The proprietorial mentality is what concerns us.

Poor Deputy Parlon. He is an innocent abroad.

Organised Crime.

Bernard J. Durkan


8 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason it appears so easy for organised crime bosses to invest their ill-gotten gains in the legitimate property market thereby giving themselves and their activities respectability; if he will examine procedures with a view to introducing checks and balances to make such legitimisation impossible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20809/04]

Bernard J. Durkan


294 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if steps are being taken to freeze the assets of the various crime gangs, with particular reference to isolating and eliminating investment options for persons involved in crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21155/04]

Bernard J. Durkan


295 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the extent to which organised criminal gangs are being monitored, with particular reference to identifying the way in which they appear to have ready access to the property market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21156/04]

Bernard J. Durkan


296 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the extent to which money laundering is organised by criminal gangs; and the way in which it is proposed to deal with the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21157/04]

Bernard J. Durkan


297 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of properties in the hands of criminal gangs or in the course of acquisition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21158/04]

Bernard J. Durkan


298 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has initiatives to combat the growing problem of organised crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21159/04]

Bernard J. Durkan


299 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of criminals known to be members of organised gangs currently on bail, in prison or on early release; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21161/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 294 to 299, inclusive, together.

The criminal law in this jurisdiction does not make it easy for criminals to launder money or invest the proceeds of crime in the legitimate property market. On the contrary, a broad range of strong legislation is available to the Garda Síochána to enable serious and organised crime to be confronted effectively. The criminal legislative framework reflects international developments to respond to the global growth of organised crime and specific measures enacted to meet our domestic situation which is kept under review.

Section 31 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 provides that a person who converts, transfers or handles property or removes it from the State and knows or believes it represents the proceeds of criminal conduct, is guilty of the offence of money laundering. It is also an offence to provide any advice or assistance in converting, transferring, handling or removing property which would amount to money laundering. Under section 57 of the Act suspicions must be reported to the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners. Section 32 of the Act makes provision for the designation of bodies and activities in respect of money laundering offences and sets out the measures to be taken by those bodies regarding identification of customers and recording of transactions. New regulations were drawn up under section 32(10)(a) of the Act to fulfil Ireland’s obligations under the second EU money laundering directive in order to update the 1991 money laundering directive. The directive makes provisions for the designation of new categories such as solicitors, accountants, auditors, tax advisers, as well as auctioneers and estate agents. Regulations were signed in order to give effect to the directive.

Estate agents and auctioneers have been designated bodies since 15 September 2003. Section 32 of the 1994 Act obliges designated bodies to secure and retain the identity of clients for whom they are engaged to provide a service on a continuous basis or where cash in excess of €13,000 in respect of real property transactions, or in excess of €15,000 in respect of high value goods, changes hands.

Between the Criminal Assets Bureau and the money laundering legislation, there is an array of legislative means available to the Garda Síochána to investigate, confiscate and trace criminal assets into real estate.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

If an estate agent or auctioneer suspects that money laundering is taking place, a duty arises to report such suspicions to the relevant authorities. With the introduction of the statutory instruments to which I have referred, representative bodies of auctioneers and estate agents have become members of the money laundering steering committee and, in consultation with the committee, are in the process of developing guidelines on money laundering to ensure compliance with the regulations.

The money laundering steering committee, set up in 1994 under the chairmanship of the Department of Finance, is a representative body of Departments, enforcement agencies, financial institutions and other designated bodies. Its main function is to facilitate consistent application of the money laundering provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 across the range of bodies and professions affected by the legislation.

Elements of the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 which will be published today will further aid the Garda in the investigation of crime. The main purpose of this Bill is to improve the efficiency with which criminal offences, in general, are investigated and prosecuted.

The Deputy will appreciate that it would not be possible for the Garda to say, at any given time, how many properties are in the hands of criminal gangs or are in the course of acquisition by such gangs. However, the Garda continue to take a pro-active and integrated approach to the investigation of all serious crime, including all aspects of organised crime, such as money laundering.

I am informed that the Garda Commissioner has put in place arrangements for criminal investigations which involve members of the national bureau of criminal investigation working together with local district units to combat organised crime. Garda efforts in this area have met with success. A number of persons are before the courts and a number are serving sentences. Moreover, the Criminal Assets Bureau continues to apply its statutory remit to target assets, including property, derived from organised crime.

With regard to the exact number of organised criminals currently on bail, in prison or early release, data is not maintained by the various relevant elements of the criminal justice system in a way which would readily facilitate the provision of such data broken down by category of criminal. Between 1 May 2003 and 31 December 2003, the Garda received in excess of 3,000 suspicious financial transaction reports. It is important to note however, that not all of these transactions would have necessitated criminal investigations and it is not necessarily the case that all suspicious transactions are linked to the activities of organised criminals. The suspicious transactions office of the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda bureau of fraud investigation meet regularly to review the reports received and to ensure their respective actions are co-ordinated and do not overlap. Money laundering investigations are conducted by the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners deal with cases of suspected tax evasion.

The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority requires all institutions which it supervises to comply with anti-money laundering legislation and relevant sectoral guidance notes and to have in place the necessary procedures and controls to ensure such compliance. The adequacy of such systems are reviewed by the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority in the course of its ongoing supervision of institutions and requirements advised to institutions, as necessary. As part of its ongoing supervision the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority ensures that institutions are informed of international developments in the area of prevention of money laundering, in particular in relation to recommendations and reports on money laundering issued by the international financial action task force.

Ireland's law and procedures on money laundering were the subject of a favourable review in 1998 by the financial action task force under that body's procedure for the mutual evaluation of its members. The next mutual evaluation of Ireland is due in 2005.

I thank the Minister for his reply and appreciate his good intentions. However, a considerable body of evidence suggests that the measures in place are not working to the extent the Minister would desire. During the registration of a transfer of property, is the person acquiring the property immediately questioned as to where he or she received the resources to acquire it? An ordinary citizen when buying a house receives such an inquiry from the Revenue Commissioners. Evidence is growing that there is large scale organised criminal activity in acquiring property. It appears that the checks and balances in place are insufficient to deal with it and warrant a further careful examination.

I agree it is a serious matter. One of the important provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 will give the Garda and the Criminal Assets Bureau the right to open trusts used for buying property and to require the beneficial owners of property bought in trust to be revealed. It is conventional for a solicitor to buy property in trust. However, apart from the solicitor's duty to prevent money laundering and to report suspicious transactions, the Garda will have power to look behind the trust and require solicitors, and others, in those circumstances to reveal the beneficial owners of the property in question.

If Deputy Durkan has any suggestions as to how the law could be strengthened, I will take them on board when the Criminal Justice Bill is going through the Dáil. If the Deputy knows of any property owned by organised crime beneficially, I invite him to bring it to my attention and I will ensure it is acted upon.

Will the requirement on businesses to disclose investments of €15,000 or more be included in the Criminal Justice Bill? A new EU directive on money laundering requires the disclosure of sums invested by businesses that could amount to money laundering. If that was included in the Criminal Justice Bill, following the trail of improperly invested money would be easier.

The efforts of the Criminal Assets Bureau in tackling the proceeds of gang crime have been magnificent. I understood the Minister was to tackle the core issue of membership of these criminal gangs, using UN and EU directives as an assistance in the definition of the problem.

The figures of €13,000 and €15,000 are already incorporated in the 1994 Act by the latest regulations as thresholds for reporting suspicious transactions such as money laundering. The Criminal Justice Bill published today would have contained draft provisions on criminal gangs if I had the report on this of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. I am keenly awaiting the committee's recommendation.

It is available.

It is an excellent report.

Unfortunately, I have not seen it. As soon as it is to hand I will table the relevant provisions based on the Canadian, UN and the Council of Europe models to make membership of organised crime an offence. Organised crime is not gang crime. Three fellows jumping over a counter does not constitute organised crime.

Unless all incidents of jumping over counters are synchronised.

We know that. We are talking about more serious criminal activity.

Garda Recruitment.

Joan Burton


9 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the membership of the Garda at the latest date for which figures are available; if he has received Cabinet approval for the recruitment of 2,000 additional gardaí; the current annual capacity of the Garda Training College at Templemore; if he has plans to extend the college or otherwise increase training capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20689/04]

I am informed by the Garda authorities responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength of the Garda Síochána, all ranks, as of 5 July 2004 was 12,072. In April, 2000, the Government agreed, inter alia, to a system of delegated authority under which recruitment is carried out to maintain the strength of the force at an agreed level. Recruitment was carried out during 2003 with a view to bringing the strength of the force to 12,200 by 31 December 2004.

The programme for Government states that the Government would complete the previous programme of expansion of the Garda Síochána which aimed at a strength of 12,000, which we have now exceeded, and then increase the strength by a further 2,000. This commitment remains. The strength of the Garda Síochána will have increased to 12,200 by the end of this year and it will not be possible to increase numbers beyond this level unless we relax the public service embargo agreed by the Government in view of budgetary circumstances in autumn 2002. There is a very strong case for doing that now.

Regarding the Templemore facility, I am advised that the Garda college has accommodation on a weekly basis of 400 single rooms. These are utilised on a weekly basis to cater for student and course accommodation. The student Garda "living out" programme that has been developed to cater for increased numbers of Garda trainees enables students to be accommodated off campus but within the environs of Templemore and can accommodate a further 300 students per week. This maximum capacity was utilised to the full in 2003.

When we decide to bring the Garda strength up from 12,200 to 14,000, a figure to which we are committed, we will make the appropriate adjustments to the facilities in Templemore. Some temporary inservice training off campus may be required and an extension of the dining and catering facilities at the college will certainly be required. I am assured that can be done quickly.

The Minister gives the figure of current Garda recruits as 12,072. Will he not admit that this is a disastrous result in terms of the policy and commitment of the Government? In April 2002, before this Government came into office, it intended to increase the numbers——

The Deputy should confine himself to a brief question. There are two other Deputies offering and I want to facilitate them. We have only three minutes remaining.

In two and a half years the Minister has increased Garda numbers by 72.

Again I request the Deputy to submit a question. There are two Deputies offering and Deputy Cuffe has been sitting here all afternoon. We must adjourn at 4.45 p.m. and the Chair has no choice in that matter.

The Minister just gave his answer and I have my question. I am not getting a chance to ask it.

I will allow a brief question.

Will the Minister agree that there is no way in which he can reach the modest target of 12,200 Garda members by the end of the year and that there is not a hope in hell of getting the 2,000 extra gardaí within the next 12 or 18 months that this Government has to run?

There seem to be two issues. There is a public service embargo and the issue of the accommodation in Templemore. Would the Minister consider integrating part of the Garda training programme in some other third level institution so as to give Garda recruits exposure to other students of their own age and also to provide some links into other third level institutions, which seems to be the direction in which other police forces are moving? Could we not replicate that in Ireland?

Will the Minister accept that the greatest failure of this Government has been its failure to comply with its promise to provide the 2,000 extra gardaí and that it has not a hope in hell, half way through its term of office, of achieving that? Templemore college is bursting at the seams. Would the Minister look beyond Templemore and agree that other facilities must be made available if we are to have any hope of increasing Garda numbers, which all agree must be done?

I am glad everyone agrees on that, because the Opposition parties did not commit themselves to that proposition before the last election. I am glad they now agree with Government policy.

I agree with Government policy which the Minister has not implemented.

Allow the Minister without interruption, please.

The Minister should not mistake thought for action.

They do not want to hear the answer now. I am proud that I have increased the strength of the Garda Síochána in the last two years from 11,800 to over 12,000.

Big deal. It is an increase of 200. The Minister promised 2,000 new recruits.

I am committed, as is the Government, to increasing Garda numbers to 14,000 over the lifetime of this Government. I believe the Deputies opposite will be very frustrated when this particular bone is taken out of their mouths.

We will be amazed rather than frustrated.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.