I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this important new legislation coming before the House, not least because a number of years ago I proposed this type of legislation when I was privileged to chair the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. In addition, I am a representative of Limerick and perhaps have more experience than most of the type of crime with which we are dealing through this legislation. I am aware of the prolonged gang warfare and feuds which have plagued my city for so long. I hope therefore to bring some of my experience and perspectives to this debate.
Let us be under no illusion or in any doubt that what we are dealing with is a sustained attack on everything in which we believe. The people of Limerick believe this is not just confined to a small number of people intent on exacting revenge and counter-revenge, involving killing and maiming. Rather, it is an attack on the city itself, its citizens, their way of life and everything in which we believe. The people of Limerick believe in going about their daily business, bringing up their families and partaking in the city's great sporting tradition. They want nothing to do with this violence and so they look to Dáil Éireann and to the Government to provide an appropriate response to what has happened.
Let us recall that we are not talking about ordinary crime in this respect. We are talking about people who are not just content to maim or kill in the most horrific ways, as well as burning out houses, they will go much further than that. Some have been caught by effective Garda action, but they want to go further by trying to rise above the law. They want to be immune from all arms of the State, including detection, prosecution and sentencing. That is quite an extraordinary situation involving a unique type of crime.
The extraordinary circumstances we face demand an extraordinary response by Oireachtas Éireann, the Government and all other arms of the State. Gangland crime constitutes an attack on the State in much the same way as the IRA attacked the foundations of the State for many years. Its killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was an attack on the people of Limerick, while those who killed Veronica Guerin sought to attack the foundations of the State. There is little difference between these crimes and the crimes the legislation seeks to address. The common desire in all these cases is to confront the State and its people and undermine our way of life.
The question the Oireachtas must address is what should be the response to the extraordinary circumstances we face. The first aspect of the State's response should be for all parties in the House, in conjunction with the Garda, to send a clear and agreed message to those with whom we are dealing that they will not and cannot win and that collectively we will take whatever action is required to defeat them. This message must go out not only to the gangs of Limerick but to every person in the State engaged in gangland activity.
The second aspect of our response should be to recognise the nature of the criminals with whom we are dealing. The cowardice they show in killing and maiming is matched only by the cunning with which they try to evade detection. This, too, is unique and we need to match it by availing of all weapons in our armoury. Before considering the characteristics inherent in gangland crime in Limerick, I will briefly allude to our approach to the issue until now.
Even before the brutal murder of Shane Geoghegan and the callous killing of Roy Collins the Garda had achieved astonishing successes in its investigation of gangland activity in Limerick. All the evidence and research shows that detection and successful prosecution rates match those for any type of crime either here or elsewhere in Europe. Gardaí in Limerick deserve to be congratulated on the manner in which they have gone about their business. Members and the community of Limerick owe them their support and the message must go out that they enjoy this support.
Gardaí often express frustration that after spending long hours collecting evidence and investigating crime using all the skills and experience they have acquired over the years and having secured successful prosecutions against criminals, those convicted of gangland crime do not serve sufficient time in prison. The consensus among people in my home city of Limerick and one I believe extends to the rest of the country is that a member of a criminal gang who is convicted of murder as part of a gangland feud should serve a minimum tariff of 25 years' detention without remission. A life sentence is a movable feast because the penalty imposed is unclear. We need to be clear on this issue because it is only when gangland criminals are removed from society for long periods that the message will get through to remaining gang members that when they are caught, as they inevitably will be, they will be imprisoned for a long time. Sending out such a clear message would have a deterrent effect as well as removing criminals from the streets and preventing them from committing further crime for a long time.
The only objective of any individual caught in possession of a firearm in Limerick — this is almost certainly also the case elsewhere — is to kill someone. A person caught in possession of a gun is clearly a gang member who intends to kill. No other construction can be put on the mindset of someone who moves around Limerick or any other city with a gun. For this reason, all such persons should serve an exceptionally lengthy prison sentence.
How does one show that a crime is associated with gangland activity, a gang feud or membership of a gang? This has been a difficult question for gardaí to answer in the courts. It is for this reason that legislation such as this is required. It can make available to the Garda the corroborative, secretive evidence required to demonstrate that someone is part of a criminal conspiracy or gang and is intent on carrying out gangland type activities.
What are the characteristics of a gang? Gangs by nature are secretive and ruthless and usually have a leader. Their members work together conspiratorially and in concert and communicate with each other. The best way to determine whether certain activities are gang related is to deploy technological surveillance, as permitted under the legislation.
It has taken me some minutes to come to the real reason this legislation is needed, namely, to counter the threat to society posed by the nature of gangland crime and tackle the difficult problems encountered by the State, Garda and courts in providing the final link of proving membership of a gang. I hope the Judiciary will take the next step and match our determination by putting away those involved in such crime for extremely long periods.
Given the technological world in which we live, it would be naive not to use the technology available to us. Criminal gangs do so. Technology has the capacity to solve and prevent crime and target gang leaders. There have been many examples of surveillance technology being used for this purpose. The targeting of John Gotti, a mafia leader, is perhaps the most celebrated case in point. As Deputies will be aware, there is no difference between the mafia and the criminals who will be targeted under this legislation.
I am pleased to give my full support to the Bill for the reasons I have set out. The purpose of the legislation is to regulate by law the present practices of the Garda Síochána and in some circumstances the Defence Forces and Revenue Commissioners relating to the secret surveillance of suspects. These operations can often produce valuable intelligence material, not only at the planning stages of serious crimes and activity but also during the commission and cover up of offences and subsequent intimidation or planned intimidation of witnesses, an activity we have observed all too often in Limerick and elsewhere.
The Bill provides for a good system of authorisation and approval for the use of surveillance devices in security operations aimed at investigating and preventing these types of offences. An authorisation will be issued on an application to a District Court judge, who has to be satisfied, based on the evidence presented to the court by a superior officer of the Garda, Defence Forces or Revenue Commissioners, that the surveillance is necessary and is the least intrusive method available to the Garda. While, generally speaking, judicial authorisation will be required for surveillance to take place, there are two exceptions where approval from a superior officer in the Garda, as distinct from a District Court judge, will provide sufficient authorisation.
I welcome this Bill and hope it is passed unanimously in the House. It is the type of legislation we need to confront the very real threat which presents itself in my home city of Limerick and throughout the country. I commend it to the House.