I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
condemns all unlawful killings and the criminal disregard for human life they demonstrate and expresses its sympathy to the families of the victims of all such killings;
condemns in particular the recent killing in Limerick;
strongly supports An Garda Síochána in its determined fight against gangland crime and notes the significant successes it has had in this regard;
notes the extensive package of criminal law reform aimed at tackling gangland and other crime undertaken in recent years by this Government, especially the wide range of measures in the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007;
notes in particular the creation of offences relating to organised crime and membership of an organised criminal gang; new procedures relating to the use of witness statements; increased penalties for offences relating to firearms; and mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking offences;
notes also the restriction of the right to silence; the strengthening of bail requirements; mandatory sentences for repeat offenders; restrictions on the giving of video recordings of Garda interviews to suspects; and the admissibility in evidence of video recordings of Garda interviews;
notes the extension of the detention of suspects for up to seven days to facilitate the investigation of certain serious offences;
notes that funding of €18 million will be provided in 2009 for new state-of-the-art forensic science facilities and the State Pathology Laboratory, which will enable work on the DNA database to proceed once legislation is in place;
notes that further legislative reforms will shortly be introduced by this Government that will address further areas where it is considered such measures are necessary;
notes in particular that the Criminal Justice (Covert Surveillance) Bill relating to the use in evidence of information obtained as a result of covert surveillance by An Garda Síochána; the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and Sampling) Bill to establish a DNA database for criminal investigation purposes; and the Criminal Procedure Bill providing for the possibility of an acquitted person being re-tried where the acquittal was the result of perjury, intimidation or other interference with the trial process will shortly be introduced;
condemns the illegal and dangerous use of prohibited substances;
supports the Government in its ongoing implementation of the current national drugs strategy and its development of a new strategy for the period 2009 to 2016;
welcomes the appointment of additional staff to the Criminal Assets Bureau in 2008 and the increase of 20% in its budget in 2009;
notes the introduction of over 90 CAB profilers and their placement in each Garda division;
supports the focus of the Criminal Assets Bureau on the assets of both the leaders of criminal gangs and their lower ranking members;
welcomes the success of the Criminal Assets Bureau in seizing nearly €10 million of the proceeds of crime and collecting over €10 million in taxes and interest in 2007;
notes the provision of additional resources by the Revenue Commissioners to tackling drug smuggling and their seizures of suspect cash;
welcomes the Government's funding for the national Dial to Stop Drug Dealing Campaign;
expresses its deep concern at the increase in the number of licensed handguns and, while recognising that the vast majority of the holders of licensed guns are law abiding, fully supports the intention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to address this issue comprehensively following the urgent and intensive review of firearms law by his Department and An Garda Síochána carried out at his instruction;
recognises the unprecedented increase in the number of judges in recent years and the significant investment made by the Government in the courts infrastructure;
notes the major increase in the strength of An Garda Síochána from 12,209 at the end of 2004 to 14,455 by the end of this year;
notes that there are currently almost 1,100 trainees in the Garda College which will result in the number of attested Gardaí rising from 14,284 at the end of September 2008 to almost 14,900 by the end of 2009;
recognises the significant increase from 439 at the end of 2005 to 698 at the end of September 2008 in the number of Gardaí throughout the country dedicated to community policing;
notes that the financial allocation to An Garda Síochána has increased from €1.084 billion in 2004 to €1.589 billion in 2009 representing a 47% increase, thereby ensuring that An Garda Síochána is better equipped than ever before to tackle gangland crime;
notes that the Garda authorities are developing proposals based on the latest technology to enhance the conduct of ID parades;
notes the significant progress made in the introduction of a digital radio service for An Garda Síochána;
notes the introduction of the regional support unit in the Garda southern region;
notes the continuing efforts by An Garda Síochána to speedily execute warrants, particularly in the most serious cases;
notes the provision of over 1,300 prison spaces since 1997 and commends the continued investment in modern prison accommodation with a further 400 prison spaces being provided by mid-2009;
notes the significant resources provided by the Government to provide the Irish Prison Service with over 130 additional staff to implement a range of enhanced security measures within the prisons;
notes the advances made by the Irish Prison Service in the development of mobile phone inhibition technology, with the project at the Midlands Prison at the final testing stage; and
notes the increase in the number of posts in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions following a review in 2006 of staffing in the office.
It is difficult to listen to the speakers opposite. They are speaking with their tongues firmly in their cheeks when giving out about cuts and the Government's response regarding the budget. The cut in my Department was 2.45%. Had we adopted the Fine Gael proposal, published in its budget document issued just before the budget, we would have made a cut of 5.5% across all Departments. We want a little honesty in this debate.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss one of the gravest issues we face, the threat posed by criminal gangs to our very way of life. That said, the Fine Gael motion is selective in failing to recognise what has been done by the House, the Government and previous Governments. In particular, however inadvertently or thoughtlessly, it sells short the achievements of An Garda Síochána, whose members, day in, day out, are called upon to put their lives at risk in their efforts to thwart the activities of gangs. It is because of those efforts that many gang members who may have considered themselves untouchable are behind bars facing long sentences, for which I can assure the House there will be no mitigation. I pledge on behalf of the Government that all resources of the State will be used in our unstinting endeavours to ensure there will be no hiding place for those who engage in gangland activities. That is no empty formula.
Let me inform the House of important developments regarding the use of multi-agency checkpoints in the fight against criminal gangs. For some years, An Garda Síochána and other State enforcement agencies have piloted multi-agency checkpoints. As Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs between 1997 and 2002, I was a strong advocate of multi-agency checkpoints, so much so that Members of the Opposition raised problems therewith. Following my discussions with the Garda Commissioner, An Garda Síochána and the other relevant State agencies are to begin a renewed and extended programme in respect of multi-agency checkpoints with the aim of applying relentless pressure on every front to gangs and their criminal enterprises. Those checkpoints will include gardaí from the traffic corps and other specialist units of An Garda Síochána and staff from other State agencies, including customs officials and staff from the Departments of Social and Family Affairs and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I know and hope Members on all sides of the House will support the measures necessary to deal with the menace of gangland crime.
It is a matter of record that strong words of some Members in the House in the immediate aftermath of an outrage were unfortunately not matched by a willingness to support tough legislative measures that were brought in to deal with it. Their initial outrage melted away into vacillation. It is not enough to talk tough about crime. We must, in a clear-headed, steady and determined way, adopt the tough measures that are needed. One should make no mistake that the fight against those involved in gangland activities will be long and must be waged relentlessly. There will be setbacks but the Garda needs to know we offer it more than fair-weather support. We are behind it 100% in this fight. If the intensive measures it adopts within the law to deal with this menace are portrayed by those affected as some sort of infringement of their rights, so be it. It is particularly sickening that those who shout most about their rights are those who have no respect at all for the lives of others, let alone their rights.
We live in a State that is founded on the rule of law. To deviate from that would be to hand a bitter victory to those who have no respect of any kind for the law. This State has, within the rule of law, faced down challenges and will do so again, using whatever resources are necessary for however long it takes.
I will not detain the House with an analysis of the current circumstances, other than to note that the activities of paramilitary organisations in this jurisdiction did much to bring about a gun culture. It is ironic that those who often presented themselves as protectors of communities from the ravages of drug abuse in many ways opened a Pandora's box that left us with the armed gangs we must deal with today.
There is no doubt some of the gangland killings arise in the wake of Garda activity directed against the gangs involved. That activity has led to circumstances in which gang members have sought retribution against other gang members as a result of the Garda's success. Such killings are, of course, to be deplored. However, the Garda cannot, and will not, be deflected from taking every possible action against gangs just because the aforesaid danger exists.
We should not, in the welter of public debate, lose sight of one central fact, namely, the people responsible for the brutal death of Shane Geoghegan and others were the savage killers who gunned them down, not anybody else. What is of most importance now is that we deploy every resource in bringing those killers to justice. That is exactly what is being done and what will continue to be done. I emphasise this point on a night on which Shane Geoghegan's mother and others close to him are bravely coming forward to appeal to the public to help find his killers, an appeal we in this House all resoundingly endorse.
The Government and its two predecessors have extensively reformed criminal law, and we fully intend to continue doing so. Many of the reforms are targeted at the fight against gangland crime. The criminal justice Acts of 2006 and 2007, in particular, introduced wide-ranging initiatives to strengthen the capacity of the Garda to tackle serious crime. While I do not intend to list every reform, I want to highlight some of the most far-reaching ones. In cases of offences connected with organised crime, such as murder or kidnapping involving the use of firearms or explosives, detention of up to seven days is now possible. This measure was opposed by parties on the opposite side of the House when it was introduced in 2007. Our bail laws have been strengthened to allow the prosecution to mount a more effective challenge to bail applications. For example, opinion evidence from a chief superintendent that bail should be refused because the applicant is likely to commit a serious offence is now admissible. The circumstances in which inferences may be drawn at trial from a suspect's silence in response to Garda questioning have been expanded.
As with all such reforms, it takes time for their impact to be seen in criminal trials. It is naive to believe measures we enact in the House one day will immediately transform circumstances the next. However, we have recently begun to see clear evidence that the reforms are working. For example, as Deputy Durkan is aware, the figures for 2007 show a doubling in the number of mandatory minimum sentences of ten years handed down by the courts in drug trafficking cases compared with the figures for 2006. We have noted the provisions allowing for witness statements that a witness fails to stand over or recants to be used in evidence, thus helping to secure a conviction. This occurred to great success in a recent trial on foot of which an offender was put away for a considerable period. In this case, 11 witnesses were either unwilling to make a statement or recanted statements they had made previously. The changes we made in the legislation of 2007 meant we were able to accept the original witness statements. A positive ruling has been handed down by the courts in respect of the provisions on the drawing of inferences, including in respect of the right to silence.
We will continue to press forward with the work of strengthening the criminal law. Work is ongoing on the criminal justice (forensic evidence and sampling) Bill, which will provide for the establishment of a DNA database for criminal investigation. Such a database will, as has been the experience in other countries, greatly enhance the intelligence available to the Garda Síochána. I expect to be in a position to publish the Bill early in the new year. I have already made provision in next year's Estimates for my Department for an €18 million funding package for a new state-of-the-art forensic science facility and State pathology laboratory. This will enable the work on the DNA database to proceed once the legislation is in place.
My proposals for a criminal justice (covert surveillance) Bill were considered for approval by the Government at the Cabinet meeting today, and I have published the general scheme. The Bill will make it possible for intelligence gained through secret surveillance to be used in evidence for the prosecution of cases of serious criminal activity. In light of the increasing sophistication of criminals, subversives and terrorists, their use of intermediaries and the associated difficulties in obtaining direct evidence, the use of additional evidence is crucially important. The Bill will provide for a system of authorisations for covert surveillance operations which, as a rule, will involve an application to a judge for authorisation to proceed with the surveillance. The reasons for the surveillance will be clearly set out before the court. The Bill also provides that in cases of exceptional urgency a senior member of An Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces may approve a surveillance operation for a period of no more than 14 days.
Work is ongoing in the preparation of the general scheme of the Criminal Procedure Bill 2009. Although this Bill is primarily aimed at giving effect to the legislative aspects of the justice for victims initiative that I announced in June, some elements of it will be of considerable benefit in our fight against serious crime. In particular, I am thinking of the proposal that will enable the DPP to seek a retrial where an acquittal is tainted due, for example, to intimidation of witnesses or jurors. There will also be a provision on expert evidence, to ensure that the prosecution is given adequate opportunity to examine and challenge evidence introduced by the defence. In other words, there will be a levelling of the pitch. I expect to be in a position to seek Government approval for the drafting of this Bill in December with a view to its publication in the spring.
I note Deputy Flanagan's intention to bring forward a criminal justice Bill which deals mainly with sentences and remission. In line with the programme for Government I have the matter of remission under consideration. However, I would not like persons to delude themselves that remission is an issue in respect of convictions for murder. There is no remission on life sentences which are mandatory in the case of murder. The current position is that anyone sentenced to life imprisonment can be kept in prison for life.