Gangland Crime: Motion: (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Charles Flanagan in Dáil Éireann on Tuesday, 18 November 2008:
"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."
Debate resumed on 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.
—(Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform).

I wish to share time with Deputy Joe Costello.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Gangland criminals make their living as parasites on vulnerable people who often through disadvantage, lack of educational opportunities or family breakdown are easy prey for the drug baron vultures. These are the unfortunates who find themselves behind bars, for the most part, while the barons are free to continue causing murder and mayhem on our streets.

In reply to a recent parliamentary question, the Minister informed me that in 2007 there were 1,840 prisoners treated for drug-related problems. I do not have a figure for the total number of prisoners for 2007 but extrapolating from the figures for 2008 up to mid November, it would appear that approximately 50% of prisoners have drug-related problems.

This significant number of drug-based offenders indicates the correlation between drugs and crime. Prison should be a place of rehabilitation but the number of places for drug treatment in prisons is totally inadequate. The drug detox programme in Mountjoy, for example, runs for six weeks with a capacity for nine prisoners at a time. If the drugs issue is to be taken seriously and properly addressed, this level of support within prisons is totally inadequate.

The real threat to society is not from the mostly unfortunate drug users but from the criminals who have targeted them and used them to ply their trade. It is stomach-churning to read or hear of the pain and suffering inflicted on some of these unfortunate people when a gang leader decides to take indiscriminate revenge when people fall out with him. It simply beggars belief that these ganglords can direct operations from within prisons.

I refuse to believe it is not within the capacity of this Government to engage the appropriate expertise to put in place a system to prevent mobile phones getting into prisons in the first place. If they should escape the first line of detection, why is the technology not in place to stop a signal from the illicit phones and so prevent contact between the prisoner inside and those on the outside, who are being directed to do his murderous bidding?

It is the State's responsibility to ensure that those who are in prison cannot continue to direct their operations from behind bars. To do this we require more funding for the Irish Prison Service but also greater efficiency in the running of the prison service and real supports for prisoners who want to pursue drug treatment or education programmes.

The question must be posed about the reasons for the drug culture and the level of crime in our society. There are many contributory factors but while all of the issues that have been addressed in this debate are important, I want to draw attention to one in particular that I believe is neglected. That is the disregard for the safety and welfare of children who come from dysfunctional homes and who know nothing other than a wayward existence.

I have said on numerous occasions that these young children, mostly in disadvantaged areas, with a parent or parents who are themselves involved in drug dealing and other crimes, are destined to become the drug dealers or victims of tomorrow. This debate is centred on gangland crime, legal instruments to combat it, the provision of more gardaí, the management of prisoners, the control of firearms and so on but the failure to address the needs of young children who are living on the edge of society leaves a major gap in this debate. Without taking a long view as well as dealing with the immediacy of this problem, it will always be a case of fire fighting.

Last weekend I watched an unfortunate shopkeeper protecting his property from an onslaught from a mini-gang of six or seven young lads whose ages I guess were between seven and 11. These children were in free-fall, running wildly around a shop trying to steal whatever they could, causing havoc and then walking away, sneering. I really do not blame the children because their parents are not being held responsible for their welfare. Although this may not be the immediate responsibility of the Minister and his Department now, it will be in just a few years when these novices get their stripes and join the bigger club.

The message seems to be that crime does pay and that the thrill or the gain is worth the risk. The rash of serious crime that is now blighting the lives of many innocent people must stop and the Minister must find the way to do it sooner rather than later.

I am delighted Fine Gael has tabled this motion on gangland crime as it provides an opportunity to explore the issue and consider suggestions and proposals. The current status of gangland crime is directly attributable to the Government, going back a good number of years. It is not just the fault of this Administration but previous Administrations also.

I was the party spokesman for justice in the previous Dáil and on numerous occasions I warned the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, former Deputy Michael McDowell, that tolerance of tit-for-tat gangland killings was a recipe for disaster down the road. I warned him it would only be a matter of time before innocent bystanders or victims would be caught in the crossfire.

In 2003, before we had any innocent victims caught in the crossfire, former Deputy McDowell made his famous flippant statement that the latest tit-for-tat gangland killing was the sting of a dying wasp and he was in control, that there was no need to bother. This was totally arrogant and ignorant but the most serious issue was that he, as Minister, had stewardship but left the door open to continuation of the activities which led the events we are debating. Shane Geoghegan is the most recent victim but only a while ago there was Keith Fitzsimons, Baiba Saulite, Donna Cleary and in my constituency, Anthony Campbell, a 20-year-old carpenter caught in the crossfire by a drug dealer in Finglas. This was from the response of the previous Minister, and I lay it firmly at his door that the issue was allowed to develop. Nothing has changed since.

The second pillar of gangland activity is the escalating problem of drug abuse, which is nationwide. There was a time when serious drugs were only available in Dublin but they are now available everywhere throughout the country in towns and villages. This is the cause of and fuel for virtually all serious gangland crime.

Three weeks ago we saw how the Garda and other services seized the largest consignment of cocaine in the history of the country, worth between €500 million and €1 billion. In September, which is not so long ago either, we heard of the largest seizure in the history of the State by gardaí of legal weapons. It consisted of 41 brand new, top of the range, high quality weapons.

These seizures are a sign of the times and that Irish criminality has moved to a different plane. Illegal drugs are now very big business in this country and criminal enforcement — not Garda enforcement — and intimidation is becoming a very deadly business. New strategies are needed.

One strategy which has been introduced fairly recently is the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing and Threats initiative. This was originally devised by the national drugs strategy team two years ago and piloted successfully in Blanchardstown. We also piloted it successfully last Christmas in the north inner city. The national launch was in September. The initiative is quite simple. It provides a freefone number — 1800 220 220 — which is very easy to remember. Importantly, the public can use it securely, confidentially and anonymously to report information on drug dealing, threats and intimidation. These are now widespread throughout the community. The national launch has already produced good results, in that 465 calls have been received on the freefone number. A total of 141 informative reports have been sent to the Garda, following which a number of substantial seizures have taken place.

We launched the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing and Threats initiative on the north side of Dublin last week. I hope it will be a success. Every sector of society must be informed and mobilised in the fight against drugs and the initiative is an important step in that regard. The fight against drugs is the one area that should be protected from cutbacks in the Department's budget. Many community-based programmes, projects and agencies work in front line activity. I heard the Minister say last night on a programme that there would be a 5% reduction in his budget. Let us hope the reduction is not in the front line area.

Certainly not. That is for sure.

I wish to share time with Deputies Charlie O'Connor, Thomas Byrne, Ciarán Cuffe, Margaret Conlon and Niall Collins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I very much welcome the opportunity to speak in favour of the Government amendment to the Fine Gael motion on gangland crime. I accept we must tackle, and are tackling, the root causes associated with gangland criminal activity, namely, social deprivation, poor planning, lack of community facilities, the need for urban regeneration and access to education, to name but a few. By their nature, those measures have a long-term focus and will not solve the immediate problem of vicious gangland activity.

The common denominator in gangland criminal activity is drugs. The drugs industry is an evil menace that poses the most grave threat to society. As long as there is a demand for drugs, there will be a corresponding supply, despite the best efforts of the authorities. The demand for drugs is an essential ingredient of gangland culture. Every drug user must accept some responsibility for the actions of the criminal gangs who service their needs. The Minister of State, Deputy Curran, has a huge responsibility in drafting the new national drugs strategy. I very much support him in that work. I applaud the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing and Threats initiative to which Deputy Costello referred.

It is with regret that I say many of our judges are completely detached from reality. It beggars belief that persons with multiple previous convictions who commit a further crime get light sentences in court. Soft sentencing undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system, affects Garda morale and encourages criminals to take the risks associated with crime.

Sentencing will form part of the forthcoming White Paper on justice and I am sure the public will clearly express its views on sentencing policy when the time comes. I welcome the fact that, by virtue of the legislative amendments introduced in the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007, as interpreted currently by the Judiciary, there has been a doubling in the mandatory sentences for certain drug offences in 2007 over and above 2006 levels. That is a step in the right direction. I would like to see the Judiciary implement mandatory sentences in far more cases. As we know, the mandatory sentence for murder is life, but the average length of time spent in jail for a life sentence is approximately 15 years. Those who commit murder, who wilfully go out and take the life of another human being, deserve to be put away for a very long time.

I commend the Minister on the work he and his predecessors have done in terms of a legislative response to the problems we face. In recent days he announced the covert surveillance Bill. That is an especially important initiative to assist the Garda in its work. The criminal procedure Bill will also be introduced, bringing an end to double jeopardy and enshrining victims' rights. The Minister also plans to introduce a DNA Bill and has provided funding for the initial steps to be taken to put that process in train next year. Those measures, in addition to the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007, will significantly enhance the capacity of the Garda to do its work and will assist the DPP to secure convictions.

If tackling the evil menace of gangland crime involves the loss of some of our civil liberties, then that is a small price to pay. At times when we introduce legislation we put so many safeguards and checks and balances in place, sometimes at the behest of groups such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Human Rights Commission, that the purpose of the legislation itself can become ineffective.

As a country, we have a fundamental decision to make as to what direction we want to take in terms of handguns. If one has a liberal licensing regime for handguns, one must accept the consequence of those guns getting into the wrong hands. The Minister has instigated an urgent and intensive review of firearms legislation and that review is approaching its conclusion. I am sure he will make brave, courageous and perhaps controversial decisions on the outcome of the review. Those decisions will be necessary.

We must continue to follow the money trail in tackling gangland criminal activity. The Revenue and the CAB must redouble their efforts. We must hold the criminals to account for the wealth they have generated. The stakes involved are very high. The overt manifestation of criminal gangland activity we have seen in Limerick and Dublin will spread to other parts of the country if we fail in our duty. This is one battle we cannot afford to lose.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. I compliment the Fine Gael spokesperson on facilitating us in that regard because it gives us an opportunity to strongly support the work of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who, like his immediate predecessor and other colleagues, has shown a willingness to deal with the issues that are of concern to all of us. TheLimerick Leader had an amazing headline: “United in Grief and Anger as Shane Geoghegan is Laid to Rest”. We have all been united. I did not know the young man and I do not know Limerick as well as Deputy Niall Collins and other colleagues, but we have all been struck by the death of Shane Geoghegan and how communities right around the country have reacted to that terrible tragedy. The local priest, Fr. Jim Maher, said at the funeral that he hoped the death would mark a turning point in the type of violence which has marred the good name of Limerick and other cities. He called for the cycle of violence to be confined to history.

Like other colleagues, I support the Minister in his work and in examining all of the issues. People are entitled to make political points but we should be focused. We should understand the need for action and for the Minister to be tough. I speak as someone who, like other colleagues, has been threatened in the past for speaking out about gangland crime and crime in general, especially in the Dublin region. I will never be afraid to do that, nor will I be afraid to speak from the Fianna Fáil benches in support of those who are affected by crime.

A clear linkage has been made in recent days to the drugs trade and drug barons. Newspaper articles pointed out that middle class people who take recreational drugs are fuelling the current situation. Senator Costello referred to the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing and Threats initiative, which has been prevalent throughout the Dublin region. Like other colleagues, I strongly support it. In addition, the Minister of State, Deputy John Curran, faces a particular challenge as he is the Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy. There is a need to strongly support him.

I am not afraid to say that even at a time of economic challenge we must continue the funding and support for all the community supports that are needed. My community, like that of the Acting Chairman, Deputy Ardagh, is no different in that regard. I want to be positive about my own community but there are challenges to be faced and we should take every opportunity to support those organisations that are fighting against the drug barons and to tackle the problems that exist. We should continue to do that.

I heard the Labour Party spokesman refer to my constituency. I am not afraid to say that Tallaght, the third largest population centre in the country, does need more gardaí, a new Garda station and as much support as possible to continue the fight in which we are all engaged. As a member of the south Dublin joint policing board, of which the Acting Chairman, Deputy Ardagh, and Deputy Catherine Byrne will be very much aware, I with my colleagues will continue the fight in partnership with the gardaí, the county council and other community representatives.

I extend my deepest sympathy to all those affected by gangland crime, particularly those in Limerick. We should reach out to them. We should, in a very positive way, take up the challenge of Fr. Jim Maher, namely, to ensure the Garda and State agencies have sufficient resources to fight gangland crime and bring the killers of Shane Geoghegan to justice.

The tragic death of Shane Geoghegan and other tragedies should remind us all just how urgent it is to fight gangs in Limerick and across Ireland. While Limerick was unfortunately in the headlines this week, I woke up last Christmas morning only to hear of a murder in one end of my constituency and a serious assault just down the road from me. This is happening all over Ireland. It is most important that we commit immediately to being tough on crime and its causes. Crime is caused by individuals who decide of their own free will to kill, maim and break the law. We must be as tough as possible on them.

We must ask the public outside Limerick, who are not directly affected by the recent tragedy, for their views. I want them to ring my office to complain about what is being done about crime. Nobody has contacted my office this week on this issue. It is far more important than any other we have dealt with in recent weeks. No radio station has asked its listeners to e-mail Oireachtas Members about this issue although it is the most important one we have dealt with in the House since the summer. It is very serious and the public outside the Limerick region will have to come on board to fight the gangs. As Deputy O'Connor stated, the people who are smoking hash and taking cocaine, although they may regard it as a laugh and great fun, are the ones who are funding the criminals who are willingly murdering, maiming and injuring people and on whom we need to be as tough as possible.

We need to give the Garda all the resources it needs. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Taoiseach have indicated they will do whatever must be done in Limerick. I am glad of this but they also need to do whatever must be done all over the country. Garda strength is increasing this year and there is to be a new state-of-the-art forensic science facility and a new communications system, a digital radio service. In my constituency, the commitment of the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the current one, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has been second to none. Garda numbers have perhaps trebled in the past year at my local station in Laytown. There is a renewed commitment to policing in east Meath.

My area of the commuter belt has its own share of criminal gangs. Their members have moved out of the north side of Dublin. They are not all travelling up and down to Dublin to work but may travel up and down by night to carry out robberies. There are three or four families in my constituency who are known to be engaged in this practice and I want the Garda to be tough on them.

Operation Anvil, for which €21 million was allocated this year, is often applied in my constituency by the Garda. It results in extra checkpoints, one of which I passed today on my way to Navan. There will be more uniformed foot patrols, where necessary, and armed plain-clothes patrols. They are needed so we can be tough on the causes of crime and those who are willingly and freely committing crimes, killing, maiming and injuring.

We need to pass legislation. We are to do so and I welcome the legislation the Government has initiated. One hears the human-rights brigade and political-correctness brigade saying we must be wary of moral panic, but we must also be wary of moral failure. It would constitute moral failure not to introduce the legislation and I commend the Government on reacting as it has.

In the past, we have strengthened bail requirements, created mandatory sentences and toughened penalties for crime. As colleagues have stated, judges must play their part in this regard. There is still work to do. The Government has announced the covert surveillance Bill, which is important because it will create a nationwide DNA database to assist criminal investigations. It will help stop gangs from intimidating witnesses and committing perjury during trials, as happens all the time. By taking such steps, we are helping the Garda to be as effective as possible in targeting the individuals who are willingly committing crimes.

The Government has been consistently tough on crime. I refer to Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform from Deputy O'Donoghue onwards. I was only in college when Deputy O'Donoghue was Minister. Fianna Fáil Members have been steadfast in support of the Garda. Others have not always been as steadfast in doing so. We have supported the Garda through thick and thin and I will support every decision any member of the Garda makes in my constituency. It is important that this message be circulated.

We need to continue to assist gardaí by giving them all the resources and legislative tools they need to fight gangland crime. I commend the Opposition for raising this issue this week. It could have raised budgetary issues to oppose the Government or give it a kick but it raised the issue of gangland crime, which was very responsible. This is a great debate and we are generally working across the aisle on these issues. I know the Opposition will support us when necessary.

I wish to share time with Deputy Mary Alexandra White.

There is a need to consider the aspects of criminal law that may need strengthening in regard to the recent callous and brutal murder perpetrated by awful criminals. It is good police work that will solve this crime. The investigation into the murder of nightclub security guard Brian Fitzgerald took five years but ended with the conviction of two men, who are now serving life sentences. We can talk a lot about the need for new legislation but good, honest-to-goodness police work will be at the heart of solving the terrible crime that has precipitated the discussion we are having. Considerable resources are being devoted to solving it. There are 50 gardaí involved in the investigation and there are over 620 gardaí in the Limerick division. The emergency response unit has been deployed in the region.

In the obviously heated discussion on what occurred in Limerick, it is important the protection of people's civil liberties be considered in tandem with ensuring the perpetrators of the crime are put behind bars. We must always strive to strike this balance and ensure the call for finding the criminals is addressed in conjunction with the issues that arise in respect of penal reform, recidivism and education. It is not often that such issues are discussed in this House and it is important to stress them in this debate.

I am pleased there has been a 20% increase in funding for the Criminal Assets Bureau. It has done fantastic work over recent years. By seizing the assets of those engaged in illegal criminal activity, regardless of those criminals' place in the drug or criminal food chain, the bureau is sending out a clear signal that the Garda will not tolerate drugs gangs and will pursue them vigorously, as much through focusing on the spoils of crime as on the commission of crime.

It is very important that there be more gardaí in the community. I am delighted there are 27 gardaí on mountain bikes in Limerick at present. One obtains good information from people by walking and cycling the streets. Good work is being done and I hope we will bring the perpetrators of the most recent murder in Limerick to justice.

I thank Deputy Cuffe for sharing time.

We all have been really traumatised by the recent events in Limerick and by those in other areas over recent years. I refer in particular to the recent death of Shane Geoghegan.

I wish to remind the House of the problem surfacing in many small towns and rural areas in south Leinster because of the ravages of drug abuse. The drug barons are speeding down the M9 to places such as Carlow and Kilkenny with their awful loads and are ready to supply drugs to those who are addicted. The demand for illegal drugs, particularly cocaine and heroin, is very pronounced in Carlow, a town with a considerable heroin problem at present. The drugs come from Dublin. The vicious circle is such that people in south Leinster have experienced shootings in houses and the awful effects of gangland crime. We need to tackle it and do so in a sophisticated manner.

The resources which the Government is providing to the Garda are vital and welcome. In this regard, I am glad CCTV will be made available in Carlow in the next three weeks. It will play its part. I value the 20% increase in funding for the Criminal Assets Bureau next year. This is of tremendous help, as is the important work associated with Operation Anvil.

Having been assaulted myself, I know what it is like to be the victim of crime. I know also how competent members of the Garda are. The Government is addressing the problems of gangland crime but we must be mindful of the small rural towns, such as Carlow and Kilkenny, that have drug problems. These are the breeding grounds for future gangland crime. Otherwise, debates such as this in the wake of the recent death of Shane Geoghegan, will continue to provide an all too familiar backdrop.

I condemn totally the brutal murder of Shane Geoghegan. In County Monaghan on Saturday, 20 October 2007, we had a similar barbaric crime in the butchering of an innocent victim, Paul Quinn. I raised it as an Adjournment matter the following week and there were statements on it in this House in February. Tonight we focus once again on a similar barbaric crime. How long can this carnage continue? These senseless brutal killings appear to settle down and then flare up again every few months. Have we broken down, as a nation and a society?

Society has serious questions to answer. The girls doing a quick line of cocaine to keep themselves going on a night out, or the lads smoking a cannabis joint to chill out, are the very people who are fuelling these gangs, their turf wars and gangland crime in general. If these people did not have customers, and a growing number of them, for their goods, we would not be where we are. Individuals most show their social responsibility in a collective way. People can no longer afford the luxury of tut-tutting as they watch the news before turning around and indirectly fuelling this lifestyle. We expose our fellow citizens to a fatal game of Russian roulette, of life and death, where being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or saying the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time, means that a person ends up being murdered.

The issue of familial responsibility is fundamentally interwined with this. Most people can become parents easily and they reap the glorious benefits that children bring into their lives. However, serious responsibilities come with this. Crimes are being committed by minors, by people under the age of 18 years. I said in this House before, and am happy to repeat it, that if children are not at home, their parents should know where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. I make no apology for saying that. People in our society, men and women, who believe in parenting by proxy, via the high stool in a bar or via a PlayStation, are neglectful of the child and they damage society. From a very early age, some of our young people are exposed to violence. Shooting their victims in a PlayStation game is a normal fun thing to do.

The majority of contemporary crime concerns drugs, whether drug running, drug taking or drug selling. The key, therefore, to solving the crisis in crime is to solve our drugs crisis. Urban rejuvenation, such as we see in the Limerick southside and northside regeneration agencies, is the slow process that will reap benefits in the future.

However, while that is a long-term matter, we must get tough in the short term and get these unrepentant bullies, drug dealers and crime barons off the streets. People know who killed Shane Geoghegan just as people know who killed Paul Quinn. However, with witnesses fearing for their lives, evidence will continue to emerge in order to get convictions for these heinous murders. I commend the Garda Síochána and the PSNI in respect of their valiant efforts in trying to secure a conviction in the case of Paul Quinn.

We must broaden the scope of the Special Criminal Court in order to take on these thugs, and I make no apology for calling them thugs. I am most heartened that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, informed the Garda Commissioner that any additional assistance needed will be provided, whether by legislation or through resources, in order to deal with the Limerick criminal gangs. I expected nothing less of them.

I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who outlined his proposals to ban licensed handguns. The Minister said that the handgun ban would be included in legislation currently being prepared, which will be published shortly. I am pleased that he explicitly stated his central concern must be the protection of the public, particularly in view of the level of gun crime.

I am a mother of three young children. If we were to be subjected to another Dunblane-type incident, or if stolen legal handguns were to be used to kill more innocent people, I would have failed in my duty as a national legislator. In my view, the Minister is acting swiftly and decisively, and I hope the Bill passes quickly through the House.

The memory of the callous murder of Shane Geoghegan, or that of Paul Quinn in my own constituency, must not be allowed fall from the front pages and fade out of focus in respect of what we, as national legislators, must do to tackle these criminal gangs. I extend my sympathies to the family and friends of the late Shane Geoghegan. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

This debate is welcome. Unfortunately, it is also timely because of the tragic death of Shane Geoghegan over a week ago.

I knew Shane Geoghegan personally. He grew up in Patrickswell from where I came and where his family farmed. They moved later to Dooradoyle. I played rugby with Shane Geoghegan in Garryowen rugby club and togged out in the same dressingroom as he did more times than I care to remember. He was an upstanding citizen of this country and was never involved in anything he should not have been. He was hardworking, had a wide circle of friends and comes from a most respected family. Our community in Limerick has suffered a great loss because of his passing.

Last night we had a momentous occasion in Thomond Park. It was preceded by a minute's silence for Shane Geoghegan, as happened last Saturday before the Ireland-All Blacks match at Lansdowne Road. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that we do not require to have any more minute's silence on occasions such as these.

We must focus and try to remain detached in order to figure out where we go from here and what we must do to deal with this situation as it evolves. There have been calls from all sides for extended powers. The word internment was used and there have been calls to bring in that type of legislation. I would support that, where at all possible. However, we must remain realistic and if the Attorney General states that such powers are not workable or practical, we must accept this.

I took issue with the right to silence. We have that right in this country although it has recently been amended and a court can now draw certain inferences when a person claims that right. If a person is subject to investigation for murder, should that person be entitled to the right to silence? People are posing that question to us on the street. There are complex legal issues involved but the public asks the questions and looks to us for the answers.

I welcome the moves made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with regard to the placing of covert surveillance on a legislative foundation. His intention to tackle the issue of handguns is also welcome. We must look more to multi-agency tasking, networking and co-ordination in the tackling of gangland crime. If one looks at the situation in Limerick, which probably mirrors that of other places around the country, the hardcore leaders of these gangs are targeting young people, children in their early teens. They are grooming them and in doing so they are assuming the role of parental responsibility. We must get the social service agencies into this loop at an earlier stage.

Last week the Garda Commissioner spoke at the Committee of Public Accounts and gave a very good account of the workings of the Garda. I do not wish to paraphrase what he said but concerning the witness protection programme, he said he does not require to have it on a legislative foundation. He was quite forceful on the matter. He called on society to get involved in tackling crime alongside the Garda Síochána. In this House we should take every opportunity to try to involve the wider community and should use our offices and the platform we have here as public representatives to encourage members of society to get involved in this way.

The Commissioner also raised the issue of handguns which the Minister is addressing. While I do not propose to take the Garda Commissioner's words out of context, he indicated that the legislative tools he requires are either available to him or in the pipeline. He did not state that resources were deficient but forcefully pointed out that sufficient resources were available to him. The Commissioner was questioned on these issues by Government and Opposition Members.

I compliment the work of the Garda Síochána in Limerick city and county, which have excellent detection and success rates. As a Deputy representing County Limerick, I am aware that the crime initiated by gangs in Limerick city affects the entire county. These gangs supply the drug trade in the county and many of them live in areas of the county outside the city. Many of the communities I represent are fearful that anyone in the county could suffer the same fate as Shane Geoghegan. This fate could befall anyone anywhere in Ireland.

The House should have a serious debate on some of the sentences being handed down in the courts because many members of the public believe sentencing is too lenient. I will return to this issue at another time.

On an issue to which Deputy Conlon alluded, the murder of Shane Geoghegan was an attack on middle Ireland. However, middle Ireland is the market for the gangs who supply cocaine, heroin and ecstasy. As with those who shot him, those who snort lines of cocaine, take ecstasy or use heroin, have Shane Geoghegan's blood on their hands.

I wish to share time with Deputies Jim O'Keeffe, Paul Connaughton, Tom Sheahan, Catherine Byrne, Kieran O'Donnell and Simon Coveney.

The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, spoke eloquently in the debates leading up to the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act 2007. On 19 December 2006, he stated that "a Government can have no greater priority than the safety of its people" and pointed out that the Government had provided a "comprehensive programme of measures to ensure that the full resources of the State are brought to bear as never before". He also asserted that it is "no use willing the end of gangland activities unless we will the means".

The Criminal Justice Act 2007 introduced a wide range of means to deal with the scourge of gangland crime, yet two years later we still await fundamental operational measures on the ground. Hurdles are continually being placed before the Garda Síochána in it efforts to apprehend gang members and establish cases against them. Problems have been encountered with the establishment of a DNA database, the upgrading of Garda communications equipment and the updating of interview principles and procedures. Without reform and change in these areas, bail laws, sentencing recommendations and judicial instruments will be of little use.

I express my sympathy to the family of the late Shane Geoghegan. The brutal murder of Mr. Geoghegan in Limerick during the weekend before last horrified the nation and clearly illustrated the threat posed by gangland figures to innocent members of society. The failure of the criminal justice system to secure convictions in 113 of the 127 gangland killings which have taken place since 1998 shows the Government is losing the war on gangland crime.

The Minister's response to this issue last week and in speaking to the motion last evening struck me as one of resignation, an acceptance of thestatus quo and an acknowledgement, as it were, that society will have to put up with this problem. The Minister’s attitude is not good enough. Has anybody been convicted of directing gang activity under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2007? The answer is “No” and this will continue to be the case for as long as the Minister fails to take control and lead a strong, unstoppable effort to break up the gangs and put the thugs behind bars.

I commend members of the Garda Síochána, especially those based in Limerick, on their work in solving the cases presented to them. Better police work solves crime in the short term. Unfortunately, however, the Garda must be lucky all the time, whereas gangs can afford to be lucky occasionally.

The Government must ensure the Garda is equipped with the most modern equipment to counter gangland crime. The force needs the long promised digital radio communications system as the current equipment is outdated and easy to hack into. Speaking on the Garda communications system in December 2006, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. McDowell, referred to high level project groups, procurement processes, financial due diligence and finance approval, in other words, the usual web of red tape and paper shuffling. Nothing has changed under the current Minister's watch. Those on the ground who put their lives on the line are still waiting. When will the essential communications system be made available to the Garda?

On the criminal age of responsibility, anecdotal evidence suggests children are being exploited and drawn into gangland activity. In recent times, we have heard of ten year olds proudly wearing bullet proof vests. I urge the Minister to treat those responsible for drawing children into gangland crime with the full vigour of the law.

With regard to Garda interrogation, the procedure under which members of the Garda Síochána are compelled to document and record evidence needs to be revised. The practice of gardaí having to transcribe questions during interrogation is outdated. Surely it is time video recordings of interrogation sessions were allowed as evidence.

Gangland crime is closely linked to the drug trade. Gangs rule with virtual impunity and jealously guard and fight for territory. Their members have no regard for life and will do anything to protect their empires. The value of drug seizures in the past year is approaching €1 billion. The link between gang suppliers and so-called middle Ireland must be tackled. To break this link, much stronger penalties should be imposed on recreational drug users, for example, by making them participate in community service in areas which have been savaged by drugs. Furthermore, moneys seized from gangland activities should be pumped back into these communities.

Standing in Thomond Park in sympathy with the family, fiancé and friends of Shane Geoghegan, I could sense the heartfelt wish of people to recover our country from the thugs and gangs. The Fianna Fáil Party has not been successful in dealing with gangland crime in the past ten years. Shane Geoghegan was the 17th victim of gangs this year alone and of the 127 people killed in the past ten years, only 14 convictions have been secured, hardly a record of success by any manner or means.

I do not suggest that simple solutions are available. However, the first requirement of the Fianna Fáil Party in Government is to come out of denial mode and accept that there is a serious problem. The Government relies heavily on statistics which tend to fluctuate in the areas of headline and indictable crime. It is clear that there has been a large and inexorable increase in violent crime, specifically killings, the use of firearms and knives and drug related crime. The Government should take its collective head out of the sand.

From time to time, some members of the media, which are noticeably absent for this debate, treat the issue of crime very lightly. I suppose the media will pronounce on the issue before we know where we are. It is necessary to be factual and truthful towards people and the Government has failed in this regard. We used to have a pretence from the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the number of gardaí which involved counting fellows who had been inside the door of Templemore for one day as fully attested gardaí. Even now, while the Government amendment refers to 1,100 Garda trainees, it does not mention that the figure will fall to 400 next year. It is important to tell people these facts.

We have the pretence from the Minister that the motion was tabled by the Fine Gael Party to criticise the Garda. With all due respect to the Minister, this is a silly defence which should be beyond him. The motion is aimed at criticising the Government and urging support for the Garda Síochána and the reform and updating of the criminal justice system. We demand answers to very legitimate questions. There is a promise to introduce legislation on a DNA database next year. The Minister does not mention that this was promised in 2006 and was due to be law in 2007. We had promises in relation to the criminal procedure Bill, dealing with the possibility of the retrial of an acquitted person in the event of perjury and so on. How will the other issues raised by the criminal law review group be dealt with, matters such as the exclusionary rule and so on? What we are getting from the Government is a knee-jerk reaction when what is needed is a sustained committed approach, resources for the Garda Síochána and continual updating of the criminal justice system. We had many debates in the last Dáil in relation to electronic tagging, for instance, and how useful that would be from the viewpoint of dealing with criminals and suspects. Eventually, as a result of Fine Gael urging, that was put into legislation in 2006 and 2007. However, the present Minister clearly has no intention of implementing that important measure. It has been a feature of the criminal justice systems in Canada since 1984 and is common in many EU countries as well as in New Zealand, Australia and the United States and yet we do not have it. On the other hand, we have a system in which, clearly, there is failure by the authorities to keep track of suspects released. As a consequence, the number of offences committed by suspects released on bail has risen by 60% in the last four years, from 15,000 to more than 25,000. If we had implemented what is now law, we should have a system that allows the authorities to keep track of serious offenders when they are released from prison, such as sex offenders or violent criminals who are likely to re-offend, and also a system that would allow people released on bail to be electronically monitored.

This is a Government that is not dealing with crime in the sustained manner that is needed. It is not using the further legislative measures that are required and from that point of view it must stand condemned. We demand a consistent sustained approach, which will be supported by Fine Gael while this Government lasts in office, to attack the enormous amount of crime that exists, give resources to the Garda and reform and implement the criminal justice system.

I congratulate Deputy Charles Flanagan for bringing this motion to the Dáil. Irrespective of how the Government massages the figures, it can only reach one conclusion, namely, that it is losing the battle against gangland killings.

My greatest concern, however, is the Limerick situation because while everyone accepts the Garda is doing a wonderful job there, the battle is still being lost. There are literally 100 reasons why gangland crime is escalating, and everybody accepts the drug trade is at the heart of the problem. Illegal drugs and drug dealers mean criminal activity spilling into the lives of people in ordinary communities. As we all know, this scourge is moving into every community in the country. The competition for rank or market share — the "patch", as they call it in the market for drugs — is extreme. The only deterrent for those criminal scumbags is to eliminate each other with the gun. No democratic society can tolerate this carry-on, and if it is left to fester it will bring much greater grief to those families that are far removed from the criminal gang communities.

Our courts system depends on witnesses telling their version of events truthfully to judge and jury, but criminals are intervening by treating such witnesses with the same fate they mete out to each other and few people take such threats lightly. Our Garda Síochána will continue to be accepted by most people as an even-handed respected law enforcement agency for the protection of all law-abiding citizens. However, criminals exercise their own brand of power on people who do not wish to be involved. Many cases now come to court where witnesses change their evidence, interference with jurors is suspected and where fear and intimidation stalks the system. Ordinary people around the country know very little about this dangerous and murky matter, but many people are gripped with fear of intimidation. That is why the Government is guilty of turning its back on crime, when so much more could be done to limit this criminal scourge.

For instance, will the Minister of State say why it has taken so long to implement covert tapping as regards all criminal activities, irrespective of where or who the criminals are, and have this material presented as evidence in court? I also believe that in murder cases the right of silence should not benefit the criminal in any shape or form. Indeed, the witness protection scheme must be able to assure those witnesses who want to break free of the cycle of fear that it can protect them. Should witnesses and jurors continue to be intimidated, as in Limerick and other places, consideration must be given to some cases being held in the Special Criminal Court. That is not something I readily approve of, but there is no alternative if this intimidation continues.

Members of this Government and its predecessor, including the Ceann Comhairle in the past, have spoken eloquently about zero tolerance. We are a million miles away from zero tolerance now——

The Deputy's time has concluded.

His timing was perfect.

There was zero tolerance for me.

It is a case of the Ceann Comhairle being saved by the bell — his own.

(Interruptions.)

The Deputy may be well aware that he may not engage the Chair in public controversy and that there is little point in fighting old wars on old battlefields.

I am surprised the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not here, with due respect to the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney. In fact the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, should be here with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform because there is a cross-over.

We are here, really, as a consequence of the death of Shane Geoghegan. That is why my colleague, Deputy Charles Flanagan, who is to be complimented, has brought this forward. The profile of the murderer who killed Shane Geoghegan would probably be as follows: he came from local authority housing, which was mismanaged in the 1970s and 1980s, was an early school leaver, suffered from social deprivation and through greed and without values, he gunned down an innocent man. That is the profile of the murderer, the man who killed Shane Geoghegan.

Sociological data states we are a society of middle mass and underclass, which we as a society have created. We have a prison system at present which can only be described as an academy of crime. The recidivist rate at St. Patrick's Institution correctional facility at present, I believe, is between 70% and 80%. Why is this? The vast majority of residents in St. Patrick's Institution have come from the same four to six postal districts since its inception. St. Patrick's Institution is run as an institute of incarceration and not education. Cutbacks have come right, left and centre to the workshops and educational facility. There is no emphasis on rehabilitation or education.

We can say, "Lock them up and throw away the key" and many people believe that, but it is not the answer. There must be more emphasis on rehabilitation and education of detainees because the formal education system has failed them. The only way forward is education and rehabilitation so we will not have the recidivist rate of 70% to 80%.

In our country of four million people, which is approximately the same population as greater Manchester, we are to blame because we have socially constructed and engineered this deprivation within society. President-elect of the United States, Barack Obama was elected despite the fact that the African-American population is 12% of the total US population and 50% of those incarcerated are African-American. This comes back to the deprivation we are discussing.

One must ask what is the educational attainment of prisoners in this country. It is less than the junior certificate. Our prisons should be filled by violent criminals and not those who owe money in fines, petty criminals or psychiatric patients.

This situation on our streets has now reached crisis point. Another innocent life was lost last week, and my sympathies are with the family of Mr. Shane Geoghegan. I watched his mother on television last night as she spoke about the death of her son. It brought home the sad reality of how gangland crime can tear families apart and one would have to be made of stone not to be moved by her courage and how she spoke about her son. We can swap statistics and figures but we must realise there is a human element to this situation.

Communities and families are being affected by gangland activity. It is not about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are all entitled to walk down the street or through our neighbourhoods without our lives being threatened. When I think back to the killing of Mr. Anthony Campbell in Finglas, a young plumber who was going about his daily work, or Ms Donna Cleary, who was shot dead at a party in Coolock, I am deeply saddened by the thought of these young, innocent victims whose lives were cut short by those who have no respect for human life or law and order.

It is more than obvious that the system is really failing when it comes to bringing criminals to justice. If the criminal justice system does not put proper deterrents in place to prevent criminals from taking the law into their own hands and killing anyone who gets in their way this situation will spiral further out of control. All murder convictions should incur a sentence of 25 years in jail. In recent years sentences of just 13 years have been handed down for murder and this is not enough.

The main causes of gangland activity are drug-related yet in 2006 just one person received the mandatory ten year sentence for drug dealing. This is a joke. People dealing in drugs are themselves passing on a death sentence to anyone they supply. They receive short sentences and are released. Drugs are a lethal weapon and the sentences must reflect the seriousness of the crime.

On my own doorstep in Inchicore, Walkinstown, Ballyfermot and Crumlin, 15 people have been shot dead. Many of these have stemmed from gangland activity involving the feuding gangs in Crumlin and Drimnagh. These gangs have wreaked havoc on our local community for the past ten years. After Limerick, this is the bloodiest gangland feud in the country involving rival groups, who started off dabbling in drugs and are now fighting for control of the drugs trade on their patch. In today's society, it seems that drugs equal power. Drug dealers are becoming very powerful and they can control entire communities. I will never forget the senseless killing of the two young Polish men in Drimnagh earlier this year who were violently attacked by a group of teenagers. This shows that the gang mentality can raise its ugly head in other equally dangerous forms.

The grim reality is that many drug dealers and gangs are better equipped than the Garda. They have technology, illegal guns and proper cars which the Garda do not have. A guard told me even their handcuffs are outdated. Despite Government promises, the 2009 intake into the Garda Training College will be reduced, which is unbelievable as crime is at an all-time high in this country. We urgently need more community gardaí on our streets who walk the streets, listen to people and understand and relate to young people. I urge the Minister to recruit more gardaí to Templemore and not to reduce the number.

We have to stop giving these criminals an easy ride. For them crime pays and that is why we have to get tough, and the softly-softly approach has failed. Mr. Shane Geoghehan's death was the 17th gangland murder this year. Must we wait until another innocent victim is murdered on our streets before the Minister and the Government make protecting our communities a priority?

I thank Deputy Flanagan for bringing this important motion before the Dáil tonight. I was in Thomond Park last night and the people of Limerick and Munster stood in silence for one minute as a tribute to the late Mr. Shane Geoghegan who was brutally murdered by ruthless individuals in Limerick. The people of Limerick want this issue solved. Enough is enough and I add my voice to the appeal on "Crimecall" last night for anyone who knows anything at all to come forward and bring these ruthless individuals to heel and lock them up for life. What they have done must be dealt with in a firm way and a sentence of 25 years for murder must mean 25 years.

I read the transcript of the Minister's speech last night and he said he would provide all the necessary resources to solve the murder of Mr. Shane Geoghegan. The Minister and the Government have not done enough. I proposed practical measures in the emergency debate last week, I reiterate them now and propose some other items that should be looked at. The gardaí in Limerick are doing a very good job under extremely difficult circumstances with a lack of resources and proper legislation. They are conducting house to house searches and everything possible to apprehend the murderer. The report of Mr. John Fitzgerald on social deprivation in Limerick, which was commissioned by the Government, looked for the establishment of a properly resourced CAB in Limerick and that should happen as a matter of urgency.

Much of the gangland crime in Limerick is directed from Limerick Prison. I put the issue of the blocking of mobile phones in and out of Limerick Prison to the Minister last week and we must also look at the licensing of prepaid mobile phones. We must destroy the network of drug barons nationally. People in Limerick and elsewhere who are using recreational drugs must realise they are creating the demand for these drugs. Without the demand, drugs barons would not exist. People who use drugs must take on board that they contribute to these murders.

The issue of drug dealing must be looked at on a Europe-wide basis. We have a huge coastline that is impossible to police fully. The Government should seek to police drug dealing on a Europe-wide basis. Most of the drugs entering Europe come through Ireland. Our coastlines are not properly policed and the Government should look to the EU to help deal with this problem.

I call on the Government to establish a task force to look at gangland crime. The task force should be headed by a former member of the Judiciary and should report within a month on how to tackle the issue. We want the issue tackled in Limerick. We want resources provided so that by apprehending the murderer of Shane Geoghegan we can properly remember him.

I too was in Thomond Park last night. I was approached there by a number of former colleagues from Garryowen rugby club and reminded of how deep an impact the recent murder of Shane Geoghegan has had on not just the sporting community in Limerick, but on his close friends.

We have a job to do in this House. We must provide an adequate and determined response from the State in terms of new thinking and a new approach towards assisting the Garda, where possible, in surveillance, in ensuring convictions are achieved to ensure tough prison terms and to combat drug trafficking and, most importantly, to target demand for illegal drugs.

I do not have much time this evening so I will concentrate on this area, in particular the demand for cocaine that is prevalent in Ireland currently. The drugs trade is no different to the arms trade or the trade in young women for prostitution. As long as there is a strong demand from users, vast sums of money can and will be made by meeting that demand illegally. No matter what policing resources are thrown at the drugs trade, drugs will continue to find their way into society as long as demand exists.

I want to put some facts on the record on drug use, particularly cocaine use, in Ireland. Some 5.3% of adults between the ages of 50 and 64 in Ireland have used cocaine, over 150,000 people. Some 25% of users use at least once per week. That is, 37,000 people use cocaine every week. Some 7% use cocaine every day, that is, more than 10,000 people use it on a daily basis. Some 23% of people personally know somebody taking cocaine, over 700,000 adults. There has been an increase of 50% in the number of professionals and executives seeking treatment in the past three years. This is not a problem of people in deprived areas. This is middle class Ireland.

People get cocaine at discos and night clubs, but mostly from their friends at house parties. In Limerick alone, the Garda has confiscated more than €3.5 million worth of cocaine this year. We have a problem. Innocent people are being killed because many, from all sectors of society, demand and use cocaine. Until the dinner parties in middle class homes are targeted as well as the toilets of night clubs, we will make no serious impact on the demand for and use of cocaine here. This demand fuels crime, violence and the murder machine that infects society through violent gangland crime.

This has been a useful debate as it has given us all the opportunity to condemn unlawful killing, in particular the murder of Shane Geoghegan. Deputies raised the issues of bail, the Criminal Justice Act, concerns about the 3% reduction in expenditure, digital radio services and Garda figures and I hope to respond on some of those issues.

The current figures with regard to crimes committed by those released on bail show the number of offences committed is decreasing. The figure for the first half of 2008 represents a decrease of 50% on the figures of the corresponding period last year. The Criminal Justice Act 2007 introduced new provisions designed to tighten up on the granting of bail. For example, a person can be required to provide a statement of means, previous criminal record and details of any offences committed while previously on bail. The law takes a serious view of offences committed while on bail and it is mandatory that a sentence for such an offence is consecutive to the sentence for the first offence. Committing an offence while on bail is to be regarded as an aggravating factor and failure to answer to bail is to be regarded as an offence committed while on bail.

The granting of bail is a matter for the courts. The DPP, who is independent in the performance of his function, represents the State for the purpose for dealing with such applications. The Minister is keeping the situation with regard to bail under review and will consider whether there is need for him to take any further action on it. He has confirmed that the changes brought about through the 2007 Act, which have not been long in place, are bringing about an improvement in the situation.

The Criminal Justice Act 2007 contains a provision on electronic tagging, a matter to which a number of Deputies referred. There are complex issues with regard to bringing into force the provisions for tagging people granted bail, including cost effectiveness and developments in technology. The Minister is keeping this issue under review. There is a possibility that if tagging was available this would lead to an increase in the number of people being granted bail by the courts because they might be persuaded it would be safe to release people on bail — if they are tagged — who would otherwise be detained in custody.

The Minister understands that the DPP is satisfied there is no danger of his office being unable to deal with the prosecution files submitted to him. The office has been well treated over the years in terms of resources. Many Members raised their concerns about the 3% cut in the payroll of the office of the DPP. The Minister understands the office will meet the reduced levels through a combination of factors such as changes in work practices, postponements in filling vacancies and the tight control of overtime payments.

Many Deputies raised the issue of digital radio. Plans are well advanced for the roll-out of the digital radio service to the Garda Síochána for next year. The implementation process has already commenced and it is planned to roll out the service, starting with the Dublin metropolitan area next April. By the end of 2009, it is estimated that over 9,700 gardaí — approximately 67% of current Garda numbers — 1,294 Garda vehicles and 136 Garda motor cycles will be fully equipped and operating on the new digital radio service. In addition to radio communications, the system will also be used for SMS type messaging and for voice calls to report incident details for the Garda information services centre in Castlebar for entry to the PULSE system. This will obviate the need for gardaí to carry both a radio and a mobile phone.

The prison and probation services provide a range of rehabilitative programmes with the aim of encouraging positive personal development of prisoners and preparing them for reintegration and resettlement on release from custody. Over 250 prison service posts and an increased number of 90 workshops operate in our prisons catering for this.

Before I conclude, I would like to correct the record with reference to the comments about low Garda numbers. There will be 15,000 gardaí in place by the end of 2009. This is the figure mentioned in the Opposition contract during the most recent general election campaign. The Opposition targeted 2012 to achieve that figure.

Consequently, the Garda figures we promised by and large are in keeping with those that obtain at present.

I wish to share time with Deputies Dan Neville and Charles Flanagan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I wish to touch on an issue that has not been raised earlier in respect of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB. I refer to what I should describe as a chestnut of mine, namely, a regional version of CAB. For too long, CAB has focused exclusively on the major players. While I can understand the logic behind this, it also would be logical to establish a regional version of CAB that would be able to take on such people while they are still small fish and before they become dangerous sharks. I know, and the Garda know, who the drug dealers are in my town. Most Members know who the drug dealers are and who are the main players. Although the information exists, the problem is that both the will and resources to deal with it are lacking. For example, I once contacted CAB to deal with a man who had no source of income but who was driving a large, brand new jeep. The CAB stated he was too small a player, which I accept, as it should concentrate on the major players. However, I then contacted Revenue only to be told it was not Revenue's job and the Garda then stated it did not have the resources.

My point is the requisite information exists and although it is soft information, people must come out of the comfort zone and use it. Such information is widely available in this House and every superintendent in the State knows exactly who are the people in question. However, I question whether we are prepared to invest in the social capital of our communities to take them on before they become dangerous criminals who engage in warfare with one another and who catch innocent civilians in the crossfire. While it is not a shiny Luas tram or a new tunnel at which one cuts an opening ribbon, it would be an investment in social capital. Members such as Deputy Catherine Byrne, who is present, know exactly what I mean in this regard. Her role in respect of drugs must be noted and should be considered quite exceptional.

As my time is short and Deputy Neville wishes to make his contribution, I will touch on one other issue. Anentente exists between many institutions of the State, starting with the Minister. The entente operates between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his officials beside him, who constitute the permanent executive of this State. The entente also includes Garda management, its senior officials, individual gardaí and the Garda representative bodies. Everyone operates within the comfort zone and no one wishes to step out of it to take on the real issue. For example, no one wishes to deal with the fact that a garda who is stationed in a small area in which there is practically no trouble, apart perhaps from the need to run a few sheep from the road or something similar, receives the same salary as an officer who operates in deprived urban areas in which gangland warfare takes place. This will be the case until the entente is broken by someone who asserts he or she will not continue with it to ensure there are no more Donna Clearys or Anthony Campbells.

I also attended Thomond Park last night and the screen display regarding Mr. Geoghegan's decency will stick in my mind for a long time. One ingredient that is necessary to break thatentente, and which I do not believe the Minister possesses, is courage.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I wish to deal with the concerns of the people of rural County Limerick. This matter also is of extreme concern to them, given that tentacles of the difficulties and criminality in the city are extending out into County Limerick.

Before doing so, however, I again sympathise with Tom and Mary Geoghegan, Shane's brother, Anthony, and his fiancée, Jenna Barry. I congratulate and empathise with Mary and Jenna on the bravery they showed last night while appearing on national television on the "Crimecall" programme to try to assist with the investigation into this horrible crime. Deputies O'Donnell and Noonan have expertly challenged the Government in respect of what has happened in the Kilteragh estate. I know the Kilteragh estate very well, as a close member of my family, who was a friend of Shane, lived there and used to socialise with him. The fear and trepidation of the people of the estate is palpable. Such decent people, when going about their daily work and lives, should not be obliged to experience a level of fear and trepidation that almost invites a consideration to leave their homes. In a civilised society it is unacceptable that people should experience what almost constitutes trauma in respect of the death of someone they knew well and loved.

Such gangland crime also is of concern to the rural areas. Both gangs have purchased properties in County Limerick, the far west of the county included. Such properties are not holiday homes but constitute bases for the development of drug distribution in County Limerick in the future, if not already. While drug problems exist everywhere in Ireland, I have no doubt but that the drug problem in County Limerick has the mark of the aforementioned two gangs on it. I am concerned that the people of rural County Limerick may experience the ravages endured by the constituency represented by Deputies O'Donnell and Noonan.

It is time for the Minister to act to ensure our society is rid of this scourge. The problem has been identified for many years and surely the Government has the wherewithal to ensure that such vile activity can be removed from our society. The Minister must take action to so do and to ensure that people are protected and can feel safe in their communities and that this vile activity does not extend to other areas. Deputy Deenihan expressed his concern last night regarding its extension to northern Kerry and he has information that the activity of these gangs has extended to this area. In rural County Limerick, CAB already has confiscated the property of one of the gangs. Moreover, there has been murder in the county area that was connected to both gangs.

I wish to express to the Minister the concern of the people of the rural areas of the new Limerick constituency regarding what is happening in areas of the city. Although I come from the rural part of the county, Limerick is my city and one rightly talks it up. There is extreme concern in respect of the image Limerick city is obtaining because of such activities. However, last night demonstrated another side of the passionate, sporting, honest and decent people of Limerick and its surrounding areas.

I wish to begin by thanking those who spoke sincerely and constructively during the debate on this grave issue, particularly my colleagues in Fine Gael and Members of the Labour Party. All Members share a feeling of revulsion in respect of the activities of gangland criminals, whether such activity involves murder, violence, intimidation, drug dealing, drug smuggling or terrorising communities. Where Fine Gael differs from the Government parties and the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in particular, is in respect of how gangland crime should and will be tackled. In recent years, the Government's approach has been characterised by a flurry of promises after every gruesome gangland murder followed by a prolonged period of inactivity. This has been evident since the horrific Crumlin knife crime of last February.

The typical approach of only taking action when matters have reached crisis point has been maintained by the Minister and his predecessor, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan. Hence, the heads of legislation planned during former Minister Michael McDowell's tenure have not yet been published. Criminal Justice Acts passed during the previous Dáil are not yet commenced in many respects. There has been inaction in terms of surveillance, regulations around restrictions on the right to silence, double jeopardy, sentencing guidelines and resourcing of Customs and Excise.

The Minister has boasted of the resources he has allocated to policing numbers, Operation Anvil and the Criminal Assets Bureau, but none of these ideas is new or even came from him in the first instance. He is merely maintaining thestatus quo, which is insufficient. Clearly, more is needed. That gangs are continuing to thrive is the proof in the pudding of the Government’s approach to date.

Fine Gael has introduced a package of measures geared at co-ordinating all of the relevant strands of the criminal justice system in the fight against gangland crime. Lack of co-ordination is the issue. The Garda, the courts, the prisons and the Minister's office operate as independent republics with no co-ordination between them.

We must provide the Garda with modern equipment for crime prevention and evidence gathering, address deficiencies in the court system, establish a judicial sentencing commission, transform our prisons into centres of rehabilitation, which was eloquently put by my colleague, Deputy Sheahan, and, above all, address the scandalous Government apathy in respect of the importation of drugs into the State, as mentioned by my colleague, Deputy Coveney.

Preventing the importation of drugs into the State must be the cornerstone of any effort to end gangland criminality. The drugs scourge has led to the origin and sustenance of criminal gangs for a long time. These drugs enter our unpoliced coastline, through smaller and private airports that rarely, if ever, see a customs inspector and through our ports, where traffic is only sporadically subjected to X-ray scans or intelligence efforts. Until this gross anomaly is addressed, gardaí, the courts and the DPP will be fighting a losing battle against the gangs.

For reasons best known to himself, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is clearly most reluctant to take decisive action in respect of gangland crime. His apathy has led Fine Gael to draft a Private Members' Bill today containing a package of measures, including criminal organisation civil restriction orders, which would make it difficult for gangland criminals to conduct their business and, accordingly, would serve as an important function in the fight against gangland crime and address the difficulties posed by sections 71 to 73 of Mr. McDowell's 2006 legislation. Our Bill also addresses loopholes around sentencing, automatic remission and penalties for possession of blades and firearms.

The Minister has shown a petty and petulant attitude to Private Members' legislation. He owes a duty of care to citizens and the victims of gangland crime and their families to rouse himself from his apathy and to take on the gangland criminals through every means available, including the courts, the Garda, the DPP — the resources of which the Minister slashed — and the Customs and Excise, to which neither he nor the Minister for Finance has given particular attention.

Rarely before has there been such a unity of purpose in the nation in respect of putting an end to gangland crime. The Minister must find the courage and humility to do what needs to be done to eradicate organised crime in the State. I commend the motion to the House.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 60.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Behan, Joe.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Áine.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Browne, John.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Conlon, Margaret.
  • Connick, Seán.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Curran, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Flynn, Beverley.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kennedy, Michael.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Hanlon, Rory.
  • O’Keeffe, Edward.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • O’Sullivan, Christy.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • White, Mary Alexandra.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Bannon, James.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Coonan, Noel J.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Sheehan, P. J.
  • Sherlock, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Upton, Mary.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Curran; Níl, Deputies David Stanton and Emmet Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.