Gangland Crime: Motion.

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann:

deplores:

the murder of an innocent victim in Limerick by gangland criminals last week making him the 17th gangland murder victim this year;

the failure of the criminal justice system to secure convictions in 113 of the 127 gangland killings that have taken place since 1998;

the failure of the criminal justice system in respect of the almost 30,000 outstanding bench warrants that have yet to be executed;

the failure of the Government to cut off the source of gangland criminals' wealth and weapons, namely drugs, by failing to resource adequately the Garda Síochána and the Customs and Excise Service with the necessary manpower and modern equipment;

the Government's proposed reduction in trainee intake into the Garda Síochána;

the fact that gangland criminals are able to continue to carry out criminal activity from within the State's prisons;

the failure of the Government to address matters essential to the administration of justice such as the admissibility of video evidence in court; and

the failure of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to maintain confidence and stability in the criminal justice system and further condemns the Government for its consistent failure to take definitive action or steps to quell gangland criminal activities;

and calls on the Government immediately to:

recognise that it has failed to prevent the escalation in gangland activity to such an extent that criminal gangs have become a threat to the State;

restore public confidence in the criminal justice system by committing itself to the enforcement of statutes aimed at addressing activity by criminal gangs;

address the serious matter whereby almost 30,000 bench warrants remain outstanding;

apportion additional resources to the Garda Síochána and the Customs and Excise Service to ensure that the myriad of loopholes at ports, smaller airports and along the coast are addressed as well as in local communities;

bring forward measures to allow for the admissibility of video evidence in court;

introduce reform to protect the identities of witnesses at identification parade;

establish the Judicial Sentencing Commission;

ensure that Oireachtas provisions in respect of mandatory minimal sentencing are implemented;

reverse the cut in funding to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions which will make it impossible for the office to process its workload efficiently;

deliver upon commitments to provide digital radio to all gardaí;

expedite legislation to allow for the introduction of a DNA database;

expand and enhance the Garda Emergency Response Unit and the Criminal Assets Bureau;

deliver on commitments in respect of Community Gardaí throughout the country; and

adopt a co-ordinated approach to tackling criminal gangs which exercise an unacceptable level of control and authority in communities throughout the country."

I wish to share time with Deputies Lucinda Creighton, John Perry, Jimmy Deenihan and Andrew Doyle.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to introduce this motion on behalf of the Fine Gael Party. Fine Gael felt compelled to take this action due to the Government's incredibly apathetic and half-hearted response to an escalating gangland crisis.

Following Shane Geoghegan's brutal murder, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform decided to hold a meeting with the Garda Commissioner. Some vague reassurances were given that all was in order in regard to resources and legislation and then it was back to business as usual. In the face of public uproar about the grotesque behaviour of gangland criminals in terrorising their neighbourhoods and plying their evil trade, the Minister belatedly promised some action. This action culminated with today's publication of the covert surveillance Bill, which was promised more than one year ago. While welcome, this Bill is not sufficient to deal with what we have seen in Limerick and elsewhere over the past several years. It is regrettable the Taoiseach or the Minister did not think it appropriate to visit Limerick last week, while it was still in shock. I note, however, that the Taoiseach is in Limerick tonight, and I wish Munster well in its rugby match.

The half-hearted measures announced by the Minister are similar to the promises made following the deaths of Donna Cleary, Anthony Campbell, Seán Poland, Brian Fitzgerald and every other innocent person slaughtered by criminal gangsters in this State. There have been 130 gangland murders in the past ten years. Unlike the rainbow Government's ground-breaking initiative in establishing the Criminal Assets Bureau in 1996, a hands-off approach has characterised Fianna Fáil's response to escalating murder rates and a State awash with drugs.

I pointed out last week that something rotten lies at the heart of the criminal justice system. A cursory glance at the number of bench warrants that remain outstanding confirms this appraisal. A number of serious criminals continue to ply their trade while bench warrants for their arrest are yet to be acted upon. It is significant that Mr. Gerard Dundon, a leading member of the gang thought to be responsible for the death of Shane Geoghegan, turned himself in to police custody last week. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest but it had not been executed. One can still view pictures on the Internet of Mr. Dundon enjoying Hallowe'en festivities when he should have been in prison. Mr. Dundon turned himself in because he was worried about his welfare and, now that it suits him, is availing of the protection of the State. The man thought to have been responsible for the murder of Donna Cleary had no fewer than two bench warrants out for his arrest when he perpetrated his vile act of shooting her dead. These people are laughing at the State's ineptitude in ensuring that criminals pay for their crimes. What is the Minister doing about it? Has he investigated why an outrageous number of bench warrants remain outstanding? What is standing in the way of their execution and what does he propose to do about this fiasco? Urgent action must be taken before more innocent people lose their lives.

The criminals who are arrested are generally released on bail into the community. The Department's own figures indicate that the number of offences committed by suspects released on bail has risen by 60% in four years, from 15,531 in 2004 to 25,097 in 2007. The provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2007 which provide for the electronic tagging of suspects released on bail have not yet been commenced. This is yet another dysfunction which is completely ignored by the Minister.

I have often remarked in this House that gardaí are forced to fight crime with their hands tied behind their backs because of the pathetic failure of the Government to provide vital resources and equipment. Ten years after it was promised, digital radio is still not widely available to the emergency services. They are forced to rely on analogue, which is unreliable and easily intercepted. In short, it is a danger to the lives of gardaí. The Government has allowed two identical pilot projects to be implemented yet gardaí around the country are forced to rely on their own mobile phones to communicate with colleagues. In the meantime, gangland criminals drive around in bullet proof, top of the range vehicles and live in houses with as much security as bank vaults. As recent reports reveal, many of these houses have been paid for by the taxpayer.

Our remarkably low conviction rate for gangland murder is a source of great shame for this country. In failing to prosecute murderers, the State is failing victims, their families and civic society. Of the 130 gangland murders that have taken place since 1998, only 14 convictions have been secured to date. What is the reason for this unacceptably low conviction rate and what has the Minister done about it? Thus far, the only action he appears to have taken is to slash funding for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. At a time when the DPP's workload is growing at 6% per annum, its budget is to be cut by 3%. The DPP himself has indicated that such a cutback will hamper his office's efforts to investigate the growing number of files coming across his desk. The only action this Minister has taken in respect of conviction rates was to introduce a budget cut to the DPP.

One of the most obvious weaknesses in securing convictions relates to evidence. Last year, new laws were introduced allowing inferences to be drawn when suspects invoked their right to silence but the Minister has failed to introduce new regulations on the type of cautions to be used by gardaí in this context. Consequently, gardaí are nervous about using these new provisions in case a trial is undermined. There is no excuse for this inaction and the Minister must address this gross oversight as a matter of great urgency. Why have no regulations been brought to accompany the changes made by the former Minister, Michael McDowell, to the right to silence and the inferences that can be drawn? This failure is the reason why gardaí are reluctant to use the evidence which we were told they would.

Another area neglected by the Minister is the admissibility of video evidence. When interviewing suspects, gardaí must write out each answer in long-hand. This seriously undermines gardaí and hampers their questioning techniques. Even though video and audio recording should have made long-hand transcription redundant many moons ago, no action been taken to ensure that video evidence is admissible in court and most Garda stations lack video or audio recording equipment. Furthermore, some of the stations that possess the appropriate equipment are not making use of it. The Government claims that a working group is examining the issue. We do not want talking shops; we want action. This gross anomaly must be addressed as a matter of the greatest urgency.

For the few brutal murderers who are convicted, there is a bright light at the end of a short tunnel. They are highly unlikely to serve the mandatory life sentence these Houses have enshrined in legislation. Moreover, irrespective of what they have done on the outside or what they will do on the inside, they will be rewarded with the automatic remission of up to a quarter of their sentences. Even as this fiasco continues, the Government's commitment to establish a judicial sentencing committee constitutes another unfulfilled promise. We do not even possess a central sentencing database that might offer judges some guidelines on sentencing. I would like the Minister to clarify whether he has lifted a finger to deal with this grave problem or if he has seen evidence of his predecessor's fingerprints on a file.

I have provided the money for it.

Hiding behind the separation of powers does not allow for justice to be delivered to murder victims or their families. The Houses of the Oireachtas enacted legislation in respect of mandatory sentencing and if that legislation is being flouted, the Minister must take action.

For those criminals who are incarcerated, prison is not always an obstacle to criminality. Time and again it has been shown that criminals are able to continue to run their gangland empires from inside our prisons. Almost 1,500 mobile phones were confiscated in prisons during the first eight months of this year. Vague promises have been made about introducing signal blocking technology to all prisons but what is happening in the meantime? I would like the Minister to inform the House how these phones get into prisons in the first place. It is simply not good enough. I ask him to spell out the reason why he has not introduced a ban on mobile phones in Portlaoise prison while we await this technology. Certain categories of people can bring in their mobile phones with impunity. They are not even checked coming out to verify whether they still have the phone or the SIM card. Chances are that if they have the phone the SIM card is inside but they might not even have the phone.

Rehabilitation within prisons is non-existent. Many people leave prison having become more adept at criminality rather than having turned away from it. What minor rehabilitation and education programmes existed in prisons have become victims of the latest budget. Some people might scoff at the idea of rehabilitation, but in the context of habitual criminality with recidivism rates hitting almost 50% for ex-offenders four years after their release and at a cost of almost €100,000 per prisoner per annum to incarcerate an offender, rehabilitation is something that we need to take very seriously indeed. Our prisons are full to capacity. As we speak we have more prisoners behind bars than ever before yet the recidivism rate indicates that prisons are failing. Thornton Hall, the Government's great white hope and the justification why so little has been done with existing prisons, is in a state of limbo. The scandal of our prisons is another slur on the Minister's poor record.

This week the Garda Commissioner highlighted an absence of legislation relating to surveillance of criminals as a major stumbling block. Gardaí use covert surveillance when tackling gangland crime but the material they gather remains inadmissible in criminal trials. While I welcome what the Minister has said this evening, we know why he said it. If it had not been for the events of the past ten days he would not have been in Buswell's Hotel.

It was coming this week anyway.

He would not have been spinning and manipulating in the way he has been. I encourage him to introduce this because his foot-dragging excuse that the proposed legislation is complex is unacceptable. The Minister and his Department have access to the finest legal minds in the country when drafting legislation and this legislation should be in place by now. Given the Garda Commissioner's full support for the proposed legislation, why has the Minister taken so long to deliver even the heads of a Bill?

Another neglected area on the basis of so-called "complexity" relates to the establishment of a DNA database. This was promised by former Minister, then Deputy McDowell in 2006 but we still do not have a draft Bill. Ireland is therefore at a significant disadvantage compared with other countries in solving crime. The witness protection programme is an abject failure yet alternative measures such as identity parades are at the research stage after more than ten years of Fianna Fáil in government and 130 murders. When does the Minister propose to take action to address the major dysfunction afflicting the witness protection programme and associated measures?

The State's inability to transpose the third EU money-laundering directive again allows people on the international stage to claim that Ireland's law lags behind other European jurisdictions and the United States of America. Why have we not introduced this vital legislation in the area of money laundering? We all know of the association between money laundering, drugs, gangland criminals and death.

John Fitzgerald, as the man responsible for the regeneration of Limerick and a man for whom I have considerable respect, is more familiar with its problems than most. He has appealed to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for additional gardaí to facilitate having a high-visibility presence in at-risk communities. He has asked for a well resourced branch of the Criminal Assets Bureau to be established in Limerick. So far this has not happened. How can the Government justify the extraordinary outlay of taxpayers' money being pumped into the regeneration of Limerick city while, at the same time, relatively small amounts of money to increase community Garda visibility in gang-stricken areas are not forthcoming? The Limerick regeneration is a multi-billion euro project yet we are not putting together the minor but fundamental pieces of the jigsaw.

In the meantime, this week the Garda Commissioner informed the Committee of Public Accounts — I hope to see him appear before the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights soon — that, at any one time, up to 700 gardaí are tied up in court duties. This accounts for 5% of the force and costs the State more than €10 million per annum. The Government has failed to deliver on the post of court presenter and this situation is likely to deteriorate further. The DPP has indicated that cuts to his budget mean that his office will have to hand back the responsibility for prosecuting cases in the District Court to the Garda, which will not help the administration of justice. Thus the total and utter absence of joined-up thinking makes itself felt again.

This brings me to my final point relating to drugs. Criminal gangs would not prosper in this country if they did not have easy access to drugs. The Government likes to point the finger at Foxrock and abdicate its own responsibility in this regard. However, the bottom line is that Ireland is internationally seen as a soft touch when it comes to the importation of drugs. With one Customs boat, one mobile X-ray scanner and a handful of sniffer dogs, this is no surprise. Our smaller and private airports and our vast unpoliced coastline constitute a drug smuggler's paradise. While this gross oversight remains, criminal gangs will prosper, innocent victims will be murdered and the Government will have failed the people of Ireland.

I express my deepest sympathy to the family of Shane Geoghegan. His murder is one of the most senseless and futile deaths in a long history of this State's failure to deal with organised crime. It is a failure of legislation, courts, policing and society. Most of all it is a failure of Government and particularly the Fianna Fáil-led Governments that have been in power for the best part of 12 years. On all these levels we need to attack and hold to account the criminals who are responsible for this behaviour.

The conviction rates for gangland criminality have been set out before by Deputy Charles Flanagan. However, I wish to highlight some of them. There have been 130 gangland murders in the past 11 years but only 14 convictions. Not a single person has been charged in the 16 gang-related murders that have taken place since 2003. That is a damning indictment of the Government and our so-called justice system. It illustrates in particular a failure of the system to deal with gangland criminals where gang bosses murder and maim with impunity. The Government has clearly failed to respond in any meaningful way. Over the course of the past week the Minister has said he is pretty much satisfied with thestatus quo. He was happy with his talks with the Garda Commissioner and does not plan any fundamental changes. This is simply not good enough. The Garda Commissioner does not run the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and is not responsible for finding solutions to these problems. The Minister may try to pass the buck but the buck stops with him. He is the Minister who must find a solution to this appalling situation. He must respond to this crisis in the same way that Fine Gael did when we were in government during the rainbow coalition.

The new legislation announced today is simply inadequate and does not go far enough. Allowing gardaí to bug buildings, vehicles etc. is not a solution to the kind of endemic systematic drug-related gangland crime we are experiencing. We need creative solutions to tackle these unprecedented levels of criminality. I am not just talking about new legislation, which is not adequate without the political will driven by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to utilise that legislation. We have seen rafts of legislation in recent years which have simply been ineffectual. I point to the mandatory sentencing introduced for drug-related offences. Those mandatory sentences are just being ignored by the courts and are not being imposed. They essentially allow the entire justice system to be made a mockery of.

We need new criminal laws that will be implemented and which will have an effect in dealing with these gang leaders. I fundamentally believe that we now need preventive measures so that these criminals can be taken off the streets before they murder innocent young people with their entire lives laid out before them. This model should be based on the Offences against the State Act 1988, creating a new offence of organised gangland crime. We must see use of the Special Criminal Court and lengthy minimum sentences of between 20 and 25 years to really deal with these people, punish the offences and create a deterrent to being a leader of a gang in this State. We must prevent these types of criminals from committing the type of murder we have seen over the past number of years.

I am tired of hearing about the rights of criminals and that we must tip-toe around them. I am sick of the politically correct brigade, which seems to be running the show in this country. The Minister must stand up to it, as it is about balancing the rights of the individual against the rights, needs and interests of our society. The Minister and his predecessors have failed to do this.

It is vital our criminal justice system protects the innocent and that we are not held prisoner to the political correctness which seems to have gone mad in this country.

I compliment Deputy Flanagan on this very important motion. I welcome the opportunity to speak on it, which calls on the Government to implement a comprehensive set of proposals to tackle serious crime in this State. In particular, it calls on the Government to launch a co-ordinated approach to tackling organised criminal gangs.

I offer my sympathy to the family and friends of the late Mr. Shane Geoghegan, whose killing is another example of a murderous attack on the citizens of this State. What is going on in some of our cities has many of the features of a war between criminal gangs and between the gangs and society. In some respects it looks like a war in some underdeveloped region of Africa, complete with well-armed boy soldiers. These gangs have no regard for human life or citizens going about their daily lives and they certainly have no respect for the Government and its Executive agencies.

This is a war which the Government is not winning. Over the last few years we have seen the murders of several innocent people and many gangland criminals. Our crime problem has grown progressively more serious and drugs continue to flood into the country, providing income for these gangs. Having failed to make any significant inroads into their activities, the Government must now take decisive action to put them out of business.

So what do we know of this war? We know the participants on all sides, including the gangs, their leaders and their members. In the case of the latest murder of an innocent man, the newspapers tell us that the Garda know who ordered it, who carried it out, how they did it, how they travelled to and from the crime scene, where the killers went after the murder and where they are now. They know where these gang members were born, where they grew up, to whom they are related, with whom they associate and where they live and where they go on holidays. The newspapers themselves, in so many words, tell that they know all this as well. It is an absurd position, as we know virtually everything about these gang members and their activities and yet it seems this Government can do virtually nothing to stop them.

If it was the case that the perpetrators of this murder were simply throwing stones at each other and an innocent bystander was hit and injured, our justice system could do something about stopping this anti-social behaviour. Existing legislation provides a mechanism through the ASBO procedure to stop a person from behaving in a way which is causing harassment, alarm and distress to a local community or person in that community. The Garda makes an application to the court and the ASBO is granted by a District Court judge on the balance of probabilities. Deliberately breaching an ASBO can lead to a criminal prosecution and serious penalty. The ASBO procedure tells the minority that disrupting and terrorising the lives of others will not be tolerated by citizens.

The fact that these gangs continue to grow and expand their influence and control over local communities tells us that the Government's response to date is inadequate. We need an all-out assault on the lawlessness that blights some communities. We need to break the power of these organised crime gangs.

Mr. John Fitzgerald, the former Dublin city manager, produced a report on what needs to happen if Limerick city is to be rescued from the present cycle of violence. He identified a long-term sociological and economic strategy and I wish the new agencies established to implement this approach every success.

Mr. Fitzgerald's report has one key reservation in that before anything good can happen in Limerick, the lawlessness must end. He states:

Standard approaches to policing are simply not sufficient to cope with the nature and level of the problems being experienced, yet dealing with the serious (although relatively small in number) criminal elements operating in these areas will be fundamental to facilitating the majority of ordinary citizens trying to live their lives in peace and safety.

This is the immediate problem and it must be met head on.

The Government response to this latest atrocity is, so far at least, too soft and easy. These criminal gangs represent a threat to the State and democracy and they cannot be combated effectively by laws that are designed for a normal society. We need new and powerful well-targeted measures. What we need now are a series of tough measures to deprive these criminals of their ability to commit future crimes. We must focus on prevention and pre-emptive actions as much as convictions after a crime.

In the case of anti-social behaviour, the ASBO procedure gives the court the power to make an open-ended order which restricts the actions and behaviour of the individual. The court has discretion as to the nature and breadth of the conditions attached to the ASBO and it can prohibit people from using certain language or words. I call on the Minister to take decisive action in this major crisis.

I join with fellow Members in sympathising with the family of Shane Geoghegan and the Garryowen rugby club. I played for a brief period with Garryowen and can empathise with their genuine outpouring of grief. The rugby club is a large extended family and although I only played briefly with the team, I still feel attached to the ethos of Garryowen. I can fully understand why people were so shattered following the death of Shane Geoghegan.

Gangland crime in Limerick is about to spread around the region. Very shortly, gangland crime will be prevalent in places like north Kerry, Clare, south Tipperary and other parts of the Shannon region. The gangs in Limerick already control drug distribution in the region and control the drug distribution network in north Kerry. It is only a matter of time, in the absence of action, before the gangs establish networks in other parts of the region. What is currently happening in Limerick could happen in other towns in the region. The Minister and others with responsibility must take action or there will be a major problem in the short term. I appeal to the Minister to put in place measures to deal with what is happening in Limerick and prevent the spread of such violence throughout the region.

The budget for Operation Anvil has been increased by €1 million but the overall budget next year for Garda overtime has been reduced by €28 million, leaving it at €80 million. I appeal to the Minister to ensure the Limerick Garda division does not have to absorb its share of this overtime loss next year. The overtime funding will have to be shared across all divisions and I ask the Minister to ensure overtime funding for Limerick will be increased if at all possible.

The Minister mentioned that although the number of gardaí in Limerick has increased by 62, this is well short of the 100 personnel recommended by Mr. John Fitzgerald approximately nine months ago in a report referred to by a number of speakers. He recommended an increase of at least 100 but the increase at this stage is only 62, which is not adequate. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the figures later.

Reference has been made to the Criminal Assets Bureau's regional office targeting criminal assets in Limerick. As I understand it, only two members of the Criminal Assets Bureau work full-time in Limerick. Given the number of gangs with a probable total membership of up to 100, two members of the Criminal Assets Bureau is not adequate.

A number of good proposals have been made by Deputy Charlie Flanagan. I compliment him on bringing forward the motion and on being so clear on the issue. The Minister will have our full support for the covert surveillance legislation and increased use of the Special Criminal Court. The intimidation of juries and witnesses occurred in the past in Limerick and the situation is even worse now.

I thank Deputy Charlie Flanagan for bringing this Private Members' business to the House and for sharing time. It is somewhat poignant that the motion comes before the House when the city that somewhat unfairly seems to be getting all the attention, namely, Limerick, which is a wonderful city, is trying to celebrate its positive side with the opening of a new stadium and at least one spectator who was looking forward to seeing the All-Blacks here again after 30 years, Shane Geoghegan, will not be there. I was in Croke Park for the game on Sunday and the minute's silence started and ended with a round of applause that was touching for everybody who was there.

We must ask why gangland crime is beating the system. Gangland crime is motivated by profit and greed and is based on utter ruthlessness. The new breed of criminal does not have any moral conscience. Taking a life is no more than putting out a candle. The criminals will do anything to protect the huge profits they can make in their industry. In the meantime, the Garda Síochána, the security forces and the Prison Service is hamstrung by working groups, study groups, reports and restricted resources. Every day that goes by they are losing the fight with the criminals. A bumper sticker that was popular on cars a number of years ago stated, "Crime does not pay and neither does farming". I do not know about farming paying yet but crime certainly is paying.

We do not seem to be able to put in place measures to prevent crime paying. We have legislation, court resources, extra judges, as referred to in the amendment, but there are twice as many prisoners this year as last year out on temporary release. Neither the criminal justice system nor prison offers a deterrent to criminals. It is debatable whether there is even a risk to criminals in seeking the profit they can make from criminal activity.

I spoke to a friend who is a Garda sergeant in Arklow, County Wicklow, following the general election 18 months ago. He is the same age as me. He told me he was nearly 30 years in the force. He was measured for a stab vest six weeks previously but he said he could be retired before he gets it. That is the way we send out the security forces to defend themselves against people who are armed to the hilt and, as Deputy Flanagan said, who drive vehicles and live in houses that are fully protected, yet we give members of the Garda stab vests in 2007.

It is 11 years since the Ceann Comhairle got the justice portfolio and said he would introduce a regime of zero tolerance, a phrase for which Mayor Giuliani gets credit but it was Mayor Ed Koch who put the nuts and bolts of the system in place. One can walk down Fifth Avenue without feeling terrorised but it is questionable whether one can do the same thing on O'Connell Street in Dublin. My contention is that one cannot. Words are meaningless unless they are followed with action.

The Government amendment refers to deep concern at the increase in the number of licensed handguns. If an Olympian sharpshooter with a handgun came back from the Olympics with a gold medal the Taoiseach and every Minister would be on a platform to welcome him, saying it was a great sport and gave people an outlet that is safe and secure. We are muddying the waters by trying to blame legally held handguns for the current problems. There is no proven correlation between the number of licensed handguns with bona fide sporting organisations and the increase in gun crime. Let us tackle the illegal guns in the country.

Let us tackle the importation of drugs for profit. It is more than likely that every consignment of drugs that comes into the country contains firearms to help the drug dealers shift their wares. Let us help the petty drug addict by preventing drugs getting here in the first place and making resources available to rehabilitate them.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, for bringing this issue before the House. It is timely that we discuss the matter. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that crime is a growth industry in the country at present. It is prospering all the time. It is becoming more beneficial to be a member of a crime gang than any other industry. The procedures we have to tackle the situation at present are laughable. For example, there is no difficulty in people who are out on bail for serious crimes committing further serious crimes and being granted bail again. In God's name, what are we at? Does the Minister not realise what is happening in this country? Surely he or someone in his Department should be able to take some initiative. Somebody must be able to do something. Why would the gardaí take action? After all, if they bring the criminals before the courts they get out on bail even if they shot somebody or beat them half to death. What do they do next? They do the same thing to somebody else. The Garda must be totally and absolutely brassed off at attempting to enforce the law when the will is not there to do it. I do not want to hear nonsense about a decision of the Supreme Court in 1965 or 1966. That is a long time ago. That was then and this is now. We have to deal with the situation that presents or else society will be under serious threat.

I attended a meeting in Brussels recently which was addressed by the heads of Europol and Eurojust. They said they got their information from the press. They had to go to journalists for information. That indicates the swapping of information between jurisdictions is not what it should be and that points to a serious deficit. Reference has been made previously to legislation but nothing seems to be done about it. There is no serious intent about getting to grips with the criminal fraternity.

The intimidation of witnesses is another problem. We have seen countless instances of that in recent years and it is getting worse. Various timid intentions have been expressed to tackle it but nothing has happened and the problem continues. When a person is charged with a crime and witnesses are interviewed they invariably agree to give evidence but after a couple of weeks they change their minds, say they were wrong or they lied the first time. What is going on? The Minister cannot enforce justice with that kind of situation and he cannot protect society. The Minister is not protecting society. It may not be all the fault of the Minister but he should remember he is in charge now and he must accept responsibility. There is no good in saying he inherited something or referring to his predecessor's predecessor.

The Minister's predecessor but one closed two prisons, Spike Island and the Curragh. We were told at the time there was no necessity for them, that everything was under control. We were told dying wasps were administering stings at the time and we could rest assured that everything was in order. The criminal fraternity is laughing about the Minister, this House, the courts and the people who try to do anything to uphold law and order in the country. That is appalling and a terrible indictment of society and the Government. An event will occur that will crystallise the seriousness of the problem. Gangland crime has been occurring for far too long and the Minister should do something about it before it is too late.

I wish to share time with Deputy Sean Connick.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

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.

There is no entitlement to any form of release and we do not release any prisoner convicted of murder who is still considered a threat. We have never released any person involved in organised crime convicted of murder and there are prisoners who have been in prison over 30 years. Introducing a tariff of 25 years might act to prevent a Minister detaining someone for longer than 25 years, because a decision to detain someone longer than the 25 year tariff imposed by a court would lead to judicial review. The 25% remission applying to fixed sentences has been operating here for over 100 years, and the courts are undoubtedly aware of it in imposing sentences. Obviously, a judge discounts the 25 years when he or she imposes sentence. What would be achieved by abolishing remission when the courts would, in consequence, impose lower sentences? I also doubt that changes could be made in respect of existing sentences which have been imposed by the courts under the existing system.

I shall look at what this Bill has to say about civil restrictions on persons involved in organised criminal activity. However, such restrictions would be very weak compared to the offences gangs commit. I do not think it would be sensible to divert Garda resources from their work to ensure that gang members are locked away for a very long time.

I shall consider the detail of the Bill, but I have warned the House before of the dangers of legislative acts of delusion, particularly ones that, however well intentioned, could actually worsen the situation, as is the case with Deputy Flanagan's suggestion of 25 year sentences.

This Government is not only strengthening the criminal law to enable it to respond to current circumstances, but it will continue to provide the Garda Síochána with the resources it needs to prevent crime and pursue criminals. I will not detail the resources which are being provided to the Garda, as these are set out comprehensively in the Government's amendment to the motion. My intention was to list everything in order to show exactly what has been done.

The amendment reflects the fact that in deciding on the Estimates for my Department this year I directed that absolute priority be given to the fight against crime. This matter arose during Question Time the other day. Three months ago, I said that I wanted to concentrate on crime, given the fact that I would have fewer resources next year. I had to earmark the issue of tackling crime and dealing with our prisons and that is exactly as it has emerged. The Fine Gael 5% cut would mean that we would have to cut the programme for the Criminal Assets Bureau. We increased the resources for the CAB by 20% and also increased and ring-fenced the money for Operation Anvil, which is directed at organised crime.

The attested strength of An Garda Síochána will increase to almost 14,900 by the end of 2009 from its current attested strength of 14,267. This increase in the number of gardaí, together with the flexibility that overtime gives to the force, will ensure delivery of a real sustainable increase in visible policing in all our communities. Along with the increase in civilian numbers in An Garda Síochána of 20% since the start of this year, and the increase of 60% in the past 21 months, such numbers will more than offset the planned reduction in overtime. A ring-fenced allocation of €21 million, an increase of €1 million, will enable Operation Anvil to continue in 2009 with the targeted disruption of serious and organised criminal activity.

We cannot overlook the fact that the demand for drugs is the lifeblood of many criminal gangs in this country. Any person, from whatever class or background, who uses illicit drugs is not well placed to deplore the activities of gangs. Such persons are complicit in those activities. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy John Curran, is currently drawing up the national drugs strategy for the next eight years. I have no doubt that we will debate that strategy fully in this House when it is presented. I reject completely suggestions that have been made from time to time, even recently, that the answer is to legalise drugs. That completely overlooks the harm that comes from drug abuse and would hand victory to the purveyors of death and destruction.

The Criminal Assets Bureau has been highly successful over the past 12 years in tackling the criminals in a very effective and tangible way. It demonstrates the effectiveness of the co-ordinated multi-agency approach in dealing with the proceeds of crime. I acknowledge that the bureau had its origins in proposals put forward at the time by the current Ceann Comhairle. It represents a new form of policing designed to disrupt and disable the capacity of targeted individuals to participate in further criminal activity. Work at the bureau continues to evolve in response to the changing environment. There was a significant increase in the number of trained asset profilers in 2008, ensuring that CAB has a presence in every part of the country. An incorrect reference was made stating that there were only two full-time CAB personnel in Limerick. That is not the case. There are more personnel in Limerick from the CAB than there are anywhere else. There are two profilers in the city, the same number provided for most other counties.

The bureau is now looking at middle-ranking criminals as well as their bosses. These persons are often well known as drug dealers in their local areas and are a constant provocation for parents and community workers who are doing their best to protect their youth and keep their local community safe.

In any criminal system there is an inevitable time lapse between the issuing of a warrant and its execution but I am assured that the Garda will continue to prioritise the enforcement of warrants, of whatever kind, against those involved in serious crime. A serious effort was made during August of this year to deal with the backlog of warrants. The vast majority of warrants relate to monetary penalties. I am taking all the steps open to me to reduce the burden on gardaí, in particular through outsourcing the collection of fines. This is a priority in my Department. We heard time and time again in this House that there were too many gardaí sitting behind desks. Today 2,600 civilians are working with the 14,200 gardaí who can thereby be released from desk duties.

I will address the issue of the collection of fines in a fines Bill which I will bring forward——

How many warrants?

——in the not too distant future.

The use of weapons by gang members is a matter of particular concern. I fully support the comments which the Garda Commissioner made at the Committee of Public Accounts last week about licensed handguns. The Commissioner acknowledged at the meeting that I have raised this matter with him on many occasions over the past number of months. Since I became Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I have made clear my concern at the number and type of handguns being licensed. That is why, at my direction, my Department and the Garda Síochána have engaged in an urgent and intensive review of the firearms law. That review is now in its final stages. In addition, work is well under way on the preparation of a criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill which, among other things, will give effect to the proposals emerging from that review.

I do not believe we can countenance a proliferation of handguns as a matter of public policy. I raised this issue with my Cabinet colleagues this morning and they agreed with my assessment. I recognise that the vast majority of handgun owners are responsible people, but my concern is the safety of the public, particularly at a time of concern about gun crime. I accept what Deputies have said about sports people. Do we want to go down the road of America, Finland and other countries where there is a proliferation of handguns? Until 2004, handguns were completely banned in Ireland but the position changed as a result of a court case, rather than any measures taken in the House. I will make a detailed statement on this matter in the near future. I will record now that in light of the Troubles all handguns were banned in this jurisdiction from the early 1970s until a few years ago. Following a series of judicial decisions that is no longer the case. No public policy decision was made to bring about this situation.

The Criminal Justice Act 2006 made a number of changes strengthening our firearms code. One of the purposes of the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill will be to make a number of technical changes which are necessary to ensure that some of those changes can be brought into operation effectively. However, in light of the situation we face, I do not believe these measures on their own will be sufficient and I will go further.

I am conscious, as should be other Deputies, of the remarks made by Mr. Justice Charleton in a recent judgment in a firearms case in which he stated he was surprised the Oireachtas had not addressed the issue of firearms. Remarks on the issue made by a number of Deputies on the other side reflect my concerns. The increasing prevalence of handguns has not come about as a result of any deliberate policy decision by the Government or the House. This situation is clearly unsatisfactory and I will bring forward effective proposals to deal comprehensively with the issue.

There is no excuse for the type of gangland activities we have witnessed. Members of gangs bear complete personal responsibility for their deeds. It is not a contradiction to point out that in the longer term we risk condemning future generations if we do not face up to the deep-seated social problems which have beset parts of Limerick. In recognition of this my Department was instrumental in initiating and supporting the Limerick regeneration project led by Mr. John Fitzgerald. The Secretary General of my Department was in Limerick today making a presentation to the board of the regeneration project.

I do not stand before the House to claim our criminal justice system is perfect and does not need change. For my part, I pledge, as Minister, to keep under constant and intensive review all aspects of the operation of the criminal justice system and continue to bring forward whatever changes are sensible and required. However, it serves only to demoralise those in the front line who have to face down the evil doers in our midst not to recognise what has been achieved to date. It is against that background that I commend the amendment to the House.

Like every other Member of the Oireachtas, I was shocked to learn of the recent senseless death of Shane Geoghegan. The death of this innocent young man who had contributed so much to his community has had a dramatic impact not only on Limerick but on the entire country. The sight of so many Garryowen jerseys in the crowd at last weekend's rugby international showed the high esteem in which Mr. Geoghegan was held and that his death affected many people. It is sad to note that as this debate takes place, Shane Geoghegan should have been in Thomond Park with his friends and club mates enjoying the Munster versus New Zealand match. I, too, extend my deepest sympathy to Shane's family and friends on their loss.

Unfortunately, we must accept that we live in an increasingly violent society. Respect for and fear of law and order is a thing of the past for some. Today's criminals are, as we have seen, sometimes lethal and show no respect for life. They are legally savvy and usually repeat offenders. Regardless of interventions by any number of agencies, these individuals will end up in trouble. Simplistic as it may sound, perhaps some people are unfortunately bad and beyond redemption and must be jailed.

I look forward to the earliest possible introduction and enactment of a number of Bills addressing justice issues. Members of the public expect the House to be hard on crime. The time for talking is over and the Government is committed to acting. Last week, I listened with dismay to the parents of the late Donna Cleary relate on a radio programme the shocking position in which they find themselves.

Last week, a delegation from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. I noted with interest that the ICCL, in its report, Taking Liberties, took issue with four aspects of the report by the review group on balance in the criminal law. I support the changes proposed by the review group, particularly on the right to silence; the inference of guilt by staying silent; character evidence; the exclusionary rule; and "with prejudice" and fresh evidence appeals. In the case of character evidence, the proposal would give the courts the power to question an accused person about previous convictions, which would be an important development. In the case of the exclusionary rule, the change would allow evidence to be put before a jury, even where it has been collected in a questionable manner. These proposals are of vital importance if we are serious about tackling gangland crime.

All of us accept that gangland activity is escalating. It is difficult to control gunmen who are prepared to hide in the dark with a gun at their side, ready to shoot an innocent victim. We are also aware of the difficulty in providing security in other areas, for example, in preventing suicide bombers. It is very difficult to stop someone who is determined to kill someone. Those involved in the drugs trade are heavily funded, sophisticated and unafraid of taking risks. In this respect, I commend the Garda and Naval Service on the recent seizure of drugs off the coast. There is no doubt that co-operation between the Garda, police forces throughout Europe and our friends in the United States was a major factor in this success.

In 2006 and 2007, the Government introduced legislation specifically targeting gangs and gang membership. New legislation, the covert surveillance Bill, the heads of which were published today, is welcome. Garda numbers have increased to almost 15,000 and the Government has made a commitment to ongoing recruitment of 400 gardaí per annum. The sharing of intelligence and closer co-operation among police forces throughout Europe is welcome, as was the introduction of the Garda emergency response unit in recent months. The Criminal Assets Bureau continues to do great work and has been effective in putting gangland criminals out of business. I welcome the increase in funding of 20% allocated to the CAB this year.

A witness protection programme is in place. Addressing the fear of the community is vital if this programme is to continue to be successful. However, I accept there are difficulties with it in our communities. We have also introduced new procedures to allow prosecutors to use witness statements given to gardaí in interviews when the witnesses in question subsequently retract their statements in court due to threats or intimidation. The whole country was shocked when the trial for murder of a young Limerick man collapsed when witnesses who had identified the suspect suddenly developed collective amnesia. This change of evidence by witnesses will not cause prosecutions to fail in future. Just last month, a defendant was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment in a trial in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court after being found guilty of a stabbing offence despite the fact that witnesses in the case had withdrawn their evidence. This is the first court case of its type in the State in which prosecutors used their new powers. These new procedures will lead to many of the main players in gangland crime being sent to prison where they belong.

Increased penalties have been introduced for the possession of firearms under the new criminal justice Acts. New regulations on bail will make it much easier for authorities to challenge applications for bail. New mandatory sentencing has been introduced for repeat offenders connected with organised crime. The 2007 Criminal Justice Act made important changes to the right to silence, following recommendations from the criminal law review group, taking recent case law and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights into account. Although the right to silence remains, a court can now draw inferences from the failure to account for being in a particular place or the failure to account for certain marks or objects. Courts can now also draw inference from the failure to mention certain evidence at interview stage which is subsequently raised by the defence at a trial. These changes again strengthen the hand of Garda and prosecutors in dealing with organised criminal gangs.

Legislation to establish a DNA database, to which the Fine Gael Party motion refers, is being drafted and will be presented to the House shortly. The database, when established, will be maintained by the Forensic Science Laboratory. It will be of particular assistance to gardaí investigating crime and will greatly increase the intelligence available to them. The DNA profiles collected by gardaí during their investigations will be held on the database indefinitely and will be of great assistance in freeing up Garda resources by aiding with the identification of suspects and allowing innocent individuals to be eliminated early in an investigation.

Limerick is one of the most heavily policed urban centres in the country, with 626 gardaí on the ground, including 90 community gardaí. Garda numbers in the city increased by 12% in the past year and 40% in the past five years. Closed circuit television is used extensively in the city centre, Moyross and Our Lady of Lourdes. In addition, the area is also covered by 27 gardaí on mountain bikes while covert and overt surveillance and armed patrols take place on a 24-hour basis. Garda emergency response units are also in place. Organised crime is a cancer in society and is damaging many urban communities. This Government is fully committed to fighting organised crime and putting its key players into prison. We have introduced a comprehensive package of legislation which has an impact on the ground and is aiding the Garda in its fight against these criminals. The Government is also committed to tackling the many social problems which afflict urban communities and that have led people into lives of crime.

I commend both the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the members of An Garda Síochána for the efforts they have made to date to remove organised crime from our streets. I have no doubt they will be successful in their efforts.

With the permission of the House, I wish to share my time with Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Upton and Costello.

I have no doubt about Deputy Connick's sincerity when he tells the House the Government is dedicated to putting the crime bosses behind bars. Unfortunately, it has not been particularly successful up to the present. The Minister made his big play today in advance of this debate when he published the heads of the much promised covert surveillance Bill. This draft surveillance Bill has featured in all of the planted stories about this since the tragedy in Limerick, on the front page ofThe Irish Times and so forth. I was somewhat surprised when I looked at what the Minister had produced. His predecessor as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, when I published the Covert Surveillance Bill on behalf of the Labour Party in November 2007, said at the time it would “alert the criminals to Garda investigative techniques”. He implied he was speaking on behalf of the Garda Síochána.

It would appear that the tragedy in Limerick has changed the mind of this Minister. If he shakes his head this Minister will tell me he agreed with my Bill all the time and disagreed with the then Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan.

I told the Deputy last week, but he wanted to proceed with an FOI.

Never mind the FOI — that is a complete diversion and the Minister knows it.

The Minister must allow the Deputy to speak, without interruption.

Anyway, the Minister has published a Bill and it is entirely ambiguous, because all it appears to do is put on a statutory footing the existing powers of the Garda Síochána with regard to surveillance. Only in exceptional circumstances may gardaí use this evidence in court. Now that is really a three card trick, which does not advance us one whit. If this is the Minister's big legislative shot against the crime bosses, they will not be too concerned. The Garda Commissioner has gone out of his way to tell us he exercises these powers now, and the only difference is that he will have the legal cover to do so. However, such evidence may not, except in exceptional circumstances, be used in court, so I do not think too much of that.

The Minister said that he and two previous Governments had done the devil and all. He stated: "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". Well, it may have introduced them, but what——

The Deputy opposed them.

I would love to be able to support the Minister. He should not feel so upset about it.

The Deputy opposed them, let us be frank about it, he and his pseudo-liberal colleagues.

The Minister is very narky. I was watching him on television last night and some of the questions were about the time he went off to London, to maintain JMSE, and keep it stum. He came back and said, in effect, that it had been Bertie's decision, not his. He is always so self-exculpatory. He should stay quiet for a minute. I did not interrupt him.

The Minister tells me the Government brought in this 2006 Act and was going to do the devil and all about organised crime. I should like to refer him to the questions from Deputy Charles Flanagan and me on 18 November, when we asked him to detail for us the convictions secured as a result of section 72 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006. He gave us a dissertation on the CSO and told us at the end that he had requested the CSO to tell us the answer. Now here is a man who is Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, professes to be fighting gangland crime and produces this item of legislation as one of his major weapons. Section 72 is specifically on organised crime. We asked a simple question as to whether it had ever been used, was it successful in the event, and how many convictions were there and he said he did not know, but the CSO might and he would direct it to tell us.

It might tell us.

The CSO collects the statistics for the State.

I was watching television last night and it is no wonder the people are wearying of the Government. I watched the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, and it was almost beyond belief. One would believe he was a new Fianna Fáil Opposition Deputy.

(Interruptions.)

The Minister, please, must not interrupt, but allow Deputies who have very confined time to make their contributions.

What did Deputy Ó Cuív say last night when asked about the question of gangland crime, and especially the problems in Limerick? He said, "The biggest blight in this country is bad planning". This was from a Fianna Fáil Minister, and it is almost beyond belief. Who is the cause of the sprawling housing estates we have built? Then he went on to say his solution was that he would seal off the coastline. This is the type of nonsense that has us in the situation we are in.

I should like to have a great deal more time to address this. Up to now the main focus as regards gangland killing has been the reform of the legislation and what new law might be brought forward. Of course, ongoing reform of the law is desirable and updating the criminal law is necessary. For example, in certain circumstances there are priorities we might address and top of the list should be the covert surveillance Bill, but not in the terms as published today by the Minister — without the Minister getting carried away about the little paragraph on FOI. If FOI upsets him that much I shall withdraw it.

The Labour Party Bill is a superior Bill. The law should be changed, as Deputy Connick has suggested, to allow evidence to be admitted where there is a technical breach of rights. The witness protection programme should be put on a statutory footing and the strengthening of the powers of the DPP is necessary to include appeals against acquittals on the direction of a judge. Apart entirely from a number of legislative measures, which if I had time I could deal with, the other main limb of the fight back against the crime bosses is the enforcement of the extensive laws we have.

The Minister made a fair point the last day when he said we cannot legislate away the need for evidence, and I accept that. However, when we look at the record, the performance in respect of gun murders, for example, is very poor. Some 22 convictions were secured in circumstances where there were 161 gun murders in the last decade. That figure has mysteriously dropped to 159, I notice, in the reply to the most recent parliamentary question in this regard. I do not know how that happened, but we shall leave that aside. We ask a good deal from the gardaí at the coalface, who confront ruthless gangsters who observe none of the rules of civilised society. It is the task of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the day to ensure Garda resources are adequate and are most productively deployed. It is not apparent that the management of Garda resources, generally, is as efficient or as effective as it might be. Nor is it apparent that all the proposed reform of the Garda Síochána has brought about, in practice, very much change. In reality there appears to be little commitment to genuine community policing. Residents in huge tracts of urban Ireland are unhappy that gardaí are rarely visible in their neighbourhoods. A senior lawyer claimed last night on television that 12 drug pushers operate with impunity adjacent to the Four Courts and near municipal headquarters. Those of us who support the Garda are concerned at the frequency with which we hear that type of claim, while relatively harmless conduct by teenagers kicking their heels is the subject of garda caution. All of us who support the Garda will have been dispirited by the dismissive manner adopted towards the Morris tribunal in a recent editorial in the magazine of the Garda Representative Association.

There is a lot of noise coming from this Government about the Taoiseach's priority of implementing public sector reform. No institution of the State should be outside the remit of such reform. The time has come to end the practice whereby Garda appointments above the rank of inspector are made directly by Government. Senior appointments elsewhere throughout the public service are made by independent appointments commissions. In the new dispensation it is important that senior Garda appointments be taken out of the domain of party politics. This single decision would give more impetus to the dynamic for genuine change than any reforms to date which have met with mixed success.

Gabhaim buíochas le Deputy Rabbitte as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom ar an gceist rí-thábhachtach seo. Rinne mé iarracht leasú a chur síos agus, go bhfios dom, níl an Leas-Cheann Comhairle ag glacadh leis ag an am seo, ach b'fhéidir go mbeidh raic agam amárach faoin leasú sin.

I welcome the opportunity to speak again on the issue of serious organised crime. We addressed it last week and I will not repeat at length my contribution to the statements on the murder of Mr. Shane Geoghegan. Many of the points I made then are reflected in the amendment I tabled on the Government amendment to the motion from Fine Gael. They include the need for secure digital radio to be rolled out in Limerick as early as it is rolled out in Dublin. Limerick is scheduled to receive new secure radio a year later than Dublin.

There is also a need to roll out the dial to stop drug dealing confidential freefone initiative to Limerick and the rest of the State immediately, and not in the hotch-potch way it is rolled out now. There is a need for practical witness protection and greater and faster civilianisation of the Garda to free up fully trained gardaí from behind desks to fight crime. More funding is needed to tackle the drugs crisis. More sniffer dogs are also required. Delays in the justice system, including the processing of Criminal Assets Bureau cases, need to be addressed and CAB needs to focus on drug related crime. The money confiscated should be ring-fenced for the communities worst affected by the ravages of the drugs crisis. There is a need to reverse the budget cuts to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I have a series of further proposals I was unable to include in my contribution last week owing to time constraints, and I have raised them previously. Prison must become a more effectively deployed part of a sustainable response to gangland crime. The problem of minor offenders entering the prison system and emerging at the other end as hardened criminals in league with gangs must be addressed, and to date nothing has been done to address this. Prison sentences must be used as an opportunity to remove serious criminals from their associates and potential associates. The placement of such prisoners must be intelligence led, and in making orders that apply post-release, judges should reinforce these efforts and aim towards maintaining the disassociation of serious senior criminals on the outside.

The super-prison planned for the Thornton Hall site and whose status I do not know given the downturn and the financial problems of Mr. McNamara is a retrograde step. Like the US model it is based on, gangs will flourish if the Minister proceeds with the project. The prison estate must be refurbished for humanitarian reasons but expanding it substantially on one site is not the way to go. The issues raised last month by the first report of the new Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, Mr. Justice Michael Reilly, must be addressed. He identified serious shortcomings in the educational facilities of our prisons. For younger offenders, their time spent in prison must be focused on preventing them from re-offending, and this means investing more in educational facilities and supports in prisons.

Regarding legislative defects, there is a urgent need for legislation governing covert surveillance which is compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, and that legislation must take heed of the criticisms of Mr. Justice Morris and others and the jurisprudence of the ECHR. It must protect against unwarranted invasions of privacy and harassment and put in place a sound network of frameworks and thresholds through which the Garda or DPP can argue a case and seek judicial approval for the use of covert investigative techniques in serious cases. This evidence, once gathered properly and in compliance with ECHR law, would then be admissible in court and we need movement on this from the Government. I welcome the decision to publish it but we need to see it more quickly so we can deal with it in this House and make sure it is compliant.

I urge caution on some proposals that have been floated by well-intentioned but ill-informed political representatives. During the painful and fearful aftermath of yet another callous murder there is a temptation to dismantle the safeguards and protections all good citizens currently enjoy. There is a temptation to demand regressive and ultimately ineffective measures such as internment, non-jury trials and mandatory sentences. This temptation is understandable but must be resisted.

The fact that criminal trials are undertaken in front of a jury is not the reason gangland criminals operate with impunity. Juries have been proven to be more than willing to convict when a properly evidenced prosecution case is made before them. In the absence of a jury the risk of a miscarriage of justice or the real perpetrators getting away with their crimes is substantially increased. Mandatory sentences have been proved not to have reduced crime in other jurisdictions. Many proposals aired at present are dangerous, short-sighted, will fail victims, and will not deliver justice or reduce serious crime.

The Government must focus on tackling the drugs crisis. Resources for Garda drug squads must be doubled at least and extra sniffer dogs and modern equipment such as secure radios for the Garda are needed. There must be a focus on highly addictive drugs such as crystal meth and crack cocaine while continuing to focus on the major problems with heroin and cocaine. The decision to cut the funding for local drugs task forces must be reversed and resources must be increased to reflect the growth of the drugs crisis over the past year. In the face of a drug epidemic it is ludicrous to cut funding and curtail the activities of drugs task forces or to block or stall the work of local organisations working to prevent the spread of drugs and to facilitate rehabilitation.

If we do not want further murder and community destruction, we need to get serious about tackling the drugs crisis, and we need serious investment in local drugs task forces. As a member of my local drugs task force, I know the extent of the drugs crisis. I know how these organisations are struggling to cope on the moneys they have currently. They have been evaluated and found to be very effective in what they do with their moneys. I hope the Minister has listened to what has been said in the House tonight and that he will tackle the drugs crisis.

Debate adjourned.