I am informed by the Garda authorities that from 1 January 2004 to 13 June 2004, six murders were recorded as being committed using a firearm. In the period from 1 January to 22 June 2005, nine murders were recorded as being committed using a firearm.
While I have repeatedly urged caution in the interpretation of statistics, particularly statistics covering comparatively short periods of time, it is worth noting that, of the nine murders involving firearms this year, one occurred in March, five in April, three in May and none in June to date. With one exception, the murders were committed in the Dublin area. I am satisfied that Operation Anvil is making a significant contribution to securing a reduction in this type of offence. I commend the Commissioner and the members of An Garda Síochána for the efficient and effective use of the resources made available to them.
Operation Anvil was initiated by the Garda Commissioner on 16 May. I provided details in respect of it to the House on 17 May. Its main focus is targeting active criminals and their associates involved in serious crime by preventing and disrupting criminal activity. It involves overt patrolling and static checkpoints by uniform mobile and foot patrols, supported by armed plain clothes patrols. In addition, intelligence led covert operations are undertaken, as are searches and continued gathering and collation of high quality criminal intelligence.
I am informed by the Garda authorities that, since its inception, there have been 377 arrests and 76 firearms recovered. It is not possible to provide details pertaining to the number of charges preferred as a number of investigations, in respect of which investigation files will be submitted to the law officers for direction in due course, are ongoing.
As the Deputy is aware, the Criminal Justice Bill 2004, which is on Second Stage in the House, provides for a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures that will enhance the capacity of the Garda to investigate and prosecute offences. In that context, I will bring forward, on Committee Stage, a series of measures to increase sentences for the more serious range of firearm offences, including a mandatory minimum sentence in some cases. I will also introduce a new offence of illegally making a sawn-off shotgun.
I am informed by the Garda authorities that murders involving the use of firearms tend, for obvious reasons, to have lower conviction rates than other murders. This is not unique to Ireland; it is a pattern across the world. However, the number of violent deaths, both murder and manslaughter, recorded in 2004 was 45, the lowest number in ten years, despite the fact our population increased by 400,000 during that ten-year period.